ELMS & THE VORTEX: a poem of Central Park

                                        


                                          THE ELMS KNOW WHAT I FEEL

                                          OF ALL TREES IN THE  PARK

                                          THEY REVEAL THE TRUE NATURE OF

                                          THE UNSEEN SPIN

                                         
                                          THIS PLACE IS

                                          A VORTEX SITE
                                         
                                         AND AS I KNOW IT IN MY HEART
                                        
                                         THEY DISPLAY  IT IN THEIR  FORM
 

                                         THEIR BRANCHES TWISTING AND SPLAYED

                                         AS IF DANCING  TO  A CONSTANT INVISIBLE WIND

                                         REFLECTING WHAT OTHER BEINGS ONLY SUSPECT

                                         SOME PRIMORDIAL PULL

                                         WHICH DRAWS ALL  IN

                                        AND WHISPERS OF HIDDEN TRUTHS
                                       
                                        FOR WORDS CANNOT CAPTURE
                                       
                                        WHAT THE ELMS ALREADY KNOW
                                          
                                         

THERE IS ENOUGH MONEY FOR UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE !!

Here's one man's [a physician's ] suggestions  to address the problem of providing universal health care.  Billions of dollars are presently being wasted/mispent/overspent on the following –with suggestions for change.  Here are three—–

1] Reform the Tort System for Medical Malpractice– For those of you who have been living under a rock–wake up!  A huge percentage of medical testing that occurs in individual practices is a response to fears of law suits .  Much of this fear could be reduced if not alleviated by changing the way the public sues doctors.  Take this out of the court/jury s ystem!  Juries are composed of relatively bright, aware citizens who are NOT CAPABLE of evaluating medical testimony.  The present system pits so-called expert witnesses who are paid to testify in support of one side or the other. These 'hired-guns' know who is paying them and are biased in that direction.  There is no way the jury can decide who is correct.  They ability to sue is a civil right and physician's are human beings–we are imperfect. The cases should be quickly adjudicated before panels of experts in the field. Awards for 'pain and suffering' should not be outrageous.  Of course the trial lawyer's powerful lobby will not accept this easily.

2] Limit the profits of managed-care insurance companies and their officer's compensation.  Insurance companies are middle-men.  They take the premiums for average Americans, process them and then payout what they choose to doctors, hospitals etc.  Whatever they refuse to fund or whatever they cut back in payments becomes their profits.  Anyone find a problem here?  They are sucking the system dry!

3] Please address the issue of end-of-life and the obscene amounts of money spent to keep dying people 'alive'.  At least 30% of health-care costs are spent in the last six months of life.  Let's open up dialogues with our cultural, religious, ethical, medical and political leaders regarding this growing problem.  Oprah should have at least one show a week regarding this issue.  Just becausee we 'can' keep the dying alive does not mean we should.  This is an extremely difficult and emotional issue–but we are literally throwing away billions of dollars that could be allocated for the needy, and viable who have no insurance.

Now–I've gotten it off my chest.  Don't know if anyone will read or care about what I've said.  But the point is this–the money exists.  We just aren't using it the right way.

None of these issues will be fixed overnight. But unless someone addresses them we will continue to cry about our lack of money for the uninsured.  Wasting, mis-using and  mis-allocating the money we do spend is truly a sin.

CHOOSING KINDNESS–A Healing Paradigm

WHEN I WAS A YOUNG MAN I ADMIRED CLEVER PEOPLE, AS AN OLD MAN I CAME TO ADMIRE KIND ONES…..Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

Oh, do we ever admire the 'clever' among us:  rich, famous, successful.  Are there any criteria to value others that  come close to these ?  We honor, respect even worship these individuals as if they were somehow better than the rest of us. They seem to embody the values we hold dear.  And those of us who do not possess those qualities feel inadequate, inferior and unfilfilled.

Famous people are likely to be driven, intense, determined and relentless.  Fame rarely happens to the quiet, unasuming and kind.  Yet what of the 'clever' among us?  Sadly, they can be self-destructive, obsessively driven, egomaniacal. 

Do we need to look beyond our country's financial disaster to find the destructiion sown by 'clever' people ? 

But what of the value of kindness?  At times it seems  rather pale, ineffectual, impotent.  Kindness and fame are rarely spoken of in the same sentence.  Acts of kindness are usually done without fanfare or bravado.  They are often done quietly, one-on-one.

Kindess is the most powerful tool for healing. It breaks down barriers between people, pierces the armour of defensiveness we often erect to protect our own fragility. Receiving an act of kindness may even shock us–we don't expect it.  We are confused by it, often look for ulterior motives.

Meanwhile, those who extend kindess are often courageous in their acts of simplicity.  They risk being rebuffed or rejected but are unfased by that prospect.

They act out of an inner impulse to do good, the loving thing.  They don't wait for a reply or response.  They don't need any.  They action is its own reward.

KIndness appears in many forms: charity, volunteering, donations, individual acts of manners, holding the door for others, allowing others into a line of traffic, not honking a second someone doesn't move from a red light, asking those who seem confused if they need help and perhaps the most simple but powerful–a gentle smile to a stranger.

Perhaps this is the lesson that emerges from suffering.  Only kindess can ease the pain and fear that many are experiencing. If there were ever a time to choose kindness–it is now.

Let us pray that it can help us all in the coming year.

 

CAREER CHOICE–INVESTMENT BANKER OR DOCTOR ? Hmmmm…..

I thought that I was not hearing correctly when several months ago [before the fall of Wall Street]  I learned that many of  our nation's  'best and brightest' college students were debating their future careers and came upon a conundrum–  should I become a doctor or an investment banker ?

Could this be true?  How was it possible that students could be struggling over deciding upon such divergent, even diametrically opposed professions?  Certainly I was not naive  to  the economics of such a decision.  Let's see the choice here: doctors make a rather good living and try to help people and occasionally save lives, investment bankers……they make a lot of money.  They also manipulate numbers, sell securities, take a percentage of total investments and conspicuously consume to an inordinate degree.

In truth, we all have our own personal motivations for pursuing our particular careers.  Doctors are no more saintly than any other group of people.  But rest assured–with all the years of hard work, toil, delayed gratification and the hassle of contemporary practice……it just isn't for the money.

Investment bankers have recently lost the luster of megalomania as a result of the financial debacle.  For the first time, the general public and even prominent economists have publicly decried the absurd incomes and bonuses that are annually bestowed on the employees of the large financial firms.  The formers 'masters of the universe' had often believed their own superiority.  They would brazenly spend their bonuses on whatever they chose to with an air of entitlement worthy of hereditary lines of royalty.

Ah, but how the times have changed.  Apparently there is nothing more humbling than a kick in the ass from the  world of reality.    The braggadocio is all but  gone.  The dream of unlimited material extravagance now a cruel fantasy.

Perhaps our college's 'best and brightest' should reconsider their career goals.  All of sudden the path towards a career of medicine is somehow more appealing  But alas and alack–just  perhaps they weren't our 'best and brightest' to begin with.

THE GREAT EVERGREEN MASSACRE–XMAS

Don't call me a Scrooge.  Don't assume I'm anti-Christmas because I am not a Christian.  But I half-seriously question the universal annual sacrifice of millions of evergreens/pines in the name of a holiday.

Of course these trees are 'raised' to be used for Xmas.  Of course this is a multi-million dollar industry that employs large numbers of ordinary, innocent people.  But from a metaphysical perspective, trees ARE living organisms. And ironically, the same individuals who hug trees and protest 'carbon footprints', and decry the destruction of South American rain forests are now busily erecting and dressing their dead trees in their own living rooms.

We all understand the pagan origins of the Xmas Tree.  That's fine, all religious and cultural practices have fascinating roots.  But would it be so terrible to use an indoor living tree or bush that already exists, or utilize an [ugh] artificial product ?

The grossest example of tree slaughter is the annual ritual and publicity surrounding the majestic, spectacular massive tree carted each year and erected in Rockefeller Center in NYC.  Am I the only one on the planet who would rather see a living tree planted there for 365 day appreciation, easily available for the annual spectacle?  Just think of the money that would be saved each year that is expended in cutting down, carting and erecting the magnificent dead tree.  This is aside from the obvious destruction of one of Nature's beings.

Metaphysically speaking, is this attitude towards trees the residue of Cartesian dualism ?  17th century philosopher Rene Descartes separated the world into physical and spiritual and only human beings had a spiritual component, a soul.  As a consequence, animals were deemed fit for experimentation and brutal treatment.  Alfter all, Descartes reasoned, they were merely lumps of nonfeeling protoplasm.

I will not even argue the proposal that plants/trees can 'feel'.  But they very likely do have some sensory responses to injury, they probably do suffer on some level. 

Once again, sorry to bring anyone down this season.  We all have enough negative energy to dispel.  But let's really think about what we do, even if it is tradition.

METAPHYSICAL WEEK—MADOFF & MOVIES [The Reader]

This past week, in what would appear to be two unrelated events, I experienced both the Bernie Madoff saga and the film The Reader. 

The Madoff saga is fascinating, compelling and ultimately tragic–innocent people were hurt by an individual whose secretive, corrupt Ponzi scheme was ultimately  brought down by the world wide financial crisis. The ramifications of what he perpetrated have yet to be fully explored.

He was often able to appeal to the desire for financial success and trust of those who had an enormous amount of money to begin with [although individuals of much more modest means were brought along by richer connections].  His promise and assumed deliverance of above market rates of return were the key to attracting these investments.  No one looked to deeply  or carefully–the money and returns were as seductive as his methods.  His ability to create an atomosphere of selectivity in whose money he invested, made the appeal that much greater.

Analysts will debate whether Madoff began with the intention of defrauding his clients.  One theory which may be valid was that he began with reasonable intentions, may have even delivered above average returns for a while and therefore grew his business and reputation, faced ultimate market downturns but refused to admit his falibility.

Perhaps this was the underlying mechanism which led him to commit the evil he has admitted. A weakness in character, a desire to be admired and respected, an inability to admit his own imperfection and a willingness to do what was clearly wrong–to make bad choices and follow their outcome. 

Regardless, his actions led to the pain and suffering of others.  Unquestionably a degree of responsibiity and karma exist for evil perpetrated even if his initial intentions were benign.

In a strange way, issues of responsibility for the horrors of the Holocaust which are dealt with in the book and film The Reader offer up similar karmic questions.

Clearly, the Holocaust could not have happened without the participation of millions on multiple levels of involvement.  How does one assign guilt to anyone who contributed to the death and destruction.  A generation of post-Holocaust Germans are trying to do so, and the movie attempts to explore these issues.

Without going into to too much plot or character development [everyone should see the film] it involves a simple, illiterate German woman who was a prison guard at Auschwitz.  She was one of those 'good' Germans who were a part of the horror.  She selected Jewish women who were to be gassed. 

She experienced no sense of committing a crime, no intention to hurt or hate anyone.  There was a scene in the movie  where  she is questioned by a tribunal regarding here participation in the  camps.   Jewish women had been locked into a church one night when a fire breaks out.  They could not escape and all died except the one woman who wrote a book which led to the trial.

Hanna's reason for not letting them out was pathetic.  She was afraid they would run away and that she would get into trouble. 

Perhpas the lesson of Madoff and The Reader is simply this–evil comes in many forms and degrees.   It can hide itself in many garbs and even begin without our awareness.  The perpetrators of evil are not necessarily 'monsters'.  The German people were not different kinds of human beings than everyone else.  Bernie Madoff was probalby a 'nice guy ' as many described him.

At some point, however, we need to recognize  that we are all capable of doing wrong.  We need to be vigilant and aware.  The devil doesn't make us do it–the source is within each of us.  We are the judge and jury of our own actions.  This is  what is meant by karma on a deep soul level. 

 We are always responsible for the choices we make.  We need to open our eyes to the consequences of our actions and be aware of where they might lead.  We are all capable of choosing good or evil.  Let's hope we choose well.

BAD BEHAVIOR….ORIGINAL SIN ? KABBALAH SAYS NO !

I'm fascinated by human behavior and today's news is replete with examples of human behavior at its worst.  Whether we're being disgusted by a Mother's murder of her daughter, a politician's selling of political office, homicide bombings or monumental financial fraud and abuse—we are forever exposed to the dark side of human activity.

From a metaphysical perspective–what does this tell us about the nature of reality and the nature of man ?  Are we inherently corrupt sinners whose nature compels us to continuously create chaos , despair and suffering for ourselves and our fellow human beings ? The doctrine of Original Sin arising from certain religious dogmas would lead us to believe just that.

If we are born with the taint of Adam and Eve's original sin–what hope is there ?  Can we choose to behave morally, ethically and compassionately with each other or do we need to follow a particular  religious path in order to be 'saved' ?

If I understand this correctly [and please inform me if I have it wrong]  Christian doctrine states that the stain of Original Sin can only be erased through belief in Christ.  Actions are not sufficient to accomplish this goal.  In fact, nonbelievers, regardless of their actions  are doomed to eternal damnation for their lack of belief.

The Kabbalistic perspective on Original Sin is quite different and personally more appealing.  It is a more mystical interpretation of the Garden of Eden story.  In this understanding, humanity [Adam and Eve] chose to disobey God and eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

In doing so, humanity elected to live by the game plan of free choice over predestination.  Prior to this act of defiance, mankind existed in a heavenly, simplistic and child-like state of being.  In choosing free will over immortality [The Tree of Life] man evolved into a more complex being who could progress or regress spiritually on the basis of free will choice.

The Kabbalsitic interpretation strongly implies that God expected Adam and Eve to make that choice in order to become fully human.  It is the choice that we have inherited from Adam and Eve, not the sin.  Original Sin, in Kabbalistic terms, results in the chaotic and often painful world in which we live.  This existence, however, is not seen so much as punishment as opportunity for spiritual evolution through choice.

Free will is a powerful tool but an onerous burden as well.  Our choices become our fate.  We may have plenty of excuses for what we do.  Many of our negative actions may not have begun with the intention of harming others or causing evil.  But the fact of our choices cannot be disputed. 

In a spiritual sense I believe that there are differences between intentionally doing harm and unintentionall doing so.  Human behavior is complex.  Many individuals act out of selfishness, greed, egomania, fear etc. Some acts begin along a positive path and become altered and corrupted as a consequence of these factors.  We need to evaluate each case on its own merits.

We also need to take responsibility for our actions.  Kabbalistic teaching states that we are not inherently evil beings.  How could we since we carry a spark of divinity within?   Yet we are free to choose the right or the wrong path in any situation.  Our choices stay with us and have profouond consequences–in this life and in lives to come.

Spiritual evolution is our goal and bad behavior inhibits that process.  But for most of us there is always hope that our next choice will be better than the last.

I would like to regard Original Sin as the beginning of personal responsibility, a concept which seems  to be in woefully short supply these days. Being capable of making choices can be seen as a gift–one that has powerful implications for our individual metaphysical journey.

IT IS TIME TO RECOGNIZE THAT METAPHYSICS IS PRAGMATIC

Readers of my blog and book have been clearly inundated by my usage of the term metaphysics.  It is the branch of philosophy which endeavors to understand the nature of reality.  This seems like a rather esoteric even irrelevant undertaking in the midsts of personal financial devastation, distrust of political leaders and institutions and financial melt-downs of unimaginable proportions. 

Many Americans are suffering right now and their suffering is not philosophical–it is clearly material–lack of money, jobs, housing.  Even more frightening is uncertainty about the future–the chaotic darkness of the unknown.  Life for many Americans seems as confusing, disturbing and distressing as political and financial 'leaders' are revealing their dark and damaged sides on a daily basis.  

Why should we concern ourselves about philosophy  when there is so much insanity and suffering around us ?

I contend that this is exaclty the time for metaphysics. It is exactly at the moment when we are injured and vulnerable that we are able to re-evaluate the meaning of life. Perhaps we can even choose to understand how the Universe 'slaps us down' and forces us to confront our selves and our own values.  We need to develop our own metaphysical platform in order to guide our lives to the best of our abilities and seek the highest level of happiness for ourselves and others.

What this crisis has clearly demonstrated is that we are all truly interconnected–spiritually to be sure, but clearly financially as well.  We are confronted with this metaphysical truth in a way that even the most cynical and spiritually dense among us cannot deny–we are our brother's keepers !!

Perhaps we will be forced to recognize the value of returning to 'values'.  Metaphysics is all about what is basic about life, our needs, our values and ultimately what is the meaning of life itself.

For many, organized religion offers solace in times of suffering.  But how often do we listen when we attend services, then revert to our 'old' addictions the moment we leave?  Perhaps we ultimately need to take responsibility for our own metaphysical beliefs and actually 'live them' on a daily bais.

The irony is we all know this already–any writing, commentary or discussion that this or any blog illuminates will seem all too obvious.  It is–from the writings of the Bible to those of contemporary philosophers, novelsits and even children's cartoons, the dangers are well known.  The true 'bottom-line' of all of this talk is this–are we any happier, more content, more serene than our less material based ancestors ?

Human greed is as old as mankind.  When is enough, enough?  Apparently never for some individuals.  And ironically, in their insatiable drive to find happiness, they find none.  Their understanding of happiness is fundamentall, metaphysically distorted.  They are addictied to the drive to have 'more'  and fail to realize that 'more' is the monster that will never be satisfied.  They become victims of their own 'success' and for many their unhappiness drives them to ultimate self-destruction and destruction of others. 

Why can't we live the Golden Rule of 'do unto others?'  If we take this discussion out of the purely metaphysical/spiritual realm of what is right or wrong—and get totally practical about it—how do we find the serenity we all ultimately seek? 

We all know the truth when we experience it.  We all live in a material world and cannot reject the benefits to our quality of life–but we must understand that all seductions carry with them the risk of self-destruction.  We cannot live without salt or sugar.  But obsessive consumption of each leads to heart failure,  hypertension or diabetes and we all understand the ultimate outcome of these conditions.

We need to get back to basics–understanding what is ultimately important in life–that we truly are happiest when we are at peace with those around us and with the planet. What truly makes us happy is simnply– to love and be loved. We know love when we experience it.  We know the feeling of joy accompanies even the smallest act of kindness to another being.

We are now faced with an opportunity–to step forward to  help our fellow human beings who have been damaged, who are suffering.

At times like these we have an opportunity, an opportunity to re-think what we are doing as individuals and as a society.  But it is a time for pragmatic metaphysics.  Everyone has been damaged by the financial crisis, but there are those among us who have hurt less than others. Will we recognize this opportunity ?  It is the time to give to others–in time, in money and in kindness.  Recognize that suffering allows us to soften our defenses–it gives us an opportunity to extend compassion and caring to others.

The quality of empathy is powerful and frightening–when we open ourselves to the suffering of others we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  But this is actually a gift to us–we are being allowed to connect to another soul on a deeply powerful spiritual level.

We need to be particularly charitable and kind in times like these.  The healing that will occur to those who give is greater than to those who will receive. Cynics and skeptics may shake their head.  Let's not allow our present suffering to be in vain.

  Our suffering is temporary.  As the Bible points out, 'this too shall pass'.  At some time in the future we will  once again be faced with times of material prosperity. We will be threatened, once again, by the seductions that surround us.  We will forget that we are all interconnected and allow personal greed to drive us forward.

But  let us  recognize the power of pragmatic metaphysics and not forget its lessons when our suffering abates.

NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE–REVISITED–it’s link to HEALING

Discussions of the near-death experience [NDE] are in danger of becoming irrelevant, boring or uninteresting to many because it has become so widely exposed in popular culture via books and movies.  This is unfortunate because it remains a powerful metaphysical tool for discerning the nature of reality as well as a vehicle for healing our existential despair/angst.

A recent meeting with a former patient was the motivating force behind this posting.  Denise [I'll call her] described her own NDE as occurring during a car crash.  She called the car 'slowly spinning' out of control, then a trip down a dark tunnel towards a being of light.  This was an elderly woman whom she did not recognize but who looked vaguely like one of her aunts who was living.  The woman of light was projecting a loving energy and Denise felt herself being drawn towards her.  The woman shook her head and Denise understood that she could go no further.

She awoke in an ICU in tremendous pain suffering from multiple fractures–clearly lucky to be alive.  Her father was at her bedside and she immediately described her incredibly powerful experience to him.  He seemed shocked, reached deep down into his wallet and pulled out an aging photo.  Denise immediately recognized the woman as the one she had just encountered.

Her father was clearly shaken. "this is your real grandmother who died before you were born.  The woman you call Grandma is actually a 'step' grandmother.  She insisted that we never tell you otherwise.  He was deeply moved and Denise went on to state that her father had never come to terms with his own mother's death.

Denise shortly recalled another bizarre, seemingly unrelated event which had occurred about two yetars before–she had driven her friend to a psychic for a reading.  Denise had no particular interest in a reading but the psychic immediately grabbed her hand and told her that she had a guardian angel, her grandmother who would one day save her from a car accident.  She laughed this off since at the time she believed that both grandmothers were living.

There is clearly no rational explanation for Denise's story.  It is clear to me that she is not lying, not fabricating any of it.  There is nothing to be gained by doing so.

It is important to face the ramifications of such experiences:  1] we are not alone in the universe, 2] a nonmaterial 'self' or soul survives bodily death, 3] our lives have far greater meaning and significance than we orindarily imagine.

We can use this awareness, this wisdom to help ourselves heal through life's most difficult adversities.

“…..the wisdom to know the difference.”

The concluding passage from the often quoted 'Serenity Prayer' speaks to wisdom–that elusive quality that combines knowledge, awareness, understanding.  It is cognitive in the sense that it attempts to reason its way past the powerful emotions that grip us when life's adversities hit us.
Wisdom is powerful when it can be applied in the process of healing.  But as the prayer alludes to….what can we change? What must we accept ?  That is the question!

The answers to those questions are far from clear-cut.  Change implies action, a quality which differs from one person to the next.  Change implies courage, desire, fortitude, perseverance.  Whereas one individual might give up or give in, another might refuse to let go of their dream, their goal.  Perhaps desire can affect such change.  And what about trying to change others?  Ah, a far more difficult goal.  But do we walk away from those we care about because they don't seem to do what we desire them to do?  Even in these situations there remain possibilities and potentials for transformation.

Acceptance is difficult for most of us who thrive on attempting to control the chaos around us.  It, too, is dependent on circumstances.  There are times when we have exhausted all reasonable attempts to change our own fate and the path of a loved-one.  There are certain basic truths to existence which cannot be altered.  All individuals have free will.  We cannot completely comtrol the choices of others. Everything changes.  Life is impermanent.  Life is all too brief and impossible to control. 

The ability to make peace with this truth–is wisdom.  When we have done everything that we can do to manage life's suffering, when we have chosen to view life as a gift, an opportunity for transformation, when we have chosen to seek connection, compassion and caring.  When we are grateful for what we have rather than for what we don't.  When we can see the buds on the otherwise bare branches of trees. When we tell those around us we love them and don't take them for granted.  When we appreciate how  fortunate we are to live in this country at this time and place…..then we are applying wisdom to our lives and those around us.

When we do the best we can—serenity will be our reward.