Ascension Noir

Lydia jerks my head away and starts to push me up the street humming something in a language I don’t recognize saying, “you tog tsam skyag pa, you tog tsam skyag pa, you tog tsam skyag pa”.

“Lydia”, now I’m starting to laugh and spasm, “What the phuck does tog tsam skyag pa mean, what language is that?” and she says laughing and dropping to her knees, “It means little sh*t in Tibetan, you goddam little sh*t,” sputtering out her words and rolling on the sidewalk holding her stomach roaring.

“Look you little sh*t,” catching her breath, “We’re not where you think we are, we’re never going back, you’re never going back to whatever your life was or you thought it was, that Earth is gone for you, all of it. From now on it is free fall and shock and wonder and free fall and repeat for the remainder. Everything you see, everything you hear, everything you smell, everything you touch, everything you taste, and everything you think this is, it isn’t, and you can never go back to what you still remember as the world.”

No return

Now she is standing over me and she is all business and there is nothing that even hints at ‘I’m only kidding’ and she holds out her hand and asks, “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” and she morphs just for an instant into Chris Tucker and back again as if just to make the point, “Do you?”, she purrs in a way that I cannot refuse, and say “Yes, I see now. I’m not sure what it means or how it will go from here, but I understand now that I am never going back.”

Source: Night Sky Sangha


Non-violence, no exceptions

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked—and rightly so—what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government.

— Martin Luther King, born this day in 1929

Challenging your own beliefs

If you read something that fits in well with your current framework of beliefs, the chances are good that you’ll learn something new, and integrate a new piece of knowledge with what you already know.  But the chance that you’ll be moved to change and grow are close to zero.

If you read something that doesn’t fit with what you presently know and believe, chances are good that you’ll disbelieve it, you’ll forget the information, or put it out of your mind.  But in the rare event that you believe it, take it in and integrate it, the potential for change and growth and personal transformation is high.

Inevitably, most of what we read is in the first category, and rightly so.  But don’t limit your reading to the familiar and the comfortable.  Once or twice a week, take in something that you deeply disagree with.  Read something that you know in advance is wrong and misguided, even morally depraved.

Let yourself take it in.  How would you answer someone who thinks this way?  What would you say to him to win him over to your own perspective?  If he attacked your beliefs at their most vulnerable point, how would you defend yourself?

If appropriate, you might take a step further:  If I had the same life experiences as this person, would my beliefs be like his?  Who do I know who has changed over the years from a perspective like this one to a perspective like mine?  Who do I know who has changed in the other direction, starting from beliefs that agree with my present views, evolving toward these alien ideas that I just read?

— Josh Mitteldorf

Knowledge and Complacency

“Knowledge is not a series of self consistent theories that converges towards an ideal view; it is rather an ever increasing ocean of mutually incompatible (and perhaps even incommensurable) alternatives, each single theory, each fairy tale, each myth”

— Paul Feyerabend

Not only are facts and theories in constant disharmony, they are never as neatly separated as everyone makes them out to be.


He who craves the light of God neglects his ease for ardor, his life for love—knowing that contentment is the shadow not the light. The great yearning that sweeps eternity is a yearning to praise, a yearning to serve.  And when the waves of that yearning swell in our souls all the barriers are pushed aside: the crust of callousness, the hysteria of vanity, the orgies of arrogance.

— Abraham Joshua Heschel, born this day in 1907


Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but the endless, tameless pilgrimage of hearts.

Would you want to know when you will die?

The story appeared, astonishingly, in The New England Journal of Medicine in the summer of 2007. Adopted as a kitten by the medical staff, Oscar reigned over one floor of the Steere House nursing home in Rhode Island. When the cat would sniff the air, crane his neck and curl up next to a man or woman, it was a sure sign of impending demise. The doctors would call the families to come in for their last visit. Over the course of several years, the cat had curled up next to 50 patients. Every one of them died shortly thereafter.

SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE, writing for the NYTimes

egypt-59b7224c6f53ba00114fa958-59bae4346f53ba0010439047This article asks many fascinating questions, and leaves unasked many more.

  • If you could know in advance how long you are going to live, would you want to know?
  • Is this something medically ‘knowable’ or does it depend on you, your thoughts, your wishes as yet unformed?
  • Can a computer do, in principle, anything a cat can do?
  • Do animals have access to instinctive ways of knowing that in humans of Western culture have atrophied from disuse?


Giuliano’s Four Laws

Law #1 : Any law for the operation of the universe will eventually be superseded by a better or more refined law, including this one.

Law #2 : In science, what we don’t know we don’t know expands faster than what we know we don’t know which expands faster than what we know.

Law #3 : What we know is based on distinctions we create or learn from others.  Knowing is the aftermath of creating distinctions.  The distinctions are somehow materialized by ourselves from what we know we don’t know and sometimes from what we don’t know we don’t know.

Law #4 : I don’t know how all this works.

Vince Giuliano

My eighth grade English teacher taught me,
“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”
But she was missing the part that pertains to hubris, Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns.
I think Vince and Donald are right about the human tendency to make too much of what we know.
Mark Twain had it right:
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Expect the unexpected. —JJM