Archive for Thoughts

I crave equanimity.. sometimes.

Posted in Culture, Philosophy with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2010 by 99ppp

I recall as a teen seeing those infomercials on Transcendental meditation. They were usually quoting studies on how they calmed the mind and lower stressed and I was fascinated by it. I knew little or nothing on eastern religions, yet it seemed that they were peaceful, and even as a youngster, I tended to analyze situations from a myriad of angles before making a decision. The line between thinking and worrying is very fine, so I was fascinated by it. My mother got a bit panicked, thinking it was some cult (some might argue that it might be). Yet this started my exploration into equanimity, meditation in particular, and pined for the ability to remain cool under pressure, and even handed in stressful situations. The journey has been sporadic and elusive, as I am both attracted to equanimity and skeptical simultaneously. Spock-like stoicism seemed attractive at one point to one curious of the world around him and gravitating towards science.

Dispassion, objectivity, perhaps this was the way to stop craving, wanting, pining. Buddhism is described as the middle way, evenhanded, as any leanings could could make one suffer. While the Four Noble truths resonated with some part of me, the eightfold path didn’t as it sounded pretty moralistic despite I may agree with many of the principles. Then there is the apparent paradox of wishing suffering to end. I’ve read enough commentary, and several books on Buddhism attempting to reconcile them, making exceptions adding more and more words to what should become simpler, without being simplistic. Detachment or attachment, indifference or commitment. Both seemed right and wrong.

Paradoxes fascinate me, I eventually ventured into Taoism through a wonderful book called The Tao of Physics. Connecting both my interests, I found Taoism somewhat more flexible, allowed for mystery, allowing for harmony and flow rather than stoic discipline. There seems to be a sense of humour in the Tao Te Ching, telling the reader the Tao cannot be defined, and yet the book attempts to describe it. Sometimes the passages read like fortune cookies or a conversation with your drunk uncle.Buddhism still held many important ideas, many shared with Taoism, yet seemed a little rigid, and more structured. However, I could not dismiss it.

Meditation practices are pivotal to both traditions so I began to investigate how to do so. I lost interest in Transcendental Meditation, and began to dabble in ways to experience thought-less, ego-less mindspace which seemed to promise some respite from my constant overthinking and fretting. I even used “Theta wave” cassettes which did hold some promise, experienced some lucid dreams, but didn’t like the idea to use technology to get there. I believe these states of mind are accessible to all and not reliant on some gadgetry or decades sitting in a cave. Eventually, I decided on Dr. Herbert Benson’s “Relaxation Response”, a simple secular form of meditation. Then came Zen.

The Zen tradition intrigued me since it was a mix of Buddhist practice and Taoist philosophy. I’ve read several books on the subject over the last two decades, but have yet to sit zazen, a form of meditation with eyes open. What boggles my mind is that the most powerful transcendent experiences came to me while doing the most mundane tasks. The first one came while washing the dishes. The second, while cropping my hair with an electric clipper. I lost my complete sense of self, everything was effortless. Then I just discovered there was no dishes to wash, no hair to cut. I didn’t do anything. A verb with no noun. Cutting, washing. I am now persuaded that the key to awareness is attention. To WHAT one pays attention to matters little, whether it’s sweeping, a mantra, a prayer, counting the breath, or a yoga pose. Conversely, it appears that these states are so elusive because we are continously distracted. I still struggle reconciling the irony that becoming so focused on one thing can make one dissipate from everything else, yet seem connected to everything else. Maybe there is no else, just everything.

Expressing Doubts

Posted in Culture, Media, Philosophy, Relationships with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2009 by 99ppp

I looked at the name of the blog and I still feel it’s sincere: 99% Pure Propaganda. That is what all media is, including this blog, even if an expression is authentic and sincere, since there is always an intent when sharing it. I sense we are all influenced by others to various degrees, whether we like to or not. Sometimes we express ourselves in direct opposition to some perceived media triggering rebellion, yet the influence there exists, even when disagreeing since we care enough to dissent. Others wish to perpetuate ideas (memes) just to see how effective they are. Should we stop? Has language become meaningless? Why don’t I just close down the blog, and by doing so reduce the noise of the internet?

My long hiatus from writing has been a painful one, and it was getting tougher to write since my reevaluation post, since I am not exempt from reevaluating, and it seemed premature to share any impressions in a state of doubt. I sense I am not alone and many of us are in doubt, and we are afraid to express it, fearing we’ll be wrong and hoping to be certain.  This has dogged me for a few months, not knowing what to write about, what is important, and at the end of it all, who cares anyways? People are just bombarded with information nowadays, with the web, cable tv, texts, cellphones and so on. The perceived insignificance of my voice was dwarfed by the chasm of misunderstanding that can be plainly seen, both in real life and on the web. I don’t mean this post to be a whining lamentation in my writing drought, but an attempt at an authentic exploration on my difficulties.

We seek certainty, we seek meaning. Who wants to hear other’s doubts? It might ignite my doubts, erode the firmament of my convictions and beliefs. It is rather unpleasant, yet perhaps it seems necessary to share it, both doubts and convictions. We’ve followed leaders, great philosophers, heroes, parents and role models, hanged on to their every word, followed their example.. but to what? We’ve looked for certainty from those who’ve “succeeded” yet what is success? When have “we arrived”? I don’t like neat answers, since often it can create a rut of dogma in ones’s mind.

So is the only choice to stand on quick sand, to have no certainty? Our words themselves have showed to be unstable, untrustworthy. but we have no choice but to uses them, since they allow us in a limited way to share our human experience. In that chaotic cacophony we may stumble upon a pearl, a relationship however fleeting, in what we sense without question to be inately human. While we each might be a small part of some greater whole, it is no justification to consciously disengage. We are engaged whether we like it or not, but the nature of that engagement relies much on how we consciousy relate, instead of allowing the momentum of social conditioning to pull us towards normalization.

I believe there can be an optimal balance between listening and expressing. Often, in a world where many people are shouting over one another, thinking their point of view is the sole “correct” one, can disuade some to put their voices out there. They have a humility many of the former can use, yet their silence can also be alienating. Their art, their music, their expressions and opinions of beauty, ugliness, fairness, injustice, love, anger and humanity are hungering to be heard. There is no freedom of expression unless it is exercised.

Some convictions remain though. We need to create media instead of solely absorbing it. Express both our doubts and convictions. To remain silent is resignation. To abdicate responsability in the formation of culture. to not discuss, express debate.. and for most LISTEN. LOOK at the media we consume mindlessly. We may believe it is merely escape, but often it can be subtly influencing us. That’s why it becomes more and more important to look at all media critically, including the persistant beliefs we use within ourselves to endoctronate us.

The truth may be volatile , yet we feel its there: The Tao that can be defined is not the eternal Tao. Perhaps we can’t encapsulate it neatly, perhaps it simply flows through us.. and sometimes it can flow through our endoctronations, biases, bigotries that shackle us and filter “the truth” from our senses and escape to the other side, to another mind, creating relationship, however fleeting it may be.

Re-culturing: High Five! and Gender Scramble

Posted in Culture, Love, Media, Vids with tags , , , , , , on February 13, 2009 by 99ppp

The troupe of Improv Everywhere decide to shine a little sunshine on a morning commute and revive the high five to lighten some spirits. It is interesting to note some of the people on the other side of the escalator wishing to participate (more details and photos on the scene here) . Very similar to the “Free Hugs Campaign”, it goes to show how a little human connection can go a long way. Enjoy!

——

An excellent poster by those romantic rebels at Crimethinc, who also inspired one of my favourite vids , that challenges us to rethink our ideas about gender roles often propagated by mass culture.

everygirlboy1

Watching the Game

Posted in Culture, Economy, Media, Philosophy with tags , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2009 by 99ppp

I never dreamed of playing pro hockey as a youngster, but enjoyed playing the game. I discovered I was a lousy skater and didn’t like waking up early on Saturdays. Eventually, I played street hockey with friends until my mid-teens. I’ve followed the Montreal Canadiens (or Habs as they are called informally) ever since I was a kid, even while my interest in actually playing hockey eroded. There is nothing very unusual about this, and likely its occurred to many fans of other sports. What intrigues me about watching and following sports is that it different from any other pasttime, it isn’t like being a fan of our favourite TV show. We can get euphoric and depressed when our favourite team wins or loses, my uncle used to literally cry when his pet soccer team lost some “important” game. In Montreal, hockey is a religion, and there is even a university course exploring such themes . Some goalies, past and present are often given nicknames alluding divinity (“Jesus” Price, St. Patrick). Some didn’t even wait for a championship to riot , just after a first round win.

Don’t get me wrong, watching hockey is a fine diversion during these frigid months of winter, yet recently Montreal has caught Habs fever, even former GM and player Serge Savard has opined that they are currently more popular than when they had won the four Stanley Cups. I often found the “Habs as religion” premise as fun hyperbole, something Hab fans tell one another to exaggerate the devotion to the team, and the craziness that surrounds the Canadiens, especially in the media. But I got a glimpse of it one night when we made plans to watch a game with some friends. I haven’t been to a sports bar for a few years and I thought it would be fun. It was a very cold night (under -20C), so we didn’t expect a large crowd at this particular bar. We arrived late and the place was PACKED, and everyone looked at us like we walked in the middle of Sunday service. The audacity of us coming in late to the sacrament, the rambuncious church that every pub has become, worshipping the Holy Habs. How dare us be late and expect to find a seat??!! We bolted and had a very pleasant evening at a good Thai restaurant closeby, no screen showing the game, and I didn’t miss it.

Some curious thoughts about this pastime of mine often invade my mind. Why do I watch this? I can dismiss it easily as just entertainment, but I feel its more than that.  Millionaire players payed by billionaire owners that often don’t even live here, playing for the highest bidder with specialized skills no one really needs. Do they represent us? People proudly wearing a team logo which is now just a corporate logo. Why aren’t I playing a game instead of watching others play? Isn’t that the way, not only in sports but in other endeavours, like the arts and music? We watch the skilled without developing our own skill, we are mesmerized by mastery too much to attempt competency. We cheer athletes, actors, musicians, politicians. We watch, but what to we do?  We absorb media, but do we create it?

Oh, the game is on. I wonder what’s the score.

Questioning Competition

Posted in Anti-War, Culture, Philosophy, politics with tags , , , , , on January 28, 2009 by 99ppp

I’ve always had a difficult relationship with competition. I grudgingly admit that it is necessary in various contexts, but I question the level of importance that is often placed in our society. The ugly side of people often arises, and I believe the stigma of “losing”, keeps many of us from taking risks and challenging our conditioned patterns. We tread the same paths, follow formulas for “winning”, anything to avoid losing the game. I began this post with the intention to make a case against competition, but I can’t in good conscience. Competition can wean out poor ideas in favour of better ones, and also gives us the ability to test our skills against a worthy opponent. In the business sphere, competition allows us a range of products without a monolithic monopoly. Yet I wonder how much energy we waste upon defeating our opponents, and in the case of war and peace, at the cost of human lives. Cooperation seems to be more energy efficient.

Can there be competition without ego?

I’ve been an avid club level chess player for the longest time. I was playing a much higher rated opponent in an online correspondence chess site, and I was grateful since I often don’t get to play such an opponent. Wanting to test my skill, I made highly deliberate moves, always checking for errors, giving this game a greater amount of time for analysis, and seeing how long I could last before he would crush me. I found the game was fairly even after a substantial amount of moves. After a while, my opponent accused me of using a computer to cheat. I assured him that I was not, just giving the game a greater amount of attention that I usually would, but he insisted I was cheating. “Look at your rating”, he said. The game stopped being fun. I told him that and resigned in disgust. I stopped playing chess, a game I love for a few months after that unpleasant incident. I re-contextualized the game in my mind, as two people exchanging puzzles in order for me to have the stomach to play again.

If one wins a game, but loses goodwill, what is really won?

Dallas — The coach of a Texas high school basketball team that beat another team 100-0 was fired Sunday, the same day he sent an e-mail to a newspaper saying he will not apologize “for a wide-margin victory when my girls played with honor and integrity.”(LINK )

There is no honour or integrity in crushing one’s opponents, especially in this case where the losing team is a formed from a school that specializes in learning disabilities. This “victory at all costs” mentality is pervasive, and hard to shake as it even permeates foreign policy, as the pro-war propaganda machine often mocked the voices for peace and restraint as those who didn’t want to “win the war”.

Explorations into competition

I will explore further topics on competition, the next time on professional sports fans, and competition in the context of the Prisoner’s Dilemma,  business, science innovations, and ideas (intellectual property) in future posts. There are many examples and expressions when it comes to “The Game”, yet perhaps not enough on whether The Game is worth playing. I will also explore cooperation, and why the concept seems elusive to so many.

Instruction Manual for Life

Posted in Culture, Philosophy, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2009 by 99ppp

Well worth a peek, good food for thought. [Vid: 8:01min]

Animation by TheraminTrees and QualiaSoup

Oprah’s hollow Mea Culpa

Posted in Culture, Media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2008 by 99ppp

Oprah’s Mea Culpa sounds hollow

Oprah Winfrey, the queen of talk TV, claims she’s gotten off the wagon after tipping the scales at 200 lbs. due to some thyroid condition and food addiction. She’s gotten enough publicity from her weight losses and gains, that her little revelation sounds like an attempt to place herself in some sort of underdog position. This can be effective for everyone to forget her billion dollar media empire.

We usually don’t write about celebrities here, but Oprah is an exception. as she carries incredible influence in popular culture. Her backing of Barack Obama was instrumental in making his candidacy credible and visible to many people when he was relatively unknown. Her book club often creates best-sellers.

You see, Oprah needs to appear more accessible to the common woman. I’m not suggesting that she gained the weight purposely, but it is very difficult for me to feel too much compassion towards her, considering that she has access to the best personal chefs and trainers.

I have little doubt that she’s has difficulty with food. The problem is that she’s appealing to other’s compassion by labeling herself a “food addict” and claiming some thyroid condition gave her a fear of working out. This from someone who made a public display out of finishing a marathon. Her trainer got a best selling book out of the deal, and doubtless that her O magazine is full of tips on “how to lose weight.

Here at 99ppp we are getting into better shape and managing to deal with the struggles that go with it. We can sympathize with Oprah’s inconsistency, yet we have to cook our own meals, and train with our home equipment (resistance bands and yoga mats) and videos. We have no access to Oprah’s resources (chefs, gyms and trainers), so any appeals by her to saying how hard it is, sounds very hollow to us. I prefer to read a blog post from average folks dealing with their struggles, than the one of a billionaire using a sensational headline to sell more magazines.

“I’m embarrassed,” she writes. “I can’t believe that after all these years, all the things I know how to do, I’m still talking about my weight. I look at my thinner self and think, ‘How did I let this happen again?’ “(from Link above)

Yes… she’s embarrassed.. so embarrassed she decided to publish a feature article about it. I don’t know about you, but if you are so embarrassed about something, wouldn’t you keep it to yourself instead of trumpeting out to the world? Of course, she’ll now work on losing the weight, having the thyroid and food addiction as an alibi if she fails, and painting herself as an underdog whose battled all odds if she succeeds.

Winfrey writes. “I was so frustrated I started eating whatever I wanted – and that’s never good.”

That narcissism is indicative of a decadent society faced with its overindulgence. Many have little time to cook, opting for cheaper fast food. Healthy food gets more expensive, yet Oprah surely can afford it. Not to mention in-house cooks/chefs to prepare delicious meals. What befuddles me is that so many viewers perceive Oprah to be “one of them”?

Is Oprah responsible for her Guru status?

Not fully, but she certainly doesn’t discourage it. She appears to have developed a Messiah Complex, attempting to save everyone. The onus lies on her viewership who could place greater scrutiny on her values and so-called lessons.

She hopes to get started with her upcoming “Best Life Week,” starting Jan. 5 with an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” during which she is expected to talk candidly about her weight.

Her weight gains and losses give her content for her increasingly vacuous show. Her “candidness” seems like a calculated attempt to position herself as an underdog, one of YOU, which is quite difficult for a extremely wealthy person during a economic downturn.

I don’t question that Oprah genuinely believes that she has great information and lessons to pass along, sometimes she does, shifting her materialistic “Oprah’s Favorite Things” episode this year into “How to Have the Thriftiest Holiday Ever” showing some sensitivity to these troubled economic times. Nevertheless, it’s best for more people to think for themselves, choose their own books,  and frame their own reality. Whether it’s Oprah or some other celebrity attempting to bring wisdom to the “clueless rabble”, it’s high time that we develop our own individual critical skills and maintain an open mind, while tempering it with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Oprah’s show reminds me of a great scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, but I doubt very much that she’d make similar declarations as Brian below. [vid 1:05min]