Thursday, August 24, 2006

Unlimited Power--Chapter One

Last month, I announced that I'd be studying a book by Tony Robbins titled Unlimited Power and summarizing its contents and reflecting on them and my efforts to apply them to changing my own life. I think it's time to get the proverbial show on the road.

Chapter 1: The Commodity of Kings


Success is continual personal growth including that of helping others to grow. Success comes through the exercise of power. "Power" is "the ability to act," and personal power is the ability to change your life the way you want. In today's world, power consists chiefly of the effective control of information through internal and external communication. Extraordinary people are not, generally, extraordinarily talented; they just communicate with themselves and others in powerful ways that we can all learn.

Our feelings come not from what happens around and to us, but from how we interpret those happenings, and life's meaning is not intrinsic, but is what we give it. We can control our own feelings, thoughts, and actions the way a director controls the elements of a movie and the audience's reactions to it, and we can either do an effective or ineffective job of directing our "movie."

Excellence comes from following the "Ultimate Success Formula":

(1) Set a clear goal.
(2) Decide on a clear course of action and take it.
(3) Evaluate the results.
(4) Modify actions until goal is achieved.

Seven fundamental character traits that we can cultivate can enable us to follow this formula to success:

(1) Passion for excellence
(2) Belief that we can succeed
(3) Strategy for success
(4) Clarity of values
(5) Energy to persevere
(6) Power to bond with others
(7) Mastery of internal and external communication


I like Robbins' definitions of personal success and power. From a Wilberian integral perspective, they involve cultivating growth through several key lines of consciousness development that ultimately empowers us serve others as well as ourselves. I also believe that Robbins is on to something when he speaks of personal power as effective action stemming primarily from the control of information through the skillful exercise of internal and external communication. That is, we can shape our internal world of perceptions, thoughts, emotions, values, attitudes, and volitions and how we convey this internal world to the outside world through our words and actions to achieve success.

I also agree with Robbins that events in the world don't generally make us feel the emotions and commit the acts we do in response, but, rather, it's how we perceive, interpret, or understand those events. This echoes such ancient Stoics as Epictetus and anchors such modern psychotherapies as REBT. But whereas REBT tends to focus more on eliminating patterns of thinking that produce chronic and self-defeating emotions and behaviors, Robbins has taken the insight that thoughts shape emotions and conduct and used it to create, with the help of NLP and other pre-existing systems, a popular and purportedly effective formula for achieving positive personal growth and happiness. God knows I could use such a formula to change my life.

When I look at the four elements of Robbins' "Ultimate Success Forumla," they seem obvious enough; yet, I have seldom if ever systematically applied these principles to achieve major goals. My goals have often been poorly defined, my course of action vague and haphazard, my evaluation of results deficient in terms of seeing clearly what's happening when I do what I do beyond simply noting that I like or don't like the way things are going, and my adaptive responses to my deficient evaluations have been stubbornly inflexible. That is, I've tended to keep doing the same things over and over hoping that they'll finally work out the way I want if only I try a little harder or get a little help from someone or something. It's time to try another approach, and Robbins' seems promising.

When I examine Robbins' seven fundamental character traits necessary for success, I find myself lacking in all of them. But it seems to me that the root problem lies in #2. To put it bluntly, I haven't believed that I can succeed. I've allowed my cognitive weaknesses and numerous experiences of failure and avoidance to convince me that I'm essentially a hopeless case with no chance of accomplishing anything of significance whether it's being a good husband, getting and keeping a good job, writing a good book, or being a good person. Obviously, when one believes one isn't capable of succeeding, it's virtually impossible to make the skillful effort to summon passion, develop a sound strategy, clarify one's values, energetically persevere in one's efforts, bond well with others, and master communication.

So, it seems to me that I have to focus especially hard on addressing my lack of belief in myself, and that is exactly what I've been working on lately. Robbins will no doubt address this particular theme in future chapters, and I'm looking forward to learning from them.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Awe and Wonder

To me, that's what it means to be spiritual -- what makes your spine tingle. It's what gives you a sense of awe and wonder and transcendence. It doesn't matter to me if you call it God or the cosmos. We're all talking about the same thing, whether it's religious people or New Age spiritual people or Buddhists or scientists. We're all talking about having a sense of awe and wonder at something grander than ourselves.
--Michael Shermer


The test of a man or woman’s breeding is how they behave in a quarrel.
– George Bernard Shaw

When tempers are frayed, and an argument is in progress, it is very difficult for anyone to listen with courtesy to an opposing point of view. If we could ask the mind on such occasions why it doesn’t listen, it would answer candidly, “Why should I? I already know I’m right.” We may not put it into words, but the other person gets the message: “You’re not worth listening to.” It is this lack of respect that offends people in an argument, much more than any difference of opinion.

But respect can be learned – in part by acting as if we had respect. We show respect by simply listening with complete attention. Try it and see: the action is very much like that of a classical drama. For a while there is “rising action.” The other person’s temper keeps going up; language becomes more and more vivid; everything is heading for a climax. But then comes the denouement. The other person begins to quiet down: his voice becomes gentler, his language kinder, all because you have not retaliated or lost your respect for him.
--Eknath Easwaran

I've embroiled myself in more face-to-face and online arguments than I care to remember. There have been literally hundreds if not thousands of them. I'm the first to admit that I often enjoyed the heat of battle, the adrenaline rush that lifted me out of my torpor, the triumphant sense of having gotten the better of my opponent. But these ephemeral feelings of pleasure were often overridden by feelings of frustration, hostility, and anger that were the longer lasting byproducts of my habitual argumentativeness. And, in the end, I rarely experienced the feeling I wanted most--a heartwarming meeeting of minds and hearts born of mutual regard and respect.

When I speak of a "meeting of minds and hearts," I don't necessarily mean mutual agreement on everything. I mean acknowledging whatever truths or plausible points the other person may state and honoring his or her humanity and divine essence. In short, I mean that what I've wanted more than the thrill of victory in debate is the profound reconciliation of dialogue--the ultimate sense that we cherish each other as persons more than we disagree with each other's beliefs.

I've paid lip service to this ideal for a long time, but I was never able to do well at following through with the kind of conduct that would foster it. I was too ready to express disagreement with another's religious or political beliefs, and even if I started out trying to be calm and respectful in the way I went about it, all of that tended to fly out the proverbial window the first time I perceived an insult to come from the other side. I quickly lost sight of the other person's humanity, not to mention "divine essence," and saw him or her as an enemy to be defended against, defeated, or even humiliated. Yes, there was a "still, small voice within" that counseled me to pursue my ideal of dialogue, but it was frequently overpowered by the voice that said, "Sic 'em!"

The part of me that speaks with that voice has retained the upper hand even into very recent times. But I've worked especially hard lately to overcome it. I still disagree with or challenge people at times over what they say, but I don't let myself take it personally and wind myself up if they respond in a manner that I would previously have found upsetting. And I try to listen, really listen with regard and respect to what they say. I usually find that there is something of value in their words and perspective, and I try to incorporate that into my heart and mind.

If I could do this consistently, if we could all do this consistently, the way Easwaran suggests, what difference might it make between persons, groups, and even entire nations? We often don't do it consistently, even when we try, because it's difficult, damned difficult to respect people who disagree with us, especially if they do it disagreeably. But even if we don't feel respect for them in our hearts at first, we can act as though we do in the ways we speak to them and act around them, and our hearts can follow.

This is how I want to live the rest of my life, and this is the kind of world in which I want to live the rest of my life. How about you?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bedtime Inspiration

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity;
place your soul in the brightness of His Glory.
– Saint Clare of Assisi

We are shaped by what gains our attention and occupies our thoughts. Today, amidst all of the conditioning to the contrary, we need constant reminders of our higher nature, and that is why spiritual reading can be very helpful. The media drown us in such a low image of the human being that it is essential to remind ourselves constantly of something higher.

All of the world’s religions provide nourishment for the spirit distilled from centuries of spiritual exploration. It is a wise investment of time to take half an hour or so each day for reading from the scriptures and the writings of the great mystics of all religions. Just before bedtime is a particularly good time, because the thoughts you fall asleep in will be with you throughout the night.

Our consciousness takes on the color of what we think about. By reading the words of a favorite saint or mystic, we imbue our mind with thoughts that are beautiful, true, and full of light.
--Eknath Easwaran

When my wife and I go to bed at night, we have the habit of turning on the local news. As you know only too well, the news is often not very pleasant. There are unsettling and often tragic stories of stabbings, shootings, rapes, child abuse, robberies, car crashes, and homicides. If Easwaran is right, we carry these awful stories with us into the world of sleep and are influenced by them in deep and unwholesome ways, raising our quotients of distrust, fear, anger, and hatred.

Now there's no denying that the world is a dangerous place where bad things happen to a lot of people, and we would probably be remiss if we didn't remain aware of the threats existing in our communities, nation, and world. However, if Easwaran's right, the night time is not the right time to foster that awareness. Bedtime is the time to drink from the wellspring of the world's profound wisdom and connect with the Source of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty within and without and let THAT accompany us into our sleep and dreams and comfort, shape, and revitalize us for the challenges and trials of waking life.

I suspect that Easwaran is right about this, and it's simple enough to try it out. Just go to bed, leave the TV off, and pick up the Gita, the Tao Te Ching, the Dhammapada, the Bible, or some other great sacred text and read in peace and quiet for a few minutes before turning off the light and closing your eyes, and see what happens over the course of time. The spiritual path can involve rigorous disciplines, but it can also employ such simple measures as forsaking the nightly news for a bedtime reading of scripture.

I intend to do this. Hopefully, my wife will be happy to do it with me.

Monday, August 21, 2006

True Love

Late have I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved thee! For behold, thou wert within me and I outside; and I sought thee outside and in my unloveliness fell upon these lovely things that thou hast made. Thou wert with me and I was not with thee. I was kept from thee by those things, yet had they not been in thee, they would not have been at all. Thou didst call and cry to me and break open my deafness. . . . I tasted thee, and now hunger and thirst for thee; thou didst touch me, and now I burn for thy peace.
– Saint Augustine

When we use the word love, let us use it very carefully, in the deeply spiritual sense, where to love is to know; to love is to act.

If you really love, from the depths of your consciousness, that love gives you a native wisdom. You perceive the needs of others intuitively and clearly, with detachment from any personal desires; and you know how to act creatively to meet those needs, dexterously surmounting any obstacle that comes in the way. Such is the immense, driving power of love.
--Eknath Easwaran

Something tells me that Easwaran has hit upon the true meaning of love, and that the love of which he writes so concisely and beautifully is what I long to fill my mind and heart with and to radiate from every word I speak and deed I do. Perhaps I'm being wildly unrealistic to entertain such an ideal. But I am a man of faith. Not in the Judeo-Christian God or Muslim Allah. My faith is in what Easwaran called "the Lord of Love" that constitutes my own deepest essence and yours.

How do I fulfill this ideal in an age of so much conflict and terroristic violence, where fear, contempt, and hatred seem like a growing and potentially catastrophic plague upon the world and even people who purport to be religious or spiritual preach hatred of others? The only way I know to do it is to let my light shine as brightly as it will on everyone. Does this require me to look benignly on the darkness and evil that reside within myself and within all of us? I don't believe so. One can see, acknowledge, and even oppose the ugliness, darkness, and evil while still loving those whom these qualities or tendencies inhabit.

Some might accuse me of childish naivete or New Age "magical thinking" for saying this, but I believe that others are unlikely to be and do their best unless we are and do our best, and others are unlikely to shine with love unless we shine with love. I don't just believe, I KNOW that during those unspeakably precious moments when I shine with love, I feel extraordinary joy, and I know that people around me are picking up on my love and joy and are drawn to it. What would happen if we could all do this more and more often and draw those around us into the palpable presence of loving joy?

Others can call me a nut and go on fearing, denouncing, and hating the "illegal aliens," "Islamofascists," and whomever else they fear, hate, and wish to devalue, deport, or destroy and see where that gets them and the world. Or they can try the radically different approach of Easwaran and Augustine. "Love and do what you will." Love others so fully that you understand completely what they truly need to be happy and find a way to help them acquire it so that they won't think they have to hate, condemn, and kill you to get it, and you won't have to do the same to them to try to be safe and happy.

The history of the world is one of hatred leading to practically never-ending bloodshed and suffering. Isn't it time to see what love can do?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

We Are the Tree

The wine of life is oozing drop by drop,
The leaves of life are falling one by one.
– Omar Khayyam

Like leaves, we come into this life, are here for a few days, and then are gone. Nobody remembers us, and nobody misses us.

As long as we believe that we are separate, we inevitably have to die. Our immortality is in the whole, which never dies. In living just for personal profit and pleasure, no matter under what philosophical name we may call it, our real personality withers away. It cannot be otherwise.

When you become aware that you are not a leaf but the tree, something amazing happens in your life: you are able to act spontaneously, almost effortlessly, for the good of all.

This is the proof of your awareness that you are the tree: everywhere it will motivate you, everywhere you will see what contribution you can make. You won’t have to deliberate the pros and cons. You won’t need a computer to provide you with a plan of action. You will know instinctively, intuitively, the needs of those around you. What’s more, it will seem natural to change even long-established habits, to drop something that before would have given you pleasure, if it means the tree may flourish.
--Eknath Easwaran

Some of the commentators on this blog seem to take a dim view of the notion that we are the entire tree and not merely a single leaf. They seem to think that each of us should look out for himself and that it's a sign of weakness to ask for help from others and a "fantasy" to work toward being able to give help to others when they need it. But those who know that we are the whole tree can live accordingly and lift others by the irresistible force of example to the same insight and joy in selfless service.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday was a good day. I went with my wife in the morning to her job interview downtown and hung out in the park while I waited for her. She got the job, and I'm more proud of her than I can say not only over her landing the job, but also for all that she's accomplished in such a relatively short time in this strange new country while struggling to master a daunting new language. She has a strength of character and will that is a joy and inspiration to me.

Later, I met with my counselor at the Department of Rehabilitation for the first time and felt encouraged by how things went. They will have to reach a formal decision about whether to take my case, but she indicated that she thought they probably would accept me as a client because she believes, and I concur, that they can help me to overcome my limitations to gainful employment. My counselor was a very nice woman, and I was able to relax my usual defenses and speak with her with surprising candor and clarity about my fears, hopes, and dreams. There is no doubt that I have many, many obstacles to work over, under, around, or through. But I believe that I can, especially with the expert and caring assistance of the DOR and people like my counselor. We are blessed as a state and nation to have such resources available to us, and I pray that we always will.

After my appointment, I went to my medical billing class. It was the customary waste of time in terms of what I learned during class. Our teacher is, sadly, totally incompetent. But I felt unusually outgoing and happy and enjoyed my time in class, realizing that I can do the real learning I need to here at home studying the textbook, which is how I learn best anyway.

I have moments, as some entries to this blog nakedly reflect, when I feel quite sad and even devoid of hope that I can ever rise above my circumstances. But seldom do I feel that way for very long, much less for an entire day or more. Yet, there are days, like yesterday, when I feel exceptionally relaxed, clearheaded, outgoing, and just plain happy all day long. I love those days. I hope I can find a way to foster more of them.

Today marks our third anniversary. How blessed I am to be able to say that and to be celebrating the occasion with the best wife a man could ever hope to have! I wrote in my card to her this morning that I'm going to keep trying to be a better husband to her as well and to make her as proud of me and my accomplishments as I am of her and hers. That's a tall, tall task. But as I've probably quoted before and no doubt will again one of my favorite quotes:

"All excellent things are as difficult as they are rare."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Daring Approach

If someone takes your coat, give him your cloak as well; if he makes you go a mile with him, go with him two.
– The Gospel According to Saint Matthew

If you really want to land a blow at a compulsion, defy it. Do just the opposite of what it says. It is a daring approach which appeals to everyone with a sense of adventure. If somebody has been unkind to you, go out of your way to be kind to him. It can require a lot of endurance simply to be patient with such a person, but we’re talking about more than endurance now; we’re talking about daring.

Try it: there is an exhilaration in it, and a special delight in seeing the other person rub his eyes in disbelief, “I was just rude to him, and now he’s being thoughtful. What’s wrong with him?”
--Eknath Easwaran

I wish I'd read this a few months ago and done my best to put it into practice in my dealings with several people online and off since that time. I didn't. But I've read it today, and it's not too late to take up the "daring" challenge of Easwaran's suggestion. It's not too late for all who read this.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Israeli Withdrawal From Lebanon

Colmar of Colmar 3000 is an interesting fellow. He's bright, articulate, informed, and his posts are always thought-provoking. He seems to pass himself off as someone who's intersted in an even-handed consideration of truth. Yet, his politics strike me as almost contemptuously dismissive of anyone who doesn't agree with the likes of George Bush.

Colmar is very unhappy with Israel's agreement to withdraw from Lebanon. He believes that Israel should have continued bombing and fighting at least until the abducted Israeli soldiers were returned, Hezbollah was completely destroyed or disarmed, or all of Lebanon lie in ruins, whichever came first. As it is, he believes that Israel has suffered a humiliating defeat that weakens it terribly while strengthening Hezbollah and the evil forces of Islamist terrorism throughout the region.

These are my preliminary thoughts on the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon that I left as a counterpoint comment on Colmar's blog:

It sounds to me like you wanted Israel to fight until it destroyed virtually all of Lebanon while Hezbollah rockets destroyed more of Israel, killed many more of the Lebanese people while many more Israeli civilians and soldiers died, and had even more of the world hating it more venemously than ever, while, in the end, its missing soldiers would still be missing, its economy would be in greater distress, and its position would be just as precarious if not more so than it is now.

You may think old style massive military action will ultimately prevail in these "asymmetrical" wars against terrorist organizations, even those as well-trained, well-supplied, and adaptable as Hezbollah, but I'm inclined to agree with C.J. that Israel and the U.S. need to find another way that emphasizes large scale attacks with bombs and bullets less than it does other measures.

Times are changing. The world is changing. War is changing. We must change with them.

On the other hand, if Israel will not adapt, it can do as I suggested previously and warn Hezbollah, Lebanon, and the United Nations that it is prepared to take devastating military action if it incurs further attacks from Hezbollah. This would put Lebanon and the rest of the world on notice that they need to work together to make sure that Hezbollah behaves itself so that this does not happen.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Lash in My Eye

The Perfect Way is only difficult for those who pick and choose; Do not like, do not dislike; all will then be clear. Make a hairbreadth difference, and Heaven and Earth are set apart.
– Seng-Ts’an

Happiness and sorrow, good and bad, pleasure and pain – these are the very texture of life on the superficial level. The less you are bound by these dualities, the more clearly you will be able to see the core of purity and selflessness that is the real Self in everyone, even in people who cause trouble.

My grandmother had a pungent phrase for difficult people: “a lash in the eye.” We all know from experience how an eyelash in the eye can be so irritating that we just cannot think about anything else. That is exactly how difficult people affect those around them, so naturally most of us try to avoid such people.

But this lash in the eye is an opportunity for learning the skills that matter most in life: patience, forgiveness, and freedom from likes and dislikes. It is only the spiritually mature person who can go and put his arm around someone who has given him a really difficult time, and say sincerely, “Without you, how could I ever have learned to be patient? How could I have learned to forgive?”
--Eknath Easwaran

Something has been a "lash" in my eye for the past several months. Not that it had to be that way. I sought it out, and so the resulting discomfort I felt was of my own making. But even though I've now taken my leave of it, I'd still like to see the irritation I felt in a positive light. It and the conditions to which it was a response have been my teachers. From them, I've acquired the beginnings of patient persistence in the face of resistance, integrity in the face of hostility, and the wisdom to know when to move on when there's no further reason to stay.

For that I am grateful, and, over time, I hope to become more grateful still.

Getting With the Program

I believe that I was not made for this world. I have too many defects to fulfill my or anyone's purpose. Yet, it seems that I have three essential alternatives. One, I can go on like I have been and be of little good to anyone. Two, I can kill myself. Or three, I can set clear goals in keeping with my ideals, try as hard and smart as I can to achieve them, and walk that fine line between accepting the results of my efforts, no matter how short they may fall of my target, and pushing myself to do better.

I don't want to go on being useless to myself and others. I don't want to kill myself and am too much of a coward to do it anway. So, it looks like I need to choose the third alternative and get with the program. Here and now.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Long Way From My Home

Am I truly as clueless and my ideas as nonsensical and worthless as I've been told they are by someone I respect? I know I'm not a smart man, but am I even stupider than I thought, even in one of those extremely limited areas where I thought I might at least not be stupid even if I know I'm not smart?

I ask this with sadness but not with despair. I ask it because I want to know, and not because I want to be flattered. In fact, I'm not asking anyone to answer my question. Nobody really can but I myself, if anyone can.

I don't feel depressed, but my mind and heart are in turmoil. I don't know what to say or do. I think of the song that Richie Havens made famous called Motherless Child. That's how I feel.

A long way from my home and with nothing more to say.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Yesterday's Funeral

I attended a funeral service yesterday for the grandfather of my wife's cousin's little boy. The man's Christian name was Joseph, and he was only 63. I didn't know him well and had seen him only three or four times, the last being on July 4. He was a quiet man who loved his family so much that he didn't want to burden them with medical expenses he believed they couldn't afford. So he grew sicker and sicker from kidney failure and tried to hide it and resisted his family's pleas for him to see a doctor after he couldn't hide it until he was discovered one day lying immobile and mute in bed, with froth oozing from his nose and mouth, and his body badly bloated from edema. He died a few hours later in the hospital.

Joseph should have seen a doctor before it came to this. But I can understand why he didn't. He thought he couldn't afford it. He thought his family couldn't afford it. I'd probably do the same if I were in his position. Perhaps I will be someday. It could happen to any of us, unless we're obscenely rich, and for reasons beyond our control.

I believe that no one in this country, certainly no citizen or legal resident, should have to worry about paying for the medical care they or their families need. Yet so many of us do. I believe that we should all be fully covered cradle to grave no matter what our circumstances. And I believe that if the best and brightest in this country were resolved to make it happen, it would. As it is, they aren't. Possibly in part because too many of the best and brightest are doing well enough financially that they can provide for themselves and their families and lack empathy for those who can't. And even many who aren't so blessed with talent or wealth fall for the conservative platform that cares more about making the rich richer and demonizing abortion and homosexuality than it does for taking reasonable measures to enhance the health and happiness of all Americans.

The Right say we not only can't afford guaranteed universal healthcare, but also that providing it would weaken this country by fostering a corrupting and, in Gagdad Bob's terms, "infantile" sense of "entitlement." But I say that we ARE entitled to decent healthcare. Each and every one of us. Whether we have a job that provides healthcare coverage, doesn't provide healthcare coverage, we're between jobs, have never had a job, or have a "pre-existing condition" that no insurer will cover adequately or at all. We shouldn't have to pay a dime extra out of our individual pockets for this. It should come from our collective taxes, even if we have to hike taxes substantially to finance it.

For without your health, what do you have? How is this not so basic to "the pursuit of happiness" that it should be our prime directive as a nation? How is suffering from untreated or undertreated diseases and disorders because one can't afford adequate treatment and the constant worry about paying for healthcare for oneself and one's family not far more corrosive to our social fabric than is reinforcing a moral sense of entitlement to universal healthcare?

I mentioned that I went to a funeral. I didn't know the man well, but I choked back tears when his mother and wife and sons wept over his body on display in its casket and, later, as the tractor pushed dirt into his grave. I choked back tears and then felt even more embarrassed than usual for doing it because I didn't know the man well and knew that the people who did would know that I didn't, and I was afraid they'd be wondering why I was reacting that way. Of course, they weren't paying any attention to me. They were too enveloped in their own personal grief to care about why I was struggling mightily to hide my own.

Yet, if they had asked me, I could have said that I was grieving for the family of this man who died because he was justifiably afraid that he couldn't afford decent healthcare, and for a nation that seems to think that the United States of America should let it be possible for people to be in this position while people like George Bush are set for life. I could tell them that I was grieving for my dearest friend who died recently without my being able to attend her funeral, for everyone I've ever lost, for all the people dear to me who have died or will die someday, and last, and probably least, for my own death that will come perhaps sooner or later than I expect.

One thing that consoled me in my grief was the little card distributed by one of the funeral assistants with the famous poem that begins "Do not stand by my grave and weep" printed on one side. I first read this poem in Ken Wilber's book Grace and Grit several years ago. I later discovered that it was very popular and used in many funeral services. I agree with it. We are NOT that corpse that lies slowly decaying in the coffin or dissolved in ashes in the urn, or the body that lives before it becomes a corpse or ashes. We are the unified totality of existence, some beautiful examples of which are to be found in the poem.

But I wonder why a Catholic Christian service would present such a seemingly heterodox if not heretical message.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Home Sweet Home

A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.
– Eudora Welty

I am sitting in my chair at home in the country, looking out on the green hills. There is everything right here to satisfy me: birds, flowers, trees, reasonable comfort, loyal companions, and the precious opportunity of selfless service. Right here is everything I need for complete happiness always.

But as I look out of my cottage window I see a camper in the distance traveling along the road. Somewhere in my mind is the uneasy stirring of a desire to jump into that camper and go out chasing rainbows to find the pot of gold at the end. This belief that somewhere out there is the land of joy dogs our footsteps wherever we go. As long as we look upon happiness as something outside us, we shall never be able to find it. Wherever we go it will still be beyond our reach, because “out there” can never be “in here.”

As Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is within.”
--Eknath Easwaran

I agree with Easwaran. If we have found true happiness within, we don't need to travel the country or the world looking for it. And if we haven't found it within, we can travel anywhere and everywhere and still be unhappy. This isn't to say that I never like to go anywhere. But I'm usually very content to stay here at home. Now, if only my wife were as content to stay here so much of the time as I am.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who's the Most Contemptuous Person of All?

Let’s take The Comic Book Guy, for example. I haven’t read much by him, but it is as if everything he writes is in the same musical key--even the same note played over and over. What is this note? Contempt, pomposity, superiority, devaluation, envy. It would be a mistake to analyze his writing for its content---of which there is little--instead of the much more vivid unconscious message that always comes through. Through my studies with Milt Jung, the great chiropractor and second cousin of Melanie Klein, I learned that contempt--especially if it is dominant in the personality--is always a defense mechanism. It is always in the service of primordial envy...If someone is particularly insecure, they can unconsciously manage this insecurity, ward off depression, and elevate themselves through the constant operation of contempt. It is not voluntary, but compulsive...the habitually contemptuous person is almost always contemptible--in his own unconscious eyes. The object for whom he expresses contempt is simply a sacrificial victim that allows him to live another day under very difficult circumstances. You wouldn’t want to be that person, their petty little daily contemptuous triumphs notwithstanding.
--Gagdad Bob

I wonder if Gagdad Bob has ever REALLY taken a good, hard look in the mirror.

I encourage everyone who reads this post to spend some time reading Bob's blog and tell me (and Bob) what you think. Is he describing anyone else better than he describes himself?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Thar He Blows!

I've been watching CNN and reading some articles on the Internet about the Middle East crisis, and I'm feeling mighty angry and fed up with the whole, damn mess. I just posted the following comment on Colmar3000's site. It may sound totally out of character for me, especially if you've read much of this blog, but I think I'll agree with it even after my anger has subsided, because I think there comes a time when you just have to say enough is enough to groups like Hezbollah, to nations that allow them to operate inside their borders and attack other nations, and to nations that condemn the attacked nation for defending itself instead of condemning the attacker.

Thanks for the Krauthammer article and your other posts on this crisis. I can't help but agree with Krauthammer. I agree that Israel has a right to use massive force to defend itself if that's what it takes to succeed, and, for the most part, I believe that it has gone far out of its way to minimize the death of innocent people. I can't imagine any country, including the United States, being more restrained under that level of provocation.

I understand that Lebanese troups are engaging Israeli soldiers. What they should be doing is engaging Hezbollah and running them the hell out of the country, or helping Israel to do so. What they should have done is never allow Hezbollah to set up shop there in the first place, and if they were incapable of preventing it, they should have asked the international community for assistance.

I think Israel should warn the Lebanese government and civilians that, from this point forward, any sites from which Hezbollah launches missiles at Israel will be subject, without warning, to massive air strikes aimed at obliterating the aggressors and their hiding places, and if the Lebanese government wants to allow Hezbollah to continue its operations without opposition and if Lebanese civilians want to hang around where those operations are being conducted, then let them face the consequences.

I don't believe that the Israelis are saints and that the Palestinian people and even Hezbollah don't have legitimate grievances against them, but, in this instance, I believe that Israel is fully justified in taking the action it's taking and in taking far stronger action if need be.

Terrorist groups need to learn, for now and in the future, that they can no longer hide behind "human shields" without having those shields blown up in their faces, and governments need to learn that they can no longer allow terrorist groups to establish themselves in their countries and hide behind civilians in their aggressions against Israel or other nations.

This is a very hard line, and all the more so coming from me. But I'm coming more and more to agree with those who say that a soft line of attempted reconcilliation and appeasement just won't work against the likes of Hezbollah, al Queda, and other Islamicist thugs.

Deep Spirituality Defined

"Deep spirituality is the broad science of the higher levels of human development."
--Ken Wilber

Medicinal Mantram

People do not know what the Name of God can do. Those who repeat it constantly alone know its power. It can purify our mind completely. . . . The Name can take us to the summit of spiritual experience. – Swami Ramdas

It’s probably safe to say that most people do not know how aspirin works. Yet we have faith in aspirin. When you take the bottle off the bathroom shelf and pop a couple of pills into your mouth, you are saying in effect, “I believe. I have faith that this will work.” I would say, “Take plenty of mantrams too.” It is equally good advice: one relieves fever in the body, the other, the fever of self-will. People sometimes scoff at this and retort, “We don’t think it will work.” I reply, “Don’t you think you can give the Buddha or Jesus as much credence as you give Mr. Bayer?”

Try it. If you feel comforted only by things that come in a bottle, take an empty bottle and write Rama, Rama or Jesus, Jesus on the label. Then put it on your bathroom shelf. When you have a disquieting afternoon or evening or night, take it down, look at it, and start repeating Rama, Rama or Jesus, Jesus. You have taken the medicine.
--Eknath Easwaran

I have my own mantram. I've used it to dispel my anxiety on a roller coaster, to silence my disquieting thoughts so I can sleep, and to ease my anger. It DOES seem to be an effective medicine, and I would probably find it even more so if I used it more frequently and in stronger doses. Or does one build tolerance to it over time until its efficacy diminishes no matter how strong the dose?

But what I really wonder is whether reciting a mantran can, over time, do as Swami Ramdas suggests and purify our minds and lift us to "the summit of spiritual experience" and actualization.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Perfect Joy

Where there is injury, let me sow pardon.
– Saint Francis of Assisi

Once, in wintertime, it is said that Francis and his disciple Brother Leo were making a hard journey on foot through the snowy countryside of Italy. They had been walking along in silence for a long time when Brother Leo turned to Francis and asked him, “How can we find perfect joy?” Francis stopped and replied, “Even if all our friars were perfect in their holiness and could work all kinds of miracles for others, we still would not have perfect joy.”

He turned and walked on, and Brother Leo ran after him. “Then what is perfect joy?” Francis stopped again, “Even if we could speak with the birds of the air and the beasts of the field and know all the secrets of nature, we still would not have perfect joy. Even if we could cure all the ills on the face of the earth, we would still not have found perfect joy.”

Brother Leo was practically shouting: “Then please, Father Francis, what is the secret of perfect joy?”

“Brother, suppose we go to that monastery across the field and tell the gatekeeper how weary and cold we are, and he calls us tramps and beats us and throws us out into the winter night. Then, Brother, if we can say with love in our hearts, Bless you in the name of Jesus,’ then we shall have found perfect joy.”
Eknath Easwaran

Most people would say that we should disrespect or worse those who treat us with disrespect or worse. But just imagine if we could love others unconditionally, and no matter how they felt about or treated us, we could feel toward them the way Saint Francis described.

I can't think of a better description of perfect joy, nor have I ever heard of one.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Alternate Realities

Morgan Spurlock vaulted to fame with a documentary he did in 2004 called Super Size Me. He featured himself subsisting solely on three meals, often of the largest portions available, a day of McDonald's fast food for a full month. By the end of that torturous month, he was nearly 25 pounds heavier, depressed, sexually dysfunctional, and suffered from significant liver damage that one doctor likened to what would result from severe binge alcoholism. The film was quite successful and paved the way for 30 Days, an FX network series that followed the same essential premise of Morgan placing himself or other volunteers for thirty days into lifestyles markedly different from their own in order to show them and viewers what it's like to live that way.

In the first episode, Spurlock and his girlfriend spent thirty days trying to live off minimum wage jobs. In watching this episode, I was overwhelmed with a sense of just how depressingly difficult it is to make ends meet this way, and I acquired newfound empathy for those who are caught in this kind of lifestyle of having to literally count every penny and being thrown into emotional as well as financial turmoil by the slightest unbudgeted expense and into dire financial straits by illness or injury severe enough to require uninsured or underinsured medical care.

In succeeding episodes of the first season, a man tried to reverse or slow down the aging process with a grueling and controversial regimen of exercise and drug therapy; a devout fundamentalist Christian lived with Muslims and participated in their religious practices; a conservative, heterosexual Christian man lived with a gay man in the Castro district of San Francisco and accompanied him to gay bars and other gay functions; two nightclub employees lived "off the grid" in an ecological commune; and a mother concerned about her college student daughter's excessive drinking took up the bottle herself to discourage her daughter from continuing her path. I admit that I found these latter episodes more gimmicky than informative or compelling, but they were still more interesting than most TV fare.

I missed the first episode of the new season. It aired last week and featured a "Minuteman"--one of a group of private citizens who patrol the Mexican-American border to discourage people from entering the country illegally--living for thirty days among a family of illegal immigrants and working day labor jobs. I think this might have been an enlightening episode, and I'm sorry I missed it.

However, thanks to my Blogger teammate Tom's article yesterday over at Thoughts Chase Thoughts, I was reminded to watch last night's episode and am very glad I did. It featured an American computer programmer who had just lost his job to outsourcing to India leaving his wife and baby in New York City for thirty days to live with a family in Bangalore, India who worked jobs outsourced from America and working an outsourced call center job himself. I was very impressed by the open-minded and open-hearted attitude, intelligence, and perceptiveness with which this man went about his brief but eye-opening life in India. I was also struck by the incredible disparities in wealth between the educated classes who lived fairly well by Western standards and the poorer, equally hard-working classes who crowded into dwellings for which the word "shack" is much too generous a description. It's no wonder that, toward the end of his stay, Chris was caught in the middle of a violent riot in Bangalore that left in shambles many modern buildings and businesses belonging to Western and Indian companies that created wealth and comfort for a select few but left most Indians in dire poverty. It was also fascinating to see some of the other social and cultural effects of the increasing Westernization of India. Interestingly enough, outsourced call center jobs in India that service Western clients, such as the job Chris had, are rather highly respected and well-paying whereas such jobs here tend to be held in low esteem and poorly compensated.

Chris left India with warm feelings toward his adoptive family, with high regard for Indian industriousness and concern for the social and cultural upheavals occasioned by the rapid pace of change there, and with newfound appreciation of the quality of life in America and for the fact that it's so much easier to start a new and decent career and life here when one loses one's job and cannot continue with one's old way of living than it appears to be in India and probably in most other places in the world.

Tom's article suggested that Morgan Spurlock shows Buddhistic benevolence and skillful means in using his talents to foster interpersonal and intercultural empathy, respect, and appreciation the way he does on his show. I'm inclined to agree. I wonder if this kind of immersion, vicarious as well as actual, in other people's lives and lifestyles couldn't serve to accelerate our psychological and spiritual development.

For instance, what would happen if someone from a lower level of psychological and spiritual development lived with and lived the lifestyle of someone of higher development for an appreciable period of time (probably far longer than thirty days)? Or what would happen if large numbers of Islamic would-be terrorists in the Middle East could live with Jewish families in Israel for months or years (without killing them), and Jews could live with Islamists in Lebanon or elsewhere in the Middle East? Might not everyone grow in empathy and respect for the "other side," and might this make some kind of positive difference over time?

Upcoming episodes of "30 Days" feature an atheist living with a family of ardently fundamentalist Christians; an overworked, stressed-out, and cynical father immersing himself in a New Age lifestyle; a staunchly feminist, pro-choice worker in a women's health clinic living and working in a Christian "pro-life" maternity home and participating in its "pro-life" activities; and, finally, Spurlock himself spending thirty days in a county jail.

I'm looking forward to viewing these episodes, gaining new insights, and raising my empathy quotient.

Use It AND Lose It?

One of my spiritual teachers, the late Eknath Easwaran, used to champion the cultivation of willpower for pursuing the spiritual path. There's no doubt that willpower is something I desperately need to cultivate if I'm to have any hope of achieving even a modest fraction of my goals, spiritual or otherwise.

I've just read an article that reinforces my conviction. It reports a recent psychological study showing that self-discipline was twice as good at predicting academic success than was IQ. Students who were able to reject instant gratification in favor of long-term academic goals were far more likely to do well academically than were the other students, no matter how "smart" they were.

However, the author of this article proposes one caveat. Though self-discipline may be kind of like a muscle that can be strengthened through various forms of exercise, it may also have limits that, if overtaxed, can lead to overall fatigue and collapse. That is, one should be selective about what one wants to truly excel at and channel most of one's willpower into that area while slacking off in most others.

I'm sure Easwaran would have disagreed with this. What do you think about it?

I See His True Colors Glaring Through

There's been a lot of discussion in the media and on the Net about Mel Gibson's recent DUI arrest. The biggest question raised about it has probably been, Did he mean what he said about Jews?

Rabbi Schmuley Boteach proposes the following Talmudic test of someone's true beliefs: "What he says when he is drunk, what he says when he is angry, and what he spends his money on." Boteach argues that Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ and his recent drunken, angry tirade reveal his "true colors" clearly.

I think this may be a little simplistic. I'm inclined to subscribe to the notion that we are not one unitary person but a collection of subpersonalities, each with different attitudes and beliefs. I certainly think that one of Gibson's subpersonalities expressed its genuinely anti-Semitic views under the deinhibiting influence of alcohol, but I don't presume to know that Gibson wholly and completely embraces what his ranting self said that night. In the same way, there are parts of me that believe things about Islam and organized religion in general that I would not express publicly, hopefully not even under the influence of significant quantities of alcohol (which tends to make me cheerful rather than mean), but parts of me that I would like to think are more rational and wise do not subscribe to these beliefs.

In any case, it looks as though Gibson has wrought short-term if not long-term damage to his reputation and career, even if he's merely confirmed what many strongly suspected all along. However, Rabbi Boteach has a suggestion for how Gibson might help his cause before the Jewish community. In addition to the apologies he's already offered, he could re-release The Passion "with an important disclaimer at the very beginning of the film detailing the undisputed historical fact that the Romans killed Jesus, and that any of the Jewish leadership, like Caiaphas the High Priest, who called for Jesus’ death were all in the employ of Rome, and indeed served as the Roman police enforcers in Judea...Because claiming to love Jesus and simultaneously hating Jews are deeply contradictory, since Jesus was not a Catholic or a Christian, but a Jew."

Boteach has some more advice for Mel:

I have long been impressed by your devotion to your father, especially since he appears to have a screw loose. Even so, you stuck by him. But the Commandment that instructs us to honor our parents does not mean that we ought to honor their bigotry. On the contrary, we honor our parents by becoming better people than they and righting their wrongs.

I think this is very good advice.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How to Treat Others

I love this quote from Goethe:

"Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of being."

If we all did this, what difference might it make in the world?

Why don't we find out?

A Joke That's No Joke

Statistics and Conclusion

If you consider that there has been an average of 160,000 troops in the Iraq theatre of operations during the last 22 months, and a total of 2,112 deaths, that gives a firearm death rate of 60 per 100,000 soldiers.

The firearm death rate in Washington D.C. is 80.6 per 100,000 for the same period.

That means that you are about 25% more likely to be shot and killed in the U.S. Capitol, which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, than you are in Iraq.

Conclusion: The U.S. should pull out of Washington immediately

--E-mailed to me by a friend

Unasked Questions

On Larry King Live yesterday, Imad Moustapha, Syrian ambassador to the U.S., said of his country: "We do not want to further escalate the situation in the Middle East. As of day one we have called for an immediate cease-fire and a prompt exchange of prisoners. The two Israeli military soldiers and the thousands of Arab civilians, particularly the women and children, held illegally by Israel."

Moustapha and Hezbollah have repeatedly maintained that Israel has abducted hundreds if not thousands of innocent Arab citizens, including "women and children," and imprisoned them in Israeli jails, and implied that there would be justice in Israel turning over these innocent civilians in exchange for release of the abducted Israeli soldiers. But I've not seen the media address these allegations, and Larry King keeps wasting prime time opportunities to pointedly ask the Syrian ambassador to elaborate upon and document them.

Why would Israel abduct and incarcerate so many innocent women and children, and where's the proof that they have? They have indeed incarcerated men who have committed or tried to commit terrorist acts on Israeli soil against Israeli citizens, but what about all these innocent women and children?

Here is what I just wrote in an e-mail to CNN:

Last night, the Syrian ambassador appeared on Larry King live and repeated his allegation that Israel has detained "thousands" of innocent Arab civilians, including "women and children." The implication is that this justifies Hezbollah's abuction of the Israeli soldiers and their insistence on a prisoner exchange as a prerequisite to a cease-fire.

But I have not seen Larry King or anyone on CNN pointedly address this allegation, and I think it's about time that someone does. If the allegation is true, we should know it. If it's false or dubious, we should know that, and the Syrian ambassador should be called on it the next time he appears on CNN.

I'm tired of seeing such important points repeatedly neglected by the media that should be doing everything it can to explore the central issues behind the Middle Eastern conflict instead of mostly just delivering a daily recap of the latest bombings and battles.

Moustapha also said:

Occupation is the mother of all evils. As long as the Israeli occupation will continue, as long as the Palestinian will suffer tremendously because of this occupation, as long as Israel will continue to kill Lebanese civilians while they claim that they are the friends of Lebanon, as long as the situation will not resolve, the day the Israelis will realize that if they want their grandchildren to live in peace with our grandchildren they cannot continue to depend on their sheer military superiority, once they realize this peace will be achieved in the Middle East. Occupation should end.

Again, Larry King had the opportunity to ask some probing questions such as, If Hezbollah were, for some reason, sneaking over into YOUR country from Lebanon, abducting YOUR soldiers, and firing rockets into YOUR cities from Lebanese cities, towns, and villages, what would YOU do to stop it?

Why doesn't ANYONE in the popular media ask these kinds of questions when they get the chance?

(Cross-posted to Thoughts Chase Thoughts)

Three Gatekeepers

The words of the tongue should have three gatekeepers.
-Arab proverb

Before words get past the lips, the first gatekeeper asks, "“Is this true?"” That stops a lot of traffic immediately. But if the words get past the first gatekeeper, there is a second who asks, "Is it kind?" And for those words that qualify here too, the last gatekeeper asks, "“Is it necessary?"”

With these three on guard, most of us would find very little to say. Here I think it is necessary to make exceptions in the interests of good company and let the third gatekeeper look the other way now and then. After all, a certain amount of pleasant conversation is part of the artistry of living. But the first two gatekeepers should always be on duty.

It is so easy to say something at the expense of another for the purpose of enhancing our own image. But such remarks--irresistible as they may be--serve only to fatten our egos and agitate others. We should be so fearful of hurting people that even if a clever remark is rushing off our tongue, we can barricade the gate. We should be able to swallow our cleverness rather than hurt someone. Better to say something banal but harmless than to be clever at someone else'’s expense.
--Eknath Easwaran

It has long seemed to me that we should do as Easwaran counsels and not say anything that isn't true and kind. Indeed, I've long seen this as a hallmark of spiritual advancement and perceived my own less than kind speech at times as indication that I have a long way to climb up the ladder of spiritual development.

So, what are we to make of those--including alleged sages, pandits, and gurus--who scornfully dismiss the idea that we should always speak kindly of and to others as MGM, PC, or "idiot compassion"? What I make of it is that these people are mistaken and misguided. This is not to say that we should never disagree with or criticize others. But we should always endeavor to do it with the kind aim of helping rather than hurting.

I'm not suggesting that we pass laws that require people to refrain from speaking unkindly of others in public. This is where I think the critics of PC have a legitimate complaint. But what I am suggesting is that we do our best as individuals to speak and act as kindly as we can to others at all times and encourage others to do so not by legal force but by the force of our example.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

It's Time to Really Listen

Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.
– William Blake

Though I have lived in this country for many years now, there are still many American expressions that I don’t understand. I remember trying to explain meditation to a young fellow who kept shaking his head and saying, “Man, I just don’t hear you.” In all innocence, I started over again a little louder. Finally it dawned on me what he really meant: “I just don’t want to hear you. I don’t like what you’re saying.”

This is what most of us do when there is disagreement. We carry around a pair of earplugs, and the minute somebody starts saying something we don’t like, we stuff them in our ears until he or she is through. Watch with some detachment the next time you find yourself quarreling with someone you love. It won’t look like a melodrama, but like a first-rate comedy – two people trying to reach an understanding by not listening to each other!

An effective way of dealing with a disagreement is simply to listen with complete attention, even if we don’t care for what the other person is saying. We are showing how our respect won’t waver no matter how vehemently we may disagree.
--Eknath Easwaran

I believe that Easwaran is right in saying that when people are embroiled in disagreements, they should "listen with complete attention" to each other. If people would do this, I don't doubt that many disagreements and conflicts would end much sooner and much less violently than too many of them do. And if this is true of individuals, it's surely also true of groups and even nations. When one watches the terrible conflict now raging in Lebanon between Israeli defense forces and Hezbollah, we hear both sides talking at and blaming one another, but do we see them really listening to one another, according each other respect if not for their ideologies and actions then at least for their fundamental humanness?

I'm not naive enough to believe that this alone will bring peace, enduring or ephemeral, to the Middle East. But it seems to me that it has to be the beginning, the foundation of any chance at lasting peace. Let this deep and respectful listening to the sufferings and hopes of people on both sides of this conflict begin with you and me and spread outward like ripples in a pond.