A jealous sigh of “oh mah gawd, that sounds relaxing” was the common response when I told people I was heading to Kelseyville for a meditation retreat at the Northern California Vipassana Center (Dhamma Manda) over my birthday. I had to explain it would be an intense 10 days of meditating from 4:30 am to 9 pm, living without our phones, the Internet and any contact with the outside world, including access to new episodes of Game of Thrones (but thankfully also all overzealous Game of Thrones tweets and Facebook posts — the universe has a way of balancing things out).
It’s no revelation to acknowledge, even with stark and childlike realization, that life moves fast. For me, the past few years have been a blur, and when I think back to who I was in college and high school, it’s like I’m remembering a character from a John Hughes movie I once saw.
(Not Pretty in Pink.) Continue reading “Life in Transition”
In case you didn’t already know, I’m a writer. I write things. Right now, I’m working as a freelance travel writer and editor, but my real passion is storytelling.
I’m currently working on a novel set in San Francisco during the period between the 1906 earthquake and the start of World War I. I’ve always found this era fascinating, what with all the social and technological changes taking place.
In a hopefully worthwhile fit of distraction, I created a Tumblr page updating the progress of my novel while providing motivational and useful resources for other writers. Please follow me there if you’re on Tumblr, and I’ll follow you back!
(Also, the irony of cutting into writing time to create a blog dedicated to keeping me on track with writing isn’t lost on me.)
On the left, a pair of brown Onitsuka Mexico 66 sneakers that I wore during my trip to the Mediterranean half a year ago. On the right, a new pair of shoes for my upcoming two months in Italy. One, worn and weathered, covered with dirt from the Acropolis, the House of the Virgin Mary and Pompeii, and no doubt contaminated with whatever it is that makes the streets of the Tenderloin in San Francisco smell. The other, barely scuffed and stiff, ready for action and fully capable of supporting my penchant for walking. Continue reading “Random Thoughts Before Traveling – Quantum Physics, the Philosophy of Travel and Shoes”
I wrote this four years ago on a southbound train after traveling through NYC. I met a lot of great people, many of whom I’m still friends with, and the experience was more than just memorable. In an effort to combine all my favorite bits of my life into this blog, I’m sharing this again today…
“Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet.”
In John Steinbeck’s, “East of Eden,” dreamer Adam Trask is blessedly burdened by his infatuation for Cathy Ames, a deceptive woman with an agenda other than his love. And whatever conviction he held in his dreaming, he held true despite her apathy. And he did great things in her name and attributed them to her, his muse, before she left him.
“Whatever Cathy may have been, she set off the glory in Adam. His spirit rose flying and released him from fear and bitterness and rancid memories. The glory lights up the world and changes it the way a star shell changes a battlefield.”
And while we can attribute glory to external inspiration, it would be a shame not to attribute the glory to our own potential… that the inspiration only drew out what was inside of us all along. Because, if the inspiration should ever leave us, we can find comfort in knowing it was only a clever device to get us going.
“Then a breeze would move her bright hair, or she would raise her eyes, and Adam would swell out in his stomach with a pressure of ecstasy that was close kin to grief.”
That New York City stands as the greatest city in the world is unquestionable (though one may still regard one’s present home as more livable or loved). Historic. Modern. Tragic. Hopeful. A sort of glory of humanity, a monument for civilization’s sins, successes and squanders. It inspires the best out of anyone with the willingness to look.
And whatever it is that inspires a man to come here, whether he finds it or not, he can be certain he’ll leave with something satisfactory:
Conviction and glorious dreams of a better future, and newfound inspiration with himself.
“‘A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to. And there were no limits to anything. And the people of the world were good and handsome…
And I was not afraid anymore.'”
I found my senior project research paper among old files on my backup drive and decided to share it here. The subjects touched upon are ones still important to me: hero myths, the collective unconscious, who we are as humans, etc., although my writing style from ten years ago isn’t as comparatively eloquent as it is now. I did a quick edit for glaring errors, such as double-spacing between sentences, something I feel is one of man’s greatest sins now. I guess that is what it means to be young and reckless.
Oh, and that IS Encarta 1994 listed in the Works Consulted at the end…
Hero myths represent the mind of the individual. Through analysis of various myths, one finds common aspects that can only be explained as being innate in every person. Traits of the human psyche (see Appendix H) are represented in various forms in such myths. Before one can elaborate on such a topic, one must first understand the meaning of myths, as well as rituals, symbols, dreams, and the meaning of the hero.
Myths, Dreams, and Rituals
A myth is a story that has strong cultural roots. They are found worldwide and have different themes within them such as love, jealousy, revenge, trickery, or journey. There are also various types of myths: creation myths, flood myths, etc. Although there seem to be many variations and incarnations in myth-storytelling, all myths have basic similarities that can be seen in the stories from widely varying cultures.
According to Joseph Campbell (see Appendix A), myths “serve four distinct functions: to instill and maintain a sense of awe and mystery before the world; to provide a symbolic image for the world such as that of the Great Chain of Being; to maintain the social order by giving divine justification to social practices like the Indian caste system; and above all to harmonize human beings with the cosmos, society, and themselves” (Segal x).
Myths have been enjoyed since the dawn of time, and the exact origin of the myth is yet to be discovered. One theory relates to a central, base myth that may have started from an early civilization, eventually spreading to other lands. Another theory incorporates Carl Jung’s (see Appendix C) theory of the collective unconscious (see Appendix D). This theory is based upon the idea that every person is born with the archetypes (see Appendix E) evident in myths, hence the similarities found in stories from around the globe (Rank 4-9). Continue reading “My High School Senior Project: The Myth”
I’m currently reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces again for the first time in ten years. In the past decade, I acknowledged his book as influential in shaping my understanding of the world. And, having lived and matured for ten years since, reading his words again proves even more illuminating the second time around.
In his 1988 interview with Bill Moyers, entitled The Power of Myth, he examines many of the themes present in his book. A fan of Eastern mythologies, he is quick to cite ancient Shinto texts and Buddhist beliefs, one of which resonated strongly with me:
Everything is inherently meaningless.
This is something I would never say out loud in public, as it runs the risk of being readily misinterpreted and argued against, prompting a long philosophical discussion that I probably don’t have time for. A friend of mine once said the phrase to a coworker. His coworker responded by snatching his hat. “Give it back,” replied my friend. “If everything is meaningless, then this doesn’t matter!” I don’t suppose he knew, amidst revealing his diminishing maturity, that he was touching onto an irony even more profound, that when everything is meaningless, we can find perfection in everything.
The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.
An ant, living under two months, goes through relatively more life in a day than a human. Similarly, mountains, existing in geologic time, exist well beyond the years of any human civilization. Our lives are a blip to them as ant lives are a blip to us. The Universe, itself, is eternal, with the only finality being a construct of time. In the vastness of eternity, my desire to cut a dope record is about as passing to the Universe as an ant’s desire to score a fraction of a piece of rice is to me.
So does that mean we should just off ourselves, fulfilling our meaningless destinies as blips in the cosmos? Only if we’re unwise, the type to snatch a hat in a childlike response to a profound conundrum. If anything, viewing existence as inherently meaningless frees us from our obsession with only achieving goals, and reminds us that, since the results themselves will be ultimately dissipated into the stream of time, we really ought to enjoy the journey toward these goals.
God has made different religions to suit different aspirants, times, and countries. All doctrines are only so many paths; but a path is by no means God Himself. Indeed, one can reach God if one follows any of the paths with whole-hearted devotion…. One may eat a cake with icing either straight or sidewise. It will taste sweet either way.
What is our purpose in life? Unless you account only for the natural aspect of proliferation, there is no inherent purpose but what we give it. And because there is no purpose, and because we cannot be sure or even comprehend yet the vastness of God or an afterlife, we are freed to be grateful for the lives we are given to live. We are free to realize that no particular moment is serendipitous, but rather that life itself is the definition of serendipity. Every day that we do not die or suffer horribly is a wonderful thing.
It’s like what a character might dramatically say at the end of a war epic (the type of epics where characters say such cheesy yet memorable lines). As Katsumoto, the second-to-last samurai in The Last Samurai, realizes with his dying breath his quest of finding the most perfect cherry blossom: “They are all… *gasp*… perfect.” Or as in Kingdom of Heaven, when the warrior-poet Balian, failing to defend Jerusalem, questions the invading Muslim king Saladin after their bloody battle, “What is Jerusalem worth?”
Adding perspective to the culmination of their years of brutal conflict and the suffering of thousands over the place, Saladin replies quickly, “Nothing…”
He walks away, but turns and smiles,
Sounds exist all around us, raw and unrefined like short splatterings of color against a gray canvas. As a painter masterfully combines and organizes color into a work of visual art, so does a musician string and sustain sounds into a coherent, melodious piece. It is the voice of God, I believe. It surrounds us in waves, and penetrates our ears into our thoughts and into our very souls.
“The artist, his function is the mythologization of the environment and the world, people particularly gifted, whose ears are open to the song of the universe.” -Joseph Campbell
One of my favorite attributes of a song is atmosphere. I’ve long realized that the general public subconsciously shows little regard for carefully crafted lyrics, placing a greater emphasis on how a song makes them feel, with quality lyrics as a secondary (albeit still important) characteristic. This is evidenced by the public prevalence of pop fodder with a dance backbeat and gibberish for lyrics, not without help from corporate record labels. But when a song can exhibit great atmosphere and lyrical sensibilities, it becomes something more than a simple song. It elevates itself in both our bodies and minds. It becomes an experience.
In no particular order:
and my favorite song of all time…