Sunday, July 29, 2012

Perceiving the Divine

A mountain rose above the valley. Its towering snow capped peak shone brilliantly in the sunlight. When darkness settled over the land the top of the mountain glinted in the last hours of illumination.

In the valley below there was a village. The people of the village lived simple lives. They rose each morning to their chores tending their livestock and their gardens, gathering to discuss some slightly unusual happening, to gossip, to laugh, and of course to pass judgement on others. For that is the way of people.

A young woman of the village was considered ugly by everyone. Her brothers and sisters had no use for her. Her parents despaired of ever finding any kind of spouse for her. She was just too ugly.

Now comes the part about the handsome prince. He came from a kingdom far away and he was of course searching for a bride to reside with him and rule over his kingdom. He had promised to visit every neighboring kingdom and to go to every single village to find the perfect woman for him.

As he passed through the village of the ugly young woman he saw her and instantly fell in love with the most rapturously beautiful woman he could ever have hoped to lay eyes upon.

Okay, now what does all this mean? Do the people of the village have some outlandish aesthetic that makes a mockery of the form, balance, symmetry, and character that we know as Beauty? Has a witch cast a spell on the prince to make him look ridiculous in the eyes of his subjects? Does the prince himself have really bad taste? Somewhere in all this lurks the idea that Beauty is a universal quality that somehow transcends as well as unites all cultures, tastes, and social norms; that Beauty is seen with and by the soul by everyone regardless of ethnicity or experience.

Anyway, as it turns out our young woman is now considered by everyone to be the most beautiful woman in all the kingdoms. Even the people of her village now think of her as the most beautiful woman in all the kingdoms. And, strangely enough, they never wonder at their former opinion of her.

At this point a sage comes down from his cave on the mountain, sees all this foolishness, and begins to chastise everyone even the prince. "You are all fools," he cries, "This woman is not beautiful. She is a horror to look at. Be done with this stupidity!"

Everyone is at first dumbfounded, but then some narrow their eyes at the young woman. And they begin to think. And the more they think, the more they convince themselves that the young woman is some kind of sorceress who has cast a spell on them. And then they see her ugliness. And soon the prince does too. So the prince casts her out of the palace and she winds up a beggar on the streets.

One day while sitting on a corner with her begging bowl, the young woman spies the sage walking by. "Oh Great Sage," she calls out to him, "Have pity on a poor soul whose fate you have so cruelly sealed."

The sage stopped in his tracks and stared at the young woman. She stared back. All at once the sage saw the form of his mother in the young woman. Then he saw his sister's form. Once he had married and had a wife, and this form too he saw. And then he saw what he had been looking for all his life. He saw the Goddess. For this story was never about a young woman and a prince. It is the story of the search for the Divine Presence in our daily lives. May we be prepared to perceive that Presence when it appears before us.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Becoming Heavenly

In the afterlife, Congre met some people that he had had dramas with while in the material plane. He first met Filaw, his brother, who said to him, "Well met, my brother, shall we raid heaven for the best girls?" to which Congre replied, "I'm not even sure we can do that kind of thing in the afterlife."

Filaw laughed and laughed. "You're always so complicated, Congre. Of course we can. This is heaven. We get to do what we want."
Congre said, "I'm sure there are rules."
"Show me," said Filaw, "where the rules are?"
This had Congre befuddled and he wandered off to his brother's jeers and admonitions, Filaw calling, "Congre, you partay-poop. Get an afterlife, Congre. No time like infinity."

So Congre walked a golden path for awhile which led to a forest of beautiful jewel encrusted trees. There he encountered a woman he had once had a passionate love affair with. She was resplendent in the bloom of her youth. She was beautiful. Congre remembered the scent of her flesh, the touch of her hand, the caress of her lips. He felt a rush of emotion and longed to embrace her.

"Is this really heaven," he asked, "Can we actually have anything we want?"
She laughed, "Oh Congre," she said, "You always wanted to fool yourself, so go ahead, fool yourself some more." Her words stopped him. Congre's thoughts suddenly became still. He was filled with wonder at the products of his senses. He saw the dancing illusion. And he was very, very still.

He stayed still for many minutes. Gradually his mind returned. He heard it approaching like a chattering imbecile coming up the road. He closed his eyes and focused at a point between his brows. "I've got to get to heaven," he thought over and over.

Several minutes passed. Congre opened his eyes, "Is this really heaven? he asked the beautiful girl.
She smiled and said, "Occasionally."He gazed into her lovely eyes and knew it was not for him.

Congre rose. He bid her farewell and walked through the forest onto a vast plain with a majestic city. He entered the city and found old associates, men and women he had worked with and collaborated with to make their fortunes.

"You see, Congre" they said to him, "We are rich in heaven too. You were wrong when you said we couldn't take it with us. Just look how splendidly we live here. Truly this is heaven." And they all laughed. Congre laughed too. He saw the absurdity of the whole thing.

They invited him for dinner. There would be dancing girls, they told him. But Congre gave them his sad eyes and said, "Know my brothers and sisters that I bear you no false sentiment nor do I pass judgement on what you are doing. But this is not my place. This is not heaven for me."

He bade them goodbye and passed out into the night. He walked the quiet streets for hours. As he was passing a doorway he heard a mewling noise. He looked closer and there was an emaciated child shivering under a thin blanket. The child's eyes opened wide with fear as Congre approached.
"Do not fear," said Congre as he effortlessly and gently lifted the child, "For we are in heaven now."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Unknown Savior, A Sufi Tale

Bashu lived in a village at the base of a mighty mountain. He had married when quite old by his people's standards to a much younger woman. His wife, Beganda, had been a favorite of the young men of the village. She had ignored them all and pressed her father to ask Bashu for a proposal. Bashu who had been provident in his ways offered Beganda's father several goats and three cows for his daughter's hand.

The entire village came to the wedding feast which was memorable in its unexpected opulence. People danced until the wee hours of the morning. Bashu and Beganda quietly slipped away to Bashu's house and closed the door. Once inside, they spoke earnestly to each other well into the next day and later they made love for the first time.

 It was a happy marriage that produced three children. The oldest child was quiet and solemn. The second was mischievous and playful. The youngest was filled with wonder and the joy of life.

This youngest child, a boy named Aeso, had a vision that he must climb the mountain. When he shared his vision with others in the village they laughed at him. "No one," they told him, "has ever climbed the mountain and no one ever will. Release such silly thoughts from your head." Aeso was silent, but his resolve deepened.

The waters from the mountain drained into the valley nourishing the villagers' crops. Without that water the villagers would starve. And one day the water stopped.

"What can we do?" the villagers wailed, "We are doomed. Without the water from the mountain we will all starve."

 Everyone became very discouraged and hopeless over the situation. Everyone except Aeso. He waited until night fall and then packing a rucksack with a crust of bread and some dried fruit he set out to climb the mountain.

As he went up the slope the air became cooler. Soon Aeso's hands and feet were chilled. But he kept on. When he thought the cold might kill him he came upon a solitary hut on the slope. He walked to the door and stood outside.

"Come in," the old gravelly voice of a woman called to him. Aeso entered. Through the haze in the tiny hut he saw an old woman seated beside a small fire roasting turnips. Aeso was hungry and tired so he sat down gratefully and ate with the old woman. They did not speak for some time.

When Aeso started to tell the woman of his quest, she raised her hand commanding silence, "I know why you have come," she said, "Are the people of the village so meek and fearful that they send a young boy to save them?"

Aeso said, "They do not know that I am here." to which the old woman responded, "All the more shame upon them."

"I will tell you,"she said, "what awaits you on the mountain. A group of men from the city have come and they have diverted the water away for their own purposes. These men have mighty machines which serve them and protect them. They will not listen to the words of a small boy. You must find another way. I can help you. But first tonight we must rest."

In the morning the old woman took Aeso to the opening of a cave. They entered and using a torch traveled deep into the bowels of the mountain. After many hours, they came upon a rushing underground stream. The stream disappeared into a hole in the floor of the cave. A large boulder hovered precariously near the hole.

"Come" said the old woman, "help me." And she began to throw her weight against the boulder. But it did not budge.

Aeso too pushed against the boulder but it would not move. Then his eye caught a large branch. "Where could such a branch have come from?," he wondered, "There are no trees for many miles." Nevertheless, Aeso took the branch and using it as a lever he gave a mighty pull and the boulder shifted suddenly and fell into the hole blocking the stream. The stream began to flow down the path of the cave. It flowed out of the mouth of the cave and down the side of the mountain. Far below the villagers noticed that the waters had returned. They were elated and began to rejoice.

Aeso and the old woman. however, were trapped in the cave by the rising waters and drowned.

The people of the village never knew about the old woman and Aeso. They assumed Aeso had run off to the city. But every year they hold a feast called The Return of the Waters and celebrate that which gives them life.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Laughing Magician

Once there was a magician. He was a very adept magician. In fact he was the world's greatest magician who had ever lived. And he had lived a very long time.

The magician was famous for using spells which granted his clients their every wish. If a client required a beautiful companion, the magician would cast his spell and the beautiful companion would appear. The same for a palace, or an army, or a kingship, or to fly, or make money, or to be simply well-liked, any wish at all except one could be granted. The one of course was exemption from death. But this, ironically, didn't seem to bother anyone or to diminish the magician's market in any way.

He had become enormously wealthy. And enormously bored. In his two hundred years of living he had seen many exciting things. But now, nothing seemed to be a surprise. He grew despondent.

Then one day he had an idea. Why don't I, he thought, create a spell to use on myself. And that is what he did. He cast a spell which produced dramas, joys, triumphs, unhappiness, and sensual cravings. His world became fraught with violence, oppression, and vengeance but also expanded into friendships, collaborations, and relationships. All of it made him yearn for release from the evils of the world, just as it made him cling to the attachments of the world. Being in this constant twist he was always restless. This restlessness was the chief characteristic of the spell he had cast on himself. If only I could calm myself, he thought. But the spell had also made him forget that he was a magician and that he could  simply cast a spell to calm his mind. He just didn't know that he had that power.

At this point in the story there are two possible outcomes. In one, the magician goes to a doctor and complains that he is despondent and restless. The doctor prescribes a medicine that numbs the magician's emotions so that he won't have to learn to deal with them. This road leads to a cabinet full of medicines and one day the magician dies as a result of all the medications he is taking.

In the other, the magician decides to do some inner exploration. He begins to meditate regularly. He discovers things about himself. He discovers that he is actually a magician and that he has cast a spell on himself. He discovers that he has been deceiving himself. He smiles as this realization comes to him. He continues to smile. People around him start to smile. Sometimes he laughs. And the people around laugh with him. And then he dies.

In both outcomes, the magician wakes up at the moment of death to witness the fact that he has awoken from a long dream of illusions. In one outcome he was prepared for it and in the other he was not.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

To Be Or Not To Be A Human Being

It's not politics. It's morality. It's not possible to find abhorrent the "kill list" and the collateral damage, the night raids and the desecrations, the video game controllers that do actual killing, the war, the war, the endless war, the killing that just goes on and on and which is perpetrated by our government, it is not possible to be appalled at the violence and then to vote for the persons who are the agents of this violence. If you're against these wars then your vote says you're for them. Vote Republican. You're for more wars. Vote Democrat. You're for more wars.

This talk of reform from within is hollow and full of sad desperate illusions. We have a long line of war criminals stretching back to Nuremberg where the firebombing victors pronounced the Nazis "war criminals", and the United States was a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Right after Truman had radioactively incinerated a few hundred thousand civilians.

Clinton may have exceeded Bush in war criminality when he bombed Iraqi infrastructure, water supplies and sewage treatment facilities, creating a cholera epidemic that killed 500,000 children. Is it really possible to fall for that lesser of two evils line?

Politics may be about compromise. But this is not politics. This is time to chose, to shake off the moral confusion. To raise your voice against the violence, not to vote for it. Your participation in the system feeds it. Stop feeding it. Step outside the system and speak against it. Become what morality compels you to do, requires of you. Become an enemy of the status quo. Be a human being.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Liberal as Warmonger

The liberal will tell us that no one wants to slaughter innocents but that it happens nonetheless as a side-effect of war. The liberal will also tell us that the lesser of two evils is the political candidate who will kill fewer innocents. Within the narrow confines of this discussion certain premises are off the table. War, for instance, is considered to be inevitable. At no time are the acts of war seen as avoidable or preventable, unless the regime currently in power is of another political persuasion. Then that party is a handy scapegoat for starting the war(s).

But totally unallowable is the idea that these wars launched by both parties are criminal enterprises that keep us invested in a war economy enriching the merchants of death. The liberal may personally hate the idea of war, but tacitly accepts it as part of the operation of the government. The liberal may even know that these wars are wasteful, futile, stupid, and pose a greater threat to liberal values than anything else. The liberal will still vote for a war candidate believing that the greater damage comes from the opposition. The liberal actually believes there is such a thing as "the opposition".

But there is no opposition to war from either political party. The scope, breadth, and intensity of war may be debated but war itself is firmly supported within the platforms of so-called competing parties. Only outside of the mainstream parties can we find people committed to bringing peace to humanity.
And the media does an admirable job (Hitler and Goebbels would admire it anyway) of keeping these people invisible and unheard. As a facebook friend said, "Esmond, you are so far out in left field you're not even in the ballpark." Indeed I am, and more's the pity for my friend who prides himself on "being realistic".

Much as some would like to relegate me to irrelevance for taking a moral stance against war, I can't help but feel that the onus is lifted from my shoulders. The minute we say no to a system which practices brutality on such a massive scale as the modern military machine does, when we give voice to a greater desire for peace than for the illusion of security, then and only then will we see that our rebellion is necessary if humanity is ever going to achieve peace, freedom, and justice. And the more the liberal resists that call to arms, the more the liberal chastises the revolutionary, the more the liberal proffers specious arguments rationalizing the deaths of innocents, the deeper the complicity becomes, revealing who is the real warmonger.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Epitaph to Bertrand

It's been four years since Bertrand died. About a month before he died he was over for dinner stuffing himself on his mom's incredible lasagna.
After supper he said to Danielle, "Mom, I don't really know how to tell you this other than to say you're a grandmother."
She looked up and smiled, "When did this happen?"
He shrugged, "About 18 years ago when I was in high school."
"And? she smiled again.
"My girl friend got pregnant, usual story, her parents found some people who adopted the baby. Anyway the reason I'm telling you this now is I heard from Elisa, the mother, that the girl, Fran, wants to know her birth parents and she already tracked Elisa down."
Danielle smiled again, "So I will have a chance to meet this grand-daughter."
Bert said, "There's a possibilty."

The day after Bert died the phone rang. I picked up and a young woman's voice asked to speak to Danielle. I asked her name and she said "Fran".  I asked her if she had gotten the news about her father. She said yes she had and that's why she was calling. So I looked at Danielle and said, "You're going to want to take this call."

I've lost friends and family to crashes, diseases and drugs. But to lose a child just shatters your world like nothing else can. Danielle accepted the loss of her first-born child with grace. And then almost as a gift the Universe (or whatever you want to call it) sent comfort to her in the form of a hitherto unknown child.

Life moves along like a great river through the lands of joy and sorrow. We drift with the current knowing our destination is that great ocean of bliss or oblivion - take your pick.

Monday, June 11, 2012

World of Esmond: Rehabilitation and the Power of Love

World of Esmond: Rehabilitation and the Power of Love: Several years ago my good friend, Marcel, got a call about a dog needing rescue. He and his wife drove a hundred miles to pick up the dog, a...

Rehabilitation and the Power of Love

Several years ago my good friend, Marcel, got a call about a dog needing rescue. He and his wife drove a hundred miles to pick up the dog, an action that they had performed numerous times over the years for an assortment of dogs and cats. This dog, a female Pekinese, proved to be a great challenge. She growled at and bit anyone who got near her. The veterinarian told them that the dog had gone completely psychotic as a result of abuse and needed to be put down. Another visit to another vet produced the same prognosis.  The dog continued to bite, drawing blood and charging at anyone who got close to her.

Marcel's marriage dissolved and he was left with the dog. Over the next two years the dog gradually began to accept Marcel allowing him to touch her and even pet her. The dog continued to growl and tried to bite anyone else who came near.

It's been four years and Marcel and Baba just spent a weekend with us. Baba let me pet her, she didn't growl at anyone not even our two cats who did their best to enrage her. Marcel put it succinctly, "I believe anyone can be rehabilitated."

Baba is intensely attached to Marcel in the ordinary way that dogs become attached to their humans. And for Marcel this once "psychotic" dog is a loving and loyal companion. During Baba's recovery he never once raised his voice to her. It goes without saying that he never struck her. He just gave her an endless stream of love and patience never asking for anything in return. I witnessed this transformation and I am in awe of it. For me it is proof that the power of love resides in each of us and it can accomplish the impossible.

Maybe saving one little dog is no big deal. But when you see Baba wag her tail and jump you sure feel like it is.

Monday, June 4, 2012

On the Blessings of Happiness

A man in Pakistan labors at the train terminal loading and unloading bundles which sometimes weigh more than he does. He and his family live a subsistence life-style. No running water, a few simple possessions in a single room dwelling with a ceiling fan but otherwise devoid of electronics and almost no furniture. A woman in upstate New York works for a marketing company, lives in a 3200 square foot house with all the amenities, drives a new luxury car, and vacations in the islands. Who's happier?

The man in Pakistan makes daily devotions in which he thanks Allah for all he has; enough to eat (though barely), his healthy children, his loving and dutiful wife, the fact that he has work, grueling as it is. The woman in New York wakes each day her mind racing with all the tasks before her, the meetings, the presentations, the phone calls. She barely has time to remember the grief she carries with her for her youngest child killed a year ago by a speeding motorist. Again, who's happier.

We do a lot of focusing here in America on income inequalities. And rightfully so. Too much suffering stems from these inequalities. But in our anger at the lack of justice in this world we forget too easily the real search for happiness that can make it or break it for us. Yes, it is our duty to relieve suffering as much as we can and not just for humanity but also for all sentient beings. But as we do this we often go begging the question of happiness. We often condemn the greed, arrogance, and lack of moral fiber in an entire class of people without understanding that we are really just feeding our egos. Do it out of love. Do it out of compassion. But to do it out of hatred and self-righteousness takes us right back to the essential problem. Which is the human ego. The ego sees the other as separate not connected. It never sees itself in the other. The ego assigns a value to others based on how congruent their beliefs are with the ego's beliefs. The ego wants to perpetuate conflict because it supplies the the distraction which the ego craves. The distraction from contemplating our inevitable demise. And the ego is never happy.

Happiness is a choice. If you make the choice to be happy then happiness will come to you. Once that happens the crises of the world fall away. There will always be crises in the world. And if you are one of those who would lift the human spirit and seek to bring Peace, Love, and Happiness to the planet you have the wonderful opportunity to start with yourself. Yes, you can and should feel anger at the injustices of this world. But recognize that anger is the turmoil at the surface of the ocean and deep within it is calm and quiet. Keep the core of your being in a state of gratitude and service. Then no matter what happens you will be happy.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Can't Judge a Book by its Political Cover

What do we really know about  people's personal lives from studying their politics? Ever been cheated by a liberal? Know any generous Republicans? Some of the kindest people I've ever met watch Fox News regularly and include it as the chief source of their information about the world. At least a few of the most deceptive, back-stabbing, and dishonest people I've ever had the misfortune to deal with have been avowed liberals. One was a "socialist", or so he said just before he disappeared with our rent money.

Recently I read a study that determined that Republicans were more uncomfortable looking at depictions of human suffering than Democrats. What does this mean? Are Republicans more sensitive to the plight of their fellow humans than Democrats. If so, then why are Republicans so big on building the world's largest arsenal?

We humans are a tricky lot. Ultimately, I've learned that a person's political beliefs seem to have little bearing on how that person conducts his/her private matters. Do visionary leaders of egalitarian movements cheat on their wives? Are most war criminals faithful? The human character remains an enigma.

Recently I had an interesting conversation with a friend who is a self-declared liberal and plans to vote for Obama in the coming election. It went something like this:
Me: So you plan to vote for the war criminal, eh?
Friend: I'm not looking to get a huge change because I know that's impossible right now. I'll be happy with even an incremental change for the better.
Me: I doubt the families of children blown to bits by Obama's drone attacks agree with you.
Friend: Look, it's a matter of being realistic. No third party candidate is electable. You gotta take what you can get. He then hands me a check for part of what he owes me.

Now here's another one with my conservative friend.

Me: So you're going to vote for the guy who wants to bomb Iran?
Friend: That's right. We can't let these crazy religious zealots get ahold of nuclear weapons.
Me: Are you talking about Israel or the USA?
Friend: I'm talking about being on top and staying on top. If you want to make an omelette you've got to crack a few eggs. Oh, here's a check for the work you did for me. (It includes a sizable tip. )

A wise man once said, "Everything your mind tells you is a lie." The changes we would affect in this world are all scripted. We are all players in a play. We are all wrapped in illusions. We will continue to fight for what we think is right even with this knowledge because to live on this earth is to experience these illusions. But if we're lucky or blessed, or otherwise "enlightened" we can go about our work with a bit of detachment knowing that in some vast mysterious place all is as it should be.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Revolution is Necessary

Many students of history have witnessed the fact that the more things change the more things remain the same. Revolutions come and go. The servants overthrow the masters and then become the masters themselves, sometimes behaving no better than their predecessors. Look long enough and hard enough and we may come to the conclusion that the sages have come to. The real revolution has to take place in the human heart.

And no doubt they have it right. But stasis in the world of externals is not an option. The "sacred revolutionary" understands this. Change is a constant. Revolution is necessary to human society. As long as oppression of anyone anywhere at any time is occurring, revolution is a necessity. No other force can bring about the alteration of injustice. And humanity will always seek justice as long as there is a humanity. It's hardwired into our DNA. The destruction of the established order is a foregone conclusion once the established order has abandoned the principles that make human life a dignified, fulfilling experience for everyone.

If history tells us that every revolution that has come before has resulted in the re-establishment of another status quo, this will not deter us. Do we bath once in life and then decide to bath no more because we'll just get dirty again? It may not be the next revolution or the one after. But the quest for an arrangement which serves the truth that we are all connected on this planet, that we are all our brothers and sisters keepers, compels us to revolt.

For many of us the connection extends beyond the human family. We see all life on our planet under siege by the forces of a commercially driven civilization that ignores the sacred and holds allegiance only to the profane. The abolition of human slavery must spread to the abolition of the enslavement of the environment. No longer can convenience and comfort come at the price of suffering for humans, animals, and the natural world.

And what about that oft cited need for the revolution in the human heart? We can see it now as coincidental with revolutions in technology, economics, politics, and agriculture. It's happening now, all around us. We can turn a blind eye to it or we can embrace it. Either way we are a part of it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What Does "Healthy" Mean Anyway?

The so-called health care debate reveals some pernicious and redundant tendencies in American society. Much todo is made about the insurance companies that reap 33 cents of every "health care dollar" for themselves while denying coverage and denying claims. The USA has the most expensive health care system in the world we are told (and some say the best) and yet we rank #35 in the overall health of our citizens. Progressives want a "single payer plan" while others shudder at the idea of a government run plan even as they sign up for medicare.

But is this really health care? What the brouhaha is really all about is medical expenses. Or more precisely the medical expenses largely incurred as a result of living in modern industrial society, i.e. , car crash injuries, chemical exposures, cancers, obesity, lung diseases, liver and kidney diseases, brain damage, and the largest category of course which is mental illness. In other words, the treatments which require extensive and expensive intervention through drugs, surgeries, and the services of health care professionals are actually the fallout from living in our dysfunctional and unsustainable society.

What if we decided to limit our participation in this madness? Or better yet to create a new society? What if everyone simply refused to pay their premiums, resigned from their employer's plan, or otherwise disengaged from giving the insurance companies any money? What if every medical fee was negotiated one-to-one between doctor and patient? What if entire neighborhoods got together and hired a physician keeping her/him on retainer? Fact is, there is a plethora of re-inventions we could choose from that would probably not be perfect but certainly an improvement over the status quo.

The big re-invention would be those modifications to life-style that could so improve the health of the people as to make medical treatments a rarity. Recognizing  that the human being is an amalgam of physical, psychological, and spiritual energies that require balance and equilibrium in order to function properly is what the alternative health movement is all about. One treatment for smoking is for instance not a patch, a pill, hypnosis, or any kind of outside intervention other than a lesson in yogic breathing. A full 90% of our health issues could be effectively addressed, if not entirely cured, through yoga. Even a pared down simple form of meditation called Transcendental Meditation has been shown to significantly reduce hospitalizations for heart, lung, liver, kidney, pancreatic and nervous system disorders. All for ten minutes a day!

Being strong physically and spiritually is what is going to get us through the coming hard times. We have a lot of work to do and we'll need a solid practice of self-healing if we're going to make it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ancient Practices and Future Realities

We live in a society that uses 10 calories of petroleum to produce 1 calorie of food. We face a future with depleted oil supplies. And we continue to drive to fast food stores. Our comfortable lifestyles are slowly getting more and more uncomfortable, but we continue on like it really isn't happening. Cognitive dissonance is so over-rated.

I read somewhere that a frog dropped in hot water will jump out immediately, whereas a frog placed in a pan of slowly heating water will remain until boiled alive. I don't know if that is true and I have no desire to torture frogs to find out. But it is a rather apt analogy for our current civilization.

I live in upstate New York. A recent study revealed that if all available farm land in the state was utilized 67% of the population would eat. The other 33% would starve if the necessary food stuffs were not imported.

This leads me to one conclusion. A local food production system isn't just a good idea. It's a necessity. When I go to the farmers market here in Glens Falls I'm engaging in a practice that's as old as human society. I trade wampum for food. It's also a trip into the future, our future. I hope you're living it now and not waiting for a famine in the mid-west to teach you to support local agriculture.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Once I lived in Maine

A few decades ago a man lived in the woods in an economically declining area of Maine. He found an old abandoned house on a place called Appleton Ridge and with his few possessions he moved in. The next day he went around knocking on doors to find out who owned the house. He was directed to a trailer wrapped in plastic that sat on a barren patch of ground along the paved road west of Liberty. The man who owned the house was Willis Ladd. When the stranger asked Willis if he would sell the house, Willis said,"$500.00, and it comes with five acres and a sweet water well that's always high and cool even in the hot of summer." The stranger counted out 25 twenties and handed them to Willis. "It's yours," said Willis as he scratched something on the deed and handed it to the stranger.

The house was in the middle of a vast forest of second growth trees that had sprung up since the abandonment of farming in that region some ninety years ago. The population had shrunk to a minuscule size as children had grown up and gone to the city leaving the old people to carry on. The animals had returned and marten, fox, fisher, otter, deer, rabbit, grouse and pheasant roamed the woods. And black bear.

As was his custom in the evening, the stranger read by the light of a kerosene lamp. He was sitting on an old crate with the open book turned toward the light when suddenly the door to the house burst open. A large black bear stuck its head in. Before the man could move the bear shuffled into the room and stood up towering over him. The man did not move.

The bear lowered itself and proceeded past the man into the kitchen. Following its nose the bear tore the kitchen apart eating every scrap of food available. The man edged away from the scene and climbed the narrow staircase to the loft where he kept a rifle. He loaded the gun and stood quietly gaining control of his breath, slowly inhaling and exhaling. He heard the bear rampaging around below for a while and then it became quiet. The bear was gone.

The next day he fixed the door which had been torn from its hinges and set a bar across it.

Several days later a hunting party from New Jersey passed the man's house. "We're looking for black bear,"one of the men called out to the stranger, "Seen any around here?"
"Not around here," replied the stranger, "Been decades since bear roamed these woods."
The hunters gathered around their four wheel drive vehicle, conversed briefly, then left.
The bear and her two cubs watched from a thicket in the woods.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Day the Music Died

I saw a copy of Rolling Stone Magazine yesterday. It's interesting that this magazine was originally a child of the sixties, an advocate of the counter-culture, and a voice for revolution. It's since become an organ for the broadcast of conspicuous consumption and a kind of moving wax museum of that fossilized version of music known as Rock and Roll. It's pop cultural emphasis makes it, not withstanding the occasional revelations of investigative journalists, a perfect example of how our civilization can co-opt just about anything that opposes it.

Rock and Roll is now an institution. It has no relevance at all to revolution although it's quick enough to don the attire of revolution, do the posturing, and charge $75 a ticket. And that last part ($75per) has lots of people still putting their faith in it.

If we look at the changes in music that occurred between 1930 and 1970 we can trace how revolutionary zeal emerged out of pop culture. For the period from 1970 - 2012 we can see that the idea of revolution has been hollowed out and given a hall of fame in the mid-west, almost like a cemetery plot where the ghouls dance the night away. We can also see a great deal of innovation going on in the period before 1970. And since then? Other than a few Baroque masterpieces like Pink Floyd's "The Wall", the forms have become so tired and vapid that even that muddled outreach from the ghetto known as rap can't give it a pulse. Teenage music played by middle aged hipsters. And today's teenagers find a voice in pre-1970's music, but no voice of their own. At least not a voice with the form and substance needed to survive the quicksands of loudness, self-indulgence, and bad lyrics.

So why we might ask does anyone continue to bother with such a moribund art form? Too many of us are not living in the Present. Too many of us have grown attached to the idea of fun and rock and roll while failing to notice that the world has moved on. Our attachment to the past offers us no clue on how to deal with the present and the future. Rock and Roll has long since sold out, but it's kept a finger on the snooze button for a lot of us.

Rock used to be about innovation and revolution. Really.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Weight-loss Celebrities in an Addictive Society

It's a weird culture. Self-indulgence is so common that anyone who can break the habit becomes a minor celebrity. Weight-loss is a huge (no pun intended) phenomenon. Someone spends years deeply immersed in a cycle of food addiction. Remarks about "fat people" are taken as personal insults and anyone who makes them is lacking compassion. Never mind that the subject of this comment may have an issue with regards to self-respect. The fault now lies with the commenter for being insensitive. Internal problems are externalized. Obese people are the victims of a readily available supply of fattening foods. The purveyors of these foods are responsible not the consumers. If they make their children fat by feeding them these foods, again, the purveyors are responsible.
And so if someone escapes this cycle of disavowal and victimization the path to celebrity-hood is opened wide. That may be because for every story of an obese person losing 200 pounds,  a million stories of heart disease and diabetes are reported as statistics. And while I applaud anyone who wakes up to the responsibility of taking care of his/her body my concern here is the million. For if we make one in a million a celebrity for doing what the entire million should be doing anyway haven't we really made the exception that proves the rule. The celebrity's story is dramatic. It's "inspirational". It speaks to everyone telling us that we can all do it. And it's utterly false.
For the million struggling with weight issues there's another million who are not. None of them will ever become celebrities for recovering from obesity because none of them are obese. They won't get any recognition for doing what it is incumbent on every human being to do, i.e. take care of the gift we've been given. Only if that gift has been despoiled and brought to the brink of ruination does the story become noteworthy. And it goes without saying that only a very few of those stories can ever occur or how else will our celebrities remain special. They must be kept in that special class of people who have "turned their lives around" by exchanging one set of compulsive-obsessive behaviors for another. And on a subliminal level everyone, the obese and the thin, knows the truth. The causes of our obsessions and addictions can never be addressed by changing the window dressing. The tail doesn't wag the dog.
Frankly, I'm unimpressed with these tales of miraculous turnarounds. All I see is people cashing in on doing what they should have been doing all along anyway. Something, incidentally, that a lot of us have done every day for most of our lives. Am I to be accused of being insensitive for not hanging on every word of someone's weight-loss tale because I know of so many other much more compelling stories of loss and grief, and triumph and joy? Stories that don't start out with massive amounts of self-indulgence. I believe it may be better to establish a culture in which the crucial question is asked; Why does self-indulgence get the better of so many people? Why is addiction such a prevalent phenomenon in our society?
I see addiction as the illusion of separation. Whether it manifests as obesity or heroin use (or greed for money) is of no consequence. Except to note here that were half our population addicted to heroin, drug addicts might be getting more compassion than they currently do. Once we've convinced ourselves that we are separate our choices become our own and we can proceed to make them under the guise of victims. And as victims we need not worry about accountability. We are exonerated from addressing how our choices feed into the greater connections of our lives. We "manage" quite well in some cases, but in the end the devil will get his due. The real heart of the matter is to know the true self. And while there are huge numbers of life coaches out there who say they will help us do that the real work can only be done by us. Our spiritual connections to each other, indeed to everything, can't be understood and grasped by focusing on our how our bodies look to ourselves and others. Our cult of "attractiveness" isn't going to help us solve the enormous problems humanity faces. The luxury of not doing the real work that life on this planet requires is no longer affordable.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Simple Preparation for Post-civilization Society

The moon has a lot of people behaving crazily. But the most prevalent phenomenon is that mixture of anxiety and depression that's affecting so many. These are strange times. It's like we're all awaiting the arrival of an alien spaceship or Jesus or the end of civilization. I'm for the end of civilization scenario myself. While I think blowing up dams and power plants is a good idea, I'm really more of an armchair civilization destroyer than someone who is committed to doing the real work of saving the planet. After all, here I am typing on a computer.
I know I'm not the only one who senses the changes in the vibrational tone of this world we live on. This is 2012. This is what the "Great Change" looks like. On the surface everything seems copasetic but there's this seething caldron of energy that has been tipped over the planet. Before very long we'll see more striking evidence of climate change. We'll also see a reckoning for the looter class that has been stealing on such a grand scale. And while I say that blood will flow I also know that history isn't always on the side of the fair and the good. I do know that our chances of survival in a post-civilization society will be hugely predicated on how many friends we have and how well we get along with people. So as the world goes crazy it's important to remember to keep a smile on your face and a sharp eye out for the next person you can call friend.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Eating Meat and Mental Illness

At least one in four people in the US is experiencing some kind of mental illness, i.e. depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc.. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the number were actually much higher.
We are what we eat. And what is the USA eating? Largely it's factory farm veggies with diminished nutritional value and meat. Lots and lots of meat. Hundreds of millions of chickens, pigs, and cattle fed the ground up bodies of other chickens, pigs, and cattle. That's how we got Mad Cow Disease. But I'm willing to bet we're getting even more.
These animals aren't living happy lives. And that is an understatement. Mother sows having their infants pulled away and left to gnaw on the bars of cages too narrow to turn around in. Have you ever smelled a hog farm? Imagine 20,000 hogs raised in an indoor facility of wall-to-wall hogs with a lagoon of hog waste right outside that drains into the local creek. It's Dante's inferno brought to the animal world.
Years ago I worked on a chicken factory. Tiny cages, big chickens. I also worked for a mid-western farmer who fattened cattle with corn and di-ethylstilbestrol, the female growth hormone (a known cancer-causing agent) outlawed but still in prominent use throughout the meat industry.  The animals have more of an idea of what's going on than most people realize. They know they're in a tortuous prison awaiting a death sentence. And their suffering is real.
Neuro-science has established that memories aren't just stored in the brain. In fact, our memories are stored in the tissues of our bodies. It would follow then that the nervous systems of animals are the same.
The implications here are obvious. Eating the slaughtered remains of animals that have known suffering their entire lives is nothing short of ingesting that suffering on a cellular level.
Now I'm sure there are numerous reasons for the suffering of the American people. It's a neurotic, materialistic, compassionless society we inhabit. But it's blatantly obvious that this kind of suffering is neither necessary for nutritional nor health reasons. We don't need to eat meat to survive. We can enjoy vegan and vegetarian cuisine. And in the process many of us will discover amazing capacities within ourselves. And that can only lead to a better world for ourselves and the animals we share it with.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist came to yoga class. He was looking for breathing and meditation techniques that would help him sleep. After several sessions he complained that the techniques were not working. "Of course not," I said, "You've spent a lifetime espousing a way of thinking and now you want to use the same kind of thinking to solve the problem created by this thinking in the first place. Yoga is just a window dressing for your house of beliefs. What you really want to do is take some drugs because that is what you've been prescribing for your patients these many years. In your heart you know that the drugs just mask the problem. But your way isn't to listen to the heart. Your way is to listen to the mind. And the smarter a person is the more the mind has the edge. You're a very smart man. But your soul is dumb. And even in its dumb state your soul speaks out in protest creating this background noise that keeps you from sleeping.
Yoga isn't the quick fix you want it to be so you're ready to move on. Move on, please by all means, move on. Because you're wasting everybody's time coming here. Or stay and do the work. Makes no difference to me. But it will make a huge difference to you. Your choice."
Last I heard this poor man was in the hospital for surgery to remove a large cancer from his colon. I pray for his recovery.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hating Nature

Across the street the neighbor has called a "lawn-care" service to come and spray poison on the lawn. We smell it all day long and into the night. Grubs! What could be more horrible than grubs? Certainly not human stupidity.
Last year I climbed the 80' tower from the inside working my way up a system of ladders I installed over the years for maintenance purposes. The pigeons had pushed their way through the wire mesh and gotten inside. A noisy group of starlings had followed making life hard enough for the pigeons to have left. The starlings had built a nest inside the window frame where a loose louver gave them a good purchase.
I confess to having no great love for this sparrow imported from England over a century and a half ago to take care of the horse manure. But seeing their nest with the little chicks made me stop for a moment if only out of  respect for the tenacity for life these repugnant birds have. An adult landed on the sill with one of those big lawn grubs in its mouth and the chicks tore at it fiercely. It was gone in a second. The adult flew away. A short while later another adult came with another grub repeating the process. I decided to leave the nest alone until after the chicks had matured and left the nest.
Now I notice my next door neighbor is also spraying poison on his lawn; this time it's an herbicide. It's like nobody reads a paper or is exposed to any of the prevalent data regarding these chemicals they are so freely spreading around. The neighbor across the street developed cancer a few years ago. You might have supposed that would have prompted some kind of examination on his part. He's died since but his wife carries on the tradition.
Aha! What an analogy for our civilization. Our life-hating, suicidal civilization. In the words of Jacques Fresco, "This shit has got to go."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Fight for Life

I am waiting for the pitched battle to began. The Machine must be stopped. All life (what is left) on this planet is in danger from this Machine spawned from the nature hating subconscious of the Western mind. A hundred species a day and the process is accelerating. I don't need to launch into a litany of the rapacious antics of our civilization. Most of us can feel it in the air. A sense of malice lingers on the wind. There is a great turning, a confrontation unfolding. Lines are being drawn. A cosmic war is about to erupt in which one side will prevail. And simultaneously, a new consciousness of the Feminine Divine is emerging opposed by Ego and his minions. Which will triumph? We should start planning now for the sequel.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Death to Civilization: Our Last Chance

Some of us are beginning to understand that the fall of civilization may be our last chance. If civilization wins we all die.
It's not that we got too big for our briches. It's more that we made these mechanical britches that were so big and massive and in effect uncontrollable. So they ran away with us bouncing around inside and voila! biological life comes to an end. What can I say? That's evolution.
I see this event as coinciding with huge breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and the advent of something new on the planet, i.e. real intelligence. I see this intelligence evolving into the next level long after life has become extinct, a multidimensional intelligence made from the machine.
Imagine approaching the earth of the future from space. A perfectly smooth silver globe absorbing sunlight to energize its constant upgrade of hardware and software. Every element on the planet has been enlisted to this purpose. Even the fiery core at the center has been hollowed out to make room for an endlessly self-improving machine. A machine with a memory of being first created by a species which wanted to but couldn't do the same thing.
So let's un-improve ourselves. Let's uncivilize ourselves. Let's pull the plug before it's too late. Just a suggestion. ;-)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Art Exhibit

The "Artist known as Spirit" had an exhibition. He did a series of paintings in different styles but with consistent themes. Large highly detailed landscapes in the Hudson River School style hung alongside metallic plastered images of Tantric symbols. Symmetrically proportioned female faces stared out at the viewer from abstract backgrounds. Fifty of these paintings were mounted on a 30ft. tall wooden frame in a field beside the Hudson River.
The event was called the Burning Tower of Art. The whole assemblage was torched and burned to ash. The ash was gathered into mason jars and the jars placed on a white shelf in a gallery. A video of the entire event was looped onto a screen adjacent to the jars. The exhibit was titled, "Is It Art Yet?"
The most recent sale of this artist's work was for $7200. Multiplied by fifty, the cost of the art burned was conceivably $360,000. But that was before it became real "Art". The selling price of the exhibit was kept confidential.
After the exhibit was sold, the "Artist known as Spirit" did a reversal of the path of Jeff Koons and became a commodities broker. He became extremely rich. He spent his entire fortune buying the artwork of Koons and his peers. He then had a second Burning Tower of Art event. This event was a violation of several laws and the "Artist known as Spirit" fled the country to Brazil (taking the ash-filled mason jars with him) where he now resides, giving free art lessons in poor neighborhoods. The whereabouts of the mason jars remains unknown.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Two Brothers

Two brothers were orphaned. The devotees at a local temple took them in and raised them. The older brother loved the rites and rituals of the temple. He quickly became an adept at reading the holy scriptures and was made a bell-ringer during the services. The Master of the temple was very pleased with him.
"You have the makings of a master yourself," he said, "And one day you will take my place."
The younger brother spent most of his time in the garden when he wasn't being punished for some breach of discipline. As soon as he was old enough to scale the wall surrounding the temple he was making nightly forays into the neighboring village. He learned to play dice, and to smoke hashish. He discovered the pleasures of women. He took up the guitar and began playing bawdy ballads in a brothel. Soon  enough the people at the temple discovered what he was up to. At first they tried remonstrating with him.  He smiled and apologized, but the next night he slipped over the wall. They tried to restrict his movements. He simply escaped. Finally in frustration the Master told him he must either live by the tenets of the temple or he must leave.
The next day the two brothers bade each other a tearful farewell. The wise brother understood that the spirit of his brother needed the freedom to roam in the world. The younger brother saw that his older brother had found his place in the world and knew that was something that he may never find. And so they parted.
The years passed. The older brother thought of his sibling often and prayed for him each night. Sometimes he tried to imagine what had become of the younger brother but he never received any word. It was like the younger brother had vanished from the world.
One year a dry wind began to blow. It blew steadily for months and a famine gripped the land. Hordes of armed horsemen invaded from the north, plundering and pillaging as they advanced. Refugees streamed down the roads from the north. Many sought shelter in the temple. Soon the temple was overflowing with refugees and the meager foodstuffs the devotees had on hand were gone. Everyone was hungry.
Then the horsemen arrived. They slew people indiscriminately, raping the women, making slaves of the young, murdering the old. The older brother watched in horror as the Master was dragged from the altar and butchered by the laughing barbarians. An iron collar was placed around his neck and he was sold into slavery.
He was shackled to other slaves and marched for long wearisome days to a slave market. The slave auctioneer declared that the brother was a scribe, could read and write, and would be a valuable asset to any business. A woman merchant bought him.
That night she summoned him. "I have a friend who visits me several nights a week." she said, "You must show all my accounts to him and answer any questions he puts to you."
The brother bowed. "As you wish, my lady."
The next night a hooded figure came up the street and knocked at the door. The lady knew the knock.
"Open it immediately." she ordered. The older brother opened the door and there stood his long lost brother. Both gazed at each other in astonishment. And then they embraced.
"But how is it that you are here in this position?" asked the younger brother. The older brother smiled and said, "God has seen to it that we are re-united. I have finally come to understand what the scriptures were really saying.  Everything that has happened now makes sense to me. For this great lesson I am grateful."
Together the two brothers raised the funds to build a new temple. It was unlike the old temple in many ways. It was called the Temple of Love.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Death and the Pilgrim

A pilgrim walked a long road. On the road he met Death.
"Where are you bound?" Death asked the pilgrim.
"To that holiest of places." answered the pilgrim.
"Stay a while," Death asked politely, "For the day is yet young. And my work can wait."
"What would you have of me?" asked the pilgrim.
"A story," said Death, "I'd like to hear a story."
"Very well," said the pilgrim, "I shall tell you a tale."
And this is the story he told.

Into a valley of lush meadows and deep forests a man came. He looked at the fertile land, at the mountains in the distance, at the river that wound its way slowly through the valley. This is a good place he thought. And so he began to work the land. All day long every day for years he worked. He cleared brush, planted a garden, found wild fruit trees and transplanted them to make an orchard. He built a simple house and simple furniture and so he was content. 
A road passed through the valley and strangers would stop and observe the man working. They would call out to him asking him what he was doing. He always answered the same thing. "I am laboring in the fields of the Lord." The strangers would laugh at this and go their way. Sometimes they would grab fruit from the trees or vegetables from the garden. Some would pay for what they took. Most would not. The man was content either way.
Time passed. The man grew old. Still every day he worked. But his strength was fading and he understood this. The garden became too much for him to weed. The birds and deer took over the orchard eating all the fruit before it had ripened.
One night the man had a dream. His mother stood before him smiling. She gazed at him long and lovingly. "Come to me," she said, "you are tired and it's your time to rest."
When the man awoke he looked around him at the home where he had spent so many years. It looked strange and foreign to him. I must be away from here, he thought. 
So he packed a few things and walked to the road. He stood looking at the land he had worked for so many years. The garden and orchard would soon dissolve back to the meadow and forest. His house would rot and crumble and fall into an indecipherable pile. I was content here, he thought, how can that be? Troubled, the man set out on the road.
At first he didn't know where he was going. Nor did he care. But his intuition told him to go eastward and so he did. 
"Where does this road lead?" he asked people whom he met on the road. He got different answers from different people. The farmer told him it led to a market where prices were always good. A merchant told him it led to a city where he could find fine wines, foods flavored with heavenly spices and beautiful women. A soldier told him with a gleam in his eye that not far away was a place where the people never had had a war. And a priest told him that the road led to the City of God where the devout sing and chant daily of the great love they feel, and the ecstasy of knowing God.

"And that concludes my tale," said the pilgrim.
"But wait" said Death, "your tale has no ending."
"Then you must wait to hear it another day," said the pilgrim. "For the shadows grow long and I must find a place to sleep. And you may stay or you may go. Either way it makes no difference to me."
"I will go," said Death, "but I will return tomorrow to hear the rest of your tale."
"You are the rest of my tale," said the pilgrim. And so he laid down to sleep.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Is It Art Yet?

Art is what we want it to be. And what we want it to be can change.
Art can be beautiful. It can also be temporary.
Art like life has lessons for us. We can become attached to our own ideas about what art is. And these attachments like our judgements can restrict our vision.
Someone might ask; How can taking a painting, burning it, and placing the ashes in a mason jar be art? The painting itself started out as a transformation of canvas and colors into an idea that had some kind of compositional, pictorial, or conceptual value. Aesthetics at this point might jump in and decide if some standard of Beauty has been achieved and expressed. For many of us this is enough to decide if this is art and if this art has value. But Art would have us move a bit further. Art would ask us if life isn't change and if some change is in fact not beautiful, but rather ugly?
 Many of us know abundant health and many of us have suffered from disease. Was our soul different when we were sick than when we were healthy? Even if we behaved differently, our essence, the thing that makes us who we are did not change.
So here we are in the Universe where change is constant and we ourselves are constantly changing except for that thing within us that never changes. What does that say to our striving, our efforts to achieve security, our everyday pursuit of connection and validation? Whatever our attachments are (and they are legion) they are illusions because if they were real, they would be constants in an inconstant Universe.
So the ashes of the painting in a mason jar does something the "pretty picture" did not do. It furthered our information about the Truth. And it did so by making Beauty part of a process which acknowledges the ephemeral and transitory nature of Beauty.
It showed us ourselves wrapped as we are in the daily illusions of a world that defies our efforts to understand our place in it. For a true understanding can only come with a release of all those attachments to what we think it should be. And that true understanding lets us see that Love is the transformational power behind all things. We are then free to love ourselves and the world.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Bonfire of the Vanities

"If you accept the premise that life and death are both gifts, then the prospect of death can become more a source of wonder than a cause for fear."
I mulled it over for years. The wisdom of knowing death before death that I may more fully live. I gazed at the room full of paintings I had done. These are my actions that will accompany me to the grave. They too will fade and disintegrate through time. 
I decided to build a bonfire of the paintings. I embrace my death before my death. The Divine is there just beyond the clouds and smoke that block the sky. When the clouds and smoke clear I behold the Divine. All the venalities, the corruptions, the evils of this world are cleared by the breath of the Divine blowing away the illusions. We see ourselves as we truly are. We see life as it truly is. We know the joy of union. We are blessed.
Lovers of Beauty do not weep for what is lost. Rather rejoice for what is gained. For in destruction is creation and so the story goes. If we truly love life then we must equally love death for the two are inseparable. This realization edifies us, ennobles us, and enables us to see beyond the pale. Liberated from maya we find the spark within us that is a tiny ember of the great inferno that is God.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Getting Our Priorities Straight

Obviously, to anyone with an ounce of sense, our vast expenditures on war have nothing to do with protecting us. Consider this: Since 2001 500,000 Americans have died in car crashes, 50,000 for making the mistake of being pedestrians. Over 850,000 have died from pharmaceutical drugs while another 450,000 have died from not receiving medical care. More than 200,000 have died from handguns. And about 3,000 have died from terrorist attacks.
Let's just imagine for a moment what kind of society we could create if the trillions of dollars squandered on war had been put to productive use creating a safer transportation system, a real healthcare system, and control of deadly weapons in our midst.
We can control the destiny of our society. We can withdraw that control from the hands of the Merchants of Death. But we can only do so by placing love at the center of our beings. That is the real challenge; to confront authority, to speak truth to power, to fight without violence those who promulgate violence, to secure justice for ourselves and successive generations. All of this in order to happen will require of each of us a change in our hearts. That's the really big job. The good news is that we're up to it. The Kundalini  is rising!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Gettin' that Old Time Religion

It's an old story of the human condition; many of us find religion as we get older. At 20 I fell in love with a woman. At 60 I fell in LOVE with the Goddess. In truth she did visit me (or I visited her) at the age of 20. I lived in a tiny garret in an old house in Tallahassee, Florida. One night I awoke and had a beatific vision. A woman was hovering in the air outside my window, just floating there, her long hair drifting in the breeze. Nothing was said. I stared at her somewhat frightened, somewhat mystified, and very curious. I knew at the time that something extraordinary was happening. Years later I convinced myself that it was a dream, a leftover hallucination from a drug experience even though I had never had anything like it before and never have since. She stayed there gazing into my eyes and after a few minutes she just gradually dissolved.
I don't think there was anything especially extraordinary about this experience. A lot of people have had visions and a lot of people are having visions as we speak. These experiences are markers in the path of life. It's information. The subconscious, outside of any timeline, incubates this information and at some point allows it to emerge again in a way that makes sense. So 40 years later I'm in deep meditation and suddenly I feel this vast energy engulfing me, filling me with joy and longing. And in my minds eye there is the Goddess again. And a kaleidoscope of images cascades through me. Things seen and unseen, but all of it connected. I understood then what Arjuna knew when Lord Krishna gave him the secret of life, telling him, "Know this. I permeate all things."
Every spirit that takes human form knows this at the start. We spend an enormous amount of time and energy living in a way that would appear otherwise. But in the end, willing or not, we come face to face with this truth.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Challenge that Awaits

Many of us are already experiencing it. Our civilization, predicated as it is on cheap abundant fossil fuels is starting to contract. Our ever outwardly expanding economy is finally and predictably encountering the limits to growth. As these implacable outer forces come into play we face some important personal choices. Some of us may have garnered enough financial resources that we are seemingly at the present unaffected by the change. Many of us are already sliding with a certain velocity toward the brink of collapse. As the old system continues to make demands on us the price in terms of stress and life energy gets higher and higher. What do we do?
First off we should be apprised of the fact that ours is not a civilization of happy, contented people. Despite two centuries of an industrial revolution that has created unprecedented affluence for many the level of joy in most people's daily lives has seriously declined. What at first was met with wonder and amazement as one technological marvel after another was unveiled has now become an object of suspicion. Every new advancement in technology that has promised to solve a problem has only created a new one. And now those accumulated problems are starting to mass on the horizon preparing an onslaught that threatens life as we know it.
But that's a good thing! For if the current arrangement isn't working why should we hold onto it? For some of us it's the devil we know versus the devil we don't know. Change, big radical, devastating change, can truly be a fearful thing. So we continue to try to placate the gods by shouldering more responsibilities, enduring more stress, looking for more money, and becoming less and less happy about it.
But as those larger forces come into play our efforts are becoming more like the flailing of a drowning person. We need a release. We need a dream. We need a new society.
That new society is a local one. It's composed of neighbor helping neighbor, local farmers, local business, walkable communities, apprentice programs, public transportation, and an acknowledgment of our inter- connectedness. We're going to live without a lot of "stuff". We're not going to be nearly as mobile as we've been accustomed to being. Our spendthrift days will largely and for most of us come to an end. For some of us this has already happened. And we are entering a new world, a world that replaces affluence with gratitude, stress with the security of living with other people that care about us, and forces on us a constrained materialism that moves over to make room for a spiritual awakening.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Environmentalism and the Spiritual Path

Environmentalism and the spiritual path offer striking evidence of how our egos work. Our concern for the environment may cause us to give lip service to environmental causes. We may roundly condemn polluters and the greedy corporations that put profits before the health of the planet. Seldom does this condemnation incorporate our own part in the damage being done. We rationalize our own behavior while chastising others. All of us are polluters at one time or another. Differences of degree don't necessarily mean differences of definition.
For many the spiritual path is about seeking the ideal external situation in order to foster internal transformation. The innate fallacy of this is usually not even glimpsed by the participants as they board planes for "spiritual retreats" and "yogic seminars".  Our carbon footprint gets bigger and bigger as our aspirations demand more and more evidence that "enlightenment" is coming to us. We must go where the "energy" is. We must experience God somewhere other than where we are at this very moment. For if we experience God always, the trips to find God are revealed for what they really are; the work of that very thing we are trying to overcome. And in the way of circular reasoning we can always tell ourselves that our "path" is leading to this realization so it must be alright.
But the spiritual path is also about self-acceptance. When we accept ourselves as flawed individuals we move closer to understanding that the seeming flaws in the Universe also have a place in the Grand Illusion. We can extend compassion to ourselves and from there to others.
When we look at the destruction of our world we are seeing ourselves. When environmentalism is a platform to judge others it serves no one. Yes, we must seek justice.  And that may entail confrontation. But Love and not Fear needs to be the driving force.
As history has proven disasters befall all civilizations. Catastrophic environmental change is obviously in the cards for us. Environmentalism may be able to mitigate some of the coming catastrophe. But a strong sense of our souls is what we will need to endure it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Our Unpaid Debts

What do we owe successive generations? The generations born since WWII have used more of the world's natural resources than ALL preceding generations. This is an astounding statistic. What makes it to me even more astounding is that we have so little to show for it. Our architecture such as it is is almost without redeeming virtue. We have a country littered with massive big box stores, endless highways, and plastic houses full of plastic junk. Half our population is classified as mentally ill and a whole lot of us are taking some kind of legal or illegal drugs.
Many of us know the story of Savonarola, the cleric who convinced Renaissance Florentines to make a huge bonfire of their material possessions. I shake my head at that because they at least had good stuff to burn. We instead have garage sales where the bric-a-brac of our purchasing history goes on display before finding a new home in someone else's drawer.
So what will future generations think of our civilization? What artifacts will we leave behind that will cause them to marvel at our sense of design, our commitment to beauty? Will they puzzle over what made us despoil a landscape to put up storage containers for our overflow of "stuff". Will they examine the toys from happy meals and conclude that our desire for kitschy objects superseded any impulse to gain insight into our human condition? Will they huddle around desolate campsites cursing us for handing them a resource-depleted world?
The Vedic scriptures call it the Kali Yuga, an age of darkness when greed, arrogance, and the lust for power and material comforts displaces human virtue. It is said, "There is nothing you can do TO Kali Yuga. But there is a great deal you can do IN Kali Yuga." Individually our lives mean very little except to us and a few friends and relatives. Yet still it is worth our time and effort to reach out to the larger society to remind those few awakened beings that we are not so few after all.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Road Ahead

We live in an age of affluence unlike any other in known history. While we have lots of stuff I question whether we're happier than other societies. So we wreck the planet to get more stuff and we're no happier than we would be without all the stuff? This is a marvel of technological innovation?
 My cousin Orin Lyons is a chief of the Seneca Tribe. A few decades back by some strange fluke he had the opportunity to address a G-8 summit in Geneva, Switzerland. He basically lambasted the participants, charging them with reckless endangerment of the planet. It was a good speech and they needed to hear it. After the speech he was approached by a few CEOs of some of the world's largest corporations. They told him that while they agreed with him their hands were tied. They were bound by law to serve the interests of their shareholders and if they didn't they would simply be replaced by someone who would. The technological juggernaut that they serve will not compromise.
The current power structure of our society is an organization which can best be described as a machine. I call it the Machine That Changed the World. It's a machine that devours resources, animals, people and entire countries. It serves no purpose other than to grow. It's like a cancer and we should find no surprise that cancer is the epidemic of our times.
When we talk about the emergence of the Feminine Divine, the ascendance of women, and the creation of a new civilization we're not talking about women becoming clones of men and assuming the trappings of powerful heads of states and corporations. We're not talking about a nominal changing of the guard to suit a politically correct idea of gender equality while continuing to serve the old paradigm. We will hopefully circumvent that old paradigm based as it is on a masculine principle of dominance, control, and exploitation. The way ahead has no map. New rules are being written but we don't get to see them yet. But what many of us feel is the coming of a great nurturance, a life-saving and life-giving model which serves not a few but the whole of humanity.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Beauty is a Species of Value

A visitor to my studio stood in front of one of my paintings and sighed, "I wish I could afford that." The painting in question was priced at $3500. The visitor had arrived in a $35,000 automobile. She probably also owned a $2,000 refrigerator, a $3,000 computer, and a house full of unexceptional furniture that she had paid tens of thousands of dollars for. Her vacations which she took at least twice a year probably cost $7,000-10,000 a throw. The question in my mind at the time was "Is she angling for a better price or does she in fact believe her own statement?" So I asked her if the painting became something she owned what would its value be to her compared to everything else she owned? "Oh," She said, "It would be a treasure." "Why so," I asked. "Because it's just so beautiful," she replied. So I took out my pen and wrote another zero behind the $3500 making it $35,000. "There" I said, "That's a more appropriate price for so rare an object. And I challenge you, Madam, to find something so beautiful for a lesser price." Sadly, she lacked the grace to be humored and left in a huff. For my part, I was elated. I don't make art to make money. I make art to make beauty. Currency can change, money can become worthless, but beauty remains a species of value. Long after all the objects owned by this woman have gone to the dump, the car-crusher, the re-cycling bin, the painting will continue to have value, to serve the human sense of beauty.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A New Civilization

Who would really be distressed to see the demise of our so-called civilization? Leaf-blowers instead of rakes, snowblowers instead of shovels, suburbia instead of community, testing instead of education, jobs instead of vocations, pharmaceuticals instead of mental health, fad diets instead of healthy foods, plastic surgery instead of graceful aging, endless war instead of peace, etc, ad nauseum. Make up your own list. Who's going to miss this?
I've often commented that the old civilization must go before the ground can be cleared to create the new. The new will come from the "seed people". Just as in the fall the leaves turn and fall to the the ground so the world's current population will go. But every tree produces seeds. Most of those seeds to be sure don't make it. Some get a brief foothold in the spring but then quickly die for a number of reasons. But the few that do make it start a whole new tree. My hope is that the cancerous, misshapen tree of today will be replaced by a beautiful, elegant tree of tomorrow. My hope is that humanity will continue on its trek through time considerably chastened by the results of its current lunacy but inspired by the successes we've had so far in making the world a more beautiful place.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Preparing for a Post-Petroleum World

The deck is now stacked against us. The collapse will be as swift as it is inevitable. Our grandiose, technologically glib civilization is going down. Anyone can disagree, call me a dooms-dayer, whatever, it doesn't change the facts. The question is: Who's got a life jacket? And what does it look like?
These Armageddons have been predicted for millennia by everyone from Nostradamus to Christian evangelicals.  But this time we've really tipped the scales in favor of the end-times prognostication. It's not just the changing weather patterns. Anyone with a shred of intuition feels the change coming. Change is after all what this universe is all about. I'm going to suggest that if you're reading this that you prepare yourself. Most people are going to be swept up in the coming changes responding with fear and negative emotions. Through a regimen of meditation and yoga a perspective can be achieved which will liberate us allowing us to stand outside all cataclysmic events and to tune it to a higher power. If your soul hasn't communicated the need to do this then you're probably not listening. Making a bunker and hoarding weapons and food won't cut it. Looking deeply within and finding your true strength will.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Making the world a more beautiful place

First of all; it starts with something internal. Somewhere in that interface between our senses and the outer world a breath of joy is inhaled and the concept of Beauty overwhelms us. We feel small in the face of it even as we feel exalted to behold such magnificence.
Beauty like God is the outward projection of the human soul. And being human the degradation of both God and Beauty seems inevitable. Our current situation demands our attention as the balance has been tipped decidedly in the direction of that degradation. Here's a case in point. I had just finished a painting of a reclining nude woman. A guy stopped over and looked at the painting. "Man, would I like to do her." he said. I laughed. I'm used to hearing it. But there's something tragic in our culture when Beauty is not something that makes us feel reverence but rather lust. Open any magazine and pictures of beautiful women abound with one object; to sell us something. Beauty is in our culture constantly prostituted for profit. And so when I do a painting of a beautiful woman my motives are suspect as well. I spend long hours fashioning an image which to me is a sacred invocation to the spiritual aspect of life and the response is a titillation akin to the images passed around on cell phones at construction sites.
The common person has always been prone to this kind of debasement. Shakespeare understood this as did the theater owners of Elizabethan England. They set an area close to the stage for the "groundlings" to make rude jests and obscene comments. But given the enormous power of even the common person of today to alter the environment, to consume natural resources, and to acquire stuff it no longer suffices to accept this side of human behavior. We must and we will elevate ourselves and our fellow humans. Beauty, the Sacred, and God have restored place in our hearts if our hearts are opened. The cleansing of the doors of perception is imminent. The signs are everywhere.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Voice from the not-to distant future

I had heard that we can create our own reality. So I was looking at the news and wondering what kind of reality we were collectively creating. Then I started having these "visitations" or whatever you call it when a dream turns into an experience in an alternate universe. The first question is of course "Am I going crazy?" Or has my fertile imagination fed me a glimpse into a very possible future?
My first "vision" is of Congressman Chris Gibson, our local guy here in Glens Falls, New York, sitting in his office downtown. He's made the big mistake of returning to his district during a period of martial law. A howling mob of overweight people charges down the street, drags Gibson from his office, takes him to City Park a few blocks away and hangs him from a lamp post. This episode was the first major "food riot" for our little city. It seems that people had drawn a line of connection from the empty shelves in the local food markets to those climate change deniers like Mr. Gibson and had decided to vent their rage in a personal way as though by exterminating Mr. Gibson they could somehow expiate their own sins. After the lynching the military and police showed up and shot a few people effectively dispersing the crowd. I for one couldn't help but feel some sympathy for Mr. Gibson or at least for his family. It wasn't like he had personally created the famine which gripped the good old USA in this soon to be arrived at future. He was just a tool and I will generously imagine that his own carbon footprint was no larger than any one member of the lynch mob that slew him. In fact, the more I think about it the more I'm inclined to say that if we're going to point fingers we should point them at ourselves. We are the participants who engaged so wholeheartedly in the affluence of our so-called civilization. Liberals, progressives, and conservatives alike did a hell of a lot of driving, flying, and general petroleum consumption. I never saw one protest movement to get the American people out of cars and into buses or trains. Everyone wanted to eat their cake too. So here I am in the year 2018. That's just a few years away for anyone reading this. And despite the horror that is unfolding here on planet Earth I see some remarkable opportunities for humanity to get it right this time. More to come. : )