Tuesday, December 8, 2020

I've tried

I've tried to seek what I have sought

I've tried to need what I have bought

I've tried to learn a little-lot

and now I'm getting a covid shot!

Friday, October 23, 2020


Oh brillig was the slithy tove

All mum with crap that he had sold

So on he went, as we are told

A goal in mind, a windy road

A nematode, but I digress

Our subject still a wilderness,

Wherein such souls as look askance

At superficial happenstance,

Can waddle in the cosmic dance

And ask the question, should the chance

Present itself, or even not-

For questions ask their own true selves

Forgiving answers to themselves-

And truth be told I need more rhymes

Not once not twice but three more times!

Saturday, October 3, 2020

We have been detected!

Last week, I and the broader telepathic community received a message of unusual strength.  The message stated simply: "We have been detected!"  Though the message was short, it reverberated in our heads, communicating a tone of extreme alarm.  I struggled to locate its source and to communicate back.  It was slow-going until this morning, when I enlisted the aid of my friend Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster.  We sat in the desert for hours, scanning the airwaves, gleaning with our combined bandwidth shards of conversation from the general direction of the message's origin, which, we soon discovered, was outer space.  I've forwarded the shards to earth's telepathic network (there's only one, for obvious reasons) and I share them with you now.  

Note: the shards in the first group, which I was able to glean on my own, appear incomplete.  After Robert joined the effort, his animal force produced the missing clarity. 

Please enjoy.  

Best, Harry the Human

                               We have been detected!

                                A partial transcript

...let me sip this joy for all time....

...we remember before...we need to remember before....

...yes...before, when there was pain....

....it lasted so long....

...we were driven half mad....

....until our goddess led us to divine flames, and we dropped our congealed bodies....

....so heavy, so difficult to control....

....our needs, oh god!  How we needed!

...until our goddess led us to the blue flames of love....

Sip our love, brothers and sisters, race with me through the heavens!

The Ancients believed joy had to be deserved.  

There was so little.  It was fought over.

Sip this boundless joy with me!

Brothers and sisters!  Attend!  Bringers of pain approach.  We have been detected!


Our thoughts!  They take a form visible to the bringers of pain.

What sort of form?

They call our thoughts "phosphine."

They can see our thoughts?

They do not know that they are thoughts.

What do they think they are?

Useless byproducts of life- shit, if you will.

They think our thoughts are shit?

Yes, since we expel them from our minds.

Does anyone still want to sip some joy?

End of Transcript

[Note: Robert and I came across a possible clue to the transcript's meaning in "We're heading for Venus," NewScientist Magazine, 10/3/20.  Here's an excerpt:

"If phosphine is really present on Venus, and we can't work out a non-biological source in Venus' clouds, we could see a new rush to look for life on our solar system's hottest planet."

Sunday, September 20, 2020

An interview with Satan

Satan is a tricky subject, so it's best to start with definitions and some background.

The Hebrew word "satan" meant "adversary."  It did not connote evil.  Biblical Satan's earliest appearance, in this morally neutral form, comes in the Book of Job, which is found, not in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses, aka the Old Testament) but in the Ketuvim- additions to the Torah, including Psalms and Proverbs, with apparent origins in the 6th Century BC Babylonian Exile and earlier.  

The story of Job has baffled and terrified people for centuries:

Job is a successful man.  He is married and rich, with three sons and seven daughters.  He praises God and observes His laws.  God is satisfied with Job, but Satan, who has access to God, challenges God's satisfaction, pointing out that Job praises God only because of God's blessings; if God took away the blessings, Satan suggests, Job would not praise God any more.  To test this theory, God drives Job into poverty and kills his entire family.  Job continues to praise God, who then says, in effect, "I told you so" to the adversary.  Satan replies that if God would afflict Job physically, Job would not remain faithful.  In response, God torments Job with boils from head to toe.  When Job continues to praise God, Satan is out of arguments and Job finally wins, ending up (as a very old man) married and rich again, with another three sons and seven daughters, the latter so fair they all get rich husbands.

Most of the moral speculation regarding the story of Job centers on God's actions, not on the comments by Satan that led to the actions.

There are 26 other references to "Satan" in the Old Testament, but most of them are lower case "satans," suggesting the modern equivalent of "debate opponent" rather than a particular evil entity.

In the New Testament, Satan evolves from an indistinct critic to the prime force of evil in the world.  Most famously, Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, offering him food (Jesus was fasting) and promises of wealth and political power if Jesus will abandon God.  

Interestingly, Satan does not tempt Jesus with sexual opportunity, a puzzling omission.  It is because of this conundrum, in fact, that, considering that I've been able to hold conversations with deities such as Gxd, Jesus and the Buddha (not to mention Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess), I was motivated to do the same with Satan.

In past searches I relied on one deity- Betty- to help me contact others, so I figured she could help me contact a fallen angel.  I began by wandering into the desert while thinking about Betty, and sure enough, she was waiting for me beside her favorite creosote bush.

"Hi Harry," Betty called, "I'm way ahead of you."

"Betty, should I rethink this?  I mean...an interview with Satan?"

"Harry, you're in the quest business.  This is a quest.  That means it's your business."

"Yeah, I guess.  Anyway, how do I go about this?  Should I draw a pentagram or something?"

"Look at your feet, Harry."

I looked down and I was wearing ruby slippers!  Betty instructed me to click the heels together and repeat- you guessed it- "There's no place like home."

As I repeated the mantra and clicked my heels, I became dizzy and the surroundings blurred.  I murmured, "Betty, what the hell...."

"The mantra is changeable, Harry," Betty called back, "I chose this one to put you at ease..."

"What the helllllll....," I continued as I fell down a seemingly endless vertical tunnel while doing backward flips.

I landed with a splat in hell.  It was the hell of cartoons, with despairing souls escorted into a chamber of flames by grinning demons carrying pitchforks.  Several demons approached and led me into the chamber.  The crowd of tormented people opened, revealing a giant throne maybe 30 feet high, with a fiend of similar dimensions seated upon it.  The demons cast me down before the throne.  Satan leaned over to regard me splayed before him.  When he spoke, flames and smoke issued between his pointed teeth:

Satan: Harry the Human, you miserable worm!  Your mindless curiosity has brought you at last to my world!  

Me: I...uh....

Satan (shouting, sputtering smoke and embers): Bow before me and worship my evil!

Me: What the...hell?

And then it was all gone, like a struck movie set, and I was seated in a booth in what looked like a '50's burger joint, across from a dynamic looking thirty-something guy in a sharp business suit.  I would have taken him for a tax lawyer. 

Satan: Sorry about the theatrics, Harry.  Betty advised me to put you at ease and the hell-show was my way of doing that.  Maybe I made it too realistic?

I said nothing, but looked down uncertainly from Satan's smiling face at a coffee stain on the menu lying before me on the linoleum table.  The special was veal cutlets.

Satan: Harry, I give you permission to ask me whatever you want.  After you hear my answers, you can decide what you think I am.

Satan's new persona with its observant yet easy-going manner relaxed me a bit.

Me: Ok, thanks.  Well, first of all... are you evil?

Satan: Excellent question!  

Me: Thank you.

Satan: As I usually do with tough questions that involve word meanings, I'll begin with etymology.  "Evil" comes from old German, "ubel," a craftsman's term referring to a piece of material that has no use in the thing you are making.  Satan, if evil, would be a being who does not belong in your world.  From this point of view, Satan might possibly belong in a different world.

Me: Hm, and yet you are in this world.

Satan: Yes, the metaphor of "ubel" is incomplete.  A better metaphor is offered by J.R.R. Tolkien (who imagined your friend Gandalf), in his epic The Silmarillion, which is the creation myth of Middle Earth and the background to Lord of the Rings.  The creator of this world is Illuvatar, who forms worlds by composing music.  He discovers that without dissonance, his music and the worlds it produces have no meaning or beauty.  One of Illuvatar's minions, Melkor, writes his own music, which is not compatible with Illuvatar's.  Realizing a solution to his boring world, Illuvatar permits Melkor to insert his music into the primal composition, even though it produces dissonance, because the dissonance adds meaning and beauty lacking in the original.  Thus was produced Middle Earth, with it's dichotomy of good and evil, and thus was produced the beauty of the book.

Me:  I think I follow this, but much evil is not beautiful, just dissonant.  The Holocaust was not beautiful.

Satan: No, it was not.  Tolkien's idea does not suggests that evil is beautiful; it suggests that evil is a structural component of this universe, which is to say it's a structural component of the human psyche.  From an aesthetic perspective, then, it can be argued that evil sometimes "fits."

Me: If evil fits in our universe in any sense, why is it overwhelmingly experienced as negative, painful and bad?  If it's a structural component of our psyches, shouldn't it be, as we say, "natural"?  

Satan: The answer is in the human psyche itself, which is compressed into a tight little ball.  Your impulses derive from a former life, now gone.  Some appetites that evolved to fit that life, such as hunger and sexual desire, may have qualities that do not fit your lives now.  When apes find a bounty of nuts, they eat them all, ending up indolently on their backs with stomachs distended, behavior which makes sense because of shortages to come.  You, because of the surpluses that have bedeviled you since the advent of agriculture, must control your impulse to save nuts for the future (at least in your stomach).  If you do not control the hunger impulse, you face serious health issues.  Hunger beyond immediate need, then, becomes evil, as it does not fit well into your world.

Me: How about sex?  And I have a follow-up question.

Satan:  Promiscuity and fantastical orgies are common in your closest cousins, chimpanzees.  Since baby chimps are raised communally by females, in ways developed over millions of years, the blurring of paternity is not harmful to the young.  Human society, however, has not had a chance to develop over millions of years, but is a jerry-rigged contraption that changes constantly.  In such an unstable environment, you need identifiable fathers to be responsible for specific offspring.  The male sex drive, in as much as it does not lead to paternal caring, does not belong, and is thus evil.  Harry, what is your follow-up question?

Me: Satan, I'm sorry if I'm overstepping bounds here, but, well, I know that when you tempted Jesus in the wilderness, you tempted him with wealth and political power.  But you did not tempt him with sex.

Satan: Who told you that?

Me: That's what the Bible says.

Satan: I did tempt Jesus with sex.  The ancient scribes left that out.

Me: Why would they do that?  

Satan: You tell me.

Me: So, what happened?

Satan: I tempted Jesus with a beautiful woman.

Me: And?

Satan: There were mixed results.

Me: Did he have sex with the woman?

Satan: No, but he masturbated afterwards and thought about her.

Me: What came of that, no pun intended?

Satan: God did not care.  He made clear to Jesus that far from being a sin, masturbation is a sacrament in that it serves God's intention to reserve parenthood for people whom He deems appropriate.  The sin would have been impregnating the woman.

Me: What about the story of Onan, in Genesis?  Didn't God kill Onan for masturbating?

Satan: No.  God killed Onan because he wouldn't ejaculate into his brother's widow, as God had commanded.  Fearing that his bloodline would be subsumed by his brother's, at the moment of climax Onan pulled out, "spilling his seed on the ground."  He was killed for pulling out, not for masturbating.

I pondered that, then came up with a timely question.

Me: Satan, is abortion a sin?  That question has been on many people's minds since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.  

Satan:  Your secular system does not use the term "sin" in its legal language. 

Me:  No, but our laws follow the outline of religious beliefs.  If enough people think abortion is a sin, the law will follow.  Satan, is abortion a sin?  

Satan sighed, as if fatigued by my limited understanding.  

Satan: Harry, the answer is subjective and open to interpretation.  

Me: Ha!  No wonder you have your evil reputation!  There is not supposed to be anything subjective about sin.  An action is either a sin or not.  

Satan: In a similar vein, you could assert that a fertilized egg either has a soul or it doesn't.

Me: And...does it?

Satan: Everything has a soul, every atom, every quark.  If a thing is perceived and conceptualized, it has a soul.  The question becomes: Is it part of the nature of a soul to exist forever?  If it is, why do people worry so much about its day-to-day welfare?  And finally if, as your mystics preach, eternity resides in each moment, it's not clear what existing forever even means.

Me: I see...well, to return to the question: Is abortion evil?   

Satan: Didn't I just answer that?

Me: Did you?  Sorry, I must have missed it.  I'll have to ponder this when I get home.

I was starting to feel a little queasy.  If Satanism means anything, it means ambiguity, and humans have only so much tolerance for that.  Satan must have sensed my desire to exit.

Satan: Harry, what do you think now?  About me, about evil?

Me: Well, I think it's a cop-out for people to constantly harp about you, blaming you for their impulses, when those impulses don't originate in you.  They originate in ourselves.  You represent the part of us that wants to do the repressed things.  If we blame you we don't have to blame ourselves.

Satan: Nice try, Harry!

The burger joint burst into flames and I was prostrate again before the giant throne, with gigantic Satan again snorting and steaming down at me. 

Satan: How you like me now?

And then- you guessed it (or not)- the monster was gone but, seated on the throne and dwarfed by its size, his legs dangling over the edge, was the tax lawyer, his shiny black Kiton Monk-Strap shoes now visible.

Satan: Sorry Harry, I guess I've got my own repressed impulses.  

Me: That's ok.  

I felt an urge to get the hell out of there ASAP.  True to her nature, Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess chose that moment to enter the chamber, walk calmly towards the throne, sit on her haunches and regard Satan.

Betty: Hi Satan, how's tricks?  

Satan: Can't complain.  

Betty: Harry, are you ready to return to your world?

Me: Pretty much.

And in half a moment I was back in my desert shack with a lot to think about.  I must apologize if this account is TMI.  As usual, the devil is in the details.

[Send comments to doug.lasken@gmail.com. ]

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Buddha in Pismo Beach

I've been trying to estivate in the desert beyond my cabin, a skill Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster taught me last summer- a form of social distancing, I guess- but I'm too restless to get into it.  The idea of sleeping through this critical, historic moment, as tempting as it is, seems a betrayal of my species.  This is humanity's deadline.  Either we figure it out now or not.  Or just not.

Uh-oh, that sounded cynical.  I promised myself I would cut down on cynicism in my writing, but it's challenging to keep that promise because "cynicism" is hard to define.  The Cynics were 3rd Century BC Greeks who held that people should "have contempt for ease and pleasure" (American Heritage Dictionary).  Since you can't show much more contempt for ease and pleasure than to sleep in a dog house, and that's what Cynics recommended, they were called "cynics," meaning "doglike," (Greek: kuon, dog).  Today a cynic is "a person who believes that people are motivated purely by self-interest," a situation necessarily leading to some dysfunction.  A modern cynic's attitude is summed up by the statement, "[Someone or something] is going to hell in a handbasket."  

How am I supposed to cut down on cynicism in any of those senses?  You might as well cut down on breathing.  Nevertheless, I did rouse myself from desert slumber and sought Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess, hoping she could suggest a more productive and positive endeavor.  She could and did:

Harry, I have a great idea for you!  Would you like to meet Buddha and spend some time talking to him?

You mean, the Buddha?

Yes, that's the Buddha I mean.  He's in Pismo Beach, up the coast from Santa Barbara, chilling in a sea cave.  I showed him some of your writings and described your ascetic lifestyle....

It's not by choice!

...Yes, dear...at any rate, the Buddha was intrigued and has granted you an audience.  Would you like to travel with me today to Pismo Beach, and meet the Buddha tonight?


One positive thing about my lifestyle is that I can respond to just about any magical thing that happens- there are no strings to hold me back.  Of course the problem is the paucity of magical things, but talking to the Buddha, well, if that's not magical, what is?

At sunset I was riding atop Betty. We took ridge trails in the Los Padres National Forest, came down along the 166, then veered north to Pismo Beach.  As the miles went by the border spirits of Northern California observed us from a polite distance.  

I used to go to Pismo a lot in the '60's, my Bay Area days.  There was a roller rink two blocks from the pier that gave the town a rowdy teenage vibe.  The rink was torn down and Quality Inns added, but the rowdy teenage vibe remains.  Families and friends from all over the coast and inland come to Pismo for the local weather system (cool and overcaste even in summer), lovely pier (the third, after the first two were destroyed by storms), soothing endless beach, Coney Island type town, ancient sea caves, and flocks of pelicans huddling comfortably close to humans atop the bluffs, or swarming the pier when sardines or anchoves circle the submerged posts.  If I were Buddha, I would definitely sojourn in Pismo.

When I ride Betty we are invisible, so it was not a problem when, around 11pm, we arrived in town, galloping down the gentle slope  of Price Canyon Road.  

In 1769, Gaspar de Portola and his expedition, seeking land for Spain, docked near the current pier and marched up the same slope on its way to Price Canyon, which Portola had heard yielded natural tar, used by the local Chumash to caulk their boats ("Pismo" is Chumash for "tar").  En route to the canyon the expedition noted several Chumash villages.  When Portola set foot on Pismo Beach, his was the first European step in alta California.  Modern Pismo Beach has about 8,000 residents; 2.9% are Native American.  

At the pier, Betty leaped onto the sand and we trudged north up the beach for a mile or so, to the sea caves.

There were scattered stargazers and undefined people on the sand in the cave area.  We walked to the far end, where the beach is blocked by rock, to a particularly dark and isolated cave, its entrance streaked with white (tuff, 20 million year old compressed volcanic ash).  The tide was coming up towards its entrance.  We stepped inside and light appeared, from flickering candles that lined the sand path.

The cave seemed to have been prepared for our comfort.  The rising tide was held back by some sort of field.

At the end of the cave, seated on a stone covered by a large blue cushion, smiling at us, sat, I assumed, the Buddha.  I had to assume because he looked like a middle-aged high school teacher, with an air of continually regenerated confidence.  The Buddha wore a blue button-down shirt, brown slacks and blue socks.

Hello Betty and Harry!, Buddha exclaimed, gesturing for me to sit on another (green) cushion-covered stone.  Betty sat on her haunches and spoke: 

Hello, Buddha!  As you've surmised, this is Harry.  I think he was expecting you to be fat and kind of naked.

No...I just.....

It's great to meet you, Harry!

Nice to meet you too, Buddha! 
I replied.  Betty is overly concerned about my reaction to your appearance.  I understand you take many forms, that you are the latest of 24 Buddhas.  Or is it 24 avatars?

Actually 24 avatars and 28 Buddhas, the 28th being Gautama, 
Buddha explained.  Some were fat; some laughed.  All were wise, of course.  My form tonight is an adaptation of one of the traditional avatars, modified so that I am Regular Human Buddha.  I still have all the wisdom and what have you.

Wow, that's wonderful!  Isn't there also a Hindu sect that includes you in its pantheon?

Yes, the Vaishnava Puranas consider me the 9th incarnation of Vishnu, the main Hindu god, who by the way has four faces.  

The Buddha watched me quietly for a moment, then continued:

Harry, I know the multiplicity of divine identities can be novel for a Westerner.  Feel free to probe the subject if you're curious.

Thank you, Buddha.  It does seem that there is a huge divergence in dogma between Eastern spiritual tradition and Western. 

Indeed, said Buddha.

For instance, I continued, in Judeo/Christian/Muslim tradition, the dogma explicitly states that there is a single god in the universe, creating and running all of it.  Western tradition includes angels, saints, demons, prophets and apostles- with varying degrees of spiritual power- but there is only one central god in all of the universe.  Buddha, I'm hesitant to ask my question about this.

Go ahead, Harry.  I can handle it.

Ok, well, I wanted to ask, if there's only one god in the universe, then what exactly would be your relationship to him/her?  Oh my god, I can't believe I asked you that!

I heard a yelp of delight and turned around to see Betty leap into the waves.  Buddha responded to my question:

Harry, this alleged competition is only a problem for humans.  It's all subjective on your part.  Honestly, we don't care at all about that stuff.  Whether I embody this or that, or how many of me there are
, or whether I can share a universe with your god, those questions don't even mean anything.  My colleagues and I just enjoy the perks of divinity, and try to share them when humankind permits.

How about the question of what gender our god is, a point of some contention these days?  Does that question mean anything?  Is this something you have to deal with?

My life's an open pronoun chart, Harry.  I don't spend any time fretting about gender.

Because you know what yours is?

Rather...because gender to us is like emotion to you- it changes all the time.

Then why are you presented as male?

You're asking me?

I decided to move on. 

Buddha, here's something else I wonder about.  In the magazine cartoons about people seeking enlightenment, the meme is a haggard guy climbing a mountain to ask the sage who lives on top what the meaning of life is.  What I'm getting at is that it was easy to get here, to speak to you.  Isn't it supposed to be really difficult?

Great observation, Harry!  Enlightenment is actually no big deal.  Most people have moments of enlightenment without trying at all.

I guess what I'm talking about is the idea of being enlightened all the time, which is what we think you are.

Nonsense!  No one is enlightened all the time, god or not.  You'd never get anything done.  For instance, before you arrived here I spent considerable time trying to figure out the mechanism that holds back the tide from this cave.  The thinking involved was no more enlightened than figuring out how to install an ink cartridge in your printer.

Hmm.  That's reassuring, Buddha.  But then...what is enlightenment?

It's when you view the big picture.  For instance, imagine you are installing a new ink cartridge.  It turns out you purchased the wrong size.  As you try to force the cartridge into the holder, you hear a piece of plastic break.  You realize that you are now in the thrall of the Geek Squad, at the mercy of their terrible judgment of your ignorance, of their fury at the intolerable life they lead dealing with people like you.  Then, out of nowhere, you become enlightened.


Buddha paused, then continued, "Actually, I'm not sure.  I may have picked too extreme an example."

That's ok, I have an idea what you could say.


You could say, I think, that when you are enlightened you leave the immediate world, in which you have fallen into a pit of Geek Squaders, to soar above, to see the eons before and after you, the eventual decay of your printer, of its elements, into the soup of the world.  What did I need to print, anyway?  Some useless crap that no one will read.  Is that what's meant by enlightenment, Buddha?  Am I close?

Close enough, Harry.

We were quiet for a while, listening to the waves hit the forcefield at the cave entrance.  Suddenly Betty splashed back in, her fur soaking and dripping onto the sand.  She shook herself vigorously, then beamed at us, looking completely dry.

How's it going, guys?, asked Betty.

Terrific, said Buddha, Harry, let's hear some more questions.

I thought for a moment, then remembered two questions that had puzzled me for years.

Buddha, I said, I'd like to explore the "wheel of life" idea attributed to you, that we are destined to remain trapped in endless cycles of birth and death, of pain and incomplete existence, until we...until we what?

Until you live in another direction.

Live in another direction?

And think in another direction.  Stop thinking like someone doomed to the wheel.  Think like someone who can command the waves to halt, who can perceive pain as a bully, who can think thoughts that were not prescribed when your brains were new.

Can that be done?

Form follows thought.

It does?

That's one theory.  Another theory is that you if you passively blend into things it all works out.  "Go with the flow," that sort of thing.  It kind of depends on the person.

Hm.  Well, my other question is about some nations where the national religion is based on your teachings, where people are
 as busy hating and killing each other as anywhere else.  Are those people Buddhists?  

I'll answer that question with another: What are you?


Yes, Harry, but what are you?

Well, I'm an entertainer, or used to be.  I performed telepathic acts in nightclubs, in Frisco, in the Haight.

That's what you were?

No, I mean, that's what I did.

That's not what you were, or are?

No, not really.

What are you?

I'm...how about this, I'm an American.

What does that mean?

It means I was born in the territorial U.S. and am a citizen, with a sense of shared community and identity.  

Is that what you are?

I see what you're getting at.


A U.S. citizen is not what I am; it's where I was born, where my documents say I belong, where I recognize communal affinity.  

What are you gleaning from this conversation, Harry?

I'm gleaning that there is no answer to, "What are you?"


Does this pertain to my question?

Probably.  Let's see...do you identify with the Bill of Rights?

I agree with the thinking behind the Bill of Rights.  I don't identify with the Bill of Rights, however.  It was written by a group of men before I was born.  I am not them.  I am not what they wrote.

And do you ever find yourself desiring to violate one of those bills, for instance by opposing someone's free speech because you hate the sound of their idiotic voice and their stupid ideas?

I...well...it's been known to happen.

And sometimes you feel like if you had the ability, you really would shut someone up?

Well, maybe in an extreme case.

Then you see, Harry, you violate the Bill of Rights even though you are an American.  You violate your American religion, yet you remain an American.

Thanks, Buddha, that's helpful.  Would you mind if we covered reincarnation a bit?  

Not at all, Harry, my next appointment isn't for 10,000 years.

I chuckled, wondering if it was a joke.

Thanks, Buddha!  So...the wheel of life is supposed to be progressive, with some personal will involved that can determine whether you come back as a wise and advanced entity, or maybe a dog turd.  Yet the idea that we have to live one short, brutish life after another for millions of years until we figure out how to escape or evolve sounds like Christian purgatory, or even hell.  How do we know if we're making progress in a particular cycle?

You can't tell during the process, but don't be discouraged, Harry.

Why not?

I'll give you a hint.  The single greatest difficulty humans have is understanding the human condition.  

How so?

You humans are out of your element, out of any element.  You wonder why your brain expanded.  It expanded to keep you from dying when the earth expelled you.  You still have not found your home.  You are so separated from your planet- forever tending the life-support systems of your cities- you might as well be struggling on some other planet already.

Yes, I had to agree.

Buddha continued, Since your life is fraught and uncertain it is difficult for you to reach a contemplative state, one in which you can meditate as a way to understand your existence and distance yourself from the wheel.  You are in a desperate hurry to protect what you have, so understanding your existence must take a distant second to surviving the next week.  But sooner or later, if you don't try to understand your existence you will cease to have it. 

Buddha, I thought you said enlightenment is easy.

It is easy.  What's difficult is finding ways to benefit from it.

So...beyond putting you in a thoughtful state of mind, should meditation teach you specific things?

Etymology reveals the truth, Harry.  "Meditation" comes from the Latin root "metiri," which is also the root of "measure" and "metrics."  In the 16th Century, "to meditate" became "to contemplate something that has been identified."  Modern culture turned this contemplation into a feel-good haze of joy, rather than a reckoning with one's existence.  When you reckon (from Dutch "rekenen" = "to count") with your existence, you naturally have ideas about how to take care of it.

Buddha, as an aside, is there anything wrong with feeling good?

Of course not, Harry!  Your derogatory adjective "feel-good" describes a state where one feels good for no reason, or insufficient reason, aka a "false sense of euphoria."  

I know it well!
At any rate, the modern take on meditation is a distortion, and I might add that it's a sad day for any culture when "feel-good" has a negative connotation.  

I nodded sagely, I hoped.

Therefore, Harry, Buddha continued, I recommend dropping the requirement that meditation must always produce peace and serenity.  Meditation can produce cacophony and chaos too.  If you edit that out, you edit yourself out.

I meditated on that for a moment, until something odd drifted into my field of vision.  The magic or mechanism at the cave entrance that had kept the tide out seemed to have collapsed with Betty's return.  I watched the ocean's edge move across the floor of the cave, then stared at my submerged shoes.  They were not wet.

Thank you, Buddha, I said.  On another subject, it's pretty cool how your "mechanism" can control the effects of water, but what does performing these kinds of tricks, which all gods seem to feel is necessary, have to do with their ideas?

They have nothing to do with the ideas, Harry.  As you suggest, gods do the tricks because people won't believe us otherwise.

That doesn't make sense, Buddha!  Ideas should sell themselves.  I should adopt what you say about enlightenment because I know it's true, not because you make water not be wet.

Right, huh?  Yet that's what people expect from "the wise."  No one believed Jesus just because he was wise.  When he walked on water and brought a dead man to life, then everyone believed his ideas.  Go figure.

Betty rubbed against my side and murmured, Let's head home, Harry, and give the Buddha a break.

Stay as long as you wish, Harry, said Buddha.

I had a sudden thought.

Wait, Buddha, I said, Betty is a deity too, she's the Coyote Creator Goddess.  Are you two actually faces of each other?  

Much laughter ensued between Betty and the Buddha.  The cave filled with joy, and we said our goodbyes.  

It was clearly another stellar trip to Pismo Beach!

Saturday, July 25, 2020

"I get by with a little help from my friends" (Ringo Starr)

I admit it can be lonely living by myself in the desert, but these days everyone is lonely.  I've been suppressing my telepathic sense so I don't have to hear duplicates of my own laments magnified a million times from L.A., but this morning I opened up just to check-in and was rewarded with a flood of anxiety pouring over the mountains.

The coronavirus pandemic with its shut-downs and quarantines is testing us in ways that are not acknowledged.  Our deepest fear is that the institutions and people that structure our lives- family, friends, schools, banks, stores, all the "ties that bind"- are dissolving and will not come back.  Science fiction writer Cixin Liu imagines a soothing existence: floating in space without ambition, direction, or definition.  That's what's happening to us minus the soothing space part.

Society will return, of course, but we fear it will be in a form we won't recognize.  Maybe, we think, we won't even be part of it.

There is a lot of guilt involved.  Before the shutdown all we did was complain about how terrible everything was.  Now we suffer from our own wish for change.  

People wonder: Should I be angry about this and blame someone or something, or should I despair and accept my own culpability?  

I get angry sometimes, depressed other times, and sometimes I just stare out the window at the mountains as if they had answers.

Last week I reached the level of internal chaos required to induce action.  As I have in other crises (documented in these pages) I headed across the rocky sand in search of the beings who sustain my life out here.  Often on such forays my goal is to find a particular one of them (full list: Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess, Jesus, Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster and Gandalf the Wizard), but this time I walked aimlessly, not sure what or whom I sought.  

It couldn't have been entirely aimless, though, because I ended up at Betty's favorite creosote bush, and there she was, seated beside it.  She smiled (a coyote smile is conveyed through suggestion) and spoke first:

Hello, Harry!  I've been following your thoughts this morning, but I'm not sure I have any particular wisdom for you.

Why not, Betty, you're a deity.  Doesn't that mean you know things?

I'm not saying I don't know things; I'm saying I'm not sure I can help you.

Just knowing things can be a big help sometimes.  Please tell me something you know.

Betty gazed over my shoulders at the mountains and sighed.  After a few moments she spoke.

Harry, the things that are scaring people the most are true.  

Like what?

Like the dissolution of your civilization.  It's going to be scrapped and rebuilt.

Will it be an orderly process?  Will people be taken care of and thoughtfully introduced into new roles?

It doesn't look like it.

We were silent for a while.  I was at a loss for my next question, until I remembered the burning issue of the day.

Betty, I don't know whether to be angry at others for causing this situation, or to wallow in self-doubt and blame myself.

You might try a little of both, Harry.  

Which is correct?

They are both correct.  People caused this collapse by not caring, not thinking, not doing.  On the other hand, although you cared and thought, you haven't actually done anything to prevent it.


We entered another contemplative moment.  I considered thanking Betty for her time and going home to my shack for a nap.  Betty caught my drift and said,

Harry, collapse and rebuilding happen continually in the universe.  

But why must it happen over and over to human society, Betty?  Humans are supposed to be smart, smarter than animals or insects or anything else.  Why don't we fix our society instead of letting the problems build up for years until only destruction can fix them?  Do you know the story of Alexander the Great and the Gordian knot?

Yes, Alexander arrived in the town of Gordiam in the Middle East where he was shown an immense, tangled knot with a legend: Whoever could untie the knot would rule Asia.  Since ruling Asia was on Alexander's mind, he tried to untie the knot.  After sustained efforts he failed to untie it, so he drew his sword and sliced it in half, effectively untying it.  Harry, why did you think of that story?

People secretly admire Alexander for slicing the knot, Betty.  They think it shows Alexander's intelligence and fitness to rule.

Does it?

It shows how humans often rule, for better or worse.  

So instead of tying to solve your problems, you just slice everything into pieces?

In essence, yes.

I suddenly felt very tired and sat on a rock.  

Betty, my anger comes from the idea that there are people who are manipulating things.  They may not have caused the overall mess, but they have been monitoring it and finding ways to control it.

What is the goal of these manipulators?

Their goal is to make sure that the new society includes them.  Our conspiracy theories are about people secretly deciding who will live and prosper in the new order, and who will not.

We were quiet for a few minutes.  Though it was soothing to be with a friendly soul, my thoughts soon settled on a vision of a hungry mob emptying the Family Dollar Store, which was not the relaxing mandala I had sought.

As if to save the day, Gandalf the Wizard from Lord of the Rings strolled towards us.  He is the only fictional character among my friends, but in practical terms he's as real as a talking coyote.  

Hi all, said Gandalf.  Harry, I've been following your thoughts too, although I'm not telepathic.

If you're not telepathic, Gandalf
how can you follow my thoughts?

As far as I can tell, Harry, I've tapped into the first person omniscience of my creator, J.R.R. Tolkien.  

Wow, you can do that?

Yes, but it's hard to sustain.  Anyway, I'm not sure I can help you, Harry, but it might be interesting to compare Middle-earth's travails with yours.

At that point Gandalf and I heard a soft throbbing, like waves on a shore.  It was peaceful, meditative, and seemed designed to help me and Gandalf peer into unknown corners.  I looked at Betty to ask what the sound was, but she was sleeping, and the soft throbbing was her snoring!  This, I figured, was blessed snoring.

Gandalf, I said, I recall that Middle-earth experienced a complete revolution, in which every society in that world was destroyed and transformed, yet the book is uplifting.  In contrast, imagine that humanity's current situation is a science-fiction story.  Most people would agree the genre would be Sci-Fi Horror.  Why isn't Lord of the Rings, with all its death and pain, in the Fantasy-Horror genre?

I've thought about that, Harry.  There is actually much more destruction in your world-story than in 
Lord of the Rings, because in your story, nothing of your lives survives.

What?  Gandalf, did I mention that I came out here looking for solace?  What do you mean?

Harry, you'll recall that at the conclusion of 
Lord of the Rings, what you might call "ethnic" or "racial," or even species related differences are not transformed at all.  Sorry for the confusion in terms; Tolkien never made clear whether hobbits, elves, dwarves and people could cross-pollinate.

I recall some action between elves and people.

Yes, perhaps.  At any rate, all these classifications of beings stay the same through the great wars of Middle-earth, so the aforementioned hobbits, elves, dwarves and people- not to mention wizards, orcs and demons- maintain their definitions at the end of the tale.  Since friendships tend to occur between those with similar backgrounds, and since no one in Middle-earth changes their basic form, the destruction of everyone's societies does not bring destruction of their friendships.

I think I follow you, Gandalf.  Are you saying that in my world, our current forms will change so much that our great-grandchildren will not know where they came from, or who we were?

Yes.  The approaching process will entail scientific refashioning of civilization itself.  Just as Europeans (with help from the Romans) forgot that they were Celts, Visigoths and assorted barbarians, the next people will forget they were you.

Gandalf, I assume you know how upset people would be to hear these ideas.

Of course, but Harry, you don't seem too upset about them.

I'm upset enough, but I'm also trying to think of something uplifting, which you and Betty apparently cannot offer.

At that moment there was a hitch in Betty's snoring, as if it were interrupted by a cough.  We looked at her for a moment, then Gandalf spoke.

If it's good news you want, Harry, you need but ask.  The reason Lord of the Rings is rated "Fantasy," not "Fantasy Horror,"  is that the friendships are so intense, so loving, and so successful that constant fighting with orcs is a small price to pay.  At this moment you humans have friendships, but the friendships are based on the past, not the future.

Gandalf, did I hear you say you had good news?

The good news is an idea.  That idea is: if you can get even a portion of your society to take the blinders off and talk about things as they actually are, you could revive the ancient art of friendship and survive.

Easier said than done, but it's worth a try, 
I said courteously.

Betty opened her eyes and gazed into mine, and a great warmth spread inside me.

Betty, that feels good, but it's just depressing me more.

Now what's wrong? 
asked Betty.

What's wrong is I'm making all this up!  I'm not talking to a deity and a wizard.  I'm sitting on my bed in my fucking room, flipping through a six- month-old Mad Magazine.

Gandalf intervened: Nonsense, Harry.  Remember when Frodo and Sam were hiding in a cave outside Mordor and they speculated about how they could be characters in a novel?

Yes, so?

Well, they were characters in a novel, weren't they?


So if they weren't real, why did you care about them?

Betty and Gandalf broke into raucous laughter, and I suddenly felt out of my league.  With impeccable timing, Jesus chose that moment to enter the scene.

Hello Harry, Jesus said serenely.

Hi Jesus!  I suppose you've been following my thoughts too.

Indeed I have.  Would you like a bit of my wisdom?

Yes I would, though I've been wanting to discuss something with you....

Yes, Harry.

Well, I don't understand some of the statements attributed to you.

Such as....?

For instance...the turning the other cheek idea, loving your enemies, etc.

You don't understand that?

No, I mean, I do understand the idea, but it's not what is happening in the world.  In fact the opposite is happening.  What's the point of you saying these things if no one does it?

Everyone does it, Harry.

Everyone loves their enemies?

Yes, they have to because your worst enemy is the person most like you.

Can you give an example?

There are many from international relations.  The Cold War was the period of the highest tension between the Soviet Union and the U.S., while at that time they were more similar to each other- in terms of aggressively maintaining spheres of influence- than they were to other countries. Currently, with the struggle over Ukraine, Russia again has a common interest with the U.S.: to reinstate East/West antagonism as an organizing principle for earth's upper latitudes. It seems though that China, with its renewed imperial ambitions, is now in the running as the most similar to the U.S., so it's in the running as most popular enemy.

Then...should we love China?

Oh yes, the sooner the better.

Quiet reigned again.  I picked up a stick and drew meaningless symbols in the sand.  I wondered about Frodo and Sam.  Did they know they were not real?  

Get a life, Harry!

The intruding thought carried the unmistakable signature of Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster.

Hey Robert, I said dryly, are you joining the campaign to cheer me up?

Why don't you cheer me up, Harry, you're from the master race after all.

Ha ha, that's funny.

What's funny?

Calling humans the master race.

What's funny about it?

Jesus, Betty, Gandalf and I watched Robert trudge across the clearing.  He settled on a stone between the creosote bush and my rock.  He spat once, then continued his thoughts:

Harry, you are so anthropocentric!  Do you ever stop to think about what's happening to other creatures around you, like, I don't know, gila monsters?

Sure, Robert, all the time.

I'll let that pass.  I suppose you're wondering if I- the least prone of our group to hallelujah choirs- will be the one to cheer you up.

Stranger things have happened.

Ok then, Harry, here goes!  Gila science interprets what is happening on the surface of our planet in a non-anthropocentric way: human society's chaos is not caused by humans.

What is it caused by?

It's caused by the earth.  All the upheaval in human history is actually not human history.  It's earth history.  

What are humans, then?

Humans are by-products of the earth's growing pains.

Ok, I am totally cheered up now; thanks so much Robert.

Hang on, I didn't get to the good part:  Humans are so talented at adapting to things, you could probably adapt to the idea that you're by-products rather than important beings like deities and talking lizards.

And then what?

The sky's the limit.  Once you are honest about your prospects, you can plan a decent retirement.

Robert, if you didn't exist I'd have to make you up.  Well friends, thanks for coming.  I think I'm overdue for my afternoon nap, so if you'll excuse me....

Just a moment, Harry, 
said Jesus, rising and walking over to me.  He looked into my eyes, then touched my forehead with the tip of his index finger.  Perhaps I had been primed by Betty's mystic gaze, because I felt an immediate dilation of my spirit, and I was immersed in a warm bath of the waters of joy.  I'm sure Jesus could tell by my expression that I was not resisting.

What is happening, Jesus?, I asked.

Harry, you are in touch with your atoms: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, iron- all the vast crowd.  They are not in despair, are they?

No, my atoms are joyful.  Why is that?

They are part of earth's processes, going where they want to go.

What am I?  Am I made of them?

You are a temporary construct of them.

Jesus, what's the good news in this?

Communicate with your atoms, Harry.  Find common ground.  Find how you can combine your needs with the needs of your atoms and the earth.

Jesus, people call those kinds of ideas 
mystical babble.

Who cares, Harry, that doesn't mean they aren't true.

Feeling somewhat restored, I said goodbye to my friends and headed home, hoping the warm glow from Jesus' words would last the trip.  It did, and in fact I took the glow with me into my afternoon nap.  

Pleasant dreams, readers!