Monday, December 4, 2017

The Key to Making Big Changes

This idea could change your life. I did for me.

If you could get yourself to do the things that you know will make you happy or bring you success, you would be happy and successful. But, like most of us, we know what we need to do...but we don't do it. There are all kinds or reasons and excuses. The bottom line is not that we don't have the ability, it's that we don't have the right thinking. 

For years I wanted to stop eating meat, fish, cheese, eggs. I had all the reasons. Health, environment, compassion for animals. Try as I might I never succeeded. Then I had this idea. I call it brainwashing myself, which my daughter Angela instructed me that that was too negative a term. So, let's call it reconditioning my mind. 

The great thing in our modern world is that you don't need anyone to help you, or do it for you. You do it yourself. It's easy. It's fast. It's simple. It works.  And it doesn't take up a lot of time.

Back when I wanted to change my diet I considered ideas that I learned back in grad school working on my doctorate. Putting together concepts regarding motivation and changing habits, I hit on the idea of using youtube to "recondition" my mind. Knowing that if I could change my mind, that would lead to a change in behavior and actions.  

Every morning, for about 10 minutes, I would watch a youtube video on all the reasons not to eat animal products. (This was for avoidance conditioning.) Every evening, for 10 minutes, I would watch a video on what to eat instead. (This was for attraction conditioning.)

I began to detest the idea of eating animal flesh. I began to discover alternative meals that were delicious. (Who would have thought Indian food could be so good?) It worked. It wasn't painful. It wasn't difficult. I changed my mind and it didn't take willpower or work to change my behavior. 

The videos not only work on your emotions, they give you great ideas and the wisdom of the community of others who want the same as you. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. It's already done for you. The research, the answers, the science, the experiences.

Recently I had been struggling with my running. I love running. For years I ran 5 miles every day. Over the past 3 or 4 years different issues came up which prevented me from doing the 5 miles. And every time I tried to recondition myself I couldn't get there. I would get tired and stop after 2 or 3 miles. And every run was a struggle. 

At first I thought maybe it was because I was now 65 years old. Too old to run 5 miles a day. But, I could see that other people were running marathons and were older than me. No, it wasn't physical, it was mental. And I remembered what I did to change my diet. 

Back on youtube I watched running videos. This time I added a books and articles to read. I had to get back to running. The videos inspired me, books gave me new ideas on what to do. I am happy to say that it worked like a charm. In fact, I'm so excited about running again I'm looking at training for a marathon. 

I am convinced there is no other way so easy to change your life to get what you want with so little effort.  Some of you will think what a sweet little article and idea, and then forget about it, because even 20 minutes a day is too much work for you, too high a price. But, some of you will give it a try and be amazed that you can change your life. What do you want? Go for it!


Friday, July 7, 2017


This morning while I was meditating, as is my practice every morning, I had an insight. I was paying attention to my breath, a favorite way to quiet my mind and thoughts, and realized that I wasn't the one doing the breathing.

Of course I could control my breath, up to a point, but my breathing was going on of itself. Or was it? If I wasn't doing the breathing then who was? The obvious thing would be to say my body was. But was it? My body does all kinds of things without my awareness. Digestion, fight off infections, eliminate waste, maintain a correct temperature. How do all these things happen without my help?

Okay, so I'm not the one doing the breathing. Who is? My body? But, my body is just a collection of atoms, into molecules, into cells, into tissues, into organs. What does an  atom or molecule know? Or a cell or tissue or organ know for that matter?  They don't have brains. Maybe my body isn't running the show. So who is?

At that point the idea that it was nature came to mind. Nature? What is nature. Plants, animals, mountains, oceans, deserts. No, that is just stuff, material, physical, chemical, biological stuff. Those things can't do anything. I suspect, and this is just my feeling, nature and God are the same. That's what the Seventeenth Century Dutch philosopher Spinoza thought. The intelligence that controls all my body without my awareness is the same intelligence that controls (maintains and created) the universe. 

If not God, then who is running my body when I'm not? I'm open to other suggestions.

So, who cares, what's the point, what difference does it make in real life? For one, to me it's very interesting that there is another intelligence involved in keeping me alive. Me, I'm the awareness of all this. But not the master conductor.  God, or nature, is the energy and intelligence that supports "my" life. There is a partnership, team thing going on. I'm not in this alone. We are not in this alone. When I meditate, when I watch "my" breathing I am watching God. I am watching God keep me alive. I am intimately connected to nature, to all living and non-living parts of this universe. And that is a comforting thought.

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Fish in a Tank

We are fish in a tank. Not really sure where the tank ends. It's a big tank. Actually, we can't see the end of the tank it's so big. We live in this tank, and everything goes along obeying the laws of physics. That is, most of the time for many people.

Some fish in this tank have odd experiences though. For example, this fish here, Frank. Being highly educated and a rational fish accepts the laws and theories of science. Climate change is real. Evolution can be seen in historical perspectives. The universe, I mean this fish tank,  began with a big bang. Etc. 

For many people that's it. All that exists is this fish tank. Everything experienced occurs according to the laws of physics and chemistry in our little world. There is no proof that there is anything beyond the fish tank.

The Frank fish would be happy to agree with these people. He doesn't want to look like a stupid fish believing in fairy tales from the past. How can there be anything beyond our fish tank? But, early in this fish's life strange things happened. Once, while jumping out of the water he saw a glimpse of a sky and land outside the tank! (Maybe it was the LSD he took.) 

But, then it happened another time without help. Not sure that the fish dreamed it up or it actually happened but a voice from outside the tank told him something that surely could not have come from inside the tank. It wasn't just that the voice sounded from outside, but the message was so powerful, such a directional force for the fishes life that the fish is convinced, even 30 years later, that no fish intelligence could ever have made this up.

It happened one time, again, not knowing if this occurred in reality or imagination (so real was the experience), the fish experienced being lifted out of the tank, was shown a dry world, and given another message that could not have been thought up by a fish. How strange. 

At this point the fish didn't know what to believe. Some fish friends think he is silly and some think not. Some have even had similar experiences. But those who have never had any experience of being outside the tank rightfully point to the science that this is impossible. And Frank fish agrees. It is impossible...but, it happened. What can you do? Maybe those experiences were just imagination. Maybe the tank is just imagination. 

The fish still swim in the tank. Who knows? The tank is certainly more interesting these days. Some problems are not meant to be answered but lived with. And who knows...maybe we all get to look out of the tank at some time.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Being Observant

Did you know that being observant can make you happier? Can make your life more peaceful? Can give you more control of your emotions? It can and does.  Recently I have realized that being observant is one of the most useful skills to acquire. It's true.

Normally we live our lives on cruise control. Things happen, we react. We see a Facebook post, it makes us angry.  We do things, and our minds are on something else.  We eat dinner but don't taste what we eat because we are thinking of what to do next. Things happen in our lives that take away our happiness, our peace, our control, and because we are not observant we don't do anything about it. 

I don't know how this came about but the last few months I have been able to observe myself and my life more. It may have something to do with my meditation practice. Meditation often is about becoming more skillful in watching thoughts and life as it comes and goes. I catch myself noticing events and I catch myself not noticing what I have just done (which also is important). 

I live in the very noisy and crowded Vietnamese city of Nha Trang for a good part of the year. Transportation for me is on my motor bike. The Vietnamese, and now the Russians living here, use their horns constantly. Usually to announce their presence and to get out of their way. (In all fairness, not all Vietnamese do this.) I generally get angry at the rudeness. Recently I catch myself, notice my useless emotions, and seeing that they do not make me feel better, I let them go. 

At first the noticing was occasional. Then it became more and more. I began noticing the noticing and that the more I noticed the more I was in control of my reactions to events in my life.

Seeing that this was making me feel better I have attempted to expand my noticing and observing. It works. It works while doing pleasant things too, like eating or getting a massage. The experience becomes richer and more enjoyable.

Becoming more observant and developing the skill of noticing things may be one of the more important abilities we can acquire. It can really make you happier. It can help you do what is important to you, not what you have been conditioned to do. And life can become more peaceful. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Labyrinth

A number of years ago, when I was enrolled at Union Institute and University working on my Ph.D. in psychology, one of my classes took a weekend away for introspection or something like that. Part of the training involved walking a labyrinth. 

A labyrinth is a maze-like walking path used to foster reflection or induce a spiritual experience. Used in religious settings in can take the place of a mini pilgrimage. I am not inclined to have faith in such practices, although I have had what are commonly called "spiritual experiences" a few times in my life. I had no expectations at all in beginning this exercise, and thought it would be a waste of time. 

There were about 40 of us students and slowly one at a time we entered the labyrinth. I was about in the middle in entering. The labyrinth begins as a wide circle spiraling inwards. You walk in circles becoming smaller and smaller until you reach the center and then reverse direction and walk out. 

I tried to clear my mind as I began, taking my steps consciously. Slowly something began to happen. I can only describe it as a feeling of warmth, love, kindness, and safety. I walked past other people and saw them as partners on my life journey. The whole walk took on the image of my life in symbol. In other words, the labyrinth became a symbol for my whole life.

I continued to walk closer and closer to the center. As I did, the feelings became stronger and stronger. I realized I was walking towards God, who was the center of my life. By the time I go there tears were streaming down my face. What caused all of this makes no sense what-so-ever from a rational scientific perspective. None of this should have been happening.

The center of the labyrinth held me for a moment and I experienced perfect joy, peace, happiness. Complete fullness and I realized I lack nothing. I turned and began the journey back out into the world. I remember stepping out of the maze and looking at the sky, seeing a small plane flying over. And experiencing complete freedom. 

For me, that day was a gift and a message. Our lives are meant to be a spiritual walk to Grace. We are given joy, love, peace, in a surprise. And then we walk back out into the world, sharing what we have been given. There is nothing to share if we don't, by grace, experience God, or the Source (call it whatever you want to call it). But, each of us can...and must do this, if we want to heal the world, love our friends, be useful in some way, we must walk inward in whichever way we can.

Thank you to my sister Joyce, who in recently walking a labyrinth, reminded my of this one. And it reminds me I can do this walk everyday of my life. Love to you all.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Most Important Thing To Know

What is the most important thing to know? Some people think it is to know if there is a God or not. Some think that it is to know that science has the only answers that are important. Or that the physical world is all there is.  What is the meaning or purpose of life? These are big truths that need answering. But I propose that there is a truth that you need to know before all of these. If you ignore this truth, all other truths (or beliefs) that you hold may be wrong or arrived at by mistake.

Here is the most important thing you need to know: we see the world not as it is but as we are.

Why is this the most important thing to know? Because we don't see reality, the world, the universe, simply as it is. We are biased. Let me say this again louder. We are biased. We cannot help it. We are made that way. All that we think and how we evaluate evidence to come to conclusions are the result of living our lives up to now. We don't hold our beliefs...there is a God, or the opposite, the physical world is all there is, on pure evidence that we have accumulated rationally. 

Human beings are not rational creatures, even though we like to think that we are. That is another false belief most of us hold, but there is plenty of research showing this is true. My friends that are atheists have come to this belief, and it is a belief, through evidence that has been put together based on something else other than a rational system. And the same goes for my friends who are theists and believe in a God. 

We can see the same things and come to different conclusions all the time. Look at the political landscape these days. Liberals think conservatives are crazy, or worse. Conservatives think liberals are crazy, or worse. And we live in the same country, exposed to basically the same things, but we filter out the evidence differently. So we see the world differently. We see the world not as it is, but as we are.

This is so important to know. First of all, if we realize this we can hold our beliefs not so tightly. We can be open to take in evidence better. Know that what you see is not simple truth, simple reality. We have an inner filtering devise. It's not important to try to get rid of it, just know it is there. 

Secondly, knowing that our filter, our mind and emotions, changes what is real to something else, we have to know that what it is we are seeing is changed by who we are. We can't help it. It is in our nature. I've had incredibly loving parents. It's easy for me to believe in a loving God, a safe universe. If I had been brought up in a dysfunctional home, chaotic, maybe I would start my search for reality from a different place using a different filter for my evidence. 

I am not arguing here for either realities. I am saying that unless you understand this, most likely what you believe in is distorted by your life experience. We need to know that we are wearing a filter, then, and only then, can we begin to look at the evidence around us and try to understand our world. To do it without knowing that we see the world not as it is leads us into error and probably a waste of precious time.

Friday, March 11, 2016

How Should I Live My Life?

As I have been getting on in years (not realizing this simply by counting the numbers, but through the loss of parents, changes in living situations, and my body not being as athletic as it was just a few years ago) I have been thinking more and more about the big questions.

Actually, there is only one question when you get to the heart of it. What is real? 

By that I mean, is the universe made up of only material things that can be counted and measured? Or are there more, non-material "things" such as souls, spirits, love, justice, free-will? 

I am an educated person and I real a lot and hopefully with degrees in philosophy, holistic counseling, and psychology I should be able to say something meaningful about "the big question." I read and listen to lectures regarding these topics and have come to a tentative conclusion worth sharing. Do not expect a proof or such, because that is unattainable. The best any of us can do is submit evidence and others can do what they will with it. Everyone comes with their own biased lenses in how they see the world. We can never take those lenses off, the best we can do is to be aware and try to compensate for them.

Starting with the Big Bang does nothing to support a materialist reductionistic position. If you believe that matter is all there is, then good luck on hanging your hat on this one. We are asked to believe that there was nothing (or a tiny particle) and then we have the universe. Ha ha. That makes the miracle stories in the Bible seem like childs play. The best that scientists can say is that there was a quantum fluxuation and a particle "wormed" its way into existence (out of nothing). Easier to believe that a guy turned water into wine than that one. 

From there I went back to my graduate studies on quantum physics. The story gets worse. Particles that only materialize some place when they are observed, until then they are only waves existing...everywhere and nowhere. I am not going to discuss quantum physics here other than to say that our best scientists describe the universe at the quantum level as...spooky. 

Where does that leave me and my quest for understanding the big question, what is real? Right where it seems I am supposed to be. My conclusion is that we are not supposed to know. But, we are supposed to wonder. We are supposed to consider these things. And in doing that I find that I do have an answer to what is real. And it is exciting and of practical daily use!

What is real? Don't fall off your chair. This is the last thing I thought I would ever say. This stuff never interests me. Here it is:

Technically speaking...its ethics. Rationally speaking...its living a moral life. Practically speaking... its being kind.

Briefly (I've already made this blog too long) here is a simple bit of evidence supporting my thoughts.

What is the most healthy diet and life style for human beings? Turns out the healthiest is also the kindest. If you don't eat animals, or consume their means of reproduction, you will live longer and healthier. (There are some of you who will disagree, but, there is so much evidence for this position that I consider it a fact and dare any one to a debate about it.)  At the same time you are being kind to the planet as a whole.

Anyway, you get the point. The hard science and physical universe is a mystery beyond belief. But, that's okay, because that isn't what is most important to you. You and I want to be healthy and happy human beings. And now you know how to do it. 

If I had been listening to the Dalai Lama, who said that his religion is kindness, I could have found this out a long time ago. Good luck, be kind.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Music, Life, and Forever Young

I don't know about anyone else but when I think about my life I always go back to my late teens and early 20's as being the most alive, or more accurately, most evolving and changing. Maybe that's the same thing. Changing/evolving equals alive.

It was at that time I began emerging like a chick from a shell. I became aware of the outer world. And what I saw I attached myself to in a way that imprinted itself on me for most of my life. Music of that time was one of the strongest influences on me. Why music? 

In those days our lives rolled out to the soundtrack of rock and roll, blues, motown, jazz, and country. Looking back it seems like music was everywhere with everything we did. We became infected.

The first thing I ever bought on my own was the first Beatles album after seeing them on the Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles and the Stones were my musical ushers. We knew the words to every song on every album by heart. We sang "I Saw Her Standing There" in the school yard at recess with air guitars. My cousin Joey and I sang "Please Mr. Postman" to the postman when he came with the mail.

Then the Red Sox won the pennant in '67 and the highlights  played out to the music of "The Impossible Dream." To this day I cannot hear that song without getting goosebumps and recalling the joy of that summer.

Then came girls and parking and making out while Van Morrison and dozens of other singers sang love songs. We reflected on life with Bob Dylan. We got stoned listening to Santana and Steppenwolf. We protested war with Woodstock. Even learned to appreciate harmony with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

Back then we knew that Black Lives Mattered and loved Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, Diana Ross, and a host of others. 

Over the years and with age the role of music changed. Instead of informing and inspiring, it became a medicine to heal the wounds inflicted on us through living. Dancing became a bit more mechanical. 

Now, as life slows down again, I find myself alive and dancing like the teenager again. Rediscovering the bands that midwifed me into who I became. Quite surprised, as in welcoming back my first best friend Joey Shea into my life again, finding that we have changed little and the smile and playful kids are nearly exactly as remembered. These days I go everywhere with my ipod and music playing in my ears to drown out the constant noise of living here in Vietnam. And there has been a huge qualitative change in my life as I find myself so much happier because instead of thinking and worrying, I'm singing along to my songs!

As I write this Bob Dylan is playing in my earphones singing,  and this is my wish for you :
"May your hands always be busy, May your feet always be swift.
May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changing shift.
May your heart always be joyful. May your song always be sung.
May you stay forever young."


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lost and Found in Vietnam, Chapter 3

Here is Chapter 3 of Lost and Found (work in process)

Chapter 3

How did three Americans find themselves living in southern Vietnam? (Not South Vietnam, that hasn’t existed since 1975 and the Communist victory in the civil war between the North and South. That’s how the Vietnamese in the South here referred to it. In the North, it is seen as the reunification of their divided country. A country divided by the western imperialists, first the French and then the Americans.)

A divorce catapulted me out of my simple upper middleclass American life. One day my wife came to me and said that she’s happy but she wants to be super happy. Could you find another place to live Sal?

I’d worked in the financial industry and had enough money put away so that in my mid-50’s I could take off and have a really good mid-life crisis. (50 being the new 40.)  If this were THE mid-50’s instead of MY mid-50’s I’d probably consider that my life was over. But it’s not. And I decided to start a new one.

So after putting my affairs in order, which meant quitting my job, talking to my daughters (who fortunately for me were in college), and hiring a divorce lawyer, I booked a flight to Thailand and began Sal’s life, part two.

After a few days in Bangkok checking out the Temples (I got conned out of $20 by a monk), two hour massages, and eating street food to my hearts content, I caught a train to Ko Phangan, a quiet island where the beaches were clear, clean, and mostly empty. The only interesting thing I did there was to try a mushroom tea that promised a hallucinogenic experience. It was mildly reminiscent of an LSD trip way back in my own college days and did a good  
job of scaring the shit out of me. I did like the fact that it did make time seem unreal, as did LSD years ago.

I quickly grew bored in Thailand and determined that sitting in the sand all day was no way to have a good psychological adjustment. I needed something more exciting. I wanted something to write home about.

So then I booked a flight to Cambodia, spent a day walking the ruins of Angor Wat, brushed aside lady-boys offering to massage my body, and decided that I needed a different kind of excitement.

On to Phnom Penh and a trip to the killing fields. Genocide. Mass graves. Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot’s war on anyone with an education or glasses. The Cambodian people were sweet as could be, but I wasn’t going to stay in that land-locked city for very long. Two days later I was on a fast boat down the Mekong River, on my way to Vietnam.

And that’s where this adventure begins. After the frightening experience of being met at the border by dour-looking soldiers with guns and having to give them our passports, I fell in love with the country. The rivers, the sea, the green landscape, and most of all the playful, welcoming, fun-loving people.

My first minute off the boat and I was greeted by a young guy on a motorbike offering to find me a hotel, a massage, a girl, and a place to eat and drink. I suggested we find the hotel and then a place to eat and drink.

The next day I bussed my way to Saigon, these days officially Ho Chi Minh City. Not liking cities I stayed a few days and then took another bus to Nha Trang, a choice that
 sounded interesting because the name was familiar from Vietnam War era news.

It was in Nha Trang that I fell in love with Vietnam and fell in love with more than one sweet, longhaired, short-legged, sexy, Asian woman. I loved the street food, the weather, and ocean views from just about everywhere. My traveling days were over. My troubles were not.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Lost and Found In Vietnam

When I went back to school to get my Ph.D. I did it so I would have credentials to become a writer. Off and on I write when I have something so say. The experience has always been rewarding and educational. I'm feeling the urge to write again. Hopefully I have something interesting to say. I am going to post chapters here for anyone interested in seeing. Any and all feedback and suggestions will be welcomed and considered.

The story is about two people one lost, one found, and what was learned along the way.

So, here is "Lost and Found in Vietnam"

 First page:
In the end, when all the searching is done, after a lifetime of seeking a meaning to my existence, I can go no farther than the famous physicist:

“I’m not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.”

Albert Einstein

Chapter One

I received this email:

Dear Sal, I am writing this letter to let you know that our dear friend Brad has taken his life. Recently I went to visit him, as I had been lately. Upon reaching his apartment building, his neighbor Murray informed me that he had killed himself, something that he had long planned. I just thought that you would want to know, being his best friend and all.

The neighbors said they knew he was running out of money and they pitched in and collected a total of $50 so he could buy some food. (Which he probably spent on alcohol.) They even cleaned his apartment and tried to cheer him up.

The local police have taken for themselves anything of value from his apartment. His sister is flying to Vietnam next week to claim his body, but I think they are going to cremate him and leave some of the ashes here. Murray gave me the large set of dentist teaching teeth that he used for demonstrating proper pronunciation. I’m thinking you might like to keep them as a remembrance.


Chapter Two

Remembrance. Yeah, I remember the first time I saw Brad. It was those damn teeth. He had them hanging on the handlebars of his motorbike.

“What the hell?” I said.

“They’re used for teaching pronunciation,” said Bill. We were having lunch at our favorite greasy fish eatery. Both of us English teachers in Nha Trang, Vietnam. He knew what they were. A mouthful of teeth the size of a human head, they looked so spooky.

Brad parked his bike, walked into the restaurant, and Bill tells him he must be a teacher.


“And you use those for teaching phonemes,” said Bill.

“The only teacher in all of Asia doing it right,” said Brad in his perfect Minnesota articulation.

I’m thinking this guy is so full of himself. Asshole.

“Really, I am the finest English teacher in Vietnam and China. Everyone else is doing it completely wrong,” Brad went on. I disliked him even more.

He was tall, silver hair, fairly handsome in a cute sort of way. He always wore jeans and a long sleeve button down shirt, sleeves rolled up. Not like the rest of us foreigners in Vietnam who wore shorts and tee-shirts.
“Join us if you like,” Bill offered.

Brad sat down with a crooked smile big as his ego. I just 

watched the two of them, figuring out who I disliked more. Bill, extremely overweight, bald, a few years older than me, was  a follower of the infamous Indian guru Rajneesh, now reborn, reincarnated, and reinvented, as Osho. He had been here in the early years of the war and came back to volunteer first in Hanoi and then at the University of Nha Trang. There was something about him that I strongly disliked. However, he was an American and a Red Sox fan, not many of those in this part of the world, so we were “friends.”

It should be noted that Bill did help save me from a disastrous relationship with a woman here that threatened to become abusive. On her part not mine. Every time I suggested we separate she suggested that we don’t …or she would jump off the 4th floor balcony of the hotel we were living together in. (Eventually, coward that I am, I moved out on her one day when she went to the market. Bill encouraging me and easing my guilt over it.)

“Where are you teaching?” Bill asked.

“I’m mostly tutoring out of my house. Was working in Saigon, but friends of mine opened a school here in Nha Trang. I moved, the school never got off the ground, and I ended up with a few students to teach privately. Barely getting by.”

“Where are you living?” I asked.

“Out past the Tran Phu bridge. A fourth floor efficiency. Small, but with a big balcony overlooking the mouth of the river and the sea. Big enough to hold a class of 6 or 8 students.”
Somewhere in the conversation Brad told us how he hated his life, he was the most depressed person we would ever meet. And that if he had the courage he would kill himself. I didn’t take him seriously, he was too interesting and I’d never know anyone personally who seriously considered suicide.

I forget what else we talked about. We exchanged phone numbers and within a few weeks Brad and I were regularly getting together for dinner and serious conversation about teaching. Ok, the subject of women and his interest in only very young and very beautiful women, also came up.

I discovered that despite first appearances I actually liked him.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Afraid of Dying?

A month before my dad passed away I began waking up in the middle of the night with a sickening feeling of dread. Strong physical feelings of a fear of dying. I've never been afraid of death in my life. Experiences, many experiences, that I have had made me confident that there is a life after death. I know there is something magical going on beyond this physical world. So what happened?

Then in March my dad's wonderful life came to an end. (My mom had passed away a few years earlier.) Suddenly, I felt like a boat at sea whose anchor had been cut. I was adrift and I was scared of death. Why? Why now? Why after all these years of believing, knowing that there is something more after death, I couldn't feel it. Intellectually I still knew all the reasons for believing, but I couldn't feel it in my body. What happened?

Two things got me through the following months. One was a meditation practice that I had started not long before. That seemed to quiet my mind and bring a bit of peace. The other was to remind myself of all the things that happened to me over the years, that made me sense (or know) that there is something going on in the universe that goes way beyond what we see or feel or touch or count or measure. The material universe is not all there is.

As months passed I still experienced this fear now and then. The dread is mostly gone, but I still have this new "concern" that I never had before. It's always in the background of my life. Try as I might, the realization that at 63 years old death is getting closer than I like to think. I'm going to die...sometime. Actually, all of us are. We are all on death row, we just don't know the time and place.  But time is running out, and will eventually.

The truth is, no matter what we experience in our lives, we can never be 100% certain that there is a life after death. Someday you will too will go through what Christian mystics call the "dark night of the soul."

 So, what do we do? I don't care about trying to prove it one way or the other. That is more for intellectual entertainment. I want to know how to live with the uncertainty. How do we deal with the fear? It takes the fun out of life. Life is winding down. Our bodies are not getting stronger. Every year new parts break down.

Then one answer came to me today, and that is why I am writing this blog. Why am I afraid? It's simple but profound and it is the answer to most of our other problems in life.

The answer: Accept what is. Do not resist what life gives you. Embrace your mortality, humanity, your need to exit the stage of life and make room for others. We must accept and even embrace what is the reality of our being here.

The minute this thought came to me all fear melted away. Gone. Done. Do you want to loose the fear of death, without having to depend on religious belief? Accept it, embrace it, look forward to it. You are going to die. Okay, bring it on. I will live the most meaningful life I can until then... and then let's see what happens.

I know many people will read this and think it is too simple. Or that you have heard this all before. Me too. But, it needs reminding. It is the answer to all our fears. It is the most profound skill you can ever acquire! If you can accept your death, then, hey, you can accept anything!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Body, Mind, and Spirit: A Great Life

I don't know why but at the age of 18 I became extremely interested in the meaning of life. I'm pretty sure it got started by my first year college English professor Hobart Mitchell. He taught those of us who were curious how to meditate in his office after class.  This interest in going beyond ordinary thinking and living spilled over into taking a deeper interest in developing a healthy mind and body.

You could say that for nearly my whole adult life, except for a few years in my 30's, I've been experimenting and searching for a better way to live. In a few short paragraphs I would like to share with you, in a nutshell, the fruits of this search in three critical areas: the body, the mind, the spirit. 

The Body. To have a great life you need a healthy body. Exercise is vital, we all know that and there is no debate about how to do it. Just find a way that works for you and move your body every day, preferably for at least an hour. The second aspect is what and how to eat. I have researched this and read more books than you can imagine and while the advice from the "experts" is conflicting there is one doctor, one physician who stands as the one person whose nutritional guidelines I totally agree with. Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Read and follow his way in Eat for Health. After years of searching and experimenting this is the best I have found. You don't need anything else. If you want to go beyond Fuhrman you can, but I think your time would be better used working on the other two critical aspects of your life.

Which brings us to the mind. This is fairly simple to understand. And while I do have a Ph. D. in Psychology, you don't need one. The mind, like your body needs to be exercised. Daily. Too little exercise and you become bored with your life and that leads to self-medicating. Meaning you do things to make your life bearable. That includes imbalance regarding food, sex, entertainment, drugs, alcohol, and other medications. Note that I said imbalance. All these things can be enjoyed, but when the mind is not exercised it craves these things in an out of balance way.

So, what is there to do? Learn. Live your life so you are always learning something. At the lowest point in my life I was given the most important instruction I've ever received regarding mental health. I was told, by a voice in my head, that I was depressed because I wasn't doing anything challenging. Specifically, I was told to go learn to play the violin. I did. Then I took piano and guitar lessons. Then I learned to fly a plane. Then I went back to college. These days I'm learning Vietnamese. My life is balanced and I haven't needed to self-medicate for over 20 years.

Spiritual health is a little tricky because some of us get caught up in the idea of God. I am here to tell you that you can have perfect spiritual heath without a belief in God. Even if you do believe in God, don't let that belief get in your way of finding peace spiritually. Spiritual health is all about living your life right here, right now. It is about embracing and accepting all that comes to you in your life as it is. There is a lot more that can be said, but I will refer you to two books by Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now and A New Earth. I've spent my whole adult life reading in this area and no one explains it more clearly than this guy. 

In the end, you and I, in essence, are containers. The content of our lives is what flows through us. But that is all that it is. We have holes in our bottoms (pun intended) so that the stuff can keep flowing through. That stuff will never last, but we will. Be the container, be the watcher as the stuff comes and goes. It is a great life.