Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fatal Attraction to Self

I was cleaning out my inbox when an email addressed to "me" scrolled into sight. Frequently, I email myself with important reminders; notes on paper or iPhone apps get lost in the cacophony of the daily life.

This particular email was truly odd. All that it said was, "Fatal attraction to self." Somewhat mystifying, this communication! What was I trying to tell myself?

Perhaps it refers to narcissistic behavior or egotistical posturing - always a detriment to happy relationships with others. But to oneself? 

The reality of interdependence yields the clue. If we are inexorably drawn to our small "self" like a moth to the bright flame, then that blind self-involvement wreaks havoc with everyone and everything with whom we come into contact. The blow back in our personal life will isolate us from the kindness of others and lock us in a lonely prison; a life sentence of solitary confinement.

Thus, "fatal attraction to self" must have been a proverbial message in a bottle to me, or a space capsule to be discovered at the right time. Today, self-obsession can be transformed into a self-love that replaces poisonous energy with positive, life-affirming vibrations.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Calm Abiding

The phrase "calm abiding" rings in the heart like a baby's lullaby. Derived from Buddhist texts, it connotes a way of viewing the world through eyes that seek to understand and promote peace gently, evenly, with equanimity.

It is my personal goal to live in a state of calm abiding at all times, but...and here is a very large but...once in a while an event occurs that stirs a white hot fire of anger in my innards. No amount of reflection on "calm abiding" seems to quell this ego-stoked bonfire. 

As well as affronts to one's ego, i.e. Shakespeare's "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," a different kind of fury can erupt at the experience of gross injustices. There are too many varieties to list on this page; between genocide, pollution, every day prejudice, poverty, war and so forth, the "kind" part of "mankind" could carry on in a permanent state of horror-stoked anger.

Perhaps this is why society celebrates the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and so many others who have turned the proverbial cheek to forgive and seek reconciliation.

Finding the lever that raises the burden of anger out of the recesses of a dark mind and flips it into the light of day is the trick: may we never stop seeking relief from suffering.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Best Is the Enemy of the Better

"The best is the enemy of the better" is an English translation of a French aphorism. Perfectionist's Anonymous, please heed these words! While divine works of art, a glorious sunset, a perfect rose, or a newborn of any species embody this quality, most things of this world fall short.

Of course perfectly engineered bridges, highway overpasses, airplane engines and the like are important areas in which perfection is a virtue, but like most things in life, human error presents a caveat. Mostly, human beings are exploring the mysteries of nature as they navigate a way to survive, thrive and conquer those deeply profound natural laws.

If we think that we can achieve "perfection" in a universe that is not fully understood, the end result provokes a neurosis that permeates the environment like a bad smell. Thus, the beauty of the phrase, "The best is the enemy of the better." 

It is not settling for less; rather it is the knowledge of our own limitations and an acceptance of that quality. In that very acknowledgement, the road becomes more smoothly paved towards "better and better."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Resting Bitch Face

Honestly, I really do like human beings. But time after time, people have told me that their first impression upon meeting me is that I don't like them - or that my unabashed stare is intimidating and uncomfortable.

It is true that when I meet someone, I do search their eyes for who they are. Not to judge them, but simply to know them. If dogs can sniff each others' asses, why can't I lock eyes with a human?

Nonetheless, making other people uncomfortable is not the name of my game, so in order to be more accomdating to the sensitive human soul, something must change.

Could botox or juviderm rid me of those frown lines built up over decades of life on planet earth? No, I tell myself, not my style. Perhaps developing the habit of putting on a saccarine sweet smile when walking around innocuously? No, not a solution. That would make my face muscles quiver after a minute or two.

A friend gave me a better suggestion tonight. She said, "Just tell people it's your resting bitch face."

I like that better. That normal expression is not the real me. It's just "my resting bitch face."

Friday, March 20, 2015

The 3AM Wake Up Call

A 3:00AM wake up call means anything from a bodily signal to stumble to the bathroom, to a fire alarm, to a time to get up to catch a morning flight, etc. In my case, it was the elected time to arise and meditate with a small group of people during a solar eclipse in outer space (that took place during ligitimate nighttime on the Pacific coast).

Never mind that one cannot actually see a solar eclipse in the dead of night; as one humanity on one planet, it was visible to at least half the earth. Joining with the collective, at least nighttime meditators could receive and send out energy.

Herein lies the beauty of community. If I had been requested to rise at 3AM at the height of the eclipse and meditate, all alone in the secrecy of my bedroom, in all likelihood I would shine it on. But given a promise to join a small group in my very environs, nothing short of shame and guilt had me popping out of bed at 2:55AM to make it to the meditation room.

Much to my surprise, a palpable excitement filled the room as we all gathered; by the end of the sitting at 6AM, it felt as if I could keep on going. Wide awake and returning to my room, all emails were read and responded to.

Fast forward. I open my eyes and look at the clock. It is 10:35AM. So much for an invigorating post-meditation illusion.

For all those monks, nuns, visionaries, household yogis and anyone else who gets up at the popular 3AM time to commune with the All-That-Is, congratulations. As for me, another eon may dawn before that hour sees me up and at it again.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Surviving A Death Sentence

Post traumatic stress disorder is well documented in soldiers returning from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan; we can all image why. However, a new field of PTSD candidates are emerging as a cause for study by social scientists: cancer survivors.

Triggered PTSD seems more puzzling, although the horrors or cancer treatment could be a temporary factor. Logically, surviving a possible death sentence should make one joyous, renewed, grateful to have a second chance at life. While that is true for many, for many it is not.

I know about this post-cancer funk all too well. After surviving stage 3B cancer, life felt like a blank slate - not a fresh slate. The difference between "blank" and "fresh" is stark. When one is faced with losing it all and then the All-That-Is says, "Just joking," a state of emotional shock sets in.

We all know that death is the only certainty in life, yet when a summons from the Grim Reaper is declined, something in the bodily molecules gets rearranged and nothing is ever the same again.

No pat answers can quell the disquieting sensation of this cancer survivor except for one pat aphorism:

The thousand mile journey begins with the first step.

So step by step I move through the fog with a knowing that this too shall pass.

Monday, March 16, 2015

What Do the Congress and a Baby Mouse Have in Common?

A mother mouse indwelling on a vineyard nearby must be deeply distressed today. One of her young'uns is not by her side; by a twist of fate, the wee thing has become imprisoned in my room.

For the past four days, I have observed said baby mouse leaping in vain to crawl behind a wall plate that covers phone wires. It cannot wiggle its cute little body under the plate, yet day after day it goes back to that same spot, struggling for naught - hoping that since it can get its paw under the plate, the rest of it can make it too.

There is no way to corner this little thing with a towel or some such item and carry it outdoors. When it senses my presence moving closer, it darts under the bed nearing the speed of light, or worse yet zips into the closet where all my clothing is stored. Most likely, the mouse will either die from starvation in my room or, if liberated, go the way of local predators outdoors.

The mouse demonstrates that definition of insanity: making the same mistake over and over and expecting a different result. In this case, since the mouse has not see a psychiatrist, perhaps it is just dimwitted.

How many members of Congress are like that mouse? 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Grow Your Gray Matter Where It Counts

 Why reinvent the wheel? This article sums it up perfectly.


By now, pretty much all of us know and accept that meditation provides a plethora of benefits, including reduced tension and stress and improved focus and concentration. However, how and why meditation does this has long remained unknown—until now!

Harvard University scientists have published the results of an 8-week study that used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the effects of meditation on the brain. Participants in the study practiced forms of mindfulness meditation every day for approximately 30 minutes. Mindfulness is a meditation style that emphasizes maintaining an objective awareness of sensations, feelings and states of mind.

MRIs were taken at the beginning and end of the 8-week study. From the results, researchers determined that meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s gray matter in just 8 weeks—making this the very first study to document that meditation produces this kind of change over time. The changes observed in the meditators were NOT seen in the control group, signifying that they had not come about naturally over time, but rather that the daily act of meditating had produced them.

We know what you’re thinking: what is this mysterious gray matter that meditation is rebuilding? Gray matter is a major component of the central nervous system, and is found in areas of the brain involved in muscle control, seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making and self-control.

Research on the brain has shown that the amount and density of gray matter differs from individual to individual, and can determine or signify certain traits or talents. For example, scientists have found that professional musicians have denser gray matter in the area of the brain involved with processing music.

The Harvard study found that meditation can increase the density of the gray matter in the hippocampus, specifically. According to the Harvard Gazette, the hippocampus is, “known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”

Participants also reported reductions in stress after the 8 weeks, which makes sense, as over the course of the study, the gray-matter density in the amygdala—which is known to play an important role in stress and anxiety—decreased.

This study is groundbreaking and empowering in that it shows that we have the power to change the structure of our own brains: to improve our memory and learning capacities, and to become more compassionate and self-aware.

Britta Holzel, first author of the study, summarized its incredible findings: “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Why Meditation

The study of meditation is awash with every garden variety that mankind can conjure up, because the mind is inherently creative. One could chant mantras, stare at a candle (or a flower or nothing), follow the breathe and many many more techniques.

Why do we seek methods to calm the mind? Because the mind is the wild monkey that swings from one thought to the next, alternately screeching, chatting and purring depending on the stimuli.

The road to quieting the mind via drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, food, war (yes, war), endless partying, or workaholism are filled with land mines that will eventually detonate as we talk that talk and walk that walk.

An influx of meditation techniques from the East has spurred western medicine to study the effects of mindfulness meditation. It is essentially the process of being aware in the now and not getting lost in thoughts and false perceptions. So whether one says a mantra, concentrates on the breathe, stares at a flower or stands on his or her head, the idea is to find relief from the monkey mind.

The health benefits, both physically and mentally, are now well documented. However, like any habit, breaking it means the development of a motivation and intention to change the pattern. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say that a person is ready to become sober when they get sick and tired of being sick and tired.

So I would say that when one gets sick and tired of being sick and tired of being discontent, try a little meditation. It just might work.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Service with a Smile

Many people in the work force report that jobs requiring an interface with the public can be trying. Customers might be demanding, rude, short-tempered, treat the person serving them as if they were a "thing," and other varieties that infect the space around them with bad vibes. Of course there are nice customers who understand that waiting on other people is an act of service and that the people serving them are not slaves but human beings with real feelings. 

A friend recounted a story of being treated rudely by a supermarket checker and chewing out the employee for her unexceptable behavior on the job. As my friend wheeled her shopping cart out to the car in a huff, the young bagger assisting her explained that the checkout lady was a single mother whose only child had been killed in a motorcycle accident the week before.

One never knows the cause of negative words and deeds, but compassion for the afflicted person is always in order. Maybe that grouch is simply a misanthrope, but even then certain causes and conditions lead him or her to live within an unquiet mind.

As we never know for sure who we are speaking to or what their though patterns may be, the safest and most peaceful way to navigate the world is to hold fast to equanimity. It may be hard at times, but the alternatives are not nearly as attractive.

As an addendum: the above thoughts apply to those of us privileged to live in a civilized society more or less. War zones present different problems to be addressed at another juncture.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Alone Together

The phrase "alone together" could be construed as an inherent loneliness even in the midst of a crowd of two or more. Yet, it also has other meanings as well.

One might be the fact that we pass through the birth canal alone despite being literally inside another (the mother). A fiercesome and turbulent push from the weightlessness of the womb to a world of gravity, the passage thrusts the newborn into that place where you have to cry in order to have basic needs attended to.

Another might be that we die alone. Granted, the fortunate have loving attendants of various relations who supply the comforts needed for this transition. Nonetheless, one has to die by themselves, the journey uniquely his or hers.

Then the third meaning: alone together encapsulates the entire nature of duality and unity, the illusion that we are separate and the reality of our interdependence. If we can hold that paradox simultaneously, then being "alone together" represents a great achievement of consciousness.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Aseop's Fable: a Timeless Tale

"The Old Woman and the Physician" (attributed to Aesop)    

An old woman, having lost the use of her eyes, called in a Physician to heal them, and made this bargain with him in the presence of witnesses: that if he should cure her blindness, he should receive from her a sum of money; but if her infirmity remained, she should give him nothing.

This agreement being made, the Physician, time after time, applied his salve to her eyes, and on every visit took something away, stealing all her property little by little.  And when he had got all she had, he healed her and demanded the promised payment. 
The Old Woman, when she recovered her sight and saw none of her goods in her house, would give him nothing. The Physician insisted on his claim, and as she still refused, summoned her before the Judge.

The Old Woman, standing up in the Court, argued: "This man here speaks the truth in what he says; for I did promise to give him a sum of money if I should recover my sight, but if I continued blind, I was to give him nothing. Now he declares that I am healed. I on the contrary affirm that I am still blind; for when I lost the use of my eyes, I saw in my house various chattels and valuable goods, but now, though he swears I am cured of my blindness, I am not able to see a single thing in it." 

The Snake and the Rope

A man walks into a dark room and thinks he sees a snake coiled in the corner. Frightened, he runs to get a weapon of choice to vanquish the...