SUNSET

The red orb expands as its sets
Tinting the clouds pink
Before they dissolve in darkness,
Magnificent end
While illusion begins the night
In bloated cold light.
Boundaries skew realities
As Luna rises
In the stolen hues of softness
Soon shed in rising,
Revealing only stolen light
From the source now gone
Into tomorrow yet to be

Another cycle,
The release from our restless dreams.
While another day
Is only an expectancy
Rooted in habit
Created on the boundaries
Where illusion rules
And trust is as awakening,
An epiphany.
The rising chariot of fire
Defies our staring
With retina burning brightness
Lest we find the truth

That frees us from our wondering
And our wandering
At the dawn and dusk of being.
Like children on a log
We try to maintain our balance
As gravity waits
The fall of our contentedness
Into a dreamworld
Fired into being by neurons
Beyond our control
Creating wonders and terrors
That beset our sleep,
Until tomorrow is today

Or the last sunset.

©Ron Cebik 2014

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An Amazing Man

When my speech began to deteriorate, I discovered I could still make my thoughts and ideas known through the written word (actually a digitized version using word processing) and
later text to speech engines. A short while ago, I met a 57 year old man who was unable to communicate through the spoken word due to an autistic condition that locked him up in a prison from which he could look out but not speak to those without. Yet, amazingly, he could absorb and process ideas, language, and thoughts which he has shaped into a spiritual understanding of the world and his own being. It was the information technology, in the form of electric communication boards, and later key boards, and finally text to speech applications to computers and ipads that opened the doors of his prison and enabled him to share his thoughts with a wider world. Tom writes poetry. Each Christmas and special occasion, he produces a poem to express both his thoughts and feelings. This year he shared his poem with me, “WOULD YOU RECOGNIZE JESUS?” In it, he goes beyond the technology that has freed him to communicate, to the intimacy of human contact. Thank you Tom for touching my life.

This is the time of year the Christians
Celebrate the birth of Jesus.
A tiny bay who changed the world.
A world that was much different
Than the one we know today.

The world we are in now is busy making things go
Faster, bigger, louder and over the top sensational.
We text, we tweet, we twitter.
We I Pad, we I Pod, we Facebook.
We compute!
It is getting rare to communicate with voice or see a face.
Marvelous, what we can do!
Perhaps a little restraint and purpose is needed.

What was Jesus like?
He didn’t care about material things.
Slowly he traveled about teaching and healing.
He took time to stop to comfort and acknowledge
The less fortunate.
He operated on a totally personal level
Face to face with voice!
He was sent by God to show us how to live our lives.

What if he were born today?
Probably the stable story wouldn’t attract much attention.
Maybe a short news bite, in this media obsessed world.
Would he come as a real “Jesus Christ Superstar?”

Sensational, above all others?
How else would he be noticed?
We are very wary of things that are not scientifically proven.

Maybe we need to slow our pace and again connect
To a more personal contact!

Would you recognize Jesus?

Tom Page, 2013

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Simeon’s Last Song

The old man was gone,

Emptiness reverberating

With his long waiting

Amidst noisy solemnity.

Expecting nothing,

While hoping for revelation,

He simply gave up,

Leaving behind his piety

And daily study.

The ancient practices grown stale

With repetition

No longer interested him

And so in leaving

 

Found what he had sought all those years.

Breath came easier

Outside the space of ritual

Drawing a circle

Around what is religious truth,

Keeping out the truth

Known to cuckolds and mothers

Holding their babies

Born in pain but not suffering.

Thus the child smiled

As the old man drew close to see

What had laid hidden

Down deep within his searching soul

 

Waiting for release.

Old age looks back on yesterday,

Staring at events

That are the causation of now,

Searching for meaning.

Thus despair and hope coalesce

Into a moment,

That holds us still while time flows by.

Behold the future

You have sanctified by waiting,

Tomorrow’s events

Cradled in our present wonder

Are our legacy,

 

While the child smiles at our last song.

©2013

 

 

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EBENEZER SCROOGE AND LUCY: Dickens’s Liberal Fallacy

Once again, I have been taken in. Christmas TV programming can do that to the emotionally vulnerable. Whatever version it is, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol leaves me feeling something like glee as Scrooge awakens from his night of nostalgia and terror to an inexplicable joy at being alive on Christmas morning. It happens every time, every year. It is reminiscent of another Christmas special, this one featuring the beloved cartoon character, Charlie Brown. No, I do not mean the annual TV special featuring Linus reciting the passage from The Gospel of Luke about the shepherds and the stable, I am thinking of that perennial scene where Charlie Brown asks Lucy to hold the football so he can run and kick it only to find Lucy whisking it away while Charlie Brown falls back on his head. Each episode finds him expecting Lucy to change and not move the ball. Charles Dickens does that to us with his tale of the quintessential capitalist and free market entrepreneur, Ebenezer Scrooge. A dash of sentiment, a dose of fear and a dab of reality and we find ourselves, like Scrooge, convinced everything will be different this time. But holly and tinsel are deceptive. We soon learn, like Charlie Brown, that selfishness and Lucy are not likely to change. However, we keep hoping.

Today’s liberals and progressives, comprising the Democratic Party, still believe the American conservative espousing a free market, I got mine, you get yours philosophy can be changed if only shown the damage such a viewpoint engenders. They believe the Dickensian myth that care for others and love of social justice lies just below the surface of callous disregard for the common good. This Charlie Brown naivete pervades the political establishment on the left. Along with their profits, the conservative money making machine takes this passive hopefulness to the bank, an asset in the painting of the left as creating an underclass of the lazy and dependent. The establishment left is manifestly afraid of conflict and that reason, carefully pressed in the service of political argument can sway their opponents. When Harry Reid finally invoked “the nuclear option,” the reaction from the right was one of disbelief. The left was acting against its own myth of influencing change by reason and sentiment.

Despite Dickens, change did not come to mid-nineteenth century English society through the conversion of the moneyed classes to altruism. It came about through struggle and vision of how economic and technologic forces could be used to temper the power and greed of those who would hold onto wealth at the cost of a depressed and growing underclass. What did change Scrooge was his own loneliness in regard to his inability to convince others of the rightness of dismissing a concern for others in the pursuit of wealth. Without Marley to share his philosophy of greed, he became a victim of his own self-doubt. Perhaps Dickens, in fooling us into believing people change of their own accord, did point out a truth that the soft “Charlie Brown” like left could learn in dealing with money obsessed right. Do not be afraid to use power in isolating them in their own obsession. If you want change, then you must become the agent of change. Charlie Brown never did get this central fact of life. He goes on living with disappointment engendered by the hope Lucy will change. Lucy, in her craftiness, realizes she can go on enjoying her one-upping of Charlie Brown by enticing him to hope she will change and become cooperatively nice. She knows it is not going to happen. Change is the responsibility of the one wanting change.

The promise of hope and change proclaimed in the 2008 elections has been blocked by an unchanging minority in the legislative branch of government with the collusion of moneyed interests and gerrymandered voting blocs. Hoping for change will change little or nothing. It is the hopers who must change finding the courage to risk upsetting the recalcitrant opponents of a fairer and more just society. Take the ball away from the Lucy’s and use a tee or find someone else who can be trusted to hold the ball in place.

I shall go on watching old movies and remakes of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The glee and tears will continue as I viscerally participate in the fantasy of overnight personality change. The never-ending saga of Charlie Brown believing Lucy will let him kick the football will continue to be a source of laughter at my own folly of believing change is something outside of me. That is the delight of the season. We can hope for change and enjoy the fables of the miraculous. However, with the coming of the New Year come our own resolutions to change ourselves, and thus our lives, and, hopefully, a part of our world.

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Aging as a Spiritual Journey

It happens. Yes, we all come to the moment we realize we are growing old. It just happens differently for each of us. If we picture our life span as a trajectory with an ascendency, peak, and descent, somewhere after the peak, we  notice changes and events that indicate loss. Wrinkles appear where there was smoothness. Our energy flags or our muscles no longer do what we had demanded of them.Some things are gradual to the point of not being apparent for years while other events are dramatic indices of decline. Whatever it is, what was gained in ascendency is the victim of attrition. When we choose to avoid what is happening, in the words of the Bhagavad Gita, our choice is in vain, for nature will compel us to look into the face of reality. That is why I have chosen to characterize  ‘aging’ as a spiritual journey.

The descent from midlife into old age and finally a confrontation with mortality has a melancholy tone that is a residual of the grief that accompanies loss. It is the challenge with which life confronts the character we and culture have built to this moment. Now, we are tested for the courage to continue the rest of the journey with integrity or despair our lot as the bearers of what was, dreading what lies ahead with the complaints of the present. That is why aging is a spiritual journey. It is a test of character to understand life, itself. It is a time to leave acquisition behind and learn to be. That is the goal of spirituality. It is not the easy answers that assuage the fears of aging, but asking the hard questions of life’s meaning that comprise the journey that ends with the expiration of our final breath.

For fifteen years I have experienced the loss of my mobility and speech. I am, by nature, subject to a melancholy, that by some grace, has the beauty of an underlying religious chant that gives a certain pleasurableness to experiencing the ambiguity of life’s experiences. In my eighth decade, I have reached a modicum of stability. That is not necessarily desirable. In a world of systems subject to the laws of thermodynamics, stability is achieved when forces are in balance (they cancel out one another’s effects) or there is not enough energy to enable the system to change or grow. In the biosphere, this is known as death. Stability is only desirable when it can be punctuated by the input of enough energy to enable a system to achieve a new level of complexity. Otherwise, the system disintegrates, its matter becoming a source of energy and matter for other systems. In biology those systems range from microbes to the sentient beings known as humans. This is just another way of describing aging and death. However, it is also a way of describing what it is to be human without the hubris that envisions all that is as orbiting in the gravitational pull of my being.

Mitch Album in his book Tuesdays with Morrie, described his conversations with his old professor dealing with his own confrontation with aging and mortality. Morrie, similarly dealing with neurological wasting, viewed life, in my opinion, through the lens of an optimist and had a somewhat saccharine world view. That being said, I have grown patient with the modern American penchant for romanticizing those who “keep a stiff upper lip” or go beyond “coping” to making their adversity into a small stage production. The alternative is avoiding contact with the presence of decay and death. Morrie followed his life-long path of buoyant optimism into his time of wasting. It brought companionship, meaning, and posthumous fame. That path, celebrated as the American spiritual ideal, is only a path amongst many. I do not believe we choose our paths as much as we follow those paths for which we have maps; maps constructed from the myriad experiences and decisions melded into the complexities of what we are.

No one has asked me what it is like to be crippled or unable to communicate as a facile conversationalist. No one has inquired into what it is like to live with the threat that another complicating ailment or accident taking me over the edge to complete disablement. Perhaps that is because people truly want happy endings. I believe in endings, all manner of endings, but a happy ending is only one of an almost endless number of possible endings. Yet, in even the most buoyant personality, there is a haunting awareness that endings do not mean completeness. Life cycles are most often truncated and tragic. Endings happen, but their times and circumstances are, at best, approximate guesses. That is what makes life both an adventure and a terror.

Nature is like that. In order to find the best solution to the problem of both survival and the best route to evolving complexity, she will simultaneously attempt variations on a solution until she comes up with the best answer. Success equals survival and failure amounts to fading and death. Such extravagance strikes the human mind as wasteful and demeaning. No person wants to think that one’s life is simply nature’s throw of the dice. We want to tie our individual history up into a neat little package that is stamped “complete.” It takes courage to look incompleteness in the eye and say “yes” to what is of what we are before that final expiration.

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Persons, People and Public Policy

Contemplating the confusion of contemporary events happening on both national and international stages, it is easy to pass judgment on whatever actor is portraying the role opposite of our own preference. The truth is that we are all responsible for the confusion and dysfunction. The breakdown of government is not due to the failure of public policy or the conflicting policies of partisan factions in the body politic. It is due, to a great extent, to factors under the radar of both popular media and sophisticated or academic thinking.

Statements by politicians and pundits about the President during the recent series of events involving the use of poison gas in the Syrian conflict point to an overlooked factor in the shaping of opinions and conflicting attitudes. When the president stated there was a line which if crossed there would be military action, the Syrians crossed the line. The decision about military action was handed off to Congress. Then through some diplomatic maneuvering, the situation was resolved without military intervention. The result was a spate of accusations calling the president weak and that he had damaged the reputation of the United States before the world. Others applauded the President’s diplomatic prowess at averting military involvement in a complex war. “Who was right?” is a a misleading question in determining the dynamics of the current political climate.

What I am about to suggest, is not often discussed in political discourse in this country. It might be heard on right-wing talk radio or Fox News when reference is made to latte drinking, electric driving left-wing elitists. Interestingly enough, this points to what is really happening. There is a flaring up of what has always lain below the consciousness of the American body politic; the presence of a hierarchical psycho-social structure which is denied and suppressed by the myth of the inherent equality of all citizens. This structure is about the development of an individual’s capacity to deal with the self in relation to the culture. The capacity to see beyond black and white responses to threats to one’s personal or group frames of reference requires the addition of internal abilities to tolerate ambivalence and toleration of differences in viewing the world. Too much developmental difference between people  interferes in their ability to understand each other’s world views. This is not about intelligence. It is about the ability to manage culturally induced anxiety, the mechanism by which culture balances the need for societal control of the person and the need for personal freedom. The constituents of culture, i.e. economics, religion, technical complexity, etc. determine the level that the average member attains. Regression in psycho-social development occurs when the anxiety within the culture increases. Less tolerance for difference, the organization of self against threat without recourse to contemplation and evaluation, and rigidity of rules lead to conflict with dissent.

The United States is made up of differing cultures and has always been so. There is no common culture and there has never been. Public policy has always been worked out between conflicting cultures. When established cultural patterns are too threatened, anxiety increases, average levels of psycho-social development regress, and more rigidity is introduced into the inter-personal processes of deciding public policies. If our present governmental dysfunction is a product of anxiety diffused through the body politic, what is the antidote?

First, we have to define anxiety. Anxiety is actually preconscious memory of trauma caused by exceeding the boundaries that ensure the safety of the organism. In the beginning this involves dissolving the symbiosis of infant and “mother”. As self and self reliance emerge the boundaries of safety expand as culture teaches the limits beyond which the singular self is at risk. Remaining memories located in the amygdala (that part of the brain where trauma is stored and which triggers quick response to danger, real or imagined) are constantly sending signals to the organism to be vigilant to danger. When danger is attached to an object the body and mind go into the fight/flight mode. Later development opens the availability of options for responding to threats to well being. Acts of compassion and self sacrifice may emerge as the self incorporates increasing complexity in morality and interpersonal concerns. However, culture can also restrict and arrest development at a level that serves the needs of the culture. When this occurs, the discomfort resulting from anxiety can be brought into conscious control by attaching it to an object that can be feared thus giving a semblance of control over the object. I believe this is what is happening to many in our present national culture as they objectify their discomfort at changes taking place as a result of economic and technological changes, the threat of dilution of Caucasian domination of the culture, and seeming loss of control over their future. This arrested development and often regression lead to public policy that speaks to the limitation and restriction of boundaries aimed at self-security over compassion and cultural hegemony over a human community.

Anxiety below consciousness is the emotion that is transmitted through human systems to alert the system to a common danger.  It is infectious. Alcoholism is often symptomatic of family dysfunction due to anxiety in the system. The alcohol becomes the objectified focus for this underlying incapacity to deal with the boundaries affecting growth and the ensuing risks that transcending boundaries engenders. The same is true for differing cultures within our nation. The objectification of communal angst onto people who are different, be they of color, sexual orientation, religion, values, or willingness to challenge cultural boundaries for their own growth, results in public policy directed at diminishing the effect such people have.

In family therapy as in other system approaches to increasing the functioning of human organizations, the object is to increase a non-anxious presence in the system. This is done by identifying persons capable of dealing with their own anxiety and who show a capacity to grow beyond the restrictive rules governing relationships in the group. This suggests the importance of putting the focus on the development of leadership based on the ability to transcend norms and boundaries that preserve the safety of sameness and venture into the space that encompasses the richness of diversity. This may mean making a place for education for personal development amidst an academia more attuned to skill training as an economic tool. Today, the trend in Education is to equip students to compete for fewer and fewer jobs requiring greater and greater specialized skills. Economic fears, meanwhile, diminish the values of an education leading to a broader concern for the welfare of the greatest numbers. Meanwhile, politicians through threats to their incumbency or for a desire for greater influence inflame the forces of regression to levels of primitive rage and fear of anyone or any idea that threatens pre-conceived notions of cultural superiority.

The tragic truth is that an angst driven minority can dominate a well-meaning progressive majority through threats of disrupting the structures designed to maintain a stable social system. The answer to this threat is enough people to maintain a posture of non-anxious reaction to the chaos engendered by the frightened angry minority. The future of American and global well-being is dependent on raising the level of self-aware conscientious independent citizenry who ultimately consider their highest allegiance to be humanity itself.

©Ron Cebik 10/18/2013

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Foreclosure

Why are the perpetrators of horrific acts of terrorism young adults? Erik Erickson told us  one of the tasks of young adulthood is to form an identity. So often, religious and ideological system, abetted by parents and teachers, make ready-made identities easily attained just by belonging. Once again we are reminded of this by the Boston Marathon tragedy. Here is a poem from my series entitled Epigenesis.

The Friday night crowd froze for eternity,

Or so it seemed before the screaming

Mixed with the blast’s reverberation.

A micro-second held his whole life span,

The pure distillate of his upbringing

Uncontaminated by questioning

Family values of another time.

No rebellion to mar the flawless son

Caught in the web of pleasing his elders,

He teetered on the cusp of manhood

With nothing of himself to begin

The journey into adult maturity.

The irony of parental hubris

Is lost on those swept up in terror’s wake.

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