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25 June 2018

The Human Garden: Nourishing the Dirt

if someone says you are common as dirt, take that as a compliment

nourish the dirt, our bodies in all dimensions of space, spirit and time

prepare the soil to receive the gifts of the seeds we plant

plant good seeds, but it doesn't matter how rare, precious or beautiful they are if we don't nourish the dirt, our literal, earthly bodies

there are many things we cannot control, but do the best we can with what we can control--create a fragrant, healthy, rich, organic soil, with fine rows and good water; use dark mulch to create black gold

let the sunlight, rain, moonlight, and darkness of moonless nights all work their veiled magic

the harvest will come, seemingly all at once; we'll have so much, the harvest will overflow and the hardest task is finding enough containers to hold it or how to give it away

think of our bodies, literally as dirt, always potentially fertile in so many ways, procreation notwithstanding, and cherish this commonness, visualize holding in your hand a mound of this black, life-giving substance that brings so much potential if honored and nourished

Sacred Breath

Sometimes I marvel at simple blessings, like breathing. Are you thankful for breathing? Are you aware of the absolute miracle breathing embodies on this planet?

lately, I've been thinking about the miracle of breathing. We exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen in a dance with the green plants of this earth. Considering all the religions and sacred ceremony in which humans have ever participated are there any ceremonies as sacred and miraculous as simply breathing? Breath is a holy ritual, one that instantly connects us all.

I suppose if one struggles with breathing, this dance is not taken for granted. Not ever. For those of us blessed enough not to have to fight for breath, do we sometimes take it for granted? This perfect ceremony expressing simplicity and love should be acknowledged.

How about we try a simple exercise in thankfulness for the gift of breath. Say a prayer of thanks. Offer humble and heartfelt appreciation to all the green plants of this world and to the Creator for their willingness to offer such a common, but incredibly loving embrace, over and over, every minute of our lives.

02 March 2018

Herbs for Heart Health: Motherwort



HOW IS IT MADE/USED: Tinctured from the fresh, flowering plant tops in 100 proof alcohol.

HOW MUCH TO TAKE AND HOW OFTEN: The dosage I use is for heart matters is 2 (two) droppers full (approximately 50 drops) in water. This can be repeated in 15 or 20 minute intervals if relief is not achieved. Relief should be fairly quick and quite noticeable.

WHY: The desired effects include but are not limited to: soothing emotional upset or heart-break, restoring heart rhythms from irregular heart beats, including atrial fibrillation, to normal, slowing a rapid heart-rate, normalizing blood pressure, increasing blood flow and oxygen in blood. Motherwort is also said in tales of folklore to restore blood flow around blocked blood vessels in the heart, a "bypass in a glass" as I've often heard my teacher Susun S.Weed say.

CONCERNS: If you are taking heart medications, consult with your doctor or pharmacist for any possible interactions, although I have found no issues using Motherwort even with people on other medications, and I have even seen people reduce and eliminate medications with regular use of Motherwort. I find Motherwort can be taken safely on a long-term basis with no ill-effects. As always, one should never forego qualified diagnosis and treatment from licensed health care professionals. Herbs are quite safe when used properly, but in matters of emergency, my personal rule is to use herbs, or whatever else is at my disposal, and then seek medical help. I don't exclude one healing tradition for another. I'll use anything that works and always choose the method that does least harm.

SPECIAL NOTES: Try Motherwort tincture in Stinging Nettle infusion for a synergistic effect. Within a few minutes, this combo will relax blood vessels and improve blood flow and breathing, increase oxygenation and ease discomfort and anxiety around the heart Charkra.

17 February 2018

Parkland Shooting A Call To Action

Lori Alhadeff, mother of slain Parkland student, Alyssa Alhadeff, vocalized feelings all good Americans are sharing. 

I had a dream right after the shooting that I was a parent and I was yelling and screaming at President Trump. 

Strange that I turned on my TV the next day to see this mother speaking words I would have spoken in my dream. 

When they've gotten to the point at which the lives of our children, children who are in imminent danger is merely a political debate, our leaders and representatives should lose their right to lead. 

Just some random bits of information that struck a chord with me:

1. Police came to the Florida shooter's house 39 separate times for domestic abuse calls
2. President Trump repealed Obama's law making it easier for mentally ill people to buy guns
3. The NRA spent more than $50,000,000 on ads during Trump's campaign
4. The shooter bought his gun LEGALLY
5. Trump never mentioned the word "gun" once in his consolation speech

Some specific examples of politicians paid off to turn away when children die from the NY Times.

A more detailed look at NRA funding and political influence from Open Secrets.

If we sought real justice, the politicians who allowed these slack gun laws, unlike almost all other civilized nation on earth, would be prosecuted and jailed as if they were the shooters. At the very least we can take away their source of revenue, bribery.

One particular student  eloquently and passionately spoke out. Her words have gone viral.
Emma Gonzalez

The anger of these students over a completely failed federal and local policy on the sale of firearms has reached a critical mass. Is the American will finally strong enough to do something about this mass terror reigned down on our students?

11 February 2018

US Figure Skater Adam Rippon's Dilemma & The Spiritual Teaching Implicit in Trump's Rise

The Olympics always makes for strange bedfellows while also offering rare opportunities for meetings between people who would otherwise never be in the same space together. 

Champion US figure skater Adam Rippon had some choice words for US Vice-President Mike Pence regarding Pence's long political history of supporting anti-gay themes and initiatives; Pence is in Korea for the games and presumably expected to meet and greet the US athletes.

While I wouldn't disagree in any substantive way with his Rippon's assessment of Pence's politics and its harmful impact, I also think our only salvation (as a nation or perhaps even as a species) is to sit down and talk with each other, especially those with whom we disagree. To be fair, Rippon, who spoke of his skating as having a "greater purpose," has hinted he might meet with Pence after the games are over, though perhaps their opportunity for convergence existed only in Pyeonchang. 

What I've learned simply from my own experiences during the very strange and very troubling political season of 2016 and its aftermath is we must not shy away from those with whom we disagree. If we can't acknowledge that we all need each other, it's hard to move forward. 

This for me is the single most important spiritual teaching or lessen of Trump's political ascendancy: There is no other. We can play the games of separation and fear-mongering for political gain or just to assert power or moral superiority over another person, but there is no other.

The notion of separation being an illusion serves us well when we're at a spiritual retreat meditating twelve hours a day; however, when we bring it into everyday practice, quite another beast emerges.

Even if we who would side with humanism and progressive pursuits believe the others somehow disqualify themselves from the human family by their beliefs and actions, which let's be blunt can be extremely damaging and dangerous and we rightfully must speak this truth, we must also find a way to come together because we need each other to heal and to move into a space of wholeness. 

If we cannot get together, face to face, in real time and communicate WITH each other, we'll need to start building new KZ camps, and one side or the other will require imprisonment torture and reeducation. I've never seen this level of meanness, separation and violence, mostly verbal, psychological and psychic from one opposing side toward the other. What good does it serve to be "right" when nothing good gets done?

Do I think Pence hates gay people? How can I even attempt to answer that question. Is it possible that some people are so afraid of paradigms, if you will, which exist outside their comfort zones, they're willing to resort to meanness to keep their own demons within on a tight leash?  Any human who says they can never relate to that experience is not being terribly honest. We've all been there, OK? While the always charismatic Rippon says, via Twitter, he has nothing to say to Pence, quite the opposite is true.  

Here's the latest video with Rippon discussing the platform gained with Olympic Competition. 

10 January 2018

2018: TIME'S UP

An extremely brief overview of the past year: Did you know the most looked up word during 2017 was feminism? 

I find this fascinating and welcome and truly inspiring.

Perhaps younger people are becoming aware of or being introduced to the meaning of feminism all over again while seeking to redefine the concept as it spirals through the collective mind all over again. Sensing the urgency and necessity of such a powerful initiative, 2018 began with the advent of the Time's Up movement, introduced so eloquently and powerfully by Oprah Winfrey at the 2018 Golden Globes; we are now entering a new wave of feminism and humanism.

Thinking back to how 2017 began, with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as United States President and a very powerful and visible women's march, I get the feeling this process unfolding is like a wave that began as a ripple in the ocean, now a tsunami of hope inundating the shore and overwhelming seemingly solid objects in its wake.

As Trump delivered his inaugural address, millions and millions of women in the USA and elsewhere took to the streets, quite literally to fight back and to reassert their power against the tide of indifference or even outright hostility allowed to fester in the current political climate. They spoke peacefully, loudly and clearly.

Getty Images 632317422

Later in 2017 #MeToo, as conceived of by Tarana Burke, went viral as women and men across all cultural, political and economic lines began speaking about their own experiences with violence and harassment. Ms. Burke, a New Yorker, was even chosen as the celebrity icon in Times Square to ring in the the new year as the ball dropped on 2017.

What we are witnessing in the United States now is unprecedented.

So many powerful and previously well-respected men outed and ousted from their positions due to stories and allegations of their acts of harassment and violence against women again and again. From film producers to journalists to senators to actors to sports executives, and on and on.  We hear their names echo throughout the media with announcements of jobs terminated and large salaries eliminated. To me this phenomenon is a millennial thing.

In our justice system crimes against women, including rape, are woefully under-reported and more shockingly seldom prosecuted. These inherent systemic biases are all too well known, but a new kind of organic justice has emerged. If you injure someone in this terrible way, you may no longer be able to make a living. I've learned this theme from millennials I teach. They've taught me something. They say they will not support economically anyone who has created this level of pain and suffering, no matter how good they are at their jobs or what they produce. This is something new. The notion that such individuals even if they are not ever prosecuted for their crimes deserve this street justice, this economic retribution, again, in essence, they're not going to be allowed to make a living because people will not buy what they're selling--an old-school economic boycott on steroids--what I would call millennial justice.

*  *  *

This new wave of feminism is truly grass roots even though fueled by technologies that didn't exist in previous times. But grass roots is always good. Solutions that rise from the bottom up, from the common places to touch all levels of society hold the most endurance and staying power. THIS feminism is nothing new; rather, it marks a return to the wellspring of all human spirituality.

This new spirit reminds me of filmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West who made an important documentary film called War Zone (1998) back in the 90s; her film speaks directly and powerfully to the reality of street harassment that women endure every day. I urge you to revisit her work. The spirit and premise being an openness and willingness to initiate a conscious confrontation if you will.  The work is unique and powerful and as timely as ever.

*  *  *

Feminism is like the ancient olive tree pictured below, surviving and enduring all cycles of natural and human change, one that endures and continues to bring forth fruit essential to all life.

So we revisit what we in the modern times simply call feminism, but the term requires a deeper definition and understanding.

In ancient times, until only recently, really, say the last few thousand years, feminism has always been the way human beings related to each other and to their understanding of the cosmos; this ancient tree has roots that go deep, to the very beginning of time, back to the void and simultaneously the source of all creation.

Do you know only in modern times have humans considered "god" or the creator to be male? For thousands and thousands of years, the creative energies were always thought to be feminine. Matriarchy and goddess-centered societies are not the stuff of fantasies, but rather the reality for the majority of human history--these experiences trace back to our deepest levels of understanding and interpreting our reality on earth.

Like a spiral returning into itself and becoming new again in subtle yet definite ways, we reinterpret and create new ways of deepening our relationship with these archetypes and energies--the same that have always kept us alive and allow all good and holy things to flourish.

This is an amazing time to be alive. There's so much potential and opportunity for growth and healing; to redress the injustices against woman and the earth has never been more important and to heal without the presence of the Divine Feminine energy is impossible. All possibilities trace back to that ancient tree.


20 September 2017

Celebrating National Punch a Nazi Day

A video has gone viral of a man in Neo-Nazi garb getting punched in Seattle. The individual is left crumbled up in pain on the sidewalk as the person who assaulted him is congratulated. The Independent is one of many on-line news outlets featuring the story, and here is a slightly more detailed story from Vice.

Many of my current and former college students have commented about the story both in social media and in person, mostly expressing their satisfaction, even leaning toward joy, over the outcome.

My Holocaust scholarship including my book, Freedom From Hatred, written with survivor Leslie Schwartz leads people to the assumption that I, too, am pleased with the outcome; they obviously never read our book or any of the hundreds of articles or news stories posted about Leslie Schwartz and have completely missed the thesis of our work together.

We strive to resolve conflict and to heal the destructive consequences of violence and hatred by non-violent means, which include, but are not limited to education, empowerment, and mutual truth-seeking while increasing humanism and democracy in all nations.

Despite their immense and incalculable losses during the Shoah, neither Leslie Schwartz nor his mentor, Max Mannheimer ever punched a Nazi.

Rather Mannheimer dedicated his entire life after the war to peace and education. He lectured to hundreds of thousands of German students dating back to the first days after the war right up until the present. His presentations never tainted with malice or hatred, only love for truth and hope that if people knew the truth, they might well strive to become better people and to make the world a better place. Mannheimer received countless awards and recognition all over the globe for his work. Leslie Schwartz began his work of educating German students by following the example of Mannheiner. Leslie wanted to share the feeling of doing good. Easing his suffering by helping others, yes, even the descendants of the people who murdered his entire family.

Schwartz also told me stories of prisoners once freed from Dachau murdering German civilians in fits of rage immediately following their liberation in May 1945. One of the people killed was the husband of a German farmer woman named Agnes Riesch.

Frau Riesch spent the war years bringing bread to fourteen year old Leslie Schwartz while he was imprisoned at Dachau. She also gave him money and food coupons to shop in a local bakery.

She called Leslie her son while her unconditional and perilously public displays of affection for Leslie often brought down the ire of SS Guards who once remarked to her, "If you keep this up, we'll put you in here."

She responded, "I don't care. I'm old."

Her biological son was a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union and never returned to Germany alive.

Leslie kept in touch with Frau Riesch for many decades. He even brought food to her from the Red Cross immediately after the war while Leslie was living in the Displaced Person's Camp nearby. Leslie finally visited Frau Riesch again in 1972, bringing her a loaf of bread and smile, pictured above.

There were also other German civilians who helped Leslie survive the camps. He carried their acts of kindness and compassion with him when he left Germany for America. Yet for sixty plus years he wasn't able to speak publicly about the camps until  he had a moment of epiphany and freedom experienced during a visit to Germany a few years ago; he had became obsessed with finding out the identity of yet another German farmer woman who took him and his friends into her kitchen one afternoon during their failed escape attempt near Poing in the final days of the war. Leslie never learned her name was Barbara Huber until recently, but her kindness haunted him each and every day. He needed the world to know what she had done, as simple an act as feeding a few starving emaciated prisoners milk and bread with butter.

Hate and violence are energies that achieve only what they achieve: to bring about more hate and more violence in endless cycles of suffering.

What shocks me so terribly is the flippant attitudes of younger students toward this violence. I don't know the person who was punched or the person who punched him, nor do I  know how their life experiences brought them to that particular and unique moment in time, Flannery O'Connor would call it "a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet". I do know I see hate being held up an venerated by intellectually lazy, spiritually ungrounded, and terribly ignorant people who somehow think this is all just OK. People are angry about a lot of things--righteously angry--I get that, but this is not the way forward.

28 March 2017

The Modern Refugee: Holocaust Revisited?

Probably a blessing and a curse is my Holocaust scholarship; I've never been able to look at anything the same since taking up the cause of Leslie Schwartz' powerfully redemptive and healing message beginning in 2009 when I first met Schwartz. After all the interviews and articles and even our book together, I find I've developed this hyper-sensitive radar to intolerance, oppression, bullying, no matter the form or the venue. I'm not always fun to be around; at times I've even found myself creating an uneasy distance from my closest colleagues. The election of Trump hasn't helped much. I vacillate between outbursts of anger and a more rational, intellectual approach; however, his xenophobic tendencies are deeply troubling on so many levels. That so many people don't seem to understand the regressive nature and inhumanity of the man's words shocks me daily. I simply have a deep concern for helping those less fortunate or those who have been left behind. In small ways, I've been able to affect change, and certainly my work with Leslie has been recognized all over the world, but, again and again, I come across a situation over which I'm powerless and liable to lose many nights sleep over because of ensuing frustration and anger. Not terribly healthy, actually.

When I investigate the refugees now "housed" on the islands of Nauru and Manus, and especially after speaking with some Australian sources, I'm left with yet another powerfully resonant image referring to the ongoing world-wide refugee crisis as well as a empty feeling in my gut as we repeat (forgive me) many of the same thought-forms the world exhibited during the 1930s and 1940s regarding Jews and others oppressed by Hitler. The notions of America first are certainly not new, and looking back on history is always problematic when factoring in the narratives we attach, often having more to do with now as opposed to then, but I keep asking myself, how can the world turn it's back on these people suffering so horribly and for so long?

This refugee "thing" as I have written in my blog is happening all over the world. And nothing about Trump is new or unusual or different. He's just riding a tsunami of fear, anxiety and inhumanity that is gripping the entire planet at this moment in time. Refugees are not going away; there are only going to be more of them. These situations always propose a test of one's humanity--how an individual or a nation responds to another human in need. For me echoes of the Holocaust are all too clear. Every minute of every day we get to relive history and recreate the future, over and over and over, yet we often choose the same dark outcomes and ask ourselves why? We should and must turn back to Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. You either have two responses to suffering--according to Frankl, compassion, seeking to alleviate another's suffering, or fear of what is happening to them happening to you, and thus a closed and hardened heart. Simple and complicated at the same time: 

". . .there are two races of men in this world, but only these two--the 'race' of the decent man and the 'race' of the indecent man. (Frankl 108)

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Turnbull and American President Trump argue over the details while people virtually imprisoned continue to suffer horrors of which I cannot conceive. 

I remember 2012 very well: During Hurricane Sandy, we had no power for 11 days. I was very ill at the time, and I also had to take care of my elderly mom. Things like heat and hot meals were a priority. I felt a lot of anxiety. My neighbors stepped up and helped us. One neighbor brought me ice for my cooler, another let me use her stove which had gas to heat meals, and another rigged my furnace to run off a generator, his generator by the way, so we would have heat and hot water. The town provided phone charging stations and MREs. All this help got my mom and I through it all just fine. Then I think of all these people fleeing war torn countries. Wars they didn't start. They just happen to live there, you know? They too must have children or elderly parents and health problems of their own. What are they supposed to do? Don't their children deserve a life as well? Water to drink and food to eat and to live in a place that isn't dangerous and warm at night? I just can't get past putting myself into their lives for a second. No power, ever, no access to doctors or hospitals, dangerous depleted uranium from our weapons all over the place, people trying to exploit them and rape them and do all manner of harm to them, and I ask, how can we not help? We have so much here; then I see a President who panders to hate and fear and the most base, guttural reactions to shove their faces back in their misery in a spiteful and demeaning manner, and I cannot comprehend any of this. 

If you're OK with all this, then you are clearly a better person than I. Because this shit bothers me to no end. There was a family from Syria that took two years to get moved up to come to America and settle in  Jersey City, near where I live. A church sponsored a nice apartment for them. They got here the other day and were sent back. They have no money and no support system. Back to the refugee camp in Jordan while they had a nice, cozy apartment waiting for them and a new life here in America. I cannot understand the inhumanity in any of this.

Below are links to some excellent work illuminating the tragedy in the islands off Australia by CNN and The Guardian.

CNN ( solid overview)

CNN (regarding Turnbull/Trump)

The Guardian: Nauru files

Nauru Files (Leaked) Database

15 March 2017

Leslie Schwartz Regarding the Current Political Climate

When World War II ended, as a 15-year-old-kid, I was so convinced we would never face another war.

After all the horrors I had just experienced in the Concentration Camps—all because of a crazed man like Hitler—I thought—now there will finally be peace. The world will have learned the lessons and never ever repeat this madness.

More than seventy years have passed and countless wars waged, yet, unbelievably, the global psychology has changed drastically for the worse over the past year or so; I now hear there is even a lack of interest in Holocaust Studies, even as hate crimes and threats against Jewish people and institutions have doubled in the United States over the past year alone.

I wonder if compassion and empathy also fading from the world scene because of the current political climate? In one country after another, the human heart is closing itself off to the suffering of others and taking on a hardness not seen since the darkest days of WWII.

Is this why people are losing interest in the Holocaust?

You must explain this to me because I cannot fathom this new mindset sweeping the globe. I lived through a world where brutality and violence ruled.

These people today have no idea the demons they are summoning.

Believe me, if you owned a time machine, you would not want to travel back to the places I survived. You have no idea what people are advocating with this renewed interest in xenophobia and nationalism.

To witness this shift in America is so strange for me because after the war, there was no dream like the dream of America. The reputation of Americans throughout the world was always number one.

Americans were heroes, known all over the world. I only wanted to come here to start my new life. I fear we are losing this honor gained through so much sacrifice and heroism.

When I think back to my days in the Displaced Persons camp leading to my first experiences in America, I am constantly filled with gratitude for all the people who helped me.

I was then like a refugee today, fleeing the devastation of war, seeking a new home. So many people were so kind to me. I started to learn English for Foreigners at Jefferson High School in East New York. I had a teacher I will remember to this day: Mrs. Hayes, a devout Catholic by the way. Why did she care so much about me and my fellow survivors? Why did she take it upon herself to make sure we succeeded in this new country? Her spirit was of welcoming and building a better America by spreading love and compassion, so that someday her students would also help others.

I will never forget her and so many others who helped me when I was at my most vulnerable. Perhaps what people forget is how much power they truly have—literally to change the world by changing one person’s tragic journey into one filled with grace and hope. We all have this power and this spirit still lives today, just look deeply into my life story and you will see hope and complete transformation shining brightly. Please, let us never lose this spirit. Learn history so you too may build a brighter future.

12 January 2017

Trump: The Ultimate New Age Guru

To me Trump is kind of like a new age guru gone off the rails. The cult leader whose desires ultimately consume him and his followers in a blaze of nuclear-ego-meltdowns. OK, thankfully, for humanity's sake, the meltdown hasn't yet occurred, but what he says is what will be--reality be damned. The one dominant theme in his campaign and his life, as far as I can tell, is truth is malleable. 

He illustrates, in a kind of DarthVadar-like mirror image, what my herbal teacher Susun S. Weed writes about in her book Healing Wise: "there is no longer and objective statement or an objective universe." Safe to say she meant the wisdom gained by exploring the joys of the Wise Woman tradition, a tradition I'm not sure Trump is willing to wade into very much. He seems far more Heroic if we're following along with Ms. Weed's paradigms as described in her masterwork of healing and understanding life. I'd phrase the Trump-thrill-ride-experience more in a Huxley-like way to say, what one perceives is what one will discover. 

New-age prophets of every variety have been touting these immutable axioms for instant fulfillment for decades now. You know, the gospel of prosperity thingy. That technique sadly (up till now, anyways) never worked for me, even though I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s when many self-help gurus advocated creating your own reality. I definitely bought into it (wished it were true) and bought a lot of self-help books, and attended way too many (very expensive) lectures over the years (never Trump University, thank heavens).  I don't really think any of it EVER did any one thing for me.

So, what changed me (at least the part of me that can be changed or perhaps even the part that never changes)?

Kindness, beauty, art, the natural world, music, and especially an awareness, mostly through myth and personal narratives I've tripped over, of a force which acts on human will greater than our material/physical limitations--a spirit within us that yearns for some kind of other-worldly triumph over impossibly difficult life circumstances and that somehow I, too, could tap into that and that maybe I could even help someone else, ease their suffering in some way. 

An awareness of Grace in my life; in other words, despite my all too numerous fuck-ups, God or The Creator (or whoever or whatever you feel represents the Divine, perhaps even just Chance or Fate or "The Universe" as my generation likes to call it) had been far kinder to me than I really deserved and that I must somehow pay that Grace forward--that's really the meaning of life to me.

While I'm on the subject of semantics, my generation spent far too much time WORKING ON OURSELVES.  I've found the fastest way to eclipse our issues and truly alter reality is to find someone "worse off" and help him or her. We quickly lose our ego that's causing us to suffer when being of service to someone else AND. . .wait for it. . .we make the world a better place in the process! 

All of us are going to get sick and die, so why not simply do some good while we are here. 

Stop obsessing about all this stuff--sometimes life is far more simple than we make it out to be. 

Do good. Right now. Be kind. Right now. 

Don't wait until we've worked on ourselves to save the world. Save one person and we've succeeded. 

Spend a little less time in the gym or yoga studio or obsessing over wacky diets, most of which tell us what we must remove from our diets, and by definition do not nourish, as nourishment never comes from removing something, only adding (Susun Weed again). 

Get up. 

Get out. 

Do some good. 

We all have so much power within us--power literally to change reality--more power than a thousand nuclear bombs or a million terrorists to do evil.  

Accessing this power means forgetting our tiny little selves and connecting with infinite bliss that surrounds us as we transcend our own suffering.

Photos Courtesy of Island Sunrises 

28 December 2016

2016's Unholy Triumvirate: Xenophobia, Fake News and Extrajudicial Inititiatives

While not new, among the most disturbing trends I've witnessed in 2016 are increasing tolerance for xenophobia, proliferation of fake news and greater acceptance of extrajudicial initiatives.

Xenophobia: As previously discussed, the concept of foreign or non-familiar as inherently dangerous and something to be avoided at all costs, ironically including self-destruction under the false premise of protection or security while the inherent weaknesses and limitations of isolationist policies or those initiatives which seek to limit diversity in a world brought increasingly closer together with technology and trade further underscore the problems with this world view. Opposing every aspect of modern progress and humanity, this paradigm encourages a return to some "simpler" and "safer" time where the more troublesome aspects of globalism or even modern life could simply be ignored. Anyone can see a future growing tide of refugees and displaced persons as a result of continued armed conflicts and even climate chaos and to advocate for regressive and anti-human, even hateful, thought forms is a cozy hiding place from a reality that must be faced and even embraced if we are ever to heal the planet and create a better future. One can argue hate and racism have always existed in the United States, for example, but what we've seen in 2016 is an open embrace of these ideologies, even pride in using hatred as a tool for "progress." Many of the statements and policies advocated by President-elect Trump are unprecedented in my lifetime. The US is not alone. With a strong undercurrent of xenophobia in the Brexit vote, you have arguably the two most progressive nations in human history advocating regression and abandonment of humanistic values. That to me is truly shocking.

Fake News: As evidenced by the proliferation of websites and links seeking click-bait as I would call it and defined by made-up stories profiting off the complete abandonment of even the premise of critical thinking or rigorous analysis while appealing to those seeking narratives that conveniently explain "reality" or more directly, an unwillingness to live with the unknown and ambiguity. Fake news subverts scholarship and rigor, which admittedly are difficult and often lead to more questions than answers, in favor of scattered fragments of meaningless conclusions based on fabricated sources. Ripe with fast and shallow conclusions replacing any depth of analysis, this phenomenon is the dark side of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. In my previous post I delve into the implications of fake news; most troubling not simply the existence of these websites but the open acceptance, even championing of them by many individuals who seem fine with making important choices, such as how to vote, for example, based on this nonsense. I imagine people in former times being ashamed of sloppy and anti-intellectual pursuits; today people appear to hold the opposite values, even condemning attempts to reign in this intellectual pornography as somehow limiting free speech, as if I were to stand up as tall and straight as I possibly can in a public square and shout mightily to the welkin my loving embrace of ignorance while a mob cheers me on.

Extrajudicial Initiatives: The growing perception that the structure of longstanding legal and democratic processes have reached their limits in terms of the ability to solve the incredibly complex and difficult problems facing the world--the solution simply to subvert laws in favor of a mob rule,whereby the means supposedly justifies the ends. This paradigm is increasingly popular among politicians who willfully and openly tout simplistic solutions to impossibly difficult issues.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is the most striking example with his advocacy for extrajudicial killing of drug addicts and criminals; he reportedly bragged about his exploits as former mayor of Davao City. But Duterte is by no means the only one. US President-elect Trump has vowed to bring back torture while in India there has been an exponential rise in extrajudicial killings over the past decade, just to point to a few examples.

These current trends push the human race toward dangerous and completely unpredictable outcomes while standing in tacit, even open defiance to the values modern Western civilization first honed precariously and often rescued over the past two-hundred fifty or so years, the future of humanism and democracy now in peril. The strangest aspect is the manner in which people seem to embrace these regressive thought forms openly with no regret or pause.

20 December 2016

The Fake News Epidemic

*Altering perception* for the purposes of healing and enlightenment is a very different process than intentional and deceptive manipulation; although sometimes difficult to discern the difference, genuine seekers are always guided by the premise that exponentially more is unknown rather than known, and they're certainly not afraid to challenge dominant paradigms, while fraudulent people purposely alter perception for the sole purpose of manipulation.

The simplest definition of fake news is disseminating intellectual pornography, perverting and exploiting the sacred bond between journalist and recipient for personal profit. In the United States there has always been a long-standing and important relationship between ethical and accurate journalism and the very functioning of our democratic processes. 

Dubbing 2016 the year of fake news seems to me an appropriate phrase to describe the decline of a perhaps once-literate and well-informed electorate into a mob. We've all heard the stories of some Eastern European kid huddled away in his parents' basement disseminating fake news on social media as click bait, and one can argue, with good reason, the results of the 2016 United States Presidential election were greatly affected by these fake news stories (leaving the entire Russian controversy aside for the time being), many of which attacked the character, career and accomplishments of former US Secretary of State and Democratic candidate for President Hillary Clinton, often diverting American voters away from issues of policy toward issues of character and scandal. How frequently were insults and ad hominem attacks substituted for substantive discussion? Even Trump's most ardent critics must admit his mastery of social media and complete domination of the fake news culture. The question that taunts me is could these fake and malicious stories and derogatory memes actually have come from the Trump campaign?  How difficult would it really be for any particular candidate to hire companies that manipulate search results and spread misinformation? Whatever the real story, his reality television background and his many corporate incarnations, often revolving around sophisticated marketing and real estate sales and development make him the perfect fake messiah for the fake news electorate.You take tap water and bottle it with a Trump label and suddenly it is the most delicious, liquid elixir imaginable, emanating from the spring of eternal life simply because that man knows how to market shit.

I see the damage and danger of fake news as reaching far beyond the pitfalls simply of a no-longer-well-informed-electorate, or even a sucker-born-every-minute consumer class, as bad as they may be. Once an idea or story is floated out into the netherworld of the Internet, the idea cannot be undone. Like an e-mail once sent that cannot be taken back, in some hell realm of the collective psyche, these ideas will recur eternally, forever affecting the future decision-making process in profound, albeit subtle, perhaps even subconscious ways. Again, I ask how vital was it to Trump's success that issues were frequently substituted for character assassinations? Has there ever been a candidate in US history subjected to more outlandish tales than Hillary Clinton? The alien baby above only slightly off the usual path.  These memes and fake news stories are nothing new, just an age old trick  hucksters, cult leaders and gurus have used for centuries--alter perception or direct mental focus to validate expectations or, more accurately, preconceived notions, placed within the converts' minds by the master.

So, history becomes rewritten in memes and conspiracy theories.

Now, the social media behemoth, Facebook has announced a plan to filter these fake news stories with the help of identification by subscribers and a team of individuals sequestered away in yet another room somewhere, perhaps even in Eastern Europe, seeking to verify or denounce the validity of these viral messages in the hope of addressing the controversy head on by labeling fake news. Recently, there has been a proliferation of websites trolling for clicks and shares on Facebook often featuring provocative images or headlines. Once clicked, we're lead to sites analogous to the Roman catacombs where we must navigate at a slug's pace through page after page, always slowly-loading and filled with advertisements and links, no doubt also data mining any poor fool's Internet trail as well. You never get to the enticement or bait, just taken down a rabbit hole of white noise. These sites usually focus on entertainment, pop culture, history and, yes, politics, too.  The phenomenon is really just people seeking validation for what they may already "feel" is true. They cannot articulate why Hillary Clinton is evil or corrupt, but they know it must be true. 

Perform an experiment: Search for "Trump memes" and "Hillary memes." While most of the memes for both are extremely derogatory, interestingly, many seek to legitimize Trump, even taking the most vile aspects of his world view and spinning it in a "positive" manner, see examples below.

The fake story or meme appears to provide form and content to previously held beliefs. 

Research is not simply finding evidence to support what you already believe to be true. Research involves critical thinking and testing a hypothesis, rigorous investigation and evaluation of sources and information. There should also be some possibility of peer review and evaluation by others within the particular discipline or community. A name should be attached to a source so that the person's track record can help verify the potential validity of the thesis within the context of previous work. The formerly "journalistic" collective consciousness in the United States has now morphed into a mess of chaos peddled by anonymous sources and ex patriots fleeing prosecution. 

Over the years, I have written much about the importance and benefits of altering reality, playing with the plasticity of perception if you will. This process is an essential tool to the modern shaman or would be healer. With that said, the point of view I am espousing now regarding fake news may indeed sound contradictory, but here is the difference. I don't pretend that what I explore is purely science. It is based on experience and folklore and tradition, and none of it is for sale. Everything is free and freely offered. If you heal yourself with a plant, the experience is uniquely yours. It cannot be sold or packaged as a commodity, primarily an experience of the heart, a deeper knowing and connection, not just within this three-dimensional world. But above all else not for sale. And I'm not trying to manipulate anyone. Additionally, I've never offered my herbal wisdom or healing paradigms as an opposition to modern science or civilization, never in a dualistic sense, merely as an additional option, one that has always existed side by side with any scientific advancement.

Whether or not evidence of covert manipulation of media will ever be discovered, fake news is completely antagonistic to human progress, like static or white noise when one is seeking a clear signal, the monkey mind impeding the meditative process, our perceptions so altered by instantaneous gratification, our egos so flattered by likes, reminiscent of a rat trapped in a experiment in which the poor creature continually presses a button for pleasure at the expense of food, water and eventually life itself; we've now substituted intellectual waste for wisdom.  With Trump's election finalized, we've moved into this uncharted realm, collectively, as a nation, and I see no easy way out.


1. Pew Research Center Analysis of Social Media and News

2. After a few days of research for this piece, I was led to a new hypothesis. Maybe it wasn't the Russians at all. Maybe it was Trump's team. There has never in US history been a candidate about whom so much complete crap has been floated out there (much of it accepted by the way) than Hillary Clinton. Was this election a master manipulation by one of the great hucksters of all time? Couldn't people be hired to generate fake news and spread memes in order to deflect the focus away from any substantive issue toward ad hominem attacks and conspiracy theories? Issues were hardly ever discussed when Hillary came into focus--always the personal attacks--"crooked Hillary," etc. I mean this is a guy who ranted that Obama wasn't born in this country for nearly eight years, gaining much love from the so called alt right for doing so. Perhaps Trump just shaped the "debate" in this manner on his own, but could he also have hired help? Remember, initially, Trump had zero credibility in any political playing field except for the alt right--suddenly he gains a devoted following thousands of people at rallies--by hammering away at themes portrayed in the fake-news-universe deriding his opponents with nonsensical attacks. Remember the story about Ted Cruz' father supposedly in on the Kennedy Assassination? The complete extent of the Trump's manipulation is only understood when examining his transition appointments. He intends to form the most elitist, exclusionary and wealthiest would-be-cabinet in history all the while his campaign theme centered around standing up for the common man's interest. Even his teaser proposals, like prosecuting Hillary and building a wall at the US Mexican border, for example, are now slowly being left to wither away in the public psyche (thank goodness for that). Trump was supposedly "anti" Wall Street and big corporations; all the while, during the transition, he builds a managment team designed to eliminate any remaining restraints on the checks and balances between government and business, always within the constant guise of fake patriotism; his fraud is the ultimate act of betrayal by someone who never had any intention of making America "great" again but only to allow the largest, most powerful, global corporate interests to loot everything. No environmental laws, no unions, no restraints whatsoever. He may well have issued in a new robber baron era with the help of fake news and meme generators.

01 December 2016

Coming to Terms with the Election of Donald J. Trump: Native versus Refugee

One of the most googled words of 2016: XENOPHOBIA--intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries--In my understanding, native versus refugee: A powerful dynamic playing out on endless fronts all over the world and especially in the United States.

The native or local exists in a structure that promises certain guarantees by virtue of his or her native status and the rights that go along with those implied privileges: borders, language, culture; clear claims to ancestry; a way of life including a future; employment; security; prospects for one's progeny to have a a better life. 

The refugee by definition is fleeing forces that make all the attributed rights and privileges of the native impossible: war, persecution, terrorism, environmental collapse. 

The native sees the refugee (if at all) looking through a thick, cloudy pane, the type found in showers and baths so as to obscure vision. 

The refugee is other; a threat; a challenge to the illusion of the local that things have always been this way and they should remain this way without disruption. 

The refugee is foreign, strange, dirty, beaten down--seeking shelter, clothing, relief, calories, purpose, hope, future. 

How do we resolve this conflict when the native refuses to see him or herself in the refugee? Build bigger walls? Demonize the refugee? Defend the homeland?

This issue has certainly been a huge underlying force in recent elections, such as Brexit in the UK and Trump's victory in the United States. That Trump seized upon the issue from early on in his campaign underscores how energizing that one thread of meaning within his speeches and interviews really turned out to be, especially in the light that most pundits and journalists predicted opposite results than what we've actually experienced.

I sense a similar feeling as captivated the United States in 2000-2001 with the election of George W. Bush and the subsequent events of 9-11 in New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. The country feels downcast, colorless, tired faces moving slowly, going about one's daily chores. I don't feel much if any vibrancy or positivity. It's a dark time but hopefully also an opportunity.

One thing I remember well about the days of September 2001 and immediately following was this amazing feeling of unity and of possibilities for real evolution and progressive change. 

The upside of crisis being an opportunity, but we needed (and need) grounding, spiritual and ethical awareness, humanitarian and democratic values. We need(ed) a constant revival of compassion and interconnectedness. Now more than even during that time, I feel old structures dissolving before our eyes as both political parties seemingly self-destructed. Remember, the Republican party establishment completely disowned and disavowed Trump for weeks leading up to the election. 

One caveat is that Trump should in no way be taken as a majority or mandate when considering over 40% of registered voters did not vote. But, again, the biggest issue in this campaign is the dynamic refugee versus native creates--one is "safe" the other needs "safety" 

Can I help someone else without losing what I've got? 

These issues will only be more important as continuous revolutions both political and environmental occur. But we might do well to expand the analogy. In place of native, interchange: white,northern, western, healthy, able-bodied, fully-functioning, wealthy, powerful, right gender assigned at birth, those following the dominant religion, people for whom the laws are protective instead of punitive; you see where I'm going with this? These times call for some caution; we don't want everything to blow up.

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair.


So in the UK and USA, voters decided to overturn the entire system. That's a big deal.

Regarding Trump, I see his biggest danger his natural proclivity for compartmentalizing, mostly a male, left-brain, yang exercise; allowing for separating of what should be interconnected aspects of life and believing the artificial construct is reality. 

Compartmentalizing can have disastrous and destructively explosive results; think of a man with two families kept separately from one another--he loves both wives and sets of children, just not at the same time and never together--what happens when they find out about one another? 

Trump also seems far more concerned with outcomes than process; this is a heroic concept: win or lose, no gray areas; yet heroics are capable of great harm.

His strength might be his pragmatism; not holding too closely to any one idea or concept. He doesn't seem to believe in anything and has the ability to put aside any past experiences in favor of the current project or deal that captures his mind. 

Interesting times and opportunities for all of us to raise our consciousness and do more good. Help someone. That's all.