Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Quantitative Self Movement

With the emergence of popular high tech gizmos, the Quantitative Self Movement encourages entrepreneurs of all stripes to come up with new and improved devices to measure human activity. And hard data, as we all know, provides the gospel truth for modern day man, adding or detracting from the holy books with bottom line facts.

Quantifying one's behavior and its measureable impact on the body and mind is not a new idea in the brave new world of 21st century technology. Leaving aside scientists from past millennia -- in a brainless example, the average bathroom scale tells its owner how much weight one has gained, lost, or maintained as often as the person with the poundage would like. With an explosion of the iPhone-carrying species, the Nike + iPod App can quantify every twitch and how many calories it burns. (As for this app which refuses to leave the phone's desktop, if you live in Los Angeles, home to freeways and a multitude of cars, one could well use this feature; a farmer in the fields of Kenya or bicycle-taxi driver in India needn't worry about burning calories through movement. Just the reverse problem there.)

And speaking of iPhone, the Apple mafia is developing a new ear bud that measures oxygenation, heart rate and body temperature while listening to music or yakking on the phone. But it should come with a warning on the package. Couch potatoes beware. Your guilt factor may rise exponentially while using this device.

Sadly, a high tech doodad for quantifying the evolution of the soul or the consciousness of enlightenment has yet to be invented, even as brain imaging captures information about the astounding benefits of meditation and biofeedback provides a useful tool for stress management and other persnickety emotional issues.

So to all those who are nuts about quantifying every movement, thought and activity, one area remains to be boiled down to a numerical calculation.

Who or what created humankind and all the flora and fauna?

Until we can quantify that, endless rounds of theological debates and blood wars will continue. So my take on all the above: please remember that the hardware and software of mother nature's interconnected world can decipher all matter of things for the attentive observer who uses awareness and intuition -- the most effective gizmos every invented.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Fathers and Families

During Thanksgiving dinner last night, a discussion arose about the role of fathers: the good, the bad and the ugly. All of the "children" at the table were adults ranging in age between 25 to 37 years old. Their maturation process had given them distance and perspective, unlike the tender years of 0-3 when parental energies imprinted heavily on the wide open young soul - or when the hormones of adulthood started churning around in the bodies and minds of burgeoning teenagers. 

Father issues may erupt with volcanic intensity if the formative years are filled with good intentions gone wrong on the part of the father. (This is not meant to be a father-bashing blog as mothers do their fair share of positive and negative actions, but our discussion last night happened to be about the males of the species.)

In the group assembled at our table, the wattage of love, understanding and attention doled out to these young adults from their fathers varied; three out of four had different fathers and two out of four had different mothers. (Don't even try to figure out how this group interconnects unless you are adept at understanding the logic of a Rubic's cube or have studied anthropology.)

Suffice it to say that the upshot of the entire conversation lead to one conclusion. Regardless of whether the father was guilty of benign neglect, total neglect, or blew hot and cold with his gift of love, all of the wonderful "kids" had learned valuable lessons.

To regurgitate a cliched phrase, "It's not the hand you are dealt, it's what you do with it." 

No matter what burdens a father inflicts on his young, usually due to his own childhood traumas, when the offspring achieves independence he or she is free to choose.
Reactive? Depressed? Submissive? Agressive? Or, learn from hard lessons and become more loving, empathetic, insightful and understanding.

As long as every young one growing up understands that he or she is a unique being that was born from, but is not the same as the father (or mother), then self-respect can grow; we are not property. We are human beings fully deserving of dignity and respect.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

James Ray Has Nowhere to Sleep

The rise of "New Age" philosophy in the last five decades can be viewed as a positive phenomenon. The gestalt of self-help, motivational psychology, holistic health and a distillation of global religions into a secular western approach fit our evolutionary pattern as we enter into the Age of Aquarius. Thomas Aquinas, roll over.

The gurus of the New Age offer a mixed bag of goodies: many ideas and the tools laid forth on the table of delights do have some usefulness in prying the western mind out of narcissism and self-doubt. But the price of grazing from this table comes at a cost, usually from one's bank account, but sometimes in a more horrific form.

James Ray models a worst-case scenario of faux teachers whose business savvy catapulted him to New Age stardom. His pricey $10,000 weeklong seminar ended with the death of three people in an overly heated sweat lodge. Literally roasted alive, they expired in the midst of a group motivated to expand their consciousness. (The bullshit meter moves off the charts on this one.)

The most interesting aspect of this case comes from a statement James Ray made on a nightly talk show. After spending 20 months in prison for manslaughter, he appeared to have genuine remorse. Nothing like being shackled by guards when showering, or losing all his millions, to make a man think. But he hasn't thought enough.

When asked by the TV host why he ran away from the site of carnage at his sweat lodge and didn't stay to help, he gave some nice pat answers about being scared and not perfect and that he listened to his lawyers advice. (Perhaps he never listened to his own conscience?) But the most astounding explanation that came out of this man's mouth even after his admission of hubris: he had been locked out of his hotel room by authorities and had nowhere to sleep.

James, did it ever occur to you to ask if you could share a room? Or perhaps sleep in a rolled up tarp on the ground next to the dying and sick ones, offering comfort? Have you ever tried to live like a homeless person to understand how they feel? Or gone on a camping trip at the very least?

On this Thanksgiving Day, perhaps he might reflect on all those who have nowhere to sleep and nowhere to eat. And lest this one who points the finger forget, she too shall try to remember that our comforts come at a cost. May we repay our gifts a thousandfold.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Better Than the Alternative

A few years before my father passed way at the age of 94, we planned an outing to a park on a bluff overlooking the sapphire blue Pacific. Despite the meritorious effort to get out and about on a gorgeous spring day, it turned into an ordeal.

First he had trouble going down two steps to the garage to get into the car; a walker is not designed for anything other than horizontal surfaces. Then he couldn't get his right leg into the vehicle as his polished stiff leather shoe got caught in the car door. After I hoisted his weak limb into the proper position, he clucked like an old rooster being shooed from a doorstep. Not something a proud man felt proud about.

After arriving at the park and doing the reverse routine getting out of the car, he slowly shuffled to the park bench closest to the car. As I helped lower him down onto the bench, in slow motion so that his frail bones wouldn't meet the hard wood with a bruising velocity, he sighed deeply, "I'm getting so old and stiff -- but it's better than the alternative."

A few years after my father's death, a Zen friend of mine suffered a massive heart attack. He recovered, albeit with his energy severely diminished. In an attempt to cheer him up, I expressed empathy for his new normal, but then quipped, "It's better than the alternative."

He looked up at me with those deadpan Zen eyes and sent back a zinger with a wry smile.

 "Who says?"

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Better Seats for the B-52 Bomber?

As reported in the Los Angeles Times recently, a US military navigator decided to bring rubber seat cushions on board a B-52 bomber to provide extra comfort for a long-range flight. This creative fellow, knowing the agonies that a stressful bombing mission would inflict on his ass, stored the cushions underneath his seat to be used at the opportune moment.

Alas, they were too close to a heat vent. The cushions caught on fire and the bomber wound up crashing. Small detail: it was carrying nuclear warheads which could have wiped out a good portion of our homeland, not to speak of the fact that it went down within close range of a vital top-secret military base. 

I would like to know why the Defense Department doesn't make nicely padded seats for the backsides of its brightest and best when they are on these kill missions? Or maybe they do have great seats, like first class commercials airlines, but this particular navigator had special needs with regards to his sits bones.

Obviously the warheads never detonated, because if they had it would have been a nuclear accident of historic proportions. But with all the high tech sophistication of the plane and the training their pilots undergo, this incident points to a sad but true fact.

Our Star Wars style military jets are built to outsmart themselves, with all sorts of features upon features to warn, back-up, revert, switch over, turn off, and so on. Unfortunately, the human design -- psychological, physiological or otherwise -- does not seem to have the same built in capacities even if we do have some primitive mechanisms at work such as "fight or flight."

In the meantime, perhaps the Air Force could consider upgrading its B-52 bomber seats; a small price to pay considering the cost of a nuclear accident on anyone's soil.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Chill of Indifference, the Warmth of Embrace

A corner spot on my terrace gets so much sun that this past summer, the chaise that lives there went unused. Only a rattlesnake or a person in search of a sauna could bear the intensity of the heat. But even in the mild year-round weather of Southern California, seasons do exist; on this late November morning, that very same chaise provides a cozy spot to be kissed by the sun in a warm and impassioned embrace.

Lying in this life-giving love, my thoughts drift back to an evening on the Paris metro. The car was packed with somber people in winter gear, all robed in shades of gray, black and brown. One man stood, cup in hand, and started speaking loudly. Urgently. Not understanding the language but getting the intensity of his cry, I asked my husband for a translation. 

"He's homeless."

As this shouting man waded down the aisle, no one looked up; he passed through the swaying car as if he were a ghost who could not get the attention so desperately needed to move into a happier realm.

I sat there horrified, yet as a foreigner insecure with the milieu, did nothing. So I imaged a scenario from an alternate universe. What if every single person on that metro car decided to act en masse and collaborate on how to help this soul? How much change could they spare? Did they know of a shelter for him? Was anyone a doctor? Was there a program to rehabilitate his life? How could a spot packed with so many human beings all ignore the cries of this man as he moved among them, treated as a piece of refuse, a societal leftover?

In relating this event the next day to a friend who makes films in Africa, he lifted his pointing finger, held high near my face, and said, "People think that Africa is poor but many things are better. In the villages there are no homeless. And even a crazy person is allowed to wander and no one drives him away. They understand and everyone takes care of him." 

In a small rural village, those who fall under the spell of hopelessness and poverty may very well be helped by their neighbors, whose families have lived side by side for a few generations. Cities tend not to foster this closeness, but in reality we are all part of a village -- just a bigger one. And so a broader consciousness must be nurtured so that even if one doesn't "know" the homeless one, he or she is "seen."

In reality, we now live in a global village. The sooner world awareness is elevated to the point of understanding that we are on this Mothership together, the happier we will be. And then the chill of indifference will transform into an embrace of nurturance.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

International vs. Global

One can depart from a landmass with unique climates, customs, languages, flora, fauna and political systems -- and in less than 24 hours travel to another spot on the globe that seems like another planet. The speed of airplanes makes this cultural dislocation possible at an astonishing pace, including a topsy-turvy effect on the body clock.

Currently cruising at 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, a two-tiered humongous iron bird flies over an expanse of water that belongs to no one except the creatures of the deep. Within a time span stretching from breakfast to dinner, France is fast becoming a memory as California begins to morph into real time consciousness.

A corner of my mind eagerly awaits the sunshine that was smothered by the gray clouds of Paris. But better weather notwithstanding, home also means a pile of bills, disorganized pockets of house clutter and a return to the sedentary life style of car-driving Angelenos. The magnificence of Paris architecture, the divine twinkle of Christmas lights already gracing boulevards and shops, and the walking -- ah yes, an imperative factor during ten days of baguette binging -- all left behind as big bird hurtles through the atmosphere.

This aircraft technically flies over "international" territory, the geopolitical construct of a free zone supposedly dominated by no individual nation. But it doesn't reflect a more basic reality. The pollution of China, the United States, India, especially Fukushima (and more) makes its way via wind and water into so-called international waters and so-called international airspace. When it comes to ecology, the boundaries drawn by nations are inept and unable to contain the flow of natural forces.

 Irresponsible management from a sovereign country can now affect the many. Mother Earth is one body, despite colors and textures more varied than a United Nations meeting in full session. What affects one part will inevitably impact another; within the awesome varieties of human design and geographical landscapes, multicolored threads tie us together in a grand tapestry.

While it appears that I have journeyed from one continent to another and back again, in reality there is only one human family living upon one small planet, breathing the same air and surrounded by the same ocean.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

France Day 10: Synchrony in the City

A mugger lurks in an alley, sizing up passersby and watching for the perfect victim to appear. He will spring with the agile ferocity of a tiger to snatch his meal ticket; perhaps a purse, wallet, iPhone, briefcase, or any other trappings of value on the unsuspecting person.

A tall, male Olympian athlete will probably be overlooked by an adversary, but what about less formidable  human beings who are not overtly weakened by severe old age or disease?

Apparently, the relationship between the energy wattage and joint mobility of a person has a lot to do with the likelihood of attracting unwanted attention. Those who project vitality and whose joints move like well oiled ball bearings need not have excessive concern. But for the young or old who exhibit vulnerability or walk with a limp, the likelihood of being singled out by a predator rises dramatically.

Being aware of these statistics, but lacking well oiled joints, my tack when walking the streets of Paris or riding the metro late at night is thus: chew gum loudly and obnoxiously. The synchrony of bared teeth snapping rubber, along with a stare that fixes on the stars, is a particularly unappealing sight.

People have much in common with animals so when in doubt, stay with the herd, don't straggle and find the best alpha human, male or female, to stick with. Otherwise, make sure to carry a pack of chewing gum.


 Muggers attach less people with synchrony nad energy. Joints moving.

Friday, November 22, 2013

France Day 9: Fare Thee Well Dr. Mackenzie

Most of you will have no idea who Dr. Mackenzie is, or was, to be more accurate. But I would like to write about him today because he represents so much that is good about humanity.

He was recommended as the consummate dermatologist that might help a persistent radiation burn beat a retreat. After waiting over an hour in a small examination room, he sauntered in with a ziplock bag full of ginseng roots. "Take a handful," he said, generously offering the precious substance.

Most doctors would not greet a new patient with a bag of goodies to munch on, let along a Chinese herb of eastern medicinal origin. But Dr. Mckenzie was no ordinary Los Angeles dermatologist, although he had his fair share of "A list" celebrities getting their wrinkles removed in his private operating room. He never afforded himself the plethora of treatments at his disposal, as at 77 years of age, his bright blue eyes and imposing physique more than made up for a few folds on the face.

He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese medicine, naturepathy, homeopathy, shamanistic healing traditions, as well as a sprinkling of landmark scientific studies to his credit.
After the usual western recommendations and herbal remedies, we would have lengthy metaphysical conversations; his mind spread like a vast web over time and space to tie together a multitude of insights based on seemingly endless references.

These treasured meetings often went on for so long that I began to pity his other patients that were scheduled after me. But he seemed delighted to share his inner thoughts; considered offbeat by fellow in-the-box physicians, he was happy to find a kindred spirit with whom he could converse freely.

The last time I saw him, he mentioned that he needed some tests, vaguely referring to a possible dire report. His bright blue eyes dimmed to gray as he looked up at the ceiling, and then his nurse popped in for the fourth time to insist that he was needed elsewhere.

And indeed he was being called elsewhere. Dr. Mackenzie passed away on November 1st, All Saints Day. Humanity will miss him.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

France Day 8: Metro As Psychic Melting Pot

As an avid people watcher, riding the Paris metro provides an endless source of material for my inquisitive eye.The melting pot of ethnicities, hair styles, clothes, age ranges, body types, facial expressions, shopping bags, umbrellas and shoe wear all form a melange of eye candy as interesting as an exhibition at a museum -- life as art.

Each person's presentation to their exterior world makes a distinct statement, conscious or otherwise. An intuitive person, I am inexorably drawn to look deeply into a person's eyes, check their body language, make note of other oddities that might reveal clues to their nature and how they evolved to become their expression of now.

Although the metro provides the ideal environment for such scrutiny, not unlike a jungle for birdwatchers, the main problem is that people are not birds or other forest animals. If you stare at them, it will evoke a response not particularly inviting, simply because that penetrating look is an invasion of their psychic space. And invaders beware of cornered humans in small seats huddled together while trying to maintain a sliver of daylight; touching would be tantamount to a transmission of energy between two foreign bodies that might trip the circuit breaker and cause a short.

So as I sit among the huddled masses, I am forced to do something terribly unnatural for me -- look down or look away with the same dull, glum look as everyone else. A prisoner dare not look a captor in the eyes, so this human being sits like a defeated, beaten dead one, pretending to be so while casting furtive glances at the humans before they know that someone is watching.

The French seem to have a rather keen sense of awareness so it is near impossible not to be observed observing. Thus, a game of hide and seek continues until "the other" moves out of the car at a metro stop or it is my time to flee the large buffet of human consciousness.

On a good day, one may find an empty seat to gaze upon, and in the time honored tradition of savoir-faire, at least the seats seem happy to exude a burst of colorized contentment.

Paris Metro seat

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

France Day 7: The Nude Male

A popular art exhibit currently showing in Paris, entitled Masculine/Masculine, provides an interesting peek into the history of the male nude in art. The first and most amusing aspect is that a man's most vulnerable private parts (the trinity on the front side) are usually chastely covered, perhaps with a petite leaf, small ribbon, or cloth. Or, the painter discretely blurs the features, not unlike a modern day photographer using an out of focus technique. Granted, for every rule there is an exception in the historical works, but the most blatant in-your-face male frontal nudity comes from painters whose work dates post 2000. When in doubt, use shock value.

For centuries upon centuries, the art world exalted the male figure replete with a six pack, broad shoulders, chiseled musculature and a general ambiance which Abercrombie and Fitch poster boys of today model perfectly. Who knew that the Greco-Roman ideal still haunts today's dream of the perfect male physique? 

The below modern day commercial man reflects accurately the "ideal" of the eons with an eery resonance.

After seeing the Masculine/Masculine exhibit, I find myself having more compassion for men. The modern woman suffers from image distortion, with the Barbie doll figure the most adored and futilely emulated. While television advertising and modern cinema have only profligated the image of this unattainable ideal woman since the Twiggy era of the 1960s, men have had the above image thrown in their face for hundreds of years. No small wonder a certain insecurity and vulnerability might threaten the average male when venturing out to court a female.

Interestingly, the most meaningful and powerful work of art in the exhibit was done by Rodon --  a sculpture of the great French writer Balzac. Seen striding forward with purpose, vigor, and an air of keen focus, this icon of literature had a large potbelly and an undoubtedly stout physique. But he also had character, which none of the pretty boys of history seemed to exude. (He was also wearing clothes, the only fully covered man in the large expo.)

To quote a French saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." The presentation of the supposedly perfect body as a representation of the pinnacle of human achievement is at best superficial. Who can blame the young of today, then, for their emphasis on materialism over intrinsic human value?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

France Day 6: Polarity

Georges Braque
Polarity creates a vibration pervading all existence. For example, our Mothership has North and South Poles that orient us up or down or upside down. Male and female create the movement between union and opposition, not to speak of male and female parts in a hardware store. Even our nuts and bolts exhibit this relationship of two-ness.

In a perfect world of governance, the political right and left would differ only in perspective but not in a common unified goal for the good of all. Alas, this is not the case when ego clouds the eyes and false beliefs are fomented, begetting a power struggle that serves no One.

It is theoretically possible for the right and the left to enlighten each other in a delicate ballet of balance. If only our leaders and elected officials understood both poles as part of the same universal creation, our very cells would do the cosmic boogie.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

France Day 5: Notre Dame a.k.a.Our Lady

Virtually all cultures celebrate the feminine in religious and secular ways. For the pious or the spiritual (distinctly different gestalts), icons mirror each other despite cultural differences: the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadeloupe, the 21 Taras, Yeshe Tsogyal, Mandarava, Kwan Yin, Kali, Radha and others.
Female saints depicted in a church stained glass window
In the secular world, the female goddess morphs into a sex symbol for men to dream about -- the most beautiful ones possessed by power brokers in the Lucky Few Club. Women movers and shakers in politics and business usually twist themselves into more manlike postures and clothing to fit in, thus diminishing their femininity in order to bust through the glass ceiling.

Sadly, despite an abstract exaltation of women, both divine mothers and divinely regular women are stopped at the door of the boy's club when it comes to true parity. Never mind that the Catholic church is replete with women saints; the hierarchy refuses to allow women the rank of priesthood. Never mind that women in the western world are protected by laws guaranteeing equal rights but in reality get paid less than men for the same work.

And let's not even begin to contemplate the fate of women in the Middle East, Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, India and so forth. Whenever I complain to a certain friend about anything in my life, she always retorts, "Just thank god you weren't born a woman in Somalia."

Until this very day, I had felt indignation at the sight of oppressed nationalities, tribes, or cultures. But a light bulb just went on: why press for the rights of a certain group of people if they mistreat and repress their own women? Why not spend my energy working to help strengthen women, who make up more than half the population worldwide. If you want to be a Swedish woman you are going to do OK, but if not, there is a mountain of work to accomplish in other parts of the world -- not only to change the mindset of men but to liberate women from their own self-limiting beliefs.

Males and females form the essential dynamic in all cultures, the basis upon which the family is built. Until women truly represent the other half of the equation with a big equal sign in the middle, the world will continue its lopsided journey into oblivion. And that's not the course we really want to take, is it?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

France Day 4: Ruinations of War

In 1430, Joan of Arc was imprisoned in the town of Saint Valery, her misfortune commemorated by the placard above the ancient stone walls where she was once confined. Her discomfort must have been great; if my nose turned into an icicle in mild November weather, those unheated earthen prison floors and stone walls must have made for a frozen hell on earth -- the polar opposite of her eventual fate, burned at the stake.

Blogger trying to keep warm
Our host, who lives in the neighboring village, took us on a tour of the area, frequently pointing out ruins with the explanation that "bombings during the war" caused the destruction of what looked like former architectural beauties. Some cathedrals have been rebuilt, but other buildings were left as a grim reminder of the apocalyptic past.

A forest sprouts new growth after a fire, and it seems that humans do as well. The people of France managed to find the spirit of courage to rebuild, but they never forgot the slaughter and mayhem that took place on their land. In every village stands a monument to those who died in battle as they fought to drive out invaders -- who happened to have been the Germans in the last three wars (the Franco-Prussian War, WWI and WWII).

Memorial for WWI Soldiers
American towns and cities don't bear the visible scars of war -- a blessed country invaded only by ourselves when we displaced the Native Americans. But current day soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan (and Vietnam vets from the past) carry the ruins of war in their hearts and souls, an invisible disaster area not addressed or honored -- because they did not defend their own lands, but destroyed the lives and lands of others. 

Our war dead from Iraq were not even allowed to be filmed by the media as their flag-draped coffins were unloaded from military cargo planes onto US soil. You can thank George Bush Jr. for this dishonor, he who sent them to their graves.

War fought to defend against invaders -- versus war fought to conquer -- carry very different feelings; the former generates pride and the latter generates shame. My prayer is that the walking wounded of our own country find their own brand of peace, and may the families of the dead stand up and say, "Never again."

Friday, November 15, 2013

France Day 3: Palestine

Most Americans never see the abundance of world cinema existing outside their borders.Thus, it was pure pleasure to see a film at the Amiens Film Festival made by by a Palestinian who lives in Jordan -- not by choice but thanks to Israeli security forces who barred her from returning home to the West Bank; a punishment for making feature films about the lives of Palestinian refugees. 

The central character is a scrappy twelve year old living in a refugee camp in Jordan, determined to go back to his home in Ramallah, an impossible dream. Without going into the details, suffice it to say that what Americans watch on the news is strictly controlled and only gives a brief picture of refugee life. This film delves deeply into the suffering of a people who no longer have their land, their homes and now live in the dusty poverty of tent camps.

My ancestors came from the shtetls of Eastern Europe, persecuted and poverty stricken. And then of course the Holocaust. So as I watched this film about Palestinians driven from their homeland, anger steadily mounted in my chest.

How can the children of Israel inflict an apartheid policy on the Palestinians when they themselves suffered so greatly at the hands of others? How do they not have empathy? Are they like abused children who grow up emulating their abusers?

One of my Israeli acquaintances, a former colonel in the Israeli Defense Force, told me that the Jews of Israel are hated by their neighbors and must defend themselves against extermination once again. This too is true. But the situation has now become like the chicken and the egg conundrum, the answer yet to be deciphered. Palestinian children in Jordan think the word for a Jew is "army." In this etymological confusion, one can understand that humanity has now become buried in the quicksand of ignorance and trauma.

Peace and reconciliation can never be achieved without both sides laying down arms and vowing a detente. If Nelson Mandela could do it in a country where blacks and colored people were so viciously oppressed for 300 years, why not the Israelis and Palestinians? Peace is possible, but as long as both sides refuse to forgive, the nightmare will continue.

Ask me what side I am on in any one of the intractable conflicts in the world today and my answer will always be, "I am on the side of the peacemakers."

Leaves fallen from the tree

Thursday, November 14, 2013

France Day 2: Epiphany

The first guilty pleasure of the day is a chocolate croissant with cafe au lait. In Los Angeles, one must scour the city for a bakery that has mastered the art. In France, a delicious, fluffy croissant is as commonplace as a loaf of Wonderbread at a Seven-Eleven.

But more pressing items occupy the day than a gourmand's trip through culinary delights. God for one. We are attending the 33e Festival International du Films d'Amiens, where my husband's involvement spans 25 years. This eclectic festival hosts films from cultures worldwide, and the city is home to several famous Gothic cathedrals. At night they evoke thoughts of demons and poltergeist, a natural association considering the cathedral's relationship to organized religion.

One of the smaller cathedrals in town

What lurks within...

A belief in the grandeur of God and ecclesiastic materialism inspired these ornate structures. In comparison to the utter simplicity of a Hopi kiva, these convoluted structures seem over the top. But the presence of the elephantine monuments, including one of the grandaddy cathedrals of Europe (seen below from my hotel window), do elevate one's thoughts by the sheer dominance of the energy they hold.

The main cathedral stands in the background

Thus, while sitting at a local restaurant not understanding one word of the rapid-fire French spoken at our film-buff table, my mind wanders off and trips into a deep void. An epiphany needn't happen in a grand cathedral or in the deep forest or parched desert expanse; jewels pop up in the most unlikely places.

I remember the time when I lay in a hospital bed two years prior, when a second round of chemo nearly killed my mortal coil by annihilating its white and red blood cells. Nine transfusions later, the little fellows decided to grasp onto their injected compadres and piggy back into the land of the living to begin multiplying again.

In that 'in between time' when the decision for life or death hung in the balance, a distinct vision presented itself. High in the stratosphere, a cloud bank hid what was above it, and the 'what' seemed like God, or at least some energy with endless power and a conscious will. Not even the archangels could go above the cloud bank to a place beyond.

Looking up at that citadel, I understood life to be a vast mandala of insubstantial thoughts, which to the normal mind assume vast importance. It was neither important nor unimportant if I hung around the earth plane or left. I just "was" in the presence.

Since that blessed experience, life has become simpler and more filled of gratitude. As for the ephipany in the cafe, it is about doing a mea culpa for all my previous God bashing. Still, the idea of calling God a Him or perceiving "that" as a dualistic dude or dudette that rules above all life seems incorrect to me. Yet, an intelligent presence does have an overarching effect if we allow ourselves to feel it.

We humans can harnass this vast energy, like a light bulb illuminates through a power station generating electricity from natural sources. The whole magilla of existence boils down to an interdependent force which flows around and throughout every cell; the drive chain, so to speak, of life here and beyond.

Amen, Ahamdulillah, Shalom, Namaste, praise Buddha and all the other names humans give or not give to "it."


France Day 1: Arrivals

No honeymoon, shopping spree, or tourist adventure has brought me to France for the next twelve days. By the luck of the draw, I married a bona fide Frenchman many moons ago and he still maintains strong business ties with the Motherland -- which means that he graces her shores frequently.

For the first twenty-odd years of our union, we made beaucoup trips together. So many, in fact, that I used to say, "Oh God, not Paris again. Why can't we go somewhere else for a change, like Borneo or Prague?"

Times change and it's been five years since I last heard that incomprehensible language spoken unilaterally. (Did you know that Japanese and French are the most difficult languages to learn?) Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder, because it feels almost homey being back on French soil.

For my first day, I offer the below photos as proof that the French are masterful beings, at least when it comes to artistic savoir faire. This is the lady's bathroom at Charles de Gaulle International Airport, better than any trip to Disneyland.

Entrance to Ladie's Bathroom

Anonymous woman waiting for a stall

Behind these glorious doors, relief for the weary traveler.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Law of Attraction

Yesterday, I was the passenger in a car with a person whose driving record is less than stellar; one more ticket for a moving violation and her license will be suspended for a year. Anyone who knows Los Angeles can well appreciate the horror of this potential fate. Thanks to a gasoline lobby in the 1930's, the Red Line rail system was dismantled and plans for a modernized version were scuttled. Henceforth, Angelenos would have to rely on cars or lousy, inefficient bus routes to traverse the city's long distances.

The speedometer needle kept creeping clockwise until it registered the car hurtling down the freeway 15 miles above the legal speed limit. Thinking ahead to the disastrous consequences should a policeman spot the car, I spoke up in a forceful voice laced with incredulous undertones; the one steering the ship was flaunting the Sword of Damocles!

The driver, not happy with the reprimand of the back seat driver in the front seat, retorted, "Don't put those thoughts out there into the universe, it'll make it more likely to happen."

Her statement was based on a misinterpretation of a popular philosophy called the law of attraction, second cousin to you are what you eat. According to said driver, if my imagination traveled into a future scenario with dire consequences, and I verbalized it, that situation would likely occur.

People often conjure the law of attraction with this type of superstitious or magical thinking, assuming that all one has to do is think-speak and it will be. In reality, the law works when action is figured into the attraction piece as well.

In essence, the law of attraction posits that one may consciously construct positive, desirable outcomes based on visions of abundance -- with congruent follow through in the real world. Or conversely, if the electromagnetic frequencies buzzing through the brain are negative, fearful and full of lack, then that too is what you will resonate into your life and be reflected in your behaviors.

In the mathematics of my mind, verbalizing a negative "what if" scenario actually creates the possibility of a positive "what if" version (slowing down and no ticket) that results in a zero state -- neutral or karma free. And what could be better than a karma free ride?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Loving People

People are amazing. Whether encountering the supermarket check-out lady, the garage attendant, an erudite scholar, a child, an old friend, a co-worker, or a complete stranger on a street corner, they all have a story with thousands of intricate twists and turns that have brought them into our moment of connection.

One could extract a life story from anybody and make a good movie out of it. Where there is life, energy expresses itself in unique albeit sometimes bizarre expressions. We simply need to ask questions and listen to what our attention draws forth from those humans. Even the ones who are significantly damaged have a rationale that provides a labyrinth of fascinating links to the now. 

And then the other side of the story: most people possess a variety of annoying character traits, ranging from mildly irritating to an intensity that intrudes on one's psyche like a smothering wet towel wrapped around the entire head and face. While it's hard to keep one's cool as the other's personality grates up against our own story, there is a key to loving, nonetheless. And that is the remembrance of the birthplace of our stories.

At the core of every being, a drive exists for happiness, safety, comfort, and love. From this womb of positive and perfect intentionality, the quest for wellness gets distorted as we grow up nurtured on the tales of our ancestors: you will go to hell if you don't accept Jesus as your savior; you are an infidel if you don't accept Allah; you are the chosen ones as sons and daughters of Israel; Joseph Smith lost the tablets in the woods, but they did come from God, after all. Ad infinitum.

Just as one keeps a keen focus on the bullseye while pulling back the bow and pointing the arrow, perhaps we would irritate each other less, and love each other more, if we kept our eye on the central point. Slinging everyone we encounter with cupid's arrow of love presents a wonderful alternative for making it through the day. N'est-ce pas?

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Texas Madrasa

One of the most hotly contested issues of the US Civil War was States Rights versus Federal government control. The rationale that local areas know their particular needs better than an overarching government has some merit. But the perils outweigh benefits when states control vital human services such as welfare, health care and education. Just imagine -- if the southern states had their way, slavery might still be the economic engine driving their gravy train. Often, local thinking yields to a global shrinking of the common good, as it encourages a form of tribalism that shuns "the other."

Texas provides us with a stunning example of why education should not be a state mandated function. In the oxymoron of the century, their ruling body calls themselves The Citizens for a Smart Board of Education. The president of that body, recently retired but with high hopes for future control, remains steadfast in his belief that the earth is 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs walked hand in hand with all of earth's animals as well as humans who look just like us today. He demonstrated how all of the above fit onto Noah's arc by taking a classroom of 4th graders onto the football field and marking off one quarter of the area, pointing out that there was plenty of room for all of God's creatures plus dinosaurs. He even built a three tiered model of the arc for classroom demonstration, eagerly showing the tykes how Noah devised a sewer system to dispose of animal poop.

That a school principle allowed this wanger into a classroom to "teach" is a crime against children. Worse yet, the wanger presided over the State Board of Education, a state body whose members decided what content would go into their textbooks. As Texas and California buy the most text books, the dictates of these states determine which booksellers will get the windfall sales -- providing they march to the beat of the Boards of Education. If not, hasta la vista baby.
As money drives the American zeitgeist, publishers fall lockstep into the creation of revisionist texts so that the Lone Star state will buy buy buy. (A different version of the text minus the Texan POV will get the windfall from California, thank the All-That-Is.)

The Texas board used its strong arm to have books changed in two major areas: science and history. Yes, creationism is now officially offered as an alternative in state sponsored books. And the history of institutionalized racial discrimination has been abolished, literally wiped off the face of the earth through slanted books that are the only ones Texan children will read. As one Board member remarked distastefully, "Who wants to read about discrimination?"

The next review of text book content will come in 2020! An entire generation of little wranglers will grow up with misinformation and ignorance of the world in which they live, putting them at a decided disadvantage when they hit adulthood. Abraham Lincoln said that the classrooms of the young would yield the leaders of tomorrow. Remember, it produced the likes of the George Bush Jr. so voters, beware.
If the Texas State Board of Education continues to exhibit such ignorance and arrogance, maybe we should allow Texas to secede from the union after all. As their latest endeavor was to put Obama's middle name Hussein into the new textbooks, it doesn't bode well for the next generation of genius's coming up through their system.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Warm Fuzzies

Back in the 1960's when I was a bona fide hippy that protested against the war in Vietnam and marched in favor of civil rights, "the fuzz" were decidedly not my friends. Baton wielding, helmeted, leather booted fellows in blue frequently had me on the run. If the batons didn't reach my fellow marchers and me, tear gas certainly did.

But violent protest has always been foreign to my nature, so when I found myself caught up in a crowd of thousands smashing their way down Wall Street with rocks and bricks, I decided to take another path. Although the military-industrial complex remains to this day an inextricably linked marriage from hell, still, breaking bank windows didn't seem like the logical solution. And so I left the movement and headed out west to San Francisco, the mecca of flower children.

Behaving as hippies tended to behave, fuzz paranoia continued to be a constant companion. The police hated long-hairs and as dope (cannibis) was always around somewhere, on someone, the threat of arrest added a negative thrill factor of high pitched tenor.

I didn't make it through the 60's without an overnight incarceration for possession of marijuana and another one nighter in the bullpen for protesting Richard Nixon's election. But all in all, I graduated from a top college with honors and remained somewhere in the mix of society, never totally dropping out -- even if Timothy Leary egged us on with his phony public relations phrase "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out." (Yes, my friends, he was indeed faux-counterculture.)

Skipping a few decades into the 1990s, while driving back to my nice suburban house in my nice Volvo station wagon with my cute little 3 year old girl, I pulled into my driveway and only then noticed the police car with its red lights flashing, hot on my tail. He had been following me for 2 miles and I had simply not noticed. Apparently my inner hippy was alive and well because the siren sounds had been drowned out by a Jefferson Airplane cassette tape playing at top volume. However, I can't explain not picking up on flashing lights in the rear view mirror for two miles. (Could it be a post traumatic cannabis event?)

Rolling down my window, I had a shock. The policeman looked young enough to be my son. And he was slightly nervous, having to take on a tax-paying home owner on his affluent beat. And then I got it, albeit with a weird mixture of amusement and jarring awareness. As a white woman over forty, living in a tony suburb, driving a nice car, with an adorable blond girl child in her fancy-ass car seat, the police were public servants. 

Ask any young black male or Hispanic (or better yet ask President Obama) and the police do not have the same warm fuzzies for that demographic. Power and privilege drive attitudes, which is great for the powerful and privileged, but a sorry fact of life for more vulnerable humans -- the ones most in need of protection from societal prejudices.

As old habits die hard, it still amazes me when I cross paths with a policeman on my turf and experience him as a community buddy with whom I share warm fuzzies. I'm not complaining, mind you. Just wondering when we will all be judged by our humanity and not our outward color or material trappings.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Spiritual Communista

Since the term communista appears in the title and it closely resembles another word, comunista (or communist in English), let me first address the NSA in the event that their cyber brains register a match of similar words.

Dear NSA,

I have never been, nor will I ever be, a member of the Communist Party. My last trip abroad was for the consecration of a monastery in Bhutan. If you would like to tap my phones or read my emails, knock yourselves out. You too, like my friends, might get sick of hearing about the latest herbs to boost red blood cell production, the perils of film production, or mother-daughter conversations that ramble on and on about girly things.

Yours truly,

A member of the Happiness Party

And now for the subject du jour. In almost every religious and spiritual community, a wickedly nonspiritual hierarchy exists where the guru, imam, priest, roshi, lama, shaman, medicine man, rabbi, professor, yoga teacher, light-worker, psychic or whoever are regarded with an awe of their god-like stature. As the mediators between the All-That-Is and us ignorant creatures, many of us put our advisers on a pedestal and leave common sense and self-respect at the door. Or, expect that our mentors will cure all our ills with their sublime wisdom and give us the answers to everything under the sun and beyond. Hit me baby one more time, as Britany Spears cries out.

After years of puzzlement as to why so many gifted teachers don't demonstrate the normal moral standards of conduct (meaning no adultery, no lying, no stealing, etc.) and their behaviors are rationalized away by students and sycophants, I have come to a conclusion.

An arbitrary but useful breakdown of the psyche  is thus:

1) physical level
2) emotional level
3) mental level
4) etheric level
5) spiritual level
6) gone beyond

The reason why the disconnect between spiritual gifts and reasonable human behavior remains puzzlingly huge is because almost no one on this earth is completely integrated --  complete meaning that all levels 1-6 are all fully developed and running at optimum performance.

Spiritual teachers may have the gift of insight and paranormal perception, yet be woefully lacking in self-reflection when it comes to the power differential with aspiring students. Thus, they take advantage of students via sexual appetites, probably based on unresolved emotional states lingering from childhood.

A astonishingly accurate psychic may be obese and eating junk food all day. In this case, the etheric savvy has not integrated with the physical and/or emotional to fine tune the body as well.

A body builder may have the disciple of a Zen monk when going to the gym, eating the right protein shakes, raw steaks, and green drinks, but be a meat head when it comes to spiritual matters. 

The whole point is that one can be highly developed in one area but not another, while the average seeker of enlightenment assumes that the enlightener is integrated on all levels.

Thus, the number one advocacy policy: for those who want to learn something above their heads, bear in mind that the wise one may have gifts in their area of expertise but be woefully unintegrated in others. If you place your trust in that person for all the levels of human behavior, that light you see in the distance may be the headlight of an oncoming train and not your ticket to enlightenment.

These words come not from a cynical outsider but from one who has been on a spiritual path for the past forty-two years. I still have a guru, will always respect his great gifts, and have tremendous faith in his ability to cut through the bullshit of ego to help me see more clearly. But I have been around the American spiritual community long enough to know that blind faith equates to blind action. And that will lead to a bitter end.

So as the Dalai Lama says, "If you can't do good, then at least don't do harm." Being a spiritual communista means that one sees oneself as the same as the other, whether it be the guru, the gym trainer, rabbi, priest or some other. Yes, respect them for their area of expertise, but respect your own as well. Then, the world might emerge into some sort of balance.

Between the Frying Pan and the Fire

When the first inklings of a pandemic started brewing in late January, I was in Bodgaya, India, the place where the historical Buddha attai...