Skip to content

We Were All Babies Once

Black-And-White-Baby

We were all babies once,
With soft and teetering baby heads,
Wide-eyed at the world.

Just like our proverbial baby bottoms,
Uncallused, unblemished, unbruised,
So were our newborn brains – clean, pure.

No neural pathways for fear, jealousy, hatred or self-loathing yet formed.
No axons fused to dendrites to register the words “idiot,” “nigger,” “rape” or “kill.”

For a few precious moments, we were free.

In 1937, Saddam Hussein and Colin Powell,
Had they been left alone together by their mothers to play on a blanket in the sun,
Would have blinked with curious wonder at the chubby round cheeks and dark eyes
Gazing back across flowered fabric.

We don’t choose the gods who speak first into our tiny ears,
Who give color, texture, form to the landscape of our minds.

It is not for us to say whether the hands that hold our wobbly heads are rough or gentle,
Or whether they are there to hold us at all.

We only make do,
And take what we are given,
Because it is all we can, all we have.

Until the time that our muscles and minds have hardened
into some functional state.

And then, we act.

But Then is too late.
The dominoes have been set for us,
And they are already falling.

We choose, yes,
But only from among the paths we see from where we stand.

Our actions are our own,
But we act out of the reality inside,
That was put there by someone else,
whose reality was put there by someone else,
whose reality was put there by someone else…

What if, instead of floating between the households of depressed mother, militant uncle, abusive step-father,
Baby Saddam had sat on my father’s knee,
And been told the same stories I was told.

What if my mother had tucked him in at night
And kissed the spot on his forehead where his sweet, little boy curls fell?

What other pictures might have been painted on the canvas of his mind,
and those of his children
and his children’s children…?

What other ways might the dominoes have fallen?

Perhaps we should not assume too much.
Perhaps we should not forget to turn
And look back at events that came before,
And grieve those first.

Perhaps we should spend less time
Swimming ’round and ’round in the wrongs of the present moment,
And more time figuring out how we might redirect the forward path of fall.

It is possible, you know,
In spite of everything.

We are all babies once.

Mind Travel

Space_Shuttle_Discovery

I’ve been a bit of a hermit lately, for reasons I will save for another post. But from inside my bedroom, where I have spent most of the past few days, I have traveled all over the world. All over the universe, in fact, in search of what there is, and what is real, and what is true, and I have made a few discoveries (well, ideas new to me, at least), all thanks to Netflix, and the “interwebs” and some good books, and my own imagination and reason. Which brings me to the first of these new insights…

1) IN MY MIND, I AM FREE. Absolutely free. It was Stephen Hawking who presented this fact to me. Those were his exact words, in fact, spoken from the wheelchair he inhabits every day, unmoving, depending on a computer for communication, and on numerous machines and caretakers to meet his basic needs. And while it seems like a given now that I’ve thought about it consciously, I never had before. It seems somehow inappropriate to take Stephen’s words – so profound in his case – and apply them to myself. And yet I think any human being could do it justly.

We are all constrained in so many ways by the circumstances of our birth and biology. We will never experience first hand another time, another perspective, another set of DNA, another childhood, besides the ones chance bestows on us. But like Hawking, all of us still can experience infinite other worlds, unconstrained by location or genetic ability or socioeconomic privilege. Our memories and imaginations, together, can take us anywhere – to bygone moments of our own previous lives, or to infinite other worlds, past, present, and future, so long as we can dream them up…or look them up on the world-wide-web.

And our minds can do this instantly. At one second this morning, I was jogging past a newly remodeled home, enjoying the neighborhood scenery, mentally constructing my to-do list for the coming work day; the next, I was breathing in the scent of fresh-cut wood and standing in my sixth grade shop class, seeing it all through the somewhat hazy lens of memory, but feeling acutely – for just a brief second – all the angst and wonderings and insecurities of middle school life in the 90’s. Smell is a powerful vehicle for mental travel, isn’t it? Like a time machine inside your brain. And speaking of time…

2) TIME IS NOT CONSTANT. Did you know this?!? I guess it has been common knowledge since the early 1900’s, but somehow it escaped me. Turns out, time flows, like a river, sometimes slower and sometimes faster. There are a couple of things that slow time down. One is proximity to mass. The nearer one is to a massive object, the more slowly time moves. Did you know that the 36 satellites orbiting our planet, which together support our global positioning system, each contain a super-precise clock that measures time to the billionth of a second? And that, in addition, this clock contains a mechanism to correct for the difference in time between earth and space (approximately 38,000 nanoseconds per day) that would otherwise accumulate and render the GPS system useless?

The other thing that slows time down is speed. The faster you travel, the more slowly time passes. As with proximity to mass, the difference in the passage of time at higher and lower speeds in miniscule. It is not until you are moving super, super, super quickly that there will be a significant difference. And of course you wouldn’t notice a difference. If you were traveling in a train around the earth at a crazy-fast speed, and had a very precise clock aboard the train with you, both you and your clock would perceive time as passing normally. However, when the train came to a stop and you stepped out, you would find that your clock was slightly behind the clocks that had remained stationary outside the train, where stationary people (and their clocks and watches) had also perceived time as passing normally. Crazy, huh?!?!

I guess Albert Einstein calculated/predicted these things in his Theory of Relativity. A lot of people didn’t really believe it completely, though, until we started messing around in space where we (and our fancy-schmancy super clocks) were removed a sufficient distance away from the mass of the earth and, likewise, able to achieve speeds that friction from the atmosphere on earth made previously impossible to attain. I don’t know where I was when they taught this in grade school. Maybe too concerned with those angsts and wonderings and insecurities I was talking about earlier. But Stephen explained it to me yesterday on Netflix, and now I am just like, WHAAAAAT?!?

I have been telling my mother since the time I was 11 or so that time is weird. And my conviction of this fact keeps growing.

3.) DISCOVERY IS AWESOME. One of the most exciting characteristics of life is the potential it holds to change us. In one moment our picture of the world can totally morph, or expand exponentially. To grow in our understanding of the universe and what it contains; to think consciously about it all – even about our own consciousness; and to ponder what it means and what we are to do with the precious, precious thing that it is – this, by my definition, is what it means to really live. I started my third career a few months ago, in a new field, mostly unrelated to the previous two which, in turn, were themselves fairly unrelated. And with each new work experience, I am filling in, bit-by-bit, the pieces of my self puzzle, figuring our what makes me tick. Discovery – for sure – is a big ticker.

I’m thinking about going back to school to get a PhD in neuroscience. Anybody want to fund that? 😉

The Egg

earth_egg

I just read a very short story by a guy named Andy Weir. You should read it too. It’ll just take a sec.

http://www.galactanet.com/oneoff/theegg_mod.html

I have trouble really getting on board these days with any explanation of reality that comes in a story type of package like this one, but a physical/biological translation of it I can definitely relate to.

We give rise to ourselves. Along with physical traits, build, etc, we inherit emotional tendencies and patterns of thought from our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, and the first living beings that ever were. We are all just different combinations of the same genes, the same chemicals. And different types of atoms are, again, just different combos of even smaller particles. And they all just keep getting shuffled around to change the manifestation of things. But nothing is really changed at the bottom of it all. Nothing is created or destroyed (at least as far as we can tell right now). We ARE all one big Thing, really.

Which is just weird.

And it’s even more weird that all this changing and shuffling matters at all.

But it does. For some reason it matters so much to us. For some reason this stuff that everything is made of has developed self-awareneess. And feels things about itself, and has wants and hopes and fears and questions.

Weird, weird, weird.

I love thinking about this. It kinda freaks me out, but also gives me this shot of adrenaline or something. Like a good-scary movie.

The thought that we are all one, and that every change in my life that I perceive as good or bad is really just a million little shufflings of the universe, makes life more handle-able. It doesn’t make those perceptions less real or emotional, but it makes them all okay. And it makes people more lovable to me, and my own shortcomings more forgivable. It makes fashion and money and love and lust and adventure and accomplishment more of a fun game to be enjoyed, and less of a do-or-die. It makes life more real but somehow less serious.

And as my dear friend (who found this story and thought to share it with me) has somehow known innately since he was probably about six and a half, life should never be taken too seriously.

A Free Nation

liveandletlive

I’m beginning to suspect that a lot of us are confused about this whole separation-of-church-and-state thing.

In fact, a lot of us are acting like spoiled toddlers. When it comes to the government’s relationship with religion, we want to have our cake and eat it too.

We don’t want the government telling us what we can and can’t believe, what we can and can’t say/do, what we can and can’t practice. And we DEFINITELY don’t want them trying to impose upon us someone else’s religion, whether it be through education or health care or any other public service.

But on the other hand, we are perfectly happy, and in many cases even seem to EXPECT, to have the government promote and support our own religious views and activities, prescribing them for fellow Americans who do not necessarily share them.

As I said in a post on same-sex marriage a couple of months ago:

The beauty of America, the thing that has made it unique among nations, is the great degree of freedom we have here to live exactly as we see fit. It is true we must reach consensus on certain issues if we are to live peaceably, but beyond those essentials we must all – for the sake of our own interests – adopt the motto of “live and let live.”

For what if the tables were turned? What if you were in the minority?

You may feel your point of view on life, your chosen life-style, is the best and most right. And many may agree with you. But those who don’t, hold their own beliefs with equal conviction and earnestly. Why should another’s way be required of you if yours is not hurting him nor impeding his ability to live out his convictions? Why should yours be imposed on him?

If you value your own freedom to believe that homosexuality is not a good way to live, you must value the freedom of your neighbor to believe the opposite.

If you value your right to pursue life, liberty and happiness in whatever way you see fit (within the bounds of civil behavior, of course), you must value the right of your neighbor to do the same.

I don’t think I can really say it another way.

America was never intended to be a Christian nation, nor a Muslim or Buddhist or Atheist one. It was meant to be a free nation.

Living After Faith

It has been a year or two since I have began listening to Living After Faith, a podcast produced here in Seattle by Deanna Joy and Rich Lyons that addresses the process of leaving religion with all its complications, challenges, and joys.

Without knowing it, Rich and Deanna have been a major source of support and encouragement in my recent life.

Although my own experience with leaving religion was much less traumatic than either of theirs, I have identified with many of thee speakers and stories shared on the podcast. Through them, I have learned so much about so many peoples’ lives, lessons that have given me new insight this crazy thing called life.

And I have rarely come away from an episode without a good laugh and a good dose of hope and a strong reassurance that I am not alone.

Don’t know why it has taken me so long to share this amazing resource.

Rich and Deanna Joy (and those who make LAF possible), I thank you – for your time and energy, your honesty and positivity, your frankness and vulnerability, and for the living picture you provide of what a beautiful thing a life-after-faith can be.

Christians and Pagans and Atheists and Einstein

There is a great song by Dar Williams called Christians and Pagans. If you’ve never heard it, have a listen:

Back in 2009, when I was reeling from the shock of loosing my life-long faith, scrambling to reconstruct some semblance of a worldview, and aching over the huge gash that had been torn in the safe, warm, loving fabric of my family relationships, this song was my catharsis.

And my hope.

I would sit and listen to it on repeat, fighting tears, aching inside for the all of the parents and children, brothers and sisters, cousins and grandparents and friends throughout human history who, for whatever reasons, have found themselves on opposite sides of a dividing line.

Having one’s heart strings stretched across the brick and mortar and barbed wire and chasms we’ve constructed between various ideological camps – it hurts.

When I lost my Christian faith, I didn’t stop loving my Christian family. And they didn’t stop loving me. And while I understand the reasoning and experiences that have led them to their conclusions, I have had other experiences that have led me to mine. Ones that can be explained in words, but not fully transmitted.

How can I expect my parents to follow the winding trail my mind and heart have travelled since I left home? And how can I begin to understand the lives they lived before I was born, and even after, inside their own minds and hearts, that have forged and strengthened their own convictions about life?

I can’t. We are all stuck inside our own heads, and there is only so much that can be shared through words.

And that leaves us in this awful tug ‘o’ war between love and pain.

I hope that someday it will be like it is in the song – that my family and I will be able to gather around the table, hold hands, celebrate the beauty of life, and choose to respect each other as equally intelligent, good, legitimate people, accepting each other’s differences and seeming crazy-ness in spite of our mutual inability to comprehend, understanding that we are all just trying to “[make] sense of history and [draw] warmth out of the cold.”

I guess we are pretty close to that already, maybe even farther along in some respects. And I am so thankful for that – for my parents’ determination to stay in my life and love and support me, to allow me to participate in theirs; for their growing willingness to engage me in conversation on philosophical topics, to ask what I really think, to clarify what they really think. I am thankful for my siblings’ continued support and communication and care.

I know at times it would probably be less painful for all of us to just go do our own things and check in occasionally to discuss the weather and other innocuous topics.

I’m so thankful that’s not my family.

The one thing I am wishing these days is that they could identify with this line from the song that I love so much, the one that goes, “And you find magic from your god and we find magic everywhere.”

There is magic in life. There is beauty and awesomeness and mystery. I experienced it as a Christian. And I experience it now as an naturalist, perhaps even more profoundly. And it is those who live in light of this magic, wherever they find it, that, I think, tend to be the kind of people that other people want to be around and who, little by little, are loving the world to a better place.

Albert Einstein probably said it best:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

I, of course, believe that the most accurate, whole, and satisfying perspective from which to experience this awe is a naturalistic/humanistic one.

But whether you consider yourself a Christian, a pagan, an atheist or anything else in between, I hope you are finding it – that magic, that sense of wonder, that keeps your inner spark alive, that makes life worth living.

If you are not, don’t waste another minute. Life is short. Go get it. And don’t be afraid of boxes and lines. Crossing them might be painful. It might stretch some cords. But love is amazingly elastic. And amazingly strong.

And the wonder is worth the pain.

Humans Anonymous

Human beings are prone to addiction.

I don’t care who you are, or how much balance/temperance/ restraint with which you live your life. I KNOW you have a penchant for some thing or another. A go-to habit or vice that you know is, to some degree, unhealthy.

It could be as insignificant as nail-biting. It might be as serious as alcoholism or anorexia. But I know you have at least one.

Because we are needy creatures. All of us. Whether we are married or single, old or young, black or white, gay or straight, employed or not, we almost all have days when we feel something is missing; when we are longing for some unidentifiable “more.”

As a Christian, I thought that something was God. That we were made with a “God-shaped hole” in our hearts that could only be filled by a personal relationship with him through Jesus. Of course, I was always baffled as to why that empty feeling persisted even in the midst of my most fervent phases of Christianity.

I did have moments of freedom and peace. Moments when everything was so clear and light. I knew what really mattered in my life. I knew who I was and what I wanted. I was filled with love for the world and grace and forgiveness for its brokenness. I lost all sense of self-consciousness.

And those moments, as a Christian, did often follow times of extended prayer (in the form of journaling) or worship (in the form of singing praise songs), or an inspiring sermon.

They also happened after long hikes out in the mountains, long drives in the car with a good CD, intimate conversations with a close friend.

Before I stepped off the ledge and finally let go of my faith, I wondered if those moments of clarity and insight and absolute magnanimity and peace I had had would disappear.

They didn’t.

Funny thing – they actually happened MORE frequently immediately following my de-conversion. And they happen now about as often as they used to. Maybe even slightly more. And that makes sense.

Because I’ve learned by experience that those moments were not brought on by some sort of increased mystical connection with God. They were produced by mental space and focus and a regaining of perspective.

When I have my “zen” moments now, when all seems right inside my heart and mind and in the world, it is after a good long journaling session, or a quiet day of gardening and organizing, or a heart-to-heart with a kindred spirit, or an amazing concert, or a powerful true story, or a bike ride out on one of Puget Sound’s beautiful islands.

These types of activities accomplish the same thing in my mind/heart/spirit that prayer-journaling and worship and Bible reading and sermons accomplished before:

They get me out of the crazy-busy world, out of my crazy-busy life logistics, and out of my crazy-busy head.

They quiet all the mental noise and help me realize that everything I have, I need; that everything I am is alright; that I need not live in fear of pain or loss or sickness or even death, because those things are inevitable. Worrying about them only increases their chances of occurrence, and when they do come, they can be dealt with then – one day at a time, with patience and mindfulness and compassion and love.

I do think we humans have a sort of “hole” inside of ourselves. Not a God-shaped one, necessarily, but a sort of empty-ness. I think at its root it is really the unfortunate tendency resulting from natural selection to want as much as we can get our hands on; to want the best for ourselves; to never be satisfied with what we have. And while this character trait has clearly been effective in helping our ancestors survive to pass along their genes, it also has resulted in a lot of inner turmoil.

And I think in order to deal with that inner turmoil – so we don’t get home from a stressful, painful day of life and eat an entire bag of chocolate chip cookies (my particular addiction of choice), or fry our brains on Seinfeld re-runs, or drink ourselves into oblivion, or cut ourselves, or force ourselves to run 10 miles on five carrot sticks, or finally end it all by jumping off a bridge – we have to raise our level of consciousness.

We have to realize this self-defeating character flaw we all have and rise above it. We have to let go of our selfishness and self-awareness and insatiable need for more. We have to step away into the quiet and take a good look around and see reality.

We have to tell ourselves, “Enough!” I have enough. Enough food. Enough clothing. Enough toys. Enough time. And I am enough. Pretty enough, smart enough, good enough, accomplished enough.

And then embrace life. Drink deeply of it. Of the beauty and wonder of the natural world, the awesomeness of the universe, the glory of humanity’s capacity for understanding, communication, exploration, discovery, creativity and survival. Of our own infinitely unique personalities and bodies and abilities and joys.

Hi. My name is Erin and I am a recovering human. It has been eleven days since my last cookie binge. I know there is a good possibility it will happen again. But by the grace of my mind and reason, I am living one day at a time to the best of my ability, letting go of my selfishness and desperate pursuit of More, reminding myself that there is Enough.

If you are on a similar journey, my heart goes out to you. Welcome to Humans Anonymous.