A blog about nothing.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

HURTLING INTO THE HEREAFTER


Recently I had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old friend from high school. Bryn and I had been what you might call "friends with benefits" during our senior year at Beverly High. We graduated in 1991, years before the term was coined by Alanis Morissette in her '95 smash Head Over Feet.  After seeing each other a handful of times in the first couple years after graduating, we had completely lost touch. That is, until friending one another on Facebook in 2011.

Since then, aside from the occasional comment or like, we hadn't corresponded. I did know however that Bryn had been busy since our kissing days. She had had a pretty successful career as an actress, appearing on such hit sitcoms as Party of Five and Wonder Years. She had married a couple times, had a teenage daughter, and recently lost her younger brother, Warren, who died suddenly of a heart condition in his early thirties. 

When I noticed that in wishing a mutual friend Happy Birthday on Facebook we both called her "lovely lady," it struck me as odd that after so many years apart Bryn and I could still be on the same wavelength. So I sent her a message. You probably think it's pretty typical for a single guy with time on his hands to be reaching out to former flames but I don't attend reunions. And I did see in her status page that Bryn was divorced, so I'm excused. 

My short message led to a phone call the next morning, the first of several several-hour-long conversations spent catching up and then some. The then some included sending each other nakedish pics and playing our favorite songs and reminiscing on bygone times. The movies we had seen together, the gifts we had exchanged, the nicknames we had traded (my term for her, Nymphet, came courtesy of my father) and of course the make-out sessions - that hook-up at Jeff Nasch's graduation party being especially sweet to recall, God rest Jeff's soul. 

Bryn, separated since May, even invited me to come stay with her. And who knows, maybe I will take a trip to lovely British Columbia, where she works in real estate. The weather is supposed to be really nice in May, which is the month of her birthday. Cutie...


Unfortunately, the death of Bryn's brother has really hit my friend hard. And it hasn't gotten much easier in the half dozen years since it happened. We talked of the losses I had experienced in life, specifically of my own brother, Justin, and more recently, my mom. I asked Bryn if Warren had come to visit her, as the recently deceased are wont to do, especially when they die violently or suddenly. "Not that I know of," she lamented.

I told her that sometimes the living aren't sensitive enough to signs, and even when we are aware of the presence of the dead, it may take years before there is any contact. My mom visited me a month to the day after she passed away. But it took Justin, who left his body in 1996, nearly 2 years to come around. And when he did materialize in my bedroom to sit on my bed and let me stroke his arm, I was reminded of one of my favorite songs by his favorite band. Since we're trading tunes...



And so maybe Warren was still surfing the afterlife, catching up with old friends, reviewing his past. Maybe he had merged back with the Oneness, source of all.

The precise nature of the afterlife/pre-life is a mystery, and unfortunately Western medicine has developed a fear-based approach which leaves patients clinging to life and feeling like failures when it's their time to bid this world adieu. Lengthy hospital stays and a pharmacopoeia's worth of drugs do make the establishment a lot of cash, so in our utilitarian age it's not entirely without utility, I guess. But if you read the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as I am currently, you'll learn that the Art of Dying is as important as the Art of Living, and they are interconnected. You can only live fully if you know how to die properly, as for instance one's experiences in the great beyond are governed by one's last thought while alive. This information is unfortunately omitted from the standard curriculum in schools. Instead we learn about the climate and currency of Chile, Bolivia and Peru.

But I argue that we should spend our lives preparing to die, and that the interdimensional planes of existence should be foremost on our list of areas to which to devote careful study. Because there comes the day for every single one of us that death shall call. So why not know where we are headed? If you decide to go to Chile, Bolivia or Peru you don't just board a plane without any money in your pocket or any plans for when you get there, do you? You at least make some preparations, study a map, talk to locals, book a reservation or two. 

While it's true that you cannot take anything with you when you die, this really only applies to material possessions. The knowledge you accumulate while living, and the love, survive the flight to the other side. So learn as much as you can, and know this: That death is a transition, and the deceased are still alive, just not in a body of flesh and blood. 

Think back to when a dear friend or family member has moved away. Maybe before their departure you'd get together on a weekly basis or if you were really close even every day; but after the move and separated by distance perhaps you are only able to talk on the phone regularly, or at most see each other for the holidays or every few years. This friend isn't dead as in gone forever; only the nature of your relationship has changed. And some find when a friend moves away that where once they engaged in small talk and gossip, their relationship probes profounder truths now that interactions are seldom and time is of the essence. If you and your bestie only get 20 minutes twice a month of phone time you don't want to waste it on the weather.

It is the same with the dearly departed, I mean those who have shed their earthly vehicles. We can still be in touch with our disembodied loved ones, just not as often as before. As individual souls the dead have their own living to attend to. Experiences, jobs, learning, etc. and on interdimensional planes. For example, for me to ask my deceased mother to constantly be with me is a bit selfish when she has a whole universe to explore - the spirit realm is said to be a thought realm where all that is required to go somewhere or do something is to think it and it's done. Besides, no longer in a physical body my mother is less my mom and more a kindred spirit and guide. Because released from her physical shackle her perspective is now much wider than mine.

I told Bryn as a fellow bereaved that we cannot expect our brothers after dying to continue to be just our brothers any more than we could expect them to ignore their duties as sons and friends and lovers while they were alive. Similarly, we must recognize that when a loved one dies, they take on new roles, and the old roles they play, to us, must change. 

We must roll with these new roles or suffer undue grief and the bad habits that often ensue, like drugs, alcohol, prescriptive medication and other coping mechanisms. And we have to be braced for a time after the death of a loved one, whether in weeks or months or years, that we will no longer connect. Because there is the very real possibility of reincarnation. Belief in reincarnation spans centuries and countries and but for a savvy bit of politics was only removed from Christianity in the 6th century after Christ. The soul's journey may very well be eternal and involve numerous births and deaths and an ultimate merging with the Oneness, the finish line at the end of this amazing race called life, where each competes with himself, and your only opponent is also your best friend. That is, you.

And as it's too much to ask a person to be at two places at the same time, we cannot expect that, for example, our dead siblings will continue to call on us when they as new bodies in another life have new siblings to coddle and be coddled by. I sure hope that Bryn, who at 7 years her late brother's senior was like a mother to him in his adolescence, gets some closure with Warren. And I hope I can help her get some. It would indeed be fitting, since I got some (benefits from my friend) all those years gone by.

Maybe I can help. Yesterday while browsing my parents' bookshelf I chanced upon the tome Communicating with the Dead, by Linda Georgian of the Psychic Friends Network. It was written in 1995, same year as Morissette's song. I read the book in a couple hours and put it down with a renewed conviction that the dead are waiting to be contacted by we the living, and that they can help us in our lives - not just with mundane details like finances and where we left the house keys but also with developing a greater understanding of the nature of existence, be it with a body or without.

I also came away with a few pointers for contacting those who, shall we say, have hurtled head over feet into the hereafter. Here they are:

1. Place yourself in a quiet environment: light a candle, burn incense, play music you know the spirit liked.

2. Relax and focus on a feeling of peacefulness.

3. Be open to sending and receiving feelings and messages.

4. Feel love and goodwill.

5. Think of some pleasant moment or something that belonged to the spirit in order to establish contact and an emotional connection.

6. Do not use mind-altering drinks or drugs.

7. Say silent or audible prayers of any kind that reinforce the desire to have contact for the highest good.

8. Meditate.

9. Breathe deeply and evenly.

10. Listen to quiet instrumental music you like.

11. Sit comfortably.

That about does it. I wish you many pleasant communications. And since we're trading favorite songs, this oldie is for you, dear Brynie. See you in BC, baby!



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

MEMOIRS OF A SAD MAN


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I once had the misfortune of requiring a root canal. The tooth in question, a molar in the upper left side of my mouth, had recently had a cavity, which the dentist filled, though not without irritating the nerve root and introducing bacteria therein. Thanks much, Dr. Mendelovitz, you schmuck. Kidding. Mistakes happen, even among the UCLA-trained.

But it was at the endodontist in Beverly Hills that I had the unique privilege of viewing a man completely at ease with himself and in love with his profession. His name escapes me, but what zest for life, what gumption and verve was on display for me to see while he drilled into my tooth and extracted the nerve fibers. It also helped that the procedure earned him over a grand in cash. This doctor (as the Hang Over films tell us, dentists are doctors too), with his gelled hair and toothy grin, delivered the news to me that he could "save the tooth" with the profundity of someone announcing the existence of intelligent life on Mars. 

I honestly cannot remember when I've felt so enthusiastic about anything in life as this endodontist felt about rooting around in my mouth. Like the endodontist, I had taken a graduate degree in a medical specialty, but treating diabetes and heart disease as a family medicine practitioner never gave me any joy. It was always grunt work. The moment I entered the hospital each morning at around 6 a.m. I was already itching to leave. The irony is that while the medical profession provided a lucrative career doing something I found depressing, writing screenplays, enjoyable though it was (and sometimes still is) never earned me a dime.

Be that as it may, I don't think I've ever enjoyed creating anything as much as the endodontist enjoyed saving my tooth. And now I'm back at square one. Doing what I (somewhat) enjoy, for free and for an audience of one, thanks for reading. The term writer-turned-doctor-turned-writer is a long way of saying I'm just confused. 

Perhaps I am like the protagonist in the Russian novel Oblomov, fitted to appreciate art, rather than create it. Incidentally if like me you are plagued with ennui, lack a spring in your step, or find life futile or frustrating at least some of the time, peruse the Russian classics. Your life is peachy compared to what you'll find in the pages of such novelists as Tolstoy and Pushkin. In them, every character is a victim of unrequited love. Dreams are dashed. People are betrayed. Misery is drunk to the dregs. Petty officials labor tirelessly to afford a new coat only to have it stolen and then die. In fact, practically every character dies at the end of these books, often unexpectedly and from some obscure and unnamed illness. 

Life in 19th century Russia, the life that furnished Gogol and Turgenev (and let's not forget my favorite, Dostoevsky) with material out of which they fashioned their masterpieces, sure was bleak. And yet everyone takes themselves so damned seriously. They march around in a huff, take offense at the drop of a hat, challenge each other to duels, etc. In a miserable world, where you are beaten down and berated at every turn, it would seem that self-importance is one's most valuable asset. And this was before the advent of root canals!

Really, I set about writing knowing I'd never be a conventional success, as in making a living off putting words to page. And still I went about it. I traveled to Brazil in the late 90s to write my first romance based on my own amorous adventures knowing it would never see the light of day, but also to drink beer and have loose sex. So I knew what I was getting into, I guess. Was failure my fate, or is it that I refuse to put enough of myself into any written work requiring me to sit at a desk longer than an hour or two, conveniently the time it takes me to compose these blurbs for you. 

Recently I was rebitten by the screenwriting bug and dashed off two scripts in swift succession, each requiring about a month of my time. Neither is very good. The first of the two, about a fading novelist who fakes her own death in a desperate attempt to increase sales of her forgotten books, I sent to a pretty actress I had happened to see at the Groundlings, that comedic troupe that stages gigs every Saturday night in West Hollywood. Patty seemed flattered that I had chosen her to play one of the leads. She promised to send me notes after reading it. I never heard back. Not even after I wrote her a second time saying that by starring in my movie she could be the next Kristen Wiig! Either my work is crap, or it's so good the bitch is speechless. It's fun to dream. Maybe she saw through my shameless attempt to score a date. 

The second script I can't even bring myself to finish, at least not today. I can't even summarize it in a sentence. I can only say it's a love story. Like every great movie, but this movie of mine is not great. So why write it? To occupy some time, I guess. Get the creative juices flowing (down the drain).

If I were really motivated I'd write a thriller on geoengineering, since conspiracy theories about how "they" are poisoning our air are all over the Internet. But I lack the gumption! Every creative endeavor makes me yawn. I refuse to lose myself in any work. Because I myself am my life's work. To spend 10 hours a day slaving away pasting post-its on a peg board when I can be out swimming and running and eating Swiss chard just no longer appeals to me. I don't want to be pasty and with a paunch. And so I hereby leave award-winning screenplays to the Charlie Kaufmans of the world. Because that poor sucker really looks like he could use some help. The writer of such classics as Being John Malkovich and Synechdoche, New York has more money than I will ever see, and critical claim, and a wife, but he looks as sad as the hoary Russian novelists of yore. Maybe Mr. Kaufman should read their work. Or mine. Both are good for laughs, and either way your life won't seem nearly as bad as you once believed.

Monday, March 20, 2017

THE LAZY MAN'S OPTION


They say nothing worthwhile is without its price. But the pros of drinking enough water far outweigh the cons, which is to say the price of adequate hydration is a pittance, which is to say a rather small price indeed. But not that small, if like me you seem to wake up every hour to pee.

I clearly was not drinking enough water. The fact that I may have suffered a kidney stone revealed as much to me. The discomfort of said stone was not as excruciating as I've heard tell. Of course my tolerance for pain may be exceptionally high. I like being exceptional, and I never resist an opportunity to congratulate myself. Prior to said stone I had been in the habit of consuming about six cups of water a day, more if you include the water in coffee and the soda in a Scotch and soda, which I know you're not supposed to include, so let's not. 

Now, six cups may not sound like much, but my diet is so high in fruits and vegetables, which are 75% or more water by weight, that I considered my hydration on par with a meat eater who prides himself on drinking a gallon of H20. And there are a lot of these meat eaters. Most of them call themselves Paleos and do Crossfit. So all the fluid in my fruit and vegetable intake provided me with yet another opportunity to congratulate myself. But six cups was not enough, as flank pain, burning with urination and microscopic hematuria announced in no uncertain terms. And so I upped it to ten. Now I have about 3 cups in the morning on waking, 3 cups after working out, and 2 cups each before lunch and dinner. And I feel a lot better. I have more energy and feel leaner, and I don't think I'll suffer another bout of nephrolithiasis, which is the fancy term for those stones. But I always need to be within urine-shot of the toilet.

In fact, I'm so well hydrated that each night while sleeping I get up every 2 or 3 hours to pee. Which disrupts my sleep, and causes heath problems of its own. Note that growth hormone secretion is highest during deep sleep. And growth hormone is the fountain of youth. Just ask former Major Leaguer Barry Bonds, who used it well into his 40s, an age at which most ballplayers long since retire, to break the home run record. Less growth hormone means less virility, less libido, less zest for life. Which translates into fewer home runs, in more than one sense of the term, and the ladies know what I'm talking about.

But getting up to pee is a chore and now I remember why I curtailed water consumption in the first place. Prior to said stone I would stop drinking fluids several hours before bedtime, preemptively dehydrating myself so I could pass the night without stirring. But not going to the bathroom for eight hours at a stretch is not good for you. It's arguably worse than getting up several times throughout the night. 

And so I pee. And I'm better off for it. See, nothing without its price.

There is one thing, however, that doesn't seem to come at any cost, and it's fitting since we're on the subject of hydration. Water is free, if you're not some idiot who pays a few dollars a bottle so your friends see you drinking Evian. Nobody cares. If they do, they're not said friends. Drink from the tap, or invest in a purifier.

I'm talking about cold showers. Recently my friend, who is nearing 50, asked me if there is anything he could do to keep his skin tight. Gravity and what not. Said friend likes to take a nightly Jacuzzi, often while enjoying a six pack of his favorite oat soda (read: beer). Said friend also has a pool, which unlike said Jacuzzi is unheated. I advised him to make like the Swedes - or is it the Swiss? - and after his sauna jump into the cold pool. Thirty or so seconds should be enough to make his testicles shrink into his sternum. The jowls would follow. 

But would thirty seconds really make a difference? said friend wished to know. Does doing 50 push-ups a day make a difference in the size and density of your chest? I replied. Said friend said yes. His body responds rather quickly to resistance training. The same principle applies, I advised. 

As is my wont, I'm speaking from experience. This year I began swimming laps in my unheated pool around the first of March. This is much earlier than in prior years, when I'd take my first dip in May. Maybe it's global warming. Each 10-minute session involving 10 or maybe 25 laps is as invigorating as or possibly more than a cold shower, and certainly more so than sex, excuse the non sequitur. Plus I get out with tight skin and invisible testicles, which never happens after sex but which from my research on the subject seems to be the only price to pay from exposing oneself to frigid liquid temperatures. And since it feels so invigorating, and is temporary, testicular shrinkage is well worth it. Much better than blue balls, if you ask me.

If you believe the Internet, cold showers or cold pools or dips into the cold ocean or dousing yourself beneath a waterfall near you (that's me in the photo, thank you Kerstin!) provide a host of benefits which I invite you to peruse for yourself here. Or you can trust me. Which I recommend. Call it the lazy man's option. Sexism aside, the lazy man's option is an alternative I always wholeheartedly endorse. 

By the way, this same friend is himself a lazy man. He once asked me if I'd recommend he take testosterone to slow the effects of aging. I said he should just eliminate junk food and start an exercise program. But then he wouldn't be lazy, he replied. Or aging, was what I came back with. See, nothing without its price. Except cold showers. It turns out that taking them will increase your testosterone naturally. But if you believe that, I have some smart water to sell you.

IN THE SPIRIT OF TRUMP

In the spirit of Donald Trump's releasing a portion of his tax return from 2005, or letting it be leaked, I think it is appropriate that I share with you my recent grocery receipt for the week. What does one have to do with the other? It is fitting that the one who commands private citizens to pay taxes also paid them himself prior to holding public office, just as it is fitting that a medical doctor who once wrote a book recommending that readers eat more fruits and vegetables furnish proof that he himself abides by this injunction. 

We can call Trump a lot of things, but when it comes to those affairs handled by the IRS, a hypocrite is not one of them. Trump's 25 percent tax rate was actually a few percentage points higher than what other members of the top 0.1 percent (you read that right) paid. I hope at the end of this that you can say the same about me.



Before I go into detail about the foods listed on the receipt in the picture, allow me to state that I am aware that the specific items are unreadable. But I have no interest in typing the receipt out because I am feeling lazy - not because the foods, some of which I've just consumed for an early lunch, have failed to provide adequate energy to sustain the effort, but because I just got finished working in the garden for 2.5 hours, and my fingers are sore from all the weeding I had to do. So when I refer to quantities, prices and particular foods, either pull out your microscope or just trust me.

I started shopping at Sprouts at the insistence of two friends, who said that not only are items at this health-food store less expensive than at Ralphs, which is where I used to shop, but the quality is also much better. Jeff and DJ were right on both accounts. Thank you, sirs. 

The local store is in almost the precise location of the market where my mom used to take my brothers and me when we were in elementary school. I have such fond memories of Westward Ho! Mom would let her boys throw anything we wanted into the cart. This meant a lot of sugary snacks, fruit rolls, cookies and pastries, of course. She used to make an extra trip to buy me gummy bears as a special treat when I'd get As on my report card. Gummy bears are aptly named because even as a 13-year-old they would gum me up for like a week. Since those days my taste in treats has changed.

I was able to come away from Sprouts with a week's worth of food, much of it organic, for the very affordable price of about $100. Actually the bill was $108, but that included eight dollars worth of dental floss and dog treats, neither of which I intend to eat. 

Moreover, I don't usually consume so many avocados (the receipt indicates 6). They are cost-prohibitive, even at the low price of $1.99 per large one. So taking into account the $12 in fatty fruit, the receipt could be considered falsely elevated. I also purchased medjool dates, which I've fallen out of the habit of eating due to their high sugar content. But avocados and dates, eaten together for two or three days after shopping, have become my weekly treat. Rather than indulge in something unhealthy like pizza or pasta, I just have more of what I usually consume sparingly and feel my mood elevate instantly. Nevertheless, $12 in dates is rather stiff, but dates are pricey anywhere and Prozac costs much more.

Jicama has become my new favorite snack food. Again, thank you Deej. A large one, 3 lbs, only costs as many dollars and lasts nearly twice as many days. I peel it and eat it raw. I used to complain about the cost of bell peppers. At Ralphs the red ones were usually $1.50 per. But at Sprouts you can sometimes buy 3 green ones for  a dollar, and when it comes to bell peppers, I am color blind. They all are equally enjoyable to me. I have taken to buying organic tomatoes and collard greens, in addition to broccoli. These foods can be coated in pesticides which I am loath to rinse off as thoroughly as I should, so why not fork over a few cents extra per pound. Bananas I almost never buy organic, since the pesticides remain in the skin which even I don't eat. I say even I because I eat the skin of virtually every plant food, mangoes and kiwis and kaboche squash included, eggplant too. 

Thirty bananas is about a week's worth, and it costs $10, which is about a dollar fifty per day. Seasonal food can be less expensive, which is why you see two cantaloupes on the receipt, each costing 88 cents. I have citrus food every morning- clementines and grapefruit particularly - and apples are a daily snack, as are baby carrots. 

Bulk bin legumes are essential, and 2 lbs of pinto beans for 3 dollars is a steal. As are walnuts at $6.99 by the pound. I've taken to eating nuts sparingly. 

Chia seeds are practically the only item I eat daily which I didn't purchase this week, but bulk bin chia seeds can be found for 4 or 5 dollars per pound, and a lb lasts a long time. I'd like to brag about two boxes of strawberries for $5, but they are not organic. And strawberries have more pesticide residues than any other food. So room for improvement there. But you'll notice the red potatoes I bought on the other hand are organic, for the first time in forever for me.

How do these foods comprise the daily diet? Simple:

Morning snack of grapefruit and clementines with a banana and some coffee.

Mid-morning smoothie with banana, chia and strawberries.

Pre-lunch snack of bell pepper and jicama, plus maybe an apple.

Lunch/dinner meals featuring some combination of 1. starch (squash or potato); 2. green veggie (Brussels sprouts, collard greens or broccoli, usually); and legume (I rotate between a lentil or pea and a bean, preferably kidney or pinto).

Banana and carrots and raw nuts for an after dinner snack, if desired.

You'll note the absence of sauces and seasonings, other than white wine vinegar. That's because, other than oil and some vinegar and some salt and/or pepper, I prefer my food unseasoned. Note also the absence of packaged, processed foods. Such a clean bill probably puts me in the top 0.1 percent of a list you hope you'll never be on. Yes, such Spartan habits take a while getting used to, but that's how we as babies all got our start. Fresh clean food, and look how you turned out! Go back to the basics for a change, or for good. It'll do you good.

That's it. So as a fellow non-hypocrite, consider me right in line with Trump. But not necessarily in league. Ah hell, he's not such a bad fella after all. Really all that separates our commander in chief and me is our taste in hairstyles. That and about $30 million.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

SQUARE ONE



All life's variegated experiences inform us and make us who we are. And if you examine events really closely you'll find that even the most wildly divergent ones are a lot more similar than they at first seemed.

I was raised a Catholic starting at the age of 8 when I transferred from public school to the Good Shepherd Catholic School, mainly for the education. The nuns there ran a tight ship, and used fear and embarrassment, or more properly the fear of embarrassment, to drill facts into their petrified pupils. I'm talking rote memorization at its finest. This would later help me through medical school, but I don't practice medicine any longer, which brings me back to square one. 

It was the custom at my new school to take the children to church for the holy days, including every school day during the 40-day period of Lent leading up to Easter. We would attend the 45-minute Mass and do without our daily playtime. How I disliked the imposed inactivity. We did get to walk the one mile to church, so there was at least some exercise built in. I also disliked not being able to receive Holy Communion. Holy Communion is the second of seven sacraments. It's only permissible to receive the "body of Christ" (read: wafer of unleavened bread blessed by the priest which by a process of transubstantiation becomes the Savior's flesh, and they say this religion's founders weren't dropping acid) - it is only permissible to receive the second sacrament if you have received the first one, which is Baptism. As a second grader, I had not. And so I asked my parents to let the priest bathe me in holy water so I could eat doughy snacks with my friends. They complied. 

By the time I graduated from the Good Shepherd I had received my First Confession (where you get to tell your sins to the priest - more fear of embarrassment) and also Confirmation. All that remains is Holy Matrimony and Last Rites. That is, marriage and death. How often they go together - marriage representing the death of certain freedoms I hold quite dear. This from a guy whose time with a prostitute in a Rio brothel was his finest hour ever in the company of a woman! Best two hundred bucks I ever spent. In fact, I wouldn't exchange the precious moments spent in Andrea's embrace (nearly 20 years later and I still remember that fair girl's name) for a million immaculate conceptions and a few transubstantiations, and I'm usually not one to strap on a condom. Nowadays two bills hardly covers dinner at any of the many high-end places that pass for fine dining in LA, and after shelling out such a substantial sum I'm lucky to get a measly peck on the cheek. And so I make like a good Christian and turn the other one, while screaming inside, "The lips, what about the lips!" Thanks for letting me vent.

I emphasize the ritual part of Catholicism - the liturgy, as I recall - since this is the part that most Catholics emphasize. A practicing Catholic is less one who abides by Christ's injunction that you love your enemies and turn the other cheek and more one who attends church on a regular basis, or at least twice a year on Christmas and Easter. But there is so much depth and beauty to Christ's message! To really absorb it you have to sit down some time and read the four Gospels. These are the biographical accounts of Christ's ministry, basically the last 3 or so years of his life, from his interaction with John the Baptist until his death on the cross and resurrection. Each gospel is a different take by a different evangelical author on that historical period of Christ's life. Recently I went back and reread Scripture, since as a boy my purpose in memorizing facts was simply to regurgitate them on tests.

As a boy I was also exposed to the tenets of Eastern spirituality, specifically Hinduism, specifically Vedanta. My father was a follower of the holy man Sai Baba and so each Sunday after church we were carted off to Balvikas, where we sang bhajans to Hindu deities like Rama and Krishna and Shiva and of course Baba himself. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, and Vedanta, one of the orthodox schools of Indian philosophy,  emphasizes the teachings found in the ancient scriptures (the Vedas, thus the name), which are replete with fantastic stories of a multitude of demigods fighting demons and keeping the planetary peace. The 9th century philosopher and theologian Adi Shankara took Vedanta a step closer to truth when he propagated the notion that the individual soul or self is identical to the highest metaphysical reality, the cosmic soul or Self. In essence, creation and Creator, man and God, are one and the same.

Now you may think that for a child, exposure to such disparate belief systems would make for a ton of confusion, but as with many things, there is more similarity between East and West than initially meets the eye. Christianity derives its belief that God as Creator stands outside and apart from his creation directly from the Bible, where God fashioned the world in six days and, resting on the seventh, stood back and marveled at his work.

But this is where a little reasoning power avails us. Christianity also posits that God is omnipresent. Everywhere all at once. So God cannot be apart from his creation any more than you can be separated from your arm and still call it part of your body. In truth, the world emanates from God, who then enters into it as bird and bee and flower and tree and you, too, and me.

We find support for the unity of all in the New Testament. Take Christ's words that "I and my Father are one." We can interpret this in two ways. Either Christ is the Son of God, part of the Holy Trinity, exalted above men and in this statement expressing his identity with God. This is the interpretation espoused by most Christians. This three persons, one substance belief was the result of many councils and much debate in the 4th century. But if we take it that Christ, in identifying with God, is speaking as a representative of humanity, then what applies to Christ, a perfect individual, also applies to you. Or can, once you recognize your identity with divinity.

Sai Baba was the Christ of the East for my family. He was a guru, a holy man, an Avatar, which is to say a "divine incarnation." Sai Baba himself, who left his body in 2011, said that there was little difference between himself and the common person. "I am God, and you are too," he was wont to say. "The difference is, I know this to be true. And so should you."

So blaming God for your sufferings is like God himself doubting his own decrees, and all-knowing as the divine Maker is, second-guessing himself is something he'd never do. Nor you.

For the Hebrew brethren, it's interesting to note that the Lord's command that Moses refer to him as "I am" corresponds patly with the Sanskrit chant "So Ham," which means that exactly. I AM.

Even the Bible had its doubters. But ultimately Thomas, to give him a name, came around. And so should you. And me three. Since when we're talking about the Creator and Source of all that is, square one is really not a bad place to be.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

THE WORLD NEEDS YOU!


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On the phone with an old buddy yesterday I had a hard time convincing him that the world would not be the same without him. Not only that, I added that he played such an integral part in the state of affairs that if he never existed the world as we know it would disappear. And this would not be a good thing for those left behind, since maybe everyone else would cease to exist as well, and we'd all blame DJ. Who in their right mind wants to carry that around on their shoulders, huh? 

My friend doesn't appear to be that special. He is not a chief of enterprise or head of state. He's not even a head of household. He is unmarried and without kids and works as a server in a high-end restaurant outside Palm Springs. So why is he so special? Because we all are. If you posit a perfect Maker, who is omni-everything, which includes being all-powerful, then said Maker could not help but choose from among the infinite possible worlds that could be made the best of all possible options, which is the world we live in. Even though there is suffering and vice and Donald Trump in our world, it's all essential to the plan. And since my friend is a part of the world, and me and you are too, we are just as essential as Donald Trump. That probably doesn't make you feel any better. But even the nastiest personages of history are integral, and the great drama that is life could not go on without their seemingly heinous contributions. 

As one philosopher writes, "Since God found it good that Judas [who betrayed Jesus] should exist, despite the sin that he foresaw, this evil must be repaid with interest somewhere in the universe; God will extract some greater good from it." And God did. The whole Catholic religion sprang up in Judas' wake, thanks in large part to the humble contributions of Jesus Christ, of course. Religion can be a good thing. A world in which everyone abided by the Golden Rule would be a better place, and I'm no practicing Catholic. Or would such a world really be better? Not yet, it is safe to say, or otherwise a world in which everyone is a Christ-like saint would be the one that exists today. And clearly, it ain't. Though Trump is not such a bad feller. Anybody who has earned his kids' love and respect must have done at least a few things right.

But again, it's impossible to judge the whole by its parts, whether the whole be our fallible president or the infinite universe. Unfortunately, all our individual perspectives afford us is just that: a limited point of view. But there exists an entity or being - or let's just go ahead and say it: God! - that has infinite understanding and will and power and that sees and knows it all, is all. And to this being, as it was to God who surveyed his creation in the narrative recounted in Genesis, all is very good. 

But my friend was still skeptical. And so I asked him if the Manhattan Bridge could remain functioning if one of its ropes were cut. He replied that yes, he thought it could. And because of advances in modern architecture, he is probably right. Damn. Okay bad analogy. And so I asked said friend whether water, which is composed of one atom of oxygen and two atoms of hydrogen, could continue to be water if you took away a hydrogen. Not at all. It would be a radical! A hydroxyl radical. Now that is a radical analogy, radical here being slang for hella cool. So rather than compare yourself to a rope on a bridge, be an atom. It's closer to home, since your body contains 7 x 10 to the 27th power of them.

I still don't know that my friend is convinced of the requirement for the overall welfare of the entire universe that his modest existence fulfills. But here's a guy who doesn't think you should run the water when you turn on the garbage disposal, so the fault is not with my explanations! 

But really, imagine throwing a rock into a lake. Think of the ripples the rock makes, and how far off those ripples travel. In some cases ripples even make waves. It is impossible for you to judge the far-off effect that your presence today has on those in your midst, and the aftereffects of your kindness (or cruelty) likely carry on for ages!

Of course, the fact that you are an essential ingredient in the potpourri that is life isn't itself an argument against suicide. Suicide happens, and when it does it must be part of the divine plan, because it is. But that doesn't mean you should do anything rash, even when the going gets tough. God invited you to the party, I bet he wants you to stay. I know my friend will stick around. He has more zest for life than two men half his age, despite being irritable a third of the time. Or maybe he's just had it with my philosophizing. But I think the world needs more if it, and I plan to continue until I don't.

Friday, March 10, 2017

THESE DREAMS

As a world we are getting pretty jazzed on future missions to Mars. Movies are made about it, and even have that name. We as a country are in a race against other nations to get to the red planet first. Not just to visit but to set up stations and live.

I hear that for a small price you can even reserve a spot on the first mission. Just a shameless marketing scheme to separate you from your hard-earned $100,000, or the price Tesla's Elon Musk says it should cost to move to Mars. The day that humans live on other planets is in the far distant future, so distant in fact that you or I will have vacated our earthly vehicles long before it's time to board one of silica tiles, the preferred building material of the space age. 

Speaking of death, that is one certainty, a fate shared by all living things. And though so many of us are caught up with the question of whether there are other life forms in the Universe, few seem very concerned with where our spirits are headed. That is, whether there is life after life. What is the nature of the Great Beyond, as I called the hereafter in one novel that nobody has read.

If you are dozing as you read this, you are on the right track. Because an important clue to the afterlife can be found in sleep. One of my favorite songs from childhood is Heart's These Dreams. Such aching sadness! But the influence of dreams in your life is anything but sad.



Herodotus, the father of history, tells how ancient kings would determine their decisions in battle based on the previous night's reveries. Do your dreams influence your waking state? You can be damn sure they do. You may not even remember your dreams, but any psychologist worth his salt will tell you dreams form impressions that act on your subconscious mind, whose influence is felt in every conscious breath you take, or move you make - another splendid song from the same time period as that by Heart.

Dreamland is a fantastic realm that can inform our waking hours. It can do much more. As I see it, dreamland is analogous to the afterlife. And I am not alone in this view. The ancient Rishis, or mystics of India, posited three bodies: the causal, the subtle and the gross. Each body corresponds to a particular state of consciousness: waking, dreaming and deep, dreamless sleep. 

The gross body engages in behavior during the waking hours. It is your physical body that eats, breeds and moves through the environment. The subtle body is active during your dreams; it explores other (read: unearthly) dimensions and interacts with other subtle bodies. And the causal body, the seed of your existence, your essence, the Rishis associated with deep dreamless sleep. The Void. Unconsciousness. The origin of life. Where we are from and where we shall return. God.

And so each 24-hour period is in microcosm what the soul experiences throughout eternity, emerging as it does from the source of all (deep, dreamless sleep) to play its part in life (the waking hours) and then to bid this world adieu and surf the afterlife, which is analogous to dreamland. And dreamland really is similar in essence to the afterlife, as both represent an immaterial plane of existence, or thought realm, where you are unencumbered by a gross physical body, but where things don't seem as real. For how can you really "sink your teeth into" something when the subtle body has no chompers?

And it is in dreamland that most visitations with deceased loved ones occur. The encounters I've had with my mother and brother since their respective deaths, and I have had several, have all occurred in the small hours. And it is my dream (subtle) body that interacts with their subtle (disembodied) forms, while my physical body lies asleep in bed and theirs is scattered in the garden outside my bedroom.

When we leave our body we enter the world of a dream. Who knows how long this dream lasts or if time is of a different nature after death. It may very well be. Minutes may seem like little eternities, or it may be the other way around. It is believed that as disembodied souls we review our lives and if desired choose the circumstances for subsequent births on Earth, at which point we see our future selves in a flash and then forget the vision so we can live our new incarnation surprised by what lies ahead. Once reborn we suffer a memory loss, forgetting whence we came and why. In light of this amnesia, it is as if we never lived before. For what good is having a former existence if I cannot remember the fact? 

It is said that the greatest reward for a life well-lived is to "merge with God." This is what we do each night when we fall asleep. We lose consciousness, and with it cognizance of time and space. We awake refreshed, and feel we slept well, not because we can remember having slept, but we remember not having stirred. In deep sleep we lose ourselves, and we merge into something that is at once everything, and also nothing. And so it is with death, when we chose to discard our gross body and our subtle body and abide in the causal body, that is to say merge with God, the cause of all. In case you were wondering.

On another note, all I wanna do is make love to you. Just another song by Heart that I admire.