Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Meaning of Pain, Loss, and Suffering: Culture and DNA

I was speaking with my friend about why bad things happen to good people, and her Christian background brought her into some honest scrutinizing as to why it has to be this way, despite Jesus dying for people and supposedly not showing grace to those who are his followers. No matter who tries to reason it out, regardless of their religion, it certainly winds up developing into a comprehensive manner in which to explain why we must all die, or go through horrible circumstances and terrible experiences that try our faith, and like the Jews did during the Holocaust, to put God on Trial.

So why do we feel betrayed when bad things happen to honest and amazingly wonderful people who obviously don't deserve such punishment? I do realize that everything that happens within the many, varied cultures in this world is to assign meaning to circumstances that otherwise might not seem to make sense. Especially during times of pain, loss, or suffering.

The old myths of times past (that still exist in modern times, although typically in small-scale societies and tribal situations) that tell how the bird got its wings, or why the people on a turtle's back survived a flood, or why the dog sniffs another dog's butt (that one is a funny story - remind me to tell it to you sometime), are all there as symbols and explanations of how things came to be.

Humans seem to intrinsically have it in them to NEED reasons why things are the way they are, because things mean so much to us compared to, let's say, a dung beetle, whose only care in the world is to find some poop and roll it around to hatch their babies in. It is part of staying alive and continuing the species, and is one of the three things we all are here for, to eat, survive, and procreate. Meaning is what we assign to the parts that deal with starving (or other maladies), not surviving (death), and not continuing our genetic line into the future (death without purpose). Meaning is what we create in our minds to explain why the path is blocked to those three things that every human is here, ultimately, to do.

I guess that some of these assignments of spiritual meaning have more to do with alleviating our fears than doing anything for revealing any real truths. I have seen so much in my short life, and understand the enculturation and ethnocentric values of peoples in the world, that it is now hard for me to buy into much regarding dogma or religion anymore... with the exception of shamanism.

Shamanism, which is the only universal "religion" (not an organized religion at all - why it is so amazing that it is a worldwide phenomenon that crosses all boundaries of race, gender, age, sex, nationality, socioeconomic status, etc.), and in fact has only a core set of practices throughout the world, is also one of the most individualistic and complex and unique spiritual practices on the planet.

The only common denominator for shamanism is the human brain - the key to opening symbolic and neuron-synaptic doorways from what is already locked inside our DNA. It is as physical as it is nonphysical. It is as visible as it is invisible.

Premonitions that "danger is afoot" has surely been one of the many ways that our ancestors survived dire circumstances, and so this trait was favored in the survival of the species compared to those who didn't have such foresight (they died after all, sometimes ending their line with them alone). We also know that these "spiritual" features are typically inherited and follow in families. Some call these features things like intuition, others see visions or hear voices, and others have dreams at night, and some have outright strange experiences that they claim is spiritual and real, and ALL are enculturated and ethnocentrically induced, and completely dependent upon one's personal beliefs and values that are ingrained into us from childhood, at least in regards to how we assign it meaning (to a pagan it is being psychic, to a Christian it is prophecy, etc.).

We must make sense of our world, so we can find peace and meaning among the inherent problems, and align this peace and meaning with an outside source (power) that we can name and "box" into an idea or personage. Different cultures call this "power" Spirit, or the Universe, some call it God, or goddess/gods, the ancestors, ghosts/spirits, a higher power, superconsciousness, or a host of other things.

It has everything to do with us, however. Us as a species, us as humans, us within our cultures, us with our amazing brains and connection to a quantum reality that is the underlayment of a seemingly apparent external world, when in reality the internal world is really where its at. We all have it, although some appear to be connected more than others, and some "turn it off" through disbelief even though the connection could be "restarted" at any given time, given the right circumstances.

In the end we see that everything (all people, all things in the universe, through the laws of the universe, atoms, and everything in between) really IS connected, and so we find meaning once again... or is that just my culture talking?

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Tommy and I both wore 8-year old bodies the first time we kissed. I still remember, more than anything, the smell of kimchi on his breath. It stunk from afar – the rotten, spicy Korean cabbage dish that it was – and it stunk even more when it wafted in my face close up. Yet first kisses are always the greatest kisses because they linger on, much like kimchi, and the anticipation and preparation leading up to their making is sometimes methodical in delivery and full of expectation.

The fact that we planned this kiss, because neither of us had ever experienced one, surely was the reason it became a covert operation. We were horrified of the thought of any adult – or anyone else for that matter – seeing us touch lips, even in the public place called my back yard. We devised instead a plan to conceal the evidence, to canopy it so to speak, to raise a tent in the green grass using sticks, string, and an old pink and white checkered blanket that was almost too worn and thin to be opaque anymore.

The tent was open at both ends like the old pup style tent that had now become make-shifted and created by the minds of children, loose and imperfect, nearly formless, yet good enough to do the trick. Tommy and I separately entered from each end of the kissing tent, with our feet sticking out as the only evidence that included inferences to the deed. There within the magical confines of the tent walls shielding us from the peering eyes of the world, our faces glided together, and our small, never-more innocent lips touched ever so lightly in a single, unified expression of our simplistic desires. Tommy was the best kimchi I ever tasted.