Sunday, May 09, 2010


Well, here I am, awake later than I want to be because of a dissatisfaction with the way something is coming down in my life, so what better time to spout off a little? When I tune in on discussions anywhere, about any "spiritual" path, I'm always impressed by the effort and time that some of your reflections show in pursing the knowledge about if not actually setting out on the path of various religious or philosophical programs. So much effort, so much accumulated knowledge, shows how much unhappiness there is in the world, for one would not be searching the world for a better philosophy if the philosophy that one has is working as one expected it to work out.

Frankly, Buddhism or not, no religion starts out with an accurate picture of the human condition and without an accurate view of reality, how can anyone expect to build a philosophy/religion that can lead to any good? Right up front, I don't expect any formal way of structuring the chaos of existence with a goal to happiness will ever work out for anybody. The human psyche is not set up to experience happiness on a continuous basis. The brain is a computational device evolved to solve millions of small computational problems, from separating a vertical line and a horizontal line, to identifying a predator or other threats, from deciphering another human's behavior with a goal of deciding whether or not to trust that person to calculating what behaviors will best serve in seducing the woman it's attracted to. These continuously running calculations are always operating in the now and without a sense of time and mostly outside of consciousness. The emotions inform this give and take between the brain and its environment, and they make the decisions for us. If it were not for negative emotions, we wouldn't know what behaviors to avoid, and we'd run out in front of cars without a hint of danger.

For me, the sciences of neuroscience or evolutionary psychology provide the best description of how the brain creates reality and functions in view of that reality. The difference between those sciences and Buddhism is that they provide a description of reality not a panacea for it. When I began to understand how accurately they explained all the dilemmas of my life, past and present, I was drawn to them like a thirsty man to a Heinekens. All my struggles with identity, masculinity, the opposite sex, social relations with both sexes and family, peer pressures, courtship, work relations and finances are being answered to my satisfaction by these sciences, but they don't, and neither do any religions or philosophies, give me any special comfort in view human behavior, my own or yours.

I guess, if I have a philosophy it's a psychological one; it would be based on a rough and ready understanding of my own behavior and how they have affected people in the past who loved me or whom I loved and a handful of mental tricks to try and soothe the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Those slings and arrows are going to keep coming, and I can't stop them and I must feel them because the sciences I trust have told me that that's my fate as a member of the human species.

But all is not for naught. Living has taught me some valuable lessons and science shows me just what pieces of human nature I was dealing with while making wrong and painful decisions. For example, for awhile in my life I was a "take this job and shove it" sort of guy. Hey, if it's good enough for a country western singer, it's good enough for me! But I'd do that "take job shove it" routine when my problem was poverty and its accompanying complications, and I was smarting at the unfairness of some job situation. Somehow, leaving a job never solved the basic poverty I was dealing with. I'm specially sensitive about money issues and can be trusted to overreact when someone other than me is spending our surplus. (Thus, I am awake tonight, see?) So I go someplace, like an AA meeting, and I tell on myself. I identify the behavior, admit to it, laugh at myself, and then return home and apologize... if needed.

What I find interesting is that you can go to almost any religion and find someone who'll share the same insight about behavior, owning it and making amends. Sometimes the words change. It's so universal that you begin to see that it comes with the human animal territory; it's a morality (a behavior pattern) that transcends religion. Monkey see, monkey do. And what amuses me is that all the superstructure of religions, their holy ones, their seventh heavens and nine portals and twelve gates, their dogmas and creeds and learning them tit for tat has nothing to do with how one actually deals with the constant barrage of emotions and reactions caused by them which one must feel if one is to be alive. I can see some practices like meditation and chanting or even prayer (if not the desperate sort) can be helpful. Chanting creates breathing patterns that can release stress and meditation can calm down brain waves, but these aren't religious practices, are they? They're physiological practices like running which also reduces stress.

Let me restate so I can understand myself. Religions are collections of concepts. Learning them are useless, specially if they're founded on unscientific assumptions. What one needs is a way of accepting his emotional life just as it is, allowing them into his life, allowing them to inform his decisions, and finding ways to reduce their negative influences. These helpful lessons come with living and are mental (psychological) lessons and practices, not religious ones. Almost all people who suffer the most are the ones trying desperately not to suffer. They are people who always go to the happy movie because they tell you that "life is bad enough and one has to escape". Now me, I've always liked unhappy movies. They rub my nose in my escapism and force me to confront my silly wish to escape, escape, escape. When I was young, those movies scared the hell out of me, but nowadays, I don't find my "life" to be that bad at all, and I revel in a good story with real and complex characters.

Well, am I sleepy yet? I guess I'll find out.

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