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The next town

I was reading a post by Steve the Taochild today about perspective. This reminded me of a little story about the way people look at the world.  

A man was walking along the road when he came across a monk sitting by the roadside.Monk by the road

“I am going to the next town,” said the man, “what can you tell me about it?”
“What did you think of the town from which you have come?” asked the monk.

“It was awful. It was dirty and cramped and full of liars and cheats!”

“Ah,” said the monk sadly, “I think you will find the next town is much the same.”

Later that day another man came along the road, he too met the monk.

“I am going to the next town,” said the second man, “what can you tell me about it?”

“What did you think of the town from which you have come?” asked the monk.

“It was beautiful. It had wonderful parks and the people were open and friendly.”

“Ah,” said the monk with a smile, “I think you will find the next town is much the same.”

It seems some people love to complain. They will complain about the weather, their internet connection, their partner, their friends, and even the dress sense of strangers. Avoid those people.

If you find yourself complaining about something, stop a moment and think. Complaining is a completely negative response. It regurgitates the problem again and again, reliving and retelling the same issue only makes it worse for the person doing the complaining, there is no real satisfaction to be gained from it. In all honesty, nobody really wants to hear it either. Maybe close friends will tolerate a little complaining now and then, after all, friends put up with a lot of shit, but I’m sure they’d rather not have to.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t let you friends know how you feel, if you’re upset you can tell them without complaining about it. Also, I’m not saying that you should accept bad behaviour or bad service from others; you can make clear your disapproval and request compensation without needing to complain.

Complaining is an inability to accept the way things are. Whining and complaining about the state of the world just makes the state of the world that little bit worse, because now it’s got some crying baby whinging in it as well. To make the world better takes positive action. Making your life better takes positive action. Impressing your friends takes positive action. Getting your money back from the cable company takes positive action. Complaining is always negative and will always get you further away from where you want to be.

Whenever something goes wrong or things don’t pan out the way you’d hoped, just take two simple steps.

Step 1) Accept the way things are
Step 2) Take positive action to improve the situation

It’s worth remembering that we can’t all have what we want all the time. Maybe your TV is broken and you can’t fix it. Maybe you can’t afford a new one, or even a second hand one. Maybe you’re just going to have to live without a TV. Now you could spend the next few days complaining to everyone you know about how crappy it is not to have a TV and how if that stupid dog hadn’t vomited on the old one you could be being brainwashed by Fox News right now instead of standing here whining about it. Alternatively, you could dust off a pack of cards, invite a few friends over and play poker and have a decent conversation about something. There is always something better to do rather than complain.

I’ve noticed that the more affluent and privileged a person is, the more likely they are to complain. In the dusty back streets in South Africa, where the going is tough, everyone is talking about what they’re going to do – how they’re going to make something of themselves. In the glossy malls of America, there are girls sipping latte and whining about the tariff on their cell phone or complaining that they can’t get quite the right shade of eye shadow.

Tinkerbell; killed by a complaint about cold coffee in McDonald's in April 2011

Fairy killings rise sharply every time Microsoft releases a new operating system. Bill Gates said to be saddened by the news.

Now and then I take a look at the way I behave and I think to myself: If I’ve got time to complain about things – I’ve got it too good. So I stop wasting time and energy killing fairies and use that time and energy making the world more beautiful (by killing Insurance salesmen instead).

What is Ma?

I have a hand. The hand is not me, but it is mine. I have a brain, this is not me, but is it (mostly) mine. I have thoughts, but again, these are not me. I have memories, they are mine, but they are not me.

There was a philosopher that used this argument for the existence of a soul, but the argument is flawed simply because I can just as easily say: I have a soul, but it is not me. I don’t think I have a soul, I think that idea is just wishful thinking that’s gotten tied up in dogma.

But I do know that whatever part of me I pick out, that part isn’t me. Even the sum of all those parts doesn’t quite cover it. There’s more to me than the sum of my parts. There’s more to you than the sum of your parts too. We have emergent properties that are more than we can really understand.

We have Ma. An emptiness that longs to be filled.

Ma is negative space. Ma is not something that is created by the elements themselves but rather it is the thing that takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences the elements. It’s the bit that’s not specifically defined and yet adds meaning and purpose to that which is defined.

Lao Tse explains it like this:Lao Tse

 Thirty spokes meet in the hub,
but the empty space between them
is the essence of the wheel.

Pots are formed from clay,
but the empty space between it
is the essence of the pot.

Walls with windows and doors form the house,
but the empty space within it
is the essence of the house.

[Lao Tse]

Perhaps in the same way, your body and mind form the human, but the empty space within you is what drives you. Most of all, it is the fear of that emptiness that is the essence of you. It is the fear of hollowness, the longing to be complete, that pushes people to create Gods and Souls. We are all defined by the emptiness within us and we constantly fight it.

Maybe when we know we are empty we can learn not to fight it but to use that space, in the same way we can make use of the space in a pot or in a house. We can make it ours. We can fill it with blackcurrent jelly. We can go live in it. There, we can find peace.

And, somehow, I’ve completely failed to turn a post about Ma into a ‘your mom’ joke… damn… time for a Socially Awkward Penguin:

Socially awkward pengiun

Ah... yeah... what I meant was...

Finding yourself

Omni omni omni...

I used to hear about people doing all sorts of things in order to find themselves. People attending religious camps, climbing mountains, trekking across deserts, and sitting alone in the dark staring at the wall. One guy even spent a whole winter living in a tiny wooden shack surrounded by hungry polar bears. I mean, seriously? Find yourself? Really? Here’s a hint. Put up one hand in front of your face. You’ll find it’s attached to an arm (unless you’ve had a nasty accident or something, in which case you may need to apply the principle to a different limb). Follow that up to the shoulder and you’ll find that you’re actually right there! You’re attached! You’re not going anywhere. Hey you’ve found yourself, have a beer and get on with your day, right?

I mean, what do you really find if you sit on a mountain top by yourself for three months? I guess you find out that it can get damn cold at night; that toilet paper is actually pretty cool stuff; that body odour really isn’t that big of a deal; that it doesn’t really matter that you felt like an idiot when the girl you fancied mocked you in front of your friends. But you knew that already, right? I mean, toilet paper? How cool is that?

Man, toilet paper is so cool...

I’ve been up the mountain; I’ve walked the desert and I’ve spent my nights watching the ocean. Somehow I knew I was lost, but I didn’t find myself in any of those places. I tried other places too. Turns out I’m not at the bottom of a bottle of vodka, nor am I upside-down in a BMW in a ditch in Germany (at least, not right now, anyway).

What lampost, officer?

Nice parking...

Everywhere I went I just found my history was already there, just waiting for me. I realized that it’s not about finding yourself at all. It’s about cutting loose all the things that are not you. All that shit that builds up in your mind that just isn’t that important but makes each day harder. I used to be real bad for that. My history lived behind my eyes. Everything I saw was colored by the glow of the bridges I’d burned and disfigured by the shadows cast by the dead. But one day I realized: That history isn’t me. It’s shit that happened, sure. I was there. But it isn’t me.

Maybe some people feel they need to be alone in the mountains to cut thru all their history and their current situation to find what’s left. I don’t think you need the mountain. I think you can find yourself, right now, right here. You don’t need that romantic, meditation imagery. You don’t need those scented candles and voodoo worry dolls. You don’t need all the commercialized pine forest relaxation aids and panpipe moods.  You don’t even need to finish reading this post. You just make a choice to cut loose.

So I put my hand in front of my face. I followed my arm up to the shoulder. You know what? I’m right here. I’ve been here all along. In the end, I guess, I finally found myself, but there was a slight problem. Turns out that I didn’t like me very much. Guess you can’t win ‘em all, huh?

Pet names

I’ll come right out and say it: I don’t like pet names.  Actually, with a name like mine you might say I have an issue with names in general, but that’s beside the point. Pet names piss me off and I’ll tell you why.

Pet names are patronising. They belittle you. If someone chooses to call you “Cutie” rather than using your name, it’s like they think they’re conversing with a dog or a young child. “Awww isn’t she adorable? Oh, she’s wet herself again; but it’s still kinda cute…”

Well, fuck you.

Who's a little cutie? Aww you are!

Until recently this hasn’t really been a real problem for me. Nobody tries to talk to me like that to my face. Maybe it’s the way I stick my machete in the table before I sit down? Who knows? However recently it’s happened a few times on the internet with people I don’t even know. Quite why a guy would start calling a stranger “baby” or “sweetie” as an attempt to strike up a conversation is rather beyond me.

I’m sure this didn’t happen back when I first started living in the networks; back when you needed to splice a copper phone line in half and twist your modem wires in so you could call a server in Belgium and trick it into letting you online. Back then the net was full of bulletin boards and text chat rooms where everyone would “asl?” and then pretty much ignore the answer.

I guess since having a profile picture has been common, people have started noticing I’m not a boy. For some reason that seems to encourage people to talk to me like they think I’m an idiot. I considered changing my profile picture to that of a cartoon, or even to a picture of Johnny Depp or something. But I decided that I don’t want to. I don’t want to feel I have to hide my face or my gender in order to not get patronized or spammed with offensive comments. However, since I can’t actually stab these idiots in the face; the only sensible option I’ve got is to block/ignore. It’s not even worth ranting abuse at them; they’re simply not worth that much effort.

I guess there must be girls out there who put up with this crap. If every time a guy talked down to a girl like she was some kind of cute pet, that girl just told him to go fuck himself, you’d think sooner or later the guy would either get the message or kill himself or something? So why are girls putting up with it? Seriously. You don’t need to let anyone talk down to you. If they call you “honey” when they say hello, the correct response is “Fuck off”.

In the meantime, I’m gonna get on with inventing that device that will enable me to stab people in the face over the internet…