Saturday, November 22, 2008

New Poem - Breathe


breathe, breathe, the night air
fills my lungs with wonder
and the cool darkness
where light is an orphan

the endings, dead leaves
and forgotten dreams,
the longing for something
beyond any known words

breathe, breathe, this day
cannot last, cannot be all
that we are, all that we know,
simply a falling star

fallen, just as the leaves,
I pretend to know the why
of anything, but as always,
I simply kneel and bow

never sure of this breath

Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout

Another in my ongoing beer reviews.

I love this one -- dark, a nice bitterness, and better at room temp, or slightly cooler. Beer Advocate gave it an A-, and that seems fair.

Here is their take on this fine beer:
A great beer that I was told by the server that was poured way too cold, and that I needed to cup it with my hands for a while to allow it to warm to bring out the malts. A fairly typical necessity for a lot of beers, especially stouts, but this one changed dramatically as it went. More on that later.

Appearance: Poured into a snifter glass, it came to me black with a fairly short, dark tan head. The head lingered briefly and quickly faded to a thin lacing that didn't stick around for the entire glass.

Smell: At first, when cold, the smell was not really overly distinguished. A little malty, a little semi-sweet hanging around and just a little bit of roast. However, as it sat and warmed, the alcohol really became a strong presence in the nose and took over the beer. I love it when it a beer changes like that, but this was so dramatic.

Taste: The first sip was bitter up front and a little roasty afterwards - not much unlike when you get a cup of coffee that wasn't filtered quite properly and there's still some grounds -- a very nice touch to the beer though because I love a strong roasty flavor. As it warmed though, as to be expected with the way the smell changed, the alcohol really started to take over and was followed by a bittersweet chocolate.

Mouthfeel: Early on it was chewy and I thought it would be a pretty easy beer to get through, but the longer it sat it really started to leave the mouth extra dry due to the alcohol and I had to slow down on it.

Drinkability: A great, complex beer. There's a lot going on with it and even though I was told it was served too cold, I really feel that experiencing how it changed was part of the intensity of this beer. The alcohol content is pretty high with it, so it's definitely a "once-a-night" kind of drink for me.
I agree -- could definitely taste the bitter chocolate. As it warmed, the alcohol became more prominent, but the depth improved. Some smokiness, some strong hop flavor, even a little (I'm guessing) woodsiness.

Highly recommended for those who like bold beers.

Gabriella Kortsch - Introducing Our Second and Third Brains: We Do Think With Our Heart and Instinct

An interesting post from a few days ago over at Psychology, Transformation & Freedom Papers, one of my favorite psych blogs. This is some really fascinating research that confirms what many different peoples around planet have known for millenia.

Introducing Our Second and Third Brains: We Do Think With Our Heart and Instinct

Neuro-scientists have finally done it! They have demonstrated that we have a brain in our heart and another in our intestines. What we have in each of these, in actual fact, is an extensive mass of neurons that behave in a fashion similar to the neurons contained in the brain, and that appear to function at mega-speeds, often much greater than those of our cerebral neurons.

The Second Brain

The second brain consists of about 100 billion nerve cells in the digestive tract – a greater number than those in the spinal cord. Professor W. Prinz of the Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research in Munich indicated to Geo Magazine that it is possible that unconscious decisions may be taken by the stomach network, which are later claimed by the main brain as conscious decisions of its own.

This second brain was brought to light by neuro-biologist Michael Gershon of New York’s Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, author of The Second Brain. When asked if the brain in our heads influences our second brain, he replied that it does, and that we get butterflies in the stomach when the brain sends a message of anxiety to the gut. This, in turn, sends messages back to the brain that it is not happy. However – and this is perhaps the most riveting part of it – the brain in the gut can also work in isolation.

The Third Brain

With his revolutionary research the University of Montreal’s pioneer neurocardiologist Dr. J. Andrew Armour first introduced the concept of a functional heart brain in the 1990’s. This brain in the heart – just as the brain in the digestive tract – may also act independently of the brain in the head. The size of this brain, according to Boulder Creek, California’s Institute of HeartMath, is as great as a number of the principle areas of the brain in the head. Studies discussed in Brain and Values, have shown that the consistency of the rhythm found in the heart brain is capable of changing – sometimes in spectacular fashion - how effectively the thinking brain functions. In theory that means that what occurs on a feeling level, has the capacity to deeply influence what occurs on a thinking level.

In The Heartmath Solution, co-authored by Doc Childre and H. Martin, an in-depth look is taken at the heart and its association with the mind and body. This contributes to the newly emerging view of the heart as a complex, self-organized system that maintains a continuous two-way dialogue with the brain and the rest of the body. Research available at the Heartmath website and published in major medical journals demonstrates that the heart has a significant influence on the function of our brains and all our bodily systems.

What This Implies

Imagine the implications of this! Those who live by “their instinct”, or who “listen” to their gut, or who make decisions based on what their heart tells them rather than their logical brain, now know that although that may not necessarily always be the right way to go, but that this clearly shows that in order to make decisions based on all of their knowledge, they should apply not only that which their logical brain tells them, but also what their feeling brain (heart), and their instinctive brain (gut) have given them to understand.
Go read the rest of the post.

The Dalai Lama on Peace

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week from Snow Lion Publications.

Everybody loves to talk about calm and peace, whether in a family, national, or international context. But without inner peace how can we make real peace? World peace through hatred and force is impossible. Even in the case of individuals, there is no possibility to feel happiness through anger. If in a difficult situation one becomes disturbed internally, overwhelmed by mental discomfort, then external things will not help at all. However, if despite external difficulties or problems, internally one's attitude is of love, warmth, and kind-heartedness, then problems can be faced and accepted.

- - - - - - - - -

The necessary foundation for world peace and the ultimate goal of any new international order is the elimination of violence at every level. For this reason the practice of non-violence surely suits us all. It simply requires determination, for by its very nature non-violent action requires patience. While the practice of non-violence is still something of an experiment on this planet, if it is successful it will open the way to a far more peaceful world in the next century.

~ From The Pocket Dalai Lama by the Dalai Lama, compiled and edited by Mary Craig

Review - The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

Wow, this is pretty excellent for an Amazon Review.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars This might become a classic---so much wisdom in so little space, November 12, 2008
The blurb on the front cover of this book is "For the reader who seeks to understand happiness, my advice is: begin with Haidt." I believe this assertion is exactly right. I have never read a single volume that summarized and wove into a coherent whole the variety of insights concerning human happiness that have been discovered by philosophers and religious gurus of the past and modern social psychologists. Moreover, this book is beautifully written, the exposition of various theories always taking a fresh viewpoint, however venerable the source. Finally, I think this book is a vigorous endorsement of modern social psychology, which beautifully complements and supplements the insights of the grand masters. I am generally critical of social psychology because it does not use the rational actor model and hence consists of a grab-bag of nano-insights with no structural core. But, this body of empirical findings contributes richly to our understanding of human happiness (the reference section of this book is truly a masterpiece, by the way).

Haidt claims there are ten great principles for understanding happiness, and he devotes a chapter to each. The first is the "divided self," we may be summarized as "Our minds are loose confederations of parts, but we identify with and pay too much attention to one part: conscious verbal thinking." (p. 22) Haidt analogizes our mind as a conscious rider on an unconscious elephant. The elephant mostly goes where it wants to go, although our conscious mind never gives up the illusion that it should not only be in the driver's seat, but have a powerful steering wheel. The references here are many, but typical are Freud's Ego vs. Superego/Id, emotional brain vs. rational brain, left vs. right brain and split-brain studies, and the like. This fact about mind is key to understanding happiness because an excessive preoccupation with conscious, volitional action tends to lead people to slight the actions they can take that have little immediate effect, but in the long run lead the elephant to move in ways more conducive to our emotional well-being. The rest of the book explains how this might be done.

Like many chapters of this book, Chapter 2, "Changing your Mind," is deeply paradoxical, or perhaps dialectical. The basic message is well stated in the quotes at the head of the chapter: "life itself is but what you deem it," (Marcus Aurelius) and "our life is the creation of our mind." (Buddha). Whereas it is very natural to think of our perceptions of our lives as real and external as the coffee cup on my table, in fact our perception and interpretation of our personal psychic and interpersonal lives is, in a deep way, personally constructed by our minds. This fact implies that different minds might very well perceive the same situation in very different ways, and this disjunction in perceptions can lead to conflicts that reduce the happiness of all parties and defy resolution because of the disputing parties' lack of insight into the subjective nature of their perceptions.

The dialectical nature of the principle of the "personal construction of reality" is that this construction is normally not conscious, but rather a deep mechanism controlled by the "elephant" over which the rider has virtually no control. It a deeply unsatisfying fact that we are basically incapable of seeing the world in any way other than the way we do, although we may achieve some liberation by recognizing this fact, and "going with the flow" (e.g., by accepting that family members and friends do not see the world as you do, they are not guilty of misperception, and you will not get them to perceive otherwise with sufficient effort on your part).

Haidt brings in a major finding from social psychology here: "happiness is one of the most highly heritable aspects of personality." (p. 33) This does not mean that our happiness cannot be affected by our actions, but the battle to do so is extremely difficult and likely to be only partially successful. This is perhaps why the book is about understanding happiness, not achieving happiness. Nowhere in the book does Haidt claim to offer you the key that will unlock the door to happiness. Rather, Haidt suggests three methods of actually improving our happiness: meditation, cognitive therapy, and Prozac. "All three are effective," he claims "because they work on the elephant." I concur with Haidt in this regard, and especially recommend psychopharmacology for those who remain unhappy after all the objective reasons for being unhappy have been addressed (e.g., a bad marriage, commuting two hour to work in traffic, or having your hand caught in a car door), as long as the side effects are not themselves debilitating.
Read the whole review.

Quantum Effects Bring No Solace for Physicists

The quest to know the foundational "rules" of the physical universe may never be realized in any conclusive way. Too bad, that.

Quantum effects bring no solace for physicists

Galaxies in the early universe (Image: NASA, ESA, Hubble Deep Field team)

Galaxies in the early universe (Image: NASA, ESA, Hubble Deep Field team)

ONE of the grandest visions of physics could be a mirage. Conventional thinking has it that all the fundamental forces of nature diverged from one single force soon after the big bang. Now it seems that quantum effects may make it impossible to prove if this idea is correct.

In the 1970s, data from the Large Electron Positron Collider at CERN near Geneva hinted that the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces were beginning to converge at the energies created during particle collisions. By extrapolating this convergence to much higher energies, physicists speculated that the forces would become indistinguishable at around 1016 gigaelectronvolts. The universe was in this energy state soon after the big bang, which suggests that all the forces may once have been unified.

Now Xavier Calmet of the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium and his colleagues argue that it may be impossible to prove if this theory is right via any conceivable experiment in a particle accelerator.

The problem is that the high energy levels at which unification of all the forces is thought to occur is close to the "Planck scale", at which quantum fluctuations in space-time become strong. These fluctuations may create huge uncertainties in the strengths of the forces at this scale, says Calmet. If true, it would mean that all bets are off as to how the forces will actually behave at high energies - no matter what the data from particle accelerators might suggest in the future.

Read the rest of the article.

Comorbidity of Asperger's Syndrome and Bipolar Disorder

Treating comorbid mental disorders, especially in young people, can be very challenging. While I am not a huge fan of drugs (often diet can have some profound effects when adjusted properly), with bipolar teenagers drugs can be essential to creating the possibility of psychotherapeutic treatment.

For those who do not know, Asperger's is a form of autism n which people are highly structured in their behaviors (often rigidly so) and have trouble with acknowledging the feelings and needs of others (looks a lot like narcissism sometimes). These people often make great mathematicians and computer coders - anything that requires very structured thinking.

Here is Wikipedia's definition:

Asperger syndrome (also called Asperger's syndrome, Asperger's disorder, Asperger's or AS) is the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in which there is no general delay in language or cognitive development. Like other ASDs, it is characterized by difficulties in social interaction and restricted, stereotyped patterns of behavior and interests. Although not mentioned in standard diagnostic criteria for AS, physical clumsiness and atypical use of language are frequently reported.[1][2]

Most everyone knows about bipolar disorder, which was once known as manic depressive disorder.

Here is the abstract of an interesting new study.

Comorbidity of Asperger's syndrome and bipolar disorder

Michele Raja email and Antonella Azzoni email

Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health 2008, 4:26doi:10.1186/1745-0179-4-26

Published: 17 November 2008

Abstract (provisional)

Background and Objective. Asperger's Syndrome (AS) is a pervasive developmental disorder that is sometimes unrecognized, especially in the adult psychiatric setting. On the other hand, in patients with an AS diagnosis, comorbid psychiatric disorders may be unrecognized in the juvenile setting. The aim of the paper is to show and discuss some troublesome and complex problems of the management of patients with AS and comorbid Bipolar Disorder (BD).


The paper describes three patients affected by AS and bipolar spectrum disorders.

Results and conclusions

Mood stabilizers and 2nd generation antipsychotics were effective in the treatment of these AS patients with comorbid BD, while the use of antidepressants was associated with worsening of the mood disorder. It is of importance to recognize both the psychiatric diagnoses in order to arrange an exhaustive therapeutic program and to define specific and realistic goals of treatment.

The entire paper is Open Source and available as a provisional PDF.

Friday, November 21, 2008


GenderAnalyzer looks at your blog and tells you whether it was written by a man or a woman. When I plugged in IOC, the results came back as 80% sure I was a male (which is slightly more sure than I am some days).

When I plugged in Masculine Heart, one of my other blogs, it came back only 51% sure I was male, which is cool, because most of what gets posted over there is by other men -- men who are awake and sensitive, as well as masculine.

Thanks to elephant journal for the heads up on this site.

When the Deity Knows You're Dead

A little fun for a Friday afternoon. This Slate article looks at the different ways religions deal with death. Well, OK, death isn't exactly fun, but how different religions deal with the moment of death (and how they define it) is interesting.

When the Deity Knows You're Dead

How do different religions define death?

A Washington, D.C., court will hear arguments on Wednesday in the case of Motl Brody, a 12-year-old Orthodox Jewish boy who was declared dead last week by hospital officials. Though the boy's brain has stopped functioning completely, drugs and a respirator are keeping his heart beating and his lungs inflating. According to his parents' strict religious beliefs, this means that Motl is still alive, and the family is therefore arguing to keep the boy on life support. How is death defined in other religions?

Usually, the same way it has traditionally been defined in all cultures: by a lack of vital signs. Most world religions lack a clear doctrinal statement that certifies when, exactly, the moment of death can be said to have occurred. For most of human history, there was no need for one since prior to the invention of life-support equipment, the absence of circulation or respiration was the only way to diagnose death. This remains the standard of death in most religions. By the early 1980s, however, the medical and legal community also began to adopt a second definition of death—the irreversible cessation of all brain functions—and some religious groups have updated their beliefs.

Jewish arguments both for and against accepting brain death can be found in the Talmud, the sprawling record of rabbinical discussions on law and ethics. Some strands of Talmudic law hold that those who have been decapitated or had their necks broken are considered dead, even if their bodies continue to move—an argument that many take as proof that total loss of brain function counts as death. Other scholars point to a section from the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Yoma, which states that if you come across a collapsed building on the Sabbath, you must uncover victims at least up to their noses to determine whether they are dead or alive, as "life manifests itself primarily through the nose as it is written: In whose nose was the breath of the spirit of life"—a reference to the Genesis story of the great flood. (For a longer discussion of the Jewish definition of death, see Chapter 12 in this book.)

Christians who ardently support the traditional circulatory-respiratory definition of death tend to be fundamentalists or evangelicals. They may point to Leviticus 17:11, which states that "the life of the flesh is in the blood," or Genesis 2:7, which describes how God "formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." Most mainstream Protestant groups in the United States accept brain death as a valid criterion for death, as does the Roman Catholic Church, though that ruling is not without controversy.

In 1986, the Academy of Islamic Jurisprudence—a group of legal experts convened by the Organization of the Islamic Conference—issued an opinion stating that a person should be considered legally dead when either "complete cessation of the heart or respiration occurs" or "complete cessation of all functions of the brain occurs." In both cases, "expert physicians" must ascertain that the condition is irreversible. However, the academy's statement was merely a recommendation to member nations, not a binding resolution, and the question remains an open one for many Muslims.

In 2006, the family of a Buddhist man in Boston who had been declared legally brain-dead argued that, because his heart was still beating, his spirit and consciousness still lingered and that removing him from life support would be akin to killing him. In a Boston Globe article about the case, a professor of Buddhism explained that, within Tibetan Buddhism, a person has multiple levels of consciousness, which may or may not correspond with brain activity.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Courtney Campbell of Oregon State University, Fred Rosner of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Stuart Youngner of Case Western Reserve University.

Your Body Is Mine - Perceived Body Swapping

Ooh, very cool research project with interesting results.
Your body is mine
Web edition : Monday, November 17th, 2008

A new experiment indicates that, under the right circumstances, people feel like they have swapped bodies with someone else

WASHINGTON — It sounds like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone. A man enters a laboratory, dons a special headset and shakes hands with a woman sitting across from him. In a matter of seconds, he feels like he’s inside the woman’s skin, reaching out and grasping his own hand.

Strange as it sounds, neuroscientists have induced this phenomenon in a series of volunteers. People can experience the illusion that either a mannequin or another person’s body is their own body, says Valeria Petkova of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. She and Karolinska colleague Henrik Ehrsson call this reaction the “body-swap illusion.”

“Our subjects experienced this illusion as being exciting and strange, and often said that they wanted to come back and try it again,” says Petkova, who reported the findings November 17 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Illusory body-swapping could provide a new tool for studying the nature of self-identity and psychiatric disorders that involve distortions of body image, she suggests. This phenomenon might also be tapped to enhance user control over virtual reality applications and to prompt a person’s sense of really being part of a virtual world.

Volunteers experienced the body-swap illusion by receiving simultaneous visual and motor input from another’s body. In one experiment, each participant stood across from a male mannequin, and in another experiment volunteers faced a female experimenter. A headset covering participants’ eyes displayed a three-dimensional view of the other’s visual perspective, transmitted from a small video camera positioned on the mannequin’s or the woman’s head.

In the mannequin situation, an experimenter simultaneously touched the participant’s belly and the mannequin’s belly with separate probes. So the volunteer felt a poking in the abdomen but saw the poking happen as if he or she were the mannequin. In the real-person situation, participant and experimenter shook hands. Thus, while volunteers felt the sensation of hand shaking, it appeared to them that they were shaking their own hand. After 10 to 12 seconds of abdominal touch or hand-shaking, male and female participants spontaneously had the experience of looking out from the body of the male mannequin or the female experimenter. They literally felt that they were in the mannequin’s body getting poked or had embodied the female experimenter and were shaking their own hands.

“In the body-swap illusion, we can see that multisensory information powerfully affects the brain,” says neuroscientist Patrick Haggard of University College London, who was not part of the research team.

Petkova and Ehrsson first confirmed that 16 male and 16 female volunteers experienced an illusory body-swap with a mannequin. After undergoing the procedure, participants indicated on a questionnaire that they had experienced the mannequin’s body as their own. They didn’t feel that they had become plastic like a mannequin, Petkova notes. Volunteers reported having had an expectation that, if they moved, the mannequin’s body would move accordingly.

In a subsequent experiment, the researchers found that 10 volunteers experiencing a body-swap with a mannequin displayed elevated electrical responses in the skin on their fingertips — a physiological indication of heightened emotion — when a knife was passed just over the mannequin’s arm. No such response occurred when a knife was passed just over volunteers’ arms during the illusion.

In a third experiment, 12 volunteers experiencing a body-swap with a female experimenter exhibited comparable physiological signs of emotional arousal when a knife was passed just over the experimenter’s arm, but not just over their own arms.

Gender had no affect on the illusion. Men had no difficulty experiencing a body-swap with a female experimenter, Petkova notes. Women readily experienced the illusion of being in a male mannequin’s body.

“This illusion is so strong that one can face one’s physical body and shake hands with oneself while still experiencing owning another person’s body,” Petkova says.

When a researcher stroked a brush along a volunteer’s own arm, the body-swap illusion vanished. In this way, each participant’s personal sense of touch became disengaged from the other individual’s visual perspective, Petkova proposes.

The new findings build on Ehrsson’s earlier research documenting a “rubber-hand illusion.” To induce that effect, a rubber hand is plausibly positioned on a table to extend from a volunteer’s outstretched arm, while the person’s actual hand is hidden. As an experimenter strokes the rubber hand with a brush, the volunteer eventually experiences the fake hand as his or her own and feels the sensation of being stroked.

10 Things Science Says Will Make You Happy

A cool article from the good folks at Yes! Magazine. I'm sure this list would make Martin Seligman and the other positive psychology people very happy.
10 Things Science Says Will Make You Happy
by Jen Angel

Winter 2009: Sustainable Happiness

In the last few years, psychologists and researchers have been digging up hard data on a question previously left to philosophers: What makes us happy? Researchers like the father-son team Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, Stanford psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, and ethicist Stephen Post have studied people all over the world to find out how things like money, attitude, culture, memory, health, altruism, and our day-to-day habits affect our well-being. The emerging field of positive psychology is bursting with new findings that suggest your actions can have a significant effect on your happiness and satisfaction with life. Here are 10 scientifically proven strategies for getting happy.

Savor Everyday Moments

Pause now and then to smell a rose or watch children at play. Study participants who took time to “savor” ordinary events that they normally hurried through, or to think back on pleasant moments from their day, “showed significant increases in happiness and reductions in depression,” says psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky.

Avoid Comparisons

While keeping up with the Joneses is part of American culture, comparing ourselves with others can be damaging to happiness and self-esteem. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, focusing on our own personal achievement leads to greater satisfaction, according to Lyubomirsky.

Put Money Low on the List

People who put money high on their priority list are more at risk for depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, according to researchers Tim Kasser and Richard Ryan. Their findings hold true across nations and cultures. “The more we seek satisfactions in material goods, the less we find them there,” Ryan says. “The satisfaction has a short half-life—it’s very fleeting.” Money-seekers also score lower on tests of vitality and self-actualization.

Go to their site to see the other seven and to read some good article.

Tricycle - Introducing Big Mind

Those of us in the integral community have known about Big Mind and Genpo Roshi for years now, thanks largely to Ken Wilber's ILP Kit. Those in the Buddhist community are also likely to be familiar with him and the process he has stolen from Voice Dialogue, if no other reason than Brad Warner has repeatedly ripped him for his promises of "instant enlightenment," among other things.

I've blogged about it here as well, including a series of videos that demonstrate the process.

Now Tricycle has printed Genpo Roshi's introduction, which likely means that he will acquire a whole new market of [gullible] consumers.

Introducing Big Mind

Dennis Genpo Merzel offers a practice to work with our shadow sides and awaken our enlightened nature.

IMAGINE YOUR very body-mind-spirit as a company, like General Motors, Ford, or IBM. You’re a company with many employees, and not one single employee knows his job title, job description, function, what the product is, or who the CEO is. To make matters worse each employee thinks that he’s the boss, the one in charge, and all the other employees are working for him.

To make matters even worse, the company is constantly changing. Employees are being let go; new employees are being brought in. Nobody seems to have a handle on why. The product is constantly changing. One moment it might be automobiles, the next trucks, then ships, then planes, then maybe back to cars, and it goes on and on like this. And they keep changing the company’s name. In this particular company, the name has changed many times. First it was called Dennis, then it was called Sebastian, then it was called Genpo, then it was called Sensei, and now it’s called Roshi. The whole company is in flux, it’s all impermanent. So what kind of company do we have? It’s pretty dysfunctional.

Twenty-six hundred years ago, the Buddha called this dysfunction dukkha. He didn’t use the metaphor of a company, but he used similar analogies to make the same point. He said dukkha means that there’s something stuck. Dukkha is often translated as “suffering,” but actually the root of the word refers to a stuck wheel whose axle isn’t rotating. In the Buddha’s day they had carts with two wheels, and when one wheel—or maybe the whole axle— wasn’t rotating, the cart would be stuck or just spin around in circles. Basically he said that the cart is dysfunctional.

Buddha Del Sol, Chris Cosnowski
Buddha del Sol, Chris Cosnowski, 2005, oil on panel, 18 x 15 inches. © Chris Cosnowski, courtesy of the artist and Lyons Wier Ortt Gallery, NYC, in private collection

So, like one of these carts, we are dysfunctional. The worst part about it is that since we’ve never been completely functional, we don’t realize how dysfunctional we really are. If we were once completely functional, completely integrated, completely liberated and free, then we would think, “Oh my God, I used to be free, now I’m stuck, I used to be completely functional, now I’m dysfunctional.” Although most of us have never had that experience, many people have had a spontaneous awakening experience—some moment when they reach what Eckhart Tolle refers to as the “power of now,” an experience when they go beyond time and space and find themselves liberated. These people then realize, “My God, I’m operating in a dysfunctional way 99.9 percent of the time.” But if we don’t have that experience, we never realize that there’s a better, a more optimal way to function.

What the Buddha discovered is that we are dysfunctional when our understanding gets stuck in one perspective, when the wheel, or the mind, does not revolve. If we can learn to shift perspectives so that our mind is not fixed, so that no understanding is considered the right and only understanding, then we can be unstuck, free. By simply shifting perspectives we can realize that there are an infinite number of perspectives, even in a single room. If you slightly change the angle of your gaze down or up, or if you move around, you’ll see that there are infinite perspectives of this one room. Similarly, there are infinite perspectives of reality. Where we get stuck is in thinking there is only one right view. The Buddha taught Right View as the first part of the Noble Eightfold Path. In our Zen understanding Right View is mu-view, which means no view, holding on to no particular or fixed view.

What we can do with the practice I'm offering here is learn how easy it is to shift perspectives. Each one of us has an infinite number of views.
Read the rest of this article.

Patrick Lee Miller - Immanent spirituality

Another good article by Patrick Lee Miller, this time on immanent spirituality, can be found over at The Immanent Frame. You can find more of Miller's writings at his website.

Immanent spirituality

posted by Patrick Lee Miller

A worthy touchstone to arbitrate between worldviews immanent and transcendent is the désir d’éternité, the “desire to gather together the scattered moments of meaning into some kind of whole.” According to Charles Taylor, who adduces this touchstone, only transcendence has a satisfactory response to its longing: personal immortality. What response, if any, remains for immanence? Must it invent comic masks to hide the frown of an indifferent world? Must it surrender everything to the river of a senseless time? Must it be mute before the anguish of the bereaved?

Taylor is right that Epicureanism and its modern materialist progeny cannot help. Epicurus taught that death was nothing, since its victims cannot perceive the loss. But whatever consolation this may offer for la mort de moi, my own death, it is useless against la mort de toi, the death of a beloved. The dead may be insensible, but Epicurean sophisms do nothing to assuage the grief of those who live on in their absence.

Nietzsche rejected scientific materialism not because it failed to console the bereaved but because he saw it as the last stage of the ascetic ideal, a desperate effort to will something, even an inaccessible world of truth, rather than not will at all. He also rejected transcendent spiritualities, the worldviews of “the hinterworldly,” whose weariness with this life and its suffering prompts them to turn from it toward a fantasy world without suffering. Scientific materialism and transcendent spirituality were thus, in Nietzsche’s estimation, two sides of the same ascetic coin; both the scientist and the priest, despite their apparent rivalry, were weary of life. Without assessing Nietzsche’s diagnoses of either, which so many partisans have contested over the last century, we should instead consider what positive response he has to the désir d’éternité. For if his philosophy is to be anything more than a critique, if it is to appear as a spirituality while in contact with Taylor’s worthy touchstone, it must respond to this longing. As it turns out, Nietzsche does have a response, but it is nothing new. The Eternal Return is an ancient doctrine whose first and best proponent is Heraclitus.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the book that treats this obscure doctrine and its spiritual alternative to transcendence in most detail, Nietzsche’s hero summarizes it with a song whose final line is Alle Lust will Ewigkeit: all joy wants eternity. Taylor interprets this line as “not: we’re having such a good time, let’s not stop; but rather: this love by its nature calls for eternity.” Whether or not this is an accurate interpretation of Nietzsche’s text, it is an accurate phenomenology of passionate love. When you love passionately, even when your love turns out to be ephemeral, it does not feel ephemeral so long as it lasts. On the contrary, it feels like a summons to eternity. But is this summons coherent? The love we know in this life, like everything else known here, is woven with finite threads. When they come to an end, when the beloved dies, for example, and the weaving must stop, we hurt, want to weave on, and so dream of infinite—which is to say eternal—threads. La mort de toi more than any other experience makes this longing clear. The bereaved more than anyone else dreams of a hinterworld where reunion with the beloved is guaranteed. But is this dream coherent?

Remove finitude, and the fabric of everything we know comes apart. Try to imagine a baseball game, for example, with an infinite number of innings. Even if the glorious bodies of the eschaton could play without fatigue forever, the deepest problem with this alluring fantasy—at least for baseball enthusiasts—is that there could never be a winner. No matter how wide a gap in score opened up during such a game, the losing team would always have the consolation of other innings in which to close it. With so specious a consolation, however, would disappear all the drama and meaning of the game. This meaning would disappear still more if eternity were not infinite time, as some imagine it, but instead all time gathered into one moment, as others prefer. What drama, what sense, would there be in a baseball game whose ninth and first innings were co-present? None more than a game of infinite successive innings.

Now, if the excitement of sport has never gripped you, try to imagine Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dancing to a song of infinite length. Their technique would remain as dazzling as the talent of the resurrected Lou Gehrig, and it is just as tempting to fantasize about them dancing forever as it is to imagine him playing his last game one more inning, and then another…but what was most valuable in their art, as in his play, would then be lost. Without a sense of the end, and thus of the shape of their movements, the beauty and drama they achieved in finite time would become the infinite and thus meaningless repetition of technique; or, if eternity be imagined as all moments gathered together, this finite beauty and drama would become the absurdity of every move executed at once, and so on for every activity we know. Life itself, as the activity of activities, requires the finitude imposed on it ultimately by death to preserve its meaning.

Borges captured this painful but inescapable truth in “The Immortal,” his fable of a soldier whose quest for the city where none dies costs him dearly, but never so dearly as his success. For after reaching this city and drinking from its magical stream, he learns that among its immortal citizens “every act (every thought) is the echo of others that preceded it in the past, with no visible beginning, and the faithful presage of others that will repeat it in the future, ad vertiginem.” In the midst of this eternal repetition, where “there is nothing that is not lost between the indefatigable mirrors,” all exertion appears vain. Why exert yourself now, after all, when there is always tomorrow? To digest this enervating insight, and others like it, meditate for a moment upon some of the peculiar consequences of infinite time.

Were you to live infinitely, for instance, you would have enough time to live not only your own life any number of times, but also the lives of others, all others, likewise infinitely. Perhaps the boredom provoked by eternity would even require you to seek the relief of novelty. If so, Borges’ concludes, in the city of the immortals individuality disappears: “no one is someone; a single immortal man is all men.” But the preservation of individuality—especially after death has robbed us of a unique beloved—is the chief appeal of eternity. Thought through a little further than its initial appeal, in short, eternity appears more frustrating than satisfying. Reversing course, Borges’ hero seeks instead the waters of a stream that will restore his mortality. Only upon finding it after another arduous quest does he find peace: “Incredulous, speechless, and in joy, I contemplated the precious formation of a slow drop of blood.”

Arguably the insight was first Homer’s. His gods need nothing so desperately as the human drama they have created—especially the tragedy of Troy, where their mortal offspring risk their lives—to lend their otherwise repetitious and senseless lives both drama and meaning. Zeus fights with Hera from time to time, but there is no quarrel so serious that it cannot be remedied with another round of ambrosia. Without Sarpedon to mourn, what drama would remain to him? Without Paris to punish, what drama would remain to her? For the gods there is always and necessarily tomorrow; by contrast, writes Borges, “everything in the world of mortals has the value of the irrevocable and the contingent.” He captures this tragic wisdom with his eerie fable, but Nietzsche recovered it for modern Europe when he began his career by celebrating the birth of tragedy and philosophy in the tragic age of the Greeks; in other words, the wisdom of the Homeric age. According to the argument shared by the two books with these titles, this age ended with the Socratic promise—that is, the promise made by Plato’s Socrates in dialogues such as Phaedo—of rational salvation from the body, from time, and finally from death.

Reads the whole article and be sure to check out the comments as well.

My First Concert in Years

Just bought tickets for this last night. I'm excited to see two of my favorite bands (I have never heard of Cold War Kids, but that doesn't mean much). I haven't seen a "real" show since I left Seattle 6.5 years ago.

My girlfriend likes these bands too, so that rocks. My last two gfs either didn't like rock music or liked music I didn't like, so shows were out of the question. It's nice to see live music, but it's FUN to see it with someone else who shares my interest.

Here are a few videos.

Death Cab For Cutie - Cath...

Death Cab For Cutie - I Will Possess Your Heart

The Airborne Toxic Event - Sometime Around Midnight
The Airborne Toxic Event - Gasoline

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kathleen Parker Is Going to Lose Her GOP Card for This Column . . .

But she is totally spot-on correct.

The GOP will continue to lose -- and lose bigger and bigger -- as long as they stay in bed with the fundamentalists. The biggest trend working against them is the urbanization of America:

Population living in Urban Areas[1]




Population living in Rural Areas



[1] Urban areas include all urbanized areas (over 50,000 population) and Urban Clusters (2,500 to 49,999 population) as defined by the Bureau of the Census in the 2000 Decennial Census.

This was as of 2000, and certainly the gap is wider now. The more people live in the cities, especially larger metropolitan areas (58.274 % of Americans live in cities bigger than 200,000 residents), the more liberal (in general) they become. This does not bode well for the future of GOP politics as they currently exist.

When you look at the electoral map for this year, Obama won both coasts and the upper Mid West, as well as Florida and some Southern states closer to the north. Even in states he lost, he tended to win the bigger cities. In general, he won the states with the largest urban populations, a trend that is not likely to change any time soon.

A big part of this is religion. Urban folk are still religious, they are just less dogmatic and more liberal in their religious views. The more rural people are, in general, the more fundamentalist their beliefs. These folk are the GOP base that Parker is writing about in her column.

Here's a bit of her observations:
And shifting demographics suggest that the Republican Party -- and conservatism with it -- eventually will die out unless religion is returned to the privacy of one's heart where it belongs.

Religious conservatives become defensive at any suggestion that they've had something to do with the GOP's erosion. And, though the recent Democratic sweep can be attributed in large part to a referendum on Bush and the failing economy, three long-term trends identified by Emory University's Alan Abramowitz have been devastating to the Republican Party: increasing racial diversity, declining marriage rates and changes in religious beliefs.

Suffice it to say, the Republican Party is largely comprised of white, married Christians. Anyone watching the two conventions last summer can't have missed the stark differences: One party was brimming with energy, youth and diversity; the other felt like an annual Depends sales meeting.

With the exception of Miss Alaska, of course.

Even Sarah Palin has blamed Bush policies for the GOP loss. She's not entirely wrong, but she's also part of the problem. Her recent conjecture about whether to run for president in 2012 (does anyone really doubt she will?) speaks for itself:

"I'm like, okay, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I'm like, don't let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is.... And if there is an open door in (20)12 or four years later, and if it's something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I'll plow through that door."

Let's do pray that God shows Alaska's governor the door.

Meanwhile, it isn't necessary to evict the Creator from the public square, surrender Judeo-Christian values or diminish the value of faith in America. Belief in something greater than oneself has much to recommend it, including most of the world's architectural treasures, our universities and even our founding documents.

But, like it or not, we are a diverse nation, no longer predominantly white and Christian. The change Barack Obama promised has already occurred, which is why he won.

Go read the whole thing.