A blog about nothing.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

COMFORTABLY NUMB

We are human beings, not human doings. Despite what the hustle and bustle of modern society would have us believe. To be is to tear yourself away from the fascination of the world around you. It is to turn your attention within, and simply enjoy your existence. For within you find the joy that is your true nature. Or at least that's what all the ancient books say. But when your gums hurt, it's hard to focus on your inner bliss. Being quickly becomes hurting, which leads to doing. So you schedule a check-up with your dentist, who is fittingly named Dr. Do. 

You are there and the dentist tells you that gum recession is the cause of your mouth tenderness. The gum has thinned to such a degree that the root of one molar is exposed. You are not alone. Periodontal disease affects 1 in 2 Americans. The good news is that a minor surgery will likely fix the problem. Called a gum graft, they take some tissue from the roof of your mouth and transplant it to the receded gum, to bulk up the area and protect the root. The bad news is that some degree of gum recession is affecting 7 other teeth, and to avoid surgery in these teeth, minor fillings will be required. Which the dentist can do same day. To the tune of $120 each, not covered by insurance. Because the exposed tooth is not technically a cavity. And you will also need to wear a mouth guard, because the gum recession is likely caused by grinding your teeth or at least clenching them. "Do you grind or clench your teeth when you sleep?" asks the dentist. "How should I know," you reply. "I am asleep." 

For one who never had braces or a retainer, the prospect of wearing something in your mouth every night indefinitely makes you cringe even more than the $320 cost of the gear. But you order one, because you hope that the future appointment with the periodontist will be your last. This is what it means to get old. At 43, are you too young to say that? 



This week the performer Cher was quoted as saying, "I look in the mirror and see this old lady looking back at me. And I have no idea how she got there." She is 70 and has had a lot of work done. Face lifts, brow lifts, skin tightening and breast augmentation, though practically unheard of at the time Cher underwent these procedures, are now occurring in women at younger and younger ages. Reality TV star Heidi Montag boasted that she once had 10 procedures in the same day. She is 30. And she used to be so pretty!




You have spaces between your teeth, which are not large. In a world where everyone has blindingly white caps the size of horse's teeth, where Matt Dillon's parody in "There's Something About Mary" is now a reality for so many celebrity seekers, you could argue that veneers would be an improvement upon your looks. But you like your real teeth. And God forbid the caps fall off. Then you would be like Tom Cruise in "The Outsiders," or Brad Pitt in "Fight Club." Only without the million dollar payday.





But your gum recession had really been bothering you. Your teeth looked permanently stained, especially at the corners of your smile. And since smiling lightens a person's mood, your reluctance to smile made you seem sad, and feel the same way. So the 7 porcelain fillings you had installed that same day, fillings which can fall out any time, because nothing lasts forever, like Axl sings ("November Rain," which happens to be your favorite GNR tune), are worth the money spent as insurance. 

Enough about dentistry. I bring your experience up for two reasons. One, that the body ages is a reality. And you cannot really prevent it. I have good oral hygiene and still my gums recede. I eat really well and exercise a great deal and yet my fasting blood sugar is about where it is for my dad, who carries extra weight, eats fried foods and pastries, and is very sedentary. There's only so much you can do. I bring up the body's aches and pains for another reason as well. It's hard to enjoy the bliss of your existence when you feel less than spectacular. Tooth aches are a bummer, as are stomach cramps, and stuffy noses, and itchy scalps and all variety of other pesky distractions that can prevent you from focusing your attention on that precious bliss within. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. If when you sleep these aches and pains are forgotten, at least for a time, then if you quiet your mind even while awake you can keep bodily annoyances at bay. 

Or can you? What if you have a persistent need to clear your throat? A fullness in the chest? Difficulty swallowing? Shortness of breath? A night-time cough that sometimes wakes you up? Belching and occasional regurgitation. A bitter taste in your mouth. Occasional nausea. What then? Can you eliminate all these symptoms in one fell swoop? What if all you have to do is give up all your favorite foods, which include garlic, onions, spicy foods, tomatoes and chocolate; not to mention citrus fruits, coffee and caffeinated drinks, including tea. And fatty foods like avocado and nuts. But if you suck all the culinary enjoyment out of your daily life, is it even worth living anymore? No, it isn't. Not if you remain concentrated on the external world in all its gustatory grandeur. But if you still the mind, a whole new world of wonder awaits you. Again, so they say. 

The only time I really feel blissful in meditation is when I fall asleep, and then I am not enjoying my existence so much as forgetting about it altogether. It's like a mini suicide. But I keep trying to be "consciously immortal," as the ancients say. And you should, too. You have nothing to lose but boredom and loneliness. And tons to gain including the money you usually spend on staving off boredom and loneliness with a dizzying array of distractions. Since we were on the subject of famous quotations, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently said: "Fundamentally, [Netflix is] about eliminating loneliness and boredom... That's what entertainment does." 

It is true that what all forms of entertainment do to some degree or another is distract you from yourself. But you can let your thoughts entertain you. Just watch them like commercials on the TV screen of your psyche. It's free and no technology or Wife connection is necessary. All the software is installed on your brain at birth, and your noggin is the world's most exquisite computer. So enjoy yourself. Except when you really hurt. Like how I'll probably feel if the roof of my mouth is cut out. But I'm not nervous, because there's always lidocaine. Now if they just made licodaine for the brain, we all could be comfortably numb. If they did you probably wouldn't need to read this. But since you have stayed with me this long, I hope that you found these words somewhat entertaining. And that you will never be lonely or bored again.




Friday, October 28, 2016

TAKE MATTER INTO YOUR OWN HANDS

Yesterday my good friend Steve called me a Jew. Not sure whether that's a compliment or not. I am sure however that Kilmann meant Jew as in cheap. Leaving aside that my friend is himself Jewish, and that anyone who pays $50 each week to have their car hand-washed is not cheap - I think I know what prompted the epithet. Steve called me a Jew after I told him about my trials and tribulations with the gardener, who recently informed me it would be $350 to manure and seed the lawn, which he did just last January, and which will require extra watering during this drought we're in (today's downpour excepted). I decided to let the lawn be. That's a lot of green, pardon the pun. And after all grass is a weed. If removing it is so painstaking as to require heavy duty Roundup-type fertilizer, or suffocating it for months with newspaper and plastic, then I'll bet it can survive on minimal maintenance, as in once weekly watering. As evidence, I invite you to inspect the center divider in Beverly Hills along Sunset Blvd, which the city is no longer watering as a gesture of compliance with the current recommendations. It's holding up okay. It's just a little burnt looking. But burnt sienna is one of my favorite colors!

And so, as a gesture of my new do-it-yourself frame of mind, which I could also term my solidarity with do-it-yourselfers (and I am proudly entering the ranks) I went to town on a little flower bed adjacent to the swimming pool. Before I had at it, this flower bed was overrun with creepers which tangled through the roses and starved them of their water supply. The gardener - whose name is Juan, though I call him Ron, and both rhyme with lawn, which is what he's fleecing me for - said he'd redo said flower bed as part of his $350 fee. Which means adding manure there as well. Now, I hate the smell of cow shit. And the dog likes to roll in it every time he gets a chance, which means every day since that's how often he's in the yard. He likes to dabble the musk around his neck, then track it inside the house and spread it all over my comforter. Sometimes I actually wish I had sleep apnea... Not only that, but the sprinklers are always breaking, so what's the point in fixing them to supply precious water to a lawn that is forever thirsty and needing to be reseeded once or twice each year? What a horrendous waste! I'm convinced that whoever invented sprinklers was in league with the devil. As was whoever invented lawns and convinced residents that they are a status symbol which you must pay immigrants astounding sums to maintain.

Speaking of astounding sums, I was paying Juan $315 to come twice weekly and, as gardeners are wont, "mow, blow and go." Or rather my mother was, God rest her. Really reseeding the lawn or at least trimming the flowers should be part of this exorbitant sum he felt justified in charging. But it was not. So last month I cut him down to once a week, at $165 per week. And now he doesn't even come any more. Rather, he sends an assistant, a young guy perpetually hung over who looks like he'd rather be drinking than raking leaves. Because he doesn't rake any leaves! He merely blows them behind the shed. And that infernal blower. What noise pollution! I am convinced that it is less efficient than a rake, which makes no racket, pardon the pun. Was that even a pun? I'm getting rusty, like my rake. Now that was one...

Gardeners are overrated, I say. And to prove my theory, I applied my diligent attention to said flower bed. I was determined to be my own gardener. And watching Juan's assistant carefully this past month, watching him come once weekly, stay for 45 minutes, and scratch his crotch more than tidy the property (to the tune of $55 per hour, I might add, which is more than Uber drivers make, and they are citizens, indeed more than I've made at any point in my life, and I once worked as a medical doctor!) - watching this lazy bones do his thing, or not, as the case may be, I was already convinced that gardening is not all it's cracked up to be. Or it is. I mean it's not tough, but it is rewarding. 

And so, after three hours struggling with the flower bed and emerging with so many scratches I looked as though I had tussled with an alley cat in heat and lost, (roses smell like pooh pooh, and they are cruel too!), I emerged spent from my exertions. And here is my point: also with a supreme sense of accomplishment. I had achieved something, with blood, sweat and not a tear shed, and I could then stand back and not without some pride inspect the results. Which I did three times before the sun was down. In short I had taken matter, mother Earth, into my own hands. 

I still don't know if the flower bed looked better before or after I got through with it. It is a bit scraggly now. But one thing is sure: I made a difference! So after this month, I will bid Juan adieu. I can devote 1 hour a week at least to gardening. That is a 7-mile run. And I work out most every day. If my life ever gets so busy that tilling the land becomes onerous or impractical, then my priorities have gone askew and I need to get back to basics. And so should you. 

We outsource everything. We have maids clean our houses, services walk our dogs and buy our groceries. There are laundry-mats to do the wash, and car-washes to scrub our gas-guzzlers. We pay others to cook and serve our food. In short so many of life's necessary and constructive activities, which are also the most rewarding (if you can get past the initial tedium) we pay others to do when we could save money and with a little elbow grease do it ourselves. These tasks, however mundane or menial they may seem, can actually be a form of meditation, if performed deliberately and with a calm mind. Spending hours seated cross-legged in front of a candle is one way to still the mind. Doing it while degreasing your oven is mindful multitasking, as I like to call it.

So don't outsource. Downsource. Is that even a word? It is now. Shakespeare introduced hundreds of words and phrases into our language. What's good enough for the Bard, as they say. 

While I was at it, I decided to make a few other cost-saving adjustments to my monthly expenses. Car insurance at $200/month for full coverage? I hardly drive the expensive BMW I inherited from my mom anyway. Make that the minimum coverage for $25/month. Who needs a pool man to come twice each week, especially in the cold months when nobody swims anyway? Once a week saved me $720 per year. And TV that I never watch? I had an Internet/phone/TV bundle costing $234 per month. I downgraded to the basic plan and ditched the TV (or will today) to save $140 per month. So what if there will be three flat screens in the house that nobody uses. Maybe I can program them to display scenes from nature. Or I'll read about nature, because less time spent channel surfing means more time turning the page of my favorite periodical.

In all, my downsourcing will save me nearly $700 each month. Now I can almost afford that BMW I never drive. Which reminds me, she needs a wash.



Friday, October 21, 2016

THE VARIETY DIET

I was reading People Magazine's section called "What I Eat in a Day" featuring fitness competitor Tamra Judge, who is 49 and eats an astounding 4 meals, 3 protein shakes and 2 snacks each day. So nine times a day she is consuming food, or every 1.5 to 2 hours. The meals include a pre- and post-workout breakfasts as well as lunch and dinner and snack staples such as nut butter and yogurt. In the picture she looks a bit on the full side. No wonder. It says the total calorie count for this veritable feast comes to 2,700. She's 5'4 and probably weighs 120 lbs, which means she needs about 1700 calories to maintain her body at rest and burns another 1000 calories exercising. She admits to eating the same food every day, focusing on meal preparation to keep her on track and rarely indulging in alcohol. This is good advice. But I think it's better not to snack between meals. Let the stomach empty itself before filling it back up. Otherwise you're spending the entire day digesting, and digesting requires a lot of work!

In the spirit of something new, here is what I like to call the Variety Diet to try on for size. Days 1 and 2 are high protein, days 3 and 4 are high fat and days 5 and 6 are lighter cleansing days. On the seventh day you can rest, meaning eat what you want. If it's good enough for God, who purportedly took only six days to create everything under the sun including the sun, then taking it easy some is good for you too.

Day 1/2

Hot chocolate with stevia (use water rather than milk)

Protein Shake with chia seeds, raw vegan protein powder, banana and berries

Lunch of tempeh, 3 whole eggs, 4 oz fish with sliced bell pepper, tomato and cucumber

Dinner of 2 cups cooked broccoli and 1 cup to 1.5 cups lentils

Dessert: 1 serving protein powder mixed with water

Day 3/4

Coffee with 1 tbsp coconut oil and stevia

Breakfast of sliced cucumber, tomato and bell pepper with 1 whole avocado

Lunch: 1 steamed sweet potato with 2 cups steamed green beans

Dinner: 1 cup quinoa with 1 tbsp coconut oil and 1 cup steamed carrots

2 bananas with nut butter or raw nuts for dessert

Day 5/6

Black tea

As much juicy fruit as you want until noon. Examples include melons, apples, oranges, grapes and pineapples

Large salad with avocado and olive tapenade; 1 to 1.5 cups kidney beans or garbanzo beans

Dinner: 2 cups asparagus or other green vegetable with 1 tbsp coconut oil for flavor; 1 cup quinoa

Fresh fruit for dessert

Day 7

Off but go easy on the junk food.

This plan boasts enough variety to keep you stimulated. The common feature of each day is raw food only until noon, and a focus on fruits and vegetables.


THE VEGAN RETREAT

My five-month foray into eating animal flesh has come to a timely end. For nearly half a year I included 3 eggs and 5 to 10 ounces of fish in my daily diet. The fish was usually sardines or wild salmon. I adopted this dietstyle because I needed a change. At the time I reintroduced animal foods (after 7 years of being vegan) I didn't know how long it would last. If I felt good and liked the results, maybe being a flexitarian, as it's called, would be a lifelong thing. 

And there were benefits. I gained ten pounds of muscle, and got a whole lot stronger. Prior to increasing my protein consumption I had been experiencing nagging pain in my left leg from where I broke it in a bike accident 18 months before. At the time I was even considering surgery to remove the screws in my femur, even though the doctor said this wouldn't necessarily improve my condition. But shortly after introducing fish and eggs into my intake, the pain went away. The high quality protein must have repaired the damaged tissue. 

Eating animal products has its drawbacks, however. And these are especially noticeable to the erstwhile vegan. To be blunt, the biggest drawback is the stench. Animal foods smell. I've never met anyone who likes the aroma given off by raw fish, or who considers the fragrance of hard boiled eggs at all pleasant. All that hydrogen sulfide is noxious. It's no wonder sulfur, which practically singes my nose hairs, is associated with the devil. And these foods smell worse after the 3- to 5-day passage through 30 feet of human intestine. It smells an awful lot like raw sewage, because it is. 

There is also the matter of the slower transit through the GI tract. Being concentrated foods (high calories per gram) and lacking fiber, it takes fish and eggs a lot longer to traverse the small and large intestine than an equal amount of fruits and vegetables requires. Imagine cracking a raw egg and leaving it on the counter for a week in warm weather. I have done this. In high school I used to to style my hair with egg white (for the out of this world hold), and after three days in a cup on the bathroom counter the smell was absolutely putrid. So it's safe to say that eggs rot in the time between ingestion as food and excretion as stool. And as anyone who has used a gym bathroom knows, bodybuilders' farts smell to all hell! 


It got so bad that I couldn't live with myself. I reminded myself of that Peanuts character Pigpen, always surrounded by a cloud of bad air. Had I not been single and sleeping alone, I wouldn't have let this little inconvenience last as long as it did. But walking around with pounds of undigested food in the belly gets a bit tiresome after a while. Literally. I became sluggish on my runs, and my stomach always felt full. Not the full feeling you feel after eating a bunch of high fiber food like beans. This goes away in an hour. Full as in backed up. Even though I was still going to the bathroom several times a day. I know, TMI...

And there's a drawback to carrying extra muscle. Two weeks ago I developed a stitch in my side that progressed to a full back spasm practically overnight. I could hardly breathe. Sneezing, even coughing and blowing my nose, became impossibilities. This never happened to me during my plant-based days. I am only now fully recovering. Not only that, since adopting this new diet I've been breaking out in cold sores with disheartening regularity. HSV outbreaks are a sign of a depressed immune system. My body is probably so busy fighting all the pollutants in seafood (and even the cleanest ocean is filthy) that it is unable to keep the virus in check the way it usually does.

Recently I heard a story. A guy and his wife got lost in the woods. Rather than panic they sat down to contemplate their situation. Miraculously what they described as a wood nymph, a small elfin-like creature made of light and sporting a pair of wings, appeared and led them back to civilization. On the way they encountered a group of deer who didn't seem to be at all perturbed by the presence of humans. The man asked the fairy why the herbivores did not scatter as they usually do when accosted by the aggressors animals usually take people to be. "Because you don't stink of flesh," said the nymph. "You and your wife are not carnivores. The creatures sensed that they were safe and were unafraid." The couple are vegans.

And it's true. We give off vibrations, aromas, energies. Animals pick up on these energies with greater sensitivity than humans, so refined are their apparatus of perception. I see this every day. Let's just say that when after eating flesh I'd use the bathroom, my dog would take a keen interest in what occupied the porcelain god. Probably because it resembled dog food more than human food. Actually, Max himself disdains salmon. And he only sometimes accepts the eggs I make. What a snob!

If you study the world's longest lived peoples, they are primarily plant eaters. Animal foods comprise at most about 1% of their diet. This is about 200 calories a week, or 3 whole eggs. I was eating three whole eggs a day. Though moderate by the standards of most, my animal food consumption was way higher than what should be considered ideal. And so I'm over it. 

How to make the transition? Just cut it out cold turkey, which is the way I usually roll. Instead of eggs I'll have lentils, and fish will immediately give way to quinoa. These comfort foods are great in the warmer weather, and far more nutritious. I'll supplement with vitamin D and B12 and selenium to make up for what I'm giving up in salmon and scramble. 

And one thing is for sure, I can go back to being scent free at both sides of my body. Sorry to get graphic, but that's the truth. No more flexitarian. I don't like to be pigeonholed, so rather than say I'm a vegan I'll still use my pet term, cheagan. After all there's the Mexico trip next month and I'd be out of my mind to resist the allure of fresh-caught fish. During those four days south of the border, you'd do best not to get caught downwind of my south side. I wonder, does the expression "the family that breaks wind together stays together" have any truth whatsoever? We shall see, Cousin Steve, we shall see. Either that or we'll have to give the holiday a new handle. Thanksgiving will become Spanksgiving. As in he who smells it, deals it. So bring out the paddle, 'cause Sheriff Stinker is coming to town.

Ah, I crack myself up. Better me than any more of those nasty eggs!



Thursday, October 20, 2016

EXPAND YOUR ORISONS


Despite how carelessly and unthinkingly we at times toss them around, words are very important. So important in fact that it is believed we can achieve our wildest dreams by verbalizing our intention to be happy, to be free, to be well. And to win the game of life, and other games besides, there is really no more expedient method than through voicing our desires aloud in the humble spirit of prayer. 

The power of prayer is huge. I learned this when as a thirteen-year-old boy my nightly routine consisted of imploring the "power that be" for our baseball team to win our next game. I kept beseeching, we kept triumphing. First the district championship, where we bested cross-town rival Culver City in back to back one-run nail-biters, then onto section, and finally through division where we squeaked by a bigger and stronger team from Anaheim. We made history that summer of so long ago, no team in Beverly Hills before or since having made it as far as we did: all the way to the regionals, which took place in Arizona.

It has been said that the universe is a university, that we come to earth to further our spiritual growth. Despite what the body with its cravings may have us believe, we are spiritual beings at the core, don't you know? And we hail from a spirit realm compared to which the earth is a mere shadow of the beauty and glory from which it derives its inspiration. I speak from firsthand experience with the spirits of my deceased mom and brother that death is not an end but merely a transition. The "other side," or the Great Beyond, as I like to call the place from which we come and to which we return when our time on earth is done, is as real as anything under the sun.

There is a dynamic link between the spirit realm and ours and we need the disembodied souls to assist us with our progression in time and space. Assist us they are happy to do - provided we open our hearts and minds. And of course, provided we ask! Our guardian spirits want to help. Life's purpose, after all, boils down to selfless service. Countless accounts attest to the fact that whatever we become or do while in human form is meaningless unless we do it for the benefit of our fellow earthlings. We should use our gifts and talents not for selfish aims but for the greater good. And it is through service that we grow spiritually. It is clear that we volunteer to come to earth, and that each of us serves an integral purpose in the brief time that we are here, despite how unbelievable this may seem at times. You mean the drunks and druggies and pederasts and politicians actually contribute to the world's well-being?

Yes, we all perform a vital function. Even the degenerates. There are stories of spirits coming as drunks and debauchees to teach their better-off friends empathy for the afflicted. We are actors on the grand stage. So even when you feel baser emotions such as rage, know that this is just the part you are playing in the grand drama, however seriously you may take your role, however convinced you are by your own performance. Even sorrow has its place, for before we can know joy (which is another name for love, and love is after all our true nature) we must suffer at least a little. This is growth for the spirit, real growth, the type that is hampered by material comforts. An obsession with possessions and excessively catering to the flesh weaken the spirit and therefore these appetites must be curbed. There I go sounding like a grammar school nun!

How to be a better instrument in the hands of destiny? Harmonize body, mind and spirit. The spirit controls the mind, which governs the body. Eat healthy foods to strengthen and align your cells. Calm your mind through reflection and contemplation. Recognize the immense power of thoughts. This material realm is born in the ethers of the cosmic mind, which is its blueprint. Thoughts translate to words which translate to actions. What we think and say, we become. This is the awesome power of words. Any negativity spewing from our kissers sends ripples of raging chaos into our environment before coming back to harm ourselves. So silence is often best. In keeping with the liquid analogy, still waters run deep.

Depression has become a malady in the modern world. What else is this mental disorder but a state of exaggerated self-centeredness? Indeed being so preoccupied with your own cares and worries as to ignore those of your loved ones represents the height of selfishness. It saps a person's strength and health more than many physical ailments. When we concentrate on the needs of others and attempt to serve our fellow human beings, we invite healing into our lives. We become our own personal physician! As one author writes, "service is a balm to both the spirit and body." 

Truly we can recharge ourselves through positive thoughts, through helping others, and through faith that things will always work out in the end. All experience is after all for the good. In the workshop of the world, we are fashioned into perfect tools for the highest purpose. Even those experiences we deem negative or otherwise unpleasant help to develop our spirits. Even diseases such as cancer, and the drawn-out death that too-often ensues, provide a person with the opportunity for growth she otherwise would not have had in perfect health. It is said we even choose our own illnesses and afflictions, for the lessons they teach us! Also, some people choose to die to help others grow. It was said of my brother Justin, "He died so you could live." I believe this. There are no accidents. Everything is exactly as it should be. So don't take your life. And aren't there so many forms of suicide? Junk food, cigarettes, benders, self-defeating beliefs. The body is a temple, and so is the mind. Suicide deprives us of opportunities for greater development and service in the laboratory that is life. Reflection on what might have been becomes a source of sorrow and regret. I need to remind myself this when I think about baseball. Our greatest challenges are also our greatest teachers, and since creations starts with a thought, think happy ones. I really think that if the likes of Hemingway and Hoffman and Houston and so many other talented if afflicted souls had decided to postpone their premature exits for the morrow, they'd still be around to talk about it. This too shall pass is a cliche because it's true! Boy this is sounding like a pep talk.

When we come to earth, we suffer a sort of amnesia, a forgetting where we came from and why we're here. We need this forgetfulness, at least for a time. The spirit realm is so delightful that if we could remember its glory and perfection, we might live in a state of constant frustration here on this troublesome earth, which would prevent us from fulfilling our mission. So treat life as a school where you can learn many things and develop new attributes, even if you sometimes must sit still and behave. And know that when it's over you go home to some place great. While here, remember that we all desire to make the trip. And always that desire is born of love and service, however forgetful of our origins we have become. To connect with your destiny, contemplate it. Sit in silence. Your memories are contained in the cells of you body. All thoughts and experiences are recorded in the subconscious, which sees everything. You are the eternal witness. Your death has been appointed before you were born, and everything between birth and death has been willed - by you! The remembering of your purpose the Greeks called anamnesis.  Because it has a name, remembering is therefore possible. So, do it!

As for that baseball team of so long ago, when we got to Phoenix, for some reason I still cannot figure out, I stopped praying. And the result? I promptly fell into a hitting slump and after two straight losses in double elimination our team was sent home. How I cried as we lost our final game. Right there on the field, just sobbed my little heart out. What really stung then as now is that we were the best team by far in that tournament, a favorite to go all the way to the national championships. Maybe South Everett, the team that dealt us our final defeat, had said their orisons the night before and therefore had God and the angels (or whoever answers prayers) on their side. Maybe the Union City kids who went onto the championship in Michigan needed victory more than a bunch of kids from ritzy Beverly Hills. I guess it's all meant to be. Anyway, some of the best friendships of my life were forged that summer of '86. I love you, Bryan and Deej and Jay. Near or far, you're like angels in my heart. I pray for you, and you Nick, and Robby, and Schneider and Weigold and Newman and the rest of the crew. Guide us, protect us, direct us. May all the beings everywhere be happy and at peace.





Monday, October 17, 2016

IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED...

My mom's memorial service is coming up. If you live nearby or would like to attend, it will be held at the Good Shepherd Church on Santa Monica and Roxbury in Beverly Hills at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 12th. Both my brother and I will probably deliver eulogies on this great lady, and thinking about what I'd say I remember giving my brother Justin's eulogy after he died of cancer in 1996 at the age of 22. I went through his bedroom for inspiration and came away with a scrapbook of his in which I found the words, "In pain lies happiness." Yes, with his numerous accidents and surgeries and mishaps, Justin experienced more than his fair share of physical pain, and his threshold was so much higher than the rest of us mere mortals. The boy had such a hard head, in both senses of the term. But Justin also suffered a lot. 

I thought about the difference between pain and suffering, then about the meaning of suffering, and the purpose of life. Because though the terms are often used interchangeably, suffering doesn't necessarily mean experiencing pain. The word commonly appears in the context of physical discomfort, but I can say that some of the times I have suffered the most have not involved any flesh and blood wound whatsoever. The word suffer is derived from the Latin word for "to bear," and in its truest sense it means to bear or be subjected to something bad or unpleasant. There is usually an emotional or psychological - dare I say a spiritual? - element to suffering, which contrasts it from pain. A broken bone is painful, but you suffer if a loved one breaks her leg. 

Suffering is unavoidable in life. Sooner or later, adversity is inevitable. Failures occur. Shit happens, as they say. For many, the death of a loved one represents the first instance of suffering. And if you have ever experienced this type of loss, you can attest that suffering grief or bereavement is often more unpleasant than physical pain. At least you know that the pain of a stubbed toe will subside, but the emptiness that ensues after a beloved says goodbye seems to go on forever, and it seems to gnaw at your very soul!!!

So what is the purpose of suffering? Why must we experience this emotion? The answer is not so simple. Unlike pain, whose purpose is clear and essential to our survival. Pain causes you to attend to a wound, and, as in the case of a broken bone, not move your injured limb so the body has an opportunity to repair itself, with or without the help of a surgeon's scalpel. Many if not all animals experience or appear to experience pain, mammals especially. Whether fish find being sliced open and gutted painful, whether suffocating outside the ocean is excruciating is a subject for debate. Do plants feel pain? If they do, it is unlike the pain humans know. Plants lack nerves, and do not bleed. Without mouths to scream their agony would fall on deaf ears anyway. 

But suffering is uniquely human. I noticed this with my mother's death. Her poodle, Max, remained by her side during her final days. Guarding her day and night, he was intensely protective of her, growling and snarling at anyone who came too close. Regardless of their intentions. He even bit my grandmother on the hand and caused her to bleed when her fingers merely caressed the folds of my mother's bedding. Mad Max made it clear that if you wanted to interact with my mom, you had to go through him. Which meant keep your distance. But the moment my mother left her body, Max left her side, never to return. Indeed not fifteen minutes after she expired, he fetched his tennis ball and all he wanted to do was play the rest of the day. His job was done. In the ensuing days many tears were shed for my mother, by her sons and her sisters and my grandma with her wounded hand and whoever else came to visit, and many dropped by. But Max never even got back up on my mom's bed. And in the two months since her passing he seems not to miss her at all, or if he does not to suffer, or not to show it. So much for Max.

As for humans, I think I know why we suffer. It has something to do with another factor that like suffering is uniquely human. I mean our capacity for reflection, for introspection. For it is only when we suffer that we wonder about the meaning of life, that we question the purpose of existence. Before suffering visits our world, we are so caught up in the sheer enjoyment of living, experiencing, tasting of life's pleasures. We are like kids, blissfully immersed in our social circles and little dramas that we have not time to give a thought to the big picture. Who has the desire to go inward when there are so many outward things vying for our time and titillating our mind?

But suffering makes us wary. The phrase once bitten, twice shy applies. After we suffer loss, we start to question things. We become hesitant to dive into life's manifold adventures, wondering when next a catastrophe will cause us displeasure. Things begin to feel trivial. We lose our taste for what formerly delighted us. It is not uncommon for someone suffering depression (and mental illness is often caused by personal tragedy) to lose interest in pastimes. Indeed this is the hallmark of the mood disorder. It is called anhedonia, which means the inability to feel pleasure. 

It is interesting to note that most major religions, particularly the more philosophical ones (read: Eastern), occupy themselves almost exclusively with this question. What is the purpose of life? And if it is only when we suffer that we temporarily leave off the enjoyment of life's entertainments and turn inward to seek out life's true meaning, we find that suffering's purpose is a grand one. 

So, what is the purpose of life? If you trust the testimonies of those who have undergone near death experiences (NDEs) - incidents in which individuals are declared clinically dead and later resuscitated, and report that in the interval between life and death they left their physical body and visited what appeared to be the realm of the afterlife, populated by "beings of light" who served as guides - if, I say, these testimonies are to be believed, then life's purpose is two-fold.

Over and over those who have brushes with death and leave their bodies to contact the ethereal realm repeat the message that we must learn to replace anger with love, learn to love more, learn to forgive and learn to love everyone unconditionally. Not only that, but each of us must learn that we are indeed loved very, very much. Isn't that a much harder lesson for some of us? I know it is for me. I sometimes feel that if I vanished from the face of the Earth right now I would hardly be missed! What prevents me from doing the deed as they say is beyond me. It probably has to do with my aversion to pain. I dislike physical discomfort so much that I am willing to bear spiritual suffering. Existential angst is so much cleaner than a slit wrist. I know, poor me.

Anyway, the only moral criterion used by guardian beings of light in helping us evaluate our life seems to be our ability to love and be loved. All else falls by the wayside. This means therefore that much of what we hold so dear - earning money, gaining fame, watching porn and eating pizza - is really very meaningless in the grand scheme. It also means that what we judge others for - being slovenly, for instance, or lazy, or fat or drinking too much - is equally meaningless. The message is clear. Do anything. Be a stripper, an alcoholic, a slovenly slacker with a spare tire if you wish. Just so long as you love. There is no right or wrong in the life eternal. There is only love or its absence. The barometer of grace, if there is one, is compassion. If your intentions are pure, then the results of your actions, or the size of your waistline, are incidental. We are in this world to learn how better to love. 

Speaking of learning, knowledge appears to be the second purpose of life. Especially, as Michael Talbot writes, "knowledge related to self-growth or that enhances one's ability to help other people." Learning is continuous and does not end with death. However much Prada and Gucci and other manufacturers of finery would wish you to believe otherwise, it is not material possessions but knowledge that you can take with you after you leave your body. The mystery is that in light of the infinite library of information that we purportedly have access to once we depart terra firma for the spirit realm, which led the ancient Greeks to say that we never learn anything on Earth but rather merely remember it - in light of the infinite library of information that we come from and go back to, why should the quest for knowledge be so important in this world? Not even NDErs know for sure. But it is suspected that it has something to do with the ability each of us has to reach out and help our fellow beings. Until more news from the other side arrives (mom can you hear me?), I leave you with the final words of one NDEr, Mrs. Betty Eadie, who in her 1992 best-seller, Embraced by the Light, concludes: "Above all else, love one another." 

It seems that like Hinduism and Buddhism and mystical interpretations of Islam and Judaism, with their constant questioning of life's true purpose, Christianity is not far off the mark when providing the answer. For it was Christ who urged his followers to love God above all else and love one's neighbor as oneself.

Or at least continue to try. Because if at first you don't succeed, you can get 'em in another life.



ALL-STAR FOODS


I am continuously bombarded by requests to prescribe the perfect meal plan. A stand-alone diet that can not only meet nutritional needs and satisfy caloric requirements, but also increase athletic performance while leaning a person out and, perhaps most importantly, making her feel fulfilled so that cravings disappear. Is this too much to ask? From the preponderance of diet books on the market, each offering a different and sometimes mutually exclusive version of "the truth," one would think that such a diet doesn't exist. While it is true that people are unique, we all have similar digestive apparatuses. So there should be at least some common ground.

What I've noticed after years of following a high carbohydrate vegan diet is that a higher fat intake can help improve dietary compliance. In short, fat makes you feel full and satisfies you for longer periods of time. It also tastes hella good, and please permit the coarse figure of speech.

And so, to keep matters simple, I suggest consuming 10 foods every day and only these foods for as long as you can or until your desired body is achieved. Such a meal plan, being somewhat regimented, allows you to fulfill the very human desire of having discipline in one's life. But because some of the foods are classes rather than individual items - for example green vegetables, and also berries - this dietary regimen provides enough variety to keep boredom at bay. 

Each of the ten foods occupies an essential place in the diet. In other words they are included for a purpose and not just to satisfy your palate.

Bananas fill a person up while providing essential nutrients like vitamin B6, potassium and fiber. 

Strawberries and other berries are higher in anti-oxidants than virtually any other food.

Chia seeds are an excellent source of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. 

Soybeans and other legumes provide protein, phosphorous, folate and fiber, and tempeh is a great fermented food made from soybeans that enhances digestibility of nutrients. 

Green vegetables are not only the most nutritious foods on the planet but are also extremely delicious when delicately prepared. They also provide variety as there are so many options available, from broccoli and Brussels sprouts to asparagus and collard greens. 

Eggs are an excellent source of high-quality protein and also of certain hard-to-obtain nutrients including selenium, an anti-oxidant, as well as B12, vitamin D and choline.

An alternative to eggs for those who include animal protein in the diet, low-mercury fish such as wild salmon and sardines provide protein, flavor and many essential minerals. 

Coconut oil is high in medium chain fatty acids, which are an excellent energy source. A couple tbsps a day really enhances the flavor of cooked vegetables. 

Vegetable fruits are also an essential food. Cucumbers, tomatoes and bell peppers are not only refreshing, delicious and high in water, but they are also very nutritious. Bell peppers for instance have more vitamin C than oranges, and are higher in vitamin A than carrots. They make great snacks.

Speaking of snacks, nuts provide flavor, fat and add variety to the diet. There are many to choose from, including Brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews and pecans. But be sure to emphasize raw and unsalted varieties. 

So once again our star foods are bananas, berries, chia seeds, green vegetables, vegetable fruits. eggs, fish, coconut oil, nuts and beans. What does a diet including these and only these foods look like?

Breakfast smoothie with 1 cup water, 2 frozen bananas, 1 cup strawberries and 1/4 cup chia seeds.

Lunch of 2 cups steamed broccoli with 1 tbsp coconut oil, 3 whole eggs and 3.75 ounces of tempeh. 1 bell pepper

Dinner of 2 cups steamed green beans with 1 tbsp coconut oil, 1 big tomato or cucumber, 6 oz of fish or 1.5 cups of beans.

Dessert of 2 tbsp nuts and 1 or 2 bananas.

Snack on berries and bananas during the day if desired.

As far as nutrition, this diet plan provides around 2000 calories and 100% or more of most vitamins and minerals. Of note, you get 80 grams of fiber, which is double the recommended intake for men. Happy regularity! Oh, and if you require or desire more calories, simply eat more of these foods. A second smoothie is a great way to refresh the day. The sky is the limit. Better yet, the size of your stomach.






Thursday, October 13, 2016

WINGS ARE OVERRATED

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The 1987 movie Wings of Desire is about angels. These invisible, immortal beings move among the unsuspecting populace, hearing their thoughts and comforting those in distress. It is set in a Berlin which though 30 years old resembles most big cities today: throngs of distracted cosmopolitans are constantly rubbing elbows but everyone feels isolated and estranged. This was before smart phones! One angel falls in love with a human, a lonely trapeze artist, and chooses to become a man himself to enjoy food and other sensory pleasures. He craves the genuine if limited existence in the world, and takes a body to experience human love. They unite in the end, and when they meet it's as if they've always known each other. Their romance is continued in the sequel Faraway, So Close! Both movies are now cult classics. The film didn't impress me when I saw it in my early twenties. I couldn't get past the subtitles. But the notion of angels in our midst did stick. And I'm not alone.



In a not so recent Time Magazine poll, the majority of Americans, or nearly 70%, believe in angels. The poll was for an article published in 1993, which I remember reading as though it were only yesterday. Now you may think that the fact of our living in a predominantly Christian culture would explain our cherubic predisposition. Because eighty-three percent of Americans identify as Christians. But over half of Christians are Protestants, and though angels feature prominantly in the Bible, Protestantism excludes these lightsome spirits. By contrast, the other major world religions, Judaism, Islam, as well as Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism, affirm the existence of angels. Winged features even appear in depictions by ancient Sumerians, Egyptians and Assyrians.

It is believed that medieval theologians conjured angels to reconcile an inaccessible God with fallible humankind. That to bridge the gap between the mortal and eternal and cope with fear of death and eternal damnation, winged spirits were created to ease man's arduous journey from the here to the hereafter. And you can understand the modern appeal. Underlying so much calamity, war, disease, drugs, sorrow and fear is the belief in a force more potent than any earthly power to provide what we all yearn for in our hearts: peace. Aren't superheroes modern angels? Like angels, they are superior minds freed from the frailty and limitations of perishable bodies. Like aliens, they are a form of extra-cosmic intelligence. In place of wings, they have capes. Angels are believed to assume bodies as needed to carry out a task, which usually involves rescuing a person in distress or helping us cope with fears. Angels are said to disguise themselves as a dream, a comforting presence, a pulse of energy, or a person, to get their message across. As one author claims, angels give people only as much information as we can bear, and in a form that we can bear it. In moments of heightened awareness, as occurs when everyday life gets disrupted by a fear or obstacle, angelic experiences occur more frequently. Angels help us not escape hardship but to better cope with it.

The hierarchy of angels based upon the work of 5th century thinker Dionysius includes nine choirs and recognizable entitites like cherubim and seraphim. There are angel experts who will tell you that each of us has a guardian angel. These wise, loving and largely ignored beings offer help whether we ask for it or not. Of course to solve the problems of Earth we will have to do it ourselves, with or without supernatural guidance. In this spirit, some therapists take it a step further and invite their patients to get in touch with their inner angel. This is frowned upon by traditional church leaders who accuse these angel psychotherapists of trafficking in discount spirituality, but the fact is that humans can only invent what we have lying dormant in ourselves, what we are. Is it too much of a stretch to say that you are a guardian, and me? Or that we can be?

There are four levels of consciousness. The demonic, the animal, the human and the divine. The demonic seeks to harm others for the pleasure of seeing people suffer. The quintessential demon was Lucifer. It should be remembered that Satan himself was once an angel. Animals exist for the gratification of the senses. They eat, sleep, breed and defend their territory. Sound like anyone you know? If like me you spent a part of your college experience in a fraternity, then probably. Humans are characterized by conditional love. We love our significant other for what he can do for us, how he makes us look or feel. But divine love, the love angels have for us, is universal in scope and unconditional in nature. Angels love just because. It is an outflowing of their essence. 

All too often humans descend into the bestial. Sensory gratification dominates our lives. But we can also elevate our love to touch the sky. We can become angels on Earth. Every time you lend a helping hand, or a shoulder, or a compassionate ear, you are playing guardian angel to some mortal in distress/angel-to-be. You too are the stuff of stardust. Just leave the cape at home. Wings are overrated anyway. You can learn to fly without them.




LOVE FEST


The scriptures discuss the various paths by which one comes to realize God. Three major ways are mentioned. The way of knowledge (jnana); the way of action (karma); and the way of bhakti (love and devotion). Respectively, these paths involve a life of study, a life of selfless service to others, and a life of surrender to the Self that is the soul of all. 

Each path has its proponents. Lovers of wisdom say that the path of action (karma) is prescribed only for purification of the mind, not for realization of the Self, while bhaktis counter that knowledge of the truth of the Self (jnana) is out of the reach of the mind and only obtainable by devotion to a higher power. But you are that Higher Power.

This talk of various paths is based on the illusion that you are somewhere and the Self is someplace else and you must go and strive and attain it. But in fact the Self is here and now and you are always It. The Self is synonymous with Love. Let its radiance shine as Love. The path of Love transcends those lesser ascents. Love (denoted by the Sanskrit word prema) is the shortcut, whereby the separate individual paths of bhakti, jnana and karma yogas converge and are subsumed. 

Intense love provides direct access to your essence. By developing an attitude of merging with the divine in all that you do, this attitude of dedication, of surrender to the divine will is the best means of realizing the Self. It is not enough to see God in a particular guru, master or deity (Christ or Buddha, for instance) and then be cruel to and careless with others. Remember Christ’s golden rule to love all as yourself. Krishna said: “One who has realized God sees God everywhere and in all. To look upon all beings as Myself, and to shape one’s conduct towards them accordingly, in thought, word and deed – that is the best method of worship.” 

That is Love.

You realize that all you know is love, that your heart is infinite and everywhere. And you give your heart freely to others until love consumes you so completely that it has turned your false self to dust and freed you of every concept and image your mind has ever known. Love is the funeral pyre on which you place your personal self. All your worldly cares, the false notions of yourself that once caused fear, disintegrate as you near the Self. And you celebrate the madness, the sheer joy, of seeing God everywhere! The path of love is so astoundingly glorious that along it your mind is obliterated and you become what you are: Inconceivable. The poets say that out of a great need we are all holding hands and climbing through life. Not loving is a letting go.

“Life is a love contest and you can only win.” (Hafiz)

And as you love, all your worry and sorrow apologize and confess they were a great lie. Because there is no other, there is nothing to fear. The universe is always willing to provide you with helpful reminders of the Oneness. In your dreams your dream self experiences fear from characters that on waking you find were figments of your own imagination. No matter what happens in your reveries, your waking body is unaffected. This same relationship exists between the false self and the Self as it truly is. Just as the water of a mirage cannot wet the desert sand, this unreal world can never harm the One (you) who is its basis.
So, Love.

As you love you realize that in a limitless universe with a circumference of infinity each individual stands as its center. That your existence is too sacred to ever end. And you see God everywhere, and dancing.

So, Love.

Today’s age is obsessed with reaching the farthest reaches of exploration, of discovering the seed of the universe and developing a theory of everything. What scientists neglect is that we are greater than anything the mind can fathom. Imagine trying to lift a boulder while standing atop it! And so you should discover what is immediate and intimate, instead of trying to find out what is distant and unknown.

So, Love.

Just like an organism transmitted microscopically to another, though invisible to the naked eye, your peace of mind, this Love, is subtly contagious.

Once you liberate your mind from its innate restlessness, freeing it from distractions and breaking its outward bent training it to look inward, you see the world through eyes of peace, caught in that pure state that momentarily intervenes between sleep and waking, in which you are pure consciousness seeing the world with clear eyes. And what do you see? To paraphrase a Sufi master, that the world is a workshop where everyone strives to build enough love to break the chains of the mind. That your wounds can only heal when you forgive this dream.

When you surrender the illusion of free-will, yet still live for the benefit of others, when you listen to strangers as if everyone were your master revealing to you her deepest secrets, when you love others, even unfamiliars, as though they sprang from your very loins, you have attained your destiny. 

Imagine a world where you were judged by the purity of your feelings and the capacity of your affections. Celebrate love in the grand festival of your heart and you will help bring heaven to Earth. Paradise is here today.



Wednesday, October 12, 2016

INNER SPACE


In January of 2013 National Geographic magazine published an article entitled "Restless Genes." It was about "the compulsion to see what lies beyond that far ridge or that ocean - or this planet," and how it's a defining part of human identity and success. The article discusses the uniquely human obsession with filling in the Earth's maps and exploring distant poles and high peaks, with sailing all the oceans and even leaving the planet. The question gets raised as to what gives rise to our "madness" to explore, what drives us to the moon and beyond? 

Of course there are genetic candidates, such as a gene called DRD4, which controls dopamine. Dopamine is instrumental in learning and reward. Roughly 20 percent of all humans carry a variant of this gene, which researchers tie to restlessness and curiosity. These risk-takers explore new places and opportunities, including drug and sex, and generally embrace change and adventure. I can think of a few friends that probably carry it. Hello Steve and Deej! The gene is also closely associated with ADHD. If your hyperactive kid is destined to become the next Cousteau, that's all the reason I'd give not to medicate little Johnny. 

DRD4 is also tied to human migration, and those who carry it within nomadic tribes are stronger and better fed, but if they live as settled villagers they tend to waste away. The conclusion scientists derive from this is that a restless person is fed on adventure and therefore thrives in a changeable environment but languishes in a stable one. Whether or not our tendency toward adventure will ever be definitively tied to a gene or group of genes is doubtful. "Genetics doesn't work that way," says one scientist. 

And really, all humans can be great explorers, since we all have the triad of great mobility, unparalleled dexterity, and imaginative thinking. Imaginative thinking is by far our biggest asset, and my imagination was excited by the time I finished the article, which made me resolve to become an explorer myself. But not of some distant domain, such as outer space. Rather I renewed my commitment to explore shall we say inner space. I've done a lot of traveling. I even lived abroad for a time. But the restlessness that characterized my 20s and part of my 30s has long since given way not to a complacency, but to a contentment. Make your outer life monotonous so your inner life may shine, to paraphrase one writer. Or as the sage Ramana Maharshi put it, "Great spiritual accomplishments can be won in the privacy of your own study - provided you resist the Herculean temptations to leave home."

In short, I became restless to be restful. And without a car physically I could not go very far.

As I near the 4 year anniversary of my resolve to be a navigator of the inner realm, I wonder what if anything I have discovered. More often than not when I sit down to meditate I drift off to slumber. And when I don't, the thoughtless state is so like sleep I have a hard time telling the difference. The vacant mind may as well be unconscious, because the moment you are aware that you are conscious, you are by definition thinking. I wish I could say I've had life-changing revelations during these 45 months. Yes I have written books, and read many more besides, but their details escape me. Have I gained greater insight into the deeper workings of my psyche, into the machinery of my emotions? Perhaps. But thoughts and feelings change, and as quickly as you grasp one it gives way to another, doesn't it? While I am certainly able to communicate my thoughts and feelings better than ever, the same goes for anyone who chooses to pick up the pen and practice putting words on the page. You too can get good at self-expression in no time. 

I think more than anything I have become more content just being. I am less distracted, less prey to destructive thoughts. More patient. Yes I still curse when the pooch tarries around a gutter - Max is such a "junk yard dog"! - albeit the obscenities I mutter are under my breath. And I consider ending my life when a back spasm makes living it almost impossible. But like everything else, these thoughts and feelings pass. More than anything I remain fixed as the witness of the show, watching my every movement, observing how I react to situations, and understanding what my reactions say about me. The world is a mirror and everywhere you turn you see your own reflection. Narcissus had it easy. I don't always admire what I see.

Also, I live more consciously. And in this settled time I have hardly left the house except when absolutely necessary. Like today, when I needed groceries, and the car's tires needed air. We should all become explorers of the soul, navigators of our own inner reality. As one holy person has said, "Don't waste your time dallying along the shore collecting broken shells. These are so many worthless trinkets and baubles. Instead plunge headlong into the ocean of your nature and see what pearls lie at its depths." When I first heard the expression "Follow the master, face the devil, fight to the end, and finish the game," I thought the game was life, and finishing it meant making money, earning some renown, popping out 2.4 kids along the way and maybe making timely mortgage payments. I now realize that the master is your inner voice and the devil is the ego-based personality that seeks selfish ends. The fight is between the two selves, lower and higher. And the game is Self-realization. The secret to its success lies in turning within. And more than scaling peaks or sailing seas, more than discovering new apps or earning a pretty penny, if you can master yourself, if you can learn to sit silent and still and dwell in the inner reality, you deserve to have your name in the record books, as I see it. Because not many have come before you, and you are a beacon to all that tread the path hereafter.