Saturday, April 05, 2008

Daily Dharma: It Is Possible

Today's Daily Dharma.

It is possible

It is possible to take our existence as a “sacred world,” to take this place as open space rather than claustrophobic dark void. It is possible to take a friendly relationship to our ego natures, it is possible to appreciate the aesthetic play of forms in emptiness, and to exist in this place like majestic kings of our own consciousness. But to do that, we would have to give up grasping to make everything come out the way we daydream it should. So, suffering is caused by ignorance, or suffering exaggerated by ignorance or ignorant grasping and clinging to our notion of what we think should be, is what causes the “suffering of suffering.” The suffering itself is not so bad, it’s the resentment against suffering that is the real pain.

- Allen Ginsberg, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Vol.II, No.1; from Everyday Mind, a Tricycle book edited by Jean Smith.

Matter-Antimatter Split Hints at Physics Breakdown

Very cool but geeky article from Scientific American.

MATTER AND ANTIMATTER annihilate each other on contact. Experiments hint at a subtle difference between them that may explain why antimatter is so rare.

Nature may have handed scientists a new clue in a longstanding mystery: how matter beat out antimatter for dominance of the universe. Early data from twin experiments at the Tevatron, the world's reigning particle accelerator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Ill., suggest an unexpected chink in the hugely successful standard model of particle physics.

The twist comes from odd behavior in a particle called the BS (pronounced "B-sub-S"), which flips back and forth between its matter and antimatter forms three trillions times per second. Researchers believe that such a breakdown, known as CP violation, is required to explain why matter is so abundant.

Researchers say the finding is well worth following up to make sure it is not a random clump in the data, as frequently happens in particle physics experiments. "This is exciting, definitely," says physicist Jacobo Konigsberg of the University of Florida in Gainesville, cospokesperson for CDF, one of two detectors that may have glimpsed the effect.

Antimatter is well-known to science fiction fans as the stuff that explodes on contact with regular particles such as protons and electrons, which have the same mass as their antiparticles but the opposite charge. The hot, early universe contained equal parts matter and antimatter. Yet somehow, as the cosmos cooled, matter was not completely annihilated.

Researchers strongly suspect that the key to this riddle lies in the weak nuclear force, which governs radioactive decay, along with more exotic reactions created in particle accelerators. In nearly all cases, matter obeys something called CP symmetry, which states that a particle ought to behave identically to the mirror image of its antiparticle. Not so when acted on by the weak nuclear force.

Read the rest.

Daily Om - Releasing Guilt

This was yesterday's Daily Om.

Permission To Forgive Ourselves
Releasing Guilt

Learning to accept the things that we perceive as wrong can be a difficult task for many of us. Often we have been brought up to accept that it is normal to feel guilty about our actions and that by doing so we will make everything seem alright within ourselves. Even though we might feel that we have a reason to make up for the choices we have made, it is much more important for us to learn how to deal with them in a healthy and positive way, such as through forgiveness and understanding.

When we can look back at our past and really assess what has happened, we begin to realize that there are many dimensions to our actions. While feeling guilty might assuage our feelings at first, it is really only a short-term solution. It is all too ironic that being hard on ourselves is the easy way out. If we truly are able to gaze upon our lives through the lens of compassion, however, we will be able to see that there is much more to what we do and have done than we realize. Perhaps we were simply trying to protect ourselves or others and did the best we could at the time, or maybe we thought we had no other recourse and chose a solution in the heat of the moment. Once we can understand that dwelling in our negative feelings will only make us feel worse, we will come to recognize that it is really only through forgiving ourselves that we can transform our feelings and truly heal any resentment we have about our past.

Giving ourselves permission to feel at peace with our past actions is one of the most positive steps we can take toward living a life free from regrets, disappointments, and guilt. The more we are able to remind ourselves that the true path to a peaceful mind and heart is through acceptance of every part of our lives and actions, the more harmony and inner joy we will experience in all aspects of our lives.

I agree completely with this -- and I am someone who has a very hard time being compassionate with myself over past mistakes. Although I still struggle with this, what I have learned is that once I realize I have learned from my mistakes, there is no longer any use in holding onto the guilt or shame.

Some of us have a bad habit -- really, it's more of a subpersonality -- of holding onto our mistakes and beating ourselves up for them. This does nothing productive, and it can be very destructive in creating a sense that we are not worthy of, or do not deserve to be happy. Over time, this belief, which is usually unconscious, can shape our lives into hollow shells lacking love, happiness, and connection.

Besides working with our parts, tonglen is one way to work with these feelings. Here is a basic explanation of how tonglen works.

Visualize someone to whom you feel very close, particularly someone who is suffering and in pain. As you breathe in, imagine you take in all their suffering and pain with compassion, and as you breathe out, send your warmth, healing, love, joy, and happiness streaming out to them.

Now, gradually widen the circle of your compassion to embrace first other people to whom you also feel very close, then to those about whom you feel indifferent, then to those whom you dislike or have difficulty with, then even to those whom you feel are actively monstrous and cruel. Allow your compassion to become universal, and to enfold in its embrace all sentient beings, and all beings, in fact, without any exception.

We can begin this process with ourselves, rather than someone else, as Pema Chodron points out:

We just go right into that which we usually armor against. And, conversely, when there?s attachment or addiction, we train in letting go of those things. It doesn't have to do, really, with morality or ethics, per se, at all. It just has to do with what brings an individual happiness. And what then brings happiness to the bigger picture as well. But, it is good for us to do this, that's the interesting thing.

We're not doing it because we want everyone else to be happy, therefore we're willing to suffer —although sometimes the teachings do sound like that. But, the truth is, it's what will also bring us happiness.

It takes courage, that's why the image of the warrior or the bodhisattva —warrior or bodhisattva are two names for the same thing— it's the one who cultivates courage. Because it does take courage to go to reside with this kind of energy —you want to get away from it. Whether you know what the core fear, core belief, is or not, you know what that energy feels like.

And you know you want to get out of there. And then you begin to acknowledge your thoughts— like all the ways you get out of there: it's her fault, it's his fault, it's because of me, I'm bad... endless.

We can work with our guilt in the same way we might work with someone else's pain. We breathe into our heart and transform it into healing light and peaceful compassion, then exhale those energies to ourselves.

We all deserve to be happy. Guilt and shame are two of many ways that we can ensure we will never be happy. Releasing those feelings can be tough, but it creates so much more space within us for joy, curiosity, and love.

A&E Biography Barack Obama

A nice look at who Barack Obama is and how became the man he is.

When he called himself "a skinny kid with a funny name" at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, his political star was already on the rise. By the time he decimated the competition in 2004 race for the Illinois Senate, he was the bona fide golden child of a Democratic party desperately in need of a winner. In many ways, the story of Barack Obama is a uniquely American tale of the 21st century, where racial lines are blurry and the most interesting chapter is just beginning.


Animation - Benevolence (A true act of kindness)

Very cool animation from The Vancouver Film School, created by Justin Lewis.

This is one of the best films I have found online -- it nearly made me cry.


The Examined Life: Do We Have Free Will?

A very good documentary. What do you think on this topic?

If we look at ourselves, at our ability to deliberate and make choices, it seems obvious that we are free. On the other hand, if we look at what we believe about causality (that every event must have a cause), it appears that we do not have free will but that we are determined. We seem to have inconsistent beliefs.

Part One:


Part Two:

Part Three:

This show is part of a series on philosophy -- I hope to post other topics in the future.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Leonard Pitts Jr. on MLK anniversary

This is one of the better editorials I read today.

Leonard Pitts Jr. on MLK anniversary

By Leonard Pitts Jr.

Martin Luther King stood on a motel balcony facing a row of rundown buildings near downtown Memphis. The door to Room 306 was open behind him. Inside, his best friend, Ralph Abernathy, was putting on cologne, getting ready to go out. In the parking lot below, his aides, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson and James Orange among them, waited for him. Musician Ben Branch was there, too. "Ben," he said, "make sure you play 'Precious Lord,’ 'Take My Hand’ at the meeting tonight. Sing it real pretty." Branch promised he would.

At first, Abernathy thought the popping sound was a firecracker. Then he saw King, sprawled on the balcony floor, clutching at his throat where the bullet had ripped it open. Abernathy ran to him. King’s mouth quivered. "I got a message from his eyes," Abernathy would later say.

This was 40 years ago, April 4, 1968, a night when tragedy spiraled into violence across the country. But also, a night when tragedy was elevated into greatness and grace.

Most people don’t know that part of the story, even now.

Greatness and grace were desperately needed in those frightening hours. On the night Martin Luther King was killed, furious black people mourned the man of peace by making war. Rocks and bottles were thrown in Jackson, Miss. Tampa, Fla., police had to move in with bayonets fixed to disperse an angry crowd. A furniture store in Houston was torched.

And Sen. Robert F. Kennedy went to Indianapolis. People told him not to. The Indiana capital was tragedy waiting to happen. Kennedy, campaigning for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, was scheduled to address a huge crowd at an intersection in the inner city. Most of the crowd was black, but a smattering were white. Some knew what had happened in Memphis. Many still did not.

And what would they do when they found out? What would they do when they learned that this most revered of men had been murdered by a white man hiding in ambush? Would those black people — many of them young, angry, impatient with speeches and marches and promises of justice — rain their rage, bitterness and grief upon the most convenient target: the white people standing among them?

This was what authorities feared. So Kennedy’s men advised him sternly to call off the rally for his own safety. Kennedy refused. As his car approached, police stopped it and gave similar advice. Stay out. Stay away. Again, Kennedy refused.

Robert Kennedy was, in many ways, not the first person you’d choose for the job of racial reconciler. He was white and born of privilege, his upper-crust roots audible in every exhalation of that Brahmin accent that pronounced "chance" as "chawnce" and turned "whether" into "whethah." Nor had he always been a devotee of the civil rights movement. To the contrary, he had regarded it warily, concerned over its potential to embarrass his brother John, the president. Indeed, it was Robert Kennedy, as attorney general, who loosed J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to spy upon and harass King.

But Kennedy was also that rarity, a man with the capacity to change. It is hard to say when that change occurred in him. Maybe it was somewhere in his dealings with intransigent, stand-in-the-doorway Southern potentates who refused to protect the rights of peaceful demonstrators or abide by the Constitution of the United States. Maybe it was that night King and his followers were trapped in a church by a howling, riotous mob of whites, and Kennedy had to send federal marshals to rescue them.

Or maybe it was when he went to the Mississippi Delta to see firsthand the effects of poverty and hunger in America. What he saw scarred him. Children with running sores, suffering from diseases long thought eradicated, living in barren shacks that smelled of mildew and urine. In one such place, he found a baby lying listlessly on the floor, playing with a grain of rice. He went to her, stroked her hair, whispered to her, "Hi, baby," trying a coax a response. But she could not give him one. After a few minutes, he picked her up and cradled her. There were tears shining on his cheek.

His daughter, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, once told Life magazine, "I remember all of us sitting around the dinner table one night. We were all screaming and shouting and saying, 'Pass the milk’ and 'Pass the butter,’ and all of a sudden the door opened, and my father was standing there, and it was dead silent. And he said, 'I’ve just come from a part of the country where three families have to live in a room this size. You’ve got to do something to help those children. You’ve got to help those children. PLEASE help those children.’"

There is a picture of Kennedy, probably taken during the Mississippi trip, that says so much. In it, he is smiling, reaching across to shake the hand of a young black man. But the young man has his arms folded, barricading his chest, regarding Kennedy with naked skepticism. And you can feel his thoughts:

"White men never listen. White men never get it, never understand. Why should I believe this one’s any different? Why should I shake his hand?"
On the night Martin Luther King was killed, 14th Street in Washington, D.C., was burned. On the night Martin Luther King was killed, black people stoned police cars near a housing project in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury.

And on the night Martin Luther King was killed, Robert Kennedy mounted the back of a flatbed truck and faced a sea of black women and men in Indianapolis. Gasoline scented the air. Some people had chains, knives and guns. Ready. Waiting.

"I’ve got some very sad news for all of you," he said, "and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens and people who love peace all over the world. And that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee."

Shrieks rose from those who did not know. Dismay. Disbelief.

Kennedy spoke on. In this difficult hour, he said, "It is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black, considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible, you can be filled with bitterness and with hatred and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country. ... Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land with an effort to understand, compassion and love."

He used no notes. His voice was measured. The crowd was still. 'For those of you who are black," he continued, "and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed."

He had never spoken of his murdered brother before, not publicly, not like this. For five years, he had held that pain close, kept it to himself. Now he used it to pave common ground with these people, so unlike him in so many ways. He used his grief to say that he understood theirs, to remind them that grief is not black or white, but just human. And he quoted the Greek poet Aeschylus to suggest that if they could just get through grief, they would yet find reward on the other side:

"'Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."'
Robert Kennedy had what some people say they see in Barack Obama 40 years later: that sense of the new, that ability to reconcile differences and distances, to bring Americans together. He drew upon these things.

"What we need in the United States," he said, "is not division, what we need in the United States is not hatred, what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black."

The applause was at first hesitant. Then it grew. Somebody cheered. Hope redeemed.

Two months later almost to the day, walking through a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles after winning California’s Democratic presidential primary, Kennedy was shot in the head and killed. The 1960s were like that. The unthinkable was the everyday.

And once again America mourned what might have been. But he had given the nation a glimpse of it, standing on that flatbed truck in that dangerous place, speaking from his heart.

On the night Martin Luther King was killed, two police officers were shot in Detroit, windows were smashed in Raleigh, N.C., the mayor of New York was driven from Harlem by an angry mob. And Robert Kennedy reached across.

On the night Martin Luther King was killed, Indianapolis slept in peace.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at

Friday Link Dump

aNot quite speedlinking, but here are a few links I had intended to blog about in the past couple of days but never got around to.

What Are the Four Yogas? -- "They placed people into four broad categories - those who do, those who feel, those who think, and those who experience. Jung’s four functions are comparable - sensation, thinking, feeling, and intuition. For each category, they developed a yoga whose emphasis catered to that category’s strengths - karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, and raja yoga. Karma yoga and bhakti yoga are especially suited for us as we go about our daily lives as members of economic society. Jnana yoga and raja yoga are especially suited to us when we have time without outside obligations."

Zen and the Art of Walking
-- "The reason traditions like Zen use walking, is that it can form a bridge between meditation and everyday life. Mindful walking is meditation in action. Like anything else, walking can be done either mindlessly or mindfully. It’s so easy to be mindless and drift away on thoughts and fantasies whilst living on autopilot."

Social Connections for Cognitive Fitness -- "We human beings are social animals. It seems intuitive (even for introverts!) that social contact has benefits. Obviously we need other people to fulfill basic needs such making sure that our genes outlive. Maybe less obviously we seem to need other people to maintain adequate levels of mental well being and motivation. Even less obviously, social contact may help us improve our brain functions…"

Review - The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better by Sandra Blakeslee & Matthew Blakeslee -- "But this is not an academic book, a philosopher's book, it is -- quite the contrary -- popular science. Unapologetically. And, indeed, in many ways thankfully so. The authors clearly possess a sense of wonder for the latest discoveries of cutting-edge scientific research, which (unlike academics) they are able to convey to their audience in a simple, highly readable prose. Further, the authors manage to generate and maintain the interest of the reader (unlike philosophers) with their captivating style as well as through numerous examples from real-life case studies."

Natural Trans Fats Have Health Benefits, New Study Shows -- "University of Alberta researcher Flora Wang found that a diet with enriched levels of trans vaccenic acid (VA) -- a natural animal fat found in dairy and beef products -- can reduce risk factors associated with heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Results indicated this benefit was due in part to the ability of VA to reduce the production of chylomicrons -- particles of fat and cholesterol that form in the small intestine following a meal and are rapidly processed throughout the body. The role of chylomicrons is increasingly viewed as a critical missing link in the understanding of conditions arising from metabolic disorders."

Biologists Take Evolution Beyond Darwin — Way Beyond -- "At the collective level, said Woese, bacteria exhibit patterns of organization and behavior that emerge suddenly, at tipping points of population variation and density called "saltations." Natural selection still favors -- or disfavors -- the ultimate outcome of these jumps, but the jumps themselves seem to defy explanation solely through genetic changes or individual properties. Such jumps don't just call into question whether evolution is capable of producing sudden rather than gradual change. That debate raged during the later stages of the last century, but has been largely settled in favor of what paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould termed punctuated equilibrium. By contrast, Woese invokes yet-to-be-quantified rules of complexity and emergence. These, he said, may also explain other exceptional jumps, such as the transition from protein fragments to single cells and from single-celled organisms to multicellular ones."

~ COMMENT: This topic was covered quite well several years ago by Howard Bloom in Global Brain.

What We Miss if We Pass on Poetry (Hint: Not Poems) -- "We pay ourselves a disservice every time we dismiss poetry as a lump sum. Oh, I don’t like poetry. Really? None of it? It’s as strange a statement as saying you don’t like music (nope, not one note). But we don’t say strange things like that about music, because for the most part we’re equipped with sufficient acoustic literacy to recognize genres, make aesthetic judgments, and sort out what is pleasing from what is displeasing to our ears."

Nick Nilsson - Compound Exercise Overload

Nick Nilsson contributed a guest article to Charles Staley's newsletter this week. This workout sounds insanely brutal -- in other words, my kind of fun.

A quick summary -- using a weight you can do six reps with, do 3 rep sets, for 45 solid minutes, 20-30 seconds rest between sets. And this is done with the big movements -- squats, bench, deadlifts, rows, military press, and so on. One exercise per workout.

Being the masochist that I am, I think I'll try this next week for at least one of my workouts. Since I am weakest in the pressing movements, I'll either do military press or bench press. Yeah, baby!

Compound Exercise Overload - One of THE Most Stunningly
Powerful Single Workouts You Will EVER DO

By Nick Nilsson

With this extraordinary training technique, you will, in one
single workout, achieve strength gains in a single exercise
that would normally take weeks or even MONTHS
with "normal" training. NO EXAGGERATION.

Right now, I'm going to unveil to you one of THE single most powerful training techniques that I've EVER discovered for making rapid gains in strength in a single exercise. It's elegant in its simplicity, brutal in its execution but quite literally ASTONISHING in its effectiveness.

I'll tell you right now, this will blow the doors off any preconceived notions you might have about training volume and how the body can respond and adapt to it.

Now, the very first time I came up with this technique, I used it to do dumbell shoulder presses. It was a Friday afternoon workout, and I did a set of presses with a pair of 60 lb dumbells. I was able to do 8 reps with them.

But on Monday, only a few days later, I pressed 80 LB DUMBELLS for 11 REPS - same exercise, and using strict form. That was a 25% increase in strength in only a matter of 4 days!

So what happened in that one single workout that gave me such a HUGE increase in strength in only a matter of days?

I'm going to tell you...

I call it "Compound Exercise Overload." And let me tell you, if you've hit a plateau in ANY exercise, this technique will shatter it like a brick through a window!

------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------
[Authors note: this explanation of the technique will tell you how it is
typically done. In the "Muscle Explosion" program, you will be
doing it with a few modifications to make it even MORE
effective when done in the overall context of the program!]
------------------------------------------------------------------------- ------

Basically, you're going to take a single compound exercise (a.k.a. multi-joint exercise like bench press, squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, shoulder presses, close grip presses, etc.) and do ONLY that single exercise for 45 MINUTES straight.

And that's not even the brutal part...

The brutal part are only allowed 20 seconds of rest between sets (30 seconds when using squats or deadlifts)!

And, here's the other brutal're going to end up doing between 40 to 60 sets with NEAR-MAXIMAL WEIGHTS (relatively speaking - I'll explain below) of that single exercise for the ENTIRE WORKOUT.

This is one of the toughest workouts you can do (when you do it right) but you WILL be rewarded with results.

Compound Exercise Overload works to increase strength in several ways:

  1. It focuses your nervous system on a single specific exercise,
    i.e. "greasing the groove" at a specific rep range. No competing
    training stimulii here, just very specific focus - it's one of
    the reasons Olympic lifters only use a few lifts in their
    training. It's also one of the reasons they can lift such
    extraordinary amounts of weight!

  2. It allows you to have a LOT of practice lifting heavy weight -
    this helps you to perfect your form and become more efficient
    with your lifting technique.

  3. The high volume of training (those 40 to 60 sets you're going
    to do) creates an emergency situation in your body which forces
    rapid adaptation by your body (both in muscle and connective

  4. The high volume also forces a tremendous amount of blood into
    the target muscle group, which helps drive nutrients into
    those target muscles, which helps them recover and grow!

Combine these four factors and you've got one POWERFUL workout.


This technique is best done at a time when your gym is not very crowded. You're basically going to be hogging a single exercise area for the entire 45-minute workout.

First, select a compound exercise to work with. We'll use the bench press as an example here. In actuality, you can use this technique with almost any exercise, whether it be compound or isolation (single joint). I refer to this as Compound Exercise Overload because it's most effective when done using a compound exercise like presses, rows, deadlifts, squats, etc. Isolation exercises can be used, but the effects won't be quite the same.

So get your exercise set up. If you're doing bench press, I HIGHLY recommend doing it in the power rack with the rails set up. That will allow you to use maximum weights without having to worry about being crushed or having to use a spotter the whole time. If you don't have a rack to use, the other option is to do dumbell presses. With dumbell presses, if you can't complete a rep, you can always just set the dumbells down.

Do a warm-up before getting started - whatever you prefer to do for a warm-up is fine. I like to do some general movements (like push-ups or a few pull-ups or a couple of minutes of walking on the treadmill) then a few light sets of the specific exercise I'm going to be working - nothing that will tax the body for what's to come.

With this technique, I encourage you to use a stopwatch, regular watch or other form of timer. If your gym has a clock with an easily readable "second" hand, that will be fine, too. Otherwise, you're going to have to count your 20 seconds of rest in your head, which is not as accurate (plus that 20 seconds will tend to turn into a LOT longer as you go through the workout and it's critical to keep it constant).

You're going to start with a weight you could normally do for about 6 reps or so. Start your timer or note the time on the clock because you're going to be doing this exercise for 45 minutes straight!

Lay down and perform ONLY 3 REPS with that weight, even though you CAN do six. DO NOT go anywhere near failure on this first set.

Now re-rack the weight and rest 20 seconds. Lay back down and do 3 more reps. Rest 20 seconds. You are going to repeat these 3 rep sets with those 20 seconds of rest until you are unable to get 3 reps with that weight anymore. This could take anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes, depending on the exercise and the amount of weight you're using.

The set where you only get 2 reps, stop and remove 5 lbs each side of the bar (If you started with 225, you'll now have 215). Start again doing 3 reps sets and continue with 20 seconds rest period. Drop the weight by 10 lbs whenever you can't complete 3 reps during a set.

Be sure to stick with 3 reps on each set - no more, no less. Your body hits a rep-range groove and will acclimate to it very quickly. It keeps your nervous system efficient.

** IMPORTANT: If you're using this technique with squats or deadlifts, take
30 SECONDS rest between sets and drop the weight 20 POUNDS
on each drop. Trust me on this - you'll need it.

On the final set (after 45 minutes are up) rest for a TWO FULL MINUTES (aren't I generous :) then lay back down crank out as many reps as you can with the same weight you just ended with. You'll find that can probably get 6 to 8 reps on that set, just because of the increased rest period.

This training uses neuromuscular specificity to allow you to teach your body the absolute most efficient way to perform a single exercise. Your body will learn to fire the exact sequence of muscle fibers it needs to do the exercise most efficiently, making fast strength gains possible.

And, don't use different variations of the same exercise (e.g. don't start with incline bench then go to flat bench). It's important to use the EXACT SAME exercise the whole 45 minutes for maximum adaptive response.

Do your best with the 20 second rest, too. This rest period will naturally increase during the times when you're making weight changes but even then, try to keep it as close as possible. Just do your best to stick with the 20 seconds.

When doing this technique with a barbell exercise, I like to load the bar with small plates as I load it for my starting weight. For example, if you're starting with 225 lbs on the bench press, don't just throw two 45 lb plates on either side. You'll be pulling a pair of those 45's off pretty quick! Instead, put one 45 lb plate on either side, then a 25 lb plate, then a 10 lb plate then two 5 lb plates. It's the same weight but when you can no longer hit 225 lbs for 3 reps, all you need to do is pull a small 5 lb plate off either side. This is much easier than pulling 45's off either side then loading 35's and a 5 back on.

Be sure to keep track of your starting weight and ending weight so you know what your numbers are and can improve on them the next time you do this technique. And be ABSOLUTELY SURE you take a full 2 days off training after you get done with this one. To maximize the adaptive response, those 2 days off are CRITICAL!

If you're going to try this technique with a training partner, it helps if they're the same strength level as you are (especially if you're doing barbell work). If you're doing dumbells, it's not as critical as you can just grab different sets of dumbells.

With a partner, you're basically going to be going back and forth with no real break. Twenty seconds is not a lot of time. If you're working with a barbell exercise and you need to switch weights, the moment you finish your set, you need to both start switching weights before your partner starts. When he/she finishes, you need to jump back and switch again.

It can be done (I've done it a few times training with another person) but it does make it harder to execute, depending on the exercise.


If you're looking for a FAST way to get past a plateau and build your strength, I don't think there's anything better. It won't be easy but the results are well worth it!

I hope you enjoy trying out this technique the next time you're at the gym! Believe me, you will be astonished at how good your results will be and how quickly you get them.

A Unified Theory of Consciousness

Consciousness studies are in the same place as physics when it comes to a theory of everything.

In physics, the goal is to unite Einsteinian physics with quantum mechanics. The closest solution to date is string theory (or actually M-Theory), for which there is no consensus that it is the solution. There is still an unresolved disconnect between the macro and the micro. Oh, the joy.

Consciousness is in the same bind. While the neuroscientists keep seeking new ways to explain away consciousness as a by-product of neurological processes, many others reject that reductionist view as fundamentally flawed in that it cannot explain how we understand our sense of self. Again, there is a conflict between the micro and the macro.

Recently, I mentioned that was I reading the newest Douglas Hofstadter book, I Am a Strange Loop. Although I am still early on in the book, what I see emerging is an attempt to bridge the micro and the macro through the idea of the "strange loop."

DH uses a thought experiment to explain the premise. He proposes a frictionless pool table with only sixteen balls, but very many extremely tiny marbles, called sims (small interacting marbles).

These sims bash into each other and also bounce off the walls, careening about rather wildly in their perfectly flat world -- and since it is frictionless, they just keep on careening and careening, never stopping.

.... The sims are also magnetic (so let's switch to "simms", with the extra "m" for "magnetic"), and when they hit each other at lowish velocities, they can stick together to form clusters, which I hope you will pardon me for calling "simmballs". A simmball consists of a very large number of simms (a thousand, a million, I don't care), and on its periphery it frequently loses a few simms while gaining others. There are thus two extremely different types of denizens of this system: tiny, light, zipping simms, and giant, ponderous, nearly-immobile simmballs.

The dynamics taking place on this pool table -- hereinafter called the "careenium" -- thus involves simms crashing into each other and also into simmballs. (pg. 45)

He then adds some more complexity to the system.

The vertical walls that constitute the system's boundaries react sensitively to outside events (e.g., someone touching the outside of the table, or even a breeze) by momentarily flexing inward a bit. This flexing, whose nature retains some traces of the external causing event, of course affects the motions of the simms that bounce internally off that section of wall, and indirectly this will be registered in the slow motions the nearest simmballs as well, thus allowing the simmballs to internalize the event. We can posit that one particular simmball always reacts in some standard fashion to breezes, another to sharp blows, ans so forth. Without going into details, we can even posit that the configurations of simmballs reflect the history of the impinging outer-world events. In short, for someone who looked at the simmballs and knew how to read their configuration, the simmballs would be symbolic, in the sense of encoding events. (pg 45-6)

This is his explanation for the pun of simmballs and symbols. Here is the point of this thought experiment.

Of course this image is far-fetched, but remember that the careenium is merely intended as a useful metaphor for understanding our brains, and the fact that our brains, too, are rather far-fetched, in the sense that they contain tiny events (neuron firings) and larger events (patterns of neuron firings), and the latter presumably somehow have representational qualities, allowing us to register and also to remember things that happen outside of our crania. .... The key idea is that whereas no simm on its own encodes anything or plays a symbolic role, the simmballs, on their far more macroscopic level, do encode and are symbolic. (pg. 46)

What DH seems to be proposing is that our sense of self, the "I" of consciousness, arises from the interplay between the microscopic neuronal firings and neurotransmitter work and the macroscopic, symbolic epiphenomena that we think of as awareness.

While the neuroscientists are happy to reduce all epiphenomena to the microscopic level (which is no doubt true in one sense), the complexity of such a system is infinitely complicated to the point of being incomprehensible.

No fixed portion of the universe [or mind] can be tightly fenced off from interacting with the rest -- not even approximately. To a reductionsist, the idea of carving the universe up into zones with inviolable macroscopic spatiotemporal boundary lines makes no sense. (pg. 47)

Same thing holds true in consciousness studies -- the more we learn about the brain, the more we know that there are no distinct cells that encode "love" -- there are auditory networks (songs, voices), visual networks (faces, flowers, books), olfactory networks (perfumes, pheromones), sensory networks (touch, arousal), and so on, almost infinitely, all of which encode the symbol/word "love".

Although he hasn't explicated the idea yet -- the next 60 or so pages explain the idea of feedback loops -- I think that DH is proposing that a feedback loop between the macro and the micro -- a strange loop -- is where we find the "I" of consciousness. This would provide the first workable "unified theory of consciousness."

I'll keep you posted.

Sven-Eric Liedman - An Atheism that Does Not Appear Bleak

Another interesting article from Eurozine. Sven-Eric Liedman argues, in "The rebirth of religion and enchanting materialism," that religion is retaking the world in ways that make many uncomfortable. He also argues that the current crop of atheists are not helping the matter by offering a bleak and gray worldview that cannot compete with the bold color worldviews of Islam, Pentecostalism, and other ascendant faiths.

Please note that this article is a translation from the original Swedish, which might explain some of the clunky phrasing.

The rebirth of religion and enchanting materialism

A while ago, I was talking to a friend about religion. We agreed that we both were atheists. But he added: "I am a Jewish atheist". I myself would have to specify my own position in a corresponding manner: I am a Lutheran atheist.

Such is the immediate limitation of atheism. The word "atheism" is in itself a negation: not God. Moreover, the atheist has freed him or herself from a fixed belief; normally the one that is dominant in the culture that has permeated his or her childhood and youth. Atheism is at first like the negative of the photo which, according to the believer, depicts the world.

Naturally, the non-believer is also a non-believer in relation to other faiths. I do not believe more in Allah or Vishnu than I do the Christian God. Still, I have never been posed with the alternative of seeking my faith in the Koran or the Vedic scriptures.

It is atheism's constant challenge to appear singularly as a negation. It states what it does not believe but not what it positively represents. This is what makes atheism seem grey and dull. Where religion paints our existence in bold colours, where it seeks its significance in wonderful tales, and where the difference between right and wrong is anchored outside of the world of humans, the atheist claims that the truth of the world is rather trivial and considers the holy scriptures as fine literature amongst other fine literature and morals an altogether human affair.

Finally, I will try to outline an atheism that does not appear bleak and does not have an antagonistic atheism's lack of tolerance and blindness to the religions' aesthetic and cultural values. In recent years, some spirited atheist confessions have come to light, chiefly the

English biologist Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion[1] and the French philosopher Michel Onfray's Traité d'athéologie[2]. I will, in concluding, consider my position on them. The immediate reason for Dawkins's and Onfray's books is the rebirth of the religion, which has been so apparent throughout virtually the entire world these past decades. Politics is today permeated by religious sentiments and beliefs in a way that my generation at least has not seen the likes of. US president George W. Bush is a Born Again Christian and does not pass up a chance to justify his political decisions with reference to God. Islam has become a political power on the world stage. Even for the Chinese state, religion is becoming a growing problem, impossible to fit into to the official ideological alloy of capitalism and communism.

Religion's increasingly obvious presence in politics corresponds to a great popular commitment to different religious movements. Principally two religions are conquering new souls: Islam and Christianity. Different branches of Islam are winning ground in several places around the world; here, the emphasis is mainly on the Sunni branch of Salafism. However, riding the greatest wave of success is the branch of Christianity called Pentecostalism. It is gaining strength not only in the United States, but yet more in Latin America and Africa. If the current pentecostal wave of success were to continue, three quarters of mankind would be included in some form of Christianity by the year of 2050.[3] And it is expressly Penecostalism that constitutes the dynamic power in this development, while the Catholic church for example, ostensibly so firm, is losing ground.

The past decades' successful movements within Christianity and Islam have many common denominators. The principal among them is an unflinching conviction of what indispensable essence their own religion has, but also a certain anti-intellectualism, manifested in a shared aversion to Christian or Islamic theology (kalam) and to academic endeavour in general. Moreover, both are highly dependent upon new media such as TV and Internet for their own dissemination. Both also correspond to a tendency within modern secularization: religion is freeing itself more and more from the culture in which it was previously rooted and is gaining new followers who live under entirely different cultural conditions than those prevalent in the previous ambits of these faiths.

Read the rest.

Margo Berdeshevsky's Poetry Month Pick - Shakespeare

Margo Berdeshevsky's Poetry Month Pick is from The Merchant of Venice Act 4, Scene 1, by William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Can't go wrong with Big Will. From Poetry Daily.

From The Merchant of Venice Act 4, Scene 1
by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.

Margo Berdeshevsky Comments:
Confession: I'd hoped to choose GB Shaw's Saint Joan—here. Her speech to her holy accusers. That poetic monologue was my first heart-burst attraction to unrhymed verse, in language that adored nature, passion, and begged mercy. I was thirteen when I read "... Bread has no sorrow for me and water no affliction. But to shut me out from the light of the sky and the sight of the fields and flowers ..." But the copyright law for those lines in toto—won't free them until 2019. Still, through the poetry of dramatic monologue, I fell in love, first, with poetry. Theatre and poetry were one, for me.

Then, I remembered lines I've been trying to know and understand, since I first read them—a year later. (Favorite is not the right word.) At fourteen, they lured me. They remained with me, for life. They say—they adore mercy, they say—they adore life. They plead for humanity, not vengeance, or any society's or individual's so-called sense of righteousness. I wanted to trust them. Struggled then, and yet, with their knife-twisting sense of conscience. They plead for mercy, not politics. A plea that one desperately wishes were heard again in our human desert—how long after Shakespeare gave those words to his wily Portia? As with so many of his words —we've heard them and heard them, and still, I know how we need to hear and have our many hearts burst from them. Still.

We return to them. Sometimes the individual speeches, as this one, are masterpieces in themselves, but profoundly upsetting in the context of the plays they live in. Such is the moral ache of this one. The contextual racism is chilling.

Often, I've wanted poetry, gentle as the rain, to change my world. "The" world. The greatest anti-war play written, so I've believed, was Henry V; but how many performances does it take for us to know it, and to act? Could Portia's words, placed elsewhere—re-shape the vengeance that bleeds across today's Middle East? On every front? Oh, I wish. (Continent after continent.)

Twenty-two unrhymed iambic lines. And a haunting repetition of the "s" sounds — like an urgent hiss of wind. (Mercy. Strained. Blesseth. Sceptre. Kings. Seasons. Justice. Deeds.) ... My ear heeds all the inner music. And a recipe for a better humanity that takes no more effort than nature's rain. Why should he be merciful, our (collective) Shylock asks. Because it's gentle. Because it's easy, Portia offers. (It's not easy. But it could be, I mull. Unstrained as the light, and the sights and inner (angel) voices that my teenage Saint Joan chose fire for, rather than perpetual imprisonment and her society's so-called justice.)

Two moments of dramatic poetry, I mull. (One, laws won't allow into public domain for more than another decade. But I find Saint Joan, and re-read it.) Recall how two women spoke to me at once, when I was very young—who plead in language that could and should change the world and the heart. And was the fictional Portia successful? In my mature readings, I understood that the push-button racism of the play and the speech, is all that could be seen, by many. I continued to re-read it, and to try to understand it. Even as a cry worth all the re-readings, for the needed kind of mercy, in our haunted times. Even as the many cry "no justice, no peace." )

I wish the quality of poetry were not strained. I return and return to the bard—to listen how. I call him a saint, quietly. For his many poet's miracles. Even for his Portia's cry for mercy, were it spoken today—to the stone minds of power—and to those who lack power, utterly. (Repeated and repeated.)

About Margo Berdeshevsky:
Margo Berdeshevsky's poetry collection, But a Passage in Wilderness, was published by The Sheep Meadow Press in 2007. Her honors include four Pushcart Prize nominations, and a "Special Mention" citation in 2008, The Poetry Society of America's Robert H. Winner Award, The Chelsea Poetry Award, Kalliope's Sue Saniel Elkind Award, places in The Pablo Neruda & Ann Stanford Awards, Border's Books/ Honolulu Magazine Grand Prize for Fiction. Her works are published in Agni, The Southern Review, Kenyon Review, New Letters, Poetry International, Women's Studies Quarterly, Pool, Margie, Nimrod, Runes, Chelsea, Traffic East, Kalliope, Rattapallax, Many Mountains Moving, ACM, and more. Her Tsunami Notebook of poems and photographs was made during and following a journey to Sumatra in Spring 2005—to work in a survivors' clinic in Aceh. A poetic novel, Vagrant will be published next; and an illustrated collection of her short stories, Beautiful Soon Enough, waits at the gate. Her "visual poem" series, Les Ombres de Versailles, (The Ghosts of Versailles) was seen at the Parisian Galerie Benchaieb. A lifelong traveler, she currently lives in Paris.

Controlling Ourselves, Our Lives, and the People in Them

This is an interesting post from Psychology, Transformation & Freedom Papers, a fine blog for those into personal growth and psychology. Gabriella Kortsch, the blogger, is very insightful.

Controlling Ourselves, Our Lives, and the People in Them

Many of us fall into the fallacy of believing that we can control our environment and the persons who people it. Therefore, we steadfastly cling to the mistaken belief that:

  • if only we could make our spouse more emotionally available

  • if only we could make our parents less intrusive

  • if only we could make our boss more approachable

  • if only we could make our teenage offspring more manageable

  • if only we could make our neighbours less noisy

  • if only we could do any of these of any number of other things, life would be wonderful

And we spend our time working on devising ways of changing these people, driven by the conviction that this would be the solution to all or most of our problems. The truth of the matter is that the only one we actually can control is our self.

We rarely look at this other side of the coin…the fact that if we want to achieve any kind of change in our lives, it has to begin with our self. Frequently change that we bring about in our own person will motivate change in others, almost like a ripple effect that can be observed in a pond when you throw a pebble into the water, but this change in others, or in the environment should not be the stimulus to your own change. That should be sought for itself, in order that you can become more of what you really are, and are capable of being; in other words, in order that you grow into yourself. (See previous posts related to comfort zone).

Evidently the eternal question is: how do you change or control yourself? What is the magic formula? Is there a silver bullet? And the simple answer is choice. Knowing that no matter what you feel, think, say, or do, you always have choices and alternatives, is one of the most enriching and liberating thoughts there is. When you are reacting to a given event, brought upon by your own thoughts, a nostalgic song on the radio, another person, a difficult financial situation, or even a cataclysmic global incident, always ask yourself whether there are alternatives to your current way of reacting. Then ask yourself whether any of those alternatives are feasible, and whether they would make a positive difference as compared to the initial mode of reacting you had intended. By consciously choosing to react differently, you are not only controlling yourself by self-awareness, but you are also changing yourself because your reaction is no longer unconscious, and thus you are offering yourself one of the greatest gifts of all - freedom from that blindness.

[Emphasis added.]

Control of anything outside ourselves is an illusion of ego. But we can learn to have more control, if that's really the right word, over our minds.

What she's advocating here, without using the word, is mindfulness. We will never escape the feedback loop of stimulus-response unless we become conscious of how and why we respond as we do. In order to have a choice in how we respond, we have to interfere with the loop.

Here is the basic premise:

Mindfulness points to: Being aware of and paying attention to the moment in which we find ourselves. Our past is gone, our future is not yet here. So what exist between them is the present moment. If I can observe and not get caught up in my thoughts, it is all that I have. The here and now, the present is the link which holds what was and what will be. My past was a series of present moments which brought me to this present moment. My future should it happen will be a series of present moments effected by only present moment in which I am now living, being, doing, observing, being aware or unaware, and attentive or unattentive.

Here is an even more precise version, as it applies to the post above, from Wkipedia:

Mindfulness is an activity that can be done at any time; it does not require sitting, or even focusing on the breath, but rather is done by bringing the mind to focus on what is happening in the present moment, while simply noticing the mind's usual "commentary". One can be mindful of the sensations in one's feet while walking, of the sound of the wind in the trees, or the feeling of soapy water while doing dishes. One can also be mindful of the mind's commentary: "I wish I didn't have to walk any further, I like the sound of the leaves rustling, I wish washing dishes wasn't so boring and the soap wasn't drying out my skin", etc. Once we have noticed the mind's running commentary, we have the freedom to cease identification with those judgments/perceptions: "washing dishes: boring" may become "The warm water is in unison with the detergent and is currently washing away the plates grime, the sun is shining through the window and casting an ever greater shadow on the dish's white ceramics.". In this example, one may see that washing does not have to be judged "boring"; washing dishes is only a process of coordinating dishes with soap and water. Any activity done mindfully is a form of meditation, and mindfulness is possible practically all the time.

When we begin to focus on our inner monologue and how it shapes our responses, those responses can become less reflexive and more willful. We can learn to see the gap between stimulus and response, to step in make an actual choice about what we do.

This isn't something that we get overnight, simply because we choose to do it. It takes time to unlearn our programmed responses, our emotional and intellectual reflexes, so we benefit from patience and from being compassionate with ourselves as we learn this new skill.

Yuri Bashmet Playing Dmitri Shostakovich's 13th String Quartet

A very strange piece of music that I like quite a lot. This is only a three minute excerpt, which feels more like jazz in some ways.

Thanks to Conversational Reading for the link.

TED Talks: Karen Armstrong: 2008 TED Prize Wish: Charter for Compassion

A great TED Talk. I really enjoy Karen Armstrong's books, but this is the first time I have heard her speak. Her idea of a Charter for Compassion based on the Golden Rule is a great idea, especially since some version of the Golden Rule turns up in nearly every culture and religion (this Wikipedia entry covers universality this quite well).

Based on her argument in this speech, the Charter for Compassion could be a tool for moving people of faith, in whatever religious tradition, from ethnocentrism into a more worldcentric viewpoint.

As she accepts her 2008 TED Prize, author and scholar Karen Armstrong talks about how the Abrahamic religions -- Islam, Judaism, Christianity -- have been diverted from the moral purpose they share to foster compassion. But Armstrong has seen a yearning to change this fact. People want to be religious, she says; we should act to help make religion a force for harmony. She asks the TED community to help her build a Charter for Compassion -- to help restore the Golden Rule as the central global religious doctrine.

Enjoy the talk.

Satire: Market Tumbles on News That Bush Is Still President

Andy Borowitz with breaking market news.

Market Tumbles on News That Bush Is Still President

President George W. Bush used a Rose Garden appearance today to reassure investors that he was at the helm of the U.S. economy, causing stock markets to plummet around the world.

"You don't have to worry about this economy, because I am in charge of it," said Mr. Bush, touching off what some observers were calling a global financial panic.

Mr. Bush began his remarks about the economy at 10:30 a.m. EST, and by 10:31 markets around the world had already gone into a perilous free-fall.

According to Wall Street insiders, the markets were responding to the news that Mr. Bush was still president.

"Over the last few weeks, the markets have absorbed the news of the subprime crisis, the housing meltdown, and the Bear Stearns failure," said Logan Teasdale of Citigroup. "But the news that President Bush is still president was too much for the markets to shrug off."

Over the past few months, Mr. Teasdale said, traders have tried hard to forget that Mr. Bush was still president, but his White House remarks today were "a painful reminder."

At the Federal Reserve, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke huddled with central bankers to find a way to calm the markets rattled by Mr. Bush's alarming appearance.

One solution reportedly being pondered by the Fed would involve sending Mr. Bush to Disney World for the remainder of his time in office.

Elsewhere, in his first comment on the Eliot Spitzer scandal, Vice President Dick Cheney said he has never hired a prostitute because "I've been screwing the country the last seven years."