Monday, June 14, 2010

A few reactions to my first cautious steps into a study and experience of Theosophy.

I went to a Theosophy class at Theosophy Hall in downtown Los Angeles last night with my most excellent roommate Pedro. I enjoyed the experience. I wasn't sure what was going on during the presentation and ensuing discussion - were they seeking the truth? conveying the truth? - yet the experience was so intellectually stimulating that I left feeling quite aware of my surroundings. It was a transporting experience.

One guy gave me some free printed matter, which I read today. I also did some background research on the oh-so-trustworthy Internet. (I trust you can hear the measured sarcasm on that last point.)

My impressions are not all roses, though.

I like that the Theosophists encourage free thought. This critique on my first impressions of the study is made in the spirit of free thought.

Here goes.

I agree with Theosophists when they say life is continuous. With death comes birth. Matter begets matter.
But I disagree with Theosophists when they say we are each a distinct personality or soul which is continuous or permanent.

I believe there to be one consciousness, as Thesosophy states. But I disagree with the idea that there is something apart from matter. The one consciousness is matter in different forms. Matter is spirit, not a vehicle for spirit.

I agree with the Theosophists when they say there is consciousness in a stone, an atom, a planet. I believe Space has consciousness, yes. Science shows "empty space" to be quite full indeed. Where there is anything, there is consciousness.

I do not believe, as the Theosophists believe, that there is such a thing as "the progression of the soul." There are only curves, not some brave charge "forward." There is no ultimate forward or backward. Einstein proved this with his theory of relativity.

The Theosophists state that there is such a thing as a "spiritual evolution" and that such an evolution moves "forward" into "higher" states of being.

Theosophists have a faulty understanding of the word "evolution." You, dear reader, probably have it wrong too. It's so simple. Evolution is a very specific concept. It has nothing to do with strength, intelligence, "karma", or anything else.

Evolution is simply adaptation. Most self-described evolutionists don't even understand this, nor do the creationists. If you need to fly, you get wings. If you need to slither, you get scales. If you need to breathe, you get lungs or gills. If you need to do photosynthesis, you get chlorophyll. If you need to sit there and not move for a few million years, you get to be a heavy-ass boulder. Whatever you role is, that's what you're suited for. If the environment changes or you leave your environment, your features probably won't work anymore. You die. For example, if your navigation system depends on abundant light, and suddenly you get lost in a system of caves, some other being who has been testing out a snazzy new way of seeing in the dark called "echolocation" takes your place. You know what animal that is. The lowly bat. And he happens to be alive when you're fucking dead. That's evolution, dudes and dudettes. It's really simple. Unfortunately, our big-ass human ego is constantly trying (and failing) to understand everything in terms of superiority and inferiority, and so we can't seem to grasp the very simple concept of evolution, which has nothing to do with "worthiness".

Note: When what's-his-name said "survival of the fittest," fittest meant "best-suited," not "most superior" nor "looks best in a bathing suit." A bigger glove is not necessarily better. You need the size that fits your hand, and that's that.

I find it egotistical when I hear anyone talk of "lower" and "higher" life forms. A human is not higher than an ant. It is different, and suited for different purposes. Ants are good at finding one grain of sugar, while humans are good at thinking symbolically. Humans may or may not be more complex than other life forms and materials, but complexity does not equal "height". That is stupid.

The ability to think in moral or ethical terms is an adaption, not an advance or evidence of an immaterial soul. We have morals and ethics because we are not naturally good at knowing what we're supposed to do. If anything, the existence of morals and ethics among humans speaks of our weak instincts. Instinct suits the rest of the animal and plant kingdom just fine. Just because we don't know how to use the tool called "instinct," that doesn't make us better or worse than anyone else. We have morals and ethics because we have outsourced instinct to a linear way of thinking. Make sense?

We are not separate from nature, and we are no more different from the rest of nature than an ant is different from an elephant. Everything is different, everything is special, and every life form must be understood on its own terms.

I do like Theosophy, as a religion, as a group of people. It's definitely not a cult. Just a bunch of smarties trying to find a religious understanding that suits them. They're just looking for a reason to live, and such a thing is difficult to do when you're of above-average intelligence in a "secular" world. Thus this quasi-historical, quasi-scientific religion (yes, it's a religion, even if a weak one) was formed to satisfy the craving for immortality of the ego.

We all have irrational needs. We all need to believe in immortality on some level. Theosophy is just one in a long lie of budding traditions that tries to pass itself off as a rational replacement for religion. There is no rational replacement for religion, and we all need religion. Please call it religion, okay? It's religion. That's fine.

This post has undergone exactly zero edits.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Dedicated Wife and Mother Generously Shares Her Experiences with Bi-Polar Disorder

This is the 5th and latest episode of Searching for Meaning at the Brink of the Unknown, my weekly radio/podcast show in which I interview for 50 minutes one interesting person who has a light to shine in the dark places.

We also get goofy on occasion, as let's face it - I have no idea what the hell I am doing. As if that ever stopped me from doing anything.

This week's episode deal's with bi-polar disorder. My guest today is Christy, a.k.a. "Charlie Angel," a.k.a., a.k.a., who was married to a man with bi-polar disorder and has two children with the condition.

Christy posted a story in late April at her blog Tea and Oranges relating her experiences with those living with bi-polar disorder. In the pieces she lauded the courage of the band Blue October, whose lead singer has the disorder and spreads awareness by openly talking about it. Such openness is not a common thing, given the stigma associated with the illness.

I found Christy's post to be compassionate, passionate, and balls-out honest - and so asked her to be on my show. She managed to take time out of her busy schedule (she has five children!) to share what she knows.
There is no stigma here at The Search for Meaning. Christy's attitude is just as brave and open as that of Blue October. The interview went swimmingly, in my opinion.

As always, share and enjoy this MP3. Stream it, download it, repost it, whatever you want to do with it. I want everyone to hear this.

For some unknown reason (insecurity?), I used the eff word once near the beginning. So if you share this with grandma, just bang on some pots and pans when I say it.

I am striving to keep my "um"'s to a minimum. Feedback of any type is welcome.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Rick Hamrick shines as my latest guest on "Searching for Meaning at the Brink of the Unknown" (Ep. 4)

I am very proud of techie and seeker Rick Hamrick for having reached this radiant place in life. The man really does shine, and made me the interviewer feel quite at ease discussing such matters as the stages of life, money, and, of course, shining.

I suspect Rick has worked hard at becoming such a fun guy. There is plenty ahead of him - and enough behind him - for conveying some very solid observations about life, the universe, and everything. Incidentally, the answer to life, the universe, and everything is not "42," as you will hear.

As always, this show is entirely improvised, and there is no agenda. I apologize for my um's.

In Rick's own words, a short backgrounder:

Rick is a father of four grown daughters, all wonderfully unique in their interests and passions. He is a career IT guy who has been between gigs long enough that the gap is beginning to look more Grand Canyonish by the day. Most recently, his wife's career is his focus as he seeks to be all the help he can be in publishing Choosing Easy World, his wife's first book released by a major publisher.

All of that "what does he do" stuff is great, yet there is more going on than just stuff he does.

A few years ago, Rick claimed to be a Sufi mystic masquerading as a corporate IT guy. Now that he is not a corporate IT guy--or is one without portfolio--he has more time to exhibit more of the inner mystic.

While it is still a tongue-in-cheek claim, as he has never formally studied Sufism or any religion, there is something to be said for claiming who you think you can be, then becoming it.

That's where Rick is now. He is becoming. We don't know what, but he is becoming.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Highly Nerdy Former Journalist Explains the Difference Between an About Page and a Services Page

Whereas an About page is all about establishing brand and tone and giving readers a full journalistic sense of the company as a whole, a Services page is essentially a list that shows exactly what the readers can get from said company. Think of the About page as a news story, and the Services page as a grocery store aisle.
An About page should always and forevermore be called an About page. Links to the About page should read "About". The About page should be accessible from anywhere on the website, via a link at the top and/or bottom of the website. Don't hide your About page as a needle in a haystack.

The About page must contain a bit of prose that conveys the journalistic Five W's and H of the company - Who, What, When, Where, Why, How. Often these terms overlap, but make sure each of the Five W's and H are touched on in the About page. Sometimes the 5WH must be conveyed in the design, rather than in words - or in both. You need to give a clear, vibrant picture of the company here - quickly and in a highly readable manner.

  • Who is the company? Are you tech consultants, green thumbs, an artist? Name names, if you can. Include headshots, if possible. Give a sense of humanity by using a distinctive style and voice.
  • What is the company, and what does it do? Is it a law firm that specializes in helping their clients to not get fleeced in a divorce? If you sell widgets that nobody understands, what the hell is a widget? Make readers "get it" quickly.
  • When was the company formulated, how long has it been in operation, how fast does the company deliver services? Readers need you to give them a sense of the passing of time. It makes them feel safe. I don't know why. Just include the element of time, somehow.
  • Where is the company based? What geographical region does it serve? If the company is decentralized, you still need to mention place names or. We still live on Planet Earth, and so people need a sense of place.
  • Why does the company do what it does? What drives the people behind the company? What is the mission, the aim of the company? What is its purpose, its raison d'etre?
  • How does the company deliver services, how does the company operate, how can a reader get the company's services right now?

The Services page is a list, period. When someone clicks on a link that says "Services" - and it should always be called "Services", by the way - they are looking for a list. Therefore it must contain bullet points, headings, and other dividing methods.
A list contains nouns. The nouns can be expanded upon if necessary to explain unknown terms. Include all of your services. If some of your services can only be explained after speaking with a client, or if your services are far too numerous to include every last one of them, you must add a paragraph of prose to give readers a general idea.

Include also an action step in the Services page. This can mean linking people to the Products page, or to the Contact page. (Better yet, include contact info on every single page of your website. Don't make people strain to reach you. Just be there for them every step of the way.)

About the Author: Will Conley is a copywriter and former journalist whose high school "College English" teacher made fun of him until he learned the meaning of "parallel sentence."

You Are Not Above the Law: Three Things Real People Look for in a Business Website

Some rules never change, nor should they. The fact that you can read these reads proves my point.

This article is from the standpoint of someone who espouses the "path of least resistance" approach to website architecture and information dispersal. The faster your visitors can find what they are looking for, the happier everyone is.

You can be as creative as you want, but only within certain limits. Just like spoken language, there is a grammar to web navigation, replete with tacit rules, signals, indicators, and sign posts.

A good website follows all the rules of clear navigation - and your creativity can thrive within those bounds.
I always relate the story of the behavioral psychology experiment in which two groups of children were placed in two sets of circumstances and their behavior observed.

The first group of children, Group A, were placed in a fenced-in environment and given toys to play with. The second, Group B, was placed in a wide-open field and given the same toys.

Group A was observed to have had more fun, because there were limits within which their creativity could be expressed. Group B had less fun, because there were no limits. They were wary and disoriented.

Freedom is freedom only when there are rules. Every musician knows this. Miles Davis said you should learn all the musical scales so well that you can forget them.

You must standardize. There is nothing saying you can't have personality without following the commonly accepted signals of web navigation. Here are three non-optional elements of a business website.

1. Homepage
A business website should have a home or landing page with enough information for the reader to learn everything they need to know about the essence of what the business does. This means there should be enough search engine optimized body copy there for Internet users to find the business, but it should also project the brand, attitude or essence of the business.

Directly or indirectly, the homepage body copy should convey:

  • something about the mission of the company,
  • what the company can do for the user,
  • who their typical user (target audience) is, and
  • an introduction to the website.
The body copy of the homepage should incorporate links to the relevant sections of the website. Think of the homepage body copy as the welcome wagon and tour guide to the rest of the website. It should take readers by the arm and lead them to where they should go next - all the while informing them about the company and, if applicable, leading them to an action (purchase, download, further click-through, what-have-you.)
2. About
Every business website must have an About page that is easy to locate from anywhere on the website. When people click through to the About page, they are looking for fast access to
the essence of the company,

  • what it does,
  • where it is located,
  • who is behind it, and
  • what the company offers to the target audience.
Give the readers what they are looking for. Don't hide.
3. Products

If applicable, a prominent link to the Products page should be easy to access from anywhere on the website. Make it easy to find your products at any time, and you will make sales.

About the Author: Will Conley is a copywriter who feels that no matter what your profession, you should learn the rules so well that you can forget them.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A few thoughts on menstruation, boys behaving badly, ritual, and the Gulf oil spill.

You're weak, ladies and gentleman. Weak, whiny, woman-girls and man-boys. And it's because we as a culture have no meaningful rituals to separate childhood from adulthood. If we had stronger, more jarring initiation rites to mark the time between childhood and adulthood, we would all be less pathetic and whiny and heartless as adults.

And if we replaced our self-indulgence with a healthy fear of Mother Earth, the Gulf might not be your "oops" garbage dump.

The world needs to wake and make a big deal of a girl's first menstruation. Her body is becoming a vessel capable of sustaining the species, and we should use it as a time to help the girl become aware that she must eventually let go of the trappings of childhood and accept her place in the world as a mature and responsible and strong human being.

We have turned menstruation into an object of shame and embarrassment. At best, it's aslightly droll and unfortunate event. We talk in code about it and try not to be conscious of it. Silly excuses and lies are made up about why a girl or woman is absent from school or work.

The Aboriginal Australians have rites in which a woman's first menstruation is marked by sitting in a tent for days and days, forcing the girl to come to grips with the fact that she must now let go of childhood and all the weak, needy things associated with it. If she fails to grow the up, the Aborigines can't use her and she gets kicked out of the tribe. In the unforgiving landscape of Australia, ostricization means death. She who fails to mature mentally is a danger to the survival of the community.

Same goes for the men. We need to wake up and make a big deal of a boy who starts to misbehave as a teenager, and throw him head-first into what it means to be a man. We need a point at which a man learns that this rock is a real bitch to live on and he had better grow a pair now.

Men don't have a natural division point between childhood and adulthood as a female does, so ancient cultures have made up rituals to make it obvious that the boy has to grow the hell up or the tribe will die.

The Aborigines have an elaborate, terrifying ritual to snap boys into behaving well. When a boy starts acting all tough and egotistical as testosterone is wont to make a male do, the grown men dress up like spirits, come in making a commotion, "kidnap" the boy from the mother (who plays along), circumcise him, subincise him (splitting), and thus induct him into the mens club. They scare the living fuck out of him in one painful fell swoop and make it abundantly clear that he is no longer a momma's boy, that the tribe depends on him, and he had better shape the fuck up or he's a dead man.

Sure, we have weak certain initiation rites in some cultures. Jewish kids have bah mitzvahs and bar mitzvahs. Catholic children get a smile and a slap on the cheek from the nice priest. Latinas have quinceaƱeras on their 15th birthday to help them act more like spoiled princesses. Men have rites involving self-indulgence – such as going to the nudie bar for the first time, smoking his first cigarette, drinking his “first” beer, and other “special” “firsts”.

In schools and frats we have ridiculous "initiations" administered by our equally immature peers. Some might say the grade school system itself – and college – are good common ways in our culture to mark the occasions of growing up, but those people are wrong. Like a frog in a pot of lukewarm water heated up slowly, such a gradual, plodding process makes no impact. The person never leaves the comfortable confines of childhood. He never feels a change. And we all eventually boil.

Well isn't all that special. None of our common rituals jar us awake. They are all "just something we go through", and don't really make a lasting change on most humans.

This post was inspired by The Power of Myth, an edited transcript of the Joseph Campbell/Bill Moyers interviews, but it is also inspired by other anthropological literature I've read. I've got a little bit of knowledge, and I'm feeling dangerous, so there you have it. My opinion about why we are all so weak and pathetic and whiny. I am sick and tired of hearing about "emotional safety", and I grow weary of us who lack the fortitude to maintain composure no matter what the circumstances.

This is a tough world to live in, and if you think it's supposed to be easy, then I rest my case: We need ritual. We need myth. To teach us what it means to grow up.

In writing this, I have left myself open to ridicule, corrections, accusations, and other concerns ranging from the legitimate and the banal. So go ahead. Give me your best shot. But before you do, think about what I have said here. Try to make sense of it. Give the information/opinion/perspective a chance. And dream with me of a better future.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I wrote this poem today while walking.

Along the foothills
Down the boulevard
Threading a path along the valley
Straight ahead wide open territory
To my right mountains loom
If I close my right eye
I can pretend I am back home
Walking along some flat old highway
In the flat open plain of Minnesota
I walk on shifting sand
I stop and dig
Won't stop until I hit bedrock
Then drill a hole until the bit snaps
And plant the first piling
To my impregnable fortress
Nothing will topple it
No one gets across the drawbridge
Without knowing my dance macabre
Coreographed by the hands of puppet gods
Me versus pantheons
A lifelong tangle of war
Until by strings I rearrange the gods my way
And sit