June 27

Finishing up my time here in the US. I think I will miss the quietude of being at home alone, and will not enjoy the bustle of being in a full household again. Coronavirus cases are sky-rocketing in Israel again, so I won't want to go out even after the period of home-isolation. I think I just want to live the rest of my life in quiet places; Neve Shalom or Auroville. There isn't much on offer outside of solitude. It's true that I need to keep my body more active, so that it doesn't grow weak and inflexible, but there are solutions for that.

I'm also finishing Sapiens, which is consistantly interesting.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with Andrew, and in the evening he spoke extensively about our parents and opened up about his grief […]

I'm coming to understand how much we are not just free actors but are also products of what we ingest. In order to be free, we need to be able to break free of our addictions. They are deadly, or deadening. Culture, too, is a word that carries more meaning that that to which we ascribe to it. My parents were terribly trapped by their culture. My mother, particularly, had all the characteristics of a person who is continually trying to escape humble origins. She had internalized Britain's caste system, grown up in poor conditions, not received a complete education, and spent the rest of her life trying to live like role models who were probably from the film world, or at least a "well-to-do" person. Yet she felt completely insecure, could never settle in a place happily. Both my parents tried to escape their origins and yet constantly harked back to them, in a kind of love-hate relationship.

In some ways, I perhaps acquired some of the same traits, in that I too feel that I don't belong in the country-mentality of the place where I live. Yet with me, it is not that I secretly long to be in a "home country" because I don't really have one. I'm pretty much my own person - no doubt a product of various conditioning, like everyone, but my national identity is cosmopolitan I don't feel that I belong to a certain nature or place of origin. My attitude is also "exclusive", since I feel critical of the mainstream secular culture from a "spiritual" point of view, and critical of religions and cults from a secular point of view. I don't really want much to do wiht the world.

Popular culture of our era is a turn-off. I tried watching another American TV series on Netflix but decided again that it was too much for me - too extreme, too disgusting, I suppose. There's a certain I don't know what about our contemporary culture. Perhaps the producers of fiction make too many assumptions about what readers or viewers will like. The best way to avoid nasty surprises is just not to consume popular culture. Yogis always advise against it anyway. This is something that I already know, so I should just internalize it.

[…]

I hear trains only at night, when it's quiet, though the railroad seems to be quite near. The terrain here is flat, so there is no sound from the nearby busy main road as such, as in Neve Shalom. But sounds there are , certainly, more as a distant rumble; sometimes of planes. Sitting outside with Andrew a coupled of nights ago, he embarked on a sort of running commentary of the varioius sounds he could hear; about 70% of which were unheard by me, yet he showed his skill in being able to identify them; the kind of engine belonging to the kind of place, etc.

[…]

Registering auditory or visual impressions in this way is not what I was referring to when I wrote that we need to bring the full physical and historical context into our awareness in order that the consciousness of the moment will achieve depth. But it is the opposite of Arjuna's "I only see the bird". I suppose it's a matter of attitude, of appreciation and empathy. Each passing train, plane, June bug or fox is also Narayanaya. We are in this cosmos together and the Lord is in each of us.

Mindfulness and daydreaming

The Guardian has a tag for Mindfulness.  It's https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/mindfulness. There are already 161 results.  I just read an article, No tricks. No mantras. I just want to learn how to do nothing: my quest to stay still.

Doing nothing, without resort to spiritual distractions is something that I've become interested in. But this article isn't very good, or doesn't give an answer that I'm looking for. The author comes to the conclusion that daydreaming is the best he can do. It's a form of distraction, transcending the exterior annoyances and adopting an interior distraction. At least, it's not something that is of interest to me.

He describes a long, unpleasant train ride: "my carriage is packed, my seat is uncomfortable, I am engulfed by a cacophony of other people’s chat, and the air is filled with the smell of fast food and lager. I leave my laptop in my bag, switch off my phone, close my eyes and try to disappear to my happier place." He launches into an involved childhood fantasy about an imaginary football tournament.

I actually have a similar problem in my father's house, where there is a constant din of radio or TV noise. I feel sorry for people who need the distraction of the radio. It's very difficult for me to imagine such a reality. But it's not so difficult to understand why people seek distractions, mundane or spiritual.

My father was talking about the pleasures of ironing, the other day. He says that it's something that permits daydreaming. I occasionally daydream. We all do. And we all sometimes need to deal with very unpleasant exterior situations that simultaneously make it difficult to focus on other things. But the majority of my time, I do not need to escape my reality. I feel quite at home with myself and my world. My ideal is to be in a state where there is not a lot to do, but in which I do need to remain alert and perform occasional tasks. One of my earliest jobs was of this kind; as operator at a mainframe computer. There wasn't much to do except respond to sporadic requests. It was rather boring at the time. But now I welcome those kind of days; if, in the comfort of my own surroundings.

Fighting systems from the inside

There's always a disagreement between those who think it's better to fight the system from the inside and those who say it's better to oppose it totally. Some are total conscientious objectors and others, in the Israeli context for example, say that it's better for humane soldiers to control the checkpoints than racist bastards with no respect for Palestinian lives. The usual contra-argument is that the system corrupts; that it isn't really possible to maintain humane values within a framework that is toxic.

I was thinking of this with my recent compromises around computers and phones.  I didn't manage, till now, to buy a phone that runs on free software.  So, instead, when I purchased a new Samsung A10, I refrained from logging into Google (which means I can't use the Google Play app store directly), or registering the phone and logging into Samsung's systems for that matter.  Instead, all my apps are from F-Droid, and that's fine with me.

Then, on my Kobo e-reader, I found some free open-source software that allows me to read without Kobo's annoying home screen, interface and all the ads butting in.  The machine works a lot better like this.  All my books are pirated (the older ones de-DRMed), but, in the case of living authors, I buy printed versions of their books so that they get paid. That way, I can also share their books with friends.

Now, on my desktop, I have MS Windows installed - that's because of an arrangement that I made with my son - I may end up giving him the computer back at some point.  But I don't use any non-free programs other than XN-View sometimes, which is free but not Libre, and Google Drive, which I need for the office.  Everything else is free open-source.  I don't like MS Windows, but I've managed to neutralize most of its annoyances.  I might get rid of it soon and install MX or Debian with Gnome.  I just need to see if Gnome manages Google Drive successfully - on my previous computer that was painfully slow.

Anyway, with all these options, I feel like I'm fighting the system from the inside.  Despite everything, I should probably be using a Fairphone with the Google-free option, an Onyx reader (perhaps) and a System76 computer running under Debian.  But even if I could afford all these options, I would probably fall down in other ways, because it is the toxic framework of our money-based capitalism that is the real operating system.

It may be hackable, but only to a certain degree.

Paying attention

I'm thinking that our lives are like a rich field of individual moments and responses; interactions with persons, things, situations. Whatever way we find to allow these moments to reverberate in our consciousness permits the weaving of them into an intricate tapestry, that gives joy through its beauty and intelligence. Processing our experiences through private journals, or communicating them in social media or in direct conversation may help us in this patient weaving. The question of whether this takes the place of something greater or more unitary may eventually be a false dilemma. Some of the world's creative geniuses neither wrote nor expressed themselves through any art. Others started out by writing a short poem that organically grew, without prior intention, into a major epic; still others left short haiku or sutras that together assume a similar grandeur. Life, the listening to life, and the sweet or discordant music that we are sometimes able to discover there and express, are not amenable to our egoistic manipulation. Our only responsibility is to pay attention, and not to sleepwalk through this divine comedy. And to love; to love and do what we want, and to leave the rest to the universe, and whether we bloom like a rose or stink like a stinkweed is not in our hands.

Complacency and its antidotes

Richard Stallman's Political Notes is a superbly curated timeline of horrors that lie just under the surface. It should be read every morning as an inoculation against complacency.

There are a few people who perform a similar service around specific issues. In Israel/Palestine there's Amos Gvirtz, who for years has been publishing and sending to a small email list his "Don't say we didn't know" in Hebrew and English (the Hebrew version is collected on Blogspot). It details the evils of the Occupation and the abuses perpetrated against groups like the Bedouin.

Such journals are intended as calls to action, but I think that is not necessarily the result. A lot of people would simply murmur "too much information!" and stop reading. It's as if, on hearing faint cries for help under the rubble of a collapsed building, we shrug and say what can I do; I don't have a shovel. Or, when a beggar tugs at our sleeve, we say that we can't feed all the hungry people in the world.

I too no longer know what to do with this information. I don't have the mettle of an activist. Rather than rail about or fight against injustice, I'm just as likely to purse my lips and think that these are merely the rumblings of a civilization in its death throes. What I know is that I don't want to participate in perpetuating the evil, so these notices help me to limit the consumption of goods, the seeking of entertainment, the number of journeys made, so I gradually live more and more as a kind of recluse. In early China, if one fell out of disfavour with the emperor, it was best for dissidents to take refuge in the mountains. That was probably a comfortable arrangement for the regime. But some of these exiles went on to write books of poetry and philosophy that had a lasting influence.

Even today, in the Zhongnan mountains south of Xi'an there is a revival of hermitism.

Coping in the modern world

It's charming to read, in The One Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka's frustration with Japanese officialdom. He's the epitome of the crazy genius nobody understands, the idealist who makes everyone else feel uncomfortable. I knew a man like that, Toma Schuck, who counseled me in my successful attempt to avoid military service as a conscientious objector. By the time we'd finished, the military understood that I wasn't exactly the material they were looking for.

Since that time, the world has grown ever more rigid in the formality of its structures, even as it simultaneously grows more fragile. The dystopian experience I had recently in Moscow airport highlights this trend. Masses of people held up and missing their flights because they have to be forced through the bottleneck of security scanners that nobody was paying any attention to and no one could. The baggage scanner was just a conveyor belt through which objects were rapidly passed. I think I could have gotten through with a miniature hydrogen bomb. Then the airline wouldn't pay up for lost flights because an hour was supposed to be enough to get through. The formal structures were maintained, but inside a theater of the absurd.

The material world is increasingly complicated to negotiate; whether it's getting through an airport or getting a job. In China they're introducing their social credit system, in India they're tying information in the Aadhar. There have been brilliant documentaries and feature films about people who fall through the cracks of our increasingly complex systems. I, Daniel Blake of British director Ken Loach comes to mind.

Sometimes I too feel like I can't or won't cope with all this. I'm relatively good with technologies, but slow and inarticulate in many human interactions. Yet I'm still in the normal range. What of other who are old and senile, or damaged by drugs, traumatized by wars and violence? Human beings cannot be forced into a straight jacket of formal structures. It's preferable to live on the fringes of the monstrous civilization we have created, and simply not have to deal with it.

Plan

The plan for the remaining years is to grow freer, lighter and less encumbered till eventually there is nothing left to weigh down the soul and it takes off into space, because it has grown lighter than the atmosphere. Isn't this a worthier aspiration than being gradually pulled down into the earth by the deadweight of memories, knowledge, beliefs, allegiances, regrets and cares?

Being a guest

There's a lot to be said in favor of simply being a guest in a guest house. Here I am in Arka, in Auroville, staying here for the 5th or 6th time I reckon. They know me. I know them. They give me the same room each time. It keeps improving from year to year. Last year they made a door ledge to stop the scorpions getting in. This time they gave me a fridge. When I come, it takes me 20 minutes to unpack and set everything up, as I know where to put all of my few belongings. I know about the quirks of the water system and the wifi; the place in the room where the phone is most likely to get a signal; how to get a wifi signal by placing the antenna above the window mesh. I know what clothing and other items I'll need to bring.

At a guest house, the client is king. There are not a lot of expectations on either side to deal with. I'm a quiet undemanding guest. I have few needs and could stay here forever. But if anything ever goes wrong with the relationship, it isn't hard to find a similar guest house and set up there.

This is actually much better than either owning property or being beholden to somebody - an ashram, say. The few rules that exist are easy to abide by, the responsibilities are minimal. I determine my daily schedule. If I feel like getting up at night to do a little writing like now, I may. If I feel like taking a nap in mid-morning, it's fine. And I'm old and mature enough to strike a balance and not to let too much freedom become a problem. So I'm sold on guest houses in familiar places. This is a perfect arrangement for summer.

Confusion

My friends and colleagues are much smarter than me.
They have correct answers for everything.
They are super-confident and know exactly what to say to anyone who thinks differently.
They have a knack for dealing with every possible situation and always come out looking good.
Me, I'm an idiot.  I make dumb mistakes.
When I think back at what I've said and look at what I've written - like here in this blog - I'm appalled by my ignorant vacuity.
My life stands as testimony to my ignoble character: a record of mistakes, errors of judgment and abysmal misunderstanding.

As in that old King Crimson song, confusion will be my epitaph.