Thursday, December 17, 2009

Brain Fitness Test

Here there are 10 brain teasers.
You get one point for each correct answer.
If you get 10 points you are a genius
5 points you are half a genius.
Zero points - you are no genius :)

1 - If you are in a dark room with a candle, a wood stove and a gas lamp.
You only have one match, so what do you light first?

2 - Can you name three consecutive days without using the words Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday?

3 - You are caught by the Moroccan police without wearing socks and condemned to spend a night in prison.
You have three rooms to choose from to spend your night.
First is a room full of poisonous scorpions.
Second a room full of sadistic criminals.
And third a room full of lions that haven’t eaten in three years.
Which room should you choose?

4 - Mary’s father has five daughters and no sons.
He named the first daughter Nana, the second Nene the third Nini and the forth Nono.
What is the name of the fifth daughter?

5 - You are participating in a race.
If you overtake the second person in the race, what position are you in?

6 – A father and his teenager son are in a very bad car accident and rush to the hospital.
The paramedics take them to the emergency room.
The surgeon enters the room, looks at the teenage boy and says:
- I can not operate on this boy. He is my son.
Who is the surgeon?

7 – You have three boxes of nails and screws and all three are labeled incorrectly.
The box #1 is labeled “nails”
The box #2 is labeled “screws”
The box #3 is labeled “screws and nails”
Can you put the labels in the correct order by picking only one item from only one box?

8 – Mary wants to buy a red balloon and a pink ribbon.
The total cost is $ 1.10. She asks the clerk how much the balloon costs and the clerk tells her that the balloon costs $ 1 more than the ribbon.
How much does the ribbon costs?

9 - Three people check into a hotel. They pay $30 to the manager for one room.
The manager later realizes that the room rate is $25 and gives $5 to the bellboy to return to the people.
On the way to the room the bellboy reasons that $5 would be difficult to share among three people so he pockets $2 and gives $1 to each person.
Now each person paid $10 and got back $1. So they paid $9 each, totaling $27.
The bellboy has $2, totaling $29. Where is the missing $1?

10 – A train going 100 Mph leaves Kalamazoo going to Chicago.
At the same time a plain flying 500 Mph leaves Chicago going towards the train.
When the plain meets the train it turns around back to Chicago and when it reaches Chicago it turns around towards the train.
The plain keeps flying between Chicago and the train until the train reaches Chicago.
Knowing the distance between Chicago and Kalamazoo is 1000 miles.
What was the distance the plane flew?


1 – The match.

2 - Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

3 – The lion’s room. - After three years they should be dead.

4 - Mary

5 – Second

6 – The mother of the boy

7- Yes. - You pick one item from box # 3 and whatever you pick it will be the correct item.
Let’s say it is a nail then the box #3 is nails. That means box #2 can not contain nails or screws so it has to be “nails & screws” which leaves box # 1 to be “screws”

8 – The ribbon costs 5 cents - $ 0.05 + 1.05 = 1.10

9 - Originally, they paid $30, they each received back $1, they now have only paid $27. Of this $27, $25 went to the manager for the room and $2 went to the bellboy.

10 – The time it takes the train to reach Chicago is 1000 : 100 = 10 hours which is the total time the plane is flying, therefore the distance the plain flies is 500 X 10 = 5000 miles.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fear and Anxiety IV

“Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.
It is not enough that a thing be possible for it to be believed.”

We all know Mel Gibson as a great actor, movie director and devout Christian.
We all have seen or heard of the movie “The Passion of Christ”
We also know or have heard about his troubles with the police.

Now, let me ask you this question:
How the hell did that happened?
I mean if a guy that has that kind of faith in God and has made such a great deal of worshiping God in such a grandiose and spectacular way, gets into such terrible trouble – what kind of faith in God should a Buddhist like me or an atheist have?

For the “pure anxiety”, the one presumably without cause or reason, the only cure we have is a seemingly unfounded, unreasonable faith in God.
Without that absolute faith in God we have nothing.
Yet, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to unremarkable people.
How is that possible? How does it work?

“Faith… Must be enforced by reason…When faith becomes blind it dies.”

Let’s go back and look at what faith is.
Faith is the result of trust which in turn is the result of our relationships.
You might think that a guy like Mel Gibson has a pretty solid relationship with God and should be able to get some “special treatment” from the all mighty, don’t you think?
But a relationship is a two way street.
It is not only what we think about God it is also – and maybe even more important – what God thinks about us.

If you are an alcoholic, womanizing, racist, hypocrite – you might call yourself a Christian but God will call you an asshole and treat you exactly like that.
Unlike the propaganda of organized religions, God does not play favorites.
Your faith in God should be only based on what God thinks about you not on the promises of your religious leaders.
Your faith in God should be based only on the relationship you have with God.

And here lies the big problem and the untold truth about our anxieties.
We live in the most stressful, depressing, dark age because we live in the most unfaithful time of history.
We live in a permanent state of anxiety because we have forfeited our relationship with God and replaced with the lip service of organized religions.
We live in anxiety because we have no faith, because we do not trust God, because we falsely think God has forsaken us, when in fact is the other way around.

“Faith isn't the ability to believe long and far into the misty future.
It's simply taking God at His Word and taking the next step.”

So I would like to end this series on “Fear and Anxiety” by repeating something I always say:
You are the question to be answered, the problem to be solved.
You are the path, the obstacle and the destination.
You are the wisdom and the answer you seek.
Within you there is the power of all possibilities.

“Know yourself!”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fear and Anxiety III

“Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.”

Another little problem I have with the classical definition of anxiety is that I believe in the law of cause and effect and it is impossible for me to accept anything that is defined as “accidental” or “without reason.”
To find out what anxiety is – beyond that “a fear without reason” definition – let’s take another example.

By the end of George W Bush’s second term the country was in pretty bad spiritual shape.
Most people feared the worse and braced for an economical crush.
I would qualify that state of mind as an anxiety-fear for the following reasons.
The danger although present can’t be clearly defined. The economy is a pretty large and vague thing. It is also very unpredictable and certainly very uncontrollable.

So what we can do in a situation like that is to apply the “proactive” approach.
You pay off as much of your debt as possible.
You reduce your monthly bills, by reorganizing your priorities or like in my case by refinancing my mortgage.
You build up some financial reserve to build up your financial stability and confidence.
But after all that is done you will still have the “anxiety” part of your fear present.

“Faith makes all things possible.... love makes all things easy.”

What you really need to stop that anxiety is “faith”
Hope is the reverse of “anxiety” and it came to us in the form of the great, black hope “Obama”
Once we accepted him – based on total faith – as the savior of the nation, things did not seem as bad anymore. Although in truth not much has changed in real life.
Faith makes anxiety disappear.

But what is faith and how do we get it?
Faith is a measure and the result of trust.
We have faith in somebody or something based on the trust we have in them.
Then of course the next question is what is trust and how we get that?
Trust is a measure of our experience.
We trust people or things based on the experience – or lack of experience – we have with them.

“Skepticism is the beginning of Faith.”

We might initially give someone the benefit of the doubt and give them our trust but it is very hard to have faith in somebody that has lied or disappointed us in the past.
The anxiety we are having today about the future of our economy is caused by these bad experiences we had have in the past.
We’ve been lied to and disappointed so many times by our leaders that is very difficult to have any hope.
We try very hard to prop up the hope and give them every chance to prove us wrong again and again.
But we are running out of faith.

“Without faith a man can do nothing; with it all things are possible.”

(to be continued…)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fear and Anxiety II

“Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”

By now you might already know I have a little problem with the way we view reality.
It seems to me that in the past decades we have narrowed our point the view of reality to the “scientific” point the view only, leaving outside all the other points of view.
We therefore, define anxiety as follows:

“Anxiety is a generalized mood condition that occurs without an identifiable triggering stimulus. As such, it is distinguished from fear, which occurs in the presence of an observed threat. Additionally, fear is related to the specific behaviors of escape and avoidance, whereas anxiety is the result of threats that are perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable.”

There is a little problem with this definition.
Reality is not black and white as the definition may imply.
Between “fear” and “anxiety” there is a wide spectrum of emotional experiences I like to call “anxiety-fears” or “fear anxieties”
Let me give you some examples:
The fear of natural disasters and pandemics, the fear of social events – like a stock market crash or the fear of being laid off.

Those all are emotions that do not “fit” the classical definitions of fear or anxiety.
Is the fear of being laid off real or imaginary?
Which one is real today: The fear of the economy collapsing or the hope of the economy is rebounding?
There is no clear answer to that, hence my question. Are we then dealing with fears or anxieties?

The answer to that question is very important because that answer determine the course of action we have to take.
Obviously if you are dealing with fear, direct action is the proper course.
But what if you are dealing with a “fear – anxiety” like the fear of natural disasters?
Obviously direct action will not work – you can’t control a natural disaster – although we have attempted to – see the New Orleans and Katrina event.

“Nothing can be meaner than the anxiety to live on, to live on anyhow and in any shape.”

I live in California and I heard many time this remark:
“I don’t understand how people live California with the constant threat of earthquakes.”
The secret of taming that threat is a “proactive” attitude.
When you are facing a potential danger over which you have no control, you take control of the “consequences” rather than the danger.

Practically all buildings in California are built to withstand earthquakes.
On top of that all or the majority of Californians have “earthquake proofed” their houses and the majority of us have a large supply of food and water in storage just for that reason.

The “cure” for fear is direct action and the “cure” for anxiety is faith.
The cure for everything in between would therefore be a mixture of action and faith.
Obviously the more like anxiety your emotional state is, the less action will work and the more faith you need and vice versa.

“Anxiety is the rust of life, destroying its brightness and weakening its power. A childlike and abiding trust in Providence is its best preventive and remedy.”
(to be continued...)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Fear and Anxiety

“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.”

We live in very troubled times - needless to say.
War, climate change, pollution, famine, disease and economical crisis are the main course of our daily news feast.
Fear and anxiety are not any more an exception but rather the norm by what we live.
But what exactly is fear and anxiety?
And most important: How do we deal with them?

“Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat.
It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger.”

Let’s say that you find yourself facing a mean threatening dog.
You can do two things:
You can defend yourself using your body, a rock, a stick or you can run to avoid the attack.
In other words you fight or run – That is the natural response we have to threats.

Getting scared is not a lack of courage, it is a survival skill.
We have to learn how to avoid dangers and fear as well as pain not being our enemy but rather the first line of defense.
Fear and pain are the sentinels that tell us when we are in trouble and peril.

“The key to change... is to let go of fear.”

Although the preferred way to deal with our problems is avoidance, postponing a problem doesn’t solve it in most cases.
In most cases avoiding facing our fears makes our problem even bigger.

I had this dear friend that had a problem paying her bills in time.
Every month it was the same drama taking place.
Bills over due, late fees and penalties, overdraft accounts, pain and misery.
I tried to help her by creating a payment schedule but she never followed.

I couldn’t understand her behavior.
According to my understanding of human behavior, our action are designed to maximize pleasure and to avoid pain, but what she was doing – seemed to me – was to create a lot of unnecessary pain and trouble.
Then I got a revelation.

Imagine yourself not as one person but as two people living in the same body: You and your subconscious mind.
You say to yourself:
-Let’s pay the bills!
- That sound’s like a lot of work – your subconscious replies – Is there anything else we can do?
- I could postpone it – you say to yourself.
- That sounds like a great idea. I prefer the pleasure of doing nothing than the pain of paying the bills.
So you do exactly what you are supposed to do – you avoid the pain – you do not pay the bills :(

“Every time we choose safety, we reinforce fear.”

So the way we fixed that is by changing the task presentation.
Instead of asking – Do you want to pay your bills?
The correct question is – Do you want the excruciating pain of late bills?
The answer of course will be different this time :)

Action is the only cure for fear.

(to be continued...)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tune Up

My kids were watching “Akeelah and the Bee” the other day.
(If you have kids I highly recommend this movie.)
I was in the room at the same time doing some research on my laptop while keeping tabs on the movie.
(I have this bad habit of multi tasking. - Is it a gift, is it a curse? I don’t know.)
The movie is really good – for the children – but my interest was focused more on my computer.

Suddenly Laurence Fishburne – playing one of the characters in the movie – started in his deep baritone voice, this quote:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
We ask ourselves: Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
Marianne Williamson

Every process in my brain stopped at that moment as the light of that truth hit me like a ton of bricks.
While still in that “Wow” state I realized something: We are open to the truth we want to hear and consciously or not that is what we hear.

There is fear spreading like wild fire. There is panic and paranoia. There is prejudice and hatred making their voices louder and louder now days.
But there is also hope, compassion and love. There is joy, peace and understanding. There is a booming spiritual movement like an ocean tide sweeping the world.

It is not a new thing. This has been going on since the dawn of human civilization.
We have always had fear and hatred trying to overtake our natural instinct of love and hope.
What is new however is the new technologies that have enhanced the speed and volume of these voices.
What is new is the exponential increase in battle for your ears for your “listening”

Are you listening?
What are you listening to?
Are you listening to your fears and nightmares or are you listening to your hopes and dreams?
Because just like a radio tuned on a certain wave length, your consciousness will pick up exactly what you are opened up to receive.
Don’t let your fears dictate what you hear.
Tune up to love!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Gift of Giving

Once again, it is that time of the year when we have to honor the old tradition of gift giving.
I don’t know if you feel the same but for me this tradition has slowly turned from a joyous event into a stressful chore.
(Especially now when the propaganda machine is making me feel like the future of the whole economy depends on me spending the last dime on my name.)
So I decided to write this little post about the lost art of gift giving, hopping it will help you cope with the pressure and maybe even inspire you.

A few month ago, September 12 to be precise, I was celebrating my birthday.
On that day I received three presents:
My wife gave me a watch – I love my Swiss army watch and just it happened that I cracked the crystal on my old watch.
My older daughter gave me a bottle of eau de toilette – I am a sucker for French fragrances, you know :)

Then my little five years old handed me an envelope.
- I made it myself! – She announced and looked at me with wide expecting eyes.
I opened the envelope and pull out the card.
The paper was cut a little crooked and the fold was a little off center.
I could clearly see she wasn’t helped at all.

She decorated the card with drawings of flowers covered in colorful glitter and sparkles.
Inside written in big capital letters were her birthday wishes and a folded dollar bill.
- I did not know what to get you – she said to me – So I gave you a dollar so you can buy whatever you want.
I took her in my arms and I had to fight back the tears.
- This is the best gift ever! – I told her.
- Daaad! – I herd my older daughter whining – What about mine?
Oh, the joy of raising siblings!

This is what I learned from receiving the perfect gift that day.
The perfect gift has to be:
And last but not list: Loving

Now, I do not expect you to knit sweaters or mittens or to build the toys for your children, although believe it or not that is the way gifts were made when I grew up.
But putting that personal touch on the present you give is a must.
Even if the “personal” touch is only the wrapping on the present - do it yourself.
Nothing is duller than a factory or even a store wrapping.

Be creative – My older daughter gave my wife “coupons” for her birthday – back rubs, dish washing and such.
If you do not know what to give the man that has everything, boy do I have a list of coupons that will light up the house on fire ;)
If you are a man – no matter how gifted you think you are – limit yourself at non sexual favors – trust me on that!

Be original – Give the woman or the man you love something unusual like a day at a spa or the beauty salon.
Give yourself a mini vacation for two at a bread and breakfast house.
Buy concert or theatre tickets.
Do not limit yourself at the “old traditional” stuff. Think outside of the box

Be thoughtful. Buy the presents that she or he need, rather than frivolous stuff.
Well, if you love the one we are talking about you should have noticed by now their needs.
If you are a man you have probably not – so here what you do.
Look in the closet and see the most worn out pair of shoes.
Take a picture of them and go with the camera at a department store – do not forget to write down the shoe size.
Ask the clerk to give you a pair of shoes that best matches your photo – stick with the same color.
You can do that with everything else from cosmetic products to clothes.
Nothing shows how much you care as giving a gift that is needed.

And last but not least:
You have to realize that a “present” is not a “present” but just a wrapping.
The gift that you are giving it is - or it should be - LOVE
It is that love that can make a dollar bill the best present a father can get.
That is what I learned from my little girl about giving a gift.
And I hope you will find this post an inspiration as well.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lock & Key

Imagine you inherited a box that contains everything you ever wanted.
But there is a little problem; the box is locked with a pad lock and you don’t have the key.
So you take the box to a master locksmith and he gives you the bad news:
The lock can’t be picked or broken.
But there is good news as well:
There in a room that has all the keys to every lock ever made and you are free to look inside and find the key to your box.

Imagine yourself inside this “key” room, holding your box, standing in front of a pile of a million keys.
What would you do?

One thing you can do is to take a key and force it into the lock and if it doesn’t work force it even more and just keep on forcing despite the fact that it still doesn’t work.
That sounds kind of stupid, I know.
Who in his right mind would do a thing like that. Right?
Well, you would be surprised but that is exactly what all of us do at one point or another in our life :)

Another thing you can do is to pick up random keys from the pile and try them one at the time.
That still sounds kind of silly if you ask me, but at least there is a chance you might get lucky and find the right key for your lock.
Who would do a thing like that?
Once again, we all do – right after we figured out that “forcing” a key doesn’t work :)

There is of course another approach.
You can look at the pad lock and find different criteria, like size and shape, that can help you select the right key.
You can then throw away the keys that are too big or too small and narrow down the rest of the keys by their shape.
Of course the more criteria you can find the more precise you will be in finding the right key.

So there is a lesson here to be learned.
We all are looking to find the “key” to our life, the answers to our problems but the way we are doing it is often the wrong way.
The important thing is not the “key” not the answer but the “lock” or the question we are trying to answer.

The lock you are trying to unlock, the question you are trying to answer is YOU.
You might think that what would make you happy is a wonderful wife and a white picket fence house when in fact what would make you happy could be a burly truck driver named Joe.
You might think that the key to your happiness is getting that promotion to the branch manager position but the real key to your happiness could be driving an eighteen wheeler down the interstate.

So stop whatever you are doing and ask yourself really seriously:
-Who am I?
And thus the journey to every Buddhist student starts :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Gratitude Thoughts

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.”

“Gratitude is a duty which ought to be paid, but which none have a right to expect”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.”
Albert Schweitzer

“Unless it’s out of the goodness of someone’s heart, I don’t like having things given to me for free. I like working hard for what I earn. It gives me a sense of gratitude, and that’s the only way I can truly appreciate it.”
Sasha Azevedo

“Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality.”
Alfred Painter

“Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy -- because we will always want to have something else or something more.”
Brother David Steindl-Rast

“The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.” John E. Southard

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
G.K. Chesterton

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

“If a fellow isn't thankful for what he's got, he isn't likely to be thankful for what he's going to get.”
Frank A. Clark

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”

“The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.”
H. U. Westermayer

“What a miserable thing life is: you're living in clover, only the clover isn't good enough.”
Bertolt Brecht

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
Thornton Wilder

“Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines.”
Leroy [Satchel] Paige

“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.”
William Faulkner

“If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily.”
Gerald Good

“Gratitude is the least of the virtues, but ingratitude is the worst of vices.”
Thomas Fuller

“To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.”
Johannes A. Gaertner

“There is no such thing as gratitude unexpressed. If it is unexpressed, it is plain, old-fashioned ingratitude.”
Robert Brault,

“There is not a more pleasing exercise of the mind than gratitude. It is accompanied with such an inward satisfaction that the duty is sufficiently rewarded by the performance.” Joseph Addison

“Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.”
Estonian Proverb

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”
Aldous Huxley

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
William Arthur Ward

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Clay and the Potter

The clay can’t model itself.
The potter does.
The parent, the teacher and the politician.
The books, the radio and the TV.
The priest the rabbi and the Zen master.
They are the potters

The clay can’t model itself.
The clay has no hands to model.
Desire and need, want and greed.
Fear and pain and if you are really, really lucky; love.
Those are the hands that model the clay.
But they are not your hands.

You might think you want to be rich because fear of poverty and scarcity has been imprinted in you.
You might think that you need power and fame because lack of love and fear of loneliness has been modeled in you.
You might think you want wisdom or happiness because you were taught you lack wisdom and happiness.

You are the clay, the potential of all possibilities.
The potter will model the clay in endless figures.
Another Einstein, Mozart, Hitler or another clerk at the supermarket.
But the clay can’t model itself.
You can only choose your potter.

You can choose the potter you trust or the role model you want to follow,
You can choose the teacher the priest or the politician.
You can choose the book you want to read.
The Quran, the Torah, the Bible or the Sutra.
The TV show, the radio or the blog.
But in the end you will be the result of the potter you choose.

If you think you are you own master you are just fooling yourself.
The fears and the dysfunctionality of your past will only create more anxiety in your life.
The clay can not model itself.
You need a potter - and the best I found so far is God.

Pray, meditate, communion with God any way you want.
Let his love be the hands of your fulfillment.
Let his wisdom be the architect of your life.
Let God be your potter.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Smile - O - Meter

I have a confession to make:
When I was studying Buddhism I was a very bad student.
Not that I did not like to study or to practice.
All that was fine - I was just a very impatient student.
I wanted enlightenment and I wanted it NOW.
Why all the waiting and delay?

And then, I was never sure if I was doing it right or wrong.
I never knew if I was making any progress or not.
I mean, some days I thought that I had a great break through.
But the next day I would feel more confused and baffled than ever.

I wonder how you are doing on your practice.
I hope you are meditating every day religiously.
Not that it is any of my business but practice is what makes or breaks your study.
Meditation is the glue that brings together the theory and practice of Buddhism.
Because you see Buddhism is more than a religion or a philosophy.
Buddhism is a path to enlightenment and enlightenment is a way of life.

Have you ever seen the Dalai Lama?
He has this smile on his face. Like the canary that has swallowed the cat.
It is not a smug or funny smile. It is a serene, angelic smile.
It is the smile that comes from a light soul and an enlightened mind.
It is, if you would like, the badge of enlightenment. The measure of one’s illumination.

So if you wonder how far you have gone on your path.
If you want to “measure” your enlightenment or the lack off, for that matter.
Here how you do it:

I know that you maybe have no reason to do it right now but that is exactly the point.
Smile! :) :) :)
Just put a grin on your face and keep it up.
This is a signal to your body, to every organ and cell, that you have left your pretense down and you can be free to be yourself.

Happiness and for that matter depression and anxiety are not abstract things.
Happiness is a very organic, very basic constituent of life.
Just keep on smiling and soon you will feel that organic happiness ready to burst out.
Do not try to hold it back. The harder you try the more explosive it will get.
Now let it be without forcing it.

You will find yourself smiling without a reason.
Your smile will be somewhere between a frown and Dalai Lama’s smile.
Write it down as a number from 1 to 10.
That will be future reference for your progress.
If this sounds very unscientific it is because it is very unscientific.
Life is not a science and neither is Buddhism.

PS: Do this as often as possible.
It is not only a good measurement it is also a good exercise.
And if somebody just happens to see you smiling without a reason, be prepared.
People do not like other people smiling without reason – unless you are Dalai Lama.
They will be suspicious and probably ask for an explanation.

Here are some very good excuses for being happy:
- Having you as a friend / colleague/ boss/ partner, brings joy and happiness to me.
- Because being happy takes less energy than being miserable.
- Because happy people get laid more often. (don’t say that to your wife!)
- I got Botox today and my face got stuck this way.
- Why not. Do I have to be depressed to live / work / create in this place?
- I have found Jesus Christ.
- My aunt died and left me a million dollars
- I found out I am not pregnant /or/ I found out I am pregnant (don’t say that if you are a man!)
- The Prozac /Lexapro / Zoloft/ Viagra, just kicked in.
- Because I ran out of reasons to be unhappy.

Of course you can get creative and come up with more excuses to be happy.
And if you get any good ones be sure to share them with us :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A moral dilema

There was a point in my journey to enlightenment when the study of the scriptures and the daily meditation practice started manifesting into changes in my emotional and spiritual being.
I started to be more aware of other people’s problems and suffering.
I found myself feeling more responsible for the way the world around me was. More compassionate.
I started getting involved in charity and the community efforts to help others.

It was a great feeling; finally doing something, finally being part of the solution and not of the problem.
But the more I got involved the more problems and causes seem to pop up.
The more I give the more I was asked to give and the problems did not seem to get any improvement, the problems seemed to get worse.

After a while the giddy feeling wore out and I started to feel burned out instead.
I even had feelings of being taken advantage of and my good will being abused.
I felt that I was not making any difference after all and that it was a futile, un-winnable fight.
I got frustrated, depressed and finally resentful.
This enlightenment thing felt like another scam and false promise.

I kept my meditation practice and I was still reading – I am addicted to books :)
I guess you might say that I lost faith in myself but I never lost faith in God.
For one thing I have learned and hold as absolute truth – God does not make mistakes, I do.
So I kept contemplating the world and people around me, looking for an answer.

I realize that the world is a dynamic place.
It is not like if you stop a war, a famine, an epidemic or any other crisis, peace and harmony will reign forever.
I realize that while on one side you are busy stopping a war or a famine – on the other side other people are starting another war or creating a new crisis.

When the world is spending billions of dollars on waging wars it is very difficult to have world peace.
When corporations are making billions of dollars in profit from world famines and epidemics it is very difficult to have a world of harmony and compassion.

It is not that we can not stop the wars, famine or crisis.
That is not the problem that is not the difficulty we face.
The real fight, the real challenge, is to make people aware of the evil they perpetrate.
The real solution is to convert all the people to switch from the evil side to the side of goodness.

Wars will stop when people will refuse to carry guns and kill each other in the name of God, democracy or any other reason.
Famine will be extinct when we will replace greed with compassion.
Crisis will cease to exist when humanity replaces hatred with love.

I know it all sounds highly idealistic and highly improbable but it is the only real answer.
The world has to change one person at the time – starting with you.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Just doing my job

I was picking up my daughter from school one day.
I came in a little late and of course there was no parking left for me.
So I ended up parking in somebody’s driveway but I was thoughtful enough to stay in my car - just in case the house owner would show up and needed the access to his garage.
Honestly, I was feeling a little bit uneasy intruding like that on somebody’s property but I thought that 15 minutes was not that much, especially if no one saw me :)

As I was waiting for the school gate to open, a parking maiden shows up in her carriage.
She promptly parks in the fire hydrant zone – the only spot on the street available – and without any further delay started giving away parking tickets.
These days they have a hand held computer. They just punch in your plate number and out comes the ticket freshly printed.
That makes it very effective and she was quite good at it.

I promptly put my car in reverse and drove a couple of blocks away where I could find a legal parking place, and then I walked back to the school entrance.
There was a little commotion going on as the parents were finding out they were ticketed – and by this time there were quite of few of them.
There were some quiet mutterings and some people were talking about it, but nobody was saying anything to the parking maiden, which was serenely continuing to give out tickets.

So I went to her and asked:
“These are hard working parents picking up their children, why are you doing this to them?”
She answered me something like “please sir, do not interfere with my job” – on a pretty stern voice – and continued undisturbed.
Then I said to her:
“You know the slave traders were just doing their job too. You don’t think that just because it was legal they had right to do it. Do you?”
She gave me a killer look and that same lame excuse “I am just doing my job, sir”
And yes she was an African American.

I don’t know if it was my conversation or the children bursting out of the school gates but she turned around and walked to her car.
And although I did not get a ticket that day it left me with a bad feeling that something was wrong in this country of ours.

We all have a job.
But that job is not what we think it is. Our job is to be decent human beings.
It is what everybody should aspire for – to become a better human being every day.
Our so called “job” or as I like to call it our “trade” is just the way to earn our living, a way to provide goods and service to our fellow men.

Is it not that the government should be a government of the people for the people?
Is it not that our civil servants – as the name implies – should serve and protect us?
Since when have we stopped serving our fellow men and started serving corporations and institutions?

Every great crime against humanity was done by people that were “just doing their job”
That excuse has popped up its ugly head again and it is on everybody’s lips from Wall Street to White House.
If you are “just doing your job” you are one of the perpetrators of injustice and abuse.
After all is said and done, when you have spent your working days and are ready for retirement, the only thing left to you is not your career but that decency of a life well lived.

We all have a job and that job is to be a decent human being.
Everything else is just an illusion.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to make a soup recipe

My mother was a great cook.
She learn the art of cooking – and let me tell you; cooking is an art – from her mother.
And her mother learned it from her mother before her.
And thus the art was refined for thousand of years.

When I came to USA probable the second thing I missed most after her love was her cooking.
(I use to dream about eating her food – no kidding.)
Not that I wasn’t get enough to eat – actually I was gaining weight at an alarming pace, a very common side effect for freshly emigrated people to USA :)
But there was more to her food than calories.

So finally when she came over I could once again enjoy that wonderful food.
Eating – I have to add – in other parts of the world, it is not just a “fueling up” thing.
Eating has a social function. It is a family ritual, a way to communion with friends and forge relationships.
Food is not only fuel for the body it is also fuel for the soul.

So I used to invite friends over for lunch or dinner.
And on one occasion I invited my friend Beth over for lunch.
Of course she was very impressed with the cooking and asked me to ask my mother if she could give her the soup recipe.
I have to mention – my mother did not speak a word of English.

Of course she would, she told me.
“There is nothing special to it. You boil a chicken with the carrots, potatoes and onions…” my mother started to say.
“How many carrots?” asked Beth
“Depends how big is the chicken” my mother replied
“How big should be the chicken?” Beth asked
“Depends how many people you want to feed” came the answer.

So we continued this conversation for a while with the mom and Beth getting more and more frustrated.
You see: Beth wanted to make soup according to a recipe while mom thought that you have to make your recipe according to the soup.
In other words a real cook changes the recipe according to the way the soup tastes.
He or she will add more of this or less of that in order to get the best result – and for that there is no recipe :)

Why am I telling you this story?
I was doing some research for writing a post on “success” and I realize that a recipe for success - like a soup recipe - doesn’t really teach you how be successful.
Successful people do not follow a recipe for success they write the recipe for success.
Do you see what I mean?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why ask Why?

The evening is field with fragrance of wild flowers.
In the old temple young monks sit in quiet meditation.
The master walks among them with silent steps.
A tense face stands out from the serene smiles.
A sweat bead rolls off from the student’s forehead.

The master taps his shoulder and speaks softly into his ear.
- My son, are you sure you know what you are doing?
- Yes master, I am quite sure of what I am doing
Whispers the student.
- But I am not quite sure of, why I am doing it.

Why are we doing it?
We only ask that question in the moments of crisis.
Other than that, we pretty much think we have it figure it out.
So we just forge ahead doing it
We want to be rich, famous, enlightened, spiritual, wise or influential.
So we keep doing it until the moment we get stuck.
Then we stop to ask the question

Why do we want to be rich?
The usual answer is so we can buy things.
Nobody wants to be rich just to have piles and piles of money.
Which really means nobody really wants to be rich just to be rich.
We want something else.

Why are we practicing Buddhism?
Why do we want to be enlightened?
Then we see that just “doing it” is not what we want.
We want something else.
But we never figured out the “why” part of it

It is like this bloody war going on.
We thought we knew why we were doing it.
So we started it.
Then we got into a crisis and started asking; “why are we doing it?”
We are stuck doing it and the only reason we are doing it is because we are doing it and stopping doing it we believe it would be a worse alternative.

So we keep on doing whatever we are doing.
And after a while we get quite good at doing it.
So we become experts on how to do things and we pass that knowledge on.
With each generation we do it better and better.
But we are not quite sure anymore of why we are doing it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The value of a silver dollar

This is a story my grandfather told me long time ago.
As the time passed by I started to get a new appreciation of its meaning and wisdom.
So I would like to share it with you today.

Not so long ago a rich merchant god a very bad news.
He’s health was deteriorating rapidly and his days were numbered.
So he gathered his relatives, his wife and his only son at his bed side to read his last will and testament.
- Since my only son is a no good, lazy, arrogant bum – he started - I leave him nothing.
Then continued by sharing his wealth to the rest of his relatives - and even left something to be given to charity.

After everybody was gone, his faithful and loving wife came to his bed to plead in behalf of her son, asking the dying father to rethink and change his decision.
The father agreed to give his son a chance. He said:
-If my son can go out there and earn a silver dollar on his own merit, I will change my will and leave him an inheritance.

The next day the son wake up early in the morning and was ready to go out to earn the money his father as asked, when the mother showed up at the door with some food she had prepared for the boy.
- Here, - she said – some food for your lunch.
And as she handed the bag to the boy she slipped a silver dollar in his hand.

So the boy went out, find a nice place under a tree and slept till noon, then he ate his meal and came back home.
He walked up to his father and announced.
- Here father, the dollar I earned today.
The father took the silver coin, looked at it, looked at the boy and then tossed the coin in the flames of the fire place.
- This is not an honest earned dollar – he said – You have disappointed me as I thought you would.

The boy left the room and went back to his mother to tell her the bad news.
-You dim wit – she said – At least you could have rumple your clothes and put some dirt on your face, to make it look like you have worked all day!
So, she went back to her husband and once again pleaded for her son.
After all the begging the old man gave up and agreed to give him another chance.

The next day morning the boy left and again his mother gave him food and another silver dollar.
The boy did the same thing as the last day but this time before coming home he made sure to make himself look dirty and tired like he was coming from a hard day of work.
- Here father – said the boy – I have brought you an earned silver dollar.
The father took the dollar, looked at it carefully and then threw it into the fire.
- This is not a dollar earned, son. Get out of my face!

The boy went to his mother and gave her the bad news.
Once again the mother went to ask for another chance.
- I love you dear, more than anybody on this world but you have to admit our son is a no good bum and he doesn’t deserve to inherit my fortune. I will give him one more chance only if you promise this is the last time you will come to me on his behalf.

The woman agreed and the next morning her son was ready to try again.
This time when his mother tried to give him a silver dollar the boy refused to take it.
-I don’t know how he does it – said the boy – but father knows when I am dishonest, so today I will go and earn an honest dollar.

So he went to a nearby farm and asked for some work.
And the farmer was glad to give it to him because he had a lot of hard work to do.
The boy spent the whole day working on the farm, feeding the animals and cleaning the stables.
At the end of the day the farmer gave him, as promised, a silver dollar and the boy went back to his father.

-Here is a dollar I have earned – said the boy, handling the coin to his father.
The old man took the dollar and looked at it very careful then tossed it in the fire place.
- This is not an honest earned dollar – he said.
And as he was saying that the boy jumped and with his bare hand pulled the coin out of the fire.
-This is a dollar I work for all day. How dare you throw it away like that?
Said the boy.
Then the father smiled and said.
- Indeed you have earned that dollar with honest work, for now you know its value.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

10 Steps to focus your life

I’ve been working on this list for a while and I decided to publish it just to see if anybody has any suggestions how to improve it :)

1) Decide what you want
We all want to accomplish more, learn more or experience more.
You have to understand that wanting too much is as bad as wanting too little.
So you have to take the time and choose and set clear goals for your life.

2) Write it down
This is where most of us fail.
We take the first step but we never follow through.
You have to turn your thoughts into concrete action and the first “concrete” manifestation of your thoughts is putting them down on paper.
Write a plan.
Put down the steps you are going to take
Set a time table.

3) Find a witness.
Share your plans with the people you love.
Keep them informed about your progress.
Get them involved, curious and excited about your plans.

4) Join forces
Find people or organizations dedicated to the same goals that you are pursuing.
Find friends and make connections.
Exchange ideas and personal experiences.
Join forces with them.

5) Create habits
Everything is easier to do when it becomes a habit.
Create a daily routine.
Create a work space inductive to your work.
Focus on being consistent rather than on your performance.
Keep going even when you feel like quitting.

6) Eliminate disruptions
Set aside a time to work on your goals.
Get read of the people that sabotage your work.
If those people happen to be your family then you have to get away from them.
Like do not work home instead rent an office outside your house.

7) Elevate your energy
Improve your diet and eating habits.
Exercise regularly.
Improve your sleeping habits.

8) Control your emotions
Meditate, pray and/or recite daily affirmations.
Give thanks daily for the things you have and the things you have accomplished.
Forgive and forget the people in your life and their wrong doings.
Stop being judgmental.

9) Check and review
Set a weekly time aside for reviewing your progress.
Alter the plans and your time tables accordingly.
Find your weak spots and reinforce them.

10) Reward and punish
Give yourself rewards for a job well done and for keeping your goals.
Punish your bad habits.
No more TV watching, no more video game playing or no more web surfing are pretty good “incentives” for the un cooperative types.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A matter of taste

It is Friday night and I am having a quiet moment.
I am listening to soft piano music and eating a pomegranate.
I am thinking:
This must be world’s most aerobic fruit.
I am burning more calories eating it, then the calories I am getting eating it.
(If you don’t know what I am talking about, you should try eating one :)

I am also noticing the really subtle flavor of the fruit and I am thinking:
Funny how lately everything I eat seems more flavorful than usual.
And I don’t think that they are selling better produce at the market.
I think it is because I have changed my diet recently.

You see, I thought I was eating pretty healthy.
I knew I had a sweet tooth but other than that I thought I was doing great.
That was until I got my physical exam and discovered I had my triglyceride levels way above normal.
In other and simpler terms I had way too many calories in my blood stream than I need it.

I found out that my love for sweets, nuts and avocados – which I thought were the healthiest things on earth – were part to blame for this problem.
Of course the other part of the blame was my lack of physical exercise.
Living the modern life means that we are burning far less calories than our ancestors while our calorie intake has risen dramatically.

So I took a quite drastic decision: No more sugar in my life.
At least not the refined or the fructose syrup kind.
I stopped adding sugar to my coffee, tea and anything else.
I also stopped drinking soda or anything artificially sweetened.

At first it was dreadful – well that is a bit dramatically – but you get the point.
Nothing tasted right and I thought that I would forever miss the sweet life.
But then something strange happened: My taste buds grew so much more sensitive.
Simple things like bananas suddenly were so much sweeter, so much tastier than usual.
I discovered that my coffee and tea - which I thought were quite bitter and unpleasant in the beginning, had more flavor than I ever experienced.

Taking sugar out of my diet didn’t mean not enjoying sweetness anymore but contrary it meant enjoying it more and deeper than before.
So I started thinking: What about the other senses?
We are being bombarded, over stimulated with everything from louder music and ever increasing complex and faster video effects to over exposure to sex and violence.

There is a continuous assault on our senses and emotions.
But are we getting more out of this “over exposure” or are we getting less?
Is more, more or is more, less?
And then, if that is so – Does it mean that less is more?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2012 - The End Of The World

“…It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.”
Note: The operative words here are “as we know it”

Yes; the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012.
But; the Mayan calendar did not start with the beginning of the world.
The Mayan calendar started only 5125 years ago.
Pretty damn remarkable for a “primitive” civilization, but there are still 15 billion years unaccounted for before that, and 15 billion years still left to count after.

Yes, there is a planet, solar, galactic alignment coming up.
It did 5125 years ago and it did 5125 years before that and 5125 before…
…You get the drift.
This is neither the first nor the last of planetary, solar, galactic alignments.
Alignments happen.
Blame it on Galileo and Newton.

Why is this “alignment” cycle any different from the others?
Why is this “the end of the world”?
It is not!
It is just another way for unscrupulous people to make a buck.

Do you want a proof?
Ask any of those “prophets” of doom to bet you $1000,000,000 that 2012 is the end of the world and I guarantee there will be no takers.
Prophecy and supernatural knowledge stops at the bank’s door.
(Nobody will put money where their mouth is :)

But besides that:
It is the end of the world as we know it.

Every day the old ideas and the old ways of living are been challenged.
Every day more and more people are waking up from the mass hypnosis and social conditioning of the political/ military/banking system.

Every day people are realizing that they have been sold into financial slavery by the very politicians that were supposed to serve and protect us.
Every day people are realizing that we have exchanged happiness for material success.
That we have exchanged love for fame and power for brute force.
That we have exchanged compassion for charity and faith for reason.

Things can last much longer the way they are run now days.
Change is not only something that sounds good in political speeches.
Change is a formidable force and is coming like it or not!

PS: If you get some body to take your bet about the end of the world on December 21 2012 don’t worry about loosing.
Who is going to ask you to pay up any way?

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Chicken Time

This morning driving my daughter to school, I got stuck in a traffic jam.
Since Sunday was daylight time saving change back to normal, I was expecting the Monday morning traffic to be lighter than usual but then again, traffic in LA it is never to be expected light.
Having the time and not much to talk about we started talking about time and what “daylight saving time” is.

Long time a go we – the people - had a different way of looking and interacting with time…
I remember growing up on my grandparents’ farm.
Nobody had a watch.
The only time keeping piece we had, was this massive pendulum clock on the hall way.
And that was one of the few clocks in the village.

People told time by the church bell strokes, by the passing of the local trains and when too far in the field by the shadow of the sun on the ground.
(Mid day is when the shadow is the shortest – I still remember that :)
We woke up in the morning when the Rooster sang and we went to bed with the chicken – I mean when they did :)
I call that - living by the “Chicken Time”

Time was “organic” then.
We woke up at incrementally different time each day as the day grew longer and conversely each day latter, when the days were getting shorter.
In the summer the day were long and filled with a lot of work and play.
In the winter the days shrunk to a blink of an eye.
There was little work to do and we spend the cold days mostly inside gathering around the fire place, listening to stories or celebrating the holydays.

We never considered the day as a “fix” amount of time.
We wrapped our lives around the day light without regard to what the clock was saying.
That was the way we lived for hundred of thousand, or even more, years until we entered the “technological” revolution of the modern era.

The advent of industrial manufacturing, the rise of cities and industries meant that the old “organic” relationship with time had to change.
No longer “time” served us but we became servants of the time.

We invented the kerosene lamp, the gas lamp and finally the electric lamp.
We changed the night into the day and wrap our lives around “time” in a “mechanical” way never experienced before.
Life did not longer dictate the flow of time.
The flow of time through that mechanical conductor “the clock” dictates the flow of life.

Of course there are some rare cases when this “mechanical” time shows its ugly side.
There are some people super sensitive to this artificial arrangement – and consequently we invented some “disease” to explain their problem with adapting to this artificial time arrangement, but in large our science – which boasts how “objective” and “impartial” is – never studied the effects of this “mechanical” time on our “organic” clocks, on our physiology and our psychology.

Of course when turning night into day got to eat at the industry’s “profits” we remember that once upon a time the “sun” offered free light and we invented the “daylight saving time” which is nothing more than a bastardized form of the old ”organic” time arrangement.
So now if your kids are going to ask about the “daylight saving time” you can tell them the story about how once upon a time people lived by the “Chicken Time”

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Man Who Slowed Down The World

Once upon a time there was a young prince very much in love with a young princess.
Everything was great with their relationship except for one little detail.
The young princess was always late.
And I mean that in the nice sense :)

She was always late for her dates with the prince, always showed up late at the balls and she was constantly late at her work.
Which made her earn the nickname “the Tardy Princess”

It was one Friday evening when the Tardy Princess showed up late at the prince’s apartment causing them to be late for the evening social gathering causing a lot of funny remarks from the prince’s close friends.
The prince took the jabs chin up, with a forced smile on his face but some where in his mind he knew that something had to change.

That night the prince woke up in the middle of the night from a dreadful nightmare.
He new the next day it was a very important day – he was planning to introduce the Tardy Princess to his family – and everything had to work out as planed.

But how could he make the Tardy Princess not to be late even for one day?
Or maybe, just maybe there was another solution to his problem.
And then an idea hit him.
If he couldn’t make the princess hurry up, he will make the world slow down!

So he gently got out of the bed without waking up the princess, took her watch from the night stand and set it 30 minutes ahead.
Then he did the same thing with his watch, with the alarm clock and every other clock in his apartment.
Then he went back to sleep with a smile on his face.

The next day they woke up and did everything that they have planed and even if they were always late nobody complained because everybody else thought they were in time.
They went to his parents, they went to a concert, and they had a wonderful time without the princes noticing anything until she went back to work.

That Monday morning – to everybody’s surprised – the Tardy Princess showed up at her office in time.
It was at that moment when the Tardy Princess noticed that her watch was 30 minutes fast.
She called the prince and told him the story and he acted very surprised.
“Maybe you need a new battery” He said.
And with that, the whole story was forgotten.

Well, not completely forgotten because till today I still have my watch set 5 minutes fast – I mean the price has his watch set 5 minutes fast – Or as he like to say “My watch is fine but I have slowed down the world 5 minutes”…

…I know you might thing this story is kind of silly but trust me, it is not.
If you just happen to find yourself in a constant rush through the day, you might try slowing down the world instead.
All you have to do is set your watch 5 minutes faster :)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Meaning of Life VII

A very interesting comment on my last post made me write this response.
Here is what “Don’t Feed The Pixies” said:
“An interesting post - because what I really, really want from my physical neighbour is to be left alone to get on with my life.
I have no particular need to be their friend or to be involved in their life and my approach to "love thy neighbour" is to give them that opportunity to live their life the way they want to”

Love is an expression of freedom.
Love is unconditional.
If you love some one you set them free, you do not chain them up.
If you love some one, you love them without expecting anything in return.
Other wise what you have is not love but just another dysfunctional relationship.

Here is a little example of what “love thy neighbor” is not:
USA invasion of Iraq in the name of democracy.
USA totally ignorance of the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
Forcing ones values, life stile or beliefs on somebody else is not love, it is totally the opposite.
Ignoring somebody’s suffering and turning your head the other way is not love either.

Let me ask you this:
If you would see your neighbor house on fire or being robed by burglars would you call 911 or ignore it and not get involved?
If your house was on fire or robed would you like your neighbors to call 911 or would you like them not to get involved?

There is a fine line between letting some one be free and ignoring some one.
Give your neighbor freedom but do not ignore them.
Say hi to them and give them a chance to know you.
You do not have to get “personal” or “intimate” with your neighbor to be a good neighbor.
I guess “Love thy neighbor as you love yourself” meaning is not in the “love” part but in the “as you love yourself” part.
Treat your neighbors like you would like to be treated.

Being part of the social fabric is a fine and it seems to me lost art.
Having some one next to you in your moment of despair is the greatest blessing one can have.
If you have ever lost some one you love, or your job or your health, there is nothing more comforting more uplifting than somebody that tells you “Do not worry, I am here with you”

You can write the best book in the world, it will mean nothing if nobody reads it.
You can compose the most sublime music in the world; it means nothing if nobody hears it.
You can have the greatest success, victory or accomplishment and it will mean nothing if you have nobody to share that joy.

Yes we need our “neighbors” yes we need our family members and our friends.
Maybe not all of them, maybe not the ass holes we can not stand, but we need to do a better job on this, we need to treat each other better because we are in this together.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Meaning of Life VI

A person should be more than just an individual.
A family should be more than a convenience union of people.
A community should be more than a bunch of families sharing the same neighborhood.
This country should be more than a union of states bound together by the same constitution.
And the world we live in should be more than a quilt of different countries sawed together at the borders.

We are all threads, fibers in the fabric of life.
The way we interwove in this structure is what gives us and our life meaning.

Show me a lonely person and I will show you a fearful, depressed and unhappy soul.
Show me a lonely human being and I will show you an abused individual.
Show me a lonely being and I will show you rage and hatred ready to explode.
Show me a lonely person and I will show you a wasted meaningless life.

In my practice I’ve seen a lot of lonely people.
They all have one thing in common:
They all believe their loneliness is a symptom, a result of their problems and the most difficult thing to show them is that their isolation, their separation and distance from the people around them is not a symptom, but the very cause of their dysfunctional life.

Show me a prejudiced person and I will show you a person that hates himself.
Show me a person that loves himself and I will show you a person that loves his neighbors.
We are to ourselves what we are to others.
The things we do to others are the things we do to ourselves.
The victim of today will be the aggressor of tomorrow.

It is hard to understand that in the spiritual world you can only have what you give.
For the “me” generation it is hard to understand that the less you give the less you have.
Just think about it:
If all of us are there to find some one to love us, to take care of us, to makes us happy then there will be no love, care or happiness in the world.
If all of us would change that point of view and live in this world to love and care and make the people around us happy, then this world would be a paradise.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is not an empty phrase or just a nice thing to say.
Love your neighbor, is the fundamental key of this spiritual world we’ve been talking abut.
Love is the knots, the glue that holds this fabric of life together.
Without it, everything falls apart.
Without it we are all doomed to a lonely, meaningless life.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Meaning of Life V

I was reading a psychology study on how culture determines the way we think and see the world.
The researchers gave a bunch of students a pile of pictures, let’s say a monkey, a goat, grass and a banana, and asked them to group the pictures together.
The Western students grouped the monkey and the goat together and the banana and the grass together, while the Eastern students grouped the monkey with the banana and the grass with the goat.
We Westerners see the world as objects while the Eastern people see the world as relationships.

In the Western culture we understand reality by taking it apart and putting everything in little groups.
We have medics for each part of the body and a branch of science for each part of nature.
We know everything about something but nothing about everything.
And that doesn’t even bother us :)

How would it be to see the world as a world of relations instead of a world of objects?
A whole working system, not as separate parts.

I remember when I was 6 or 7 I heard this riddle:
“What came first – the chicken or the egg?”
It bothered me tremendously because the only reasonable answer would be:
“There is no such a thing as a chicken and egg”
Yet growing up on a farm I was surrounded by chickens and eggs.

What? Do you think you have the answer? Do you think you understand?
Then try out this riddle: “What came first; life or death?”
See, we see life and death as two separate things, like the chicken and the egg, but also as tied together – you can’t have one without the other.
Now, what is the answer?

We see chickens as real and eggs as real but we can’t conceive a chicken-egg reality.
We can’t see this …chicken-egg-chicken-egg-chicken-egg… thing – for us, such thing doesn’t exist.
We can’t see our reality as a life-death thing.
We can see ourselves as part of a larger system, a meta reality.
We see my life and my death as different and separate from your life and your death.

We think of ourselves as appearing in this world from a black hole hanging around for a while and then disappearing back into that black hole.
But life is a continuum a …chicken-egg-chicken-egg-chicken-egg… thing not a random spontaneous act.
Nobody just pops out from nothing on a deserted island.
We might feel separated and independent but we are just a link in a chain.

Reality is not made of separate objects but of systems.
Each system is made of sub systems and each system in turn is part of a larger meta system.
It is easy to se how humans are in fact a digestive system, a circulatory system, a nervous system and all the other systems that make up a human being.
It is very hard to see ourselves as part of a larger system.
But there is hope as we have started to discover and analyze the natural ecosystems.
We are one step from discovering and analyzing the spiritual system of which we are all part of.

So looking from that perspective you will realize that the meaning of your life is given by the relationship you have with the rest of the links in this chain of life.
You can not love or be loved by yourself.
You can not be successful, famous or powerful by yourself.
You can not define who you are and what you are by yourself.
Your life has no meaning whatsoever if separated from this life continuum.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Meaning of Life IV

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately on Stumble Upon.
(If you have some time and would like to see my collection of Buddhist and spiritual sites, you can click on my Stumble link above the followers’ widget.)
Any way. One of things about Stumble is that people send you really odd stuff – like this video of a cowboy that is dragged and tossed around for a really long time before he finally decides to let go of the rope.
Watching this video made me think about the way we are holding on to the material world and even as we are being dragged and tossed around we just would not let go of a bad situation.

So how do we get hooked to the material world?
Let’s take a little example: Clothing and fashion.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we are very fragile beings.
Without a thick skin and fur to protect us from the elements we need clothing.
So we started to invent all sorts of things to cover our body and keep it warm and dry.
Some were on the history line we also invented fashion.

We do not need fashion to protect us from the elements.
We need fashion to make us feel good about ourselves, worthy and special – but then again so does crack cocaine :)
We go to the mall and find and buy, the latest and greatest of the new fashion and for a moment we are on the top of the world.
But just as a high from a drug, this “feel good” feeling, doesn’t last for long and pretty soon we find ourselves unhappy again and in need of a new “fix”

So basically that is the way we get addicted to the material world.
We screw up the dynamic between us and the objects that are supposed to serve us.
In the first place clothes were supposed to serve us, to protect us, to fulfill a function.
On the second, clothes take control of our feelings. We are no longer the masters; we have become the slaves of the fashion trends.
And that my friends, happens with all the other material things that take over our life.

So that brings up the ultimate question: are you the master or the slave of your material world?
Do you feel like all you do is trying to keep up your life style?
Are you pushed in life by your bills or pulled by your dreams?
Are you in charge of your life, or is your life spiraling out of control?

Many years ago I was “hooked up” to the material world.
As any emigrant coming to America I bought into the Idea of a better life.
After all, what else can be more alluring than the promise of a better life?
I wanted everything that was symbolizing the “better” life without realizing what a better life really was and what I was really doing.

To make a long story short, some were in the 90’s, during the last economical recession I found myself heals over head deep in debt.
I bought a house I couldn’t afford to buy, a car I really did not need, I maxed out my credit and all the money left I invested in the stock market.
In other words I was living the American dream.
Then one day the company I was working for decided to “cut the fat” and I got laid off.

And suddenly I found myself falling down from my castle in the sky without a parachute.
So I did what naturally all of us do in a situation like that. Try to save as much as possible. Try to hold on to it, like the cowboy in the video :)
I did not realize what was going on.

Banks are not in the business of “helping” people as the majority of us think. Banks are in the business of making “profits” and that is all they care about.
When you are down, you will not get a break, you will be pounded till your last drop of blood, till you have nothing more to loose.
Then you will let go. Then they will let go.

So I lost everything. My house went in foreclosure, my investments went into the ground I was basically back where I started coming to America.
But that wasn’t the bad part.
The bad part was going through that fall.
The nights I spent in fear, despair, anxiety, pain and stress.
That gut wrenching feeling in my stomach and my heart.
It wasn’t the material loss; it was the trashing of my soul that hurt the most.

So I put myself together and slowly I came back to life.
But during that period I had a long look at my life and what went wrong.
So I decided I did not want the “good” life anymore.
I didn’t want the big house in the fancy neighborhood. I didn’t want the fast flashy car.
I did not want to be rich, I wanted to be happy.

I want a safe, secure, peaceful, balanced and harmonious life.
I want true neighbors that care about me not about how big and expensive my house is.
I want a woman that loves me for who I am not for the fast flashy car I drive.
I want true friends that will be with me when the going gets tough not only when the times are good.
I don’t want things, I want to be happy.

So there it was; the fundamental shift in my relationship with the material world.
I am not any longer the slave of the things around me.
I might not have much material wealth but the things I have serve me, not the other way around.
I might not be rich but I have peace of mind and a good night of sleep.
I might not have much but I have less to worry about :)

But do not get me wrong; I am not asking you to live your life my way.
All I am trying to do is to open a discussion, to look at different points of view, to try to understand life, the way it works and ultimately to find its meaning.
Your life is your journey and you should live the life you want, the life that makes you happy.
As I will do it with my life.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Meaning of Life III

Let's take two material objects: A lump of coal and a diamond.
At first glance it seems we have chosen two objects totally different.
One ordinary, insignificant and almost worthless.
The other one rare, exquisite and probable one of the most valuable and precious things on earth.
But here is the funny part of the story: Chemically speaking the two are identical.
Both the lump of coal and the diamond are made out of the same element; carbon.
What makes the diamond so different and special is not its matter but its structure.

As scientist are piercing deeper and deeper into the microscopic world we are discovering that all material things are made up from the same fundamental particles.
The difference between a piece of cheese and a bar of gold is not material but structural.
As a matter of fact there is not such a thing as cheese or gold only cheese structure and gold structure.
Deep at the subatomic level they are made of the same matter.

What gives the material world its “quality” is not material at all.
What gives the material world its form is the empty space in between.
That immaterial reality inside the matter is what determines what matter is.
In other words the spiritual part of the universe is what give the universe its meaning.
The material world it is just a canvas for the creativity of the spirit.

Let's take another two material objects: A house and a home.
At first glance it seems we have chosen two identical objects.
But anybody knows, or it should know, that there is a big difference between a house and a home.

We call home a place were our heart is.
Home gives us security, safety and peace of mind.
Home is warm, cozy and soothing.
Home is filled with memories, heirlooms and love.

It is not the material aspect of the house that makes it a home it is the spiritual meaning.
You can have a home in Beverly Hills or in the slums of Calcutta.
The size value or location doesn't matter and does not make a house into a home.
You fill a house with love and it turns into a home.
You fill a house with hatred and you turns it into a hell hole.
It is the spiritual reality inside the house that it gives it meaning.

So here you have it: The quality of your life is not determined by the material but rather by the spiritual reality of your life. And by spiritual I don't mean religious.

Do I want a nice home for me and my family?
Do I want nice clothes and nice things?
Do I want good food, clean water and air?
Do I want a rewarding fulfilling job and career?
Of course I do. I want a decent , good, normal life.

If I wanted a life of devotion I would have shaved my head, put on the orange robe, join the monastery and spend the rest of my life studying the holly scriptures.
So living this normal life rather than a holly life implies dealing with the material aspect of daily existence.
After all we all need a place to stay, cloth to wear and food to eat.
We might be spiritual beings but as Madonna said “we are living in a material world”

It is dealing with this material world that gets us into trouble.
It is the art of balancing the spiritual and the material we have to master
It is the understanding of the dynamic of the two aspects of reality that will put us in control and ultimately give our life meaning.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Meaning of Life II

I am a very practical man.
For me spirituality is a very practical thing, not lovey – dovey nonsense.
I see spirituality as a way of looking and understanding reality and life.
I see spirituality as a set of tools for changing and improving life.
Other wise I would stop burning up brain cells and pick up a hobby.

So when I wrote my first post of “The Meaning of Life” I wasn't thinking of starting an academic discussion or a scientific debate.
The point I was trying to make is that reality as we see it and experience it, has two major principles at its roots.
The creative, constructive principle on one hand and the destructive principle on the other.

Out of the interaction of the two principles, out of the dance of creative and destructive forces our reality takes shape.
The destructive principle – entropy – is a quality of the material, physical world while the creative principle – life – is a quality of the spiritual world.
Out of the interaction of the two principles we, human beings come into existence.

But as some wise man before me said:
“We are spiritual beings having a material experience, not material beings having a spiritual experience”
And although a majority of people see themselves and identifies their being as spirit rather than body, a large majority of us worship the material side of reality not the spiritual.

There is a quite know saying that exemplifies that worship and philosophy:
“The guy that dies with the most toys wins”
Why do we think that a guy that dies with a billion dollars in a bank is a winer and a guy that dies with a billion dollars in debt is a looser?
To me, if material possession was a factor, I would say that the guy that dies in debt is ahead in the game. But that isn't even the point.

The point of this entropy vs life debate was that the material world is impermanent, ephemeral illusion and the only eternal existence is the spiritual one.
All the material things that we value and worship are transitory.
The great pyramids will crumble to sand, empires will rise and fall, given enough time the sun will grow cold and die and in the end even the universe will cease to exist.
Yet the simple truth of these words will live forever.
The spiritual world I am trying to make you aware, this truth I am talking about, existed long before the universe was born and it will exist eternally after the universe is gone.

Holding on to the material world is not only superfluous but it is a major part and cause of our human suffering.
Understanding that you can not hold to the “impermanent” part of reality, that holding on to material things is a formula for disaster and pain is a must step in the spiritual awakening.
But I do not want you to do it because it is “immoral” or because the bible said so.
I want you to understand why it is so, I want you to see that the spiritual things; love, truth, beauty, harmony and peace – just to name a few – are the true eternal values of our reality.
The love, the truth and for that matter the suffering and lies of your life are the only wealth you have, are the only treasure you will always poses.

Everything else is just an illusion.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Meaning of Life - I

This post is a tough one, so I am asking you for a favor; give it a chance :)
It is a tough read but I believe that in the end the patient reader will be rewarded with a new understanding of life in general and his or her personal life in particular.
There are endless blogs out there talking about the meaning of life; to the point that any concepts on the subject matter have turned into clich├ęs.
So on that note, let’s take a path less traveled and look at life from a different perspective.

The general consensus is that death is that specific event in time when life ends, in other words death is the passing away moment of our life.
But look at it carefully and you will see that death is not merely a moment in time.
Death is a state that existed long before our birth; it is interrupted for the duration of our life journey and resumes its course after our passing away.

From that perspective, life and death are two exclusive ways of existence of the universe.
The “dead” or inorganic existence and the “live” or organic existence.

Due to extensive scientific work in the last decades we have come to know a great deal about this “dead” material existence and unfortunately very little about the “live” or as I like to call it; spiritual existence.
We know that the physical universe is ruled by physical laws.
One of my favorite of the many laws concerning the physical universe is the law of entropy.

According to the law of entropy the universe has a tendency to attain the maximum of homogeneity in which all matter is at uniform temperature – or level of energy – also called heat or thermodynamic death.
To put it in lay terms the fundamental principle of the physical universe is “death”

Anything that exists has a tendency to degrade, break down, crumble, decay, die and turn into dust.
The brand new car you just bought will be old in 10 years, in 20 it will be junk and in 50 an antique!
Like a wind up toy, the universe will spend up all its energy and come to a stand still.
(At least that is what the law of entropy tells us :)

One question the scientists never ask and therefore never answer is; who the hell wound up the universe in the first place?
If the pyramids will crumble to sand it is because somebody built them in the first place.
If my hair is falling off, leaving behind a dignifying bold spot, it is because I used to have a full head of hair.
You get the idea; in order t have destruction you have to have creation in the first place.

Life and death are two opposing forces in the universe.
Like the mythical Sisyphus life pushes existence up while death is trying to tear it down.
Like the universe our human existence and everything in our life is the result of this “dance” of life and death.
Understanding this principle and its far reaching effects will put your life in a different perspective.

“Life is suffering” – Buddha
“Not quite so” – Buddha of Hollywood

(Actually I believe that the master did not say “suffering” and what we got actually is a bad translation :)
Any way: Life is a continuous effort against this infamous “entropy”
That makes life arduous, challenging, demanding – but does it make it painful?
No, not at all.

What makes us suffer, what makes life painful is lack of love.
Conversely what makes us happy, what makes life wonderful is our love.

Going to work to a job that you hate makes that job into a painful ordeal.
Going to work for a job that you love makes that job into a rewarding experience.
A relationship with a person you don’t love is a burden and a pain.
And of course, a relationship with a person you love – no matter how demanding – makes it into the most wonderful thing in the world
Take for example raising my two daughters: It is a very hard demanding thing but I wouldn’t exchange it for anything in this world.

So next time something breaks down in your life – a car or a relationship – don’t look at it as bad luck, look at it as “entropy” in action.
Realize that life is a continuous effort and that effort is both the source of your happiness and satisfaction as well the source of your pain and suffering.
Life is not merely being alive, breathing and having a pulse.
Life is the dance of creation and destruction.

To be continued…