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duality and God's humor as electric shock

Collect call from the Pitchess Detention Center - 7 cents per minute prepaid. My brother is on the other end, and if I accept the call and consent to a recorded conversation, laughter will ensue. John is presently incarcerated due to his lifelong affinity for DIY rockets, electrical experiments, and projectile explosives. His hero is Nikola Tesla, and his current residence seems suspiciously like God's way of keeping him alive a while longer, whatever and whoever God may be. Kind, smart, and good – John seems to thrive within the structure of the system, even though he hates it.

In a recent conversation, John suggested I listen to Alan Watts - a controversial British writer and interpreter of Eastern Philosophy who compares Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism to Western psychology and monotheistic religion. He died in the 70s, and if I'm honest, listening to dead white men with British accents discuss morality and the core of human nature is not a big selling point for me. But two weeks in, I'm hooked – I even love the talks people adapt to music for meditation and psychedelics, as wacky as some are.

And I'm left to wonder if the controversy is primarily one of character: In a rightfully cautious world, one may ask, "Is this a credible message?" If Alan Watts is a "rascal and scoundrel," an alcoholic with multiple wives and a large collection of children, can I really believe any of this? And what of my family, full of creativity, passion, and intellect, love and children spilling out in all directions? What of us? Are we credible witnesses to the human experience?

Because really what he's suggesting is an older question that revolts against deep cultural mores and many "reputable" sources of "qualified authority" by common standards. Certainly, it revolts against "seriousness" and "certainty" and, above all else, it questions our attempts to control nature (ours, others, and the world at large), particularly when justified by morality.

So we may ask: "What if I really believed that how I was created and who I was created to be is as intentional as where I was placed, at this moment, in this configuration of cells, one of 8 billion people, specs in a sea of infinite stars and spinning planets? And not just some writhing conflict of nature & intent, in a world devoid of purpose and meaning beyond materialism and personal gain. That is to say, what if the duality of the human experience is a considered design, rather than a mutation - the fundamental aspect of what being human is about?

As Watt's describes, each aspect (dark & light, balance & imbalance, knowing and not knowing, success and failure, sleep and awake, moving and stillness) relies on its other. There is no selective muting of one (the "good" vs. the "bad") because they arrive mutually, relying on their counter for distinction (yin-yang).

According to Watts, this duality exists for everyone, and comes around to suggest that, "It's better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way." And this relies primarily on being honest with oneself.


I identify as an artist, which is descriptive of my nature, regardless of whether I actively create or avoid the act of creating altogether. As a temperament that experiences heightened sensitivity to stimulation and internalized experience, I often consider new information as symbolic and interrelated. However, in recent years, I have noticed a sense of internal atrophy from the effort to separate logic from emotion to focus on "functional existence" -- the daily grind.

This act of resignation to "how things are" and "what needs to get done" presents a conflict, as it is essentially a form of self-denial. Contrary to inner nature, as the creative muscle atrophies, so does the interest in the performance of being a "functional adult." Thus, a tug of war persists between what makes sense and what feels true, starting as early as conscious memory.

Amidst this push and pull, there is sometimes interruption -- a sensation that comes like an electric shock, or a defibrillator applied to a tired and weary heart. With 8 billion people on the planet, some stand out as electric. In a flood of new information alongside rapt curiosity arrives the artists"muse"-- the pedestalization of beauty, mystery and intrigue that sets ideas into motion.

From this sensation (mostly discomfort) a pattern emerges: atrophy, spark, motion. And from these pulses and jolts arise art, writing, feeling, questions, and a profound sense of being very much alive. In short, get uncomfortable and press button "surprise."

I attribute the sensation to “gods” deep knowing of me, and us of each other – this faceless, nameless, genderless, force I couldn’t acknowledge until long after leaving Catholic School. There is humor in the delivery, because the sensation we call universe, or god, or abba, or essence or source, seems to know I’ve been calling back to myself as an artist, back to my source and beginning, and is responding by jolting me back into motion through deep discomfort and the urge to get moving.


beautiful muses and sparks (short list)

Stromae/Paul Van Haver is a 6'3", 38-year-old Belgian artist, the son of a Flemish mother and Rwandan father. He is married to a French fashion designer who curates his wardrobe while her best friend styles his hair. His brother acts as his creative director, and his message is fueled by introspection and observations on human character. Translations of his music from French to English reverberate to my core in both languages. He recently canceled the remaining year of his international tour due to health concerns. Given the heart in his work, it seems likely this decision would involve a deeper existential reevaluation of the self, in the juggle of parenthood, artistry, career, and evolving identity. Somehow this made my heart physically ache.

The aforementioned Alan Watts is an existential philosopher and humorist who challenged authority in the context of late 60's counterculture through the lens of spiritual ideologies dating as far back as the written word. He raises questions that I have wondered about without knowing exactly how to ask—questions as old as humans have pondered: "Who am I and why am I here?" His words speak to the duality of our nature, "in the tension between the eyes and behind them."

Recommended (listen):

Man as a Hoax, by Alan Watts

On being God, by Alan Watts

Stromae - Tiny Desk Concert (watch on YouTube with closed captions on)


Kids Experiment in Thought & Word based on the work of Dr. Masuro Emoto


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