Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pete Wilson Follow-Up

Someone replied to my earlier post about Pete Wilson's "eerie premonition" of his death with the following:

Steve, I've "grown up" with Pete Wilson's broadcasts also. This is sad news! His monologue is a reminder that we must listen to our inner voice, over and above all else, and have the courage to trust what we here.

This is how I replied:

I think you're right, Kathy. We need to listen more closely to our "inner voice." As I listened to KGO on Monday morning, a nurse called in to say that, in her experience, a disproportionately large number of patients who've expressed high anxiety over upcoming operations have ended up dying from them. Several KGO staff members reported how profoundly anxious Pete was the day before his surgery. They had never seen him like that before.

Of course, one wonders whether this anxiety was the result of some kind of paranormal premonition or presentiment of impending death or simply a more natural response to an upcoming operation, and maybe the anxiety caused or contributed to the death. Pete Wilson speculated in his Wednesday monologue that his anxiety might have been caused by his advancing years and by a fairly recent bout of severe food poisoning that almost killed him.

In any case, I wonder what one is to do when his "inner voice" warns him about an upcoming surgery. Should one forego the surgery? Pete Wilson's surgery was elective. He could have avoided it and languished in hip pain that prevented him from playing his beloved golf and doing other things he enjoyed, but he would still, presumably, be alive. But should everyone heed his inner voice and avoid surgery that, instead of causing death, might significantly improve one's quality of life?

I don't know.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Exploring Legal Responsibility

On Wednesday morning, Danny Takemoto, 46, drove to his office at a medical equipment company in Concord, California. Seven hours later, his wife called to ask why he had not dropped off their 11-month-old son, Ian, at the daycare center that morning. Mr. Takemoto ran outside and found his son strapped to his seat in the back of the van. He was dead, apparently from hyperthermia. Mr. Takemoto was arrested and later released pending thorough investigation of the incident.

On Friday afternoon, two TV news helicopters were covering an incident in Phoenix, Arizona in which police were pursuing a man who had stolen a work truck and later another truck. Suddenly, the helicopters collided and fell to the ground in fiery heaps leaving the four occupants dead. Christopher J. Jones, 23, was arrested on numerous counts including vehicle theft and aggravated assault on a police officer, and the Phoenix police chief suggested that he might also be charged with the deaths of the helicopter crews.

What do both of these stories have in common? To me, they raise the complex issue of legal responsibility. Is Danny Takemoto legally responsible and should he be legally punished for the death of his young son? Is Christopher Jones legally responsible and should he be punished for the deaths of the four men in the two helicopters?

I do not believe that Danny Takemoto should be charged with the death of his son. There is no indication that he killed his son on purpose or habitually engaged in conduct that imperiled his son's life. By all accounts, he was a hard-working and very loving and devoted father who had changed his routine that day and simply forgot that he had left his son in the backseat of the van while he went in to work. What sense does it make to legally punish a man, who is no doubt already in emotional hell, for doing something he did not know he had done?

Many would argue that that he should have remembered his son and that he deserves to be punished for the fact that he did not. But I do not understand this reasoning. If he did not remember, one can talk all day about how he SHOULD have remembered, but there is every reason to believe that he DID forget his son in the van even though he loved him dearly, and that is that.

Others would argue that throwing this man in prison will make other parents less likely to forgetfully leave their children in sweltering vehicles until they die. But it seems to me that the deterrent effect of imprisoning Mr Takemoto is likely to be negligible. Parents throughout the country have already heard or read about this tragic story and are likely to be no more deterred from forgetting their children by learning of Mr. Takemoto's imprisonment than by simply knowing that Ian Takemoto died a terrible and tragic death.

Yet, if we stop holding people legally responsible for failing to do what they should do, because they either forget to do it or do not know that they are supposed to do it, does this mean that police should not ticket parents for forgetting to buckle their children into their safety seats, or cite people for breaking laws of which they are ignorant? Where and how do we draw the line between cases like Mr. Takemoto's and cases such as these?

As for the case of Christopher Jones, it seems evident to me, as it probably does to most people, that he should not be held responsible for the deaths of the helicopter crews. Yes, it is true that had he not stolen those vehicles and led police on a chase through the streets of Phoenix, those two news helicpoters would not have collided, and four men would be alive who are now dead.

One could argue that Jones should not be held responsible because the helicopter crews were engaged in a COMMERCIAL activity aimed at bringing higher ratings and thus higher profits to their news organizations; they were not working in a LAW ENFORCEMENT or PUBLIC SAFETY capacity. But does this mean that if deaths of POLICE OFFICERS had resulted from the crash of a police helicopter or police car involved in the pursuit, Mr. Jones should be held responsible? And what if a police helicopter or car involved in the pursuit had killed an inncoent civilian? Should Mr. Jones be held responsible for THAT death?

These are questions for which I do not have ready answers. Intuitively, I feel that neither Mr. Takemoto nor Mr. Jones should be held legally responsible for the deaths that DID occur, but I am not certain about the hypothetical cases I mentioned or how one rationally draws the line between the actual cases and my hypothetical ones.

What do you think?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

An Eerie Premonition?

Pete Wilson was a San Francisco Bay Area institution in local television news and talk radio. He was my favorite local television news anchor when I lived in the Bay Area, appearing week-nightly on Channel 7, the local ABC affiliate, and, broadcasting on weekday afternoons from 2 until 4 on venerable KGO radio, he has been my favorite talk show host for the past year or so.

It took me awhile to like him on talk radio, because my initial impression of him was that he was too politically conservative for my taste on a radio station that presented itself as being balanced but was, in reality, too skewed toward the conservative end of the spectrum, even if not nearly as much so as "fair and balanced" FOX News.

But as I underwent some change, becoming, I would like to think, more genuinely fair and balanced in my own politics, and I listened to Pete more closely, I began to enjoy his program more and more and to gain increasing respect for his formidable intelligence, wide-ranging knowledge, articulateness, ability to examine an issue fairly even when he began with a strong opinion about it, and his ability and willingness to treat his callers with respectful even-handedness. I came to love his opening monologues and skillful interviews. I came to admire his character and wisdom. I came to see him as an eminently decent and good-hearted man beneath his somewhat gruff, straight-shooting exterior. He was a man I would have been honored and blessed to have as a friend had I been able to.

Last Tuesday afternoon, I heard him announce on his radio program that he would be having hip replacement surgery Thursday and that other hosts would be filling in for him until his return. I never gave it a second thought. After all, hip replacement surgery is very common and quite safe as surgeries go.

Had I listened to his opening monologue of the closing hour of his program the next day, I might have felt a little different. Here is part of that, in retrospect, extraordinary monologue that now sends chills down my spine:

I'm having hip replacement surgery tomorrow. I did this once before, about thirteen years ago. I was 49, and I barely thought about it then. I just did it. After all, it's not like it's open-heart surgery. I'm just gettin' a wheel changed. But this time I am driving myself nuts with anxiety about this, and I don't know why. What's different? Maybe it's that I'm older and a lot closer to the tail-end than the front. Mortality is now an actual thought on occasion. Never mind that they do 200,000 hip replacement surgeries a year in this country alone and there are very few disasters. But adrenaline is now playing havoc with my system. I am nervous. My stomach is rumbling like a John Williams movie score, and I'm producing more belches than an eighteen-year-old in a beer-drinking contest...

But even if I HAD heard this, I would have probably chalked it up to preoperative jitters and nothing more, and I would not have worried about him in the least.

Today I happened to go online and check out the SF Gate website, and a headline caught my eye and filled my heart with shock and sadness to the core. Pete Wilson suffered a massive heart attack early in his hip replacement procedure late Thursday and was placed on life support that was withdrawn Friday night, and he was officially declared dead at 9:20 PM. He was 62 and left behind a wife and 19-year-old son.

I do not know why I am so affected by this, but I feel deeply sad. Perhaps it is partly because I had seen and heard Pete Wilson so long and so much that I regarded him as part of the family. Perhaps it is partly because his utterly unexpected (except, perhaps, by him) death reminds me of the precariousness of my own existence on this "mortal coil" and fills me with regret over how much time I have seemingly wasted doing so little when I might have done so much more.

I do not know for sure why I feel the way I do right now, but I will miss Pete Wilson. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pouring Gasoline on Iraq Fire

"Invading Iraq to defeat jihadist terrorism was like pouring a can of gasoline on a fire. Now that the fire is raging out of control, continuing to fight it is simply pouring more gasoline on it."
--Gary Kamiya

Monday, July 16, 2007

Caring More About Cats Than Humans

Yesterday I blogged about the arrest of two teenage girls for burning a kitten, the public outrage surrounding this, and how society should treat these girls and these kinds of crimes. Today I want to briefly address another issue raised by this unpleasant story. I say "briefly address," not because I think this issue does not merit more lengthy discussion, but because I do not have very much to say about it at present yet, nevertheless, believe that I need to say something.

Last August a 16-year-old boy named Jose Ayala Ramirez was shot to death in the same apartment complex where the kitten was burned and the girls were arrested, and there was scarcely any mention of it in the press and virtually no public outcry over his death. Many residents of the complex resent this. "People are angry and it was wrong, but it bothers me that they're doing so much for the cats and when a person gets killed they just let it pass. It makes me angry that they're doing more for animals than for us," said one of the residents.

I can try to rationalize this disparity by arguing, as many have, that the murder was believed to be "gang-related" and that the boy who was killed may in some manner have caused what happened to him in a way that the completely innocent kitten could not have. I can further argue that even if a human life is worth more than a kitten's, there is something more disturbingly egregious about sadistically torturing a kitten by setting it on fire and laughing about it than there is about coldly shooting a young man in the head.

But when I look beneath these surface arguments into the depths of my soul, I see something that I do not like very much. I see that I actually care more about that kitten than I do about that young man and his grieving family and friends, and, ultimately, more about cats and animals in general than I do about a good many human beings. This is not how it should be, but this is how it is, and I do not quite know what to do about it.

The Nature of "I"

"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 patters to call "I," me," "myself," is subtle and usually hidden from our awareness."
--Jack Kornfield

Sunday, July 15, 2007

How Should We Respond?

I and many others are upset over a recent story out of Santa Rosa, California. On June 19, two fifteen-year-old girls poured accelerant over a feral kitten trapped in a cage, lit him on fire, and laughed while he writhed and howled in pain. Community outrage was immediate, and money poured in for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators of this horrendous deed. The kitten survived, is now undergoing treatment for its injuries, and it appears as though he may recover. Meanwhile, witnesses finally stepped forward and identified the girls, and they were arrested and taken to juvenile hall.

In the comments section of a local paper, people expressed their anger and hatred toward these girls, suggesting that they be punished with everything from prison to "an eye for an eye," or, in this case, a burning for a burning. Relatively few expressed any sympathy for the perpetrators of this sick act, much less urged that they receive psychological treatment rather than punishment.

I must admit that my initial response was also more vindictive than reflective. Here is what I wrote in the comments section:

Had I seen these girls laughing while that kitten burned and cried, I don't know what I might have done to them in a blind rage. It wouldn't have been right, but it would be understandable. I agree with those who say that these girls must have been mentally ill or deficient in some way to do what they did, and that such a condition is the likely result of a difficult life quite possibly filled with abuse. Nevertheless, as I grow older, I am less inclined to accept these explanations, as true as they might be, as excuses for letting the perpetrators, if they are adolescents or adults, off with a proverbial slap on the wrist. I agree with those who have suggested that these girls should be forced to spend time in burn wards watching patients undergo debridement and skin grafting. They should also be forced to watch similar treatment of the kitten they burned.

I also agree with those who suggest that we need to return to using public shaming for crimes. These girls should be forced to appear in public wearing signs describing what they did. Their parents should also be required to pay the vet bills for the kitten, or, if they are living here illegally, they should be jailed and then deported along with their daughters. Society needs to send an unequivocal message that extreme animal cruelty is utterly and completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Parents need to know that they bear significant responsibility for the crimes their children commit. And if would-be parents are living in human ratholes such as the Papago Court Apartments, they should think twice about having kids until they can provide them with better circumstances for their upbringing. With the right to have kids there should also be the responsibility to raise them properly along with serious consequences for failing to do this.

But a few days later I had calmed down enough to write the following in response to someone who argued that because he knew people who had been abused as children and did not proceed to abuse animals, child abuse does not cause animal abuse:

I agree with jgp that not everyone who's abused as a child ends up torturing animals as a result and that people need to be held responsible in some fashion for the terrible things they do no matter what their backgrounds happen to be. However, the fact that not everyone who's grown up in difficult circumstances does what these girls did does not prove that growing up in difficult circumstances did not cause or partially cause these girls to act the way they did, any more than the fact that not everyone who is stung by a bee goes into anaphylactic shock proves that bee stings never cause this deadly condition. Nevertheless, I believe that these girls need to face severe, but not wantonly cruel, consequences for their horrendous deed. They and the public at large need to know that we as a society regard such sadistic behavior as beyond the pale of human decency and beyond our tolerance.

As I review my comments above, I wonder whether and to what degree I may be contradicting myself. If I believe that what these girls did is sick, and I do believe this, and I believe that this sickness may result from a bad upbringing, which I think is distinctly possible, am I being consistent in calling for these girls to be publicly shamed, incarcerated, and perhaps even deported along with their parents for their criminal cruelty? If these girls could not help doing what they did under the circumstances in which they did it, am I urging that society be too punitive toward them? What IS the proper way to handle people who commit these kinds of acts?

I guess I think that people torture helpless animals because either their sick urge to do this overpowers their normal inhibitions from doing it, or they lack the normal inhibitions to keep from doing what mentally healthy people do not wish to do in the first place. Furthermore, they did not wake up one morning with healthy desires and normal inhibitions and suddenly freely choose to desire sick things so much that they acted them out. They did what they did because their mind, brain, society, and culture aligned themselves in such a manner at that particular time that they produced the acts in question.

But if this is true, what should we as individuals and as a society do about it? What should we do with these girls? Does it make any sense at all to punish to any degree a sick act that these girls, under the circumstances, could not help but commit? Or is this not unfair?

I do not know what you, dear reader, think, although I hope you will tell me. But I am inclined to think that there is such a thing as appropriate punishment for acts such as these and that it would closely approximate the multi-pronged approach I outlined earlier: incarceration, restitution, empathy training, and public shaming. I am inclined to believe that these punitive measures are not excessive and may very well work together to help create a constellation of conditions which deter these girls and others from committing similar crimes in the future, as well as provide society with the vital sense that justice has been done.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Correspondence With an Old and Dear Friend

My college roommate was a graduate student in the school psychology program. He was bright, witty, extremely personable, hard-working, and a bit crazy in a delightfully maniacal way. He and I spent untold hours together listening to music, watching sports and the Kung Fu series on television, and discussing Eastern philosophy. I was very shy and constrained. He helped to bring me a little out of my shell. Sometimes we acted like fools. Sometimes we acted like nuts. I do not regret the worst of times with him, and I cherish the best of them.

When we discussed Eastern philosophy and I read him passages from the books of Alan Watts, he seemed mildly interested but not enamored with what he heard. When we went our separate ways, I never expected that he would embrace any kind of spiritual path, let alone an Eastern one. But he somehow came under the tutelage of a Taoist Tai Chi master and became a dedicated modern-day Taoist and, eventually, a Tai Chi instructor in his own right.

I have not seen him in almost thirty years and have only spoken with him by phone once or twice. But we have remained solidly in touch by snail mail and, later, by e-mail. Our ongoing correspondence and friendship number among my greatest treasures.

The following is our most recent exchange. My friend's letter is an engaging mixture of reminiscence and reflection, providing amusing glimpses of who he was and a clear and inspiring revelation of who he has become. My reply follows. Some parts of our letters have been deleted or modified to protect the innocent.

Dear Steven,
Aloha. Always good to get an e-mail, letter, or some type of communication from you Steven. Hard to believe that we have known eachother for almost thirty years.....That's a long time....heck...that is longer than most marriages I know of.
I just finished my last day of summer school with kids today.... I work one more week, and then I am able to go on vacation with the fam. I find it very healthy to get away from work, the desert, and this area once in a while. It is nice to re-connect with the past every now and then.
Regarding the stuff you sent me on You Tube.........all I can say is this........if it isn't alreaady pre-done..........I am totally lost. I barely know how to turn the computer on, let alone generate something that you actually have to knnow what to do. [My son] would be the one to know. Or, actually, there may be some type of additionl stuff I need to have Access to before we can fire up the Youu Tube. Remember, computers change so fast, and I am so slow, it is very likely that I need to update my computer to get into the 21th century. The quest continues.
It is nice to know that you are still bowling. I remember that you had great pleasure, and better than average success in bowling at [college]. As I recall, you had an average of about 200 to 211???? That average would get you plenty of recognition down here.
Some of the more elite bowlers have higher averages down here.....but not many.........I saw one guy bowl 280-something last week when my boy and his friends
went to the local bowling alley. This guy was an older gentleman, about 6' 4", maybe 250 pounds. This guy not only had power, but good ball control, and very good placement. A few times, he just "cranked" the ball, as you used to say, an sent that ball screaming down the alley, lighting up the wood floor.......Followed by a loud
thunder......and the pins would go flying. This was pretty amusing to watch. His little "posse" high-fived him, encouraged him, and genrally got caught up in a very good game. When the game was over, he had quite a little crowd around him. Boy, was it fun watching.
My Tai Chi is still a mainstay in my life. Calming the mind, and the soul is a very satisfying thing for me. As you have previously stated about me and my energy, that you so kindly referred to as "Vanilla Thunder", has subsided, and is now directed in appropriate and benefical manner to myself, and other activities. My instructor calls it Chi/Qi conservation and management. I believe others used to call that
Manic/Depression, Bi-Polar.............either way.
A vital aspect of Tai Cchi/Taoism, is breathing. As you may remember, I did my thesis on aniexty, and stress reduction techniques. The breathing component was the most vital aspect. My instructor has showed me the most effective way to breathe properly. It is referred to as reverse abdominal breathing (more about this later).
As I progressed over the years, I was amazed at the results. The biggest change I noticed was how my breathing caused a positive change my thinking pattern. As I recall, my thoughts, and actions at [college] (almost) immediate. There did not seem to be a filter. Rarely did I stop and think about what I did or said. I believe over time, my mind got accustomed to this way of behavior.........a program, if you will. In honest reflection, I am amazed, and I mean truly amazed, that you and I didn't get our asses kicked. Now-a-days, people would just shoot us. I recall, we did som pretty outrageous stuff in our day. However, I think us both being 6'5"
and 200 pounds plus was also a factor.
I remember one guy telling me he was going to get some of his friends and deal with us. My response was, "Go ahead. You can't have your friends around you 24 hours a day. One day, Steve and I will catch you ALONE.............and I went on to describe a few specific activities..................."
I will probably never forget the look in his eyes as I finished up my conversation. I went on to say that I was 6'5" and 215 pounds, and that you were 6'5" and about 225 pounds..............................As he left, I heard his sissyfied response,"You guys a @@@@ing crazy!!!! And I assured him that we both were.
My point being, I wonder how I would have been at [college] with a different perspective......(A Taoist perspective). That was then, this is now.
Along with the breathing, my behavbior is now filled more with deiberate behavbioral choices, fueled by a calm mind. And also a key ingredient..........loving-kindness. No significant monkey chatter to unfocus my mind.
With a calm mind, my choices seem to generate better results, at home, at work, in my personal life.
I have been reading several books by the Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich KnatHahn. I really appreciate his devotion and appreciation to the "present moment" and the breathing aspect. I do not understand the biochemical aspect of the body, and the brain, but I do believe that there is some type of chemical connection between behavior/thought/actions. When I think of drug addiction, behavioral patterns (Rage/Anger), I believe that there is some strong connection between the thoughts and actions of the person. Perhaps the pattern of behavior is so strong, that a link has been forged......Not always a good one.
I rememeber that I used to behave a certain way to some people at [college], often to see the reactions of people.........After awhile, I behaved this way automatically. I did not really think about what I was doing. I just did it. I remember several times, getting a "charge." Several times, [DM] would look at me and say, "What are we going to do with you??" I got a reaction. I would roam the campus looking for my next victim, my next "fix."
Breathing and reflection are a good thing. I believe that by breathing deeply, slowly, reflectively, and with a great deal of awareness, I was able to make new connections.....different connections..........ceraintly more appropriate actions, thoughts, and behaviors. And, upon reflection, I got different responses from others.......often more positive in nature. It was like,"What took me so long to see this."
Good for me.........I probably would have taken the road of the dinosauer and become exstinct............or the dodo bird....hunted to exstinction.
My Tai Chi teacher stated that as your mind becomes calmer, more still, more serene, you open up a new avenue, the spiritual realm. One in which you would never be able to enter, unless there is calmness, tranquilty, and stillness in the mind. That, my friend, is the next step.
I just looked at the clock. We have to get out troop up and out. I will e-mail you
later. Again, hope all is well with you. You can tell me of your bowling exploits, new readings, and other aspects of your life that you want to share with me next time.
P.S. Boycotting the 2008 Summer Olympics is my way of protesting the way in which China deals with the Dalai Lama and his people. 250,000 Tibetan people were relocated (or as I say, run off their own land) as a result of the Olympic venue.
Geo-Political genocide.....nothing less. Have we not learned anything from World War Two?????????? Obviously not..........or, not enough.
May you alway remain in the balance of Tao.

Dear [Friend],

Reading your words of wisdom about spiritual discipline and how it has transformed your life in such positive ways is like stepping out of a sweltering and bustling Sacramento summer day outdoors and into the cool indoor sanctuary of my home. I always enjoy your sharing of personal wisdom and experience. I wish I had more of my own to share with you in return. But I have never focused sharply enough on my own path for a long enough time, the way you have on yours for nearly thirty years, to do significantly more than spout abstract theory in place of relating concrete experience. The latter is what truly counts.

It is good that you are now able to take some time away from work and journey with your family out of the desert to wherever you decide to go. If your journeys should bring you to the Sacramento region, please know that I would love to see you, even if we have only a brief time to talk.

I empathize with your lack of computer skills. I suspect that my own computer skills are roughly on a par with yours. I can get around the web, access links, and use some basic software to a limited extent, but I do not really understand how any of it works, and, consequently, if anything goes wrong, I am lost. For me, it is like driving a car. I can drive, but do not ask me to explain the workings of my automobile or to diagnose and repair even the most minor malfunctions. Technically minded I am not.

All I can say about YouTube is that I hope you can find a way to access the links I send you, because sending you those links is one way I have of sharing with you things I would really like you to see and hear. To paraphrase a venerable old saying, "A video is worth a million words."

Yes, I am happy that I am still able to bowl, and I am blessed to have found a bowling center not too far away from home that treats the game with respect rather than strictly as a business. It is also wonderful that it charges what have to be some of the cheapest rates in the country for its leagues and open play. For instance, I can practice on Sunday mornings for 75 cents a game, on Monday and Friday mornings for 60 cents a game, and bowl as many games as I wish from Monday through Thursday, 9PM till midnight for a flat rate of $7. Most bowling centers now charge at least $4 A GAME no matter when you bowl.

During my best times in league and practice, bowling is more moving meditation than competition for me. My immediate goal is not to score well or win, but to mindfully execute my strategy as best I can on each shot. The rest will take care of itself. Sometimes, my body and mind become so unified and in harmony with the lanes that magic happens in the way I feel and perform. I recently bowled my highest league series and second sanctioned 800 series ever with games of 275-268-269 for an 812 series. Everything felt so effortless and nearly perfect that night. Sometimes I also used to feel that way playing basketball. I would get into a flow and make every shot from every point on the court, be at the right place at the right time to get the rebound or block the shot or make the perfect pass to an open teammate. I did not even have to try to do it. It did itself, like the Zen archer's arrow shooting itself to the bullseye.

You suggest that your "Vanilla Thunder" days may have been symptomatic of unchecked bipolarity, or, in the words of the immortal Jimi Hendrix: "Manic-depression has captured my soul." Yet, you found a way to tame the beast, to stop the emotional fluctuations and undisciplined outbursts of spontaneous folly, and channel your natural talents and energies into a calmer mind and soul that can see more clearly and deeply into the nature of things and "go with Tao." That is remarkable testimony to what human beings can achieve through sustained and skillful means.

You mention that your instructor has shown you a way of breathing that has facilitated this process. I would be interested in reading more from you about this. Here is one description I found online of the process:

Reverse Abdominal Breathing is more difficult than Abdominal Breathing simply because it reverses the natural flow of the breath. Reverse Abdominal Breathing is a breathing method best suited for those who study the martial arts since it concentrates focus on the hara during exhalation. Regular practice strengthens the abdominal muscles and makes breathing naturally strong. Try blowing up a balloon while keeping one hand on your abdomen. As you blow out, your abdomen naturally expands instead of contracting. The same is true if you are trying to push a car that has run out of gas. In order to express the power you are putting into the act, you exhale while pushing out. Reverse Abdominal Breathing is a breathing method which tends to infuse the breather with power.

Again, start in whichever stance or posture you feel most comfortable. Inhale through the nose. Slowly draw the abdomen in and up. The upper chest will naturally expand as oxygen fills your lungs. As you inhale, contract the muscles of your perineum. The perineum is the area between the anus and the lower edge of the pubis at the front of the pelvis. The central point of the perineum is called the huiyin in Chinese and is the focal point for Reverse Abdominal Breathing. By contracting and pulling up the huiyin you are able to concentrate on the abdominal area. Again, don't be overanxious and forcefully squeeze the abdomen. Instead, focus on keeping a smooth and relaxed motion. When the lungs are full, exhale through the nose, release the huiyin, and push the abdomen out and down. Repeat for ten cycles of inhalation and exhalation, filling the lungs to maximum capacity and emptying them out completely with each breath.

You mention the "biochemical aspect of the body and the brain." Like you, I do not presume to understand it. I doubt that anyone even begins to understand it fully. But it seems obvious to me, as it no doubt does to you, that we are a seamless totality of body, mind, society, and culture. Ken Wilber refers to these dimensions of our being as the "four quadrants." That is, to paraphrase Alan Watts, the more closely we examine our thoughts, emotions, and actions, the more clearly we see that they are inseparable from the interacting mind, body, and social and cultural conditions from which they arise.

I am happy that you have recently found wisdom and inspiration in the profound words and unflagging devotion of Thich Nhat Hanh. I shall always cherish the five days I spent in the summer of 2001 at one of his retreats doing morning exercises with him, following him on mindfulness walks, listening to his talks, and simply imbibing his gentle spirit of penetrating wisdom and palpable peacefulness. He is a man who literally and figuratively walks his talk. The world is blessed to have people such as he in its midst. And people such as you and your instructor.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Look, Ma, I'm On YouTube!

As regular readers (if there are such crazy people) of this blog know, I love to bowl. I bowl in a league that challenges us with roughly the same oil patterns that the professional bowlers face in their televised tournaments. Those patterns are considerably more difficult than the patterns that most of us bowl on in practice and league because they require one to be more accurate and consistent than one would ordinarily have to be to get strikes and spares.

For instance, on the typical bowling center shot, if you throw a hook, you can miss your optimal target several inches left or right or be off with your speed and often still get to the pocket for a strike or convert your spare. On the PBA Experience patterns, if you miss even slightly to the right of your target or throw the ball a little too fast, your ball is likely not to hook to the pocket, and it will often miss in such a way that you are left with a difficult spare conversion. If you miss your target a little to the left or throw the ball a little too slow, your ball will usually hook past the pocket and often leave a difficult or impossible split to convert.

Even though it can awfully frustrating at times, I enjoy pitting myself against these patterns because it encourages me to improve both the mental and physical aspects of my game, and it makes me appreciate more just how good the professionals on TV really are.

The woman who runs our league is one of the outstanding bowling coaches in the country and has developed a tremendous junior bowling program in our bowling center. In my league, both adults and juniors participate. She recently decided to make a video of our league and put it on YouTube. She compiled the finished product from footage gleaned from two consecutive weeks of bowling. I appear in four parts of the video, wearing one shirt and long pants in two of those parts, and shorts and a different shirt in the other two parts. One of the parts shows me throwing a warm-up ball at a full rack of pins. I will not say any more than that. Enjoy. :-)

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Seven Year Itch

"Reality is what you are not in control of -- or, to put it another way, what you must take account of. If spiritual growth is predictable and certain, then it's again probably just your ego expanding."
--Dr. Robert Godwin

Gagdad Bob says he read a book years ago entitled The Astrology of Personality:

The main thing I remember from it was his idea that our lives run along cycles of seven years, and that each seven year cycle is a fractal of the others. In other words, the cycles are self-similar on a deep level, so that, for example, we will encounter the same basic challenges and conflicts in each seven year cycle, only in a different "key," so to speak.

I remember charting out my life at the time, and sure enough, I could see that major transitions and upheavals had taken place in my 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th years (i.e., when I was 6, 13, 20 and 27). Rudhyar also mentioned that a compete cycle is 7 x 7, so that a 49 year cycle is a complete analogue of the seven year cycle. Thus, just as seven years marks a kind of birth/death, so too does the 49th year.

I am not big on any kind of numerology. However, when I examined my own life, I could see that it too exhibited some rather major changes that fit pretty neatly into seven year cycles.

For instance, I lived in the same house with my grandparents and mom until the age of seven when my mom remarried and she and I moved out and lived with my stepfather in Mountain View and then Los Altos. This turned out, I believe, to mark a climactic break with the life I had known.

I entered high school at age fourteen, which marked a significant break with life in elementary and junior high school.

I moved with my grandparents to Redwood City at age 21 and spent the next 30+ years there going through numerous ups and downs.

I returned to college at age 28, which occasioned some pretty big external and, more importantly, internal changes.

My latest cycle, from age 49 through the present, has been my most significant one. My grandmother died. My girlfriend moved out. I met my wife-to-be. I worked full time. I got married. We sold the house, bought a house here in Sacramento, and moved here. I finally made a trip to Thailand. I returned to school to study medical billing and coding. And now I am seeking a career in the health information field.

It is really quite interesting how my life can be divided so readily into these seven year cycles and how it virtually began anew around age 49. I am nearing the end of my eighth cycle now. I wonder what my ninth cycle will bring, especially now that I will be self-conscious of it.