Thriving vs Surviving

Congratulations!  You’re a survivor.  Of all the trillions of organisms in the history of this planet, you’ve survived.  In fact you’re the heir to hundreds of generations of survivors and you carry their traits with you.  Their cleverness, cunning, and drive to succeed are the basic building blocks for everything you do.  Survival is still a full time job.  Providing for your basic needs, raising a family, and having a little fun or relaxation probably fill up all of your day and then some.  This is an accomplishment, and you should take pride in it.  But, late at night, when things are quiet and you can’t sleep, a little voice in your head whispers that there might be more.  No matter how good you are at surviving, no matter how well you provide for your needs, that late night doubt still comes creeping in.  Listen to that little voice, because it’s right.  There should be more.

Many animals and organisms can survive.  There are simple lichen colonies that live for hundreds of years.  Giant tortoises live as long as we do.  They’re very good at plodding along, getting enough to eat, and pulling their head in when it rains.  There may be times when you feel a lot like the tortoise, doing enough to get by, trudging through the day.  Surviving is defined as meeting all the basic goals necessary to continue your existence through time.  It includes all the things you learned in elementary school; food, shelter, warmth, water, air.  It also includes a few more things that are a little subtler, but just as important.  We need human contact, a sense of purpose, and a bit of acknowledgment to really get by.

But we can do more.  We can thrive!  One way to look at our lives is that there are four parts to every human being; the physical, the intellectual, the emotional, and the spiritual.  These are usually shortened to body, head, heart and soul.  Thriving is getting the most out of all four of these components and allowing them to work together and support each other so the whole becomes greater than it’s parts.  Thriving is making the other choice, creating art, or making fun a real priority.  Thriving is when all the parts of your life are in synch, accurately reflecting who you are, and allowing you to pursue any goal.  Are you brave enough to thrive?  Am I?


Art is the Way

“I was a soldier so my children could be merchants, so their children could be artists.” – John Adams

It’s no secret that this country is in a bad way.  All our money seems to have disappeared.  Greedy little goat-fuckers on Wall St. have pissed away the nation’s wealth.  Thirty years of Reaganomics and making the rich richer haven’t turned out to be such a good idea after all.  Big fucking surprise.  So now what?

Well, this isn’t going to be an economics post.  That answer is pretty easy.  Make the rich people give the money back.  If they don’t comply, eat them.  Problem solved.  No, I want to address a deeper issue.  How do we keep this shit from happening in the first place?  And how do we create a society that would be at least a little bit immune to the influence of greed and self interest?  Art.

Yep, it’s just that simple.  When squirrels start to take over the first thing they do is go after the artists.  It doesn’t even matter which group of squirrels is trying to gain power: religious squirrels, conservative squirrels, liberal squirrels, whatever.  They all go after the artists first.  There must be a good reason for this and there is.  Art is the antidote to squirrely behavior.

A few years ago I saw a Blues musician interviewed.  (I don’t remember which one.  Sorry.)  He said that all music was true, but only the Blues was the Truth.  He was onto something.  The world is true.  Economics and commerce are true.  Work and industry are true.  But only Art is the Truth.  And as the Truth it has power.  Art centers and informs the society it exists in.  It reminds us of deeper things and keeps us on out toes.  It’s the teacher we all need to remind us of both our priorities and our higher calling.  It’s the only true religion and the only true patriotism.

So, if you want to help out the recovery then go out and create some art.  Or just consume some.  Paint or go to a gallery.  Write a poem or go to a reading.  Dance or play or train in a Martial Art.  “There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into sun.” – Pablo Picasso.  That’s what we need.  Your country is counting on you!  Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.

– Archbishop Angus


The OTHER Choice

As I look around I see a lot of unhappy people.  Perhaps they need to change their fate.  I know it can be done.  I did it.

We all have a destiny.  It isn’t mystical or religious.  It’s a predictable path based on a number of factors: genetics, national origin, socioeconomic class, intelligence, opportunity, expectations, family support, etc.  You were born in a certain place and time with a dominant religion, social dynamic and specific laws and traditions.  Your family had a specific style with varying degrees of abuse and support.  All these factors come together to determine what you believe about the world, what you do for a living, who you marry, and how you spend your time.  

Your fate is largely determined by a conglomeration of nature and nurture tempered by your experience.  A lot of people are surprised to look up and find themselves to be middle-aged and maybe not too much different than their parents were.  Or find themselves in a job that they never would have accepted when they were younger and more idealistic.  Or married to someone that fulfills a role rather than fires their heart.  They succumbed to their destiny.

  Most everyone you know is probably trapped by their destiny.  You might be trapped by it too.  But you don’t have to be.  You can make the OTHER choice.  And no, it isn’t too late.  Look at your life.  Do you ever say something like ‘that would be cool but I could never…’.  Well, you’re wrong.  You’re just choosing destiny.  How many things have you done because they were expected?  How often did your actions please someone besides yourself?  What are your unconscious assumptions about life and how can you discover more of them?  Is your life a reflection of your true nature?  And how can this knowledge change what you do now?   

This process of self examination and making the OTHER choice takes tremendous courage.  My dad wanted to be a revolutionary and go fight by the side Che.  He couldn’t quite do it.  Instead he married my mother and entered the corporate world.  She kept him in line and made sure he did all the expected things.  They were both outwardly successful, inwardly miserable, and terribly abusive because of their fear, insecurity, and desperate unhappiness.  Being his son I faced most of the same choices.  I did well enough in school, got engaged to somebody who would keep me out of trouble, and made the kinds of choices expected of me.  I liked my wife a lot, but I didn’t love her and I’m really sorry about that.  The problem was that I hated my destiny.

Freshman year in college I met an amazing girl named Lauren.  She was smart, creative, and represented the kind of future that I yearned for.  Whether she knew it or not, I loved her.  But I didn’t have the courage to follow through and went back to my safe fiancee instead.  I certainly don’t know if it would have worked out or how she felt.  This isn’t some creepy maudlin ‘what might have been’ piece.  I just know she represented the OTHER choice and that I’d been too weak to take the risk.  I fucked up, and a few years later I knew it.  

Failure teaches better than success and when I got another chance I was ready.  I’d been working on my courage.  Martial Arts training, Zen study and meditation, some therapy, a lot of soul searching.  You know the routine.  When I met Sharon I got to try that choice again.  I had to abandoned things I thought were true, both about myself and the world at large.  I had to leave ‘safe’ behind.  And I had to hurt somebody I cared about.  It was scary as hell, but I did it anyway.  We’re still together and she’s my partner in everything I do.  I had started to make the OTHER choice.  I still do, and it’s still hard.  But there’s very little of my current life that resembles the lives of my family or really anyone else but me.  And I like my life.  I avoided my destiny.

I don’t want to sugar coat this.  Sometimes you fail and lose it all.  But I think it’s better to fail in your own life than to succeed in a random destiny.  I made the OTHER choice.  I learned what’s meant by the road less traveled.  And it does make all the difference.  Find out who you are, develop your courage, and be brave enough to risk everything when you get the chance.  And thank you Lauren, wherever you are.


The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Today was a big day for me but a lot of people don’t seem to get why.  Hell, my wife ignored the occasion with great determination.  But it’s important to me anyway.  I have my own name.

This might seem like a strange thing to say.  Of course you have your own name.  Well, not really.  Not until 10:00 this morning.  Let me explain.  My legal name is was Douglas Howard McIntosh III.  Yes, the third.  My father was jr, etc.  I’m sure my parents named me that because it was the ‘right thing to do’.  However my ever conflicted father never called me that.  (He frequently did the proper thing and hated it.)  He called me Angus from birth.  So did everybody else.  This is a bit of a weird family tradition.  He was called Jock and my brother, Robert James, was called Hamish as children.  They both dropped the nickname as adults.  I didn’t.  I’ve never been called anything but ‘Angus” by anyone, ever.

This led to a strange duality.  Legally I was DHMIII.  My drivers license, credit cards, taxes, bank accounts, marriage and divorce papers, etc are all in that name.  But many of my other documents like my black belt certificates, my trainers license, my teaching contracts, etc were in Angus.  More importantly I felt like my documentation, my legal standing as an adult, was somehow fraudulent.  I wasn’t DHMII.  Never had been.  Don’t even know the guy.  I was Angus, and I didn’t qualify for any of these official things.  But not any more.

I went to court and changed my name.  As of 10:00m this morning a judge ruled that I am legally now known only as Angus X. McIntosh.  Whoever that Douglas guy was is dead and gone.  In a few weeks I’ll have a drivers license and checks and credit cards in my name.  For the first time.  At age 46.  It means more to me than I can express.  I think maybe now I’m a legitimate adult.  But I probably won’t be any more mature!


Micro vs Macro

There’s a tactic used by both parties that drives me crazy.  Both liberal and conservative squirrels use it to try to advance their agenda even though it’s clearly intellectually lazy and dishonest.  I call this tactic switching the scope or micro vs macro.  Let me explain.

Macro means large in scale.  Something that effects all of us.  Micro means small and effecting only a few people.  In the political world there are both kind of issues.  Sales taxes are clearly macro, tariffs on llama semen would be micro.  Because we rarely take the trouble to define the scope of the debate the side that feels it’s losing switches arenas.  It’s a cheap ploy, but it nearly always works.

Here’s an example: Do we as a people want to keep some of our old growth redwood forests or do we want to just make decks out of them?  A legitimate debate.  If the tree-hugging side is losing they take pictures of a beautiful tree full of bunnies.  If the corporate overlord side is losing they trot out some endearing family of loggers and explain how their kids will starve.  The debate isn’t about one logger or one pretty tree.  You switched scopes.  Another example:  Do we, as adults, have the civil right to smoke?  Rather than discuss the real issue both sides retreat to the micro.  Here comes somebody dying of cancer and a poor tobacco farmer.

The trick works both ways.  Should we be spending millions of dollars and thousands of law enforcement man-hours trying to put one baseball player in jail for injecting himself in the ass in order to hit the ball further?  A good micro argument.  And because the yes side is clearly fucking wrong, they switch to a macro argument about the sanctity of American jurisprudence and the need to punish lying under oath.  That’s not the question here people.

The level of political discourse in this county is deplorable.  Every policy question quickly devolves into name calling and personal attacks because we can’t honestly argue the issue without somebody cheating and switching scopes.  Abortion (macro)- bring out the pic of a dead baby (micro).  War in Iraq (macro)- you might get killed by a terrorist (micro, and stupid).  An economic stimulus package (macro)- I don’t want to fund this little porky thing (micro).  Do we bail out car companies (macro)- they flew here on a jet (micro).  I could go on and on.

So, I have two suggestions.  First, whenever an issue comes up we need to decide whether it is better viewed as a macro vs micro discussion.  I’m not saying this is easy, just necessary.  Once that determination is made, we keep to it.  Secondly, watch political discourse.  If you see someone changing the scope of the discussion then you’ve found a squirrel.  Don’t trust anything he says cause he knows he’s wrong!  Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.

– Archbishop Angus


Drugs are Bad, Mmmmmmmmkay.

I admit that a lot of the things I choose to think and write about are well outside of any expertise I might possess.  This post is an exception.  I was a professional certified trainer for 12 years and I actually know what the hell I’m talking about.  The giant media clusterfuck around steroids is ridiculous and just another example of a bunch of squirrels running around and gathering nuts.

Athletes take steroids.  They take hormones, blood enrichers, vitamins, amphetamines, oxygenators, and any other damn thing that will make them do what they do a little faster.  Get over it.  And what’s more, that’s OKAY.  They have CHOICE.  And taking a steroid or two may be a good choice to make.  (As usual I have to include a disclaimer about kids.  Taking steroids before your body is formed is a whole different thing.  A high school coach who allows doping should be jailed for a really long time.  However, we’re too fucking busy chasing Barry Bonds around to deal with a real problem.)

First, let’s be very clear on what steroids do, and more importantly, don’t do.  What they do is allow you to recover faster.  Period.  The end.  Every time you work out you need to recover before you can do it again.  Steroids shorten that time.  If you take steroids you can work out harder and more often.  This allows you to build more muscle or more cardio fitness.  If you’re injured they help you get back in shape faster.  And they will keep you fresher as a long season wears on.  In short, they allow athletes to train more.  They don’t make that training any easier.

Second, let’s look at the costs.  Yes, steroids are dangerous but being a football player is really dangerous.  There are side effects and probable long term health issues to both.  Adults get to make informed decisions.  How many of the harpies worrying about steroids drink or smoke or do something else that has long term health risks?  If taking a possibly dangerous drug would allow you to do something you love and generate enough wealth to take care of your grandchildren, would you take it?  I probably would.

Now let me refute the steroids arguments one by one.  First, that they represent cheating in some way.  There are a few ways to look at this.  You’re not cheating the fans.  They want to see performance and excellence and they don’t really care how you get there.  Baseball attendance has done nothing but increase since steroids became news.  You’re not cheating other players because there are just too many variables to make that broad a statement.  Every athlete makes decisions on training.  And you certainly aren’t cheating the record books.  That’s just stupid.

Things change over time.  Knowledge deepens, skills are honed, tactics are perfected.  This is particularly true about athletics because of the huge amount of financial resources available.  You might wait weeks for an MRI after your insurance company finally approves it while some pro sports teams HAVE THEIR OWN MACHINE.  All of this means that every generation has access to knowledge and training that gives them an advantage.  That’s why records are always being broken.  Records never stand up.

You cannot compare eras at all.  When Babe Ruth hit all those homers he did so on a diet of hot dogs, steak, cigarettes, and gin.  He drank beer before a game.  Nobody knew any better.  Every contract Willie Mays ever signed specifically banned him from working out with weights.  This prohibition was standard in all baseball contracts until the late 70s.  For the first half of the history of baseball was only played by white athletes.  Every era, hell every year, is unique.  Different stadiums, expansion, nutrition, medicine, etc. etc. etc.  Shall we ban every pitcher who has reconstructive surgery because Sandy Koufax couldn’t have it?

Another squirrel argument is that steroids are illegal.  You must be kidding.  First of all, steroids are not illegal if they’re prescribed by a doctor and they’re legally prescribed all the time.  I’m sure that a pro athlete could find a doc to help out if he needed it.  Secondly, most athletes do illegal things all the time.  Baseball players take amphetamines, nearly everyone smokes pot, many people drive drunk, some of them beat their wives and worse.  I never heard of an asterisk being applied to a record because the guy was arrested for a DUI.

Athletes are entertainers, and as entertainers they get to make a lot of money.  If you are going to hold them to a standard that includes no ‘artificial enhancement’ then you need to hold other entertainers to the same standard.  So actors and musicians will be disqualified if they use drugs, get boob jobs or face lifts, use botox.  I could go on and on.  Disqualifying an athlete for steroids makes as much sense as keeping and actress out of films for lengthening her career with a little plastic surgery.  Go out, enjoy what these people do for your entertainment, and get the hell over it.  Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.

– Archbishop Angus


Recognizing the Tao

How do we recognize the Tao?  Especially in this age of advertising and bullshit?  That can be a tricky one.  If it appears in the physical universe it is by definition not the Tao.  It has direction bit cannot be defined or ordered because that would be the wrong universe again.  The Tao is in everything, but is stronger in things that flow in it’s direction.  It is the underlying spiritual nature of things that can not be pinned down in our physical existence.  For more on this you should probably read the Tao Teh Ching.  It’s still the best description of things that can not be described.

Having said all of this, I think that there are four principles that reflect the Tao.  Wherever you find these principles the Tao is strong.  Whenever these principles are abandoned the Tao is receding.  And The Man hates these things.  They are, in no particular order, Beauty, Joy, Center, and Compassion.  Some more details:

Beauty-  “When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” – R. Buckminster Fuller.  Beauty is a true manifestation of the Tao.  Anything you do that creates or nurtures beauty is bringing you closer to the Source and to real integration of both your true natures.

Compassion-  “Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolutions.” – Kahlil Gibran.  Compassion is the Tao in action.  It is the bravery to care for others, to open yourself to pain that is not yours, and carry it willingly.

Center-  “Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength.” – Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton.  Center is the ability to hold your beliefs quietly.  To contemplate things and understand yourself.  It isn’t a coincidence that every religion is based on some form of quiet contemplation.  If you can’t shut up you can’t hear the Tao.

Joy-  “Everything can be taken from a man but … the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl.  I can’t explain joy.  Can you?  Do you have enough it in your life?

More on these principles as we go along.


Tao and The Man

We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a “sub-creator” and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbor, while materialistic “progress” leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.  JRR Tolkein

 

This is the second post that deals with my spiritual beliefs.  As I said before these posts are probably not for everybody.

We live in the physical world and entropy is the law.  Things fall apart, the physical universe expands, things tend toward chaos.  But if the entire universe is truly entropic what the hell are we doing here?  We’re really fucking complicated creatures that have EVOLVED upward from simpler creatures.  How is that entropy?  Why don’t we devolve?  We’re going the WRONG WAY.  So there must be something else going on.

Everybody understands yin and yang at least a little bit.  The universe and nature are in balance, every white has a black, every tall a short.  I believe the physical universe is balanced by an equally powerful spiritual one.  The spiritual universe moves in direct opposition to the physical one, becoming more and more complicated and more connected.  It’s anti-entropic.  

Somehow, somewhere the universe started.  Call it the Source.  In the physical universe everything flows out from that source after the big bang.  Ever expanding, ever cooling, and entropic to it’s core.  The spiritual universe, or the Tao, flows the other way, back to the source.  Yin-Yang is complete and the flows balance.

As living beings we are the bridge between the two flows, between heaven and earth if you will.  Our bodies are governed by the physical,entropic universe.  Our spirits are drawn towards the source, following the Tao.  Our bodies entropy because they reside in the entropic universe.  But, if the Tao is very strong in someone, they decay much less.  An old Yoga teacher looks much younger than an old banker.  And don’t give me any crap about the existence of spirit or soul.  If there is no spark of life or soul than why can’t we fix the bodies of accident victims and restart them?

So how does this knowledge help us, or is it just an interesting mind fuck?  Actually I think it helps a lot.  We spend most of our time taking care of the physical half our lives.  We eat, drink, sleep, fuck, exercise, shelter ourselves, earn a living, etc.  And that’s important.  It’s a full half of who we are.  But it is only half.  Perhaps we feel unfulfilled because we’re ignoring the other side?

I call this other half following the Tao.  It’s not easy to do, and there are significant forces lined up to make it even harder.  I call these forces The Man.  The Man is short for societal forces and individuals that have a stake in keeping you from succeeding.  Imagine that the physical world is like swimming downstream.  Joining the Tao is like swimming against the dominant currents in order to reach the source.  Not that the Tao doesn’t have it’s own current.  It’s just hard as hell to find when you’re living in a current going the other way.  The Man is some asshole throwing rocks at you from the bank.

I have pages and pages of stuff about how to follow the Tao and avoid The Man.  It keeps me out of trouble, and I’ll post some every week.


Be Great

“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson (often wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela)

 

I love this quote.  I think I should probably read it every day.  The Tao dares us to be great.  The Man would like us to be small.  What are choosing today?


Why Grow UP?

 

Why isn’t the world full of cowboys and pirates?  Ballet dancers and race car drivers?  Superheroes and pony wranglers?  Artists and baseball players?  Walk into any kindergarten and start asking around.  These are the cool things to be.  Nobody wants to be a salesman, accountant, or middle manager.  No one dreams of a cubicle and a computer screen.  What the hell happened?  Well, I think I figured it out.  We grew in the wrong fucking direction.

As living beings we grow.  This is hardly unique.  By growth we usually mean kids getting bigger, taller, and more responsible.  But we can grow in lots of other ways: in intellect, in awareness, in spirituality, in wisdom, in patience etc.  The idea that growing is limited to children and stops sometime in your early 20’s is a terrible lie.  And tying growth to a specific vertical direction is even worse.

Last week I was messing around at one of the places I teach.  One of the ever so serious counselors suggested that I should I grow the hell up.  By any rational ‘grown up’ standards she was probably right.  Hell, I’m in my late 40s and I don’t even have a job.  I ride around on my bike, do a little teaching, support a bunch of screwed up kids, and get tattoos.  On nice days, I go to the beach.  I don’t have an office, an IRA, or any clear future.  I’m a lot closer to pirate or cowboy than ‘grown up’.  But on another level she’s totally fucking wrong.  I just grew down, out, and in instead.

The Man likes things neat and orderly.  He also likes that order to be vertical.  A clear line of AUTHORITY and SENIORITY so we all know exactly who’s in charge.  Castes, social classes, economic classes, etc.  It starts in school.  The ‘grown ups’ are completely in charge.  They tell you if you can talk, what to think, and when to pee.  As you ‘grow up’ towards them you get more SENIORITY over the littler kids.  At the end of school you’re accepted as a grown up.  If you go back to school too many times you’ll be accused of not ‘growing up’ because in your 20’s it’s time to stop growing, prove you’re an adult, and get a job.  And if you go along you’ll get to move UP the corporate ladder.  Put aside those CHILDISH small things like dreams and hopes and piracy.  Oh fuck you and everybody that looks like you.

Life is growth.  Growing up takes absolutely no skill or discipline.  Growth can happen in any direction, and up is probably the least important.  How about down?  More rooted, closer to the earth, with a deeper base.  At least as important as up, and much harder to maintain.  How about out?  More connected to those around you, taking more responsibility for those in need, understanding the role your compassion could play in the world community?  How about in?  A deeper understanding of yourself, your spirituality, and your universe?  How about wildly all over the place?  Letting your joy run and grow like a puppy on caffeine.  

Growing up has co-opted all growth and frankly it sucks.  I haven’t noticed the grown ups doing a particularly good job at running the world.  Most of the abused kids I see are abused by grown ups.  The government and corporations are run by grown ups.  So let’s be grown downs or grown ins or grown outs.  And let’s have a pirate and cowboy revolution.  Arrrgh, podner.