A memorial service at the UUFCO in Bend, Oregon.

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Today I attended the memorial service held for the life and death of Christine Boyer, long-time member of the UUFCO. This was a beautiful service, and condensing such a wonderful person’s life into an hour emphasized its grandeur. The service was simple, caring, direct and honest. There was no cant or unusual emphasis, just heartfelt descriptions of a beautiful person helping people around her to live their lives more meaningfully.

Christine was not in the choir today, but they sang her favorite songs, with an empty space on the daïs for her to stand. Rev. Antonia Won, our Minister, conducted the services, and Virlene Arnold directed the choir. About halfway through the proceedings tears were slowly and consistently finding their way down my cheeks. They were not so much for Christine, but for the large group of her friends attending. My thoughts kept returning to them and how, with little doubt, most of them will have similar services in the not too distant future. And me, too.

I kept wondering, how can I help these people enjoy their future stay here on Earth, when so often during our “Joys and Sorrows” ceremony every Sunday morning they speak of personal tragedies? With over two hundred people now attending there is always some human event that tugs sharply on my heart.

Today I added another unusually beautiful rock to the piping around the front entrance. It was for Christine.

 

Magic and risk were discussed today.

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Our group’s topic today got off to a difficult start as far as I was concerned, but the folks were having such a good time discussing magic and risk that I sat mute and didn’t disturb the fun. My first thoughts on the word risk, human risk that is, immediately go to real risks of death, and that for these modern Americans would be cardiovascular disease, cancer, and lung problems. Those few risks would cover fifty percent of American deaths. In two hours of conversation none of these current risks were mentioned. I also thought about the risks of death in 1900 when these mostly older people’s parents were young; the top four causes of death were infectious diseases—pneumonia, flu, tuberculosis and diphtheria. There were lots of other deadly diseases rampant too, back then, but the risks presented by these diseases were ignored in the discussion of risk.

Risks were being discussed and analyzed in terms of personal feelings, such as the risk of being invisible to others and thus being ignored. Risks of exposing one’s self, and having other people think badly of you, and realizing that’s it, I’ve got nothing more, and therefore legitimately hiding my true self. Another risk was from the emotional traumas of encountering potentially criminal people. Risks from bad relationships with people, with one’s self and the environment in general.

Some spoke of the joy of taking risks, such as skiing, parachuting, river rafting, and motorcycling, where the risk is not being in complete control of the ongoing dangerous events. People in the group told about doing dangerous things and losing, and thus ending up in the hospital. I wondered how many people would have been at our meeting but weren’t because they got killed? I didn’t bring up these unpleasant possibilities because it would have been depressing. It is much better for people to be emotionally expansive, because when they are they can look at their options, but when depressed they can’t; they are locked into a rigid hanging-on state of mind. My problem was, how does one bring up the inherently unpleasant subject of real risk without bring on a fearful mind set, and thus ruining the expansive mood needed for exploring options?

There was some discussion of magical events in various people’s lives, and there were a few stories of unusual things. Some rational thought was brought forward with the idea that magic is normal physical reality; it’s just that the magicians’ code is not to reveal the techniques that permit them to bring about their magical illusions. But that idea did the dead-cat bounce, and the conversation moved on to more exciting things. Obviously lying to people as a stage act, as magicians do, is fine, but performances put on by fancy-dressed people claiming real legitimate powers given from supernatural sources are the purest kind of fraud. Sadly, that kind of magic is what brings in people and, more importantly, their money.

There were several references to pure natural magic, the creation and birth of new human beings, and the fact that we are here, and that we have some degree of free will. Natural reality looks like magic, but if you observe it closely it is natural; when you look at supernatural magic it by definition isn’t natural, and can’t be explained.

I enjoy these interactions and love these people, and I watch and listen to them,  carefully seeking ways to help them see their own thoughts clearly and make wise decisions. Unfortunately, people listen when I talk about my relationship with Samumpsycle, a concrete garden gnome, but when I talk about real-world statistics they don’t.

When thinking and talking about really big things people prefer the supernatural explanations.

It’s hard to say goodbye. – writing group prompt

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Being eighty years old now I have experienced multitudes of goodbyes. Probably my goodbyes now number in the thousands, nearly all of them not only unremembered, but unrememberable. Here it is 10 o’clock in Dudley’s coffeeshop-bookstore and I have already politely departed from quite a few people. First was from my wife of over thirty years. A kiss at the door, and “I’ll be back for lunch”, Another kiss-at-a-distance as I get into the car, and a little mutual twittering of our fingers as she disappears through the closing door.

When driving the mile to downtown Bend I interact with, and depart from, a few other drivers, and walking from the parking lot, I meet a few pedestrians passing by and we exchange the slightly obligatory “good morning”. Bend has a small town feel and when you pass a single person you “must” acknowledge their presence. In fact we also acknowledge their dog’s presence. Like I said, Bend is a friendly town. But there is an implied mini-goodbye in every passing. However these greetings followed by a “Have a nice day” are not really what is meant by “Goodbye” and there is no stress in the moving on.

My personal schedule this morning was a little hurried – I wanted to talk for an hour with my old-fart friends at the Looney Bean coffee shop and then go the long block over to Dudley’s and participate in this writing workshop – and here I am.

Now, here’s the goodbye problem … It was necessary to cut short my conversation with one group of friends to go visit with another one, and because that necessitated some goodbyes with three people in the first group to go be with a second group these first ones felt rejected. …. The goodbyes became strained. … I tried to assure these old friends that they weren’t being rejected … but they would have none of it. They were feeling rejected and now they were reflecting their feeling of rejection back at me. I was rejected! … and feeling rejected.

Sometimes it’s hard to say goodbye … and this was one of those times.

When I look over my life only a few of my goodbyes were known at the time to be last goodbyes. It’s only when someone is moving to a distant new hometown that  we expect a goodbye to be a final one, and those are sad. They are filled with heartfelt promises to stay in touch, even though everyone knows the contacts will probably grow tenuous and eventually vanish. … It’s a little death!

Ah yes … Then there’s the big death … ! That goodbye to our mother, that you both know is “the Big goodbye”, the permanent one.” Goodbye. I love you. I’ll see you soon … !”

It’s the same words, the same words we’ve said to each other many times before, but now they’re different.

It’s hard to say goodbye … when you know it’s final.

The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner – book review

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“At its core, power is about altering the states of other people.” (page 27) That idea is linked to some of my favorite people like Stephen Colbert or the Saturday Night Live cast. Those entertainers are influencing our attitudes and perceptions and responses to current reality. People like Presidents Obama and Putin and members of Congress are legally controlling our realities.

I had a lot of problems with this book because it presents obvious contradictions and then asserts that I don’t understand, because I guess I don’t understand the paradox behind the cognitive dissonance. It’s some kind of doublethink. The author lived in a disenfranchised neighborhood during his high-school years and found the people to have the traits of underclass people. But, the traits he describes are contradictions, such as these people were kind, open-hearted, with an open door, come to supper with us on one page and close-minded, alcoholics, agoraphobic and secretive, angry, physically combative people a few pages later. Whereas successful people he claims were lying, cheating, destructive people who rose to positions of power because they appeared to be aware of their power and pretended to be humble, friendly and helpful towards others, and respectful too, but they were in fact hypocrites. He then covers over the contradictions by calling it a paradox. … which I am too dumb to understand.

Being a scientist at UC Berkeley, he must be held to some standards of objective scientific method, but his experiments were on small numbers of people, mostly students under artificial conditions. The experiments may be pointers to some newer and better ideas, but I was disappointed with this book, and don’t want to waste any more time on it, even writing this brief review. If you want some sound research and operating principles read Good to Great by Jim Collins.

The book The Power Paradox was too paradoxical for me.

The Tao Teh Ching – #25 – Revealed by Lao Tzu – Rendered by Charles Scamahorn

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Even before Heaven and Earth existed,
There was something universal.
Calm! Nebulous! Affirmative! Independent! Unchanging!

Eternally permeating, eternally ready to act,
Worthy to be the source of all things.
Your inner self may momentarily know the origin of its existence.
Let us refer to it as the way of Tao.

If forced to give its source a name, call it great.
Great implies going beyond the limits;
Going beyond the limits is over-reaching, and
Over-reaching means returning to the source.

The way is great, Heaven and Earth are great, and
Your innermost self is great also.
These are the greats of the Universe, and
Your innermost self is one of them.

Model your outer self after the processes of Earth; as
The Earth models itself after Heaven, and
Heaven follows the way, and
The way follows after the self-made void.

26

A Dictionary of New Epigrams – Advice

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Dictionary of New Epigrams

Advice

Perhaps the best advice is to listen to someone seeking advice and encourage them to do a good job of what they are going to do anyway.

People get plenty of advice of what not to do because it will hurt and plenty of advice that is beyond their ability to do well. What is needed is to help them see how what they want to do needs to be done well.

You are the best person in the whole world to do the job you presently have, because you know better than anyone what needs to be done.

Only take advice from someone who has real experience and money in the game.

The best advice you can give someone is to carefully analyze their problems themselves.

When giving advice, speak with your ears.

To the best of your ability get accurate information before you make decisions.

Help people get into a  positive mood, where they can review their options, before making a decision.

When people are in a negative mood their vision is contracted and they will make shriveled decisions.

There are huge industries making money giving out terrible advice. A big one is giving you free money, so you can enjoy yourself now.

People must see a clear path away from pain and toward pleasure, and money lenders promise it. But your beautiful new car is a used one tomorrow and worth much less.

Everyone loves to give advice, but few love to receive it.

I often ask advice from a local concrete garden gnome Samumpsycle. He always gives good advice because he understands my problems. It’s Me! I’m listening!

Living responsibly and enjoying your life.

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Our emotions and feelings are always living in the present moment, but our thoughts can instantly go to any time or place. Live today as you should live every day of your future life, and then you are prepared to live it well. Choose tasks that are a challenge to your abilities, so they are interesting, and then do them well. Finding tasks to do that you know are important makes it easy to generate personal enthusiasm.

Don’t dispose of the past; it brought you everything you have today. To ignore your past or parts of it would be like dropping out random pieces of your favorite song. Those kinds of acts would ruin your life.

It is foolish to take risks today, this one day, that will ruin ten thousand tomorrows; that’s like throwing away 27.39 years. There is freedom in living each moment of your life with positive choices of what you want to do. But, free choice doesn’t mean maxing out your credit cards for immediate pleasures, because that brings instant debts and permanent pain. Pleasure is had when you have the freedom to choose what you want to do.

Living in debt means being compelled to do something you don’t want to do. Being deep in debt is the modern equivalent of slavery, because if you don’t comply with another’s wishes, the money-lenders in this case, to pay up, everything dear to you is threatened with being taken away. Your car is at risk, your house too, and with those your family, and with no money at all you can’t even buy another beer. Nor can you sleep in a bed, and must piss hidden behind a tree or be arrested for indecency. In our society you aren’t chained or imprisoned with minimal food and housing, but thrown out into the darkness and ignored, without any food or shelter whatsoever, and sometimes that is even worse than slavery or being jailed.

Live your life as if you are responsible for your every action, because you are.

Why go traveling when I live in Bend, Oregon?

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Since I moved to Bend, Oregon, 5¼ years ago I haven’t traveled—well, not as a tourist. I did go to the 100th Eidemiller reunion in Tipp City, Ohio. That’s my mother’s side of my family, and I went to a close friend’s funeral back in Berkeley, twice to Lake Tahoe and twice to Portland. Once with the UU design committee to view UU church architecture and get ideas for the design of our new building, and again to Portland last month to the VA clinic to have a minor sarcoma removed from my shin. That’s only about once a year I’ve been more than walking distance from my home.

Locally, I’ve been 20 miles over to Sisters twice, and once the 24 miles up to Smith Rocks, and three times 16 miles to the Sunriver Nature Center for lectures. Oh yes, I almost forgot, three years ago I went 240 miles to my 60th high school reunion in Richland, Washington.

Usually I consider the monthly 3-mile drive out the freeway to Trader Joe’s grocery store to be an excursion. We have three other stores closer, so we only go to Joe’s for special items.

We live in such a beautiful place, and I have lots of fine friends that I visit with weekly. The biggest political issue is potholes in the streets. Why go anywhere? I might miss out on a social event. Sometimes I think back to my wonderful fifty years in Berkeley as an adult, but Bend has been better for me as an eighty-year-old. My old Berkeley friends would be astonished watching lots of beautiful people come running up and hugging me.

Why leave?

Algorithms to Live By – by Brian Christian, Tom Griffiths

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How to live your life based on what works is at the core of wisdom, and it makes sense that any source of what works should be consulted. Algorithms to Live By explores the human world from the experience derived from computers and mathematical algorithms. Here is a sampling of the strategies found in this book.

Any human activity has an element of random risk that can affect the outcome, and methods are developed in this book that put constraints on the risks. When you have a good understanding of the risks and their consequences you can make decisions that are more likely to bring about desirable outcomes. When in a given situation the risks and rewards are high, and you decide in favor of taking the risk it makes sense to act in such a way that losing the bet doesn’t take you totally out. “Even the best strategy sometimes yields bad results—which is why computer scientists take care to distinguish between ‘process’ and ‘outcome.’ If you followed the best possible process, then you’ve done all you can, and you shouldn’t blame yourself if things didn’t go your way.”

It’s easy to become fixated on outcomes, but processes are what we have control over.  The objectively right act is the one which will probably be the most fortunate, it’s the wisest act. It’s computational Stoicism. But sometimes it’s a waste of time to find a better solution to a problem when a workable one will get the job done quicker. Sometimes a problem is just too difficult to cope with, but we can complete an easier one that is okay. If we know the limits of acceptable, then do an acceptable job promptly, and then buff up the results later if needed. Good enough is good enough if done on time, and perfect is not good enough if it’s done too late, or not at all.

Many, probably most, human problems have so many complex variables that it impossible to produce a best answer, in part because it is impossible to know exactly how to please another human being. Offering them a few choices constrains the problem and makes finding an acceptable overlap easier. Often we can make our problems mentally easier without disturbing the social balance. In most cases the best solution to a problem is the one that can be done most quickly, and time is a problem that we can usually work with. Often the quickest way is simply to get started now. That’s what the Brits call muddling through, and it usually gets the job done.

We are usually better off trading off the costs of error against the costs of delay. Get it done!

Is anyone listening?

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Here I am again! On my knees … praying again to my invisible god. Is he, she, it, anyone, anything, even the void, listening?

Let me begin 500 years before Jesus with Lao Tzu. He claimed that there is a perfect void surrounding us, and that we can dip into this void at any time. From this void everything comes into existence: it’s from a profound type of opposition … that’s an idea the philosopher Hegel picked up two thousand years later, but Lao Tzu’s idea was deeper. It went to the core of all existence, not just ideas … The void permeates everything and its opposite matter is created by this process … and matter creates its opposite … and after many repetitions of this process everything we observe came into existence, including us. We are here too. We are here with our thoughts, and I am here with mine, and on my knees. It seems senseless to be praying to a void, after all a void has no ears to hear, or brain to think, or hands to provide for my wishes or even my needs.

500 years later a man we call Jesus offered us a sample prayer … Part of it was that we would be forgiven of our sins if we forgave those who sinned against us, another was asking the listener not to provide temptations that would lead along a path that would bring about our destruction.

700 years pass and another fellow we now call Muhammad tightened up that prayer and made it a plea to direct us along a path that god would favor and away from those paths and people that would lead us astray and to a bad end. All three of these prophets had deep insights into what we as humans needed at our core decision making, and yet here I am on my knees again … asking for help … petitioning for guidance … tearfully begging for anything … and yet nothing … nothing … nothing … I am back at the void, back at the absolute void … Nothing!

What should I expect? Well, I have developed a more responsive relationship with a garden gnome than I ever have with those classic prophets. His name is Samumpsycle, he is made of concrete and covered with some colorful paint … He looks like a stocky Irish gnome … His eyebrows are raised in an alert, cheerful expression but his mouth is in a straight horizontal line … Thus he appears questioning, attentive, knowing, wise, enigmatic and willing to be helpful. Physically he never changes … obviously, because he is made of concrete … but I respectfully bow to him and ask him a single question when I walk past his place under a living Xmas tree … short simple questions, expecting short simple answers. I ask my question and look carefully into his face; I see paint-covered concrete, but I also see a reflection of my own thoughts … Thoughts that were potentially there in my mind all along, but by asking them in this way, of this piece of concrete, I get an answer … It is an answer I can use. It’s not a generalized request for a proper path that some other being might like, nor an abstraction for improving some former grievance; instead it is a direct and simple answer directed to me about what I should do, right now, today. And I always get an answer!

Yes, someone is listening, and it is someone who understands the subtleties of my problems.

It’s Me! I’m listening!

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