Band of Brothers

Super Bowl LV: 3 takeaways from Tampa Bay’s victory over Chiefs | Las Vegas Review-Journal
In the bright lights of the arena!

Article 21 Band of Brothers

When two or more face hardship together, they bond in fellow kinship. When a couple share passionate intensity, their intercourse produces new life, new kin. Life is born out of struggle. As an inner voice proclaimed to the actor Jon Voight in a moment of intense personal hardship when he prayed asking why everything had to be so hard: ‘it’s supposed to be!”

This may or may not hint at another proof of life after death in that the climax ending of one process always leads to something else afterwards, but that is not the subject of this piece. Rather, the idea is to just touch on the notion of shared intensity, of how going into a ‘bright light’ situation together, results in fellowship.

After the 2021 Superbowl, the US sports world – or at least those who still follow the NFL which has allowed partisan politics to enter their arenas too much of late and driven many life long fans away, at least for now – has been all ago about the legendary veteran quarterback Tom Brady, who went from a dynasty he helped create in New England, playing for the Patriots, to an historically under-performing team in Florida, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – or now Tompa Bay Bucs as some call them. They had no training camp or pre-season because of COVID – indeed they were not even allowed to meet individually during the spring months – and yet he went down there, helped push for a few key additions to an already talented team, persevered through a difficult early and middle season and ended up with an eight game winning streak culminating in holding aloft the Lombardi Cup in his new home stadium at Tampa Bay, the first time a team whose city was hosting the Superbowl had done so. Quite a feat.

Numerous videos have been made, some by established outfits, many by amateur You tubers combing through pre-existing materials. There seem to be two main themes emerging. One is that the long-established myth that New England had some special system thanks to their coaches, especially Head Coach Bill Belichek, no longer really holds up, meaning that Tom Brady had more to do with their success than his many critics for many years had insisted was not the case. In current rankings he still comes third (or lower) behind Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rogers, both of whom are widely acknowledged to be far more ‘talented’ quarterbacks. Famously, Tom Brady was the 199th pick of his draft year out of 259 total; interestingly, none of the six other quarterbacks drafted before him have names that anyone – except hard core fans – would recognize. In other words, the criteria the experts use to evaluate ‘talent’ seem to be lacking in certain areas, something they often dub ‘intangibles.’

So what are those intangibles? In a word: leadership. Football is a tough, complicated and extremely confrontational sport involving two teams, one on offense, one on defense, in combat with each other. Each franchise team is itself comprised of two teams, its own offensive team and its own defensive team. These two teams are never on the field at the same time; the defense plays against the opposing side’s offense; the offense plays against the opposing side’s defense. In contrast to tennis, which pits one individual against another, NFL football is a team sport par excellence.

(That said, if you listen to the post-championship speeches by the leading tennis professionals, they always thank their own ‘team’ for all the hard work that went into this latest victory, and often congratulate their opponent’s team for everything they did too. Turns out there is a team dynamic in tennis too, even though each team only fronts one individual champion in actual combat against the other team’s champion.)

In terms of the team aspect in the Tompa Bay Buccaneers story, numerous videos have been published recently going over this. The talking heads in sports are obsessed with whether or not Tom is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) and debate it endlessly, every such debate being fatuous and boring – at least as far as I can be bothered to watch any of them. However, when Tom is asked about such things, he always points out that football is a team sport. When he gives speeches after matches, he always congratulates the entire team, which includes the coaching staff (about 50 people in Tampa Bay apparently). He maintains relationships with all the players, though last year’s COVID restrictions curtailed that somewhat, especially in terms of his getting to know players in the defense; and if you listen to many of the interviews by the defense – with whom Tom never plays and never will – they too were highly inspired by his presence on the overall team.

This is because Tom is a winner. He has won 7 Superbowl rings and been at three other Superbowls on the losing team. But just getting to the Superbowl is something that only a small percentage of all the NFL professional players achieve, let alone many times. No other quarterback now playing, for example, has won more than one Superbowl ring. Tom has seven and is a favorite to win again next year given the entire team who won last year is coming back and this year they have time to practice together. Such a winning record makes him a living icon in the minds of his team mates especially, but also most young players (and fans) in the NFL realm. In their minds, he is a type of bright light, radiating a sort of aura in the mind which all great leaders inspire. Whether the aura exists or is imagined matters not at all: functionally speaking it is there. That aura lifted up the entire Tampa Bay organization as their coaches have explained many times. When they won the NFC Conference Championship against the extremely gifted Green Bay Packers led by Aaron Rogers, widely regarded as one of the most talented quarterbacks in the game’s history (and yet who has only won one Superbowl), the Head Coach Bruce Arians said that the victory was all due to ‘one man,’ Brady, because he knows how to win and he inspired the entire team to believe that they could win too. Many of his fellow team mates say the same thing. Turns out that Brady’s leadership intangibles, just like courage some say, are contagious.

In some sense, winning is over-rated. But the desire to win and the effort it takes to do so consistently involves a huge amount of discipline, otherwise known as ‘hard work,’ day after day, not to mention playing through injuries – which it was revealed a few days ago that Tom did the last few games, injuries much more painful than previously reported. What is of most value, perhaps, is not the winning per se, but rather the path, the journey, the process. Indeed, as Tom was walking through the underpass into the wide open Superbowl arena a few yards ahead, he turned to the team mate beside him and said: ‘what a journey, eh?’ As the old Buddhist saying rightly points out: ‘the journey is the goal.’

Leadership involves inspiring a group of men – at least in the case of football and most military combat – to head into ongoing difficulty and find a way to prevail. All such groups need leaders in order to come together as a winning team, a group that prevails, a group whose story is one of victory not defeat, glory not degradation. Their sense of camaraderie is what fuels the passion that drives the hard work that inspires the courage even in the face of death. The bright aura around any great leader inspires his followers to enter the arena together, to face whatever challenges arising therein, to give it their all, sacrificing even their lives if necessary, on the field of battle.

In this way, for example, racism is clearly transcended, whether on the field of football or life-and-death military combat. Men who face great hardship or death together become a veritable Band of Brothers. There is no black or white race among those sharing a foxhole being bombarded by enemy mortar fire, each man perhaps about to be blown to bits any moment. They are brothers.

Facing hardship, entering intense bright light zones of ‘men in the arena’ creates kinship, fellowship – or again as in the case of a couple embracing the intensity of love and passion: new life, a new family.

Proof of Life after Death

(a slightly playful take on a somewhat serious topic)

Is There Life After Death? Quantum Consciousness and Beyond | The Ghost Diaries
An open question or foregone conclusion?

There are generally unacknowledged limits to the much-vaunted ‘scientific method.’ Leaving aside the not inconsiderable corruption quotient wherein Industry A pays for a study proving that what Industry A is selling is ‘scientifically proven’ to be effective or true or critical or whatever, the whole notion of proof is far more limited than most of us blithely assume.

For example: can science proof that life exists? If so, how? Can science definitively prove what the notion of ‘life’ is? On our level of perception, it’s pretty obvious when somebody dies; there is a clear shift. However, from the perspective of a quantum level microscope, living processes don’t end with physical death, all sorts of things – trillions of them – are zinging around with nary a pause.

Or again going quantum: can we define the exact place where our bodies end and the world outside and around them begins? No, we cannot. The quantum microscope will show zillions of things streaming out of and into the body. This is equally true for ostensibly not-living things like tables and rocks: on the quantum level zillions of particles are swimming around such that something as seemingly solid as a rock is actually more like a cloud. What we have is something resembling a crowd of supporters at a sports event: varied concentrations of differing populations – fans of Team X, fans of Team Y, family groupings, church groupings, age groupings and so on. Yes, they all comprise ‘one crowd’ but that one thing is an amalgamation of many sub-groups, all in continuous flux.

If the scientific method cannot precisely measure or define boundaries can it precisely define or measure a thing or being?

Lastly, we can look at this from the perspective of time: in our experience have we ever seen evidence that one moment does not follow from a previous one and lead into a next one? Is there a moment wherein everything just stops and there is no subsequent moment? Can the river of time freeze to a total stop?

No scientist (or ordinary mortal for that matter) has ever witnessed such a moment. It goes against all the laws of seeming reality. We may not understand how everything works (actually, of course, we understand very little), but we know that time never stops. Never. (Leaving aside the inconvenient fact that time cannot be seen or touched, merely inferred by machines which are not time themselves.)

So how can there not be something continuing after what we call ‘death?’ Just as we cannot definitely measure the exact moment of death, the exact boundary between one condition and the next, so also we cannot know for certain what happens next. That right there is some sort of ‘proof’ that something continues after death. We may not know what, exactly, but the likelihood that it’s absolutely nothing is absolutely nil.

(This contemplation also brings up the contrast between that which is seen and that which is invisible, including fascinating issues like the way masculine and feminine permeate every aspect of experience and phenomenal reality. But that’s for another article.)

Meanwhile, this ‘proof of life after death’ may not satisfy the usual norms of the ‘scientific method,’ but that’s hardly surprising given this sort of question is actually outside of their purview. From their perspective, we can say that just as there can be no scientific proof of life after death, neither can there be scientific proof that there is no life (or whatever) after death. The invisible realm is not knowable in the visible realm. So whatever realm of experience exists after life ends is not knowable in the realm of the living, at least not by science.

Since we have no evidence anywhere in the land of the living that things come to a complete halt from one moment to the next – there is always some sort of continuity or border-fuzziness principle as described above – therefore it is reasonable to conclude that something continues after physical death. Some might not call this proof, exactly, but they also cannot disprove, or falsify, it either.

It remains – as it always has done and will continue to be – an open question. We may not know what exactly continues after death, but that there are some after-effects continuing to resonate in future moments in the ongoing stream of time and being is almost certain.

As General Maximus proclaimed before the final battle subduing the German barbarians, or ‘Celtoi:’

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

Well said, Maximus, well said indeed!

On Wisdom and Emotions

The greater the emotions, the greater the wisdom.”

Old Buddhist tantric saying.

Yamantaka – The Destroyer of Death, Angry Wisdom

There are quite a few core tenets, or attributes, we all need to develop in our journey through life. One of them is discipline. Nearly all obstacles and chronic difficulties can be traced back to a lack of discipline, which has something to do with sticking to something, be it an activity, a principle, a vocation, a marriage – and so forth.

Often in conversation, I have found myself bringing up professional tennis players as well-known examples of hard-core discipline – as covered briefly in the preceding article On Wimbledon and English Summers. Today’s short article is about a related aspect of that, namely the way top players have the ability to raise their game whenever a challenge requiring them to do so arises. Many of us, confronted with two championship points against us for example, might crumple under such pressure, give up, or just throw the game away somehow in a state of nervous panic. But the top players find a way to raise their game by serving up two aces in a row, or getting the ball back no matter what until their opponent loses focus and misses a shot, or by hitting almost impossibly brilliant winners. They dig deep and come up with multi million dollar magic.

Part of the dynamic here is that the challenge in question is initially felt as some sort of pressure or intensity which we experience as heightened emotion. Such emotion may not exactly fit into labels such as ‘anger,’ ‘jealousy’ or whatever, but it exists somewhere along the spectrum where emotions involving success and failure dwell, so perhaps there is fear of losing along with determination or even expectation of winning. The fear of loss and hope to win are two sides of the same coin in this tennis game realm. Of course for professionals this game is their livelihood, identity and what they achieve in life so it’s a loaded situation – albeit still only a game: after all, they do not face imminent execution or bankruptcy if they lose.

In any case, at certain critical points in the match, they can channel the heightened emotion aroused by the existential game being on the line into enhanced performance. Interestingly, this resembles two key aspects of the spiritual path, namely how to use emotions to engender heightened awareness and wisdom and also how to handle what happens after you die. In both cases, the recommendation is to make out like the top tennis players, namely to raise your game in the face of increased intensity and challenge.

In terms of the meditation aspect, some of the old yogic manuals recommend deliberately putting yourself into hostile environments so that you can confront and master extreme emotions, by for example meditating in charnel grounds (where in India they threw dead bodies to be eaten by animals who roam around at night doing just that), or market places, or haunted houses, or remote caves in the Himalaya mountains and so forth. This is because it is hard to engender strong awareness whilst in a state of languid comfort with only milquetoast emotion. People have this image of meditators favoring only tranquil situations, being peaceful, calm, quiet, always joyful but that’s not really how the genuine path works. In fact, life is constantly presenting challenges just like those key moments in tennis matches. How we face such challenges becomes a defining part of our character, which in turn determines how we handle the ultimate challenge awaiting us in what Tibetans call ‘the bardo,’ the state of being after death.

Bardo is any in-between state. Right now we are all in the ‘waking bardo,’ which is the state between birth and death. There is also the dreaming bardo between being awake and asleep, and you could say the childhood bardo between infancy and adulthood. Everything is some sort of bardo: the present moment is a bardo between past and future. The moment of intensity facing a Championship Point is also a type of bardo too just like the period after physical death before whatever comes next emerges.

In some of the old yogic manuals dealing with this topic of transmuting emotion into awareness, they suggest standing in front of a mirror and engendering strong emotional states by grimacing fiercely – even shouting – to provoke anger, or crying to provoke sadness, grinning and goofing around to provoke joy and so forth. The trick is learning how to merge those heightened emotional states with awareness. Now it’s not the purpose of this series of articles to get into exactly what that is and how to do it, but suffice to say it’s basically the same thing as what a Federer, Nadal or Djokovic does when facing those break, set or championship points.

They pay attention to what is happening, focus completely on what needs to be done and then execute fearlessly using the heightened emotional intensity of the challenge as fuel for the fire of their correspondingly heightened awareness manifesting in the form of a greater level of play; in short, they ‘step up their game.’

They say that if we become good at doing this in our daily lives, then we can do a fairly good job of encountering what arises in the after-life bardo, which is experienced as varying intensities of sounds and lights, both abstract and familiar or phantasmagoric forms. The trick is to go into the bright lights and loud sounds rather than turning away from them into something less intense, more comfortable, more familiar. So if you experience the dim lights and low intensity zones, you need to be aware that they are such rather than buying into the comfort and reassurance they seem to offer, rather keep paying attention to details. As such details emerge, intensity will rise again until you face the next key point in the match, at which time you can call upon your prior training and experience to raise your game and, rather than turning away, face forward into the bright lights of heightened emotional intensity.

On Wimbledon and English Summers

Wimbledon 2021 – with full attendance finally

I have a sort of ritual every year in that I clear the calendar for the final week of Wimbledon, make sure my internet connections are good with access to sites showing the games and then kick back. This year I made the mistake of watching the first week so that by the time the second week came around I was already losing interest in the little ball going back and forth with little men in my little laptop screen running around after it furiously. This is because my interest was piqued by Andrew Murray’s comeback adventure; indeed, if I hadn’t tuned in for that first week, I wouldn’t have seen him play. I’ve never much liked watching him play (as per previous post), but a good story is a good story and so I tuned in.

I grew up in London, England and first started watching tennis in the large dining room in West Acre House at Harrow School. There was a generous side area apart from the dining tables which sat around 100 boys from ages 13 to 18. The summers were languid. Afternoons year-round were for sports, be they team sports on various fields, or other sports like running, squash, racquets, fencing. I played mainly squash myself. Every once in a while our House had to play another House so there was the occasional cricket game, but mainly I remember them as good opportunities to find a nice large tree to sit under and get a good bit of reading in. Except during Wimbledon week. I don’t know about other Houses, but in West Acre we all crowded into the area in front of an old black and white television to watch. Every afternoon for hours we watched the whole presentation. Copious amounts of white bread with butter and jam were consumed after being toasted on the nearby toaster table. Tea was freely available in large dispensers somehow. We cheered, we groaned, we watched every shot. In those days there were men like Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Connors, Arthur Ashe with new stars arising like Björn Borg, Ivan Lendl and the emerging John McEnroe whose crazy hair-do and ghastly manners were matched in impact only by the exceptional touch tennis he wowed the world with.

Ever since that time, I have tried to tune into Wimbledon. I left Harrow in 1972 but remember watching one time in 1980 at the bar in the Gramercy Park Hotel; I worked for a non-profit educational foundation a block or so away on 21st Street, so goofed off during the mid-mornings that week to quaff a few beers and watch Wimbledon. One day I was elbow to elbow with a mid-thirties or so Baron Wedgwood, the scion of the original Sir Josiah Wedgwood whose family name is still on fine china sold worldwide, albeit now part of a Finnish business consortium along with Daulton and other old names. (Maybe my bar companion Wedgwood watched too much tennis?!)

Why the quasi-ritual, though? Partly it’s the tennis. I find top-level tennis absorbing: the leading players clearly lead extremely disciplined lives, so on top of prodigious talent they layer in years, indeed decades, of hard work, every day, working on fitness, skills, preparation, the mental aspects. In the last twenty years or so, starting with Sampras perhaps who won an unprecedented fourteen grand slams, the world number one in the rankings has exhibited great levels of discipline and commitment, because that is what it took to beat Sampras, himself an exceptionally talented and hard-working champion, and then maintain the ability to win further championships thereafter. Federer’s extraordinarily graceful style of play made it look easy perhaps, but to beat him took total commitment tournament after tournament. And the same goes for Nadal, especially on clay, where only recently have other champions been able to occasionally topple him from his throne where he reigns as ‘King of Clay.’ Djokovic on Sunday paid tribute – as he has often done – to both Federer and Nadal in that they made him the player he is today, because in order to beat them he had to develop an entire well-rounded discipline honing body and mind into a weapon able to achieve victory on the court. Top-level professional games are often very close, intense, and decided by only a few key points. Not to mention that the shot-making, at these levels, can be highly entertaining.

But the tennis is not the only reason I watch Wimbledon every year. Mainly it is a return to some sort of continuity in life. I don’t go to church and left my old Buddhist community from the 70’s to 90’s along with all the great friends of my youth with whom I shared so many aspirations, follies and grand times at the feet of an iconoclastic genius trickster Tibetan master. Earlier, I had left England at the insouciant age of nineteen. I like English movies better than most American ones, speak with a faded English ‘mid-Atlantic’ accent, and deeply miss the wild but also well-tamed English countryside. Everywhere I go, I am always comparing whatever landscape presents itself to England, especially the counties like Surrey and Sussex near London with which am most familiar. Rolling green fields with occasional large oak trees is my default go-to terrain; on walks I expect to see hedgerows brimming with flowers, teeming with birdsong. So Wimbledon reminds me of boyhood, of growing up in England, and its grass courts remind me of the playing fields of Harrow where I occasionally pretended to play cricket in between downing no end of sticky ice creams.

England in those times, and therefore also for me, was what I now think of as a ‘real country.’ America is now fracturing, the victim of deliberate political sabotage perpetrated for reasons one seemingly cannot fathom other perhaps than presuming that desire for control on the part of a remote leadership class is somewhere in the mix. Their relentlessness is an almost demonic insistence on making things unpleasant, on denying ordinary people the ability to lead positive, uncomplicated – if still demanding – lives without confronting them with one existential crisis after another, keeping them in thrall to perpetual anxiety as macro-scale financial policies erode the value of their currencies making saving difficult and thus also the accumulation of wealth over succeeding generations, especially given the huge cut taken every year by taxes; meanwhile their familiar cultures and values are shredded daily by new progressive initiatives whose only common theme seems to be that anything they hold dear is now deemed irreparably wicked and deserving only of being thrown, along with later their corpses presumably, onto the trash heap of history.

So watching Wimbledon, watching the players dressed in white, hearing the pounding of their feet, the thwacks and thuds of balls hitting racquets and turf, hearing the timeless moans and applause of the enthralled crowds, watching Wimbledon is both a reprieve from the relentless degradation of our civilization and a brief return to the days when I knew what being part of a great country and culture was, when we knew what was what and who was who, being all part of the same community called England or Great Britain, sharing so much joy and pride in such basic camaraderie.

Of course, this is an overly nostalgic and hagiographic description. But it’s how things felt back then, both to a teenager growing up and to most people living in such countries. Of course the same leadership class shenanigans were ongoing (witness the entirely unnecessary hardships and slaughter of The Great Wars of 1914-1948) but the sense of togetherness within some sort of national community was for sure far more developed and enveloping. That’s all breaking apart now.

But for two weeks – well, next year it will be back to one week again! – I can return fondly to the days of my youth and to a country which I will always dearly love and whose countryside will always be home, even if only in memory.

The Trials & Tribulations of Sir Andy Murray

Sir Andrew grimacing…

Andy has been away from the game for four years due to health issues, some of which required hip operations. At the time of his departure he had been World #1 for a while – as the big three faltered from various injuries themselves – and was a beloved national hero in Great Britain after having won the Olympic Gold in 2012, then Wimbledon itself the following year– prising the trophy away from much-beloved Federer in an epic final, and then one more time a couple of years later. He got knighted for all that – and rightly so given that he dwells in the hearts of so many of his fellow countrymen and women. All well and good, but:

Andy has a way of making nearly every match you watch him play in some sort of torturous ordeal, not just for himself but also his opponent and spectators. I had forgotten how much I dislike watching some of his matches. At some point in the match, he starts worriting about this and that, then he starts torturing himself, sometimes hitting himself on the head, but most of all shouting at himself and grimacing in hyper-expressive combinations of anger and grief. He suffers so. Generally, he is reluctant to take the lead, to take charge, to go on the attack, preferring rather to wear his opponent down with brilliant defensive play. He was the best returner of serve in the game, for example.

The article I have up to remember the score has a Twitter headline embedded from “Heart. Determination. Murray.” Hmm. Was it heart and determination that let him go from 5-0 up in the third set to losing it? No. He fumbled, faltered and then defaulted back to his seemingly favorite state of mind: anguish.

Now, if you don’t know, Murray suffered significant childhood trauma, not from bad parents – his mother still watches many of his matches and they appear very close – but from a lone gunman massacre at his school that rocked the minds and hearts of the entire country. He was not shot himself, being in a nearby classroom sheltering under a desk not even knowing what was taking place in the gym not far away, but he knew the killer and many of the children shot and killed, and given the event shook the entire country up for some time, no doubt it deeply effected those on the scene in the small town of Dunblane, Scotland for some time. Later his parents divorced – doubtless yet more trauma.

The little insight at the heart of this article is the speculation that perhaps the intensity experienced during these childhood traumas have given him emotional strengths he has drawn upon to become a world-class champion of tennis and Knight of the Realm no less. Let me explain:

Leaving aside any concerns involving the pain and suffering involved, more generally speaking we can say that any sort of trauma is highly intense on the experience scale both during and after – indeed in some cases that ‘after’ can last for the rest of one’s life. This intensity is like much higher than usual volume, taking things to a different level; or it’s like waking up in a bedroom with thirty foot high ceilings instead of the standard eight feet under which one fell asleep. Such experiences alter perspective and emotional range including the depth and scope of pressure and intensity one can later handle.

Top male tennis players both on and off the court have extraordinary levels of discipline, focus, strength, stamina, athleticism, will to win, grit, ability to shake off defeat, ability to seize opportunities to win, and perhaps most of all, the ability to raise the level of their game in the big moments making any significant victory possible. Such big moments are similar to trauma in that they are highly intense. Indeed, again leaving aside the suffering aspect, in terms of sheer intensity level a top-level semi-final or final is like three hours of steady trauma. These champions learn to stay in the moment in the midst of a storm of physical and mental challenges – in many ways similar to traumatic events. Yes, this is a controlled situation being a game with rules, but intensity-wise, it is up there.

That is why the veteran players have such an advantage over the younger ones who are not used to keeping their footing, let alone raising their game, during such tempests. Indeed, this is likely why Tsisipas lost the French Open to Djokovic after being up two sets: he couldn’t handle the excitement, the intensity, the thrill of basically having made his dream come true, defeating his boyhood idol at a Grand Slam and so on. Because of that excitement – or perhaps excess of relief after having seemingly achieved his goal – he lost his edge, his concentration, his poise, his grit even as Djokovic, a veteran champion who has mastered such dynamics, used the prospect of imminent loss as fuel to rocket his game to a higher level and ultimately prevail in a five set classic.

Will Tsisipas recover from the trauma of this shattering loss? Only time will tell. But if he does, he will have learned to channel its intensity into expanding his range of emotion and performance into playing at the higher levels of nerve and skill summoned by those inevitable big moments whose outcomes determine victory or defeat. So this trauma will either make him or break him, but in any case their after-effects will remain during whatever later unfolds in his life’s journey on and off the court.

Murray seems to have a homing pigeon’s tendency to return home, in his case to anguish, so that even when he is comfortably ahead like last night he finds a way to fuss and falter after which either he fights his way back to victory or he doesn’t. Of course he is rusty now so it remains to be seen how he does during the rest of this tournament, but meanwhile the emotional anguish on display last night reminded me of why I so often didn’t like watching him play: he not only brings himself into this state, he also then drags his opponent and audience along with him; it’s not fun, indeed it’s painful for the whole match becomes about Andy and his inner demons. But it seems that is is such pain that gets him going, pain whose intensity he then channels into raising his level of play. And it also seems that even when he manages to get into championship mode playing at a high level of intensity with focus, speed and determination, along with such intensity come resonating echoes of the earlier – and very painful – traumas as reflected in the extreme grimaces he is wont to make.

It is glorious that he can channel such pain into such excellent athletic performances and lifetime achievements, but more than a little sad and painful that he has to suffer so much in so doing.

Note: this sort of intense situation where inner and outer reality are blended into one overall experience zone is a type of realm as discussed earlier.

Why Ideologues & Ideologies Suck Too!

I suspect the Realms will be showing up again many times as this series progresses, but first a note about ideology, a certain type of extremism. The intention right now is to write short pieces which hang, like a single garment, on a single hook, with minimal elaboration, basically offering up a single insight with enough commentary to encourage the reader to consider any wider ramifications on his or her own. With that as preamble:

The essential problem with ideologues and ideologies is that they involve worshipping at the shrine of Idea. Yes, ideas make the world go around, and indeed some might argue that our entire universe is a self-mothering Idea, profoundly brilliant and ever creative. However, being an idea is not the same as worshipping one because any object of worship is regarded as separate from oneself which in turn perpetuates a world where self and other can never be one engendering permanent spiritual bipolarity, if you will.

Furthermore, the act of worshipping involves placing that something outside as higher or greater than oneself. Of course, this can have many benefits, not least of which is putting ego in a rightfully humble place, however the benefits don’t outweigh the harms because at some point one ends up projecting no end of extreme qualities onto the object of worship which in short order becomes a fetish which in turn leads into one becoming what others may rightly call a ‘fanatic.’

‘So what?’ you might say. Well, here’s the rub: by bowing down to the altar of any Big Idea – such as the notion of changing the world by establishing a political or religious Utopia, something which many have and will strive for throughout human history, or finding a perfect mate, making a perfect marriage, a perfect life, a perfect country and so on – even if at first that Big Idea kindles the cockles of the heart, yet it always remains no more than an abstract concept rattling around our internal verbal chatterbox mind space. As the old Chinese saying goes: “words do not cook rice.” Indeed, and nor do Ideas engender true love, true heart, true human feeling.

This is why Ideologues and Ideologies are so dangerous: people at first put their hearts into them and then later find they have lost touch with their hearts in so doing. And when you combine passion and dedication with heartlessness, you are only a step or two away from going off the deep end. And if you add group dynamics* to the mix, well that way lies great social upheaval, which usually involves suffering and indeed even the deaths of millions of ordinary folk.

The hero in V for Vendetta was right that although you might be able to kill the man you cannot kill his great idea but also: no matter how much you believe in it with no matter how much fervor and dedication, you cannot give an idea a living, beating heart. The heart is that aspect of our nature wherein we feel, directly, our essence as a living being. Ideas say they are all about such essence, but in fact they are no more than empty, lifeless abstractions.

This is like a child mistaking a doll for a living friend whose limbs she can easily – and indeed joyfully – tear off should fancy strike. In the larger world, history is replete with examples of how such childishness can lead into truly insane, living horror realms such as the French and Russian revolutions and no end of wars and conquests throughout human history, nearly all of them driven by the cruelty and greed which can rule once we allow our minds and spirits to be taken in by powerful, albeit always only abstract, Big Ideas rather than staying true to our softly beating hearts.

I do not mean to suggest that all forms of war or fighting are necessarily driven by Big Ideas and therefore are always wrong. No, there is a place for self defense on both the individual, the family or the national level. But, generally speaking, most of what we see is not justified and indeed has been driven by various expert propagandists – usually working for our own governments – who are skilled in offering up attractive Big Ideas, first getting us to buy into them and then leading us all down the garden path into no end of unfortunately dismal and deadly realms.

And so it goes!

Why Materialism Sucks!

There is a big little niggle buried, like an engorged tick, in the flesh of the last piece on Humans and Realms, namely the oft-debated killjoy about whether the realms are purely a way of describing subjective as-experienced ‘reality’ or whether they depict actual ‘reality.’ Those holding to the latter view, which is most of us alive today worldwide, tend to believe that we live in a world in which only physical matter is real and everything else is a mental overlay akin to imagination; such overlay feels real to us, but that is just our physical machine’s chemicals, hormones and internal script-writing abilities fooling us somehow. Our feelings and insights, indeed all of our subjective experiences, are like a movie-generated reality show which works for us personally, perhaps, but ultimately lacks any lasting substance, like letters written on water.

This is a reasonable view but also too simplistic. And in being too simplistic it ends up falling into the trap of being extremist, in this case being the extremism of abstraction, and any extremism of abstraction can otherwise be termed ‘ideological’ which is just a very short step away from being fanatic. That’s why I call this issue a ‘big little niggle.’ That small tick burrowing into just a tiny part of a much larger body can end up infecting that body for decades. By applying the right lever at the right spot, a single man can set a large boulder in motion down a hill, flattening buildings in the village below which had been standing there for centuries. Karma is funny that way: from small acorns grow mighty oaks.

Why do I say that it’s too simplistic? Because of what was described in the previous piece, which is so simple and straightforward and in line with ordinary, everyday experience, namely that our attitudes and actions effect the world around us, not just an imaginary ‘subjective’ world, but the actual, physical world too. We see this all the time: people who live ugly lives create ugly environments to live in, whilst those who lead uplifted lives created uplifted environments. Naturally – especially when dealing with human realm beings – things can get a little tricky in that nasty people might be rich enough to buy very nice houses and hire excellent cleaning ladies to keep them sparkling, but there will still be something in the choice of paint, furniture, room layouts, paintings, cooking implements, bedspreads, clothing, the music playing and so on, details which in the outer, physical world express the inner world, or realm, of the inhabitants. Animal body shapes and behaviours reflect their natures and in turn the environment around. Birds are in touch with the heavens and love to sing enlivening and beautifying their habitats – generally clusters of trees. Rats which tend to dwell in low, dank, dirty places generate a low, feral atmosphere, indeed getting too close to them entails risking becoming infected. And so it goes.

So this is a very simple point, one that is generally overlooked though easily verified in our experience, and yet one that contradicts one of the most widespread superstitions – or philosophical fallacies if you prefer – of the modern age, which might be described as the Age of Science – or Scientism? – namely that the only thing which is truly real is that which is physical matter and everything else is some sort imagined overlay or fiction and therefore not to be relied upon in matters involving any sort of truth or fact. The irony in all this of course is that this attitude essentially is itself no more than a belief, a core belief that only the physical matters (pun intended) and thus anything else does not and therefore must be discounted as non-existent, imaginary, fictive.

This belief is a type of ideology, and ideology, as shall be discussed in the next piece, also sucks! Big League!

Of Realms & Humans

Wheel of Life showing the Six Realms

Of Realms and Humans

“As we go along from moment to moment, day to day, life to life, awareness and our thoughts keep shaping the life we lead. Cumulatively, the effect is tremendous. We can create for ourselves a tunnel lined with rags and deprivation or an open world of wealth and genuine communication – dark worlds, bright worlds, moderate worlds – so many different worlds can be created based on karma we keep creating through our thoughts and projections.” p 66 Entering the Stream, Shambhala Publications.

According to a very old Vedic template, we all live in ‘The Realm of Desire.’ Simply put, we are sentient beings who favour pleasure and avoid pain meaning that the main qualifier of our sentience, which involves intelligence and feeling, both physical, emotional and mental, is the degree to which our experiences over time provide satisfaction or distress. This is the underlying existential foundation of our entire realm whose fundamental reality is thus regarded as possessing more a spiritual, or experientially subjective, nature than being a solely objective, matter-based phenomenon in which any sense of sentience is mere illusion, a trick of sense perceptions and hormone-based chemical reactions in a physical organism.

In subsequent short pieces, I may go over what these ancients called ‘The Six Realms,’ which briefly put include Gods experiencing seemingly eternal bliss on the upper extreme, and Hell Denizens experiencing seemingly eternal torture on the lower extreme, with four realms in the middle, namely Jealous Gods, or Titans, just beneath the Gods and Humans just beneath them, and Hungry Ghosts just above the Hell Denizens with Animals just above them. The point there is that you have extreme pleasure on one end of the spectrum and extreme pain on the other, with everything else falling in-between, the three lower realms being generally more painful, and the three upper being generally more pleasurable, albeit all have aspects of both pain and pleasure.

But this little article is about one particular aspect of the Human Realm that is especially interesting, well expressed in the quotation at the top which describes how we essentially create the various realms of experience we live in. Perhaps you find the notion of creation going a bit far; if so, let us say that no matter what room we are given to live in by the Creator, we end up decorating and arranging it in our own particular way, and in turns it reflects back our particular style of being, be it elegant or messy, confused or enlightened, joyful or wretched. Our lives create the emotional realms we live in which in turn manifest in the outer world we navigate through and share with many other beings, including those in the other realms such as animals and so on.

As such, humans possess incredible, god-like power, the power both individually and collectively to fashion the qualitative nature of the realms we live in and journey through. Moment to moment we all actively participate in creating the reality we all share. As human beings we can go through an extraordinary range of different realms in a lifetime, a year, a month, a day or an hour. Consider how much we enjoy watching entire lifetimes play out in the form of stories which might take only an hour or two to tell. As we listen to such stories, we travel in our imagination with the various characters therein, feeling their ups and downs, their victories and defeats, their hells and heavens and all in between.

So as humans we are exposed in our lifetimes to a wide range of realms, journeying through various phases similar to how we journey through such stories, and we also have the extraordinary ability to effect how such realms are, how they feel and look and taste and smell. Humans are artists, developing various tribal and civilizational cultures, cuisines, languages, modes of dress, rituals, revelations along with dark crimes, degradations, deprivations, even bloody murder and genocide. There is no limit to what we can come up with, what we can create that we then journey through.

Therefore being born as a human presents each of us with an extraordinary opportunity not only to experience a wide variety of such realms, but also to learn how we contribute to their ongoing creation, how to participate in the ongoing art of creation in this perpetually self-mothering universe we all share making herself up as she goes along from moment to moment, being to being, situation to situation, realm to realm.

In the Buddhist tradition, it is said that the Human Birth is the most precious because only there can one find fully Enlightened Buddhas. And that is because humans, by experiencing so many ever-changing ups and downs and thus different atmospheres of inner and outer realms, can become aware that all such are the result of choices we make, actions we take, words we speek, attitudes we bring to any given situation. We can learn that reality is plastic, malleable, an artistic creation in which we are active players. In short, we can learn, and because we can learn, we can learn to be wise rather than foolish, kind rather than cruel, patient rather than impulsive, generous rather than selfish. We can choose to develop noble rather than ignoble qualities. We can create realms which foster valuing such learning and character development, and thus which value the brief time we have on this earth together as human sentient beings in this mutually engendered realm rather than frittering away such precious time as we have in idle or harmful pursuits.

The human realm is the one with the most choice and therefore by far the greatest opportunity for developing virtue and wisdom. This is no small thing; indeed, this is a Great Treasure. With that in mind, perhaps the initial quotation is worth considering again:

“As we go along from moment to moment, day to day, life to life, awareness and our thoughts keep shaping the life we lead. Cumulatively, the effect is tremendous. We can create for ourselves a tunnel lined with rags and deprivation or an open world of wealth and genuine communication – dark worlds, bright worlds, moderate worlds – so many different worlds can be created based on karma we keep creating through our thoughts and projections.” p 66 Entering the Stream, Shambhala Publications.

(because I read these pieces to my Spanish-speaking Mexican wife, here is the Google Translate Spanish version:)

De reinos y humanos

“A medida que avanzamos de un momento a otro, de un día a otro, de una vida a otra, la conciencia y nuestros pensamientos siguen dando forma a la vida que llevamos. En conjunto, el efecto es tremendo. Podemos crear para nosotros mismos un túnel lleno de harapos y privaciones o un mundo abierto de riqueza y comunicación genuina – mundos oscuros, mundos brillantes, mundos moderados – se pueden crear muchos mundos diferentes basados ​​en el karma que seguimos creando a través de nuestros pensamientos y proyecciones “. p. 66 Entering the Stream, Publicaciones Shambhala.

De acuerdo con una plantilla védica muy antigua, todos vivimos en ‘El Reino del Deseo’. En pocas palabras, somos seres sintientes que favorecen el placer y evitan el dolor, lo que significa que el principal calificador de nuestra sensibilidad, que involucra inteligencia y sentimiento, tanto físicos, emocional y mental, es el grado en que nuestras experiencias a lo largo del tiempo proporcionan satisfacción o angustia. Este es el fundamento existencial subyacente de todo nuestro reino, cuya realidad fundamental se considera que posee más una naturaleza espiritual, o experiencialmente subjetiva, que un fenómeno exclusivamente objetivo basado en la materia en el que cualquier sentido de la sensibilidad es mera ilusión, un truco de percepciones sensoriales y reacciones químicas basadas en hormonas en un organismo físico.

En breves piezas posteriores, puedo repasar lo que estos antiguos llamaron ‘Los Seis Reinos’, que brevemente incluyen a Dioses que experimentan una dicha aparentemente eterna en el extremo superior, y los Habitantes del Infierno que experimentan una tortura aparentemente eterna en el extremo inferior, con cuatro reinos en el extremo inferior. en el medio, es decir, dioses celosos, o titanes, justo debajo de los dioses y los humanos justo debajo de ellos, y fantasmas hambrientos justo encima de los habitantes del infierno con animales justo encima de ellos. El punto es que tienes un placer extremo en un extremo del espectro y un dolor extremo en el otro, con todo lo demás en el medio, los tres reinos inferiores son generalmente más dolorosos y los tres superiores son generalmente más placenteros, aunque todos. tienen aspectos tanto de dolor como de placer.

Pero este artículo trata sobre un aspecto particular del Reino Humano que es especialmente interesante, bien expresado en la cita en la parte superior que describe cómo creamos esencialmente los diversos reinos de experiencia en los que vivimos. Tal vez encuentres que la noción de creación va un poco lejos; Si es así, digamos que no importa en qué habitación el Creador nos dé para vivir, terminamos decorándola y arreglandola a nuestra manera particular, y a su vez refleja nuestro estilo particular de ser, ya sea elegante o desordenado, confundido o iluminado, alegre o desdichado. Nuestras vidas crean los reinos emocionales en los que vivimos, que a su vez se manifiestan en el mundo exterior por el que navegamos y compartimos con muchos otros seres, incluidos los de otros reinos, como los animales, etc.

Como tal, los seres humanos poseen un poder increíble, parecido a un dios, el poder tanto individual como colectivamente de moldear la naturaleza cualitativa de los reinos en los que vivimos y por los que atravesamos. Momento a momento somos participantes activos en el acto de crear la realidad que todos compartimos. Como seres humanos, podemos atravesar una extraordinaria variedad de reinos diferentes a lo largo de la vida, un año, un mes, un día o una hora. Considere cuánto disfrutamos viendo cómo se desarrollan vidas enteras en forma de historias que pueden tomar solo una o dos horas para contar. Mientras escuchamos esas historias, viajamos en nuestra imaginación con los diversos personajes que la componen, sintiendo sus altibajos, sus victorias y derrotas, sus infiernos y cielos y todo lo demás.

Entonces, como humanos, estamos expuestos en nuestras vidas a una amplia gama de reinos, viajando a través de varias fases similares a cómo viajamos a través de tales historias, y también tenemos la extraordinaria capacidad de afectar cómo son esos reinos, cómo se sienten, se ven y saben. y oler. Los seres humanos son artistas, desarrollando diversas culturas tribales y civilizacionales, cocinas, idiomas, modos de vestir, rituales, revelaciones junto con crímenes oscuros, degradaciones, privaciones, incluso asesinatos sangrientos y genocidio. No hay límite para lo que se nos ocurre, lo que podemos crear y por lo que luego viajamos.

Por lo tanto, nacer como un ser humano nos presenta a cada uno de nosotros una oportunidad extraordinaria no solo para experimentar una amplia variedad de tales reinos, sino también para aprender cómo contribuimos a su creación en curso, cómo participar en el arte de la creación en curso en este perpetuo yo. -Universo materno que todos compartimos haciéndose ella misma a medida que avanza de un momento a otro, de un ser a otro, de una situación a otra, de un reino a otro.

En la tradición budista, se dice que el nacimiento humano es el más precioso porque solo allí se pueden encontrar Budas plenamente iluminados. Y eso se debe a que los humanos, al experimentar tantos altibajos en constante cambio y, por lo tanto, diferentes atmósferas de los reinos internos y externos, pueden tomar conciencia de que todo eso es el resultado de las elecciones que hacemos, las acciones que tomamos, las palabras que decimos, las actitudes que tomamos. llevar a cualquier situación dada. Podemos aprender que la realidad es plástica, maleable, artística creación en la que somos actores activos. En resumen, podemos aprender, y porque podemos aprender, podemos aprender a ser sabios en lugar de tontos, amables en lugar de crueles, pacientes en lugar de impulsivos, generosos en lugar de egoístas. Podemos optar por desarrollar cualidades nobles en lugar de innobles. Podemos crear reinos que fomenten la valoración de dicho aprendizaje y desarrollo del carácter y, por lo tanto, que valoren el breve tiempo que tenemos en esta tierra juntos como seres humanos sensibles en este reino engendrado mutuamente en lugar de malgastar el precioso tiempo que tenemos en actividades ociosas o dañinas. .
El reino humano es el que tiene más opciones y, por lo tanto, la mayor oportunidad para desarrollar la virtud y la sabiduría. Esto no es una cosa pequeña. De hecho, este es un gran tesoro. Con eso en mente, quizás valga la pena considerar nuevamente la cita inicial:

“A medida que avanzamos de un momento a otro, de un día a otro, de una vida a otra, la conciencia y nuestros pensamientos siguen dando forma a la vida que llevamos. En conjunto, el efecto es tremendo. Podemos crear para nosotros mismos un túnel lleno de harapos y privaciones o un mundo abierto de riqueza y comunicación genuina – mundos oscuros, mundos brillantes, mundos moderados – se pueden crear muchos mundos diferentes basados ​​en el karma que seguimos creando a través de nuestros pensamientos y proyecciones “.

p. 66 Entering the Stream, Publicaciones Shambhala.

Of Leaders and Followers

Just as our world presents a primordial order of sky above and earth below, so do all groups present a similarly primordial order of leaders and followers. Consider: if the world were all sky or all earth, there would be no way for us to live in it, so this fundamental polarity is a self-existing symbiosis permeating all aspects of reality including human societies wherein we always find leaders and followers.

Another norm is that leaders are the few – indeed often being only one – whilst followers are the many, be they in small tribes or huge nations. Perhaps this has something to do with how decisions are made: two or more people can rarely agree on anything entirely, let alone do so at the same time. That moment of decision on behalf of the larger group is much easier to arrive at when taken by a designated individual or committee than by thousands or millions scattered about in place and time.

Another twist: every community has plenty of leaders such as strong mothers, business owners providing employment, government officials, teachers or doctors who provide needed leadership to those within their particular spheres of influence. However, nearly all such strong local leaders find themselves veritable sheep in any vaster, national context. The masses can never come together to organize as well as the much smaller leadership groups because they are in so many different places and situations at any given time. This is why even strong local leaders find themselves part of an all-too-easily manipulated flock in far larger, non-local contexts.

Then there is the no less primordial ‘it takes two to tango’ law: there can be no leaders without followers nor any followers without leaders, for each mutually creates the other and is an equal partner in that dance. Essentially therefore, followers are not merely those who are passively ‘being led,’ they actively choose to follow their leader – referred to in constitutional contexts as ‘the consent of the governed.’ Indeed, such consent is what empowers any leader to serve them in that capacity.

Now it stops being a dance when leaders seek to impose their notion of order on followers without such consent. That said, no tyrants can last for long as such without the consent of their followers. Although such consent may have initially been granted out of fear or from having been hoodwinked, ultimately people as a whole know what’s what and at some point will refuse to cooperate if what is being demanded goes against their bedrock nature.

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. If leaders try to impose a gulag archipelago reality which goes against our basic nature and needs, ultimately they will fail, like all Saurons and Sarumans, just as ultimately all such totalitarian nightmares – vast and frightful as they may seem – can be brought down by noble-hearted individuals remaining indomitably true to their hobbit-like human spirit.

So during times of encroaching totalitarianism and ‘techno-feudalism,’ we must not lose faith in our underlying basic nature, spirit and fundamental decency. Indeed, the more we reflect such things in our actions, speech and mind, the less likely it is that the perverted spells of those who believe themselves our upper echelon masters will succeed in fooling or cowing us into offering them our consent in the fifst place.

In short: let us not all dance in lockstep to their evil, deceitful tunes!

Of This & That & the Cheering on of Hobbits!

After a long hiatus due to injury and general intellectual paralysis brought on by the dystopian onslaught of our times, here comes a slightly longer-than-usual piece which hopefully will clear away most of the previous year’s detritus and make way for some more regular – and ideally far shorter – contributions.