A taxing problem

I hate taxes. I don’t think that makes me special or different than my fellow citizens. I don’t like paying them and I seldom approve of what they are collected to pay for. But that’s another story. What I want to share is my recent adventure with not having to pay Canadian taxes. Let me explain.

Since turning 65 I’ve been eligible to collect on three different Canadian pensions. They don’t add up to a lot as it’s been over 30 years since I’ve lived in Canada and contributed to anything. But they are better than nothing and go a long way to helping defray costs when we spend our three months here every Canadian summer. In fact the pensions are so small when combined, that they fall underneath the threshold that would require that I pay a tax on them, thus they are tax free. Nothing wrong with that. However I still must submit a yearly Canadian tax return stating my earnings and showing that I am not required to pay any tax.

Last year I submitted my first income tax return in Canada in over thirty years. It was quite painless and took less than an hour to complete. As a Canadian who is a non-resident (I spend most of my time in Australia) I have until the 30th of June each year to complete this form. Which finally brings us to the point of this story.

I was almost a month late this year in filing my return. Hardly a big deal on the surface but it’s what I put myself through that has me wonder. It’s not like I forgot. I had packed away my T4 slips that arrived in Australia earlier in the year along with the tax package from Revenue Canada. I was ready to go. But June came and went and then it was mid July and I never looked at it. Meanwhile in the privacy, thank God, of my own mind a voice was speaking. Not the voice of a Thomas Jefferson standing up to the tyranny of King George. Nor the quiet resolution of Gandhi civilly disobeying until the British left India. No this was more the voice of a pukey little 5 year old. “No I don’t have to. You can’t make me. I don’t want to.” I might even side with this whiny little brat if I was facing a $50,000 tax bill unjustly foisted against me. But nothing was going to happen to me. I just kept finding it impossible to move. The days would pass and I’d say to myself, “This is no big deal. I’ll do it tomorrow”. But I didn’t.

Finally I just did it. No fanfare. No big breakthrough in being. No epiphany. No eureka moment. I just did it. It took all of 45 minutes (I timed it) and it was done. All done for another year. Weeks of procrastination completed in an instant. What was I on about?

I think that maybe the attention I’ve been paying to my feelings lately might have had something to do with it. In the past that whiny voice might not have reached a conscious level for me and I would simply filled out and sent off the forms the way I did last year. If so, it raises the question for me again about what to do with dysfunctional feelings. Certainly listening to them and taking action out of their whimpering doesn’t work. Maybe just give them a big hug and a lollipop and put them to bed. At the end of the day, the cold voice of reason prevailed and did what had to be done.

So what have I gotten from this? A couple of things. One is an expanded empathy with people struggling with a problem like giving up smoking or losing weight. I can sympathise with their own version of that little voice that takes command and drags out another cigarette or eats that dish of ice cream. And two, getting in touch with how simple the answer was, simple to say but not so simple to do: Just Do It. When all was thought through, thought over and thought to death, that’s all that was left to do. Just Do It.

Overcoming Resignation

In my last posting, I was talking about listening to the CBC on the subject of euthanasia. I found myself engaged in the topic, in the manner of presentation of the topic by the CBC, in the comments by the people being interviewed and by my reflections on all of that. Later I noticed that I never listen to the radio. Never except for the occasional visit to someone who regularly leaves the radio playing in the background and I find myself drawn to a particular segment. I remembered that I wasn’t always like this.

In my early 20’s I used to drive around for fun with the windows rolled down and the radio blaring loud enough so that everyone for blocks around could enjoy. Of course that was pretty much all music but later on I turned down the volume, rolled up the windows and listened to talk-show radio. And later again, from early 1978 to 1982 I was a regular feature on Vancouver radio mostly on CJOR with talk show hosts Ed Murphy and Pat Burns. This was during my stint as a professional libertarian and political activist. When I ended my activism and moved to Australia, I also ended my listening to radio. Listening to that program on CBC put be back into that world and I noticed how I mostly gave it up out of a sense of resignation about making change in the world, particularly about my ability to take part in bringing about that change. I drew conclusions about myself and the world based more on my feelings of despair and hopelessness for what I had been through an actual facts about what had happened. I gave up on myself and my cause.

But what I saw the other day was an opening up of something exciting and rejuvenating for me. For one thing I saw how much I enjoyed listening to the story and my sense of being connected to the players in the story. I saw how socio-political issues such as euthanasia are not resolved one way or another overnight and how years, even decades go by before change is made. I saw how for people like me with ideals centred around the non-aggression principle, that forums such as CBC talk shows and the like are where the conversations must be held. My ideals forbid the use of force in implementing the ideals so all that is left is conversations with others with the aim of convincing them that what I have to say is a better way and in the end leaving it to the listener to do the convincing. And I saw how I hunger to participate again in this conversation on programs that involve us all on media outlets that include newspapers, radio and television.

I’m not sure specifically what I’ll do next about this. I’ll continue to think and to write about what I think on this blog. I know that there is a fire for me burning to have me be in a public forum again, to be offering whatever words of wisdom I have to others and to engage in conversations for change.

Whose Ethics?

I was listening to CBC radio last week and the content of the section was on euthanasia. The interviewer was talking to a woman whose mother was in a retired care hospital suffering from advanced dementia. The mother could no longer talk with the daughter nor anyone else, was rarely conscious and was being spoon fed to keep her alive. The mother had a living will requesting that if she was ever in such a circumstance, that she be allowed to die and not be cared for any longer in order to prolong her life. The daughter related this story to us, along with her personal upsets over not being able to do anything to help her mother because the hospital refused to release the mother nor to honour her will. The interview later switched to the hospital where the manager was asked why the living will wasn’t being answered. The manager stated that while she was sympathetic, she was bound to follow the law and the principles of the hospital which were to provide care and nurturing for the patient. The hospital could not release the mother either, as according to the manager they could not do this if they believed that harm might come to the patient if released. I found the segment to be very balanced, not attempting to show bias towards the mother, daughter or manager.

Depending on one’s own point of view, this will end happily or tragically when the mother dies. Happily if you believe that one should never under any circumstances commit suicide or be assisted to commit suicide and tragically if you believe that one’s wishes as expressed in a document such as a living will can be overruled. This particular instance likely has numerous complications. Did the agreement with the hospital clearly state the actions that the hospital would take? Did they let the mother and daughter know up front that when what eventually happened, happened, they would do what they are doing? What exactly is the law and the agreement regarding whether or not the daughter could have the mother taken out of the hospital and placed somewhere else? The radio segment didn’t go into a full blown documentary so we don’t know of other possibly relevant considerations.

But at the end of all the complicating factors, we are left with the question of which takes precedent: the contents of the mother’s living will or the laws of Canada. Clearly here the laws of Canada rule as they always will when the conflict is between the rights of the individual versus the will of the state. Whether we like the implications of this or not, we must heed the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die”. The individual has no rights if the state says otherwise. No “why not” is possible. Obey the law or suffer the consequences. And the consequences of disobedience are without limit. The state will spend what it takes to enforce its will. Ask Edward Snowden, the latest of American whistle blowers his views on this.

What principle should rule? Ah, that’s the question, the question that has consumed thousands of hours of my life and that is ultimately at the heart of my life-purpose. The should can only be addressed from the context of other questions such as “Whose life is it that you live?” This is I believe the ultimate question from which all ethics and from which all societal laws and customs spring. I think it’s the biggest of the big questions. More explorations another day.

Ethical Musings

I love ethics. The Oxford dictionary defines ethics as “moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity”. It defines moral as “concerned with the principles of right and wrong behaviour”. I love-hate the New York Times which regularly runs articles on ethics. They recently had an article with ethical questions such as:

In the basement of my German grandmother’s farmhouse, I found a large, framed map of her homeland. It is beautifully illustrated, with drawings of churches, castles and factories, coats of arms from various cities and a quotation from Goethe. It is, however, from 1937, a date that is prominently displayed. Although the map has no Third Reich iconography, Germany’s borders greatly exceed its current ones. Is it ethical to hang it in my living room? “.

You can view the entire article for yourself here. I’m not interested so much in the author’s answers to these questions (which I agreed with) so much as the whole context of ethics and ethical questions and the thinking that the author put into his reply to the question.
I see ethics as the place where emotions and thinking meet. I love ethics, which is an emotional statement. I get joy out of grappling with the subject, joy out of reading articles such as the NYT articles, joy out of discussing ethical questions. I also have an appreciation for the thinking that takes place, or at least could and even should take place, in resolving ethical questions.

I also like the Oxford definition of ethics and morals. I like that the definitions include the word principles. I like my ethics to be a set of principles, not merely guidelines. Sometimes I don’t like the black and whiteness of these principles and this is where I surrender (as best I can) my feelings to my thinking.

Without getting to deep into the story, I had an incident yesterday in which I had to deal with a bureaucrat who didn’t tell me the truth. I won’t say that she lied to me because giving her the benefit of the doubt, she might not have known what she told me was false. But this “error” caused me heaps of extra work and left me in a state of deep fury and upset. Now acting out of my feelings, I would have let go and tore a verbal strip from her back. Fortunately I still had enough of what I would call ethical composure to realise that this wasn’t a good thing to do and instead said something along the lines of “I’ll get back to you” and left.

I’ve always had the ethical principle of the golden rule for dealing with other people. Sadly I haven’t always practiced it. Practicing what I preach is a fundamental part of my ethical principles and to not do so is to negate the principles and make them less meaningful. And practicing them requires just that: practice. Ethics for me is no different than any other discipline. To become masterful at it requires practice.

Questions like “whose principles” and “what makes a behaviour right or wrong” are important ones that I won’t go into now. They are big enough to cover a doctoral thesis in philosophy. Ultimately I want my ethics to be a set of black and white principles, whether I like it or not, because they will lead me to my “right or wrong behaviour”. Behaviour is action and action is always black or white. I either did something or I didn’t do something. I screamed at the clerk and had a temper tantrum or I was polite and kept my cool. I either stole that apple from the fruit shop or I bought it. I want to practice my ethics as best I can too, because when all of the questions have been asked and answered, my happiness and flourishing as a human being depends on being true to myself.

A Tale of Two Feelings

I’m back in Edmonton after spending the Canada Day weekend down south in Calgay. Last night as I lay in bed, I reflected on a set of very strong feelings evoked from the previous couple of days. One feeling was something along the lines of “proud and grateful joy”. While in Calgary I listened to numerous stories that came out of southern Alberta’s interaction with their floods. We spent the long weekend with our cousins, Ed and Jackie Engstrom, and they were evacuated with thousands of other Calgarians when the late June flood waters began threatening their homes. When they returned a few days later, they found their basement with a metre of water in it and everything not nailed down, including a huge chest freezer full of no longer frozen food, floating around. As they began the cleanup, four strangers knocked on the back door and asked them if they could use some help. (I notice I can’t help but get teary just writing this) The strangers then spent hours that day and the next helping Ed and Jackie do everything from pull gyprock from the walls to salvage old photographs from water-laden albums. These stories of simple generosity were the norm throughout Calgary and southern Alberta. Every time I heard one of these vignettes, I was left with a reaction that if put into words would be something like “aren’t people wonderful”.

Returning to Edmonton yesterday, I’m in the process of helping my daughter Jenny with getting her car, a gift from her brother, registered in Alberta from its BC heritage. She also has to get a driver’s licence. Becoming aware of the complexities of acquiring a licence these days left me with a totally different set of emotions ranging from despair through resignation to infuriated blood boiling. I would put this set of emotions as being diametrically the opposite of my Calgary emotions, something along the lines of “who would dream up these hoops for people to jump through?”.

As I took the time to do my best to lay back and think about this pair of feelings, I worked at not getting too deep into why I’m having them and what might be driving them so much as just noticing them, noticing the swiftness with which they hit me, the power they had in just a second or two. As part of my intention of noticing and experiencing my feelings I couldn’t have created anything better than these two.

I thought about how these two sets of emotions also fit neatly into the most general evaluation of emotions being either pleasure or pain. As emotions, unexamined by thought but just used to send a message to the body, I was left with embrace and enjoy the pleasure and flee from or fight the pain. I find it hard to simply experience emotions and not dissect them. I’ve trained myself to instantly ask “why” about pretty much everything and turning this off and instead just being as best I can, an impartial observer noticing what’s happening.

And this connects with some July 1st observations I had about thinking, rational thinking and addressing my unease about things. It is at this moment of flee or fight, this moment of enjoying the pleasant feelings, that the possibility of rational thought becomes necessary. Starter questions, like “What just happened to me and how did I react?”. “What am I going to do about this?”. “Why would I do that or anything else?” “Should I do anything?” “Do I want to feel this way when this event happens?” “How do I want to feel instead, and why?” “What am I going to do?” And short term versus long term. And on and on.

I see that my emotions tell me what some event leave me with as an experience. At the simplest level they tell me I’m in pain or with pleasure. That’s it. What comes next is not automatic. And it’s this “What next?” is the area that fascinates me. This takes me into thinking, into formulating structures and processes for grappling with emotions. This is what fascinates me. This is where my life-purpose journey begins.

My Rigid and All-righteous Certainty

Speaking of feelings, something came up yesterday that left me with something that I have labelled “rigid and all-righteous certainty”. Along with this feeling is a Solomon-like sense of all-knowing wisdom and imperiousness, that what I can do when I’m in this state of certainty is not only the correct course of action but that I have the God-given right to do it. It is very powerful. It is also very likely to be totally flawed. Let me explain with the back story to this insight.

I’m currently in Edmonton, Canada, my birthplace visiting friends and family. Last night after dinner, I was walking back to sister Karen’s place where I’m staying and chatting with sister Libby at whose home I’ll be staying later. Our conversation drifted to internet connections and what sort of setup did she have. I love to stay connected with my iPad and netbook PC and have this wonderful wifi link at Karen’s and wondered if Libby had the same thing. Our conversation then went something like this:

Rick: So do you have a wifi internet connection?
Libby: No, I don’t think so.
Rick: Well how does your internet connect with your PC?
Libby: I just have this cable that goes from the little Shaw box to my computer.
Rick: Oh well that’s no problem. I’ve got an wifi router with me and I’ll connect it to your system and then you’ll have a wifi system.
Libby: No, no. Shaw won’t let me do that.
Rick: No it’s ok. They won’t care.
Libby: No, I’m just going to leave it the way it is. My contract says I didn’t pay for wifi and I don’t want to get in trouble.
Rick: You won’t get in trouble, they don’t care and won’t even know.
Libby: No, no. I’m just going to leave it the way it is.

That was the end of the conversation and we went on to talk about something else.
While we were chatting, inside the privacy of my mind I was having another conversation, one coming from what I would come to call my “rigid and all-righteous certainty”. It was running at decibels that would drown out a rock concert and went something like this:

“What! You won’t let me set up my computer network the way I want! How dare you? Don’t you know who you’re speaking to? I’m the computer lord and master. My word is your word, my wishes are your wishes. Guard! Take this pathetic trash away and throw her in my deepest dungeon until she comes to her senses.” And then I would go off and set up my modem as I wished while her ISP Shaw Cable hummed something like “Of course he’s right Libby. Don’t you know who HE is?” in the background.

The truth of the matter is, I don’t know for sure whether she’s right or I’m right. I would have to contact Shaw to find out. Also it’s her setup and she can do whatever she wants, even if I’m right. But sisters have a way of reducing me to the level of a 5 year old feelings-wise. Fortunately I kept my trap shut or I likely wouldn’t have a sibling relationship anymore.

I’m sure that my recent interest in my feelings led me to this introspection and insight and I’m so grateful. I’ve experienced as never before the importance of not acting willy-nilly on my feelings and also the value of pausing and taking the time to think over what just happened. I’ve seen how utterly irrational some of my feelings are and I’m left quite humbled. I’m also present to a sense of pride in my capacity to keep my trap shut in moments of upset and thus not damage important relationships. I’m aware that this feeling of “rigid and all-righteous certainty” is only that: a feeling. I’ve been confusing this internal reality of my mind with external reality and not aware of doing so.

I’ll leave with questions. What role do feelings have when it comes to actions? Should one act on their emotions? If so, how so? For example I could have acted on my emotions with Libby with an impatient and rude outburst. Or I could have acted on them much later with what I like to think was calm and careful thought. Or something else.

What should one do?

Look after Leaping

I’m not totally ready to get into thinking. I’ve been reflecting back on my early idealistic days and thought then, quite incorrectly, that I was relying on pure logic to drive my actions. Not so. I was fundamentally influenced by Ayn Rand’s writings, but it was her very emotional novels that moved me, not her non-fiction essays and commentary. At least not at first.

I remember the scene in Atlas Shrugged when Dagny comes across Galt’s motor in the derelict motor factory. (This might not make a lot of sense if you haven’t read Atlas Shrugged, so go ahead and do that before continuing). Her reaction is anything but intellectual. She is beside herself with emotions and I can’t remember the exact words just now, but Dagny “sees” all that the motor represents even before she knows exactly what she’s looking at. She “gets” what the motor is, the gift that it could have been for mankind, the waste that it has become instead by sitting there for years as a pile of scrap metal. She is outraged at the events that led to its abandonment, heartbroken for the inventor who hasn’t received the acclaim so deserving, shattered to think of the lives made more arduous by not having access to such an invention. She feels all of this and so much more, even though she doesn’t know what she’s looking at yet. She screams for Hank and he in turn is struck by fear for her just in the tone of her voice. Dagny has beheld some terrible spectacle and is in danger.

Operating on another level and much slower in time, Atlas Shrugged was my motor, discovered suddenly on a scrap heap. I remember the feelings of elation and amazement upon reading it. It was like a “Eureka” event. I had this flash of everything that was ever wrong with the world and a simple solution to all of those wrongs. God it was so simple, so right there in our faces. How could we have missed it? All we have to do is think rationally, and everything will be ok. But it didn’t occur for me like this, not in words. It was just a feeling of joy, the same feelings of joy that I had experienced any time I had solved a difficult problem. More than just that though, was that it was good to be feeling this way, good to feel joyous about thinking and about thinking well.

I was a bright young lad of 26 when this happened, a systems analyst for IBM and my thinking life up until then revolved around creating computer programs and solving bridge hands. Both were games for me and I was very good at them, but no one ever told me that it was good to be able to do these things well. More than that, it was good for everyone in everything that they did, to feel this way about themselves and what they did, to feel acknowledged and accomplished about their successes, to feel pride and joy in all that they do. Up until then pride in what you did was sort of wrong, something that goeth before a fall, that sort of thing. Sure you did your best at things but didn’t show it, didn’t pump your fist with a joyous YES. You did more of an “Aw shucks, that wasn’t so much” routine.

But this elation came with a price. Biting into this apple brought an end to my Eden of ignorance. Soon I was no longer content to be just a programmer, just a bridge player. There were bigger, more important challenges to be faced and I was the one who had to take them on. There were wars to be ended, diseases to be cured, marriages to be saved, children to be educated, a million problems to be addressed and I had discovered how to do it. I had to tell someone, tell everyone and then things would be all right. Humanity didn’t have to suffer anymore.

Again, none of this came to me in those words or any words but rather as a feeling, an experience of what life could be like for all of us. I can see that I made everything I saw my business, my duty to perform, my challenges to take on and fix. At that early time in my life I was filled with lots of enthusiasm and very little wisdom. If it had been otherwise, I might have tapped myself on my shoulder and said something like “Don’t do something, just stand there.”, but then again I wouldn’t have listened. I never have and probably never will. Much as I like to think otherwise, I’m too often someone who leaps and on the way down thinks, “Maybe I should have looked first”.

Feelings

Since working on my passion maps with Michael H. I took on having emotion play a bigger part in my life and have been musing about what the role of emotions is in the life of this human being. Is it something natural or is it something I created or a bit of both? For me emotions were something to stifle or suppress, something to ignore and often something to enjoy. I’m probably typical of males of my generation who often were taught to suppress emotions, as in not showing fear, not showing tears of joy or sadness for fear of being thought to be a bit of a sissy. A bit of the British stiff upper lip and all that. Emotions of triumph and despair were ok, so long as they were at something like a football game. Feelings of love and lust were also ok, although you might risk being teased over displaying them. Lust was ok so long as it was accompanied by smutty language or the like. As the years went by and I did courses like The Forum, I got more in touch with where I suppressed my emotions and became quite masterful at not doing that anymore, particularly emotions of simple happiness and joy. Weeping during sad movies became something I no longer hid. Giving people a hug stopped being embarrassing. So bit by bit emotions became ok to have, but gradually fell lower and lower in my awareness and importance to me. As I aged I would say my emotional state became one of gentle pleasure about life in general punctuated with moments of real sadness when friends died and now and then huge moments of joy over how good life can be.

It wasn’t until I started going to my men’s group meetings in Taree that I began noticing that emotions lived for me in the background of my life. I kept being asked questions like “what emotion am I feeling right now and where in my body is it?” Very strange questions for me. The other guys claimed to be feeling anger, sadness, joy, confusion or whatever in their back, gut, neck, chest or wherever. I meanwhile wasn’t really feeling anything at all. Ever. Was this normal? Were they stringing me along? Did I actually have feelings and emotions happening for me but they were very under-developed, to the point of not being noticeable? Did I have emotions but just wasn’t in touch with them? I still don’t know.

Another thing about emotions or feelings more particularly is how often I’ve met people who say that they must have strong feelings about something in order to take action. They claim to use their emotions as part of their decision making process. While I’ve often noticed that I have strong emotions at times of decision-making, especially big decisions, I’ve always put the feelings to one side as best I could and looked to logic and reason to do the choosing. Fear of pain at the dentist never stopped me from making appointments to have my teeth checked. Fear of rejection never (well hardly ever) stopped me from asking a girl out on a date. And often I’ve had large fears, like fear of public speaking, and have made huge efforts to master such fears. While I never worked out what the role emotions were to play in my life, I knew bringing them into my decision-making wasn’t what I considered a wise thing to do and I would doubt that I’ve ever done anything big based on an emotional reaction to things. My motto has been along the lines of never make important decisions when in an emotional state. Have a clear head and think things through.

I’m one who thinks that emotions are there as automatic programming precisely because thinking is so slow by comparison. I think that emotions served us well in our early days when fight or flight or be still was all the action that we needed. Emotional situations are likely always accompanied with chemical injections into the blood getting us ready for battle or running. I’m sure that our earliest attempts at some form of social system came out of a need to address things like Fred whapping Peter over the head because Peter was fooling around with someone that Fred had an eye on.

Sometimes it’s not easy to pick something out as an emotion. The big ones, like fear, anger, jealousy, joy that almost sweep away everything else are not all that there is. What about something like curiosity? Is that an emotion or something else? Do we need another category? I would call it an emotion, a feeling because it comes automatically. Speaking for myself, I’ve always considered myself to be a why person with what was probably an encouraged sense of curiosity. I can’t ever remember saying something to myself like “Hey, asking questions about things I don’t know is kind of cool. I think I’ll do that more.” I could call it an instinct, something always there that I didn’t have to learn. But I’m also a bit leery about using words like instinct.

Connecting to another subject altogether, I think of Ludwig von Mises and Human Action and the premise that humans act because of an unease that they wish to resolve. This unease is a general catch all for something that would be an emotion. What the explicit unease is at the time is irrelevant for the principle of human action. It could be jealousy, curiosity, boredom, hunger… Is hunger an emotion? Maybe thirst and hunger should be put into the emotional category as the most fundamental, primal ones. One born without these likely dies soon. Like being born without a sense of physical pain.

We all have emotions. Life without emotions is likely impossible and certainly not desirable. Even to use phrases like a desirable life becomes an exercise in self-referential circularity.

So in my brief reflection and introspection on emotions would leave me to conclude that emotions are the spice of life. Perhaps ultimately emotions are the characteristic that would distinguish life from an android. Until the android experiences emotions, it is just a computer. And maybe that’s all we are: emotion-experiencing computers. This is hardly original thinking on my part, but I think it should play a vital part in coming up with a definition for what makes one a living, reasoning being.

It’s interesting to think about numerous science fiction themes that involve intelligent robots taking over human systems. Asimov went so far as to create his three laws of robotics in an intellectual attempt to show how this might be circumvented. I think two categories of thought are necessary for human progress. One is to create and agree upon conceptual definitions. For example “rational being” might include the property of emotion. Two would be to also agree to the consequential actions from our definitions and practice those agreements. For example, we would conclude that it’s wrong to use force or compulsion against rational beings and therefore would not do so. As I see it, it’s this consistent practice of the principles where we humans fall down. We are learning but somehow don’t have a simple philosophy of life that is in the mainstream that one can align with.

That all being an aside, I see emotions as being experiential and something that we share with our higher life forms. But by themselves emotions are kind of useless for much other than giving us some sort of personal weather report. They tell us what our automatic system says is happening. But they don’t tell us whether or not the report is correct. A simple remembering of the Pavlov dog experiment tells us that we can mess with our emotion-feeling-drive system and trick it. And now I think I’ll start getting into thinking.

Fanning the Spark

I was thinking about an acquaintance, Mitch. Right now Mitch and I lead very different lives. He’s currently living in prison and has about four years to go on his term. From what I’ve heard, he leads a life in which he doesn’t feel threatened physically by other inmates or guards, but his actions are pretty much determined by others. Still he has a lot of free time in which he must come up with ways to fill it. He can do things like read and write and I believe has access to a library. He can also do paid work of sorts and can teach lessons to others and socialise. So while Mitch has limited freedom physically, he has spiritual freedom that is as infinite as he can take it.

I on the other hand am not imprisoned. I’m free to come and go as I please and enjoy that freedom immensely. With limited exceptions, my actions are determined by me. But after all of my life’s distractions, duties and pleasantries are completed, I still find myself with hours of time left over to fill. This is where Mitch and I lead identical lives. What do we do in those hours when no one is telling us what to do, when what we must do is create something meaningful for ourselves to accomplish or to simply kill time with some diversion?

Speaking of diversions, take this moment as an example. I’ve just spent the past 15 or so minutes trying to figure out why this !”/$%?&* keyboard won’t let me type a question mark. Now this might strike you as contradictory as I include one in the expletive-deleted section just now. But how I got that “?” was to strike Shift-6 which is supposed to be a ^ symbol which I can’t get using the Shift-6. Got all that? Now all of this is because of something in the design of the HP keyboard that came with this PC and something in the settings of the keyboard is likely causing all of this. (Mitch doesn’t have these distractions when he’s writing because they don’t let him have a computer. He has to do his writing by hand and so long as he has a pad and pen, he’s in business.)

This is the one and only part of Mitch’s life that I envy. He has a perfect structure in which to create and fulfil on his spiritual purpose. The rest may suck, but in just being forced to sit and be with the blank sheet that’s in front of him, he’s got it made. I on the other hand must rely on self-discipline, stick-to-it-iveness, willpower – whatever you want to call it to be with the blank sheet that is my life waiting to be filled.

I can see from this frustration with the keyboard that I have heaps of willpower. I won’t let this problem defeat me and have continued to spend time resolving why my keyboard acts so weird in OpenOffice.org Writer (which I’m using now) but just fine in Microsoft WordPad. Now if I can just siphon off a bit of this power over to sticking to my purpose, I’ll be a champion.

And I did stick to this problem with the keyboard until the end! I found that there is a little language symbol at the bottom of the windows taskbar. It was set to Canadian French and once I changed it to US, everything worked as expected. How the language switched from US to Canadian French though is something of a mystery and I’m not going to think about that.

What I’ve unexpectedly gleaned from this experience with my keyboard is something about myself and problem solving. I’ve got problems categorised as “real” and “imaginary”. “Real” problems, like why doesn’t my keyboard type a “?” when I press the question mark key, can and more importantly MUST be solved. “Imaginary” problems, like “what is my life’s purpose and how will I go about fulfilling it” , are artificial and whether or not I ever solve them is irrelevant. Now if I can just solve the problem of how to make “imaginary” problems “real” …

This connects for me to my last post about Burning Desire. That bloody question mark problem lived for me like a burning desire. I had to solve it. But my created desires, like my life’s purpose, don’t start off that way. There is no obvious problem with not having a purpose that I MUST fix. I like the comment that my friend Paul added to this post: “Maybe a burning desire is like any flame. It starts as a tiny spark. If you ignore it, it will quickly fade away. If you fan it and feed it, it will grow into a bright hot flame.” Right now my passion for blogging and bringing my purpose to the world is a very tiny spark. And it does need gentle attention.
I’ll leave it at this for now. Consider this post to be gentle fanning of my spark and be lenient with your criticism of it.

A Burning Desire

A friend recently sent me the following quote by Stephen Covey:

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are, and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically – to say NO to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger YES burning inside.”

While I have empathy with anyone who has a challenge saying “no” to requests, this wasn’t what grabbed my attention. What I noticed was that I want my highest priorities, my purposes in life, to live for me like a burning desire. I see that my purposes live for me very conceptually and intellectually, not emotionally. I also notice that I have a huge “should” ere. My highest priorities should be experienced as if they were burning desires. I should want to write this blog post (sitting here unfinished for over 2 weeks) with the same driving urge that sex had for me when I was 19. That feeling of “I’ve got to do this” that pushes away everything else including a need for food and water should be there. It just should and I must be defective if it isn’t.

Part of what triggers this “should” is the memory of feelings of heat and excitement that I had for things when I was younger. Maybe these diminished feelings are simply caused by growing older. Certainly my drive for sex isn’t the same at 68 as it was at 19. Wouldn’t it make sense that my urges for other things would be weaker too? Someone should invent a Viagra pill for the pursuit of purpose for me.

And maybe because this purpose of mine to bring lightness to the world is an act of intellectual creation that happened a few months ago it’s not supposed to have any feelings or emotions attached to it. Maybe they come later if at all.

And would it be ok with me if I never had any feelings of strength for what I consider my purpose? Would it be ok if it lived like a good idea and I wrote my blog postings not for some burning passion I get from it but something more like a contented satisfaction that I accomplished something that I think is important to me? Yes I want to feel something akin to a burning desire but that’s not happening now.

I’m at a pleasant state in my retired life where necessity doesn’t demand that I do anything. I no longer have to work for a living and this purpose of mine isn’t need to bring some cash to my coffers. There will be no unpleasant consequences other than a bit of guilt if I don’t do my weekly postings. Guilt is not a good driving force in anyone’s life and I won’t have that in mine.

So this is the place to start. Right now I have at best a warm desire to do my blog postings. I love the satisfaction of creating this and that will be enough. Maybe after doing this for a few months I’ll create something like a smoldering urge. Maybe not, but regardless, I’ll do my weekly posting and see what if anything is generated.