On David Bowie

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Moving past the spiritual normality around death and dying, I needed to take some space within words to reflect on what David Bowie meant to me, my family and our culture. It’s been three days since he took off for his home planet, leaving us all startled. I wanted to wait this long to post because I felt some space was needed to take a long close look that wasn’t too caught up in the emotion of the moment.

On January 8th, Bowies 69th birthday, Bowie released his 25th album entitled Blackstar. Three days later he died. If you go back and read the lyrics to the track “Lazarus” you can clearly see this was very intentional. He was saying goodbye.

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Who the fuck does that? That level of genius, bravery, wit, sarcasm and poetic beauty can’t even be understood just yet. Maybe it won’t go down as his best album musically (or maybe it might?) but it may go down as one of the most important statements ever made in rock and roll. To be able to face death and make your work about it while it’s happening in nearly real time is really the essence of being alive and honoring this incarnation. Running straight into the god damn mountain with reckless joyful abandon. I can’t think of another rock and roll star who has made their death also an artistic statement.

Art is life and death. Life and death is art. Maybe Bowie’s dabbling into the Buddhist trip exposed him to the bardo states of consciousness that allowed him to embrace the circular nature of all living things. Seems like that.

To even use the phrase “rock and roll” doesn’t even fit with David Bowie. Unlike, many of his peers Bowie transcended genre, cultures, classes and labels. Yes, he had a certain sound that remained un-mistakably “Bowie”, but in end it’s clear that music was just his medium for a much bigger expression. Not a classic rocker, not an art rocker, he was just an artist who used sound to weave together tapestries of fashion, rock, jazz, funk, sex, politics and multi media. Watch “Ziggy Stardust, the film, read the lyrics to “Young Americans”, listen to “Low” and then watch the video for “Lazarus’” – this is a 40 plus year career with some of the most elegant and consistent art making the world has ever known. This is Picasso or Edison.

On a historical level it’s the physical end of a very specific time in our history. The fact that there isn’t a David Bowie in physical form to contribute to the world around us is an ending of sorts. Rock, as we currently have it defined, is now dead. Knowing Bowie was always out there lurking in the shadows and ready to leap forward with a big statement has been a constant presence in the history of modern electric music. Yes, Dylan is left. So are members of the Dead, McCartney, Brian Eno, David Byrne, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Even with these giants around, it still feels like there’s a void left in the present sense. Bowie was doing stuff that no one else was even considering. His constant desire to push forward into new territory was sometimes challenging but always worth checking out.

“If you’re ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”

And most importantly on a personal level, this digs so deep and here’s why. David Bowie was my mom’s favorite musical artist. She raised me on his music. Not just the hits but all of it. Deep tracks too. As far back as I can remember every single Bowie album was there on vinyl. All the big amazing covers, the crackles of the needle hitting the record were the sound of my childhood. Pink Floyd, Talking Heads were also in there. Billy Holiday too. But it was Bowie that was the real centerpiece of everything she loved. So much so in fact, that she even styled her own look after him in the early 80s. She’d put out on display the covers of Aladdin Sane and ChangesOne (the greatest hits album) as sort of a mirror to her current style. As I came of age and I started to understand what this music was about it quickly became a part of my childlike zeitgeist of wonder and worship. When my parents went out at night I would play Ziggy Stardust loudly and dance around alone in the living room pretending that I too could be Ziggy. The first song that I learned to play on the guitar was “Space Oddity”. This was the fabric of the Learydrome when my mom was still the Queen.

Bowie’s death feels like a part of her died too. This may sound dramatic, but it’s true. It’s just an association that I can’t quite pin down, but feels so raw and potent to me. I’ve made peace with death many times in my life and am at peace with this one too. However, the magnitude will mark my life so far as “Before Bowie” and “After Bowie.”

They broke the mold after you David. In fact, you may have made the mold to begin with. Shine on.

Atheism and Big Data – a love affair

Imagine a time when you were walking through life without knowing much about anything around you. How you got here, how old the planet is and it’s place in the galaxy was a total mystery until not that long ago. Because of the vast mystery that enshrouded every single person back in those days the natural proclivity was to embrace religion and the explanation that it provided. Mythology, doctrine and dogma provided a sense of relief and comfort to this thing we call consciousness.

Time marches on of course and new explanations have come to light. Mans focus on pursuing science has no doubt given way to incredible insight into the origins of our species, the planet we live on and the universe as a whole. Going beyond just our origins we’ve gotten very creative with our ingenuity and now understand how to accomplish great feats that would have seen most men burn at the stake for their heretic suggestions. Remember, even Galileo wasn’t believed at first and faced a roman inquisition for heliocentrism.

Fast forward to now. We live in an age where so much of our surrounding worlds both inside and outside of us can be quantified, categorized and analyzed to the point of exhaustion. It almost seems that we are on a track to figure everything out. Because of this more and more people are starting to abandon the idea of mysticism or religion in favor of cold hard data. This is the age of Big Data.

Technically speaking the term “Big Data” refers to the way in which our modern computational power gets hung up on the amount of data and thus needs to rethink it’s relationship to it in and of itself.

Wiki says:

Big data is a broad term for data sets so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate. Challenges include analysis, capture, data curation, search, sharingstoragetransfervisualizationquerying and information privacy. The term often refers simply to the use of predictive analytics or certain other advanced methods to extract value from data, and seldom to a particular size of data set. Accuracy in big data may lead to more confident decision making, and better decisions can result in greater operational efficiency, cost reduction and reduced risk.

Moving beyond the academic definition however, we will also see that Big Data is also a descriptor for the age in which we are currently living in. We’ve moved beyond the Information Age and into a brave new subset of where technology and science has not only grown so incredibly huge and precise but it’s also given meaning to the way we live. Science has taken the place of God.

For example, here are three very basic and now commonplace occurrences of Big Data in action.

Many millennials define themselves by their social media profiles and how those data sets mirror the projection of what it is they think they are. And that accompanying algorithm for how to keep up and market to this set of people is becoming increasingly complex and onerous. Or take a very rudimentary understanding of a discovery found within Quantum Mechanics that basically says that light and matter are made up of the same stuff. Another example might be; take an analytical dive into the study of the human genome project that’s setting out to map our entire DNA structure from a functional and physical standpoint.

There are endless other examples of how the measurement of our physical world has gotten so precise and qualitatively satisfying that has in fact given way to not just the material world but also our existential one. The increasing accuracy of science and it’s accompanying technology is now defining who we are, how we got here, our purpose for being here and is giving us the ability to somehow fit those concepts into a measurability that makes sense to us.

Of course it’s true that most of us, including myself, don’t understand the actual complexity of the living and breathing Big Data machine that surrounds our daily lives. The sheer amount of storage space that Facebook is using everyday boggles the mind. Or try explaining credit default swaps to me, I don’t get it. Still.

Here’s a great short essay on the possibility that we’ve already moved to the age of technology being indecipherable:

https://aeon.co/essays/is-technology-making-the-world-indecipherable

Given these facts, there is also an endless amount of technology that I depend on every day that I have no idea how it works. Yes, I maintain faith that it will keep working.

The key word here being faith. What I’m starting to notice is that within the last 20 years the rise of science and Big Data has started to chip away at our traditional definition of faith. One can argue that chipping away at the draconian religious structures is a good thing, which I won’t disagree with. But what is alarming and more problematic is that Big Data has also taken a bite out of mysticism. The rise of atheism and lack of mysticism is directly tied into the rise of the age Big Data.

Look at the rise of either religious polling data provided by Gallup since the dawn of the World Wide Web in 1995.

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 Now look at the rise in Internet usage for the same date range (provided my Internet Live Stats)
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Notice the patterns?

The first glaring note is to point out that Internet usage, in and of itself, does not equal a rise in scientific beliefs. But it does represent a broad view of how human society has embraced the age of Big Data and all the tangents that have sprouted off from it. Our humanity now existing in a digital form call the World Wide Web is happening with such great acceptance that one can assume that it is a mass adoption of a scientific way of viewing the world and thus it can make sense for this argument.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that both sets of data, Internet usage and Atheism identification, are rising at the same time. Furthermore as the technological trends morph and adoption rates continue to increase into areas such as nano technology, bio tech and other trans-humanist utopian fantasies we will continue to see more and more people shun the labels of the great religions of yesterday and identify with “nothing” because it’s the only religious label that may fit. It’s the only label that means no mystics, just data.

There is strong evidence, however, that suggests more and more people are identifying with the whole “spiritual but not religious” label but not to the detriment of people still favoring the atheist label instead. That’s another tangent to explore. Certainly, the long term effect of how the whole radical Christian/radical Islam game plays out will have an effect on these data sets over time.

Going back to mysticism and Big Data, it is my hope that our species won’t merely rest on the “facts” that data provides but rather on the manifest of God that can be found in the circuitry that we are creating. For me, the Godhead is taking form in the connectivity that we have invented that takes disguise in the Internet, VR, nano tech and AI. Just as a tree creates an apple, a human creates a computer.

In here somewhere is God working itself out in a way that’s talking to us. We just can’t hear it yet.

And let us not forget the great words of Terrence McKenna  – “There exists a dimension beyond language, it’s just so damn hard to talk about.”

But that’s another post…

This is our Kainchi

If you are not part of the Ram Dass/Neem Karoli Baba community let me briefly describe what and where Kainchi is. It’s a place nestled deep in the foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India that was the primary meeting place of the Western devotees, led by Ram Dass, where they met and hung out with Neem Karoli Baba from 1967-1973. This was not the only place where Maharaj-ji took them but it was perhaps the most special.

And for those of you in the community, you know exactly what this means.

I’ve spent a few days sitting on this post because I’ve been waiting to come down a little. The high from these retreats is potent, intense, orgasmic and fucking amazing. When you’re high after these things you can be prone to do crazy shit so I had to come down a little to make sure this post was authentic and most of all true.

For the last several years I’ve spent a lot of time going to Maui to hang out with Ram Dass, Krishna Das and the global satsang (spiritual community) at the Napili Kai Beach Resort for the now bi-yearly retreat called “Open Your Heart in Paradise.” Over the years these gatherings have taken on almost a pilgrimage sort of feel. Many of the same people, many new ones too, make this yearly trek to the NKB (no accident there) resort to suck up this whole concept of “unconditional love.” I can only speak for myself in saying that sometimes the practice has a very direct and applicable result and other times it’s elusive, fuzzy and nostalgic.

Let me address the latter first. The now oft-told story of Ram Dass meeting Neem Karoli Baba in 1967 after being jettisoned from the identity of Richard Alpert is now one of legend that has been documented in many legendary tomes. After he came back to America he then turned on a group of other young acid drenched wildly amazing hippies who were looking for more. Fortunately many of these people went on to do amazing works in the world and are still with us today. They are very eager to tell the stories of what it was like to hang out with the “old man in the blanket.” These stories are colorful, magical and have the ability to pry open even the most cynical heart from the clutches of self loathing, fear and darkness and thrust them into a state of love, peace and equanimity. This is true, it does happen. I’ve seen it and experienced it. The only rub is that after hearing the stories so many times the practice can sometimes feel like a nostalgia act. How many times do I need to hear the spleen story or the bus story or the acid in babas mouth story?

The other elemental issue that gets in the way is the “getting high.” Unless you’re the most cynical uptight cyborg replicant freak there is no way that you’re not going to get somewhat high at some point during one of these retreats. I’m a lover of the high so I tend to get really high on these love hits and can often mistake these succulent juicy hits of love to be the practice itself when in truth they really aren’t. They are just the results of what may happen when you practice this stuff.

This gets murky because if you’re not paying attention it becomes about these things and you may loose the essence of what’s REALLY going on here and come to the conclusion that these gatherings are about glorifications of someone elses trip. I’ve been here before, I’ve lost the focus of the message and application of what’s being said. But I don’t want to get stuck on that. So, what is the message?

The message is that there is a portal for unconditional love that allows you to be transported into a dimensional state of being in which you love yourself more, you love others more and through this love portal you experience a joy for being alive that may have eluded you previously. If you have any desire to experience any of these things I’m here to tell you that it’s real. This is a real thing that can be experienced by you, now and in this moment. These practices when done with even the slightest shred of sincerity can unlock a way of living within the constructs of the material world that knows no boundaries. It can labeled bhakti yoga, guru kripa or just “yoga.” Or it can simply be called “love.” Real honest to god love.

As mentioned, I’ve been to many of these retreats. But I have to say that this past week in Maui took me to a place that I’d never experienced prior. Perhaps I’m a slow learner or perhaps I needed many doses to get the full effect. Either way, I had more heart opening conversations, tears, inter dimensional drop ins and ecstatic love bombs than I’d ever experienced at any other retreat. As Duncan told me “I literally had a dozen conversations that were more powerful than those experienced when on MDMA.” Same goes for me. The connection to the stories I’ve heard a thousand times before, to my old friends, to my new friends, to Sharon Salzbergs fierce teachings and to these names of God I’ve chanted countless rounds before took on a new high that may in fact created an unravelling that will result in me truly forgiving myself for all my mistakes. It seems that I am truly ready to forgive myself of all the self induced pain that I’ve inflicted on myself and others in a way that can give me the room to move forward on the path. Constantly being stuck in the wheel of samsara has only worked in the sense that it’s taken be so far up and equally as far down. Rinse and repeat. My new and fresh set of eyes that were bestowed upon me at OYHIP ’15 has given me the gentleness of equanimity and ease of being.

On the final morning of the retreat it all came into a complete form when my friend Alex Deleuse shared something with me that put the whole game into context. He simply said (i’m paraphrasing Alex, sorry dude) “this is our Kainchi. History will look back on these retreats as ‘oh you were at the OHYIP retreats in Maui? Then you know.’

Yes, I know. This is our Evelyn Hotel, this is our Kainchi, this is our great transmission of Maharaj-jis darshan. If you are at all into Ram Dass or Neem Karoli Baba this is our time. What happened 43 years ago doesn’t take away from what’s happening now.

It’s taken me so long to see the “big maharaja-ji” and to loose the trap of nostalgia and to simply accept this gift. Of course, I’m gonna come back down and act human again. But perhaps this time I’ll recognize it with a little more softness and gentleness of heart. The endless cycle of ascent and decent from the mountain doesn’t have to be so extreme any longer.

Who is “they”?

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Who is “they?”

This video doesn’t cover everything and only briefly mentions the US funding of Syrian rebels which in part became ISIS. Nonetheless, its a good primer for how complicated this whole situation is.

Next time you ask yourself “why do “they” hate us?”…step back and consider who “they” really is.

It’s not just Islamic jihadists. Those folks are just the delivery mechanism for “they.” It’s a multi headed monster that includes several governments, US interests in the middle east, US sponsored training of specific groups who eventually become ISIS, an ancient tribal war that can be barely understood, the spread of Wahhabism through Saudi Arabia (a US ally) and the sheer ignorance and intolerance of Western nations toward Islam as a whole. All of these things when put into the blender come out to form the “they” we speak of.

There are probably a lot of elements to add to the list that I left out because I can barely understand it myself.

If you think a “war” with ISIS is the answer consider that if that were to happen the members of ISIS would simply slip back into the general population without a trace. Our course correction on this is going to require such a radical turn around in policy, ending our rabid hunger for war, energy independence and most of all an increase of tolerance and compassion towards our fellow man.

We are all Earthlings. There is no “they”. There is only us.

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