Timey Wimey

Time is weird. According to the counter I set up on my website, I’ve been meditating for 3,544 consecutive days. As of October 4th, 2016 I had been meditating for 1460 consecutive days by the count on the app I use as a timer during my meditations. Thanks to a long, and very fun, road trip (where we made record time) I had to wait until after midnight to meditate, so the tracker said I skipped a day. That happened again on November 29th, 2016. So now it says I am down to 86 days in a row. When I first started meditating, I took a vow to do 1,000 days. When I crossed that line a dear friend said, “Pshhh! Tell me when you get to 3,500 if you want me to be impressed.”

In the paradigm I was raised, I was taught to think of time in a clockwork, tick-tock fashion. Scenarios like the one above (and not a few experiences with heroic doses of psychedelics) have taught me to think of time in another way.

In his book “The Power of Now”, Eckhart Tolle drives home the old spiritual insight that there is only now. The past cannot be found. It can only be remembered now. The future cannot be seen. It can only be anticipated now. In his book “How long is now?”, Tim Freke examines the idea of this eternal thing that now seems to be.

Looking at the now through the eyes of the old, Copernican paradigm I was raised in, when I examine the now it seems to shrink to an impossibly thin membrane of existence. Once I think of an instant as now, that instant is in the past already. Getting a grip on the now in that scenario seems impossible.

However, we have all had experiences that call that idea of now into question. Our experience of time is not consistent. Some nows pass by without us even noticing. Some nows seem to stretch out over an impossibly long duration. Not all nows are equal. When I was within my 1,000 day vow of meditation, day 1,000 always seemed far off in the distance. Looking back now the whole of the vow feels like it passed in the blink of any eye.

I have begun to think in time, not as a sequence of seconds, but rather as a dance of moments. A moment is a loose boundary of time. A moment stretches to encompass the completeness of a given scene of our lives. When we stop for a moment to catch our bearings and take a long calming breath, that is a moment. When we sit with dear friends and share a long, sumptuous meal, that is a moment.

These moments sometimes overlap, and can sometimes contain each other. They can even have different subjective experiences of duration. Rushing into the house after work to quickly change clothes to hit dinner and a show can seem like a cramped moment that goes by in the blink of an eye, but within that moment you can catch a glance of your beloved as they go about a preparation in a frantic way that is so very them that your breath gets sucked away in a split second that seems to stretch out endlessly as you are reminded of how much you love them. Then, just as suddenly you are back to scrambling to get the right shoes on. Each moment has its own characteristics, and they do not necessarily share those with the moments they overlap. I think this is part of the inherent richness of life. It can also be a source of its bitterness. The moment of mourning after the passing of a loved one can become unbearably long, and it can overshadow any other moments it contains.

Using this as a model for time allows for a richer appreciation of the nuance and emotional richness of a day than the model that sees time as a series of equal and distinct instants that proceed in a regular and mechanical manner. A given moment has a particular feel, where a given instant of equal length is just the ticking of a clock hand.

Living with moments that define their own borders, life becomes a nested and overlapping set of encounters, each enriching all the others. That adds a spice to life that I can appreciate. I think you might too.

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Emotional Impact Can Cut Off Options

I have had an epiphany. It concerns a bad decision I didn’t even know I was making. The reason I made this bad decision was because someone else made a decision. Namely, Amazon.com.

A couple of years ago I started making coloring books for grown-ups. It was a lot of fun. I wanted to get into the market in the easiest way, so I did what I saw several other authors do, I put the books up initially as Kindle eBooks with download links for PDF files so people could print the images to color at their leisure. Things went great for a couple of months, I got a good mix of reviews, mostly positive, and got several messages from fans who appreciated my work. Good times. I then created a couple of print-on-demand versions using Amazon’s PoD arm, CreateSpace.

Then Amazon made a policy change for their Kindle product. They launched an interactive platform within the Kindle application and started dumping titles that were interactive from their Kindle library. The adult coloring book market was hit hard. My books were blocked, one after the other, and all my good reviews vanished. I tried to comply by removing the links from the ebooks, and instead framing them as preview offerings, but that was a no go. Amazon informed me that coloring books were inherently interactive (even if you can’t actually interact with the images) and my books were not reinstated. That left me with one review on my PoD version, and it was one star from a person who didn’t care for my work. (Amusingly enough the specific image he mentioned in his review as being boring is one that other people have told me is the most frightening piece in the book. So it goes.)

I took this turn of events pretty hard and basically gave up on the idea of coloring books. That was a huge mistake. I realized what a huge mistake it was when I happened to check my CreateSpace account the other day. I had earned some royalties while I hadn’t been looking. (They were sent to an old address, but a quick email to the CreateSpace customer service department and some edits to my payment details got things sorted. The check was canceled, and the royalties were deposited directly into my bank.) While I wasn’t looking I had sold a few dozen copies online, without any support on my end. I recalled my encounter with someone at the one location that carries my books on their shelf, and how he insisted on shaking my hand to thank me for the hours he, and his partner, had spent with my images. I remembered the positive reviews, now hidden. I saw that I had made a very bad decision unconsciously, and it was time to reverse it.

I had failed to remember one of the single most important distinctions for creative people in the Internet age. Options. Since what I produce is mine to do with as I will, there are always options. Kindle isn’t the only eBook vendor out there, and besides there are plenty of other ways to get my images out to the public.

So, stay tuned for some more Color Your Nightmares books, folks! Be on the lookout for a Patreon effort as well. I have plans roiling in my head again, and the hours I spent today gathering images to work with reminded me of how much I enjoy this process.

Watch for what your brain decides while you’re not paying attention. It doesn’t always serve your best interests.

Grok: A Lever Against Robotic Thinking

“Grok” is a great word, that I don’t think gets enough usage. I like it for a great many reasons, not the least of which is that my good friend John Sherman, the man who said the words that ‘clicked’ for me and ended my spiritual search, uses it in his talks.

Grok came to us first from the Robert A. Heinlein novel, “Stranger in a Strange Land.” In that book, the term is defined thus: “Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.”

In modern, common use, it has come to mean something like: “We connect in understanding beyond the level of common-sense knowledge and exchange of language signals.” It means to pass understanding in a direct way. Something like the “mind-to-mind transmission of the dharma” in Zen Buddhism. Webster’s dictionary defines the term this way: “to understand profoundly and intuitively”.

I think the word fits for us because we have all had this experience at one time or another. A moment where meaning crystallizes within our being as a sudden grasp of what is now obvious. I had one of these moments when learning how arrays work in the computer programming language Basic. No matter how many times it was explained, how my teachers put it, how many examples of code I perused, I just couldn’t get it. I could make it work, and make my programs utilize this important functionality, but it made no intuitive sense. Then one day, one of my teachers used the metaphor of a dresser with a set of drawers. The whole thing gelled in my mind. I grokked arrays. They made total sense from that day forward, and I have never gotten confused around their basic structure, nor the many types of databases that depend on this concept. This grokked concept has served me quite well in my professional career.

For this type of use alone, I think the word grok is quite handy.

Another useful thing about the word is it reminds us of the limitations of our language. During normal education, it’s easy to become entrenched in the idea that language captures reality. That what can be said is real. It’s easy to loose site of the fact that language is always, and merely, an abstraction. Language only ever represents, it is not the thing spoken. As Korzybski famously said, “The map is not the territory.” Or, as Alan Watt said more wistfully, “The menu is not the meal.” A lot of work has been done in the quest for a perfect language. Ludwig Wittgenstein showed why this is impossible. In a nutshell, a perfect language would be one where communication was never flawed. There could never be any double-meanings. Every separate thing, including each and every 2007 Ford Taurus SE ever produced would have to have a separate word to designate it so that no two cars could ever be confused. Such a language would be many orders of magnitude more complex than reality itself, and no brain would be able to contain it. Whenever we use language, we must admit to a certain degree of approximation. This is especially so in English, which is, after all, not so much a language as it is an alleyway mugging of four other languages. In English it is possible to spell “fish” as “ghoti”, “gh-” as in “tough”, “o-” as in “women”, and “ti-” as in “nation.” “Ghoti” = fish. Then there are all the words that have more than one meaning, such as “chair”, “stand”, “pen”, etc. In such a language, it is good to keep reminders ready to hand that language is just a rough tool for getting across meaning.

Another great thing about the word “grok” is the type of connection it points to. The term indicates the most successful occasions of an attempt at communication. It points at those moments when two people are in exact mutual understanding, simpatico, and shared viewpoint. As social creatures, we yearn for these moments where we can say we are on the same page. When that happens, we can trust our capacity to work together and to thrive. It’s a beautiful thing.

Lastly, there is a mystery to the word “grok.” It contains a hinted at meaning that is not available in any human language. In this way, it forever holds a space we can go to beyond the limitations of all of our language. It shows us what we can strive for, beyond what we have been to date.

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