Sunday, January 13, 2008

2007 in Review (part one)

In looking back at a year passing I suppose we search for insights, teachings, and lessons for the coming year. Or just a quick summary to answer the question: what happened to my year?

I'll begin with my greatest insight: that no matter how great last year was, each year has the potential to be even better.

I say that mainly because, for some reason, I had the idea that at some point in my mid-20s I would reach a peak, after which life simply couldn't be as good. Granted, I had some great years, so I felt justified in thinking, "It can't possibly get better than this." For instance, going back to 2003, I had a beautiful relationship with T., the second love of my life, and began really growing to love Missoula through community and academic activities. In '04 things with T. ended and I committed myself to intensive self-improvement, with several hours each day in dharma study (via the Asian Classics Institute) and meditation, and then I was off to Bristol for my Buddhist studies MA.

In 2005 I found my feet in my Bristol studies, traveled around England, Ireland, Wales, and Spain, and developed some amazing friendships before returning to Missoula and philosophy studies. '06 began with a trip to Hawai'i, a note from my Bristol advisor that I had been awarded the mark of Distinction on my dissertation, and the rekindling of my wonderful (though long-distance) relationship with Ana in Spain.


The year began well enough, celebrating with friends in Missoula. I was living in what is known widely as simply, "the 6th Street house," a dilapidated old mansion (which, legend has it, was one of Montana's brothels). An air of unhappiness filled the house, so I was all to happy to spend my time on campus, starting an intensive Philosophy of Religion (musings on omniscience and politics) class, working at the Center for Ethics, and hiding out in my office in the Liberal Arts building.

As January came to a close and the new semester began, I posted on the terrible situation in Tibet (which only seems to be getting worse). I was quickly overwhelmed with the new semester, teaching a course on Tibetan Buddhism at the University and taking a full load of courses myself.

February began with an excellent (if I do say so myself) post on Kant and Happiness. I conclude it by saying:
I like the youthful exuberance that I see in Kant's philosophy, his revolutionary anti-authoritarianism, his fist-pounding exhortations to self-development and loyalty to our moral sense, his recognition that the world provides a thousand and one distractions and excuses keeping us away from that very moral nature within us.
That is followed by yet more brilliant musings on Genesis as a coming-of-age tale and the book Ishmael.
The premise that the world is 'for us' and that we are separate somehow from the rest of creation is the premise of our culture. It is the story we tell our children before bed, but also the story we hear on the evening news and on the corporate billboards, in the academic curricula and in the novels we read. And, according to Ishmael at least, it is the premise of a dying culture. It is a myth gone bad.
And as much as I lament television and major corporations, I did find this to be a wonderful message:

By mid-February I was moaning groaning with too much work and waxing on about children and society. And by month's end I was in a fancy hotel in Cincinnati for an Ethics conference, pondering humanity's (including my own) destruction of the planet.

In March, an article was written about me in the college newspaper, I wrote about how multi-tasking is actually a huge waste of time (we operate more efficiently when we have only one task before us - as I know all too well!). Then I was lucky enough to find real grounding in a Native American sweet lodge ceremony, and to ponder the right proper recipe of balance and striving that would result in virtue. The month ended with me in pain, having visited England again and Ana and encountering the beginning of the unraveling of our relationship. My reflections consequently turned to my previous love and 'levels' of contentment and discussion, and to grief and letting go.

In April I found myself back in nature, reflecting more positively on life and love and setting new direction for myself. And then a little diddy on Dali - and philosophy
"Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly. After that, it will be possible for you to sublimate them."

-Salvador Dali

Me: This speaks to our reactive tendencies: problem? fix it! So much of our lives consist of 'quick fixes' and superficial bandages on problems/mistakes that go quite deep in our lives/society. How does the story in Australia go?...
Then, perhaps in a subconscious foreshadow of my current living situation, I posted this image and the question:
from the British/Bristolian artist Bansky - click to see his website and more workWhat does it mean that we "live in a technologically mediated world?"

That was followed by three posts on Buddhism (go figure!): one on community, one on dzogchen (great perfection) teachings, and one on Buddhist Ethics - communal or individual. I then posted on the Virginia Tech incident, and my - then - current obsession, Regina Spektor: Fidelity.

And then yet more on Buddhism: a recipe for social action:
So before we act [in the world/with our bodies], we need understanding [the activity of clarity in the mind]. We need to empty ourselves of notions of how it is supposed to be. From there we can look at the world anew, just soak it up. And from there also we are able to respond without preconditions, without prejudices.
and lessons on letting go; along with a lovely bit of Missoula graffiti and my acceptance to the University of London ph.d. program :)

With May I think things lightened up a LOT. I finished teaching/studying, regained my footing, spent time in nature (much needed!) and finally got to a Socrates Cafe!

Specifically, I started off posting a great video on the value and beauty of living for others; and my decision (finally) to definitely go to London. Then, as the semester ended, I posted a round-up of the term. After that I returned to a regular topic in my thought, Buddhism: Happiness and Community, concluding that "Community is good, but for true happiness, we need solitude."

Then a very pointed post; feeling perhaps at the hight of my (often very high) disgust for the selfishness and superficiality of Western society. Returning to some of the things I enjoyed so much - time in nature, I blogged about the beauty and tranquility of Missoula, at times, and the existential questions arising from a close encounter with a young fawn. Then - Life: Every Day a New Dawn - And new opportunity - to share, grow, exercise, work, play, smile, and be grateful.And even more beautiful Montana nature photos! May ended with a meeting with my thesis advisor at UM - encouraging me to finish things up - and my formation of a book-club on Happiness (because I can always find ways to avoid doing what I need to do!).

June brought my birthday (27 years old!) and plenty of freedom to enjoy, reflect, and to spend time with a very special, beautiful new person in my life.

My first post discussed (or lamented - see February stuff) my ecological footprint in Missoula, which was WAY too high. Then I went on about my thesis - apparently I was making progress - but still got overwhelmed and began pushing back deadlines. Then a nice post from a news story on nature and depression (get enough of the former and you'll likely avoid the latter), and my own particular Buddhist interpretation of depression:
Depression in my experience consists of a brooding, a mind unable to just settle, a disconnection between the world around me and my experience. Meditation then is simply the exercise in settling the mind, over and over and over again, on the breath. It's like a work-out regimen for the mind.
In my second encounter with Kelly (after the Socrates Cafe) she mentioned the writer Edward Abbey... My following blog post? Philosophy: Edward Abbey "Note to self: get/read Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire, or whatever)... Any of you know this guy? Want to recommend anything from him?"


The next day (June 7th) I got to look through my teaching evaluations (holding my breath....) and found out that, in fact, most everybody had really nice things to say :) - I guess I REALLY am my own worst critic. Then I traveled home to Helena, where some movies gave me impetus to take stock in life. I also managed to get out a bit with the family:

Here we all are [me and the family] after a day in Philipsburg, MT mining for sapphires. I then returned to philosophical/Buddhist ponderings with the question of identity (another one of my regular topics), wondering:
What exactly does Buddhism teach about "who we are?" Is it to abandon such labels and live purely in the moment? Perhaps is it more to recognize the contingency of all labels, to use them but not be trapped by them? Or could it be that for some, labels, as bonds to history and other beings, are as necessary as the air we breath?
My last post of the month came on the 23rd, as by this time I was spending nearly every day with Kelly - still as 'just friends' - but friends with an immediate deep spiritual bond and some major chemistry heating things up.

And that post, go figure, is about Edward Abbey and the amazing experience granted in true wilderness.

Well that gets us through June; and wow there's a lot there! It interesting to look over. In one sense I'd say it's pretty unremarkable in contrast to prior years. I seemed to be following a trajectory much the same as before. Little there would lead one to expect the major changes about to take place... And 'tis those that will be the subject of a future (very soon) post.

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