Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Finding a Message

Today I found myself looking for a pithy quote on the environment and sustainability for use on a commemorative plaque. I never found exactly what I was looking or, but I did find this quote, which is so powerful that it demanded that I stop what I was doing, so as to be fully open to the personal significance of this teaching.
Past the seeker as he prayed came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them...he cried, "Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?"...God said, "I did do something. I made you."     -- Sufi Teaching
...and you, and you, and me.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I'll Meet You There

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi
From Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks

This wonderful poem is quoted by Elizabeth Lesser in her TED talk entitled Take the Other to Lunch, in which she encourages us to see the person behind the stereotype and get to know the "other" you fear or loath.

Here is her TED talk. It inspired me to try to be more open to people who believe fervently in ideas I reject. I hope you will listen closely to what she has to say.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Antidote

It seems that intolerance, hatred and even violence are on the rise in our country. Minds are closed, tempers flare, angry words are spoken, leading to angry actions. Verbal attacks on those with whom one disagrees are on the rise, physical attcks are threatened, and carried out with ever greater frequency.

Sixteen people were shot yesterday in Tuscon, Arizona. Five died. The apparent target of the attack was U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords who was critically wounded. Here's a quote from the Associated Press' coverage of this horrific incident:

"During his campaign effort to unseat Giffords in November, Republican challenger Jesse Kelly held fundraisers where he urged supporters to help remove Giffords from office by joining him to shoot a fully loaded M-16 rifle. Kelly is a former Marine who served in Iraq and was pictured on his website in military gear holding his automatic weapon and promoting the event.
'I don't see the connection, between the fundraisers featuring weapons and Saturday's shooting,' said John Ellinwood, Kelly's spokesman. 'I don't know this person, we cannot find any records that he was associated with the campaign in any way. I just don't see the connection.' "

He doesn't see the is it possible that something that is so obvious on its face to me, would completely elude this man. It makes me wonder if I could even have a conversation with him wherein we would find a place of mutual understanding. Right now, I tend to doubt that it would be possible.

Please don't misunderstand; I'm not angry at him. I am just perplexed and saddened. Perplexed at a set of values that put a dubious principle -- the right to own guns -- above the very lives of people. And saddened that I cannot understand Mr. Ellinwood, Mr. Kelly, and all the others who subscribe to this belief, and that they, most likely, cannot understand me.

While a dialog on this topic needs to happen, I'm fairly certain the country is not ready to have an open and productive conversation on this matter. Before that can happen, leaders must emerge on both sides of the issue; leaders with cool heads and open minds, who are capable of setting a tone of respect and of leading by example. Only then will a productive debate be possible.

Until then, I think those of us who abhor violence, who believe that violent words lead to violent deeds, and who refuse to fetishize  guns and violent behavior, must commit ourselves to radical nonviolence. By that I mean that even when we are most frustrated by events and the reactions of others to those events, we must refrain from anger. We must not vent our frustration, but rather set an example of peace, love and understanding in all our words and deeds. Be the change. It is the only way.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


How did I get here -- to this place in my life where I'm writing this blog? Undoubtedly, the roots of this story go back many years, or even many lifetimes. However, there was one moment a few years ago that stands out in my memory as key. In fact, it was like a key that opened a door to a world of belief which had previously been closed to me.

That moment came abut five years ago during a conversation with my daughter Corinne in which she told me that she had read a book she thought I would like. The book was Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian L. Weiss. At the time I thought nothing of it. She did not tell me what the book was about.

A short time later, during a visit to Portland, Oregon, my wife and I were in Powell's Books, just browsing, when I remembered Corinne's recommendation. Well, actually, I didn't remember it exactly, just that she had recommended something. So I called her from the bookstore. At first, she didn't remember which book she had recommended either, but eventually, we narrowed it down together and we were able to reconstruct the conversation to the point where she could remember which book she had suggested to me.

This time though, in response to my question, she did tell me what it was about: past lives therapy. I have to admit that when I heard that, I was more than a little skeptical about whether or not I would like the book. The only thing I knew about past lives was what I had heard about Shirley McClaine's books on the subject. And, that was not very encouraging.

Nevertheless, with some difficulty I found a copy of Many Lives, Many Masters in Powell's. (Exactly which section of a bookstore do you look in to find a book on past-life therapy?) In spite of my doubts, I bought it and read it.

Wiess' tale turned out to be a great read. I was immediately swept up in the tale of a young patient with mysterious symptoms, who, under hypnosis, reveals details of many past lives she had lived, complete with knowledge of events and cultural details that it would have been impossible for this young 20th century woman to know.

Much to my surprise, though, I found I didn't need all of the "proof" Dr. Weiss assembled to validate this woman's experiences in order to believe in what she and the doctor were experiencing during her therapy. Somehow, without making a decision to do so, my consciousness had moved on from the world of empirical fact to the world of belief. I knew in my heart that these stories were true, and it amazed me, because I had always been a doubter when it came to anything resembling the spiritual side of life.

Yet, now I had found something that I believed in, and I was just as impatient with Weiss' initial doubts about what he was experiencing as I would formerly have been dismissive of his later acceptance of those experiences. Some part of my mind had opened to a new perception of the world that day, and I had both the recent convert's impatience with doubters and a hunger for more knowledge.

After finishing the book, I was anxious to discuss with Corinne what had made her think I would like this book. To me there seemed nothing in my personality or previous interests that would have lead her to believe this book would appeal to me. Yet, somehow she had not only arrived at that conclusion, but felt strongly enough about it to follow through and mention it to me.

When I eventually asked her about it, she simply said, "I just thought you'd like it." Although at first this seemed inadequate as an explanation, I have since come to understand that many seemingly inexplicable occurrences make perfect sense once you become open to explanations outside the realm of what is scientifically provable. Of course she knew I would like it, it was exactly what I was ready for...what I that moment. All it took was the right person to see it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Exercise as Meditation

I've discovered an interesting phenomenon at the gym. I use the elliptical machine for cardio or weight-loss workouts. I really love the motion of that machine, it's like running without the pounding, or like riding a bike standing up. It is really unusual and really delightful.

Krishna Das
As nice as it is however, 30+ minutes of it several times a week can get a little tedious. So, now I bring my iPod with me and listen to music while I'm exercising. I've actually been doing this for quite a while, and during that time I've tried many different styles of music. Somewhere along the way, I tried Krishna Das' kirtan chants and now I rarely listen to anything else. The chanting has an amazing impact on my workouts. The first thing I noticed was that if I closed my eyes and allowed myself to get caught up in the chanting, the workout would just zip by.

But, after a few weeks of listening to only chants while exercising, I became aware of a more profound effect. I start to feel an intense joy, about mid-way through my workout. Then a huge smile would appear on my face and just stay there for the rest of the session. Sometimes I wondered if the other folks in the gym noticed this madman fiercely pedaling away on the elliptical with his eyes closed and a big smile on his face. No ever said anything, but people don't typically comment on things like that in the gym. Some people grunt, some hum or sing along to whatever they're listening to via their earbuds, some remain stoically silent. No one really pays any attention, as far as I can tell. Your workout space is your own.

Recently, I've begun to experiment with another technique on the elliptical. I still listen to the chants, and mostly keep my eyes closed, but now I try to focus on my breathing -- in and out through my nose -- almost as if I were meditating. Well, not almost, exactly like I was meditating. Now here's the really neat part: when I'm successful at focusing on my breathing for a while, my heart rate slows, even while I'm working harder on the machine.

This may not be a scientific breakthrough; I've read about studies that document the stress-reducing effect of meditation. Nevertheless, for me the combination of breathing, listening to the chants, and working hard, yet progressively feeling better and better as I do, is like catnip. Whereas there was definitely a time when I resisted these workouts, now I happily look forward to them, and am even disappointed if I miss one.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Einstein, Buddha and Tolle

The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. - Albert Einstein

Was Einstein speaking as a physicist or as a spiritualist, when he said this? I suspect he was speaking as a physicist. Is it not the physics pioneered by Einstein that tells us that all points in time exist simultaneously? Yet, perhaps, as was often the case, there was a touch of the spiritual in Einstein's pronouncement.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. - Buddha

Eckhart Tolle expands on Buddha's thought by reminding us that the present moment is all there is. There is no past, only memories. There is no future, only speculation. They are both, as Einstein said, a stubbornly persistent illusion.

As they so often do, science and spirituality once again show us two sides of the same coin.