Hypnosis Works

When I interviewed at the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, I felt like I had come home. After years of having my compassion treated as a threat by abusive managers, it was welcomed as an asset to be celebrated.

The program is a significant investment. Everybody thinks that as a software developer I should be rich, but after a tumultuous divorce, several brief stints of unemployment, and nearly $30,000 spent producing and marketing my message of healing, the $10,000 tuition was nearly a third of my net worth.

So while I enjoyed the first month of classes, I was still nervous about whether this was finally going to give me the avenue that I was seeking.

I am drawn frequently into healing experiences, most often on the floor when I am dancing. Those environments also produce hostility though, most often from men whose sexual aggression is rejected by women that are relieved to find their prayers for kindness answered in my presence.

As I explained it to HMI’s education director, I was seeking a modality that would allow me to bring people into that space of healing in a controlled fashion. He understood, affirming that “hypnosis is a framework on which you can build many kinds of practice.”

I found confirmation this Saturday under surprising circumstances.

I went in to get a hair cut before yoga, and found myself stranded on the bench at Supercuts as stylist after stylist took a break. I was called to the chair by a younger woman, dressed severely, her long, dark mop of hair punctuated by a blue splash over the right eye.

After she had gotten started, she asked what I had done with the beginning of my day. I related that I had been working on hypnotherapy classes. She followed up with “What’s that all about?”

While we were given scripted responses in the first series of classes, they weren’t possible in the context (sitting shrouded in a sheet). So I began to ad-lib, stating that hypnosis enabled the client to access the full capabilities of their mind when trying to modify behaviors.

She broke in “But what if someone doesn’t want to confront the past?”

“Well, they don’t have to; you can choose to move forward. Hypnosis establishes a state of relaxation and clarity that allows you to remember what it is like to feel well and in control. When you go back to life, you can then clearly perceive what is pleasant and unpleasant, no longer obscured by the anxieties and stress of your habitual life.”

She was skeptical, and concluded the conversation with a dismissive comment.

But as she continued her craft, trimming the right side of my head, I had this sudden thought “She’s really open to me right now.” Extending my focus toward her heart, I took it gently and poured love into it.

She didn’t react. But ten minutes later, she pulled out the steamed towel and began to clean the nape of my neck with a gratitude that penetrated deeply into the skin. After thanking her, I walked toward the register and one of her elder peers called out, “Thank you!”

And I realized that just knowledge of the theory of hypnosis had brought me the means I was looking for, even before mastery of the techniques of therapeutic practice.

I’m on the right path.

Christian Tax Policy

Here’s the prescription:

  1. Progressive corporate tax to punish monopolies and foster small business formation.
  2. Value-added tax to soften the transition to automation of work.

What follows motivates the prescription.

As a Christian, it is hard for me to focus on money. It’s not that I don’t understand economic and financial theory, it’s just that money isn’t important to the ends that I pursue. I seek, through this blog and other work, to heal the confusion that poisons our relationship with the Most High. That’s a difficult problem, demanding the fullest commitment of my energies.

As I told my sons in their formative years: “Money is a way of storing power. For those that commit all of their power to solving difficult problems, there is nothing left to store.”

Jesus warned us that “You cannot serve two masters…No man can love both God and money.” Therefore, in seeking to transform our relationship with the Most High, we do need to understand money, because it is a principle source of resistance to the rule of love. People that desire money desire it because the are selfish, and as I have explained out at Love Returns, selfishness is the opposite of love.

We have two looming disasters in our economy. The first is the destruction of the middle class by the richest members of our society, people such as Rupert Murdock and Peter Thiel that have no compunction about using their wealth to fund propaganda machines that demonize government. The second is the loss of blue-collar jobs, accessible to those with high-school diplomas, to automation.

The exploitation of resources has always been a foundational principle of American politics. Elected our first president, George Washington complained that he spent all of his time as a promoter of business opportunities in the nation’s undeveloped lands. That practice is enshrined in most of our state constitutions, where the first priority in land use policy is economic. At the federal level, conservation policy has limited the most brutal forms of resource exploitation.

Contract law provides a legal framework for exploitation of the last great resource: human potential. In the “Land of the Free,” the ability to enter into economic contracts is one of our most honored acts, though paradoxically it places us under the heavy hand of law enforcement when we have disputes. It is this that is decried in Revelation 13:18:

so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark – the name of the beast or the number of its name.

Murdock, Thiel, and their ilk know that they have attained wealth only through exploitation of investments made by others – investments accrued over millions of man years of public education and government-funded research, and trillions of dollars of infrastructure investment. Their attempts to limit their obligation to “pay it forward” are driven by greed.

Not being limited any longer by prudence or compassion, this class seeks economic dominance in their various industries. Concentration of industrial power is visible in all industries. It was decried as monopoly in the late 1800’s, and defense against it was established through the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act and the Federal Trade Commission. Those tools have become blunted in the last twenty years because trade has become multinational. Facebook and Google, the information service monopolies of our era, are not disciplined because they are American monopolists. The European Commission sees them as adversaries, of course, and Google, for one, is facing some large fines for monopoly conduct. But it’s not limited to high-tech: concentration is growing in telecommunications and financial services.

Fortunately, monopoly has one clear indicator: huge profits. In the personal tax code, we recognize that those making the most money also benefit most from public services, and tax them accordingly. We should do the same in corporate taxation. While large corporations use their market position to reap huge profits, it is small businesses that generate new opportunities and new jobs. We should reward them for their efforts. We need a progressive corporate tax code.

The middle class is not only being squeezed by monopoly pricing, it is being gutted by automation. Jobs are disappearing, and fast. On the immediate horizon is the loss of almost two million blue-collar jobs as shipping moves to self-driving trucks. But we see this throughout America: even as wages rise overseas, making local production competitive again, the factories that we are building use a fraction of the employees needed by their predecessors. All the material manipulation and most of the assembly is done by machines.

The factor that drives this investment is payroll reduction. A robot is a fixed-cost investment, does not ask for higher wages, and is subsidized by capital equipment tax write-offs. They are also far more precise in their work, yielding higher-quality goods that are preferred by consumers.

The replacement of taxed payroll expenses with tax-free capital equipment investment also hobbles government by restricting tax revenues. Clearly, our workforce needs new skills. Our youth are provided those skills for free by pubic education, but those skills no longer guarantee lifetime employment. People need to learn throughout their lives.

Employers, of course, don’t want to pay for that investment, because it creates opportunities for their best people to take positions elsewhere. So – as predicted by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations – the tendency of corporations is to exploit workers until they can be replaced by machinery, and then to cast them aside.

Smith defined the theory of capitalism, and his prescription was simple: governments must tax businesses to provide workers opportunities to retrain when they are replaced by equipment. Governments starved of tax revenues by automation can’t provide that service, which means that America’s human capital is now going to waste.

The solution comes to us from policy-makers confronting outsourcing of jobs: in Europe, companies were caught out selling products “Made in England” that were assembled from parts produced overseas in low-wage markets. To limit that incentive, a “value-added tax” was created. VAT charges a tax on companies reflecting the increase in their wealth as materials move through a system to create a finished product.

While this didn’t prevent jobs from going overseas, it did ensure that government revenues were maintained to support retraining and job placement services. If applied to goods shipped into our lucrative consumer market, it is also a reasonable way to limit the social costs of overseas production by countries that choose to exploit both labor and the environment. If a car made in South Korea for $2000 and sold in South Korea for $6000 enters the American market to be sold for $20,000, well the South Korean manufacturer should pay a VAT when that product is unloaded at Los Angeles.

Christmas Teaching, 2017

In the years from 2006, I made every effort to be down at the LA Cathedral for Christmas Midnight Mass and Easter morning services. Having given my heart to Jesus “for healing” back in 2002, on first encounter I was pretty direct upon approaching the crucifix set behind the altar. Looking into the serene visage, I gestured to the twisted limbs and observed, “It’s time to clean all of this up.”

My interaction with the brotherhood has been complex, and sometimes contentious. So when I moved another twenty miles up the freeway into Ventura, it was with some relief that I decided to spend Christmas down at the local parish, rather than making the trip to Los Angeles.

Though my mother asked pointedly whether I intended to go.

I also passed on Easter.

For some reason, I feel a greater receptivity now. I’ve had a number of dreams about Christmas Eve down at the Cathedral, including sharing words with the community. I began this writing before Thanksgiving, but became mired in theological resistance.

I sent out the message that love won’t manifest against resistance. It must be welcomed. A breakthrough of sorts happened last weekend, and I felt the resistance melt away. The words come forth easily.

I was down at the Ventura Government Center for jury duty, and worried through the last of the wording this morning. I do tend to become a little abstract. I hope that it conveys the meaning.

We are so very close. I do my best to mark the way.

The Age Upon Us

Hello, dear friends.

May all the blessings of this day be upon you.

Summoned by the cry of broken hearts, I first came here fifteen years ago. Thus it was to the sweet virgin, witness to the suffering of her people, praying that the Father might bring forth a savior from among her sisters. After Gabri-el revealed her role, the jewel of feminine compassion said simply, “Here am I.”

So I say now: “Here am I.”

That is all the introduction I have for you. The rest is not important, for the gifts of this day descend from a greater source.

In Genesis, when God arrives, the earth is declaimed as “formless and void.” That is to say: nothing found there had any purpose, nor any soul. The molten lava flowed and cooled. Rock ground against itself, creating nothing. Water washed against the rock, forming beds of clay, but no life sprang forth.

The Love that is God seeks to make relationships marvelous, and the Bible records His gifts. The first were simple: light, ground and rain.

Of these gifts God sought to raise creatures that loved as He did. Three billion years later, He crouched on the ground, remembering, and bestowed upon Adam the ability to love. Having compassion on Adam’s loneliness, God found a companion, and Eve was given Adam’s heart to tend, and bore witness to Adam’s virtue.

I remind you of these things to clarify the gifts of this day. Jesus lived forty years on this Earth. He walked among us, and we remember this day because he died to give proof to the undying power of love. But we should set that forty years against the three billion that preceded it. If we are amazed at what Jesus accomplished in forty years, how can we describe the tenderness, strength, and determination of the Father? Can we even begin to grasp it?

Three billion years. As it is said: “I am less than a worm.”

But the Father finds joy in us. Look around you. See the rock, polished and cast. We give form and purpose to it. Our gratitude secures a sanctuary for the burdened. Our souls expand, filling the world with the love we receive.

That is to say – as he is love – that we fill the world with God.

That is the specific gift of this day. Love descended to us. Secure in Mary’s incorruptible womb, love joined flesh, and walked among us.

This sounds simple, but is not easy to understand. What did it mean for Christ to descend from heaven? Why did he need to come in the flesh? Why did he need to suffer and die on the cross?

We come together tonight not only to honor Mary and Jesus, but because on this night the Most High comes closer to us. We see beauty, we hear it in voices and instruments, we see it in the faces of those we love. This beauty washes against our troubles and strife, and if we raise our faces and hearts in gratitude, we feel the Most High fill our cup to the brim.

There are those among you that know this to be true. You are near to the saints.

But is it for you that Jesus came?

Why would that glorious spirit, replete in the presence of his Father’s love, descend for the saintly? Would they not be served better if he stayed to prepare a place for them?

Let me remind you: there are those among us that dare not raise their hearts. They are like Peter on the boat after the fish rush to fill the nets, fallen to his knees, pleading “Go away from me, master, for I am a sinner!”

How many of us have felt that shame? Feared that God would turn away from us?

“Oh, you of little faith!” was the rebuke from Jesus. That was to say “Believe in yourself! Believe that you are beloved by the Most High! Believe that you should share the joy of my service to Him!”

St. Theresa of Avila wrote:

O Lord of my soul and my Good! There are souls so determined to love you that they gladly abandon everything to focus on nothing but loving you. Why don’t you want them to immediately ascend to a place where they may receive the joyful gift of perfect love?

The answer being: because God needs us here to fill the world with love.

Not only on Calvary. Not only on Christmas Day. Not only in this church. But everywhere, every day.

In this Age, Jesus commanded that we “pick up our cross.” But that is not the goal of love. Let us talk of the New Age: A day will come without suffering, without fear, without grief. It is the day from which the power of the love that surrounds us will chase those experiences from our lives.

In that future we will find, like the five thousand, that when we gather what little we have, it is multiplied until it is more than enough. Illness will fade when our sister gazes upon us with compassion. Conflict will flee when our brother prays that our ambition be tempered by good will.

Can we glimpse that day? Here? Now?

Let us try!

Oh, you saints, remember the grace of those two: the woman and the child that were touched by heaven, yet chose to serve us. Take the hands of those you love, and lift your hearts to the Most High. Feel his gaze upon you. Feel the tenderness, the patience, the strength. Behind it the unending ocean of his love. Allow that love to fill your heart.

Thus was the Sacred Mother. Thus was the Lamb.

Rest there, you saints, for now I must address others.

Oh, you weary and burdened. You that bear witness to the sorrows of the world. You are not forgotten.

They descended to serve you. Mary and Jesus: they became flesh so that they might feel your anguish, and bear witness to the sin that oppresses you. It is you that matter, you weary and burdened, for you test the submission of the saints to the love of the Most High.

Lean your sorrows upon me, oh you weary and burdened.

Here am I.

Oh, you saints, do you feel them among you? This is the purpose for your hearts: that as did Jesus, you might share your love. Open your hearts and minds now, and robe the weary and burdened in your grace. See in your hearts that they will find, in the coming year, all that they need, because those that have means to comfort them will receive something in exchange: the certitude of the New Age prophesied by Jesus. Not as a distant promise glimpsed from 2000 years ago, but as a palpable nearness in the heart.

That will be an age when the rich will not hoard their wealth, because they will have the security of fast friendship. It will be an age in which no one asks “What’s in it for me?” because they know that in sharing what they have, their hearts expand to receive ever more of the limitless power of the Most High.

Do you not feel it, oh you saints? Is there not still more? Let it pour out from you into the world! Through the streets, into the dark corners. Across rivers, plains and oceans. Into every heart that craves the hope birthed on this day.

Jesus was not born into comfort. Mary did not labor in a feather bed. This is the gift of this day: they brought love to the world so that we might know that all the world is sacred, that we were meant to be sacred, and that the Most High is determined that all should be redeemed.

Mold with the redwoods. Worms with the eagles. Shepherds with kings. And those oppressed by sin with the saints.

Oh my friends! Let us be worthy of our brother! Let us worship with every breath, with every touch. Let us worship in the temple of the Most High. Let us worship in the temple of our hearts.

Merry Christmas! And blessings be upon you all!

By Grief to Heal

At a Good Friday service, a minister once advised:

There are some sorrows too great for the body to bear, and for this reason we have rituals.

If this is true, then perhaps also the converse is true. To confront our deepest wounds, we strip away all semblance of ritual, and connect to our experience through the simplest practice.

For the final workshop of my Soul Play Fall Fest, I participated in Clarity Breathwork with Ashanna Solaris. The thirty attendees almost filled the space. After a brief explanation of the practice, Ashanna passed a crystal around the room, asking each of us to share our name and a few words that described the goal we hoped to achieve. Seated just to her right, I received the stone last. Held in my left hand, the crystal was infused with the energy cupped in my right as I slowly intoned:

Empowered feminine partnership.

But the Father asserted himself.

We were organized in two rows, heads toward the center with a footpath to allow Ashanna and her assistant to reach easily those overwhelmed by powerful emotion. I positioned myself next to the wall, actually a short space from the others.

The practice was simple: a slow rhythmic breathing, described by Ashanna as “feminine.” The inhale was heard as “ah” and the exhale as “oh.” No pauses between – we were to create a deep, steady cycling of energy.

Whether fighting food coma or afternoon lethargy, for the first twenty minutes I had trouble staying awake, much less maintaining the rhythm. Eyes closed, four times or five I heard a female voice in my ear encourage me to “Keep breathing.” Finally I got the knack of it, enjoying a steady cycle that built energy between my hips and solar plexus.

The voice was not satisfied. “Breathe into your heart. Let it rise into your chest.” Allowing my ribs to expand with the inhale, my back arced away from the carpet as my breastbone lifted upwards, falling with the exhale. The blocked energy washed upwards. Running from shoulder to shoulder, an intense band traced my head.

Sorrow awoke in my heart and built through five or so repetitions, and I was there again. My breath caught on the grief of the experience, losing its rhythm. The voice again ordered “Keep breathing.” I went deeper, and then crumbled in psychic agony. Wracked by sobs that broke into moans, the inhale became a brief gasp. I struggled for a minute, the blood-streaked visage filling my mind’s eye, until the voice commanded, “Breathe, breathe.” Slowly the inhale became longer, the exhale less explosive.

I was astonished by the serenity of the face above the broken body. My forearms just below the wrists began to glow with energy. He suffered, but when the animal reactions asserted themselves, he projected them away. That urge to scream, to struggle against the pins that held the limbs against the wood, to flee the pain of metal grinding against bone, these were suppressed and projected forward, finding their way through two thousand years to me.

I screamed, a long, impossibly slow articulation of agony that stretched out for twenty seconds. As the sound echoed in the room, my amazed intellect observed that the lungs were not deflating. Hands took my head and the voice, less assured, again commanded “Breathe!” I did, but the rhythm was marked by short, choked sobs.

I broke again, long waves rolling through me, hips and shoulders seeking freedom from the floor made intimate by the discipline of the practice. A last paroxysm brought my head against the carpet hard enough to thump against the concrete floor. Intellect stilled me with alarm.

And then the serenity transfixed me. I lost bodily awareness, floating in a space of sacred regard. The twelve elders stood guard around me, finding focus in the twelve apostles. My sacred lady turned her tender gaze upon me. Returning to earth, the glow in my forearms brightened and lengthened, and filled my feet. He thought “Father, I offer these wounds to you.” Pulled skywards, my arms and legs left the floor. Tears came, punctuating the impossible serenity and the compassion that sustained it.

The voices around me broke through, others sobbing in grief. I realized that I had triggered this. I came instantly to alertness, again in the room. Rising up on one side, I caught Ashanna’s eye as she ministered to a woman near me, and breathed the question, “Do you want me to help?”

“Whenever you are able.”

I gathered my legs under me, stretched my palms into the heavens, and washed the room with love.

The woman next to me was the most distressed. I won’t describe in detail. Ashanna’s assistant and I spent several minutes with her. Others needed attention, and left alone I advised. “Feel the love in the room. Breath it into your lungs. Now let it flow into your blood, and gather in your heart. Now let it flow from your heart to the rest of your body.” She steadied, and I offered simple praise. “Good job.”

She gasped “You too. Good job.” Then she turned away to her man. Gathered in his sturdy embrace, she immediately steadied.

Ten minutes later, as I delayed waiting for the others to depart so that I could check in with Ashanna, my coparticipant caught my attention. “Thank you. I never would have done it otherwise. You went for it, and I decided to do the same. You filled the room with this incredible energy, and I just went along.”

I’ve been there before, triggered by the passing of the elements or the words of a song. Eyes filled with awe, people huddled together in groups, glancing over shoulders turned against me.

So this was the greatest gift of the weekend: to be told that in that suffering the seeds of healing could be found. That is why it was done. That was its purpose. It is the only way to make meaning of it.

Slippery Slope

I’ve been home with a prostate infection, of all things, and so managed to get through all except the last two chapters of Judith Simmer-Brown’s Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. It’s been a difficult but enlightening read. I have some concerns with the methods of the path as she describes it.

First, though, the positive: Tibetan Buddhism has a deep model of the manifestation of sacred principles in the world. Simmer-Brown traces that through secret, inner, outer, and outer-outer manifestations.

I related the essence of the secret dakini in my last post. Prajnaparamita manifests as space, wisdom and knowledge. As she builds the lore, Simmer-Brown explains that possession of these qualities makes the feminine principle dominant in Tibetan Buddhism, for skillful means (the use of compassion to transform experience) is both inspired by and guided by them. The secret dakini can be neither visualized nor understood, only known.

The inner dakini manifests as the deity Vajrayogini. Vajrayogini confronts the practitioner with the fear of death, and transforms it into acceptance and freedom. As a deity in Tibetan Buddhism, Vajrayogini is depicted in mandalas that define her relationship with the world. The most important elements in her depiction are the instruments of the charnel ground: skulls, flames and sharp implements. The logic of this depiction reflects the hazards of the sacred knowledge known to Tibetan practitioners. To advance, an acolyte must find a living guru that channels the sacred experience into the world, a yidam (devotional deity) to meditate upon, and a protector of the teachings that guides or violently transforms the personality to prevent corruption by residual grasping of the self.

The outer dakini mediates the transformation of the subtle energy system, similar to the system of prana or acupuncture. In Tibetan lore, all of our bodily functions are manifestations of energy flow through these channels. The central channel flows along the spine, but has two side channels that focus masculine and feminine tendencies. The goal of the practitioner is to merge the side channels into the central. In this process, the practitioner must cultivate relationships with twenty-four dakinis that originate the energies of the subtle body system. In a sense, the practitioner becomes a living mandala, and calls these energies into the world to create and transform experience.

The outer-outer dakini is the dakini in human form. In this section, Simmer-Brown celebrates the female figures in history that contributed to development of Tibetan wisdom. Here is where tantric sex comes to the fore, as well as validation of authority through esoteric action (magic). Both are cast in a positive light. Tantric sex is a method for mutual inspection and transmission of traits that facilitates personal growth. Magic is described as the means by which the physical infrastructure of the tradition is protected, including the bodies of practitioners meditating without food or shelter.

Through this summary, I hope that I reveal my respect for this tradition, whose richness and depth reflects a careful construction of interlocking elements that ensure the outcome of practice is compassionate engagement with all living beings.

However, I perceive certain issues.

First and most important is the conflation of space and mind. Mind existed long before this reality came into being, and is the realm of pure spirit to which we will return. Space exists in this realm only as a means to protect compassionate personalities from experiences more intense than they can mediate. To serve in this way, space was designed to capture and localize mind. Where that occurs, we find matter. This is the truth that Tibetan wisdom shares as the secret and outer dakinis.

Secondly we have the sense of privilege accorded to advanced practitioners. This manifests itself in the characterization of them as heroes rather than servants (the term used in Christianity) of humanity. The thanotic imagery of the inner dakini is particularly troubling. Death maintains the disintegration of spirit, something obvious in the description of the outer dakini. It’s adoption as a protector of privileged knowledge seems a dangerous compromise.

Personal privilege also seems evident in the rather sterile rendering of the relationship between tantric consorts. The gurus celebrate commitment, but not monogamy, each relationship broken off when the mutual benefits are exhausted.

This flies in the face of the most serious problem with the tradition. Simmer-Brown recounts that the assignment of a yidam (devotional deity) is driven by the tensions that exist in our lives. Meditation on the yidam resolves obstructions in the subtle energy system that manifest as perceptible heat in the body. Simmer-Brown refers to this in the title (warm breath), but never stops to wonder what tension is attendant to that heat.

Simmer-Brown gnaws at the bone of the problem throughout the book, defending Tibetan Buddhism against charges of patriarchy while postulating that its dominant spiritual forms arose from a prehistoric matriarchy. She decries the traps of feminine physicality that bring life into the world, seeing them as simultaneously a personal and cultural impediment to spiritual advancement.

This error is the cause of the warmth felt by those that meditate on Parjnaparamita, the secret dakini.

From the Christian perspective, the answer to this dilemma is obvious: all things are joined in love. Coitus is not necessary to transmission of masculine and feminine virtues, only love. Relationships persist because the love between the couple expands to include the society, and their shared experience is essential to greater service to humanity. And the dangers of esoteric knowledge are lessened because love – the source of all creative power – is unknown to those that would abuse its energies.

In patterning the female path to enlightenment on the masculine path, Tibetan Buddhism does women a terrible disservice. These are precious gifts: the ability to bring life into the world, the determination to preserve it, and the social rewards for their devotion. Any proclaimed feminine spirituality should provide practices that strengthen those gifts, rather than sacrificing them on the altar of death.

Contrast that with the promise of Spirit and his Bride:

“Come! And let all that hear say: ‘Come!’ Let all who desire come and drink of the free gift of the water of life.”

Considering the  filters and constraints of Tibetan Buddhism, this confidence is marvelous!

The Zen of Jesus

Upon waking up to the reality that self-serving does not bring joy, the seeker after comfort tends to a superficial sampling of religious wisdom. The sophisticated teacher needs to avoid becoming involved in blame-shifting for the seeker’s miserable state. In the traditions of Abraham, that begins with a vow of submission, formulated in Christianity as “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” In Islam, it is stated as the Shahada:

There is no god but God alone; he has no partner with him; Muhammad is his prophet.

The dissatisfied acolyte is then made responsible for his own condition, in that all wisdom is found in direct relation with the godhead.

Lacking a divine center for its practice, Buddhism takes a different approach, epitomized by the Zen koan. A koan is a cryptic one-liner that organizes an inward meditative journey. The most notorious is:

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

The obvious answer is “nothing,” but that certainly doesn’t point the way to wisdom. The student still needs to grasp that the “hand” being referred to is themselves, and that in seeking after spiritual glory, they earn no lauds.

The story of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-22 shows Jesus ministering to the problematical seeker. The poor fellow grasps at eternal life as a guarantee that joy can be secured. Calling Jesus “Master,” he then asks what good he must perform to earn that grace.

Presciently, in Matthew 7:21, Jesus had pre-empted the Christian vow of submission:

Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father.

Consistent with this warning, Jesus immediately deflects the proffered authority:

Why do you ask me what is good? There is one alone who is good.

No man needing anything but faith to draw upon the strength and wisdom of the Father.

But the teaching does not end with the Zen master’s edict to seek inwardly. Jesus lists the six commandments of human relation: edicts against murder, adultery, theft, and lying; and encouragements to honor our parents and love our neighbors. The latter build intimacy with those closest to us; the former prevent those bonds from sundering. Through this practice, Jesus suggests that his protégé will “enter into life.” In avoiding the drama of struggle, adherence to the commandments allows to blossom those quiet moments in which we gain the subtle and sublime assurance of security in our knowledge of the compassion that embraces us.

We are no longer a hand trying to clap alone.

But the seeker is not just young; he suffers another handicap, one known in Islam as Allah’s greatest test of character. He is rich. Thus, while meaning well, others see him as a potential source of material security. They seek a bond with his money, not his heart. And so Jesus offers him this final advice: give your wealth to the poor and follow!

The young man departs saddened. We can only guess at the cause: was he responsible for managing money that ensured the well-being of the community, wealth that he could not trust others to manage responsibly? Was he simply unable to imagine survival without the perks of wealth: the daily bath, the satisfying meals? Or did he arrogantly perceive his wealth as a sign of divine approval, and so Jesus’ pronouncement as proof that hope had been invested with just another false prophet?

Whichever it may have been, we as readers should recognize the advice not as some generic one-size-fits-all formulation, but a direct response to the needs of this troubled young man. It is the mark of the greatness of his compassion that Jesus does this again and again throughout his ministry: offering just the words that the listener needs to hear to bring solace and healing, even to the point on the cross of:

Father: forgive them. They know not what they do. [Luke 23:34]

Jesus was not concerned with self-preservation – he was devoted to his ministry to the lost. Thus, while his teaching encapsulates the wisdom of the Zen and Christian teacher, it then surpasses it. None can doubt that he does the best that he can for them, although they might not be able to respond fully. Yes, it is this I believe that gives the young man sadness: his realization that salvation was offered him, and he was unable to grasp it. It foreshadows Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane:

The spirit is willing; but the flesh is weak. [Matt. 26:41]


My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. [NIV Matt. 26:38]

The Soul of Technology

My father, once holder of an open fascination with Darth Vader as the ultimate integration of man and machine, for many years sought to keep me focused on technology by disputing the validity of my spiritual experience. He’s mellowing in the last few months of his life, and we’ve had some great conversations. Sunday afternoon’s brought us around to Elon Musk’s ambition to terraform Mars. He asked my opinion of the idea, and I said that I felt a certain sympathy for Mr. Musk. I countered the claim that we needed an escape route from the mess that we were making of Earth. We’re going to have to solve our problems here, and when we do, the personality of Mr. Musk – from wherever it is at that point – is going to look back on this life and say “Wow. What a boondoggle that was! What a complete waste of my time!” He seems like a man with good intentions, and I’d just like for him to be able to look back and be proud of what he has accomplished.

When I was blogging out at Gaia, one of the most persistent voices in the “Question of the Day” group was a Kiwi nearing the end of his life. Every question produced a number of lengthy posts on the same topic: the necessity of investment in digital technologies that would allow us to monitor everything, and then to link the information to a master control system that would ensure the well-being of everyone on earth. When pressed, he claimed that this was important to him because if it didn’t happen really soon, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to live forever. I offered him the observation that he seemed to need God so deeply that he believe that mankind must create him.

The protagonist in both Ma and Golem is an alien named Corin Taphinal, come to Earth to try to protect life from destruction at humanity’s hands. He describes the situation this way:

The digital technology of [Earth’s] civilization had fascinated him. It was based upon the conversion of the most mystically inert substance in the universe – amorphous silicon – into precisely contaminated crystals. Its proponents spoke of blanketing the globe in digital sensors, constructing communications networks and data centers to aggregate the data, and the development of expert systems algorithms to assure the stability of human communities in the face of massive ecosystem disruption.

Why, in the name of all that was sacred, would anyone choose such methods? Over billions of years, the insinuation of Life into any planet’s surface established a far more sensitive and detailed sensory apparatus, supported by the most widely and freely distributed source of energy available, with representatives far better adapted to local conditions than people.

With this background, you might ask, “Why, Brian, do you work in technology?” Is it just to pay the bills?

I’ll protest my own rhetoric: that’s just going too far. Just because I don’t believe that technology is the ultimate solution to our problems doesn’t mean that I don’t find merit in its pursuit.

First, the world is an unstable place. I’m not just talking about natural disasters: for large parts of the year, seasonal variation makes life pretty tough for most animals. Technology stabilizes local conditions, allowing us to focus on developing our personalities. I appreciate that I don’t have to think full-time about weather, but can rely upon sensors and actuators controlled by computers to do it for me. That our solutions are making the challenge more difficult (global climate change) doesn’t mean that the technology isn’t valuable. The problem is that most of us, rather than developing our personalities, use our freedom from existential threat to indulge our procreative urges.

The solution to that is education. While knowledge is dangerous (life is incredibly vulnerable in engineering terms), I believe that understanding empowers us to make far better choices. We know that when the value of a woman’s mind has been affirmed through education they become pretty determined to limit the number of their children. The response of traditionalists has been to beat women down with fear. In that case, the best means of breaking down the rationale of political demagogues is disintermediation: bringing people together to demonstrate that the “enemy” is a lot like us. Communications technology addresses both of these problems, providing open access to knowledge in the privacy of the home and bridging the distance that separates us.

And finally – motivating my particular fascination with programming – software rescues philosophy from academic obscurity. The purpose of philosophy is to strengthen our ability to describe experience and thus to negotiate solutions. Through linkage to our financial and industrial infrastructure, software allows us almost instantly to express the solutions we negotiate. That is not just a one-off experience when (as in object-oriented design or COBOL) the software is defined using terms understood in the application domain. These act as sign-posts for the maintenance developer given the task of implementing new requirements.

I spoke, however, of rescuing philosophy, and I mean that. Software encodes philosophy, not as a book on a shelf, but as an agent for delivering solutions to the philosopher’s constituency. With the Affordable Health Care Act, software allowed us to implement social programs, assess their effectiveness, and adjust the rules to achieve better results. This is a demanding test of our philosophy, both as regards the degree in which they reflect the truth, and its value in organizing the use of our intelligence when conditions change.

As I have offered before (see The Trust Mind), I believe that eventually we will be freed from the material infrastructure we use to distribute power. However, as I see the long period from the Covenant of the Flood (in which humanity was authorized to create Law) to Jesus as an exercise in demonstrating the fallibility of fixed systems of rules, so I see this era (as articulated by Jeremy Rifkin in The Empathic Civilization) as a proving ground for our compassion. As technology accelerates the pace of change and resources become more and more scarce, only ideas of real merit will survive. Every thinking being will be confronted with the necessity of disciplining his thoughts.

While the demagogues continue to rant and rave on television, conditions are evolving under which every individual will find such blathering contradicted by direct personal experience. Then we will progress beyond the “birthing pains” mentioned by Jesus into the full flowering of the influence of Christ in our lives. When our ideas are angelic, they will be received and implemented by angels. Life will be vastly different then, and our digital infrastructure, with all its energetic excess, will largely fall away.

I see my work as intimately connected to the manifestation of that future. My work in motion control creates systems that relieve people of drudgery, thus liberating their energies for mindful and compassionate engagement with the world around them. My work in as a software developer builds discipline that is essential in organizing and propagating ideas that I believe are of merit. It’s not enough that those ideas are clever – they actually have to work.