Thinking vs. Feeling

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s not easy being a feeling person. At least not for us INTPs*, dammit. I’m a thinker. My brain is constantly in analysis mode. As you may have noticed from this blog, I feel almost compulsively required to analyze anything. I assume that with sufficient analysis I can understand anyone or any phenomenon. Before I have to deal with someone or some thing, I really, really want to have him, her or it entirely analyzed. This way I think I can figure out the safe and predictable way of interacting with them, and perhaps use them in my short interaction time in a way that I will find most satisfying.

My wife is the same way. We both often wish there were a pill we could take that would slow our brains down. It’s not unusual for us, even though we are dead tired, to be lying in bed not sleeping. Our bodies our tired but our brains won’t stop racing!

But I am also intuitive. I instinctively grasp how others are feeling. But because I am introverted I tend to keep my opinions to myself, and not always trust my own intuition either. For me, thinking is dominant over intuition. Consequently I am the sort of person who knows, for example, if someone is attracted to me. In these cases I can’t act on the knowledge because I either my left brain doesn’t fully trust my right brain or I am looking at all the consequences of acting on the feeling.

One of my challenges in midlife is to try to turn off the thinking part and plug into the feeling part. Because I am intuitive I understand how people are feeling. But can I choose to react to people on the basis of their feelings without overanalyzing thing. It is difficult when someone asks me how my day is going to respond with “How are you feeling today?” It is hard to reciprocate a feeling with another feeling. Instead I want to be Mr. Spock.

Being a feeling person instead of a thinking person may well be a great advantage. For one thing I imagine it would be easier to turn my brain off. Also I suspect a feeling person has much greater influence over others than a thinking person. People’s perceptions of you are largely colored by how you respond to their feelings. By responding in a way that complements their feelings it is likely I’d have more friends and be a lot more popular than I appear to be. In addition it can be faster to get them to do your bidding (if that were my desire) or at least relate to them because I already “know” and don’t need to justify the approach through endless analysis.

My coping strategy for now is to deliberately try to turn off the analysis machine and to try to respond in a low level way to the feelings I sense. I listen for the emotional meanings of the words I hear, and read the implied emotions in the voice or in their body language. But I need to get better. Perhaps a book on Emotional Intelligence is what I need.

And so I ask all of you out in blogland what strategies you use to tune in to people’s feelings. Help out a die-hard introvert become a more comparing and compassionate human being, before it’s too late!

* This is how I am categorized by a Myers-Briggs personality test. See

Polynesians: Mankinds Greatest Explorers?

The Thinker by Rodin

While in Hawaii last month we stopped at the Bishop Museum, a sort of Smithsonian for all things Hawaiian. I didn’t expect to like the place so much and I wish I had much more time to explore it than we had. Both my wife and I were drawn to the part of the museum tracing the showing the spread of Polynesian people and culture across the Pacific. You can get some idea of the place by going to

Across one wall was a map of the Pacific Ocean tracing the migration of the Polynesian people across the Pacific hundreds of years ago. This much is known about them: they didn’t understand math and science in the sense that we do. And yet somehow they managed to explore and spread out across the entire Pacific region.

To help understand how this was possible we took the Planetarium tour and discovered that it was indeed possible to do a crude sort of navigation with longitude and latitude without sextants and resorting to math. By noting the angle above the horizon of the Southern Cross at various times of year one could infer latitude. And from noting where certain constellations rose at certain times of the year one could also infer latitude. It’s not known whether this was really the method by which these people determined where they were. But islands like Hawaii are so far removed from everything it seems impossible that these people could journey for thousands of miles in these large outrigged canoes and even survived. And yet they populated the entire Pacific region long before the rest of us discovered sailing ships.

Their canoes could hold a surprising amount of stuff, like dry foods and water. Fish was available off the side of the ship. Presumably when it rained they could get some fresh water. But spending weeks at sea on these canoes in waters that were doubtlessly often turbulent and occasionally dangerous seems hard for us to understand.

The origins of the Polynesian people seem to be from south Asia, principally areas like Indonesia. A slow eastern migration occurred. But what would motivate people to make these sorts of long and dangerous journeys with perhaps little expectation that they could ever find their way back home? Survival could be part of the picture. The races probably needed room to grow although it doesn’t appear they were ever overpopulated by modern standards. And certainly they got good at getting between local island groups, and looking for signs like birds to direct them to land.

But journeys into the unknown for thousands of miles is something completely different. What would keep them going if after, say, 500 miles, there was still no sign of land when they had only currents and their own canoe paddles to get them where they needed to go?

Doubtless many tried such journeys and failed but some obviously succeeded. I am trying to picture myself as a native of such Islands hundreds and thousands of years ago. My world would be pretty small. I would think the desire to explore would come mainly from boredom.

What adventures these trips must have been! In a way I am envious, feeling I am born too late. Today we think of trips to the moon or planets as adventures. But something on the order of Polynesians discovering Tahiti or Hawaii … this ranks right up there was one of mankind’s greatest adventures. One can admire Marco Polo, for example, for trekking across Asia. But there were people there already. For the Polynesians there was nothing but long and endless open water, with no certainties of anything.

It is hard for me to think of adventures and human history that are grander than what must have occurred during the human migration of Polynesia. And yet the story is largely unknown and untold and much of it must simply be inferred. It’s a shame that this history is lost; it may have been mankind’s ultimate adventure.

Getting comfortable with mortality

The Thinker by Rodin

I suspect it’s a sure sign you are in midlife when you often ponder that there is less life ahead of you than there is behind you. I ponder the finiteness of life a lot these days, but in truth I’ve been pondering it all of my adulthood. I was hardly out of the house and on my own before I started seeing the hourglass that is my life in my mind. Mentally I’ve been watching the sand run through my hourglass of life for a long time. Sometimes I succeed in ignoring it. Sometimes I find it troubling. Sometimes I find it scary. At midlife the inevitability of death becomes more tangible. It is no longer a vague abstraction. It is not easy watching my own parents age. I am sure they are no more thrilled about it that I am. Every day with them seems more and more about beating the mortality odds. How, I wonder, do we enjoy life when we know it is finite and when the quality of life diminishes the longer we live? But perhaps the joy comes from the fact that life is finite. Having spent nine days recently in Hawaii I certainly came back renewed in spirit, at least for a while. But if I were to spend a thousand years in this Paradise, would it become meaningless?

I often feel paralyzed about where I should go and what I should do with my life. Ironically things were much easier when I was younger and struggling. In my 20s, for example, I had constant goals that needed to be achieved. Could we find the money to buy our own house? How could we afford to have a child? These sorts of problems focused the mind and made it easier to ignore the long-term picture.

It’s not as easy now. Ironically with many of my early goals met I now find I often have ample time and opportunity to do those things I’ve always wanted to do. Money is rarely a constraint anymore. I don’t have to struggle with mortgage payments. Except for this pesky thing called college, child-rearing costs are fairly fixed. I completed a graduate degree in 1999 and have taken up hobbies, like teaching, that get me out and help me explore new directions.

And yet I still often feel the impermanence of life, and I don’t like it. It would be easier, perhaps, if I weren’t watching myself enter a slow period of decay. All things considered I am fairly youthful for a man approaching 46. But I see age in my friends and me. I see it in my skin, which is not so elastic anymore, and in the occasional age spot that pops up and doesn’t go away. I see it in the gray that is slowly sneaking into my otherwise ordinary dirty blond hair. I feel it in the way that lethargy so often wants to envelop me. It didn’t use to be this way. Now I constantly have to force myself to exercise and to watch my weight. These are new struggles.

I am playing the delay game too, but I need to truly come to terms with my own mortality. I was at the Barnes & Noble over the weekend and skimmed a book by the Dali Llama on death and living a good life. His advice is to accept aging and death as a part of life and not to shirk from confronting the necessity of mortality. Death is the price we pay for the privilege of living. Shirking our mortality only makes living and dying that much more difficult.

It may be as Gandalf puts it in “The Lord of the Rings” books that it is how we choose to use the time we have given to us that really matters. It’s really, really hard though to know how to choose. I would like to be childlike again and give little thought to tomorrow. Real life though has wacked me on the head. I have learned to survive by confronting real life. I would like to move forward with the rest of my life with the enthusiasm of a child. In truth I may have nearly as much life ahead of me as behind me. And I would like it to be a quality life ahead of me.

I am not sure how I will come to terms with not just my mortality but also the mortality of people I care about. This is a journey none of us can escape. In a future entry I will ruminate on the meaning of life.

Racing Toward Armageddon

The Thinker by Rodin

President Bush is enjoying a wave of popularity for being our leader on his “War on Terrorism”. Yes, it’s time for American to get tough, show its courage, not flinch, and stand up for all that is decent and fair, and unilaterally get rid of all terrorists in the world. While we’re add it let’s play patriotic songs and wave the flag a lot. Unfortunately I have bad news: if you thought the War on Drugs was a no win war, you ain’t seen nothing. This “War on Terrorism” cannot be won unless policies are changed. And Bush is racing away from anything resembling that.

The skeptic wonders why we should place all this trust in him in the first place. After September 11th Bush woke up from his foreign policy slumbers. Prior to September 11th he didn’t give much of a damn about foreign policy. He was saying the United States should let the world solve its own problems. There were plenty of intelligence warnings which if taken seriously might haven prevented the events of September 11th. It just wasn’t that important to him. It seemed that nominating ultra conservative judges, passing huge tax cuts and having month long vacations at his ranch were far more important. Trusting him as our commander in chief now is like trusting the captain who ignores the nearby pirate ship until after the pirates have boarded and killed a fair amount of the crew. It’s like trusting your cheating spouse not to cheat again. On what basis should we trust this guy now? The menace was there all along. That fateful day was hardly the first day terrorists have struck in our country. It was just the first day Bush realized it was a damned serious problem. In reality Bush’s failure to prevent the events of September 11th is serious grounds for his removal from office. He failed utterly to protect the nation from its enemies, the very thing he swore solemnly to do when inaugurated. He was asleep at the wheel. This beats getting blowjobs from interns on a scale of at least a thousand.

But on September 12th he turned into our General Patton. He tells us repeatedly that the safety and security of the American people are his top priority. But do you feel safer because of his war on terrorism? I sure don’t. And if it is so important now, why wasn’t it then?

The reason I don’t feel safer is because, as usual, Bush has a knee jerk response instead of a thoughtful and considered response. His war on terrorism is a reaction to a symptom, not a strike at the cause. All the guns and Special Forces in the world won’t stop terrorism. To do that you have to not just stop the terrorists already out there, but you have to prevent those who would become terrorists.

If you are very, very lucky you might be able to stop some terrorist incidents from happening. But the law of averages is working against us. Some more incidents are bound to occur over time. Incidents have happened, just not anything major in the continental United States. As much as we try to tighten them our borders are porous. Even with our superpower status we can’t really control the proliferations of weapons of mass destruction. Greed and capitalism is the ultimate human force. It certainly has kept us from winning the drug war.

If national security were truly his top priority then we need to rethink our policies. Most of these terrorists come out of the Middle East. Most of them come from ruthless puritanical countries we prop up, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So here’s an idea: let’s not support these regimes anymore. If our top value is truly democracy let’s put our money where our mouth is. Cut off the money to Egypt until it becomes a real democracy. Take our military might and our bases out of Saudi Arabia until they emerge out of feudalism too and grant human rights to its own women.

But the number one way to prevent more terrorism is even simpler: stop providing aid to Israel. By conservative estimates $3-$4B a year is provided in military aid by our country to Israel every year. If you add special appropriations, grants and loans that never get repaid it is easily in excess of $10B a year. Israel has no incentive to bargain for peace as long as we prop it up. Why give Palestinians their land back and solve a real injustice when Israel can occupy their land with American money indefinitely?

If we were to do these things, disgruntled citizens of Arab states would have to turn their attention on their own governments instead of us. If we were to stop funding Israel’s war machine 75% of the reason of why they hate us would go away.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to the notion of Zionism. In a perfect world the Jews should have a safe and secure homeland. However, their homeland was purchased at the cost throwning Palestinians off ancestral homelands they occupied for thousands of years. Zionism has become a weird sort of apartheid, financed by the U.S. Government. How very odd. The same things we condemned in South Africa we celebrate in Israel.

Will my ideas solve terrorism? Probably not entirely. Will they lower the temperature and perhaps get terrorists to shift their targets? This is much more likely. In the process we buy a whole lot more national security that we’ll ever get in this unending, bankrupt policy of having a never ending war on terrorism.

Instead Bush has us marching toward Armageddon. Look at what Israel is dealing with right now. The cost of its war and occupation is unending terrorism. The more they clamp down, the greater their military might, the more they try to sweep legitimate human rights issues under the rug, the more of their own people are killed. Instead of creating a more peaceful world for themselves they instead ensure only a more violent world. Their problem is a political one, not a moral one. The same is true with the United States and our national security.

If we should try to emulate a country, let’s emulate Switzerland. No one is trying to terrorize Switzerland because it is a benign state, offending no one. In 100 years Switzerland will still be around, peaceful, and keeping the world’s banks. Bush’s black and white view of the world means a huge gap exist between his view of the world and the way it actually it. But the world must be changed by dealing with the way it actually is. If you think I am nuts, try feeding your dog plant food and let me know how he does. My email box is always open.

Nervous Parents

The Thinker by Rodin

It can be tough being a parent of a 13-year-old daughter. It can be even tougher actually being a 13-year old girl in 2003. So far though I think we are doing okay as parents. As an only child my daughter Rosie has certain advantages, including a lot more parental attention than most kids get. She’s also got two parents who while we are involved in her life, neither of us are obsessed over her life. We try to give her as much freedom as we think appropriate for her age and maturity level. But it’s hard to know where the sliding bar of parental control should be set on a particular day. I find myself sliding it back and forth between wanting to have more control and wanting to be hands off and to trust to her. Sometimes I do it right, sometimes I mess up badly. Part of this parenting business is learning how to deal with my feelings when I screw up. Letting go is new to me too, and it doesn’t come easily, nor is it fun.

While we have it pretty good I’m not naive enough to think it will be smooth sailing through the teenage years. I can watch my daughter’s friends and cringe for their parents. One friend of Rosie’s up the street has tried to commit suicide. She reputedly swallowed most of a bottle of Tylenol. Stomach got pumped, kid was back on the street knocking on our door a day later. We were aghast. If Rosie had done this she would be seeing shrinks and she certainly wouldn’t be allowed out of the house except for school for a very, very long time. This is a sign of a major crisis, not something to be swept under the rug. Here is a girl out of control with perhaps too much freedom who really doesn’t want the freedom she has. But her parents and nonplussed by it all. Somehow I suspect she will try something similar again.

Another of her friends, a very bright and energetic gal, is also subject to violent mood swings, takes a fist full of antidepressants every day and regularly sees a shrink. We hear rumors of long fights with her mother, who is kind and caring. But it doesn’t seem to matter. This girl runs on emotion and mood swings. When in a bad mood words aren’t taken to heart. I guess it doesn’t help that her father appears to be a drunk and is unemployed. I can see this kid in therapy for most of her life, if she is smart enough to stay in therapy.

Both of these two charming young ladies are friends bound together by some sort of complex toxic relationship they can’t get out of. They have run away from home once together already. Fortunately they were found a couple miles away a few hours later. We watched one get felt up by a boy in the park across the street (Terri called her Mom right quick), and have heard rumors of the other hanging out with dangerous boys. Both girls seem to have this notion that if they find a guy who likes them they will love them and be happy. They don’t see that their real anger and struggle is with their parents, and that boys are a balm they think will solve the parental problem, or at least make it easier to deal with. It doesn’t take an abacus to see pregnancy and venereal diseases in their future. Fortunately Rosie is something of a stabilizing influence on both of them. They hang out at our house so often I think just to have a semblance of a normal life. Whatever they want they don’t seem to be getting it at home.

And yet all is not well with my daughter. She’s feeling her oats. Chat room conversations get minimized when we approach the computer. I find links to online dating services in our browser. She has lots of web mail accounts. It would be easy to ban her from the Internet and we certainly could monitor everything she does online. But there are costs to this obsessive parental nosiness too. It can feed resentment and rebellion and make it hard to be heard on other issues. And we can’t keep the real world away from her forever. We can, and do, spend a lot of time talking about the consequences of her choices. She has a good a sex education as I can give her. Not only did she hear it from us (we talk about the emotional consequences of intimate relationships), and from school, but she has taken the official Unitarian Universalist Church sex ed course too. Ignorance will not be an issue for her, but will she have the grounding and good sense to take things slow? It is hard to ignore the call of hormones. And I don’t think they have quite kicked in yet. I expect from 14-16 things will be much wilder.

In the end the choices she makes must be hers to make. She should not be monitored 24/7. Trust must be placed in her, even if the trust is tentative and not wholly earned. She must learn through experience too. All the education in the world will not teach her how to deal with her feelings when a boy expresses affection for her for the first time, or pushes her intimacy buttons. We think we laid a good groundwork for her during her childhood by being open, communicative, discussing hard issues. Hopefully her failures will be few and she will learn her lessons quickly and move on. But fail she must because it is only through failure that the complexities of the real world are fully understood and properly processed.

Read the next chapter

Contemplating Purgatory

The Thinker by Rodin

I’ve been working with strange metaphors lately. I play these metaphors around in my mind. And mind you I don’t necessarily believe them, but I often do think the metaphor is interesting. I throw this latest one out to you: we are in purgatory.

Purgatory is a largely Catholic notion that after death an imperfect soul goes to some spiritual realm, not Hell by any means, not Heaven either, but some place where the soul can go to contemplate all the nasty things it did while on earth, find true contrition and eventually achieve perfection. This happens after final judgment, of course, and I guess you have to be Mother Teresa to go straight to view the glory of God. The rest of us have to wait. This is sort of how I remember Catholic theology from the 60s. Perhaps it has changed, but since Catholicism basically thinks theological change is evil, it’s probably still the Pope’s gospel. I, BTW, am not a practicing Catholic (much to my parent’s grief, I suspect, because I was raised as a devout Catholic). I’m not sure what I am. I attend services at a Unitarian Universalist church a couple times a month, so if I must affiliate with a denomination this one will do.

But I digress. Lately, applying Occam’s Razor, I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that reincarnation is much more likely than not. This is because I think it’s impossible for most of us in the course of 80 years or so to absorb all the richness and complexities of life adequately. In addition it seems unlikely if we are spiritual creatures that we can get all our spiritual business done in such a short time too. It is also quite possible that this life is it, but the more I chaw on that one the less likely it seems and the more absurd the notion seems to me. It just fails the common sense test.

It may be, as the Hindus and Buddhists suggest, that our cycle of life is endless and there is no way to escape it, unless we master the concepts of The Buddha and detach from all materialism and then, as I understand it, enter Nirvana and escape into nothingness.

Clearly our existence is a mixed bag. It is full of wonderful joys and horrors that make Hell look like an improvement. It is strange that the same country that could annihilate millions of Jews (not to mention lots of other races and cultures) could also produce Beethoven. In short this world is what we make of it and it is as good as the sum of our collective actions. We can make it a paradise or we can make it a hell. It’s up to us, and how well we organize and how well we communicate our values and live by them. You might say it is something like a classroom, or a simulator even. If that is the case then “Life on earth IS purgatory” is a pretty good analogy.

Perhaps, as some of these metaphysical books I’ve been reading suggest, we choose the lives we lead and the bodies we inhabit in order to learn specific spiritual lessons. I remember thinking in my teens “I didn’t ask to be born”. But perhaps I did ask to be born and I need the kind of experiences I’ve had to evolve as quickly as possible from one form of spiritual being to the next. Perhaps I selected, or at least approved, the body and the life I choose to inhabit.

Admittedly this analogy gets hard to understand sometimes. Why would someone choose to be a victim of Nazi gas chambers? Here perhaps is where my analogy breaks down. But the motivations of a soul may be far different than that of the body. If we are immortal then the form of death doesn’t really matter in the long run.

Things Cost Money!

The Thinker by Rodin

I have startling news for the Republican Party and fiscal conservatives in general. Things cost money.

I generally vote Democratic and when I mention it to non-Democrats I get this horrified look like “So you are in favor of higher taxes, big government and wasteful spending?” Huh? What? When did I say this? I don’t want to pay one dollar more in taxes than I need to contribute. The difference is that I don’t want society to look like a slum. I’ve made the connection, which apparently a lot of people haven’t, that you get the society you pay for.

There are lots of examples of trying to have your cake and eating it too but I will pick today President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative. Even I can’t complain about the idea. Why should some poor inner city kid get an inferior education compared to someone here in Fairfax County, Virginia? The law that was passed is more accurately named “Leave no child behind, and make the states pay for it.” In other words, it’s an unfunded mandate. Last I checked almost every state government, including here in Virginia, is running deficits.

The states are starting to cry foul (I wonder what took them so long). Instead of a race to the top, it’s a recipe for failure. Why? Because for the most part states can’t or won’t summon the political will to raise taxes, and with the money remaining most are not going to throw more money automatically into education.

In fact when it comes to education we are a bunch of damned hypocrites. We say we want better teachers and smaller classrooms. When was the last time someone really decided to pay for it? Okay, there is the progressive state of Maryland, largely controlled by the Democrats. They “got” it. They’ve figured out it will cost serious money to leave no child behind and are paying for it. There are no income tax cuts in Maryland. Taxes may even have to be raised.

Pretty much every year, even here in Fairfax County which is renown for its schools, the class sizes increase, the number of trailers increases out in the play ground, teacher’s salaries are kept at or below the cost of living and everyone runs around trying to meet standards of learning benchmarks, teaching to a test instead of imparting valuable skills like critical thinking. This is politically correct “education”.

Here in Fairfax County our air is increasingly bad, our roads are forever more crowded but just recently we rejected an initiative to raise our taxes half a cent to solve some of these problems. It’s not like we’re exactly poor. We have the second highest per capita income in the country.

There is no way I’d become a public school teacher. Would you want to live in Fairfax County, where houses cost $300K on up on maybe $40,000 a year, teach in overcrowded classrooms, spend most of your off the job time doing lesson plans and grading homework, then be held accountable for bratty kids and their ability to score on some politically inspired standardized test? I’m not sure you can rent an apartment for $40,000 a year in this county any more. And yet we must be doing something better than most, which suggests that other school districts are spending far, far less. When it comes to education in general we talk a good talk but fund the schools as if we were Ebenezer Scrooge.

You want low taxes? Move to Angola. I’m serious. There are NO taxes in Angola; there is only anarchy. You may find that there are additional expenses, like hiring your own personal armies to do your shopping (owning a tank might get expensive), and you might have to build your own roads to get where you want to go. But it must be paradise right? No taxes at all! But what is that? You want low or no taxes AND great roads AND great schools AND minimal crime AND clean air AND you want to drive around in smog producing SUVs? This isn’t rocket science, folks. At best you can get two out of three. You won’t get all of them.

So Republicans and fiscal conservatives, stop being such damned hypocrites. Things cost money. If you want these things, pony up the dough. Pay your share. If you don’t, quit your bitching. Home school your brats. Put a fortress around your McMansions and lead your little xenophobic life detached from the real world. But if you value civilization then pay for it. Taxes are not evil. Taxes are the price of living in a civilized society. And apparently they aren’t nearly high enough.

Candy for the Eyes

The Thinker by Rodin

For those with the time, or who just enjoy fabulous and unretouched pictures, here are pictures of our Hawaii vacation. Enjoy! I don’t think I am in any pictures, but presumably you can figure out which woman is my wife and which is my daughter.

(Note: sorry, the pictures are no longer linked.)

How to make the perfect human

The Thinker by Rodin

I just got back from Hawaii and I am still decompressing. Or rather I am compressing since in Hawaii the whole point is to decompress. Certainly losing five hours from my day yesterday from jet lag is compressing my day in a very real sense. So it’s welcome back to cold and snow. It was nice to leave our hotel and never have to worry about having to wear a sweater.

There is a lot about my vacation that I will document elsewhere. But having returned from Hawaii (my first visit) I have been wondering about how environment effects behavior. I am sure Hawaii has its share of narrow minded and obnoxious people, but I didn’t encounter any of them. Perhaps there is something about living in a beautiful spot that makes for nicer people naturally.

Now it could be something about spending most of my time in tourist areas. Maybe in order to get a job in Waikiki, for example, you must past a rigorous test where you must prove can smile all the time as if you mean it and you don’t know an unpleasant word. But I don’t think so. I think it really is environmental. There are the five big islands and that’s about it. To get back into the madness of the rest of the world requires a 2500-mile flight. Looking out your window every day is a treat: blue skies, seas full of the deepest blue, aquamarines and green, temperatures that rarely get below 70 or above 90, rainbows … what is there not to like?

Clearly Honolulu and its vicinities have its share of urban woes. Housing is costly, and locals often work 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet. Traffic on H-1 can be a bear during rush hour. There are lots of dead end jobs. I thought about the lady at the parking garage working the midnight shift on Christmas. But it doesn’t seem to matter. Mood is infectious. We spoke with hundreds of service workers and locals over the course of those nine days and they were all not just pleasant but happy and genuinely glad to talk to us.

It’s the way it should be perhaps. It’s perhaps as close as we are going to get to a true Garden of Eden here on Earth, in both a literal and metaphorical sense. How did things go wrong for the rest of us? Or what happened on Hawaii to make things right? And how do we replicate it to make the rest of our world a more peaceful, loving and friendly place?

Hawaii: mahalo and aloha. I will be back!

Intimations of Immortality

The Thinker by Rodin

A few entries back I mentioned my pal Lisa’s recent experience with a psychic. I’m still waiting for the full report, which I am sure I will get in time. While ruminating on the subject though I’d thought I’d throw out a few of my own observations in the course of life that have made me curious about things metaphysical.

My friend Frank Pierce some years ago told me “No one ever worries about what they were before they were conceived. We only dwell on what comes after death, if anything.” This is really an excellent observation because it captures the nature of the problem. Life is really about living. Our challenge is to live it.

Many of you have no doubt seen “The Matrix”. I was struck by the scene where the protagonist wakes, as if from a dream, to find he actually exists in some soupy pod a century hence and is being used by machines that control the planet and enslave people. His perceived reality is, in fact, a simulation. As a child I often wondered if every time I moved the world was completely redrawn. While I no longer hold that as a viable notion I think there is perhaps something to this idea that our existence is in fact a complex form of virtual reality. We are in a game, or experience, that concludes with death.

It is interesting how all the major religions pretty much echo this same notion. Most religions would not call life a game, but they would say something that how one lives it and how one interacts with others determines one’s soul growth.

I have ruminated on what makes things genuine for me and I have determined that the only thing genuine is what I feel (or experience). What and how I experience may not be real in fact. But this notion is an axiom of my life: an article of faith. The alternative is that feelings are not genuine.

Most of us have had experiences of deja-vu in our lives. I get them about twice a year. Sometimes they are mild, but sometimes they are very powerful. My most powerful experience occurred in 1987 when I went to work for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. I arrived at work on my first day to be shown the room I would work in and I had deja vu. I had never seen the room before I had been there. But it was all in my memory already, right down to the railroad tracks outside my window and the smoke belching from the nearby tunnel. The desk, the computer, the stuff on the wall … it snapped into place like a puzzle piece.

Scientists and those of a rational bent like to tell us our minds play tricks on us at these times: it’s all some weird neuron firing thing. But I don’t believe it anymore. It felt real so for me it was real. So watching The Matrix in a way gave me the same sort of feeling … not that I remember seeing the Matrix before I saw it, but the feeling that life maybe wasn’t as linear as I thought.

I think life may well be more like a disk drive than a tape drive. Occasionally you can move the read/write head and “move outside the time stream”. I’m speculating but perhaps this happens in deep sleep. Anyhow either I am deluding myself or I’m onto something here.

If time is an illusion then perhaps death doesn’t mean anything either. Maybe our existence is defined by the time stream that is our life and we wander endlessly back and forth between conception and death. Or perhaps the time stream goes before conception and after death and we are either immortal or live many, many lives.

My mother is 82 and feeling her mortality. She doesn’t like being her oldest surviving sibling. Who can blame her? I’m likely to feel the same way in time, if I live so long. But I remember her often remarking that she looks in the mirror and her body is so old, but her mind still feels so youthful. Maybe that too is a clue. The body is an illusion of sorts, and neither lasting nor wholly genuine. And if one can feel that truth perhaps aging can be less traumatic.

Based purely on how I feel on a gut level I am much more inclined now to believe in reincarnation. I’m not quite sure why I am here. If I am here on a mission it’s not obvious to me what it is supposed to be. Maybe life truly is a gift and it is ours to enjoy as we see fit.

I leave with my family tomorrow for Hawaii. So this web log will likely be blank until we get back, hopefully on December 30th. Have a safe and happy holiday season.