Archive for February, 2006

The Onion in the Soup

Posted in Speculation, Uncategorized on February 21, 2006 by Patrick

One of the thing magic does for us is identify our “secret center,” the bit of us that is really ourselves. It’s easy to say Atma is Brahman (Self is God) but saying it doesn’t help. In fact, saying it might hurt: if you walk around content in your divine nature, then what happens when your headlight burns out? What happens when you get indigestion? Suddenly you move from God to frustration.

Magic, however, shows us what we’ve got on the inside, so that we have a central perspective. Suddenly, something boring and quotidian and not at all magical happens. A headlight burns out, say. If you live on the edge of the onion, you get frustrated, resent having to get a replacement, become annoyed and swear when you try to pry out the old one in the cold as it gets dark and suddenly you’re grumbling and muttering and you’ve lost the center.

But with magic, we might learn to live in the center of the onion. Suddenly, something inconvenient like that happens, we look at our burned out lightbulb and feel frustrated and annoyed that we need to go to the store — but we know that frustration and annoyance isn’t really the true self. The true self is watching the edge of the onion react with the soup, but the center’s still the same as it ever was.

Some people live entirely on the edge of the onion as it dissolves into the soup. These are people who take their feeling of panic at the sight of a stranger, and make it a racist identity. Or they find one truth and make it a religion. Or they panic and grit their teeth. Nothing wrong with them: it’s easy to go back there, too. But if you live only on the edge of the onion, the soup’s a mystery. It’s random carrots and celery and you have no idea what’s going on on the other side of the onion.

But if you live in the center of the onion, the whole soup is around you and you can see it laid out. You can see the pot, see the ingredients, see how they fit together to make soup, and you don’t panic.


Policing Porn Is Not Part of Job Description

Posted in Uncategorized on February 18, 2006 by Patrick

Policing Porn Is Not Part of Job Description

A political moment, if I may: “Still, Montgomery plans to train its homeland security officers ‘so they fully understand library policy and its consistency with residents’ First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution,’ Romer said in his statement.” I have to wonder what they’re trained in now. Is the constitution even mentioned in their training, or is that irrelevant to protecting our freedoms?

I know — nothing much to do with magic, but certainly weird.

Reality is Discourse

Posted in Language, Techniques on February 11, 2006 by Patrick

We can think of our interactions with the physical world as a conversation, in which the sensory input is like the arbitrary symbols of language, and our conclusions about the world are like our interpretations of linguistic symbols. If I touch a tree, the rough feel of the bark is just data before the senses, but I find that sensation pleasant, I remember other trees, I think about trees, I imagine a forest. Similarly, when I say “I’ll have a double Americano please,” I’m simply making sounds with my mouth that have no real relationship to the ideas they express, in the hopes that the person hearing it will imagine coffee drinks, imagine shots of espresso, imagine the idea of two-ness, and so on.

Imagining reality as discourse can help us break out of heavily ingrained patterns of thinking about our observations. Just as we think about what a person has said to us and what it might “mean,” we also might begin to wonder what our experiences “mean.” This act can have startling effects. In its simplest form, it is to imagine that one is reading omens in the flight of birds, random sounds, and so on. I remember once that a long period of silent prayer in a park was interrupted by someone on their cell phone walking by, saying “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you. I know it’s hard now, but it’ll get easier.” I took it as a direct response to my prayer.

We can also take this farther. Just as in analyzing poetry and verbal art, we imagine “what could this mean?” and don’t stop when we have just one answer, we can watch our reactions to events and try to interpret them differently. For example, next time you see someone who looks “weird” – funny hair, or piercing – or, if you’re like me, the next time you see someone who looks “normal” – suit, tie, and so on – imagine what other interpretations you can offer. Maybe the man with a mohawk is a social worker dressed to appeal to his clients; maybe he’s going to a costume party; maybe he’s a Native American reclaiming his culture. The man with a suit might be an artist going to a gallery showing – what might his art look like? Or maybe he’s a woman in drag – what’s her life like? This exercise helps break us out of One Single Interpretation Syndrom. It helps cure prejudice, and also it makes long waits for the bus more bearable.