Invisible costs

I find great wisdom and insight in the writing of David Cain. He has quit his “day job” to pursue writing full time and shares what that transition feels like. Looking back to my final days, I recognize some of what he describes. Following ‘graphs are part of a longer post I hope you’ll read.

“A weight that had been resting on my mind for long enough for me to forget that it was possible to remove it. For the first time in a long time I didn’t have to answer to anyone. I knew my company-issue Blackberry wasn’t going to ring, I knew nobody was going to ask anything of me. It was like walking up to a glass barrier that had always been there and realizing it was only air.”

“Our lifestyles come with costs, many of which are invisible, or at least become invisible to us once we’re used to paying them. At all times these enormous invisible forces are acting on your life, shaping what it feels like to be you. They only become visible — and only momentarily — when they change.”

“Because we’re so immersed in our lifestyles, it’s hard to see what individual parts of them are pushing and pulling on our minds. Imagine trying to describe what a building looks like when you’ve only ever been inside it. Moving parts of our lifestyles around gives us the necessary angles to know what it is we’ve actually built with our decisions about career, relationships and living situation. If they never change we never know what they’re doing to us.”

Meditation Now or Never

meditationPublisher’s Weekly: Zen priest Hagen, author of Buddhism Plain and Simple and Buddhism Is Not What You Think, offers a brief and wonderfully accessible primer on meditation, which can be a surprisingly difficult practice for many beginners. He helpfully defines meditation via negativa: meditation is not a self-help program, a quick fix, a mind-training technique or a way to relax before jumping right back into the fray of our busy lives. It’s a lifelong practice that can, and should, seep into every arena of the quotidian, so that when we’re attentively folding laundry or taking out the trash, we’re doing meditation. It involves teaching the mind just to be here, says Hagen. Amazon.

A few excerpts:

We live tuned in to ourselves, but tuned out from life.

We easily lose sight of the distinction between Reality and our ideas about Reality.

Meditation is an expression of faith in direct experience itself.

Meditation is useless. (Because) meditation is, finally, just to be here. Not over there, in some other place called peace or freedom or enlightenment. Not longing for something else. Not trying to be, or to acquire, something new or different. … We can’t do meditation for any reason other than to be aware. … If you’re sitting in meditation to get something — you’re not here.

Meditation is about deeply seeing what’s going on within your own mind.

In meditation, we see that there is no cosmic mystery to break through. … Reality and Truth don’t require any “figuring out.”

You can’t become enlightened (because) you’re already here, immersed in it. It’s like trying to become human.

The practice of meditation frees us from our insane desire to control ourselves and others.

If you can get past the resistance to meditation, nothing else in life will be an obstacle.

In each new moment we can live in either awareness or ignorance.

Our meditation practice reflects the attitude we take in life.

At the heart of meditation is the intention to be awake. (To experience) Reality as it is,before goals, ideas, or desires sprout. … Meditation is never a means to an end.

Meditation is not about doing anything. It is simply paying attention. … If our will is directed toward any object or purpose — even toward meditation correctly — then we’re not in meditation.

Meditation is continually returning to life so that we don’t miss it. There’s no gap, no distinction, between you and what you’re doing.

Instead of practicing now and here, we get lost in thought about it.

Enlightenment isn’t something we need to figure out. It’s just remembering — waking up to what you knew all along but were not paying attention to. There’s nothing to figure out. It’s only a matter of seeing and not talking to yourself.

Over time you’ll discover that meditation won’t give you ideas at all.

Meditation is a matter of zero or 100 percent. Either you’re present or you’re not. There are no in-betweens.

To the extent that we’re not fully present as we live our life, a good portion of our life passes away unlived.

Meditation is awareness.

The very distinction of “out there” and “in here” is just another mental construct. It isn’t Real.

The more present we are, the bigger the picture we see. The bigger picture we see, the more things seem to slow down. And when the Whole is seen, all is utterly still.

Almost everything we do is done for a purpose a result, an outcome. In meditation, however, we let go of hopes and fears, plans and outcomes, and simply come back to here and now.

The desire of one who is awake is simply to be awake.

We can ever really explain how we feel — we can only feel how we feel.

Waking up means, more than anything else, that we learn to see ourselves.

Meditation is about your attitude toward life.

We put together a world in our mind. We carry all kinds of ideas, beliefs, notions, and prejudices — and, for most of us, that is our reality. It’s where we live. We regularly confuse what we believe with what we actually know.

Everything in culture is built around the premise of going after something else.

We find awakening so elusive because we’re looking for it. And if we’re looking for it, that means we believe it’s not here.

There is no “out there.”

We need to awaken, again and again, in each new moment. And in each moment, we have a new opportunity to wake up.

Life is all at once. It’s forever now. It’s never “then.”

Scott Adams’ View of the World

I suppose a lot of people don’t take Scott Adams serious because he’s a cartoonist (the creator of Dilbert). I’ve read all (most?) of his books have found his explanation of… well, pretty much everything, makes the most sense to me. Today on his blog he gives a tidy summary of his world view.

  1. Willpower isn’t a real thing. Some people just have greater urges than others. If I resist a cookie and you don’t, it doesn’t say anything about your willpower, but it might say you are hungrier than I am, or you simply like cookies more than I do.
  2. I don’t believe in a creator. I see humans as a collection of particles bumping into each other. Or maybe we’re a computer simulation created by some earlier civilization. In either case, no group of particles, or arrangement of ones and zeroes, is superior to another.
  3. I have no individual skill that is not topped by at least one person in every demographic group. Every group has people who are smarter than me, stronger than me, kinder than me, more generous than me, more talented, and so on.
  4. There is no logical way to rank talents or virtues. Is one person’s excellent musical skill somehow better than another’s good parenting skills? Is your kindness better than your friend’s work ethic? None of these things can be compared objectively.
  5. Genes are often destiny. You were probably born with your personality and your preferences, in which case you are not to blame. Or you might have been the victim of some sort of nastiness in your past that changed you permanently, and that probably wasn’t your “fault” in any objective way either. Your particles bumped around until something bad happened, nothing more.
  6. For purely practical reasons, the legal system assigns “fault” to some actions and excuses others. We don’t have a good alternative to that system. But since we are all a bunch of particles bumping around according to the laws of physics (or perhaps the laws of our programmers) there is no sense of “fault” that is natural to the universe.



“You are lounging on a magnificent balcony open to the starry sky, divine music is playing with such exquisite perfection you can hardly stand it, when all of a sudden something terrible occurs: the magical sounds break up into an obscene cacophony. What is happening? Are you dying? You could put it that way. That awful noise is the first scream of an infant: you. You have been born into a human body hardwired with each and every transgression from the last time around, and now you must spend the next seventy years clawing your way back to the music. No wonder we cry.”

— Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett

Who wants to die for a supermarket

Trolley in supermarket, exact date
“The greatest weakness of the West is that it has nothing with which to inspire loyalty except wealth. But what is wealth? Another washing machine, a bigger car, a nicer house to live in? Not much to feed the spirit in all that. What is the West but a gigantic supermarket? And who really wants to die for a supermarket?”

— Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett

The sun is always setting

“The state of the world is a relative truth. It’s mostly relative to how much news you watch. If you’re a CNN junkie, you live in a more worrisome, dangerous world than I do. You can argue all day that it’s the same world, but all that matters is what world you experience, not what the world is supposed to be likeoutside your experience. So zoom in, live from here. Don’t let others tell you what the world is like, because they live in a different world.”

David Cain on sunsets and how the world works.

Your head would explode

I’ve never met David Cain but when I think of “enlightenment,” he comes to mind. If I could pick one person to give me tips on how to live, I think it might be him. From a recent post:

“I now see all instances of minor physical discomfort as a chance to get better at being relaxed. I relax into the discomfort, I let it hang out with me. When you first try it it’s an exhilarating experiment — to voluntarily open up to minor pain when that’s what the moment brings you, to refrain from listening to the impulse to cringe or harden. It feels like you’re walking freely in an area you thought you weren’t allowed to go.”

“The present moment is the only concrete reality you will ever have to deal with. Sometimes it contains pain. We prefer that our realities don’t contain pain. But that can only ever be a preference, because ultimately we don’t have control over the present once it becomes the present. If you truly needed reality to be something other than reality, your head would explode that instant. But it doesn’t. You prefer it to be one way, but don’t need it to be.”

The God Argument

the-god-argumentThe God Argument (The Case Against Religion and for Humanism) by A. C. Grayling was a bit of a slow read for me, compared to a few other books I’ve read on this topic. This was, I believe, my first brush with secular humanism and it’s nice to have a basic definition of the concepts.

“Secularism is the principle of maintaining a separation between religious interests and bodies, on the one hand, and the state, on the other hand, on the premise that religion has no greater claim than any other self-interest outlook in debates about matters of government and public policy.”

“The basis of humanism is that we are to answer the most fundamental of all questions, the question of how to live, by reflection on the facts of human experience in the real world, and not on the basis of religion. [...] As a broad ethical outlook, humanism involves no sectarian divisions or strife, no supernaturalism, no taboos, no food and dress codes, no restrictive sexual morality other than what is implicit in the demand to treat others with respect, consideration and kindness.”

Humanism’s two fundamental premises: 1) “there are no supernatural agencies in the universe,” 2) “our ethics must be drawn from, and responsive to, the nature and circumstances of human experience.”

“A key requirement (of humanism) is that individuals should think for themselves about what they are and how they should live. [...] It imposes no obligations on people other than to think for themselves.”

Same for stoicism which, at first glances, seems to share some ideas with Buddhism.

“Stoicism’s main doctrine was that one should cultivate two capacities: ‘indifference’, and self-control. They used the term ‘indifference’ in the strict sense of this term to men neutrality, detachment, as in not taking sides on a question, or being disengaged from a quarrel.”

A few more ideas that got some highlighter »
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Physicists to test if universe a computer simulation

Three of my favorite Smart People (Kevin Kelly, Ray Kurzweil and Scott Adams) have convinced me there will be a post-human stage in our evolution. And Scott Adams makes a compelling (to me) case for the computer simulation theory.

“The theory basically goes that any civilisation which could evolve to a ‘post-human’ stage would almost certainly learn to run simulations on the scale of a universe. And that given the size of reality – billions of worlds, around billions of suns – it is fairly likely that if this is possible, it has already happened. And if it has? Well, then the statistical likelihood is that we’re located somewhere in that chain of simulations within simulations. The alternative – that we’re the first civilisation, in the first universe – is virtually absurd.”

Before you dismiss this theory, compare it to this popular creation narrative:

“It is made up of two parts, roughly equivalent to the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis. In the first part, Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2:3, Elohim, the generic Hebrew word for God, creates the world in six days, then rests on, blesses and sanctifies the seventh day. God creates by spoken command (“Let there be…”), suggesting a comparison with a king, who has only to speak for things to happen, and names the elements of the cosmos as he creates them, in keeping with the common ancient concept that things did not really exist until they had been named. In the second, Genesis 2:4–24, Yahweh, the personal name of God, shapes the first man from dust, places him in the Garden of Eden, and breathes his own breath into the man who thus becomes נֶפֶש nephesh, a living being; man shares nephesh with all creatures, but only of man is this life-giving act of God described. The man names the animals, signifying his authority within God’s creation, and God creates the first woman, Eve, from the man’s body.”