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Google Etiquette

Google Etiquette

Of late I listen to an audiobook: Paramahansa Yogananda on the Bhagavad Gita, as explained by his disciple, Swami Kriyananda. The Gita is one of the great scriptures of enlightenment, a conversation between Krishna the God of Love and Arjuna the universal devotee, right at the moment when Arjuna beholds a civil war in which he is supposed to fight.

“Brother against brother, cousin against cousin, how can I fight in this terrible battle?” Arjuna asks, his heart breaking. Krishna has an answer, and Yes, Arjuna is supposed to fight. This life is a play of shadows, rebirth is a certainty, consciousness is evolving, at one level, we must live out our dharma.

I’m not sure I totally agree with Krishna’s answer. One scripture or another is always in hand, and I always debate with it in my head. I am on a journey and I don’t have answers, I have questions, and boy oh boy, do I have a lot of opinions. Just because some holy person centuries ago wrote something doesn’t mean I have to buy it. Used car salesmen, the lot of them. Prophets, scribes, proselytizers, and disciples, all selling their brand of God. As if God could be a brand. Or defined by any one person, one path, or one book.

My husband Sabin finally forbade me to read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying at bedtime, because it riled me up. I’d try to draw him into a debate and then sleep restlessly, arguing in my dreams. But I don’t think we’re supposed to take any gospel literally. It’s my opinion that we’re supposed to struggle with the words of God, all of us like Jacob wrestling the Angel of God. Finally, a blessing is bestowed.

Another of the great scriptures that has a longtime spot on my nightstand is The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali. I like Patanjali’s work because it’s methodical. He gives a practical curriculum for advancing in consciousness. I want to get there from here–don’t ask me where ‘here’ and ‘there’ are, what progress consists of, or how it is measured. I’ll send a postcard when I’ve arrived. Meantime, there are these paths. Ahimsa, nonviolence, is one of the crucial ones.

For the last few years I’ve undertaken ahimsa in my language. Specifically, refraining from the violence of dishonesty. Honesty comes easily to me, but sometimes too bluntly. I tend not to tell lies. But I can tell truths with a sharp edge. So the deeper, more textured layers of this issue fascinate me, eg, the small dishonesties that pass for social courtesy. Because kindness matters, too. Kindness is the crux.

How do I tell a scrupulous truth without hurting someone’s feelings? For example, how do I refrain from saying that a haircut or dress is flattering, when it’s butt ugly? How do I negotiate my simultaneous responsibilities to the truth and to kindness?

Which put me in a sticky situation recently, when I visited with someone who I knew had googled me. This person asked me what I did, as if it were unknown. Well, the spouse had googled me. Marriage being what it is, I assume the spouse had shared information about me.

There is a crude but effective invisible hit counter on my website. It gives useful stats about visitors to my site: how many page loads, what state or country. Usually the information is pretty anonymous. I can tell that someone using Verizon internet in New York state was on my site, for example. It’s great fun to see hits from distant countries.

Sometimes a large company or institution names their ISP network after themselves, so the name of that institution or company appears. For a while, my middle daughter had my website set as her default Safari page on her macbook. I knew when she took her computer to school and played on it, because a user on her school’s network would pop up on my counter.

The day before the visit with my new acquaintance, who is a lovely person, my counter showed the name of the company where the spouse works. Now, this isn’t a small company; it took me a while to figure out who at that company might have been interested in me. But it’s not that hard. I went to the company’s website and took a look at the page on their employees. One of the names matched a name on a list of people I’d been given, some of whom I’d also googled.

So, out of truthfulness and kindness, what am I supposed to do when someone pretends they know nothing about me, but there’s an indication that they’ve googled me?

In this instance, surprised, I opted to play dumb. I said that I was an author. And then eventually the conversation came around to spouses, and since I’d taken that first step into the shadows, I asked what the spouse did. As if I didn’t know. It was distressing to be in this position, holding hidden information like a steaming potato. I felt like a liar. That’s not who I want to be.

But if I admit to googling, do I seem like a stalker? If I admit to googling and the other person doesn’t, do I position them as dishonest, which is unkind? If I mention that I know that they’ve been on my website, is that a violation of privacy, another unkindness?

What are the rules of kindness and honesty in the world of immediate information via google and statcounters? What would Krishna or Jacob’s Angel have to say about the virtual world?

The day after that visit, I had a business meeting with a married couple who told me straight out, up-front, no BS that they’d googled me, been on my website, and watched the video clip. It was a great relief. It made me like and trust them. It seemed to me that the universe had sent me this latter experience as a foil to the prior one, to illustrate for me the way that I was supposed to follow. The Universe works that way, with care and great intelligence, for seekers and strugglers.

From now on, I’ll confess straightaway to my nefarious googling and statcounter information. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it with courtesy and tact. That’s my growing point.

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I am a fortunate woman: my four daughters, three biological and one step, are among my most favorite people. They are such wonderful fun to be with, each in her particular way.
Last week afforded a few days for me to spend quality alone time with my eldest daughter, who is now an anarchist. She spent a lot of time quoting Foucault, Lacan, and George Carlin to me. She stayed up all one night reading Obama’s DREAMS FROM MY FATHER and then spent the next day haranguing me mercilessly about the evils of racial disparity. I was stuck by her despair at ever rectifying the terrible wrong of racial inequality. She’s completely correct, of course, that it is a foundational evil. But I think we can restructure things for the betterment of all humans. I am bolstered in this opinion by her passion.
Years ago I took her to see MUNICH, starring the amazingly gorgeous Eric Bana. “Your generation will both inherit and solve this conflict,” I told her, when we walked out. She gave me a stricken look, but she seemed to agree.
And when they do, the solution will arise out of the passion that she and her peers have for true equality, for real tolerance.
Over a lavish dinner one night: “And what is the sociological implication of this meal?” I asked.
“That we have so much, that this kind of luxury exists, only because there exists people who have so little, who live in unimaginable poverty,” she said, flatly. She described a ghetto in Africa. I tried not to let it ruin my enjoyment of the meal.
“I view my species with a combination of wonder and pity, and I root for its destruction,” she quoted Carlin. But, with four children, I am invested in the survival of the species. So we fell into a debate about humanity: Are we worth saving?
“No,” she said, fiercely. The politics of power and inequality are too deeply ingrained for us ever to create a just society without the toxicity of racial inequality. “Maybe if 90% of us are killed off and the rest of us start over from scratch, that’s the only way,” she insisted.
But I beg to differ. Not because I believe in masses of humanity. Pretty much, from what I’ve seen, groups are evil, institutions are codifications of, at best, apathy, and at worst, vindictive Naziesque murder. Think of the Catholic church and the Inquisition. Think of McCarthyism. Actually, there’s no end of institutional evils to think about. Nope, I don’t like institutions.
But I do like individuals. I don’t know if society will change itself. But I do think that impassioned individuals–like my daughter–will stand forth to proclaim a new and better way of being, a more just way of cooperating, and that humanity will resonate with that better way.
I believe in the power of the individual to effect change. As an example, a friend of mine is the investigative journalist who, decades ago, broke the story about the dangers of asbestos. This he did despite threats and persecution from asbestos companies who had billions of dollars at stake. Thanks to his courage, fewer people now die of asbestosis.
It requires a refusal to go along with herd-thinking. It takes the resourcefulness, the stubbornness, to filter out the chaff, think for oneself, and hold onto unpopular ideals. One person, or a small group, is all it takes. In this thinking, I am like Abraham. Abraham bargained with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah: and if Abraham can find ten good men, God will spare the cities.
Of course, it didn’t work out so well for those two cities. That doesn’t diminish my faith in the individual.
My beautiful daughter and I went to some museums. She was delighted by Odilon Redon. He’s not the kind of artist of whom my Renaissance-obsessed husband approves, but I get it. Redon with his fantastical creatures and renditions of mythos was aiming for another universe, another realm: akin to the kabbalistic realm of Beriah, the world of thought and creation that comes from the realm of Atzilut, which is changeless. In Beriah, which is a kind of heaven, we find duality. It’s a world of essences, principles, and ideas. It’s a realm that can effect rectification.
So perhaps my daughter’s anarchy is inspired in Beriah. And it is individuals like her and Redon who can access those higher realms who will bring transformation to the rest of us.
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Facebook, Foibles, Mistakes, and Teachability

Facebook, Foibles, Mistakes, and Teachability

I once drew, upon the wall of a bathroom stall in a college library, a picture of a man performing an obscene act upon a donkey. The man in question shared a mutual animosity with me. He seemed to enjoy torturing me, and he was better at that game than I was, or ever will be. Worse yet, he was winning the battle for the heart of an old beau, who could not decide whether to be a stoner best friend to the man in question, or a diligent, studious, and devoted boyfriend to me. And lest anyone not decipher my crude portrait, I labelled it. Someone later told me that the amateurish drawing enjoyed a certain renown, there in the men’s bathroom of CCL.

That was one of my stupider moments, lived before I was even 20 years old. I’ve outgrown some of my stupidities. Most, perhaps, now that I’m in my midyears, and patience and temperance have crept up on me despite myself. But, alas, not all my stupidities have fallen away. I’ve lived this life more with passion and presence than with perfection. The best I can say is that I’ve enjoyed some good laughs: at myself.

That old incident came to mind this weekend, when I discovered that a pal of my middle daughter’s had stolen onto her Facebook page, assumed her identity, and left grotesquely vulgar, sexually explicit updates as her. Now, my daughter isn’t a pristine child of constant and unceasing virtue, as most of us weren’t. She’s always been the feisty kind to give as well as she’s gotten. But this commandeering of her voice felt like it was beyond the pale. It frightened me.

Facebook, as my older daughter pointed out in her article for the Amherst Indicator, leaves us no privacy. For people who participate in social networking, life is lived on a constant stage. The kids get to stay connected, but they pay a price for this connection. That price is privacy. But must it also include inviolability?

I’m no hacker but I understand from savvy people that it’s not all that hard to get onto other people’s sites. So this security of only “invited friends” seeing a profile is illusory. And nothing is ever truly deleted. Traces remain, for good or ill, of everything that has trafficked upon the world wide web.

But I’m not really worried about my daughter’s 1142 friends. Or am I? Does she really know that many people to send them her personal thoughts, to let them see casual pix of her whenever they choose? I’m 31 years older than her, and do I know that many people?

Are there even 1142 people in the world interested in my personal thoughts and private pix? If so, please go to Amazon.com and purchase my novel IMMORTAL.

But my daughter is a private citizen, and a kid. What concerned me about this incident is the unintended and harmful consequences. Say, the laptop left open on a kitchen table, so that a friend of a friend of the older brother’s walked by, or the food delivery guy, or the cabinet repair guy, or the cable or phone or internet guy, or the lawyer who’s the dad’s best friend, who spied the obscene expressions ostensibly from my daughter’s very self. And who then grew interested in her in an unwholesome way.

For sure, the kid who pretended to be my daughter didn’t think of these repercussions. That’s the deal with kids, that’s developmentally correct: they don’t anticipate all the fallout, all the time. I got terrified, and then I got mad that the kid would endanger my daughter. Then I realized what a perfect opportunity it was. This kid and my daughter, and their peers, could inquire into the nature of the Internet, how it is a tool of awesome power, but, like energy from a split atom, could also become a weapon.

These kids could start to discuss the notion that, just as one’s personal physical space must be inviolable, so must one’s personal virtual space.

In fact, these opportunities for inquiry and discussion are crucial for these kids to grow into socially responsible, ethical adults. They’ve got the burden of an extra world, a complex virtual world, to negotiate, to steward. We only had one world to handle, and that was tough enough for us. But I think they can handle it.

I like this computer-groovy generation. They’re an interesting lot. Many of them seem ADHD, as if all the technology has hard-wired their brains differently. They’ve become so used to constant stimulation and rapid images and cell phone texts that they can’t sit still and focus for hours at a time. They like to move about.

But they’re good kids, and they’re smart. They can multitask. They can care about each other and learn from their mistakes. They can tolerate each other’s imperfections and stay connected. Boy, do they stay connected! I have high hopes for them. Maybe it will be young adults texting each other around the Gaza Strip who finally bring peace to the world. They’ll offer each other respect based not on whether they worship Adonai or Allah, but on how many friends they’ve got on Facebook, how many texts they field in any hour, and who knows where the fun spots are. It seems unlikely to me that the weighty issues will be resolved by any final philosophical adjudication. Fun and connectivity stand a better chance.

In the meantime, kids will be kids. I’ll occasionally blunder. Lucky for me, some enterprising janitor long ago washed away my pencilled expression of disrespect. Ironically, the graphite marks in the material world had a shorter shelf life than the 1’s and O’s from my daughter’s mischievous pal will have in the virtual world. I can only hope that no unsavory sort comes across those salacious updates, which have been removed, but are never truly gone. Finally, for anyone interested, the man who graced the bathroom stall is now a respected doctor, with kids of his own. I hope they’re torturing him, as only kids can torture their parents.

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On Transparency

Of late I’ve been thinking about karmic entanglement. Maybe it’s because 2008 is drawing to a close; maybe it’s because Ketu, the moon’s south node & the keeper of the book of the past, is transiting the ruler of my chart. The past, and my past actions, are much in my consciousness.

I think it comes down to mutual forgiveness. Meaning, forgive the other person, and forgive yourself. Send forgiveness to neutralize the acid of interaction that’s fraught with hurt, longing, anger, pain, or even with the alkalinity of love and kindness. Peaceful forgiveness, so that the interaction returns to a clear state without the varnish of meaning, without the binding of a bond, any bond. Transparency. Liberation.

As a believer in reincarnation, I have a sense of the occlusive stickiness of the wheel of birth and rebirth, and how action and reaction, cause and effect, desire and fulfillment play out, over and over again. I wish to stop riding this wheel like a caged rodent. I think a lot about how to get off the ride. It’s also scary. What will happen to my precious individuality when I merge with all that is?

But the first step is to release. May all conscious beings be released from their suffering.

The Prom
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The Prom

Last night my step-daughter and oldest daughter went to their prom.
There were the usual concerns in the breathless anticipatory hours: dress, shoes, hair, make-up. The day before, my daughter decided her original dress revealed too much, and texted me to ask if she could exchange it. Text is the medium of communication of choice these days, I’ve found, and become adept at it myself, for that reason.
“Course,” I texted back. “B comfortable n happy!”
So she found another one, at a different store: the perfect pink concoction. And last night a bunch of parents were invited to a pre-prom soiree hosted graciously by the parents of a young woman in a delicious gold-print gown.
Present was a group of about 12 kids, young adults, who stood with splendid, nervous grace while an assemblage of parents snapped thousands of pictures. With my usual thought to backups and redundant systems, I brought two cameras, in case a battery died. (One did!) We parents were in a poignant, jovial mood and joked with the kids about the Hollywood red carpet.
It wasn’t just my daughter’s sudden and shocking maturity that caused a lump in my throat. These are great kids, some of whom I’ve known since they were 4 years old. I remember one young man as a skinny little boy in leggings. Another young woman climbed the monkey bars in the park while her mother read the newspaper and I chased my oldest daughter, who was 6. Now they are all going to college in two months. They stood before us in their finery, which made them look even older than 17 and 18. Where did the time go?
And how does it redefine parents when their children leave?
On Transparency
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On Transparency

Ramana Maharshi advocates inquiring into the self to find communion with God. He teaches that if you keep asking “Who am I?” deeply enough, persistently enough, and intently enough, you will shatter the incarnational illusions of “i,” the separative little ego, and get to “I am all that is.” It’s a path of discipline toward liberation.
When I ask myself, “Who am I?” I just don’t get that far. I’m still on the journey, I guess. Not disciplined enough. Caught up in the murk and mire of embodiment.
But the journey is worth taking, and it’s fascinating to me to witness the answers that come up at different points in my life. “I am a mother,” is among the top two responses that arise these days. There was a time…before dinosaurs roamed the planet…that I wasn’t someone’s mom. There’s no going back to that time; having had children, I can no longer imagine my life without them. If something suddenly happened and my children were gone forever, I wouldn’t want life. Every parent knows exactly what I mean. Life is demarcated completely and irrevocably by this universal, simple act of having a child.
And so the heart is tangled into a web of love and caretaking, expectation and responsibility, hurt and joy. Does that tangle bind us more deeply into the earth plane, into the opposite of liberation? Isn’t it supposed to be one way out?
So it is with all these questions that I watch as my oldest daughter struggles with her demons, and projects many of them onto other people, as we all do from time to time. By other people, I mostly mean me, her mom, the one nearest at hand, whom she knows will always be there for her, no matter what she says or does. It’s partly her process of individuation; she’s off to college in seven months. She’s got to define herself as separate from me in order to have a distinct core in which to stand when she finds herself on her own. We both know it’s coming.
It hurts to watch her struggle. She shoots herself in the foot, accomplishes miracles, sabotages herself relentlessly, goes out and makes a concrete difference for better in the world, commits acts of extraordinary compassion and cruelty, all at the same time. All while frequently blaming me for both real and imaginary hurts, all while wanting my approval and hating herself for that want.
And how do I respond as she does her thing? At the launch party for IMMORTAL last week, I spoke openly of looking for communion with God in every moment. I then apologized for sounding hokey, because it does. I’ll have to find a less embarrassing way–for me and whoever’s listening–to phrase this sentiment. How do I reconcile my spiritual pursuits with my human responses? Isn’t that always the question?
My friend Vedic astrologer Komilla Sutton, knowing I am undergoing the dreaded transit of Saturn to my moon, called sade sati in Vedic astrology, and that my daughter has the difficult transit of Saturn to her Venus, had a puja done for us at a temple of Saturn the last time she was in India. I had sent money for only one puja so the priest lit a single candle during an ancient and lovely ritual. He commented that my daughter has a very good moon, and then something rare and wonderful happened: the wick split into two, so there were two flames off the one candle. Komilla wrote me that it was very beautiful. But perhaps, in the moment of the wick parting to make two lights, it felt a flash of pain.