05.31.19

holding it

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:56 pm by Administrator

lately I’ve been meditating on this idea: that if I hold it, it cannot hold me. this applies to everything. this applies to ideas that trouble me. this applies to pain in my body. it applies to my nervous tics, my disappointed expectations, and my fears about the future.

if I hold these things—really hold them, as in the palm of my hand, without judgment and solely with compassion for myself—then they cannot hold me. they cannot bind me, restrain me, or define what I am.

and so I applied this today, to my reading of an article about franklin graham’s day of prayer for our president.

it is my ego that I hold in my hand now. it is the voice in me that says that franklin graham is a white man who does not understand. it is the voice in me that says that evangelicals are foolish for believing religion and social justice are unrelated. ego is the voice in me that says that white people who pray for trump misrepresent their religion, and ego is also the voice that says that the religion which they seek to represent properly is in fact no truth at all.

this ego voice is the cause of my suffering. I imagine so many enemies, but in fact I have no enemies. the people at work in my world are no different from me; they are seeking the fullest life, amidst the troubling circumstances that they are living within. most of these people are unknown to me, and I have no ability to know them, understand them, or judge them for their thoughts and actions. but I know this: they are not my enemies. if there is anything in the world that is close to being anything like an enemy to me, it is my ego—that voice in me that has extended from our collective ego, which is itself rooted in a story of the ages and a relentless quest for immortality, all consummated in mythologies, religions, and other ideas that lead to suffering. if I had an enemy, it would be my ego. but even my ego is not my enemy. it is a thought pattern that reflects a person who, in his own way, wishes the best for me. he knows no better; like a symbiont or parasite, he has no choice but to believe that his persistence is equivalent to my well-being.

I hold my ego in the palm of my hand, and so it does not hold me.

I have no ill will toward franklin graham. if prayer is his way of expressing love, hope, and sympathy, then I urge him and those of a similar mind to pray for others. it is true that this country is only an idea, just as the presidency of it is conceptual and rooted in pervasive, powerful ideas of identity. I will not pray for the president because to imagine the reality behind the concept of his office is to wade into dangerous waters. I cannot be present with the man or the idea of him. in my own way, I wish Donald Trump wellness, as reflected in happiness, peace, and freedom from suffering. I know that he suffers, as all people do. if prayer will relieve their suffering, let them pray. I will not add to their suffering or to the suffering of my readers by expressing judgment.

what good thing has ever come out of anything but presence? if I offered words that could change someone’s mind for the better, even then would it match the transformation that comes from presence? what good can exceed the good that comes out of real relationship, when two people who struggle with an idea come together and realize each other as kin, as human beings miraculously sharing a moment in time? and what enduring good can possibly result from our contemplation of the other in the absence of presence, when we conjure ideas that reduce what is wonderfully inexplicable to something less than human?

I do not know franklin graham. I do not know him through his faith, through his words, through his reputation, or through my own past experiences of the church. I cannot generalize his beliefs, nor can I attach myself to his cause, if there is such a thing. and so I do the only thing that I can do: I extend compassion to him, as I extend compassion to myself. there is too much belief and not enough meaningful presence at work in our world. it is enough to hold what we feel and to observe what it is; this is what we can do, when we are most human

05.24.19

realistic expectations of the eagles: the ceiling may be high, but the floor is real

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:38 pm by Administrator

I’m pretty excited to be going to the season home opener, and overall I’m optimistic about the Eagles. like I wrote previously, I think they’ll have a winning season and a playoff win or two. that being said, I’m reading a lot of articles by beat writers claiming that this team looks better than the squad that won the super bowl, and all I’ve got to say to that is “simmer down now”. there are too many questions and unknowns surrounding this squad to even venture a super bowl prediction.

for one thing, with all the new additions to the team, we have to consider the basic possibility that fit and chemistry just may not work out as planned. on offense, carson wentz is sure going to want to prove that he can connect with desean jackson. is that a sure thing? we’ve never seen wentz work with a receiver quite like d-jax, and even though on paper they seem to be compatible on the routes they do well, this is purely theoretical. the fact is that wentz wasn’t very good last year with his receivers, and the addition of d-jax to the offensive scheme is no guarantee that we will have better luck at driving downfield.

malik jackson and zach brown are two absolutely critical additions on the defensive side of the ball, and they both project to take the majority of snaps at their respective positions. both of them have plenty of experience, and both of them are past their primes. is it realistic to expect that they will both jump in and contribute at the level of play they’ve previously exhibited? on the d-line, the assumption is that fletcher cox will make malik’s job one dimensional and easily manageable for the veteran; and at linebacker, the prevailing assumption is that the eagles’ scheme makes the ILB position relatively straightforward for a pro like brown. i think that these are big assumptions that will be tested early and often through the season. as recently as three seasons ago, the eagles were a below-average run defense with the likes of bennie logan and mychal kendricks at key positions, and we could certainly fall to similar levels of mediocrity if malik and zach do not absolutely bring their A game to this defense.

beyond chemistry, our recent play especially on the offensive side of the ball gives me little reassurance that we should expect a renaissance in 2019. the carson wentz i saw in 2018 was a middling quarterback who looked tentative and out of rhythm, and while it’s nice to see him at OTAs without a knee brace, it’s not a safe assumption to believe that he will readily reassume his early 2017 form. the jury is out on what we’ll have at QB this year. the fact is that our offense through much of the 2018 season was very bad, and it restrains me from overexuberant projections for 2019. will we be able to run the ball behind an o-line that’s past its prime on the left side and certainly tentative at both guard positions? how well will two brand-new running backs to the team adapt to the scheme? all of this remains to be seen. on paper, we have solid talent and depth at the skill positions—but this don’t mean a thing once there’s real contact on the field. i don’t think there’s any good reason to believe that all of our offensive struggles from 2018 won’t carry over to some degree into 2019. we need a lot of things to turn around in 2019: better play-calling from pederson and groh, better decision-making and more courage from wentz, stronger play from the o-line, and better route running and hands from our receivers. that’s a lot to fix in one season.

and even beyond these particulars, there’s the fact that the league in general and the NFC in particular are vastly more competitive now than they were in 2017. let’s face it: the eagles slipped through a tight window of league mediocrity in 2017 to win that title. the seahawks and packers had terrifically down years in 2017; the NFC east outside of the eagles was floundering; the saints’ emerging talents were rookies; and the falcons and vikings were very flawed playoff competitors. the league has changed a lot over the past season. even if the eagles can find a way to match the chemistry and aggression of their historic 2017 season, it hardly makes sense to believe that the road to a super bowl will be just as easy in 2019. the saints, cowboys, and rams are significantly better than they were two years ago, and all three outplayed the eagles handily last year. and that’s just the NFC. AFC teams like the chiefs, chargers, and colts are way ahead of where they were in 2017, and i would not put the eagles in their league based on how poorly we played last season. to put it simply, the Eagles are facing a distinctly higher level of competition in 2019, and moreover there are many more question marks about this squad’s potential than there were in 2017.

i am still not expecting the Eagles to win the NFC East, and i would definitely bet on the cowboys to repeat as division winners if i had to put money on it. that being said, if we make the playoffs, i think we could make a run of it because of our depth and our playoff experience.

i don’t think that the Eagles will dominate the league this season, and it’s not reasonable to assume that they’re going to easily fix all the offensive sloppiness that contributed to a lot of stupid and baffling losses last year. yes, there will be enough head-scratching losses to remind Philadelphia fans of why it is necessarily such an angry and frustrating experience to fly and fall with their Eagles. so before the roller coaster ride of 2019 begins, let’s just start with a little perspective. 2017 was a dream, and 2019 is going to be a lot of harsh reality. let’s just hope that carson wentz stays healthy and plays better than he did last year. that in itself might be enough to call 2019 a success?

05.22.19

labyrinth of spirits, and truth

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:24 pm by Administrator

after the disappointment of prisoner of heaven—which i found to be skimpy and short on detail relative to the ground-breaking shadow of the wind and angel’s game—i was fairly excited to encounter carlos ruiz zafon’s final book in the series, labyrinth of spirits. at 800-plus pages, it was every bit the saga that i wanted it to be, and the story went deep and broad as it plunged into the ephemeral and darkly disturbing universe of the earlier books.

unlike the Barcelona of shadow of the wind and angel’s game, the city of Labyrinth is grounded in the political and the real, backgrounded less by the mystical than by the macabre. from the outset, violence, political corruption, and revenge infiltrate the story, and there is little time or energy left over for the haunting ruminations of an introverted protagonist. the heroine of this novel essentializes the quality of its narrative: Alicia Gris, who dispenses with sentimentality and sets herself to the sordid task of investigating a disappearance and all of its associated murders, torturings, and traumas.

labyrinth of spirits still weaves in a bit of the fanciful and funny through the familiar character of Fermin, even as it dips into the deep despair of various new characters emerging in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. overall, it is not a romantic novel, nor does it resonate with the strange and attractive magical realism of the prior stories. i would daresay labyrinth is deadly serious through and through, and it reads very much like the treatise of an author with an axe to grind. the point of this novel in the end isn’t a circuitous and fantastical journey through a cemetery of forgotten books; no, the point is a destination as humorless and tragic as the historical context from which the story, by great pains, was extracted.

i would not say that i finished the novel feeling unfulfilled, but i did depart from the experience feeling a bit sad. the novel made me wonder how the intervening years since angel’s game have changed Zafon and his sensibilities. perhaps the magic of nostalgia he once experienced has been supplanted by a darker pragmatism; perhaps the world and its movements have leaned on him with a particular weight. i cannot speculate. i only know that the writing i experienced in labyrinth is much different from what i experienced in the previous stories. it was no less skillful, but it was less loving, and it left me feeling that the world of labyrinth is perhaps not very different from the one we now live in.

i have spent a little bit of time contemplating recent moments in which i disclosed a dismissal of Christian faith. after a morning of meditation about a week ago, i recognized the falseness of this spontaneous sentiment. in fact, i would have had no journey into mindfulness had it not been for my many years of immersion in a Christian worldview. it is true that in my moments of emptiness, i do not experience an ego in that space—but that does not mean that a person of God is nonexistent. i think it is fair to say that Christ led me to mindfulness, and without Christ i would not have experienced the truth of emptiness. Christ and emptiness inform each other, in a special and strange way that i cannot elaborate cleanly and in theological terms. the best i can venture is this: i see that the personality of the universe gains nothing from my wish to endow it with an intention or a feeling. perhaps God has always hoped that i would one day recognize that he has no interest in an offering of heartfelt passion. perhaps God has always hoped that i would understand his desire for all life to experience happiness, wellness, peace, and freedom from suffering. i do not experience a felt closeness with God when i am truly at peace—and God, whose existence i cannot discern or judge one way or the other—observes this with me and allows this to be true. this truth, strange and wonderful as it is, reflects something of God that i will wonder at for a lifetime

05.15.19

Shame of Thrones?

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:33 am by Administrator

i really do get the rage being directed at the writers and directors of GoT right now. let’s face it: ever since the show took on its own uncertain road beyond the tale crafted by GRRM, it’s been teetering on the edge of mediocrity. this season and the last have been chock full of elementary plot developments. the love affair between jon snow and daenerys targaryen represented the absolute low point of the show, and it has not rebounded since. in retrospect, the “Battle of the Bastards” was the show’s best moment, never to be replicated.

but let’s face it. it was Game of Thrones that set us up for disappointment with Game of Thrones. the shocking, visceral, and relentlessly ruthless show molded a generation of viewers that became attuned to a unique kind of thrill. we demanded to be tested, heartbroken, and horrified, and we can credit our craven sensibilities to six unprecedented seasons of an epic series written by a genius (GRRM) and actualized by a visionary (Benioff). i don’t think that our expectations were impossible to meet; but seasons 7 and 8 had a tall task to fulfill, and their failure to deliver is as much a reflection of the show’s earlier successes as it is an indictment of its current failings.

this season has been watchable. i wouldn’t say i have been entirely unentertained. the problem, as i see it, is that as soon as i’ve drained my cup, the pleasure of consumption dissipates entirely and is replaced by an immediate sense of nausea. where are the revolting moments that we simply have to ruminate over and relive (to our horror and excitement) one more time? where are the scenes that we have to watch again and again, just to see the blood and guts and taste a hint of the raw feeling behind them? there’s not a single scene in the past season and a half that’s been worth rewatching; it’s been a series of loveless and mechanical plot movements. in this context, episode 5 of season 8—in its entirely unoriginal human lens into the horrors of war—came across as something worse than perfunctory; it felt cheaply sentimental.

i wish i could say that i will enjoy daenerys’s downfall next week, but i’m truly afraid that her death scene will be little better than mundane. whether jon or tyrion knock her off, i’m not sure anything can salvage the dismal ending of this show or its steadily diminishing legacy. but hey, i’m gonna be there regardless, because the show has earned that much loyalty from me.

winter came and went. meh

05.09.19

Eagles: overall assessment of the off-season and 2019 season predictions

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:42 pm by Administrator

Gestalt

the Eagles are a well-managed, well-coached, deep, and talented team at this point in their history. it’s mighty easy to root for a team that inspires loyalty and is so committed to delivering wins. the management trio of Jeff Lurie, Howie Roseman, and Doug Pederson are genuine all-star leaders that appear to be on the same page. Go Eagles!

Free Agency’s Best Moments

1. The Brandon Graham extension: the BG extension was important for the team on many levels, and the price that we locked him in at was in the sweet spot—not so cheap as to disengage a team leader, but not at the market value price that would have hurt the team.

2. Bringing back D-Jax: I’m liking this the more I think about it. the price point may not have been ideal for a 30+ year old player, but the extra dimension that he brings to the offense satisfies an immediate need and significantly elevates Carson Wentz’s ceiling for 2019. it’s possible that this move will yield us at least one playoff game victory.

3. Extending Jason Kelce: all Eagle fans collectively sighed with relief when this got done. it meant several things, most notably that Kelce would not retire and leave us with an unfillable hole in the middle of the o-line.

The Draft and other Possible Misses

1. We didn’t draft a safety. I don’t want to agitate about this anymore.

2. We passed on Montez Sweat for a possibly serviceable LT starter. I seem to be the only Eagle fan who was upset by this.

3. We stuck with Carson instead of Foles. I know that I’m in the minority on this one, but I still believe we should have stuck with Foles—a cost-controlled playoff winning fan favorite—and traded Wentz, a guy who tore his ACL for the second time in my nightmare last night (no joke).

Our real draft versus my ideal scenario

Pick 25: Roseman traded up and took Dillard. I would have stayed and taken Montez Sweat, Jawaan Taylor, or Marquise Brown, in that order.

Pick 53: Roseman took Miles Sanders. I would have traded down with the Jets to get their 3rd and 4th round picks, which I would have used to take David Montgomery and Mack Wilson.

Pick 57: Roseman took JJ Arcega-Whiteside. I would have taken Nasir Adderley, delivered a 10 minute victory speech, and then dropped the frickin mic right there.

2019 Predictions

9-7, 2nd in the division.

oddly, our home schedule is significantly more challenging than our away games this year. I think we’ll go 5-3 on the away games (losing to the falcons, vikings, and cowboys) and go 4-4 on the home games (losing to the bears, pats, seahawks, and either the giants or redskins just because). we’ll see much of last year’s sloppiness on offense carry over into this season, simply because Carson Wentz won’t make that leap with Mike Groh coaching him. the o-line will not look good coming out of the gates and neither will the defensive secondary, which frankly lacks talent outside of Malcolm Jenkins.

I think we will make playoffs as a wild card team for the second year in a row, and I think we will win two playoff games, because we’re deep enough (particularly on the lines) to sustain a run while other teams are wearing down. the Saints remain a better team in all phases of the game (perhaps the only NFC team that is clearly better than we are), and as long as we’re not in their bracket, we’ll see them in the NFC conference game.

05.06.19

Game of Thrones: Predictions for the Big Finish

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:55 pm by Administrator

after giving us years of rude plot twists and tragic ends, Game of Thrones is finally working its intensely self-absorbed way to a conclusion. there are certainly many more twists that can be thrown in over the final two episodes—new lineage reveals and new characters, for example—but i find this unlikely. in this serious and sentimental final season, benioff has been determinedly tying off loose ends, not multiplying them, and so i believe the table is fully set for the bloodshed (and occasional justice) that remains.

here are my five predictions for how it ends, with a little commentary on each:

1. No one takes the throne.

how can a story that has relentlessly revolved around the inevitable imperfection of monarchs actually end with a new monarch? there is only one character whose virtues have survived the seasons relatively unscathed, and yet a finish that features jon snow’s rise to the throne would be patently dissatisfying—not only for him but for all viewers as well. the fact is that we like jon because he’s the earnest outsider, and putting him on the iron throne would fill us all with unease about his future and the future of the seven kingdoms.

there’s no proper finish that ends with a new body on the iron throne. i think the iron throne gets a good melting, and Westeros makes do with a friendly truce among the nations.

2. Daenerys dies, and Tyrion is the one that does her in.

from the start, Daenerys was a deeply troubling, racially problematic, and stylistically crude character who simply needed to be eliminated. the eighth season has done well to establish the clear justification for her demise. Tyrion, the guiding conscience of the GOT universe, will ultimately realize that no one else can do the thing that he must—to put the knife in her back and save Westeros from the tyranny of her rule.

3. Tyrion is executed for betraying Daenerys, even though it was the right thing to do.

here’s where the show will complete the arc that was always promised. the show’s greatest hero, Tyrion Lannister, will be executed by the show’s pseudo-hero, the ever valiant Jon Snow, for a murder that represents Tyrion’s greatest feat and worst betrayal. it’s the moment that will make everyone swallow George Martin’s most essential delicacy—the wretched pain of being good in a bad, bad world.

4. The final episode will give us a battle royale that tests all loyalties.

Jon Snow will put an end to Tyrion, but that won’t be the only loyalty that is unceremoniously shattered. Arya Stark will impede Jon Snow in his defense of his queen; Cersei Lannister will battle her brother Jaime; the Clegane brothers will fight to their deaths; and Grey Worm will turn on his former allies. the Starks, Lannisters, and Targaryens will find no common cause in the end, and the truce that results won’t be a settling of differences so much as a resignation to mutual defeat.

5. Cersei Lannister will live—in disgrace.

like i wrote previously, the death of Cersei Lannister in any way, shape, or form will be insufficient for justice and therefore inconceivable to imagine. i think cersei lives. jaime fights her and then ultimately dies for her, allowing her to escape and live out the rest of her ignominious days in anonymity and disgrace. it’s important that the show’s most obvious villainess never be vanquished; it’s critical to the balance of good and evil that has been so fundamental to the show’s grim outlook on the universe

05.02.19

eagles, night king, and jesus

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:05 pm by Administrator

last weekend’s surge of emotionality around the eagles’ draft was predictable but still somewhat regrettable. in meditation, I’ve recognized how far i am from any kind of consistent and mindful awareness. it’s still elusive, something i experience only for intervals day to day. on the one hand, the occasional rant about football might seem innocuous; but on the other hand, the ego requires little prodding to capitalize on its opportunity to weave an identity around a whole host of things: first football, then nation, and then politics, religion, money, the future, and all other things that one cannot control but which consume the mind regardless. i was struck this morning by a simple insight: that the universe and its circumstances, however unpleasant, illuminate the ego so that one might know it and hold it for what it is. and if one does not hold the self, than the self will hold the one. freedom from suffering always begins with the loss of self. no religion speaks to this more clearly than the Christian philosophy of the apostle Paul.

so today, i hold in my open hand the future of the Philadelphia Eagles, and as such it does not hold me in bondage, as it did for so many furious, frustrating, and ultimately futile seasons. i can be present with what happened and what could have happened in the 2019 draft and recognize that neither define who i am. regardless though, this mindful man will for a moment entertain his egoic fixations—however briefly—and expound upon the missed opportunity that was our 2019 draft.

i have read more and more effusively positive articles and draft grades regarding Philadelphia’s approach to the draft, but my mind remains unchanged. i will acknowledge that on one level, our plan made great sense. for a quarterback with as much potential as carson wentz who looked as limited (if not frankly mediocre) as he did in 2018, the Eagles were obliged to at least consider bringing on board some foundational offensive talent. they did exactly that. i’ll grant that andre dillard projects to be an NFL starter at left tackle—an absolutely critical position to address in the near future—and i’ll also concede that miles sanders and jj arcega-whiteside add dimensions to what was a predictable and often stagnant offense in 2018.

my concern is that we didn’t get the best players available, and more importantly we failed to seize the potential all-pro talent that was there for the taking. when pick 22 rolled around, everyone in the eagles’ draft room should have known that pick 25 would almost certainly give them a shot at someone special: montez sweat, an extraordinarily rare athlete with incredible potential at defensive end. with the ravens locked in on a receiver, houston dead-set on an offensive tackle, and the raiders pissing on themselves at the chance to get josh jacobs, the Eagles could have sat at 25 and gotten the steal of the 1st round. in the worst case scenario, another team would have moved up and taken sweat at 22, which would have left the Eagles an alternative nearly as good—marquise brown, this draft’s most dynamic wide receiver. in my opinion, either would have been a superior choice to andre dillard, who might be the best tackle of his class (which doesn’t say much) but who doesn’t project to be a transcendent player at his position. he’s a good technician in pass protection, but he doesn’t have the anchor or menacing physicality you would hope for from a dominating offensive lineman. i think there are very good reasons beyond simply offensive scheme for why his run-blocking didn’t show up well on tape.

we’ve got 1-2 more great seasons from brandon graham before his play tails off, and while derek barnett has potential, there’s no telling what version of him we will get after his recovery. behind BG and barnett, there’s not much to speak of: a short-term average rental in vinny curry and a total unknown in josh sweat. i think montez sweat would have secured our advantage on the edge for another half-decade.

i would have liked to trade down from one of our 2nd round picks, in retrospect. trading pick 53 to the jets to pick up their 3rd and 4th round picks could have netted us a haul of nasir adderley in the 2nd, darrell henderson in the 3rd, and either mack wilson or renell wren (my sleeper defensive tackle) in the 4th. i still believe very strongly that we should have taken a safety in the 2nd round, as we will be under pressure to find a successor to rodney mcleod as early as this season. by taking sanders and jjaw, we deepened the depth chart at two offensive positions that were already fairly stacked, while failing to address a critical need in the secondary that could very well be exposed if the aging jenkins or the recovering mcleod succumb to injury at any point this year. this was, plain and simple, poor management of our draft opportunities.

if montez does not fulfill his potential and andre dillard satisfactorily replaces jason peters, then i will happily eat these words and bow deeply to howie roseman, whom i respect despite our many differences over the years. but as it stands, the redskins got the better player, and we may very well see sweat versus dillard go the wrong way for years to come.

regarding game of thrones, there have been exorbitant praises and hysterical criticisms of the “long night” episode, and while i’m less inclined nowadays to get heated about one side or another in any vigorous debate, i’ll grant that i entirely agree with jeva lange’s probing critique in “the week”. essentially, jeva was thoroughly disappointed to discover that all of the tantalizing weirdness, intricate back-story, and seemingly endless implications surrounding the night king’s existence were neatly quashed by a fairly perfunctory finishing blow that did nothing to tie loose ends, much less validate many years of rapt attention by the fans. one has to believe that GRRM saw something vastly more interesting in the night king’s identity than what benioff and friends had the patience to discern. now that the night king and his inconvenient army of white walkers have been summarily dispensed, the show can shift its attention to what the writers must find significantly more interesting: a villainess in cersei lannister who is by now so utterly transparent in her villainy as to be barely worth killing off. if the climax of this ultimate season is cersei’s death at the hands of one of the lannister brothers, it will go down in history as one of the most obvious and least satisfying ends to what was otherwise a fairly epic story.

speaking of bad ends, i have recently rediscovered jesus in meditation not as the idea i once considered him to be but rather as the man who died alone and in utter silence. we think of it now as his crowning moment—the self-sacrificial death on the cross—but there is good reason why there is no “sermon upon the cross” to match his “sermon on the mount”. jesus didn’t die on the cross to become an idea; no, he actually died on that cross agonizingly and unceremoniously because he chose to live his last moments in this way. that is the great mystery of Christ—that he was so present and so powerfully conscious even in a moment of such intensity that he could be mindful of the thief dying next to him and of the soldiers who did not know the wrong that they were doing.

among living beings who committed themselves not to conceptual greatness but to relational goodness, there was Christ, who wrestled with his ego in the wilderness and with his fear in the garden of Gethsemane, who was so aware of the suffering of humanity that he chose to embrace it when he had every opportunity to escape it. it is the mindful and compassionate Christ, not the symbol of atoning sacrifice, that i have discovered through the lens of meditation; and it makes me wonder if the latter is not an idea that fails to do justice to the man that he was. when i think of his last moments and the mind that lived through them, i understand what love is—and i love this man

05.01.19

thoughts without identities and purposes

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:58 pm by Administrator

here are thoughts, without identities and purposes. and what I mean by that is that I offer these thoughts because they are on my mind—and not because they are worth building upon in any way. there is a difference between futility and emptiness, and this is an important distinction I have learned over the past year. my thoughts are not futile, but they are empty. they are empty of a past and a future; they are empty of significance and import; and as such, they are empty of suffering. I only suffer if they become preoccupation, and the thoughts have no power in themselves to become preoccupation. an aspect of me, whether will, ego, or persona, must lend that power to them.

I write them to observe them and not to lend them the significance that would make them preoccupations. my identity is not an idea, nor is it derived from my own ideas. my identity is this moment that I inhabit: the airspace I am breathing, the keyboard that I am typing, the window that affords me a view of many living things, and the solitude that I am enjoying for a short while.

I have been having nightmares. I remember two of them. one of them is a recurring nightmare: I am an attending physician at johns hopkins, and i have come on service and have just inherited several patients dispersed throughout the hospital. in my dream, i’m aware of my anxiety about the night ahead; i’m aware of my distinct lack of knowledge about the patients i’m now responsible for. in fact, i can’t even find the patients. though it would seem to be hopkins, a hospital whose hallways and buildings i’m intimately familiar with, the hospital that i’m wandering in my dream is completely unfamiliar, filled with staircases and wards and security doors and courtyards that i have never actually experienced anywhere in my life. i am lost, alone, and up against the clock, haunted by the knowledge that i will never get on top of this work, threatened by the inevitability of new admissions that i will have to take on even as the fatigue and confusion of the night already press upon me.

there is another recurring nightmare about me as a research fellow. here too, i am presumably at hopkins, except that the research wing of the BRB looks nothing like the lab i once worked in. it is near the end of the year, and i’ve been called upon to present my work, except that i have no real work to present. there is the terrible realization that i’m going to have to work around the clock now to perform experiments that i’m really no good at doing, in the pursuit of results that may not avail themselves. i am surrounded by students who have already crossed the finish line; i seem to be the only one out of place, the only one who didn’t move with the flow, the oddball i have always been, who is toeing this strange line between being a doctor, a scientist, and an alienated young man trying to find his place in the world.

last night i had a nightmare about my hair. in my dream, i woke up with male-pattern hair loss. i was like my father, who already was balding in his late 30s when i was just a child. i grabbed at my scalp, incredulous, and my hands came away with tufts of hair. i was horrified and showed my hair-filled hands to my wife; though i couldn’t see her face, i could sense her relative lack of surprise. you have always been this way, she seemed to say, to which i reacted wordlessly and with indignation. no, i have not always been this way; this is not whom i should be; this is not what i was just yesterday.

it is a strange thing to exit these nightmares and enter the day as if it were both normal and undeniably real. in fact, i exited a space of great anxiety and misgivings and cannot merely shake off these sentiments. they must be with me in some persistent way, even when i cannot discern them in the space of my mind. it makes me wonder if the distinct fading of emotions that i have experienced over this past year of meditation has forced my subconscious mind to process egoic sensations in new ways: through somatic manifestations and through dreams. i wonder if the nightmares would subside if i evoked or provoked more emotionality in my daily life. but then i remember the great suffering i once experienced in my life—the Monday morning blues, the Wednesday misgivings, the Friday rages, the Sunday regrets—and i wouldn’t ever trade the equanimity i have gained for the catharsis i once required.

salvation always resides in the moment. i remember this, when my mind is steeped in preoccupation and my body has stiffened with the pressure of crisis. i have recently learned that mindfulness of breath does not require deep breathing. the shallow breaths are intriguing and wonderful in their own ways. i was mindful of the tightness of my face and around my eyes yesterday as i took a long and hard run through the cold fog of the morning. within a mindful breath or two, i experienced relaxation of my brow and then of my whole body. i heard the birds, and i saw the flowers, and i sensed the life of trees. i understood in that moment why humans hug trees and chain themselves in rainforests, to prevent the senseless destruction of machines. i understood that, and i felt the suffering of our world in a new way. mindfulness does not erase pain or compassion; it simply alters the context in which we experience these things.

last week, i attended a conference about innovation and learned some interesting things. i learned that a pressure to make a decision can preclude the capacity for creative thinking; urgency in general may restrict creativity. anchoring in certain ideas and assumptions can prevent creative solutions by funneling a group into inevitable mind-sets; conscious awareness on a group level might drive genuine innovation. i considered these things and was very much reminded of Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle, who in their own ways have proven that we are less human when we are driven by our tasks and agendas. there must be space—conscious, unbiased, and unstructured space—to allow for compassionate inter-relationship and for what thich nhat hanh might call true inter-being