Is Entertainment Heroic?

WallendaGranCanyonI overheard a friend recently criticize the excitement over Nik Wallenda’s death-defying walk across the Grand Canyon. Another friend called him something to the effect of a useless hero. Their criticism lies in the fact that nothing actually comes of his activity. It is exciting, courageous, entertaining, and exhibits an amazing amount of focus, but it does nothing to address what some people feel are more pressing issues, like poverty, homelessness, or crime. But what if his offering actually is providing what the world needs?

When we look at the state of the world and the challenges that we face, the majority of them, with the arguable exception of natural disasters, are caused by humankind. All of the problems which wreak such havoc among communities and individuals are the direct consequence of human activity. Crime is a problem because we have become consumed with creating laws, thereby advocating criminality. Poverty exists because we have become reliant on an imbalanced economic system of competition, debt, and slavery. Homelessness is an issue because we have turned existence itself into a commodity and put profit over people.

My question lately has been related to why these activities were started in the first place? With the ominous realization that our monetary system has gotten completely out of hand, I have to wonder if it was begun with such intentions in mind. There is a tendency, especially among conspiracy theorists looking for a scapegoat for everything that happens, to elaborate upon this story of Illuminanti and the malevolent guidance of those who have been guiding the direction of our civilization for generations. But what if it wasn’t malevolence that created our system, but merely human fallibility based on the adjustment to a new perspective by participating in something that had never done before.

New considerations over the development of language, symbols, art, and culture offer the possibility that our evolution was not based upon the search for survival, as scientific dogmatists would have us believe, but were changes created in our operating procedures merely in the pursuit of enjoyment. We started telling stories, categorizing, creating, and developing not because we had to, but because it was fun.

There are plenty of things to fix in the clusterfuck we’ve made of our culture, and I do get frustrated when I see more energy being put into tabloid development than solution development. Yet I also put the skill of Nik Wallenda in a completely different category than whatever inanities occur on Jersey Shore. Nevertheless, as much as I would love to see people embrace healing the damage that our activities of excess cause, sometimes it’s good for us to simply experience something astounding to inspire us that the astounding is possible, even through something as simple as walking on a wire.

No Real Than You Are

 

no realI wasn’t asked to sign any non-disclosure agreements so I assume it’s safe to announce that I have just been cast as William Whitaker in the film “No Real Than You Are.” My first audition was on my third day of recovery from a stomach flu. And although I endured my first Oikonomia show at the height of it, come Sunday, I wasn’t really in the mood to audition for anything much less two different roles.

Nevertheless, Van Jazmin thought I’d be good for at least one of them, and when I read a little about the film, I was at least motivated enough to go, read up on my character on Wikipedia, and do my best to fake a Savannah accent. But I didn’t get the rush of nailing an audition that I used to get when I went big and unleashed my inner thespian, so I blamed it on my being worn out and out of practice. However, since the crew is going to be filming a scene at the Flow Factory, I was glad to at least have some role in the production. I kinda miss the filmmaking process.

When I got the callback for the role of Black Market Trader, I figured I’d bring a bit more energy, and since I was auditioning with partners that I know, it was a bit more easy to slide into character. It also helped to know that Erin Hood and Victor Grigorii were duking it out for the role of Black Market Trader and I was actually the sole reader for William Whitaker. Since I felt like I’d already nailed it, it was a bit easier to nail it again.

After I’d gone through the scene with both of them a couple of times with Vincent, the director, giving us direction, he walked me out and congratulated me on getting the role. He confided in me that he thought my audition sucked as much as I did, but I was put on reserve because of my beard, which was also the primary reason I said I should get the role on the audition form. However, he told me that he knew I had something in me, resonated with the first few pages of my book How to Survive an Estralarian Mind Meld, and was really excited to see that I could indeed bring it upon request.

 

He also asked me, as Van had informed me that he would, if I would consider shaving my beard, the very thing that had gotten me the callback in the first place. Though it seems some sort of ironic sacrilege, I told him that I would indeed shave my beard for art. As a matter of fact, I’ve already pledged it to the mural that Freddie Lamoreaux is painting at the Flow Factory, so the endeavor will actually kill two birds with one stone. Plus, it will give my face a nice, breezy summer of sunshine and make my cheeks kissable once again.

While I knew that the story was going to delve into the oxycodone epidemic that has taken so many young lives, the script, when I was finally able to read the whole thing, was darker than I imagined. However, there where quite a few parts that really resonated with me, and as dark as it may be, one of the roles of art is to illuminate our souls, and I do believe this piece has the potential to do that for a lot of people. 

 

 

My Visit to a Buddhist Monastery

Not all that glitters is gold. Not all that wander are lost.

-J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of the Ring

 

TRL-Cover-060111It took him no time and few words to escort me back onto the porch where he sat cross-legged on one end of the bench, his smile alone as an invitation to join him. I straddled the other end of the bench in true American fashion. In labored English, he told me about monastic living and Buddhist ways, about the four noble truths and the eight-fold path, repeating himself often for words I didn’t understand. We talked about Kung Fu movies and how often people had asked him, a man of peace, to teach them the martial arts. There is something pure in the laugh of a Buddhist monk. It was almost surreal as he told and laughed at jokes I didn’t understand but laughed at anyway.

He was one of two full-time monks at the monastery. He became a novice, like the Golden Child inside, at twelve and a monk at twenty. That was thirty-five years ago, for the last seventeen spent here. There were also two novices and a part-time monk here only for a month.

We talked a little about my journey, and he described it as “samvega,” which means that you realize that life doesn’t make sense, but must try to make sense of it anyway. At least that is my interpretation. He told me that balance must be gained by reaching “pasada,” clarity and serene confidence in life’s journey.

We talked for hours like this when he offered me a place to stay and a hot shower, which was a spiritual experience in its own right after a week of bathing in a creek. He allowed me some time to myself after that, and I found some picnic benches out back where I read the books I had been given and pursued my dharma, the Buddha’s life purpose.

There were aspects of Buddhism that drew me but many I couldn’t agree with. The first of the Four Noble Truths is that all life is suffering, which brings me pause after the serenity I’ve felt over the last few weeks. The second truth is that suffering is caused by desire. The third is that the suffering can be stopped, if you cease to desire. This is accomplished by following the fourth Noble Truth, the eight-fold path to righteousness – right belief, right aspiration, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right endeavor, right memory, and right meditation. I don’t claim to be enlightened, by any means, but I’m starting to understand.

At eight o’clock, the chanting began. The monks and novices, all dressed identically, knelt on burgundy pads and faced the altar where candles burned in Siddhartha’s lap. There was one other person there with skin as light as mine, and I was amazed at how fluidly she spoke Thai with the few other people there.

I found a white pad to sit on and attempted the lotus position the monk had shown me earlier. I only managed the half lotus, but that was enough for my first time. The American woman slid a book in front of me and let me know the chants we would be doing. I noticed that everyone else was on bended knees so I quickly slid my legs under myself to match their position and struggled to keep up.

The chants were written in phonetic Thai and were translated into English directly below. Trying to simultaneously read both, I was lost by the second stanza, and opted to just go with the flow, trusting that God wouldn’t strike me down if I said something wrong. We chanted for several minutes – they chanted, I mumbled – bowing occasionally for reasons I still don’t know.

When we finished, I followed them back into the lotus position and focused on my breathing as I had been taught to meditate. Planes flew overheard, and birds sang in the trees, but the room was silent and still. I breathed in. I breathed out. My own mind raced against me, carrying me to thoughts of tomorrow and memories of yesterday. I focused back to my breathing – being here, being now. My mind would sway, and I would ardently come back. Meditating on nothing is hard.

I finally began to get lost in myself, when my posture began to slump, and my back began to ache. I remembered the Marines billboard I had seen earlier in the day that said pain was weakness leaving the body. I breathed in. I breathed out. Forcing myself to remain steadfast in posture and attention, barely moving a muscle, I struggled for tranquility.

My legs were slow to move when the timer went off at 8:45. The monks put their mats back and left the room to busy themselves with other things, as I moved my legs to slowly regain feeling. I’m not even in good enough shape to be a monk, and I want to walk across the country.

I found the younger monks in the kitchen making hot chocolate, and I sat and talked with the older one. He was the part-timer – a 21-year-old college student making his third and last visit to the monastery. We talked about Buddhism and philosophy, Christianity and religion. The differences and the similarities mingle so closely. There was a painting of Siddhartha, who became enlightened and is now called the Buddha, sitting under a tree, an aura of gold around his head. The young monk pointed out the similarities between that and the paintings of Christ with his halo. He wasn’t so bold as to say they were the same and didn’t have much to say about Jesus at all. But he felt that the painted auras were more than just an artist’s rendering. And I must say that I have to agree with him.

I’ve heard it said that Jesus was Buddha for the West, as Buddha was Jesus for the East. Like the young monk, I can only point out that the message of peace, love, and acceptance inherent in both when used as a philosophy and way of life are far more beneficial to the human condition than the legends and stories that have been written about them since. The monk and I were better off discussing the similarities than squabbling over which one is right.

 

 

This is an excerpt from The Rucksack Letters. Get your copy now!

Steve McAllister is the author of The Rucksack Letters and How to Survive an Estralarian Mind Meld. He posts regularly at InkenSoul.com, and sometimes posts at Anything Arts, Sarasota Music Scene, and Elephant Journal, and is currently the Director of Operational Development for the Common Wealth Time Bank in Sarasota, Florida. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Finding Balance

Estralarian_IMAGE“Why is marketing the language? I don’t know anything about marketing.”

“We think you know more than you think you do.”

“No, I really don’t. Do you know how many failed businesses I’ve had? Do you know how many things I’ve created that no one has bought? Do you know how many shows I’ve put on that no one attended? I’ve got a book for sale that no one is reading. I’ve got a DVD available that no one is watching. I’ve written I don’t know how many business plans and not one of them has been followed through to fruition. Surely, you guys have been paying attention.”

“Of course we have,” Iman said. “We find your antics quite amusing.”

“Thanks.”

“Absolutely,” added Yewell. “If it weren’t for people like you, we’d probably have no sense of humor at all.”

“Great. So glad to know I give you occasion to laugh.”

“Oh, you’re hysterical.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I wish I could enjoy my screw ups that much. See, I have this condition called Attention Deficit Disorder.”

“Oh, yes! ADD. What a marvelous invention,” said Iman.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said.

“Not at all,” he said. “That mindset has been the most open to us on our visits. It’s a travesty that you so often classify it as a disorder.”

“What else could it be?”

“A gift,” said Yewell. “There’s more to you than you realize, Steve.”

“How do you figure?”

“Because you’re human. Do you think you’re the only one that doesn’t have it all figured out? Do you think you’re the only one who doesn’t have it all together? Your entire planet sometimes looks like a Three Stooges episode.”

“Whom we also like quite a lot,” Iman added.

“Hysterical,” Yewell said.

“But I’m a failure.”

“No,” Yewell said as he patted my shoulder, “you’re just not finished. If you were a failure, you wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t have come this far.”

“You see,” Iman added, “you’re not a failure. You’re just imbalanced.”

“Oh, that makes me feel much better. Thanks.”

“My pleasure.”

“How do I get balanced?”

“Realize who you are.”

“Who am I?”

“That’s what we’re here to find out,” Yewell said. “After all, that’s primarily the focus of marketing in the first place. Finding out who you are.”

“I thought it was to let other people know who I am, or at least what I do.”

“How can you let them know that when you don’t even know yourself?” said Iman. “The problem that you have, Steve, is the same problem that is shared with many individuals, businesses, and organizations. You’re imbalanced. That’s what keeps you from operating smoothly. That’s what keeps you from making the most of this abundant planet. That’s what keeps you from being effective at life.”

“It’s that whole `ten percent of the brain’ thing,” added Yewell. “You’re not thinking completely. You’re not realizing your whole being. Remember when you said before that marketing was just advertising?”

“Advertising and stuff,”‘ I corrected.

“Well, it’s the `stuff’ part that needs clarification. Advertising is just letting people know what you do.”

“Or at least getting them to think they know what you do,” Iman added.

“But marketing is more than just spreading the word…”

“Or spreading other things,” Iman interjected again.

“It’s the entire package. Marketing is everything in your business…”

“Or busy-ness…”

“…everything that you utilize to get to identify, anticipate, and supply your customer with what they need and want.” Yewell paused for a moment as if waiting for it to sink in. “And the same module is used in realizing your role in life as a whole. You must gain awareness, discover your purpose, and realize your Self.”

“Thought, Word, and Deed.”

“Idea, Intent, and Action.”

“Knowledge, Will, and Being.”

“Mind, Spirit, and Body.”

“Beginning, Middle, and End.”

“Start, Go, and Finish.”

“Larry, Moe, and Curly.”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Sorry,” said Iman. “Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention.”

I sat down in a nearby chair and ran my fingers through my hair. “So you’re saying that marketing is like a metaphor for life?”

“Marketing is a microcosm of life. Your businesses, your organizations, your economy, all of your actions and creations are an extension of who you are. As you progress in one, you will progress in all.”

“Provided that we find our balance,” I interjected.

“Exactly. You see, your culture is at a pivotal turning point. Because your needs are changing and your practices are changing, your industry is changing as well. This generation marks the dawn of the next great revolution of humanity. That is why we want you to write this book. That is why we want you to write the world.”

This is an excerpt from How to Survive an Estralarian Mind Meld. Order your copy today!

Steve McAllister is the author of The Rucksack Letters and How to Survive an Estralarian Mind Meld. He posts regularly at InkenSoul.com, and sometimes posts at Anything Arts, Sarasota Music Scene, and Elephant Journal, and is currently the Director of Operational Development for the Common Wealth Time Bank in Sarasota, Florida. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Mental Spelunking

I believe in nothing, everything is sacred. I believe in everything, nothing is sacred.

-Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

July 15, 2001 – Tampa, Florida

I’m remembering my younger days – remembering the times I had it all figured out. Around the time I was fifteen years of age, tender fate and a beguiling young goddess named Jennifer led me to the altar of the Baptist church. Mom and Dad had raised me in the shadow of the Lutherans. Weekends at church as bookends to a week of Christian school left me with a comfortable, yet sheltered, youth.

I was never the model of an obedient child, but rebellion was rare. I smoked my first cigarette when I was twelve, a stolen sin ended in red-faced gagging. I smoked my second cigarette when I was nineteen. I keep telling myself that I’ll smoke my last one today, but today never seems to end. I didn’t like it as a youth because everyone around me agreed that Jesus wouldn’t look too favorably on it. Now I understand why.

I drank my first beer when I was thirteen; peer pressure brought me freedom later sacrificed to porcelain gods. I drank my second beer when I was twenty. I lost count after that. This was the second of the unpardonable sins I made for myself under the influence of the church. A limit put upon me, I had to have a time of rebellion, pushing the limits of the law, stretching my freedom until it held me captive once again.

I served fifteen to twenty in a baptismal prison. At the time, though, it was a shelter. It wasn’t until I left that I understood. I got heavily involved in the youth group at my church, and all of my influences were filtered through the set of beliefs I was given. My thoughts and personal philosophies were not my own but were the beliefs that were handed to me as tradition and dogma. I was who they were, and they accepted me because I was a reflection of them. It’s easy to love your neighbor when he agrees with you.

The five-year revolution spun my way again at twenty, just short of the dealer’s black jack. What I knew was not what I saw. The beliefs that I had formed caused a skewed view of the reality of life facing me. How could a loving God send people to hell? How could an omnipotent God, knowing that the majority of us would suffer for eternity, not come up with a better plan? How could I, being created in His image, be born into natural sin? I wondered if the apostle Paul doubted his faith as often as I did. I remembered the story of his encounter with the booming voice from heaven and scales upon his eyes. I coveted how unquestionably God had revealed himself to others.

At twenty-five, in a barren tundra at the end of the world, I begged for such a miracle, to know for sure who my God was and why I was here. I was working at a cannery in the village of Ekuk, just south of Dillingham, Alaska, when my faith and beliefs clashed, and I called God out. I felt that I had been led there for financial success, to take part in the fantastical fishing industry, as many had taken off to chase the gold rush years earlier. It was the worst fishing season in eighteen years.

Instead of working four hours a day of overtime as I hoped for, I was lucky to get four hours at all. This gave me ample time to disseminate the gospels and discover why I believed what I believed. I remember standing in a field about 200 yards from the cannery, having an open argument with God – an act which would seem insane in downtown Manhattan but is quite normal in the middle of nowhere. I wanted a sign. I wanted God to show me that what I believed in, what I had based my life upon, was real. I heard only the soft breeze through bending reeds, which thinking back, should have been enough.

But I wanted more.

Moses’ bush burned, and mine only bent. An open field with one small spark – physical or spiritual – can become a raging fire. At the time, I couldn’t see it, but my field of faith was smoldering. I cursed all I had known and began my search anew, trusting in only myself to discover life’s mysteries.

I smoked my first joint a month later. It’s still burning.

After Alaska, I found myself back in normal society, struggling with the same problems with new eyes that were still a bit nearsighted. I chased a dream of working in film and putting myself out for hire as a cameraman, or property master, or any job I could get in the industry. Completely unfocused, I managed to finish school and pursue work, not yet clear on how to actually pursue a career.

The end of this cycle found me in Wilmington, North Carolina, a tattered man in a shambled house, warmed by candlelight and stolen blankets. Family and friends worried that I might not make it through the cycle, fearing that they would – under the same circumstances – take their own lives. I had reached the bottom where I had nothing I wanted and few things I thought I needed. But I was okay. I made it through. I reached the bottom and turned around.

I see life as a journey, not meant to be as fast as our society has made it. Descent into despair should be more often likened to spelunking than falling into a pit. Reaching the bottom is having spent too much time shrouded in darkness, stumbling and searching in darkened caverns for that which is hidden. There are many who reach this end, the lack of light in their searches having depleted their energies. They have either adapted to their darkness, have learned to love it, or have let it destroy them.

Dark as it may be, the cave does provide shelter. It has proven itself as protection. . Living in the cave gave the illusion of safety, as the cold darkness hid the chains that bound me. But there are few who will strive to escape it and go fully into the light.

When I reached the bottom, when I had taken all that I could, I retraced my steps through paths already taken, my eyes adjusted to allow more light into the crevices of my jagged ways, and I went toward the light. I’m amazed at how much more clearly I can see things on the way out.

This is an excerpt from The Rucksack Letters. Get your copy now!

Steve McAllister is the author of The Rucksack Letters and How to Survive an Estralarian Mind Meld. He posts regularly at InkenSoul.com, and sometimes posts at Anything Arts, Sarasota Music Scene, and Elephant Journal, and is currently the Director of Operational Development for the Common Wealth Time Bank in Sarasota, Florida. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

The Power of Words

Estralarian_IMAGE“Perhaps an explanation is in order,” Iman said.

“Ya think?”

Iman slowly paced the room as he walked, stalking over the floor with long strides as if searching for the right words to say in the hidden crevices of the room.

“We have visited your planet a number of times over the course of its development, and for the most part, we really like what we see. For one, it’s the only of the planets in your solar system that is remotely conscious of life.”

“What do you mean `conscious of life’,” I interjected.

“It sustains life,” Yewell explained. “Things grow and prosper here. Not like on the other planets.”

“Oh, no,” added Iman. “Not like the other planets. The other seven are just plain dismal. Not very inspiring. Perhaps you’ve seen pictures.”

“Seven?” I asked. “You mean Pluto’s really not a planet?”

“Not anymore.” They looked at one another, and Yewell continued, “You humans don’t quite understand the power of your naming system. Your classification of things truly does have a profound effect on the ramifications for the rest of the universe. Therefore, if you don’t consider Pluto a planet, we don’t consider Pluto a planet.”

“No kidding?” I said. “And here I thought we were just being anal.”

“Well, you are that,” Iman said, “but it doesn’t take away from the fact that your understanding of things has an effect on them beyond your comprehension. What you call something has a great bearing on what it actually is and what it eventually becomes.”

Yewell interjected, “Even your ancient texts speak to the fact that letters and words are the means through which physical reality comes into being and manifestation.”

“And that’s why you want me to write the world?”

“My, you are a quick one,” Iman said. “I knew we were correct in picking you.”

“Exactly why did you pick me?”

“Because you paid attention,” Yewell stated. “Do you think you’re the only one we’ve sent messages to? That’s our entire mission here: to speak to your people.”

“About what?”

“About life.”

“I thought you wanted me to write about marketing?”

“We do.”

“So what’s that have to do with life?”

“Everything.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Most don’t,” Yewell said with a shrug. “That’s why we want you to help us. You see, as often as we try to communicate with your kind, most of you turn a blind eye.”

“Or a deaf ear,” Iman interjected.

“Exactly,” Yewell continued. “Your kind has greatly excelled at using your power to create many wonderful things with your words; however you have also used them to build boundaries and fortresses outside of which you can no longer comprehend.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you humans have developed this habit of only using ten percent of your brain. If we try to speak to you in a manner that is beyond what you allow yourself to use, the majority of you miss it. So we figured that we’d try to speak in a language that you’d understand through a conduit that you can relate to.”

“And you think that marketing is the language and I’m the conduit?”

“That wasn’t so hard now, was it?” Yewell said.

This is an excerpt from How to Survive an Estralarian Mind Meld. Order your copy today!

Steve McAllister is the author of The Rucksack Letters and How to Survive an Estralarian Mind Meld. He posts regularly at InkenSoul.com, and sometimes posts at Anything Arts, Sarasota Music Scene, and Elephant Journal, and is currently the Director of Operational Development for the Common Wealth Time Bank in Sarasota, Florida. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

When Will Americans Reclaim the Right to their Own Behavior and Consciousness?

 In 1937, when the Marijuana Tax Act was made law, the Senate had two hearings on the subject, totaling one hour, at which time the American Medical Association representative, Dr. William C. Woodward, proclaimed that there was no evidence that marijuana was dangerous. The law passed anyway. The House of Representatives had 90 seconds of debate and jumped on the bandwagon as well. President Roosevelt signed it, and on October 1, 1937, America banned one of the most useful resources to ever grace our soil.

There are people who use this plant in religious ceremonies to achieve spiritual harmony, to pray for peace and love for their community and world. There are people in pain who use this drug as a relief from their suffering. These people have spent far too many nights in jail as bureaucrats and lawyers study the sections of the constitution they have highlighted to best meet their own needs.

The greatest argument I’ve heard against legalizing marijuana is the possibility that people will abuse it. A great statesman once answered this type of argument with the profound statement, “Duh!” Of course, people will abuse it as surely as others will exploit it, just as every one of our natural resources is abused and exploited today. Why has Florida been in a draught for as long as I can remember? Surely, it wasn’t just because I came into this world and showered too often. It’s because we can’t handle what we’ve been given responsibly. I know that I’m not the only one who flushed the toilet for a nose-blown tissue.

It often seems that we have never managed our resources well from water to fossil fuels to forests. If we can touch it, we can screw it up. But we’re getting better. We’re using low-flow faucets. We’re watering our lawns only in the morning and at dusk. We put milk bottles in our toilets to decrease the water flushed. We’re getting there. We can be responsible with what we’re given if we can overcome our fears that we can’t.

We’ve made some mistakes. We will make more. We’ve made sacrifices. We’ll have to make more. Americans must have the freedom to make their own decisions, meet their own failures, and learn from them in the pursuit of their own happiness for the happiness of all. Isn’t that why our forefathers wrote the constitution the way that they did, for it to be ever changing as we discover new things and learn how to create a more perfect union?

The government has taken it upon itself to act as our guardian and parent, which in a sense can be appreciated. But eventually, parents have to give their children the ability to make their own decisions, fall on their own faces, and brush themselves off to try again.

America’s children are asking for more freedom so that we may take a step closer to realizing the American Dream. Life. Liberty. The Pursuit of Happiness. All noble causes that are veiled through expanding shrouds of money, woven by men who have it and can no longer hear the cries of those who don’t.

 

This is an excerpt from The Rucksack Letters. Get your copy now!

Steve McAllister is the author of The Rucksack Letters and How to Survive an Estralarian Mind Meld. He posts regularly at InkenSoul.com, and sometimes posts at Anything Arts, Sarasota Music Scene, and Elephant Journal, and is currently the Director of Operational Development for the Common Wealth Time Bank in Sarasota, Florida. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.