The Great Taming

Adrenaline and glucocortisol
We’re drugged with strength of purpose from inside
Our primal terror takes us for a ride
Why can’t we see we’re riding for a fall?

From urgency to urgency we pass
One crisis bleeds into the next
No time for recognition of context
We gradually drown in blind morass

That inner witness who looks out on all
Has fled the premises, gone AWOL
Unconscious actors on a global stage
Recite their lines before an empty hall
The drama’s author is an evil mage
Whose goal is to confine us in his cage

— JJM = #26 in the I Ching Sonnet Project



What is it like to be dead?

What is it like to be alive? Obviously, there is a wide range of experience—joyous and wretched, racked by pain, lucid and untroubled, anxious, divinely peaceful, intensely awake and aware, unconscious in what we erroneously call the “sleep of the dead”. You have probably known moments of lucidity while sleeping that are as intense as any orgasmic waking experience.

But wherever you go, there you are. You have learned to accept that all this remarkable variety of conscious states together comprises the human experience, and that you are always you, no more or less when you are enthralled by an idea revealed than when you are bored and waiting, waiting to get out of here.

Being dead also encompasses a huge range of experience. There are as many flavors of death as of life, and the difference between being alive and being dead is less than the difference between being awake and being asleep.

What about memory? You know well that memory is a sometimes thing. It doesn’t bother you that you have lost memories of childhood. You accept that you have false memories as well as true. You have very partial memory of the time you are asleep, and you have often had the experience of forgetting what you were thinking just a moment before. “What was I going to say?”

Some of the memories of a lifetime are carried into death, and others are not. A few memories are available across lifetimes, but in the state of development where most of us find ourselves, this is an exceptional phenomenon.

If the continuity afforded by memory is important to you, you can develop your memory by consistent attention and practice. Keep a diary, recalling each day’s events. Write down your dreams on waking each morning.

Fear of death has an evolutionary basis. Terror is programmed into you by natural selection. Your animal ancestors that avoided death like the dickens lived to have more offspring, while those with a weaker terror of death were more easily hunted and their legacy died out. Hence we find ourselves descended from the former.

Existential terror is something else again, a modern malady built upon primal fear of death. It is a Nineteenth and Twentieth Century phenomenon that has distorted an animal instinct with the reductionist-materialism that derived from Newtonian mechanics. For the animal, terror of death is a very uncomfortable but transient state, arising in times of extreme danger; for the modern human, existential anxiety has become a chronic disease.

The idea of the clockwork universe moving continuously from moment to moment according to fixed laws, random, arbitrary, and devoid of meaning—this paradigm replaced religious dogma for many modern thinkers, beginning with Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, through Sartre and Camus to Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. This philosophy has become a fundamentalist dogma no less than The Book of Mormon or Zoroastrianism or Hindu mythology.

Self and Brain

A widespread meme in secular Western society tells us that all consciousness, including our core sense of being, depends upon electrical activity in the brain—and “science tells us so”. This idea came to prominence in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, and William James (1898) offered a cogent rebuttal. If “science” ever suggested such a thing, it was Newtonian science—a misnomer in itself, since Isaac Newton was quite a mystic. The quantum physics of the Twentieth Century is comfortable with a realm of consciousness separate from the material world, and the most influential quantum physicists have held that quantum theory actually requires a non-material embodiment of knowledge. Consciousness is responsible for “collapsing the wave function”, that is, reifying a single case from a realm of possibility.

Sample from the abundant literature of near-death experiences, reincarnation and other examples of consciousness that transcends the brain, as an antidote to your haunting suspicion that material reality is the only reality.

Your consciousness, with its rich and varied texture, its ability to narrow or to broaden, to learn and evolve and grow over the aeons—your consciousness is you, and it is not something you can lose when your brain ceases to function.

Image result for surviving death

A Deeper “I don’t know”

We want so fervently to understand
That we deceive ourselves, from earliest youth
Imagining we grasp some solid truth.
What certainty we have is built on sand. 

“Whence comes the pow’r from which our lives are lent?”
— One part of understanding, six of faith.
“That counts for seven. What about the eighth?”
The will itself is potent, as intent.

So ply what certainty you have — don’t hesitate
To act decisive while control avails.
Where logic takes you, do not spurn to go.
In heaven as on earth your pow’r is great.
The wider sphere your mastery prevails,
The deeper is your sense of “I don’t know”

— JJM #60 in the I Ching Sonnet Project


My father would have been 99 years old

On this March date, my dad was born
One bright and blustery winter morn
He had a large, expansive heart
And keen ear for musical art

His nimble hand could sketch your face
His cello bow shaped phrase with grace
“Art” was, in fact, his given name
And though he ne’er aspired to fame
You knew he’d help you if he could
He listened and he understood.

But, schooled and formed in earlier day,
When women were denied their say
(And fair respect and equal pay)
When, finally, women had their day
He faltered and he lost his way.

His patient wife at length rebelled
Against the power that he held.
His marriage went from sweet to sad,
My naively traditional Dad.

In moments intimate he’d freeze
And you could get down on your knees
Imploring till your heart might melt
But asked in vain just what he felt
His voice was healing, soft and low
But his inside we’ll never know
So, absent these revealing facts
We’ll have to judge him by his acts

By this account, he’s not half bad
My sensitive, mysterious Dad.


What should I do?

The time is not propitious for your act.
But do not think that by inaction you’ll
Avoid fiasco, or that playing cool
Will help to keep your precious plans intact.

When all collapses, let it fall apart;
Allow yourself the depth of full despair.
Acknowledge this occasion for its rare,
Profound insight into your mind and heart.

We ask of wisdom, What am I to do?
Oblivious that in the very form
Of what we ask resides a moral frame.
The realm of Dao lies outside all value.
You ask Her how to brave the present storm—
Her answer helps you question why you came.

— JJM = #64 in the I Ching Sonnet Project


Painting from

We could be SOOO much healthier

Do you know that there’s not a pharmaceutical drug on earth that works for more than seventy percent of the population? Not one drug. Pharma companies consider a drug a success if it’s effective in a much smaller proportion of patients.
— Zia Haider Rahman

Thanks to Sanders and Warren, the Democratic debates are highlighting the huge inefficiencies and inequities in the way we pay for medicine in America. Health care in America costs twice as much per capita as other modern, industrialized countries, and our outcomes are worse than all of them [Harvard Gazette]

But even more important than changing the way we pay for medicine is changing the way we practice medicine, and this is a discussion that has been marginalized.

The gold standard for validating a treatment is the placebo-controlled double-blind study. If you practice medicine that is not based on PCDB studies, you can’t get third party payments and you can’t even get malpracctice insurance.

And yet, we know that PCDB studies are effective validation for only about half of a half of medicaal practice. We’re excluding ¾ of what we know to be effective.

“Placebo-controlled” means that we are focused on the body, not the mind. We are deliberately excluding anything that works through the mind from study, treating it as  an annoying artifact in our scientific study. Medicine that works with the mind as well as the body can be twice as effective. Yet, medical employers assure that doctors’ calendars are so crowded that they have no time to develop a caring relationship with their patients. We make sure our doctors function only as diagnosticians and prescribers, confining them to the part of job that computer algorithms can actually do better. We forbid them to function as healers, or to bring empathy, intuition, and caring to their practice.


The structure of a PCDB study specifies uniformity. Every subject in the study receives the same treatment. We know that choosing the right treatment for each individual patient is half the story, and yet we are not even studying individualized medicine, let alone practicing it. Genetics, personality, and the microbiome make each patient unique; yet every medical intervention in use today has to be validated in a study that treats patients as if they were the same.

Medical technology concept. Medical instruments.

Medicine could be at least four times as effective for the same expense and effort, based on individualized medicine, and considering the mind together with the body. And this is in addition to the low-hanging opportunities to eliminate insurance overhead and administrative costs which are peculiarly American inefficiencies.



When values fail, where lies your certainty?
The lights you’ve trusted have led you astray
You’ve asked for guidance, back toward The Way.
You need a sign to know veracity.

You’ve sought your lights in dark places within,
The doors to crass, external guidance shut.
Your heart indeed is to be trusted, but
Its quiet voice is drowned beneath the din.

So reconsider, look again outside.
Come out and listen, meet the angels whom
You’ve disregarded, cloistered in your room,
Your self-reliance now unmasked as pride.

From sense or soul, the message is the same;
Fret not concerning whence the wisdom came.

— JJM, #44 in the I Ching Sonnet Project