Thursday, September 11, 2008

Richard Bach; Is There No Freedom?


Richard Bach is best known for writing Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Jonathan likes to fly, and events occur. It does get a bit mystical, but that's OK. I won't hold that against the book.

My favorite is Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah and I like it for the problems it gives me.


The messiah character, Donald W. Shimoda, says that "You are free to do whatever you want to do", and he demonstrates his freedom by being wise and magical and not afraid to die. Right away this creates a problem that I like. As someone who is not particularly wise, or magical, or unafraid to die, how do I demonstrate my freedom?


Another one is the Problem of Suffering. It's one thing for healthy, happy, new-age types to proclaim that they are the creators of their lives, willing to take risks and be unconventional, even if it Causes Talk. It is something else to apply the idea of freedom to the problem of suffering, both in one's own life and in the lives of others. I can practice thanking the universe for whatever comes my way, from banging my shin on a table, to getting a nice drink of cold water when I am thirsty; but what of the suffering of others? Not that it's necessarily any of my business, but the problem has been posed, and it remains. To put it bluntly, do we blame the victim? The answer, of course, is: There are no victims here. And yet that answer does not suffice. What of a young person dying of some terrible malady? Their idea, one can say, and shrug one's shoulders. Yet that is obviously not the way of compassion; it is the classic dismissal of the poor by the wealthy: It's their fault that they are poor, they deserve whatever happens to them.


And, having failed to resolve that problem, I introduce another. Money. One thing that Shimoda did not have or seem to need was a wad of cash. Yet we in this world have need of money; Richard Bach himself often writes about money.
I like money. It is fun to believe that money is not the real point, it is only a way of keeping score, and yet we in this world give much of our time and energy to following the movement of these bits of green paper.

I like these problems in that they are constant. They are not resolved by words; they occur and recur, and are real. In what way am I demonstrating my freedom today? Am I caught up in beliefs about injustice and tragedy, and if so, how am I reconciling these beliefs with a belief in freedom? Where are love and compassion in a world of free people? Is my freedom measured by my money? My lack of money?


As Richard Bach wrote in Illusions: Watch the answers change.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Alan Watts & Practical Thinking


Alan Watts
, through the medium of old paperbacks, and recordings of his talks, tells me that I am something that the whole world is doing, in the same way that a wave is something that the whole ocean is doing; that I am from the Earth, of the Earth, not a foreign invader from outer space; that to be here now is the best that I can do. And other good happy jazz like that . . .

Yet what the hell has that got to do with the high price of coffee? Or with paying child support? Or with paying the rent? It doesn't solve those problems; but it does include them. I am the experience of being me. Sometimes that experience is painful. I experience lack and limitation and difficulty, insecurity and confusion. Sometimes. And sometimes I am joyful and sometimes I am quietly happy. Sense of peaceful joy . . .

Alan Watts gives me a cosmology I can believe in. For what it's worth (or not) it's true. True enough, anyway.

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