MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT — Woody Allen, Metaphysician

I have always been an enormous fan of Woody Allen’s films.  Even his less than stellar creations are worth viewing and as a body of work there are few in his league.  I was particularly fascinated by this summer’s Magic in the Moonlight.

 I will not attempted to critique the film as such.  I am strictly an amateur on the subject.  But I am a devotee of metaphysics– the field that seeks to comprehend the nature of reality.  Woody (I feel I can freely refer to him as such) has touched upon such themes as the nature of life, death, the soul, the existence of God, the “unseen world” in many prior films.  But here he addresses it directly through the character played brilliantly by Colin Firth.

 As a magician (Woody as well) he is a master of illusion.  He understands the gullibility of mankind, their need, even desire to believe in more than this physical world.  Yet as the ultimate skeptic he is capable of debunking the fraudulent perpetrators of such scams.  To summarize all too briefly, he becomes the victim of a scam himself and begins to believe in the afterlife and the power of the Emma Stone character to truly communicate with a spirit realm.

 In the end all is exposed and our skepticism renewed and validated.  Woody, the ultimate romantic, seems to feel that love is capable of transcending rank cynicism.  But to me he still wrestles with the metaphysical questions.

 I, too, was the ultimate nonbeliever.  Yet my experiences with mediums and ordinary individuals has led me to understand that there is evidence for a spiritual domain (see my book and various prior postings).

 I do not claim to understand the depth of this world.  I am a total novice, but I do believe an open-minded skeptic can explore this area on their own and eventually come to their own conclusions.

 I’m sure Woody is still in hot pursuit of the ultimate truth.  I’d love to share what I have learned with him and make suggestions for his own exploration.  In either case I wish him well.

MANAGING A CHRONIC DISEASE — Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

I am presenting here the Israeli / Palestinian conflict in terms of a medical analogy.  It is a chronic disease.

In medicine we attempt to cure/resolve/ eradicate disease states.  Our goal is the elimination of the pathological process which has produced the illness.  However, there are diseases which (based on the present state of medical knowledge) may NEVER be cured.

Known as chronic diseases, they are, at best, “managed”.  This often requires significant doses of medication.  It requires frequent re-evaluation.  Sometimes it requires hospitalization to deal with deterioration of conditions. Sometimes there is pain and suffering which must be endured. It can result in a life which is less than ideal but still valuable and meaningful.  And so, life goes on.  

 Just listening to Palestinians being interviewed regarding their attitude towards Israel and Israelis brings little hope of reconciliation.  Raised on hatred, they  are still  willing and ready to sacrifice their children as martyrs to destroy Israelis.  They do not recognize that the State of Israel even exists.  It is all Palestine, and in their eyes, time is on their side.  Only the dissolution of the country of Israel and the death of its Jewish inhabitants will do.

 Now considering the historical fact of continuous Jewish survival in the face of adversity, and the powerful IDF, I will boldly venture out on a limb and state that Israel will not self-destruct.  And furthermore, the Palestinians will continue to pay a disproportionate toll if fighting persists. 

 So we have an incurable process.  Like a chronic disease the only solution is to manage it as best as possible.  And meanwhile Israelis continue to do so with an energy and zest for life which is quite remarkable. They continue to live, to thrive, to have a culture, to do science and business and music and art.  Palestinians have no culture other than hatred.  Do they make art? music? science? medicine?  It is a waste of human potential and that hurts us all. But their hatred blinds them to all else.   Their chronic disease ravages them.

 What Palestinians don’t understand is this– the vast majority of polled Israelis don’t hate them.  They may hate their refusal to face the reality of Israeli existence, their continual harassment of Israelis and their perverted sense of moral outrage and religious fundamentalism. 

 So the Israeli/Palestinian conflict will persist like a chronic disease.  It seems as if it will never be cured because their is no grounds for civilized compromise.  Meanwhile Israel has lived with this chronic disease not only since its inception 66 years ago, but as Jews with the chronic disease of rapid anti-Semitism for more than two millennia. Who will deal with their disease better? 

PULLING BACK FROM ANGER – In the Face of Danger

The recent/ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict and the world-wide jihadist movement which threatens us in the US as well has engendered a degree of reactivity and anger within me that I recognize as self-defeating.

The tragedy of anger is just that–it produces a self-perpetuating cycle of hatred.  I notice how it makes me feel.  There is a temporary feeling of power, self-congratulatory sense of control then followed by a darkness which brings out the worst in human emotion. And quite frankly, I don’t like it.

Let’s be clear about this.  We are alll capable of hurting others.   It originates in the desire to live, to defend against perceived aggression.  Kill or be killed.  Without this instinct, quite frankly, none of us would be here today.  But we need to recognize that dark side of ourselves.  

 I want to make clear that I am not an apologist for all Israeli decisions regarding settlements, Palestinian rights, etc.  But when Hamas speaks of annihilating Jews (not Israelis)  I react as if personally threatened.  It is in the DNA of every Jew.  That righteous indignation feels powerful, for the moment.  But its dark side can paralyze as well.  It is hard to write poetry, or feel truly at peace.

Just look at what radical Islam has done to Islamic culture.    When all energies are focussed on hatred, revenge, war– there is nothing left for civlized life.

 And on the level of the individual, hatred drives away the ability to recognize beauty in the world around us.  When young children are encouraged to die in martyrdom their potential as human beings is crushed.  It is tragedy of epic proportions. Where are the outcries from the UN, from human rights groups, from the political left?  Only silence.

So how do we balance the ability to remain vigilant against true evil, those who wish our death and destruction, while remaining open to live’s blessings?  We must look to Israel.  In the face of a continuous threat of war and annihilation,  they embrace life in its entirety.  The Jewish  tradition which affirms life, not death.

They have science, technology, business and  culture.  Like a viable culture they contribute to the world beyond themselves.  They are not bunkered down.  They life lilfe to the fullest.  Yet they cannot afford not to be completely prepared and vigilant.

As individuals we need to become  Israeli in our attitudes and approach to life.   Be aware.  Be prepared. But refuse to live with hatred and anger.  In trying to live with this dynamic tension, we will remain alive to the beauty and splendor of life itself.

  

THE PARADOX OF JEWISH SURVIVAL — Anti-Semitism Guarantees It

If Jew-haters understood history they would have discovered the best way to rid the world of Jews…..be very tolerant of them.

Throughout the 3500 or so history of the Jewish people, it was during times of extreme acceptance and tolerance that assimilation was at its highest.  American Jews intermarriage rate among nonOrthodox is over 70% !  It won’t take many more generations in this country before the only Jews left are Orthodox.  It you want to rid the world of Jews just be really kind and accepting of them.

 Ironically, anti-Semitism arouses a very deep reflex among Jews.  Even those who barely identify with their Jewish culture or heritage begin to feel a primal sympathy with other Jews.  The present Israeli-Gaza conflict has generated such pure anti-Jewish venomous  sentiment in the world that is clearly NOT a reaction to the policies and politics of Israel the sovereign nation.

 Many young liberal and leftist Jews who routinely criticize Israel and their policies have been deeply hurt and troubled by this world reaction.  When they discover that Hamas has used millions of dollars to build elaborate tunnels to attack and destroy Israel rather than help their fellow Palestinians, they begin to question the conventional wisdom about who are the bad players.  When they see Hamas openly proclaim that Jews  make matzah from the blood of children (blood-libel) they begin to understand who their enemy truly is.

When Islamic fundamentalists openly proclaim that their only objective is NOT STATEHOOD but the annihilation of Israel and its Jewish population, they begin to re-think what is going on.

 They had all read about the Holocaust, pogroms, Inquisitions etc. etc.  They had never expected to actually feel such hatred expressed towards Jews, NOT JUST ISRAELI POLICIES. This is the kind of experience that has actually kept Jews connected to their heritage.

Now this still doesn’t lead to blind acceptance of Israeli policies.  Nor should it.  Jews criticize Jews routinely.  The tradition is one that encourages debate and free expression of opinions.

But….push me and I’ll push back.  Tell me that I shouldn’t exist and I will hold tighter to my tradition.  It is a paradox of Jewish survival.

 Just don’t tell the anti-Semites–not that they will get it anyway.

BEWARE THE CAREGIVER’S SYNDROME

A recent NY Times article by Catherine Saint Louis revisited a topic I have written about previously–the Caregiver’s Syndrome.   Just yesterday one of my patients described her own efforts to step away from that role, for just a while, while her husband was recovering from a serious injury.  I applauded her efforts and tried to relieve her guilt for doing so.  Intuitively she knew she had to do it.  She felt herself breaking down, emotionally first, then physically.

The truth is simply this– the caregiver suffers tremendously from the role of providing care to a loved-one.  Now this is painfully obvious to most, but the extent of the suffering may not be.  I see this in my patients, their own mental and physical suffering often follows their intense focussed care of a loved-one.

From a personal perspective I saw it take place in my own family.  Both my parents are deceased.  But in her last years my mother suffered from dementia.  She recognized everyone but gradually and insidiously her short-term memory failed.  My father was the product of depression/ WWII stoicism.  It was not in his DNA to burden his children with his problem.  As his children, we were in denial as well.  Perhaps we didn’t want to see the inevitable.  We (my sister and I) still viewed my father as an iconic pillar of strength.  How foolish we ALL were.  As my mother lay in bed with Hospice care present, anticipating imminent death, my father crashed.  I saw him earlier that morning.  Our family were at their home to be present for my mother’s passing.  I off-handedly asked him how he was doing.  “Just a head cold” he replied.  Kissing my mother goodbye, I left their home to play golf.  Later that day my wife and sister stopped by, once again to see my mother for perhaps the last time.  But there had been a radical change in my dad.  He was dying from sepsis.  Five weeks in ICUs with pneumonia, congestive heart failure, sepsis, blood clots, pleural effusions……he survived.  But he was never the same. 

He crashed for one reason.  It was clearly the intense emotional stress of seeing the love of his life slipping into oblivion that annihilated his own immune system.  Had we all been more aware, we could have intervened.  As adult children, we should have stepped forward and assumed more responsibility, regardless of his refusals.  We could have insisted that he step back from the daily horror of dealing with someone who asked the same question, over and over again.  He could have been relieved of some of the burden–not only of the actual work involved but of the guilt that enveloped him as he gave in to anger, time and again.

The analogy with airflight is powerfully applicable.  When the flight attendant tells you to put your oxygen on before attempting to help another…..listen carefully.  It will eventually it will apply to us all– if not in the present than assuredly in the future.

JEWISH SELF-DEFENSE — Why Should It Be Needed

Yes. Bravo to the Jews of Paris who defend themselves agains hateful mobs.  But why should this be needed? Political discourse seems dead.  The rule of the mob is rearing its ugly head around the world.  Those individuals committed to peaceful discourse, negotiation, compromise are silent.

Are we as a people, nation, civilization descending into nihilistic chaos?  Aren’t rules of law designed to defend the minorities, those whose beliefs differ from others? What happened to the rule of law?

When scenes of European anti-Semitism in 2014 bring to mind the black and white scenes of Nazi Europe we are ALL in trouble.

There is an entire generation of young, liberal, tolerant Jews who support Palestinian rights and a Palestinian state who are in shock right now.  They never dreamed that such deep seated Jew-hatred still existed in the world.

 Thank God for the internet and social media.  Thank you Wolf Blitzer of CNN (never thought I’d write that) for allowing Hamas to expose their vile Jew-hatred with the insanity of blood-libel.  To those uniformed, Jews do not make matzah from the blood of children.  Jews were murdered and tortured in the Middle Ages by believing Christians.  Now Islamists have taken up the insanity.

What about  political solutions to the Israel/Palestine crisis?  Sadly, you cannot negotiate with primitive, uncivilized, hate-filled human beings. Hamas, Hezbollah, Jihadists do not seek political solutions to anything. They only respect power.  Because Jews are not ready to commit mass suicide, they must use violent means to defend themselves.

Jews with guns may be an anit-Semite’s worst nightmare.  But believe me, they rather not.  Israeli’s are producing technology to help paralyzed people walk, to defeat Ebola etc. etc.  Would not the world be better off allowing them to do just that? Hey.  It could even be used by those who hate Jews.

 Where are the  world’s rational Muslims here? Where are the French, Germans, Belgians,  Australians—everywhere where mobs have attacked Jews right now.

Think of this argument as self-serving.  Let Jews do what they do best–think, create and help mankind.

 Rational people can still save our world from imploding.  But they better act fast.  

WHEN PACIFISM BECOMES SUICIDE — How A Just War Emerges from Spirituality

To those of us who seek to live a life imbued with spiritual principles, the notion of war seems abhorent. And yet there are wars that must be fought.

 Essentially when there is an aggressor whose goal is annihilation of the enemy (namely YOU) there is a moral/spiritual imperative to resist.    To do otherewise is, in essence, to accept suicide.  There is no option.

Passivity is capitulation to evil.

There may be political issues which motivate the aggressor.  They may completely believe in their cause, their holy right to seek your annihilation.  But that just doesn’t work.  There is no room for “proportionality”.  

Powerful responses which may shorten the conflict are justified from a spiritual perspective.

 God help as all.

MEDITATE — Now More Than Ever

I will be the first to admit, I am an inconstant meditator. But I recently resumed the millenial old practice and I have to say, I appreciate it more than ever.

 In a time when time itself seems life’s most valuable commodity, meditation shows us how relative it can be.  Einstein was right on so many levels, but meditation brings it home.

 Try meditating for only 10minutes.  Set your timer.  Sit quietly.  You can choose a variety of methods but perhaps the Mindfulness approach is as useful as any.  Merely observe your breath as it enters and exits through your nose.  That is it.  When your mind wanders (and it will, many times) gently return to your breath.  Smile inwardly as you realize how difficult such an easy task really is.  Understand that our minds are conditioned to attempt to multitask.  We are products of this culture, at this time in history.  No wonder we find simply paying attention to one thing, like our breath, is so difficult.  And yet it is crucially important.

 As a culture we are obsessed with exercising our bodies.  We are often “into” brain games to hold off the ravages of an aging brain.  But meditation is even simpler.  It is more honored, studied, validated than any other mind study.  It has even been shown to change the shape of our brains.

 And just perceive how long 10 minutes seems to us.  I bet you will question your timer.  It must have shut off, you will think, how could 10 minutes SEEM so long.  

But aha.  That’s exactly the point, isn’t it?

LETTER TO THE GAZANS — Time For Change

Far be it for me, hardly an expert on the Middle East, to offer thoughts on this decades old conflict.  But am I missing something here?

 Didn’t Hamas begin this conflict by lobbing missiles on Israel? Didn’t it do so with NO possible realistic goal to destroy Israel or have it submit to Hamas’ dictates?  Didn’t Israel agree to a Egyptian-brokered cease fire while Hamas did not?

 If I have my history correct, Israel withdrew its settlements from Gaza in 2005.  Wasn’t that supposed to open the doors to a Palestinian renaissance, without those hated Zionists controlling your lives?  Settlements, settlements, settlements.  Israel must remove them or there will never be peace in Palestine.  OK.  Now what?

 Israel is the evil empire, isn’t it?  Hamas knew Israel would not tolerate missile attacks.  Hamas set you up to take the hit for their political/religious agenda.  Israel has repeatedly warned you to leave targeted locations.  Could you envision Hamas doing likewise to Israelis?

 Hamas uses you as human shields, hides weapons in mosques etc. etc.  So what is the answer?  Gazans…..isn’t it time to reject your jihadist leaders who seeks your destruction in order to gain international support?  Your life has no meaning to them.  Is that a surprise?  And finally– how’s your life been under Hamas?  Has that been “workin for ya?”

 So I apologize for offering such a simplistic, perhaps naive recommendation for your lives.  Of course having your own Palestinian state would be great for you.  Being recognized among the world of nations would be ideal.  Having economic opportunities, free from fear is every human being’s goal.  But you aren’t anywhere close to that, are you?  Hmmm.  Any other ideas? 

SENSELESS. SLAUGHTER

There is a time for war, a time for peace.  There is a time for anger, a time for confrontation. There are those human beings, however, who bring shame on our species.  Those are the murderers of the three Israeli youth.

No politics, no oath of jihad, no level of political frustration can ever justify what they perpetrated.  As long as human beings are capable of committing atrocities in the name of hatred we are a diminished species.

The mentally deranged are excused.  But the mothers  of jihadists who commend the death of Israeli children and laud their children  as suicidal murderers defy human comprehension.

This is sad on so many levels.