Thursday, October 30, 2014

Epitaph du Jour

Autumn is in the air creating that deathly ambiance that we in the deciduous zone associate with leaves turning a full array of torpid colors.  Gravity exerts her patient horrific force pulling these dead plant appendages in languid spirals to the ground where ancient decomposition processes devour their papery flesh, particularly when our fire breathing, dioxide emitting mulch engines have shred them. Some people actually wallow in gathering these dendrogenous corpses into piles and revel in leaping upon and rolling amidst their crunchy, crumbling bodies.
Chiseling With Abandon!

Appropriately, Halloween approaches where we dare to laugh Death in the face by exposing ourselves to terroriffic simulations, role-playing the undead, and generally embracing numerous acts that celebrate the macabre with an open toothy smile.

Morbid satire aside, I wonder whether our subconscious minds thrill at the darker phases of the natural cycle for the same reason a toddler enjoys the tickling of uncles and aunts.  Perhaps, our minds yearn for variable stimulation to thrive, and were we to actually attain that idyllic permanent vacation with the pleasures of massages, poolside relaxation and infinite food access, we would likely become the potatoes of the sedentary variety that would simply rot our minds and bodies from inside out.

Might we turn this fascination with the shadow side of live into a mindful exercise.  Imagining our own death is perhaps the most morbid, self-facing act there is.  Certainly, mulling over the details of how our bodies might suffer along the way to death through to decomposition surely is unsettling.

A practical person might simply focus upon the details of disposal and funeral ceremony to reduce those concerns for friends and family.  Further, might considering ones prospective eulogy and epitaph inspire us to write our life story with deeper meaning?  Imagine if each morning once we've broken through the cobwebs to momentarily exclaim "Wow, I'm still alive! Now what am I going to do today to make what may be my last day of existence amazing!"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ruling Ourselves

Each person's journey is their very own.  (as is the journey of each living organism)
Melting Down the Golden Rule for Recalibration

Personally, I think the idea of selfishness gets a bad rap.  Our experiences are by their nature centered about our individual existence, and much soul searching can and should go on in that circle of one.  We all find psychological and energy and ethical insight from being alone, meditating, reading, walking in the woods, or whatever the task or untask may be.

Selflessness, on the other hand, can be extravagant and superficial to the extreme. Sacrificing ones life chained to a single tree at a construction site, planning ones suicide to cash in an insurance claim to give ones destitute beneficiaries a windfall, or more realistically devoting ones life to a cause or belief that you were taught by rote from birth, without bringing your own mindful analysis into play.

Nevertheless, reality presents a landscape within which we seek to thrive for ourselves and for others. Selfishness, when tempered with selflessness can bring this pursuit into balance.  It is the day dedicated to finding joy for yourself, while simultaneously achieving deep satisfaction by bringing joy to others that brings fullness to life.  

One might even concoct a Golden Rule Living Ethic to flesh it out:

Strive to do unto living things (Endeavor in thought and action...)
as they would have done unto themselves (to be empathic) 
while being true to yourself (to be selfish) 
while being open to adjust your positions and actions given sufficient evidence (to be scientific) 
toward an agreeably malleable definition of Goodness (toward doing Good)

Not bad for a first iteration, methinks.  I present it as an open source starting point for all who seek truer life satisfaction.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Wake Up All You Zombies -- Eat More Veggies!

Want some BBQ sauce with that?
Halloween month is here and the zombie rage is holding firm in Western culture!  In the past I honestly haven't been much of a zombie fan, with the exception of Zombieland (Harrelson at his best!), alas I now sense why zombies have become so omnipresent in our culture.  No, it's not that Jesus serves as the archetypal undead godman ruling secretly over the Christian right in our country; in fact, it's because at a base level we consumerist Americans cringe at the reality behind consuming the dead meat parts that we otherwise blindly enjoy.

I've been contemplating how to write a Goodness First article on vegetarianism for a while now, so ready or not, here we go.  Perhaps it's simply best to walk through my gradual transformation and challenge you to honestly confront these talking points for yourself.   I welcome your counterpoints, that is, if your zombie flesh-eating inner-self can stomach the gristle of integrity.

For decades I subscribed to an omnivorous diet having been indoctrinated since childhood by my family, marketed to by animal slaughtering businesses, and I most happily cooked and ate the wide variety of animal products western society makes available wrapped bloodless at the supermarket. Sadly, time is irreversible; I cannot ressurect the animals I've gnawed on, I can only move forward and minimize their future harm.

My recognition of being a zombie meat eater only came to me gradually over the course of two decades of adult life.  I realized that eating too much meat is unhealthy,  The preponderance of scientific studies indicate eating more fruits and vegetables is healthier than a diet overladen with meat. As as rational person, I subsequently reduced my animal flesh consumption and increased the amount of delicious plants in my life.  Eating vegetarian is nutritionally excellent!

Then, over the past few years I contemplated the morality of eating animals period. In spite of being conditioned to have meat a part of every meal, I decided to swear off the horror of killing near sapient creatures for my nutritional needs.  Of course the flesh of whale, dolphin, chimpanzee, and dog didn't show up in the grocery store very often, so it was a conviction easy to adhere to.  Eating vegetarian avoids eating creatures that are obviously intelligent!

As global warming surfaced as a dominant issue, it became quite evident to me humans were having a huge impact on the overall health of our living planet.  For example, wild animal species are going extinct at a rate a million time faster in recent centuries due to human expansion.  One of the most wasteful practices of our species is feeding billions of chickens, pigs, cattle and other enslaved creatures with plants we could instead harvest and eat directly.  Depending on the particular animal chunks you chew, the square footage of land needed to feed you can be reduced by nearly ten times.  Eating vegetarian is environmentally superior to eating omnivorous.

Nearly one year ago I stopped eating animals abruptly.  I had just finished reading the novel The Knife of Never Letting Go, a fictional telling of a planet colonized by humans.  In that tale a virus permitted all creatures to psychically read each others thoughts.  I enjoyed this pulp YA novel immensely and as any good story can, I was subsequently influenced to view my world differently.  I share a planet where animals have brains and can think.  They might not think like I do as a human, some might not even have a consciousness anything close to human, still all of these evolutionary cousins of mine were thinking and thriving in the life they led.  Certainly, plants also thrive in my world, alas one must draw a line in the sand someplace (perhaps one day I will be able to create delicious, nutritious food using a 3-d printer, alas not today)  Eating vegetarian prevents creatures that think from being killed!

And that's my story of how I defeated the zombie who lived within me.  Believe me, I fully understand the conundrum that omnivores face, since I was one so recently.  Like a religious cult, if you're told something often enough you will believe it without question.

Personally, I think the biggest obstacle to people reducing and eliminating animal parts in our lives is the mesmerizing idea that "meat tastes so good!" Vengeance, jealousy, anger and numerous other human traits equally feel good in the moment, alas, I dare to think we are better than such mindless evolutionary and societal programming.  There really is no rational reason to continue eating animal flesh, only misguided irrational ones.

Zombie culture will not change overnight, I admit; still, one by one, we can confront horrific arcane behaviors like animal consumption and slowly transform the abattoir behind the scenes of our society into a more ethical repertoire, and leave the killing for Hollywood to entertain us fictionally

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Butt of the Joke And Related Ponderings on Empathy

I have too often found myself sharing what I thought was wry humor, and yet the receiver found my comment offensive.  Such is the challenge of ethical relativism, in particular when jokes contain body parts or religion, or worse, by the gods' gonads, both!   As such, we should strive to be aware that everyone has a slightly different perspective.

Empathy, the ability to sense another's feelings in advance, is a hard won behavior.  Sure, evolution has dealt us a starting hand of behaviors that reinforces positive social interaction, inclusive of a certain level of sensitivity to the various needs and wants of others.  Nonetheless, our instinctive (and often unconscious) drive to survive and seek joy for ourselves can involuntarily trump the scene as we participate real time in our personal relationships and society.

Self-reflection as a mindful activity can assist as an ongoing journey of improving ourselves and positively influencing society and the world as a whole.  By engaging an empathy feedback loop we can continually calibrate our behavior with a goal of improving our empathy factor.  Which is to say judging ourselves with compassion and integrity is part and parcel to our human journey.

From a practical standpoint, engaging empathy in real time can be tricky.  Like so much else, mindful practice can improve our abilities enormously.  Listening with an open mind to friends thoughts, journaling without being too hard on ourselves, and simply reflecting on how others feel can empower our empathy implementation in the future.  Having an earnest "I'm sorry" at the ready is also an imperfect solution.  Indeed, the journey to wisdom and maturity comes with time and perseverance.

Does this mean we have to water down the spiciness of our satire, the acidity of mockery well deserved, or the outright sewage sourced material that provides counterpoint to a delusional apple pie Universe ?  Of course not, esoteric topics can be brought to bare in moderation, but we certainly should be more attentive as to whether the people we're interacting with are actually laughing.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Until Death Do We Part

It can happen to you, it can happen to me,
just as it happened to T-Rex and all its progeny
One of the most sobering thoughts I've contemplated is the idea that once we die we lose EVERYTHING.  We lose our lives, we lose our possessions, we lose our connection to everyone we've ever known, we lose every memory of the past, every opportunity to interact in the present and every chance to creatively shape the future.

It's no wonder once humans acquired a deeper sense of our individual mortality that we imagined an afterlife, at the very least, as a vision of hope that we might continue on and have an opportunity to reunite with those we love.  It also would give us a second chance to live better in a heavenly realm, particularly if we royally screwed up in the real world.

For me this contemplation of such total loss permits me to face the shadow of non-existence in the eye and then ratchet up my participation in the world.  It should be cathartic, rather than numbing, to realize this life is the only chance I get to make a difference, to experience the amazingness of human life and to build a bit of heaven on Earth for myself, my species, and the entire world.

Might we as a species take this one step further.  Humanity might take a day annually to imagine its own ultimate extinction, whether it be by the Sun's expansion into a red giant in another five billion years, by a random gamma ray burst from a distant supernova (an event that could happen at any moment without warning), or by the all more likely by an environmental collapse event that we self impose, such as runaway climate change or total nuclear war.

Envision however, if humanity can join together to acknowledge with great reverence the mortality our species shares with all our cousin species, those both anciently extinct and currently extant alongside us.  Perhaps, just perhaps, we as a world society can then focus on a long term management plan that listens to nature as best that science can, and listens to our dreams as our hearts and minds best can. Many challenges confront us along the way, the greatest of which just might be uniting as an empathic species to face the challenges that can enhance balance in the world as a whole.

With darkness our eventual inheritance, let us build a life now as full of light for all as best we can.