Christopher

When the men hammered the head of the fish, the boy screamed, crying. In the short time it had lived in his bathtub, he had grown fond of the big swimming creature. He’d named it Christopher. It’s understandable that the boy loathed the act of his uncles. But our Christmas meal was at stake and the young emotional bond had been destined to be ignored.

It’s a Buddhist belief that if you give someone or something a name, you make a claim to that which you name. It means that young parents who, out of duty, name their newborn Pete, immediately make it their possession. But it also means that if you give your partner a nickname, this person or the aspect you named, becomes your property.

Adversely, when you give someone your name, you give that person ownership over you. And every time this person calls it, he or she summons your attention. Have you felt that? It’s an excellent sales technique and a good way to get yourself liked to call another by his name. The other way around: creating a name for yourself or your organisation, makes you graspable to the audience and by that less threatening.

It would be an act of liberty, in this perspective, to invent a new name for yourself and keep it secret. That would give you a claim to yourself that no one else has. A different approach would be to behave in a way that is not expected from your personal or family name. But the freest is he or she who detaches from all names that are given to him or her. The one who doesn’t have a name.

I would take this idea a step further and say that any judgement people make of each other is an attempt to seize something. Calling another by his or her profession, for example, or by a political preference, or cultural background has this same effect of occupation, even if you don’t attach a value to it. Even thinking it has that effect. We allow each other a certain degree of possession over ourselves by sharing who we are, but set limits as well. And by conceptualizing, we are determining our place in a hierarchy.

You could say that the idea of ‘not being understood by anyone’, something we all have to a certain degree, is a result of being judged in an inacurate way. It could be solved by giving your loved ones the names you secretly hold for youself. Yet while we give these names away and create a space for trust through which we can bond, we also hand over part of our autonomy.

As we could see in the case of the death of Christopher the fish and the reaction of his young friend, these things can have enormous emotional implications. ‘You never call me honey anymore’ means that you’re no longer taking your claim of this aspect of her that you once shared. Changing your official name is a deliberate act of breaking out from the property of your parents. The name switch of women after marriage is comparable.

A friend once called me ‘joyful sailor of dreams’. This blog is a tribute to something she observed in me. Reappropriated, as you can see, but I’m still thankful. By that simple act, she called something into life. This is what the boy did with Christopher. It’s no more than a memory now, but who knows what that will grow into?

It’s probably because I agree with this Buddhist theory that I have become a writer.

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Amoebing

In the series of using new words for old emotions, which I was surprised to find out got following, I’d like to discuss one which I forgot to talk about: amoebing. That must be because the word only occurred to me the day before yesterday.

Though it can release fear as well as more joyful emotions and slow tears, amoebing to me is a state in which I concentrate. In fact, I experience it as if the state itself draws my concentration.

It goes like this. When I’m amoebing, there’s a defined cloud of, let’s call it energy with form, in the shape of an amoeba that slowly leaves my upper body while I breathe out. The narrower part of the amoeba resides just above my shoulders and the extremities attain the shape of half-body-sized bulbs. Don’t look at the picture for this. Half of the amoeba is above me and out, and the other half is situated in the top part of my lower body. It feels as if it opens up a space that helps release a concentrated form of energy from below by belly button, which as it starts moving, expresses itself as a stronger often emotional sensation. But let’s not get distracted by that.

The top bulb of the amoeba, residing above my shoulders, is not always closed, though it is sometimes. It can be open to, let’s call that the universe. The entire thing feels like a funnel into the area below my belly button. The presence of the universe doesn’t necessarily make the amoeba bigger; it rather makes the the space smaller. It remains and limited by the edges of the amoeba, which are less tangible this time. In any case it’s empty and silent up there. And when I breathe in, the entire thing gets sucked back into my body, bringing me back down to wherever it is I am. And when I breathe out the amoeba reaches out again.

The moment I first noticed this, years ago, I felt as if I was being possessed by some external force. I was afraid. Nowadays, I don’t believe in the same ‘I’ with that much force anymore, so I also don’t fear its possession as much. The state is is a lot more laid-back. More like looking at myself through an internal telescope in the shape of an amoeba. Amoebing has become a leisure activity instead of an adventurous duty.

I think I first noticed it when I was on weed and I also remember the experience on ayahuasca. When I thought of the word amoebing the other day, I was in some yoga position, but the sensation can also occur on the bus or during some other random activity. I don’t consider it anything special anymore, but it is still worthy to mention and invent a word for. I guess amoebing helps me relativize things.

Which brings me to a funny paradox. While spiritual states are generally considered high or advanced, the word amoebing suits my impression of it because it has a nicely retarded meaning. Ultimately, this sensation makes me feel like witless unicellular being that knows absolutely nothing. And that also is the core of it. As if, like amoebas once did, it would take millions and millions of years to learn how to fuse one with another. As if we could create a being that’s built out of many minds. But that at the same time, that would just be the start of a new kind of ignorance and therefore not be any better than the things we’ve been until now. I might be wrong, and highly underestimate the gurus, but I’d like to add amoebing to the list.

Amoebing. I’m sure you’re worth it.

Healthy variation

My mother told me the other day that when she eats meat, she gets a bad feeling in her belly. So she hasn’t for over 25 years. I agreed, but with an essential footnote: the quantity determines everything. A single slice of sausage doesn’t cause this effect. I still respect my mom for her choice, but that’s a different story.

Take any food. Wait. I don’t mean stand up, walk to the fridge and grab a piece of ham or a can of olives. You know that, right? I mean it as a thought experiment. You can just keep reading. Walk to your inner fridge, open it and look inside. What do you see?

Whatever it is, think of how you’d feel after eating a kilo of just that. Okay. Half a kilo. Was it cheese? You’d be vomiting by now. Were they carrots? You wouldn’t feel too great. Was it nuts? Why do you keep nuts in your inner fridge when you can put them on your inner table? Regardless, you’d feel terrible after eating half a kilo of nuts. Same with honey. Oranges. And indeed, also with ham. Drinks. Even if all of these are great in moderation.If you like them, that is.

Now. Would the thing you find in your mindfridge be a nice remnant of a dish you cooked yesterday, or another type of food that contains a mixture of different ingredients, then you’d be able to eat far more of it and feel satisfied.

Personally, I can eat a lot more sugary stuff than fatty stuff or proteins before it becomes too much, especially if I add potatoes and rice gluten-rich products and all that, but the oversaturation effect occurs across al foods, and it can be compensated by eating some of the other types. The lesson: no single food is good or bad but change is great. And coincidentally, that is also healthiest. Which is why it’s wise to regularly fill your metaphysical fridge with a variety of foods.

As you may have noticed by now: I wasn’t talking about food at all. Food is not real. But how you treat one illusion is, I believe, very comparable to how you treat the other. So listen up if you tend to eat the same kinds of food all the time and discriminate others for no good reason. What I’m talking about now and most of the time, are thoughts and perspectives.

Back to the fridge. Take another look. Do you see a dream? A goal to achieve? A worry? A problem or situation that is to be avoided? Or do you encounter a mixture of thoughts that makes you feel more dynamic and, if the hypothesis is right, happy? Mentally satisfied.

This question is all the more relevant if we consider how it applies for the collective mind. If we obsess with refugees and the Islam or terrorism, we poison ourselves. But we also shouldn’t completely exclude the related problems from or lives. If we collectively focus just on economic growth and not on social cohesion, we create an uncanny feeling. The other way around as well. Sure, we need to feed and protect society, but we also need to remain accepting of other views. Digest those. In that sense, the arrival of a bit of fresh blood unto the continent could be a refreshing gift. New people, new languages, new inspiration.

So what does that mean in daily lives? If a neighbour is to noisy, sure, get mad. But then cut the guy some slack. Think about your cat. Or dog, if you’re more into dogs. But don’t do just that, because you’ll annoy your friends and colleagues by talking about them all the time. Pay some attention to their words as well. Dive into culture. And food. Moderately. Cultivating dynamics in your thoughts is not that hard, and it’s far healthier than fixation.

Alt

There’s a curious co-occurrence of growing groups using the letter combination ALT on the internet. The first one, the band ALT-J is named after the alt-key, because the combo of those buttons results in a Δ, which is the symbol for change in science. They are a pretty cool and innovative band, and I have no doubt they are about to suffer from the popularity of second group.

That group is called Alt-right. The modern name of the US demons, where ‘Alt’ represents the word ‘alternative’. This group mainly consists of internet trolls who spend their days anonymously placing racist or discriminatory comments on websites, vaguely relating to each other in their anger. Recently, an amorphous group of representatives emerged, with an own logo and everything. And their mascot, Pepe the Frog. Which is a little paradoxical because Pepe is a Latino name, but hey.

So what’s the attraction with this word ‘Alt’? Have keyboards been slowly hypnotizing into this word in an ultimate subconscious marketing campaign? If so, could we predict a similar attraction to other 3-letter keyboard combinations ‘esc’, ‘del’ and ‘tab’? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see any popularity for those name combinations, except that the word tab also has a meaning of its own.

I think that power of the letter A adds to the popularity of the combination. First letter in the alphabet. Best mark. Stands like a rock. The letter has something cool to it. Starting your group’s name with an A is first step in the direction of success. Remember the idea of the self-propagating soundbite, carrying entire thought clusters and paradigms along? I think the A is a powerful addition to the alt. But as clear as it may be to me for A, I’m far less certain on the LT. Okay. There’s a square in its look, which compares interestingly with the triangle of the A, but the guttural ‘LT’ sound is arguably silly.

The word alt holds a reference to the digital world. Both alt-groups owe their existence to their dispersal over the world-wide-web. A real and important part of campaigning strategies today. The band partially uses electronic devices for their music, while the far right movement uses the web for its internal communication. Emerges from it. The word alt brings coherence into the group and its projected image. Even if the two are so different, they both benefit from this effect.

But let’s not forget the meaning of the word alternative. A different option. When I was young, there were the ‘Alto’s’, in the Netherlands, the guys with the long hair, and the post-hippy-pre-emo-girls. They demonstrated new possibilities through their style, for as far as that’s possible for school kids. To be alternative was a way to be cool. It’s obvious for ALT-J, but I’m afraid it also makes the Alt-right movement more appealing. Wearing the mask of the new, this group differentiates from the old. Alt-right has the extra incentive to break with the image of Nazi’s and the Ku Klux Klan.

The word ‘alternative’ is not new, neither is the abbreviation. But its increasing presence in our, say, collective minds, through both groups as well as the keyboard is noteworthy. Consciously or subconsciously, we are turning to alternatives for the way things currently are.

Slavoj Žižek

Writing something every day and spending time with friends and family next to it forces me to discuss topics more rapidly and superficially. Nonetheless I’d like to talk about Slavoj Žižek. I’m saying nonetheless, because it would take a few hours to do so in a proper way. Take this article as an invitation to investigating his work for yourself.

Žižek is a Slovenian psychoanalyst who scrutinizes the structures of Western democracy, and the response of the people, particularly in Europe and the US. He continuously publishes books and videos on contemporary topics, now calling for a revolution among the left elite. What I particularly like about him is that he regularly focuses on ideology, what I’ve sometimes call ‘dreams’ or ‘life’s loony lore’, revealing also its impact on the psyche of the mob. He regularly breaks with common leftist points of view such as ‘the election of Trump was a bad thing’, ‘the capitalist system is doing fine’ and ‘multiculturalism will work one day’. He does that in a comical, eloquent way, despite some tics, yet has made numerous enemies with his expressions and has been banned from several platforms.

I first learned of Žižek’s existence while hearing his voice during the RSA animate video on capitalism. He has appeared on protests I sympathize with, including the Occupy movement. Last year, my girlfriend took me to his speech in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam. It was enjoyable. He passionately raised new perspectives while shooting right into the painfull spots. His thoughts are dense and interesting. Luckily, he thins them down with a regular ‘and so on, and so on’ or an ‘I claim’. Or a joke. He’d be hard to follow otherwise.

His psychoanalytic angle inspires me, because he describes people, entire cultures and movements almost as a single mind. A persociety, perhaps. He uses tangible examples to make quite general points on how he sees our predicament, offering very few solutions. He expresses a detachment from it all which is informative. An option, perhaps, for all of us. And there’s a flow, an entertaining flow wherein his audience fall from one association into the other, yet somehow remain connected to a thread. An admirable rollercoaster perspective on all those crazy things happening within and around us.

News again

The New York Times shows a surreal, artsy front page picture of a Turkish policeman who just shot a the Russian ambassador at an art exhibition and has his arm in the air, yelling about Syria. The Spiegel speaks about a truck that drove into the Christmas market in Berlin. Swissinfo.ch highlights a shooting at a group of praying Islamic people. Trumps election passed through the electorate, and Wilders, who recently got a criminal record for discriminating and sowing hatred, was elected Dutch politician of the year. Again.

I just arrived at my dads place in Brussels, and am trying to count how many groups have got offended in the past three hours. It’s quite a puzzle. Who planned what? Who feels represented by whom? Who feels their neighbour should have taken distance from which items? Honestly, I can’t answer all of these questions.

Earlier today, I had a talk with my mom about the news. The problem, she says, is that most news is quite negative, which makes people feel desperate. She thinks that the world would be a better place if the news was more positive. My sister agrees. I’m slightly more sceptical, because I do think that we should remain aware of the downers that are going on and make sure we do not rest until they are kind of solved. That’s meant in a manner of speaking, of course, because we cannot act if we cannot rest. But I agree that a little more positive news wouldn’t hurt. There’s no large platform, unfortunately, that has its image of the society pros and cons balanced. Perhaps it has something to do with pressing need. Or with the fact that the new is mostly not so much fun.

But my trip went smoothly today. No delays this time. No masked men shooting me or any of my co-travellers down. No rapes, no thievery. The heating worked pretty well. I even managed to get some video editing done. Didn’t pay too much attention to the others. They seemed to be fine with that. My dad and his wife enjoyed their presents, gave me good food and went to bed early because they both have jobs and have to go do their duty tomorrow morning. Not unlike many others in this region of the world. So let’s agree that at least for a big part of the rich people, it was a pretty okay day again. But the coffee at the station of Arlon sucked balls. Hey. You can’t always get what you want.

The city of Luxembourg

Luxembourg is a fun little town.  It has a huge valley, which has long been used as a strategical defense against attackers by many different armies. In 963, Count Siegfried occupied the area to defend his wealth. Since then, it has grown into one of the strongest fortresses of Europe, acquiring the status of ‘Gibraltar of the North’. It has been occupied by the Spanish, the French, the Austrians, the Germans, the Dutch and now the Luxembourgish. It’s military capacities, including some of the fortress buildings and lots of underground corridors called ‘casemates’ have been dismantled after the second Treaty of London in 1867. To avoid future usage of the city for war. That makes the city slightly less impressive to see than it used to be, but it’s still pretty cool. There are great views.

The most significant era for Luxembourg was the period between 1308 and 1437, when the powerful House of Luxembourg occupied vast parts of Europe, including the city of Prague, Hungary and Poland to compete with the house of Habsburg, which ultimately took over years later. Through strategic weddings, I suppose.

After the peace treaty of the late 1800’s, Luxembourg has joined the industrial revolutions. It is now building a significant part of its economy on banking. As a tax haven, that remains on a strategic position on the continent of Europe, it is now attracting head offices of companies such as Amazon and Skype. Meaning there are lots of rich people between the traditional Luxemburgians. That last group, speaking Luxembourgish, have a more down-to-earth attitude, but also quite some money. After all, unemployment in this country is low.

Perhaps related to the earlier dismantlement of the ‘little burrow’, the city of Luxembourg has become one of the cornerstones of the European Union, as it has been one of its founding members. You could argue that where Luxembourg was once a symbol of war, it has now become a symbol of peace.

The city has an expanding Christmas market. On several spots in town, it is now full of those little wooden stands with fake snow flying around, and romantic lights and Christmas trees. They sell various types of glühwein, cheese fondue and many other foods and beverages, including the typically Luxembourgish gromperekichelchen. Plus a huge amount of Christmas gifts. The kind we need to express our love for each other. It gets extremely crowded here in the weekend.

I am lucky that all of my old friends and family are around and available. We talk a bit about our latest news and stroll between the crowd. It’s usually difficult to see the charm of your home place, especially if you grew up there. But the longer you’re gone the easier it gets. Especially around this time of the year.

 

South

‘We call it a little Christmas tree.’

The man is wearing an old, fluorescent type of railway clothing. He’s explaining that when a train breaks and occupies the track, one train after the other have to find a parking spot, while awaiting access. They are placed next to each other on dispersing tracks. From above, it’d look like a Christmas tree.

‘The restructuring has been a disaster. There used to be one guy in command. He would make a decision in such situations and solve the problem immediately. Nowadays everything has to be done according to detailed plans, so when something unexpected happens, nobody knows what to do. It’s a disaster. I don’t even dare to wear my professional outfit anymore, because people on the street shout at me. That’s why I’m wearing this old tunic.’

The man knows the details about what is going on and informs me about it all. Yet the way he looks and the way he talks make me wonder if he’s not a retired man who believes he is still employed. Wandering around on the station of Amsterdam hoping for some acknowledgement from travellers. Later, when he opens the doors of the train, I ask myself why I thought that. The randomness of the act maybe? Why do I believe people have hidden agendas? Try to sell me something. Can’t people simply be making conversation? I used to value these occurences in a less judgmental way. It was nice of him to tell me this, that’s all.

With a delay of 11 minutes, we are leaving at 13.33 instead of 22, I’m heading back to my birth country. Past flatlands with polders and windmills. The blue sky shows it’s quite cold outside. White stripes in the air. A murky outlook on the horizon, pinkish, almost red white. I never planned to live here for so long. The high degree of organization here, visible in the landscape, used to scare me as a kid. Later, I looked down upon the Dutchness of the state. But here I am, after 13 years, trying to make something out of my life far away from its origin.

Switch of trains. Waiting time in Rotterdam: 1 hour. A guy in the new train steals a bag from another. A woman behind me notices it. Screams. Excitement. But they’re too late. She speaks loudly. Spectators talk about it. It’s funny how this concerns us all. Almost as if it is our duty to condemn it. It is. But the owner of the bag should have paid attention. Acted when the woman screamed.

The train is fuller than the previous one. More squeezed in. It changes the quality of my contemplations. Makes it harder to write. So I’ll just post it this way. There’s quite a lot of railroad ahead. The situation in the compartment will keep shifting dynamically. Tonight, when I hug my sister, it’ll be long dark..

Trends end

We humans tend to believe that historical tendencies will continue forever. I’m one of those people. But there’s hope in the fact that reality is more fickle than that.

By the way, I’m off till January 2nd and will try to write a short post daily until then. To see how it works out. Stay in the flow.

Back to the topic. Economists are the big example of this idea, who believe (or have long believed) in perpetual growth and continuously expanding wealth. But in recent years we have seen numerous examples that show the opposite: trends end or get disrupted, and sometimes even reverse. I’d like to pick a few hopeful examples:

Google Glasses
I find this one promising. In 2013, omnipotent and omniscient lord of this era Google introduced what was supposed to be the next step in the transformation of humans into cyborgs. The marketing was right, the product was interesting. It offered revolutionary options comparable to the way the terminator perceives the world. Something we had all longed for since we saw the film. But it failed. Nobody bought it and no-one knows why. A trend got interrupted, to say the least. It demonstrates a weakness of Google and a lack of interest of their target groups. Apparently there had been enough development for now.

Peak Oil
Whether it has already passed, or lies in the decade ahead remains under discussion. But the fact is that oil production and, consequently, consumption will slow down and ultimately end. We will go over the peak of oil, and will have to switch to other sources. Sooner or later, the era of oil will end.

My personal use of social media
When Facebook just emerged, it was all hot and cool. But it isn’t anymore. Same with What’s App. It’s getting boring. What’s more: there’s floods of advertising. There even are organizations that will sell people theatrical Facebook outings to make their lives look worth living. This compromises the trustworthiness of the platforms and make it less interesting for people to be on them. It does not consume us further: we gently back off. I’ve seen more people make that movement. There’s nothing to miss out there: it’s becoming vain. The series Black Mirror illustrates this quite well in some episodes.

 

We have had a period of enormous growth in many ways, but there are limits to everything. Just like the expansion of roads has slowed down, so will the internet. The economy. Technology as well. We are entering a period where we can slowly get used to our new tools and learn how to use them wisely. To support a soulful life, that makes us happy, instead of running to get more.

Do you know of some other hopeful indications that might hint to an end to a historic trend? Feel free to mention it in the comments : )

 

 

Unhedgeable Risk

I came across a Cambridge Report on the economic risks of climate change for investors, entitled Unhedgeable Risk. Its executive summary states:

Factors, including climate change policy, technological change, asset stranding, weather events and longer-term physical impacts may lead to financial tipping points for which investors are not presently prepared.

It also states that only half of the future risks for investors can be accounted for by the overall economic growth. And it states that companies and locations that are expected to be hit by such damage, will undergo early divesting, meaning they might collapse out of mere panic before the actual damage occurs. And that the sooner we act, the higher our long-term economic growth will be. Though acting would compromise growth on the short term. Oh, and of course, that the poor countries will be hit hardest. Though the Netherlands are not in a great situation either. And oil will fall, just like coal is doing now.

Would the situation remain like this, and there would be little mitigative action, this report says that from now on, investing in climate sensitive funds such as agriculture will become increasingly risky. There will be haphazard damage on investment funds including pensions, ultimately coming down upon the people who payed for it.

I think this shows that indeed, our economy is built as a food web upon the earths resources, but also that a lot needs to happen for this to keep running smoothly. An idea that I like, recently, is the fact that we can ask our own pension funds to divest from oil, which accelerates the downturn of oil. And be quick: the last one out pays the bill.

 

 

Playing mind games with Soul