The Journey of Leymah Gbowee

Trauma healing, peace-building

We have abundant potential within us, and all of nature to guide us as we navigate through the world.

Leymah Gbowee was seventeen when the First Liberian Civil War broke out in 1989. As a native of Liberia, she suffered major privations and hardships at the hand of brutal soldiers from Samuel Doe's ruling government, only to face worse conditions at the hand of former government minister Charles Taylor, who ousted him. She survived as a refugee, fleeing to Ghana when rebel forces took the city of Monrovia. Her family scattered, and her home looted and destroyed, she was witness to countless atrocities at a very young age. She married a serial abuser and bore four children. The abuse she suffered at his hand informed her later activism and led directly to honing her skills as a social worker and Women's Rights advocate.

Trauma healing
Leymah volunteered at a program at St. Peter's Lutheran Church called the Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Program (THRP). They were tasked with repairing the country's considerable collective psyche of damage caused by the war. One of Gbowee's first assignments was working with children who had been employed as soldiers in Charles Taylor's army. These boys, some as young as five, had been forced to carry and use weapons. They were taught to murder, to take alcohol and drugs, and to recruit others. It was in the process of helping these seemingly hopeless boys learn to heal that Gbowee formulated what she later used as the basis for political change. She realized if change were to come to Liberia, it would be at the hands of its women.

Gbowee later joined WIPNET, an acronym for Women in Peacebuilding Network. She led a contingent of Liberians from all classes to fragile peace talks in Ghana, which had bogged down in the egotistical torpor of the exclusively male leaders. She staged a sit in blocking the glass doors of the exclusive hotel's meeting room. The protestors held signs declaring "Butchers and murderers of the Liberian people - STOP!" Leymah passed a note in to the head mediator General Akubar, former president of Nigeria. She stated her intention to link arms with her compatriots, holding the delegates hostage until an agreement had been reached. Gbowee and her partners stayed on site for days. Weeks later, the war ended.

Leymah Gbowee pioneered the modern-day version of the ancient custom of openly sharing with a group the traumas one has suffered in war. She discovered that the deep sense of shame these women all carried kept them isolated, impotent, and demoralized. When she was first tasked with building a coalition of women across religious, tribal, and class differences, she had to appeal to their commonality, to their unity. She succeeded, and it was the women of Liberia that turned the tide and won the peace. I recommend her excellent memoir Mighty Be Our Powers.

Be like Gbowee.

Gandhi's Tactics

Nonviolence, civil disobedience

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a fanatic Hindu, who believed he was too accommodating to India's minority Muslims.

Gandhi's ideas were not new. He synthesized thoughts from sources as diverse as The Holy Bible, The Bhagavad Gita, and Thoroau'sWalden. Gandhi's brilliance was in applying his ethics stringently, without straying from the core ideals, but expanding the application of these tactics to a national level.

Ahimsa (nonviolence)
Ahimsa stems from the belief that all living beings have divine spirit; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself.

Satyagraha (peaceful civil disobedience)
Satyagraha is a compound of the Sanskrit term satya (truth) andagraha (polite insistence). Satygraha seeks to eliminate antagonisms without harming the antagonists themselves.

Gandhi strove to differentiate between the western concept of passive resistance and these two bedrocks of his strategy which eventually brought down the mightiest militarized colonial force on the planet. He won independence for India. No one was betting on the humble man in the loincloth, yet he prevailed.

Take the Salt March. On March 12, 1930, Gandhi and a handful of followers from his Ashram walked 200 miles over the course of three weeks. They arrived at the ocean outside the town of Dandi. Gandhi walked out to the water and scooped up some salt with his hands. This symbolic act was a gesture in defiance of British law forbidding Indians from gathering their own salt, requiring that they purchase it from the government. 

Gandhi did not act aggressively toward his opponents in this confrontation.

Masses of Indians followed his lead, gathering and processing salt. History sees this small victory as one of the turning points that ultimately culminated in the English defeat and the liberation of Maa India.

Gandhi absolutely adhered to the Vedic principle that we are all one people, yet his unwavering strength in the face of injustice brought down a violent occupying imperialist empire and freed his native land.

Be like Gandhi.


Trump presidency

The most effective protest

So, it happened. We took the shot we thought would work at the time. We were wrong. We took the polls seriously, and we got slammed. I'll not expend effort to soft pedal or sugarcoat this reality. There is only moving forward. Evolution is not optional.

One option we have is to study the lives and tactics of those who successfully employed effective techniques to protest injustice. Here are three:
Mohandas Gandhi, Leymah Gbowee, Martin Luther King.

Don't feed the trolls

Sunset rendering

Sunset rendering

Living and dying by social media

I like Facebook. I check in with friends from all the periods of my life, sending mazletov to my old bandmate who just got married in Brooklyn, sending happy Diwali messages to my friends in India. Birthdays are great now, both giving and receiving. I can learn facts about dear friends that I may not otherwise know, like their losing a parent or recovering from cancer.

What I don't find so charming about Facebook are political posts. They can be divisive and insular. I may gravitate to those whose views I already agree with. This is counterproductive to a loving, inclusive Vedic worldview.

And then there are the trolls.

I let my guard down and posted a response to a news story. The tone of my post was less than friendly. It generated an almost instant response of astonishing vitriol and anger from those who apparently disagreed. The tone of these responses was so toxic and insulting that I laughed. It seemed like an atom bomb explosion in retaliation to a peashooter. I posted a single response: "Whee!"

I did a little research and discovered that trolls lie in wait, using key words in search engines. This includes publicly shared content on social media. The key words or phrases they are searching for identify the user as being from a target demographic. That demographic identifies the target as liberal, feminist, animal rights defender, or environmentalist, or any combination thereof. When the troll gets a hit, they go to work, unleashing a torrent of abuse on comments pages. This serves to discourage free expression by people they disagree with, and gives them a chance to vent anger and get attention (albeit negative) from an audience.

Sometimes these trolls are paid by partisan idealogues and corporations with a "culture war" axe to grind. In my instance, I was lucky. Facebook has excellent blocking options. Also my one word response dampened the enthusiasm of the trolls. The torrent stopped immediately. I didn't engage them the way they wanted, which was to offer a counter-argument. I went about my day, suffering very little from the negative energies on display, and I learned a valuable lesson.

A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.
Proverbs, New American Standard Bible

“Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker's game because they almost always turn out to be—or to be indistinguishable from—self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.” 
― Neal Stephenson, 

The demonized ego

Rendering of Mt. Shasta, Northern California

Rendering of Mt. Shasta, Northern California

Misunderstanding ourselves

We make an all-too-human mistake when we believe our egos to be ourselves. This belief sells us short on the vastness of our true nature. The ego sees threats everywhere and insists on the "otherness" of everything in the world around us. This makes the universe seem a hostile and treacherous place.

"Stick with me," the ego tells us. "I am the only one who knows how to keep you safe." 

The ego is bluffing. It has no idea whether its actions are effective or not; it just needs to have us accept it as the alpha and the omega. It demands to exclusively rule the whole of our existence. It wants to be boss. If we accede to these demands, we are engulfed in misery and alienation. Ease and a sense of belonging leave us, and we become more and more alone, cut off from others.

Where, then, do we find relief from this trap? It is in the moment, in the now, in the presence of the unchanging Self (note large S). The creator places us in a position of neutrality from our fears. We finally get a rest!

This rest is deep and profound, and comes as a result of meditation, diligently pursued and actively engaged in.

“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome."
"And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody."
"And yours," he replied with a smile, "is wilfully to misunderstand them.” 
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice




Cedar Breaks, Southern Utah

Cedar Breaks, Southern Utah

The ever-repeating known

We often opt for what we know. To our ego, it seems the most easy, safe way to proceed toward any given goal. Instead of choosing a new path, we take the one we are most familiar with.

The problem with this approach is that, if we look at the record, it does not work. If we stay where we are, we are embodying the consciousness of the static, the stable, that which does not evolve. The ego takes comfort in the familiar and comes up with a myriad of reasons why we must not risk forward movement.

We heat our houses, we dress warmly, we refrain from challenging ourselves physically. We tend to choose familiar foods, activities, pleasures. We re-read the same books. Why does this not bring us happiness?

Because we are not built to behave this way. Advances in knowledge in neuroplasticity indicate that stroke victims who have suffered brain damage are able to recover more quickly and completely when they are challenged to learn new activities, to go outside their "comfort zones," and to engage the world without a safety net. This new brain activity actually forms new neural pathways. Slight activity variations are more effective than rote repetition in achieving this result. Taking bold action towards unknown activity is even better.

When we make it a habit to avoid the habitual, we are rewarded with a refreshed and renewed experience of existence. Let's challenge ourselves, even by starting small. Take the long way home. Turn this corner instead of that. Pay attention to nature whenever we feel the urge to go on autopilot.

Nature will reward our bravery every time.

“Great people do things before they're ready. ”
-Amy Poehler

Bristlecone Pine, Southern Utah

Bristlecone Pine, Southern Utah

Balance is elusive

Sunset, Rogue Valley, Oregon

Sunset, Rogue Valley, Oregon

Until it's not

Do you remember the first time you successfully rode a bicycle? One moment it seemed impossible, and you thought you could do nothing but fail. Suddenly there was a shift, and you were up and riding. Everything clicked, and it seemed as though you would never return to that state of "failure" again. What actually happened at that moment? Was the "you" that was failing really you, or was it only a part of the whole you, mistakenly trying to run the whole show? 

Our ego tries to convince us that it is all that we are. It claims ownership. It assigns blame. It sees any expansion of our resources as a threat to its own dominance. It parsed the bike riding experience as too hard, as impossible to achieve. Better give up and retreat, licking our wounds. Then our instinct kicks in, and we find an effortless, frictionless balance. We fearlessly move forward with confidence.

The ego is a busy little bee. There is seemingly no end to the machinations it will use to distract us from any task that threatens change or growth. Yet it will fold in any fight if we stand firm in our resolve.

When we learned to meditate, the ego had a little bit to say about it. Luckily we did not listen.

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds' wings.” 
― Rumi, The Essential Rumi

Moonrise, Guru Purnima, Studio City, California

Moonrise, Guru Purnima, Studio City, California

Between the trigger and the shot

Ruin, Brentwood, California

Ruin, Brentwood, California

Freedom from reactivity

It happens to the best of us.

We have an automatic angry response to a loved one or a co-worker. Someone "pushes our button," and we fire in retaliation. The other person had no idea that this huge reaction was coming. The response is so outsized, so inappropriate to the circumstance in the present, that our friend recoils in confusion. They may develop the opinion, not unfounded, that we are untrustworthy. They will be loath to relax and let down their guard with us again.

When we have an overwhelming life experience at any age, we store the emotional stress and the corresponding triggers (associated sense memories) within our bodies. Any similar sense experience can suddenly release the emotional energy we have been storing.

Vedic Meditation gives us a chance to safely release this stress over time and be rid of it forever. We can experience a lightness, a feeling of being "right-sized" again and experiencing stress in a much more balanced and manageable way. We experience the trigger, but before we react, we find it possible to mind our manners towards others. We have been placed in a position of neutrality in relation to our reactions.

Of course we are still human and can become overwhelmed by circumstances again, acting out towards the world and others. We are not perfect. We can, however, improve over time, and these events become fewer and farther between. This is my own experience as a meditator, and my students report similar feedback to me as a teacher.

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.
Mahatma Gandhi

You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.
The Buddha

Suffering in isolation

San Fernando Valley

San Fernando Valley

The permeable membrane that separates us

We are connected. This is not a fanciful notion; this is a fact. When we behave in a way that ignores the needs of others, they are affected negatively. In the West, we are in the habit of acting as if we are separate and alone in the world, pursuing our self-centered agenda and profiting from short-term gain. This is why it is difficult to defend our position in the court of world opinion.

Our justification of "manifest destiny" does not play in other countries, and there is no mystery as to why this is the case. Candidate Trump says he will build a wall on our border with Mexico, and that he will force the Mexican government to pay for it. This plays to those in his base who revel in fantasy. We could build the tallest wall imaginable and not keep ourselves safe from the world's suffering, or the backlash of anger that would inevitably follow.

We cannot operate with impunity when it comes to our neighbors. The ego tells us that it is desirable to keep ourselves safe against an "other." But if there is only one thing, and if we are part of that one thing, it follows that we are all a part of each other.

In India, people seem to recognize this kinship and honor it. There are horrific exceptions of course, but for the most part gentility and friendliness are the rule. There is a tacit agreement that I will not harm you to advance me, as that would be harming myself.

We that follow teachings of the Vedic worldview also know this intuitively, but we still occasionally act out of willful ignorance. Willful ignorance, by definition, means that we know better but act as though we don't. It is time that we uncover the undimmed light within us and behave accordingly.

"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets."

Jesus Christ in the King James Bible • Matthew 7:12

Salt Lamp

Salt Lamp

The Seed

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

Nature's infinite organizing power


It's a loaded word, and an even more loaded concept. It implies that the slice of time we are living in is somehow unsatisfactory. That in some future time, we will become real, more real than now. Nature has no such concept. From the point of view of our creator, all things exist in a continuum. The seed has all the information locked inside it to become a tree and bear apples. It only has to be in the correct environment for an infinitely complex exchange of energy and transformation to occur.

When we learn to meditate in this tradition, we are given a mantra, a sound. It is referred to as a bija mantra. Bija means seed in Sanskrit. Like the apple seed, the bija mantra unfolds in the correct environment, and transforms miraculously. The only incorrect environment for this seed is one in which it is not used.

Nature only knows how to evolve. When we stop bullying nature to do our childish bidding, it reveals its deepest beautiful secrets to us. When we encounter nature on its own terms, we have no conception of how wondrous a world we are about to experience.

For this reason, we do not "corral" our experience in meditation to be this, that, or any other thing that the ego might expect. We innocently repeat the mantra and observe. The openness that is required for this process is something we may have rarely experienced.

Meditation is one case in which the rewards surpass the investment.

“Seeds have the power to preserve species, to enhance cultural as well as genetic diversity, to counter economic monopoly and to check the advance of conformity on all its many fronts.” 
Second Nature: A Gardener's Education by Michael Pollan 

Having enemies

Looking North from Topanga thru the fog

Looking North from Topanga thru the fog

Losing touch with our connectedness

Americans have been taken hostage.

In this election year, more than any period in recent memory, we are expected to do ideological battle against those with whom we disagree. Divisive public figures demand that we pick a side. It is perceived as almost noble to engage in lobbing rhetorical missiles via social media, to bully others, to belittle anyone who holds a differing opinion.

When we engage in these activities, we allow ourselves to be distracted from the truth of our natures. The real tyrants who benefit from confusion and distraction are allowed to take away all our real strength, our unity. If I can be distracted by who is winning the media horse race, I may not be paying attention when bad legislation is passed, shady trade deals are constructed and pushed through, or our planet is decimated for some hidden corporation's short term gain.

Yes, we are citizens. Yes, we have a duty to stay informed and to vote. But do we need to consume every bit of media "bummer porn" that is thrown our way? Do we need to have our emotional chains yanked by candidates and corporations who have raised enough cash to buy access to our eyes and ears? No, we are under no such obligation.

When we are driving our cars, we do not need to tune in to opinionated talk radio. When we have time to ourselves after work, we do not need to share that time with television. When we are on the internet, we can make a choice not to read every angry meme that competes for our attention. 

A true crime would be to lose precious time that could be spent renewing ourselves with adaptation energy through meditation. To free ourselves, all we need to do is unplug and engage with our fellow beings in the true spirit of brotherhood and unity.

Wave and ocean 

If I am ocean (consciousness) through and through, as I learn in my happiest and most aligned state, I find it counterproductive to have enemies, an adversarial position, express divisive opinions, indulge in sarcasm, or be attached to outcomes.

Image of Durga, Hindu temple, Vrindavan

Image of Durga, Hindu temple, Vrindavan

Religion or spirituality

Transcending shame

Organized religion has a product to sell us. The product is "Spirituality" with a capital S. Religion demands unquestioning belief. If we are obedient, we may earn a place for ourselves in some future heaven. If we are curious and question a religious authority, we may be rewarded with the threat of eternal banishment and torture. As in all selling, fear is a very effective motivator. Our choice is simple: obey or die.

This less-than-gentle paradigm is not the way of the Veda. We have no doctrine to sell you. Do your own research, follow your own heart, we say. We don't require that you believe in a God or Gods. You needn't tithe to a church or bend to an authority. 

There is a technique that we teach that has simple instructions. For this knowledge, we ask a traditional payment. Because an exchange of energy and information takes place, the student keeps his newfound knowledge close to his heart and has a chance to observe the results of diligent application over time. There is no shame in choosing a different path or in not following a path at all.

We meditators tend to express a loving reverence toward our teachers. This is not an enforced requirement. It is a simple and sincere expression of gratitude. In any spiritual community, there are instances when a charismatic leader might have sycophantic followers, and ego worship can develop, but this circumstance has no bearing on the value of the practice itself. Once learned, our simple technique can be repeated for a lifetime of satisfying meditations.

Paradoxically, we are not anti-faith. if you follow an established religion that enriches your life, regular meditation serves to deepen that bond, and to clear away stresses that conflict with a stronger connection to a higher power. We have many practitioners in all faiths.

We do not recruit. We do not punish. There is no eternal torment in our worldview. One is always free to practice or not to practice. My teacher said one thing consistently. "Follow your heart, and observe the results."

Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.
Benjamin Franklin

If you would like to learn yourself, or if you are already a student and would like to pass on this knowledge, it starts with a free intro talk. click here to attend.

Wildflowers, Siskiyou mountains, Southern Oregon

Wildflowers, Siskiyou mountains, Southern Oregon

Letting go of stresses

Value added benefits

We all carry a load of accumulated stresses in the tissues of our bodies. Along with these stored stresses, we have imbedded "stress triggers" that correspond to the environmental circumstances that were present during the overwhelming life experiences that caused the stresses in the first place.

If I am attacked on the street, I will not only store the stress of the attack, but also the blue car that passed just before, the scent of street food, the glint of light from a passing windshield. If in the future I have similar experiences that resemble the stress triggers, the original stress plays over again like a record. I re-experience the trauma, although there may actually be no danger present. This phenomenon has a lot in common with symptoms experienced by combat veterans suffering from PTSD.

Consistent meditation serves to safely and gradually release the stored stresses we have accumulated. Over time, we become better able to handle overwhelming life experiences that might come our way. Without these automatic stresses replaying constantly, we start to have an easier, gentler experience of life in general.

Vedic "Rounding" (meditation in combination with yoga positions, breathing exercises, and intervals of deep rest) can facilitate a much more rapid release of these stresses. A Rounding retreat is a great way to experience this accelerated method of "emptying out" the reservoir of unwanted energy we have been carrying around with us. It is good to be with others on the same path at such a time.

Students who have been through this procedure attest to its effectiveness, and seem to have more happiness and a more carefree experience in their day-to-day lives.

The truth is that there is no actual stress or anxiety in the world; it's your thoughts that create these false beliefs. You can't package stress, touch it, or see it. There are only people engaged in stressful thinking. 
Wayne Dyer

Yankee Meadows, Southern Utah

Yankee Meadows, Southern Utah

The Illusion of Separation

Maples, Ashland, Oregon

Maples, Ashland, Oregon

Our Deadliest Mistake

We are conditioned by a myriad of forces in the world to believe a lie about ourselves. The lie is simply that we are alone. Because all we know is bounded by the five senses, and by the recall and re-experience of our memories, we believe that this is all that comprises us. We see beings around us, and because we don't live in their skins, we see them as other. Others are to be hated, feared, mistrusted, competed against, conquered, vanquished. We look for the differences, not the similarities.

Our world is an unhappy place of fear, of danger, of lack. The best we can seem to do is provide for our own safety and the safety of those most similar to us, and hang the rest. We work hard to distinguish ourselves, to stand out, to prevail against others, to survive at their expense.

By seeing our surroundings in this light, we ensure our own unhappiness. We may gain brief respite from our problems, but never a lasting peace, never a sense of oneness with nature or a loving Creator.

Identifying with this negative world view becomes a virtue, a "realistic" survival strategy that rewards us with a short, empty life, stress-filled days, and sleepless nights. We might, however, become lucky enough to be introduced to a meditative technique.

We sit quietly, as we are instructed, about twenty minutes twice a day, and a miraculous thing starts happening. We begin to have a direct and subtle experience of the Vedic worldview, which is that there is only one thing. If this is true, it becomes impossible to have enemies.

We discover that there are no others. There is just us.

"If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."

James Madison

Shiva temple detail, Vrindavan, India

Shiva temple detail, Vrindavan, India

How we treat others

Guru Purnima moon

Guru Purnima moon

How we treat ourselves

The illusion of separation is persistent and seductive. It becomes so much easier to blame an outsider for our own misfortunes, our own disappointments. This process of blame is a palliative, a salve that excuses us from taking responsibility for our own actions. We have a duty as citizens to care for the well being of others. The evasion of this duty comes in the form of demonizing compassion by terming it "political correctness."

At the risk of appearing to be "politically correct," I believe it is a compassionate act to defend those who have unjustly been marginalized in our society. I believe that white men between the ages of 40-70 are not endowed exclusively with the wisdom to enact laws. We can all participate in our democracy. Those who have been systematically shut out of this process in the past may need to be given extra attention or treatment until parity is achieved. This is not a matter of top-down legislation, it is a concern of the heart.

When we become more conscious through a meditative practice, we begin to gain awareness of what it means to be a global citizen. It is puzzling how the actor/director Clint Eastwood, a Transcendental Meditation practitioner since the mid-seventies, feels compelled to defend the racially charged policies of presidential candidate Trump. Perhaps Eastwood has chosen to remove himself from the illumination and knowledge with which the teachings of the Veda provides us. It is certainly possible for a meditator to hold right-wing views (Mike Love), although it seems a rarity.

If the Veda is correct, and there is only one thing, is it possible that one race or class of people can be held as superior or inferior to another? Is it possible to judge another as less human, less worthy of citizenship in this country, arguably the most fair-minded and generous social experiment in existence? We in the meditation community can always agree on one thing: that our practice makes the world a more balanced, peaceful place.

Kindness does not require study or diligent practice; it is a natural way of being, a baseline from which we are meant to intuitively operate. All that is required is to recognize the wholeness in all things.



Thanks to our teachers

Waiting for moonlight, Ashland, Oregon

Waiting for moonlight, Ashland, Oregon

Happy Guru Purnima!

It is the peak of the lunar cycle in the Hindu month of Ashada (June-July). It is Guru Purnima, a day set aside to give thanks to our teachers. Today we drink strong chai, eat sweets, and walk in the full moonlight, all the while thinking of those who have inspired us along our spiritual journey.

In the worldview of the Veda, we realize that our teachers are all revered spiritual leaders as well as those circumstances, both good and seemingly bad, that lead us down the path to enlightenment. A teacher can also be a fellow traveller on life's highway, one from whom we learn a useful lesson.

Meditation, practiced daily and diligently, leads us to an awareness that our entire existence in these bodies on this planet is for learning and evolving. Therefore, our celebration of Guru Purnima becomes an acknowledgement of ourselves as eternal students, and hopefully brings a sense of gratitude for this awareness.

Have a walk in the full moon this evening and enjoy the beauty and bounty of consciousness!

Veda Vyāsa, divider of the Vedas, was believed to be an embodiment of Vishnu. He wrote the Indian classic Mahābhārata, which contains The Bhagavad Gita. This day is said to commemorate his birthday, sometime close to 5000 years ago.

Ved Vyasa

Ved Vyasa

Comfort overrated?

Manipulating the environment

We wish to keep ourselves safe. It is natural and normal to do so. Ego-driven logic tells us that we must be safe always, no matter what. Paradoxically, we create a pretty toxic environment while trying to achieve that goal. We build housing to protect ourselves from the elements, and in so doing, we risk the danger of eliminating nature in all its forms from our presence. The proliferation of McMansions in suburban neighborhoods is a case-in-point: A homeowner or developer buys a property, then builds the largest structure possible on it, eliminating any semblance of a useless "yard," maximizing the internal square footage. This is the way many modern humans choose to live, cut off from their neighbors, connected to the world only through electronics. The garages must be huge to house SUVs. The rooms must be huge to store a lifetime's accumulation of stuff.

Our bodies did not evolve to live this way. Our ancestors spent time in raw nature, and the body adapted amazingly. We still react pretty well to hard physical work. This used to be necessary when the majority of Americans lived on open land and farmed for survival. They ate fresh whole food when the seasons allowed and preserved the harvest for the leaner months, using simple canning and storage techniques. Factory farming and the proliferation of big agriculture has changed that. People's connection to nature has lessened, and we get our food from supermarkets. Progress? The state of the average Westerner's health would argue otherwise.

We now can control the temperature of our environment with the flick of a switch or the turn of a dial. Our vascular systems have become soft, unchallenged by exposure to nature. The heart works overtime to supply blood to our extremities, and the body is bombarded by stress chemistry. Cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine take up permanent residence in our systems. Inflammation from environmental toxins and processed food attack the weakened veins and arteries. We die early.

How does meditation help? We settle down to our least excited state twice a day for twenty minutes. We get a short respite from stress chemistry and replace it with a sense of bliss, of connectedness. We may not be able to change everything in our environment to be more comfortable, but when we meditate we can regain a connection to our true nature, and nature will lead us to a more sustainable existence.

Modern day camping has become little more than staying in mobile housing with a slightly smaller TV than we have at home. Many eschew this version of "connecting to nature," and rightly so. What is the point?

Get a simple backpack and a tent. Technology has made great strides toward maintaining necessary comfort in a small affordable campsite. Or hit the trail and go backcountry. Simplify. We need to experience nature first hand with the limited time we have on this beautiful planet.

Camping, northern Arizona

Camping, northern Arizona

The greatest force

Jeff Kober's wet plate camera, Los Angeles

Jeff Kober's wet plate camera, Los Angeles

How do I feel love?

As we pass through the stages of infancy into adulthood, we lose the need to receive from others in order to survive. We have, to one degree or another, become self-sufficient. Our ego, ever the naysayer, insists that we must acquire more and more material wealth in order to be worthy. Worthy of what? The love of others, of ourselves, of our creator.

But our creator already loves us. He brought us into this world and gave us endless gifts that we often choose to ignore. We have difficulty loving ourselves because we don't wish to be judged as narcissistic or conceited. Yet we are encouraged to appear confident and assertive. No wonder we get confused. What is the path to true self love? The Veda states that there is only one thing. The difference between you and me is miniscule. The love of others and the love of self is an academic distinction at best.

This leaves loving others. It is a paradox that, according to the Vedic world view, we can only feel love if we give it. We must strive as yogis to do just this. In what circumstances? In every circumstance. When is such effort appropriate? Always. Every time we ask the question, the answer is yes.

When we do the research and check our deepest intuition, we know that we must love others always. To follow this path yields so much more inner wealth than the acquisition of material goods. 

So, for us, to give love is to experience love, with no exceptions.

We have never killed our way to peace. Our culture goes so far as to discount the very idea of peace and deems its study unworthy or unrealistic.

War is justified by adopting a twisted worldview in which the exact words of the Christian savior are ignored and discarded, or cherrypicked.

"Market forces" or the dangerous dictates of crony capitalism are sold to us as inevitable, or even morally superior to actions or ideas that are sustainable.

Orwell warned us about this linguistic pretzel logic. His prescient dystopian fiction seems to have become an accurate depiction of our daily lives.

Perhaps it is time to try love.

Boat passengers on the Ganges

Boat passengers on the Ganges

Using creative energy

Ridge on Fryman Trail

Ridge on Fryman Trail

The inexhaustible supply

We are meant to be creative. This does not mean we all have the same chances to be so. We don't all have access to the same resources. Some of us are lucky to have been encouraged by parents or teachers. Some of us were given the gift of a strong desire to create at an early age.

Are we Mozart or are we Salieri? Mozart showed an immense talent while quite young. His raw talent was undeniable. Salieri, on the other hand, was not as naturally gifted. He had to employ every other talent he had in business, in manipulation, and in political savvy to curry favor with his patrons and secure his job as a court composer. At the time of his death, Mozart was penniless, unsung and, for the most part, unrecognized. Salieri was very popular with the wealthy patrons of Vienna.

Yet today, Mozart is recognized as an artistic genius of the highest caliber. Salieri, while his compositional efforts are respectable, and by no means without quality, is not even thought of in the same class as Mozart.

Are these comparisons useful or fair? Not really. Each man had different skills, and employed them in service to the same end: the glory and elevation of the art form.

We can be effective in the application of our own creative energies as Mozart was, by enabling and encouraging ourselves to continue to learn, to strive for improvement, and to create for the sheer joy of doing so. Whether we create a sumptuous meal for our loved ones, write our deepest feelings down in a poem, or design a garden plot, we enjoy ourselves and leave the world a better place for having done so.

When we meditate, we plow the ground. We then can choose the seeds we plant. We discover inner space that can be filled with our creativity.

It is our birthright, and it is our dharma. 

When we go to the well regularly, do we risk depleting a finite supply? As it turns out, no. We fill ourselves with abundant adaptation energy, and then use it generously for the benefit of others, which in turn helps us. In this way we ensure our inner resources will continue to flow.

Well, Cal State Channel Islands Campus

Well, Cal State Channel Islands Campus

The devil you know

Rainforest, above Fryman, Los Angeles

Rainforest, above Fryman, Los Angeles

How we romance our afflictions

Am I this? This body that will ultimately fail and die, no matter what I do to contribute to its longevity? 

No, I cannot be just this. My body does miraculous things if I don't severely hamper its mysterious healing powers with my constant emotional cravings and override its superior innate intelligence in the mistaken idea that I "own" it. We, as westerners, insist on making bad choices for ourselves and those around us because we arrogantly feel it is our birthright. This assumption is based on what?

It is based on an idea. We think we are this story that we have constructed around the individual, around the consumer of corporate products, around our job, around our tattoos.

Our tattoos will fade and become unreadable as our skin loses elasticity. We will cease buying Mercedes-Benz automobiles when our reflexes fail and we can no longer safely navigate a freeway. We will even cease having preferences that our precious opinions matter as our fading mobility isolates us. This is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.

We are not youth; it is a stage we pass through. We are not uniforms we wear, or clothes we buy. We put these on and take them off, and no indication we ever wore them remains.

What remains? Only this: the silent witness. The sky that shows no trace of yesterday's clouds. We are the seeing, the experiencing, We could not own it if we tried. It is on loan to us.

Meditation puts us in touch with this experience by clearing away that which we are not. If we enter the subtler realms again and again, we can renew the only thing we have ever had.

This beautiful moment.

Our false sense of ownership robs us of true compassion, of the choice to give to and receive love from others. Time is passing. We can surrender our preference to be selfish, and in doing so to experience the joy of service, of creativity, of love.

Overlooking Northern California

Overlooking Northern California