The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Personal Reflections ... Science ... Spirituality ...

I wanted to share a thought that probably only occurs to you when you are get old. Well, it only occurred to me in recent years, as I am getting old. And that thought regards the winds. My thought – really a rhetorical question – is this: WHY does the wind blow so much in winter, and hardly at all during the summer? In winter it just makes you colder (and as an old guy, I don’t like to be cold). In summer, when it could do the most good (i.e., cool you down a bit), the winds hardly ever blow — at least where I live.

That’s just one of those things about the world where “serendipity” is lacking. Oh well, I guess you’ve just got to grit your teeth and pull up your collar and bear it all, until spring arrives once again.

Oh, one other interesting little observation from old age. Not from my old age, but from the old age of a Nobel Prize winning scientist. His name is Steven Weinberg,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:34 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, November 26, 2010
Personal Reflections ... Socrates Cafe ...

I’ve been hanging out with a Zen sangha since the start of this year (Clear Mountain in Montclair), and it’s pretty cool. But as with all other groups, there is some group-think involved with it. Despite the Buddha’s own warning not to think a particular way just because other people are thinking it, our group –- and really, every other Buddhist group –- espouses the view that meditation is a great thing, and the more the better. One of the senior members recommended that I sit in silence at least 15 minutes each day; 30 minutes would be better.

Well, I’ll be the first to admit that sitting in silence can be a really good thing. And I try to do it on a regular basis. But as to giving up a half hour of my waking life every day . . . I dunno. There are a lot of good things to be awake for in life, if you take a positive attitude. Our days and hours and minutes are numbered; and every minute spent with eyes closed in silent isolation is a minute that could have otherwise gone to seeing, smelling, touching or otherwise experiencing something in our world. Or to doing things, including many things which need to be done in order to live a responsible and caring life. Or to reading, learning things, talking with people, etc.

So, I think that meditation is great. But as to those Zen masters who think it good to spend hours and hours seated on a cushion,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:40 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Personal Reflections ... Religion ...

I had an after-thought from my last blog about dancing styles and a recent British psychological study regarding same. As I said, I am a “bopper”, someone who responds to music by moving up and down. However, most of the world responds with side-to-side dancing. In my handful of ventures out onto the dance floor, I have had people explain that to me. In other words, my big-bopper dancing style did not receive a warm reception. So I stay off the dance floor now.

The study that I cited said that people who dance up and down generally have an open-minded temperament. So, that would imply that people who do NOT bop to the music are not so open-minded. And thus, it follows that they are not open-minded to dancing up and down. Thus it makes sense that I did not receive good reviews for my dancing. Given that the side-to-side shufflers are the majority, they own the world of dance. That is the social norm here in the suburban USA. No room for us boppers; no stars waiting to dance with us. Oh well, open-minded people like us can go find other things to do. So there!

I have been reading up lately on what the real Buddha actually said and taught, in the short but classic 1958 work by Walpola Rahula, “What the Buddha Taught” (this is one of those things that I do in lieu of dancing). And I’ve noticed a couple of interesting things.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:31 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Psychology ... Religion ...

I recently saw some reviews of a new book defending agnosticism. The book is called “Spiritual Envy”, written by a Jewish fellow named Michael Krasny. Obviously, if Dr. Krasny (a PhD in literature) is defending agnosticism, he is not strictly speaking a religious practicing Jew. I have not read his book yet, but the reviews indicate that Krasny once believed in the God taught by the Torah and the Prophets, but now does not. However, he doesn’t accept the tenants of atheism either. He defends the idea of accepting that one cannot really know if there is a God or not; or if there were, just what that God would be like.

But Dr. Krasny obviously still cares, or else he wouldn’t write a 264 page book about what we can or cannot know about God’s existence. Perhaps he is still searching; perhaps he is still hopeful. And perhaps he still takes the leap of faith in living as though there were a God of goodness that cared about us. Even though I share Krasny’s intellectual agnosticism, I also care. As to whether I live a life of faith, well, I guess that I’m not the one to judge that. But I do the best I can, I try to remain hopeful.

One little glimmer of hope for the muddled-up world that we currently experience is found in one of the Spiritual Envy reviews. Would you believe that an Islamic scholar  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:44 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Photo ...

I haven’t gotten out into the woods for a real hike in many years. But I vowed to get back out there at least once before the winter sets in, and today was the right day. Nice warm weather, and for once all my chores were done before the weekend (thanks to having Thursday off from work). So I dragged the old backpack out from the closet and got some granola and headed up to Harriman State Park.

I wasn’t sure if I still had the hiking groove in me, but after a while it started coming back, despite my initial trepidations about the whole thing. Over all the day went quite well. I stayed out for 4 hours and 45 minutes, and only took a few brief rest stops. I got 5 miles in, and managed to get up and down all those rocky hillsides.

And for the effort, my legs are throbbing just a bit right now (it’s rather pleasant, actually). And I have a few digital pix from the venture. Here are two views of a somewhat Zen-like scene that I noticed, up on top of one of the hills. Once you start with Zen, you can take it most anywhere.



◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:49 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, November 12, 2010
Food / Drink ... Personal Reflections ...

Just a quick follow up thought to my post yesterday on buying food. As a “foodie” with a developed personal food philosophy, I want and need things that aren’t always available in the mainstream. I’m not looking for frozen waffles, tubs of ice cream, boxes of sugar-coated cereal, microwavable pizza, bacon, Oreos, canned spaghetti and meatballs – the stuff that takes up so much space at a typical supermarket. But I’m not totally into the Whole Foods thing either.

So I have to go to more than one food stores to find everything I need. Only Whole Foods has quart-size tubs of soy yogurt, blackstrap molasses, Thai sweet rice and millet. Stop and Shop has frozen grapefruit juice and frozen blueberries. A&P has white tea and Vitamin B complex at a decent price. ShopRite has about 65% of what I use at affordable prices, but I don’t like the way that they discontinue things so quickly (e.g. the more interesting varieties of herbal tea). And ShopRite’s produce prices are ridiculous compared with the South Paterson market stores. And even though their bagels are OK, the ones at the bagel shop in Bloomfield are better and cheaper (not as fluffy, and more poppies or sesame seeds or onion on them).

There just isn’t one food store that satisfies all my needs. I guess that’s the way that I am with people too. I know a lot of wonderful people who share a variety of interests and philosophies with me. But I’ve never met anyone who shares them all. Not even close.

But who knows. Maybe somewhere out there is a food store that has it all under one roof. And maybe somewhere there’s someone who could see the whole picture of me, who could understand it all (or at least 95% of it; I’m not a perfectionist). I can dream, can’t I?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:45 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Food / Drink ... Photo ...

I had today off, and it was a lovely autumn day, a late Indian Summer day. So I went shopping — food shopping. You know that you’re a ‘foodie’ when you enjoy going food shopping.

Well, can’t say that I enjoy the weekly visit to the local ShopRite. But every now and then I get over to the markets in South Paterson. And then I have fun.

Today’s haul included plums, plum tomatos, a gallon container of balsamic vinegar, bulk bags of penne and brown lentils, a retail bag of wagon-wheel pasta (ah, brings back memories of childhood), lemons, apples, yams, cranberries, fresh cranberry beans, butternut squash, organic bananas, basil, green peppers, red frying peppers (never saw those before), pearl onions . . . and a huge cauliflower (for $1.50).

It’s almost like I was running a restaurant. Well, maybe I am; at least in my own head and kitchen. Cue the acoustic guitar — “you can get anything you want . . .”

Just a half mile from the railroad track . . .

Just a half mile from the railroad track . . .

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:45 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Philosophy ... Socrates Cafe ...

What is knowing? What does it mean to “know”? What is “knowledge”? How do we know the world? What is the truest nature of the world . . . or of whatever we can know of it?

Yea, it was a night for some deep philosophy at the old Socrates Café, yesterday evening. Here are some notes on what was running through my head. I came up with four points, four ways of seeing the world, based upon four names. Those names are: REALITY; FACT; UNDERSTANDING; and KNOWLEDGE.

REALITY – dynamic; the “judgment of evolution”; but evolution in a broader sense, including all large self-organizing dynamic systems and their drivers, including chaos theory, complexity, emergence; evolution will judge a wide range of differences, both objective (difference between bleach and water) and social-subjective (belief in God); based on reproduction and survival.

FACT – static; western science; empirical, repeatable, cross-subjective; realism; the tree that falls in the forest, even though no one is there to observe it or detect it in any way. A fact is a fact, and stays that way.

UNDERSTANDING (although INTUITION may be the better word here) – personal; locked in each mind; experiential, subjective; idealism. What we would know even without a social system of learning, language and group thinking.

KNOWLEDGE – socially based intelligence; “common knowledge”; as reflected by language, language being the tool and the emergent result of social dynamics; truth evolving thru the social.

OK, but which word and which viewpoint is right? Which one reflects the deepest truth?

We can’t know. But we can try to develop wisdom.

WISDOM – the mix of all of these! The encircling of all of these approaches brings us closest to the true nature of our lives and our world, as a unified whole. They are all correct in the context of all the others. They are all useless fallacies, in isolation. The truth cannot be described without them, and yet none of them describes the truth.

That sounds good, anyway!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:36 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Personal Reflections ... Philosophy ...

Are we anything more than the sum of our fears?

Think about it. Hopefully the answer is “yes” — but not by much, if at all! The Buddhists say there is “no self”. If the self is but the sum of one’s fears, then it’s pretty much a non-entity.

So how do we go beyond being but the sum of our fears?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:41 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Current Affairs ... Philosophy ...

First off, I recently sighted a nuthatch and some juncos in my backyard (birds, that is). That is a sure sign of winter’s approach; i.e., birds coming down from the hills just west of here, seeking food to fatten up on so as to get ready for the lean season to come. A group of juncos take up their winter homes here in the suburban jungle, from November thru April. “So little snowbird take me with you when you go, to that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow”, as Anne Murray once sang. But they ain’t going nowhere for a while.

Today is Election Day, and we local bureaucrats still get today off (yea, I know, we don’t deserve it; given the current mood among the electorate, Governor Christie and the Tea Party people will soon yank Election Day, along with lots of other job benefits, away from us). Since my brother is still out of work, we got together to see the early showing of Clint Eastwood’s latest film (as a producer), “Hereafter”. I found Hereafter to be quite a compelling and gratifying movie. It’s about people who are “possessed by death and the afterlife”, and focuses around visions and near-death experiences (including those of Matt Damon and the easy-to-look-at Cecile De France, who is actually from Belgium). Hey, leave it to Clint to give us a beautiful woman to help ponder the ultimate metaphysical questions!

“Hereafter” is very well done, very tasteful; a real movie in the classic sense, a flick that relies on plot and acting and lighting and mood, not on big stars and noise and big crashes and outrageous scenes, which so many movies do today.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:37 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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