Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Hi. I'm back. No explanations. Go figure.

We were treated to two snowstorms last week in the space of just over three days. The first was a fast mover which left a foot high calling card. The second was nastier and left two calling cards - about eight inches of snow, soon to be capped by ice. Lots of fun and a great opportunity to share some chili and watch the Patriots win #14. Not bad for a weekend.

So with #1 I'm getting ready to go out and start shoveling. I see my neighbor is having his driveway plowed and wondered if the plow would hit the corner of his stone wall or my mailbox - again.

I shovel about a 10' square up top and then go down to the road to say hello to the hard packed snow and salt, compliments of the town plows. If I don't get to it fairly quickly successive runs by the plows can build up rapidly and then it all compresses and morphs into the dreaded white cement.

My neighbors are out shoveling their remnants.

I call across: "Are we having fun yet?"

Peter calls back: "Oh yeah, how about you?"

I chant back: "Definitely, and it looks like I'm going to have a lot more fun than you."

We both giggle mirthfully, and I start working towards breakthrough - that's how I like to do it. I identify the highest reach of the plow spew, start digging in a straight line towards the road and then declare breakthrough! when I get to the road. Then I start going in random patterns east and west. That's the system. But the pace is definitely guided by not rushing. It'll get done when it gets done and it's always a grand opportuity to listen to the snow falling, saying hello to my body and the satisfaction of doing something concrete.

Peter mosies over and asks: "Want some help?"

I take my time in responding and say: "I pretty much have it covered, but as long as you're here we could work on this part together and talk in between."

We continue at a leisurely pace sprinkling many breaks in between. Actually the shoveling is brief and the breaks are fairly long.

"Here's how I figure it." I say. The whole system started to break down when there was a rush to get things done - fast." "And now that I know that I take my own sweet time, but keep working at it, bit by bit. Sweat's good, difficult is good, discomfort is good, but having to get it all done chop chop quick quick like yesterday is not only not good, it's bad (except for certain circumscribed events.)"

Peter agrees. Now I know I'm on a roll.

(Magically insert another conversation with another friend, Jeff.)

Over breakfast, my treat this time, I ask: "When do you think it all changed, all this speeding up stuff?"

He says: "Easy; it changed the day fax machines became available for the home-office. Then you never got away from it and it also created an expectation of urgency where you had to deal with it right away and get back to the sender."

"I generally agree. I first saw it when I saw the marketing material for the Digital Rainbow. It showed a guy dressed casually and sitting on his back deck overlooking the ocean and the dunes on the Cape. He had his feet up and had the keyboard on his lap and the monitor on a table a few feet off to the side. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. I didn't realize how much of a big mouth bass I was until after I bought it and found out that it did nothing to bring me closer to leisure and refreshment."

"Then later I looked at that original marketing material and finally saw the big computer box discretely tucked away behind a planter and all the cables also blended into the background so to be nearly invisible."

I asked Jeff: "So what did you do with your fax machine?""

I loved his answer: "I just tell people that when they send material to him, he will deal with it and get back to them but not to expect anything close to immediacy."

I ask: "How does that work for you?"

"Nicely," he says, "they know that I will deal with it and that's all they really need."

I say: "Good for you! You've managed to create a work structure that works for you, you have trained them and those who can't handle that can move on, and you have reclaimed your life. Neat!"

(Now back to the snow pile.)

Peter and I continued to shovel and talk. We talked about how in the old days and in "the country" people helped one another out. When you needed some assistance they would be there for you, no questions asked. The unspoken contract was that it would be reciprocated, but each person was expected to carry their own weight and make honest effort to work it out by yourself (and with your family) first. That built the bond of trust and made for good neighbors. That built bonds. That built community. And that's what we need now more than ever before.

The next day I brought him some of my not so famous chili (the short version is that I love it but my wife said that we have to get rid of it and that it's in my best interest if I never try making it again...little does she know) and a copy of Duane Elgin's Radical Simplicity for future snowstorms.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"A Very, Very Faint Voice From Deep, Deep Within Me."

I was going through some old files the other day, in preparation to having them shredded.

And I came across a piece of paper with the following three sentences taped to it:

"I heard a very, very faint voice from deep, deep within me. Really only the echo of a voice. It was asking for life."

The tape and piece of paper with the words on it fell off the original sheet of paper on which were similar ideas and pictures pasted all over in a montage style.

I had a sense that the words were still echoing and that they wanted to be heard yet again. This was reinforced a while later when I was putting away the last scattered pieces and I saw that piece again. When I went to tear it in half, it "resisted" partly because of the scotchtape. It was almost like it was saying "don't just throw me away."

I virtually never talk about my clinical work here on this blog. But it's 30 years since I saw that person so I will share this one piece of information. It was written by a young woman who felt that she was a "throwaway child" who came from a family which both abused people and also conspired to scapegoat anyone who dared to speak of those violations. Thus the significance of the voice - very faint, very deep, really only an echo (how hidden is that source?) - asking for life.

It got me thinking about where my voice is, where her voice is, where your voice is.

Is there a part of each of us which is talking to ourselves? An internal dialogue, and ongoing? And do we take the time to listen, really listen? And can we hear it in the midst of all of the noise which surrounds us?

I remember reading Neale David Walsch's book(s) on Conversations With God. He talks about how he was sitting in his kitchen one day reflecting on the wreck that his life had become. And he was writing about it, and he wrote about asking where God was and how come he never speaks to him. To his surprise he "heard" God who said that he had been there all along, but he (David) was never listening. That led to an ongoing conversation between the two of them which formed the basis of his books.

Do we have to hear our own voice before we can hear anyone else's? Or do we have to stop listening to our own voice over and over again, before we can really hear anyone else's?

We all yearn for those conversations, to hear and to be heard.

Thanks for listening. And thanks to that young woman who spoke those words for all of us to hear.

Addendum: Several minutes after I put this post up on my blog, my eyes again found the piece of paper and scotchtape. I picked it up, and the scotch tape fell off.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Chronic Lyme Disease - One Person's Diagnostic Journey

Our bodies are generally so wonderfully resilient that we can shed or counteract most threats to our health. But there are those that still move through all of our wonderful defenses.

Lyme Disease seems to be one of them, although I know very little about it except that if you are bitten by the deer tick and get infected then you may or may not get the tell tale bulls-eye rash. I also don't know if everyone is susceptible to the infection, or if only some get it. But I do know that if it is untreated it can lead to down the road consequences which are varied and which can cause havoc for your wellbeing.

It is in that context that I share the following e-mail which was sent to me by a lovely young woman who is in my community. I found out that she has been having some physical problems which were impacting her life quite a bit, and we struck up an ongoing conversation. Part of that conversation involved my encouraging her to stay active in the diagnostic process and also to please let me know how things develop and turn out.

In response to that request she sent me the following material with an energetic encouragement to share it on my blog. As you can see, she wants to get the "word" out. (N.B. I have excluded a few sentences to further protect her privacy - although as you can see she has created an email identity so that people can contact her directly to discuss further.)

I was diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease.

  • Over the past one and a half years plus, I exhausted two internal medicine doctors, two neurologists, two endocrinologists, a cardiologist, an ophthalmologist, a gynecologist, two psychiatrists, three psychologists and three primary care physicians. These doctors ruled out thyroid disease, adrenal fatigue, anemia, anorexia, myasthenia gravis, hemochromatosis, lymphoma, leukemia, cancer, lupus, syphilis, amyloidosis, sarcoidosis, cardiomyopathy, fibromyalgia, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou G Gehrig's's disease), and lyme disease! ...Standard blood tests ruled out lyme disease three times.

    After all of this, I was treated with medication for anxiety and depression and the treatment was relatively ineffective. I was also encouraged to exercise. (Exercise?! I can't get up the stairs sometimes! And my echocardiogram & stress test at age 36 "had the results that a 55 year old would have".)

    My symptoms for the last year and a half have been, in the following progressing order :

    ongoing weight loss
    severe anxiety & depression/despair
    short term memory loss & confusion
    SEVERE overall fatigue
    Shortness of breath
    Muscle weakness in arms and legs and difficulty climbing stairs or opening doors or turning the steering wheel in my car
    Muscle cramps/spasms in my legs
    Strong muscle "twitching" (for example: my arm will involuntarily leap up over my head while I'm falling asleep.. or my stomach muscles will belly dance involuntarily...or my hand will suddenly squeeze an imaginary ball 4 times in a row... It's all so WEIRD.)

    I also had random but more nagging symptoms like:

    peeling finger nails
    recurring rash on the palms of my hands and feet
    tremor in my hands
    increase in facial hair
    heavier menstrual periods

    I'd also like to note that two recent fellow lyme disease sufferers experienced paralysis on one side of their faces.

    Without anywhere or any doctor to go to next, I was diagnosed, or more accurately "categorized" with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which, as I was told by my second neurologist and final doctor, basically means that all my doctors are stumped and have nothing else to call what I was experiencing -– at least not until my symptoms progressed into one of the disorders that I had already been tested for; or until my symptoms simply disappeared. I'd had every blood/urine test, brain & body scan, and physical or neurological evaluation that I could imagine and they all turned up nothing.

    I started telling everyone and anyone that I had been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome hoping that someone with experience could tell me what to explore next. That's when a friend's Mom, had a friend, who had been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and was finally correctly diagnosed and successfully treated for Chronic Lyme Disease. Chronic Lyme Disease begins by a deer tick bite carrying Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria, that first spreads locally (50% of bites present a rash at the site of the bite) and then becomes systemic.

    That's the trick in diagnosing Lyme Disease: Apparently, lyme bacteria becomes systemic shortly after it enters the blood and then there is really no way to test for it once it leaves the blood and enters your body's cells. Once you have the bacteria, it finds a home in random cells in your body, and lies dormant, sometimes for years, and only becomes active during periods of stress. Each subsequent stress period brings on new and/or more severe previous symptoms. It would seem that the bacteria get stronger with each bout of stress in defense of their restful home in your cells.

    There is standard laboratory blood test for lyme disease and another more involved lab test called the Western Blot test. The latter is also used to test for people with HIV. Both of these lyme blood tests can offer false negatives simply because the bacteria are no longer in the blood. The Western Blot test encourages certain bacteria to adhere to certain proteins (calcium being one of the most common), and based on the proteins that the bacteria adheres to, they reveal themselves as lyme.

    The prognosis for Chronic Lyme Disease is excellent. I'm told that as long as I take the antibiotic long enough to find all hidden bacteria, then I should be free of Lyme for the rest of my days. Tetracycline is apparently the most effective antibiotic, though there are two other antibiotics that are used as well. I'm on Tetracycline now.

    The doctor informed me that my symptoms would worsen over the next 2 months or so of antibiotic therapy, but to knuckle through it; By the third month I should be feeling better. The antibiotics have to spend time locating the bacteria, then the bacteria will become violently active as they are attacked... thus the sudden worsening of symptoms before feeling better.

    The reason for continuing the antibiotics beyond the first 3 months, or beyond "feeling good again", is to be sure we've given the antibiotic time to find all the lyme bacteria in one effort. If not, I could have a reoccurrence of symptoms later, and a second round of the antibiotics would be less effective and likely unsuccessful.

    The infectious disease doctor that has finally diagnosed me specifically with Chronic Lyme Disease is stating confidently that lyme or some other similar bacteria have been hiding out and wreaking havoc in my central nervous system. He believes that the bacteria have likely been causing me trouble for as many as the last 10 years, and could have been bitten back then when I was an avid mountain biker. Lyme could even have been the cause of some of my postpartum symptoms of anxiety, dementia, hyperthyroidism, and severe fatigue - simply in response to the stress of childbirth and my subsequent recovery.

    I'm going to be taking 1500 mg of antibiotics (Tetracycline) daily for the next 9-12 months. I've been on that regimen for about two weeks so far and I am so hopeful at last - even though, true to the doctor's word, my fatigue and anxiety have sprung like gangbusters.

    I have found this article to be very helpful to my understanding of the process of Lyme Disease.

I hope this information speaks to any other "mysterious" disease sufferers out there. I'm open to having my email MysteryNoMore@gmail.com shared with others any time and to compare notes. I wish someone was there to offer me hope sooner, but the process I went through was necessary. I'm hopeful that I've found my diagnosis, but I'm still listening to other fellow sufferers for other possibilities!


I find it so interesting that the "Lyme" "strengthens" at times of stress. Yet another reason to grab hold of our lifestyles and make decisions and choices which are in our best interest both short term and long term.

Remember the basics, but only always: eat well, rest well, laugh more, don't take it all too seriously, build relationships, keep a positive mental attitude, let go, let go, and keep it simple.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Now Sit Back And Watch The White House "Spin" This

Do you ever wonder why people in power don't speak the truth? Sit back and watch what happens when someone who was in the center of it all says the public secret out loud for all to hear.

Without elaborating, Alan Greenspan states:

"I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/14/AR2007091402451.html?hpid=topnews

Now let's sit back and watch the spin-meisters do their thing.

Go here for additional comment


On the other hand, why is Mr. Greenspan saying this right now?

Of Course it is good for book sales. Could it also be related to the unwinding of the economy and his need to point the finger elsewhere?

My own personal sense is that the best way for Mr. Greenspan to have made this statement would be to have also added that he knew it while it was all developing and in spite of that he chose to remain silent and let the mistake, the whole mistake, take place with his silent complicity.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Junkie's Last Fix

Until we deal with speed and energy - faster and more powerful - everything will propel us down the same road to depletion. Yes depletion; not just of values and the ability to take life at it's own pace, but also of earth's unreplenishible resources. Ironic, isn't it, experiencing speed and power can make us feel so alive, but it can also be so short sighted if we are borrowing our endowment or our reserves in order to make us feel alive so we can stay pumped up so we don't feel emptiness. Full and empty are both parts of the human condition and to try and deny either part is to throw the system out of significant balance.

Speed and rushing are such addictive patterns. Laura had a quote which I just love: "...and make the best life of enough-ness I can...."

When the junkie is at his or her most desperate, they will do things they never thought they would. We are blowing tops off mountains in the Appalachians. Tops of mountains leveled!

We are destroying tracts of land the size of Florida for some more of that stuff that allows us to propel a two thousand pound metal box at highway speeds, or to sit in traffic, in order to transport one person from here to there and back again, day in and day out.

The CIA tracks how much oil is consumed by various countries. Take a look at this pie chart - I wasn't able to copy and duplicate it in this post unfortunately. That pie is being eaten by a very big piggy.

And this is how one person talks about the junkie's addiction for oil:

"Now, (the story about the Tar Sands) wasn't easy to piece together. The press is almost universally in favor of anything that sounds like "more oil," no matter the cost. Nearly all we hear about is X billion in new investment announced by Y Company. We don't hear too much about the cancellations, delays and cost overruns. A full reckoning is rarely attempted.
But that's what we're here for.

So let's reckon this.

What we have here is arguably the most environmentally destructive activity man has ever attempted, with a compliant government, insatiable demand and an endless supply of capital turning it into "a speeding car with a gas pedal and no brakes." It sucks down critical and rapidly diminishing amounts of both natural gas and water, paying neither for its consumption of natural capital nor its environmental destruction, to the utter detriment of its host. And all to eke out maybe a 10% profit, if it turns out that the books haven't been cooked, and if the taxation structure remains a flat-out giveaway.

All of that, just to produce enough oil to offset the declining conventional oil production in the rest of Canada. Maybe.

And that, my friends, is what I call the oil junkie's last fix. An act of sheer desperation to stave off just a little longer that inevitable day when we are forced to realize that the fossil fuel game is truly over. No more rabbits in the hat. Done.

In the July 2006 issue of Rolling Stone, Al Gore called the tar sands "crazy," a huge waste of energy and an eyesore on the landscape of Western Canada. "For every barrel of oil they extract there, they have to use enough natural gas to heat a family's home for four days," Mr. Gore told the magazine. "And they have to tear up four tons of landscape, all for one barrel of oil. It is truly nuts. But you know, junkies find veins in their toes. It seems reasonable, to them, because they've lost sight of the rest of their lives."

This quote was taken from: Tar Sands: The Oil Junkie's Last Fix, Part 2 September 9, 2007 at: Theoildrum.com

I stand pat on my resolution: I will rush no more!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Refreshing Look Into A Future

I came across a new essay by Ran Prieur entitled "How to Save Civilization." It walks a new line for me, one that is different from grim visions of a post-apocalyptic post peak oil world and also different from updated versions of 1984.

Please read it. It is well worth your time. In my opinion it outlines thinking and action which should form a foundation for a more mature discussion of planning for the future. Sadly it would be political suicide for any of the current presidential candidates to address any of his points directly, but it has the potential in the hands of some to begin to shift some basic positions, across time. On the other hand, if the level of discussion of the candidates doesn't significantly shift away from their typical bullet points it will, through neglect, make the pain of the future even more intense.

Some quotes: "The deeper problem is that we are on an airplane designed by madmen to only work if it keeps going higher and faster, and the higher and faster we go, the harder we will eventually crash." This is in a context of energy usage, now and in the future, but it could as easily be addressing the shenanigans of the past several years with the process of seemingly ever increasing amounts of liquidity available to people.

And, "...we think we're turning off the air conditioner and bicycling to work to save the Earth. In fact, other people and other economies will just take our place at the Earth-gobbling table and eat it just as fast. what we're really saving is our future sanity, by practicing for the day when we're forced to reduce consumption." This quote really speaks to me and addresses several issues I have been writing about, e.g., the dangers of identifying ourselves with the amount of money and the number of toys which we have accumulated. I liked it also that he addressed the needs for defense to protect your basic sustenance from the "bad-guys."

A few days ago a friend gave me a copy of Lester Brown's book: Plan B 2.0. I have only read a few portions of it, but one of the issues I see with it is that it is premised on an allocation of radical amounts of money from the government to implement many of the ideas. (If I have misread that I apologize in advance.) Big money will do what big money does and I just don't see that as a viable option to turn things around for the planet.

Prieur's approach is different, as I see it. He seems to be saying, it's going to happen, and then it will be a whole new ball game and then here are some further thoughts as to how we can approach that situation such that we don't automatically find ourselves right back in the same situation all over again. Refreshing.

I am curious to hear people's reactions to his essay.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Few Thoughts About Quality Of Life

Let me get right into it: we have been defined in the economic image of consumerism. Of course there are other parts of the definition; we are a generous nation, we love our freedoms, we tend to be fast moving, we have a spiritual sense, etc. But beneath it all there has been a cloning of the "gotta get money" gene into our social DNA.

Thankfully that gene isn't in our original stem cells, but if those who want to be even bigger fat cats could, they would insert it into every corn flake in every supermarket in every state, city, town, village, and hamlet in America. In fact they would want that desire to be added to the basic instincts such that everyone would have three basic instincts: survival, procreation, and "gotta get money."

And having been defined that way, we grow so accustomed to define and appraise others with the same financial yardstick that we come to think of it as the natural way of things. But I don't think that is the way it has been all along. There has, I suspect, always been throughout history an awareness of how well one person is doing vis a vis their neighbors. That is understandable since we are hardwired to live and travel in packs. If their pack is doing better than our pack, then we want what they have, etc. It's a survival thing.

In the really old days those comparisons might mean do they have more food than we do, and are their hunting grounds better than ours? Have they been able to stay warm during the winter months? Do they have a means to keep their fires going?

Nowadays the comparisons are much more superficial. We don't need twenty questions to assess how others are doing. I was going to say we don't need twenty questions to assess how we are doing...but I'm thinking that we really have to do our financial self-assement in comparison to the "well-being" of others. More on that later, but for now, because the self worth part is determined on getting more and then that is coupled at some mythic time in the future when we will have enough and then we can live the really good life and never have to worry any more about having enough of - you got it - moola.

Let's see, what are the basic dozen questions we need answered to see how we are doing in comparison to others? Some are resolved in "conversation" and others are driven by visuals.

Where do you live?
What do you do for a living?
How far do you travel?
How do you travel?
What clothes do your wear?
Who is your mate (and all of the same questions about the mate)?
Where have you gone for vacations?
How successful do you appear?
How well do you express yourself?
Do you seem confident?
How good do your teeth appear?

Hmmm, I don't know that we will need the dozenth question, or even the baker's dozen question.

For right now, I'll stop. Perhaps you could add a few more. And I'll expand on this later, I promise, because to stop there is to just put us into a nasty despondency based on shallowness. And expand we must; expecially in these troubled financial waters we are observing.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Good Guys and Bad Guys

My wife and I have been talking about the volume of media articles and programs reporting on horrific events happening in the world - both abroad and, sadly, here also. It seems like there are just endless reports of genocide, terrorist bombings, home invasions, infanticide, beatings, political corruption, and on and on. I know that much of the emphasis on what is presented is driven by a rapacious media machine and other institutions which use fear and insecurity to further their own self-interests. And I know that the lesson of history is that there is nothing new with these actions, even though they are presented as "new" developments but, well, there is just so much of it.

Mary says very thoughtfully: "There is so much evil in the world."

Me: "Yes."

Mary: "But there are good people and those who are doing the right thing."

Me: "Yes. ...You're one of the good ones."

Mary: "You're one of the good guys also."

I then went on to talk about a book I had just finished reading: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. It's about a journey and a conversation between a father and his son. It's not exactly clear but I would put the boy's age at about 5. The setting is a post-Apocalyptic scenario of bare bones survival, shocking descriptions of extreme inhumanity, and constant vigilance in the face of an ongoing condition of imminent and total danger. One moment of inattention could change everything on a dime. Almost everything is pared down to food and water and survival from others. Even the thought of attempting to bond or form alliances with others is almost impossible to risk.

Every plan that you could come up with for sustaining yourself and your loved ones in dire situations is removed in the reality of the author's earth-encircled dust cloud and it's profound consequences for our planet. Food, and the possibility of even growing your own, has never been more literally "off the table." There is nothing but survival and the immediate choices of how to do that and what to hold onto in your humanity. It's as if you are stripped of all hope and confronted only with the present moment and choices contained therein.

It was one of the grimmest books I have ever read, and yet, I couldn't put it down and I would also rate it as one of the best books I have read in some time. As it so happens, it is also a national bestseller and on Oprah's Book Club list - I mention this to indicate that I am hardly the only person who is willing to read disturbing material.

The survival of the father is held onto, it seems, only for the purpose of bringing his son along on the road towards the West. He doesn't know what lies out there but he knows that if he stands still he will be eventually overwhelmed, enslaved and consumed. He also knows that there is no going back. He has seen the desolation of that. There is only forward, and intent and integrity are the only driving forces.

His overriding purpose is the protection of the son, the keeper of the light, the fire, the innocence, the potential. The father's personal survival is only important in the service of protecting his son. Nothing sappy, and he is not even exactly clear why the mission is so important. But he knows that if anything happens to his son, his reason for being here disappears.

The dialogue between the father and son is sparse, pared down like everything else to just the essentials. It's like that's all you have energy left over for and also it's a decision based on energy conservation. Long gone are any discussions of Disney World, the latest movies, and what will it be like after the reality of Peak Oil really sinks in.

And in that dialogue, there is frequent reference to the question of: "Are we the good guys? Are they the bad guys? Are you a good guy? Am I a bad guy because of the decision I/we just made for our survival - at someone else's expense - (and remember on their journey they were always talking about every action leading to either death or survival)?

That was the context of my saying to my wife that she was one of the good guys. Yes, even is Shangri La, in our context of living in the Garden of Eden, we need to think of who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

Oh, there is so much to this.

Enjoy the present abundance. Build character. Make wise decisions. Strengthen relationships.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Talk About Evaporation!

In my previous post I was talking about water and evaporation and impermanence and change; one exit script from the fabled land of Shangri La. And at the end I was going to shift from water to oil. I thought it would be a clever transition for the end of the post. But it was not to be since most of what I wrote at the end was lost to the etherspace. Drat.

Then today in the Boston Globe there was another kind of evaporation that hints at a further exit path from Shangri La.

To quote: "Bear Stearns Cos. told clients that a melt-down in the subprime mortgage market has made the assets of two of its flagship hedge funds almost worthless. The assets in one of the funds are essentially worthless, while another is worth 9 percent of its value at the end of April, according to a document obtained by the Associated Press. In March, the High-Grade Structured Credit Enhanced Leveraged fund was worth about $638 million - and now has no value. The larger and less-leveraged High-Grade structured Credit fund lost 91 percent of its value. It was worth about $925 million in March."

Talk about evaporation of (imagined) liquid assets!

To paraphrase Tip O'Neil: "A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."


(For further and more technical / detailed elaborations of this development and implications you can look at recent entries at Sudden Debt and Generational Dynamics.)

Monday, July 16, 2007

I May Not See Everything - But I'm Not Blind

Part 1. (Long, long ago, and then just back a few generations )

Let's suppose that you were born in Shangri La and for your whole life that was all that you had ever known. Let's also say that virtually everyone you know has been swimming in the same wonderful sea of abundance and comfort. Now let's suppose that there are some rumblings which indicate that the world as you know it may not continue in the same way into the forseeable future. How would you deal with those rumblings? Would you amplify them, tune them in better, so you could look at their messages more directly and with greater clarity? Or would you let them remain as static which is an annoyance because it distracts from the comfort of Shangri La?

Given those two conditions you would have every right to expect that the wonderful world you have known would continue that way, since that is the way it has always been. That would be a fairly safe bet. You would hope that there would be minor variations in climate, etc. to help you know that it is not just a dream and to stress you somewhat just keep it interesting. But there would be no need to be concerned because you would have every good reason to believe that the party will just keep going on.

Would you highlight your inklings, even though they initially increase your sense of uncertainty and nibble at the picture of "everything's just fine," or would you send out even more invitations and, as they say: "Party on, Dude!"

Now imagine that in that happy valley where everything is lush green, and the temperature is always manageable, and where there is abundant food and water, and it's not too crowded that there is one pivotal change that happens gradually and progressively over a period of time. And let's say that one thing is a shift downwards in annual rainfall.

I was listening to something on NPR today about how that actually happened to a fun-loving and easy going group of people in Cape Verde, a collection of small islands off the west coast of Africa. For whatever reasons it essentially stopped raining there. And with that one central and pivotal development they simply couldn't grow their own food anymore. Then everything changed. It got to the point where, it was said, people were just passing out in the streets from lack of energy, the energy which comes from food which is based on the planting of seeds and timely application of soil and water and sunshine.

If it were not for aid from the world at large (whoever that was) and the relief from that, the people would have disappeared, from the slowness called starvation. A scary prospect for any individual, or family, or village. But a whole culture?

(It turns out that many of the Cape Verdeans left their land and settled elsewhere. They have kept alive the longing for their land and the spirit of their people and thankfully that lineage will continue in spite of their natural calamity.)

Part 2. (Contemporary Shangri La, and Contemporary Drought in Shangri La)

Here in the NorthEast we have been blessed with more than adequate rainfall for so long that we could almost take it for granted (although recently there has seemed to be more intensifications of downpours followed by dry spells than previously experienced by me in my 65+ years.) Nevertheless we continue to have more than adequate supplies, although we see bans on watering lawns more frequently. Yes, in our own Hundreth Town we live in another Shangri La, . We have been spared the "longing" of the Cape Verdeans; the longing for their way of being and their own abundance from when they had more than enough.

I give thanks regularly for the abundance which we have. But I also recognize the fragility of the whole which goes with it. When I look at the weather maps of our country and look at the rainfall amounts over the past few years in the drought areas of America, I am concerned about what could be.

It's a funny place to be. I know what we have, and what could develop if the having of that which we have come to take for granted were to evaporate before our eyes. Not rapidly, but slowly, much like watching paint dry. And I am reminded of the story of the frog in the pan of water. If the frog is placed in the pot of water and the water becomes suddenly hot, the frog will take appropriate action and jump. However, if the water is gradually heated, the frog gets used to it, and precipitous action is not called for, i.e., it's better to put up with the hot water which is known than to risk a move which will entail moving into the unknown.

Part 3; (What if instead of water, it was oil?)

Damn...this whole part just got lost in etherspace! I'll try to finish it tomorrow. But in the meantime look at a very important essay by Jeffrey Brown at The Oil Drum blog.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Choosing To Be Placid Amidst All The Hustle And Bustle

A little time lapse photography captures it nicely.

Addendum: Appreciative thanks go to Dougald Hine, Proxima, and Steve Williams for their assistance in helping me to embed the video directly into this post.

It turns out to be ultra simple: In the bottom right corner of the original video there is a button for menu. Click that, and then select embed and then select copy to clipboard. Then in the body of your post, in "Edit Html" view, paste the HTML code from the clipboard, and then publish post directly from the Edit Html button on Blogger dashboard...easy peasy.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Thank you, Cristin

I'd like to share what my daughter, Cristin, wrote on her Father's Day card to me:

Dear Dad,

Wishing you a wonderful day, and a happy relaxing summer ahead. Enjoy each bike ride, walk, garden guru moment, and great book you embark upon, in the coming hazy, lazy days.

Thank you for a great year, and more great times ahead.



(can you hear the deep and appreciative breaths I am taking?)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Just Say "No!" to More Stuff

There's that old bumper sticker which says: "He who dies with the most toys wins."

It used to be good for a quick chuckle and a sardonic smile. Now it's not worth spit.

I was building two 4-foot square wooden frames for my square foot gardening project several weeks ago. I'm not much of a handyman, but I know how to screw pieces of wood together. I had a drill and drilled 48 holes. That was the "easy" part - "easy" in the sense that little "labor" was involved and it "didn't take much time."

Then came the actual screwing of the screws. (I don't know how else to word that so it will have to just stay in the post.) The screws were about 2" long and 48 were involved. I knew I had a screw driver (powered by me) and I thought that it would be efficient if I had an electric screwdriver. A debate followed in my mind as to whether this was a good time to buy one - after all I would be able to use it to assemble the frame "in no time at all" not to mention how I could use it for all those other projects which are always around the corner. Or was this another invitation, an opportunity to do it simply and to not buy yet again another some-thing which will eventually be sold at a yard sale, but not until it has collected dust for several years.

It turned out, I am pleased to say, to be an easy choice. My pockets remained heavy, no gas used to go to the mall to buy the gizmo, no time "spent" traveling (traversing would be a better word) to and from, no throwing away of more plastic and cardboard and paper, no warranty form to fill out - oh, did it feel liberating.

I got down to the business of using the screwdriver. I knelt and stretched. I used my fingers, my wrist, my forearm, my elbow, my upper arm, and then switched arms. When I got uncomfortable I stopped for a few minutes.

My son Andrew stopped by and I said: "hey, you wanna give me a hand?"

He said: "Sure."

Actually he gave me two hands and we threw in some conversation to hold the whole thing together even better. He even lent me some back muscles to help carry the frames from the garage to the upper level of my back yard. (It's even sweeter when he stops by and looks at the tomato plants growing in the frames - more history-making than I had anticipated - try and buy that at the mall!)

We grow when we put mind and effort and concentration and ingenuity into figuring something out; when we put our own chosen effort into our actions. Ran was talking about that a while back in his entry of May 21-23. Eleutheros was also referencing it on his blog when he talked about the tyranny of the mind set of: "Git 'er done (quickly)."

I've known for decades that consumerism is destructive. It's a parasitic meme which repeats and replicates itself over and again. And like any good parasite it feeds on it's host without outright killing it. If it kills the host slowly all the better since it can itself survive longer. And what parasite would give a second thought as to how the host continues to pay and pay and pay. But as I was saying in my last post on "It's more than just putting on the brakes" the "not buying" is incomplete - it has to be coupled with the life and living that has a way of taking root in those other spaces

Yes, I'll just say "no thanks, but could you pass me a little more time and a lot more of no-things." It's really just fine with me, when it's time for me to pass on, if I don't have all those toys.

I guess I'm shifting towards a "keep it simpler" kind of guy.


From Wikipedia: "Cultural change necessarily involves resistance to change. The term Luddite has been resurrected from a previous era to describe one who distrusts or fears the inevitable changes brought about by new technology. The original Luddite revolt occurred in 1811, an action against the English Textile factories that displaced craftsmen in favor of machines. Today's Luddites continue to raise moral and ethical arguments against the excesses of modern technology to the extent that our inventions and our technical systems have evolved to control us rather than to serve us and to the extent that such leviathans can threaten our essential humanity."

And from http://www.primitivism.com/index.html : "Primitivism is the pursuit of ways of life running counter to the development of technology, its alienating antecedents, and the ensemble of changes wrought by both. This site is an exploration into primitivist theory, as well as various works that contribute to an understanding of the tendency."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

It's More Than Just Applying The Brakes

I've been thinking a lot about this whole process of taking time, not rushing, and my mantra: "I will rush no more!"

It occurs to me that imbedded in the statement is an invitation to slip into an alternate way of being. I am coming to the conclusion that it (my mantra) is like a skeleton key for a portal to a different way of being and experiencing. If you go too fast or if you are preoccupied and harried in your "going" then you will miss the portal and the opportunity. But if you go at the right pace and with a state of mindfulness, i.e., being in the moment without the flood of judgements and preferences and qualifications, then the passage presents itself and you can slip into it.

However, if the "not rushing" is coming from a place of just putting on the brakes, a having to slow down, in the sense that it's a rule or a mandate, rather than a preference and an active choice, then it loses all of its magical potential. A rough approximation would be having to slow down in traffic but being frustrated the whole time because the impulse is to continue speeding, for whatever reason. Perhaps the classic situation would be with a person who has what is called Type A behavior. A person with that is suffering from an ongoing sense of time urgency, and anything or anyone who impedes that urgency is seen as a source of frustration. In those situations the best outcome (and it's not good at all) is to just endure the impedence; no growth there.

Most of the time simply not rushing will have a positive effect in my experience (provided it's not simply applying brakes). But the further gain will come when there is a softening into the moment and opening of the gates of awareness without preference. Nice things happen then, or more properly, new things have a greater chance of happening under those conditions.

There is one further piece in all this and that is that if you bring all of the "old" into the place of freshness, then it will just contaminate that place.

But all is not lost if you mess it up because the potential of using the skeleton key for the portal is always there. It's always there for the taking or experiencing. Sometimes I think it's like there is a revolving door which is ever present. If you enter, you leave one place, you move around, and then you can get out and be in the different place. And of course, the revolving door goes in the other direction also.

I'm talking about a skill. A skill for living well. A skill for improving the sense of appreciation and wonder and curiosity.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Rushing In My Dreams - Balancing Act?

In my last post I talked about procrastination.

During the week or two before writing that I became aware of several dreams in which I was rushing. There was no particular place that I was rushing to. No particular task to accomplish. Not running from anything. Just rushing. Just the feeling of pressure that comes from rushing.

It may have been related to the fact that I was procrastinating with those reports and that led to a feeling of "having to get something done." Maybe that's it; in my daytime consciousness I was doing a fairly good job of pushing the task out of my mind - and then in my sleep / dream time world, it shows up as the concrete abstraction (how's that for juxtaposing two words) of just plain rushing - without any specific content.

But another thought also occurred to me. That was that with any change there is an inevitable backlash which tries to re-establish the original state of affairs.

In my situation, I started this process when the words "I will rush no more" became my mantra by applying them in an ongoing, daily, and gradually expanding manner. The "ongoing" was important because to not do that it would just become another incomplete experiment in living and I've had enough of them already. The "daily" was important because that has a more cumulative power and helps to maintain momentum. An analogy would be with exercise. It's better to do some exercise every day than to save it up for extended periods of exercise every few weeks or so. As we all know that is the surest way to increase injuries and then that will set the person back even further.

And the "gradually expanding" was important because that both makes it real and that also makes it much more interesting and "alive."

I also wanted it to be gradual to forestall the inevitable backlash. The bigger the initial change, the more abrupt it is, and the more radical it is the bigger will be the pushback. It is as if the force of habit of the original lifestyle suffused with rushing and mindlessness and consumerism has a life of its own, and if you push hard, it will push back hard. Isn't that one of the basic laws of physics - every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It's not just physics. That's also life.

Another way of looking at this is that a person or a system tends to keep doing what it's doing unless it is acted on by an unbalanced force. (If all the forces are balanced, i.e., equally counteract each other, than the object / system will either remain stationary or will continue at it's same rate of speed and in the same direction it's headed.)

The strategy I adopted was to apply an unbalanced force combined with the principle that "the slow way is the fast way." You could call it a stealth approach the goal of which was to allow for change of very well ingrained habit clusters (lifestyle, society-style) by keeping the change beneath the radar so the pushback would be (almost) avoided.

To go back to the dreams now, I wondered if the mindless rushing in my dreams was a signal that "the old way" was "creeping" back in?

And then an interesting thing developed. When I made this connection, the dream sequence ceased ( - at least so far.) My further thought was that now the new system (I will rush no more) is well established and the pushback from the dreams (unfocused rushing) is a "threat" to the new and more prized system and therefore I / it wants to neutralize the potential resurgence of the old system.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Gotta Vs Wanna

I'm baaaack! Ahhhh....

Here's the simple fact: I had some paperwork to fill out and I didn't want to do it. No way around it - I just didn't want to do it. I dug my heals in, and, in essence, threw a good old fashioned temper tantrum. The tantrum was quiet and essentially passive. The wish was played out with the internal words, "not doing it!" playing over and over in the background.

Guess what? It was effective in the sense that it reinforced the fact that I didn't want to do it. It kept that wish alive and kicking. But, it was also effective in keeping the pressure on me to finish it, and I knew from past experience that the pressure wouldn't subside until I got around to doing it. It was like procrastination on steroids.

Thankfully I was efficient in dealing with other day to day things. They got done and that part of my desk didn't start accumulating more "stuff." But that first report that I didn't want to do remained there. Then another report had to be filled out. That didn't get filled out either and then they were both laughing their heads off at me. And just to keep this real, a third form (a dreaded reaccreditation form - dreaded because they truly are a useless pain) came in and, you got it, went into the same pile and joined in the discordant chorus.

There was a part of me which knew that if I started new posts here that I wouldn't get back to the "work-pile" till even later.

All kinds of bargains or strategies with myself took place and all were equally ineffective.

I even tried to invoke my mantra: "I will rush no more!" but I quickly short-circuited that because I knew it was just a cheap marketing trick to get me to buy something that was not in my best interest.

I knew I had to do the work..."just gotta."

But I didn't "wanna." No, no, no, no! But you gotta!

Waaah, waaah, waaaaaaaah!


Then I had a lucky break. I knew that I wouldn't feel good again until I started writing on my blog again. That became a....I gotta and I wanna. Yes! That motivation got me going and was enough to break the log jam. First the homework and then the play.

The next day I started the reaccreditation form and kept at it in a piecemeal fashion till it was finished. Then I got to the last report and I sailed through that easily. None of this work was heavy lifting for me, you understand...but I just didn't wanna because I had a spasm of my "dig in my heals" reflex to a "you gotta" command.

That evening I sat with my wife telling her about this, and I play acted a grade school temper tantrum complete with whining and fake pounding on the table. It felt great and we both had a great laugh.

The next morning I tackled the first report, the one that was on the bottom of the original work-pile. On a lark I called the person to whom it would be sent and asked if they still needed it. Guess what. They didn't. Long story but practical fact was the report was no longer needed. That turned out to be only a minor relief since I had organized the whole report in my mind and had all the pertinent information assembled and it would have been finished in a short amount of time. I guess you could say the work pile had the last laugh.

Yes, it's good to be back.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

In Praise Of A Man Who Bought Time For Others

The man is Liviu Librescu. He was an Israeli engineering professor who taught at Virginia Tech. He was a survivor of the Holocaust. He knew how important life is. He knew the worst.

And he used his body and his life and his energy to thwart the expression of evil so others could escape and live. He blocked the door to buy time for others.

I salute you, Sir. May your spirit live on.

Shame On NBC

I walked into a coffee shop this morning and was assaulted again by the face on that terrorist posing as a Rambo Wannabe. Two different posturings in two different newspapers, both first page and above the fold.

I turned away, not wanting to feed energy into the icon of rage and hatred. But I came back because there was something else there. In the upper left corner was a small rectangular box with "NBC News" printed within.

Well, I suppose NBC would say that it was their picture and therefore they are protecting their property and in essence putting their mark on the photos. (I don't know the legal niceties about all this and frankly I don't care at this point.) Where my mind goes, however, is to the brazen marketing of NBC. They have become willing victims of Marketing 101 which says: "Put your brand wherever you can so you get more visibility and better market positioning." In that way it makes no difference if they are branding beautiful or grotesque.

Come to think of it, maybe shame isn't what NBC should experience. Maybe NBC should be tatooed with those photos. Let everyone associate that logo with that face of violence.

When videotapes of the horror are mailed to Al Jezeera, do they put an Al Jezeera logo on "their" photos? If so, a pox on them also.

This is just a short rant, because any more would put energy into memorializing the unknown posing as a wannabe and I don't want to do that.

As I walked out I turned the newspaper over.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Some Thoughts On The Good Life

To my way of thinking, rushing around is antithetical to living the good life. But what would it look like if the rushing wasn't there? Would it be like a perpetual vacation to a plush resort in the Carribean or on a Greek Island? Would money be a concern? Would it be easier or harder than you have now?

So one question comes up as to what that rushing is all about and is there anyone "out there" who has really come to terms with the pursuit of money and who has also found a way to live "the good life?"

A few months ago I was introduced to the writings of one such couple, Helen and Scott Nearing and one of their books is appropriately named: The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living. The edition I have also contains another of their books, equally appropriately named: Continuing The Good Life. I'm still reading the book in a leisurely manner and am in no rush to finish it since it keeps feeding me wonderful thoughts and images and possibilities.

The book was originally published in 1954, the year I entered high school. Their formal journey began at the height of the Great Depression. They left their professional life in the New York Area at a time when "society was gripped by depression and unemployment, falling a prey to fascism, and on the verge of another world-wide military free-for-all; and entered a preindustrial, rural community" by buying a run-down farm in the Green Mountains of southern Vermont.

By way of their intent, they "thought of the venture as a personal search for a simple, satisfying life on the land, to be devoted to mutual aid and harmlessness, with an ample margin of leisure in which to do personally constructive and creative work.

They started with a set of goals (they were very focused), a timetable, a willingness to get their hands dirty, and the wish to not be consumed by "things." But what really caught my attention was their attitude towards money and food and time and not going into debt.

They had a series of rules or guidelines. One was that they grew as much of their own food as possible. They were vegetarians so that made that task somewhat easier. When they had enough food for themselves and for the non-growing season (remember it's Vermont where they start their adventure) they would give away the food. They take delight in talking about how they had bountiful crops from their pole bean plants and they would fill baskets full of fresh beans and go into town and offer them to people for free. People tended to be hesitant to accept them, but when they found out that there were no strings attached they did, and were appreciative.

They were entrepreneurs in the sense that when they ran into a problem, they would look for a way to solve it and would, in a sense, start a business. For example, when they were building one of their stone homes they had difficulty negotiating a steep and oftentimes muddy road. So they bought a piece of property which a neighbor had no use for (and thought was useless) and started pulling out gravel from the property, sold some of it to the town for road repairs, bought a truck to move the gravel to pave their own road and then when that was finished, sold the property to another resident in the area at essentially the same price they bought it for. There's a lot more to that story which gives glimpses into their character and how they were clear that they were not trying to make any money at anyone else's expense. I would say they were living the principle of: "win-win or no deal."

Their work schedule was equally interesting. They worked 3 hours a day. I'm not sure about Saturday but I do know that they took Sunday "off." You read it right! Three hours a day. Period. It was their choice if they worked the 3 hours in the morning or the afternoon, and it could vary according to weather, or whim. They took three hours each day to read or write or walk or talk, or whatever, but no work during that time.

In their book they talk about how they had frequent visitors. The rule was the same for their guests. Everyone worked for 3 hours. One of the problems they ran into was the "city folk" wanted to continue working once they got into it. But the Nearings would insist on the house rules - 3 hours per day, and that's it.

Their built their sheds and houses, gardened, gathered wood, had a sauna, collected maple syrup, etc.

There was one other particularly important and fascinating practise they followed. They kept close financial records (they actually kept careful records of all their endeavors) and they estimated how much actual money they would need to live their lives for that year, and when they had enough food, and enough money for expenses for the year, they stopped working for the rest of the year.

I'm sure it helped that they didn't have any children. I have my doubts that they carried any insurance. They were clearly healthy - he died at 100. That's a story in itself. And they travelled when they wanted and they had earned their yearly quotas of food and money. To my knowledge, and this is equally significant, they carried no debt.

I have always found it helpful and valuable to meet someone or read about someone who is actually doing something that others talk about but never seem to actually get around to doing. Thoreau talked about it and lived it for a year or so and thankfully wrote about it for all of us to enjoy and dream and wonder about, but the Nearings actually did it and showed how they did it and left their footprints in words so others, if they chose, could also set out on a similar path.

Do you think it could be done in this age? Would you welcome the opportunity? Would you be able to handle the hard work and the slower pace? Would you feel good about yourself if you didn't buy as much as you buy? Or travel on a whim? Could you tolerate the apprehension of not having money set aside for "retirement?" Would you need to have more put away for a rainy day? And perhaps most importantly do you think that you would have to move away from where you are now and move "out there" somewhere? So many questions.

For some further thoughts on Homesteading you can find a brief thread on the Forum at Pathtofreedom.com.

I would love to hear anyone else's thoughts or experiences around this topic.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Of Dreams And Birds

(Prewords: Over the past 3 weeks I have written several drafts (variously titled: Gradual Change; Reversing Reversals; Depression as Ground Fog; Some Thoughts on Peace of Mind and Restlessness) for blog entries but have held back on posting them. The topics are in themselves worthy and may eventually be published. But it's like something was holding me back. I was waiting for something that was more spontaneous, something with a bit more "oomph" feeling to it. I think it was also related to not wanting to "have to" get another entry up.)

I've been very active in the nightime dream department in the past several weeks. It may be related to coming out of that stormy place I was in a few posts back and, in my mind now, it may be connected to a series of posts by Proxima (entries dated 3/23, 3/24, and 3/27/07) about dreams. I also had a person ask me about what I thought about dreams a few weeks back and that may have stirred the pot somewhat.

Bird Dream #1: (Three weeks ago) I'm driving along minding my own business and a big black bird flies into my car and perches directly on top of my head. I'm aware that there is not much room up there for the bird so I scrunch my head down into my shoulders to create more space for it. Initially there was some fear but then it was mostly just trying to create space for "the addition." It could have been a crow or a raven.

Bird Dream #2: (Last night) I'm walking up into a mountain range. I am then aware of a very large flock of birds swirling above me. They do their aerial dance gracefully. I am then in a more forested area and there, on a low lying branch, is a great snowy white owl. No movement; just perched there.

The dreams had things happening before and after the appearance of the birds, but those two birds is what stands out in my mind. Each one on its own would have pulled my attention, but the two of them, even though separated by approximately 3 weeks of external time, really caught my attention.

Hmmm...why birds? One while driving, and one while walking - an issue of movement? One jet black and the other pure white. One moved and the other is stationary. As they say, it just gets "curiouser and curiouser."


Some further context of what's going on in my life recently:

1. I've been thinking again about psychotherapy and healing. We tend to organize our lives around extensive habit-clusters. If those habit-clusters are working well for us then it is often best to leave well-enough alone. If, however, they are persistent and seem to work against our best interests, then it may be a good idea to find a strategy to shift away from them and towards a better and more wholesome habit-cluster "seed." The task then would be to put energy into that new "seed" and let that expand and develop through latency towards its own potentials.

That process has much to recommend it and it goes towards the idea of healing - the process of making whole again by dealing with the original imbalances either directly or through changing the down-the-road-consequences by offering workable alternatives. But there is a further sense of healing which in a sense takes us out of the drivers seat and opens us to input from outside. In that sense, there is an opening, a cultivation of the sense of receptivity coupled with a seeing what is as clearly as possible - without the filters. In that way, we are still in the drivers seat but there is a another source of input from "on top."

2. I have been reminded in the past several weeks of something I have been aware of previously, namely, that information is being "presented" to me often. By this, I mean that I'll be just doing my thing, whatever that is that day, and something will catch my awareness: I'll hear a quote, hear a story, see a picture, have a flash of partial insight, etc. Then later in the day I will be working with someone, or talking with someone, and they will say something which gives me an opportunity to relate the earlier experience.

It's like I'm presented with a key (the information) and it takes a while for the lock (the situation in the conversation which is a puzzler) which responds to the key to make its appearance. It's very curious, but sometimes it's as if it's an only-to-be-used-one-time key. When I see these connections, then it gives me more motivation to stay aware to what is being presented and to not press for any interpretation. At those times my only effort is to set the intent to be receptive and to see / hear clearly. This process feels "non-linear" and is just available "for the picking." It appears to me as a larger process and contains a certain wonder. It invites a "deepening" rather than a "doing" but they are both there.

3. After I was up this morning I scribbled the following 2 comments based on the dreams:

A. Accept that it's all inside - the positive and the negative - and then choose your directions and intents and expressions.

B. The way we organize our history is in the service of "the winner" ... (it's not just with world history) ... the ego - it's mostly fiction - one way (of many possibilities) - just what is happening - period.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ann Arbor Kaleidoscope

My wife and I are visiting our daughter and her boyfriend in Michigan.

In no particular order:

** Me: (To the front desk clerk) "Why is it called Ann Arbor?"

Other: "The first name of one of the founders of the city was Ann. The middle name of the wife of the other founder was also Ann. And because of all the trees."

I wasn't particularly interested in the names of the founders so it didn't go any further. Mission accomplished. But shouldn't it have been called: Anns' Arbor?

I'll have to find out more about "all the trees" because it doesn't seem that there are all that many trees here. Maybe if you were coming from Oklahoma it would seem that way. Maybe I should find out where the founders came from originally.

** Passing an older gentleman at the Briarwood Mall; he's in the slow lane and me in the passing lane, during my morning walk. On the back of his gray t-shirt there is an orange triangle, like one used on road construction sites, with the words "Caution, slow moving vehicle" under the triangle.

Me: "(laughing)...slow moving vehicle."

Guy: "Hey, I'm still moving."

Me: "Chew got dat right, mon"

** Passing two women in comfortable chairs in the mall. I didn't look closely but one was the designated listener and the other was speaking with ... something...I'm not quite sure how to describe it, but I thought that she may have been post-stroke from years ago.

Speaker: "If you were the normalist person in the whole world, would you..."

She stopped there and waited for me to pass. It was like she was saying this is a private conversation. I wonder if she knew I was "listening in" even though I was eyes forward and moving fast? What was the vibe she picked up on or was it just coming from a sense of "hey, even though I'm talking loudly, this is private."

** The busses here (the system is collectively referred to as 'The Ride') have a gizmo on the frontend of each bus where people can place their bicycles. Great idea!

** On line at Starbucks at the mall. I pick up a New York Times. Waiting in line. I hold the paper up in front of the man along side me.

Man: "Did you want me to see something in particular?"

Me: "No, (playfully) there's nothing really of much value there anyway."

Man: "It's a bit much to the Left for me. But it balances out the cricks."

Me: "Yes. We need that balancing. This past election was an important one in doing that."

Man: "In what way do you mean that?"

Me: "The overwhelming majority of the American public spoke with their votes to balance away from the consolidation of brute force power practised by the Bush administration. The country, in my opinion, was headed towards 1984 in our world of comfort trappings. I don't hold out any positive expectations for the Democrats to do any better...but the trend was stopped dead in its tracks."

Man: "Yes, gridlock is the best outcome."

Me: "I don't know if that's the best outcome but it's better than where it was headed."

** The main reading room - I will call it 'the Great Reading Room' in the Horace Racham building at the University of Michigan is nothing short of spectacular. Walls were, I roughly estimate, about 60 feet high, 80 or 90 feet wide and about 150 feet long. Wood paneling. Windows along one wall were 35 feet high and about 13 feet wide, long deep red drapes with tie ropes pulling them to the side half way down. Heavy wooden chairs and long wooden tables aligned down the center line of the room, and they were punctuated by easy chairs up against the walls. You could hear a pin drop; maybe you couldn't since it was almost so cavernous that the slight sound would be lost in the size of it all. Many other pleasing rooms in the building. By the way, Racham was the attorney who wrote the articles of incorporation for a guy with a hair-brained idea to replace horses with something called a horseless carriage. But Mr. Racham saw something in the idea and went to a bank and borrowed (?) $5,000 to put into the business as a shareholder. Oh, the guy was Henry Ford. The rest is history.

At the other end of the campus is a somewhat similar building, housing the Law Library. The reading room there is similar but nowhere as elegant. The exterior is, however, a spectacular example of Gothic architecture and the only thing missing was chairs outside the library so you could sit and slowly inhale the beauty of it.

** At some point you have to visit Zingermann's Jewish Deli and Bakery. Maybe twice. It would be worth more visits but you'd go broke.

** Best meal so far was Rush Street restaurant. Go there Monday through Friday between 4 and 6 and all the meals and drinks are 1/2 price. Excellent food. I had plain old spaghetti and tomato sauce with lots of herbs and shrimp. It just got better and better.

** If you're into movies, check out the Michigan theater. It is an old movie theater which has had a ton of restoration work done. On the outside you would walk by it without giving it a second thought. Inside is a totally different story.

We saw a German movie: "The Lives of Others." It was a riveting political thriller about life in East Germany in 1984 under the Stasi (State Secret Police) and tight / taught human drama of how the spirit can survive even under those conditions and how risky it was for anyone who wanted to keep their spirit alive under terribly oppressive conditions. Not a pleasant movie but you know afterwards that you were outside the bubble of "isn't everything just so wonderful."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

This Writing Stuff Can Be A Bit Risky

The last several entries I have made have been decidedly on the heavy side. I've been writing about spacing out, psychological shock, talking about difficult things, pandemics and social isolation, etc. But, what can I say, that's what I've been writing about and that what has been on my mind.

Also, I've been visiting two additional websites which look at themes which fit the "bad times, they be 'acomin" genre. One is Sudden Debt and is devoted to the shenanigans in the world of finance and the persistent question about how long the present bubble can continue before a major correction occurs. The other is Generational Dynamics which is about a way of looking at the world of trouble that the world is in, and how, when one looks at history from the point of view of the impact which successive generations have on the course of history, interesting patterns evolve which may be useful in predicting trends in current times.

John J. Xenakis, the author of GenerationalDynamics, posted a comment on my entry entitled: "A Little Technorati Drum Roll Please..." (2/14/07). In it, he states: "I like to tell people that what's coming is coming, and it can't be stopped by any politician or anyone else, any more than a politician can stop a tsunami. You can't stop it, but you can prepare for it. So I tell people this: Treasure the time you have left, and use it to prepare yourself, your family, your community and your nation."

Powerful words. It reminded me of James Kunstler's encouragement to "enjoy the abundance while you can still have it." It also reminded me of a line in one of my previous posts where I said: "I wonder if Climate Change gives a hoot as to whether Mr. Cheney says that the American Way of life is not up for discussion."

So, I started thinking about those words and my recent topics, and I pushed the uncomfortable factor into the land of Murphy - of Murphy's Law - but on steroids. By this I mean, I started wondering about really bad scenarios and what John said about not being able to stop what's coming. The three scenarios were economic collapse, the pandemic, and a world war over oil - all happening approximately at the same time and the phrase "The Perfect Storm" popped into my head. It's a little like writing my own personal Stephen King novel in my head and then finding that I was drawn into it too uncomfortably far.

What happened was that I propelled myself into a perfect little storm in my mind and that became a little like a black hole in my consciousness which was absorbing my attention and my mind. I found that I was becoming more grim by the moment, I was thrown off "my game," and there was a background uneasiness about it all which made me restless. The whole storm was heightened by feelings of uncertainty.

It was unsettling, to put it mildly. And that is one of the reasons why I have been inactive on my blog for the last few weeks. I just knew I had to get myself out of the morass which I had created in my mind. (That is not to say that The Perfect Storm couldn't happen in external reality, but that it was not present in actuality, and I had become victim of my own internal virtual reality (mind) exercise. If you remember from one of my previous posts, I said that what happens in the mind influences the body and the emotions. And that's what happened to me over these last few weeks.)

I'm happy to say that "I'm back" and regaining my natural balance points and accustomed compass readings and can now start to talk about that process. To be continued...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Overheard in Boston

During my most recent walkabout day in Boston I heard the following:

1. At Back Bay station I needed to break a $20 bill. I asked a man if he could change it because I had to put some money on the "Charlie Card." He said he couldn't. Then he said he would give me a few dollars if I needed them. I didn't. I should have given him the 20 and said "good for you - we need more of that!"

2. Walking by the doorman at the Copley - biting cold wind, I mean biting cold: I don't break my stride: Me: "Turn the heat up will ya?" Doorman: (Not missing a beat and his face had to be suffering more than mine because he's there for hours) "I tried but it's broken."

3. Some young woman on her cell phone - (Said in a complaining way and probably talking about her boyfriend or her boss) "Nothing is simple!" I wonder what the philosophers would say about that.

4. Later in the day overheard outside South Station: Two men walking at 5 P.M.: "Put all the terrorists on the green line at rush hour - that'll break them."

You gotta love it.

By the way, during the day I walked into the Boston Public Library, partly to really take a look at it and partly to get out of the cold. If you like libraries, you will love this one. Near the 'Pru.

I need to get a good digital camera. I came across some statues in downtown Boston - corner of Washington and School - where there were two breathtaking statues in bronze of a family during and after the time of the Irish Famine.

Start your victory garden, kitchen garden, backyard garden, whatever you want to call it, but start it. And diversify. I'll put something more up about those statues and the famine on St. Patrick's Day.

Additional learning of the day: Being outside for a day in the bitter cold is not easy. By the end of the day, my body and mind were shutting down. My mind was in slow motion. Being able to think and be mentally alive is important for me. To have that slow down is not fun. There may be another factor at play there also. It's around being in unstructured time. I usually do ok with that, but it's usually for a shorter period of time. We are so accustomed to doing, that chillin' can really throw us off our game.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I've Noticed A Lot Of People Spacing Out

Some interesting developments along the path of "I will rush no more." Well, three in particular.

The first is that when you go through the mental and physical aspects of withdrawal from the rushing lifestyle, you notice how easy it is to be pulled back into it. Society has it down pat how to pull you back in, often without you being aware of it till you're back smack in the middle of the old routines again. But when you get better at recognizing it, you can let it go again, over and over, till it gets easy.

The second is how you have to be attentive to not getting depressed or disconnected. All of the cues you have been accustomed to and which give you indications of being on track are being released. That will leave you somewhat adrift and that feels like depression and sadness. Remembering what your "compass bearings" are and what is of value to you will help to get you back on a track which is valuable and meaningful to you.

Working through #1 is actually fun because it feels so healthy and righteous. It carries you along with its own momentum and that helps you to come ever so much more into your present moment(s).

#2 is a definite problem and remembering why you started on this path is particularly valuable.

And the third thing I am noticing is how much and how often others seem to be "spacing out." The real revelation was, however, the other side of the equation, namely, how much I depart from the present situation.

I've known it all along but since I've been practising "go slow, mon" I notice it a lot more. In poker they talk about "the tell." It's the cue which a person gives off when they are nervous or trying to bluff you. The "tell" with spacing out is really obvious with some but with others it's more subtle.

The obvious "tell" is when someone simply looks off into space, often with eyes wide open and the gaze is fixed, and often unblinking. In that situation, if you are paying attention, you don't need to hear the "Elvis has left the building" announcement on the speaker system.

The spacing out does not have to last all that long. It can be an act of graciousness on your part to let the person "go elsewhere" for awhile. Or you could say "I was just wondering where you went just then." If you get a look of bewilderment or a startle from the person, it's a pretty good indication that they were simply not conscious at all of where they went. (There's a lot more there to talk about, but I am working on keeping my posts briefer.)

Sometimes the drifting is for the purpose of accessing information internally. It can then be brought back into the conversation to enliven it. Sometimes it serves the purpose of simply taking "a breather." Some people are so intense or work situations are so demanding that we are expected to rivet our attention all the time on the topic at hand. That's ok for short periods of time, but, frankly, is a lousy idea for sustained periods. And by that I mean not just in an individual conversation, but for what seems like years or decades. You think I'm kidding? I'm not.

But there's also the more problematic "spacing out" where the person is (like) splitting their consciousness between the situation in front of them, e.g., a conversation, and making reference to another scene in their mind. When that scene is being gazed at fixedly and if it has material in it which is disturbing, and the disturbing material is stirring up fearful responses in the body, then, well, that's a pretty good recipe for suffering.

If you're interested, look at the way in which your "spacing out" happens. Are you aware of what you are looking at in your mind? Are you aware of how it is impacting your body? Is it pleasant or unpleasant?

Remember it's not a good idea, in my opinion, to try and stop or block all of these departures. (It would be a whole other discussion to talk about how children are being constantly nudged to "pay attention.") But if you find, for example, that the content of your musings are causing you suffering, then you may want to either look at them directly to find out the messages are contained there, or, to withdraw your energy (attention) to them and come back into a more neutral present in your surroundings.

Happy voyaging.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A little Technorati drum roll please...

Hey, I just noticed that I have a technorati PageRank of 3/10...how 'bout that!

My guess is that if I could figure out how to put some other text in the template HTML section, that it would go up even further, but it's pretty far down on my list of priorities and values (but if someone knows how to do that, and is so inclined, I won't turn away a brief tutoring lesson.)

On an even nicer scale, maybe an 8/10, I'm playing hooky today. To all you young 'uns out there in cyberworld, "hooky" is a term that used to be invoked in the ancient (to you) days when someone was surreptiously taking a day off from school, or later, work. There's nothing subtle about my intent today.

When the local weather stations started hyping a major storm headed our way, I said to myself: "self, this is a splendid opportunity to pretend it's a precautionary and considerate plan to others to cancel all my appointments for today." I knew it was brazenly deceitful but what's the use of a term ("playing hooky") if you can't keep breathing new life into it from time to time.

Anyway, who do you put more trust in, the local weather person or a certain other knucklehead who is currently hyping some energetic term called "the surge?"

Finally for those wordsmiths out there, I did a google search for "playing hooky" and found this on ask.yahoo.com:

No one is quite sure about the origin of the phrase "playing hooky." We consulted the top three online word sleuths and found a number of intriguing explanations.
The Phrase Finder offers a few possible origins, including "to hook it" or "to escape or make off." To "hook something" is also an old slang term for stealing, as in "stealing a day off."
The Word Detective dates the first printed use of the phrase to 1848 and relates it to the 19th-century phrase "hooky-crooky," which means "dishonest or underhanded." The parent of this phrase is "by hook or by crook," meaning "by any means necessary."
Word Origins suggests that the phrase comes from hoekje, the Dutch name for hide and seek.
The phrase seems to be waning in popularity with the younger folks these days. Most kids simply refer to skipping school as "cutting." But regardless of what it's called, the time-honored practice of playing hooky seems here to stay.

Addendum: I am feeling that when I refer to a certain someone who lives near the Potomac River in disparaging terms that I am becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution. If I can play with words...in venting my emotions and criticism, I am re-inventing the same old polarity which is keeping so much of the gridlocked system in power. Truth is the casualty, but only always, in that approach.

Monica in a post on 2/15/06 partly addressed that issue when she talks about how she prefers to write her own letters to people in power directly rather than using a preformatted form letter. That way she has a better chance of expressing her ideas and beliefs and reduces the risk of just being lumped in with all of the others who are of a similar mind.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Epidemic Spread - Who / How

This is obviously a very big and important question. In my previous post I mentioned how in an area (e.g., earth) where everyone is susceptible to a new "nasty," and it is being spread from human to human, that isolation and containment procedures are one way to slow down that transmission process and, hopefully, slow down the process.

So many questions with this. But two very practical questions are: by whom is it being spread (e.g., at what stage of infection) and what is the actual mechanism of transmission. If it is spread human to human, then who is more responsible for the spreading - which age group is more susceptible, e.g., children or adults.

With respect to the first question, I came across an interesting site (google search = pandemic isolation) where there is some evidence that it's a little of both but in significantly different ways. It turns out that school age children may spread it to more people in a geographic area (neighborhoods) but adults are more responsible for spreading it to potentially vastly larger numbers through going to work and thus exposing others at work to it, and those workers then go back into their various neighborhoods.

The even bigger issue was with the spreading that comes from transportation arrangements. It's one thing if you travel within the state for business, it's totally another thing if you fly, for example, on a business trip from San Francisco, to Toronto, To Boston, To Atlanta. It's easy to get that picture.

I remember a year or so ago when the SARS issue was prominent and how I was aware of a few people in my office building who had traveled to Hong Kong, Taiwan, China on a recent business trip. I didn't do anything different then, well maybe I didn't use the exit on their side of the building as often, but it got me thinking.

n.b. edited 5/31/08 for grammar and clarity.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Do You Think It's A Good Idea To Anticipate Difficulty? - Pandemic Concerns

If you were presented with information which indicates that you / we are headed for difficult times, how would you deal with it? Would you change the station in your mind and move on to something else? Would you take it as a cue to "let the good times roll" and let what will happen happen? Would you "run for the hills?" Would you freeze in place?

How would you react if you saw the following statement? "The avian flu bears the potential for societal disruption of unprecedented proportion."

Or: "Some will say this discussion of the Avian Flu is an overreaction. Some may say 'did we cry wolf?' The reality is that if the H5N1 virus does not trigger pandemic flu, there will be another virus that will."

Or: "Susceptibility to the pandemic influenza virus will be universal."

Or: "The clinical disease attack rate will be 30% in the overall population during the pandemic. Illness will be highest among school-aged children (about 40%) and decline with age. Among working adults, an average of 20% will become ill during a community outbreak."

Or: "Key disease containment strategies include: isolation, quarantine, social distancing, closing places of assembly (e.g., voluntary or mandatory closure of public places including churches, schools, theaters and restaurants,) "snow days / weeks" or furloughing non-essential workers, and changes in movement patterns."

Or, how about this one: "We don't know the timing of the next pandemic, how severe it will be. We don't know what drugs will work. We don't have a vaccine. Yet we are telling everyone to prepare for a pandemic. It's tricky...This is scary and we don't know...That's the message."

What would you say if I said these things? Would you say that I was trying to scare people? Or that I was "stirring the pot" unnecessarily and irresponsibly? This goes back to the questions at the top of this posting - how do you react to hearing difficult information?

Well the fact is that I didn't make any of it up. It can all be found in two publications from the government. The first is from the Department of Homeland Security, dated 9/19/06, and the other just came out from the Centers for Disease Control, dated 2/1/07. The first is a guide for managing critical infrastructure and key resources in the country in times of a pandemic, and the other is a "community strategy for pandemic influenza mitigation."

Having a snow day or two sounds just fine doesn't it? Oh, but wait a minute, if this system were to be inaugurated, and your family is one of the ones which is isolated or placed in quarantine, then the kids won't be playing outside, most people won't be going to work outside the home, sending out for pizza will be a questionable option, and ice cream will run out fast.

Then you say to yourself: "well a few days will be manageable." Yes it would be, but what if the two days becomes two weeks...or longer? Now that starts to get your attention, doesn't it? At this point you're probably thinking this is just way too exaggerated.

You have to ask yourself what would trigger this, and why would "they" do something as radical as this? Actually that's where it really starts to get interesting. The reason for the isolation and containment strategies is to curtail the spread of an epidemic for which there are no known vaccines and no currently known medications to halt its spread.

Ok, let's stop right here. This is a speed bump, so slow down!

I'm going to continue with some other facts and thoughts and will not get into really nasty stuff, but, well, if you tend to let your imagination run away you may want to just slow down. Remember, we are talking about thinking about something that could happen and how to use that thinking to our advantage. (The experts, I believe, are saying that it will happen but the always present and complicating issue is that no one knows when it will happen - but they sure seem to be trying to get our attention.)

Ok, this is where we have some good news and bad news. The good news is that if a pandemic were to happen, and if these isolation procedures were initiated and followed (with appropriate community support in place for the myriad of complications which one would anticipate) then the death rate would be substantially reduced. However, (big sigh), and this is why these isolation practices are already in place as a plan, the trigger point which will be used to activate them, is called a category 2 (of 5) and that is established when there are 90,000 deaths from the pandemic (in a relatively short period of time.) Maybe to put this is a bit of perspective, do you remember a few months ago when the E-coli event took place. Do I have it correct, it was in the neighborhood of 10-20 deaths?

Good news - if initiated, the numbers change dramatically. Bad news - if not initiated, very messy.

Now we start to get down to it. If you "buy" the necessity for the government to publish these documents (remember the second one was just published 2 days ago) then how do you want to proceed? If your behavioral style is to slip into deny mode, is that how you want to process this information? Do you want to defer to the experts and wait for them to solve the problem; is that what you want to do here? Do you want to accelerate living and having fun as if there is no tomorrow, is that what you want to do? Do you want to get into a bunker mentality and start hoarding food, or moving as far away from population centers as possible?

As they say, it's a free country. No one is going to try to get you to do something in the direction of planning. But this may be one of those places where you may want to think about some more proactive approaches.

If you choose a proactive process, what would that start to look like? I'll offer a few thoughts.

To make the thoughts real (would it be appropriate to say more real since we are still talking hypothetically?) consider this: Under this scenario, whole communities will be hunkered down. In the script mentioned, up to two weeks was one of the benchmarks - but that was for the beginnings of a category 2 out of a possible 5. The clear statement is that it could be more than that.

Let's for now just keep the two week mark for our discussion.

  • I should think there will be considerably more room in the cupboards by that time. So food will be one issue.
  • Another issue will be that the intent of the isolation procedures is to slow down the spread of the virus. And by extension what they are saying is that they are trying to lower the death rate. But, if I understand this correctly, the number of people who will be suffering from the flu will be much, much greater than that. That's a lot of people sick with the flu. Do you remember the last time you were feeling really lousy with the flu, one with diarrhea and vomiting? Nasty wasn't it. So that will be a second class of issues to get our attention in terms of preparation.
  • The third big issue that comes to my mind is the issues coming from social isolation and increased social proximity. What if you don't see your friends at work? What if you have to be with the people you live with all the time? How many high energy children do you have?

If you wish to, if you consider it important, then start to give some thought to this. In my next post I'll list some of my ideas on preparation and this will also take the next step in my previous posting about dealing with issues of psychological shock.

Addendum A: I'd like to add a word or two about fear and anxiety. Consider this: when we are kids we experience fear as a normal part of the world. We know that we don't control all that much and that uncertainty is simply a major part of the way that it is. We don't think that through as a child, but that's how I look at it.

As we get older, we start to anticipate events and outcomes based on past events and this is where, we could say, anxiety starts to come on the scene. Then we start to develop schemas and plans and tactics to control outcomes and events in order to feel the world is safer. To a large extent this is very helpful. However, when we unknowingly or unthinkingly presume that we are actually in control and that uncertainty has been removed, then when something with shock potential happens, we are overwhelmed and potentially immobilized.

At that point we experience a "double whammy." First we are shocked that this could happen. Then we are left with additional fear because all of our plans and presumed clever "supremacy" "don't amount to much more than nothin.' "

Does this mean that we shouldn't plan? To my way of experiencing, absolutely not! We have always been swimming in a world of uncertainty, it's just that we often try to pretend that it's more certain than not. Also, when it comes to taking steps based on anticipated "big things" it's best to stay focused on learning as much as we can and then taking small and simple steps and notice where they lead. I will rush no more - even in these massively uncertain times. Finally, with acceptance of uncertainty comes the potential bonus of unexpected potentialities.

Addendum B: I find the timing of the release of the "community strategy for pandemic influenza mitigation" curious. I notice that the report was released two days before my local newspapers carried a report of how the H5N1 virus was found on a farm run by Europe's biggest turkey producer in Great Britain. The report said that 2,500 birds were confirmed infected and died. As a precaution an additional 159,000 were destroyed. The newspaper report was dated 2/3/07 but the turkey deaths started on 2/1/07. Coincidence or not?

Addendum C: I have some additional thoughts on practical ways to boost your immune system and also whether radical isolation is the way to go for individuals, but more on all of these things in later postings.