Friday, January 31, 2014

Unconditional Love Means No Matter What

The current US State Senator from Virginia exhibited a heart so large that nothing but the term "unconditional love" could describe what transpired.

His 24 year old son, a brilliant student and former campaigner for Senator Deed's election, developed a mental illness of an undiagnosed nature; undiagnosed because the night he definitively broke apart, there were no beds available in the state's mental hospitals to take him in.

The father and son had been out on an errand and upon returning home went to different parts of the house. When Senator Deeds stepped outside to check a noise, his son came up behind him and began stabbing him in the head and lungs, miraculously not killing him but landing him in critical condition. 

What stopped the young Deeds from finishing off the job? In midst of the attack, his father kept saying to him, as he was being stabbed in the back repeatedly, "Gus, I love you. Why are you doing this? I love you. I love you."

Deeds credits these words for possibly halting the rain of knife thrusts. He then staggered onto the road, where a passing car driven by his cousin stopped and the life-affirming relative whisked him to an emergency room. Shortly after, the young man took his own life with a gun.

Of course this begs the question, why wasn't the son taken to an emergency room when they were looking for beds in a mental hospital but couldn't find any open ones? Without being privy to details, and not being a detective, going down this line of reasoning is fruitless.

But what was amazing to watch were the reactions of the now recuperated Senator Deeds. In a CNN interview, he wept through the entire interview as he described his son as the most wonderful, loving person he knew. He could only remember the potential of that young man and the love he held for him. The illness, the violence, the assault, faded away in the pure vision this man had for his child.

It is said in the Tibetan Buddhist scriptures that unconditional love is most like the love a mother has for her only son. In this case, let's give Senator Deed a round of applause. Despite his male body, his heart transcended all dichotomies and traumas to melt into the purest love.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Don't Spam on Me

In the good old days before the ubiquitous internet, the phrase, "Don't shit on me" ranked at the top of defensive statements. But with the information age solidly underway, the heralded new protest has become, "Don't spam on me."

Google and other search engines attempt to assure us that spam filters and other such gizmos will protect us from unwanted solicitation. That, however, is not the case with one of my email accounts: the most frequent scam spam that now arrives every day in multiple numbers is the one telling me of a fortune left to me by an aunt in Nigeria or something along those lines. The tactics differ in trying to rid myself of them; the first was to ignore them; then I wrote polite replies; then I replied back to the scam messages in capital letters, FUCK OFF ASSHOLES. However, even this foul language discouraged no one. Probably a virus or a robot does these emails, as any human should be put off by such a response. My latest maneuver: delete as fast as possible to get to the real stuff.

Of course changing an email address to start over anew would be unheard of. Just think, one might lose a new good friend halfway around the globe forever.

So while I hit delete about fifty times a day, there are decided benefits for this blogger who is about to officially become a "senior" citizen. It keeps my brain nimble to see how fast I can detect spam and delete it without inadvertently erasing the next message I want to keep. They say that brain stimulation keeps the aging brain from shrinking and can even grow it. Since crossword puzzles and puzzles in general infuriate and frustrate me (because I suck at them), the dance between my eyes and fingers on the keyboard might do the trick.

The only other problem with this whole internet thing is that my penmanship is starting to look shaky and has lost its beautiful curves and lilts. At first I was concerned that it might be caused by an impending auto-immune disease until it occurred to me: I never write by hand anymore. The only way my fingers know how to move smoothly are on a keyboard.

Worse things could befall a human, so in the meantime I will tap tap tap and be happy. And maybe someday learn how to keep the spam attackers from invading my mailbox.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blog Update: 66 Countries Click In!

To date, the following countries have clicked on this blog, some more than others but all in quite the global display:

Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Ecuador, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Latvia, Luxenberg, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Age-Related Positivity Effect

For all those young, vibrant youths that bemoan the approach of thirty as if it were a death sentence, maybe they are on to something. Apparently, the brain begins to lose its fluidity as the neurons start to chill out and fire with less speed after age 25. To make matters worse, male fertility peaks at age 20 (what idiot designed it that way?) while female eggs are at their freshest and best up to 28 years old.

Most senior women would decline to bear a child even if they could, although the over 50 male sometimes struts his stuff like proud peacock if he can land a young babe with child-bearing urges. We older women love to play with the adorable little ones and then send them home so that their young mothers and fathers can lose a night's sleep. Our old bones need to regenerate in slumber, by the way - and we did pay our dues.

In this complex array of physical realities, growing old does have one wonderful benefit. Studies have shown that the older brain, while seemingly slower and famously forgetful, actually seems to be but is not - because that brain has so much more life experience that it simply takes the software longer to retrieve words and events. The wheels of the search engines must spin a few more times in order to produce that abundance of vocabulary. Barring serious diseases like Alzheimers, our brain is like the public library in New York City, while a twenty-something's bank of knowledge resides in the wee library of Podunk, USA.

Buoyed by new findings of German scientists, (no, it wasn't rediscovered data of Dr. Josef Mengele) it seems that we seniors also remember life events with a more benign overview. Maybe the ups and downs of life have made us so dizzy that getting off the merry-go-round becomes the best idea. Or that pesky mother-in-law who died twenty years ago is now recalled with appreciation for the goose liver paté she brought on her bi-annual visit and not for the knife-like judgments she freely dumped on her son and daughter-in-law's heads.

So for the young beautiful ones who bemoan the future loss of flawlessly smooth skin and tight abs, there will be benefits. You will fret less and enjoy more. 

Maybe there is a God after all.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Celibate or Celebrate

In a small Italian village, two family lineages have been feuding since the time of the Medici dynasty. The descendents are still involved in a centuries old lawsuit and these current day relations don't even know what caused the initial argument! Following like blind sheep, they continue to hate the other lineage and press on with the unresolved legal dispute. (Obviously, no one else in the case can figure out the problem either or it would have been resolved at least a hundred years ago.)

This ridiculous scenario reflects another trend - the telling and retelling of history until it has been so revised that the original intent has been obliterated, relegated to rituals and beliefs useless for the modern mind. Tragically, people who believe in these texts don't know they are no longer viable, continually fighting wars over smoke and mirrors.

To lighten up about this unfortunate human flaw, a Tibetan lama related a great joke. Back in the 6th century, a wise master wrote a treatise on the codes of conduct for a monk. In order to preserve the teachings for future generations, this text was recopied by monks over the centuries as the original delicate parchment had began eroding.

Flash forward to 1995. A young novitiate enters this monastery high on a Tibetan plateau. An ancient abbot who resides in his cave-retreat requests the young man to come see him. The reason? The old man feels that so many hand copies have been made of the original text that he wants to carefully open its fragile remains to make a new copy from the original - instead of the novitiate making a new copy from copies of copies.

The novice completes his work and delivers it back to the senior monk. A few hours later, he hears wailing coming from the cave and rushes back, fearing the worst for the ancient one. As he enters the cave, he sees in the monk's one hand the fresh and accurate copy, and in the other, the original text. 

The elder cries out, "Our ancient text said CELEBRATE, nor CELIBATE!"

Sunday, January 26, 2014

I Dreamt I Was In Algeria

Those wondrous events called 'nighttime dreams' are at times magical, frightening, uneventful, impossibly symbolic, sexual, or a simple rehash of the days events, and more. Both ancient and modern cultures hold the dream life with reverence; after all, we spend about one-third of our lives asleep and busy with all things belonging to the unconscious and involuntary bodily functions.

Naturally, I was astonished to find myself at a party in Algeria last night (in my dreams, of course) with a hostess whose house, in waking hours, sits only a block away from mine. I have never before graced the soil of Algeria either in my etheric body or in physical form. Like any tourist, I was walking about marveling at the newness of experience yet surprised at how familiar this land seemed.

Without troubling the reader with all the intricate details of this long sojourn, suffice it to say that the Algerian people were very helpful in directing me to the nearest grocery store that was open late at night. At the party, an Algerian woman of thirty-something years looked at me and my fellow party goers from the USA with an astonished smile and said, "I've never met Jews before. You are really nice." Somehow I knew that this modern Algerian woman was of the Islamic faith, and that she was an associate of my friend who had moved to this North African country in dreamland.

And why am I dribbling on about a dream I had last night? Because it was an affirmation that when people of different cultures and religions meet each other in a neutral, hospitable atmosphere, the preconceptions fall away and we relate!

Human beings share almost all of their gene pool in common with each other; only a tiny percentage of genes reflect differences due to the environmental impact on their physical form. So below, so above. We are more alike than different, and when that is known and felt through friendly human interaction, all is well with the brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Democracy in Action: A Flip of the Coin

Democratic governance is widely regarded as the most humane form of population participation in how laws are conceived and enacted. Take American presidential elections as an example: often the winner gets 51% of the vote and the loser gets 49% of the votes. As third parties don't have much traction in the USA, we shall leave the math simple for the sake of argument.

While fair elections ostensibly solidify the will of the people through the democratic process, in fact this line of reasoning makes no sense. The President may have gotten more votes than his opponent, but 49% of the people did not want him. That's a helluva lot of people unhappy about their Commander-In-Chief and Chief Executive.

Chief is an interesting designation, an atavistic remains harkening back to tribal times. (Although they still abound around the globe, modern society will be replacing them with 21st century politicians in no time.) In some cultures, the chief is all-powerful, with or without a concomitant council. But one tribe whose social organization makes the most sense, or made the most sense, was the one into which Nelson Mandela was born and raised.

Traditionally, the Xhosa tribe has ruled by consensus, meaning that everyone has to agree to a policy/action before it is implemented. And until unanimity is reached, the final decision simply stews and brews. No rush. When consensus is finally achieved, the group moves forward as a united front.

Of course in countries with large populations in the tens of millions or billions, a national election might never come to pass with consensus as the benchmark for change. Stuck with democratic governance, it more resembles a coin toss that a fair system: heads you win, tails you lose.

So let us all pray to the goddess of all gamblers - Lady Luck - the dame who has achieved immortality in casinos and back alley betting venues. Bald Eagle, move over. Our Lady is standing by, ready to raise her lopsided scale of justice to the heavens.

Friday, January 24, 2014

All Hail to Great Beings

I was brought up as a devout atheist but out-of-the-box mystical experiences, in my late teens and onward, rocked my worldview. Although the idea of a God that exists somewhere up in heaven seems implausible, the truth remains that spirits, angels, and other wise beings exist on planes unseen to the average work-a-day mind.

Despite firsthand eyewitness accounts, a certain cynicism has remained with me. While seeing is believing, old thought patterns that counter the "what is" still challenge the birth of expanded consciousness and a reverence for the subtler planes of existence.

For any statements that have been written in this blog to date which offend humans, spirits, angels, ascended masters, mythical beings, gods, or other beneficial entities, I offer my humble apologies. In this spirit, I make an offering of bounty and abundance to you of the other worlds: incense, flowers, music, fruits and vegetables of all kinds, beautiful landscapes, palaces, special retreat places and everything else that cannot be conceived but brings delight and pleasure to your beingness.

And to any beings that are tormented and in this anguish seek revenge, or wish to feed off of human life energy, please accept offerings that fulfill you without harm to others and enable you to be freed into the Light of Being.

So be it. May all beings benefit!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How to Eliminate Cancer Forever

The one sure-fire way to get rid of cancer is to die from it. Once the body has been possessed and devoured, it's enemy - those mutated ravenous cells - self-cancel as well. Cancer cells kill the very source from which it derives its sustenance, in effect sawing off the branch they sit upon.

Microcosm and macrocosm. Human beings are to Mother Earth what cancer cells are to the human body. As we multiply exponentially every day, invading deep pockets of global energy, the earth's body is slowly dying. In our ravenous desire for more, we eat away at the bounty of life.

Indigenous people of the Andes and other native cultures bear witness to the effects of their Mother's mistreatment at the hands of industrialized societies. They have warned us, but the power is not theirs to initiate radical behavior changes. Rogue citizens running the corporations of the world need to listen up.

We are the ones we've been waiting for. Mass movements of people must change their daily habits, or else the grandchildren of our grandchildren will be forced to live on a shrunken, uninhabitable planet.

Looking on the bright side, the movement towards organic agriculture and greener energy sources provide some hope, but it is the consumer who has demanded these changes. We can vote for better policies, but in the end what we buy creates pressure on Big Pharm, Big Farm and others to listen up.

Hello out there! We want to live! And we will prove it by where we spend our dollars, kopeks, shillings, euros, (yuans?)  and other currencies washing around the globe.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wild Caught Baby Giraffe

In the wild, lions must dine on the closest food source they can spot. The easiest meal is an animal that has been separated from the herd, or a young vulnerable beast whose mother and friends aren't close enough to kick ass.

Case in point: a full grown giraffe can actually kill a large lion with a swiftly moving hoof that sends the king of the jungle flying into oblivion. The height of the gangly giraffe also makes it near impossible, even for a leaping big cat, to sink its teeth into a hunk of flesh large enough to grab hold and bring down its prey.

The worst sight ever seen on film, for this animal lover, was a mother giraffe and her baby loping across a savannah with a hungry lion in pursuit. The calculating cat with yellow eyes waited until the baby was far enough away from his mother, tall as a tree, to take down the young'un at her side.

As he dragged the exquisite young thing into a nearby bush to begin in on the chops, the mother stood only fifteen feet away. The cameraman managed to get a full face shot of the mama as she looked at her baby, now merely a delicious meal. The lion was content to allow the mother to stand at close range while he dined on wild caught baby giraffe, as if mocking her with his indifference and obvious self-satisfied pleasure.

The mother giraffe's huge brown eyes stared unwaveringly at the site in front of her. It is impossible to describe her expression in one word so here are two: disbelief and helplessness. Perhaps "helpless" fits best. It was heartbreaking to watch the vulnerable, impossibly long-necked creature as she gazed upon the wreckage. Baboons scream and shout; water buffaloes snort and threaten with lowered horns, birds screech and flap around the carnage of their fellow winged ones. But this noble creature of great stature simply stood vigil as her life's work vanished, torn into shreds of meat.

Something about the quiet grief of this mother has left an indelible stamp. Perhaps it is because she didn't flee from the site but simply stood and bore witness. Her abject presence and dignity will never be forgotten.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The King's Lawyer

Martin Luther King Day passed me by in a fog. The day was filled with tasks that no one but me could accomplish, pressing upon my soul with an urgency. It's Monday! Time to get cracking.

1.  Transplant the long-suffering succulants that the deer had ravaged on our hillside decor and replant them in a safe haven by the driveway, where Mr. and Mrs. Deer & company dared not tread.

2. Call Blue Cross to get a new doctor assigned to me as the one printed clearly on my new insurance card wasn't taking new patients. (Thank you, idiots who did the computer programming for this actually life-saving Affordable Care Act.)

3. Call a collection agency to pay the $23.80 bill for lab tests that was apparently long overdue. Not that it was unaffordable. It must have somehow gotten lost in the "to do" pile that never got done.

4. Shop for food for dinner. The three "kids" (all now adults) are coming over and the refrigerator is bare. Luckily for my husband, they come over once a week for family dinner, which insures that he gets a home cooked meal at least once in the seven day week.

5. Email, email, and then more email about business, not to be revealed in a blogosphere. Or at least not yet.

6. And then some...

It was only after I got into bed after midnight, with an unusual bout of insomnia, that it dawned on me that it had been a national holiday celebrating the great Dr. King. My family had a special connection to this man, not only because my parents, sister, and I had a committment to the civil rights movement, but because our closest family friend was King's main lawyer.

Throughout those trying and traumatic 1960's, my growing mind and body listened to conversations in the Wachtel household concerning all sorts of planning, personal revelations, heated strategic arguments, and tender stories about the great man. He was not present, but his spirit loomed large. I felt proud to be connected to the man King trusted so deeply, the same man who looked at me with great fondness and loved to pat my red curls and tell me I was a sharp one. He seemed to listen to all the little words that blurted out from my child's mouth.

As I grew older, the family friends became more like uncles, aunts and cousins; cut from the same cloth, with a karmic connection that defied explanation but provided plenty of raucous and memorable happenings.

Were it not for insomnia, my memories of Harry Wachtel and the role he played in King's life would have slid under the radar of my daily chores. But with a long night ahead of me, I got to reflect and dream upon the richness of history that had been mine to witness.

And now it is time for me to get back into bed and 'have a dream.' So fare-thee-well to great friends long gone. You have enriched my soul forever.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Anomalous Preference Targeting

The world of psychotherapy has a catchall title for pedophilia: anomalous preference targeting. When I first heard this phrase from a psychotherapist friend, it tumbled and rolled around in my brain for a good five minutes; the abstract wording anomalous preference targeting was noteworthy in and of itself for its qualities of disassociation; talk that sanitizes a heinous behavior with vague abstractions.

This morning I repeated the convoluted phraseology - anomalous preference targeting - to my husband over a cup of strong black tea, which helped get the neurons firing in order to wrap itself around those three long words again. This new terminology is mystifying because it could be applied to anything and everything, from overt weird behaviors to food choices to an outstanding trait that appears unexpectedly in a family or culture.

For example, a woman could have an aversion to any prospective mates under 6'5" tall, scrupulously avoiding contact with any males under that height. To this civilian, that could be an anomaly and a clear preference that targets uber-tall men only.

Or, a learned doctor might decide that his preferred cuisine consists of three squares from McDonalds. Defying all known information about health and nutrition, his behavior could well be described as anomalous preference targeting.

For that matter, the word anomaly could be applied to  Bill Clinton, who rose from a poor and alcoholic home in the Deep South to become a Rhodes Scholar and two time President of the United States. And preference targeting could refer to any woman other than his wife for his dangerous liasions. (By the way, I voted for Bill twice, lest the reader get the impression he is on my shit list.)

The above examples are why this latest pseudo-scientific lingo takes the bite out of pedophilia - by giving it a name that applies to anything out of the ordinary that becomes habitual. For an underage person who has been the target of a pedophile or knows someone who is a pedophile, the vague new moniker seems offensive in that it places the behavior in a gray zone of lukewarm impact. And any victim knows that child molestation is by no means an abstract experience.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Doing Time

How many of us have been blindsided by an event that our emotional body registers as traumatic, painful, and completely unexpected? Whether through wartime, illness, infidelity, accident, mega-misunderstanding, sudden death and everything else in between, the loss of a normal everyday life style causes us to stretch in ways we would never choose consciously.

Many years ago, my friend's two year old drowned in her backyard swimming pool. When she went outside and saw him floating face down in the water, her first thought was, "Oh God, don't let me have to learn about this."

She related her spontaneous reaction to me at the little one's funeral, which she conducted herself. Her confession has stayed with me for all these decades because it seemed an astoundingly conscious thought to have when she realized her family's fate.

Truth comes wrapped in many packages; some with bright golden hues and others clothed in a black night of the soul. Learning through ecstatic experience is the way of the mystics, but they are the happy few who are awoken with the sweet kiss of grace. Most of us who leap forward on the evolutionary path do so via what Baba Ram Das calls "fierce grace," a term he aptly coined when rendered paralyzed by a stroke. (Or as he says, "I was stroked.")

If one struggles against the riptide of dramatic-traumatic events, exhaustion sets in and the fear of drowning in sorrow becomes overwhelming. The only way out of the stormy sea of emotion is to float with the current until it spits you out - maybe far from shore but still breathing. As long as one relaxes and stays the course, it is possible to reclaim terra firma and rediscover one's ground of being.

In prison, inmates call their sentence "doing time." When our psyches are blown apart and we are imprisoned by pain, it is good to remember that we are doing time, and that one day the clear air of freedom will be ours to reclaim.



Saturday, January 18, 2014

When Lost Is Not Lost!

I met a Zen master today. Since this is such a rare occurrence, I decided to seize the opportunity and ask him to advise me about my path in life. I told him, "I don't know where I am, I don't know where I'm going. I feel lost." He surveyed me with a smile and replied, "How can you be lost if you don't know where you're going?" - Richard Thomas Scott

The problem with habitual thinking lies in its repetitive track, imprisoning consciousness on the beaten path. In this mode, creativity and out-of-the-box insight are dialed to the "off" setting. Adding insult to injury, the tendency to polarize ideas into dualistic compartments, where thoughts solidify into a position on one side of the spectrum, further shuts down this fabulous computer called the mind-brain and imposes blinders on the perceiver.

What the above Zen fellow means is that you cannot be lost unless you already know where you would like to go; nothing exists independently and everything has an identity based only on its relationship to something else. In theory, being "lost" implies that one knows or senses a desired destination but the compass is inoperative.

At those times when all is lost, the best medicine is to quietly and fearlessly open the mind. Let it explore a vast, undefined space wherein lie all the possibilities for an answer. Open the lid of the box, search the stars and listen patiently. The answer will come.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Now You See It, Now You Don't

Can you image having a picture perfect Christmas holiday with your husband, two boys ages five and seven, and elderly parents, when a massive tidal wave wipes away everything called "your life" except you, the sole survivor? Within a matter of minutes, with no forewarning?

Despite the Hollywood movie about a family of similar makeup who miraculously survived the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 200,000 less fortunate souls, the above scenario is quite the opposite. An autobiography by this soul survivor, who went from a state of walking dead to a life with coherence, tells it like it is. Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala.

All of us will die one day - the only thing we know for sure about life. But when our reality changes so radically with no psychological preparation, the shock can be almost too much to bear. People do become mad with grief, unable to relocate the center of themselves which was severely dislocated by the unexpected - the shock of seeing others suddenly removed from the physical; assumptions about life and destiny rewritten instantaneously.

It is these assumptions that are the root of instability, because the sun will rise tomorrow but we may not. The unprepared mind that refuses to contemplate mortality will be ill-prepared for change, traumatic or otherwise. The wise ones, while not dwelling negatively or morbidly, will remain aware and grateful for the moment - while simultaneously understanding that it is already another time-space reality.

Actually understanding and integrating these facts are a different matter, however. A great Buddhist teacher who lived in the 11th century talked often to his students about the nature of impermanence and attachment. But one day, his son was dragged to death by his horse and this wise man sobbed uncontrollably for days. His students were aghast, and asked him, "Why are you crying if you say everything is an illusion?" And the teacher replied, "Because my son was super-illusion." 

And herein lies the rub.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Awash in Talent

Germain to the topic of supply and demand are the many artists creating their own particular brand of music in this digital world. As the mother of three adult children, all of whom are contemporary music composers/musicians, my ear not only listens to their marvelous creations (no, really, it's not because I am their mother) but thanks to them, sounds also float through my house that their aged mother would have never before known about.

One the one hand, the amount of talent out there is phenomenal. Thanks to the easy availability of software for composing and recording, not to speak of YouTube - the instant window to the world if you can get anyone to click on your channel - the cup runneth over with good juice. But true to the law of supply and demand in this mysterious material world, the supply outweighs the demand. In plain English, this means that only the lucky few stand out from the crowd to garner the attention a.k.a. bucks to convert their passion into rent money, food, health care (oy) and other necessities of life (not to mention supporting a family).

The bottom line always comes to this: if you don't love what you are doing, day to day life chores such as earning a living become a form of slow psychic death, unless you understand the following koan.

Q. What does one do before enlightenment?
A. Chop wood and carry water.

Q. What does one do after enlightenment?
A. Chop wood and carry water.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Supply and Demand

I managed to dodge courses in economics during my sojourn as a student, all the way through college graduation. The closest I came to this subject, which few have apparently mastered in the real world, was helping my teenage daughter with Economics 101. It was almost mind-boggling.

One concept that defies my peculiar sense of logic is "supply and demand," the economic drivetrain that sets prices based on the scarcity or abundance of a desired thingy. In other words, the more rare the item is, the higher the cost. When something is commonly available, it loses its luster and the price point plummets.
For example, the world is awash in diamonds. But De Beers, the world’s leading diamond company that has dominated the exploration, mining and marketing of diamonds since the late 19th century, decided to parcel them out little by little - thereby creating a perception that diamonds are rare and must therefore cost more money. In truth, if all the diamonds available were to flood the world market, they might end up as cheap as a cubic zirconia. And cubic zirconia would then be as cheap as dirt.

But here's the logic of the world according to me. If there is very little of something, it is criminal (or capitalistic) to charge more. For example, in a war torn country where a loaf of nice bread might be hard to come by, why charge some poor schmuck twenty times the cost if he comes upon the rare loaf? Why punish his pocketbook as well as his stomach?

If all the original Jerry Garcia Beanie Babies sold out for $10 when they were released onto the market, why ten years later will someone have to pay $500 for one, just because they are harder to find? Makes no sense to me. Value becomes a matter of pure perception, and the spoils of perception fall to the hands of the greedy who manage to control the supply.

Go ahead, sophisticated economists, tell me why this notion sounds like the ranting of a buffoon. So to be absolutely technical, here is how Wikepedia (the source of all knowledge true or false) explains supply and demand:
  1. If demand increases and supply remains unchanged, a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.
  2. If demand decreases and supply remains unchanged, a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.
  3. If demand remains unchanged and supply increases, a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.
  4. If demand remains unchanged and supply decreases, a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.
The way I read this, the world runs on a perception of how goods should be distributed, and the rise and fall of prices is purely profit driven. As they say on Wall Street, "The rich shall inherit the earth."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sholem Aleichem's Final Act

Those of you unfamiliar with Jewish Eastern European culture might not recognize the name Sholem Aleichem (1859-1915), although his impact on the literary world was profound. His plays and books, written in Yiddish instead of the language of intellectuals of his time - Russian and Hebrew - depicted ordinary life in the shtetls, or small villages that were in essence ghettos imposed on the Jews.

By the Czar's orders, Jews were cordoned off in the Pale, a 400,000 square mile area covering parts of Russian, the Ukraine and other Eastern European nations of today. Jews were only allowed to pursue low level occupations, which made their lives miserable. Photos of the period record the poverty of the persecuted.

But Sholem Aleichem, a pen name which means "peace be with you," found humor in the darkness, shedding a brutally honest yet lighthearted ray of joy into the daily travails of his people. He was called "the Yiddish Mark Twain," to which Twain responded that he was "the American Sholem Alcheichem." (Fiddler on the Roof is based on Sholem Aleichem's seminal character Tevia.)

Sadly, the world of investment banking was not the forté of S.A's poetic genius, and after losing a family fortune in this endeavor, his life became a struggle financially. This did not deter him from a voluminous literary output, but the touring schedule of a poet-writer-humorist in those days did not line his pockets with gold.

He settled in America near the end of his life, where he could get better care for his many illnesses which included diabetes and tuberculosis. When he died on May 13, 1915 (ironically a day with the number he avoided his entire life, even skipping the number 13 in the pages of his printed works and labeling them 12a instead), his funeral procession in New York was 200,000 strong.

And herein lies the unintended consequence of his life. This mass gathering of mourners was the largest ever of its kind in New York, and the politicos of the era suddenly realized that the Jews were a population to be reckoned with. Henceforth, this wandering tribe that had landed on American shores would find its rightful place in "the land of the free."

Sholem Aleichem's success in death was in an inverse proportion to his view of life. His writings reflect the inbred pessimism of a man who looks squarely in the face of the devil yet sticks out his tongue. How amazed would he have been that his very death triggered a life-empowering event that heralded the recognition and acceptance of his people.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Buckets of Grace

The beauty of a mystical experience lies in its spontaneous occurrence. While a person can train his or her mind in logic and reason, a mystical event cannot be predicted or called up at will. Visionaries develop methods of "seeing" that enable them to enter doors to the inner worlds with an evolved precision. A yogi can train and strain until the body contorts into a pretzel or some other astonishing position.

But a bone fide bucket of grace, that dumps evolutionary leaps of awareness into ones being, cannot be manufactured by practice - or will. True life cases in point:

An inveterate alcoholic drank a fifth of scotch every day, as well snorting a gram of cocaine, and had zero desire to become a sane, sober man. One day he woke up and before he could crack open his little vial of white powder on the night table, crystal clarity washed over him, as real as a shower of water. He looked at the actual crystals with no desire. His bottles of scotch remained unopened. From that day on he never touched any mind-altering substances because the compulsion had simply vanished.

A heroine addict was so suicidal that her husband had to tie her to the bed when he went out, to prevent her from jumping out of their fifth floor apartment window. But one day she dodged him and shot up. He found her unconscious and by the time she was lying on a hospital gurney, she was flatlining. But in her experience, she was bathed in effulgent light that gave her more bliss than any heroine high. She thought to herself, "I have to go back to tell Doug about this." And then the brain monitor started showing a glowing green wave pattern and she regained consciousness - with no desire to touch drugs and a full desire to live.

The stories are numerous, but one last tale is worth the telling. A Trappist monk, the head of his religious order, had been a pious and rigorous leader of his flock. Typical of most clergy, he was adept at following the dictates of his religion through Bible study, but his understanding had plateaued at that intellectual level. One day as he walking in the monastery garden, he blended into the sea of universality, transcending all religions and philosophies. He understood that all beings were one living, breathing presence, in essence swimming together in a sea of love. Although he remained a Trappist monk, he knew in his very bones that all the world religions and cultures converged into one point of light.

There can only be one conclusion. Anything is possible...and may we all have buckets of grace dumped on our heads in this lifetime!  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Growing Power

Stock brokers talk about growing portfolios; pediatricians and therapists talk about the personal growth of their patients, but the kind of growth referred to here relates to the plant kingdom.

People with a knack for cultivating their viridiplantae (a nod to Latin lovers) have "green thumbs." Others, who seem to kill everything they touch that grows in dirt, have "black thumbs." However, the secret in transitioning from black to green follows the same formula as everything else under the sun: awareness and attention to the 'what is.'

If you didn't grow up on a farm, or have a parent that grew their own food or at least a small garden, then mostly likely you are flummoxed at the thought of planting anything. Or maybe that orchid in your apartment or on your office desk simply withered and died on the vine, never to grace your space with its beauty again. And now you think that your romance with plants has withered away and you are incapable of ever loving again.

But it doesn't take a psychiatrist or a minister to regenerate faith in your ability to have a plant relationship. Simply learning what grows in light, what likes shade, what likes shade and light, what likes lots of water, what hates too much water, what likes cool and what likes warm, and what kind of soil to use - those are the ingredients that any nursery or online trove of plant information can deliver poste haste. Of course this requires attention and observation, but hey, those are good skills to cultivate anyway, even if you don't want to grow a plant. (It would be a good brain exercise if you want to learn to cook as well.)

The reason for all the above nudging to grow grow grow is simple. I woke up with the blahs. I hate the blahs, although they are better than the urrghhs. Nonetheless, it was a sunny day and the greenery outside the window caught my eye. As Southern California provides hospitable weather for humans, it enabled me to open the front door and saunter out. And lord almighty, a bunch of bushes called "Wilson's Wonder" had bloomed overnight, spewing gold, red, white and yellow all over the place.

And then I smiled and warm fuzzies filled my heart. No matter how many people were killed yesterday due to illness, starvation, torture, accidents, or war, something on this planet grew, bloomed and flourished - right in my own yard.

So if anyone out there despairs of the world situation, or a family situation, or a personal issue no one knows about, grow a plant! At least then you can know for sure that good things are happening in the world.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Antidote to Frivolity

“The antidote to frivolousness and laziness is to meditate on impermanence. The reality is that you don’t have much time left. Every day, moment to moment, we are getting closer to death. That means our access to our precious human body is not going to last much longer. Since it is the vehicle for attain higher rebirth and enlightenment you want to use it very wisely. So when you notice this reality, how can you be laid back, and not do anything for your own happiness? This would be very unwise. So right now, train your mind into the reality of impermanence and compassion, and abandon thoughts and activities that will bring suffering.” 
-- Chhoje Tulku Rinpoche

Sometimes people critique Buddhism as a pessimistic philosophy all about suffering, but actually it is a realistic view of life. And the point of all this direct, hard-hitting talk is to bring a person to the point where they seek the answer to the suffering. And the answer is hidden in plain view if one leads the examined existence. Joy, equanimity, compassion, and love lie right beneath the surface of suffering. With just a slight turn of the awareness lens, it comes sharply into focus.

Even if we live to a ripe old age, time passes before us like a rushing river bent for the sea. So while we are not to be like little Neros fiddling while Rome burns, our time on earth can be turned into a gift of service. And that feels good.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Einstein and the Internet

“Never memorize something that you can look up.” 
- Albert Einstein

While the above yields insight into the quirky mind of a giant of science and mysticism, Einstein made this remark long before the onset of the Information Age and Google. In his time, 'looking up' data meant either a trip to a library or access to a serious book collection. As only great centers of learning were able to provide adequate resources, populations in outlying areas where left to their own devices.

However, in this day and age, anyone with an internet connection can access more information than one ever dreamed possible. Google's avowed mission to digitize everything in the universe capable of documentation bespeaks of mind-boggling possibilities.

With the ability to simply look up anything, anywhere, at anytime, the logical conclusion is that we will never have to remember anything if we follow Einstein's dictate. Considering that many in the younger generation today are fixated like moths to the light on their iPhones and iPads, the future looks bright for airheads.

Perhaps our children should be encouraged to do something old-fashioned. Play outdoors. And if there is no outdoors for city kids, how about playing with real objects such as musical instruments, colored markers, building materials, puzzles - anything to get those neuronal pathways branching out to Somewheresville.

And for the old folks, who are prone to glazing over in front of a TV, perhaps they have nothing left to lose, given the drastic rise in Alzheimers and dementia. But even in these cases, there is nothing more sad than a lonely elder left alone, with minimal human interaction to pass away the time.

The human being is a social creature who needs first and foremost a connection of loving kindness with others. So, even if we don't need to remember facts anymore because they are just a mouse click away, we should never forget that the smartest human being is the loving human being.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

One Red Hot Mama

Only 1% of the earth's crust is solid rock. Underneath the ground we stand upon, seething molten rock circulates, looking for cracks in the tectonic plates to spew forth its innards when the pressure builds to an intolerable level.

When Mother Earth feels the need to express a mood, her external affect is measured on a scale from 0-8. Her personality can be relatively benign, emitting whispy plumes of volcanic ash and a small trickle of liquid fire-rock, or higher up on the scale, she could become a murderous monster with the ability to wipe out life on planet earth as we know it.

Mama's biggest super-volcano and most living, breathing entity resides in Yellowstone National Park, deemed "Old Faithful" by tourists who love to watch her spew boiling water with the regularity of a cowboy with a wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek. Her caldero, a crown chakra that spans a 50 mile radius, breathes and heaves under an aliveness that bespeaks her massive power and presence.

Scientists try to reassure us that a warning, a.k.a. advance notice might be possible should she decide 'enough is enough' and blow her stack. Sure, people can move about 500 miles away and escape the rain of fire that literally froze people in their very stances as rock sculptures -  facial expressions an all - when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. But nothing, literally nothing, could be done to prevent the massive climate change wrought by the elimination of the sun's rays. Volcanic ash from a super volcano eruption magnitude 8 would blanket the earth's atmosphere and cause irreparable damage for centuries to come.

Granted, "Old Faithful" might not show her darker side to humanity for thousands of years. But when the kids behave poorly, one never knows when the wrath of Mama might descend on them.

Whether one is a superstar of a multi-million dollar movie franchise that incinerates in a fiery car crash, or workers in a Bangladesh factory, or a team of crack fireman caught in a forest fire, the heat of the elements shows no mercy when the power of fire exceeds the tolerance of matter.

So while the trajectory of our life cycle - it's length and the circumstances of our departure -  may have almost infinite causes, one thing is for sure. Nothing lasts forever except forever (which is in itself a human construct about the nature of time).

No one should live in terror of a super volcano or any other catastrophic phenomena, born either of mother nature or human nature. But keeping our inherent fragility in mind, it is good to remain humble in the face of life in action.

As the bard Cat Stevens sang, "We are only dancing on this earth for a short time," so we might as well dance before we get too old and crusty.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What Is the "What Is"

Modern day gurus advise us plebeians to accept the "what is" as a recipe for sanity. Could this be a 21st century colloquialism resembling God's original utterance, "I am that I am?" 

Despite the enigmatic nature of this Holy reference, both the former and latter phrases are loosely related to unconditional acceptance of perceived circumstances (internal/external) and the idea of Self-knowledge.

I can't vouch for the authenticity of the biblical source, as it is near impossible to get an interview with God and the sources are unreliable. So how about a truism from a real live human being named Thich Nhat Hanh -  

“Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.”

Which brings us back to the "what is." No matter the life phase, bio-rhythm, season, geographical location, or hormonal cycle we are in, one cannot escape the circumstances of the moment. Life is one fluid movement undergoing change and transformation incessantly, which complicates the matter; by the time one groks the "what is," it has become the "what was," requiring instantaneous adaptability to a groundless, wide open void.

To avoid insanity, this conundrum requires the human psyche to remain as loose as a wet noodle. So today I raise my glass to flexibility, relaxation, stillness, nowness, lucidity, and the heavenly delight of angel hair pasta dripping in a butter-garlic sauce.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Dalai Lama Speaks of Love

"The foundation of all spiritual practice is love. That you practice this well is my only request. From the earliest stages of our growth, we are completely dependent upon our mother's care and it is very important for us that she express her love. if children do not receive proper affection, in later life they will often find it hard to love others.

In the beginning of Buddhist practice, our ability to serve others is limited. The emphasis is on healing ourselves, transforming our minds and hearts. But as we continue, we become stronger and increasingly able to serve others.

The Buddhist notion of attachment is not what people in the West assume. We say that the love of a mother for her only child is free of attachment. Cultivating closeness and warmth for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It is the ultimate source of success in life.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive."

--the 14th Dalai Lama

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Prescription Kings

Americans make up 5% of the world population and consume 85% of the world's prescription narcotics. Dude - that's awesome if you're a pill popper or the owner of a pharmaceutical company. For the rest of us, it's a sad commentary on doctors, their patients, and most of all Big Pharm a.k.a. the multi-billion dollar companies like Eli-Lilly and Merck who lobby Congress to write bills in their favor. And write them they do.

It would take a thesis to roll out the nefarious ways of the pharmaceutical companies and how they conduct slanted studies, push products to doctors with hefty checks as  "thank yous," and manipulate governmental laws. But with only coffee as my upper, it's not a happening idea.

As a former cancer patient and pain pill popper, I certainly know the value of narcotics when used for a good reason, although a skilled hypnotist could have done the trick as well. But alas, insurance companies don't cover that service -  they cater to Big Pharm alone. So for the sake of my wallet, the contents of the little brown bottle with child-proof cap was more practical than keeping a hypnotist by my bedside.

All roads lead back to the motivator - greed - as the number one reason such imbalances exist. CEO's have replaced kings as the rulers of the land, employing millions of workers, (no longer called serfs in the modern era), to line their coffers. The big "C's" - Communism and Capitalism - have both failed because of a root cause, the human ego. A voracious animal, it breeds an insecurity that makes a person grasp for more and more, despite all evidence that enough is enough.

Our rulers, elected or otherwise, will always be subjected to the corruption of selfish human drives unless that man or woman embraces deeply spiritual or humanitarian values. False power corrupts, but real power is born of a need to act decisively and swiftly, to save beings from their suffering.

The Buddhists have a prayer of aspiration that is worthy of repeating here: "May All Beings Benefit." In the meantime, vote with your feet.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Most Dangerous Country on Earth

Gallup and the Worldwide Independent Network polled 68 countries at the end of 2013 to determine which country was considered the biggest threat to world peace. The winner for this undistinguished honor was the USA, with Pakistan coming in a distant second. The other baddies of the world ranked so low that they are not even worth citing. (China was almost off the radar, which was an oversight of gargantuan proportions.)

Granted, the countries most wary of the the United States are in the Middle East and our neighbors in South America, all of whom have experienced the wrath of Uncle Sam's military-industrial complex directly. 

Ironically, when questioned which country was the most desirable for habitation, the US was also number one again.

This raises an interesting point. The United States is perceived as the world cop because it plunders the planet for resources, to insure its high standard of living - often in the name of democracy. While the rest of the world abhors the rape of their resources for American comfort, it is that very American standard of living that appeals to the rest of the world.

Herein are the ties that bind. The quest for material wealth puts the needs of the powerful few over the vast majority. And that majority, witnessing affluence, dreams of it as well. The cycle of materialism thus becomes a prison of the mind whether one is king, bean counter, or worker bee.

Thus, the wheel of samsara rolls on. Getting off this merry-go-round, which spins faster and faster out of control, requires one to go to the power source to regain control. But that power source lies not in an electrical switch built from copper and wire. It is an inner awareness that triggers decisions dictating every molecule of life.

Working for the welfare of the whole will be the only way to insure the survival of earth's population in the coming centuries. Let's not saw the branch we are sitting on, please, and enjoy the view instead.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Everything's Real in Reality

A precocious four year old was cavorting about the living room playing charades with her mommy, grandma and me. Acting out a terrifying Tyrannosaurs Rex, then a slithering snake, she was totally engaged in the excitement of the moment. Then, with a skip and a hop, her attention ricocheted elsewhere and she whisked into her mother's childhood bedroom. 

The tiny lady re-emerged proudly wearing a bead necklace, compliments of mommy's suitcase. But instead of resuming the game in which we were embroiled, she marched straight up to me and delivered the following words about one inch from my face - a feat made possible as I was sitting on the floor:

"Everything is real in reality."

Then she made poste haste for the bedroom, to adorn herself in yet more finery. When she re-entered the gaming area, she remarked, "I'm smart, kind, and beautiful," then resumed the game with a wonderful pantomime of 'a moon'.

I was gobsmacked. Why did this fun-loving little one, with no apparent interest other than charades and mommy's necklaces, suddenly veer into metaphysical musings squarely directed at me? To top it off, her serious communication resembled a zen koan, and zen koans always bedevil me. 

After pondering the meaning of her cryptic message for 24 hours, one interpretation rose from the depths of my foggy mind. Perhaps Reed was assuring me that the phenomenon we were acting out have their counterparts as three-dimensional life forms but we are not the parts we are playing. It was an act of compassionate to tell me that - otherwise we might have been dinner for the Tyrannosaurs Rex.

Still, there is something in her pointed lesson that remains an enigmatic Rubik's Cube of the mind. So I leave you with Reed's koan to contemplate for yourself... 

Everything is real in reality. 

Go figure.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Don't Get Sick Here

The United States, one of the richest countries in the world, has state of the art medicine and medical facilities - for the richest people in this country. Try being poor, or better yet middle class, and find out that medical attention may cost an arm and a leg. 

A group of friends were talking recently and one woman recounted that her mother lost her home when she had to sell it to pay for medical bills. An Irishwoman in the group was horrified; in the British Isles that would never happen.

Granted that in countries with socialized medicine, a sick person might have to wait for months to get an urgent test requiring specialized high tech equipment. Not a good deal either. But in these countries, private policies are also available for more flexible care and they don't cost the equivalent of rent or a car payment plus insurance.

Now that Obamacare has set in, the situation should theoretically improve. But God help the computer illiterate. Or worse yet, those short on patience or time. One must be a person of leisure and saintliness to navigate the many phone numbers given that lead to the wrong department - and that is after waiting on the phone on hold for an hour listening to the schlock muzak that loops over and over and over and over. 

Mind you, being the resident of many African nations or other massively poor/war torn countries may insure you no medical care at all, especially for deep-country dwellers and deep-city impoverished peoples, i.e. Congolese refugees in South African townships or the 8 million Syrian refugees. So Americans shouldn't really complain.

It's just hard to watch the disorganization and lack of funding when it comes to the care of human beings, as this country is awash in a sea of plenty. It's not only perplexing; immoral would be a better term.

But since the world is gradually evolving into a global economy with its concomitant environmental impact (for the worse at the moment), let's hope that the trend towards globalization morphs into worldwide care for each other. Afterall, we live on a small planet.

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...