Thursday, July 28, 2016

You Are What You Eat…or Meet


I’ve been sitting by a beautiful lake on the Pacific coast in New South Wales watching the winter sun dance in the chilly palms outside.  The occasional visit from some friendly kookaburras has punctuated the silence with their comical appearance and even more hilarious vocalizations.  I spread some wholesome grain-filled cereal on the porch rail this morning and am intrigued by the fact that, while some of the bits were gobbled up by the local feathered visitors, other bits have been left untouched.  The label on the gluten-free, vegan, raw container says that this is all good for me but apparently the birds know better!  “Full of healing benefits,” and “assists with cellular repair” do not seem to convince the birds to gobble down these morsels.  Can’t they read?  Don’t they know what’s good for them?

Traffic stops, a therapist trying to calm disturbed patients, dads, sons, friends… hardly a day goes by without another highly publicized – often videoed – shooting or murder of black man in the United States by police officers.  “I thought I saw a gun,” is now exoneration for murder.  What black motorist in his or her right mind would solve this riddle: try to escape a Zion Illinois police officer and get shot through your car or, as has happened elsewhere, get pulled over, stop, reach for your driver’s license and get murdered in cold blood only to have a judge rule that the shooting was justified months later?  Or the middle-aged woman who struggles to sleep peacefully with frequent ‘dreams’ of being unable to breathe.  When she closes her eyes, she sees a man with his hand over her mouth.  What’s he doing?  Is it a stranger, a family member?  Why can’t she remember any details?  Or it’s the man who lives with a reflex to detach from all feelings – good or bad – whenever emotions elevate because he conditioned himself as a little boy to flee the pain of corporal punishment for not conforming.  Or it’s the veteran who thought that enlisting would be the only way to pay for college.  “What’s 4 years if the GI Bill can get me through school?”  And that only way turned into killing, hiding from mortar rounds and RPGs.  Now every snapping, cracking, or popping sound brings up the images of horror etched in the mind.

Clifford Brooks Stevens – more commonly known as Brooks – was born in Milwaukee in 1911 and as a child was one of the millions who suffered from polio.  The famous designer of the Jeep, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and the Evinrude outboard motor, built a world that defines all of our modernity with his promotion of planned obsolescence.  The notion that one would “instill in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than necessary,” has permeated all of culture.  In a relationship that’s challenging – leave it.  See your neighbor’s Tesla while you’re driving your 2013 Audi – trade up!  Desire a minimum viable pathway to escape the illusionary mantra that “life is suffering” by surrounding yourself with confidants who will reinforce the righteous indignation for a life that’s not playing out the way your picture postcard looked? – hire a ‘friend’ and layer on the justification for why it’s everyone else’s fault that your life is the way it is.  How is it that we can walk right past the most generous love, life, and abundance while we focus on the fraction of life that’s “not working”? 

Have we become a society of self-centered, consumer-driven, masochists?  Are we incapable of seeing sufficiency in what is right before our eyes?  Is this a cultural phenomenon or is there something much deeper going on?  And can just the right amount of positive thinking be the cure?

Hammurabi – known in the 18th century BCE to be the codifier of civil laws – legalized the public burning of women for promiscuity and men for incest.  Senusret I in Egypt used humans as torches to celebrate military victories.  Jewish law sets forth dozens of reasons – most of them having to do with sex – that justify public burnings.  Christianity’s founder was a fan of public executions by fire or by “pouring molten lead down the throats” of those who committed transgressions.  By the 7th century, if you were accused of performing magic, desecrating what was considered sacred, or labeled as a heretic, you could be burnt in a public execution or placed in a “leather sack with a rooster, a viper, a dog, and a monkey and thrown into the sea.”  As a slave, you displease your master – public lynching.  A heretic that defies the church’s authority – a millstone around your neck and a public drowning.  Accused of witchcraft – burn her.  Failing to conform to society’s expectations – be beaten.

A growing body of evidence is showing that humans and other mammals have a particularly alarming genetic response to the experience of, and the witnessing of, inhumane treatment.  In the Journal of Translational Psychiatry, Dr. Eva Unternaehrer and her colleagues found alterations in DNA methylation (the addition of methyl groups to DNA which may repress gene transcription) in adult humans exposed to acute psychosocial stress (2012).  Interestingly, they found significant alterations in oxytocin receptors (oxytocin is considered to play an important role in social bonding and sexual reproduction) and no effect on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (considered to play an important role in memory and higher order thinking).  Work done by Dr. Roth and her colleagues showed that early-life adversity, in contrast, has a permanent and possible generationally transferrable impact on BDNF (Journal of Neuroscience, 2008).  By publicly rendering humans obsolete – through early sexual and physical abuse, traumatic separation, public shootings, hate speech, and mass media disseminated violence – have we genetically modified ourselves into beings less capable of deep social bonding and collective memory and consciousness?  Not to worry, we’ve got a therapist, a pill, a drug, a distraction, a virtual reality simulation-of-an-actual-life-worth-living experience for that!  All you need to do is pay me $300 / hour and I’ll give you the high-fructose-corn-syrup-version-of-the-life-you-can’t-have long enough to get you addicted to whatever panacea I’m selling.

I think that the police shootings, the 24-hour CNN drumbeat of violence, the terrorist du jour publicity is to our society what the witch burnings were to Salem and what the lynchings were during slavery.  I think that these acts are not sociopathic anomalies.  Rather, I think they are mass-scale epigenetic modifications which are de-humanizing us into greater dependency on externalities – no matter how heinous they become.  And I think that it’s time for a few of us to take the other road.  I think that We The People – however few of us there may be – are at a moment where we’re called to proliferate conspicuous acts of love and kindness.  And mind you, this is not just at a small scale.  Remember that even our “good” stories – Martin Luther King, JFK, Gandhi, Sadat – end with public violence.  We simply aren’t telling the stories of public goodness that don’t reinforce the epigenetic manipulation of our species. 

We are 4 millennia into the sanctioned public violation of humanity.  It’s time we step up and say, “Enough.”  We are not meant for obsolescence.  Our children are not the objects of gratification for subsequent shame.  Our families are not safe-havens for violence and abuse.  Our homes are not sanctuaries for silence.  Our communities are not shooting ranges for those who have over-refined fear reflexes.  Our countries are not agencies of militarization.  We are not worthy of extinction.  Today, in fact right now, make a public stand for goodness.  Call a family member.  Stop and help a stranger.  Offer aid to someone who is struggling… and DO IT PUBLICLY.  Show the world that there’s a humanity everywhere you go.  And never tire of doing so.  In so doing, we might find a way to heal our DNA and weave ourselves into a more perfect union.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Found What You Needed… and other myths


I am embarking on a long-awaited journey.  It was one that commenced one year ago when I spent a week of solitude at Tara Mandala in Pagosa Springs, CO.  I was the recipient of the kindness of a few close friends who knew that my life was at a point where deep contemplation could be just the right intervention to examine, and potentially address, some of the growing dis-ease I was experiencing.  Throughout my life, I’ve been thrilled to have experiences born of a world-view that is based on well-beingthe capacity for an individual to engage at liberty without diminishing the equivalent capacity for others.  For as many years, I’ve marveled at the near-universal response I encounter to my chosen path of life.  While an intrepid few are more than delighted to receive what I offer and manifest and find their own pathway to equivalently offer and manifest that which I and others can experience, the vast majority absorb and take with no recognition of the exchange and currency of well-being.  As a photon in isolation is not light until it engages in coherent energetic transmission with other activated photons, so I was finding my light illuminating far less than I thought it could.  So, my week long hermitage was a moment to disentangle from the reflectors, absorbers, and diffractors, and examine the photon that is me.

In a recent message, a dear friend made the statement, “I’m glad you have finally found what you needed.”  Today, in a casual conversation, another friend said, “It’s sure hard to find good news we need these days.”  As I was engaged in the curious human activity of selective aesthetic biome alteration (better known as weeding) in which I was removing plants that seemingly effortlessly proliferate in favor of the selected plants I want to thrive, my biome altering accomplice mused about how plants find “what they need” to survive.  Find.  Need.  There they were again.  Two words that serve as a cognitive fulcrum in my brain over the last year.  What was it about these two words that so voraciously consumed my thoughts and emotions?  How could it be that the first statement did more to confirm my friend’s lack of awareness of my essential nature than almost anything else she could have said?  And is there anything about the three comments that all converge around something that is worth considering more deeply? 

The etymology of the word “need” suggests that the term is derived from an old Germanic word signifying “danger”.  Since 1800, it’s prevalence in English literature has increased nearly 800%.  This may suggest that in about 200 years, we’ve become needier.  Ironically, need’s companion “want” is a bit less prevalent and only doubled during the same 200 year literary period.  In 1943, Abraham Maslow’s paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation” published in the Psychological Review put “need” into a social model built around a “hierarchy of needs” that has become the de facto justification for nearly every enterprise or effort.  The base of his pyramid is elemental – calories, air, water, shelter – and is based on a principle of “protection from the elements”.  As though the ‘elements’ are conspiring to do you in.  From there, you get to “safety” – another term that implies an absence of a generative, caring nature.  From there love, belonging and then esteem – all needs that must come from others.   Somewhere at the top – and loosely linked to the concept of “need” – he placed self-actualization and later self-transcendence.  Tragically, Maslow succeeded in brainwashing an enormous swath of humanity to a belief that they were operating in a secular model identical to most religious dogmatic memes which place cosmology in a conflict with humanity.  Something’s out to get you.  Be afraid.  NEED, for Christ’s sake!

Do plants “find” the nutrients they “need”?  Do humans “find” partners and settings that fulfill their “needs”?  Does the 8ft ceiling in your home fulfill your “need” for shelter?  Does the job you have or the degree you earned fulfill your “need” for esteem? 

What’s wrong with “finding what you needed”?  Well, for starters, everything.  Let’s assume that you are the sum of about 724 trillion cells (give or take a few trillion if, like me, you are follicularly challenged).  Let’s assume that your amazing fact of existence is so delightfully complex that you don’t even think about your breathing, your heart beat, your digestion, your animation, or much of any of the other 7 primary organ systems in your body.  Do you have any idea what actually benefits the very systems that you don’t even know exist?  Are you sure that whatever you put in your mouth last is good for your lymphatic system?  Did you even know you had one of those systems?  Of course not!  And even if you whipped out your Wikipedia, you’d still not know if the chocolate you ate was pro-reproductive but anti-digestive.  So just eat the chocolate, enjoy it, and read on.  What’s the point?  The point is that none of us live in abject “need”.  None of live in relative “need”.  And if we think we “need” to “find” something – or think someone else does – how presumptuous can we be?  Millions of people fill their experiences of living with NEED.  Need stuff.  Need connections.  Need relationships.  Need intimacy.  Need relevance.  Need, need, need. 

Here’s an idea.  I’m starting a discipline of removing “need” from my vocabulary.  And not just my vocabulary but the vocabulary I choose to be exposed to.  The irony is that my friend who was glad I “found what I needed” never realized the joy of living in a world in which being fully grateful for the abundance that surrounds each and every moment calls forth a human impulse that never entered Maslow’s hierarchy.  There’s another form of humanity – one that inverts the pyramid of need.  One that realizes that the basis for human existence and interaction STARTS with emanating from one’s core essence.  Being the most beautiful and authentic expression of who you are and what you’re meant to manifest on this earth.  Oddly enough, starting from that point, you’ll find yourself coherent with others similarly manifesting.  And who knows, maybe they’ll become your co-conspirators to serve the world, maybe they’ll become your lovers and partners, maybe they’ll band together and give you confidence and support, and maybe they’ll share a roof, a table, a blanket, and a meal with you.  There are only tens of thousands of years of evidence showing that living in, and emanating, gratitude for abundance is persistent and generative. 

On this anniversary of my monastic journey, I’m grateful to know that there are a growing number of people who are awakening to the realization that there’s a life more beautiful than one defined by need; more beautiful than one defined by labels, titles, social conventions, norms, and all other contrivances to withhold life from living.  And I’m glad that my journey to Tara Mandala still serves to remind me to BE the person I authentically am.  Fully provisioned.  Fully equipped.  And ready for whatever and whomever comes my way.