Happy Talk

"In a searching dialogue, that in hindsight seems prescient, [Phillip Seymour Hoffman] wrestles with the concepts of happiness, love, and death with the same courage and compelling insight that he brought to his roles. Recorded at the Rubin Museum of Art on December 17, 2012."

See also: 


Feeling What It's Like to Be Weather


July 24, 2012

Excerpt from The Wisdom of No Escape (chapter titled "Weather and the Four Noble Truths") by Pema Chödrön:

The first noble truth says simply that it's part of being human to feel discomfort. We don't have to call it suffering anymore, we don't even have to call it discomfort. It's simply coming to know the fierness of fire, the wildness of wind, the turbulence of water, the upheaval of earth, the gentleness of the breezes, and the goodness, solidness, and dependability of the earth. Nothing in its essence is one way or the other...

Sometimes they manifest in one form and sometimes in another. If we feel that's a problem, we resist it. The first noble truth recognizes that we also change like the weather, we ebb, and flow like the tides, we wax and wane like the moon. We do that, and there's no reason to resist it. If we resist it, the reality and vitality of life become a misery, a hell.

The second noble truth says that this resistance is the fundamental operating mechanism of what we call ego, that resisting life causes suffering. Traditionally it's said that the cause of suffering is clinging to our narrow view. Another way to say the same thing is that resisting our complete unity with all of life, resisting the fact that we change and flow like the weather, that we have the same energy as all living things, resisting that is what's called ego. 

Yesterday I began to be very curious about the experience of resistance. I noticed that I was sitting there with uncomfortable feelings in my heart and my stomach—dread, you could call it. I began to recognize the opportunity of experiencing the realness...feeling what it's like to be weather. Of course that didn't make the discomfort go away, but it removed the resistance, and somehow the world was there again. When I didn't resist, I could see the world. 

Then I noticed that I had never liked the quality of this particular "weather" for some reason and so I resisted it. In doing that, I realized, I re-created myself. It's as if, when you resist, you dig in your heels. It's like as if you're a block of marble and you carve yourself out of it, you make yourself really solid.

In my case, worrying about things that are going to happen is very unpleasant; it's an addiction. It's also unpleasant to get drunk again if you're an alcoholic, or to have to keep shooting up if you're a drug addict, or to keep eating if you have overeating addiction, or whatever it is. All these things are very strange. We all know what addiction is; we are primarily addicted to ME.

Interestingly enough, when the weather changes and the energy simply flows through us, just as it flows through the grass and the trees and the ravens and the bears and the moose and the ocean and the rocks, we discover that we are not solid at all. If we sit still, like a mountain in a hurricane, if we don't protect ourselves from the trueness and the vividness and the immediacy and the lack of confirmation of simply being part of life, then we are not this separate being who has to have things turn out our way.

Bureaucracy in Pure Form

Photo by mamamusings

"Tetris was invented exactly when and where you would expect — in a Soviet computer lab in 1984 — and its game play reflects this origin.

The enemy in Tetris is not some identifiable villain (Donkey Kong, Mike Tyson, Carmen Sandiego) but a faceless, ceaseless, reasonless force that threatens constantly to overwhelm you, a churning production of blocks against which your only defense is a repetitive, meaningless sorting.

It is bureaucracy in pure form, busywork with no aim or end, impossible to avoid or escape. And the game’s final insult is that it annihilates free will.

Despite its obvious futility, somehow we can’t make ourselves stop rotating blocks. Tetris, like all the stupid games it spawned, forces us to choose to punish ourselves."

~ Sam Anderson, from "Just One More Game..." The New York Times Magazine,  April 8 2012 



Hear also: Steve Zimmer recounts the time when he and his co-workers become obsessed with Tetris, The Moth Podcast, Jan. 23, 2012  

Excruciating Vulnerability

“When you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask people about belonging, they’ll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection.”

~ Brené Brown, from “The Power of VulnerabilityTED Talks, June 2010

On Fire with Hunger

Excerpt from “An Insider’s View of the Oil Spill,” by Rick Bass, from a longer story originally published by the Virginia Quarterly Review:

Oil spill cleanup, containment efforts, hearings in wake of gulf disaster. (Washington Post) It wasn’t like baseball at all. It wasn’t like anything. The closest thing was maybe hunting—pursuing, with blind instinct and whetted desire and only a handful of clues, the hint of one’s quarry far into the wonderful wilderness of the unknown. Lands no man or woman ever saw, or ever will see, 10,000 feet below the ground. Beaches that received sunlight and warm winds hundreds of millions of years before the strange, momentary experiment of mankind arrived, cold and shivering and with neither fire nor fur. Beaches that were then buried over, still hundreds of millions of years before we first stirred, so anomalous and far from the spine of the main and older tree of life.

You were haunted by dry holes. The nature of the work—the rarity of the treasure—dictates that you’re wrong more often than you’re right. This rarity is what makes the payoff so spectacular. But despite knowing this, after each dry hole, you couldn’t sleep. You couldn’t believe your maps were wrong. The earth was wrong, you told yourself. You must have just missed the pay by a few inches. Not by miles, but by inches.

I believe the word for such behavior is denial, a noun commonly associated with its closest cousin, addiction. We were addicted to the intensity of our hunger—the almost limitless depths of it—and to the certitude that we were needed, that we were vital. Such a feeling is not quite as wonderful as the condition of being loved, but it is similar, with its dependencies, and far more reliable…

I remember those days so well: the power and heady feeling of being needed, of possessing a valuable and honored—and honorable—skill. Finding oil is an honorable skill. The independents—who are fast going out of business, like the independents in any industry—still know this.

The dangerous truth is that the hungers in the men and women who are working the crane lift-gear levers of the world’s major energy corporations are every bit as hungry as I was. They are good at what they do and are on fire with their hunger, and they will track the oil down to the ends of the earth. But they—unlike the independents—have few limits on their powers.

They will find oil, and will drill into it, no matter what the depth, no matter what the pressure. If we continue drilling at such absurd depths, BP’s will not be the last such blowout. It will instead only be the first one, the one that disturbed our blithe innocence.

Read more…

Escalating into Tenderness

Excerpt from Unconditional Confidence: Instructions for Meeting Any Experience with Trust and Courage by Pema Chödrön:

unconditionalconfidence It’s not like saying, if you turn towards fear, if you smile at fear, then BOOM—you’re fearless. Instead, you don’t discover courage right away. What you discover is something actually painful, but extremely tender.

So fear arises, and it causes you to close your mind and your heart and you harden. You harden against yourself, you harden against other people.

Or fear arises, in the form of slight anxiety, in the form of feeling inadequate, in the form of being embarrassed, in the form of absolute terror. It arises and it can escalate into the hardness of aggression or it can escalate into tenderness.

[You will have the actual experience of this tenderness] if you become curious about fear itself and go under the story line and actually feel it and know it even for one and a half minutes—even for two seconds. Right away, you understand that there’s something very tender hearted and vulnerable in the best sense that’s underneath the fear.

My own experience really is that the tenderness is under all strong emotions—not just fear. It’s also under aggression and jealousy and envy and addictive urges of all kinds. Somehow we always go in the direction of digging the hole deeper. Escalating the ubiquitous nervousness. But the encouragement here is to stop, and to breathe, and to feel the underlying tenderness. 

A Plague of Insatiability

Excerpt from “Dysregulation Nation,” by Judith Warner, New York Times Sunday Magazine (June 20, 2010):

Chris Jordan's Cans Seurat, 2007 60x92" Depicts 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds.

In the late 1970s, the historian Christopher Lasch famously described America as a culture of narcissism. Today we might well be called a nation of dysregulation. The signs that something is amiss in our inner mechanisms of control and restraint are everywhere. Eating disorders, “in general a disorder of self-regulation,” according to Darlene M. Atkins, director of the Eating Disorders Clinic at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, grew epidemic in the past few decades, and in recent years have spread to minority communities, younger girls, older women and boys and men too. Obesity is viewed in many cases by mental-health experts as another form of self-dysregulation:a “pathologically intense drive for food consumption” akin to drug addiction, in the words of Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Charles P. O’Brien, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, who have argued for including some forms of obesity as a mental disorder in the coming version of the psychiatric bible, the DSM-V.

In book publishing, addiction memoirs seem to have evolved into the bildungsromans of our time, their broad popularity suggesting that stories of self-destruction through excess can be counted upon to inspire a reliable there-but-for-the-grace-of-God affinity in readers. We read about dopamine fiends sitting enslaved to their screens, their brains hooked on the bursts of pleasure they receive from the ding of each new e-mail message or the arousing flash of a tweet. We see reports of young children so unable to control their behavior that they’re being expelled from preschool. And teenagers who, after years spent gorging on instant gratification (too-easy presents from eager-to-please parents, the thrill of the fast-changing screen), are restless, demanding, easily bored and said to be suffering from a plague of insatiability.

Mental-health professionals report seeing increasing numbers of kids who are all out of sync: they can’t sustain attention, regulate their rage, moderate their pain, tolerate normal types of sensory input. Some of this is biological; a problem of faulty brain wiring. But many of the problems — in both children and adults — according to Peter C. Whybrow, director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California in Los Angeles, come from living in a culture of excess.

Under normal circumstances, the emotional, reward-seeking, selfish, “myopic” part of our brain is checked and balanced in its desirous cravings by our powers of cognition — our awareness of the consequences, say, of eating too much or spending too much. But after decades of never-before-seen levels of affluence and endless messages promoting instant gratification, Whybrow says, this self-regulatory system has been knocked out of whack. The “orgy of self-indulgence” that spread in our land of no-money-down mortgages, he wrote in his 2005 book, “American Mania: When More Is Not Enough,” has disturbed the “ancient mechanisms that sustain our physical and mental balance.”



To Practice Hope

Chosen Blindness
by Mary Karr, from Viper Rum


Viper RumI was blind to flowers for one thing.
Picture a meadow stitched with dandelion,
those seed stalks whose tall white heads

poke up like ancestral ghosts
(pale auroras of wisdom), but profligate,
the fluff shot through with brown seeds

that others might follow. I never saw it,
just fixed on my own death, sat on the sofa
ingesting poison, looked out

at the rectangular field as if it were a postcard
from some foreign land, useless, already cancelled.
I sucked streams of gray smoke down my lungs

to blacken me deeper. The embroidery sampler I did in x’s
read BAD NEWS. The butterless popcorn I ate
was a bowl full of spiders. Skinny?

My skeleton forced itself forward. No word
of praise passed my lips though a million breaths
moved through me. That’s what human bodies do, keep

breathing, no matter the venom their brains manufacture.


Now I go to church. Who’d think it?
We stand in rows, like graves, I’d once have thought,
like herd beasts lined up for slaughter. Now I notice

our bodies bend in the same places. We form the same angles.
To sing together, we have to breathe in unison,
draw the same air into the dark meat of our bodies

as if it actually were spiritu sancti and ourselves
that spirit incarnate. Every now and then,
a toddler bolts up the main aisle, pursued

by a lumbering adult. Babies list
in sloping arms and toothless grin.
The old lean on canes

and chrome walkers set down slow. People
pause to let them pass. Always a list of dead is read,
always the sick are mentioned so your own aches

seem aggressively minor. My forebears
forebore this way, in company. Bread fed them,
and they had to practice hope to keep

plowing up the Dust Bowl’s
starved earth in rows, year
after fruitless year, till the cotton came back.


At the end of my drinking,
I coiled a garden hose in the back of my station wagon
and set off driving to a town

called Marblehead to breathe in the cool
exhaust and thus stop thoughts from streaming
through my mind like bad current.

I’d left my infant son a note, glowing green
on my computer screen, how he’d be
better off. Now a column of sun

through high windows shines
on his blond head. His hand
holds half our hymnal, index finger

underlining each word as we struggle
to match up our voices, hold the beat,
find the pattern emerging, feel the light

that glows in our chests, keep it going.

for Dev Milburn