Monday, April 17, 2017

Can We Solve For Happy?

Oh my gosh, it has been so long since I've posted here.  What the heck have I been doing?

Well now I really have no excuse, since I recently retired, but somehow time keeps on keeping on.

So anyways, I've been a seeker in the past, had an interest in spiritual books, understand the concept of equanimity and see why it is valuable, but still ... moments of satori have been very few and very far between.

Then I stumbled (somehow, I can't even piece the path together), on this guy and his book (which I have yet to read, or even order yet ;-)  But instead, I found this video podcast, and one can glean a lot from the authors sincerity, his really challenging "graduate exam", and sense that he has distilled some truths here that will likely be beneficial for many of us.

So while this is almost an hour long, I highly recommend the video podcast to you.  See what you think.

I may write more later after I read his book.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Distortion Field

OK folks,

There is something you know in your head, or your heart, or maybe just your gut.

Well, here, let me shed a little light on that gut feeling you have.

Just watch this clip from the movie The Corporation.

It's 11 minutes long (less if you skip the ad at the end).

I think you will find it fascinating.  Every bit of it.

See what you think.  And feel free to share your thoughts.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

To hell with grammar (and other conventions)

World's shortest obituary:  "Think Different"

'Nuff said.

And here is an iconic Apple ad, which when aired was narrated by Richard Dreyfus.  However, this one is narrated by the Man himself.  Thank you Steve, for being our generation's "crazy one".

"And just one more thing" ;-)

Many times I've thought about what it must have been like to live during the time of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Mozart or Beethoven.  Pure genius right before your eyes.

And only now, as I stop to reflect about Steve Jobs, do I realize we've been having breakfast together all these years.  MacBook Pro, Apple Cinema display, iPod, iPhone, iPad are all before me along with my hot tea and toast.

I sit in the presence of his genius.  Every day.

Can you even imagine what world we might be inhabiting had he not graced our planet for 56 insane years?

Well, he helped us understand that alternative universe as well, on just one day, long ago:

Rest in peace Steve.   You deserve it.

Update -- I came across this interesting graphic while reading many of the tributes to this special man.  With credit to Jonathan Mak ... somehow, like the Apple products we love, it  "just works":

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thinking Big

This seems like a pretty logical "big thought".

First, the best way to help someone is to enable them to help themselves.  That was also discussed in the TED talk at the bottom of this post.

Second, recognize that information is the great enabler.  People with access to information can educate themselves and think independently (and recognize when they are being fed propaganda).

And third, conclude the best way to make this happen is to provide access to the internet for those that currently don't have it.  Some would even call it a human right.

I like the bold thought and initiative you can sense in this young man and his team of idealists.

And I think they created a good short web video to explain their idea.  Check it out (above), and then follow the link to their website, where you can see a longer TEDx video that gives some more background (and a few interesting statistics).

Bravo for thinking big.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Boys with rulers

Racing Mark Spitz, Outdoor photo exhibition, Madrid, Spain, May 2002,
Sony Cybershot, Focal length 10.4mm, Exposure 1/250 sec @ f6.3, ISO 100, no flash
© Steven Crisp  [Click on the photo to enlarge]
So, how long is your telomere?  Would you like to see how it compares to the next guy?  I kinda thought so ;-)

Well, I just came across this interesting article on how exercising keeps your cells young.  And by extension, will keep you feeling and looking quite a bit younger than your sedentary counterpart.

Of course we pretty much assumed that to be true, but this study actually measured the length of four groups' telomeres (young/sedentary, young/active, old/sedentary, old/active).  

As they say, "youth is wasted on the young", and that was reinforced here where there was no real difference in cell age (i.e., telomere length) between the younger groups. But for the older groups, the sedentary folks saw their poor telomeres shrivel up by 40%, while those active seniors had only lost about 10% length.  That's a 75% difference based on your level of activity.

So go ahead, jump in the pool like Mark Spitz (does anyone remember his "gold medal" poster?  Yeah, yeah, I heard something about a kid named Phelps, but look, Spitz kept his mustache ;-)

Or maybe take up running.  Or biking.  Or nordic skiing (great exercise when its cold and snowy outside).  Just get out there on a regular basis and exercise vigorously.  It may be the closest thing there is to the fountain of youth.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Remember Your Mortality

Remember Your MortalitySchönenberg Church, Ellwangen, Germany, February 2010,
Canon PowerShot SD870 IS, Focal length 12.85mm, Exposure 1/20 sec @ f3.5, ISO 1600, no flash,
© Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

"Life is tough ... What do you get at the end of it?  A death.  What's that, a bonus?  I think the life cycle is all backward. 
"You should die first, get it out of the way.  Then you live in an old-age home.  
"You get kicked out when you are too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work.  You work forty years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement.  
"You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school.  
"You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating -- and you finish off as an orgasm."
-- George Carlin

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blind Faith

Blind Faith, Portion of the Old Bridge statue of Minerva, Heidelberg Germany, October 2010,
Panasonic DMC-ZS7, Focal length 10.3mm, Exposure 1/400 sec @ f4.5, ISO 80, no flash
© Steven Crisp  [Click on the photo to enlarge]

A funny thing happened during a get together with some friends/colleagues of mine.  We started talking about religion (we are a spirited group).  All were Christians; one was born again, another seemed to be asking new questions, and the third accepted those parts of the faith that felt right, and did not worry about the rest.  And if you were to ask, I am a-religious (against organized religion), but if anything, my leanings are toward Eastern and Buddhist teachings.

I asked if anyone had read Sam Harris' book, "The End of Faith."  No one had.  So I explained my recollection of his thesis that any religion that relies upon "blind faith" is problematic, and needs to be challenged.  The popular example, of course, are fundamentalist muslims, which some would say take their interpretation of the Holy Koran to an extreme, and the result is jihad against the infidels.  

But what makes Sam Harris' book so provocative is that he equally challenges the fundamentalist Christians.  And he does not stop there.  He goes on to challenge even moderate Christians, because they implicitly endorse a belief system (based solely on faith) that can lead to these extreme and fundamentalist views.

Well, this really upset a good friend of mine. The view was basically, "Hey, just because you lack faith, that's no reason to challenge mine."  A fair accusation, I suppose, although my intent was only to have each of us examine that premise.  It seems credible to me that problems may result out of what some might choose to call "blind faith".  And since we have different religions, with different holy scriptures, and each teaches they are the one and only true religion and path to God ... well, we clearly are in for some conflict, now aren't we?

So anyways, my friend and I made amends, and we took a walk the next day, up along Philosopher's Way and back into Heidelberg, Germany across the Neckar River via the Old Bridge.   That's where we noticed the base of a statue pictured above.  And immediately, we interpreted it as depicting "Blind Faith."  We both got a good laugh and perhaps a little insight out of that.

Fast forward to another friend whom I've only met on-line.  I was reading a blog of hers last night, and came across a video of John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey.  Boy, what an interesting perspective this gentleman has.  

So I offer you two options.  You can watch the video at the end of this post (which is about 45 minutes long, followed by some 30 minutes of Q&A (and I do recommend it).  I've also added another rather long lecture before that one, which is also very good.  But I realize those require a large chunk of time.

But after watching that video, I "Googled" John Shelby Spong and found some short YouTube videos.  They will give you a feeling for the messages and beliefs that Bishop Spong espouses (and the running time is shown in the title).  

Either way, I encourage you to dig in a little deeper, and mull these ideas over in your head.  I can tell you that they make a lot of sense to me, and resonate deeply.  And if really embraced, seem to put Love and God (or The Divine, if you prefer) at center stage, emanating from within each of us, if we will only wake up.

Namaste, my friends.  I hope you enjoy the perspectives below.

Beyond Theism -- John Shelby Spong (2:41)

Does Hell Exist? -- Interview segment with John Shelby Spong (3:17)

Honest Prayer, Part 1 -- John Shelby Spong (5:39)

Honest Prayer, Part 2 -- John Shelby Spong (6:21)

And here are the long ones if you have such interest (each more than an hour).  First is a lecture by Spong, that discusses rather graphically, problems caused by the some texts of the Holy Bible.  At time, it is as hard to listen to as it is to argue with.  It illustrates our tribal mentality, but also tries to show a path forward by rejecting these cultural, human, fallacies.  And, I think, it is quite lucid and insightful (and interspersed with humor and poignancy).

Burke Lecture:  John Shelby Spong (1:23:26)

And this is the one that got me digging in the first place.  Thanks Pat.  I always appreciate your insights and your pointers.

Exploring the Mystery of Life:  John Shelby Spong (1:16:41)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What to do about those "Talking Heads"?

Silencing the Talking Heads, Mönchehaus Museum, Goslar, Germany, August 2010,
Panasonic DMC-ZS7, Focal length 10.3mm, Exposure 1/40 sec @ f4, ISO 200, no flash
© Steven Crisp  [Click on the photo to enlarge]
Yes indeed, what to do about those "Talking Heads".  You know the ones I mean ... it doesn't matter if you sit to my right or my left.  Both sides have them.  Has it always been this way?  I think not.

Before the advent of the 24-hour Cable News Network (thanks Ted ;-), things seemed, well,  so much newsier.  Interesting how with only a limited time to learn about the days and weeks events, journalists and anchormen had to prepare well-edited, news stories.

Now it seems to me like some strange combination of entertainment, infomercial, and biased-opinion masked as news, stuck on a treadmill of repetition, interspersed with some BREAKING NEWS story that as often as not turns out to be TV's equivalent of tabloid journalism (anyone remember "Balloon Boy"?)

It really doesn't matter if the Talking Head knows what he's talking about ... just so long as he keeps on talking.  And frankly, the more outlandish and provocative his uninformed pronouncements, the better.  Makes for really good sound bites in the next 24-hour news cycle.

There is good news in all of this, however.  A lot of folks realize these "news" channels provide nothing that benefit them directly.  And they are starting to turn off the TV.  Some are going so far as to get rid of the TV.  What a life-affirming step that would be.  Worried about your lack of time?  How would you like to have all those hours laid before you each and every day to do with as you see fit?  That's pretty empowering.

And what of the "real news"?  Once again, the internet has come to your rescue and offers it up to you in whatever size, shape, and bias you want.  You are in charge.  And you can scan the headlines and only read about (or watch and listen in video clips and podcasts) those stories which really do matter to you.  Or maybe those that will motivate you.  Or inspire you.

You know this is true, deep down.  You are fully, entirely, empowered.  The next step is up to you.  What steps will you take to silence the talking heads?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Do you think it's a Mad World?

My wife heard this song on the TV, and asked me if I knew what it was.  She said it was beautiful.  I found this noteworthy, as she generally is not someone that listens to music.  So I wanted to track it down.

I found it in just seconds after a quick Google search of just a couple of words from the middle of the lyrics. Ya gotta love having our collective consciousness literally and instantly at our fingertips!  How often do we take that for granted?

Anywho -- I also found the above video on-line, and I think it provides a interesting visual to go with the song (not to mention you get to hear the song for free ;-).  I recommend you also read the lyrics below.  And if you are so moved, please let me know what you think of the message.

Mad World by Gary Jules
Songwriters: Orzabal, Roland

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for the daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere

Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I wanna drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles its a very, very
Mad world, mad world

Children waiting for the day they feel good
Happy birthday, happy birthday
And I feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen

Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me, what's my lesson?
Look right through me, look right through me

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles its a very, very
Mad world, mad world, enlarging your world
Mad world

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Life Connected ... with your values

Do you have time for a cup of tea? If so, please go pour yourself one, sit back, and take in this video. I think you will find it eye opening.

Don't worry. I'll wait. ... Great, welcome back.

Did you watch the movie yet? Go ahead. Really, I'll wait ;-)

So I want to tell you a little story about my own adventure in this direction. It came to me in different stages, and I find it interesting as I look back on it now, how I came to these realizations.

First, the power of intention became clear to me. I realized that if we wish to change our behavior, especially if these might be deep-seated habits or cultural biases (aka, indoctrination), we need to tap into the power of intention. In fact, I posted a short blog entry on just this topic.

I applied this idea to myself. I made the decision, and then explicitly considered it my intention not to personally kill any sentient being (animal, insect, etc). I did this when I observed myself indiscriminately killing a house fly once because it was "bothering me", and wondered, "what gives me the (moral) right to do so?" What I found was not that I immediately stopped killing (for habits and conditioning die hard), but at least I now noticed it when I did it. And slowly, but surely, there became a small gap between the stimulus (a buzzing fly) and the response (slapping my hand). Eventually, this enabled my brain to be rewired (yes, neuroplasticity is real, and an awesome tool).

Now somewhere in this process I came to realize that by eating meat, I was indirectly causing animals to be killed. But wow, by the time I grilled up that hamburger, or swallowed that sushi, the animal was already dead, and my decision to forego that food was not going to bring it back, right? (Isn't it amazing how we can deceive ourselves?) Of course I was directly contributing to the demand for these animals to be killed. And finally, I read something that pushed me over the edge. It was about a woman named Peace Pilgrim and that aspect of her life story just resonated with me. I just knew it was time to give up eating meat of any kind (beef, pork, chicken, fish, etc.)

When I told one of my intellectual friends about my change, her first rejoinder was something like "you know, the only logical conclusion of such a step is to become Vegan." I politely told her I was not ready to go that far, and that I believed this partial step was better than no step at all. Such arguments (you are not going all the way) become the excuse to make no change at all, and thankfully, I wasn't falling for that trap.

I found it very easy to go Vegetarian. And thankfully, without any pushiness on my part, my wife (who is the cook in our family) decided to cook Vegetarian at home. For a while, she would still eat meat when we ate out, since Vegetarian choices can be rather limited, depending on the restaurant. I encouraged her to order whatever she wanted, so she didn't feel "trapped" by my decision. But then one day, after getting her hair done and having a chat with her hairdresser (who was also Vegetarian), she had her own epiphany and made the (moral) choice to not be responsible for unnecessarily ending the life of an animal.

Somewhere over the last two years, I had mentioned the idea of "going Vegan". And she said to me ... that is just too far to go. We regularly ate eggs and cheese, and drank milk, and frankly thought being Vegan was just too impractical.

Then, my wife was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), which for those who don't know, is generally accepted to be an autoimmune disease, which is incurable, and will get progressively worse, eventually resulting in severely impaired functionality (with a corresponding reduction in quality of life). To make matters worse, doctors do not know what causes RA, and therefore, how to prevent or cure the disease. At best, they can only treat the symptoms, and generally speaking, use powerful drugs that can have serious side affects. In short, my wife was pretty worried after conducting her on-line research about her recent diagnosis.

My first reaction was ... let's look for an alternative treatment. Either something from Eastern medicine, or perhaps something based upon diet. So I started researching as well. I came across a very interesting book: The China Study, by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. I commend it to your reading list. I think it is a great wake-up call on the standard Western diet. It also raised the alarm on the possible negative consequences of consuming animal protein (including dairy). And also postulated a theory of how animal proteins might cause auto-immune diseases by a process of molecular mimicry and gut leakage. I was pretty hungry for a potential cause and effect, and this seemed plausible.

And exactly what would be the downside? Carol was planning to continue her doctor's prescribed medication so we weren't risking unnecessary disease progression. Furthermore, based on continued research, I also came across the website and videos of Dr. John McDougall. It looked likely that a Vegan diet might well contribute to weight loss and improved health in general, and may well reduce the need for certain pharmaceuticals.

So Carol and I gave this some serious thought and read quite a few books (and many more on-line resources). We had already started to make changes in our diet -- specifically eliminating processed foods and buying organic products whenever possible. But what about all the dairy and eggs that we were eating? On one of our shopping trips, we picked up a liter of soy milk, rice milk, and soy yogurt, and put them in the refrigerator. After a week or two, I decided to give them a taste. I really expected them to be rather undesirable -- and I was very pleasantly surprised. So was Carol. We realized we could easily substitute these into our diet, and eliminate cow's milk products.

It took us longer (over here in Germany) to find soy or rice alternatives for cheese, but we are now finding some (and they are also quite tasty). Update [11/19/2010]: Funny story -- we found something called Reissen Käse. And boy was it yummy! We thought that was "Rice Cheese" (oops); really that translates to "Shredded Cheese", Ha! No wonder it was so tasty. We finally found some Soy Cheese, but it was truly unedible. We are still on the lookout. We have yet to find an egg replacement, but have enough alternatives for breakfast, that we are not finding that to be a big problem.

So now, after about 3 weeks, I am happy to report ... we are Vegans.

And here's a very interesting, unexpected, and as yet, unexplained benefit. Both Carol and I have noticed our sugar cravings have significantly dropped off. This is big news for me. I have been a candy addict for probably 45 years. We're talking rot-your-teeth addiction in my case. I have tried and failed to will myself to give up sugar and candy before, many times, and failed miserably. The eventual craving makes me cave in and usually gorge myself on an entire (big) bag of candy.

But now, it is virtually gone. Still a little craving after dinner (habitual), but easily an order-of-magnitude less than it was just 3 weeks ago. Wow. What an unexpected blessing.

Well, I've rambled on and on. I guess I just wanted to show how the decision to become Vegan can evolve over time, is not really that radical an idea, and can be rooted by many motivations (animal welfare, social justice, resource management, physical health and longevity), or in our case the final push came in a desire to search for a cure for a complex disease process. The results of Carol's personal trial will surely take time to observe; but in the meantime, we are gaining first-hand experience with what it means to be a Vegan.

Oh, and one more really important point. There are thousands of Vegan recipes out there, and the food tastes wonderful. In all seriousness, the food we are eating now is more varied, interesting, and better tasting that our previous diet. And much better for our health. I can heartily recommend two books for great recipes and to help cover some of the important aspects about a Vegan lifestyle: 1000 Vegan Recipes and The Kind Diet. If you are considering becoming Vegan, they are well worth the money.

Enjoy the food! Love the lifestyle! Live your values! And get healthy!

(p.s., just to be clear, I receive nothing from any of these links or recommendations -- I just highly recommend them each.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Whoda Thunk It -- Spiritual Rap

I think this is just great. Please take the time to watch and listen.

Gandhi really was an amazing soul. And now we have a rapper telling his story.

Wow. Whoda Thunk It?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mankind is no Island

Mankind Is No Island from Daniel Spratlin

Please watch the video before reading the text below. Without a doubt, this is a "visual poem", and needs to be seen and heard, not just read. I've just reproduced the text from the video if you wish to study it afterwards, but the real power is in the video.

Mankind is no Island. (text taken from video)

This story is about two cities
divided by a great ocean
united by hope ... hunger

Through your eyes
our city is famous ... happy
You can feel the
I love Sidney
I love NY

But what is it we love today?
Do we love the people or the place?
Do we measure empathy by donations?


I walk by you today
I always look away


Well worn boots with
No standing
No standing
No standing
Do you reason with your condition?

Our city says
"we'll look after you"
your very own family
turn blind
when did you last see your

No fortune to indulge
No sunflower
No rainbow
No successful life


I walk by you today
I did not look away


A story around every corner
The gentle art of hearing
your truth
your thinking
your inner spirit
no different to me

This is Freedom?

Mankind is no island ...


Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Mirage

You've all seen a mirage, right? Check it out -- it looks like the road just falls away or is covered with water. But we have come to learn that what we see with our eyes may fool us into believing something that isn't really there.

Take the current crisis in the Middle East. On both sides (Hamas and Israel) there are calculations and strategies, coupled with frustrations and the need to "do something". And on both sides, there are innocents caught in the middle of these actions. And yet, what each one sees, I fear, is but a mirage.

What is the root cause? The underlying reality that is masked by the mirage? I think it is this ... "do unto others as you wish them to do unto you" -- the Golden Rule, a version of which exists in all the great traditions.

Sure, Hamas was launching rockets into Israel. But Israel was placing severe restrictions on Gaza in the hopes of turning the people against Hamas. In both cases -- they were not doing unto others as they would have liked to have had done unto them. And yet, in a strange karmic-twist sort of way, they are in fact reaping what they sowed. Hamas in terms of the violence against Gaza, and Israel in terms of the negative press, and most certainly in the perpetuation of another generation of future Hamas fighters.

A person creates what they defend against.
-- Buddha

Prayer and love are learned
in the hour
when prayer becomes
..... impossible
and the heart has turned
..... to stone.

-- Thomas Merton
Mystic is what they call me.
Hate is my only enemy;
I harbor a grudge against none.
To me the whole wide world is one.

Whatever you wish for yourself
Wish for the others,
This is the meaning of the four books (Torah, Psalms, Gospel, Koran)
If there is any meaning.

- Yunus Emre, Turkish Medieval Humanist Mystic

"Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."
-- Martin Luther King Jr., December 11, 1964

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Eye Am

This is the eye from an incredibly large and personable Belgian horse, that we met at a Quaker roadside store. We just loved visiting with him.

This photo of his "eye" made me think of this simple yet profound quote, which I think really does sum up how one should look at life:
So much fear and desire come from that commitment to 'I am' -- to being somebody. Eventually they take us to anxiety and despair; life seems much more difficult and painful than it really is.

But when we just observe life for what it is, then it's all right: the delights, the beauty, the pleasures are *just that*.
-- Ajahn Sumedho, "Seeing the Way"
Doesn't that really make sense. Avoid the attention on 'I am' -- your need to have an opinion, to have a plan, to be right -- and instead simply observe life with an openness, a willing expectancy, a freshness.

Life is so beautiful -- just as it is -- when you do that.

Give it a try. See if you can notice the difference in your experiences. See if you become a part of the flow.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Dharma of Wildflowers

Searching for the Dharma
You’ve traveled up ten thousand steps in search of the Dharma.
So many long days in the archives, copying, copying.
The gravity of the Tang and the profundity of the Sung
make heavy baggage.
Here! I’ve picked you a bunch of wildflowers.
Their meaning is the same
but they’re much easier to carry.

~ Xu Yun ~

(From Empty Cloud: The Autobiography of the Chinese Zen Master, Trans. Charles Luck, ed. by Richard Hunn)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

This is your brain on bliss

Perfect sincerity and transparency make a great part of beauty, as in dewdrops, lakes, and diamonds.
-- Thoreau, from the Journal (June 20, 1840)
OK, so it's hard to show you your brain on bliss. But that is certainly a tranquil picture (Crater Lake in Oregon), and that's how your brain can be as well -- very tranquil.

I read this excellent article by Matthieu Ricard. Ricard is the French translator for the Dalai Lama, a former scientist turned Buddhist monk, and a well-published author. The article demystifies meditation, and shows how it is simply training of the mind. Very wise training, perhaps, but simply training nonetheless.
Authentic happiness is a way of being and a skill to be cultivated. When we first begin, the mind is vulnerable and untamed, like that of a monkey or a restless child. It takes practice to gain inner peace, inner strength, altruistic love, forbearance, and other qualities that lead to authentic happiness.
Practice indeed. And an ability to detach ourselves from our emotions.
The point here is that you can look at your thoughts, including strong emotions, with a pure mindfulness that is not associated with the contents of the thoughts.
That's really the secret, isn't it? A detachment from our emotions. Not a numbing of them -- but an ability to recognize them, and -- more importantly -- recognize that we are distinct from them.

It's all really so very simple. But it does take realization. And it does take practice. And it sounds like it is worth cultivating to me.

Monday, December 29, 2008

It's just a Plumaria, right?

Can you see it -- there, in the picture. Look closely. Squint if you have to. Do one of those Magic Eye tricks where you focus "beyond" the picture. Look through it. Look into it. Look before it. Come on, tell me what you see.

Sunlight? Yep, I see that too. Rainwater? Well, actually I see an early morning dew. The gardener? Oh, he is a happy fellow, with light brown skin and old tattered sandals. He is gently pruning the plant, rushing a bit now, as the call to prayer has begun. Off like a shot, he's headed toward the mosque. It's only a few steps from the courtyard where this Plumaria grows.

It was tradition that moved him out of the garden. Only tradition. For surely he was visiting with God just a moment ago. You saw that too, didn't you? You see that when you look deeply into that photo, don't you? That is why I took it, and that is why I posted it here. And why you are visiting now.
God changes appearances every second. Blessed is the man who can recognize him in all his disguises. One moment he is a glass of fresh water; the next, your son bouncing on your knees, or an enchanting woman, or perhaps merely a morning walk.
-- Nikos Kazantzakis

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.
The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me.
The strength of the fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
and the life that never goes away,
they speak to me.
And my heart soars.

-- Chief Dan George

If you don't find God in the next person you meet, it is a waste of time looking for him further.
-- Mohandas K. Gandhi

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Walk a mile in her shoes

In the past, I've wondered where all of the "enlightened" people have gone. We all reference Christ and the Buddha, but that was sooooo long ago. Many make reference to more recent luminaries like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Mother Theresa. But for those that are household names, the list is very short, don't you think? And we can use all the help (pointing the way) we can get.

Well here is one more that I just stumbled across the day before yesterday. The gentleman in this video (which is just my "teaser" -- I liked the short video) mentions a woman called Peace Pilgrim. Strange name, perhaps, but a fascinating story of modern-day enlightenment (at least that's how I see it). There is no doubt in my mind that she was in tune with that which prophets and sages and gurus and yogis describe. Her words and actions illustrate the results of attaining inner peace (loving-kindness, boundless energy, unbridled joy).

For those that wonder what modern-day, western-oriented enlightenment might look like ... what expressions it might result in ... what actions one might take ... what are some practical repercussions in the work-a-day world ... and the like, I commend this story of her life. It's really just a collection of her thoughts and insights, both written and spoken, pulled together in one place by some of her friends along her journey.

Read it with an open mind, and see if any of these messages resonate somewhere deep inside. I suspect we'll talk more about Peace Pilgrim in the future.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

You can't make this stuff up

Are you familar with TED? T=Technology, E=Entertainment, and D=Design topics. The tag line is "Ideas worth spreading". They hold a conference each year, and cover an eclectic array of topics. They are always sold out. And the tickets cost $6,000.00 each.

The TED conference for 2008 was just recently held. They are just now beginning to post the talks online -- this wasn't so in the beginning, but thankfully, has now become the norm. This was the first talk they published this year.

I found it fascinating on a personal level. First -- because my father had a cerebral hemorrhage, and so, I wonder "what if". Second -- because I have briefly experienced this sense of oneness, and find it both comforting and encouraging when others experience it as well. Third -- because we get to hear it from a scientist, whose training is in this field. She sure doesn't talk like a scientist.

But rather than hearing my reactions, perhaps you just want to check out the talk for yourself. It runs 18 minutes -- so I suggest you get yourself a cup of tea.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Religion vs. Spirituality

It is a common perspective. Certainly, I've viewed the world from this perspective for much of my adult life. If someone were to ask me, "are you a religious person?". I might say, "No, though I consider myself somewhat spiritual." What the heck does that mean, anyway?

And why, do I find myself coming back time and again, to castigating most religions -- or at least their dogmas? I guess it is the anti-consumer in me. I really don't like being "sold" anything. I don't like someone telling me what it is I need. I'd rather just figure it out for myself. Maybe that's what leads one to the contemplative side of the religious world.

I came across this video clip (be forewarned, it is about 15 minutes long), that seems to get at this issue. It blends one of my favorite spiritual thinkers (Ken Wilber) with a more traditional religious contemplative (Father Thomas Keating). Check it out and see what you think.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Greatest Danger Before You

I received this in the mail today. E-mail of course ;-) It is from Nipun Mehta of, and is his "thought for the week". It just seemed to be worth sharing with others. Have a read and see what you think.

The Greatest Danger Before You (by Granny D)

In the end -- and it will end -- your life will seem to have sped by like a fleeting dream. Much of your story will be the age-old but ever joyful human experience: romance, family, satisfying work, and happy completion. I wish you a great fountain of successes. You will also be provided with all the failures and tragedies necessary to deepen and widen your soul -- sufficient, I hope, to make you wise and forgiving of all human frailties. I pray that these necessary troubles will never long crush your optimism nor your love for this magical life.

The greatest danger before you is this: you live in an age when people would package and standardize your life for you -- steal it from you and sell it back to you at a price. That price is very high.

You have already been selected for this program. You have its credit cards and designer labels already expensively around you. In the months ahead, you will find yourselves working long hours, too exhausted for community life or even good friendships -- too compromised to take a stand against the abuses of the system you serve. A great treadmill has been devised for you, and its operators do not care much if it wears you out or kills you. A system is in place to steal your life from you, if you will let it. Don't let it.

Read, study, meditate and think for yourself. Let your most serious education now commence, if it has not already done so. Refine and hold your own values, and pay the high price necessary to live those values. Decide what is important to you, and hold your ground against all temptations and tortures. From the pink granite of your own values, build a fortress against the world's ethical compromises, or you will soon be among those dead of eye who stand next to you in elevators but who are not alive. Don't let them steal your life. This is the only warning you will receive.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


People who know me understand that Big Pharma is not on my Christmas list. I am not the type of person that gets too worked up (these days) about the various dramas going on out there in the real world, and that I believe tend to be over-sensationalized by our media (the OTHER group that's not getting a card from me).

But when I read this NY Times article this morning, I was taken aback.

The thrust of the story is that there is a legal rebate program, where drug companies pay doctors to use their products. But that wasn't the point of the story. The point was that in so doing, they might be using excessive dosages that are proving to be unsafe.

But wait a minute here. Can we back up the truck? Why is there a legal rebate program in the first place?
Federal laws bar drug companies from paying doctors to prescribe medicines that are given in pill form and purchased by patients from pharmacies. But companies can rebate part of the price that doctors pay for drugs, like the anemia medicines, which they dispense in their offices as part of treatment. The anemia drugs are injected or given intravenously in physicians’ offices or dialysis centers. Doctors receive the rebates after they buy the drugs from the companies. But they also receive reimbursement from Medicare or private insurers for the drugs, often at a markup over the doctors’ purchase price.

Medicare has changed its payment structure since 2003 to reduce the markup, but private insurers still often pay more. Combined with those insurance reimbursements, the rebates enable many doctors to profit substantially on the medicines they buy and then give to patients.

The rebates are related to the amount of drugs that doctors buy, and physicians that agree to use one company’s drugs exclusively typically receive higher rebates.
Does this make any sense? So apparently, we have the same thing going on in our hospitals and with Big Pharma, that we have in fast food restaurants and soda machines around the country -- negotiated prices for exclusive use of a specific brand (e.g., Coke vs Pepsi), and increased payments with larger usage patterns.

I don't know about you, but my hope/expectation was always to get the minimum amount of drugs pumped into me, and to have the selected drug reflect the best thinking of the medical community, and not be profit motivated or corporately incentivised.

Now I'm not that naive, and I have also always had some aversion to Western medicine in general for being too prescription-happy, and not holistic enough in concept. But to imagine there is a legal program that lets rebates be paid to doctors that provide financial incentive to select one drug brand over another, and to use more rather than less medication, strikes me as something of an outrage. Am I missing something here?
Dr. Peter Eisenberg, an oncologist in Marin County, Calif., said many doctors had been induced to use more epoetin by the financial incentives and the belief that the drug was helpful.

“The deal was so good,” he said. “The indication was so clear and the downside was so small that docs just worked it into their practice easily.

“Now it’s much scarier than that,” he said. “We could really be doing harm.”
Frankly, I'm saddened that the only way this is a reportable "story" is that there are harmful effects now being detected. The fundamental practice itself is just rife with conflict of interest. So where shall I place my blame for this -- FDA or Congress? Somewhere else? Let me know what you think.

(Oh, and the picture? Yes, that is a giant spider sculpture in Roppongi Hills, Tokyo, Japan, and yes, it is carrying "eggs", and yes, that is just about what I think of when I think of Big Pharma ;-)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Prayer

So, tell me, how is your commute? This snapshot is from a drive heading out of New Dehli on India’s national highway (OBTW, this is in the morning, going the opposite direction of most commuters ;-). In this particular photo, you cannot see the pedestrians, camel-drawn wagons, sacred cows wandering off the median strip, and occasional vehicle coming at you in your lane, but trust me, they are part of the commute too.

What’s my point? Only that everything is relative, of course. What you bemoan against, another would shout “hallelujah” for. And vice versa, of course.

And so, that leads me to this alternative “prayer”. I can't remember where I found this, and it did not come with any acknowledgement of the author. If you are tired of your usual prayers, or perhaps praying is not your thing, give this one a read and see what you think. Perhaps help open your eyes and your heart, and maybe even help you with gratitude. And that sounds like enough to me.

The Prayer
(author unknown)

Help us remember
that the jerk who cut us off in traffic
last night is a single mother who
worked nine hours that day and
is rushing home to cook dinner,
help with homework,
do the laundry and spend a
few precious moments
with her children.

Help us to remember that the
pierced, tattooed, disinterested
young man who can't make
change correctly is a worried
19-year-old college student,
balancing his apprehension
over final exams with his
fear of not getting his
student loans for next semester.

Remind us,
that the scary looking bum,
begging for money in the same
spot every day (who really ought
to get a job!) is a slave to addictions
that we can only imagine in our
worst nightmares.

Help us to remember that the
old couple walking annoyingly
slow through the store aisles
and blocking our shopping
progress are savoring this
moment, knowing that,
based on the biopsy report
she got back last week, this
will be the last year that they
go shopping together.

Remind us each day that,
of all the gifts we receive,
the greatest gift is love.
It is not enough to share
that love with those
we hold dear.

Open our hearts not to
just those who are
close to us,
but to all humanity.
Let us be slow to judge
and quick to forgive,
show patience,
empathy and

Or perhaps you'd like a shorter version ...

"If the only prayer you say in your whole life is 'thank you,' that would suffice." ~~ Meister Eckhart

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Global Warming - take 2 (lengthy)

Earlier I posted a entry about a global warming debate that had been going on between some friends via e-mail. Well, in the spirit of all good natured warfare, let's kick it up a notch.

One of the friends (the "global warming is not caused by humans" proponent), found this documentary running on British television. It's an hour long, and I do recomment you view it. The rest of this post will comment on the movie, and try to make some additional points about this debate. So if you want to take this in order, you will need to have a nice cup of tea and watch the video first.

Anyways ...

I sent my thoughts back to the friend that had recommended viewing this movie. For it largely had validated his intuition about the global warming "myth". At his suggestion, here are my thoughts, then, shared more broadly for those that might be interested ...

First, thanks for sending me the link and encouraging me to view it. It is a well-done piece of work, and it provides the needed “balance”. I’ll come back to that balance later.

The story here corresponds with much of my intuition, as it does with yours from what you’ve said. For me, the intuition comes from the realization that we are but bit-players in this evolutionary process called life. But our egos assume we are the driving force, top o’ the heap, created in God’s image, and able to dominate and rule our dominion. I don’t find that to be a healthy attitude. Also doesn’t fit real well with humility.

Let me comment on a few of the show’s themes as I recall them.

On the role of mass media. Yes, I agree that the mass media has done a lot to hype global warming. And I must confess I am a bit curious about one fact. You know my theory is that the mass media is all about conflict for conflict’s sake. Heck, they will even create conflict where none exists if needed in writing a story. But here is a situation where they could pit group against group. I’m not sure why they haven’t done that. Perhaps it is just too early. And perhaps they are still quite comfortable pitting “environmentalists” against “big business”, “capitalism”, and “progress”.

On undeveloped countries being the victims. Well, I have to tell you, I think this is a disingenuous message. I think it is there to give pro-development forces virtue and righteousness. In the (admittedly small amount of the) greenhouse debate that I’ve heard, I’ve not heard any serious suggestions of trying to hold back developing nations. Indeed, you could say that one of the prime arguments that the US and AUS made against the Kyoto Protocol was that it did nothing to restrict developing nations, who were likely to dramatically increase production of greenhouse gases in the future, and hence fuel their development, at the same time we’d be limiting our own growth and cost-effectiveness. In short, we opted out because it is we who were being more disadvantaged by the accord.

I found this (rough) quote particular interesting: "Africa has coal, and Africa has oil, but the UN is campaigning that rather than use these cheap sources of electricity, they should use solar or wind."

To me, the wealthy nations have shirked their responsibilities to lead the alternative energy movement, precisely because we are exploiting the finite fossil fuel energy sources. Responsible policies would have (and still can) produce more cost effective and viable energy sources than the limited (and increasingly costly) fossil fuels. These are complex trade-offs. Do you remember acid rain? Smog warnings? Are they not real to you? Do you believe our dependence on foreign oil plays no role in our Mid-east politics? The canary in the mineshaft came in 1972 (Arab Oil Embargo) and how have we done developing alternative energy policies? Do you think we have the technological prowess to have done that in the past 35 years? It is one area I am not so humble on our intellectual abilities. And I say shame on our policies and our politics for not making that happen.

On the point that human contribution is a negligible (and irrelevant) part of climate change. I think the key question to ask yourself then is “so what”? Assume this argument is 100% correct. Should I therefore be doing anything different tomorrow? IMHO if you answer “no” to that query, then you are just as guilty as the Global Warming mongers of misleading the public. Why? Because humans (and particularly Americans) are living non-sustainable lives. IMHO non-sustainable is irresponsible. We need to make prudent choices. About the use of natural resources (since when did they become ours?) About the use of fossil fuels (limited supply and pollution contribution). About the use of nuclear power (lengthy half-lives and no viable disposal strategy). About consumption, or better, over-consumption (Madison Avenue). Etc. Etc.

On anti-capitalism and anti-modernity. I happen to agree with [my friend's] premise that we have probably gathered a bunch of former anarchists and Marxists into the Global Warming camp that have as their primary belief that progress for the sake of progress is a bad thing. And that wealth for the sake of wealth is a bad thing. And that the divide between the haves and the have-nots is a bad thing. And hence, the argument has become a populist one, and a political one, rather than one based primarily on science.

But you know what? I’m not anti-Marxist nor anti-Capitalist. I’m not anti-anarchist nor anti-modernity. I’m not anti-poverty, nor anti-wealth. There are many important lessons we can learn from the fears and realities of each “side”. This takes me back to balance. Balance is more important, and more helpful, than choosing sides. Balance will help shape your individual decisions, and hopefully help to make them wise ones. In the end, decisions that are taken from the spirit of reducing suffering to all sentient beings will be wiser than the alternatives, certainly in the long run. And if we must consider anything to avoid selfishness, it must be the long run.

Bottom line: I enjoyed the movie. It reminds me once again how little we really understand about our world and by extension, this wondrous universe we are blessed to be a part of. It will be interesting to see if the science of this story holds up. Very neat theory that climate change is based on solar wind that diverts cosmic rays that form clouds that provide our climate.

But it reinforces to me the absurdity of becoming attached to “positions” and “opinions”. The references to religion ring true to me. Think of what we have done to our fellow man with the simple word “heretic”. One belief killing another belief — the human cost ignored as rounding error in the transaction.

If we are but ignorant beings, tricked from the womb into the fabric of maya, what possible value can battling beliefs possibly have. Let us take notice of that absurdity, and use it to propel us toward an awakening. And through such a path, gain the wisdom to deal with these issues without emotion, and with compassion for all sides.

Friday, March 09, 2007

What's wrong with this picture?

OK, I know I am going to run afoul of the free-market capitalists out there (and I suspect that is most Americans, perhaps most of the world).

But I was just reading an article about Victoria Hale and her non-profit pharmaceutical company known as the Institute for OneWorld Health.

The purpose of her company is to produce drugs for treatable diseases in developing countries. Drugs that are viewed by Big Pharma as not having much profit potential. Now let me disarm the critics first by acknowledging that this company was started by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (with Bill the icon of capitalism). And second let me note that the business model, as it were, seems to rely on gaining access to the drug R&D as a tax break for Big Pharma.

But could we not focus for the moment on the mechanics? Can we step back just a bit and see what is wrong with this picture? For one minute, drop your business guard, let go of your cultural indoctrination, and ask yourself if this represents your priorities.

We've created a world where Big Pharma decides what drugs to manufacture not based on how many lives can be potentially saved, but on how much money can be made.

Oh, I can already hear you out there. "Of course they do, how do you expect them to pay for the R&D". "Come on -- be a realist, what do you expect them to do?"

Well, for one I am certainly happy to read about Victoria Hale. But as "good" as that news is, it actually made me pause even more. Scraps off the table, still in their financial interest, to save lives. Of course this story repeats itself endlessly. I made reference before to the book and movie "The Constant Gardener" which is an intriguing LeCarre plotline and message that just ends up under your skin (at least it did mine).

So what? What do I suggest?

I really don't know. This problem, like the world itself, is so complex and intertwined.

But I think the first step to address this problem, like the world itself, is to awaken to the underlying reality. And then ask ourselves, given this realization, what intentions should we set for ourselves, and how will those scale in the world at large.

And everyone's answer will be different. I'll offer my thanks to Victoria Hale for looking inward when confronted by the reality that she saw, and taking action to help save lives. That is a noble purpose.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The carnival and the chatter

I’m sitting in an airport terminal. Generally not a bad thing — it gives me time to read, or write, or relax.

Except, of course, for the incessant TV blaring out the “bad” news of the day. What a burden. Poisoness to the soul.

At home, one can take action and just turn of the TV (or better, never bother to turn it on).

But in a public space — the airport, a bar, a waiting lounge — someone has decided for you that this is what you want to hear. Or more likely, they have some sort of business deal that requires them to have it on, turned into a specific channel. That way you get news you don’t need to hear, surrounded by advertisements for things you just don’t need.

Oh, the drama of it all. I just a novice at this enlightenment stuff — it’s still very hard for me to tune out the background chatter.

But there is good news. Ah, the good news is that I see more clearly, each day, the futility and misdirection of paying attention to such chatter. It is but a distraction from real insight, real appreciation of the world, how it works, and what is meaningful.

Like the hawkers at the carnival, they try to draw you in to their show, and in the process extract some of your cash. And my recommendation would be that while you are awakening — pass them by. They will not serve you well, and they do not have your interests at heart. They themselves are fully captured by the carnival. Captive to the loud noise and freakish attractions.

Go instead into yourself, and consider things that really matter. Commune in nature and gain insights into the real world, not the sideshows.

But what of these constant bombardments? Surely you can not escape them entirely. And surely they add color and possibly even zest to life itself. Yes, and once you have awakened, you will be able to experience the carnival called life with equanimity and detachment. You will be able to experience these attractions (really ‘dis’tractions), and not be unwittingly captivated by them.

So for now, as you awaken, pass them by, tune them out, turn them off, and dwell in the everpresent silence within, and be at peace.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Global Warming?

Want to make a hit at your next party? Just mention casually over a cocktail that global warming is all a crock. That'll liven things up!

I've been copied on some e-mail traffic among friends (at least, they were friends) and the conversation has devolved into diatribe. I'd like to say this is a healthy debate, getting both side's arguments out on the table. And I suppose it could be.

But I've seen this type of debate before. It seems that global warming is modernity's new religion. Either you believe, or you are branded a heretic. And by staking out one's position, and shoring up one's defenses (and constituents), we are simply drawing battle lines, and in the end, I think missing the whole point.

To carry the analogy further, the missed point in the religious debates was spirituality. Left battered and helpless on the doorstep of righteousness.

In this current debate, what is lost is the middle ground, and practical action that can and should be taken.

Free hand of capitalism, with no constraints on one side. Result — depleted natural resources, short-term focus, environmental degradation, monopolistic practices stifling alternative energy innovation (unless they can profit), etc.

Big Government and heavy taxation, with redistribution of wealth on the other. Result — inefficient markets, resulting uncompetitiveness, disincentivizing risk taking, and eventually congress or other bureaucracies picking the winners and losers of the business world, etc.

Nether extreme is a healthy place to be, IMHO.

I like many of the attributes of free market capitalism, but it needs to account for all of the “costs”. Then the efficient market can find those most creative at balancing all of the variables that we are talking about here. Environmental impact. Exploitation of limited, natural resources. Etc.

You can see it will require a wise combination of business and legislation to make this work, not only in the United States, but across the globe (since, after all, we are talking about global implications, global resources, and global ecosystems).

If we stop trying to divide ourselves into camps based on philosophical, political, and ideological grounds, and instead start to suggest the healthy compromises that will make the system and the markets truly accountable, we may get somewhere.

Otherwise, just a lot of fireworks. Which are fun to watch, but after the show, all you have is a cloud of haze, and a somewhat putrid smell in the air.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Wired like Medusa

A good friend sent me this WSJ article: How Thinking Can Change the Brain. It makes the point that your brain can be fundamentally altered by your mind, your thoughts, if you will. Rather than the other way around.

That's nice. But I sent my friend this reply, which is based upon some of my current reading, and it seems to resonate within me:

Ken Wilber has some thoughts on this type of investigation. Good to do, but don’t expect to understand consciousness from it.

In his book “A Brief History of Everything”, Wilber makes a distinction between the surface of things, and their depth. Understanding the brain from this materialistic/empirical examination would be gaining insight into its “surface”. But understanding the mind, and even more so, the spirit that perhaps moves the mind, cannot be seen in this way.

“... he can know what every atom of by brain is doing, and he still won’t know a single thought in my mind. This is really extraordinary. ..."

“... The interior dimension can only be accessed by communication and interpretation, by “dialogue” and “dialogical” approaches, which are not staring at exterior but sharing of interiors. Not objective by intersubjective. Not surfaces but depths.”

“You can point to the brain ... but you cannot simply point to envy, or pride, or consciousness, or value, or intention, or desire. Where is desire? Point to it. You can’t really ... because it’s largely an interior dimension ... This doesn’t mean it isn’t real!”

He goes on to explain how the Enlightenment — for all of its good — placed all of the West’s focus on this materialistic/empirical approach. For example, if someone is depressed, the “lab technician” approach would be to determine a lack of serotonin in the brain, and prescribe some Prozac. Never mind that the depression was caused by a lack of values, a lack of meaning to one’s life, perhaps an existential angst that resulted in the physiological manifestation of a lack of serotonin. And of course, you can take all of the Prozac that you like, and it may make you feel better, but it won’t give you meaning to your life.

I think he is on to something — this integral approach. And as a result, I am now less interested for science to “prove” the unique aspects that come about through meditation. Why not just do it yourself and see? Why not just interact and talk with others that are very experienced in mediation to help guide you and interpret the results. Who cares of I’m generating gamma rays or alpha rays? What meaning is there in any of that?

Just a thought. Thanks for the article. The part I found interesting was this acknowledgment: "This positive state is a skill that can be trained” Had the author said “learned” rather than “trained” I would have been more impressed. He continues to see his “patient/subject” as just one more lab animal to be studied, objectively, empirically, and monologically. Sigh. Maybe he should try talking to them.

Monday, January 15, 2007

On the necessity of conflict

OK, now here is an unpopular position. Life is conflict. Let’s deconstruct that.

So many people long for peace, or at least the absence of war. We wish to avoid the meaningless death of innocents. We ask to spare the children — what could they have possibly done to deserve this?

But what is life? It is evolution. And what is evolution? It is random genetic mutation, manifest into some quantum change, followed by adaptation to the environment, followed by natural selection — a weeding out of the less well-adapted beings, and thereby, a diminution and eventual pruning of some experimental branches, and the strengthening and growth of others. Over eons.

It is conflict that provides this selection process. Now this conflict can take many forms. Consider nature. It can take the form of inter- or intra-species struggle for food. It can take the form of famine or pestilence. It can take the form of natural catastrophes. Sometimes, you can see the selection process working, when an individual is not strong enough to survive. Other times it seems capricious and perhaps even unfair. But that is our ego labeling that which just is.

Consider the absence of conflict. Some see paradise. A return to the Garden of Eden, or the arrival of Heaven on earth. I see death. I see stagnation. I see the corrupting influence of gluttony, sloth, and apathy. Can you really be sure you would continue to advance, either consciously or physiologically if you were not challenged? And what causes this challenge, on a societal scale? Conflict (or competition — they are the same thing). So this "push" forward, if you will, is actually caused by conflict, not by peace.

So do not pray for an end to conflict. Pray for wisdom. Do not pray for avoidance of tragedy. Pray for compassion, love, and gratitude. For when you see conflict and tragedy, know that you see life, in all of its complexity and elegance; its simplicity and its beauty. To wish for a world without conflict is like wishing for a sun that never sets, a sky that never rains, animals that never eat, or humans that never die. Think for a moment and you can imagine the immediate catastrophe that would befall such an earth.

Instead embrace life (small “l”) while discovering Life (big “L”). See the beauty in the flow; the purpose of the process. The give and take. The gain and loss. The hope and fear. The joy and sorrow. Life cannot be another way. We are but humble actors in a grand play, and our progress — our evolution — may come from awakening to the noble truths that surround life as it is. Life is conflict. Life is suffering. (Some wise guy said that about 2500 years ago; we appear to be slow learners; not a good sign for our own evolution ;-) Awaken to that reality. Accept it and detach from your egoic desires. And from that Authentic Self — offer Love and Compassion to all sentient beings. While they struggle to awaken themselves. And yes, while they kill.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

On Integrity

I found this abridged quote somewhere on the ‘net, but can no longer find the source. At least I can attribute the thoughts to the correct individual. In what follows, Mark Gerzon does a nice job tying together the loose ends that make up our individuality, and on what it means to have integrity. I encourage you to consider his views:
Integrity Grows From A Humbling Realization, Mark Gerzon

"The purpose of life is ... to know oneself. We cannot do so unless we learn to identify ourselves with all that lives." -- Mohandas K. Gandhi.

I have never seen a conflict in which everyone could see the whole. On the contrary, I have only experienced conflicts in which some, and usually all, of the "part-ies" were identified with the "part." They were, literally, "partisan."

This is the basic human condition, the natural worldview of organisms that are born, live and die as seemingly separate entities. When our bodies shout "Me first!" -- we listen. We are wired to survive, and to put our survival before others (an instinct which can be trumped by only one other: protecting our offspring). As a natural extension of our survival instinct, we tend to care more about the welfare of those near and dear to us than those who are, by whatever definition, far away. Our language provides convenient words for each: the first we call "us;" the latter, "them."

The challenge of integrity -- or integral vision, which literally means "seeing" or "holding" the whole -- is to balance this very natural allegiance to the part ("partisan") with an allegiance to what it is but a part of. [...]

This intention toward integrity -- from the Latin integer, meaning "undivided, untouched whole -- is our first, critical step toward transforming conflict. Because of our commitment to "hold" or to "see" the whole conflict, we can become part of the solution to the conflict rather than just adding our energy to it. [...]

Integrity grows out of the humbling realization that there are many ways of seeing the world, and that we cannot take our worldviews for granted. Doing so blinds us to the possibility that our worldviews may be incomplete, skewed or -- to oversimplify -- "wrong." If this is so, then no matter how noble our intentions may be ("freeing the people," "creating jobs," "protecting human rights," etc.), everything we do will backfire.

--Mark Gerzon

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Window

The Window -- author unknown

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room's only window.

The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation.

And every afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed began to live for those one-hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.

The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color of the rainbow. Grand old trees graced the landscape, and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene.

One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man couldn't hear the band - he could see it in his mind's eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words. Days and weeks passed.

One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.

Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the world outside. Finally, he would have the joy of seeing it for himself.

He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed. It faced a blank wall. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall.

She said, "Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you."

And so it is.

Listen to those who describe beauty, serenity, and peacefulness, for perhaps, they just wish to encourage you to see for yourself.