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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.

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