A blog about nothing.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

WORKIN' IT


We live in a world obsessed with work. Pundits debate the unemployment rate. Politicians curry the voter's favor by promising job opportunities. Employees regard long hours and weekend nights at the office as a mark of distinction or rite of passage, and even some bosses brag about "pulling all-nighters." The average office worker takes her job with her on trips, answering work-related phone calls and emails. It is a rather unfortunate fact that many is the job-holder who works not to serve others but rather to fulfill one or more of the following expedients: to pay bills, fit in with society, and more often than not earn name and fame to pamper the ego and get as rich as possible in the shortest amount of time. What about work as worship, as service to society and vehicle to not pamper the ego but trample it underfoot?

The British author Aldous Huxley once wrote that in the "world of today, the most useful people are those whose concern is with daily bread - those who produce and conserve food for the bodies of men, and those who permit themselves, and who teach others to permit themselves, to be fed by the bread of grace that gives life to the spirit."

In short, if you can help others to live the eternal message of the scriptures and the saints, and "see all beings in the Self, and the Self in all beings," if you can bring this "constantly forgotten message out of the past," this is truly performing a great service to society.

Does what you do for a living serve society in this high sense? Even if you are not a writer or a farmer, does your daily job improve the lives of those around you, or just fatten your wallet? Do you live to work or work to live? Is work an end in itself or a means to something more?

The great sage Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886) once said: "As long as an individual is attached to worldly objects, so long he has toil, cares, anxiety, unrest and unhappiness. When attachment is gone, all works end, and then comes peace. But work without attachment is good; it does not bring unrest. Whoever performs good works without holding any desire for their fruits will do good for himself."

So don't be attached to anything you do, whether planting seeds or penning sonnets. Remember that work is  itself a means to realize the Self (God) within by breaking the chains of the self (ego). The world weary should ask that their daily labors may grow less and less day by day, because such a busy life necessitates an outwardly directed focus, which diverts the attention from the inner Reality. Because work is itself worship. Work is a means; God vision the end. Ramakrishna also taught that worldly activity is the first chapter of life, then comes world weariness, and finally detachment and compassion. But as long as you have to work, dedicate your every action to the highest good.

This short prayer will help guide us: "Lord! Do reduce our daily [obligations] to a minimum, and the little work that we daily perform, may we do it with non-attachment." Work should not be the end and aim of your life, but only a means to accessing Divinity, provided your actions are performed without investment in their results.

But work without attachment can be extremely difficult. Look around you. Who doesn't work for money! And so Ramakrishna and the sages before him and since recommended the path of love. Fill your world with love. But know that even then, there is no escaping work. The lungs will continue to breathe, and the heart to beat. You will be obliged to continue going about your daily business, brushing teeth, moving bowels, making the bed, and all else in between. But the One you really are does none of this. Remain fixed in the consciousness of your true nature and simply BE, dedicate all the actions to the Self. Then you know your work is worship.

So serve others, but put the Self first, because when you do, you are in for the surprise of a lifetime: there are no others.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

THE NON-DOER

The sages and scriptures tell us, "You are not the doer." Specifically it is Lord Krishna who counsels his disciple Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita to act without the idea of doership. This is the basis of karma yoga or the path of selfless action. Millennia later the sage Ramana Maharshi echoed this teaching.

What does it mean to act selflessly?

That you are to sever identification with the various roles you play in life. It is the student who studies, the spouse who supports his family, the human that eats, breathes, sleeps, etc. But you are none of these. You are merely the witness, the overriding consciousness associated with a certain body and mind that thinks certain thoughts and moves through life performing various actions. So you are spirit.

But what of this body, what of this role you play? Who is controlling it? Certainly not you, since you are merely the witness. God? But God is omnipresent, so you are God. A force/energy/presence? Merely another name for God. Let's not get lost in the semantics. What this notion of doership brings up is the concept of free will versus determinism.

Determinists like Chapman Cohen would say that "if we knew the quality and inclination of all the forces bearing upon human nature, in the same way that we know the forces determining the motions of the planet, then the forecasting of conduct would become a mere problem in moral mathematics." In other words, where you begin in life - who you were born to, what genes you carry, the time in which you were born - determines the next stage of life, which determines the next, and each action and thought is like a domino setting in motion the next.

Strangely this fact is not at odds with the notion of free will. What most people believe when they assert, "I am free," is that they are under no external compulsion to act a certain way. You are free to do something you wish to do, and not made to do said thing by someone holding a gun to your head.

But if your wishes are determined by your environment and upbringing, is that really freedom? Does the person who has never been exposed to ice cream, never seen, tasted or even heard of the dessert, get a craving to have a hot fudge sundae? No. He is not free to have a hot fudge sundae in that this is not an available option in his life; but if moves to a neighborhood with McDonald's and tastes a bite and wishes to enjoy a whole dessert for himself, he can do so, since "it is a free country" after all. Provided of course he has two dollars.

So the concept of one's not being the doer has a deeper significance. Not only are you not the body and mind that goes about daily life, but rather the witnessing consciousness merely along for the ride; moreover, even this body and mind are not the doers, in that they are under compulsion to think and act not by some external force but by the preferences they have developed over the course of their experience, modified by personality and genes. So there is no doer. At the level of the body and mind, we can say that there is doing. But at the level of spirit, there is only being.

So Vince Vaughn had it right when he said: "Be there." Of course he was talking to his car (in Dodgeball) but applied to one's own life it makes really good advice.


Monday, September 28, 2015

PARADISE REGAINED

Here's a statistic: There are more African Americans behind bars today than there were slaves in 1850. That's crazy. Has the emancipation proclamation gotten us anywhere or has the monster merely changed its shape?

My question is, what about us honkies? (I consider myself Afro, since I am descended from the first man who they tell me was born in Africa, but I'll include myself among you Europeans, the only ones who read this, for empathy's sake - or is it sympathy? I always get those two terms confused.) Is the life you lead anything more than comfortable servitude? Do you like what you do for a living, or is it burdensome and laborious and engaged in perforce - because you have to, to pay bills or feel useful or merely because your bitch nags you or to get out of your own head?

The Genesis story about Adam and Eve is pertinent here. God created the first couple, Adam from the Earth, Eve from Adam's rib, and they lived in harmony with nature, husbanding the animals and enjoying all the fruits and vegetables they desired. What an idyllic life! Then came Satan, and that cursed tree, you know the one: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God forbade Adam and Eve to eat of said tree, or else they would die. Tempted by Satan, who said by eating from the tree Eve could become like God, Eve tasted of the fruit. Then she shared some with her pal, and Adam ate.

You probably know how it turns out. They were conscious of their nakedness and banished from Eden, where they would toil among the brambles, give birth to children in pain, suffer disease, and die.

My question: Can't we return to the Garden? Hasn't this exile been long enough. Christ came and "died for our sins." That was 2000 years ago. We are still wearing clothes, eating burgers and working as cashiers and janitors. Help!

Milton wrote Paradise Lost. How about we live his Paradise Regained? What does the tree symbolize? What is good and evil? Is it not duality? Does not the desire to be like God symbolize the ego and the vanity of humanity in attempting like the technologists to develop a supercomputer which knows everything and which can be downloaded into us, or we into it? If you're not familiar with the subject of the Singularity, read Kurzweil. On second thought don't, unless you become like that first couple and know your nakedness, cover it, give birth in pain, toil laboriously, suffer, become ill, and croak. But alas, you are already doing some of these things. Me too. It's called the human condition. But it doesn't have to be.

Returning to paradise does not have to mean traveling to some luxuriant geographical location where fruit grows free on trees. I've been to Hawaii. It's humid, the locals hate tourists, and the plane ride is a real drag. Regaining paradise can happen with you sitting on your couch. It means taming the ego which seeks to gratify itself with more (fill in the blank: knowledge, possessions, power, fame, etc.). More, more always more, says the lower self! Knowledge is never wisdom. And besides, the knowledge of good and evil is false knowledge. Because there is no good and evil ("but thinking makes it so" - that's Shakespeare). All is one. And when you stop differentiating and see God in all things, listen to God's voice resound in your heart of hearts, you have re-entered Eden and can make friends with the wild animals, rather than hunt them, enjoy fresh food rather than that sugared cardboard you call breakfast cereal, work at something that you really love, which is more like play than work, or Bridges' worlay. And you can toss the fig leaf or whatever you happen to be wearing to conceal your genitals - just be prepared to raise a brow or too. When it comes to change, society can be slow to change.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

ETERNAL SUNSHINE

Since the formation of the mind - which has existed as long as humans have been around, maybe even longer, if you believe apes and other animals from which we derived can think - writers and scientists and metaphysicians and even the average person have occupied themselves, ourselves, with the question of all questions: How can a person be perfectly free in the moment?

Is it possible not to be conditioned by personality traits to act a certain way or impelled by circumstances to behave according to some generic set of rules which seem rather arbitrary. (Why do I have to shake your hand when in some cultures what is considered a formality is to smell your butt!) It is so easy to go through life automatically, like an android, from one task to another, driven by the search for sense pleasures, fulfilling obligations, and skirting pain.

The reactive individual is the most common type of human being. Haven't you ever observed that you know exactly what to say to a person to get a rise, or to make people laugh? If I flip off my fellow motorist he'll likely fly into a rage. As easy as pushing a button. So typical. But can we enjoy pure freedom in the moment? Can we avoid being conditioned by circumstances, and condemned to behave in exact concordance with the combination of factors that determine the personality, from genetics to environment to experiences to astrology, if you believe in that sort of thing?

Is it possible to be completely free, while in a body? Does physical death merely bring an
end to form but a continuation of the psyche and all the mental turmoil, the indecisions, frustrations, baser emotions, that too often comes along with it? How can there be freedom as long as the personality persists? Society asks the individual to be consistent, responsible, make choices, commit.

But if you do away with personality, transcend the baser emotions, subdue the individual with his preferences and prejudices, and truly connect with spirit, then what? Can you be free, living in a succession of unconditioned, uncommitted states without past or future, out of time? Is this, rather than merely being influenced to act a certain way by past experiences and personal preferences, true freedom? Is it possible to if not get rid of memories and anticipations, at least be free of their influence, free in every moment, in an eternal now? If so, would you want this? Or like a person with dementia, would you only feel lost? By taking away your personality are you deprived of what you feel is truly you? Is your personality who you are? Are we merely the sum total of our memories and experiences? Who were you before you were born?

Can we transcend the cycle of cause and effect, as the Hindus say is the purpose of Self-realization? The individual is bound by his actions and bound to suffer or enjoy and definitely experience their consequences. I can't ignore the speed limit indefinitely without getting pulled over. But if you fix your awareness in the spirit that is your essence, you realize you are not the individual, and therefore bound by nothing, perfectly free. Then even when observing traffic laws, you feel as if you were flying. Hands in society, head in the clouds as they say. Is this what it means to achieve immortality? Can you achieve what lies in you to be discovered?

The British mystical novelist Marie Corelli once wrote: "It is possible for every human being to live in the sunshine of the soul whatever may be the material surroundings of the body." This might even apply to life after death, liberated from the flesh and blood capsule that carries you through your day, perhaps then more than ever. But then without a mind, perhaps these fundamental questions no longer interest you.

Remember, the mind exists for the Self, your divine nature, to know itself. Sure, experience the world, problem solve, enjoy life, but know that true fulfillment is not possible until you explore the inner Reality - changeless, eternal and perfect. For this reason it is said that humans are unique among all creatures in that we have the unique ability to realize God. And the first step is to realize you are not human.

So seize the day. Now is all you have, and it is everything!

Monday, September 21, 2015

FOOD FOR THOUGHTLESSNESS


Recently a friend and I had this casual conversation. The questions we raised are proceeded by the answers, which I've put in italics for clarity.

1. One concept that I can’t seem to grasp at all is “we are all ONE. Everything is good. We are a perfect spirit.” Does that imply a non-existing difference between right and wrong? What about morality? Isn’t conscience the development of morality and care for yourself and others? Also, if someone engages in wrongdoings against other beings, isn’t that person in violation of morality, natural law, higher self, higher will, etc? Isn’t there an internal contradiction and conflict in humans? Aren’t we supposed to be imperfect and learning through real life experiences in a real tangible world? What about accountability for our actions? Are we accountable to ourselves and others if we believe we are deep down a perfect spirit? I mean, who would want to change or grow?

Coming from the mind which views itself as separate and deals in concepts, seeing ONE where there are so many is hard to grasp. But think of a dream. So many events and characters take place all in your own mind, multiplicity coming from unity. Or a candle. An eternal flame, from which other candles are lit, without taking away from that candle. Manifestations of one, in many. Sometimes those analogies help. Or in meditation or deep sleep. Without thought, even consciousness of the body, what is there left? Oneness. Absolute reality (which many religions call God) has as its defining feature the fact that it is always the same, everywhere. What fits this description? The underlying consciousness that I AM. It is with you wherever you go. God seeing through your eyes.

Yes, in the dream, right and wrong, morality are “characters.” But they are relative. One person’s good is another man’s evil. And they only apply to the dream. The other night I dreamt a friend had a seizure. It seemed perfectly logical in the dream to put his head in a plaster cast to stabilize his shakes. So we did it. Then I woke up and saw how nonsensical that was. You must allow that all these notions, concepts, morality, which we take as logical may not be so in the grander sense, once we wake up. They are just part of the dream, which is going on in a blip in eternity. What you are is out of time, and can access this by going beyond thought.

Yes there is an inner voice that if you listen to can act as a guide. But this can be a subtle manifestation of the ego, trying to have its way. Best to come from love and let that be your guide. As Christ taught: love God above all and your neighbor as yourself. Yes, at the human level, we are born, grow, have drama, improve, take a step back, and die. But who you really are is beyond human. You go to the movies and vicariously experience thrills through the character. You never for a minute believe you are the character. It is the same with the body. Though harder, because society has taught us to identify with the body, giving us a name etc. We even refer to ourselves as I. There is no change or growth at the level of the spirit. Like the air in a glass. Whatever happens to the glass, it is dirtied, stained, broken, carries wine or water, the space is the same. If you really think about it, what is it that throughout your life has always been the same. Just the consciousness in which life’s events happen. Who were you before you were born? If you believe you existed before birth, presumably as spirit, then you surely weren’t the person you identify with currently. Then who? This raises the question of identity. Your true nature is beyond name and form.

2. What about feelings like anger, shame, and guilt? How are they viewed by you and people who profess a similar belief system? Do you work through those feelings or how do you use what is happening to your advantage and growth? What about love? Is love a universal force, projected to everyone and no one at the same time? How does love transpire in close relationships?

These feelings arise at the level of the self, ego-based personality, mind that wants things and sees itself as separate. When you remain fixed in perfect spirit you can watch what is going on without those feelings. Do you feel shame when another person does something silly? No, because you see them as “not you.” Just so, your body and personality is “not the true you” though you are associated with it. And once your remain fixed in perfect spirit, your actions and thoughts change, and these consequent emotions do not arise.

Our nature is love. At the individual level, it is conditional, manifested as self-love, love for family (an extension of self). But at the level of the higher self, all is love, and all is one. There is no distinction. Perhaps a reason for this universe is for the ONE to become many and for love, its true nature, to have an object. For love to be expressed. But the universe can be its own purpose, or exist for the enjoyment of the Self/God, out of whom it evolves, and then the Self enters into it in the heart of each individual to experience itself. Heady concepts, these. Love in close relationships can be a double-edged sword, if it is given at the exclusion of giving it to others, which closes a person off. But if it is enjoyed as yet another expression of love – romantic love, love for family, humanitarian love, love for nature, etc. – then it adds to the variety.

3. What happens when you reach a state of bliss and discover your true self? Do people stop from engaging in the tragic yet beautiful life around them, and get absorbed in the “feel good”, comfort and convenience of realizing that they are self-fulfilled and innately perfect?

I think that most holy persons, even philosophers, live lives of seclusion and are generally not married nor do they have kids. They take little interest in the affairs of the world. It’s like a game. One you see the game for what it is, you may not wish to play it. It is those who take life seriously, mistake it for ultimate reality, that are so engaged by it. Other sages and philosophers have gotten married and had kids before becoming realized and either continue in these functions or go off and leave home, as did the Buddha. Once you remain fixed in the Self, it doesn’t matter what you do, sit in meditation, raise a family, travel the world. But you may not want to do much. Ask yourself before engaging in any activity, why am I doing this? If there is no good answer, if not for you enjoyment or of necessity, then you’ll find yourself doing less. And just being. There is a great comfort in just being. One sage compared it to the person who toils on a hot day and stays out of the shade. That is the individual personality fighting through life. The realized individual stays fixed in the shade of the self. He can still be active, but the business of life is less strenuous.

4. What about teachers that can be encountered throughout our lives? I personally think anyone can be a teacher, but also some people only care to deceive and exploit others. It is the manifestation of good and evil in the world, in my opinion.

One sage said if a teacher charges, he is not a teacher. Of course people need to earn their living and if they are helping others awaken from the dream and/or be better people then should they get paid for this, the ultimate service? It’s a question I’ve often wondered about. I don’t consider myself a teacher but have written books dealing with issues I find interesting and make them available for cheap, though few care to read them. But yes the self-help movement is tricky territory and there certainly can be predators preying on the minds of the impressionable or lost.

These are all just concepts. The trick is to go beyond them and be. But if discussing issues turn the mind in on itself and away from external phenomena that so seduce our attention, then these words and books etc have served a purpose. But remember: You - not your name or personality or who society has led you to take as yourself, but the witnessing consciousness that gives this you life, and is the same consciousness lighting my eyes and seated in my heart as Love - is the ultimate purpose.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

BE UNIVERSAL

Gender dysphoria is a condition in which there is a conflict between a person's physical gender and the gender he or she identifies with. A person who is physically a boy may actually feel and act like a girl and is therefore very uncomfortable with the gender they were born as. Gender dysphoria doesn't imply homosexuality. A man can feel like a woman and still dig chicks. Like Bruce Jenner, who with his hormone therapy and plastic surgery has started a trend or at least given it a big boost.


More and more people, even kids, are having sex changes. I identify as a woman, says the boy. I say, identify with nothing. You are not male or female. Your spirit is free - to express itself through whatever your bodily vehicle happens to be. Which is why I don't agree with those who say they identify with one sex or the other. Even boys who are born boys should not consider themselves boys and go around grabbing their crotches, spitting, cussing, and ogling girls. Personally I never "identified" with the crass ways of my pubescent peers. I admired so-called womanly ways, girls with their social graces, sensitivities, and soft-spokenness. But I didn't want to become a girl! I did however adopt some of the finer sex's savoir-faire, and with great success. The classic male behavior is not innate. It is conditioned, as is the tendency in boys not to express their emotions, or in girls to lisp and play with dolls. These stereotyped behaviors have got to stop. We are children of the universe, people!

You can adopt any traits you admire, whether they be traditionally male (strong, silent type) or female (demonstrative and gregarious) - while retaining your sex's defining features and genitalia. Society likes to brand us. Homosexuals have this problem. Since when did labeling yourself gay or straight become so de rigeur. Who needs the labels. But labels are everywhere. Straights have this problem too. I am a father. I am a spouse. I am a lawyer doctor teacher. Ask yourself, who was I before I was born? Not even human! That's your true nature.

Astrology does this too. I used to study it in depth. Each person has planets in signs and houses with qualities and elements that define who you are, your tendencies and strengths and weaknesses. But in so doing it pigeonholes you into certain traits and types. I act this way because my sign says I do. My advice: don't mistake the car for the driver. You are not the personality. You are the spirit imbuing matter with life. The point is to transcend the individualized ego based personality for the pure unbounded spirit that you truly are. Let that spirit work through you. Be whatever the moment requires. Introspective, sympathetic, energetic.

But you say everyone has their types. I am told I like to work out and eat well and spend time in nature. It is true. But these behaviors aren't specific to me. Rather they are qualities we all come into this world liking to do. Why? Because they are natural, and conducive to health. Watch a baby frenetically move its body, laugh. Watch children run and play in the park. These aren't personality traits in the same way that breathing isn't a personality trait. It is what the body needs to do - but you won't die without working out or eating salad, as you would if you didn't breathe,  which is why so many get away with neglecting such salutary pursuits.

Remember yourself. Be the boundless perfect spirit and it really doesn't matter if you inhabit a body that is male or female. Because you are neither, both, and so much more. Whatever your body is, enjoy it, and know that whether you have titties or testicles, your human form surely won't be fat, if you make like a kid and go play.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

THE LIFE VICARIOUS


The Hindu avatar and hero of the epic Ramayana, Rama was born in 5114 BC in Ayodhya, an ancient city in India. That's over 7000 years ago, if you're counting. In his youth he became very disenchanted with earthly life. He saw it as filled with suffering, the few pleasures it held being fleeting and unreliable. This plunged him into the throes of a paralyzing depression. His concerned family sought the assistance of a hoary sage to help him through his inner turmoil.


Rama asked the sage, whose name was Vasistha: “How to attain the eternal state, free of pain, frailties, doubt and delusion? What is that eternal state, unapproached by sorrow, where I shall remain unscathed by the fire of sensual objects, though moving amidst them, like a ball of mercury exposed to fire, or an eel in muddy waters?”


Vasistha's answer: “Unless you consider the happiness of others as your own, you can never be at peace.”


In other words: live vicariously. The word vicarious originated in the mid 17th century from the Latin vicarius meaning substitute. The related word, vicar, is used to designate a representative or deputy of a bishop. So it's holy. We should all be vicars of our fellow men, and they of us. We all have desires and ambitions. Sometimes these desires are fulfilled in us, but more often our aims and hopes are frustrated. Others get in the way. We stumble. Life puts up obstacles! But life often puts in our path others in whom our greatest dreams reach fruition. By experiencing their joys, we participate in successes and adventures wherever we turn. The divine energy which flows through you is the same that ignites the eyes of both friend and foe.


Looking back on my life, I have had many desires that weren't fulfilled. 
When I was 13, I wanted to be a professional baseball player. The little league team I was part of that summer had a chance to make it all the way to the national championship. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. We only reached the regionals, and two years later our 15-year-old squad didn't even make it that far. 

I quit playing baseball after high school and started lifting weights. One day at the gym I met Kelly, once a star baseball player in high school and now bulking up in an effort to make it back to the big leagues. The year before he had been called up from the minors and in his very first game as a pro hit a double off the Dodgers' star pitcher, Orel Hershiser. 

I later found out that Kelly had been on baseball teams that won national titles at the 13-year-old and 15-year-old levels. He had accomplished both my childhood dreams, and I was happy for him. Ask Kelly and it was no big deal. He lived with his mother and rode a bicycle to and from the gym. He didn't make the Braves that spring and instead got into hardcore drugs. Crack cocaine, I think. I recently learned he became a born-again Christian.

Another of life's dreams that has gone unfulfilled was to marry and have kids. I consider myself a hopeful romantic and proposed to my first girlfriend, Christina, on our first date. The rough plan was to save up enough money and elope to the South American country of her birth, where we'd have a brood of three boys and three girls. That is, once we got jobs – and got out of elementary school. Christina was 11. It didn't last. Nor did any of my subsequent amorous adventures.

Nowadays, it seems all my friends have fulfilled this dream. My high school teammate Bryan has four little ones and a lovely wife. Pete has three "whippersnappers," as he calls them, and just bought a house. I have spent time with these friends and their families and through them get to participate in the joys and cares of being part of a household. Then I go home alone and am okay with it. Whenever I'm lonely, family life is but a phone call away. My friends’ kids call me Uncle Adam.

I got into distance running in medical school. At my fastest I ran a half-marathon in 1 hour and 18 minutes and a marathon in 2:49. Those times are in the top 1 percent, baby! And I ran them after turning 40. My goal became to run a 1:15 half-marathon and a 2:45 marathon. But to do so would have meant training harder than I liked and exerting myself more than I cared to, which would have made the whole experience not so fun.


At the Los Angeles Marathon in 2013 I met Ricardo. He was a couple years older than me and had met and exceeded these dream times of mine. I called him “CampeĆ³n,” Spanish for champion. I even wrote an article on him for a popular running magazine. It was about how I'd watch him fly by me on the way to his numerous victories. In detailing his many successes, I felt as if they were also my own. And Rama went on to become king of the world.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

YOUR BLISS FIX




Meditation is a time-honored and hallowed practice dating back to the dawn of recorded history and certainly before that, it's just that nobody knew how to write their experiences down. These days there are skilled practitioners all over the place, advocating their particular brand and calling it mindfulness or concentration or inward focus, etc.

I can only give you what I learned as a child and have practiced on and off for decades. The holy man Sai Baba recommends meditating between the hours of 3 and 6 AM. As published on the website sathyasai.org, regularity is most important. Swami recommends a few minutes of meditation in the evening after dusk. He tells students that you have to look at any object --flame, idol, or picture for 12 seconds with total concentration and without blinking the eyelids. This is concentration (dharana). Twelve dharana concentrations make one meditation (dhyana). This means that meditation should last for 12x12 = 144 seconds. Thus, proper meditation need not last more than 2 minutes 24 secs.

Of course, this can be extended. Twelve meditations equal one samadhi, which amounts to 12x144 seconds =  28 minutes 48 seconds. 

But take note, do not limit meditation to a specific time of day. Contemplation of the Lord should occur always at all places. Sri Ramana Maharshi was once asked, "How long should one practice meditation? 15 or 30 or 45 minutes or an hour?' His reply was, 'You should continue doing it till you forget that you are meditating. As long as you are conscious (physically aware) that you are meditating, it is no meditation at all."

The consciousness of body and mind and the thought of yourself should become totally extinct. The experience of only the object of your meditation should subsist, i.e. nothing else but the presence of divinity. The state of meditation is experiencing but without the consciousness that you are experiencing.

This is bliss. Get your fix today.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

WHO TO TRUST?

I once tried to convince a friend with heart disease of the benefits of a vegan diet. I told him studies had shown that high cholesterol levels, which cause plaque to form in the arteries, are associated with diets high in meat, whose saturated fat content causes cholesterol levels in the blood to go up. An avowed carnivore, not to mention one who likes a good debate, my friend came back at me with studies he claimed showed no association between saturated fat intake and cholesterol levels. The culprit, he said, was sugar intake, and so it was fruit he should avoid, not the turkey burgers and chicken breasts he so loved. I replied rather cheekily that for any study that shows x, you can find a study showing not x, and since life can be characterized as an experiment of one, and the habit of eating meat had left my friend with a clogged coronary artery, then he should ignore the contrasting results of these scientific studies and see firsthand what effect a plant-based approach had on him.

And it is true. More and more studies are coming out. Visit sciencedaily.com and see the dozens conducted on an endless variety of conditions and phenomena published every day. But the results of these studies - even the randomized, controlled, double-blinded type, said to be the gold standard of science - are less and less reliable.

Take reproducibility. If an experiment is reproducible, its results can be duplicated, either by the same researcher or by another group of scientists. Reproducibility is a hallmark feature of the scientific method. In other words, if a scientific experiment is not reproducible, if it yields different results each time it is performed, then it is pretty much worthless as far as proving or disproving anything goes.

Just how reproducible are the experiments getting performed these days? One former head of research at a major pharmaceutical company recently admitted that the company’s scientists were unable to replicate the results of 47 out of 53 papers that were instrumental in the launch of drug-discovery programs. In other words, of the over 50 experiments under review, only about 10% were reproducible. The other 90% a sheer waste of resources. Worse. Many products and foods are pushed on the public and backed by research from unreliable studies such as these.

It makes you wonder who you can believe. Why the deception? Greed, power, wealth are the usual culprits. Groups have vested interests. Companies want to make money, scientists want to get published. And the expense comes at your own health. You consume products that are of no benefit or are detrimental and pay a hefty dollar amount to boot.

So until the world becomes an honest one, trust your common sense, live simply, eat close to the source. Oh, and avoid arguments. Remember that any stance you take on any subject has a contradiction which in a confused and combative world can be just as vehemently championed, so the exercise is futile. Besides, arguing is bad for your health. And we don't need science to prove that.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

WASTE NOT WANT NOT


During my medical residency one of my attending physicians once said to me: "I always try to buy fresh vegetables to make for my kids but more often than not they wind up wilting in the back of the fridge only to be thrown out. I am sorry to say that it's the nonperishable items like macaroni and bread that end up getting eaten."

This is not uncommon, especially for working parents who try to balance busy schedules and housekeeping duties. As they say, haste makes waste.

I thought about this yesterday when my grandmother came over for lunch. My mother made pasta. "Why do you make pasta," I said, "when grandma never eats anything but fruit?" Sure enough my grandmother didn't touch the pasta, although she served herself a healthy portion - I presume for politeness' sake. And this is how social conventions get us into trouble. Why didn't she just stick to the fruit?

In a recent year the Agriculture Department estimated that 133 billion pounds of food was lost at the retail and consumer levels. This is almost a third of the nation's food supply, or over 400 lbs of food per American, with vegetables nearly topping the list of the food groups most likely to wind up in the trash. This is a real problem. As the Wall Street Journal reports, when edible food gets thrown away, significant amounts of energy and chemicals used to grow the food are also wasted. Plus, when food rots in landfills, it produces the harmful greenhouse gas methane, exacerbating global warming.

It gets worse: according to the National Institutes of Health food waste absorbs more than 25% of freshwater consumption. During this California drought, we now know where to point the finger of blame. And what about those starving children in Africa! Or for that matter, America? In 2012 nearly 50 million Americans reported not having enough to eat at certain times of the year.

If I'd have asked my grandmother why she served herself pasta she didn't intend to eat she may have cited courtesy, or perhaps she was unaware. Like so many of life's behaviors, the act of serving the food may have been reflexive. How much of our actions are unconscious! In a recent poll, nearly 75 percent of Americans believed they wasted less food than the average household. This, a mathematical impossibility, prompted one expert to lament: "We have a major problem that we don't even see." But we feel the loss - to the tune of over 150 billion dollars down the drain.

So what leads to consumer waste? Of course there is overbuying and confusion over expiration dates, as well as the good intentions of my attending physician and social graces of my grandmother. And with everything so oversized, from markets (Costco) to SUVs and industrial refrigerators the temptation is to buy more than is necessary and then waste what is unused. Expiration dates are a problem as well, as they mislead customers into throwing food away before it has really gone bad.

The United Kingdom reports that over half of wasted food could have been eaten. The same probably goes for America. All it takes is awareness. Be conscious of what you do. Eat what's on your plate. The phrase doubles as a metaphor for life. Waste not want not.