The Starfish Parable

The world sucks.  There’s pain and injustice everywhere.  Probably we can’t fix it.  It’s easy to get cynical, selfish, and greedy.  That’s why I love this parable.  Read it.  Live it.  Be it.

A little girl is walking down the beach at low tide, picking up the starfish that have been stranded and throwing them back into the sea. Three old Rabbis see the little girl and ask her what she’s doing.  She replies “Saving the starfish!”  The three wise men laugh and decide to educate her.  “You can’t save the starfish” they say.  “There are tens of thousands of miles of coastline and thousands of beaches.  There are millions of starfish washing up at every low tide.  What possible difference can you make? “  As the little girl starts to cry, thinking about all those dying starfish, the Rabbi’s finish their lesson.  “See little girl, the problem is so big that nothing you can do will matter.”  The little girl sniffles as she looks down at the starfish in her hand.  She thinks about it for a minute, and a big smile takes over her face.  “Well” she replies as she gives the starfish a mighty toss and continues down the beach, “It matters to this one”.

Find a starfish.  The Gargoyle Project (Realworldpersonaldefense.org) is a good place to start if you need one.  And fuck the wise old squirrels who tell you it doesn’t matter.


Centering and Change

In your body and your mind there are two of you.  There’s the big, true, spiritual you and the small needy ego you.  This is true of all of us.  Both of these parts need to be accommodated but only the big you is trustworthy.  The big you is your true nature, whether you believe it’s put there by god, goddess, or natural process.  The big you decides to enter into a process of change.  The distractions of every day life are going to tempt you to abandon this decision and follow your immediate ego gratification.  Remember which one you should trust.

Everybody has a short attention span.  Life is just too distracting.  We start with good intentions but then the laundry needs to be done and the phone is ringing.  If you hope to gain power, freedom and choice you need to be able to stop all these distractions and come back to yourself.  This process is called centering.

The enemy of center is stress so it’s important to have an understanding of what stress is and how it impacts your body.  Stress is a condition of being alive.  Stress can be positive, negative or neutral.  Gravity is a neutral source of stress while getting a raise is a positive source of stress.  When we perceive something to be stressful, adrenaline and other hormones are secreted to support the body in being prepared to either stand and fight the threat or to flee. Heart rate and blood pressure increase, breathing becomes more rapid, and blood flow moves out of the extremities and into the vital organs.  It’s very difficult to make good decisions based on your power and freedom under these conditions.  The relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response.  The body functions are slowed down and relaxed.  That’s why centering is so crucial to long term success and change.

Boredom is a form of internal stress and can be your biggest enemy.  When you’re bored your busy little squirrel mind runs all over the place and grabs on to all the things that you want left alone.  It becomes very easy to lose perspective and any control over your decisions.  It’s when you’re bored that you’re most likely to become negative and start to beat yourself up over past patterns.  Use centering practices to help you out of these negative states of mind.

Other people are another big source of stress.  Anyone who’s been in any kind of relationship knows that it’s impossible to control other people.  When other people are driving you nuts, its important to remember this and come back to what you can control, yourself.

A good way to reconnect with the big you is through the use of the sacred.  You can create sacred space and sacred times during the day to let the bigger, better you be heard past the chatter of your ego.  You can use props to create a sacred space in your home or even your office: religious icons, water and fountains, plants, flowers, incense, bells, pictures, candles, or anything else that helps you relax and feel closer the sacred you.  Set aside time in your day to spend in your sacred space and meditate.  Meditation, or prayer if you’d prefer, is an important tool used by almost every culture on earth.  Don’t under estimate its power.  During your busy day, stop and take a word from your sponsor for a few seconds to bring all of the peace of your sacred space back to you.

Meditation has two simple but very profound goals; quiet your mind and deepen your breathing.  One of the best ways to get back into yourself and your body is through your own breathing.  Meditation gives the active mind something to do to keep it occupied.  By giving the mind a focus you can help to quiet noisy worries and push aside unhelpful thoughts.  Achieving some inner quiet is deeply rejuvenating.  Twenty minutes of quiet meditation provides the equivalent of 2 hours deep and restful sleep.

With all of these strategies, a fake is as good as the real thing.  If you pretend they are working, or that you’re strong enough, or that you feel disciplined, it will have almost the same effect as the real thing would.  The funny thing is that if you fake it long enough, it will eventually manifest itself as real.

Fitness in the western sense means aerobic, heart-based  exercise and working the muscular skeletal system.  There are eastern forms of exercise that work other parts of the body.  Many of the advantages of western exercise can be found in eastern disciplines as well.  They can effectively bring you back into your body, relax you, and help you focus on your breathing and your bigger self.  Yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gung, and other disciplines help work out the spine, the circulatory system, joints and organs, and balance your natural energy.  These long term practices can have a profound effect on your health as well as your ability to center yourself.


Prop 8 Redux

I’ve  already made my feelings about Ca prop 8 pretty clear.  (Check out my earlier posts if you haven’t read them.)  Now the case has been argued before the Ca Supreme Court and the world waits to see what they decide.  While I think the gay marriage issue is really fucking important, there’s another deeper issue I’d like to address here.  If the court upholds prop 8 we’re all fucked.  And I think we should help speed that particular trip to hell.  Just because we can.

The case for Prop 8 was argued by Kenneth Starr.  Yes, the same Kenneth Starr that tried to bring down a government just because the president put his penis in some chunky interns mouth.  He argued before the court that there are no inalienable rights for Californians. He readily admitted that free speech, racial discrimination, and even voting rights under the California constitution are subject to a simple majority vote without any legislative process at all.  Really?  Hmmmm.

If the Ca Supreme Court agrees with him and upholds the marriage ban I think we should revisit a few other civil rights.  Like all of them.  In fact I think we should fill next falls ballot with at least 200 propositions.  And each one should be wackier than the next.  If we have to live in a place where a simple majority can fuck over everybody else than let’s at least do it with some flair and a strong sense of the absurd.

I’ve been thinking about what props we should try.  You can play the game too.  Just remember that they need an inspiring name.  Send me any suggestions you have.  Here are a few ballot props to get us started:

The Further Defense Of Marriage Act-  Marriage is a sacred institution.  We should not let people abandoned their commitments.  So all divorce will be outlawed.  It’s for the children.

Road Safety Protection Act-  Saudi Arabia has a very low accident rate.  They also don’t let women drive.  So to drop our rates and protect ourselves women will no longer be allowed to drive.  This also have the effect of lightening traffic and reducing carbon emissions.

Voting Priority Protection Act-  Voting is a very serious civic duty.  We need to insure that everyone who votes is putting the sate of Ca first.  Therefor any member of any organized church group will not be allowed to vote.  After all, they put their duty to God above the priorities of the state.  That is clearly detrimental to voting priorities.

Native Lands Respect Act-  It is unfair that white people took the land from Native American and Mexican land owners.  So this act will make it illegal for any white person or white corporation to own more than 1/4 acre of land.  Only indigenous people will be allowed to farm.

Riot Prevention Act-  Many riots and demonstrations are started when charismatic speakers whip up crowds with rhetoric.  To prevent this it will be illegal for mare than 20 people to assemble for the purpose of listening to a speaker.  Class sizes will come down, but churches will have to close or keep all services to 19 people.

Police Brutality Prevention Act- There have been a few high profile police shootings recently.  This act will protect us by making it illegal for any law enforcement officers to carry, own or fire a gun.  Instead they will be armed with large feather pillows.

Medical and Legal Fairness Act-  It seems unfair that educated people have educated children.  In order address these concerns this act would make it illegal for any child of a college graduate to pursue an education.  This would give a whole new generation a chance.

Freedom from Government Harassment Act-  The Government is too involved in our daily lives.  This act would restore our rights by eliminating all government licensing.  If you want to be a doctor and perform surgery, go right ahead.

You might think some of these props are a little extreme.  You might think they rob of us of basic rights.  You might want to tell that to somebody who can’t marry the person they love.  Civil rights are for everyone.  The court, an EQUAL branch of government, is supposed to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority.

If the Ca Supreme Court disagrees than let’s really fuck up the system.  200 ballot measures to rob everyone of a civil right by November.  You better get thinking!


The 3 Child Rearing Rules

In my last post I mentioned that I only had three rules for my kids.  I figured that I would go ahead and explain those rules.  They are sacred in my house, and because there are only three of them I take them VERY seriously.  Breaking them brings about heavy punishments (ie: no tv or computer for 6 months), but there are NO other ways to get punished.  This allows them to have a lot of freedom.  It also lets them screw up without fear of getting in trouble.  And we all learn by making mistakes.

My kids are teenagers but I started these rules when they were much younger, around 8 or 9.  Little kids obviously need more rules to keep them safe.  Here are the rules and the rationale behind them:

1- Tell me the truth.  I don’t care what you did as much as I care about knowing all the facts.  And by extension this also means that you need to follow through with commitments.  There is probably no fuck up so serious that we can’t work with it if I know the truth.  But there is no problem I can help you with if I don’t know what happened.  Like most kids, mine have done some dumb stuff.  If they tell me about it they get my help, my counsel, and no punishment.  If they lie about it, they get landed on with both feet.  And in return I don’t lie to them.  Ever.

2-  Get along with each other.  I can’t stand bickering and drama between siblings.  I love both of them and don’t want to see them fight.  Get along and I’ll agree to most anything.  Fight and I want you out of my sight.  Cooperation is more useful a life lesson than competition.

3-  Give good effort.  I don’t much care what my kids decide to do.  I do care if they do it well.  I expect them to work (and play, for that matter) hard.  And since they get to choose their own activities they have no excuse not to apply themselves.  For example we don’t have bed times in my house.  The kids can stay up all night screwing around if they want.  But the day starts at 8 and they need to be up and giving good effort all day.  Sometimes they make a good choice and get enough sleep.  Sometimes they don’t.  But the effort always has to be there.  If you’re over tired it’s not my problem.

I like these rules.  I gave them a lot of thought and my kids know it.  And they know that they can come to me with any problem if they tell me the truth, get along, and try hard.  The rules reinforce my role as supporter and parent.  They also keep me out of stuff that isn’t really my business!


The Nature of Rules

Although I sometimes hate to admit it, we do need rules.  Perhaps because my nature rebels against them (just ask any boss I ever had, or my wife), I’ve given the nature of rules a lot of thought.  This is a necessary line of inquiry because as we all know, squirrels just love having a lot of rules.  And I hate it when those rules keep you from having a good time.

One of the things I’ve discovered about rules (and laws, directions, mores, suggestions, codes, or any of their other cousins) is that they lose power as they multiply.  If you have a couple of rules they can be very powerful.  The more rules you add, the less power each one has.  It’s almost as if our capacity for following rules is finite, a zero sum game.  Each new rule robs an earlier rule of some it’s importance.  Another way of saying this is that rules are taken seriously in inverse proportion to their number.  Think about it.  

Let’s say you walk into a new situation, perhaps a new job.  You’re told that there are just three rules and that they cannot be broken or you’ll be fired.  I’m sure you’d pay attention and do your best not to break them.  But if at that same job they gave you a handbook with 11,857 rules that could not be broken would you even read it?  Would you take the time to try to figure out which ones were serious?  The three dangerous rules would be lost in the forest of squirrel idiocy.

Squirrels want two things.  They want control and they want to keep everybody from having too much fun.  The delicious irony here is that the more rules they pass, the more we ignore them.  Is there anyone out there who follows every law?  Speeding, jaywalking, pot, helmets, blah blah blah.  Of course not.  We have so many laws that people have begun to take ALL laws less seriously.  If we want to get serious about stopping certain behaviors we better, as a society, decide what our real priorities are.  It might sound ridiculous but to an inner city kid the rule against murder is just another in a long line of rules.  He hasn’t bothered to read the handbook because it had too many pages and he can’t tell which ones we really mean.

I’ve applied this concept to successfully to child rearing.  I only have 3 rules with my kids.  They know that those rules are damn serious, and the punishments for breaking them can be Draconian.  But there are only three of them so for the most part they get followed.  And they don’t change.  Don’t you think we should try this for our laws too?  I can think of about a 1000 laws that could go right now!


Let the Atheists Go

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” – Susan B Anthony

A Message to Theists-

I don’t hate God.  I respect spirituality and faith.  I do have real doubts about any anthropomorphic deity but I have no real opinion about Jesus, Mohammed, Yahweh, or any other monotheistic creation.  I just wanted to clear that up before I get started on this particular rant.

Stop it.  Stop it right now.  I can’t stand any more religious intolerance.  Or perhaps I should say intolerance by the religious.  You people are the worst squirrels I’ve ever encountered and you need to shut the hell up.  NOW!

First of all, the only difference between your set of beliefs and a loopy cult is numbers.  One person waiting for an alien to take them to paradise is crazy.  45 people waiting for the spaceship is harmless but pretty odd.  450 people waiting for magical intervention to lead them home is a dangerous cult and may get a visit from the G-men.  45 million people waiting for the rapture is a respected theology.  Why?  It’s just as whacky.

Let’s face it.  We all believe in some strange things.  Talking snakes?  God in a burning bush?  Virgins waiting if you kill innocents?  Monotheists don’t have a lock on craziness, but they are the leader in the clubhouse.  But that’s cool.  I think some pretty silly stuff too.  The point is you aren’t right.  Of course you think you are.  I think I’m right too.  But we’re both wrong.  All of our information is the result of flawed human perception.  And yours has passed through millions of flawed humans!  So stop being so defensive.

Atheists have a legitimate viewpoint.  Every bit as legitimate as yours.  Or mine.  But you religious squirrels won’t give them the tolerance that you demand.  An Atheist group tried to put a sign on buses that said “There probably isn’t a god, so enjoy your life”.  They were refused all over the place.  And both Christian and Muslim groups are busy buying up ad space in Toronto to combat the message in the one place that accepted the ads.  Another group put up some billboards saying “Imagine No Religion” in LA.  They had to take them down after hundreds of complaints.  Really?

Talk about intolerance.  These were hardly aggressive messages.  Is your belief system is fragile that even the suggestion that there is no god is a major threat?  My belief system is certainly strong enough to stand up to some gentle questioning.  I have a deep respect for those can hold their beliefs and keep a sense of perspective, not to mention a sense of humor.  That clearly isn’t you.  So back off and give the Atheists some space.  They get to be dead wrong in public too if they want.  After all, you do it all the time.