May 31, 2003

Great depth in a small word

book cover "Give you joy!" That expression first sprang into my consciousness as I read and reread a wonderful series of historical novels by Patrick O'Brian. They are usually called "the Maturin Aubrey series" in honor of the two main characters, Stephen Maturin, doctor, spy, and naturalist, and Jack Aubrey, successful ship captain and bungling fool when on land. They are, what Richard Snow declared in the New York Times, "the best historical novels ever written."

Set in the early 1800s, these novels intrigue me, not as action adventures (which they are), but by the way they convey the ambience of the times the music, the medicine, the culture, and the adventure at being a midwife at the birth of modern science. One small aspect of this ambience is the use of the phrase "give you joy." They frequently employ it is a combination compliment, blessing, and greeting. For example, Stephen might say "Give you joy Jack," upon seeing his friend for the first time after a victory in battle, the birth of a child, a promotion, or even a particularly good meal.

It sounded awkward and affected at first to my modern ears, but through repeated use in the novels I came to grasp it is as a special greeting with real depth. I like it, much the same way as I like the Hindu greeting where you fold your hands, look your companion in the eye, and bow silently. To me that greeting is recognizing what the Quakers call "that of God," in everyone. Give you joy is a greeting of similar depth, but I'm afraid we don't understand this because we don't understand the word "joy."

Paul Tillich photo
Paul Tillich does. He was my Dad's favorite theologian and in "The New Being," one of several collections of his sermons, he expounds at depth on "The Meaning of Joy." Notes Tillich:

"For the men of the Old and New Testaments the lack of joy is a consequence of man's separation from God, and the presence of joy is a consequence of the reunion with God."

To be separated or united, that is the whole story in a nutshell. The world divides into two classes of beings, those who feel separated - who live in "sin," another much-abused and misunderstood word and those who feel united with the ground of all being. So when a 19th Century Christian of Stephen's depth of learning says "give you joy," he is talking about something much more than a simple smile or lightheartedness.

The complete text of Tillich's sermon is available online here. But here are several excerpts which explore the true depth of meaning in this simple, three-letter word, joy:

Joy is demanded, and it can be given. It is not a thing one simply has. It is not easy to attain. It is and always was a rare and precious thing. . . .

. . . many Christians try to compromise. They try to hide their feeling of joy, or they try to avoid joys which are too intense, in order to avoid self-accusations which are too harsh. Such an experience of the suppression of joy, and guilt about joy in Christian groups, almost drove me to a break with Christianity. What passes for joy in these groups is an emaciated, intentionally childish, unexciting, unecstatic thing, without color and danger, without heights and depths. . .

Joy seems to be the opposite of pain. But we know that pain and joy can exist together. Not joy but pleasure is the opposite of pain. . . .

Our joy about knowing truth and experiencing beauty is spoiled if we enjoy not the truth and the beauty but the fact that it is I who enjoys them. . . .

Power can give joy only if it is free from the pleasure about having power and if it is a method of creating something worthwhile. Love relations, most conspicuously relations between the sexes, remain without joy if we use the other one as a means for pleasure or as a means to escape pain. . . .

Every human relation is joyless in which the other person is not sought because of what he is in himself, but because of the pleasure he can give us and the pain from which he can protect us. To seek pleasure for the sake of pleasure is to avoid reality, the reality of other beings and the reality of ourselves. . . .

Mere pleasure, in yourselves and in all other beings, remains in the realm of illusion about reality. Joy is born out of union with reality itself. . . .

And so we use them for a kind of pleasure which can be called "fun." But it is not the creative kind of fun often connected with play; it is, rather, a shallow, distracting, greedy way of "having fun." And it is not by chance that it is that type of fun which can easily be commercialized, for it is dependent on calculable reactions, without passion, without risk, without love. Of all the dangers that threaten our civilization, this is one of the most dangerous ones: the escape from one's emptiness through a "fun" which makes joy impossible. . . .

Do joy and pleasure exclude each other? By no means! The fulfillment of the center of our being does not exclude partial and peripheral fulfillments. . . .

We must challenge not only those who seek pleasure for pleasure's sake, but also those who reject pleasure because it is pleasure. Man enjoys eating and drinking, beyond the mere animal need of them. It is a partial ever-repeated fulfillment of his striving for life; therefore, it is pleasure and gives joy of life. Man enjoys playing and dancing, the beauty of nature, and the ecstasy of love. They fulfill some of his most intensive strivings for life; therefore, they are pleasure and give joy of life. Man enjoys the power of knowledge and the fascination of art. They fulfill some of his highest strivings for life; therefore, they are pleasure and give joy of life. Man enjoys the community of men in family, friendship, and the social group. They fulfill some fundamental strivings for life; therefore, they are pleasure and give joy of life. . . .

But Jesus, in contrast to John the Baptist, was called a glutton and a drunkard by His critics. In all these warnings against pleasure, truth is mixed with untruth. Insofar as they strengthen our responsibility, they are true; insofar as they undercut our joy, they are wrong. Therefore let me give another criterion for accepting or rejecting pleasures, the criterion indicated in our text: Those pleasures are good which go together with joy; those are bad which prevent joy. . . .

Joy is more than pleasure; and it is more than happiness. Happiness is a state of mind which lasts for a longer or shorter time and is dependent on many conditions, external and internal. . . . Happiness can stand a large amount of pain and lack of pleasure. But happiness cannot stand the lack of joy. For joy is the expression of our essential and central fulfillment.

Blessedness is the eternal element in joy, that which makes it possible for joy to include in itself the sorrow out of which it arises, and which it takes into itself. In the Beatitudes, Jesus calls the poor, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst, those who are persecuted, "blessed." And He says to them: "Rejoice and be glad!" Joy within sorrow is possible to those who are blessed, to those in whom joy has the dimension of the eternal. . . .

This cannot be otherwise, for blessedness is the expression of God's eternal fulfillment. Blessed are those who participate in this fulfillment here and now. Certainly eternal fulfillment must be seen not only as eternal which is present, but also as eternal which is future. But if it is not seen in the present, it cannot be seen at all. . . .

Where there is joy, there is fulfillment. And where there is fulfillment, there is joy. In fulfillment and joy the inner aim of life, the meaning of creation, and the end of salvation, are attained.

I do not walk the world in ecstasy, or perpetual joy but I strive to. No, "strive" isn't the right word. Maybe I should say, I "yearn" to because I have been fortunate enough to experience it. Joy is a state of grace, and you don't achieve it by striving. But that's another sermon ;-)

What I am trying to say is that I want this Web site to be a reflection of that yearning, of that state of grace, of joy for you and for me. And so I named it "Give you joy," for that is my wish.

Yes, there are things in the world that pain me and bring sorrow and yes, I write about them here but through it all I try to keep a perspective of the deeper joy of living and I continuously look for that greater joy and hope that I can share that experience somehow with the visitors to this site. If nothing else, I hope that the title - and this little essay about it - borrowing as it does so heavily from Paul Tillich will perhaps open up your mind and heart to a new depth of meaning in a very old expression give you joy, my friend give you joy.

More Tillich resources:

Posted by Greg Stone at 02:12 PM | Comments (0)

May 24, 2003

Facing our worst enemy

I'm nearly 62 years old and I am struck more and more by the idea of how absolutely brief life appears from this end of it. That is, when you are younger - especially under 30 - it seems like you will never grow old and everything is moving incredibly slowly. From here it is just the opposite. You were young only yesterday and whatever time is left you, it is much too little. Like flipping a telescope around and looking through the wrong end.

This different perspective of time leads to a more profound assessment of reality and what is happening to us as a country, a world, a species. For me, the great turning point in society is about 1830. Before then all the important things were the same. People communicated face-to-face, or very slowly over time and space with writing on paper. That had not changed in a fundamental way for 5,000 years. People transported themselves then at the speed of a horse - or their own feet. Never faster than about eight miles an hour and even that speed was maintained only for relatively short distances. That too, had not changed in a fundamental way for 5,000 years. And in that same 5,000 years it's hard to see any genuinely important advances in medicine. Medical treatment varied from locale to locale, and age to age, but the results were all roughly the same. Lots of children died before they became adults and adults died very easily from a wide variety of illnesses and what we would see today as simple injuries.

But in 1830 all that began to change and it has been changing rapidly ever since. Now I have close friends half a world away in different directions with whom I communicate regularly, sending words and pictures at virtually no cost. And the advances in medicine and travel are obvious, as well as thousands of other lesser things. When I give medicine a thought, I realize that had I been born in 1820 there's a very good chance I would have died in childhood and given the various things that have happened to me, I certainly would not have made it much past 30!

This is all obvious, yet I think it is overlooked and underestimated. 1830 was only yesterday. Stack up three 62-year-olds, one on top of the other, and you get to 1817! I have no trouble at seeing 62 years as an incredibly brief time, as I'm sure anyone who has lived that long or longer will agree. All we are talking about here is three such spans, one of which is our own life to date. That is very little time indeed. And yet look at how much has changed?

There is one more thing. We are amazingly adaptable. We accept these radical changes in our lifestyle and a few years after a change is introduced, such as the Internet, life without it is difficult to remember or imagine. We take it, and all changes, for granted. There's a little resistance at first, but pretty soon it is absorbed into our lifestyle and it is very difficult to imagine that life was ever any different. Certainly we can accept the differences in the abstract - but we quickly lose all feel for those difference - for how life was without . . . well, without whatever.

Bottom line? We don't appreciate how different things are. We don't appreciate all the subtle ways these changes are impacting our individual psyche and the collective psyche of society. Old institutions and values have new challenges - and yet certain basic challenges involving individual integrity and mortality remain the same. But those aside, we face new an unprecedented problems as we mix the age-old temptations of greed, jealousy and hatred with the modern environment of high technology, and communications capabilities that are as rapid and pervasive as they are subtle.

For me there is a growing sense of being overwhelmed by change - of being absolutely out of control. At the same time I can't shake the impression of a population spreading out of control as well - I see the human race as I see a mold in a petrie dish, spreading suddenly to cover the entire surface. All sorts of images jump to mind of overpopulation in nature - images that include lemmings rushing to the sea. But the strongest one is from an old computer game called "life" where populations would suddenly spread on the screen like a little spider web of cracks. Before you could blink the whole screen would be covered with lines linking to lines and somewhere out of sight you knew the expansion was still happening.

We are inside this adventure and it is very difficult to step outside it and get the big picture. like being trapped in that computer and seeing only the lines right in front of you. Yes we see ourselves as the dominant creature on earth and we think of ourselves as in control of our destiny, but we are far from it. We're just buying into our own press releases. We simply don't understand what is happening to us, let alone control what is happening.

We do totally insane things. When we are not starting wars we are destroying our environment. None of us would be so stupid as to destroy our homes - but we can't see beyond our own front doors - or refuse to do so. Thus we go on consuming non-replaceable oil reserves, spewing crud in the very air we breathe, and overheating the planet. We take great pride in our political boundaries, but all the real forces on the planet - economics, disease, hunger, environmental rot, racism, religious fanaticism, insect pests, ideas - these all laugh at the political boundaries. We have viewed our planet from space. We see there are no lines on it - nothing to denote states. Yet we don't learn.

So here we are - back where Pogo the cartoon Possum told us we were about 30 years ago. "We have met the enemy and he is us!" Can we defeat ourselves? Of course not. Can we rise above our petty behavior? Maybe. Does it matter? In any ultimate sense, how could it? But in the particular sense of you and I alive today, it matters. We can't know any ultimate answers, but we can sense an ultimate direction and we can move towards it.

Posted by Greg Stone at 06:36 AM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2003

It's magnetic!

The grandchildren were here yesterday and among other things they seemed awed by the power of the magnets in the darts of a magnetic dart game. I wish the adults were as awed.

After they left I played with the magnets a little. What magic! Hold then a few inches apart and start moving one towards the other. When they get within about a half inch they suddenly jump together with amazing speed and power. Why?

There is no obvious mechanism. Oh sure, we all know it's magnetism. But what IS magnetism? Some smart person will say there's a magnetic field. Ok - so what IS a magnetic field? I know how one works. I know we can predict the results of such a field being present. I know we have a model of such a field that helps us make predictions about how it and objects influenced by it behave.

But all of this involves simple descriptions of consistent and repeatable behavior. That's very useful for the scientist or technician, but not so useful to me. To me this is pure magic - it is action at a distance. It is two objects interacting when there is no visible connection between them. From a common sense viewpoint this doesn't make any more sense than mind reading, or other discredited magic.

I have more confidence in it than mind reading. I "believe" it. I just don't understand it on a meaningful level and I'm not sure anyone else does.

And that, by the way, is much the same way I feel about the new Hubble photograph described in Natural High today. We seem to have moved from awe to knowledge - and we need to move back to awe again because the type of knowledge we have is limited.

Posted by Greg Stone at 07:41 AM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2003

Of diet, interbeing, and too much of a good thing

On 5/9/03 "Dominic Gonzalvez" wrote:

It didn't "make my day" -- it fried my day. I was browsing your peace_passion of Wed 7 May, and hit the warisstupid site. The truths in many of the quotations were a blowtorch on my mind.

(and near the end of the same message)

Ooops ... Daphne has just yelled that dinner is ready. At least I personally didn't kill the fish I am about to eat!

That got me thinking about this whole business of vegetarianism, so I responded:

First, I think I know what you mean when you say the quotation site "fried your day." That is, if that's the same as what it did for me, which was boil my blood - the case is so clear and so forcefully and eloquently made again and again that you just want to grab people, one at a time, and shove their faces in it.

That said, I'd like to discuss the Buddhist vegetarian approach with you. I have tried being a vegetarian, but with very little success. Right now I'm focusing on a low carb diet (I'm a Type 2 diabetic) and I find it extremely difficult to focus on low carbs without relying on meat, eggs, cheese, etc. (Peanuts can only carry you so far ;-)

But I have read at least one Buddhist author. (Bhante G) who seems to argue that vegetarianism is philosophically futile in the sense that you have to draw a line somewhere and as soon as you draw the line there are creatures on the other side of it we continue to kill. To carry this concept to the extreme, should I avoid anti-bacterial soap? Bacteria are life forms. And why is the life of a plant (a carrot, a bean) less valuable than the life of an animal? (Or the life of a man more valuable than an animal - I think this is a core issue. In the Christian/Judaic ethic man is given dominion over the world. In my ethic - and I think the Buddhist one - man is just another creature in the world - currently dominant in a way on this small planet, but that dominance may be a delusion.)

I wrestle with this often. For me it vaguely comes together under the concept of interbeing. Nothing is born, nothing dies, it merely is changed - what is the word they use? Manifested? - and we all remain a part of the greater life of the universe.

In this approach there is a vast difference between killing for eating and killing for any other purpose.

No, you didn't kill the fish you just ate - nor did I kill the steer that appeared on my plate last night as hamburger - and that may be the problem. In our modern society we are several steps removed from the act of killing and so we may not treat our food with the proper respect it deserves. If we go back to a hunter-gatherer culture, such as the American Indian, then we find they respected the animals they killed. They didn't kill wantonly - well, at least that was their ideal. I think people in such a society can merely harden themselves to their acts and thus be as disrespectful as we are when we buy a packaged piece of meat.

But I wander. What I have been trying to do in my own mind is bring together what we know from science, the Buddhist concept of interbeing, the whole issue of life/death/manifestation - and make sure that all fits with my eating habits. I'm not entirely comfortable with my approach - and it may just be a rationalization- but again, killing to eat seems to me a natural part of what we do - killing for sport, for religion, for material gain, etc. is wrong because it is out of sync with interbeing and/or the golden rule.

And Dom replied:

Diet. My personal discovery is that ancestral food patterns are almost impossibly hard to kick. Let me give you an actual example. Years ago when we were living in Calcutta, food rationing was in force. On our ration card we got so many kilos of rice, wheat, sugar etc at a controlled price. We often used rickshaws for transport, and outside our block of apartments, five or six regular rickshaw pullers had their base. They gladly gave us their sugar in exchange for our rice. They explained that they were rice eaters for generations, and could stomach very little wheat. The ratio of rice to wheat in their rations was incorrect for them... they needed (I quote from faint memory) 6 rice to 1 wheat.

I am sure nutritionists and others will argue from very strong scientific logic that wheat is as good as rice. Scientifically perhaps "yes", but genetically/culturally/realistically "no".

Our bodies have an inbuilt logic of their own, and my experience with "scientific" diets is that if I have a silent, stubborn rebellion going on within, the diet crashes in days. The secret of success seems to lie in working around the ancestral diet... modify, innovate, reduce.

I'll have a word with Daphne on your diet problem in our morning walk in the next few days. She may have some ideas of value.

I have given up eating beef. Not because I don't like a steak and 'taters... no, because it doesn't like me. If I eat a good meal of beef, my gums bleed when I brush my teeth the next morning. No one has been able to explain why. It just happens. My theory is that the additives in the cattle feed get into the meat.

I agree with Bhante. Where do we draw the line on what is "alive"? The lettuce that I eat had life a few hours ago. And there are probably microorganisms on it that I eat alive. I think one has to draw a line of personal logic+comfort, and leave it at that. More of my thoughts on this within the next week.

My dad liked brain cutlets. (That's what we called them... to you it would be a hamburger). I can't remember whether he used beef brains or lamb brains, but I remember watching him shape the brains in a hamburger sort of shape, add his secret herbs and spices, roll the thing in crumbs, and then fry them over a slow fire till golden brown.

After reading warisstupid, my head felt fried like my dad's brains cutlets. The live coals of truth after truth sizzled me. I was too cooked to go to page 2.

Posted by Greg Stone at 07:43 AM | Comments (1)

May 06, 2003

Returning . . .

It is a long-time returning from this war distraction. My mindfulness helped me during it, but I can also see that in many ways it over-powered the mindfulness.

Right now I'm back to reading in very small doses "The Power of Now." In a strange way the material feels fresh to me. I feel like I'm renewing acquaintances from the fall, but also getting a new and deeper perspective.

Tolle tends to degenerate into what I consider gibberish about inner energy fields. But reading this now I feel more generous - or maybe more relaxed. I see his talk about this inner energy fields as his way of explaining the unexplainable. Very much like ancient religions that describe incredibly silly - on their surface - creation stories. What we are really dealing with in these is myth and metaphor. To the extent we can see that - see what lies beneath the surface of the communications - we will be able to understand the author.

As in religion, the problem lies in taking all of this too literally. I need to be as forgiving of Tolle as I am of the Gospel writers.

Hmmmmmm. . . as I write this I am consciously touch typing. I have used a keyboard all of my adult life and while I know how to touch type, I came to that skill late in life and incompletely. So my usual approach is to hunt and peck - which is some mixture of touch typing and hunt and peck. The difference is, when I consciously touch type I watch the screen - the results - rather than the keyboard - the input. Anyway . . . as I do this I am struck by what Bren said the other day - as an accomplished touch typist she couldn't tell you where any letter is on the keyboard. And as I am touch tying now I am totally unconscious of where the letters are. It's a skill - a knowledge - that resides in my fingers, not my conscious mind. This is nagging at me now. . . I'm not sure, but it seems like there is an important message buried there somewhere. In any event, forcing myself to touch type I think makes me more mindful of the entire writing process - although my other self would argue that I'm getting caught up in the details of correcting typos as they happen rather than giving the input process the attention it deserves. We'll see - stay tuned. If I ever figure this out I'll come back to it.

Posted by Greg Stone at 04:58 AM | Comments (0)

May 04, 2003

The "force" is still with new sci-fi movies

SCiFi summer movies - sequels to "Marix," "Terminator," and "X-Men" - get sophisticated treatment in this review that see deeper messages in the new films. Some samples:

These films address an almost primal longing we have about the definition of life," reflects Rabbi Daniel Lapin, head of Toward Tradition, a Los Angeles-based interfaith educational foundation. "They're about what distinguishes human and animal, man and machine, mortal and immortal."

and later . . .

The questions raised in the films are simple and timeless, Basinger says: "What are we? Who are we? How do we deal with change?"

Their answers are very much contemporary, complicated by new definitions of humanity in an age of genetic and technological engineering. They are further compounded by religious expectations, suggests Ann Matter, chair of the religious studies department at the University of Pennsylvania.

Posted by Greg Stone at 11:38 AM | Comments (0)

May 03, 2003

Quaker, Buddhist . . . interbeing

One core principle for Quakers is seeing "that of God" in everyone.

In this I can see the roots of all of the Quaker social testimony.

But I am not sure we all accept and understand this concept in the same way. I, for example, find myself saying that there is that of "Good" in everyone else - which indicates the way I interpret it.

I also find myself thinking that God is some thing - a spirit, or energy - that informs everyone and every thing. (As opposed to God as a separate super being.) And this latter moves me very close to the Buddhist concept of interconnectedness.

What I like about the Buddhist concept is it is verified by contemporary science. We can see from a scientific standpoint that everything is inter-connected - that matter is neither created nor destroyed, but merely transformed. The Buddhist word for this is "manifested." That is, what I think of as my self is merely the current manifestation of a certain portion of matter and energy. That same matter and energy has been part of many other manifestations in the past and will be part of more in the future.

But that manifestation is constantly changing, constantly interacting with, everything else. We get it in our head that in terms of space we end where our skin ends and in terms of time we end when our life ends - and we began when our life began. We see our skin as a`physical barrier that separates us from the rest of the world. And we see our lifespan as a barrier that separates us from what preceded and what will come after.

But neither is a true barrier. Our skin, like the rest of us, is nourished by the air we breath and the water and food that we need constantly to maintain this particular manifestation. And with science we know that the matter and energy which currently is manifested as us existed in other people and objects before and will continue to exist after our death. In the end the Buddhist see this concept of self as false - we are totally interdependent with everything else in the universe, past, present and future.

For me this gives rise to a vision of small eddies in a rushing stream of energy and matter - eddies that form for a while, and then untwist themselves back into the main stream. What I think of as my individual self is one of these small eddies. Most of the time I fail to see its relationship to the whole - I don't detect the stream. But this morning, before, during, and after meditation I could.

In meditation - in every moment of our lives - we need to see this . To not do so is to sin. I don't usually use the word "sin" because it is usually misunderstood. For me sin is simply being separated from God - God being everything .

The problem for me with the "that of God" in everyone else is it tends to be a limiting image. That is, we tend to see a seed within others - a God seed that can be nourished if we respond to it correctly. In Jesus that seed has matured into the whole being and so we see Jesus as God.

But we are all God because we are all everything. The "seed" we see is merely our perception of God and to be like Jesus it needs to be nourished with constant meditation. Thus we arrive at the Christian/Buddhist position where we see ourselves as interbeing - inter-related to everything and everyone. We see no separation.

From this, quite naturally, compassion springs,

Here for me is a world view that integrates my knowledge of science, Christianity, and Buddhism and defines a compassionate lifestyle as the most obvious, undeniable choice.

Like other such things I stumbled upon this, this morning, quite unprepared. I did get up with the intention of resuming meditation in the morning. I have hardly meditated at all the past few weeks and for the past couple of months many of the benefits of meditation I had found earlier were dissipating. I think the main cause of this was my war fever - a super focus on war and peace. Now that fever has broken and I feel whole again.

In fact, my meditation this morning had a different quality than before. It was, in a strange way, more relaxed - and yet, at the same time, I was more aware. I think in the past I retreated more into a separate physical state during meditation - a state that was enhanced by keeping my eyes shut.

This morning I had my eyes closed some of the time, but I didn't feel opening them broke the meditation. The key stimulus for this change came from reading - almost at random - some passages about interbeing in Thich Nhat Hanhs' "The Miracle of Mindfulness."

Note: I wrote this four days ago. I am publishing it now after I have had time to digest it, These insights do not stay with me whole. The words and concepts last. The feeling and intuitive integration into my life gets driven out by various distractions of day-to-day living. It's much like knowing that the Andromeda Galaxy is 2 million light years away and experiencing those two million light years as you observe this little blur of light in the autumn sky. For me the experience is extremely rare and I don't know how to generate it. The knowing - having command of the facts is simple. But the facts are an empty skeleton - just the faintest of shadows of the reality.

This too, I believe, is at the heart of Buddhism, though I had experienced it far before I knew anything of Buddhism. The issue is how to grasp things whole - how to go from knowing to being - how to look at the osprey and not simply feel like you imagine the osprey feels, but for a moment be the osprey.

And how to sustain any of these insights for more than an hour or two?

Posted by Greg Stone at 12:03 AM | Comments (2)