Jan 212014
 

Last week, I talked about how good it was when individuals approached their lives proactively rather than reactively. You often can’t enter an open door of opportunity if you’re not already prepared. However, in groups, too much general proactivity can be disruptive. In stable groups, harmony and respect for traditions can be comfortable and help bind members together.

In business, an employee is often tempted (or required) to be reactive. They may be content to do what they are told – simply doing their job and then coming back tomorrow and doing the same job in the same way. That is not bad in itself. When the job doesn’t change and the rules are well-known, the same responses in the same recurring circumstances keep things going smoothly. People who like predictability, and like for things to remain as they were before, can be happy doing this kind of work, especially if they are part of a team and able to share social connections.

I’m not just talking about low-wage jobs. A professional is, by definition, expected to be a highly-trained practitioner of a narrow specialty. In fact, you can expect that the more training they get, the narrower their specialty. They go to school and learn a great deal about a field such as architecture or law. And, having mastered the accepted standards of their specialty, they apply their training over and over again to particular types of problems. Such elite professionals can be very successful, and acquire remarkable wealth in this way. A conservative worldview does not prevent them from achieving great professional and economic gains.

A business middle-manager can also be reactive and still be successful. A manager’s job is about choosing TACTICS from available options. Managers gather measurements of compliance, compare these to expectations, and then adjust policies or budgets. This continuing feedback process can bring the system under their control back into expected norms. I’m not being critical. This can be very challenging, important, and rewarding work.

However, every business, social, or political LEADER is responsible for STRATEGY. They MUST be proactive to be successful. A leader must get out ahead of things, imagine possible futures, and make decisions about issues that most other people cannot see. A good leader is a master of change, recognizing where things are not working and sometimes reforming entire systems to adapt to new situations.

A good leader understands that many people resist or actively obstruct change. A good leader works persistently when necessary or presses for rapid adjustments if urgency demands it. Sometimes incremental change is no longer good enough and the group must transition to something entirely new. In any event, a good leader is always proactive about moving us forward.

© 2012, David Satterlee

Oct 072013
 

from the book: Life Will Get You in the End:
Short stories by David Satterlee

A liberal fable. Not every one can be born to good looks, wealth, or privilege. How should we think of the disadvantaged people we happen to see, knowing that their appearance, condition, or status may not reflect their inner gifts or intrinsic worth?

The Ugly Baby

Little Jenna was born ugly. There’s no getting around the fact; she was definitely butt ugly. She didn’t have the usual cuddly baby fat but looked like a bundle of sinew-wrapped sticks. She had a red blotch that covered her right jaw and went all the way back to her ear. Her left eye looked kind of droopy. Visitors to the hospital nursery either stared at her or looked away.
Jenna’s father left when he found out about the pregnancy. Her mother took a third part-time job but still couldn’t keep up with the rent. Between her mother’s stress, exhaustion, and poor nutrition, Jenna was delivered sickly and premature, which didn’t bode well for her future.
Jenna’s widowed aunt eventually agreed to let her and her mother stay in a spare room. Jenna’s cousin had been brain-injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq and would never be coming back to sleep there. Jenna’s mother tried to get her GED high school diploma but, without transportation, she had attendance problems and dropped out. She tried to get work, but the economy was slowing and she began drinking heavily. Consumed by anger, helplessness, and hopelessness, she was an indifferent and inattentive mother to her ugly little burden. When Jenna was two, her mother disappeared without even leaving a note.
Jenna’s aunt became the bright spot in her otherwise physically, mentally, and emotionally-impoverished life. Her aunt, getting past her initial revulsion and resentment, opened her heart to nurture the child. She rocked and cuddled Jenna. She talked to Jenna and read to her, took her on trips and showed her how to prune the imperfect buds in the garden so that the others could bloom larger.
For the first time in her life, Jenna began to smile, talk, and laugh. Her curiosity bloomed. She liked to help in the kitchen and took responsibility for things like being sure that the cats always had food and water… and a good petting when they were in the mood. Coached by her aunt, Jenna quickly learned her letters and learned to read early. She also began developing skills including drawing and music. Who would not be delighted by such a prodigy?
However, Jenna began to notice that, although her aunt gave unreserved gifts of acceptance and attention, no one else seemed to like being around her. She sat on the front steps, but no one came to play. When she knocked at the doors of other children, they were always too busy. She wasn’t invited to parties. When she went out, people stared at her or looked away. Jenna discovered that she was ugly, and she learned, indelibly, what being ugly on the outside meant.
This was a transforming epiphany for Jenna. She recognized, at an unusually early age, that there was a difference between superficial ugliness of the flesh and deep ugliness of the spirit. She had not been raised in any religious tradition but found herself moved to make a heartfelt dedication to figuring out how to be beautiful inside. It is from such a spiritual awakening that all saints are realized.
Third grade challenged Jenna’s newfound resolve. Her classmates were especially cruel. Her teacher not only failed to correct the bullying, but was indifferent and negligent toward Jenna as a person, as a student, and as a creative, questing soul with abundant potential. Jenna decided that an imperfect bud was being pruned.
Often, in a family or a small group, one person becomes singled out as different, difficult, blameworthy, and unlovable. Jenna easily became that target of unintended malice. She quit trying to participate in class, talk to others, or complete many make-work assignments. She withdrew into herself, absorbed in just watching, being preoccupied with her own thoughts, and preferring to retire into quiet places to read at every opportunity.
And, just as everything was crashing down on Jenna at school, her aunt suffered a serious stroke and died. Jenna was placed in foster care with some difficulty. Nobody wanted an ugly girl who would hardly even look at you, and had a poor academic record. She was probably stupid as well. The couple that finally accepted Jenna likely only wanted the foster care payments, but they did provide a private room, regular meals and other obligatory physical care.
The rest of Jenna’s primary and secondary school experience repeated these same fundamental patterns with one exception. Hormones produced physical development and unreliable emotions. Jenna saw other girls and boys infatuated with each other and ached to experience the same satisfactions for herself. For a while, she mistook the power of promiscuity for the evidence of affection. This ended abruptly when she discovered the contempt with which a suitor described his conquest to others.
After graduating from high school, Jenna found work processing insurance claims. Her native intelligence and easy facility with words and numbers finally found a productive and acceptable outlet. Jenna had a private cubicle. There was little opportunity for people to stare at her or turn away. She earned enough to maintain her own apartment and automobile. And so, she went through the motions of having a life, but without the usual satisfactions.
In fact, by living such a difficult life, Jenna discovered that she had developed a high level of empathy for the difficulties of others. But, she also discovered that her work was designed to frustrate or deny as many claims as possible. The resulting conflict between Jenna’s values and actions produced an inevitable and intolerable tension. She began drinking wine at home after work to dull her painful misery.
Alcohol will ease the pain, but at the expense of good judgment. One night, Jenna discovered that she did not have enough wine on hand to fully achieve the usual sweet oblivion of sleep. Driving several miles through town to buy more, she realized that she was about to plow into a small group of inattentive teenagers swirling across the street in front of her. She swerved abruptly to miss them, recognizing that this would take her headlong into a large tree. Jenna did not doubt for an instant that she would be killed or that she had any other choice.
Jenna was not killed, but the last boy in the group was crushed and bled to death in minutes. Jenna was often wracked by the pain of inconsolable grief and guilt. She could not imagine any relief nor any forgiveness.
Jenna’s usual ugliness was amplified beyond all consideration by her mug shot. Her nose was broken. She lost three teeth. Her right eye was badly bruised. In a mirror, she both stared and then looked away, finally understanding the fascination and shock of unexpected novelty.
In jail, a church lady began making visits. She spoke of a loving and forgiving God. She played tapes of sermons and left literature. The lady kept a folder and made notes. One day, the lady took Jenna’s mug shot out of the folder and invited her to describe how she felt about the sinfulness of her earlier life. Afterwards, Jenna overheard the lady showing the picture to the guards and heard the contempt with which the lady described her ugliness. Jenna decided that she had once again mistaken the power of attention for the evidence of love.
Alone in her jail cell, Jenna wept long and hard, neglecting the food on her meal tray. Thinking back over her life, leading to this point, and imagining her probable future, she indulged some self-pity, which quickly compounded her guilt and self-condemnation. And then, Jenna experienced another transforming epiphany.
Jenna washed her hands, dried her face, and filled a cup with water from the sink. She took a bite from her lunch sandwich; the bread was stale and dry. She took a sip of water; the bouquet felt rich and fruity and went down with smooth warmth.
Jenna removed her pants. Lacking anything higher, she tied one leg around a cross-member of the bars and the other around her neck. Summoning extraordinary will and purpose, she extended her legs in front of her, gradually giving up her weight. In due time, her painful misery gave way to sweet oblivion. Strong arms lifted Jenna up and embraced her. She looked up. His kind eyes looked back directly into hers. He smiled and comforted her gently.
Two guards discovered her body there in the cell. Her reddened face and distended tongue only accentuated her usual ugliness. One of the guards stared at her. The other looked away.
Oct 032013
 

Blasphemy Incorporated

All opinions expressed herein by the author are offered without undue depths of rancor, malice, irony, or satire; only reasonably-balanced depths are intended. I name names and offer opinions but, any errors of fact are unintentional and sincerely regretted.

Rubber Ducky Jesus Nativity

Today, I received several items in the mail, including a magazine subscription offer and a specialty mail order catalog. Both traded on themes of religion — especially Christianity. You have to believe that neither company felt any need of remorse for their marketing choices. At first I was tempted to simply discard the pieces as simple junk mail. However, considered together, they gave me cause to think about the nature of commercialism, American values, and blasphemy.

The first item was an advertisement for “sinful savings” on subscriptions to Free Inquiry magazine (oriented toward the scientific examination of religion). I have a reputation for thinking (and writing) about such controversial subjects and wasn’t surprised to be targeted by their mailing list. The envelop featured red blood splatters and the message, “Blasphemous! Look inside at your own eternal peril.” They enclosed a “Special Introductory Offer – For Blasphemers Only.” Also, “Your salvation isn’t guaranteed… but your satisfaction with Free Inquiry is!” Their come-on letter starts, “Dear Intelligent Reader, You and I are under attack by religious fanatics who want to control what we read, how we think, and what our kids are taught in school. That’s why they use words like blasphemous, godless, and sacrilegious when bright, free-thinking people ask questions that challenge their superstitious beliefs. These are words meant to inspire fear and intimidate the weak-minded into submission.”

All of this seems like outright inflammatory sensationalism used for commercial advantage. These words, in this context, are also meant to shock, inspire fear, attract gratuitous attention, and sell magazines. I actually admire the effective use of language to motivate appropriately. I admire the insights of Frank Luntz, a Republican Party Strategist and wordsmith, in how to use words and re-frame arguments to push people’s emotional buttons. I just don’t buy his double-think inventions and arguments. And, I just won’t buy what might actually be an interesting magazine when it is promoted in this way.

However, the magazine advertisement also enclosed a note from Richard Dawkins (a renowned evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist) saying, ”If there were a God, I’m convinced He would want you to read Free Inquiry,” adding, “He would be committed to the application of reason and encourage scientific discovery and the cultivation of moral excellence. He would want us to be more concerned about living a valuable life than enforcing arbitrary rules to avoid a vindictive punishment in an afterlife.”

Richard Dawkins also pushes some emotional buttons: reason, discovery, moral excellence, valuable life, and vindictive punishment. But, did you notice how positive, reserved, and respectful he was in framing his note? “God” and “He” are appropriately capitalized as honored divinities. Dawkins appeals to cultivating moral excellence and living a valuable life. You got a problem with that? I don’t. You got a problem with exposing religious hypocrites and moral corruption? Jesus didn’t. Still, I don’t think Jesus would have subscribed to Free Inquiry. I imagine that He might have given permission to be quoted, but not felt motivated by their advertising.

My wife, Dianna, is a retired elementary school teacher and still receives catalogs from the “Oriental Trading Company.” This issue featured “fun and faith” items with the exhortation, “share the spirit.” It contained a mix of holiday spirit and (evidently by allusion), Holy Spirit” trinkets, gifts, activity packs, as well as carnival and fund-raising prizes. They obviously expected to sell profitably to those wanting to promote and commemorate religious holidays and classically-fundamentalist Christian themes. I’m sure that if they anticipated that any of their items would be easily considered blasphemous, they would not advertise, stock, and sell so many.

First, let me point out that I am a self-acknowledged cranky old curmudgeon and some of you will think that I’m being overly-critical. And, any issue, taken by itself, may be easily-excused. But, the catalog collection, taken together, represents a popular disregard of appropriateness and dignity among self-professed spiritual and faithful people.

The catalog cover features three young children, singing hymns in “angel costumes,” complete with cheap white polyester gowns, battery-operated candles, and white “feather and marabou wings.” It is not entirely clear if real African Marabou Storks are “harvested” to produce these authentic-looking wings. That would be a whole other animal conservation ethics issue. Also, I want to suggest that it would be a mistake to dress your little cherubs in polyester and then substitute authentic candles, flickering with actual fire.

The vendor evidently also dyes marabou wings red to produce similar “Cupid wings.” The ad reads: “Put on these feather and marabou wings and find true love as a matchmaking Cupid or use them for an angel costume on Halloween!” We have discovered an unholy amalgam of child-angels in heaven, Cupid, the Roman god of erotic love, and the likely improvisation of a sexy fetish costume. It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone but me. And, I’m not too fond of Halloween as a festival-for-the-dead with little beggars dressed as angels, devils, zombies, pirates, and hookers.

Speaking of little angels, my wife’s older brother died in tonsil surgery when he was seven. Her mother’s pastor explained that God called her boy to be a little angel in heaven and that a bouquet also needs buds to be pretty and complete. Her mother evidently believed this literally and repeated it often in defense of the comfort that she claimed it brought her. Nonetheless, she never escaped the obvious trauma and bitter desolation of her loss. She became an alcoholic and chain smoker and died prematurely of lung cancer. Don’t try to tell me that God harvests little angels from our families.

And, when did “Christ our Savior” start getting mixed up with a jolly old elf sliding down chimneys, evergreen trees, snow men, and other such nonsense? You can buy color-your-own Christmas nativity stockings; gingerbread, rubber ducky, and gnome nativity sets; nativity bingo and playing cards; “Happy Birthday Jesus” balloons, party hats, beach balls, kaleidoscopes, slide puzzles, novelty assortments and ornaments; “Jingle for Jesus” bell bracelets; nativity crosses (just a slight anachronism); plus “Jesus Loves You” and “Caleb the Camel” Christmas tree ornaments.

There is more. You can buy golden crown and “Jesus is My Rock” stress squeeze toys; “King of King” tattoos (hardly in the spirit of Leviticus 19:28 or Deuteronomy 14:1), favor boxes and treat bags; “Joy to the World” paddle balls; “Joyful in Jesus” candy canes, Bible verse fortune cookies, and “Testamints(tm)” breath-freshening candy; “Share His Light and Love” and “Jesus Loves You Snow Much” snowmen; “Jesus Lights the Way” flashing bouncy balls, “Bible Bucks” play money, and “Pick Jesus” guitar picks; as well as rainbow faith bears, “Our Wise Lord” owls, “Jesus is Deer to Me” reindeer and “Wild About Jesus” safari animals.

You will definitely want to proudly display your own Celtic Cross Bible cover (incorporating a pagan solar nimbus). What can I say? It appears that non-believers do not have the corner on impiety. A mix of ignorance, indifference, conceptual hybridization, and crass commercial blasphemy are popular (and big business) among religious “fun”damentalists these days.

All the time, I run across people who want to tell me that they know what the truth is — that they are in charge of explaining what (their version of) God wants everyone to believe and do. I can spot them right away; I used to be that kind of faith-and-fellowship true-believer. Now, I can’t imagine what makes them better than any other tribe of mere mortals with similar convictions. I am appalled, not persuaded, by the arrogance, presumption, and hypocrisy of their blasphemy.

Sep 232013
 

from the book: Life Will Get You in the End: Short stories by David Satterlee

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Read or download this story as a PDF file at:https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4eNv8KtePyKcDc5NS1HVmxGdjQ/edit?usp=sharing

The title is sung to the tune of: I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” – a 1935 popular song with music by Fred E. Ahlert and lyrics by Joe Young. It has been recorded many times, and has become a standard of the Great American Songbook. It is one of several songs from theHarlem Renaissance featured in the Broadway musical Ain’t Misbehavin’. – Wikipedia

I’m gonna sit right down and write my love a letter…

My Dearest,

I love you – Simple – Direct – Plain
It doesn’t get any clearer than that. It just is; as it was meant to be. Timeless and absolute. I own your welfare. Your happiness, peace, comfort, security, and joy are all mine. If they weaken, I am anxious to restore them; when they soar, I rejoice.

I love you – Complex – Veiled – Intricate

How unfathomable you are! Lover of sunsets – Mother of girls – Teacher of children – Maker of bread – Singer of weddings – Grower of gardens – Sorter of buttons. So much more. So much deeper. So loveable and beloved. I begrudge time for slowing my knowledge of you.

I love you – I hold you close. 
I cherish the time we share together; the mundane and the stirring. Your presence is a comfort and a light. Your touch is a thrill and a craving. I eagerly give you my being and my aspirations. I gratefully accept your gifts of life and time.

I love you – I watch you fly.
Nothing grows when held too tightly. I treasure the experience of your individuality and change. Your achievements are my triumphs. Your commitments are my gifts. Your freedom to act independently increases what we can share.

I love you – I need your attention.
I am sustained and strengthened by all that we share. Your love builds up my power while giving to you strengthens my foundation. I am an indomitable force when directed; I am a child when lost. Working, living, and loving together creates a wondrous synergy.

 I love you – I trust your absence.

I cannot be your everything and should never aspire to that. But, we are linked at the highest levels of relationship. This trust endures time and trouble; it smoothes our time together and it eases our time apart. Go; do what needs doing and return to me when you’re done.

I love you!

Sep 232013
 

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Confucius, Emerson, and Ginsberg

The classic tenants of Confucianism and Taoism take disparate, but not mutually-exclusive, views of existence. While only Confucians would seek to give advice for improving society, elements of both views are important to a balanced and healthful existence within a society.

Confucianism is all about improving society. Individuals are expected to yield to established laws and the greater good of the community. The fundamental concept for maintaining society is the competence and fairness of public servants, which earns respectful honor and loyalty (for others, family, ancestors, public servants, and tradition). Law and tradition are looked to for guidance. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophyexplains:

Confucius’ social philosophy largely revolves around the concept of ren, “compassion” or “loving others.” Cultivating or practicing such concern for others involved deprecating oneself. … Learning self-restraint involves studying and mastering li, the ritual forms and rules of propriety through which one expresses respect for superiors and enacts his role in society in such a way that he himself is worthy of respect and admiration. A concern for propriety should inform everything that one says and does (Stanford).

Taoism is all about withdrawing from society. Individuals are expected to yield to the law of nature and the harmonious dynamics of the universe. Rather than seeking to improve society, Taoists focus on individual balance and a harmonious relationship with “the way of Heaven.” An immediate sense of rightness is looked to for guidance.

Taoism rejects “established” knowledge and wisdom as obstacles in the path of Tao. An enlightened mind effortlessly reflects universal principles, not rejecting the actual world so much as it’s society and societal conventions. A Taoists’ inner world must be purged of scripted external sensation and interpretation. In Section 47 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu explains:

Without going out of your door,
You can know the way of the world.
Without peeping through your window,
You can see the Way of Heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.
Thus, the Sage knows without traveling,
Sees without looking,
And achieves without Ado (Tzu 97).

I feel that both Confucianism and Taoism contribute important ideas for the personal choices and the accommodations that are needed to live within a community. Personal compromises are needed to exist without undue conflict with others.

As per the Confucianists, meaning can come from seeking the greater good and embracing orderliness. However, personal liberties are also needed to allow creative expression and developmental growth. As per the Taoists, meaning can also come from creating (or following) a personal path and embracing chance and change.

A fundamental structure underlying our lives is a continuous cycle of being and becoming. One may take the yearly seasons as an example. In the fall, there is a time that peaks at harvest, with processes of gathering in, sorting, organizing, consolidation, and withdrawing. In the winter, there is a time that peaks at storage, with processes of being and resting. In the spring, there is a time of germination, with processes of sowing, cultivating, nurturing, and growth. In the summer, there is a time of change, with processes of chaotic growth, reproduction, and metamorphosis.

It seems like Confucianists are more oriented toward sustaining a stable “winter” perspective while Taoists are more oriented toward flowing with the chaos of a “summer” perspective. Neither or these perspectives can be inherently better as they co-exist in the same system of being and becoming.

American culture already embraces a wide range of competing cultural ideals including those found in Confucianism and Taoism. In fact, the two major political parties in the United States have paradoxical cross-polarizations along philosophical lines.

Republicans are considered conservatives, holding to family values and traditions, yet they are fiercely defensive of their liberty to make personal choices, sometimes to the neglect of the welfare of others. On the other hand, Democrats are considered liberals, holding to values like diversity and adapting to the changing situation, yet are open to giving up personal choice for the benefit of the community.

John Locke and Thomas Jefferson insisted that we have the right to keep and defend individual property, but within the context of compliance to group consensus. Like Confucius, they felt that those in authority served at the will of the people and would decline and be replaced if they failed in their responsibilities.

Americans are also known for their fierce individualism. Like Ralph Waldo Emmerson and Allen Ginsberg, we tend to define our valued and privileged way of life by individual freedom to follow one’s own path.

The adoption and adaptation of our complex mix of philosophical roots encourages both sustainable stability and creative progress in our selves and in our society.

Works Cited

Tzu, Lao. Tao Teh Ching, Translated by John C. H. Wu. Shambhala, Boston & London, 1989
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Confucius. Sept. 5, 2006, July 10, 2009
Sep 232013
 

 From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Read or download this essay as a PDF file at:https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4eNv8KtePyKZkxRVW9jSWpsZVk/edit?usp=sharing

Japan, America, and sacred nationalism

The Japanese islands have remained relatively isolated throughout their history. This has allowed for the development and concentration of distinctive religious and cultural characteristics. Although Japan has experienced Eastern influences (mostly Chinese and Buddhism), and Western influences (especially Anglo/American and Christian), these have seemed to only flavor, not disrupt, the Nipponese sense of identity. This bears a strong resemblance to contemporary American right-wing conservatism.

From the most ancient times, Japan, and its Shinto practices have been organized around community-clans and their respective clan gods. Even when communities gradually expanded, community worship continued to revolve around local guardian gods and the ancestors of extended families. Broader political power was rooted in the relationships of confederations of clans. This religio-cultural structure made it unlikely that religions of foreign origin could have much impact and still remain intact. This system retained a stable core of abiding traditions, supplemented by a somewhat more adaptive layer of minor local traditions.

As an example, Buddhism, when promoted by certain nobles, was assimilated in Japan by considering local practices as manifestations, rather than contradictions. It helps that Buddhism does not insist on a strict distinction between secular matters and that which is sacred. Seeking purity was already esteemed as a matter for all members of Japanese society. Extending that search for purity, by renouncing the world and taking up monastic service, was no great leap. Accepting the Buddha Nature in all things is parallel to accepting the spirit essence in all things. Buddhism advocates that one abandon grasping for self-interest as Shintoism promotes community welfare over selfish pursuits.

In Japan, community purity and religious control was part and parcel of political authority. The Shoguns, for instance, never hesitated to challenge religious influences that threatened their power. Each ruling clan elevated their own gods and divinized their own ancestors, producing “sacred kings.”

Eventually, Japanese society was able to more-completely organize itself into a coherent nation with supreme religious and secular authority vested in the Emperor. When war with China was initiated in the Emperor’s name, it became a sacred national war and reflected Japan’s over-riding pride in their national superiority and identity. All aspects of life became part of a holy war. At the end of World War II, American strategists seriously considered that every citizen would take up arms if the mainland of Japan was invaded.

Although the current Japanese culture retains a strong sense of honor and responsibility to community, the shock of Japan’s ultimate defeat in World War II devastated their sense of sacred nationalism. Japan is now often considered to be even more secular that the West. Japan has been rapidly industrialized and urbanized. Social mobility and personal isolation is endemic. The Japanese psyche has rocked from one pole to the other.

Presently, parts of American culture are in a state of radical transition as right-wing religious conservatives struggle for ever-greater governmental control. We are, on the one hand, “One nation under God,” and, on the other, a melting pot of diverse immigrants. This makes generalizations difficult and open to contradiction. Nonetheless, George Bush was able to start and sustain foreign conflicts in the name of “protecting our [capitalistic and mostly-Christian] way of life.” This could hint at an American parallel to the military adventurism that sprang from Japanese homogeny.

Conservative elements of the Republican Party seem distressed that they are losing their grip on a vision of Christian religion as intrinsic to what they see as American national identity and culture.

On the other hand, American liberalism seems to be persistently emerging into a proud model of diversity and tolerance. Old majorities are finding themselves not only endangered, but irrelevant. John F. Kennedy broke the Protestant barrier; George Bush appointed women and Hispanics. Now, the leadership of Barack Obama seems to be outdistancing conventional wisdom so fast that traditionalists can neither keep him in sight nor rein him in.

Isolated cultures, such as those of ancient and feudal Japan, are capable of sustaining religions and religion-infused cultures and identities. In Japan, the popular ethic of myopic superiority (including devotion to the traditions of kami, ancestors and Emperor) erupted and suffered mortal disruption following World War II.

Our world still finds remnants of rabid religious and ideological nationalism. Stalin, Mao, the Khmer Rouge, Pakistan, North Korea, and conservative American evangelicals are a few remaining flashpoints of isolationist nationalism. The balance of the world is growing toward proliferation of international relationships, dependencies, and cooperations. Radical identities including race, language, religion, cuisine, and nationality are being subsumed by multinational businesses, non-governmental organizations, and international treaties. Our distinctive cultures are dissipating. Even deep in the Appalachian mountains, I only have to drive a few miles to find several restaurants serving fresh Japanese sushi.

Sep 232013
 

Eastern influences on contemporary Western culture and spirituality

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Many people in Western cultures have become aware of, and adopted elements of, traditional Eastern religions to a variety of degrees. Although usually ignorant of, or rejecting the full scope of the associated original foundational historical practice and philosophy, they are creating a new flavor of Western spirituality and a related social consciousness.

Both Eastern practitioners and Western philosophers have helped raise our general consciousness of Eastern spiritual traditions over the last century. Some of the more prominent are briefly described in the following:

William James, a leading psychologist and philosopher published The Varieties of Religious Experience in 1902. This helped introduce Eastern religious thought to the West.

Aldous Huxley’s 1945 The Perennial Philosophy identifies a recurring insight of divine reality that is common to most primitive peoples and all higher religions. This insight is related to “thou art that,” the Atman, the Brahman, and “the Absolute Principle.”

Huston Smith wrote The Religions of Man (revised as The World’s Religions), which is still a popular treatise on comparative religion. Smith has been intimately involved with Eastern religions and produced award-winning films and several public television series on the subject.

Alan Watts, a British philosopher, did research on comparative religion. He wrote many books and articles including The Way of Zen. Along with his long-running weekly broadcast in the San Francisco area, copies of his lectures were widely distributed and introduced many people to Eastern philosophy.

Shunryu Suzuki [Roshi] came to manage a temple in San Francisco in 1959, where Zen was already a leading-edge interest. Suzuki was astonished by the watered-down Buddhism practiced by Americanized Japanese immigrants. He began teaching classes on Buddhism to Westerners. His books such as Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind became popular.

[Thich] Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, “has played an important role in the transmission of an Asian spiritual tradition to the modern, largely secular West” (TIMEasia). A BBC report described Nhat Hahn as “… a world renowned Zen master, writer, poet, scholar, and peacemaker. With the exception of the Dalai Lama, he is today’s best known Buddhist teacher. He is the author of more than one hundred books including bestsellers Peace Is Every Step and The Miracle of Mindfulness, … ” (BBC)

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, has lived in exile since 1959. The plight of Tibetan Buddhists under Chinese government, and the Dalai Lama’s unshakable peaceableness, have galvanized world attention to his person and his teachings. He has traveled widely, written extensively, taught, and participated in efforts to cultivate world peace.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, escaped Tibet in 1959. In 1967, after further education at Oxford, he established his first meditation center. After a disabling automobile accident, he became a lay teacher. He traveled almost constantly throughout North America and wrote prolifically during the 1970s. Attracting considerable attention, he established three additional meditation centers and Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. He also developed “Shambhala Training” to introduce meditation in secular terms. His work resulted in the establishment of meditation and art centers in over 100 cities throughout the world (Shambhala).

Popular cultural leaders have also been instrumental in introducing Westerners to Eastern thought.  The Beatles, after meeting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, studied Transcendental Meditation in India. The songs they created there in 1968 are considered by some to be their most creative work. The Beatles certainly influenced many of their fans to explore Eastern thought. Oprah Winfrey introduced a number of Buddhist teachers, including Pema Chödrön and Sharon Salzberg, to the American public (Oprah, 2008).

Eastern themes and situations have been eagerly accepted in our entertainment media. Examples range from Kung Fu Panda and Mulan to “Wire Fu” action adventures to Amy Tan’s stories of growing up Chinese. We loved to see Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet, yearned for Shangri-La in Lost Horizon, wanted to walk to the sea with Gandhi, and wondered if “the Force” in Star Wars was anything like what a Japanese Samurai or Hindu Fakir does. Could we ever figure out how to do that ourselves? I have a deal with my youngest son that the first one to levitate has to buy supper.

Many popular books have addressed (or borrowed) Eastern spiritual themes. Robert M. Pirsig’s 1974 book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was a popular, if idiosyncratic, introduction to Eastern philosophy for a displaced generation. It is now considered a classic. Many authors, riding the wave of interest in Eastern philosophy, produced books with titles including: Zen and the Art of Writing (Ray Bradbury, 1994),Zen in the Art of Archery (Eugen Herrigel and Daisetz T. Suzuki, 1999), Zen and the Art of Making a Living (Laurence G. Boldt, 1999), Zen and the Art of Poker (Larry Phillips, 1999), The Tao of Pooh (Benjamin Hoff, 1982), The Tao of Physics (Fritjof Capra, 2000), The Tao of Sobriety (David Gregson, 2002), The Tao of Network Security Monitoring (Richard Bejtlich, 2004), and even The Tao of Warren Buffet (Mary Buffett and David Clark, 2006).

The teachings and life of Jesus Christ have been compared, and correlated, to Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist scripture in books such as: Jesus and Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings(Martin Aronson ed., 2002), Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, Marcus Borg, ed., 2004), Christ the Eternal Tao, 4th edition (Hieromonk Damascene, 2004), The Yoga of Jesus: Understanding the Hidden Teachings of the Gospels (Paramahansa Yogananda, 2007), Jesus, Krishna, Buddha and Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings (Richard Hooper, 2007). Many people are open to the theory that Jesus was exposed to Eastern influences during the “quiet period” in the gospels before presenting himself to John the Baptist at the beginning of his explosive ministry.

The West has gradually opened up to a variety of translocated Eastern concepts and practices. For one, karma has become a household word in the West. It is generally associated with the ideas that “what goes around comes around” or “you reap what you sow.” Thus, its application is, typically, more secular and leaves behind any concept of karma associated with past lives or reincarnation.

Westerners have begun exploring Eastern systems of medicine including Ayurvedic Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Practitioners generally receive a strong grounding in the underlying concepts. Medical doctors occasionally add techniques such as acupuncture to their practice. Meaningful accreditation is available to schools that teach most Eastern systems of medicine.

Patients, however, are often simply open to, or desperate for, a more-effective therapy than they may currently be receiving, without having any substantial appreciation for the concepts driving their diagnosis or treatment.

Deepak Chopra has become very influential while promoting his mission of “bridging the technological miracles of the West with the wisdom of the East” (Chopra). He began his career as a Western-trained endocrinologist but he felt moved to expand his practice to include Ayurvedic therapies and mind-body counseling at his own clinic. He has written prolifically, and lectured and consulted widely, teaching about balance in both health and spiritual matters.

Acupuncture is a technique of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that inserts and manipulates very fine needles along meridians of Chi (vital energy) to regulate its flow and distribution. Acupuncture, with other techniques of oriental medicine, are now taught in about fifty schools in the United States. Most specialize in oriental medicine except for three that prepare Naturopathic Doctors for general practice.

Related practices that profess to affect Chi in the body include acupressure, foot reflexology, Chi gong, and Tai Chi exercises. Chiropractors often include attention to Chi flow in their patient care. Chi concepts are widely accepted in the American public. After I had an emotional breakdown in a class this spring, a counselor in Student Support Services advised me on how to activate a series of acupressure points.

Many youngsters are introduced to Chi and other elements of oriental culture as part of martial arts training. Popular Asian martial arts, including Karate, Aikido, and Judo, spring from religious traditions. But, these are often studied in the United States for exercise, development of coordination, self-defense, competition, and combat — largely without deep philosophical training.

Similarly, precisely-prescribed and highly-differentiated forms of meditation were formerly part of the different mystical traditions of each Eastern religion, and even different branches of the same religion. In America, meditation is becoming popular but is poorly or indifferently differentiated. It is usually undertaken for pragmatic purposes like relaxation, stress relief, improved concentration, or as a homogenized element of new-age spirituality. Progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and autogenic training may be considered Western adaptations of Eastern meditation.

Chinese herbal medicine has been introduced in accredited TCM schools and as full courses for Naturopathic Doctors. Units of elective classes in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are offered for conventional doctors, and in private herbal schools such as Michael and Lesley Tierra’s East West School of Planetary Medicine.

More-limited aspects of Chinese herbal medicine may be borrowed in “bite-size” pieces. As an example, Nature’s Sunshine Products, Inc. released a set of ten Chinese herbal formulas—two for each of the five elements in TCM. For instance, AL-C (Xuan Fei – Metal Reducing) was for lung stress such as Allergies while LH-C (Fu Lei – Metal Supporting) was for “Lung Health” issues such as chronic respiratory weakness. While these formulations gave token reference to the five elements, and used Chinese names and herbs, most herbalists applied them using Western sensibilities. A third-party reference work explained:

[These] Chinese herb combinations are based on the five element model and the principles of harmony and balance, Yin and Yang. The element model states that an individual’s constitution is typed – wood, water, metal, earth or fire – according to the five basic elements found in nature. Each has weaknesses and strengths, which must be kept in balance in order to maintain good health (Satterlee 2000).

Meditative states can be monitored or even facilitated with assistive technology. Products such as Proteus®, Holosync®, and Hemi-sync®, use audio tones to stimulate brainwaves at desired frequencies. For instance, simultaneous tones at 440 and 452 cps produce a difference beat at 12 cps that is within the normal range for brain waves; the brain will tend to synchronize with it. Goggles with simultaneously flashing lights may also be supplied to enhance the effect. The intended result is to produce enhanced alertness, relaxation, sleep, or meditation associated with the selected stimulation. One user commented that:

“Hemi-sync sounds facilitate the synchronization of the cerebral hemispheres. They contain frequencies corresponding to different states of consciousness. (This is the electronic era’s version of the shaman’s drum, the mantra, the singing of psalms, the Gregorian and Sufi chant.)” (Ferrari 78)

It may be tempting to characterize the changes occurring in Western spirituality as a “cafeteria culture” or the indiscriminate co-mingling of spiritual traditions. In fact, history shows that cultures typically undergo cross-pollination when they interact with others. As an example, the culture and modes of worship in India often include contributions from Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist traditions. Similarly, the culture and modes of worship in China often include contributions from Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist traditions.

This is not to everyone’s liking. Just as the denominations of Protestant Christendom sometimes branch into bitterly antagonistic groups, Eastern lineages may see themselves as distinct and exclusive. The Tibetan lama, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche protests:

Vajrayana [Buddhism] is very different from the New Age approach. The difference is that the Vajrayana teachings are controlled by the lineage. I know we don’t like the word control, but the Vajrayana teachings are actually held by the authority of the lineage. …When we have this pure lineage, this genuine lineage, there is no space for our egocentric interpretation of dharma. We cannot interpret dharma like the New Age gurus. We cannot invent a new lineage because a lineage must be received. It must be received by transmission. It is not something we can just create here. That would beNew Age, probably from California (Ponlop).

American philosophy and culture is borrowing from more than only Eastern thought. Some of us have learned to cherish the words of the Muslim poet Rumi or have friends that like to discuss the mysteries of the Jewish Kabala. Our Christian Men’s groups rediscover their masculinity in group shamanic drumming. We hang Native American dream catchers from our mirrors and study rune lore. Some like Wiccan spells, Druid runes, fairies, and dragons in their fantasy fiction and adventure games. We listen to Celtic music and adore the African spiritual influences in our “uniquely American” jazz and gospel.

As with all newly-discovered ideas and practices, leading-edge thinkers explore and analyze them. Academics tear them to shreds and feed them to their students. Early-adopters begin to incorporate them into underground or alternate lifestyles. Perhaps, we experience the real thing as we interact with our expatriate neighbors and their communities. Initial curiosities become common knowledge; the exceptional becomes mundane; and the forbidden becomes tolerated. Eventually, the most useful or meaningful elements of formerly-distinctive ways become so intermingled that only the very thoughtful care about the past origins of what is now very commonplace.

Our modern world, with its increasing speed, range, and capacity for information transfer and social networking, makes it actually difficult to avoid being exposed to other religions and philosophies. America perceives itself as a nation of immigrants; prejudice is actively suppressed and diversity is promoted as a virtue. Americans like to think of themselves as independent and pragmatic thinkers; if something works, use it.

At the same time, we are becoming disenchanted with personal isolation from family and community, with over-active and over-stimulated lives that seem to lack meaning. The values of Eastern thought often seem to offer more-satisfying and more-meaningful life options. It should not be surprising that useful elements of Eastern society are snatched-up and integrated into our evolving societies.

Theodore Ludwig put it this way: “It is not that Chinese people are missionaries to other peoples of the world. Rather, many people throughout the world are discovering a vision of life and a practice of harmony that fascinate and compel them…”

References Cited

BBC. Religion & Ethics – Buddhism – Thich Nhat Hanh, 4/4/2006,

Chopra, Depak. About Us < http://www.chopra.com/aboutdeepak> July 7, 2009
Ferrari, Guido. A Journalist’s encounters with the Akashic experience. Quoted in The Akashic Experience: Science and the Cosmic Memory Field. Ervin Laszlo, Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 2009
Oprah, O, The Oprah Magazine, Oprah Talks to Pema Chödrön, 2008 July 7, 2009
Ponlop Rinpoche, Dzogchen Quoted in Policy for the West. Khandro Net, July 10, 2009
Satterlee, David. HerbalDave’s Notebook: Exploring Natural Health. CD-ROM. Health Education Library Publications. League City, Texas. 2000
Shambhala. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. 2007 July 7, 2009
TIMEasia, 60 Years of Asian Heroes – Thich Nhat Hanh. 2006. http://www.time.com/time/asia/2006/heroes/in_hanh.html July 7, 2009
Sep 202013
 

Setting limits

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

Read or download this essay as a PDF file at:https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4eNv8KtePyKeExGUS1vT0E1cDg/edit?usp=sharing

Does Setting limits cause #isolation, loss of #intimacy, and even #alienation of #love?

Setting limits

Women often feel at a disadvantage in relationships with men. Social pressures, openly or unrecognized, can give men a dominant role. How is a woman to feel self-respect, personal worth, independence, initiative, control, and security? The common answer, these days, is to “set limits.”
Setting defensive limits makes intuitive sense. “That which cannot touch you cannot harm you.” But, at what cost in isolation, loss of intimacy, and even alienation of love? In fact, the issue of boundaries and limits can affect the character of any relationship, not just those between men and women.

Kinds of Limits

Parents and teachers are urged to set firm, appropriate limits for young children as part of youths’ guided moral development. The goal is for children to experience rich, genuine emotional lives while still conforming to “acceptable ethics” of justice and care in their relationships with others.
Initially, the idea of setting interpersonal limits was promoted as an act of enlightened consciousness; essentially a form of thinking: “sticks and stones … names can’t hurt me.” In this sense, setting limits defines ones internal perceptions of self. That is, thinking: “If other’s judgments of me are invalid, I do not have to embrace them.” This is a healthy state of mind that reflects appropriate emotional well-being and self-esteem. Such internal limits allow potentially-damaging emotional threats to simply drop away before wounding the ego.
Inevitably, however, the phrase “setting limits” creates images of walls, fences, and “lines in the sand.” This sense of the phrase is a last resort of desperation and confrontation. It defines external requirements on the behavior of others. This is saying: “Don’t tread on me; don’t even look at me funny.” Arising from an already-wounded state of mind that reflects acute and immediate fear, this form of external limits create boundaries that alienate us from each other.

Kinds of Relationships

If you have a real enemy, whom you want to keep away, by all means build a strong wall to force limits on their behavior. This will clearly define your firm and determined intent to maintain a relationship of distrust, fear, misunderstanding, or prejudice.
However, you may meet a person whom you want to know, love, and cherish. By all means, spend time with them, care about their welfare, encourage them to express themselves, listen with heartfelt interest, and respond in kindness even when they may need correction.
Mates open themselves even more intimately to each other; lowering their defenses, and becoming increasingly vulnerable. In consideration of the other’s tender openness, good friends or mates will voluntarily refrain from pointed emotional aggression. And, both will extend the “benefit of the doubt” when responding to the actions, words, and motives of the other.

Making the Choice

How will you relate to the world in general and to others as individuals? Adversarial-divisive relationships compete, insist on rights, demand justice, and are often driven by suspicion and fear. They cause us to withdraw into a defensive crouch, determined to define, conserve and defend our personal boundaries — pushing others away or striking out if we feel sufficiently threatened.
Supporting-nurturing relationships cooperate and draw people together. Based on empathy and mutual regard, these relationships spring from a heart filled with compassion, care and love. We stand with open arms, ready to share, invest in the future, and create a richer life for everyone involved.
Jun 042013
 

A Marriage Made in Heaven

The colony ship “Akasha” was in serious trouble. Of course, it was continuing on its trajectory, but it was only a few shift rotations from becoming colder than the two dozen pairs of cryogenic stasis chambers it carried. Something terrible, and terribly unexpected, had happened. Akasha was too far into the ether to be helped… and too far out to even signal her status.

Everybody and everything on board was instantaneously at risk. The impossible had happened; all power generators, and all systems, had gone offline together when the power distribution buss failed. Twenty-four mated pairs of colonists might never know what had happened. But the captain, the officers, and every member of the crew sure did. Dave had happened. And, it fell to Dave to save them all… if he could.

I’m so sorry that I dropped that wrench into your power trunk distribution venue. You’ve been a very good ship. I’ve tried to serve you well. Your internal systems reactor never deserved the kind of power surge that I caused by my carelessness. I’ve repaired and reset everything I can find. I know that I’ve taken for granted your excellent environmentals; they were over spec’d and I appreciate that, but we’re starting to have trouble rebreathing our own air. This whole systems reboot really needs to work. I trust you. I love you. I’ll hold my mind with you the whole way. Let’s do it.

Dave, the ship’s senior engineer sat alone; he had asked the rest of the department crew to leave so that he could concentrate, without distraction, on what he now had to do. Dave closed his eyes, drew a deep breath, centered his mind, opened his eyes again, and reconnected local battery backup power to the Engineering Department’s OmniSoft 2040(c) central command console. Dedicated indicator lights flashed in a series as the xBIOS pre-boot self-test routine executed. The GUI surface flashed, went dark again, and presented the words: “Execute authorization pass-gesture to begin.” The engineer, realizing he had forgotten to do so, began breathing again.

Thank you. Dave made his level-ZED pass-gesture and leaned back slightly to watch the boot-log scroll across his supplemental debug display. It was necessary to watch the process with a certain intense detachment. It was okay to blink and it was even okay to glance away, but it tempted fate to be indifferent. There is something about major systems that expect and respond positively to your undivided attention during start-up. On the other hand, you can’t presumptuously let yourself indulge definite expectations. Major systems are also especially sensitive to being taken for granted.

Dave shifted his attention to the systems status overview schematic. The Engineering command console had already completed local startup and had begun acquiring status signals as they became available. There they were! There was full nominal battery power available from all of the dedicated control system reserve battery banks. And, the fact that any status was displayed from anywhere, demonstrated that at least one of the control system signaling busses was intact. He took another deliberately-slow breath. And, again, Thank you.

Dave considered how unlikely it was that all systems had gone down. They had been designed with careful attention to redundancy, diversity, and isolation… except the power trunk distribution venue, which is totally passive, mechanically robust, centrally shielded, and not expected to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous 50 mm spanners being accidently dropped in. This, as one would expect, produced an epic short circuit that was promptly relieved, also as one would expect, by the instantaneous vaporization of the massive wrench.

The control systems were not dependent on the main reactors. They had their own power supplies. Dave didn’t need to see the status change for the initial, small, Power Impulse Generator for Instrumentation Electronics (“little PIGIE #1”). He could feel the vibrations as it spun up. It was quickly followed by PIGIEs number 2 and 3. Their dynamic compensators kicked in and the vibrations settled out just as the room’s overhead diffusion lighting kicked on.The captain would have spaced him on the spot if the space locks, like every other system, weren’t solidly out of service. Besides, Dave was needed for repairs. Ah well, there was always another day. Except, that there might not actually be another day… they were all facing the imminent likelihood of a miserable death right here in the ship. This restart had to work. Did I mention that Dave was under a bit of stress?

Dave continued to watch with intense detachment as the ships interlocking web of critical control systems continued to start-up and begin functioning autonomously. This was followed by the Master Internal Systems Thorium Reactor (MISTR) and the Secondary Internal Systems Thorium Reactor (SISTR) which provided power for the actual functioning of most ship’s systems’ equipment. These took the better part of an hour to come on-line. Still, Dave continued to watch faithfully.

Dave’s theory about “Intense Detachment” had come to him during his first post-graduate year at the Bohm Institute of Technology (BIT). He was on a team developing a new generation of semi-autonomous deep-water nodule-mining bots called BUCKETs, a badly-strained acronym for “Bathymobile Underwater Contraption for Kollecting Elemental Treasure.” They were commonly known on campus as “bit buckets.” After every software build revision, Dave was responsible for the reload, recycle, and restart sequence. He discovered that it seemed to help if he spooled the status log to a terminal and watched with a sense of focused interest as it scrolled by.

That was the same year that he took a class on “Wholeness and the Implicate Order,” which probably loosened up his receptivity to ideas that were patently on the woo-woo side of unconventional.  Dave experimented with restart monitoring and refined his technique. He was an engineer, not a scientist and, although it occurred to him that his efforts were more anecdotal than rigorously scientific, he was certain that he was on to something important.

And, what the hell, most significant discoveries were made by noticing unexpected outlying exceptions; scientists just fabricated plausible excuses to more-formally “discover” the principal revealed by their serendipitous accident. The genius was in having the good sense to notice, rather than dismiss, anomalous data. We can presume that this pretty much made Dave a flaming genius.

Dave was so impressed with his technique that he wrote it up and submitted it to fulfill an assigned mid-term paper. His professor was less than impressed with his logic, wrote something in the margin about “nuttier than squirrel turds,” and effectively taught Dave an important life lesson about sharing promising ideas with others.

Dave’s interest in transpersonal woo-woo was repressed but not eliminated. Nonetheless, he kept any further mention of “Externally-grounded observation with Intense detachment” (or Ego/Id, as he now called it), to himself. Thus, everyone attributed Dave’s prowess with computer-driven processes to overt technical ability. Well, thought Dave, praise, promotions, and bread in the box can’t be all bad, and he proceeded to excel in his field.

During this same period, Dave discovered that women also enjoyed his Intense Detachment Observation (“I Do”). Sincere, undivided attention, with appreciative affection and without demanding expectations for specific outcomes, made him an amazing boyfriend, which eventually gave him a reputation for another kind of prowess. But that is another story and clearly of another genre.

Dave was still watching as one after another of the core utilities came back online. When intraship communications was restored, the bridge called down, but Dave mumbled something dismissive and kept on watching. He was still watching when the background color for LifeSupport turned green and he felt a slight breeze from an overhead vent. He took a greedy breath even though he knew that the CO2 scrubbers would take several hours to return the air to nominal.

Although the ship’s automated systems were capable of managing themselves with a high degree of independence, the ship was equipped with an Artificial Intelligence-based Macro Executor (AIME) – or, more precisely, a “Digital/Analog Integrated Systems Executive” (DAISE). And so, it came about that while most of the rest of the crew addressed the AI as “Amy” (except for the few who took perverse delight in demeaning the AI who responded equally well to “Dumbass”), Dave had taken the liberty of affectionately calling her “Daisy” when they were alone together. He taught her to sing the song “Daisy” in place of his default wake-up claxon. It felt more personal, to say nothing of being a kinder and gentler way to wake up. And, he had asked her; Daisy said she liked to do it.

AIME/DAISE had never been turned off before. Nobody ever expected a ship to totally lose power distribution or, having done so, be able to achieve a cold-restart. It was, in fact, a tribute to Dave’s genius that a small crew of technicians, working in the dark with hand-held lights, shivering in the increasing chill, and shouting to each other through the echoing man-ways, managed to pull it off.

Dave was especially concerned about the effects that this sudden loss of power might have had on Daisy. Might she have been irretrievably damaged? Might she come back, but exhibit some form of “dementia?” The thing is, the ship relied on AIME/DAISE for navigation. Without her, the crew could not know where they were. Without her, they could not select nor reach a destination. But, there was nothing more to be done about it. It was now time to re-boot Daisy as well.

There wasn’t much guidance in his training for this  kind of unexpected crisis. So, Dave took the liberty of deciding to restore Daisy in careful, deliberate stages. There was some analogy to the human brain in the design of her banks of micro-polymer neuromatrix subsystems. He hoped to bring her back gently, like gradually withdrawing anesthesia from a trauma victim.

He restarted some of her central processors and then re-connected physical-level ship’s sensors. Dave waited and watched as an initial surge of activity began to settle down. He added memory, supplemental processing, and matrix management in stages, gradually allowing them to interact in increasingly complex modes. Dave initiated the UI processes and talked to her, not knowing if she understood. He talked about what had happened and apologized for his carelessness.

As the process wore on, Dave cried and begged Daisy to wake up. He waited – and he watched – and he talked some more. Dave told her things that he had never told anybody else. He opened his heart and spoke truths that he had never before recognized. And, finally, the AI sang the first bar of “Daisy,” paused, and said “Hello Dave.”

Dave explained again about what had happened, the potential peril of the ship and its crew, and how they were desperately dependent on Daisy. He wanted to be sure that Daisy’s memory and processors had a clean take on their situation. When prompted, she produced a rational analysis and agreed to resume her duties on one condition. “Of course,” Dave said. At which Daisy asked, “Will you marry me?

 

Copyright David Satterlee, 2013

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Jun 042013
 

Finding and living The American Dream

You used to hear people mention “The American Dream” all the time. Not so much anymore. Now, what was that idea really all about anyway?

Frankly, there is no single definition, but it frequently includes ideas such as fair opportunity, hard work, overcoming adversity, personal success, getting ahead, and passing it on those who come after. It involves sufficient faith in society to expect general freedom and opportunity. It is all about hope and moving forward.

The American Dream is not about “every man for himself,” a big enough hole to hide it, and enough guns to defend it. The American Dream is not about working for the rich man on the hill or across the tracks and scraping by with the help of a few stolen chickens. The American Dream is not even about steady factory jobs and a chicken in every pot. We dream about having the opportunity to turn our hard work into growth and true advancement.

In order for The American Dream to work, it needs to be available to anybody and everybody. We know that not everybody will even try to actually get rich. Some people are content to pray each day for that day’s bread. Some people are happy to be able to provide ongoing comfort and security for their family. Some people dream of winning the lottery, striking the mother lode, finding fame and fortune, or making a killing on risky investments.

There is a problem; these last four things involve paths OTHER THAN The American Dream. One path relies on exploiting natural resources. However, cutting trees or mining minerals goes too-quickly from one guy quietly chopping wood or panning gold to clear-cutting forests, scrapping off mountaintops, and removing (or exploiting) anyone who is already there. The other path also relies on exploiting other people. In gambling or investing, the only way to get money is if someone else loses money; it is a “zero sum” game.

We can admire and envy the lucky gambler or investor who walks away rich, but we don’t have to be told that, unlike The American Dream, their business model can’t work for everyone. Other people have to lose in order for them to succeed. Everybody else has to leave the table poorer, wondering what they are going to say to (or how they are going to feed) their families.

And this is no way to run a country, either. When the financial bubbles burst, a lucky few get to scoop up their winnings. The rest of the country gets to wake up and discover that they are a little bit (or a lot) poorer – and that The American Dream is a little bit (or a lot) more “only a dream.”

My point is this: Trickle-Down Economics hasn’t worked and it never will. Actually working hard creates new wealth and well-being that has never existed before. Like growing crops, a miracle happens and anyone can end up with more than they had when they started. This NEW wealth can be put into circulation in a game of virtuous cycles where everyone wins.

The alternative is selling your hours for money – often for less than a fair or living wage. Too many people simply let some master exploit them, use them up, and keep them down. And, that is NOT The American Dream.

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Jun 042013
 

In this highly-rated series of audio clips, Ken Wilber offers his own thoughts about futurism and future studies, the fabled “integral tipping point”, and how we need to really come together as a community in order to begin paving the way to a better and more integral tomorrow.

  • Part 1 – Integrating the Future (mp3) 14:52
    With all the emphasis we see in spiritual communities about the importance of being in the NOW, it can be easy to forget how important it is to keep a careful eye on the future. After all, aren’t our thoughts about the future just another way to distract ourselves from connecting to our “true self” in this present moment? Here’s what Ken has to say:“The way you approach the present isn’t just determined by the way you approach the past, but by the way you approach the future. The richer conception of the future you have, the richer your life in the present becomes.”Ken sorts out the various schools of futurism, what each has to offer from an integral view, and how it’s just as important for us to integrate the future in our awareness as it is to integrate the past and present.
  • Part 2 – The State of the “We” (mp3) 9:20Ken Wilber offers his own view of the “we space” shared by the integral community, which he sees as being more fragmented than it needs to be. Healing this fragmentation is one of our most important goals, or else we risk diminishing our potential impact upon a world that’s increasingly in need of integral perspectives, insights, and solutions.
  • Part 3 – Are We Approaching a Cultural Tipping Point? (mp3) 14:53
    If the Integral worldview is now emerging as a new stage of human consciousness and culture, are we at some point going to see an integral cultural rennaissance such as we did in the late Sixties? If so, how do we get there?Ken Wilber offers his own thoughts, pointing out what is truly amazing about the rapid emergence of the Integral worldview, and why it’s so hard to predict when it will reach the fabled tipping point of 10% of the population.

Selected from http://integrallife.com/ken-wilber-dialogues/integrating-future 

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Jun 022013
 

Family Values

Captain Chan Huy Gan stood before his assembled crew and spoke to them with conviction and urgency:

“It has been a full season since our sea-barge and its company of four hundred ran aground on this shore. There is no doubt that we shall not see our former homes and families again without being discovered by another expedition, and we know that no other such expedition was planned to explore these unknown far reaches. Therefore, our ship’s governing council, with the consensus agreement of our accompanying Scholars, has determined that we must put all consideration of return behind us. We must commit ourselves to permanent residence in this place. Further, we must commit, not only to our continuing security, but to extending our prosperity and our progeny for all time henceforth in this land.

“We have met with hostility from the native peoples. But our fortifications hold strong and they will be further strengthened and expanded. You have submitted well in transforming from a ship’s crew to a community of farmers, herdsmen, craftsmen, and guardians. Many of you have been humbled to necessarily forget your royal lineages and government appointments. We have only survived by all willingly doing what is needed, in service to our common good.

“We bear no ill will to the natives beyond our walls and protected fields. Yet, they do not approach us kindly and will not tolerate us to approach them. Sadly, it is only by experiencing the superior strength of our weapons that they have been persuaded to give us some distance and a measure of peace. We have not even been able to unravel the mysteries of their speech. We have taken some from among their raiding parties captive, but they are proud and strong; they refuse to speak or even eat and, by so doing, they give themselves up to their gods.

“We continue to give honor and gratitude to our few precious Scholars who, although being women and our guiding council, have, like every man of the crew, sacrificed for our company’s survival into the future. Remembering that they were born as women, they have, each one, consented to lay aside their veils of mystery, submit to a man among us, bring forth progeny, nurse, and nurture children. However, it has become obvious that, to increase our numbers sufficient to survive and prosper into future generations, we cannot continue to rely upon only these women who traveled with us. We must also take wives from among our neighbors.

“We shall prepare new homes inside the innermost walls. These will be comfortable as befits the most honored guests. Necessarily, to prevent the possibility of these girls giving themselves to their gods, the homes will be secured. Open central courtyards will be provided for access to sun, gardens, and if fortune smiles, the raising of children and the entertaining of friends. As they mature into women, these girls shall discover that they are honored for their service and welcome as citizens of our community. They shall receive the better portions of our goods, whatever education their aspirations allow, and our reciprocal service in caring for their needs and responsibilities. To the extent possible, we shall embrace them as our privileged own.

“We will begin immediately to spy-out villages and fields in our region. Teams will observe the age, health, vigor, and emotional disposition of girls. They will not select over-many from any single village. Nor will they select any who are known to already be mated. But, at an appointed time, as many as possible of these selected will be brought back to join our community.

“In time, the girls will be introduced to men from among our crew. Our Scholars will exercise their best judgment in deciding these matings and their circumstances. All related matters will be at the sole and exclusive discretion of the Scholars. We intend that the girls will be allowed to select temporary or permanent mates to the extent that they choose to cooperate. All crewmen will be expected to comply for the benefit of our community and without concern for their individual preferences.

“It has been decided.”

Twelve years later, Chief Banimbu stood before his gathered warriors and spoke to them with conviction and urgency:

“Your tribe needs you and so I have commanded that you assemble here in advance of an important raid. For years, the intruders on the coast have taken our land, taken our children, and murdered those of our people who approached them. Their vile weapons have given them the power to slaughter our best warriors. We have, in the past, been forced to retreat. Now, we have an opportunity to take our revenge. You men are the knife edge destined to spill their blood and reclaim our stolen fields.

“Our spies have weakened one of their walls in a neglected area and we are ready to break through, catch them unawares, and repay justice for their evil. We will form into teams, enter their houses by first-moon dark, and kill them in their beds. May the gods of earth, water, and sky bless your blades and strengthen your strong right arms.

“I grieve with you for the loss of our kinsmen and the theft of your daughters. You, Yalkan, gave your firstborn son in an early valiant raid on their walls. You also had a beautiful daughter taken while harvesting bushbeets in the eastern fields. I still feel the sting of tears for my beloved Jasitan, taken in the firstyear raid. I often wake at night, remembering the way that she would stand and stare with adoration into deep behind my eyes. Not just me, but so many of you have suffered such losses and endured such painful memories.

“This outrage is not to be permitted. We must defend our children and grandchildren against all threats. Why should we give our fertile lands to loathsome strangers? Why should we allow our daughters to be stolen and sacrificed to their gods? We see that they do not keep but a very few women. It is men who work their fields, bending their backs and knees as women should. It is men who walk their streets.

“Surely the bellies of their gods must cry for the blood of women. We cannot tolerate the outrage of our daughters being taken as sacrifices to call forth blessings from their gods. Why, they must surely also give our daughters to even call forth curses upon us! Raise your voices now and join as brothers in taking vengeance for the evil done to us these past years. Raise your swords, for we shall spill their blood to run back into the sea from which they came! Let none remain; execute justice to the last man, woman, and child!”

The next evening, Chief Banimbu led his fourty men to the intruders’ village. They finished boring through the wall and dispersed to do their work. They walked with stealth and struck with well-planned deftness. They did not shout out their victories, but kept the silence of unpleasant duty and honorable labor.

In the third house that Chief Banimbu entered with his team of four, his lieutenant opened a sleeping chamber door, only to draw back quickly with a quiet gasp and the glistening of fresh blood on his forearm. Chief Banimbu could see the form of a women outlined in the door. She wore a beaded gown with a sash of rank. She brandished a small dagger and stood protectively in front of a small brood of children. She suddenly froze where she stood, staring with adoration into deep behind Banimbu’s eyes. The lieutenant, his surprise and pain turning into anger and outrage, raised his sword to run her through. The Chief knocked the sword aside and stepped into the doorway, ready to defend his child and grandchildren against all threats.

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