life being what it is

My blog has a new name! Yesterday I sat down with a coffee from the Coffee Cat, a great little coffee shop in the Santa Cruz Mountains. With some white noise by way of a few high school students chatting in a steady, ceaseless stream about their high school drama, I worked on updating my site, and you can read all about it here, on my new About page.

The Rain in Spain (and coastal California)

I made it out for a hike on Wednesday, and it was beautiful, clear skies, but by Thursday it was pouring rain, like God forgot to turn the faucet off. It’s the rainy season here in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the area is classified as a rain forest — so it’s hit-and-miss from here on out, in terms of getting nice hiking weather.

I do like the rain, though. It dampens the spirits, it shades my writing a bit more, giving it sort of a different hue. I always feel a bit more melancholic, but that’s good for the soul (for my soul anyway). It fortifies the spirit, and it’s as good an excuse as any to binge on Radiohead.

Santa Cruz Mountains, November 2017

Yuval Harari, author of “Sapiens,” on AI, religion, and 60-day meditation retreats

I thought I’d share an excellent interview by the author of my current favorite book, Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. As artificial intelligence becomes more normative, the elimination of low skill labor is in the near future, i.e., machines replacing humans is no longer a question of if but of when. There are many people discussing this and writing books, but few can provide the kind of historical perspective on our species in the way that Yuval Harari does. He also does Vipassana meditation retreats, like the one I just finished. (My retreat was only ten days, his retreats are two months.) If you want a sample of the kinds of things Harari talks about, here’s a great 60 minute interview he did with Ezra Klein:

Democratize Facebook

Question: What’s stopping us from just taking over Facebook?

We live in an era of rage, and rage is an appropriate response to the nearly unprecedented level of cultural and political corruption, but unless outrage has a productive direction to go in, it just ends up with…well, with Trump & Co. What we need is creativity, imagining new possibilities for society, beyond the sound-bytes and clichés that both conservatives and liberals have been fighting about for decades.

So, here’s an idea: We take over Facebook Read more

A crisis of confidence

The Democrat Party is divided because of the wounds of 2016. There was Clinton on one side and Bernie on the other. There were some policy differences, yes, but nothing that should have divided us this much, because we have so much in common, especially when you look at the other side, at the threat of Trump and the unhinged right-wing. But you know how these things go: people hold grudges and they can’t move beyond the hurt feelings. The main problem now, is to unify the Party, and maybe with the recent Democrat wins, we can do just that.

I wish that I could say that this were all true. I wish that it were that easy. I wish that the prior paragraph was true. Of all the folks out there who want change, who hope and pray for a better world, I’ll be the first to say that I wish that what we needed politically was to put aside our hurt feelings, unify the party, and move forward — but something so much deeper going on here, and it’s been going on for a long time.

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On the seventh day, he farted

There were more farts during group meditations than I can remember from any prior retreat, and from time to time they seemed to form some sort of chain reaction: one person farting, followed by another, then another. A sort of flatulent call-and-response, if you will. Then, on the seventh day, he farted. Read more

Is monogamy overrated?

I was in college I was first confronted with “marital infidelity.” I was attending a conservative Christian (evangelical) college as well as a conservative church, and the case involved a married couple that I was close with. I was shocked, naive and unprepared as I was at the time, living within a conservative religious bubble.

It was all pretty intense, I recall, not the least of which was due to the fact that it was the woman who had done it. (Submerged as I was in the evangelical bubble, even way back then I could see the sexism at work. Some people were extremely pissed at her, over-the-top kind of anger, and I could tell that some of this rage was aimed at her, due to her gender.) The couple tried to make things work, but eventually the marriage terminated. Read more

Meditation retreat: it’s all about the eats

Eating while on retreat is probably the thing I most look forward to each day. Probably most mediators do, because the meals are really the only source of external stimulation that exists. There are no electronics, no Internet. Hell, it’s a silent retreat so you can’t even talk. There is no stimulation whatsoever, expect two meals a day.

Yes, we only eat two meals a day, one in the morning and one just before noon. (Evenings are for fasting.) It sounds brutal, I know, but truly it’s not as bad as it may seem. After all, sitting all day doesn’t exactly burn the calories.

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Why is it so fucking hard to sit still? A few more thoughts

One thing that I remind myself as I meditate on retreat is that meditation is biological. For all the spiritual mumbo jumbo that we use, meditation is science. It’s a neurological thing, to be precise. There’s a very important sense in which meditation is about making the brain work better. As one medical doctor puts it, “neurons that wire together fire together” (or something like that, don’t quote me).  Read more

Tree Huggers

I’m definitely a tree hugger, although I don’t know if I’ve ever actually hugged a tree. In fact, I’m fairly certain that I have not. Maybe it’s the stigma that’s held me back, or maybe it’s something else. In any case, I do share with tree huggers a belief that trees are, in some sense sentient. Walking among the coastal redwoods, it’s not hard to believe that these tall, wise old trees are sentient.

I was hiking among the redwoods few days ago, and I couldn’t help but ask a simple question of the trees: what’s it’s like to be around for so long? These are trees with a life span of over a thousand years, sometimes two thousand years. In fact, there are trees within the redwood family that are older than Jesus. Read more

Why is it so fucking hard to sit still?

Western philosopher (and dead white guy) Blaise Pascal seems to have asked a similar question (as the one I raised in my last post), several centuries ago, because he made this statement:



Note: I am currently sitting on my ass for a 10 day meditation retreat. This post was written and scheduled in advance.

Meditation: Why is it so hard to sit still?

As I said in my prior post, a few folks take to meditation naturally. The first time they sit, they drop into calm serenity and/or into a state of deep concentration, picturesque, like a lovely little Buddha, they seem only a few shades away from complete and total enlightenment. Well, good for them, but that’s not me, and that’s not most of us, and in a sense, that’s not really the point of meditation.

I know the format for this particular meditation retreat, this being my fourth one. It’s between 10 and 11 hours of meditation a day for ten days. Mostly, it’s just sitting and sitting and sitting and sitting. And more sitting. And you start to feel bat shit crazy. Read more

Down the rabbit hole

I’m heading out on another 10-day Vipassana meditation (S.N. Goenka, for those of you into Vipassana). I leave today, and soon I’ll be completely offline. (We all literally check our cell phones at the door, and we don’t see them again for ten days.)

You’ll still see some blog posts show up, however, because I’ve done some writing in advance and scheduled a few posts ahead of time, a few simple reflections on meditation and retreats and whatnot.

It’s possible that you’re reading this, and a 10-day retreat sounds quite impressive. I’m more than happy to take any and all of your compliments and admiration, but in truth I’m only able to do a 10 days because I’ve been meditating for a very long time. When I first began meditating, I wasn’t a natural.  Read more

What’s the future of politics going to look like?

We all know it’s coming. Politics has changed, and we aren’t going back to the old norms. We’re all slowly realizing that the familiar political scene is going to look quite different in the future. What’s it going to look like?

The recent purging of the Democrat Party got me to thinking, and a possible scenario has emerged: the Republican Party virtually collapses, a new leftist party emerges (though it isn’t very political powerful), and moderate Republicans defect forming a new, centrist Democrat Party, a Party that becomes the one major political powerhouse.

I sat down yesterday afternoon to doodle it out. A picture is worth a thousand words, and what not, so in this post I’m doing less writing and more coloring.

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Captain John Smith, reporting from Santa Cruz

The guy at the Santa Cruz bus stop introduced himself to me, twice, and each time he made the same joke (about me looking like the historical/colonial John Smith) and laughed as though it were the first time he’d ever heard such hilarity — so it came as no surprise to me when he told me that he had taken the bus to Santa Cruz (as opposed to driving) so that he “could get real fucked up.”

The first time he told the joke, the guy next to him started rattling off the top of his head all of the facts surrounding the historical Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. The guy really knew a lot, and he was still going, later, when we re-introduced ourselves, me saying my name was “Jon,” and he finishing by telling me that my last name was Smith, like the guy the English guy. Read more