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Showing posts from December, 2013

It's New Years All Year Long

The onset of a new calendar year varies, depending on cultural norms. Among the numerous start dates, the below offer up several examples:
Western New Year - Jan.1, 2014Chinese New Year - Jan. 31, 2014Tibetan New Year - March 2, 2014Jewish New Year - Sept. 24th 2014Mayan New Year (they gave up in 2013)
This begs a fascinating question: why are there so many different dates for the start of a new year if we all live on the same planet in the same solar system?

Scholars would be able to answer this question, but the average lay person should be given a chance to contemplate this enigma without all the justifications set forth by anthropologists, astronomers, historians, and holy men with their holy books held high.

While this blogger dares not to venture a guess, there is an upside to the dizzying array of New Years. If one slips up on the typical New Year's resolution, i.e. lose weight, make more money, stop yelling at kids, spouse and dog, go to a yoga class - hey, no worries.

Simply h…

Blood and Water

The saying, "Blood is thicker than water" makes no sense in the context of today's English language. As for the "blood" portion, this aphorism refers to the strong bonds of family, which is obvious as families have bloodlines in common and under normal circumstances they have lived together with shared experiences. Thus, bonds that bind.

But where on earth does the "water" piece of the equation fit? Does it mean that we have more in common with our relatives than fish? Or, the consistency of the liquid makes thick preferable over thin? Anyway, blood is only thicker than water under certain circumstances. Clotted blood is thicker than running water, but ice is more solid that flowing blood.

In its original context, the phrase was "the blood of the convent is thicker than the water of the womb," a horrific reference denoting that the blood shed together in battle creates more bonds-in-common than the amniotic fluid in which a growing fetus thr…

Grounded Cognition

Neuroscientists use the term grounded cognition for a process that broadly includes mind-body-environment interaction. Narrowing down the playing field, one area begs further examination.
Sophisticated scans enlighten us as to the mysterious ways of the brain: the mere remembrance of an activity or experience stimulates neuronal activity in the brain, causing those little balls of energy to fire away as if recalled events were occurring in "real" time.
Thus, it is only logical that one-pointed concentration on a particular event in the memory bank will reactivate it; a nasty breakup makes your stomach churn anew; the delightful memory of a lover's kiss has you staring reverently into space in the middle of a busy office; the smell of lilacs places a childhood hiding place front and center in your inner vision.
Thanks to neuroplasticity, our gray matter develops more of itself in the most frequently activated parts - not unlike a body builder whose pectoral muscles expand …

The Day After

It feels like the day after an atomic blast minus the complete and utter ruination of body, mind, soul and property. Wreckage abounds but all is quiet on the western front. Christmas presents have been opened and trash cans overflow with wrapping paper and cardboard boxes. The content spilled from this wastage varies. Some is useless junk received with artificial squeals of "it's perfect" while others delight in new gadgets that make life more efficient, swift, pleasurable, or difficult to manage when premature planned obsolescence sets in.

What does all this celebratory hoohah really mean?

If people came together with gratitude, love, and an appreciation for our human connection, triggered by the notion that Christmas time appears more special than any other time, then that's a good thing. If the holiday represents a dreaded time of familial suffering or severe loneliness, then why bother with a tradition gone south.

In any event, the Balinese, who are decidedly not Ch…

Sugar Time

I have a new refrain for the holiday season, sung to the melody "Summertime" from the wonderful Porgy and Bess musical.

The lyrics go like this:

Sugar time and the eating is greasy, 
Sugar time and the glucose is high, 
Oh your tummy's fat, and the cal'ries come easy, 
So eat, big ol' mama, do-n't you deny.

Come the new year, there may be cause for deep regret when previously comfortable clothing digs tightly into new folds of flesh. But in the best tradition of short-sighted decision making, let's eat, drink, and be merry and deal with the now of tomorrow when it arrives. 

And when that moment arises, one can only bemoan the feeding frenzy of the holiday season and proclaim, "Why did I put off until next month what I could have done last month?




The Hot Beef Injection

Most moviegoers know the line, "Make my day," uttered by actor Clint Eastwood playing the character of Dirty Harry - although people often confuse the real person with the fictional guy. However, it was such a popular and endearing phrase that Mr. Eastwood repeated it in his speech at the Republican convention in support of Mitt Romney. Isn't it sweet to make people feel like kids again, in the good old days when "make my day" was cool?

A less known phrase, but one oft repeated by teenagers in the late 1980's, derives from the classic movie The Breakfast Club. The bad boy asks the prissy and virginal prom queen, "Hasn't anyone slipped you the hot beef injection?"

Redolent of hot dogs or cows being slaughtered, nonetheless this catchy sentence became the rage - until it wasn't. Naughty humor aside, these fictional high school students have real life troubles, and ask questions which many can relate to, having once been hormonally challenged u…

The Big Red One

NORAD is a branch of the US and Canadian military that protects the North American skies with supersonic jets and sophisticated radar systems. On Christmas Eve day, top brass of this agency announced on TV that they were guarding Santa's mission as he traversed skies the world over. A tradition since 1958, a top General reassured children via mass media that Santa Claus was spotted over the Maldives, soon to cruise over India. If one knows global time zones, this means that he would be in Southern California right after midnight in the wee hours of December 25th. His mission will have been completed thanks to the protection of the United States military.

As one of the news commentators remarked, "It's kind of sad that Santa Claus needs to have jets scrambled for his safety."

The General, apparently up to date on Dr. Seuss and Hollywood blockbusters, retorted, "We want to make sure that the Grinch doesn't get him." (A nod to The Grinch that Stole Christmas…

A Curious Case of Self-Preservation

Almost everyone knows the name of Nelson Mandela, the extraordinary South African freedom fighter who went from prisoner to president. Another prisoner of conscience, albeit one with less iconic stature, was granted clemency this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon of vast wealth, spent ten years in a Russian penitentiary for criticizing the authoritarian Putin publicly. Ill advised about the risks of speaking out, MK was whisked off his private jet by Russian authorities and sent straight away to the slammer with a stiff sentence. Ten years into the prime of his life, behind bars, he changed for the better.

While the intricacies of Russian politics elude anyone who is not an elite member of the Kremlin or a CIA agent, this particular man of dubious wealth made an interesting statement to the New York Times yesterday“When I crossed the threshold of prison...I understood this is for a long time. And then immediately quit smoking. If they…

Myths and Miracles

Around Christmas time, talk of miracles abound in Christian circles. According to the lore, Jesus Christ was born of virgin birth in a manger. But he wasn't the only wunderkind. Padmasambhava, the Indian saint who brought Buddhism to Tibet, was said to have be born from a lotus in the middle of a lake. These saviors constitute only two of a multitude of heroes (mythic or otherwise) said to have been born not from the egg and sperm of human beings but from a sacred power.

If one does a little research, it is actually astonishing how many cultures have similar heroes who come to save mankind, born of the gods, or from one God, or through self-manifestation. This plethora of eerily similar myths, codified as real scripture in different times and places, can be viewed in several ways.

Theory number one. Mankind has a collective memory that brings forth parables with culture-specific details in an attempt to humanize the source of all beingness; a way of anthropomorphizing an ineffable u…

The Prenatal Profile

Many couples expecting a baby say that they don't want to know the sex before the baby emerges from the womb. They want to be surprised.

Based observations made by prenatal psychologists (yes, they do exist), babies don't just emerge and then suddenly develop a unique identity based on its sex. They have conscious awareness far earlier in utero, exhibiting behaviors that indicate personal characteristics. Whether on the interior or the outside world, they are already beings with either XX or XY chromosomes that will determine many factors down the road, due to their hard drive content and subsequent software downloads.

But maybe not knowing the sex of one's child could be a good thing as their little cells multiply fed by mom's umbilical chord. Afterall, how many children are subjected to gender-based profiling from the moment they are born? Blue for boys, pink for girls. Cars, trucks, and balls for boys; dolls, play houses and little fake grocery items for the tiny play…

Lady Luck

Thank goodness for people who clean up old papers. A man stashed his lottery tickets in an unused cookie jar in the kitchen. When his wife got fed up with the clutter and threatened to throw them away, he reluctantly decided to check the numbers. It turns out that he had won ten million dollars in a drawing three months prior - not too late to claim the pot.

And then the guy in Florida who won the lottery twice, each time for millions of dollars. He definitely was on top of his number checking.

I have never heard of a multi-millionaire winning the lottery, except for the guy who won it twice but he doesn't count. Is this because only people with a dim financial outlook beg Lady Luck to save them from poverty? And what kind of karma must one have accrued to not only buy a ticket but check it and find out that it is the one! 

Buddhist scriptures claim that attaining human birth is rare, and that thousands of souls vie for that enviable event. Above and beyond that is precious human bir…

Don't Put Off Until Tomorrow What You Can Do Today

"Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today" is one of the commandments of a popular guru. It may seem like a rather mundane directive considering the Ten Commandments, but think about it. If we didn't put off anything, and acted upon every "to do" list we had, or materialized an invention in the back of our brain, a mighty lot could be accomplished in this life - including more leisure and less anxiety and guilt.

The most frustrating examples of a loss, for people who put things off, are the lottery winners who never knew that they had won. Over half a billion dollars in lottery wins went unclaimed in the US last year. Maybe it's good that the people who got lazy about checking their numbers don't know what they are missing. Like the stockbrokers in the crash of 1929, people might start jumping out of high rise windows after knowing a better life (in terms of material comfort) was squandered, simply by not taking care of business.

My father …

Tis the Season

My automatic coffee machine grinds whole coffee beans that percolates hot black joe directly into any size cup or carafe. But, a fine sediment of the crushed bean always remains in the bottom of said containers. 

Those undesirable dregs remind me of depression; no matter what perky process one undergoes to make life more meaningful and fulfilling, sediment forms underneath the full-to-the-brim surface that leaves a muddy, sluggish feeling at the bottom of the psyche.

Many people experience depression at one time or another, due to an unexpected negative event or an expectation unmet. And then there are people for whom life has been so consistently traumatic, or whose genetic makeup threw them an extra dose of downer genes, that an underlying depression keeps up a steady monotonous drone.

A person in the dregs of depression has an external affect that can resemble laziness, apathy, dullness, lethargy, tears, blankness, sleeplessness, oversleeping, and a bunch of other unappealing behavior…

Life Expectancy

On planet earth, life expectancy ranges from a high of 86 years in Japan to a low of 46 years in Sierra Leone. Poverty, with its unfortunate companions of hunger, poor nutrition, tainted water, and lack of medical care, are major contributing causes in many African countries. In the USA, that average age is considered young; many in their forties still resemble youthful thirty-somethings.

Longevity in Japan is more mysterious; having been massively radiated twice in WWII and with the Fukushima disaster, Japan's exposure to nuclear fallout might have caused a dent in this stellar number, but apparently not.

The word "expectancy" raises an interesting question. Living in Los Angeles, one would "expect" to live well into old age barring an incurable fatal illness or accident. Thus, one of the luxuries of First World natives are considerations such as long term care insurance and the choice of old age facilities.

With the reality of life expectancy so vastly differe…

The WiFi Fry

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"The WiFi fry" is not only a tongue twister - you could try repeating it rapidly twenty times and see how it scrambles your tongue -- it also might be scrambling your brain.

In an experiment done by Danish school girls, they placed two plates of little green thingies in separate locations; one plate near the sun and fresh air, the other next to a wireless router. The plate on the right demonstrates healthy little sprouts enjoying their life, while the plate on the left shows the shriveled remains of a once vibrant group of veggies. (Obviously the fried greens were next to the WiFi router.)

Apparently the experiment was done under properly controlled scientific standards that won these school girls a national prize in Denmark, where humane government policies seem to exist.

With the plethora of WiFi gizmos in our world, from TV remotes to cell phones to powerful towers transmitting the juice to run these things - how much can our electromagnetic brain waves endure?

Maybe that exp…

Repetition Reaps Rewards

I was talking to a friend about her labile moods; a wise and kind woman with deep insight into human behavior, nonetheless she expresses sudden bursts of anger, bitterness and tears of rage at times. She also feels energy with great sensitivity and can be drawn to high frequency, sacred spots naturally and easily.

We discussed the stormy aspects of her emotional landscape and their impact on her overall state of well-being, not to speak of the recipients of this negative force field. Having used meditation and the basic tenets of Buddhist philosophy for decades, I know that one must have tools and use them consistently in order to steer the ship on stormy seas.

I said, "You need to meditate, or at least listen to guided visualizations, read books that inspire, do something to break the cycle of negative thinking."

She said, "I tried all that. It works for one minute and then I'm upset again."

Me: "Have you tried it consistently?"

Silence. After a bit she a…

The Funeral Party

Nelson Mandela's body traveled to his home village in the deep country, his remains encased in a flag-draped coffin barely visible through the sleek Mercedes with thick armored glass. South Africans that traveled great distances to catch a glimpse were thwarted by heavy security blocking the route; an ironic game plan for this man of the people.

When John F. Kennedy died from an assassin's bullet, his funeral took on a very different tone. His widow and other dignitaries walked through the streets of the Capitol behind a horse-drawn cart carrying the President's body. In JFK's hour of death, his funeral decor harkened back to the days when a revolution freed the country from a foreign king's greedy rule. This simplicity evoked a message, even if the military-industrial complex failed to take note.

Mandela's funeral also sent a message. The man who stood up to honor a maid because she was a lady - in the midst of a conference with heads of state - sent a powerful …

Axe the Gun Slingers

The line used by the National Rifle Association to justify the easy availability of guns in USA: it is not guns that kill, it's people who kill.

From one perspective, that fact is self-evident. For example, in Iceland there are two guns in every household, yet only one murder last year. The Swiss are armed to the teeth with very few murders, and Canadians have more guns per household than Americans, with a very low murder-by-gun rate.

The above facts don't bode well for the American mindset; it means that a lot of whacko people obtain access to guns that don't hold life in the same esteem as other heavily armed countries.

On the flip side of the coin, very few deaths by gun occur in Japan because almost no one can get a permit to possess one. The red tape and bureaucracy to obtain a weapon may boggle the mind, but in fact make perfect sense. The individual wishing to purchase a firearm is subjected to intensive psychiatric evaluation, community surveillance, hefty licensing f…

How to Grow A Brain

Some of the more popular western religions view meditation as a new age, brown rice, crunchy granola activity. The designated priest, minister, rabbi or imam provides the conduit to a connection with the Almighty while the faithful rely on personal prayer to get by inbetween sermons. Meditation only gets the official stamp of approval as a bona fide activity in a small cluster of orders, such as the Benedictines.

Of course prayer can be powerful because of its acutely focused intention. And with everything else under the sun, when motivation and concentration form a holy union, they become an unstoppable team.

Although the vast majority of Americans consider themselves religious, the second religion of the overfed public is the multi-billion dollar fitness industry. But with all the emphasis on the body beautiful, the mind has been left in the dust. And this is where meditation enters stage right as the perfect bridge between the Saturday or Sunday tip to religion and the rest of the w…

Seeing Is Believing - Or Is It?

Yesterday I blogged about a bug that flew into the blazing fire pit at my home; a reflection upon his untimely death. That evening as I was making dinner, a black spot appeared in my peripheral vision. Whirling about to see what insect had ventured into my sacred indoor cooking area, I realized that it was not an external "thing" but something in my own eye.

Throughout the night, little black specs appeared in the three dimensional visionscape, but these black spots were not objective objects. Rather, something screwy is going on in my eyeball, deemed a floater by the vision doc. 

In the midst of dinner conversation with my family, an embarrassing thought popped into my conscious mind from the depths of neuronal hardware. Was it really a bug fly that flew into the fire or a black spot caused by some issue with my eye that I perceived to be an external reality?

The fable of the bug that flew into the fire has its own merits, as all fables do. And maybe a bug actually did fly int…

The Bug That Flew Into the Fire

One of the most basic tenets of Buddhism is impermanence. Another foundational principle is that all beings have a consciousness and as such should not be murdered. Even insects.

Despite the nippy 55ยบ F weather, unusual for Southern California even in December, it seemed like a good day to light the fire pit in the backyard to contemplate nature, a cup of cafe au lait in hand.

A sense of serenity and gratitude descended upon me as the flames danced upward, albeit throwing off minimal heat as the source is a small gas jet. Apparently, the warmth didn't spread far enough afield for a fast-moving bug.

This little black supersonic invention of Mother Nature flew right into the edges of the flames' circumference and was incinerated so quickly that its little body disappeared into thin air; not even enough remains to fall on the stones of the fire pit. Who knew that certain insects are so highly flammable?

Although its incineration did not make me weep, something inside me did get a sha…

Born Into the Light

Many issues covered by the US media seem trivial - a fixation with car chases, murders, or celebrity-based scandals, as opposed to serious coverage of major world events. But one story about a small group of people struck a deep chord, even if it was not a critical analysis of global economic, political or environmental issues.

Midwives in the Cameroon countryside do not have electricity. As babies don't plan their entrance during daylight alone, those born at night come into the world by the glow of the midwife's cellphone. She works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but many women in her area die in childbirth because of zero health care tools such as light, sterilized equipment, running water - let alone an operating room for the emergency caesarian section.

An obstetrician from the United States traveled in the area and became aware of the plight of pregnant women in labor. Her husband, an inventor, designed a yellow plastic box that not only contains some basic equipment b…

Meat, Ice Cream and War

During his 27 years prison tenure, Nelson Mandela could have easily died in a cold, damp cell, or have been "disappeared" by South African special forces. Instead, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu states of the infamous prison where Madiba stayed his course, "Robben Island was defeated by someone who could take everything it threw at him by melting courage into forgiveness, creating the gold of reconciliation.” 

The alchemy of this act takes a grace and understanding that lies deeper than the deepest part of the ocean. Contrast this pinnacle of human behavior with the jargon of military men, in this case the United States army.

Meat Eater - a particularly disgusting term referring to Special Forces soldiers whose mission focuses on a violent act of taking out the enemy (a.k.a. someone's son or daughter), as opposed to armed forces with a mission to promote stability and training. Note: the meat eaters are also born of parents who probably never imagined that their cute…

Imagine

According to new age pundits, the key to a successful life lies in the ability to visualize a goal, and then step into it.

Consider a study performed on pro basketball players. One group practiced tossing balls into the hoop for an hour. The other group did the on-court boogey for thirty minutes and spent the other thirty on their backs (by choice) visualizing the ball swooshing through the net. Then they went into action; the ones who had imagined that coveted swoosh scored better than the ones who practiced trying to swoosh it. Apparently, imagination can be harnessed to powerfully influence an outcome.

At the other end of the spectrum, a celebrity with serious depression remarked famously about his illness, "There is a magic wand across the room that can grant your every wish, but you can't be bothered to get up and get it."

This leads to an interesting puzzle. Why can some people see a bright picture on the horizon and move towards it by leaps and bounds, while others d…

Failure is Feedback

A quote by Nelson Mandela, frequently broadcast on the days following his passing: "Judge me not for my successes but by how many times I fell down and got up again."

Thomas Edison, Louis Pasteur and many others would agree with this sentiment - as well as every wee child who wants to learn how to walk.

In the age of instant gratification, this law of evolution bedevils the young and the restless weaned on MTV and video games. Hardly auspicious for the long arc of career development and penetrating expertise.

But it is not just our youngun's who exhibit such traits. A few years ago, the Dalai Lama rebuked his American audience. The gist of his remarks centered around his students'
desire for instant enlightenment and blissful freedom from neurosis. That it might take years of disciplined practice to master the mind, to develop true compassion and wisdom, was frustrating to people weaned on fast food and fiber optic networks. Apparently, His Holiness had gotten an earful …

Madiba's Magic

A great soul has passed on. The world will always remember Nelson Mandela as a man who brought an end to apartheid peacefully, when no one believed it could be done. From prisoner to president, he will remain an inspiration to all cultures and all nations around the world.

In 2009, my husband and I filmed a documentary about him. The titled is Reconciliation: Mandela's Miracle, and it is not we who coined a phrase with the word miracle in it. South Africans themselves called it thus. After 300 years of vicious oppression, the black and colored people of that nation were able to let go of generational torment to allow peace to prevail.

We filmed on Robben Island, where Mandela had been held captive for 27 years. The cell where his transformation occurred, from armed terrorist to consummate mediator, was the last stop on our shoot. As the location was being documented, the Robben Island guide hurried into the area to inform us the ferry back to the mainland was leaving earlier tha…

Crazy Juice

Dreams have intrigued waking man for centuries upon centuries. The "science" of dream interpretation boasts various schools of thought, and philosopher-artists have produced numerous works related to the significance of dreams.

Shamanic traditions hold the dream state in high esteem, its lightness of being a window into other dimensions. The art of lucid dreaming proclaims an unbroken continuum of consciousness between the waking and sleeping state and can be taught to an adept. And last but not least, mediums claim that the spirits of the dead come most easily to us in dreams, when the heavy veil of physicality is lifted. 

For that matter, approximately one third of our lives pass us by in slumber, not an insignificant statistic by any measure. (Make it 1/8th for insomniacs.) So it behooves us to take at least minimal interest in this phenomenon.

As for me, formal dream analysis never captured my imagination or piqued my curiosity. Dreams seem too magical to be interpreted wit…

Feel Your Way

A woman with thirty years of marriage under her belt and five children to her credit got a big shock one day. Her husband ran off with their attractive and much younger accountant. Although this story is not unique, this abandoned wife had a highly interesting perspective.

She said, "Gabe was a difficult man, but we never gave him feedback about his behavior when he berated us - for what he thought was our own good. Maybe if we told him how it made us feel he would have changed. We denied him the opportunity to grow because he never knew."

Her insight struck a deep chord. How many of us silently react to the actions and words of another without letting him know his impact? Smoldering inside with a smile on one's face, or hurting inside but pretending you've deflected harsh word/acts, won't go very far in helping the aggressor to know his impact. And if he doesn't get a light shone on the results of his behavior, everyone is left in the dark to keep wande…