Bearhug – Part 2

Creative Commons License

by DCH Park

Bear Hug by terren in Virginia https://www.flickr.com/photos/8136496@N05/2257963106/

Bear Hug by terren in Virginia https://www.flickr.com/photos/8136496@N05/2257963106/

He looked around. He was at work. He remembered this job. It was from several years ago. He was wearing a suit and tie and talking with a friend from school. They were in grad school together. They were both working as part time consultants in one of the prestigious firms downtown. They both had the same title but he had been in the job longer and had more responsibility.

Keith, his friend, had just told him his hourly rate. It was almost double his own rate. He hadn’t asked for the information. Keith had just volunteered it.

At a loss for words, he thought back to the interview process. He had submitted his resume and gone through several interviews – all standard for graduate students looking for part time work. The company had made an offer which was a little better than the going rate. He’d accepted, thinking that he was doing well. Now Keith had told him that he had been offered almost twice as much to do the same job. It didn’t seem right.

“That much? Really?”

“Yeah. Their idea of ‘fair compensation’ is really whacked. I thought you should know.”

“Thanks,” his head was still reeling. He had heard of this sort of thing but he hadn’t knowingly encountered it before. Here it was in “white collar America.” The only thing that he could put his finger on to “account” for the difference was race. That didn’t seem germane but the difference was something to consider. He wondered what else they were hiding from him. Then a thought occurred to him. How well did he know Keith? Maybe Keith was lying to him so that he would say something and get into trouble.

On the other hand, if Keith hadn’t been lying, he didn’t want to say anything that might hurt his friend. He wondered if secrecy benefited anyone in the end. Wasn’t transparency better?

Keith asked, “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” he responded.

The sense of injustice and indignity still burned in him. He remembered the incident clearly, feeling immersed in it all over again. At the same time, he watched it unfold as if it was happening to someone else. He was in it at the same time he was outside of it, watching the tableau unfold. Did his attachment to his emotions keep his memory alive somehow?

He wondered if there was anything else to remember. He opened himself to whatever else there might be. Suddenly the scene changed.

He found himself in a corridor on a bright day wearing different clothes. Instead of a suit, he wore jeans, a loose, cotton shirt open at the collar, and sneakers. He could also see straps and feel them digging into his shoulders. He was in high school. It was the end of the day and buses were lined up waiting for kids. There was shouting and energetic bustling and rushing about.

In contrast to the noise made by the kids, the buses stood in a silent row. He left the corridor and walked out to his bus. The books in his pack dug into his back, threatening to pull him over. The image of him bending backwards under the weight of his pack kept playing through his mind…

The books were dense and bulky and heavy – too heavy and bulky to carry them all under his arm but he needed them all for his homework. That was why he needed the backpack. Nevertheless there were kids who didn’t seem to have many books at all. How did they do it, he wondered.

He found his bus, climbed into it, went to a seat about three-quarters of the way back from which he could watch most of the activity, and sat down. He thought about putting his pack on the seat next to him but thought better of it and put it on the floor, between his feet, instead.

He surreptitiously looked at the floor before he lowered his pack the last inch. He always wondered if the floor was clean and what had been thrown on it. This one looked clean. The school bus always did. Nevertheless, he speculated on what might have been spilled or thrown on the floor and what might be in the grit that he always expected to find there and never did.

Thoughts about the floor left him almost as soon as he felt the nylon fabric of the backpack come to rest. He knew that although the bus would fill up to capacity before it left, many kids lived within a mile of the school and would be getting off soon. There would be plenty of free seats shortly.

He watched the other kids climbing onto the bus with a sense of uninvolved interest, the way an anthropologist might people-watch. He noted the fashions they wore and how what they wore and how much energy they put into their appearance seemed to be dictated by what they considered important. He idly mused about using those differences to bring people closer together rather than to define and vilify an out-group. This led him to feel into the nature of vilification. How does one vilify? What does it mean to vilify? Does it change things? Is there a difference between what someone else does to you and what you do to yourself?

Soon enough, the bus was filled, the doors were closed, and it rolled off with all the others. It kept its place in line to the edge of the school property and then turned left at the corner while the one behind it went in a different direction. The bus went down the main street for a short distance and then turned right to go to its first stop.

About halfway up the hill, it stopped on a quiet street to let several kids off. The leaves of trees from opposite sides of the street mingled overhead as their branches merged, making a dappled tunnel that the bus rolled down. It made several more stops as it wended its way through the neighborhood emerging on the other side of the hill. It turned right onto a major road and traveled a short distance before turning left into another neighborhood.

The bus was less than half full when it made the turn, making it easy to see everyone left. There was a girl sitting a few seats ahead of him and across the aisle. Her jet black hair bobbed and bounced with the bus and her head movements. He couldn’t see her face but he was sure it was her. She was sharing her seat with another girl. The two of them sat on a lone island in a sea of empty seats. She was chatting away with her friend, apparently oblivious to the bus and hadn’t noticed him or maybe she had and thought it wasn’t worth acknowledging him.

He gazed at her and imagined touching her hair. He remembered trying to begin a conversation with her many times. He had tried to be sincere and show her that he thought about things deeply and strove for original thoughts. He indicated that he appreciated originality and creativity and asked her what she thought but she didn’t appreciate that. It only seemed to make her laugh more.

Once he had worked up the courage to slip a poem of his into her locker between classes. Later he found her reading the poem aloud to her friends. She saw him and pointed him out, laughing. He melted back into the rushing hallway, feeling confused.

He stopped himself and felt into his memory again. It wasn’t shame, anger, fear, or numbness that he felt. It was confusion. This surprised him. Perhaps his emotion had changed, perhaps he felt something different in retrospect than what he did at the time, but this was the feeling he’d brought back. He decided to accept his feelings for what they were and continue his exploration of what came up.

He felt into why he was confused. He sought to feel the whole thing, not just the most poignant parts of what he felt. He realized that he couldn’t feel the whole thing as long as he was focused on part of the whole so he opened himself to all of the confusion. He watched himself feel one thing after another. It was curious to witness himself feeling it and feel it at the same time. But he was vast, even if he only thought about himself that way in jest.

His goal was to get beyond the emotion so he could see what else it brought up and the quickest, maybe the only, way to the other side was to go through it. Without getting beyond the emotion, he knew, anything that came up would probably be incomplete or misleading. Interestingly, witnessing himself feel was enough. It allowed him to feel the whole thing.

Once he got past the image of the dark-haired girl and what it brought up, he found himself walking through a mall with a different former girlfriend. It was long after grad school and they had been living together for several years. They had met in a different city and she had followed him when he moved. That had been several years earlier. Now, she was in the midst of breaking up with him.

“So on a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate him?”

She protested, “I’m not very good with numbers!”

“I understand,” he pushed. “What would you say? What’s the first number that comes to mind when you think of him?”

“Eleven!” She smiled when she said it and a glowing warmth vibrated in her eyes and her voice.

Bearhug saw all this and felt the change in her energy. “What would you say I am?”

“I’m not good at numbers!”

“Just say it.”

“Six.”

He was expecting an eight, considering her obvious infatuation. Maybe she would rate him a seven, he thought, but rating him a six seemed cruel. He didn’t even think it was true. He guessed that she would have rated him higher when they first met or when she left her friends and home to be with him. They walked in silence for a while.

He remembered when they had first met. They were both tutors in their graduate programs, he in math, she in English and writing. She had seemed so poised and exotic, with her helmet of straight black hair and chocolate skin, that he had literally found it hard to breathe. He wooed her with flowers, books, and poetry. At one point, he left her a single red rose with a card that said, “For you, an American Beauty.”

Now she was characterizing him to be half as attractive as someone whom she had met in the remedial reading class she taught at the local college. His brain had been damaged chemically when he was a fetus and as an adult he was mildly retarded. This was the person whom she swooned over.

He let the tide of anger and rejection wash over him. Would he always be rejected and betrayed by the ones he loved? Was he missing something? Was there some clue or combination of hints that indicated that someone was trustworthy?

He took a deep breath as that emotion receded like the waves he used to dive under. He floated in the calm between waves. It was like the pause between breaths.

He suddenly recalled a scene in the middle of winter. There was a trace of snow on the ground and patches of ice were on the roadway. He was standing at the corner, waiting for his bus. He was in the first year of high school. There were several other kids at the bus stop, including the dark-haired girl, though he hadn’t spoken to her yet in this memory.

Most of the kids were known for smoking, drinking, having sex, and other forms of rebellion. Their clothing was either too revealing or tended toward the black leather and blue jean motorcycle-hood-look in spite of the relatively well-off suburban neighborhood they lived in. Each of the kids stood in the cold alone, apart from the others. They didn’t talk. They stuffed their hands into their pockets and instinctively tried to present as small an area as possible to the cold. The smokers puffed on their cigarettes to warm their faces. Each one suffered separately, waiting for the bus and its heat to arrive.

Bearhug looked at this scene and thought that it was silly and unnecessary. He gathered a small pile of wood chips and sticks from the occasional detritus that lined the road and chose his spot on the curving curb so that the slight wind blew through it but not too much. He leaned some of the smaller sticks against the curb. Ignoring the scoffing and laughter from the other kids, he produced a lighter from his pocket, turned the flame setting on high, and held the flame beneath the little lean-to.

As the smaller sticks caught and he fed gradually larger pieces to the fire, it gave off warmth in a cheery little circle. The scoffing ceased immediately and the other kids crowded around the fire, extending their hands to warm them. Several kids stood around the little fire while one crouched down to feed it. The fire cracked and danced, as fires do, warming them all against the winter’s cold reach.

When the bus finally came, the other kids vanished into its crowded warmth without any acknowledgment or word of thanks, leaving Bearhug alone with the fire. The bus driver waited silently and watched him through the open door. Bearhug stamped the fire out, trusting that any remaining embers would die on the cold asphalt, turned, and climbed up into the bus. The driver pulled a silver handle and the doors swung closed behind him, sealing him in with the dim shadows of the bus.

Bearhug found himself floating in darkness. The next image came almost immediately. It felt different. He was inside the house. He knew without looking that it was nighttime and it was cold outside. He was a young child of 6 or 7. He could smell the pine in the air. They had a huge Christmas tree and all sorts of decorations about the front of the house. The tree itself had lines of lights, bulbs, tinsel icicles, candy canes, and strings of popcorn on it. A big blanket was spread on the floor under the tree, though it was empty.

Food was plentiful, which wasn’t out of the ordinary, but the types of food were different. They had a bucket full of nuts which had a center stalk with holes for a nutcracker and several nut picks to stand up in. When the bucket came out over the holidays, it never seemed to empty no matter how many nuts he ate. Candies appeared in abundance. There were hard candies of various types and flavors, chocolate, and sesame candies made of honey and sesame seeds. He remembered sucking a candy cane down to a sharp point once. He poked himself on the tongue with that sharp point.

Generally it was a happy time but several times each year his mother roasted chestnuts in the oven. He remembered how the smell of them would permeate the whole house and linger. It was horrible. He remembered the sensation of being cut by the smell. It would lay him open, starting at his nose and cutting through flesh and bone relentlessly until he was a raw, twitching nerve. It cut over and over like a thin paper razor that didn’t cut deeply but didn’t stop cutting so that cut after cut penetrated deeper and deeper. It kept going until the constant annoyance was all that he could think of and then it would cut some more.

“Mom, I hate chestnuts!”

He couldn’t remember his mother ever saying anything in response but he could picture her smiling. She continued to roast chestnuts several times each holiday season and she ate them with relish. She didn’t care that he suffered. Perhaps she didn’t believe him. Perhaps she thought that he was lying to control her actions. At any rate, she didn’t change her behavior to eliminate the smell. It almost seemed like she did the opposite.

Eventually, he gave up saying anything or trying to let her know how much the smell of roasting chestnuts bothered him. It had always been a part of the holidays for him. He couldn’t remember a childhood holiday when he didn’t feel physically ill from the smell of chestnuts.

Eating them seemed like a minor pleasure for his mother while he felt as if the smell sliced through his head and drove nails through his brain. He accepted that his mother didn’t care how he felt or didn’t hear him of believe him and that he had to suffer. His protests had no effect on her. He couldn’t remember a time before his mother tortured him with the chestnut smell. There was no single memory but he had a constant feeling of frustration and not being loved or trusted or taken care of. There was a constant sense that he had been let down – not in every part of his life, but in some part of his life, perhaps a hidden part. It had become part of the background of his life. It was the chorus that framed everything else.

When he realized that, the feeling he experienced became himself. He was witnessing himself feel and what he felt was himself. His mother had undeniably done things but what they meant and what he accepted into his view of the world and of himself were up to him.

He had blamed her for victimizing him but maybe she was a victim, too. Based on various things that he had learned about her life after she’d died, he suspected that was true. She’d been deeply scarred by the war and events that preceded it. She’d been torn away from her own parents by the war. Perhaps the torture was her way of making him strong. Perhaps it was an act of love…

In seeing her as another wounded being rather than as a heartless victimizer, his view of her shifted. He saw the divine love in her and that inspired the divine in himself. He saw and responded to the divine person, not to her actions or his own expectations.

He brought the strength, courage, and understanding from his adult self into the pain and frustration perpetuated by his younger self. By honestly noting and acknowledging the pain and frustration, he accepted them. And by accepting them, by hearing them, they were transformed into what they were – wounds that cried out for acceptance and love. And he had that acceptance and love in abundance. That was the gift of his divine self. In this way, the pain and frustration were transcended but the energy and exuberance of youth were retained.

He returned to the clearing and saw that he was alone. He didn’t see his friend anywhere. He felt at peace. He sat in the clearing and enjoyed the forest and the feeling within him. The sense of frustration was gone. More importantly, the thing that had been hanging over his head didn’t seem to be there any longer. He hadn’t even noticed it was there until it was gone. He felt more complete than he had in a long time and knew that over time he would grow to feel even more complete. He stretched and yawned. He stood up and staggered a step or two noting with some surprise that he felt no tingling or tiredness. On the contrary, he felt energized. He felt lighter and more at ease.

He looked around and saw a path right in front of him that hadn’t been there before – at least he hadn’t seen it. He remembered his original intention to go into town. It looked like the new path was going in the right direction so he followed it. He walked with his eyes open. The fairy city was still present – he could see it whenever he closed his eyes – but it receded into the background. He didn’t know how long he had been in the forest and he wanted to get to the public library before it closed. He must have walked most of the way into town because he only had a little more to go. The weather turned cold again and he stopped to retrieve his warm outer clothing. He came out of the woods suddenly on a quiet side street he had never been down before but the familiar bustle of the town was visible a few blocks over. The sky had cleared and the sun shone brightly overhead.

He headed into town, thinking about his adventure as he walked, hands in his pockets. It was like a hall of mirrors. He remembered stepping between two mirrors once and becoming part of the infinite regress between them. There had been a slight bend to the line of reflections, as if they were sitting on a curve. He let that memory evaporate as he walked on and then recalled playing in the water at the beach as a child. He had swirled and tumbled with the rolling waves. He would let his body go limp and relaxed in the water as waves pushed him into shore.

Remarkably, by relaxing his muscles and letting go of his will, he always flowed with the water back to shore, though it probably looked pretty bad and he always got water and sand in his ears. He smiled remembering. Sometimes his neck or back would make a loud cracking noise like something was breaking as the water bent him into various shapes but he would always be unhurt and his muscles felt looser afterward. He never hit bottom, at least not hard enough to do any damage.

He knew that he wasn’t done. But he sensed that whatever emotions were next were still too tightly wound up – like tangles in a ball of string – but with time, patience, and witnessing awareness, he knew they would relax like a new flower opens in the spring or a seed softens in water.

#

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Bearhug – Part 2″ by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Bearhug – Part 1

Creative Commons License

by DCH Park

Bear Hug by terren in Virginia https://www.flickr.com/photos/8136496@N05/2257963106/

Bear Hug by terren in Virginia https://www.flickr.com/photos/8136496@N05/2257963106/

Bearhug loved blue skies and warm breezes and fragrant flowers. He welcomed the lazy pace of summer and the busy harvest of autumn but he especially loved wintertime. He relished the snow and the ice and the quiet that only seemed to fill the world when snow is falling or freshly fallen at night or in the evening and he was the first one to cross a virgin field, either alone or with a special companion.

Even in the daytime he marveled at the unbroken freshly fallen snow. It changed the landscape completely. He always relished being the first one to break the surface of a virgin field. Whenever he did, he became part of the winter scene, immersing himself totally in it. He loved winter’s chilly bite and savored feeling the cold, dense winter air deep in his lungs.

The wetness that he was walking through now bore little resemblance to that virgin field yet that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm at all, nor did the wetness itself. The skies were grey and a light mixture of snow and rain had darkened the ground though nothing was falling currently. The world seemed close and standoffish at the same time. Bearhug was trudging along, hands in his pockets, glad for the warmth of his hat, scarf, and jacket. He was taking advantage of a break in the falling slush and just about to follow the path up and to the left before it bent back to go into town when he spied another way going off to the right.

He stopped in mid-stride. This was strange, he thought. He’d walked along this path many times and had never noticed this other way before. He looked down the new way but could see only a short distance before it went around a bend.

He looked at the ground and the trees around the entrance to the new path. The earth was well-packed and the foliage grew as if many people had trained the trees and brush to leave the path open. The way had apparently been there for a long time yet he had never noticed it before. It seemed to be headed directly into the center of town, unlike the other path, so he shrugged his shoulders, made an audible harrumph, and turned to follow the new path.

He quickly lost sight of the previous path and entered a part of the woods that he did not recognize. If it weren’t for the path he was on, he would be completely lost. The woods around him grew stranger and stranger. The weather changed, too. It got warmer and brighter. Even though it should have been a blustery morning in winter, it now seemed more like a balmy summer day.

He took off his jacket, scarf, and hat, stuffed the latter into a jacket sleeve, and then stuffed the whole thing into his shoulder bag. He could feel the heat leaving his body and imagined it warming the air around him. He could feel his skin and hair cooling as they dried. His mind wandered back to his school lessons. He tried to recall the various modes of heat transfer. His brow furrowed with the effort. He imagined himself triumphantly charging into the memory and capturing it. Nevertheless, the harder he tried, the less of it he had. It was like focusing on his goal made it slipperier, in spite of what he’d learned. There was convection and…

He gave up. He couldn’t remember the other two modes of heat transfer but he could recall that there were three in total.

He forgot about it and took in the view before him. The forest was all he could see in any direction. The path was the only visible sign of civilization. He closed his eyes and felt into the forest and the path. There was no menace to either one and he could hear nothing threatening in the forest but he definitely felt a difference between what was ahead of him and what was behind him. To test it, he walked a little farther on, stopped, and felt again. Then he turned around and went a few steps back, past the point he had first stopped at, feeling the woods as he walked.

He stopped again, turned around, and resumed walking down the path. It was certainly possible to go back but he could feel a difference between going back and going on. It was a gentle, subtle difference sort of like walking down a slight incline – one that he could easily ignore, but something was inviting him forward. He decided to follow the invitation.

As he walked along, he began to notice fairy creatures on the edges of his vision. He wasn’t surprised to see them. The path and forest were so strange and how he had found them was so gradual and ordinary at first that it made sense that fairies would be involved.

He’d heard of fairies and knew that they were responsible for things mysteriously disappearing and then reappearing somewhere else and other magical occurrences and mischief but he had never seen any before. Now there were fairies all around the edges of his vision but they disappeared whenever he turned his gaze to focus on them directly. It was maddening.

He felt more than heard their laughter at his frustration. This gave him pause. Laughing at someone seemed to be at odds with the good feeling he got. He felt deeply into the forest, looking for any indication that the laughter was a weapon.

He could find no hint of ill feeling. It didn’t seem to be a weapon. Maybe his knee-jerk assumption was wrong. Maybe the laughter wasn’t a form of mockery. The forest was a happy place. It held no malice. There was no sense of triumphing over enemies or taking pleasure from their misfortune. He was the only one who had negative feelings. He felt frustration and anger.

Then it dawned on him. He was doing it to himself! No wonder the fairies were laughing! He saw the absurdity of it all and he laughed a little, too.

His reaction was spontaneous and unthinking but it helped. It lightened his mood. He didn’t take himself or his mood so seriously. His mood was still present, but he wasn’t completely tied up in it any longer either. He could still feel it but at the same time he could see himself feeling it. He continued to walk but he path suddenly found himself in a clearing. There was no way out other than to retrace his footsteps back.

He looked around the open space, also feeling for his own reaction. He felt safe in it, completely secure. He could see no earthly reason for the feeling but it was definitely real. He sat down in the circle, closed his eyes, and focused on breathing completely and opened himself to whatever came up.

It was like there were two versions of him. One was completely involved in the emotions that came up and took them on their own terms. The other watched from outside. It observed himself experience the emotions that came up without being touched by them. It had no agenda or opinion about how things should go. It didn’t push for any goal or end state. It simply observed what the other part experienced. It witnessed everything in its impartial evenness. He didn’t resist anything in favor of a certain idea of what he “ought” to do and this allowed him to experience everything.

He became aware of himself as a vital, creative human being full of humor and understanding. He was vastly important but only a single mote in a vast web that stretched across all time and spanned the whole Universe. He was no different from any other part of the Universe and being part of the Universe, he was part of all there was. So “all there was” would be lessened somehow if he ceased to exist.

At the same time, he was only a small part of “all there was.” If he didn’t do something, someone else would. In a way, he didn’t matter at all and that meant that he was completely free. He was the most important part of the Universe because he was completely free but every other part was just as important. He wasn’t unique but he was important.

He let go of all thought and desire and settled into a vast emptiness in which he could quickly tell if anything came up. It was like looking out onto a vast, open field. Anything that rose up was immediately apparent. He silently observed what came up. Then he became aware that he was not alone – not just in a figurative sense but literally. Presences were all around him. Even the empty space was filled with an ineffable presence that not only surrounded and penetrated him, it was available to him. The same ineffable presence was in everything. He had direct access to that inexpressible creative potential and one of the main ways he had access to it was through himself. He had direct access to himself. He became aware of everything and took in the energy of the place by noticing and taking in himself.

As his sense of himself cleared, so too did his inner vision. It was like a fog lifted but instead of being composed of water droplets, this fog was made up of blindness. It was composed of overlapping blind-spots that not only hid what was there to be seen, but hid themselves, so that even the blindness was hidden. As the miasma dissipated, he saw and felt things more and more clearly. He began to perceive nearby shapes and eventually perceived more and more distant ones.

Perhaps “shape” wasn’t quite the right word for them. He certainly didn’t perceive them as shapes at first. He sensed only surfaces and textures at first. Dimensionality came in only after a surface popped into 3-D existence – after it was no longer limited to the flat, 2-dimensional image but had depth – after it was an object in space. Foreground and background emerged bit by bit as surface textures became objects and space was defined between them.

Eyes closed, he continued to watch as the veil of blindness dissolved. Objects seemed to have a combination of an internal glow (with different objects having different colors) mixed with some sort of external illumination, though he couldn’t tell where the illumination came from.

He turned his head back and forth and marveled as the vista before him shifted just as an image would if his eyes were open. Many of the objects coincided with trees in the forest. He looked at one such object and realized that it was a building. Fairy buildings were all around him. He was in a vast fairy city. Fairy inhabitants flitted about and into and out of the various tree/buildings. Size didn’t seem to matter. Fairies could shrink or grow as needed.

As he looked around, one fairy appeared to him over and over. Sometimes it was in the foreground, sometimes it was in the background or in between, but it always wore the same colors and after a little while, he could make out a distinctive smile that this fairy always seemed to give him. After a little while longer, he noticed that there always seemed to be a certain tone in the air when the fairy was visible and not when he was gone. It wasn’t his voice in any conventional sense – his mouth was not coordinated with the sound – but it seemed to be associated with him.

Bearhug giggled. A thrill of joy and energy ran through him. Keeping his eyes closed, he saw fairies everywhere. He delighted in their many colors and watched their comings and goings with great joy and energy. Their voices were indistinct to him at first but as time went on he came to distinguish separate songs. There were hundreds of songs sung by hundreds of voices. Each different but somehow harmonizing with the whole. The forest/city was a joyful place.

He felt honored and humbled. For some reason they had invited him into their city. Without realizing what he was doing at first, he found that he could travel within the city without moving. All he had to do was focus on where he wanted to go – either someplace he currently saw or someplace he’d been to before even if he couldn’t see it – and he was there instantly and effortlessly! He traveled about the city this way, flitting from place to place. He took in some of the wonders it had to offer and always the songs were there.

Some time later the songs changed. The many voices were still present but now they sang a single song. It wasn’t that the different songs had stopped and this new song had begun. The various songs had continued unabated. They had simply woven together into a single song.

Was it the songs or his perception of them that changed, he wondered. Maybe both. He had no way of telling. Nor did he know the words or the tune but it was unmistakably a song of greeting. He couldn’t tell how many parts there were – many more than in any song he had heard before – but somehow they all came together. He could hear each part of the song without detracting from the others. Each part was sung by at least one voice but some were sung by many voices together and occasionally a voice would change the part it sang. The parts blended together, making a musical tapestry that was intricate and beautiful at the same time that it formed a unitary whole.

The many parts wove in and out like strands of a rope. Sometimes a single strand would be in the forefront while others played various supporting roles. At others, that strand would relinquish the spotlight while another carried the tune. Each strand followed its own rhythm and timing and honored its own momentum. Some featured variations of the main tune, others focused on harmonies. Still others went a different way entirely. Each strand was a song in itself with its own rhythms and harmonies but they all blended into a beautiful chorus.

He suddenly had a sense that he was sitting in the clearing again. The song of greeting had receded into the background. A fairy emerged from the forest/city and stepped into the circle before him. It was his “friend” from before. There was a sense of movement or continual becoming about him that made him appear to shimmer. Even though no words had ever passed between them, Bearhug felt a kinship and warmth for this being and felt certain that his feeling was reciprocated. He didn’t know how he knew. He knew the same way he knew what blue and sweet were. He just knew. The fairy stood before him and Bearhug opened his eyes to see if his outer vision would match his inner vision. He saw nothing in the clearing. It was almost disappointing.

He closed his eyes again and the being reappeared. It towered over him, looking down from above, but he felt no threat. On the contrary, he felt an easy mirth and humor from the being. Laughing lightness poured forth from the fairy as if it came from an inexhaustible source. Bearhug felt that he could make even the hardest way easy.

Bearhug couldn’t quite make out its face but something seemed familiar about it. The face itself shifted from one visage to another. At times it almost seemed like he was looking into a mirror. At others, the face was something else entirely or he couldn’t discern it but the sense of familiarity was always there.

He saw more deeply into the fairy than just its appearance, too. He knew its intentions. It was as if it communicated telepathically and the thoughts formed fully and instantly in his head without words first and then the words coalesced around the thought but only after it was fully formed. There was a moment before words but after he received the thought in which he understood it without words at all.

In such moments, his understanding of the thought was more complete and simultaneously more indistinct or tenuous. His understanding was broader – he got all of the thought’s implications and all the ways in which it was connected with everything else – but the single thought itself was much easier to hold onto through the words. So he opted to hold onto the thought or his projection or understanding of the thought through the words and only remember the larger, more ephemeral implications and connections as they were implied by the words or what the words evoked.

Who can say if his memories of such things were accurate or if the words themselves were faithful reflections of the thought-before-words? Maybe the words evoked the “right” connections, maybe they didn’t, but the words made it easier to remember the message and they certainly made it easier to communicate the message with others. They provided solid handles that he could easily hold on to. Sometimes, the words were all that he could remember. At such times, he could imagine a thought to go along with the words but he couldn’t remember the original thought-before-words at all.

Regardless of the relationships between thoughts and words (or vice versa) the intention he received was that the being looked forward to sharing whatever came up and to creating with him. He (She? It?) was ready to challenge and be challenged and he hoped that Bearhug would be open too. He smiled, sharing the warmth, humor, and acceptance with Bearhug.

Bearhug got all of this through the understanding that ran between them. He wasn’t sure what he’d find within himself but he was open to considering things. The fairy was satisfied. A sense of smiling open-ended readiness (that was the best description of the nuanced blend that he got) came to him. Could the fairy “read” his thoughts, too?

The fairy gave him a knowing half smile.

He relaxed into a feeling of cozy confidence, secure that although he didn’t know what was coming, he could weather it. He searched himself and found again the emotion that had almost engulfed him earlier. It had diminished to a distant rumbling but it had never left. He noticed the feeling and also noticed himself feeling it. The emotion came back into his attention like a nagging tooth…

That wasn’t quite right. It didn’t “come back” on its own. He brought it back. He was holding on to it. It was there, in the background, like a weight in his back pocket. He was dragging it along behind him. He swung the frustration around again so it was right before him. It went from being a lurking specter at the back of his awareness to a full-blown presence in front of him. Like an ancient hunter turning to face a charging tiger, he turned into the frustration. He let it wash over and through him. He watched himself feel it. He felt the frustration and asked himself what the feeling reminded him of. There was something familiar about it. Suddenly he was in a different place.

He looked around. He was at work…

To be concluded…

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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The Circle of Existence: Chapter 10 – Awareness Over Discipline

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by DCH Park

Kids Giving you problems? Hire an Elephant by peasap, https://www.flickr.com/photos/peasap/4684467836/

Kids Giving you problems? Hire an Elephant by peasap, https://www.flickr.com/photos/peasap/4684467836/

“Awareness is empowering.”
– Rita Wilson

“Buddha means awareness, the awareness of body and mind that prevents evil from arising in either.”
– Bodhidharma

“There is no such thing as cold, only absence of heat. There is no such thing as dark, only absence of light. There is no such thing as evil, only absence of connection.”
– anonymous

In my control class in college, we studied various ways to design and analyze dynamic control systems of various types, ranging from purely mechanical ones to electrical ones (which had no transistors) to electronic ones (which did). Analytically, all of these systems could be modeled and understood using the same principles. Mathematically they were identical in spite of the fact that completely different physical components and forces were in operation in different systems.

There are primarily two different philosophies or approaches to designing control circuits. One is called feedback and the other is called feed-forward. Most of the control systems in use in the world today are feedback systems.

In a feedback control circuit, a portion of the output of the system is fed back into the control circuit inputs. The control circuit combines this feedback with the operator control inputs (the other external inputs) to automatically adjust the system. For example, if you adjust the speaker volume in your car radio to a certain level, the volume setting is the “operator” or external control setting. As the volume setting is increased, the control circuit sends a signal to the speaker drivers telling them to work harder.

Since it’s a feedback control circuit, a portion of this speaker driver signal is also sent back to the control circuit and combined with the manual volume setting. Typically, the feedback signal is inverted so that as the volume goes up, the feedback causes the control signal to decrease and if the volume goes down, the feedback control signal increases. This type of negative feedback control tends to be very stable because it tends to push the output toward a stable center – down if the output gets too high and up if it gets too low. This is why it is used so widely.

In positive feedback control, the feedback is not inverted. Thus, it tends to further amplify the system’s outputs. If the output goes up, positive feedback makes it go higher faster. This is what happens when a microphone is placed too closely to the speaker it drives. The speaker output is picked up by the mic and amplified through the speaker, leading to an unstable feedback loop that usually results in screeching.

In a feed-forward control circuit, there is no return input that takes the output back into the system. Certain assumptions are made about the ways in which the external world behaves and the way in which the system should act. The (external) control inputs take these assumptions into account and are simply fed in. As long as the assumptions are accurate, the system behaves as expected, but if the assumptions are off, even just by a small amount, the system might become unstable. Outputs may become unpredictable or even destroy the system altogether.

This is what happens when a car suddenly loses traction on a patch of ice. The car’s behavior suddenly changes so that the driver’s assumptions about how the car will react are suddenly wrong. Control inputs that are normally safe – holding the wheel straight and pressing on the brakes – are no longer safe. Instead of producing normal results – straightening out the car’s trajectory and slowing down – they do something else – promoting a spin with locked wheels. One solution to this problem is to “close the loop” automatically and combine the external outputs of the system with the inputs. In other words, make the feed-forward system into a feedback system by adding a sensor that loops back to the inputs. This is what anti-lock braking systems do.

In exactly the same way, enhancing the feedback control in your body and life can enhance your stability and equanimity. The key is to develop your facility with awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the seminal influences in bringing mindfulness and meditation into the medical establishment mainstream, points out that awareness, like thinking, is an inherent human ability. However, in this culture, unlike thinking, awareness is an ability that is not widely prized or even recognized, much less one that many people are trained in using.

Control via thinking alone is a form of feed-forward control. In the body, feed-forward control is essentially experienced as a kind of numbness that cuts you off from the external world. Without feedback, there is a tendency to slip into a perception that the external world is on the other side of an invisible and inviolable barrier – an impossibly fine and absolutely impregnable curtain that separates you from the external world.

In the body, Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy, is an extreme example of what can happen when feedback is lost and only feed-forward control remains. Hansen’s disease victims lose sensation in their extremities. Loss of sensation starts in the fingertips and toes and progresses inward. Motor function control is unimpaired. However, because all sensation is lost, including pain, victims lose the ability to sense when they have damaged themselves. As a result, they inflict repeated trauma to affected tissues and the body begins to erode. Eventually fingers, toes, noses, and more can be lost to physical trauma.

Hansen’s disease is an extreme example, but the same mechanism is at work in less extreme situations every day. When you feel a headache due to stress or over-work and take an analgesic instead of a break, you are choosing to numb the pain and dampen your natural feedback in favor of a feed-forward control signal to keep working or work harder. You are choosing to ignore the feedback signal to take a break or that something is wrong.

Feed-forward control is experienced as numbness and expressed as discipline. In the absence of sensory connection and immediacy of feeling, exertion of will remains as the only means to gain control. It is like being on one side of a wall and trying to control what happens on the other side by pulling and pushing rods that go through the wall without being able to see, hear, or feel what is happening. Instead, you metaphorically rely on graphical progress reports that are projected on a screen, not knowing if those reports are accurate and timely and having no way to verify them since you blocked the feedback.

Cultivating your awareness is key to addressing this shortcoming. By becoming more fully aware of the many sensory cues (as opposed to cultural, traditional, and other “cues”) that are available to you, you strengthen your feedback loop. Your experience of your surroundings and even of yourself shifts. You pierce the barrier that separates you from your external world and feel the world more richly and subtly.

For example, when I wanted to lose weight, I noticed that it was a struggle as long as I approached it as a discipline. To make matters worse, I was keenly aware of flavor and the sensations of eating, swallowing, and feeling full, which became positive feedback signals that tended to amplify the unhealthy behavior and desire for unhealthy foods. However, once I began to notice other sensations, like the listlessness I felt after a food binge or unhealthy meal and the feeling of tightness and deflation I felt after just one bite of unhealthy food, my relationship with food and weight control began to change significantly. I no longer had to struggle to control something that I could grasp intellectually but not feel. I could cultivate awareness of what was going on in my body and how I felt. Healthy choices dropped out of that awareness effortlessly.

Losing weight and eating more healthily were no longer hard. They became the easiest things to do. Making unhealthy choices became hard because in order to make those choices I would have to ignore what I so clearly felt.

If you don’t have sensation, you might hit your thumb with a hammer and not even know it. Without strict discipline and rigid attention to specific details, you might keep hammering and actually break your thumb or worse. On the other hand, with your awareness and sensation intact, if you hit your thumb with a hammer, you stop pounding because your thumb hurts. Taking care of your thumb becomes the easiest thing to do.

###

More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Sand Gets In-Between Your Toes

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by DCH Park

By Skip willits (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“I don’t remember what day of the week it was, but it must’ve been a Saturday or Sunday. I used to work a nine-to-five job back then and I remember spending the whole day with you. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t the weekend.”

Jefferson was listening to his father. It was getting late in the afternoon. The sunlight on the floor was decidedly angled and creating shadows that stretched halfway across the room. He looked at the window. He couldn’t see the sun yet but it would probably shine through the glass soon. He shifted slightly so that when it did it wouldn’t shine in his eyes.

“My boss wouldn’t have allowed that…” His father was still talking. “It’s funny though. I can remember spending time with you like it was yesterday. Even from something like this, from when you were a little, tiny person, but I can’t even remember his name…”

After a moment, he continued, “You’d think if I remembered anything, it’d be his name…” He thought about it, losing sight of the here and now.

“Hm. I guess that’s as good an indication as any of what’s really important. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend with someone or trying to do something. The things you remember, the things that’re important, stand out. They come back easily and clearly, even if they only occupy a single moment in time.”

They sat in silence as that unfolded. Henry’s eyes glinted a tiny bit. They were facing each other in a drawing room. Their over-stuffed chairs were soft and inviting. Jefferson saw his dad run his hand over the upholstery of the chair arm, admiring its texture. He noticed that he was rubbing his hand over the upholstery, too. How long had that been going on?

He noticed the smell that lingered over the place. It was like a palpable thing that had, for reasons of its own, moved into the house; an invisible resident of the house, always present, never seen. His dad didn’t seem to notice.

He supposed that every living thing had to have its own smell. After all, bloodhounds had to smell something and there were two people living in the house now – his father and step-mother. Did he have a smell? He supposed that he had to. That thought bothered him. “What about that weekend, dad? What stands out for you?”

“Hm…” Henry let the conversation dangle as he rummaged through his memories. He was silent for so long that Jefferson almost said something but just as he was about to speak up, Henry continued. “Sand. I remember sand. And the smell of the ocean. What do you remember?”

“I don’t remember anything of that day.”

“Yeah, I guess you were about 1½. Probably too young. It was before we moved across country. We were still in New York. I don’t know where your mother was that day. I guess I was already doing things alone with you, even though she and I were years away from the divorce.”

He paused. The divorce had been a sore subject once, but that had been a long time ago. Henry was fine now. He had been for a long time. He had gotten used to the fact that his first marriage had failed. In fact, that failure was a vital part of his growth. The divorce itself was a part of a healing process that had led to many important insights for him. It was an early part of the process but it was an important part.

For reasons of his own, though, Jefferson had been angry. He’d nursed a grudge for a long time – long after his parents’ divorce was final. He’d fed it and it had grown. As it grew, it seemed to consume him. He’d let it grow to the point that it threatened to eclipse his whole life. But that was over now. Maybe the anger was a necessary part of his growth. Either way, Jefferson had gotten to the point where he was constantly amazed with how life unfolded.

“Anyway,” Henry went on, “we were living in New York City and I took it into my head for some reason to take you to the beach. I don’t think you’d ever seen the ocean before. I didn’t bother trying to explain it. I just said that we were going someplace special and that you would enjoy it. That was enough. That was enough for you.” Henry’s voice trailed off.

“You had complete faith in me.” He was quiet for a long time.

“You used to love water. Any water, really, but especially moving water. Do you still?”

“I don’t know.” said Jefferson. “I hadn’t really thought about it.” He thought about it. Henry waited.

“… but I notice now that I don’t associate movement with water. When I think of water, there may be waves but the body of water is still. I have to remind myself that there’s movement.

“When I think of movement I picture people dancing across a dance floor or machinery moving – or their parts, anyway. Solid things. I don’t picture moving water.”

“Maybe that’s why moving water was so fascinating for you.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“You used to stare contentedly at a river or a lake. You wouldn’t budge. You could stare at it for hours. The larger the body of water was, the more fascination it seemed to hold for you. Maybe it was the promise it seemed to carry.

“You could gaze at a fountain forever. I remember pushing you through a mall in a stroller and coming across a fountain. We watched the fountain for a while. When I tried to leave, you complained. You didn’t want to leave! You were so disappointed.” He trailed off again, remembering the baby Jefferson used to be. After a moment he continued.

“So anyway, on that day we drove to Jones Beach. At least I think it was Jones Beach…

“It was late enough in the season that the beach was pretty much deserted. I remember a boardwalk. It was still fairly new back then.

“When you caught your first sight of the ocean, you stood transfixed. You were young enough that you didn’t have many words, yet, but I could feel your wonder. It seemed like you’d never guessed that there could be so much water in the world.

“You just stared at the waves and the vastness of the water. As I recall, you finally moved only because you wanted to stay with me.

“Together we crossed the parking lot and stepped onto the boardwalk. It curved to the right, out onto the beach and around the building where they sold snacks and drinks but the building was closed.

“We must have walked over a mile out along the boardwalk. You were a little guy, so that was a long way for you but you weren’t tired. You almost danced along, watching the water.

“After a while I noticed that the sand had gotten into your shoes and socks. I sat you down on the next bench that we passed with your legs pointing straight out. Even so, your ankles just cleared the edge of the bench. I took your shoes off and they were tiny in my hand. I knocked them against the bench. Then I took off your socks, turned them inside-out, and shook the sand out of the little loops and fibers. Then, after turning them back, I brushed your feet off, tops and bottoms but mostly the soles of your feet. I remember the feel of your feet in my hand.

“I even went between your little toes and into the crevice between your toes and the balls of your feet to make sure no sand remained. Then I pulled your socks and shoes back on before you hopped down.

“You smiled at me and watched me, the water completely forgotten. After that, you wanted to sit down on every bench we passed. You even got sand in your socks deliberately.” Henry smiled, remembering. He was quiet for a while. Then he said, “It was an extraordinary moment that we shared together although you don’t remember it. I never told anyone about it before…

“…it’s been a private memory. I wasn’t hiding it from anyone. It was just something that only I held…”

He sat silently and then said with a sigh, “I never thought about it that way before – as something private or just mine. I’ve only ever been aware of the care it showed. Of the amount of care that we both had for each other. I don’t know if you knew how much you empowered my life…

He caught himself, lost in the rush of emotions. All of his airways suddenly seemed too small and his tongue rolled to the back of his mouth but his mouth was dry. Nevertheless he made several swallowing motions to release the tension. When his throat relaxed enough for him to continue, Henry concluded, “…I liked it, too.” A tiny tear formed in the corner of one eye. Henry wiped it away.

They sat together for a while, each one seeing his own silent world yet each one keeping the other company. Then Henry said, “I can’t remember the walk back or the drive home but I remember walking along the boardwalk with you and you wanting to sit down on every bench we passed and give me your feet. I remember cleaning your feet.”

After a while Jefferson said, “Thanks, Dad. I never knew.”

Then he said, “Brooke is waiting for me. I said that I would meet her.”

He got up and headed for the door. He called over his shoulder, “I’ll see you next time!” Then he was gone.

Henry sat in his chair and savored the evening. At last he got up and padded through the door and down the hall. He entered the kitchen and switched on the light. The dogs were both in their crate, eagerly sitting up and vigorously wagging their tails. It was time for their walk and they knew it.

“Okay, okay, you guys. I haven’t forgotten.” Henry opened the door to the crate and they exploded out and bounded to the door. Chuckling, he followed and grabbed their leashes and the little strap-on rosin bag that they used to carry treats and bags.

Helen would be home soon. He clipped the leashes to their collars and followed them out into the gathering night. He smiled into the dark as they went on their walk together.

###

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Driving

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by DCH Park

cockpit-220116_1280The sun shone brightly as Henry drove down the highway alone. Four lanes of busy traffic stretched to the distance before and behind him and four more lanes were on the other side. The median strip was wide and grassy. It dipped in the middle and guard rails ran on either side. Looking up, he saw that the whole “big sky” was a light blue dome that stretched from one horizon to the other.

The wind rushed past Henry’s car as it raced with others on the road. He watched as the patterns made by the speeding cars changed and danced. They were never static. They always changed, like a living thing. The whole time, some cars would enter and others would leave, no doubt to go to their various destinations, but the patterns on the highway remained. Henry pictured an ameboid blob flowing through different shapes, pulsing rhythmically as it traveled down the road.

Nearby cars zoomed along while faraway things seemed much slower. The distant mountains seemed to barely move at all. The car before him was a late model Audi – a low-slung sports sedan – that had been with him for the last several exits. He absently noted that the Audi’s tail lights were shining at him but it was bright out and they were on the highway with traffic moving well. There was no reason the Audi should have its tail lights on.

The driver looked like a young person, so it seemed unlikely that forgetfulness was a factor. He looked around at the other cars. None of them had their lights on. He double-checked his own display panel to be safe. His lights were off, too.

Then he remembered the sun. He mentally conked himself on the forehead with the heel of his hand. No doubt, the sun was shining into the Audi’s tail lights and that’s what he was seeing, he thought. He pictured the sun hovering somewhere behind the Audi and causing its tail lights to glow.

He filed that little mystery in the “solved” column and proceeded to re-submerge himself into the flow of traffic, feeling warmed by the glow of his own cleverness. Just as he was about to forget the Audi, it went under an overpass. Something about it stuck out. It didn’t seem right somehow but he couldn’t put his finger on what was bothering him.

Luckily, they were passing through one of the many small towns along the way so he didn’t have long to wait for the next overpass. This time, he was watching the Audi’s behavior closely.

He watched as its shadow disappeared into the much larger shadow of the overpass. Then, as the tail-end of the Audi went into the shadow, too, he saw it! The tail lights of the Audi continued to shine even after the car had gone into shadow. The rest of the car was dark so the glow couldn’t be from the sun shining on it!

The tail lights continued to glow for a few car lengths and didn’t go out until the Audi was almost halfway through the shadow. This behavior, as small and quiet as it seemed to be, had incredible significance. This thing had not behaved as he had expected it to. Something totally new or unexpected (or both) was going on!

He felt like a great scientist discovering a fundamental property of existence. He had studied how those scientists had noticed and developed their creative insights. He had emulated their habits, hoping to perceive a breakthrough himself, someday. He had practiced being open to what was there and observing things so that he would be ready to catch a clue from the Universe, whatever that clue might be. Even something small and easily overlooked could lead to an important insight.

He reminded himself that he could never know ahead of time when something might come up or what it might be. He continued to follow the Audi and watched as it passed into the shadow of another overpass. He confirmed that the tail lights continued to glow even after the rest of the car was shrouded in shadow. He spent a moment appreciating how pretty the bright glow of the tail lights were in the dimness of the overpass.

What was going on, he wondered. He went over everything he remembered in his mind. He knew there were certain things that were outside of his conscious awareness. Nevertheless, some things stood out. He noticed some things more readily than others. They seemed more significant. He’d noticed in the past that such hunches generally paid off so he had trained himself to pay attention to them. He had trained himself to notice patterns. It wasn’t a matter of cataloging huge numbers of separate facts. Things fit together into patterns. Those patterns defined the movements of things and how they related to one another. They could be used to predict what would happen next. It wasn’t about noticing individual facts. It was about noticing the patterns. After a while, noticing them became second nature, like walking across a room.

The patterns also made it easier to notice when something didn’t fit. When something behaved in a way that was surprising or unexpected, when it didn’t fit the pattern, it was certain that something was up. The exciting thing was that this observation about the glowing tail lights was real and consistent. The Audi’s tail lights continued to shine in the shadow so it couldn’t be from the sun shining on the car. That meant that either the theory that led to the expectation was wrong or something was misunderstood, or both. Something didn’t follow the pattern or the pattern was misunderstood somehow. Either way, something interesting was going on.

For a moment, anything was possible. Henry imagined that everything he thought he knew about shadows and sunlight was trashed in favor of a whole new pattern of thought. The highway and car disappeared and Henry found himself traveling through a stream of possibility, a river of inchoate potential, not yet formed by choice or observation.

Then the vision was gone. The two cars were just about to come out of the shadow of an overpass. Henry noted that the Audi passed out of the shadow and back into the sunlight but its tail lights didn’t shine. That lasted for a beat or two then suddenly they did shine.

This puzzled him as they continued down the road and then the Audi went under another overpass. He watched the tail lights continue to glow and then go out and then noticed that he had entered the shadow, too. A strange possibility percolated in his mind as he watched the Audi emerge from the shadow, its tail lights dark, only to glow again as he emerged back into the sunlight.

He puzzled over this for a moment then hit upon a geometry that was different from what he was expecting and easily twice as complicated but the new geometry did explain the shining tail lights and the behavior of the shadows.

He followed the examples of the great scientists whom he had studied and made a prediction to test his new understanding. He predicted from the new geometry, which angle the sun would be at. Sure enough, it was where he predicted it would be.

The sun was in front of the car. There was no way that it could have shined into the tail lights of the Audi. The sun must have shined into his own headlights, bounced forward into the Audi’s tail lights, and then back to him.

He basked for a while in his changed intuition, felt humbled by the grandness and complexity of everyday experience, and marveled that as small as he was, he was complex enough to understand and wonder at the wide Universe, all while he continued on to his destination. The Audi stayed with him until he exited the highway to get his son.

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© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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The Circle of Existence: Chapter 8 – Turning Into the Pain

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by DCH Park

Fort Collins Back Pain by Ryan Weisgerber, https://www.flickr.com/photos/fortcollinschiropractor/6169824610/

Fort Collins Back Pain by Ryan Weisgerber, https://www.flickr.com/photos/fortcollinschiropractor/6169824610/

“My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”
– Michael Jordan

“Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.”
– Niccolo Machiavelli

“But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.”
– Alan Watts

The other day I was coming up some stairs and overheard someone talking on the phone. What I heard was remarkable. The person was apparently celebrating something bad. I gathered that the other party had just shared something that had happened to him or her, probably expecting sympathy, blame, or some other standard means to enlarge the pain.

To her credit, the person whom I overheard did none of those things. Instead, she celebrated it. I doubt that she was trying to encourage more painful experiences with her celebration. Rather, she was remembering that there are no bad things. What she said about it confirmed that this was her attitude.

Rather than ask why a benevolent God (or Universe or whatever) could “let” “bad” things happen to “good” people, consider that there are no bad things. There are painful things (You can substitute any emotion you want in that sentence to replace the word “painful.”) but there are no bad things. The pain serves a purpose. It leads you directly to the wound.

Consider a splinter. You might not notice it at first but as time goes on, the damaged area becomes painful as infection sets in. As more time goes on, it becomes more painful. You can bandage the splintered area and try to cushion it. You can take analgesics to numb the pain (and all sensation along with it). That way you can continue to ignore it. However, the pain is doing you a service. It is showing you exactly where the splinter is. Whereas it might have been too small to notice at first, the pain shows you exactly where it is. As soon as the splinter is removed, healing begins and the wound feels better.

On flights they always say, “Please affix your own oxygen mask before attending to small children who may be traveling with you.” It is a reminder to take care of yourself first. The message conjures images of a small child who has collapsed for lack of oxygen. The well-meaning parent is slumped over for the same reason. The parent has collapsed in trying to get the child’s oxygen mask on first and failed to do so. Even if successful, I wonder, would the child be physically able to attach the parent’s mask? Would the child even be able to reach the dangling mask?

Another common example is found in the advice we give to drivers who are learning to deal with a skid. When the car is spinning out of control, we are told, the thing to do is to turn into the skid. The same advice is given to pilots. Similarly, seamen are taught to drop anchor (and if they have sails to trim them) if they are caught in a storm. They are taught to turn their bow into the storm and “ride it out.”

Individuals who have gone through military training will recognize the advice to run toward the explosion if your unit is targeted by artillery. The “natural” tendency is to run away from the explosion but artillery marksmen find their range by “bracketing.” They deliberately fire down range of their target and then deliberately fire up range of it. That way, they establish their range and they know that their intended target lies somewhere between these two. Then they fire succeeding shots within that range, first down range of the target, then up range of it, each time coming a little closer to the middle. When they hit their target, they “fire for effect.” They let loose with everything they have on the target.

Thus, while on the battlefield, you are actually safer if you run toward the first explosion. That will ideally get you outside of the field of effect. If you run the other way, away from the explosion, you might be running directly into the next blast. It is almost guaranteed that you will run into a blast if you continuously run away from the last explosion. This is counter to popular wisdom but it is in keeping with the advice given to drivers, pilots, sailors, and those seeking oxygen masks on a plane.

The advice that runs through all of these examples is that we heal, we (re)gain control, when we turn into the thing that brings pain, fear, etc. Indeed, it is never as bad as we expect it to be and the storm, spin, explosion, or whatever, is always worst before we go into it. It is never as bad as we imagine it will be. The shortest way to the other side is straight through.

The case of the oxygen masks may seem obscured compared to the other examples, but it is an excellent metaphor. There are people who put the happiness and fulfillment of others before their own. Such people often even define their own happiness in terms of others’. They often see themselves deriving their own happiness (satisfaction, etc.) from that of others. This means that they see themselves as having to make other people happy before they can be happy themselves. Similarly, there are whole industries devoted to creating and selling pain killers of various strengths. The benefit that such pain killers promise is a resumption or intensification of the same activity that caused the pain in the first place, usually in order to continue working! In both cases, the advice is to turn away from or ignore the pain or whatever is coming up within yourself and focus on something outside of yourself.

Thus, we are in an interesting situation. In cases in which lives are not seen to be in immediate danger, we are advised in one way. In situations that are seen as immediately life threatening, we are advised differently. The advice in the two situations is directly opposite. It is also fairly uniform within them. It does not seem to be affected by culture or other factors. Which one do you feel serves you and supports your further growth? Which one would you accept as being true?

I have found that in turning into the pain (fear, etc.) I was not only able to find the center of the wound, I was able to hear it and thus to heal it. In other words, the wound itself tells me what it needs, what it is crying out for. Filling the hole, providing what is missing, constitutes healing the wound. Once it is healed, it goes away like a vanishing fog but you need to listen to it to find out what it needs. In order to listen to it, it helps to be aware of it. That’s what turning into the pain, fear, etc. does.

For whatever reason or reasons, much of society is structured to encourage us to turn away from our pain unless a life threatening condition exists. Consider over-the-counter pain relief. This assumption – that pain, fear, etc. should be taken away without your conscious participation or even understanding – is common on many (perhaps all) levels of “mainstream” society as long as a life threatening situation does not exist. Why are there two conflicting messages?

I have learned over and over in science that if there are two messages about something, either there is something(s) that is(are) not well understood or one is a lie. In the first case, what generally happens is that one situation or both are eventually discovered to be special cases. What appeared to be two situations (or messages) are seen to be one simple one. The unions of quantum physics, Newtonian physics, and relativity are good examples. Newtonian physics is seen as the special case of quantum physics where things are very large. In the same way, Newtonian physics is seen as a special case of relativistic physics wherein things are extremely slow.

Is the advice to turn away from pain a special case in which lives are not threatened? In special cases, the rules are not changed – only the values they operate over change. This can be seen in the cases of Newtonian, quantum, and relativistic physics. It can also be seen in the case of squares, which are special cases of rectangles, and mammals, which are special cases of animals. However, in the different messages about how to deal with pain, rules do seem to change. In one case the suggested rule is to turn into the pain. In the other, the suggested rule is to turn away from the pain. This would seem to imply that one of them is a lie.

(Please note that it is a lie in that it is a delaying action. The Universe is good. There is no “bad” or “evil” as they are commonly understood. There is nothing to resist. The lie does nothing more than encourage a perception of separation between you and your divinity. It slows down your personal growth or even brings it to a standstill. Typically, other forces are accepted or inserted into that separation to be supported or profited. A clever lie even furthers evolution or ties itself to a fundamental truth, the way some gristle might be interwoven into the meat. But sooner or later, the lie will be revealed and further evolution will be stymied.

If, by that point, the unwanted delaying lie has been incorporated into the fabric of what you accept as the fundamental nature of things, you may not even see it.)

By turning into the pain, you can find the metaphorical splinter that causes the infection, remove it, and begin to heal. On the other hand, if you turn away from the pain, no matter where else in the Universe you turn, you will not find the splinter, the cause of your wound. By moving into your discomfort, you move closer to the cause of your wound. You move closer to healing it. By moving away from your discomfort, you move farther away from your healing.

Furthermore, removing a splinter is hardly a life threatening condition in most cases. It would seem that the advice to turn into the pain can lead you to the center of the wound in more situations than life threatening ones. On the other hand, turning away from the pain definitely does not apply in life threatening situations. Perhaps it doesn’t work at all. Perhaps it simply delays the consequences of the wound, allowing it to become even more exacerbated and (as in the case of over-the-counter analgesics) creating an opportunity for even more profit. (“Who is gathering that profit?” is a good question.)

Nature is so marvelously constructed that pain, fear, etc. is not only acutely felt (so it is hard to ignore), it tells you exactly where to look. “As below, so above.” The truth is the truth. Understanding it in one realm leads directly to understanding in other realms. If the realms look unconnected, it’s because one or the other or both are not well enough understood (yet). In other words, their commonality is not yet understood. Their connection to each other or to the truth is not yet understood or not understood well enough.

The only thing that blocks the discovery and articulation of truth is willing blindness to what is there. That’s what pain and other emotions do for us. They indicate our blind spots. What we do, whether we numb ourselves or turn into the pain, is up to us.

When we numb ourselves, we practice being blind. Such blindness or unwillingness is often a function of belief. Wherever such belief might come from, however, it encourages us to get things backward. Rather than being open to what is there and using that experience to lead to truth and further opening, such belief defines or declares what is “true” and shapes observations to fit that expectation. In other words, such blindness leads to less openness, less truth, which is only possible because you’ve numbed yourself.

How open are you to possibilities outside of the things you expect and assume? How do you find your blind spots? Do you turn into the pain or do you turn away from it?

###

More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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The Circle of Existence: Chapter 7 – The Background Trend

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by DCH Park

monarchy-153404_1280“Reality is not a function of the event as event, but of the relationship of that event to past, and future, events.”
– Robert Penn Warren

“The frame, the definition, is a type of context. And context, as we said before, determines the meaning of things. There is no such thing as the view from nowhere, or from everywhere for that matter. Our point of view biases our observation, consciously and unconsciously. You cannot understand the view without the point of view.”
– Noam Shpancer

I read Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There when I was in eighth or ninth grade. I remember taking it with me when my class went on a field trip into the city to see a play. I have no memory of the play but I have an image of the lot of us standing outside the theater. I took the book with me to pass the time when we were waiting on line. I remember because some of my classmates saw it and teased me for reading what they knew as a children’s story. I smiled at their teasing and returned to my reading. I had picked it up because I read somewhere that Lewis Carroll’s stories were an excellent exercise in logic.

In it, the Red Queen is initially cordial to Alice, explaining the rules of chess. The narrative at one point says, “Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” (Carroll, Lewis, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, Chapter 2, http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=CarGlas.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=2&division=div1, retrieved 15 JUL 14.)

The Red Queen’s Race, as it has come to be called, has been used to illustrate competitive adaptation in evolutionary biology, the “Treadmill of Production” in environmental sociology, and other concepts. In engineering and physics it can be likened to a DC offset, though the Red Queen’s Race, which is run as fast as you can, is probably overstating the matter a bit.

A DC offset is a background level that affects everything the same way so that relative differences between one point and another are unaffected because both the beginning and end points are affected by the same amounts and in the same direction. It is expressed mathematically by adding a constant to both inputs and outputs. The offset can even change over time. If it does, of course, the offset becomes a more complex function than adding a simple constant, but relative differences will be unaffected as long as both end points are affected the same way.

I have always been puzzled by Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll’s “real” name) inclusion of the Red Queen’s Race in his novella. For one thing, it would seem that you only have to “run at least twice as fast” to make progress if you’re going in the same direction as the offset. If your goal is in the other direction, the offset brings you closer to it. If the offset is increasing over time, even if the increase is imperceptibly small over the course of a day or a week, then you may not have to run at all. You may be able to reach your goal by simply standing still. The background trend will bring you and your goal together.

Nevertheless, the race itself is an intriguing concept with vast implications but it doesn’t seem to impact the rest of the book or characters at all. The characters all walk about normally and the landscape stays put afterward. Is it possible that Dodgson was alluding to a background trend in the real world and not a fictional trend at all? Arguably, all of the fantastical things that Alice encounters in Wonderland are rooted in real world experiences. Their outrageous appearances serve to distract and disarm you but those outrageous elements begin in truth. The next question then would seem to be, “What is the truth? What, if anything, is true about the Red Queen’s Race?”

It surely isn’t literally true. We would probably notice if the landscape moved relative to our places in it. We would probably end up saying something very much like what the Red Queen says. Instead, we think it strange.

Is there a background trend that we don’t notice but that very powerfully affects us? Even something intangible can nevertheless be real. A moment’s reflection finds that even non-physical things can be felt through their effects. (This is not to say that everything that is intangible is real. Rather, those things that exert real effects are real, even if we can’t see them directly. We can ignore them but we do so at the risk of also ignoring their effects. Those effects may be small, but taken over a whole lifetime or several generations, their cumulative effect can be decisive.)

We can measure and feel their effects even when we can’t perceive them directly. This has been demonstrated even with physical things, for example, with things that are very small, like a bacterium or virus and things that are very big, like in plate tectonics. Perhaps the effect is very small. Perhaps the effect is only readily apparent over generations. Perhaps we are taught to simply take it for granted or not to notice it. Perhaps something else is going on or a combination of things is happening.

Certainly if the effect was very slow, it could be taken for background noise. It might not even be noticed but its cumulative impact could be very powerful. For example, a tree grows so slowly that its growth is imperceptible. It appears to be immobile, like a stone. However, over decades and even centuries the impact of a tree can be enormous.

How much more potent might a social bias be? Such a bias might be small and only noticeable over many generations but its cumulative impact on history might be huge. Even if there were a bias, one can imagine that it would still be possible for notable individuals to do remarkable things. They could “run … twice as fast” and achieve something remarkable. However, in a situation in which there were a background bias, the tendency would be for individuals and institutions in general to conform with the bias, especially over time. For example, once the founder died, you’d expect the institution(s) left behind would tend to fall more and more in line with the background trend.

Regardless of why the offset hasn’t been widely noticed, the question remains, is there one? Is there a general tendency in one direction? For example, are there corporations which are widely vilified and hated today, that have a long history of being consistently hated and vilified, that were nevertheless loved and embraced in their communities in their early years? Corporations that had a founder who was charitable and devoted to good works in the community but that changed after the founder died?

Alternatively, are there corporations that went the other way? Companies that had founders who were hated and vilified but whose influence was limited to the early years of the corporation? Companies that became widely loved and lauded after the influence of the founder waned?

If there is a background tendency, what is it? Is the tendency consistent or universal? How does the tendency affect your life and the decisions you make? Such a tendency would be like swimming across a river. Your aim may be to reach the other side and you may picture some point directly opposite your starting point. The relative motion between you and the water might put you on that heading. However the motion of the water itself means that you actually end up much farther downstream. The motion of the water is like a background trend. In order to reach the point that you envisioned, it may be necessary to swim much farther and harder and to swim at a different angle than the one you originally had in mind.

What is your experience? Is there a background trend? If so, which direction is the bias in? Where is the current going?

###

More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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The Circle of Existence: Chapter 6 – Defining Beliefs

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by DCH Park

candle-201623_1280“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
– Buddha

“True love doesn’t come to you, it has to be inside you.”
– Julia Roberts

“Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside of them was superior to circumstances.”
– Bruce Barton

Some people speak of limiting beliefs. Beliefs that we carry can limit our senses of what we can do, who we can be, and what is possible. For example, how likely am I to be successful if I don’t believe that I can be? How likely am I to win the big race if I honestly believe that the other guy is faster or deserves to win more than I do?

However, beliefs and how they can affect us is subtler, more complex, and more powerful than the term limiting belief implies. In fact, these beliefs are defining. Defining beliefs are usually centered on ourselves, our families and friends, society, or the world and our relationships and interactions with them. As such, they can certainly be limiting. However, beyond embodying limits, defining beliefs shape the fundamental nature of the world and our roles in it, as we experience them.

There are at least two different types of defining beliefs. Let’s call them personal and existential. They are distinct but strongly interrelated. At times, the distinction may even seem arbitrary, especially for beliefs that lie on or near the border between them. Nevertheless, as will become clear, the differences are significant.

Personal defining beliefs are those that relate directly to the way of the world and how we have to be in the world to get along. They might take any of several different forms, such as: “The world is safe/unsafe;” “The world is unreliable or impermanent;” “The world is hard and unyielding;” “Life is struggle/joyful;” “Making money is hard or requires sacrifice or is easy;” or “Societal hierarchy is real and important.”

Often personal defining beliefs originate in the aftermath of a significant, surprising trauma. (Please note that I am using “trauma” in the theosophical sense – a change in a love relationship so that you can never experience that love in the same way again.) The natural response to such trauma is shock and pain (and possibly a sense of betrayal) over the loss coupled with bewilderment as to exactly what happened and why.

When this happens (especially when we are young) the emotional pain can be quite intense. As much as we might like to reverse events and unmake the trauma, we don’t know how to reverse it. Perhaps it’s impossible to reverse it. The only thing we can commonly do is try to understand why it happened so that we can protect ourselves from similar pain in the future.

Of course, these post facto decisions about what must have happened are usually flawed, but that doesn’t stop the process nor deter us from latching onto the decision and installing it as a rule. In this way, such decisions are used to define how the world works and how we must be in the world to be safe, effective, loved, etc. In addition, the emotional energy stirred up by the trauma is usually channeled into the decision and resulting rule(s), making them very strong and deeply rooted. Of course, the more potent the original trauma, the more significant we believe the decision to be and the more imperative the derived rule becomes. Some decisions like this can have effects that last an entire lifetime.

For example, a child who suddenly loses a cherished toy as it flies out the car window and then sees his father pull the car over and run out to retrieve the toy, dodging traffic the whole time, might be impressed and decide that there isn’t any loss that can’t be healed with love. He might alternatively focus on the whizzing cars and decide that the world is a hard and heartless place. If the father instead continues to drive on and yells at the child for being so careless, he might decide that the world is basically a cruel and unsafe place where even those he loves the most can turn on him at any time through no fault of his own.

The decisions that the child makes about the way of the world and the interpretations that he draws from those decisions can lead directly to beliefs about how the world operates and who he must be to be safe, loved, and happy. Thus, personal defining beliefs can be understood as beliefs about the rules of the game – how it is played, what the different pieces are, how game pieces are moved, what strategies are best, how to win, what constitutes winning, etc.

In contrast, existential defining beliefs are about the container that holds the game. Whereas personal beliefs focus on how to play a better game, conceptually, existential beliefs focus on which game is played. They are more philosophical in nature, but are of no less importance than personal defining beliefs. In fact, although they seem to be more abstract, in fact they deal with more fundamental questions about existence and experience.

Examples of existential beliefs include: “Evil exists;” “Good is eternally at war with evil;” “It is possible to be separate from someone and thus oppose that person,” “Cosmic laws/rules exist;” and “Cosmic laws are inviolable.” They define the boundaries that limit the scope of play. They are not unlike the mythical edge of the world that sailors used to fear. They are taken to be absolute and discontinuous. Humans (the belief goes) have no choice but to stay away from the limits, safely immersed in the game on the board. Any attempt to cross or even touch the limits of the board, we are told, result in annihilation or madness or both. However, these are only beliefs. They are taken to be more fundamental and thus are often harder to find, but their power, like that of all beliefs, comes from the fact that we accept them.

Interestingly, when we do come across a discontinuous limit, it is a signal that what we thought we knew is wrong. This has been shown over and over throughout history and invariably leads to great discoveries, new knowledge, and heroic achievements. Reaching and breaching limits that were thought to be impervious is a defining characteristic of a hero. Examples abound. In art, the development of Cubism, Impressionism, and other movements is one example. In pop art, there are the characters of Harry Potter and Truman in The Truman Show, among others.

In science, running into and transcending discontinuous limits often heralds paradigm shifts that allow for radically new and exciting possibilities. The notions of the double helix structure of DNA, the failure of Newtonian physics and the emergence of Quantum Theory, and the shift toward plate tectonics in geology are three examples.

In life, as in science and art, meeting and transcending defining beliefs of either type can precipitate huge spurts of growth and creativity. What beliefs do you have that define the world, who you must be, or what is possible and why and how?

###

More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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The Circle of Existence: Chapter 5 – Casting Shadows

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by DCH Park

By User:Nino Barbieri (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

By User:Nino Barbieri (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

“The beginnings and ends of shadow lie between the light and darkness and may be infinitely diminished and infinitely increased. Shadow is the means by which bodies display their form. The forms of bodies could not be understood in detail but for shadow.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
– Abraham Lincoln

“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.”
– Carl Sandburg

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Imagine an irregular object floating in space. Light shines down on it, casting a shadow on the floor below. The shadow is a perfect projection of the widest parts of the object even though those widest parts may not be in the same plane.

All you have is the shadow but you are really interested in the object itself. It is easy to see that the shape and behavior of the shadow are determined by the object but going the other way and understanding the nature of the object from nothing more than its shadow can be very hard and in some cases, impossible. For example, a sphere and a cone can both project a circle shadow. There are many other shapes that can project the same shadow, some of which are highly irregular. But if you are reasoning back to the object when all you know is that it projects a circle shadow, the object itself cannot be uniquely determined.

Movement and change in the shadow make understanding the object easier but very simple and straightforward behavior of the object can produce complicated and bizarre behavior in the shadow. Elaborate rules may have to be invented to explain the behavior of the shadow if that’s all you see, whereas no such rules would be needed if the shadow is understood as a projection of the object. Life becomes simpler when behavior of the shadow is understood in terms of behavior of the object.

The truth casts “shadows” into the physical Universe in the same way that a three dimensional object casts shadows onto a plane. Very different shadows can all be cast by the same object just as the same truth can present differently at different times and from different angles. Understanding the truth from nothing more than what it casts into physical reality is like trying to reconstruct an object from nothing more than its shadows – it is not impossible but it can be very hard and it can be very easy to go down a blind alley and not know it.

However, all of the shadows are cast by the same object. Therefore they must all be consistent with each other. In a similar manner, the shadows of truth that we find in the physical Universe are all consistent with each other. Also, the things that are not true – the apparitions cast by things other than the truth – are inconsistent with the truth. With two objects casting shadows, the shadows may appear consistent some of the time but they are from two different things and their apparent consistency will break down sooner or later. In the same way, the apparent consistency between shadows of true things and shadows of untrue things will break down sooner or later (please see also Chapter 13: Consistency).

This is why it is so important to use every sense you have in your body – even senses that go beyond the traditional five. We can’t afford to ignore any clue in working from the physical shadow back to the truth. The clues can be so subtle that it is easy to mistake some or miss them altogether. Who knows which clue might make a critical difference? Yet this is done. Clues are ignored, most frequently to honor or continue to hold old ideas even (some would say “especially”) in the face of clues that point in a different direction.

How is this done? Sometimes a clue’s champion is vilified, ridiculed, or otherwise tainted so that the clue itself is never taken seriously. Alternatively, the clue can be simply ignored. Subtle clue(s) are easily and often ignored. A clue’s subtlety does not mean that it is wrong or doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, history shows that such ignorance is common. In fact, evidence that seems to contradict the common “wisdom” or the established order is frequently ignored, especially by the “powers that be” and those motivated out of a perception of lack – that in order to increase wealth, safety, whatever, it must be taken from someone else. (There is more than enough wealth, safety, food, joy, health, etc. in the Universe for everyone’s needs. We don’t have to take anything from anyone else to have enough for ourselves. In fact, we have more of it when we help others to receive it. Ironically, by denying those things to other people, the size of the whole pie gets smaller, even if the piece we carve out for ourselves is bigger in the next round. Eventually, the pie will shrink to the point where there won’t be enough for everybody.)

Another trick that has been used many times throughout history is to confound two or more otherwise inconsistent things. The basic tactic is to present one thing every time another thing comes up so you learn to associate one thing with the other. The only relationship between them is the forced one but people tend to forget that fact and come to associate one thing with the other habitually. It may sound silly but after a while the two things may come to be so closely associated in people’s minds that they have trouble even conceiving of them as separate entities any longer. (One example of this is found in the attitudes some people had toward women working outside of the home. Some people believed that women were delicate creatures and were not well suited to do “unsightly” or complex jobs, such as police work or management. Such attitudes are rare in the U.S. today but they were common here not too long ago.)

Nevertheless, the essential observation – that a habitual bond is formed between different ideas that have nothing to do with each other – is sound. The end result is a belief that the two ideas are an inseparable unit. In practice, one idea is often true and the confounded idea is often untrue. In order to honor the truth, you must first recognize the truth as separate from its confounded idea. You must separate them again.

A more subtle tactic, albeit one that seems to be more common these days, is distraction combined with a default. As the pace of life increases, people become busier and busier just trying to survive. As their time and energy are more and more consumed, they have less and less to devote to healing, silence, and joy. Consequently, they believe that they have to accept the existing default in order to survive, in order to keep up. (Who forces them and why and how are good questions.)

People don’t typically devote time or energy to considering what they accept. They simply accept what is given and move on. This acceptance is currently encouraged in society, ostensibly for the sake of alacrity, but the fact is that simply accepting something (for any reason) does not mean that the choice made is the best choice nor that the range from which it was chosen even reflects the full range of possible choices. It may only reflect what was done before or a way of thinking that is common or something else, but that doesn’t make it any more right. (A powerful result from Organization Theory is that choosing the set of things that someone else will choose from is one way to exercise power. Please also see the note in “Chapter 25: Freedom.”)

When ignorance isn’t enough, some folks resort to violently enforcing the established point of view. It can be an act of defiance to recognize and honor the truth. Many of those who argue for the status quo are wont to conjure images of violence, chaos, and death as the certain outcomes of changing things. They seem to argue that the only alternative to the status quo is chaos and a complete lack of order. But a change in the order is not lack of order. It is interesting that the same people who decry change because of violence are often the first ones to resort to exactly the same violence they decry.

All of this can be rather confusing. What is truth and what is untruth? Where/how is one commonly associated with the other? Is that link between them real? Whom does that link benefit? Whom does that link damage? You are best served to trust yourself and really observe for yourself what is there. Find the truth-nuggets in what is said, no matter who is saying it. What is important is what is said, not who is saying it.

When things seem confusing, it is usually because part of the puzzle is misunderstood or yet to be revealed. Confusion makes confounding things easier but there is always a mismatch or giveaway. This is why it is so important to be aware of all of your senses and what they are telling you. Anything that seems to be inconsistent or that leads to complications bears further consideration. There may be other things going on besides the truth but if there are, the inconsistencies are always there to be seen.

There may be some people who try to gain advantage by hiding a part of the puzzle, seeking to use the truth only for themselves and their chosen few. They seem to prefer to “rule in hell” instead of recognizing other people as equals. They would rather be top of the heap of a very small ant hill than equal members in a community that raises itself to the stars. My sense is that this attitude also comes from an incomplete or inaccurate picture. As these inaccuracies are revealed and healed, such attitudes are naturally diminished. The natural result is an evolution toward a community of equals.

This community of equals is what most creative scientists and artists imagine for everyone. They are concerned with discovering and elucidating the truth, whatever it may be and wherever they may find it. How we organize ourselves – the economic and social implications of that truth – is taken by them to be a consequence of the truth. It falls out of the truth. It doesn’t direct it or determine its course. It certainly doesn’t limit the truth. And you find the truth by looking for consistencies between shadows.

###

More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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The 5 Kingdoms

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by DCH Park

The 5 KingdomsThere were once 5 Kingdoms who traded with each other. They grew prosperous from the trade and all was well.

The people of the first kingdom were great foresters and farmers. They cared for the land and all the plants and animals that grew upon it. The farmers grew things in great variety but always allowed the land to lie fallow for one year out of four. The foresters cared for different plants and animals from the farmers and did it in a different way but produced delicacies that no one else could. The changes of the seasons and the rhythms of the land and the reverence they felt for the land were all in the food they produced.

The people of the second kingdom were hardy fishermen and women. They harvested all manner of wealth from the sea. They knew that their lives were intricately bound up in the sea. They even timed their comings and goings to coincide with the tides. They had parties and celebrations on the beach and gladly took any excuse for a clam bake or a crab bake or a lobster bake or just a dance party with no bake at all. High tide under a full moon was a particularly special time for them.

The people of the third kingdom were excellent miners, which was fortunate because mineral deposits in their their land were rich and varied. They had an intimate knowledge of the land and were constantly probing and imaging it to find new deposits or a new cave. They loved nothing more than to explore a new cave or digging through the earth, searching out the hidden roots of things.

The people of the fourth kingdom were masters of the fiber arts. They could weave a basket or take hemp or linen fibers and make a fine suit of clothes or delicate paper out of them. The things they made were the finest imaginable. They could make rope of any thickness or colored thread, yarn, or paper and make all sorts of things from these materials. Their costumes and decorations were beautiful and surprising. Their festivals were always bright and colorful. It was said that you hadn’t lived until you’d attended a festival in the fourth kingdom.

The people of the fifth kingdom were smiths of all types. They worked with wood and stone as well as with metals. They could make a fine needle or a complex machine. Their people also included marvelous chemists. They were able to fashion fuels and other raw materials out of things they bought or found. They refined metals from some stones and cut others into jewelry and statues. They made porcelain tableware and figurines out of earth, glass implements out of sand, and caved wood into a variety of objects both useful and decorative.

The 5 Kingdoms were very different but they shared a sense of respect and reverence for the land. It sustained them. It gave them their lives and also their livelihoods. There was no reason it couldn’t continue to do so forever as long as it was taken care of. So each generation took care of the land so they could pass it on to future generations. They knew they didn’t own the land. They knew that they were merely part of a long succession – a chain of generations – who managed the land together. They formed a symbiotic relationship with the land. They benefited from the land and the land benefited from them.

Still, the people of The 5 Kingdoms knew that the land would be nothing without the people. People were the true source of wealth. Prosperity flowed from the efforts and genius of the people. Everyone in The 5 Kingdoms owed the creation of his or her personal wealth to everyone else. They all rose and sank together and they knew it.

Thus the various peoples traded with each other and were able to get everything they couldn’t make for themselves from each other. They had everything they needed for life. In fact, they became so wealthy and life was so fulfilling together that the life expectancy of the peoples of The 5 Kingdoms increased to a phenomenal degree.

Rarely did anyone mention one of the kingdoms as a separate entity even in passing. They were legally separate kingdoms but their trade agreements had lasted for so long and their cultures and traditions had merged so much that they seemed more like regional variations of a single, vast country than separate kingdoms and although there was certainly no law against trading with anyone else, there was little incentive to do so.

Strangers were welcome in any of the kingdoms. Many times such strangers were destitute in the beginning but had come to make valuable contributions. Many of them had risen to become highly regarded and influential. Who knew if the next stranger wouldn’t create the next great thing?

So all was well in The 5 Kingdoms for many generations. Then one day a money counter appeared in the first kingdom. He was obviously poor and had traveled a great distance. No doubt, thought the people of the first kingdom, he sought the prosperity of The 5 Kingdoms. However all the money counter could see was the vast wealth in the forests and the farms of the first kingdom. He imagined they were all his or controlled by him and everyone in the kingdom worked for him but he kept his imaginings secret. He said nothing to the people of the first kingdom.

As was their custom, the people of the first kingdom put him up in one of the apartments they had set aside for indigents. He was provided food and means to wash and press his meager clothes. He was left alone to tend to his needs and get his bearings.

Soon he was hard at work in his trade, keeping track of the coming and going of money. He had a practiced way of looking at money and his suggestions invariably increased profits. The businesses of those he worked for grew even richer. He started his own company and hired employees to satisfy demand.

The people of the first kingdom didn’t know why he had failed where he came from. He was certainly wise in the ways of business. Nor did they understand why he had shown up in their kingdom alone, with no family or tokens or anything reminiscent of any ties. But they were glad that he had come. They assumed that he would talk when he was ready. At any rate, they were certain that a person’s actions would be consistent with his thinking, whether voiced or unvoiced, so they didn’t press.

In the meanwhile, they were focused on making more money. The promise of riches often produces a kind of mania. That mania was taking hold of the people of the first kingdom. It was so slow and they were so distracted by their mounting frenzy that they failed to notice what was happening to them. Instead, they set their sights on the money they imagined before them. Soon that was all that they could see.

The money counter was in high demand as excitement spread. He became very rich but that didn’t satisfy him. There were others who had more money than he had. He had to be the best. He had no family or friends to share his money with and he didn’t trust new people. He was sure they wanted nothing more than to separate him from his money so it was hard for him to make new friends.

Rather than feeling out the hard things to understand them so he could heal them and make them easy, the money counter followed his training and avoided the hard things. In a way, the money counter was a victim. He was trying to be true to his training but that didn’t remove his personal responsibility for what he did or towards other people.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t help him make friends. In fact, avoidance made it harder to make friends. However, he was unaware of all of this. Without awareness of what he was doing, he pursued the only thing left to him. He pursued money with a single-mindedness that was inhuman.

In a short time, he became the most successful money counter in the whole kingdom yet that wasn’t enough. One day, he announced to his employees that he was going on a trip. He would go to the second kingdom to begin operations there. Surely the people of the second kingdom would appreciate him and his keen insight and counting abilities just as the people of the first kingdom had.

So he set off for the second kingdom. But this time he did not travel on foot wearing threadbare clothes. This time he rode in a fabulous carriage and wore expensive, new clothes. He made arrangements for his living space and counting house ahead of time, so they were waiting for him when he arrived.

His reputation preceded him. As soon as he opened for business, he had as much business as he wanted. Soon everyone in the whole kingdom employed him. He did the same with each of the other kingdoms.

After he became well known throughout all of The 5 Kingdoms, he settled back and looked at the figures from his business. He wasn’t the richest person yet but he was gaining. His growth was faster than anyone else’s. Still he wasn’t satisfied. He didn’t feel secure.

There were people in The 5 Kingdoms, thought the money counter to himself, who were so powerful that they could have him arrested and exiled. He remembered what had happened in the country of his birth. He was determined to not let that happen to him again. He imagined that the powerful people could have him thrown into a deep, dark dungeon to rot, cut off and forgotten. Never mind that such places didn’t exist in The 5 Kingdoms. His imagination was ruled by fear.

Fear demanded that he act. Fear demanded that in addition to being the richest person in all the land, he should be the most powerful person in all the land so he wouldn’t be thrown into the dungeon of his imagination. He would have to act cunningly and slowly at first, but after events gained their own momentum, he would be able sit back and relax and watch things unfold.

He waited patiently and continued to pretend to be everyone’s faithful friend while secretly working to undermine them. He used his position as money counter to all the businesses in The 5 Kingdoms to casually say things or whisper things to certain individuals in each of the kingdoms. He made suggestions that sounded wise but always caused business owners to question the motives of anyone from any of the other kingdoms. He raised questions about their reasons for doing things.

Later, when he was somewhat bolder, he suggested that they needed to protect themselves. Who knew, he would whisper, what hidden plans there might be to steal someone’s wealth? He planted seeds of doubt and suspicion all over The 5 Kingdoms. Slowly doubt and suspicion became normal. Contracts became long and laboriously exacting. Safeguards were built into every transaction. If someone began with an attitude of trust, that person was considered a fool and people tried to take advantage of him by presenting one face while secretly honoring another.

By the time that the first price increase was charged for exporting something to another kingdom, the pressure between kingdoms was nearly unbearable. That first increase led to a firestorm of reprisals as increase followed increase. No one trusted anyone else, especially those from another kingdom. Generations of successful trading were forgotten in the frenzy of suspicion and distrust.

The only thing that anyone seemed to be aware of was his own money. Each would-be trader imagined his own little treasure increasing beyond measure and a horde of jackals waiting to steal it from him. The money counter had successfully changed people’s expectations without revealing the truth so the norm was defined by suspicion. This created an opening for the money counter.

The only person whom everyone would accept was the money counter. His company was already present in all the kingdoms and he wasn’t from any of the kingdoms. He had originally come from a foreign land, they reasoned, so they sought him out. They begged him to oversee their deals and to make sure they were fair.

Putting on a big show, he feigned reluctance but he secretly celebrated. He agreed but he said that his staff was already overburdened. He would have to hire more staff, which would require more funds. He would also need to expand his staff further as the number of trades increased. So in addition to the startup funds, he required a portion of every trade that passed between the kingdoms. The former trading partners were desperate and didn’t know what else to do. The money counter’s demands seemed reasonable, if somewhat stiff, so they gave him what he asked for.

The money counter set up his main headquarters near the location of his first company in the first kingdom but he had offices in every kingdom to oversee transactions. His various offices were lavish and extravagant but that was only fitting, so the people told themselves, for someone overseeing every transaction between any of the 5 Kingdoms.

Fewer saw his personal apartments. These were more lavish even than his offices. They rivaled even those of the various Kings of The 5 Kingdoms. Yet still, the money counter was not satisfied.

He looked about him and saw that he was the richest man in The 5 Kingdoms. No one had more money than he had. He was also extremely powerful, perhaps more powerful than the Kings themselves, since he controlled the trade between kingdoms.

Best of all, certainly most ironic, he had done it through their respect and love for him! He had managed to get them to hate and fear each other while their love for him grew! It was as if they had traded one for the other and made him rich and famous while impoverishing themselves at the same time! He licked his lips and smiled. The pretty picture he presented to the world hinted at none of the thoughts he carried within. He would use their distrust of one another to even further separate the kingdoms and boost their love of him.

He took a moment to ponder the age-old philosophical question. Was it better to be loved or feared? Which was safer, he asked himself.

He couldn’t see that he had already chosen fear. He could only see his actions. He failed to notice his own thoughts or expectations or how his choices shaped them. He failed to see that the actions he took were in turn shaped by his expectations so his actions were ultimately shaped by his choices.

He was acting in accordance with fear but he didn’t see that those actions only seemed reasonable from within a context of separation – a context that he had chosen to begin with. He was already driving people apart and thus honoring the illusion of separation. Thus it should be no surprise that the money counter decided it was better to be feared but only after he thought himself safe.

In this way, he was no different from anyone who chooses fear and separation in any form. He was basically a coward. He “reasoned” that once he had isolated everyone to the point that they had no choice but to live within the system that he created, he would be absolute ruler, imperiously doling out things that no one else could even question because he had crushed all opposition with his strength.

Once they were all in his system and had given up hope of living any other way, then he could let drop his mask and reveal his true face. He could let go of all pretenses to love and acceptance and let fear show itself.

He would be the most feared person in The 5 Kingdoms. He would be terrible and wrathful most of the time and kind and merciful when it pleased him. He would be unpredictable and that would just make people fear him more. He would be free, he told himself. It would be wonderful.

He sat there, imagining his power and freedom for a few minutes and then pulled himself out of his reverie. Perhaps, he told himself, it would be wonderful but he wasn’t there yet.

He continued to sow seeds of distrust and suspicion throughout the kingdoms while continuing to pretend to be everyone’s friend. He continued to oversee the trades that passed between kingdoms while collecting a growing percentage of each transaction. He watched while relations between the kingdoms continued to fray and tensions continued to mount.

When the fifth kingdom erected a fence all around its border and checkpoints on highways to neighboring kingdoms, the money counter was surprised and delighted. Soon all of the borders were patrolled and fortified. The money counter knew that increased threats of violence gave him a built-in excuse to charge even higher fees and he did.

As misunderstandings grew into conflicts and conflicts became fights, the checkpoints and their surroundings grew more and more desolate. The money counter quietly supported installing higher and stronger walls. He quietly encouraged each kingdom to separate itself more and more from the other kingdoms.

The people of the kingdoms were suffering. The things that they needed, which had once been plentiful and easy to find had become scarce and expensive. As trade became more restricted, fewer and fewer goods were sold. At first, people banded together and distributed the reduction in income across everyone. They all shared the burden. But instead of passing, as such troubles had always done in the past, the reductions kept mounting. Eventually, they became so severe that many people lost their livelihoods altogether.

Many necessities were beyond the means that most people had remaining. They grew desperate. They began to organize, agitate, or steal – anything to stay alive. Marshal law was imposed in the various kingdoms. Conscription followed after that and border patrols and fences came soon after that.

Conscription into the armed forces was a welcome change for most because it meant that they could at least eat and send their wages home but the royal stocks, on which most people now depended, were limited. They were vast but they would run out eventually.

In addition, royal treasuries were tapped to pay wages to the vastly increased army and to subsidize the high fees that were charged for the trades that still went through to keep things running. The 5 Kings didn’t realize it, perhaps the money counter himself didn’t realize it, but the vast stores of food and treasure were being used to enrich the money counter. The money counter was benefiting and everyone else, including the Kings, were being hurt.

But the Kings realized none of this at the time. All they were aware of was their alarmingly rapidly dwindling stores, their swollen armies (swollen with people who would soon become desperate again once their conscription ended), and the apparent inevitable war. None of them wanted to go to war but none of them could think of any alternative plan. It seemed that the walls between the kingdoms were higher and the trades that passed between them were fewer every day. The people grew more and more desperate. War seemed unavoidable.

Then, just as he was about to proclaim war, the King of the fifth kingdom heard of a little market that had just sprung up in one of his towns. Intrigued by what he heard, he went to see it.

He traveled for a day and a night and finally came to a little village on the edge of his realm. It sat near the border his kingdom shared with the first kingdom. Being honest folk, the people of the village told the King the truth about their market even though they were afraid. They were technically breaching the border between kingdoms although they hadn’t directly broken any laws. The fence and then the wall had been erected to protect the people of the fifth kingdom from the people of the first kingdom. It wasn’t thought that any laws were needed.

But people from the villages on either side of the border had interacted and traded freely with each other for generations. Many had family members who had crossed over from or gone to the other side, before the fence had been built. Apparently they had found a way to continue trade under the notice of the money counter and the border patrol.

They had constructed a trebuchet and with it, they could shoot things high over the border to the other side. The King looked at the trebuchet and admired its craftsmanship. After they’d launched the plans for the trebuchet to the other side and established that it was possible to have two-way communication and material transfer, all that remained was negotiation on what to send, how much to send, and its price. Of course since no money changed hands, prices were based on exchange. But since each side needed what the other had in abundance, exchange was easy.

Furthermore, since no money was involved, there was no need for a money counter. People on both sides benefited and this benefited their neighbors and their respective Kings. Both kingdoms benefited. The people didn’t even notice the lack of a money counter.

The King went back to his castle in a daze. It seemed that even in a situation in which all trade is strictly limited and controlled to enrich one person or a small group at the whole community’s expense, a way to trade freely will be found. Being wise and well-schooled, the King saw that this implied that love and connection are more powerful than separation and control – that openness and honesty are more powerful than secrecy and lies. Of course, the King realized, they would be. Why else would secrets be held? Why else would something pretend to be something else? He pondered this all the way back to the capital.

Once he returned, he immediately called for a conference with the other Kings. While he waited he noticed that news of that first market had spread like wildfire all across his entire kingdom. Soon, similar markets had appeared in towns along every border that his kingdom shared with another kingdom.

When the Kings were all together, he recounted his experience and what he’d learned. He wasn’t too surprised to learn that the markets had spread across all five kingdoms. They now connected The 5 Kingdoms together. There were now two exchanges. One was an official exchange, overseen by the money counter, and the other had been invented by and was managed by the people.

The significance of the markets was not lost on the Kings. They agreed to immediately open the checkpoints between their lands to allow for free trade among the people, in accordance with their original agreements. They also tasked their armies to dismantle and destroy the border fences and walls before the conscriptees were released back to their families.

Finally, they issued a joint decree, calling for the money counter to cease all operations and for him to be arrested and all of his records seized and all of his assets frozen.

It took many years for all of the money counter’s records to be found, organized, and read. It also took many years to find the money counter, himself. This was because once he realized the soldiers were coming to arrest him, he fled. Having kept his plans secret and working to separate individuals from each other just to increase profit or to feel more powerful, when he realized that he had been discovered, he fled. This does not mean that fleeing proves guilt but in the money counter’s case, since he couldn’t hide his secret any longer, he tried to hide himself.

Over the years, he tried to remain hidden while moving to escape The 5 Kingdoms and take his hidden stash of gold with him. This is what undid him in the end. Someone saw him and reported it. He was arrested and brought before a special panel of judges from each of the kingdoms and a jury composed of citizens from each of the five kingdoms.

He was found guilty and stripped of all of his money, which he coveted so highly. He was removed from The 5 Kingdoms and exiled. He was sentenced to remove himself from that place for three times as long as he had been there. At the end of his exile, he could return if he wished, provided that his activities from that moment onward were motivated out of genuine concern for the betterment of everyone and not just himself as measured against other people.

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© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”The 5 Kingdoms” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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