Saturday, December 26, 2015

A thought for the day. A wish for the New Year.

A thought for the day: Gandhi once said, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.”

I believe, actually I know, this statement is true. Hate is born out of unbridled fear.

I’ve often wondered why so many straight people, mostly religious people, seemed to hate gay people so fervently. It finally occurred to me that it’s because, by going against their set of religious guidelines, gay people actually challenge those rules, which challenges their entire belief system. Even gay Christians and Muslims challenge those beliefs they profess to follow.

It seems a bit strange to me that Christians and Muslims are so insecure that any challenge to even a single rule sends them into a hateful dither, but as Gandhi points out, it comes down to fear. They must be deathly afraid of anyone poking holes in the blanket of faith they have wrapped themselves in. I can only think that it must be a very thin blanket indeed if there is so much fear of losing it.

I for one have no wish to strip anything away from religious people, even through I think in many cases organized religions do more harm that good in the world. I believe everyone has their own path to follow, and every path eventually lead to the same place. 

My wish for the New Year is that we all walk our separate paths hand in hand in a spirit of love and acceptance.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Life Lesson I Keep Relearning

I can, of course, only speak for myself, but in my years of practicing Zen, one of the lessons I have to relearn and relearn is that of letting go of the past.  Sounds easy, right? Oh so wrong…

Zen practice is all about staying in the moment, to be open and fresh for whatever this moment offers, or in some cases, whatever this moment throws at you. It’s about not carrying the weight of the past around on your shoulders. Believe me, personal history becomes heavier by the day until you become bogged down by the dense mass of it.

I don’t have to keep defending or explaining my past. It’s over. It’s not who I am anymore. And most importantly, it doesn’t have to influence the decisions I make now or in the future. 

The lesson I have to keep relearning is to forgive myself, for both my failures and triumphs, and move on, focusing on discovering what is right before me in this moment. 

One of my favorite quotes is related to staying in the moment: If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Leave behind all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness, and fears. – Glenn Clark

Monday, November 16, 2015

We Are Nothing But Stardust and Thought

I read something on the net this week that seemed to encapsulate what much of Buddhist thought points toward, and I’d like to share it.

It’s breathtaking to consider: each human being, and most animals, have two eyes, each composed of 130 million photoreceptor cells. In each one of those cells, there are 100 trillion atoms—that’s more than all the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.

However, each atom in each cell in each eye formed in the core of a star, billions of years ago, and yet, here they are today, being utilized to capture the energy released from that same process. All to expand the consciousness of each person or animal.

The universe has an interesting sense of irony, in that you are the universe experiencing itself. All you are is stardust and thought.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Goals Happen More Easily with a Daybreak Habit

The sun peeps over the horizon, rays of light burnish a new day, a brisk wind holds the promise of a majestic day. What do you do with this time? Sleep through it? Drag your butt to the office with a twelve-ounce mug of coffee at the ready? Jog? Take the dog to the park? This time, in my opinion, is the best time to set the tone for the rest of the day, the best time to achieve success on an important goal.

If you have an ambition you want to accomplish (for me it’s completing a novel), this is the time to perform a habit that will help make that ambition happen. A morning writing habit will get the book done. Simply wishing for the book to write itself, or saying I’ll do it “tomorrow,” doesn’t make it happen.

If you have an important goal, try making a morning habit focused on it:
    If you want to lose weight, create a morning walking habit. Or morning strength training. Or prepare a healthy breakfast with fruits and non-fat yogurt.
    If you want to start a new business, create a morning session where you brainstorm new industry ideas over that first cup of coffee.
    If you want to become more mindful during your day, create a morning meditation habit.
    If you want to work on your relationship with your spouse, have a morning habit of talking about your relationship over coffee.
    If you want to journal or blog, make it a morning habit.

Why is morning a better time for important habits? Why not afternoons or evenings? I’ve found that time to be quieter, less chaotic, better for reflection and focus. I also feel that it sets the tone for the rest of the day.

My morning routine combines three of the objectives in the list above. Before sunrise, and first thing out of bed and after dressing, I enjoy a cup of coffee by myself. During that five minutes, I try not to think about anything. I simply let the enjoyment of sipping hot coffee pull me into the moment. As soon as that’s done, my husband and I leave the house for a brisk walk. We like to get out just as the sun makes its appearance, and we walk for three to four miles each daybreak.

I use that walk as a form of communication with my husband, as we usually spend several minutes talking over the day’s activity list or some future plans; I also use that time for meditation, as I let the sounds and smells and visual delights of sunrise in Palm Springs pull me deeper into the present moment; and during that last mile, I use that time to plan out what I want to accomplish on my story that day.

By the time I get back home, I’m ready for a quick breakfast, and more importantly, ready for work. I have a plan and I’m excited to get started. That brisk morning walk sets a tone. It relaxes me, it charges my creative batteries, and it carries me on through the rest of the morning. I love it, rain or shine.

I know many people are night people and don’t function well in the A.M., but I’ve come to depend on my morning rituals to help accomplish my writing goals. For me, it’s become a religion.

Monday, August 24, 2015

With Age, Friendships Become Dearer

I’ve found that as I grow older, I place more importance on the people and friendships I hold dear. When I get together with friends, I savor that time with them and do whatever I can to make the event wonderful for everyone involved. Likewise, when out-of-town friends come for a visit, I roll out the red carpet and place myself and my home at their disposal to ensure they have a lovely time in my city.

As so many other things in my life diminish in importance, friendships have skyrocketed to the top of my priority list. I was a loner for most of my life, but I’m learning that sharing life with like-minded people is one of the true, lasting joys in life.

I find that many people of my generation feel the same. A few weeks ago while Herman and I were visiting friends in San Francisco, some friends in the North Bay heard we were in town. They called to insist, insist!, that we drive up for lunch, which we did a few days later. One of the men, Tommy, recently immigrated to the US from Egypt. He single-handedly cooked an Egyptian feast for us, which must have taken him days.

The menu was:
Fried Eggplant,
Stewed Eggplant,
Green Lentil Salad,
Fried Poblano Peppers,
Foul Madamas,
Egyptian Potato Salad,
Pita Bread (Yes, he makes his own hummus and Pita bread)
Strawberry Shortcake,
Decaffeinated coffee.

All during this fabulous meal, I kept wondering how soon I could lure them down to Palm Springs so that I could return the favor. I have no idea what Herman and I will do to match the time and effort that went into this lunch, but I’m sure we will create something special, not as a competition, but because we simply want to treat them to something unexpected, something given with love, which is what they did for us.

The moral in this post is a life lesson that I have to keep reminding myself of—that paramount joy comes from giving others something heartfelt and loving. Happiness grows best in a field where much love has been spread.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

Six and a half years ago, Herman and I sold our home in San Rafael to a lovely couple and their two kids, who had spent the last ten years working in China. We only met them briefly, but told them one of our regrets in leaving that house was missing out on the plum tree in the backyard. It which produced the best-tasting plums, and from it we made scrumptious jam.

Now a FedEx box arrives about this time every year, chock full of ripe plums from that tree. A box arrived yesterday, and we were, once again, delighted.

This kind of thoughtfulness, unexpected and unasked for, reminds me that, in this world where there seems to be so much hate and violence, there is also love and bigheartedness. I wouldn’t trade that box of plums for a ten-thousand-dollar check, because the time and effort it took to gather and ship them shows true compassion for their fellow man.

And now, I feel compelled to pass on some similar act of kindness, so that others can experience the warm feelings I relish every time I bite into a plum. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Survey on Aging

I recently took part in a survey about aging, and I thought I would share both the questions and my answers, in the hope that I might get other people thinking about their own lives.

1.     When is a person old?  And why did you choose your answer? Try not to think about this question too long. Just reply with what comes to mind.

I think a person is old when they spend more time looking back at a life already spent, rather than staying in the present and keeping one eye on the horizon. I believe working toward important dreams keeps the mind young, and hopefully the body will follow.

2.     What has surprised you about growing older?

How much fun it is. I’ve seen so many bitter old people, always complaining about this or that. At age sixty-two, I’m having the time of my life. I’ve stopped worrying about things that don’t matter. I’m doing all the things I’ve always wanted to do, world travel, enjoying friends, writing the stories I really want to write.

My greatest joy is sharing my time with my husband, which brings me to the other surprise. When you have found that special someone to share your life with, love keeps growing deeper and deeper with each new day. Love flowers into a more beautiful thing between older couples. When sex is no longer a driving force, one looks past that wrinkled body and more fully appreciates your partner’s soul.

3.     If you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently?

I would treat everyone with kindness and respect, never raising my voice in anger, even to those people who were against me, even those who did everything possible to belittle and harm me. I would not spend one second on hard feelings toward anyone.

The other thing I would have done is taken better care of my teeth at a young age.

4.     Do you have a favorite quote or expression about aging?

Wisdom from my 96-yr-old aunt: If you want to be seen – stand up. If you want to be heard – speak up. If you want to be loved – shut up!


There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy. ~ Ralph H. Blum

5.     How do you see the future?

As a Buddhist, I pretty much stay in the present and not look toward the horizon. I don’t know what life will bring, and I’m not sure I care. Whatever comes, I will try to face it with compassion and dignity.

What else would you like to share? Here’s your chance to share your thoughts, experiences, opinions. Vent, expound, explain. Be humorous or serious or be a little of each. Need some ideas? Here are some possibilities.Choose one or more of the suggested topics or talk about your own experiences on any topic related to growing older. If you have a humorous or inspiring story, share that instead. The choice is yours.

I retired from corporate America in 1999 at the age of 45 years old. That was far and above one of the best decisions of my life. At that point, I stopped doing what was necessary to make a living, and I started living.  I embarked on a second career in writing fiction—short stories, novels, screenplays. That has led to a satisfying, creative, wonderful life where I spending my time a slave only to my own creativity. And for my money (or lack of it), that is the only gratifying way of living.

There were times, of course, when I wondered how the bills would get paid, but somehow they always did. There was never a time, however, when I even considered going back to a nine-to-five, working for someone else. Hopefully my luck with hold out and that will never, never, never happen again.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A God With Qualities or Without Qualities?

I recently read that a Western theologian once asked Hindu saint, Ramakrishna, to talk about God. Ramakrishna replied, “Do you wish to talk about God with qualities (sa-guna) or without qualities(nir-guna)?”

What makes this question interesting is not so much the answer, but the fact that it was asked as a way of creating a flash of understanding, to bring the theologian to the brink of enlightenment, that abyss that lies beyond all human knowing.

Hindus and Buddhists believe that the moment one begins to talk about God, one plummets into the realm of human concepts and categories—a human knowledge (or in this case, lack of knowledge), not divine. It is only in the wordless absorption ofSamadhi (something similar to a state of Enlightenment) that one unites with the transcendent Source. In other words, God is beyond human understanding, beyond man’s ability to define and comprehend. God can only be experienced by merging with God, through that silent part of the mind that transcends language and human understanding. God can be felt, but not talked about.

Once one achieves this merging with the Source, with God, the experience can never be communicated to others. I’ve had some amount of experience with this, while meditating with monks in Asia. The one thing I can confidently communicate about my experiences is that this Divine Source, this energy, this God, permeates all life, binds everything together, and one can experience it, be one with God.

Please understand, my concept of The Divine Source has nothing whatsoever to do with the God worshiped by Christians, Jew, and Muslims.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Only Through Experience Can You Know Sympathy

I’ve been reading some writings from Joseph Campbell, author of Hero With A Thousand Faces, where he talks about the idea that only through experience can you know sympathy. He says, “It is through experience that the soul grows, by learning to extend its horizon of sympathy and understanding.” In other words, a person can’t sympathize with sorrow until they have been sorry enough to know what deep sorrow is.

I’m not altogether sure I agree. As a teenager, I had many peers who seemed extremely compassionate to poor people and the plight of non-whites in our society. Back then, we were a generation against the Vietnam war, though few of us ever served in the military, and we were all for civil rights, even though most of my friends were white. We came to these conclusions through logical consideration and, for some, peer pressure.

On the other hand, as I grow older—I’m now in my mid 60s—I have become much more compassionate to all my fellow human beings, and I credit that attitude to having experienced a long series of, lets call them learning opportunities, where I suffered as a target of discrimination. In short, I’ve had more than my share of sorrows, and I like to think that I have learned a great deal from them. And the older I grow, the more I understand that there is no good and bad, no right and wrong. There is only experience, and what we do with that experience.

I’ve also learned that each of us humans have accumulated a different set of experiences that shape our lives, and that makes each of us unique, no one person any better, worse, or more valuable than the rest.

Campbell argues that it is through having experienced all experience that the soul finally achieves perfect sympathy and understanding. The soul comes to a point where it has learned everything experience can teach, and that point is called enlightenment. Campbell takes this idea a step further to suggest that all people should do everything they can do to accumulate a vast wealth of varied experience, and that getting tied down in any routine where one practices the same thing day after day for years at a time (like a dead-end job that does nothing more than put food on the table) means stagnation, and is tantamount to death. Again, I must disagree. I believe even so called “dead-end jobs” provide opportunities for growth and understanding, and the job is only ten hours in a day. There is so much more to life and learning.

Although I must admit, my life improved a hundred fold after I abandoned corporate America to pursue a career in writing where I manage my own time, goals, and interests. So perhaps Campbell is on to something.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Your Sacred Space: A Pathway To Bliss

In 1985, Joseph Campbell (March 26, 1904–October 30, 1987) sat down with Bill Moyers for a series of interviews, resulting in 24 hours of raw footage that was edited down to six one-hour episodes and broadcast on PBS in 1988, and the full transcript was published as The Power of Myth, a discussion of Campbell’s views on spirituality, psychological archetypes, cultural myths, and the mythology of self.
In the interview, Campbell expressed the idea that the greatest sin for modern humans was getting stuck in some 9-to-5 job that fulfilled nothing more than paying the bills, and kept one rooted in existential dissatisfaction. In his philosophy (and mine) he felt people needed to find, and then follow their own bliss.
Campbell said: If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.
One of Campbell’s most interesting ideas for me concerned the need for what he coined “sacred space”—a place for uninterrupted reflection and unrushed creative work. For him, this was necessary to discern one’s bliss. For me, this sacred space is necessary to achieve the type of writing that satisfies my soul.

Many writers and artists not only have their own private space to create, but also their unique set of workspace rituals that draws them into a creative state of mind. I certainly do, and without them—like when I’m traveling—my writing suffers, which is why I seldom try to write while traveling any more. Campbell saw the need for a “bliss station” for the purpose of rooting ourselves, a place to block out the world so we can focus inward.

I have three bliss stations, each for a specific purpose:

My office is a place I shut out the world to write. I spend four to six hours each day there, immersed in the process of writing and research. I also spend time promoting my books and general communications with friends, other authors, and readers.

My backyard is where I get out of the house to connect with nature, relax by the pool, and read. For me, it’s down time out of the office, but still devoted to refreshing the soul.

My meditation room is no more than an oversized closet, but it is the one place on earth devoid of other people and distractions, a place not even my husband is allowed to enter. It is a place of silence, a place where I experience the silence at my core. It is the one place I do nothing, absolutely nothing, nil, zilch, nada. This is a place of no striving, a place I listen to my heart. Strangely enough, it is the place where much of my inspirations for stories come to me.

For me, all three spaces are an outright necessity. I think any creative person intent on finding his/her bliss needs a space and a certain time of the day free from people, phones, TV, Internet. I think of it as a space to bring forth what you are, and what you might be—a place of creative incubation. Often nothing happens at all, which is good. But if you’re in your sacred space at a certain time every day, something often will come to you, which is even better.

Modern life has become so goal oriented on practical and economic issues that it’s become difficult to know which way to run next, which goal to chase after. It seems every minute demands something of you, and you end up like a hamster in a cage, running around a wheel, chasing, chasing, chasing the next thing on your list. The way, at least for me, to step off that wheel is by immersing myself in one of my three bliss stations, and shutting out everything else.

Campbell said: The religious people tell us we really won’t experience bliss until we die and go to heaven. But I believe in having as much as you can of this experience while you are still alive.

What I’ve found is: Bliss is waiting for you, and when you get in touch with it regularly, you begin to draw people into your life that will open the doors so that you can delve more deeply into your bliss. The deeper you delve, the more you draw to you. For me, it was simply a exercise of stepping off the wheel often enough to see what matters to me. It was the most important and satisfying thing I've ever done for myself. It's what keeps me whole and happy.

The Buddha found his bliss by becoming a hermit for six years. Jesus found his way by wandering in the desert for 40 days and nights. I’m not suggesting that you or I will become a deity, but on the other hand, why limit ourselves?