Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Well thank god that's over.

Yay, 2010 is nearly finished! Some of it was nice, but pokerwise it was bloody awful. Here's to a super awesome rungood hotstreak boomswitch of epic proportions all throughout 2011.

Needless to say the DTD £1k went badly. Had a pretty tough table of quite a few young internet guys who I knew or recognised and things just generally didn't go well. Also dumped £350 on a side event which I went vaguely deep in. It was a 6-max and I assumed it'd be teeming with internet kids eager to light-5bet the crap out of each other but it was actually incredibly soft. Can't do much about running kings into aces and then bricking 12 outs though.

SO. 2011 goals/resolutiony things:

- Get out of makeup, drop down and play small-midstakes (and hopefully upwards) on my own coin.
- Actually put some decent volume in. Aiming for 4-5 days/week average, and slightly longer sessions.
- Totally change my routine and play a 9am-6pm style day (!) except for weekends. This should help my general routine, sleeping patterns, attitude towards play, reduce variance due to smaller field sizes and it'll be more healthy socially.
- Exercise every day before showers. More activities, get back into jujitsu.
- Keep playing live events on a similar scale to last year, but play less terribly.
- Make some money.

Good luck at the tables everyone!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Gujarat, bits and bobs

So, I've come to the conclusion that 7,000 steps is quite a lot of steps. Neil and I's first stop was Junagadh where we climbed to the famous temples on top of a big hill. My calves hurt thanks to the same 7,000 steps on the way down (why isn't there ever a zip-wire down from these places?) but it was well worth it.

In other news, I crashed into a water buffalo. On the bumpy, dusty road to Simbor - a tiny village near Diu with a pristine beach, and friendly welcoming garamboard players, a buffalo burst out of the bushes, narrowly missing Ivan and Tanika on the bike in front and straight into my path. Luckily we weren't going too quickly so the collision wasn't too major, but even so I went straight into its body and the bike and I fell. Glad we weren't traveling faster - they're huge beasts, pretty sure I would've come off worse. So that was exciting!

Next up on the Gujarat tour was Porbandar - birth place of Gandhi - which was nice, if unremarkable. I recently read his semi-autobiographical book didn't endear him to me. Obviously he did some amazing things politically, but the book focuses on his spiritual and religious life and he does some stuff that's just... well ridiculous religious superstition with no basis or explanation. Some stuff that's painfully close to Jehovah's Witnesses type behaviour. As an example, he denies his son food (chicken soup and milk) that may save his life during severe illness against all the advice of the doctors, saying the God will take him if it's the right time (perhaps one of the most idiotic things its possible to say - why bother trying to cure an illness at all? In fact, why bother eating or sleeping - God'll see you right if you believe hard enough. ARGH!). Hypocritically, he takes milk himself later in his life in a fight against illness, fully aware he was breaking spiritual vows. He spends a long time talking about the virtue of practices like celibacy without actually explaining why they're good things, he just makes comments like 'and I came to realise how important living a simple life/being vegetarian/being celibate/practicing mystery god-worshiping act 'X' is to be closer to God'. Meh, the book just made me angry almost every time I picked it up, got about 3/4 of the way through and couldn't stomach the rest.

Now I'm in Bhuj, and lovely little city that sadly was devastated by an earthquake, killing 15,000 people - 10% of its inhabitants. Whilst the people are friendly and some of the buildings are impressive, it has an air of faded grace with crumbling ruins of the large mahals dotted around and rubbish collecting in huge quantities. Still, the city is on the mend and many of the temples may yet be returned to their former glory. The area around Bhuj is filled with smaller villages famous for their craftwork, so I hired a bike and zoomed around a few, the nicest being Mandvi where I spent some time on a lovely beach and finally got around to buying some Christmas presents...

Ramble time!

I struck a small girl in the face today. It was an accident, and it wasn't hard - I was just shrugging off her hand as she clung to my shirt and asked for money, but still hard not to feel guilty. I guess I'm writing about this because it reflects the wider guilt you feel repeatedly - daily - denying cute, skinny children money. And the guilt is why it works, and why they do it. Or, more accurately, why they're made to do it by the organisers of the local beggars who often starve or even mutilate the children to evoke sympathy and then pocket the money to buy a second car or a new watch.

And I suppose the reason I'm writing about that - zoom out again - is, well; India can be a hard country to be in. Because, for all its beauty, its rich and diverse cultural traditions and its good-natured people, India is a country that simply doesn't work. In the 60-odd years since independence from the British India has failed, and is continuing to fail (although of course the Brits involvement had and still has a lot to do with this). Personally I believe there isn't a country or political/organisational system that does 'work' (that I know of) but India is so far from even just getting by that seeing the chaos, the levels of poverty and misery or the standards of hygiene and infrastructure can be tough. I mean, half of the country's billion plus inhabitants are practically slaves - being born in India is a life sentence of servitude and often abuse for almost all women (example: '51% of Indian men say wife beating is justified, 54% women agree, especially when dinner is burned or they leave home without husband's permission' - this boggles my mind and pretty much makes me think we're all doomed). Then there are the lower castes, such as the 'untouchables' (so-called for a reason - literally not touched by other castes), who frequently have their rights and liberties taken away, despite the supposed abolishment of the caste system.

I could go on but I suppose the point is that whilst it has many positive qualities, India seems to present humanities' ugliness in a very stark way. The corruption and greed, the exploitation of the weak, desperate or unfortunate, the predation, the violence, the selfishness, the cruelty and the indifference to it all - it's all here, in spades.

As for why I'm writing about that, well, I guess just to let readers know its not all fun and games; only some of the time do you get to enjoy the delights of conjunctivitis or crashing into buffalo. The rest of the time it can get kinda heavy.

Well I fly back in a few days. Seems a shame to finish on a sombre tone so I'll add that I've had an awesome time! Almost entirely illness free, far easier socially, very little stress, lots of fun and adventure. Already semi-planning my trip back here next year; going to fly to Mumbai and finally see the south, and maybe head on to SE Asia. Anyways, hope my ramblings haven't bored any of you to death. The next post will be about POKER, hopefully retelling my victory of the DTD 1k next week.

That's all, folks.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Ruminations on Spirituality, The Meta-physical and Belief

Warning: Long, no pictures.

Disclaimer: I don't really know much about this subject, so there may be mistakes in my representations of certain beliefs/theories. Either way I'm waaaay under-qualified to write about this subject in any authoritative way. Enjoy!

Wherever you go in India, you seem to be bombarded by issues of the religious, the spiritual and the meta-physical. Be it yoga, meditation, LSD, Hinduism, reiki or chakras, spiritual experience and advice abound.

A year ago I wrote this regarding drug-induced 'spiritual experiences':

'I find it interesting that, when spirituality is involved, people's values can change so easily. A huge amount is down to personal experience of course - A Canadian girl and an American guy I met (both intelligent and lucid) both claimed to have had profound, 'eye-opening' experiences having taken acid. Both mentioned feelings of things like universal energy, and more significantly that this was real, not drug-induced ramblings - when they were sober their view on the world had changed. It didn't seem ridiculous or hilarious the next day like other drug experiences might, but it made sense. A wince from me I'm afraid. A lot of what they do, the choices they make, how they live their lives is based on an experience they had whilst on LSD? I've not taken LSD so I suppose I can't comment in full, but the idea that, rather than simply changing the way your mind or body works (as drugs do by definition), a synthetic chemical can actually make the scales fall from your eyes and reveal the world as it really is seems very unlikely to me. Perhaps I'm just a grumpy skeptic.'

In Varanasi I met a friendly, intelligent and frighteningly well-read Norwegian with a keen interest in the meta-physical, who gave me some audio-books by various authors who are fairly well known in the field (Ram Dass/Timothy Leary/Robert Anton Wilson/Watts). Although my reaction to these talks were mixed, it at least made me see where I was missing the point when talking to the American and the Canadian.

Rather than 'showing you the truth', the belief is that these drugs alter your consciousness - alter the way you perceive the world. So far so good. The next step is a little harder to swallow for some; that reaching these different levels of consciousness allow you greater freedom of understanding. Understanding, for example, that we have a collective consciousness, that we're all connected, that our perception of reality is just one of many. That consciousness isn't fixed to the body, or even to mortality. I'm not explaining it well (mainly because I don't understand it well) but they are all main points. This is the understanding the Buddha achieved when he became enlightened; he achieved access to all levels of consciousness, and was connected with all things. These ideas have been around for thousands of years, in various religions, spiritual practices and belief systems but key points seem to resonate.

The claim about psychedelics then, is that they bring you to another state of consciousness - rather than study yoga (for example), psychedelics proved a temporary shortcut. Not to enlightenment perhaps, but to some other 'level'. There's a reoccurring storyline associated with these 'acid prophets' - they began by having 'mystical experiences' due to LSD or psilocybin, experimenting with these or other mind-altering substances, realising their limitations (you always have to come down at the end), and progressing to some spiritual practise - Yoga or Buddhism for example. Many of them were massively intelligent people - Ram Dass is a famous case; a rich, well educated American in an 'upwardly mobile middle class Jewish family', lecturer at Havard, etcetc, all uprooted in the search for the 'truth', for spiritual awareness and conscious flexibility.

I find a lot of this very interesting. In a way it all seems like another religion to me. Of course I think it's inherently much less damaging (if it is at all) than most other organised religions/belief systems, and more specifically the destructive, dogmatic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism). Having said this, it certainly has a lot of similarities, and the way in which the ideas are presented does not help them in that respect. Several of the sources I've seen share many similarities with religious propaganda, and others are simply presented in a way which make these ideas seems very desirable. Which is ironic, since the loss of desire is heavily related to most of these belief systems. The idea that 'you shouldn't change anything after hearing this - things will change themselves', 'you shouldn't adopt these practises because you feel you ought', that 'you shouldn't believe what I'm saying - look into it yourself', etcetc crop up fairly frequently, but I feel these ideas are juxtaposed with the method of presentation.

Again, Ram Dass is a good example. The first half of his talk 'Be Here Now' is a very entertaining account of his journey to India, and he himself is funny, likable and seems genuine. The second half reminded me of Zeitgeist (which should be seen if only to see just how poorly made, badly written and downright brainwashy an 'informational' film can be); airy pseudo-science brushing over huge revelations about the way he claims the universe works. Or maintaining that you should just carry on living your life, it's of no consequence whether you adopt these beliefs, if you're 'meant' to practice them it will happen anyway - whilst simultaneously making them seem very desirable indeed; mentioning sexual pleasure, unimaginable happiness, utter truth.

Alf, the Norwegian, came to his defense somewhat, mentioning the intended audience when it came to the 'dumbing down' of the sciencey parts, and his large following requesting words of wisdom, which explains why he held the talks in the first place. Still, I found the discrepancies interesting.

One difficulty for me is that so many of the terms used are heavily loaded. Spirituality, energy, life force, whatever - to the average westerner they sound, well, like new-age hippie-freak talk. It makes it difficult for people to make intelligent, reasoned claims without sounding all ethereal and crazy. Things like the Zeitgeist film are the reason - there's all awful lot of bollocks out there that attaches itself to these ideas, contaminating them and making it hard to wade through the gibberish. It can leave a bitter taste in my mouth however well written and presented it is, which is a shame because most belief systems have something to offer; advice or observation, even just a representation of human psychology and behaviour on a grand scale. Another problem is that these ideas tend to get lumped together - as I have done here. I'm sure there are many followers of Jungian psychology who would read this and despair that his theory of collective consciousness would be mentioned in the same sphere of belief as chakras and universal energy.

The basic problem I have with the whole thing is this: I can't accept the claims made (Ram dass' guru could apparently tell the future, knew everything, there are people that people claim to never eat or drink; living off prana, etcetc) without some kind of reason to believe in them. Proof, I suppose, or plausible scientific explanations. Having said that, I honestly believe that there are people who honestly believe this stuff. And fine, there will always be an exploitative contingent in any belief system (especially one so undefined and manipulable) but if there are intelligent people who really do believe in these things... well, why do they?

It seems to me that there are three possibilities. It's true, they think it's true but it's false, and they know it's false but sell it for personal gain. (You could argue that the fourth option is that they know it's false but they give it away for the greater gain - that these beliefs make people happy/they promote views of 'loving kindness' so the lie is for the greater good. Seems unlikely to me.) I've already mentioned that there are obviously people exploiting these views for personal gain, that much is not in doubt. But I also maintain that some people really think what they're selling (or giving away in a lot of cases - Ram Dass is not a wealthy man at all despite selling millions of books; he sold them for 7c each) is the absolute truth.

I feel like this is the human reaction to life that is apparent in the manifestation of religion. The craving, that overwhelming need to find meaning that leads to faith, of whatever kind. For me, at least to some degree, all established belief systems are a result, reaction to and attempted cure of human misery. Like belief in God, I feel like a belief in such meta-physical ideas would be incredibly comforting. I sometime wonder how awesome it would be to believe there's a big man in the sky looking out for Cheesies. I don't, and very much doubt I ever will, but I can see the appeal. Equally, believing we're all connected, that death is simply a different state of being, that our consciousness is not attached to our bodies - I mean, that's pretty cool, no?! So sometimes I come to the conclusion that these people are subconsciously embracing the delusion, as with the religious (apologies to any religious readers!), to make themselves happy, to ground themselves, to give their life meaning. And perhaps taking acid makes your brain do somersaults in a totally benign way, and some people fit these somersaults into a belief system because it's more comforting to think that rather than to simply think your brain can make you see and feel weird shit, but you're still alone and your existence is pointless and full of suffering.

But then I think of the incredible claims; the more empirical side of things. I read an article last year about a hospital that took in a religious man in India who claimed not to have eaten in 80 years. They kept him in for weeks, monitored him closely - his intake, his bodily functions, his vitals, etc. He didn't eat or drink, he didn't go to the toilet, he didn't get sick, or thinner, his vitals were all normal. Reading it in a newspaper isn't adequate evidence for me, but these and similar claims are fairly widespread (especially in the East) and getting more common. Many people say that we are very close to, for example, providing a plausible scientific explanation for the collective consciousness theory.

On the other side of the coin, then, I find it hard to believe that there is some kind of mass mental block, or mental illness, or brainwashing or something that explains all these claims (and by claims I mean the 'miracles' - mass faith is a whole lot easier to explain than lots of people believing they themselves don't eat). But it's either that, or they actually happened and continue to happen, or these people simply don't exist/believe at all, and it's all one unimaginably huge scam by absolutely everyone in the business, which seems ludicrous. Well, all the options seem sort of ludicrous.

I think things like alien abduction figures, continued attendance of seances and fortune telling or the 'miracles' in faith healing show some insight into the type of human behavioral phenomena that explain mass belief in these things (if they're false) - a return to the idea of the intrinsic need to believe, a response to desperation. Or maybe scientific breakthroughs and thorough research might shed some serious light on the way the universe works and how we perceive reality in the near future. For now though, I'll be staying a skeptic until something better comes along.