Thursday, March 31, 2005

Powering up, through the glass ceiling.

Last semester a friend told me to slow down because I was going for days at a time, sleeping three hours each night and then going full-force the following day until my body just keeled over from the exhaustion. I pushed my body to the extreme, and I just accepted the fact that "this is what law school requires." One more year of this, and it will all be just the trials of an initiation into a career path. With regard to giving it all until there is nothing left to give, the analogy I am thinking about is a ferret; this furry animal runs around and plays as much as it can, all of its energy is drained and it falls asleep wherever it just happens to be at that moment. I am sort of like that ferret.

It was not until recently that I was instructed in the importance of stopping once in a while -- not to take a breather -- but to actually stop, relax and reload. There is no reason why I have to finish everything at the sacrifice of a normal life. Law school messes with our innate character flaws and brings them to the front. As they say, you don't know who is a true friend or a true hero until the hard times come. Then the weak and the selfish fall aside and all who are left standing by you are the like-minded.

But then there is another aspect that rings in my head, namely the thought of never giving up. The philosophy that I have learned from Anthony Robbins is called the philosophy of CANI, meaning Constant And Never-ending Improvement. The theory is to metaphorically never sleep, and to never be satisfied because there is always a higher level to reach, something more to learn, something more you can do for yourself or for another. This philosophy drives me and it is my core thought in everything that I do.

However, I've been having an "engine break" experience these past few months, and you've seen it in my writings. Those of you that drive a stick shift will understand this concept. Engine break is what happens when a car's RPM (engine rotations per minute) get too elevated. As a result, without applying the break pedal, the engine itself, the driving force of the automobile, changes its role from the mover to the inhibitor. To preserve itself, it slows the car down so that the engine rotations are within normal ranges. My life has been in high gear for so many months that I have forgotten how to stop, and so my body has been trying to slow me down lately and I realized I should probably listen to it before I burn out.

However, a poisonous thought that has entered my mind has been complacency. I chose my goals so long ago, and while I have modified my methods for achieving them, those stale goals decided by me as an 18-year old teenager in 1996 are the same goals that I have been chasing and taking actions daily to reach. My thoughts were limited then because I had a limited exposure to what is possible in life. Yet I do give those goals credence because they are guarded by an idealism that has recently faded from my eyes as I have become jaded by the forced direction I supposedly must go if I am to get anywhere in life. I have been proffered a poison pill by society to march in step with the pathways of mediocrity that have been laid out for me by mediocre people who live unfulfilling lives.

However, as I said, my mindsets have been poisoned -- brainwashed with ordinary in-the-box thinking. This is the poison with which I have been infected, and to which I have been struggling to understand but I really need to break away from. Somewhere along the line as a reaction to my incessant failures, to achieve safer, more predictable results, I adopted these mindsets that I realize today are currently in conflict with my fundamental beliefs. I don't want to live a regular life, nor do I want to get dulled down with the pathways laid out for the lame. I want to inject life into every moment of my existence! There are pathways that will lead to predicted stable results. But then again, there are less-traveled pathways that are not as kept as the trodden paths and in some cases are downright dangerous, but lead to places laden with meaningful experiences. Then my mind digresses to an equally strong, but dull thought with the voice of my conscience informing me of the limitations regarding what I can and cannot do.

I think that since yeshiva and law school, my inner voice has become harsher on me than it should be. I have become jaded by my perceptions of failure and I have forgotten my original goal. You ask me "what is the question" and the answer is that I honestly no longer know. The truth is that I have accomplished so much in these past few years that some people may work for a lifetime and they'll never accomplish a fraction of what I have accomplished in the last five years. Even the last three months have been life altering, but I have been getting annoyed because I have not been keeping score as to how well I have been doing. Years ago, I set massive life goals which through toiling and hard work have materialized. Yet now here is my problem. I am at a crossroads where I do not know what to do with what I have accomplished, and I haven't been able to set goals beyond where I am now in life.

I am experiencing the "okay, now what?" syndrome. I set my goals; I have gone through the changes to become the person I planned to become -- I admit, because of my recent blindness towards my goals from my poisoned mindsets, I lost sight of a few of these goals and now I will need a few more months to a year of tweaking to get back on track and to trim the metaphorical belly fat, but I still run into the problem where I have not thought past my goals to the next level. I must find the answer to the "now what?" question that has been plaguing me.

There's a breakthrough to make; I can feel it coming on. I have certainly hit my glass ceiling, whether it is self-imposed or whether it is programmed. It is becoming time for life to change gears and to power through that glass ceiling. I cannot wait to hear the sound of the shattering glass. I don't yet know what the next step is -- this will take some thought. A person who lives in first gear will deal with engine break their whole life. Ultimately, they will hit the gas, redline, and the engine will blow out. There is a solution, namely to change gears. Metaphorical as it still is, I don't yet know what needs to be done, how to do it, or why to do it, but life is due for a change. I've been redlining and engine-breaking for too many months.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Hurting my Spiritual Advisor with the Truth

[Pre-comment to my mom regarding the content of this blog entry: Mom, I love you very much and I know you read my blogs. In this blog I talk about the concept of an orphan while describing a relationship with my Rabbi. I want to clarify, even before you read further that I think you and daddy raised me wonderfully and instilled in me many valuable characteristics and beliefs that I use to this day. I believe that you want what is in my best interests and for me to grow and be happy -- more than any friend or advisor ever could -- and I am your biggest supporter in that pursuit. When I use the word orphan, I am talking exclusively from a religious and moral perspective, as a follow up to our conversation on "breaking the rules". Again, I want to stress how much respect I have for you. I love you.]

As an addition to my entry earlier today regarding my love life and my impressions of the "Meet Joe Black" movie (see below), there is something else that is on my mind. I had a deep conversation today with my mashpia; (a mashpia is a spiritual advisor); he is the one that brought me close to religion and took steps to make me religious. He has been the one that has been patient with me all this time, answering all my questions, inviting me into his home to see the way a religious family lives, and being there for me at any hour -- even at 2am when I call him up to tell him I am coming over to have an important conversation with him and as a result, I keep him up for hours while we solve the problem of the day. I must stress the patience he has had with me, as I have given him a difficult time on my path to becoming religious. Almost nothing has been accepted by me at face value; I have so frequently come back to him with more questions and more challenges, and I have always required solid grounding for every explanation he has given me.

I am not his first student. He has mentored many people who are now happy, wealthy, married, and most of all, religious. Out of his modesty, he would never share this fact with me, but his past apprentices have come up to me and have become friendly with me out of their curiosity to find out who is his latest student.

What is often difficult for me to deal with is that like a teacher, he looks up to me and is literally proud of me as his student for making the leap from being where I was to being religious -- well adjusted, and educated in Torah law and chassidic (mystical) concepts. The loyalty I have for him is similar to the loyalty an orphan has to the benefactor who took him out from the dumps and taught him how to live and function in the world. I came to him confused about life and looking for answers, and he has tried to guide me the best he can.

Although, on days like today, I feel terrible disclosing to him that I am not holding spiritually or in practice where he convinced himself that I was holding. He sees such growth in me that he assumes there are no kinks behind the surface as you as the reader know there are.

And yet, as part the relationship between the spiritual advisor (my mashpia) and the apprentice (me), in order for the relationship to work and for him to effectively guide me, I must be truthful to him about where I am holding religiously and otherwise. This can be difficult because my mashpia is my rabbi and he is also my close friend, and as you know, there are some things you don't even tell your close friend. The unsettling part of this relationship is that when I don't tell him something, he senses it in me and he asks me some pointed question that forces me to either lie to him or to directly tell him what is going on. So last night he asked me a question, and those of you who I have e-mailed are very aware what the topic was of his question. I had no choice but to tell him the truth about my holy-mess. [I am really starting to like this phrase]

We postponed the sit-down conversation for this morning, where I figuratively took a deep breath, I closed my eyes, and I told him what was going on at the expense of looking like a fool, a moron, a crazy person, and a failure. Deep inside of me, whenever I have a conversation like this I fear him rejecting me and kicking me out of his office, his home, and his life, and/or I fear that he will misinterpret what I tell him and that he will start to distrust me, but that has never happened; it didn't happen today, and hopefully it will never happen.

Still, when I tell him confidential things like I did today, he tries to keep cool as if what I said didn't bother him, but I could tell that he felt as if I just threw 100 knives at his chest. He's been trying so hard to help me to be a well adjusted religious individual and he wants me to be happily married maybe as much as I want this for myself. However, every time he thinks we have come to a major point in my growth, I drop another ton of bricks on him. We ended with some advice that he had to share, along with someone he knows who went through the same problem I faced him with today to get some guidance on how to deal with the things we spoke about.

I don't know what I want to accomplish by sharing this with you. I am just expressing my feelings on a relationship that means a lot to me. I feel so terrible each time I confront him with something that is going on that I fear will lower his view of me. I wonder why can't I be normal? Why can't I be just like the other religious people who find their path in religion and follow it with a clear heart, or who on the other extreme reject it outright as nonsense and who never take anything anyone religious says with anything but a grain of salt? Why do I have to be different, understanding the logic and the spirituality of the laws and wanting to do them, but then being distracted by my own desires and my own thoughts which are so stubborn and so strong that they don't want to go away?

More pointedly, why did I have to be programmed so differently than the belief systems taught to us by the Torah (the bible; Old Testament)? One of my parents was religious, and my other one promised her he too would be religious when they got married. Couldn't they have chosen to raise me with one belief system or another instead of teaching me both the right way and the wrong way and letting me choose later for myself? I hear about so many parents who do this as if this is the righteous thing to do, and in my mind, my only understanding is that this is sadistic.

Teaching a child about the benefits of both right and wrong and then teaching the child how to wean the benefits from both sides do not cause the child to choose one over the other later on in life. Rather, it programs the child to have BOTH conflicting belief systems at work, in full strength, at all times. Maybe this is the lesson within this entry. Parents, make the choice as to what your children will believe and teach those beliefs to them, even if they will rebel later on in life. But give your children both philosophies ("this is how religion says to do it and this is how we believe is the right way to do it"), and your children will have on their hands, literally (excuse the pun), a holy mess.

Personality Test Results, "Meet Joe Black", Then on to Shidduch Dating.

70. I am hesitant to write another blog entry so quickly because I want to give you time to read my last blog entry. I feel that this last one really explains why I stay religious despite my logical arguments to the contrary. It's all about bringing into balance one's physical needs to touch and feel the divine versus the understanding of what is out there supported by evidences of the sensory experiences we filter out from our perceptions.

One more digression, and then I'll actually write about what is on my mind. I was playing online a few minutes ago and I decided to sacrifice some of my law school study time to take a personality test. Maybe it will help me understand what is going on in my head. Here are my results:
ISTJ - "Trustee". Decisiveness in practical affairs. Guardian of time- honored institutions. Dependable. 11.6% of total population.

This result was interesting for me because most of my life I was an "INTJ"; now I am an "ISTJ". Do you know who is an ISTJ? Anthony Hopkins usually plays characters who are ISTJs in many of his movies; this personality type is best described by his character in "Meet Joe Black"; a older, mature, confident man with a hint of arrogance covered by a deeper-rooted sense of modesty, coupled with a calculating mind which works fluently and rationally; this man has lived a life of meaning, and has built organizations, businesses, structures, and legacies that will stand long past the years of his life.

What is most important to me and to his character was that he lived congruently with his values, and his value decisions forever changed the lives of so many of the people who worked around him, a fraction of whom he might not have even known, but they knew and loved him for being the kind of person that he was. I acknowledge that the "he" I am discussing is a movie character, but nevertheless, sometimes if this world lacks heroes because their lives are unsung or are lived out in modesty, it is the job of the movie industry to publicize their existence in character form to paint these heroes into our thoughts so that we can yearn to emulate them in their virtues.

This character is the kind of person I have always admired, and is the kind of person I have and will always strive to be. One of the scenes in this movie was of his 60th birthday party, the day he was meant to be taken away from this world. I cried at that scene, not because of the fact that he was going to die, but because of the effect his life had on so many people around him. I was especially touched by his close relationship with his daughter. After seeing such a character, I remember being saddened by the fact that he was an ISTJ and I was an INTJ; How interesting is it that in the years since the movie has been released, I have always hoped that I have grown to become more like that character, and now I am honored to have circumstantially become the same personality type as he was.

This next test result (part of the same test) was also pretty cool -- it is an Enneagram -- but I had no idea how to interpret it or figure out what it is supposed to tell me. They say these tests are "scientifically proven" but I don't know how much credence I give to something that claims to be "scientifically proven" without giving a source for further research. Does anyone understand what these results mean, and specifically how to interpret the image on the right??

By the way, sorry for you readers who are aware of my possible "holy-mess" scenario. I know mentioning a personality test might have been a bit of a tease.

Okay, so now onto business. Dating. (I think it is so suave how I hid such a sensitive topic so deep in this entry.) As you have probably guessed, I am a single male in my late twenties finishing up law school with a promising specialty, and to boot, I am a newly-religious (last five years) Jew who follows the customs of the chassidic Lubavich ultra-orthodox sect. This limits the women I date to be also newly religious, from this same sect, or women from this sect who are open to dating a man that has been religious for as short a time as I have been. Does this sound complicated yet? [Please don't ask me why; this is one of those crazy dogmatic things I've taken upon myself to be consistent with the religion, and I do not necessarily agree with the shidduch system's application to my past and present].

To make things worse, I am a direct descendant from the high priests of the temple in Israel (In Hebrew, we are called Cohanim, plural for the word Cohen, which means high priest, similar to the modern vernacular word Kahuna, which means master surfer dude or master Huna practitioner), and this limits who I can date by filtering out women who have been divorced, who converted into Judaism, or who have been sexually involved with various men. I would say that this eliminates mostly every normal free-thinking moral Jewish woman in existence.

Now that I've laid out the facts, here is the issue: How does one date in a structured dating system called the shidduch system when the dating pool of women within that system is smaller than a puddle on a street corner? [Definition: The shidduch system is a system of matchmaking, similar to that used in "Fiddler On the Roof", where one or more parties look for a suitable match for marriage who fit a certain criteria the seeker is looking for. This system is primarily in use within the religious circles and is promoted as (or more realistically, pressured to be) the only way a religious person should look for a wife or husband.]

The system works wonderfully when both parties being matched are religious from birth, because both families know each other and there are many women and many men who are in the system to be matched with each other. The essential element is choice. This system also works well in a tweaked fashion with the more modern-orthodox crowds, again because of the volume of participants seeking a match through the third-party matchmaker. I would say analogically that participation in this system could be considered the oil that allows the wheel to turn in this masterminded system of dating.

The system slows to a halt [as does an old Toyota when one turns on the air conditioner] and causes massive friction burn when one of the parties are not part of the "in" crowd which lubricates and moves the dating machine "wheel". Since I am certainly one of the "out" crowd, finding a match will be next to impossible, but in time it will happen. This has happened for my friends, and it will happen for me in due time. The problem that will certainly throw a monkey wrench into this whole ordeal is if suddenly my "holy-mess" gets included as an adverse factor in describing me to my potential wifemate; then my dating world will be checkmate. [Sorry for the dry humor, it went well with the friction burn topic above. Also, I hope you interested readers have looked up by now what I meant by a holy mess because I am discussing something specific.] As I was saying, include too many factors that allow for scrutiny, and forget about ever finding a mate; their matchmakers will filter me out as one filters out a person of another race, religion, or creed. No discrimination protections here.

I would say this system might work if people took an interest in matching other people up rather than staying absorbed in their own newly-married lives. I put this moral duty on married people because they have found success in their search and have found their match. Now that they are married and their search is over, instead of feeling sympathy for those who are still looking for a mate, perhaps the world would be a better place if they looked around at their spouse's single friends and thought of a few people with whom to match them up. I say this because the shidduch system is splintered and plagued with so many compartments of matchmakers, rabbis, and rebbitsens (a rebbitsen is the wife of a rabbi), each trying their hardest to find a match for their marriage candidate, but there is no effective network that links these tireless and selfless workers together today except for word of mouth, and when people keep their mouth shut single people stay single and lonely. (like a puppy in a pound who has yet to find an owner; think of what will happen to that cute and loveable puppy if nobody adopts him).

I know this sounds more like a pouting message, but it is more of a whimper out to the universe and its Creator for some compassion and sympathy towards us single people down here who through our piety (perhaps through our stupidity) refrain from going out and from dating people on our own as we would love to. Plus, (or worse yet,) we are forced (peer-pressured) to rely on a system that malfunctions because people don't help other people to make matches, which is exactly the miracle oil that the shidduch system requires in order to function. Think again of the puppy. When you say your prayers to go to sleep each night, how many people will you let die inside over and over again, childless and alone, because your lips were sealed when you had the chance to open them and make a connection, but you did not look past the wide-eyed smiling face of the mother or father to-be of your children to help another who is still standing where you were not so long ago? Sweet dreams.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Sinful Thoughts, Painful Penitence, and Perhaps Too Many Secrets of Judaism Revealed.

This entry may be worth your time.

71. My eyes are drying out which means my body has just a few minutes left before I either fall asleep or get my second wind and end up staying awake until late tonight; sleep has been advised.

I admit that the image I posted in lieu of my profile is startling at first, but when you look at it more carefully, you'll realize that the image is made up of fragments of many pictures, none of which are of me. The hand looks a little bit like mine. Yet, I would posit that each fragment resembles an important part of me. The frightening thought is when you look at the complete image; those that know me will see me looking back at them.

Those of you who are reading the blog have started to react to my slithering jests towards religion, my best friend and my nemesis. How can I be religious you ask, while I seem to hate G-d? Your comments, specifically here and here react to my angst about the world being apparently devoid of G-d's revealed presence. It also seems to disturb you that I lack enthusiasm for the promise of reward in the world to come for my present acts; you think this, combined with my fear of punishment is a childish view of religion, as has been commented.

I will let you in on a little secret, and then I will tell you why I choose to stay religious in spite of my objections noted in prior blogs. The basic premise of any religious belief system is the belief in a creator, a G-d. Logic reveals G-d's presence by using infinite regressions; eventually one comes to a point where the question of "... and who created that?" gets tiring; it is at this point that the concept of a first creator is revealed. Even the big bang theory starts with a giant explosion of unfathomable proportions, and yet the theory begs the question "who turned on the light?”

My little secret is as much as I am sad and frustrated why I cannot see G-d, he's the creator of the devil on my shoulder, he's the witness of my every crime against him, and he's the giant face without a form to whom I have the kind of imaginary relationship that a little girl has to her imaginary friend. With my thoughts, I talk to him all the time because there is a part of me that can not deny his existence. I feel that he is with me and he is me; I am not him, I am of him. And yet what bothers me is, what an ego I have -- as if I were any kind of equal to him, whereas when something goes wrong, who do I blame? At whom do I shake my fists? To whom have I on many occasions challenged to a duel?

These are not the acts of a religious man who serves G-d and who follows G-d's will. Serves G-d?!? When I follow his will I do it begrudgingly because he's the one with the bigger muscles. I don't even understand the reasons why one should be religious. The logical arguments are circular and stupid. G-d said so in his Torah; G-d is truth; G-d wrote the Torah; Torah is truth; Do what is True; Do what G-d says, or else. How is this any different from someone who approaches you with a knife and says, "your wallet or your life"?!? And of course we learn in Judaism that we have free choice whether or not to follow G-d's commandments. What moron would not follow when given such a choice? Yet when I do disobey, I feel as if I am spitting in G-d's face and saying "do something about it, I dare you" as if I were a rebellious child dying inside for more than de minimus attention from his aloof father.

And then there are those rules of morality which I just don't like. What is the spiritual significance behind the prohibition against taking interest? It just feels like for the specific issues I deal with, I am wired differently than the rule requires me to be. There is a chassidic concept that says that G-d wouldn't give you a challenge unless he would also give you the faculties, the means, and the strength to overcome that challenge. Yet the challenges he gave me didn't seem to give me the clarity to serve him; they seemed to lead me down the other direction. Yet for almost five years now, I have not transgressed even once. I have built my life around protecting the sanctity of these moral rules and I have cut off any possibilities of transgressing. For that, I chide G-d almost daily that he better not have been joking around when he gave us this decree because I've been following it and his other decrees to the letter and it has made me a very unhappy person because many things I once valued as being good are now forbidden.

Then, there is the contradiction that despite this, I stay religious. Who likes to observe a Jewish holiday where the main theme is usually "they tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat!" Furthermore, there is all this praying and dancing and doing acts that seem to make no sense except to mark a testamentary, reminiscent reminder of the specific event that befell us. But add in the concept that every physical act has a spiritual counterpart, and I am hooked. Suddenly where the Torah says to do something like eat bread or break Matzah (unleavened bread), suddenly there is a spiritual significance that does something and has a physical effect on our world. Suddenly, everything I do, even eating a cookie or going to sleep has spiritual significance because I say a blessing on the cookie which raises the holiness within it (think Super Mario Brothers and getting the coins), or because I ask G-d to protect my soul from bad forces while it leaves my body for the night while I sleep. Every moment of my life, even going to the bathroom, suddenly has significance. No matter what I am doing, there is a right way to do it and a wrong way, and further, there are the good intentions or the lack of them when doing this act. Dimensions of depth and meaning have been added to my life just by that one concept. All the more so with everything else that I have learned.

So in a way it seems silly for me to moan about what I can no longer do because my eyes have been opened to concepts I spent my life dreaming that one day I would know. And further, the magnificence of every spiritual act that manifests through a mere hallucination of imposing new meaning onto something otherwise ordinary baffles me beyond recognition. I would cry if my eyes were closed to the miracles within the ordinary acts most take for granted. I would be misdirected if I were blinded to the now obvious spirituality taking place within each physical act. I stay religious because I wouldn't trade this viewpoint for anything, and it would be inconsistent for me to act otherwise.

On this topic, there is one irk I have with Judaism, and you can only appreciate this when you get deep enough into it. The deeper you get into Judaism, the more spiritual everything becomes, and your eyes change and they attune to see the spiritual within the physical. If one thinks deep enough, one can even see the G-dliness within something as physical as the empty Fruit-2-O bottle that is sitting to the left of the computer I am using to write you now at 1 am. In sum, Judaism molds its followers into sorcerers and magicians, training us to see the magic in everything. At a certain age and rite, we are even privy to learn how to practice that magic, namely through the meditative practices within the Kabbalah. We can master the world with the biblical spiritual technology at our fingertips. Yet for a Jew, sorcery is prohibited. Practicing magic is forbidden. Changing the world through unnatural means is highly destructive.

To further exacerbate the problems one faces, the worlds are set up in a way where the odds are stacked against the Jew who tries to indulge in the most desperate desire of all; to become a god. Stories and hints of it are given in the written Torah starting with the story of Adam and Eve and of Noah's Ark, but if one tries to practice sorcery or to transgress a commandment, the forces of evil and good by their nature and their manifestation in the worlds, and the spiritual beings that inhabit each world will tear up and destroy the soul and the person of anyone who dares to transgress the word of G-d and practice magic (akin to idolatry).

That would be okay for us because most often we don't feel the effects of the soul. But one who practices any form of sorcery, even the kind that could be permissible will literally go crazy or will lose his life if he is not a proper vessel to channel the kind of energy that is invoked by doing the kind of incantation or action that invokes such power. That doesn't bother me because I tried to learn the stuff and had no idea what it was talking about, even after I was knowledgeable about the topics. Plus the meditations were so complex that they would take days to do, and would take more patience than I'll ever have to even get it right.

More so, Jews today cannot practice these skills -- they are basically outlawed in practice because we cannot be vessels unless we have the Temple in Israel rebuilt. Because we have no Temple, we cannot do a few hundred of the commandments. By that fact alone, our souls are not complete enough to be vessels to conjure or invoke or handle the powers (because they physically cannot perform all the commandments because they are not available to be performed) and so we don't even engage in such acts. Yet where this becomes significant is that those same bad entities that can kill us and kick our butts if we do something that changes the world in an unnatural way either through magic or otherwise, these same evil forces gain power and affect our lives when we transgress one of G-d's commandments.

So no longer is it G-d's problem if we don't observe the laws, it becomes our problem when people transgress. Keep in mind that only Jews are obligated to keep the letter of the law and the commandments within the Torah; non-jews are obligated only to the 7 Noahide Laws given to them around the time of the flood, centuries before the people stood at Mount Sinai and took on the obligation of the Torah and to become Jews. That seems simple, you might think. Wrong. It is a big responsibility for every Jew to keep the laws because by doing so they affect the world in a way they could not imagine. And if you are a non-jew, I would say that you have an even greater responsibility to keep the Seven Noahide Laws because if a Jew needs to transgress 613 commandments to cause utter chaos, how much more physical and spiritual damage can you do as a non-Jew by transgressing the seven Noahide laws. (By the way, as a fun fact, non-Jews are not prohibited from practicing sorcery or magic; they knew of the arts and practiced them in the times of Abraham, and they even practiced them during the times of the Pharaohs while the Jews were slaves in Egypt.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

In Search for Nevernever Land...

35. Yesterday, I was cruising down the side streets avoiding getting stuck behind slow drivers, but hey, that's life and there are too many of them. I was so annoyed by people driving the speed limit, by the stop lights, and by the drones sitting in traffic waiting to get from point A to point B as if that were normal. Don't they realize there is a life to live and it is insane to spend hours of one's life on the road? I stopped listening to radio years ago because I got annoyed at 1010 WINS repeating the same news and the same traffic reports every few minutes. Can you believe people sit there behind the wheel and listen to the same thing over and over again? Do you?

I was so overwhelmed by the lack of free space and the lack of time one has in life. I was also stressed by the fact that we are forced to live by a watch that ticks too fast. I would say I was feeling generally claustrophobic, but from an environmental "trapped in a life" perspective, not from a "trapped in a room" perspective. In high school, I was so frustrated with the pace of time imposed on me that one day I took off my watch and I literally threw it up into the air; I never looked back to see where it landed. If it were up to me there would be no clocks. Call me Captain Hook. Why is it that it is now 8:30am and I need to do a billion things before my class later this morning? I guarantee you most of them will not get done, especially if I indulge in writing this blog, especially if I get into flow which I can already start to feel happening, almost as if my fingers do the typing and I watch the screen with a grin on my face feeling calmed by how well my fingers know my inner thoughts.

To be short, I was affected yesterday by seeing a piece of the "The Last Samurai" movie combined with my thoughts from a recent movie I saw a few months ago called "The Village", where a group of doctors sheltered themselves from a skewed and busy world to literally carve out a life for themselves in the forest that was moral and serene (the life they created, not necessarily the forest), where they can live according to their values, the proper values, without intrusions from the evolving psychotic outside world that so often seems to me to resemble a child in a frenzy running with a large black hat covering his eyes, screaming (the child, not the hat), and not realizing that he's about to run straight into the wall in front of him.

For most of yesterday, my thoughts were filled with trying to think of a serene place in the borders my state or surrounding states [so that I can enter to practice law and then leave as soon as possible to retreat to my village] where I can step away from all the busy rat-race running that we do and from all that I cannot stand. After my research, I don't think a place like this exists here because our state is infected with physical crowding and growth that moves like an epidemic. Sometimes I wish the industrial revolution never happened. Often I wish I could live near a farm in a very small community undisturbed by the city. I would practice my profession, and I would make enough to live a meaningful life. If I started discussing how I wish I lived in a world without cars and fast trains, I would be redundant because I feel that I made my point. We move too fast.

I am feeling stressed out because I don't think I want to live the high-paced life of a lawyer. I am a thinker, not a workhorse. I signed up because I thought that for the few years of sacrificial living, I would develop specialized knowledge in law that would allow me to live a serene life and benefit from the mass of information that I have spent so far two painful years ingesting. I am looking down the road and I don't see the serene lifestyle at the end of the tunnel; it seems to me that our professors are preparing us for a life of more stress and of more servitude. Law school is supposed to be an investment into my future, not a boot camp to prepare me for the brutalities of war that lie in wait for me to graduate. This is not what I signed up for. Have I taken an exit into a one-way highway that leads to somewhere I don't want to go? Maybe I will try that summer program in China after all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Are you self-dealing?

In the "Peter pan, you're not a kid anymore" entry below, there is some good discussion in the comments section about free-thinking. It reminds me of the question why one would follow something [such as a religious decree] that just does not make logical sense? What happens if I want to do one act, but religion tells me to do it a different way or to abstain from it completely? This is not a life-friendly situation.

I sometimes come across free thinkers who give me a piece of their mind because my religious view has threatened their view. They tell me 1) they don't need religion, 2) they can think for themselves and that 3) they will do what they want based on their own judgments of what is right and what is wrong. Further, they'll reject any doctrine that does not agree with the way they have constructed their world. Through their own mind they have figured out the workings of the universe, its origin and its creation, and they have deduced how it applies to them in their decision whether to indulge or act according to the way they feel is the right way to act.

With the utmost respect to those good people with warm hearts and good intentions who try their best to understand a very complex world and to make the very best choices they can, my response is that I feel that one cannot make sound judgments without some measure of self-dealing. Try putting a three-year old in charge of the cookie jar or the chocolate fudge. How much do you want to bet that he will deal to himself a nice and satisfying portion and rationalize that he has done good by doing so? Advance him twenty years into the future when an attractive girl shows him some affection and wants to engage in intercourse with him. He can be as responsible as he wants, but as long as he is going by his own morals, how much do you want to bet that as long as there is no contravening thought of a higher order, he would indulge as quickly as he would have grabbed for the cookie twenty years earlier? And now he is in control of his life, so he has the freedom to pursue those pleasures and make them his prime goal in life. He would even work to make money to have the free time and financial independence so that he can pursue the things that give him pleasure.

But what if he has some morality? "Perhaps indulging is not the right answer", he thinks. He imagines how it would be the next morning when he would have to face her without the makeup when she asks him what the status is of their relationship. After all, she just gave herself to him. Or, what if he wants to err on the side of caution, not knowing what sort of sexually-transmitted disease might be lurking along with the pleasurable experience as a consequence; or, perhaps he just doesn't want to get her pregnant because society has a stigma about having children out of wedlock. These are deterrents for him and are things that would go through his head before he decides whether or not to take her hand in his and to bring her closer to him for the first kiss.

But we cannot deny that we live in a world without deterrents. Societies and cultures have their commandments, imposing on us how to act and how not to act, even in the privacy of our own homes. Everyone and everything tells us what we should or should not do. Even actors and directors shape how we act through the movies we watch. And there is not one belief system out there -- there are hundreds if not thousands of them. Most of us pick and choose according to what we feel is "right" (don't you mean what will give you the most pleasure and freedom and the fewest consequences?). "I'll follow this, but not that. I'll engage in this, but only so little." As far as I see it, our moral system is a risk-assessment with the intent to maximize our pleasure and minimize our pain. Like the child and the cookie jar, we choose with the intent to skew the odds of pleasure in our favor.

But what about those truly good-hearted people who do for others? Surely Mother Theresa wasn't helping people because it made her feel good. This is a bad example, she was serving her creator. How about you, the reader? Surely you are not selfish all the time, you think. You are a good person; you spend your life devoting it to help the sick, or to feed the hungry, or to teach the children. Why do you do the good acts you do? Are you self-motivated, are you holy and righteous, or are you allocating the pleasures of this world as a child would allocate the cookies and the fudge? If so, are you self-dealing? Would you like to self-deal?

I guess the important thought here is that we are all serving someone or something. Some serve themselves, others serve their Creator, and some serve the moral constructs they have pieced together from the endless mouths who scream their philosophies at the world. Nevertheless, we are all serving someone. Even you free thinkers are serving someone or something; perhaps you are slaves to your thoughts.

I am a free thinker too. Still, I will be the last to deny that I have been brainwashed by a religious dogmatic philosophy that uses the limits of my mental faculties to justify the existence of a greater good and higher being to whom I must follow because He said so and I will incur divine punishment if I disobey. Who would want to subscribe to such a sadistic philosophy? I would say that yes, I'm brainwashed, but as a free-thinker, I chose the detergent. I believe that Torah (the edicts and the lessons in the Old Testament and the document itself) tells the truth of the world and of existence, just as you believe that following your desires and your moral constructs is the truth of your world. I don't think we are both right; I think I have chosen correctly and you have chosen foolishly. If you ask me how I feel, I would probably say that I like your way better and I would love to live life your way. But I have been brainwashed into thinking that this divine contract is the truth of all truths, and by following this path and its morals, somehow I will live a better life than if I figured it all out for myself. Plus, here there's an instruction booklet with mountains of commentaries and explanations and opinions, all which describe within a range what is permissible and what is not.

I find it soothing that so many Torah giants have spent their lives trying to understand what the best way to live is, deriving their ideas from the letters within the Torah. Further, they have written down their discoveries and they have debated them with other truly G-d fearing people for thousands of years, and their arguments are documented.

As I learned when I was younger, to see the farthest, it is best for one to stand on the shoulders of giants. I too am self-dealing; but the cookie jar I chose is larger than I can ever imagine. In the law world, they say there is a seven-year track to becoming a partner of the law firm. In the Jewish world, there is a lifetime track to becoming a partner in creation.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Wisdom Teeth Extracted

Today I got my top wisdom teeth out. I've been dealing with the pain of broken wisdom teeth for the past year when they collapsed after I bit down on a Granola Bar. Last summer, I went to the dentist because the tooth began to cut into my cheek and cause me discomfort. It started off as a tiny cavity, but I guess since I didn't take care of it due to my deathly law school schedule, I let it get out of hand. A few months later, I mustered enough time to make and attend a dentist's appointment; after waiting seven weeks for a referral to an oral surgeon, I decided not to get my tooth extracted at all because the approval form from the insurance company said "anesthesia not included in the insurance coverage". Were they kidding?!? No anesthesia?!?

I decided that my razor-sharp, 3-sided tooth would stay in my bruised mouth until either 1) it got infected and I went to the emergency room or 2) until I mustered enough courage to do the extraction procedure without anesthesia. What bothered me most was not necessarily the pain, but my friends' descriptions of the creaking sound of the tooth's root as it is yanked out from the bone. Nevertheless, after recent desperation from the unbearable pain, I went back to the dentist last month and this time around, the anesthesia was included in the approval letter from the insurance company. Phew! What a relief! I was actually getting nervous because on a few occasions, I almost passed out from the pain which spread up my jaw and up the side of my head. I would gargle Listerine just to kill any bacterial buildup because I was mortified about going to the dentist without anesthesia.

Today, sitting there in the dentist's chair, I was afraid of the pain I would experience during and after the extraction. Hah! They gave me anesthesia in the form of an injection; I asked what happened to the mask with the laughing gas and the black rubber bulbs on each side of the mask like they showed on Steve Martin in "Little Shop of Horrors"; they told me that mask was old school. They connected an IV to my arm (I refused to look at it because I was afraid of getting nauseas by seeing the needle). They asked me to bite down on something black that they put in my mouth. As I was biting down, the next thing I remembered was being escorted into a room with a bed, and my mother was there. I wasn't dreaming -- this was real. I asked her when they were going to start the procedure, and she told me everything was finished. I couldn't believe it. I was just given an injection, and the next thing I knew was that I was finished. I don't even remember passing out. I wish I could do this for law school. Not to mention the drug high for about an hour afterwards that I was experiencing from the anesthesia. I couldn't figure out what they gave me, but I couldn't stop talking. I remember saying as loud as I could that "I've changed my opinion of dentists. I love the dentist's office!"

Now I've picked up and taken my first dose of Vicodin and Amoxicillin, and I am chewing on the bloody gauze that they stuck into the two holes in my mouth. I know I wasn't supposed to eat, but after all that, I was so hungry that I had the munchies and so I ate most of a pie of pizza. The instructions actually said that I could eat something soft, so the lawyer in me rationalized oily pizza as being permitted under those instructions.

Regarding the bloody gauze, there might be a problem from the standpoint of jewish law because both Jews and non-Jews alike are forbidden from eating the blood of an animal that is still alive. I don't know if this applies to my own blood, or just that we may not eat the blood of an animal before it has been properly slaughtered. I won't even mention that I am terrified of swallowing the gauze and choking on it tonight when I sleep. But that is it for me tonight; I don't expect much else to go on except that perhaps I will pass out from the emotional exhaustion of today's events. What an experience!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

My clock is my enemy.

Today I came to the realization that for the past few days and maybe more, I have been in a state of overwhelm. This didn't occur to me until I stopped to ask why my thoughts were escaping from me when I would pull out my to-do list on my palm pilot. I took a step back this morning and pressed pause on my fleeting world. I made a list of the projects I was working on that required my attention. Thirteen distinct projects, each with difficult outcomes to be reached, intermediate goals to be conquered, and a whole bunch of helplessness to be overcome.

The least favorite moments of my day are when I look at the bottom right corner of my computer screen. It literally hurts my chest and causes a sharp pain to push my eyeballs out of their sockets when I think of the hours that fly by when I try to do something productive. It is as if time has a mind of its own and it speeds up when I need it to proceed normally. I can sometimes sense the speed fluctuations in the clock -- of course these are my perceptions of them -- whereas the tic-tok of the metronomed second-hand beats away as if it were its own drummer. It sometimes freaks me out when I hear the tempo speed up or slow down because I know I am perceiving time subjectively. Sometimes if I focus and stare at the clock, the seconds hand slows down to the point where I think it might take longer than a second to hit its next beat.

What is on my mind is my nemesis whose name is Time. It is never on my side, and there is never enough of it. Yet, when I am not in the mood of being productive, there seems to be too much of it. It sits there and laughs at me for not being able to use every bit of it. I hate this rhyming and so this thought must stop.

I feel sad because I am sitting in my chair with my feet on my desk and the laptop on my lap (how appropriate) and yet I can not pull myself to do an ounce of work. It was 11:42pm when I started writing this blog, and now it is 12:10am, and it feels like I have been sitting and writing for less than five minutes. How could it have taken me almost half an hour to write these four paragraphs?!? I am a super-fast typer, and can type with astonishing speed. Do I go into minutes of empty thoughts? What happens with this empty time? I could bang this paragraph out in thirty seconds. I noticed this with my other blogs. I would think that I spent ten minutes on an entry, and it would be four hours later. I thought perhaps the blog was set to the wrong time zone, but now it is 12:14am, and it seems as if time has slowed down again.

It would be spooky if there were times where I just sat and stared into space. It is 12:18am and I wrote one sentence. That is 240 seconds of emptiness and I don't know how to account for it. I feel as if I have been writing continuously.

Diary, I am feeling overwhelmed with all that needs to be done, yet in the end I know I always manage to pull it off. Thirteen projects, each with to-do items and results that need to be achieved or I fail in my goals. Keep in mind these are my goals set by me, the self-directed overachiever.

The reason I am going straight to bed after this entry is that other than the fact that the left side of my face hurts from my broken wisdom tooth that is coming out tomorrow, my eyes feel dry and they are closing on me. I cannot even imagine opening a book or doing work tonight.

I am happy for my closest friend from yeshiva who is getting married this Sunday, and I am happy that I will be at his wedding. I made a promise to him and another two years ago that I would be there come hell or high water. I am a bit surprised that I found out just under two hours ago that he was engaged and that the wedding is this Sunday night. What kind of life do I lead where I am disconnected from those that are closest to me and I let my school take over my life? Other than thanking G-d I am able to keep my religion, I thank G-d for keeping my sanity. Or maybe he took that away a long time ago.

Peter pan, you're not a kid anymore.

There are some who are young yet they act old. There are others who are old yet they act young. Both have their benefits and their drawbacks.

I was always told that I acted older than my age; I had to -- there was no room to be a child when I was younger. To cope with my surroundings, I needed to mature to become years older than I was. To deal with the piles and stressed situations that entreated my patience every morning and evening in my home life, I wasn't able to bring friends into my home as a normal child would have; of course I did, and when or if my parents came home, my one friend at that time would often hide in my closet and then sneak out the back door sometimes an hour later. I often wondered if having a messy home was my parent's dirty little secret or my own. Either way, it became my dark little secret when I couldn't or wouldn't bring friends over. This pained me with embarrassment throughout most of my childhood. Even today I still have a nagging phobia of bringing friends over because I fear being embarrassed by those I live with. The thought of someone walking around in his dirty briefs, acting embarrassingly inappropriate, or the past thoughts of my to-be-friend being yelled at or witnessing what went on behind the closed doors of my childhood home stunted any desire I had to engage in a normal social life. I was therefore thrown forth in years significantly beyond my age. I remember so many times being terrified about what sort of outcast I would become in school if anyone found out what used to happen at home. From this and other things that went on in my home, I often confined myself to my room during my younger years and I did not "get out" like the rest of society's children were able to. In a way this is sad because I might not have developed the way one who had a healthy childhood would have. I try every day to forget my childhood years.

There are others who claim that they try to regain their childhood. Some take on crawling, some play with toys, some do who knows what. As far as I am concerned, these activities are too little, too late. Plus, to me they seem a bit sick; the idea of a fifty-year-old man crawling and sucking his thumb and crying "waa" seems a bit spooky.

On the other side of the twisted coin are those who never learned to grow up. Whatever dysfunction caused their Peter Pan syndrome, while being a child may have been acceptable during the younger part of their life, it is simply inappropriate when they are older. This type of person reminds me of a teenager who sits at home watching television and raiding the kitchen while he waits for his parents to come home and to catch him not doing his homework. He does nothing of value, and burns time as fast as lint. While this is a sad reality for too many real teens today, again, it is even more inappropriate as an adult.

What comes with this Peter Pan mentality? Other than the echoing thoughts through the hollow mind of "I won't grow up" comes a lack of responsibility for one's actions and one's life. To this person, nothing matters except for his desires and his temptations. He has a difficult time thinking beyond his immediate surroundings. While he may develop the maturity when he is older to try to surround and encompass another's needs while fulfilling his own, the merit of the gesture is akin to one who would spend thousands of dollars to attend a sports game with the intention of finding a way to write it off as a tax deduction -- before he even buys the tickets. This Peter Pan is almost medically blinded from thinking about anything greater than himself.

There is something appealing to others about his boyish charm, yet to me there is something disturbing seeing a grown man act like a fifteen-year-old. To me, growing old is a beautiful thing -- it is a natural part of life's design. Aging without growing can obviously be frustrating to the middle-aged person, and to everyone around him.

There is a time to take responsibility for one's life. There is a time to make a decision that things can no longer stay the way they are. The barrel does not need to go over the Niagara Falls with the moron inside; the boat does not need to float along with the current to end up in the lowest place. The builder put oars and a motor in the boat with the intention that they be used. Our Creator made wind so that the sails of a boat can move it against the current. No longer can this man treat his home as if it were his boyhood bedroom. It is simply wrong to not return something to its proper place after one is finished using it. It is simply wrong for one's clothing to take flight as one pulls the keys out of the keyhole of the door. It is simply inappropriate to walk around practically naked. Most of all, it is simply obscene to live one's life without growth. Peter pan, you're not a kid anymore.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Patterns in Sound

I experienced something today that was maybe the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, more beautiful than a sunset, but not necessarily more beautiful than a smile. I was getting bored with my piano playing always sounding the same, and so I decided to transpose the music I play to an unfamiliar key. This produced a new sound, and while this wasn't what excited me, playing in a new key gave a new flavor to the same routine I was used to playing. So I played the bass in every key, followed by the equivalent of a the blues chord progression [C chord, inverted F cord, then inverted G chord] in every key and Great Scott the secret of music revealed itself to me; I was overwhelmed with awe and humility. How?

After training my fingers to recognize the keys of each progression, I accidentally looked away from the keys while I was still playing. I found that every key progression carried its own physical pattern as if it were a picture that could not be seen, but only felt by my fingers. I noticed that the notes resonated when they were played according to their pre-ordained design. Hit the keys, ignore their pattern, the notes will clash, and people will throw tomatoes. I believe this pattern among others I have yet to understand are governed by the laws of harmony in sound, and all it took to recognize them was to look away from the piano. Prior to this, I just knew that some sounds go well together and others don't, but I never understood the REASON.

While I still haven't figured out WHY, I figured out that there is a pattern that I can not draw, but that my fingers can only feel when I play the tunes in a resonant way. I understand now why a blind or a deaf person can play beautiful music -- sounds for them may not necessarily be audio; perhaps they can feel the patterns of the sounds too as I did today.

I believe there is a deeper lesson in this experience which I have yet to grasp. Perhaps there is a universal concept of beauty that manifests itself when something follows the patterns as whispered by nature's sounds. Ancient cultures tried to figure out the ratio and measurements of the perfect building. They postulated that these perfect buildings follow Fibonacci patterns. I wonder if my sound theory resonates with the Fibonacci theory, among others neither I nor anyone as of yet have thought of. Torah teaches that "to know G-d, look at His creation". Within the microcosm are the secrets of the macrocosm. Maybe this is one secret that has just been revealed which has applications in countless other fields.

Further, maybe there is a lesson here that in order to find the truth of something, one needs only to look away. Perhaps the eyes can blind a person from seeing the truth. We do know that the eyes deceive, but before anyone starts to believe the eyes themselves are bad or evil, to be specific, perhaps the lesson is that sometimes sense get in the way of our other faculties and so we are unable to see what is in truly obvious and actually revealed to us if we only knew how to look.

On a deeper level, perhaps something only reveals itself when it is not directly looked at or focused on. Like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (if I remember it correctly), one can never know the velocity and the position of a particle at a certain time. Because the measurement of one facet changes the other, we can never know both the exact speed and the position of any particle at any time. Similarly, perhaps we also hide the truth of something when we focus on its properties.

I can feel that there is a big lesson here, but I am unable to grasp it. Nevertheless, a mechanism (perhaps one of many) for revealing the beauty of sound and perhaps for revealing the beauty of nature itself has been revealed to me today, and I have shown the existence of the mechanism to you. Unfortunately, you cannot experience this by reading my words or my descriptions; you must experience the beauty in sound for yourself by playing the keys and recognizing the patterns within the sound. Only then will you experience what I did today, namely discovering that nature can be cracked and understood if one only pays attention to its signs and the secrets contained within its whispers.

Lastly, as a note, I am not necessarily changed by this discovery, nor have I been enlightened or made special by today's experience. No secret of the universe was revealed to me alone that cannot be revealed to you if you repeat my actions and play the same keys on the piano. I am simply writing about an observation about the nature of sound and its patterns that I found to be interesting.

From a scientific point of view, I believe that the application of this observation to concepts outside the world of music can change the world for the better. One day soon I will write down the notes that form the patterns I have been discussing, and I will map it out into a picture format, and I will measure and map the distances between the notes. I will measure their relative amplitudes and frequencies and I will map those too. I will look for patterns and make conjectures about their meanings. Then I will try to apply the results to unrelated fields and concepts. Let's hear what sound has to say about our world and how we live in it.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Describing my "Two-Ended Holy Mess"

This entry has taken me hours and a night of sleep to revise and phrase because of the sensitivity of its nature. I've changed the site name of this blog to Frumpter. This concept is more of a Rabbi's jape describing a person who doesn't know the limits of how strict he should be in his observance of the law, and so he goes overboard and becomes in his eyes holier than the Lord. In other words, it is a person who focuses on the details so much that he misses the goal he originally set out to accomplish.

I would have loved to keep the old name and to have all of my close friends read and give me feedback on the thoughts I have to share, but people either 1) were not reading the blog, or 2) were reading but found nothing of value, or 3) were reading but thought I was attacking them rather than discussing an abstract concept or philosophy. Perhaps it is better this way -- some things are better kept secret. Now, other than through the attempted hacker eyes of my friends, there is little holding me back from expressing my deeper thoughts. Yet my purpose in writing was to inspire my friends to think about their lives in a deeper, meaningful way. That goal is now dead because this blog is between you and me. My friends likely won't see this and I feel this is unfortunate.

Something has come up in my life which could shake my world if I took it the wrong way. Along my path of self-discovery, among the jewels, I have discovered a rotten onion. I have known the stink was there since my father and his father's time, but I could never put my finger on exactly what it was. I noticed remnants of it in me as a child, but then it went away, or so I thought it did. In recent days it has reared its pretty little head again and this has gotten me concerned. Because I am not so comfortable discussing it, I will use the exemplar of a friend.

I have a friend who is a very interesting individual. He sees the world, but he believes he sees more because the images his eyes see leave a streak of the image after he has looked away; this is normal you say, and I agree. But where he thinks he gets interesting is that this sensation of streaking is present all around him all the time visible to his eyes and often taking hold of his attention -- he sees designs and shapes and images that are literally not there. He doesn't mistake them as real entities in themselves, because they have the feeling of the streaking image. He suspects they are energy signatures, either from him perceiving magnetic or electric fields. Some might call it seeing auras, but he doesn't only see them around objects; he sees them wherever he looks, even if it is into thin air. I say all this is his imagination, and that his eyes are playing tricks on him. I also think it is likely that his eyes may just hold onto an image longer than usual, so the weird things he thinks he sees are really images that have not yet faded away simply as one does when a person stops looking at an object.

My friend also hasn't been himself lately. A few years ago there were a few traumatic experiences in his life that led him to make some acute compressions in his belief and faith systems, and as a result he lost people that were the cynosure of his world. The changes in themselves were healthy, but they were not welcome, anticipated, or pleasurable. He has been depressed since, yet he fools himself into feeling as if things are normal because he has gotten used to the crestfallen feelings. They stay in the background as an anchor holding him in an uncomfortable position and stopping him from moving forward. Yet he plows on and fights through the dragging feeling he has had for some time and makes wonderful progress.

The sadness isn't the only problem. There are a whole slew of problems and quirks that he thought were just weird parts of his personality. When he gets emotional about something, the feelings take him over, as if they reach around and take hold of his body. He imagines them as liquid swarms of energy that have hornet-like movements. They swarm and cover his body and he gets overwhelmed by the feelings.

The exciting part is that at will, he hallucinates that he can take hold of these emotions or conjure them up as if they were balls of electricity or flows of mercury, and he believes he can manipulate and move these emotions in a physical way (as if they have an existence of their own), meaning he believes he can project these emotions (he believes they are gross and manifest forms of energy vibrating at a low-enough frequency to be felt and impacted by his senses) onto or toward other people or objects to accomplish certain effects, real or imagined. This would go as far as him imagining he can look into the sky and make the clouds disappear with his thoughts -- To me this sounds hokey, and I wouldn't be surprised if this was completely imagined, yet he videotaped the experience to prove to himself that he wasn't crazy.

The emotions are not always bad feelings of sadness, boredom, lethargy, or fear of being off the destined path; they can be good feelings such as elation, giddiness, hyper-focused attention, ultra-fast thinking, and feelings of superiority and interconnectedness with the stuff of the universe. He believes people don't think with such alacrity as he does, and he knows his thought patterns are deeply matrix-ed, interconnected, and interactive with his conscious will as if they too have their own existed created by him, but separate from him. He searches for an idea just as a spider swings from one web strand to another. Every thought is linked to another thought; there are few original strands because most of his learnings are pinned to prior learnings. This is a strength because the speed at which he can scan through his indexed thoughts, but it is also a weakness because he lacks creativity in that most of his thoughts are unoriginal and learned through the countless books and chicaneries of information charlatans have imparted to him. People say you can sell him the Brooklyn Bridge, but he believes he has given a good faith search for the needles of truth in the haystacks of lies. The problem is that sometimes his thoughts get stuck and repeat just as an old phonograph sometimes does. This is easily fixable with conscious effort.

All of these factors, among many others reserved for future discussions, have made my close friend a quirky kind of guy. While he is highly analytical, I suspect that his thoughts are not as fast-paced as he imagines them to be. He explains that experiences and thoughts just feel as if they flow in a bearable fast-moving current because he mulls over everything and moves through the world slowly and steadily. It actually takes him a while to process certain factors that lead to his strong decisions yet the speed at which he implements and acts on his decisions create a spinning sensation for those around him. He notices this and laughs at the speed at which life can shift its pace. Further, the high-paced life and compressions he has been forced to endure through his chosen lifestyle has often made him stressed out to the point that sometimes he imagines smoke coming out of his ears because he feels that the engine in his head has been overworked. In the past this would make him moody to an extreme, marked by slick words painted with fire, but moments later he would catch hold of reality and realize his slip of the tongue. While this no longer happens with his actual tongue because he learned to stay quiet when he gets upset, it has sometimes come out in his e-mails to those who have scorned him. It is not uncommon that a friend would ask him "why the 360?” to which he would respond "you know me, I'm like a manic depressive or a schizophrenic, yet with one memory and lacking a medical diagnosis." He’s a steady stone in a large river with a strong current.

I don't know if this makes my friend an interesting character or incredibly controlled because the inner workings of his mind stay internal, rarely perceived by the outside oblivious world of drones. Yet he functions normally as a dynamic character making due with the highly-stressful lifestyle in which he lives.

Monday, March 07, 2005

A Compartmentalized Existence with Bastard Values.

It never ceases to amaze me that there are people within the flesh of the bodies that we see. I have drawn a supposition that our bodies are a materialization of the spiritual aspects we have within. Maybe this explains how specifically one person can look so different from another person. But then, where does race come from? Would it follow from this theory that if a person's looks are a direct manifestation of the signature of the soul, would that suggest that individuals of a particular race are spiritually related, as if from the same family of souls? I don't think my supposition is credible; it requires more thought to be properly understood.

Nevertheless, every person shares a duality, namely that he lives in the world from his perspective, and he shares the world with the other people and things on it. It is slightly humorous that each of us is endowed with an intellect, some more than others, and each of us is given his own perspective. This perspective is developed and molded from our beliefs about the world, which are formed based on our learned programming and our experiences. So think of it; what makes you who you are?

Isn't it sad that something as silly as an experience can form who we have become? So many factors are out of our control. At any moment, our surroundings are determined by an uncountable amount of circumstances all crashing together to form this moment. We then base our lives on lessons we have gleaned from what some people would think are random occurrences. Who we become, who we marry, who we employ are all determined on circumstances. Tic tok, your life is being decided for you. Tic tok, you are confined to your reactions to your environment. Tic tok, your judgments determine what you do next. Surprise, there are other people also making decisions which limit or expand your choices and opportunities? What kind of life is this?

Chassidus calls our world the world of sheker (literally of falsehood). I won't even get into the thought that from one perspective, reality has substance that we can touch, yet from a cellular perspective, the world is a mass of particles that can only come together through a miraculous form of intellect. If I shake your hand, we have exchanged cells. Some from your hand leave your body and become part of my body. When we speak, my breath, containing carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and other particles moves out from my mouth, and perhaps enters into your person through your nose when you inhale; your body breaks down this compound and uses it to digest the food you ate earlier today. In essence, what was once me is now you. We won’t even discuss wavelengths, sounds, or the many other ways we interact and have an impact on the bodily makeup of the other.

We are discussing choices and circumstances, and the people we become through these choices. It is hard to refrain from placing the finger of G-d into this discussion, because that would give order to all these questions. Yet it is still a cop-out answer. It is one thing to believe with a full heart that religion is the ultimate truth, but it is also important to use your faculties, as limited as they are, to understand the nature and essence of the ground upon which you stand. So eliminate dogma from this discussion and let’s move on.

From a purely practical point of view, we are shells of thought contained within a body that moves through a reality, virtual or actual, whose experiences cause us to understand our subjective experience of the world in a specific way. The body is a conduit for our thought, yet the body is only a shell for the person we are inside; the body is a piece of flesh, made up of skin, meat, water, and bones -- you can cook it. Yet to sidetrack for just a moment, isn't it amazing how the body can be the center of our focus when we are looking for pleasure? The imposition of any level of logic would scream to us that there is a deep misdirection in this body-oriented focus. So let's focus on the person inside the body.

We think, we look around, we react, and we move within the environment that has been set up for us. I share the same physical universe as you do, but I do not share your thoughts. They are yours, and are your unique creation. We will filter out the likelihood that there is a heavy influence on your thoughts from other beings, namely human, animal, and spiritual. Yet what gets to me is that what we do, say, think, and how we act is often so contrary to the way we think to act, do, say, and think. Let us eliminate from this discussion the concept of nullifying our thoughts and our expressions of the self to the will of our creator, to a group, or to another more influential being (human, spiritual, or other). The concept that I would like to draw out is the unknown meme (invisible psychological influence) that limits us in our thoughts and our expressions of ourselves.

Why do I smile and nod when I see someone, when I have more to say to that person? Why do I hold my tongue for appropriateness when what I have to say may be the truth? Why is it that there are conventions which people orthodoxically follow that govern how and when a person shares himself with another, and in what fashion? I'm sorry to go lightly on this topic because it is a very deep one, but the thought that I wanted to bring out is that every person is a world within itself; the mind contains so many gems, and ghosts, that if unleashed can make this world a beautifully diverse place.

The imposition of one thought pattern on another, or the thought that one must act according to a set convention literally kills our creativity and our life force, pigeonholing us into one lifestyle or forcing us to associate with one group that thinks one way or believes in one philosophy over another. All this eggshell dancing around our real thoughts creates such a compartmentalized and fake world, in that we belong to one group and express ourselves through the groupthink when we really belong to many groups or no groups at all; yet we limit our expression to fit within the mold of the accepted standard, blinding ourselves from all the other possibilities. Touché my reader -- I do this too and am guilty of associating with one group over another when in reality there should be no groups. This is a survival tactic, and you do this too.

Imagine a world where we can speak our thoughts freely without horrifying the other. Imagine a world where we can dream up large things and we can pursue them, unbounded by the circumstances or the externally imposed rules we are bound to follow. Imagine being able to be a free-thinking individual, able to express one's thoughts without forcing them out as if we are pushing our own thoughts out onto a public forum which does not invite individually unless there is license from a higher power.

I say all this with caution, and I discuss the expression of thoughts, but notice I do not discuss the expression of desires. Without proper understanding, this path can easily lead to hedonism and to selfishness, which is the exact opposite result from which I would like to see humanity achieve. And we’ve tried this philosophy so many times and each time we’ve been corrupted by hedonistic pleasures. Think Mount Sinai, think the golden calf, think Greece, think the Roman Empire, think of the Enlightenment, of Marxism, of Communism, and of the fallen Soviet Republic. Each society believed in a philosophy that turned inward to express each person’s hedonistic thoughts of pleasure, greed, or other misdirected and sick expression which ultimately caused the downfall of the society employing such a related philosophy. Now think of America.

A philosophy is worthless unless the individuals subscribing to the philosophy have pure motives and direct their desires to truth rather than temporary pleasures. I don’t think this is something as humanity we can overcome, although individually, one can strive to reach this on a personal level.

I believe my desires -- and I do have them and they are strong -- are misdirected from what my true desires should be, namely for truth and long-term real pleasures. It is fully improper for me to desire corn chips, or a good coffee. Yet my mind is tainted and programmed to want what I have been told I should want instead of desiring things for the essence of them. Torah tells us that we shouldn't desire food for the taste and pleasures we get from it; we should use food for the spiritual and physical nourishment we get from it. Yet I am still distracted by wanting foods containing a specific taste, based on the salt and sugar content within. So using food as an example, my desire is misdirected for the object itself when it should be directed at the nutritional value of the food, both physically and spiritually, through the elevation one can effect on the food by partaking in it with a blessing and grace.

But who are we kidding talking about food? What nonsense is this and why am I wasting your time with food?!? I am discussing human interactions and psychological openness in this entry.

In summary, think of a world where your desires are properly placed upon the true nature of what you desire rather than your misdirected temptation towards a body part, a person, or a physical object. Then, think of a world where openness was manifest in our interactions, devoid of restrictions or external rules which cut our tongues from our mouths and make us cower before a force of falsity that governs how much of us we can express, and how much of us must stay trapped within our minds, forced to ruminate for the rest of our lives. Then think how limited our mental faculties are, as we are only able to comprehend the physical world. Even when we think of something spiritual, we are still thinking of a physical object, just commingled with puffy clouds or blurred borders. If you can take this thought pattern to the extreme, namely looking for the truth in our desires and looking for truthful expression, what would your world be like? What steps can you take to make this world more real? Are you willing to take those steps? I am not. I fear rejection. But perhaps one day I will be able to break from my limitations and move my experience of the world closer to the truth, or the truth as I understand it should be.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Laser-beam focus. Good or bad?

My dad has always told me to "lighten up" because I am too serious. Friends have told me to "loosen up" because I was too focused. I think they are right. I would probably say that if one could measure the intensity I give out as if it were a laser beam, there would be a giant hole in the wall in front of my desk... but there would also be a hole burned through the aluminum siding of my house fifty feet in front of me... and also through the building across the street.

Sometimes I focus on a topic so strongly that I get a headache from the intensity. Hindsight, I think it is funny because when I break myself away from what I am working on, I am literally sighing from relief. I am often literally out of energy from the experience. My mom used to laugh at the fact that I always sighed, *as if* my life were so burdensome.

I once heard a speaker discuss how she lives her life at a higher intensity level than most people, meaning that on a scale of 1 to 10 she lives live at the intensity of a 13. I couldn't explain why, but I have always felt exactly the same way. I learned in college from Tony Robbins that most people live blah lives, devoid of any real pleasure, energy, or excitement. He taught that one should always take hold of his emotional state, and raise the intensity to a very high level. This was easy for me, because I was already living at a heightened state of intensity. But how high can someone go before they burn out?

Torah teaches the importance of having a balanced life. Yet my idea of balancing is putting many burdens on my plate that is spinning in the air; I am balancing the plate by placing a thin rod beneath it and balancing the rod on the tip of my finger. Have you ever seen one of those balancing acts? If you haven't, just picture spinning a basketball and balancing the spinning ball on your finger. Ok, so I take on too much. It's certainly manageable, or else I wouldn't be able to balance everything. But I don't think this is living a balanced life because I am usually stressed out; even when I am relaxing, my mind is quick at work thinking of what needs to be done next. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed that I just sit down on a couch and fall deeply asleep. Ah, the pleasures of this world.

But how does one actually relax? Is there even merit in learning to let loose? I can easily get myself into a relaxed state by breathing slower or by focusing on my state, but the relaxation is only temporary. Relaxing for me is like squeezing a hose that is flowing with water to slow the flow... While the actual amount of water diminishes, the intensity builds up at the squeezing point.

I never understood how someone can just let loose and lighten up. It seems contrary to the belief that one should always be doing something of value to make the world a better place. I suppose I place value in production, regardless of whether the results are spiritual and unseen maybe through spiritual pursuits, or whether the results are physically being prepared for the week by pre-reading the required readings for my classes or by checking my weight after swimming laps at the pool. While I am calm on the surface, underneath I feel as if I am always huffing and puffing. Because of the momentum I build, when something goes wrong it doesn't faze me and I can blow through any problem like a running giant plowing through a wall of bricks. This is not to say that I am unaffected emotionally by the experience. Quite to the contrary.

But I can take myself away from it all and breathe. I do this every Shabbos, where I close the books and rip myself away from my busy life. And I do relax. Really. But the mountain of responsibilities never disappears -- it is still there, waiting for me to say havdallah at the end of the Sabbath. I take a deep breath, muster my strength, and re-enter the war zone, namely my busy life.

I don't wish life to be busy forever; this is an investment into the future. I made a conscious decision back in yeshiva that I would sacrifice a few years of my life to law school, but I would keep up all of the daily responsibilities of a Jew. This means putting on tefillin, praying three times each day (and then once before I go to sleep), keeping Shabbos and kosher, learning Chumash (Torah), saying Tehillim (psalms), and learning Tanya (Chassidus; Jewish mysticism), Rambam (Jewish law), and more if time permits.

Next year, as soon as law school is over, I anticipate a maximum of a few more years of hard work as I get initiated into the law field, and then I will be able to lighten the load and lead a more serene and peaceful lifestyle spending time following pursuits that are in line with my values. This involves smelling roses, building a greenhouse, and (although this is first priority and goes without saying,) settling down with a wife and building a family.

Even though I am not yet at that point of serenity, I am already looking to start a family because my opinion is that the high-pressured lifestyle is not something that is imposed on me, but is something I do to stay productive. Being single allows for this kind of lifestyle; upon getting married, it is just a matter or re-focusing my energy, giving more of it to my family and less of it to the pressures of law school life. I am already beyond the half-way point in law school, so grades no longer have much of an impact on my GPA. I just over focus because I am an overachiever and I want to guarantee my graduation. If my scenario would change, so too would I adjust to my surroundings.

Sometimes, I still think that I would love to walk away from it all and find a regular job with minimal requirements, so that I can focus my life on the things that matter. Can you ever imagine me as a farmer or a construction worker? It would be really cool to have a job that required the use of my strength rather than the strength and agility of my mental faculties. Then again, this was my goal; I wrote it down on paper during the summer when I rented a room in a house with no telephone. I set this goal on July of 1996, to have a job that requires "agility of mind" rather than the repetitive mindless actions of a burger-flipper. One thing I love about life is that from one moment to the next, the only continuity one has is the decision to continue the lifestyle from the minute before. Nothing stops us from making radical changes or shifts in our life path. While I like my path, it is relaxing to know that I can change it any time.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Controversial thoughts may be hazardous to one's health...

In Stony Brook, I used to write articles that would upset people because I would write about sensitive topics that people wouldn't normally write about. For those of you who remember, allow me to say "buzzz, buzzzz, buzzz...” I also wrote about topics such as CRS (Computer Reality Syndrome) which was an observation that people are spending too much time on the computer, and that computer addictions are beginning to become a psychological problem which people will need to deal with.

Interestingly enough, A few years ago I received a call from my mentor at the Wellness Center at SUNY Stony Brook telling me that a whole field of psychology dealing with my topic has emerged, and my research was the starting point that they used in their research. I conducted surveys, made statistical reports, and wrote articles that were later used in their research. Now books have been written on the subject. All this starting from an observation and a school newspaper article on how someone can sit in a room without windows, and be physically attached on some level to their computer screen, and not realize that the sun has gone down and has re-emerged the next day. So from writing about controversial topics, such as this one, good was able to come from it. I also wrote one telling people that they can fly off of a building -- this being published in the school newspaper during finals time -- but nevertheless with the exception of the article on human flight which was more of a satire on the concept of mind-over-matter, I was writing with the intent of affecting people's lives in a positive way.

The problem with this blog is that while the school newspaper was generalized, this blog is localized. One of my close friends or family could read my blog and figure out exactly who I am talking about, or so they think they can. The problem which HAS arisen is that people have read my blog when I am discussing a concept in general, and they have taken the blog personally and have thought that I was specifically speaking about them. Take for example a blog I wrote a few days ago about truth and honesty -- I wrote how there are those who proclaim one intention and act in a contrary way. I admit that this was a very sharp e-mail that could have hurt anyone who thought I was referring to them; to my surprise, one person did and I hurt their feelings for days before they realized that the blog entry had nothing to do with them. So the problem is that I might be hurting people by discussing concepts that are personal, relevant, and especially sensitive to those close to me that read the blog. I would like comments on this, and if it turns out that my writings are hurting those close to me, then I will either shut down this blog or more strongly filter what I write.

My comment to those who take personally what I say is -- and I say this with complete caution and hesitation because the last thing I want is to hurt anyone's feelings -- the purpose of this blog is to share lessons I learned with my readers and to hash out and analyze confusing thoughts and concepts that come up in my head so that others with similar issues may learn from the analysis and the conclusions drawn. Perhaps some of you could also give your feedback to me in the comment area so that if I analyzed something improperly or if I am missing an element in my analysis you can help me discover the true solution to the problem. I also have some Chassidus and learnings from Torah incorporated so at the same time, hopefully my reader will learn a thing or two of Torah that is directly applicable to their lives.

But the harsh point that I started to say in the last paragraph is if for some strange reason you find that my writings are relevant to something in your life, for example if you think I am referring to you in my blog and you take something personally, maybe there is some lesson to learn about yourself -- this is one big reason I am writing the blog; for self-introspection and personal growth. This could be true even if in truth my writing has absolutely nothing to do with you, and I was writing about another person or another concept. Again, the purpose of this blog is self-exploration for both me and you; if one of us learns a thing or two from my words, then the purpose of the blog has been accomplished.

The last thing on my mind is the way my thoughts appear to you as the reader. I in no way intend for you to develop a negative opinion of me, and the last thing I would ever want to do in this blog is to lose your trust, friendship, or love. If I am making myself look bad by writing this blog by exposing thoughts that I shouldn't be thinking, or if my writing is suggesting to you that I am a bad person or that I am in need of a therapist, then this is completely not my intention. On the contrary, I am trying to hash out issues that are bothering me in my life, and so perhaps someone other than me has dealt with these issues and can help me resolve them. Again, I want this forum to be completely open and honest with no reservations. Above I said that if I am hurting people, I will shut down this blog. Similarly, if I am starting to look like a madman to my readers, or if I am sharing too much with all of you so that you might form a bad opinion of me, this is not my intention either and I would also consider shutting down the blog for this reason too.

My only reply to this concern is that in the history of show business, the greatest actors and the greatest writers historically have been people who have skewed personalities and distorted mental faculties. I mean some of these people are just plain strange. Also, the greatest comedians are those who are in the direst need for ridilin or prozac. I know I have a "sharp tongue" when I write, but maybe this is one of my gifts that I can use for good to help people grow.

I always hope that my mental faculties are on the same wavelength as those of my peers, and that others have thoughts and irks such as I have. With all this said, to those that don't know me, I am really a cheerful person. While I live a highly-stressed life, often balancing many more things on my "plate" than many would be able to handle [except for my friend in dental school, my friend who is about to get married, and my friend the father], somehow I keep it all together and in the end everything (thank G-d) always comes out okay. I certainly have my moments of difficulty, and not every moment of my life is stress-free. But overall, I am well-tempered, easy-going, calm and relaxed, and I love my surroundings and I am excited for the things and the people that are in my life. I have a good support system, a warm and caring family, good friends, and my life is seldom boring.

The war that you often see me writing about in my journal entries is the classic war between a person's good inclination and his evil inclination. The good inclination (often referred to as the nefesh habahamas) leads me to desire and to run after the worldly pleasures of the flesh; these are momentary, temporary, empty pleasures that do not make a person a better person, but make him more like an animal. To those that are conversant with Chassidus, this inclination is utterly evil and brings us farther away from G-d and our purpose in life. The opposite inclination, the good inclination (nefesh elokis) is literally a piece of G-d (I can't grasp this concept well enough to explain it, but from what I understand, it is supposed to be literally a part of G-d in us) when exposed and manifested in the body lead us to pursue godly pursuits. (i.e. wanting to pray, or to do a good deed, etc.) The problem is that the good inclination (by the way, did I mention that the good and bad inclination are each souls in the literal sense?) is placed within the bad inclination, and so it is often hidden and is unable to manifest itself in our thoughts prominently enough to affect us. By doing good deeds it becomes revealed and it gains power. By doing selfish deeds, the bad inclination gets stronger.

A good example is as if there are two kings, one evil and one good, who try to exert their dominion over the little city (our body). When one is in power, the other is weak, and vice versa. A person who is not conversant with this topic, either because he lacks Torah knowledge or because he lacks common sense and a refinement might not be able to understand this topic without some time learning. Like caviar, it is an acquired taste. (Is caviar even kosher?) Hence, to some, it might seem crazy why I would put such value into being religious, or why I would ever place G-d's will over mine, or why I would ever give up the secular things or people that I loved the most.

While I often feel like I am fighting a war with myself, I find honor in this war. I feel like a soldier defending his country, and in a literal way, I am defending the sanctity of my body and my soul. Although I cannot see the results or the benefits from my actions, I believe that living with this philosophy is the right way to be and I am honored to be on this path. This is something that others may never be able to understand, because it is anti-logical and is against all of the self-loving, egotistical, self-praising, selfish, empty philosophies the secular society will teach. That sounded opinionated. ;) To everyone that knows me, keep in mind that I chose this path. Some would say that on some level, it chose me. But as difficult as it is to refine oneself and overcome one's selfish desires, I have faith that the end result will be just and true.

PS - I still love cake and a good steak; fighting a war doesn't mean one should become ascetic and give up all the pleasures of this life. Fighting this war means that whatever you do, whatever you think, you do it through the expression of the good soul with the good intentions, and you do it in a permissible way at the permissible time with the proper blessing and thanks to G-d for the experience.