Friday, February 27, 2015

Destiny Rides Again

What often seems like a random meeting turns out to be a joining of forces as they intersect, seemingly by chance, at a crossroads. At this point, a form of internal combustion takes place that changes the nature of both entities forever.

One lamp lights another; a spiritual power house can lift up the life of another when they come into contact by the sheer power of presence. Or, it might be the casual word of a stranger, a movie, book or another human being - an auspicious moment can change a life forever for the better.

What creates these kinds of fortunate karmic events are impossible to determine, given the infinite combinations and permutations that bring us to this point. Synchronicity is a wonderful word that encapsulates the inexplicably wondrous ways of the universe.

So let's raise our collective glass and toast to happy co-incidences.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Isolation or Contemplation

It is interesting to note that in prison, one of the worst forms of incarceration is "solitary confinement." The human animal craves social interaction and when deprived, can go literally mad.

On the other hand, a longstanding tradition of many spiritual communities is "the retreat." Monks, nuns and all sorts of spiritual seekers will seclude themselves in order to deepen their connection to God, Self, or whatever the belief system dictates as the ultimate refuge.

Perception is everything. These two poles represent how a mindset can create a hell realm or one of liberation. Sometimes its hard to remember that we have a choice in how we want to view our life situation. Heaven or hell or somewhere in between? It's up to us to decide.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Ultimate Stress Relief

Yesterday was the first day of the Tibetan New Year. In a tranquil house far away from the throngs, it was celebrated with as much authentic elegance and power as could be found anywhere in old Tibet. At the helm was a revered elderly Tibetan Lama whose longtime fellow practitioners assisted in special prayers and festivities.

By late afternoon, a handful of American guests lingered on and a conversation ensued between me and a rare species - a highly educated American man who left behind his Ivy League degree and a life of potential economic privilege to live in Asia to study with the masters.

Back in the United States now and officially granted the status of "lama" (a teacher that holds the lineage of his spiritual teachers), we discussed many matters, among them the real meaning of meditation and the aim of practice.

Buddhism in its truest form aims to set people free from the iron-clad grasp of the ego, to penetrate the mystery of life in human form and bring a person to a state of enlightenment.

Not being enlightened myself, I can't say what that means or know what that looks or feels like. Nonetheless, the notion that one could be free from a no-exit wheel of suffering seems like the best solution to the myriad of ills that beset mankind.

For people who want relief from the daily grind and/or the neurotic grip of ego-centered fears - and don't want to use drugs and alcohol to escape - meditation is becoming increasingly popular (not to mention Yoga in all flavors). Meditation has been certified by neuroscientists to reduce stress and increase health, both mental and physical. But enlightenment? Not advertised with the benefits of contemplative practice.

Using logic, if one is attracted to meditation as a way to calm the mind temporarily, then wouldn't the next stretch involve a more lasting solution? Like an marathon runner in training, one doesn't start with the 100 mile stretch but with a few miles at a time, adding more and more discipline and strength in small increments.

Like the long distant runner, an aspiring meditator might consider: if one can get a little relief, then why not keep going for the big prize - liberation?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Changing Places

Humans beings, and animals for that matter, tend to like the comforts of home (if in fact they have one). For refugees, victims of natural disasters, wars, and all manner of displacement, this uprooting can have traumatic ramifications.

But there is an equal and opposite phenomenon: being transplanted into another environment that is equal if not superior to the comforts of home. While one may dearly require cherished human connections such as family and friends, it is rare that post-traumatic stress is induced by an upgrade in the quality of life.

The pig, in Tibetan Buddhist teachings, holds a lofty symbolic teaching. The actual animal will eat anything; thus it is said to have "one taste." It is used as a metaphor in said teachings to remind students that life has its ups and downs, ebbs and flows. An attempt to control these passages would induce a form of madness; you can't stop the wind from blowing, or the tides from going in and out, or the sunshine from emitting its rays. 

Therefore, developing equanimity is the name of the game; to navigate the forces of life on planet earth with one center, one tranquil mind, one vast field of awareness. Then, whether a being finds him or herself on the run, or living the "life of Riley," constancy and non-attachment will reap rich rewards of a life well lived.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Weight of Weight

"Weight" in and of itself is a neutral word, imbued with meaning only in a specific context. Unlike other terms like "happy" or "sad" that have an unequivocal sense, "weight" has various meanings that ricochet from one pole to the other.

Everything has weight. Mass, no matter how large or infinitesimally small, implies some sort of existence. How size is measured is also a relative perception depending on one's own relationship to the "other."

In the human realm of ordinary perception (the 5 senses plus one), body weight has become one of the most talked about and thought about issues - decidedly a First World problem, although even in Third World countries, advertising is now muddying the waters with images of sleek cream and/or tan-hued women held up as the standard of feminine beauty. 

Herein lies the weight of weight. Fashion magazines, billboards, television and other mass media broadcast subliminally that we are not good enough unless we measure up to the advertised image. It is the rare woman (or man for that matter) who can judge themselves based on their own uniqueness.

More interesting questions than the most common one, "Why don't I measure up?" would be: 

"Can I manage to feel comfortable in my own skin?" 

"Am I doing fulfilling work and helping others?" 

"Can I still fit into a seat in the economy section of an American Airlines plane?" 

If the answer is "yes" to the last question, you are ahead of the game, no matter how much our culture screams that we are not good enough unless we have the perfectly sculpted size 0-2 body.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Fickle Hand of Fate

A close friend lost her eighteen year old son in a brawl when an opponent pulled out a knife and severed the beloved's life force. After this tragic event, her perspective changed radically. If I referred to any event that was more than one minute into the future, she would raise her pointer finger to the heavens and say, "God willing." Because after all, we really don't know when it will be our last out breath. She had learned that lesson ever so painfully.

Yesterday, the great news correspondent Bob Simon was killed in a car crash on New York City's Westside Highway, a route I took regularly from my suburban house into the city as a teenager and young woman. He was known for his courage as a war correspondent; even captured and tortured for 40 days by Sadam Hussein's troops during the Gulf War. That he would die in the supposed safety of a chauffered Lincoln town car seems insane - but true.

His ending reminds me of yet another bizarre twist of fate. A wonderful 85 year old Tibetan lama, Lobsang Lalungpa, had grown up in old Tibet, escaped over the Himalayas when the Chinese invaded, and suffered enormous hardships as a refugee in Asia until finally settling in the US. This great soul had found a peaceful life in Sante Fe, and was out one balmy evening walking with his wife when a drunk driver's car jumped the sidewalk and killed him.

If there was ever a case for enjoying the here and now, and not getting lost in dreams (good or bad) these examples are a case in point, but not only in regards to our own mortality. If we really could comprehend the fragility of life, would we argue about trivial matters with family, friends and strangers? Would we stew over slights to our ego, or the horrors of certain places on earth? Even those who survive concentration camps and genocides are the ones capable of holding a positive vision, incredulous as that may be.

If any one of us is full of self-pity today - or anger - or mundane grumpiness - let's take a collective deep breath and thank the All-That-Is for this moment of life.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Grammys

Last night my son and I watched the overly long Grammy Awards on television. Usually, both of us try to practice loving-kindness, speak at all times with positive words, and see the glass half full. Maybe the stars (in the sky) were in a peculiar alignment, because instead of our usual high-minded attempts, we launched into an evening of star bashing and critiques of Grammy production missteps with hilarity and/or frustration.

The sets were a mishmash of designs; many of the vocalists' voices dropped into the background as a mighty piano drowned them out; and with the exception of Annie Lennox and Rihana, most of the others seems to hold back with lackluster and sometimes out of tune performances. Even worse, many of the songs were an amalgamation of droning pleasanty missing that special something that makes a world sing that song for decades to come.

No doubt some industry insider will read this critique with indignation - and of course all perception is subjective. So this is my take away: whatever it took for those musicians to earn the privilege of standing on that stage demanded a mighty focus and dedication, not to speak of guts.

A world without music would be a world without soul, so my Dracula subpersonality has disappeared with the sunrise. I would like to thank all the musicians of the world who have brought us their songs. They give us energy when we are down, lift us to new heights, and their music is the literally one of the most potent spices of life.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Dancing Bear

In a desperate ploy to postpone doing taxes as I promised myself on this Saturday afternoon, a more pleasing thought occurred...write a blog. As nothing within my soul screamed out for expression, I did a free form association to plumb the depths of my subconscious for a topic. The phrase that came up was "the dancing bear."

With no idea why this particular three word phrase ticker-taped across my brain, I Googled the phrase and Lord Amighty, what did I find but a site with the words in it "the dancing bear," which I clicked on.

Suffice it to say that after I left that site and Googled once again, there were plenty of videos of real live bears doing all sorts of cute maneuvers, embellished by the soundtracks of rappers. But the first click of the mouse had given way to a site in la-la-land: bachlorette parties with girls giving blow jobs to men with the biggest thangies one could ever imagine (think horse).

In the background were all sorts of "nice" girls enjoying the revelry of a pre-marriage party; a place where all sorts of no-nos were permitted. These were not seedy images from a red-light district in Tokyo, etc. The background environment looked like the average middle-class household with average marriage-age average women. 

Besides being surprised that an innocent phrase like "the dancing bear" could lead me into this sordid world, I realized that a "cookie" might be implanted in my computer that would lead me in a Dante's hell realm of never-ending porno sites popping up on my computer. Exit stage left.

Maybe I'm a square or from unknown Puritan decent, but these types of activities don't do much for me. How about turning this into a social cause then: poor dudes with horse thangies are being exploited like circus animals to perform for hordes of bored twenty-somethings. Maybe they should make a bumper sticker: "Men with Horse Thangies Unite."

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Bizarre Twists and Turns of Karma

Anyone reading the news or listening to its broadcast version knows about the sadistic killing of a Jordanian pilot by a fanatical group in competition with Adoplh Hitler for "worst brutality of the Millenium."

The pilot's elder brother had saved him from death by fire twice in his early childhood: the first time, when the future pilot accidentally started a blaze, and again when he was poised to stick a nail in an electric socket.

There is a chilling irony that this pilot was burned alive by others, on purpose, in his adulthood - after by his own hand he had almost killed himself with the same element. Most people would say this was a coincidence, but in life there are no co-incidences. Maybe the young child foresaw his fate and attempted to leave in a less punitive manner. Maybe he was preparing himself for the future torture he would endure. 

Only with the panoramic perspective of the All-That-Is would anyone be able to untangle the developments of this now tragic life story. In the meantime, the human race seems to be playing out age-old horrors despite the wondrous advances in technologies of all kinds.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The FBI Loves Facebook

The FBI has not officially expressed its glee about the benefits of social media and its mosh pit of juicy tips. However, it seems that our top cops find a trove of treasures from this global habit.

However, drunken frat boys who boast of gang rapes on their Pages are not the target of that illustrious group. The Feds go in for the heavier stuff, like recipes for bombs posted by the jihadist bunch - or young men disenfranchised by high school bullies and own enough firepower to take down a herd of elephants.

Not unlike the FBI, parents also find Facebook a great source of information about their children's doings (ET phone home).

We are a country of innocents, so accustomed to freedom of speech that our every thought can be paraded to the many with no fear of reprisal. Although this is a blessing, revelations about the extent of NSA eavesdropping should give us pause.

Many countries have found themselves turned upside down; populations displaced with very little warning as military coups or election fraud place unsavory characters at the helm. Guarding our freedoms becomes more complex in the Information Age, where data true or false attains near-immortality on the internet.

The adage, "Don't post anything on Facebook you wouldn't want your grandmother to read," also applies to our friendly eavesdroppers on the governmental level. So just in case you are listening, here it is, for all the world to see.

I fully support a Free Tibet so Chinese censors, eat your heart out. I love the peacemakers, no matter whose side they are on. And last but not least, I reserve the right to stand up for what serves humanity, and to oppose that which does not.

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...