July 19, 2011

A story about Tiger, Snow Leopard, and Black Stallion

Snow Leopard
from good-wallpapers.com
from good-wallpapers.com

Today I am going to tell you a story about three of my brothers: Tiger, Snow Leopard, and Black Stallion. I have already introduced Thompson to you (see my blog post about him here). He is also known as Snow Leopard as that is the focus  of his work as a wildlife biologist. I have one more brother who is also a wildlife biologist. His name is Tiger. He has gotten that name mainly because when he snores (which he does almost every night) he really sounds like a roaring tiger.  Incidentally, tigers have been a major focus of his work.

Black Stallion
from good-wallpapers.com
A third brother I like to call Black Stallion. He is tall and handsome and moves with the grace of an Arabian horse. We all used to study at the same pirate university for our pirate degrees. In the evenings we would share food and reports from the day in Pentagon, our dormitory. I will let you peek into my diary and see with your own eyes what enfolded one evening:

Yesterday was interesting, to say the least. Tiger, Snow Leopard, and Black Stallion returned from the computer room rather shaken. They had a little more excitement than usual on their return to Pentagon. It was twelve o'clock and pitch dark outside as they started their leisurely stroll, chatting about this and that - minding their own business and nothing else. 
At one point they traversed some rope that was stretched across the path they normally take. This should have been a warning sign, but our heroes were apparently determined not to be distracted from their absent-mindedness. They lifted away the rope and proceeded, still chatting about this and that and minding their own business. Snow Leopard who is a little less hell-bent on being absent-minded started to think more about the rope and fell a few steps behind the others who were deeply engaged in their this-and-that-chat. Snow Leopard said: 'Guys...perhaps we should be carefu....'
At the very moment Snow Leopard uttered those words, Black Stallion suddenly found that he was speaking to himself. Tiger had vanished into thin air! He had fallen unknowingly into a gaping hole in the earth. It was dark and impossible to judge the depth of the hole. Only the sound of falling rocks was to be heard. Black Stallion was petrified. He thought it was the end of Tiger. He got down on his knees and cupped his hands around his mouth: "Tiger! Tiiiigeeer!!" But there was no reply. Rocks were still falling. Black Stallion took off the long scarf he was wearing around his neck and hoisted it down as he kept calling for Tiger.
Tiger eventually wakes up to Black Stallion's call. He is lying in the bottom of a hole and small rocks are still falling over him. He has lost consciousness for a moment so he doesn't know where he is or what he is doing in the bottom of a hole. But he can feel a warm liquid running down his face. Blood from a cut above his forehead. He can also feel the tickling of cloth. Slowly he rises first to his knees, then to his feet and looks up at Black Stallion who is waving the scarf in his face. The hole was little more than 2 meters deep. Hardly enough to kill a man. Today Tiger has a fair sized wound on the top of his head which he wears with pride. 
                                                                     -Pirate Diaries, March 15, 1997

Dear friends, today is Tiger's birthday. By now the wound on his head has healed. I am so happy that he survived that brush with death. Happy birthday, dear Tiger brother. Hip hip hooray! I have found a marvelous picture of a tiger and a snow leopard against a star lit sky (see below). It makes me think back to March 14, 1997. Consider this my birthday card to you. Long may you live! And please, don't fall into any more holes.

The Tiger and the Snow Leopard
by Tofu Squirrel

July 17, 2011

Solution Number One

Riding Chaos by Leigh Toldi

Solution Number One

If I were God
I would look down at the world
And think to myself
This is problematic
Let's ignore it

                       -ITF, 2003

July 10, 2011

Churning the Cosmic Ocean of Milk - on the other side of chaos and complexity

I have many friends who have chosen as a strategy of survival to ignore the news. I am not one of these people, although I am sympathetic.

Complexity invoked
Collaboration with Mars by Damon Soule

I have restricted myself to check news online twice per day (two ten minute sessions) - otherwise I feel my brain gets eaten by the flickering of images, headlines, and stories. "Kidnapped victims found decapitated"; "Amputee trown out of roller coaster to his death"; "Sex bomb answers answers claims of botox use"; "Meet Mince (3), the two-headed albino snake"; "Knife robbery at McDonald's," are some of today's headlines in a leading national newspaper. One has to be very strong to navigate through the headlines without being lured into the sweet embrace of the sirens of flash news. I know a few people (no names mentioned) who wake up from the embrace only to see that most of the day has gone, and they swear never to be seduced again, until next morning...

Joseph Campbell is one of my heroes. He was a scholar of mythology and comparative religion and was highly skeptical of mainstream media and the focus of daily news:

...look at what people are reading in the papers. You get into the subways and people are all reading the same thing - this murder, that murder. This rape, this divorce. What topics to be mentating on! This journalistic accent in our lives is murder. Murder.
                                                                                Campbell interview by Tom Collins, 1986

So, dear reader, I would like to invite you to read a more timeless kind of story with me today. I can neither promise images of naked breasts nor juicy details of a football star's (a family man, dear God!) sordid affair with a Big Brother star. It is much more satisfying than that. This is a story to sustain your being in a time were chaos and complexity seems to be the background music of our lives. 

It is a tale that has been dancing in the back of my mind since the day I fell into it perhaps fifteen years ago while reading one of Campbell's books on mythology. It is the Hindu story Samudra Manthan - about the churning of the universal sea of milk. 

The gods and anti-gods churning the cosmic sea for the butter of immortality
Unknown source

Once upon a time - at the beginning of the history of the universe - the gods (devas) and their arch-enemies the anti-gods (asuras) were engaged in one of their eternal battles. They decided to take a little breather from their fighting and undertake a common task: to churn the Milky Ocean for its butter of immortality (amrita).

To churn the cosmic, milky sea demands sturdy tools. The devas and asuras looked around and decided to use the Cosmic Mountain (mount Mandranchal) as their churning-spindle and the Cosmic Serpent (Vasuki) as a twirling-rope. They wrapped Vasuki around Mandranchal and started their churning - the devas and asuras pulling at each end of Vasuki.

The devas and asuras quickly found that the mountain was too heavy; it threatened to sink into the sea. To their good fortune they were assisted by the god Vishnu who transformed into his turtle incarnation, Kurma, and swam under the mountain, supporting it on its back. The churning could continue. (The picture above gives a wonderful impression of the whole event - notice brave, little Kurma supporting the cosmic mountain on his back.)

Shiva drinking poison
As they had been churning thus for a thousand years or so a great, black cloud of poisonous smoke rose from the sea. The churners stopped - they were in dire need of help as the smoke was absolutely treacherous for all beings. All beings save one. Only Shiva - the supreme God - had the power to contain the situation.

When called upon, Shiva was moved with great compassion. He took the poisonous bluish-black cloud into his begging bowl and drank the poison. His sweetheart Parvati was alarmed: "No, Shiva, no!!" - she hurled herself towards him and clenched her hands around his neck to stop the poison from its further journey into his body. The poison was stopped in his throat, coloring it forever blue. It was thus that Shiva got the name Nilakanta or Blue Throat.

After Shiva had performed his glorious, selfless deed, the devas and asuras could return to their work.  They churned and they churned until one day - lo and behold! - all kinds of gems started to float up from the ocean: the moon, the sun, an elephant with eight trunks, a glorious horse, various medicines, and finally a radiant vessel filled with the ambrosial butter of immortality- the amrita.

I love this story because it is hopeful - it's not a conservative story telling us to return to "old ways", "old religion" or nationalism when we are scared. It is an invitation to see that out of the seeming complexity and chaos comes new life - richer, tastier life.

As Joseph Campbell said of this story:
This old Indian myth I offer as a parable for our world today, as an exhortation to press on with the work, beyond fear.
Whenever I am scared or confused, I think about this story. I even think about it when I am happy.

Bon Ap├ętit!

ps. For those of you addicted to news  - here is an article work reading: Overcoming News Addiction by Steve Pavlina

July 2, 2011

Dreams of Obama - the woes of a national hero in a complex world

Last night as I turned around to my favorite position of sleeping on my stomach, I felt an awkward sensation of toe nails scraping against the stretch sheet. I turned on the light and fished out one foot from under the cover. That was an impressive set of claws, let me tell you. Rather like those on the paw of a cheetah.

Dusternbrook Guest Farm: Cheetah paw
Cheetah paw
by Jonas Tonboe

I must shockingly admit that I hadn't cut my nails for two months. To my defense, there was a reason. If you are very impatient, scroll down to the last paragraph. Those of you who possess a certain degree of refinement, please come with me on a little journey.

It was two months ago that I woke up to what was my birthday, but this fact was overshadowed by the news that Osama Bin Laden was killed by American special forces in some suburban Pakistani house. Bin Laden showed no signs of wanting to surrender - the killing was an act of national self-defense, claimed the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

What a presidential pirate audience looks like 
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

A few days earlier I had dreamt of being visited by Michelle and Barack Obama. Apparently I was giving an audience - they had come to see me on the recommendation of somebody. I was surprised; I didn't know I was so important. Michelle said: We have heard that you are nearer to God.  I chewed on it. Perhaps this indicated that I was some kind of spiritual guru. However, I had nothing to say - nothing to preach! I didn't know what they wanted to hear. I kept silent. They seemed content just to be in my presence. I decided to serve them some tea. I thought that might make them ready to ask questions - like in the Eastern wisdom traditions: teachers don't preach - they answer questions. I have always thought this to be a wonderful pedagogy. As I served tea, they both just smiled peacefully. We returned to silence. A little while later Barack looked cheerfully at me: Another round of tea before we leave? That was the extent of my dream.

Perhaps my dream was a wish for more quiet, reflective time for all the world’s presidents. In our globalized world, issues are increasing in complexity day by day. There are always new voices to be heard, other view points to consider. It is hard to act without knowing you look like a headless chicken from some angle or another. But a president is forced to take frequent decisions and act upon them from, first and foremost, a national perspective. I doubt they have much time to drink some tea in silence, clear their minds and consider the situation from a genuinely global perspective. And, I fear, even if they did, they probably would quickly be out of office.

The most memorable movie in my life is Good Will Hunting. There are many reasons for that, but perhaps the top reason is one particular dialogue when the genius Will is interviewed for a job at the National Security Agency (the N.S.A.). It shows a young man who is weary of the complex framework that national agencies work within. When the NSA agent asks Will why he shouldn’t work at the NSA, Will answers:

Why shouldn't I work for the NSA? That's a tough one. But I'll take a shot. Say I'm working at the NSA, and somebody puts a code on my desk, something no one else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cuz I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East, and once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels are hiding. Fifteen hundred people that I never met, never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are saying, "Oh, send in the marines to secure the area", 'cuz they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, getting shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number got called, 'cuz they were pulling a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from Southie over there taking shrapnel in the ass. He comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cuz he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so that we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And of course the oil companies used the little skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. They're taking their sweet time bringing the oil back, of course, maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and fuckin' play slalom with the icebergs, it ain't too long till he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's out of work. He can't afford to drive, so he's walking to the fuckin' job interviews, which sucks because the shrapnel in his ass is giving him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he's starving 'cuz every time he tries to get a bite to eat the only blue plate special they're serving is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I'm holding out for something better. I figure: fuck it, while I'm at it why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected President.

Below is the clip for the interview in the movie:

Superman, however, has found a way out of the quagmire. At least he has found the first few steps out of it. Just a few days before the raid in Pakistan (was he tipped off?), Superman decided to give up his American citizenship and become a global citizen. Having the luxury of being powerful yet not dependent on wealth or votes, Superman saw that going global was the only way of being an effective superhero.

Action Comics #900 April 2011

If I may: A return to my toenails.

I have taken a long, windy road to get here. I got four birthday gifts on my birthday, the day of Bin Laden’s death. One was a gift card to a session with a foot therapist. On that evening of May 2 I vowed to let my toe nails grow, so that I would get some good value for my gift. The problem was that I kept on forgetting to schedule an appointment. So last night when I woke myself up with the scraping of my toe nails against the sheets, I realized that two months had passed - since I let my nails grow and, more importantly, since I wrote my last blog entry. Now that I am finished extending my toe nails I can start writing again. 

I am back in business, baby.