The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Saturday, March 28, 2015
Health / Nutrition ... History ... Spirituality ...

The human body is a wonderful thing, from an engineering perspective. It is amazingly designed, as proven by how much it can do and how adaptable it is to a wide variety of operating conditions. The body is an extremely complicated machine that can perform a whole lot of different functions, and for the most part it does them very well. The brain of course is the crowning peak of complexity, but the rest of the body is pretty incredible too; everything below the eyebrow is still more complex and well-engineered than say the Space Shuttle or an aircraft carrier.

I’m not going to get into the whole thing about whether or to what degree such design reflects an intentional theological authorship. I accept the existence of a natural process of biological evolution, along with the concept that it is driven by random variation and environmental feedback loops stemming from DNA inheritance and natural selection. I further accept that given the right conditions and enough time, such a process can “blindly” author a masterpiece like the human brain and body system. I don’t believe that any sort of divine transcendent power had a pre-packaged blueprint for the human race, and somehow impressed such an “intelligent design” mandate upon the Earth’s biosphere This is not to say that a beneficent deity does not exist; nor that a conceivable deity would have nothing at all to do with the dynamics that allowed our universe and the world we know to come into existence. But I don’t look at such a deity as a master designer with huge rolls of blueprints in arms, specifying every detail of the human body.

Because if you did imagine that, you might have to conclude that this deity isn’t so smart and perfect after all; the human body has some significant flaws in its design. In various ways, you can see that it is a “work in process”, which makes sense  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:08 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, March 23, 2015
Current Affairs ... History ... Religion ...

I finally got around to reading Graeme Wood’s important article in The Atlantic entitled “What ISIS Really Wants”. In a recent post I discussed Wood’s follow-up note to his article; this note seemed very relevant in and of itself. But now it’s time for a thought or two from me about Wood’s main article.

Actually, I only have one big thought to share here (but yes, it is still a big one, requiring many words). In my previous post regarding Wood’s follow-up note, I embraced his point that ISIS should be considered a “legitimate” interpretation of Islam. After reading the actual article, I reaffirm his contentions. Most Muslims around the world do not embrace this version of Islam; by the same token, very few attempt to reject it on grounds of being inauthentic.

The key players and supporters of the ISIS movement (including clerics, scholars, politicians and military leaders) are very savvy about the Koran and the history of Islam. They make a very detailed and credible effort to justify their policies (however brutal and inhumane) using the words and directives of the Prophet Mohammed himself. Over the past two years, ISIS has managed  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:43 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 14, 2015
Personal Reflections ... Practical Advice ... Zen ...

At the zendo that I regularly sit at (despite my being something of an internal outcast there), they recently held a “practice circle” discussion regarding a chapter from Suzuki Roshi’s book “Not Always So”. The chapter is entitled “Enjoy Your Life where the good Roshi uses the then upcoming (1969) first manned lunar space mission as a point of departure by which to make his point. He says that “to arrive on the moon may be a great historical event, but if we don’t change our understanding of life, it won’t have much meaning or make much sense”. The Rosh concludes that by practicing zazen (meditation), “you can enjoy your life, perhaps even more than taking a trip to the moon”. At the start of his lecture, Suzuki opines that “Instead of seeking a success in the objective world, we [need] to experience the everyday moments in our lives more deeply”. And yet, he also admits that “I want to speak about the moon trip, but I have not had any time to study it”.

Here’s my question: did the Apollo 11 flight and its follow-up moon-landing missions represent a delusion, a sort of false success within the objective world, one that impairs our ability to know more deeply the value of the everyday moments of our life? In 1969, Roshi Suzuki admitted that he didn’t know too much about the moon-bound straw men that he was setting up. But it’s 46 years later, plenty of time to have studied what happened with the Apollo astronauts and the other people and things that made this endeavor possible. Despite the wise Roshi’s diminution of the Apollo program and its achievements, perhaps it is still possible to see that the astronauts of the Space Race days really did have a lesson for us on how to deeply experience and enjoy our lives.

I offered some comments during the zendo discussion about how the Apollo mission might in fact relate to an appreciation of everyday life. I’m not an expert on it, but as a life-long space enthusiast, I watched a lot of documentaries and read some books and went thru a lot of articles on the United States’ efforts to get to the moon in the 1960s (before the decade was out, as per the mandate from President Kennedy). So I think I can offer a bit more on just what those spaceflights actually entailed.

Basically, they were military exercises. The US manned space program was  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:20 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Photo ... Weather ...

This is what it looked like about a week ago near my residence. A few days later, the 40 day pattern of frigid cold and frequent (if not terribly big) snowstorms finally broke. It was one of the coldest February’s on record, but the mild air found its way back to New Jersey and everything is changing. We still have some dirty old snow yet to melt before the flowers start poking through, but the long winter is becoming a fading memory.

But best not to let it fade completely. When the weather gets tough, the eternal student gets studying . . . learning more and more about what’s going on up in the skies. This past winter season I’ve learned even more than I picked up last winter about polar vortex’s and teleconnection patterns. And based on what I learned, I know that there are signs out there saying that winter has an encore performance coming up in about 10 days or so. (I.e., positive PNA, negative AO, NAO and EPO, and MJO going to zone 7). So, although we’re enjoying the early taste of April this week, we may have to wait until early April until it really settles in. For now . . . don’t put the gloves, caps, scarves and shovels away!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:40 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, March 7, 2015
Current Affairs ... Society ...

Being more of an essayist as opposed to a Twitter-ist, I enjoy reading essay style magazines. That’s not a surprise to anyone who has read more than one or two of my posts (all 3 or 4 of you . . . if that many). And you also know that one of my favorite essay magazines is The Atlantic. I often comment here in an essay format about some of the essays that appear in each new Atlantic issue (kind of like fighting fire with fire, perhaps). So that’s what I’m going to do right now. Fasten your seat-belt, here we go with another Jim G essay, FWIW.

The March 2015 Atlantic contains an article by Jonathan Rauch entitled “Be Not Afraid”. Rauch’s main point is that President Obama was entirely correct in saying last August that even though many Americans believe that life in America is more dangerous than ever, in truth we’ve never been safer. Rauch ticks off a list of facts and expert opinions that weave together a picture of an America and a world where the risks of violence and mayhem continue a long-term historic decline. The headlines we read focus upon on-going terrorist attacks in major cities; armed conflict in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Mexico, Yemen, central Africa, etc.; near-plague-like conditions from Ebola in Liberia and Western Africa; and nuclear weapons in the hands of irrational ideologues (North Korea and Iran). And yet, when compared with the past, even the not-so-distant past, fewer and fewer people are actually dying from such conflicts and threats. Even crime is way down in the US and most other industrialized nations.

Well, QED (quod erat demonstrandum, Latin for “it had to be proven and so it has”). According to Rauch, “Americans’ threat perception has never been as distorted as it is today.” And thus we need to thank our intellectual President for lecturing the public about this, even though  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:32 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Spirituality ... Zen ...

Although I belong to a local Zen sangha and attend their zazen meditation service every week, I don’t really consider myself to be fully involved with and devoted to the Zen tradition. I don’t have a guiding teacher whom I meet with regularly, I don’t take time off for weekend or full-week retreats, I’m not studying the Buddhist precepts with a group or sewing together a prayer bib . . . basically I’m doing my own spiritual thing (which I’ve always done).

Still, I have good feelings about the overall Zen establishment and I appreciate the tolerance of the local group in allowing me, something of a Zen non-believer, to rub elbows with the devotees. Even if I don’t consider myself bound to Zen, I am still quite interested in it. And when I’m interested in something, I try to learn more about it, eternal student that I am. So over the past month or two, I’ve been pecking occasionally through a big old book about the history of Zen in Japan, picking up a few random details about a particular setting or group or figure who played a significant role in Zen’s thousand years or so of existence.

I thus took something of an interest not long ago in a Zen master from the late 1500 / early 1600’s named Takuan Soho. Soho is intriguing to me in that he was actually a rather scholarly and worldly figure, unlike the classic Zen luminaries who devote all of their energies to Zen practice, monastic life, and the temple rituals. Many of these roshi’s also  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:24 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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