Monthly Archives: October 2016

Troll Jujitsu

trollI have tussled with a troll on my blog lately. I shall not name him directly in this post but anyone can review the comment sections of other posts I have written to know who I am talking about. Like all trolls he has an over inflated ego and sees (or at least presents) himself as fighting the good and moral fight. But also like all trolls he remains largely unaware of his own true motivations. If he is at all aware of his true motivations he represses this knowledge so that he can maintain the feeling that his cause is righteous. How do I know all this about his psychology? I know this because I was once in his shoes. I recognize the pattern of behavior an the mindset. I even wrote a book about it.

I admit freely that I enjoy tussling with him on occasion and it always follows a similar pattern. I will publish a blog post that draws his attention. Sometime I specifically write on subjects because I know it will get a reaction from him and other times he simply responds to something I have written without this intent. We then argue back and forth each telling the other person that they are wrong. Sometimes it starts out on the issues but it always devolves into ad hominem attacks. Eventually the tussle becomes tiresome and I tell him I have had enough. He then attempts to post a response which I delete. He usually gives up after that.

Now the fact that I do derive enjoyment out of the interaction in a sense makes me a troll as well. Because the true motivation of a troll is to derive pleasure from getting a reaction out of another person. This is a very ego oriented drive. It makes the self feel good by putting itself hierarchically above another person. The ego is always comparing itself in this way. Some trolls are aware of this dynamic and are therefore able to exercise a degree of control over their behavior. Other trolls do not have this awareness and are unable to control their behavior or perhaps one could say that their behavior controls them. I suspect the gentleman who has been trolling my blog falls into the latter category.

In a sense our interactions have turned trolling into an art form or sport from my perspective. I am using his trolling against him to in effect perform what I would like to label a “reverse troll” or “troll jujitsu.” This of course is my way of making myself feel better about my role in this interaction. I am telling myself that it is all just a bit of fun. But in reality, my intuition tells me there is a dark side to all this that leaves us both muddy. So maybe I am not as aware of my true motivations as I think I am. My growth in this area is a work in progress I suppose.

For example, lately I took a little pride in the fact that this gentleman took it on the chin in the comment section of another blog he trolls. I need to provide some background on this. I first caught this gentleman’s eye more than a year ago when I posted a comment to a post on the blog “The Othosphere.” He took offense with my point of view and after that he began to obsessively post comments on my blog and has been doing so with remarkable consistency ever since. He originally accused me of trolling The Orthosphere. At the time I assumed he was a regular and respected contributor to that community. Over time it became clear, however, that at best the members of that blog’s community tolerated his presence. Typically they ignore his comments by not responding to them at all. At worst they express contempt for him. But I think in his mind I am the interloper to that community which he feels he is a part. Anyway, recently I commented in a post as an attempt to goad him. He naturally snapped at the bait but the beautiful part was that the author of the post entered the conversation making all the arguments against him that I typically make (e.g., his writing is unclear and confusing, he redefines words and expects everyone to use his definitions etc.). To my troll persona this was a spectacular turn of events. Not only was he made to look foolish on his supposed home turf but someone else did the heavy lifting for me. All I had to do was stoke the flame a bit here and there when it started to go out. This was black belt level troll jujitsu.

Of course I am not proud of this behavior. It is dark. It is ego driven. I can make excuses that he was the one who started it, or his belief system is ridiculous and bigoted, or I am not the only one who sees him for the buffoon that he is. But in truth these are all excuses covering up my true intentions. That truth is that there is a part of me that enjoys this and to the extent that I do enjoy it I remain unconsciously controlled by it. This is not a question of morality. From that perspective we are both wrong. But morality is largely an ego oriented enterprise. Morality says I am right and they are wrong and whoever is wrong should feel ashamed. Addressing trolling from the moral perspective will never heal the wound because the wound is a wounded ego. It is truly nothing more and nothing less. Moralizing this problem would only serve to reinforce the ego’s sense of self. The only way to heal a wounded ego is simply (but not easily) by becoming aware. Obviously I am not quite there yet but I am working towards that goal.

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Putting My Dog to Sleep

img_0763I put my 17 year old dog to sleep this week. It seemed like the time had arrived. He had been blind for about two years. During that time he lost a lot of weight. In the last months of his life he experienced occasional seizures. Over all his quality of life seemed to have reached the point where euthanasia seemed like the right thing to do. Even so, I struggled a lot with the decision.

For most of his life he had boundless energy. He was a twenty pound, very intelligent and muscular Jack Russell Terrier mix. I would take him on long walks in the woods where he would chase deer and come back to me ten minutes later. He always wanted to play fetch and would frequently drop a ball or a stick at my feet so that I would throw it for him to retrieve. He learned to catch Frisbees. He leaped into the air to bite tree branches and sometime swung from them. One time he came home with bite marks around his neck. I took him to the vet to get him stitched up. We learned later that he had fought off one or more coyotes. Unfortunately we learned this because they killed another dog we owned at the time.

img_0765I had been considering the option of euthanasia for several months. At first I wondered whether I was considering euthanasia because it would eliminate the burden of taking care of him. I did not want that to be the reason I put him to sleep. But he was a shadow of his former self. I had to carry him up and down the stairs to go to the bathroom outside. He did not like going on walks anymore. At times he would get lost while eating and I would have to reorient him so that he could find his food bowl again. He no longer liked me to pet him or to sit on the couch with me the way he used to.

I had spoken to an veterinarian acquaintance who told me that I will know when the time is right and to not feel bad about it either way. This made me think about how we as a society look at the subject of euthanasia. There are many who are opposed to it under any circumstances for people but who think it is perfectly acceptable for animals when they no longer have a good quality of life. That seemed to be the message I received from several sources anyway.

From my own perspective, I was not comfortable with the decision for a long time. But eventually his physical and apparent psychological condition reached a  point where it did seem acceptable.

So I made the appointment with the vet. The night before we fed him a dinner of steak and rice with green beans which he seemed to enjoy. This gave me second thoughts about going through with it. The next day, I took him outside to go to the bathroom for the last time. I then scooped him up, put him in the car and drove him to his appointment. I met my wife there. The vet weighed him (I suppose to know what dosage to give him). We then took him to an examination room where we were given time to spend with him. Then the vet took him into another room to administer a sedative. When she brought him back he was awake but limp. We sat on the floor and pet him for a bit longer and then told the vet she could go ahead with it. She injected the medicine into him. She held a stethoscope to his abdomen. In less than a minute she said that he was gone.

img_0762It surprised me how inanimate his body looked at that point. Up until that point it seemed like he would linger on in his weakened state forever. His life force seemed to stubbornly hold on despite his low quality of life. But then in an instant he was gone and there was no reversing the situation.

In the days leading up to this appointment I felt sad but resigned that this was the right decision to make. Afterwards I felt a welling of grief that was on some level surprising but on another predictable. Before the appointment I knew the grief was sitting down there even though I did not consciously feel it. Still, when it surfaced after he was gone I could not help but be surprised at my own ability to hold these emotions subconsciously. In these days that follow I feel his absence. He was my companion for 17 years. He was older than my children.

 

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The Requirement of Beliefs

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. John 3:36

IMG_0523I always thought the Christian requirement of belief in Jesus in order to achieve eternal life is a bit strange. There is something about it that just does not seem right. People hold beliefs because they have direct experience that forms or affirms a belief or because that belief was culturally taught or imprinted upon them. A belief is simply something that someone holds to be true or false. A belief is not the same as the thing that is believed in. As such why would God or Jesus require a belief in them in order to satisfy them? It seems suspicious to me.

Put another way, truth is truth regardless of what I or anyone else believes. If God exists why would He demand my belief in Him? It is not as if He would cease to exist if everyone stopped believing in Him.

Moreover, requiring belief without providing evidence is unfair and suspect. Why should anyone be held in contempt because they chose not to believe in something for which they felt they had no evidence to support? To do so seems awfully unfair, arbitrary and spiteful. This seems to be the standard that an alcoholic parent might hold their children to. “Believe that I am an honorable person even though my example shows you otherwise and if you do not believe me to be honorable you deserve to be punished,” sayeth the alcoholic parent. I find it hard to believe that a true and loving God could endorse such an interpretation of John 3:36.

If we are to examine the quotation from John 3:36 with specificity, he tells us that “[w]hoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” He then says, “…whoever rejects the Son will not see life…” The word reject seems strong here. A rejection sounds to be more than a question (although some might interpret it that way). So in this sense there may be room for a person who questions their belief to also have eternal life.

This one passage has been interpreted differently by different Bible versions. Almost all versions speak of a person “believing” in the Son of God. One version substitutes “trusting” which essentially means the same thing. The versions differ, however, in their interpretation of “reject.” The terms vary between reject, doesn’t obey, believeth not, refuses to believe, disobeys, and is not subject to. There is a difference in meaning between the words believe and obey. The former is a mental activity. The latter means to act in accordance with or follow the commands. I suppose one could argue that to obey the Son of God requires a belief in Him but again there seems to be room for interpretation.

But we cannot fully escape the problem that the statement seems to require belief (or obedience) without evidence. These acts could be said to describe faith. But it is a faith under the threat of punishment. The way I normally think about faith is that it is a voluntary activity. It is a gesture of trust and not something that can be threatened out of someone. That would be more like an ego act of self-preservation which I suppose is more in line with the “obedience” interpretation.

I imagine this exploration will be uncomfortable for some Christians. John 3:36 clearly requires a person to hold a specific belief in order to obtain eternal life. It is unclear whether the questioning of the belief is grounds for damnation but that does seem to be a very viable interpretation. It would be difficult to force a person who does not hold a belief to simply change their belief. The mechanics of belief do not seem to work this way in real life. I do not think John would make an exception for someone who simply professes to believe something without actually believing it. Although he might make an exception for someone who convinces himself through psychological repression that he believes something he does not.

Finally, I would not be honest if I did not express a certain distrust in the plain meaning of the passage. I question the motive behind it. Why is John so interested that I believe something that he must threaten me with punishment in order to get me to believe? Why does he want me to hold this belief in my mind (the most personal of spaces). Could there be some ulterior motive? I can think of several historical instances where governments have punished belief in order to keep its citizens in line.

I fear I will not come to any satisfying conclusion on the subject. Obviously the plain meaning of John 3:26 seems at odds with what I actually believe. I am not saying that I do not believe in the Son of God. But I am saying that I question the requirement of believing him for the reasons I mentioned earlier. I am no religious or biblical scholar so of course take what I say for what it is worth. I am simply trying to articulate a question that has stuck in my mind for some time.

 

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Blog Sharing

LETS ALL HELP EACH OTHER First of all If you re-blog this post you help me, I help you and you help your readers, so everyone wins.. There are thousands of good blogs out there and think of all of that we are missing. Source: Share your blog!

via Share your blog! Help Each Other Out – Team Tangible — Tangible Triumph

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Walking Meditation

TreesFor each of the past 36 days I have consistently meditated for 20 to 30 minutes. Usually I do this while walking although I sometimes meditate sitting in a chair.

The method I employ is simple. I focus my awareness on the present moment. In a sense I actively abide in the gaps between thoughts in a state of pure awareness that is not overlaid with chattering thoughts or judgments. That is the intention anyway. It is easier to describe what it is not than what it actually is. For example, it is not thinking or evaluating. I can usually capture it in a pure state for only a few moments at a time. Often I can capture it while my mind is commenting on it but I can sort of marginalize the commentary or allow it to exist in the background. When this happens, I am aware of the commentary but I am also in touch with the present. Sometimes my focus on the present involves observing the blueness of the sky or keying into the sound of a bird chirping or the gurgling of the stream that runs along my walking route. Sometimes I can expand this awareness to take in a wider appreciation of my surroundings. The point is that I know when I am there when I am there. I recognize it.

When I meditate I become aware of three internal minds at work. The first is “the commentator.” Some people refer to this as “monkey mind” but I personally find that term to be annoying. This is the mind that comments on everything (often it comments on the mechanics of meditation) or it flashes pictures of memories and the like. I like to think of the commentator as the mechanical brain. This brain takes in information, stores it and repeats it. It is basically a mechanical function and in a sense is “mindless” ironically. The second mind is “the evaluator.” Some people might refer to this one as the ego. This mind judges, categorizes and assigns value to things. This is the part of the mind that is critical of the self and others. It is also the part of the mind that strives to become better, sets goals and becomes jealous. The final member of the mental trinity is the observer. This is the presence of awareness that sits in the background. It is able to observe the other two minds at work. It is also able to observe itself. This last mind is the one that I  try to maintain contact with while meditating. This mind is essentially passive and tends to become dominated by the other two minds if I do not actively try to keep it awake.

The main pitfall of meditation is a wandering mind. Typically, I get lost in the chattering commentary and I forget that I am meditating. When this happens and I become aware of it I simply bring my awareness back to the present moment. Similarly, I might find myself evaluating something I observe or think about. I treat this the same way. I simply bring my awareness back to the present moment. I try not to judge myself when this happens. To do so would just be another distraction. In the same way, I try not to congratulate myself when I am successfully focusing on the present. Again that is another distraction. These distractions, however, are not bad things. In fact they are they are the means by which I deepen my practice. Every time I become aware that I am distracted and I bring my awareness back to where it belongs I am flexing my “meditation muscle” which is how it becomes stronger.

Every meditation instructor or book I have read on the subject seems to shy away from discussing the benefits of meditation or goals associated with meditation. I understand this is because thinking about the benefits of meditation or setting goals to become better at meditation simply becomes the content of distraction. This does not mean that it is necessarily bad to think about these things when not meditating. However, when actively meditating these thoughts become distraction and should be treated as such. That said, there are many benefits of meditation including improved concentration, strengthened will power, the ability to not be swept away by emotion, a relaxed mood, greater awareness in general and many other things. I have found that the more I meditate consistently the more an indescribable mystery sort of unfolds inside of me. It is as if my general state of awareness is akin to being asleep and meditation is a means of waking. This is difficult to describe to someone who has not experienced it for themselves.

A final insight that I would like to talk about is the concept of the self. I think of it this way. I am not really my body or my mind. I inherited those things and I am grateful for them but I cannot really take credit for them. I had no say in acquiring them (that I am aware of anyway). Similarly, my thoughts and emotions are all products of experience. They are external in origin. This is particularly true with memories, facts and figures and anything I learned. This is also particularly true with the feelings I associate with prior abuse or praise. So I really cannot take credit for those things either (even though in my normal sleeping state I tend to take credit for them). So what part of all this is actually me? The conclusion that I have come to based on my experience meditating is that the only real part of me is that part of me that can choose where to place my attention. I suspect most people (myself included) most of the time squander their attention in the sense that they allow the commentator and the evaluator to run the show. They allow the observer to fall asleep. When I think about it, the ability to direct one’s attention is a very precious thing because it is the foundation for the experience of life. Perhaps it is the most precious thing there is.

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Loyalty

cornMy father always extolled the virtues of loyalty.  Specifically, he extolled the virtue of him being loyal to his employer. He demonstrated this by buying its products when given the choice (for example).  He reasoned that his employer provided him with a living and for that reason he (and by extension his family) should be loyal to his employer.  The company he worked for was bought in the 80s by another larger company and my father lost his job as a result.  He remained unemployed for a couple of years before another company hired him.  During that period I remember him being very irritable and angry. I was young at the time and did not make the connection between the anger he vented on me and my siblings and the fact that he felt betrayed regarding his lack of employment. On one hand this was not an issue of loyalty per se. His employer paid him for the work he did and there was a reciprocal relationship there. Another company purchased his company and replaced the management team. There technically was no breach of loyalty in the scenario. However, there is no denying the fact that he felt betrayed. Perhaps it was the issue of loyalty on a higher level that seemed to be frustrated when he lost his job. Perhaps he felt that the universe was somehow being disloyal or had breached some sort of implied cosmic contract.

My father naturally passed this sense of loyalty on to me. Growing up, I always considered loyalty to be an admirable quality demonstrating one’s personal sense of responsibility and that being disloyal was a sin akin to  irresponsibility.  I connect this idea with the fact that I grew up in a family environment where the sense was constantly impressed upon me that World War II was a golden age for America. The war years were a time when everyone was loyal and patriotic (at least this was the way it had been described to me). This idea implied that the reason the United States of America of my youth seemed to be a declining power could be attributed to its citizens no longer being as loyal and patriotic as they were during the period of World War II.

I remember talking to my uncle (my father’s brother) at my wedding right before the ceremony was about to begin.  At the time I assumed my uncle had the same virtues as my father because they grew up in the same mid western family under the same parents. I remember telling my uncle that I learned the value of loyalty from his generation.  My uncle replied tersely, “loyalty is earned.”  This struck me as a different message than I was accustomed to hearing from my father but I put it aside for the time being.

I always felt a responsibility to be loyal to society at large and the organizations in which I was a member.  I felt that if I followed the rules I would naturally succeed and be rewarded in due time. My experience, however, did not prove this feeling to be true. It seems like every organization of which I was a member declined around me because other people were not as loyal to it as they should have been. That is, they did not take their membership seriously and they were not as loyal as I was. There were many situations where I remained loyal when other people bailed and I went down with the ship of more than a few organizations in my life.  At times I looked at these people who were not being loyal around me who in many cases went on to be more successful and less burdened by my concerns. This made me feel jealous, resentful and somehow guilty all at the same time.

I worked for a law firm for eight years and hated it because I never felt valued by the organization. I wanted to quit throughout these eight years but never did because I was afraid to loose the income I needed to pay for the obligations I had accumulated. And so I existed in a state of limbo where I forced myself to work for an organization that did not value me and that I intensely disliked. I wonder if this idea of loyalty somehow influenced me to stay with this law firm. If true, the fact that I was loyal to someone who did not seem loyal to me in return suggests to me that this strategy is flawed. It seems that loyalty in certain situations appears and feels on some level to be virtuous but is actually a self defeating manipulation. Similar to my father’s employer the law firm eventually laid me off in 2009 during the great recession.  At first I felt liberated but then felt like I had been screwed. All those years of loyalty were wasted years in many respects. I also question what exactly I was being loyal to. Again, there seems to be this larger, universal, contractual sense to loyalty at play here.

Is loyalty for suckers?  In many ways I think my uncle was right.  I suppose I am a sucker if I chose to be loyal to someone  who has not earned my loyalty. There certainly is a place for loyalty when it derives from a reciprocal relationship of mutual trust and respect. But I can see now that loyalty for the sake of loyalty itself (perhaps this in the universal loyalty I touched upon) is definitely for suckers. A person who adopts this philosophy is probably an easy target for any person, corporation or other organization that wants to take advantage of it.

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