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15 December 2019

Unacknowledged Grief, Addiction & Mental Illness

In my experience there seems a force equivalent to a solar wind of unacknowledged grief running through many mental illnesses, especially addiction, depression and anxiety to name a few.

The universal experience we undergo on this planet is loss and closely-related grief, and as I've spent most of my life running from this emotional pain, I think the running in various forms is also the developing of a wide range of dysfunction and disease, like addictions, anxiety disorders and depression just to name a few.

As we try to distance ourselves from reality, that reality being an ocean of grief, and like a fish swimming in that ocean, forgetting it is surrounded by water, we naturally hide everything from that grief, like burying a box of treasure in the backyard where no one can steal it . We think loss unnatural or wrong, as if death is wrong somehow. As a child, when encountering death, what adults actually allow you to process the experience? That's absurd, right? The thought is a child can't handle it. We're taught early to be normal and not dwell on the negative, right? So we're taught early on(whether overtly or not) to find ways to hide from the single most universal experience of all beings on this planet--that of experiencing loss, pain and grief.

Perhaps we all believe on some level these emotions will weaken us, make us vulnerable, take us away from normal, functional, productive life. So then, why would the Creator put us in this world-- mostly as a cruel joke, where we spend so much time and energy avoiding the unavoidable grief, running around like rodents on a treadmill, so that we're not even alive?

If you've ever felt the intensity of that emotional pain even for a fleeting second, you can understand why anyone would run from it. Yet that grief is so universal maybe it is actually the entire reason for us being here, the spiritual or energetic (much better word) reality that this grief will break us into a million pieces and isn't wrong but right, and that is actually what is supposed to happen, because by being broken apart we connect with all beings on this planet and recognizes our oneness to them while having the opportunity to lose our egos that mostly torture us in the process. Doesn't every religion preach and teach that? We come here not to come and go as the same entity, but to be changed, and this experience of loss will do just that. Reminds me what I've heard my teacher, Susun Weed say, "whatever is, is right."

Otherwise, as we seek to distance ourselves from the grief and loss, we also cut ourselves off from all other emotions, like joy and even bliss, because to feel something you need to feel everything. The disease and dysfunction is really a strangling or twisting into knots the flow of energy throughout our bodies, until I'm sure at a certain point our physicality is altered by this dysfunction to the point where the disease becomes (structurally) real and ingrained into our physiology, like the way an addiction changes your brain structure and function, for example.

We think we need to cut out the illness, like a mass of cancer to be removed surgically, when maybe what we really need to do is use all this experience as a force for healing, healing not being defined solely by removing the problem, but by some new realm of existence.

And when normal life becomes so unmanageable that literally it cracks apart and we're sick, really sick, everything stops anyway. There is no more normal. We're ill, but maybe we're also healthy at the same time. The illness is there to get our attention like nothing else could to stop us.

Might swimming in that ocean of grief be the medicine that can heal us, by opening us up, breaking us apart and connecting us to something greater?

What does that frontier life look like? Where are completely transformed, quite literally, into different beings, and we acknowledge the debt and the grief and also our connection to all living beings, sharing in this samsara, if you will, and transformation. 

Existing in this sea of grief and debt is an opportunity for growth, a portal into a radically transformed life--the one we came here to experience.

02 December 2019

Millet Porridge Breakfast Recipe

A slightly different twist on your normal breakfast fare, this is a recipe I've tweaked and enjoy very much.

Millet Porridge:

Add 1 cup of millet (dash of salt and butter optional) to 2 cups of boiling water; then cover and cook over a slow, gentle boil until water is absorbed (about 15 to 20 minutes).

Add a few dashes of cinnamon, 1 to 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk, or any other kind of milk you want, a generous pour of maple syrup, to about half of cooked millet (save the rest of the millet in the refrigerator for another day), and mix well with a hand mixer or similar tool to get it almost the consistency of a puree; you won't quite get it pureed as the millet doesn't break up that well, and then cook over a low temperature, a very gentle boil, for about 10 minutes. This will make about 2 servings. Serve warm!

You can also make more millet and keep it refrigerated so as to save time when preparing this breakfast over the next few days.

This is a wholesome, nourishing breakfast, good for people who need help with digestion, people with allergies, those who have issues absorbing nutrients, or just anyone tired of the usual breakfast grains, like oatmeal.

I use whole grain millet for this recipe, such as Bob's Red Mill, as pictured below.


18 April 2019

Twenty Things We Can Learn from Warren Buffett

Like many many millions of people across the globe, I find Warren Buffett endlessly interesting, and I believe we could all do well to take some of the wisdom he's offered the world, either in word or in deed, to heart. Even if one weren't drawn to finance or investing, his wisdom goes far beyond the financial bottom line, although the most successful investor in human history also offers some really good financial tips. Simply stated, I think if we were all just a little more like Mr. Buffett, we might live far happier and more satisfying lives with less anxiety and more self-confidence and personal power. I believe there is a philosophy to the way this man has conducted his life, a philosophy worth exploring.

Buffett's story should be taught right up there with George Washington regarding his importance to the American experience and collective psyche. When teenagers sit in high school classrooms and study courses in personal finance, for example, I hope part of their curriculum includes books on Mr. Buffett, just as American history classes should feature stories about Washington.

Full disclosure: Only recently have I become a Buffett junkie. My obsession started when I watched that famous HBO documentary. Lately I'm reading everything I can find about him and watching countless videos. While I don't know the man personally, nor do I own any shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock, and this particular post is out of my normal comfort zones regarding subject material, I have to say I've enjoyed writing it very much. I hope you will benefit from it as well.

Photograph by Danuta Otfinowski —

What follows are random bits of wisdom and truths I've discovered from my informal research.

These bullet points are (mostly) not in Buffett's own words, rather my interpretation of what he might think or say. There is plenty of great work featuring his direct quotes and whatnot, biographies and the like--this piece is more philosophical in nature; however rudimentary my understanding may be, I believe I've distilled down some useful thought forms.

1. Time can be your friend of your enemy; whether in finance or anything else, time is an ally to be cultivated, or a monster that devours us whole--when you do good things and follow a worthwhile process, time will most often reward you with the blessings of the fruits of your labors (not to mix too many metaphors). If we're acting in hurtful or self-destructive ways, time crushes us as our problems only get worse and worse. And never rush important financial decisions based on someone else's timetable, as in "if we don't buy this house today, someone else will."

2. Your habits and commitment to a process will take your farther than mere intellect or even talent; don't think you need to be the smartest or even the most talented person in the room to be the best; there is so much more to success than just mere ability--our habits and beliefs, all the little things we do all day long, as well as the way we think about ourselves and the way we see our lives, matter so much more.

3. Start young--you're never too young to begin your life--this notion of waiting until you grow up has got to go. Even in childhood we can discover our lifelong passions and areas of expertise--it is never too young to begin. Even if starting something simply means watching others and observing--you'll find older people who will help you as mentors and advisers--people will be surprisingly generous to a young person captivated by some noble ambition, even if that nobility is simply that they want to be really great at something.

4. Failure can be your greatest teacher; when you fail, take apart the experience and examine what occurred, so you're better equipped next time. Look at any failure as a step in the learning process; many bad things in life can be overcome if we're willing to start over and follow a sound process.

5. Play to your strengths, don't be at the mercy of your weaknesses; find out what you are really good at and stick to it. You'll have a much higher rate of success if you stay within your area of expertise and continue to deepen that expertise. This message requires some mental and ego discipline and some tolerance of boring moments waiting for that magic moment when opportunity meets fortune and we are able to make the winning move.

6. A lot of brilliant people have horrible lives; much of our happiness really does boil down to our own choices and especially our expectations regarding our lives; sometimes expecting less leads to greater happiness. Even great intellect and material success don't necessarily equal happiness. Happiness seems more a product our own own minds and beliefs regarding whether we are living life on our own terms or according to someone else's rules.

7. Live below your means; the surest path to wealth (and probably financial peace) is to spend less than you make, and to avoid debt whenever possible. There is a classic short story called The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoi, If you want to know the torture of living a false life based on materialistic keeping up with the Joneses' what was true in 19th century Russia is still true today. Buffet, one of the wealthiest men in the world, still lives in the same and the first house he bought back in the 1950s.

8. Dance to the beat of your own drummer--it's more than OK to be different; it is essential to your happiness. In so many ways Buffett illustrates that we only get one life and it is complete folly trying to live it based on someone else's rules. Know yourself well and knowing what works for you and what doesn't are key concepts--perhaps slightly easier when one is a billionaire, but something we must all come to terms with. Remember he didn't start out as a billionaire!

9. Take care of your body and mind--you only get one; he's seen telling high school kids this wise tidbit of advice; furthermore he's been quoted many times saying we should develop ourselves through education and an ever-expanding spiral of self-improvement and qualifications. Just another feather in your cap as my dad said frequently.

10. We don't need an extravagant lifestyle to be happy; really, no matter if you're an hourly wage earner or billionaire, there is a great degree of personal preferences you get to control. Buffett going to McDonald's for a breakfast that costs a couple bucks is the ultimate metaphor when he could have a personal live-in chef.

11. Make money work for you, not the other way around--the not-so-hidden secret to building wealth in a capitalist system.

12. You can only control how you react to something and how you treat other people, not the reverse; this is about emotional fitness. Apparently, there is a whole lot Buffett has to say about how our emotions qualify our success especially where money is concerned.

13. Integrity matters; one's reputation is worth protecting and any time we might be (even slightly) tempted to cut corners ethically (morally or even legally) speaking we should avoid that temptation. Always best to do things the right and honorable way--you will never have to remember any alibis or elaborate stories. Buffett I've been told likes to go on TV just so he can never be misquoted. He does not take the honorable reputation he's built up lightly and neither should we.

14. Don't waste too much time on your phone or your PC; refrain from too much time on social media. I've seen interviews where, when asked why he isn't on Twitter, Buffet simply says something to the effect of, what exactly would that do for me? Aside from the occasional and very welcomed re-connection with old friends or family, or perhaps promoting a business, time on Facebook, for example, leads mostly to rising blood pressure and time wasted.

15. Being a feminist makes a lot of sense; it is OK to acknowledge the ovarian lottery.This point makes many men uncomfortable but not Buffett. So much of success one might agree is determined at birth as to where, when and what biological sex we are born into. He works for equality for women and freely acknowledges his sisters were just as smart as he was without the same opportunities, born as women in an earlier time and place. Feminism makes sense, especially now, when we realize we have access to the work and creative talents of half the population. The more America and the world promotes equality for women, the brighter the future will be for everyone.

16. Perhaps the greatest gift wealth affords is that you can help others; his example here regarding philantrophy would be hard to top, but the premise is one we can all follow--he who dies rich, dies in disgrace. You can give it all away; you really can. Why not realize the power of your decisions and how they can impact others' lives for the better? Again, none of us will be able to match Buffett or his pal Bill Gates' philanthropy, but we can all do something to make this world a better place. Don't leave the money to your kids, give it away.

17. Would you still do your work even if you didn't get paid for it? If what you're doing for your chosen career isn't something you're passionate enough to do for free, you might be in the wrong field. I've heard Mr. Buffett say something to the effect of, if you're doing something you like with people you like, you're on the right track.
18. Remember this is all just a game anyway--in the end everybody loses--well, that's at least one interpretation of death--but maybe loss isn't that scary anyway-- maybe it is freeing, especially if this insight allows us to approach our endeavors with a kind of casual seriousness and relaxed focus, like an athlete in the zone. Sometimes the freedom of playing a game instead of the tension of what if I make the wrong choice works much better getting you into that zone in the first place. He might deal in billions and billions with the rise and fall of civilizations riding on his decisions, but Mr. Buffett seems pretty chill in the final analysis.

19. Work on your communication skills, especially public speaking. Buffett often credits his Dale Carnegie public speaking course with increasing his success exponentially. I can tell you most millennials are deathly afraid of public speaking, all this fear conversely existing in an age where our every emotion and whim are often on display on Social Media. I do believe an important component of our voice is masked when we refrain from taking our inner life outside for the rest of the world to see--in  person--not on Social Media. This is a key element in my writing courses; when I say voice is it much more than just the sounds we make. There is a connection to some inner source of power that is completely obscured by fear of embarrassment

20. Focus is the one thing we have the most control over that directly leads to success in any endeavor, and in today's world of multi-tasking and electronically-induced ADD, focus has never been more challenging or important.

Some links and resources:
Annual Letters to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders
The Snowball Effect (excellent biography of Buffett)
University of Berkshire Hathaway (a book about the annual shareholders meetings)
Yahoo Live Stream of Annual Shareholders Meeting
HBO Documentary
BBC Documentary

22 February 2019

UPDATE: Dancing with Atrial Fibrillation

My earlier post Dancing with Atrial Fibrillation has received the most hits of anything I've ever written here. I've also received many personal e-mails with questions on the subject. People have so many questions. To be sure, this condition affects a great number of people all over the world. The anxiety with this condition is off the charts as well. Let me just add a few thoughts to the original post.

I'm not a doctor, certainly not a Cardiologist, and I have no desire to impersonate one or to dispense medical advice. I am an herbalist with around twenty years experience in the field; herbal medicine is usually my first option for most of the ailments I and my loved ones experience, but if you have access to qualified and competent medical professionals, always seek them out. Employ all the resources at your disposal. Regarding natural remedies, I never advise an all or nothing approach. This is a common though serious condition and not one to fool around with.

That said, many people, like myself, have a strong desire to heal ourselves whenever possible. We seek to understand what makes us ill and to work in different ways to affect change and to promote wellness. For some of us, increasingly-invasive medical procedures leave little appeal unless desperately required, and I think A-Fib is certainly one of those conditions where the advanced and invasive medical procedures are probably something people like me (and you perhaps) would rather avoid, and I get that.

My personality and experiences dictate that whenever possible I try to heal things on my own with the least amount of outside medical intervention. But when I experienced my most dramatic and overpowering episode of A-Fib and my initial herbal remedies did not seem to be working, I felt I had to go to the emergency room. I think there is an internal knowing for those of us who have spent time learning the language of our bodies, and we know instantly, this is something I can work with my natural remedies or this is something for which I need immediate medical attention.

I think about healing A-Fib from at least two mindsets:

1) Overall nourishment and wellness--the goal being to strengthen our bodies though nourishment, allowing the body to heal itself while promoting greater resiliency when faced with stressors. This is an on-going process, something you cultivate each and every day with individual acts of self-care. While seemingly small in nature, when done over time, they really add up. Nourishment is not just food but everything and everyone we surround ourselves with and using movement and breath in physical exercise--I'm not talking about lifting huge amounts of weight in a gym or running marathons, but exercise that builds health, flexibility and strength, like my personal favorite, Pilates. One dropper full of Hawthorne tincture in my morning tea, and my personal herbal invention, Stinging Nettle infusion with two droppers full of Motherwort, taken several times a week, have been tremendously helpful for me.

2) Immediate first-aid and fast remedy--the goal to quell the attack keeping one out of the emergency room. Certain herbs are quite useful here, especially the heart-health superstar Motherwort tincture, made from the fresh flowering plant tops. At least two droppers full in a small glass of water; repeat the dosage if you don't feel any results within, say, ten or fifteen minutes. Motherwort can also be taken directly under the tongue for even faster absorption, though, generally speaking, we do not use tinctures that way except in emergencies.

Let me provide a few other off-the-radar ideas to keep in mind:

a) avoid getting dehydrated--it seems to me that hydration is key to preventing future episodes, and remember hydration is not just water but electrolytes in the proper balance as well.

b) keep up your intake of potassium--bananas are a very healing food for the heart, and I try to have at least one or two ripe bananas a day.

c) the importance of restful, healthy sleep cannot be overestimated--the better quality of sleep, the less likely you are to be in a vulnerable state, and if you have bad nights, tone down your activities for the next day--take a nap--nourish yourself.

d) proper breathing techniques--learn from such disciplines as Yoga, Pilates, Tai Qi, the proper way to breathe and employ belly breaths with extended exhales during times when you feel on the edge of an episode. I have seen these extended exhales thwart an attack in progress many times. My Cardiologist also employs some physical manipulation to stop an attack; I don't feel confident explaining these techniques here, but they are very simple and mostly safe, so you might ask your Cardiologist.

I avoid most supplements, especially fish oil. I realize fish oil is often highly touted, especially for conditions such as A-Fib, but its efficacy is questionable at best, and it may even bring on episodes of A-Fib. If you wish to thin your blood, the herbal infusion made from dried Red Clover blossoms is very effective. You might drink that a few times a week.

A certain degree of A-fib is probably a natural result of aging and getting an episode is not the end of the world; I think former and present athletes, especially those who've have participated in endurance sports like running, for example, are almost guaranteed to experience A-fib during their later years. My personal point of view is older people, how ever you define older, do not need hard workouts to stay healthy--running is for horses! Do workouts that strengthen your body and your Qi, like Pilates or gentle, flowing Yoga or even Tai Qi.  I'm sure there are many other kinds of movement that promote this kind of wellness, like ballroom dancing or even riding a bike near the sea. Forget the triathlons, please. Time better spent would be growing your own garden of herbs and tending to it every day as a means of stress relief.

People write me to ask if I have experienced any more episodes since my original crash in 2012, and the answer is probably, but they were short-lived and they corrected themselves quickly with a little deep breathing and Motherwort tincture. My heart seems much more resilient after having taken Hawthorne every day for about the last seven years. I think that herb has made a tremendous difference. I've also helped others during their episodes with Motherwort tincture; the heart takes only a few minutes after having taking Motherwort to correct, and no matter how many times I see the benefits, I'm always amazed at how that wonderful healing plant works for us humans.

Think of nourishment as an ongoing process and the progression of healing as a spiral, not a straight line; we move back, again and again, over familiar territory in slightly different ways, while ending up in slightly different place. My teacher Susun S. Weed outlines different philosophies of healing in her book Healing Wise, and I would refer you to her work to get a better understanding of the ways people think about healing and how those thoughts shape our outcomes.

Most of all, be kind to yourselves and learn to say no to requests that don't honor your true nature.

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.