Arbeit macht frei

In my meditation this morning, I asked for a transcendant experience of reality, right here and now.

It didn’t happen.

One of the great unspoken lessons that I learned from toddlerhood through grad school, not to mention from the culture in which I’m steeped—a lesson I absorbed most deeply is that it is dangerous to live for the present. That shortsightedness is the most common cause of dissipation and a life that is empty and unfulfilling. That the best thing I can do with this moment is not to dance or sing or try to live it to the fullest, but rather to invest in the work that I need to lay the foundation for a better future.

I learned. I’m ascetic. I fast and I exercise like a demon. I’m careful to a fault about what I eat, and obsess chronically about the effects of my actions on myself and others.

“Be Here Now,” wrote Ram Das, and a generation later Eckhart Tolle echoed, “The Power of Now”. This is spirituality packaged for Westerners because it is only people so well-educated in the Protestant Ethic (with deep Jewish roots) that need this message. It’s my experience and the report of anthropologists that Africans and Asians know much better how to have a good time than do we of European culture. 

My problem is that I go into my meditation in a spirit of work, rather than play. Meditation is its own reward, and not a means to an end. If I meditate because I think I should, I’m missing most of what meditation has to offer.

But how can I change the habit of my orientation toward sacrifice and work? Maybe I can trick myself into believing that what I really need to do is to practice enjoying this moment.

So I can do it better someday.

Will the Real Human Nature Please Stand Up?

I was in the jungle for 3 years before I saw what was right before my eyes. That the children never argued with each others. Not just that they didn’t fight. They never had a disagreement. I think of how we see children here…“Boys will be boys…”

We meet the expectations of our elders. We have created an anti-social population by our expectations.

Why do we have locks on our doors? Why do we have armies? It’s not just America–it’s all of Western culture. We have a grotesque idea of what it is to be human, and we are replicating that idea with our expectations, generation after generation.

These women have been taking care of babies since they were three or four years old. Children that age can remember very well what it was like to be a baby. They know what to do. By the time they have children of their own, it is deeply part of their nature. I would have been embarrassed to explain to these mothers that where I come from [NYC], women don’t know how to take care of children until they read an instruction manual written by a man.

From the minute a baby is born, we declare war upon her. We poke things in her orifices. We weigh and measure her. Then the baby is hungry, and we say “no, it’s got to be 4 hours between feedings.” We call it “colic” when these children can’t keep their food down. They’re so upset by what we do to them that they can’t digest their food. This is normal here in the West. It’s unheard of in these people we call “primitive”.

— Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept

21 benefits of meditation

from the blog of Vince Giuliano and James P Watson

Archeologists and scholars speculate that primitive hunter-gatherer societies may have discovered meditation and its altered states of consciousness while staring at the flames of their fires, although there is little recorded pre-history on the origins of meditation. Meditation as a systematic practice gradually evolved in India and China. The earliest documented records of meditation stem from the teachings of the Vedas in ancient India, about 1500 BCE….

Much of the rest of the article is about documented biochemistry and epidemiological research.

#18: Meditation is an “Epigenetic Drug, changing gene expression


Pursuit of any state of mind, be it happiness or mindfulness or even enlightenment, cannot produce a meaningful life.

Consciousness wants to be in relationship to consciousness. It’s both a part of our evolutionary heritage and it’s fundamental to the concept of consciousess.

I wouldn’t exist without the air, the bacteria, the sun—I am an emergent property of all this together, in relationship. My consciousness depends on all this.

What would the content of consciousness be without relationship? I think in words and images and concepts that were created by other people.  All the contents of my consciousness came from the world. The idea that it is “mine” is a misnomer and a product of flawed thinking.

Pursuit of any state of my body and mind is, in part, narcissism. When I grow beyond this, “What do I get out of life?” stops being the relevant question. I become interested in helping others, relieving their suffering, lending them a hand along this same path of outgrowing the selfish perspective.

Life starts there.

(All the above is quoted and paraphrased from the last part of this Modern Wisdom interview with Daniel Schmachtenberger)


How to Meditate

People often get frustrated when hindrances arise, and they feel that they’re doing something wrong in their meditation. It’s important to understand that the hindrances arise because you are working correctly. They are a necessary part of excavating the deeper levels of mind. The practice is not to try and get rid of the hindrances but to form the correct relationship to them. Any time you try to get rid of something in your meditation, you’ll just create more aversion, more activity in the mind, and more suffering. The practice is always letting everything be as it is, but often we don’t realize what is because it’s unconscious. Sometimes, a technique is a useful tool to penetrate into the deeper layers of the mind. The practice of staying single-pointedly on the meditation object (the breath) always includes being equanimous with whatever arises. But, sometimes one or more of the hindrances will continue to distract you to the point where there’s total inability to stay with the meditation object or to be equanimous. A pain may be so persistent that it actually becomes your mediation object, whether you want it to or not. Or, perhaps, extreme sleepiness or haziness or mind fog keeps you from being present. Maybe your thoughts are so persistent that you are lost in thoughts and daydreams most of the time. If one of the hindrances has completely overtaken your ability to focus on the breath, that’s ok. It happens. Acknowledge that it has happened, and acknowledge that it has become your new meditation object. Accept it, and be equanimous with it.  — from Awaken the World

The Myth of Mental Illness

Thomas Szasz came to America from Hungary for medical training and residency as a psychiatrist, only to decide as a young doctor that he did not believe the medical model, or that “psychiatric illness” is a helpful concept. He set to work on a book, which evolved over the ensuing decade, and set in motion his mission as a reformer of psychiatric practice.

At root, he argued for respect of the patient. He argued against coercive treatment, against confinement, against drugs and electric shocks. He saw the psychiatrist as a listener, a friend, a helper, a guide. Empathy, not objective analysis, is at the heart of every relationship that relieves suffering and helps a huan individual to grow.

In the end, his legacy was to forge thousands of unique, individual relationships with thousands of unique, individual clients—and to light the way for others to do the same

Thomas Szasz, who died in 2012, would have been 100 years old today.

The self is not something that one finds, it is something that one creates. — TS


Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

— Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

Take your Life off Cruise Control

Many of us are bored. All of us are living at less than our full potential, and substituting overscheduling for activity infused with meaning.

Materials: A mirror and a curious mind
Clothing: Optional

  • Stand in front of the mirror.
  • Take a quick look at yourself. Body, mind & spirit.
  • Spontaneously think what you find appealing.
  • Ignore critical thoughts. They’re just useless detritus.
  • Look at your reflection while you take ten long breaths.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Breath in and out slowly 5 more times keeping them shut.
  • Do a quick inventory of your life. What’s working best?
  • Recall positive watershed moments that invigorated you.
  • What facilitated the events of your happiest flashback?
  • Open your eyes quickly.
  • Smile, hug yourself and blow a kiss.
  • Take one long deep breath then go out and seize the moment.IF YOU REALLY WANT TO MAKE CHANGES - THERE'S NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT

Another mini Mind Acrobatics exercise:

  • Grab a pen and pad of paper.
  • Spend 15 minutes writing in pure stream of consciousness.
  • Capture every realistic and seemingly outlandish wish and desire you’ve ever had.
  • This is not a “bucket list” but rather a compilation of all that excites you.

Affiliate. Organize. You’ve been isolated by your culture, but so have all those people you’d like to connect with.

David Kanegis

Lessons from Scandinavia

Why do the Scandinavian countries have the highest standards of living and best quality of life in the world?

The video makes 2 main points

  • When opportunity for education and employment is equal, talent is not wasted, and jobs can be filled with people most suitedto those jobs.
  • It is far cheaper to provide decent living and working conditions for everyone than to pay for ‘security’ measures to protect the haves from the desperation of the have-nots.

In America, how much of our GDP is spent propping up those dividing walls that protect privilege, in the face of opposition by the majority who recognize those walls as unfair?


Money story

In the winter of 1981, I was privileged to attend a series of personal growth weekends with a remarkable group of people in the Boston area. We were fortunate to have two inspired, creative leaders and a group member who shared his large house with us, including several acres bordering a lake. Before anyone outside Seattle had heard of Starbucks, Ron had been heir to a different coffee fortune.

I had been wondering about the role of money in my life. After years of living as an itinerant piano teacher on about $4,000 per year, I had jumped to $9,000 when I took a half-time job at Physical Sciences, Inc, doing contract research for the Department of Energy. $9,000 was below the per capita GDP in 1981 America, and it was less than half what a factory worker might have earned. But I had been accustomed to communal housing, the Boston Food Coop, and bicycle transport, and to me $9,000 felt like money to burn.

I was looking for creative ways to give money away, supporting charities to which I had no particular connection, putting $5 bills in envelopes and mailing them anonymously to friends, using an out-of-state postmark. At the same time, I was bitter about capitalism, heartbroken that so many Americans were living in squalid conditions, and I felt like a victim. Yes—even as I had more money than I knew how to spend on myself, I felt that the system had cheated me, and I was aware of the ironic contrast between these two perceptions of my economic status.

1981 was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, and Prosperity Consciousness was among the trendy New Age religions. The idea that just managing one’s attitude, one could be as rich as one wanted to be was a double-edged sword.

I brought a paper bag to the weekend workshop with about $200 cash, mostly in ones, but a few fives and tens and twenties intermixed. My idea was to burn the money in Ron’s marble fireplace, to stimulate me to explore my feelings and perhaps to help others in the group who might also benefit from the ritual. I convened a sub-workshop with that intent.

If I remember, there were about six or eight of us in the room, feeding dollars into the fire. It had a more dramatic effect on the others in the room than on me, even if their feeling was mostly bewilderment rather than transformational epiphany. But one person in the room couldn’t tolerate what we were doing, and protested that it was wrong, wrong, wrong. Ron actually reached his hand into the fireplace to retrieve the larger bills, and attempted to blow out the flames.

Image result for burning money

Today, I spend more than $9,000 per year, even in 1981 dollars, but I don’t feel richer, and the idea of burning money seems almost as alien to me as it was to Ron. I still like to give away money at all levels, but mostly in small, unexpected ways. I go through periods when I am anxious about money. I can’t say that I’ve outgrown the magical thinking of Prosperity Consciousness, but I’ve adopted a more generalized and amorphous belief that my needs will be provided. 

— JJM, 1/26/20