Passing Thoughts…

I’m taking my cycling more seriously these days.  I’ve been taking advantage of the long summer days and recommitting myself to improvements in conditioning and fortitude.  Due to my work schedule and my responsibilities around the house, I’ve been riding early in the day, often just before or at sunrise.  And no, this isn’t about how I pass all the other cyclists I see on the road each morning as I ramp up my training intensity.  Actually, it is about that, kind of.

I pass between 5-10 cyclists each morning as I sprint around the perimeter of Fallbrook.  I blow by them these days.  When I pass by these other early morning riders, I feel like I’m on EPO.  I spy one ahead of me, push a little harder with each stride, and within seconds I pass him as though he’s a mailbox.  It’s as though they aren’t even trying.  Well, that’s because they aren’t trying—not to beat me anyway.

You see, the cyclists I blow by each morning could give a frog’s fat ass about me passing them.  They have no idea what a PR is, how fast they are going, or if they’re going to beat their time from the day before.  The riders I pass each day are on their way to work, and if they’re on one, a bike is the only transportation they can afford – if they are so lucky to get one from a thrift shop or a garage sale.

These are the grove workers and day workers that help support my community.  From the agriculture here, to the aesthetics of homes and businesses, my community owes much of its riches and beauty to the men who ride rickety bikes through the hills each morning at sunrise.  In their denims, long-sleeve shirts, and work boots, and with backpacks weighting them down even more, they ride early because their workdays begin early.  They don’t pedal fast because they need their energy for the physically demanding work that awaits and occupies them until the day’s light fades.  And when it’s all done, they ride home again.  It’s not exercise for these men, it’s transportation.  They ride The Tour De Opportunity.

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In truth, I take no pride whatsoever in passing these men each morning.  In fact, I feel equal parts shame, guilt, and humility.  Shame, that I complain about so much in my life in comparison to theirs.  Guilt, that my life is so sweet, so free, so and easy in comparison to theirs.  Humility, that I am reminded by them all I am and all I have, as I glide by grateful for it all.

Each morning I ride my bike by choice, in pursuit of achievement, thrill, and satisfaction.  Almost immediately though, and throughout my ride, I am reminded just how little achievement, thrill, and satisfaction matter in the scope of putting food on the table.  I bow down to the men I pass each morning, who pedal the same roads I peddle.  They do so for more noble reasons, and with much more fortitude…  Jhciacb.

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Life, At Face Value..

Lives Which Matter…

Last winter, after a couple of young persons I know of lost their lives, I began an exploration in my head about the value of a life.  Shortly thereafter began the string of musician deaths which will partially define 2016.  This got me thinking even more.  Ultimately the dots connected further and I began to also consider animal lives.  As all of this was playing out in my head, I moved my aging mother in with me.  One more life to consider.

From teenage girls gone too soon, to older people hanging on.  From puppies loved, to Glenn Frey and David Bowie, to the would-be lamb chops on my plate, I cannot help that throughout each of my days, I spend some time contemplating the value of any of these.  Not that I am in pursuit of any hard answers or true knowledge on the value of lives.  I simply want to distinguish better, that blurry line which separates the lives that matter from those that don’t.

Little Balls Of Duality…

An unexpected day off landed me beach side today to take it all in.  On a quilt my mother stitched by hand, I lay staring into the distance, thinking about the past and taking sporadic inventory of the many lives which surrounded me.  Mom lives.  Seagull lives.  Kid lives.  Surfer lives.  Dolphin lives.  Some lives guarded by lifeguards, others only by fate.  I was surrounded by life, yet I could not pick out a single one which I could deem unworthy

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A mother with pale skin and chubby legs stood beneath her wide brimmed hat, slathering sunscreen on her two small boys and then on herself.  Oddly though, she struggled negotiating between the tube of sunscreen in her hands and the cigarette in her mouth.  That’s when I began thinking that, as a species, we’re just little balls of duality when it comes to this lives matter stuff.

A young mother, fending off cancer with one hand, and inviting it with the other.  I hearkened back to a client who was recently grieving the loss of his niece during one of our sessions.  Shortly thereafter he proclaimed that a would-be President Trump would wise carpet bomb the Middle East – Middle Eastern nieces notwithstanding, I guess…

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Little Balls Of Duality…

Staring into the horizon, and with the sun on my back, I continued to ponder.  On one hand, we go to enormous lengths to protect and preserve the lives which matter to us, our own included.  We medicate, radiate, negotiate, and we pray.  We exercise, wear seatbelts, have designated drivers, and enrich our junk food with extra vitamins – just in case.  We bow to caution.  We respect and avoid threatening forces.  We sacrifice, and we will go into insurmountable debt in the name of preserving a life, be it a toddler or a terrier.  The lives we love matter most –most of the time.

On the other hand, we can be careless and casual when it comes to any life with which we are not fully vested, also, our own life included.   We take risks.  We partake in that which we know might be harmful.  We overeat, but when we pass by the man on the corner with the cardboard sign asking for food, we take caution not to make eye contact.  We leave some out in the cold as we sit warm by the fire.  We apply a tangy sauce, add a little sea salt, and take another bite.  We change the channel when we are asked to help starving kids in Africa, or see dogs held in cages.  A truckload of dead Mexicans overheated in the desert while trying to cross over…?  Some call this a tragedy, while others consider it an evolutionary response to population control.

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And Further Complicating Things…

In the social media era, we are bombarded with suggestions that the universe is so large, so magnificent, and so potentially full of life, that we are selfish to give so much credence to our own tiny lives.  Yet, when I think of Clara, or when I see the lost look in my mother’s eyes when she momentarily forgets what she’s doing, I can’t help but believe that each life granted has far greater significance to its constituents than all the potential of all the stars combined.

I’m ashamed to say this, but sometimes my mind swings the other way.  Please forgive me for this next thought…

It’s not a popular question to raise, and I truly don’t mean to offend anyone, but I often wonder if we fulfill our quests to cure cancer, cure heart disease, cure diabetes, stop epidemics before they begin, and in our quest to end all wars, where are we going to house all the survivors, and whose jobs will they take…?  I’m ashamed that I think about this, but, I do think about this.  I dunno…

My own life…?  Well, I’m a little dichotomy too.  I bend, I stretch, I lift, and I step, that I have a better quality of life, and a longer one.  I also do dangerous things like ride my bike without a helmet.  I have taken my liver to the brink and brought it back to health with all the zeal of parent searching for a kidnapped child.  I have taken risks, overindulged, been outright reckless at times.  I can honestly say I have had a half-dozen self-imposed near death experiences.  But do I value my life, I guess…

By the way, this isn’t about Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter.  It’s simply been an exploration in my head about why so many lives matter to most of us, most of the time, but also why so many don’t.  I guess all I really know about the value of a life is that each one has infinite cascading effects on so many others.  That, and when one life goes out, it will rarely be at the right time, and just as rarely for the right reason.  We are little balls of duality, ongoing.  Be well…  rc

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Swimming In Systems…

Girthing Globally…

The so-called obesity epidemic has made headlines once again.  Another study released this week suggests that obesity on a global level is still on the rise.  In the days since this study was published, I have read a half-dozen feature articles and blogs about how we can reverse this generations-old trend.  Yet, for all the intellectual studies, discussion, and attention obesity gets, and despite all the good intentions behind solving the problem, obesity levels worldwide are still increasing.

When it comes to fighting obesity, as with many other consequences of our social and technical advancements, too often our thinking is narrow, poorly aimed, and most often searching for singular fixes in small areas which feel good to pursue, but are often demanding and fruitless.

What is largely ignored in all the conversations about solving obesity, is the entirety of the problem; the constant expansion of the many systems which have led to its existence.  Food systems.  Marketing systems.  Social systems.  Political systems.  Religious systems.  Educational systems.  Pharmaceutical systems.  On and on.

Any one of these systems could alone be considered a monster.  Together, they conspire to be a leviathan.  Like any good leviathan, obesity is going to go where it wants to go, and will only die when it runs out of the fuel on which feeds it.  I am reminded of two fleas attempting to steer the dog they sit upon.

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Complexity begets complexity…

On the surface, solving obesity may seem like it’s all about calories in vs. calories out, changing portion sizes, providing better school lunches, CrossFit, Yoga, using a treadmill, going low-carb, low-fat or paleo, standup desks in the workplace, and even the use of qualified fitness trainers.  These may hold some value for some people at some times, but alone these aren’t going to change a thing.  The fact remains that scientific advancement and social awareness relating to obesity are at all-time highs, and our collective girth is still girthing.

How’s The Water, Boys…?

While in mid-thought this morning, as I was pondering obesity, it finally occurred to me that systems – all systems, whether they apply to the obesity epidemic, politics, consumer culture, or anything else, is the water that David Foster Wallace spoke of during his now famous commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005.  Whether this was his intention or not, it seems to me that systems, invisible and everywhere, are the water which surrounds us.

If you’re not familiar with the speech above, please bookmark it for when you have time.

 We live within millions of systems.  We navigate and transcend them, never really seeing their entirety, and always under the influence of delusion, believing we possess some level of control.   We live, breathe, act, choose, survive, delight, frown, frolic, and even get fat as a result of our systems.  We select our presidents, career paths, partners, and even our gods as influenced by an invisible ocean, and like the young fish who replies to the older fish, “What the hell is water”, we are oblivious to it as we swim.

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When I think about obesity in this context, or when I think about any disturbing social trend from air pollution, to engineered corn, campaign finance, political partisanship, landfills bursting at the seams, and even when I think about war, I tend to be more gracious these days in my judgement for both the victims as well as the perpetrators.  We are all born under water and begin swimming through our sea of systems immediately, most often with the best of intentions.  All the while though, we never really know we are swimming at all.  So, how’s the water today, Boys…?  Be well.  cc

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Catharsisaurus Rx…

The blender in my head…

I’ve live pretty deep inside my head.  I am continually haunted by the complexities of modern life, and how they may be impacting my reality, assuming there is a reality. That doubt, of my own reality, is the heart of the thing.

On the surface I train clients, check on my mother, text my daughter, and reassure my dog.  Underneath all of this, my mind is bombarded by tiny pellets of doubt, all day long, that are slowly deteriorating the shield which protects my rational side.  Among my greatest fears is that this shield will parish before I do, leaving the chaos in my head to play unbridled havoc with my mind as I age.

My inner Cartesian has come to appreciate those frantic moments in my life, like when my frozen vegetables fly out of the bag and land all over my floor because I pulled them too quickly from my freezer.  That things like this always happen at the worst possible time also serves me well.  Those moments snap me out of my doubt, if only for an instant, and halt the existential banter between all the Roys within.

The life within the life…

I regularly entertain the life within the life.  I imagine waking from a nap on a summer’s day, my right cheek stuck slightly to the warm concrete beside the swimming pool of my youth.  The distant chatter of Marco and Polo awakens me.  I am 12 years old, and the life that I have lived since will have been only a dream.  Reagan never won.  I never married so I never divorced, and the internet was all in my imagination.

Perhaps though, I’ll awaken in an asylum, and not by the pool.  My arms tied behind my back, and with a crayon between my toes I write my suicide note on a foam wall.  This life I write from right now will have been a peaceful dream, and what lay ahead, a nightmare.

And don’t get me started on my lifetime of chronic bad dreams.  Where do I go when I dream…?  Is what I do any less real than what I do when I’m awake…?  In an active mind, I often feel that the only thing separating my memories of life from my bad dreams  are the words memory and dream.

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Kinda hopin’ Really hopin’ I don’t wake up here…

Occasionally I consider that all other people are just extras in an orchestrated game between the gods.  I am at the center of their illustrious amusement – just a silver ball in their game of pantheonic pinball.  At the end of the game, I wonder, will the gods rise in unison and offer me the ultimate thumbs up or thumbs down, based on how well I performed bouncing off the obstacles they set before me.  Ever-present is the feeling I am being watched and judged.

The illusion of conclusion…

Even if I am real, where and how am I real…?  Between parallel universes, infinite universes, or an eternal universe where anything that can happen will happen, I find myself right here, right now, and in this glorious life.  Although in the quantum world, I’m only probably here, and probably now.

Physicist Brian Greene tells me freewill is only an illusion and suggests that mathematics supports this.  The calculations of my future have already been laid out, he says, and that I have no say in my say.  However, I don’t steel tips off tabletops in restaurants when nobody is looking, and I don’t push people down the stairs – even when they deserve it.  Sounds like free will to me.

Some scientists suggest existence as I know it is some kind of holographic image created in an alternate reality, and is smaller than the tip of a pen.  Others say I am slave to the algorithms within a cellular automaton.  Just the thought of that has me pining to be a slave building a pyramid, for at least then I would exist in a simpler state.

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Holographic Youniverse…

The idea that some being in another dimension might be administering my every thought and every motion by way of a joystick bubbles under the surface of my daydreaming as I clean my studio.  On one hand this appeals to me inasmuch as if it is true, then I am exonerated from all indiscretion and responsibility.  However, if I’m not a Sea Monkey in a jar on some extraterrestrial kitchen counter, atonement and responsibility are not only my duty, they are my only hope.

Dog is one of us…

When my eyes lock with my dog I feel love and truth – simultaneously.  That emotion is a daily confirmation that I am real.  When our eyes break though, I can’t help wondering if my dog is actually an angel sending signals back to God, or an observer sending recommendations back to the mother ship.  I wonder the same thing with many of my human contacts too, you who is reading this included.

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“Stroolde calling Orson, come in Orson…”

I flash back to a time in school when I was taunting a special needs kid.  My friend Jeff stopped me and said…

“Roy!  Don’t tease Milton!  What if he’s God and he’s just testing you…?”

Jeff was joking, but I’ve never been able to get that thought out of my head; that anyone else might be God, or a designated representative of the Junta Grande.

The scratch ticket and the interwebs…

I feel guilty for having won the lottery of existence.  All my needs are met – exceedingly.  I’m able to enjoy and appreciate so much.  That I get to make a living doing what I love, and do so in such a beautiful place seems unjust to me, on behalf of those who can’t.  I wonder why I’m not a knobby-knee’d Ethiopian child with fly on one eye suckling his mother’s dry tit.  Yet I seem to be me, and this seems to be my time and my place – probably.

Living in the internet age has only thrown gasoline on the fire of my doubts.  I wonder if this increased connectivity with people and information around the world isn’t just an expanded test by my maker.  It makes no sense that I have instant access to most of the much of the knowledge ever attained and so much information, even if it isn’t always accurate.

Are my social media friends and my analog friends truly connections, or are they an audience watching me and trying to influence the way I bounce off the bumpers in the pinball game of my life…?  They might just be 7-billion lesser gods.

When I look the grocery clerk, the beggar, or the barista in the eyes, I often wonder if they’re thinking,

“He’s on to us…”

That people so seamlessly merge in and out of my digital and analog lives makes me feel increasingly uneasy.

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My maker…?

The known universe is precisely 54 years old…

Let’s assume I am real.  I see memes on social media daily that remind me how small and insignificant I am relative to the immensity of the universe.  This is bad internet juju in my opinion.  I am the only component in the universe that I have absolute dominion over.  If ultimate inter-connectivity is inevitable, then the universe can’t fulfill its own destiny if I fail to fulfill mine.

I was dead for nearly 14-billion years before I was born.  I’ll be dead again in a decade or two more.  I better get this thing right while I’m still here.  It’s all pretty overwhelming at times, this work of performance art which I call my life.

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At the end of the day, I suppose my reality is simply my choice – my decision to carry forward without worrying too much about any of this.  Whether or not I’m a spec in the universe, the center of it, or an organic shuttlecock in game of badminton between gods, so long as standing in nature stirs my heart, and my daughter returns my phone calls, I will choose to act and feel real.  I will though, always have my doubts.  Be well, and thank you for taking the time…  rc

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Enjoying God’s creation, in his creation, and where I feel most real..

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Fat Dogs, Niebuhr, and Tomorrow…

No Time For Obese Dogs…

I sat down this morning preparing to pose a question on social media about the responsibility humans have in stewarding obese dogs.  This after an exchange last week about who is responsible for canine obesity.  My stance is that, much like obesity in humans, pet owners bear only a portion of the responsibility for canine obesity.  That is, dogs like humans, are subject to increasingly complex food, pharmaceutical, medical, and social systems.

Though humans do have some say in the obesity of their dogs, these systems are probably also influencing canine obesity, though not to the level that the same systems are influencing human obesity.  To a lesser degree, canines are also susceptible to the economic and media systems which influence humans, though the freewill thing which humans relentlessly pander to, probably doesn’t distract dogs too much.

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I’m thinking, too much bread in his diet….

I chose not to post my original question on social media though, because I realized it would have done nothing more than set anchor to a line of convoluted and irrational arguments that would chain me to my laptop for hours.  At the end of the day I thought, we’re all caught up in an endless web of systems anyway…

Three Wise Men…

In his book, The Religions of the World (formerly The Religions of Man), Huston Smith suggests,

We need to remember that in their own day, prophets are not seen as prophets.  To most, they appear to be fringe thinkers, not to be trusted, and often irrational.  It is only those few who follow them, and with the posthumous spreading of their ideas over time, that elevates them to prophet status.

As they walked and spoke in their own communities, men like Jesus, Confucius, and Muhammad did not command the attention of too many, though they did make some noise.  It was only after death, and by those few who valued their ideas who worked to spread those ideas, did they become elevated to prophet status.

I have been reading (some of) the works of Reinhold Niebuhr recently.  Niebuhr is hard to classify.  He was a Christian theologian and educator.  He was a prolific author, a public intellectual, a sounding board for other intellectuals, and an occasional advisor to heavyweight political figures during his time.  Though he considered himself a socialist Christian, and since both of those terms today have been hijacked and mutated, I will argue that Niebuhr was the ultimate conservative by the real meaning of that word.

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A portrait of the American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971), United States, mid-20th century. (Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)

I came to Niebuhr by way of Chalmers Johnson and Andrew Bacevich, both of whom draw on Niebuhr’s moral and diplomatic sensibilities in their own works.  In his book The Limits of Power, Bacevich refers to Niebuhr as a prophet at least a dozen times.  Chalmers Johnson suggests that if every nation had a Niebuhr whispering in the ear of its leader, there would be no need for NATO, The United Nations, or military bases beyond domestic borders.

All Systems Go (Where They Want To)…

Among other things, what the works of Bacevich, Johnson, and Niebuhr reinforce to me is that principled ideals, however impactful their potential might be, are not going to immediately override systems which are already in place and aimed in a forward direction.  The best we can hope is that reasonable ideas take root, and are cultivated over time to gradually steer the trajectory of a system.  The civil rights movement, still in progress, is a good example of this.  If we take an honest big picture view, it’s clear that prophets make good helmsmen on the initial watch, but communities need to keep steering once the prophet is no longer around.

Americans are caught up in all the systems of modernity; technical systems, political systems, cultural systems, economic systems, and many others.  Whether we are talking about obese canines, the military industrial complex or international diplomacy, and whether we consider ourselves passengers, components, or victims of the systems which carry us, I am reminded as our presidential election draws near, of the two flies believing they control the horse who’s ears they stand upon.  We are driven, and we are bound by systems.

Vote The System To A Slight Turn…

Like many, I often think voting doesn’t matter and I don’t trust any of the candidates.  I do though, believe that voting is a responsibility and it’s one I take very seriously.  Perhaps my vote this year, which will go to the most Niebuhrian candidate on election day, will help steer the modern political system just enough toward a new direction that we can pass it off to a more reasonable generation, who might spread the word of Niebuhr’s prophecy and steer us better still.  Of course I’ll need the help of 100,000,000 or so like-minded friends to make this happen.

Before you vote this November – before you decide on a candidate, a platform, or donate any more money or your own sensibility to a cause, please consider reading The Irony of American History by Niebuhr, The Limits of Power by Bacevich, or Blowback by Chalmers Johnson – all 3 if you have the time.  It’s time we steer away from America’s imperial ambitions abroad, and that we take a good look in the mirror.

I gasp at what is taking place with the current presidential race, but realize the idiocy of it all is a reflection of our culture at large – of the systems we have set into motion and make no attempt to steer.  It seems clear to me that we could benefit from a new prophet to help lead us out of our Idiocracy.  As Bacevich calls for a Niebuhrian revolution, I stand alongside him in hopes that someone – anyone will listen, learn more, and help spread the word.  If not Niebuhr, perhaps David Brooks.  Be well…  rc

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We are just one or two elections away from President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Comacho…

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Mixed Thoughts On Religious Tolerance…

Calling 9/11…

In the days after 9/11 people went to books stores and got online in droves to attain, read and better understand the Qur’an. Presumably, so they might better understand the motivation behind the attack on the World Trade Centers. Huston Smith once wrote, “nobody ever curled up on a rainy night with the Qur’an.” Honestly, on the heels of 9/11 the need to better understand Islam never crossed my mind.

I guess I was fortunate inasmuch as I didn’t feel a need to read Islamic text to better understand Muslims. I simply saw them daily and up close. I had two Muslim clients at the time; hardworking business people with dreams, beliefs, shortcomings, puppies, and tonsillitis – just like me. Because we were social in and out of the gym, I saw firsthand through their extended families and friends what their surface lives looked like. With the exception of names which were often difficult to pronounce, their lives and mine were surprisingly similar.

My friends, both female, didn’t dress in what we think of as traditional Islamic women’s attire – unless sweat pants and ponytails fall into that category. From their gym memberships, to their favorite chocolates, to Wiggles concerts and all in-between, they were Americans.

They didn’t remain clients too long after 9/11, though they do remain friends. Despite that they dressed and conducted themselves like normal Americans, they had middle eastern names, darker skin, and did little to hide their Muslim faith, though they were not overtly Muslim. Their Islam, like many people’s religion, was just something they carried in their back pocket, to be taken out as needed.

Celebrate difference...

Celebrate difference…

In a conservative town though, it became increasingly hard for them to go out without having their faith publicly questioned, and often persecuted by the ignorant. In watching this take place I would learn that ignorance can be overpowering. So overpowering that my two friends eventually left the area in favor of the more forgiving downtown San Diego where there is a more broadminded populous.

To think, from that singular day in 2001, and from the actions of only a few, every day thereafter my friends, like many Muslims in the US, would have to pull their Islam from their back pocket and present it like some kind of cultural ID card to be scrutinized whenever questioned by the ignorant. How old that must have gotten. Rarely do I see Christians and Jews have to explain their beliefs or justify their intentions while buying detergent, based solely on the act of a few on a given day.

Broad Brush Strokes…

I was asked recently by a young woman I mentor about the differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I was quick to channel her toward seeking the commonalities between them, explaining she would learn more by directing her attention to how similar the 3 faiths are. She kept pressing me though, as if she might discover some major difference(s) if I were to better divide the 3 religions for her.

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I explained that broad brush strokes usually paint blurry pictures, but I would do my best to reduce it to three fundamentals differences which I see to be as much cultural as they are religious:

– Christianity is fundamentally about forgiveness over indiscretion.
– Judaism is about repairing indiscretion.
– Islam is about living life in a way that there is no need for forgiveness or repair.

None of those 3 explanations is more noble than the other two. I’ll even suggest that it is the goal of each faith to combine all 3; to forgive, to repair, and to move forward in a better way, but that each tenet noted above is central to its corresponding faith. However broad those brush strokes might be, I actually stand with them. I feel very good about offering this perspective to my young friend.

Atheism, Islam, And Prejudice…

One of the great ironies I see in the social media era is this: I have a network of liberal, open-minded friends who would fight to their death to protect my human rights. If I were gay, transgender, or preferred to have sex with monkeys, they would support me. I find an unsavory duality with the knowledge that many of those open minded friends are against all religion and call themselves atheists.

By the way, being against religion doesn’t make one an atheist. It makes one an anti-theist. In an even more inverse irony, many of these anti-theist friends are now standing up for immigrant Muslims, yet take a hard stand against American Christianity. This makes no sense and can’t be explained, only rationalized.

Simply put, if a person is against religion as a collective, or any particular religion, that is a form of prejudice – period. To be against anyone’s beliefs in favor of their own is an undeniable act of bigotry. So please, don’t defend my right to have sex with monkeys if you won’t also support my right to pray to a god – any god, or every last god in the pantheon.

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Religion has been part of our cultural DNA since hunter-gatherer times. Like any trait of biological evolution, if religion did not serve a sound purpose in carrying our species upward and ahead, cultural evolution would have weeded religion out long ago. Clearly it has not. Be well… rc

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First Step On A New Road…

Hunting For Smells…

We call it, hunting for smells.  It’s the 3-4 times daily ritual of my dog, Stroodle leading me on a walk along the streets and nature trails which run through town.  We go at his whim, at his pace, and are guided exclusively by the scents of the day.  My primary job is to ensure that he safely navigates the intersections he must cross as his nose guides us through town.

More recently we have come to rest briefly at the halfway point, a small grassy park just a block off of Main Avenue. Once there, we lay on the ground together for 20 minutes or so and Stroodle warms his bones in the sun as I find purity and peace by watching the calm of his face as he does this.  This is one of the more grounding and beautiful experiences I have known.  The other day as he lay in warmth, with the sun shining on his face, and with my hand gently stroking his head, I had never seen him so content.  It stirred a few tears from me.

From Peace To Macabre…

As I held one of Stroodle’s legs in my hand, I took note of the musculature.  Not from the perspective of a fitness trainer, but from that of a carnivore.  I was looking at his meat.  Only the night before, I had enjoyed one of those roasted chickens from the grocery store – the ones which smell so good under the heat lamp that I have to buy one almost every day because I can eat one almost every day.  And that’s when I looked at Stroodle differently; I envisioned how some 3rd world refugee or indigenous hominid might view his leg as I have viewed the legs of chickens time and time again.

The rapid fire chain reaction in my mind began immediately.  First, I was upset that I even went there – that I envisioned my dog as someone’s entrée.  I went further by picturing his leg without skin and this disgusted me but I couldn’t stop.  Worldwide, I thought, few animals have avoided being meals to other animals, dogs and humans included.  Suddenly, some words popped into my head and I froze.  They were words I heard spoken several years earlier by the singer, Morrisey while being interviewed on British television…

“If it has a mother” he said, “I won’t eat it.”

That has always made sense to me.  As the parent of a child and as the steward many dogs through my life, I wouldn’t want anyone eating my children – or my dogs.

The Intimate Bond...

The Intimate Bond…

The Eagle, The Snake, And The Rationalization…

I have been down this road several times before. Under the influence of inspiration, and motivated a bubbling morality, I have told the world that I am all done eating animal products of any kind.  The longest I have ever made it was 6 months in 2012-2013.

Though my intentions had always been sound when turning away from animal products, I have applied the brakes to my stance against eating them, and dipped my fork back in the trough, by contemplating a single experience I had years ago…

In 2005 I was paddling a kayak down the Middle Loop river in rural Nebraska on a hot summer afternoon.  As I turned a corner in the gentle current I looked to the shore to see an eagle swoop down, grasp a snake in its talons, rise up 50 feet or so, and thrust the snake into the ground killing it instantly.  The eagle returned to carry the snake away, presumably as takeout for its family.

This became an ongoing reminder to me during my vegan times that animals have been eating animals since there have been animals.  And that is where the rationalization to fight my moral current with this topic has always ended; with the realization that man too is an animal who has been eating animals since man has been man.  And then I saw my dog’s leg as meat and I froze in my thoughts.

The Intimate Bond…

I recently read The Intimate Bond, a book which chronicals man’s relationship with animals since hunter-gatherer times.  Among the many ideals that were exposed to me by this book is that through much of civilization, man has revered and respected the animals he has raised to eat.  Through some of the earlier times, man has paid lesser respects to what we now call household animals; cats & dogs.  It seems now that paradigm is upside-down.  Many of us hold our household pets in higher regard than members of our family.  That, and it’s okay for chickens and cows to be kept in cages, injected with steroids and antibiotics, and subsequently slaughtered only to be dressed up with just the right amount of rosemary and lemon.

Through books like Nonzero, The Better Nature of Our Angels, and The Intimate Bond I can see the trajectory of man’s gentile is getting better over time – slowly, but consistently.  There are many things which were once common place that we no longer find socially or morally acceptable; burning witches, drowning cats, and corporal punishment in schools to name a few.

I can’t help but think that 200 years from now, along with the asinine notion of growing decorative turf lawns in the American west, and sending fossil fuels into the air by the metric ton, that the idea of raising animals to kill them cruelly, and eat them nonchalantly will be something our descendants will find disappointing if not shameful.

Social & Moral Evolution For Some…

Going back to the eagle and the snake.  That eagle has not evolved morally or socially and probably never will.  Eagles 5,000 years from now aren’t any more likely to consider the snake’s feelings than the eagles of today.  The eagle reacts out of instinct and necessity.  I don’t.  I react to options and choices.  For me I’m choosing to follow my heart and my conscience, even if people see me as a fool.

I understand that a skeptic or critic might question my stance on the use of leather, other animal related products, services, and where I might draw the line.  In truth, I have no response to this at the moment.  It’s a duality that I will have to navigate for now, but I will be exploring ways to minimize the use of all animal products until the systems that stewards animals can show me a better side.

I have taken meat and animal products out of my diet before and yes, I have gone back.  On occasion, I have even questioned whether or not plants feel pain and if so, then what to eat.  Looking at my dog’s leg though, and contemplating it as though it were a piece of meat is a place I don’t think I can ever come back from, but I’ll keep you posted.  Be well…  rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Cornershop.  Enjoy…

The End Of A Meaningful Streak…

Field Marshall…

Thirteen years ago a tall man with a square jaw and well-groomed gray hair burst into the gym where I trained my clients. He threw his wallet and keys on the counter and loudly exclaimed,

“I want to hire the oldest male trainer you have, and with the broadest shoulders.”

Just by chance I happened to be the oldest male trainer in the facility, with the broadest shoulders, and also happened to be at standing there. A business relationship was born. He told me what he wanted from me as a trainer, and how soon he wanted it. His name was Marshall, a Fallbrook local who ran several international businesses. He explained he spent a great deal of time bouncing between Europe, Asia and South America and didn’t workout too often on the road. When he was home in Fallbrook, he continued, he wanted to workout every day.

In the beginning Marshall took more to me than me to him. I don’t do abrupt personalities well. Also, I wasn’t accustomed to being told what to do or how to do it by my clients. This was Marshall’s style though, and probably and what made him successful as a businessman.

Cardio Party…

Despite being 10 years my senior, Marshall was almost as fit as me from the start. He hired me, I would quickly learn, not for my knowledge, experience or advice, but for the appointment. Traveling 2-3 continents per month, and with many business related arms constantly reaching for him, he knew the only way he would make it to the gym regularly would be to pay a lot of money to someone to meet him there.

Marshall always showed up on time, allowed me to push, never complained, and we had similar values in life. I was helping raise a preadolescent girl at the time we met, and he had 2 who had just finished college. Over time, he became an excellent role model for me as both a father and as a businessman.

After several months of working with Marshall my schedule got increasingly busy. Since he and I were equally matched in our physicality I began to jump in with him during his workouts. This was convenient for me, and reassuring for him. From the start we were very competitive with one another.

Every Friday we would have challenge day. This was simply he and I picking 6 strength machines, 3 each, putting the pin at the bottom of the stack and seeing who could do the most reps with the entire stack. We were so evenly matched that if he won one week, I would usually win the next. Though Marshall was a good partner for strength workouts, he was an excellent partner for cardio. When he was in town, we would do daily lunch time cardio sessions together for the next 7 or 8 years.

On a challenge day with Marshall...

Warming up before a challenge day with Marshall…

The Pact…

Early on Marshall and I made a pact with our cardio workouts. We agreed that once we began a cardio session, we would not stop until it was completed — regardless of how hard we pushed. Come rain, shine, or torn meniscus in process, we fulfilled our commitment to each other for years – never stopping during a cardio session regardless of how badly one of us wanted to quit.

Marshall once fell of the StepMill with a hurt knee. Without missing a beat, he climbed back on and completed the 45 minute session – primarily on one leg. I gave him credit for not stopping since he kept one hand on the StepMill during the fall.

24 Hour Fitness Oceanside, CA. Where high intensity lunch meetings took place for years...

24 Hour Fitness Oceanside, CA. Where high intensity lunch meetings took place for years…

All Things Must Pass…

Marshall and I parted ways when I relocated my studio too far for us to be able to meet for lunch cardio. Sadly we lost touch shortly thereafter. The partnership might have dissolved, but the pact to never quit a cardio session regardless of how hard it might get, has lived on with me for years. In all this time, regardless of how hard I have pushed or how badly I have wanted to stop, I never quit a cardio session early or to even take a break.

Early this morning on my high-stepping elliptical machine I just wasn’t feelin’ it. Understand that my cardio is always hard. On a scale of 1-5, I always shoot for a 4, never settle for a 3, and often reach a 5. Most days my ending heartrate is 160 bpm or so.

Some days are better than others. Today was one of those others. Burning legs. Higher than average heartrate. An otherwise occupied mind, and on the heels of a poor night’s sleep, I  wanted to stop almost from the first stride. Twenty-five minutes into a 40 minute session I simply stepped off the machine. I’m still not sure why.

I walked to the window which looks out over Main Street and saw the sign for Pedro’s Tacos – a place where Marshall and I had eaten many post-workout carne asada burritos together. Seconds later I was back on the machine completing my 40 minute session. Even though I finished the session, for the first time in over a decade, I violated what I have long considered a sacred bond.

The one that got the better of me...

The one that got the better of me…

Best post-workout nutrition in Fallbrook...

Best post-workout nutrition in Fallbrook…

I really don’t know why I chose to step off the machine. Age…? Changing priorities…? The good sense to finally respect and listen to my body…? I don’t know. Tomorrow I will start another streak of uninterrupted cardio sessions, not knowing if it will last years, months or only weeks. I will assume though, that Marshall is out there somewhere, still fulfilling his part of a pact we made so many years ago. Be well… rc

Veteran trainer, Roy Cohen, is available for online consulting and workout planning.  Click here to learn more…

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from The Exponents.  Enjoy!

The Path Of The Righteous Man (Get Off My Lawn)…

Dear Graduate,

Well, you finished. You should be proud of all you have accomplished, and anxious to begin clearing your path. If you’re like many, you’ll be busy clearing that path before you ever begin defining it.

Of course your path be largely defined by the influence of others, whether you want it to or not. Ultimately, it is you who decides in what direction it will extend, and when it is to change directions, though you may not realize this until it’s too late. Remember, that path is not just to be aimed, but to be studied. This concludes my use of the term path.

On the occasion of your graduation some pretentious asshole will stand up and speak before your entire graduating class. He or she will offer words of caution, of optimism, and of inspiration. Because your parents and school faculty will be present, those words are likely to be tempered and sugar coated. I might use this platform to offer you some thoughts less sweet, which may help illuminate the road full of forks which you are about merge onto.

111path

Work, Bosses, And Co-workers…

The best job you will ever have is the one you just left, or the one you are going to next. Rarely will it be the one you are in right now. You may find yourself in some employment situations where you work for assholes, but love your co-workers. You may be in situations where you love your boss, and loathe your co-workers.

At some point these may intersect and you will despise everyone in your workplace. However, the winds may blow just right one day and you may find, if only for a moment, that you love everyone you work with. Enjoy those times, for they are as magical as they are rare.

Through it all, there will be times when you thoroughly enjoy the work that you do, but some of your time in the adult workplace will haunt you far beyond quitting time, and will disrupt your sleep on a regular basis. The older I get, the more I see this as being evenly balanced. Please remember though, that at the end of the day work is what we are here for, not retirement.

111path2

Ultimately, if you can’t find a job that you love, or can’t learn to love the job you’re in, you may wish to create your own job and your own work environment. Of course even when one is self-employed, a job is still a job. Self-employment is no guarantee for happiness, but it can put you in better field position.

Relationships…

Above all things, life is about relationships. Little else in your life will matter more than the relationships you protect, except the ones you fail to protect, though you may not discover this until it’s too late. Appreciating the value of the relationships you maintain, and possessing the ability to understand why relationships so often change or deteriorate will be useful in finding your way in dark times and in light.

People, you will learn, are clearly beautiful. Just as clearly, they are complicated confusing, messy, and can be tiresome.   At some point everyone gets dirty, bruised, and ignored, and they will let you know it. That they will let this bleed into a relationship only makes them human, not disposable.

You may be married someday. If you are, that marriage may be wonderful, tolerable, or tragic. If it’s like many marriages, it will hold elements of all of these. It may also include divorce. Divorce, I have learned, is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the marriage. Conversely, a sustained marriage does not necessarily state quality in a relationship.

111path3

Before marriage and beyond, there will be other relationships. Many of these will start off with promise, but will quickly dull. Others may end with you never really knowing why they ended, and wanting for more. You may ask yourself at some point; how many soul mates does one get…? At best, that question can create knots in one’s stomach. At its worst, it can paralyze you to a point of emotional stagnation.

Marriage or partnership, if you are fortunate to find the right one, and are able to ride it out for the very long term, it will not be without your share of sacrifice and second guessing. In relationships, it is best to wake up each day and do what you believe is correct that you win the day, even if it contradicts what you did the day before. That ideal by the way, can be superimposed over just about any situation or dynamic in life.

Loss…

You will have friends and loved ones who will get ill and recover. You will also have will have friends and loved ones who get ill and die. Nothing can prepare you for the shock you feel when a friend or loved one dies unexpectedly.  There isn’t anything you can do to prepare for how to handle this when it happens, but it will happen.

When it does happen, use these instances as perspective to better appreciate your own life, and those relationships who remain in it. Disease and loss never make sense, but they can make you appreciative anything and everything else that much more.

111path4

Money And Freedom…

There will be times when you have money, and you will feel an overwhelming sense of security that fits you like a warm cocoon – don’t get used to it because it’s not likely to last. Other times you will be broke, question many of your spending choices, and it will seem like the end of the world. It won’t be the end of the world, though it should be the start of a new behavior.

At best, money is a useful tool that is necessary to experience any level of personal freedom. Personal freedom though, as most people know it, is an illusion destined to distort and disappoint. Ultimately freedom means not doing the goose step down Main Street, and the proper use of money can help you avoid Main Street altogether – the road less traveled.

Lessons Learned…

There are lessons to be learned in every moment, every circumstance, and every conversation you will ever have. Of course, you won’t find those lessons if you are not looking, you won’t hear them if you are not listening, and you won’t benefit from them if you are not receptive.

Perhaps the most fruitful lessons you can hope to learn are those you will learn from watching others. Being a conscious witness to the joys, tragedies, triumphs, and misfortunes of others is often the best way to assure your proximity to them.

Creativity…

If you can incorporate some level of creativity into your daily work, or find some level of creativity buried within it, your life will surely be warmer. If there seems to be no room for creativity in your workplace, finding a creative outlet beyond he workplace will help keep you whole, if not sane – especially in difficult times. Creativity is a gift we all possess, but very few take the time to explore or to enjoy.

I am reminded of the most formative movie line I know, written by John Hughes for the movie, She’s Having A Baby…

“In the end, I realized that I took more than I gave, that I was loved more than I loved, and in the end, I realized that what I was looking for was not be found, but to be created.”

That this was recited by Kevin Bacon, makes it that much sweeter.

You will be the creator of every single one of your days. I ask you rhetorically, what kind of day will you create today, that will be acceptable to you tomorrow…?

Children…

I’ll suggest only one hard rule in all of this: If you go on to have children, please don’t shelter them from the realities of life. Expose them to the beauty in life of course, but don’t screen them from the harshness and messiness of it all. Expose your children to life as it comes and teach them, as best you can, how to accept it. Be honest with them – all of the time. Dishonesty with our children is the cause for more social decay than anything else.

Expose your children to who you really are without fear – regardless of how it may make you look in their eyes. Be humble when you are wrong, don’t gloat when you are correct, and when their names show up on caller ID, don’t ever let the call go to voicemail.

I wish you luck. Now get off my lawn!

Sincerely,

Still Learning

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Please check back n a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from The Dead Daisies.  Enjoy…

The Fingerprints Of Others…

I’m big on appreciating formative moments in my life; those times when a person, a circumstance, or an occurrence makes an impact so indelible that it will stay with me for years to come. I refer to these as the finger prints of others. Rarely a day passes without me reflecting on some of the fingerprints others have left on my life through the years.

From profound tragedies, to near-death experiences, to simple observations or words of wisdom that people have offered me through the years, the fingerprints of others have shaped who I am – because I allow them to.

In the past couple of months two occurrences took place that fall into this category; formative moments that I won’t let go of anytime soon.

There, But For The Grace…

Last week I was walking my dog on a well-manicured greenbelt in-between a sea of suburban dwellings clad in stucco and topped with ceramic roofs. Well out of his place, my dog and I were approached by what appeared to be a homeless man, unkempt and not walking too well – perhaps drunk.

The greenbelt of happiness...

The greenbelt of happiness…

As the man got closer, my dog, who has barked or snarled less than a dozen times in his 9 years on earth, began to growl at him. It also appeared, as he got closer, that he was well beyond drunk. Barely able to walk, but he headed our way intentionally – perhaps to ask for money.

My dog, Stroodle, sneered more as the man approached. I had never seen this behavior from him before. The homeless man, I suppose because he may have been in fear, kicked at Stroodle. Understand, he did not kick him, he only kicked at him. However, as Stroodle’s steward in this life, my protector instincts took hold and I punched the man in the chest. Not to be mean, but to keep him from hurting my dog.

Stroodle; center of his own attention...

Stroodle; center of his own attention…

The man fell to the ground and began crying. He was a sad wretch with bloodshot eyes, in filthy clothing, with no apparent direction, and then he was crying – and I had just hit him.

I attempted to help him up, but he refused. He then turned away from me, and staggered off in another direction leaving a scent of body odor and alcohol that would stay with me for a few more hours. As he was ambling away, Stroodle kept growling at him.

In the same scenario I would do this again – protect my dog using minimal force — but what was minimal…?  I can’t let go though, of the grown man on the ground crying at what I had done, though I know he was probably crying over much more.

I couldn’t help wonder where the man had been, what had lead him down this path, and where he might end up that day – or any day. There, but for the grace…

A Pee, A Picture, And A Pistol…

I had been traveling from Denver to the San Diego area last month helping a friend relocate her belongings. Rather than see her pay movers, I volunteered to load and drive a 26’ truck across the American west, with my friend and her dogs as the chase team. She was on a budget and I needed a road trip. It was a good fit.

On morning #2 of our trip we left Richfield, Utah as the sun rose. Just a quick stop for gas, and my obligatory 12-pack of Diet Coke to caffeinate the long haul ahead, and we were soon on the road. After an hour or so, I needed to make room for more Diet Coke by releasing that which I had already consumed.

We were clipping through the red clay and green scrub about an hour north of Cedar City, Utah when I spied travel complex with a large rainbow canopy above the gas pump islands. No city, no town, no other signs of civilization – just a gas stop alone in the desert. As I pulled into the complex, my friend followed me. It was soon evident that the travel plaza was no longer in business, just a truck stop ghost town. To a guy like me, that’s a playground.

If you're ever near Cedar City, Utah, ya might look elsewhere for a place to pee...

If you’re ever near Cedar City, Utah, ya might look elsewhere for a place to pee…

Since we didn’t need gas or food, and I still had to pee, I decided to give the place my business just the same. That’s when my inner child got the better of me, and I decided to explore and photograph the abandoned buildings of the complex – something I do frequently cross-country trips.

As I photographed one of the abandoned gas islands, a small SUV approached me at a decreasing speed until it came to a halt beside me. A man in a shirt and tie, but with no coat was behind the wheel. He had mirrored sunglasses that looked more like 2 compound eyes.

“I’m going to ask you to leave” the man said in a whisper. “This is private property”.

Me being me, I asked him if he was a representative of the owner, and if so could he prove it. I turned and continued to photograph some broken glass outside one of the structures.

“Hey” he shouted, “I am the owner!” That’s when I looked down to see a small handgun pointed at me.

Ok, I said. I’ll be moving on. No further words were exchanged.

I walked slowly back toward the 26’ truck where my friend was waiting outside her car, giving her dogs some water. I explained that we should get going, but said nothing of the man with the gun – since he had been out of her sight the entire time, and I didn’t wish scare her.

Up in the truck, back on the road, and still trembling from my experience, my eyes spent equal time divided between the road in front of me, and my side view mirrors for the next several hours. I would not see the man with the small SUV and the compound eyes again.

So Many Changes In Such A Short Time…

Despite my military service, and hanging out with some questionable characters in my young adult life, I had never before stood at the barrel of a gun facing back at me. Not for a moment did I think the man would pull the trigger, but afterward I could not let go how the life of my daughter might have changed if I had made one more sarcastic remark that could have put him over the edge. I continue to wrestle with that one. A fingerprint on my life, to be sure.

Unrelated to the story, just a cool picture of a snail along the greenbelt.   Taken with an iPhone set to mono...

Unrelated to the story, just a cool picture of a snail along the greenbelt.
Taken with an iPhone set to mono…

Last week I punched a homeless drunk in the chest, only to see him fall to the ground and cry. Yes, I was defending a helpless animal, but I had to hurt a person in order to help a dog. Another fingerprint from which to learn, and yet another wrestling match to take place in my head.

It is the fingerprints of others, as much or more than my own actions through the years, that have shaped who I am and who I am still to become. Like fingerprints on a doorknob accruing over time, the person I am today is much dirtier than the man I was 20 years ago. Of course unlike the doorknob, the fingerprints left on my psyche aren’t dirt so easily washed away. The dirt stays with me because I allow it to. In this case though, let’s not call it dirt – let’s refer to it character. Be well… rc

please take a moment to scroll up and rate this.  thank you.

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Ry Cooder. Enjoy!