Thursday, February 27, 2014

Don't Sweat It

 A doctor and long time spiritual practitioner related a story about the time he was in India with his guru, some decades past. The seasonal temperature ranged from baking to broiling, but lounging under a shady tree was not a desirable option. Most often devotees gathered on the rooftop of the ashram where the teacher loved to fly kites and perform other antics befitting a guru of young age.

The doctor was suffering from intense heat that was magnified by black roofing paper spread over the rooftop. With a burning desire to escape his discomfort, yet a stronger motivation to stay with his mentor, he was desperate to find a coping mechanism. He pondered, "How do the people who live here all the time survive in this climate?"

Being of a scientific ilk, he devoted himself to an empirical study. He observed that the key to the local natives' adaptation was sweating. (At least that was his theory.) Since jumping out of the boiling mosh pit would deprive him of the pleasure of his teacher's company, he decided to learn how to sweat. And voila! He became a man of the land, a sweater who could sweat it out with the best of them.

When I asked him how one learns how to sweat at will, he merely shrugged his shoulders and said, "You sweat."

His enigmatic answer leads me to one conclusion. The only way to learn how to sweat profusely - enough to adapt to extreme heat - is to find a proper shamanic healer whose sweat lodge could provide the ideal environment in which to learn the art of sweating. And if I can survive that kind of sweat, I'll be ready for anything - except a trip to the Antarctic.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Equanimity: the Name of the Game

When one has to kill a total of 20 hours on airplanes in flight, there are several strategies that can make the time fly by. The most important first step is pre-planning: select an aisle seat, especially if you are booked in the cattle car section. Being able to hop out of an economy class seat without stepping over grouchy seatmates every twenty minutes or so gives one the illusion of freedom and normalcy of movement. Unfortunately, it also makes it easier to invade the snack corner at the back of the aircraft, where junk food provides a tummy expanding experience that relieves temporary restlessness.  

Once strapped in and cruising at 32,000 feet, many other tantalizing options await the tech-savvy traveler. Provided that the flat screen on the seat back in front of you has been designed for people over the age of twenty for simple navigation, it is easy to escape into movies, TV shows, music, and inflight shopping. (Nix the last option unless you want to buy a duty-free carton of Marlboros or a $5,000 watch).

The downside to all this amusement comes with eye fatigue, content fatigue, and a general malaise if the programmed entertainment just barely meets your approval rating. So after watching two or three movies, eating three meals and five snacks, going to the bathroom ten times, and having the good fortune to have dozed for a full fifteen minutes, the next best option is developing a sense of equanimity. 

In the case of interminably long flights, this stellar quality prevents suffering born of claustrophobia and other physiological affects of being hurled through the upper atmosphere. Wherever you go, there you are!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

You Are Loved

Despite the anxiety and sleepless nights provoked by the duty of bringing up three children through the perils of infancy, childhood and teenage years, the results are rewarding. As they become adults, reality sets in. More likely than not, they begin to understand the effort it takes to pay rent (or a mortgage if they are lucky); ingest healthy foods (and shop, cook, wash the dishes, pots and pans); transit paper work from the mail box to the "done" pile (and hopefully have paid the bills on time). With ongoing life now part of their burden, they begin to look at their parents with more compassion.

Having had this delicious experience as of late - being viewed by my adult offspring as a human being with feelings and needs - it boils down to one thing. I feel loved.

Yet, one needn't sire another human being to know this feeling. Recently, a Vietnamese refugee told me how she was shunned in Vietnam because her mother married an American soldier. This was not at all cool in the post-war era, when the North Vietnam took over the entire country in an inevitable retaking of the land from Western colonial powers. She couldn't go to school because of the obvious genetic component of a Caucasian father.

Angry, hurt, and humiliated, she chafed at this discrimination until a local priest and nuns took her in. She was taught by clergy and sheltered with compassion. Years later as an American citizen, she remembers what is most important. The love she was shown.

And she reminded me to pass it on.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Hitler, the Spurned Artist

One of the greatest tragedies in history is that Adolph Hitler's dreams as a painter were not realized. Had they been, the carnage of World War II might never have taken place. His story exemplifies how seemingly insignificant acts of a few innocent people can ricochet beyond their wildest dreams - much like one tiny little lit match, dropped in a place where the causes and conditions come together, can start a conflagration of terrible proportions for a forest and its nearby inhabitants.

Hitler considered himself an artist from his early teens, but with only modest abilities, he was denied entrance into the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, which rejected him twice in 1907 and 1908. Years later, when his invading armies swept over Europe, one of Hitler's top priorities (besides exterminating entire populations to make room for his Germanic stock) was to capture and transport back to Germany the prize paintings and sculptures from the enormous and art-rich museums of Paris, Florence, Rome, and anywhere else that housed a valuable trove, including private collectors of Jewish origins.

The documentary The Rape of Europa details not only the jaw-dropping theft of art by the Nazis, but reveals something far more interesting - Hitler's everlasting love of art and his desire to build the greatest museum in the world in Linz, Germany. Just two days before his suicide in the bunker, he was still pouring over the model of this grand new city where his museum would stand as the crown jewel of museums the world over.

We can all understand a two year old taking one of his toys and smashing it against a wall at the height of a tantrum. But unlike the relative harmlessness of a toddler's act, this spurned artist had a taste for revenge, the likes of which put him in the ranks of the most world's more spiteful dictators of all times. 

Ah, if only the admissions committee of that art academy had goggles into the future...they might have feted him as the next Rembrandt and coddled his ego into submission. But without such powers, we can only go through life with a wing and a prayer, hoping that the ripples of karma created every second wash onto the shores of a better existence.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Dalai Lama Hits It Out of the Park

In baseball, when a player "hits it out of the park," the baseball travels far enough for all the players on base to make home runs. That spinning round object sails so far beyond the confines of the playing field, with no possibility of an outfielder catching the ball and striking someone out, that it is a fail-safe way to make it to home plate. It also implies tremendous accuracy and strength on the part of the batter.

The Dalai Lama is far more than a consummate baseball player, although he insists that the reason he has some peace of mind is because he sees himself as no different or better than any other sentient being. And I truly believe him when he says that, based on the way he languages his message and conducts his life.

The core of his talk was streamed live from Berkely, California and entered my heart via the internet. In essence, self-centered interest leads to suffering of all kinds, but seeing "the other" as none other than yourself leads to harmony of all kinds. One could provide infinite examples of why this is true from a scientific and/or psychological viewpoint, but who has time for infinity?

Suffice it to say that what my heart knows to be true was spoken aloud by one of the most respected people on the planet. To appreciate that connection to self, and self-disguised-as-other, truly settles the heart and mind.

Let peace prevail.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Ukraine Of My Mind

The Ukraine has figured large in my life history. Great-grandma Jenny left the Ukraine at age 14 to sail to America. What dreams filled her head remain unknown, but she lived to see children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren thrive on American soil. The American dream was realized when young Jenny landing on Ellis Island, destined for a more humane life. 

Decades later, through entirely different channels, a Ukrainian art dealer in Washington D.C. took an interest in my paintings and launched a solo exhibit. One of my best paintings was a mother chimpanzee cuddling her infant and sailing through the air - not on a flying carpet but perched on a horizontal crucifix. This image prompted horror from an elderly Ukrainian woman attending the opening. She pulled me aside to deliver a stern lecture, speaking one inch from my face.

"Do you realize there's a monkey on that cross? It's the Virgin Mother who belongs by the cross. Not a monkey."

She continued to hound me throughout the night, hell-bent on explaining the mistaken identity of the sentient being on the cross. She was not an annoyance, to be honest; rattling her pious cage was an amusement of a terrible sort. (Isn't that part of an artist's responsibility at times?)

A few years later, the Ukrainian government sponsored a cross-cultural exchange; American artists were to come to that land and paint with their Ukrainian counterparts. It was only two years after its independence from the former Soviet Union. Fifteen of us painters ended up being housed at an ex-Young Pioneers camp on the Black Sea, painting during the day and drinking home made vodka at night in an industrial kitchen with minimal electric light. (All the power from the dilapidated nuclear facilities was being sent to Europe to raise money for the struggling new nation.)

The basic cuisine smelled like the corridor of my grandparent's apartment in the Bronx; medicine was scarce, as were a variety of oil colors offered by the state to work our magic on canvas. The deal: in exchange for room, board, food, a canvas and paint, we were each to leave a painting behind, to be displayed in a government facility.

A grand irony struck me today. My "payment" to the State was a painting consisting of five faces, with round interlocking halos behind their heads. One of the Ukrainian artists looked at the finished product and had joked, "It looks like the Olympic symbol."

At the time his comment had offended my ego. My work was not meant to be an homage to the Games, but rather to the sacred nature of human beings in concert. Today, with another revolution in the Ukraine occurring as the 2014 Winter Olympics take place in Russia, I can't help but thinking that my painting, which lies in state somewhere in that troubled area of the world, was a bit prophetic.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Fools Rush In

"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread" is not only a well-worn aphorism. It was a love song immortalized by Elvis Presley, who didn't float my boat; Glen Miller, who really didn't float my boat; and Ricky Nelson, who really floated my boat when I was a pre-teen.

Please consider these famous lyrics, only imagining that the object of the singer's affections is not another person but your sacred self. 

Fools rush in, where angels fear to tread
And so I come to you my love
My heart above my head
Though I see the danger there
If there's a chance for me
Then I don't care.

Fools rush in, where wise men never go
But wise men never fall in love
So how are they to know
When we met, I felt my life begin
So open up your heart and let
This fool rush in,

And I don't care.

Fools rush in, where wise men never go
But wise men never fall in love
So how are they to know
When we met, I felt my life begin
So open up your heart and let
This fool rush in.

So open up your heart and let
This fool rush in.

Materialists scoff at the idea of abandoning worldly pursuits in search of the god within, but many "fools" over the millenia have done thus. St. Francis was a fine dandy of the aristocratic class who was one such fool that abandoned his father's lucrative business to meet his sacred self.

Not everyone is a St. Francis, not should they be, but let's hope that our collective Self takes the journey of the heart to heart.

(For a flash to the past, check out

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Boring is Boring

Every Tuesday and Friday I go for an infusion of glutathione, a super antioxidant that coaxes the immune system into doing its job. (An infusion in this case means the intravenous delivery of the substance.) My gambit is that this extra boost to my warrior cell friends will offset the ravages of chemo - a holocaust that almost cost my life's breath while killing off the cancer that had invaded my system.

Thankfully, I am not needle phobic and in fact this twice-weekly ritual is eagerly anticipated; a time to lie in a chaise, be pampered with soft pillows and tea, and chat with the nurse who's a sister in spirit and friend of forty plus years. 

Today she told me that she has started doing more infusions, a service she enjoys as every patient is an entire volume of unique experiences. Her keen ability to listen makes her privy to the vagaries of each and every life. As she described how fascinating every life story is, I questioned, "Everyone's life is interesting?"

She paused and conceded, "Well, maybe a few people have boring lives."

Feeling ashamed that I had dared to challenge her sparkling take on the humans for whom she cares, I said, "Even when their lives are boring, that in and off itself is an interesting thing to observe." We both laughed and proceeded to natter on about this and that for the last fifteen minutes it took for the large vial of fluid to empty into the vein in my right hand.

In fact, there is nothing more boring than people who say they are bored. Bored. What on earth is that, other than mental dullness born from a laziness of mind?  Think about it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Secret Friend

Belief in a being that watches over us, that always acts for our good, can bring great comfort to people in trouble, psychological or otherwise - although doesn't everything stem from perception anyway? The kindness of others can also provide soothing balm to an aching heart. And last but not least, the energy of Light has a living presence just as powerful as something onto which we put a face.

It is essential for the overall wellbeing of our species to find a way to connect to the positive energies that abound in our environment. Although the specific ways these forces interact with us humans differ from culture to culture, the function remains the same: to infuse a people with love juice, without which nothing seems worthwhile.

Whether we call this energy Jesus, Allah, Yaweh, Buddha, God, Goddess, Tara, Energy, the Unified Field or a multitude of other allocations, the impact is what counts. May we all have a secret, powerful, and friendly force to guide and support us. Nothing is more precious.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Listen to Your Own Advice

One of my dear friends provides the function of "ventee," meaning she to whom I vent. Now there is nothing wrong with letting off a little steam instead of allowing oneself to become a walking pressure cooker in danger of exploding. But occasionally, it is helpful to take a look at what is causing the buildup and see if the rising temperature has a legitimate cause.

Sometimes my buddy listens patiently and sometimes she passes a judgement or offers advice that is always perceived as innaccurate and/or unkind. (Note to advice givers - don't offer it unless asked, and even then tread lightly.)

However, one day she made a statement that has been a bell weather for all my varied states of affairs: "Just thank god you weren't born a poverity-stricken woman in Somalia."

People of all sexes and ages have suffered greatly in this unfortunate part of Africa plagued by civil war, famine, and other misfortunes over the past decades. But compared to females in Sweden, who have social parity with men even when it comes to paychecks, the Somalian woman suffers a hard lot, female circumcision being only one of many indignities suffered.

Lest I be accused of picking on Somalians, how about the North Korean state, now being compared in cruelty to the Nazis for the extent of their depravity? Or the CIA of American brand for their rendition policies?

Let's face it: the world is replete with injustices of all kinds. For those of us living in relative comfort, in a land of relative free speech and moderate governance, it is always good to express gratitude. Sure, it's frustrating to spend four hours on the phone trying to register for Medicare, or learn that your car repairman overcharged you $70, or have to wait fifteen minutes in the grocery store line so that the coupon cutter in front of you can get their two cents worth.

But come on, isn't it better than being a political prisoner in North Korea, or a war refugee in Syria, or a woman in Somalia? In this relative world, the panaromic view will always serve to elevate our consciousness beyond the pettiness that can sometimes overwhelm an ordinary life.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Your Spirit Is Yours to Keep

Last night I watched a documentary about the uprising in Egypt that the media fondly term "the Arab Spring." Sadly, the blistering, torturous heat of summer was to follow all too quickly.

The footage was graphic in regards to mangled bodies and frightening repression. Of course when we conjure up torture, the first thing that comes to mind is the pain that must be endured, perhaps leading to permanent injury or death. But another thought arose as I watched a man with his arms tied behind his back being punched in the face, as one by one each policeman surrounding the fellow took a shot at him.

It was his dignity as a human being that was the real target of the attack. When a child is born, care is taken to keep him or her warm, fed, safe, and able to grow into a mature human being capable of self-care. When a person is arrested and subjected to the opposite - a deliberate attempt to destroy the bodily temple - the very heart of humanity risks being destroyed along with the flesh.

However, in truth the only aspect of a human in captivity that cannot be definitively subjected to debasement is the spirit, the soul, the higher self, the god within, the enlightened mind - whatever term relates to that experience which transcends physical material. Yes, the adept torturer will try to break the spirit and drive a prisoner insane, but that is an intangible. Easy to image breaking a bone, but a little trickier to break a spirit.

What this means is that the stronger our relationship to the inner intangible core, the harder it would be to obliterate. Many tales abound of wise, strong people who withstand unbearable conditions to emerge with a victorious spirit, unbroken despite an oppressor's best efforts. In fact, the best defense lies in a powerful relationship to spirit...god...enlightened mind. When we are at home in that zone, no one or nothing can destroy us forever. Your spirit is yours to keep.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Dream Body Coming In for a Crash Landing

Both Franklin Roosevelt and Christopher Reeves have something in common, besides being Supermen and having gone beyond. They were paralyzed to varying degrees, only able to remember the freedom to which they had been accustomed in the earlier parts of their lives. Forced to adapt to life in their prime with severe disabilities, they pressed on with determination to maintain a full life.

One salient confession expressed by these two men: upon waking from the world of sleep, where their dream bodies could go wherever thought took them, they landed back in their bodies and awoke with deep depression. Both men relate that it took them hours each morning to shake off a horrible melancholy about their physical reality in order to psyche themselves up for a full life managed through an obstacle course.

They came to mind when I woke up today feeling as if everyone I know had disappeared and the only one inhabiting my house besides me were the ants and spiders. It struck me as odd because in fact my lovely daughter was sleeping in her room peacefully, my husband was outside reading the paper and breathing fresh air, and to my knowledge all my loved ones are blessed. Adding insult to injury, the night before was filled with fascinating new experiences and good dreams. Go figure.

The only fathomable answer is that we are beings with sensory perceptions that far exceed our conscious knowledge. Complex forces pass through us like liquid through a strainer, leaving in the wake the residue of their presence. So instead of freaking out about freaking out, my mind directed itself to brief prayers, and after my feet hit the ground, a few cups of espresso and a resolve to do the laundry got me cranking.

For all of you who wake up happy and joyful every morning looking forward to the day ahead, you are indeed blessed. And for those of us who wake up wondering why we are back in these heavy bodies, you are not alone. Help is on the way. I would advise three cups of espresso, but in Southern California that might be viewed with horror. So drink your green smoothie, or green tea, or matte, or soy chai, or organic black tea, or run three miles, and take heart. You will notice the birds singing in the trees in no time.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tribalism versus Universalism

Lions have prides, dolphins have pods, wolves have packs, and humans have tribes. Members of these groups are quais-relatives, usually related by birth and genetic affinities.

Although this has the advantage of providing protection, co-operation for food resources and procreation, among other things, the downside is dire. Outside this ring of mutual identification, sentient beings who are not part of that the community are viewed as "the other."

The idea that an individual or animal is somehow not entitled to the same courtesies as a member of the clan has been the cause of fighting on a scale large and small since the dawn of recorded history.

Have you ever heard of siblings who almost kill each other within the confines of their homes, but if someone threatens one of the members from the outside, the family immediately bands together to punish the intruder? Happens all the time except in fanatical societies where the young are sacrificed at the alter of shame, death, or banishment for being victimized by an outsider. (Certain sects of Islam and Judaism, our biblical siblings, practise this horrific crime.)

The only answer to virulent tribalism is to understand deeply that everyone is a human being with a desire to be happy and live in peace. Within each person, that sweet spot could be brought to the fore under the leadership of wise ones with skilled methods of mediation, penetrating discourse, and an action plan to cement mutual empathy for "the other."

It's been done all over the world with enough succes to hope that were this a policy in place, and enforced on a regular basis (especially with the young), we might emerge from a Darwinian struggle into a world of unity and harmony.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Seek and You Shall Find

The Biblical phrase, "Seek and you shall find" usually refers to the Kingdom of God within (Christian phraseology). The practice of mindful awareness (Buddhist phraseology) has a tandem meaning.

If one wants to be struck down on the road to Damascus in a torrent of thunderous glory and light like the apostle Paul, it might take forever/never. Not everyone has the karma to found a world religion like the former convict turned proselytizer.

However, if the goal is to discover that kingdom of god or to achieve enlightenment, the small, ordinary things that cross your path in life can be the trigger. Everything around us is a metaphor, a mandala, just waiting to reveal its joyful secret. Even the most innocuous and mundane act can be a message.

For example. Most of us have electronic gadgets with screens that show every touch of the finger(s). From computers to smartphones to tablets, those greasy bodily oils cloud our illuminated windows to the world. For at least the past twenty years, I have struggled with this conundrum, ruining one screen with a detergent, using water ineffectively, and finally learning that these items require special treatment. And then just living with finger prints and smudges that cloud my vision - a picture of sloth and laziness.

Yesterday as I was perusing every item that Costco has to offer, a certain one crossed my path: Clean Screen, the perfect tool for every electronic gizmo's grunge. In Costcoesque fashion, the packet contained four bottles of this stuff, but nevermind. We have plenty of people in the family with dirty screens who can have their very own spray bottle of Clean Screen.

This morning, with a mere spritz and swipe of the supplied cloth, all of my windows to the world are sparkling like a diamond with almost no effort.

The moral of the story: what we need is hidden in plain view, simple, and no big deal. Solutions abound. And even a trip to Costco can provide a metaphysical lesson if one applies mindful awareness.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Never Give Up

I must confess - although Southern California has been my heavenly abode for the past 38 years, I am a closet New Yorker. But my inner NY persona has no desire to leave the balmy, green environs of LA for the stacked cubicles called apartments (all that New York can offer its humans) - not to speak of freezing winters and hot humid summers that make the softly lilting dirt stick to one's skin.

However, thanks to its internet publication, the New York Times arrives in my inbox every day with the regularity of a Swiss train. One would think it would actually get read since I pay $15 a month for the privilege, but more often than not, I simply glance at the headlines. Occasionally, an article will be so enticing that my brain simply must absorb the information, which is never really relevant to the basic question of my life, "To be or not to be," a phrase coined by Shakespeare that eerily resembles a classic Zen koan.

Haste invites mistakes and in a rush to absorb, the following headline, "The Escaped Inmates From Iraq Fuel Syrian Insurgency" was misread. My first thought was that the Times was reporting on some escapees from a state penitentiary, and that this illustrious newspaper should not make a headline out of an irrelevant story for the world stage.

Luckily, the real words sank in a few seconds later and provoked a desire to actually read the article. The historical twists and turns of Sunnis and Shiites, not to speak of Western meddling, has made a catastrophic, twisted, insane, unfathomable mess of that region of the world, although there exist other such hell holes on diverse continents as well.

Suffice it to say that it takes a scholar to understand the background and the current turbulence, and it is not the intention of this blogger to pontificate on something she knows little about. But what does concern my little head as I sit in my glorious and peaceful warm garden is the nature of the human mind that allows atrocity to exist. 

Never give up, she thinks. Repetition reaps deeper understanding - or brainwashing - depending on the content being repeated. So I repeat to myself, reconciliation is possible. Peace is possible. We just need to keep reminding each other so that one day it wills sink in at the level of global citizenry.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

All We Need Is...

A wise friend posted a response to yesterday's blog entitled Cherish the Moment. In her super hip Brooklynese way, she quipped, "All we need is love ~ oh right ~ all we are is love." 


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cherish the Moment

A life well lived requires a delicate balance of maneuvers that resemble a pair of Olympic skaters on ice doing their artful dance. The lucky humans of this earth have the privilege of working hard at a goal of their choice and witnessing the fruits of their labors of love.

But like those superb athletes who gather from the four corners of the earth to shine (or not) on the Olympic platform, even the most well-rehearsed and diligently prepared can fall. Hard. And lose their dream of gold.

Gold is a precious metal, a word, a commodity of trade, a coating for teeth and silver jewelry, among many other uses. For the mystics of the world, gold is a Light whose presence represents the supreme energies of love and transcendence from the suffering of the human ego.

What separates us from the athletes who fall on ice and lose their dream of the gold metal hanging around their neck? Although they can try again, there is no guarantee of winning the gold on the second time around, four years into the future.

Perhaps evolution of consciousness is what we mortals have going for us. We may fall hard, but never is there a time when we can affirm that all is lost and the chance might never come again. Sure, in the material world that might happen, but our lives are lived from the inside. And in that wonderful space of awareness, whether one wins, loses, or doesn't play at all, transformation is always an option.

While hope can be the enemy of the "what is," on another level it provides a vision of the inherent freedom that lies in wait deep inside the human heart.

Monday, February 10, 2014

When the Shit Hits the Fan, Duck!

"When the shit hits the fan, duck!" is not a saying I learned at the knee of my old grandpa from Wyoming or Missouri or some such place in the wild west. It is born from the resources of my humor-blackened subconscious, heard somewhere, sometime in my life. Sorry, whoever first originated that phrase. I don't mean to plagiarize but darsh gone cain't remember where it first entered my brain as a great philosophy to embrace.

Today, a plan long in the making and involving much preparation with hefty greenbacks fell apart. When expectation meets minus whatever you were expecting, there are numerous ways to react. Although panic was my first reaction, resolve was the second one; inventiveness was the third; and deciding that life is too short to worry about all the twists and turns along the way from birth to death was the fourth reaction.

So, sing along now if you so choose: "Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Blackout = Gold

The first gold medal of the Olympics went to an American snowboarder named Sage, who smoked the Slopestyle. A new event with hair-raising jumps, the racer defies serious bodily injury or death; one micromillimetre of clumsiness could mean a mid-air drop to the hard snowpack lying far beneath their aerial gymnastics.

Apart from the jaw dropping courage and athleticism of all the participants, the winner made a very interesting statement when being interviewed by the press after being golded. In his third and final massive launch off a jump, he not only did the 4 1/2 somersaults high in the sky. He added a special trick that put his twirling mid-air body into an unusual contortion - a trick he thought of 3 minutes before starting his run, that he had never even before attempted.

According to Sage, he doesn't remember that third jump or the perfect somersaults or effortlessly spinning into an extra added trick, which he had never even practised. In his state of "blackout," (his words) the mind-body took over and soared him to new heights of achievement.

He realized something that is the dream not only of athletes but all human beings - to enter into such a state of flow and oneness that an action is pure, spontaneous, effortless, and perfect. Only a mind that is free from fear, uninhibited, focused and relaxed can enter this sacred zone. 

As Sage put it, "If you think about it, you'll fall on your face."

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Great Wisdom

Garchen Rinpoche, a revered Tibetan lama, spent twenty years in a Chinese prison. He relates what he learned there, aside from knowing what it is like to be hungry, cold, and tortured. The following is an excerpt from a talk he gave in Los Angeles in 2011. The teacher he mentions in the below text, Khenpo Münsel Rinpoche, was one of his mentors in Tibet who was also rounded up along with thousands of other monks. Fortunately, they were able to benefit from each other in jail.

"In prison Khenpo Münsel Rinpoche taught me that the extent of your realization will be known when you encounter difficult circumstances. You will not know the extent of your realization when things go well. When you find yourself in a troublesome situation, when you are in great pain, when an intense emotion arises, only then will you know where you are at with practice.

Adverse circumstances will reveal your hidden faults. If you are able to hold awareness unwaveringly during such a time, and thus if you are not carried away by the force of the emotion, it is a sign that you have gained experience in practice.

If you were to practice mindful awareness with great diligence for just a month, if you were to recognize even the slightest thought and not allow your mind to wander off into delusion for that time, even in such a short time you would witness great changes. Fierce afflictions would not faze you so much any more, because you would have gained personal experience in observing the illusory play. There is in fact just one remedy necessary--mindful awareness. It is the single sufficient remedy that transforms difficulties inside and out."

Friday, February 7, 2014

Calling All Saints

It would be a rare if not implausible event to drive on a Los Angeles freeway, cut someone off at high speeds, and have that person signal you with a "no worries, please go ahead of me" hand signal. More than likely the response will vary from a loud honk to a rude middle finger gesture to a gun pointed at your head.

Even the most harmless, chill, rational person with a heart of gold will at one point or another lose their cool and express frustration towards another human being. It would be lovely if that person to whom the irritation is directed could say, "I'm so sorry darling. Is there anything I can do to help mend the situation?" 

To my children who are learning about the adult world of business, relationships, and survival, I often say when they are dinged by someone else, "Don't expect others to be saints." And if you zing someone else with your own emotional baggage, most often the other person will react with an offended ego-based reaction that meets fire with fire, or vulnerability with domination.

The only solution that has ever made sense, (aside from the the purest distillation of spiritual texts) was given by a beloved adviser: "Clear up your own side of the street."

Ultimately, we can't control the behavior of others but we can certainly work on our own. And just as a tuning fork can, through resonance, send another tuning fork into singing mode that matches its vibration, then who knows what possibilities lie in wait for the flesh and blood? If we start the cleaning machine, maybe, just maybe, it will make a U-turn and get to the other side of the street as well.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Stray Dog Genocide: Let the Games Commence

The Winter Olympics begin today in Sochi, Russia with an added "human interest" story that provides news junkies with some disturbing local color. (Never mind the all-too-frequent terrorism plots making the headlines...)

Folks in the area had their homes bulldozed to make room for the stadium and other venues. They were moved into highrises somewhere in the vast Russian state, and most were forced to leave their pets behind. It seems that landlords worldwide sing the "no pets allowed" hymnal when renting their apartments.

As a result, a disproportionate number of stray dogs roam the area, left to a cold and lonely fate save for the scraps they glean from construction workers at the Olympic venues. Since an overpopulation of stray dogs would reflect poorly on the area, and tourists seem to view strays as rabid, the Russian government came up with a wonderful solution: killing them with poison darts that cause death by suffocation. Poison control businesses are now booming in Sochi. (I wonder, what happened to the cats, pet hamsters, fish and birds?)

Enter a Russian billionaire who has provided a collection of ramshackle dog huts in a dog village that tragically resembles a South African township for Congolese refugees.

So as Winter Olympic fans joyfully tune in to watch worldclass athletes, who deserve positive attention for their incredible prowess, let us say a prayer for all the sentient beings to survive and thrive - whether they glow on the world stage, are segregated into subhuman slums, or are disenfranchised pets lurking in back alleys in search of scraps.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Martyrdom of Philip Seymour Hoffman

The emerging details of Phillip Seymour's death paint a sordid picture:

- an out of control heroine addict, found dead on the floor of his bathroom with a needle still stuck in his arm, dangling uselessly;

- banished from his household by the mother of his children to a $9,700 a month apartment so that his decomposition would not be so evident to his progeny's young minds;

- at least 50 bags of heroin, 5 of which were open, discovered by police in his uber-upscale digs (hardly a back alley smelling of urine and garbage).
If a hidden camera had followed his moves and moods in the time before his death, the myth of the eerily talented actor would be shattered by the site of a man resembling any strung out junky; hardly the exceptional being he appeared to portray on the screen and in press interviews.

I felt more dismay than sadness when the news popped up on every electronic device in my household. Smart people are supposed to be smart. The fact that superior intelligence doesn't equal common sense, or keen insight, didn't quell my dismay or self-righteousness.

But then another angle arose from the depths of my subconscious computer, who is so good at putting together the puzzle pieces when my conscious mind is busy sidelining itself with random judgements.

With the incredible lens of media attention now focusing on the scourge of addiction and widespread use of heroin, perhaps his death had a purpose. Just maybe in the grand scheme of the universe, his brilliance in life balanced out with a brilliant performance in death: the role of a fallen dissolute who was once a shining star. His last act is making society look squarely in the face of addiction and its horrific dysfunction.

Could it be that with the landslide of media discussion now centering around his death and its cause, someone in this world might initiate more thoughtful care and a cure for the drug disabled? If so, then in his death, Philip Seymour Hoffman will have become a martyr for the cause.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Secrets, Lies, and Teachers

As a global society with internet news capabilities, information-gossip travels almost at light speed: village priests, city priests, a retired Pope, Zen masters, Heads of State, gurus from quasi-religions, all risk being unmasked if their personal behavior deviates from the holy and/or moral teachings they espouse. The tendency for those individuals' neurosis to erupt, in direct contradiction to their teachings, seems to be widespread.

At the innocent age of 21, my first spiritual teacher (of great stature and reputation by the way) invited me into his bed. I had thought he wanted to talk to me in private because I was "special" and ranked to get more in-depth teachings. When it turned out that a roll in the sack was what he was after, I ran away at top speed from this fellow. It took years to figure out how the moral precepts of his tradition, and his profound ability to articulate those teachings, stood in stark contrast to his personal fetishes.

For decades, I asked every guru I met how it could be that a person embodying the Teachings of Ages could at the same time be such a rascal. Finally, after thirty years of questioning, one wise man gave me the answer that settled my heart.

"Don't follow the teacher. Following the teachings. The teacher may go to hell for his behavior, so don't follow him. Follow the teachings."

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Death of a Pleasure Seeker

A wonderful actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, died of a heroin and prescription drug overdose this week. My first thought was suicide. After all, the highly versatile and nuanced actor used his body like a violin prodigy playing a Stradivarius. Such extraordinary sensitivity in this up and down world could be crazy-making.

But he was about to direct a film with a wonderful cast. And everyone in Hollywood knows that directing is the cat's meow. He also had two more film roles inked in, and most importantly, three very young children - although in today's news universe, the young babies get minor billing compared to the film roles he will never get to play.

Given all the above, and knowing addicts both living and dead, my impression is that he was going for the super high, the high of all highs that passeth all understanding. Lest I be accused of cruel judgment, I know the power of chemical nirvana and how one could shipwreck on the shores of body wasted. Prescription pain pills mimic heroin and when I took them for major cancer pain, they not only dulled the screaming nerve endings but also caused a surge of euphoria and energy that was awesome. It was with great reluctance and a major upheaval of conscience that I told the doctor the happy pills were no longer necessary when the healing had commenced.

It is unfortunate that the world has lost a great talent, a significant other has lost a significant other, and three little children lost their father. But perhaps - and just perhaps because who am I to really know the inside story - this genius was not so smart after all but was among other things a coward and an escapee on the run. He was brilliant, but true brilliance knows the depth of the ocean and the still waters that lie beneath the turbulent surface.

His is truly a cautionary tale. For those who choose not to dive deep into their own suffering and live within the beauty that it can deliver, they will constantly be battling the waves of emotional turmoil. It requires courage and a big light to see one's way through those depths of darkness. The way is there for those who desire that knowledge. The supporting outstretched hands are there to help lift one up.

The real tragedy is that Philip Seymour Hoffman never found his match to help elevate him to the real, true, and pure heights.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ego "Yuckiness"

There is a method behind the madness of this blog title "Ego Yuckiness." Normally, the word "yucky" is used by young children to express something they find distasteful, unpleasant and wish to avoid; not a word choice of the geriatric group.

But let's face it. An egomaniac manifests childish and unevolved behavior. Most of us would agree that when we are confronted with an egotistical person -  someone who thinks only of themselves and doesn't know how to fit into the other's shoes - and who is sure that their thoughts are the only right ones - we feel...

Unseen. Disrespected. Angry. Hurt. Indignant. Non-existent. Vengeful. Sad. Torn.

To react after being slimed by someone else's ego with the above negative feelings is in essence to reslime oneself. For self-sanity, another tact warrants some attention. After all, as Gandhi famously stated, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

What if one were to respond to another's unconsciousness with equanimity and a desire to know what is underneath the ego explosion that just dirtied our emotional and mental body? What if we decided to "turn the other cheek" as it were and find a higher path? 

In the words of one of the most memorable Alka-Seltzer ads, "Try it, you'll like it."

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Disabled and Displaced

The sight of a person confined to a wheelchair for life, either from serious birth defects or as the result of injuries sustained later in life, causes numerous reactions from others. Depending on the viewer's perspective, these reactions range from empathy to averting of one's eyes to pretending not to notice to being overly solicitous - or better yet, simply seeing that person as a human being.

From the vantage point of people in that mobile chair, they have to contend with their own reality, which differs in certain areas from the majority of two-leggeds who can go where they wish freely. How this psychological component is navigated, from the vantage point of the chair, can make the difference between a life well-lived and one not so well-lived within the interior emotional landscape.

However, one factor that is often overlooked by people graced with full use of their bodies is the way our villages, towns, and cities build their infrastructure. Until recently, the disabled were confined to few areas where they could go in their chairs - because steps, small elevators, sidewalk curbs and a myriad of other obstacles prevented them from getting to where others go so effortlessly.

The real meaning of "disabled" refers not only to the physical condition of the person in the chair. It means that the disabled have been dis-abled from entering most places in our world because architects, city planners, businesses and others disallow them from entering anywhere they wish - because the environment is not designed to allow for the passage of wheeled vehicles a minimum of 3+ feet wide.

Of course there has been progress in this area, with rules governing the construction of buildings that are "handicapped" friendly, although this word is not fondly viewed by people with disabilities. But not enough has been accomplished yet.

Recently, I was at a dinner party in Paris, France. After navigating deep staircases on the Metro and squeezing into the tiny elevator in the apartment building of our hosts, I wondered how anyone in a wheelchair could live in Paris. It was absolutely and completely disabled unfriendly. When I mentioned this to my French host, he said, "You Americans make too much of this disabled thing."

I pray that this man may never know the hardships of being barred from society by its disregard for the needs of the disabled. In the meantime, supporting laws to enforce access to the land of the living is a human rights issue. The time has come to wake up to all of humanity's needs.

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...