There aren’t enough vessels to contain all the world’s emptiness
Last night I sat before my computer and thought about summing up the last few days in my life. And realized again that some things are better stated in a personal notebook, rather than online in social media or my blog. I have one of those very nice Moleskine notebooks where I often do that. There’s the additional advantage that a notebook is a distraction-free environment. I’m less likely to turn my attention to the latest news or notice a story somewhere that I cannot not read immediately.
On the personal canvas of a paper notebook i can ask myself questions that I’m not so willing to share with the world yet. I can give accounts about real people that I would not want them ever to see. I can make remarks that might land me in trouble, with one person or another, if posted online – and the danger of that serves as a natural inhibitor.
The only trouble is, that when there are a variety of different media to choose from, it’s not always apparent what is the best place to express one’s thoughts. Usually, when I sit at my table, I don’t always know whether what I’m about to write will be suitable for sharing, or with whom.
In our family we also have a closed group on a social messaging app, where we often post photos, messages or links. I abandoned mainstream channels like Facebook and Twitter a few years ago, but recently went back to using alternative federated social media, so this provides another alternative for writing.
Yet with regard to these deliberations about how to express my thoughts, there’s actually nothing new under my sun. I’ve thought through all this before. I just have a hard time assimilating my decisions. I’m like a one-person creaky old committee that can’t make up its mind and, when it does, can’t implement its own decisions. But the answer is, and remains: use my blog as a basis for all of these journal entries; then decide what to share, where. Some entries can be shared with alternative social media; some with friends and family; some can be placed in my blog but kept completely private.
So if I’m clever, I will act according to my own best practices, and use the framework of my WordPress blog, publishing some things, marking others as private, and sharing some posts with friends.
When we strip away memories, dreams, fantasies, plans for the future, and stop defining ourselves by our values, our opinions and beliefs, and all the rest, do we confront our humanity or an empty shell, because actually those are the qualities that make us human – just as if you go on peeling the onion, eventually there’s nothing left?
When I sit down to “meditate” or when other people are trying to focus on their breathing or a mantra or a special quality, I just sit and don’t attempt to do anything in particular. Usually after a while the mind grows quiet – at least as quiet as when I was trying to achieve something. I don’t usually go to that place that someone calls “la-la-land” – “a pleasant place in which you can spend years”, as a friend describes it.
Probably the first persons who learned meditation were hunters. They had to keep their body still, remain as vigilant and ready for action as a cat that is ready to pounce. But a better analogy for meditation in the animal who has to remain attentive to danger, rather than the one who is focused on the prey. You can startle a cat while she is in the act of concentrating on her prey, but it is hard to startle a fly on the wall. He has multiple eyes and lives in a time dimension that is faster than ours.
When I read books about spirituality I find it more satisfying to go to the sufis, the bhaktas, the devotees, even though I share nothing with their practice. I can no longer read Krishnamurti for example, even if my experience is in closer accord with his, and nothing from Buddhism. I think it is because the divinity of the devotee gets closer to raw existence than any simple and straight description of raw existence could actually be.
But in my own writing I don’t want to prettify reality with fine metaphors, hawk illusions, or anything else. I’m only trying to come to terms with my experience. Sometimes I write instead in my notebook. It doesn’t really matter. In any case, once you begin to touch on the important things, there is nothing really personal. It isn’t about “my” experience, because I’m trying to strip away the person – the persona. The word we use to describe ourselves actually comes from the word that the Greeks used to describe the masks that covered the actors in their plays. The characters were identified with the masks. We are all playing our character very well. Below the mask there are other things lurking – secret desires, things we don’t want to talk about, hidden hurts, and all that. But this is not what I mean. These are just another mask for a reality that is also deeper than these. That’s the interesting place.
So I ask again what’s there, beneath the dreams, plans, fantasies, ideas about what we are? Anything or nothing at all? A kernel? A kernel of the kernel, as Ibn Arabi called it? A something that can only be described in negative terms? Most people don’t want to go there. Even if everything else in our lives depends on it. Just as, as someone has said, we go through life averting our eyes from the sun, though its energy is the source of all life in our world.
These are just thoughts. It doesn’t matter who reads them or if nobody reads them, or if they are erased tomorrow. They are as trivial as everything else that’s written here and tomorrow I will have forgotten that I expressed them, or repeat some variation of them, forgetting that I’ve already broached these subjects previously.
Action is something that takes place within a background of inaction, just as noise is heard against a background of silence. It shouldn’t be that we run and run and then pause to rest, but that our actions emerge appropriately, at the right time and place, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Most people find the encounter with silence and inactivity difficult. We can’t bear to be caught doing nothing. When we finish our work we run home and seek other activities with which to entertain ourselves. We hate to stand in a queue with nothing to do, so we play with our phones. If we need to take long journeys we fill our time with inflight entertainment systems, magazines, books – anything, as long as we don’t have to deal with the boredom of having nothing to do. If we “practice” meditation the teacher makes sure to give us a focus of concentration, like the breathing or a mantra, and then meditation becomes just another “activity” like all the other activities that we do. I wonder why we are so afraid of empty time, why we are scared to be alone with ourselves? To confront ourselves as we are, rather than escaping into plans, dreams, memories and fantasies. I remember as a teenager seeing old men in Afghan villages whiling away the hours in teashops and roadside stalls and thinking that they know something that we in the west have lost. And I remember my grandfather sitting in his armchair for hours and hours doing nothing in particular. That’s where he was when he died.
I think it’s a nice idea to place here references to things that come up in actual conversations had with people. Yesterday I was speaking with a former monastic who said that the main cause of his being overworked in the monastery was that he could do many things, and therefore was “too useful”. I told him about the following passage in Chuang Tsu:
Shih the carpenter was on his way to the state of Chi. When he got Chu Yuan, he saw an oak tree by the village shrine.
The tree was large enough to shade several thousand oxen and was a hundred spans around. It towered above the hilltops with its lowest branches eighty feet from the ground. More than ten of its branches were big enough to be made into boats. There were crowds of people as in a marketplace. The master carpenter did not even turn his head but walked on without stopping.
His apprentice took a long look, then ran after Shih the carpenter and said, “Since I took up my ax and followed you, master, I have never seen timber as beautiful as this. But you do not even bother to look at it and walk on without stopping. Why is this?”
Shih the carpenter replied, “Stop! Say no more! That tree is useless. A boat made from it would sink, a coffin would soon rot, a tool would split, a door would ooze sap, and a beam would have termites. It is worthless timber and is of no use. That is why it has reached such a ripe old age.”
from Chuang Tsu, Inner Chapters. A new translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English
Here in Palestine, apart from useful trees like olives, the only large old trees are those at religious sites, such as those that shade a cemetery or sheikh’s tomb. The rest were long since cut down for timber by one or another of the land’s occupiers.
(Many other things could be said about the role of trees in the current conflict.)
However in Chuang Tsu, the fable concerning the tree is meant to illustrate one of the the teachings of Taoism, which, as usual turns conventional wisdom on its head.
For the last couple of days I’ve been using Tor for general browsing again. It seems to have gotten a little easier. My work email is on Google Apps, and it was previously almost impractical to use Tor with Gmail. I think some people object that it defeats the purpose of Tor to use it for sites like Gmail, but I’m not aiming for total anonymity, just better privacy than I ordinarily have. Now the Gmail issue has gone away, it’s no longer necessary to divide my time between it and another browser.
While updating a website today the exit node I was connecting through was blacklisted, but it was enough to change the Tor circuit in order to overcome that.
Tor has also proved to be fast enough for my needs. Something about it may eventually iritate me; but for now good.
I use many browsers and don’t know of any service or addon that permits me to keep bookmarks in sync between one browser and another. There are online bookmark managers and I have an account at Pinboard.in, but that does not really solve the problem for day to day use.
But there are some points of light. It used to be that browsers were less standard in the way they handled bookmarks. I remember being able to import bookmarks into Opera, but not export them. There were even different formats for saving bookmarks. Perhaps there still are – I haven’t used Microsoft’s browser for many years. There were browsers that had folders in the bookmarks bar and those that didn’t.
Fortunately all the browsers that I use now permit the import and export of bookmarks as an html file, and all have bookmark bars with folders. So it’s easy to create a standard usage for bookmarks, back them up frequently and then import the backup file every time I start to use a new browser. To keep things tidy, I first delete any previous bookmarks, so I always have only the most up to date version of my bookmarks stash.
Because it’s so easy to maintain bookmarks now, it also makes sense to invest a little time in organizing them. So all my bookmarks are under folders and subfolders that I keep in the bookmarks bar itself. I have master folders for News, Email, Services, Forums, Social Networks, etc. and then subfolders of those. I don’t claim to have perfected the perfect organization yet, and of course it depends on my personal use case, but I can say that I’m a lot more organized than before, and it’s thanks to the fact that browsers themselves are more standardized in the way they handle bookmarks.
I still use Pinboard.in, but mainly for individual news articles that interest me, and to which I may like to refer later for one reason or another.
I don’t so much use sync between browsers on different devices. Mainly because I don’t really need that and partly because it means creating a cloud copy of everything and then trusting the browser company to safeguard that information.
LibreOffice has some nice features that are not always so well-documented. Here’s one for performing currency calculations that I discovered and found useful. Typically a table might have a column in the local currency, and then require a column for the same figures in another currency. That’s where it’s useful to calculate the figures automatically, based on a given rate. If the current rate changes, the foreign currency rate will automatically update, based on a new figure that is placed in the cell from which the conversion will be performed. That’s as long as the document is saved in .odt format. If the document is saved in .doc or .docx format, only the values will be preserved, meaning that the document should look fine, but it will not be possible to perform an automatic update of the fields based on a new currency rate.
- Choose a cell for the currency rate and place there the currency rate there, which can be obtained from xe.com
- Obtain the cell references from the status bar at the bottom of screen
- Place cursor in the cell in which the calculation should appear.
- Get the formula bar by pressing F2
- Insert the formula as (example) =<C3>/<D1> and click on check mark (where D1 is the cell reference for the currency rate and C3 is the currency from which the calculation should be made).
- Change the number format of the cells to reflect the currency that is being converted to. (Table, Number format, choose currency and format for expressing it).
- Another way to get the cell references is to click inside the cells while the formula bar is operative, and simply type between them the operator (/ or *)
This blog goes back to 2003, though I’ve made most of the early posts private. Over this period it’s been on various blogging platforms on a number of hosts. Sometimes I’ve taken it offline, or marked the whole thing as private. I also do quite a lot of writing offline, in text files or in paper notebooks. For the last few months I’ve been doing the latter. Then I learned about Nearlyfreespeech.com, and decided to move it there. It was a little hard to set up, but certainly wasn’t the hardest hosting arrangement I’ve struggled with, and the transfer went smoothly. I thought about buying a Genesis theme that I fancied, then decided to use Weaver Extreme. Weaver really offers a flexible and easy framework and is fine especially for the minimalistic look I want, with a separation between different post categories. For now, I’ve removed the photo albums I’d started to establish, in order to keep storage space down and the hosting cheap. For now, I’m happy with the result. I’ll probably do a couple of other things later, like adding a Let’s Encrypt certificate.
All is in God. The reason that God is conceived as the Creator in the Middle Eastern/Western religions is that the Divine Consciousness is a fount of imagination – from the imagination can emerge limitless manifestations. We exist as projections of this Divine Consciousness and, from our position of blindness, try to probe the limits of our existence. We ask whether other planets, other civilizations exist in the universe and the answer is ultimately that they do if God wants them to. We know what God wants us to know. There are no limits to the imagination of the Divine – there are only limits to our human imagination, our human perception, our human understanding.
Hollywood is a kind of metaphor for the Divine Consciousness. Films create a convincing reality that often exceeds the limits of what exists in our current mode. The characters in the Bladerunner, some of them androids or replicants try to come to grips with what it means to have memories and thoughts that may not be theirs but someone else’s. The question of how they differ from humans arises. They question the value of their existence if it is only artificial and temporary. The filmmakers do not answer these questions for us. They themselves are caught in the same Ignorance as we human beings are caught. We cannot see truth from within the prison of our existence as representational beings within the imagination of the Divine.