I was talking to my friend Michael Shipley about scarcity.

Michael said: Imagine there were eight people on an Island and seven holy statues of the ancestors (like on Easter Island). Those eight people are always going to be fighting because everyone wants to go to sleep at night in the lap of one of the statues. That’s because they are seeking comfort outside themselves in external goods which are always limited. What they need to do is: build an eighth statue.

I said: Oh Shipley were it as simple as thou wonst it! For in thy parable thou missest the true and ever source of scarcity, namely, the Increase of Men. For even after they construct the Eighth Statue they will naturally fall to it and make a ninth, a tenth man, and then grandchildren and soon far more men than there could be Statues in Laps to lie, even were every pebble nay every dust mote hewn into a holy statue of an ancestor! Oh and then division and war and strife, as man exceeds statue.

Shipley said: Maybe the problem is worshiping Holy Ancestors and the desire to sleep in their laps.

I said: Maybe we should sleep in each other’s laps.

Shipley said: Maybe we should leave the Island.


The Tiny Small Decisions

I’m struggling to put into words an insight I’ve had lately about the tiny small decisions that make up our lives.

I’m not even sure if “decision” is the right word for them.

But it’s the best I can think of right now, so I will let it stand.

What I’m thinking of is for example, something like the following. I arrive at work. I park my car. I look through the window and catch my co-worker walking down the path that goes past my window. I am doing something else but I glance upwards to look at her for a moment.

This is a moment it is easy for me to miss, and for most of them I don’t explicitly attend to their occurence, nor do I remember.

This came up because I was thinking about hyper-literalism in the Zohar. I don’t know Hebrew so I will take an English example. It comes across a bit like a parody, but I mean no disrespect to this method. Quite the opposite. The Zohar will take a phrase from the Bible like “Jacob waited still” and will ask the question “Why does it say “He waited still”? Why doesn’t it just say “he waited.” Because that will convey the idea. There must be a reason why the Bible says “He waited still.” And they will give the answer: Jacob waited — that means Jacob. Jacob waited still — that means that the deep wellspring of quietness that was at the core of Jacob’s soul also waited. And it didn’t just wait. It was the essence of waiting.

Why so much about such a tiny, inconsequential detail? Are we really expected to believe that there is a reason for saying “waited still” and not just “Waited”? Why would we think that? Didn’t it just happen?

Did it just happen that I looked up at the co-worker walking from her car at the exact moment a shaft of light fell on a millipede outside my window creeping on the flat leaf of a dandelion plant? Ecstatic rhythmical thrumming those myriapods specialize in. Four legs per body segment to the centipede and his two.

Did I decide to bring them together — my glance, the co-worker, and the millipede for no reason?

You can live your life that way, but it is itself a decision. To hand our seeing and our reading and our writing and our glances and our words over to auto-pilot. Some program installed in us by our Mom or capitalism or the Great Human Ant Colony with its quivering internet pheromones.

You can do it! But if you do it — that is one more tiny decision.

Or you can notice the infinitesimal tiny decisions that we make with our eyes with our tongues with our thoughts. Choosing one word rather than another, one glance rather than another, one touch rather than another. Selecting the single taste of spice in the vast soup of spices. Choosing the color swatch more distinct than any words we have — because we have so few words and so many colors.

Are they decisions? They are decisions like choosing the word in a poem is a decision. Free yet inevitable.


Listening to the Voices

We have voices demanding things of us, that we hear when nobody else is around. They tell us — if you do that, you are wasting your life. They also can tell us — you cannot walk by when someone is starving in the street in front of you. Even when we are trying to go to sleep they can tell us — how could you have done that?

Some of them are what Freud called the super-ego. That is, they are messages from our parents that we absorbed into our psyche. Some of them are what Nietzsche called “herd morality”. They are our antennas picking up from the other members of our species (or those we care about) what they care about. Processing that information, our internal voices are like signalling proteins absorbed by an individual cell.

You could say that both of them are signals from a larger reality we are part of. In the internalized Mom and Dad case a dimension of our life that stretches back before we were born. In the herd animal case, a dimension of our lives that stretches beyond our skins to the various social groups that sustain us and make our lives possible.

Sometimes these voices can blight our lives. Like an auto-immune disease the mechanisms that harmonize one human cell with its neighbors can turn deadly. We can hate our sexuality or our creativity or our freedom because we are being whipped by our perception of what our neighbor wants. And he can look at us and imagine our judgment and waste his life out of fear of something that’s not real or doesn’t matter. Like a genetic disorder Mom’s fear and Dad’s shame can give us a double whammy and kill us.

But if we strip away all the voices to what is “just me” what we are left with is not much! Because we would have to strip away all the best thing everybody has ever said about what is worth doing and what matters. We would have to stop our ears to all the trans-personal realities we are part of, and act as if we are bare individuals. And what would bare individuals do or care about?

It is a puzzle. If we listen to the voices we can lose ourselves or destroy ourselves. But if we block them out, we are left with nothing worth protecting.

I think the way out of the puzzle is to recognize that there are lots of voices other than those that are issuing demands and orders. All those things our neighbors and ancestors say that is not a blight.


“Hey you might want to look at this over here — it’s pretty interesting and beautiful.”

Puzzles riddles and jokes.

There is a lot to listen to, including ourselves.

Listening is also active. When we truly listen we are also speaking and vice versa.

Listening to ourselves is a challenging journey. Like music appreciation class where they are just now giving us the words for the rhythms. A whole note is pear. A triplet is pineapple. We are still learning pear pear pineapple pear in the journey of listening to ourselves. And we are every second playing the ninth symphony of Beethoven and just not understanding it. We read sacred books about the creation of the world, slavery, exodus, and the final redemption when with every in breath and out breath we are created, enslaved, freed and redeemed.


They Treated My Family Cruelly

And sent us from Europe, although they claimed to be kind people

And we were not able to do scholarship and read books as we wished to

But instead had to work, making items out of tin and selling the items

And making clothing and selling the clothing, including unforms

And telling funny stories and jokes and selling the stories and jokes

And with the sweat and labor of selling we became more critical of ourselves

Than we would have been if we were scholars, reading the most lucid books

And composing insightful commentaries. Yet in the lucid books and the insightful commentaries

Written upon them by those who did not need to become pedllers of tin and funny stories

And clothing to support their families it is written

To those who have compassion every day is a victory

To those with forgiveness for those who harm them all speech is sacred text.

I hereby forgive those who made our family leave Europe

And bless them and their ancestors and their descendants.