True Meaning of the Swastika

swastika

Recently in the US, there has been a resurgence of anti-Semitism exemplified by bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish graves in a cemetery in the St. Louis suburb of University City.

Unfortunately, the swastika is often associated with anti-Semitism because of its earlier connection with Nazism.  However, the origins of the swastika date back at least 12,000 years and historically it has symbolized well-being, good luck, and spiritual success.

The word “swastika” is derived from Sanskrit: su (good) + asti (being) + ka (neutral object). It is considered a sacred and auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, where it can be seen on many temples and religious objects. Besides being an ancient symbol of these Eastern religions, it has been found in Neolithic Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and China. It was also used by Celts, Greeks, Roman, Germanic and Slavic tribes, and by Native Americans. Archaeological evidence suggests that it served as a good luck charm or religious symbol in these various cultures.

Unlike the cross, which is another important religious symbol, that connotes earth/matter, the twisted cross or swastika has a dynamic quality to it suggesting movement about the center.

Both Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell argued that the swastika was an example of a symbol that was adopted by many cultures that had no historical contact with one another, and was universally associated with good luck and success. As such both men felt that the experience of being human is a collective experience across time, space, and culture, and that our common myths and symbols can be traced to the most primitive origins of human consciousness or “archetypes” that are communicated across different cultures by what Jung termed the “collective unconscious.”

Probably due to the swastika’s ancient Indo-Aryan origins, in the early twentieth century, German nationalists began to use the swastika as a representation of Germanic-Aryan superiority. For Hitler, the new Nazi flag with its swastika surrounded by a red background was a symbol of struggle and eventual victory. It is ironic, yet very sad, that the swastika — this ancient symbol of spiritual victory and attainment, was appropriated by a force that used it for exactly the opposite reasons — to enslave and brutalize human beings.

Today in the Western world, the swastika is often painted by people whose intention is to promote intolerance and hate. However, its power to incite disgust among us can only exist when we fall victim to associating it with hatred instead of what it truly symbolizes—achieving the very goal of human existence: spiritual growth and ultimate unity.

So You Want to do Something about Climate Change—Become a Vegetarian

cattle-011Climate change brought on by the indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels and reliance on animal agriculture as a source of food threatens to displace millions of people, cause mass extinction of species, and rapidly alter the lands and waters that humankind depends upon for survival.

According to a 2006 report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a 2009 report by the Livestock and Climate Change environmental assessment experts at the World Bank, animal agriculture is responsible for over half of the total global greenhouse gas emissions.1 This means that the unnecessary and unsustainable consumption of meat in developed countries accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation, electrical generation, and other industrial uses of fossil fuels combined.

It is estimated that the feeding of livestock now uses over 30 per cent of the earth’s arable land surface, mostly in producing feed for the animals. Animal agriculture also drives deforestation, especially in South America where approximately 70 percent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing. In the US, approximately 70 percent of the food grains that are grown are fed to livestock. Cattle also cause widespread land degradation through overgrazing, compaction, and erosion. Animal agriculture is also damaging to the environment because of its use of enormous amounts of scarce water resources and the pollution caused by animal waste, fertilizers, and pesticides.

The FAO assessment was based on the most recent and complete data available, taking into account direct impacts, along with the impacts of feed crop agriculture required for livestock production. The report states that the livestock sector is one of the most significant contributors to serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with the problem of climate change, land degradation, water shortage, loss of biodiversity, and air and water pollution. Based on this report, senior U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization official Dr. Henning Steinfeld stated that the meat industry is “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems” and that “urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”

The original U.N. report concluded that livestock are responsible for approximately 20 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions— more than the total from all transportation, which is responsible for 13% of emissions. Such emissions arise from feed production (e.g. cultivation of feed crops, chemical fertilizer production, deforestation for pasture and feed crops, feed transport and soil organic matter losses in pastures and feed crops), animal production (methane and nitrous oxide emissions from manure) and finally as a result of the transportation of animals and animal products.

However,  a more recent report for the World Watch Institute, by Robert Goodland, former environmental adviser to the World Bank, and Jeff Anhang, environmental specialist at the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corp., estimates this figure to be much higher—51 percent, when the entire life cycle and supply chain of the livestock industry is taken into consideration.2

Their report factors in emissions from the tens of billions of animals exhaling CO2 annually, as well as deforestation for feed production and grazing, which prevents the reduction in greenhouse gases that would normally result from photosynthesis of biomass growing on that land if it were not transformed into pasture.

As things stand, global meat and dairy consumption is projected by the FAO to more than double by 2050. Reversing the role of livestock in climate change is “even more important than the urgent transition to renewable energy,” Dr. Goodland wrote in an e-mail message.

In their report Goodland and Anhang concluded that livestock (like automobiles) are a human invention and convenience, not part of pre-human times, and a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no more natural than one from an auto tailpipe. Their solution to livestock’s global warming effect is simple: eat less animal products, or better still, none at all.

Methane gas, which is a byproduct of digestion by cud-chewing animals, has a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2 on a 20-year time frame; nitrous oxide produced by manure has 296 times the global warming potential.

Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption; and the growing of feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the US. Estimates place the amount of water to produce a pound of beef at over 2000 gallons and about half this amount for chicken and pork.

One might wonder why the vast majority of environmental organizations stress the negative impact of the use of fossil fuels on the environmental and ignore the contribution from animal agriculture. Could this be because their contributors do not want to be told that as a meat eater they are utilizing 18 times as much arable land as a vegan? Or  that changing to a meatless diet would do much more for the environment than driving a hybrid car? Or that 5 million acres of rainforest are felled each year to create pasture for cattle? Or that 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries?3 Whatever the reasons, the principal environmental organizations in the US and Western Europe have failed to inform their members that as individuals we could do the most good for protecting our fragile environment and helping to reduce the devastating effects of global warming by simply consuming less or no meat and dairy. Until such organizations include in their literature facts about the devastating effects of animal agriculture, it might make sense to inform them that you are withholding your donations until they change their tune.

With a growing world population, one way or another people in the developed world will have to come to grips with the fact that a meat-based diet is unsustainable and is a major threat to human welfare. In the future, we will have no choice but to eat less meat and dairy.

Sources for this blog include:

  1. FAO, 2006. “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options,”Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  2. Goodland, R. and Anhang, J., “Livestock and Climate Change: Whatif the Key Actors in Climate Change were Pigs, Chickens and Cows?” (2009). Worldwatch, November/December 2009, Worldwatch Institute, 10–19.
  3. Cowspiracy, a documentary available on Netflix or download from www.cowspiracy.com.
  4. Fiona MacKay, NY Times, Nov. 16, 2009, “Looking for a Solution to Cows’ Climate Problem”

Note: Steven L Richheimer, PhD is author of The Nonlocal Universe, Why Science Validates the Spiritual Worldview, available at Amazon.com.

The Problem with Ego—Especially for Politicians

Soon a man of dubious character whose primary mission in life seems to be self-promotion is about t egoo take power in the US. Now is an appropriate time to consider why egoism is self-defeating and will eventually lead to one’s downfall.

Ego is an indispensable component of a healthy mind. It is the “I do” engine of mind without which we would be like vegetables, unable to make any movements or decisions. Its function is to create separation between self and non-self, providing the willfulness that exists behind all that a person does, says, thinks, and understands. In addition, ego is at the root of selfishness, judgment, rejection, and separateness. Because it wants to control, it also wants to dominate everything non-self, which includes other humans, animals, and nature (matter and energy). The ego is afraid of losing control. Hence, death is the greatest fear of the ego since death brings loss of control and presumably a loss of consciousness. Ego is the greatest enemy for progress on the spiritual path, which requires self-sacrifice and surrender to a higher being. Sages have compared ego to an umbrella, blocking Spirit and preventing the mind from experiencing God’s grace—which is continually raining down on us. For a spiritual aspirant the goal is not to simply destroy ego by acts of self-flagellation, self-denial, or self-denigration, but to replace personal ego with cosmic ego by performing actions with the idea that God is performing the actions. That is, surrendering all actions to God in the performance of selfless service and sadhana (meditation).

Ego is boosted by achievements and the accumulation of wealth, fame, and power. However, the more achievements attached to the ego the further one is led from spiritual experience and the bliss of simply “being“ instead of doing. Hence, ego is the source of people’s separation from God, the source of their torments, pain, desires, anxiety, frustration, numbness, attachments, and isolation.

Unfortunately, it is a commonly held belief today that happiness is a result of one’s accomplishments. One needs a meaningful and well-paying job, a spouse, children, a nice home, and personal conquests. There are no limits to the wealth, fame, and power that the ego wishes to obtain because underneath the mundane level of life ruled by ego lays that of spirit, and the desire for limitlessness permeates into the surface level of being. The problem is that nothing in the mundane world is limitless and as the ego amasses more and more possessions, wealth, status, and power in its quest for happiness, one’s material burden grows. Possessions are lost or lose their attractiveness over time, and a lack of fulfillment and sense of dissatisfaction with life inevitably develop. Thus, people dominated by ego cannot experience the true happiness that can result by entering the spiritual path and seeking union with God. However even in spiritual life as in worldly life whenever a person becomes overly egoistic, it becomes the cause of their downfall.

For a politician an inflated sense of self-importance can be especially harmful since the inevitable downfall that the egoist experiences can also result in damage to the country and to society. A politician with an inflated sense of self-worth may consider everybody else a fool and himself a king. As a result, he may ignore good consul from his cabinet members, other associates, and experts; and proceed with policies and actions he believes are in his own self-interest but which are detrimental to the society.

Instead of developing spiritually through sadhana and selfless service, such politicians want to accomplish everything through their lofty rhetoric. Under the hypnotic spell of power, politicians may resort to demagoguery with its appeal that plays on people’s emotions and prejudices rather than on their rational side. This manipulative approach appeals to the worst nature of people. It is often used by dictators and sleazy politicians. They identify the weaknesses in others, and by resorting to divisive language, they attempt to incite one group of people against another so that they can better obtain and ultimately increase their power.

In order for a democracy to succeed the people must be moral, well-educated and aware of social, economic, and political issues; and the leaders must be people of high moral character, whose primary objective in life is bettering their country—not their own self-interest. If these things are lacking then the welfare of society may be jeopardized.

Today in the US, a person of dubious character and vested self-interest has been elected to power. President-elect Trump is poised to become one of the most powerful men in the world and he appears to have all the essential qualities of a demagogue. After amassing great wealth and fame, he has turned his attention to gaining great power. He has a history of self-promotion and taking advantage of others in order to expand his “empire.” One can only hope that the inevitable downfall of such a person does not also produce lasting damage to this country and to all humanity.

 

Note: Steven L Richheimer, PhD is author of The Nonlocal Universe, Why Science Validates the Spiritual Worldview, available at Amazon.com.

Shame and Katabasis in the U.S.

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Last week, a group of U.S. army  veterans knelt before Native American tribal leaders and spoke the following words:

“We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. We took still more, we took your children and then we tried to take your language… We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.”

The army vets took a knee and lower themselves to the ground. Wesley Clark Jr, who spoke the above words, wore a U.S. cavalry uniform, the same worn by the mounted infantry of the US Indian Wars over a hundred years ago. Lifted high above ground, cavalry held a tactical advantage in war leading the way for the expulsion of native peoples. Behind Clark, stood women and men in more contemporary uniform; ‘Be all you can be’ era cloth donned by army rangers and military recruits in choppers above the heads of Afghanis and Iraqis.

These veterans who have fought to protect and serve their country bowed down under the gaze of the stern Lakota chief. From the height of the horse and flight of the black hawk they lowered themselves in one of the most courageous acts of our time. Wesley Clark Jr., the son of NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark Sr., placed his head under the Lakota chief’s hand asking for his blessing. The Tao Te Ching says, “it is the lowest point to which water flows. Make yourself low and you fill up.” By lowering himself, Mr. Clark made himself a vessel for the shame of a nation to pour through. Those vets on one knee served as conduits for millions of people to face their shame – a history of genocide, deceit and injustice.

Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” As a nation, there is only so high we can go. Like an overloaded hot air balloon we can only reach the nadir of our ascension if we lighten our load. We are held down by shame, it speaks to us from beneath the earth in the depths of our collective subconscious. Our nation was built on the backs of slaves, natives, exploited workers, incarcerated people, people of color, and immigrants. Until we recognize and empathize with the plight of these people, their spirits will continue to haunt and affect our behavior. 

We boast of being the ‘greatest nation on earth’ but practice contradiction. Instead of leading the way for the creation of a global society, which would be expectant of the ‘greatest nation’, we are shrinking our reach. The vote for Trump was a vote to pull in and succeed from global community. Just as Brexit was a succession from inclusivity, our populist movement in the states continues the thread of withdrawal. A republican vote is a conservative gesture, one of protection and security. The election is a shrinking back into our shell, a withdrawal from the world and the countercurrent trend of openness and availability.

Fear is real. It is instinctual. It protects us. It serves us and saves us. No shame should be levied on those who act out of fear. The trend can tell us something. We are not ready to sit at Martin’s mountaintop, for our bags are too heavy. We cannot ascend to the peak where all paths, cultures and traditions converge, for there is a heavy load in our air balloon carriage. The job of the fearless now is to go down – to unhitch the unconscious binds that hold us back from realizing our potential as a nation and as a species.

This going down, in greek katabasis, is the work of Wesley Clark Jr. and his crew. It is the work of taking a knee and humbling oneself. It is the work of returning to earth, humus the latin word from which ‘humility’ derives. We were not ready to do this work after September 11th. We were too outraged, too incensed from being knocked down to feel the earth under our cheek. I remember watching one of my fellow New Yorkers on TV, interviewed in the streets of downtown Manhattan, “We gotta do something about this – fly some planes over there and do something about this.” Our pride and identity was struck down and we got up too quick and too soon. Like the dizzy ninja in the YouTube video who tries to get up after falling on his face, we stumbled through the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We stumbled through housing market collapse and global financial crisis. We stumbled through Bush era politics and neoliberal policies all the while we heard the off camera voice plead, “stay down!”

Examples of social katabasis do exist. In 2008, Australia issued an official apology for the stolen generation, a national policy that tore apart thousands of aboriginal families. This admittance of shame is in addition to their National Sorry Day, which commemorates the mistreatment of Australia’s indigenous population. In his film “Where to Invade Next” Michael Moore visits Germany to document how the country lives with the shame of WWII. The history of the Holocaust is taught in all school and monuments to those who perished proliferate German towns and cities. Because of recognition, concludes Moore, the people of Germany are able to grieve and in so doing increase their capacity to appreciate life. The grief empties out, the lowering of the heads allows the tears to flow into the earth.

There is something in the earth that needs our attention. Until we as a nation can take a knee and bow our head, we will never as a nation be able to take our rightful place at the seat of an advanced civilized earth. It is in bowing one’s head that healing can occur. It is in admitting the wrongdoing, recognizing injustice and owning up to it that one can be free of its load. This flexibility increases range and capacity. One is able to hold more sensation in one’s body on a personal level and collectively in the body politic.

Why Relativity Theory Confirms the Spiritual Worldview

finetune2sSir Isaac Newton was perhaps one of the most influential scientists of all time. His laws of gravity and motion set the stage for a revolution in physics beginning in the nineteenth-century. The mechanistic Newtonian physics advanced our understanding of the motions of celestial bodies and physical objects. He envisioned a “clockwork” universe in which all of space could be mapped out in three dimensions and all clocks in the universe would tick at the same rate. According to this model speeds should add up—i.e. a bullet fired forward from a fast-moving car should have a higher velocity than one fired backward. If light behaved similarly then one would expect that when the Earth was moving towards a distant star, the light from the star would reach Earth more quickly than when the Earth was moving away from the star.

However, a crucial experiment conducted by Michelson and Morley in 1887 demonstrated that light did not behave as Newton and other eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scientists expected. These scientists used a sensitive interferometer that could detect very slight differences in the speed of light that would be expected if their instrument was directed towards or away from a light source. It turned out that the speed of light was a constant no matter which way their instrument was pointed demonstrating that light unlike other moving objects violated the rule that speeds should be additive.

Albert Einstein realized that if the speed of light was a constant no matter what point of reference was used, then something else had to change to account for its constancy. He sensed that this “something” must be space itself. He proposed that space could flex and change, become compressed or expanded according to the relative motion of an object and an observer. The only constant was the speed of light itself or an integrated four-dimensional fabric he called space-time. These insights led to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which states that the universe has four dimensions—the three of space: width, length, and height—and one of time. Time is not a separate dimension in this scheme, but is fully integrated with the three spatial dimensions. Hence, each of the four dimensions of space-time has a spatial and temporal component, which is required from the fact that both space and time are relative to the state of motion. Einstein theorized that with motion, space shrinks and time dilates, while for an object at rest, the movement through space-time is in time alone.

Einstein’s equations indicated that the faster an object moves, the slower the passage of time and the more mass it gains. Ultimately, at the speed of light, time stops. However, for matter it would be impossible to attain this speed since it would require all the mass-energy of the universe. Subsequent experiments have proven Einstein’s theories about space, time, energy, and mass to be correct. For example, the decay of an unstable subatomic particle that is accelerated near the speed of light in a particle accelerator is much longer than when it is stationary. Secondly, such particles gain the exact amount of mass predicted by the theory as they race in the accelerator near the speed of light.

However, a massless particle such as a photon, which carries electromagnetic radiation (e.g. light), can move at the speed of light and its internal clock is stopped and hence it will not decay like other particles. Nevertheless, the equations of Einstein show that even for light there is a speed limit that cannot be exceeded.

Einstein’s second theory of relativity, termed the general theory of relativity, describes gravity as a geometric property of space-time. This theory predicted that gravity distorts space-time. The more massive the object the more it distorts or curves space and “pulls” or slows time. If the mass of an object is small then this curvature is minuscule and Einstein’s equations describing how space-time is curved by mass become the same as Newton’s equation describing gravity. The curvature of space-time caused by a massive object also causes light passing near that distant object to bend. This prediction has been verified experimentally, as has the existence of black holes—objects with such tremendous gravitational force that nothing can escape their pull, including light.

Several startling and unusual consequences arise from this modern model of the universe. The most important, from our point of view, is the realization that four-dimensional space-time cannot change in time. All events that have occurred in the past or will happen in the future are already there within this four-dimensional continuum. Events could be compared to seeds in a watermelon, positioned in fixed locations in the four dimensions of space-time. Since space-time cannot change in time or in space, it means that our everyday experience of the flow of time from the past to the present to the future is illusory.

This modern scientific view of space and time is called “block time.” Space-time is absolute and unchanging, much like Newton’s three-dimensional space. As human beings, we have the perception that things change in time, but this is because we lack the four-dimension insight that would be required for us to see the totality of all past, present, and future played out before us.

Einstein’s special theory of relativity with its mathematical description of a four-dimensional space-time continuum has been verified by numerous experimental observations and predictions made by the theory have proven correct and highly accurate. It is undoubtedly one of the most important scientific discoveries made in the last thousand years. Many of today’s technological advances (e.g., the GPS system) depend on the relative mechanics that are derived from the theory. However, what it says about the nature of reality is both mindboggling and revolutionary. The model is in perfect agreement with the basic idea underlying the spiritual worldview—namely, that beneath this ever-changing realm of human experience lies a deeper, singular and unchanging realm of reality.

The implications of the modern model of the universe are enormous, and most scientists today apparently fail to comprehend what this new vision of reality implies. One might even wonder if Einstein understood the implications of his discovery and what it says about scientific epistemology. It is as though there is an “elephant in the room,” and scientists choose not to see it. Perhaps this is because it describes an all-encompassing timeless domain of which our perceived three-dimensional world is merely a shadow. This speaks of an “other worldly” or metaphysical view of reality similar to that proposed by Plato and many other philosophers and prophets; and accepting this  the “true reality” would thoroughly destroy the materialistic worldview that most scientists embrace.

In our normal waking state of consciousness, we are clearly incapable of witnessing all four dimensions of space-time. We are accustomed to living in three dimensions and perceive time flowing by. This is the working principle that we live by, but mystics throughout the ages have described reality exactly like that described by modern science. Mystics, no matter what their religious background have unanimously affirmed that our common perception that time flows like water under a bridge is illusory. When the mystic has entered into a state called samadhi in which their mind is merged with Cosmic Mind they may be witness to all time—i.e. past, present, and future. Take for example this description by Acharya Chandranath Kumar in the excellent book, When the Time Comes by Devashish.

“A person can take their mind two hundred years into the future and describe what is   going to happen then. They can take their mind two hundred years back and describe what they see…It is a fact that there is no such thing as the present. The present is merely the conjunction of past and future…the connecting point of past and future.”1

An important question is what happens to the concept of free will if future events are already determined. Can there be free will if the future is already “written”? The mystic answers that humans make decisions on how to act and do not know how events will unfold. It is though we are actors in a movie and do not know the script. For us every moment is new and we decide how to react to life’s events. For example, an event such as a flood damages your house and that of your neighbors. We are free to retreat in self-pity or grow by helping others recover from the disaster. Humans have total freedom as to how they focus their mind and direct their energies. On the other hand, the director of the movie, God, knows exactly how the script will be played out. Everything takes place within his field of knowledge (mind) in the eternity of the now.

If this topic interests you and you would like to know more of why modern science validates the spiritual worldview please pick up my book: The Nonlocal Universe, Why Science Validates the Spiritual Worldview2 (available from Amazon.com or BN.com, print or electronic version).

  1.  Devashish, When the Time Comes, Conversations with Acharya Chandranath Kumar(InnerWorld Publications, San German, Puerto Rico, 1998) 165-6.
  2. Steven L. Richheimer, The Nonlocal Universe, Why Science Validates the Spiritual Worldview (InnerWorld Publications, San German, Puerto Rico, 2016).

My Journey Through the Dust – A Burning Man Experience

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From the dust we come, to the dust we must return.

“What the fuck, man? I just don’t see the point. Shit is just fucking… dusty.” My friend says to me as I pack my bags for the Playa. My thoughts echo his sentiment. What’s the point of coming together with 70,000 people in the middle of the desert to brave extreme conditions only to have a big party?

I gathered my things for Burning Man the festival that has called my name for years. I remember seeing an image of a buddhist monk sitting in conversation under an umbrella on the desert sand and something about that picture spoke to me. It told me of a place like no other where conversations about spiritual topics take place. The backdrop, a serene landscape unlike any other I’ve seen before, a blank canvas for the imagination to paint its soul. This backdrop is known to the Burning Man community as the playa for it resembles the sands of a beach.

Before arriving on the playa for my virgin burn I was told of the Black Rock Desert terrain. The dust of the playa is so fine that it gets into your clothing and does not come out. For someone like myself who anally dresses nice, this is a worry. My OCD self wonders how to keep things organized as entropy ensues. Vinegar needs to be applied daily to the skin to balance the ph levels as the dust is alkali. Scientifically speaking, I don’t know how this works or what it means, I just know you’re supposed to continually spray vinegar on shit. What a bother!

For this reason, I had this idea that the dust of the playa was not to be touched, it was toxic. I thought the less exposure, the better! I rolled up my windows driving in, and put on layers so no dust would touch me. I did what I could to prevent my skin from touching the dust of the playa. Needless to say, it was a lot of friggin work.

And so I underwent my journey through the dust. Many things happened to and through me during the course of my stay on the playa. I witnessed an unforgettable unfolding, which is new age for, “I saw some shit!” What I found is there is nothing but story on the playa. Strange coinciding events transpire in synchronous harmony to create experiences that are unique to each individual. Still, in the midst of all this I struggled to find my stride. Nights were difficult for me as I often found myself alone wishing to be with company. At times it felt like I couldn’t quite get aboard a train that was already moving. My experience on the last day there shifted things considerably and put it all in perspective.

img_20160828_191432Because of a work trip to Japan, I had to leave the playa early. Before parting I was called to visit the temple, a structure that stood at 12:00 on the clock that made up the map of Black Rock City (BRC). Beyond the temple is deep playa – the unknown, uncharted. To me, deep playa represents the heavens above and depths of the soul, beyond the reach of the mundane. As the wooden effigy known as, “the man” stands in the center of the clock and middle of time, the temple is the grand central station where one finds departure from the dusty earth to the deep cosmos. Pictures, photos, memories of loved ones line the temple walls as people reverently pass through.

And so I set out on a journey, leaving from my camp, Red Lightning. I passed the scarf draped tipis that formed the mandala and the looming domes on the Esplanade that played Android Jones’ Samskara and housed the DaVinci dialogues, for which I was invited to film. I peddled past the man at the center of BRC, who this year stood in Florence atop a structure modeled on the baptismal font in front of the Florentine Duomo. I know the building well as I’m accustomed to passing it on my daily commute when I teach in Florence, Italy.


I reached the road of lamp posts that led from the man to the temple and continued to peddle on when a voice inside of me very clearly and distinctly said, “Walk! One does not ride to the temple, but must approach by foot.” Far too often we zoom around life allowing our speed to deprive us of the journey. The steps of a well earned travel give as much meaning as the destination. “Walk” the voice repeated, “show reverence” and so I slowed my ascent, got off my bike and began my approach.

As I said above, ‘there is nothing but story on the playa’ and when you peddle past it you miss out. The first story I passed on the way to the temple was that of a deaf couple entering through a door along the walkway, which read above its frame “New Beginnings”. The couple poised to enter from the far-side of the door and were intending to walk through the door together when the woman, put her hands up to halt the action. “Wait, no. This isn’t the right way. Hold on, let’s do it a different way and enter from the other side.” All this was expressed in her actions and sign language. The beauty of their interaction and desire for a proper new beginning was clear and genuine.

Even though the couple were interacting with an art piece along the side of a road, I could tell that the ritual held meaning for them. Maybe, they had just finished a difficult phase in their relationship together, possibly even a separation. This ceremony of walking through a door in the middle of a desert was important to the couple, and the manner of which it played out particular to her. All this was conveyed in the way the two interacted with each other, no words needed to be spoken.

So, there I was witnessing this enjoyable story unfold and grinning from ear to ear. The man of the couple saw me smiling and signaled to me a thumbs up, a sort of, “How’s it going? You good?”. I gave him a thumbs up back and smiled. He then approached me and gave me a fierce hug. When I say fierce, I mean FIERCE. The type of love that is overpowering, wells up from a deep source and consumes. I can still feel the embrace. It was strong, powerful. The hug told me I was no longer a stranger, but somehow part of their story. For I, out of 70,000 people running around the playa was present at the very place and time that an important moment transpired.

The couple left and I proceeded onwards towards my destination. Shortly there after I was forced to stop as a train crossed my path. The art cars at Burning Man were of all sorts: trains, planes, boats, etc. On this train I saw people dancing and partying, one guy in the middle stood out. He was a young, possibly Puerto Rican, guy in the middle of the first car rocking a fur coat while dancing in an intoxicated reverie. What struck me about him was that he looked like he could have been a kid I grew up with in New York City. Not your typical burner type, which is predominantly white, he looked like he could have been off the block.

This guy, this papi, looks at me, gives me a nod and thumbs up on some, “Yeah, that’s right. I’m gettin my freak on. Wha?”

I loved it. To me it represented the liberation from the confines of a role. There exists many cultural barriers for a person of color to make it to the playa. One must put up with the stigma placed on them by society as well as culture, be it african american, latino or strict eastern parents, etc. I train Jiu Jitsu in a gym that is predominantly spanish and black. When my professor, who is black, heard I was going to Burning Man he laughed at me. To him, Burning Man is “that crazy white people shit”. And to tell the truth, it is… and it’s not.

Once the train passed my midst, it stopped to let a few passengers on. As the conductor was loading up the bikes of the new recruits I felt it… the temptation to ditch my plans and hop on the party train; take a ride and see where it goes. There are hundreds of art cars on the playa, all journeys without destination. It was a desire of mine to get on one and see where it took me. And so it gave me pause. This was finally my opportunity to hop aboard the train of Burning Man that somehow eluded me for most of my stay.

In scriptwriting, it is the job of the writer to place the protagonist in difficult dilemmas, a choice between conflicting desires. It is in the act of choosing that the audience gleans insight into the values of the character as each decision is goaded by one’s values. Since story pervades playa, every event is an opportunity to look into the mirror of the soul. All events hold meaning. In that moment, standing on the path to the temple, confronted with a choice to indulge my desire for party and adventure or heed the temples call, I saw my own value system that continually plays out in my life.

As I turned my head back towards the temple and began to move my feet in its direction tears welled up in my eyes. My purpose in life was so clear in that moment as was the reason why I often find myself alone. I am on a particular path, in sanskrit a marga. There is some deeper motivation that constantly calls me, some knowing that awaits. Sure, I hop on the party train everyone now and again and see where it takes me, but I always come back to this calling path for that is my life and my samskara, my inclination. Friends who dig astrology like to call it my Sun conjunct Saturn. Whatevs. It is what it is.

And so I walked. Each step taking me closer to my goal, the temple. While the playa danced with life and activity elsewhere and other travelers passed me by, I walked to my destination. But, nothing is ever easy, is it? Once committed to my path I was challenged and shit got real Dorothy, real quick. The wind began to pick up and dust began to blow. The path I was on soon became completely engulfed in a thick white cloud, a common occurrence on the playa known as a ‘white out’. BRC and all its 70,000 inhabitants disappeared and If I thought I was alone before I was wrong, for now I was completely isolated. I could barely make out a few feet in front of me. The wind blew so hard I lost all sense of direction.

But, I kept walking. What kept me on track during the white out was the lamp post which would appear every so often. Like a fun cliché, these posts were overt signs that I was on the right track. Left by benevolent souls, these posts guided me to where I was heading and appeared every so often as gentle reminders. “Keep going. Keep going.”

Then as if storyboarded by the best cinematographers in Hollywood, the clouds of dust parted to reveal the top of the temple looming forward like a beacon of hope. I had made it, I had arrived. After I parked my bike I entered into the sacred space. The vibration was already set and reverence in tune. For all over the playa was life, activity, dance and party, but here in this sanctuary people slowed down, they paused. People stood by walls littered with messages for loved ones passed and beheld photos, pictures, items of remembrance.

I walked peacefully along these corridors and entered the inner chamber where people sat in silent reverence. The feeling of this sacred space still resonates within me. People crying, some sitting still, silence pervading. All were touched. All brought the magic and were brought by it. The temple had no closed walls and this inner chamber was still outdoors. Dust on the ground, dust on everything and everyone.

In the very center of the inner chamber was an altar decorated with offerings and memories. A triangular needle pointed upwards from the floor and touched the tip of a triangular needle that hung from the ceiling in a meeting of earth and heaven. The beauty of this imagery was simple and zen yet evoked the awe and inspiration of Michelangelo’s sistine chapel.

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It was here that I sat, here that I found my place in silence and felt the passion of the people around me: awe, wonder, desire for truth, love, the pain of loss, separation, the desire for union and connection. There was a still depth in that inner chamber. On the altar, someone had written: “to let go is to lift up.” I sat, completely covered in “toxic” dust from head to toe as the winds blew more on top of me but I closed my eyes and surrendered. I let go and lifted up to touch the needle hanging from the rafters. It was in my meditation that the purpose of the 8 day festival in the desert was revealed.

We are dust. All is dust. Literally every single thing in this world is created from stardust. In the end only stardust remains. We build structures, empires, dynasties, create roles for ourselves and order society, but it is all made from the same substance… dust. Like sandcastles standing on the edge of time, the structures we place faith in dissolve in the cosmic order, only dust remains. All is impermanent, all must go. This is why the man burns. Hold not onto any structure or order for it too shall become dust. The dust blows and we are blown with it. Lives touch lives, connections are made, but in the end there is only love, which remains.

When I open my eyes, I no longer saw a crazy festival, difficult to relate to. I saw people, living life and having experiences. It became very difficult from that point onwards not to look someone in the eye, be present and feel a person when talking to them. Of course, not everyone wants to connect in a deep way, a lot of people avoid eye contact. One of the first people I saw was a beautiful woman dressed up like a would-be-trophy-wife for Conan the Barbarian. I looked at her and she lowered her gaze. The type of woman, who possibly in her normal life of being a model is used to being looked at, but rarely ever seen.

I looked around for other people who were having the same heart opening experience I was having. They were there. I found them. Like looking for a sample to create a music loop out of or the perfect soundbite to drop onto an editing timeline, I intuitively and creatively found people with whom I had some story with. They just appeared and beamed at me a smile that would say in Dr. Seuss cadence, “I know and I know that you know that I know”. They would see me seeing them and immediately it was clear to both of us that there was an interaction for us to share, some experience of each other to be had.

I think its easy to see Burning Man as a massive party. Indeed it is, but there is something more that transfigures on the playa. When telling my mother about my Burning Man experience, she reminded me of Open Space Technology – a form of information sharing that grew out of the break room. For it’s the idea that most takeaways in a seminar are gained in the downtime. That is where the most powerful connections are made and pertinent conversations take place. I see Burning Man as that, a break from the mundane world and initiation into a super ordinary experience. Even though BRC is built around a clock, one enters into kairos time on the playa. Things happen when they are supposed to not when they are scheduled to.

It is in this break from chronological time (the time of the mundane world) that one is confronted with her/his shadow as in Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. The harsh environment of Black Rock Desert and it’s all pervading dust provide a formidable ordeal to reckon with. And it is through such confrontation that one gains the elixir of experience that is brought back to the mundane to heal a broken world. In the week after Burning Man, embers from the playa conflagrate social media. Tales of discovery, gifts and boons flicker in my news feed as people decompress their concentrated dose of the hero’s journey on the playa. My ember is the story just told, revealed to me through the dust of the playa.

Like reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Burning Man is a week long spiritual reminder of who we are. Meditating in the dust of the playa temple I was reminded of the naked sadhus of the East who are covered in ashes, a symbol of impermanence. Dagdhabiija in sanskrit means burnt seed – those that have been through the fire of experience and have no logs left to throw on it. And nirvana literally means ‘to blow out’. Once the fire is extinguished and the final flame left to flicker, no more experience to be had, the fire simply blows out. To let go is to lift up. To surrender is to put down the role and release the identity. In doing so one drops all burdens touches heaven and the sacred temple within.

There is no avoiding the dust for it pervades all and in fact is all. I love the etymological coincidence that the word ‘playa’ is close to the word ‘play’. For the playa is where we play our roles and enact our dramas. It is where the hindu concept of liila (divine play) transpires. All games are played, all roles are assumed, but they are just that… roles. Once the week ends and the man burns, people pack up and go home. Only dust remains.

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10 Minutes Of Meditation To Counter Daily Stress

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One of the most frequent objections I hear from people who believe they ought to meditate regularly, but don’t, is: “I don’t have time to meditate.”

How Do I Find Time to Meditate?

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

So where can we find time for something so important? Given the importance of meditation, the first thing to decide is not whether or not you are going to meditate, but when. In other words, take a determination, which, incidentally, is the first of Shiva’s Seven Secrets of Success. And he’s the one who pretty much invented meditation, so he should know.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman

How Long Do You Need to Meditate?

Don’t make it too hard for yourself. You don’t have to start out meditating for big chunks of time. Ten minutes, twice a day, would be a great start.

You can even start with two minutes. Seriously. The daughter of a friend of mine did this. Her dad meditated, and she finally accepted that she needed to as well, but didn’t think she had time. So she started with two minutes, and increased it one minute at a time. Now she happily meditates regularly for half an hour, and swears it has transformed her life.

Where are those ten minutes?

Stephen Covey in his book, First Things First, teaches a great exercise where you fill a jar first with big rocks, then small rocks, then sand and then water. And each time you think there is no more space, you discover there actually is. I tried this and it really works. If you don’t have time to read this rather long and time consuming book, this is the main take-away. I just saved you eight hours. Use it to meditate.

The average day is not a solid wall of activity—it’s more like Swiss cheese. The key to finding a little bit of personal time is to look for the small pockets of air. Remember, we’re talking about only a few minutes at a time.

I know busy executives and single mothers who have not missed their meditation in twenty-five years.  If you make meditation a priority, you will do it. Remember that even just a few minutes of meditation is much better than none. Regularity is the key.

Meditation Creates More time. It’s Magic!

In life’s paradoxical way, when we spend time meditating on a regular basis, we actually have more time.

I now sleep six hours a night – I find it plenty. Before I started meditating regularly, I needed eight hours sleep. Multiply that by 40 years! Of course I also meditate at least two to three hours a day, which means I come out of it spending maximum one hour extra on a really solid meditation practice.

In meditation, we are in a state of restful alertness that is extremely refreshing for the body and mind. As people stick with their meditation ritual, they notice that they are able to accomplish more while doing less. Like Bruce Lee.

Protagonist pt. 2 (Character CLA)

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From a lowly farm boy to a Jedi knight in STAR WARS or a bumbling high school chemistry teacher to a psychotic drug lord in BREAKING BAD, characters experience change. This change, known as a ‘character arc’, can be measured on different levels. The meter stick I use as a writer and teacher is causal layered analysis (CLA) as pioneered by futurist and academic, Sohail Inayatullah. CLA is comprised of four levels of understanding, which when employed can help people identify guiding narratives that affect behavior, performance and future outcomes.

At the first level of CLA there is the litany. This is the surface level event. In scriptwriting the unit of measurement for any film is action. Each action is a note on sheet music that when combined composes a musical piece. So, the first layer of observing character is viewing what actions the character takes. In situation A, a character kills a man. In B, a character kisses a woman. In C, character cries, so on and so forth. These are all actions written into a script to make up the story of the film. The guiding question at this level is: what? i.e. what happens?

But, what lies beneath the action taking. Let’s take the elevator down, guided by the question of why? Why did the character take that action? The first layer down from litany in CLA is the systemic layer. What system is in place to create the litany. For character this is the layer of decision. He or she must make conscious decisions. Ideally these decisions are made in cases of dilemma where the character is forced to chose between two deviant paths. Whatever choice they make plays out in their actions.

As a storyteller or dungeon master (for those of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s) our job is to place characters in ever more complex dilemmas. This will force a character to make harder decisions and take more drastic actions. Its a bit like being in a lab and experimenting with the way subjects react to various stimuli or diverse environments. When placed in container A, the rat does X. When placed in that container B, the rat does Y. But what guides the decisions of these lab rats or story heroes?


Taking the elevator down another level we reach what in CLA world be the level of worldview. Surely, there are many factors, which influence the decision making process. i.e. mood, emotion, intuition, etc. But, most importantly is ‘value’. What values does a character hold that will enable him/her to make a certain decision? If it is money, the character would decide to take a job over a relationship. If it is love (as in romantic or familial love) they may turn down the job offer if it will create problems in their relationship. The decision they make and action they take tells us something about what it is the character values.

The final question which brings the elevator to the bottom floor is: who? The fourth layer of CLA is that of myth/metaphor. This is the deepest layer of character. True character or deep character as Robert Mckee calls it. Who is this person under pressure? I mean, who are they REALLY? Only when their values are challenged through conflict and dilemma can we really know. And this is the function of plot, to challenge character. You think you’re this person? Really? Well, under these circumstance are you really that person? Think again.

Professor Inayatullah considers metaphors as the vehicles of deep myths. The great thing about vehicles is that they tell a story in and of themselves and are understood a priori. The moment you hear Merlin, the wizard you understand certain qualities associated like: “magic, mastery, wisdom, guidance, etc.” When the good wizard is the archetype of a character, we know that they will value wisdom, truth, compassion over all else and act accordingly. The same goes for the ruler, the guardian, the trickster, the lover, etc. Someone can identify themselves as Indian Jones, which means that they value adventure, risk, knowledge, bravery, etc. Or someone can identify themselves with “the Jewish mother”, which means they value family, food, children, safety, tradition, etc.” The role of the plot in any well told story is to challenge the inner narrative of the character. There is ongoing war between internal selves, which fight for dominance. The crisis and climax, which will be discussed in a subsequent post, is usually when one self triumphs over another.

Professor Inayatullah’s work with CLA is to get people to identify what story guides their behavior and empower people to change that archetype or story if it does not serve them. As storytellers, our job is to do something quite similar. By putting a protagonist is situations of dilemma, we expose the complexity of their universe and force small amounts of change through decision and action.

photo by Ralph Rama Huber

Protagonist pt. 1 (Identification)

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Something that not many people know about me is that when I was five
years old I was a dog for one week. It’s true. I went to see the movie
Lady and the Tramp and for seven days afterward I barked at cars and
sniffed fire hydrants. Until, of course, I went to see An American
Tail and became a lonely mouse searching for my family. But there was
one film character whom I identified with as a child that has never
left me. His name is Bastion.

A creative boy with an imaginative mind, Bastion is told by his
serious father that he must “grow up” and stop fantasizing. Faced with
the death of his inner world, Bastion’s subconscious embarks on a
journey that plays out in the reading of a magical book: The
Never-Ending Story. (Also the title of the film) Continue reading

Love is the Seventh Wave

Today I’m particularly thankful to be alive because yesterday I very nearly drowned.

WAves crashing

The waves here in Mexico can come in pretty big with a fierce undertow and the beach where we are staying is known to be dangerous. We were swimming close to shore and the surf seemed sizeable but manageable. But then a huge wave came in – at least eight feet. I dived under it but the force of the water spun me around and held me down for a while and when I surfaced I was out of breath. Only to see another huge wave bearing down on me. The undertow dragged me further out and I had to dive under that wave as well. Then came another. Now it was getting difficult. Each time I came to the surface I felt more tired and I just had a couple of seconds to catch my breath before the next mountain of water fell on me. There was no way I could swim back towards the shore so long as these big waves kept coming. I was barely able to keep my head above water and I was tiring fast. Continue reading