How are you?

If you reside in the USA, you probably hear this three word question a dozen times a day, “How are you?”
Alongside “I love you,” and “Call me, let’s do lunch,” “How are you?” is among the least meaningful statements spoken in American English today.
I still remember, ages ago, me somewhat fresh off the boat, being asked by a friend, also an immigrant but one that had lived in New York for ten years prior, if I already learned to speak American.
“American?” I asked puzzled, “you mean English.”
“No,” he persisted, “American. It’s what Americans say in English in-between the lines.”

how-are-you1Admittedly, at the time, though fluent in Hebrew and English, American I was yet to acquire. Sentences such as “Can I get it in writing,” which is American for, “Are you serious? Is what you just requested me to do worth you being sued?” meant to my untrained ears exactly what they literary said. Thus when someone asked me how I was doing, I thought they actually meant it. Ha!
I should pause here for a moment, and, for the benefit of readers who do not live in the USA, or, at least not in metropolitan USA, explain that “How are you?” had come to replace greetings such as Hello and Hi. But rather than just say Hi and Hello, or even, God forbid, Good morning, somehow, over the years, it became acceptable to pretend like you care. Along these lines you may see a person on the go, not pausing even a second to hear a reply, mutter “How are you?” at a co-worker or an acquaintance, and immediately be on his way. You may also witness a conversation, where the question is popped, and without as much as a break for inhalation, it is immediately followed by some other sentence or inquiry such as “How are you? (no pause,) Where you able to finish the reports on the Drake acquisition?” or “How are you? (no pause,) Did you hear what just happened to Billy?”

Often I was tempted to actually try and answer the HAY question, but it is futile. I am likely to be answering an empty space, moments earlier occupied by someone who didn’t really care.
All I am left asking is how did we, as a society, turned so shallow? No, don’t answer that. It was just another HAY question…

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Boomerang Kids or The Curious Case of The Dog That Didn’t Bark

figure4.4Much has been said about adult kids still living with their parents. The Boomerang generation, as they are often nicknamed, stays home at staggering numbers.

While causes for this rise had been linked to difficulties in finding a job due to the economy, to a rise in college enrollment, to a decline in the role of the marriage institute, and even to a generation of parents that is not so keen on letting their offspring leave the nest, I would like to offer a completely different perspective.

tshirt1Before we discuss this phenomena, let’s explore for a moment Alzheimer’s Disease. No, it’s not because the current generation of parents are forgetting to kick their kids out of the house; it’s because just over a hundred years ago Alzheimer’s Disease hardly existed. Why? Because back in 1900 an average person was expected to live to a respectable age of 47, and at 47, very few people developed this degenerative disease which is most often diagnosed in people over 65 years of age. Stay with me – we are getting to the Boomerang generation and the dog that didn’t bark shortly.

You see, from the 1500s to around the year 1800, life expectancy throughout Europe hovered between the ages of 30 and 40. Now imagine this – you are expected to live a mere 35 years. In that stretch of time you may wish to marry, bring up kids of your own and make a life for yourself. Would you stay at home with your parents until you are 25? Not likely. You would be out of the house as soon as you can reproduce, marry and get at it, it being your life’s ambitions. Life back then was simply too short.

young2Nowadays, when people in the developed world are expected to live to their 80’s, there is no rush. Modern life loads us with requirements. We need to study longer just to catch up. And when it comes to family life, modern medicine allows us to reproduce much later. Thus there is no rush to leave the comfy nest, no rush to find a spouse, no rush to build a family.

Where is the silent dog in all this? It is present in us ignoring what is too obvious to notice. We tend to compare selective statistical facts such as at what age kids venture on their own, job availability, divorce rate. Yet our longevity and the pace of life were all but forgotten. It is not the single critical element in this equation but it is sure up there on the list. It leaves me pondering at what age will kids leave home when science finally extends life expectancy to a 120.

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That Other Cheek

Occasionally one gains an insight. It can come through much turmoil, as an earth shaking event; it can also sprout via a small, yet significant observation. Some such visions leave a temporary impression, some forever change our perspective. In the following post I am going to share with you an insight. It is one of those rare understandings which happen quietly, internally, without much fanfare. On the surface it seems like nothing had changed; there are neither loud trumpets nor visions of light. Yet through a seemingly simple change in perception, nothing is ever the same.

For a long while now I have been debating a spiritual concept which I found wonderful in theory, yet difficult in practice. It is the idea of non-dualism, of non-separation, of seeing everything and everyone as one interconnected being. The notion behind this, for those not familiar, is that we are all merely individual parts of one greater existence; an entity with many diverse faces, each a different expression of that same core energy. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson expressed it in a simple scientific statement: “We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.” This I accepted intellectually, but my quest was for internalizing this connection, and furthermore, for finding ways I can apply it in my daily life.

A good starting point, I thought, would be religion. Many of the Eastern religions and traditions were founded on the idea of non-dualism. These include branches of Hinduism (Advaita Vedanta,) Taoism, Sikhism, as well as several schools within Buddhism. In Judo-Christianity this concept was primarily explored through mysticism while being ignored, or even denounced, by the more official institutions. In reading various scriptures and teachings, I focused primarily on what outstanding individuals of the ages had to say about our interactions with each other as humans, as well as our connection with the world we inhabit and the universe at large. As mentioned, my interest lied with practical applications. My axiom was that if we are indeed all connected, wouldn’t it mean that when one person hurts another, that person actually hurts oneself? If this is the case, even thinking poorly of another person is an insult to oneself. How come then we are still acting so undeservedly towards each other? If we are truly one entity, wouldn’t I feel pain if I hurt another? Or maybe I do feel agony, but I have learned to ignore it? If so, how do I come back to a place where I can feel the universal interconnection and be guided by it?

The rishis of ancient India, who followed this school of thought, interpreted the Bhagavad-gītā, a sacred Hindu scripture which includes direct divine instructions, with this same understanding:

“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (Bhagavad-gītā 2.12)

Chapter two, Verses 2.23 and 2.24 go on to add: “The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.”

“This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, present everywhere, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.”

Though subjected to both dualistic and non-dualistic interpretations, the non-dualistic explanation is that we all come from the same single source. When our physical body perishes, we all go back to that one entity, only to manifest again in a different form, a different body. One can compare this to drops of water in an ocean, individual yet part of a whole. But mind you, I was less interested in philosophical and theological discussions — of whether our souls remain distinct past our death, and more in the connection we all share while still alive. I turned to Christianity, and who better to consult with than Jesus.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses human relationships by giving specific examples, examples one can take as a form of non-separation:

38. Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

39. But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

40. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.

41. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

42. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

—Matthew 5:38–5:42 KJV

This is more than a form of non-violence, of compassion; it is, in my mind, the end result of understanding the connection: that if I hurt another it is as if I hurt myself. Jesus got it. But I still didn’t find the practical path for experiencing this understanding, one that goes beyond the intellect.

Mahatma Ghandi also got it. Acknowledged by people all over the world as a great soul, Ghandi implemented this doctrine in practice. He nicely summed it up as “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Much like with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Ghandi’s statement is more than just a call for non-violence; it is seeing the connection, it is experiencing it.

My explorations brought me to learn about the ‘butterfly effect’. The idea behind this is that if, for example, a butterfly flaps its wings in the rain forests of Brazil, the effect of this seemingly insignificant action may result in the form of a tornado in Texas. Filmmaker Tom Shadyac concludes his 2011 documentary I Am with: “There is no such thing as a tiny act. The way you greet someone, the joy you experience in nature with family, friends and strangers, it all matter.” There is interconnectivity between all things, but how, remains a mystery. Lao Tzu, the ancient sage of Taoism said in the Tao Te Ching (#13): “Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things.“

Reading all this, I was able to accept non-dualism intellectually but not really yet experience it internally. After all, how can I perceive a person who had done me wrong as part of who I am? Let alone look at a person who is a serial killer the same way as I do my own reflection in the mirror? Time and again I found myself judging others for being, well, to put it bluntly, different than who I am.

Desperate, I called on principles I use in my yoga practice for help. When I teach and practice yoga, I adhere to three simple rules:

1. Less is more

2. Small increments

3. Repetition

Using these as guides, combined with an elementary meditative principle of observation, I set out to attempt a new practice. Prior to explaining the practice I should mention that I decided, first and foremost, not to judge myself for still seeing separation. I realized it may be a long and winding road, and that I cannot speed up the process. Thus, over the past few years, I have been observing myself. I have become aware of how I, if only in my mind, on occasion, look down at others and criticize them. My practice involved not stopping myself from behaving the way I did, as that would have been a sure path to failure, but rather to become more aware of what is going on in my mind; aware without self-judgment. Over time, and this took a while, I noticed that little by little, the more I observed the less intense my criticism became. My progress was painfully slow – tiny increments with occasional regression, but I did not let go; I held to the practice. Small increments, repetition. And then, one completely ordinary day, it hit me: a realization that was both scary and wonderful all at the same time.

What I came to realize — and this was beyond the intellect, at a place beyond words, beyond thought, is that any person I meet, any living creature I encounter, can be me under some very unique circumstances. I am not referring to reincarnation, past and future lives; but rather to this moment, to this life: under very unique circumstances, I may become that person, that person I may despise (or, for that matter, admire) the most – I can be that person. As outrageous and inconceivable as it may sound I may, for example, under superbly unique conditions, turn out to be as evil and full of racial hatred as Adolf Hitler. And at the same token under very unique settings I can also be St Francis of Assisi. I can be a child molester, which is probably the type of person I loathe the most, yet can also become Mother Teresa. How can this be?

Alfred Hitchcock, the filmmaker, had a common theme throughout most of his films: his typical hero was an ordinary person, placed under extraordinary circumstances. We all like to believe that we have a great character, that under pressure, much like in the comic books, rather than crack, we will rise and become a hero. Yet our streets are filled with broken people, homeless, mentally challenged, men and women who seem to have given up on life. Under extraordinary circumstances we may act differently than what we expect and like to believe. Even if we were challenged in the past and proved to overcome a catastrophe, the next crisis may turn out differently than what we wish and hope.

Being put under very unique circumstances, I can be that person. This is not to excuse murderess and other evil doers. But adopting this perspective, I find, allows compassion to develop. The byproduct of this understanding is that we furnish people around us with space to bring out the good in them. It also means that the non-separation I intellectualized, but was unable to grasp in practicality, suddenly became obtainable. I now find myself asking one single question whenever someone’s appearance or behavior bothers me: under very unique circumstances can I be this person? Despite my initial resentment to this idea I’ve embraced it. So far I have always answered with a yes; yes, if extreme misfortune should have it, I may still one day be that smelly homeless beggar, yes, I could have been that drunk driver whose action resulted in the death of an innocent bystander, yes, I can be this corrupt politician I disdain so much. And if I can be all these people, I must be connected with them in an unbreakable, even if invisible, link. I am all these people, and thus rejecting them is rejecting a part that is myself. Self-rejection always results in disharmony, and disharmony brings about misery. I choose non-misery.

I have asked earlier “If we are truly one entity, wouldn’t I feel pain if I hurt another?” I can now clearly see the price we pay when we act poorly towards others. It is indeed a price we ignore as we became oblivious to it. When pain becomes chronic we tend to learn to live with it. But it is still there, in the form of unhappiness, of aimlessness, of depression. We find distractions in the form of technological gadgets, entertainment, sports. But when we judge others and behave badly towards the many living expressions with which we are unconsciously connected, we suffer from disharmony. We absorb the resulting misery in small quantities, and, ultimately, sooner or later, pay a price.

All this is still quite new to me. I’m neither a sage nor a saint, nor is this my spiritual aspiration, a message to be spread to others. It is not some intellectual or mental exercise for the purpose of self-amusement, nor is it a path for a new or timeworn religion. It is a practical path I found critical for my own well-being  It is an understanding of Genesis 1.27: God created man in his own image; not a duplication but an expression of that same elementary grain. Despite the difficulties this practice entails, despite the challenges and regressions, I am on a track that feels right, harmonized. “Being put under very unique circumstances, I can be that person,” became a line I tell myself whenever I am confronted by people who make me feel anything but compassion. It has, and still is, reshaping my life.
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Society In Denial

newsletter032013Have you noticed the extreme weather patterns these past few years? Must be a freak of nature. The other day I watched the CNN weatherman explaining it all has to do with clashes between warm and cold fronts, atypical for this season. I was waiting for him to mention the root cause for all this, the warming of the Gulf due to the unspoken politically incorrect ‘myth’ of Global Warming. That didn’t happen. CNN doesn’t want to piss off anyone. Yes, Global Warming has the misleading word ‘warming’ in it, and we experience also very cold day so that cannot be it! Right. If you’ve read or watched even a little of the multitude of articles, research papers and documentaries about Global Warming, you must have picked up that the weather will not just simply warm consistently but rather that the weather will be more extreme – both colder on some days and warmer on other days. But we are a nation in denial. It cannot be it. Just the crazy weather, we say, as if we went back in time, to the days of pre-science, when weather was a God whose whims we were suffering. Tomorrow the sun will shine and it will all be good again.

From the weather catastrophe experienced throughout the country, CNN news anchorwoman moves to the next piece of news – another school shooting. To quote the Social Media character DRUNK HULK: “SO WHEN GUN SHOOTING NEWS REPORT INTERRUPTS ANOTHER GUN SHOOTING REPORT! EVERYONE SUPPOSE BE COOL WITH THIS NOW?” This just cannot be related to lack of gun control, absolutely not, shout the trigger-happy and second amendment blinded followers who serve, some consciously some not, the NRA and its sponsors, the gun industry. No, gun control is not the single solution to the fast-spreading wave of violence. But it definitely has a large part of it. Where is this denial coming from? I hear even people who don’t own a gun and don’t plan to own a gun, that they are against any measure to control this disease. Not even banning of assault weapons. They chant the outdated second amendment as a law of nothing less than God. Are they completely out of their minds? If we stick by ideas that date the second amendment shouldn’t we enslave again African-Americans? Revoke women’s right to vote and do away with the internet? Here is another curse word – progress. Progress is change. Change is Liberal. God help us. But tomorrow the sun will shine and it will all be right again.

Then the news turns to schemes some creeps use to extract money from older people. Pray on the weak and helpless. Oh brother.

I am reminded of days, not that long ago (I am not THAT old,) when you received a service and the invoice was mailed to you at home some time later. And you paid. Weird isn’t it? Today you pay upfront or at the time service is rendered. In those not too long ago days we had something that was called trust and integrity.

Much of this is the fault of my generation and the one that preceded it. We brought up a generation that has a superbly shorter attention span as well as a 20/40 vision; they can think and consider the next week, maybe month in their own lives, let alone years and future generations. No, not all young people are on the wrong path. Quite a few got “it”, the idea that it’s all up to them. Many have set up noble goals — from fighting global warming to help African people drink clean water. Yet not until we step out of this absurd denial and start taking responsibility for our OWN actions, rather than blame sleazy politicians and anyone but us, that hope can spring in the horizon. Otherwise humanity, as a specie on this planet Earth, is pretty much doomed.

Worry not, I am just blubbering. Tomorrow, a Weather God of your choice willing, the sun will shine again and it will all be all right.

Lance Armstrong, A Hero?

Throughout history, humankind, in real life and myth, created idols. Whether we fashioned them as a source of inspiration or whether, by making our heroes bigger than life, we justify our own mediocrity, is a different question. Nevertheless, we love having stars; the brighter, the better. We simply seem to need heroes.

What happens then when an idol falls out of grace? How does that change our perception?
Let’s stop here for a moment and reflect upon the idea of ‘historical truth’ versus ‘archaeological truth’, an idea discussed by several thinkers and philosophers over the years. Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg (aka Ahad Ha’am,) stated in a century-old essay, titled Moses, that “And so it is when learned scholars burrow in the dust of ancient books and manuscripts, in order to raise the great men of history from the grave in their true shapes ; believing the while that they are sacrificing their eyesight for the sake of ” historical truth.” It is borne in on me that these scholars have a tendency to overestimate the value of their discoveries, and will not appreciate the simple fact that not every archaeological truth is also an historical truth. Historical truth is that, and that alone, which reveals the forces that go to mold the social life of mankind. Every man who leaves a perceptible mark on that life, though he may be a purely imaginary figure, is a real historical force ; his existence is an historical truth. And on the other hand, every man who has left no impress on the general course of life, be his concrete existence at a particular time never so indisputable, is only one of the million : and the truth contained in the statement that such an one existed is a merely literal truth, which makes absolutely no difference, and is therefore, in the historical sense, no truth at all. Goethe’s Werther, for instance, was a pure fiction; but his influence on that generation was so immense as to cause a large number of suicides, and therefore he is, in the historical sense, much more truly a real person than this or that actual German of the same period, who lived an actual concrete life, and died, and was forgotten, and became as though he had never been.” (source: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/1856-1927-ahad-haam/moses-ala/1-moses-ala.shtml)
Ahad Ha’am, no doubt, felt strongly ‘historical truth’ supersedes any ‘ archaeological truth’. He would have had no place on a committee investigating Lance Armstrong.

Why do some of us care for the facts while others claim to see a bigger picture? We tend to look at fellow humans as driven by reasoning similar to ours, yet, this is not always the case. We are as diverse as any combination of the Eastern Five Elements of Fire, Wood, Earth, Metal and Water. A Metal Element personality is all about facts. The mere hint a historical fact is based on fiction will drive that person into a holly quest after the “real” truth which, according to him, is the archaeological one. A Water Element personality is a dreamer. For him fiction is as solid as reality so long as it has a felt effect on real life. For a Water Element personality the historical truth is all that matter, nothing else. A Wood Element personality is a justice seeker. For him too, as with the Metal type — though for a completely different set of reasons, it is all about the facts and the archaeological truth. A Fire Element personality is a romantic, and as such, much like the Water personality, though again, for different reasons, good fiction carries more weight than boring facts. For the Earth Element personality, it is all about stability. He will choose whatever truth serves maintaining stability better. Most of us are not composed of one single Element type but rather a mix. Yet, for the bulk of people, there is one predominant element which dictates our overall tendency and preferences.

With all this in mind, let’s look at Lance Armstrong. Those of us who like good fiction and need a hero would say, let it go; whether Armstrong used drugs or not, who cares. He has been such an inspiration for so many; let the hero stay a hero regardless of whatever “really” happened.
But Metal and Wood personalities will not give it a rest. For them if Armstrong earned his fame based on false facts, he should be exposed, stripped of his stardom and crashed, regardless of the ramifications to his inspired fans.

Neither party is right or wrong. We have very little choice here; our personality type at current, dictates our world view. A Metal personality would never convince Water that facts carry heavier weight, and vs. verse. Trying would be futile.
As for me, I say just let it be. Rather than dwell on events past, I rather focus on how we can each be a hero. Let’s concentrate on our own self-improvement and create a new and unique space for us to shine, historically or archaeologically.

Once upon a time, in a land far far away (in time…)

…there lived a woman of brown skin complexion. Because of her color she was forced to serve a white man, branded his slave, raped numerous times, and had to quietly obey his every whim in order to survive.
In that same land, around that same time, lived a white woman. She was no one’s slave but she wasn’t allowed to vote.
A man born on that land, long before it was occupied by white people, a man now called a Native American, was not even considered a human.
Have you heard of that land? Maybe learned about it in history books?
That land may be quite foreign to people that occupy it today.

Looking at all this by today’s standards of social order, don’t our forefathers’ actions seem quite primitive?
Yet to the people of that time, things looked just right. Very few considered any of these atrocities unjust. It was the “order of nature.”

Let’s close that old book and take a look at another one – a book that would possibly be written fifty years from now. That story too will start with Once upon a time, in a land remote in time. In that land two people of the same gender were not legally allowed to share a martial union. In that remote land lived people who ate foods in which sugar was listed as the number one component. In that land smoking was still acceptable as was the right to purchase guns.

One cannot but wonder how our current day society will be looked by our great grandchildren.