Saturday, January 26, 2008

Lojong Poems: Seven


Lojong Poems: Seven

As you breathe in, take in and accept all of the sadness, pain, and negativity of the whole world, including yourself, and absorb it into your heart. As you breathe out, pour out all of your joy and bliss; bless the whole of existence.

I. I have grieved long enough

I breathe in dust, cobwebs, air that stings
of chemicals, of pain, all of my sadness
and all of the bodies broken and burned

an empathy for the suffering of beings
I have never met, children in Darfur,
in any place where hunger and pain
cause people to regret their birth

but the root is in me, cells closed
to emotion, a heart encased in granite,
hidden from anything that might touch
its tender core, open it to the vicissitudes
of being a soul wrapped in flesh

I took to the cushion for healing, never knowing
I would have to inhale flames, walk across
hot coals, nail myself to a cross :: all of that
seemed so much a fairy tale, not my path

yet here I sit, fire ants of awareness
consuming my flesh, moths in my hair,
beetles appearing from nowhere to pick clean
the bones, as I sit, inhaling all this pain

II. I have grieved long enough

recomposition of elements :: the flesh made
whole in decomposition :: on the out breath
I exhale the light of bliss, cellular
wisdom given in the inheritance of DNA

holding maggots, beetles, and worms
in my hand, I know the origin of suffering,
the fear of death, and I am no longer its prey

a thousand deaths on each in-breath,
but a thousand and one rebirths
on each out-breath

the mathematics of compassion

Do You Deserve to Be Happy? [Updated]

I was talking with a friend this evening and we both sense that a lot of people, maybe most people, don't believe they deserve to be happy.

So, do you think you believe to be happy? Honestly, deep down, do you own the right to be happy? If not, why?

I lived much of my life with the belief that I was such a horrible person that I didn't deserve to be happy. I'm not sure when that shifted, but I suspect that it was a combination of my Buddhist practice and time in therapy. At some point I realized that no matter how many bad things I have done -- and the number is staggering -- that I can make amends for those things and in doing so, reclaim my right to be happy.

[My good friend Jami, who is a therapist, pointed out to me that there is a contradiction in this post. We do not need to earn the right to be happy. My thinking that I did is contrary to my belief that we all deserve to be happy.

She says:

Who says you have to make amends to reclaim your right to be happy? THIS is the point I try to get across every day. We are so wrapped up in doing that we aren't being. Your belief that you have to DO something to reclaim this right does not acknowledge your spirit, that inherently you are a good person -- your actions aren't your totality -- and just because you are here you deserve to be happy. SO, there can be all these philosophical questions about serial killers want to kill to be happy, but I am not talking about these people. You have the right to be, and hence be happy, in that just because you are.

Point taken.]

I'm sure there is no law that says I should be happy, but I believe that all human beings have an innate right to be happy. Somehow, many of us become convinced that we are undeserving of this basic human right -- and certainly some of this comes from religion. No matter where we reside now in our spiritual beliefs, most of us grew up with some version of the Christian belief in original sin, that we were born flawed because of some mythic story about the origins of human life.

Yet our culture tells us in so many ways that we should be happy -- but the ways that we should do this are very detrimental to our emotional and spiritual health, i.e., owning things and seeking fleeting experiences.

So, I ask again -- Do you deserve to be happy? If not, why?

Fukitol -- The Perfect Pill

Funny, but a little too true.

Recipe - Pumpkin Macadamia Nut Treat

I eat what many would consider an insanely clean diet -- no junk food, fast food, sugar, or any of the other things that seem so prevalent in the American diet. I haven't ever tasted a Crispy Creme donut; haven't eaten pizza in more than seven years; and so on.

This may sound rather bland and boring, but it doesn't have to be. Most of the foods I eat are only minimally processed and as close to nature as possible (within reason). But I am constantly seeking new ways to get my nutrition with as much taste and variety as possible.

My newest treat is tasty, healthy, and packed with nutrition.

Pumpkin Macadamia Nut Treat

1 15 oz. can of organic pumpkin
2 tbsp of macadamia nut butter
1 heaping teaspoon of cinnamon
1 1/2 scoops whey protein powder (plain or vanilla flavored)

Heat the pumpkin and macadamia nut butter for 90-120 seconds in the microwave. Add cinnamon and protein and mix completely. You're done.

The pumpkin is loaded with fiber and vitamin A, as well as other trace nutrients. The macadamia nut butter is loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, as well trace minerals and plant sterols. Cinnamon helps lower cholesterol, decrease insulin levels, and has many other heath benefits. Whey protein, in addition to being easiest protein to digest, contains many immune system boosting elements.

Total calories: 595
Protein: 40 grams (depending on brand)
Fat: 25 grams, most of which is monounsaturated (the good stuff) and 4 grams saturated
Carbs: 40 grams, of which 19 are fiber

Per Serving (2):
Calories: 297
Protein: 20 grams
Fat: 12.5 grams
Carbs: 20 grams, of which 9.5 are fiber

Personally, this is a one serving meal for me. But I realize that I don't eat the same way that others do.

Psychotherapy on Television

I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, but it almost makes me wish I had cable/HBO. I'm really curious to see how they do this, whether they get it "right," or if they are just sensationalizing the voyeuristic urge in their viewers.

From the New York Times Magazine:

This Monday night, with the debut of the HBO series “In Treatment,” viewers will get a chance to sit in on the therapeutic endeavor like silent, third presences. The series originated in Israel, where it attracted a huge audience; one of Israel’s leading newspapers described it as “the closest thing to literature to be found nowadays on television.” The show will air for nine weeks in half-hour episodes, five days a week. The patients (an adolescent, a woman, a man and a couple) are each accorded their own night, as they fumble, weep and wrestle their way — “Believe me, you’d be shocked to know the person that’s sitting here,” one patient declares — through their experiences with a therapist, Paul Weston (played by Gabriel Byrne). In the fifth session, Weston explores his own fantasies and obsessions with his former therapist (Dianne Wiest).

“In Treatment,” unlike other shows about therapists, like “Huff” and “Frasier,” takes the therapeutic transaction — where, as Weston asserts, “the customer is always wrong” — seriously and makes for mesmerizing watching. Weston is a realistic, likable but imperfect character, and his patients speak to our foiled dreams and resilient longings, even when their problems seem overdrawn or their behavior improbable. (Tuesday night’s patient, a Navy pilot who is resistant to the process and yet drawn in, sets up his own espresso machine in Weston’s office after deeming the therapist’s coffee “attempted murder.”)

Of course, it remains to be seen whether audiences will be persuaded of therapy’s relevance to their own lives, especially at a time when the tweaking of serotonin and dopamine levels is considered more effective than examining the wrong turns of the psyche. Psychotherapy, much like the conjurings of the imagination, has always required a degree of blind faith — what Samuel Coleridge characterized as a “willing suspension of disbelief.” In a country that declares happiness to be a constitutional right, it is unclear whether therapy — a process that mostly offers a means of arranging rather than altering experience — provides enough bang for the buck.

Daphne Merkin, who authored this review, seems to have a rather skewed idea of what "talk therapy" is about and how it functions. Her overview of therapy tends to see it as a somewhat pointless exercise in narcissism on the part of the client.

The individual narratives may vary, but they always feature a presenting problem or set of problems that crouch behind the chair or couch, ready to pounce or, as it may be, edge their way into the room: an unloving mother; indifferent father; unlikable friends; cruel spouse; stalled ambition; inability to form an intimate relationship. It is all grist for the mill, for the insulated setting, for the imperceptible and often painful drama that characterizes the therapeutic encounter. On one side is a professional trained in the art of paying close attention; on the other is someone trained in the arts of repression and denial. The two sit across from each other, week after week, talking, pausing, examining the inflections between pauses, gathering information, adducing motivations, all in the name of a tenuous but daunting goal. That goal is nothing less than a new way of inhabiting the self, a release from entrenched patterns into a place where old wounds don’t reign.

I added the emphasis at the end of this quote because that is, despite all the other qualifiers Merkin offers, the real point of therapy -- and it's not an antagonistic relationship, but rather a co-creation.

More and more, talk therapy is coming to the realization that the human being -- no matter how damaged and lost -- has within him or herself the ability and the desire to be whole and complete, to inhabit the healthier sense of self.

Granted, some forms of pathology -- schizophrenia, borderline, psychoses of various sorts -- need more than talk therapy to regain some balance. But even with the near-total reliance on chemical interventions in modern psychology, researchers are coming to understand that both approaches are needed. There seems to be a synergistic result when talk therapy is combined with psychopharmacology.

As to whether or not this new TV show will do anything to make therapy more understandable and/or desirable to those who watch the show -- that remains to be seen. If it's handled well, I think it could do a great service to the fading art of therapy (although there are too many of us who see its value for it to ever totally be replaced by the medical model).

However, this is television -- and I am afraid the show will be more about sensationalizing the therapy space than actually presenting the painful and ecstatic reality of what can transpire between a good therapist and a willing client.

Daily Om: Centering Ourselves

This was yesterday's Daily Om:

Gathering Our Straying Thoughts
Centering Ourselves

When our thoughts are scattered in several directions at once and we are no longer conscious of what we are doing or why, it is time to center ourselves. When we center ourselves, we begin by acknowledging that we have become spread too thin and we are no longer unified inside. Our thoughts might be out of sync with our feelings, and our actions may be out of sync with both. The main signs that we need to center ourselves are scattered thoughts and a feeling of disconnection or numbness, as if we are no longer able to take anything in. In addition, we may feel unfocused and not present in our bodies. Centering ourselves is a way of coming to terms with all the different energies within us and drawing them back into ourselves.

Centering yourself means that you are working from or being aware of the core of your being in the solar plexus area of your body. At first it may not make sense, but as you progress you will understand what this feels like. We naturally know how to center ourselves when we take a deep breath, for example, before making a big announcement or doing something big. Another way to center ourselves is to sit down and engage in breath meditation. We can start by simply getting into a comfortable upright position and noticing as our breath enters and leaves our bodies. Our breath flows into our center and out from our center, and this process can serve as a template for all of our interactions in the world. In conversations, we can take what our friends are saying into the center of our beings and respond from the center. Our whole lives mirror this ebb and flow of energy that begins and ends at the center of ourselves. If we follow this ebb and flow, we are in harmony with the universe, and when we find we are out of harmony, we can always come back into balance by sitting down and observing our breath.

When we sit down to center ourselves we can imagine that we are gathering our straying thoughts and energies back into ourselves, the way a mother duck gathers her babies around her. We can also visualize ourselves casting a net and pulling all the disparate parts of ourselves back to the center of our being, creating a sense of fluid integration. From this place of centeredness, we can begin again, directing ourselves outward in a more intentional way.

Michal Mierzejewski - Beautiful Landscape Photography

I found these wonderful images by Michal Mierzejewski at linkinn:

There are more images at linkinn.

Chuck Jones -- Hunting Trilogy

Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Daffy Duck. What could be better?

Rabbit Fire

Rabbit Seasoning

Duck! Rabbit! Duck!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lojong Poems: Six


Lojong Poems: Six

Between meditations, treat everything as an illusion

the window is just how I see it, but not
the window itself :: the mind plays
make-believe with familiar objects, with
perception :: an open door, a photograph

was that really her all those years ago?
it feels like a dream from which I awoke
and went about my day :: brewing coffee
wearing Levis, driving to work downtown

but it was my camera, my eye behind
the lens, the shutter blinks and twelve years
have passed :: a photograph, the window
is not really a window after all

and the fragile line of memory is not
really my life :: sitting on the cushion
all is so clear, then I step to the window
and see only the shadow of the who I am

Lojong Poems: Five


Lojong Poems: Five

Stay in the primeval consciousness, the basis of everything

the mind is a monsoon of wind and rain
thoughts like thunder, initial dust kicked up
and the pounding torrents drowning all
awareness of anything but the simple storm

I would bare myself to the elements, allow
the wet to permeate my skin, chilled
by the sudden drop in temperature, exposed
beneath a darkened sky, lost but nor far

from whatever truth washes over me
dismisses thought, the abandonment of name
and identity, flashes of lightning and harrowing
gusts, the desert swallows me whole

relinquishing the safety of knowing, witnessing
the panic of doves fly over me without
needing to run in-doors, to save myself
from the dissolution of what is known

standing in the storm, grasping nothing
by which to save myself, everything is lost
submerged, exposing the hidden bedrock
of what is means to be human

The Red Green Show

When I was in Alaska a couple of years ago, and then again when I was in Nova Scotia, I fell in love with the Red Green Show. It's low budget, silly, and redneck as all hell, but it's the funniest stuff I've seen in ages.

How to build an all wheel drive vehicle

Redneck mid engine luxury car

Speedlinking 1/25/08

Quote of the day:

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
~ Isaac Newton

Image of the day (Dennis Walton):

~ Injury Center: What Ails You? -- "Our new tool explains what's hurting, how to treat it, and how to avoid a repeat."
~ Get A Muscle Mass Fix With Scientific Muscle Morphing! -- "3D Positions of Flexion (POF) is a simple concept based on real science that attacks all the layer of muscle growth with precision. Use the following clues and techniques to build amazing gains in less time!"
~ Why Is Broccoli Good For You? -- "Broccoli has high levels of antioxidants "Eating steamed broccoli reduces the risk of a heart attack by boosting the body's ability to fight off cell damage", The Daily Telegraph reported.New research suggests that a mechanism involving antioxidants found in the Brassicaceae family of vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts) prevents the build-up of free radicals. Excessive production of free radicals can harm cells and even trigger cancers."
~ Drinking heavily in youth puts heart at risk -- "People who drink heavily in their youth may have a higher risk of developing a collection of risk factors for heart disease and stroke, new research suggests."
~ Four Green Foods You Need -- "Detox diets are mostly bunk, but here are some super foods that fight carcinogens and are great for your whole system. And yes, they're all green in color."
~ Is it safe to eat sushi? -- "Concerns about the safety of eating sushi were raised this week after reports about the high levels of mercury found in raw tuna. Is it safe to eat sushi? nutrition columnist Elisa Zied, R.D. explains."
~ Vitamin D ups calcium's bone-building effect -- "In elderly women, adding vitamin D to regular calcium supplements produces long-term improvements in hip bone density, researchers report."
~ Visceral fat linked to heart attacks, strokes -- "We already know that having a beer belly is bad for your heart. Now, we might also know why. New research shows a direct link between inflammation around deposits of visceral fat, or fat that forms around major organs...."

~ Detecting Psychological Disorders -- "Four factors commonly establish psychological disorders. Here's how to tell if people like Britney Spears, Howard Hughes, or Hitler are immature, eccentric, or insane."
~ How Strong is the Research Support for Neurofeedback in Attention Deficits? -- "We are honored to present the thoughts of Duke University's Dr. David Rabiner, a leading authority on the field, on that important issue. As a bonus, you will enjoy his detailed description and suggestions of how to design a high-quality scientific study."
~ Clinical Use of MDMA, Part 2 [DrugMonkey] -- "As a follow to the prior post on MDMA clinical trials, I wanted to delve down into the MDMA dosing specifics. One major problem I have with the MAPS efforts to pursue clinical trials is the expansion of dosing as the trials continue. As mentioned in the prior post, the director of the longest running clinical trial Dr. Michael Mithoefer seems to be under the impression that MDMA has been proven to be safe in the clinical setting and refers to other risky "settings" as if environmental conditions were the sole source of an interactive risk."
~ Convey Risks of Effexor to Better Inform Patients -- "However, when discontinuing the use of Effexor, patients commonly experience withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, anorexia, impaired coordination, fatigue, headaches, insomnia, depressed mood, nightmares, vertigo and sensory disturbances that can feel like electric shocks. These symptoms can be severe, and many patients have difficulty getting off Effexor because of the symptoms they experience."
~ Avoid Sham Advice on Living 'The Good Life': Sizing Up The Science of Happiness -- "A new and blossoming field of psychology - positive psychology - has begun to uncover fascinating, evidence-based answers to these questions. Over the past few months I've been sizing up these findings to reveal the emerging science of happiness."
~ Dream Symbols 23: Fire -- "Fire is a great nature element, which evokes - even today in our 21st Century - something of that feeling of awe that must have struck mythological man when he stole fire from the gods in order to force it into his own service and advancement. Fire stands at the birth of all human culture and this primordial creation value can be discerned through the red glow of a fire dream."
~ Negative Thoughts: Is Life a Battle? -- "I'm quite a sucker for "how to" posts about positive thinking. But sometimes the underlying tone seems more aggressive than positive. I don't have a problem with being a winner in a genuinely competitive situation, but I don't see my life as a war, either with myself or with the rest of the world!"
~ Tragedy as a Motivator -- "Sometimes tragedies, losses, or terminal illnesses really galvanise us into action, make our priorities crystal clear, and give us a strength we did not know we had..."
~ Move On: Adieu to All That -- "How to end things gracefully."
~ Goodbye for Good -- "Letting go of your ex, and his stuff."
~ Research Suggests That We Don't Worry But Strive For Moderate Happiness -- "Could the pursuit of happiness go too far? Most self-help books on the subject offer tips on how to maximize one's bliss, but a new study suggests that moderate happiness may be preferable to full-fledged elation.The researchers, from the University of Virginia, the University of Illinois and Michigan State University, looked at data from the World Values Survey, a large-scale analysis of economic, social, political and religious influences around the world."

~ In the Garden with the Guru -- "I was awestruck. My God, I thought, I must be the only person in the world at this moment listening to what looks like a tag team reading Finnegans Wake. Later I learned I had been witness to a regular occurrence. Eric McLuhan and his father, Marshall, were reading at each other."
~ For Sale: Big Ideas About Humanity -- "Have you ever wondered how people develop trust and live together peacefully? Michael Shermer's new book uses psychology and evolution to examine the root of these human achievements. He notes that the original environment in which people evolved, namely the small groups in hunter-gatherer societies, helped people develop altruism and cooperative behavior."
~ The atonal century -- "1n 1908, after being lambasted in the press and cuckolded by his wife, Arnold Schoenberg reinvented classical music. We're still trying to figure out what comes next."
~ Should We Allow Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports? -- "Let me start by saying that I believe private sports organizations should be able to set their own rules, and that they should be free to discipline in any manner they see fit the players who break those rules. I don’t think Congress should forcibly allow performance enhancing substances in sports any more than I think Congress should prohibit them."
~ Heidegger's Contributions to Philosophy: Life and the Last God -- "Or, to put the point less extremely: how can we interpret this text without entering so deeply into the thought-world and language of Heidegger that we interpret him exclusively through his own ideas and words? The other pole of interpretation would, of course, be to re-frame Heidegger's questions so as to translate them exhaustively into non-Heideggerian English. But can such a thing be done?"
The essential critic -- "Great novelists, says Wood, such as Flaubert or Henry James or Saul Bellow, offer their readers a world in which "reality" is not a mirror of the "real" world but of their manufacture. Bad writers do not appreciate this, for "they assume that the world can be described"."
~ The unfulfilled promise of Obama's response to the Clintons -- "Gen. Obama is stuck in his tent. His spats with the Clintons are happening too fast to score, but it feels like the Dynastic Duo is getting the better of the combat. Obama is fighting back, but even when he's winning, he's fighting back on Clinton turf—squabbling about who hit whom first and whether quotes are being taken out of context. Obama is also letting the Clintons pick the turf—the sound bite and the debate stage. Somehow, he's keeping his best weapon sheathed. Obama's strength, and the entire message and promise of his campaign, has been his ability to shift the paradigm when confronted with the old style of politics to get voters to see things in a new way and rally them behind that. So, why has he been unwilling or unable to do this in his own defense?"
~ Can Black Women Save the Liberal Coalition? -- "Black women are the Democrats' most loyal voters. In a primary where race runs head-on with gender, can they save liberals from themselves?"
~ Analysis Shows Possible Pattern in Missing White House Emails -- "Since last Spring, the White House has repeatedly told the press and Congress about a potential problem involving millions of missing emails. But last Thursday the story changed: An administration spokesman told reporters 'we have no way of showing that any emails at all are missing.'"

~ Environment: Will Coffee Be a Casualty of Climate Change? -- "Coffee farmers in South America don't need to read the latest IPCC reports; they already know." DON'T mess with my coffee, damn it.
~ Loss of Amazon Jungle Prods Brazil to Act -- "With illegal deforestation mounting, officials say they'll increase their vigilance."
~ Wireless Spectrum Auction 101 -- "Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission began auctioning off licenses to a portion of the 700 MHz band of the radio frequency spectrum. The decisions of companies that win those national licenses will determine the shape of wireless communications in the United States for years to come."
~ The Medium: Children’s Crusade -- "How does a computer designed for kids in poor countries connect to us?"
~ They Shrunk My Firefox! Mozilla Shows Off Touch-Sensitive Mobile Mockups -- "The open-source Firefox browser is headed to a mobile device near you. New mockups released by Mozilla show that mobile Firefox, due later this year, is being designed with the latest touch screen handhelds -- possibly including the iPhone -- in mind."
~ Join the Navy, Kill Some Whales -- "With an environmental waiver from President Bush, the Navy begins testing a sonar system off the coast of San Diego, despite the acknowledged harm to ocean mammals." The irony involved in Bush sanctioning the death of mammals smarter than him is painful.
~ Supercool, and Strange -- "Scientists tracking H2O's highs and lows are finding new clues as to how and why the familiar substance is so odd. Recent research, for example, suggests that water may exist in two distinct liquid phases at ultralow temperatures."
~ Mayan sacrifices were likely male -- "The victims of human sacrifice by Mexico's ancient Mayans, who threw children into water-filled caverns, were likely boys and young men, not virgin girls as previously believed, archaeologists said earlier this week."

~ Biopsychosocial Model Thirty Years Later -- "The dominant model of disease today is, as 30 years ago, still biomedical, with molecular biology being the basic scientific discipline. However, there is evidence for the role of stressful life events and repeated or chronic environmental challenge in modulating individual vulnerability to illness."
~ loving kindness for our unknown neighbours -- "i was astonished and pleased to hear that something similar to what i have been practicing on and off was also recommended there as metta practice. you see, part of the magic of metta is that one extends good will to people one does not really know. however, there can be a bit of a difficulty with this because opening one’s heart to someone who you don’t know can feel a little flat and academic."
~ Deepak Chopra: The "Soul Hypothesis" (Part 2) -- "Spirituality for many modern people has become a forced choice. Either one accepts a fixed belief system (organized religion or a New Age alternative), or one rejects belief for some variety of doubt (skepticism or atheism). What this forced choice overlooks is the possibility of progress, which means going beyond any fixed belief. The soul doesn't have to be a matter of faith or doubt; it could become an experience."
~ Karma and reincarnation as teaching strategy -- "What do we know about life, death and what continues? Well, we know for sure that this human self dies. It is gone. Never to come back. So if we take this human self, with its particular personality, to be “I”, then “I” will surely die and be gone forever, reincarnation or not."
~ What to do when there is nothing to attain? -- "I once tried to write about why, then, there is any point to practice if there is nothing to attain. Ironically, the way some advocates of Shin seem to describe their faith, there is no point. But I think it might be more accurate to say that there is no point to do practices intended to accomplish or done with the objective of "obtaining enlightenment". Otherwise, I might agree with the notion that once you have realized something like "shinjin" you are better off not getting into "practices" such as seated meditation."
~ Taboo versus Revolution -- "After recommending the video with Dean Radin from the GoogleTech Talks series, the next one I wish to draw your attention (if you haven't seen it already) is Alan B. Wallace's "Toward the First Revolution in the Mind Sciences", embedded below."
~ An instinct for beauty? -- "Do animals other than humans have the capacity to appreciate beauty? I’d be surprised if they didn’t. There are, after all, elephants who have learned to paint, which seems to be simply an extension of a natural impulse to draw...."
~ Spiritual expression in the peer to peer era (1) -- "I posted the draft of an essay entitled “The Next Buddha will be a collective: spiritual expression in the peer to peer era." This is what is is about..."
~ Julian Walker: Simply put #1, Simply put #2, Simply put #3: Some wisdom from Julian.

Daily Dharma: The Positive Power of Virtue

Today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle:

The Positive Power of Virtue

Buddhist practice requires the undertaking of five basic precepts as the minimum commitment to not harming others through our speech and actions. These precepts are recited regularly to remind students of their commitment. The precepts are:

I undertake to refrain from killing and harming living beings.
I undertake to refrain from stealing and taking that which is not mine.
I undertake to refrain from causing harm through sexual misconduct.
I undertake to refrain from false speech, harmful speech, gossip, and slander.
I undertake to refrain from the misuse of intoxicants or substances such as alcohol or drugs that cause carelessness or loss of awareness.

The positive power of virtue is enormous. When we don’t live by these precepts, it is said we live like wild beasts; without them, all other spiritual practice is a sham. Imagine trying to sit down to meditate after a day of lying and stealing. Then imagine what a different world this would be if everyone kept even one precept – not to kill, or not to lie, or not to steal. We would truly create a new world order.

~ Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart; from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book.

David Brooks on the Economy

Today's column from David Brooks looks at the economic situation we face in the coming year.

There is roughly a 100 percent chance that we’re going to spend much of this year talking about the subprime mortgage crisis, the financial markets and the worsening economy. The only question is which narrative is going to prevail, the Greed Narrative or the Ecology Narrative.

The Greed Narrative goes something like this: The financial markets are dominated by absurdly overpaid zillionaires. They invent complex financial instruments, like globally securitized subprime mortgages that few really understand. They dump these things onto the unsuspecting, sending destabilizing waves of money sloshing around the globe. Economies melt down. Regular people lose jobs and savings. Meanwhile, the financial insiders still get their obscene bonuses, rain or shine.

The morality of the Greed Narrative is straightforward. A small number of predators destabilize the economy and reap big bonuses. The financial system is fundamentally broken. Government should step in and control the malefactors of great wealth.

The Ecology Narrative is different. It starts with the premise that investors and borrowers cooperate and compete in a complex ecosystem. Everyone seeks wealth while minimizing risk. As Jim Manzi, a software entrepreneur who specializes in applied artificial intelligence, has noted, the chief tension in this ecosystem is between innovation and uncertainty. We could live in a safer world, but we’d have to forswear creativity.

He concludes that the ecology narrative is not to the liking of many people, so it won't be the story that is told. But he believes it is true.

The lesson of the Ecology Narrative is that, in most cases, the market corrects itself. Maybe this year banks will change their pay structure so there’s not so much emphasis on short-term results. Maybe companies will change their boards to improve scrutiny over complex new instruments. In short, markets adapt.

People who embrace the Ecology Narrative don’t like the offensive bonuses that get handed out on Wall Street. They just don’t see any way the government can curtail them without rending the fabric of the ecosystem. They don’t like the periodic crises, but don’t see how government can prevent them without clamping down on innovation. The challenge is to give people the means to withstand the perturbations.

The Ecology Narrative is not morally satisfying. I wouldn’t bet on its popularity as a backlash against Wall Street and finance sweeps across a recession-haunted country. But the Ecology Narrative has one thing going for it. It happens to be true.

I agree that the ecology narrative is true as well, but I also recognize that within this version of the system, there are few if any checks to prevent the greed narrative from becoming the subtext.

Brooks is a pretty sharp guy most of the time, but in this case he is seeing the world in rather simplistic terms. Human nature, when unchecked by moral constraints or legal constraints, will often become attached to greed, especially in a "kill or be killed" environment like Wall Street.

There are no easy answers to solve this problem, but we should at least tell the truth about it.

Snow Patrol - Run


Become an Atheist Today! - Operators Are Standing By.

If I stayed up late, I suspect I might begin to see this commercial in the wee hours of the morning.

Satire: Kucinich's Exit Stuns Lone Supporter

Andy Borowitz with the latest from the campaign trail.

Kucinich's Exit Stuns Lone Supporter

Posted January 24, 2008 | 04:54 PM (EST)

The lone supporter of Dennis Kucinich's presidential bid said today that he was "stunned" by the Ohio congressman's decision to withdraw from the 2008 race, calling the decision "hasty and premature."

Tracy Foyler, 32, of Mayfield Heights, Ohio gave the Kucinich campaign a shot in the arm when he signed up as a volunteer last year, a move that seemed to augur well for the Ohio congressman's chances of attracting additional volunteers.

When no one else stepped forward to join his ranks, however, Mr. Foyler gained special status within the campaign as Mr. Kucinich's one and only staffer.

"It was a lot of work and all, being Dennis' only volunteer," Mr. Foyler said. "But it was worth it, because I got unprecedented access, which was totally awesome."

Mr. Foyler said he was "blindsided" by Mr. Kucinich's decision to halt his bid today, telling reporters, "I can't believe that Dennis wasn't feeling the same momentum on the ground that I was."

As the Ohio congressman withdrew from the race, Mr. Kucinich's number one backer could not help but wonder if the candidate "had pulled the plug too soon," adding, "I really felt like we were going to crack one percent in some of the upcoming states."

With his favorite candidate out of the race, Mr. Foyler is not sure where he will throw his support, but he gave reporters a hint today: "I'm taking another look at Mike Gravel."

Elsewhere, former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson announced that he would return to acting, joining E.R. in the role of a coma patient.

Gym Membership

Since this is my line of work, I was amused -- sadly true.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Daily Om: Every Step Is Forward

Today's Daily Om:

Every Step Is Forward
No Going Back

There are times when we feel that we are spinning our wheels in the mud in terms of our spiritual progress. This can be especially true following a period of major growth in which we feel as if we’ve gained a lot of ground. In fact, this is the way growth goes—periods of intense forward movement give way to periods of what seems like stagnation. In those moments when we feel discouraged, it’s helpful to remember that we don’t ever really go backward. It may be that we are at a standstill because there is a new obstacle in our paths, or a new layer to get through, but the hard work we have done cannot be undone.

Every step on the path is meaningful, and even one that seems to take us backward is a forward step in the sense that it is what we must do to move to the next level. In addition, an intense growth spurt requires that we rest for a time in order to fully integrate the new energies that have been liberated by our hard work. When we feel we are not making progress, we can encourage ourselves to take a moment to rest. We can meditate more, feed ourselves well, and get extra sleep. Before we know it, we will be spurred on to work toward the next level of our development, and this rest will make sense then as something we needed in order to continue.

Once the sun rises, it doesn’t go backward but instead follows its path in one direction. It may appear to stand still for a moment in time, or to move more slowly at some point or another, but really it is steadily moving forward on its path. We are the same way, and once we have moved through something we can never really go back. We may be resting or revisiting issues that seem old, and it’s natural to feel stuck, but in truth we are always taking the next important step forward on our path.

Speedlinking 1/24/08

Quote of the day:

"There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened."
~ Douglas Adams

Image of the day (Jim Goldstein):

~ The Risks and Benefits of Eating Seafood -- "Many people eat fish because it is low fat and contains oils that keep the heart healthy. Recently, however, there have been reports about high levels of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which may adversely affect your health. Should people consider giving up seafood, or is it still safe to eat it?"
~ Total-Body Perfection: Muscle Workouts -- "At this point, many of us are familiar with the idea of isolating certain muscle groups during our 4 and 5 day routines—sticking chest with triceps, biceps and back, shoulders and legs, whatever floats the boat. But after reading what Alwyn Cosgrove had to say about things in a recent Mens Health article, I’m beginning to rethink my approach. Cosgrove said, “Performing total-body workouts three times a week is the most effective way to gain muscle.” Whoa." I've been preaching this for years, because it's true.
~ An Expert's Secrets to Losing More Fat -- "Interested in losing more fat in less time and with less effort? Craig Ballantyne -- one of the world's top experts on healthy fat-burning -- provides 3 very useful tips for losing body fat in a faster, easier way. I always enjoy reading his stuff and I think you will too. Enjoy... 3 Ways to Lose More Fat from an Expert Fitness Trainer, By Turbulence Training author Craig Ballantyne."
~ Hungarian Oak Leg Blast -- "We don't have a picture of him in the article. We don't even know his name. But this alleged monster's training program was too compelling to pass up because of a technicality."
~ My Recent Fat Loss Training…again -- "I’ve been really surprised by all the curiosity as to how I dropped 13.5 pounds of fat in about 4 weeks (see My Training). I mentioned before that I pretty much followed the principles in Mike Roussell’s Your Naked Nutrition Guide with some minor personal modifications to adapt it to my current lifestyle, schedule, etc."
~ National Study Finds High Levels of Mercury in Tuna -- "The international conservation group Oceana has issued a report that found levels of mercury in fresh tuna in stores and restaurants across the United States that were as high as those reported yesterday in a New York Times article...."
~ Can Yogurt Really Boost Your Health? -- "A lawsuit says the health claims of so-called "probiotic" yogurts dupe consumers."
~ Statement On Use Of Sleep Medications From The American Academy Of Sleep Medicine -- "Insomnia occurs when people have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, and it is a common sleep complaint. While a brief case of insomnia can arise due to temporary stress, excitement or other emotion, more than 20 million Americans report having a chronic form of insomnia that keeps them from sleeping well nearly every night."
~ Chiropractic is Health Care, Not Disease Care -- "Chiropractors have always maintained that interfering with the transmission of the electro-chemical signals that connect your brain, the master control system for the human organism, to every organ and cell in your body has a detrimental effect on health."

~ Teaching Happiness, on the Web -- "Harvard makes its most popular course available online."
~ Using Music to Lift Depression’s Veil -- "Many people find that music lifts their spirits. Now new research shows that music therapy — either listening to or creating music with a specially trained therapist — can be a useful treatment for depression."
~ What you know, and how it's different from what you remember [Cognitive Daily] -- "We say that we know something because of a general sense that it is true, but we remember something because we recall a particular incident. Psychologists have actually been able to measure the distinction between the two, simply by asking test subjects whether they know or remember the answer to a question (and explaining what they mean by the two terms)."
~ Cognition and Emotion are not Separate [Pure Pedantry] -- "This review by Luiz Pessoa in Nature Neuroscience Reviews has to be the most intelligent things I have read in a long time. He argues that the notion that cognition and emotion are separable modules -- a notion that permeates the popular impression of the brain in our society (and more than a few scientific discussion) -- is fundamentally wrong...."
~ How to Be Happy, Confucian Style -- "In China two and half thousand years ago one man, Kong Qui, and his followers, synthesised the traditions of the Chinese people to create what they believed were the fundamental principles of humanity. Of course what Westerners now call Confucianism has changed over the years, just like the other major philosophies that have flourished in the East: Buddhism and Taoism. But to have survived this long, these systems of thought must have at their cores a useful set of principles that help people live the 'good life'."
~ Solitude vs Loneliness -- "Why one restores and the other destroys our mental health."
~ Neanderthink: Privacy Paradox -- "Our need to connect with others is stronger than ever."
~ Field Guide to the Loner: The Real Insiders -- "The introvert reaps secret joy from the solitary life."
~ The Extent Of Your Self-Control Depends On Your Personality Type -- "A new study from Northwestern introduces personality types used frequently in consumer research to the realm of self-improvement. People are motivated by one of two fundamental needs: they are either "promotion-focused," seeking products that will help them achieve hopes and aspirations, or they are "prevention-focused," seeking items that help achieve a need for safety and security."
~ He's Not as Smart as He Thinks -- "A British researcher reports that the male ego is often larger than his actual IQ. But you might be surprised by what women think of men's intellect."

~ History, Amnesia, and the N Word -- "THE SUBJECT is small—a word. Yet the subject contained within the subject is immeasurable: racism American-style. It isn’t always a good idea to reduce vast social dimensions to a pithy cognomen—all the great “isms” are finally irreducible—but there are special cases, and when Jabari Asim asks us to examine American racism (particularly racism against black Americans) through the lens of a single word, it’s remarkable how much history he squeezes into the text."
~ One Culture, Two Culture, Three Culture, Four… -- "Coming from this background, of course I found myself intrigued by Jonah Lehrer’s clever little book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, recently released by Houghton Mifflin. Some have argued that Lehrer overstates the case in claiming that a number of 19th and 20th century artists and writers anticipated the discoveries of modern neuroscience. But one can also read the book more modestly, as a catalogue of overlaps and resonances between thinkers working in vastly different arenas (or so we thought)."
~ Phoning It In -- "I can’t get my head around the article in the New York Times over the weekend on the craze for cellphone novels in Japan. Personally, I find it hard enough to write a novel using all ten fingers, so I’m struggling to imagine doing it with only two thumbs, then uploading it, serial style, to a website that reportedly contains one million such novels. That astonishing number, combined with the fact that cellphone novels published in book form made up five of Japan’s top ten bestsellers last year (including the three best selling books of the year), justifies calling this a trend."
~ The Future of Science . . . Is Art? -- "This view of science as the sole mediator of everything depends upon one unstated assumption: While art cycles with the fashions, scientific knowledge is a linear ascent. The history of science is supposed to obey a simple equation: Time plus data equals understanding. One day, we believe, science will solve everything.But the trajectory of science has proven to be a little more complicated."
~ Ari Melber: The Method to Bill Clinton's Meltdowns -- "But as Clinton knows, it doesn't even matter what people say, as long as they are talking about him and his latest attacks on Barack Obama. Like clockwork, these supposed outbursts give airtime to attacks while pulling attention away from Obama in the crucial, closing days of each primary." Sad, but true.
~ Is the Bush Stimulus Going to Help You? -- "There's a national economy, and then there's a 'people's economy.' Guess which one will see more 'relief.'"
~ The Resurrection of John McCain -- "He may be their only hope to win the White House, but John McCain still has to convince the GOP that he's one of them."
~ Kucinich Abandons White House Bid -- "Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich is abandoning his second bid for the White House. In an interview with Cleveland's Plain Dealer, the six-term congressman said he was quitting the race and would make a formal announcement on Friday."
~ How to Talk Foreign Policy -- "If the Democrats want to emerge from this primary ready to face Republicans in the general election, they need to find a cohesive, defensible way to talk about their foreign policy and how it differs from that of Republicans."
~ Some Things Even Obama Can't Transcend -- "Gary Younge | Bipartisanship is a hollow notion unless you define who you want to join forces with and why."

~ Redefining Genes -- "Will new revelations about RNA force us to rethink how our past affects future evolution?"
~ Here’s One Big Step Toward Artificial Life -- "Scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland have succeeded in synthesizing the complete genome of a bacterium, Mycoplasma genitalium. If the stitched DNA can be inserted into a cell that then replicates, it will appear to have met the criteria for the first "artificial life" form."
~ Space Odyssey -- "Virgin Galactic revealed the designs for its tourist spacecraft. A NASA expert critiques the effort."
~ Startup Says It Can Make Ethanol for $1 a Gallon, and Without Corn -- "Illinois startup Coskata says it can make ethanol out of almost anything for under a buck a gallon. Environmentalists and energy experts are cautiously optimistic that the company may be on to something."
~ Researchers Looking at Coral Threats -- "Even coral reefs thought to be pristine are facing challenges, researchers said Thursday launching the International Year of the Reef. The year of the reef is a "campaign to highlight the importance of coral reef ecosystems and to motivate people to protect them," Conrad Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said at a briefing."
~ Review: Low-Cost Laptops for Third-World -- "Little, cheap and sturdy, laptops designed to bring technology to the children of developing countries are rolling out after years of promises. But don't expect them to do much for high-tech kids in the U.S."
~ Stardust comet dust resembles asteroid materials -- "Contrary to expectations for a small icy body, much of the comet dust returned by the Stardust mission formed very close to the young sun and was altered from the solar system`s early materials."
~ Could Tiny Diatoms Help Offset Global Warming? -- "Diatoms -- some of which are so tiny that 30 can fit across the width of a human hair -- are so numerous that they are among the key organisms taking the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide out of the Earth's atmosphere. The shells of diatoms are so heavy that when they die in the oceans they typically sink to watery graves on the seafloor, taking carbon out of the surface waters and locking it into sediments below."

~ Reaching The Source through Art and Beauty -- "How brilliantly perceptive of the last of the great philosophers of antiquity Plotinus to realize that the challenge each and every one of us faces and that constitutes the kernel our shared human condition is that of finding ourselves – at least in this seemingly unending stage our evolutionary odyssey – half way between the animals and the gods. No wonder that human nature and human psychology are so complex and that the integration of the disparate elements that continuously exert their influence upon us – our material body, subject to decay, and the experience of consciousness with its associated sensations, emotions and desires - becomes a hero’s task only attained by the best amongst us."
~ Choice -- "Choice. It seems like such a simple word...and yet how many times have we made the wrong one?"
~ Confucius Say: Don't Worry, Be Happy -- "Previously, I responded to John Horgan's shallow view of Buddhism. In this post I will focus on the comparison of classical Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism when it comes to people's happiness and well-being (with stress on the word classical)."
~ Working with body symptoms -- "I had an opportunity to explore ways to work with body symptoms last week, this time mainly just by fully allowing the experience, exploring the sense fields, and also resting attention on certain sensations."
~ Electronica I composed -- "Amidst the development of sounds for a commercial radio spot, I worked up this piece of sound I wanted to share on the blog. This falls under the “listenable, music-like substance” category (me being a music purist and all, and paraphrasing Michael Pollan)."
~ Astral Evolutionary Materialism -- "I've been thinking about the two visions I posted here over the last couple of weeks, and what they mean to me. I'm been particularly interested in discussing the mechanics of bodily incarnation, and what that means both spiritually and developmentally for all of us. As it happens, I've been reading some interesting material lately that gives me fodder for some ruminations on these matters."
~ Becoming and becoming -- "I’ve started reading the Buddhist text, the Lankavatara Sutra, which is an important Buddhist sutra of the Mahayana branch. Compared to the Golden Light Sutra which I have been reading lately, the Lankavatara Sutra is much more technical, less poetic. It is a cornerstone of Zen thought, though, so it is widely studied."
~ More thoughts on God n’ religion -- "I ended my post God, Atheism, and Religion with the promise of a follow-up post to answer the question, “how do I relate to God if not through a religious lens?” I’ve had a bit of difficulty coming up with a satisfying answer to that question, other than saying that it is a very personal and subjective thing. However, I do have some thoughts on the matter that might be useful to yous readers."
~ Overabundant choices for the expression of direct and simple spiritual practice -- "Too many choices? It can be a pain being a sincere searcher for an authentic practice to express a simple and direct experience of grace, acceptance, and empathy. Even within the confines of Buddhism. Chan/Zen can be simple and direct. So can reciting the nembutsu. So can reciting the odaimoku (of Nichiren Buddhism). Even in Tibetan Buddhism there is the directness of Dzogchen. Each of them is intended to represents the full teaching of the Dharma in a format generally intended to be accessible to everyone to help them accept /realize /experience /awaken to their limited, karmic existence as well as their limitless, non-conditioned reality (i.e. becoming Buddhas). Greaaat. So which one?"
~ Great Artistry -- "Writing the first line of a new blog is one of the hardest things to do. Blogging is akin to blind dating. I am hoping to start a new relationship and I do not want to start off with a bad impression. So, here goes…."