jaysaysthings

Insights and musings from a fertile and sometimes fuzzy mind.

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Tales of the Veggie Van

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSJv0CV87RRV45ZP8k9svgA

The first installment has been uploaded.

OBSERVING THE DISTRACTIONS

Distractions in meditation are not always a detrimental annoyance but can, instead, become a point of contemplative focus. I offer this personal example.

I’ve created a quiet place of meditation in an upper room of the house which is away from most of the activities which can occur in a home. Even so, I usually open a window just for the gentle circulation of air and, sometimes, to observe the birds singing, to observe to the rainfall or the wind blowing through the trees.

Every once in a while, however, other man made distractions such as people talking loudly, aircraft passing over or traffic rolling down the street can arise. The key to mindful meditation, to steadfastness upon the breath, is to merely acknowledge these sounds without attaching any kind of considerations to them such as “I wonder where that plane is heading to?” or “I wonder why those people have to shout as they talk?”

These considerations can also form into specific concepts such as “I think that must be one of those green military helicopters” or “Those sound like the voices of younger people.”

Both the considerations and concepts are the real distractions.

Recently as I was meditating I heard the sound of a vehicle that I immediately assumed was the garbage truck. I constructed that assumed concept based on past inputs. For instance, it was Monday, and I know that Monday is the day when the garbage is usually collected. It was early on Monday morning, which is the usual time of day when the garbage is collected. The garbage trucks are powered by diesel engines and the noise was clearly that of a diesel engine. Given all of these factors, and based on previous experiences and conditioning, I thought to myself on the out breath “Ah, that must be the garbage crew driving by.”

Yet when I returned to my point of focus on the in breath it occurred to me that I had just fallen for one of the tricks of the mind.

Indeed, what HAD I observed? What was ALL that I had observed? The only thing that I perceived was the sound of a diesel engine.

That is all.

My mind made up the rest of the scenario. My mind formed a concept which may or may not have been accurate.

I had no way of knowing that was the garbage crew. I just assumed that it was based on previous experience. It could have been a school bus or a delivery truck. Yet, because of the conditioning of past observations and experiences, I merely assumed that I had acknowledged the sound of the garbage truck.

Our minds have a habit of forming concepts based on previous conditions and experiences. When we fail to separate those conditions, preconceptions and experiences from what is ONLY there we can find ourselves captive to prejudices, faulty reasoning, legends, myths and all sorts of deceptions.

One of the benefits of acknowledging and merely observing distractions in your meditation practice is that you begin to observe the processes of your thinking instead of the thoughts themselves. There is a huge difference between the two. Understanding your very thought processes can lead to clarity, keen discernment, and honest understanding of your Self. Attaching conditions and preconceptions to what you observe leads to deception, prejudice, and gross errors and misperceptions of Who You Really Are and distorts or obscures the reality of the Universe within and around you.

Welcome the distractions into your practice. It only makes things more frustrating when you try to shut them out or deny them. They should not be denied. That is not being honest.

Even so, observe those distractions as they Really Are and not as you assume or desire them to be.

This is the Way.

A Pizza My Mind

INTRODUCTION

During transitional times in my life I have worked as a customer service representative and delivery driver for two prominent American pizza chains.

Despite some of the downsides of the pizza delivery business that I write about in this booklet, I generally like that work. People connect pizza with good times and convenience. I like to be a part of making the lives of people a little easier and happier.

In my opinion, I think people like the pizza deliverers as much as they like cops or fireman though I do not mean to diminish the valuable work of either of those two professions. Many are the times where I have cruised through a neighborhood to or from a delivery and kids have shouted “Hey pizza man!” or I am asked about what it would take to get a free pizza from me.

As a delivery driver I see people as they really are. I love the pure humanity of it all. From the people in their pajamas (or less) to the marijuana enhanced poker games to the children’s birthday parties to the weary travelers lodging in a hotel room for a night.

For the most part I also enjoy the interface that I have with people either at the counter in the shop or at the front door of their homes. The exceptions, of course, are when something goes wrong somewhere in the processes from ordering to payment.

Those problems are what this little booklet is about.

There is a saying in business that “the customer is always right.”

And that is warm, steamy bullshit. The customer is NOT always right. Anyone who’s ever worked in the service or retail sectors knows that to be true. It should be no surprise that those who’ve worked in the retail or service sectors tend to be the best and most patient customers due to their own experiences in working with the public.

It is true that some pizza franchises deliver poor service and end product due to management issues and a lack of conscientious oversight, but there are many times where the customer is as much to blame for things going wrong, if not more, than the one taking the order, baking the pizza, or delivering it to the door.

If the ordering, preparing, delivery and payment processes of getting pizza is to go well, it takes cooperation between the customer and the provider. This article is written especially for those who have no idea what goes on in the pizza delivery process. I know that most people believe it to be a fairly simple and straightforward process. The process is designed to be that way but all too often things just don’t work out as well or as efficiently as they should and that breakdown occurs due to the customer as often as it does due to the provider.

I’ll keep doing my part to be the best customer service representative and delivery driver that I can be. I won’t accept the blame, however, when you’ve not done your part to help this transaction go well.

ORDERING BY PHONE

Today there are a number of different ways to order pizza. Those options are convenient. Some are almost foolproof. Nevertheless, I want to address the process of ordering pizza over the phone.

It is strange to me that most errors and misunderstandings related to ordering pizza do not occur from problems with technology but from the interaction of human Beings.

Those who choose to order their pizza by telephone need to be mindful of the confusion and many distractions which can be eliminated with just a little conscientiousness on the part of the customer.

Pizza shops are usually noisy and hectic places. Customer service representatives shouting to preparers, preparers shouting to drivers, drivers shouting to each other. Like an aircraft carrier flight deck, it can all be controlled chaos to provide the best product and service to the customer.

It doesn’t help the customer, then, when there are background distractions created from the point of the caller.

To improve the speed and accuracy of your order, determine what type of pizza and toppings that everyone would like before you pick up the phone. All too often customer service representatives are confused by conversations between the caller and others in close proximity to them. The moment of the call is NOT the time to work out what sort of pizza everyone would like to enjoy.

In the most recent pizza place that I worked, the ordering system was a reasonably efficient computer program where all of the elements of ordering and delivery could be manipulated with a few keystrokes. Yet even with this relative efficiency errors still occurred when the customer service representative could not clearly hear the caller for the background distractions coming from the point of the call.

When calling in a pizza order, have a good idea of what types of pizza that you want and then go to a quiet place to call; a space without distractions. You’re going to save yourself a lot of grief that way and it will actually contribute to a more efficient and accurate process.

Also, it is important for the customer to let the CSR (customer service representative) lead the conversation and dictate the pace of the ordering process. In my experience I’ve had customers begin ordering within moments after the initial greeting with such immediacy that one would think CSR’s were stenographers versed in shorthand.

There is a protocol of process unique to every pizza shop. That process works most efficiently when it is allowed to operate according to its intended design, timing and function. Rather than jumping right into placing your order, allow the CSR on the other end of the phone to lead you through the process.

As occasions demand, I deliberately let the caller go through their entire order and then take them back to step one of the protocol and proceed thoroughly from there. I slow them down. I sometimes detect frustration in their voices but it is a far less frustration than receiving an incorrect order at their door or at the counter of the shop.

For an order to have the best chance of being accurate it is also vital that the CSR can understand what you’re saying. Speech impediments aside, if you are so drunk or stoned to speak articulately or with lucidity then you should not be the one to order pizza.

So here’s the take away from this section:

Decide what types of pizza that you and everyone else wants BEFORE you call.
Eliminate background distractions.
Let the CSR set the pace in the ordering process.
Speak clearly and lucidly.

DELIVERY

Delivering pizza is an inglorious job. True, most people are glad to see you stop and step up on their porch but the work really doesn’t offer any real occupational gratification. Delivering pizza is probably not the career that your driver has aspired to. Please bear in mind that most drivers are employed in this work because better jobs aren’t readily available to them, or they’re struggling to make ends meet by taking on this second job, or they’re kids in college making a sacrifice and trying to find a balance between living, studies and work.

By the time that your delivery driver has arrived at your home they have probably have experienced varying types and degrees of frustration and anxiety even before leaving the pizza shop. That frustration only increases when there are traffic issues which extend the delivery time.

In my view the most frustrating thing about delivering pizza is poorly marked address numbers. Even with the most sophisticated GPS (global positioning) navigational aids there are many nights, in particular, where it can take me longer than five minutes to accurately locate an address.

Hunting or guessing addresses increases the time that it takes a pizza to get from the oven to the table and it’s not because your driver is fooling around.

Many are the times where I have arrived at the wrong door with a large order only to apologize for an interruption, replace the order into my car and drive around a little more, or trudge across a lawn or two, just to get to the correct address.

Be sure that your address numbers are bold and can be seen from the curb at night. If your home is some distance from the road, ensure that your address is clearly seen on your mailbox. Even 2” inch numbers would help.

If the numbers on your home are difficult to see at night please give the delivery driver a better clue of where to locate you by turning on your porch light. Those lights get the attention of a driver and do lessen the search time.

Then, adding insult to injury, there have been occasions such as the one that I have just written about where, presumably because I arrived later than expected, the customer doesn’t even tip. It’s hard not to feel contempt or resentment toward the customer because of that.

PAYMENT

Payments which are made by debit or credit cards are the best way to complete the transaction. There is little more to do at the door than to quickly sign the credit slip and receive the pizza. Credit or debit payments almost completely eliminate the chance of error or short changing.

However, if you choose to pay with cash, please do your best to have the correct, or near to correct, amount ready to be exchanged. Almost all drivers carry $20 or less and so their ability to make change is limited by that amount. It may well be that they have a combination of denominations, such as three fives and five ones, which make it difficult to return a precise amount of change.

Additionally, don’t be a damn cheapskate. If the total can be rounded up or down by a few pennies don’t demand or expect the driver to play tiddlywinks or tickle dink with the change in their pocket while you’re impatiently standing there waiting for 17 cents.

Let the small excess serve as a tip or as a portion of the tip. Given that you’ve probably saved dollars through a marketing special surrendering a few cents for the sake of speed and convenience isn’t going to plunge you into financial crisis or ruin.

Speaking of tipping, do it. Some pizza companies charge a delivery fee which some customers believe is paid to the delivery driver. Wrong. Those fees are not tips and they are not directly paid to the drivers. Most pizza companies receive a cut of that fee. Some pizza companies also have pay differentials whereby drivers earn a higher amount while in the shop than they do when they are on the road. That delivery fee helps to augment the lower pay while they’re on the road bringing pizza to you.

Delivery drivers are usually the interface between the customer and the company. Their job, while appearing simplistic, involves a great deal of restraint in dealing with dissatisfied customers as well as facing the stresses of traffic, in finding locations and the risk of being robbed. When they are not tipped they sense the clear message that you don’t appreciate their service. Think about it, they are bringing food to you which will feed you, your family or your guests. They deliver in cold, in the heat, in the rain and in the snow. Frankly, they are perpetually underpaid for doing that.

If you’re a non-tipping asshole, fuck you. Your delivery driver is the better person. We do remember your address and you may never get another pizza delivered in the time that you expect. Veteran drivers remember the locations of good deliveries and bad ones. They share that information with other drivers. If your delivery time always seems to be slow, consider whether or not you’ve treated your delivery driver well.

Remember, ordering pizza is a two way process with a number of different components. Without your cooperation as a customer it is altogether possible that the problems encountered in the process may well be problems that you have caused or contributed to.

Help your pizza shop help you.

 

So Jay, What Happened to Your god?

When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11 CEV)

I don’t recall the moment when the idea of god was presented to me. I was too young to give it any critical thought anyway.

My exposure and experience with the christian religion was not atypical in the least. As a child I attended a local Methodist Church where, along with many of my friends and schoolmates, we played, sang and began to believe in god together.

Dad wasn’t a church goer in the usual sense of the word and while Mom attended regularly, served on church boards and even taught Sunday school, she was never one to really push Jesus or god on my sister or me. I am grateful that Mom gave me lots of room to explore and, best of all, to question our religion, dogmas, doctrines and the bible itself.

At some point in my foundational religious formation I, and our membership confirmation class, was challenged to read selected books of the bible on a set schedule through the course of our education in Methodism and local church polity.

I still recall my very first biblical question concerning the consistency and authority of the bible. For someone of the age of seven or eight I thought that it was a significant question. Having begun my assigned bible reading I closely followed the story of Adam, of Eve and of their sons Cain and Abel.

Soon after Cain had killed his brother Abel the legend was that Cain took a wife, headed off to the Land of Wandering and had a son named Enoch. I astutely observed, however, that the story had not mentioned any other children of Adam and Eve except for Cain and Abel. My question to the minister was “Because the story doesn’t mention any other humans on Earth at the time, where did Cain’s wife come from?”

The Pastor thought about my question for a moment and then answered that because the bible traced the paternal lines no daughters of Adam and Eve were ever mentioned. Nonetheless, the only biblically plausible answer is that Cain married one of his sisters.

The Reverend’s answer at the time was sufficient to solve that apparent discrepancy in the text but it didn’t serve to pin my skepticism to the mat.

As I grew up religion didn’t hold a place of priority in my life. Up until the age of 14 or 15 I continued to join friends, family and classmates for church functions and holidays but never took an interest in any other components of a religious faith group or community.

At this point of my account, I remember participating in a Youth Sunday service wherein I had been selected to deliver the homily or the sermon. I clearly remember the title: “In God We Trust.” I’m sure that it was a homiletically disastrous bit which was bereft of any sort spiritual usefulness or significance. The people of my church sat patiently and kindly gave me their full attention but there is no doubt that they left that service completely uninspired.

It was shortly after that when I stopped attending church. I was at the age where Mom stopped attempting to compel me to go and, frankly, it was much more enjoyable to sit out on the deck with Dad on a Sunday morning while the chicken spun around on the rotisserie as the Detroit Tiger pre-game shows sounded through the speakers of our multi-band radio. Greater are these memories with my real father than that of any with the pretend daddy of the bible.

Beyond that period of time I remember few other events with the church. There was the senior class recognition Sunday and perhaps a good-bye of sorts when I left to serve in the U.S. Navy but my days of regular attendance had since passed.

In 1976 I enlisted in the United States Navy under the Delayed Entry Program or DEP for short. During the enlistment application process I was asked if I were a member of any youth clubs or civic leagues or had demonstrated any extra-curricular leadership within the community. I had never been, and still am not, a socially active or extraverted sort of person. I had three or four close friends and that was just the way that I liked it. I was never motivated or concerned about joining any school or civic service clubs. I was content to go home from school, play some ball, eat supper, cloister myself in my room to listen to music, play guitar or jam my nose in some books.

Nevertheless, to fill in some lines on an enlistment candidate bio card I wrote that I had participated in some activities at my church.

That was good enough for the U.S.N.

At that time it was customary for the Navy to select a few new recruits for leadership positions within their respective training divisions. Soon after I arrived at Recruit Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois I was called into the office of the company Chief Petty Officer where I received a temporary promotion to Petty Officer Third Class and designated as Recruit Company 232’s Religious Petty Officer (RPO).

Welcome to the ministry, sailor.

My duties were little more than serving as a liaison between the base Chaplain’s office and my training company. It was my responsibility to march recruits to and from services, should they choose to attend them, and ensure that all religious literature and communications were disseminated throughout my company.

I loathed that duty but carried it out with the professionalism and excellence as expected of a Michigan man. I didn’t want to attend services anymore than most of my shipmates. Not only that, I was terribly uncomfortable being a point man on religious affairs and concerns within my company. Damn the Navy anyway. The only benefit of that position was that I didn’t have to stick around and clean the barracks on Sunday mornings and I suspect that was the only reason why some of my shipmates marched to chapel by my cadence.

After I graduated basic training, I was promoted to Airman (E-3) for my work as company RPO, headed off to Lakehurst, New Jersey for more training and never set foot in a church again for years to come.

I had just settled into my rack after my 24 hour duty period as a crash, rescue and recovery crew leader at a naval shore installation in Virginia when I received one of those calls which changes life forever.

The first words out of Mom’s mouth were “Jay, your Dad is dead.”

I’ll spare the details except to say one of the world’s greatest men had passed away at the age of 62. Walter Terpenning Gunn is still a hero of mine. I loved and admired my Daddy more than he ever knew.

Those of you who’ve experience the shock and grief of such a tragedy surely know the emotional and mental devastation that such an event brings with it. It leaves you disoriented and vulnerable. And it was out of that shock, disorientation and vulnerability that I returned to a christian community that held out its arms to comfort and console my family and myself.

In the immediate days which followed Dad’s death the church gave our family seamless and comprehensive care and support. At that time I was in some desperate need of some perspective and meaning of everything that had occurred.

I never got to say good-bye to Dad. I never got to “I love you Dad” just one more time. I never got the chance to apologize to him for the times where I surely made his life difficult. I never got to tell him how proud and thankful of him that I truly was.

But, as embarrassed as I am now to have fallen for it, the church taught that there was a way to hang onto Dad emotionally and spiritually and that there was a hope of eternal life together.

And man did I fall for it.

The root and viability of religion is emotion. This is no less true for my own former religion. I believe that this is the reason why people continue to attend religious services. Churches, in particular, are very good at evoking emotions and creating emotional bonds between people in that community setting. The entire faith is predicated on an emotional attachment to a common idea and mental image of Jesus.

Throughout this region of the south spring and summer are the seasons for revival in many churches. My cynical side also tells me that these revivals are also intended to offset the diminished flow of offerings, gifts and tithes due to the exodus of the church goers heading off on vacation.

Nevertheless, without strong emotional bonds to the god idea, the corporate life of a community and religious culture, christianity would never remain viable. Christianity cannot survive when plunged into the wash of logic, dispassionate reason and scholarship.

In an article titled: “Flaws in Reasoning and Arguments: Confirmation Bias~Selective Use of Evidence to Support Our Beliefs” Austin Cline writes:

“The confirmation bias is perhaps worse than most because it actively keeps us from arriving at the truth and allows us to wallow in comforting falsehood and nonsense. This bias also tends to work closely with other biases and prejudices; the more emotionally involved we are with a belief the more likely it is that we will manage to ignore whatever facts or arguments might tend to undermine it.”

My god idea was bound together with my own emotions. Like millions of others, I languished under a confirmation bias concerning the god idea which was held in place by an emotional cementing to my past, my hurts, my fears and those whom I had trusted.

Few things, however, in the human experience can deaden or vacate emotion like depression can.

I never saw my clinical depression coming and I didn’t know what it was until I was diagnosed. All I knew was that I had changed. I wasn’t sure if it was for better or for worse but I was slowly becoming a different person.

If it can be said that there was ever a benefit to depression it is that when all emotions appear to die, when love has become abstract, when good and bad seem equal in estimation, it is much easier to dispassionately reason and re-examine relationships, oneself and ones beliefs.

Since their inception, my theistic ideas, that is, my beliefs about god, were all based on emotions. I willingly supported christian teachings and church speak which would affirm my feelings but somehow always ran counter to what I truly believed to be True.

I believed in a god so as not to disappoint others or separate myself from a community of people from whom I had found acceptance and support. My identity was that of a christian and christians believed in the god of Jesus.

To varying degrees I allowed certain people to exploit my feelings of guilt, of shame and of fear. Later I realized that the strength of religion is in its power to control people through whatever emotional hook can be set into the minds and lives of its adherents.

As my depression deepened the only things that I found moved the needle of my feelings were my trustworthy and constant comforters of music, sex, frequent and copious dosings of red wine with the occasional bowl of good weed (yes, I would like some Indica please).

All other things, including my religion, failed to restore the nubilous sense of happiness that I believed I had once possessed.

Throughout this darkness I sought solace and hope in the conception of god that had formulated in my mind for decades but found none.

While I won’t stray far into deeply personal and intimate matters, I will tell you that I took stock of my marriage and learned that it had become as thin and shallow as had the idea of god. I wasn’t happy in it. I no longer felt love for my wife and despite some efforts to work through this I knew that for all intents and purposes that our marriage of over twenty years was over. Our marriage had been grounded in certain religious tenets and I had been foolish enough to believe that those canons were sufficient to hold it together even with a lack of nurture. Apart from our daughters and our shared god idea there was nothing to hold it together.

I left the marriage long before it was over. In my wake, I left the mother of my daughters in pain and bewilderment. Even so, with the numbing effect of depression, I felt no remorse or regret. Depression stupefies not only ones own ability to feel anything but also desensitizes the sufferer to the feelings of others. Empathy and compassion simply become empty words.

By this time I had not only searched for light, life and relief in other religions and philosophies but found my own ideas about god less tenable than ever. As I read religious books and texts, including that of my own particular faith, I began to notice inconsistencies in logic, errors and contradictions. Unlike the questions of my youth I wasn’t finding satisfactory answers to these problems. The historical, geographical, anthropological and archeological inaccuracies indicated to me that something was wrong, very wrong, with every religious teaching that I had been exposed to.

Even so I pressed on.

Then came the moment.

I sat down at the dining room table and placed a bible in front of me. With all of the open mindedness and all of the open heartedness that I could give it, I decided that I would begin at the book of Genesis and read all the way through the bible in the hope that somewhere along the way everything that had melted away within me and around me would be rediscovered and recovered in that journey.

I was no stranger to the bible. I knew where things were located and had a good working knowledge of the book and its contents but I thought that somewhere along the way I must have missed the solution to this inner barrenness.

I began reading and I never got past Genesis chapter three.

As a child I was taught about the character of the judeo-christian idea of god. That is, god was all-powerful, all knowing, all wise, holy and present everywhere at every moment. I remember singing songs in that Methodist church about how god was loving and caring, merciful, redemptive and gracious.

Yet for the first time in my life, right there in that dining room, I saw the Truth about that idea of god.

According to the legend, Genesis chapter three describes what theologians call the fall of man. This means that this was the event where humanity fell out of favor and close fellowship with god and where sin, evil, sickness, curses and death sprang forth into the world.

Just as it happened to the little boy of seven or eight years old the questions leapt into the forefront of my mind.

The answers were obvious. This time it was without the benefit of clergy.

All of this was the contrivance of humans.

Perhaps it wasn’t the intent of the author but it was clear that the fall was a complete set up by the god character in the story.

An all knowing god knew what choice would be made by the man and the woman. The all knowing god knew what the consequences would be. The all powerful god, accountable to no one and mysterious to all, could have begun the story an entirely different way.

And yet, the god character allowed suffering, evil, death, violence and sickness to unfold without the slightest merciful or loving gesture of preemption. The bible teaches that this god character knows everything throughout eternity and had formulated a plan of redemption since before the foundation of the world was laid.

Some plan.

Why even put a tree in the garden in the first place? How can a good choice be made when the implications of death weren’t given to the humans? How could Adam and Eve know what death was when death hadn’t been manifest? Perhaps man had a free will but the fix was in even before he could make a choice which was best for him. The god character had not been completely forthright and had set up mankind in such a way as to fail. And fail they did. The god character made damn sure of it.

When I closed my eyes I recalled the plan of redemption taught to me by vacation bible school teachers where it is said that Jesus, god in the flesh, died for sinners, those separated from god because of the sin that Adam and Eve had committed. Jesus was the one to bear the punishment for that act of disobedience as well as for my own.

Why would god hold me guilty for something that I didn’t even do? Why couldn’t an all wise and all holy god simply have proclaimed a divine decree of forgiveness for mankind and then gotten to work to help man overcome the problem of ‘sin’ and evil in the world? Why the suffering? Why the blood? Why the damn whacky plan to commit suicide by Roman soldier?

There was only one answer to all of these questions.

I opened my eyes, exhaled and heard myself say “This is all bullshit. There is no god. There is no Jesus. All of this was made up.”

For the first time in a long time a wave of clarity washed over me. My own personhood began to reemerge. Immediately the world began to make better sense when I realized the difference between reality and the religious delusions.

I was free.

I was free but I didn’t have a clue where I was supposed to go from here.
The final resolution of the god idea came easy for me. It was everything else in my life which would prove to be difficult.

Leaving ones faith is not an easy decision. For many it is costly. In fact, I know many atheists, in the pulpit and in the pew, who simply cannot bear the cost of leaving their faith. I understand their position. I sympathize with their feelings of hypocrisy, of inauthenticity and the darkness and inner betrayal which comes with living a charade of faith.

For the first few months of liberation I found myself to be an extremely angry man. Even to this day my atheist anger flares on occasion. I wasn’t, and am not, angry at a god or, necessarily, at the people who are still bound and held captive in theism. How can I be angry at a fictitious character in a book? It would be as if I were pissed off at the Cat in the Hat. The only reason that I get angry at religious people is because that they are living their lives in a manner which is FAR short of where they could be if they weren’t bound by their god idea. Moreover, it is even more provocative when those sorts seek to impose their religious rules and worldview on an otherwise happy, moral and peaceful humanity. Live and let live. Live your life according to your own rules but give room for others to live their lives in the way that they choose to live it. Human peace, love, charity, compassion, sharing, selflessness and grace are all which are needed to bring about the world that we all desire.

My anger was and is, in part, directed at myself. I bought into the bullshit of the god idea and in that I had forsaken myself in order to be what I thought others wanted me to be. I betrayed myself. For a space of precious life I had denied myself the joys of life for the sake of the regard of others.

During the darkest days of the depression I remember looking into the mirror with shame and asking myself the question where had I gone? Where was Jay? Where had that kid from a small town in Michigan gone? Where did YOU go, man?

It had been a long, long time since I had been honest with myself and I was angry about that. That long time had been time wasted playing a role. I wanted to be accepted, comforted and loved and had found all of that in the community of christians but, for quite some time, couldn’t intellectually buy into the teachings of that community. Had I put my real self out there in that community I would have no longer been a part of that community. The expectations were too high and too stringent.

I just wanted to be me again. I wanted to know the uncomplicated joys of life again. Now, with the peaceful extinguishment of the god idea I had come full circle.

The best experiences of my life had nothing to do with the idea of god. The idea of god did nothing to improve the quality of my life. I can make a strong case that the god idea, in fact, robbed me of the joys of life and living the human experience to the fullest.

Now? Now I live life to its brutal, carnal, sweet, soft and realistic fullness.

I do not fear death. I didn’t know what it was to live before I became self aware and it is to that state that I, you, and all, will return when life as we experience is over. Those whom I have loved and have died are gone. They live no more. I am grateful for being able to share a portion of their lives and they of my own life.

Think damn it. Sober up.

How would you regard others if you knew that this is the only opportunity that you will ever have to see, touch, taste, hear or feel them?

Is there something that your god idea dictates that you cannot enjoy or experience? What does your own curiosity and desire tell you?

Yes, there are consequences to your actions but consider well the regrets of not experiencing something versus denying yourself the chance of experiencing it.

Your life is yours and yours alone. How will you live it?

Will you live it according to the rules of a religion and a god idea or on your own terms?

You only get this one shot at living here and now. Don’t waste it for the sake of a religious story, fable and legend.

This is what happened.

My life is better than it has ever been.

A godless life is one of infinite possibilities and pleasures.

May all peace and mortal and carnal joys be yours.

Live.

The Idea of god

“That’s because Jesus can be whatever you want him to be,
and the christian message can be whatever you want it to be.” ~ Reza Azlan

If you could take a survey of 1,000 theists which asked the question “Describe the characteristics and attributes of your god in a few words” I am almost positive that you would get different descriptions and interpretations of god from each individual. To be sure, some of the adjectives would be similar but the vast and varied differences in the nuances might make you think that each person believes in a god that is different from all others or one of their own conception or contrivance.

For instance, a few people might use the term that their god (or gods) is “great” or “merciful” or even “holy.” Yet what it means for their god to be great or merciful or holy is a subjective matter. Very often the terms used by god believers to describe the attributes of their gods can be contradictory not only with people of other faiths or religious groups but also within groups of the same general faith or religious denominations. Most likely their description of god fits well within their comfort zone of what attributes their god must have and how this god idea can serve their best interests.

How is it that the god of, say, the Westboro Baptist Church is the very same god of some of my gay christian friends? Do they worship two different gods or do each of those groups view god in a different way than the other? If it’s the same god then why are there differences in what this god is saying, what it is prohibiting or what it is permitting?

I propose that both believe that they are right in their own minds about their own version of god. That is, each individual sees their god in the way that they want to see their god. Their god acts and speaks in the way that each believer wants their god to act and speak. In other words, the idea of god is a personal concept or construct to the extent that everyone creates an image or a character of god in their own minds which is subject to, and reinforced by, their own biases. The god of the individual isn’t really the lord of that individual; rather, the individual is the lord of their own god.

God, gods or goddesses are nothing more than characters or notions, idols if you will, in the minds of those who attached some sort of veracity and belief onto those ideas of what or who a god might be.

Enduring faith in a god is nothing more than a tenacious confirmation bias toward the god idea as conceived by each individual believer. To give you some perspective on what confirmation bias is, I offer an entry from a Princeton website which explains this very human psychological phenomena: (emphasis mine ~ j.)

“Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true. As a result, people gather evidence and recall information from memory selectively, and interpret it in a biased way. The biases appear in particular for emotionally significant issues and for established beliefs. For example, in reading about gun control, people usually prefer sources that affirm their existing attitudes. Biased search, interpretation and/or recall have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a stronger weighting for data encountered early in an arbitrary series) and illusory correlation (in which people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).

Confirmation biases contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. Hence they can lead to disastrous decisions, especially in organizational, military, political, religious and social contexts.”

I’ve learned that, in most cases, when I’ve challenged the long held and biased notions of the god idea of an individual that, in spite of overwhelming evidence, logic and reason, believers will dig in their heels, so to speak, and double down on their confirmation bias. After all, who wants to be found wrong about anything, especially about something as significant as one’s own religious beliefs, theologies and god ideas? The cost for admitting that belief in an idea, an idol or a mental image of god is wrong is a price that is far too dear for most people to pay.

In an article titled: “Flaws in Reasoning and Arguments: Confirmation Bias~Selective Use of Evidence to Support Our Beliefs” Austin Cline writes:

“Confirmation bias occurs when we selectively notice or focus upon evidence which tends to support the things we already believe or want to be true while ignoring that evidence which would serve to disconfirm those beliefs or ideas. This bias plays a stronger role when it comes to those beliefs which are based upon prejudice, faith, or tradition rather than on empirical evidence.

For example, if we already believe or want to believe that someone can speak to our deceased relatives, then we will notice when they say things which are accurate or pleasant but forget how often that person says things which are simply incorrect [such as in the case of the pseudo psychic huckster John Edward ~j.]. Another good example would be how people notice when they get a phone call from a person they were just thinking about but don’t remember how often they didn’t get such a call when thinking about a person. The act of prayer is rife with confirmation bias.

The confirmation bias is simply a natural aspect of our personal biases. The confirmation bias is perhaps worse than most because it actively keeps us from arriving at the truth and allows us to wallow in comforting falsehood and nonsense. This bias also tends to work closely with other biases and prejudices; the more emotionally involved we are with a belief the more likely it is that we will manage to ignore whatever facts or arguments might tend to undermine it.

Why does this sort bias exist? Well, it’s certainly true that people don’t like to be wrong and that anything which shows them to be wrong will be harder to accept. Also, emotional beliefs which are involved with our self-image are much more likely to be defended selectively.”

One of the methods of arriving at the truth of a hypothesis within scientific discipline is to subject that hypothesis to brutal scrutiny, honest criticism and the unforgiving fires of refutation. What would happen if humans could subject their own god idea to such testing and criticism?

For many, the god idea has melted away or has been discarded when it was challenged by tests, analysis, data, reason and logic in search of empirical evidence to confirm that their god hunch or that their god notion was true.

Others, less courageous and intrepid, have retreated from the brutality of such honest inquiry and continue to fortify their idea of god in a holy shrine within the imagination of their minds.

Seekers and scholars who begin their critical research with no emotional investments in religion present the most unbiased conclusions on religion simply because they are more open during their studies to accept evidence that contradicts the prevailing conclusions and ideas about doctrine, dogma and the reality of a god being. Just as a used car salesperson will be hesitant to acknowledge and relay information that is damaging to the quality of his vehicles, the biased adherent to religion will be resistant to acknowledge and relay information that is damaging to the veracity of his religion and their concept of god. The opinions of individuals with ego involvement, emotional investments, or other vested personal and material interests in the outcome of a debatable issue are less likely to change when confronted with new information because people have an innate inclination to seek only evidence that confirms their pre-established beliefs.

There are, however, a rapidly growing number of theists who are taking the brave steps out beyond the perimeter of their cognitive dissonance and biases and honestly and humbly accepting the truth that their gods have been nothing more than a mental image of their own creation.

***

“God is a Concept…” ~ John Lennon

How did the idea of god come to be?

Imagine, if you can, a single point in human history when one or more of our primitive ancestors huddled in fear at the inhuman, external, seemingly otherworldly and powerful natural force of a severe thunderstorm. Seeking some sort of meaning for the event, seeking some sort of explanation for the causes and reasons for that yet unexplained phenomenon, they created and propagated a speculative idea or self authored scenario which, when couched in a seemingly plausible narrative, was void of scientific knowledge and data but was rich in theism and deistic legend. That is, they believed that something so impossible to create and replicate, such as the thunderstorm, must be the work or creation of something or someone beyond themselves that possessed and manifested extraordinary power and intelligence.

Thus, gods were born in the minds of humans.

From there, stories began to emerge which attempted to describe this god, or these gods, and how everything which could be observed, experienced or felt was a result of the work of these gods. Superstitions, rituals and supplications appeared as mere mortals began to weave their theologies and anthropomorphized their god ideas while seeking ways to understand, placate, motivate, manipulate and please their gods in order to bring about good, favorable and benevolent circumstances in a world of evil and hardship.

During the Fifth Solvay International Conference on Quantum Mechanics, held in Brussels Belgium in 1927, French physicist Paul Dirac said: “If we are honest – and scientists have to be – we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of god is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so many natural processes, we have no need for such solutions.” And as if Dirac could see the present contemporary negative social regard for atheists, he concluded that “the honest assertion that god is a mere product of the human imagination is branded as the worst of all mortal sins.”

***

“Did You make mankind after we made You? And the devil too?…the Father, Son and Holy Ghost is just somebody’s unholy hoax.” ~ Andy Partridge (from the band XTC)

Mankind gives birth to, and breathes life into, their conceptions of god. The seminal thoughts are usually introduced into the minds of the innocent and the childishly gullible by people who are in trusted positions of authority. From there those god thoughts incubate and are nurtured until the story becomes a reality. And even when the god notion is kept viable and brought to maturity, it cannot be denied that there is no god more powerful than the strength of the human within whom the idea resides.

For example, an extremist fundamentalist Muslim will shout “God is Great!” just before he or she blindly thumbs the detonator button on their suicide bombing vest. Such an activity begs the question “If god, or allah, is so great, then why does such a god require human assistance in carrying out some sort of divine mandate or fatwa?”

During the Second World War the German Wehrmacht wore belt buckles stamped with the phrase “God with Us.” While on the other side of the lines Allied soldiers uttered supplications and promises to the same god ideas held by those Germans facing them. The Allies won and the Germans were defeated. Who was god really with? The victors usually lay claim to the favor of their particular notion of god and a confirmation bias is reinforced.

Given that there were men with equal measures of faith in the same idea of god wearing the uniforms of all sides in that conflict why didn’t an omnipotent god just step in and slay those who incurred its wrath and disfavor? Why did it take the weapons and work of humans to smash forth the apparent favorable outcome of the same common god?

Opposing participants in sporting events pray and seek divine assistance in order to prevail over their opponents and, despite years of training and discipline on their own part, they credit a god for the success which came by way of their own efforts. Why? Even without the notion of a god they would have prevailed given the same set of circumstances.

With the exception of, perhaps, an emotional religious motivational component, a person devoted to the veracity of their god idea has no greater advantage over someone who discards belief in the stuff of legends. And even then the unbeliever can find ways to boil up the beneficial emotions which can occasionally render a competitive edge.

No work of a god can be done without the involvement of a human. Any work that is done within a human is nothing more than a marvelous human work, be it physical, emotional or mental.

History has shown time and time again that prayer to and faith in a personal conception of god can’t move a grain of sand without human effort. Mountains are not moved by faith but are, rather, shifted and altered by the will, contrivances and contraptions of man. It makes no difference whether the administration of medicine is supplemented with intercessions to a god, the medicines, treatments and procedures will do what they will do. A devout believer and an atheist stand on level ground in all physical and Universal matters of life and Being.

All gods or goddesses are too human to be divine. No matter the religious source, every god or goddess or pantheons of gods act no better than the humans who imagined them. Mankind animates their gods. Stay the hand of a human acting in the name of their god and the works of their gods upon the Earth would cease. Human Beings are the very hands of the gods that they’ve contrived.

Consistent with the selective characteristics attributed to the personal idea and conceptions of a god, a human can peaceably exonerate him or herself for doing something harmful to themselves or others. With the permission and blessing of a god conceived and formed in the imagination a human can exonerate them self of anything. Some may call this divine grace but this grace is a purely human gimmick and convenience to assuage an injured conscience, to alleviate guilt and to absolve oneself from various personal and social obligations and responsibilities. Gods can be, can say and can do anything that their creators want them to be, to say or to do.

All of the attributes of the gods are granted to them by humans. This must be. Otherwise gods would not yield to the will, the wants, ambitions and lusts of men.

I’ll state here and now that I have better morals than do most gods. Throughout the epochs the gods which were contrived and hewn out of human ignorance and imagination have killed, slaughtered, cursed and have exercised brutality and despotism for a panoply of selfish reasons. All of them are, of course, ‘holy’ reasons. One god states that it is wrong to kill and yet is said to have drowned the entire world, babies, Mommies, little kittens, cute puppies and all, sparing only a select family to repopulate the Earth and to continue doing the same things which provoked the wrath of this god to begin with.

Not once have I raised my hand to kill or destroy another human Being. Not once have I sought to impose my own will upon another by threat or force. Not once have I made demands of those who loved me. Not once have I withheld assistance to another when it has been in my power, ability, desire and means to render aid to them. Not once have I sought unquestioned devotion under the threat of eternal damnation.

Throughout the relative contemporary history of mankind the gods of certain people have chosen those certain peoples over others. Gods have shown selective and conditional mercy on some while smiting others, non-withstanding that the smiting came by the hands of the devotees of those gods.

If we held our god ideas to the same statutory and judicial standards and procedures by which we exercise justice and hold our fellow man accountable, we would sentence our gods to life in prison without parole if not promptly execute them for crimes against humanity.

In fact, many former theists have done just that. Their god idea was placed in the scale of reason, morality, humanity, compassion and logic and was found lacking and guilty. Those ideas, notions, images and mental and emotional idols were put to death never to live again.

Gods are human ideas.

And they are terrible ones at that.

It’s time to bravely reason as adults and put away our childish notions.

When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways.(1 Corinthians 13:11 CEV)

The Atheist and Meditation

There was a point in my life where I put faith in the idea or notion of a god or gods. I’ve met very few atheists who were completely insulated from theistic notions, stories and ideas or who were nurtured in a theistically sterile home, culture or community.

Most of the atheists that I know arrived at their disbelief, or lack of belief in gods, after some process of religious devolution and enlightenment from reason. Atheists come from all different spiritual or religious backgrounds and perspectives.

One thing, however, that we have in common is that we all have awakened, or grew up if you will, to the conclusion that gods, spirits, spooks, nebulous and otherworldly or esoteric invisible deities simply aren’t there. Or if one is an agnostic (an atheist who doesn’t want to wear the label) they haven’t yet seen the empirical proof of the divine.

On the way out of my own particular brand of theism there came a point where I began the practice of something which has been called Insight Meditation. That practice was usually something which was done during or after flowing through a series of Yoga poses.

As an initiate to the practice I employed the use of mantras. As it was taught to me, a mantra was the repetitious chanting or focused thought of a particular word or phrase which was held to be personally significant or sacred. The use of the mantra helped to cultivate a single mindedness, a focus or mindfulness which would steady the mind and the body as well. Others used a mantra to foster a personal spirituality.

Some people would invoke the name or names of their gods or goddesses while others would repeat verses from their particular sacred books, traditions or religious teachers. I really never settled on any of those though I passed through a period of intermittently chanting a Sanskrit word for bliss: “Rama.” I came to learn that this is the name of one of the avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu. I didn’t feel any particular affinity to this word and neither did I discern any benefit from chanting it other than its simplicity of use. It helped to occupy or steady my mind and served as a barrier to other random thoughts which might otherwise agitate my mind during Yoga practice.

Now every time that I think of Rama or Vishnu I recall the name of a character created by Tim Kazurinsky on Saturday Night Live who was called “Ravi Havnagootiim Vishnuuerheer.”

I left behind all ideas of the possible validity of the Hindu gods in the same way that I left behind the notions of the veracity of other gods. Early Hindus simply described human characteristics and the existential components of their world and lives through the use of stories and figures upon which divinity was imposed. Every god dies when discovery, knowledge and the sciences knock away the props and the facades which had previously supported, personified and gave identity to those idols.

What remained, however, was the real benefit of the disciplined practice of meditation. To this day, without any mantras or syrupy spirituality, I still enjoy the benefits of meditation.

My form of meditation is technically and physically easy. It doesn’t require any formal training or participation in a group. And while I don’t practice meditation with specific expectations in mind, or as my goal, the benefits of meditation just appear.

The benefits of meditation manifest within each person in uniquely different ways though I am certain that if you were to talk to other practitioners you would hear common themes develop.

It is difficult for me to describe just how meditation helps me and enhances my life but I’m going to do my best to do that.

Meditation creates mental and emotional space for me. That is, it helps me to slow down my thoughts so that there are gaps of stillness, gaps of mental rest, and moments of quiet from the mental chatter which can seem incessant.

This slowing of the mental processes helps me to sharpen my focus on one thing at a time and to really give my FULL attention to one thing at a time without being hindered by distractions.

I’ve also found that my emotions neutralize in this slowing process. I can become dispassionate. This helps to clear out any emotional influences which might be impacting my train of thought. This emotional defusing can help give me clearer insight and perspective on issues which might otherwise be unduly and adversely affected by emotions.

Please don’t form the impression that meditation ‘zones’ me out or turns me into some sort of zombie. I’ve never undertaken meditation where there haven’t been a steady train of thoughts seeking to cram their way into my awareness. The key is to find one focal point and regard that as the base or foundation of the meditation.

At this point you might be wondering about HOW I meditate. It’s really quite simple.

I dedicate a place for meditation. Sure, I can meditate anywhere (I’ve meditated in airport waiting areas, in boring movies, as a passenger in a car, etc.) but I have consecrated (yes, I’m going to use that term) a place that is used primarily for meditation and quiet.

In my quiet room I have a very simple table upon which are candles, some stones, sand and a small pitcher of water. These benign elements serve a couple of purposes for me. One, they are good objects upon which to fix the gaze. They aren’t sentient or alive. I have never been distracted by any of these objects. Two, these represent fire, water, Earth and sky. I don’t attribute any sort of personhood or spiritual significance to these objects. They are visual aids to remind me that all of us are of the Universe and the Earth. They help to put things into proper perspective for me.

There are many times where I don’t even look at these symbols due to the fact that I also use my own breath as a point of focus and choiceless observation.

I position myself so that I am comfortable but not so much that I risk falling asleep. If I am so tired that I need more sleep then THAT is the task that I need to undertake. You can sit cross-legged or on a stool or in a straight backed chair.

Posture is important. Try not to slouch. Sit upright. Keep your chin level with the horizon. You can place the back of one hand in the open palm of the other or rest your hands on your thighs or knees.

I usually set a timer. My meditation can last anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes. You’d be surprised how often I open my eyes or re-engage my thoughts just as the timer bell rings. Twenty minutes can appear to pass quickly.

There are no hard and fast rules about whether or not the eyes should be open or closed. Sometimes I alternate between the two during my practice.

My own discipline is that if my eyes are closed, then I make my breathing as my focal point. If my eyes are open I focus upon my breath and gaze at a single candle flame.

I bring myself to an awareness of my own breath. I observe the inhalation and exhalation. I take time to consider how the breath is traveling through my nose, down my throat and into my body. I try not to change the rhythm or depth of the breath but simply try to look at it as it is.

That is the place of my focus. That is my center, my foundation and my place of grounding.

There is no emotion involved in such observation. There is no thinking or in depth consideration in such observation. There are no decisions to be made or conclusions to be drawn. It’s just a matter of watching my own breath as the body works on its own without any help from me.

When a thought, any thought, pops into my awareness and drifts or charges its way into my consciousness, I don’t attempt to resist the thought. Anything that we resist will persist. Trust me, you’ll never really know how busy the mind can be until you try to slow down and order those thoughts one by one.

Welcome the thought. It’s not necessary to dissect it or attempt to interpret it, just acknowledge it and bring your attention back to observing your single focal point. I have a little inner dialogue that I use when a thought seems too persistent. I actually speak silently to the thought or, if you will, direct MY thought toward THAT thought and say something like “Hello thought about website content addition (or food, or sex, or reefer, or work, or music, or whatever). I’ll listen to you later. But for now, won’t you join me as I observe my breath?”

Now, I know that seems like a strange thing to do but it works for me. It gives me that ‘break’ or that ‘gap’ that I need to refocus on my breath and return to the ‘no-thinking’ of that moment.

I force nothing. I just relax, breathe and silently observe without making any choices or considerations. If I have an itch, I scratch it. If my butt is falling asleep, I make a subtle weight or posture shift.

Some days are much more difficult than others to slow down and create those spaces between thoughts. Sometimes there are distractions which simply can’t be ignored. If possible, mitigate those distractions and come back and resume your meditation.

Meditation does not require belief in any deity. It does not require the use of a mantra. The deeper and profound benefits of meditation will manifest without a smidgen of anything religious or ‘spiritual.’ It does, however, require disciplined commitment. Things never happen fast with meditation. It’s intended to slow YOU down and help you create space and experience some liberation from the tyranny that can be your thoughts and feelings.
It’s not a quick fix and no one ever really masters it so there is no need to be anxious or driven about meditation. Just be…

Yeah, that’s it, just….Be.

May the peace and joys within you and without abound!

Cutting the Cord~Saying Good-Bye to the Cable and T.V.

It’s been at least three, quite possibly four, years since I unplugged from cable T.V. At the time it was a luxury that I could no longer afford during a tough financial period of my life. As it turns out, it was one of the best decisions that I ever had to make.

I don’t even own a television set (are they still called that?) anymore. I think that I gave away the last one that I owned. I don’t intend on buying another one, much less reconnecting a coaxial cable to it.

I honestly don’t miss anything that I used to watch on television save, perhaps, for the occasional Detroit Lions football game and back then those games were, in effect, usually over for the Lions mid-way into the first quarter.

That is not to say that I don’t watch the occasional sitcom or movie but I now view those though online purchases or rentals.

With any changes in life there comes the adaptation to a new situation. This situation was no different for me.

What I discovered is that my reading and music libraries began to grow due to the money that I was not tossing down the money pit that is a cable bill. I found that I had the time to throw myself back into playing, composing and recording music.

I also discovered alternate sources of news through magazines and dozens of online news  and op/ed sites. It wasn’t long until I realized that almost all of the information that was being foisted off on the public through television and radio couldn’t really be considered news. It was truly useless and often inaccurate infotainment.

With the advent of the incredible variety and functions of phone apps I don’t feel the least bit isolated or disconnected from the world. I can be selective about what I feel to be significant information without the unsolicited bludgeoning of any media which is designed to distract and disengage people from critical thought and mindfulness (my apologies to the Fox viewers for using the big grown up words).

Even now when I’m in the proximity of a T.V. that is displaying the waste of data which is conveyed through a cable I am completely disinterested in renewing any kind of relationship with the mindlessness that is television programming.

I’ve never been a person who’s been interested in much of what goes on in pop culture and entertainment and so from that perspective my ignorance about those contemporary irritations didn’t, and still don’t, concern me in the least. Even now my eyes glaze over and the volume of a conversation fades if the discussion is about entertainment. I travel off into the happy place that is in my head rather than dedicate a singularly unique moment of my life to the faux realities of American T.V.

It’s always been my opinion that there are far more significant things in this world to devote my time, attention and thought toward than the fads, the fantasies and the hype of the entertainment culture. Some of those things provide people with some temporary diversions from the realities of their lives but little of it seems to be very thought provoking to me.

I don’t give a rats ass who dances with whom or what flash in the pan singer is here today and gone tomorrow. The music industry is clogged with corporately manufactured singers and bands who obscure the very best organic talent throughout the world. This is the primary reason why I seek out alternative indie musicians.

And please don’t think me a humorless dolt. I love comedy; just as long as it’s edgy and sophisticated.

I’ve veered from my topic.

Dear reader, I am going to throw out a challenge to you.

I challenge you to abstain from viewing T.V. for thirty days. Some of you may begin to feel anxious at the very thought of missing out a crucial linking plot twist of a favorite series. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, try abstaining from watching T.V. for SIXTY days.

And while you’re at it, switch off the damn commercial broadcast radio and the mental anesthetic that is the infotainment found on most A.M. radio stations.

Studies have been conducted to determine whether television programming influences or changes culture or if the television and entertainment industry merely reflect the culture and society of the time.

If either of these, or both of these, propositions are correct, we’re intellectually and socially devolving faster than I thought.

Maybe it’s time cut the cord and begin a progressive social and cultural renewal that doesn’t involve paying cable companies for providing us the narcotic of its dumbed down programming.

What? An Atheist With Principles?

While it hasn’t (yet?) been a personal issue with me, I know that other people who don’t accept the idea of a real live god or deity or universal super mind or being have been accused of not having any morals or guiding principles because they don’t accept moralistic rules from ancient legends or shouting ministers.

These accusations simply aren’t true. In fact, I’ve found less dishonesty and hypocrisy among those who are seeking to live as honestly as they can according to reason than I have among those who cop out and hide behind the excuses provided to them by nefarious doctrines such as divine grace, favor and atonement. Too many religious doctrines and dogmas supply acceptable irresponsibility for ones actions.

Perhaps it is the accrued wisdom that I’ve picked up along the way of this wonderfully singular and unique journey of experiencing life as a human Being, but I’ve come to a point where I’ve been able to narrow down the basic and core principles which guide my personal conduct, relationships and interactions with other Beings and the planet upon which I get to live.

Many years ago, at the suggestion of my daughter, I began practicing Yoga as a means of relieving stress and rejuvenating my body. As I progressed I developed the desire to teach Yoga and eventually enrolled in and completed the training necessary to be considered competent enough to help others discover and grow in the practice.

Within the practice of Yoga exists ten ethical precepts which allow us to live and Be in peace with ourselves and with others. These precepts, or principles, are divided into two groupings called the Yamas and Niyamas.

I mention these principles only because I’ve been able to compress most of them into three basic principles by which I try (and I often and frequently fail…but I’m getting there) to relate to myself, others and the world around me.

These Yogic principles are: compassion for all living things; a commitment to the Truth; not stealing or taking something which hasn’t been offered or given; merging with one’s god, gods or goddesses; non-grasping or tenacious possession (it has to do with detachment of possessions); purity of mind and body; contentment in ones present experience; focused enthusiasm and passion upon that which we are engaged; self study; creating or discerning meaning out of everything in life through giving it our full attention.

Through developing a mindfulness through meditation and Yoga I began seeing myself and the world in a much different, more open, free and colorful way. Oddly enough it was the honest application of those very principles which served to release my mind from the consideration of a higher power or a god, if you will, and see things as they really are instead of how I, or others, would want them to be.

I also discovered, through my commitment to the Truth, to not grasping to even my own preconceived notions and engaging in honest and, at times, uncomfortable self study, that there were no gods, goddesses, spirits, Universal minds or energies with which to merge.

Thus, even these Yogic philosophical principles didn’t really define my ethics or world view.

Over time I have compressed a number of various and generally accepted principles by which I attempt to willingly adhere.

Here they are:

1. Enjoy myself. What is the point of experiencing this unique measure of time known as my lifespan if I don’t enjoy myself?

I can do anything that I want to. I’ve experienced a lot of things that people have told me were bad for me and it turns out that they were wrong. I have come to understand that there are consequences to my actions. I seek to experience things which will have no negative consequences on me or upon others. That still leaves a lot of stuff to do!

In my zeal for living I’ve often made some bad choices which have brought some negative (thankfully not deadly or injurious) consequences. I accept full responsibility for my actions; both positive and negative.

I suppose my point in this is to say that at least I am free to fearlessly attempt any experience in life that I deem desirable and appealing to me. If it backfires on me, oh well, I only hope that I had fun in the attempt.

Life IS short! In the broad picture of the universe and timelessness (time is our construct…not that of the universe) we are here for only a relatively few breaths and heartbeats. I don’t want to die with the regrets of not attempting or experiencing something that was in my power to do.

2. Do no harm. I, like most other humans, unintentionally hurt things throughout life. And the harm that I’ve done is a burden that I will have to bear for the length of my own life. Once more I have to say that I take FULL responsibility for any harm that I’ve caused.

On the positive side, I’ve come to recognize that all living things are just like me in the sense that they, too, are ALIVE! Sure, our perception of life, if applicable, is different but that doesn’t diminish the value and precious sacred nature of all of life.

I seek to avoid hurting anything willingly and I have little tolerance for those who practice cruelty and thoughtless harm on any other living things.

This does not mean that I won’t stand and resist if I feel that it is necessary. Many injustices can only be corrected through resistance. Passive resistance is my first choice of resistance for it tends to be harmless.

3. Compassion, charity and selflessness. When it is in my power or within my ability I feel that it is my obligation to help any other living thing which may be suffering or in need. It does no good to pray to a non-existent god on behalf of other people; it is useless and is, frankly, one of those cop outs which many religions provide.

In learning that stuff is just stuff, that money is just money and that through subsequent detachment from the sense of really possessing these things, I’ve found that there is no good reason to withhold anything that isn’t necessary to me. If I have an excess of food, there must certainly be someone who has need of it. If I happen to have a little bit of money left over after my bills are paid, I have often and discretely found a need to meet.

I’ve also learned to live simply and to possess only a little more than I need. What’s the point of being loaded down with possessions that someone will toss into the dumpster or set afire after you die?

A few years ago I had to sell my Mom’s estate in order to provide her with the finances to give her medical care for the rest of her life. She was no longer able to live independently in the home where she had lived a rich and happy life since 1954.

The memories of seeing many of her unnecessary things piled in a heap at the curb still bring me a lot of pain due to my own sentiments attached to those items and knowing what many of those things meant to her. Yet in that traumatic and lonesome experience I learned great freedom and joy in living a simpler life.

Some time ago I asked my daughters if there was anything that I owned that they wanted. I was able to shed some of those things and experienced the joy of seeing those material things become a useful part of their lives. I plan on doing that again in the near future.

For now, all I think that I really need is the love of those who love me, healthy and happy pets, shelter, food, clothing, my guitars and my laptop with a good internet connection. Anything else will come to me when I really need it. Oh, and I need to include coffee and wine to that list. You wouldn’t like me without coffee and wine.

I have no real issues with those who select their own guiding principles from the religious or spiritual books or teachings of their choice. To each their own.

I do take issue, however, with those who seek to impose their own subjective morals and principles on others who would not otherwise wish to accept them. This is where I find danger in religious dogma, the intractable imprisonment of religious orthodoxy, doctrine and unreasonable faith.

My own principles will probably be tweaked as time goes by. I hope not by much. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten this whole life and worldview thing nailed down. But I remain open to new ideas, principles and ways of seeing the world and this universe through the lenses peace, love, compassion and charity.

Whether you adhere to the teachings of holy books, divine spooks, or not, I hope that we can all agree on that.

No, They DIDN’T Die for Your Freedoms!

What I am about to tell you isn’t a popular sentiment. In fact, it just might make you angry. I don’t really care about how you feel about this article but I do encourage you to take it in and give it some lengthy dispassionate consideration.

Another Memorial Day has come and gone. In the days leading up to this American national holiday plenty of social media was burdened with too many memes which conveyed the common message that American military personnel, dead and living, should be remembered and honored for protecting and preserving our American freedoms.

The vast majority of Americans simply accept that proposition as true without giving any thought to just how American freedoms are really lost. In my opinion most American residents confuse physical security with constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. The two are NOT synonymous.

Benjamin Franklin wrote that “They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Specific and implied American freedoms are codified in the Constitution of the United States. In order for those freedoms to be altered or revoked two things, and two things only, have to happen.

First, the nation would have to be invaded and/or occupied by a hostile force sufficient to subjugate the citizenry and install a new government.

Second, and most likely, is that the cultural, political and judicial polemic would shift in some way as to paradoxically reinterpret and reapply constitutional law in such a way as to incrementally diminish or modify the constitutional freedoms.

The first scenario is improbable and impossible. With or without a military the citizens of the United States, gun crazy as they are, would selflessly celebrate their Second Amendment rights to harass and drive off an enemy at great cost to those invaders.

America faced such threats in the late 18th and early 19th century but has realistically never been threatened by invasion since that time. The nation has grown too populous and too industrious, not to mention innovative, to be invaded and conquered on its own soil. Think of any war or military/terrorist threat since the War of 1812 or the Civil War of 1861-1865 and try to devise a scenario where this nation could be successfully overrun and subjugated. Go ahead.

Try to formulate a scenario where any enemy, be it Mexico, the Japanese, Germany, Vietnam, China, the Soviet Union or foreign and domestic terrorist groups or militias could conquer and occupy the land which comprises the United States of America. To be certain, many of these nations and groups could inflict horrible destruction upon the people and the land but a complete overthrow of the government and revocation of Constitutional rights is all but impossible.

During the American Civil War the forces of the Confederate States of America came very close to puncturing the Federal lines and threaten Washington D.C. Even so, the seat of the government of the United States would have evacuated to a new and safer location until the conflict could have been resolved. The CSA could do NOTHING to eliminate the United States of America even as it existed in 1861.

Since 1865 the American military has not been preserving or protecting freedom. They’ve been preserving and protecting American land, territories and its imperialistic footprint around the globe. The protection and preservation of freedom and the protection and security of lands and territories are NOT the same things.

I am of the jaded opinion that, despite funding, developing and establishing the most lethal military force in human history, the freedoms of the United States aren’t being lost, defended or preserved on any battlefield, but that those freedoms are being eroded away through the actions of the very government that the military industrial complex is protecting solely for capitalist and corporate manipulation.

Furthermore, Constitutional privacy rights are all but gone with the rise of the intelligence juggernaut of the NSA and its federal consorts. These organizations and federal departments and agencies have been established and given unprecedented and unlimited powers in the name of preserving freedom. The great irony and paradox (re: lie) here is that the opposite has become true.

Recent decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States of America have only buttressed the strength of the military industrial complex that is the subjugating despot of the American people and the despoiler of the rights of all of us.

I would propose that the American military has less to do with preserving and protecting American freedoms and more to do with protecting and preserving the interests of the despotic capitalist oligarchs which have managed to bend the judicial, executive and legislative branches of government to act in the best interests of their own will and the satiation of their endless greed and lust for unelected rule and power.

I am a free citizen of the United States only because we are a nation which is willingly, structurally and voluntarily ruled by law. The military doesn’t have a damn thing to do with that except, perhaps, to guard against the overt overthrow of the system of government. The overthrow which is presently underway is much more insidious and less obvious than that. It is to the advantage of the corporate oligarchs and the unregulated and unaccountable capitalist overlords that Americans remain distracted by threats against their physical security than for those citizens to give critical thought and consideration of who is really pulling the levers of power and the judiciary to gently lift those Constitutional freedoms from the open hands of an ignorant and blindly patriotic citizenry.

Few wars have to do with liberty. They have more to do with dominion. Those who would rule us have been more than happy to convince us of the need for, and to provide us with, an expensive and expansive military complex to deflect attention from the economic, social, legal and environmental atrocities that they commit for their own dominion over us all.

Awaken. Sober up. Arise. Act.

Related articles may be found at the following links:

http://original.antiwar.com/tom-mullen/2010/05/13/fighting-for-our-freedom/

http://www.salon.com/2013/11/11/stop_thanking_the_troops_for_me_no_they_dont_protect_our_freedoms/

http://tvnewslies.org/tvnl/index.php/editorial/jesse-richards-commentary/20246-our-troops-do-not-protect-our-freedom-and-we-should-stop-thanking-them-for-doing-so.html

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/25656-blood-on-all-our-hands-dont-thank-me-for-my-service-redux

Welcome to jaysaysthings.

Hello and welcome. I am Jay and I say things. The topics here will be wide ranging, informative, inspirational, intimate and, at times, introspective. I suppose a disclaimer should be issued: if you are easily offended by challenges to your ideas, worldview (yes, religion included) or by “mature” themes than this blog probably isn’t for you. If I like your posts or your responses, they will remain. And, because it’s MY blog, if I don’t like your posts or comments, I will happily delete them. 

I truly hope that you will enjoy or, at least, tolerate my blog. My thoughts are best pondered under the comfort of a mellow wine glow or marijuana buzz.

Thanks again for checking in. I appreciate the time given to this blog that you will never get back again.

~J.