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.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Symptoms of Inner Peace

Be on the lookout for symptoms of inner peace.

The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to inner peace and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.

Some signs to look for:
A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.

An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.

A loss of interest in judging other people.

A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.

A loss of interest in conflict.

A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)

Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.

Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.

Frequent attacks of smiling.

An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.

An increased susceptibility to the love offered by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.
Be Forewarned!!! If you have all or even most of the above symptoms, please be advised that your condition may be too far advanced to turn back. If you are exposed to anyone exhibiting several of these symptoms, remain exposed at your own risk. This condition of inner peace is likely well into its infectious stage.-- Author unknown

Monday, December 04, 2006

The chains that bind you

These are some honking chains. I believe they are used for battleships -- each link is about a foot long.

We all have many chains that binds us from being what we want to be, or all we are capable of becoming. Of course, that depends on what you want, and ultimately, that may be to realize just what your biggest chains are.

I hope these quotes help you realize that in the end, the most significant chains are all self imposed, and while they appear real and substantial like the chains in this picture, in fact they are as insubstantial as gossamer, which you will understand with the proper insight.

"The important thing is this:
To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are
for what we could become."

-- Charles Dubois

"The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove."
-- Samuel Johnson

"The mind is your past. Die to your past and you will suddenly become fully conscious. The past is nothing but dead debris. Get rid of it and you will learn how to witness. When you die to your past, to your thoughts and your memories, then you will be fully in the present. When you truly exist in the present, you are simply witnessing. The past can only exist as long as there are thoughts. When the thoughts are eliminated, the past disappears and you abide in your own Self. The Self does nothing but witness. The Self is not a person - it is Pure Awareness. It is completely detached from all phenomena. It is the state of becoming the one subject, the core of your existence."
-- Mata Amritanandamayi

"Happiness is your choice.

Something will happen today.
You will be tempted to say that it made you happy.
It won't.
You will make you happy by taking pleasure in it.

Something else will happen today.
You will be tempted to say that it made you sad or angry.
It won't.
You will make you sad or angry by taking displeasure in it.

Lots of somethings will happen today.
Will you make them happy somethings?"

-- David Leonhardt, The Happy Guy

"Happiness is a butterfly,
which, when pursued,
is always just beyond your grasp,
but which, if you will sit down quietly,
may alight upon you."

-- Nathaniel Hawthorne

"Man does not know if he will live another moment,
Yet his thoughts are ten million and more."

-- Thirukkural

Restroom sign:
"At the feast of ego everyone leaves hungry."
-- Bentley's House of Coffee and Tea, Tucson, AZ

Friday, September 29, 2006

Oil or Water?

You may have seen this photo on another of my blogs recently, but it just fit too well with this post not to use it again. Sorry for the duplication.

We hear a lot of talk about oil these days. Soaring prices (though we feel a temporary respite at the moment). The source of middle east strife, propped-up monarchies, reasons for war, etc. Increasing world energy demands, decreasing supplies, etc. Global warming, pollution, etc.

But let's talk about something that is only simmering on the back burner right now -- don't worry, it will come to a boil soon enough: water.

I recently visited India, in particular the city of New Delhi with a visit to Agra. This was a business trip, and as such, I was put up in the highest of the high rent districts, in amongst the diplomatic housing. For any that have traveled, even in this country, that is surely the nicest of the nice areas. And it was.

Sure, you could drive a short distance and still find slums and shacks, but this city looked like it had some modern potential. It looked like there was a plan. It seemed from this very limited perspective as if the tide was coming in, and perhaps it would lift all boats.

Then just today, I read this article in the New York Times. If you have a minute, I commend it to you.

Here is a brief abstract to make my point, and the rest of the article paints conditions significantly more dire. But this is how it appears to some in the middle class:
The quest for water can drive a woman mad.

Ask Ritu Prasher. Every day, Mrs. Prasher, a homemaker in a middle-class neighborhood of this capital, rises at 6:30 a.m. and begins fretting about water.

It is a rare morning when water trickles through the pipes. More often, not a drop will come. So Mrs. Prasher will have to call a private water tanker, wait for it to show up, call again, wait some more and worry about whether enough buckets are filled in the bathroom in case no water arrives.

“Your whole day goes just planning how you’ll get water,” a weary Mrs. Prasher, 45, recounted one morning this summer, cellphone in hand and ready to press redial for the water tanker. “You become so edgy all the time.”

In the richest city in India, with the nation’s economy marching ahead at an enviable clip, middle-class people like Mrs. Prasher are reduced to foraging for water.

Take a moment and close your eyes. Now just imagine that the basic infrastructure of clean, abundant water and functioning(out-of-sight) sanitation is gone or severely disrupted. Try to imagine how your life would be different. Lacking clean drinking water. Uncertain if you will turn on your faucet and get potable water, or frankly any water at all. And the situation gets worse over time, as the population around you swells, ground water supplies continue to shrink, and competition for this most basic of life's necessities increases. The stress would be unimaginable. You would start fighting for water (not oil) -- the lifeblood of mankind.

Source: NYTimes article cited above.

Of course it is so very hard to get into this mindset. We would just move if conditions around us got that bad. But you have to take a broader view. New Delhi is the most modern of India's cities. Elsewhere, things are worse.

Source: NYTimes article cited above. Click on the graphic to enlarge it.

So what is my point? First, as India promotes itself as the largest emerging democracy, it is sobering that so many basic necessities are still lacking. India has placed a premium on education as the means to bring itself out of colonial times and onto the world stage. It is, after all, now a nuclear power. And yet that technical prowess has yet to manifest into satisfying basic necessities. To me that seems to be the most basic role of Government and its leaders.

And second, now please consider your own situation. Perhaps worrying about whether to get the 42" plasma TV or the 44" LCD HDTV is really not worth fretting about.

I'm sorry. I don't mean to be snide. I just mean that when you think life isn't giving you everything you want, maybe that's because it has given you everything you need. So maybe boundless gratitude should replace any anxiety. And after reveling in that gratitude, think about what you can do to ensure that our sons and daughters will have at least as much of life's needs provided for them as well.

Now I think I'm going to have a nice cup of tea, from my magic faucet that just keeps providing and providing glorious, clean, refreshing, water. The true elixir of life.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Simply a world citizen

In the past I have quoted from The Happy Guy, who kindly sends out daily e-mails if you are so inclined. This one came with a link to what David Leonhardt calls a World Happiness Manifesto. Have a look and see what you think, and see if any of it resonates somewhere deep within you. If so, feel free to copy it as per his instructions below. In any case, you may want to probe a little more deeply into this mindset.

World Happiness Manifesto

My personal manifesto for a better world

I am a member of the human race. The only race I recognize is my own -- the human race.

Members of my race are carbon-based bipods, with one head and one heart. They all smile. They all despair. They all feel anger and pain. They all feel joy and hope. They see. They smell. They hear. They learn. They love. They seek happiness for self and for others.

Members of my race speak many tongues, wear their skin and hair in a variety of hues, choose from thousands of occupations and live in a multitude of places. They are all good. They are all worthwhile. They are all human. In my world, the only racism is love of the human race.

I am a citizen of the world. I recognize my overriding responsibility to be a good citizen. To care for my fellow citizens. To share with my fellow citizens. To be a good steward of the planet and its resources, for the wellbeing of my fellow citizens and of future generations. The absence of a world government in no way diminishes my obligations of citizenship or my sense of belonging.

As a citizen of the world, I recognize local governments. I pay my local taxes. I obey local ordinances. I salute my local flag. I protect my neighbors and their rights. My responsibility to my neighbors and to my local government is part of my citizenship in the world.

It is a sad reality that many local governments do not recognize my citizenship in the world. I pray for the day when no person shall be called an “alien" anywhere in my world.

I am a child of God. I reside in my family home with my brothers and sisters. Some have heard the voice of God and some have not. I do not begrudge those who have heard the voice, nor those who have not.

To the best of my ability, despite my many weaknesses, I will endeavor to do God’s will. I recognize that most of my brothers and sisters also do their best to follow God’s will, even when the message they are following sounds different than what I have heard. I will not second-guess God’s message to others; I respect God’s divine right and wisdom to send different messages to each of us children.

I am an instrument of peace. Happiness and peace go hand-in-hand. Complete happiness might be unattainable on this planet, but it remains crucial that we never stop striving for it. Therefore, we must all be instruments of peace.

Members of every race sometimes fight amongst themselves. As a member of the human race, I will strive to promote understanding amongst humans and to reduce conflict within our race.

Members of every nation sometimes bicker amongst themselves. As a citizen of the world, I will strive to promote understanding amongst citizens everywhere and to reduce conflict across our planet.

Members of every family sometimes quarrel amongst themselves. As a child of God, I will strive to promote understanding amongst my brothers and sisters and to reduce conflict within our family.


This world happiness manifesto is reproduced from the original World Happiness Manifesto, a production of The Happy Guy’s happiness center

Republish the World Happiness Manifesto

Not everybody will agree with every detail in the World Happiness Manifesto above. However, if the bulk of these principles speaks to you, you are invited to select one of the republishing options below for your website:

Click here for code to republish without changes. Please keep this code completely intact.

Click here for code to publish an amended version. If you choose this option, please keep the attribution statement intact.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

On Unconditional Love

I made a recent post over at Reflections of Beauty having to do with Love. And I've been having a dialog in the comment section with Mr. Anonymous. I thought I'd like to share some of that, since you might not have stumbled upon it. Here is an edited version of the conversation:
Mr. Anon: Now Love - there's a subject. What a power in our lives. Coming upon us unexpectedly, turning our lives over and over again. Takes us out of ourselves and makes us forget ourselves like nothing else can. But what is Love? It is Gift and Mystery - like Life itself. And when Love focuses on someone, it is one of the strongest addictions we can have, and one of the most difficult to deal with.
Thanks for the comment, and yes, I can see that such love as you describe can be a tremendous force -- a powerful emotion -- exhilarating or debilitating, depending on the outcome.

But for the record, I was going for unconditional love -- you've described something else entirely. Unconditional love can include passion, but at the same time, dispassion for the outcome. Detachment, selfless caring for the other's well-being. What say you about that?
Mr. Anon: Well, I guess I did not communicate well because I was talking about unconditional love. When I fall for these women in my life (except for times when I am just playing around, or recreating), it is unconditional, and total. And that is why it is so painful when it ends; these endings usually leave me so totally spent, lost, betrayed, and wandering in an unknown land, and of course, wondering at the meaning of life, and at this mysterious Human Condition that we are enduring. If it was anything less than unconditional, then ou might say, ah! then it does not end, you still have it! Forever, and always in your Heart. And of course, I agree with that. That love is still there. But the object of my love is not longer beside me - and that is the hard part. Not seeing his or her face beside me anymore when I wake up.

[Now you] say you wrote about something entiredly different than I did. That confuses me. I can't understand that comment. Are you confusing unconditional love with compassion? Love always has an object doesn't it? Are you talking about some kind of objectless love? I am pretty clear about the love I am pointing at. Been in and out of it enough times (and everytime is different). But now, I am getting confusing about what it is you are talking about, specially when you "entiredly something else" it throws me for a big loop.

I think many people do not understand what love is, or at least what is can be. Maybe we all make up our own versions of it.
I certainly do not mean to debate with you. And words are such a terrible medium to communicate about such intense feelings.

But when I refer to unconditional love, it is such that you will not have such pain. Do you feel pain when the butterflies migrate south? Do you have pain when your enemy becomes your friend? Do you have pain when your child grows up and begins his own life?

Unconditional love in my mind does not cause pain. You are giving it freely (unconditinoally -- expecting, needing, wanting -- nothing in return). You are happy to give it. So then how can it cause you pain? It has already caused you happiness to give it away?

The love you describe -- to me anyways -- sounds like a different kind of love. One that expects, however gently, to receive love back. For example, you would think I might have unconditional love for my wife, right? How can I offer unconditional love to others, if not my wife?

Becuase I so much want her love in return. It would wound me to the core if she did not love me back.

And that is OK. That's what makes a marriage. Which brings children that we want to let go -- to see grow in their own ways. To evolve to their own future. Which is of course, life itself.
Mr. Anon: Ah so! Your description above of unconditional love as being painless because it needs nothing in return, is interesting. It sounds like a riskless way to love. And you were right - that is not the "unconditional love" that I was talking about.

Actually, the unconditional love that you are talking about seems to me almost like a "state of being."

To my way of thinking, what you are talking about is something that not all of us can experience, but only some very lucky beings among us who happen to be (for some reason or other, maybe genetics) blessed with a state of being so complete, fulfilling, and pleasurable (if not ecstatic).

A great question is: for the many people out there who have no knowledge of this way of being, or for those who know it, but are unable to sustain it - is it possible to enlighten them? Possible to help them reach to that state, and maintain it? Or is it just something that you have, or you don't have (for example, like physical beauty)?
I definitely don't think it is genetic -- except perhaps differently than you imply (that some few have it, and others cannot). If anything, I believe everyone of us is capable of expressing this type of love, and yes, as you say I would describe it something as a state of being.

As for how to come to this realization. Well, I believe the primary action would be to have the intention to be in this state. Once that notion is internalized, I believe it will drive one to invesitgate what path would work best for them to uncover this inherent potentialilty. I suspect the path is different for everyone. Hence all of our religions, our cultures, our squabbles, etc.

I believe the insights, truth, beauty, englightement, call it what you may, exists within. Perhaps that is the "genetic" seed that we all share. Personally, I believe our egos tend to mask this insight, and actually work activtely to oppose it. Why you ask? Beuase, I suspect, of our current state of evolution -- we still carry this baggage of "survival of the fittest", and the ego is our tool to help us to survive and reproduce.

Ultimately, one needs to transcend the ego, and recognize that our individuality is but an illusion. Once there, unconditional love is rather a natural state -- why would you not love another, if that is just a different manifestation of your true Self.

But again -- your path may be different. As Jesus' was -- as Buddha's was -- as Gandhi's was.

I hope this help you understand my thinking; and I hope it is helpful for you as well. Namaste.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

On Judgment

Have you ever thought about judgment? Well, why not think about it for a minute. It is simply a human phenomenon — it doesn’t occur in nature.

Do you think this bird is worried about its hairdo? Are his friends embarrased to be around him? Animals don’t have bad hair days. Are you having a bad hair day?

It’s really rather profound, when you stop and think about it. Nature doesn’t think about “good” and “bad” -- it doesn’t judge things. Things just are.

As I consider this, I realize judgment is a purely human phenomenon. And boy are we good at it. Or bad at it. ;-) Either way, we certainly judge. We pass judgment on our past. We even prejudge things that haven't hapened yet -- and worry about what the future will bring. And with that come all of our prejudices. We judge both our friends and our enemies. We judge our lifestyle and most especially the lifestyles of others.

And then there is God. We’re not satisfied with all of the judging we are doing, so many of us define God (or accept others' definitions) as the ultimate judge and jury — guaranteed to judge every act you’ve ever done or not done — and sentence you accordingly. According to his beliefs about what is right and wrong, good and evil — which just happen to match your beliefs (or vice versa).

Newsflash: God, by whatever name you give him/her/it, doesn't judge. Leave behind your thoughts of everlasting damnation. Ultimate retribution. Or even eternal paradise. All of these attributes are the creation of man.

Consider what the world would be like if we escaped from this part of the human condition. If we opted out of all of the judging. If in the immortal words of Lennon and McCarthy, we just “let it be”.

Then you would see life as it really is. You would appreciate its splender as it unfolds. You would avoid the labeling, which is connected to judgment. You would just recognize your presence in the glorious creation, and be able to appreciate it all -- what others call both good and bad.

And you really wouldn't care what others might think of your hairdo.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

How's the movie?

Imagine you are watching a movie. It is a really good movie. You are caught up in the plot, the drama, the characters and their lives. It has that rare quality that totally draws you in, and makes you forget entirely that you are watching a movie. Have you ever seen one like that? OK, let’s keep imagining ...

So as the story is developing, as you are sitting on the edge of your chair, wondering what twist or turn will happen next, how the characters (George and Mary) will respond to this crisis or to that opportunity. The movie has been playing for a while, so you are engrossed in the plot. Then all of a sudden, George drops his movie persona, switches his facial expressions, reverts to his natural speaking voice and accent and, turning to directly face the camera (and hence the audience), says,
“Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I just have to tell you all something. I’m not actually George. I’m really Huston Smith, a movie actor, and none of what you’ve been watching is real. I’ve just been reading a script. And frankly, you’ve reached the end of the movie. The writers just stopped it there. The director told us to act right up until the last written word, and then to just stop. But I really had to explain what was going on, because that would be just too weird, don’t you think?”
As Huston Smith was giving that little out-of-character monologue, we notice the camera pan back and show the audience watching the original movie screen. They are shuffling in their cineplex stadium seats, wondering what the heck is going on. Then the camera moves in for a close-up of a older couple in the audience, looking rather perplexed, and the woman whispers to the man,
“Jim, what the heck is going on? Why did he just break out of character like that? I really wanted to see what happens next.”
Jim, with a somewhat detached, pensive look in his eyes, says,
“Wait a minute Patty. I think I get it. The whole point of that movie was to shock us in our own lives. To make us realize that those actors and that situation is a metaphor for our own lives. We are living, breathing, thinking that we are caught up in a complicated drama, but in fact, that is not reality. That is only a ‘movie’ if you will. Can’t you see that? The director was trying to shock us out of our unawareness. This is some kind of attempt to help us reach a spiritual insight.”
As Jim is finishing his little revelation, the camera pans back and reveals that this couple is also on a movie screen. This time however it is on a large drive-in movie screen, and we see a number of cars parked watching the movie (it continues with some more dialog fading into the background). So there is yet another audience (in cars) watching Jim and Patty perform that dialog. This is obviously a different audience, once more removed. And now the camera zooms in on another couple — sitting in a convertible — and the guy says to the girl,
“Chantel, what kind of a lame movie did you bring me to? Is this what they call a chick-flick? It doesn’t make any sense. Actors dropping out of character, audiences becoming the actors in another movie. What is going on?”
This time Chantel, also looking pensive, says,
“No Dan, don’t you see — the whole point of both of those surprise transitions was to reinforce to all of us in the audience that we shouldn’t trust what we see as our own ‘dramas’. None of it is real. In fact, how do you know that you and I right now aren’t just characters in yet another movie, that some audience out there [she points toward the camera] is watching right now.”
Dan says,
“Chantel, have you gone completely nuts. We’re sitting right here in this car. Touch me — I’m real. You’re real. Look back [he looks at the camera] -- there is nobody out there. Just a bunch of crickets [sound of loud crickets]. It is only us, sitting here in this car, in this drive-in.”
Chantel then sees some white light coming in from the edges of the frame.
“What is that? Dan, What’s going on? I see a bright light, don’t you?”
Dan says,
“Don’t worry Chantel, it’s some car or some guy with a really powerful flashlight, or something.”
As the white light gets brighter, the camera fades back and takes you back toward the drive-in projection booth, where you see the flickering white light coming out of the projector. The camera keeps zooming into the white light, as you hear movie dialog fading in the background, until the screen is nothing but white light. Finally, just a solid white screen (as if you’ve gone into the light).

Long, pregnant pause. Pure white. Pure silence.

After about a minute (and this is very awkward to sit through), there is some movement, as the camera pans back off the white screen and you see it set in an ornate old-time movie theater. You see people getting up and leaving the movie theater. They appear very confused, agitated, some of them a little disgusted. Others are trying to wait to see what comes next. You watch people leaving the theater for some time. Finally, only one couple near the front remains in the theater. The guy looks over to the woman, and says,

“So Carol, what did you think? Did you get it?”
And Carol says,
“Sure Steve ... at least I think so. First we were shown that our lives are no different from an actor playing a movie role. We identify with the character in our drama, but we’re not that. We are aware of that. So we don’t need to get caught up in the drama — we can be detached. Then comes another surprise, and we learn that it isn’t that simple. Even if we think we are detached from the drama, that’s not real either, for we could just as easily still be an actor playing out yet another meta-drama. We must continue to look for a deeper understanding, deeper insight. Is that right?”
Steve says ,
“Wow, that’s amazing, Carol. I didn’t figure any of that out the first time I saw it. Now tell me, did you understand the final ending?”
To which Carol says,
“Well, it could mean that none of those perspectives can be correct, because in each case we keep attributing our awareness to ‘me’ the individual. If those characters aren’t real, then I have to accept the fact that none of the people are real, and that’s probably because they artificially and incorrectly perceived themselves as individuals, each with separate egos. The white light — continuing the movie metaphor — indicates that we are not just actors playing dramatic roles. But that we are the light itself that projects these characters — that projects the entire movie. We are, in fact, just pure awareness. And in fact, you and I are not separate individuals, but we are really the same pure awareness.”
Steve says,
“Carol that’s fantastic. You must really have an open, receptive mind.”
At that point, the screen once again begins to lighten, this time because the film celluloid is starting to burn from the center outward, and we see that on the screen. As it burns it is leaving a pure bright white in its place, and Carol’s voice continues (fading),
“No Steve, not an open mind. Rather, no mind at all. Just This.”
And you are left once again with pure whiteness. And that is the end of the movie.

Hey, I hoped you liked the movie. I think it would be really neat to see this actually made into a movie short. If someone wants to do that (I don’t have the wherewithal) then by all means, please do so. Just point them back to my blog when you get to the credits ;-) The egoless, undifferentiated, non-separate being known as ‘me’ ;-)

Just Dance

I went to a wedding the other day. It was a lovely “at home” affair, and was a wonderful ocassion. There was much obvious love between the couple, and very deep emotions as they shared their feelings about their new commitment together, and their new families. I have no doubt they will have many years of fearless love and happiness.

At the wedding, there were two flower girls, one of them quite young. I really do love to watch children. As the wedding ceremony began, she noticed she still had flower petals in her basket, so she started flinging them with abandon. And when she had used up her collection, she asked the older flower girl for some more, which she happily gave. More launching of flower fireworks. Wonderful.

As evening came, and the dancing started, I saw this little girl take note that the bride and groom had just made their appearance on the dance floor. Certainly a special occasion to be watched from afar, right? Heck no, it’s time to dance, and she started to do just that. Spinning around with the biggest smile upon her face. She was in the moment, unworried what someone else might “think” and just freely expressing herself. Also wonderful.

I think of how she would likely react as she grew older. She’d learn about decorum, about proper behavior, about being reserved. Why do we teach these lessons? Where does this inhibition creep in? And then, many years later, we are (re)learning anew to live in the present, to relish this moment, to dance when we feel like dancing. I suppose it is just human nature. It was interesting that I never noticed the parents of this little girl during the entire wedding and reception. She was free to express herself, and she did so with wonderful innocence and joy.

I think there is a lesson for all of us there.
When you love a person all fear disappears. And when you are afraid all love disappears.

-- Osho Rajneesh

Dance like no one is watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt,
Sing like no one is listening,
Live like it's heaven on earth.

-- William Purkey

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Whatcha Reading?

See my friend here? He's looking over your shoulder, asking you what you've been reading. Why? Because he knows of a book that you might find worthwhile. A little book, small like my friend, that you can read in less than two hours -- and he guarantees it.

My wife gave this book to me for my anniversay (along with many others -- she is very thoughtful -- much more so than me I'm afraid to say ;-). Anyways, the book is Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh. He covers many different subjects, all geared at what would help each of us become more peaceful, as the necessary step to creating a more peaceful world.

For those that have never read Thich Nhat Hanh, I commend you to pick up any of his books; this one is now 20 years old. If you have read this book, I encourage you to dust it off and read it again. Thay (meaning teacher, as he is often called) writes with a very simple style, and also avoids all of the complicated Buddhist philosophy that might lead more to confusion than insight.

He is very direct in applying his insights to daily life -- no worries about what is 'real', and what is not. Practical, common sense, but clearly wisdom-filled advice, meant to be applied right here, right now, in every day life.

Here is a poem to whet your appetite. The nature of compassion is complicated, and in this poem, Thich Nhat Hanh identifies with what we would tend to call the victim, as well as the perpetrator, making the point that they both deserve our compassion, for we are all interconnected, and hence the title of the poem illustrates that we all share the responsibility for the health and welfare of each other:

Please Call Me By My True Names

A Poem By Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow --
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird which, when Spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am also the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay his
"debt of blood" to my people
dying slowing in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast if fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

This poem illustrates a concept Thay teaches about "interbeing". It reflects the notion not that "I think, therefore, I am", but rather, "I am, therefore you are; You are, therefore I am". Indeed, Thich Naht Hahn has created an Order of Interbeing with a set of Mindfulness Trainings that well embody this profound concept.

Again, I hope you take the time to read this book. It's simple, easy, and may just have a profound affect on your life, and by extension, on the world.

Namaste. And my tiny frog friend says "ribbit", which means the same thing ;-)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Meet the Joneses

You’ve heard the phrase, “Keeping up with the Joneses”. That spiraling process of acquisition and materialism to keep step with your neighbor's new car, new riding lawnmower, new swimming pool, etc. Perhaps you’ve considered the phrase and the sentiment, and concluded, thankfully, that it is not something you wish to do.

Well, here's a news flash, and something for you to consider. For 90+ percent of people living on this earth — your last name is Jones. That’s right. Even your modest, measured, restrained, middle-class, balanced, comfortable-but-not-affluent lifestyle is precisely what the Joneses have that so many of the rest of the world need to “keep up with”.

And here’s another news flash. It doesn’t scale. The world today does not have the natural resources for everyone to have the same standard of living as you enjoy. And even if it did, it is not the way you want to live.

Hey, so what? I work hard for my money, see? I deserve this lifestyle. Why should I care? Well, if you are a native born American, then one reason is your good fortune. By accident of birth, you live in a place that immediately elevates your lifestyle above the masses of the world. In short, you were lucky. And you should consider that when you believe you have “earned” it. Of course you work hard to earn your money, but probably no harder than billions of others that do not have the opportunity to earn 1/100 of what you make — due not to your efforts or inherent talents — but to your zip code.

So what is your point? Should I feel guilty for all that I have? Guilt would not be the emotion I was going for. You should feel grateful. Grateful beyond belief. And if you really feel that way when you consider all that you now have, it will have two effects: first, it will stop your ego’s tendency to need to keep up with the Joneses around the block; and second, it may cause you to pause and consider that larger inequity. Why does it exist? What are the implications? What things that you don’t like about this world today are in some way connected to that disparity? And I think, if you consider these questions with a reflective, contemplative, introspective attitude, and one that starts on a foundation of gratitude for all that you have been given, it will be an eye-opening experience.

So where does this road lead? Only here: to a recognition that you have enough — more than enough. Just that realization can change your life. What are you working for now? What are you worrying about now? If there is a monetary component, then you just solved your problem. You already have enough.

Now wait just a minute. Yes, I can believe that maybe after I get my dishwasher fixed, and we get an air conditioner (did you see how hot it was last week?), and we replace our old jalopy, and my second kid gets through college, and we take that vacation we’ve been planning — maybe then well have “enough” and consider your point. Perhaps, like many others, you believe if you just earned 20% more money, you could eliminate your financial worries.

Another news flash: everyone believes that, and it doesn’t matter what their income level is. And even if you increase your income BY 20%, your “wants and needs” will go up by the same amount, and you are right back where you started. Just roll the calendar back 10 years and ask yourself how you felt about the money you earned then. Now consider the extra money you earn now. Where does it all go? Has it eliminated your wants and needs? Or has it just changed them into a different set — the same ones that the Joneses next door needed too.

You know where this comes from. It is the only reason Madison Avenue exists. To create in your mind a want and a need for that new “stuff”. Hey, now hold on just a minute. Maybe I do want that stuff. So what? It’s my money. You’re not taking it away from me. So if I want to buy more stuff, what’s it to you, anyway?

Don’t worry, I’m not advocating for a massive redistribution of wealth to help out the poor. But I am advocating for you as an individual to consider the consequences. How do you like the terrorism today? Don’t think that is tied into our Western lifestyle? Tied into the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’? OK, perhaps you’ll find more agreement in what our lifestyle does to the environment. Are you satisfied with our stewardship of the planet? Will you be when China or India works to raise its standard of living to a commensurate level? Where do you think wars come from? Competition over resources. Not ideology. In the end, it is about who controls the resources — and in some cases, those resources are human.

So what do you expect me to do? One person in a sea of more than six billion. Just leave me alone, let me be comfortable. Yes, let me want the next cool gadget, and I’ll be happy. Ah, but what about the children. And their children. Everyone of your ancestors can say they helped to make the world a better place for you — gave you a better lifestyle. It is, in fact, why we live. To have children, so that they can have children. It is called evolution, and it is the ultimate journey we are on. And so, we owe it to our children to make sure that the planet is here for them to decide how to make it better.

Yeah, so what? You still didn’t say what I can do about it. Well, here is where your faith is needed. No, not your belief in your God. Your faith in yourself. You need to decide just what you should do. Consume less, reduce the excess you already have. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Spend your new-found, reduced-stress time on things that matter. Spend more time with your family. Show them what choices they can make, and how those can make a difference. Spend time with yourself, and continue to reflect, contemplate, and perhaps meditate on just what is important, on overcoming the ego, on respecting all life, on beauty, on peace, on gratitude.

I believe there is tremendous power within each of us. And we use it however our mind thinks is best. But our mind has been tricked by our ego into what it thinks is best; in short, what is best for me. But that is not what is really best, because it does not scale. Indeed, it is the source of all conflict. If you seriously consider the world around you, you will realize that you are not a separate being — cut off from everything else. You cannot use everything else to better your own situation, or in the end you will damage yourself just as you damage the world around you. You are a part of the world. You are intimately connected to everything around you. So what ultimately is best for you, is what is best for those around you. Once you realize this — once you gain control over your ego (and your mind), you can use that wisdom to make new choices.

There is so much more to say about these new choices. How they will make you feel. But that should be left for another time. In short, they can give you inner peace — a foundation so solid that you will not be shaken by the inevitable storm. They can give you inner bliss — letting you see the beauty in everything and everyone around you. And then you will know unconditional love — what it feels like to offer it, and to receive it. Once you have tasted just a sampling of these things, you will no longer wish to follow the Joneses. But instead to help them see what you have seen. And from there, it will spread.

You can see another post that asks the question: Do you have enough?

Monday, July 31, 2006

On Evolution

OK, now here's an interesting article. Perhaps you read about this in the New York Times. A PhD student is breeding a bunch of mean rats (and nice ones too), to see what he can learn.

I really wish I had taken more biology in school. Back then, it was just a little too squishy for me. I needed harder sciences and math -- you know, the ones with right and wrong answers. I couldn't handle the ambiguity of it all. If only I had understood this would be an essential life skill.

I find particularly interesting the reference to humans. And the notion we may well be effecting our evolution through societal norms that punish those that do not conform. Of course, in the good ole days we really were thorough in our punishment, and so you could see how this would directly effect the gene pool; now we are somewhat kinder and gentler, so it is not as clear. But I guess when you are in jail, you are not procreating.

You can see where this leads, however. We fought a world war over this (at least in part), didn't we?

And what about selective societies. That share common beliefs (let's say in deep spiritual matters), and only let others join the community that share these beliefs and practice their rites (meditation, etc.). And banish those that stray off the path, and therefore, relieve the (local) gene pool of that potential progenitor. Is there any genetic trait -- a "God gene" if you will -- that has ever been seen manifest in the resultant generations? Are the progeny more likely to attain enlightenment? Or talk to God? Surely someone has studied this. Any pointers?

I ask this not just because of the article. But also because of a teaching I attended by Andrew Cohen a while back. He would have us believe that we are now at that point in evolution where as beings aware of our own consciousness, we can participate in the evolutionary process of consciousness itself. I'm still trying to wrestle with that. And I keep coming back to some tiny bits and pieces of biological evolution -- that process of modifying our genetic makeup -- to really "participate" in the evolutionary process.

Social constructs, higher awareness, greater tolerance do not seem to really affect consciousness on an evolutionary scale, at least to me. I wrote about this elsewhere, and haven't gotten past this point. But this article did intrigue me. The notion that we are (as societies) participating in our own domestication -- helping us all to "play nice", at least within our own society. Alas, we see how poorly this works across societies at present. (Upon reflection, it ain't working so well within societies either. But I suspect that depends on the reference point.)

Anyways, that would seem to lead one to believe we just need to "up" the level of society to a "world view". Many have made that point. I wonder if that would have the intended effect given our pluralistic attitudes that are de rigueur. Remember, "domestication" was enabled through societies weeding out traits they found unacceptable. If we "accept everything", without judgment, then nothing is weeded out (except those that are unwilling to accept everything). Interesting.

Here's an interesting extract from the article:
When dogs were developed from wolves, selection against fear and aggression "may have been sufficient to produce the unusual ability of dogs to use human communicative gestures," Dr. Hare wrote last year in the journal Current Biology.

Dr. Hare believes that wolves probably have the same cognitive powers as dogs, but their ability to solve social problems, like picking up human cues to hidden food, is masked by their fear. Dogs, after their fear is removed by domestication, see humans as potential social partners, not as predators, and are ready to interact with them.
Selection against fear and aggression. What a concept (especially the fear aspect, which does not seem so obvious, and yet we know fear motivates many undesirable behaviors). Anyway, I'm glad someone is doing this research. And I welcome inputs, comments, and pointers from those that have some basic education or serious summer-time reading under their belt to help me better understand evolution, and specifically, the concept of evolution of consciousness.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Are You The One and/or Are We All One?

I’ve been having some interesting conversations with a couple of people I met through my blogs. Just visitors, that left a comment, and that I replied to, and now we have a conversation ongoing. Fascinating individuals.

And after these conversations, we come to the question: What should we do? Yes there is injustice, religious intolerance, corrupt businesses, pandering politicians, out of control media ... So what should we do? One answer is to work on ourselves. Another answer is to hold fast to our beliefs, because they are right. And yet another is to stop bitchin’ and start a revolution.

So how do you see it? And what are we to do?

I saw an interesting movie on the plane over to Japan. It is called “V for Vendetta”. (And yes, it is based on a comic book, but don’t let that influence you.) It is about a government (in this case Britain, but that’s not the point) that has become Big Brother, and ultimately has become the problem (the connections to Iraq snd America are not so subtle, but don’t let that bother you either). And about one man who has harbored legitimate grievances for 20 years, and is now carrying out his Vendetta. And about one innocent civilian – also touched by the injustice — carrying on his crusade (probably a bad choice of words). It is about your role as a member of that society, and whether you would stand up against such injustice. It is about fear, and about transcending it. About death, and no longer fearing it. It’s a bit over the top as a movie, but I think that is OK (after all, it’s based on a comic book ;-). It wants you to ask — just who is the terrorist, anyway?

So whatever your grievance, your concern, your favorite injustice, the question remains ... Just what are we to do?

I came across this quote recently, and I offer it as at least one possible reaction. But I’d welcome hearing about yours. Please feel free to comment.

Let us be One

May all humanity be one, and we be one with them. And may we feel our kinship now with all living things, as well: with the creatures of the land and sea and sky, and feel our common bond with our Mother, the Earth we share together.

O Creative Spirit of Life, whom the people of the world call by many true names, we give thanks this day for the wonder that is all around us: for the human quest for meaning; for the poetry and myth of the human imagination; for the bright stars in the night; for the joyful sound of voices uplifted in song; for the company of friends; for the bonds of those we love.

We would be mindful, especially now, of the great pain still within our world: the loneliness, the poverty, the hunger, the disease, the injustice that yet remain. Just as in the solstice season, our globe swung back toward the light of longer days, so, too, we pray, may human history once again swing out of darkness and toward the light -- toward the light of peace and justice, reason and compassion.

We join now in the hope that in the midst of all that besets us and our world, we can yet be faithful to Life, and faithful to one another. The spirit of all the celebrations we have commemorated this season-- and other celebrations the world's people observe-- is the spirit of faith in the amazing possibilities that Life always offers unto us: possibilities of new light, new life, new freedom, new hope. May we plant the seeds of this hope deep within our souls this day. And through the winter yet before us, may we tend to these seeds, and nurture them, and care for them -- so that they, too, may come to flower like the spring that already beckons -- come to flower in those blessings we offer back to Life.

Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

On Change and Conflict

On this Independence Day, I'm thinking of the birth of our nation. Not a peaceful enterprise. So what?

We were having a nice conversation -- you know -- the kind that stimulate thinking, beget opinions and reactions, and possibly even amplify voices. As my father once asked of my mother and me, "would you please stop arguing?"; to which we both replied in unison, "we're NOT arguing!" Anyway ...

So my brother-in-law posited that increased global communications would inherently bring about greater conflict. I challenged by suggesting the opposite -- increased multi-cultural exchange of views, presented by the people rather than by institutions, could actually reduce conflict by wearing-down our parent's (and societies') stereotypes and prejudices.

Upon reflection, I believe it was only a semantic argument. And here is why. What the internet brings to the 21st century seems to me to be as influential as oceanic steam ships and intercontinental jet planes to world travel; as revolutionary as Johannes Gutenberg's printing press to mass communication; and as transformational as the transistor and ultimately the PC on which you are reading this blog. What that translates into is Change, with a capitol "C". The internet provides the means (which of course can be exploited or denied) to give voice to individuals all over the globe. True, it represents only the developed, interconnected world, but surely this is orders of magnitudes larger than each of us practically had available before hand. And an extremely diverse set at that. And those nations, tribes, peoples that do not have access, will likely be given at least an occasional voice, or at least a distant whisper, by those that do.

So what of change and conflict? Charles Darwin said,
"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change."
It seems to me that what the internet, and global communications in general, really brings to our species in the 21st century is Change. And taking the long view, evolution's "interest" in this change is our adaptability. If we adapt to this change, we may survive to evolve further. If we do not, we may extinguish this flame. But my point is not apocalyptic.

I believe there will be increased understanding, and the growth that naturally follows from exposure to different ideas and new information. AND, I think there will be conflict from those that cannot -- or really choose not -- to adapt, and try with all of their might to interrupt our slow, steady, increased planetary integration. Because that is what is really underway, is it not? The world is getting smaller and smaller by all measures. Fewer resources (and more people). Exposure to cultural differences developed over millennia -- instantaneously. And in some, perhaps very few, a growing awareness of the only constant when seen from above (or within): Change.

So will there be conflict? Yes, indeed there will be. Because some of us will choose to embrace this change, and others will (literally) choose to fight it. Is that good/bad, right/wrong, just/unfair? You know -- it is none of those judgments. It just is.

So expect (continued) conflict as the world adapts (or not) to the continual change, amplified by noteworthy advancements like the internet. You may be asked (or feel the need) to take up arms (physically or mentally) to defend this new reality from forces that wish to deny it. Can conflict be avoided all together? I doubt it. I think that is Life. I think that is Evolution. I think that is Reality.

Is there another way? I think there are many ways -- Christ showed one, Gandhi showed another, as did MLK. You cannot deny there was conflict there -- but that does not imply that violence is the only answer. However, do not be too sanguine -- consider their personal outcomes. And of course there was Buddha and Lao Tzu. So beliefs and behavior in the face of change have been modeled for or explained to us.

So what of this reflection on change and conflict? Only this: that both will surely continue. The more we take advantage of this change (global communications), the more we can adapt as a species to a more integral view of life. In the end that may reduce conflict, but that will require that we take the long view. In the mean-time, do not be discouraged by conflict. Accept it as reality, and decide how you will deal with it. Wishing it away will not help. Believing it can be forever avoided, or willed away, will only result in a fool's paradise. So embrace the change, and begin to adapt.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Inspiration from a 6-year old

This cute girl from Thailand is not the subject of this post. She is simply pictured here to help us recognize the power each of us has, including the children. I read the story below (from and was amazed at the selflessness, generosity, and wisdom demonstrated by a 6-year old. And for the media, I ask, why isn't this story on the nightly news?
Inspiration of the Day:

6-year-old Ryan Hreljac listened intently as his teacher talked about how without access to clean water, people become ill and sometimes even die. "Every penny helps," the teacher said, explaining that a penny buys a pencil, "and $70 pays for a well." Ryan ran home and begged his parents for $70. They told him to earn it through extra chores, and so while his brothers played, Ryan cleaned for two hours. He got $2. Instead of watching a movie with family, he washed windows. Another $2. Months later, he finally had $70, and his parents set up a meeting to donate the money. Ryan nervously handed over the cookie jar holding $70. "There's an extra $5 here," he said, lowering his voice. "You might want to buy some hot lunches for the people making the well." And Ryan hasn’t stopped there: now 14, he has helped raise over $1 million for wells! This inspiring profile is from 2001.

Read more about this story if you are interested. What would you give up, in time or money, to help those so much less fortunate than yourself have clean drinking water? A fair question I think, and one I am asking myself.

Addendum. Here is a more complete, and it appears accurate, story of Ryan's Well. interestingly, it is even more moving to me. Please read it and realize what impact any one of us can have on the world and humanity.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Reflection on Intention

Intentions can be good, and they can be bad (so what’s new?) Well, of course — they are neither good nor bad — they just are. It just depends on what you value at the moment as to how you will gauge their benefit or regret. Consider the following:

If I make the “intention” to do no harm to sentient beings, that can help guide me, and prevent “reactions” that would be contrary to that intention — for example, killing a mosquito, ant, or fly.

Also, if I make the “intention” to live in the Now, to be present to all possible experiences as they arise, I will see life and its beauty in a flowing stream, a blazing crimson sunset, a blustery cold November day that takes your breath away. Life will become the tree frog’s song as it crescendos above the orchestra of crickets, or the purple martin’s erratic flight as it scouts and snatches insects for its young.

That’s the good news, so to speak.

The bad news, so to speak, is if I make an “intention” to get all of the things on my “to do” list accomplished today (especially when there are many more than can reasonably be accomplished). What then happens to the free moments when I’m not actually working on my chosen task. I’m thinking of my other tasks, or rushing to get on with the next activity. In such a world, I might be curt with the receptionist (hey, I’m on a mission). I might not notice the box turtle about to cross the road, and rather than stop and enjoy his visit, and steer him toward safety, I might be simply oblivious and — worst case — run over the 40 year-old turtle. Oops.

Now don’t get me wrong here. Since there is no absolute “good” and “bad”, the more practical intention of getting things crossed off my to do list is not inherently “bad”. When you make a conscious (with full awareness) choice to get those things done, you are putting your mind under your control, and accomplishing what you set out to do. This is what time-management experts get paid to tell us to do. But many of us have unwittingly stepped onto a treadmill, which manages to simply produce more “to do’s” than you can ever accomplish. And so, we keep working harder, going faster, and in the process, mindlessly missing life.

Here’s another consideration. What “should” you be doing right now? I hope you should be reading this blog. But if not, then you are not fully present. Somewhere in the back of your mind, there is “something else” you should be doing. You realize it when that latent intention takes control of your mind, and you start thinking about something else while you are reading this blog. In that case, your mind just became the master, and you are now the servant. Thinking what it wants, rather than what you want. (BTW, this can also be “good” if it is a spontaneous new thought that was triggered by what you read.)

Take another example. Have you ever been working inside an office on a beautiful spring day, and decided that you would take a break to enjoy the outside. Once out there you breathe in the fresh air, perhaps revel in the sun’s warm rays. Maybe you notice some spring birds gathering nesting material. Just as you start to really get into the present moment, a nagging thought comes into the back of your mind -- “I really ‘should’ be working”. Doesn’t that rather spoil the experience you are having? Once again, your mind has commanded, and as the servant, your are now responding. You need to make sure you keep your mind as the faithful servant. So when you take that break, be fully present to enjoy the experience. It will be much more refreshing and rewarding.

So consider your intentions. What behaviors do you wish to exhibit? Pick them very carefully, for they can help govern your existence. And that can be “good” or that might be “bad”.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Reflection on wholeness

There was a time when I was a manager at a medium size consulting company. I always saw the activity in my department as above average (or maybe even better than that ;-). Of course, to be above average, then at least half of the other departments, had to be below average. And so there was “us” and “those other guys” that didn’t quite get it, or get it as well.

Of course, management styles changed and people saw the need for better collaboration, working more like a “team”. I always thought we operated as a great team — it just depended where you drew the boundaries. There were always those who we wanted to have on our team, and “those other guys”.

Now you may think this was the sign of immaturity, or naiveté, or even egocentricity. But then ask yourselves the following questions:

Perhaps it was inappropriate to draw the boundaries around my department. So where should they be drawn? Upper management might say the Division (those are now gone, kinda), or the Center (we really should share across those boundaries). Well, then how about the entire company — yes, that’s it — let’s make sure that the company stays “above average” and not like “those other guys”.

OK, perhaps you are getting my drift. We need to think bigger. After all, my company is here to assist our Government, and we are all “one team” so we must include our civilian and military members of Government. After all, this is the United States. And we are certainly way above average, and not like “those other guys”.

Hmm, perhaps you are detecting a pattern. OK, our country is actually not that old, and we’ve seen some nation-states have their boundaries redrawn many times just in our own lifetimes. So maybe we should draw the boundaries on ethnic grounds. Or cultural grounds. Or religious grounds. Hmm, maybe you now see the problem.

There is no ‘us’, and there is no ‘them’. There isn’t even ‘you’ and ‘I’. It’s just One. And making these divisions, which I think you will agree are all conceptual (and inherently artificial by some yardstick — trust me — any boundary you create, I can find an example to show it isn’t absolute), is inherently harmful, because it reinforces a view of life which runs counter to reality. It breaks up our humanity (or the world, or the universe) into segments that artificially compete against one another, and thus brings suffering.

What we need, instead, are thought processes or paradigms that unite and integrate. That see life — Reality — as a whole. Everything interconnected and related to everything else. No absolutes, and nothing fixed. Nope, not even God (at least as distinct from us).

And all of this begins (and ends, really) with the self — with you, and your concept of “I”. If you are separate from the world, then we are all separate from the world and each other. If you are not distinct, but instead an integral part of the world, then so am I, and so are we together, ad infinitum.

It’s a very challenging concept. But I encourage you to examine your thoughts, beliefs, and their foundations. And to ask yourself if they scale. And if not, to ask yourself why, and if there are alternative paradigms that do scale. And I think you will be brought back to unity. Which will also bring you back to love. Give it a try and see.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Flow

We have created a pond, where previously there was only a seasonal swail. It's very nice, very relaxing, very meditative. Water flows in, and water flows out. The more it rains, the greater the flow. Is the pond the same before and after the flow?

Perhaps time is the wrong paradigm to apply to it. For as the Greek philospher Heraclitus (540 BC - 480 BC) once said:
"You could not step twice into the same river;
for other waters are ever flowing on to you."
This is the flow. This is life. Not static, segreagable "things" like 'ponds' and 'rivers'. Not set in time with 'befores' and 'afters'. Just the flow, at once the same and ever changing.

The same is true about you and me. We are not fixed entities with set personalities. This misperception is caused by the ego holding on so tightly to its own separate existence. However, "other waters are ever flowing on to you." We live within a universe which is nothing but flow. We are nothing but flow.

We haven't really created the pond. We adjusted the conditions surrounding seasonal springs, and have collected their waters into a holding area. We have manipulated the flow. That is what we do -- we stand in the river -- never twice the same -- and by being there -- affect the flow.

There is no way to say it when we search for the 'subject' and the 'object' in this new paradigm. We are both the subject and the object. There is no subject and no object. There is only the flow. Coming in and going out.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Do you have enough?

I was having an e-mail conversation with my good friend Daniel a while ago, pondering the question how to get more people to step off the treadmill and positively change our society:

"If the answer to propagate change is to summarily quit one's job, it will be reserved for the few that have the financial means to do so, or who wish to step back into poverty."
"Poverty?  Oh Steve.  Take a walk between two Sky Train stations in Bangkok.  There you will see real poverty.  But I suppose there are spots in Bangledesh that make that look like the Taj Ma Hal.  My point is that each of us has to define enough.  ... Only you can look at your own situation.  By the way on that walk between sky train stations you can see beauty that will make you cry it's so beautiful, and I know you are aware of that."
Thanks Daniel for getting me out of my head and back into the 'real' world.

It's so refreshing to smell the wetness of morning grass, to see the tadpoles scurrying to and fro, to look again and find the Iris blossom when only yesterday there was nothing, to relax with a friend upon the lily pad, and to hear the water flow into and out of the pond, endlessly, ceaselessly, always the same, and yet always different. I certainly do have enough.

Here's a story that also makes the point that we all must answer the question "Do I have Enough?" Take a moment and read it. Yes, you have enough time ;-)

Something to Make Me Happy
By Sharon Palmer

     I was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping in a toy store and decided to look at Barbie dolls for my nieces.
     A nicely dressed little girl was excitedly looking through the Barbie dolls as well, with a roll of money clamped tightly in her little hand.
     When she came upon a Barbie she liked, she would turn and ask her father if she had enough money to buy it.  He usually said "yes," but she would keep looking and keep going through their ritual of "Do I have enough?"
     As she was looking, a little boy wandered in across the aisle and started sorting through the Pokémon toys.
     He was dressed neatly, but in clothes that were obviously rather worn, and wearing a jacket that was probably a couple of sizes too small.  He, too, had money in his hand, but it looked to be no more than five dollars or so, at the most.
     He was with his father as well, and kept picking up the Pokémon video games.  Each time he picked one up and looked at his father, his father shook his head, "no."
     The little girl had apparently chosen her Barbie, a beautifully dressed, glamorous doll that would have been the envy of every little girl on the block.
     However, she had stopped and was watching the interchange between the little boy and his father.  Rather dejectedly, the boy had given up on the video games and had chosen what looked like a book of stickers instead.  He and his father then started walking through another aisle of the store.
     The little girl put her Barbie back on the shelf, and ran over to the Pokémon games.  She excitedly picked up one that was lying on top of the other toys, and raced toward the check-out, after speaking with her father.
     I picked up my purchases and got in line behind them.
     Then, much to the little girl's obvious delight, the little boy and his father got in line behind me.
     After the toy was paid for and bagged, the little girl handed it back to the cashier and whispered something in her ear.  The cashier smiled and put the package under the counter.
     I paid for my purchases and was rearranging things in my purse when the little boy came up to the cashier.  The cashier rang up his purchases and then said, "Congratulations, you are my hundredth customer today, and you win a prize!"
     With that, she handed the little boy the Pokémon game, and he could only stare in disbelief.
     It was, he said, exactly what he had wanted!
     The little girl and her father had been standing at the doorway during all of this, and I saw the biggest, prettiest grin on that little girl that I have ever seen in my life.  Then they walked out the door, and I followed, close behind them.
     As I walked back to my car, in amazement over what I had just witnessed, I heard the father ask his daughter why she had done that.  I'll never forget what she said to him.
     "Daddy, didn't Nana and Paw Paw want me to buy something that would make me happy?"
     He said, "Of course they did, Honey."
     To which the little girl replied, "Well, I just did!"
     With that, she giggled and started skipping toward their car.  Apparently, she had decided on the answer to her own question of, "Do I have enough?"

Friday, June 09, 2006

Doctor, heal thyself

Here’s an interesting little story as told by Michael Josephson:
Doctoring With a Heart 456.4

When you visit a medical specialist, an emergency room or a patient in the hospital, are you ever struck by a sense that many doctors are so focused on the scientific aspects of diagnosis and treatment of illness or injury that they ignore, maybe even become annoyed by, things like pain, fear or anxiety?

In her book "Medicine as Ministry," Dr. Margaret Mohrmann, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia , proposes a dramatically different perspective. If accepted, it could drastically change the nature of medical training and treatment.

She contends that doctors tend to view their roles and responsibilities too narrowly. The ultimate object of medicine, she says, is not just to diagnose and cure disease, but to alleviate suffering. In other words, doctors should see themselves as healers, not merely scientists.

"The practice of the ministry of medicine," she adds, "is the practice of paying attention." Being attentive means sensing, treating seriously and responding appropriately to the myriad feelings that inevitably accompany illness and injury.

In her view, the most needed remedy for the kinds of suffering doctors face daily is not more or better painkilling drugs, but more genuine caring. She says doctors should listen more even if it makes them weep. She believes true compassion and empathy are healing agents for pain and anxiety. Genuine gestures of concern -- from a comforting squeeze of the hand to a follow-up phone call or visit -- can be as important as prescriptions and surgical procedures.

I think she's right. It takes a kind of moral courage for a doctor to keep an open heart. But what a huge difference it would make.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts
I find this interesting, because (although I haven’t read her book) she seems to be referring to some basic Buddhist concepts here (or perhaps they are simply inherent human concepts) such as to “alleviate suffering”, show loving compassion, etc. Also interesting because she recommends doctors treat their patients with “genuine caring” and “an open heart”. Most doctors are trained, either explicitly or through practical defense mechanisms, to do quite the opposite, so as to protect them from the vicissitudes of life (and death). I imagine the break room conversation for the new intern to be something like: “Don’t get to close to your patient”. “You need to remain independent and detached, or this job will eat you up inside”. “You can’t save everyone, so don’t kill yourself trying.”

Yet I have come to believe that they can in fact detach themselves from this movie of life and death, tragedy and victimhood, and terminal illnesses that can just as likely grab hold of the saint as the sinner. By seeing life for what it really is — its nondual nature, doctors (and the rest of us) can both operate in this world (excuse the pun) and remain somewhat detached from its drama. They (and we) can express loving kindness, incredible presence, and complete compassion without being consumed by the emotion, or mental constructs such as “the unfairness of it all”.

So what I find interesting, is that such practices which I relate to the Buddha (that's his hand in the picture above -- yes, a tenuous connection I know) would also help someone on the Western scientific cutting edge like our medical doctors do their jobs better (which should indeed be about healing rather than treatment, and where possible, healing as much of the whole person as he or she is ready for).

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Missing my flight

I arrived at the Santa Barbara airport after a short visit on a work trip, that had been marred by bad weather. But today, as I was departing, it was sunny outside. When I got to the ticket counter, I was informed that my short flight into San Francisco was delayed due to fog there, and I would miss my connection home, so they would have to re-route me. Have you felt that immediate reaction when things don't go as you planned -- don't meet your expectations, and you are attached to the outcome (I wanted to be home)? Yes, I was upset. I tried calling my travel agent, but there were no good alternatives. Finally, I accepted the rerouted itinerary that the ticket agent cheerfully and helpfully provided; but I was sullen.

So I went outside to kill time, bemoaning the fact that I would now be getting home later than planned, and probably with not as good seats as I had worked out previously (yes, I know how trivial it sounds -- what can I say -- it's how my mind was making me feel).

Then as I sat outside in the beautiful sunshine, listening to some music, I had this incredible wave of beauty just envelope me. This was not a conscious act on my part. I didn't "will myself" to start taking a different perspective. Something just clicked, and I was "spiritually forced" to get out my camera and start taking pictures (the one above is a building at the Santa Barbara airport). And then another stage, and I put away my camera and let my own eyes become the lens — the witness. I detached from my own thoughts and petty concerns, and everyone and everything I saw was so beautiful, so peaceful. I watched a little child, maybe 2 years old, holding on to a dandelion walking around on the grass, checking out all the flowers. She looked over to me and smiled. Later on, her father was out with her on the lawn with a tennis ball, teaching her to play catch (more like fetch ;-) and to throw it back. So gentle. Such love and compassion. Indeed, everyone I saw, all their interactions were nothing but friendly and peaceable.

I don’t know, I must have looked like a crazy man, just leaning against a tree smiling at everyone and everything I saw. Yes, it was a beautiful day, but what came over me was something very unique, and I've felt it only a few times in my life. It is a detachment from your thought process, and a detachment from your future expectations. You are able to just witness. And from that detached perspective -- not judging, not calculating, not thinking -- what you experience is the inherent beauty that exists in the world. I don't think this is something you can "strive" for, as I think it really is a stepping back from desire and expectation. It is "un-doing" all of your planning and preconceived notions.
A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.
-- Lao Tzu
Oh yeah, and the re-routed flight? Got me home earlier than I was originally scheduled, and the seats were excellent. Seems to me I just need to chill out more often and take each "detour" (aka, life as it is) as a blessing. Which I did that entire day. What a really nice experience.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Karmic Explosion

My friend Dan and I have been having an e-mail conversation about a couple of worthwhile books (Awaken the Buddha Within, by Lama Surya Das and The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle). One point in that dialog had to do with a Buddhist priniciple that one of our purposes is to alleviate suffering in all sentient beings. Or maybe not -- maybe it is really just to work on our own enlightenment, and the rest will follow.

It is easy to find quotes from Buddhist sages that reinforce our lessons and points of view. So I like to see them from other sources too, and try to relate them:

Man can no longer live his life for himself alone. We realize that all life is valuable and that we are united to all this life. From this knowledge comes our spiritual relationship with the universe. -- Albert Schweitzer

This ties into the the duty/purpose of alleviating suffering in the world we were talking about. I think it is a reflection of our maturity in the world. We see that we do not live by and for ourselves. Nor for our families, or our clans/tribes, or for our countries. We do not even live for our God (don’t get me started). We live with and for everyone and everything, and it is all interrelated.

Don’t worry about the need to work on your own enlightenment first — yes it is essential, but it will come naturally once the seed has been planted, as surely as the mighty oak exists within the fallen acorn. And if that seed hasn't yet germinated inside someone, they will look at you kinda funny ;-)

So what motivates our action in this world? Today. Right now. Loving kindness, compassion, and a genuine desire to alleviate suffering of all sentient beings. Just think if that was the motivation of each one of our decisions, every day, in everything we do. Karmic explosion!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Mirage of Life

Hello all,

It has been much too long. I’ve been tied up in the work-a-day world, something I would rather not consume me. I don’t know what it is about a long plane ride (to Japan), that seems to bring out my other side. Maybe it’s the wine ;-) Maybe it’s the iPod. Or maybe reflection on a movie or two. Just saw a movie entitled “The Emperor’s Club” starring Kevin Kline. A movie about virtue, and about people using less-than-virtue (cheating) to get ahead in the real world. It does a reasonable job explaining the “grey” nature to life. Nothing is black and nothing is white. Be as concerned about the religious right as about the liberal left. It is a rare individual that is not caught up in one agenda or another. Among other points, it shows what can happen when you are caught up in (attached to) the outcome. Better, indeed, to let the chips fall where they may. To act out of conscience, but without need to control the outcome. The cost of not playing the game, and the virtue. Ah yes, life can be complicated. But oh, the indomitable spirit, and faith in our fellow man.

What causes one man to be righteous, and another to seek only gain? What causes one soul to grant forgiveness, while another seeks only retribution? Is it nature or nurture? Or is it a somehow a calling, hearing the whisper of an inner voice. Usually drowned out by the cacophony of the work-a-day world, of the competitive spirit, of the capitalistic media. Have you ever heard that voice? I can assure you it is all but silent in most of us. But somewhere deep inside it is speaking to you – always present. Your job, then, is to listen for it. And once you hear it, to wish to examine it, to understand its source. And for this, you will need a little solitude, a little reflection, a little contemplation, a little introspection, and perhaps a little meditation. I urge you to give yourself that space. To hear that voice, and wonder. In that moment, life is its most beautiful. It lacks judgment. It is rich with meaning, simplicity, and joy.

And I believe there is more. In that space, there is a new flow, a warmly embracing trade wind that calls to you to follow. Steer your ship, and let that breeze set for you a new course. It will take less effort, and it will feel right. There will still be rough seas, but you will fare much better running with the wind and with the current, rather than against it. You will realize that though you might wish to guide the breeze, in fact the breeze guides you. And this recognition, this surrender, is really the secret.

Life is what it is, but you – you have a choice. Do you wish to embrace life as it is, or do you wish to do battle, to try to conquer the forces of nature? One way accepts life in the present moment, while the other tries to build sand castles upon the shore. Once sees black and white, right and wrong, and accepts them all, while the other seeks to impose its righteous cause, for better or worse, and only in the eye of the beholder.

So on this occasion — the return of reflections of beauty — I turn to the mirage that is life. Your goal is to not only be in it, and a part of it, but also to transcend it, like this picture shows. There I am on the beach, but not entirely. I enjoy the moment, but recognize it is only a part of the picture, and as the image implies, the other is rather ethereal. Harder to grasp, but real, actually essential, nonetheless. And can you feel the warm breeze in the picture? Yes, it is blowing, and I am listening. And hearing the rustle of the palms, the breaking surf, and at the same time, the calm, inner voice.

Be there, and not there. And enjoy all that life has to offer.


Saturday, January 07, 2006

On Advertising and the Media

According to Martin Avis, publisher of the e-zine KickStart Daily,
"By the time the average Western person has reached the age of twenty, they will have been exposed to over one million television commercials."
Jeez, I wonder how it is we in the West have this problem with materialism?
"Whoever controls the media - the images - controls the culture."
-- Allen Ginsberg
Do we have a new ally that might allow us to change this dynamic? Or rather, to help turn it in "our" favor. Via the web. Can we take back control of the media, and the message? That is, can we influence the "culture"?