Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Happy Holy-Days

May every moment,
Every interaction,
Every memory
Be filled with the holiness
of these holy holidays.

(image courtesy of

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Significance of Holiday Gifts, Part 3

     During this frenzied, final week of holiday gift-buying, let's take a moment of repose and reflection and look at the final gift Jesus received on the first Christmas.  Let's look at myrrh.

     Myrrh is a reddish-brown dried sap that comes from a thorny tree, Commiphora myrrha, which grows in northeastern Africa and southwest Asia.  Steam distillation of the sap creates an oil which is brown in color and has an earthy scent.  In folk medicine, it can be used for pain, infections, and skin sores [NOTE: do not ingest this oil].  In Jesus' time, it was used for embalming.  In this sense, the Magi were honoring the mortality of the newborn.

     So often, we forget that we are all mortal.  We will all eventually leave this earthly plane.  Allow this thought to color how you treat others, not by being maudlin, but by treating each interaction as if it could be your or their last.  Each moment counts.  Each word counts.  Don't let pettiness and stress get in the way of that realization.  Live in each moment.  Honor the present.  Be the beauty that our world needs.

(photo courtesy of

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Significance of Holiday Gifts, Part 2

     Last week we were looking at the significance of the gifts of the Magi to the newly-born Jesus and how that meaning can enrich our gift-giving season.  Today let's examine the meaning behind frankincense.

     Frankincense is a white resin from the Boswellia tree and has several uses.  In folk medicine, it can assist with easing arthritis and asthma, improving gut function, and possibly helping to fight cancer.  However, the more common use of the rare and expensive frankincense during Jesus' time was as a perfume or oil used in worship.  In this sense, it symbolizes the divinity of Jesus.

     During this holiday season, let's honor the divine within ourselves and each other.  Let it guide how you treat others and how you treat yourself during this crazy-busy time.  Honor the divinity within each person you meet -- the harried salesclerk, the rude drivers, the delivery people, the people who assist you in everyday life.  And remind yourself that you, too, are divine, and can rise above the crabbiness that normally occurs from being too busy and too stressed.  Breathe.  You are divine.  Breathe.  Others are divine.  Breathe.  Breathe.

(photo courtesy of

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Significance of Holiday Gifts

     The holidays are fast approaching and I would like to invite you to take a minute, take a breath, and take a seat.  Let's talk about the meaning behind our gift-giving frenzy.

     I was thinking about the original Christmas, as described in the Bible in the second chapter of Matthew (don't worry, I won't preach and I won't pass around the offering plate here).  According to that account, the three Wise Men, or Magi, brought to the newly-born Jesus three gifts:  gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  What is the meaning behind them?

     This week, let's look at gold.  Obviously, gold has monetary value and may have been used to support Mary, Joseph, and the young Jesus when they fled to Egypt to escape King Herod's soldiers who were searching to kill the boy.

     Beside that, gold has the symbolic meaning of royalty or divinity.  In ancient times, gold was a common offering to kings and queens.  So, the Magi were honoring the spiritual royalty within the newborn Jesus.

     As we use our gold, through currency, to buy gifts for the dear ones in our life, let the thought permeate your purchase that we are honoring the spiritual royalty within each person who receives a gift.  Let the habit of seeing others' inner king or queen guide how you treat them in this overly busy time.  Honor the king or queen within yourself as well by taking time to breathe, meditate, and rest.  You deserve to take that time -- you are royal!

(image courtesy of

Saturday, November 23, 2019

It's Meditation Month, Part 4

     In our final meditation technique gleaned from Lawrence LeShan's book, How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery, I would like to share one that has been around for centuries in different forms in different cultures.  This is the Mantra Meditation.

     One we all are familiar with is the often-satirized "Om" meditation.  Either chanted aloud or mentally generated, one focuses on the syllable "om" or "aum," which is the sound of the universe according to Tibetan tradition.

     Other cultures prefer something a little less abstract.  Some prefer simple phrases such as "We are One," or "I am patient/loving/compassionate," or even one word:  "Peace."  Whatever you choose, make sure it reflects something that you feel that you need to focus on in your life at that time.  What you focus on, you become.

(photo courtesy of

Saturday, November 16, 2019

It's Meditation Month, Part 3

     We have been exploring different meditation techniques this month, and I found another one that might be useful in Lawrence LeShan's book, How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery.  Remember how I said it dates from 1974?  I have a fun quote to share in a little bit that reflects those times.

     In this meditation, you can sit or lie down.  Then, without inwardly verbalizing the experience, you focus on some rhythmic occurrence within your body.  An easy one would be to put your hands on your lower abdomen and focus on the sensation of your hands rising and falling with each breath.  What is difficult is to avoid trying to control or modify one's breath while focusing on it.

     OK, here is the quote about a variation on this technique from LeShan, back in groovier times:
One self-generated rhythm that has been used by some people is the pulse rate.  This is observed either in the moving of an artery or the artery is palpated.  I strongly recommend not doing this without the constant supervision of an experienced and medically trained teacher.  It is very difficult in this one to avoid modifying your own pulse rate, and anyone who plays around with his own heartbeat is this fashion needs either a good psychiatrist or a certificate of entry into the nearest home for the feebleminded.
    OK, then!  You have been warned.

(image courtesy of

Saturday, November 9, 2019

It's Meditation Month, Part 2

     This month we're focusing on different meditation techniques in case you are ever in need of a new one to keep things fresh.  I gleaned several from re-reading Lawrence LeShan's How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery.

     A good one to have in one's repertoire is the old stand-by, Breath Counting.  Several variations on this technique exist, of course.  One is to count one's breath from one to ten and then start over, and repeat.  However, I find that there are days when I am so scattered or upset that even concentrating to the count of five is really tough for me.  A variation I use on those days is to count to four and repeat that.  If that is too difficult, I might add another variation so I have to focus a bit more.  In this, I count "one" on the inhalation, then think "and" on the exhalation, "two" on the next inhalation, "and" on the next exhalation, and so on up to four, then repeat.  Some people like to focus on the sensation of breathing itself, perhaps focusing on the difference in temperature of the breath in the tip of the nose between the inhalation and exhalation.  I find Breath Counting, whichever variation is used, to help calm me down even when I can't go off by myself.

(image courtesy of

Saturday, November 2, 2019

It's Meditation Month

     I don't know about you, but sometimes my meditations get a little, well, stale, and I need another technique to keep things fresh.  So, I pulled a really old book off my bookshelf the other day and re-read Lawrence LeShan's How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery.  It dates from 1974, and some parts reflect those groovier times, but it does provide several meditative techniques which are good to try.  I thought I'd pass on my favorites over the course of this month so you can try them, too.

     I think my all-time favorite meditation technique from this book is the Bubble Meditation.  In this technique, you imagine sitting at the bottom of the ocean or a deep lake, and every time a thought arises (which is inevitable), you imagine it being encased in a bubble and then watch the thought-bubble slowly rise to the surface of the water.  When another thought arises, you repeat the process.  It takes maybe 6-10 seconds for each thought to arise, become encased in the bubble, then rise to the surface.  I find it slows my thoughts down and allows me to view them objectively.  It's very calming.

     A variation on this meditation, especially if you don't like the idea of sitting at the bottom of the ocean, is to imagine sitting on a large rock overlooking a river or stream.  Every time a thought arises, you imagine it sitting on a leaf on the river and floating downstream, left to right.  This one works well also.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

A Lovely Poem for Twin Souls

     From Edith Wharton:


This perfect love can find no words to say.
What words are left, still sacred for our use,
That have not suffered the sad world's abuse,
And figure forth a gladness dimmed and gray?
Let us be silent still, since words convey
But shadowed images, wherein we lose
The fulness of love's light; our lips refuse
The fluent commonplace of yesterday.
Then shall we hear beneath the brooding wing
Of silence what abiding voices sleep,
The primal notes of nature, that outring
Man's little noises, warble he or weep,
The song the morning stars together sing,
The sound of deep that calleth unto deep.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

A Very Different Kind of Book

     Last week I was extolling Sophy Burnham's account of her mystical experiences in The Ecstatic Journey: Walking the Mystical Path in Everyday Life.  This week's book is almost a polar opposite approach to meditation and spiritual growth.

    Written by Daniel Goleman, he of the Emotional Intelligence books, it is The Meditative Mind: The Varieties of Meditative Experience.  If Burnham's book is personal and flowery and open and filled with tender vulnerability, Goleman's book is precise, categorical, analytical, and scientific.  I believe it is an offshoot of his research for scientific journals, and it reads like it.

     This is a good book for those who want to analyze meditative states and how various religions teach their followers how to achieve them.  For me, that was among the more interesting parts of the book.  I hadn't seen a hierarchy of meditative states so precisely described as in this account, and some may find this valuable.  Goleman also discusses the benefits, as show in scientific studies, of meditation on physical, emotional, and mental health.

     Overall, it's a good book, if written from a completely different side of the brain than Burnham's.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

An Interesting Book, Part 2

     Last week I was introducing Sophy Burnham's The Ecstatic Journey: Walking the Mystical Path in Everyday Life, about her mystical experience while on a trip to Peru, and how it transformed her life.

     One of the side-effects of her experience was a closer relationship with her angels or guides.  She felt at times that she could communicate with them and receive answers telepathically.  Of course, this is not new, as many mystics over the ages have also experienced this ability.

     However, one of the questions that she asked her guides was about the purpose of prayer.  Here is their answer:
  1. "So we will know what you want, in order that we may give you what you need."
  2. "Because when you pray, for a few moments you surrender -- it may only be fifteen seconds out of fifteen minutes of attempted prayer.  But in that moment of surrender, you open a window through which we can enter to execute the desires of your heart."
  3. "Because your prayers give us the energy to do our work."
     Because these answers were so unexpected, Burnham counted them as genuine.  They certainly spoke to me.  

     So, keep praying.  Our world needs it.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

An Interesting Book

     I recently finished an interesting book by Sophy Burnham entitled The Ecstatic Journey: Walking the Mystical Path in Everyday Life.  She is the author of A Book of Angels, which I have not read, but was well-received and sounds significant.  Perhaps sometime in the future.

     In The Ecstatic Journey, Burnham recounts her trip to Machu Picchu in Peru where she had a profound mystical experience.  It shook her to her core, and the ripples of the event caused her to question nearly everything in her life.  Over the course of time, she felt compelled to study the experiences of other mystics, and these stories are interspersed with her own story throughout the book.  For both the personal and historical view of mystical experiences, this is a good book to read.

     What I really liked about her writing is that she made these experiences -- so often nearly impossible to capture into words -- accessible.  If you have ever tried to read William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience, you will know how valuable an ability that is.

     If you are mystically bent, or have questions about what others have experienced, this is a great resource.  If you find all this talk too "woo-woo" for your taste, then it's best to skip it.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

A Couple of Quotes for Today

     A couple of pithy quotes to ponder:
There are thousands of kinds of injustice but there is only one kind of justice -- equal justice for all.  To call for a little more justice, or a moderately gradual sort of justice, is to call for no justice.  That is a simple truth.  (John Howard Griffin)
All too often, when we see injustices, both great and small, we think, That's terrible, but we do nothing.  We say nothing.  We let other people fight their own battles.  We remain silent because silence is easier.  Qui tacet consentire videtur is Latin for "Silence gives consent."  When we say nothing, when we do nothing, we are consenting to these trespasses against us.  (Roxane Gay)


Saturday, September 21, 2019

A Beautiful, Unusual Book, Part 2

     Last week I was lauding the book H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  What a beautifully written, deeply touching work.  In it, Macdonald details how she came to purchase and then train a goshawk, named Mabel, to hunt and then return to her.  But, really, this book is so much more than that.  It's a profoundly felt, introspective work on how this process of training Mabel helped her through her grief over her father's death.

     Interestingly, Macdonald intersperses her own personal insights with insights into another author's life and work -- T.H. White's Goshawk.  White, I had to be reminded, was the author of The Once and Future King.  He was also a deeply troubled and pitiable character who had difficulty balancing his affection for his goshawk and his own tendencies to be self-centered and cruel.  But the act of training their goshawks, in Macdonald's hands, illuminates the characters of White and of herself.

     In one telling passage about how Macdonald had almost lost herself into complete empathy with her hawk Mabel in order to escape her grief, she writes:
     All the way home on the train I thought of Dad and the terrible mistake I had made.  I'd thought that to heal my great hurt, I should flee to the wild.  It was what people did.  The nature books I'd read told me so.  So many of them had been quests inspired by grief or sadness. Some had fixed themselves to the stars of elusive animals.  Some sought snow geese.  Others snow leopards.  Others cleaved to the earth, walked trails, mountains, coasts and glens.  Some sought wildness at a distance, others closer to home.  'Nature in her green, tranquil woods heals and soothes all afflictions,' wrote John Muir.  'Earth hath no sorrows that earth cannot heal.'
     Now I knew this for what it was:  a beguiling but dangerous lie.  I was furious with myself and my own unconscious certainty that this was the cure I needed.  Hands are for other human hands to hold.  They should not be reserved exclusively as perches for hawks.  And the wild is not a panacea for the human soul; too much in the air can corrode it to nothing.   
     Beautiful writing.  Beautiful book.  

Saturday, September 14, 2019

A Beautiful, Unusual Book

     I recently finished a beautifully written, though unusual, book.  It's called H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  I call it unusual because, honestly, I wasn't that incredibly interested in the subject matter (I'm not a big fan of reading about predatory birds doing their bloody work), but I was interested in how the author's mind works.  And that was the reason I bought the book.

     I had originally seen her in a PBS Nature documentary.  She was showing how she was training a goshawk to hunt for her, and I was captivated by the commentary she provided on her own thinking, on how the bird symbolized certain things for her, and how having a goshawk helped her through her own grieving process over her father's death.  I was deeply touched by her poetic insights.

     Yes, the book does describe -- beautifully, mind you -- how the goshawk kills rabbits or pheasants and the like, but it's so much more than that.  So, if you're a little squeamish like me, hopefully, you'll overlook those parts to feast on the rich insights that she provides throughout.

     If you love deep introspection that informs the human condition and beautiful, poetic writing, you'll treasure this book.  Try something different.  Get this book.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

A Poem for Twin Souls

"Sudden Light"

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

You have been mine before, --
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow's soar
Your neck turned so,
Some veil did fall, -- I knew it all of yore.

Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time's eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death's despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Saturday, August 31, 2019

A Couple of Quotes for Today

     Some things to ponder, and perhaps act on, for today:
There's no more central theme in the Bible than the immorality of inequality.  Jesus speaks more about the gap between rich and poor than he does about heaven and hell.  (Jim Wallis)
We must never ignore the injustices that make charity necessary, or the inequalities that make it possible.  (Michael Eric Dyson)


Saturday, August 24, 2019

A Terrific Taoist Book

     Perhaps you'd like to get an overview of Taoism through the many stories that the tradition offers.  This book will fit that bill.  It's called The Wisdom of the Tao: Ancient Stories that Delight, Inform, and Inspire, by the prolific and talented Deng Ming-Dao.

     It features 144 brief stories or short quotations, derived from such Chinese sources as Liezi, the I Ching, Zhuangzi, folktales, and classic Taoist writings.  Here is a classic, if earthy, example:

Dongguo Zi asked Zhuangzi:  "Where is Tao found?"
"Can you be specific?"
"It's in an ant."
"Can you be more basic than that?"
"It's in the weeds."
"Can you be even more basic than that?"
"It's in a clay tile."
"Can you be still more basic than that?"
"It's in shit."
Dongguo Zi was silent.

     A delightful book.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

A Refreshing Viewpoint, Part 3

     The interview with Dorothy Roberts, whom I quoted in the last two blog posts, struck a chord with me.  It reminds me of a friend of mine.

     Whenever my friend has to fill out a medical or other personal information sheet and the question of "race" comes up, she always marks the "other" box and writes in:  "human."  We are, she says, all one human race.  Why accept the artificial social constructs?

     I like her chutzpah.

     So, be human.  Be one with your neighbor and their neighbor.  Be an active member of this world.
(image courtesy of


Saturday, August 10, 2019

A Refreshing Viewpoint, Part 2

     Last week I was presenting excerpts from an interview with Dorothy Roberts.  Here is a continuation on her view of the biological concept of "race."
There is genetic variation in the human species.  In Africa alone we could divide people into a thousand different "races" if we wanted to, based on various genetic differences.  But there would be no point in having a thousand races.  If you divide humans into just a few groups, however, then you can build a social hierarchy around those divisions.  Besides, skin color varies within races and is consistent between some people of different races.
The biological concept of race has been refuted by evolutionary biologists and geneticists and genomicists for decades.  The scientists who led the Human Genome Project made a point of saying human genetic variation isn't divided into races.  There's no such thing as black genes or white genes.  The amount of genetic variation among people of the same so-called race is greater than the amount of genetic variation between races.  You might have genes that can be traced to a certain population somewhere on the globe, but there's no point at which you can draw a boundary line and identify one race on one side and a different race on the other.
All humans originated in African and then migrated outward in groups, each carrying a subset of the genetic variation in Africa.  No one has identified a point in human history at which these migrating groups evolved into discrete and homogeneous "races."
     In other words, we are all one, people.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

A Refreshing Viewpoint

     I was recently reading in one of my favorite magazines, The Sun, an interview of Dorothy Roberts (law, Africana-studies, and sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia) conducted by Mark Leviton.  The interview can be found in the April, 2019 volume (yes, I am a little behind on my reading).  Here are some fascinating tidbits:
Roberts:  I'm not saying that race is a natural division of human beings that can lead to unjust hierarchies.  I'm saying that the very concept of race was invented to create and enforce such hierarchies.
Leviton:  How old is this political invention?
Roberts:  Certainly hundreds of years old.  The term "race" came into use to distinguish human groups in the sixteenth century when Europeans began to conquer other peoples and enslave them.  To justify capturing Africans and turning them into property, Europeans came to describe them as a separate kind of human being -- or even not human at all.
As soon as people invent the concept of race, they rank races into a hierarchy.  Some people think it's harmless to believe in biological differences between races as long as we don't value one over another, but the whole point of dividing humans into races is to value some more than others.  The inventors of the biological concept of race said that Africans were naturally meant to be enslaved, that it was for their own good, that they were better off being slaves!  These ideas were written into law in the united States during the slavery era.
     Food for thought, don't you think?  There's more to come.

(image courtesy of


Saturday, July 27, 2019

A Terrific Quote from a Terrific Book

     From Deng Ming-Dao's terrific book on Taoism, Scholar Warrior: An Introduction to the Tao in Everyday Life:
The Tao is difficult to fathom.  That is why the sages called it xuan, "the dark mystery beyond all mysteries."  It is here with us every day, yet it is difficult to sense.  It is within us, like a bright candle smothered inside a steel lantern, but we see only darkness.  It moves constantly, yet we fail to detect its flow.  It is emptiness, but we dwell only in the world of appearances.  The Tao is truly great, beyond all descriptions, beyond all conceptions, and beyond all names.  It is a mystery, but there is no awakening to life without it.  Those who enter into the Tao become one with eternity.  Those who enter into the Tao dissolve into Tao itself.  
     Lovely, no?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A Book to Treasure, Part 2

     As I wrote last week, I found a treasure in Deng Ming-Dao's phenomenal book on Taoism, Scholar Warrior: An Introduction to the Tao in Everyday Life.  If you want to know about Taoism in a complete and thorough way, this book is for you.

     Honestly, I didn't know how terrific the book was when I ordered it.  I was actually looking for a book on Taoist meditation practices and saw that there was a chapter on that.  And once I got to that chapter, after 284 pages, I was a tiny bit disappointed that there was only one meditation practice described.  It's a good one, and one I practice several times a week, but there was . . . only . . . one.

     [Please, Mr. Deng, would you consider writing a whole book on Taoist meditation practices?  I promise to buy a copy.]

     But alleviating my disappointment was how well he described two difficult philosophical points.  I've never seen the concepts of wu wei, or effortlessness, and emptiness and union explained so well.

     I came away feeling like I found a treasure, but also wondering how this beautiful flower of Taoism, so firmly rooted in the Chinese culture, would transplant to Western cultures.  [Another book idea, Mr. Deng!]  It's something to ponder.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

A Book to Treasure

     As you know, I'm quite the fan of Taoist expert, Deng Ming-Dao.  I've been slowly collecting and reading his books, and discovered one that I would consider his master-work.  It's called Scholar Warrior: An Introduction to the Tao in Everyday Life.  If you want to read about Taoism in its complexity and completeness, this book is one to treasure.  It is head and shoulders above any other book on Taoism that I've ever read.

     It starts with how Taoists view their religion as not something to be practiced once a week, but as a complete lifestyle.  It goes over dietary recommendations, stretching exercises, Qigong, and herbal formulas for health.  It then talks about Taoist philosophy, such as effortlessness or wu wei, and issues in the student/teacher relationship.  It ends with a large section in which he writes about Daoyin, which bridges exercise and meditation; meditation practices; the ultimate goal of a Taoist; and a clearly written chapter about emptiness and union with the Tao.  It is worth the price of the book for the last chapter alone.

     If you are even remotely interested in Taoism, this is the best and most complete book I've found.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy Independence Day

May you be free of sorrow and pain.
May you be free to discover your happiness.
May you be free of loneliness and unhealthiness.
May you be free to follow your heart's bliss.

Happy Independence Day.

(photo courtesy of

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Some More Great Quotes

     Here are some more quotes to ponder:

How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment:  
we can start now, start slowly changing the world!  
How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make a contribution
 toward introducing justice straight away. 
 (Anne Frank)

Those who want to do good are not selfish.
They are not in a hurry.
They know that to impregnate people with good
requires a long time.
But evil has wings.
To build a house takes time.
Its destruction takes none. 
 (Mahatma Gandhi)

(image courtesy of

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Some Great Quotes

     I came across these quotes and thought them worthy of sharing.
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.  (Helen Keller)
It is better to be part of a great whole than to be the whole of a small part.  (Frederick Douglass) 

I have always held firmly to the thought that each one of us can do a little
 to bring some portion of misery to an end.  (Albert Schweitzer)

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent
 about things that matter.  (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

(image courtesy of

Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Book Recommendation, Part 3

     In her fabulous and relevant book Fascism: A Warning, Madeleine Albright lists some important questions to ask when assessing a potential leader.  In these times of political change, they might be wise questions to ask.
  • Do they cater to our prejudices by suggesting that we treat people outside our ethnicity, race, or party as unworthy of dignity and respect?
  • Do they want us to nurture our anger toward those who we believe have done us wrong, encourage our grievances, and aim for revenge?
  • Do they encourage us to have contempt for governing institutions and the electoral process?
  • Do they seek to destroy our faith in essentials to democracy such as an independent press and a professional judiciary?
  • Do they exploit the symbols of patriotism -- the flag, the pledge -- in a conscious effort to turn us against one another?
  • If defeated at the polls, would they accept the verdict or insist without evidence that they have won?
  • Do they brag about their ability to solve all problems, put to rest all anxieties, and satisfy every desire?
  • Do they solicit our cheers by speaking casually and with machismo about using violence to do away their enemies?
  • Do they echo the attitude of Mussolini:  "The crowd doesn't have to know," all it has to do is believe and "submit to being shaped"?
  • Or do they invite us to join with them in building and maintaining a healthy center for our societies, a place where rights and duties are apportioned fairly, the social contact is honored, and all have room to dream and grow?
     Important questions from an important book.  

Saturday, June 8, 2019

A Book Recommendation, Part 2

     Last week I was encouraging you to read Madeleine Albright's Fascism: A Warning.  What a relevant, scary, hopeful book.  As Albright writes:
Some may view this book and its title as alarmist.  Good.  We should be awake to the assault on democratic values that has gathered strength in many countries abroad and that is dividing America at home.  The temptation is powerful to close our eyes and wait for the worst to pass, but history tells us that for freedom to survive, it must be defended, and that if lies are to stop, they must be exposed.
     Armed with the knowledge in this book, and by being aware of what is being done and said by our leaders and their followers, we can stand for the freedoms that we all cherish.  We must be willing to take a step back and realize when style is being hawked over substance, and when double-speak rules the message.  Albright continues:
Maybe we have grown so accustomed to receiving immediate satisfaction from our devices that we have lost patience with democracy's sluggish pace.  Possibly, we have allowed ourselves to be manipulated  by hucksters who pledge to deliver the world on a silver platter but have no clue how to make good on their promises.  Perhaps we have been letting appearances -- the illusion of decisiveness, the breathless reporting of trivia, the faux drama of reality TV -- deceive and confuse us to the point that we can't recognize what is true, and instead believe with certainty what is not.
     Amen to that.  Let's all stay awake and vigilant.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

A Book Recommendation

     Usually I recommend books of spiritual significance, or related to empath's issues, or dealing with the subject of this blog, Twin Souls.  But this book stands out in its importance to these times.

     I know of people, as you do, that believe in order to keep their spiritual focus, they refuse to read the news, listen to news-related audio or video, or even keep up with local happenings.  I understand the desire to keep a calm, unsullied mind, but these are unusual times.  We need to keep one foot on the spiritual path and one foot in the world, as it needs our positive and awakening energy.  I encourage you, spiritual warrior, to adopt that stance.

     That said, the book I recommend today is Fascism: A Warning by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.  Co-written with pen-master Bill Woodward, it is both enlightening and informative while giving plenty of food for thought.  I did not find it an easy read, but I read one chapter at a time and then thought about the ideas presented.

     In the beginning chapters, Albright examines how fascism has come to being in different countries over the last century or so.  She examines how Mussolini and Hitler came to power, and how fascists are becoming more and more prevalent in our world today.  It is a warning, but it also holds hope.  For you see, fascists thrive in a climate of fear and ignorance.  By reading this book, you will be armed with knowledge and power.  Read this book.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

A Couple of Pithy Quotes

Here are a couple of good, juicy quotes to ponder this week:
I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people convinced that they are about to change the world, I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another.  -- Ellen Goodman
Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world:  small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere. -- J.R.R. Tolkien
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Saturday, May 18, 2019

Some Guided Mindfulness Practices

     Last week I was recommending Ronald Siegel's book The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems.  What a terrific resource for all situations and stages of life, and how to use mindfulness practices to help guide you through them with minimal bruising.

     Dr. Siegel also has a website that ties in to this book and has a page that offers different mindfulness practices that he talks you through.  Although there is no background music, his voice is gentle and reassuring as he guides you to relax, to deal with your reactions to issues, or to feel more compassion toward yourself or others.  You can visit the guided meditations page on his website here.  You'll be glad you did.

(photo courtesy of

Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Terrific Book to Re-Read

     I was looking through a book catalog to see if there were any new books to purchase (something I do all too frequently) and found a book on mindfulness.  I read the description and did a little research about it, and realized that I already had a better book at home.  So, I re-read that one.  It's The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems by Ron Siegel.

     Upon re-reading this book, I realized what a treasure it really is.  Not only does it address real-life problems, but does so in a practical, accepting way.  There is nothing airy-fairy about this book.  It gets down and dirty where you are, accepts the human condition, and offers fairly simple solutions to get you back on track.  I rediscovered ways to address some situations in my life and was glad I took the time to revisit this book.  You may, too.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Thought for Today

Here's a thought that goes with last month's theme.  It's from the renowned (and much missed) astronomer Carl Sagan:
One of the saddest lessons of history is this:  If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle.  We're no longer interested in finding out the truth.  The bamboozle has captured us.  It's simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we've been taken.  Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.

(photo courtesy of

Saturday, April 27, 2019

How Not to Be an (April) Fool, Part 4

     Last week we learned how neuromarketers purposely craft their message to get you to do something – buy their product, believe their message, keep them in power.  Since they are experts at crafting their message with this goal in mind, and since we are constantly bombarded by these messages, what can we do?
     First, realize that it’s happening.  Then, breathe.  Yes, breathe.
     Why?  Because when you purposely take a deep breath, you are getting out of the autonomic nervous system and getting into the rational brain.  In other words, you are taking back control of your reactions.
     Next, mentally take a step back and observe both the message and your emotional reactions.  Yes, sometimes it’s almost impossible not to react emotionally.  What we’re trying to do instead is to keep from allowing those emotions to run our behavior.
    I think of this in many ways as how our brain works when we meditate (you are meditating, aren’t you?  Please do.  It will help).  We first cue our brain by taking a few deep breaths.  We’re saying to our brain, “It’s time to focus and stop reacting all the time.”  Then we concentrate on our breath.  This calms us and helps us get into observer mode.  Then, we sit back and observe our thoughts as they pass by.  We watch them come and go, like leaves floating on a stream, or clouds drifting in the sky.  We watch our reactions to these thoughts come and go.  We pull ourselves back when we start following the narrative and emotional content of these thoughts.  We continue breathing and observing.  
     I think that meditation is one of the best ways to combat neuromarketing.  For your sake, for the sake of our society and our world, I encourage you to keep at it.  
(photo courtesy of

Saturday, April 20, 2019

How Not to Be an (April) Fool, Part 3

  Did you know that there are certain groups who purposely use our brain structure to influence our thinking and behavior?  Pretty scary, right?  Let me explore with you the world of neuromarketing.
     As you know, marketers – whether they are trying to sell you products via commercial advertisements or people promoting certain ideas (on social media or on public platforms) – want you to act in a certain way.  If they show you a bottle of ketchup, they want you to buy their brand.  If they post a biased article, they want you to support their cause.  If they repeatedly say certain untruths in a public forum, they want you to believe them and work to keep them in power.
     Here’s how it works:  the reptilian brain is the most primitive part of the brain.  If you remember last week’s lecture, this is the part that is involved in survival and instinct.  It wants to avoid pain.  Interestingly, it also is responsible for making many of our decisions.  Neuromarketers purposely aim their message at this part of the brain.
     And how do they do this?  First, they realize that the reptilian brain is reached best through strong emotions.  The limbic system, processor of emotions, acts as the doorway to the reptilian brain.  Then, neuromarketers target the reptilian brain in seven ways:
  • They tap into your pain points – those areas which cause you pain, whether through comparison with others or such survival instincts as hunger or desire for sex (yes, that’s why the voluptuous woman is draped over the hood in the sports car commercial)
  • They appeal to your innate selfishness – they will talk directly to “you” in the message
  • They will use contrast – such as showing the situation which causes pain and their solution which eases the pain (think of teeth-whitening commercials)
  • They emphasize the value of their message – they demonstrate how their message has worked in the past for others, and will work for you
  • They focus on the beginning and end of their messaging – since the reptilian brain tends not to focus on details, they make sure the beginnings and ends pack the most punch
  • They use a visual metaphor – they know that the optic nerve goes directly to the reptilian brain, making it more visual than verbal 
  • They strike an emotional chord – they know that keeping the emotions involved will tend to circumvent any involvement by the neocortex, or rational, brain; interestingly, the reptilian brain tends to be more activated by negative than positive emotions

   So what can we do to keep from becoming manipulated by these forces?  More on that next week.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

How Not to Be an (April) Fool, Part 2

     Welcome to Biology and the Brain 101, class.  Sit yourself down and learn about how emotions affect behavior.
     In the 1960s, neuroscientist Paul MacLean put out the theory that the human brain is comprised of three parts, encompassing one another like Russian nesting dolls.  The innermost part is the reptilian brain, which is enclosed by the limbic system, which is then surrounded by the neomammalian brain, or neocortex.
     Each part of the brain has its own function.  For example, the neocortex is the section involved in higher-order thinking processes, such as language, planning, perception, and abstraction.  The limbic system houses such structures as the amygdala, the hippocampus, and hypothalamus, which are involved in memory, emotion, and motivation.  And finally, the reptilian brain is involved in instinctual behavior such as survival, territoriality, aggression, and dominance.
     And what does this have to do with the encounter with my friend which I wrote about last week?
     Here’s my theory:  News media and other groups (whether in print, on TV, or in social media) sometimes purposely use our brain structure to affect our emotional response and then our behavior. 
     Next week, class, we’re going to delve into the wild world of neuromarketing.

(image courtesy of

Saturday, April 6, 2019

How Not to Be an (April) Fool

     I was talking with a friendly acquaintance the other day when, in the midst of our pleasantries, she erupted into a diatribe about a new law in a distant state that alarmed her and how certain groups are trying to reduce morality in our country and so on.  I had not heard about this new law, or about how these groups were trying to take over our country, and repeatedly said so.  I knew that my friend watched a very conservative cable news channel and wondered if this was the source of her information, and whether this information was even true.  

     Being an empath, I was bombarded by her anger and outrage.  I was also struck by the deep feeling of fear in her as well.  It took me a long time to get over the emotional punch of our encounter.

     Which brought me to a thought – do news media and other public voices – whether in print, on TV, or on social networks – purposely appeal to one’s emotions first?  And if so, to what purpose?
     And the search for answers brought me to explore what brains and reptiles have in common.  More on this next week.
(photo courtesy of

Saturday, March 30, 2019

An Uplifting Quote for Our Times

     Sometimes I read the news and just want to hang my head and cry.  I feel so powerless, you know?  But I ran across a quote from 1932 which I believe applies to today.  It's from Franklin D. Roosevelt:
Out of every crisis, every tribulation, every disaster, mankind rises with some share of greater knowledge, or higher decency, of purer purpose.
     Well, if we could steer ourselves out of the Great Depression, we can steer ourselves out of this depressing time of tribalism, ethnic hatred, injustice, greed, narcissism, ecological disaster, and so on.  Let's keep our head up high, hold on to our power, and work for that better world.

     Keep on keeping on.  

Friday, March 22, 2019

Some Thoughts for the Spring Equinox

     It is the time of the spring equinox, when night and day are equal.  Readers of this blog know that one of the central themes of The Gemini Bond  is that in order to be ready to be joined with our Twin Soul, we need to balance the masculine and feminine aspects within ourselves first.  Here are some quotes which illustrate this:
Each one of us needs to discover the proper balance between the masculine and feminine energies, between the active and the receptive.  (Ravi Ravindra)
There is a collective force rising up on the earth today, an energy of the reborn feminine... This is a time of monumental shift, from the male dominance of human consciousness back to a balanced relationship between masculine and feminine. (Marianne Williamson)
The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting—force is losing its weight and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals—or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.  (Abdu'l-Bahá )
     We all have work to do -- within ourselves, within our families and communities, and within our world -- to balance the masculine and feminine.  Let's dedicate ourselves to this greater goal.  

(image courtesy of

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Another Terrific Book from a Master

     We now call to order another meeting of the Deng Ming-Dao fan club (hear! hear!).  I picked up another one of his books, beautifully designed and thoughtfully presented, as all his books are.  It is The Wisdom of the Tao: Ancient Stories that Delight, Inform, and Inspire.  What a wonderful resource!

     If you aren't interested in investing in all sorts of esoteric and expensive Taoist tomes, this book might be for you.  It gleans pithy stories from various sources -- the writings of Liezi, Zhuangzi, the I Ching, historical records, folktales, and various other Taoist classics.  Each story is one or two pages long and is presented in easy, modern language.  My only regret is that Deng did not add any commentary to some of the more opaque stories.  Some of them required extra pondering, but they were worth the thought.

     If you are interested in exploring more of the Taoist tradition, this book is for you.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

A Pearl of a Book, Part 2

     Last week I was lauding a recent find, 1,001 Pearls of Life-Changing Wisdom: Insight on Identity, Truth, and Success by Elizabeth Venstra.  One of the great things about this book is the wide range of topics that are covered.  Another great thing is how within each topic, Venstra offers quotes that may seemingly contradict each other.

     Here's an example:
I'm finally ready to won my own power, to say "This is who I am."  If you like it, you like it.  And if you don't, you don't.  So watch out, I'm gonna fly.   (Oprah Winfrey)
We must learn the power of living with our helplessness.  (Sheldon B. Kopp)
     Live with these quotes for a bit, and you'll see that they are not 'either-or', but' both-and' in terms of addressing the truth of personal power.   Wonderful!

Saturday, March 2, 2019

A Pearl of a Book

     You know I'm a sucker for pithy, thought-provoking quotes.  I recently found a book that's full of them.  A quote-lovers heaven!  It's called 1,001 Pearls of Life-Changing Wisdom: Insight on Identity, Truth, and Success by Elizabeth Venstra.

     It ranges in topics from identify and the self, to character, to truth, to emotions, to dreams and desires, to success, to time, and relationships.  What I really like about how Venstra put the quotes together is that she was not afraid to place two (or more) contradicting quotes next to each other.  It's like a built-in debate on a topic, which broadens one's understanding and opens one's mind to other ways of looking at things.  Wonderful.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

A Couple of Thoughts for Today

Here are some pithy quotes to chew on for the week.  Enjoy.
The longest day must have its close -- the gloomiest night will wear on to a morning.  An eternal, inexorable lapse of moments is ever hurrying the day of the evil to an eternal night, and the night of the just to an eternal day.  (Harriet Beecher Stowe)
The ultimate sense of security will be when we come to recognize that we are all part of one human race.  Our primary allegiance is to the human race and not to one particular color or border.  I think the sooner we renounce the sanctity of these many identities and try to identify ourselves with the human race the sooner we will get a better world and a safer world.  (Mohamed ElBaradei) 

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Poem for Lovers Across Time

     I recently read a lovely poem by Walt Whitman, which talks about how soul can recognize soul, across the limits of gender and the confines of time, even as Twin Souls do.  I hope you enjoy this on Valentine's Day.

To a Stranger

Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you.
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me as of a dream.)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall'd as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not yours only nor left my body mine only.
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

(image courtesy of

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Another Wonderful Book

     I picked up a book last week which I think will prove very helpful.  Perhaps you would, too.

     Entitled Real World Mindfulness for Beginners: Navigate Daily Life One Practice at a Time and edited by Brenda Salgado, it features a chapter addressing a different life issue with some simple mindfulness practices to help face that issue.  Some of the topics include:  dealing with anxiety and stress, facing hurt or anger, enduring grief and loss, breaking bad habits or negative behaviors, promoting patience and compassion, and accepting aging and illness.  Each chapter, written by a different mindfulness teacher, is clear and concise and easily applicable in minutes.  A very useful book.