A blog about nothing.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

WATCH WHAT YOU EAT

Recently a friend came to me wanting to break his diet coke addiction. "I drink at least a six-pack of diet coke a day," he told me. "Some days as many as twelve."

Since this friend is also a medical doctor we didn't need to go into the many ills associated with aspartame use, including neurological disorders and paradoxical weight gain, or with the added phosphorus which can lead to weakened bones and kidney stones.

So I told him to drink more water, but said friend drinks no water. He can't stand the taste of it. Weird, since water has no taste. So I suggested he eat fruit. Which he said he could try. He has a huge sweet tooth and his diet includes several chocolate bars a day (in addition to the red meat and refined bread he normally eats for dinner).

I took him to the store and we bought melons and bananas and berries. I taught him how to make smoothies. A week later he came to me saying he had ditched the diet coke habit altogether, but was having 5 liter-size smoothies a day, including 15 bananas, a couple pounds of berries, and an equal amount of watermelon.

"Good for you," I said.

"But I have gained 10 pounds!" he vociferated.

I asked him what else he'd been eating. "The usual" was his reply. "Mostly fruit during the day and my usual dinner of lamb chops and baked potatoes."

I thought for sure he was missing something. "What about those days you are in class from 9 to 3. Surely you aren't making smoothies."

"Um," was his rejoinder.

"Create a food log," I suggested. I did the math. Fifteen bananas and a couple pounds each of berries and melon is 2500 calories a day. Added to a 1,000 calorie meal is 3,500 calories a day, which he was probably burning off, since he's an active sort who likes to play basketball and hike. Even if such an intake provided an excess of 500 calories a day, this would add to a pound of weight gain, not the 10 he said he'd put on. I thought to myself that my friend had likely been visiting the snack machine at the hospital and eating more than the roast beef sandwich he said he'd had for lunch.

Not all of us are good at recalling what we eat because we eat unconsciously, stuffing food in our mouths while talking or reading or watching TV. In other words, few of us actually watch what we eat. Some of us do, however. Take Chloe Sevigny. The actress and style icon has always been thin. Although remembering her breakthrough role in the movie Kids she looks back and calls herself fat, saying she had been living off burritos in San Francisco back in the day.


She clearly wasn't fat. She's her own worst critic. But she sure has a good memory, considering the movie was made 20 years ago.

So until you are that skilled at remembering what you eat and when, keep a log. After only a few days you will train yourself to watch exactly what you eat, and not to eat mindlessly. Then it will become reflexive and you can ditch the diary.

A final word on my friend. What I didn't tell him is that the soluble fiber he was ingesting with all those bananas and fruits can absorb 10 times its weight in fiber, which is great to bulk up the stool and lower cholesterol, but can give the false impression that you are gaining weight.

And while we are on the subject of fiber, it seems scientists are adding new benefits by the day to this indigestible product of plants. Have you heard this? A certain type of bacteria, called Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, which is a type of beneficial bacteria of the gut, feed off this fiber and produce anti-inflammatories which ward off conditions such as colitis and auto-immune diseases. By contrast, Bilophila wadsworthia, a species of bacterium linked to inflammatory bowel disease, bloomed in the microbiota of human volunteers fed a high-fat, high-protein diet in a recent experiment. So if you're on the Paleo kick and you value your health, get off it.

Many follow a high-protein low-carb approach in the interest of weight loss. But new research in the microbiome (bacteria of the gut) has turned this notion on its head. Patients with higher levels of fiber-fermenting bacteria are noted for being thinner than those whose gut flora are made up of other types, making one's bacterial make-up, which is dependent on fiber intake, a determinant of body mass.

More research is required, but one thing is for certain: feed the healthy gut bacteria with fiber from plant foods. Fruits and vegetables also satisfy the sweet tooth and hydrate you. And any weight gain is just water.

Now I should go tell that to my friend lest he go back to diet coke.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

ON SOUL MATES

The other day my brother's secretary came over to collect some photos. Lizbeth is a sweet gal who's probably in her late 20's but could pass for sweet 16. We chatted for a few minutes and she told me that in September she had given birth to her second child, a daughter. I congratulated her. The daughter was unplanned, Lizbeth said. She didn't think she could get pregnant again since this is what the doctors had told her, and voila, 9 months later out popped Autumn. Life is filled with pleasant surprises.

"So Adam," she said. "How about you? Marriage and kids any time soon?"

I paused a moment. How straightforward do I want to be with this virtual stranger? It's a pretty personal question. "You know, I always thought that I'd be married with children by the time I hit 30," I finally said.

And I thought about adding a line used more than once by the world's most eligible bachelor (that is, until recently) George Clooney, when he said, "I haven't met the one." But that was before Clooney did meet the one, and married his beautiful Arabian princess. It must be love. Then while at the market I chanced to see in the tabloids (where I get so much reliable information) that they were going into politics. The new power couple, George and Amal Clooney. Love or political strategy? Hopefully both.


I didn't tell Lizbeth I hadn't met the one since the more I think about it the one may not exist. After the bulk of 4 decades spent searching for that special someone I've come up empty. Maybe I'm not the one. Maybe it's me! Maybe I'm not meant to mate for life.

And here I have spent most of my life believing in soul mates and twin spirits. This notion is not at all new, by the way. Over two thousand years ago the Greek philosopher Plato posited the existence of twin spirits.

"There were once three sexes, he writes in his Dialogues, "male, female, and androgynous, all of whom were once curious chimerical creatures with double the 'normal' number of limbs and members. The gods, in anger, split them in half. And love is the passionate search of two natural halves to find each other again."


More recently  the notion of twin souls separated at birth has been popularized in movies, my favorite of which is Don Juan De Marco (1995) starring Johnny Depp, a delightful film wonderfully written, which features one of the most beautiful lines ever uttered in cinematic history. Johnny Depp as the titular character has the exquisite pleasure of saying:

"There are those that do not believe that a single soul born in heaven can split into twin spirits and shoot like falling stars to earth where over oceans and continents their magnetic forces will finally unite them back into one. But, how else to explain love at first sight?"

To this I answer: falling in love is easy. Staying in love, not so much.

More contemporary authors have questioned the utility or feasibility of finally and everlastingly attaining true love. A.J. McIvor-Tyndall, author of Cosmic Consciousness, The Man-God Whom We Await, maintains that the romantic quest may represent a misplaced desire to reunite with God.

"Whether this reunion be considered from the standpoint of finding the other half of the perfect one, as exemplified in the present-day search for the soul mate, or whether it be considered in the light of a spiritual merging into the One Eternal Absolute is the question of questions."

Question of questions indeed. I've been struggling with it all my life!

Since Tabitha in early nursery school right up until the present, the prospect of finding my "other half" has haunted my days. But if you are denied the boon of true love lasting til death do you part, you may be up for something even more grandiose. The religious ecstasy which results from spiritual aspiration, an ecstasy that can result from the union of the soul with its "other half," is also obtainable in the impersonal reunion with the Causeless Cause, the Absolute, "from which we are earth wanderers."

So as the Persian mystic Mahmud Shabistari so eloquently urges, "Go, sweep out the chamber of your heart, Make it ready to be the dwelling-place of the Beloved. When you depart out, he will enter in, In you, void of your self, will he display his beauty."

In the classic French author Honore de Balzac’s novel Louis Lambert, the titular character, when on the brink of enlightenment, reconsiders the question of marriage, realizing it to be “an obstacle to the perfectibility of his interior senses and to his flight through the spiritual worlds” and ultimately deciding against it.

Richard Maurice Bucke, in his excellent book Cosmic Consciousness, writes on page 175: “And, in fact, when we consider the antagonistic attitude of so many of the great cases toward this relation [Gautama, Jesus, Saint Paul, Whitman, etc.] there seems little doubt that anything like a general possession of Cosmic Consciousness must abolish marriage as we know it today.”


Choose one, earthly love or spiritual ecstasy, but not both, seems to be the argument handed down to us over the ages.

The divine yearning was felt by King Solomon and expressed in his Song of Songs.


Solomon had only partial glimpses of the ecstatic state, frequently backsliding from divine contemplation and allowing his yearning for the state of liberation to express itself in love of woman.

It seems I am in good company. Care to join me?

Of course this divine love precludes the prospect of biological children, but the earth is overpopulated anyway. To paraphrase my favorite author, Aldous Huxley, perhaps it is best to "love every human being with the love of a mother for her only child." Do this, and how sweet a place the world can be.

But what if you don't want to be a Christ or a Mother Teresa, if you're a born romantic who will not rest until the amorous quest has been fulfilled? We can choose a more recent pop culture reference to light the way. As Whitney Houston once sang, "Find your strength in love."


The key that unlocks the door to illumination is Love - not the personal type, but the impersonal, unconditional love freely given and received. This Love (capital L, to be sure) is an outpouring and overflowing of your own nature - and that goes whether you're single or spoken for.

And when you realize that you are already whole, then finding you other half loses the allure it once possessed. It has for me. Finding "the greatest love of all" inside your very own precious heart, you are truly free to play the game of romance should it come your way and for as long as it chooses to stay.

Let unconditional Love be your Plan A. Loving indiscriminately must be pretty good if Plan B is George Clooney.

Monday, April 27, 2015

10 THINGS TO DO BEFORE U DIE

They say you should try everything at least once, but I draw the line at heroin and homoeroticism. Just not my cup of tea. But if you want to live the proverbial full life, do as many of the following ten things as you can before your time's up.
 
1. Live Abroad - preferably where they speak a language other than your native tongue.
This will do two things.
 
First, as author and philosopher Susan Neiman notes, living in another country will make you more mature. As she says, "The best way to understand your own culture is to see it from the outside. Otherwise you simply take issues for granted." Like toilets that flush, and running water and reliable electricity. It was in Brazil I learned that unlike in America Brazilians use the same bath towel for the whole week. And it's actually quite sanitary. You really save on laundry, not to be dismissed in these dry times in which we live. It was in the West Indies that having nothing else to do but study I learned to spend all day at the beach. Which was rather harsh on my epidermis but it sure beat shopping at the mall. Because there was no mall.
 
Be in your new country for at least 6 months if you can, and make like a local. Blend in. That means no binoculars and Bermuda shorts.
 
Second, if said foreign land speaks a language that you must learn, you'll garner all the benefits of becoming bilingual. It will raise your IQ and attract members of the opposite sex, who will be so charmed by your accent and the inevitable grammar errors you will make.
 
Note: the best way of learning another tongue is NOT Rosetta Stone (which I have tried and failed at miserably - though it could have been because German is nearly impossible for a foreigner to learn! And I am not alone. Voltaire tried to learn this guttural language and gave it up after nearly choking). The best way to become fluent is by dating someone. They don't call it the "language" of love for nothing.

And bring the kids, because research tells us that children exposed to multiple languages may be better natural communicators.
 
2. Earn a Higher Degree - but only if you don't have to take out student loans.
You may not even practice said profession. I went to medical school and only practiced for a year. I didn't enjoy or agree with the profession, and I had the freedom to leave because I was not dependent on work as a doctor to pay back $200,000 in loans. Because I didn't have to take out loans. You rock, Dad!
 
A higher degree will do a lot for your mental discipline and focus. It will also assure you become an expert in whatever field interests you, which is fun to flaunt at cocktail parties. And the sacrifices a graduate student makes will change your life pervasively. My life was a dead end before med school. A job that had no future, a relationship that was failing. After it was still a dead end (no work worth talking about), but I rid myself of several bad habits, learned to cook and had a wealth of knowledge to draw upon in writing. Which takes us to number 3. Oh, and if you can't afford graduate school, take an online course. They're often free. Or just become an A student in the school of life. Not always easy, this.
 
3. Keep a Journal
A page a day, or 1000-words three times a week. Something like that. Your feelings, or simply a list of things to do. It doesn't matter. Express your emotions! Keeping a journal has many practical benefits. A food journal will guide your weight loss efforts, a break-up journal will ease the pain of the lover's loss. And it may turn into a memoir or other protracted effort. Who knows, you could be the next best thing. We all start somewhere, like J.K. Rowling, am I right???
 
4. Run a Race.
Any distance. Any discipline. Train for a 40-yard dash. An ocean swim. A century bike ride. Run a marathon. If you’ve already done that, do a 100-mile run, which they say now that marathons have become so common is the “new” endurance effort worth bragging about. But we’re not in this for the bragging rights are we? Training for an event will increase your fitness, the event itself is usually pretty fun, and the habit of exercising regularly will likely continue long after you cross the finish line.
 
5. Get a Roommate.
Can be anyone. Classmate. Sibling. Lover. Best friend. Sharing a room teaches you to be considerate faster than memorizing the Ten Commandments can. You’ll make a list of all the things your roomie does to annoy you and find they’ve made the same list about you. From leaving the toilet seat up first thing in the morning to snoring at night to all else that falls in between. It helps to step outside yourself and look at yourself objectively - and having someone do this for you sure can expedite the process of self-reflection. (Oh and while you're at it, live alone for at least a year. You need to be okay on your own!)
 
6. Take Drugs.
I mean it. But don’t just sit in front of the TV and veg out on sitcom TV. Take a psychedelic, preferably LSD, maybe touchy-feely ecstasy, or my favorite, mushrooms (fresh, if you can find them, though I only found them once – and not from your backyard, since these varieties may be poisonous). Choose a safe place and maybe a trusted friend, and trip out. Taking a drug will do much to open previously unexplored corridors of your mind which, once opened, you can always access. But remember quit while you’re ahead and a little goes a long way and all the other clichés that have arisen to avoid addiction.
 
7. Serve.
Get a job in the service industry. For many this will be in a restaurant, waiting tables or bussing or bartending. or perhaps the most boring of all, hosting. It’ll teach you to leave your ego at home where it belongs. Don’t do it too long – 2 years is probably one too many – or you’ll be left with an inferiority complex that won’t easily go away.
 
8. Lie Quietly.
Choose a place in a quiet room all by yourself, close your eyes and be alone with your thoughts. Do this as often and as long as you can. And as you achieve a profound sense of inner calm (which really is your true nature) you’ll begin to wonder at the futility of all human endeavor. Yes you’ll have your race medal, and memories of your time abroad, as well as a few extra ways of telling someone you love him or her, and you may have a higher degree and the self-respect that comes with it, and the humility the comes from living with someone who puts your flaws on display. BUT despite all the striving, all the doing, all the achieving, you’ll take a deep breath and say inwardly, is any of that really me? And can anything take the place of this perfect calm?
 
Wherever you go, there you are. Live anywhere and close your eyes and you are once again alone with yourself. I am reminded of my favorite quote, which I always screw up but which reads somewhat as follows: "Everyone places such importance on experiences. What about the experiencer?"
 
In the quiet of reflection, when all else subsides except the consciousness that alone is, you will see that all that you’ve accomplished, though time-consuming and fun, hasn’t changed the real you, the awareness that witnesses all that you do and remains unchanged through life’s thick and thin. You may wonder why you’ve done numbers 1 to 7 if they haven’t changed you? Why didn’t you just skip to 8 and stay there? This is the beginning of wisdom. But the truth is we all must do something with our time.
 
If all else fails, or if you’re really worldly and want the quick course to fame or notoriety,
 
9. Commit a Crime.
Sadly, this is the quickest way to celebrity. Just ask that latest in a slew of authors who have broken the law only to write a best-selling book reliving it. Author and lawyer Jennifer Ridha smuggled prescription medication to Cameron Douglas (son of the superstar Michael) while he was serving time and she was representing him. He shared his pills with fellow inmates ,one of whom was a government informant, and just like that Ridha goes from attorney to defendant, not before chronicling her path in her memoir Criminal That I Am. Typical, maybe. Entertaining, at least as excerpted in Psychology Today, most certainly.
 
And if you follow in her footsteps, and have followed my suggestion and done 1 through 7 above, after you commit said crime, when the feds knock at your door, followed by calls for news appearances and book deals, you’ll already have your memoir waiting.
 
Or you can take my advice and stay at 8. Eight is the one that counts. Through 8 you’ll access your eternal nature, which is fitting since 8 on its side is infinity, which is what you are.
 
Now you may think that recommending to you things that I either do or have done is a bit vainglorious, but recommending anything else would be sheer hypocrisy, would it not? After all, would you really trust someone who suggested you try X when they themselves prefer Y? I don't think so.
 
The above recs are tried and true. Not simply latest research, but tested in the lab of life. Besides, there are many things I have done that don't make this list, like having sex with strippers, a fact which I'm always reminded of whenever I get too much sun.
Which brings us to number 10.
 
 
10. Stick to the Simple Pleasures.
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Sunday, April 26, 2015

BE YUNEEK

Last week was my mother's birthday. Listening as the steady stream of Happy Birthday messages came in - first her friend Maria, then her sister Gail, then finally my grandmother called to sing her that oh so familiar song - my first thought was, how sweet. Then I couldn't help but think, how derivative! Who on their birthday has not picked up the phone to someone singing happy birthday (usually off-key, and often rushing to the end or leaving the song unfinished)? Who has not sung it herself? You say it's just the thing people do. But when did this singing to each other begin? Or like so many other things, did some pioneer first break into tune on a friend's day of all days and a tradition was born for a string of copiers to follow?

In the good book Gone Girl, the protagonist has a secret joke with her husband, Nick, about how everything is derivative. Even saying everything is derivative is itself derivative because someone else has said it before you. There is nothing new under the sun. A phrase that is also unoriginal. Oy vey!

In the movie Good Will Hunting, about troubled math whiz and genius Will Hunting (expertly played by Matt Damon in a script he wrote with Ben Affleck), love interest Skylar suggests they go out for coffee. Will's reply: "Maybe we could get together and eat a bunch of caramels. When you think about it, it's just as arbitrary as drinking coffee."


Does it take a genius to see through the routines of life and offer an alternative that's not so run of the mill? Or must we all to some extent be carbon copies of each other? It seems we live in a world of memes and they spread like wildfire. Just as Keanu. photo motivator77b3a8ea53e7c018100c175fdeee88b7c3a48c4d.jpg

TV and other mass media, the Internet especially, make this phenomenon even worse, propagating figures of speech and customs and dress codes which the audience views, talks about and then emulates. Listen closely to the next conversation you have and watch how clichés get tossed back and forth like a hot potato (this itself is a cliché).

Never has the world been so overpopulated, and yet never have we as a culture become so homogeneous. The great film Lost in Translation makes fun of this when it has movie star Bill Murray travel to Japan to shoot a whiskey commercial during which he is urged by the Japanese director to make like Roger Moore in 007. In the Japanese's mouth the "Roger" comes out like "Lodger."

The East has been Westernized. But it goes both ways. I too now know how to dance Gangnam Style.


How to be original? Is the trick living in a bubble? Avoiding all things cliché, either popular media or social functions (in which everyone behaves like sheep)? Or is the trick simply being conscious of how easy it is to be unoriginal, and taking a little extra effort to say or do something unique?

I'd like to end this by urging you to be original. But since such an injunction is itself unoriginal, let's use a less common alternative and say this: Be without precedent. Or even better: Be your own precedent. Be Paradigm. Even more unconventional: Be Paradime.

Saying such a thing, and acting accordingly, we are if not the first then among the chosen few to live with originality. That's something worth singing about.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

SINGLE AND LOVING IT

We live in a sexually liberated age. Porn is free. Prostitution is (largely) legal. And the way we define sexuality and gender roles is changing rapidly. There are now more than just gays and straights. There are transgenders, cross-dressers, a name for every mood and varying fetish. There's even a Gender X. Did you hear about this? It's big in Germany. These "intersex" individuals no longer have to fit in the traditional gender framework, as the current two options of "M" for male or "F" for female in a passport gender field are now joined by a third option. That's right, X.


I've officially seen it all.


But it wasn't until I came across a review for the book Spinster that I read about a group that I for a long time have identified with, a group that before seeing the review I thought was made up of only me.


The book's author (Kate Bolick) celebrates the fact that she is a spinster, which for those too far removed from SAT days to remember means an older unmarried female. And indeed she is a minority (in 2012 the Pew Research Center showed that only 17% of women have never been married).
Rising Share of Never-Married Adults, Growing Gender Gap
Most heterosexual people in their 40s or older of either sex either are married or have been married (or are in a long-term committed relationship involving cohabitation and therefore simulating marriage, only without the paperwork - but remember, people, after 7 years you're considered married in many states!) and most have kids.

Of course gays don't fit this description. Recently gay marriage was outlawed, and outside artificial insemination and surrogation the prospect of two partners of the same sex having a child is anatomically impossible, and these medical advancements are cost prohibitive restricting their availability to the well-to-do. Something similar could be said about adoption. But that's beside the point. I always thought one of the perks about being gay was not feeling pressured to marry. Sort of having your cake and eating it too. Being perpetually engaged. A recipe to maintain the freshness and zest that quickly fade after holy matrimony. I mean right? But all the lobbying for gay rights has shown that the straight guy's nightmare is the gay person's dream. Hopefully the divorce rate among homosexuals will be less that what it is for heteros.

Now I am not a spinster. Only women can be spinsters, and there isn't a name for older unmarried guys. I could use the term committed bachelor, I suppose. But even that doesn't quite work. Since the whole point of being a bachelor is to remain noncommittal! But of the heterosexuals (that's me), I've looked around more than once to count the single, straight, never-wed and child-free adult aged over 4 decades, the (committed) bachelors of the room, and wound up holding up one little finger - that's me. A minority of one. Making me scarcer than virtually any other minority in history, and I hope less persecuted.

But life has not been easy. My circumstances (single, mostly independent, rather care-free) are similar to one who is half my age, but life experience, maturity and wisdom (they are inevitable attendants of time) make hanging out with 20-year-olds seem like babysitting. And spending time with guys my own age (think old friends from high school) feels like babysitting too, only in this case it's my friends babies and they're sitting on my knees.

But though life for a forty-something who is single by choice, never been married and doesn't have kids (such a long description: too bad Gender X is already taken) may not be run-of-the-mill, when I think of all the trips to Disneyland I'm missing (I never liked amusement parks, even as a kid!) I find I'd have it no other way. It's lonely at the top, they say. I may not be at the top of anything, but the saying offers relief, and even the occasional lonely moment is worth it, since it's better than being continuously aggravated - which happens to me if I spend too much time with anyone, man woman or child.

But now that there's my Spinster friend (who like me is in her early 40s) I don't feel so lonely any more. Maybe she and I will get together and go bowling, and pins falling as they may maybe we'll even make babies. I jest. Bringing new life into this world will mean the death of our select group at a time that I am, thanks in part to her book (or at least the summary of it I read on Amazon), just beginning to understand the many benefits of, as she puts it, living authentically at any age.

Or as I chose to say, being single and loving it. So what if about half of Americans consider getting married or having children necessary for being an adult (according to the Network on Transitions to Adulthood). Dare to break the mold!

Friday, April 24, 2015

YOU AND you

Over lunch with my sister one day not long past, the conversation turned to the nature of personal identity. Point-blank I asked her, “Who are you?” As Dani (that's my sister's name, short for Danelle) proceeded to catalogue a rather lengthy list of her personal preferences, talents, passions and pursuits (while, it's worth mentioning, leaving out certain quirks and idiosyncrasies I knew her to have, from having known her all my life and lived with her a few years in my teens, and because we all have our little quirks and idiosyncrasies, don't we?), and as she was about to tell me her taste in music, and how it had changed since she was a teenager, my eyes glazed over and my attention wavered, but I said nothing till she finished with “Oh, and I recently discovered I enjoy Jacuzzis. Paul and I have gotten into the habit of taking them together three nights a week, four if he's not too busy with work. Always over wine. Red wine. Which Paul has. Because I don’t drink. But you already know that." Paul is Dani's husband.

I remembered seeing my sister have a few sips of her husband's margarita this Christmas past, but I said nothing. In personal lexicons the world over a few sips still classifies as none whatsoever.

Dani waited for me to give her my take on what she said, true to the "Let me tell you about me then you tell me what you think about me" notion so prevalent in conversation. My urge was to say, "You’ve told me nothing whatsoever about who you are, I mean the real you. How can the girl who likes hip hop and hot water baths be the same you that wouldn’t go near a bathing suit and refused to listen to anything but Sarah McClachlan?" But I didn’t want to argue. I nodded and changed the subject. Why rock the boat?

But if you really consider the matter, as I have, a person’s sense of identity comes in one of two forms. Either you are like my sister and take yourself to be the body/mind apparatus, the individualized, ego-based personality that enters the world, grows up, grows old and dies, not before experiencing some amount of success and failure, hopefully more of the former than of the latter, a conglomeration of preferences, opinions, hopes, fears and wishes, which change by the minute, encapsulated in a vehicle of flesh, bone, blood and sinew. Or you take yourself to be the witnessing consciousness detached from the individual, though nevertheless associated with it, like the driver in a car, or better still, the air in a cup. Always there, from before your earliest memories, present in waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep, unchanging, unaffected and perfect. This is the preferable form, I think.
 
These two selves correspond to the lower self and higher self of the Perennial Philosophy, or in the words of Vernon Howard, the false self and the True. And the one cannot understand the other. One (the lower self), is always striving, becoming, desiring. It views itself separate from others and works against others or, feeling attraction, seeks to become them. The other (the True) has already arrived. The former views the latter as complacent, since there is nothing the higher self needs to do. The latter views the lower self as a chicken with its head cut off, ever restless, never settled or satisfied. That is, the higher self would hold this view, if it had opinions. But the higher self is above concepts which are products of the mind. The higher self is beyond mind. It is above opinions and beliefs. It simply is. Changeless, perfect, living in a forever present. This of course is the wiser view since it is the one more closely approximating reality.
 
Nothing, not even a world view, exerts such pervasive effects over one's wellbeing as whether you choose to view yourself and act from the lower self, or whether you are fixed in the higher self. It may not influence your actions (which experts in free will tell us are already predetermined), but your reactions, based on which view you take, will differ markedly, almost like night and day.

Reality, in the purest sense of the term, in the absolute sense, is always present and never changes. Unlike the lower self, the ego-based personality flitting and flashing like colors in a kaleidoscope, the true you always is. That's keepin' it real.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

YOU ARE WHAT YOU SEE

I first came across the term observer effect in 2001, while watching the popular and critically-acclaimed film A Beautiful Mind, with Russell Crowe playing schizophrenic genius John Forbes Nash.


As a scientific term, specifically in physics, the observer effect refers to changes that the act of observation will make on whatever (or whomever) is being observed. The example classically used is measuring a tire's pressure. The act of inserting a gauge lets out some air and thus alters the value that appears. At the microscopic level, the mere act of examining particles behaving changes the way they interact. In fact, recent research suggests that reality does not even exist until it is measured. Talk about the power of observation!

In a broader sense, we can say that the observer effect refers to the influence of the observer, who can be said to interact with whatever she is looking at. Consider that when you look at a person, a stranger even, and at a distance - say, from across the room or the street - it is inevitable that if you look long enough, the stranger will return your gaze, as if she feels your eyes on her.

Then there is the notion of the evil eye, that a person can look at you with malevolence and cause something bad to happen. Perhaps this is not so superstitious as it seems. Maybe it's more than a clever attempt by charlatans to sell you products to ward off the stranger's ill-intentioned gaze.

And if the evil eye is a demonstrable fact, then the opposite (and a much more benevolent alternative) is also true. If you regard others with loving kindness, you can bring blessings into their lives. Without a word or any action other than resting your gaze on their form, be it family, friend, total stranger or sworn foe. So subtle as to go unnoticed - unless you stare long enough, which will get the person to look right back at you and blow your cover. Which may not be too bad if the stranger in mind is a cutie pie. Though some may say that's simply flirting.

Regarding others with kindness and unconditional love in your heart and a smile in your eyes has a galvanizing force. You become walking sunshine, metaphorically speaking. Talk about making the world a brighter place!

It has been said that the manifest universe is the reflection of the unmanifest Reality, regarding Itself as if in a mirror. So if it is true that you are what you see, it is best to be kind.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

PREMATURE PUBERTY - CAUSE AND CURE

This month's Scientific American features an interesting article by Dina Fine Maron. "The Science of Health," addresses some of the factors involved in the increasingly earlier onset of puberty seen over time and across certain ethnic groups (whites, blacks and Mexicans are mentioned in the article).

Breast development, typical of 11-year-olds a generation ago, is now occurring in seven-year-olds and in some cases even in children as young as three. Boys too are starting puberty earlier than before, perhaps by as much as two years. This is a problem, since early puberty can set a child up for cancer and other diseases later in life.

Maron points the finger at obesity, "which appears to be the major factor sending girls into these uncharted waters." After all, in the past three decades the rate of childhood obesity has more than doubled. Yet while it is clear that obesity is part of the picture - fat cells secrete estrogen, which is the major hormone involved in puberty - I found it rather curious that the article's author neglected to mention what is most certainly the elephant in the room. Obesity's relationship to early puberty is not causal; it is concomitant. Both are effects.

What then is the cause of both obesity and early-onset puberty? A diet rich in high-fat animal products, including dairy foods, which are themselves rich in estrogen.

In countries where animal protein consumption is much less than what the standard American diet includes - for example in many parts of Asia - puberty onset occurs much later in a child's development. Throughout much of China the average age at menarche (first menstrual period) has been shown by survey to be seventeen years, a full six years later than in the United States!

And when we compare the increasing consumption of animal products over time (meat, egg and dairy consumption has skyrocketed since the appearance of fast food in the middle of the 20th century - McDonald's filed for a US trademark on the name in 1961) we see that it mimics the drop in average onset of puberty, which has fallen by 5 years since then, as obesity rates have risen.

Data linking animal protein consumption with early onset of puberty has been highlighted for decades and made popular in the works of T. Colin Campbell and John Robbins, among many other highly esteemed health experts.

Campbell writes: "The strong association of a high-animal protein, high-fat diet with reproductive hormones and early age of menarche . . . makes clear that we should not have our children consume diets high in animal-based foods."

Robbins showed nearly three decades ago, in his book A Diet for a New America, that the more animal fat eaten, the earlier the onset of puberty, and the more cancer. He includes a chart indicating that Japanese girls are reaching puberty several years younger than their ancestors did, which is due to dietary changes, specifically the replacement of traditional rice and vegetable fare with a diet much higher in animal fat. And the chart was from 1978! How much worse things have become since then!

I'd expect a periodical such as Scientific American, which prides itself on being at the forefront of medical breakthroughs, to catch up with the times, especially as concerns a topic with such far-reaching ramifications.

Blaming obesity allows scientists, who may or may not be influenced by special interest groups (like meat and dairy) to avoid the conversation of what particular foods are the biggest contributor to weight, and as many make a case for refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, chips, candy, sodas), meat can duck under this doughy, frosty umbrella.

But as Neal Barnard, head of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, writes: “It is easy to blame sodas when we have not come to terms with our collective addiction to the meat and cheese that are making us and our kids fat - or when we lack the courage to confront the industries that sell them.”


Until we do, make your life your message and eat the foods you wish your children would eat so they will too.

Monday, April 20, 2015

THE GOOD LIFE


The Srimad Bhagavatam offers concise advice on the life well-lived. It follows here:

"Therefore the aspirant should, by steady effort,

1. establish control over the mind, which is infatuated with the objects of the senses, by intense application to devotion and the development of profound distaste for the world.

He should:

2. look upon all creatures with an equal eye,

3. abjure violence

4. and renounce all attachments,

5. practice celibacy

6. and the habit of speaking as little as possible,

7. be content with what comes unsought,

8. eat moderately

9. and dwell in solitary places,

10. cultivate tranquility of spirit

11. and friendly sympathy and fellow-felling towards all,

12. develop self-control

13. and cease to entertain the feeling of “me” and “mine” towards the body and those connected with him through it.

You will cultivate, by these various means, the knowledge which brings you the realization of the true nature of the Universe and realize your own pure Self."

If this seems too complicated, simply follow the advice of St. Augustine, who put it thusly: "Love, and do what you will."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

RUN SOFT

"The pavement was his enemy!" A line from the 1989 delightful film Twins starring Schwarzenegger and DeVito. Schwarzenegger, as Julius Benedict, delivers the line when a robber on a motorcycle tries to relieve him of his suitcase but cannot overcome Benedict's vice-like grip and comes crashind down on the sidewalk. The robber's buddy asks Benedict what he did and he says, "I did nothing! The pavement was his enemy!"


I bring the memorable line up because in November of 2012 I broke my foot. The medical term is a metatarsal stress fracture, specifically of the second digit. That's one toe over from the big one. The metatarsal bones are the long bones of the foot, the ones between the toes (phalanges) and the midfoot, those bones that form the arches of the feet and have fancy names like cuboid and navicular. Here, a picture is worth a thousand words:


Metatarsal stress fractures are a common injury related to running. Soldiers often get them, after marching great distances in uncomfortable shoes. What often happens is a runner increases mileage too quickly and the bones are unable to adapt to the added stress. Since I had increased my weekly miles from about 30 miles in June to as many as 80 miles around the time my foot cracked, I thought overzealous training was to blame. And I was running most of the miles barefoot, and the injury occurred in the fall, when sunlight is not as plentiful, and as I rely on the sun for vitamin D, and lower levels of the vitamin are associated with weaker bones, there were other factors to blame.

But one thing I had never thought to consider was terrain. I run from my house, and the first couple miles are all on asphalt. Then I enter the city, where traffic leads me onto the sidewalk (pavement). For those who haven't thought about it (and I hadn't until recently), there is a big difference between the black material that lines roads (asphalt) and the white, smooth stuff you see on sidewalks and bike paths.


Asphalt (streets) deflects forces downward while concrete deflects them sideways. In other words, streets employ the dirt beneath as shock absorbers, while concrete does not give. The result? Concrete is 10 times harder, by one engineering measure, than asphalt! Ten times! Does this mean that running 80 miles mostly on sidewalks is like running 800 miles on streets? The math would say yes.


As I increased the miles I found myself running more alongside traffic, so a disproportionate amount of mileage was occurring on the much harder surface of concrete. Now I can explain the joint aches and pains. And possibly the stress fracture. Few are fortunate enough to live in or around parks, mountainsides and trails. If you do, log as many miles as you can on runner friendly surfaces like grass and earth - unless of course you are training for a road race, in which case you'll need to accustom your legs and feet to pounding the pavement. But if like me you must needs run most or all of your miles on the road, opt for the street as often as possible over the sidewalk. This may involve running side streets rather than more heavily trafficked major thoroughfares, which is a good idea for other reasons, like avoiding smog.

(An easy way to tell the difference betwixt pavement and asphalt is pavement is generally white/off-white and cracks while asphalt is black or gray and crumbles; not all streets are asphalt so look before you stride.)

And if you run in the street, run as often as you can in the middle of the road, avoiding traffic of course. This will spare you the gutters and the leg length discrepancies they simulate. This happened to me in medical school, when running 6 miles along the shoulder of a Louisiana highway each day before my hospital shift gave me a nasty dish of plantar fasciitis and a side of hip bursitis.

Ah so many conditions! So many rules! Can't anybody just run already???

Excuse the outburst. Be friendly to your feet. They're the only ones you'll ever have. Your kindness will be repaid in spades.