Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sometimes We Think You Like Your Cat More Than Us...?

When I was the Center Coordinator at a meditation center in Chicago, I had the great pleasure of the companionship of a little black kitty named Nina, Spanish for little girl.  Which she was.  She was small and sweet and shy and mostly only interested in my company.  And I was happy to provide the very best life I could for her in a good kitty way.

And one day a student at the Center said, "sometimes I think you like your cat more than us."  To which I replied, "only sometimes?"  This is apparently not the spiritually masterful response that was expected, but I think it was one of truest things I ever said.

And what is spiritually masterful if not reflecting truth in your speech.  I could have talked about the dignity of the soul or respect or universal love, but I do tend to enjoy the silent and undemanding presence of kitties over the requirements of human beings.

I have great love for many people, and lots of like for many, many more, and deep concern about and sympathy for even more than that.  But I love that kitties never need to know how my day was, or how I slept, or where our relationship stands, or what my plans are.  Their immediacy of focus is such a respite from our modern need to over-think and over-do.

I love also that they are unfiltered.  A kitty will never say one thing and mean another, never pretend that they like you petting their head when they don't.  I admire any living creature with the courage to live without compromise. 

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Back Off, Dude

Reading a local community paper the other day, and an Op-Ed piece was berating its readers for someone outside the community doing what they thought someone within the community should have been done.  I thought a little appreciation for someone doing this thing at all seemed the right response.

Y'know how much we are all doing, all the time.  And you think it's a shame we're not doing more?  Seriously. We are expected to be smart about finances, health, investments, work, insurance, automotive concerns, fashion, home repairs, technology, child care, self improvement, etc., and are encouraged every day by all sorts of experts to take ownership of and responsibility for all of these things.  As if somehow simply tending to everyday concerns doesn't already fill our time to overflowing.

I watched Jodhaa Akbar, a movie about the great Mogul King Akbar, set in the 1500s in India.  And I loved the movie for so many reasons, but most of all because it reminded me of a time when art and music and dance elevated everyday life.  Now they are what you see in performances or recitals or in galleries, but once upon a time, you sang while you worked, and communities danced together, and holidays weren't just the 24 hours in which you crammed all your travel and pleasure.

So, back off op-ed dude.  Stop pushing people to do and be even more, when we don't have the time or resources to elevate our own lives, to make who we are and how we live into works of art. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Else Could It Be Other Than Hate?

Maybe you're familiar with the recent flap over the Ralph Lauren ad with a horribly re-touched photo?  You know something's wrong when her head is wider than her hips!  Looking at the super-skinny digitally manipulated photos of fashion models makes me certain that at the heart of the fashion industry is a real hatred of women - of womanly curves and softness and roundness.

So much of women's fashion today is clearly designed to fit slender young men, who do not bear the apparently hideous burden of breasts and hips and tummies and thighs, but rather offer narrow straight lines.  And in order to find women on whom such clothes look good, the industry pushes models and consumers alike to be increasingly thin and narrow and straight as well.

Cellulite, round tummies, full upper arms, etc., are not just considered unattractive, but there is a real element of sinfulness associated with women who are so careless and lazy as to let their bodies be lush and womanly, as if they are a sure sign of moral decay and good citizenship.

Of course, there's the other model of womanliness designed to appeal to men, not to fashion sense, and that model uses as its inspiration the porn star - bleach blond hair and surgically enhanced, overly exaggerated and overly exhibited female body parts.

What ludicrous and artificial choices.  Why condemn the most typically feminine aspects of the female body?  Risking the wrath of all that is PC, I wonder if gay men designing for women makes a difference?  If your interest in the female form is purely aesthetic, then it might seem perfectly reasonable to design for a certain artistic ideal that is no way connected with most "real women".

And if you prefer a narrower, less-curvy figure in what you find intrinsically attractive (i.e., men), then you might also bring that preference into your design work, and look for models, albeit female, who match that look, naturally gravitating toward and cultivating slender and narrow.  If you like twinks (Google it if you want to know), you might like your female models looking that same way.

Of course this is conjecture, but I know with certainty about the condemnation of any female celebrity unfortunate enough to be caught bearing cellulite.  And entertainment media accuse any famous women with even a little bit of a tummy of being either overweight or pregnant.  The biggest selling cover story is often the actress that lost 20 (or 30 or 40 or 50) pounds and thereby changed her life - and must now wear a bikini on a magazine cover.  Woe to the woman who gives birth and doesn't make regaining her pre-pregnancy figure a priority; it demonstrates unforgivable sloth.

I'm all for cultivating a deeper sense of self that doesn't look to size and shape, but to qualities and virtues and character.  Real beauty is completely invisible and its standards are eternal, unchanged regardless of culture or fashion or style or any of the other transitory measures we keep trying to impose on it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Proof of G*d

In the screaming world of cable news and the over-hyped release of any new creative work, hostile debates about everything from politics to fashion are pushed to the extreme. And, for as much of a pop culture fan as I am, I do my best to not participate in raising the volume of the already noxious noise.

But when I hear religious fundamentalists argue with atheists, that noise gets my attention, at least for a second, because I wonder why they are arguing and what a win would look like. Why would a fundamentalist of any stripe accept the challenge that there must be a final and scientific proof of G*d? And why would an atheist be so fundamentally dogmatic in proving that G*d doesn't exist?

I need the exact same proof for the existence of G*d that I need for the existence of love or happiness, and that is simply this: experience. I have the full measure of my own experience that tells me everything I need to know.

I'm not asking science to concur, or religion to explain, any more than I would ask them to verify that the love I know is real. I don't need an expert to tell me the laughter I share with friends is proof of happiness. I already know it.

I know G*d can seem abstract and philosophical and literary and all sorts of other human constructs. Just like all the great poetry and prose and psychological analysis about love. But the essential experience of that divine presence is all the proof I will ever need.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Belief...not belief. Whatever.

I'm so tired of folks who insist on flying the banner of belief. Y'know - the ones who talk about what they believe, or don't, and insist that we should understand something significant about them because of it.

I have no issue with belief. I believe in all sorts of things. I just don't want to have to know what you're trying to tell me with your belief shorthand. Tell me what you mean instead. There is so much belief shorthand, all tied up with labels, that we have lots of words and no meaning.

Like global warming. Seems innocent enough. But part of the shorthand about global warming for conservatives is that it represents an erroneous belief in scientific data, and the politics and policy that have emerged from concerns about global warming are just another excuse for liberals to trample the rights of private citizens and businesses.

And part of the shorthand about global warming for scientists and perhaps more liberal politicians is that we are facing a crisis that requires resources and engagement and that it's getting exponentially worse, so we must act now. And failure to do so may be the most catastrophic event to befall the planet.

BIG difference in perspective. What the actual data reveals depends entirely on your basic belief system. You cannot understand information in a belief-free vacuum. It is simply not possible. And belief comes from experience, and experience comes from belief. 70 degrees is a bit of factual data. If you're in Arizona in the summer, it means very cool. If you're Alaska in the winter, it means very warm. The information by itself otherwise has no particular meaning.

There are all those folks who don't seem to realize that what they believe - the truths they hold to be self-evident - are beliefs at all. Folks who think that evolution is the answer to explaining the world believe that science got it right, and that ONLY science got it right. And some of them defend that viewpoint with more religious fervor than the overtly religious. And they hold that because their belief is based in science, that it's not at all about belief. It's just about facts.

But it's never that way. What you accept and reject is essentially about belief. "Scientific" notions of the truth have changed dramatically over time, and continue to change, literally every day. There is no constant truth in science. Just the belief that examination of the physical world will yield the ultimate insight into the meaning and purpose and existence of life.

It's the exact same pursuit as religion, just different methodology, and different acceptable criteria. And you can see that some folks who have been wounded by religion are so religious in their rejection of religion and so passionate in their embrace of science. They are defensive and unbending about the rightness of their belief in non-belief.

Reminds me of the terrible tension between the most ardent fundamentalists of Islam and Judaism. They are so very similar in how their belief should be upheld in daily life - the importance of prayer, the rejection of modern culture and society, gender roles, the importance of religious education, etc., - and yet for all their similarities, for their common heritage and ancestry, they see each other only as enemies, seeing only the differences and blind to the similarities.

These are all folks who are deeply, intensely, passionately concerned with Truth - finding it, understanding it, living it and sharing it. And ironically, their equally intense pursuit of the same thing has taken them in irreconcilably different directions.

I don't know that we can get to any place of understanding without one of two things - or both of these things. One is communication with real, simple, everyday words, with the actual intention of listening to each other. And the other is silence. If we can come together in silence, hearing not our own voices, but the heartbeat of G*d, then maybe we have a chance.