Demanding Habits

We can approach life like a vending machine that dispenses sex, success, affection, power, prestige, and so on. We have been taught to expect a return for what we invest, it will be evidence of who we are and the identity will be our reward. Yet problems arise when we put in for something and are disappointed. Instead of getting what we want, we get something else entirely, or worse, we lose what we gave and get nothing in return. We might throw a fit and feel stupid when we’re ripped off again. Now enter the spiritual hucksters, therapists, coaches, and priests that are always selling “How to get what you want from the vending machine of life.” Now if we don’t satisfy our desire, then we must be doing something wrong.

Release from this slavery can be had, although it doesn’t mean we will or won’t achieve our expectations. When needless habits of chasing identity cease to govern, the liberty belongs to us. 

Excerpt From Fresh Water Pearls

Two Monuments of War | Santa Cruz California | Lucerne Switzerland

I usually walk in a foreign city without destination in mind and view the sights freely. On one of these tours in Switzerland I chanced to cross a sign directing me to the Lion of Lucerne and a postcard with an image of the monument and this quote on the back.

 “saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world”

–Mark Twain

Lion of Lucerne

Being nearby the sculpture, I decided to have a look. After seeing it, I know Twain’s statement contained no exaggeration. The Lion symbolizes the loss of the Swiss guards charged with defending the Royals during The Terror of the French Revolution. When the angry mob approached the castle, the sentinels were ordered by superiors to surrender their weapons as a gesture of goodwill to the crowd. They were then attacked and fought outnumbered and unarmed. The majority of them were slain without mercy.

Collateral Damage

Santa Cruz has a memorial: “Collateral Damage: A Reality of War,” dedicated to the innocent victims in all wars. The title seems to mock the euphemism that connotes those who were sacrificed to whatever cause. It reminds us that mere circumstance, not virtue, distinguishes us from these casualties of war.

Both of these pieces display tragic human misery.  But the victims honored in Santa Cruz are anonymous, comparable to the people unknown to us that we pass in our daily lives, they receive little if any recognition. We would be wise to remember we are equally nameless in the eyes of those beyond our acquaintance.

Both sculptures are controversial. Monuments, like other art forms, have their origin in the mind. They can depict actual events. And as with any description, they can be flawed and can never contain all the facts. These works are not merely subjective they convey objective knowledge representing something real enough to be criticized. The complex elements of art are combined the way someone makes a meal. There’s a cook, the cooking and the soup or in this case the thinker, the thought, and the conclusion produced. If we fault any aspects of the creation we may still value others.

Collateral Damage is universal in not being limited to a specific event of war. It symbolizes every occurrence of similar harm put upon innocent bystanders. In the vastness of the subject we might miss the point. As the word blue defines all shades we may forget the magnitude of the category when looking at one spot of color.

We have a unique piece of art in Santa Cruz. Why not create more signs directing visitors to its location in addition to various postcards depicting Collateral Damage? All who see value in this art should consider inviting guests to visit the sculpture. Let’s talk about how it impacts us. When going downtown, think about bringing a blossom and laying it at the foot of the statue in memory of all who have perished or carry the scars of war. Consider those who have yet to suffer this fate.

Santa Cruz’s remarkable sculpture, as with the Dying Lion of Lucerne, should be seen and it deserves to be treated with equal regard.

The Problem of Binding Beliefs to Feelings

A choir sang in church. Beautiful harmonies resonated deep in the chest of the child who grew into the one writing this. I connected the feeling with the thought – Wonderful, God and the church are like this. The deep emotion had little or nothing to do with my conclusions. The music would have affected me if the singers had been in the lounge of a brothel. Though, very likely, the latter would be less pretentious. Songs can evoke tremendous feeling. But notice singing evokes angst, on the lips of a talent-less person.

I heard a love song a-cappella by a jazz choir. It moved me to tearful delight. That experience had scarcely anything to do with the jazz festival surroundings. The faith of Tomaso Albinoni doesn’t matter. Hearing his Adagio, my heart, adrift on a breaking wave of melody – heaves. Beauty has little to do with belief; whether art or a beautiful sunset, the meaning arises in the observer.  The desire to possess beauty, when achieved, often reveals a difference between imagination and reality. Why confuse love of beauty with beauty being loving (or anything else.)

Similarly cherished beliefs can be associations between feelings and events. This makes us vulnerable. Emotion can deceptively distort present circumstances. Bernie Madoff, the notorious ponzi schemer, lulled victims into confidence with opulence, (undeserved) reputation and pictures of himself with celebrities.

Have you ever witnessed an innocent blamed? Then only to have the truth quickly revealed. If so you understand the meaning of delusion. Thoughts about events are mistaken for facts. An explanation suffices to impugn another – i.e. my wallet is gone. You were present. Therefore, you took my wallet. Real emotion arises with the fiction. Then the forgetful owner finds the billfold in a different pocket. Meaning was added to the wallet episode until the truth was known. But what about emotion like gratitude for a real gain?

One can be taught to tie a knot called bowline. It has countless uses and unties easily. It withstands great stress. Let this knot possessing integrity represent any benefit gained from others. It could be acquired in a religious school or from a drunken bigoted sailor who, by virtue of his profession, will know it. The benefit received shouldn’t give anymore credence to the beliefs of a church than it would the seaman. Acknowledge value without binding ourselves through thankfulness to the errors in our benefactors. Otherwise gratitude can mislead.

I am not speaking about people who do nothing but talk and expect others to give them credence simply because of the vigor of their persuasion. That, too, requires discernment. I am talking about an appropriate response for a boon granted.

Delving into matters of spirituality, the absurdities abound. Take uncommon experiential states as an example. If one doesn’t understand what altered states are, the temptation to be over-impressed can be compelling. I’m familiar with this mistake which includes admiration of those who show the means. I’ll give a blunt definition. Altered states = suspension of habits. Now let’s return to music. Being an enthusiast and modest player, I grasp ways that music affects the body-mind.

Almost every religion uses music to support belief, as has almost every state. In the past the Catholic Church feared and rejected music,[i] believing it stirred dangerous passions in people. When the waltz became popular, brushing aside the minuet, it was the devil’s music.

Martin Luther playing for his friends family.

Astounding to think classical composers have something in common with Ozzy Osbourne. During the Renaissance, people were going to the marketplace to listen to music and see the dancing girls.

The church opted to be diversionary also, in order to attract people. Thus began the choirs and pipe organs and the decorating of dreary churches with artistry. Case in point, Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine chapel. Art made church more attractive, regardless of the belief. None of the aesthetic changes stopped the religious mass-murder that followed and which occasionally happens today.

A universal language could communicate anything including absurdities and lies. Talented people are tempted to identify themselves egoistically with an ability which leads to distortions or deceptions. When hearing talk of peace through music or its mysterious healing powers, I ask, “How many great talents have lived suffering lives in the midst of their gift?” Music didn’t save Charlie Parker from anguish and death, or cure Beethoven’s deafness. Moreover, artists lease their talent to the world’s most destructive forces. What tyrant’s haven’t been heralded with song? Any

despot, religious fanatic, or unscrupulous corporation with cash can hire musicians. Some players call themselves whores, play any gig that pays and undercut rivals. That sounds like common avarice, which doesn’t seem very lofty.

Exposing ideas like this can make people frown. The belief might be described like, “music feels good, and therefore it is good. Moreover, I play music, therefore I’m good.” This exemplifies a fallacy.[ii] Why not let music be beautiful. Art is debased by insisting it possesses qualities that it doesn’t. Science explores music occasionally, how wonderful. Remarkable things may be discovered to be the case, but skepticism is needed. I can’t imagine a double blind test on the effects of music. If a cancer goes into remission listening to Bach and a similar result happened while gambling would we be tempted to say that rolling dice cured cancer? I think not. Delight in music but remember the capacity to hear or play music dissolves.

See benefits and see the limitations. Emotion can be both anguish and delight but don’t be deceived by it into believing things that are doubtful.

 By Todd Vickers

Content Copyright 2012 © Vickers Publications. All Rights Reserved



[i] Stuart Isacoff – Temperament,  The idea that solved music’s great riddle.

[ii] G.E. Moore –  Prencipia Ethica – The naturalistic fallacy