Notes from the Desert Day Five

Day Five (Links to Days One, Two, Three, and Four)

Last evening I broke my solitude and went to Kitt Peak National Observatory. I thought the perspective could be helpful. And the wonder.

A dear friend in Colorado once wrote to me, “Nature is my church.” I feel the same way. Yesterday, I went to church.

Along with my fellow nine space travelers and our observatory guide, looking through the telescope at far away suns and galaxies, it occurred to me:

  • The unknowns will always exceed the knowns.
  • It’s hard to imagine earthlings are the only beings in the universe capable of thinking about the future and planning.
  • The spaces are as much a part of the whole as the masses.
  • The request by one of the guests “to look at heaven” may not have been as silly and ridiculous as it sounded.
  • Things are often not as they appear.

Regarding the latter point, even a middle or high schooler knows we’re not seeing what we think we are when we look into the telescope. Some of the distances are vast (billions of light years), and light travels only so fast. Hence, we are seeing what was, not what is.

Indeed, what was — what we perceive to be reality — may no longer even exist. And we may not be seeing that which has been born but whose existence has yet to be observable in far away places such as the planet earth. Again, light travels only so fast.

In sum, what we perceive as reality may be anything but.

Such is life. Not only in the realm of astronomy, but also in the realm of human perceptions, sight, hearing, and interactions.

It is when our human constructs, concepts, and ideas conflict with the unseen reality that trouble ensues. Sometimes, in the form of negative thoughts or angst. Sometimes, worse.

If we are to flourish, if we are to become ourselves and to be content with whom we are, perhaps it’s essential we connect with reality, unobstructed by all the crap that gets in the way. Perhaps it’s essential we become aware of and accept our place in the world. In the universe. And acknowledge and become comfortable with the spaces.

The stars, planets, and galaxies have something to tell us.

In the desert.

Notes from the Desert Day One

For the next week, I will be posting a portion of my journal entries from my time in the desert. Perhaps you will find something of value in my journey. Perhaps my questions, struggles, and desires are not unlike your own.

Day One

Waiting for my flight this morning, having first secured a doppio espresso (yes, I’m a coffee addict), I cracked open a new book I’d brought along, Red Notice by Bill Browder. It bills itself as “a true story of high finance, murder, and one man’s fight for justice.” It’s all of that and more.

On one hand, it was a really page turner; on the other hand, it was a disturbing, forced read, mainly because it was a stark reminder of the unjust and cruel ways us humans treat each other.

As Anthony de Mello remarked, “You thought people were nice. They’re not!” I think he was referring to all of us. (The quote was taken from Anthony de Mello’s Awarenessa wonderful little book I brought with me to the desert.)

The events related in Browder’s book also was an in-my-face reminder that the gurus are right: humans — all humans — act in their perceived self-interest, either all or almost all of the time, whether or not we are aware of it. Even when we’re engaged in acts of charity. Or justice. Possibly (although I’m not sure), we are capable of acting without regard to self-interest when pure love takes over. Not the kind of love that expects something in return; rather, the kind of love that has no expectations or conditions of any kind and is satisfying no psychological need. (I’m assuming — perhaps even believing and hoping — such a love exists.)

Our cruel and selfish ways as humans often trouble me. You’d think by now I would have done a better job of coming to terms with all of this. You’d think I would have become more aware and accepting of reality given all the time I’ve spent awake, and would not cling to the illusion that such behavior (as well as less lethal action) is an exception to the norm. But I’m learning that consciousness should never be equated with awakeness.

An understand of reality — the way things truly are as opposed to the way we see and interpret them — is blocked by many human constructs, ideas, and false beliefs, some of which may, at heart, be defense mechanisms, while others, upon close examination, are nothing more than blatant, manipulative stories designed to subjugate and pacify. Hence, I find I need to unlearn much of what’s been crammed down my throat since birth.

It’s time to deprogram. Deconstruct. Expose the illusions. Identify the false beliefs as well as the obstructions. Become more aware. Of reality. I was motivated to come to the desert, in part, by an awareness that deprogramming takes some concentrated effort.

Why do any of this?

So that I won’t be perpetually disappointed. So my illusions will not keep clashing with reality. So I won’t be held hostage by my thoughts.

Most importantly, so I may be free. So I can be content to be nobody. So I can stop expecting to find a meaning that does not exist. So I can be more aware of and contented with reality.

In the desert.

Why I Write

A good friend once asked me why I write these blog posts. My answer was, “Because I like to write.” It was a quick and easy way of responding. And true, too. I didn’t claim to be writing because I had some special knowledge or wisdom to impart. I don’t. And I didn’t claim to be writing because I hope to change anyone’s mind about anything. I don’t. Yet I suppose my response was incomplete. Reading these words by Jason Zweig, one of my favorite columnists, helped me to understand that:

You can’t write anything if you don’t feel something.  You have to want to tell people what you feel, what you care about, what you believe, what you know; if you don’t have something you’re on fire to tell us about, you shouldn’t be writing.

Continue reading

Desert Time

One of my resolutions for 2018 was to take a solo silent retreat. I’m a bit late, but better late than never. This morning I left for the desert. For a week. Alone. Off the grid. No work, conference calls, client contacts, appointments, emails, internet, television, newspapers, blogs, Twitter, phone calls, or stock trades. No intentional or voluntary distractions. None.

I’ve never done this. It’s appealing theoretically; however, I really have no idea what it will be like in reality. It could turn out to be a really bad idea. I hope not.

I have no goals for the week. It was tempting (I seem to need goals, which is part of the problem), but I thought better of it. I decided it would be best to relinquish control and leave my goals and expectations behind. And to focus on mindfulness, meditation, and reflection. With no distractions or preconceptions.

I suppose this trip to the desert is part of my quest for greater awareness and acceptance of reality, freedom, unshakable contentment, and unconditional happiness.

Put differently, I want to be as well as possible. For that to happen, I believe I need to break the spell of being distracted by mindless, uncontrollable thoughts, senseless concerns and worries, and false perspectives. In short, I seek greater freedom and deeper contentment. In order to flourish.

What freedom do I desire? To be free from expectations. Demands. Biases. Prejudices. Judgments. Falsehoods. Illusions. Delusions. Disappointments. Worry. Frustration. Desires. Guilt. Despair. Projections. Labels. Attachments. Insecurities. Fear. Uncontrollable thoughts. Boredom. Rumination. Resentments. Insomnia. Compulsive eating. Stress. Dark thoughts. And suffering.

I’ve come to understand that, for that to happen, I have much to unlearn and many insights to gain into how and why I think and feel the way I do. I need to become more aware and see reality more clearly. And not be a slave to my mind.

“Time spent undistracted and alone, in self-examination, journaling, meditation, resolves the unresolved and takes us from mentally fat to fit,” according to Naval Ravikant.

Stillness is the word that comes to mind. Not doing. Just being.

Will a week alone in the desert help?

I guess I’ll find out.

This Is Reality

Steve Schmidt was a Republican; in fact, he worked hard to get many of them elected. Yesterday he reflected on the pipe bomber who targeted certain high-profile Americans, including former presidents. Here is what Steve had to say (via Twitter), which is worth everyone’s time to read. Why? Because it’s a good reminder of the reality that is, yet the one so many people deny. And it’s a good reminder that there is evil in the world. And of the challenge facing good and compassionate people. To help change our reality. To make the world a better place. Continue reading

Do You Live in a Bubble?

Follow this NYT link to a very cool map that will tell you how your precinct voted in the last election.

I was surprised to learn I live in a blue precinct, albeit not by much and, moreover, one that is surrounded by red. But at least it’s an improvement over the political inclinations of the last place we lived (Loveland, Colorado).

I see that the places where I spent most of my childhood years (south-central Pennsylvania) are solidly red (not surprisingly). I further note that many of my high school friends never returned to the area after college. Migration plays a big role in creating political bubbles.

Tribalism seems to be part of the human condition. There’s no way around it. But when it leads to closed minds, we all suffer. Which is why I’d rather not live in a provincial area (although I have, the worst being a short stint in Virginia).

Even more important than that, however, is to remind myself frequently of how little I actually know. And of the difference between narrative and reality.

In times such as these, narratives play an outsized role, and people are only thinly tethered to reality.