May my capacity for assimilating unexpected and incongruous information be expanded, that I might better appreciate the wildness of reality that is already available to me.

— Josh Mitteldorf


Letting go

From animals descended, we retain an intuition that
_____sustained our forebears for a billion years.
We’re out of touch with nature—and ourselves—but there’s a distant Eden past,
_____toward which an inner driver steers.
This fundamental conflict pits our primal innocence against
_____the comforts and security we cherish.
If we drop the tiller, navigate on autopilot through the
_____concrete jungle—will we thrive or perish?

They tell us that a conscious choice to cleave to social norms
_____is all that keeps our fragile lives from being wrecked.
But are we so unsuited to this techno-social life
_____that we must constantly keep evil impulse checked?
Are ubiquitous temptations to addiction so persuasive
_____that we’d fall within their sway without strong wills?
And, if so, are these the fruits that we most value from
_____our culture, or its incidental chemicals and pills?

Just imagine that for one sweet day we drop internal struggle
_____and we listen to our impulses innate…
We’ll sleep ’til sunshine calls us and eat double chocolate sundaes
_____and perhaps show up at work three hours late.
We’ll blurt out “I’m in love with you” at moments inappropriate,
_____and touch ourselves indecently on trains,
But I doubt that we’d be tempted into violence or treachery
_____in crazed pursuit of venal, worldly gains.

They say in Summerhill the children all run free, no punishments,
_____no testing, no curriculum or grades
And students when they first arrive (from stricter British boarding schools)
_____do nothing — but the novelty soon fades.
And once they trust their freedom, settle in and find relationships,
_____developing a passion all their own.
Statistics show that (as a rule) they flourish, and as adults are
_____more likely than their peers to be well-known.

The busy beaver has no need to budget time, does not consult with
_____engineers—and yet the dam gets built.
Bonobos know no jealousy; they stroke and fondle friends and come
_____to orgasm in public without guilt.
Even silly geese negotiate monogamy without
_____the benefit of matrimonial law.
And predators, once sated, turn to pussycats, don’t hoard their prey—
_____It’s man alone who’s red in tooth and claw.


We pay a price for holding fast to self-control, negotiating
_____every trite decision that we make.
And freedom from that tension just might open doors to selves we barely knew
_____(if we don’t overdose on cake).
I wonder if it’s worth the risk to let authentic voices speak,
_____relinquishing control we know so well…
From comfortable purgatory, take a leap of faith, fly free,
_____and parachute to heaven or to hell.

And (humor me) imagine if our personal examples spread,
_____became a wave of insubordination…
And (while we’re fantasizing) our demand for more fulfilling lives
_____might trend our politics toward liberation.
While there’s no guarantee our freedom, thus asserted one-by-one,
_____would lead us to utopian solutions,
I’d bet my bippy on our primal souls before I’d put my trust
_____in any extant human institutions.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Another way to decide

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
— A. Einstein (plausible, but not a real quote [QI])

“Can I really trust my desires?  In this exercise, we explore release from habits of self-rejection, self-forcing, conditional self-approval—the campaign to be a good person.”
— C. Eisenstein (also not quite a direct quote)

Civilization has bequathed me a rational ethic.
Civilization has robbed me of my animal soul.

Uprooted is my intuition. Transplanted is obsessive ratiocination.

The robin wakes without an alarm.
The squirrel finds last summer’s squirrelings without a searchable database.
The turtle does not negotiate with herself to decide if he has exercised sufficiently today.
Busy beaver completes the project on schedule without budgeting her time.
The dog licks his private parts in public.
My cat does not count calories, nor consult the clock to know if it is time to eat.
Her body is sleek perfection.

Cilization has given me inner authority,
self-control, and rebellion against control.

I can construct an argument as needed,
convincing myself that (sometimes)
playing hooky can be a virtue.

Someone inside me knows what to do.
Maybe I can devise a plan: “Daily discipline restores inner wisdom.”
Stop thinking.

— Josh Mitteldorf

What’s the opposite of waiting?

Active engagement in the moment.

Why would we choose a stance of waiting for it to be over?

Because we would rather not experience discomfort in the present.

What’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong with that?

Notice your habits, and sometimes they will be replaced by choices, even without your asserting a willful intervention.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Self-serving advice?

All paradoxes intrigue me, but the one I find most delicious is not that in seeking one’s own gratification one finds only ennui, while lasting fulfillment may be found in seeking to gratify others, but rather that in commending this lesson to you, I am inviting you to provide me gratification, for your elevation at my expense.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Gee, the world is in terrible shape…

The reasoned despair of the intellectual is a disease born of one part cowardice, one part intellectual arrogance, and eight parts depression.  Surely every deeply thinking person must realize that the world is far too full of surprises for us to form with any confidence a view of the future even a few  years hence, least of all one bereft of hope.  The remedy for despair is vigorous exercise, meditation, and reaching out to create loving connections with nature and other imperfect humans. The remedy for intellectual arrogance is to open one’s eyes and on’s mind. There is no remedy for cowardice.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Don’t let your hormones dictate your metaphysics

I’m on a tramway, dropping from the sky
When I look down, my heart jumps in my throat
It’s only right—I’m not a mountain goat
My fear response knows well I cannot fly.

And just the thought of my mortality
Evokes instinctive terror, like a fall.
I think: surely it is the end of all—
A silent, black, black void—I’ll cease to be.

But Darwin tells us why these hormones rage:
They served our forbears in another age,
When bursts of strength and speed could save our genes.
(Natural selection’s good at counting beans.)

It’s epinephrine hijacks our best smarts
But visceral fear was never meant to be
Our astrolabe to map reality—
For that, we must consult our heads and hearts.

Despite their power, hormones are no guide
To what awaits us on the other side.
We cannot know what afterlife might be,
But here and now, can savour mystery.

— Josh Mitteldorf