Sunday, April 27, 2008

Some basic spiritual ideas

Some basic spiritual principles and practices:
Forgive absolutely everyone for absolutely everything, including yourself. There may well be people from your past who have done you wrong, never apologized or repented. Or there may be people who have done you wrong who have apologized, but you never really got over it. It’s not for them that you forgive, it’s for you. You have no choice, other than to continue to suffer if you refuse to forgive. Any old unforgiven deeds, even small ones, they register in your consciousness and continue to trap you. So forgive others, and forgive yourself. Life is full of mistakes and learning, and you are not the karma master of anyone, it’s out of your hands.

Forgive and be glad that you can forgive, it’s a gift, it is Grace, and we all deserve some Grace.
Practice extending unconditional love outward from yourself--to everyone and everything. Why not? Do you have something better to do than that? What could be better than pouring love from yourself without waiting for a reason to do so?

Try to be in the moment, always. Most instances of not being in the moment can be classified as “worrying.” This is not to say that you shouldn’t plan for the future, or never reflect on the past. Just know that you are constantly in the act of creation, as a participant. If you are actively thinking about the past or possible future, be aware of your own mind and cognizant of what you are doing right now. Write down your future plans if necessary, then let them slip away from your mind. Come to grips with your past, and then let that reflection on the past slip away quietly, come back to the now and be empty.

Sex is not something to feel guilty about, it’s not wrong , bad, dirty or forbidden nor is it separate from the spiritual, nothing is. It’s ok to be having sex, and it’s ok to abstain from it. We’re made to enjoy sex but we also are made to have our own selection process about who and what we do. Be OK with your own process and your choices.

Meditation is important to quiet the mind, but stimulating the mind is important too, and even sometimes overstimulating it. The mind needs challenge, but it also needs to have the background information wiped away clean like a blackboard. That’s the most basic aspect of meditation. People need to understand that the quiet mind is not only possible, but actually effortless, and takes no time to reach. The noise in the mind is due to attachments, and when the attachments are gone the natural state is silence.

Attachments are related to desire, and desires are always voluntary. Sometimes desire is manifested as a negative as in: "I don’t want this.” “I wish it weren’t so” or, “Man, I suck at meditating, and this is stupid anyway.” Quit if you want to, nobody is making you do this. But you do need to know that desires are like heavy weights that we pick up and carry of our own volition. Attachments are like chains.

The state of emptiness is very pleasant, persistent, good for your health. It’s a very beneficial place to be. It’s not emptiness like hunger, it’s more like total peace. It’s not boring, and there is a reason that meditative states of mind are called “ecstatic.” Nobody is making this stuff up, it’s real.

Judgment versus discrimination: Discriminating is a natural part of perception. Judgment is when values are overlaid onto perceived discriminating factors. Trust your senses and perceptions, but be aware of your judgments. In all these things, don’t force yourself to go against your nature, but be aware, and know that it is kinder to be understanding and accepting.

Austere measures are not necessary, and when the Buddha spoke of the middle way, he knew what he was talking about. It’s not necessary nor beneficial to deny yourself, food, sleep or any of life’s simple pleasures. It doesn’t make you a better person to deny yourself. As you progress along your path, you may discover that desires and attachments are diminishing, and you simply don’t need very much in order to experience real happiness. But you can be very spiritual and still enjoy a hot fudge Sunday, these things are not mutually exclusive.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Mild Case of "Dexter"

Somebody reminded me today that you don't have to plan what you're going to write. So I'm taking that advice. Spent part of the weekend contemplating the sociopathic personality. It's an outdated psychological term, now called "antisocial personality disorder." It's a subset of personality disorders under the heading of "Psychopath." I tried writing about it and wasn't satisfied with what I had. The best thumbnail description I've got is that this is a person with superficial charm and wit who is otherwise completely insincere and basically gets through life just using people.

Think of it as a stereotype, because it is, but the person suffering from APD engages only in parasitic relationships to others and has no guilt or feelings of remorse. Of course they'll claim otherwise because in order to live that way you have to lie, and lie a lot. It helps when lying doesn't bother them at all, and it doesn't. In most cases treatment is court ordered, not voluntary, and then they go about conning the psychotherapist. "I think I'm getting better doc, I really feel like I had a breakthrough this week." Except the behavior doesn't change at all. In fact it's been documented that a person with APD is actually more likely to act-out when they're undergoing treatment. The behavior manifests typically before the age of 15 and often levels out or diminishes regardless of treatment or the lack of it in their 40's.

You will notice inherent judgment in the description. Not that I'm judging the judgment, because you can imagine what it must feel like for an un-afflicted person to have had a close relationship with a person suffering from APD. I tell you what, if you can't imagine it; the closer the relationship, the more like hell on earth it is. I think that even psychology professionals struggle to have compassion for clients who are completely devoid of compassion, and it's these professionals who write the diagnostic criteria, so there it is. I don't really like the labeling, but I got to wondering what the opposite of an "empath" is, what that would look like and how it would affect a person. Most of the descriptions represent an extreme, whereas I think of human behavior as a continuum.

Here's a description from the web

* Glibness and Superficial Charm

* Manipulative and Conning
They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.

* Grandiose Sense of Self
Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."

* Pathological Lying
Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.

* Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.

* Shallow Emotions
When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.

* Incapacity for Love

* Need for Stimulation
Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.

* Callousness/Lack of Empathy
Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.

* Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.

* Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency
Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.

* Irresponsibility/Unreliability
Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.

* Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity
Promiscuity, child sexual abuse, rape and sexual acting out of all sorts.

* Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future, poor work ethic but exploits others effectively.

* Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility
Changes their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Periwinkle Blue

Periwinkle blue. Tough as a coffin nail. D'ya like dags? Sorry, sometimes I drop into obscure movie quotes. Name that film and win a big, "hey, that's right!" from me. Personally.

Sheryl and I are bumping up against a few boundary issues lately. I'm weary of dealing with it. Like Sheryl has been blogging lately about why it might be a bad idea to cross-breed a mouse with say, rice. I can't verify the source right now. But I can verify that back when I was unknowingly eating genetically modified corn flakes I was breaking out in hives every night. When I stopped eating those corn flakes the hives went away. Normally I can eat corn whenever I want, no problems. We later discovered that Trader Joe's had pulled those cornflakes from their shelves because of the GMO issue. Yet another reason to be thankful for Trader Joes: they've got integrity. GMO corn was originally pulled from the market for human consumption for that very reason: acute allergic response. Corn is much easier to modify than wheat. Wheat genomes have probably already been mapped by now. You might think of modifying DNA as crossing a boundary with potentially disastrous consequences.

Through some interesting coincidences I came across a person, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who deals with boundary issues on the internet. She and her partner, Patrick Nielsen Hayden posted a link to Sheryl's blog which had to do with. . . boundary issues ! Teresa moderates comments on "the world's most popular blog" called "Boing-Boing." Teresa and Patrick's blog is titled "Making Light." I don't think their blog is about boundaries, it's about all kinds of interesting things. Teresa and Patrick do cool stuff like teaching writing, editing, playing in a band. I sent them an email or two but they are probably way too busy to respond. And they probably have good boundaries like, for example, when they don't feel like answering an email, they don't. This is a good thing, to have good boundaries.

Manners are good boundaries I think. I've always thought that. Teresa Nielsen Hayden enforces politeness on the internet. That makes her my hero at the moment. She probably gets tired of it, but I'm glad she's doing it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Slow down, you move too fast.

The photo above of a snail shell is turning out to be a popular one. I always liked it but didn't have it ready for sale until recently. I figure it's a nice gift to somebody who needs a reminder now and then to relax, chill out, calm down and maybe notice the beauty in the small things.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Rock On, Be Proud, Stand Tall

Click here to see this on t-shirts, note cards and like that.

Be Proud, Stand Tall, Be Strong, Rock On.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Peace in the Age of One-Liners

Hate mail: thankfully we don't get very much of it, in fact it's extremely rare. A while back I started getting these emails from an ad I placed for one of my designs. Maybe I should be more careful with the really controversial stuff. This one said "Peace on Earth." Yikes, I know-- cool down there Paul, what are you thinking putting something like that out there with your name on it? Call me a maverick. Oh, and get this, it even has a peace sign on it! Yes, I'm positively on-fire with my rebellious creativity.

So this guy starts sending me emails-- can't remember them really, just a bunch of one liners that all had to do with, I don't know, let's just say he disagreed with my wild idea of "peace on earth." Now, this may come as a shock to you, but the concept of peace on earth wasn't even my idea. Beauty contestants have been relying on promoting "world peace" for quite some time now whenever they get asked how they would change the world if they could. I didn't invent the peace sign either. In fact, I merely photographed a guy who had drawn a humongous peace sign on the beach. Then I added the caption. The only original thing about it was the fact that a peace sign drawn on the earth accompanied by the words "peace on earth" is an incredibly bad visual pun.

So, I kept running the ad, and kept getting the emails. Being me, (a bit wordy at times) it was hard to keep from writing him back. But they were all one liners intended to annoy me, not a request for an intelligent conversation. They started to change, getting a little worse. One of them said "there can be no peace as long as a religion wants us dead." I'm 100% certain that there's no religion which wants us dead, but that was probably the best of the lot in terms of a potential argument. I have a Bachelors degree in Religious Studies; there is no major world religion advocating genocide. Also, the vast majority of members of every world religion don't advocate killing anybody, and that includes Muslims (of course) even though there appears to be some confusion in this country about that. Here is my one liner: it's not about religion. I don't have time for more than that here because this article isn't about foreign relations. It's about one-liners. It's about context.

So then there was the "freedom isn't free" email, a true statement; with freedom comes responsibility, but that still doesn't contradict "peace on earth." Here's the thing: me wanting to sell a t-shirt isn't an invitation for harassing emails, period. Anybody in this country still has the freedom to put just about any T-shirt on the market that they want to, including T-shirts promoting war if they really desire to do that, but that takes a little more effort than sending an email. Freedom of speech also extends to sending email, unless that freedom is abused to impinge upon the life, liberty or pursuit of happiness of another free citizen.

The emails kept arriving and they started to get worse. "Peace through superior firepower" was one, and another which said, "Liberalism is a mental disorder." Actually I'm a political moderate on many subjects, but I know when I'm being insulted. I'm also not a pacifist, even though I think peace is a really good idea, but my harasser didn't ask me any questions. He just wanted to mess with my head, provoke me. I also had to assume that since I was now being personally objectified, which is a first step towards violence, and that this individual was advocating a "might makes right" personal code that it was probably time to stop documenting and take the next step. I used my "superior firepower" (a brain) and contacted his internet service provider to request that his account be canceled. Things got real peaceful real fast, and I didn't even have to file a police report. I also doubled the ads for my "peace on earth" T-shirt and another design titled "bring our soldiers home" which features a lighthouse with a single beam of light shining in the darkness and an American flag at half mast.

I should probably explain here that my partner Sheryl and I are primarily spiritual counselors, we try to spread a little light in the world and that's about all. We aren't very politically active and we usually don't take an absolutely hard line on anything. When I'm not counseling I'm selling photos of pretty flowers, baby goats, pelicans and starfish. Sheryl creates designs like "ducky dreams" for children's clothing, or "make a wish" and the currently popular "rainbow heart." Most of the time we're about as aggravating as a puppy-dog. In fact, that's my nickname, "puppy." Once in a great while Sheryl or I write something that actually is controversial, but nobody has ever bothered us about that.

Sheryl was the next target, but from a completely different source. She's reprinting some articles on one of her blogs that she originally wrote several years ago. This collection of articles is now a book. Probably 99% of the information is still up to date and useful and the other 1% was accurate when written, is now historical, and still useful. The book is called The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving and it's all about helping families with disabled or elderly members who require caregiving.

So anyway, some guy using "google alerts" got alerted to a portion of Sheryl's article, it must have been a only a single line or two. The portion he was interested in was historically accurate. This guy calls himself "Cheapread." Cheapread didn't read the line in the first paragraph of the article which said, "[this article was originally published several years ago]" Instead he copied the tiny portion of the article he was interested in and reposted it out of context on an internet "forum" where he could ask his fellow forum posters about it. Not really a problem so far, except that he had missed the fact that this item was really old news, and his forum was all about pertinent and up to date information for his fellow investors. These are investors in a specific drug company. Even so, some of his fellow investors simply straightened him out pretty fast that this was way out of date info and not useful to them. So he had quoted out of context, no big deal, and basically asked the innocent question, "have you seen this?" It was an honest mistake and it could have ended right there. It would have ended right there except somebody freaked, went ballistic.

One of those drug company investors, I'll call her "Barb," decided that Sheryl needed to be straightened out, too. Of course, all she had to do was read the blog in it's entirety-- being sure to note the line "[this article was originally published several years ago]" in the first paragraph. If that wasn't good enough, she could have sent a courteous email, politely requesting a more prominent notice that "this article was originally published several years ago." But that's not what she did. Aside from attempting to post a couple of rude comments directly to Sheryl's blog (which Sheryl rejected immediately) she went back to her forum and called for everybody she knew there to "inundate" Sheryl with more comments and emails. That same individual went on to accuse Sheryl of purposefully misleading people in order to sell her book, and more. Her friends decided we both worked in a boiler-room, all day on a word-processor spreading misinformation with the express purpose of altering stock values through our svengali-like command of the internet. Busted, yeah, we play the world-wide-web like a violin. Evil genius, revealed. Some days I get upwards of a dozen people reading my blog. Now, in the aftermath of my guilt-ridden unmasking, I feel an odd sense of relief as a if a heavy burden has been lifted from me. But I digress. . .

Sheryl, for her part, as a courtesy to the confused or to anyone who might become confused added a big, bold-print notice at the start of her article and yet a third notice within the text. At which point her accuser, Barb, went back to her forum and accused Sheryl of engaging in a cover up, if you can believe that. I think the exact words were, "Now Sheryl claims she KNEW that the article was 5 years out of date." Well of course she knew; she wrote it herself, over 5 years ago. Maybe that's why the article contains and always did contain the words "[this article was originally published several years ago]".

It might also explain why the book containing that same article as part of the collection states very plainly in the foreword that ALL of the material was originally written years ago. Some further supporting info I will volunteer here in case any of the over 400 seasoned investors who visited Sheryl's blog within a few hours time happen to visit this one: a book is not a news source of current events. A personal blog is not a news source either. Most all of you know that, a few of you don't. One of you is puzzled as to why Sheryl didn't just delete her entire blog entry the second somebody took exception to it. "Maybe she likes the attention," he said. That would be Cheapread, the guy who originally quoted her out of context and innocently started the whole thing. No matter what I posted to his investor forum he wasn't going to get it, but then "You didn't quote her out of context" was what another investor claimed. That was Barb, the person who had called for Sheryl's blog to be "inundated." Context, in this case, would be all 6 paragraphs of Sheryl's article. Exhaustive, I know-- must've contained literally hundreds of words, all strung together to form phrases, sentences, paragraphs. . . not nearly so easy as a single forum post such as "piss-off tree hugger!" Yes, that is a direct quote from the investors website forum. Context.

Speaking of context, so that we don't get lost and since I never know who is reading this: pertinent context would be the inclusion of the original words "[this article was originally published several years ago]" even if you're short on space you can probably squeeze that in, but first you'd have to read it. Barb apparently holds a doctoral degree and has edited books and still doesn't know what context means. So I'll explain further: in the context of starting a hysterical, paranoid witch-hunt, Barb, you and Cheapread own all the consequences.

I'm not including the worst of the insults that were leveled at Sheryl, and then at myself for defending Sheryl, on a forum which has published post after post of libelous statements. They went after Sheryl and me like a pack of dogs. Ah well, I guess Sheryl had it coming, with her books, Changing the World One Relationship at a Time and The Solstice Evergreen: The History, Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree we should have known that The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving would finally bring down the wrath of the Gods. Who knew that an investors forum, created for the express purpose of advising investments in a pharmaceutical corporation, would finally be the undoing of our wicked, wicked ways. And I thought this was just a group interested in creating new drugs to cure or treat Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis and other diseases. Nope, they're multi-taskers.

Here is my one liner on that subject:
Oh you captains of industry, you leaders of men, get a clue.