I recently read a book by a new author named Karen Henson Jones. The book is entitled Heart of Miracles: My Journey Back to Life After a Near-Death Experience. I posted a brief review on Amazon.com, and here I repeat those thoughts in the next four paragraphs, but there are some other things I would like to say; hence, this review.
Beat poet Gregory Corso wrote of having a life that was not up to him. “No choice of two roads,” he wrote, “if there were, I don’t doubt I’d have chosen both.” That view of life could be echoed by the author of this well-written book. Everything that happens to her stems from the sudden disruption of her normal, upwardly mobile life due to a heart rhythm abnormality that was discovered after a fainting episode in a Georgetown restaurant. She did not choose for that that to happen, but as she was recuperating the road that opened to her was a spiritual path of meditation, yoga and metaphysical books. Continue reading
Today is May 8, 2016. In the United States we are celebrating Mothers Day. In some other parts of the world the people are celebrating VE (Victory in Europe) Day. It was on May 8, 1945, that the Allies formally accepted the surrender of Nazi Germany, ending World War II in Europe.
One year ago today I was in Paris. All the streets around the Champs-Élysées were closed and watched by heavily armed security forces while President Hollande proceeded down the Champs-Élysées to place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe. I was in the crowd standing on the sidewalk to see the president go past. Here is a photo:
And this is the wreath he left:
I see that this year the Champs-Élysées was closed to motor vehicles and became a pedestrian zone for VE Day. This is a picture I found on the internet (Japan Times, of all places) showing the celebration of what is supposed to now be a monthly no-car day:
It looks like a good time.
Speaking of good times, here is another picture I found on the internet. I’m not certain, but I think this may be some Donald Trump supporters celebrating his recent primary victories:
To begin, anyone who knows me or has read many of the posts on this blog understands that I have the greatest respect for His Holiness the Dali Lama. I hope that what I say here will not be considered disrespectful, even though it goes against some people’s belief that His Holiness has reached a state of enlightenment that is not influenced by money.
Ever since the Dali Lama established Tibet’s government in exile in the beautiful town of Dharamsala, in a valley at the foot of the Dhauladhar Mountains, one of his greatest supporters has been Analjit Singh, a billionaire who is one of the richest men in India. He is the former head of Max India, a corporation with extensive interests in health insurance, health care and senior living facilities. It costs a lot of money to run any kind of government, so Mr. Singh’s financial assistance has certainly been appreciated.
Analjit Singh is from the area around Dehradun, a town in another lovely valley that is at the foot of the Himalayas. His son, Veer Singh (who spends a lot of time here in Colorado – in Aspen, to be more precise), has recently developed the family’s 21-acre Dehradun estate into a wellness and retreat center called Vana. The center is designed for an elite clientele. With rooms starting at 25,000 Rupees per night ( a little less than US$400), and a minimum stay of five nights, plus extras, even the bare minimum stay, with no spa services, would cost more than the annual income of the average Indian (about 100,000 Rupees per year). A retreat there may well be worth the cost. The staff includes practitioners of Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, yoga, Reiki and traditional Tibetan medicine (courtesy of the the initial graduates of the Men-Tsee-Khang Institute that was established by the Dali Lama).
Well, Veer Singh decided that it would be nice for the Dali Lama to come by and talk with a few hundred of his close friends and associates. Continue reading
There has been an awful lot written about Donald Trump over the past few months. Those articles have examined Trump’s ever changing positions on almost everything except his own chronic physical position. That is what we will consider here.
No matter how a person may feel about Donald Trump – whether they support his candidacy or oppose it or may have heard the name someplace but can’t place it – everyone seems to agree that he often comes across as an ignorant buffoon who seems to have no control over or concern about what he may say. His intellect and/or veracity may not be totally to blame for that failing, however. There may be an underlying physical reason.
A person with proper posture holds his or her head so that the ears are directly over the shoulders. Watch Donald Trump, though. He habitually holds his whole head forward from his shoulders. That posture pulls his first rib out of position, puts undue stress on the scalene muscles, causes headaches and neurological problems and adversely affects a person’s emotions. Yoga instructors, chiropractors and devotees of the Alexander Technique tell us that chronically poor posture makes us lose touch with our natural rhythms and about the way we feel within ourselves.
Perhaps soon some television network will conduct an interview with Mr. Trump while he wears a cervical collar allowing him to hold his head up properly. That should improve the clarity of his thinking and let everyone know how he really feels about the important national issues.
[This is the eulogy that nobody heard. My brother, Jim, passed from this world on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2015. That tragedy was made even worse when his wife, my sister-in-law, Lisa, died of a liver disorder several days later. A joint memorial service was held for them and I had intended to give one of the eulogies. I prepared my comments, but less than 48 hours before the service I underwent a 7-hour medical procedure and I was not able to deliver the eulogy. This is pretty much what I would have said.]
First, I would like to thank you all for being here today. It is a sad time for all of us, and the whole family appreciates your love and support.
There are many of you who have known Jim for 30 years or more, and know a lot about him. I would like to mention just a few things that you may never have had the chance to know because he wasn’t your baby brother.
It’s true. Jim started out as a baby back in 1952, when Harry Truman was president and the only television station in Denver had been broadcasting for only eight weeks. It was a simpler time, but an exciting time for me because I was already four years old and my brother Lonny was three – and we had a new baby in the house. I still remember how our mother always made sure we had something quiet to do when the baby was sleeping. You don’t want to wake those babies. But whatever we were doing, we listened carefully and as soon as we heard the baby stirring we yelled, “Jimmy’s awake,” and ran to the crib to see him wake up, and to see him move about and play the way babies do. Just watching made us so happy. It was absolutely our favorite pastime (like most families, we did not own a television, so that one channel was not a choice for entertainment).
As we all grew, we continued to watch him play because whatever we did, Jimmy was tagging along. And we were still happy to have him there because he had that way that young children have to make whatever they do fun and joyful. The one place he couldn’t tag along with us was going to school. He hated to miss that and he couldn’t wait until he would be five years old and could come to kindergarten.
There was a problem, though. The rules said that children entering kindergarten had to be five years old by September 1st. His birthday was September 16th. He was crushed, but my parents met with school officials and convinced them to let Jimmy take a test to see if he was ready for kindergarten. He passed; he started school; and he was always one of the smartest kids in his class, even though he was often the youngest – by about two weeks.
He was a good athlete. He played some baseball and football during his school days, but his real passion was skiing. Whenever he could, he would get rides with friends or ride the ski train to Winter Park. He loved his time on the slopes and became an accomplished skier – until one of his black diamond runs was rudely interrupted by a tree, which blew out his knee.
Jim’s travels weren’t limited to ski trips. From the time he was in high school, he and his friend, Jan Jesser, used their vacation time to hop on Greyhound Bus or hitchhike to places like Crested Butte and Durango and Taos and Santa Fe for a long weekend or for a week or more. After they graduated, and he and Jan weren’t together as much, Jim continued to take those trips across much of the Western United States, just for the adventure.
His longest trip, and the one I considered as certainly the most adventurous, was when he took off by himself to spend six weeks traveling around Germany and Eastern Europe. He even went to some countries that were considered to be behind the “Iron Curtain” back then, in the 1970s.
One place that Jim somehow missed during his travels was the State of Ohio. Now, my wife Cathy was born and raised in Ohio, and when we got married there in February of 1980, I remedied that oversight by bringing Jim along to be my best man.
Then, in what now seems quick succession, he met Lisa, married her, Paul and Sara were born, and the adventure and sense of exploration in his life got a new focus. Poet
T. S. Eliot wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.”
The place where Jim arrived was “family.” The baby brother now had his own babies. He remained a good son and a great brother, but he was even more a husband and father. We all thought he was a “rock.” He went to work for Mountain Bell, and stayed for decades. The company itself changed to US West and Qwest and CenturyLink, and I don’t even remember what else. Through it all, Jim took on some hard assignments, earned a good living and made sure that his family was never in need. When Paul and Sara had their track meets and soccer games and other activities, he was there for them. When neighborhood kids needed a safe, supporting place to hang out, they knew they could go over to see Paul and Sara.
Jim and Lisa did a great job of raising their children. Just look at Paul and Sara now.
I also want to mention what a great support Jim was to our parents – especially as they grew older. As an example, when our dad was 91 years old, he and our mother took an extended trip to Texas to visit some relatives. On Thanksgiving Day, our dad wound up in intensive care with a serious respiratory disorder. By the next day, Jim had arranged to take time off from work and flew to Dallas to help the family through that crisis.
Two years later, our brother, Lonny, needed a stem cell transplant to try to correct a rare bone marrow disease. Jim volunteered to be the donor. He went through all the tests and turned out to be a good match. Some complications arose and he became the back-up donor. Still, through the whole procedure he was ready and willing to come to Houston on a moment’s notice if he was needed.
Well, those are a few things that you may or may not have known about my baby brother. I miss him and I miss Lisa. Thank you.
Under the Oriental lunar calendar, the Year of the Monkey begins with the new moon on February 8, 2016 and lasts until January 27, 2017. Different cultures have slightly different interpretations of the various years, and in this post I will refer primarily to the so-called “Chinese zodiac.”
Most people know that the years in the Chinese zodiac cycle through twelve different animals. Additionally, each of those animal years cycle through affinities to the five elements – fire, earth, metal, water and wood. This will be the Year of the Fire Monkey, which occurs every 60 years.
I will be making some predictions as to what may occur during the next year, but I am not holding myself out as having extraordinary psychic powers. I am no more or no less psychic than you are – and that is true whether you are Suzy Skeptic who does not believe in the existence of anything “paranormal” or you are the world’s top psychic or astrologer (whomever that may be be at the moment).
The approach here is to assume that there are historical cycles such as those recognized by the Chinese zodiac, and then look at what has occurred in previous Monkey years. With that historical perspective, we should be able to extrapolate and predict what may occur during the next few months.
Before getting into that, let me say that the Year of the Sheep or Goat, which is thankfully coming to a close, has been a rough one. For the past several weeks I have been dealing with some personal crises that have limited my research and writing. Consequently, this year’s discussion is going to be more brief and cursory than have those in past years.
There is a children’s rhyme that begins: “Five little monkeys jumping on the bed/One fell off and bumped his head/Called for the doctor and the doctor said/’No more monkeys jumping on the bed.'” Monkey years are often like that. Acting on irrational exuberance without sound planning is the order of the day. Things may go wrong and need to be fixed, but in most cases, it is going to be done after the fact.
Buddhists and other meditators tell us about the “monkey mind” that keeps us from controlling our thoughts. While that unsettled way of thinking is with us too much of the time, it will be even more prevalent during the coming year.
The best advice would be to recognize these trends and try to quiet the monkey mind and act rationally before making any important decisions. That may not be possible for many of us over the next 12 months, however.
As the new lunar year is ready to begin, the American news media is focusing on the presidential campaign and the distressing state of the stock market/economy. Let us begin by looking at those topics. Continue reading
For those of us temporally tied to the Gregorian Calendar, the new year of 2016 will begin in just a few days. This is the first of three posts leading to that event.
The whole world probably has some tie to that Gregorian Calendar today, but it was not always so. In earlier times, humans lived according to the broad changes of the seasons without much need to specify any single, particular day. However, the uniting of significant portions of the world under the Romans brought the administrative necessity for a common calendar. In the year we now call 46 B.C., Julius Caesar, after consulting the Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes, decreed that the empire would use a calendar based on a solar year of 365 days, with an extra day added every fourth year.
Thus, the average year became 365.25 days. That became problematic, though, because the true solar year, based on the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, is really about 11 minutes shorter than was recognized by the calendar – and it changes by a second or two every few years. Consequently, the calendar became out of synch with the solstices and equinoxes by a whole day every 130 years or so. As the centuries passed, the celebration of Easter (as determined by the First Council of Nicaea) was moving closer to summer and the dates for the seasons had varied significantly.
The Catholic Church set up a committee of astronomers to study the matter. After many years of research, a papal bull was issued by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, changing the calculation for the celebration of Easter and modifying the old Julian Calendar. Under the new Gregorian Calendar, an extra day was added every fourth year, except no day is added to years that are divisible by 100, unless the year is also divisible by 400, in which case the extra day is added. In other words, the year 2000 was a leap year, even though 1900 was not. Simple, huh?
The Gregorian Calendar was adopted, sometimes hesitantly, by most of the so-called Western World by the end of the 18th Century. As a result of a need for uniformity in matters of global commerce, the rest of the world began using it for many purposes by the early part of the 20th Century.
While Pope Gregory’s decree established the length of the year, it did not say when the year should start. For a long time, the Church continued to use Christmas, December 25th, as the beginning of its ecclesiastical year. Other groups chose to begin the new year on January 1st – or March 1st – or March 25th – or on a solstice or equinox day. It took awhile, but here in the 21st Century there is a general agreement that the calendar year begins on January 1. That is the date coming at the end of this week.
There are various traditions for celebrating the transition from one year to the next. In the United States, it is common to “ring out the old and ring in the new” with a celebratory party featuring happy people and funky music.
It is also common to look back on years like 2015 with a desire to heal the many things that have gone wrong. We have been through mass killing and terrorist attacks, there have been wars and insurgencies. 2015 was not even an election year but the U.S. has experienced a divisive, media-driven political campaign filled with lies and demagoguery.
On a more personal level, numerous friends and relatives have suffered illnesses, injuries, physical deterioration, loss and pain. There is a need for healing on a personal, as well as a global, level.
Well, I would like to suggest a song you should listen to. It is performed by the Neville Brothers, who are the epitome of of funky New Orleans soul and rhythm and blues. The song is “Healing Chant” from their wonderful 1989 album, Yellow Moon. This is a powerful song that truly can help to bring healing. You should listen to it.
Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
In whom his world rejoices1
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all
circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.2
Good and bad men differ radically. Bad men never appreciate kindness
shown them, but wise men appreciate and are grateful. Wise men try to
express their appreciation and gratitude by some return of kindness,
not only to their benefactor, but to everyone else.3
So, if you want to express gratitude for what you have received,
that’s fine. However . . . who are you thanking? Any higher power
such as God provides infinite unconditional love, unconditional giving
and wisdom and has no need for receiving anything. The need for
offering thanks exists only in your mind . . . .4
We [atheists] do not give thanks because . . .
our gratitude finds its way back to the giver and magically influences
their life. Nor do we do it to earn merit points in some unseen deity’s
gradebook. Instead, we give thanks for the most basic and humanist
of reasons: because it teaches us to be mindful of the contributions
others have made to ease our lives, and encourages us to show others
that same consideration in turn.5
Thank God I’m an atheist.6
I am writing this on the weekend after Thanksgiving, so my inspiration for including the quotations above is obvious. I previously wrote about gratitude in discussing Chapter 34 of the Tao Te Ching. The quotes used here lead to a different approach to considering the concept, however. They emphasize that what gratitude means to a person is directly related to his or her belief in the divine and to the role of the divine in this world.
Accordingly, almost everyone’s sense of gratitude is constantly changing, for as we move through life, our appreciation and understanding of God is necessarily modified and adapted by our experiences.
The human brain is designed to learn from what has occurred in its environment and to extrapolate and project those lessons onto subsequent events. It exists on the physical plane to help the body of which it is a part to survive on that plane.
However, the human mind – which is probably more than the brain – is metaphysical and capable of conceiving things beyond the physical. Such conception is limited by the mechanics of the brain so that our understanding of what we call the divine arises from the same type of extrapolation and projection of what we have experienced in our environment.
As each of us move through our lifetimes, it is only natural that our experiences will create a desire to more fully understand that which is metaphysical. We need to find religion – at least in the sense that the term may derive from the Latin re (again) and ligare (to bind or connect), implying that we wish to reconnect with that which is beyond our physical senses.
I was reminded of that basic human quest by Amy Putkonen, who has an interesting web site called taotechingdaily.com. On November 23, 2014, Amy commented here on what I had written about Chapter 77 of the Tao Te Ching, as follows:
I wish sometimes that I could find a church that I could attend that basically was in agreement with my own beliefs but that allowed me to believe what I want as well and accepted my beliefs because, as a Taoist in Midwest America, this is challenging to find. My distrust of religion has caused me to be wary of going to any churches. Years ago, I did go to Unity Church for several years. I enjoyed it. The community there was wonderful, but that church is about an hour away now and I just can’t see driving two hours a week to go there. I’ve thought of joining a Unitarian church, as they seem to have a more universal appeal, but they often seem to be more political than spiritual to me. Who knows… maybe someday I will find my church. Jury is still out on that one.
Then, on November 19, 2015 – 360 days later – she posted an essay called “Whoa … a Church? Really” in which she said:
Last week, Eric and I ventured out to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka, a mere 15 or 20 minute drive from our house. (A very reasonable distance, given where we live.) Eric follows Eastern philosophy and does not consider himself to fit the Christian model either, so this seemed a good option to try. I did not have very high expectations because I had gotten it somewhere in my head that they were less “spiritual” than other churches – that they were more about service in the community. But lately, that slant has appealed to me so I thought that I would at least give them a try.
I was very glad that we did! It was the first time, EVER, that I have gone to a church and felt like it could be my church! Now this was only our first visit, so we must give it time, but it felt like love at first sight.
So, good for her. It may not be the end of her search for religion, but it did remind me of an old Peter, Paul and May song called “Hymn.” “Hymn” was primarily written by Noel Paul Stookey, and included on the 1968 album, Late Again.
There was always a spiritual core to the songs Stookey wrote, and after Peter, Paul and Mary quit performing regularly he was active in the area of Christian music. His best known composition is “The Wedding Song (There Is Love),” which he wrote for Peter Yarrow’s wedding.
In a 2012 interview, Stookey pointed out that his mother was a Roman Catholic and his father an ex-Mormon. He said, “We did an eclectic attendance at church. I had no real spiritual sense until I was 30 years old. I was touched by Christ’s life and that spirit and message, changed my life completely.” The song “Hymn” expresses his personal search, and is representative of what many of us have experienced.
Earlier this week, I was doing a meditation with some friends. It was suggested that whenever an extraneous thought came along we should acknowledge, “I created that,” and let it pass.
How far beyond the mind and meditation should that acknowledgement be extended?
Some of the news headlines from the past few days:
- TERRORISM SUSPECTED IN CRASH OF RUSSIAN AIRLINER; 224 DEAD
- ANKARA SUICIDE BOMBERS KILL 102; OVER 500 INJURED
- 42 DEAD IN SUICIDE BOMBING OF NIGERIAN MOSQUE
- PARIS TERROR ATTACKS: 8 ATTACKERS DEAD AFTER KILLING MORE THAN 120 PEOPLE AND INJURING HUNDREDS
A young nun sits with her superior and asks, “Mother, why does God permit hundreds of innocent people to die at the hands of Satan and his violent terrorists?”
The mother superior replies, “Do not blame God or Satan, my child. You have caused those deaths.”
“How can you say that? I am cloistered, living at peace among my sisters. I pray for peace in the world at least eight hours each day. I do not eat the flesh of any living creature, and avoid even stepping on an ant that may cross my path.”
“How did you feel when you heard of the innocent deaths, my child?”
“Mostly I felt sad and confused.”
“For only a second, a part of me felt a spark of anger that such things could happen.”
“That spark, my child, is enough to ignite huge conflagrations far beyond the walls of this convent.”
John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, refers to Satan as the “Prince of Darkness.” It also tells us that Satan was formerly known as Lucifer. I guess we already knew that because three centuries earlier, in his Inferno, Dante Alighieri had called Satan Lucifer (among other names). “Lucifer,” translated from the Latin is an adjective meaning “light-bringing” or a noun referring to the morning star.
The Nylons was an a cappella singing group formed by four underemployed actors in Toronto, Canada in about 1978. The personnel in the group changed over time, but during the Nylons’ most productive years (starting in 1982 and going until about 1990) the members were Claude Morrison, Arnold Robinson, Paul Cooper and Mark Connors.
The group is best known for its fine cover versions of rock and roll standards like “Happy Together,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Town Without Pity.” Members of the group also wrote some excellent songs. The Nylons’ best album was the second one released in 1982, entitled One Size Fits All. It includes a song by Mark Connors and Paul Cooper called “Prince of Darkness.”
Pay attention to the lyrics. If we haven’t “created that,” we surely can.