Sinners of a millennium

January.26. 2020

I read the following today on CNN:

“… the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission posted on social media that, “Anyone who puts the face of politicians before the interests of the people will be the sinner of a millennium to the people.”

Interesting how politicians all over the world tend to put their self interests ahead of the people and country.

Exhibit #1 of course is the self-proclaimed Stable Genius, but the Senate is not far behind.

With all that’s going on in Washington these days, perhaps we also need a Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission in this great country of ours to remind us to put country before self.

This so-called Land of the Free and Home of the (not so) Brave senators.


Epiphany

January.11. 2020

The concept of forgiveness as taught by the great Master has always been a sticking point for me.

It smacks of extreme gullibility.

Of letting others ride roughshod over us while we keep offering the other cheek in forgiveness.

The other day, I realized that like other parts of his teaching, the concept of forgiveness is actually a self-healing mechanism, one that is essential to entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.

It’s important to note.

The Kingdom of Heaven as taught by Jesus is not about the afterlife but rather about this life, about creating a life of joy and abundance in this life, as opposed to a life of pain and mediocrity.

The afterlife version of the Kingdom of Heaven is a fabrication concocted by the early church fathers to advance whatever agenda they had in those days.

My sudden epiphany had to do with the concept of forgiveness as a central part of the Kingdom.

Because how can you live a life of joy if your mind is racked with feelings of hurt and of being ill-treated by others?

It comes down to one principle.

To live in joy and abundance, you must not allow the actions of others to intrude into your Kingdom.

In other words, to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, you must let all feelings of hurt and transgressions go.

To do that, first you have to practice acceptance.

People are different. Just as physically, there are no two individuals who are identical, so too in spirit, there are no two individuals who are identical.

This means that we have to accept people as they are, with no expectations.

It means that whatever they do to hurt us or offend us is a result of whom and what they are, it’s not personal.

Just as snakes will bite—it’s in their nature, they can’t help themselves—so too some people, they can’t help themselves.

Through acceptance of people for what they are, we are able to let go their transgressions against us.

So true forgiveness is a one way street.

We do it as a measure of self salvation and not because of some feelings of ‘love’ or ‘kindness’ for the other party (who has probably in all likelihood forgotten about the episode).

We do it because we want to let go the negativity and toxicity within us that has resulted from the experience.

Forgiveness is not about forgetting the transgression.

It is not about pretending that nothing has happened.

By forgiving the snake, we’re doing it not because we expect it to stop biting after that—a snake’s nature is to bite and to expect anything else is foolhardy—no, we forgive the snake because we want to move on.

There is no room in the Kingdom for any hurt and bad feelings.

In this sense, forgiveness is first and foremost, a self preservation mechanism.

There’s a second part to forgiveness and one that’s not often mentioned.

To prevent any future recurrence, avoid the transgressor in future. No need to expose yourself to any potential future forgiveness again.


The Promised Land

November.23. 2019

I’ve been on a journey of sorts these past ten years, searching for the Promised Land.

It’s an especially important journey, not because I was looking for some fictitious place that I had heard about or read about, some unrealizable utopia that only dreamers dream about.

No, the Promised Land is a very real place to me.

Because I’ve been there before.

I know it exists. I’ve tasted of its sweet honey and drank of its cool waters, and I know how delightful a place it is.

But somehow, one day, it was all taken away from me.

The journey has been eventful and along the way, I’ve found out more about things and life than I could have ever imagined.

So perhaps it was fated that I had to embark on the journey.

But why did it take ten years?

Because finding the Promised Land is a bit more complicated than you might think.

It involves so many variables to be exactly in the same place and at the same time.

Let’s say there’re five elements that must exist at the same exact time for you to find it.

And one day, perhaps you manage to stumble on the first four elements but because the fifth element is missing, the puzzle is incomplete and you fail to find it.

You conclude mistakenly that the entire solution is wrong and you decide to go back to square one, not realizing that you actually already have four of the elements in place. All you need to do is find the fifth element.

But you decide to throw away the entire solution and start from scratch.

In the process, you come up with a new set of variables which includes the missing element from the previous answer, but because you have gone back to square one, now, another principle is missing.

And the Promised Land remains elusive.

You conclude again that the entire answer is wrong and you decide to try a whole new set of answers again.

And so it goes on and on and somehow the answer always seems to lack that one essential element to complete the puzzle.

It seems like a no-win situation.

How do you ever get the breakthrough?

It is here that the principles of faith and belief become critical.

With enough faith and self-belief, if you keep persisting, one day, all the elements will fall into place and you will see the Promised Land.

So what’s the lesson in all this?

It is this: the Promised Land exists.

It’s not a figment of imagination, not some made up fictitious place, not a fanciful firmament in some imaginary afterlife.

It’s very real and when you find it, life becomes effortless, you don’t have to struggle and yet every one of your dreams will be fulfilled.

The irony of course is that to gain the Promised Land, the land of effortlessness, you will have to expend a great deal of effort, as evidenced by the process I just described above.


Greed

November.17. 2019

I have mentioned Andy Stanley before as an unusually enlightened preacher. (And he is, when he’s not preaching about money.)

Today, however, he disappointed me with his pronouncements on what greed is.

Greed, he says is holding on to what you have, and he goes on about hoarding and personal consumption.

I beg to differ, Andy, but greed is self-proclaimed messengers of God (aka pastors) looking at the hard-earned money of regular hard-working folks and saying, “Hey, God says you got to give me 10% of that!”


The results-driven approach

November.9. 2019

There’re two main approaches to life—the results-driven approach and the process-driven approach.

The results-driven approach is exactly as it says—you’re focused on results. It’s based on the black/white cat principle. It doesn’t matter if the cat is white or black as long as it catches mice.

But what’s wrong with the process-driven approach?

Nothing wrong, it’s just that they have a tendency to distract you from the results and may even prevent you from getting them.

It’s true, process is important.

For example, cooking a dish.

Knowing the recipe and following it is important to get the flavor you want, especially if you’ve never cooked the dish before.

But sometimes focusing too much on process makes us forget the intended results.

For example, in religion, prayer, especially communal prayer, is very much a part of the process of gaining enlightenment and becoming a good human being.

But there’re some people who follow the process faithfully, pray a fixed number of times a day, and then after the prayer is done, they would go out and perform evil deeds.

Where is the part about being a good human being and enlightenment in this process?

Or guitar players and teachers who think that if they follow a certain process rigidly and do everything it says, that they would automatically become good players.

Yes, if they’re lucky enough to find the right process, the strategy might actually work.

But if they stumble onto the wrong process, no amount of practice and faithful adherence to the rigid confines of that particular process will get them the results the want.

So it all comes back to results.

If you follow a process and it’s not producing the desired results within a reasonable amount of time, perhaps the process is the problem and it’s time to move on.

Which of course leads us back to the results-driven approach.

The results-driven approach keeps you focused on results and if the process gets in the way of getting your results, just toss it.

Even if you’ve invested much time and treasure into it, better to cut your losses than to keep on flogging that dead horse.

 


Catch-22

November.3. 2019

My fascination with the processes of life and with delving into its secrets stems from my youthful discovery that in everything, there’s an easy way and a hard way to do things.

Another way to think of it is, in everything there’s a crude way to get things done and a sophisticated way to do it.

For example, perhaps you want to get at the contents in a sealed jar.

The crude way is simply to smash the jar, the sophisticated way to unscrew the cap.

Or perhaps you want to achieve speed on the guitar.

The crude way is simply to try to get the fingers to move faster.

The sophisticated way to utilize the power in the hand to move the fingers for you in one quick action.

The problem, however, is in getting there.

How do you move from crudeness and simplistic solutions to sophistication?

More than 2000 years ago, the Old Master was already familiar with the problem.

In chapter 41 of his Book of Wisdom otherwise known as the Dao, he wrote:

“When a wise man hears of the Way,
he immediately begins to live it.
When an average man hears of the Way,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a fool hears of the Way,
he laughs out loud.”

(Laughing here is in the context of ridicule, as in laughing at something or someone.)

The path towards sophistication is a classic catch-22.

To get to a higher level, to one of sophistication, you’ll have to be convinced that it actually exists, but to know it exists, you’ll have to get there first.

So how do you break the cycle?

The answer lies in what might be called a life-changing moment, a moment of realization.

You might call it the breakthrough moment, when everything becomes clear to you and you know exactly what you need to do to get to where you want to go

Most of the time in life, the problem is in knowing what the destination is. Once you know where your destination is, the rest is easy.

To get to this moment of clarity, however, requires a catalyst.

A spark, something that ignites something in you and makes you see things in an entirely new light.

It could be a deep personal experience, or perhaps a chance encounter with a source of wisdom, or even a simple accident (what we might call the St Paul experience).

Whatever it is, the key is to have a receptive heart.

To open up your mind and understand that our limited universe is only a very small part of the reality that lies out there.

So that when that moment arrives, we’ll be ready for it.

All too often, however, our response is like the third man. When we see something new, we tend to laugh out loud and dismiss it immediately.

It’s something I must say I’ve been as guilty of doing as the next man.


France

August.16. 2019

There’s something about French art that attracts me.

Maybe it’s the impressionistic quality, a certain preference for the obscure rather than the clearly defined, the magical as opposed to the logical, the sensual as opposed to the mechanical.

French art, I find, is more about poetry rather than structure.

By art, of course, I mean all forms of art.

Writing as well as music and painting.

And so it was that in my youth, seemingly without any reason whatsoever, I found myself gravitating to Francoise Hardy, to Marguerite Duras, to Chopin (I see him as more French than Polish), to Leonard Cohen (Canadian French) and of course to all the impressionistic painters.

In my guitar playing, I find myself strangely influenced by Richard Clayderman. (I know he’s not considered ‘legit’ by ‘serious’ musicians, but listen to the phrasing in his solo performances and you will hear a rare sensitivity that you don’t hear in anyone else.)

This summer, I found myself finally making my way through France.

And the experience did not disappoint.

There’s an unreal quality about the country.

From Verdun, to Paris, to Pont-Aven, to Fougères, miles and miles of beautiful farmland, punctuated by small picture-book villages.

Even the speeding ticket I got in Rennes, after I returned from my trip, did nothing to mar the memory of that experience.

 

River Seine from Pont des Arts
River Seine from Pont des Arts

Pont-Aven
Pont-Aven


The Malboro Man back with a vengeance

June.4. 2019

Back in the day, the Marlboro Man was everywhere, on the big and silver screens.

He was the definition of the great macho man, the original hunk, the outdoorsman, the rugged cowboy—sitting by a stream or riding his horse.

All the while peddling to us his drug of choice, the cigarette.

Absent from view, of course, in all these great commercials—the emphysema machines, the black lungs, the wheezing.

If you watch TV these days, it would seem that the new drug peddlers of our time have learned a lesson or two from the Marlboro Man.

These days, if you have a new (and expensive) drug to peddle, you must always present that same idyllic existence.

In countless TV ads, beautiful people living the dream life, strolling on a sunlit beach, playing ball with their kids. having a BBQ in the backyard, casting a line into the big blue ocean.

All the while, peddling that drug of choice.

Absent from this idyllic existence, of course, the nefarious side effects, the equivalent emphysema machines, the equivalent black lungs…

It’s all part of the great American pharmaceutical life cycle.

First, the big rollout with much fanfare, many ads, (and many incentives for physicians to push the drug onto unsuspecting patients).

Second, the bumper crop of profits.

Third, stocks of the drug company go through the roof.

Fourth, negative side effects from the drug begin to manifest themselves among the populace.

Fifth, the independent studies.

Sixth, predatory lawyers get into the act.

Seventh, the TV ads with many 800 numbers to call if you think you are a victim (and you don’t have to pay unless you get a payout!)

Eighth, the drug company files for bankruptcy (while laughing all the way to the bank.)

Ninth, everyone lives happily ever after, except the poor victim who’s strapped to his emphysema machine (or equivalent).


The means to an end

May.21. 2019

In life, there’re many hard decisions to make, and one of the hardest is the choice between the means or the end.

Which one do you choose?

The means or the end?

For example, suppose you hold a principle close to your heart, suppose it is about killing the unborn.

And then along comes someone who knows you hold that principle close to your heart.

He knows you would give a lot to help the unborn.

And so he promises you he will deliver this end to you, provided you allow him unbridled access to power.

He, of course, has absolutely no scruples or morals, and the plight of the unborn is the last thing on his mind–his only principle in life being to fill his coffers with the green stuff.

Would you still give him access to that unlimited power?

There’s an old story about the guy who decided that the end is more important than the means and sold his soul to the devil for delivering the desired end to him.

Well, we all know how that story worked out.

Something perhaps current Republican politicians should take note of.


The problem

May.16. 2019

The problem with many of our preconceptions is that they’re based on the wrong premises, which means most of the time, they’re wrong.

For example, we tend to think and assume that other people think and operate like us.

That’s the basis for that old golden rule—do unto others.

But others are not us; they may not appreciate what we appreciate.

So in your good intentions, you might try to help someone, and in the end, you only make yourself look patronizing and overbearing to that person.

Assuming that everyone would think and act like us was my mistake too, when I voted for the current occupant of the White House.

I thought that he would consider things like leaving a good legacy behind, and that being so wealthy, he would not be in the business of using the office to further enrich himself.

And boy, was I wrong on both counts!

The old Christian ideal of offering the other cheek too is based on the premise that the other person would be moved.

Again, wrong assumption, especially when it comes to people who come from a totally different cultural environment, and operate on completely different principles!

Instead of being moved, they would see it as a sign of extreme gullibility and exploit you even further.

So does that mean we throw out all our good intentions and preconceptions?

No, it just means that we take the blinders off our eyes and understand that things are usually a bit more complex than we think, and that we live in a jungle where harmless and beautiful creatures coexist with scorpions and vipers.

Which brings us to another problem.

How do you know which is which?