How to improve your life and save the world.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Example One: life really sucks.
I think most of us would agree that it would suck to be a paraplegic. I had the misfortune of spending a couple of hours with a paraplegic who hated his life. I say misfortune because this individual was angry at the world. He was an activist in handicap accessibility pointing out to me the places he couldn’t go in his wheelchair. “If you want to go into that store,” I suggested, “I’m sure all you would have to do is let the shopkeepers know and they would help you.” You already know that was not the point. He had no interest in that store. He just wanted to be able to go there on his own if he did want to. Goodness knows I understand the desire for independence.
A card game like bridge is a good analogy for this situation. When playing bridge, you get dealt 13 cards. They may be lousy cards, a hand you would rather not play, perhaps, but you still play it to the best of your ability.
There are paraplegics who are inspirations like Chris Waddell, a paraplegic who scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro more than 20 years after he was paralyzed in a skiing accident. Waddell says. “What happens to us isn’t that interesting; it’s what we do with it that’s interesting.”
I suspect the paraplegic I met with had not forgiven himself for his misfortune. Driving drunk put him in the wheelchair. I think he would make himself much happier if he forgave himself and accepted his hand. We can never go back. It is always this hand that we have to play, the one this moment.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Rather a core, a foundation, a trunk from which love branches.
A love that is central to life.
Love others as thyself?
The trunk from which I love my parents
Yea, even mine enemies.
Friday, November 13, 2009
When I received an invitation for a free issue of The Sun magazine I had recently let laps another magazine subscription because, though I enjoyed what I read, I simply didn’t have time to do much more than leaf through it once. The Sun’s brochure drew me in and I sent in the coupon. When the issue arrived I leafed through it. During the next few weeks I read a little but when the bill came inviting me to subscribe I wasn’t ready to do so but I set it aside not quite ready to check the “no thank you” box either. A couple of weeks later my wife and I found that between us we had read everything between the covers (and enjoyed the cover photo). I don’t have any more time now than I did then but when each new issue arrives I find that I have just finished the previous one and welcome the new one.
Two stories in the “Readers Write” section of the November issue moved me deeply confirming my belief that it is important to be true to ourselves. One was of a woman who had remade herself even changing her name to fit in at a new school. She kept the new identity until, in therapy for alcoholisms, she introduced herself by her old name and broke down sobbing; realizing that the name change was just a symbol of her denial of her true self.
In the same issue is an excerpt from John O’Donohue’s book To Bless the Space Between Us that expresses so well a truth I have found. “…the greatest gift you could ever dream is a gift that you can only receive from one person. And that person is yourself. Therefore, the most subversive invitation you could ever accept is the invitation to awaken to who you are and where you have landed.”
And later: “You develop from your own self-compassion a great compassion for others. You are no longer caught in the false game of judgment, comparison, and assumption. More naked now than ever, you begin to feel truly alive.”
These snippets don’t do justice to the single page in The Sun that has induced me to add John O’Donohue’s book to my list of books to read.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I have a happier version of reincarnation. The myth that I enjoy most is that this life is a virtual reality, that i (as I know myself here in this life) am a character in a kind of video game that I (as I imagine myself outside of life) am playing. i don’t know how the game works, of course. It may be that I can program the game before getting into it or I may be able to manipulate it as i go through life, or My friends outside life can mess around with my life-game. In this notion, as with any game we play here in this life we get better at it the more we play it. That notion fits well with the Hindu belief that they can get off the reincarnation loop by being good. In my notion I can get off any time but as long as the game is challenging, I’d probably want to keep coming back to play it better. Would I want to come back if life sucked or was painful? Sure. The pain and suffering within life is not felt outside of life anymore than the player of a video game feels pain or suffering of the characters in the game being played.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Those of us who remember the 50s do so with fondness. It wasn’t all “Life with Father”, “Leave it to Beaver” and “Ozzy and Harriet” but it was a time when most mothers concentrated on the most important jobs like raising a family and managing a household. She was able to do that because one income supported the American Dream. Why did employers pay better then? One answer might be that there was little incentive to make gobs of money as the highest tax bracket was 91%. In 1954 income below $75,000 (today’s dollars) was taxed at 20%. Someone earning $1 million (today’s dollars) was in the 62% tax bracket. Anyone earning over $7.5 million paid 91% of every dollar over that amount in taxes.
Consider the fights between millionaire sports stars and millionaire sports team owners over multimillion dollar contracts. They are fighting over figures because in actual money it is too much for any individual to spend reasonably. I would put a cap on individual income. If you make over $2 million a year, you have to either give it away or give it to the IRS. Now the choice is either to make less than $2 million or to give it away which is a good motive, rather than greed, for making money. The sports stars will be easier to negotiate with. The team owners will either be generous to charities or, more likely, they will pay their employees more and charge less for tickets.
The 1954 tax brackets were essentially the same from 1951 through 1963. Want to guess what years the highest tax bracket was lowest? Other than the first three years of income tax in the
One more question in this quiz. When was the second lowest? It was, thanks to President Reagan, 1988-90 and has remained low ushering in the Great Recession.
I’m not talking about wealth redistribution. I’m talking about people making more money than they know what to do with and in the process bringing down a society that would be much better off if families could pursue the American Dream on the income of one wage-earner. I’m really just talking about family values as opposed to greed rules.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
There is anecdotal evidence. I have some myself. Driving my 96 year old mother home from one of her last stays in the hospital she told me of an experience she had that was something more than a dream. She told of being in this wonderful place and all her friends were there. She positively glowed when she related the story. She was describing a place that she had been taught to believe was where she would go when she died. Skeptic though I may be, the way she told the story, the way she looked and the condition of her mind the rest of the time force me to believe she, at the very least, had a powerful dream. She did not make up the story to try to convince me there is a life after death.
In the hospital a few months later, on her deathbed, we had an encounter that absolutely could not have been under her control. That morning I had found her unconscious. The ambulance took her to the hospital. I sat with her much of the day holding her hand, talking to her, but got no response. The doctor and I conferred and agreed that nothing should be done to try to revive her. He told me she might hang on for a week but it would probably not be longer than a day. He had reason to hedge his bet as she had already lived four times as long as he said she would 16 years before.
That evening my daughter and I went to visit her. I expected to find her as I had left her but she shocked me by opening her eyes, looking at me and demanding, “Where am I?!” I was flabbergasted. How had she revived? Should I call the doctor and have an IV attached?
“Where am I?” she repeated with incredible strength..
“In the hospital.”
” How did I get here?”
“You were unconscious when I came in this morning and…”
“How did I get here?”
“I called the ambulance.” She just kept getting more frustrated and angry. To use one of her pet phrases she was mad as a wet hen and nothing I said was answering her questions. She gave up trying to get an answer and Caitlin had an opportunity to express her love for her grandmother and to say good-by.
What was that all about? While driving home I came to the conclusion that she was not asking about the events of the day. The “here” she was asking about was not the hospital. I believe that she had been in that other place glowing in her surroundings when she was suddenly yanked back to this world; perhaps to allow her granddaughter one last time to express her love. How did she get here indeed? Was it a dream that she was rudely pulled away from or another world? If another world, she still didn’t know who was pulling the strings or how.
Some may ask how I could not believe in a life after death after that personal experience. First, I don’t disbelieve in a life after death any more strongly than I believe in such a possibility. I can say I’m an agnostic which means I don’t know but I go a little farther than that. I don’t care. That’s not to say that I’m not curious. I find the possibility interesting and worth thinking about. But the philosophical things that are most important to me are those that guide and inform my life. Life is the period between birth and death. There is a tremendous amount of information to be dealt with in that reality. There are tremendous rewards within life.
Am I not comforted by thinking that my mother is in a nice place, a place that made her glow when she thought about it and that made her angry to be pulled away? Not really.
That may, undoubtedly does, seem cold to some. I can’t speak for others feelings. I don’t deny them their beliefs nor do I care to diminish them in any way. It may be simply that I am less feeling than some. Or it may be that I feel my relationship with my mother was whole, complete. We had no outstanding issues. I didn’t feel I owed her anything or that she owed me anything. She is gone from my life and my life goes on. She does not visit my thoughts very much at all. She is part of my history but I am living here in the present and she is not part of the present.
A possibility other than my relationship with my mother is my relationship with myself. I am at peace with myself in a way that is entirely different than before what I feel comfortable calling my rebirth. That took place about 15 years ago (I’d have to look at my writing to figure out exactly when.). It was nothing so remarkable as an epiphany. No one but me saw any difference but the change to me was dramatic. I think I lost fear though I have not been tested and really don’t care to be.
This life is so marvelous I simply can’t see any point in spending much time envisioning another life that may be better--or may be worse if you believe in a heaven and a hell. If the soul’s fate is determined by the kind of life led by the mind and body and the determination is made by the creator, the giver of life, than how better to receive an afterlife reward than to live this life, this gift, to the fullest? What better way to live it than in ways that bring joy and take pleasure? How could one be more thankful of a gift than to use it well?
Was my mother’s soul recalled briefly or did she awaken from a dream? To what purpose and why at that exact moment? Some may say it was to make me a believer. That is their reality. Since I believe it’s all about me my answer is that the experience was given me for me to contemplate which clearly I have done. Since you are reading this it may have all been so you could read about it and have it affect you however it may.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I think you might enjoy some of the other links there.
Certainly health and happiness are symbiotically linked. Obviously it is easier to be happy when we are healthy but studies have shown that happiness actually promotes health. It gets even better. Even a mirthless smile will make you feel better. Try it. Laughing out loud, so scientists say, actually kills germs.
In my book How to Improve Your Life and Save the World I reveal that having attained a measure of fame and fortune, I came to the realization that they were not goals that worked for me. I decided I should be pursuing happiness as directly as possible so I started investigating what made me happy and what made me unhappy. Tuning in the news daily was not making me happy so I stopped. That was simple. Getting angry at bad drivers I encountered made me very unhappy. It took awhile but I eventually learned to accept them rather than trying to fix them.
Learning acceptance (an ongoing job) has brought me much happiness and its sidekick, health.
Friday, October 2, 2009
My mother fell in the middle of the night, broke her wrist and, in the dark, alone, spent the rest of the night on the floor. She had cared for her mother and more than anything in the world she didn’t want to be a burden on her son and daughter-in-law. She finally convinced herself that she could be a help transporting her school-age grandchildren to places they needed to be. We moved her into a second floor apartment six miles from us.
Unfortunately Josh and Caitlin didn’t like riding with Grammy. Apparently she had scared them once or twice. My mother wondered why she wasn’t used more and finally I had to tell her the kids didn’t want to ride with her. She thought I was lying. She kept the car as a symbol of her independence until her last year though it sat unmoved for a couple of years.
Each year got more difficult though she worked very hard to keep from being a burden. She would do mind exercises like writing down all the presidents, states and state capitals. She went to the hairdresser every other week. I was the chauffer when she couldn’t drive anymore. I shopped for her once a week and visited her any day no one else was scheduled—Meals on Wheels, visiting nurse, etc. I took her to doctor appointments.
She did a magnificent job of taking care of herself—feeding herself, going to the bathroom on her own, taking her medications (she measured the water she drank to make sure she took as much as the doctor told her to)—yet it was difficult for me. The time commitment, the wishing I didn’t have to do some of the things I had to do, and watching her deteriorate, watching her bubble of awareness shrink to interest in nothing but what she had to do to get through each day.
My job was in many ways much easier than Barbara’s. I don’t have advice for those who are going through this other than to say you are not alone. It will seem that way at times and those who have not been through it may think they understand but they don’t. You may feel it necessary to suppress some feelings, may even feel like a bad person for having them. Read Barbara’s piece. I think it will help.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Now, in my seventies, I am thinking that this advice may have been the beginning of empathetic thinking for me. Certainly thinking about my partner during sex play has, over the years, brought my partners ecstatic pleasure which, in turn, has done the same for me. Since sex is such a big part of most of our lives, it makes sense that it would be a good vehicle for learning. That it is discussed so little is a tragedy. In our society sex is kept secret. “Secret!” You say. Of course it is the most lucrative business of the web. Prostitution is rightly called the oldest profession. Most of your friends have a fetish of some sort that they wouldn’t want known by even their closest friend. Most people masturbate and lie about it.
I’m not advocating that we go around talking about sex all the time. I just think we would all be a lot healthier, our society would be healthier, if we were comfortable including sex in our conversations just as we include food, sports, aches and pains, politics, etc. (I purposely left out the weather as discussing sex as often as we discuss the weather would probably be an excess.)
Perhaps this example of empathetic thinking will help some others to think this way. I am convinced that the better one becomes at putting one’s self in another’s being, the better life becomes. Think of it this way. Wouldn’t it be way cool to be able to read people’s minds? Thinking empathetically has taken me far in that direction.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I came across your website and I see you are an expert on organic gardening, so I'd love to get your opinion on something. Several months ago, I tried pouring very small amounts of used cooking oil into the cracks of my walkway where weeds tend to spring up. It has completely killed the weeds (they turned black and died) and kept them away for months now.
My question - is this practice safe for the environment? I'd appreciate your opinion, and if you like the idea, you are very welcome to pass it along!
I would certainly prefer your method to a Monsanto product. Seriously, I really don't see any environmental problem. There are some ants that might be attracted to the oil so that could be a problem for you but, again, not for the bigger environment. I have not heard of anyone doing this before. Vinegar is also a fairly good herbicide.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
What kind of "hardware cloth" or screening do you think is safe for compost for an organic garden? --Thank you so much, Ash
If you are talking about screening like that used on screen doors, that would not be strong enough to hold the compost. The only bugs that might be a problem for your neighbor would be flies and those only if you compost meat or fish. Meat and fish can also be an odor problem so if you have close neighbors, I suggest you not put these on the compost. We keep a plastic bag in the freezer where we put meat and fish scraps. These can be composted by burying them either in the compost if you have enough going or in the ground. These scraps may attract animals (raccoons, skunks and dogs) that will dig them up. An open top bin such as I use will be enough to protect against most animals but if you have a problem, just put on a top.
The purpose of the compost bin is to keep the area looking neat, keep animals out, and keep the sides of the pile vertical which improves air circulation. I use about an 8 foot length of half inch wire mesh held together to make a drum shaped circle with wire. You can see a picture of this at http://joshuas.biz go to “Farm” and at the bottom of that page you will find me turning compost. Before this I stapled the wire mesh onto wood frames which were screwed together to make a cube-shaped bin.
As far as materials that might not be OK to use, I can’t think of anything I’d worry about except treated wood.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
“Mmmmm. Yeah, that’s tasty,” I dutifully replied but shortly afterward I would notice an unpleasant taste in my mouth. To get rid of the taste, I would eat or drink something. I pointed that out to her but I don’t think that caused the change but change did come shortly thereafter.
Barbara started thinking about food and how to make it taste good. She focused on organic and natural food and culinary delights rather than calories. The calories she ate were complex rather than empty. We define empty calories as those found in refined foods like white flour and sugar. The concept is that our bodies need a variety of nutrients. I don’t know how many different nutrients humans need but plants need at least sixteen. Our theory is that if the body is not getting something it needs, it will send out a signal asking for more food until the deficient nutrient is ingested. Since our body is not specific in its request we just keep eating. Actually we have found that we sometimes crave something that we figure our body needs, but it is safer to just provide the body with complex food regularly.
Whole wheat has got more nutrients than white flour. Likewise for honey and maple syrup versus sugar. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with what in the garden we call micro nutrients.
Barbara and I were married in 1969. Today we are in partnership with our son in a restaurant. Josh is an excellent chef using the best ingredients he can find. He is a great fan of the organic vegetables I supply. Barbara never got any fatter than she was on our wedding day. She is a trim sixty year old and I’m a fairly trim seventy in spite of eating a lot of great food at the restaurant. Many of our customers will ask how we stay so trim with all that good food. The answer may be found in another frequently heard comment. “I never eat vegetables but I ate all the vegetables on my plate.” The secret behind Josh’s vegetables? They are fresh, organic, cooked to order, and cooked perfectly. When we eat them we don’t leave any emptiness.
If you want to know more about the restaurant, http://joshuas.biz
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Where I find support for my belief that happiness is not linked to money or anything material is in experiences like Joseph Campbell’s; who says his happiest time was during the Depression when he had no money, lived in a rooming house where the rent was forgiven and read borrowed books; and Eric Weiner’s experiences in The Geography of Bliss where he found his own happiness affected positively in Bhutan and Iceland and negatively in Moldova. It is time for another caveat. I don’t know what works for anyone else, what it is like inside anyone else. I write about what works for me, what I have learned about myself within this thing called life, because reading about and observing other people has proved helpful to me and I hope my thoughts might prove helpful to another.
I am convinced that what we need is air, water, food and shelter, not money. Those are indisputable for keeping our bodies alive. It can be debated whether or not our soul has needs. The existence of a soul is debatable but I’m going with duality here—body and soul. My soul needs companionship and something else. I’m not sure what—to be needed, work, a goal, a project, something meaningful to do? I am reminded of retired people who volunteered for me on a project and how grateful they were for the opportunity I gave them to volunteer. When I would thank them they would invariably say, “No, Thank YOU.” However I also know some retired people who do little more than read the paper every day. We are all different.
For me, yes, I keep trying to retire and now, in the winter, when the garden is put to bed, I don’t want to work any more than I have to at the restaurant. I want to kick back and read. But there is another thing gnawing at me, some need I feel to be doing more. I think about volunteering or, perhaps running for a town or state office. I keep talking myself out of it yet I feel that it would feel good to be involved in something larger than myself. I think this comes from my belief that I can make a difference, that my approach to people could move an entity in a positive direction. There would be meetings and things to figure out, problems to solve. I think I would feel needed.
I have known retired people who took up a musical instrument, who took up a new sport or started building models. I think any of these activities might fill the same void, might feed the soul. There are those who spend hours fiddling with their investments. This could be the same kind of thing though it seems different to me.
Where do I get off talking about profound happiness as if I had reached some vaunted plateau? Good question. I’m glad I asked it first. If you understand my philosophical base, you will realize that I am running my life on the assumption that I may be the only person involved in my life, all else, everyone else is an illusion, a hologram--characters and events through and around which I weave my life (or my life is woven). You, at this moment, are an important part of my life. I know, I know first I tell you you don’t exist and then I tell you you are an important part of my life. I hate the confusion but I’m unable to be clearer at this point. Perhaps I will be more articulate at some future time.
You are important to me because I love you and I want you to be happy. Telling you that I have something that you might not have is no way to make you happy. The best I can do now is to suggest that you smile at someone. Think about some specific person or situation in which you will have an opportunity to give off a big sincere smile—a “Hi, I’m sure glad to be sharing this space and time with you. I’m glad we are both alive here together.” Think about the situation now and maybe even make a note to yourself to help you remember. It can be a store clerk, a person coming toward you on the street, a neighbor, anyone. If you experience is anything like mine, most times you will get a smile back. If that smile doesn’t make you feel better, then give up any effort to understand my philosophy.