Friday, June 27, 2008

Buddhists, Lamas and Nine-Year-Olds

I've been feeling under the weather, but my writing on a Buddhist forum made a few people in Ireland, Norway and Tokyo laugh today. Still working on an enlightened Lama in Guam. He is going to be a hard nut to crack.

And my daughter called. I was able to tell her about her little brother's comment this morning. Feeling bored without siblings or a friend, a week into summer vacation, he said:" Even the youngest of my siblings has turned out to be even more mature than all the older ones!" I tried to get more details on this, but he said it was just so. It's a koan for the rest of us to figure out.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

America At Home



One of my favorite books, both as a spiritual journey story, and as a stunning collection of photographs is "From Alice to Ocean". It is the true story of a woman, Robyn Davidson, deciding to cross Australia by herself, with her dog and four camels. The inner journey of child-like joy and exuberance at the beginning of the story, turning into wondering, suffering and confusion until exhaustion and gratitude finally enter her rebellious heart and allow her to discover a quiet, joyful peace by the time she reaches the ocean, is one of the ways the fundamental story of Here You Are can play itself out in a person's life. Her journey is captured in the photographs of well know photographer Rick Smolan.

So when I came across Rick Smolan and his wife Jennifer Erwitt's latest book - America At Home, I was naturally curious. At first glance America At Home is a wonderful collection of both stunning and wholesome photographs of American households and their inhabitants. Sponsored by IKEA - my children's favorite furniture company - America At Home turns out to have more depth than you would expect. Amusing, insightful and contemplative reflections are offered on the idea of what Home means to us by an impressive number of contributing writers who include famous author, Amy Tan, Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons, and Dominique Browning, the former editor of House and Garden and other writers, who all reflect on our relationship to what we call Home.

The people in the occasional photographs of gay couples look as mundane, stressed out or happy as the rest of the domestic dwellers running after their children and pets, helping to dispel the stereotypical notion of strangeness associated with this lifestyle that doesn't look any different from anyone else's. If you are familiar with Smolan and Erwitt's Day of the Life series books, you know - we are all a bit strange. The stranger we all are, or try to be, the more we are the same - we're just Americans!

America At Home informs us about what's important to us. Kids, pets and spending money, it seems. Marriage, not so much. 35% of our children live in single or no parent homes, and even though 62% of us don't think money can buy happiness we spend 41 billion more than we earn on whatever it does buy. Most likely IKEA furniture. I know that is what my children spend a lot of their money on. The rest must be going for pets at 41 billion a year, as well as Netflix to watch the hard working celebrities who apparently live an average of 13 years less than us couch potatoes.

Since 85% of us do no exercise of any kind, you'll be surprised how many billions of dollars we spend each year on health clubs. Many more such statistics add to the overall impression of this fascinating book that will have you find yourself starting many "Did you know..." conversations, and leaving it on your coffee table for a conversation piece. This will be especially impressive if you get the custom cover jacket you can order featuring your very own - to quote Matt Groening - "kinda functional and kinda loopy" family!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Joy At Last

"Joy at last, to know there is no happiness in the world."

This statement is by Thai Meditation Master, Ajahn Chah. I had never heard it before today and instantly fell in love with it.

The pursuit of happiness - and our hoping to find it through material things, entertainment, personal fulfillment, intellectual and scientific pursuits, religious experiences and achievements - never ends. Happiness eludes us no matter what we try and how successful we are at achieving all of our dreams. Even when we achieve our fondest dreams we feel we should be happier than we actually feel. Somewhere there is an idea or a memory what it should feel like. It is like water running through our fingers. It always seems so close, just around the corner. We can't hold on to it for long when we do feel it. Things, events, insights all give it to us for a moment or a while, only to be lost again. This is how we spend our lives and it is what makes the world go around. There is nothing wrong with it. Without this mechanism life would not go on - and still - we need to wake up from it to find the joy we were born with that this Thai Meditation Master is talking about. When we do, we laugh with relief. It was never lost in the first place. We were just so busy preventing it, by looking for it endlessly - like someone digging for treasure with a golden, diamond studded shovel.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Pot Game

Today we had twenty third-graders descend on our house and had a blast. After boat rides to see the baby sea lions, and climbing up everything that could be conquered, we played "The Pot Game" - a German game where you hide some goodies under a big cooking pot, and blindfold a child who crawls around on the floor with a metal cooking spoon (wooden ones break) to yelling and screaming by all the other friends of "HOT", "COLD", "WARM", "WARMER", "HOT","HOTTER, HOTTER, HOTTER, YEAHHHHHH!!!!!!!"

The main surprise under the pot was a small stuffed animal. We figured they were still just young enough. And they were - loving and hugging their fluffy new treasures and choosing cute names after lengthy discussions.

We were convinced we now did indeed have fourth graders, though, when half an hour later we found them all upstairs, very busy, catapulting their furry little puppies and kittens high through the air against the walls, and into all corners of my son's bedroom, with the very efficient catapult our older son had built in high school physics during his senior year several years ago.

Time flies.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Crossing Guard

Every morning when I drive my son, a few streets before we get to school, there he is - a tall, skinny, handsome, baseball-capped crossing guard who could be Senator Obama's little brother. He waves and smiles at every single person who drives around the corner where he is keeping the children who cross the street at that particular intersection, safe. It's a friendly "Isn't it a beautiful day" kind of wave. He has turned a boring job into something interesting, putting a smile on hundreds of people's faces - every morning and again in the afternoons. It's funny how well you think you know someone, or you think someone knows you, when you just smile and wave at them twice every day.

He does it in such a way, too, that it seems like he is happy to see you, recognizing each driver in a very relaxed way. This man is definitely present in each moment - a good quality in a crossing guard!

Tomorrow I will surprise him with a copy of Here You Are when I drive by.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Easy Maybe

Here's an easy post to write, and an easy post to read. Close your eyes and take five breaths. If you lose count, start over. Whatever made you lose count or feel rushed and impatient, will show you what is keeping you from your wholeness at this point in time.

For me it was my hot bath waiting and wanting to type a little more, in other words, physical and intellectual pleasure. But, I pushed it aside for five sweet breaths - you can, too.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Happy Hippo

How would you like this baby to show up in your kitchen for a snack? Sweet people, sweet Hippo.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Blood

Something else happened on the way to the airport from the BEA. At least twelve times - until I got the message - we passed, lost and then passed, or were passed again, by a Give Blood Mobile. It said on the colorful truck that if everyone gave blood twice a year, the US blood supply would be adequate. Macrobiotic theory holds that women live longer than men because they lose blood every month, which is considered a healthy discharge.

That being true or not, I suspect giving blood is more likely a healthy than and an unhealthy thing to do, especially for men and non-menstruating women. And it certainly can save someone else's life.

As a matter of fact I would not be here if it hadn't been for a blood transfusion. $40 worth of blood from a cleaning lady named "Schramm". As a baby, all my blood had to be drained from my six week old body as a last resort, to be replaced with Frau Schramm's blood. I finally recovered from my severe anemia (ABO) after weeks of experiments - an eternity for my poor parents who had helplessly put my bassinet on Doctor Wolf's desk in Duisburg, Germany two months earlier. He had humbly warned them that he may not be able to return their baby to them alive.

Thank you, Dr. Wolf, and Thank You, Frau Schramm. Blood bank - here I come!


BEA

Last weekend I attended the BEA (Book Expo America) in Los Angeles with a book signing at noon on Friday. I am happy to report that the books flew off my table faster than I could sign my name, and when it was time to give up my table I had to send people away. At first I thought; "Oh,well - they are for free after all" - but then an insider told me: "Oh no, dear, all samples are for free here, but people hate to carry more stuff around. If they asked for your book, they really wanted it."

It's true - the show is gigantic and everybody has miles to cover through several buildings. I was sore for three days afterwards. The show is mostly attended by professionals in the book industry and as such was a great education. It is small and much less intense in comparison to the magazine and computer industry that I am used to, which was nice and relaxing even though I was new to it all.

A lot of people suffer from self-importance at these shows and it was a relief to laugh with the down to earth, old, Italian cabdriver on the way to the airport when his cell phone went off. A loud whistle and a woman yelling "TAXI!!!" was his ring tone. In the middle of the highway while we were speeding to the airport, this was highly confusing and very funny. I gave him a signed book for his grand children.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Are You Happy?

When I was studying at the Kushi Institute twenty years ago, making my way every day from classroom to classroom, wondering about all kinds of things - be it our cancer and AIDS patients, my children's or my husband's health, our life, the state of the world - my mind endlessly fascinated with problems and finding solutions for them - several times during those years, Mishio Kushi would pop up out of nowhere. Turning a corner, or up a flight of stairs, looking straight at me, he'd ask: "Are you happy?"

I always burst out laughing, like I had just been caught. Caught in this fabricated unhappiness thinking creates, that wasn't true. He kept looking at me just long enough until he was sure I understood this. Then he'd hurry on to his next lecture or consultation.

Be very careful if an unhappy or needy person asks you whether you are happy, though. They will show you how unhappy you are, and if you don't know better, you will believe them. They will then offer you something to fix your unhappiness in exchange for sex, money or some other form of power. Every commercial on TV works that way, and much of religion and psychology. There is a given assumption of our unhappiness, fixable only with certain products or actions we are going to be encouraged into taking. It is not necessarily malicious - it is just the blind leading the blind.

In truth, happiness just requires a reminder. Content to the core of our souls, if we only take a moment to notice, we already know the truth. The problem is that it is so simple, as simple as taking a grateful breath regardless of any circumstances. Our minds think it is too easy, and not interesting enough. It is available equally to everyone - beggar or king, the educated or the fools. That also doesn't make it "special" enough for our egos to be easily persuaded. Therefore there is a need for humility in our approach. There is nobody more humble than a wise man who knows how stupid he is, or a stupid man who finally understands how wise he is.

Amma



My grandmother's name was Therese, named after a Christian Saint. Looking up Christian Saints, I came across this amazing woman, who reminded me of a YouTube video (below) of a present day, Indian saint named Amma, in rapture. Amma is the Indian Saint who heals millions with unconditional love hugs you may have already heard about on the news.

It was this passage about Teresa of Avila's teachings about the four stages of the soul, that made me think of the Amma video below. So first - here is Theresa's statement:

The fourth is the "devotion of ecstasy or rapture," a passive state, in which the consciousness of being in the body disappears. Sense activity ceases; memory and imagination are also absorbed in God or intoxicated. Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain, alternating between a fearful fiery glow, a complete impotence and unconsciousness, and a spell of strangulation, intermitted sometimes by such an ecstatic flight that the body is literally lifted into space. This after half an hour is followed by a reactionary relaxation of a few hours in a swoon-like weakness, attended by a negation of all the faculties in the union with God. From this the subject awakens in tears; it is the climax of mystical experience, productive of the trance. (Indeed, St. Theresa herself was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on more than one occasion.)

Teresa is one of the foremost writers on mental prayer. Her definition was used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Mental prayer [oraciĆ³n mental] is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us." (more on Wikipedia)

Here is the video of Amma now, in what appears to be the state described by Theresa - a strange sight to Western eyes, although not as strange as someone levitating -




The communists call religion the opium of the people. This opium beats all other drugs, but you have to spend as much time and money on it as you do on "real" drugs. And - it helps to hang out with people who know how to get high. Religions can be as much trouble as drugs - in many ways - and just as deceiving. It is all very tricky, and we need to check within our hearts to guide us. That is were this "mental prayer" comes in. In Christian Science this idea is taken even further to "silent prayer" - not talking with God, but just being in his presence. It's all meditation in various forms.

Before you think the above Saint, Amma, may just be a drugged out, strange Indian with a multi million dollar business watch this Newscast - her physical feat each day alone seems to only be possible by "miracle". Her message is love and compassion - unconditional love, like that of a mother. It indeed seems to move mountains.


- and here another, very old video of her early days.





What do you think? How open-minded are we when we think prayer or love is not scientific? They are stepping stones to silence, stillness, and what we, in our lack of understanding, call miracles. If you read "Autobiography of Yogi", by Paramahansa Yogananda, or "The Life and Teaching of the Masters of the Far East" by Baird T. Spalding ( a wonderful set of six books a friend just gave to me to read), so-called miracles seem nothing but easy tasks if we only understood the underlying, scientific principals. That is why for example, Christian Science considers itself a scientific method, teaching how our minds play a role in affecting the material circumstance around us.

Silence and stillness is the unifying principle all the physicists are looking for. It will be interesting to see how they will eventually express this in a formula. First they have to find it. How to write a formula about the non-physical that is the source of all the physical? There is no God, but God? Much like the word Uni-verse. What would that look like in a unified principle formula? The unified principle formula would have to be a contradictory statement, like Mohammed's statement, the word Universe, or many Buddhist statements. Only a contradictory statement can get close to describing truth.

The Tao tells us the truth that can be described - is not the truth. Maybe Jesus' statement: "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" is even wiser than any direct statement. I love this mystery and could write on and on about it. That's why I had to write a short children's book instead, with all of this between the lines.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

My Husband's Acid Stomach

The three "M"s for me are Motherhood, Meditation and Macrobiotics.

In 1981 my husband developed an acid stomach. His doctor ordered him to take Malox every day or risk getting an ulcer. When Malox gave him excruciating headaches we thought maybe corporate life was not for him - but - we had a baby and a mortgage to pay. Plan B - I went to the health food store to inquire about old folk recipes for acid stomach. There had to be something.

I had never been in a store like this. Bins of grains and beans that made a wonderful sound when my two-year-old dug the little shovel in to fill our bags. The sprout and cucumber sandwiches, and the simmering soups behind the counter filled the store with the most heavenly smells which informed my deprived brain of the importance of whatever was going on here. The store owner, Peggy, said:"Well, there is Macrobiotics - but that is a whole philosophy".

"Philosophy" - say no more! Cooking and food had never interested me. That changed after my first macrobiotic cooking class, my first consultation with a macrobiotic counselor, and after reading many, many macrobiotic books. If you want to change the world - stay home with your children and cook!

Not only my husband's acid stomach cleared up before the six week cooking class was over, but so did my two-year-old's runny nose, and my six year allergy to my own adrenaline that had me break out in itchy hives whenever there was any positive or negative stress in my life. A year later I started teaching Macrobiotics in Connecticut, and three years later I was enrolled at the Kushi Institue in Boston to study with Michio and Aveline Kushi in more depth. After that I started counseling not only allergic children, but people with cancer and AIDS in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Macrobiotics did wonders for my mediation practice. I could sit still for hours. The peace in my physical body due to a more balanced diet and increased awareness about the energies of food and preparation techniques, translated to a peaceful mind.

There also was more peace in our household than in other households, as my children lived on home cooked food that was calming and soothing, rather than fast and exciting like sizzling hamburgers, cartoon cereals and high octane fizzy drinks. While other mothers battled it out with their meat-fed little warriors and their irritable, whiny kids who were allergic to the dairy or fruit juice they were consuming, my children were wielding sharp Japanese kitchen knives cutting vegetables every night, and my ten-year-old decided he was going to cook dinner on Tuesday nights for all of us as part of his allowance chores. He then proceeded to cook complete Macrobiotic meals of soup, rice, vegetables, beans and condiments, including kale, to perfection, which is an art, explaining to me what he had watched me do all along. That was the first time I realized how much children watch every move we make to learn. If we don't like them when they grow up - guess what!

Macrobiotics as taught by Michio Kushi has influenced American culture more than most people realize. The founders of many large, influential American enterprises were students of Michio Kushi in the seventies and eighties. Nonetheless, Macrobiotics has too much of a religious flavor for some people - too many do-s and don'd-s - and it's own stories of cancer not just in Michio Kushi's own family, but among his followers as well, have added to its complicated image.

If I were to sum up the core teaching of Macrobiotics, though, and explain its main goal, it would have to be gratitude and humility. Gratitude and humility are of course completely independent of food, or the diseases we develop. Yet, it is amazing how a simple diet of grains and vegetables that does not burden us with the digestive struggle to get these foods though our system, can help us in this regard. Macrobiotics can greatly enrich one's life, but it does not seem a guarantee against cancer. Maybe if followed not out of fear of cancer, but out of curiosity about food and life, it will bring the most benefit.

Macrobiotics is both very simple, and extremely complicated, depending on how you approach it. As far as my husband's acid stomach was concerned - it was caused by eating too much meat, which we ate every night. We cut out meat for several months. Once his stomach had healed he ate meat again in moderation, maybe once or twice a week on business trips. He still eats meat about once or twice a month, now, when he craves it. I have added more fish into my diet, and enjoy coffee and chocolate in small quantities when I am in tropical California. I crave these foods less in Rhode Island where I live in the summers. The fact that most of my Macrobiotic counselors smoked cigarettes and some of them also developed cancer, has kept me following Macrobiotics with a non-credo attitude, which is George Ohsawa's original teaching, and gives me the freedom to enjoy any food at any time.

The ultimate secret to eating, is Gandhi's advice: "Chew your drinks, and drink your food". The simple and short advice on this website sums up nicely what Michio tried to teach us - by example - all these years.

The following three links will keep you busy for a while. There is a book list and a lot of other information to give you an idea about Macrobiotics.

The Macrobiotic Diet,


Michio Kushi,


As my 82-year-old mother-in-law is about to start aggressive chemo for metastasised breast cancer - cancer and how to best treat it has been much on my mind. She would be most comfortable trusting conventional medical advice and has a wonderful doctor advising her. Western Medicine has saved my life more than once, so I am all for it. Ideally, though, East and West will meet some day and we will get the best of both worlds. Maybe it is already happening at this clinic in Spain, opening in September 2008, where Michio is combining his efforts with the efforts of Western doctors. This clinic was donated by a very wealthy Spanish father in gratitude to Macrobiotics.

I discovered most of the news I was looking for on this wonderful British website the other day and can highly recommend it, if you want to get more involved.