Monday, December 27, 2010

Giving the Devil His Due

A Mexican Devil ornament on my tree
At my house, I've instituted a sort of tradition to initiate the Christmas dinner. In deference to the mix of secular and religious people at the table, I propose a toast, in lieu of the more traditional practice some might expect of "saying grace." One year, I toasted "kindness," which I prefaced by explaining that Christmas and all its peculiar peripherals are all about kindness--giving gifts, the notion of a savior, charity, taking time out from petty rivalries, executive pardons, and ceasefires during wartime. The toast is my way of expressing my feeling of gratitude, which I do by acknowledging common values without getting into any argumentative zones. So far, all parties have been satisfied.

A couple of years ago, I raised my glass to the Devil. Seeing the initial reaction of my guests (especially my Christian guests), I went on to say that without something that bedevils us, an implacable enemy who actively seeks our ruin, what need would we have--indeed what appreciation could we be expected to have--for a savior? The entire holiday, you might say, is essentially enabled and facilitated by the mythical bad guy, and we have him to thank for the celebration of Christmas. I like stretching the envelope a little.

It sounds weird, I know, unless you consider that it would be even less appropriate to link Jesus with the commercialism, the vast sum of money that changes hands, the overeating and drunkenness, the artificial friendliness, the stress, alienation and depression that year after year accompany the whole garish pagan display. Jolly good fun and all, but...Jesus? In all that?

The birth of Christ may have coincided with the winter solstice, and people may celebrate his birth around this time, but the holidays as we know them are pretty much the work of the Devil. Not that I'm complaining, you understand...

Thursday, December 16, 2010


We all have it in us. Our innate wisdom is the invaluable faculty that makes it possible for us to recognize another person’s words or actions as wise (or unwise). How else would we know? 

Because whatever information we receive from the outside enters and is processed by the mind, we have a tendency to think that the mind is the seat of wisdom, and to assume that those who are learned are also wise, but this is not the case.  Wisdom is not in the mind, but in the heart. Not to be confused with logic, wisdom has nothing to do with figuring things out and coming up with the right answer to questions. It's a feeling—a gratifying stillness that tells us when we know the truth, or when we've found the right answer.  This feeling (or lack of it) is how we know that what we're about to do is right (or wrong), or that something is true (or untrue). It's like a "moral compass" that's not based on a set of morals.

While being learned and being wise are not mutually exclusive by any means, they are also not automatically connected. Even the illiterate can be wise, and even the learned can be foolish. It’s a question of trusting the heart to be our guide, and placing personal experience before logic. It’s also a matter of paying attention to what happens in life, and choosing that which consistently serves us well, and fosters the accomplishment of our ultimate goal. 

Often I find that wisdom is associated with the study of philosophy, or assumed to be the natural result of aging, or worse—presumed to be of no practical value in daily affairs. None of this is accurate (or wise), and here’s why:

1.      Studying the supposed wisdom of others in no way guarantees that we will ourselves become wise (any more than reading a story about someone winning the lottery will make you rich).
2.      Age is no ticket to wisdom (there are at least as many old fools as old wise people).
3.      Nothing could be more important in our daily activities than acting wisely (think how screwed up things get when we act unwisely). 

If we hope to be at all successful in life (and I mean the real bottom line, not the financial one), we must become attuned to the inherent wisdom within us. Our wisdom, not merely someone else’s. It’s the only reliable navigational tool we have for finding our way effectively. Without connecting to our own wisdom, we have no guarantee that we’ll find what we came into this world to get—let alone keep it long enough to take it with us when we leave. A "wise person" is simply one who consistently and uncompromisingly follows the heart.

The observations in my new book, Wise Cracks, are the result of one human being’s attempt to live consciously and passionately, to require satisfactory answers, and to accept no compromise. Whether or not any of my remarks contain wisdom is of course for the reader to determine. Only that which resonates with our own experience will be of any lasting value; the rest is mere entertainment. Good entertainment, I hope, but I’m shooting higher than that.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

You have no idea how long it's taken me to get going with this. I've been procrastinating, because being the perfectionist I am, I couldn't decide how to proprely launch. So I think I'll just go back to the very beginning, with my own version of the creation myth:

In the beginning, there was light.  Only light. Uncreated, limitless self-effulgent light.  Within the light was silence.  Within the silence was the potential of all sound, in absolute harmony.  Within the harmony was stillness.  Within the stillness was the essence of all movement, in perfect rhythm.   Within the rhythm was pure consciousness. Within the consciousness there was untainted supreme bliss.

This was the only existence; all-pervasive, undivided, uncaused, without borders, with no beginning, no middle and no end.  This was the oneness of reality: truth, undefined by falsehood; love, independent of hate; joy unrelated to sorrow; one eternal being without a second. 

And then the uncreated being began to create.  From its uncontested will, came forth an illusion.  The light withdrew from the infinite space it occupied, like a vast breathing in of unimaginable proportions.  Curling inward upon itself, the light with all its attributes retreated, leaving in its place an utter darkness, the absence of light, void of all presence.  The compression of all existence at last reached a critical point, where for the briefest possible moment, the light had disappeared altogether. Darkness appeared to reign supreme.

Suddenly, in a brilliant, explosive exhalation, the movement reversed.  Bursting forth into the darkness, that which had been one being became fragments of matter, hurling out in all directions, scattering throughout the void.  In this instant, with this simple movement, this breathing in and breathing out, a pair of opposites came into being.  There was darkness and there was light.  There was heat and cold.   The energy, once a singular wholeness, now appeared as opposing forces, positive and negative.  The effect of this division was to put in play an unstoppable process of creation, increasingly complex in nature, revolving about an exquisite marriage of opposites in endless attraction; of chaos and order, seemingly random, yet imbued with purpose.  Elements came into being, in turn forming compounds. Interactions became immutable physical laws.  Gases burned, solids collided. Nature had begun, following the impulse of that supreme intelligence which was its source.  The universe was born.

Okay. I feel better now.