Monday, January 19, 2009

UAS Itch and Happy New Year!

I used to be a collector, it was part of the antiques and collectible dealer acquisition mindset. I've put that mostly behind me, thanks to some hard life lessons taught me by the thieves and nutcases I've crossed paths with over many years. I learned that for as many decent and kind and ethical people there are in this world, there are also many who are users and losers, and some who prey on people as a matter of course. They take as much as they can, on whatever pretext they can get unsuspecting and trusting people to swallow. Then they blame the victim and run off to find the next target, leaving a swath of destruction in their wake. I found while researching this and hearing other people's stories that this is really more common than the average person would ever suspect. I've read some excellent literature about psychopaths, and now I finally understand something of how they work. They have no conscience and no soul. It explains a lot of behavior I never understood before in several people I had the misfortune to know and to trust, and my new knowledge makes me believe there is a welcome place for eugenics in human society expressly for weeding out vicious criminal behavior. I recently read a novel about an alternate universe in a book titles "Hominids" by Robert J. Sawyer in which an advanced Neanderthal society neutered proven criminals as well as some of their relatives, and thus reduced the incidence of aggression over generations within the species genetically. In times of tribalism in our world this was also done to some extent; people who exhibited this kind of defect were taken along on a hunting expedition, and the hunting party made sure that individual never came back.

Buddhism will say that everything is dharma and karma, and shit happens, that life is basically suffering (and it teaches the tools for minimizing suffering, and those tools are the Eightfold Path). One of the most important precepts is the injunction against taking life. But it also says that sometimes to save someone, say a murderer, from the effects of bad karma that person would be taking on by killing a group of people on purpose, another person making the choice to kill that potential murderer to save the lives of those he would kill is actually ok, because it saves that person from accumulating the resulting tremendously bad karma, which would take multiple lifetimes to burn. So the hunting party was doing a good thing for everyone involved. It was weeding the garden.

So I digress as usual, but over the years of reluctantly relinquishing things, along with ego, I learned how deeply that acquisition comes from ego, which made de-acquisitioning easier and easier. I learned way back I'm not my stuff. But it took a lot longer to realize I'm also not what I do for a living. Other people aren't their stuff either, or what they do. So now I'm amazed now at how many people think they are, and define themselves by who they know, what they do, what they have, what they wear, where they eat, and what kind of car they drive. It's a tribalism defined by ego, and it's enlightening and terrifying at the same time. It's what lets kids kill other kids for their shoes. Or let the doctor who tried to kill two cyclists with his car because they were on "his" road somehow think he had that right. We are not what we have, what we do, how we look. What we really are is how we conduct ourselves within the context of our life day to day over its full course, and how much we are able to have compassion and gratitude, and what we give back.

People who are trying to "find out who they really are" don't quite understand this. They are searching for the "real self" within the context of the false self of EGO. Christianity explains this in the verse about how it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy man to enter heaven. It doesn't mean he doesn't go to God in the end, it means that his life in the phyisical world is ruled by his concern for his wealth, which is often a sort of Hell. I know a rich man for whom all he owns is not enough, he constantly lusts after more, and he makes his living ripping off estates. He actually had to track me to my door on Christmas eve a couple years ago to demand from me funds from a small account that was mine after the joint account holder died. It was black and white, funds automatically become the property of the other account holder. But this guy got out of his big new Mercedes and calmly asked me if I really needed the money that badly (my own money) that I would refuse to hand it over to him, because the other account holder was his relative. This man carries a $25K diamond and a rare $10K coin in his wallet for emergency funds when traveling. Me, I carry a credit card... but he's insane with the disease of acquisition. He's also short, so maybe he's compensating. Point being, he can't be satisfied with what he has, and heaven (or happiness, peace of mind, gratitude and humility) eludes him.

Stephen Hawking
is one of my heroes. He doesn't look like much of a hero type; his cruel disease has wrenched his body into an ethereal and spare shell of the man he was in his youth, and according to medical science he shouldn't even have been alive for the last 25 years, and yet he has the world's most amazing and brilliant scientific mind and by his own and God's grace is still alive today. Some asked him something to the effect of did his disability ever disillusion him, and his reply was essentially "What more could I ask for?". To me he is a perfect example of a Bodhisattva, a being who had attained enlightenment, but who chose to reincarnate out of compassion for the beings still stuck in worldly suffering, and to teach us how to become free. I think he lives on gratitude, and with an amazing amount of courage and heart. He took what the universe gave him and soared. So when I look for role model for how to live my life, I look to human beings like Stephen Hawking. Knowing I can't come close but trying anyway.

So what does psychopathy and quantum physics have to do with the ukulele? Not much, but ukes are certainly an antidote to despair caused by the human condition and man's inhumanity to man; and like atomic particles ukuleles tiny size belies their power!

So back to acquisition, which is where ego comes into play; how many ukes is enough? One, really. But there is a so called disease know colloquially as Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome, and for most sufferers a cure is not actually desired and they are not actually suffering. In spite of my continuing de-acquisition phase I fell under the spell of this little instrument and have now ended up with one of each size; soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. Well, almost, I don't have a sopranino but that may be going too far. And the bari lives with my Mom. There are also hybrids; sopranos with concert necks, concerts with tenor necks, and a whole subset made from antique cigar boxes that sound amazing, plus maybe others I don't know about yet. But no matter the size, what a kick in the pants they are! You want something that will put a smile on your face, get a ukulele! Two strings less than a guitar, one for each finger and the thumb free to play bass or even pick out notes. Go to YouTube and listen to some ukers play everything from George Formby (not my cup 'o' tea and what actually kept me from the instrument for years) to Led Zeppelin as played by Jake Shimabukuro. The Beatles rock on uke, and did you know that three of them played it, most notably George who took it very seriously and John, who played his mom's uke when he was a teen? George's music really sings on the ukulele in competent hands.
Clapton is a joy too. It's amazing!

I used to be really frustrated with guitar until I picked up a classical, even then I never got beyond a few malaguenas and practicing arpeggios and smooth chord changes on all my different six strings. And I could read the treble clef music. That's just very basic noodling. Then I broke my right hand over ten years ago when a horse stepped on it, and my left ring finger when I bailed off my own horse nine years ago. I eventually ended up selling the guitars one by one and figured my days of noodling with a stringed instrument were over. I tried a digeridoo for awhile, but they leave me breathless. ;) Drums are fun but I had to put them in storage. Then I found out my Mom had a baritone ukulele and it was a Martin! Score! It was like a four string tenor guitar, and it made me realize how much I'd missed them. So I borrowed it and it was a joyous thing, but I couldn't find much music for baritone, and they really sound more guitar-ish. But it led me to standard or soprano ukes so I could try my hand at the traditional music and tuning, and I got a sweet little vintage mahogany piece of my own off of eBay, and it rings like a bell! And I began discovering all the uke resources online. But the soprano is tough on my stiff fingers because the fret spacing is so tight. I soon found out that many of the top players are using tenors, so I manifested a sweet Pono solid koa tenor, one of the last of the Hawaiian koas made by Pono which is a branch of the exellent Ko'olau company of Hawaii. I love it, it's very mellow since I restrung it with Worth Browns. But by then I had discovered the low versus high g debate, and I put low Gs on the Pono, which left me "needing" a traditional high g tuned instrument that was larger than my soprano. I decided a concert would fill that spot nicely, and I also had a hankering for a cigar box. See how the disease progresses, how innocuously it involves ego in presenting justification? There is actually a valid reason for having two different instruments with the two main different tunings, but one could carry that into several different high and low g tunings as well as take that justification and add in variables of size and maker and tone wood and on and on. But I have manifested the concert size in the form of a cigar box (how cool is that, a twofer!) and am well satisfied with having a traveling uke in that one, a traditional in the soprano which is too sweet to re-sell, and the tenor which stays home because it is too nice to travel and koa cracks easily. It came back from an extended stay in Palm Springs with two fine and harmless finish cracks in the back, even with a humidifier, so I decided to let it stay at the beach. I think the cigar box (a Po Mahina made from a 50 year old cedar cigar box) should be tougher. So I tell myself I'm done with the three that replaced my last three guitars in more compact form (everything going around coming back again), but there is this awesome cigar box tenor I just found... hmm. (This isn't it, but they sound similar, and wow Tom does nice work!).

I have to say that there is something clean and soothing and honest about the little uke. I like clean and honest, it feels to me like it is the only way to live a life of inner peace even as the world rages all around me. So yes, I feel I'm feeding my ego and as I'm fully aware of that, I have made an "informed" choice. Which means that I am consciously enjoying and playing with the world of form. And it's ok to live in and enjoy what Buddhism calls the world of form (others call it "reality", which is always subjective); the trick is to keep one's ego out of it and embrace humility, and that is exactly why I practice. It grounds my perspective and it brings me peace. My new year's resolution is to remember that life is all about gratitude, humility and practice. And, well, to not scratch the itch...

Happy New Year, and may it bring you much joy and much gratitude, and remember to practice!


Anonymous said...

I rarely find thoughtful posts about the ukulele. Very nice.

TK said...

Thanks, I enjoy your posting as well, you are very astute and wise. :)

Crabby McSlacker said...

Wow, I had no idea that ukulele's were so cool!

And while I'm not a spiritual person, and don't subscribe to any particular religion, I do find your posts about Buddhism fascinating. Of all the worlds religions this one seems to make the most sense.

TK said...

Cool is probably in the eye of the beholder, but I think there is a deep and healthy wisdom in being able to go beyond preconceptions and really see something in a new way. Which is what both ukes and Buddhism have in common, new ways of seeing for their converts.

And Crabby, I know that you know that being spiritual has little to do with any particular faith's generally dogmatic and rigid concept of God! ;)

Decorina said...

Very cool.

Caitlan said...

Um. I was going to say something about enlightenment but now I am impressed by the # of topics spanning both this entry and the front page of my blog- stephen hawking, hoarding (I'm doing an inventory of everything I own), and enlightenment.

Head trip.

Caitlan said...

*and* eugenics. How odd.

TK said...

Caitlan, think synchronicity. ;)

photo to painting said...

love your post & the way you have photos of all the steps. very nice!!

Portrait Artist