OVERCOMING ADVERSITY–recalling past successes

I am presently preparing to speak on the topic of Overcoming Adversity at Temple Shalom in Aberdeen NJ of November 21.  It is a fascinating topic, one that I have visited in prior writings and lectures under different but related topics–Healing Through Sadness & Happiness, the Buddhist notion of Suffering, Kabbalistic concepts such as a broken universe and healing.

One aspect of this talk will address the practical issue of how to face our day to day difficulties.  Adversity implies a negative situation–whether somehow self-induced or totally random and arriving from outside ourselves.

The topic of this posting is one approach–we need to recall our past successes in overcoming and surviving difficult and painful experiences.

There is a tendency NOT to tap into our past successes while we are in the midst of such an event–a rebuke at work, news our retirement account has disintegrated, hearing that our grandchild has a learning disability or that someone close to us has cancer. 

We quickly become engulfed in a cloud of emotion which brings physical distress with it as well.  It is not a coincidence that the word 'disease' is truly 'dis-ease'.

Many of us, particularly the 'older' reader can recall how we faced equally painful situations in the past—and survived them.  Perhaps we actually 'grew' from this process, but that is a fascinating but different notion which I will explore in a future posting.

The concept of 'whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger' does resonate with many of us.  It is an ironic and painful notion to ponder.  But the truth is–at least you survived the experience.

That memory must be retained and recalled as soon as the flood of dark emotion sweeps through.  Don't dwell in that despair, anxiety or gloom–but don't flee from it too soon.  Experience it, feel it [you probably will have no choice].  Then simultaneously plan your response & recall how you survived past painful situations.

Regard those times as part of your personal path in life, your individual or group challenge–and regard the process of  overcoming as a form of success.  You are still here, after all.  And that means that you possess more strength and survival skills  than you realize.
                                                                                                                                                                                 

Dalai Lama & Suffering–post script : an apology & explanation

Received a suprsing response to my posting yesterday on the Dalai Lama and suffering.  The writer [who I hope will read this posting]  seemed upset about my reference to a Catskill Mountain Jewish comic routine and the fact that the Dalai Lama, not a parent, could not understand true suffering. 

As someone who is Jewish and very familiar with this type of ironic humor I  found it fascinating that someone would be offended.  Perhaps that represents  my own cultural perspective and I apologize to anyone was offended by my statements.  The truth, however, is the truth and Jewish humor has always been so compelling and touching because it can target that underlying poignant, even sad reality.  Only a parent can understand how difficult it is.  Only a parent can truly know how we want to protect and direct our children's lives away from their own pain and into a life of joy and serenity. 

The  existential truth is that we cannot.  No one can live another soul's journey.  Just as we cannot do so for our parents or grandparents, we cannot truly live the journey of children  or grandchildren.  We can be present for them to the best of our ability but in the end their suffering is their  own.

The Dalai lama or any great spiritual leader can only guess, surmise or empathsize with the challenge of parental suffering.  But, of course, being a parent is often a source of intense joy and love as well.

Joy  and suffering are two sides of a parent/child relationship.  The goal is to be present and aware of all aspects of it.                                 

DEAR DALAI LAMA–you don’t know suffering….you’re not a parent !

I know the title of this posting sounds like a bad Catskill  Mountain Jewish comedian joke line.
But I do believe that there is some truth to it.  Celibacy may have its rewards [ and of course its losses].   But those of us who are in the real world, have jobs, families, worries about our individual and family futures are subjected to a form of suffering that monks and nuns can only guess at.

Of course the spiritually committed who have chosen the monastic life will quickly respond that our suffering is a consequence of our 'attachments'.  These are most usually described as attachments to our physical desires:  materialism, money, prestige, career etc.  These choices are easily understood as set-ups for suffering when we don't completely realize these worldly goals.  And the truth is that these attachments should be constantly re-evaluated and re-assessed.  Many are truly illusory, self-imposed forms of ego-driven nonsense.  It is entirely reasonable and proper that we examine such attachments and consider to release many of them.  They are simply choices we have made without considering their intrinsic worth.

When it comes to loved ones, however, releasing our 'attachments' our source of suffering is far more difficult.  How can we do this?  Should we do this?  If our children, parents, siblings, spouses, close friends hurt themselves, how do we not suffer?  What can we do, or should do to help them? 

This is the most difficult issue of attachment.  It is a tricky and complex situation in which our choices may ultimately help, hurt or not affect those we love.  Is it appropriate to intervene? When and how?  Is it appropriate to step away and allow them to suffer–to learn 'on their own'?

Do we help or hurt them in the long run ?  Can we reduce our suffering by reducing our attachment ?  Or do we merely increase our own suffering by stepping back.

All these are issues that the Dalai Lama has faced personally on some level.  When it comes to children, however, he has no first hand experience.  Hello, Dalai ! [sorry]   We can all use your wisdom on this issue.

LOOKING OUT FOR ‘NUMBER ONE’–IS IT SELFISH TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF?

Dealing with life's trials and tribulations can often involve making decisions that pit our
personal well-being against those of others.  How much should we 'sacrifice' to help those around us?  Should we think more about the needs and desires of others than our own?  At what point do we exhibit selfish behavior?  At what point are we merely protecting our own needs?

Needless to say–this is an incredibly complex and difficult question to deal with.  But we must. 
It may occur on a monthly, weekly even daily basis.  But it is a profound metaphysical issue which deserves consideration and discussion.

A recent article [OCTOBER 14th NY Times, Science and Health Section] dealt with the question of 'who cares for the caregiver?'  Those who have read my book META-PHYSICIAN ON CALL FOR BETTER HEALTH may recall how this issue assumed life and death proportions in my own life.  My own Father nearly died from pneumonia because he had assumed the role of caregiver for my elderly Mother who was dying of dementia.  He had refused help at the time, believing that he could 'handle' the situation.  Unquestionably, his own immune system was ravaged by the stress he had been under.

The difficulty in dealing with this issue is clearly one of balance–how do we find the balance needed to care for those we love and who need us, and our own physical, emotional and spiritual needs? 

Clearly we need to be aware of the dangers of NOT considering our own health.  My Father could not help his dying wife while he was dying himself.  We need to be 'strong' in a truly holisitic way [mind/body/spirit] if we are to help others.

The analogy of flying in airplanes is relevant–'place the oxygen mask over your own face before trying to help others'.  You are of no help to anyone else if you are incapable of being fit yourself.

The challenge in life is to maintain that extremely difficult balance.  I believe that we must understand the significance of protecting ourselves from 'dis-ease' while being there for our loved ones.  Understand that it is not being 'selfish' when we pay attention to our own holisitc needs.

No one said it would be easy.  Life is what it is–replete with perpetual opportunities and challenges.  But awareness of life's metaphysical realities is the first step in dealing with them in a way that will benefit all involved.

LEARNING FROM ADVERSITY—–THE STOCK MARKET….

Don't expect any stock tips from this posting. How to treat flatulence, perhaps, but not stocks or the economy.  What I have observed, however, is how easily panicked we all become when adversity threatens.  Of course, this is written into our DNA.  Those of us alive today owe our very being to ancestors who frightened more easily than their neighbors, prepared for the worst, or left town before the sh.t hit the fan.

That means, however, that we need to be aware of our reactive impulses–and to not be automatically carried away by them. Fear is the engine that drives us off the wall.  It is how adversity hurts us.  And fear is the mass media's pot of gold.

I believe the universal availability and constant bombardment of frightening news is contributing mightly to our emotional and psychological suffering.  Pay attention to the sounds that cable news uses to 'interrupt' one news segment for another.  There is panic and alarm in it.  It sets us up emotionally for another disaster.  And even when it is NOT a disaster, we suffer as if it were.

News of the economy is clearly not good.  The banking, credit markets and stock markets have been severely beaten down.  Many are to 'blame' and  hopefully we will investigate and expose the sources of our problem.

Much of this has been magnified by our emotional response to adversity.  Individuals panic, sell their stocks our of fear of futher decline which pushes all stocks further down. The fear that magnifies our situation leads to the vicious cycle we see unfolding before us.

Ironically, it seems to provide opportunities for the  savy investors who are jumping in to buy good companies which are 'undervalued' because of the overall hysteria. Warren Buffet did not amass billions by making emotional decisions when it came to his financial life.

What life lessons can we learn from what is going on?  Perhaps we can realize that our emotions tend to 'overshoot' when adversity arises. Perhaps we can learn to step back from these emotions when adversity  strikes. We can't immediately, of course, because we are emotional creatures.  But the sooner we can take a deep breath and distance ourselves from our emotions, we can deal more effectively with whatever difficulties arise. 

It seems that those of us who can do so will suffer less in the present and  "prosper" more in the future.

WHEN A DOCTOR DIES—ADDENDUM

There is one additional point I wanted to make re: "When A Doctor Dies…" posting which was referred to in the original NY Times article.  The doctor referred to his own father's last days in which he seemed to be speaking to an invisible presence which seemed to be his own father.

This point was quickly dismissed since the point of the article was the father's attitude toward his own failing body.  I would like to bring the reader's attention, however, to the well-known phenomeon of death-bed visions. 

This has been described by many health care providers [nurses and physicians] who observe dying patients.  Hospice nursese are so familiar with this phenomenon that they regularly alert family members to expect this to occur with their own dying loved-ones.

A large study of over 1000 health care providers was published in the 1970's called AT THE HOUR OF DEATH. The authors were Osis and Harraldsson and analyzed the phenomenon in both Western cultures as well as Indian society.  Their conclusion was that this represented a metaphysically valid spiritual experience of dying individuals.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross MD also described the same experience in dying children.  In order to counter the claim that the dying merely hallucinate their closest loved-ones, she performed a type of scientific 'study'.

Before the critically ill children were truly near death, Kubler-Ross asked them who they would like to have around them if the were 'really sick'.  Almost universally the children mentioned their parents.

These same children, when their time of death was near, never  described seeing their parents, unless their parent had already died.  This was a powerful demonstration to Kubler-Ross that the experience was a deeply spiritual one.

The phenomeon represents the presence of deceased relatives who are present to make the passage from life to death less frightening.  It may correspond to some of the reports from the near-death experience as well in which dead relatives are encountered.

I would those readers who are curious to explore the phenomenon.  Some have witnessed this themselves.  Others may know nurses who have worked in ICUs or in Hospice. 

Pay attention–it is a strong clue to the presence of a deeper spiritual dimension to reality.

HOW A DOCTOR DIES….

A recent NY Times short article titled Always a Doctor, Even in the Dying of the Light described
the last months of life of a physician, a former radiologist and his family's reaction to it.
The doctor was continually analyzing his own body's failing condition with the objectivity of a physician dealing with a patient.

It seemed rather strange to those around him, but it was his way.  I suppose none of us know
how we will regard our own dying. And we need to honor each individual soul's approach to death.

 But I doubt that I will approach my own dying the way this doctor did.

Despite his own suffering and those around him, he kept refusing Hospice care.  He wanted
'everything done' although it was clear that nothing truly could be done other than to use valuable resources [blood] that could have been better served helping others whose prognosis was far greater than his.  it was also clear that his loving family was suffering in the process as well.

There is a time when the metaphysician within everyone of us must come to terms with our own mortality.  It will most likely not be easy for most of us since all we know and all we cherish is this physical form and this lifetime.  Hopefully,  however, more of us, doctors included, will awake to  the daily and continuous awareness that any one lifetime, however much a gift, is a part-time occupation.

We need to remain aware that we are part-time 'occupiers' of this physical body. This is not a nihilistic or life-denying approach to life.  Quite the opposite. We need to cherish our time here and be sure not to waste a minute of it.  But  when our bodies inevitably wear out we must not tarry too long. 

It only adds unnecessary pain and suffering to ourselves and those we love.

THE FINANCIAL CRISIS AND SCAPEGOATING

A particularly disturbing outcome of the spiraling financial and economic crisis are signs
that the scourge of Western civilization, anti-semitism is on the rise.  There are multiple sources for this evidence–all of which are reprehensible. 

Certainly, there are individuals, institutions, systems, policies and procedures which, in hindsight were clearly out of control–but when 'we' begin to blame particular ethnic, religious, racial groups for our problems……we begin a slippery slope that leads to irrational hatred.

One would have hoped that in a time and place where a black man may very well be elected
president and in which tremendous progress has been made in shattering stereotypes, resorted to scapegoating of particular groups would no longer be an issue.

Let's be clear about the crisis–there are many INDIVIDUALS who share responsibility….from the politicians who wanted 'all' Americans to be home owners [regardless of their ability to pay their debts] to political action committees who were pushing for the same goal.  'Poor' people have the 'right' to own homes– don't they?

 Then there were the mortgage companies and their salespeople who were rewarded for 'selling' the product, even encouraging clearly unqualified individuals to go for the largest mortgage possible. Yet they had no accountability in the future as to whether their clients could ever pay the bills, particularly when the value of their homes slipped. There were members of Congress, flush with PAC money from Freddie and Fannie to avoid the close oversight of their practices. Then there were the capitalist 'pigs' [excuse the  expression] who saw money in bundling, trading, selling investment products which were intrinsically of little value but which generated billions of dollars in income.

The point is this–there were black, white, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, atheists—all complicit in the crisis.  BUT THEY WERE ACTING AS INDIVIDUALS– not members of a particular group!!  When someone blames a 'group' for a crisis–this is known as scapegoating. The 'group'  should be irrelevant to the crisis at hand.

Let us be very careful to avoid the scapegoating mentality which has set the stage for some of mankind's greatest sins, atrocities, genocides far worse than any financial crisis we could imagine.

sexuality for the metaphysician

Perhaps a strange, even sacreligious topic on this most Holy of holidays but I feel it is aways appropriate to discuss various aspects of living in this world of action [Assiyah, in Kabbalistic doctrine]. One of the most complex and confusing issue for the metaphysical seeker of spiritual
truth and evolution–what is the role of sexuality in this process?

Should one regard the sexual impulse as an 'evil' or degenerate threat to spiritual evolution or as a normal, expected, even welcomed aspect of human existence.

I find one of the Kabbalistic interpretations of the sexual impulse quite remarkable and reasonable. The question arises: how does one react to a sexual impulse while praying in synagogue on the High Holidays?  The response is worthy of consideration:  Firstly,  do not feel guilty, sinful or degraded.

Regard your response as a gift from God.  See it as representing the force that is universal throughout the physical universe–sexuality is built into our DNA. Regard this feeling as a spiritual one.  Honor it without acting on it.  This does not make you a sinner or degenerate. In fact, thank God for the pleasure of the thought and honor this aspect of living.

It has been said that we are God's taste buds in the physical world, the vehicle through with God experiences his Creation.  In that way we spiritualize sexuality and, therefore, raise it to be appreciated and honored.  It is the intention and awareness that we bring to all aspects of living that make all aspects of our life an opportunity for gratitude and blessing.

RELIGULOUS–Bill Maher’s New Film

Just saw Bill Maher’s new film Religulous and wanted to offer some comments on it.  In general I thought it was quite brilliant. Maher’s conclusions were, of course, forgone knowing his attitude about religion, but the way the film was directed and edited by Larry Charles made it compelling and worth seeing.

Maher is an atheist whose Catholic upbringing came to a halt when he was 13, just as he was learning about his Jewish roots by way of his Mother who apparently had never discussed them with him.

He approaches the subject of religion as I have always done–it is based upon a human interpretation of metaphysical reality. Many believers have shed their rational mind when they choose to believe in the tenet’s of their own religion, they usually dismiss or despise those of another belief. There is tremendous hypocrisy in the behavior of many of its adherents and  religious leaders.

Maher reasonably challenges the ‘certainty’ of religious fundamentalists as opposed to his own willingness to admit ‘I just don’t have all the answers’.

Maher has an easy time of demonstrating all of the above as he examines the world’s three monotheistic religions and their most fanatical adherents.  In doing so he ignores the vast number of religious people who are actually practicing spiritual values as well–kindness, charity and compassion.  He chooses to regard all religious individuals as fools.  By painting in such broad strokes, Maher misses the value of religion for many decent human beings.

He also ignores the role religion plays in assisting individuals through life’s difficult passages–birth, initiation, marriage and death and mourning. Poverty, sickness, sadness, adversity are all made easier to tolerate when a religious community is available to offer emotional support.

Atheists must find their own way during such processes–being quite rich and influential [as is Maher] can ease the pain of life’s difficulties.

In the process Maher also dismisses spirituality as well.  It is  here that I most  strongly part ways with his thesis.  I have found supporting evidence to convince me that there is a spiritual dimension to reality.  My book and blogs outline such evidence and they do not come from religion but from the personal experience of ordinary individuals of high credibility.

Many of my more ‘intellectual’ sources are scientists who have uncovered evidence for their belief in the survival of the soul.  Such individuals include Stephen Braude, PhD, Robert Almeder, PhD, David Cantana,  PhD, Ian Stevenson, MD, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, MD and a host of others.  None of these individuals base their beliefs on religious authority but on the evidence obtained from their studies of such phenomena in otherwise sane and credible human beings.

It is interesting that one of the characters in his movie is Andrew Newberg, a neuroradiologist whose book Why God Won’t Go Away [with Eugene D’Aquili–Ballantine Books, NY, 2001] analyzes the findings of "neurotheology" of deeply meditating/praying religious monks an nuns. Maher leads Newberg into stating that just because someone believes something to be true, it may still be a fantasy–implying that Newberg is as atheistic as Maher.

In fact Newberg and D’Aquili describe the state of meditative connection with "Absolute Unitary Being" as being as likely to be as real as the material world. [p 172].  They base this notion on what may be described as ‘comparative states of reality’.

When comparing a drug induced hallucination or dream [which may seem ‘real’ during the episode] with awake reality–the average individual recognizes that our everyday awake reality is more ‘real’ than the what they previously experienced.

However, those who have reached a higher, deeper meditative state, upon returning to ordinary reality, declare that the meditative state was the higher, more ‘true’ reality.  This subjective comparison is enormously compelling to Newberg and D’Aquili.

In summary–see the film and judge for yourself.  In fact I am a strong advocate for taking personal responsibility for our own beliefs. This is the ultimate expression of human free will.  Do not believe in metaphysical pronouncements on something as significant as the existence of God, the soul, survival after physical death based on the brain-washing of organized religion.  If there is a God who has imbued human beings with a mind and with free will, then exercise it.  I believe that we have an inherent understanding of how we should behave.

Live that life.  Follow the ‘Golden Rule’.  We ‘know’ how to behave even when we don’t do it.  Watch out for religious fundamentalists and don’t worry about the rest.    Enjoy the journey.