Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Most Important Thing I Have Learned

The most useful thing I've learned since coming to Australia is probably the importance of always having a stick with you when you go to the outhouse.

This weekend I was reminded of that timeless lesson, and of a photo album I created about six years ago from the construction of the outhouse at The Shed.  It explains how to build your own outhouse in just 83 easy steps.  The incident that reminded me also happened to involve this very dunny.

It had been about a month since I last made it up to The Shed.  This is May, and for some reason, this year Western Australia has decided to hold Winter in May.  That means that it was dark by the time I got up here.  Dark, wet and cold enough to warrant bringing in a bunch of firewood with which to warm up The Shed.  But by the time I arrived, I also had an urgent need to, uh, meditate upon the porcelain.

So I picked up a flashlight and a handy stick and headed out to the dunny.  Approaching it with caution, I opened the door and poked the stick inside.  It caught on something crackly.  The stick caught hold in a large, stiff web.  A messy, disorganized web that practically filled the entire space inside the dunny.  Though the responsible party was not to be seen, I knew.  Redback.

I closed the door, willed my bowels to postpone the evening's scheduled activity and went back inside the shed to get a fire going and something to eat.

The next morning I returned to the dunny with a bigger stick and a can of spray.  And an even more urgent "need."  I knocked down all the webs I could see and put down some surface spray along the walls.  When I came to the crevice under the sink I believed to be concealing the redback, I gave it a good shot and stood back.  Right on cue, about 10 seconds later an enormous, fully mature redback came scrabbling out and began the writhing and lashing that I've seen hundreds of times in my life. American Black Widows and Australian Redbacks share a lot of DNA and a lot of similar behaviors.

Since using a dunny puts one in a rather vulnerable, immobilized position, I prefer to wait until there are no deadly poisonous creatures within inches of my person.  I therefore waited another hour or so before returning to find the venomous spider well and truly dead.

The wisdom of always bringing a stick with you to the dunny once again proved its worth.  No, there weren't any more spiders, but due in part to the repeated delays, my visit created a temporary plumbing malfunction.  A good, solid stick is useful for sorting out that, too.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

If You Really Want Something Then Don't Want It

This is a subtle concept and requires some close attention to fully understand it.  Let's take it one easy step at a time:

1.  The word "want" inevitably develops some emotion around it for most people because of the way it operates in the context of your early life.  Before age 7 the developing mind has no ability to disbelieve anything to which it is exposed.    We were told what we can and can't have, and why, virtually every time the word "want" escaped our lips.

Don't negotiate, just ignore.
2.  "Want" is therefore emotionally connected to how "worthy" we believe we are; the things we believe we are ultimately "allowed" to be, do and have; and what kinds of things are fundamentally unavailable to each of us specifically.  E.g. "You can't do that because that's something only boys do, and you're a girl."  Or, "You can't  have that because We Are Poor."  These beliefs are mostly below the conscious level of awareness and therefore influence our default Standard Operating Procedures.

3.  As an adult when you say or think that you "want" something substantially different to what you now have, those beliefs and procedures are unconsciously re-activated.  They tell you "no."  They tell you that you are not worthy, not allowed, can't afford it, it's only for people who aren't you, or that it will probably end up harming you in some way.  They make you operate in ways that actually move you away from the thing you want. Your Standard Operating Procedures are keeping you fat, poor and lonely because that's what is familiar and therefore what is safe.

4.  Willpower is of no use here or anywhere, because it is a nonexistent thing.  That thing that people call willpower is just conflict between the conscious mind and the unconscious one which believes that only it knows how to keep you safe.  The unconscious mind ALWAYS wins.  Every time.  The moment the conscious mind gets distracted, tired, stressed or doubtful, the unconscious slips back into Standard Operating Procedures and behavior reverts right back to normal.  The addict returns to his drug or device, the overweight diabetic returns to her fetal lifestyle, the victim returns to his self-pity.

4.  Therefore to consciously "want" something translates into the experience of forever wanting something and never obtaining it.  Especially if it is something we were programmed never to have through these deep, unconscious beliefs that we don't usually even know we have.

5.  But these beliefs are easy to expose and root out.  For example, your unconscious beliefs about how much money you believe you are "allowed" to have is accurately reflected in your current bank balance.  Is that a jagged pill to swallow for you?  It is for all of us, mate.  

6.  Exposing and eliminating bad beliefs can be done through years and years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in psychotherapy with a 5% chance of success.  Or you can use NLP, hypnosis, or other techniques to operate on the mind and transform it into something that works better for you within a few hours.  And if even that is too hard, there is a shortcut.

7.  The shortcut is to avoid the word "want" altogether.  Do not "want" the thing you want.  Do you want money?  A healthy body?  A great relationship?  A Moto Guzzi V7 Classic in white with fairing, fuel injection, electronic ignition, electric start and shaft drive?  Or do you simply want happiness?  Then stop wanting it.

8.  The Buddha cryptically said that desire was the source of all suffering.  He may have been onto something if children in his day were also accustomed to "wanting" out loud every damn thing they see in the supermarket.  Personally, a lot of my suffering happens when I foolishly enter a grocery store outside of school hours.  Why do kids want so much crap?  We want a thing not for the thing itself but only for the feeling that we think the thing will give us.

9.  We have also been duped by our culture into thinking that the things we want will actually give us those feelings:  significance, security, connection, freedom, joy; and that having them is the only way.  The truth is that we can have the feelings anytime we want, with or without the thing.  But it's not wrong to still want the thing or to still get it.  Only our own sense of unworthiness, our own identity/destiny story, or our disbelief in the possibilities prevents it.

10.  Therefore if there is something you want, then stop wanting it.  Replace the feelings of wanting with the feelings you imagine the thing would give you.  Now, simply "choose" the thing.  Say "I choose to have a lot of money."  "I choose to have a healthy body."  "I choose to have a deeply fulfilling marriage relationship."  "I choose to have Filet Mignon or a nice t-bone with baked potato and sour cream any time I'm in the mood for it."  Now you no longer want it, because you already feel the way you would if you had it.  Because you no longer feel "want" for it, you no longer feel unworthy or incapable of having it.  Because you no longer want it, you are now allowed to have it.

11.  Persistent repetition of that choice re-writes your Standard Operating Procedures and overwrites those useless old "worthiness" and "destiny" beliefs.  It takes as long as it takes, but infinite patience brings immediate results.  The more your unconscious mind trusts you, the faster it works.  Build trust with your unconscious mind just like you would build trust with anyone else: keep your promises and deliver the goods for as long as it takes. And relax!  Be happy!  When your unconscious mind observes you happy and relaxed, it reckons you must be onto something good, and will finally follow your lead instead of resisting your attempts to change.

12.  Of course this practice pre-supposes that you have some degree of mastery over your conscious mind.  That's no small feat in itself, but it is as simple as gradually developing the ability to stop your thoughts at any point at which they run wild and diverge from your true choices and desires, and replace them with thoughts that support you and your goals.  Your free will only exists at the level of thought, and that is the level at which your determination and choices can have an effect. Start by seeing if you can have no thought for even one second, and gradually extend the time.  Then see if you can think of something specific of your choice for up to 15 minutes.

13. Of course in the long run you can always go back, expose and eliminate the old unsupportive beliefs that you have accumulated.  We all have them.  But they aren't who you are.  They are someone else's discarded thoughts that don't work, or were simply misunderstandings to begin with.  Deleting the word "want" from your vocabulary, however, is a great shortcut to use in the meantime.  It works.

How do I know?  My own experience with this concept is the following.  For years I "wanted" to earn a living doing something that I love. I "wanted" and "wanted."  And all the wanting brought only one thing:  more wanting.  It was only when I re-wrote the piece of paper that was taped to the wall in front of me and that I looked at every day.  I crossed out the word "want" and wrote, "I CHOOSE to earn a living doing the things I love."

Within a few days I was doing exactly that.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Had A Spider In My Hair

It had to happen eventually.  This is Australia, after all.

It must have dropped onto me while I was pruning some trees.

What did I do?  The only sensible thing that could be done.

I wrote a song about it.

I had a spider in my hair.
A real-live spider crawling in my hair.
It was awful
but not the worst thing I've been through.

I had a tick once, in my navel.
A big fat tick right in my navel.
It was really gross
but not the worst thing I've been through.

You let a centipede loose in our tent.
A real live centipede was in our tent
while we were camping that one time.
Boy, we sure got out of there in a hurry.

You moved away and never came back.
Far away, and never call or write.
For any dad who's been through that
who cares about some little tiny spider in his hair?

I used to be afraid of being eaten by sharks.
I used to worry about drowning at sea.
When the worst thing has already happened
Even dying doesn't matter to me.

© 2013 John S. Jacob

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Why Religious Equality Doesn't Exist

Freedom to practice the religion of one's choice (or none) rather than having a religion chosen for you by the government is one of the central guarantees made in the US constitution. But religious equality isn't guaranteed for one simple reason:

People of all religions are finally united . . .
in their abhorrence of South Park.  
It doesn't exist.

Religions are not all equal.  A person cannot legally be discriminated against on the basis of his religion, and correctly so.  However, it is not necessary to afford all religious organizations and religious ideas the same level of respect or privilege.  Some religions are worthy of general praise and respect, while others deserve all the public derision and general disregard that we can muster.   Religion can be a useful thing, but some religions harm people, harm the environment, oppress people, even abuse people.  And sometimes they tell lies.

Catholicism, for example, has been institutionally abusing children for probably hundreds of years, and has used its organization, political power and wealth to protect kiddiefiddlers.  In places where a robust secular judicial system exists over which the Catholic church has no power or sway, things are starting to get cleaned up.  But wherever it still holds significant civic and political power, you can bet that the Catholic church will continue to abuse that power and the people within its reach.

Also, any religion that makes testable claims is simply not the equal of the good religions.  When a claim is testable using any objective means, including making measurements of physical quantities, repeatable observations or experiments, mathematical or numerical analysis, then those claims are no longer the property of religion, but now belong entirely to science.  Science will decide whether the claims are true or not.  It may take a few decades and scientists may argue vociferously about it for a while, but that's how it works.  Eventually, the irrefutable truth emerges through persistent unrelenting empirical testing.  If a claim can be proved or disproved,  it has nothing to do with religion.

Examples of testable claims that are sometimes made by sub-par religions:

  • the nature of disease, both physical and mental;
  • the age of the earth, its size, shape, and position in the cosmos;
  • the nature, size, origin and location of objects that can be seen in the sky;
  • the nature, size, origin and age of the universe;
  • how living things function, live, reproduce, and die;
  • how living populations respond genetically to environmental or competitive pressures over very long periods;
  • anything to do with the weather;
  • anything to do with geology, paleontology, archaeology or politics;
  • anything to do with probability, statistics, chance or randomness; 
  • the meaning or nature of numbers and mathematics;
  • the properties of information, sound, light, minerals, M&Ms, geometry, or language.
Not to pick on Catholics too much, but they used to make testable claims about the earth in relation to its shape (flat), age (young) and location (center of universe).  Even the most rudimentary observations were able to show that these claims were false.  The church was able through the abuse of its power to suppress this information for a while, but was eventually forced to change its religious claims.  The religion either had to disband, or change beliefs to accommodate verifiable objective facts.  It chose to continue to exist.

Many prominent religions today make claims about the age of the earth and how living things operate that have been proven false, yet they continue to insist upon them.  They are bad religions, and you should feel free to ignore anything else they may say.  If a religion can be proven, it's not a religion. If a religion can be proven false, then it is a false religion.  Either way it can't help you, and it should either change its beliefs, or disband forthwith.

Many other religions make testable claims about their god which turn out to be false.  Generally, claims about god are un-testable and therefore religions are free to make any claim they wish (e.g. his name is Gary, he has a mustache and likes Mountain Dew and cow smoke, and other such claims which are inherently impossible to test empirically).  But religions that claim that god has a property they refer to as Omniscience are making a claim that CAN be tested.  

Basically, for information storage or "knowledge" to exist, a persistent means of encoding information is mandatory.  The persistent means provided by this universe is matter.  To encode all information about all matter in the universe using matter in the universe would require more matter than the universe contains, with nothing left over for the information to be about.  Therefore the concept generally understood to be "omniscience" or "knowing all things" must be dismissed as containing its own falsification, and is therefore meaningless nonsense.  Unless the universe and everything in it IS this god person . . . but that usually isn't what is claimed. 

The power and benefit of religion comes from having beliefs that, while unable to be proved or disproved, often cause a person to act and live in a happier, more beneficial way to themselves and to those around them. In that sense they are testable, but only in the context of application by each individual.  I can test my beliefs for me, and you can test your beliefs for you, but my test of my beliefs proves nothing to you, and your test of your beliefs proves nothing to me.  Unless your beliefs are testable by objective means.  And in that case you do not have beliefs at all; you have hypotheses.  

Objective, verifiable facts all belong to science, which is just our name for the systematic process of determining the status of objective facts.  Religion is our name for claims that cannot be tested by any objective means whatsoever, but which improve one's mortal experience subjectively.  Religions that fail to do that are bad religions and should be ignored.  

Substandard religions DO NOT need to be physically fought or persecuted, because evolution will eventually take care of them for us.  On the other hand, there is no need for society to give equal space, equal respect or equal status to religions that are demonstrably either harmful or false.

But if you absolutely insist on believing in and practicing a bad religion (in other words, practicing a failed Science), then for heaven's sake make sure you tell everyone about it!  The internet is running out of cat pictures.