Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Good Deeds Or?

And now, as they say, for something completely different - a bit of fiction. 

I'm not feeble (yet) but I am getting on, so generally I take my time when walking along a sidewalk. If I have to cross a street, I usually go out of my way to use a traffic light crossing, but not always. 

On this particular day, I wanted to get across at a spot where the nearest traffic light was a bit too far, so I was standing on the sidewalk, clearly waiting to cross when there was a break in the traffic. A small crowd of folks were coming along and when they reached me, a pre-teen in the group asked if she could help me get across the road. Figuring she needed to get her badge or some such thing, I said "sure, that would be lovely". She took my elbow and we started across. I did notice another other person who was also crossing at the same time, but didn't think anything of it until afterward.

The young lady was chatting to me about the day and the weather. Finally we got to the other side and as I was about to say goodbye and carry on in my errand, the adult who had crossed with us, yelled "Cut!" 

No, none of that happened. Yet something similar might have happened to some other older woman, given the recent flood of Good Samaritan videos that are appearing on social media. 

In the latest online example, a chap carrying a backpack and pushing a baby in a stroller is shown trying to get everything up to the top of the stairs in a subway exit. As he is almost t0 the top carrying the backpack and the baby, another chap rushes up the stairs grabs the backpack out of the man's arms and keeps going. "Oh no!" you might think, that guy just stole the backpack, but no, he drops the pack at the top then rushes down to the bottom where he picks up the stroller and carries it up to the street level to re-unite the stroller, parent, baby, and backpack in an "oh-isn't-that-wonderful" moment.

Have we in media-land just witnessed a random act of kindness? Well, yes and no. Clearly the video was not from a security camera. Someone was holding that camera. Well, actually, two someones were holding the cameras. Either that or everyone went back downstairs and they shot the whole thing again from the top of the stairs so that it could all be spliced together into a well-composed vid. What we have really witnessed was a staged good deed. 

In my generous moments, I figure these videos might simply be an attempt to convince us that helping others in need is a good thing. I am not sure, but even though I have a suspicious nature there doesn't seem to be any subversion going on here. It might be, as K suggests, that these things actually happened and these videos are just dramatizing the event to put something good on the internet. There is always lots of bad news. 

In those suspicious moments, I ask "where is the money coming from to produce these very professional looking vignettes?"

For now, I shall file it all under the heading "things that make me say hmm... "

Sunday, February 4, 2024

How Many Monkeys?

Almost eleven years ago, in another blog, I introduced several fictional characters to the world. What often amazes me is how characters who we imagine are our creation sometimes turn out to be at least as real as we are. In some senses, they choose us. In the case of one, Aadi, her choice to reveal herself might have saved my life.  

In that post, calling my curiosity an endearing quality (s)he confirmed an idea that I had somehow discovered by intuition - the idea that the world that our consciousness resides in is but one of a seemingly infinite collection. She told me that I should "Stop by and visit again" if I got stuck. I did visit her again, but never with knowledge that physicists are now widely accepting a theory of reality known as the "Many-Worlds Theory of Quantum Mechanics"*. 

The idea proposed, in a paper entitled "The Theory of the Universal Wave Function" by doctoral candidate Hugh Everett in 1957 was an elegant solution to many problems that had bothered the minds of physicists, such as Albert Einstein, among others. Yet, at the time of its publishing, most rejected Everett's thesis.

I recall seeing somewhere the idea that if you had enough monkeys playing with typewriters (yes, it was that long ago) one of them would eventually type out the complete works of Shakespeare. Clearly this sort of mind game requires a very large number of monkeys yet this seems to be the answer to a great number of puzzles in the world. 

For example, we could ask how it could be that an animal could be created that had the ability to fly silently at night, to detect food on the ground below, and to catch it. For a very long time, we reasoned that a god was responsible. There might indeed be a god or goddess at work as well, but a great number of us now believe that a fellow named Charles Darwin got it right with his natural selection theory. Given enough time, creatures 'evolve', because genetic mutations that give them some small or large advantage (like flight or night vision) will tend to breed and pass these advantages along. Given enough time, and small mutations, you end up with an owl. 

Another example is 'the miracle' that is planet Earth. How could we be so lucky as to be placed upon a planet that has all of the advantages of Earth? The simple answer is that if we hadn't been evolving on this planet, but instead on Mars say, we would never have survived. We only exist because we are here. No supernatural force is needed in this explanation. We know very well now that there are billions of other planets circling billions of stars in billions of galaxies (thank you, Carl Sagan). We might be the only 'lucky' ones. But is it really lucky or supernatural that we are here and being here means having life?

I recall a particularly religious family member saying to us "everything happens for a reason". Over the decades since, many of the seemingly religion-associated ideas have managed to turn themselves into ideas that make sense in very different ways from what those family members could have thought. For example, the admonition "Thou Shalt Not Kill" was converted in my mind to "Thou Cannot Kill", a promise that while we have a body that decays (even while we are in it) we are not our body. An essential part of us won't die when that body is no longer able to support us. 

In the case of everything happens for a reason, the fact (strange as it seems) is that everything does happen but we are only conscious of one particular version of the universe. We are blissfully unaware of the others where we are either very different from who we think we are or where we don't exist at all. 

*If you are an avid reader here, you might remember another post on the "Many Worlds Theory". Get entangled here

Saturday, December 2, 2023

It Actually Is ...

This monologue opens one of my favourite movies. I expect a few others feel the same way. 

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. 
General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. 
When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. 
If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love, actually, is all around.” 

No, I don't have my head in the sand. There is so much to be sad about in this world. Still, I believe that no matter where you go, there is love between individuals, too. 

Let's be good to one another. Please. 

Friday, February 24, 2023


As a child, everything that happened or was expected of me required an answer to that simple question. I was definitely an annoying child but luckily I grew up with loving folks who tolerated my curious (and persistent) nature. Yet, for a very long time, being grown up meant losing my 'why' obsession. I think this had to do with the feeling that life was without purpose. Life seemed for a long time to be something to be endured.

Fortunately, in my mid-thirties, I regained a small share of that childhood curiosity. The documents, transcribed in 2016 beginning here, written in the late 1980s mostly, came about because of an obsession with knowing if life, my life in particular, had a purpose. I cannot imagine my life now without referring to the answer that came to me then and lives inside me.

In the video below Rabbi Simon Jacobson delves into the question of what gives life purpose and gives an answer that I can relate to very strongly. I particularly appreciate that while he approaches his attempt to answer that question from a Biblical scholar and Kabbalist's perspective, he shows great respect for the intelligence and background of his listener. As he quotes in his talk “the God you don't believe in, I don't believe in, too". 

Wisdom comes only when you stop looking for it and start living the life the Creator intended for you. — Hopi proverb

Friday, February 17, 2023

A Master's Words

 Everything hangs on the little word


and its sibling


But I often forget this,

keeping busy with my plans;

building for a future I cannot know

and against worries I cannot finally tame.

And yet, You wait for me to come home to Your now

which is beyond past and future,

and return to Your here

which is present before beginning

and beyond every ending.

If I could love as God loves

I would not fear the judgment of others,

or the loss of my very self,

and would know that God is the one who knows and loves

and desires himself and all things,

and loves me most when I finally let go of trying and simply let myself

live love.

Ours is not the work of seeking You here or there where we think You might be,

but of opening the heart’s door.

And when we do this You cannot resist coming in,

since our opening and Your entering

are one.

You knock and wait.

And when we open, we find

that You were there all along,

and will not leave us.


Meister Eckhart

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

In An Instant

In the twinkling of an eye ...  we shall be changed.

When it comes to seeking the Divine, no other moment of life can compare to the last moment of life. In an instant, so many worldly concerns - money, position, jealousy, envy - all take a back seat to the final event of life. If you find the idea of dying is troublesome, welcome to my club. After all, we're programmed for survival. 
I am not suggesting that anyone should wish for death. If you believe in a higher power you likely also believe, as I do, that life is a gift and contains some purpose. To seek death is to turn away from the gift and the purpose. But death is going to come and, when it does, will we go kicking and screaming, filled with regrets, or will we go serenely into that mystery? Thinking about dying isn't the same as wishing for it, hmm? 

The Chinese novelist Mo Yan is quoted as writing “Where there’s life, death is inevitable. Dying’s easy; it’s living that’s hard. The harder it gets, the stronger the will to live. And the greater the fear of death, the greater the struggle to keep on living.

It seems clear that in those final moments control of our body leaves fairly quickly, so literal kicking or screaming are out. Studies and observations of electrical activity in the brain suggest that there is some time before consciousness leaves after the heart stops, but there is debate on how much time. In that time, can we chose the thoughts that come? I believe so, but if we have never considered what it will mean ahead of time, it seems impossible that we will do anything other than react to the surprise by screaming (internally, one would expect) NO!

I recall several loved ones' deaths, and in each case, they knew that death would come soon. My GrandDad told me that he believed that 'it' would be the same as those times he had been anaesthetized - a quick cessation of all thoughts. I hope that is what he got. 

Seven years ago, considering what my final thoughts might be became very important. I had to make a life choice that would affect many. I asked "Will my final gasps be filled with regret?" I needed to gauge the importance of following my bliss. Was following my heart somehow part of fulfilling my purpose in living? Heavy thoughts indeed, but life-changing.

At any rate, when we go to join the choir eternal, we are ideally situated to finally let go of that 'mist of thought' that was referred to in the previous post. I suspect it will be a little bit like that feeling of relief I get when I wake from dreams of still being a teacher and having piles of marking to do and reports to write with a deadline looming. 

"Oh, wow!  I'm not a teacher anymore ... it was all just a dream!!"

To what extent greeting death will be like waking from a dream might be determined by how attached one is to living and all that goes with it. There are many documented cases of people whose hearts stopped having "near death" experiences. Many completely change their life because of the experience. If we are seeking the Divine, we should probably "prepare to meet our maker". Use some quiet time to contemplate what it will be like when the only thing that still responds to your will is your will. Body still, as though it is detached, with no responsibilities left for you to deal with - no judgements of 'who you are' remaining under your control. Just ... what?

Dare to ask, and dwell on, the question: "When in that final instant all of my ego-centred thoughts and desires are stripped away, who is left?"

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Seeking the Divine - part 2

When Evelyn Underhill published the quote below, in 1911, she lived in a world of relatively few distractions. Even so, she understood that in all ages, the search for the Divine requires that we first of all put aside what our five senses gather. 

Today that "mist of thought", the ever more complex assault on our minds, is an even greater barrier to knowing that stillness at the core of our being. It sometimes feels like a conspiracy to keep us from being fully human. 

What is it that smears the windows of the senses? Thought, convention, self-interest. We throw a mist of thought between ourselves and the external world: and through this we discern, as in a glass darkly, that which we have arranged to see. We see it in the way in which our neighbours see it; sometimes through a pink veil, sometimes through a grey. Religion, indigestion, priggishness, or discontent may drape the panes. The prismatic colours of a fashionable school of art may stain them. Inevitably, too, we see the narrow world our windows show us, not "in itself," but in relation to our own needs, moods, and preferences; which exercise a selective control upon those few aspects of the whole which penetrate to the field of consciousness and dictate the order in which we arrange them, for the universe of the natural man is strictly egocentric. We continue to name the living creatures with all the placid assurance of Adam: and whatsoever we call them, that is the name thereof. Unless we happen to be artists — and then but rarely — we never know the "thing seen in its purity; never, from birth to death, look at it with disinterested eyes. Our vision and understanding of it are governed by all that we bring with us, and mix with it, to form an amalgam with which the mind can deal. To "purify" the senses is to release them, so far as human beings may, from the tyranny of egocentric judgments; to make of them the organs of direct perception. This means that we must crush our deep-seated passion for classification and correspondences; ignore the instinctive, selfish question, "What does it mean to me?" learn to dip ourselves in the universe at our gates, and know it, not from without by comprehension, but from within by self-mergence.

from Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People Chapter III, paragraph 8.