Meditation Is Rebellion

Like many people I meditate. My specific technique is based on Thomas Cleary’s translation of The Secret of The Golden Flower. I breathe slow and regular, mind on breath, tuning it all the time, returning my mind to the breath when distracted. There is more to be said – I mean this is from an entire book said to be written by Lu Dong-Bin himself – but that’s the basics.

I often think about meditations (and yes, I realize the irony). Recently, I realized this simple process sometime feels like rebellion.

I’m sitting there just breathing and watching myself breathe. I’m not busy trying to be my idea of myself. I’m not trying to be what other people expected me to be. I’m there, but I’m not being any one of the me’s I could be. Just breathing.

I’m not doing anything but breathing and watching. I’m not doing anything or taking any action or making anything. I’m not a job or a position or part of the economy or whatever. Just breathing.

I’m not “doing it perfectly.” I’m just doing what I do, mind on breath and breath on mind. There’s no “perfection” or someone else telling me what to do. In fact, The Secret of the Golden Flower doesn’t even talk perfection (it’s a very pleasant read, honestly).

I’m not even doing some deep metaphysical analysis or exercise – that’d be a distraction from my mind on my breath and my breath on my mind. There I am, engaged in what some would think of as a mystical act, I’m not particularly mystical or acting. Yes, things may happen, but it’s not the goal.

There’s something incredibly rebellious about just being there but not trying to be or do anything. The pure realness of the experience is unclassifiable.

So, that’s a small bit of sharing from me to you – I assume if you read my writings you mediate or consider it. Maybe it’ll give you a way to look at your meditation with a fresher, different, view.

And you can also ask what you and I are rebelling against.

– Xenofact

Bad Knowledge

I’ve been fascinated by Taoism in all its breadth for nearly three decades. Under this umbrella you’ll find philosophy, medicine, folk religion, meditative practices, and plenty of accumulated and purged bullshit. You’ll also find some interesting thoughts on knowledge that are thought-provoking – or just provoking.

The philosophical classic the Tao Te Ching has sections that seem to question the value of knowledge while praising the values of simplicity and emptiness. Taoist battles with Confucians – famous for rules and rites one must memorize – are legendary and sometimes hilarious. Taoist mystics both craved understanding and secrets on attaining the Tao, but also loved simple lives and avoiding complication. Taoism in general seems to ask the question “hey, is knowing things always a good thing?”

As a person who craves information these writings and riddles and tales often bedeviled me. I loved learning new things, but also could see how pointless rituals and rules could mire one in unreality. I craved to know but also saw how one’s head could be the equivalent of a messy room.

I mean I got the iddea of meditating and avoiding over-stimulation. But questioning knowledge? Well that I sort of got – and sort of wondered if Taoists overdid it or if some of it was just famous Taoist humor that I didn’t get.

Then this year, while reading a translation of the Tao Te Ching I hadn’t seen, I suddenly “got” that yes, indeed, knowledge can be bad in some circumstances. For that I would like to thank various podcasts on conspiracy theories and mystical bullshit, and of course, a good chunk of the internet.

How many people fill their heads with conspiracy theories, elaborate nonsense that solidifies both their bigotries and ignorance? Ensnared in complex falsehoods (often promoted by grifters), they “know” what is right and can easily commit, assist, or ignore atrocities. Their “knowledge” means they know less than someone ignorant of their twisted beliefs.

Some people pick up religious and spiritual practices from assorted scammers and self-deluding messiahs. Diving into “ancient” practices invented a handful of years ago, they occupy themselves with spiritual exercises that are neither. Their “knowledge” takes them nowhere – and is in fact, a weight that holds them back.

And finally there are the people with heads full of information where, shall we say, they overestimate it’s value. If you’ve ever watched  people in a battle of fandom trivia or obscure facts, you get the idea. Some of this knowledge may be fun, but people take it way too seriously – which distorts the more important fun part.

Some knowledge isn’t all that, well, knowledgeable.

Sure, we may know about bad things like the above. I find great value in studying conspiracy theories to understand people and to understand dangers. But this is a kind of selective knowing, a knowing that is guarded.

So now, in part, I get the Taoist ideas that knowledge isn’t always something that’s good. One has to consider the value of the information, of the space it takes up in one’s head, and what one does with it. Just knowing isn’t always a benefit, and in some contexts is an outright negative.

And yes, I appreciate the irony of contemplating the value of knowing means I know the value of not knowing. Which, come to think of it, does fit the famous irony and humor of the Taoists, so I’m good with that.

– Xenofact

Racism, Hell, and Insecurity

Many strains of American Christianity have a racism paradox.  They are clearly bigoted in past and present actions, often embodied by their adherents and leaders in ways subtle and gross (and grotesque).  Now such bigotries clearly would go against almost any sane interpretation of Jesus, a pleasant fellow by all accounts who invited people to love each other and never set down any racial boundaries.  However we see such bigotries with painful clarity in our culture today (specially, 2023) even as some of these strains of Christianity seek to control our country.

I’ve also noticed a peculiar brittleness in practitioners of these bigoted strains of Christianity.  There’s a defensiveness and an anger, a kind of fear of a person who feels something can break any moment.  It may manifest as bravado or ever-speedier speech, but there’s something there that’s delicate.  I want to discuss this behavior, these moments of fearful eyes, cracked voices, and aggressive yet confused postures easily apparent in newscasts, recordings, and fundraisers.

(I am aware American Christianity has other sins, but I focus on this brittleness because it is a problem in America, and it utterly flies in the face of most interpretations of Jesus.  Honestly, the man deserves better.)

In exploring this brittleness, this insecurity that boils up in these strains of Christianity when they confront racism, it’s necessary to discuss the idea of Hell.  In popular Christianity the idea is simple – you get judged when you die and irrevocably go to the afterlife, which may include eternal torment for being a bad person.  Now I would argue that actual biblical literalism would argue for a resurrection, but again this is what is believed.

Now if you believe that bad people go to Hell, and one is a Christian where one is called to love people by Christ, then being a racist, simply means you’d possibly go to Hell.  I mean one is not just hating people, but not helping them when in need and quite possibly harming them directly and indirectly.  In fact, to spout racist rhetoric is to slander a person, and Jesus was pretty against that too (Matthew 5:22).

(It’s really hard to read the New Testament and imagine Jesus being fine with racism.  Of course many people try to imagine him being fine with many terrible things, but those take effort as well.)

This means many bigoted Christians are caught in a trap of fearing damnation but also very obviously doing what Jesus said would get you damned.  The racism is so ingrained in their culture – as history has sadly shown – they can’t give it up despite this fear.  Thus they have to go through many psychological acrobatics to ignore it.

And this is if they believe at all and aren’t just trying to cover up the stark truth that they’re just lying (and if caught, a better liar will steal their grift).

Thus I believe that the brittleness we see in bigoted Christians confronting their racism is in part due to this dichotomy.  Having internalized racism as part of their religion – yet not being able to reconcile it – there’s often that low level itch of “I am a bad person and am going to hell.”  To fear eternal damnation and continue to court it in your mind has to be, well, rather hellish.

Further, as one tries to reconcile blistering racial hatred with Jesus, one has to consider past actions.  American history has plenty of Christians excusing and participating in horrible racist atrocities.  To look at the words of Jesus and the threat of damnation is to open your mind to the possibility an enormous amount of your ancestors are eternally in the grip of Satan forever.

Obviously a book could be written on bigotry, the fear of damnation, and Christianity.  I certainly won’t explore it in a blog post or simple musing.  But I think as we deal with American Christianity and racism, it’s important to keep in mind this brittleness.  There’s a fundamental tension some American Christians have gnawing at the back of their minds – being racist and fearing damnation for it.

And as we deal with their actions and plays for power, we’ll want to keep that in mind.

– Xenofact