Monthly Archives: June 2012

Yes, you are special. Believe it.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” — Buddha

Back in the ’60s, a CIA investigator named Cleve Backster claimed to have discovered that plants can detect thought. More recently, a researcher named Dr. Masaru Emoto claimed that water can also detect thought and form crystals that reflect positive or negative vibrations. Both have been called pseudo-scientists and have acquired plenty of skeptics.

I don’t know if their claims are true or not, but I do believe that thoughts have power. This is the reason why hypochondriacs often fall ill and why people who are given placebos often quickly recover. The power of positive thought is huge. Likewise, when someone is consumed by negative thoughts, whether it be anger or depression, that energy is palpable to everyone within their radius. I believe that if you told yourself negative thoughts consistently, you would begin to manifest those beliefs. The same with positive.

Repeating to yourself affirmations or mantras like “I am beautiful, I am strong, I am healthy, I am well” can only serve to make you stronger, happier and more radiant. You should be able to love yourself and be your own best friend. This doesn’t mean that you are better than others. Indeed, there will always be someone more beautiful, smart, strong, accomplished, etc. But there are truly great things about you. For example, I have a spectacular belly button.

In Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” he says, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself … Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son/Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding … Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from/The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer … If I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of my own body, or any part of it … Mix’d tussled hay of head, beard, brawn, it shall be you! … I dote on myself, there is that lot of me and all so luscious/Each moment and whatever happens thrills me with joy/I cannot tell how my ankles bend, nor whence the cause of my faintest wish … I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable/I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world …”

He loves himself because he realizes the gift of his body and of life. It may not be a perfect body, but it is his. Fifty years before him and across the Atlantic, William Wordsworth composed a similarly rhapsodic “Ode” about the miracle of life: “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting/The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,/Hath had elsewhere its setting,/And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness/But trailing clouds of glory do we come…”

David McCullough’s commencement speech made the internet rounds a few weeks ago, shocking and delighting many with his seemingly refreshing message: “You are not special.” The speech made many great points, and the underlying theme is to stop congratulating yourself for merely existing and go out and accomplish something worthwhile. It’s true that life is hard, and that it’s particularly hard for today’s graduates and others dealing with the recession, and that it’s important to work diligently and be realistic. But I also think it is dangerous to tie one’s self-worth to, for example, a high-powered career title, a Nobel peace prize, a huge bank account, lots of Facebook friends, etc. Sometimes I feel like we feel so pressured to accumulate outward signs of success. If your personal goal in life is to earn an Olympic medal or a doctorate in quantum mechanics, than that is an admirable ambition. But if you really just want to enjoy the simple pleasures in life and don’t do anything that everyone else thinks is grand — if you don’t ever get on reality TV or lauded by Oprah or get mentioned in The New York Times— that doesn’t mean that you aren’t insanely special. And you should tell yourself, every day, that you are, and you should believe it. And when you do, you will eventually find your own path, your own life’s fulfillment, and lots of joy. We may not be perfect, but we have a whole lot of potential. One of my favorite quotes is by Nietzsche: “One must have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.” And finally, from Edison — not anyone’s over-indulgent mother — “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”

The inevitable passage of time

A train passes close enough to hear
But not to see.
My brother’s in the bunk bed.
A giant tree
I loved to climb but had to call my dad
Or neighbor’s dad to get me down.
I felt the spirit of that tree
It welcomed me. I returned despite the tics
And mother’s warnings.
Isn’t that the way life has to go?
Some calls must be answered
Calls from boys, especially
When you’re in full bloom
Your skin like dew, your hair like silk
Made for men’s fingers.
I still loved trees, more so at twilight
In parks, when it was just me and him
We could lie in the grass and kiss for hours
Entranced by mutual beauty: lips, eyelashes,
The scent of my neck, thanks to my mom’s perfume
Things went downhill from there. Don’t they always?
Isn’t that a common theme?
In life’s hills and valleys, is there a peak?
Some people seem trapped in an abyss,
But that’s not me.
Right now I live on plains, flat lands to the horizon.
There aren’t even any waves, imagine.
A lack of seasons, that longed for eternal summer.
Sometimes I dream of trees and mountains
And even snow
Of boyfriends of my past who are married now
Happily living with their precious son
On the opposite coast.
I’m glad. It sometimes seems things are
The way they’re meant to be.
I think about those scenes, of course.
And of little brothers, fathers who now are old
And I marvel at the age I have become.
It is sad but true. Do I wish I could rewind?
Go back to neighborhoods and silly thoughts,
Moms in kitchens, school tomorrow.
Do I miss my far-flung friends? Sometimes.

What I learned from Mr. Buns

The Regal Mr. Buns

“You don’t surprise me enough,” I harangued my poor hardworking husband. So one day he came home with a box from the corner pet store, with a tiny trembling rabbit inside.

I was concerned. Our apartment was small. I didn’t exactly want a pet, with its demands for attention, its tendency to wreak havoc and inflict mess and destruction.

Cats leave hair everywhere. Dogs chew up favorite pairs of high heels. You have to train pets and feed them and walk them and if you want to go out of town, find a babysitter for them. They are a burden.

But just like a reluctant mother after she gets acquainted with her new little baby, I gradually fell in love with Mr. Buns, and he is now a beloved part of our family.

Mr. Buns is kind. An herbivore, he has no aggressive tendencies towards other creatures. He is always on the defense, especially against cats and dogs. His reaction is freeze, thump the ground, run away and hide. He is gentle, and mainly just wants to play, snuggle and relax.

Mr. Buns is fun. He does silly things like eat paper and pizza crusts. He does not like carrots, but he loves lettuce, apples and berries. He is a very picky rabbit. He goes crazy when he hears us pouring his food into his bowl. He likes to explore, to go outside to dig holes, do silly 180 degree jumps and run really fast back and forth. He has all kinds of silly quirks. His official name is Thunder, but he’s afraid of thunder and runs behind the bed when it storms. Every morning, he comes and jumps in our bed to snuggle us until we wake up. He loves to snuggle, but sometimes he likes to be left alone.

Mr. Buns is proud. He will let you pick him up, but he won’t sit on your lap. He will lick and groom the bed or couch, but rarely you. He is potty trained, but if you dare refuse his requests to be petted, he has been known to pee on the bed.

Mr. Buns is wise. He may be quiet (the only sound he has ever emitted are little grunts, when he is scared or mad), but you can see he understands. He knows and loves us. After he is done playing, he always runs back inside the house. If we are ever sad or sick, he comes and puts his head on our lap and lays next to us for hours, clearly comforting us in his sweet bunny way.

Mr. Buns has made me love and understand animals even more. I know that many people love their dogs and cats in this way. I am even more attuned now to the suffering of all animals, domestic, wild and farm.

I don’t believe that, in general, animals were meant to be put in cages. I let Mr. Buns roam freely. I don’t like the thought of birds in cages, or even fish in aquariums. Millions and millions of tropical fish die each year due to the pet industry. Consider this excerpt from Wikipedia:

Fish are caught by net, trap, or cyanide.[31] Collecting expeditions can be lengthy and costly, and are not always successful. Fish can also be injured during collection and/or shipping; mortality rates during shipping are high. Many others are weakened by stress and become diseased.

PETA estimates that 9 out of every ten marine animals die before they even reach the shore:

Few people realize the magnitude of suffering in the captive fish industry—a $300 million worldwide “hobby” responsible for the annual capture of more than 20 million fish, 12 million corals, and millions of other types of marine life.

At least 95 percent of the gentle saltwater fish sold in pet shops have been cruelly ripped from their natural homes. Trappers douse coral reefs with poison in order to stun the fish for easy capture—half the affected fish die painfully on the reef, and 40 percent of survivors die before they reach an aquarium. The cyanide poison that is routinely used in this cruel practice also kills the reefs themselves as well as countless other animals who live and depend on them. In places where trappers do not use cyanide, such as in the waters of Hawaii, nets are used to capture the animals. Almost 67 percent of animals who are caught with nets die from stress, starvation, or injuries. Many fish suffer barotrauma, which occurs when they are forced to surface too quickly, and some are even subjected to organ puncturing, which is done to relieve the visible effects of barotrauma, and fin clipping, which is done to facilitate shipping.

Many domestic animals, especially if they have been bred in captivity, could not survive in the wild (especially not in urban and suburban environments) and many, like Mr. Buns, provide great joy to their owners. Pet therapy for the sick and elderly has been proven highly effective. But I have never been a fan of zoos, circuses, large-scale aquariums (like Sea World) nor the thought of animals being used for research or breeding. And the living conditions for American farm animals are horrific.

There is a major threat facing even traditional pets like dogs, cats, rabbits and birds. From Wikipedia: The Humane Society of the United States estimates that animal shelters care for 6-8 million dogs and cats every year in the United States, of whom approximately 3-4 million are euthanized. There are also major overpopulation problems with other pet species, such as birds and rabbits.

For those who are concerned, I would say consider strongly before getting a pet. Can the pet be happy and well-cared for in your home environment? Can you adopt from a shelter instead of a pet store? Also consider getting involved in animal rights, by signing petitions from these organizations:

PETA
The Humane Society of the United States
World Wildlife Fund
Greenpeace

Mr. Buns, like all living creatures, is noble. His brain may be smaller, and he may not speak our language, but neither does an infant. It doesn’t make him less aware or deserving of respect and love. All living creatures should be able to live as they were meant to live, designed to live, and have lived for millennia.

“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man.” — Chief Seattle

Treat the earth and all of her aspects as your mother. Show deep respect for the mineral world, the plant world, and the animal world. Do nothing to pollute our Mother, rise up with wisdom to defend her. –Native American teaching


Reading about the end of the world

I wrote this poem last night on a whim. It’s not super-poetic, just what came out while I was writing in my journal. It’s an indictment of myself, and no one else. A portrayal of myself as representative of all of us who feel powerless at the onslaught of bad news, day after day. Just like this guy.

I don’t mean to criticize people who like Facebook and TV — which is, of course, millions upon millions of people. I used those things to stand for all the things which serve to suck our focus, energy, empathy, life force. And the irony is that, for me, reading about all the terrible things that are happening — and making indignant comments as some or another avatar — is as just a ridiculous waste of time. Yes, I may be aware, but what good is it doing anything?

It’s hard to make any change while you are sitting — unless you are sitting on the street in protest as an Occupier, I suppose. But even they, who gave up the couch and the desk and the movie theater seat and the infectious complacency to rail against the machine, found it hard to effect any sort of change. The question is, what can we possibly do?

Some may say that it starts with you. Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And I do try. But there are billions of us, all dependent on systems that are not sustainable. And we’ve allowed corporations who have little thought for ocean health to have more power than national goverments. The result is we just keep connecting online. Reading each others’ comments. Worrying and wondering — what will the world be like in 50 years? Or in two?

Fast News Day

“Everyone Cheats,” Esquire declares,

While alJazeera features a three-page exposé

On ocean dead zones.

It’s already the 9th most-read.

We all know it’s true

Know about those gyres of plastic trash

Twice the size of Texas.

But we just keep clicking.

Sometimes we make a comment

Or respond to one another;

Mystery people, really,

Invisible friends and enemies out in cyber space.

What will they eat tonight? What will they dream?

What new news will make them cry

Or post a hundred comments

Each more futile than the last.

At least we’re not on Facebook

Posting updates about children’s tantrums

Or incessantly uploading pictures to Instagram,

A self-styled paparazzi jubilee.

At least we opt for the documentary, instead of

That Adam Sandler rip-off, eschew Glee and Mad Men

For a little bit of news.

Does it help to be aware of all the wreckage in the world?

The killed-off elephants, the endangered tigers;

If the last tree falls, where will you be?

Reading about it on Mother Jones at 3:30 the next day

And you think about it, then move on to the Huffington Post.

3 steps to a long and healthy life

I want to share two informative infographics making the rounds online. The first shows the top healthiest countries in the world (Iceland, Japan, Sweden, New Zealand, Finland) and hints at how they got that way.

Mainly, eat more fish and locally grown fruits and vegetables (rocket science!). But there are three other things we should keep in mind that are a little more surprising:

1) Engage in moderate exercise, the kind that used to accompany a normal life. You know, walking, gardening, the kinds of activities that  are now often obsolete. Not only are these low-intensity movements pleasant and conducive to deep thinking and de-stressing, you will find them a lot easier to incorporate than that 6 AM hell session at the local CrossFit. Quote: “Walking is the main mode of transportation in the world’s healthiest countries.” In the city where I grew up, Las Vegas, people don’t do a lot of walking; many American cities were built around the car. So you may have to find a walking path and consciously schedule a morning or evening stroll since we no longer walk to school, work, the store or our friends’ houses.

2) Have a purpose. Many people just go through the motions in an unfulfilling job, or feel confused about what they want from life, or are just burdened by a vague ennui. First of all, recognize that you are not alone and that this is often a normal part of life, and secondly, that homeless people have become millionares, junkies have turned into sought-after public speakers. Try some serious deep thinking (best performed on a long walk!) to figure out what you love to do and what really makes you happy. Then take the first step to making that dream a reality. Once you figure out what you want, the universe will help you get it. And as I have learned, that frequently isn’t material possessions or even a trip to an exotic locale; producing creative, valuable work and being engaged in stimulating activity where you are challenged, learning and can be proud of the end result often provides a deep sense of joy.

3) Go easy on yourself. Of course, for all things there is a season. If you are spending most of your time engaged in meaningful work that you believe in, then the times of rest are that much sweeter. Don’t confuse a good work ethic with flat out career obsession. Life is short. Don’t spend it all working and miss out on life’s little pleasures: relaxing on a beach, soaking in a bath or spending a night out on the town once in a while.

The other infographic shows how long it takes common items to break down. As you can see, plastic bottles, disposable diapers and plastic bags take the longest time, around 500 to 1,000 years. I wrote recently about using re-usable glass bottles instead of plastic (better not just for the earth and marine species but for you as well) and I am going to make a deliberate effort to start using a re-usable bag at the grocery store and farmer’s market instead of plastic bags (I always recycle, but with that sort of life span, they would be better off being banned altogether).

The day the sea turned black

Two summers ago I was living in South Beach, caught up, like many people, in my own life. But then the Macondo Well started gushing day after day, and I would never really be the same.

It was a never-ending horror that went on for months, and still is causing mass murder, destruction and heartbreak.

At the time, I thought it was unprecedented, and indeed it is thus far the largest oil spill ever. But it was by no means the first big spill. The Exxon Valdez spill is well known, but there have been dozens of spills around the world in the past century (most recently, in Alberta, Canada). There is even one in the Gulf of Mexico that started in 2004 and continues to this day.

The images of oil-covered birds, crabs, turtles, fish and dolphins were so very sad. Fishermen committed suicide. People lost a way of living that had been their passion and their income for generations; many got sick. I felt devastated and helpless, and also afraid. The NOAA predicted that the slicks could reach our beaches, turning my slice of paradise into a giant mess. It didn’t, but that did happen to the sugary white powdered shoreline along the gulf and the Floridian east coast.

Then they went and made things exponentially worse by dumping the ultra-toxic Corexit. Now, fisherman are pulling in shrimp with no eyes and crabs and fish with lesions.

Soon, Shell Oil will begin drilling in the fragile Arctic environment. Let’s hope we don’t have to witness another horror show.

Deepwater Horizon. Such a beautiful name for such a terrible monstrosity. But that’s a common trick in corporate America (check out Wordcraft to see how, for example, the pharmaceutical industry dresses up its poisons with pretty sounding names and connotations).

Obama has a mixed track record on environmental concerns. But, when so much of government is controlled by big business, and when so many people are stuck in a certain mindset and way of living, it is hard to overhaul the system that is causing global warming, epic habitat loss, ocean acidification and large scale species decimation.

I recently watched a great documentary I recommend called Ethos which explores who is really in charge and how the media manipulates public opinion and national conversation. We are all so distracted from the real issues. It encourages us to ‘vote with our dollars,’ and I suppose that’s a start. Is it enough?