My basic spiritual outlook

I sometimes think this entire Universe is nothing but a twinkle in the eye of God. And that He conjured the whole thing up out of His infinite imagination. And one day He’ll blink His eye and the whole thing will dissolve back into nothingness. . . Sometimes I think, in the end nothing exists except God. And everything else is just a strange dream.

Or maybe I’m just drunk.

Well, this is a tricky issue, theologically speaking. The guy was praying to God to intervene. But what if the lion was praying to God for some supper?

 

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Alec Ndiwane, a Zion Christian Church prophet, was attacked on a safari while trying to show that God would save him in front of fellow church members in South Africa’s Kruger National Park..
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Philosophy 101

 

 

 

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I’ve always considered myself a philosophical sort.  Well, I spend a lot of time sitting around thinking about shit. And that’s philosophy, ain’t it?  I consider myself first and foremost a student of life. And I’m always sort of studying life and researching it.  And periodically I’ll weigh in with a piece of artwork, which sort of represents my findings to date.

Though admittedly I find the word “philosophy” a little pretentious or high-fallutin’.  “Hey, whatcha’ doin’ over there?”  “Why. I’m sitting here. . .  philosophizing.  Yeah, that’s it.”   Actually, I’m sitting around thinking, basically just trying to figure out what the fuck.   But that doesn’t sound as impressive.  I look at life, basically, as a fascinating mystery.  This mind-boggling puzzle that we all get to play with.

All we know for sure is:  we’re born, we live, and we die, and in between all sorts of weird stuff happens to us.  Everything else is a matter of opinion, I guess.  For some odd reason, the only thing I’m really sure about in this cockamainey life is that the whole universe is one unified thing.  I guess most people call it “God.” But that term always seemed a little too loaded for me.  So I prefer One Unified Thing.

I guess most people see the world as made of of zillions of individual things.  That maybe are only loosely — if that  — inter-connected with each other.  But I’m sticking with the One Unified Thing concept.  When I try (and usually fail) to explain this idea to other people, I try to illustrate it by holding up one finger.   Which we can see as an individual entity, right?  The different fingers even have different, distinct names:  “index finger,” “middle finger,” and so on.  But then when you look at your entire hand you realize the finger wasn’t an individual entity to begin with.  I mean, there’s not an invisible line that separates the finger from the rest of the hand.  Its an artificially constructed concept, when you really think of it.  It was one unified hand all along.

Or take one’s “lap.”  When you sit down, you have a lap.  And its a noun, as if its a distinct thing.  But its really a noun masquerading as a verb, as a process.  When you stand up, your “lap” suddenly disappears into nothing.  It never really existed as a distinct thing in the first place.

When you look at the world on a molecular level, you find out that the line that separates all the different things is a lot hazier than you might think.  Just like that hazy line that supposedly separates your finger from your hand.  Take a drop of rain-water (H2O for those of you scientifically inclined).    That rain molecule falls from the sky, gets absorbed into the grass, gets eaten by a cow, which in turn gets eaten by us as hamburger, who then in turn piss it back out, it evaporates back up into the sky, turns back into rain water, and the whole cycle repeats itself.   Endlessly. In endless variations.  You realize on the molecular level there really aren’t hard-and-fast borders between the different things.   Its more like an ocean of inter-connected, and seemingly unified,  molecules.

I look at my individual human body (so-called) the same way I look at a chunk of ice (more of that H2 stuff).  The water molecules are temporarily frozen together in this form.  But soon enough the ice melts and the molecules merge back in with the ocean of water.  Just like my body is temporarily held together in this form, but all too soon I’ll die and merge back into the primordial mud from which I sprang.

Sometimes I’d look at my feral cats.  And sure, I look at them as individual cats with individual names.  But sometimes I’d get this funny feeling that there’s really only one cat.  This Universal Cat.  That  inhabits the bodies of all the individual cats.

The Indian philosophy of Vedanta comes closest to describing all this stuff to my satisfaction.  According to Vedanta, God basically decided to play a game of Hide-and-Seek with Himself.  For no other reason than cosmic kicks.  I mean, look at it from God’s perspective.  He’s got all of eternity to endless experience His glory and splendor.  I could see how He might get bored with His eternal greatness after awhile (“Yeah, yeah, I’m great, tell Me something I don’t know already!”)  and get a tremendous  kick out of dumbing down, putting on blinders, and seeing how the other half lives.  Kind of a “Prince and the Pauper” deal, slumming it for kicks.  After experiencing Himself as Immortal for all Infinity, it might be the ultimate kick to experience Himself as mortal and finite.

So God disguises Himself as all the individual creatures of this world, disguises Himself so well that He actually forgets He did it in the first place.  And then spends endless eons trying to find Himself again.  Finally, after zillions of lifetimes He discovers that, whattaya’ know, He had been God after all.  And lives happily ever after as God.  The end.  It might sound whacky.  But think about it.  God’s pretty smart. He could pull off a deal like that if He really wanted to.  And like I said, He’s got all of eternity, so He’s got a lot of time to play around with.  You figure eventually He’d come up with a crazy game like the Human Being game.

Oddly, one of my very first childhood memories when I was two or three was playing hide-and-seek in the cemetery behind my Dad’s church.  I can still picture in my memory all the neighborhood kids running around and hiding behind the tombstones.  So I guess the hide-and-seek impulse is pretty engrained in our psyches.

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LOVE LOVE LOVE Part 2…. That’s Like Hypnotizing Chickens

(Originally published April 19, 2006)

We wonder sometimes if God loves us. “How could a loving God do something like this to us?” as we survey the wreckage of our wounded, suffering lives and the myriad diseased calamities of human existence. And you wonder — if in fact it is all love — why there is so much of this other stuff: all the seeming non-love aspects of life: the pain and suffering, the anger and rage, and the boredom (which I suspect is the true opposite of “love, as opposed to “hatred” — the fascination of love is the antithesis of boredom).

Again, I always come back to the hide-and-seek aspect of Hindu mythology: God, splitting Himself into pieces, slicing His body up into a zillion so-called separate beings, cutting Himself off from Himself, from His eternal throbbing Cosmic Love. So that He could play the game of mortal existence — of being you and me — and of seeking and ultimately finding Himself again. In essence, putting a veil over His love. All the non-loving aspects of this life — the seemingly impure and imperfect things — are merely the veil that God placed over His gold. And the little beams of love we pick up now and again, are like the clues left at the scene of the crime, to keep us moving in the right direction.

I’m sure the next life, our ultimate destination and destiny, is nothing less than the eternal throbbing of 100% pure love. Now and forever. But in the meantime…

“Love is an angel disguised as lust,” went the Patti Smith/Bruce Springsteen song (and somehow, I suspect that line was more Patti’s than Bruce’s). Something about that line always said a lot to me. As if, under the fumblings of my spastic attempts at Romantic Love, was something deeper. This all-encompassing love. You can write off Romantic Love as “just sex.” And most of human love is just “buying-and-selling.” And the kind of love we seek from the applause-of-the-crowd is usually just the flip side of our preening, insecure egos (“Geez, maybe somebody will read this brilliant blog and love me!”). And yet, even there, with all those “shallow” forms of love, Show Biz Love (“They LOVE me!” squeals Sally Fields as she clutches her Academy Award), there’s this deeper thing, just beneath the surface.

Like, I was thinking how I ran into this woman-from-my-past last summer. She was The First Love of My Life 30 long years ago. That bit. Now, she was a middle-aged housewife. To her, at the time (1978) I was just another-face-in-the-crowd that passed by her for a couple days and then was mostly forgotten. And yet to me, she was this Goddess, this Angel, this Vision of this Pure Thing. And yes, there’s the whole bullshit of putting a person on a “pedastool”, turning them into an idol in your imagination (as opposed to the actual love-less reality). And it’s all false on that level. Just like it was also “just sex” — this beautiful 19-year-old sex goddess that she was, sticking her fat, ripe ass in my virgin face. (Now THAT’S love for you, baby) (Let’s make so-called love!). And there was the “ego love” of the “trophy girlfriend.” (“If only I could win this sought-after person, that would prove I was a Great Man after all!”)

And yet, in spite of all the banalities, falsehoods, and shallowness that is Romantic Love (i.e. “lust”), when I ran into Her on a street corner nearly 30 years later, there were still all these “feelings” lurking just beneath the surface. Feelings that could never be dismissed as “just sex.” For there’s the all-encompassing aspect of Love — with a capital L. And these minor loves, these spastic, all-too-human loves — with a small l — are like a tone hit on a tinny toy piano. And yet, just behind the tone is a complete symphony, and the song of the angels sweetly singing. . . .

God: Part II

God is doing everything. God is orchestrating everything. That’s why its low-rent thinking when I try and impose my ego over God’s magnificent Universe. And it’s so futile. Like I can carry the planet Earth on my shoulders. Move it over there. “Hmm lets see what this new orbit looks like . . . ?”

Part of it was an off-shoot of the artistic trip. As artist you play at being God. You create entire worlds. Write the script. Move the characters this way and that. The creative arts mimic God the Creator. You sit there at your drawing boards and you decide who lives and dies. The power of life and death. Just as God spins His stories by playing all the parts in the human drama. This world is God’s toy in a way. He spins it like a top and watches where it goes. I’m sure for His own cosmic amusement. Cosmic kicks? What else could explain all this?

You wonder if God is possibly mad. To create this mad, mad world. Or does He just have a bizarre and twisted sense of humor?

The tortures of the world. That’s the thing that makes many people question the existence of God. “What kind of God would do this to me?”

For you wonder: “What’s with the punishments, God?” We imagine how easily He could have set it up. Us, floating on our backs on clouds with halos on our heads, drinking nectar and listening to angel-chicks jamming on celestial harps for all eternity. Peeling the grapes. I mean, God could have set it up like that. Easily. Why didn’t He?

Personally, I would have preferred the angel deal instead of rolling around in the muck of the primordial mud. This half-deranged animal creature. Half baboon, half wolf. Crawling across the earth, scraping for food and shelter, desperately fearful of impending death. In total confusion as to what it all means as I stumble through one weird scene after another. Lonely. Scared. Heart-broken. Miserable. Raging. Yearning. desperate. Hungry.

No, I would have much preferred the angel scene. But no, God had to set it up this way. It’s not that I’m questioning God’s motives (I’m sure He set it up right and has all the bases covered — He’s God after all). Its more that I’m baffled by God’s motives. It’s a strange and mysterious world God has set up here. It’s certainly worth contemplating.

What actually is this thing? This thing we call the world. Reality. Our lives. Existence. The physical Universe we live within. What is this thing? This stuff. Made up of atoms and molecules and chemicals and that atomic shit. Stretching all the way to the end of this eternal Universe. Its a pretty big place, this world of ours. It just keeps going on and on. It takes up a lot of space. I guess that’s why they call it Outer Space.

And the molecular world is like the inner space. The macrocosm and the microcosm. Worlds within worlds. So the universe is expanding from every directions.

So it’s a peculiar thing. This world of ours that we largely take for granted as we stumble through our daily, mundane lives.

On top of the sheer grandeur and mind-boggling complexity of the physical world, add to that our human minds that project all sorts of meanings and emotions onto the thing.

Its a weird, weird, world. There’s no denying that.

My friend Mary Mayhem used to complain: “Ace, why waste your time thinking about this stuff. You’re just hitting your head against a wall. You’re never going to figure it out!”

And she was right. I went over-board with that egg-head shit. And I still haven’t figured it out.

But I still think Mary was wrong. The point of this life is to at least try and figure it out. And I do think it is possible for the human mind to figure it out. All of it. That’s what the great sages did: Jesus, Buddha, Ramakrishna, Nityananda. They figured it all out. Realized beings. They realized everything about what this Universe was about. They reached the top of the spiritual food chain.

And then there’s probably a gradation of the other human minds. From sages to complete schmucks. And in between some really smart and wise minds that could still do stupid shit occasionally. It’s probably like everything else. You got Michael Jordan on top of the basketball food chain. And on the bottom is the guy who was last to be picked on the playground teams. And the spectrum in between.

But Mary was right. Probably most of us aren’t gonna figure it out on this spin of the wheel. The best we can do is try and keep staggering in the general direction of the light.

Its like what I was thinking the other day: How God set up this life as a spiritual test. Testing Adam and Eve from the beginning. “Now when My back is turned don’t go eating that goddamn apple, Adam and Eve. I can trust you, right?” said God.

“Oh sure,” said Adam and Eve. “You’re God. We wouldn’t think of going against Your instructions.”

At the same time, God made that apple so alluring that of course Eve couldn’t resist it. So it wasn’t really even Eve’s fault. I mean, how can you win a sucker bet with God?

God. Who the Heck is that Dude?

“Some Theological Shit” from Rev. Ace Backwords

Sometimes I wonder what it must be like to be God. To be omniscient. To know everything. To know the past and the future all the way to the end of time. And probably several minutes after that.

I can’t help wondering about God’s motives. Why He did this. Why He created this weird universe and all (plus human beings — weird critter that we are).

Christianity is somewhat sketchy in this regard. As if they’re afraid to question the motives of God. “Silence before the great and powerful Oz!” Like God might smite us if we start poking into His business. I mean, the Bible says that God created the heavens and the earth in seven days. But they really don’t go into detail as to why He did it.

According to the Bible, God set it up as some kind of test for humanity. He gave Adam and Eve everything they needed with one provision: Don’t do THIS. Don’t eat the goddamn apple. To test them, I guess. To see if they’d try and pull any shit when God’s back was turned and He wasn’t looking. Of course, Adam and Eve failed the test. And the penalty was that they were expelled from the Garden permanently. With one way to get back in: Saying the right magic word (Jesus, etc). Or believing in the one right path. Which leads to salvation and a return to heavenly bliss.

So it’s a test. And God is a very harsh scorer. You make one little mistake and you’re banished to Hell.

But it still doesn’t explain why God did this. Why He put us humans through these tortures in the first place.

Of course the Vedanta concept explained it for me. Somewhat. God’s doing a hide-and-seek game. For kicks. Cosmic kicks. I mean God experiences His eternal glory all the time. Which I suppose gets a little boring and stuffy after a while. So what better kick for God than to down-grade. To put blinders on Himself and experience mortal, stupid life as all of us mortal, stupid critters.

Of course all the fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc make the same mistake: That they are all special followers of the one true God (all the rest of you can eat dirt). Pretty obnoxious. “My God is better than your God.”

The mystics on the other hand maintain that God flows through all people equally.

Of course I go through periods where I feel: “I’m a highly evolved person spiritually, so God should be on my side.” Unfortunately God has not been cooperating with this premise.

I suppose megalomania is a form of thinking: “I’m God’s chosen person!” Often without checking with God first. To back up their credentials.

With the would-be messiahs it’s usually a case of “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

With me, I always felt: If people could learn anything from me it’s from my mistakes. That saved me from playing The Great Know-It-All. A very tough role to play. I figured: I’d start out as the fool and try and work my way up from there.

The State of the Ace Backwords Address

.Ace Backwords, 53, former underground cartoonist who has been homeless for the past 3 years and is nearly blind, stands for a portrait on Wednesday March 17, 2010 in Berkeley, Calif. His friends are worried that he will soon die of exposure. Photo: Mike Kepka, The Chronicle

 Ace Backwords on death:

“I’m afraid of death. Even as I embrace it because I know that death is a return to the Godhead. This living life is more like death, the land of the living dead. Zombies. Sleep-walkers. I think when we die we actually become more alive. Death is probably like waking up from a really weird dream.”

Ace Backwords on sex:

“When I was younger I used to think about sex all the time. Now that I’m more mature I only think about it 90% of the time. So I’ve been able to develop some other interests and become a well-rounded human being. The thing that confuses me the most is when somebody is sexually attracted to me. I can’t help thinking: What’s wrong with you?

Ace Backwords on the streets:

“The streets are hard. They’re mostly made out of cement.”

Ace Backwords on the streets:

“To paraphrase David Letterman, the streets are just like high school except with rattier clothes and less teeth.”

Ace Backwords on God:

“God is everything. God is playing out all the parts. This life is a cosmic drama acted out on God’s own body.”

Ace Backwords on family:

“My whole family is nuts. Most people are, aren’t they? We’re all weirdos in our own special way.”

Ace Backwords on suffering:

“This life can really hurt. You can quote me on that, motherfucker.”

Ace Backwords on drugs:

“I’ve done most of them. Some of the time they work. Which is more than you can expect from most of the shit in this world. But after awhile they all turn on you. What goes up must come down. I always thought “ecstasy” was the greatest name for a product. Who wouldn’t want to score some of that. But then, there seems to be a market for heroin, too, and they call that “junk” and “scag” and “shit.” So people will buy anything, really.

Ace Backwords on drugs:

“I’ve always needed drugs. I always wanted them. I liked turning the channels on the television set in my mind.”

Ace Backwords on sex:

“Am I still thinking about sex?”

Ace Backwords on love:

“I’ve fallen in love 5-and-a-half times. There’s one I’m still not sure about.”

Ace Backwords on unrequited love:

“I’m the patron saint of unrequited love. All my love infatuations ended tragically. So I was obviously doing something wrong. And yet the weird thing is, to this day, I’m still really fond of all 5-and-a-half of them. Thats the sickest thing of all.”

Ace Backwords on art:

“Charles Bukowski and R. Crumb were the two great artists of my era. I was the third. But I was too humble to point it out.”

Ace Backwords on art:

“The art that lives on is the stuff that touches universal archetypes. Race, love, hate, sex, drugs, death, God. Some things never go out of season. They’ll still be smacking you in the face in the year 2247.”

Ace Backwords on cats:

“I have 4 feral cats that live in the hills near my campsight that I feed every morning. Cats are so much easier to relate to than people. All my cats ask of me is that I feed them and don’t bother them. So we’ve developed a relationship. I really like to watch them eat. And I’m not sure why. Maybe its because I can only eat 3 meals a day, but with the cats I get to squeeze in an extra meal vicariously.

Ace Backwords on sitting at a typer and blathering out verbiage:

“Sometimes I amuse myself with this chatter. Thats the best I can hope for.

Ace Backwords on himself:

“I can’t figure out who I am. The only thing I know for sure is that I’m perverse.”

2002_10_16: Genius is pain. Yeah, but what in life ISN’T, you schmuck!

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There have been periods in my life where there was only one profound thought in my head that kept repeating itself over and over:

“I have been hurt almost beyond belief!”

I have gone through periods of almost unbearable agony and suffering. I suspect most people do. Nobody I know has gotten a free pass in this damn life.

But geez! I have gone through intense periods of such inner pain, it was like my soul was being permanently branded by the searing heat of it. I could literally feel my soul, my psyche, being warped out of shape by the pressure of it.

“Life is pain,” said the Buddha, and he was not fukking around. Or maybe he was. You don’t really like to think about it; about pain. Just as you don’t really feel like listening to somebody else bitching and whining about their problems, unless its done in a stylish, cathartic way, like “singing the blues”; or the pie-in-the-face suffering of comedy; or a case of somebody failing in a way that makes you feel successful by comparison (gee, I thought I had it bad, but that poor slob); or if you’re a soap opera junkie/tragedy queen who gets off on weeping and wailing for the suffering of the world….. But most other forms of suffering are dreary to think about. And usually we go out of our way to dodge it; to avoid dealing with it. Gimme a handful of codeines and a fifth of Jack Daniels. I’ll out-flank that damn suffering by hook or by crook.

But suffering has a way of exploding all over your soul in a way that demands: “DEAL WITH THIS, MUTHERFUKKER!!”

My Father was a Methodist minister and one of the perennial questions he had to deal with was the suffering of man; i.e. “Why me?” In fact, many of his parishioners came to him specifically in the hopes that he could heal their suffering or, at the least, give them a prescription from the Heavenly Doctor in the Sky.

One night when I was a kid, I remember my Dad getting a late-night phone call from one of his faithful parishioners. By the grave tone of his conversation, I could tell it was “serious.” My Dad kept repeating over and over: “Tsk! It just doesn’t make any sense! Geez!” It turned out the guy’s 18-year-old daughter had just died on the operating table while they were trying to deliver her baby. The guy kept asking my Dad that one unavoidable question:

“WHY WOULD GOD DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS?”

What can you say? “Gee, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Take two aspirins and call me in the morning….”

I know some people who get very bitter at God for interjecting the suffering bit into what otherwise was a very wonderful blueprint. “I mean, what’s the deal here, God?! I could be sitting here enjoying nectar and manna and lolling around on fields of golden grain for all of Eternity with nubile virgins with large breasts and endless supplies of Old English Malt Liquor. But no! You had to add this damn ‘suffering’ thing to the mix. Mind you, its not that I’m questioning the wisdom of Your over-all plan, Oh Great Lord, and praises be to You and all the rest of it, etc., etc. But geez Louise! What’s the deal with that suffering thing? I mean, plagues, and locusts, and cancer, and painful rectal itch, and bad TV sit-coms. Talk about over-kill. What were You thinking, Big Guy? And another thing: that death thing. I could have lived without that, too”

I know some people who get so warped by the pain of life, they take the attitude: “There is no God! No God in His right mind would create a world as sick as this!” Others get so pizzed, they refuse to believe in God out of spite: “I don’t care if You are the Heavenly Boss! I ain’t getting down on my knees to You! You can’t break me. You’ll never take me alive! Um….”

The Greeks and the Romans sort of had the attitude that the gods play with mortal man for sport. The Hindus take it one step further by maintaining that God Himself is playing all the roles, that you are God, and He really isn’t doing anything to anybody but Himself.

But one thing’s for sure: It’s mostly pain and suffering that drives us to the spiritual path in the first place. “No atheists in fox-holes,” that bit. I know when I’m sailing along in a fat and happy state, the last thing I want to be bothered with is wrestling with the existential issues of Life. It’s only when I’m driven to my knees in absolute despair that I truly start asking the fundamental spiritual questions. It’s not so much that I’m looking for Heaven. It’s more a matter of: “GET ME OUT OF THIS HELL!”

And maybe that’s part of the answer too: “Why suffer?” If life is basically a game. And the game is basically Get Back to God. Suffering is the prime game rule that keeps us from veering too far off course. Suffering snaps us back to attention right quick.

Also, too, to continue with the Cosmic Sport analogy: Take basketball. Sure, you want to win the game. But you also secretly want to lose, too. I mean; imagine if you won every time. That would get boring. Sure, you could design the hoop so its 100-feet around; every time you threw the ball up you’d get it in. Yes! I’m shooting 100%! But how much fun would that be? Secretly, we want to lose half the time. It’s what makes the game work. Secretly, we WANT a game that’s difficult and full of suffering and frustration. We want to be puzzled by it all; otherwise there’s no fun with figuring out the puzzle.

Maybe this all sounds stupid, but that’s the only “meaning of suffering” that I’ve been able to come up with. And now I’m done with this column. You know what they say: “I’ve suffered for my art; now it’s YOUR turn.”