Doug Bruns

Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Moleskine Notes, redux

In Nature, Photography, Religion, Travel on May 28, 2010 at 6:05 am

…lying in wait, my muse?

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Robert Sapolsky describes a parasite that infects the brains of rats with no effect on their behavior except that they lose their instinctual aversion to the smell of cats and, instead, are drawn to them. Needless to say, the rats are quickly gobbled up: bad for the rat but great for the parasite, since it can only reproduce inside a cat host. The next generation hitches a ride out on the cat’s feces, which are ingested by rats and the cycle starts again.

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Himalayas, Tibet: coming out of the mountains, descending, brakes overheating. My driver stops and pulls over. He pours water over the front wheels, cooling the brakes. He gets back in and we continue. I think hard on this as we continue our descent.

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“It is hard to judge a photograph that does not include a human or a moment.” Constantine Manos, Magnum workshop.

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Zen does not ask, Where are you going? Rather, it asks, by what means are you going?

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“Die knowing something. You are not here long.” ~ Walker Evans

“What I am, I am by myself.”

In Life, Music, Religion, Thinkers, Travel on April 1, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Do you ever ask yourself what is the best we have to offer? The “we” here is the species, homo sapiens. I will pass completely on the who or what to whom we offer (the verb implying such: O.E., ofrian, from L. offerre “to present, bestow, bring before”). Not bringing this before anybody/-thing but myself, and I am the project here. Back to subject: What is the best we have to offer? I’ve been asking myself this lately and, assuming there is an answer, wondering why I’m not intent, no, hell-bent, on knowing better what that might be exactly. If you spend half your life living, maybe the second half, gods willing, should be spent trying to understand at least one true thing.

I speak as a Westerner, Norther Hemisphere. I think Confucius and the Buddha rank among the best, but, try as I might, I cannot connect there with a sense of well-intentioned synchronicity, if that makes any sense. And to a grown up kid from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, it makes sense to me, even if it doesn’t to you. (I have studied their work some, the Buddha in particular, gone to Deer Park at Varanasi, where he spent forty-years teaching. But there is a sense, synaptic probably, that inhabits the young mind grown old(er) that cannot readily adapt to new neural pathways.) So, travel aside (I’ve also walked the Via Dolorosa. That works no better, really. And ultimately we settle for what works–that is the nature of pragmaticism.), what settles and feels right? What makes sense. But I digress.

I’m coming to some conclusions and they are rudimentary. But they are a start. Socrates. Montaigne. Nietzsche. Beethoven. Mahler. Certainly Bach. Don’t you seek resonance with what preceded you? The big stuff, in particular? I want to connect with someone who got it. And I don’t accept mysticism. I think these guys got it. And many others.

“What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself,” said Beethoven. “There are and will be a thousand princes; there is only one Beethoven.” What I am, I am by myself. That declaration gives me great consolation. But what is this thing, myself? I have failed the Greeks in their first and most important admonition, Know thyself. So, that said and done, plot a course and take coordinates. Set out and discover. If we indeed stand on the shoulders of those who proceeded, us, shoulders of the giants–should we choose to climb upon them–we must not take for granted the view. That for starters. The rest will follow.


In Philosophy, Religion, The Examined Life, Thinkers, Truth on February 7, 2010 at 5:51 pm

“Ye shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

“I have never believed in the power of truth in itself.”

Quote number one, a first-century desert prophet. Number two, a twentieth-century French philosopher. Both quotes were directed to a people subjugated, living in an occupied country, itching for insurrection. (The second quote was written in an essay to a “German Friend” in July 1943. To put it in context, Camus continued: “But it is at least worth knowing that when expressed forcefully truth wins out over falsehood.”)

But what of truth? Or is that Truth? As a philosopher professor drilled into us, Define your terms. What is t/Truth? Socrates held truth a thing to be pursued, not discovered. I like that idea. It takes it off the mount and puts it in the streets. But then he was convicted of “corrupting the youth” and sentenced to death. (My, how we protect our children.) Will the pursuit of truth get a person killed? Some hold (those without all the suffocating theological tendrils, in particular) that the desert prophet died in pursuit of Socratic motivation, the pursuit of truth. But I think, more likely, he was too close to preaching insurrection. It was politics; but another forty years would pass before it would come to pass: the insurrection. That lead only to the diaspora, not freedom.

But knowing the Truth and being free on account of that knowledge is a very inviting prospect to a people living in bondage. Not to go too far astray, the juxtaposition of these two ideas I find elegant in their opposition. One, knowledge of t/Truth as salvation. The other t/Truth as impotence without force. I look to history for reconciliation. How else would one possibly proceed?

Does it kill cats?

In Curiosity, Faith, Family, Memoir, Religion, The infinity of ideas on June 26, 2009 at 5:52 pm

I abandoned my family religion while in college. I did so–abandon my religion–and informed my family, my father and my mother, with a letter filled with pretension and big words. I said recently that I had a youthful tendency to haughtiness and this is but one example. I am not sure how my parents, my mother, in particular, took the letter. I was in college and they had never been. I am sure I talked down to them. I probably hurt them and I am sorry now that I handled it the way I did, aware as I was how important our religion, Christian Science, was to my mother.

I don’t recall ever discussing the letter. Later, I was too ashamed and embarrassed by it, and my mother likely found it too painful to talk about. Her religion was everything. Perhaps my letter will turn up some day, though I think not. I think it was a burden and probably destroyed. Religion was the strongest family link I experienced and in leaving it, all the orderliness amongst the small family of mother, father, and child grew tenuous and subject to strain. Beyond the inevitable drifting of child and parents, my apostasy ushered in a lasting atmosphere of common politeness. The patina of religion, the hue of our family life, had been wiped clear and only an unadorned opaqueness remained.

I left Christian Science for a number of reasons. Chief among them, and most importantly, was the need to remove the strictures necessary to be a good Christian Scientist. That is, I wished to experience life in a broader way. The thing most everyone knows about Christian Science is that the Christian Scientist “does not go to doctors.” And this is true. It is accepted wisdom that Christian Scientists are faith healers and that they don’t go to doctors because they have faith that God will heal them. This is not accurate. In many people’s minds they are akin to snake handlers and child abusers. That was not my experience.

In simplest terms, the Christian Scientist believes that his or her experience is a manifestation of his or her thinking. The

Mary Baker Eddy

Mary Baker Eddy

founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, “Stand porter at the door of thought.” That is good advice, I think. It is not a bad idea to be aware of what’s going on between your ears. Indeed, if more of us did the world would likely be a better place. But Christian Science takes this admonition uncomfortably into the realm of the biological. The sick Christian Scientist, simply put, must apprehend what is wrong in her thinking, fix that, and she won’t be sick any more. There is faith, in Christian Science, that this can be figured out. But it is not faith that actually fixes things, which is a fine distinction. It is like math. One can have faith that the answer to the equation can be arrived at, but faith does not deliver it.

I am not here to discuss the merits of this idea. I grew up with it. Yes, I did not go to doctors. My parents did not go to doctors, nor did anyone in the extended family. They all were Christian Scientists. No one died of lingering illness. We were lucky, I guess. Why do I share all this? Is there a reason for telling these things, this aimless self-revelation? Only this: I want you to know who I am as you read me. The irony of any of this is my desire for privacy in the face of such transparency. Regardless, for whatever reason, it is important that you know what is on my mind and who I am. I live in a crazy world where self realization is an optional achievement.

Is curiosity dangerous? Does it kill cats?

Leaving the religion was necessary. The terminally curious will be subject to all manor of challenge. Fear that one’s thinking can turn on one, regardless of the physiological merits of the notion, can be debilitating and if not debilitating, exhausting. To this day, forty years later, I struggle: with my mind; with my thinking; what comes in; what goes on; what comes out–as is evidenced here, with this very self-referential project. Naturally, a thinking person is going to occasionally wrestle with the packets of information speeding along the neural pathways of the brain. But I was trained to examine, challenge and reject any manor of thought which might prove contrary to spiritual well being. I have toll booths build along those pathways. “One dollar please.”

What does my thinking bring to experience, if anything? Or, said another way, what does my experience reflect of my thought? The Christian Scientist holds that some thoughts are lethal and will struggle to replace them. Like all religions there is a path, a manner of being, to which one should adhere. Is that not the responsibility of religion, to point a way? Some people take direction better than others.

Regardless, like hunger, it was good discipline.

 Again, we realize a calm in the turbulent sea of the unsettled.