Category Archives: beauty

Burn Notice

The HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF INTERNATIONAL INTELLIGENCE by Nigel West offers the following definition for the term Burn Notice– “When a Central Intelligence Agency source has proved unreliable, a warning known as a Burn Notice is distributed, alerting personnel with responsibility for the recruitment or running of sources not to have any further contact with that individual.”  As the opening monologue of the old USA Network TV show BURN NOTICE related, “When you’re burned, you’ve got nothing: no cash, no credit, no job history.  You’re stuck in whatever city they decide to dump you in…(y)ou rely on anyone who’s still talking to you…(b)ottom line: As long as you’re burned, you’re not going anywhere.”

Join me in a piquant thought experiment:  Though you are most likely not a spy, intelligence informant, or even a breaker of law beyond that of an occasional moving violation, what would you do if you were to be the recipient of your own Burn Notice? What if you suddenly found yourSelf without credit, no access to your savings accounts, no record with any governmental, banking or business entity that you have ever existed?  People that once knew you deny they have ever even met you, let alone admit to having any sort of relationship to or with you.  Those hard copies you have of your birth certificate, your mortgage, your divorce decree?  Well, as there is no official record of these documents anywhere, then they must be clever forgeries.  If this happened to you, how would you respond?  Would you exert all possible energies to convince people of who you were and to reclaim what you feel is rightfully yours?  Would you, like the protagonist in the TV show, seek out the person or entity behind your burning? What would you do if, despite your best attempts, you were unable to reclaim that which was once yours?  Would you flounder? Would you spend the remainder of your days sulking and bemoaning your situation?  Would you start over?

Technology can fail.  In today’s modern digital society, it is not so far from the realm of possibility that you might, indeed, find yourSelf on the receiving end of your own version of a Burn Notice.  Though it might not be orchestrated by an unspecified shady governmental cabal or the result of some criminal enterprise out to purloin the identities of the unsuspecting, and though it might not be as total as that experienced by a burned spy, you still may one day find yourSelf in the position of having to prove who you are and exist without access to your digitally stored virtual resources until the matter can be resolved.  Could you do this?  Do you have sufficient liquid resources spread around and available should you require them?  Do you have multiple copies of relevant important documents stored in various secure locations?  Most importantly, in a worst case scenario, do have the fortitude to start over from scratch if you needed to?

Don’t get burned against your will.  Against your will?  An interesting concept which sets us off in an entirely new and intriguing direction.  Look at your Life.  Look at your tendencies. Look at the way you habitually respond to situations and circumstances.  Look at the good.  Look at the bad.  What if…what if you were to issue your own Burn Notice…to yourSelf?

How would your Life be different if you were to burn those traits that no longer served you?  What if you erased the behaviors that held you back or, worse, harmed you?  While it is not possible to avoid the consequences of our prior choices, decisions, and actions by “burning” them, it IS possible to create a “new identity” for ourselves, to move toward becoming the person we want to be.  Change your mind, change your approach, and you will most certainly change your Life.

Perhaps a Burn Notice is not such a scary thing after all.

©Billy Red Horse

Putting Pen To Paper

Witness the fountain pen.  Elegant in design, functional in performance.  A precision tool when paired with fine writing paper.  Why is it that, in the hand of one person, this pen is the radix of an all but illegible chicken scratch while in the hand of another it is a tool for creating exquisite Beauty?  The pen is still the pen, the paper, too, remains itself.  What, then, is the difference?  Is it in the skill?  Is it in the vision?  Is it in the ability to execute?

And what shall we make of words that, though less than pleasing to the eye, are capable still of touching the soul?  To further confound and confuse, consider when the words dance with calligraphic rhythm in appearance yet cut deep and painful swaths as they go, at once agreeable to behold but bruising to the heart. The presentation can be beautiful but the content can be laced with the poison of spite.

Beauty knows many levels and subtleties, as does pain.  There is far more here than the obvious.

You are the pen, your Life is the paper.  What will you write?…

©Billy Red Horse

Best Case Scenario

Not so long ago your humble scribe penned a most insightful tome entitled The High Cost Of Living. An astute and prepossessing piece, I labored through its composition to express with eloquence the weight of our every action and their attendant consequences.  I wish now to revisit the same subject matter, but this time from a slightly different perspective.  (Accuse me of repeating myself if you must; it is a charge I shall in no wise repudiate.  Yes, the topic is THAT important to me.)

Barring a total governmental usurpation of this nation’s private healthcare system, one might, with modern preventative medical care, deliberate nutrition, sufficient exercise, and efficacious stress release, expect to easily live to the age of 100 and even beyond.  (This is not at all an unreasonable assertion.  There are great sages of the past who have proffered that the human body is by design constructed to live a minimum of 125 years, but that is another topic for another time.)  Rather than surrendering to the storms of Life, there are those who will not only fight for every breath, every moment, but who will endeavor to fill those moments with thoughts and experiences and actions that make lLife worth the living.  Which brings us to a point (or two) well worth pondering.

Thinking solely in terms of quantity rather than quality, and taking into account the averment made in the preceding paragraph, best case scenario: how long will you be alive?  If, as you read this, you find you have reached the quarter-century mark and, for the sake of our discussion, you accept that the ripe old age of 100 is, in fact, within the realm of achievement, then basic mathematics dictates you have roughly 75 years of Life remaining in the here-and-now.  Not that bad, I suppose.  There are some who have never made it even close to the 75 years you hypothetically have left.

Now, let us bring forward for consideration a second best case scenario:  how long will you be dead?  Arguments of reincarnation put aside, it would not be unreasonable to proffer an answer for this second question to accurately be “forever.”  Comparing and contrasting the duration of best case scenario One with that of best case scenario Two, would it not be prudent to get as much out of scenario One as is humanly possible prior to entering scenario Two?

Returning to the 75 year figure mentioned above (for you more seasoned folks reading this, the following should carry an even greater weight), I should remind you that there are no guarantees.  Sure, you MIGHT have 75 years left or 65 years or 50 years or 25 years, all, of course, depending on your current chronological situation, general health, and all the other previously mentioned factors.  Or you might suffer the misfortune several weeks from now of expiring as the result of injuries sustained from being trampled by a stampeding herd of flash-mobbing teenagers.  Or you might be the victim of an undiagnosed cardiac malady and drop dead of heart failure before you finish reading this sentence.  So I ask once again, best case scenario, how long will you live?  Best case scenario, how long will you be dead?

In the overarching architecture of it all, even 100 years is less than the most fleeting moment when juxtaposed against Eternity.  If, in death, the best case scenario that can be hoped for is, at the very least, everlasting, should this not give one pause to design and experience a Life as devoid of pain and sorrow as possible?  One characterized by a vital existence, challenging, engaging, fulfilling and, above all, overflowing in Beauty?

Reject a willing servitude and find that which makes your Heart sing.  Cause no harm and do what you will. Love the Mother Earth and all Her children.  Become more than you feel you are, more than you think you can be.  When presented with a choice between Life-affirming and Life-negating, choose that which will amplify most your Great Desire.

There are those nihilists who will say, when presented with some conundrum or other, 100 years from now it won’t matter anyway.  I say, 100 years from now, what I do in this moment or the next or the next will be of the gravest importance.  The best case scenario allows for nothing else.

©Billy Red Horse


What is it that separates humans from animals?  This is a question I have mulled often over the years, but revisited more intently in recent months.  While there are certainly many differences which can be observed, there are two distinctions which I would class as primary.  Firstly is the degree to which humans are capable of abstract thought.  Though members of the animal nation demonstrate a rudimentary (by human standards) competence at abstraction (witness crows and simians that can use tools, for instance), it is the depth and breadth of the human ability to abstract which has led directly or indirectly to every technological breakthrough and artistic statement in the whole of the history of our species on this Planet.  The second trait distinguishing homo sapiens from all other life on Earth is our capacity for impulse management and civilized interaction which I refer to simply as manners.

The human ability to abstract can be considered a calculating and cognitive left-brain process. Our capacity for manners can be seen as a function and emotional component of the right-brain.  Each attribute serves as a compliment and counterpoise to the other.  As our ability to abstract continues to develop, so too does our capacity to interact with and influence our physical surroundings.  And it is the degree and the extent to which we evidence our manners that demonstrates the progress of our evolution both culturally and as individuals.  It is in manners where is displayed our highest refinement as a species.

It should be understood that the manners of which I speak are not merely some perfunctory etiquette, behavioral mores observed solely to facilitate routine coexistence.  Manners, as postulated here, go much further and speak more to a genuine and expressed dignity that demonstrates a profound appreciation of and respect for Life, Self, and Others.

Over the course of recorded history, the development of these two attributes have more or less paced one another in a dance of give and take with, generally speaking, neither outstripping the other by very far for very long.  It could be argued that the Golden Age of our twin natures was from the mid-18th century until the dawning of the 20th.  By the start of the 20th century’s second decade, something began to change.

Fast-forward to the present.  Technology rules the day.  If there can be consensus that our abstraction and its now ubiquitous computerized offspring has taken such a commanding lead, even a cursory appraisal would suggest that the continued development and utilization of manners is currently, at best, stunted or, at the worst, regressing at an exponential rate.

As technology has advanced to its current state of the art, we find ourselves able to communicate with one person or, potentially, millions of people instantaneously around the world with no more effort than is required to tap a few characters into a keyboard and then press SEND.  We have come to use these products of our abstraction as a means to debase our manners.  The root of the problem, however, is not with the technological fruits of our left-brain intellect per se; technology is just the vehicle.  The conundrum that is the assault on manners arises from a deficiency in and of the very manners that are themselves under assault.

The present vector of our faltering manners is one that self-sustains and self-proliferates.  The attrition of a refined Lebensweise and cultivated self-expression is a consuming and spreading fire that with enthusiasm adds fuel to itself.  Essentially, withering manners are contagious and pathological.

Twitter, Facebook, Google+, internet chat forums and the like have become contemporary virtual equivalents of the parlor or drawing room of old, but very often playing host to precious little of the civility and decorum customarily exhibited in those antiquated chambers.  In these incorporeal analogs, modern discourse has been reduced to the inorganic limit of 280 characters or to digitized photos and cartoons regularly overlaid with snide paralogisms.

The technology that facilitates this widespread interaction has the added simultaneous effect of fostering the monolithic comfort and impulsive daring of anonymity.  This implied and inferred veil of anonymity provides copious opportunities for the drive by insult and the spiteful zinger, which are but two of the manifestations of a waning sophistication.

Even should a factual personal profile be posted and no alias ever used, there is still the inherent element of being one step removed and thus at least marginally anonymous.  It is in the incubator of anonymity where bad manners are most likely to breed.

This is not to say that anonymous animosity is the sole source of unchecked impulses and less than elegant interaction in the virtual world.  Often, ignorance or a distorted perception as to the clarity with which one’s message is presented and/or will be received is at fault.  Many honest and sincere attempts at self-expression and the communication of heartfelt ideals are derailed by poorly considered and ill-mannered assertions.  What the author/poster imagines to be insightful, witty, and clever is more often inciteful, snarky, and mean-spirited, which results in doing absolutely nothing to forward dialog or civil debate. Ultimately, no one’s mind is changed and the trenches of division between contrasting positions are only dug deeper.  The only ones to consider and applaud such a post are those who are already in agreement with the author’s position, thus, an opportunity for constructive discussion is effectively jettisoned in favor of what could be interpreted as nothing more than a display of tawdry and caustic self-satisfaction.  Regardless of whether the boorish dispatch springs from animus or ignorance, the result remains the same.

It is a matter of course that what we express should be important to us; if it is not important, then what is the point of expressing it at all, beyond the shallow satisfaction of hearing or reading our own words?  It is, however, critically important to be aware that, due to the nature of the way humans communicate, how we express is equally as important as the sentiment itself.  For the mannered person, there must be integrity and consistency between intent and expression, between thought and deed.

As an extreme example, consider that I can say to an acquaintance “you are important to me,” but if I do so with loathing in my eyes or a measure of acid in my tone, then what I say is and always shall be overridden and overwritten by the way I say it.  This was a lesson yours truly learned the hard way.

In the early days of the internet (way back in the mid-1990s) I created and maintained a personal web presence that could be considered a forerunner to the contemporary blog.  In expressing my opinions there, I was crass, inconsiderate, impudent, immature, and ill-advised in my approach.  It saddens me very nearly to the point of shame when I consider the times past when I displayed the grace of an ogre, the tact of an ingrate, and the skillful means of a halfwit when trying to share an opinion or convey a truth.  I have since often wondered how many people discounted what I had to say simply because of the way I chose to say it.

Fortunately, the virulent nature of my ignorance did not prove itself to be incurable.  Over time and with much contemplation and reflection, I was reminded that I was a teacher of a discipline (Zen) that extols the merits of, among other things, reasoned interaction, peaceful coexistence, and the enduring certainty of cause and effect, that is, the inevitability of Karma.  I recognized the gravity of the fundamental proposition that, even in something as apparently anodyne as a personal editorial, what I gave out would be inextricably woven into the fabric of that which would return to me, very often multiplied.  It took much longer than it should have but, through the years, I managed to find a mature and mannered voice in spite of myself.

Lest there be any confusion, I do not discourage anyone from sharing an opinion, any more than I suggest that opinions themselves are bad things.  It should also be understood that I do not call for the evisceration or abandonment of one’s heartfelt positions or passions on any given subject.  To presume that passion and well-mannered expression are mutually exclusive is to presume in error.  To have manners is not to quash or otherwise enfeeble one’s passion.  The interesting irony is that a restrained passion is often the more powerful passion.  Certainly a well-mannered passion enjoys the greater prospect of receiving a fair hearing.

I now strive continually to carry myself with the comportment and grace, that is, the manners, of a respected elder.  Sadly, in this effort I do not always succeed.  I can, however, say with a clear conscience that any lapses I experience are unintentional and are no longer the product of intent as they so often were in the past.

Bad manners breed worse manners.  It is fortunate that the converse is also true.  As with all things in Life, that which is given energy is that which grows.  It is a simple matter to restore a more balanced equilibrium and bring our right-brain manners back into parity with our left-brain abstractions.  We have a choice.  Be nice!  Think before pushing the SEND button.  Let this new (old) perspective become “viral” and spread, not only in the virtual world, but in the real world as well.  It is the evolved and civilized thing to do.

©Billy Red Horse