Tag Archives: culture

How to take a good sh*t

Nice title, right? The truth is, you may have been defecating incorrectly your entire life (well, from potty-trained toddlerhood onward).

“When nature is eased of any surcharge that oppresses it … relieved when overcharged,” the body feels one of its two great pleasures — the other of course is stuffing the other end with food and drink — according to Sir Thomas More in Utopia.

If relieving oneself regularly and easily is one of life’s great pleasures, then being frustrated by irregular and difficult bowel movements is nothing to scoff at. Indeed, a healthy digestive tract and colon is the very foundation of health. Think of the infrastructure of a building or city: The pipes must be clean, sound and flowing, or there will be some serious issues: sewage will get backed up, leading to impaction, infestation, and ultimately, ill health and disease.

We know that plenty of raw fruits and vegetables, moderate exercise (like walking), sound sleep, low stress and lots of water all help move things along. But there is something that virtually all of the oh-so-modern and sophisticated denizens of the civilized Western world are doing to thwart their poop processes.

The history of the toilet is an interesting one; flush toilets are as old as the Indus Valley Civilization circa 26th century BC. But the sit-down, throne-like “pedestal” porcelain version we are so used to using wasn’t invented until the mid-19th century; this contribution to mankind was designed for the Victorian royalty and aristocracy. What was good enough for the queen soon became standard, at least in certain spheres.

Supposedly, it is more civilized to sit than it is to squat. Our ancestors went out to the woods to relieve themselves, and our bodies are totally biologically designed to defecate in this manner. Try it when you are out camping. You will be surprised how quickly it all comes out. You begin to get what Sir Thomas was raving about.

Sitting puts a kink in our intestines and works against our bodies and against gravity. It makes the process less efficient and also causes some fecal matter to remain in the colon, which can lead to colon cancer. Sitting while defecating also can lead to prostate enlargement, prostate cancer and hemorrhoids; and, over a lifetime, leads to the deterioration of a balancing mechanism built into our heels for this purpose. (see this article for more information: http://aprovechoamerica.tripod.com/id10.html).

From a Wikipedia article on toilets in Japan:

A number of medical benefits are attributed to the squat toilet.[31] It has been suggested that the squatting strengthens the pelvic muscles of females, reducing the likelihood of incontinence.[dead link][32] Furthermore, it is said that this toilet builds up strength in the hips, and improves breathing and concentration. The upright squatting position also allows wastes to be eliminated more quickly and completely, reducing fecal transit time. Slow fecal transit is a major risk factor for colon cancer.[33]Other studies find that squatting prevents and cures hemorrhoids.[34] Assuming and maintaining the squatting position on a regular basis may also help maintain the flexibility of the knees.[35]

Squat toilets are very common in Japan, a place that prides itself on civility and cleanliness. (Bidets, another no-brainer, are also popular there as they are in Europe. Come on, America the greatest country on Earth? Not until we get with it in the bathroom). In fact, 75 percent of the world’s population squats to sit. Yes, a lot of this goes on in unsanitary conditions in the third world, but it is also common in developed countries throughout the world — countries such as Japan and France. A variation is the pedestal squat toilet used in India:

File:Pedestal-squat-toilet.jpg

If you don’t have a hole to squat over, don’t despair. You can get close to the same effect (although not quite to Utopian levels of defecatory ecstasy) by pulling up the resident bathroom trashcan and putting your feet on it. Some companies actually sell special foot stools for this purpose, but a trash can or anything that allows your feet to be elevated and your knees to bend will help.

I imagine that our ancestors’ waste matter was great for soil fertility, especially since their diet was largely plant-based. Modern day humans can go for a compost toilet; this one comes complete with attached footstool:

Sun-Mar Excel Self-Contained Composting Toilet, Model# Excel

Although the price is a little much. Shouldn’t pooping be free?

Along similar lines (literally), giving birth to a child is also best done in positions other than lying on one’s back. Documentaries such as The Business of Being Born and Pregnant in America talk about how our (must use the little quotey things) “modern, civilized” approach to birth — hospitals, exorbitant costs, forceps, drugs, pain, and generally long and unpleasant labor — is very unnatural. Many European and Eastern countries use midwives and time-tested methods to give birth at home. These processes are safe and often produce shorter, less painful labor, making the experience much more pleasant and comfortable. The mother should be able to move into a variety of positions (squatting, on all fours, etc.), listening to her body to tell her how to move and work with her body, the baby and with gravity.

These examples are two of many in which we consider ourselves unequivocally advanced and superior to cultures anterior and contemporaneous, but may in fact  be utterly backwards. In my next blog I want to discuss the widely held assumption/misconception of future as equivalent to progress, and how ‘new’ does not always equal ‘better.’

The endless, futile yet imperative quest for Utopia

My dad always told me “There is no utopia.” I now live on a tropical beach yet lack the mountains. Italy seems like heaven, yet I’ve been told living there can be quite the headache. Does any one place or country have it all?

I just returned from a beautiful paradisaical island, one of the most scenic and culturally rich places I have ever been. Yet the people are imprisoned; unable to leave and forced to live in poverty under a government that controls many aspects of their lives. There is none to minimal internet access and very limited opportunities.

In the United States we enjoy a world of comfort and convenience; luxuries like continual hot water, air conditioning and 24/7 access to shelves upon shelves of food, products, and anything we could possibly desire are so commonplace they are totally taken for granted. However, the streets seem dead in comparison, and our depression and stress rates are sky-high.

The people in Cuba live very rich lives, but in a very different sense of the word ‘rich.’ There, the streets are vibrant and alive with humanity. People interact in the plazas and shelter together under trees in the rain.  Neighbors are lifelong friends. Children play soccer — with a ball that looks like it has been in use for half a century — in the street. They don’t have much, but they have each other, and they disfruta la vida.

Because they are so poor, many grown adults — in their forties — live with their parents. Here, this situation carries an enormous stigma, and of course is widely seen is undesirable. But their family ties are so naturally close that it comes across as rather pleasant. One night, the 60-something senora I was staying with celebrated her birthday. Her 45-year-old daughter bought her a new dress, and together, with several elderly ladies from the neighborhood, danced to Latin music in their tiny entryway, door open to the street, until 3 am. I can’t picture that scenario happening often here in the USA, where most major cities are characterized by strangers shuttling around in their vehicles between big box stores.

World travels and several articles have made me ponder what an ideal lifestyle, and ideal society, looks like. I don’t think it’s utterly capitalist or utterly socialist, but perhaps somewhere in-between; it features a return to a more primitive lifestyle, yet incorporates the best modern advances.

Ayn Rand had a point. Innovators make life better for all of us. Yet at the same time, the linear trajectory of endless growth, consumption and development obviously cannot be sustained without huge cost to the environment. If maximum material wealth and profit is our ultimate goal, we will fulfill the American Indian prophecy that Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

American Indians, like many indigenous societies, lived within a circular paradigm. They did not seek material wealth but to enjoy quality of life and freedom while living in harmony with the natural world. They used what they needed and were not overly attached to material objects.

Many leading thinkers agree that we must reform and re-imagine our current culture if we want to save the earth from ecological catastrophe, and thus ourselves. A recent Aljazeera.com article “The Trouble With Discounting Tomorrow” talks about how nations need to cooperate to achieve a sustainable future. In the latest Discover Magazine, Geoffrey West, an eminent theoretical physicist, remarks:

“We need to seriously rethink our socioeconomic framework. It will be a huge social and political challenge, but we have to move to an economy based on no growth or limited growth. And we need to bring together economists, scientists, and politicians to devise a strategy for what has to be done. I think there is a way out of this, but I’m afraid we might not have time to find it … even though innovations [such as creating new energy sources] reset the clock, from the work that I’ve done, I think all they do is delay collapse.”

Another book, Abundance: The Future is Brighter Than You Think argues the opposite stance, that technological innovations will create a world where all nine plus billion of us will live robust lives characterized by artificial intelligence, genetically modified food and cellphones and laptops for all.

It’s interesting to think outside of the box, to consider what your ideal world looks like: Is it urban, rural or a mix? Do you require a mansion, a fleet of cars, and tons of the latest gadgets, clothes etc. to be happy? Or would you be content in a small, eco-conscious cottage, with access to pure water, food, air, and all that nature has to offer? How much does community, family, and an active and interactive daily life factor into this equation? The question of what constitutes utopia has been on the mind of many a critical thinker unhappy with the status quo, from Thomas More to Jonathon Swift to John Winthrop.

I recently ordered a book from Amazon.com: The Other Side of Eden: Hunters, Farmers, and the Shaping of the World. I was drawn to it because I sense that the way humans have been living in the past century is not really the way they were designed to live, nor is it close to how they have lived for thousands upon thousands of years. Many people instantaneously consider ancient cultures to have hard, short, and disease-ridden lives, but this is not necessarily the case. The native peoples of the Americas were noted as being strikingly healthy, sound and beautiful, and many studies have shown (such as The China Study) that native societies were often very healthy — with minimal chronic disease, perfect teeth, happy minds, etc — until introduced to a more modern, processed diet and lifestyle. They also enjoyed a healthy balance of equality, individual freedom and community. Many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer are actually far more common now, due to sedentary living, nutritionally devoid food and countless environmental factors.

There are people today who are seeking a more ‘primal lifestyle.’ Mark Sisson (check out Marksdailyapple.com) discusses the question of hunter-gatherer longevity here. He espouses sunbathing, walking barefoot, eating natural, staying active — lots of common sense things that a lot of us in the first world have to make an effort to do. David Wolfe is another nutritionist who espouses a more eco-conscious, enlightened lifestyle. This type of thinking looks backwards as well as forwards; it is progressive, alternative and visionary while cherishing ancient wisdom and common sense.

I think my personal utopia would constitute a blend. It would be closely in tune with nature and do as little harm to the earth and its creatures as possible. It would feature composting and gardening. Yet I would also want access to the internet and the world’s knowledge. I would like proximity to people whom I care about, a family and community that supports one another, yet I would want solitude and total freedom. I would like to retain the ability to travel and to experience diverse cultures, Latin, European and beyond. I’m not sure if this personal utopia is possible; according to my dad, it isn’t. Yet you can’t stop the human spirit from striving.

Brave New World 2012

Everyone who has taken a basic English literature class has read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Both were written in the 20th century and projected dystopian visions of a government-controlled, post-industrial world. The future imagined in Nineteen Eighty-Four is decidedly more bleak and unpleasant. Huxley’s is still a prison where Shakespeare is banned, but punishment for dissension is merely exile to a remote island as opposed to Orwell’s having your head stuck in a cage with rats, being beaten and otherwise tortured until you are forced to admit that 2+2=5.

Social critic Neil Postman wrote: “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.‘ In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.” [Emphasis added].

I think that as of 2012, we are leaning more towards Huxley’s visions, although there are echoes of Orwell such as:

Surveillance and Police State — GPS tracking through cellphones; monitoring of internet, social media and email usage (which the NSA is tracking); drones;  hidden cameras; the erosion of civil liberties following 9/11 (including the possibility of indefinite detention without trial); police brutality … there are rampant examples of a growing police state and the power of government to monitor, track and control its citizens.

Telescreens — Televisions are not (that I know of) a two-way monitoring device, but they are often constantly on in people’s houses which does have a distracting and conditioning effect. Commercials and programming sap people’s time and subtly direct them to believe and think certain things, and the mainstream media is often directed by the special interests of large corporations as well as the government.

This document has further comparisons:

1984 : Ministry of Peace
Now : Department of Defense

“Useless statistics, incorrect economic predictions, and slanted opinions polls are presented on the Evening news as ‘legitimate news’, to give people the impression that ‘things are getting better’, and that all people agree with the popular way of thinking … History is being rewritten, to conform with modern beliefs” (See Howard Zinn’s a People’s History of the United States for proof).

and

“There is always war. If peace is made with one country, war is claimed  (or threatened) on another nation to keep the military machine rolling … From Goldstein’s book – “The effect (of the atomic wars) was to convince the ruling groups of all countries that a few more atomic bombs would mean the end of organized society, and hence of their own power. Thereafter, although no formal agreement was ever made or hinted at, no more bombs were dropped. All three powers merely continue to produce atomic bombs and store them up against the decisive opportunity which they all believe will come sooner or later. And meanwhile the art of war has remained almost stationary for thirty or forty years. Helicopters are more used than they were formerly, bombing planes have been largely superseded by self-propelled projectiles, and the fragile movable battleship has given way to the almost unsinkable Floating Fortress; but otherwise there has been little development. The tank, the submarine, the torpedo, the machine gun, even the rifle and the hand grenade are still in use. And in spite of the endless slaughters reported in the Press and on the telescreens, the desperate battles of earlier wars, in which hundreds of thousands or even millions of men were often killed in a few weeks, have never been repeated.”

But, like in Brave New World, our current paradigm is much more benign, though fraught with insidious forces. Not through sleep hypnosis or electric shock conditioning, but by being exposed to thousands of ads per day, we are brainwashed to buy buy buy, that “ending is better than mending.” Our economy depends on large scale consumer consumption of mass-produced goods, and planned obsolescence is necessary as well as the reinforcement of the belief that the accumulation of material goods is one of life’s main aims.

While not engaging in getting and spending, we of course should be playing. In Brave New World spending time alone and in introspective, intellectual pursuits is discouraged. Deep thinking and thinking “outside the box” is grounds for exile, and high culture artifacts and classic literature is banned. Instead, empty, superficial activities are encouraged. We don’t play centrifugal bumble-puppy, but the popular entertainment of today (shopping, movies, video games, TV, YouTube, social media) sure do offer a lot of time-sucking, vacuous fluff.

And then of course, if your mindless job and even more mindless entertainment is not enough to distract you from thinking about the Why and Wherefore of it all, as well as alternate ways of living, then you can just pop a pill and feel good at all times. People who are real and fully alive either live as savages on reservations or are banished to remote locales.

Huxley wrote Brave New World Revisited in 1958 as a non-fiction follow-up in which he concludes that the world was becoming much like he predicted, mainly through the use of subliminal suggestion, subtle but powerful societal pressures  and prescription drugs.

Christopher Hitchens, in a 1999 article called “Why Americans are Not Taught History” that references both books wrote: “For true blissed-out and vacant servitude, though, you need an otherwise sophisticated society where no serious history is taught.”

Our educational system is deplorable and cultivates an extremely ethnocentric worldview. Cultural norms in fashion and entertainment are reinforced through the popular entertainment of television, music and mass media, creating superficiality, homogeneity and rampant commercialism and materialism. Whether deliberately or not, Americans are being dumbed down — by the school system, by the media, by the low-brow culture and entertainment, by distracting us with shiny new high-tech gadgets, and by the large-scale use of chemicals in food, water, air and pills/Westernized medicine. If you dare to challenge the status quo, to suddenly say “Let’s stop and look at the logic of what we are doing here,” to challenge the institutions and authority figures and 9-5 schedules and the way things are, well, you’ll end up like the Occupiers. Battered, belittled and finding yourself, like John the Savage, alone and futile in your rage against the machine.

Do you dare to bare?

naked bicycle parade

Women ride topless at a Burning Man bicycle parade

Every one of us is a slave to fashion. Some more so than others –many people are fine with wearing the same old t-shirt and jeans every day. Others care enough about being on-trend that they spend thousands of dollars a year on the latest styles from the hottest brands.

But this isn’t a symptom of a consumer-centric, first world country. Every culture in the world, including indigenous and aboriginal tribes, have their acceptable styles. A part of it is looking good, but an even bigger part is fitting in.

This is going to sound totally off-the-wall, but I have this side of me that really wants to be a Native American. I would love to wear moccasins and leather and feathers and bodypaint, and to walk around with a bow and arrow. But could I? What kind of a reaction would I provoke? Might I even attract police attention?

Dressing up however the hell you want is a very cathartic form of individual self-expression. There are only a few times when this is allowed, however (outside the privacy of your own home, of course): Halloween, fetish parties, cosplay parties and conventions, raves, and festivals like the upcoming Burning Man.

“Burning Man is a philosophy, an attempt to reinvent the parameters and constraints of society. Within the most advanced capitalist economy in the world, participants choose to free themselves from commerce.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2008/aug/20/burningman.festival)

These “constraints of society” entail everything from what we wear to how we interact with one another and the world around us. For one galvanizing week, riding a bike naked, dancing around a fire, practicing yoga with strangers, sharing, giving away, trading … all the regular conventions, rules and mores disappear. You can express your inner essence without inhibition or fear of judgment. You can be utterly one with the universe.

I started thinking today about all the cool styles I would rock if I was free from these constraints. Here are a few:

Hats — Top hats on men are awesome

Gloves — I love women’s gloves

Leg warmers — Think they’re sexy, same with knee socks

Capes — Sooooooooooo awesome, especially the hooded kind

Lace up gladiator sandals — Sexy and functional

At least our society is more lax than it used to be. I would really have hated to wear the full-length, multi-layered dresses from the 19th century, especially in hot weather. Although they were very beautiful! And I do wish there were more opportunities to wear the type of elaborate gowns that we only get to rock at senior prom!

It’s interesting too how people view the showing of skin. Muslims come to mind as the most stringent. Mormons tout modesty as a great virtue. But other countries like the Dominican Republic and Brazil — notably, in a lot of cultures famed for their extremely happy and jubilant populace — showing skin is in. In more “primitive” tribal societies, being naked or half-naked was/is not seen as sexual or provocative, but simply functional, practical and natural. So is our body something to be flaunted and celebrated, bared to the world? Or is to be covered, visible only to our mirrors and our significant others?

I’m going to get a little personal here. I was raised in the Mormon religion and was always taught to cover up — knee length shorts and skirts, one piece bathing suits, no sleeveless tank tops. And every since I can remember, I absolutely hated it. I like to wear comfortable clothes, and many times this entails — especially in warm climes — wearing as little as possible. I just feel more at ease. I like styles that flatter my figure. The church leaders said it isn’t good to attract male attention. Why not? When you look good, you feel good — and yes, you can be covered head to toe and still look and feel good. Depends on the situation. The smallest I’ve gone is a Brazilian string bikini, although there is a nude beach down the street …

But there are other women who only feel comfortable when they are covered up and dressed conservatively. And there are some men who wouldn’t be caught dead in an old t-shirt. I think it depends a lot on your personality … and how much you are subconsciously influenced by your social sphere and cultural expectations. What would you wear if you could wear anything? Who would you be?

America the Ambiguous

A few days ago, us Americans oohed and ahhed over environmentally damaging fireworks displays (personally, I’d rather be able to see the stars at night), barbecued with our families and celebrated our independence. I am proud and grateful to be an American, but a little less so than I used to be, back when I wasn’t aware of all the problems this country has.

I love the country — the physical land itself. I can only imagine how glorious it was a couple centuries ago, before its forests were devastated, rivers dammed, lakes polluted and scenery blighted. I love the ideals and philosophies that the Founding Fathers based our constitution and government upon. I love certain things the country still stands for: entrepreneurship, equality and progress.

But I can’t mindlessly retort, as many do, that this is “The Greatest Country On Earth.” We are not the only country with great ideals, progressive people and high standards of living. In fact, the U.S. fails to crack the top 10 of “The Happiest Countries in the World,” and fails short in areas such as health care, education and work/life balance.

Of course, we are a lot better off than many other countries, and I don’t mean to frivolously cast aspersions. But I can’t blindly be obedient, either. Every person should love their native country, but what about North Koreans? At what point can pride and patriotism justifiably become criticism?

Republicans, Democrats, and — what the hell, why put a label on yourself — “The Others” think there are some serious problems with our current government. Tea Partiers, Occupiers, and anyone that isn’t solely fixated on Fox, CNN, MSN and Yahoo can see that we are more and more becoming a country ruled by the CEOs and for the CEOs. Our rights are being subtly and insidiously undermined to the point where you don’t know if you should be seriously freaked out, or carry on as usual. Paranoia or Prescience?

And at what point do you abandon trying to change the system from within and just give up and defect?

Here is a list of cultural differences between the U.S. and European countries. Interestingly, one point made is that “Few Europeans would mind rational criticisms of their country’s government, while a good deal of Americans find them offensive or disrespectful … some Americans go as far as regarding criticism of their government as a personal attack. Europeans are only too happy to hear other people criticizing their own politicians or their country’s problems.”

Here are some things I personally prefer about Europe: the food, architecture, culture, lifestyle, 4-6 weeks mandatory paid time off vacation, shorter work weeks, siestas, less chemicals and pesticides, multi-party systems, more enjoyment of life, less emphasis on job and work, trains and other public transportation, ability to walk and get around a city without a car, labeling of GMOs, bidets, free university education, dress style, sensuality, daily rhythms, aesthetics, coffee and wine, multilingualism, celebration of soccer, and just general outlook on life and beauty of the landscapes (natural and manmade).

To which I’m sure, some red-white-and-blue-blooded Bible Belter will surely scream, then get the hell out! To which I reply, if only I could, I’d take the next plane.

(Oh, and a fellow blogger just wrote a related post, comparing America to the uncool kid who, love him or hate him, is still the center of the world’s attention, and, in some respects, still Number One.)

Feed your soul so it can shine

So, coincidentally — or perhaps via some kind of metaphysical wordpress connection — one of the blogs that I follow happened to post pretty much the exact same post as me on the exact same day. And the post was about how thoughts are energy and therefore have power to influence reality and create synchronicities. Interesting.

The blogger also touches on a related topic that I’d like to explore. “There is a reason why we never feel good after watching the 6 o’clock news,” he writes, explaining that the negative information creates a negative vibration in and around us. Just as our mentality can affect our reality, so too can others’ energy affect us.

However, if we are in a negative situation and cannot help it — say you fall ill or get injured or thrown, as Victor Frankl was, in a concentration camp, your mind can overpower your surroundings. Frankl wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”; “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves”: “A human being is a deciding being”; and, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

When we cannot choose our circumstances or the company we are surrounded by, we can still choose what to think and how to feel and behave. But if we can choose our circumstances and company, then we should do so with consideration, because I believe that energy is contagious.

I was raised in the Mormon religion and Mormons are not supposed to watch R-rated movies. Now, this may seem strict and silly to some, and yes, it does to me. However I have found, now that I am “allowed” to watch them, that I often don’t enjoy them. I am referring more to horror films that portray people being abused or killed, or films that otherwise show and celebrate depravity and amorality. It just isn’t pleasant to watch. I don’t really consider myself a prude and I like a good psychological scare, but I feel there is a line. I can’t tell you where it is drawn, but I know when it is crossed.

My husband doesn’t share my qualms and has no problem watching people being slaughtered. Maybe I just have a more sensitive spirit. But I have a theory that our souls are fed just as our bodies are, and in time we can become affected on a deep level by the things we read, watch and listen to. I like some good dirty rap every now and then, but on a consistent basis, I feel a lot better not being exposed to radio, TV, commercials (oh, the horror) and what otherwise passes for entertainment and popular culture in contemporary America.

Nor do I have Enya on repeat, but if I need to “detox” from the work week or am feeling under the weather, a good dose of classical music does magical wonders.

I love the ancient Greek concept of arete, the striving for excellence in mind, body and soul. Says Paul to the Philippians in the New Testament: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence (arete), if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

By exposing yourself to the writings of great men and women (Ben Franklin! Aristotle!), to enlightening arts and music, to nature, to people of good character, ethics and ambitions, you can develop your spiritual side, nourish your soul and become a better version of yourself with higher quality thoughts and goals.

Listen to your inner essence and it will tell you if the vibrations are harmful or helpful. Whether through meditation, prayer or otherwise deliberate questing, you can tap into a higher, benevolent wisdom. In this world we can choose to wallow, wander, or climb to higher planes.

It’s a daily choice. What will we seek out? How will we spend our time? What will we take in? Over time, you will see the results. You can become spiritually deprived, and therefore morally confused and dimmed, or you can get that special glow that comes from cultivating honor, virtue and integrity. Says Aristotle: “Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts … Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Chex or Cheerios?

The great 21st century cornucopia.


Did you know that the average American child can name more corporate logos than common flora and fauna? “Young children are ready learners and are learning about their brand environment just about everywhere,” says T. Bettina Cornwell, a professor of marketing and sports management at the University of Michigan in this ABC News article.

“What Kids Know: McDonald’s, Toyota, Disney” details a study that found preschoolers, children ages 3-5, can often recognize brand logos before even becoming fully literate.

You don’t have to be a trained sociologist to realize that when the average kindergartener has already logged close to 5,000 hours of TV time – and spends an average of only half an hour a day outside – they are going to have absorbed quite a bit of commercial messaging into their malleable mind.

In a poignant, prescient Adbusters piece from the same year, Mike Weilbacher writes:

“And the geographic world they wander is collapsing like a black hole into their laptops; the typical kid today roams a world only one-ninth the size a child of the ‘70s did. I wandered Long Island’s rapidly decreasing pine forests in the ‘60s, biking and hiking unthinkable distances, alone and with friends, with neither a cell phone nor a dime to make a call. Because inside our houses were the adults, and who wanted to be there? Every last child was outside, in the street, in the yard, on the corner, at the 7-Eleven.

But letting kids go into a forest alone today is unthinkable, heretical …This radical retreat from the great outdoors, now called ‘nature-deficit disorder,’ a phrase coined by journalist Richard Louv in his groundbreaking book Last Child in the Woods, is the greatest health catastrophe facing Western kids. Ever.”

He continues by noting the skyrocketing rates of obesity, ADD, asthma and diabetes; that enjoying an active childhood in the great outdoors is essential to proper emotional and mental development and is even tied to higher test scores later in life.

But hey, adults need the wild too. It’s call has been paved over by asphalt and concrete and drowned out by cars and cellphones and the sirens of shopping malls and the latest iPad and “making it.” Our outside time is too often relegated to our freeway commute, our scenery marred by billboards. The average person is exposed to 3,000 marketing messages a day.

You might not be fully aware of how much this consumer culture has permeated your psyche and informed your habits. That’s the thing about brainwashing – you don’t actually realize it has occurred. And it doesn’t mean we are literally programmed to unthinkingly drive through the nearest Mickey D’s just because we pass some golden arches and a redheaded clown. But we may be inspired to pay more because we recognize that Apple, or D&G, or name or shape or insigna and all the myriad connotations it carries.

You are a better student than you have realized. You have learned your lessons so well they are second nature, embedded deep into your memory. Seashells represent gas; a bell means tacos; bunny ears mean sex. Take this quiz to see if you are truly an ‘A’ student.

But of course, you know what you like. Do you prefer Colgate or Oral B toothpaste? Dawn or Joy dish soap? Tropicana or Dole juice? You might be surprised to learn they all have the same parent company, and that many products you consider green and scrappily independent are actually owned by the big-names. Burt’s Bees by Clorox, Naked Juice by Pepsi, and so forth.

It’s not all terrible. And for better or worse, it’s the way things are today. But it definitely doesn’t hurt to be a little bit more aware of the products you are incessantly being peddled — and to maybe start saying ‘no’ a little more often.

One-way ticket to Rome

Yep, that’s right. Today I bought a one-way ticket to Rome. I’ve been thinking about going for some time, but something has kept me back; and it still haunts and threatens me.

No, I’m not talking about money. This is something intangible. I’m referring to my conditioning.

Those who know me well have heard me bring up this topic time and time again. They are either sick of it or are too conditioned themselves to acknowledge it. Most people respond with any critical comment of America with, “This is the greatest country in the world.”

I am by no means a black-and-white thinker. I understand that every situation, person and place has its good and bad. I am grateful to be an American and to enjoy the rights that I do; I love my job and my life. But none of that negates my point: Americans, in general, work too much.

And I’m not just BSing. Numerous objective studies consistently place the States far down the list of the best countries to work in. Here are the top 10, as reported by the Huffington Post: Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Portugal, France.

This was based on work-life balance (how much paid time off is afforded, how many hours worked a week, how much paid leave for parents, etc.)

It is a well-known fact that most countries in Europe mandate a 5-6 week PAID vacation. Of course, Americans get about 2 weeks if they are lucky. 21 days is considered phenomenal. The problem is that most workplaces discourage people from taking off more than a week at once, even if it is unpaid. Therefore, most people are not able to take extended vacations.

Everything is relative. Some people have it far worse and I know I am lucky. But to many, travel is not considered a self-indulgent luxury, but one of life’s greatest and most fulfilling, educational experiences. In fact, one of elderly people’s frequent greatest regrets is that they did not travel more when they were younger (another is wishing they had worked less).

Trips — and not of the weekend resort/Disneyland variety, although those are nice too — are often the highlights and hallmarks of a lifetime. Who wants to do the same thing, in the same place, every day for years upon years? Who doesn’t yearn to admire our planet’s great natural and manmade wonders, to immerse completely in the utter foreignness of other lands, to interface with our brothers and sisters across the seas?

This article, by the Atlantic, goes more in-depth on the subject. It details the top 23 countries to work, with the States dead last. I also encourage you to read the top comments, comments like this:

“Americans work longer days and get less vacation then our European counterparts. Did you know that more German made cars are sold than American made cars? Yet German auto workers make twice what American auto workers make and , get better benefits and more vacation? I’m sure thats all just stacked against the good ol USA.  Wake up, look around. Instead of believing the old BS learn about the reality you are living in.”

and

“I work in the Netherlands. I get 8 weeks paid holiday, a very reasonably priced health insurance plan and I work for a company that has flex hours. We have public transportation that is clean, efficient and plentiful. The Netherlands is an extremely integrated society. There are people from all walks of life living in Holland. And oddly enough, they have almost none of the social problems that the US has.

Are you kidding me? It’s a fantastic life and one I thoroughly love. I’m privileged to be able to work there and live there. And yes, all of these countries are in Europe. That should tell you something. ”

Just to give you some perspective. CNN also featured an article entitled “Why is America the no-vacation nation?” I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you read this article. It discusses the fact that not only do Americans get barely any vacation opportunities, but they are CONDITIONED to think that they SHOULD NOT BE taking the vacation — my original premise. They (I) feel guilty; I should instead be working diligently, impressing my superiors, climbing the ladder, stacking the cash and saving for the future. Taking a vacation is impractical, self-indulgent, immature and reckless. These are the thoughts nagging me (while the other me is saying go enjoy life and have adventures while you still can).

I doubt that Europeans feel guilty while they are out enjoying life and not chained to their desks. And I’m rather perturbed by the commentary I get in response to these statements — one, people are under the impression that their current economic crisis is a direct result of working less hours. How does this make sense when the U.S. is the one that set off the global recession; when you observe that Europe prospered for years and that people who work hard and long in sweatshops, for example, have little to no effect on their country’s GDP, let alone their own personal well-being. Any cursory survey of world history will prove the correlation of more hours worked to national financial health to be a fallacy. The real culprits are corruption and mismanagement in the upper echelons.

The other response I often get is something along the lines of, “everyone in the world wants to come here; at least you can say what you want without getting shot.” There is truth to this. There are many opportunities in this land of plenty and people, for the most part, are allowed to voice their opinion. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t improve or learn anything from others.

Plus, taking vacations is supposed to improve health, relieve stress, and improve cognition and creativity — all things which contribute to a higher quality of productive output.

31 ways to get smarter

I read an interesting article in Newsweek recently that I would like to share: “31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012.” (Looks like the full version is only in the print mag.) Some things I was already doing, others, I would like to start. Check it out:

1) Play Words with Friends (or Scrabble, I assume)

2) Eat turmeric (other herbs and spices couldn’t hurt)

3) Play sports or dance

4) Get news from Al Jazeera

5) Toss your smartphone (which would mean no more Words With Friends)

6) Sleep a lot

7) Download the Ted app (if you tossed your smartphone, go here)

8) Go to a literary festival

9) Build a memory palace

10) Learn a new language (I want to learn Latin!)

11) Eat dark chocolate (yes please!)

12) Try knitting (or another hands-on craft)

13) Frown (okay, that’s lame)

14) Play violent video games (also lame, IMO; a live game of paintball or capture the flag could be cool, however)

15) Follow interesting/intellectual people on Twitter

16) Eat yogurt (but please get the pure kind with probiotics)

17) Install supermemo

18) See a Shakespeare play (or read one!)

19) Refine your thinking

20) Hydrate

21) Listen to lectures on iTunesU

22) Visit museums and art galleries

23) Play an instrument (I need a piano — miss playing!)

24) Write by hand (don’t do this often!)

25) Use the pomodoro technique

26) Zone out (love to do this while taking long walks or floating in the ocean alone, and get great ideas when I do)

27) Delay gratification

28) Become an expert

29) Write online reviews (or, blog!)

30) Get out of town (love to!)

Well-endowed actor has a brain to match his …

I have never watched HBO’s “Hung” nor do I ever plan to, and apparently, neither does its star, Thomas Jane.

In this recent Huffington Post article, he eschews all “in-depth brainwashing that’s done by CNN or any news show or any television show.”

His awesome interview continues:

“People’s reactions to the world around them, if you give them drugs and alcohol, they tend to not worry too much that you’re ripping them off on the parking meters and you’re putting people in office that don’t know what the f*ck they’re doing. We can go down to the bar and complain about it there instead of going down to f*cking Congress and complaining to the people who really f*cking need to hear it, you’ll find yourself down at the corner bar, yelling at the f*cking bartender, who could give a f*ck, is just waiting to go home and turn on the goddamn TV.

“I find a nation of sleepers and slackers, and it’s not our fault, we’ve been conditioned to stay asleep… We wake up briefly, but by then we’re too tired and shell shocked and beaten down to do anything about it, because we realize half of our life is gone. Generally, the easiest thing to do is to fall back asleep and just sort of nestle in and wait for a bit until we slough off the mortal coil and call it quits. That’s the metaphor in our film of death …

“That’s what school is, it’s a prison for your mind, and it’s a travesty that we do this to our children, it’s an open letter that Rockefeller wrote to the President of the United States saying, ‘We need workers,'” he says, noting that he does not send his own children to American public schools. “And that’s why we have the school system that we have in our country, is that Rockefeller said we need workers, people who follow directions, who are able to stay in one place for about eight hours a day, and people who fear authority…

“Really? I’m 40 years old and still wearing the same goddamn uniform that I wore in my 20s? So what’s the new uniform — a suit? Well, okay, everyone wears a f*cking suit. With that, you’re just a suit, you’re a zombie, there’s no self-expression. There’s no individuality within that. So it’s either blend in and become a zombie, or revert to your 20s. We got nothing.”

It has accrued over a thousand comments so far. Negative comments range from “nothing new” to “self-important ex-junkie” to “B.S.” Positive comments abound as well. No matter which side you are on, however, you have to admit that it is astoundingly refreshing to hear someone part of the vapid Hollywood world come out and make statements like this. Statements that, you know, actually make you think a little.