Monday, August 14, 2017

It's Who You Are

Belmont 1973
The movie, Secretariat, opened September 30, 2010.  We were at the theater to see it and we weren't disappointed.  In fact, it was even better than I imagined it would be.

That was almost seven years ago and other than occasionally listening to Oh Happy Day, by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, I've had no contact with the movie since.  For some reason it came up in conversation last weekend and we decided to watch it again.  Once again we were inspired by the story and blown away by the presentation.  And then we received a bonus.

At the end of the credits, long after we had left the movie seven years ago, a song from the movie's sound track played.  A song that retold the story of the magnificent horse, and at the same time, promised the same glory for anyone who would understand and act on its message.  This time we heard it.  Now you can hear it.

"You Choose Your Race And Then You Run."

If life can be reduced to a two-step process, that's it.  Other factors, subsets of those two steps, often keep us from appreciating the simplicity of the process.

For example, years of conditioning can keep us from seeing that the choice of the race we'll run is our choice.  When we lose sight of that, we often let someone or something else choose our race or even worse, we don't make a choice at all - we stand off-stage waiting for the final curtain.

And then there's the running or to be more exact, there is how we run.  Again, we are often overwhelmed by choices: just get by or go all out;  run strong to the end or quit at the first sign of trouble.

The choices are ours and not making a choice is one of the possibilities.  How we execute the choice we make is also ours, even when we allow something outside us to set our pace.

Keep it simple - and have fun.

PS:  Here's a tribute to Secretariat you might enjoy.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Last House

Rainer Maria Rilke

I tend to read the same poets again and again.  At those readings, I often hear Mark Twain chuckle and say, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years."

Note - if you are a serious student of Mark Twain, you know that most Samuel Clemens scholars have come to the conclusion that he didn't say that.  But since we don't know who did, and it sounds like something he would have said, I'm sure I'll continue hearing him say it every time I pick up Basho or Bly, Buson or Cummings, Barks or Lawrence, and especially when I read Rilke.  

Since I first crossed paths with Rainer Maria Rilke, at least forty years ago, I've walked much further along the way he knew and described, such that I feel it passing beneath my feet as I reread his words.  I smell its rich earthy scent on the wind, when I close my eyes and recall particularly meaningful passages.

Then I know the soul of the Panther of whom Rilke said:

Only sometimes the curtains of the pupils
soundlessly slide up.  Then an image enters,
goes through the limbs taut stillness -
and in the heart ceases to exist.

And now, more than any time since Rainer Maria Rilke and I first met, I know what he meant when he wrote:

Whoever you are, go out in the evening,
Leaving your room, of which you know each bit;
your house is the last before the infinite...

I also know why many of his translators omit that last line from their translation of Initiation.  It is startling when one first realizes that the only thing that separates each of us from the oneness of all is the flimsy affair that we've constructed from rumors, tales, misconceptions, and lies: the thing we call home.

Friday, August 4, 2017

A Collaboration Of Sorts

This is a stained glass depiction of William of Occam, an English Franciscan friar, who was both a student and teacher of logic.  At his core, Occam believed that science was a matter of discovery and God was the only necessity in understanding the nature of being.  In other words, Occam believed faith in God was all that one required.

He probably stated it this way, "God is all you need to know..."  If he did say that, or anything similar, no one remembered or bothered to write it down.  What they did remember him saying was, "The simplest answer is usually the correct one (my paraphrase)," or, to use Bertram Russell's description of what is commonly known as Occam's Razor, "If one can explain a phenomenon without assuming this or that hypothetical entity, there is no ground for assuming it."

Over 300 years after William of Occam espoused his universally known and accepted method of logic, Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist, gave us The Feynman Method, a practical learning/teaching application of  Occam's Razor.

Feynman's four step method works this way: (1) Write the name of the concept (2) Write down an explanation, in plain English, that includes both what you understand and what you don't quite know (3) Review what you've written focusing on what you don't know, then repeat step 2 (4) Review your wording.  If you are using overly wordy or confusing language simplify.

That's it, Feynman using Occam to create a simple, effective heuristic learning method.

To wrap it up, the third member of my imagined collaboration said, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society which honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

Albert Einstein

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Lost In The Lights

Bryce Harper

"Where did July go?"

That's the way I began yesterday's journal entry.  Then, as it does on occasion, my pen didn't pause at the end of the sentence.

Continuing on its own the pen wrote, "July didn't go anywhere.  It got lost in the lights."

I looked at the line, thought about it a few seconds, and then wrote, "I don't get it."

"I know," the pen continued... "July got lost in the lights like a long fly ball."

Not sure where this was going, I wrote... "Lost by whom?  Where?"

Magically, the words flowed from the nib, "Lost by a baseball player during a night game. At the sound of the bat hitting the ball, he senses it is heading toward him.  Raises his head.  Locks his sight on the ball and begins to run backwards while trying to hold the ball in his sight... then the ball rises and passes directly between a light and the player's line of sight.  For a moment, he loses sight of it.  If he doesn't regain it quickly, the ball falls uncaught."

"That doesn't happen to Bryce Harper," I wrote.

My smart ass pen didn't hesitate, "Bryce doesn't play the way most outfielders play.  He hears the ball hit.  Focuses on its trajectory. Mentally computes where it is going to land.  Turns his back on the ball and sprints to that spot.  Turns around and catches it."

The pen waited while I thought about that.  I considered the times I'd seen Bryce do it that way and tried to recall another player using that technique.  None came to mind, so I wrote.  "Why doesn't everyone do it that way?"

"Because they don't trust themselves."

"What's that got to do with July?"

The pen didn't hesitate, "To trust yourself is to do what you know is right and do it instantly - without hesitation.  When you do that, you do not drop balls or lose time.  Not a month, a day, or even a second... you lose nothing."

I shook my head and wrote, "So August begins, just where I knew it would."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Across Time

"Every day is a journey,
And the journey itself is home."
Matsuo Basho

Basho speaks to me of things that matter - to him and to me.  For example, last night, with the ease of one for whom timelessness is only another aspect of Oneness, he dropped in and without preamble said:

 "But when all has been said, I am not really the kind who is so completely enamored of solitude that he must hide every trace of himself away in the mountains and wilds.  It's just that, troubled by frequent illness and weary with dealing with people, I've come to dislike society.  Again and again I think of the mistakes I've made in my clumsiness over the course of the years.  There was a time when I envied those who had government offices or impressive domains, and on another occasion I considered entering the precincts of the Buddha and the teaching room of the patriarchs.  Instead, I've worn out my body in journeys that are aimless as the winds and clouds and expended my feelings on flowers and birds.  But somehow I've been able to make a living this way, and so in the end, unskilled and talentless as I am I give myself wholly to this one concern, poetry. Po Chu-i worked so hard at it that he almost ruined his five vital organs, and Tu Fu grew lean and emaciated because of it.  As far as intelligence or the quality of our writings go, I can never compare to such men.  And yet we all in the end live, do we not, in a phantom dwelling? 
But enough of that - I'm off to bed."

All I said was, "Good night my friend.  Sleep well."

There was nothing else to say. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Silver Star

Note from my journal:  7/7/17

Leaving Home Depot, I spotted a man about my age.

Pretty damn old I thought then amended the thought to include, just like me. 

He was wearing a Vietnam Veteran's baseball cap, so I walked over and started the conversation in the usual way.  "When were you there?"

Still seated behind the wheel of the gleaming silver, Ford, long bed, four-wheel drive, crew cab pickup, he raised his head and said, "66 and 67.  I was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.  You?"

"Right behind you.  67 and 68. 1st Aviation Brigade."



As he opened the door of the massive pickup truck he tried to smile but it was too painful to manage, twisted and crippled the way he was.

I stood clear of the door, not offering to help, because we both knew I couldn't.  Finally he was out of the vehicle, standing, less-than-solidly with the help of a polished silver walking stick.

Our eyes locked for a long moment, everything that needed to be said passed in silence.  Then he nodded curtly, and I returned the gesture.

I stood a long time in the silence he had left behind, watching as he made his way slowly toward the store, noting that he had not mentioned the embroidered line of script on the bottom edge of his cap.  It read, "SILVER STAR WINNER."

I broke my stare, letting the parking lot full of unaware people flood back into consciousness. I knew he hadn't mentioned it because we both understood what it meant. Our knowing was enough.

The Silver Star Medal is the United States' THIRD HIGHEST award exclusively for combat valor, and ranks fifth in the precedence of military awards behind the Medal of Honor, the Crosses (DSC/NC/AFC), the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (awarded by DOD), and the Distinguished Service Medals of the various branches of service. It is the highest award for combat valor that is NOT unique to any specific branch; it has been bestowed by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines. It may be given by any one of the individual services to not only their own members, but to members of other branches of service, foreign allies, and even to civilians for "gallantry in action" in support of combat missions of the United States military.
Because the Silver Star is ONLY awarded for combat valor, the only devices worn on it are:
  • Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters in lieu of additional Army/AF awards
  • Silver Oak Leaf Clusters in lieu of a SIXTH Army/AF award
  • Gold Star in lieu of additional Navy/USMC awards
  • Silver Star in lieu of a SIXTH Navy/USMC award.

Monday, February 20, 2017

800 Words - Number One

800 is a number.  Eight-hundred is a word.  Words? Numbers?  What is that all about?  Have there always been words? Numbers? I think not.  There was a time when there were no numbers or words.  A time when we were just here… and not talking about it. 

During those times, we lived in small groups.  Everyone in each group knew what everyone else was thinking, knew where everyone had been, and had a good idea of where everyone was going.

Then, as small groups grew, it became difficult to know everyone, much less what they were thinking, or where they were at any given time, not to mention where they had come from or what they had done. 

Then there was the history issue.  I don’t mean the musty recording of who did what to whom.  I mean the know this or die kind of history: like where the bad animals lived, the location of tar pits and quick sand, and the ways of the humans who lived just over that ridge, the ones who seemed to delight in killing members of other bands.

Words became necessary if humans were to survive on earth.  They were essential for communicating our history, our ideas, our plans, everything.  And what of numbers?  They are required to add dimension to language by specifying time, magnitude and size.  For example, if you and I were having a conversation and I said, “Words,” that would be meaningless, until I added at least one number, say 800.

So, if I said 800 words, you’d know the exact number of words I was talking about, though, unless you’re a writer, you probably don’t know what 800 words looks like.  To give you a reference point, this is word number 305 in this post; or slightly over 38% of 800.  The piece still has a way to go to hit 800.

For me, 1,000 words has always been a benchmark of sorts.  It separates the recording of an idle thought from something more serious, even if the 1,000 is only the bare beginning of a string that will ultimately be 50,000 – 75,000 words; an acceptable novel length today. 

When I was searching for entertainment and saw 800 Words, the title of a Acorn series, I was interested.  I knew what it was about.  At least, I knew part of it.   I knew there would be a writer, charged with stringing together 800 words for a definite purpose.  That’s all I had to know to continue exploring the story line.   

This is the description of the show that I found on IMDb: A recently widowed father, quits his job as a popular 800-word columnist for a top selling Sydney newspaper. Over the internet, he buys a house on an impulse in a remote New Zealand seaside town. He then has to break the news to his two teenage kids who just lost their mum, and now face an even more uncertain future. But the colourful and inquisitive locals ensure his dream of a fresh start does not go to plan.

Another click and I discovered that last month (Jan 2017), the producers of the show announced that it had been renewed for a third season.  The description, the two-season run and the renewal were more than enough for us to take a chance.  That was four days and four episodes ago.  Yep, we’re hooked.  If this were simply a review of a TV show, this is the place where I would say, “Good writing, good characters, great acting, fantastic location, entertaining, etc. etc.” and I would end by saying, “Watch it, you’ll like it.”  I would include a link - Like this.

However, this is a bit more than a TV series review.  This is the story of an idea.  Unrelated to watching 800 Words, yesterday, Christina and I were talking about writing when she said, “I’ve learned, finally, that my writing skills are only improved by one thing – writing.”

Currently she is working on a collection short stories that are marvelous.  The key word in that sentence is working.  She labors over each word as a great artist focuses on every brush stroke.  The effort expended is evident in the results. 

Though I didn’t comment on her comment, it hit home.  I knew what she said was true, and I knew I’d been very lax with my writing – note, that comment translates: I’ve not written a word for a while.

So, my brain immediately connected the conversation with the show, 800 Words, and added this thought, I can write 800 words.  I can do that every day.  No matter how busy I am, or think I am, I can write 800 words.  And then I thought, I’ll do it. 

And I looked at the word counter.  It read 800

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Good Intentions of the Well Placed

In a recent comment to a blog post, Claude Forthomme, a friend, writer, economist, and expert on the United Nations, said:

"As a Vietnam veteran, I'm also sure you are well-placed, indeed, better placed than most, to know how important the US Constitution is, how vital it is for your democracy, and, ipso facto, for all democracies around the world where freedom still has meaning and is still valued - we are indeed stepping into dangerous times in which populist talk of "the rule of the people" seems to displace respect and regard for those who hold different points of views and needs."

I started several responses, but nothing I wrote came close to saying what I wanted to say.  I stared at the page for a while then emailed Claude directly and said I wanted to sleep on my response and would address her comment in a separate post.  This is that post.

I believe I know what you're getting at, Claude, when you said, "As a Vietnam veteran, I'm also sure you are well-placed, indeed, better placed than most, to know how important the US Constitution is... however, my being a Vietnam vet erased my blind belief in the magic of the much-bandied political document that begins "We the people..." In fact, my experience not only erased my belief in the power of the US Constitution but in the power of the written word, period - that includes all constitutions, all contracts, all sacred writings, all words - period.

Documents, political, sacred or not so, profound or whimsical are no more or less than the person or persons implementing them.  

Here's a better way to make my point.  Michael Connelly is one of best selling writers in the country, probably the world, and I'm one of his biggest fans.  I love his characters Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, and I've read all the books about them.  However, for years they were only characters in books - they were words: entertaining and often inspiring, but still, just words.  In that regard, those books are no different, for me, than the US Constitution.

Something magical happened to the US Constitution and the same thing happened to the Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller books.  Individuals came forward and brought the words to life.  With the US Constitution it was the men who wrote it, signed it, and sold the people of the United States on it.  It was John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and you know all the rest. With Harry Bosch, it was Titus Welliver and with Mickey Haller it was Matthew McConaughey.

When those people breathed life into the document in question and the books I mentioned, magic happened.  Now, as far as the US Constitution is concerned, the magic is gone.  Abused, manipulated, misrepresented, trampled.  It might stage a comeback but only when honest, powerful, dedicated individuals breathe new life into it.  I look forward to the day that happens.  

On the other hand, I've lived seventy-four years looking forward to the day when I'd see a United States without racism and prejudice and frankly, I don't believe we're any closer to that day than we have ever been.  

But I continue to wait for the revival of the constitution just as I wait for the next Lincoln Lawyer movie and Harry Bosch Season 3.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The New York Times and The Hotel California

Thirteen months ago, my friend Ralph sent a link to a great NY Times story about Veterans, PTSD, and Parrots.  After reading the story and blogging about it, I asked Ralph how he happened to find it.

He replied that he didn't 'happen to find it,' the NY Times Sunday Edition, along with the NY Times Magazine, appears in his driveway every Saturday night.

I figured if it could happen for Ralph it could happen for me, and I was right.  With Ralph's patient guidance, I navigated to The Times website, created an account, and signed up for home delivery of the Sunday paper.

Finding the paper in my drive every Sunday was a treat, for a while, but soon we noticed neither the paper or the NY Times Magazine is what it used to be: a gold mine of good writing.  I discovered that Charles Siebert, author of Veterans, PTSD, and Parrots, isn't the typical NY Times writer - he's good.  So I decided to cancel our subscription.

This morning (Monday, Feb 6), after searching in vain for the "cancel my subscription" link in my New York Times account folder, I emailed my cancellation request.  An auto response informed me that it might take 24 hours for them to answer.

I understood.  I'm only a subscriber, and they are the New York Times.  Now 48 hours have passed and there has been no further word from the throne room, so I sent another email, marking it 2nd request.  The auto response arrived within a minute:

Thank you for contacting The New York Times via email.

We’re sorry, but due to high demand our inbox is very full at the
moment and we won’t be able to respond right away.

While we are making our best efforts to respond in a timely manner, we
will be slower than usual in the coming days.

If you need an answer right away, please contact us by phone or chat –
Phone:  800-698-4637

You can always visit us online at – or use our automated
phone at 1-800-NYTimes (1-800-698-4637) at your convenience.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

The New York Times Online Customer Service 

You can check-out but you can never leave
It's writing like this that prompted my decision to cancel.  It's service like this that confirms my decision.  I will continue my efforts to check out of New York's Hotel California and keep you posted on my progress, should there be any.

While you're waiting, check out Charles Siebert's book, The Wauchula Woods Accord.  I found it while I was gathering information for this post.  It has made the "check-out process" much more tolerable.

If you finish the book and still haven't heard from me, check out The Center for Great Apes, and don't miss the Welcome Video.

It was at the center that Charles Siebert met Roger.  While you're there, tell Patti and all her staff that the New York Times sent you.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

More Than "Thank You..."

This morning, more asleep than awake, I checked my email and found this message:

We are publishing your blog about West with the Night today on Venture Galleries.
Here is the link for your social media:
Bert, I have read and posted a lot of blogs during the past five years.
This one is the best I've read. Pure inspiration and pure genius.

Without thinking, I replied, "Much obliged..."

Before I hit send, I plugged in five words before the "Much obliged.."  What I added was, "as daddy used to say," because "much obliged" isn't something that I say.

A few minutes later, gazing out the window as Baker Street (as in Sherlock Holmes), the name I've given to the group of blue jays that wake me every morning with a reminder to scatter a handful of raw peanuts on the ground for them, I thought once again of the words, much obliged.

I fired up my laptop, something Daddy, gone for almost fifty years, never dreamed of, and Googled the phrase.  I found a number of definitions.  This one, from Collins English Dictionary, pretty much echoed all of them:

Much obliged - An expression used when one wants to indicate that one is very grateful for something.

That wasn't anything new to me, and I was about to leave the page when I noticed something that was new.  Just below the definition was a chart that showed the usage of the phrase over a selected number of years. I plugged in 100 years and this is what came up: 

Daddy lived in the peak usage years for the phrase, "much obliged."  After his death, in 1968, it was pretty much a forgotten term.  Understand, I don't think my daddy's passing spelled the end of the use of those two words.  

However, as Baker Street scooped up the last of the peanuts and flew away, without so much as a simple "thank you," much less a heartfelt "much obliged," I wondered, is this more than the demise of an old phrase.  I glanced at the charted trend again and got it, maybe we just aren't as grateful as we used to be.  Maybe we don't believe we have time to be very gratefulin our mad rush though time and space.  

Maybe we are only "much obliged" when we are half-asleep and do not pause to recall who we believe we are and how little time we think have....

Well, be that as it may or may not, I'm much obliged that you spent some of your time with me and Caleb and Baker Street.  You're always welcome here....

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Buddha - Jacob Needleman - Dhammapada

It is recorded that The Buddha taught for more than forty-five years.  It's evident that many of his teachings were recorded and have passed down to us.  The Dhammapada, is probably the best known of his teachings.  Translated nearly as often as the Bible, there is a version for every taste.

My favorite is Thomas Byrom's translation.  I have worn out few of the pocket sized volumes so I always have a spare or two nearby.

Of late I've spent about as much time with the Audible version of the work.  It is narrated by Jacob Needleman and there's a bonus included with that version - at the end of the book, Needleman reads his essay on Buddhism, which is far more than a definition of the religion.

There are two ways you can hear/read the essay.  Buy the Audible book, which you can do by clicking on cover and following the purchase directions or you can continue reading:

Buddhism was born in India. In its beginnings it conceived of itself not as a new religion but as a reconstitution of what is essential in the vastness of the Hindu tradition. Taken as a whole, the Hindu religion can be likened to an Olympian armed campaign with great generals dispersed abroad, their huge armies and infinitely variegated weaponry converging upon the enemy, the ego, under some divinely conceived master strategy. Compared to this, Buddhism appears upon the Indian scene as a direct hand-to-hand attack with no holds barred, striking instantly and mercilessly at the enemy’s weakest point. By and large, Buddhism has retained this quality of one-pointed practicality even amid the later flowering of a metaphysics and mythology which, in all of its aspects, rivals the entirety of Hinduism.

Put succinctly, the Buddha, who is understood to have lived and taught in the sixth century BC, taught that the principal cause of all human suffering and desolation is the deeply ingrained belief that there is such a thing as a self, or ego, that persists through time and change. Everything else in Buddhism, its art, philosophy, rituals, and techniques, originated as tools for the destruction of man’s illusion that he is a self. This doctrine of no-self or non-Atman is, as it is said, the diamond which cuts through all errors and confusions of humanity.

According to this teaching, everything in human nature is in flux, and a man is nothing but a serial bundle of sensations, thoughts, and feelings, one proceeding from another, with nothing to hold them together either in life or death. And not only man, but all things in the universe are without self, without a fixed nature that abides from moment to moment. In the endless and rigorously determined chain of cause and effect that constitutes the universe, we human beings fail by fixing our interest or desire upon one or another phenomenal aggregate, either within our self or external to our self. Therein is the root of all our sorrow. What can liberate us is the deep and thorough understanding of all things, including the personality, as causally determined processes of becoming.

Consciousness – meaning the totality of thought, feeling, perception, sensation, pleasure, and pain – is not a being but a passion, not an activity but only a sequence of reactions in which we, who have no power to be either as or when we will, are fatally involved. Individuality is motivated by and perpetuated by wanting; and the cause of all wanting is ignorance – for we ignore that the objects of our desire can never be possessed in any real sense of the word, ignore that even when we have got what we want, we still want to keep it and are still in the state of desire. The ignorance meant is of things as they really are, and the consequent attribution of substantiality to what is merely phenomenal; the seeing of self in what is not-self.

At first glance, this doctrine of no-self seems in direct opposition to the Hindu view. But if there is any general view with which the Buddhist doctrine conflicts, it is surely our own Western worldview as embodied not only in the popular understanding of Judeo-Christian doctrine but in the goals our whole civilization has set for itself.

The religions of the West have imbued us with the idea of an individual, eternal soul created by God – also, in his way, an individual – infinitely precious and irreducibly real. As our modern society drew away from religious doctrine, it substituted for the soul the idea of individual personality, not immortal perhaps, but for that very reason all the more our own and precious. The establishment of our identity, our role, has been the banner cry not only of scientific psychology but of all the major intellectual movements of modern times, including existentialism and humanism. We measure a person’s strength by what we take to be the distinctness and vividness of his individuality, and we all seek to make our mark, either as artists, scientists, or business people. To the Buddhist, all this striving is the pursuit of a phantom. The identity we seek to establish is nothing more than a thought, a picture in the mind of what we are or can be; it is in nowise based on fact. Our sense of persistence and sameness through change is a trick played upon us by the automatic functions of memory and buttressed by the fact that we are given a name and treated by others as though we were a self. Indeed, our whole society is but a vast collection of sleepwalkers each addressing the other and conceiving of himself within his own dream of selfhood. All our ideas of morality and obligation, blame and praise are based on this dream and serve only to strengthen the illusion of its reality.

Putting the Buddhist doctrine of no-self in the above way, its congruence with Hindu thought becomes clearer. We might say that for the Hindu or Brahmanic religion, human ignorance is the ignorance of who we are, of our ultimate divinity, where for Buddhism it is ignorance of what we are not. We are not this ego. It is in fact a cardinal trait of Buddhism that its teachings are in negative terms. Break down the illusion, the error, and the truth will appear by itself, for it is always there. It is only obscured and hidden by our ignorant beliefs about ourselves and the desires attached thereto.

Of all the great religious teachers of the world, none has incarnated and lived the idea that ultimate reality is beyond the grasp of the ordinary mind with more purity and concentration than the Buddha. This in part explains why the Buddha’s discourses say nothing about the existence of a Supreme Being, for example, or about immortality. Such questions “tend not to edification” since they are put by the deluded mind which is quite content to speculate endlessly about these matters while clinging to the very beliefs which perpetuate its suffering.

Its strategy of negation has misled many Westerners into thinking Buddhism is pessimistic and antilife. Some have even thought of nirvana, the ultimate goal of Buddhist discipline, as a sort of spiritual suicide. Nothing could be further from the truth, and in fact there is no religion which has a higher estimation of human possibility. It is only that it is not spoken of directly and positively. The exalted level of nirvana can be seen indirectly by attending to everything which the Buddhists say it is not. It is not love, consciousness, peace, freedom, happiness, or immortality in any sense that we understand. We are given no words for it because we have no experience of it; and in the absence of a corresponding experience, names merely purchase further illusions. The Gospels, we may recall, also speak of the “peace that passeth understanding.”

We come to the conclusion that just as the great mystics and saints of our own traditions could describe the Supreme Reality only by negation and analogy, so the Buddhist tells us of nirvana. Since, however, nirvana also designates the whole of reality, then we see why Buddhism also refuses to admit that our ordinary thinking and language can accurately be applied to anything that is real. Thus, reality is also named the void or emptiness.

A final note – especially important when we come to inquire if a genuine Buddhist way can take root on our own soil. Buddhist moral rules are never ends in themselves. It is essential to realize that ethical commandments in the Dhammapada are understood as necessary preliminaries to any greater spiritual development.

What is especially valuable about the Dhammapada is that it shows us there is no real separation between true human morality and the process of inner development. The admonitions and insights in this great text resonate on all levels of our search for our authentic humanity. At one stroke they bring inspiration to our halting everyday efforts to care for our neighbor and guidance in our efforts to look into ourselves for the radiant energy that is traditionally termed the Buddha nature.

The Dhammapada presents itself as the actual sayings of Gautama Buddha and was originally compiled for the growing community of Buddhist monks. It was apparently in existence by the time of the emperor Ashoka in 250 BC, and quickly became popular with all schools of Buddhist thought and practice. It is now no doubt time for it to speak more universally to the whole of our morally and spiritually hungry modern world.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

More Than Writing

The Beginning

"How is it possible to bring order out of memory?  I should like to begin at the beginning, patiently, like a weaver at his loom. I should like to say, 'This is the place to start; there can be no other.'

But there are a hundred places to start for there are a hundred names - Mwanza, Serengetti, Nungwe, Molo, Nakuru.  There are easily a hundred names, and I can begin best by choosing one of them - not because it is first of of any importance in a wildly adventurous sense, but because here it happens to be, turned uppermost in my logbook.  After all, I am on weaver.  Weavers create.  This is remembrance - re-visitation; and names are keys that open corridors no longer fresh in the mind, but nonetheless familiar in the heart."

The Ending

"All this had happened, and if some of it was hard for me to believe, I had my logbooks and my pound of scraps and papers to prove it to myself - memory in ink.  It was only need that someone should say, 'You ought to write about it, you know.  You really ought!'

And so the little freighter sat upon the sea, and, though Africa came closer day by day, the freighter never moved.  She was old and weather-worn, and she had learned to let the world come to her."

Somewhere between the beginning and the ending, I was captured by West with the Night.  Captured as surely as if a net had dropped from a tree quickly snaring and jerking me off the surface of the Earth which had been boring and solid only a moment before.

Of West with the Night, Ernest Hemingway said, "A bloody wonderful book."  However, that was just part of what he said, the last sentence to be exact.  His entire statement was:

"Did you read Beryl Markham's book, West with the Night?  ...She has written so well and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.  I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen.  But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers really is a bloody wonderful book."

Beryl's masterpiece was published in 1942 when she was 40 years old.  , It remained an obscure adventure story until George Gutekunst, a California businessman, read Hemingway's remark in a volume of the writer's letters.  He found a copy of West with the Night, read it, and convinced a publisher, North Point Press, to re-release it in 1983.

Beryl was 80 years old, living in poverty while training horses at Nairobi race track when she was "re-discovered."  Her final three years were lived as a renown author with an international fan base.

And now, finally, my point.  This story isn't about a "high-grade bitch" or a poor, 80-year-old horse trainer, who died thirty-one years ago in Africa.  This story is about a book, West with the Night, and what, for me, makes it stand out from the tens of thousands of book I've read in the last seventy years.  A list that ranges from the Dick and Jane Series, which I endured to learn to read the Phantom on my own - and it includes my all time favorite - Round the Bend - and, though I'm hesitant to give it any more publicity, The Whistler, which is the worst novel I've ever started (so bad I couldn't finish it).

Now, I'm pondering, what makes West with the Night singularly memorable on my reading list?  Not the genre.  I've read hundreds of adventure books, many of them about flying.  Not that it is a memoir. I've read at least a hundred of those, most written by men and women whose lives left a more lasting mark on the trail of history than Beryl's did.  

"What then?" I ask myself, and the answer drifts down as soft as a single feather whose flight began in a place I know not - because "She has written so well, so marvelously well..." 

I have no better words than the ones Hemingway used to describe the book, but I do have something else, Beryl's eloquent and memorable recollections, captured first on paper and then in my mind... words strung together to form phrases like:

"A life has to move or it stagnates.  Even this life, I think.  Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday."

"A lovely horse is always an experience... It is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words."

"I have lifted my plane... for perhaps a thousand flights and I have never felt her wheels glide from the Earth into the air with knowing the uncertainty and the exhilaration of first-born adventure."

"For all professional pilots there exists a kind of guild, without charter and without by-laws.  It demands no requirements for inclusion save an understanding of the wind, the compass, the rudder, and fair fellowship."

"After that, work and hope.  But never hope more than you work."

And then there's the one I always think of when I think of Beryl Markham:  "Life is life and fun is fun, but it's all so quiet when the goldfish die."

And I remember that it is never about the storyteller, or even the story.  It's always about the way the story is told...


Friday, January 20, 2017

Life After Inauguration Day

Ralph & Julie
After reading And Then It Was 2017, my friend, Ralph Miller, commented, "I hope you'll blog something about how to live in the post... world that's coming..."

So I will.

In a few minutes, Donald Trump was just sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.  From this day, Jan 20, 2017, and for the next 1,459 days, he will serve in that position.  It's that time period that Ralph was referring to when he said, "I hope you'll blog something about how to live in the post... world that's coming.

I told Ralph that I would, however a handbook for that has already been written.  Actually, it's a short pamphlet, 19 pages to be exact.  But don't let the brevity fool you.  It has everything we need to know about living in "the post... world that's coming."

It begins:

This moment is it.
There is no "better" moment
than this one. 

And continues:

... You may observe
some emotional tones
to this particular moment...
in which case it is already seen
from another moment
and is not this
but that moment.

A few verses later the author instructs:

Can you describe this moment?
Be careful?
The slightest distance
from this immediate experience
will move you off center.

And on page 17 the author speaks directly to the question:

Whatever has been
is gone.
Whatever will be
does not yet exist.
In this space
we reside.

Those who would distract you
with notions of speed, growth
and decay are merely nervous.

Remain steady in the Stillness.

"Remain steady in the Stillness," That's how to live in this moment... and this one... and this one... and this one....

Thursday, January 19, 2017

More Paleo Questions and More Paleo Answers

Yesterday I said I would post Part Two of Paleo Q&A's today and here it is.  Before I get into the nuts and bolts, here's a note and a suggestion.  Mark Sisson, my mentor by my choice, has done all of the hard work for me.  Let me explain.  Mark devoted thirty years to his running and triathlon career, becoming a world-class athlete in the process.  With a degree in biology and years of experience as a professional athletic he shifted his focus to diet, but more than just what we should eat.  He has studied and continues to study gene control through what he calls the Primal Blueprint.

As of today, I have 30 days experience with the Primal Blueprint.  Mark has 30 years.  That's why I'm going to defer to him to address today's questions and comments.  One more thing, before we go to the comments and Mark's answers.  The whole story is contained in the two books pictured above.  They are available from Mark (click here), or Amazon (click the book cover(s) you want to buy) or a number of other bookstores, including Barnes & Noble.

And now: The Comments and The Responses:

Claude said: “Consider this. Agriculture was born approximately 10,000 years ago and it was the key to human development and civilization and the reason for this is very simple: Thanks to agriculture (that provided grains, legumes, vegetables, and some small animals at first, like chicken and eggs), man was able to free himself from the relentless pursuit of food that his huge brain demanded; and from that point on, he had enough time on his hands to start to think - and yes, culture and civilization were born right then, both the daughters of agriculture!”

Jared Diamond, UCLA evolutionary biologist and Pulitzer prize winner, in his Discover magazine article, Saturday, 5/1/1999, said: "Recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence." 

Diamond, in the same article said: How do you show that the lives of people 10,000 years ago, got better when they abandoned hunting and gathering for farming? Until recently, archaeologists had to resort to indirect tests, whose results (surprisingly) failed to support the progressivist view. Here's one example of an indirect test: Are twentieth century hunter-gatherers really worse off than farmers? Scattered throughout the world, several dozen groups of so-called primitive people, like the Kalahari bushmen, continue to support themselves that way. It turns out that these people have plenty of leisure time, sleep a good deal, and work less hard than their farming neighbors. For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food is only 12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza nomads of Tanzania. One Bushman, when asked why he hadn't emulated neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, "Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?"

He also noted: While farmers concentrate on high-carbohydrate crops like rice and potatoes, the mix of wild plants and animals in the diets of surviving hunter-gatherers provides more protein and a better balance of other nutrients. In one study, the Bushmen's average daily food intake (during a month when food was plentiful) was 2,140 calories and 93 grams of protein, considerably greater than the recommended daily allowance for people of their size. It's almost inconceivable that Bushmen, who eat 75 or so wild plants, could die of starvation the way hundreds of thousands of Irish farmers and their families did during the potato famine of the 1840s.

Mark Sisson says, (The New Primal Blueprint, Introduction) Human beings prevailed despite incalculable odds over thousands of generations.  Our primal ancestors were lean, strong, smart, and productive, which enabled them to survive, reproduce, and ultimately rule over more physically imposing members of the animal kingdom. This was no mean feat, yet conventional wisdom has essentially dismissed the legacy of our ancestors in favor of easy, quick-fix “solutions” to ill health that sell regardless of negligible long-term results.

Today at the age of 63, I feel healthier, fitter, happier, and more productive than ever.  No longer a marathon or triathlon champion (but nor do I care to be one), I maintain a weight of 170 pounds with 8 percent body fat.  I eat as much delicious food as I want, unbeholden to rigid meal times.  I exercise just 3 to 6 hours per week (instead of the 20 to 30 I logged back in the day), and I almost never get sick. Hundreds of thousands of readers at chronicle similar success stories each week. 

Claude said:  “To sum up: I'm totally certain that your bout of paleo dieting is excellent for you and your wife, flushing all the bad stuff we accumulate through the years as a result of our bad eating habits and modern agriculture that has stuck chemicals into everything; good thing to do, no doubt, provided you don't keep it up indefinitely. Put a stop to it as soon as you see that you are losing too much weight. You can't allow yourself to go down the drain, hey, I'm your friend, I want to see you alive for yet another 2 or 3 decades! 

OK, now you know what I think! And I do worry about your health. Please share this message with Christina. Discuss it. Pursue this concept of the link between the size of the human brain, its nutrition needs and demands and the appropriate diet that is needed to maintain our mental powers.” 

I say: Claude, I appreciate your comments and concerns and I assure you, I am monitoring my Primal/Paleo lifestyle closer than I’ve ever monitored any of the various lifestyles I’ve adopted.  At this point (30 days in) I am pleased to report that I find every aspect of the Primal Lifestyle at least ten times better than I dreamed possible, at this age (74) or any other.  And It will be my pleasure to keep you posted on our progress.

Pame said: “Very interesting and intelligent exchange of ideas. When all is said, and done however, I must consider that none of us live forever. The Paleolithic remains that have been found have never been ones in advanced years. Several factors must also be taken into consideration... We are living longer now than in previous years…”

Jared Diamond, in the previously quoted article, “The Worst Mistake…” said:
One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5' 9'' for men, 5' 5'' for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B. C. had reached a low of only 5' 3'' for men, 5' for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors.
Another example of paleopathology at work is the study of Indian skeletons from burial mounds in the Illinois and Ohio river valleys. At Dickson Mounds, located near the confluence of the Spoon and Illinois rivers, archaeologists have excavated some 800 skeletons that paint a picture of the health changes that occurred when a hunter-gatherer culture gave way to intensive maize farming around A. D. 1150. Studies by George Armelagos and his colleagues then at the University of Massachusetts show these early farmers paid a price for their new-found livelihood. Compared to the hunter-gatherers who preceded them, the farmers had a nearly 50 per cent increase in enamel defects indicative of malnutrition, a fourfold increase in iron-deficiency anemia (evidenced by a bone condition called porotic hyperostosis), a threefold rise in bone lesions reflecting infectious disease in general, and an increase in degenerative conditions of the spine, probably reflecting a lot of hard physical labor. "Life expectancy at birth in the pre-agricultural community was bout twenty-six years," says Armelagos, "but in the post-agricultural community it was nineteen years. So these episodes of nutritional stress and infectious disease were seriously affecting their ability to survive."
The evidence suggests that the Indians at Dickson Mounds, like many other primitive peoples, took up farming not by choice but from necessity in order to feed their constantly growing numbers. "I don't think most hunger-gatherers farmed until they had to, and when they switched to farming they traded quality for quantity," says Mark Cohen of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, co-editor with Armelagos, of one of the seminal books in the field, Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture. "When I first started making that argument ten years ago, not many people agreed with me. Now it's become a respectable, albeit controversial, side of the debate."
There are at least three sets of reasons to explain the findings that agriculture was bad for health. First, hunter-gatherers enjoyed a varied diet, while early farmers obtained most of their food from one or a few starchy crops. The farmers gained cheap calories at the cost of poor nutrition, (today just three high-carbohydrate plants -- wheat, rice, and corn -- provide the bulk of the calories consumed by the human species, yet each one is deficient in certain vitamins or amino acids essential to life.) Second, because of dependence on a limited number of crops, farmers ran the risk of starvation if one crop failed. Finally, the mere fact that agriculture encouraged people to clump together in crowded societies, many of which then carried on trade with other crowded societies, led to the spread of parasites and infectious disease. (Some archaeologists think it was the crowding, rather than agriculture, that promoted disease, but this is a chicken-and-egg argument, because crowding encourages agriculture and vice versa.) Epidemics couldn't take hold when populations were scattered in small bands that constantly shifted camp. Tuberculosis and diarrheal disease had to await the rise of farming, measles and bubonic plague the appearance of large cities.
Pame said: “Everything here is organic or is not... By that, I mean that every molecule regardless of its composition came from here so is natural even if we rearrange the molecular structure... Plus, the fact that the soil, water and air have all been changed in one way or another by chemicals we have or are using. There are traces of arsenic and DDT in all of our soil from runoff if nothing else...LAST is the natural way of things: Everyone is not supposed to have the same body type in weight or appearance. It is the differences that both attract and repel others. Not everyone prefers fat, but not everyone prefers skinny. Natural selection based on these factors are the way selections have been made for pairing and reproduction since time began. It is my opinion that whatever a person prefers and agrees with regarding their body and lifestyle is fine. This has been discussed, changed, modified since man could hold a pencil. I say therefore, "To each his or her own". Just my opinion.

Mark says (21-Day Total Body Transformation, introduction):  There is no greater feeling of empowerment than truly comprehending how much influence you have over your health, fitness, and well-being.  Once you realize that your genes respond to environmental signals that you largely create, you are no longer at the mercy of your parents’ legacy, your doctor’s nebulous warnings, or the tremendous momentum against health and balance in hectic modern life.  Everything changes as soon as you “own” the Key Concept that you can influence gene expression on a day-to-day basis.

I say:  Claude, thanks for starting this fun conversation.  I’ve learned a lot from the research I had to do to answer you and Pame.  And, a special note to Pame, our half mile away neighbor: Late at night, when your dogs bark and you see strange lights outside, more than likely it’s just me running up over the hill.