Saturday, December 31, 2011

Getting Unstuck in 2012

I just came back from the store a little bit ago. I find stores fascinating. They are filled with a bunch of people all darting around in various directions, gathering things up, and usually trying to get out as quickly as possible. What I find most fascinating are the people who seem to gum everything up.

As I walked into the store, there was a lady in front of the baskets, trying to situate herself. Lots of people were coming in, and we were all stuck, trying to get to the baskets. After a bit, she moved far enough over that people could, one at a time, sort of get around her and get a basket. Throughout the store, I kept passing her, and, no matter where she was, there was a swarm of people around her, all trying to get past her to go in their various directions. She just seemed to exude stuck energy. I have noticed that people who seem stuck in their lives seem to physically be bogged down and get other people stuck around them like this.

To make matters more dramatic, once I got in the check-out line, and was contemplating this stuckness, the power went out. The reserve power went on quickly, but it took about 20 minutes for the cash registered to reboot and start functioning properly, during which time everyone in the store was stuck.

We are no strangers to being stuck. Traffic jams are a normal occurrence (Have you noticed that when driving, the same phenomenon of one car seeming to gum up the road, even if it is in its own lane on the interstate occurs?) The Congress has been a prime example of how a few rigid individuals have gummed up the whole country from moving forward with their stuckness.

The economy is stuck, the film industry is stuck. I know so many people who describe their lives as being stuck in relationships, stuck in jobs, stuck as far as inspiration. This whole stuckness gives us a feeling of hopelessness and fatigue. In 2011, this seemed to describe things in the world epidemic proportions.

So, how do people become unstuck?

I think the first thing is to think of the law of energy in the world that energy attracts like energy. In India, there is a great term, "satsang," which literally means "good company." If you find yourself in the company of stuck people, they will likely drag you down. It is important to find people and groups to be around where the energy is what you want it to be. Find groups or activities that make you feel inspired. Get out of the house and away from the TV. Go on walks, join a club or group, or take a class.

There are physical exercises that move energy. Yoga, Tai Chi and Chi Gung are great examples of this. These are scientific forms of exercise heralding from bygone eras when people had more of a direct concept of energy and knew how to enhance it in their bodies. Creating and moving Vital Energy is the basis of these forms of exercise. In India, this vital energy is called prana, and in China, Japan, Korea and other places it is known as Qi or Chi. I have gone to the exercise groups with many people who deny the existence of Chi, but they still come away from these exercises revitalized.

There are also a number of healing arts associated with energy. Acupuncture and Reiki are just two examples. An hour on an acupuncturist's table, or with many other varieties of energy healing, can make a huge difference with people's feeling of stuckness. In fact, what acupuncturists are doing is locating blocked and stuck energy in the body, and using metal to open up these blockages and restore optimal flow of chi.

Diet is another huge component of feeling better, mentally, emotionally and physically. "You are what you eat" is not just a good idea, it's the law! There is an idea floating around the Native American community right now that says that the real whites who are killing are the people are not white people, but are white flour, white sugar, salt and fat.

Sugar creates spikes in adrenaline in our bodies. These spikes result in an energy surge, followed by fatigue, or the sugar high and sugar crash. Sugar is in so many things we eat. When looking at food packaging, remember that it can be hidden under many names, and that most things that contain corn products are sugary. Most artificial sweeteners also have detrimental side effects. Sucralose (Splenda) is actually made out of sugar, but has added chloride that can cause harm to the body.  Aspartame is used in most diet beverages, and is the worst sweetener of all. Saccharine used to be off the market because it was growing huge tumors on lab rats, and now it, mysteriously, is back. We have had success with the sweetener Stevia. There are many products currently using it as a sweetener. Zevia sodas, Zero Water and the Virgil's Zero beverages are three good beverages sweetened with Stevia. (I mention the beverages, as many people have cited the beverages we drink as the greatest detriment to our health.) But be forewarned that carbonated beverages increase the carbon dioxide in our bodies, which is also a problem. Xylitol is another decent sweetener, derived from complex fruit sugars. Be forewarned that the overuse of xylitol can create some digestive problems.

Flour is one of the staples of the American diet. Being a historian, I often teach that the foundation of Civilization itself stemmed from two chance crossings of some wild 'goat grasses' in the fertile crescent, which created wheat. This wheat fell to the ground rather than being carried by the wind. This simple coincidence allowed the development of agriculture - which meant that suddenly people no longer had to follow the herds. This gave people leisure time, out of which came all of our most important inventions. There are some problems with flour, however. The first is the gluten problem associated with all flour products. I have read many papers that indicate that we all may be gluten intolerant to some extent. Many nutritionists and allergists believe we have developed a basic allergy to gluten, perhaps due to refined flour. I know a lot of people who have started feeling less pain and more energy just from going gluten-free. Allergies result in reduced energy. As my old acupuncturist one put it "allergies make you weak." When flour is refined into the white flour we are familiar with, they remove the husk, which is the whole grain aspect of wheat which contains the good nutrients and the fiber that is the healthy part of flour.

Salt has many impacts on the body, including contributing to high blood pressure, and reducing the elasticity of the body, including blood vessels. We have become accustomed to the taste of salt, and it is used in many processed food items, which results in somewhat of an addiction. I mean, who has really ever eaten only the nine potato chips that constitute one serving? To quote from the Tao The Ching, "What is brittle is easily broken."

Fats create cholesterol, and put extra solids in our blood, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke.

You have heard the GMO hormones argument, and the let's not kill other living things arguments, and they are both good arguments, for going vegetarian, but here are a few more:

First of all, Hindus generally don't eat meat due to an energy thing. They believe that when animals are killed, they suffer trauma, and the trauma they suffer creates and energy that is embedded in the meat after they die. Eating meat, then, results in ingesting the trauma energies and vibrations, which then become a part of you. Another argument is that people's digestive systems are not built to properly handle meat. The digestive tracts of animals that eat meat are very short, so that the meat by-products are only in their bodies a brief time, so that they don't rot and become harmful to the body. People have a very long digestive tract. It is even longer, proportionally, when people are measured as other animals in the same studies, which is the length from the mouth to the anus, not to include the legs. People also don't have teeth meant for consuming flesh. So, the combination of the flat teeth and long digestive tract make us more consistent with vegetarian, and particularly fruitarian animals. In fact many extremely high-energy people, such as yogis, eat exclusively fruits, nuts and some grains.

I became a vegetarian a decade or so ago after finding I had high cholesterol, I stopped eating meat and dairy products, and my cholesterol went down by over 100 points. I started feeling a lot better, even though I wasn't really aware that I had felt bad until I stopped eating meat. I have not missed meat at all.

So, it kind of goes along with all the old adages, be around positive people, exercise and eat well.

One other suggestion for creating energy is meditation. There are hundreds of studies on meditation that show that 20 minutes of meditation 4 or 5 times a week increases energy, increases memory, creates more grey matter in the brain, reduces stress and anxiety, reduces fatigue and so forth. Though there are numerous forms of meditation, some of which are very extreme. These studies usually involve having people listen to a mediation tape of some sort. Usually their minds still wander, they don't often sit in a lotus pose and so on. It is very mild. But the results are always dramatic. There is a school that instituted a 20 minute meditation time at the beginning of the day, and their test scores shot through the roof! (We have tried to build a meditation and yoga component to the school program where I work, but there is a lot of anti-Eastern sentiment out there from people who see it as a threat to Christianity. Maybe they see it as a threat because it actually works!!)

My wife and I have recorded a couple of meditations. They use visualizations of acupuncture points. We have one for deep relaxation and one for digestion, and we will make some more, once she is finished with her doctoral program. Here is a link to order CDs or downloads: Acumeditation CDs on CD Baby.

Just observe what is going on around you. Maybe you are one of those people who creates traffic jams in the store. Try some of these suggestions, a few minutes a day, in 2012 and see if that changes. See how your energy level and your attitude change. None of this can hurt in any way!

So have a great New Year!  Here is a little New Years wish from me, and the resolutions I am making this year! enjoy!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Difference Between Dissonance and Whining

I have been an artist of sorts most of my life. For many year I debated the meaning and purpose of art. This was, in fact, the topic of my final project is college. The conclusion I drew was that art had multiple meanings, was simultaneously reflective of society and shaping of society, and ran on a continuum from realism to abstract. My own art felt squarely on the abstract end of things.

Having grown up in the 1960s and 70s, the art I witnessed was often people baring their souls and working out their issues in public. One of my favorite artists was John Lennon. I admired, especially on his "Plastic Ono Band" album, the depth of his exploring his own soul. He primal screams, cries, groans, and does not hide any of his powerful emotions. (But when John Lennon was doing it, it was unique, and not the norm.) Much of this became a part of me, and for many years, I have, in addition to the other sorts of music I play, performed in free-jazz bands, with a great deal of screeching and squawking and the likes.

But dissonance can be beautiful. We live in a dissonant world, and making sense of this dissonance is an important part of understanding the world.

Several months ago, I was reading the book "The Yoga of Sound" by Russill Paul. (And I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the subject!) This is the paragraph that has stuck out in my head ever since:

I asked His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] what advice he had for artists today. "Learn to deal with your inner issues in private," he said. "Don't burden society with them; it is burdened enough. Transform your own energy first, then use your gifts to bring healing to society." (The Yoga of Sound by Russill Paul, page 130.)

This really struck a note with me. I stopped listening to pop music some time ago, because so much of it sounded like whining. Most songs on the radio seemed to be about an immature type of love and about loss. Plus whenever someone came up with a big hit, all the other songs seemed to start sounding like the hit song.

There is, unfortunately, but undeniably, much pain in the world. However much of the art that deals with this pain discusses the suffering, but fails to propose an alternative to the suffering. The aspect of art that is reflective of society definitely captures the great hopelessness that is endemic in our society. There is some music and art that proposes an end to suffering, but very little. And as the art reflects back this suffering, it only increases. Maybe there is something to the old "misery loves company" adage, but, then, how do we get out of it?

There is much healing art out there, but people have to look pretty hard to find it. The mass media is filled with this proliferation of suffering.

Part of the music I play is consonant and people immediately see it as healing. But what about the side of me that is drawn to dissonance? I find it very healing to play. When I'm honking on an instrument or playing close tones, and so on, I am not doing it to reflect suffering or pain. I am usually exceedingly happy.

So I looked through my library of dissonant music, and this is one of the first things I found: (Tibetan horns and shawms played by students)

And how is this different than this? (Peter Brotzmann Trio)

In Buddhist temple music, the first example, the horns and shawms, and often, also, the chanting use tones that are certainly unfamiliar to the Western ear. In asking people familiar with this music why it is dissonant, the message I usually get in response is "huh?" Since to listeners of this music it is not. This music often lasts many hours, if not many days. I can relate this most closely to my old training in Shamanism. In this practice, atonal drones, as well as drumming, can be used to alter one's thinking patterns. Shamanic practitioners use Carlos Castaneda's term "non-ordinary reality" to describe a shift of paradigm, sometimes into a totally different reality. Most Shamanic practitioners use sound as a way of doing this, rather than medicinal substances, especially in the West.

I believe Tibetan music may have the same purpose - to shift the mind, through the use of unusual sound waves, into a place of higher meditation. I can attest to this being true, after listening to this sort of music for prolonged periods of time, or engaging in atonal chanting, where chanters are chanting in their own distinctive tone, which are not at all tuned to each other. It is also wonderful to play Tibetan singing bowls that are atonal together and listen for the sounds that arise.

I cheated a bit by using a clip of Peter Brotzmann. He relates a lot of the dissonance of his music to the suffering he endured while a child growing up in Hitler's Germany. However, I believe he plays so passionately as a healing tool. But to be fair to my thesis here, I would like to introduce John Coltrane playing "OM."

Coltrane was a very spiritual man, who played very dissonant music. Often, we equate spiritual music with very melodic, pretty tones. I think the really heavy hitters often transcend that.

We play to very small groups of people - often only a handful, if anyone at all. People are leery of atonal sound. The people who do stay around to listen, sort of as an oddity, often want to know why we are playing the way we do. Usually I relate it to our dissonant society:

Certainly, we are pounded daily by all sort of awful noises. We listen to traffic, and jack hammers and lawn mowers, and who knows what? Life is much more than a lot of people can handle, and the dissonance of life wears people down and fatigues them. So what so people do for salvation? Watch more dissonance on TV! People watch the unbalanced lives of other people and revel in the fact that their lives are not as bad as the people they are watching. This is a very immature type of compassion - to feel better because other people are worse off.

Artists have a unique way of looking for beauty in the dissonance of the world. The artist who can use dissonance as a tool is the one who can find something amazing in the awful, and drawing our attention to the fact that within every 'awful' thing that might be happening, there are beautiful things as well. Truly enlightened people can see equal amounts, or more beauty in even 'awful' thing.

Another aspect of this comes from sound healing. There is an old trick that if you hear a sound that is just driving you nuts, start to imitate the sound. Make the sound, to the best of your ability, with your mouth or an instrument. Become one with the sound. After doing this, the sound is not as annoying, because it is now part of you. Some artists and musicians do this as a tactic as well.

Personally, I combine all these tricks when playing dissonant music, or free-improv music. I don't have a clip of myself playing in a format I can easily get on this blog, and so I offer a clip by my musical partner, Paul Mimlitsch with Wilhelm Matthies.

So, the title of this blog is "The Difference Between Dissonance and Whining." Our music is not giving into suffering, which I believe whining is. A lot of the music, and I refer particularly to lyrics, has to do with feeling victimized. People are expressing their hopelessness and helplessness for losing a relationship, or losing their job, or feeling unappreciated, and so on. Whining is talking about the problem without looking for the solution. We are only a moderately solution-oriented society. We will look for solutions when we are paid or forced, but, as a culture, when it is up to us to find a solution, we tend, instead, to revel in the pity. Often the solutions aren't very difficult, but to ask people to do things like exercise 30 minutes or meditate for a little bit, or eat healthy food are well beyond what people are willing to do. That is what the Dalai Lama is referring to when he talks of working out your own problems in private.

A lot of dissonant artists are solution finders. These are not, typically, those who are brought down by the dissonance of the world, but are those looking for the beauty - the solution in it. It is a lot easier to play music that people are used to, and going to listen to, than to play music that people run from. But if people stop and look for the beauty in the sound, or the painting, there is a great deal there.

"Squiggles" painted by me in 1996 or so.


Since the original posting of this article, we have finally gotten our websites together for my free-improv jazz group "Concept," a duo with Paul Mimlitsch and myself. Here are some links where you can hear our music:

This is where we have our completed albums: You can listen to the entire albums for free, and pay what you want if you choose to download any music.

This is where we have pieces we are currently working on: We update this site as we get new improvisations recorded that we like.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Unemployment Benefits, Compassion and Racism

"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." - The Dalai Lama

In following the news today about congressional debates about extending unemployment benefits, I started looking at the comments posted by readers at the bottoms of the pages. I was pretty appalled at what I read. I have copied some of these quotes and will include them as I write my feelings about this debate:

"TWO YEARS of payments for doing absolutely nothing is "heartless"?? And these oh so generous Liberal Dems want to go for still MORE months of these "heartless" sit at home and collect $ "benefits."
How many YEARS of $ for nothing benefits do taxpayers have to fund before we show "heart"?" 

A couple years ago Newt Gingrich singled out an unemployed mechanic and used him as an example of those lazy, good-for-nothing unemployed people who are leeching the system. I happened to catch an interview with that same man and his family on the news later that day.

To the best of my memory, he had been a mechanic who had been laid off after working for a company for 20 years. He made about $22 an hour, and during that whole time he worked for that company he paid into unemployment insurance. He pointed out, in the interview, that he had a son who would soon be graduating from high school, and if he took an $8 an hour job, they would have to sell their house, cash in the investments they had that were intended for the son's college education, and so forth. He mentioned several times that he had been paying for over 20 years into unemployment insurance. His intention was to use this time to find a job that paid an equivalent amount to what he was being paid so that he would not have to upend his family and their lifestyle. He said that he felt guilty every day he did not work, but that as a skilled laborer, he felt he had a duty to find a job that utilized his skills rather than take a minimum wage job. The story ended on a happy note as he said he had just been hired for a new mechanic job at near his old wage. He expressed his gratitude for having unemployment insurance to fall back on while he searched for a job and saved his way of life.

"Most of us Republicans think it is heartless to give UI handouts to lazy, worthless, fat arses that refuse to work. Just because McDonalds or Walmart pays less than UI, that is no reason not to `man up' and take the job. The unemployed are killing this Country through their lack of a work ethic and laziness. Sitting home, eating candy, watching soaps is not what made America strong" (UI = unemployment insurance.)

Compassion is one of the highest of human attributes. Most faiths are rooted in this concept of compassion. Compassion is derived from the Latin words "comi" - together and "pati" - to suffer. This idea of together feeling sympathy for the suffering of others is a basic element in the functioning of the species. We are an interdependent animal, that require community, shared burden and compassion in order to successfully survive. Yet, we so often lack this and fight among ourselves.

 "ENOUGH with encouraging people to not work. Unemployment insurance lasts for 6 months. PERIOD! Anything more than 6 months is NOT insurance it's Welfare! Call it what it is."
I am so struck by the anger levied at those who are unable to find jobs by members of America's right wing. We have a divided country, and it seems to be divided along lines of compassion. I have a very difficult time understanding where these people who insist people give up their homes and dreams in order to work at minimum wage job come from. And I find it disturbing. What is more, is that many people who criticize the unemployed for being lazy out of one side of their mouths then claim to be religious out of the other side. They call for laws implementing religious doctrine while simultaneously negating the very basis of the religious doctrine through laws they wish to impose. They are calling for all the dogma and none of the heart and purpose of the religion.

"All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives." - Dalai Lama

This is a serious rift in our society. And while I have no doubt that these people feel compassion for their family members and maybe parishioners at their churches, I am unable to explain how they can generalize this to only a few members of society and not to all members. This 'every man for himself' attitude seems very childish.

Having my roots in the study of psychology, I am always searching for root patterns for the behavior of people. So why would around 50% of the people in the country feel that it is not their responsibility to help others, if they don't know them. Where does this isolationism come from?

"Some people are starting to turn unemployment into a lifestyle and that trend must be reversed. Demands must be put on people continuing to draw unemployment for more than 6 months. That might include mandated skills training, public work projects, etc. to continue receiving this benefit from the taxpayers, that's who has to pick up the bill after the 6 month period. And the longer one is on unemployment then the demands need to increase. This also should be applied to welfare!"

I have known many people who collect welfare and unemployment. Certainly through my job, I encounter many. I have definitely encountered those who sit at home and have found ways to 'milk the system.' But these are the exceptions and not the rule. Most people I know who have benefitted from such 'entitlements' are people to sick to work, or, as is more the case nowadays, who have lost their jobs due to companies being sold, closing or reorganizing. Without a single exception, everyone I have talked to who has been unemployed through such means have said that they would trade being unemployed for working in a second. They feel tremendous guilt and a longing to be giving to society rather than receiving.

"Have any of making those comments about UI BEEN on UI the past couple of years? Have you had to try and find a new job? I'm NOT lazy. I've worked since I was 14 years old. I'm 55 and lost my job to company cutbacks. I don't ask for much…I just want to be able to keep my home and eat. So, unless you've been there, keep your moronic comments to yourself."

There is some number of people that have been brainwashed by the drone of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News (incidentally, both Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly have been recipients of unemployment benefits...) who have a political agenda of supporting corporations and unseating Democrats at all cost. This can only account for a couple million, albeit very vocal, people. There is some element of the populous who are ignorant, but again, I don't believe this can account for the huge upsurgence of these sorts of people. There is an element of racial hatred, accounting for people who cannot stand having an African-American president, and who, consequently, have taken to heart the whole of the Republican dogma as a means of justifying this deep-rooted prejudice. Unfortunately, I think this accounts for a larger group of people than the others.

"Democrats should be more furious at themselves and their leader Barack Hussein Obama. It is His Failed Policies that have created this non-stop crisis of persistent high unemployment, a decimated housing market, wall street as volatile as a radioactive football and prospects for the future looking pretty bleak. It is Clear the Barack Hussein Obama, our first and last Muslim President needs to go. Time for Real Change in Washington, Change brought by Us (The People)."

So, the quote above points out another American illness - the fact that it is OK to hate Muslims, because they are all terrorists, whereas hating African Americans, overtly, is going too far, even for them. Thanks to the war on terror, we have an identified evil. Thanks, again, Newt Gingrich for renaming our war on terror as a war against Islam. (He did so in a documentary released a couple years ago.)

Is racism such a cancer that people are willing to sacrifice the welfare of many simply to unseat a powerful person who happens to have dark skin? I think the evidence is there. These strange untruths about Mr. Obama continue to run rampant, even after ample evidence has been given that he is not Muslim, that he is an American citizen (He was born in Hawaii, a full-fledged state. John McCain was born in Panama City - not the Canal Zone. He was, according to his birth certificate, born on foreign soil. Of course had he won the election, people would have been regarded as crazy for pouting this out - and certainly, it is widely known that his father was stationed in the Canal Zone, and that Mr. McCain deserve to be treated in every way and an American born citizen. It just goes to show how irrational bigotry is.)

Bigotry is that undesirable part of us that justifies offering compassion to those who are like you, while justifying hatred toward those who are different. That is why people can value their families and members of their churches, and so forth, while despising the neighbor who is Asian, the president, who is African American, all those in the world who are not Christian, people who collect unemployment, and so forth. They can blame the ills of the country on foreigners, especially those here illegally. They can blame the ills of the world on Muslims. Glenn Beck has identified the percentage of Muslims who are terrorists as 10% - and I would very much like to share with you Fareed Zakaria's excellent comment on this: CNN Zakaria. This Glenn Beck comment is both shaping and reflecting the world he lives in. It is a self-feeding machine of fanaticism and racism.

Ultimately, then, the question becomes, how do we develop and spread compassion? There is only one person who I believe can fully answer this, and he is the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. A little background - The Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of the aspect of Buddha that is associated with compassion. There is much literature available about the Dalai Lama lineage, how he is reincarnated and tested, and so forth. But let me allow him to complete this blog:

Compassion and the Individual

Tenzin Gyatso; The Fourteenth Dalai Lama

The purpose of life
 ONE GREAT QUESTION underlies our experience, whether we think about it consciously or not: What is the purpose of life?  I have considered this question and would like to share my thoughts in the hope that they may be of direct, practical benefit to those who read them.

I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy.  From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering.  Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this.  From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.  I don't know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves.  Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.

How to achieve happiness
For a start, it is possible to divide every kind of happiness and suffering into two main categories: mental and physical.  Of the two, it is the mind that exerts the greatest influence on most of us.  Unless we are either gravely ill or deprived of basic necessities, our physical condition plays a secondary role in life.  If the body is content, we virtually ignore it. The mind, however, registers every event, no matter how small. Hence we should devote our most serious efforts to bringing about mental peace.

From my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion.

The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. This helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the ultimate source of success in life.

As long as we live in this world we are bound to encounter problems. If, at such times, we lose hope and become discouraged, we diminish our ability to face difficulties. If, on the other hand, we remember that it is not just ourselves but every one who has to undergo suffering, this more realistic perspective will increase our determination and capacity to overcome troubles. Indeed, with this attitude, each new obstacle can be seen as yet another valuable opportunity to improve our mind!

Thus we can strive gradually to become more compassionate, that is we can develop both genuine sympathy for others' suffering and the will to help remove their pain. As a result, our own serenity and inner strength will increase.

Our need for love
Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another. However capable and skillful an individual may be, left alone, he or she will not survive. However vigorous and independent one may feel during the most prosperous periods of life, when one is sick or very young or very old, one must depend on the support of others.

Inter-dependence, of course, is a fundamental law of nature. Not only higher forms of life but also many of the smallest insects are social beings who, without any religion, law or education, survive by mutual cooperation based on an innate recognition of their interconnectedness. The most subtle level of material phenomena is also governed by interdependence. All phenomena from the planet we inhabit to the oceans, clouds, forests and flowers that surround us, arise in dependence upon subtle patterns of energy. Without their proper interaction, they dissolve and decay.

It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.

We have to consider what we human beings really are. We are not like machine-made objects. If we are merely mechanical entities, then machines themselves could alleviate all of our sufferings and fulfill our needs.

However, since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. Instead, we should consider our origins and nature to discover what we require.

Leaving aside the complex question of the creation and evolution of our universe, we can at least agree that each of us is the product of our own parents. In general, our conception took place not just in the context of sexual desire but from our parents' decision to have a child. Such decisions are founded on responsibility and altruism - the parents compassionate commitment to care of their child until it is able to take care of itself. Thus, from the very moment of our conception, our parents' love is directly in our creation.

Moreover, we are completely dependent upon our mothers' care from the earliest stages of our growth. According to some scientists, a pregnant woman's mental state, be it calm or agitated, has a direct physical effect on her unborn child.

The expression of love is also very important at the time of birth. Since the very first thing we do is suck milk from our mothers' breast, we naturally feel close to her, and she must feel love for us in order to feed us properly; if she feels anger or resentment her milk may not flow freely.

Then there is the critical period of brain development from the time of birth up to at least the age of three or four, during which time loving physical contact is the single most important factor for the normal growth of the child. If the child is not held, hugged, cuddled, or loved, its development will be impaired and its brain will not mature properly.

Since a child cannot survive without the care of others, love is its most important nourishment. The happiness of childhood, the allaying of the child's many fears and the healthy development of its self-confidence all depend directly upon love.

Nowadays, many children grow up in unhappy homes. If they do not receive proper affection, in later life they will rarely love their parents and, not infrequently, will find it hard to love others. This is very sad.

As children grow older and enter school, their need for support must be met by their teachers. If a teacher not only imparts academic education but also assumes responsibility for preparing students for life, his or her pupils will feel trust and respect and what has been taught will leave an indelible impression on their minds. On the other hand, subjects taught by a teacher who does not show true concern for his or her students' overall well-being will be regarded as temporary and not retained for long.

Similarly, if one is sick and being treated in hospital by a doctor who evinces a warm human feeling, one feels at ease and the doctors' desire to give the best possible care is itself curative, irrespective of the degree of his or her technical skill. On the other hand, if one's doctor lacks human feeling and displays an unfriendly expression, impatience or casual disregard, one will feel anxious, even if he or she is the most highly qualified doctor and the disease has been correctly diagnosed and the right medication prescribed. Inevitably, patients' feelings make a difference to the quality and completeness of their recovery.

Even when we engage in ordinary conversation in everyday life, if someone speaks with human feeling we enjoy listening, and respond accordingly; the whole conversation becomes interesting, however unimportant the topic may be. On the other hand, if a person speaks coldly or harshly, we feel uneasy and wish for a quick end to the interaction. From the least to the most important event, the affection and respect of others are vital for our happiness.

Recently I met a group of scientists in America who said that the rate of mental illness in their country was quite high-around twelve percent of the population. It became clear during our discussion that the main cause of depression was not a lack of material necessities but a deprivation of the affection of the others.

So, as you can see from everything I have written so far, one thing seems clear to me: whether or not we are consciously aware of it, from the day we are born, the need for human affection is in our very blood. Even if the affection comes from an animal or someone we would normally consider an enemy, both children and adults will naturally gravitate towards it.

I believe that no one is born free from the need for love. And this demonstrates that, although some modern schools of thought seek to do so, human beings cannot be defined as solely physical. No material object, however beautiful or valuable, can make us feel loved, because our deeper identity and true character lie in the subjective nature of the mind.

Developing compassion
Some of my friends have told me that, while love and compassion are marvelous and good, they are not really very relevant. Our world, they say, is not a place where such beliefs have much influence or power. They claim that anger and hatred are so much a part of human nature that humanity will always be dominated by them. I do not agree.

We humans have existed in our present form for about a hundred-thousand years. I believe that if during this time the human mind had been primarily controlled by anger and hatred, our overall population would have decreased. But today, despite all our wars, we find that the human population is greater than ever. This clearly indicates to me that love and compassion predominate in the world. And this is why unpleasant events are news, compassionate activities are so much part of daily life that they are taken for granted and, therefore, largely ignored.

So far I have been discussing mainly the mental benefits of compassion, but it contributes to good physical health as well, According to my personal experience, mental stability and physical well-being are directly related. Without question, anger and agitation make us more susceptible to illness. On the other hand, if the mind is tranquil and occupied with positive thoughts, the body will not easily fall prey to disease.

But of course it is also true that we all have an innate self-centeredness that inhibits our love for others. So, since we desire the true happiness that is brought about by only a calm mind, and since such peace of mind is brought about by only a compassionate attitude, how can we develop this? Obviously, it is not enough for us simply to think about how nice compassion is! We need to make a concerted effort to develop it; we must use all the events of our daily life to transform our thoughts and behavior.

First of all, we must be clear about what we mean by compassion. Many forms of compassionate feeling are mixed with desire and attachment. For instance, the love parents feel of their child is often strongly associated with their own emotional needs, so it is not fully compassionate. Again, in marriage, the love between husband and wife -  particularly at the beginning, when each partner still may not know the other's deeper character very well - depends more on attachment than genuine love. Our desire can be so strong that the person to whom we are attached appears to be good, when in fact he or she is very negative. In addition, we have a tendency to exaggerate small positive qualities. Thus when one partner's attitude changes, the other partner is often disappointed and his or her attitude changes too. This is an indication that love has been motivated more by personal need than by genuine care for the other individual.

True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude towards others does not change even if they behave negatively.

Of course, developing this kind of compassion is not at all easy! As a start, let us consider the following facts:
Whether people are beautiful and friendly or unattractive and disruptive, ultimately they are human beings, just like oneself. Like oneself, they want happiness and do not want suffering. Furthermore, their right to overcome suffering and be happy is equal to one's own. Now, when you recognize that all beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel empathy and closeness for them. Through accustoming your mind to this sense of universal altruism, you develop a feeling of responsibility for others: the wish to help them actively overcome their problems. Nor is this wish selective; it applies equally to all. As long as they are human beings experiencing pleasure and pain just as you do, there is no logical basis to discriminate between them or to alter your concern for them if they behave negatively.

Let me emphasize that it is within your power, given patience and time, to develop this kind of compassion. Of course, our self-centeredness, our distinctive attachment to the feeling of an independent, self-existent �I�, works fundamentally to inhibit our compassion. Indeed, true compassion can be experienced only when this type of self- grasping is eliminated. But this does not mean that we cannot start and make progress now.

How can we start
We should begin by removing the greatest hindrances to compassion: anger and hatred. As we all know, these are extremely powerful emotions and they can overwhelm our entire mind. Nevertheless, they can be controlled. If, however, they are not, these negative emotions will plague us - with no extra effort on their part! - and impede our quest for the happiness of a loving mind.

So as a start, it is useful to investigate whether or not anger is of value. Sometimes, when we are discouraged by a difficult situation, anger does seem helpful, appearing to bring with it more energy, confidence and determination.

Here, though, we must examine our mental state carefully. While itis true that anger brings extra energy, if we explore the nature of this energy, we discover that it is blind: we cannot be sure whether its result will be positive or negative. This is because anger eclipses the best part of our brain: its rationality. So the energy of anger is almost always unreliable. It can cause an immense amount of destructive, unfortunate behavior. Moreover, if anger increases to the extreme, one becomes like a mad person, acting in ways that are as damaging to oneself as they are to others.

It is possible, however, to develop an equally forceful but far more controlled energy with which to handle difficult situations.

This controlled energy comes not only from a compassionate attitude, but also from reason and patience. These are the most powerful antidotes to anger. Unfortunately, many people misjudge these qualities as signs of weakness. I believe the opposite to be true: that they are the true signs of inner strength. Compassion is by nature gentle, peaceful and soft, but it is very powerful. It is those who easily lose their patience who are insecure and unstable. Thus, to me, the arousal of anger is a direct sign of weakness.

So, when a problem first arises, try to remain humble and maintain a sincere attitude and be concerned that the outcome is fair. Of course, others may try to take advantage of you, and if your remaining detached only encourages unjust aggression, adopt a strong stand, This, however, should be done with compassion, and if it is necessary to express your views and take strong countermeasures, do so without anger or ill-intent.
You should realize that even though your opponents appear to be harming you, in the end, their destructive activity will damage only themselves. In order to check your own selfish impulse to retaliate, you should recall your desire to practice compassion and assume responsibility for helping prevent the other person from suffering the consequences of his or her acts.

Thus, because the measures you employ have been calmly chosen, they will be more effective, more accurate and more forceful. Retaliation based on the blind energy of anger seldom hits the target.

Friends and enemies
I must emphasize again that merely thinking that compassion and reason and patience are good will not be enough to develop them. We must wait for difficulties to arise and then attempt to practice them.

And who creates such opportunities? Not our friends, of course, but our enemies. They are the ones who give us the most trouble, So if we truly wish to learn, we should consider enemies to be our best teacher!

For a person who cherishes compassion and love, the practice of tolerance is essential, and for that, an enemy is indispensable. So we should feel grateful to our enemies, for it is they who can best help us develop a tranquil mind! Also, itis often the case in both personal and public life, that with a change in circumstances, enemies become friends.

So anger and hatred are always harmful, and unless we train our minds and work to reduce their negative force, they will continue to disturb us and disrupt our attempts to develop a calm mind. Anger and hatred are our real enemies. These are the forces we most need to confront and defeat, not the temporary enemies who appear intermittently throughout life.

Of course, it is natural and right that we all want friends. I often joke that if you really want to be selfish, you should be very altruistic! You should take good care of others, be concerned for their welfare, help them, serve them, make more friends, make more smiles, The result? When you yourself need help, you find plenty of helpers! If, on the other hand, you neglect the happiness of others, in the long term you will be the loser. And is friendship produced through quarrels and anger, jealousy and intense competitiveness? I do not think so. Only affection brings us genuine close friends.

In today's materialistic society, if you have money and power, you seem to have many friends. But they are not friends of yours; they are the friends of your money and power. When you lose your wealth and influence, you will find it very difficult to track these people down.

The trouble is that when things in the world go well for us, we become confident that we can manage by ourselves and feel we do not need friends, but as our status and health decline, we quickly realize how wrong we were. That is the moment when we learn who is really helpful and who is completely useless. So to prepare for that moment, to make genuine friends who will help us when the need arises, we ourselves must cultivate altruism!
Though sometimes people laugh when I say it, I myself always want more friends. I love smiles. Because of this I have the problem of knowing how to make more friends and how to get more smiles, in particular, genuine smiles. For there are many kinds of smile, such as sarcastic, artificial or diplomatic smiles. Many smiles produce no feeling of satisfaction, and sometimes they can even create suspicion or fear, can't they? But a genuine smile really gives us a feeling of freshness and is, I believe, unique to human beings. If these are the smiles we want, then we ourselves must create the reasons for them to appear.

Compassion and the world
In conclusion, I would like briefly to expand my thoughts beyond the topic of this short piece and make a wider point: individual happiness can contribute in a profound and effective way to the overall improvement of our entire human community.

Because we all share an identical need for love, it is possible to feel that anybody we meet, in whatever circumstances, is a brother or sister. No matter how new the face or how different the dress and behavior, there is no significant division between us and other people. It is foolish to dwell on external differences, because our basic natures are the same.

Ultimately, humanity is one and this small planet is our only home, If we are to protect this home of ours, each of us needs to experience a vivid sense of universal altruism. It is only this feeling that can remove the self-centered motives that cause people to deceive and misuse one another.

If you have a sincere and open heart, you naturally feel self- worth and confidence, and there is no need to be fearful of others.

I believe that at every level of society - familial, tribal, national and international - the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities.

I try to treat whoever I meet as an old friend. This gives me a genuine feeling of happiness.  It is the practice of compassion. - Dalai Lama

Saturday, December 10, 2011

War on Christmas?!?!

So, in this article, I openly voice my negative opinions about Christianity. Don't continue reading if this is going to be upsetting you. My criticisms are not of the teaching of Jesus, which are a very beautiful thing, but of more political Christianity an the rather awful things people have done while invoking the name of Jesus over quite a few centuries. My attempt is to separate things that humans do in the practice of Christianity from the things that Saints and Avatars do. I believe Jesus is one of the very greatest sages of all, but that some of what is done to worship him is violent and petty. There are many people who are like me, who grew up in childhood as Christians, but have walked away from that label because of some of the connotations that are implied. I know that most Christians are warm and loving people. My issue is not with these people, but the power that some dogmatic churches wield over them.

Back in the days when I had a TV, I remember watching a story on MSNBC about how FOX News had whipped people into a frenzy be declaring a "War on Christmas." It showed Bill O'Reilly, Scott Hannity, Glenn Beck and their other politicos railing about how people were purposely saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" in yet another display of hatred toward Christians at a time of their most important holiday.

Now, I know that the show on MSNBC was in a 'war on FOX News,' so maybe they did not generate this whole thing, but they did, indeed fan the flames.

I remember several things coming to mind: First of all, wasn't Easter the most important Christian holiday? And second, what about all the other people who celebrate holidays around this time? Wasn't it also Hanukkah time, and Kwanzaa? And didn't the Christians place Christmas on the Winter Solstice to replace a number of major pagan holidays celebrated by those horrible Barbarians rather than celebrating Jesus' birthday in the summer, when he was actually born?

Apart from the very obvious connections between FOX News and corporate America, which profits in the millions as people frantically stress themselves out to buy presents for everyone - often putting themselves in even greater debt to get Uncle Fred another token he doesn't really need in order to diminish familial dysfunction, there are a number of other thoughts coming to mind as the whole "War on Christmas" thing reigns its ugly head once more.

Granted, my views of Christianity are very esoteric. I have enjoyed studying A Course in Miracles for many years, which interprets Christianity from a point of view very much like Buddhism, and I have been engrossed for a while in the commentaries of The New Testament by Paramahansa Yogananda which interpret the text from the point-of-view of Hinduism and Yoga.

These interpretations have brought about a renewed respect from Christianity, which, like many, I had lost respect for due to my feelings that much of the practice of Christianity was not in line with its teachings.

Christianity, as I understand it, boils down to the idea that God is Love, and that we should have love for all people and living things. This I believe and respect greatly. However, much of what is done in the name of Christianity, politically, seems to be not at all loving. Year after year, religious leaders are involved in tremendous scandals, stealing from and violating their parishioners; I am criticized for not believing in the 'one true religion;' remember The Crusades? The Inquisition? and so forth. There seems to be a disconnect between what Jesus said and what has been done by those who worship him. As Woody Allen said in "Hannah and her Sisters" - "If Jesus were to come back now and see what is being done in his name, he just would't be able to stop throwing up!"

The esoteric teachings I mentioned about have allowed me to separate my feelings about much of modern Christianity from its true roots, which are really a very marvelous thing. I have come to accept Jesus as a very enlightened master who has attempted to open up our hearts. As Buddha opened the mind, and Krishna showed the paths of yoga, so Jesus has shown the power of love.

I was reading a book on Christianity by Swami Kriyananda recently, and he made some excellent points:

Kriyananda pointed out that there is a difference between Christianity and Churchianity. Churchianity is religion based on the needs of administrators who have a need to control people and raise money, and so forth. He points out that the Saints in Christianity have widely been ridiculed, discredited and abused by the church during the time they are alive and in direct touch with God. Then, usually many years after they die, people petition the churches, based on material miracles to make them Saints, and then shrines are open to them and people can pray directly to them. But during the time they are incarnate, they are shunned from telling people of their direct experiences with the divine and teaching what is probably a very true understanding, in many cases, of Jesus' teachings. He further points out that churches have made attempts at every level to suppress science whose proofs undermine the churches claims. Most of the Eastern religions are very enthusiastic about looking at science, and have made no attempts to suppress or cover up scientific findings. It is very disturbing, in this day and age, for members of congress to be reading The Bible on the floor of the senate as their rebuttal to scientists sharing discoveries about climate change, as just one example. Many of the Eastern religions modify their interpretations of faith to match the science, rather that refute or modify the science to try to fit into narrow, dogmatic models.

Why cite a Hindu Swami? Most people don't realize that for many Hindus and Yogis, Jesus is considered one of the major deities. Often pictures of Jesus adorn Hindu homes.

Tessa Bledsoe, a former Carmelite monk (she prefers monk to nun) commented that Christianity became sick early on. This sickness came about during the time that the church was 'organized' around 400 AD, after being an illegal, mystical faith in the Roman Empire prior to the time they embraced it. They embraced it on their own terms, however, creating the notion of heaven and hell in order to control people (Pope John Paul II commented that this was true, saying that heaven and hell were not real places, but were simply states of mind, shortly before he died.) Over the centuries, Christian churches have become big, big, big business and have exerted extreme power over their own believers and those who choose not to believe.

So, summarizes my rift with popular Christianity. These are my personal problems with  Christianity and just to state why I have trouble calling myself a Christian. I do, however, fully respect the right of anyone to believe in any faith they choose, so long as that faith does not interfere with my right to believe in whatever faith I choose... but therein is some of the problem - a lot of Christians do not respect my freedom of religion.

Above is a commercial Rick Perry is running in Iowa. This reflects the attitude that I find offensive about Christianity. He makes derogatory remarks about gays in the military, brings up the whole idea that there is a war on Christmas, and promises, as president, to defend Christianity. He, like Michele Bachmann, has gained much mileage in the political arena from the whole notion that Christianity is under attack and that Christians are victims of such vial hatred. Furthermore, don't his remarks imply that if he is president, he will erase the line between religion and government?

The very first clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution is "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Given this, the type of campaigning I see makes me nervous. I don't care about political candidates sharing their religious views, but using this in any way to campaign, or to belittle others is against my very core.

There are still millions of Americans who believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and being a Muslim necessarily makes him a terrorist. There are many who do not support Romney and Huntsman due only to the fact that they are Mormons. (I do not support Romney, either, but it is due to his political beliefs, and I could care less if he is a Mormon, or anything else...) There are many who support Perry and Bachmann purely because they are fundamentalist Christians. This is all Medieval thinking. It is also sad that much of this hatred and misunderstanding of Islam and Mormonism is perpetuated by people who think of themselves as Christians.

This is the light under which the "War on Christmas" was created.

The argument of the war on Christmas is that people are saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," because Liberals have made people so afraid to express what they really mean - which is to say that Liberals are anti-Christian. I believe that to be the subtext of this whole statement.

So, I have expressed my views of contemporary, dogmatic Christianity above, and I am also a Liberal. So, am I anti-Christian? No! Not in any way. I object to the external pressured of Christianity to force itself upon others. I object to the conceited contention that Christianity is the 'one, true religion.' I object to the historical taking of peoples' lives in the name of Christianity.  I also know that none of these things are even alluded to in the New Testament or gnostic gospels, which, as I have stated above, I have been studying, but from an esoteric standpoint.

I believe that there are many, many paths which a person can take. Many don't even involve a spiritual life. For those who chose a spiritual path, there are many - there is no one that is cut out for everyone. Even within Christianity, this is evident, as there are a multitude of Christian paths, from the very dogmatic, to the very liberal, and from the very fanatic to the casual. And I respect everyone's path. If it involves Christmas, then Merry Christmas!! I, personally, will choose to use the term "Happy Holidays," because I believe it honors all the many faiths that celebrate a holiday this time of year. I also mean it to honor those who have no faith and celebrate no holiday at all.

As far as a holiday, it is a good time of year to have one. After all, most people get a few days off of work, the years are changing, the shortest day is arriving, and soon the sun will be coming back, and this makes a lot of people happier. It is good to take time out to celebrate something at different times of the year, even if what you are celebrating is that you do not believe in anything and you have every right to that.

If you would like to say "Merry Christmas" to me, go right ahead. Then I know why this time of year is important to you, and I respect that. I probably will say "Happy Holidays" to you when I respond, and I would expect that you respect that in return.

The world is wonderful because of our differences. I love to talk to people of all faiths about why they believe the way they do. I have met many, many wonderful Christians, and it was from them that I learned many of the criticisms I made about Christianity - yes, there are many Christians who are critical of Christianity.

Whatever your beliefs, I wish you happy holidays. I don't say that to declare a war on anyone's beliefs, but, instead, to admire all peoples' beliefs.

And now to end with a little comic relief. Here is a parody of the Rick Perry Ad: