Is the Machine in the Ghost?

We too easy accept the idea of the soul as being the “ghost in the machine.” We see different Science-Fiction images of a cyborg – a robot of some kind with a person, or just a brain, controlling it – and think our souls are like that – just a tiny speck of “something spiritual” hidden deep inside. Another idea is that the body is within a greater soul – something larger, which fills and reaches beyond it.

We don’t know, of course, which it is. We do know that we have yet to locate the mind. We have brains which keep our organs and muscles coordinated, and do the needed calculations. We also have “muscle memory” so we can do different tasks without having to calculate anything. In fact, it could be that most of what we do doesn’t involve the brain so much at all. We often “talk without thinking.” A hand might reach for something when the brain doesn’t remember where it is. We laugh, walk, dance, or make love without the first degree of cogitation. We often ask, “where was my mind,” but never seem to come up with an answer. We always think of the mind as being linked to the soul, as part of it, or our link with it. We may not really know just how or what in this world, and isn’t that just part of the Mystery?

Could it be that the ghost is not in the machine, but the machine lives within the ghost? This could explain a lot, couldn’t it? Why do we have different responses from being close to people? Why does this vary with who they are, or even their intentions? Why do soul issues effect our bodies in so many ways? Why is Psychology the most confusing science?

The first book of Moses speaks of God, in the plural, “Elohim,” creating mankind in His/Their image, and of people, from the beginning, not just raising families but creating communities. So long after, we now flock to cities, but simply to make money – to survive, and get ahead (of others). We lift up the Loner, the Maverick, the Strong Woman, and the Rugged Individual as ideals, and tell ourselves that the disease of loneliness is really the cure.

If the soul is the best picture of who we really are then perhaps in recognising its outward-ness we can learn to grow by reaching out when our culture has taught us to merely cringe.

Memories, Regrets, Hopes, and Dreams

Memories, regrets, hopes, and dreams. Lots of songs use that theme. Especially memories. Lots of us – all of us, really – build our lives on them. What we’ve learned, what our parents and teachers learned, and so on. Not just what they said. How they said it. How they lived. How they acted towards us. Everything counts. Everything makes a difference. Most of the things we don’t even know we learned. We just take it for how life is. One generation carries the lessons, and the scars, of the one before it. Too often we never even wonder why.

Something to build from.

If we build a house we need a plan. Several, really. One for the ground work. One for the foundation. Framing, plumbing, electrical, and so on. All based on somebody’s memories of how to do these things. If we go someplace we need a map that tells us where to turn, where to stop, and where to eat. Some highways are lined with food stops. Others go on for miles without one at all. The one we find might be legendary, or it might be notorious. We rely on other people’s memories for all this as well. So where am I going with this?

Someplace to go.

Our lives are just that way, too. On the one hand, we don’t get a map. We take it all as we come up on it. Maybe we try to predict the road ahead by what the road behind us was like. We might just strike out cross-country and wind up trying to make it up a muddy slope, or out of that sink hole we didn’t see coming. We might get a whole stack of maps, and get so wound up studying them we never get on the road at all.

If we look at our lives as something we need to build – and both pictures are pretty accurate – we have the same two pitfalls. Some people dwell on the blueprints until their eyes ache. Else they stare at the heap of materials as if in whatever heap they landed in off the truck is the plan for the future. Others try to blot them out and try to “create” themselves out of their own dreams. One winds up living in the rubble, while the other keeps adding to the plans as if they are all that matters.

While we’re on the road,

Let’s stay with the road trip. A house stands awhile, then we move, or it falls victim to time and nature. Termites, winds, mortar decay, and the lot all take their toll. The home I restored five years ago needs constant work to maintain. “Historic homes” take even more. Our own lives are no exception. Our houses, really, aren’t where we live, but who we are and what we become.

Whose road is it, anyway?

Wherever we live, however long we stay, we’re all traveling along a road we call “life.” Truth is, that road isn’t just this one’s life, or that one’s, yours or mine. The same road has always been, and each of us is on it, some place or another. Are we making progress? Camping out? Up a side road? Others who have traveled it have left markers for us, how to move ahead, how to reach our Goal. Lao Tse wrote, “the way that can be named is not the eternal and unchanging way.” Only the side roads have names.

The Tao of Prayer is a simple book, filled with “traveling tips” from some of the wisest guides there have been, spiced with the odd smile, and odder belly laugh. It will be well worth your read.

The Unbroken Thread





It’s all an unbroken thread. What do we want? A better question, what do we need? We can say we want a better job, a bigger house, respect, love, or security. Are these enough? Unless we’re really different, we get these things and there’s still the same want. It’s just for more of it, or something else. We just can’t say what it is, can we? The better job might mean more frustration. The bigger house is a pain to keep up. Respect is hard to measure, love is elusive, and security, well, what is that, really? How do we untangle that thread? Where does it end?

What we look for is beyond form; what we listen for is beyond sound; what we would grasp cannot be held. So says Lao Tse. Like following an unbroken thread it has no beginning, and no end. How do we grasp it? How do we use it? This, he says, is the essence of the Tao. We can’t see its beginning. It has no end. Socrates said that the wisest words we can say are, “I do not know.” This is the beginning, and this is the goal, of all true wisdom. Continue reading “The Unbroken Thread”

Follow Your Heart, or…

Follow your heart

The mantra of our time.  “Follow your bliss” shows up in different forms almost non-stop, doesn’t it? Often this means choosing the right career, life partner, or brand of whiskey. Isn’t there more to living? What if it’s all about what feels good, or what’s convenient for us? Then how are we better than the old dog lying in the sunny spot? He’s found his bliss, hasn’t he? Why do they say, “follow your heart?” Who are “they?” How if following our heart different from the dog chasing its tail? Whose heart is wise enough to teach them? Whose heart has all the answers, or any answers? Are they the right ones?

“Follow your heart?”  People stay in relationships that destroy them. Their hearts tell them to. Soldiers kill and die for their hearts tell them. Maybe love for whichever country, because they were born there. Maybe for the honor of their own corps. Maybe for a woman whose own honor is questionable, at best. If for their land, is one piece of land so much better than the other, to fight about it? Why can’t they all just go home, and work to make it even better? Is a casual insult worth anyone’s life? The reason is often just that those who control the land control their emotions. It becomes more noble to be a dog of war than a man of peace. Too often we follow our bliss to the mad house, and we follow our hearts to the graveyard. Is this what it means to be human?

Many have realised the picture was much bigger than that any of that. They found real bliss by leaving that “bliss” behind. By not chasing after the appearances they found the reality. We remember them as sages, saints, and ascetics. What were they seeking? Pleasure? Enlightenment? Nirvana? Or was it – is it – something bigger? These are questions we explore in the book, The Tao of Prayer.

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The Pursuit of Happiness, or Finding Joy?

The American “Declaration of Independence” is based on, “the pursuit of happiness.” The harder  we chase happiness the less we get, don’t we? “Happiness” comes from what happens. We can’t control what happens, so we can’t catch happiness any more than we can catch or loose the wind. If it happens, it happens. Then it’s gone. We might have a breeze, or we might get the doldrums.

Real joy, even ecstasy, is an inside job. It’s not an easy task, is it, or everybody would have it. The good news is that we are made for perfect joy. It’s the very reason we’re alive. The first step to the “pursuit of happiness” is to stop chasing it! Over the ages wise teachers have learned ways to grow in joy. There is a Path. They traveled it and left us their maps to follow. The ones who kept walking it are the ones we listen to. Those who claim to have reached perfection, those we avoid. Nirvana, Enlightenment, Deification, it’s forever a work in progress. We are all “works in progress,” aren’t we?

So who am I? Just another work in progress. I haven’t “attained.” I can’t even say I’ve walked that far. I have walked some, though, seen the maps, and written a small book to help us all along that Way. The Tao of Prayer is just that. It’s a guidebook. Any of us who’s alive is on the Path, at some point, and I guess that covers most of us.The challenge is about which way to go, what to pack, and how to keep going.

Please take your time here. I’ve brought together a few reflections from some  good and wise writers. Some of them are ancient and some modern, and some in between. All of them are really helpful. I hope this blog will encourage you in your own journey, though the book handles some things a blog just can’t.

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