Things to come

As my life is becoming more structured I want to get back to trying to write everyday. There are so many thoughts and ideas floating around in my head that I really want to get out. I have an opinion about just about everything; I just haven’t felt that I have the  moral authority to speak about them. The more I read other people’s opinions the more I realize that I shouldn’t let that stop me.  It helps me to see that the crazy thoughts in my head are shared by great thinkers who have actually garnered respect for their ideas. When I find myself still disagreeing with people whose ideas I highly respect I come out thinking that I may have something original to offer. This doesn’t mean that I am right and they are wrong, only that I have a perspective which is uniquely mine. Some people will probably like what I have to say and some people might not. I hope you will let me know either way. I think the conversation is a good thing in and of itself. My thoughts and my beliefs are constantly evolving.

I want to try and tackle some of the big issues even if I can only do it in a small way. I want to share my musings on subjects like, god, meaning of life, good and evil, human evolution, fame and success, morality, inspiration, creativity, society, government, punishment and love. I also want to write my thoughts on the more mundane topics of the day like marijuana legalization, global warming, income inequality, gay marriage, the Arab-Israeli conflict, religious freedom and politics.

I’m sure that I will continue to intersperse some stories about my life but I don’t want that to be the focus. I’ve been using this in-the-moment memoir approach because my memory sucks and I wanted to have a way to remember what I’ve been through. I also figured that if anyone was going to be telling my story, it should be me. What I’ve found is that I don’t find my story all that interesting. I remember what I want to remember and the rest I am more than happy to forget. If someone else finds my story interesting, they are welcome to write about it. I need to write about what interests me.

My hope is that I will be able to develop a structure and framework that will make it easier for me to write. I also want to get to the point where I can write comfortably without the use of alcohol. I simply am not going to have the time to drink like I have been and there are some consequences to drinking that I would like to avoid. I know this will be a challenge for me. I’m much more self critical when I’m sober. I also have a hard time focusing on a single thought. I find my brain racing three pages ahead when I’m still struggling to find words to complete the sentence at hand. It’s really frustrating and time consuming but I need to find some other tools to help me focus.

Cold is the absence of heat

When I woke up yesterday morning it was 10 degrees below zero on the Fahrenheit scale. That is 80 degrees Fahrenheit colder than it was for me a week ago. That’s not cool! Not cool at all. It is down right sucky! I’ve been thinking a lot about the cold lately. It’s kind of hard to think about anything else, but then I remembered, there is no such thing as cold!

No! Seriously, cold is not really a thing. I’m not talking in an existential sense or in some new-agey mind over matter way of thinking. I’m talking science. I’m talking fact and the fact is that cold does not exist. The world which we have created in our minds is a dualistic world of good against evil but in this case there is no duality. What we perceive as cold is not really cold at all, it is merely the existence of less heat than our bodies would like.

Heat is real. Heat is thermal energy. With more thermal energy, temperature rises; with less thermal energy, temperature falls. At the temperature of −459.67° Fahrenheit or −273.15° Celsius there is no thermal energy. This is called absolute zero and it cannot get any cooler. Icecubes and refrigerators do not cool things by adding “cold energy”, they merely displace heat lowering the temperature.

The same is true for light and dark. There is no such thing as dark, it is merely the absence of light. This is not just a semantic argument. I know what people mean when they say, “It’s really dark in here.”, but that doesn’t make it any more true. We walk around everyday, going about our business, happy as clams believing in this thing called darkness but it is not real. It’s a delusion. And people call me crazy!

But enough fun and games; how about something a little more serious?  What about life and death? I’m not asking a spiritual question about life after death where we are united with all our friends and family who have gone before us and everything is beautiful with clouds and angels and cherubs with harps. I’m asking a real world fact based question with spiritual and philosophical implications.

That fact is, there is no such thing as death. What we call death is merely the absence of life. There is no “death force” to fight against. We can’t fight death because death does not exist. We talk about dying like it is a real thing but the fact is no one dies, we simply lose our life and this is coming from someone who very nearly lost his on multiple occasions. Life is really all we have. We can have more of it or less of it but if we seek death or fight death we are wasting our life energy because death does not exist. Death, like cold or dark is a figment of our delusional minds.

So how about that spiritual question? What about the ultimate duality of good versus evil? As we look around the world it is pretty easy to find examples of evil, but what if this too is a delusion? What if what we perceive as evil is really just the absence of good?

I don’t think that there is a way to definitively answer this question. I don’t think that there is any way to prove the existence or nonexistence of evil, and I don’t see many scientists out there testing the theory. This really is a spiritual question but spiritually we can find an answer. What if we assume that there is no such thing as evil, how would life be different? What if we dealt with what we call evil the same way we deal with what we call cold or dark? What if the only way to  eradicate evil was by providing and protecting good? What if we stopped fighting hate with more hate and accepted that love is the only power we have?

I’m not claiming to have the answer to whether evil exists or not but when I look at the world as it is and try to understand it in the absence of evil, I come up with better solutions. Life is better when I stop expending energy trying to fight evil and focus on doing good. Just as it is when I stop expending energy trying to fight the cold as instead seek heat or when I stop fighting the darkness and instead seek light. Life cannot be lived by fighting death, only by seeking life.

Without a doubt

I was called arrogant last night. I’ve been called arrogant before. It’s always confused me but I think that I am starting to understand. The ironic part is that I am most often called arrogant when I am feeling the most unsettled and unsure of myself.

This situation typically arises when I am sharing a new found thought, a revelation,  some truth that has presented itself to me. I’m not sharing it to be arrogant. I’m not seeking praise or admiration. Actually, what I am seeking is sympathy and understanding. I actually find these moments very unnerving and they make me feel insecure.

I know that most people hold fast to their personal truths. They give people comfort and a sense of stability. I get those feelings from doubt and uncertainty. For me, they are much more reliably sources. I take great comfort in the knowledge that I don’t know what is true, that I don’t know what is going to happen. Yeah, I’m really fucking arrogant!

However, sometimes I have these moments. Sometimes I make these connections, I put the pieces together and it all becomes clear. In that moment, the abstract becomes concrete in my brain. It’s quite an overwhelming experience and makes me feel really uncomfortable. It’s also exhausting. It takes a lot of brainpower and I’m not that smart a guy. Why do I see these things that no one else seems to see. If I didn’t know better, I would think that I was going crazy.

The fact is I don’t know. I might be going crazy. It certainly feels like what I would imagine going crazy would feel like. Not that I think being crazy is a bad thing. I know many people who experience delusions and some of them are the most brilliant people I know. They make connections that no one else would. But that is not the way my brain works. I may be crazy but I’m my own kind of crazy and I don’t think this experience is an indicator that anything is changing.

I was also told a truth last night. This also made me feel uneasy. Most people hearing this news would have been comforted. Part of me was comforted. Part of me really needed to hear it. It was good news but it also shook the foundation of my being. I mean if you knew that something was a “sure thing” why would you keep trying? What would be your motivation?

Perhaps I am over thinking all of this. Perhaps that’s just what I do. Perhaps that’s just who I am. Perhaps that’s why I’m so fucking exhausted today.

Everything I know

I just watched this tonight. I couldn’t do much else today but to be honest, if this was all I accomplished, it would be enough. My entire life I have been thinking, trying to figure out the world. To this date, the Movie The Matrix may summarize everything I have learned. Okay, maybe I have learned a thing or two more, but not much. When I first watched the movie I didn’t realize how much of my philosophical thought was contained within. If you want to know everything I know, watch this!

I know some shit you don’t know

If I’m not writing, which has been more the case than not lately, I am living. That is not so say that writing is not living, for it most certainly is, only to say that there is much more going on when you don’t hear from me than when you do. If you have read all of this blog, you may have realized that it is not really a blog about what I do, but a blog about who I am, or really who we are. It is a blog about philosophy and spirituality. In essence, it can’t be about anything else.

So here is one day in my life. This day was in many ways special. This day was a culmination of everything which I have ever experienced. It is also a depiction of everything that I have never experienced. In that way it is completely ordinary.

I want to start by telling you about meeting a group of young Christians on the street. I was driving pedicab and I drove over to make contact with this group of people. That is my job. At least that is the way I see it. I seek to make connections with people downtown in hopes that I can help them. I want to help them have a good time, help them get where they are going, help them in any way possible. In return, I hope that they will help me, usually with money.

Their initial question for me was, “What is your favorite thing to do downtown?”

Okay, I’m an adult. These people were college students. What I would find interesting may not even be available to them. I like going to bars and meeting people. Still, I told them about what I liked to do.

This was actually a very poor response. Not only did it not help them, it was an inaccurate representation of what I had to offer. But that is because the question was not genuine. It was merely a ploy to engage me in conversation. It was, for lack of a better term, a “come on” line. You can’t expect an honest answer from me without first asking an honest question.

The next question was a request to participate in a questionnaire. I agreed because I rarely reject requests. Like “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski, I just abide. It didn’t take me long to realize that it wasn’t really a scientific questionnaire but an attempt to proselytize.

This is my problem with religion. It’s also my problem with advertisement, or sex for that matter. It’s not that there is anything wrong with religion or sex or the products people have to sell, but if you have to use means of deception to get your intentions met, I think that is fucked up. If joining your religion or having sex with you or buying your product is all that great, you wouldn’t need to lie.

Still, I was intrigued by their questions so I figured I would play along. The questions were interesting and did have me thinking all day. By that I mean that the answers that I gave in the moment may not be the answers I would give now.

One of the questions was, “What is the one thing that you hope to accomplish in this life?”

I said, “Not dying.”

I stand by that answer. It’s not that I am seeking immortality, only that while I am alive, staying alive is my ultimate goal. Everything else that happens along the way is incidental. It may be amazing, it may be horrible, but none of it happens without being alive. Being alive has got to be my first goal.

They also asked what I thought would happen when I die. I said, “I don’t know. I’ll deal with that when I’m dead. I’m not dead now and I’m pretty fucking busy being not dead.”

I’ll stand by that response too.

Then they asked, “If your best friend came to you and said that they wanted to become a Christian but they didn’t know how, what would you tell him?” (I love how they assume my best friend is male.)

I told them, “I would tell her to talk to a Christian.”

That was a complete bullshit answer. I should have told them to, “fuck off, you fucking fucks!”

Of course, I would never actually want to do that. That would be mean and I try really hard not to be mean. Still their question was totally disingenuous and deserved a more harsh and honest answer. I mean really, this is America, who the fuck does not know how to become a Christian? But what should I have expected. Their whole presentation began with decept. Did I really owe them an honest answer? Didn’t I give them enough of my time? I was working after all. What were they giving me?

Actually, they gave me plenty. Even through their deceit and manipulation they gave me insight into the workings of the human race. Every interaction with every person has something to teach me. I actually wish that I had given them more.

They also asked if I wanted to know God. I said that God and I were pretty tight. I wish that I had told them that God says s/he doesn’t appreciate people lying to get h/ir word out. Maybe I have a different god than they do but my god believes in honesty and integrity.

So I went to a party after work and it came out that I’m not actually Jewish. It’s not really a secret but the whole “coming out” process is not a, tell someone once and it’s done, sort of process. It’s an ongoing, never ending process. The truth is that I am as much Jewish as I am anything else, which is nothing, which I perceive as everything, which includes atheist .. so accept me or argue with me or try to convert me… none of it really matters because I am still me. The only way to fight me is to deny that I exist. So far in my life no one has ever successfully done that, but I welcome the challenge.

The real question emerged which was how I went from Judaism to Paganism. The fact is that the more I learn, the less dogmatic I become. The truth is that Paganism is still way too dogmatic for me. This led me to Hinduism and Buddhism which really brought me back to Christ – not Christianity as in the  Church but the dude himself. In essence, all these paths are the same. They all teach the same lessons. Where they differ is in dogma and ritual.

The key to my spiritual journey was never getting caught up in the dogma. The key was never believing that ritual held the answers. The key was continuing to ask questions and keeping doubt alive. This is the key which atheists possess although I doubt that they realize the spiritual power contained within that practice.

If there is a spiritual truth it can’t be dependant on faith. It must be found in doubt as well. If it is truly omnipresent, it must be that which can be found everywhere. If God exists, s/he exists regardless of whether anyone believes in h/ir or not. The gifts bestowed upon the faithful would be just as available to the faithless. If there is a God of everything then belief is irrelevant to God’s existence and intention.

I used to think that I knew everything. In a way, I did. I knew everything that I knew I knew and it all made sense and I was content with the world. Then I learned something new and my whole paradigm shifted. The world was no longer in balance. But I learned more. Eventually I got the world back in balance. Everything made sense again. Until I learned something new. This has happened countless times in my life.

Socrates is known for saying, “The only thing I know is that I don’t know anything.”

Rene Descartes is known for stating that the only thing he knows is, “I think therefore I am.”

While these two men accomplished far more to elevate their words than a mere paperboy or pedicab driver may ever achieve, perhaps even more than a rockstar may achieve, they both lived before the power of the internet so when I say what I am about to say, and I will say it over and over again, who knows what will happen with my words.

All that I know is that whatever I know, there is far more that I don’t know.

These are words I live by. They also come in handy with dealing with people that are way smarter that I am. For all that they know, there are things that I know that they don’t. This is true for everyone I meet. The dumbest person I meet knows something I don’t know. Everyone matters. Everyone holds a part of the key.

Nothing that has ever happened in your lifetime happened without you being here. YOU MATTER!

There was more that happened yesterday.

There is more that I want to write about but I think that I have made the main point I wish to accomplish. I will make one more post today if you need more philosophical thought. Otherwise, keep reading… it will all come out eventually… perhaps even if I die.

Nice guys finish last

We are still back on last Saturday. My bff and I were waiting for her sister to arrive at the apartment before heading to the show. With a few minutes to spare I offered to run up to the liquor store and pick up some beer. She handed me a twenty and a five and I walked the two blocks to the store. I grabbed a couple six-packs and headed to the cashier. It should have cost $22 or so but when I handed the cashier the twenty he started making change. I was momentarily confused until I realized he only rang up one of the six-packs. I let him know and we figured I owed him double what I had been charged.  He apologized for his mistake and thanked me for being honest.

“It’s a curse” I replied.

Fuck! I could have walked away with a free six-pack. Granted, it wasn’t my money in the first place.

Would I have been so honest if it was?

Absolutely, but it’s not a curse; it’s conditioning. I have made a very conscious decision to live life as honestly as possible. Despite what I know some people think, I’m not naturally a nice guy. In fact, I’m perfectly capable of doing some really horrible things. I can be an asshole, and at times, when I’m not on my game, that part of me still comes out.

So why not embrace it?

I’ve seen how people can benefit greatly from lying, cheating and stealing. People get away with doing fucked up shit all the time and even if they do get caught the consequences rarely seem to eliminate the gains. Nice guys get screwed over all the time.

Why would anyone choose to be a nice guy?

Well I do, because at the end of the day, I have to be able to live with myself – not because I need to believe that I am a nice guy, I know who the fuck I am. It is quite literally about my very survival. I’ve seen the harm that abuse, corruption and dishonesty can cause and I don’t want to live with someone who is causing that kind of pain. Life sucks enough as it is. I can’t bare the thought of making it anymore difficult for anyone else. Perhaps, if I were a stronger person I could stomach being an asshole, but I can’t. I’ve got a brain that routinely tries to kill me. I don’t need to give it any more ammunition.

The good news is that there is an upside to treating people with respect, kindness, honesty and generosity. There are benefits to being a decent person, but not without humility. Humility is probably the hardest part, and while it may seem a bit counter-intuitive, it is the key to making the “nice guy” way of life self serving. I may be nice guy for purely selfish reasons but there would be nothing nice about it if I thought it made me any better than anyone else. You can’t fake it. You have to be it, but I believe it is within all of us. Hell, if it’s within me, I’m damn sure it’s within you!

So what are the benefits to being a nice guy?

For starters, you can do away with shame and guilt. I’m not saying nice guys never fucks up, but if you are respectful, kind, honest, generous and humble you can own your fuck-ups and not let them get the better of you. You can apologize, learn from your mistakes, and know that your transgressions don’t define you. You don’t need to keep secrets and you don’t need to hide from who you are.

It also makes you less susceptible to manipulation and coercion. The adage that, “you can’t con an honest man”, I will go on record saying is complete bullshit.  But, if you are truly a nice guy, you won’t need the external validation that will make you susceptible to this kind of manipulation. If you capitulate it will be by choice, because it’s your nature or who you have chosen to be, not because someone pulled one over on you. Coercion involves force, which you would think a nice guy would have a harder time defending against, but most force is primarily psychological, not physical. What is usually being threatened is your sense of power or prestige but a nice guy knows these things come from within and cannot be taken through intimidation.

The best thing you gain by being a nice guy is the relationships you create. People will like you. Obviously, not everyone. Some people will have a really hard time with someone who is shameless and can’t be manipulated – that’s okay. You don’t need everyone to like you. Even an elected official only needs 50% + 1 of their constituents to like them to get elected. Okay, I don’t know if that is a good example. I don’t think I would conciser most elected officials to be nice guys but I think that most nice guys have higher approval ratings than elected officials. The people who will like you will like you for who you are – not for what you can give them.

I don’t have money or leverage but I still have people who like me. I have a phone with over 1,000 phone numbers of people I consider friends. These people mean more to me than all the wealth in the world. Because I have built this network of people, by getting out there and meeting people, by being genuine and honest, by being a nice guy, I know that I can make it through anything.

And this is what this entire post has been leading up to…

At two o’clock on Sunday afternoon I found myself in need of a date for a seven o’clock play. It’s an amazing play by the way, it was written by Jon Robin Baitz probably best known as the creator of the ABC drama Bothers and Sisters, dealt with the issue of writing a memoir and the damage it could cause to family members, something I can relate to oh so well, but that’s not my point. My point is that I had three hours to find a date on a Sunday afternoon. I can remember when this would have seemed like an impossible task, but now I totally felt confident that I could do it.

I started going through my contacts. I didn’t call everyone but it still took me up to letter J before I got anyone to answer their phone. Are J named people really better? I like to think so but no… it was just coincidence, just luck, just fate, actually, it was just the way it worked out. But I couldn’t have been happier. I wound up with the best date I could have hoped for.

I didn’t get laid. This is an area where not being a nice guy may have gotten me further but using my not-so-nice-guy skills is not the way I want to have sex. I am grateful that I no longer feel like I need to have sex at any cost. I still get laid but I do it with respect, kindness, honesty and humility.

Yeah, nice guys may finish last but life is not a race, it’s an adventure you want to last as long as possible.

I will leave you with a quote from a man who by all accounts was a nice guy. He came from extremely modest beginnings but became extremely successful and spent 88 years experiencing this thing called life.

“You need power, only when you want to do something harmful, otherwise love is enough to get everything done”  – Charlie Chaplin

 

Presidents’ Day

If my day had ended after making my last post I would still have considered it a nearly perfect day. My day did not end there, however. I’m not saying that it went to hell after that. No, it didn’t go to hell. It continued to be amazing. It just wound up being more than my poor little body could handle and I’m paying for it now. So I need to take a day of rest and give myself a bit of a break. And why not? It’s a holiday, it’s Presidents’ Day. If the government can take a day off, so can I?

As I was writing my last post I was feeling quite content with the day. I was perfectly satisfied with what had transpired and was ready to put it down in the win column and retire early. But that was before I saw that some of my friends were getting together at a nearby bowling alley. Oh how I wanted to see them. These are good friends, near and dear to my heart and friends that I haven’t seen enough of lately. Winter tends to go that way. None of us get out as much and our social contact suffers. So does my mental health. Still, it would require energy that I didn’t know if I had and after having such a wonderful day I was reluctant to test fate.

But as fate would have it I also ran out of rolling papers at this point. If seeing my friends wasn’t enough motivation to get me to go back out, my nicotine addiction certainly was.  I quite smoking back in 2004 and except for a few slip-up here and there, I remained smoke-free for six years. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, but when my nephew was killed, I just didn’t seem to care anymore. Since then I have tried quitting numerous times, even started using electronic cigarettes for a while but in the end I kept going back to tobacco.

Addictions can rule your life and I don’t like anything having that much power over me. Nicotine is extremely addictive but it’s not that harmful in and of it self. I’ve actually found that nicotine, as a drug, plays a beneficial role in my life. It levels out my mood and is a great appetite suppressant. I’ve probably lost 20 pounds since I started smoking again. What I do have a problem with is the twisted pleasure I get from smoking tobacco, something that I know is damaging my health and could very well kill me. That’s just insane and it needs to stop. E-cigs and their acceptance have come along way since the last time I used them. It’s time to try it again. Next month, once I have some money again, this will be my first purchase.

Until then, I still need rolling papers. It was almost 10 o’clock on a Sunday night and I didn’t know who would be open but I felt confident given that there were at least four convenience stores or gas stations between my house and the bowling alley. As it turned out, the closest one to my house, a mere six blocks away, was open. So far things were still going my way but I realized that I was at a pivotal moment. I had a choice. I could go home and call it a night or I could venture into uncertainty by continuing on and meeting up with my friends. I knew in that moment, that whatever happened, whether good or bad, could be traced back the the decision I was about to make.

Of course I decided to continue on… Life is an adventure, live it!

Fortunately, it turned out to be a good night filled with good friends and good conversation. After the bowling alley a group of us convened at the Spring Street for last call.  There were more friends, more conversation and more drinks.

Upon leaving the bar I was approached in the parking lot by a handsome slightly older man.  We started talking and he invited me back to his car to get high. I don’t smoke pot, nothing against it, just don’t like the way it makes me feel. Plus, it’s illegal and I really try to avoid criminal activity. Still, I found him quite attractive and was curious to see how things would play out so I followed him back to his car. I can imagine you thinking that was really stupid. How many tales of gay bashing, robbery and murder start off just that way?

Certainly it happens and I think I have a pretty healthy level of skepticism when it comes to strangers. I’ve had my share of unpleasant run ins with people I didn’t know but the people who have caused me the most harm in my life are people I do know. What I have never experienced is any trouble from meeting a stranger at  a bar, in fact some of my most memorable experiences have begun this way, not that I make a habit of it.

Once inside his car it because clear to me that he was most undeniably gay and that he wanted to take me home with him and that he wanted to have sex. The fact that he was gay pleased me but the rest I was not so excited about. I’ve engaged in after bar hook-ups before and I have no regrets about doing so – it’s just not where I was on this night. Plus, I really prefer to be sober when I have sex with someone… at least the first time. We did make out for a while and that was fun. But that was all I was up for so I excused myself and continued on my way.

I’m telling you this story because I feel like there is a misconception out there that gay men will seize any opportunity to have sex. Maybe for some gay men this is the case but it’s in no way universal.  Just because you are gay doesn’t mean that you are attracted to all people of the same gender any more that being heterosexual means that you are attracted to all people of the opposite gender. And just because you find someone attractive does not mean that you want to have sex with them. The fact is, for most of us, there are very few people on this planet that we would actually have sex with. Gay and straight are social constructs and regardless of how you identify it is not the primary factor in determining with whom you have sex or with whom you fall in love.

That reminds me of another conversation I was having with a woman earlier in the evening. Actually we were talking about boobs; more specifically about how everyone loves boobs. She mentioned how even gay men love boobs. It’s true, they do. Some are down right fascinated by them. It’s not a sexual thing, at least it doesn’t have to be. People just like what they like and boobs are pretty fucking amazing!

One more story, the I’m calling it quits.

While catching up with an old friend I mentioned that I am aspiring to be a philosopher. He was being supportive and suggested that I go back to school and study philosophy. Instead, I found myself getting defensive. I mean, I studied philosophy in college. I’ve read many of the greats and understand the basics of philosophical thought. That’s not what really bothered me though.

You see, the reason why I’m pursuing philosophy instead of say, economics or even psychology is that I don’t believe that it requires any specific training . All I need is the ability to think critically and the means to communicate my thoughts. If other people connect with my ideas, if I can explain and inspire, then I would conciser myself a good philosopher. I don’t need a PhD. or other accreditation. In fact I think could be a hindrance. When someone is considered and expert in a particular field their status can add more weight to their words than the actual ideas contained within. For some things, science for example, expertise is essential. But when it comes to understanding the human experience, keeping an open mind is essential. I believe all experiences and points of view have merit. I want to be judged by my ideas, not my degree.

Still, he’s not wrong. If I am serious about becoming a philosopher, I do have a lot more to learn.  I’m just not going to limit myself to learning the same things ever other student of philosophy learns. I will learn from everyone  and every situation. I have read Plato and Aristotle. I’ve read Camus, Confucius and Rene Descartes. On this day, I studied you, fellow bloggers, writers and experiencers of life; ordinary people with extraordinary stories to tell.

I leave you with this story I found on xoJane; a particularly poignant example of how life can suck and how we can still find a way to make the most of it.

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