|Two of my lonely books|
I'm gonna go ahead and put this out there: I don't enjoy reading. Although I spent the majority of my youth reading anything and everything I could get my hands on (including "The Joy of Sex," which my parents thought they'd hidden in the linen closet), sitting down with anything other than a cook book lost its appeal for me somewhere between pregnancy and medical school. So far, only Hemingway, Lao-tzu, Alan Watts, and Jack Kerouac have re-ignited my interest, and that's been spotty at best. I've tried so damn hard to get through Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," a book which really blew my mind when I started reading it two years ago, but have never been able to finish the last fifth of it. It's sitting patiently on top of my nightstand, bookmarked and collecting dust, along with a copy of "The Complete Poems" of Walt Whitman.
My colleagues are incredulous when they find out that I'm a writer who doesn't read. I suppose that blogs, cook books, fitness magazines, and an occasional anesthesia-related periodical don't really count as self-edification, do they? Yesterday, a friend of mine posed this question on Facebook: "What's the best book you've ever read? Your favorite author?" The answers were pretty diverse, ranging from classics we had to read in high school, such as "Moby Dick" and "The Old Man and the Sea" to mysteries like "The da Vinci Code" to popular fiction du jour, e.g. "Fifty Shades of Grey." My answer? "Pretty much anything by Dr. Seuss." Not especially dignified-sounding, but it is poetry. Maybe it's true that all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.
|This qualifies as literature, right?|
Funny thing is, I consider myself a pretty well-read person. I can't quote literature or regurgitate famous sayings off the top of my head or engage in witty, incisive historical and political dialogues, mostly because none of that interests me. Being booksmart doesn't make one intelligent. Nor does having an opinion. The most heartless, ignorant people I know are also the most highly educated. They take themselves very, very seriously. They're sure they're right about everything, their main source of ammunition being something someone else once said somewhere. In a book. In other words, they're incapable of formulating their own original ideas. Ideas like that don't come from books; they come from experience. I have my own experiential understanding of things, yet I don't feel constrained by opinions, mine or anyone else's. I agree with Lao-tzu: "The more you know, the less you understand."
|Lilly & Simon, taking a breather|
My son, Rory, was being cross-examined by a leftward-leaning musician acquaintance on Facebook the other night. Apparently, this guy had taken issue with Rory's status update that "all presidents suck." This prompted a lively and somewhat heated discussion between me and said musician about reconciling one's individuality against the confines of the social contract during which I was reminded, "It's not all about you." Yawn. To think there has to be a compromise indicates a lack of regard for anyone but oneself. How so? Well, it's pretty strong evidence of the moral superiority and lack of humility that accompany the hypocrisy of self-sacrifice, the goal of which is to be rewarded. It's the failure to understand that nature isn't cruel, it's selfless, and that the social order is what's cruel and unnatural. Why else would mankind need its sacrificial lambs? Real selflessness isn't a product of self-denial, it comes from self-acceptance, recognition of one's limitations, and detachment from outcomes.
As someone who's never been particularly interested in patriotism, politics, money, or imposed morality, I've managed to function in society without buying into it hook, line, and sinker. Sure, I pay my taxes and contribute to charity and whatnot. I've never viewed social responsibility as a big threat to my independence. Selflessness is a no-brainer when you're not at odds with Nature or seeking recognition for doing what comes naturally. I don't view the universe as me against "it." I am with it, of it. It's not a causal relationship. I'm not orphaned by it; I am its expression. Society and its demands don't interfere with my individuality because I'm not subjugated by them. I mean, without individuals, society wouldn't exist, right? If your plane is going down and the oxygen masks pop out, you affix your own first before trying to assist others. That's not being selfish. It's the applied practical understanding of the way the universe works, otherwise known as common sense.
|Boris, the epitome of Tao|
For me, flying under the radar is about following my own heart and doing what comes naturally, instead of feeling constrained by social mores and norms or being imprisoned by opinion. It's entirely possible to be a free spirit, even in society that isn't really free. And, being free from one's own ideas is where real freedom lies. That's probably why I'm not a big fan of rules, micro-managing, or know-it-alls. I've yet to meet a person who actually likes being told what to do or think. If moderation, compassion, and patience were the rule instead of the exception among people, maybe self-responsibility would obviate the need for self-serving self-sacrifice. Laws, social contracts, and altruism would be obsolete. Subversive-sounding, huh? Looking after others and looking after oneself aren't mutually exclusive in nature, except among humans. The fact that society operates on ghost power doesn't deter me from tapping into nature's spontaneous immaterial wisdom.
|Me (on right), flying under the radar as Mrs. Cowbell (1973)|
The conversation ended with his assertion that "none of us can blissfully fly along 'under the radar' unattached for long. It's not in our natures, nor is it in our reality." I suppose there are grains of truth in that. But, that "either/or" reasoning that says we can't be a part of things without losing ourselves is counter-intuitive, unless one views life as a continuum, not a cycle. Detachment isn't isolation or laziness; it's indifference to the extremes that disrupt simplicity and moderation. The Puritan work ethic is a perfect example of one extreme creating another. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. The harder he works, the harder he has to play, burning the candle at both ends. Eventually, something's gonna give. Being consumed by one's work isn't an asset; it's a liability, just another vice.
|Me, my favorite rockers, & my gravity-defying silver disco boots|
Our difference in opinion boiled down to his belief that "if you give up your small amount of control over your environment, someone else will take it and do their will" and mine that control, other than that which we have over ourselves, is more or less an illusion. "Nice lecture, bad reality," he responded. I wasn't aware that reality had a value or that Nature obeyed contrived moral laws. Here I was, thinking that Nature controlled itself like I control me. As far as reality goes, I'll grant that people (including myself) do seem to have their own subjective interpretations of reality, which is what makes discussions about it so interesting, but to contradict yourself by sanctimoniously invoking the theory of gravity as an illustration of practical reality while in the same breath yammering on about the control you have over your surroundings is pompous and hypocritical. Gimme a break, man! That's basically what happened next, and as far as I'm concerned, his argument lost any validity it might have had at that point.
|Wooden gymnasts, embracing the mystery (of the chopstick)|
I don't think reality and fate are mutually exclusive. They might even be the same thing. That poor Cirque du Soleil performer who fell 50 feet to her death a couple of days ago exemplifies just how little control one really has over one's external environment. Despite a highly developed set of skills and rigorous quality and safety assurances, her safety wire snapped, its tensile strength overcome by the weight of her and other aerialists whose job it is to entertain us by simultaneously tempting Fate and defying gravity. I have to think that gymnasts possess an exceptional grasp on their physical limitations and the uncertainty of chance, that embracing the mystery of the unknown, instead of fighting it, keeps them balanced. Otherwise, they'd all be choking on fear. That wouldn't be very good for ticket sales, now would it?
A few weeks ago, I gave a legal deposition in a malpractice case. (No worries, I'm not being sued). One of the questions put forth to me had to do with whether or not it's possible to erase the "retrospectoscope" of hindsight. To clarify, the retrospectoscope is medicine's equivalent of Monday-morning quarterbacking in which causal relationships are implied through a provocative association of events. "Shoulda, coulda, woulda" is always crystal-clear after the fact. Outcomes that have already happened are easy to predict. The scope of hindsight transforms the ho-hum into heroic, slip-ups into sin, and duty into disillusionment and doubt. It occurred to me that relying on history to interpret and manage the conditions of today could be equally misleading.
Does history really repeat itself? Or was Mark Twain right when he said, "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme....To wit-no occurrence is sole and solitary, but is merely a repetition of a thing which has happened before, and perhaps often."? Certainly, past experience provides opportunities for change and growth, but recycled knowledge seems an awful lot like the retrospectoscope. Maybe that's why scholars, philosophers, and historians are so smug. The brain power required to draw conclusions from historical events is approximately zero, yet they've managed to convince everyone that they're brilliant.
Society's got it all wrong. Relying on intellect, instead of the innate intelligence we're all born with--compassion, self-mastery, and contentment--is precisely why people are so divided. Real intelligence can't be learned or measured. Real intelligence doesn't come from a book: it comes from the heart. Real intelligence is a lot like common sense. It's practical wisdom. This is why I find conversations about social contracts and governance so superfluous and unenlightening; they keep missing the mark, the root of the problem. As silly as it sounds, the world would be a lot better off if we were the persons our dogs think we are. Believe me, I spend a lot of time with my dogs and cat. With the exception of their knack for vomiting on a certain area rug, there are plenty of days where I find their behavior preferable to that of most people. Maybe if we all spent more time reading and writing poetry, the language of the heart, we'd experience a collective return to intelligence.
After ending my rather exhausting Facebook conversation with Rory's friend, I did just that. Weirdly enough, Uncle Walt was calling to me. So, I opened up his dusty book of poetry and randomly selected a page.
Not surprisingly, this resonated with me, especially the part about not feeding on "the spectres in books." The "dumbing down" of America that everyone loves to complain about comes from too much knowledge and too little intelligence. There's little that's new in the way of knowledge. It's like being served up a continuous loop of leftovers. Dogma in, dogma out. Knowledge isn't power, it's pretense. Knowledge only empowers those who don't think for themselves. Freedom from ideology, that's where it's at. The poets all know it. Lao-tzu thought having an empty head and an open heart was the way to roll. In a way, so did Dr. Seuss. I think that's exactly what he meant when he said, "It is better to know how to learn than to know." And, good old Walt was definitely onto something, too. Indeed, there are millions of suns left.