Universal wisdom

Advice on how to live a satisfying and fulfilled life is the same, from the Buddha, from Epictetus, from Lao Tzu, from Bertrand Russell and Marianne Williamson, from ancient and modern Christians.  They all tell us not to pursue happiness as though it were something we could win, or buy, or own. We can only appreciate what comes to us, while focusing our intent and our action on giving happiness to others.

Remember that you must behave as at a banquet. Is anything brought round to you? Put out your hand and take a moderate share. Does it pass by you? Do not stop it. Is it not yet come? Do not yearn in desire toward it, but wait till it reaches you. So with regard to children, wife, office, riches; and you will some time or other be worthy to feast with the gods.

This well of peace and deep satisfaction is never found by those who pursue it, but  may be granted by grace to the self-forgetful soul.
Evelyn Underhill

Sharing our gifts is what makes us happy.
Marianne Williamson

To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.
Bertrand Russell

Conventional people hoard more than they need; but I possess nothing at all.
Lao Tzu (Brian Browne Walker)

If one speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows one like a shadow that never leaves.
— from the Dammapada

Pure, holy simplicity confounds all the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the flesh.
St Francis

It was only when I gave up on my own desires and devoted myself to the service of others that I left my former misery behind and found an unexpected wellspring of joy.
—  St Augustine
Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.
John Stuart Mill


Om, a Poem

I’m home,
I’m home!
Shanthi Om.
Roots in loam,
’Neath starlit dome—
Why should I roam?
Shanthi Om,
Shanthi Om.
I swim in foam,
Feed microbiome
On honeycomb
And Kippered Yom,
Shanthi Om.
Read David Bohm
In Google Chrome
Each chromosome
A living tome—
Shanthi Om,
Shanthi Om.
Om Shalom,
(ॐ שָׁלוֹם)
Shanthi Om.



The Science of Happiness

Bait-and-Switch Notice: There is no science of happiness.

Our brains were evolved to solve problems, and human societies even more so.  The history of man is one long succession of competitions (most of them violent, but not all) in which the better problem-solvers drove the lesser problem-solvers to extinction.

So if, like most denizens of Western cultures, you walk through life in a state of vague malaise and dissatisfaction, carrying on your back the feeling that something is wrong, and weary of the persistent ennui— if this describes you, then it is natural for you to regard this as a problem to be solved.

There’s a formula for self-help books and on-line clickbait:

Much of the advice in these lists is pretty good.  The best essay I know comes from Bertrand Russell, and his advice, in a nutshell, is to focus on helping others, to stop thinking about your own happiness, but to notice and appreciate it when it shows up.

The underlying premise that happiness is a project you can undertake systematically is misconceived.  Jeff the Night Sky Sangha anti-guru said it with his characteristic mix of oblique directness:

We think we can get to the bottom of delusion by way of understanding something and that that will hopefully relieve us of the nagging shit house of suffering we all know (or avoid at all cost) and loathe.

We can’t and it won’t.

Enlightenment is supposed in some accounts to be a state of permanent and uninterrupted bliss, ewige freude, but more credible to me is that the enlightened soul simply ceases wishing that things were somehow different from the way they are.  

Most of us live in a culture of individualism that fails to recognize lasting happiness as a communal function.  We have sought families and networks of like-minded people with whom to share, within a larger environment that is in conflict with our deep animal nature.  That’s a start.

The only other thing I know is that people’s sense of peace and fulfillment and satisfaction with their lives has little to do with comfort, money, traditional success, wish fulfillment, or even chronic pain.

Life of the Mind

Outside my skin I wear my brain
It insulates me from what’s real.
The only thing that helps me feel
Is pain.

I’d fain retreat within my head
If I could wish the pain away,
But dare not risk hold it at bay
With dread.

Instead of thought or pain or fear,
A life awaits me, ripe with sense,
Sometimes I taste its immanence
So near.

It’s clear, I have not truly fought
This tendency to duck and hide;
Prevented by my stubborn pride
In thought.

You’ve caught me, I’ve confessed the lie
That underlies my captive state;
Right now I can decapitate
And fly.

— Josh Mitteldorf

I hope you had a delicious Thanksgiving

I hope your parents loved you and your childhood was free of trauma.

I hope the Founding Fathers were sincere in their desire to create an inclusive democracy.

I hope that two World Wars never happened.

I hope I don’t come off sounding like Erving Goffman.

Actually, I hope that I do manage to evoke the ghost of Goffman, because IMHO he was one of the funniest and most perceptive writers ever to poke holes in our blinders.Image result for wearing blinders

What does it mean to hope for something in the past that already has happened (or not)?

Heck—what does it mean to hope for something in the future?  And what does it mean to tell someone that we hope something, without really experiencing either the emotion of hope or the visualization of the desiderate event?

I hope that each time I say good-bye to my friend, I recall the image of God vouchsafing his passage.

I am acquainted with the literature at the edge of experimental psychology suggesting that intention and visualization (hope) can have a real impact on the future.  There is evidence for remote healing through the power of prayer.  The finding that this effect can even work retroactively suggests a need to rebuild the foundations of modern science, flowing from the axiom that the past is an efficient cause of the future (and never the other way ’round).  No shit.

I hope that this re-evaluation might proceed expeditiously.  I don’t hope that the re-evaluation might be obviated by re-arranging the past in such a way that the principles of causality were never woven into the fabric of scientific thought in the first place.

Einstein, BTW, rooted his most influential thought experiments in the principle that an experimenter’s free will may affect the future (he called it the forward light cone) but never the past.  This reasoning was the basis of his conclusion that the notions of future and past were, in some cases, relative to the observer (but beyond limits imposed by light speed, other events are in either the past or the future, which all observers agree upon).  When the emerging laws of quantum reality seemed to show that only half of the future was determined by the past, and the other half could be influenced by events distant in space and time, either forward or after, Einstein clung too long to the suspicion that this implies a problem at the heart of quantum mechanics.

The hopes that we express in polite conversation are social lubricants, significant for facilitating a level of familiarity and safety that we establish before trusting another human with a glimpse into our inner experience.  They are devoid of literal content.  To analyze their verbal content as though it held a meaning intended for communication is the height of absurdity.  Hence my hope that you might find this column an occasion for laughter.

Image result for thumbing my nose



Daily Inspiration Productions, Inc hopes you have enjoyed this blogpost.


Here’s the deal:

You can be alive, barefoot and sensuous, awake to the sea and the sky, the birds that talk to you and the trees that listen, palpably aware of your friends and your enemies in the forest, staking all with every breath, your senses heightened and your wits on high alert, touching the soft grass and the hard rock, the hot sun and the driving snow, your every movement in tune with the earth…


You can be comfortable and secure, surrounded by art and mathematics, stories, song and dance, your day filled with luxuries and conveniences, safe from the elements, from predators and even from most disease, living in a world of abstractions, remote from your ancestry and alienated from your animal skin, reasonably assured of a long life, but wondering all the while how you fit in and why you are alive at all.

“Not fair!” you protest.  Why can’t I explore the wilderness preserve with my gore-tex raingear and vibram soles?  Why can’t I swim with the dolphins, then come home to delicious Chinese take-out, hot from the microwave?

But maybe it’s not a question of what you can have but who you are.  Are you the thoughts in your brain, or are you the tingling flesh and the animal instincts in your breast?   Are you a separate individual adhering to a social contract or are you a cell in the body of Mother Gaia?

We didn’t get to make this choice; the decision was made when we were born in Levittown or Shaker Heights, rather than in Borneo or the Upper Amazon.  Now we may have a nostalgia for a feeling of grass between our toes, but it seems utterly impractical to leave civilization behind, even for a week’s immersion.  Our childhood was spent learning the requisite social skills and attuning ourselves to cultural convention, not planting our roots in the rich, humus Earth.

Every animal recoils from pain and seeks to reduce its discomforts.  In fact, pains and pleasures are the animal’s life guidance system. No wonder that when we permanently triumph over pain and establish comfort as a birthright, we are left rudderless, haunted by existential anxieties, prone to depression and loneliness and, only a bit less universally, to addiction, exploitative relationships, greed, narcissism, status-seeking and schadenfreude.  In indigenous cultures, suicide is unknown, and there is no word for “depression”.

Can we, who have been socialized out of nature and into a relationship with the natural world that is intermediated by our brains—can we, after the fact, experience the sense of belonging that is the birthright of every otter and elephant and every Bushman?  Probably not.

But I’m optimistic that we can retrain ourselves, with patience and concentration in a quiet, low-stimulus setting, to recover some aspects of the sensitivities of the primordial human animal.  We may not learn to sense the presence of an unseen deer or raccoon or a panther in the woods, though our ancestors depended on this sense for their survival. But we might learn to remember our dreams, and even to direct them, to discern in them information about things of which our minds have no conscious knowledge.  We might cultivate the intuitions that can guide us to wise action, transmitted to us transpersonally or from a living universe. We might tune in to messages about danger, about our loved ones, about our destiny. The Universe is instructing us about all that is asked of us, and we may recover the ability to surrender to her guidance.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Of course, there is no book that can teach you to taste the wind in your nostrils or feel the blades of grass between your toes, but if there were such a book, it would be Becoming Animal, by David Abram.

What does Peace ask of us?

One hundred years ago today, an armistice was signed to end the War to End All Wars.  Unaware, the troops went right on killing, raping, and plundering.  But the Great War led to an up-wising, as people the world over figured out that they had been snookered into a murderous, devastating, tragic and pointless world war.  Numerous bills limiting war profits were introduced and narrowly defeated, and in 1934, Congress passed the Vinson-Trammell Act, which capped some war profits at 10%.  In 1928, the US led the world in outlawing all future war, with the Kellogg-Briand Pact.  This treaty remains in force today, and all acts of war are criminal, by US law and by international law.

After decades of lending money and supplying technology to Hitler, FDR taunted the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor, and had his excuse for drawing the US once again into a World War. Temptation to profit from Nazism had finally created a situation in which war could be put forward as the only option.

The myth of a global communist plot was used to drag the American public into pointless, horrific wars in Korea and Vietnam.  After Vietnam, the American public was once again energized and passionately dedicated to peace, but a decade later Reagan was once again slick-talking the American people into sanctioned murder and plunder, this time invoking the Existential Threat to our Republic that came from the political choices made by people on the 15-mile-long Caribbean isle of Grenada.

The people have never demanded war of their government.  There has never been a popular war.  Every war has been justified with lies and authoritarian coercion.   Hence the rise of war in the 21st Century has been heralded by a suppression of democratic rule.  Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine all warned us that the Constitution was no lasting guarantee that We the People would control our government.  It is demanded of every generation that we rein in our own government.  Electoral politics today offers us no candidates for peace—even Sanders would not call out the American military machines for the criminal enterprise it has become.  (Jill Stein did that, but she was denied a seat at the table and a place in the debates.)

Hence it is our job to cultivate peace within our own hearts, to meditate on peace and visualize a peaceful future, to practice non-violence in our every interaction with humans and with nature, to engage in acts of protest and non-violence as necessary to end the perennial holocaust.

— Josh Mitteldorf