Contemplating Death

There have been a number of times in my life when the notion of contemplating death has come up. To be clear, this is not the same thing as contemplating suicide. It is about the natural course of all lives ending in death. It is about the great cycles of seasons, of iceage and hot house. Those things exist as part of ambiance or background of life, something there but which we mostly avoid talking about or thinking about.

I have found great value in contemplating death as a meditative practice. I think it can have value for many other people. I’m saying there is great value in death itself. I really don’t know. I am saying there is a great value in contemplation of death.

People have near brushes death from time to time, others get diagnosed with terminal illness. And often those people completely turn their lives around and start living the lives they have wanted to live with a great sense of what is important and what is not.

The ancient Greeks including Socrates and the Stoics advocated a meditation on death. The Taoists ask that we contemplate the turmoil of beings and their return (death).

“There’s one thing that’s for certain
One chord that rings true
Well it’s a mighty world we live in
But the truth is we’re only passin’ thru”
Scruggs – Passin’ Thru

So, you might ask, what benefit can possible come of contemplating death? Isn’t just the road to depression?

For me, in some indirect manner, it has greatly diminished my attachment to convention and the sense of shame that I am what I am. It has lessened my need of possessions or prestige. Those things are such distractions that being free of them is precious. It enables me to have a far greater measure of control over the direction of my life.

The boundary of life and death exists. My possessions, my prestige, my suffering and my poverty all stay behind. I am truly just passing through. From that perspective, it makes little sense to spend a great deal of effort on ‘stuff’ or even being ‘somebody.’ And even though the TV might demand that, at all costs, I avoid “embarrassing static cling”, I just don’t give a shit and I am beyond such shallow manipulation.

I can reach a state where I just don’t care about all sorts of the trappings of wealth or power. They seem like illusions worth all most nothing in the great scheme of things.

All I need to do, is consider the idea of passin’ thru. This idea can easily take root because it is a fundamental truth. And once it has done so, it will change your life for the better.

You Need Your Desperation

You need your desperation. You need the motivation. You need to feel like
a rat scurrying, desperately trying to avoid the hawk’s talons. You need
the despair of knowing you have failed in your life; of aching for just one
more precious chance and the great sorrow of wishing you had come to this
place sooner.

This desperation represents the most intense motivation you can have.
There are times when nothing else will do. The movement from denial to
recovery is only one of those moments.

Desperation is possibly the most despised of feelings. You will do
everything in your power to avoid it. You will deny those things that bring
it forward. You will attempt to assuage it with substances, food, TV,
Facebook and anything else you can possibly use to avoid facing it.

But what if the only way you can finally change is to be driven by that
desperation. Driven to pull out all the stops, to do anything, absolutely
anything that might even remotely help. Driven so intensely that you are
beyond shame; beyond trying to be appropriate and acceptable.

Life offers so many ways to reduce desperation, and your challenge is to not
avail yourself of those. Instead, make room in your psyche and welcome that
incredible drive.

Displaced White Men

Displaced white men are a newly discovered political group. As a demographic cohort, they are often credited with electing Donald Trump.

I am a white man, but not displaced, at least not currently. I’m not a Trump supporter.

Robert Putnam, in his book “Our Kids” convinced me of the idea that we have a split and polarized America based on class. The idea is that each of us prefers to associate with people like him or herself. I experience some truth in that idea. I get anxious when I am hanging out with people who’s incomes greatly exceed my own and I also avoid communities of lesser affluence. This phenomena of hanging with our own kind is called homophilly. It segregates us by class, race, religion and any other identities we may have.

A game called Parable of the Polygons showa in a very interesting and compelling way, just how little of a tendency toward homophilly we need to have in order to totally segregate our communities.

So, it comes to pass that I don’t have much contact with people we would call white blue collar with a high school or less education. I am the closest person I know to that classification of all the people I routinely hang out with. I have what is called “some college”. I work in a newsroom for a daily in a large metropolitan area. Everyone here is college educated. No one hangs out in blue collar circles. None of had the personal context to see Donald Trump’s sucess coming. I think that is why the media failed to see what was going on in the past election. America is fragmented and we could not see into other fragments.

Wilhelm Reich was an Austrian psychoanalyst who wrote “The Mass Psychology of Fascism” back in the day when Adolf Hitler came to power in Nazi Germany. He spoke about the displacement of young men in the cultural changes of that era and the economic crisis in Germany between World War I and World War II.

Wilhelm Reich

Adolf Hitler’s ideas to make Germany great again appealed to these people.
They wanted to take Germany back from the immigrants and ethnic minorities
that they thought were polluting the German character. Hitler was able to
galvanize these displaced men and turn their shame into anger.

Most displaced men view their poverty and immobility as a personal failing.
The experience is one of deep shame. They also become unmarriagable. In
America, we have some 40 million angry white men carrying the Trump banner.

http://townhall.com/columnists/wayneallynroot/2016/08/23/this-angry-white-male-thinks-key-to-trump-victory-isblack-voters-n2208589

In her book See Poverty, Be the Difference, Donna Beegle points out that that “Even if they verbally blame others, to try to save face, they keep internalizing the poverty.” I think that the shame is like the lid on a pressure cooker. It can blow up if we are not careful. We need to address displacement much better than we have. The safety net we string under the coal miner or factory worker actually keep all of us safe.

Coal Miners

Poverty

I am interested in poverty and the ability of people to transcend poverty and homelessness. I believe I have come to a place being able to make some small difference in this issue.

Homelessness


My own life had several spells of homelessness and an awful lot of poverty. Some of that was attributable to addiction and alcoholism but much was not. I was very fortunate to live in Canada during much of the worst of my poverty. They had a “safety net” that rendered a person poor, but not homeless.

In America, poor or derelict men do not invoke much empathy. Women with children get some and even single women seem to have some access to help. There are programs for people of color who are trapped in poverty. But derelict white men don’t get any such ‘breaks.’ I thought myself to be morally defective or just plain lazy when I stopped to think at all.

I experienced a huge amount of shame about that. Cursed myself and often thought about killing myself. I had the idea that for me to get any sort of help was to victimize the rest of society. I got really isolated with those ideas. I wasn’t living, I was hiding. Even if I did not do any sort of crimes, I felt like a criminal. Some crazy idea haunted me that if the world ever found me out, I’d be killed or tortured. In complete isolation, such ideas can really take root and grow unimpeded.

The changes that came for me, started from within. I had been abused as a child and I had a lasting bitterness over that. I also inherited from my Dad a vision of work as a gray, almost prison like experience of wage slavery. He also provided me a foundation of workaholism. He hated work, but he was gone to work almost all of the time, putting in prodigious hours, turning to porn for a solace.

Each of those formed a layer of pain that I had to work through in order to
even be able to hold a job of my own. These were multi-generational patterns.
In order to change these patterns, I had first, to change myself and accept
total responsibility for every bit of it.

I was very inspired by Chrissie Hynde who said she took full responsibility for having been gang raped. I was also raped as a naive young man. I instantly saw how Hynde’s notion of taking responsibility would affect me if I did the same thing. I got back my power by surrendering my victimization and it worked not only with being raped but in all sorts of other areas of my life.

More on Change

Here’s some new thoughts (for me) about the current broad changes taking place. What if there is no error happening? I’ve heard it said many times in recovery that whatever IS is God’s will… God does not make mistakes. So, let me explain how that might be a way to look at what it coming down the pike for humanity.

Sometimes, I think that God, the Gods or Nature have made some sort of very stupid blunder in allowing us humans to so pollute the atmosphere that global warming is unleashed. It seems like there are too many people. It seems like a huge disaster in the making. All sorts of species, we are told, stand to loose out and go extinct.

I can also see economic problems on the horizon with robotics rendering our current economic systems unworkable. Historically, large scale economic dislocation has led to violence. For example, in pre-Hitler Germany, the economics got so bad that people had to take home their day’s pay in a wheel barrow and by the time they got it home, it was almost worthless. That economic disaster laid the groundwork for the holocaust in my opinion. Today, we have a so-called “proto-fascist” running for president. I think his support derives from the huge economic dislocations of the past decade. That dislocation is bound to increase.

I see antibiotic resistance developing which would allow some menacing diseases to once again kill and disable people. That seems inevitable even if we stop using antibiotics in animal feeds or for infections where they are useless. Those actions would only slow the spread of antibiotic resistance.

If there is no error; no divine errors or blunders of nature, we are on the verge of a new round of Darwinian style evolution, that will bring much “gnashing of teeth.” But some will accept the challenges ahead and adapt. The world will change but not end, the ecology will change but not end. Humans will also survive though there may come widespread droughts, famines and pestilences such that some may not make it, but many if not most, will survive and eventually we will prosper again and hopefully we will be better fit as a species.

Economics of Robots

The economics of robots is of concern to people generally as robots replace
human labor. Starting with the least skilled work, robotics can do jobs
with fewer mistakes, faster and more efficiently. They can work 24 hours a
day and don’t need lunch breaks or vacations. An employer does not have to
make accommodations for their disabilities or offer parental leave. Neither
does the employer of robots need to bargain with a union.
lossy-page1-461px-Bio-inspired_Big_Dog_quadruped_robot_is_being_developed_as_a_mule_that_can_traverse_difficult_terrain.tiff

Robots are gradually sliding up the scale of skills that they can provide.
Current research on self-driving cars will produce robotic “drivers” of
superhuman ability who never make mistakes. This technology will easily
transfer to trucks and some 3.5 million truck drivers will have their jobs
at risk. They will, no doubt, move to massive amounts of re-education in
a futile race to get skills that have not yet been rendered redundant to
some technology or other.

In the US, we have already seen much of our manufacturing employment go
overseas to much cheaper workers. Some people are hopeful that we can shut
off the flow of jobs over our borders. However, robots are even cheaper than
the cheapest. Those jobs are gone for good.

A person might think that a rebuilding of strong unions might counteract the
movement to roboticize the workplace. As Tyler CowanTyler Cowan points out,
strong unions and high priced labor will just accelerate this trend.


Paul Krugman
speaks about classes of workers that can and cannot be replaced.
Krugman points out that mere diplomas will not save the day. Even highly
skilled jobs are being replaced by technologies and that trend is very
likely to continue and expand.

My own field of software engineering is being farmed out to technologies as
are many other engineering tasks. Legal research is performed faster and
more accurately by machine learning implementations than armies of
paralegals and lawyers. People are showing up at Doctor’s offices often
better informed about their conditions than the physician. Krugman says even
highly skilled jobs requiring a great deal of education are getting taken
over by technologies. I agree.

Here, again, high priced/high skilled jobs where shortages occur just spur
more research and greater efforts to find technological replacements for
people. And whoever succeeds in replacing high priced labor with low cost
technology can win really big rewards in the marketplace today.

If this trend continues over the long run, expanding further and further up
the skill scale, it is possible that markets for the production by robots
will fall away as no one will have any money because they are unemployed.
It is also possible that all (or most) wealth will accrue to robot owners
while everyone else lives in a starving, brutish poverty. That would create
a very dangerous political environment.

So, I forecast that some sort of redistributive mechanism is going to arise.
It could be universal ownership of stock in robot driven production. It could
be state ownership. It could be a tax based redistribution. I am not
predicting which manner of redistribution will occur but that some manner
will.

Alternative Brain Fuels and Alcoholism

There is some murky (to me) evidence that the alcoholic brain may use acetate for fuel. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995528/

Understanding this seems to require some investigation of the structure and chemistry of brain cells particularly glial cells and astrocytes.

https://www.khanacademy.org/science/health-and-medicine/nervous-system-and-sensory-infor/neural-cells-and-neurotransmitters/v/astrocyteshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroglia

It turns out that there are a number of alternative energy sources for the brain. For example, ketone bodies, lactate, pyruvate, glutamate, or acetate. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413111004207

As a recovering alcoholic, this metabolism switching from glucose to other fuels makes an intuitive sense to me. I’ve had glycemic issues since before alcoholism. Since recovery, I have found that alternative fuel, especially ketones from coconut oil or MCT, work well for me to keep away hypoglycemia.Something about my chemistry seems to simply do better without glucose. It may be that acetate
is yet another way that a brain can operate without glycemic problems. Of course, with alcohol generated acetate, you create a whole host of other problems.

A Lifetime of Change

My Mother died a couple of weeks ago. She was in her 90s. Her death led me
to think about what had happened over her lifetime. It seems especially
interesting what happened for women.

She was born in the US in the 1920s just after women got the right to vote.
That right to vote took a constitutional amendment ratified into law by men
though women demonstrated and petitioned and generally made it known they really
wanted to be able to vote.

In my mother’s time, WWII came along. There are these iconic posters of a
working woman saying ‘We can do it.’ Indeed, WWII debunked a myth of prior
times that women could not do heavy industrial work.

In 1957 the pill was approved for severe menstral disorders and in 1960 it
was approved for birth control. I don’t know if my Mom ever took the pill.
My Dad had a vascectomy in about 1958.

Rape within a marriage was legal until the 1970s. The previous laws said
that permantent consent was given by the act of marriage.

The attempted Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution failed in the late
1970s and early 1980s. But it was a close vote.

Excercise and Capacitiy Development

In a 2003 book called Power of Full engagement, authors Swartz and Loehr develop a them around excercise and capacity development. The original idea was that muscular capacity develops from excercise and rest. These authors, however, looked into a generalization of that development process in people and found that all sorts of human capacities grow in the face of stress/rest cycles. I think Swartz and Loehr make a very compelling case that we need stress nut we also need breaks from stress during which our growth takes place.

I heard Dr. Tom Cowan author of the Fourfold path to Healing talking one time about how we should welcome diseases. In this case he was talking about flu and his reasoning was that the fever that accompanies a flu tends to kill off cancer cells. the notion he expounded on was that the body can actually seek out and admit a flu infection in order to prevent a worse disease. I would add to that idea, that the immunity is another human capacity that strengthens from a stress and rest cycle.

We humans, being human, would like to avoid stress entirely. We would like to avoid disease entirely. We can imagine utopian societies free of violence, deprivation, disease and ignorance. That utopia ideal has yet to overtake the planet. And in fact, it might not be such a good idea.

In the 1960s Ethologist John B. Calhoun did a series of experiments with Norway Rats. His most famous was called Universe 25. In this experiment, he set up an environment that closely resembled our ideas of a uptopia only he did it for a colony of mice.
The mice prospered and went from an initial population of 4 individuals to over 2,200. But by the 600th day of the experiment, the mice were on their way to extinction. They lost the capacity to reproduce. Their behavior became abnormal and often destructive and the mouse society collapse in what Calhoun called a “spiritual death.”

Thoughts about Thinking

Troop losses

Troop losses

The idea of symbolic process is familiar to most programmers. The idea is that some things are accessible through symbols. Although we use symbolic processing in technological realms, it is also useful in considering the inner psychological and spiritual worlds.

A programming variable is a type of symbol. It has a name and a value and the value can be accessed or changed by invoking that name so it operates in a type of dynamic metaphorical way.

A common paper road map is another symbolic idea. A road map is a symbolic representation or model of some geographic area. It is not, in itself, the reality of what it represents. It is a metaphor for real world road systems.

I have found, through many years of practice, that some of my innermost being and processes are accessible in a symbolic or metaphorical way. This ranges from a yoga technique of being able to raise my body temperature by focusing on a vision of a fire in my abdomen, to the dream generated intuitions that can bring novel solutions to work related problems.

I practice various forms of meditation. Over the past 5 years or so, I’ve been involved with a lot of meditation dealing with thought and the attempts to detach from my thinking and become more of a non-judgmental observer of my own thinking. As I do this, I often see how my thoughts are often reactions to external things and how my thoughts interact with each other and resonate well beyond the initial content.

For example, I have an alarm clock that offers a 5 minute ‘snooze’ feature. It goes off at the appointed time and press the snooze button, then I practice gratitude for 5 minutes while waiting for the snooze period to end with another alarm. That 5 minutes of gratitude can continue to resonate optimistically and joyfully for several hours. I could not have realized the effect of that practice without an ability to observe my thinking.

Observing my psyche without judgment is also an important component of self-discovery and for providing access to the unconscious components of my being. Judgment will immediately suppress my thinking if I think it is unacceptable. This suppression is sometimes silly as it is not very effective. The thought does NOT go away in the face of suppression. In fact, suppressed thinking can grow just outside of view.

I have have tons and tons of unacceptable thoughts! There is murder, mayhem, X-rated material and stuff practically gauranteed to produce post traumatic stress disorder. That is all mixed in with some generous and uplifting stuff. I suspect most people have a mix similar to mine, but since i don’t actually occupy the space between anyone else’s ears, I don’t know for sure what goes on there.

So, suspending judgment, observing thinking and accessing the body and unconscious through metaphor are simple tools that most people can employ. Great insights can be had doing this. But acting on those insights is a different issue. I recently read an article speaking to the idea of actualizing the discoveries that arise from spiritual practice. It is not so easy!