HAPPINESS ‘THIEVES’

In preparation for my lecture next Saturday, May 3rd I’m considering all aspects of the notion of happiness.

This is not only the emotional expression of feeling joyous [it is certainly that] but a broader and deeper sense of peace, contentment, serenity.

It is this happiness which Positive Psychology studies.  Their results have confirmed some of what many people already believe to be true. Their academic and scientific analysis of their data and interviews adds weight to those assumptions.

Happiness is a state of mind. Which means that how we perceive our lives, creates or destroys our sense of peace and tranquility.  Of course external events deeply influence us–our economic status, our health, our relationships with others cannot help but influence our general state of happiness. But the extent to which these externals affect us does reside in our own minds.

Fear & worry can both rob us of peace & happiness. It may be difficult to overcome our individual approaches to life, but we need to be aware that change is possible.

To those among us who are ‘into’ conspicuous consumption of material goods and objects–there is a bit of a disappointment awaiting us.  Apparently we all ‘adapt’ to our state of being.  The excitement that arrives with the huge lottery check, the anticipation of enduring happiness will fade in time.  Likewise, tragedy will, in time, also gradually dissipate in its negative affects on our lives.

Positive Psychology describes the hedonic treadmill. Running faster to accumulate objects without really gaining in happiness.

And then there are the demons of jealousy, envy & greed. They will surely rob anyone of the pleasure they might have from what they have.

  The antidote to that situation & a key to  happiness in general is gratitude.  Be grateful for what is good in your life and it will blossom. We can all benefit from a large dose of it.

CONSTANTINE’S SWORD & THE SPIRITUAL PATH

Still digesting my own reaction to the powerfully disturbing & provocative film by James Carroll based on his novel.  It is a must see for everyone who truly cares about the history of religious intolerance.

There is not much new [to me] in the film regarding Christian anti-Judaism.  It is all too sad and irrefutable.  There is no one in their right mind who can study of the history of Western civilization & not see the Christian seeds of the Holocaust. The Nazi’s ‘pulled the trigger’ but the ammunition was two thousand years in the making.

We all need to know the truth in order to move forward and transform the evils of the past into a more compassionate and spiritually enlightened future.

What is significant & even more disturbing is the contemporary insensitivity, intolerance and militancy of 21st century Evangenical Christian movement in this country particulary as demonstrated by the Air Force Academy. This is clearly played out in the film.

There is a bizarre and historically inaccurate assumption among many of them that this is a Christian country whose Founding Fathers desired their own faiths to be promoted & institutionalized.

This is exactly the opposite of what they desired. They had reacted against the state religion of England. Their ferverent wish was that there would be NO state religion whatsoever. Their values where clearly influenced by Western philosophical traditions based upon the highest of Christian teachings.  But they were clear that America would be a land in which freedom from religion would be its highest virtue.

The religious right and parallels with Muslim extremism and fanaticism is unmistakable as well.

Former priest Carroll is continuously disturbed by the relationship between religion and miltant violence.  His is correct in his feelings.  We should all be equally outraged as well.

But outrage without transformation will be an impotent exercise in frustration.  The purpose of such an exercise is not about self-flagellation or apologizes.  We need to move forward & address the seeds of what continues to be THE problem of this century–religion as a tool of and for political militancy, intolerance, & aggression.

PASSOVER 2008–Holiday of Thanksgiving

Passover is unquestionably everyone’s favorite Jewish holiday.  Well, not children, perhaps. They prefer the toys of Hannukah. But for me, there is not doubt.  Passover wins hands down. 

It reminds me of Thanksgiving in many important ways.  It essentially takes place in the home with family and friends sitting around a large table.  There is a central historical basis for the holiday. For Jews it is the liberation from slavery and the founding of the religion at Mount Sinai. 

Our cultural memories of these events are forever forged by the film The Ten Commandments, and they are surprisingly close to the Biblical description of the events.

On a deeply profound level, this is a holiday of thanksgiving.  For Jews it has always presented the dream of religious freedom from the incessant persecution which has been a historical reality.  It represented the glimmer of hope, the dream of living as free individuals in a world which respects individual and group differences. The very fact that people could sit around a table and not fear their doors being broken down and brutally savaged is a cause for great thanksgiving.

Understand that freedom is not just about physical bondage.  We are often slaves to our own misplaced desires–we don’t always comprehend how our obsessions and addictions [to drugs, money, material gain, prestige, objects] hold us captive as well.  This was what the Buddha spoke of when he offered solutions to human suffering–releasing attachments and desires.

Being grateful implies the awareness that we can free ourselves from the bonds of psychological, physical and emotional bondage.  Gratitude is a choice, one which can bring instant peace in a sea of chaos. Be grateful for what makes you uncomfortable, sad or distressed as well. These are opportunities to learn and grow. And be grateful for the chance to experience this physical existence and to make good, compassionate and holy choices.

I am reminded of the quote by French Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teillard de Chardin–We are not human beings having a spiritual experience but spiritual beings having a human experience.
That human experience is also a product of free will, of choice.  Be grateful that your soul chose to take this challenging journey because all choice is freedom.

EACH LOVE IS UNIQUE…..

  While pondering the metaphysical issues of life & death in health care these days I recall one particular but striking case.  I was told that it involved the issue of inserting a feeding tube [known as PEG, percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube] into a fifty ‘something’ year old chronic resident of the Woodbridge State School.

I knew that the unfortunate inhabitants of this ‘school’ were severely handicapped individuals whose family could no longer care for them.  Many had congenital abnormalities which necessitated long term, often life long institutionalized care.  Many were either mentally or physically impaired.

My initial reaction was to ‘feel’ that I should not insert a feeding tube which would only prolong what I had assumed to be a horrendous lifestyle, one filled with sadness, suffering & despair.

I will never forget my first meeting with ‘Fred’.  He was over 50 years old, clearly mentally retarded, with a childlike contracted, underdeveloped body.  I do not know what he official diagnosis was but he was not able to speak, move or feed himself.  He drooled & and stared back at me.  He was accompanied by a lovely, beaming black Jamaican woman who was his caretaker at the school. She was joyous and smiling.  She asked me, ‘When will you place the feeding tube in Fred?’  He must eat & get his strength back you know!"

She smiled at Fred.  He stared and smiled at her. His smile was off kilter, drooling but radiant.  In a instant I was simultaneous ashamed of my prejudiced belief and transfixed by the presence to real love.  The feeling between these two souls was inexplicable but absolutely real.

I stepped away from the loving glow that the couple emanated.
I performed the procedure the next day.

Lecture at Albert Einstein College of Medicine–post script

It was quite gratifying to deliver a talk at my alma mater, Albert Einstein College of Medicine on last Wednesday, April 9th.  I want to publicly thank Dr Albert Kuperman for inviting me.  He is a professor and dean at Einstein and we met at a small talk I gave in the fall. He is tremendously open to the holistic approach to healing. The topic involved integrative medicine which endeavors to bring together science-based studies with some alternative approaches.

I spoke about my personal journey and how my explorations into the metaphysical world has led to  my transformation into a meta-physician.  I shared with the students the notion of the open-minded skeptic, someone willing to explore new and promising therapies and suggestions, while remaining firmly grounded in experience and evidence.

I also tried to describe the complexity and subtleties involved in the treatment of real patients in the world of private practice.  Scientific awareness is essential. Knowledge of ‘evidence-based’ studies is crucial, yet they don’t necessarily apply to the patient who sits before the physician in his/her examination room.

I emphasized how I approach alternative therapies such as herbal, acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy and energy healing–be open-minded but look for evidence for their effectiveness. Be aware that there is much information available to patients via the internet & infomercials.  Unfortunately, a considerable amount is not valid.
Risk / benefit analysis is important in considering what therapies are tried. Drug interactions with pharmaceuticals needs to be understood & discussed with patients who are already utilizing alternative treatments.

The examination room is a ‘sacred space’ in which the patient opens themselves to the physician who must respect this intimacy and apply all their skills to the task at hand.  The ‘art’ of medicine is in balancing the knowledge obtained by scientific studies, with the physician’ s own experience as well as intuition. 

There notion that the healing relationship between physician & patient is a process allows for necessary feedback of therapies offered and the experience of the patient.  ‘Trial & error’ with hopefully a minimum of ‘error’ is the only way to proceed towards the best & most effective treatment for any one patient.

It was gratified to perceive the response of the students to some of my ‘stories’ of extraordinary experiences of awareness [EEAs] such as the near-death experience, after-death communication & medium sessions.
Most of them seemed completely comfortable with the notion of spirit and a spiritual dimension to reality.

In short it was a rewarding and satisfying experience for me. Hopefully the audience felt the same way.

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METAPHYSICS OF SCIENCE & MYSTERY

I believe it is worth reviewing the historical relationship between science and mystery over the past four hundred years. Dear reader, don’t immediately yawn or navigate away from this site.  Give it a chance. You might find it interesting.

Before the so-called Copernican Revolution {which began after his death in the 17th century} in which the notion of a heliocentric solar system was first introduced, all questions of metaphysical truth were answered by the Church.  With the advent of modern technology: the telescope and microscope, for example, an entire new world opened up for European intellectuals. Science was seen as a direct threat to the power and influence of organized religion.

As led by Newton, Galileo, Descartes, Kepler and others, science gradually asserted itself into the forefront of the search for ultimate truth.  As science advanced, mystery diminished.  Soon it became appreciated that science would eventually uncover the answers to all problems of physical existence.  Religious dogma was gradually falling by the wayside to the onslaught of science.

God was determined to be present in the ‘gaps’ in scientific knowledge.  And these gaps were rapidly being filled by rational, logical scientific achievements. The poet Alexander Pope has even noted, in his revision of the Book of Genesis, that ‘God said, Let Newton be, and All was Light.’

Marquis de La Place, Napoleon’s main astronomer created a cosmology of the universe.  When asked by Napoleon why "God" was not mentioned, La Place famously replied, ‘I had no need for THAT hypothesis’, Sire’.

La Place had also boldly stated that he could predict the exact position and location of any object in the universe by utilizing Newtonian physics.

Mystery was fading away.  Science was seen as astoundingly powerful. Even philosophers were discarding metaphysical speculation in favor of science.  From Hume to Comte to Ayers to Russell, science was regarded by philosophers as the ultimate tool for uncovering metaphysical truths.

Something strange occurred on the road to now.  The twentieth century brought the bizarre notions derived from Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory.  Of the two, quantum theory was even more incomprehensible.
It postulated fundamental laws of physical reality which were difficult if not impossible to comprehend in a logical and rational manner.  How can an object such as light be regarded as a wave OR a particle depending on how an experiment is conducted?  Aren’t these two concepts paradoxically opposed to one another?  How could a subatomic particle literally disappear and then re-emerge somewhere else without anyone truly knowing where it was in between?  How could subatomic particles, once paired, the split and shot at opposite directions at the speed of light, still seem to ‘know’ what happens to its twin?

Other equally inexplicable tales were arising from the metaphysics of contemporary physics.  Most physicists refused to examine these implications.  They were far to concerned with the amazing applicability of quantum mechanics for the modern world.  In other words, they know how powerfully accurate and productive these concepts were.  They just couldn’t understand the metaphysics behind them–ie what they were telling us all about the nature of reality.

So here we are in the 21st century.  Over the centuries, mystery was replaced by the rational, commonsense pronouncements of science.  But now science was revealing a more mysterious universe than ever. 
Mystery was now in the ascendancy.  In prior centuries, mystery was associated with scientific ignorance, now with scientific knowledge.

What does this tell us about the metaphysical nature of reality?  I don’t think anyone knows……