Tuesday, September 25, 2012

trade-offs in life

And, in the "Life's Trade-Offs" department, a friend sent along an article asserting that men lived longer if they were castrated. The study in Korea examined the well-documented lives of men in earlier times.

For men in the crowd, the suggestion is likely to raise a host of reactions, not the least of which is eeek! How would anyone decide between long life and the inability to reproduce -- or even have quite a lot of delicious fun? Would it be worth it? Suppose you got castrated and then got hit by a bus? Is longevity all it's cracked up to be? How would you know until you actually tried it?

Castration as presented in the article calls our bluff: Anyone might wistfully wish for a long, long life, but they cannot know what such a wish might mean in reality. It is a trade-off whose outcome may seem desirable and yet is patently unknown. We are, in short, bullshitting ourselves ... again.

Gautama was said to have said, "All fear dying./All fear death." And, reading such an observation, anyone might nod in solemn agreement. But any examination worth its salt will clearly show that what is called "death" is not the unfortunate opposite of something called "life." No need for god fairy tales here ... it simply does not compute. Death is part of life, just like birth: Death is life; birth is life. And the opposite of life, if opposite there be, is probably "form."

Not every trade-off in life is as eeek-ifying as castration. People make trade-offs all the time -- choosing one activity and thereby penalizing another. A person who seeks a lot of money may work 80 hours a week, but sacrifice the time that might be given to family. A person might choose to go to a movie instead of doing homework. A person might choose to wear red socks instead of black and thereby sacrifice whatever outcome wearing black socks might bring. It's no big deal: Everyone steps unknowing into a future that cannot be known. The only difficulty that arises is the insistence on really knowing what the outcome will be. Anyone might wish for one outcome or another and that wish may be granted (more or less) ... which provokes still more unexamined credulousness, more knowing what actions will bring what results. Everyone wants their cake and to eat it too ... to be in control and know and have it all.

Well, as Sarah Palin might say, "how's that control thingie working for you?"

The Hindus had a pretty good metaphor for adventures in spiritual life, a metaphor I only vaguely remember but ... it concerned a land animal discussing with a fish the wonder and benevolence of breathing air. C'mon up on the land and your life will be improved, the animal argues. The fish, of course, is rightfully skeptical. The life of the land animal is the death of the fish and no amount of coaxing or pontificating can change the fish's mind. Hindu spiritual literature is replete with self-deprecating and common-sensical turns and I can't remember if the fish made its argument to the land animal ... that living in the water was the only life-giving way to go. Whether the fish did or didn't is not so important: The point is made either way for the spiritually inclined ... what trade-off are you willing to make? What risk are you willing to take? What leap are you willing to make irrespective of all the jaw-boning about a better life you have no fucking way of proving ... but you sure like the sound of it?

Trade-offs. When I look back at my own efforts on behalf of what might be called spiritual adventure, I am somewhat in awe. Hours and hours and hours and days and weeks and years and years of practice. I liked the sound of the air that the land-animal was hawking. But seriously ... I could have gone to the movies, read a good book, moved to Utah and found multiple wives (preferably not as a castrato), traveled the world, taken up boxing, made a million dollars doing construction in the Bahamas, slept a lot more, etc. I'm not trying to tout what I did as a means of hawking air or water ... just noticing the implicit and explicit trade-offs I made.

And I don't imagine I am alone, whether inside or outside the 'spiritual' venue. Every choice to is also a choice not-to. It's no big deal except to the extent anyone, whether fish or land animal, chooses to make it a big deal... that, and the continuing insistence on being in control of what no one has any real control over -- the future.

The eek involved in spiritual life really is not so very different from the eek imagined by a man about to have his balls chopped off as a means to a longer life or the fish considering the implications of breathing air. For serious spiritual aspirants, the step is enormous ... into the jaws of some imagined death while searching for some less-painful or confused life. Sure, bliss is kool, heaven is kool, Nirvana is kool, enlightenment is kool ... but who the fuck would I be without all my worries? I don't like worrying, but the notion of being free from worry, while apparently yummy, also scares the living shit out of me.

Who would I be without my worries? Who would I be without my balls?

The good thing about spiritual life is, I imagine, the same thing that is good about any endeavor that is closely attended to ... it eases the imperatives that suggested spiritual life in the first place. Spiritual endeavor is a perfectly good trade-off ... except that there never was a trade-off. Fish are fish, land animals are land animals. Fidgeting and fussing about something else is just fidgeting and fussing about something else. Having your cake and eating it too is a story anyone might simply outgrow with the passage of time or with the application of attention to whatever trade-off has been made.

It takes courage to be alive. It takes balls.

But when you stop and think about it, what other choice is there?

No sense in getting your knickers in a twist.

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