Friday, August 14, 2009

The Return of Michael Vick

The Eagles signed Michael Vick. Wow! The amount of controversy this has created is unbelievable. I have been listening to the radio to hear some of the thinking surrounding this issue. Quite a few callers are outraged: How can a man who has done such a cruel and inhumane thing be given another chance? Callers have threatened to never go to another Eagles game. Some have gone so far as say they will become New York Giants fans.

More than anything this is an interesting perspective on our culture. I question whether or not this subject deserves the amount of attention it is given. It seems that there are much more important matters to ponder than whether or not Michael Vick should be allowed to play football. I mean, the President of the United States lied about having sex with a young girl in the white house and was allowed to keep his job. Football is a violent sport. It does not require great sensitivity or intellectual strength. Football players are trained from a young age to focus their violence and anger on the opposition. It should not be surprising when they make poor decisions in real life.And, Michael Vick spent two years in jail paying for his mistake. He lost millions of dollars. There is no law against him going back to a job that requires a competitive and aggressive attitude.

I personally do not have a strong opinion about whether Michael Vick plays for the Eagles or not. If he can help them win, I favor his playing. What aggravates me is the degree of anger and outrage that people have towards this decision. I just can't understand how anyone can be so positive that this decision is anti-American, anti-life, anti-goodness, and represents everything that is wrong with our world. I mean, sure he did a bad thing, but how can you be sure that he doesn't deserve a second chance? How can you judge someone so harshly, even though he has paid a big price and appears to be repentant for his actions.

I love sports. On one level I know that it is not as important as I make it. But, in a confusing world it is one of the few areas where there are clear cut choices and decisions. One of its attractions is that it is a way to escape from the problems and struggles of ordinary life. I don't mind any arguments or discussions that concern the intricacies of strategies or the relative strengths and weaknesses of players and teams. I consider this fun. I'm not thrilled, though when people use sports as a platform for the promotion of other agendas and viewpoints. It seems like it takes the fun out of it. I'd love to see the Eagles win the Super Bowl and Michael Vick score the winning touchdown. I'm sure this will end all the controversy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Passing of Cousin Marvin

My mother just called me to tell me that my cousin Marvin will be dead tonight. They had just pulled the plugs that were keeping him alive . Although he was still breathing, she said he would be dead before the night was over. This was not a surprise. He fell down a couple of days ago, hit his head, was rushed to the hospital, and had been in a coma with no chance of recovery since the accident. It was his wish that he not be kept alive if he could not live normally.

I loved and respected my cousin. He was an inspiration to me when I was young. He was idolized by my father who considered Marvin one of the smartest guys in America. The story in our family was that he had the fourth highest IQ of any soldier in World War II. He was a lawyer, a movie producer, and ultimately a college professor. He introduced me to Clarence Darrow, one his heroes who ultimately became one of mine. He seemed to know everything about history, politics, and literature, and was a great story teller with literally thousands of stories. He could talk, and usually did for hours, about his time in Japan after the War, his days as an entertainment lawyer, and what it was like growing up in my family during the depression in Newark New Jersey.

He told me about my Uncle Izzy who was a gambler and street person and was always surrounded by beautiful women until he died at age 100. He spoke of my Aunt Fanny who also lived to a 100 Marvin's mother, my Aunt Pauline died at 102. Marvin was only 85 when he died, but he was active until the last day of his life. One of his problems and one of his strengths was that he never complained no matter what was bothering him physically or emotionally. He fell because he did not take his walker with him to a restaurant he was going to with a friend. He felt he was OK and didn't need it. He was the youngest 85 year old person you could possibly know, mainly because he never accepted that he was old.

One of the things that interested me most about him was that he was an atheist who did not consider the existence of God as even possible. Yet he was constantly reading and studying books about Judaism and his best friends were a female congregational minister, and a Muslim women who followed the teachings of the Aga Khan. His second wife who died before him, was a religious Catholic from the Phillipines. For many years with his wife and later with his friends he attended Church on a regular basis. When I questioned him about it he said it was no big deal, although I suspected that he was a little more open than he admitted.

He was a true intellectual, a student and a teacher. Most of those who knew him marvelled at his wealth of knowledge and his unlimited stories. As smart as he was though, and he was really smart he seemed to lose all of his logic when it came to gambling. For the last twenty years of his life, what he primarily wanted to talk to me about were his gambling theories. For the past five years he had been working on a baseball betting system that he believed would make him and me rich. He would call me every few days with an update on his results. He bet every game every day. He spent a couple of days a week at OTB betting the ponies. He actually gave me a tip last year on a horse that won at 9-1. I shared it with my friend Marty who won $1500.00 on the race and was every grateful to Cousin Marvin.

For some reason, I'm not sad at his passing. He had a tough life in many ways but was able to deal with all kinds of problems and bounce back from many different setbacks. He was optimistic and seemed to enjoy himself up until his last days. I guess you can't ask for much more.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hitting the Bad Beat Jackpot

I've been playing poker on the internet approximately 20 hours per week for three years. I play an average of 100 hands per hours or 2000 per week. That's 104,000 hands per year or over 300,000 hands in three years. One of the reasons I play is to win the Bad Beat Jackpot. The jackpot is hit approximately once very 300,00 hands. The question is whether or not, because I have played over 300,000 hands, am I due to hit the jackpot.

This is a mathematical question regarding probability theory. The academic mathematical view would be that the fact I have not hit the Bad Beat in 300,000 hands does not affect the probability for future hands. In other words on every hand I am a 300,000-1 shot. Although I might be a little out of control in this area, I don't think I agree with this. It seems logical to me that if the laws of probability are going to hold up, they have to equalize the situation at some point. If you flip a coin and it lands on heads twenty times in a row, at some point in the future more tails are going to have to come up to make it 50-50 heads vs tails. Although it also might be true that more tails came up in the past and this is equalizing the 20 heads.

I got a letter from my insurance company stating that that there is a 26% chance that my house will be completely flooded one time in thirty years, the life of the mortgage. Does that mean that every year it doesn't flood there is a greater chance it will flood in the next year? If it doesn't flood for 25 years should I be concerned that there is a high probability it will flood in the next five years. Mathematically, the answer is no, unless weather patterns have changed.

One of the ways to look at reality is through mathematics. Every event that you can imagine has a probability of occurrence attached to it. There is a probability that you will find your soul mate in the next 30 days. There is a probability that you will find an attache case filled with hundred dollar bills. There is also a probability that you will be struck by lightning or get a parking ticket. There is a probability that you will be laid off or that you will find a new job. Every event that can possibly happen has a probability of happening.

Can you influence the probability of an occurrence with your mind? Can you increase its probability or liklihood through your thoughts? If you can than there is a reality that is higher than mathematics. It is this reality that is at the core of most spiritual and religious beliefs. It is this reality that we are just beginning to understand scientifically. It is this reality that I believe will enable me to hit the Bad Beat. I think I better get back to poker before I miss my chance.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Questionable Benefits of Chaos

My life has been a little hectic lately. Not that I mind. I thrive on chaos. I actually specialize in creating confusion and mayhem. I used to do it naturally without even thinking. This changed though when I became involved in the Fourth Way. This is a teaching whose basic principle is that we are very mechanical in our actions and thoughts. We need to break through the chains of our habits if we want to develop ourselves and become more conscious. When I started studying this philosophy I interpreted this to mean that any actions that create discomfort and change are good. Chaos was actually a preferred state. I embraced this wholeheartedly. My tendency to create upheaval was no longer a liability. I could now do it and rationalize that it was helping everyone around me.

Sometimes though it gets a little out of hand. I think this is what's going on in my life now. First of all we have had guests at our house nonstop. This is not necessarily bad. Matter of fact we bought our beach house so that people would want to come and visit us. We figured it would be a way that we could attract our kids and grandkids. The problem is that we did not realize how much effort it takes to constantly entertain We also did not expect the amount of people that would be coming and the length of time they would be staying.

My daughter has been down three times in the last six weeks. Each time she has called to tell me she would be coming down with a friend to relax. Each time she showed up with a minimum of four friends and each time within 24 hours at least 2-3 additional friends or their boy friends showed up. For the most part they behaved reasonably except they were up all night, usually getting to bed by 6 am and sleeping most of the day. Plus most of them smoke. I love my daughter and enjoy spending time with her and really don't want to limit her enjoyment and feeling that this is her house also.

My friend Marty visited us also a couple of weeks ago. He stayed eight days. I love being with him and arguing about politics and life but after a while it does wear me down. He smokes two packs a day, talks non-stop in an extremely loud voice, and is constantly critical of me. I still felt badly when he left.

My step-daughter in law and her sister showed up a few days ago, Both darling girls. They decided they wanted to go out at night and asked us if we would watch our grandson. They said he would be no problem. He had just been fed, diaper changed and was expected to sleep the night. They went out around 11:30. At 11:45 he was up and crying. He cried for over an hour straight. He then seemed to get a burst of energy and was crawling all over, getting into one dangerous situation after another. My wife and I were exhausted. It was 2:00 in the morning. Our normal bedtime is 10:00. This is what grandparents do, though. Plus our daughter-in-law doesn't have it easy and deserves a break whenever she can get it.

Although I am effected by all this activity, it is my wife who bears the brunt of it. She feels compelled to keep the house neat and make sure everyone is fed and enjoying themselves. Last night was the first night in a while there was no one here. She went to bed early to catch up on some much needed sleep. I stayed downstairs to catch up on episodes of Entourage and True Blood.

When I finally decided to go to bed I couldn't find the remote. I literally spent 45 minutes looking for it. Finally, since I did not know how to turn off the tv, I went upstairs to ask for my wife's help. I had to wake her up. Her first comment was, "your're a moron." I didn't take it personally. She did go downstairs and found the remote in some hidden, almost invisible part of the chair, although she probably would say it was more obviously visible.

My theory of the benefits of chaos is being tested now. I may have to moderate it somewhat.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Humility and Communication

It is very difficult to communicate ideas effectively. It is especially difficult to communicate to an audience that disagrees with you from the get-go. How can you communicate to a group of fundamentalist Christians the theory of evolution in a way that will be accepted? How can you communicate to a Pro-Choice group the evils of abortion in a way that will impact their attitudes. What about capital punishment? Is there a way to present to supporters of capital punishment a sound case for its elimination?

Communication in all cases is a challenge. When you are speaking to a hostile audience you need to be especially creative. First of all, you cannot rely only on facts. Facts are always suspect. The only time people will accept your facts without question is when they already agree with you. Secondly you need to recognize that whatever you believe to be true may not be true. How can you expect your opponents to have an open mind to a new way of seeing something when you yourself are fixed in your viewpoint? The acknowledgement, at least to yourself, that your viewpoint may not be entirely correct creates the possibility that your listener can at least begin to identify with your flexibility and willingness to see their viewpoint.

We are living in a difficult time. We are faced with major challenges in regard to potential nuclear war, economic globalization, environmental upheaval, and accelerating technological and scientific advancement. We will not be able to hold back the tide of change. We need to figure out how to move ahead and communicate with each other in a spirit of cooperation. We need to learn to accept views that are opposed to our own and communicate our views in a way that will not create resistance but will break down barriers.

In the political realm rhetoric and charisma need to be replaced by wisdom and humility. Socrates said, "The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing." This is a great starting point for any attempt to make real change in our world and deal with the multitude of challenges that face us today.

Theoretical physics is beginning to create a more detailed description of our world as one in which the reality that we see is not exactly what it seems to be and is mostly a creation of our consciousness. The theories and research of our scientists, the creative output of our poets, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and philosophers, have always led the way in our evolution as a species and the development of our society.

We need to be sensitive to the thinking of those who are not constrained by the past and who have the courage to express their vision of the future. As the Dalai Llama, the leader of a three thousand year old religion says, "If the theory of physics disproves the ideas of Buddhism, we need to change Buddhism." This is a good thought from a smart guy. We should listen and modify our communication to be more in tune with the realization that we might not be always right.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Thoughts on Creation

I was thinking about Creation today. I had recently read some material about Creation in a book about the Kaballah that seemed to make a lot of sense. I decided to Google creation myths and see what I could learn. There were only 1,920,000 entries. I read a few and then realized that if I read them all or even a small part of them I would have no time to do anything else. Let me recount some of the things that stood out.

1-There are an incredible amount of creation myths. Every tradition, every tribe in North America and Africa, every religion, every culture, and thousands of individuals have attempted to explain how we got here.

2-Those that are responsible for these myths do not believe they are myths. They believe they are sacred accounts or revealed wisdom that are accurate descriptions of the Creation. I'm sure that the originators of all these Creation stories did not believe they were literal. Some probably viewed them as the best possible way to explain a process that could not be explained by words alone, but needed to be contemplated or studied to get the deeper meaning.

3-There seems to be three general categories plus the scientific view. The first category views Creation as a process of something coming from nothing (ex nihilo if you are interested). This can be seen in the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic view of God creating the heavens and earth. There is no mention of who created God or where he came from.

The second category explains Creation as process through which God or some other supernatural being rearranged a substance like water or an animal or energy or formless matter into the world as we know it. This type of thought is usually found in the beliefs of the American Indian or African tribes. The Masai from Africa, for example, believe that humanity was fashioned from a single tree which split into three. The Iroquois and Cherokee believe that in the beginning on the earth there was just water. There were creatures in the sky though, who came down and settled the earth. There are many creation stories that describe beings or entities from the sky descending down to the earth to begin life on this planet.

The third category believes that there was no starting point. The universe is eternal, no beginning or end. The Mormons believe that there is no starting point, that all physical reality has always existed. This idea solves the problem of when did everything begin and what came before the creation but doesn't satisfactorily answer how did it happen or why did it happen.

The Kabbalistic view that interested me is that before the actual creation all that existed was pure energy or light. This light always existed. The light had a consciousness to it or you might say it was pure consciousness. The light wanted to share itself which in one sense does makes sense. If you were pure consciousness and by yourself you might want something else to share what you have or to keep you company. The light created a vessel that it could fill with its light.

The vessel could only receive the light. It could not return anything to the light. This seemed a little unfair to the vessel. The vessel wanted to share also. It had nothing to share with. The vessel decided that in order for it to share it had to restrict the light. It had to separate itself from the light. This act of restriction, according to Kaballah is what caused the creation of our universe. The vessel broke into two parts. Each part contained all female souls and all male souls.

Now that I have written this and read it back to myself it doesn't seem to make as much sense as it originally did. I think I like the views of the Buddha better. When asked how was the universe created the Buddha replied that this was not a good question. We don't know. We can't know and there are better ways to spend your time than thinking about this subject. This seems to make the most sense to me.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Meeting with My Teacher

Once every few months for the past 27 years I have been meeting with a group at a restaurant at 9th Ave. and 23rd St. in Manhattan. I started going with my first wife. I now go with my second wife. We sometimes meet my first wife there. The group is led by a women, a former psychologist in the New York City school sysem. We discuss philosophy and spiritual issues. After lunch we take a walk, go to a museum or art exhibit, and then we go to dinner where we continue our discussion.

I look forward to these days. Our discussions are very motivating and energizing to me even though I often do not understand what is being said. I have brought a number of friends with me over the years to introduce them to the group and try to get some feedback regarding the quality of the information and the ideas that are presented. I am curious about what others think because I have never been sure whether or not these discussions are crazy or extremely valuable. I must admit that at this point I feel they are valuable, although most of the people I have brought with me are not as convinced. Matter of fact, 99 per cent of people would have no interest in these conversations or think that our teacher was totally whacked out.

We probably spend four to five hours or more talking about the nature of reality. Sometimes we discuss the problems or issues of one of the group members, although personal matters are usually discussed in private with the teacher. Over the years she has given me excellent guidance in regard to business, relationships, and child-rearing . Her advice is extremely practical, straightforward, and in my mind have exemplified an excellent intutitive sense about people and life situations. All of our group value her opinions about ordinary life and have benefitted greatly from her recommendations. I would say we are fortunate to know her. She never charges or requires payment for any of her teaching or guidance although lately we have been chipping in to pay for her meals.

In regard to her spiritual thoughts, this is a little more confusing. She makes a distinction between ordinary life which she calls "the horizontal" and spiritual work which she calls the "vertical". In her opinion what happens in "the horizontal", what happens in our ordinary life is influenced by the "vertical". Matter of fact, our ordinary life is not at all what we think it is and its sole purpose is to serve the "vertical".

The "vertical" or spiritual world is ruled by a hierarchy. This hierarchy consisits of seven separate ashrams or schools. Each school is ruled by an avatar and is responsible for a specific energy. The ashrams work together to help maintain our planet and our universe. When we work on ourselves, when we strive to become more conscious, we are aligning ourselves with the vertical and usually with a specific ashram or sub-ashram.

I'm not sure how much more I should reveal about this teaching, or whether I have revealed too much, or even whether what I have revealed is true or makes any sense. What I will say is that after 27 years of very long conversations I have been given an incredible amount of information. It has affected my thinking and subtly influences the tone and ideas of my blogs. I will have to talk to my teacher and ask her what she thinks.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thoughts on Meditation

Someone who read my blog asked me a question about meditation. I think I'll use today's blog to give some of my thoughts on this subject. First of all, from my experience, meditation is very useful. I believe meditation saved my life.

I was in a car accident. A volkwagon bug I was driving was broadsided, although it probably was my fault since I pulled out into a four lane highway without paying full attention. Unfortunately, meditation didn't help my driving. I have a vague recollection of being in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. What I remember is that I was repeating my mantra while I was unconscious. After surgery, that removed my spleen, the doctor visited me in the intensive care unit to see how I was doing. He told me that I was very lucky. It seems that I had not lost as much blood as the degree of my injury would have indicated.

Meditation slows down your heart rate, breathing, and blood flow. I believe that after I had been hit I automatically slipped into my meditation mode. I think that this helped reduce my blood loss and saved my life. I really believe it. Why would I have automatically started meditating at this crucial moment? Maybe some self-preservation instinct kicked in. I'm not positive, but I always was thankful that I had been meditating at this time in my life.

There are definite scientifically proven physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits from meditation. Plus, when you meditate you begin to actually experience a state of being that is a doorway towards a new level of consciousness. What was once theoretical and a topic for discussion becomes tangible. There is a big difference between reading, studying, and talking about spiritual work and doing it.

I meditated twice a day for twenty minutes for ten years. I hardly missed a day. It drove my wife crazy because no matter where I was or what I was doing I would take time out to meditate. This is the most important part of meditation, the discipline to do it for an extended period of time.

Meditation is not complicated. There is nothing especially difficult about doing it one time. It is difficult to do it conscientiously every day for years and years. There are those who make it sound like it is an inaccessible practice available for the holy of the holy. This is not true. Anyone can learn to meditate in five minutes.

There are different forms of meditation. If you are serious about learning meditation, I would recommend learning Transcendental Meditation. This is very simple and easily accessible. All the religious accoutrements that may be attached to it are irrelevant. Matter of fact, check out to get the basic principles of TM.

Other good sources for learning about meditation are anything by Joel Goldsmith, especially "The Art of Meditation" and the "The Infinite Way." Chapter two in "Kaballah and Jewish Mysticism" by Perle Besserman may also be helpful.

I have taught the basic principles of meditation to many people throughout my life.
The only one who actually used them was my father who is an atheist and doesn't beliieve in anything mystical. Meditation is not a serious thing. It is not a heavy thing meant for those who are spiritual or religious. It is a practical tool for those who want to enjoy life, have more energy, like to travel (to different physical and mental places), and are willing to put some effort into self development. I would recommend it highly.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Who Can We Trust

The stock market boomed yesterday. The Dow was up 250 points. The stated reasons were the better than expected earnings from Goldman Sachs and Intel and the overall sense that the economy was improving. While this was happening Chief Justice nominee Sotomayor was being grilled about her opinions on abortion. She refused to give a straight answer. I don't blame her. Most people respect the analysts who comment on the rise of the stock market but are skeptical of Sotomayor who was hesitant about stating her opinions.

We live in a society in which having an uneducated or biased opinion is considered better than admitting that you don't know. The way you present yourself is much more important than what you have to say. Dressing for success qualifies you as knowledgeable. Having money especially signifies that what you say is valuable. Most of us won't admit how much we are influenced by financial success and attractive appearances. The consequences of this are that we elect good looking, wealthy politicians to most of the important positions in our country. Fortune 500 companies are run by tall, good looking, smooth talking, well groomed, Ivy League graduates.

I'm not sure if this was the case before television. Abraham Lincoln was not known for his looks. I don't think Benjamin Franklin was especially dapper or rich. John Adams was on the short side. Teddy Roosevelt, if I remember wasn't especially handsome. Neither was Herbert Hoover or William Howard Taft. In the post TV era though we had presidents with movie star looks, Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton. The Bushs' had old money and connections.

It doesn't seem that we are going to be able to solve our problems until we put a greater emphasis on intelligence and especially wisdom. We need leaders who actually can think and are willing to admit weakness. Obama is a charismatic character with a good looking wife, cute kids, and a pleasing appearance. He, at least, has a sense of humor and seems willing to show humility.
The big question is whether or not he will have the courage to recognize when he makes mistakes and be able to correct them before they cause too much damage. I also wonder whether he will be able to see the degree to which government controlled businesses and projects are wasteful and inefficient.

It is one thing to have a good idea with a worthwhile goal. It is another to execute successfully. From what I have personally seen in the mortgage modification programs, the small business programs, and the energy conservation initiatives, things are way out of control. It is going to take a major effort to get them back on track. I find myself in a difficult position. I feel those who criticize Obama are not objective but neither are those who support him. I want to believe that Obama can make a difference but I have not yet seen any evidence that he has what it takes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Beware of Experts Especially Yourself

It is always interesting to me to observe people who think they know. They speak as if they are experts about matters that are oftentimes subjective or more complex than they realize. Politics and sports are two subjects that come to mind. Walk into any bar or drive in a taxi in any large city and you will get opinions cloaked as irrefutable truths about why Obama's stimulus plan is ruining the country or why A-Rod isn't really a great hitter and hurts the Yankees.

There is no shortage of so-called experts on abortion rights, what is best for Israel, how to handle terrorism, health care reform, proper nutrition, investment strategies, and how to deal with men or women in relationships. There are those who are very accomplished at appearing to have deeply considered whatever viewpoint they are expressing. There are others who express their opinion with an impressive passion and conviction that is quite captivating. Matter of fact, I have always had an attraction for fanatics, whatever their belief, as long as it does not promote violence.

Unfortunately it is rare to find someone who really does know and is worth listening to. For the most part we must settle for not being bored or if we are lucky entertained by someone pretending or maybe even sincerely believing that what they are saying is the "god's honest truth."

When we do find someone that actually does know something of value we should consider ourselves fortunate and take advantage of it. I want to emphasizie that finding a "real" teacher or someone who has a deeper insight into any subject is not the same as reading something in a book or on the internet. Direct communication from someone who really knows is a gift that should not be taken lightly. I remember wanting to learn about juggling, I practiced and practiced and read whatever information I could find. I luckily met a guy from Israel who could juggle seven objects, unf--kenbelievable, who spent a few minutes giving me some pointers. It really made a different in my progress.

I've met a few people in my life who have had an impact on me, who have taught me something that has made a difference in my life. I am always on the lookout for anyone who really knows anything. I have found that they appear in unexpected situations and that you can't be overly judgemental when you meet someone who looks or acts a little strange. Two of the most influential people I have ever met seemed like street bums when I first saw them. Also, anyone who has real knowledge of any subject usually is not conventional. They have no interest in conforming or impressing anyone with what they know. To really know something in depth requires a level of commitment and focus that doesn't allow for wasting time on appearances.

We can't always seek out those who really know. They are often hidden. What we can do is be discriminating and not accept as true what we hear in ordinary life from "so called" experts. More importantly what we can do is not pretend that we really know or be under the illusion that our opinions or beliefs are truth. This is more difficult than it seems but it prepares us to be more open to real truth when it finds us.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Should We Take Life Seriously?

From my point of view it's not a good idea to take anything too seriously. I'm very serious about this. Consider these facts. All physical matter in the universe is made up of atoms. Atoms are 99.99% empty space. If you condense all the real matter of, say, an average kitchen table by removing all the empty space, it would be invisible to the naked eye. I read once that all the matter on the planet earth could be condensed into a basketball.

What gives objects the illusion of solidity is that the atoms that compose them are traveling very fast. They appear to be everywhere at once, like the rotors of a fan. When the rotors of a fan spin very fast they create the illusion of a solid sphere. Our entire world is an illusion created by our five senses to enable us to survive and communicate. In reality, we are living in a world of infinitesimally small objects traveling at incredible speeds. The world in which we live is in reality a creation of our minds, a construct of our consciousness.

Those that believe in a supreme being feel that our purpose is connected to whatever it is that this supreme being had in mind for us, his creation. Those that take a more scientific point of view do not attribute any grand purpose to mankind. They are not sure whether or not there is any reason for our existence other than survival and growth. Neither of these points of view is very convincing. The meaning and purpose of life (MAPOL) remains a mystery to me.

What does make sense, although it is very hard to understand the mechanism through which it operates, is that we create our own reality. Thoughts are things. Thoughts, through some unknown process, cause the reality of our world to exist. It is only because of our processing of electrical impulses and transforming them into images that matter and substance take the forms that are so familiar to us.

When you think about this, if you care to waste your time on such matters, you begin to see the world and your life a little differently. It is very encouraging to believe that you can create the life you want through transforming your thoughts into physical reality. In order to do this you need to be able to focus and visualize. You need to be able to be present in the moment and not be daydreaming about the past or future. This is why the root of all "real" spiritual traditions is meditation or prayer. These are not ways to connect to God. They are exercises that train your mind to be capable of proactively impacting your reality.

What is concerning, though, is that the world that we live in is a result of the collective thoughts or consciousness of everything that produces thought and consciousness. It might be that there are influences greater than man in this process. It may be that we have more control or less control than we imagine. We don't really know how much impact we have. We continue, though, to live our lives as if we are in soap operas taking everything that happens personally and seriously. I don't think that's such a good idea. There are much more enjoyable ways to live our lives.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dostoevsky, Roulette, and Visualization

I've always had respect for Fyodor Dostoevsky He was a brilliant writer and a deep thinker. His "Notes from the Underground" is an especially powerful insight into the mind of man and the causes of suffering. What has attracted me to Dostevsky and especially this book is that his thinking is multidimensional. He simultaneously sees that man is out of control but also capable of great courage and nobility. He rejects materialism but does not see spiritualism as the answer for man He is above all, a pragmatist. He tries to see life for what it is, not what it could or should be.

Dostoevsky was a sick gambler. He constantly lost all his money and lived his life in debt, struggling and writing under the most difficult conditions. What interested me about his gambling was his belief that although the laws of probability in the long run will bury you, there are times when these laws are suspended. There are moments where the world does not behave as it should. It is in these moments that you can win.

For years I have searched for these moments. I have come to see that there are times in gambling when the improbable does occur, that heads turns up fifteen times in a row, or there is a four hour role at the dice table. Unfortunately these improbable streaks fall into the laws of probability and it is impossible to tell when they will occur.

Can you win at gambling? I don't think that you can outsmart the laws of probability. I have had two unusual experiences in routlette, though, that have kept my mind open to the possibility that you can win. In both cases, the security guards at the casinos came up to me to question me and try to determine whether or not I was cheating. The first case occurred in Atlantic City. I picked four consecutive numbers. This is a 1.5 million to one shot. I think it was just luck.

The second case though occurred in Puerto Rico and was a little different. I arrived at my hotel around midnight. I was not tired and decided to try my luck. I was feeling very alive and upbeat. I had been day dreaming about gambling throughout the entire plane ride. This was not unusual for me since I hate flying and do whatever I can to distract myself. I must admit I also think about gambling when I am not flying. So I am not sure whether this was unusual or not.

What was unusual was the degree of confidence I had when I approached the roulette table. I decided that I would close my eyes before each roll, visualize the ball spinning around, and see it in my mind land on a number. I would then bet that number. I started off betting about ten dollars on each spin, two on the number and two each on a split bet between the number I visualized and the numbers surrounding it.

I started winning immediately. Within 10 minutes I was up over five hundred dollars and had now increased my bet to twenty-five per spin. I felt like I was in a trance. I kept visualizing and winning. Before long I had thousands of dollars in chips in front of me. It was surrealistic. I felt like I was in a different world. I wasn't excited or nervous. I was very relaxed and comfortable. I had no thoughts about what I was doing. I just kept visualizing, placing my bets, and winning. I finally noticed that there was a crowd of people behind me cheering. My spell was broken and I started to lose. I got up from the table and cashed in my chips. I had won nearly three thousand five hundred dollars.

When I look back now I do believe that there was something special that happened in that moment. I don't believe it was a suspension of the laws of probability. I believe that I had experienced the power of visualization and its ability to influence reality. I don't understand it and it has never happened again. It has cost me a lot of money though trying to recreate that moment. I do believe that there is something to visualization as a way to impact your life, but I don't think gambling is the best vehicle.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fire Marshalls and Chimney Caps

I'm not sure what bother me more the degree to which everyone around me is out of control or the degree to which I'm out of control. It depends on my state of mind in the moment. I'm a little weak at anything that has to do with repair, remodeling, refurbishing, redesigning, assembling, or use of tools. This constantly creates problems for me.

For some reason the Fire Marshall of Brigantine drove past my house a few months ago and noticed that my chimney did not have a cap on it. I never noticed that chimneys have caps. Anyway he gave us a summons for violating a fire code. We had to repair it immediately or risk further fines. I wasn't sure who to call or what to do. I actually ended up speaking to a roofer, a plumber, two handymen, and a chimney company. Since we have a gas fireplace it was a little more complicated than I could have imagined. There were many different options proposed depending on whether or not we wanted to use the fireplace and or the degree to which we were willing to risk fire, inhaling poisonous gas. or permanently damaging our roof, chimney, fireplace, and housing structure.

Not knowing what to do and not wanting to think about it, I sent a letter to the Fire Marshall asking for more time. I stated that we had contacted a number of people and that none of them could do the work immediately and that it was a more expensive project than we could afford at the moment. He agreed to postpone any further action for an undefined period of time. A few weeks ago, we received a letter stating that we needed to appear in court for violation of the Brigantine fire code.

I asked my wife to call the Fire Marshall and explain that she had been laid off, that we were a little short of cash, and that it was more complicated than we thought. He was sympathetic, but said it was out of his hands and was now in the hands of the court system. He recommended though that we probably would be better off if we had the work done before we appeared in court.

I asked my wife to handle it. I was a litle tied up with some important items and she wasn't working. She called Chimney Doctor and a few other guys who handle chimneys. Chimney Doctor came over, looked at the roof, looked in the fireplace, and stated that it would be minimum of $960.00 if we wanted to do the job right. The problem was deeper than it seemed. There was leakage in the fireplace which could escalate into a bigger problem. The best solution was some type of high tech metal that would prevent further erosion and last forever. The guy seemed sincere and knowledgeable My wife wanted to do it and end the problem and aggravation. I was in the middle of some important work and did not want to make an immediate decision. I told her to tell him that we would call him back.

The next guy came over with a ladder, climbed up on the roof, and came down with a Polaroid showing that the chimney did actually have a cap on it. It was a flat cap. It could not be seen from the street. No one, including the fire marshall, had actually climbed on the roof to get to the truth about the situation. Typical.

I immediately went to the Fire Marshall's office to show the photo of the cap and hopefully get the court appearance cancelled. He wasn't there. He was on vacation. Typical. His secretary said that she didn't think anything could be done since it was already in the court system and the fact that we actually had the cap wasn't relevant at this point.

I know that I could have handled this better I was out of control throughout the process and unwilling to deal with the situation and now I am even more frustrated and out of control. But, hey, I'm not the only crazy one here. I'm waiting for the Fire Marshall to call me. I'm not optimistic.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Successful Negotation Thoughts

In response to an appeal to lower my Real Estate taxes I got a call from a lawyer last night. He was representing the city of Brigantine. He was calling to tell me that the value of my house was assessed at $425,000.00, down from $515,000.00.

I asked him, "How did you come up with that number?"

He said, "We used the price that you paid for the house."

I said, "We bought the house in October 2007. Haven't prices come down since then.?"

He game me some miscellaneous BS answer that I can't remember.

I then said, "Let me ask you a question." Are you working for the city to try to get the most money for Brigantine or are you trying to be fair?"

After hesitating a moment he responded, "I do work for the city but I am trying to be fair."

I said, "I'm not sure you answered my question."

He then spent another few minutes trying to explain why his assessment was reasonable. It was a half decent effort.

I then told him very directly, "Look I feel my house is worth about $379,000 in today's market." I will agree to an assessment of $400,000.00 as a compromise."

He said, "I don't know if I can do that."

I said, "What do you mean you don't know. Can you or can't you.?"

He didn't say anything.

I said then, "I want you to be my advocate. I will agree to whatever you decide. The fair number if $400,000.00. Call me back with your decision. I will accept whatever you say. However, I want you to promise me that you will present my point to whomever makes this decision and not tell them that I will agree with whatever is decided."

He said, "OK"

He called me back later to tell me that the $400,000.00 was accepted.

One of the unfair things about life is that if you negotiate you get better deals than if you don't. And if you are a good negotiator you even get better deals. The question is what is the best way to negotiate.

I have studied this question about negotiation for many years. I started and sold a business whose primary purpose was negotiating lower prices for major corporations. I have read countless articles on the subject and have had many conversations with knowledgeable and successful negotiators.

The tricky part about this question is that a successful negotiation oftentimes is not what it seems to be. It is not always about getting the lowest price or getting your way. Many people think they are great negotiators because they are constantly haggling and hammering whoever they speak to about anything and everything include sex, money, control, and boundaries. What they don't realize is that the outcome of the negotiation is often not decided in the moment but unfolds over a longer period of time.

You can't beat the system. It might seem like there are those who get away with stuff, but over the long run I believe whatever you do has consequences. This is something that you can't accept on faith. You need to verify it for yourself. The way to successfully negotiate is:

1- Determine what you want. Be precise.

2- State what you want as clearly and directly as possible. Don't beat around the bush.

3- Listen carefully to the response for your offer. Don't accept BS responses. Point them out without irritation or annoyance.

4-Make a decision that you feel good about or walk away.

I keep practicing. I am getting better at it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Am I Communicating?

I have noticed that since I have been writing this blog my communication skills have improved. Now that I wrote that statement and look at it I have to ask myself, is it really true? Have my communication skills improved or am I imagining that they have? How do I verify whether they have improved or not.?

First of all communication of ideas is very difficult. Communication of facts and basic information necessary for day to day survival is much easier. Most people are decent at getting through each day and doing what is necessary to take care of themselves and their family. They are not as good at expressing their innermost thoughts and feelings. I believe that expressing my thoughts without censorship or wondering or worrying how they will be received has enabled me to practice at being more clear. This practice has improved my overall communication.

Success in business or relationships is enhanced by better communication skills. Many people assume that successful communication is about convincing others that their ideas or viewpoints are correct. I don't agree that this is the highest or the most effective way to communicate. It seems to me that what is more important is to be able to sincerely state what you believe to be true. Once you have become skilled at communicating what you believe is true you can work on improving your ability to deliver your truth in a kinder and gentler way.

What hinders our communication at times is our desire to be polite or not hurt someone's feelings. Political correctness oftentimes results in mixed messages and lack of real communication. We tell people what they want to hear or what we assume will present ourselves in the most favorable light rather than what we really believe. Some of us have never had a real conversation in our lives.

We are constantly being told that the most important part of communication is listening. Listening is important but the listening must be done in a special way to have real value. You can't just evaluate the words that are being spoken but must look beyond the words and try to glimpse the real intent.

In order to listen you can't be concerned with what you want to say next or allow yourself to be impacted by the words that are being spoken to you. This requires real effort, objectivity, and non-attachment. Although listening is important you can't control what others say, you can only control how you respond. Your response is both how you are impacted by what is said and what you say in return.

I can't verify for sure whether I am communicating better or not. I can only continue to work at it.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Freud, Consumerism, and a Collapsing Economy

I heard a TV analyst remark that the economy is not recovering as quickly as anticipated. DUH!
It's like saying that the 900 pound woman who lost 150 pounds is still struggling with her weight. Or that the 30 year old man raised in the deep jungle from birth by wild gorillas is finding it difficult to adjust to life in suburban Philadelphia. I mean what do you expect. After almost ninety years of overspending and rewarding creative ways of marketing meaningless products we can't really believe that things are going to return to the way they were.

We take it for granted that our economy will grow and that our material world will continue to progress. We can't imagine going a few years without a new car, an updated cell phone, a more advanced computer, a more hip wardrobe, or a more exotic vacation. We get bored easily and need constant stimulation to maintain our interest in life. Many of our identities are based upon not only what we have but on our ability to keep getting more and more. How did this happen?

On one hand you could trace our financial problems to the time when we left our caves and began creating ,what we now call, civilization or to the moment when money was invented. You might even blame the "industrial revolution" or the invention of the automobile or the rise of the financial superstars (Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Kennedy). However, the degree to which our financial system got out of control cannot be the result of a specific event or a few individuals. In my opinion it is a result of a mind altering process whose origins can be traced to the 1920's.

What happened in the 20's was not a fundamental change in our nature. What happened was the creation of a new industry, public relations. It seems that a nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, decided to apply the ideas of his uncle to business and especially to marketing.
Bernays believed, like Freud, that we were controlled not by our conscious thoughts but by deep-seated drives within our subconscious. If these deep desires could be tapped people could be motivated to act in ways that would benefit business owners. Check out the BBC video, "A Century of Self" for a detailed and brilliant account of how we have been controlled by the manipulation of our

One of Bernays' earliest assignments was to convince or manipulate women to smoke. Prior to Bernays entering the picture the cigarette market was almost entirely men. Bernays appealed to women's blossoming desire for equality and independence and doubled the cigarette market. He also created the modern clothing industry. Prior to his PR campaign most people had two or three outfits. Women had one for work and one for going out. Bernays designed a campaign that presented clothing as a way to express our individuality and changing moods. What had been an industry of necessity was changed into one where the average person could now express his sense of self.

These ideas of appealing to the subconscious and impacting the behavior of the masses evolved into our present advertising industry. The offshoots, including market research, consumer behaviorism, and modern day political science have also been shaped by the psychological theories of Freud and his earliest counterparts. For the past ninety years we have been bombarded by messages, both subliminal and direct, telling us what to think and how to behave if we want to be happy.

This has created our existing consumer mentality. The problem is it got out of hand. Even more than the development of life ending weaponry and the abuse of our environment we have gone over the line in our dependence on material things as the source of happiness. Plus, as we progressed, the degree of excesses especially in the banking, insurance, and, brokerage businesses have created an economic mess for which there is no easy solution.

This is not going to be a simple matter to correct. It is especially difficult because so many of our businesses and jobs are dependent on people continuing to buy things they don't really need. On one hand we can't continue to support behavior based on brainwashing. On the other hand for many of us our livelihood is dependent on continued and increasing consumer spending. I don't have the solution. I just believe we need to at least see the problem clearly.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Baseball and Poker

To my way of thinking baseball and poker are very similar. We have now reached a critical point in this blog. Probably if I had not mentioned it, the reader, if there are any in this virtual internet world, would not have noticed it. And now that I did mention it, I wonder why I write this blog, when there are so few readers. The truth is, though, that I get pleasure from doing it and a sense of accomplishment after I complete each blog.

Let me explain, though, why there was a critical point after the first sentence. It has to do with the main themes that run through these blogs. This blog, if it is anything, is an exploration of my thought process and my interests and observations about life. The first sentence made reference to two points. The first point is my way of thinking. The second point is the similarities between baseball and poker. I could have spent the entire blog explaining what I meant by my way of thinking. However, I am not in the mood to discuss that subject. I think I'll write about baseball and poker.

Baseball and poker are both fundamentally American games, although they have recently become more global. There was a time when the best poker players in the world were either from Texas or Jews from New York. Today poker is popular throughout Europe and Asia. Many of the best players are Vietnamese. Baseball has also expanded from an American pastime to an international sport attracting great players from Latin America and Japan.

Baseball and poker have a similar rhythm. They both require patience, strategic thinking and are slow moving most of the time. The ultimate outcomes are not decided in one inning, or even in one game, but after long grueling seasons or sessions. In both games there are intense turning point moments when the pressure mounts and the outcomes hinges on one pitch, one card.

The major similarity is that the long term enjoyment in both games is centered in mathematics. No one can be considered a true baseball fan unless they are immersed in the statistics of their favorite teams and players and have studied the all time leaders and record holders in the major categories: home runs, batting average, RBI's, wins, ERA, and strikeouts. In a similar vein, all poker devotees know the important odds of drawing to inside straights, making flushes, and flopping three of a kind. They also must have a good feeling for probabilities and instantaneously or intuitively be able to calculate the relative value of calling, folding or raising, in all situations.

Baseball and poker both have undergone changes in recent years. Poker, has gone from underground to mainstream and now attracts a wide range of personalities from all segments of society. Baseball has also changed, especially in its use of pitchers. Consider the case of Ralph Terry.

Terry was a pitcher for the New York Yankees in the sixties. He is most famous for having given up the winning home run to Bill Mazeroski in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series enabling the Pittsburgh Pirates to defeat the Yankees 10-9 after the Yankees had totally buried the Pirates in their three victories while Pittsburgh squeaked out their three wins.

Terry was back in the spotlight in the seventh game of the 1962 World Series. He was the starting Yankee pitcher and had pitched eight shut out innings. Today he would have been taken out for a closer, no matter how good he was pitching. He started the ninth by giving up a bunt single to pinch hitter Matty Alou. He then struck out the next two batters, including Matty's brother Felipe. The following hitter Willie Mays doubled to right field. Aware of Roger Maris' great arm they held Matty at third making it second and third with two out. This brought up Willie McCovey one of the great left-handed sluggers of the day. Today they definitely would not have let the right-handed Terry pitch to the left-handed McCovey. With a right-hander Orlando Cepeda, on deck, today they would have at least walked McCovey or pitched around him. Anyway Terry did pitch to McCovey, who lined a shot, that he later called the hardest ball he ever hit in his life, to second baseman Bobby Richardson, and the series was over. I was sickened by the Yankee victory. This whole scenario could never had happened in the world of baseball today.

Ralph Terry is not a baseball legend. He just happened to be involved in two great baseball moments. What is interesting to me, and is part of my personal baseball history, is that in 1967, after Terry was traded to the Mets, I was waiting outside their clubhouse for autographs. Terry was one of the players I approached. He did not give me an autograph. He did give me his pencil. I later tried to sell it. I needed money to play poker.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

War, Survival, and Increasing Consciousness

I want to continue to explore the question that I raised in my last blog regarding the causes of the struggles that exist in the world today. I mentioned that our major battle was not between religions, or countries, or ideologies, but was a race between the forces of higher consciousness and the forces that control the thinking and actions of ordinary man. The main issue concerning the world today is whether or not we will kill ourselves, either through an unspeakably horrible war, or through the destruction of our environment, or will we learn to live in a more peaceful and balanced way.

First of all we must understand that war has been an integral part of the history of mankind. There has never been an extended period of peace since the beginning of recorded history. In a Nubian cemetery dating back 12,000 years 50% of the bodies showed evidence of violence. It has been estimated that 90-95% of all civilizations have engaged in some form of warfare. There have been over 150 conflicts and 600 battles in Western Europe in the last 150 years. What is different today is that, for the first time in the history of mankind, we have the potential to destroy our planet through the use of nuclear and/or biological weapons. Very simply the risk of war is no longer acceptable.

There are a number of theories about the causes of war. There are psychological theories that believe that man is basically aggressive and inherently violent. He cannot control himself and war is inevitable. There are theories that believe that war is not a result of the nature of the average man but is primarily caused by power hungry leaders who have no regard for human life. When a society is struggling these leaders use their superior motivational skills to rally the masses behind some dream or belief system that offers hope of a better life in this world or the next.

There are economic theories which see war as a constant struggle for resources and riches
especially when there is scarcity or inequality in the distribution of material wealth. Marx believed that war was a result of competition for resources between imperialist countries and would not end until there was a world government. Thomas Malthus believed that war was a result of expanding populations and limited resources. When the population increased to a certain point it had to be whittled down by war or famine or some other major catastrophe.

A recent theory has been named the "youth bulge theory. This viewpoint attributes war to the existence within a society of too many men ages 16-30 and not enough jobs or productive outlets for their energies. These men need a way to spend their time and channel their testosterone. War is one of the possible ways that can satisfy their needs for action, adventure, and sense of accomplishment.

All these theories have one element in common. They are the result of a level of consciousness whose primary motivation is self-gratification. They are the result of a desire to get more for oneself or one's family or one's country. You might say this is the way man is and their is nothing we can do about it. I agree that this is the way man has been in the past and the way most man are today. However, this way of being is no longer what is required for survival. This is the big difference in the world today.

If we accept the idea that the primary instinct of man is for survival and that evolution has been a result of perfecting man's ability to survive, then we must also accept that for man to continue to survive he is going to have to evolve to the level where he will not engage in activities that are self-destructive. In other words we will learn to get along and recognize that our planet's survival is mutually beneficial or we will go the way of most of the other species that have existed on the earth. It doesn't make sense to bet against us.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Creating a New Golden Age

There was a time and place (Spain in the middle ages) when Jews, Moslems, and Christians lived together in harmony. During this time the confluence of these three cultures produced tremendous advances in science, medicine, philosophy, art, agriculture, and mystical religious thought. Although the situation wasn't perfect, and ended in the Spanish Inquisition, in which the Catholics decided that anyone, especially Jews and Muslims, who didn't accept traditional Catholic thought should be killed, this "Golden Age" does offer a precedent for the possibility of peace.

The Muslims, even during this time of coexistence, believed that there were three categories of people. The first and highest were Muslims who accepted Mohammed as the one true god. The second were "people of the book", Christians and Jews, who, although they had gotten off the track still were guided by god's words in the old and new testament. Then there were the pagans who had no hope and were considered worthless. This view though, was the mainstream view fostered by the politicians and religious leaders. It was not the view of the deeper thinkers who saw the similarities and values in all religious thought.

One of the more important outcomes of this co-mingling of philosophical thought was the development and refinement of the mystical side of these three religions. The Kaballah, Sufism, and Christian mysticism began to see religion not just as a question of faith but as an opportunity to experience God directly. Dogmatic religious belief was replaced by each individuals' ability to experience the reality of a higher power and an expanded universe through meditation, prayer, dance, and the entering of ecstatic states.

From the experiences and discussions regarding these states arose an awareness of the oneness of all mankind and our connection to each other. What became apparent to these mystical philosophers was that our present rational views of the world were limited in their ability to understand the meaning and purpose of life. What was required was a higher consciousness that was not available to the ordinary man through ordinary thought. This realization that there was a higher consciousness and that it is only through this higher state that we can understand our world and learn to live together is, in my opinion, critical to solving the problems of today's world.

What this means to me is that the battle the world is facing is not between Islam and the other religions, or between different countries, or between capitalism and communism or socialism but between a way of thinking that promotes separatism and competition versus a way of thinking that sees us as all connected and created from the same source. Although we may appear differently or think differently, we need to learn see our differences as opportunities to learn and grow and expand our understanding of how our planet really functions.

Out of this can come another "Golden Age" in which the results of cooperation and mutual support can enable us to live happier, longer, and more exciting lives. This is not a pipe dream or an idealistic viewpoint. Just as there were in medieval Spain, there are thousands, even millions of people who are working along these lines, who see the possibility of creating a new world by recognizing that truth does not exist in one philosophy or ideology but in an open-minded striving to expand our awareness.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Talent, Inherent or Acquired

My brother-in-law is a poet. He's a good one. Although he didn't win, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in poetry. In addition to being a poet, he's a teacher of poetry.

I met my brother-in-law when he was thirteen. He didn't look like a poet to me. I didn't even see in him the seeds of a future poet. I also met Lew Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul Jabaar, when he was thirteen. He looked like a basketball player. Plus he was great even at that age. Beethoven and Mozart were both great musicians before the age of five. Tiger Woods showed signs of superstardom at age four.

On the other hand Einstein wasn't very good at math. Marilyn Monroe, from what I hear, (I can't remember where I heard it) was a gawky teenager. Michael Jordan didn't show great ability until he got to college. What is the source of greatness?

It seems that talent is inherent but in order for it to blossom it needs to be cultivated. This requires hard work and good training. What about business? Is there a business gene that you are born with? I don't think so. I think anyone can learn to be successful at business. (Read Fortune Magazines Secret of Greatness) What's difficult is to develop the motivation to deal with the ridiculousness that's required. This ability probably takes a gene in itself.

It has always seemed unfair to me that the abilities that were required to be successful in business were often opposed to those that were required to be truly creative or talented in a special way. I guess that's where agents come in.

It is the existence of true talent that gives me hope for the world. We will not be saved by stock brokers or insurance agents or even advertising moguls. If you have any question about the existence of true talent check this video out.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Levels of Truth

While surfing the internet yesterday I made a good discovery. U.G Krishnamurti. For many years I have searched for real teachers and sources of knowledge to gain some insight into the meaning and purpose of life. (MAPOL). I have travelled long distances to hear or meet someone who was recommended to me. I have attended seminars, workshops, and classes on a wide range of esoteric subjects from "Opening your Heart" to "Gnosticism and Psychedelics." I have spent thousands of dollars on books and tapes Most of the so called gurus and teachers I have uncovered are either whacked out, low level, or redundant.

It is hard to find quality information or high level thoughts. It is especially hard to find either new ideas or creative ways of expressing old ideas. In the past five years, for example, I have spent thousands of hours reading, studying, and searching and have come across only two thinkers who have impacted me.

The first was Boris Mouravieff whose three volume work "Gnosis, Studies and Commentary on the Esoteric Tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy" provided an excellent perspective on the Fourth Way tradition. I was especially impacted by his idea that humanity is divided into two distinct groups. One group has no interest in consciousness and is very satisfied with living an ordinary life. The other group has the potential for consciousness, although this potential is usually not realized. The future of the world is dependent on whether or not enough individuals within this second group become conscious. This will cause a real change in the conditions of the world especially in our ability to avoid a global war.

The other teacher was David Hawkins who developed a unique theory on measuring the level of consciousness of everything that exists in the world and how to tell truth from falsehood. His basic premise is that all life and everything that has been created has a specific energy or vibration associated with it. This energy can be assigned a number from 0-1000. Anything below 200 is false and everything above 200 is true. The higher the number the more evolved or truthful. He assigns a number to almost anything you can imagine including books, movies, songs, countries, religions, historical figures, politicians, philosophical and political theories, government agencies, scientific theories, and even T.V. shows. (His highest rated show is National Geographic at 450.)

Although anything above 200 is true and has had a positive influence on history, only those things rated above 500 are considered to be conscious. The distinctive quality of consciousness is that it is non-linear and represents a level of truth that is not based on logic but on a more direct connection with reality. What impresses me most about this line of thinking is the perspective that it creates about valuing everything we deal with in life. I do not agree with all that Hawkins says, especially how he arrives at his valuations, but I do agree that there are definitely levels of truth and falsity in everything we perceive. The idea of different levels of truth makes it much easier to explore the world in an objective way.

I have developed a certain sensitivity and intuition about what is true and what is BS. Yesterday I accidentally stumbled on the teaching of UG Khrishnamurti. I began reading his ideas thinking they were the idea of J Khrishnamurti, another teacher I admire. After a while I realized that UG was not J, although he was influenced by J. I was impressed by the clarity of his thinking and by his rejection of all existing belief systems.

His basic idea is that in order to deal with our fears and weaknesses we create religions and philosophies that enable us to feel better. The only path to truth, lies in learning to experience our lives as fully as possible without trying to analyze or understand what is beyond our ability to comprehend. There may be a time in the future where we will expand our understanding through scientific discovery, but until this time, we should give up our imaginings and accept what is. It would seem that if you accept this there is no point in searching. All that matters is living each day as best you can. I wonder what level of truth that last thought represents.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Truth, Reading, and TV

When we got off the plane in Philadelphia we followed the signs to baggage claim. No problem finding it. In baggage claim we saw ten conveyor belts with luggage on them. We looked for the one with our flight number and waited for our baggage to come up the chute onto the belt and around to where we were standing. After a while of checking a number of pieces that looked like ours, I decided, on an instinct, to go to another belt to see If I could find our luggage. My wife thought I was crazy since we were standing at the one that listed our flight number. Sure enough, four belts down, I found a black Samsonite bag with our name circling the belt. How could it be there when our flight was listed on another belt? You can't believe everything you read.

A friend of mine was telling me a story today about her writing. She said that she had written down her two main issues in life. They happened to be getting older and learning to be single. She felt that the act of writing them down had given her greater clarity into herself and her life situation. It was as if before she had written them down they were not as real. We give tremendous credibility to something when it is written.

Whenever my father wanted to make a point to me he quoted a book or article he read. Matter of fact I was just reading one of the Wellness letters he sends me every month. Did you know that "chewing gum after intestinal surgery reduces the time it takes for normal bowel function to return." Normal bowel function has always been an important subject to my father. It seems though after ninety-six years he should be an expert on the subject without having to read about it.

Much of what we believe about life comes from thoughts, ideas, remembrances, and stories that are written down. When something is reduced to paper and ink it assumes almost a magical quality. The same can be said about television. Many people believe that if something is shown on television it is true, especially if it supports what they already believe.

I am not trying to say that we should not read or watch television. I am trying to say that we need to be aware of how we have formulated our opinions and beliefs. I think it is important to recognize that not everything that is written or stated on TV can be given the same level of credibility. We need to be able to discriminate between higher and lower level sources of information and reporting. What is written down or observed can be the result of the observations, opinions, and conclusions of someone who is objective and motivated by a quest for accuracy or by someone who has an agenda to promote.

In addition there are those who have developed a higher level of consciousness or awareness. Their opinions and viewpoints carry more weight than someone with an average level of consciousness. If we are committed to understanding life and its meaning and purpose we should not rely solely on what we read or are told. I believe that a serious spiritual seeker will benefit from developing an ability to 1- take in all information without judgement, 2- search out written materials from higher level sources, and 3- work on developing their own consciousness. The consequences of doing these things on an ongoing basis is valuable to improving the quality of one's life and increases the possibility for success and happiness.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Question of Appearance

I was a good basketball player. I did not appear athletic though and was usually underestimated by my opponents. This increased my effectiveness. Matter of fact in many areas of my life I have seemed to be worse than I really am. There are those who believe you should put your best foot forward. I have always thought it was better to hold back a little and not reveal the level of your ability or strength until it was absolutely necessary.

How we present ourselves to the world and how we judge others are important to our happiness and success. We are constantly dealing with decisions that surround this issue. Would you rather go out with a women who appears beautiful because of knowledge of makeup and style or one that hides her beauty revealing it only in the most intimate moments? Would you rather be friends with someone who appears smart but is actually stupid or someone who appears stupid but is actually smart? Would you rather eat a meal that looks great but tastes terrible or a meal that looks plain but tastes great? Would you rather drive a car that is safe, reliable, comfortable, and economical or one that is cute, sexy, or flashy?

We are living in a society in which appearances have become more important than reality. What is important in America today is image. Billions of dollars are spent and counless time and energy are expended on creating the illusion of success, of wealth, of knowledge, of expertise, of competence, and of quality. We are constantly being bombarded by images created to convince us that a product, service, or idea is more than it actually is. Many of our lives are controlled by the desire to acquire the biggest, the best, the fastest, the most beautiful, the sleekest, the newest, the most advanced, or the hippest, when in fact the cost of acquisition of many of these things leaves us no time to enjoy them.

This is a serious matter. Our economy is strongly dependent on our continuing to desire products and services that are primarily geared to improving our appearance or image rather than enhancing our lives. If we were to wake up to the truth about what really makes us happy the consequences to many of the businesses that depend on marketing the sizzle rather than the steak would be dire.

It seems to me that we need to start making choices and reassess our priorities. There is a great freedom in not being dependent on appearance but striving for substance, humility, and sincerity. The starting point for gaining this freedom is not to be concerned about our own appearances but be more concerned about the quality of our lives and doing what really makes us happy.

We can free ourselves from the necessity to being liked or being accepted by not feeling pressured to always present ourselves in the most favorable light. We can hold back a little in showing others, especially those who we first meet, how smart or talented or successful we are. This requires real confidence and some consciousness. The consequences of this will change the world and make our lives much easier. I believe that if we don't do it willfully we will be forced to do it anyway.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

"Dr. Ira, Business Psychic"

I walked into the Psychic Eye Bookstore on Ventura Blvd in Studio City to check out the vibes. It was a little crowded. I asked the hippyish, hippyesque clerk, "Hows business?" She said that during difficult times more people were interested in psychic readings so business was up. The store was well set up to maximize their diverse psychic, psychedelic, and esoteric offferings.

One wall was devoted to spiritual, religious, philosophical, and psychologial books. The selection was focused on what I consider the more "far out" segment of esoteric subjects that includes reincarnation and past lifes, witchcraft and paganism, channeling and mediumship, UFO's and planetary visitations, and tarot card and astrological studies.

The central area was devoted to crystal balls, magic wands, incense, wicca supplies, love potions, herbal concoctions, medieval clothing, statues of Buddha and other god, goddesses and mythological beings and animals, and a full range of products to construct home altars for meditation and prayer.

The other wall consisted of maybe 15 small rooms, each closed by a curtain. These rooms were being used by psychics to give private readings. It reminded me a little of a brothel I had frequented as a teenager in college that had a number of small rooms along one wall each occupied by a women waiting to pleasure you for ten dollars. To be fair, The Psychic Eye was on a higher level.

Their were flyers posted on each curtain advertising the specialt gifts of each practictioner. There was something for everybody. If you were so inclined you could hire for $60.00 per hour a clairvoyant, clairsentient, clairaudient, Reiki Master, master astrologer, intuitive evolutionary astrologer, fourth generation metaphysical practitioner, angelic guide, past life reader, dream analyst, or just a plain vanilla spiritual guide.

If you were looking for more exotic services there were custom candles and herb magick, pendulum work, crystal and gem healing, astro dice (this intrigued me), dowsing, spellcraft and spell advising, communing with those in spirit, animal communication and pet readings, and oracle of the triad astrology (whatever that is).

The truth is. I felt right at home. Matter of fact I inquired about the possiblity of setting up my own room for life counseling and spiritual guidance. In order to gain immediate confidence and credibility I would start each of my sessions with the same statement. "I can see that you have something on your mind."

I actually was trained in fortune telling by a gypsy women when I was four years old living in Brooklyn. Even at this young age I gravitated towards what I considered the magical and supernatural. The gypsy women told me that the key to telling fortunes was to say whatever came into your mind about the person. Don't block or censor your thoughts. Go with your first impressions and don't be afraid of being wrong. I have practiced this over the years and actually have become quite good at it.

I'm not sure if it makes sense to move to California now and start a new career as a psychic. Maybe I could do it in Atlantic City. I would have to get a new wardrobe. I would need to change my image. Maybe not. I sometimes think this is what I am already doing. I could call myself, 'Dr. Ira, Business Psychic and Financial Channel."
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Friday, June 19, 2009

"You too, Norman"

There aren't many couples in old age homes. I hope this changes in the future, but right now most of the people are single and the large majority are women. I'm not sure whether this means that women are stronger or that life takes a greater toll on men. It's probably a combination of both. I have been observing life in the slow lane at my parents' retirement hotel for the last few days. It truly is another world--one, if we're lucky, we'll experience, too.

In one sense growing old is the great equalizer. No matter what you have accomplished in your life, or how much money you have, when you can't take care of yourself, or get around without help, we are all the same. As we lose our physical abilities life is less about the material world, and more about what is going on inside our head.

Actually this is the way it always is, but it takes growing older before we can fully appreciate this fact. This is the great secret of life. Most of us never truly recognize that the reality of our lives is not outside of ourselves but within our minds, and hopefully, our consciousness. We create the reality of our lives by our thoughts. The quicker we uncover this secret the easier and more productive our lives can become.

There are advantages to being young. No question about this. There are also advantages to being old. Less is expected of you. There is nothing to prove. This enables you to be more honest with yourself and others. There is a freedom when you're only requirement is to get through the day. You don't have to wait until you are old to get these advantages. I think this is the meaning of the statement "youth is wasted on the young."

My sister and I have been discussing how to reduce my parents monthly expenses. One of the options is to move them to another retirement facility. My mother is constantly complaining about the one they are in, so moving them might be reasonable. I asked them if they have any friends. It seems they have one couple whom they consider friends.

I asked them, "How much time do you spend with this couple?"

My mother replied, "We eat with them every day. We've been doing this for over a year. I enjoy speaking to the woman. She is a Zionist and believes that Obama is bad for the Jews. Sometimes she gets on my nerves."

I then turned to my father and asked him, "Do you like her husband?"

"Oh, yes, he is very smart, also."

"What do you talk about?"

"We have the same exact conversation every day. It hasn't changed the whole time we've been together. Mommy and his wife do all the talking."

I then asked, "Do you eat with them three meals a day?"

My father answered, "Yes, although mommy and the wife don't get down to breakfast. It's just me and Norman. We spend an hour together."

I wondered what this conversation could be like. "And what do you guys talk about?"

My father said, "It's the same every day. He says to me after breakfast, 'Have a good day, Maury.' That's it."

"And what do you say?"

"You too, Norman."

I said, "That's it, Dad? That's all you have said to each other for over a year. How do you know he's smart?"

He said, "Yep, that's it. I say only three words. He says five."

That's their friendship, the same eight words each day. I keep thinking about that. I'm not sure what to make of it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Day with my Parents

I am laying in bed now in Sherman Oaks California in a motel next door to my parents' assisted living facility. I spent the day looking for a new place for them to live. The fundamental problem is that they are running out of money. They presently have $45,000.00. This is the remainder of the money they got for selling their house four years ago.

They bought this house when my father was 81 years old. It was the first house they ever owned. The only reason they bought it was because the apartment they were living in was destroyed by the Northridge earthquake. They had never considered buying a house but the government gave earthquake victims the opportunity to buy homes with no money down and 2% interest. They paid $156,000.00 for the home and sold it for $420,000,00.

They have an income of $7000.00 per month.

Their monthly expenses are $10,000.00. $5600.00 of this is for their room and board. $4400.00 is for the full time care my father needs in order to get through the day. They are eating into their savings at a rate of $3000.00 per month. They have 15 months more before they will be broke. My father will be 97 in August. my mother 90 in November. My sister and I have been discussing this situation, trying to figure out what to do.

My parents have been married for 67 years, The secret to their success is that my father has devoted his life to making my mother happy. I am not recommending this as the key to marital success; just stating what has worked for them. The truth is that my father really does not care where they live. His only concern, even now, is what my mother wants.

My mother is not sure what she wants. She complains about their present living conditions. She feels it is being run by a large corporation that doesn't care about the residents. They never get the food right and are constantly nickle and diming them with extra fees and charges. She wasn't happy with any of the other places we looked at. The elevator was too far from their room. There was no sink in the kitchen to wash dishes, although she doesn't wash dishes. The atmosphere was not quite right. My father couldn't care less about any of this.

I don't want my mother to sound like the bad guy here; it is only because of her that my father chooses to live. I have been watching him carefully for the last two days. It seems that the only thing that is keeping him alive is his desire to please my mother. The whole thing is a little sad.

It does make me wonder about the meaning and purpose of life. What's interesting though is that my father doesn't wonder about it at all. He just tries his best each day to do the right things. He seems to care very little about his own personal situation. He is thrilled to see me, though. When I kissed him goodby tonight his face lit up. That was a special moment. It made me happy. Maybe that's all there is.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Turning Over the Reins

I went to my friends sons' graduation from Drexel University yesterday. Graduations are usually long boring affairs, although there are moments of inspiration especially when you see someone you care about achieve something for which they have worked hard. I tried to see what I could learn from watching this group of kids entering a new phase of their life. It's easy to imagine stuff or romanticize or read more into these emotionally charged events than is actually there. I tried to be more objective in my observations.

First of all, what stood out was the diversity of nationalities represented. There were Indians, Asians, Middle Easterners, Africans, Spanish, and Europeans representing more than sixty different countries. I would guess that less than 25% of the class were white Americans. This is not surprising since Drexel is an engineering school located in the inner city. My initial thought about this was that America is a great country in which opportunities are available to all people regardless of their race color, religion or country of origin.

After a few hours though of observing the kids smile while they received their diplomas, the pride on their parents' faces, and the comraderie that they shared ,I began to notice their differences less and their similarities more. What I originally perceived as diversity was a superficial way of seeing. What was more real was that this was a group of smart kids who shared common interests and aspirations no matter where their parents or grandparents were born . These were kids who were more connected to their computers, i-pods, facebook, you tube, rap and hip hop then they were to most of the racial, religious, and nationalistic concerns that may have preoccupied their parents.

I know that this graduating class is entering into adulthood and its usual responsibilities at a difficult time. They, however, can take comfort that it is not their fault. They did not create our problems. And it seemed to me that they are going to be more than equipped to deal with these problems. They are scientists, engineers, technicians and in general problem solvers who have been brought up in a different world than any other generation, as all generations are. The evolutionary impulse continues to create the level of consciousness and thinking that is necessary to enable humans to survive and prosper.

The old ways of thinking are no longer working and need to be replaced.Those that are in power now take themselves very seriously and assume that they know what is best. I don't think so. The world and its problems have bypassed them It is going to take this new generation to bring a new energy and viewpoint, one that is greatly needed. It will take time, maybe 10-30 years, maybe less, for this class and the ones slightly ahead of them and behind them to begin to impact our lives. If things get really bad they will have to accelerate their pace. I think they will.

It is hard for us to admit that we are dinosaurs, that much of our thinking is no longer valid or capable of solving our problems. We waste too much time discussing matters that are really inconsequential or that have no definitive answers., including abortion, homosexual marriage, Gitmo, capitalism vs. socialism, global warming, bailing out failing companies, and mostly everything that we see every day on the news. We need to spend more time producing products and services that make our lives easier and more enjoyable, that reduce the barriers that separate us, that enable us to live longer and healthier, and that set the stage for our travelling throughtout the universe. I was encouraged by what I saw at Drexel this weekend. I am more encouraged when I see my three grandkids.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Moroccan Dream

I almost converted to Islam. I had to to make a choice between sex or baseball. I chose baseball. Let me explain. It all started at a Super Bowl party. I was introduced to Latifa. She was from Morocco. I was from Brooklyn. She was 35. I was 42. She had three kids. I had three kids. She was recently divorced. She had decided to leave her husband after he took a fourth wife. She was okay with three; the fourth was too much. I was recently divorced; my reasons were more complicated.

She had come to America to find a husband. She was staying with her cousin in Philadelphia. Her cousin and I had a mutual friend who had invited all of us to the Super Bowl party. She was very pretty. We immediately hit it off. There were a few obstacles. She spoke no English. She spoke French and Arabic. I spoke a little French, no Arabic. After the party her cousin gave me her number and told me to call Latifa to set a date to come to her house where we could get to know each other better.

I called and went to visit Latifa at her cousin's' house. We saw each other nearly every day for the next three weeks. Her cousin chaperoned our time together and served as translator. We got two French-English dictionaries and used them to communicate in simple terms. As we got to know each other our relationship deepened. We slept together for a few of the nights without any sex. It was very romantic.

Finally, she told me that she had to go home and get back to her kids. Our last night together we ended up making out very heavily. Before too long we were nude. We were both a little out of control. At least I was. She started saying some stuff that I couldn't understand. I just nodded my head.

I drove her to the airport. We agreed to keep in touch by phone. During the next six months I spoke to her at least once per week. My French was improving and we were able to communicate. During this time we agreed that I would come to Morocco for a few weeks to meet her family. If they accepted me, we would become engaged for two years. During this time I would live in Morocco for six months each year and she would live with me in America for six months. If after two years we decided we wanted to spend our lives together we would get married. It made sense to me.

As the time approached for me to go to Morocco I decided to call my parents and tell them about my plans. My mother answered. I told her that I had met a women and was considering getting engaged. I also said there were a few problems. She asked me what they were.

"She lives in Morocco."

"We'll, she'll have to move here."

"She doesn't speak English."

"As long as you're happy together that's all I care about."

"She's Muslim."

"Maury, get on the phone and speak to your son."

After calming them down, promising I would not do anything rash I continued with my plans. As the day of departure for Morocco approached my fantasies were escalating. I could not think of anything but making love to this beautiful Moroccan princess. She had managed to communicate to me in our phone conversations that Islamic women were the most highly sexed women in the world and had perfected the art of lovemaking to bring men to ecstatic heights. At least that's what I thought she had said.

I arrived in Casablanca. Latifa picked me up at the airport with her son. We drove two and a half hours to her home in Rabat. I was in a dream world. Her home was about eight rooms and was incredibly furnished. She introduced me to her three person house staff. I walked into her bedroom with my suitcase and laid it down.

She said, "Before I agree to let you sleep in my bedroom we need to talk."


She reminded me that I had agreed to become a Muslim during our last night together in Philadelphia. I didn't remember this, although I knew that I had agreed to something during the heat of our passion. She then told me that on her recent pilgrimage to Mecca she had renewed her connection with Islam. She would not sleep with me unless I again agreed to convert to Islam.

I asked her, "What exactly is required to become a Muslim?"

"You must do five things. First you must read the Koran."

"OK, that's no problem, I enjoy books about religion. What else?"

"You must agree to fast during Ramadan."

I had actually just completed a lemonade fast. I said, "Fine, next."

"You must agree to contribute 10% of your income to the mosque."

I didn't think money would be a problem for us. I said, "Yes."

I don't remember the fourth requirement. I agreed to it though. I do remember the fifth requirement. I needed to accept Allah as the one true god with all my mind and all my heart and I could not fake it.

Now, I would have agreed to anything to sleep with Latifa that night. But when this fifth requirement was stated I began to realize that this was a serious matter. For some reason what came into my head was the movie "Field of Dreams". I don't understand why but this movie reminded me what I loved about America. I could not go through with this conversion. I told Latifa that I couldn't do it. She was very calm about it. She said I would have to leave tomorrow. I could sleep on the sofa that night.

The next day I left her house and spent the next two weeks travelling through Morocco by myself. It was an experience which helped me heal from the pain of my divorce. I have never had any regrets.