A blog about nothing.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD MAY BE YOUR OWN


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Wouldn't it be great if everyone said what they meant? This is the question the makers of the Citi Double Cash Card ask and answer in the affirmative. I ask you this: Wouldn't it be great if you revealed your innermost secrets at parties? I too answer yes, it is. It happened to me just the other day. I wasn't at a party exactly. Rather, I was lying in bed on the phone with my friend Quinn. But it's always a party when Quinn and I gab so I'm partially right. 

While on the phone I proceed to tell Quinn about these pesky outbreaks of genital herpes I get every now again on my lower back and hips. I tell her this as a deterrent, in case she wants to have sex with me. Although Quinn was born three months almost to the day after I was, back in good ole 1973, she is far too old for me. See, I don't go for girls in their forties. I'll maybe make an exception for a dame in her early thirties, provided she has never been married and has no kids. Few that I have met have met what I think is a rather modest set of criteria. Girls in their twenties are hit or miss. Many of them are immature, and most are still sowing their wild oats. Which is why I am partying on the phone with Quinn, but only partially. I also really like talking to her, and not only because she doesn't judge me for my condition, which I contracted at some point when I was also sowing oats.

Quinn of course proceeds to tell me about her own STD history, which is rather storied, involving as it does not one but two conditions, and more than one case of one, and neither of which I have had, and both of which have been cured. Aren't I lucky I convinced you not to have sex with me, I say. Quinn's reply is that she had been with a carrier of HSV and is virus free. I wish more people knew that the chances of contracting this condition even while having unprotected sex is quite small, provided there are no active lesions. And here had I never opened up about this tarnished trophy of my less than illustrious past, I'd never have heard of her own skeletons, and clearing the air ended up bringing us closer. But not close enough to have sex. Been there done that with Quinn. Over twenty-five years ago, and it was fun, so why mess with that memory? As Sade sings, it's never as good as the first time, so it must be true.

My belief that secrets are made to be revealed was reinforced when I met a guy at a party over the weekend. This was a real party, at my brother's house. Peter and I were talking about farts, which is what straight males sometimes do as a form of bonding. Peter shared that certain culinary indiscretions indulged in over the weekend had left him feeling bloated and gassy. And so he was spending Sunday on a fast. The parties my brother throws have a lot of delicious finger foods, so not a good place to test one's willpower. I asked whether while in bed with his girlfriend and their dogs Peter had let out a few inadvertent toots and blamed it on the pooch. I asked not because I believed he would ever do such a thing, but because when I was with my girlfriend Shannon, back in 2002, I used to fart beneath the covers like crazy and then scream at her adorable little chihuahua, Adidas, to cut it out.

I didn't realize such shady behavior is so widespread until Peter tells me that of course he did this and doesn't everyone? So you see, what you do has likely been done many times by many different people. Unless you're something like a serial killer or a pedophile or both, you can trust that even your deepest, darkest secrets are shared by many members of the general population. So breathe a sigh of relief. And if you have herpes, whether you know it or not, you're one of about one in five American who do. So get over it, and get over my having it. Can we have sex now?

Truth be told, I'm still doing the celibate thing and loving it. Partly to increase my focus while I meditate, and partly to save my sperm rather than lose hundreds of millions of those little critters per pump. A vasectomy allows a guy to ejaculate without losing these precious sex cells, but I for one wouldn't want to undergo a procedure which leaves me sore down there for months and makes procreation an impossibility. I like to keep my options open. Celibacy is nice, but I always reserve the right to change my mind.

And I have changed my mind, regarding work. I used to think that I never wanted to hold another job for as long as I live, but this morning I had a stunning realization that I was put on this Earth for the express purpose of helping others write their life stories. I have some experience in this regard. A few years ago I helped a former high school buddy of mine, Jeff, to write his memoir in which we treated his struggles with rheumatoid arthritis en route to his heroic ascent to the top of Mount Everest. Alas, our book, which we entitled Walking with the Goddess (title mine) didn't sell but I loved the process of bringing the pages into existence. I took raw material that Jeff, who is not a writer, had composed, and then, writing in the first person, as Jeff, I fleshed out his story, first by asking my friend hundreds of questions about his motivations, fears, hopes, dreams, etc. It was like being part therapist part private investigator, but I wasn't tailing some woman he thought had cheated on him. I was plumbing the depths of his soul!

Since then I've had several friends ask me to co-write an account of their lives. There's my friend Steve, who suffered a debilitating car wreck and went on to become a medical doctor before succumbing to drug addiction. Real roller coaster, that one. And my friend Michael, who is a successful real estate developer with a catchy five-point plan for success. And my dad's lovely wife, Sylvia, who recently had a dream that I'd help sire her success story. There's also the cousin who used to be in adult film with her sojourn through Sodom, but only when the time is right (read: her kids are all gwown up). My dad is currently writing his own memoir and has been stuck on the preface since February. If I didn't think it would bruise his ego I'd offer to help him see this book through to completion, but he's a proud man who likes to do things himself. 

I've generally declined these proposals, because the timing hasn't been quite right. For most of the last year I have been too in the throes of coping with my mother's death from cancer, which occurred last August, to devote my energies to someone else's drama. And I'm still coping. But as we near the year anniversary that she left her body, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I'll pass through to the golden other side by making my mother's life story the first book of the kind I write. This book will be my fulfillment of the request she made to me in the last month of her Earthly existence.  And it will provide a nice culmination to what she designated as my year of mourning. 

If things go well I may be the next Andrew Morton, who has written a few best-sellers of this kind on subjects ranging from Princess Diana and Madonna to Monica Lewinsky and Angelina Jolie. Morton got a seven-figure advance for his work on the queen of pop, but I'm not doing this for the money. Sure I'd need some monetary compensation, but I enjoy hearing about another person's life, and by asking questions help them see the connections between even the most seemingly unrelated experiences. And the realization that results is that each life is perfect and part of the grand design. People gravitate to me as writing partner in part because I am a writer, in part because I am a medical doctor who for a time considered psychiatry as a career, and also because they feel they can reveal their deepest secrets to me, as I so often reveal my own.

You see each of us has a great story to tell. This may not be the case on the surface of many seemingly humdrum lives, but once you scratch the surface and connect all the dots you wind up with a grand tapestry which, like a snowflake, is fantastically intricate and uniquely you. Okay I feel like Jerry Mcaguire with his office manifesto. 

But if you need someone to help you understand your story, sure you can visit a therapist, but come to me and we'll leave no stone unturned. You'll come away with the greatest story ever told, and for less than the average shrink's fee. Of course we'll call it something other than The Greatest Story Ever Told, which has been done before, and rather well. One thing is for sure: before it's all through, we'll pull out the Christ in you.
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Saturday, July 15, 2017

INCREASE THE PEACE


I was on the phone with my friend the other day when we kept getting disconnected. She called me back and joked that if it happened again she would start to think I didn't like her. I replied that she was the one with the cell phone, and a land line, which is what I have, rarely goes dead. 

Think back to the days of your wall-mounted phone. Did you ever lose your connection? Granted I use a cordless phone, and the battery does at times act up, but not nearly as frequently as a cell phone drops a call. My phone is as reliable as my Internet connection which is pretty solid. Then the phone went dead again, and Bryn called back telling me if I didn't want to talk to her I should just say so! I gave in and said my end was the faulty one, she was right, and going forward if we ever had a disagreement about anything we should have as a standing policy that the fault is always mine. Like any woman, or for that matter person, she liked the prospect of being always right. It was like carte blanche for our friendship, a term I know she understands, being Canadian. 

Of course I was the one joking this time. Friendship, like love, is a two-way street and it involves compromise. If it's always your way or mine, then it devolves into a dictatorship, or America with Trump as president. Kidding. But really it's good advice for life. If ever you have a problem with somebody, a disagreement or misunderstanding or conflict of interests or clash of wills, you should just assume that you bear all the blame. One hundred percent of it. 

Why? Because the personality traits we often dislike in others are the very ones we ourselves possess. And so the people we interact with are like mirrors, presenting reflections of what we need to see in ourselves. I'm talking about your father's need to dispense advice and never take it, your brother's coming off as holier than thou, the friend of a friend's making light of a situation that should be taken seriously, etc. These are all aspects of you. Or of me. Sometimes I forget who I'm talking to.

I was watching a show last night about the Akashic Records. This is a quantum field of waves somewhat like the Cloud that is a repository of all the information in the Universe, past, present and future and including all dimensions. You can access it in meditation or in moments of inspiration. I watched Deepak Chopra's brain light up with rare wave patterns as, sitting in the neuroscientist's office, he slipped into a deep meditation. This cosmic consciousness, as Chopra puts it quoting Mahesh Yogi and Maurice Bucke, is what psychics and prognosticators like Nostradamus and the Bulgarian Baba Vanga tapped into to arrive at their stunningly accurate predictions of world events. Sadly many of the events they foresaw have been catastrophic, like 9/11 and Fukushima and Hitler's trail of devastation. And the colonization of Mars, which some say has already happened. 

What to make of this zany prescience? You can only predict something that hasn't happened yet if the future has already been written, kind of like a script. And many authorities including scientists believe this is the case. We are playing out a drama whose ending has already been devised. Hopefully it will be a happy one.

It will be. It already is. Cosmic consciousness was in Bucke's day something very rare. In his book on the subject he cites only about 30 individuals who have achieved this state of transcendence, who access a fourth level of awareness to the three that are common to the rest of us - waking, dreaming and deep sleep. And these individuals include Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed and other heavyweights of holiness that nobody compares himself to, except for maybe the loony who stands in front of the corner liquor store smelling to high heaven.

But as Mahesh Yogi describes in his book on transcendence: cosmic consciousness, or God realization, is our natural state. It is where humanity is headed once we get out of our own way. And it is my belief that this pure consciousness is much more common than it was in Bucke's day, more common at least than what Bucke himself believed. 

There is an infinity's worth of information all around you. Like the Internet, which your computer can access without leaving your room. And you can too can "download" that information, which is so much more vast than the information online, right now. Simply close your eyes, quiet your mind, focus on your breathing, and in the silence that ensues tune into the cosmic frequency beaming down at you and radiating from within. You may be like a Bell or an Einstein and come back with the next great invention. Or feeling calmer yourself just serve to increase the peace, which is arguably a greater contribution to world affairs.

I guess what I'm saying is the cosmic order is perfect, and the divine plan is running smoothly on all cylinders. We are lucky to participate in this great adventure of consciousness. I feel lucky. Don't you? So instead of thinking you are always right, give that right to others. Be agreeable. If you find yourself disagreeing with that obnoxious lady who the seating chart placed you beside at your work-related mixer, then turn the tables and fight about who's right by taking that bitch's side. Doing so will also increase your peace.

"You're right. No you're right." Etc. is how the conversation will play out. I couldn't even find a cartoon for this dynamic because the phenomenon is so rare. Make it less so. Because who wants to look like the guy below?



Friday, July 14, 2017

GOOD THINGS COME, or ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS

Sketch of Medical Arzt mit Stethoskop an einem Schreibtisch sitzt in h Lizenzfreie Bilder - 11990092
At dinner recently my brother asked me, "If you knew then what you know now, would you have still gone to medical school?" 

I believe GT asked me this question for the benefit of one of our interlocutors, Danny, who is due to start medical school himself in San Diego come August. I replied that getting a medical degree was the right thing for me to do at the time - which was in my early thirties - but if I had to undertake those grueling 5 years all over again at my current age of 44, I just don't have it in me. The art and science that is the practice of medicine took everything I had; I gave my studies my all; and I was left with a body that was broken, wits that were frazzled, and eyes that were perpetually red. 

And yet my brother's query took me somewhat by surprise. Not only because I had just seated myself down to dinner and hadn't yet even ordered a drink. I guess I just assumed that he knew, as do I, that the past is perfect and cannot be improved upon. As for proof, the MD degree was a fulfillment of a prediction my family didn't take lightly. Even though I do not practice medicine any longer - I left the family medicine program at the University of Colorado after the first of three years of residency - even though I don't work as a doctor anymore, I reminded my brother of the words of the holy man Sathya Sai Baba, who said when regarding my brothers and me - this was back in 1981; I was then just a boy of 8 - that there would be a doctor in the family. In addition to a businessman and a scientific engineer. 

Leaving aside the fact that these three professions are perhaps the most highly regarded of all jobs in India, any parent's dream for his adult children, and also that our other brother, Justin, passed away before he was old enough to embark on a career, GT has indeed become quite the entrepreneur. And my parents, especially my father, regarded Sai Baba as the Lord on Earth, Divinity Incarnate, an Avatar of Vishnu. So this prediction was, to my dad at least, quite literally "the word of God." 

I thought my answer, though rather pat, was pretty right on. Of course this was the abbreviated response to a question I have discoursed upon at length in my own head in nearly a decade since leaving medicine. I could have waxed loquacious, as I like to say, but I am not the type to monopolize dinner table conversation, especially when there are 4 other guests at the table, and I'm not the one picking up the check. That's our titan's territory.

Had the exchange been just between my brother and me, I would have added that everything happens for a reason. I am with Leibniz in the belief that we live in the best of all possible worlds and every element down to the most minute speck and the most seemingly incidental occurrence are all necessary components of this perfection. Therefore, to look back over your personal history and declare that you'd have done something differently or not at all, or that you'd have acted on an occasion where you had refrained from acting, is to say that the grand design can be improved upon, that the universe is not perfect, and that by extension neither is the designer, i.e. God. And it was God after all who told my parents that one of their children would grow up to become a doctor. Funnily enough, I had the day before happened upon my mother's diary written around the time of the India trip, and I read with a mix of humor and heartbreaking tenderness that she was certain it was not me but her son GT who would be the MD. Specifically a plastic surgeon. The only thing I dislike more than unnecessary procedures is blood. And he winds up becoming the successful businessman she always thought I'd be. How's that for a twist! 

GT was already CEO of his own company when at 30 I decided to make a life change. It was either medicine and engineering, and I wasn't even sure what the latter entailed. I decided to study medicine because it seemed a noble profession. Unlike with philosophy, which had been an interest of mine, by treating disease I could actually "serve others," which is one of Sai Baba's commandments. What's more, on the road of life I had run headlong into a dead end. I was in a dead end job as a teacher in the inner city, in a dead end relationship with a girl I loved but knew I'd never marry, in an apartment I was subleasing and could get evicted from any day, and driving a car whose payments I had taken over from my brother. Sure I had dreams, but the screenplays I was writing weren't selling, and I had penned a half a dozen of them. Insanity is doing something over expecting a different result, so I was out of my mind. Also, I was drinking too much and doing too many drugs. Things had to change, and since I had always been a good student - more As than Bs - why not go back to school? The fact that science was never my thing - more Bs than Cs, but some of the latter - I viewed as added incentive to achieve. If, as student, the study of science had been my worst fear, and since what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, then by confronting my insecurities I could also become a better individual. Needless to say Sai Baba's twenty-year old prediction was ringing in my head, and I used his words to incentivize my father to subsidize my schooling, since Dad has ever endeavored to "do Swami's will." And I really needed his munificence, as having already declared bankruptcy in my twenties I was debarred from taking out student loans. 

So medical school, there I went. And during my five year marriage to medicine - first in the Caribbean, then in Louisiana and finally in Denver - I watched myself grow and develop in great strides. My drinking and smoking diminished, at least initially. As I studied the human body in perfect working order (in Physiology) and in diseased states (in Pathology) I cleaned up my diet and exercised more. More. I signed up for road races, one of which I won, and even completed triathlons. But I knew even then that I would not practice medicine, at least not for very long. In the wards, nurses would ask me what specialty I planned to enter and without batting a lash I'd reply, "I just want my medical degree." 

Writing had been my first love, and growing up I had most admired those authors who, curiously enough, were also doctors who had, either briefly or never, practiced medicine. Men such as Michael Crichton, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Anton Chekhov. My time as a student doctor at the hospital taught me that as a doctor I'd be without a niche in medicine. No specialty appealed to me. It seemed fun to explore the mind as a psychiatrist, but I saw in my rotations that "psych" was mired by an overreliance on pharmacotherapy, while I, then as now, advocate meditation over medication. I didn't want to specialize so as not to lose my basic science knowledge. Therefore fields like nephrology and neurology and pulmonology and the like were not options. I chose family medicine knowing that the conditions which the average GP sees most regularly - heart disease, diabetes and COPD - are really tiresome to treat (hello algorithms). And in the vast majority of instances are totally preventable by lifestyle modifications alone! As I learned on my first day of residency, if you don't drink or smoke, if you exercise moderately and eat predominately unprocessed plant foods, you are all but guaranteed a lifetime of good health. Sadly, prevention is neither lucrative nor sexy.

Nevertheless I undertook residency to wear the long white coat, which has a mystique all its own - they don't call the nervousness that patients experience when entering the doctor's office "white coat syndrome" for naught - and I wanted at least for a time to wear the badge that says doctor, and to sign my name on prescription pads. Just for the experience. My real dream was if not to use my medical degree as a credential to launch my writing career, then at least to use the experiences I had while completing the degree as fodder for fiction. Did I achieve these dreams? Not so much, though I did write a book on vegan nutrition which hardly anybody has given the time of day. More importantly the knowledge I had obtained in the wards enabled me to assist with the diagnosis of my mother's metastatic cancer and also my father's rare blood condition. I then became the personal physician for the final 6 years of her life to the woman who had given me life - which is really the highest form of service I can imagine. Love all serve all, as Swami says.

So you see, everything is meant to be. Try hard, shoot for the stars, achieve your dreams, but know that God's will must be done.

Medical school also gave me the opportunity to travel and meet new people and do what I do best: be a student. I explored new facets of my personality and watched as my relationship with my loved ones changed: my mother and I saw each other only a few times a year but it was on these occasions that we explored our mutual love for movies and good restaurants. And being a doctor added to my confidence. No one can take the medical degree, which as I see it is the most laudable of all graduate accolades, away from me. Sure, I had redlined my body and mind for those five years. Often up at 3 a.m. to start running at 4 before hitting the books from 5:30 to 7:30 and from there to class until 5, before I'd return home for a bike ride and lights out by 8. This routine I'd repeat every day, weekends included. If you take a random day, any day between 2004 to 2009, and ask me to describe my day I could tell you where I was and even what I was studying with total certainty. It took years before I was fully able to weed out this devotion to routine, this ever present feeling that I needed to rush from task to task. Years before I was finally able to slow down. I have a little of the machine in me to this day, eight years after that wild ride ended. But I only awaken each morning at 5:30 because I have no choice: my dog sees to it, by licking my face!

Sure, I'll never know what I would have done with those ambitious years. The early 30s are in certain respects a man's peak, just look at the movies Brad Pitt starred in during that phase of his life. That was before he met his wife and the fun ended. Had I not embarked on a career path that led to another dead end, there's no telling what I'd have gotten into. Maybe I'd have written the next great American novel. But that's neither here nor there. It is like crying over spilt milk, which vegans like me would never drink anyway. So good riddance!

Anyway, the machine that is modern medicine has become sick care over health care. Patients are viewed as collections of symptoms rather than as individuals. It is a money-making apparatus that has motivated doctors to profit off the very diseases which could be prevented by eating less, moving more and meditating, which takes care of the rest. The irony is that medical doctors are the ones the public listens to the most when it comes to dietary advice, and yet most MDs, with their 3 hours of classroom instruction on nutrition, are really the least qualified to dispense it. 

And while I'm on the pulpit, I'll tell you that most conditions can be diagnosed with a good history and physical, but today's clinicians place too much importance on expensive lab tests and imaging studies to diagnose what in Doyle's day would have been obvious to an inquisitive clinician with maybe a stethoscope. That's how I diagnosed the pleural effusion my mom suffered secondary to metastatic cancer, after her doctor had sent her home with a clean bill of health. Sadly there is not a spot for a diagnostician like me who can spot conditions early on but who likes to stay at home. For that there is Web MD. In my ideal future there would be a role for holders of medical degrees to interact with the general public and answer health questions, suggest diagnoses, or at the very least assist with navigating the labyrinth that the medical system of today has become and possibly serve as liaisons between the layperson and the unapproachable white coats. But that day hasn't come. And when it does, I may not be around or in the mood, since I do cherish my free time. Without idle hours I'd never have the opportunity to ask myself questions such as this, let alone answer them.

For me the hospital was no place to be. I learned that during a visit to Cedar Sinai as a boy of thirteen, when my father took my brothers and me to see our grandfather as he languished on the cardiac floor for one month recovering from open heart surgery. The moment I entered the stuffy, serious environment filled by so many pasty do-gooders wearing pajamas and pious expressions, I wanted out. And years later, after a paltry 3 years in the wards as a student and then as a doctor, my body was breaking down - neck pain and hip pain and back spasms were my daily plagues - and the vices I thought I had left behind had returned with a vengeance. I was once again back up to 4 to 6 drinks a day after work, plus a couple cigars. I called myself a healer and yet I was more in need of a good doctor than many of my patients. Sinus infections are often self-limited and the body can rid itself of almost every condition, while I was suffering some of what the philosopher William James referred to as a soul sickness. James was also a doctor who never practiced.

All that studying put me way too much in my head. I found myself analyzing everything, overthinking things, being lost in thought. Not a good thing for a meditator seeking to go beyond thought altogether. And yet despite the struggles and setbacks, if I had to repeat my fourth decade on earth, I'd still earn my medical degree. In a perfect world I would have drank and smoked less than I did, but I probably needed these vices to get me through the day much the same way that a runner needs his caffeine. They say the top medical students often drink the most. You play just as hard as you work, and earning straight As in Basic Sciences and class valedictorian honors in addition to a score of 99/99 on my board exams, then training at one of America's top teaching hospitals, I've done lots of both. And I left it all behind.

But I am fine with the way things are, even though in the practical (read: money-making) sense medical school has had no value for me. Practicing medicine is the only job I'm qualified to do and without board certification I cannot write prescriptions nor would I want to. America is overdosed as it is, read the book. Going further back, a college degree often has no practical value. Of my six closest friends, 5 are millionaires who have barely a high school diploma, if that. The sixth, my boy Deej, has a college degree and works as a waiter. Those 4 years that bridge the teens and the twenties are crucial, and what you learn from the school of life when you're not in class often proves more lucrative than the names of Russian tsars and the dates of the French Revolution. Which I've long since forgotten, and I was a history major.

But I don't regret going to college even, which I did merely to please my mother. Life is perfect, everything works out. The trick is to be able to understand it. First by understanding the past, then bringing this awareness into the present so you see the relevance of every moment and how it fits into the grand scheme of the great story that is your life - while living it. Why ask why? Because it's the only question that matters, really.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I've been doing it up till now so why leave off when I'm on a roll! The timing of my decision was also perfect. My father, having just turned 65, had become the newest social security recipient; the added income enabled him to afford putting me through school. It was as if a window in time opened for me to fly through. Even had I been eligible for student loans, the crippling debt would have compelled me to practice medicine for years more than I wanted to, just to pay back the creditors. See, it's all meant to be. Is my father resentful that he paid $200,000 for me to complete a degree I'd hardly use? Nah. He told me himself to consider the sum a sort of inheritance, since when he dies he plans on leaving nothing behind. Besides, my father is the same guy whose idea of life advice when I was 20 and asked him to help me select a suitable profession was to leave me with the biography of an Indian holy man Ramana Maharshi who had abandoned society at the age of 15 and spent the remaining 55 years of his life in almost constant meditation at the foot of a sacred mountain. Unlike other gurus, this individual never wrote a book or opened an ashram or went on a world tour. He remained fixed in his reclusive ways, his sole possessions being a loin cloth and staff and begging bowl; he never strayed more than a mile or two from his mountain home and died a saint. His funeral was attended by 40,000 well-wishers. By comparison, at the funeral for the rocker Chris Cornell, who committed suicide earlier this year after an illustrious musical career that spanned decades and sold millions of albums, there were only a few hundred people in attendance. Who has made a greater impact? Maybe my father was onto something by giving me such unstated and unconventional career advice. In other words, the best job may be no job at all. Or as my Dad is wont to say, "Don't become, just be." Some of my father's other pet sayings include "Be conclusionless," as well as my personal favorite, which I believe is also the Samurai code: "Expect nothing, but be prepared for everything." In case you're looking for words to live by.

And so I persist in my aim to be a modern day saint. We all should. That's ushering in the Golden Age, which is what Swami, who left his body in 2011, said he came to Earth to do. We need our torch bearers. How well I succeed we'll only know once it's over and we view the guest list for my funeral. But by then I won't care, since I don't plan on attending. But good things come to those who wait, as they say. And all's well that ends.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

BETTER THAN SEX


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So my good friend Erin had a meltdown over the weekend. Family troubles and overwork have gotten her so stressed out that unwinding meant drinking a couple bottles of wine every day for three days and capping off this bout with a couple pints of vodka Monday morning. We spent a couple hours chatting that day and she seemed stone-cold sober to me. OK maybe a wee bit crazy but that's normal for her and one of her best features. Sure had me fooled. I played therapist slash litigator and gently put her on the stand, asking her a bunch of questions the answers to which would clarify things like how much alcohol she had consumed over what length of time, and more importantly, why. I needed to ask, because she needed to hear the answers. It's what any good shrink would do in my shoes.

It seems it was a bit of the work hard, play hard mentality in effect, but Erin has a history of drinking excessively which had even her worried that she had fallen off the wagon. In the wards I was taught as a physician to use the CAGE questionnaire to diagnose alcoholism, and the E stands for eye opener, so busted. Hey, it happens. As long as it doesn't happen again. I reviewed my own drinking history, all those years of enjoying 4 to 6 libations per day. It all started after living with three fellas from high school got me in the habit of treating liquor like food and needing some every day. And then came my brother's death and my parents' divorce which, coupled with a lack of success in my literary efforts, threw me headlong into the Miller High Life, which is a blanket term I sometimes use for the various forms of alcohol I consumed daily over the better part of 15 years. I say better because it was fun, until it wasn't.

And drinking too much - I hesitate to use the word alcoholism, since it has a connotation and in these hyper-vigilant days is flung at anyone who drinks more than two drinks in a sitting ever - drinking too much is often a way of coping with a life stressor. The major ones - stressors that is - are the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, injuries and illnesses, as well as imprisonment and even a move away from home. Erin hasn't recently experienced any of these major life stressors, but if she keeps up the binge drinking it could lead to many of the very things that cause people to gravitate to the bottle in the first place. I gave her a best friend's advice but stopped short of suggesting that she meditate for fear of coming off overly pious. Besides I already sent her an article in the June issue of Mensa's magazine about meditation and she has yet to give it a try. She should, because the high is out of this world, and much more intense than the red wine buzz, which always left me feeling flat and hung over the next day. But rather than preach I simply sent her a penis pic, since she needed a pick me up and a picture is after all worth a thousand words. How's that for an "eye opener"?




In the subsequent issue of the Bulletin, readers wrote in with their rave reviews for the meditation article. One reader offered this advice to new meditators: "As you sit in silent awareness, thoughts will repeatedly intrude; each time they do, let them go, and gently bring your attention back to where it was. Don't concentrate hard; don't try to force it. Keep it gentle." This is good advice and recalls the hints that the sage Ramana Maharshi gave to disciples when he said: "When thoughts arise, one should not pursue them, but should inquire: ‘To whom do they arise?’ It does not matter how many thoughts arise. As each thought arises, one should inquire with diligence, 'To whom has this thought arisen?'. The answer that would emerge would be 'To me'. Thereupon if one inquires 'Who am I?', the mind will go back to its source; and the thought that arose will become quiescent. With repeated practice in this manner, the mind will develop the skill to stay in its source." 

The advice of this 20th century sage echoes the counsel Krishna gave to his disciple Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita when tells yogis for all time: "As often as the wavering and unsteady mind goes forth, so often reining it in, let him bring it under the control of the SELF." 

No matter which rendition you prefer, the advice is the same: Watch your thoughts and remain fixed in the source of thought until thought disappears. There are many different kinds of thoughts, and not all are detrimental to one's well-being. To solve an algebra problem you need to think, but the equations you perform in your head are in the moment, and there is no math above simple arithmetic in my meditation. But the thoughts that carry you into the past, if indulged in excessively, lead to worry and even guilt; while the thoughts that carry you into the future, if unpleasant, often lead to fear and anxiety, and pleasant expectations give rise to lust and longing. While reason and reflection have an important role in separating human from the rest of the animal kingdom, fear and guilt are so many names for distraction. Meditation is not a place for any of it. And when distractions do enter my head, I say, "Out to lunch, come back in an hour," and I eat them up so they never return. Because you can't really watch your thoughts. You either get carried away by what you are thinking, becoming the thought, or seeming to, or you catch yourself in the act of thinking and the thought instantly disappears. There's no in between. Wait. The in between is you. The in between is everything. In meditation all thought, from the trivial to the sublime, is distraction. You cannot control the thoughts that come into your head. It is enough not to follow those thoughts that do intrude. In other words, don't allow yourself to get carried away!

Today I had a breakthrough of my own. Usually I sit in front of a candle flame for 30 to 45 minutes and count the seconds while blinking only every twelfth second. I have learned that it is more comfortable to sit in the half-lotus posture than with both ankles touching the ground. Try this for yourself. Also, today I followed my usual meditation with the process of counting breaths. With eyes closed, I focused on my breathing, inhaling for two seconds and exhaling for two seconds. I did this 108 times, which is about 7 minutes, and repeated the exercise for a total of 4 sets, totaling about 30 minutes. Then I lay back in silence and just enjoyed the stillness. 

A few moments later I felt a rush of exhilaration not unlike what comes after doing ecstasy - a full body orgasm, really - and began to see mandalas, or many-petaled flowers, in my mind's eye. A barrage of these kaleidoscopic images appeared before my closed eyes for the period of about a minute and then all subsided into darkness once again.  In his commentary to the Chinese book of meditation titled The Secret of the Golden Flower, the psychiatrist CG Jung discusses the significance of the mandala. The mandala is an Eastern image, yet many of Jung's European patients drew pictures of the mandala independently of an Eastern influence. He believed this illustrated a parallelism between Eastern philosophy and the unconscious mental processes in the West. It seems the image of the mandala was originally drawn upon by meditators plumbing the depths of their own mind, and even today a yogi practicing anywhere in the world can be privy to this product of the collective unconscious. Accessing cosmic consciousness as meditation allows exposes one to all knowledge. Maybe next time I'll come away from meditation with the latest hit app. No, I'm not a smartphone user. But the rush is out of this world! 

And yet, as Maharshi reminds us, the images and sensations that occur in meditation are, like the rest of the phenomenal world, only relatively real, here today and gone tomorrow, or gone a moment later. They are thus distractions in our search for the eternal. Therefore the question we must ever come back to, our constant refrain, is "Who do these images and sensations happen to?" The answer for each of us is the same. "To me." 

The I is everything. And it contains everything. The whole world is merely an appearance in consciousness - even the universe, which the mandala is said to represent. 

When I recommended meditation to my friend Michael he said that with a daily routine which includes gardening, running barefoot and playing with my dog what need have I for solitude and stillness? It's true that these pursuits are like a moving meditation, but one still needs one's ritual. A soccer player is in great cardiovascular shape. At practice he travels miles around the field. But if he wants to complete a marathon he must devote a certain amount of time each day to simply run. The practice of meditation prepares you for the marathon of life. Besides, if I didn't do it, I wouldn't feel right about recommending it to you. Meditation over masturbation, my friend.

Friday, July 7, 2017

REMAIN SEATED PLEASE



I remember waiting in line for the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland as a child and listening over and over to the recorded voice overhead as it urged passengers to "remain seated please, permanecer sentados por favor." I find this to be good advice for life.

My mother used to love watching the preachers on TV. One of her favorites was Joel Osteen, who I also love. He's funny and inspiring and sweet. He has the eyes of an Aryan/Asian hybrid, a lean physique and an impressive head of hair. I first saw him on the way to North Carolina in 2007 and I left the hotel with a smile. Osteen often begins sermons with a joke, and by the end of his performance, which always includes passages from Scripture, I am left feeling uplifted. And not just me, but 10 million other people too. Osteen, who has been preaching for only 14 years, has such a large following that talk show host Steve Colbert has wondered if "Osteeniasm" might soon become an official creed. A speculation which the pastor laughed off with his characteristic childlike humility. I, who have kept this blog for 6 years, currently boast - count 'em - 15 followers. At the rate I'm going...the math is terribly depressing. I prefer not to think about it, which brings us closer to my point. But first: 

Just last night while channel surfing I chanced upon Osteen's discourse about staying on the high road of life and not wasting time trying to please others and gain their approval. Then I watched on YouTube as he practiced what he preaches. News anchors got him to admit that he believed homosexuality to be a sin, and then they tried to make him squirm as they put this seeming judgement at odds with his patented philosophy that God loves and accepts us all. The pastor handled himself with praiseworthy poise and by the end of the segment the show's hostess promised to give the affirmations in the book Osteen had written a try. 

But Osteen is right. The Bible does say homosexuality is sinful, simply because humans are meant to "go forth and multiply" and two men having relations cannot bear children. Just as a man and a woman practicing sodomy cannot conceive, and the Old Testament forbids this heterosexual enterprise as well. But in our overpopulated world homosexual love could be seen as preferential to vaginal intercourse, since anal sex does serve to keep the population in check. Which is why, as an avid admirer of such same-sex mainstays as blowjobs and butt love, I've learned to live with the guilt. Speaking of which:


Guilt, and its sister from another mister, fear, are common emotions. They are also related, above and beyond beginning with adjacent letters of the alphabet. What do fear and guilt have in common? They take you out of the present. As such, these emotions are imaginary, because to feel them you must either imagine the past or imagine the future. 


Think of it. We are only guilty about prior events. We experience remorse or regret, which are synonyms for grief and guilt, when we contemplate what we have done or not done in the past. Similarly, we only fear what lies in the future. It is the uncertainty of tomorrow that gives rise to anxiety, dread and trepidation, to exhaust my repertoire of synonyms. 


Fear and guilt are at the root of all psychological disorders, or every one I can think of, and I've read the DSM. Fear and guilt make a person sad, and depression is the most common reason that people visit a shrink. And when they do, they come away with a prescription for Prozac. But these pills only treat symptoms. The cure for depression is not letting the mind go out into the past or future. How to do this? By confining the psyche to the present; by remaining in the NOW. Meditation allows one to do this. By meditating you allot a certain number of minutes to being totally immersed in the moment. You observe your breathing, you watch your thoughts. You widen the space between thoughts until Being prevails. The more you remain in the oceanic calm of the present, the less you drift into the troubled waters of past or future. And the less you fall prey to fear and guilt. There is nothing that can be done about the past, so why dwell on it? And the future never occurs exactly as one foresees, so let tomorrow come trusting that you'll be there when it arrives.


With practice you get better and better at catching yourself drifting out of the now, and in reining yourself back to the present moment. In so doing you become more adept at alleviating fear and guilt, and freeing yourself from the sadness that seems to be part and parcel of modern living. We all carry the best physician within, and meditation is vastly superior to medication. There are no side effects to sitting still and watching the thoughts, other than the soothing balm of serenity. Which is more potent than heroin, and you can trust one who has tried them both. The calm you get from meditation is addictive, but because tranquility is your natural state you can say it's a healthy habit to have.


Of course, major life hardships such as divorce, financial difficulties, health issues or accidents, are all sources of distress, and they occur in the present. The Now can be a hostile place even while meditating, as when your leg falls asleep or your back tightens up. But you can do something about the present. In the present is where all your power lies. As Tolle writes in his aptly titled book The Power of Now: When confronted by a stressor, or a situation which you find unpleasant or with which you do not agree, three courses of action are open to you.  One, you can remove yourself from the situation. Two, you can accept it for what it is. Finally, you can do or say something to change the situation to something you prefer. And that is why it is good to stretch.


There is immense power in simply being. As they say: the past is history, the future is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

DO YOURSELF A FAVOR


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In his book The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, the "psychologist, optimist and philosopher of science" Abraham H. Maslow writes: "There is a new type of job opening up that is an activist's job, and it is one that demands experience rather than book training. It is a sort of combination of an old-fashioned minister and a teacher. You have to be concerned with people. You have to like working with them directly, rather than at a distance; and you have to have as much knowledge of human nature as possible."

I thought about this quote while on the phone yesterday with my childhood friend Jason. Jason insists that I "do something" with my life, that I "help people." He was referring to some sort of role as a motivational speaker or therapist, because in the 30 plus years of our friendship I have often dispensed advice which my friend ignores. I thought of the aphorism "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," but didn't say this. Instead I told Jason that the only avenue leading to such a career was to go back to school and get a master's degree in clinical psychology - like my friend Steve, who is also an MD - and then rent out an office somewhere and charge by the hour. I'd have to charge an exorbitant fee to cover my student loans and also the cost of a monthly lease in a high rent district, which all of Los Angeles has become. That is if I ever actually took to practicing psychology, and merely earning the degree is no guarantee. Witness my MD, which looks very impressive hanging on the wall, but which I do not use at all.

Really I have no interest in going back to school. Been there done that. I gave my all earning what I deem the highest degree in graduate education. I spent five years of my life pursuing that path and look where it got me: right back where I started. Even so, I think I would be a good "activist," in Maslow's sense of the word. Because along with advanced degrees I have accumulated lots in the way of life experience. 

I was reviewing my history of living arrangements while walking my dog yesterday afternoon. It seems remarkable that such a home body as I has lived in 13 different places, including my childhood home where I grew up and find myself now. And living at home through college, I got a late start. It wasn't until a year after graduating from UCLA that I moved into the back house of a Beverly Hills adjacent house shared by three of my high school friends. I did that for a year and came away with three finished screenplays and a 40-oz per day drinking habit. A couple years later I rented a room in the house of a French artist in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After six months I was fluent in Portuguese and had finished my first novel. I then subleased an apartment owned by an Indian woman in Manhattan. That was a fun six-months working part-time as a caterer and playing pick-up artist on the side.

Subsequently I lived part-time with my girlfriend Shannon at her Silver Lake rental before moving into an apartment of my own in West LA, which I furnished myself on a teacher's modest salary. After the year lease was up Shannon and I took over the rent-controlled apartment of a friend in Santa Monica. In medical school in the Caribbean I lived in the dorms with a great guy from New York, Raja. He was like a brother to me. When the semester ended we moved into a house not far from the beach with a classmate, Srihary. For my clinical rotations I rented a house in Houma, Louisiana which I shared with my two lovebird classmates, Mehdi and Leah, who ten years later are now married, but not to each other. During those 18 months I spent 6 weeks in a house with three other medical students in North Carolina, while rotating through the psychiatric ward. Finally back in Los Angeles, I shared an apartment with my most recent girlfriend, Kerstin, in West Hollywood. It was on Fountain that I fell in love with the farmer's market and learned to run barefoot. God has it already been almost 4 years since we split up? 

In all I've had 15 roommates, including the four members of my immediate family, two of whom are now deceased. Egad! That's enough to field a sports team. Speaking of which, I've participated on enough teams - in soccer and baseball mainly, which I played each year from the age of 11 until aged 18 - to have enough mates to fill an entire stadium, if a small one. And most of those teams finished first in their division, including both varsity squads. That's playing well with others.

If I applied for the activist's job I'd submit this history along with the application. I believe it speaks more to my qualifications than any diploma could. To learn about others you have to walk in their shoes, and I have worn many a pair even though now I prefer to go without. Because Maslow was right: real experience trumps book knowledge every time. Of course such a job as he foresaw doesn't exist, not yet and maybe never. And really there is no better way to help others than by helping them help themselves. The only way a person can help himself is by meditating. I am convinced of this. 

Meditation is the answer for everything. If you are looking for self-improvement, you'll find it by sitting quietly in front of a candle for 30 minutes a day, concentrating on your breath. In the silence you hear the conscience, which is the voice of God. The trick is to differentiate the angel on one shoulder from the devil perched on the other. But that's half the fun. The other half lies in going beyond the voice altogether. 

Why does meditation have such a far-reaching impact, from increasing your IQ and work performance to improving parameters of health, not to mention holding the answer to the secret of life and allowing you to access the Self? It all boils down to concentration. No matter what your breed of success, if you cannot focus, you will not achieve your aim. This truth was re-emphasized for me right now as I finished reading an interview in Esquire magazine with former world tennis champion John McEnroe, who says, "To keep your concentration is way more important than your forehand or serve." What you need, according to John, who didn't always have it as he was always flying off the handle at judges and fans and opponents alike, is "complete and utter control." Meditation gives you precisely this. Meditation over medication. Meditation is your destination, and also your means of getting there.

So why don't I open a meditation center? you ask. Because group sessions defeat the purpose. You pick up on the thought forms of others in the room. Meditation is best performed in solitude: ideally in the early morning, seated on a cushion or pillow, with the legs crossed and the back erect. And moreover, despite what such centers purport, meditation cannot be taught. It is not like swimming, where an instructor can observe your form and make tweaks. Meditation is more like running, for it is our natural state. Kids do it shortly after they begin to walk. But unlike running, which is still observable, the terrain of meditation is the mind. Anything that happens, and the less that happens the better, is within. No instructor can determine whether your mind is racing or still just by examining your posture. Indeed sitting still is the easy part. It is quieting the mind that takes time and effort. But persistence pays. 

If you're a Catholic you've heard of the Stations of the Cross. This refers to a series of images depicting Christ on the day of his crucifixion. As an elementary school altar boy I had to lead the congregation from one station to the next on the days leading up to Easter. The stations themselves have depressing names like "Pilate condemns Jesus to die," "Jesus falls for the first time," "Jesus is stripped of his clothes," "Jesus dies on the cross." He also falls a couple more times. Well, I offer you a new rendition of that sorry custom. I call it the stations of meditation. To do it, simply take the practice of meditation, begun in the morning cross-legged in front of a candle for 30 minutes, with you wherever you go. I meditate while swimming and counting each lap. While running and counting each step. I meditate while gardening and cooking and sunbathing, while taking out the trash and walking the dog. That is, when I'm not dwelling on pounding forties and banging chicks. Christ, I even meditate while writing about meditation!

And so in lieu of being a "wellness coach" or writing a book or opening up a center, I once again make the recommendation that you include the daily practice of meditation in your own life and watch as like a soothing balm it spreads to all four metaphorical corners of your existence, the physical, the mental, the emotional and the spiritual, and makes everything just right. 

Recently I gave this advice to another friend from my childhood, big boy Pete. I sent him a magazine article offering pointers on how to get started. Pete's reply: "It seems logical that meditation would help a whole mess of things, but finding an uninterrupted 30 minutes would be the biggest challenge! But that crossword puzzle in the magazine looks doable.....may give that a shot!" 

Too bad so sad! I neglected to remind Pete that the crossword puzzle alone would take at least as long as one meditation session, maybe two. It's where you put your priorities. But I am not one to preach. So until the activist job opens up, you can call me an optimist, like Maslow. I'm sure there's a slot for me to fill, though I've given up the hard stuff. Until then, here's to treating you from afar. Now do yourself the favor.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

ON TAKING A LOAD OFF


The only drawback of a high fiber diet, other than the high cost of purchasing so much produce, is that the resultant three bowel movements a day requires you each morning to never stray too far from a toilet. I learned my lesson today while taking Max for his morning walk. We only go about a half mile round trip, and I had already used the loo once this morning prior to leaving the house. But as we made our way back down the hill, nature issued its second summons. So I gave Max a gentle tug. Of course my proud and headstrong pooch took it as an opportune moment to sniff a particularly interesting piece of foliage, and the delay of ten seconds cost me a pair of clean shorts. I executed a butt-clenched, stiff-legged shimmy up the driveway but no sooner had I entered the house than it was bombs away. By the time I had actually seated myself upon the crapper I had half a load in said shorts. The other half was distributed in equal portions along my legs, on my shoes and all over the toilet seat.  Good morning to you too!

As I proceeded to clean up the mess, which wasn't nearly as bad as it looked or smelled, I listened in stupefaction as I issued a barrage of verbal abuses directed not against Max, for rushing me out of bed before I could fully evacuate my insides and then tarrying in the neighbor's front yard, but against myself. You stupid motherf#%er, what the hell is wrong with you, you damned retard, etc. And then the thought occurred to me: If I had a child who soiled him or herself, would I be as hard on my kid as I am on me? Dear God I hope not.

Perhaps it is for the best that I am not a parent, try as my dear friend Bryn did yesterday to convince me to have a baby. Read: to have her baby. Bryn is the mother of a recent high school graduate and suffering the early symptoms of empty nester's syndrome. She told me that unless I became a parent my life would not be complete. Worse. A childless life is a worthless life. I replied that by Bryn's definition the lives of Moses, Jesus, Mother Teresa not to mention the Dali Lama and all the popes, in addition to many of my favorite authors including Arthur C. Clarke and Lewis Carroll and Raymond Chandler as well as Beethoven and Vivaldi and Leonardo and Michelangelo and pretty much every philosopher and religious figure let alone Oprah and Leno, all are worthless human beings. Slipping into complete irrationality, Bryn said yes, yes none of these historical personages amounts to a load of...what was in my shorts. 

I told Bryn I had to get off the phone, and I opted against returning her call that evening. But today is a new day, and my high school sweetheart recognized the dynamic at play when she apologized for projecting onto me her desire to prolong parenthood by starting the process over again. Thank goodness, because the mere sound of the neighborhood kids playing makes me wince in irritation. Substitute "completing a marathon" for "having a kid" and see if it's still the be all and end all of existence, I tell my friend. Bryn, who has never chosen to run a day in her life, is silent. Silence is also a first for her, and it's a sound I could get used to. Besides a child needs a mother, and taking a page out of the Buddha's book, when I see a sweet young miss I imagine her 30 years down the road. One word comes to mind, and it isn't drag, but it's close. Ah, the vagaries of mind, the ravages of time!

Seriously though, where did my bathroom burst of scathing invective come from? Had I been reprimanded in such a harsh way by my own father? True my dad has quite a critical bent and a tongue like a razor, but it was my brother Justin who usually incurred his criticisims. I was a pretty obedient son, and reliably potty-trained at an early age. Indeed most of the times that I have crapped my pants have happened in my adulthood. I blame beans. And running. You get "the trots" as they're called and hope to all hell there's a restroom in sight. If not, it's the bushes, or the curb, or the ocean, or once a plastic bag.

I think the anger stemmed from the lack of control. Life is such a crap shoot, there is so much uncertainty, and here I cannot even be the master of me! This also happens to me when I need to pee. Animals have it so lucky. They get to go whenever, wherever. Of course, this urgency didn't start to occur until I transitioned to a vegan diet. Even as a vegetarian the eggs and dairy I ate, and the bread, slowed things down enough that I'd often go entire days without a number two. So the problem there was constipation. Not any longer, no sir. 

As I dropped my clothes into the washer and finished cleaning up the chunks of corn off the floor - sweet corn is at the time of writing on sale at Ralphs for 50 cents - I thought to myself, I really need to meditate. And I had a great 45 minutes session just staring at the candle. Hardly moving, hardly thinking. Really my most memorable thought was: We are really all like so many candle flames. Spirit meeting body is like the flame with its associated wick. And the wax is the food that sustains the flame, or our spark of light: the soul.  

Many mystics before me have used the flame as an analogy of our life on Earth. The Buddha himself, who it must be acknowledged was the father of a son whom he left with his wife to raise, said a soul's journey through various incarnations is like using one candle to light the next and so forth. Is the new candle the same flame? Is the same flame ever really the same, from one minute to the next? Sure, it looks the same, but the molecules are always changing. We identify the candle by the color of the wax and size and scent of the cylinder, but it's the flame that holds our attention. It's the hypnotic allure of the flame that compels us to purchase candles in the first place, and to light them when feeling romantic or to simply stare at in a solitary trance. The only difference between the candle and a person is that candles don't emit any waste. They simply use up their allotment of wax and burn the wick to a stub and disappear. Where does the flame flicker off to? To the realm of ideas where eternal flames always burn? To the same place where souls return? Enough of this philosophizing. Suffice it to say that you are not the wick. Be the flame, be the freakin' flame!

I for one am happy candles can't crap. I've had it with the mess! As for my own bodily functions, I'll continue to deal. And hopefully one day soon I'll bring the calm of contemplation into the next scenario involving poop in my pants, may that day never come.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

EVEN THREESOMES CAN GET BORING


You are not who you think you are. This became ever clearer to me the other night while watching TV of all things. 

I should first tell you that my pet way to greet friends is to say "How you doing?" Not like Joey from Friends. The pronunciation is more like Hi dwing. I've done this on and off for as long as I can remember, and as far as I could tell nobody else riffed on this conventional pleasantry quite like me. Then, as I was watching the party scene from the movie Weird Science, Max and Ian enter Wyatt's house, and the friend says ... you guessed it. He stole my line. More like I stole his. Weird Science was perhaps my favorite movie back when I was 12 and 13. It was the first movie my mom let me see in Westwood without parental supervision, just my best friend, Jason, and I. And we both thought Downey Jr and his friend were so cool, right down to their "finsky" handshake, which my brother and I emulated practically until the day Justin died. So naturally this phrase, Hi dwing, became imprinted on my mind as a great way to say hey. And all along I had thought it was part of what made me unique! Of course, nobody has had all the experiences I have had, and my set of experiences does set me apart from the pack, as does yours you, but it is true that we come into this world as so many blank slates, and our behavior is influenced by our conditioning, everything from our smile to how we comb our hair and the words we use and the way we walk - everything, even if we cannot remember being conditioned! We are so many life hackers, to riff on another term.

Why get information second hand when you can be original? A recent segment from the popular TV show Ancient Aliens featured Apple inventor Steve Jobs. I wasn't aware that Jobs was a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, and purportedly he had the inspiration for all that the computer giant would become while meditating. You see, by clearing the mind of thoughts and turning within we can access the cosmic consciousness, which is the Universal Mind or Over Soul and as such is a repository for everything that has happened and will happen, not to mention all that lies in between. The in between part is the Now. And we are always in the Now. 

It's funny because writers are often urged by other writers to read a lot. I suppose this is for the sake of exposing oneself to ideas, in the hope that the mind may get stimulated, or even borrow another author's idea and riff of it, there's that word again. Riffing is certainly something I have been known to do, as have all the greats, though I am not that. But why concentrate on what's been done before when by turning within you can open your mind to concepts which have yet to be realized in this life. I know they say there is nothing new under the sun so why try to re-invent the wheel, but the purveyors of such sayings are dealing in cliches, and if you don't want to be derivative don't listen to them. If Jobs had let such hackneyed thinking dissuade him there'd be 500 million fewer phones sold in the last 10 years. And that would probably be a good thing, because we as a race have become way too distracted. There I go again arguing myself into a corner.

Speaking of arguing, I'm just making the argument for meditation. If you want to be inspired, you will be inspired if you commit to sitting silently and quieting your mind by steadying your gaze on a flame and focusing on your breathing. Do this on a regular basis and be amazed at what comes into your brain. But remember: whether what comes into your mind is the periodic table or the reminder to take out the trash, thoughts are just thoughts, here today and gone the next, and an even better state than the relatively real awaits which lies beyond thought. It is the realm of Being. Which is also the realm of pure bliss. Because at the root of the manifest universe is the unmanifest source of all that is, and THOU ART THAT! Get it? Got it? Good.

Some like to complicate meditation, because how can you charge students $500 to learn something which is natural to do? They say that the mind is like a monkey, always grasping at this and that, never still. And it's true there are many distractions, and the attention dances from one to the other. But this is only because the mind has not found a home. It has not found something which is so charming that it holds the mind's attention indefinitely.

Everyone has the ability to focus on a particular thing to the exclusion of all else if you give him or her something engaging and interesting. Babies get mesmerized by toys. Kids like video games. Adults who like to read enjoy a good mystery. Lovers can lose themselves in each other's eyes. Up until recently the only thing I could watch with undivided attention was porn, and yet once I hit my 40s even threesome action with anal grew boring and that is practically every dude's fantasy! 

The mind directed outward does seem unsettled, but this is only because it reflects the world with its unsettling variation. On the surface of the ocean the waves toss and turn a person to and fro, but dive deep enough down and what you get is stillness and silence. The mind turned inward reflects the tranquility of Being. To know perfect peace, enter the realm where knower, known and knowing all merge, and you still get your threesome.