Monthly Archives: August 2013

I Murdered Someone Last Night

Last night I murdered a man at a gas station with a shot-gun.  My friend told me to leave the gun like in the Godfather.  Actually he wasn’t a friend.  He happened to be a childhood acquaintance.   At one time I thought was my best friend.  He was always criticizing me in the form of ball busting.  He always purposefully misunderstood what people said and rephrased it as something risqué.  For example, I might say, “My heart is beating.”  To which he would reply, “Your fart is beating?”  Later on I found out he was talking shit about me behind my back.  This was in middle school some time.  I remember working up the nerve to buy a ticket for a dance for the first time.  They were selling tickets from a table on the stage in the lunch room.  I had never bought a ticket to a dance before because I felt like people would make fun of me.   I was a nerd trying to do something the cool people did.  It was funny in the way a chimp riding a bike is funny.  I was nervous and standing in line but people were cutting in front of me.  Someone told me later that he was laughing at me and calling me a loser.  I felt ashamed and betrayed when I heard that but it sort of opened my eyes that this guy was not really my friend.  I sort of drifted away from him after that.

After I shot the guy I went back to my childhood home.  I remember lying in my childhood bed afraid that I would get arrested for killing the guy.  I prayed to God that no one would ever find out.  Then I thought there must have been a security camera at the gas station.  I felt panic and dread.  I lay there waiting to hear sirens approaching the house and anticipating that it would happen any second.  I prayed some more asking God that I be let off the hook some how.  I thought about what prison would be like.  I did not really have a reason for killing the guy.  I just did it.  Maybe I was trying to impress that childhood friend of mine.

As the dawn light filtered in through the window, I realized I had been dreaming.  I had never shot anyone.  Instead of lying in my childhood bed I was lying on the floor of my new apartment in North Carolina.  I did not have a mattress yet.

Even though this was a dream I actually felt like God answered my prayer.  It was as if the me in the dream was a different, yet equally real, person living in a different reality.  God transported that me into this reality where the crime had never taken place.  By doing this God had wiped the slate clean.  It felt liberating.  This is what forgiveness feels like.

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Stuck Between Stagnation and Fear

My recent move from Connecticut to North Carolina made clear to me that I live between two states, stagnation and fear.  When I feel stagnant I move to change my situation but when my situation changes I experience fear and seek safety.  The safety eventually becomes stagnant and the cycle repeats itself.  For me, both stagnation and fear are intertwined with humiliation.  When I am stagnant I feel humiliation because I feel like I should be moving forward.  The humiliation of stagnation is a safe place for me even though it feels dead.  When I move out of my comfort zone by striving for more than this I risk a more intensive humiliation because somewhere along the line I learned that failure is shameful.  This risk brings about fear.

In 2009 I was laid off from a large law firm in Philadelphia.  I worked their for eight years and hated it.  I had wanted to quit because I was not growing professionally but was afraid to quit because I was afraid of having less money.  This was the humiliation of stagnation.  It felt safe to stay in a job that I hated because I feared taking a risk by leaving.  At the same time my marriage was horrible – probably because I hated my job.  I had financial problems despite my income.  The stress was overwhelming. I became depressed and suicidal (not that I acted on that feeling).  I craved the feeling of safety.  Although being laid off was a relief at first it began to feel unsafe because I had more expenses than income.

So my wife and I rented our house in Philadelphia and moved in with my parents in Connecticut.  In the beginning, although I felt a certain level of humiliation living with my parents my stress level definitely declined.  It was safe.  Comparatively speaking it was emotionally a much better place for me.  Since that time we worked on our marriage, we both obtained new jobs and after a bunch of life changing therapy we were in a position to move out.

As the time for moving approached I felt the fear returning.  Before the move, my mind would race at night about all the things I had to do and all the money I would have to spend.  After the move I stressed about getting furniture for our new place and all the money I spent.  I also felt a level of humiliation for not having our place set up for a week.  I see now that moving beyond my comfort zone makes me fearful and so I seek safety.  I see that safety is a relief and feels good at first.  Eventually safety feels stagnant and confining and I yearn to move forward.  But as the day approaches to actually move the fear kicks in and attempts to stop me.

But on the other side of fear is feeling alive.  And so in order to feel alive I have to be willing to feel fear and not retreat back to safety.  Historically, I have not been willing to do this.  This time around I choose to go through the fear and see what happens.  Hopefully aliveness is on the other side.

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Thoughts On Quotes from Bill Maher and Penn Jillette, Atheism and Religion In General

I heard Bill Maher say this on his show “Real Time” and it got me to thinking.

Explain to me how a book that is written by God, who is perfect, there’s so much–it’s pro-slavery, pro-polygamy, it’s homophobic, God in the Old Testament is a psychotic mass murderer–I mean, there’s so many things in it. I always say to my religious friends, you know, if a pool had even one turd in it, would you jump in? — Bill Maher

First of all, Maher is proposing a straw man argument.  Yes, there is quite a bit of stuff in the bible that is contradictory to modern morality and even to itself at times.  To use that as a strike against the Bible assumes the Bible is supposed to be interpreted literally.  Some people espouse this viewpoint and to them, I assume Maher’s argument is difficult to circumvent.  But certainly all Christians do not agree that the Bible is to be interpreted literally.  So this argument cannot really be used to refute Christianity or (as I suspect Maher is implying) religion in general.

Second this argument is painting religion in a purely intellectual framework.  I would argue that religion makes more sense on the emotional and spiritual levels than it does on the intellectual.  To me, religion seems to come from the limbic system whereas science and logic come from the prefrontal cortex.  That is, religion comes from an emotional, primitive part of the human conscience.  It comes from the place that wants to connect to its source, the infinite unknowable that is reality.  I suspect those inclined towards religion feel an emotional need to connect to this unknowable something.  In this way, faith is a feeling more than an intellectual belief.  Because this something is unknowable, I see religion as a tool created to relate to that something.

This brings me to another quote I ran across recently from Penn Jillette:

If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again. — Penn Jillette

This statement might be true but I would argue religions are products of the culture in which they arose.  We live in a big complicated universe that we don’t understand.  At the same time we feel more comfortable when we understand things so we frame the unknowable according to things we understand and what we understand changes over time and from culture to culture.  That is why Christianity is different from Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and even Scientology.  Religions are different because the infinite unknowable is unknowable.  Science is the same from culture to culture because the material world is knowable.  As such I do not see Penn Jillette’s statement (even if true) to be a particularly effective in terms of undermining the case for religion.

English: Penn Jillette at Rio Las Vegas

English: Penn Jillette at Rio Las Vegas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Really, the only honest position is agnosticism because we cannot know for sure what is the true nature of reality and if there is something more than material existence.  But agnosticism is neither interesting intellectually or satisfying emotionally.  So those inclined towards religion choose religions (usually) connected with the culture they live in.  That does not mean that religion is wrong or untrue.  It means we are trying to have a connection with the infinite unknowable on some level.

The final point I’d like to make is that it is probably impossible for a person inclined towards religion and a person not inclined towards religion to find common ground on an intellectual level.  This is not something that an honest debate can solve in most cases.  This is precisely because religion is emotional at its core.  I suspect atheism is also emotional at its core in the case of Maher and Jillette given how they argue their points of view.  I have respect for anyone’s belief.  It seems that statements like Maher’s and Jillette’s come off a bit snarky and judgmental.  They seem to observe religion from a purely intellectual vantage point and from there it is easy to claim religion is nonsense.  I certainly do not want to say they are wrong for doing this. I guess I would rather they not support their beliefs by attempting to shame those who disagree.

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Defining the Mind *

There are many theories on the mind and many different terms used to describe how the mind works.  For example, the term “Ego” can mean different things in different contexts.

Dictionary.com lists six distinct definitions for ego, the first two of which are the ones most commonly used in popular culture.  Although these terms are commonly used (sometimes interchangeably) they are quite different.  The first definition is:

the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.
This definition, I believe, refers to the type ego that you might hear used by Yoga instructors, Eckhart Tolle, or Depak Chopra.  This ego is the “false self” that separates itself from the “true self” to cope with and survive in reality.  This ego is often referred to pejoratively as a problem to be overcome or a sickness of some kind.  This is true in a sense because this type of ego often is maladaptive and creates more problems than it originally set out to solve, but this type of ego is also a defense mechanism protecting the self from external assaults.  I believe that was the original intent behind bringing the ego into existence.  It’s an ally that comes to help but then takes over.
The second definition of ego is:
the part of the psychic apparatus that experiences and reacts to the outside world and thus mediates between the primitive drives of the id and the demands of the social and physical environment [also known as the ‘super ego’].
This is the Freudian definition of ego I learned as a psychology major in college.  This ego works in concert with id and the super ego.  The id is the primitive part of the mind that covets.  The super ego is the moralistic part of the mind that councils not to listen to the id.  The ego is the part of the mind that decides between the id and the super ego.  This ego seems more like beneficent administrator than the false self ego.
There are other systems used to define and classify the parts and functions of the mind.  There seem to be some correlations between the “false self” ego, the id and the limbic system (for example).  They all seem to covet and do not do not seem concerned with moral issues.  But the limbic system and the id do not think in terms of language and logic but rather emote, whereas the false self ego can be critical and judgmental as well as emotional.

Similarly, there appear to be parallels between the super ego and the prefrontal cortex.  Both of these concepts can think logically and use language. The prefrontal cortex is able to receive the urging from the limbic system but then use reason to decide whether it makes sense to act on it.  The super ego challenges the id in a similar but slightly different (more moralistic) way.

The Freudian ego and the true self do not seem to be similar concepts.  The Freudian ego is similar to the prefrontal cortex in that it receives advice from the id and the super ego and decides the best course.  The true self is mostly awareness combined with compassion and a small amount of will.  This is more of a spiritual concept.

Then there is thinking and feeling overlaid on these structures.  Thinking is labeling, conceptualizing, making into words, reasoning, planning remembering.  Feeling is a physical sensation in the body in the body connected to an emotion such as happiness, sadness, fear.  Feeling is more primitive but it is also more honest.  Thinking is more advanced but can engage in falsehoods.

The conclusion seems to be that there are many overlapping concepts use to describe the mind and its functions.  But they do not fit together seamlessly and can cause confusion.  The reality is that all these concepts do overlap in a manner that is probably not understood completely by any one (or perhaps all) schools of thought.  It might not even be helpful to design an entire system to encompass them all.  Where would that get us anyway?

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My Ego and My True Self *

Illustration by Warwick Goble to Beauty and th...

Illustration by Warwick Goble to Beauty and the Beast: the heroine is the youngest daughter in her family. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My ego’s goal is to separate itself.  Separation is how my ego first came into being and maintained its existence.  Separation is also how it procreates.  The ego first came into being when I was told that I was not good enough and believed it.  To compensate for this belief I created a false self to present to the world.  This false self was constructed by my ego by splitting myself into two entities.  My ego is fundamentally dishonest in the sense that it was born from a lie I told myself, then tried to believe and largely succeeded.  Once my ego came into being it had a self-preservation instinct like all living entities.  To preserve itself it had to split and continue to split because it is always at odds with reality and the way it copes with being at odds with reality is to split itself.  Splitting itself gives my ego a place to run when it is confronted with a reality that conflicts with its point of view.  And on and on it continues to split itself spawning egos of egos of egos.

At the heart of my ego is shame, the fear that if the world saw my true self, I would be judged and abandoned.  In this way creating my ego was an act of self-preservation made by my true self.  I can see this clearly in my children.  My youngest daughter says she likes a singer, my older daughter says she does not like that singer but likes another one.  Then my youngest daughter drops her original preference in favor of my older daughter’s preference.

For the ego to thrive, the true self must be put to sleep.  In the beginning the true self does this willingly thinking that the creation of ego and splitting the self saves the self.  When the true self is put to sleep the ego adopts the persona of the true self.  Its judgement and jealousy of others becomes true.  Its vanity and its shame become true.  The true self is mostly just awareness itself so when it sleeps there is no awareness that the ego is running the show.  As such, awareness of the ego is a sign that the true self is awakening.

Over time my ego created such an elaborate maze of illusion that coping with reality became difficult.  When this began to happen my true self began to stir in its sleep.  I would feel anxious and not know why.  I experienced a tightening sensation in my throat.  I became depressed.  Feelings in the body are always true.  They cannot be dishonest and always exist for a true reason.  They are the way the true self communicates from its place of sleep while the ego is in charge.  It was this anxiety, physical discomfort and depression that set me on my journey to awaken my true self.

If my ego came into existence through separation and illusion then overcoming the ego and awakening the true self is achieved by unity (letting go of separation) and truth.  I did this a little bit at a time. After a while, my true self began to awaken and I saw the ego and its shame and judgment as entities separate from my self.  They are not who I really am.  They are not true.  Bringing awareness to the fact that shame is a feeling brought forth by a separate entity (my ego) gave me separation from the shame.  It was there, but rather than believe it I observe it.  Separation from separation is unity.

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