MEDITATION: THE ESSENCE II – Concentration & Focus


MEDITATION — THE ESSENCE

Basic Meditation Instructions, Part II

  FREE: Right here, right now, no charge.

 Shiva

CONCENTRATIVE MEDITATION

Concentrative meditation develops your ability to know what you are doing with your attention at any given moment and to focus your attention (and often that of others with whom you are conversing) where you wish.  This ability has been shown to be useful in diverse areas of life.  It is also essential to witness consciousness or mindfulness meditation, which will be described in Part III. Two different forms are described here, and you can choose the one you prefer or use them both at different times.

Counting style.  Choose any object to focus your eyes on. As you did just above, count from one to ten.  This time silently count one number on each incoming breath, from one to ten. Then count the same number ten times on each outgoing breath.  Like this: 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, etc. up to 10-1.  Then take a single  breath in which you do not count.  Then count a second sequence of ten, like this:  1-2, 2-2, 3-2, etc. up to 10-2.  Another empty breath, then ten breaths with the number 3 on your exhalation, etc.  Ideally you will do this for 110 breaths, up to 10-10.  Then do ten more snapshot breaths to end your session.  Whenever you lose count, continue from the last pair of numbers you can remember clearly. If you don’t have time or don’t want to count up to 10-10, stop whenever you wish and end your session with ten snapshot breaths.

On each outbreath, notice all the chatter and images that have formed themselves in your mind and imagine them flowing out of you and away as you exhale, leaving your mind calmer and clearer. Whenever you notice that you have forgotten your counting or you are no longer looking at the object you chose for your visual focus, first notice where your mind has gone in case it’s to something important you need to remember (you might want to keep a pad and pen to jot down a word or two as a reminder when things occur to you.) Then gently move your mind back to your counting. Don’t try to keep things out of your mind – just bring your mind back to your counting, again and again if needed.

Mantra style.  Select a mantra that feels agreeable and useful to you.  You can find one by looking at the index at this link, or by doing a web search for “Sanskrit words” or “mantras.” Or even choose a word or phrase in your native language that refers to a quality you want to cultivate. Just as with the counting above, choose an object for your visual focus. On each inhalation, silently repeat your mantra to yourself.  On each exhalation, you can either (1) count the same number for ten numbers as described just above, and then move to a second number for the next set of ten breaths,  or (2) just repeat the mantra on your inhalation and let your mind go silent on the exhalation, allowing the thoughts that have formed themselves to flow away.  When you notice that you are no longer repeating your mantra, return your thoughts to it. DO NOT, however, use repetition of the mantra to try to “push” other thoughts, feelings, or sensations out of your mind. You could end up pushing out things you very much need to notice or hear. Just notice where your mind has gone, jot down a reminder of that if it’s important and you wish to, then bring your attention back to your mantra. Here too, ten snapshot breaths are a good way to end your session.

 

OR, you can regard the starting sequence and a period of concentrative meditation as the first two stages of your sitting, and then go on to mindfulness / witness consciousness meditation or to a contemplative meditation.

Part I of this series of five mini-articles offered an introduction to what meditation can do for you and presented a useful meditation “starting sequence.”

Part II describes concentrative meditation.

 Part III will describe witness consciousness (yogic term) and  mindfulness meditation (Buddhist term) and They overlap considerably but not totally. (not yet posted)

 Part IV will describe contemplative meditation. (not yet posted)

 Part V will be on everyday awareness practices. (not yet posted)

All this is just “the essence.” If you’d like this and many advanced practices all in one handy place, you will enjoy Matrix Meditations, by Victor Daniels and Kooch N. Daniels. Click on the cover to go to the book’s home page. You can get the e-book for under $10.00, and used copies online for little more than postage. Of course, a brand-new hardcopy (from your local bookstore, the publisher, or another online vendor) is a treasure. 

 

Matrix Meditations: A 16 Week Program to Developing the Heart - Mind Connection

Matrix Meditations: A 16 Week Program to Developing the Heart – Mind Connection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEDITATION – THE ESSENCE: Basic Meditation Instructions I

 

 

MEDITATION — THE ESSENCE

Basic Meditation Instructions, Part I

 

FREE: Right here right now, no charge

 

 

woman meditating by Ganges River

 

INTRODUCTION, & STARTING YOUR SESSION

 

 

BENEFITS OF MEDITATION

Reduce your stress, feel more relaxed, become more focused, centered, and probably more successful, and clean up problem areas in your life. Seldom be bored, as you can almost always find something interesting around you or inside you to notice.

 

If you have never meditated, have tried and been unsuccessful, or are unsatisfied with your method, try this. (If you are an experienced and expert meditator and are looking for new depths and horizons in your practice, you’ll find them in other blogs soon to be posted and at this link.)

 

FOUR FORMS OF MEDITATION

The four kinds of meditation described here are suitable for ordinary people in their everyday lives. You do not have to sit in a cave in the mountains or go to a retreat center. The four are:

 

Concentrative meditation.  You become able to focus your mind where you want it. (Research has shown that this skill improves life-effectiveness of diverse kinds.) Developing this capacity, and your mindfulness or witness consciousness, occur at the same time in the method described here.

 

Mindfulness meditation, aka witness consciousness.  You learn to notice what your mind, emotions, and body are doing, moment by moment, rather than being completely caught up in your thoughts (as most people are most of the time.) This is called “mindfulness” in the Buddhist tradition and “witness consciousness” or “developing the witness” in the Yogic tradition. There are small differences between the two forms but they mostly overlap.

 

Everyday awareness practices.  These help you take a more meditative consciousness into your everyday life.  They are also ideal for people who have a hard time sitting still to meditate.

 

Contemplative meditation. Once you have mastered the two meditative forms just above, you will have the ability to meditate on specific aspects of your inner self or on outer concerns important to you. The resources of your large and creative unconscious mind will become available to supplement the conceptual thought, daydreams, and “monkey mind” that comprise most of most people’s ordinary waking consciousness.

 

HOW LONG SHOULD YOU MEDITATE?

Sit for at least five minutes to get any value from this. Ten or fifteen is better—but if you think, “I don’t want to spare that much time,” then just commit yourself to five minutes. When that time is up, sometimes you will probably want to continue.  When you are starting out, don’t sit for more than half an hour. When you feel ready, you can allow yourself 45 minutes, or even an hour.  Once you are experienced, you might want to go to a retreat where you sit for a day, or several, or even longer. But unless you have the supervision of a capable meditation teacher, stop after no more than an hour.

 

BEGINNING YOUR MEDITATION SESSION: YOUR POSTURE

For most people, the best thing is to sit up straight with no support for your back if you can do that. (Just noticing when you lose this position and slump helps you maintain a present-centered consciousness.) If your back muscles won’t hold you straight up you can sit with your back against a wall or the back of a chair. If all else fails, I have had some students meditate successfully while lying down.

If you are sitting cross-legged on the floor or the ground, sit on the front edge of a doubled-over pillow or a meditation cushion to raise your butt a few inches off the ground. Outdoors, sitting on a slope with your butt a little higher than your  knees and feet will do. Or use any other object to raise your butt slightly. Otherwise you will have a hard time sitting up straight. You can sit in a full lotus posture with each foot upside down across the other thigh, a half lotus posture with just one leg above the other thigh, or a regular everyday cross-legged position.

If you are on a chair, choose one with no arms or low or wide arms so that both your elbows can extend outward comfortably. You can either put your feet facing forward just below your knees and about shoulder-width apart or you can cross them as if you were sitting cross-legged on the ground.

           In any other position, do what feels best. Just know that it will be somewhat harder to develop your mental focus than in one of the positions just above.

          Position your arms with your palms face up. Touch your thumb and forefinger  or middle finger of each hand together. This is a mudra. As you inhale, let them separate about a sixteenth of an inch.  As you exhale, let them touch each other. This is a moving mudra. (The moving mudra will help you focus and watch your mind. When you notice that they have stopped opening and closing as you breathe, it tells you that your attention has drifted off.)

 

A STARTING SEQUENCE

  1. 1.    Balance. Find a sitting position in which you are totally centered in relation to gravity, so that if you move even a little forward or backward or to either side you feel unbalanced. Try those movements, then return to your center.  I suggest that you also try this standing up. Imprint in your mind what that totally balanced position feels like. (Then later in the world, when you start feeling “off balance” or emotionally “pushed out of shape,” take a minute to physically balance as you just did. That’s your first “everyday awareness practice.)
  2. 2.    Breathe.  Sit (or lie down or whatever you do) in a position that opens your windpipe and lungs as fully as possible. If you are sitting or standing up, pushing your chin backward with one finger can help do this. . . .

 

  1. 3.    Notice and release tension. The first time you do this, use the method described by Edmund Jacobson in 1929. Starting at the top of your head and going down to the tips of your toes, do an internal body scan. Notice each place in your body where you are holding even a teeny weeny bit of tension, intensify it for several seconds – tighter, tighter – then let it go. Some places many people hold tension is in their forehead, around the eyes, jaw, neck, shoulders, hands, arms, stomach, anal sphincter, thighs, and calves.   (You may have your own unusual tight spots.)

 

After the first time, you can skip the tightening. Just do an eyes-closed body scan in which you release the tension you find at every point, except for whatever tension you need to sit upright. When you’re done – probably just a minute or two – notice how good your body feels when you let go of the places you chronically hold tight.

 

  1. 4.    Take ten “snapshot” breaths. Count your breaths from one to ten. With each cycle of inhalation and exhalation, let your eyes rest on a different visual object. It can be anything from a statue to a smudge on the wall. Imagine that you’re taking a picture of it, and also that after you’re done you will have to draw it from memory, so scrutinize every detail of it as carefully as you can during that one breath. (You could also do this by listening to a different sound with each breath.) Why do these ten snapshot breaths? Because it is very nearly impossible to do them with a wandering mind. To do them successfully REQUIRES you to maintain mental focus. This gives you a hold on the reins of the wild horse of your attention, giving you enough mental focus that you can go on to other meditative practices.

 

CONGRATULATIONS! You are now meditating. You can stop now, or continue your session by simply continuing to count your breaths, or by repeating any mantra that has value for you on each breath for as long as you wish to continue.

 

 

When you are ready, you can go on by clicking on the links below.

 

 

Part I of this series of five mini-articles offered an introduction to what meditation can do for you and presented a useful meditation “starting sequence.”

 

Part II will describe concentrative meditation.

 

Part III will describe witness consciousness (yogic term) and  mindfulness meditation (Buddhist term) and They overlap considerably but not totally. (not yet posted)

 

Part IV will describe contemplative meditation. (not yet posted)

 

Part V will be on everyday awareness practices. (not yet posted)

 

Remember—all this is just “the essence.” If you’d like all this and many advanced practices too all in one handy place, you will enjoy Matrix Meditations, by Victor Daniels and Kooch N. Daniels. Click on the cover to go to the book’s home page. You can get the e-book for under $10.00, and used copies online for little more than postage. Of course, a brand-new hardcopy (from your local bookstore, the publisher, or another online vendor) is a treasure. 

 

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2-12-14

 

 

 

Holistic gestalt therapy

HOLISTIC GESTALT THERAPY

Victor Daniels
Sonoma State University

Today’s blog is for psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors, and students in those areas—but a few others may be interested.

Why “holistic?” Perhaps you find the title surprising. You might think, “But the Gestalt approach is inherently holistic.”

Yes and no. Max Wertheimer, whose philosophical genius was the midwife for the birth of Gestalt Psychology, articulated a view of human experience and behavior that was more holistic than that of any other psychologist of his time. Kurt Lewin expanded that view into a perspective that provided a holistic grasp of the person in his or her lived environment. Lewin’s concept of the “life space” included both the immediate and extended social and physical environments, and also the vicarious environments that were part of a person’s thinking and feeling as a result of hearing stories, reading, and watching movies and videos. For example, I love Will and Ariel Durant’s monumental work The Story of Civilization because I can open a page and be instantly transported through Durant’s clear, engaging prose into the midst of the Italian Renaissance, or into any other place and time of which the Durants wrote. Thereby a skeletal sense of Renaissance Italy becomes part of my life-space. This embracing holistic view that is inherent in Lewin’s Field Theory is part of the ground of Gestalt Therapy.

Gestalt process work is inherently holistic in the sense of its attitude toward the client. The therapist or counselor takes a phenomenological stance of trying to comprehend the client’s lived world as it is, without interpretation or embroidery, and uses some variation of the phenomenological method of “bracketing” to set personal reactions aside in order to achieve that comprehension. Then the practitioner may (or may not) draw on his or her own bracketed reactions and mention them to the client to see whether this leads the client to fuller awareness and deeper understanding.

Methodologically, a holistic approach implies that the therapist or counselor (a) has a repertoire of approaches and methods; (b) can choose appropriately among them to find what best suits any given client in any given situation; while also (c) remaining true to his or her own preferred, most comfortable, and most skillful ways of working. This is analogous to a doctor who has a variety of medical tools and procedures available, and chooses that which best fits the patient’s needs. (With this analogy, I do not mean to imply that a medical model fits most psychological difficulties. It fits some but not most. I prefer Thomas Szasz’ description of psychological and relational issues as “problems in living.”

Finally, a holistic approach acknowledges the value of a spectrum of valid Gestalt approaches and methods used by others which may or may not be part of a given practitioner’s own repertoire. (“Valid” means a method that fits the criteria of being phenomenological, awareness-based, present-centered, existential, and field-define. And, we might add, competent, skillful, and fully cognizant of the need to provide both sufficient safety and sufficient opportunity for exploration and for adventurous growth.) In this sense, Gestalt work may or may not be holistic. Historically, as in so many psychotherapies, spiritual traditions, and other realms of life, some Gestalt practitioners have disapproved of approaches used by others even when those approaches fully met the criteria described just above. Such biases have sometimes been overt and sometimes subtle. In recent years, for example, in the English-speaking Gestalt world there has been a welcome development, most especially by those trained by Laura Perls and Isadore From, of methods that emphasize the relationship and the dialogue between client and therapist. Some practitioners of this approach have assumed that their “dialogical relational” approach is contemporary, and that the work of other practitioners is outdated. In reality, practitioners trained by Fritz Perls, Jim Simkin, and others at Esalen Institute, Lake Cowichan, and the old San Francisco Gestalt Institute, and second-generation practitioners trained by them, have also evolved and developed their methods and perspectives into new and more effective forms. Fortunately, the disapproval of some Gestalt approaches by practitioners of others has been far milder than, for example, in classical psychoanalysis, where Freud declared that such geniuses as Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, and Wilhelm Reich were no longer psychoanalysts when their creative development of new ideas and practices diverged too far from Freud’s central orthodoxies—in particular from the Libido theory. Nonetheless, there is value in explicitly acknowledging a contemporary attitude of inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness of method and perspective.

Therefore, use of the term ”holistic” in the title explicitly implies a “large tent” definition of Gestalt process that welcomes diverse ways of working and recognizing that we can all learn from the “otherness” of practitioners who have evolved their work in directions different from our own. It allows those who have felt that their working approach has been marginalized by the biases of some colleagues to come in from the shadows. And it highlights the interesting reality that the dominant views about which approaches are central and which are peripheral differs from one country and linguistic region to another. I welcome the large tent that makes space for diverse working processes and welcomes all who legitimately think of themselves as part of the Gestalt community. This includes dialogical-relational approaches, two-chair and sometime even multiple-chair work, dreamwork, use of diverse artistic media, movement and body-oriented work, and Gestalt group process work, to name some but not all of the orientations that can be found within this large tent.

In so saying, I am keenly aware of the danger becoming too diffuse, and of the need to keep a sharp focus. For me personally, the central focus is onprocess work within a working session—that is, within the therapeutic or counseling hour, or within one person’s working session when individual work is done in a group context. Of course that exists within the larger context of concerns that may take weeks or months, and multiple sessions to work through.

A phenomenon that has become more widespread in recent years is the inclusion and integration of methods from Gestalt therapy into other working modalities, such as alchemical hypnotherapy. I find that I am beginning to turn the tables on that process, and integrate perspective and methods from other approaches into my Gestalt work. Most notably these include humanistic and existential approaches, assertiveness training, and Yogic and Buddhist meditative disciplines. Such integration is highly selective, with close attention to maintaining a sharp focus on the client, the moment, and the way of working that is most appropriate now.

Already I hear the objection, “Gestalt therapy is a depth psychology, a process of exploration. How can you include something from a programmatic approach like assertiveness training?” There are two answers. First, good assertiveness training is also exploratory and based on the expansion of awareness as well as being programmatic. The “program” arises out of the exploration and awareness. Second, I find it appropriate only occasionally, and only when “pure” gestalt work has led to clear awareness of maladaptive behavior but the client keeps falling back into the old patterns and fails to behave differently. In this context, “assertiveness” can be a misnomer, for the methodological approach can be used with someone who needs to become more respectful and courteous toward others just as well as with someone who needs to learn to stand his or her ground.

With existential and phenomenological approaches, what I borrow is less often methods than attention to particular phenomena, or classes of phenomena, that have had a tendency to be overlooked in Gestalt therapy. These too are appropriately part of a holistic gestalt perspective, even though some gestalt training institutes do not emphasize them. In the present brief overview, I merely mention this outlook and not to delve into it in depth, which would require extended discussion of the work of such figures as Carl Rogers, Rollo May, Abraham Maslow, Soren Kierkegaard, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, James Bugenthal, Sidney Jourard, and others. That is a project for another day.

2-4-14

Inquirers and Denyers -Two Attitudes of Mind

Mental flexibility and rigidity is a crucial matter. Either one is usually both an attitude and a habit. Yesterday as I was reading posts about the polar vortex’s possible contributions to the January 2014 extreme colds and storms in the Eastern U.S., (and much less publicized, climate scientists’ opinions that it may also be causing the blocking high pressure area off northern California that has given the usually rainy and foggy winters of the redwood country less rain in the last year than the desert cities of San Diego and Phoenix, which has caused my spring to stop running), I noticed something interesting. The intelligent and thoughtful comments tended to include a lot of detail and information about diverse phenomena related to climate change, whereas the boorish comments that insulted previous posters, primarily by people who denied that any changes in climate are actually occurring, were for the most part devoid of any knowledge or details about real phenomena. They just parroted opinions of others who thought similarly.

As I read, it occurred to me that those who posted almost all the comments could easily be labelled “INQUIRERS” or “DENYERS.” An Inquirer is somone who actively seeks out diverse best available information about something, usually from a variety of different kinds of sources and in considerable detail. A Denier is someone who forms opinions based on repeating what others have said and does not go looking for additional information in anything resembling an openminded way. They know what they believe and don’t want anyone to question it. Reminds me of a time many years ago when in the middle of a discussion a friend said, “Victor, you really don’t like to be contradicted, do you/” It hit me like a brick. I had viewed myself as SO OPENMINDED. But what she said was so true at that moment in that context that I had to admit it. It was the beginning of a long-term change in attitude. Now when I find myself stubbornly holding onto some belief or opinion despite what others say, my discipline is to NOTICE THAT I’M DOING SO and then say something like, “Of course, I may be mistaken.”

For all you denyers out there, please understand this: The main thing you are doing is defending your self-centered egos. You believe that you are not an OK person if your belief about something is wrong. The reality is that there is no dishonor in changing your mind, in acknowledging that you were mistaken about something. Dishonor lies in snotty, judgmental put-downs of others who disagree with you. THAT’s small minded. THAT closes down your ability to grow, to change, to discover. If that’s not the case with you, you can ask yourself: “What’s in it for you to hang on so tightly to you attitude, belief, opinion, or preconception?” What about it are you attached to? The approval of others who are parroting the same opinions? Or . . .? Doing the best you can to answer that question in an honest way could be an important step in your life.

Of course my classification of online commenters, and for that matter everybody else, into Inquirers and Denyers is urealistically dualistic. Actually people are not just one or the other, but hold attitudes along a continuum that runs from flexible openmindedness to rigid clinging to their preconceptions. Many people fall somewhere in the middle. It appears to me that fewer of those in the middle tend to make online comments than Inquirers and Denyers. And some Inquirers dig up a lot of information to support their views but are nonetheless rigid and judgmental. Little in the realm of the human psyche is totally cut-and-dried, either THIS or THAT. (Back to Venn Diagrams and mathematical set theory for the demonstration.) But in the clouds of bloggers, comment posters, and purveyors of editorial opinions (so labeled or disguised as so-called “news”), an great many of the aforementioned authors sound like either Inquirers or Denyers.

Note: I have used the spelling “denyers” instead of “deniers” because the dictionary defines the latter as “a unit of weight by which the fineness of silk, rayon, or nylon yarn is measured,” and “a French coin, equal to one twelfth of a sou, which was withdrawn from use in the 19th century.”

Fracking: “Trade Secrets” vs. Health — Fixing a Law that’s Upside Down

Some laws that regulate extractive mineral operations are just plain upside down. Take fracking. Companies that use the process don’t have to tell ANYONE what’s in the cocktails of chemicals they use because it’s a “trade secret” that the laws exempt from disclosure. Even when some of the substances in those cocktails are known carcinogens, or known to be otherwise poisonous or harmful to the health of humans and animals, and even though some of that fluid often ends up in the water supply for drinking or irrigation, the companies can keep it secret and keep on knowingly injecting poisons into the earth and the water. And with offshore wells, into the ocean, as has been done in the Santa Barbara channel.

I label that as criminal. The corporations doing it are criminal and the corporate employees who are doing it are criminals–all the way from the CEO and members of the Board of Directors who are in the know to the chemists who concoct the chemical brew to the workmen who are actually drilling the holes and pumping in the chemical brew. And the politicians who write the laws that let them do it and let them keep their formulas secret are criminals. Every one of them ought to be sent to jail or barred from political office.

The basic question is simple and the answer is obvious. What is more important–the good health of the people who live in the regions that are getting fracked, or the maximization of fracking companies’ profits? It is that simple. And the answer is obvious to any thinking person who is honest with himself or herself.

Personally I applaud the states that have banned the process of fracking completely, and I’d like to see it banned in coastal waters that are under federal authority. But I have no power to do that in states or countries where the fracking companies are paying off the politicians to let them keep on using the process. But even there, I think there may be a fairly straightforward solution. Establish an agency that oversees tracking and ban anyone who has been employed by the fracking industry from working in it. That agency will employ some bonded employees who are trained in both chemistry and toxicology. They and no one else will have access to the formulas of any substance used in tracking, and their job will be to make sure that no toxic substance is included, and to test batches of tracking fluid to make sure they are compliant. “Bonded” in this case means that they are sworn not to disclose the contents of these fluids to anyone except for informing the personnel in the agency who are empowered to stop the company from using them or to shut down the operation. Disclosure to a competitor would carry a penalty great enough to deter the bonded chemist-toxicologist from any temptation to so disclose. Such a procedure would probably provide adequate protection of the public’s health. If the politicians or tracking companies are unwilling to go along with that, then the people should rise up, stop the operations entirely, and toss the franking politicians.

The Perils of Self-Righteousness

man with sword raised facing backward on horse at edge of cliff

We all have our pet peeves. One of mine is self-righteousness. “I am good and righteous and just and you are bad and maybe even wicked and evil.” Not that I never fall into it myself, but I try to notice it and pull out when I do. What are the earmarks? The self-righteous person fancies himself or herself better than others who think or act differently, or who look or sound different. If it’s one of your own tendencies, the chances are you don’t much notice it. You think you’re just in touch with reality. If it’s someone else and you agree with them, you may react that same way. But if you’re anything like me, you probably curl your lip with distaste and dislike (even if only internally and invisibliy) when someone else gets into a self-righteous schtick. It may be a raving rant like many of the venomous online “comments” sections or it may be snide and subtle, but either way it has several unfortunate effects.

First, it often involves projection, a common and often destructive psychological mistake that can easily torpedo our relationships. In projection I see you as the living incarnation of whatever qualities I dislike and refuse to recognize in myself. I deny my own inner reality and experience, project it onto you, and then either denigrate you or try to exterminate you, as if in doing so I could get rid of the disliked and unrecognized qualities in me. The projector does this over and over and over again. It is highly visible, and almost always present, in the phenomenon of self-righteousness.

Second, whether it appears in religion, politics, or in a marriage or other couples relationship, it often leaves whatever sense of shared community we might have had in tatters. After an incident or two, if you’re on the receiving end of the self-righteousness will always be at least a little on guard, at least somewhat reluctant to reveal your thoughts and feelings. This leads to a more distant relationship.

Third, you just might want to get the self-righteous SOB back, especially in contexts like politics and religion where in-group imperialism often runs rampant – WE are better than those other jerks and we’re going to run things our way and impose our ways on them. You end up with results like male committees and legislatures making decisions about women’s reproductive rights that take away women’s freedom (in some cases in direct violation of their own professions of a libertarian ideology). That can lead to a lot of bitterness and desire for revenge.

Fourth, self-righteousness often requires a person to lie to himself or herself. In something like eighty or ninety percent of situations there are at least two or three viable ways of looking at the situation, and sometimes half a dozen ways or more. The ability to consider such multiple perspectives increases internal communication within oneself and also increases a person’s creativity. A self-righteous attitude requires you to deny the possible validity of every view except your own. It commits you to your own monologue and makes it very difficult to engage in any potentially constructive dialogue. And who wants to listen to know-it-all blowhards besides people who already agree with them?

Finally, to anyone with the eyes and ears to see and hear, it boils down to ego. “I’m better than you are.” We’re better than they are.” And then it all to easily sildes into, “and so I’m justified in doing whatever I want to you,” or “we’re justified doing whatever we wish to them.” And of course often it turns into being the other way around. The organization, or our authorities, or some other influence requires me to do terrible things to you, and so I slide into the lie of self-righteousness to justify it.

But in the end, development as a person occurs when we work on shrinking our self-centered egocentrism, not when we inflate it. Self righteousness takes us in the wrong direction.

Barry Goldwater Was a Champion of Reproductive Rights

Texas demonstration

In Texas and numerous other states middle-aged white men who claim to want to get government off people’s backs are climbing onto women’s backs and causing great unnecessary suffering. What did some of the great Republicans of the past think?

BARRY GOLDWATER said, “A lot of so-called conservatives think I’ve turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. That’s a decision that’s up to a pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders on the religious right.”

BARRY GOLDWATER’S WIFE PEGGY was co-founder of Arizona Planned Parenthood in 1937. “We knew family planning could relieve a great deal of human suffering,” wrote Peggy in a local magazine piece. Today their granddaughter is a clinic volunteer and Planned Parenthood Board Member

First Lady BETTY FORD said, “Any woman should have the right to a safe and legal abortion.”

GERALD FORD declared “In this Land of the Free, it is right, and by nature it ought to be, that all men and all women are equal before the law.”

In 1964 DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER whom I consider to have no close competition as the best Republican president of the 20th Century) and Harry Truman served together as bipartisan honorary co-chairs of Planned Parenthood.

BUT THEN Ronald Reagan became an errand-boy for the Vatican. “American policy was changed as a result of the Vatican’s not agreeing with our policy,” explains [Reagan’s Vatican ambassador] William Wilson. “AID sent people from [the Department of State] to Rome, and I’d accompany them to meet the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and in long discussions they finally got the message.” (Democrat Jimmy Carter was not a lot better. He named anti-family planning zealot John H. Sullivan to head USAID.) If current Republicans truly believe in getting government off people’s backs, they will go back to following Barry Goldwater’s intelligent principle of leaving women to make their own decisions about their own bodies.

The American Women’s Freedom Movement Declaration offers one possible path to a solution:

“WOMEN OF AMERICA, UNITE! Any law, rule, or custom that limits women’s rights or freedoms more than men’s is exploitive, unacceptable gender discrimination. We will not vote for, and will actively work against any candidate who supports such a law, rule, or custom. We will withhold all financial support from any political party or religious organization that supports such discrimination. We will consider permanently leaving any such party or other organization to join with sisters and brothers who actively oppose such restrictions. In whatever ways we find appropriate (which may go so far as to include days of fasting and prayer during which no work may be performed and no items will be bought) we actively commit to achieving full freedom for all women to live their lives and control their bodies as they choose, without gender-related discrimination, domination, or oppression of any kind. We invite all men who support women’s self-determination to join us.”

What the U.S. Should Not Be Doing: Using Depleted Uranium Weapons

DLU2

I see in the news that Obama says Assad has “crossed the red line” in Iran by using nerve gas against the revolutionaries, and that in response, the U.S. will begin sending weapons to the insurgents. This may be a good thing. Assad is certifiably evil (with evil defined as doing intentional and avoidable great harm to others to serve one’s own selfish interests). How wise is it for the U.S. to get involved? I can’t say, because all I know is what the mainstream media prints, and that’s usually notoriously biased toward presenting the narrative of the ruling power elite (i.e. both Democrats and Republicans and the military-industrial complex plutocrats who are the only ones guaranteed to win every war.)

But there is another dimension to this whole story. Nerve gas is certainly very bad. AND this is yet another instance in which it is easy to condemn what Those Other Guys are doing while conveniently ignoring our own similar actions. For years I have been trying not to think about the GIs with Gulf War syndrome and the many dead and deformed babies born in certain areas of Iraq ever since Gulf War I, and I just can’t not think about it and not say something about it any longer.

In 1991 during the George H.W. Bush administration, the U.S. began using armor-piercing depleted uranium (DU) warheads on artillery shells, and later expanded into using non-depleted uranium (NDU) warheads as well. “We” (I pay U.S. income tax, so I guess I’m complicit, even if unwillingly) have used them ever since and are still using them in Afghanistan. They are a stable of rounds fired from tanks and A-10 warthog airplanes. Now they are even used in rifle ammo and a new, ultra-deadly variety of cluster bombs. There are plausible reports that they are being used on drone warheads. Upon explosion, they mix with the dust, becoming part of the land itself for the next few million years. When our own troops breathe that dust, it is a deadly affliction, having been reliably verified as playing a part in the Gulf War Syndrome (U.S. Department of Defense denials notwithstanding). Radioactive poisoning of the people who live in the area has resulted in epidemics of dead and grotesquely deformed babies, and a sharp rise in cancer rates and other related affliction, including double and triple forms of cancer such as had never before been seen in the target areas. Under Republican and Democratic presidents alike, we used these weapons in Iraq, Kosovo, Libya, and Afghanistan, where we are still using them.

It is a strange irony: The United States has rightly strongly opposed nuclear proliferation in the form of “big bomb” weapons. It has exercised restraint by never using the “tactical nukes” that were deployed in Europe during the Cold War. Yet it now uses DU and NDU battlefield nuclear weapons every day, radioactively contaminating the areas where they are used for longer than you or I can even imagine. Moreover, the U.S. has now exported them to the military forces of more than 29 other countries. The army knew how dangerous they are long before it deployed them in Iraq and even made a training film to warn soldiers about touching DU contaminated dust – a film which was not shown to most Gulf War soldiers to prepare them for using those weapons.

One of the photos in the Google gallery shows two people carrying a banner that says simply, “Depleted Uranium is a crime against humanity and the earth.” I personally view the use of DU weapons as one of the most reprehensible war crimes occurring in the world today. “Wait a minute,” you may say. “I thought we were the good guys.” You’re right—we were—in World War II. That was a while back. Today—well . . . . if some other country were using DU weapons against Americans on American soil, how would you feel about it? The only way good guys can remain good guys is through relentless self-examination, and willingness to see when we have strayed into doing things that are not so good, so that we know enough to stop.

There is a massive cover-up of all this. The use of DU and NDU weapons is almost never mentioned in the news, even though it has been estimated that one out of every three rounds fired in Afghanistan today has a uranium warhead. The term “battlefield nuclear weapons” is never used, even though it is an accurate descriptive term. Project Censored, which covers “the news that doesn’t make the news” has run numerous stories about the use of such weapons, and it still doesn’t make the news. USA TODAY founding editor John Hanchette prepared an extensive story on such weapons , then was warned by the Pentagon not to run it, and shortly afterward was replaced as editor of the newspaper. But now, the information is widely available if you want it –even on YouTube videos.

All things considered, I suspect that the use of these battlefield nuclear weapons is far worse than the use of nerve gas, because they linger in the environment forever, waiting to poison the children of the children of the children of the children of the people who were alive when they were first used. It appears to me that the only sane alternative is to stop manufacturing them and stop using them – totally and completely. Unless we demand this, we are all complicit in their continued use.

One fina note: At the end of page 39 of a Google search for “depleted uranium weapons and dead babies,” there is this note: “In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 387 already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.” (If you go to Google Images and enter “depleted uranium weapons and dead babies”, be prepared to see strangely grotesque and frightening distortions of the human form.) You can also go to YouTube or any search engine and do other searches, such as “depleted uranium weapons and Gulf War syndrome,” “depleted uranium weapons production and cancer rates,” and “depleted uranium weapons and media censorship.” All those searches have the usual ten pages of entries at the bottom and the word “next” to keep on going. And in the full circle department, in the last search I did, there was the entry “US media censor uranium weapons stories. Depleted uranium turns to poison gas.” Poison gas! – doesn’t that sound something like what Assad is said to be doing?
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The Divine Mother Returns – Amma at San Ramon

Amma

THE DIVINE MOTHER RETURNS: A REPORT FROM AMMA’S ASHRAM

I went over to San Ramon to see Amma (the “hugging mother” a.k.a. Sri Mata Amritanandamayi) twice last week. The front wall behind the stage was done over since last year. Originally it had a style of Zen simplicity, with visible natural wood everywhere. Now it has been redone India style, with ornate decorations. I am guessing that her Indian disciples who live here in America made the changes.
Amma usually comes to her California ashram twice a year, once in summer and once in winter, as part of her U.S. Tour. We’ve also seen her in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Paris, and my wife and our daughter have seen her in Dallas. Yes, I got a wonderful hug.
Since the content of the talks and the meditations are minor variations on a few core themes (just as in every religious or spiritual tradition), it’s reasonable to wonder why I keep coming back year after year. A central reason is that my wife’s devotion is greater than my own, so that for her there is no question about going as often as possible during Amma’s brief visit. Personally, I am more logical and less devotional. I have seen and heard a great many preachers and gurus and swamis in my time, but none as overflowing with unconditional love as Amma. She is one of the great living Bhakti yogis. She is also a Great Goddess figure, a living incarnation of the Divine Mother. I am keenly aware that Yours Truly has a number of steps to go on the path to being filled with unconditional love, and am not at all confident that I will come close to that point in this lifetime, but I know of no better condition of spiritual evolution to aspire to. And the best way I know to move in that direction is to hang out with someone who manifests that in their everyday life. Amma’s joyful way of being, her loving embrace, her radiation of a loving presence toward everyone — these are what draw the countless masses to her appearances.
She is also a first rate intellect, a jnana yogi She shares with Brazil’s former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva the distinction of having reached just the fourth grade in school. Now she is chancellor of a university with five campuses and a medical school, and has a powerful commitment to encouraging education. She must surely have composed far more devotional chants than anyone else alive, and together with her bajan group (a remarkable company of Indian musicians), produced innumerable CD’s of them. In regard to books, I can only wish i were a fraction as productive. (But there’s my ego again!)
As for karma yoga, or selfless service, you can go online and witness the countless millions she has raised to feed and clothe people and provide medical care and even huge numbers of new houses after natural disasters like the great Southeast Asia and India tsunami, the Bihar floods, Hurricane Katrina, and the Fukushima tsunami and reactor meltdown. (If you’re interested, see http://www.embracingtheworld.org/amma/ )All around the world it is nothing less than miraculous. And she inspires countless others to extend her work. (For example, my wife collects extra food from a local supermarket and drops it off at homeless shelters in Amma’s name.) Amma’s entourage, with its very extensive portable infrastructure that accompanies her tours in (much of it trucked from place to place by 18-wheel semis), is also a remarkable example of a huge organization run by volunteers in a spirit of serving the divine spirit.
If all that were not enough, Amma is an accomplished Raja yogi. She has developed her own meditation procedure and now her disciples teach it in an all-day workshop at her retreats.
In all this, although her centering place is the Vedic, Upanishadic, Hindu, Yogic, and Vedantic tradition of the Sanatan Dharma, she acknowledges that Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and other great spiritual teachers and saints were also realized beings who were working toward the same end of helping their followers realize the divine spirit in their human lives. Like the great yogis stretching back to the Vedas, Amma aspires to help people connect with others and other living beings in that realm where we are all sparks of the same fire of divine life. If all that were not enough, it takes place within the context of a pervasive ecological consciousness. She is acutely aware that humanity is reducing our planetary ecosphere’s ability to support all kinds of life, human and nonhuman alike, year after year after year, and she is dedicated to stopping and reversing that process.
Those are the headlines. I sat writing most of this in the temple in her ashram on a Friday afternoon between the day program and the evening program. The electric company had a major outage in the nearest city due to too many air conditioners running on a very hot day, so all the electricity was out. The 5 PM chanting workshop was cancelled, and they were hoping to get the generators on by 6:30 for the meditation and talk that begins the evening session, so I had a chance to write this. I am a bit surprised that Amma does not have the power to intervene and magically get the regular power source working again–but I imagine she may be a bit tired after all this morning’s hugs, and taking a rest, so that restoring power is left to disciples whose divine power is rather less than her own. (It was “amateur electrician hour” as they struggled to get all the sound equipment working off the generator, but finally they succeeded.)
That’s all, folks. Day after day, week after week, it seems incredible that she is so relentlessly untiring, but as Amma says, “As long as these arms have the strength to keep reaching out and comforting people, I will be doing it.”
(Her main website is http://amma.org)

Mists of mystification: The confusing words “conservative” and “liberal” often mean the opposite of what they seem to.

“The enemy isn’t conservatism. The enemy isn’t liberalism. The enemy is bullshit.” Lars-Erik Nelson

There is a major political divide between those who commonly label themselves “conservatives” and “liberals.” Barry Goldwater had a fairly clear vision of conservatism that has been largely lost. He defined it as “economic, social, and political practices based on the successes of the past.” He wrote that the conscience of a conservative was “pricked by anyone who would debase the dignity of the individual human being.” He later said he should have said, “pricked by anyone or any action that debases human dignity.” When asked, “Doesn’t poverty debase human dignity?” he replied, “Of course it does,” and added that “If family, friends, and private charity cannot handle the job, the government must.” Finally, he said, “Politics is the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order”—an almost perfect statement of an “individual libertarian” outlook. (That perspective is defined below.)

“Liberals,” as the word was typically used in the 20th century, trust reason and intellect to find new solutions to problems that old solutions have not dealt with well. They emphasize compassion, kindness, decency, equality of opportunity, political equality, and the welfare of ordinary working people. They are more inclined to support government action to realize positive social goals than conservatives, with special emphasis on eliminating discrimination against people who are poor or different from the majority. They tend to be more suspicious of big corporations than of big government, and favor government regulation to protect people’s health and well-being. (Oddly enough, in the 19th Century, “liberal” meant just the opposite—it meant those who favored big business dominance and government support for big business over working people.) “Progressives” have a lot in common with liberals, but are more likely to oppose foreign wars and to try to defend Earth’s ecosystems against pollution and dissolution.

In recent decades those labels have become so misleading that I use them only with quotation marks. The quotation marks mean, “Don’t believe almost anything you think this label means.” My dictionary defines conservative as “holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation.” It defines liberal as “Open to new behavior or opinions and favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform.” But these days those definitions often get turned upside down. In my region, many “liberals” tend to want to keep the towns and countryside pretty much as they have been, while many “conservatives” bulldoze every living thing to bare earth and build huge new suburbs and business and shopping developments—in other words, they make radical changes. The “liberals” are more likely to be content with modest lifestyles, while the “conservatives” are more likely to build palatial homes and multiple very pricey vacation retreats and spend lavishly on upscale cars. It’s just plain crazy to speak of those who are maiming ecosystems as “conservative,” and equally crazy to label those who are trying to stop that damage as “liberal” or “radical,” because the very opposite is true: Those who are trying to protect the good health of an ecosystem are acting conservatively, and those wanting to change it quickly and in large-scale ways are acting radically. The explanation, of course, is that by “conservative,” people often mean conserving their privileges, wealth, and status –or their knee jerk ideologies– rather than conserving real things in the world.

The Keystone XL pipeline is an example. It would carry oil 1,700 miles from Canadian tar sands (the most environmentally destructive, climate-hostile of all methods of oil extraction)—is that itself “conservative?”) from the facilities of multinational corporations that own the rights to extract the oil to a refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, which would export much of it\. It would not even help solve the U.S. energy problem. Who opposed the pipeline? Above all, farmers and ranchers in Nebraska and neighboring states afraid that pipeline leaks would pollute the precious Ogallala aquifer (vital for drinking water and agriculture) and oppose the U.S. government seizing their land and giving it to a Canadian oil consortium. To me that’s pretty conservative. But Shell oil, Valero oil, Exxon-Mobil, Koch Industries, the French oil company Total, and the Saudi Arabian government tried to paint themselves as the “conservatives” in that contest, and paint the farmers and ranchers as the radicals. Those companies spent about 37 times more supporting the pipeline than was spent by citizens who opposed it. It’s an airtight case that the oil companies were really the wild screaming radicals in that contest. (Kudos to President Obama for vetoing XL and to the thousands of citizens who pressed him to do so, from withholding campaign contributions to demonstrating on the White House lawn, where hundreds were arrested.) Similarly, Valero and another Texas oil company, Tesoro, tried to hoodwink California voters into passing a 2010 ballot measure that would have scrapped that state’s strongest law preventing air pollution. There also, calculated misuse of the “C” word turns everything upside down.

“Conservative” may mean conserving old vested interests, beliefs, attitudes, and habits. It is less often applied to conserving practices that protect and enhance people’s freedom, equality, and opportunity. Too bad.

With “liberal” we need to ask, “liberate what, or whom?” “Liberalize what restrictive rules, laws, or procedures? (That’s often important to business, and is a first-rate idea when the restrictions are not really protecting anything or anybody.) With “progressive,” the questions are “progress toward what? In what ways?” The term can be used for progressing in directions that neither you nor I would like at all. In that context it is as meaningless as “reform.” For instance, we could “progress” toward a more lenient or a more restrictive immigration policy. Many “social liberals” favor the former, while many “liberal environmentalists” favor the latter. The generic labels do not tell us much. And there is the additional confusion that until the Twentieth Century, “liberal” meant allowing big business unlimited power, both domestically and in international affairs. In the latter case, that included access to the armed forces to further its agendas.
For the most part I find all these terms to be conceptual toxic waste that leaves people confused and befuddled about the realities that underlie them. I prefer to bury them and be much more specific and precise in our thinking, discussion, and action.

SOLUTIONS

• Be very suspicious of these and other vague generalities and metaphors. Often such terms are meant to trigger conditioned emotional responses that short – circuit direct awareness and critical and creative thinking. Instead, we can speak more precisely, so that people respond to specific concrete events and policies instead of emotionally charged, knee-jerk, muddleheaded catchphrases that lump disparate items together.

• Develop a nose for bullshit, even when it is consistent with your inclinations. For starters, be on your toes for blatant contradictions. For instance, “’Senator Schmucko will lead the fight against big government spending and taxes, and he’ll protect your security by voting to build twelve new aircraft carriers and thirty new nuclear submarines.”

• Warren Buffett’s remark about integrity applies to the politicians we hire to be our legislators and presidents as well as to businesspersons. Richard Nixon was an example of a brilliant man who lacked integrity. Had he developed that quality in himself, he could have been an excellent president. We need to put the element of character high on our list when we elect people to public office at all levels.

This blog is lifted and slightly retwritten from The Radical Wrong . . . Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln & Others Refute Right – Wing Extremists. (There are a number of free downloads at the site, and you can get the whole thing as an e-book for $4.24 to $4.95. )