Monday, July 31, 2006

My Personal Experiment With Tony Robbins

I don'’t think of power in terms of conquering people. People'’s responses to it are varied. I don'’t think of it as something to be imposed. I'’m not advocating that you should, either. That kind of power seldom lasts. But you should realize that power is a constant in the world. You shape your perceptions, or someone shapes them for you. You do what you want to do, or you respond to someone else'’s plan for you. To me, ultimate power is the ability to produce the results you desire most and create value for others in the process. Power is the ability to change your life, to shape your perceptions, to make things work for you and not against you. Real power is shared, not imposed. It'’s the ability to define human needs and to fulfill them--—both your needs and the needs of the people you care about. It'’s the ability to direct your own personal kingdom--your own thought processes, your own behavior, —so you produce the precise results you desire.
--Anthony Robbins from Unlimited Power, pg.5

I don'’t want to go on living the life I'’m living, but I also don'’t want to die. Of course, we all must die someday. Yet, I don'’t want to die without being and doing more than I have. I don'’t want to lie on my deathbed knowing that I wasted all my opportunities to exercise the kind of personal power of which Tony Robbins writes above.

A lot of people don'’t appear to think much of Tony Robbins. They think Robbins is just another New Age huckster fattening his bank account by promising "“unlimited power"” to unhappy people afflicted with unlimited gullibility and narcissism. Maybe they'’re right. I thought so not long ago. But when I listen to Robbins'’ infomercials with as open a mind as I can muster, he sounds pretty sensible. I'’m also impressed by his interview in What is Enlightenment magazine and his interview in Integral Naked.

Maybe I'’m just one of those gullible people to whom Tony Robbins appeals. Usually, I'’m pretty resistant to the grandiose claims of infomercialers and other New Age salesman pedlling self-help panaceas for all our personal psychological, financial, and spiritual ills. But maybe I'’m just so tired of taking up space on this earth and carrying around unrealized ideals and goals that I haven'’t even tried to fulfill that I'’m finally ready to open the door at least a little to someone who seems as though he may have just what I need at this point in my life. Tony Robbins seems as though he may be that person. And I'’ve decided to read one of his books, Unlimited Power, and practice what it preaches and teaches and not only see where it leads but share the results with all of you here on this blog.

I haven'’t quite figured out how I'’m going to share it. But if you keep reading my blog, you'’ll get some idea of what Tony Robbins teaches, of how I'’ve tried to incorporate it into my own life, what I'’ve accomplished and failed to accomplish as a result, and what I think and how I feel about it all.

I'’m doing this partly because I want this blog and the whole of my life to be more than the dutiful exercise it too often is for me. I want what I write here to have vital personal significance that energizes me with passion to write and live. Furthermore, I'’m doing it because I think I need to try out Tony Robbins'’ path to "“unlimited power"” and be motivated enough to see it through by announcing my intentions here and sticking to them. If I don'’t stay on the path, I hope you, dear readers, will give my butt a good kicking so that it'’s more difficult for me not to stay on the path than it is for me to hump it out.

Of course, I won'’t blame you if you'’re not interested in Tony Robbins or my little experiment with his teachings, much less in cajoling and coercing me to continue the experiment until reasonable conclusions can be drawn. But I'’ll do my best to stay on the path and write about it whether you'’re here with me or not.

However, if you are here with me, I think I'’ll have a better chance of doing what I need to do and learning what I need to learn from the effort. Maybe we can all learn and benefit from what transpires.

The New Child Porn?

In his blog American Digest, Vanderleun has written a brilliantly cynical piece about the vivid images we see saturating the media of dead children killed by American and Israeli bombings in the Middle East, likening them to a new and particularly odious kind of child porn aimed at eliciting not our lust but our compassion. Here is an excerpt from his article on The Weaponization of Children:

I feel this [compassion fatigue] not so much because of the platters of dead babies being served up in Gaza and Lebanon, but rather because I know it for what it is -- the cynical attempt by a weak and cowardly cadre of killers to manipulate my compassion gland that is just as base and unrelenting as the attempts of pornographers across the internet to manipulate my lust. The main difference being that the Terrorists are getting better at their game and you don't have to swear you're 18 to see their creations. Most major media outlets around the world are only to happy to beam them into your brain 24/7...One of the downsides for those who are manufacturing dead-child porn in the Middle East is that they know the West becomes numb to your ordinary dead-child porn after a bit. And so they do what pornographers always do when the suckers don't get that rush any longer, they make it more base than ever before. One of the iron laws of porn, be it the porn of sex or the porn of violence, is that there really is no bottom to it.

Vanderleun even goes so far as to suggest that Hezbollah may have herded those children into that building in Qana and that when the world wearies of seeing babies dragged out of bombed buildings on cue before cameras, we will then start witnessing even grosser images of "the body parts of children harvested from some grave-site out along some nameless highway, strewn...across Israeli tank tracks, and then run over...a few times before the appointed photo-op."

I think he's probably right. I think Hezbollah and its supporters will sink to just about any depths of depravity to further their malignant cause of Islamicizing the world. But what are we to do about it? Turn off our cameras and close our eyes to the carnage, or, when we see it, feel only hatred for murderous terrorists and no compassion for the innocent victims of the awful violence raging there?

Child porn is reprehensible, no matter what its form or purpose. But its victims will always merit as much compassion as we can summon.

Today's Conundrum

Practice can be stated very simply. It is moving from a life of hurting myself and others to a life of not hurting myself and others. That seems so simple--except when we substitute for real practice some idea that we should be different or better than we are, or that our lives should be different from the way they are. When we substitute our ideas about what should be (such notions as "I should not be angry or confused or unwilling") for our life as it truly is, then we're off base and our practice is barren.
-- Charlotte Joko Beck, in Everyday Zen
from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

If I hurt myself and others now, how can I stop doing this without making myself into someone who doesn't hurt myself and others? And if I make myself into someone who doesn't hurt myself and others, how can I do this without making myself into someone different than I am now? And how can I make myself into someone different than I am now without thinking I should be different and wanting to be different than I am now?

In Other Words

No one is actually banished from the blog. Debate has its place, but that's not really my purpose. Rather, it is simply to try to help people who can be helped by it, not to argue those who, for whatever reason, can't. I would never recommend my approach, much less try to force it on someone. Rather, I merely offer it.
--A Certain Blogger

Translation: You are free to post here so long as you don't challenge what I say. For what I say is the Truth, and I magnanimously offer the Truth to help people know and live it. Those who read what I say and don't immediately see that it's true are incapable, for whatever reason, of grasping that it's true, and there's no point in having a dialogue, much less a debate, with them, because I stand to learn nothing valuable from them nor them from me.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Today's Air Strike on Qana

Up to sixty Lebanese civilians, many of them children, died in a building in Qana after it was bombed by Israelis. The Israelis say that this city and even the building itself was being used as a launching place for Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel. They also say that they warned civilians to evacuate the village before they struck it. I haven't heard the Lebanese deny that Hezbollah was operating there, but I have heard them say that civilians took refuge in the building because they were afraid to take to the road and risk being bombed by the Israelis there, and they were too poor to go anywhere else or pay for food and shelter had they safely reached another place of refuge.

I see both sides. Despite the skepticism I expressed yesterday about Hezbollah operating from all of the places Israel says they are, they might very well have been firing rockets out of residential areas of Qana, and I don't doubt that Israel did warn people to leave the village. But what I do have problems with is Israel expecting dirt poor civilians to be able to go anywhere else or to feel safe enough to do it even if they could afford it when Israel is bombing fleeing vehicles and the roads they travel.

Israel has now pledged a cease fire that will allow people to leave safely. But why haven't they allowed this all along? How can they tell people to leave on the one hand while bombing them when they do on the other?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sincere Kudos to Gagdad Bob

Gagdad Bob and I have had our disagreements over politics and religion, and I've hardly been reticent about expressing them both here and on his blog. But I also believe that he is one of the finest writers I've ever read, and that he writes some wonderful as well as provocative things about spirituality, politics, psychology, philosophy, and art and ties them all together in novel and fascinating ways.

Today he posted a beautiful entry on his blog, One Cosmos, about religion and spirituality that has helped me to understand his perspective better than before, and I think his perspective is worth understanding as one goes about the thrillingly arduous task of developing and refining one's own. Here is a key passage from his post today:

I have always been a great music lover, and now I see that, even in my atheistic days, it was one of the things that kept me connected to Spirit, for music is a spiritual transmission, pure and simple. Great music casts a luster of noetic light from one world into this one, somehow riding piggyback on vibrations of air. No one knows how or why this should be so in a species that was simply selected by evolution to hunt for food and sexual partners. Why on earth should vibrating air molecules be beautiful, even to the point of moving one to tears or to ecstacy?

Imagine two deaf people arguing over whether or not music exists. Perhaps one of them even discovers a musical score and considers it proof positive that music must exist. He decides that this musical score represents the inerrant notes of the great God-musician, and founds a musical school based on the score, in order to transmit the musical teaching to others.

But the point, of course, is not to study the score but to hear the music. The score is pointless unless it achieves the purpose of making music present. It must be read, performed, and understood experientially, not theoretically. Where was music before humans made it present? Roughly speaking, it was in the same place God is before you make him present. I don’t mean to sound flip, but this is why it is so easy to find God, because the finding is in the seeking. Don’t worry. If you seek earnestly and sincerely, you will soon enough find, just as, if you pick up a guitar and learn a few chords, you will soon be able to play Smoke on the Water. You will be able to start making music present, in however a limited degree. And as you practice, you will be able to make more and more music present--music that would not have existed had you not gone to the trouble of practicing and bringing it into being.

One of my biggest problems with traditional religions is that they've tended to be more concerned with "studying the score" than with "hearing the music" of their enlightened founders. However, Bob's writings remind us that one might still be able to hear the music from within these traditions and, in some cases, be MORE likely to hear it from within them than from without. I don't want to lose sight of this fact even if I personally can never be Jewish, Christian, Muslin, Hindu, Buddhist, or Taoist.

I never, ever thought I'd say this, but I'm seriously considering reading Bob's book and making it a highly valued part of my collection.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Happy Morning

I just went for a lovely walk across summer-dry creeks and through tree-lined parks. It feels so good to have the temperatures drop from the record-setting heat wave we've had recently, and to begin my day with heart-pumping vigor!

When I started my walk, I thought that I could be doing other things with my precious time. But then I asked myself what I could be doing for that forty minutes or so that was better than what I actually was doing, and I couldn't think of anything. Yes, I could be blogging or studying medical billing or reading Ken Wilber. But I could do those things afterwards, and probably do them better than if I didn't clear away the mental cobwebs with a good, brisk walk in the gentle morning sun and soothing breezes.

The farther and faster I walked, the more exhilarated and grateful I felt to be doing what I was doing, and as I sit here now, the cooling sweat glistening on my skin, I'm a happy man. Even when I hear President Bush keep saying "nucular" in a news conference he and Prime Minister Blair are conducting. What does it tell us about Bush that he keeps saying "nucular" when he must surely know by now that it's a mispronunciation? Is he proud of sounding ignorant?

Right now, I don't care. I feel happy and hungry, and I have much to do after I eat.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Empathy and Justice

My recent entry about the renowned geneticist facing sentencing for molesting a girl predictably generated some impassioned responses. The gist of them was, "Lock him up and throw away the key!" Some even went so far as to urge that he be maimed in a way that precluded his molesting any other innocent child. Several rationales were given for this severity of punishment, including retributive justice and deterrence. But more than one comment said words to the effect that if I had children, I would surely understand.

I agree that if I did have children, and especially if I had children who had been molested or I had been molested myself, I would understand better than I do now the anger, vengefulness, and even hatred that fuels the call for the harshest punishment of this crime. Yet, does the fact that one feels strong emotion about this because of some personal stake or involvment in it necessarily mean that what one wants to happen to the perpetrator should actually happen? And if I knew exactly how the commentators felt about this, and I felt the same way as a result, would this mean that what we all felt should dictate the scientist's punishment?

Not any more than my knowing and/or their knowing exactly how the scientist felt toward that little girl that led him to initiate a sexual relationship with her that lasted for some four years should necessarily determine the nature of his sentence. Justice transcends emotions and empathy for victim and victimizer alike. It may include these qualities to some degree, but it must also go well beyond them.

I think justice, in this case and based upon my admittedly limited knowledge of the facts, does not entail this man being imprisoned for the rest of his life. If I were a parent of a nine-year-old girl, I might roundly disagree with this assessment, but would that make my current assessment wrong?

I guess it all boils down to the frustratingly philosophical question, What is justice?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Made, not Born?

The preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born.
--Philip E. Ross, Scientific American

I've just read a fascinating article in Scientific American explaining that experts in numerous fields, including chess, music, and various sports, seem to depend less on innate talent for rising to their level of expertise than they do on the right kinds of "effortful practice" that constantly challenges them to push the envelope of their usable knowledge and skill.

For instance, psychologists have conducted studies showing that there's no significant difference in general memory and visual-spatial abilities between chess grandmasters and chess amateurs. What the experts in many fields have over non-experts is greater and more efficiently structured knowledge of their field, acquired through proper training. This implies that almost anyone with sufficient motivation and proper training can become an expert in almost any field. Indeed, we see more and more people becoming expert grandmasters in chess at earlier and earlier ages due to their access to computerized chess playing games and repositories of grandmaster games. A further implication is that children who underperform academically might be motivated by various kinds of rewards and trained by expert teachers to excel in subjects in which they previously showed no promise. This reminds me of the inspiring film Stand and Deliver allegedly based on real events.

I once had a little argument with my college math teacher about his attitude toward people, like myself, who struggled in his class. He seemed quite intolerant of people who didn't grasp the concepts quickly and performed poorly on exams. I argued that some of us are just not "as good" or talented in math as others are, and he said that everyone has virtually the same mathematical talent and that I could do as he did and earn a Ph.D in math if I really wanted to badly enough and worked as hard as I needed to to do it.

I didn't believe him then, and, even after reading an article that seems to reinforce his position, I still don't believe it. I suspect that people of average ability can indeed become much better at a lot of things than they ever realized if they're motivated enough and train for it the right way. But I still think that truly great chess players, athletes, scientists, artists, and other world-class experts are born with exceptional ability, even if science is currently better at isolating the acquired factors than it is at isolating the innate ones behind the expertise. I also suspect that people with damaged brains and subnormal capacities are never going to rise to the level of expertise or of even modest skill in related fields no matter how much they might want to and no matter how hard or well they train.

But, still, the Scientific American article gives me pause in attributing too much of someone's skill to innate talent and too little to acquisition through "effortful practice," and makes me wonder if I could accomplish more in more areas than I ever thought possible if only I wanted to badly enough and worked at it the right way, with, perhaps, the help of an expert (and miraculously patient) teacher.

Seeing John Wooden

Last night, I dreamed that I saw John Wooden in a local department store. He was barely over five feet tall and had a full head of dazzlingly white hair. Then I read in a magazine that he liked to ride a Hayabusa motorcycle, one of the fastest production streetbikes ever. Not bad for a ninety-five-year-old man. Later, I saw him again in a grocery store and told my grandfather (who died eleven years ago but will always live in my dreams). We looked for him together but couldn't find him. I was disappointed that we couldn't see him together, but happy and proud that I had seen him myself.

I don't know why I dreamed of John Wooden last night. I haven't read or heard anything about him for a long time. But I did watch a movie yesterday about a talented young black man being mentored by a reclusive great writer. Maybe that was the connection. John Wooden was not only the most successful and admired college basketball coach in history, but has also written acclaimed books of wisdom to guide young people and, for that matter, everyone through the challenges of life. One of my favorite quotes by him or, for that matter, anyone is: "Be quick but don't hurry."

Some say that we have a dominant archetype or personified symbol of some quality or set of qualities of great unconscious importance to us. Mine has been the "wise old man" for as far back as I can remember. But why did I dream of a hypercycle-riding John Wooden last night instead of, say, Alan Watts or Obi Wan Kenobi serenely dispensing sagacious aphorisms?

I've never been good at interpreting dreams, but I find myself looking more forward to them than ever when I go to bed at night and close my eyes.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Once upon a time, a friend fell off a roof and injured himself badly enough that he had to remain in the hospital for several weeks to recuperate. I visited him once and wanted to go back, but he asked me to do him a favor the next time I came, and I never went back for the same stupid reason that I haven't done a lot of things in my life that I wanted and needed to do.

I know that my friend never completely forgave me for that, and I never really forgave myself. I think that unfortunate incident helps to explain why he and I are apparently no longer friends. It's no doubt just one of several reasons, but I suspect that it's one of the bigger reasons when you come right down to it.

There are so many things I'd do differently if I could go back in time knowing what I do now. One thing I'd most definitely do is go back to that hospital many times to visit my friend.

Monday, July 24, 2006

In the Ghetto 2.0

Don't you just love what "spiritual" psychologist Gagdad Bob has done with Elvis Presley's poignantly beautiful song?

As the sand blows
On a hot and gray Ramallah mornin'
A poor little Muslim Boy is born
In the ghetto
And his mama schemes
Cause if there's one thing that she sure wants
Its another little suicidal dunce
In the ghetto

People, don't you understand
The child needs a crazed imam
So he'll grow to be an angry young man some day
Take a look at you and me,
Are we just too PC,
Do we simply turn our heads
And look the other way?

Well the world turns
And the Jew-hating beast dressed all in black
Lobs rocks in the street as his dad hides back
In the ghetto

And his anger burns...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

He's Back

Tiger Woods has just won his second consecutive British Open. He came through like the champion he is by playing his best when he needed it most to stave off his closest challengers. I hold this man in awe. I'm not a golfer. Bowling is more than enough of a challenge for me. But I know that Tiger represents an extraordinary if not unprecedented union of golfing talent, self-discipline, refined skill, and indomitable will.

Part of me hungers to know more about what makes him or any supreme achiever in any domain great, while the rest of me just wants to revel in the magical mystery of it all. Perhaps it's only when this order is reversed and the dominant part of me is willing and able to analyze great achievers that I will achieve more myself.

But if I understood the ingredients of my limited and others' great successes better, would I appreciate them less? Or would I appreciate them more? Would knowing what makes Tiger Tiger be like intellectually understanding how Chris Angel walks on water and losing my dumbstruck joy in seeing it? Or would I appreciate and enjoy it even more when I know the cleverness, sweat, and toil that went into perfecting the complex skills involved?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Use It or Lose It?

I don't know if the photo on the right above is real or "manipulated," but it sure looks real to my eyes even if my mind recoils from the thought that the once mighty Mr. Olympia and Terminator now looks like a rather average, pudgy old man.

Will life's disappointments never cease? :-)


"Why are conservatives able to see so very clearly that Hizballah is evil and that Israel has every right to eliminate it from the face of the earth?"
--Gagdad Bob

"Religious wisdom suggests that the more overwhelming the military might, the more dangerous its capacity for self- and public deception. If evil in this world is deeply human and very real, and religious people believe it is, it just doesn't make spiritual sense to suggest that the evil all lies "out there with our adversaries and enemies, and none of it is "in here" with us--embedded in our own attitudes, behaviors, and policies. Powerful nations dangerously claim to "rid the world of evil" but often do enormous harm in their self-appointed vocation."
--Jim Wallis

I share Bob's distaste for Hizballah. I, like Bob, would love to see it, al Qaeda, and other organizations like them vanish forever from the face of the Earth. But just how do we make that happen? By going to war with them and killing every one of their members? Terrorist organizations are not countries that one can defeat the way one defeats a nation and keep it in check. Israel can kill every terrorist and destroy every missile launcher it sees, and I believe that more will take their place as long as requisite cultural and social conditions prevail.

I confess that I don't know how to change those conditions. But I suspect that one element of the way is for those beset by terrorism to change themselves by acknowledging their own shortcomings and the capacity for evil that resides within their own hearts before they're corrupted by their own military power in their use of violence to stop violence being committed against them. One does not stop terrorists who hate and want to kill every one of your kind by hating and wanting to kill every one of them.

Bob calls my way of thinking pathologically "magical," "narcissistic," and "New Age." But I suspect that every great spiritual sage would disagree. And so does the sage deep within my heart.

Friday, July 21, 2006

And the Felines Shall Lead Us

In India, I was living in a little hut, about six feet by seven feet. It had a canvas flap instead of a door. I was sitting on my bed meditating, and a cat wandered in and plopped down on my lap. I took the cat and tossed it out the door. Ten seconds later it was back on my lap. We got into a sort of dance, this cat and I. I would toss it out, and it would come back. I tossed it out because I was trying to meditate, to get enlightened. But the cat kept returning. I was getting more and more irritated, more and more annoyed with the persistence of the cat. Finally, after about a half-hour of this coming in and tossing out, I had to surrender. There was nothing else to do. There was no way to block off the door. I sat there, the cat came back in, and it got on my lap. But I did not do anything. I just let go. Thirty seconds later the cat got up and walked out. So you see, our teachers come in many forms.
-- Joseph Goldstein in Transforming the Mind, Healing the World from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

Some of life's most important lessons come from some of the most unlikely places. One such lesson is what the self-described philosophical entertainer Alan Watts called the "backwards law." A famous biblical example of this is the verse, "He who would save his soul shall lose it." Being the incurable cat lover than I am, I especially like the idea that cats can teach us this lesson.

My cat has taught me many lessons. But, mostly, he just sleeps.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What Should the Sentence Be?

A renowned geneticist who was Time magazine's runner-up for "Man of the Year" in 1995 for his pioneering work in gene therapy was convicted by a Southern California jury yesterday of sexually molesting the young daughter of a colleague from 1997 to 2001 and could face a maximum sentence of 22 years in prison. His attorney argues that the 69-year-old scientist should be placed on probation so that he can continue his vitally important work. Prosecutors, on the other hand, argue that he should go to prison because of the harm he inflicted on his victim, and the judge in the case has expressed concerns about allowing the scientist to remain free in light of an e-mail threat he made to the victim in 2004 that he might kill himself if she told on him.

Should the judge send him to prison, or should he allow the scientist to continue his research? There are apparently no indications that the scientist molested any other children, and so he could probably be placed under restrictions that would make it difficult if not impossible for him to molest anyone else. But if he isn't sent to prison, how fair is this to all the people who have been or will be incarcerated for similar offenses? Yet, if he goes to prison, what might the world potentially lose from his being unable to continue his research?

Some might find it easy enough to decide what should be done with this man one way or the other. But I see both sides of the issue and feel unsure of what sentence the judge should impose. The victim herself, now 19, is not on record for what she thinks his sentence should be.

What do you think it should be?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bush Then and Now

"Too many OB-GYN's are not able to practice their love with women all across the country."
--President George Bush

Yesterday, I posted a link to a video showing George Bush trying to answer a question about tribal soverignty. Then I discovered the following video that contrasts the George Bush of over ten years ago with the George Bush of today. The video says that at least one doctor has publicly opined that Bush is suffering from presenile dementia or early onset Alzheimer's disease. Other doctors disagree or think the evidence is inconclusive.

I don't know. I'm not a doctor. But what I do know is that, for whatever reasons, there's a striking if not shocking difference between the George Bush of approximately twelve years ago and the George Bush of today. I also know that, as much as I wish George Bush weren't our president, I'd much rather have the Bush of twelve years ago as president than the one we have today. Wouldn't you?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bush's Thoughts on Tribal Soverignty

Many people say that George Bush is smart enough to be the leader of the world's most powerful nation. I won't offer an opinion. I offer this video instead.

What do you think?

Concerned About a Friend

I'm concerned about a friend. He's a housing inspector for a Southern California county. He conducts most of his inspections in lower income areas with heavy gang activity and violence. He often has to walk past gang members who stare at him menacingly, or they drive slowly along beside him and check him out. Recently, a gang member was evicted from an apartment and, for some reason I don't quite understand, blames my friend for it. He made ominous remarks about my friend to one of my friend's colleagues.

My friend doesn't seem to be concerned. He's the most laid back person I've ever known. He's also an ex-Army officer proficient in martial arts and boxing and, I think, a little too sure of himself. He's not belligerent or anything. In fact, as I said, he's very mild mannered. But he doesn't seem to be afraid of much of anything. I don't know how much of this is courage, and how much is too little awareness of real dangers.

It's good not to be inordinately afraid of people or life. My friend used to train police dogs for a living, and he says it's very important to project authority and not show fear around dogs, especially hostile ones. He thinks the same is true around people who try to intimidate you. It's possible that his attitude will keep him out of trouble. It's also possible that some "tough" guy with a knife or gun will decide to test him. That's a test I hope my friend never has to take, because the chances of failure are too high. And if he flunks the test, he may never get another chance.

I wish his county would furnish him with body armor and allow him to pass a course and carry a firearm for self-protection. That way, if he's ever tested, he might have a better chance of making it home to his beautiful wife and lovely young daughter. But that's not how it works in his county, and, I suspect, most others.

I hope nothing happens to him. It probably won't. But the longer he works at a job like that in a place like that, the more likely it may be that something will happen. If it does, I hope he passes the test and gets to go home to his family.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Certain Blogger

A certain blogger writes: “If you live in the light, then the darkness is visible. But if you yourself live in horizontal darkness, then it’s a case of a very dark night in which all the cows are black. It's just a "cycle of violence," tit for tat. To quote one of the most morally idiotic statements ever made, "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

Our blogger implies that he and the majority of his regular readers live in the light rather than the darkness that Leftists, Islamists, and much of the rest of the world inhabit. I wonder, then, how he and they see the violence of vengeance that plagues the Middle East and most of the rest of the world to varying degrees. If they don’t view it as an endless cycle of “tit for tat,” how DO they view it? As progress? Do they see progress in the Middle East? In the “drive-by” shootings of urban gangs? Anywhere else where people repay bloody violence with bloody violence year after year, decade after decade? Or is there progress only when someone is willing to take a leap of faith and break the cycle of revenge?

Our unnamed blogger may sneer at Gandhi’s famous maxim quoted above as “morally idiotic,” but to me it seems supremely wise, and “an eye for an eye” seems idiotic. For if no one is willing to break the cycle of revenge, won’t it continue until there are no more “eyes” to take on either side?

In that same post, our blogger writes:
“I’ve never given it much thought as to why people are uncomfortable naming the subhumans in our midst, but it must be because of the experience of nazi Germany. For nazi Germany represented the case of a subhuman ideology attempting to extinguish a divine one. It is as if the Left came away with an entirely backward lesson: that it is bad to call anyone evil or subhuman. But you will notice that when this happens, it is not as if evil disappears. It just gets relocated and projected into things that are patently not evil. Thus the deep moral confusion of the Left that sees George Bush or Israel as evil, even subhuman.”

Perhaps our blogger should have given it more thought, for he seems to contradict himself. He says the Left learned from Nazi Germany the distorted lesson that we shouldn’t call anyone “evil or subhuman.” But then he turns around and reports that Leftists call George Bush and Israel these things. I guess the Left didn’t learn the lesson our blogger says they learned after all.

Our blogger suggests that the lesson we should have learned from Nazi Germany is that there are “subhuman” or “infrahuman” “monsters” “in our midst.” Yesterday, there were Hitler, Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot. Today there are Hamas, Hezbollah, the “Iranian mullahs,” the “chinless wonder who rules Syria,” Kim Jong Il, and Castro. All are “pure evil.” All are “subhuman monsters.” They and their followers should be eradicated with the military grade “chemotherapy” of bullets, bombs, and missiles. And then the pure goodness characterizing our blogger and his community will prevail and Earth will become heaven, or something like that.

I don’t see it that way. I believe that the Nazis should have taught us all the lesson our blogger says it both did and didn’t teach the Left. It should have taught us that when one group of people sees another as “subhuman” or “infrahuman,” this is when it gleefully perpetrates the most horrible evils against the group it has dehumanized, and, in so doing, it dehumanizes itself. Not literally, mind you. A human being can’t make other human beings or itself truly inhuman, subhuman, or infrahuman. Human beings are human beings, no matter how they behave. Human beings love and hate, make love and make war, heal and destroy, do wondrous good and perpetrate unspeakable evil. All are the very human behaviors of human beings.

But when human beings see and despise other human beings as “pure evil” or “subhuman” “monsters,” as our blogger would have us see and do the Islamists, the communists, and maybe even Noam Chomsky, you can bet that you’re going to see them commit the worst of human behaviors, usually, ironically, in the name of goodness or God. And then the other group will take its revenge. And the murderous cycle will continue until someone understands the profound moral truth and wisdom of Gandhi’s words.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

No Self

When the Buddha confronted the question of identity on the night of his enlightenment, he came to the radical discovery that we do not exist as separate beings. He saw into the human tendency to identify with a limited sense of existence and discovered that this belief in an individual small self is a root illusion that causes suffering and removes us from the freedom and mystery of life. He described this as interdependent arising, the cyclical process of consciousness creating identity by entering form, responding to contact of the senses, then attaching to certain forms, feelings, desires, images, and actions to create a sense of self. In teaching, the Buddha never spoke of humans as persons existing in some fixed or static way. Instead, he described us as a collection of five changing processes: the processes of the physical body, of feelings, of perceptions, of responses, and of the flow of consciousness that experiences them all. Our sense of self arises whenever we grasp at or identify with these patterns. The process of identification, of selecting patterns to call "I," "me," "myself," is subtle and usually hidden from our awareness.-Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heartfrom Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

My mind understands, but my heart does not. Or it does only a little during fleeting moments. If my heart understood deeply and permanently, what difference would it make in my life and in the lives of those around me and around them? And how would my heart as well as mind reconcile the Buddhist understanding of no self or anatman with the Hindu and Buddhist understanding of atman? And what difference would it make if they could reconcile the two?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Why I Keep Writing About Gagdad Bob

"A child naturally lives in an innocent, light-filled world, and it is the job of a parent to preserve that light for as long as possible, until it is inevitably penetrated by the darkness of the fallen world. In so doing, we can re-experience the primordial light that has gradually dimmed in ourselves. Likewise, there is a life-stream and a death-stream that flow through the cosmic arteries of our existence. The former moves from the past to the future, while the latter moves from the future to the past. Children are naturally oriented to the present and future, but as we age, we become increasingly aware of the entropic death stream. Yestalgia for nostoday sets in."
--Robert Godwin

You, dear reader, are probably tired of all my posts about Gagdad Bob and his blog. Some of you have already dismissed him as a budding cult leader and a man afflicted with the mean blue-orange meme, and I’ve suggested that his preoccupation with attacking leftists and Islam may really be attacks on his own shadow elements. If any or all of this is true, why do I even bother with him? Why do I read his blog? Why did I post comments on his site even after it instantly became apparent that I and my comments weren’t welcome there? Why do I repeatedly comment on it and him here when there are so many other things I could be talking about or doing?

Bob himself says, with characteristic humility, it’s because I’m angrily obsessed with him because my soul is filled with “darkness” and is attracted to the “light” of spiritual and political truth of his blog but is too immature to “get it” and therefore reacts with frustration, anger, and envy by trying to undermine his efforts and envelop the One Cosmos community in the darkness that plagues me. He calls me a “malignant troll” because I keep reading his blog and commenting on it there or here. But this is what I say.

Am I any more “obsessed” with his blog than the scores if not hundreds of others who read it virtually every day, or the people who comment there several times a day virtually every day? If they’re not obsessed to be doing what they do, why am I obsessed to be doing what I do? Because I question or disagree with him sometimes when his “Bobbleheads” do not?

He says that people like me question and disagree with him because we’re so focused upon the individual points of his posts that we can’t see the seamlessly “whole” truth of their collective wisdom. If we had the intellectual and emotional maturity to “get it” instead of being the quasi-“autistic,” “hostrollities” that we are, we would apparently never challenge him on anything much less do it repeatedly.

But what kinds of things have I challenged him on? Essentially, I’ve questioned his insistence that people on the political left are generally wrong about everything because they’re atheistic, emotional infants inhabiting the bodies of adults, whereas people on the political right are generally right about everything because they’re mature, God-lovin’ adults in every way. I’ve asked him about what Noam Chomsky has ever said that proves he’s the treasonous, “clinically paranoid,” “bull goose loony” Bob says he is. I’ve asked him why he thinks it’s spiritually admirable to hate or despise wrongdoers instead of merely hating, despising, or opposing their wrongdoing? I’ve asked him why he looks down on the Dalai Lama and considers Buddhism’s non-violent ethic “immoral.” I’ve asked him why he takes me to task for calling his “Bobbleheads” on their insults but not them for their insults, why he disparages me on his blog, and why he deletes my substantive and respectful comments.

Of course, he never answers these questions except to say, in effect, “If you have to ask the question, you’re too stupid or immature to understand my answer.” But is it possible that I understand his answers better than he realizes, that I legitimately see them as dubious or deficient, and that these dubious or deficient parts of his posts weaken but don't completely destroy the magnificient edifice of "truth" he's trying to build with his book and blog?

Now you may be wondering why, if Bob really carries on this way, I would have the slightest interest in his blog. “The man is a malicious, insufferable jerk with delusions of grandeur and crazy ideas about politics and religion. Forget about him,” you might well say.

As well I might if it weren’t for the fact that I think he’s a remarkably gifted writer who’s always interesting to read even when he’s wrong, and a joy to read when he’s right or, at least, when he elucidates ideas that open my mind to ways of seeing and thinking about the world that it never did before. And then there’s his community of “Bobbleheads” and other commentators. I may often disagree with them, but they are, almost without exception, uncommonly intelligent, thoughtful, and literate people who write very interesting and sometimes very moving things. For example,
here is what one commentator wrote last night:

“Bob, today your post helped trigger something in me... you might say it tripped a latch allowing the door to crack open and Light from the “inscape” came flooding in... or from within... and/or from without... from everywhere really. A most vertical experience... I printed out your post at work so I could read it over lunchtime. After lunch I couldn’t get out of the restaurant fast enough. Not because the food was bad but because, as I say, your post triggered something...I sat in my car and cried... no, I sobbed. I sobbed and bawled to the point of convulsing I was so overwhelmed with feeling the Presence. I know you know precisely the feeling of irrefutable clarity that comes at such times when Grace strikes. Perhaps that’s a strange way of putting it; “Grace strikes”... it comes so gently, yet the omnipotence behind the gentleness is so disarming, but absolutely nothing is more revitalizing. I don’t know... I’m just saying the gentle loving touch of Grace sure packs an enormous whale of a punch. When the Almighty gives a hug a felluh can’t help but tear up.Anyway, my steering wheel became my “wailing wall” this afternoon. That’s what happens I guess from reading your book and your posts every day for a couple of months. Stuff starts to sink in. And as its sinking in it’s bubbling up as well.Thank you for not molly-coddling delicate sensibilities. Thanks for even being a jerk sometimes. (Ha! “Be a Jerk for Jesus!”)You are doing good work, Bob. Thank you. Thank you and bless you.”

Bob replied that he was “touched and humbled” by this comment (even though he undermined this by subsequently, albeit subtly, taking credit for the commentator’s epiphany), and so was I. Bob writes profound and beautiful things sometimes that can trigger these kinds of reactions, and that's why I continue to read his blog. And if I read it, there are going to be times when I feel moved to comment on it. And if I’m not allowed to comment on it there, I may do it here in a blog I set up to “nakedly reflect,” as fully as practicable, my heart, mind, and soul and what’s important to me at any given time.

Bob’s blog is important to me at this point in time. I doubt that it will always be. I think the day will come when I feel as though I’ve gotten from it all the good there is to be gotten and am fed up with all the not-so-good things there, and I’ll move on. But that day hasn’t come yet. I’m still interested in what Bob Godwin as to say and am willing to sift through the colorful dross to get to the sparkling and precious gold. And if that makes me a nut or an idiot in Bob’s eyes, in yours, or in truth, I guess that’s just how it is.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Gagdad Bob Qualifies his Remarks

"By the way, I certainly didn't intend to insult autistic people by comparing them to our trolls, who not only lack social intelligence, but whose lives revolve around obsessive anger at me and my blog. They simply cannot stay away. Many autistic people are quite lovable. Not so our malignant hostrollities."
--Robert Godwin, Clinical and Spiritual Psychologist

Ok, so Dr. Godwin doesn't mean to insult autistic people. He only means to insult and belittle people he regards as socially inept and "malignant." I'm glad he clarified that. :-)

An Open Invitation to Gagdad Bob

"If nothing else, these maniacs demonstrate how light attracts the darkness."
--Robert Godwin, Clinical and Spiritual Psychologist

Gagdad Bob says that he deletes comments on his blog that challenge what he says not because they challenge him but because they obviously come from "autistic" and "insane" "trolls" who don't grasp the wholeness of the supreme truth of his words. That is, they pathologically lack the "cognitive and spiritual maturity" to understand what he and his "Bobbleheads" understand and are filled with "darkness."

Yet, surprisingly, this man, who passes himself off as a spiritual person and clinical psychologist who specializes in helping others to grow spiritually, mocks and ridicules and allows if not encourages his "Bobbleheads" to mock and ridicule those who come to his blog and question or disagree with him. He says the "darkness" in them is attracted to the "light" of his blog, yet, he calls these individuals hopeless "maniacs" and their comments "stupid" and deletes their comments and questions, even when they're substantive, respectful, and sincere, while allowing any and all comments from those who agree with him and praise him.

Of course, it's his blog and his right, I suppose, to do what he wishes with it. But what does the way he conducts his blog and belittles people say about him as a person and a "spiritual" psychotherapist? What do his frequent expressions of "contempt" if not outright hatred for "leftists," Muslims, and, apparently, all who don't see heaven and earth the way he and his "Bobbleheads" do say about him as a person and a "spiritual" psychotherapist?

Gagdad Bob says that one way I can prove to him that I'm not an "insanely obsessive troll" is to stop posting "stupid" comments about him on my blog. I replied that I'd immediately remove any posts about him if he could explain how they're stupid. Of course, he didn't reply. He never does when he accuses someone of being "clueless," "stupid," or "insane" after they challenge something he or one of his "Bobbleheads" say and he's asked to explain what is improper or false in the challenge.

But the invitation is still open. Mr. Godwin doesn't even have to persuade me that I've said something "stupid" about him. He only needs to show me how I've misrepresented him in any way, shape, or form, and I will promptly make amends.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

MOND--A New Idea in Physics

I’m not an astrophysicist. I don’t even play one on TV. But I’m fascinated by books and articles about physics and cosmology even when my feeble mind understands only a small fraction of what they have to say.

I’ve just read an article in the August issue of
Discover magazine about a relatively new idea in physics that may revolutionize our understanding of gravity. I wish I could provide a clear explanation, but I can’t. All I can do is say that it may supplant the dominant notion that invisible “dark matter” is largely responsible for the gravitational pull affecting such celestial processes as the orbital speeds of stars around their galaxies and the bending of light from distant stars and galaxies.

You see, scientists have long observed that certain celestial phenomena don’t precisely follow Newton’s laws of motion. For instance, Newton’s laws decree that stars at the outer edge of a spiral galaxy should orbit more slowly around the core than do stars closer to the core which is the galaxy’s center of gravity. That is, the farther away an object is from another object’s center of gravity, the less affected it is by the other object’s gravitational pull, and the orbital velocity of an object should therefore be slower the farther away it is from the object it’s orbiting. Yet, astronomers have observed that stars at the edge of spiral galaxies orbit at the same velocity as do stars close to the center.

Now there are essentially three ways that scientists can deal with results that contradict accepted theory. They can question the results, they can question the theory, or they can invent some new phenomenon or force to rereconcile accepted theory with observed fact. Astrophysicists chose the third way by coming up with the idea that approximately 80% of the mass in the universe consists of matter—so-called “dark matter--that can’t be seen by existing methods, and that this matter, concentrated outside a galaxy, exerts a gravitational pull on the stars at the rim of a spiral galaxy causing them to orbit as swiftly as do stars near the center of the galaxy.

Yet, an Israeli physicist named Mordehai Milgrom felt uncomfortable with this and hit upon a different approach to resolving the contradiction. He questioned existing theory, and when he modified Newton’s classic equation F = ma (Force = mass x acceleration) to F = ma2 / a0, he could account for the orbital velocities of stars without invoking a mysterious kind of matter that no one has ever seen. His idea has come to be called
MOND-- “modified Newtonian dynamics.” A few years later, Milgrom’s collaborator, Jacob Bekenstein, published a masterful paper that elaborated on and strengthened Milgrom’s fundamental idea.

MOND is still a decided underdog to dark matter and dark energy as the predominant explanation for certain puzzling celestial phenomena involving gravity. But if scientists continue to be unable to detect dark matter and energy, and MOND is found to predict and describe observed phenomena just as well if not better than dark matter and energy do, it may grow in popularity and come to revolutionize astrophysics and cosmology.

For some reason, I love to read about and ponder, in my own rudimentary way, these grand, sweeping ideas about the physical universe, and I get a little excited when some new idea comes along that may overturn old ones.

Easwaran's Thought for the Day

Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm. – Robert Louis Stevenson

When the mind gets agitated, we do not see life as it truly is, as one. It is the constant agitation going on in our mind that deludes us into believing that you and I are separate.

The question we may well ask is, “If we are to have neither pleasure nor pain in life, are we not likely to become insensitive to the joy of life?” This doubt arises from a wrong assumption, that there is only pleasure and pain and nothing else. Always cutting things up into two classes – everything must be either this or that – is one of the fatal weaknesses of the intellect. Because of this dualistic trap, we find it difficult to understand that the rare person who is able to receive good fortune without getting excited, and bad fortune without getting depressed, lives in abiding joy. --Eknath Easwaran

I don't know if it's only an "agitated" mind that is unable to see the "oneness" of life. For all I know, a calm mind could also be blind to this oneness. But the great mystics from many traditions speak of the importance of a calm mind as a prerequisite for the mystical vision of oneness and the joy that accompanies it.

For an ignorant person such as myself, it's hard to understand how joy could stem from calmness when joy is typically seen as a kind of manic elation that is anything but calm. But the great mystics tell us that this is a misunderstanding of the true and subtle nature of real joy, and who am I to argue with them? At a time when much of the world seems to be going to hell and the rest of it is huddled precariously close to the edge of the chasm, I listen to those who speak of calmness and abiding joy in the midst of swirling chaos.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Free Will and the Brain

"The most fundamental neuroethical issue concerns free will and responsibility. The mind is what the brain does, and the brain is a causal machine. Consequently, deliberations, beliefs, decisions and ensuing behavior are the outcome of causal processes. Typically, the causal processes leading to awareness of a decision are nonconscious. The "user illusion," nevertheless, is that a decision is created independently of neuronal causes, by one's very own "act of will." Some philosophers-usually called libertarians-resolutely believe that voluntary decisions actually are created by the will, free of causal antecedents. Like flat-earthers and creationists, libertarians glorify their scientific naivete by labeling it transcendental insight."

--Patricia S. Churchland

Churchland's quote is one of the clearest and most concise arguments I've encountered against "free will." I agree with it, as far as it goes. However, I'd go further and say that our will and resulting behavior is determined not only by "neuronal causes," but also by interacting psychological, social, and cultural ones interacting with our unique neurophysiology. Because our will and resulting behavior cannot be other than what it's determined by these interacting conditions of different dimensions of our being to be, there is no free will in the sense of will and behavior that can be otherwise.

This seems so obvious to me. Why doesn't it to most people? Am I wrong, or are they?

No More Being an Internet Gadfly

For more years than I care to count, I’ve had a habit of visiting online forums where the prevailing views on religion, politics, and other matters are very different from my own and acting as a gadfly until I either burned out or got booted out. I’ve made friends this way, but I’ve probably made many more enemies. I’ve learned a lot about myself, other people, and the issues being discussed, but it’s come at a high price in terms of chronic frustration, anger, and general displeasure with how I’ve conducted myself in a manner that violates my ideals concerning what kind of person I want to be and how I want to behave.

Moreover, if my intention was to persuade others to at least reexamine views of theirs that differed from mine, I probably failed miserably, because I doubt that I persuaded a single person to come around to my way of thinking about anything. If anything, my compulsive combativeness has probably motivated them to cling to and defend their views even more strongly and allowed them to rationalize it by saying to themselves, “A nut like that can’t be right about anything he says.”

The latest chapter of this has just come to a close. I stirred things up in a forum of likeminded religious and political conservatives until the host got totally fed up and forced me out. I learned a lot in this forum and can still do so by continuing to follow the discussion there, but I doubt that I’ll ever again be allowed to join in the give-and-take of their discussions of some truly fascinating topics, because I will never again be trusted to act like anything other than the ass I acted like before.

Did other people act like asses too? Most certainly. And while their defending it on the grounds that they were only responding in kind to my trollish obstreperousness might not completely cut the mustard, the fact is that I got off on a bad foot from my very first appearance in that forum and let things tumble downhill from there by blinding myself to my ideals and remaining more focused on stirring things up, scoring debate points, and getting back at those who insulted me than on cultivating genuine dialogue that might have enabled all of us to understand each other better and respect one another more even if we continued to disagree with each other’s views. Ironically, all I succeeded in doing in that forum was reinforcing convictions that people who hold my views on religion and politics are immature, angry, and even psychologically off-kilter, when I had the opportunity to show them just the opposite.

If I were ever allowed back into that forum, I would show them the opposite by living up to my ideals. The same goes for any other forum in which I participate from now on. I’ve learned a painful lesson. But better to learn it late than not at all.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

No More

I'm watching a CNN program about North Korea and the incredibly brave people who smuggle people and videos out of that hellish country upon pain of death or worse if they're caught. I wish the whole world would come together and say "No more" to the North Korean government and be prepared to do what's necessary to back up their decree. But, of course, they won't, and untold thousands of people will continue to die of starvation and disease, and those who live, except for the fortunate few, will live a nightmare that never ends.

What should countries like the U.S. do? If we impose sanctions against North Korea, the common people will be the ones who suffer most, although it's difficult to imagine them suffering much more than they do already. If we go to war with North Korea, how many people on both sides would die or suffer horribly under the best of scenarios? But if we do nothing, how many people will die or suffer horribly under that awful, awful regime for years if not decades to come? And what happens if North Korea and its leader build an imposing arsenel of nuclear weapons and the capacity to strike anywhere they wish with them, or they sell some to the highest bidders?

Watching that program today was heartbreaking! And when I didn't feel heartbroken, I felt such frustration and anger not only at the situation in North Korea, which is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but at the terrible things happening throughout the world that shouldn't be and don't need to be if only we could all come together and say,
"No more!"

Saturday, July 08, 2006

My Personality Profile

Thanks to Bill Harryman over at Integral Options Cafe, I discovered this personality test. I have misgivings about personality tests, for I always have difficulty answering their questions. I'm not sure if this is because I don't know myself well enough to answer confidently, or if it's because I know myself too well to accept any answer as a sufficiently accurate description of myself or others. I kind of think that if we knew ourselves well enough to answer these questions confidently, we'd already know ourselves so well that there would hardly be any point in taking the test. And if we don't know ourselves well enough to answer confidently, then our results may be of dubious accuracy and tell us things about ourselves that aren't true.

Yet, despite these reservations, I took the test anyway. Actually, I started to take it once earlier today and stopped because I just didn't feel confident at all in my answers. But then I went back to it later and completed it, and
here is the personal profile that my answers generated.

I guess this profile kind of sounds like me, whereas some of the profiles I've read of other people who took the test definitely do not sound like me.

I Don't See How

"When someone else pisses me off I don't believe that the responsibility is even partly my own."

This morning, I said goodbye to a friend. I wish I hadn’t done it. I wish I’d given myself more time before I gave up on a friendship. But I felt so weary of walking on eggshells with him and so hopeless that it could ever be otherwise that I impulsively bailed out. I feel bad about it. But I don’t know what else to do. I like this person. I would like to have a lasting friendship with him. But things happen when we communicate that I don’t know how to handle, and I feel worn down by continuing to try.

Some would say that if I really value his friendship, I’ll keep trying to find a way to preserve it. But to what end? So that he and I can keep having misunderstandings and upsets over ridiculously trivial things? So that we both feel as though we have to cautiously watch everything we do and say around one another?

I don’t feel strong enough to deal with it. Even so, I might hang in there if I thought it would be of any benefit to him. But I don’t see how it would be to him or to me to go on the way we’re going. And I don’t see how we can make it go any differently.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Bruce Lee

Yesterday I wrote about Steven Seagal and aikido and provided a link to a video featuring both. I also said a few words about Bruce Lee. Today I want to say a little more about him.

Almost everyone has seen some of his movies or clips from them and knows that he was a Chinese martial arts movie star in the late 60’s and early 70’s before his untimely death in 1973. What many people, especially younger ones, may not know is just how much Lee fostered an interest in the martial arts that endures today, and how profound was his understanding of the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings as well as the physical essence of the martial arts. The martial arts, other than boxing, were almost unheard of in the West before Lee burst upon the scene, yet they became deeply ingrained into popular culture afterwards.

Aside from Lee’s lasting influence, the man himself was fascinating in his monomaniacal pursuit of excellence and innovation. He developed an amazingly toned physique and fantastic strength for his diminutive size using every traditional and experimental method of exercise he could. And he eventually moved beyond his martial arts roots to pioneer an art he called
Jeet Kune Do that emphasized taking “what works” from all the different Eastern and Western martial arts instead of remaining locked into traditional schools and superfluous techniques, and developing such a high degree of physical and psychological mastery of the system that one approached combat prepared to optimally respond to any opponent and situation rather than use a programmed sequence of moves that might be ineffective in a given situation. He outlined this system and its philosophy in a book called The Tao of Jeet Kune Do that he wrote while bedridden for six months after severely injuring his back working out with weights. One could say that his Jeet Kune Do was the forerunner of the increasingly popular mixed martial arts movement we see today. Anyone who has ever seen his interviews knows that Lee was a very intense and philosophical man who lived and breathed the martial arts within the context of Eastern philosophy, especially philosophical Taoism.

Here are some videos capturing aspects of the man’s personality as well as his strength, power, speed, and mastery of the martial arts:
(1) His screen test for the Green Hornet. (2) His appearance on the 1971-1972 TV series Longstreet. (3) His expounding on his philosophy during an interview. (4) Several demonstrations he gave of his skills including clips from his fabled appearance in Long Beach, California during a martial arts tournament in the late 60’s. (5) A famous sequence from Enter the Dragon. (6) More about his philosophical background.

If Bruce were alive today, he’d be 65 years old. I wonder what he’d be doing with the martial arts now and how he’d regard the developments that have taken place within them over the past 33 years. No doubt, he would have played an even bigger role in that development than the already huge one that he did.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Steven Seagal

I’ve loved watching the martial arts ever since a masked Bruce Lee began dispatching villains on the Green Hornet. At first, I was focused on the physical mastery and power of the striking arts. Then along came David Carradine in the TV series Kung Fu, and what I found most alluring there was the Carradine character’s spirituality. He still kicked ass every week, but he did it serenely and always with reluctance before the fact and with sorrow afterwards.

When I first saw
aikido, I was spellbound by its combination of spiritual depth and serenely graceful and effortless efficacy. It was a revelation, and Steven Seagal seemed to be its new prophet when I first saw him doing and discussing pure aikido on an episode of a TV newsmagazine in the mid-80’s. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Seagal brought aikido to the forefront of the martial arts universe and became a star with his first few films. Still, I was disappointed that the characters he played were cocky, foul-mouthed, and bloodthirsty, and that his aikido was used to brutally cripple and kill without remorse.

My disappointment with Seagal grew as his films became pathetic, direct-to-video disasters, and as unflattering rumors about his actions and character circulated through the media. But here is a
video that displays some of the qualities I first saw in Seagal and in the amazing beauty and power of aikido executed by a master. How I wish that he or some other master of this remarkable art could personify its true spirit in a genuinely artful and engaging film.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Despise the Sinner?

Gagdad Bob says that a big part of what it means to be spiritual is to be keen on distinguishing between good and evil and resolute at despising the evildoer as well as the evil that he does. He says that anyone who counsels loving the evildoer is naive at best, and he seems to imply that any allegedly great spiritual figure who counsels this is a phony.

But when someone asks him which truly great spiritual figures exhort us to despise anyone for any reason, he falls silent. He does the same when he's asked about the biblical injunction to "hate the sin but love the sinner." A commentator quotes
Frithjof Schuon to the effect that it's OK to love the sinner but not the evildoer. But when he's asked to explain the difference between evildoing and sin, he too has nothing more to say.

Is it ever spiritually desirable to hate or despise someone? Does any great spiritual figure or document tell us to do this? Does anyone's spiritual heart of hearts tell him or her to do this?

Mine certainly doesn't. Does Gagdad Bob's?

Integral Naked Interview on Science and Religion

This week's Integral Naked interview is a little different. Usually, it's Ken Wilber or Stuart Davis interviewing someone directly or indirectly involved with the Integral movement. This week, it's someone else interviewing Ken Wilber about his philosophy. Since the Wilber interview is part of a five-hour series on science and religion to be distributed to NPR stations this fall, it focuses on the possibility of reconciling science with religion.

Wilber argues that those who say that science and religion can't be reconciled are operating from a limited view of science that needlessly confines itself to investigating only the realm of empirical, physical phenomena, or from a primitive view of religion that revolves around antiquated attachment to literal myths.

Wilber maintains that science, in its broadest sense, studies both the physical world and the world of consciousness by using systematic means to observe its object, generate data and conclusions based on this data, and verify the data and conclusions within a trained community qualified to replicate the observations and evaluate the results.

He further maintains that there are essentially two types of religion: the aforementioned mythical or "exoteric" religion and "meditative" or "esoteric" religion. The latter is a kind of science in that it uses systematic methods of meditation and other disciplines to study the contents of consciousness and arrive at experiential results that are subject to replication and confirmation by others who have undertaken the same training. The science of meditative religion generates replicable results--e.g., states and stages of consciousness that can increasingly be correlated with results obtained by such physical science disciplines as neurophysiology. That is, certain states or stages of consciousness are accompanied by corresponding changes in brain functioning that can be observed with sophisticated EEG's, MRI's, and the like. And people who undergo the practice necessary to have these experiences and insights do not need to read and embrace scriptural myths in order to have or confirm their experiences and insights.

A question raised by the interviewer that Wilber only began to touch upon in Part 1 of the interview (the second part will appear later on Integral Naked) was, Do the replicable experiences or insights of meditative religion point to realities beyond themselves? For instance, I and others who undergo certain meditative or spiritual disciplines may experience oneness with God, but does this establish that there actually IS a God with which we are all one?
This is a question I continue to grapple with, and I hope Wilber addresses it more fully in Part 2. If I remain unconvinced that these replicable religious or spiritual experiences are true rather than mere hallucinations or delusions, I'll be hard pressed to consider any kind of religious or spiritual practice as scientific and to accept any proposed reconciliation of science and religion.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Being Blind Drunk

This article is of special relevance to a day like today. It reports on a study that shows how even one stiff alcoholic drink can cause or worsen "inattentional blindness"--"where unexpected, yet salient objects appear in the visual fields but fail to be detected while subjects are focused on another task." This can seriously compromise the ability of a driver who's well below the legal limit to see something he needs to see in order to avoid a deadly accident.

Says one of the researchers in the study: "If you've had one drink, you may be so focused on paying attention to your speed so as not to get pulled over, that you completely miss seeing the pedestrian that walks directly in front of your car."

Have a great day today. If you drink, please don't drive. If you haven't drank a lot and you must drive, please be as attentive as you can to everything along your way.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Where Things Stand

The other day, my wife and I watched a film dramatizing the real life of a young woman who went from being the child of inattentive drug addicts to earning a full scholarship to Harvard in two years of high school study while homeless. It's an incredible story. This remarkable woman saw where her life was headed if she continued along the ominous way she was going, and, when given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a different path, she resolved to pursue that path with everything she had and see what happened. She might fail. But she had to do her absolute best and see where it led, and it ended up leading to amazing and wonderful things.

I may be at that point in my own life. There's still enough money in the bank for me to get help and carve out a new course in my life, but I have to resolve with all of my being to make the most of my opportunity while I still have it, and do my best to see what I can accomplish. I may fail. I may be so defective that I can't make it in this world. But if I'm not, I need to find out now before I and my wife end up out on the streets or relying on family to take us in. If it reaches that point, I would rather die than go on.

I've contacted a psychologist about undergoing a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment, I've contacted the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation about receiving assistance from them, I have a coding exam in September to study for, and a nine-week billing course beginning on the 11th of this month. I need to resolve here and now to do the very best I can, and I need to find a way to follow through with that resolution in the face of profound self-doubts.

When one is virtually convinced that one is doomed by deficiency to fail, it's next-to-impossible to do anything to lift oneself out of the morass of pessimistic inertia. But I MUST find a way to do it.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The End of Faith?

I've just begun reading a book by Sam Harris boldly titled The End of Faith. I'm quite impressed and plan to review the book after I finish it.

Here is one especially provocative quote from the first chapter:

"By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally...Religious moderation, insofar as it represents an attempt to hold on to what is still serviceable in orthodox religion, closes the door to more sophisticated approaches to spirituality, ethics, and the building of strong communities. Religious moderates seem to believe that what we need is not radical insight and innovation in these areas but a mere dilution of Iron Age philosophy. Rather than bring the full force of our creativity and rationality to bear on the problems of ethics, social cohesion, and even spiritual experience, moderates merely ask that we relax our standards of adherence to ancient superstitions and taboos, while otherwise maintaining a belief system that was passed down to us from men and women whose lives were simply ravaged by their basic ignorance about the world. In what other sphere of life is such subservience to tradition acceptable? Medicine? Engineering? Not even politics suffers the anachronism that still dominates our thinking about ethical values and spiritual experience." (p. 21)

Despite my sometimes pointed arguments against traditional religious beliefs, I've tried to be tolerant and even respectful of people who embrace these beliefs even when I consider the beliefs themselves to be absurd. But it isn't always easy to respect those who embrace beliefs that seem absurd or to honor and follow political leaders who embrace those beliefs and cite them as the basis of their policies. Also, how readily can and should one respect or "tolerate" anyone who spouts what one considers to be religious nonsense? If someone came to you and went on and on about how you should believe in Santa Claus or Zeus, or someone running for political office championed these beliefs, how much would and should you tolerate and respect either, and how inclined would and should you be to vote for this person?

Is traditional Judaism, Christianity, or Islam REALLY any different than belief in Santa Claus or Zeus? I honestly don't think so. And thus I find myself in a real quandary about how to regard and respond to religious people. I'm hoping that Sam Harris can help me to figure it out.

Last Night

Last night, I didn't bowl or score as well as I did the week before. But I'm still pleased with how I was able to focus more on executing well than I did on scoring well and with how, paradoxically, I was able to score better than I probably would have if I'd focused more on scoring well than I did on executing well.

However, I wonder how it is with the most successful bowlers and other professional athletes. Do they perform better when they focus mostly on executing well, or do they perform better when they focus mostly on winning? I suspect that the most successful athletes focus a lot on both. The nature of the sport and the constitution of the athlete probably determine the most successful mix of the two factors.

But I'm not a professional bowler. I'm just a guy who's increasingly interested in speaking every word and performing every act with mindful lovingkindness, equanimity, empathy, compassion, joy, wisdom, and grace.