Showing posts from December, 2014

Let's Hear It For the Cats

I recently saw a "Huffington Comedy" video that made me laugh like a two year old on crack. A montage of video clips culled from You Tube, it showed cats and dogs in their proverbial war - only this time it was the cats who intimidated the dogs.

Shot by homegrown videographers with pets of both the feline and canine species, time and again the dogs were too terrified to pass the family cat, whether it be on a stairwell, in a hallway, or through a doorway leading to another room. The cats were all about the same size but the dogs ranged in potency from large boxers to little dogs of indeterminate parentage. 

Every dog that has ever entered my house has gone after my beloved cats with a vengeance (even my very own beloved dog Jade, since passed on). Thus, the sight of a cat terrifying a dog - simply by its lounging about presence - evoked hilarity and a sense of poetic justice.

However, when I browsed through hundreds of comments on the "Huffington Comedy" site, I was h…

Droplets from the Heart

Spoken by Garchen Rinpoche, a great Tibetan lama who was imprisoned by the Chinese for 20 years:

"In prison Khenpo Münsel Rinpoche taught me this. 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 …

Ask and It Will Be Given

Imagine sitting on a hilltop overlooking a crystal clear lake; a gentle breeze moves through mountain grasses and rustles the tree leaves while a chorus of birds send their harmonies throughout a vast and cloudless sky. All troubling thoughts seem to dissolve into the peace of the Mother naturally, simply.

Then out of nowhere, storm clouds gather on the horizon. The gentle breeze morphs into a sharp, biting wind and the birds take flight; sweet songs replaced by the ominous rumbling of distant thunder. As if rooted to the ground by a mighty force of gravity, you cannot move, helpless as the storm rolls in and pelts the physical with cold rain.

If the mind follows these external conditions like a loyal dog with its master, then peace will be followed by misery. Longing for the sweet past will torment the mind as it resists the more challenging landscape.

Yet so many brave people of history have described riding out tormenting storms by maintaining an inner balance that never wavers despit…

The Social Animal

Yesterday, three diverse family groups gathered for a Christmas Day lunch. In all three cases, one or more individuals comprising their nuclear families were not present for a specific reason - death, divorce, or relocation.

At one point or another during the afternoon hike, a key family member expressed that they had woken up depressed because their nuclear family was split apart this year. For all three groups, it was the first year of separation from the loved ones with whom they had been accustomed to being with for so many Christmas' of yesteryear.

In all three cases, the depression evaporated as we all gathered together with laughter, wine (or Martinellis) and great food.

What social scientists proclaim is indeed true. We are social animals. Our cultural and familial preferences actually come second; what comes first is being accepted into the company of warm and loving human beings.

The rest is icing on the cake.


Surprises are a double-edged sword. When an event reveals itself spontaneously - unpredictably - human reactions span the entire range of the emotional spectrum. Good surprises and bad surprises - which ones do we prefer?

Although the obvious answer is "good surprises," life often does not co-operate with our desire for an ever-upward spiral of unexpected wondrous events. Actually, the odds present a 50-50 scenario. What goes up must come down, and what goes down must come up (especially if you follow the stock market).

Preparing for the vagaries of life is one of the most important skills sets necessary for survival. Like a swimmer in the ocean, one must learn to navigate the waves. Floating as if the sea were calm when the intensity of the waves pick up courts disaster. Learning how to dive under them delivers triumphant results - even pride in knowing that there is a way to handle any challenge that presents itself.

Today is Christmas - a day that many adore and a day that m…

Will the Real Santa Claus Please Stand Up?

Santa Claus, sometimes called "old Saint Nick," is a legend born of a Greek mystic between the 7th-8th Century. Saint Nicholas' gift-giving attributes arose from a story that he gave a sack of gold to a poor man whose daughters would have otherwise been sold into slavery but for this handsome dowery.

Saint Nicholas was described as "fiery and wiry," spending many years in prison as a persecuted Christian during the bad old days of the Roman Empire. 

Hold on. Fiery and wiry? Of course traditions, like language, evolve over time. Our jovial, obese Santa Claus of today might have put on an extra 100 pounds thanks to the prevalence of preservatives and transfats in our modern diet.

However, the real truth about Saint Nick's metamorphosus from gaunt, wrathful mystic to euphoric tubby lies in a more ironic twist of fate. The image of Santa Claus known to modern man had its genesis within the marketing department of Coca Cola circa 1920. An artist created Santa as he…

The Three R's

In the olden days, the 3 R's stood for "reading, writing, and arithmetic," the foundational skills taught in school. This ditty did not bode well for American education, since "rithmatic" bastardizes the legitimacy of the King's English. Off to an inauspicious start perhaps, considering that American education now ranks 36th in the world of nations?

In a new tactic having to do with socialization, a community organization from the inner cities has adapted the 3 R's for a new cause. These letters stand for race, religion, and respect, an abbreviation born of a desire for better relations between the police and the people on their beat. 

Everyone knows that people of color are still targeted by police. Everyone knows that equality on paper has not translated to equality in real life. Everyone knows that  despite the election of a real African-American President, race relations have not forged ahead.

This morning, CNN featured a discussion between the not-so-…


Is there truth in a name? In the case of Lucky the cat, it seems so. People who take up residence in the Santa Monica Mountains know that cats are at high risk of becoming cat meat for the coyote and owl populations residing in those hills and dales.

Owls, predators of cats? Yes indeed. They may not have jaws but they have claws that lift cats to soaring heights and then release them, using gravity as the death weapon. Smokey disappeared after the hoot of an owl proclaimed victory. 

Sparkle left this earth trying to escape up a tree, unfortunately not fast enough for a threesome of coyotes. Her son Sugar was snagged right in our driveway by a lone coyote who simply snapped his neck with one mighty chomp.

Other pet cats met their fate for different reasons. Blue, the ever-wandering cat of the Russian Blue breed, got his comeuppance from an automobile one rainy night. Chase and Little Guy both disappeared at sunset - here one minute, gone the next. Something of mighty stealth got them.


The Puzzle of Boundaries

Boundaries exist at all levels of life and they are either respected or violated. What defines a boundary is a somewhat mystical question: if we are all interdependent with no real beginning or end, then in a sense there is no such thing as a delineating line between entities.

Yet, in this relative world boundaries appear real and if crossed, trouble ensues. Bypassing the issue of political boundaries such as the town, the county line, the state, the country and the geographically birthed ones, not to speak of those artificially drawn by victors of war, consider the capsule called "self." 

The cause of disharmony or the ingrediants for harmony lie in this intangible psychological bundle of thoughts and emotions called "personal boundaries." And these so-called boundaries are dependent on subjective perception and common consensus. Thus, the complications and confusion.

One of the favorite places for boundary-deficient people is Alanon, where the missing boundaries of …

The Ups and Downs of Interdependence

Interdependence, a foundational tenet of Buddhism, was not something the Buddha dreamed up - even if his realization and its articulation were key. A law of nature, it means that no one thing can exist without another set of factors contributing to its existence.

For example, we experience ourselves to be independent identities, captains in charge of our body-mind vessel, yet if one traces our existence on planet earth, its validity exists only as an intertwined phenomenon: egg met sperm, mother met father, and the karmic twists and turns that magnetized them together drift into infinity.

Segway to the world of cyberspace. "Houston, we have problem," to quote the line from a famous movie. Our virtual reality, which runs the world these days, seems to have an Achilles heel. The very technologies that have made our lives so convenient could also be the very thing to wreak havoc on the world as we know it.

The news media is all over the story of North Korea hacking into vital part…

Anthony Bourdain's Downhill Spiral

Anthony Bourdain was once my favorite host/commentator/chef/ethnographer, even ranking as the subject of two glowing blogs during his previous season. Alas, as the kitchen television blared his new show in Sicily and the merry widow made dinner, his statements were such a turnoff that the god-of-truth-speaking fell off his pedestal.

For the appetizer, he touted that he was too depressed to stay sober (thanks to a dearth of live swimming food in the water) so he sashayed off to a café and proudly admitted that he was so smashed that he doesn't remember the evening shoot - dinner at the "chosen" restaurant. The Italian resteranteur who had dreamed of this break must have experienced a nightmare.

For the main course, Bourdain admitted deep shock from a second bad experience shooting a show in Italy. His desire: to lay on his hotel bed, watch porn, and take handfuls of prescription pills. Sadly, his hotel did not have a television although he probably travels with a stash of l…

True Justice

" I know the temptations to dehumanize and mistreat, even kill. My sergeant in Uganda knocked my arm away from a murderer's head who I was about to shoot after he and his gang had set fire to the village chief's compound and thrown the chief, his family and every living creature into the flames. I nearly became a murderer and then remembered that the cop's job is to apprehend a suspect. NEVER to judge, NEVER to punish. Everyone is innocent until proved guilty - human rights are what democracy and our civilization stand on. The USA today faces a massive human rights issue."

These words were written on my Facebook page, publicly, as a comment to the blog "Dick Cheney, War Criminal." I pondered them because after all, the cop who was about to shoot the murderous gang leader had no doubt as to his guilt, having witnessed the crimes against humanity firsthand. One might not find fault with an on-the-spot execution under such horrific conditions.

But th…

A Living Memory

I was recently introduced to a woman whose husband died of liver cancer at age 57, leaving her with four teen/college-aged children. A number of years had passed since his death, yet grief still wracked her on a daily basis.

She finally asked to see her spiritual teacher, one who is in such demand that private audiences are rare. To her surprise, he granted her a one hour interview. Her long-winded rush of emotional verbiage taxed my patience but finally, finally, she got to a point that fascinated and enlightened me.

Said teacher told her, "Your husband is a memory and he was even a memory when he was alive and with you."

In the sense that every perception of another is filtered through our own story of who we are and who we think they are, the whole relationship is a fictional play of ideas with a sprinkling of physical evidence.

In contemplating the deep meaning behind the guru's words, some bit of comfort siphoned off in my direction. It makes my own husband seem less ab…

The Past Portal Pothole

The Past Portal Pothole is a spot in the time-space continuum where one can step into a corroded mental image and plunge into feelings of ruination. Hurled into this black hole, gravity grows heavier and heavier until one implodes into self-referenced despair and feelings of annhilitation.

This mistep into the portal of past time could be avoided with mindful awareness. But as with a riptide in the ocean after a hurricane, struggling against it courts diaster. In order to survive a descent into the dark portal of despair, relaxation holds the key to survival. Allowing oneself to flow with the momentum, its energy will abate and suddenly the outer reaches of the pothole come into view and one is flung into the open air of sunlight.

Watch the movie called "My Life" and know that for every Past Portal Pothole, there is a beginning, an end, and a new beginning.

Dick Cheney, War Criminal

With the public revelation of systematic torture by the C.I.A., a policy engineered by the Bush administration, something we already knew appeared in black and white (as in printed documents). Although George Junior has remained characteristically nonverbal, Dick, on the otherhand, has publically expressed no regrets.

This outright confession warms my heart. Theoretically, it means that he can be prosecuted for wanton violation of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights - among other international laws pertaining to the humane treatment of prisoners.

Dick, in all senses of the word, had waxed rhapsodic about the new ticker that renewed his lease on life. No longer would he gasp his way through the woods toting his shotgun to take down a deer or duck or a friend. Oh joy!

It remains a total mystery that a man who can appreciate the heartache of sickness and the joy of good health and freedom NOT understand that others might want that too. Even more puzzling is that interrogators have…

Old Haunts

The Los Angeles suburb in which I rest my bones was envisaged in the early 1980's by developers of wealth and endless access to mega-bank loans. Spacious homes on square patches of lawn sprang up, and the American dream appeared almost overnight: a squeaky clean neighborhood with towheaded kids, SUV's, and pets galore; a vision realized by the lucky few of mostly caucasion persuasion.

The fickle hand of fate swept my favorite cousin into a nest right in the town where I grew up - a New York City suburb. Contrary to my west coast environs, almost nothing has changed in Mamaroneck, named for Chief Mamaroneck shortly after the white settlers obliterated him and his kind to live by this sheltered harbor of the Atlantic.

The same Miller's Toy Store, the same Strauch jewelry store, the same Mercurio's Italian deli to name but a few. These hangers on were landmarks of my childhood, fascinating the five year old who turned into the ten year old who turned into a 17 year old who…

Who Is Looking Through Your Eyes?

When one has no destination, everywhere and anywhere is cool. Although this might seem like the plight of a homeless person or a lost soul, it can also be the mindset of complete and utter freedom.

"No destination" does not mean that a directional position cannot exist. You can take a plane from Los Angeles to Kathmandu, or New York to Cairo, and drop into an entirely different universe with a distinct mission to accomplish. But, in the words of St. Francis, "What you are looking for is looking out of your eyes."

The constancy of conscious awareness knows no place or time. The normal disruptions of the ego mind simply become moving dreams with ever-varying plots that have the same underlying theme - life itself.

Patience, equanimity, appreciation, mindfulness and acceptance are some of the rewards for simply being aware of awareness itself. In that mode, there is nowhere to go and nothing to do, yet it is the opposite of boredom. In this dance through life, every mome…

The Suitcase

Over the course of several decades, my placid husband routinely morphed into a growling bear when he had to lift my suitcase into or out from a car, train, bus, or baggage carousel. He simply didn't understand the concept that a woman might want to have a choice of outfits in a foreign location, since he felt perfectly fine throwing a few shirts and pairs of pants into his smaller and lighter bag. Accepting most of my behaviors with grace, he had the one flaw of refusing to embrace my penchant for overpacking.

I, on the other hand, would grow petulant that he continued to make a sour face year after year as he heaved said luggage about, occasionally with distinct distain.

Fast forward to my favorite topic, the news. If anyone has seen footage of millions of refugees streaming over desert landscapes, mountain passes, or winding their way through jungles - at best with a suitcase in hand but more often with the clothes on their back - one comes to appreciate the insanity of overabunda…

The All-Powerful

Various regions of the USA have distinctly different cultures, reflected in their architecture, regional accents, food, religions, and political views. (There is a reason why the map of the United States, now mostly all red, has been renamed "Dumbfuckistan" with all its tribal factions.)

When planning a trip to the Boston area to visit family, it never dawned on me that I was venturing into an entirely different milieu than Southern California until the ride from the airport to a lovely New England town.

Hundred-plus year old colonial houses lined the quaint suburb, and in a pre-Revolutionary War tradition, a single light in every window. In the olden days, these must have been candles in every window, perhaps to scare off the devil or provide a welcoming light to wayfarers. In 2014, they are little electric lights (hopefully LED) that have more than likely lost their original meaning but provide a stunningly peaceful ambiance.

A nippy walk through the winding roads of a seasid…

The End of the Line

My husband departed from the physical mid-2014. Five months later it dawned on me that preparing tax information for our stellar accountant would fall to me and me alone. Although bill paying and life-maintenance tasks were shared in our household, Michael was the Commander-in-Chief when it came to organizing our finances for the IRS to peruse.

Mundane tasks have been difficult to complete since his passing (and before that too), so I decided to start in early lest the multifaceted details of our life fall into oblivion if things were rushed at the end time - April 15, 2015. My first resolve was to begin a new habit of recording written checks in the checkbook, as he did so meticulously. I always relied on mental calculations and online banking to guess our bank balance but now his motto - always to have a paper copy - haunted me. The need for tangible evidence in the face of death's intangibility?

By sheer happenstance I came upon his most recent checkbook today, which had been mix…