Friday, 17 August 2012

Father's Birthday

On lazy summer days I would peddle my bike to my grandmothers house one afternoon a week to pay a visit. While it was indeed just a visit it wasn't without expectations so grandmother would grab a couple of pails and I would follow her to the patch behind the house where we would pick raspberries. After while Grandmother would bake the berries into a 'Birds nest,' I would gather my fishing gear and wander down to the dock at Reid's Shipyard to fish for tinker mackerel.

After whiling away the afternoon on the docks I'd clean the fish, throwing the guts back into the harbor. There wasn't much concern about pollution in those days although I am sure there are probably laws against that now  (there are laws about everything now). Back in those days the fish guts were just a tasty banquet for the bottom dwellers. The cut off heads were thrown out into the harbor where the sea gulls wheeling and diving in the sky would scoop them up for their treat.

On the way back to grandmother's I would stop at Brewer's market and get an ice cold coke from the cooler in front. Just five cents then. Those were the days when coke was really coke and would burn all the way down while the icy coldness would induce a whopping headache when the brain freeze hit.

Once grandmother knew I had caught enough fish for dinner grandmother would call mother and tell her to come for supper. After father had gotten home from work they would show up. Tinker mackerel with baby potatoes and spinach from the garden and the simple feast was on. Life didn't get much better than that for a boy from the coast of Maine. It was a wonderful way to spend a hot summer day. Father and his three brothers would have spent many of their summer days in the same way when they were growing up.

Today is Father's 76th birthday although we won't be celebrating it until tomorrow and then only as a family get together. Father has forbidden the idea of a party although I am sure my mother will make sure there is at least a birthday cake in spite of his objections. Father has made it clear he wants no presents and he means it so as much as it pains me I will simply give him a card. We are all a long way from Maine now and their are no tinker mackerel to be caught in the interior of northern British Columbia but dinner will be a baked salmon, shrimp, and crab.

There is one present I wish I could give me father though. I wish I could take him back to Maine for a day. We would fish off the dock at Reid's Shipyard and cook the catch up for dinner. We'd stop at Brewer's for an ice cold coke. We'd walk the footbridge across the inner harbor to Porter's Drug Store and have an ice cream at their soda fountain. Maybe we'd walk down to Pier 6 and watch the excursion boats come and go and then stroll back the long way along Atlantic Avenue. My father would like that a lot.

You can take the boy out of Maine but you can't take Maine out of the boy.

(Originally posted to Multiply April 12, 2008)

Book Review: The Power of Now

Title: The Power of Now
Author: Eckhart Tolle
Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars

In spite of having been a New York Time'e bestseller, this book reeked, proving you can fool anyone.

There is more spiritual mumbo jumbo in this book than you will find in a new age bookstore.

If you wish to learn how to 'be here now' buy a book by Ram Dass, or Jack Kornfield, or Steve Hagan or any of the multitude of good Buddhist teachers out there who can communicate the power of awareness but avoid this book. It isn't worth the read.
(Originally posted to Multiply April 11, 2008)

More On Televison

I post this with the hope that a few might read, wake up, and begin to change their lives and save the minds of their children.

Dr. Norman Doidge, the author of The Brain that Changes Itself 
, has this to say about television (underlined text is my emphasis):
" Television watching, one of the signature activities of our culture, correlates with brain problems. A recent study of more than twenty-six hundred toddlers shows that early exposure to television between the ages of one and three correlates with problems paying attention and controlling impulses later in childhood. For every hour of TV the toddlers watched each day, their chances of developing serious attentional difficulties at age seven increased by ten percent. This study, as psychologist Joel T. Nigg argues, did not perfectly control for other factors influencing the correlation between TV watching and later attentional problems. It might be argued that parents of children with attentional difficulties deal with them by putting them in front of television sets. Still, the study's findings are extremely suggestive and, given the rise in television watching, demand further investigation. Forty-three percent of U.S. children two years or younger watch television daily, and a quarter have TVs in their bedroom. About twenty years after the spread of TV, teachers of young children began to notice that their students had become more restless and had increasing difficulty paying attention. The educator Jane Healy documented these changes in her book Endangerd Minds, speculating they were the product of plastic changes in the children's brains. When those children entered college, professors complained of having to "dumb down" their courses each new year, for students who were increasingly interested in "sound bites" and intimidated by reading of any length. Meanwhile, the problem was buried by "grade inflation" and accelerated by pushes for "computers in every classroom," which aims to increase the RAM and gigabytes in the class computers rather than the attention span and memories of the students. The Harvard psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, an expert on attention deficit disorder, which is genetic, has linked the electronic media to the rise of attention deficit traits, which are not genetic, in much of the population." (1)

Scary, ain't it? Or perhaps you didn't have the attention span to finish reading it. Hmmm. It gets scarier.
Dr. Doidge goes on to say:
"To say that a cultural medium, such as television, radio, or the Internet, alters the balance of senses does not prove it is harmful. Much of the harm from television and other electronic media, such as music videos and computer games, comes from their effect on attention. Children and teenagers who sit in front of fighting games are engaged in massed practice and are incrementally rewarded. Video games, like Internet porn, meet all the conditions for plastic brain map changes. A team at Hammersmith Hospital in London designed a typical video game in which a tank commander shoots the enemy and dodges enemy fire. The experiment showed that dopamine - the reward neurotransmitter, also triggered by addictive drugs - is released in the game during these games. People who are addicted to computer games show all the signs of addictions' craving when they stop, neglect of other activities, euphoria when on the computer, and a tendency to deny or minimize their actual involvement.

Television, music videos, and video games, all of which use television techniques, unfold at a much faster pace than real life, and they are getting faster, which causes people to develop an increased appetite for high-speed transitions in those media. It is the form of the television medium - cuts, edits, zooms, pans, and sudden noises - that alters the brain, by activating what Pavlov called the "orienting response," which occurs whenever we sense a sudden change in the world around us, especially a sudden movement. We instinctively interrupt whatever we are doing to turn, pay attention, and get our bearings. The orientation response evolved, no doubt, because our forebears were both predators and prey and needed to react to situations that would be dangerous or could provide opportunities for such things as food or sex, or simply to novel situations. The response is psychological: the heart rate decreases for four to six seconds. Television triggers this response at a far more rapid rate than we experience it in life, which is why we can't keep our eyes off the TV screen, even in the middle of an intimate conversation, and why people watch TV a lot longer than they intend. Because typical music videos, action sequences, and commercials trigger orientation responses at the rate of one per second, watching them puts us into continuous orientation response with no recovery. No wonder people report being drained from watching TV. Yet we acquire a taste for it and find slower changes boring. The cost is that such activities as reading, complex conversation, and listening to lectures become more difficult." (2)

(1) Doidge, Norman. The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books. 2007. page 307
(2) ibid, pages 309 - 310

(Originally posted to Multiply April 10, 2008)


(Originally posted to Multiply April 10, 2008)

Book Review: The Brain That Changes Itself

Title: The Brain That Changes Itself
Author: Norman Doige
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

The blind can be taught to see. The deaf can be taught to hear. Speech is in the brain and those with profound impairments can be taught to read. Those stricken with a stroke can be nearly completely rehabilitated with weeks. Such are the amazing findings from the emerging science of neuroplasticty. The brain is not fixed and it can be changed.

Yet, danger lurks here. Everything we do changes the brain for good or bad and our technology has set us up for a lot of bad: porn creep, the inability to have normal sexual relationships without the excitement of stimulation from perverse pornography, ADHD from too many hours in front of a television or a computer or video games.

The Brain That Changes Itself is a book of hope for those who suffer any neurological impairment or emotional disorder. It is also a book of caution on what we allow into our minds.

Absolutely brilliant. I will refer to it again and again.

Oliver Sacks has said, "Only a few decades ago, scientists considered the brain to be fixed or "hardwired," and considered most forms of brain damage, therefore, to be incurable. Dr. Doidge, an eminent psychiatrist and researcher, was struck by how his patients' own transformations belied this, and set out to explore the new science of neuroplasticity by interviewing both scientific pioneers in neuroscience, and patients who have benefited from neuro-rehabilitation. Here he describes in fascinating personal narratives how the brain, far from being fixed, has remarkable powers of changing its own structure and compensating for even the most challenging neurological conditions. Doidge's book is a remarkable and hopeful portrait of the endless adaptability of the human brain." (Amazon)

(Originally posted to Multiply April 10, 2009)


Cap and Biggins were an elderly couple who lived next door to my grandparents when I was growing up.

In Maine, all ship Captains are called Cappie and I suppose I shortened that up to 'Cap.' I called his wife 'Biggins' although that was not her name and no one ever corrected me. I suppose everyone thought it cute. Biggins was their last name as in, Captain and Mrs. Biggins but for me, she was just Biggins.

Whenever Cap and Biggins were out working in their garden they would call me over for a glass of milk and cookies. Sometimes I would just wander over, knock on their door, and have a visit. There own children lived far away and they seldom saw their grandchildren. I was always welcome.

Even as a child I often wandered around with a book in my hands and it wasn't unusual for me to take one to Cap and Biggins when I took a notion to stop by. I would sit at the table in their kitchen and read while I had the snack they offered me. Cap would sit with me and read the newspaper.

Theirs was a home that was typical of older people of that time. Sparce and functional with no frills. They did not have a television and if they had a radio I never saw it although I suppose Cap would have had one to at least listen to the weather report; that habit would have died hard in an old sea captain.

The cleanest memory I have of their home was the near complete silence. Few cars traveled that street in those long ago days and the only electrical appliance in the house was the fridge with its quiet hum. Taciturn New Englanders, Cap and Biggins did not talk much, not even to me when I visited. It was just good enough that I was there with them and they were there with me. The loudest sound in the house was the steady tick-tock, tick-tock of the grandfather clock in the living room.

In my last two blogs I have spoken of the need for silence. I have spoken of how I crave quiet.

Perhaps it is time to mention noise.

Noise has long been linked to hypertension, heart attacks, and strokes but recent studies have shown that the effect of noise, especially in young children, is far more devastating then previously thought.

Young children who grow up close to freeways, airports, L-trains, or any noisy environment have been shown to have a marked decrease in I.Q. Noise shuts down the release of a neurotransmitter that allows young minds to learn quickly and make the neural connections for for 'mapping' which is required in every activity from learning to coordination.

Even newer studies have shown that even loud music and television as well as 'white noise' such as air conditioners at a young age have the same effect.

Something to think about, perhaps, the next time you subject your young child to your classic rock.

(Originally posted to Multiply April 8, 2008)

Zen and the Art of Reverie

After posting my blog on watching television verses reading books I ran across this delightful quote by Andy Merrifield. The quote was in his new book, of course, and I wouldn't trade that book for a years worth of free cable and a forty-eight inch Sony LCD.

"Does anyone still daydream anymore? Are we too busy, too preoccupied to muse, too fearful to keep quiet, to say nothing and just stare, just drift off somewhere? Who sill sits quietly, sips their coffee, and stares out the window at life, or stares down at the cosmic cup in front of them, at their entry ticket to the universe? Who still enters into a restful intimacy with himself? Doing nothing nowadays means frustration, boredom, the need for facile stimulation, and TV gives it to you, follows you everywhere: in bars and cafes, in airports and gyms, on billboards, in stores. You either watch it or else you make a call, Everyone is on the phone these days, making a noise, fidgeting, lost in action, in speech. Reverie is a dying art, a lost alchemy of the four elements and of the five senses. Our loss." ~~Andy Merrifield
The last two afternoons have been sunny and quite warm. Our remaining snow is beginning to melt. Along the river where I walk the sun gets in a good lick and all the snow is gone and the air is heavy with the perfume of spring. The earth smells warm and rich. The bushes are filled with Red Wing Blackbirds and Robins serenading each other with love songs. Long skeins of geese honk their way north in the sky overhead. Soon the sap will be rising in the giant Cottonwood tress and they will be decked out in their spring wardrobe of light green. The cycle is complete and Earth has reincarnated once again. Life begins anew.

I have tired of the browns and greys of winter. I ache for the return of green. Our green season doesn't last long here. We get a burst of it for a week weeks in spring before the withering heat of the interior of British Columbia bakes everything brown again. After the end of June one needs to travel to the coast or to Vancouver Island to see the deep, lush emerald green I long for.

I was lost in a daydream yesterday afternoon. Just outside Granstsville, West Virginia, past Pleasant Hill, down a side road and around a corner is a little place called Cherry Fork. I'm not sure why it is called that. I don't ever recall seeing any cherry trees there but then it has been a long time since I have been there and maybe I have forgotten. There is a piece of property there with a little church. It is surrounded by towering trees, oaks, and nestled back against the hillside. It is a oasis of green and cool and subdued sunlight in the sultry, southern sun. I have often wished I could buy that little piece of heaven, tear down the church, and build myself the cottage there. I have built that cottage a thousand times in my mind and it is just about perfect now. Small and rustic. Just a kitchen, a couple of bedrooms, a sitting room lined with books. There is a veranda running around the outside. There is no telephone, no Internet, no television. Off to the side of the house there is a garden planted with tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, onions, garlic, beans, peas, and squash.

Do you have a little piece of heaven you can go to in your mind's eye or are you locked into the facile stimulation of television?

(Originally posted to Multiply April 6, 2008)

Book Review: The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility In A Chaotic World

Title: The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility In A Chaotic World
Author: Andy Merrifield
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This is a wonderful, delightful, amazing book. It is a romp through history, art, literature and the French countryside in the company of the author and his donkey, Gribouille. This may be my 'book of the year' and while I am through reading it, I really won't be finished reading it for weeks. I have delightful passages highlighted and bookmarked so I can come back to them again and again. I am through reading it but I am still walking through the French countryside with Merrifield and Gribouille. The reviewers call this book Zen and the Art of Donkey Walking but it is so much more than that. It is the Zen of Life. The Zen of Zen. This is a beautiful book that will take your breath away and leave you lost in reverie for hours.

Jim Crace author of Being Dead, said, "Unless you read Andy Merrifiled, you might never appreciate how interested you could be in donkeys. The author, weary of city life, goes in search of tranquility along the tracks and bridle paths of the Auvergne. His only companion is Gribouille, the most tender and intelligent of donkeys. In their company you will encounter the oddities of French rural life, you learn much from Merrifiled himself about art, literature, and history - but it is the beast, with its virtues of patience, persistence, and serenity, that provides the greater and the lasting wisdom."

(Originally posted to Multiply August 6, 2008)

Books vs. Television

I know people who turn on the Television or the Stereo and leave it on all day long. Tess is one of them. If she has a day off the stereo is turned on the moment she gets up and stays on until noon. At noon the television is turned on and stays on until 11:00 p.m. It drives me up a wall. Are people like this afraid of silence? Are they afraid of their own thoughts?

I simply could not live like that all the time. I crave quiet like a fish craves water.

I haven't listened to my stereo in years. In fact, it hasn't been hooked up in years. It is currently sitting boxed up and in the basement of Tess' house. Except for Sunday and Monday evenings with Tess, I seldom to never watch television. Perhaps once a week I will turn it on, surf through the channels, and turn it right off again. There is nothing on the glass tit that is worth watching and the noise simply isn't worth putting up with. If an asteroid took out all the television satellites or an EMP pulse took television off the air for a year, it wouldn't faze me in the least. Others, I suspect, would go out of their minds. Well, in my opinion, anyone who puts much time into television is probably out of their mind already.

This is my television. There. On the top of the hutch on the computer desk. Yup. That's a 13" screen. Of course I have a larger set in the other room. It just isn't connected. It will probably never be connected. If either or both of my televisions broke, I wouldn't spend the money to replace them. Truth.

 So, what do I do with my time? If you have read my blogs for any amount of time you shouldn't have to ask but in case you do, I read. Now if they stopped publishing books, if the library closed, then I might go out of my mind.

This is part of my library. About 1000 books. There are more in another room. There are books on my night stand, and about half my collection is boxed in Tess' basement because I simply do not have room for them.

 I read. I read a lot. Between 60 and 80 books a year. Well, that is a lot for me. My eyes aren't what they used to be and if you have read any of my reviews you see I also seldom to never read fiction so nothing I read gets read quickly. I would rather read than watch television, listen to the stereo, or watch a movie.

There is the computer, of course. I spend some time on it. But a lot of the time when I am not reading I am here.

 I have a theory. If people turned off their televisions, turned off their stereos, turned off their DVD players a little more often, if they read, if they took the time to sit in meditation, they would be much, much happier, much, much more relaxed, and the world would be a much, much nicer place.

Plus, it would be a lot quieter and that would suit me just fine. Just say no to television. It rots your mind.

(Originally posted to Multiply April 3, 2008)

Book Review: Many Ways To Nirvana: Reflections and Advice On Right Living by THe Dalai Lama

Title: Many Ways To Nirvana: Reflections and Advice On Right Living
Author: The Dalai Lama
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Amazon says:

"Can an ordinary person with family responsibilities achieve Nirvana or Buddhahood? What should be the spiritual limit of ambition for a busy professional? How do you stay positive when confronted with environmental and human injustice? Answering these and a host of other questions from his most recent annual Dharma Celebration, His Holiness delivers a message about the paths to “right living” and the need to overcome negative emotions in order to develop one’s inner consciousness. Wise, compassionate, and always pragmatic, he offers advice on the many issues that confront us every day: how to free ourselves from emotional afflictions and petty cravings, how to transform anxiety into contentment, and how to initiate and keep alive interfaith dialogue in the troubled times we live in."
(Originally posted to Multiply April 3, 2008)

Book Review: Behind the Wall by Colin Thubron

Title: Behind the Wall
Author: Colin Thubron
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

"In 1938 Chaing Kai-shek deliberately breached it [the Yellow River] to delay the Japanese: nine hundred thousand Chinese were drowned or starved to death."

That the Chinese place little value on life should not come as a shock to any one who has studied their history but the scale on which their political leaders throughout history have been willing to sacrifice people is truly staggering. Mao is claimed to have said he did not fear atomic warfare as even if a half a billion people died he could still conquer the world.

This being my introduction I should point out that Thurron has not written a political book. This is a travelogue of his journey through China in the 1980's, after the Cultural Revolution and just as China began its journey towards capitalism. Thus, this is an old book. Anyone who is at all well read is familiar with the modern China of the new millennium. Few, however, are aware of how far they have come in a 20 year time span.

China of the 1980's was an ugly country with little to recommend it and that is made starkly clear by Thubron's book. This is a fascinating look back but it explains a lot about the present problems we see in the worlds largest population. It is well worth the time to read through it.

From Amazon:
"Like a classical Chinese scroll, this book follows a meandering, atmospheric course through China's landscape. Thubron ( Where Nights Are Longest: Travels by Car Through Western Russia ) rambles from exuberant urban centers like Canton and Shanghai through intensively tilled farmlands to such lesser-known sites as the elegant canal city of Suzhou and through countless small towns and villages. With impressionistic color, vitality and immediacy, he creates images that linger in memory: monks performing a nocturnal candlelit ritual for the dead; Mao's birthplace, once thronged with Chinese pilgrims, now eerily deserted; the flamboyant beauty of tribal nomads. A fluent speaker of Mandarin, Thubron often breaks cultural barriers, talking candidly with and even visiting the homes of the people he encounters. Most express contentment with the relatively relaxed policies of their government, and their aspirations are openly materialistic. The author also visited a prison, a hospital, an art school where only Ming-dynasty painting is taught ("as though whole Western academies were to devote themselves to the style of Giotto . . . "). The overall impression is of a pragmatic, complex people, engaged in a quiet stampede toward capitalism, rediscovering parts of their past and ready to forge their own future. "

(Originally posted to Multiply April 2, 2008)

Service in English Please!

I am 56 years old, I speak English, and I have no desire to learn another language. While Canada has two official languages, French and English, I can get by quite nicely with just English. I do not ever go to Quebec and government civil servants speak both languages equally well with no accent. If I need to speak to someone in government I can phone Ottawa have someone answer in French and they can switch to English with no French accent and I can conduct my business quite nicely. Thank you.

If government can do it, why the hell can't business?

I just spent an hour on the phone with my Internet Service Provider trying to clear up a problem I have been having only to have the problem become trying to understand the English of the person who answered telephone. The entire issue took far, far longer than it should and in the end I hung up, muddled through, and solved the issue myself.

Does business even know what 'Customer Service' means any more? Hell, I am not sure what it means any more but I do know it shouldn't mean that I have to learn Hindi, Urdu, Spanish, Or Swazili to get a fucking question answered.

I am tired of calling a call center and having the phone answered by someone in India and not having a clue what they are saying or having to struggle to understand it through an accent so thick it makes no sense. I am tired of calling Dell and having to insist that I be allowed to speak to a native English speaker and wait to be transferred back to Houston where, invariably, the phone is answered by, yes, you guessed it, another Indian, and having to insist again that a native English speaker be put on the line.

Farming customer service jobs out to India, Thailand, or Latvia does not save money if your customers start buying their products from someone who provides service in perfect, unaccented English which is what I do when I get tired of "What may you be doing to be of helping you with your [unintelligible] computer?"

My Internet Service Provider is going to get a blast today. I do not fork over money to have a customer service where the person on the other end might as well be barking like a dog for all I am able to understand.

Here is a hint for them. Before you hire someone, put them on the phone and listen to them yourself. If you can't understand them, neither can we.

Isn't it time for North American companies to start providing service in English again? Hell, even a close approximate would be welcome.

"Hello. Shaw Cable? Kiss my English speaking ass."

(Originally posted to Multiply on April 2, 2008)

What Do You See?

Repeated experiments in quantum physics have shown that the very act of observing a wave function causes it to act like a particle. The observer influences what is observed merely by looking at it.

In life, as in quantum mechanics, you can only find what you are looking for when you know what you are looking at and what you see depends on where you are standing.

(Originally posted to Multiply on April 1, 2008)

Book Review: The Quantum and the Lotus: A Journey to the Frontiers Where Science and Buddhism Meet by Matthieu Richard & Trinh Xuan Thaun

Title: The Quantum and the Lotus: A Journey to the Frontiers Where Science and Buddhism Meet
Author: hieu Richard & Trinh Xuan Thaun
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Einstein's Theory of Relativity showed that three people standing in three different locations can observe the same event and see three different things and yet all three of them can be correct in their observation. Quantum physics has proven that the mere act of observing something changes how it behaves. Buddhism responds, "Yes, we knew that two thousand years ago."

Buddhist monk Matthieu Richard ("The Monk and the Philosopher" and "Happiness") and Trinh Xuan Thaun, a professor of astronomy, have teamed up for a series of discussion on the intersection between Buddhism and science. From creation to particle physics to consciousness to the nature of reality science and Buddhism are in surprising agreement. This is a startling admission from science as Buddhist discovered the building blocks of the universe and the nature of reality solely from looking into the human mind and what they discovered they have known for thousands of years while science is just now finding empirical evidence. The agreement between the two is major with only a few differences.

Buddhism says everything is dependant. Science says that quarks are the building blocks of the universe and are not dependant. Yet science then turns around and concedes that if String Theory is correct then quarks (strings) are also dependant bringing the two of them closer still in agreement.

The major difference is the nature of consciousness. Science says that it 'evolved' while Buddhism says is was always part of the universe. Since science concedes that 'life' seems to have been coded into the laws of the universe they may yet change their opinions and side with the Buddhists.

If you have no interest in cutting edge science or in Buddhism and if you do not have the patience for some rather involved technical and philosophical discussions then this book is not for you. But, if you have an interest in both, then hang into you chair because you are in for a hell of a ride.

This book will demolish your entire conception of the nature of life and the nature of reality. Are you really seeing what you think you are seeing?

(Originally posted to Multiply April 1, 2008)

Book Review: Destructive Emotions by Daniel Goleman

Title: Destructive Emotions
Author: Daniel Goleman
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Read this book!

This was a truly remarkable book. For 2500 hundred years Buddhism has said that you are what you think. Science has now caught up with what Buddhists have known all along - that your mental and physical well being is contingent on your emotional state.

From Publishers Weekly

In May 2001, in a laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, a Tibetan Buddhist monk donned a cap studded with hundreds of sensors that were connected to a state-of-the-art EEG, a brain-scanning device capable of recording changes in his brain with speed and precision. When the monk began meditating in a way that was designed to generate compassion, the sensors registered a dramatic shift to a state of great joy. "The very act of concern for others' well-being, it seems, creates a greater state of well-being within oneself," writes bestselling author Goleman (Emotional Intelligence) in his extraordinary new work. Goleman offers this breakthrough as an appetizer to a feast. Readers will discover that it is just one of a myriad of creative and positive results that are continuing to flow from the Mind and Life dialogue that took place over five days in March 2000 between a group of leading Western scientists and philosophers and the Dalai Lama in his private quarters in Dharamsala, India. This eighth Mind and Life meeting is the seventh to be recorded in book form; Goleman's account is the most detailed and user-friendly to date. The timely theme of the dialogue was suggested by the Dalai Lama to Goleman, who took on the role of organizer and brought together some world-class researchers and thinkers, including psychologist Paul Ekman, philosopher Owen Flanagan, the late Francisco Varela and Buddhist photographer Matthieu Richard. In a sense, the many extraordinary insights and findings that arise from the presentations and subsequent discussions are embodied by the Dalai Lama himself as he appears here. Far from the cuddly teddy bear the popular media sometimes makes him out to be, he emerges as a brilliant and exacting interrogator, a natural scientist, as well as a leader committed to finding a practical means to help society. Yet he also personally embodies the possibility of overcoming destructive emotions, of becoming resilient, compassionate and happy no matter what life brings. Covering the nature of destructive emotions, the neuroscience of emotion, the scientific study of consciousness and more, this essential volume offers a fascinating account of what can emerge when two profound systems for studying the mind and emotions, Western science and Buddhism, join forces. Goleman travels beyond the edge of the known, and the report he sends back is encouraging. "

(Originally posted to Multiply March 31, 2008)

Book Review: A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

Genre: Religion & Spirituality
Author:Eckhart Tolle

Writing books can be a lucrative vocation. Especially so if Oprah Winfrey features your book in Oprah's Book Club, has you on her TV show, and initiates a series of 'world's first' web casts about your book.

It isn't that Tolle's book isn't good. In places it is very good but while he never mentions it, this is merely Buddhism 101. Tolle's strength is in his illustrations and in his ability to put difficult Buddhist concepts into understandable context. But, to repeat, it is merely what Buddhist have been teaching for 2500 years and therein lies one of the three weaknesses of this book.

All the 'book knowledge' in the world will not help anyone overcome their ego-based consciousness. That is an inside job and is only accomplished through hours of insight meditation. It is misleading to make people think that they can accomplish the task of a lifetime from simply reading this book.

Secondly, Tolle proposes that mankind is shifting to a new, higher evolutionary form where ego-based thinking will become a thing of the past. Tolle clearly hasn't been paying much attention to what is actually happening in the world. Islam and China are but two of the more notorious examples of ego-based culture that no amount of higher consciousness in the rest of the world is going to change.

Thirdly, Tolle tosses the word 'awakening' around as if it is the equivalent of enlightenment and whatever he thinks enlightenment is, as any Buddhist can tell you, it isn't.

As a very basic primer on Buddhist principles, Tolle's book is worth reading. For any other purpose it is good for compost.

(Originally posted to Multiply on March 28, 2008)

Things My Dog Taught Me

It has been just over a month now that Kitten has been gone. I wish I could say I miss her less but all to often it seems I miss her more. She was the best companion I have ever had and far better than a lot of people I know. I even miss the things that used to drive me crazy: muddy foot prints on the floor, hair all over the place, getting up in the middle of the night to let her out for a whizz, the odor of eau de dog. Perhaps that is a lesson she has taught me - that all these things are just life and when they are gone, even the things we thought we hated, we miss them far more than we ever thought possible. The lesson is that we have to be conscious of and enjoy every moment of our lives, even those things that seem uncomfortable. They are the warp and left of life. They are our life and all too soon it is over.
Kitten taught me many things. I thought over time I would share them. Here are a few that have been on my mind in the last couple of weeks.
  • 1) Loyalty, not love, is the ultimate virtue. Always be loyal to those you love and who have earned it.

  • 2) If you are bored and there is nothing you can do about it then there is no sense whining and bitching about it. Use the time to lay in the sun or to have a good nap. Both are enjoyable.

  • 3) When you see someone you love act as if you haven't seen them in years and let them know you are happy to see them.

  • 4) If someone pisses you off, let it go. Be ready to forgive and forget seconds after you growl. There is no sense hanging onto grudges and if you let it go life goes smoother. (Unless you are the mail woman - you are allowed to hate her forever.)

  • 5) Always give spontaneous affection. Give someone a lick on the hand as you pass by or lay your head in their lap, or just sit or lay beside them and love them with your company. If you are human give a hug or a kiss in lieu of hand licking.

  • 6) You have a right to expect affection in return from those who love you and if you aren't getting enough it is okay to ask for it.

  • 7) When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, sleep. When you are angry, growl. When your ass itches, scratch it. When the grass is green, lay down and enjoy the sun. Whatever you do, do it with all your attention.

  • 8) It is going to get cold and it is going to snow so you might as well enjoy it.

  • 9) When you are out for a walk just stop sometimes and enjoy the beauty: smell deeply and look around. The joy is in the trip, not the destination.

  • 10) If you run with the pack you are going to get shot at. Stick with those who are winners and who take it slow and easy.

  • 11) Never bite the hand that feeds you unless that same hand suddenly tries to take you food.

  • 12) Not everyone who calls you a friend is really your friend. Be nice but keep wary.
and finally
  • 13) Don't ever be embarrassed if you fart. It is part of life. If someone is so fastidious they can't handle it they can get up and move.

(Originally posted to Multiply on March 27, 2008)

Book Review: Untrain Your Parrot: And Other No-Nonsense Instructions on the Path of Zen by Elizabeth Hamilton

Title: Untrain Your Parrot: And Other No-Nonsense Instructions on the Path of Zen
Author: Elizabeth Hamilton
Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars

Elizabeth Hamilton (and her husband, Ezra Bayda) teaches at the Zen Center of San Diego. Still, one wonders why she bothered to subtitle this book "And Other No-nonsence Instructions on the Path of Zen." In spite of her repeated references to Dogen, early in the book Hamilton spends some time explaining her decision to de-capitalize Zen to zen in deference to her universal understanding of Zen. The result is something that is neither Zen or zen and it certainly has little to do with Buddhism.

If I were to re-title this book I would name it "Training Your Parrot" or, perhaps, "Watch Elizabeth Train Her Parrot. Her repeated use of "I," "I," "I" make this a book that could, for the most part, have been written with a typewriter with only one key. Her vocabulary and writing stile are stilted and ponderous and remind one of a star struck college sophomore, dictionary at her side, writing to a professor she desperately wishes to impress. Thoughts are never completed, paragraphs jar together and by the time one finishes the book one realizes Hamilton has contributed nothing more in 199 pages than self aggrandisement which becomes painfully obvious with the name dropping that takes place in the Acknowledgements. Acknowledgements that conspicuously omit the name of her primary teacher.

Hamilton (and her husband) were Dharma heirs of Charlotte Joko Beck who also taught at ZCSD but who later disassociated herself from both of them. A Zen Master disassociating themselves from their own Dharma heirs is nearly unprecedented and while, to the best on my knowledge, the reasons have never been made public, it is all to easy to guess why.

Have you ever been in the presence of someone who is truly authentic? Who is self actualized? Who has managed to do away with self conceptualisations? It is electric to be around them. You are irresistibly drawn to them. There is no doubt at all that they have 'gotten it.' You sense this around people such as Thich Nhat Hanh, or H.H. the Dalai Lama, or Chozen Bays, Roshi. Reading Hamilton there is the clear sense that not only has she never 'gotten it,' she never had it.

If you are tempted to spend the $18 on this book may I offer an alternative? Just remove the $18 from your wallet or purse and set it afire with a lighter. Watching your money burn will be less painful then reading this book. It will also provide more entertainment.

Oh, well, it isn't a complete loss. The next time I go camping I will take this along and drop it on top of the Sears catalogue in the outhouse. Someone can put it to good use wiping their ass with it.

(Originally posted to Multiply March 19, 2008)

Book Review: An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life by The Dalai Lama

Title: An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life
Author: The Dalai Lama
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This book was compiled from a series of lectures given by H.H. in New York City in 1997. It runs the gamut of Buddhist teachings but the chapter on emptiness is worth the price alone. Clear, concise, and as always, compassionate. An excellent read.

None of the Above

My father grew up in a very poor family with three brothers, his mother and his father. His father was an alcoholic who could seldom hold a job and who spent most of his income on alcohol. My grandmother was a school teacher who made a meagre income with which she tried to hold her family together. When he was thirteen my father took and afternoon and weekend job that lasted until he graduated so that he could help his family out.

While the great love I was bestowed with hid it from me and I never knew it until I was much older, we were very poor when I was a child. Father worked two and three jobs and mowed lawns on the side simply to feed, house, and clothe us. Life was very difficult for him and he worried constantly. By the time I was a teen, father had landed a good paying job and did well for the rest of his working career. He and my mother are quite comfortable in their retirement but that owes more to their frugality with money than any great bank account.

Struggling, as he did, it would have been easy for my father to 'take' every chance he got and yet he never did. My memories are of someone who gave at every opportunity, someone who gave from his own poverty.

Father gave me a life lesson when I was very young that I have never forgotten although I didn't even realize I was being taught until years later when the significance of what he had done struck me one day.

Out in the garden one evening, which was kept out of necessity and not because he was an early advocate of green living, the hoe father was using broke. Calling me to come with him we jumped into the ancient truck and drove to the hardware store in town. It was evening and the store was closed but in those days theft was not the problem it is today. Father helped himself to a new hoe that sat outside, unguarded, in the hardware store's display. Early the next morning father called me to come with him again. We drove back to that hardware store and waited for it to open and the minute it was we went inside where father announced to the owner that he had taken a hoe from the display the previous night and asking how much he owed him.

That lesson in honesty has never been lost on me.

Desperately poor, always struggling for money in those days, Father always paid his debts and in the process taught me a lot about honesty and about money.
In the world of currency and governments a nation's honesty is maintained the same way. The nation works to keep its currency high and to pay its debts thus maintaining its standard in the world community.

Debt is a horrible thing. The more you owe the less that you have and in the world of nations the more you owe the less your currency is worth. In this analogy, the United States has not only become poor, it has become dishonest and it is about to reap what it has sown in the form of a massive recession. Unfortunately, that comeuppance is going to be suffered by the entire world economy. In other words, the entire world is going to pay for the financial mismanagement and dishonesty of the U.S. government. Not, I am sure, that they really care.

Whether you are a government or a family or an individual, you simply cannot continue spending what you do not have without disastrous consequences.

Frankly, I am glad I am living in Canada. Not that will insulate me from a recession precipitated by profound U.S. government and business irresponsibility, but because I do not have to vote in the upcoming U.S. elections.

Not one of the three candidates left running 'get it.' One wishes to continue spending at the current levels without eliminating tax cuts and the other two are both proposing massive spending increases that will double the current U.S. debt at a time that it is near collapse.

The only way I could vote in the U.S. election this year is if there was a box for "None of the Above." I can assure you the U.S. economy would be in much sounder shape if it has been 'raised' by my father rather than Wall Street and Washington, D.C.

(Originally posted to Multiply on March 16, 2008)

Nothing Happens Next. This Is It.

"Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.
When we let go of wanting something else to happen in this moment, we are taking a profound step toward being able to encounter what is here now"
~~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

(Originally posted to Multiply March 15, 2008)

Book Review: The Wisdom of Forgiveness by Victor Chan

Title: The Wisdom of Forgiveness: Intimate Conversations and Journeys
Author: H.H. the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

For over 30 years Victor Chan has been a member of H.H.'s inner circle and has had near unprecidented access to the Dalai Lama. They call each other 'friend.'

This book is a record of their conversations together that have gone on over many years. This book is not about H.H. as the Dalai Lama or the Dalai Lama as the spiritual leader of Tibet. It is not about his role as the political leader of Tibet. This is a book about H.H. the man.

In a rare discussion of his spiritual life the Dalai Lama will not claim to be a bodhisattva but it is clear that his love and compassion for all of mankind shine through everything he does and says.

This book has given me a new and profoundly deeper respect, and admiration for H.H.