Thursday, September 11, 2014

Binge Watching Videos



Binge watching is a funny term that has come into use lately. Adding the word binge in front of eating or drinking, for example, implies something negative, such as it is bad for us to consume excess amounts of food and drink. Relative to our health of course, it would be correct to think of this behavior as one that brings negative results.

However, I think that binge watching videos is a good thing. I think of it like I think of reading books. Do people say that it is bad for you to binge on reading books? Of course not.

My experience of watching the entire series of The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Treme, The Tudors, The Borgias, Rome, Pillars of the Earth or any other excellent series has been enhanced by being able to watch chapter after chapter in succession. Doing it this way, watching a one hour show minus commercials means that I can see the episode in 40 minutes, which is a much better use of my time. Watching one episode right after another allows us to see what is going to happen to these characters or where is this story going in a natural progression without having to wait until next spring to see the next installment and then trying to remember where the story left off or how this other character figured in.

To me, it is exactly the same as reading a good book. If we are reading a book we really enjoy, do we only want to read one chapter today and then put the book away until next week and read another chapter then? Of course not. If we really like it, we might stay up half the night reading it, or continue to read it for several days or a couple weeks or whatever length of time it takes us to finish it.

Actually, I think that the technology that companies like Netflix have put into play is a great thing because it allows me to make better use of my time. If a subject interests me, I don't have to watch one chapter a week for the next few years and sit through one third of that time watching commercials to see how the story develops. I can look it up and check out the story in a concise time frame and follow it through from beginning to end. I like it.

Why So Much PTSD?

There is so much in the news about the difficulties returning soldiers have with PTSD, and also the record setting number of suicides among veterans.



No doubt this is a complex issue and one that our VA system must treat and find more ways to help.



However, another perspective has come to mind. We have seen this problem grow increasingly since the Vietnam War and then after both of the Iraq wars and Afghanistan.



After WWII, the general consensus was that we needed to fight in that war and we used all of our resources to win it. There was general agreement that we needed to win that war, and that it was a good thing to do. Returning military personnel were greeted with great parades and congratulations on a job well done.



By comparison, this component is wholly missing from our recent wars. After many deaths and crippling injuries, our veterans return to face the realization that all that effort was not universally supported and when the question is asked about what did we accomplish by having those wars we get disappointing answers.



After many deaths and injuries, what was the result of the Vietnam War? Today they are run by a communist government, but they are one of our trading partners and Americans go there for vacations. So why did we fight that war?



It is truly sad to watch documentaries about returning veterans and hear some of them say that we needed  to invade Iraq because of 9/11. We all know that this is not true, so does this mean that someone was lying to them to get them psyched up for combat? Or simply that some of them choose to believe wrong opinions because it is the only way they can feel like the effort was justified?



So again, after many deaths and injuries, a veteran could become dispirited looking at the news, wondering what their efforts were really all about.



The only recent battlefield in which there is justification is Afghanistan, and that is because the Taliban government supported terrorist training camps there, and they deserved to be demolished. Once they are rooted out and a new government is in place, our job is done there.



I have long believed that we should never go to war except in self defense. That was true of WWII, and everyone felt good about the effort and the outcome. When we go into wars for false or contrived reasons, we never feel good about the whole process or the outcomes. We know when we have done good things and can be proud of it. And we also know that efforts and lives expended in bogus wars will not bring good results. In my opinion, we should always choose peace, except in cases of self defense. Then when we did take action, everyone would be happy about it and proud to have played a part.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Magic of Change




What have been the pivotal moments in your life? What have been the real life changing events? The moments of illumination? The moments when you realized something important that would change the course of events to come?


Remember when you were interviewing for a job and you felt good from the moment the interview began, and you just knew you had the job? Then when it was offered to you, you knew that this was the next step in your career?

Remember when you began working out and it seemed like everything was so difficult, but then as you kept at it, workouts seemed to get more rewarding as you noticed the changes in your body?

Remember when you thought that walking for a half hour was a lot, but now walking for an hour is something that is comfortable and easy to do?

Did you ever take a creative writing class, wondering at the beginning if you had any talent, how you just wanted to see if you could do this, then after a few weeks, people wanted to read what you wrote and you knew you could do it?

Or the time when a friend or family member died, and you felt like you would never get over that, but then after reflecting on the life lessons you learned from that person, smiles would light up your face as you remembered some of the wonderful experiences you had with that person and all the lessons you learned from them?

Or how about that time when you met someone new and you knew that you would want to continue seeing this person, and you felt good about that prospect, even though prior to that meeting you felt disappointed with your prospects for your social life?

What about that learning curve when you were getting used to your new computer? At first you were frustrated, then you kept at it, until you were able to accomplish one thing after another with it, and suddenly you felt proficient?

What about how you felt when you started your new business and you had to call on tons of people to get some momentum. Then the day finally came when satisfied customers referred other people to you and you could feel the flow going your way?

And how about that time when you worked at something you loved and the time just went so fast the whole sequence was just one thread weaving into another. You felt good about what you accomplished while you completely lost track of time?

Or perhaps you had a really memorable lover who enlarged your realm of possibilities, and suddenly your eyes were opened to erotic satisfaction you had never experienced before?

How about pivotal moments like when you had an out-of-body experience and you were not trying to do it, it just happened, and that inspired you to want to learn more or see if you could do it again?

Or when you were just so tired, achy and worn out that you figured you would try that an energy healing session you had heard about, and it was so powerful that you felt like you were walking on air and were surrounded by light energy for the rest of the day?

Or when you found a massage therapist who was just so good that you felt like knots and tension that used to seem normal suddenly disappeared and you had no idea that a massage could feel this good until you had this one?

Did you ever have a moment when you wanted something and got it almost immediately? When your desire and the flow of the universe suddenly were working together?

Or a moment when you connected with spirit and instantly knew something you had no other way of knowing, so you wanted to see if you could do that again?

A moment when you did something that felt perfect, when everything was in place and flowed as smoothly as you imagined it would?

A moment when you just met someone for the first time and you knew that you would be friends for a long time? A time when just being in the outdoors revealed a great secret of life?

What have been the pivotal moments in your life? Whether they are like some of the examples I have mentioned or others that may be unique to you, how did the prospects for your future change when you realized that what just shifted could continue to shift and this opened up new paths for you?

Some days, there is nothing but magic in the air. We remember those moments and hold them close, and then they expand.

We want more days like this in our lives.

Breathe, breathe, breathe. Some days putting one foot in front of the other is enough. Other days everything is magic.

One moment we breathe and we feel full of life energy. Everything around us is more alive, more interesting, more delicious than ever before.

We have looked ahead to see what is there, and then we find ourselves back here, now. Now, now, each step leads us toward whatever our future is, as we step into it, with everything here leading to it.

When we experience those moments when we are totally alive and in it, then we savor it, so that the taste can last longer.

Those moments when we connect and the rest of the world drops away, everything is magic and that is all that there is. So we enrich it with our presence, and charge it with our affection, tenderness, our fire and our strength and launch our energy out into the world to create more moments like this.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Why Celebrities Are Important To Us



The death of Robin Williams this week made a very big impact on a lot of people. I too, was stunned by the death of one of the greatest comedians of our time. It seemed like for more than a day after he died, all the sources and social media were full of Robin Williams tributes, and it seemed to reach much farther than when a number of other celebrities died. It may be useful to us to stop and consider for a moment why celebrities are so important to us.
If you look at the day's most popular searches on Google, MSN, Yahoo and other places, what you typically will see are a bunch of celebrities and odd stories. Sometimes big news like a major storm or a catastrophic event gets in there. You may or may not be surprised to discover that they are dominated by celebrities. TV & movie stars, pop music stars, models and athletes typically dominate the searches.

I find that I am unfamiliar with most of these celebrities. I have to look at the links to get any idea of who they are. Probably because most of them are not in movies or TV shows I have watched or in music that I listen to, and since I don't watch sports, few of the names ring a bell.
Robin Williams though had even greater recognition because he has made so many funny movies and did such great stand up routines that probably most people have seen him more than once. How many people were inspired to try careers in comedy because they saw Robin Williams? I don't know, but I am going to guess that quite a few did.

And that is one thing that celebrities do. They can inspire us. Of course, today there are also people who are celebrities who are famous simply because they have been on TV. They have not created or invented anything or performed some amazing, record setting feat. Perhaps those types of celebrities inspire in a different way. I am not sure what that is.

But what does this fact tell us about our culture? It is simply about the power of storytelling. Many people find stories about how the economy really works or trying to understand politics to be too stressful and complicated. So the story of some girl becoming a famous actress and marrying a handsome actor is easy to follow. So is the story of the downfall of a celebrity, especially if they were busted or embarrassed by something we really enjoy doing ourselves. When a star gets drunk and makes a fool of themselves, we can relate, because most of us have done that at one time or another. When a star is seen in serial marriages or affairs, we can relate to that too, because half of all married people have also been divorced people. What that says to us is that we do have a lot in common with famous people. The difference is that info about their problems and situations are broadcast and ours are not.

Of course, there are always those fake stories, like stars who pose for photos that they know will be controversial just to get publicity. Or saying outlandish things just to get publicity. But then we always know that storytellers also embellish and exaggerate for the sake of a good story.

You might think it is sad that more people care about what or who a pop star is doing than what is the significance of new banking or investing practices, what the truth is about fracking, or why the newest conflict between nations came up. But there is a sensible explanation for that.

For example, I have always thought than any financial deal that is hard to explain and hard to understand is meant to be deceptive. In other words, they do not really want you to follow the story line. Lots of people may wonder why something like derivative trading even exists, or whether it was a mistake to change banking laws or whether that should be or can be changed.
How much easier it is for us to follow the story of an actor who suddenly makes lots of money and ends up in a downward spiral of drug and alcohol addiction with revolving stints in rehab. Or the fabulously rich girl who gets off on going to bars and partying hard just like a lot of people like to do after work. It makes them easier for us to relate to. Or the athlete who gets millions of dollars a year to play ball and somehow managed to waste it all and end up broke. We also follow the upbeat stories of stars who use some of their celebrity and wealth to help orphans and starving people, or help build houses for poor and homeless people. We enjoy the stories of those who are still productive and aging gracefully, but these are not as exciting as the spectacular crash and burn stories. Most of us have lives that are up and down, and so we can relate to even the most famous, wealthy and popular people having up and down lives too.
 
Just like we all know stories from mythology because we see the gods and goddesses with both greatness and flaws just like we have. I may not be up to date on the most contemporary stars, but I do know some stories.

People Google over pop stars for the same reasons that people have enjoyed mythology and fairy tales for generations and centuries before there was an internet.

Which brings us to the fascinating study of mythology, which has played a part in our lives for millennia. Even the earliest people related to mythology the same way as contemporary people relate to celebrities. 
Think about how today people may be inspired to try their hand at comedy because of Robin Williams, how many people may be inspired to become inventors because of Steven Jobs, how many people might be inspired to become actors because of Lauren Bacall or Helen Mirren? How many people have been inspired to become singer/songwriters because of Bob Dylan or artists because of Andy Warhol or Georgia O'Keeffe, or chefs because of Julia Child or Wolfgang Puck? How many people got inspired to do charity work because of Jimmy Carter or Bono? 

These people have flaws, just like us, and in most cases, new stories about them keep popping up long after they are dead, some about good things they did and some about the bad things they did. Their complexity is fascinating.

Joseph Campbell, who is famous for his books about mythology and achieved his greatest recognition on the PBS specials he did with Bill Moyers, was of the opinion that all mythology was just a bunch of stories made up by people, that all of those characters simply were products of imagination.

I think that Campbell was absolutely wrong. He also stated the opinion that all god and goddess stories from around the world were all just versions of the same story. I think he was absolutely wrong on that point too. I do appreciate that he inspired people to study mythology and think about it some more.

But here's where he was wrong. In the ancient world, there were also people who did great things, and after they died, people kept telling stories about them until they grew to even greater proportions, and the stories were known far and wide.

In each ethnic group in this world, in order for them to survive, they had to have among them some great warriors, artists, tricksters (the first comedians), healers, builders and storytellers. So there were naturally some similarities and some differences in the stories for the same reasons that there were similarities and differences among people.

How many of those ancient people were inspired by stories from their mythologies and folklore? How many did things to advance civilization because they listened to the stories? Great people from those ancient cultures did amazing and heroic things and people continued to tell stories about them.

Like the celebrity stories we have today, maybe some are true and some are not exactly true. For example, perhaps the story in Irish literature about how their music was invented is somewhat fantastic, but somehow, somebody way back there did create Irish music, and maybe those stories do draw on the roots for their origins.

Perhaps the story in the Norse myths about how Odin got the runes is a fantastical embellishment, or maybe it is the truth or close to it. What we do know is that people have had the runes for many centuries now, and obviously people made that happen.

Stories say that Francis Drake used magic to defeat the Spanish armada. There is no proof whether he did or didn't, but his victory is a fact and the stories still are told.

The Johnny Appleseed story is told one way by Disney, and his story is told very differently by the great contemporary author Michael Pollan. 

Some people still debate about whether Shakespeare wrote his plays and sonnets, and one of the roots of that skepticism seems to be that some people are unwilling to believe that someone who grew up in a working class family could have written such great works later in life. Whatever you believe, the plays are still great shows, and the poems remain among the most beautiful.

So you see, all through history, celebrities have played important parts in our societies, and they always will.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Music, Our Portal and Passport to Other States of Being






Music is a galvanizing force for bringing people together. The energy of music can bring people together quickly, creating good feelings, warmth, humor, lightheartedness, joy and pleasure.

Music can also bring healing. Why do you think that massage therapists, reiki healers, chiropractors and other body workers and therapists always have soft music playing while they are working on you? It helps a person relax, soothes the muscles and relieves tension, making it easier for the therapist to do their work. The end result is that it helps them get things that are out of place back into place.

Haven't we all had the experience of music acting as an aphrodisiac? You've heard the phrase mood music. Certain music is just more sensuous blending effectively with the rhythms of sexual pleasure and some music is especially created for creating the romantic aura of sweet sentiments and romance. Our choice in music can help us savor our sensual experiences.

It is also an aid to digestion, which is why soothing music is played in restaurants. It can also stimulate the flow of healing cells and energies in our bodies. Yes, it is true that many restaurants may also play very upbeat, faster paced music, and that is useful to them when they are trying to move the crowds along quicker.

Why do you think that in the military that training is done to chants and cadence? It bonds the group together and war cries, chants and shouts can encourage acts of valor. Taps is played at military funerals and bagpipes are played at police funerals because they send a signal to the consciousness of those who hear them at a deep level, delivering the final notice of a person's passing without the use of words.

If you watch sporting events, how common is it for singing and chanting to be used to inspire the performances of the athletes? From the World Cup to the World Series, music is connected to our games using the energies of the fans to support and encourage the individuals on the field.

All of these things happen because music is a portal. It connects us with other people, it is a universal form of communication, which is why it is included on space probes we have launched. There have been many instances where people of different cultures who could not speak each other's languages have been able to play music together. There have been many new recordings in recent years where we can hear people of different ethnic groups bridge the gap by finding ways for the musical idioms to come together and play. There have also been popular recordings where people are singing in languages we do not speak or understand, yet we can appreciate the sheer beauty of the blending of
their harmonies and voices.

What about as a portal for the imagination? how many symphonies, ballets and operas have themes drawn from great myths, fairy tales and folklore? Why is it that sacred chants, whether the Gregorian, Sufi, Hindu, Hebrew or any other can immediately transport the listener into an altered state of consciousness? At Renaissance Faires the period music is just as important in creating the feeling of that time and space as the costumes and decorations.

How many times when you are watching a movie can you tell whether coming actions and scenes are going to be sinister, tragic, hilarious or romantic because they are foreshadowed by the music? Composers and directors have long known how music can help them create the overall effects they desire in their work.

Music can energize to make work lighter as well. Think about chants that people have done at work so that they could get enough of a boost to get things done. This is the common thread between the work chants of the slaves, the chants of the sailors, the cadence of the soldiers, cheerleaders in sports, chants of the warriors, songs people sing at harvests or plantings, and so many other examples. Music unleashes energy we didn't even know we had and makes that available to us when we have tough jobs to do. Sometimes I chant and sing during the work day simply to relieve tension and inspire me to keep going.

The use of simple percussion and the human voice have been used as tools for transformation by the shamans of every culture on this planet. All the way back to caveman days, drums, rattles and chants were part of the fabric of the rituals the shamans led because it was believed that those beats from the drums and rattles were like stairways or ladders which they would use to travel into other worlds. The belief that sounds were essential for contacting the spirit world have been with us all this time, and we know that when a person is dying that the first sense they lose is sight and the last sense they lose is hearing.

Music is a portal that opens the way for us to heal, shift into sacred space, to become engaged romantically with another person, to build excitement and energy, give us courage, give us strength, helps us grieve and to celebrate.

From the heartbeat we first know in the womb, the sounds we make when we go to war or go to work, and the songs we sing at weddings, funerals, the music we hear when we make love and the sounds that surround us in the world, we find our way to the places we want to go with music.





Thursday, July 17, 2014

New Paths

It seems that no matter how many choices of spiritual paths we have, there is always an appetite for opening new ways, new paths.

Today, it is easy for people to find a variety of teachers and paths. Just a couple of generations ago, a person's choice of spiritual paths was limited to mainstream churches and synagogues. Everything else was really underground or few and far between. Today without venturing far from home, a person can find Buddhist groups to study with, Hindu, Wiccan, Asatru, Druid, or other Pagan groups, Course in Miracles study groups, Native American teachers, Sufi, Muslim, Taoist, Santeria, Voodoo, Unity, Spiritual Science, Science of Mind, Religious Science, and a variety of new age groups.

There are also more loosely affiliated groups, such as those who gather for women's circles, new moon circles, full moon circles, sweats, drumming circles and other gatherings where people get an elevated feeling and sense of spiritual involvement without actually having to join anything specific or observe anything more than a few common courtesy rules.

Perhaps the largest number of people can be found under the category we would call eclectic. Why? Because people like the freedom and the ability to mix and match those things they feel fit best or work best for them.

Joining anything means that you must accept some rules. Every group has some kind of rules, whether you are interested in joining a coven, a Buddhist meditation group, a Hindu group, a Sufi group, a Voodoo group or a Native American study group. And some people, while they enjoy some of the activities and practices of any of these groups or many others that I did not name, prefer to just use the practices they like best and skip the rules or the official joining of anything.

So today, it is common to find people who may enjoy going to drumming circles, sweats, kirtan (Hindu chanting) pagan gatherings, circles, shamanic rituals or anything else they care to access without considering themselves a member of any one of them.

A person can take those practices and concepts that they find most useful and form their own new practice around them. Sometimes they may just practice solitary, alone in the privacy of their own home, with a partner, or open up to the possibility of forming a group of like minded people.

Freedom in this way means a lot to people today. How sweet it is when you can build a practice based on what works for you. No publicity or public actions are required. There are millions of people who have created such practices in the privacy of their own homes and they are perfectly happy to just keep it among themselves and their fellow participants. You will not find them in any directory of churches or religions. You won't even know what their practices are unless you know them personally and they choose to share it with you.

This is a beautiful time to be alive and experience all these possibilities. There may be a lot of other changes in the world at this time that people find bewildering, but creating your own spiritual path in your own home is something that you can control and you do not need to seek anyone else's permission in order to do it.

A benefit of such a choice is that you can begin to feel more centered in your own life, gain strength and clarity and rebuild your confidence so that it may be easier to come to grips with changes in the business world, the social world, with family, money and other issues. Practicing your spiritual path, no matter what it is, can help you form a clearer picture in your mind of how you want to interact with other people in all these other arenas.

Although many people will choose to keep their practice solitary, a unique spiritual practice can also lead to a connection with another person who shares your feelings and ideas and this could form the basis of a dynamic personal relationship for you as well. Sharing at this level is much more powerful than the techniques of dating that appear to be most dominant in our culture. You could share many dinners, drinks, movies, concerts, sporting events etc with someone without ever getting to know them as well as you do when sharing a spiritual rituals and spiritual practices. There are different foundations for forming relationships. You may find yourself working your way through the usual social formats before discovering common bonds in the spiritual realm, but then again, you have the freedom to change the order of the way things progress in your life.

There is a great deal of satisfaction in feeling that those things that you choose to study and practice as part of your spiritual path make sense to you. The opinions of outsiders do not matter. If what you are doing opens up pathways for you to interact with spirit, that is all that matters. If you can do that and feel the results that you are getting, that knowledge is the confirmation that your path is working and when you experiment with new techniques, you decide to either keep them or let go of them, based on your experience. This is why so many people have chosen to fashion their own spiritual path these days. It is one of the benefits of being alive on this planet at this time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Detroit Prediction

 
For the last year, we have all heard about Detroit's bankruptcy, how the city has lost half its population, how they are planning to tear down thousands of abandoned homes.
 
While all this is true for now, I predict that Detroit will have a major rebirth during the next 10-20 years. Since the real estate market is so down, this means that people will be able to get great deals on places to live and places to start new businesses.
 
Detroit has major infrastructure in place, such as airports, railroad lines and the big plus of being located on the great lakes, which means they will never have the kinds of water shortages that have been a problem for other parts of the country.
 
The auto industry will not come back, but other kinds of businesses will see this as a great opportunity. Real estate developers will see this as a great opportunity. People who like the excitement of being urban pioneers will see this as a great opportunity. The will of people to make things happen will create a whole new city rising from the ashes of what used to be.
 
After hearing all the bad news about Detroit, I felt a strong sense that things will turn around and there is much positive news up ahead. When you get to the bottom, all you can do is bounce back up.