Saturday, March 21, 2009

Living Legacy

I decided just recently, after reading about the origins and history of Bonsai gardening, that I want to collect and cultivate bonsai trees. I think it will be a relaxing, fulfilling hobby. When I think about bonsai gardening, I think of fine tuning one's vision of long-term results, total dominion and, of course, manipulation.

I decided to go with bonsai plants because the initial overhead is pretty low, I essentially become a parent, though I'm not obligated to a partner, I own my counterpart, and I may do WHATEVER I like to it.

Bonsai is simple in its theory, take something that has the potential to become something great and powerful, and thwart it. There are a hundred different ways to do this.

for instance, you can restrict the growth of the root system. One does this by planting the Bonsai tree in a small pot, or by pruning the roots. Bonsai comes from a chinese word meaning "Bon-plant" or to plant in a bon, which here means a shallow pot, or tray. Simply planting in a small pot is a VERY effective way to keep a bonsai just the size you would like. In restricting the spread of its roots, you effectively tell the tree what your expectations are for it. It knows it's limits, and it comes to terms with those limits quite naturally; it will not grow more than its roots can support, you can give it all other necessities for growth, and it will never get "too tall". ahhh... the beauty of establishing boundaries.

Another way to restrict the growth of your plant, is to trim it. You can decide for yourself which branches or you deem beautiful in your plant, and which ones are "for the birds". Let's say, for instance, that your tree tried to branch out in all directions, or, more specifically, that it had 4 branches. For the sake of example, and in keeping with the nature of the practice, we do NOT want our little plant to branch out like this. We have a vision that involves a little less depth, or dimension than these branches will provide. We could simply snip off the unwanted branches. Voila! you have a plant that conforms to your whimsy. If severed correctly, those particular branches will never grow again.

An alternative to pruning, is wiring. Wiring can be done on the entire tree, or just one branch or sprig. The limits are endless! say your tree is growing a little to the left, and you would have it grow straight (for the time being). You may use a copper wire to harness the trunk to an anchor and gradually guide the plant to grow
in an acceptable fashion. Now, say that the plant is growing exactly how you would like it, except for one limb. Easy! Simply wrap the wire around the branch in question until you have created a sleeve around it. you may now bend the sleeve (gradually) in the direction you want it you grow. in time your plant will be picturesque, flawless in your mind.

Like I said, there are any number of ways to make your plant "better". You can even scar the tree to have the appearance of surviving a forest fire, or some other damaging event (though in almost all cases, this scarring is the result of your cogitated efforts).

I think Bonsai would be a great bonding experience to share with my children, because I could show them how it is done, and let them do with their plant as they will. All the while, I could be growing MY version of them, or their plant.
After all, my plant is whatever I want it to be, and it is my prerogative to make it turn out exactly as I envision it.

I had thought about making a Bonsai tree into a family heirloom, one that I could start, and pass down to my progeny who could, in turn, teach their children how to care for, and so on and so forth.

but then I realized that these are the last days anyway, and in the grand scheme of things, that plant wont mean jack squat.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Getting to Know Jack....

There is no introduction in the book by C.S. Lewis "A Grief Observed"-- not the version I read--there was only an Afterward, written by a colleague. I opened it expecting an explanation of what I was about to read. Instead, and before I realized it, I was reading the personal notes of a man who had recently suffered the loss of a loved one. I pieced together, while reading the first pages of the book, that "H" had been his wife. I didn't know how she died for another several pages.

It's a relatively short read. I'm a slow reader, but I believe I finished it in about two hours and change, and this includes re-reading several thoughts that caught my attention. Here are some of those thoughts.

C.S. Points out something that I have noted several times before when he says
  • "Where is God? ...When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be--or so it feels-- welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other hope is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double-bolting on the inside. After that, silence."

Prior to reading this, I had reasoned that God was not an intervening god. I couldn't ever really come to the conclusion that God doesn't exist. But, as far as God having a plan for us individually, I had decided that the concept of "blessings" and "trials" was the same as the idea of "good luck" and "bad luck"--something to explain away fortunes and misfortunes.

As I read this, my thoughts were this "God doesn't pour out blessings, nor does he withhold his love. Because God doesn't have a hand in our day-to-day lives." I read on, but something made me wonder how this man-- who had already impressed me with his introspection and self-honesty in two simple pages of prose-- had not considered this fact himself. Or that if he had, he was able to answer it with some better knowledge or experience. I was eager to give the benefit of the doubt*.

Another passage that spoke to me.

  • Bridge players tell me that there must be some money on the game 'or else people won't take it seriously.' Apparently it's like that. Your bid--for God or no God, For a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity--will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high, until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpence, but for every penny you have in the world. Nothing less will shake a man--or at any rate a man like me-- out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.

This passage goes hand in hand with the first. I began to realize though, that I had never felt a desperation to know God. At most, I had felt a frustration at not knowing God. But I had only ever half-heartedly looked inside myself as a possible cause.

Mr. Lewis' writing was so unforgiving, so penetrating and honest. I began to wonder if I had ever really pondered truth, or only considered those things that I want most to believe. I have always taken a certain sense of pride in being able to analyze my thoughts and actions, but reading this book was showing me how very little soul searching I had really done. I was beginning to be really excited to consider the questions he raised to himself but then, suddenly, the book ended. I started straight into the Afterward written by Chad Walsh, a fan who became a colleague and friend of C.S. Lewis.

The afterward was nearly as long as the book itself, which is why I was so surprised when it ended, I had thought I was only 2/3 into it. The afterward briefly explains the nature of his relationship to the Author, and his wife. He then begins to describe their relationship, which answered some curiosities I had while reading the notes. But the most interesting part, was learning about C.S. Lewis' life and experiences. He had been raised Christian, become Atheist, and become reconverted to Christianity. I had gathered in the book that he had had his struggles with faith, but learning that he had entirely left and returned was very intriguing to me.

I really wanted to read more of his work, and I recalled that I had seen another of his books in the music room downstairs!

*I don't know how better to phrase this. But '"giving" someone the "benefit" of the doubt' just doesn't articulate my new perspective. After reading Bonds That Make Us Free, I use the term "giving the benefit of the doubt" to mean 'having the willingness to allow myself to realize the truth about someone.' there's no "benefit" to the individual in question that I can "give" them... the solution then, is not to question the individual in the first place. And that is something I can do for myself.

Thanks for reading, more later.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Half Life -- Atom Bomb Pt II.

I'd like to rephrase the last paragraph of my last post. I said that I was looking "anywhere BUT the realm of organized religion for attributes I wanted..." what I meant was that I was finding it everywhere except in organized religion. It is still true that I wasn't looking for what good is to be had from religion. But I think it's more clear for me to say that I didn't find good because I was to busy pointing out the bad.

Anyway, picking up where I left off.

I didn't realize that, although my goal was that of purging my personality of poisonous qualities, I was actually incubating a very viral and pernicious attribute that was slowly taking me over. I was festering ill-will toward the church and its members. This really began to thrive in me when the whole Prop. 8 debate started.
I got really, really fired up about it. I made the dramatic comparison to the early saints of the church, themselves being victims of oppression through legislative action. I took it on myself to enlighten my friends to the injustice that was being perpetrated by the church. not just friends, but anyone who would listen.

By now, I really was seeing people as willfully mindless, blind followers. Not just members of the LDS church, but everyone. Everyone who affiliated themselves with a political party, even if there were certain policies with which they didn't agree, they were allowing someone to make their choices for them. Any member of an organized religion was choosing not to consider and ponder their beliefs, but instead allowing someone else to feed those beliefs to them as if it was all mixed nuts or some package deal.

Then someone pointed out to me how much angst I had. When before I had parted ways with the church on the note that it was "nice, but not for me...", now all my energy was focused on cutting down the church and its members.

It wasn't that I saw how hypocritical I had been that shocked me. It was the fact that I had been unconscious of the total and complete change of attitude I had had. On top of that, I wasn't investing my energy into becoming better as a person. I was just slandering those around me, cutting them down so I could stand taller than they--at least in my mind.

This is the first of those three enlightening, self-realizations; overcoming delusion. I think that your delusion itself being a cause of enlightenment requires a very extreme level of delusion, otherwise I'm sure I would have been able to flick away the notion of being delusional, by justifying it. But this wasn't some crumb of insight. At the risk of sounding trite, it hit me like a ton of bricks--no, it hit me like a steam roller. the realization was slow, painful and complete. I began to retort, but as I did, the realization began to sink in. By the time I had made my defense it didn't really interest me what the response would be. I was already becoming aware of my self-deception, and I wasn't interested in convincing anyone else of my pure intentions, because I had become disillusioned myself. I felt like a collector of fine art, who had just had my most prized piece appraised, only to realize it was a phony; even if it was convincing to others, it was still worthless junk.

Realizing that what I had been so eager to peddle to others was junk hurt all the more. I felt as if I had been spreading poison in bottles labeled "Truth" Serum. The things I had said may have made people feel good, as they had for me. But in all reality, my secret solution, that could "cure aches and pains" was, however unintentionally malicious, on the same level as morphine, or heroin. It DID relieve my feelings of not being able to relate to others who claimed to have personal relationships with god, or having had prayers answered, or spiritual confirmations of truths. I was an outsider as far as I could see. This Balm of Gilead was nowhere to be found. I found a counterfeit. This cheap poison, thoughts--albeit sometimes unconscious--of superiority toward others, in the beginning seems harmless enough, but as one continues to justify themselves by shopping for the faults of others, the dose becomes larger; the interval more frequent Eventually, subtly, it becomes the primary focus of the user/abuser.

*All this may sound self-deprecating to you now. But there is a very real parallel here. And this allegory is really the only way to emphasize how misguided my intentions proved to be. Heroin was actually invented for pharmaceutical purposes, a replacement for morphine, actually. Its side effects were realized after its users were hopelessly dependent on it.*

I had an opportunity to do a lot of introspective, reflective thinking. And the more I contemplated my behavior toward the church, I realized that I had been unfairly labeling them as "sheeple" who only did as those around them, with no real thought.
I realized that I had assumed that I was right and they were wrong. This was based on my experience, but totally disregarded theirs.

Upon returning home (I had been on a 4-day road trip) I began reading a book I got for my birthday. The subject of the book is relationships and self-awareness. I had been reading it off and on since I got it, and up until the last 3rd of it, I thought it was simply a useful tool for interpersonal relationships, and being objective. It was Christmas break, and I ended up reading the last 3rd of the book in about 3 days, which was more reading than I had done all semester, homework included. I finished Bonds That Make Us Free eager to implement its theory with everyone I came in contact with. It gave me an incredible feeling of love for everyone, even people I had already decided to be annoyed by. I was seeing people as people, whereas before I had held everyone to an unreasonable standard just so I could see them as falling short of my expectations. This is more of that attitude of cutting others down to build myself up. One of the first thoughts that I had had while finishing the book was that I hadn't given the LDS church the benefit of the doubt. Also, realizing the skewed perspective I had had all my life up to that point made me feel that I should "try again" for the umpteenth time. But I was pretty resistant to this idea at first. After all, in all the times that I had tried the church again, it was never the people that were the deal breaker, it was that I didn't feel any spiritual nourishment from attending church, the fact that I resented members for tearful testimonies was just an inconsequential fact.

After I finished Bond that Make us Free I also found myself athirst for other insightful, introspective books. I was over at my brothers house for dinner when I saw a book by C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed. I realized that this book may have some good qualities that I had previously discredited based simply on the fact that I resented the Narnia books for seeming to have a hard time recognizing the divide between theatrical fiction and religion. I thought they were very overtly contrived parallels to Christianity, and I resented the "shameless" use of Deus ex Machina, because it seemed an insult. The idea that the characters had to rely so heavily upon Aslan said to me that Christians would rather have a hero than rise to challenge and save themselves.

Then I realized, this was an opportunity to try out my new insight! I was being unfair, assuming the worst, labeling, even judging a book by its cover. I wanted to give C.S. Lewis a chance. The subtitle of the book read "a masterpiece of rediscovered faith which has comforted thousands" seemed like it reading it would count as a good enough effort to reconsider my position of non-christian beliefs.

Thanks for reading. More later.