Friday, September 16, 2011

From 90s Christian Shirts to YouTube to You!

I realized that I hadn't taken a poke at McDonald's in a while, so I went looking around for something interesting. What I found was some fellow in the tiny country of Liechtenstein, Fr. Johannes M Schwarz. He doesn't seem at all disturbed by the mixture of animal-torturing factory farming, food that destroys your health, the production of massive amounts of solid waste, and... the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yep. Says the artist himself, "Not fast food - but fast grace! For your catholic enjoyment!"

Goodness, what a deep voice! Okay, I know what the guy's trying to do, it's just... well, the shirts from a decade or two ago, when some Protestant Christians seemed eager to show that they can be cool and hip too, were one thing. The animation and sound kinda take it to a different place.

Remember seeing "Jesus Christ" in the Coke-logo font across the chest of some young person who, really, is just like anybody else? Here's the video version. Kinda.

"Well it doesn't always have to be a soft drink. And I get to bust that fake Santa. Enjoy - Always ;-)"

What's the connection between Christianity and junk food? During my time on a campus last year, I would consider the food that various religious groups offered when they set up on the lawn. I appreciated the vegan items at Krishna lunch, but the Catholics set out Pringles and chocolate chip cookies for us to enjoy while they strummed guitars and beat bongos. And I've known people brought up in Christian homes who still lived on their childhood diets of candy and soda. Is it in lieu of alcohol and other recreational drugs? I dunno.

Or maybe this guy's trying to tell me something. I know I did a soda one already, but come on, these are well done.

Now please don't get me wrong. I had a "Get Out of Hell Free" shirt myself about ten years ago, done in the style of a well-known card from the Monopoly board game. I like finding unusual t-shirts, and I'm fine with the ideas of many religions. In fact, if I stumbled upon this on a shirt at a thrift store today, I would probably want it.

"This one I made with my students in mind. :-) Ludwig Ott wrote the popular and widely spread Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. And now he might be the only author with a movie style intro to his book :-) If you want a generally solid synthesis of the catholic faith, check out ignatius press or amazon to get a copy."

Okay, by now you may have guessed that I've become an instant fan of this guy, and that's why I'm putting so many videos into a single post. You just have to make a little space for yourself when approaching something new, y'know? What can I say? I have a complex aesthetic sense. One more and I'll let you go, okay?

"This being a Mary clip it is bound to attract protestant slurs. For all those fundamentalists out there: Stop whining. Start reading up on the early church. Long before any one sacred book was in anyone's hand, there was tradition. Jesus founded a living Church, not a book club! 2 Thess 2:15. This mystical body subsists in the Catholic Church!"

Thank you for bearing with me. As you were!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Baby Gorilla Takes a Bath

That's pretty much all there is to say about it. Except maybe "awwwwww." That's an option. The choice is yours!

'Tween-Time Motels: Gateway and Murphy's

Before the bustle at the lower end of corporate capitalism begins along US 19 in the Tampa Bay area, fairies go about spreading the sobs of long-dead broken hearts and the sighs shattered dreams. This is a 'tween time, and its beauty can seize a bleary-eyed driver drifting between here and there. Weeds triumphing though pavement cracks and peeling paint seem to signify something more now. I'd like to show you a little of that silent magic.

Look out! I guess that, judging by the name, once you've stayed here a few times, you'll want to move on to seedier and seedier motels. You won't be able to stop yourself. There's a discount liquor store right there, so you'll be able to ease your passage downward a bit.

Hm, if you can't afford to stay with the leprechauns, just turn right.

Do you think St. Patrick would be willing to chase roaches out, too?

Sure and 'tis full this mornin'.

So there we are. More eerie and decadent beauty will be coming your way soon, courtesy of your favorite Monkey. Stay tuned!


Some readers may have been exposed the the often-surprising East-West blends that pop up in Japanese culture, and surely more than a few have checked out an Engrish blog or site. But what about south of the Himalayas?

When ancient Hindu traditions and American comic books meet, the results are... well... see for yourself...

Naggingly catchy, isn't it? Yes, those were chakras wiggling around on his back there, and a big ol' Om in the beginning.  Shakti is the active, feminine principle of ultimate Divinity, so this guy doesn't have to come from another planet or anything, God Herself gives him his might! See, seven gurus blessed him with his powers, and they led him in awakening Kundalini, the serpent goddess that coils around the base chakra and springs up through the other six and out through the top of the head.

He's such a do-gooder, he even wants kids to take their ayurvedic tonic. That's traditional Indian medicine. What a fellow, huh?

So, if you're really intrigued, how 'bout some longer stuff? I like how the green guy's head shows up in all that fire at 4:47. Better than any old Dr. Who episode I've ever seen! It seems that something is awfully funny to him. Maybe the flames tickle.

Kinda neat, no? Better than some fellow whose name calls to mind Nietzsche's übermensch, a favorite notion of Hitler's. This guy has God on his side. Shaktimaan! Shaktimaan!

I'm gonna be walking around singing that all day, aren't I?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Nervous Vegan's Nuttiness Exposed!

Let me explain.

The weather's been relatively mild lately, so I sit on our screened-in front porch while I chant and say the Rosary now. It's been enjoyable, and fruitful too. I do a lot of praying before and after, longing to find a place in the world where my spiritual bent and practical concerns merge, seeking a state in which life just flows. I pray for protection, strength, peace, vision, perspective, faith, and well-being for Kat while she's away, and I also try to share blessings with her two sons and my two sisters. Let's not be selfish now!

I've also felt free to return to a long-time interest in the chakras. See, I need to balance my self more than ever now, since Kat and I are on this trip together. I've got to do my best for her, I've got to be my best for her. The state of another soul is at stake here. I can't mess this one up. I can't even begin to tell you what she means to me. I feel a reaction in my tear ducts even as I type. I have to call on all the help I possibly can.


In this post, I mentioned my discovery that the inner part of a Rosary has 54 beads, so if you go around twice, you can chant Hindu japa in the traditional number, 108. Yesterday, out on the porch, I spontaneously developed a method for using the entire set of beads, starting on the cross with a Gayatri Mantra. Today, I recited this Shakti Rosary to great effect.

I've been chanting a bija, the basic sound for a chakra, 108 times. I examine myself using chant and visualization, spotting the weakest chakra and choosing the corresponding sound to activate it. As I've mentioned before, I won't try to vouch for the objective reality of such things, since I don't think it even matters. What works, works. You've got to stop analyzing and start doing before too long.

It was clear that the chakra of the day is Manipura, the third, fiery one. This is the center of power, of self assertion. As I chanted, I was thinking more and more that I had to come in and start typing this post. I have to assert this side of my experience more clearly.

I have to start telling you about the Shakti Rosary. And the other Rosary method I've developed, one that requires much more explanation: The Disney Rosary.

See, religion is culture too. It's good to remember that the culture is not the object of worship, but simply a means to Something greater. So The Disney Rosary helps you maintain your sense of humor about religious practice. But I'll tell you more soon.

So the Rosary as a versitile instrument for attainment is something I'll be promoting here.

The post title up there makes it obvious that I intend to maintain my sense of humor. I don't mind if I seem nutty. Perhaps a funny show is what some people need to make the spiritual accessible. That's just fine.

So here's my third-chakra challenge: let myself be myself online. Here I am.

'Tween-Time Motels: La Mark Charles

US 19 in the Tampa Bay area is something of a horror during the day, an endless stretch of... eh... unique driving styles, nonstop traffic, and strip malls. Starbuck's, Subway, McDonald's... it's a litany of humanity buried in its own works. New monoliths arise amid crumbling relics of Space-Age exuberance. Beeping, growling, carbon-monoxide-wheezing construction vehicles perpetually perform surgery on this great, calcified artery.

But in the early morning, when only a few straggling headlights meet yours, there's something a bit haunting about it.

Dawn and dusk are 'tween times, liminal moments when fairies are said to roam. These particular specimens may be spreading mildew and dry rot rather than dewdrops, but the beauty of their work is apparent nonetheless. And I'd like to start sharing some of that beauty with you.

The enigmatically-named La Mark Charles... a reference to a famous place I've never heard of, or was some optimistic entrepreneur sure that adding a touch of French to his own name would create a mystique about the place? I'm afraid I don't know enough to say. There's a gothic air about it now though.

Does it seem to you that the glowing word "vacancy" is telling you about something more than the simple availability of rooms? Maybe it's just me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Moving at the Speed of... Slow. But C'mon, Dr. Jesus is Awfully Swell!

Just a nifty little cultural whatever. I see that this has been kicking around for years, but I just discovered it. Oh well, maybe not being up on 'net stuff is a sort of badge of honor in itself.

Malaria kills.

Just.... So... Horribly... Wrong...

So... economic imperialism is a crime, but cultural imperialism is all righteous and stuff. Let's claim that they have some WMDs squirreled away somewhere and start bombing right now.

Our own family is in desperate trouble, so let's start peering though the blinds and criticizing the neighbors. That'll make us feel better! And let's destroy the environment a little more while we're at it, all in the name of what's good and right.

Have you seen the nonstop flow of ads in our country convincing women that they're somehow fundamentally flawed unless they buy a heap of poisonous, animal-torturing cosmetics, have surgeons carve their bodies up like roasts and rearrange them so that they're in line with fleeting cultural standards, and pay for the latest, trendy weight-loss regimens? Ladies, you're nothing unless you're perpetually in your early twenties.

Some guy long ago said something about he who is without sin casting the first stone. Remember Him? His name is not just a magic word for drawing attention to your political campaign.

Pardon me, but such crass moral posturing deserves no tolerance. As the Buddha would have it, I appreciate the suffering of the perpetrators. That doesn't justify the crime though.

The Thing About a Picture and a Thousand Words? It May Be True After All.

America Now
Taken by yours truly.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Turn a Moment Over in Your Hands

Will you try something? Turn a moment over in your hands again and again, just looking at it. Or a sight, a sound a smell, an event, a thought, a feeling, anything. Don't have a goal or a plan, don't try to figure out how you can benefit.  Just explore. Just consider. Just play.

Play doesn't necessarily mean frivolity or excess, it's simply a basic human quality. Many animals do it, but there's something distinctive about our minds in the way we go about it. It's part of the reason that the computer you're reading this on exists. It's something that makes us us.

Let go. No, I don't mean get all self-indulgent, just calm down and let your thoughts run their course. If you find them turning in the same direction again and again, intentionally push off into unknown territory. Don't edit your thoughts. Allowing some ideas to occur won't make you a bad person somehow. Don't get superstitious now, you're just exploring, not defining yourself. There's no threat to your free will in play.

I certainly don't mean to suggest that you should start worrying, the restrictive opposite of survival. Fear shuts off the process of exploration, though that freedom is often just what we need to find solutions to our problems. It's how we overcome fear.

Unfortunately, we're wired for more fear than the modern world requires. I saw a tiger at the zoo yesterday, and even a Komodo dragon, and I didn't have to run. I escaped without a scratch.

If you're American, this video likely stirs strong feelings in you as it does in me. I do get hits from the Middle East and other parts of the world, so I don't know how all readers will feel, but to me, these are not pleasant images and sounds. For other Americans reading this, emotions are probably many and strong, Is fear among them?

I hope you didn't stop listening now. You see, ten years ago today, the American mind snapped shut. For better or worse, innovation has defined the USA from the beginning, but there's been nothing new in a decade. No new music genre to rival jazz or blues or rock or hip-hop, nothing but past styles recycled into slick pop.

As it looks now, there will be no new inventions, no 21st-century equivalents of light bulbs, phonographs, airplanes, and TVs. No new form of communication will make this web page seem old-fashioned. There will be nothing like a first-time moon landing. There's nothing in the works.

I know that any reader who lets his or her mind run through all options of thought will question whether this situation is a bad thing at all. I tend to agree that a wake-up call stirring America out of dreams of excess can be positive, but unfortunately, our collective retreat is not a wise and thoughtful one, but rather one driven by fear. We're not living any more, we're grasping and hiding.

I'm not talking about politics and I'm definitely not extolling the virtues of technology. I'm pointing out what I've seen in the quality of ordinary lives lately. There's little joy left in the faces of people in crowds, and what does pass for happiness is more like desperate, angry noisiness.

In spite of collective traumas, in spite of bad financial situations, every individual reaction is a choice. If your country's been attacked and the horror of countless deaths still flashes through your mind, if you can't pay the bills, you need the freedom of mind to find ways out of bad situations. You need freedom of mind to cope and realize that there's much more to wellbeing than externals. You need freedom of mind to truly be what you are.

Do I really have to express this in terms of popular rhetoric? Must I posture and proclaim that, as long as your mind remains closed, bin Laden is still alive? I hope not. But that's the kind of alarmingly black-and-white nonsense we take for granted now. Think about it. Is that really enough for you? I hope not.

Play, play like your life depends on it, because maybe it does. If you need to hold on, then let go. It's not only a matter of survival, it's a matter of being.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The American Consumer (1967)

Scary! They must have filed her fangs down though.

Jai Maa Durga!

Now that I'm talking more directly about spiritual matters, I may as well go on a bit. This is sort of a coming out for me, so I'm enjoying it, but I'm a bit nervous too. Whether or not I should, I care about the acceptance of others. I know that I have a way of discussing spiritual matters so that they have meaning to people of many faiths, and to atheists too, but I can't be dishonest with you. This is how I do things.

Say what you will about the existence or nonexistence of deities, or maybe claim exclusivity for your own, but people have employed religious methods for getting somewhere better in life as long as there have been people, and I don't want prejudice to keep me from benefiting too.

So anyhow, I realized something. The inner part of a Catholic rosary has 54 beads, which equals 108 when multiplied by two. So I can chant japa on an ordinary rosary. Some day, I'll have to string my own japa mala, Hindu prayer beads, but for now, I can make do with what I have.

See, japa, repetitive chanting of mantras, is generally done in groups of 108, a sacred number in India. A set of beads make counting easier. Some Buddhists use them too.

So I experimented with a little chanting for the mother goddess Durga this morning, saying a mantra specifically for eliminating negative forces from my life. Maa Durga is considered a fierce fighter, and legend tells of Her conquest of demons.

So here's what I chanted. The pictures of the Goddess with her mouth moving seem a little.. well... okay, forget it, I'll take other people's devotion for what it is. I guess I'm just concerned about making myself look silly. This recording has influenced me, so I want to share it. Play it twice for 108 repetitions.

If you've heard of Kali, the Destroyer, than you know a little about Durga and evil. In fact, myth has it that Kali sprung from Durga's head during a terrible battle, so you get the idea. Demons cannot withstand Her.

Since Maa Kali is an aspect of Durga, I may as well offer a little something equating the two. Just 'cause I like it.

So there we are.

And the results of my experiment? Pretty powerful, actually. One of our dogs, a nervous little thing, got very restless when I chanted, so I felt myself directing some of the power to eliminate negativity at her. She's been a disruptive force during our evening attempts at winding down, so I hope the effort helps a bit. Then I visualized Kat and tried to send benefits to her too. I included our other dog, and then extended my focus outward to Kat's sons and my sisters. The funny thing is, when I felt as if the power was flowing, the dog settled down, and I found myself going up an octave, as if there had been an increase in energy somehow. I could visualize the various connections between all of us. And then it was over.

We'll just have to see what the overall effects are. I'm not making any claims, but I tried something, and I'd like to see what happens. If it works, I can't tell you why with certainly. As I said, no prejudice. I'm just another person trying to make the most of the life I've been given while I still have time.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mother Mary!

Today, Roman Catholics celebrate The Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Some parties are big and grand, and some are a bit more... well, I'm sure She appreciates the sentiment, although I feel safe in saying that "Ooo Ooo Ooo" is not among Her many titles. Gee. Hm...

Many Protestants, and Christians of other types too, object to the whole cult of Mary thing, finding no Biblical evidence to support it, crying "paganism," "goddess worship," and all sorts of other things that may seem terrible if you share their beliefs, though the labels are actually inviting to some others. If that's how you feel about the matter, I respect your objections, but I don't share them.

Scholar of mythology Joseph Campbell claims that the Blessed Virgin was growing into a role similar to that of the Egyptian goddess Isis, with Jesus as her Osiris. Now we're getting somewhere!

See, the Vatican, though it holds a great deal of power, presiding over the largest denomination of the largest religion in the world, is uniquely flexible in accommodating the folk-religion side of things. Power is not only top-down, and popular practices and beliefs may become official doctrine. The cult of the Virgin Mary is certainly a bottom-up development, an outcome of the worship of real people who know their needs well. It can't be contained by words written long ago or by Church doctrine. It grows freely and organically.

In prehistoric times, before sedentism allowed for the growth of religious authority, it seems that humans worshiped in this way. Personally, I feel no need for Neopagan reconstructions when the process continues under the gaze of Rome.

Ohhh, this is a subject very close to my heart, and it's hard not to go on about it. I'll save the many examples that come to mind for future postings. Let's just say that Mary continues to grow as a repository for the otherwise-repressed feminine aspect of Divinity in the West. And today is her birthday. Happy Birthday, Mother Mary!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

'Tis the Season to Be Scary in... Hong Kong?

I guess Labor Day is to Halloween what Thanksgiving is to the Christmas season nowadays, since promos are starting to trickle in. This just showed up on Hong Kong Disneyland's Facebook page, and I have to admit, it took me by surprise. I really never thought I'd see or hear anything like Western spookiness in Chinese.

It's the Circle K logo that seems the most unsettling to me. Have we really placed convenience stores there?

Living in the middle of a great empire is an amazing thing, isn't it? Disturbing and fascinating, and yes, since beauty is a morally-neutral business, admittedly attractive. This seems like a tepid and somewhat puzzling interpretation of the holiday to me though. I wish I knew someone who could explain to me to just how much it's been adapted to Eastern culture, if at all. That woman looks kinda J-Horror, I think.

Here's a parade and other stuff from a few years back, with some characters that are perhaps more familiar. It was selected especially for your delectation, you decadent child of empire you.

It's interesting to note that recently-created characters are prominent in their promos. I know little about it, but I'm guessing that Disney's popularity in Asia is directly proportional to the continent's recent financial growth. I can't picture Chairman Mao as a big fan of the Aristocats anyhow.

Someone must love Stitch, or a whole lot of someones, since he's been placed front-and-center more than once. I'll have to get a bit pre-Labor-Day to show you.

If you're an American, you have a part in this somehow. Just amazing, that's all. Now go drink some coffee, eat some refined sugar, drink some rum, meditate on these early symbols of global capitalism, and consider where you sit right now. It won't last forever. Bum bum bum bummmmm!

I Miss My Pants

Even though Kat's son requested fried pickles on Monday night, and the batter has a habit of finding its way all over the kitchen during the heat of creation, and wheat gluten makes it hard to scrape the stuff out of thin-wale corduroy even when my fingernails need trimming, I wore those cords again yesterday.

But this morning, my friends sit on top of the laundry pile. Much as spots and stains are a kind of mark of distinction for someone with a touch of a hippie bent, my pants simply need to be washed. But sometimes it's hard to let go.

It's funny the way those little attachments form. I don't remember how many days in a row I looked down and saw their brown bagginess hanging off my bottom half. I do remember how much I liked the transition from stiff cleanliness to thin, soft looseness, I remember the impression vividly.

You know how friendship is defined by something shared between two people, something they created together, a mix of personal traits that grew into something new? Well, I felt like my pants and I had that, if only a tiny little bit. When I looked down, something in their style spoke to me. I felt that I was a specific kind of person when I had them on.

I could even fall into animism here, the belief that everything has a spirit, and maybe, considering Hegel and Plato and some others, there's something to the notion. Spirit doesn't necessarily have to be a sheet with holes cut in it crying "boo," but it doesn't have to be a purely psychological phenomenon either. "There are more things in Heaven and Earth," etc, etc. I'm with Little Willie Shakespeare. Why not? Who can tell with absolute certainty where the line between self and the outside world should be drawn?

From pants to animism. That's what's wrong with me. And I'm just fine with it. Happy, in fact.

But then, listen to this. See, I'm not alone. The poor guy longs for his shirt. And there's a pretty picture to meditate on too!

So this morning, I'm wearing the brown, jean-cut pants that are still a little like khakis. Yes, I like earth colors. And I'll probably get attached to those too.

That's enough about pants for one day. Hope you have a good one!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's a Good Day for a... Haunted Monster... or Something...

It's a drippy, rumbly, and windy day here in the land of perpetual sunshine, which is actually a welcome relief to me. I dunno, so much light and heat throughout the year affects a person in odd ways, or at least some of us. The lack of seasons upsets my own cycles somehow.

So why not enhance the mood with a little Georges Méliès? And why not start with the innovator's favorite character, the Devil himself, doing a bit of redecoration in a convent? Oh, that troublesome fellow!

Phew! St. Michael saves the day!

And way out in Egypt, there's some conjurin' goin' on, and an odd soundtrack too...

If I keep watching stuff like this, I may have a cauchemar tonight!

I certainly don't want the moon to chew on my hand. I guess it's time to quit then, for the sake of a good night's sleep.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Thou Shalt Not Tax the Rich?" I Don't Remember Where That One Is. In Fact...

I can't help, considering today's holiday, giving a thought to the primacy of money in my country. The alarming thing to me is not that politicians err on the side of wealth, since politics is not a moral business, but that presidential hopefuls have linked the interests of the very rich to a tradition that calls for humbleness and self denial: Christianity. And ordinary people believe them.

Those who subscribe to what is called Bible-based belief seem to ignore the scriptural evidence. It was Michael Douglas in Wall Street who preached the gospel, "Greed is Good," not Jesus. I'm by no means a fundamentalist of any type, but it's hard to miss glaring contradictions.

See, when I look at an image of the crucifixion, I never really think "lots of money." When Jesus tells us to take up our crosses, I'm not sure that he means the burden of wealth.

In fact, the evidence against riches in Jesus' teachings is overwhelming. Those who struggle financially have been led to believe not only that catering to the rich serves their own interests, but that doing so is somehow transcendentally moral. They really need to dust off those Bibles. It was for such a purpose that people like William Tyndale risked death, and often received martyrdom as thanks.

Or why don't I make it easier? Here's a collection of quotes....

"Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.' When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'" - Matt 19:21-23

"...He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." - 1 Tim 6:4-10

"Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Luke 12:27-34

"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had." - Acts 4:32

"There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need." - Acts 4:34-35

"You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." - James 4:2-3

"Then he said to them, 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.'"- Luke 12:15

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." - Phil 4:11

"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

   'Never will I leave you;
   never will I forsake you.'"

- Heb 13:5

"For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." - Eph 5:5

"They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely." - Mark 12:40

"Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here’s a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet,' have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?" - James 2:2-6

I don't see any guarantees of happiness though tax breaks for the rich in there. Do you?

Happy Labor Day

Today is set apart in the USA to honor working people, though the days of marching for an 8-hour day without fear of losing wages are long over. Kat just left to do some work, but her supervisors have the day off.

Since finding messages from God in every storm or tremor is fashionable, I'll jump in too. Why is it raining out? God's saying to Kat's bosses, "You think you're gonna barbecue while the people who actually do the tasks that define your business are out there? Think again!"

And are you planning to check out some Labor Day sales? It's the vast service-industry workforce who are actually handling all the merchandise today. Again, the defining task for retail, without which there's no need for administration. Every cent of the CEOs' salaries is brought in by cashiers.

Yet so many of those who don't struggle to get by are off today. On a day dedicated to working people.

And since I invoked a God of sorts, how 'bout an Adversary?

Money is the measure of all things in my country. When disasters disrupt thousands or millions of lives, the loss is expressed in dollars, and individual miseries become sensational, human-interest reports meant to keep you glued to your TV though blocks of ads. It shouldn't be a surprise then that Labor Day equals the end of the tourist season. It's one last boost for tourism revenue, and for factory-farming dollars too, since searing steaks, hamburgers, and hot dogs outdoors is the norm. And who's stressing to meet the increased demand for all those goods and services? The people we're supposed to be honoring.

If you shop at all today, why not give that harried laborer a break? I've heard of a Buddhist meditation for compassion that simply involves looking into a cashier's eyes as if he or she were a fellow-sufferer, another human being, and seeing something good in that person. Be kind, as if you were the one struggling to handle the relentless stream of customers of which you're only a tiny part. Slow down, be patient, put your own needs aside for just a few moments. What sort of sympathy would lower your stress, if only a little? No matter what your position in life, if you're on the other side of the counter, you're privileged right now. Use that to make the life of another human a little better, please. It will make you the kind of person who does such things, a state worth much more than money.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

As It Turns Out, I'm Also a Heel

I pray, you know? The One I pray to is not important right now, because we all approach the same great Something in our own ways, and I don't want to alienate anybody.

If you pray too, you know what the experience is like. It's not exactly as if someone's answering, but sometimes thoughts just pop into your head that didn't seem to come from you. Sometimes they even interrupt what you're saying. Sometimes you're led gently, and you start to see things from a much greater perspective, sharing in thoughts your mind is too simple to conceive. Praying is anything but talking to yourself.

Well, I took a break this evening to pray for peace, focus, and growth for Kat and I, and I started to talk about how I know I don't really deserve to ask for anything, that it's only by that Something's love and kindness that we receive good things. I mention it sometimes. But then I could see just how little I deserve anything.

I haven't handled difficulty well lately. My coping skills simply aren't up to some current challenges, and I think I've been kind of a jerk. I've done my best, I've just failed in some basic way that I'm only beginning to grasp. There's so much more for me to see, for me to understand. I'm not at all well-equipped for this life thing.

Yep, that's what it's like, seeing yourself in the eyes of Something much greater than yourself. But my understanding is expanding. The One who showed me my failure also knows how to make it better, so it's all just fine.

I see the trust in the eyes of our dogs sometimes, and I try as best I can to live up to it. Well, as I do with the dogs, Something greater than me is trying to teach me better ways. What can I do but look to that One with trust in my eyes?

So I'm a Healer, Huh?

It's a funny thing that I brought chakras up earlier, because Kat and I just got back from a beach town's street festival, GeckoFest in Gulfport. It's a pretty liberal and hippie place apparently, and among the tents of tie-die, pottery,  and gay-rights merchandise was one in which a man read your chakras, or rather he had you do it yourself.

He made me stand over circles of each chakra's color and focus on them, one after another. Y'know, I could've just concentrated and told him all about it, but it was fun to play his game. The result? My third-eye chakra, Anja, the sixth one, is strongest. He told me that I can read people's auras and heal them using what I see. He said that I can just point at a chakra and make it better, and he sprayed something on my wrists to make me more effective at it.

Well fine. I mean, if I translate what he said into ideas that seem more universal to me, then yes, he's right. I've always been that way. I'm very empathetic, and I tend to want to use what I pick up to make repairs. People have come to me asking for some work, and of course I do my best. I dunno, it's just another thing that I have. I've been told that I should become a therapist, but the trappings of psychology, though very useful, can be limiting if relied on solely.

I'm not even sure about the objective existence of chakras, and honestly, I'm not sure that it really matters. A useful system for organizing and balancing personality is a useful system. If I visualize and it works, I don't need anything more. A prop like the spray can be useful too.

So from at least one perspective, I'm a healer. Not bad.

The Chakras with Anodea Judith

Yes I know, this may make me seem very New-Agey, but I like it anyhow. I don't belong to the movement because it seems too Me-Generation and ego-centered to be truly spiritual, though I confess, it's appealing in some ways. I can't find the slightest hint of evolution toward an Age of Aquarius in the world around me, and I certainly think it's more likely that we're going though Hinduism's Kali Yuga, an age of degradation and spiritual deadness. The chakras are a Hindu idea after all. And a useful one for balancing the personality.

Whether you believe in its objective reality or not, the chakra system is useful.

I learned about chakras from Ms. Judith's well-known book, Wheels of Life, which is a common experience. I still have a soft spot in my heart for her version of things. Take what's useful to you and forget the rest.

A fellow does have to seek reinforcement for his beliefs, and this little film has inspired me more than once. I hope you enjoyed it too!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Neurosis is the Spice of Life: Overcoming Narcissism

If, when he was alive,  you ever saw my dad in a bow tie and a tweed jacket, you would have guessed that something self-conscious was going on there, prep school or no. If you saw me in younger years with tall, black hair and long, black fingernails, you may have suspected that I'd identified with the parent of the same sex somehow, that I had picked up a thing or two, maybe with some borrowings from mom too. There's a very unflattering name for the quality, but if the loafer or spiky boot fits, wear it. The word is narcissism.

I guess it's a weakness of identity, an obsession with constructing self that makes a person very... well... self-absorbed. And there we have a problem. I'm pretty big on the Golden Rule now, and there's little energy left for others during such a consuming building project. Effort that is directed outward is more in defense of a wobbly structure, and people can easily become objects, threats or allies in the battle for internal stability.

A narcissist seeks applause, he or she needs the help of others in holding up the rickety results of the labor. Of course, the whole process assumes an actor/audience division that leaves a person very lonely no matter how much recognition may come. Love can never be received or given directly.

You could call me a spiritual person in that I believe in growth, I believe that any internal problem can be tackled and overcome. It seems that narcissism is a matter of training, of getting parents' attention mainly by performing, so if it can be learned, it can be unlearned. I probably started on the task of change before I realized what I was doing, holding on to some idea I found in scriptures or other writings. I don't remember.

Settling in with Kat has changed things. Our relationship is still new, but at its core is something rock-solid that gives me a foothold on very hard-to-face questions. My need to express myself and the purpose in doing so is undergoing an overhaul. In the process of honing your skills at accepting another, you tend to learn to accept yourself more. You face your own ugliness because the happiness of another person is more important than pride.

Getting better sounds good, right? Well, I'm a little ambivalent about that lately. I think I've succeeded enough that I can step back and survey the results, and I find that, while I've gained a kind of peace, I've gotten stirred up in other ways. It seems that something's missing. Narcissism was like a comforting dogma, a narrowness that contained my life snugly and comfortably. It was a part of my emotional makeup for so many years, and I've become sorta... empty without it.

But then, if put into service for others, if stripped of its desperate urgency, maybe narcissism is more like a skill set. We're all born into certain states and situations, and we must do the best with what we've got. Can I construct a persona, can I entertain others to their benefit? Yes, I think I can. Laughter in itself is a wonderful gift. I have to use the tools I've got instead of letting bad habits of thought and feeling take me over. I have to stay open to giving and receiving love. That's all. I guess the Buddha was right in talking about a Middle Way. How silly I am that such ideas perpetually take me by surprise!

If you enjoy my blog at all, then consider how often stories pop up connecting online life and narcissism. Would I ever have bothered at all if posting here weren't so delightfully compulsive? Certainly not. Yes, there was a plan in the beginning, but I'm having trouble remembering just what it was. And what purpose is reading this right now serving in your own self-construction? If The Nervous Vegan has ever made your day a little nicer, it could be because I'm wrong in some fundamental way. And maybe you're wrong too. But I hope we're both better for the interaction.

You just can't let things consume you. To strive for purity is good, but don't forget the lesson that our various deities, at least in part, are held up to show us. We are always far from perfect, every one of us.

That's why this blog's slogan, and maybe even its doctrine, is Take it Easy on Yourself. You may need to change, you may need it badly, but don't beat yourself up. Hurting yourself won't get you where you need to be. Panic will only slow you down. It was probably some pain of your own that alerted you to the need for change in the first place, so why hurt yourself in the name of relieving pain? We're all wrong to one degree or another. It's part of what we are, just as striving to do better is a part of us.

You're just fine. Simply do what you must do. It will be okay. And so will I.

Wow, that was... all right out there. Just me. I guess I'm experimenting with bridging the gap between myself and others through expression again. I don't know if it's good blogging or not. But there it is.

Fishing with Beer-Can Tabs

I wouldn't, but you can. Well... okay, if the government collapsed or something and we were all fending for ourselves, and especially if Kat were hungry, I would fish. And I just might go looking around for a tab to turn into a hook.

I really don't want to be a spoiled American when it comes to my diet. Since it's so easy for me to avoid animal foods because of the variety available just around the corner, I need to remind myself to remain flexible. It's not healthy to take luxury for granted. Some people in far off lands eat grubs or whatever because it's the only solid protein available. That's just life. I eat the way I do for greater reasons, but I'm not a perfectionist.

Anyhow, here's a fine little piece of survivalist DIY art, don't y' think? Click the pic to learn more.

Fish hooks made from beer or soda tabs

Kinda funny what you come across while looking up store-brand soda, huh?

Rock-On, Down-Low, Nothing-to-Lose... Diet... Cola?

I kid you not. That's what my soda can says. Rock on. Down low. Sparkle. Nothing to lose. Bubbly. All this is radiating from the head of a young fellow who seems to be having a seizure or a breakdown or something. Eh... what the heck? I mean, it's store-brand diet soda!

Just in case you think I'm messing with you, here's some evidence.

The Absurdity of Publix Diet Cola

I guess someone must go for that kind of thing. I suppose that people who look over their shoulders and wait until the aisle is clear before choosing diet may need reassurance of a rather silly kind. Or maybe this is a common self image for store-brand diet soda drinkers. But maybe I'm over-rationalizing. Maybe it just makes no sense.

I looked up Publix Diet Cola, trying to find a good picture so I wouldn't have to take and tweak one myself, and I ran into something interesting. It seems that a blogger wrote the company in 2007, puzzling over the word "leaded" on the can. Apparently, some time between then and now, Publix decided that "rock on" is more appropriate. I wonder if the change was made as a result of the fellow's very email! Indeed, I already know that I'm sucking up a corrosive chemical soup, I really don't need lead poisoning on top of that. Yes, I know what it means. It's just kinda... embarrassing. Either very disingenuous or a quietly sardonic gesture.

And yes, I know that there are many reasons not to be drinking Publix Diet Cola now. It certainly ain't health food. Publix is a giant fish that ate a lot of big fish that ate up all the small, local fish. Recycling the can is not all that much better than throwing it away in terms of environmental impact. The fields of crops for the flavoring likely replaced forests, and the local workers who tend and harvest them are probably mistreated and paid very low wages. The absurdity of the label is unhealthy for both heart and soul. So, try as I may, maybe I'm still a decadent son of empire. I'm no more perfect than you, but I'll continue to improve and do my best.

And I may occasionally treat myself to some rock-on, down-low, sparkle, nothing-to-lose, bubbly diet soda. Mmm. Like I'm doing right now.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Some Advice

I know, I know, who am I to give advice? Well, being an advisor or a guru or whatever may be more a matter of bent and nerve than of wisdom, so why not? Here we go...

If you ever find yourself thinking critically of a person, whether in traffic or in intimacy, and you start building a case against another soul, just call your own failings to mind. Unless you're completely numb, a long list isn't hard to conjure.

So cool it. That other person is just like you. Why are you causing so much trouble for yourself? Relax a little, huh?

That's only one of many versions of the Golden Rule. Or compassion. Or whatever the heck you want to call it. Never mind the words, just do it.

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi!

The festival of Hinduism's beloved elephant-headed god begins today, so here are a few videos in his honor. This first one is a puja, a ritual of worship. I especially like the intro, and the little CG dancing Ganesha in the lower right-hand corner that shows up later on is pretty darn fascinating. Hindus certainly have the visual side of things down pat.

And for the curious, here's a fellow explaining some things...

Jai Ganesh Deva!

A Big Bowlful of Pink, Sugary Gender Creepiness for Breakfast

The sweetness starts in at the teeth, but then it tunnels its way to your very soul. "Squeak squeak squeak! Indubitably! Squeak squeak!" 

The hair... the... voice... the mannerisms... did I really live through this time? Am I gonna wake up soon and tell Kat about the oddly unsettling dream I had? You'll need to turn up the volume for this one, but do so at your own risk...

Squeak squeak squeak! There now, ladies, are you going to feel more secure in your identity and keep coming back to my blog? Or does it have to be pink with a huge head?