Sunday, February 14, 2010

yoga and smoking

Sometimes while lying awake for a couple hours in the middle of the night as older people often do, the desire to revisit cigarettes and feel that nicotine drug rush gets on me. Fortunately, when that happens I have the antidote. After finishing my night's sleep and upon arising the next morning, I waste no time commencing the day's yoga practice. It includes a period of pranayama, or deep, controlled breathing, and getting in touch with the breath neutralizes not only any desire for tobacco smoke, but any inclination toward depression, as well.

Depression is somewhat heretical. If we do theology the easy way and define God as simply what's real -- and I do -- then the most important and uplifting aspect of reality is life itself. By that I mean the fact that life on earth exists and that we're part of it can lead us to transcendence over small, petty, annoyed, and severely limited states of mind that are the constant companions of self-centeredness and its twin, self-pity.

Respiration is the primary indicator and first function of life. It connects the living organism with its source, and close attention to one's own respiration reminds us not only that we are in that sacred space called being alive, but also of what that means. Everyone wants to know the meaning of his or her own life, but as the abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock once pointed out, "Nobody ever looks at a rose garden and asks 'What does it mean?'"

The meaning of your life or mine is identical to the meaning of Pollock's rose garden: its very existence is also its meaning.


Friday, February 12, 2010


I finally saw "Avatar" yesterday -- travelled to the IMAX at the city center for the occasion -- and I have to say it was impressive. It's a technical extravaganza that gets away with using a predictable and well-worn story line (if you've seen "Dances with Wolves" you've seen the low-tech version). The theme of this overused story, however, never gets old -- the notion that the aboriginal and tribal peoples whom we destroy wherever we come in contact with them are much wiser than we are. They know things about God and nature and what it means to be human that we've simply forgotten. This idea continues to resonate with modern audiences because they recognize it to be true.

The new-style 3-D technique of "Avatar" lifts the image out of the screen, so that viewers feel like they're inside the picture rather than out front of it. The effect is physical, somewhat disorienting, and gives some people flashes of vertigo. The computer-generated part of what is largely, in essence, an animated movie are impressive, but we've seen stuff like it before, in the Ring trilogy for example. But this film excels in its use of creative visual devices which move the story along.

For example, you already know, given their role as the wise aboriginals, that the N'avi have a much deeper bond with nature, and a stronger knowledge of it than humans. A lesser director than James Cameron might have chosen to depict this bond in symbolic terms, showing the medicine man chanting on the mountain top for instance. Symbolism is fine in college literature classes, but movies are a visual, concrete medium, requiring the N'avi to physically connect with their natural environment. As Dan in his review of the film at the Andyatthemovies site descibes it, the N'avi are so in touch with their planet they carry biological USB ports in their pony tails –- pony tails which they can use to peacefully and literally connect to virtually every creature living thing.

Dan also calls attention to the creative way Cameron establishes the consummate villainy of the invaders from earth, by making them the equivalent of the American invaders in Iraq and Afghanistan. References that clearly link the pillaging of the planet Pandora by mineral-seeking buccaneers from earth with current headlines are everywhere, from the weasely on-site corporate executive (shades of Exxon and Blackwater) at whose behest this piracy is occurring, to the bloodthirsty, technology-worshipping army colonel who vows to "fight terror with terror."

"Avatar" uses a very contemporary, pulpy, sensational, comic-book vehicle to tell a very profound truth, and like any movie that sums up its time, is both a statement and a reflection of our current perceptions of the truths of our world and ourselves. We now recognize that so-called "primitive" peoples knew and still know things about God, nature, and the essence of humanity that we've forgotten in our rational, secular culture. You don't have to look very far to see for yourself that this is true -- for example, the mostly-Catholic virgin worshipers of Mexico, partly modern, but with very strong, conservative ties to the past, seem to me to have an awareness of mortality and eternity that North Americans totally lack. All we have is reason, and reason tends to relentlessly orient itself to the bottom line. As the philosophers might say, reason is "necessary, but not sufficient."


Monday, February 08, 2010

parallel universes

There are people who claim they don't believe in global climate change. Or, conversely, that if there is such a thing, there's no proof that it's caused by human activity.

They usually leave out the implication of all this -- that they don't need to change any of their own behavior. One such person was offended by my contention that there's no way to avoid changing our behavior, and said ...all restrictions on human rights to live, to pursue happiness as they deem fit, must be not only well-justified, and lacking solid sciense IS a problem for the GW Insisters, but clearly must be made in a democratic way, or else they are draconian and oppressive, unAmerican, in short.

So, we're going to take a vote on reality? And if reality is voted down, what then? Do we repeal it?

The reality that real-world actions have real world consequences is hereby voted down. From now on, every place will be Disneyland and every day will be the Fourth of July. We'll all eat hot dogs and never suffer from elevated cholesterol levels or diseases of the colon.

We'll drive our SUV's forever and we'll waste as much gas as we want, secure in the knowledge that the wastes of billions of internal combustion engines have no effect whatsoever on the atmosphere.

And I suppose we could do that, except for the fact that reality, like God, doesn't give a damn whether we believe in it or not.

Either we deal with reality, or it deals with us, because reality isn't just like God, which is that which never changes. It's also the real-world effects of real-world causes, which never changes. The consequential unfolding of events never changes -- what actually happens is absolute reality.

I don't know what to tell anyone who finds that "disgusting," "distasteful," and so forth.

What I do know is that people who believe in fantasies, and who react with anger and irrational resentment when their fantasies are punctured, and hate anybody who knows more than they do, and want to make it all their fault, are hopelessly foolish. And quoth the Buddha, "For a time the fool's mishchief tastes sweet -- sweet as honey. But in time it turns bitter, and how bitterly he suffers."

Painting: "Parallel Universe" by Steve Hester.