Showing posts from February, 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 …

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 Mar…

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 …

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 Par…

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 o…

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 throu…

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 a…

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?"


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 i…

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…

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 fle…

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 fac…

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 banis…

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 …

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 follow…

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." 


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 t…

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."

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," (h…

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…

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…

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 boo…

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'…

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 ev…

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 mimi…

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 unconsciou…

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 w…