Historical awareness counsels us to be careful with these kinds of generalizations, but surely it is safe to say that we live in an age of unprecedented vulnerability. To that supreme threat posed by the continued existence of thousands of nuclear bombs must be added new chemical and biological dangers undreamt of in centuries past. The number of ways any of these horrors might be delivered by those with sufficient hatred for (fear of) life gradually expands with ever-new technological discovery. And while predictions shift from year to year as to the amount of time we have before unprecedented, irreversible geological and environmental destruction fully kick in, there seems to be little hope that various forms of catastrophe borne of climate change will pass us by, short of a very radical and concerted shift in human priorities.
Still further, a globally circulating food system merged with all the potent risks inherent in industrial agriculture is regularly generating ever-new outbreaks of disease, with the specter of pandemic always on the horizon. And massive social, economic, and cultural dislocations are the order of the day, all the while a news media beholden only to profit-making imperatives — and thus to entertainment and unconscionable sensationalism — marches on, heedless of the tremendous damage it generates every single day.
As for the internet, which in the span of just a couple of decades has succeeded in stitching together even the entire world in a previously inconceivable, gigantic web of intimacy, its benefits are many and various. But at the same time, as George Saunders has well put it, “through some demonic cause-and-effect, our technology is exactly situated to exploit the crappier angles of our nature: gossip, self-promotion, snarky curiosity. It’s almost as if totalitarianism thought better of the jackboots and decided to go another way: smoother, more flattering – and impossible to resist.”
At such a time, it is no wonder that potent symptoms of fear and anxiety surround us — from the unprecedented numbers of Americans seeking and receiving prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs to the outbreak of global terrorist movements and the promotion of religious war.
And yet … for each of these sources of fear one could easily name a great potential that exists right alongside it. Since we are all connected now, this means not only our weaknesses but our strengths are connected. The potential for good inhering in our new “world-wide web” has already expressed itself in a multitude of ways. Wisdom traditions can be accessed at the click of a mouse, in textual, audio, or video form, by anyone in the world who can somewhere access a computer. The means to communicate, and on a large scale, is available to incalculably more people than ever before (it’s not even close). Software and online distribution have likewise brought possibilities for creative expression to incomparably greater numbers than ever. Near-instant organization and mobilization as a force for good are now possible.
And going further: while it’s certain that all the ancient manifestations of ignorance and hatred are very much with us, so too can it be said that this old (and yet still so raw and immature) human race has been growing up rather noticeably in recent decades. We have been making some rather startling and beautiful claims, opening our hearts in ever more expansive ways. And I am happy to declare: this is a golden age for the arts the likes of which we haven’t seen, with continual astonishing innovations in music decade after decade, a brand new art form in film, and more generally a time of wide-open possibilities and cross-pollinations.
At the same time, it seems clearer by the year that a renewal of the self-cultivation that makes us fully human is still overdue on a collective level. And here, a different kind of obstacle awaits, this one a product of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, of hyper-rationalization. In our race to show we’ve outgrown religious superstition, intolerance, tribalism, and small-mindedness, we’ve unwittingly created a new religion, one complete with its own forms of dogma, hierarchy, and anathema.
That is to say, we live in the age of STEM. The so-called developed world, and increasingly the so-called developing world, is intoxicated by quantification and reduction, by new forms of manichaean certainty, and by technological approaches to everything one can think of. This process of course cannot be separated from economic realities, from the lure of profit.
Yet technology can never displace the necessity for sustained and dedicated self-cultivation. Nor, as a primary strategy, as an end in itself, will it ever be able to bring about harmonious, uplifted society and a culture devoted to the full flowering of human creativity and awakeness.
Mind Like the Sky promotes wisdom traditions and the humanities more broadly. It is founded upon the view that the nature of reality is radical, thoroughgoing interdependence. Looking through such a lens changes everything, and is our only path to sanity.
We can see the results of our devaluing of the humanities, of the pursuit of wisdom — as opposed to the mere accumulation of information — all around us. Everywhere we look, a basic ground of shared values is breaking down. When opposing “sides” discuss issues they talk past each other because they have lost a common human vocabulary and the trust which must go with it. Instead, most often they look to a new priesthood, the Scientist, to settle all questions for them, and increasingly quote random, stray “studies” to make their case. Since such studies today can be found to support virtually any argument or ideology, far too many of our discussions have become entirely unprofitable, sterile. Those under the sway of fundamentalist religion, of course, are even harder to reach.
And with that rift in shared values comes the extremely divisive, even violent, polarization within our public discourse commented upon by many every single day. Views have become extraordinarily rigid, not to mention narrow and reductionistic. Far, far too many people no longer read or listen but instead search for the first term or trope or sign to tell them the other person is on “their” “side” or, instead, on the “other” “side.” And then they go to battle… Almost every last opinion can become invested with manichaean, too often apocalyptic, force. And this is a further symptom of powerful fear having spread unchecked throughout our social landscape. Fear can only lessen when it is worked with; run away from, it only becomes more entrenched. Further layers of protection then need to be added in a vain effort to keep it at bay. This is where we are at today, as we can see all around us in so many ways. In a healthy, harmonious society, relatively few aspects of culture would be politicized. Today virtually everything is politicized, and this has created much paralysis.
This site will monitor these developments, but primarily it will promote other ways of seeing and working with life, society, culture. I see it as a chance for me to share with others a host of ideas, imaginative visions, uplifted art, stray observations, comedy, and really anything and everything that nourishes life and can inspire us in an age where so many dark and powerful forces threaten to derail our basic sanity. Over time I plan to add longer writing in a separate section which will form part of an eventual couple of books, and likewise my own musical projects.
As for biographical detail, after consideration I’ve chosen to be largely anonymous and credential-less here (a nobody) for now. But for those who are interested, I will offer the following:
In a radio interview from 1985 with Don Swaim, Allen Ginsberg was asked how he might characterize himself and his poetry. He replied: “I’m a, I’m a, I think I consider myself like a, let’s see … American, Jewish, Buddhist. Gay, also bisexual, occasionally heterosexual. Dope fiend or experimenter. Intellectual. Radical, conservative, libertarian. So it depends what I’m thinking about, what I consider myself, like anybody else. There’s no permanent, fixed identity. All the constituents of being are transitory including one’s own ego, and that changes from year to year or moment to moment or decade to decade — on a thought.”
A perfect response to such a question I think. And one which, as far as the individual labels go, fits me extraordinarily well too. My only quibble would be with the sexuality categories, which I don’t regard as ultimately coherent or helpful — a topic I will cover from time to time here. (Coincidentally, the son of the Tibetan lama who gave Allen Ginsberg his Buddhist (Refuge) name gave me more or less the same one many years later, so AG certainly belongs in that large and diverse group of “spiritual brothers and sisters” for me.)
In any case, in this spirit I suppose I would say that I am a musician, writer, and thinker (and hopefully one day filmmaker). Music is breath, blood, soul. I’m also non-straight, a committed vegetarian (80% or so vegan), and, it seems, technically a JuBu. My view of what constitutes collective sanity aligns most closely with that of the Green Party, though in the area of free expression I am solidly libertarian. But again with reference to AG’s remarks above, there are conservative ways of seeing which I embrace too. We contain multitudes… Beyond this I might add that far too many things to name touch my heart on a daily basis, making human life a precariously tender (and always fantastically unexpected) dream.
Though I don’t regard my university studies as having been the primary vehicle thus far in my intellectual development — are they for most people? — for what it’s worth I will say that I began my studies at Oxford University (English Language and Literature), continuing on into work in both Music and Linguistics.
So why “mind like the sky?”
Well, it happened to be the first phrase to pop into my head after going through a dozen or so one-or-two word ideas for a title, all of which had been taken. I first came across it in Ken McLeod’s book, where he discusses what he calls “a set of backdoor instructions from the hermit tradition of Tibet”:
Body like a mountain.
Breath like the wind.
Mind like the sky.
As he puts it: “Let the mind be like the sky, open and clear, including but undisturbed by thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and you return to attention and natural awareness.”
“Meditation is a constant returning to natural wakefulness and original mind.”
Since I will be submitting some of these pieces for print publication at various points, please remember that copyright protection exists from the moment a work of any kind is created. Do feel very free to pass on anything here which you like, but please also simply acknowledge its source – thanks.
I hope these pages will engage and enrich those who do me the honor of visiting.
May all beings without exception on this earth be free from suffering and the root of suffering, know happiness and the root of happiness. May wisdom and compassion reign. May the fruits of precious human life expand and expand.