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April 13, 2005

Reader Challenge

Tost, in comments, asks:

Sorry, Mr. Clarke. In the weird depths of my mind, a rather simple statement about a search string has morphed into something far more profound. That's right, boys and girls, I'm going to bypass Chris (unless he deletes me, in which case I'm screwed) and ask you to step up to the plate and tell us all about the most important event in your life. Was it the day you were born? They day you got married? The day John Lennon died? Take the test, do your homework and regale us with the most profound event of your existence, the moment that encapsulates your true cosmic purpose.

What can I do but give this excellent question its own thread?

Posted by Chris Clarke at April 13, 2005 07:53 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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What can I do but give this excellent question its own thread?

I dunno. Answer it, maybe?

Posted by: doghouse riley at April 14, 2005 08:20 AM
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Thinking about "the most important day in my life" for a bit, I realized that I was thinking of all the GOOD things that have happened to me, and trying to decide which was the most important. But good-and-important is only half the set of "important." There's also bad-and-important. Maybe the most important day in your life was the day you got diagnosed with ALS, and found you had only a couple of years to live.

Too, there's an implication in the phrase "the most important day in my life" that's better stated as "the most important day in my life SO FAR." It could be the most important day in your life has yet to happen. Maybe the most important day in your life is the day George Bush wakes up and realizes how much he's screwed up. Or maybe it's the day you meet your NEXT spouse ... five years, two months and three days from now.

Having added to the choices, or the confusion, I can say that the most important day of my life was either the day I started to realize that animals had feelings, or the day that I discovered that I had finally triumphed over my fearful childhood superstitions, and I no longer had even a mild belief that supernatural superbeings might exist.

Unlike all those silly things that just HAPPEN to you, like being born, etc., these were things I myself worked to accomplish. They were also both events that opened up whole new worlds of understanding and possibility.

In both cases, I took one giant step into becoming more of an individual, more of an autonomous, thoughtful, compassionate ... Human.

In both cases (in my opinion), I grew UP, instead of just older.

Posted by: Hank Fox at April 14, 2005 10:22 AM
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It was the day I finally acknowledged that there is “no cosmic purpose”. I’m not being sarcastic here. It was the day I realized that I was just one being among trillions of life forms inhabiting a 7,000 mile-in-diameter piece of stellar detritus in a galaxy so vast it takes light 100,000 years to cross, in a universe of billions of galaxies. If my life was going to mean something, “I” was going to have to give it that meaning and try to be content with that self worth. I would try to live out my life helping where I could and doing as little harm as possible to all the other beings searching for their own sense of value. I’ve fallen a bit short so far.

Posted by: OGeorge at April 14, 2005 10:40 AM
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I'm not sure if it's the most important day of my life, but one of the very important days of my life was one day when I was driving home from Ottawa and letting my mind wander. For some reason I started thinking of the way my brother had treated me when we were younger, and I soon found myself pulled off to the side of the road because I was crying and pounding on the steering wheel in rage. That's the day I finally admitted that the events of the past had affected me more than I thought.

Posted by: Paul Tomblin at April 14, 2005 05:27 PM
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You realize, doghouse, that you are now obligated to answer as well.

I try to have moments that important every week or two. But there are a couple that stick in my mind. One was poking around the back lot of a nursery outside Buffalo - I must have been 12 or 13 - and feeling an eerie calm in among the 15-gallon maples, as if I belonged there. That moment affected my choice of career.

There's also a day maybe six-seven years later, sitting on the fire escape of the collective house I was living in in the ghetto in Buffalo. It was hot, summer, inner city, and I suddenly felt everything. The sun, the heat radiating off the pavement, the metal grate against my legs... the thing was, I had spent a huge amount of time in my life living inside my head, rather isolated, and suddenly I was just feeling things.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at April 14, 2005 10:07 PM
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You realize, doghouse, that you are now obligated to answer as well.

Yeah, I thought so.

I have to echo a lot of what's been said here, and the specific episode might depend on which half of my brain gets to make the decision. There was the serendipity of picking up Ursula K. Le Guinn's The Lathe of Heaven. A fine enough book, but it's tangential to the story. I'm basically allergic to science fiction, but I really wanted to sleep with a woman in my paleontology class who was a big fan, so I bought the first two Hugo award winners I saw. The Le Guinn had quotes from the Taoist canon as chapter headings. I was also allergic to eastern thought at the time, because it was the era of people turning Hare Krishna, but about halfway through there's a quote from the (rather non-canonical) Outer Chapters of the Chuang-tze: "Starlight asked Non-Entity, 'Master, do you exist? Or do you not exist?' He got no answer to his question, however." Illuminating and hysterical both at once, like the odd comfort of realizing you have more in common with 3000-year-old Chinese guys than most of your own contemporaries.

The moral rational side would vote for something strangely similar, the time I stayed up all night discussing the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis with a professor who was my intellectual mentor. Whorf and Sapir thought that native speakers of Hopi, which has no verb tenses, had no sense of time. Our own sense of time is so ingrained in how we speak it's almost impossible to talk about, but in a nutshell "reality" divides between what is happening "now" (or what is just now being found out about, or what strong event is yet "vibrating") and a place where the "past" and "future" (and dreams) coincide. It's mostly disputed nowadays, and if I had to make a rational statement I'd say it held poetic truth for me and I defer any other judgement about it, but it's still a touchstone for me that what we believe is what we see and not vice versa.

Posted by: doghouse riley at April 14, 2005 11:31 PM
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It was the day I finally acknowledged that there is “no cosmic purpose”

I cant say it any better than OGeorge did, so ditto for me.

Posted by: Desert Donkey at April 15, 2005 09:01 AM
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December 4th, 1990 about 3:37 pm in San Francisco.

The first time I raised my hand and said, "I am an alcoholic." Without that single moment all days since then would not have been possible. As my doctor said some eight months after examining me and determining my liver was still slightly enlarged (only 2 or so centimeters), "You realize, Mr. CultureGhost, thirty year-old men are not supposed to have enlarged livers." Really, now...damn.

Have I savored and enjoyed every moment of sobriety? Hell, no. Some days being present for one's own life is a real pain in the ass. Do I miss my insane out-of-control trajectory? On occasions when reality presses too close. But then I remember with painful clarity...I probably wouldn't have made it past 32 or 33, so like it or not here I am. These is still much to learn, much to see and much to experience.

It is are for me to speak/write of this aspect of my life and I review these words and feel they fail to capture any particular sentiment with precision. But I answered the question.

Posted by: The CultureGhost at April 15, 2005 10:27 AM
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I remember climbing a fence and hopping over it onto a tin shed when I was 10. The sun was hot and the shed popped with each footstep. When I sat down it was cold. I love recalling the sound and the contrasting temperature of the sun and shed. I found what I'd been after, a cherry tree two feet from the shed. I pulled a branch to me and snapped a cherry away. It was red, delicious and... free. I felt like a thief and then I thought, How can cherries cost anything? The sun was free. Was I really a thief? Today I like to reflect on this philosophical question. I usually come to the same conclusion: we pay to survive, when everything is actually provided freely.

Posted by: NoIvory at April 15, 2005 10:29 AM
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Hey, congrats on the mixedly pleasant sobriety, Ghost. I'm coming up on a year in June.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at April 15, 2005 10:49 AM
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Damn! Damn! And DoubleDamn! Sorry...just second-guessing myself for breaching the tradition we have about breaking anonymity in a public setting.

The first year is the most difficult. Hang with it.

Without being sober, I would be dead, so really every day has been a luxury item. One doesn't just always feel accordingly.

Looked up your're going to laugh at the next sentence. I'm writing this comment while sitting at my desk at Diablo Valley College. In thirty minutes or so I'll be on Contra Costa Blvd driving home near Buchanan Field. I can see Mt. Diablo from my backyard...

P.S. Were you the national test case for draft registration? I remember it very well. I had to register on the first day...registered 14 times in a variety of outfits at my midtown Manhattan Post Office. I was juiced out of my nut.

If you are/were the national case, we owe you a great deal of thanks. At that time, it took great
(fill in the blank) to do what you did.

Posted by: The CultureGhost at April 15, 2005 12:48 PM
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No worries, CGhost, I obviously have no problem bringing it up. And I was more a borderline than a full-blown alcoholic, in that I culd go for some time without drinking and I could usually limit myself to one or two... but the occasional binge (read: enough to make me feel bad the next day) was a problem. The first day I missed work as a result was the day I decided to quit. (It was also the first time I drank enough to make Becky mad, so there were two of the warning signs in one day.)

Posted by: Chris Clarke at April 15, 2005 01:13 PM
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I don't think I can narrow it down to one instance. But since I've been thinking about the creative process lately, I'll scribble something along those lines.

In 1996 I wrote a piece for a student trombone quartet at my university, and the trombone professor fell in love with it. Fast-forward to 1999... that spring, he programmed the piece in a concert with the 17-piece university trombone choir, and sent me a recording. The day it arrived was a beautiful San Diego morning in April, and a Saturday to boot. I tore open the package, jumped in the car, and drove up and down the gorgeous 163 freeway listening to the recording over and over again, thinking "That came out of my head?" It was a magical experience, and moreso than any of my other performing or compositional endeavors it made me realize that I needed to spend my life immersed in music.

Posted by: the_bone at April 15, 2005 04:33 PM
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Oh, and no, I wasn't the test case for draft registration. I wasn't even indicted. A couple of my friends, Andy Mager and Ed Hasbrouck, were indicted, along with I think 18 other young men. Andy and Ed and a few others spent time in federal prison as a result. Ben Sasway of San Diego was the first one indicted, and as the first he got the most national publicity.

The reason I wasn't indicted, I believe, was that my Representative, Ron Dellums, wrote a letter of protest to the US Attorney's office that was investigating my case. This delayed thing a bit, and by the time they were ready to prosecute, a directive came down from the Reagan Justice Department stopping further indictments. I was lucky.

This is according to my FBI file, which I really ought to scan and upload here. Someday.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at April 15, 2005 06:55 PM
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"One was poking around the back lot of a nursery outside Buffalo - I must have been 12 or 13 - and feeling an eerie calm in among the 15-gallon maples, as if I belonged there."

Hell of a coincidence, Mr. C.

Or maybe not.

Posted by: tost at April 15, 2005 08:15 PM
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In order to lend a little balance to this thread, I offer the following true story to all you "no cosmic purpose" folks. Make of it what you will.

About 10 years ago, I was sitting by myself in a house I was renting in Last Chance, Idaho, waiting for some buddies to show up for a card game. For reasons I still don't understand, I sat down at my table and started shuffling a deck, then cutting it, then shuffling it again. After 5 minutes of this relatively mindless activity, I shuffled the deck, cut it, and, just as I was about to turn the bottom card over to look at it, I realized that I knew what the card was. And no, I wasn't guessing - I knew what it was. Sure enough, I turned the card over and I was right.

Hmmmmmm, I thought, that's pretty wild. That's never happened to me before. What are the odds I'd get the card right? That's easy. One in fifty two.

So I thought, hell, why not try it again. OK, shuffle the deck, mix every thing up, cut the deck and ..... damn, I realized I knew exactly what card it was again. And again, I was right. It was the card I thought it was. Wow. I was blown away.

Not as blown away, though, as I was after I did my little trick three more times, getting it right every single time.

So what did I do at that point? I stopped. The hair started standing up on the back of my neck when I realized that I could sit there all night long and as long as I kept shuffling and cutting the deck, I was going to "know" the card before I could see it.

By the way, if my math is right, the odds of calling the card correctly 5 times in a row are about 380 million to one. (About the same odds that the last presidential election was legitimate.) But that's not quite the end of my story.

A couple nights later, I ran into a good friend in a local bar. I sat down to join him for a beer, and after a while I told him about my experience. I guess I expected him to be amazed at my account, even incredulous. Instead, my friend, who's part Native American, looked at me for a few seconds, lowered his voice, and said. "It's about time. I was starting to think that there was something wrong with you."

True story.

Posted by: tost at April 15, 2005 08:56 PM
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That's an amazing story Tost. Have you had similar experiences since? Can you forsee events?

Posted by: NoIvory at April 18, 2005 01:41 PM
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Hmmmm, let me put it this way, No Ivory. We're constantly bombarded with information that we've never been taught how to interpret. Yet every once in a while, that information comes through in a way that makes the translation obvious, even for those of us who don't "speak the language."

To (sort of) answer your questions, I believe that anyone can tap into the knowledge I touched that night, given desire, a strong work ethic, and a good teacher. Of course a fair number of people are able to do so without any help at all, but their experiences tend to be random and not very powerful. I do know a number of individuals who are able to access and translate this flow of information at will, but regardless of their individual gifts and talents, they've all worked very, very hard to develop the ability to "listen."

Posted by: tost at April 18, 2005 07:04 PM
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Thanks for your response Tost. I wonder if you know of any teachers in NYC or western CT? I'm in both spots during the week.

I've been looking for a teacher, and though they say one will appear I haven't "realized" one, recently. I have a friend in Santa Fe who I consider my spiritual mentor, but I'd like to go deeper with a teacher. I need a teacher to figure out stuff like the following: Tomorrow is the anniversary of two deaths. My uncle and brother both died on my grandmother's birthday. I'd like to educate myself on whether there is any meaning to be found in this "coincidence". I reflect on the "triangulation" and allow thoughts to come unedited. I've made some headway, but I do feel like a teacher could help. No Ivory

Posted by: NoIvory at April 19, 2005 07:29 AM
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=v= I learned that my best friend was of a race, creed or color that the adults in my world disapproved of. Very sad, I went to a beloved adult with the bad news, only to be gently assured that, while everyone else of that race, creed, or color was bad, my friend was not.

I was at an age when, according to Piaget, my mind could not handle such contradictions. It gave me a headache. After much thought, I concluded that the adults in my world had it wrong about race, creed, and color (and they had anyways been acting troublesome while expressing these bigotries). My course was set for a difficult childhood and a lifetime of questioning authority.

Posted by: Jym Dyer at April 19, 2005 01:01 PM
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NoIvory - A couple points about prospective teachers. First off, we're not talking about religion here, so I'd stay away from anyone who's overtly religious, or who wears their beliefs on their shoulder. Next, since it's hard to access the information I discussed if you don't have a high level of awareness, I'd rule out teachers who seem oblivious to what's happening around them. Finally, if someone tells you that their way is the "best" way or, God forbid, the "only" way to learn this stuff, I'd run away as fast as you can. There are many different paths for expanding awareness, and what's right for me might not be ideal for you.

Something else to consider. There are also any number of groups and/or individuals who will teach you that you can use this type of information to gain power, wealth, prestige, etc. (Think about how many people sitting in casinos today would sacrifice just about anything to know the dealer's next card.) Now these "teachers" may be able to show you effective techniques, but they invariably neglect to tell you about the high price you'll pay if you use your knowledge for personal gain. Believe me, it isn't worth it. So if your motives for learning this stuff aren't completely altruistic, I'd hold off and work on something else for the next few years. As strange as it sounds, you don't want to end up in one of those, "Give in to the Dark Side, young Skywalker." scenarios.

Anyway, please think things over and if you still want a couple names, I'll see what I can do.

Posted by: tost at April 19, 2005 09:45 PM
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I sure do like you, tost!

Posted by: Carrie at April 20, 2005 10:27 AM
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Tost, my aim is true :) I thought of it in the spiritual sense at first because I "feel" like accessing such awareness is an awakening of sorts. But I understand that this isn't necessarily a spiritual endeavor. I would like to study this as a form of consciousness raising, and not as a way to make money, etc. I would appreciate any more information you feel comfortable giving me. A woman I met a few months ago at work says she's able to travel outside of her body. I wonder if this is also a part of what we're talking about.

Posted by: NoIvory at April 20, 2005 12:14 PM
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NoIvory - A suggestion. Rather than focusing on what other people might (or might not) be able to do - for instance, card tricks and spirit travel - it may be helpful to think in terms of how you can better spread light & love throughout the world. My experience, for what it's worth, is that as you become a more effective conduit for positive change, you're able to access more and more "tools." As to what's possible and what's not - very few things are truly impossible. But don't take my word for it. Find out for yourself.

By the way, I'll try to dig out a few names for you in the next day or two.

Posted by: tost at April 20, 2005 10:51 PM
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Thanks Tost, I appreciate it. I agree with you, and I hope to manifest love more greatly from this exploration.

Posted by: NoIvory at April 21, 2005 11:05 AM
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I am grateful to the many writers above who knocked me out of my rather simplistic "oh the day my daughter was born" thing. I guess that there was a night where I was sitting outside in my first boyfriend's backyard, just after we had made love and I was still experiencing that exquisite feeling of unison with another human being, and suddenly looking up into the huge sky full of stars, I felt both a part of and totally insignificant in relation to the greatness. Somehow the capacity for connection to one and all sunk in. I guess that moment colored my beliefs about "god", love, and my place in the cosmos, in an instant created a personal truth and path for me. Its funny because as significant as it seems to me, I don't think I've ever spoken of it to anyone since and I doubt I've really explained it well here. Good thinking material.

Posted by: susurradeluz at April 21, 2005 10:29 PM
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