It's darker here.

Blind Ambition

DTG: 06:07 Sunday, 30 April 2023

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Søren Kierkegaard

I know that it is only now, entering the twilight of my life, that I can appreciate much of my lived experience. I'm genuinely grateful for it, and that much of it feels meaningful, is meaningful, to me.

"Meaning" in the sense of "implied significance."

And I should pause here and point out that life is meaningless. Like General Electric, we "bring meaning to life." It is by living that we make meaning.

Everyone can live a meaningful life. And most people do. Nearly everyone. Some more than others, some tragically little. And "meaning" can have positive and negative poles. Most people seek the positive one, but can end up at the negative one.

One of the things I didn't appreciate when I was in uniform was the opportunity it gave me to make meaning. I did make meaning in uniform. Some of the things I most treasure. The burials at sea, the meditations on faith and honor shared in retirement ceremonies. But I didn't truly appreciate the opportunity the uniform afforded me to make meaning every day.

This is the thing that many people miss, I think. We live our lives caught up in the moment, and we seldom have reason or opportunity to pause and reflect on what it is we're doing and what it's about.

When I thought about what it was we were doing when we were performing all those burials at sea, well, I was at sea. At night, alone in my cabin with just my thoughts and the paperwork that accompanied those cremains. I wasn't at home with the kids, watching TV, doing chores. I had an opportunity to reflect, because there was nothing else competing for my attention in that moment.

You can live a meaningful life unconsciously. It's possible. Most people are good people, doing good things, and that's mostly how meaning is made. It doesn't require heroic sacrifice. Courtesy, compassion, patience, anytime anyone exhibits any of those things, they're making meaning. Unconsciously, which means that those are perhaps the hardest for us to appreciate about ourselves.

Even in a service role, and I'm not exclusively referring to military service, it's possible that we may be going about it unconsciously. Not appreciating the meaning we're making, the value we create in others' lives. There's a whole movie about that, It's a Wonderful Life.

Worse than living life unconsciously though, is living life blindly.

What role does your attention play in your life?

Imagine ambition. Where is your attention then?

If it's focused on yourself, your goals, then chances are you may be blind to the opportunity you have to make meaning in your life, unless that is your goal. To live a meaningful life.

I think people in elected office don't appreciate the opportunity they have to live a meaningful life. I think many of them have their attention focused on their opponents, their allies, their conflicts, their next office. They may view their role exclusively in the context of a zero-sum game, where someone has to lose in order for them to win.

They may frame their choices in that context, not recognizing the opportunity right before their eyes to make meaning in their own lives, and in the lives of the people they supposedly serve.

Or worse, making all the wrong sorts of meaning, the wrong kinds of "implied significance."

And it's obvious too, if anyone cares to look. The good news is, most people are similarly caught up in the struggle to manage the growing chaos of daily life to notice that politicians and elected leaders are focusing on themselves and missing opportunities to make meaning in their lives.

You won't find "consultants" telling elected leaders, or candidates, this.

Therapists, maybe. And everyone could use a good therapist.

But a consultant will blind you. Keep your focus and your attention on the consultant, on the actions that will benefit the consultant, and I guess, by extension, you.

And you'll squander rare, irreplaceable opportunities to live a meaningful life.

Or worse, make the kind of meaning you'll look back on with regret. The "implied significance" of how you've made others' lives more difficult, or seem less valuable, less important, diminished.

Blind ambition. I don't know if it's to be pitied or cursed. Maybe both.

I'll Try to Remind You

DTG: 05:57 Saturday, 15 April 2023

Had a pleasant evening last night with friends. When I go to bed, sometimes I like to listen to a little music, and I'll pick a song that I think I want to hear. Last night it was Patty Griffin's When It Don't Come Easy.

I don't know nothing except change will come

Year after year what we do is undone

Time gets moving from a crawl to a run

I wonder if we're going to ever get home

You're out there walking down a highway

And all of the signs got blown away

Sometimes you wonder if you're walking in the wrong direction


The time in my life when I learned the most, was the time when it felt the hardest. I wrote "felt" instead of "was" because it was a feeling, and "was" is the past tense of the verb "to be," and one of the things I learned was about being.

Being and nothingness.

There are philosophers and scholars who I'm certain would say that I've got this all wrong, and they may be right. I'm an authority on nothing.

But one of the things I stumbled on was the work of a Japanese philosopher, Kitaro Nishida, who tried to integrate eastern and western thought. That's a topic for another day, but it's a place to start if you're so inclined. May not be the best place, but everyone's gotta start someplace.

Anyway, mu, "nothingness" is "the ultimate ground of being." Being only has meaning against non-being, nothingness. Existence, the universe, God, is the negation of nothingness. An affirmation. An act of faith. "Yes."

Act. Action. Being and nothingness in the field of time. Action creates time.

Consciousness apprehends the duality of being and nothingness, apprehends its own existence, and derives its action from each of these "binding opposites" (Heraclitus). The action that proceeds from being proceeds from faith, from an affirmation of being, from the negation of nothingness. The action that proceeds from nothingness proceeds from fear, from a rejection being, to the return to nothingness.

Our consciousness, consciously or unconsciously, most often the latter, contains and proceeds from this same duality. The power of consciousness is the power to choose. It's a very weak power, as much of our behavior is unconscious, habituated, conditioned.

But, as with the power of our muscles, we can increase our power to choose, through effort and learning. Few of us will ever become the Buddha, or Neo, or Jesus. Perhaps none of us. Perhaps no one ever did. But we can become more powerful in choosing which aspect we wish to present to our consciousness, one of faith or the other of fear.

One of the things I learned is that love is faith in action. Anger is fear in action. Lots of things have been said to be opposite of love, the most clever seems to be "indifference." I don't think indifference exists in this context. Indifference, to the extent that it is used with a negative connotation, I think relates to the absence of compassion; and, in any case the opposite of "action." I don't wish to debate this, I just wanted to acknowledge I'm aware of it.

There's also the eros and agape aspect, and in this instance I'm referring to the latter, and that you may assume that I'm seeing "God" in being, in all of being, and others can debate that if they wish as well.

In physics there is velocity, uniform motion, the constant change of position with respect to time, and there is acceleration, the constant change of position with respect to a changing amount of time. Uniform motion is dx/dt, the first derivative, acceleration is dx/dt^2, the second derivative. Acceleration, to change velocity, requires an application of force.

Courage is love in action, the second derivative of faith with respect to time. Hatred, or, perhaps "cruelty," is anger in action, the second derivative of fear with respect to time.

Each requires summoning some effort beyond the uniform.

While consciousness can apprehend the duality of being and nothingness, it often doesn't direct the faculty of attention to it. Attention is a finite resource, intrinsically linked with time. There is some reason to believe that our attention "bandwidth" is variable, though by no means unlimited.

We are social beings, we are all alike and we are all different. We do not exist as atomistic, discrete, disconnected, separate entities. We are all in this together. Siddhartha wasn't compelled to seek enlightenment all by himself, and couldn't have found it without a lot of help along the way. Neo didn't die in The Matrix, because of Trinity's faith in him. Because she loved him.

"Now get up."

Was Neo the hero? Or was Trinity?

Is that even a question?

Anyway, we get to choose.

Faith or fear. From whence your desire?

As always, I'm an authority on nothing. I make all this shit up. You're very strongly encouraged to do your own thinking. It's harder than it sounds, I know.

But if you break down

I'll drive out and find you

If you forget my love

I'll try to remind you

And stay by you

When it don't come easy

When it don't come easy

Non-Attachment to Results

DTG: 08:44 Monday, 3 April 2023

In western culture, we're sometimes introduced to this concept as children when we're told, "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game that counts."

I suspect we don't teach that to children very often anymore.

We live in a zero-sum culture, where if you're not winning, you're losing.

Jacksonville's incumbent mayor, the largely irrelevant and soon-to-be-gone Lenny Curry is an extreme example. He loves sports, especially football and seems to harbor some lingering disappointment that his diminutive stature never allowed him to play the game at a competitive level.

Lenny and his associates, Brian Hughes and Timmy Baker, aka "the boys," like to think of themselves as brilliant strategists and tacticians, "winning" elections and referenda. And perhaps there's some justification for that. They have demonstrated an ability to manipulate people when they're given a clear lane to do so.

Their failure to secure the privatization of JEA was due to the requirement to maintain the illusion that everything was being done "transparently" and in good faith. Trying to make people believe they were just following a process to make a determination if selling JEA was in the public interest.

That process would have eventually yielded the one thing they needed to get a clear lane: A number.

Lenny needed a number. A (somewhat) legitimate number that told the city what it could get for selling its public utility. After the whole process imploded due to astonishing greed on the part of JEA's then-CEO, Aaron Zahn, hand-picked by Lenny Curry, we learned Florida Power & Light was willing to offer Jacksonville $11B for JEA.

I suspect Lenny knew that number all along, or one close to it. He knew that number would dazzle both the city council and much of the public at large. Once they had a number, and a list of potential goodies $11B could buy, they could win any city council vote, any public referendum. But it had to be legitimate, an "offer." And that required a process, and these aren't "process" people.

Lenny's pretty unhappy these days. His Twitter timeline is often filled with re-tweets of self-help aphorisms, so he's been drinking deeply from the well of self-help literature. It's not a happy person who goes there.

Non-attachment to results is part of the path to liberation from suffering. One definition of suffering might be, "The difference between the way things are, and the way you want them to be." Which is to say, "Desire is the source of all suffering."

But it's also a lever for attention, that faculty of consciousness that apprehends your reality. It aids in directing "focus."

We're often told to "focus on the goal," in order to achieve it. But if you're focusing on the goal, where is your attention?

I've told this story before in Groundhog Day, and I think in the Marmot, but back when I was studying martial arts, I had a little one-on-one lesson in aikido. I'd never studied aikido before, and haven't since either. But it was a lesson that would stay with me for the rest of my life, and it was one of those happy accidents that suggests there's more here than meets the eye.

We only had the hour, and it wasn't something we were going to do again, so my instructor chose a simple exercise to demonstrate one of the techniques and principles of aikido.

We stood facing one another and he asked me to grab his wrists with my hands. He then said that no matter what happened next, I wasn't to move or lift my feet. He would do the same, but he would move his arms, which I was holding at the wrists.

Just keep my feet planted on the ground, and he would do the same.

Well, it was perhaps a matter of a second before one of my feet came off the ground. So we did this a few times, and all I learned was that I couldn't keep my feet on the ground! All he was doing was moving his arms.

So we switched, he grabbed my wrists, told me to keep my feet on the ground and try to get him to lift one of his feet. Try as I would, his feet remained firmly planted on the mat.

Then, the lesson. He told me that when my hands grasped his wrists, all of my attention was going to my hands. That's how we manipulate the world! But my hands were useless in keeping my balance, keeping my feet firmly planted on the ground.

I had to place my attention at my center. Center of gravity, as it happens. You don't respond to being pushed off balance by using your hands, you shift your center of gravity. With each of us keeping our feet planted, our legs were constrained. All you could do was move your hips to keep your center of gravity over your feet. But it worked!

We did the drill again, and I was much more successful at keeping my feet on the ground.

The lesson I learned is that it's always important to pay attention to your center, that way you're less likely to be thrown off-balance. Less likely to end up on your ass.

Yesterday was a beautiful day. I took a walk in the morning and thought about things, as I often do on these walks.

I get worried. Frustrated. Angry.

There's an election coming up in Jacksonville. What's on the ballot are "more of the same," and a remarkable woman who may be able to bring real change to the political culture of Jacksonville. Certainly a new tone and direction for city government, for at least her term of office.

I never used to give money to politicians. I started giving to her when she ran for my congressional district, against a morally bankrupt, useless old man, who won re-election handily.

I gave Donna the max you could give as a personal donation. Which, frankly, felt a little surreal to me. It was $5800 back then, and that's a lot of money, even for me, a relatively privileged guy with a pension. Of course, she was out-raised and out-spent by her opponent. And I suppose in hindsight, we might have known it was futile.

But I don't regret it. Not at all.

Lately I've been thinking about "values," since Republicans seem to be talking about them all the time. On Twitter, I've been asking the rhetorical question, "What do you value? How do your values move you to action?"

Because if they don't move you to action, are they really values?

When Donna decided to run for mayor, she reached out to me for a donation. Different limits for local elections, $1000 for an individual to a candidate and $1000 for an individual to a committee. So I gave a thousand to her committee, and I did a monthly donation of $100 until I reached the max.

I don't live in Jacksonville, I can't vote for Donna. But my grandkids all live there. And as Sheriff Shoar always used to say, justifying his bloated budget, "What happens in Duval doesn't stay in Duval." So I feel as though I have a stake in what happens over the county line.

Well, I learned that the May run-off is a "new" election, and so you can give more money to a candidate. Last week, I gave $250 and felt pretty good about myself. Mentioned it on Twitter to kind of model that support. Said it was kind of a stretch, but it was worth it.

So on my walk yesterday I was reminding myself about non-attachment to results. I was worried that here I was, giving away more money, Democrats in Duval weren't even turning out to vote. Was I just throwing my money away?

Non-attachment to results. You do your best, the rest is not up to you. The only thing you have control over is what you do.

Was I doing my best?

What are my values? How do my values move me to action?

I donated the remaining $750 of the max contribution after I finished my walk.

I'm just a human being, and all men have feet of clay. But when I know what "my best" is, and I'm not doing it, well...

You do your best, the rest is not up to you.

If any of this moves you in some way, you know what to do.