Awakening of the Heart


AWAKENING 3

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“The Sun in Your Heart is Rising.”

Saniel Bonder

I’ve been working towards a spiritual awakening for most of my adult life, and it seems  I’m on the brink of a promising development in my growth process.  There are many paths to “higher consciousness” and many kinds of spiritual awakenings.  In fact, each of us is destined for his or her own unique awakening.  For the past five years, I’ve been involved in something called “Waking Down in Mutuality.”  WDM is a path that nurtures an embodied individual awakening through energetic transmission and various forms of study and group participation.  There are no gurus.  It is not a cult.  The people who help other people to awaken are teachers and facilitators.  There is no hierarchy.  There is no dogma.  There are no “shoulds” or “oughts.”

The chances are that you’ve never heard of anything like WDM.  You’re not alone.  Less than one percent of the world’s population is interested in transformative spiritual awakening.  You may be wondering why I’m interested.  The answer is simple:  I want to experience more peace, love and joy in my life than most other pursuits can provide.

Thanks to the evolution of consciousness and the opportunities and modalities provided by WDM and its close relative, Trillium Awakening, I don’t have to be a monk or a saint to awaken.  I don’t have to destroy or surrender my ego.  I can just be me, whatever that is.   I don’t have to separate spirit and matter.  I can live a relatively normal life while opening myself to the treasures of the Heart, every chance I get.

Recently, I’ve made a discovery.  It’s a big one.  It’s really more of an experience than a mental concept.  I’ve realized that self-worth ultimately has nothing to do with accomplishment.  Equating self-worth with achievement is a trap that most of us fall into.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with striving to accomplish things, or to be a better you, or in getting better at whatever it is you do.  It definitely feels good to get things done and to improve.  As an example, I enjoy the feeling of writing this.  It feels good to create something new.  But writing a best-selling novel will never give me the deep down satisfaction, wholeness, and completeness that my heart craves.  This type of satisfaction can only be found buried deep within my heart.  The same is true for you.

I’m not sure where I’m going from here, but I’m confident it will lead to more and more happiness and self-satisfaction.  It won’t happen overnight.  What’s important is that it’s happening.  As WDM founder and spiritual teacher Saniel Bonder likes to say, “The Sun in Your Heart is Rising.”  That sounds pretty good to me.

 

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The Fine Line Between Success and That Other Thing


 

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Do what you love. Believe in yourself. Believe in what you do.

This is going to be a rant of sorts with some upside. It’s also going to be a little embarrassing. Maybe more than a little. Anyway, here goes.

I am a very active person. To avoid boring you with the particulars, let’s just say that I lead a busy life chock full of errands and enjoyable past times strung together with “work” that I try to make meaningful.  I put the word “work” in quotes because I believe that work has to be enjoyable to yield measurable, positive results.

I have done things I really didn’t want to do called “work.”  My father once told me that “you can’t always do what you want to do.” This is true, but I think I took what he said to an extreme.

I have read and observed that highly successful people enjoy what they do. They work very hard because they enjoy it. Now, “working very hard” has to be put into perspective in my case. I have never, ever, worked very hard compared to someone like Tom Brady, or Warren Buffet, or my investment advisor.

However, I have worked very hard (for me) at writing. I am passionate about writing. And looking back on forty plus years of writing, I see that what I’ve written has had very little impact as far as making the world a better place to live in.  This includes the latest novel I wrote with a subtext about the energy and environmental crisis (Micromium: Clean Energy from Mars.)

This bothers me because I have put a ton of myself into the three books I’ve written, particularly the last one which is available in digital, paperback and audio formats.  Another thing that bothers me is the world, not just the Amazon forests, is on fire.  We are facing extinction due to the environmental crisis we have managed to visit upon ourselves.  The environmental issue has finally become a big topic of discussion, but we aren’t taking the radical steps that are required to confront the problem.  That’s why I wrote Micromium a year ago, but it didn’t help.  Not the way I wanted it to.

So, if I’ve been doing what I truly want to do for the past thirty odd years, why isn’t it working?

Well, it seems that I finally have a clue.  I have not been as successful as I’d like to be because I DONT BELIEVE IN MYSELF ENOUGH.  I’ve learned that a strong belief in oneself and in what one is doing is essential for success.  I’ve known about this principle for a long time, but knowing about it and doing something about it are two distinctly different things.¹  Just like the environmental issue.

Recently, I’ve found a way to significantly cut through my self-doubt.  It’s called Somatic Experiencing.  Since starting this training a month ago, my energy is more focused and it is coming from a deeper place.  I’ve already witnessed some positive results.  Nothing big mind you, but definitely positive in relation to myself and other people.  I’m in the beginning stages of this process, and I hope there will be much more growth to come.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll make some positive waves in this troubled world.  It’s never too late.

Thanks for reading this.  Hope it helped.

¹I’d also like to mention that it helps to do the thing or things you are designed for.  It’s important to find your true purpose.  This isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

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I Sing the Body Ecstatic


Lights of Void

Here is a vision of my future self and a vision for anyone else who desires to achieve something along these lines:

It is not just another day.

I swim in the ocean of bliss.

I merge with the beauty that I am and the beauty that we are.  I sing the body ecstatic.  I consciously raise my vibration out of the ordinary into the extraordinary.

I am alive with the wellness of Being.

I am no longer bound by the constraints of frustration and the boredom of routine.  This is the new world I have been seeking.  In this moment, amidst the peace and the flow, nothing else matters.

The problems of the world don’t exist.  My perceived problems don’t exist because the wall of separation is breaking down—like the Berlin Wall.

The minor irritations don’t exist because everything is taken care of in this moment of sublime peace and bliss.

Yes, it is possible to live in an ocean of tranquility; to drink divine nectar; to radiate joy to every person I meet; to live beyond prescribed norms.

The Heart of Life opens.  I jump from my perch of uncertainty and the light opens its arms to me.  It is a good light.  It will not hurt me.  I trust it will take me where my heart truly wants to go.

I am not alone.  I fear no evil.  I have faith.  I have trust.  I believe in myself and the essential goodness of my creator.

I am love.  I am beauty.  I am everything I want to be and beyond.

There is no end to the depths and heights of this glorious reality.

 

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The Field of Dreams


SUNLIT FIELD

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“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

George Bernard Shaw

There is a child in me that wants to romp and play in sunlit fields.

If there are no sunlit fields to play in, then the child invents one with his imagination.

The child knows that there is a real world beset with serious problems and pitfalls.  The child also knows that there are admirable people who face these problems head on every day to make the world a better place.  These people have a calling to do what they do.

The child prefers to live in sunlit fields, dreaming of a better life.  The child knows that if it can make its dreams come true, then others will be inspired to do the same.

Perhaps dreaming is the child’s calling.

I have dreamed big dreams.  Some of them have come true.  I cannot measure the impact that my dreams have had on others, nor should I care.  I can only go on dreaming and manifesting them.

DOOR CLOUD DREAMS

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The Divine Seed


DIVINE SEED

Digital Artwork by Harald Dastis / fineartamerica.com

Something is prompting me to write this, even though I’m far from an expert on the subject.  I’m writing about an inkling. This mysterious prompting tells me that the inkling is a precursor to the direct knowledge of the something prompting me.  If I’m confusing you, I promise to be more clear in what follows.

What I’ve heard, read, and now feel strongly, is that each one of us carries a seed of the divine within us. And, believe it or not, the ultimate purpose of human life is to discover this seed, water it, and watch it bloom into a gorgeous individual expression of the divine.  Please don’t be put off by the word “divine”.  I have to use a word to describe this miracle. It can be described by many names, so I invite you to choose one that you feel comfortable with.

DIVINE SEED IMAGE

I’m going to go way out on a limb and try to describe what the divine means to me.  First of all, it’s a feeling or combination of feelings rather than an idea.  It is peace, joy and love.  It is a sense of “all rightness.”  It is the certain knowledge that the divine is benevolent.  It wants what is good for me.  It does not want to hurt me.  I feel this very deeply, although my mind often tries to tell me not to trust it.

When we access the divine within, we find that it is a place of peace.  It is a refuge from the troubled world outside.  We can access this inner world through a daily practice of meditation.  In the case of an awakened being, the divine can be accessed by the simple awareness of what’s happening in the present; an awareness of everything that is arising from within and the deeper sense of peace, joy and love underneath what is arising.

Accessing this place on a daily basis keeps me sane.

The divine is so much more than mere words can express.  It is so much more than I’ve expressed here.  That’s all I have to say for now.

Oh, wait.  I promised to talk about the light streaming through my body that I described at the end of my last blog “Innate Goodness.”  I’ll try to keep this brief, because I know I’ve already blabbed for too long.

Simply put, I can say that this experience was the dawn of the “Sun in my Heart Rising” as Saniel and Linda-Groves-Bonder say as facilitators of embodied awakening in their Waking Down in Mutualitycourses.

 

 

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Innate Goodness


GOODNESS 2

There’s a lot of stuff happening in the world that is bad—really bad.  We know this, and we tend to focus on the bad stuff.  So, I’m asking myself: what is good?

For starters, we are good—even the worst of us.  The trick is; how do we get to that goodness?

I ‘ve found that it takes some work to get to the goodness.  In my case, it’s taken a hell of a lot of work.  It’s taken constant digging.  I know what I should do and what I’m supposed to do.  I’ve gotten pretty good at doing the stuff I need to do and should do.  For example, I’m thinking about working for the best democratic presidential candidate that I can find.  Am I excited about doing this?  Not really.  It’s just a matter of necessity.  We have to remove the lunatic currently occupying the White House.

Okay, so there are all sorts of things we have to do and should do.  What about the good stuff?  What about the place inside where goodness happens naturally?  It’s a feel-good place and the source of true inspiration.

INSPIRATION

When I meditate in the morning, I have, on many occasions, experienced the good place inside me.  I’ve experienced peace, love, and joy.  I like these feelings.  Who wouldn’t?  The problem is that these feelings fade away too quickly.  I often wonder how so many people do so many good things consistently.  I’m thinking of people like doctors and nurses, of gifted mental health counselors, of social workers, of accountants who work hard under heavy pressure to provide essential services to businesses and individuals.  The list goes on.  How do you guys do it EVERY DAY?  If you are a hard-working person, please clue me in.

Why do I wonder?  Well, I like to PLAY.  I try to make a game out of everything I do, except going in for a colonoscopy.  I admit that one is a bit of a challenge.  Not too long ago, I held down honest jobs in sales, marketing, and real estate.  I even did accounting for a while.  I worked in a family business for thirty years doing all of the above–not hard work, mind you–just plain old don’t kill yourself work.  After all of those years of (ahem) work, you would think I’ve changed, matured, and learned to accept that life is hard and full of work.  Nope.  I haven’t changed one bit.  I still like to play.  I envy people who like to work.  I imagine it’s much easier to live in the world as an adult if you like to work.  I wouldn’t know, of course.

Are you resonating with any of this?  If yes, please drop me a line or two.

Let’s get back to the essential goodness inside each one of us.  How do I (we) tap into it more consistently?  It drives me nuts how it comes and goes.  If I’m feeling more peace, more love, more joy, than I can be and do more for other people.  I’m working on making these good feelings more consistent.  If I can pull it off, I’ll be sure to brighten your day with some goodness first aid.

Update:  I HAVE found a way to make this happen with something called Somatic Experiencing Therapyplay.  In my third session, I felt and visualized light pulsating throughout my body and mind.  Now, I feel more grounded.  I feel more ALIVE.  Since I know blogs are not supposed to be too long, I’ll write more about this in my next post.  Stay tuned.

GOODNESS

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Beautiful Dreamer


SILVER SUNSETS 2

My father is back.  He’s forty-five-years-old.  He looks just like himself, except he’s learned not to smoke.  He’s learned a lot of things in heaven, not the least of which is how to be a better human being.  Ever since he died in 2006, I have thought of my father as Morton rather than my father.  As you might have guessed, Morton and I were not exactly bosom buddies before this new version came along.

This new Morton has a beautiful new wife who is not my mom.  She’s a brunette, tall, with a model’s figure, and she’s smart and very good at human relations.  She has to be to get along with Morton.  She doesn’t take abuse from anyone, including Morton.  She is a deeply rooted human being who can correct Morton when he gets mean or when he gets too into his work and forgets to be a person.  Her name is Jennifer.  Her maiden name is Jennifer Ward-Allen.  She’s from a mixed Jewish and Irish family, which is odd.  Her hair is red and her complexion is fair.  She has green eyes.  She doesn’t look Jewish, but she is Jewish, which works for Morton.  Jennifer exudes an inner as well as an outer beauty.    Although I had no problem with my original mother, I sense that this woman is much more caring, present and aware.

Jennifer is divorced from a man who is very successful in the field of Enterprise Software Management.  He also dabbles in the production of live stage plays.  His name is Arthur Samuelson.  To Jennifer’s shock and amazement, Samuelson kept two serious character flaws secret from Jennifer for three and a half years.  In addition to his entrpreneurial skills, the man turned out to be a philanderer and a lush.  It occurs to me  if Jennifer had met and married the old Morton, I don’t think she would have been any happier than she was with Samuelson, but for very different reasons.  Morton was definitely not a drunk or a cheater.  He had many good qualities, and some others that were much less appealing, but that’s too long a story to tell here.  We have to get back to business, as Morton likes to say.

Last week, I went to sleep as a seventy-year-old family man, and woke up as a twenty-five-year-old single man.  After recovering from the shock of looking in the mirror, I take stock of my surroundings.  I quickly discover that I’m not living in the beautiful home my wife, Bonnie, has made for me.  It’s a sterile apartment where I used to live in North Miami.  The place has since been torn down and redeveloped into two luxury condo towers, but now it’s back to being an aging complex known as “The Summer Winds Apartments.”

My first concerns as a twenty-five-year-old are for my wife and daughter.  Will I ever meet my loyal and devoted wife Bonnie again?  If I do, will we have our precious daughter, Danielle?  As I contemplate these disturbing eventualities, the phone rings.  I go into the galley-sized kitchen to answer it.

“Hello?”

“This is your father calling.  Remember me?”

“Who is this?  You have some nerve calling and impersonating my father.  If you are a telemarketer,  I’m going to report you to the FTC and the Florida Attorney General’s office, and to any other law enforcement agency that will listen.”

“Calm down, David. It’s really me.”

“How can it be you?  You died thirteen years ago.”

“It’s me, son.  You kept thinking about the good times we had with the racing stable after we sold the business and you got married.  You were wishing for those good times again.  You were wishing you could be young again.  Well, someone up there must like you, because I’m back, stronger than ever. You remember that Wall-Tex commercial where they used that slogan after they settled the plant workers strike.”

“How can I forget?  How can I forget anything we did?  But how can this be you?  You expect me to believe this is some kind of miracle?”

Morton sighs heavily.  “Oy vey, David. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”

“Okay.  If you’re my father, then what was the name of the horse we owned that won the In-Reality Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes?”

silver-sunsets

“The last shall be first.”

“His name was Silver Sunsets.”

“How did he run?”

“He came from dead last at the quarter pole to first place at the wire.”

“Oh my God.  It’s really you.”

“Live and in living color, my boy.  Now, can we get down to business?”

Morton asks me if I might be interested in doing marketing for his new company.

The company is a custom packaging manufacturer equipped with an expert design team and all of the latest online ordering applications.  The company’s potential is worldwide and unlimited.  Morton plans to develop a top notch, multi-lingual sales force under one roof using state-of-the-art, virtual training programs.  He tells me to be ready to work if I come on board, because, “You know I don’t settle for anything except hitting our goals, and I set high goals, in case you forgot.”

I say, “How could I ever forget.”  He says, “Good.  Show up to meet this guy at nine at such and such a place.”

I meet Morton’s new Vice President of Marketing and CEO.  He has the combined personality of two of my previous bosses, plus, I sense that he’s better at making money than either of them.  He just understands what is required to make money.  He has the instincts and the knack for it that can’t be taught, just like Morton.

The guy’s name is Guy Pearce, like the actor.  He’s thirty-two with brown hair and hazel eyes.  Incredibly, he bears a striking resemblance to the actor.  When I ask him if he is THE GUY PEARCE, he shakes his head and says, “never heard of the guy, I mean, you know, that Guy.”  “Funny,” I say.  “You look just like him.”  Then I ask him if he’s seen the HBO version of the movie “The Time Machine” starring Pearce.   He just stares right through me.  This Guy is a no nonsense guy.

THE TIME MACHINE

Pearce asks me what I’ve been doing.  I show him a paperback edition of “Micromium: Clean Energy from Mars.”  I show him my website, my blog, the digital book, and the audio book.  I show him the other two digital books I’ve written, “Scarlet Ambrosia” and “Three Days to Darkness.”  I talk about how I conceived Micromium, wrote it, and created four versions of it.  He reads the copy on the back.  He asks me what I did in my last job.  It seems like the last honest job I had was in a previous incarnation.  I don’t tell that to Pearce.  I tell him the highlights of Fulfillment Online and Business Cards Online, two proprietary, ground-breaking online ordering applications that I marketed at a direct mail, printing, and fulfillment company my family owned.  I tell him I created a mailer that landed more than fifty Fortune Five Hundred Companies as clients.  I tell him that I have created just about every type of marketing and communications campaign imaginable at the two previous companies where I worked as marketing director.  I conveniently leave out the fact that my previous bosses were instrumental in my success.

He picks up the Micromium full color print edition and tells me, “This right here shows me that you’re qualified to do what this company needs.  You can create content and packaging and sell it.  That’s marketing A to Z.  If you can take direction, then I’m proud to welcome you aboard.  Do you want the job?  I nod my head.  I’m not sure that I want an honest job again, but what the hell.  It’s getting lonely writing books that are really tough to sell.

I watch anxiously as Pearce picks up the phone and calls Morton.  He says, “I just hired David.”  I overhear Morton saying “Good.  It’s about time he got back to work.”

I guess the twenty year vacation is over.  Now I have a REAL job to get up for every morning.  I feel important, valued.  That’s what I want.  I don’t enjoy being irrelevant.  It’s very easy to become irrelevant at my age.  Oops, I mean my former age.

I suddenly remember this new edition of Morton telling me as a young boy things like: “When you grow up, you will be in a world much different than the one you’re in now.  Everything won’t come easily to you.  You’ll have to earn the respect of your peers and your supervisors.  You’ll have to earn everything.  It won’t be given to you like it is now.

“You can start right now by believing in yourself.  You can see that I’ve accomplished something in my life, and I have much more to accomplish.  You can accomplish and be a winner too if you believe in yourself.  Listen to the things I tell you.  What I tell you will always be for your own good.  You can trust me and you can trust what I tell you.  You don’t always have to agree with me, but I’m asking you to listen first, and then we can discuss things.  There will be many situations that come up and they will be learning experiences.  We need to talk about them.  Don’t be afraid to talk to me.  My door will always be open if you need to talk.

“There are winners and losers in this world, David.  You want to be a winner.  Winners are generally happy people.  I’ve never met a happy loser.”

These are the things a father needs to tell his son.  These are the sort of things Morton never told me.  Hey, I’m not feeling sorry for myself.  I’m just sayin’.  If you are young and you are reading this, make sure your Dad tells you these things, and if he doesn’t, then remember what I just said.  Got it?  Good.

I also have new memories of going to the racetrack with Morton to watch the horses run.  I remember him teaching me how to read the racing form.  In my first life with Morton, I never even knew he went to the racetrack occasionally with my mother.  It wasn’t until he started a racing stable and asked me to be a partner in Three G Stable that I learned of Morton’s interest in horses and the the amazing sport of horse racing.  Not many people have the opportunity to see the sport from the inside like I did.  It’s something I’m extremely grateful for.  I’ll always treasure sharing those experiences with my parents and my daughter Danielle.  There really was a Three G Stable.  I really did go to the barn and the petting zoo with Danielle.  We really did have many claiming and allowance winners and stakes winners.

Oops.  I’m waxing nostalgic.   Gotta get back to business.

The new Morton decides to buy a farm in Ocala to breed, race, and sell thoroughbred race horses.  We purchase two freshman sires, one from the Galileo/Saddlers Wells line for turf horses, and one from the Northern Dancer and Mister Prospector cross for dirt horses that can also potentially run on the turf.  Both of these Florida Stallions turn out to be leading sires, not just in Florida, but in the Eastern United States including Kentucky.  We get offers from Kentucky to buy the two stallions, but we keep them in Florida.  We buy well-bred stakes winning mares at auction to breed to our stallions.  We keep a few of the offspring to race ourselves.  We claim horses to fill out the stable.  My love of breeding horses and the sport of racing is rekindled.  I enjoy working in the packaging company and what I do with the horses is a labor of love.

We hire Mark Casse to be our trainer.  Mark is the son of the legendary Norman Casse, a Florida breeder, owner, and Co-founder of the Ocala Breeder’s Sales Company.  Mark is destined to become a world class trainer.  At the time we hire him, he is a young man starting out in his career with a reputation as a patient handler with a knack for developing every horse in his care to their fullest potential.  I find Mark to be a quiet, humble man with an innate love for his horses.  He treats all of them as individuals, and gives them the time and the attention they need to mature into winners.

MARK CASSE

One of the horses Morton and I breed shows great promise as a yearling.  We decide to keep him and race him when he doesn’t reach his reserve at public auction as a two-year-old.  He is by Classic Empire out of an Unbridled mare who has already produced two graded stakes winners. We name him “Beautiful Dreamer,” after the title of my second screenplay.  We call him “Dreamer” for short.

Dreamer matures slowly.  He shows no aptitude for short races in his early training.  He wins his first race at a mile and then runs second in the Foolish Pleasure Stakes at Gulfstream Park.  It is a prep race for the In-Reality stakes, the biggest race at Gulfstream for Florida-bred two-year-old colts and Geldings.  Like Silver Sunsets, Dreamer has a grey coat and wins the In-Reality Stakes.  Beautiful Dreamer goes on to run third in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.  We put him away at our farm for the winter after the Breeders Cup, and run him back at a mile on the turf in an allowance race in January at Gulfstream Park.  He runs second in the race.  From there, he runs second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes.  Mark encourages us to run in the Florida Derby against the best thoroughbreds stabled on the east coast.  We listen to his advice, and Dreamer wins the Florida Derby at the relatively long odds of eleven-to-one.  The fact that Dreamer was not one of the favorites in the field is an indication of the high quality of the horses he beat.

The Florida Derby win qualifies Dreamer for a spot in the Kentucky Derby.  After huddling with Mark, we decide to enter Dreamer in the mile and a quarter first leg of the Triple Crown.  He draws post ten in a full twenty horse field.  He’s a horse that possesses tactical speed, but he doesn’t break alertly when the gates open.  He’s ridden by Julian Leparoux, an excellent rider, who manages to recover after the bobbled start.  “Dreamer” circles wide around horses at the quarter pole turning for home and rallies furiously down the stretch to finish third at odds of seven-to-one.  It’s a respectable showing, but we’re disappointed.  We now know that Dreamer had a legitimate chance to win the race with a better start.  It hurts, but that’s horse racing.

KENTUCKY DERBY

We think about going on to the Preakness Stakes, but decide against it, opting instead to enter the Haskell invitational Stakes for three-year-olds at Monmouth Park.  The track comes up muddy on a rainy day.  Dreamer stalks the winner all the way around the mile and an eight race, but he can’t get past a clear front runner who is bred for wet tracks and scores at odds of nineteen-to-one.  Dreamer goes off second choice in the race at odds of five-to-two.  The nine-to-five favorite finishes third.

Should we go for the Grade One Travers Stakes at Saratoga?  We decide against it, opting instead to enter Beautiful Dreamer in the Suburban Stakes at Belmont as a Fall prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic later in November if he does well.  Once again, Dreamer finishes second after tracking in fourth place behind a fast pace.  Dreamer looks like a winner seventy yards from the wire, but another horse passes him five yards from the wire.  We decide that Dreamer is good enough to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Mark elects to change riders for the race.  First, we ask Jose Ortiz to ride Dreamer in the Classic, but he has another commitment.  Then we ask his brother, Irad Ortiz Junior to ride for us.  He accepts the mount.  He likes our trainer, and he wants to give Mark a chance to put his name down in racing lore.  We’re confident that Irad will give us a better chance of winning with his impeccable sense of timing.  Irad has had his eye on our horse for a while, and he’s confident that he can move Dreamer up several lengths with the right ride.

Meanwhile, my father, stepmother and I are having the time of our lives with this horse.  This year, Gulfstream Park is hosting the Breeders’ Cup races for the first time in twenty years.  It makes it much easier on our horse.  Dreamer is familiar with the track because he is based at Gulfstream and trains there.  He also doesn’t have to travel, which for many horses can be an energy-draining and disconcerting experience. Horses get nervous when their routines are interrupted, and they don’t like being crampted up in unfamiliar spaces.  After hundreds of years of inbreeding, thoroughbreds still have their deeply ingrained instinct to run at the first signs of danger.  It’s hard to run from danger in the cargo hold of a jet plane.

GULFSTREAM 3

Finally, Breeders’ Cup Day dawns bright and sunny with no rain in the forecast.  We’re relieved, because we don’t want to be wired on a wet track by a freak front runner like what happened in the Haskell.  Dreamer has been training brilliantly for the race.  Our trainer, Mark, says he’s in peak form.  Dreamer is the fourth choice in a fourteen-horse field behind two heavy favorites and another highly regarded horse owned by John Magnier, the super-rich founder of Ladbrokes, a chain of sports betting parlors in England.  We have our work cut out for us.  Mark is his usual quiet and calm self.  He’s never been much of a talker, but we can tell that he’s excited about the race and our chances.  He can’t wait to get Dreamer in the gate.

GULSTREAM 4

We watch and bet the races, having fun and forgetting about the big race.  It’s an interesting day with favorites and long shots winning and placing throughout the card.  The European horses win most of the turf races while the American horses generally prevail on the dirt.  The Breeders’ Cup racing card is probably the most fun card to bet all year. The fields are big and almost every horse in each race has a chance to win because they’re all so good.  So, I like to get creative, which usually results in me losing my butt.  Still, it’s fun.

At five-thirty, we leave our seats and a courtesy golf cart designated exclusively for the Breeders’ Cup owners transports us to the barn where beautiful Dreamer is waiting.  He’s happy to see us.  His big head bobs up and down and his front hoof paws the straw in the bed of his stall.  Carefully opening the stall door, Mark attaches a chain to Dreamer’s halter and leads him out.  He stands before us at attention, his gray coat dappled, radiating energy and health.  He knows it’s time to race, and somehow, I sense that Dreamer knows that what he’s about to do is special.  Horses are creatures of habit, and Dreamer know it’s later in the day than he’s ever run before.  His eyes dart from Mark to Morton and to me, as if he’s asking for an explanation of what’s going on.  Mark places a reassuring hand on Dreamer’s shoulder, and I stroke his flank gently to let him know everything is alright.  Mark says something into Dreamer’s ear.  He flicks it forward to listen.  Whatever Mark said, it calms Dreamer down immediately.  He’s ready to do whatever is asked of him.

We accompany Dreamer and Mark all the way from the barn to the saddling enclosure where Mark will saddle and prepare Dreamer for the race.  The crowd in the stands and on the grounds has swelled to over one hundred thousand people.  Police officers patrol the saddling enclosure looking for possible trouble and to make sure the onlookers stay behind the ropes and temporary fences where they belong.  I feel very important to be one of the relatively few people on the other side of the barriers.  Dreamer is taking in all of the excitement like a pro.  I sense that he has his mind on running, and somehow, he knows the horses that he’ll be competing against are better than most of the ones he’s faced before.  He looks down and shakes his head and long silvery mane, as if to shake out any last remaining knots of tension.  Mark strokes Dreamer’s shoulder and head to keep him calm and relaxed.

Irad Ortiz enters the enclosure.  He shakes our hands.  We wish him luck.  He gives Dreamer a few reassuring pats on the shoulder.  The horse immediately feels at ease with Irad.  Irad has been aboard Dreamer to breeze him five eights of a mile a week before the race to get acquainted.  The two of them are a team now, as if they’ve known each other for years.  The call comes for “riders up.”  Mark has already spoken to Irad about the race earlier in the day to give him his riding instructions.  Now, all he has to do is to give Irad a leg up and tell him to “have a good trip.”  Irad expertly guides Dreamer away.  We watch them disappear into the tunnel leading to the racetrack.  Mark gives us a thumbs up.  He likes to watch the races by himself when he saddles a horse, so we go our separate ways back to the owner’s box and Mark to his observation post.

The horses for the Breeders’ Cup Classic file by the stands in the post parade.  There are fourteen horses in the race.  Dreamer has post position seven.  His post position gives Irad an excellent opportunity to settle Dreamer optimally going into the first turn of the mile and a quarter race.  The major objective for Irad is to secure a good stalking position without going wide.  All of the jockeys will be trying to save as much horse as they can going around the first turn and up the backstretch.  If the horse is a front runner, the jockey will be trying to slow the pace down as much as possible.  The other jockeys have to be alert to the pace and settle their horses accordingly.  If the pace is slow, the horses that run from mid pack and beyond will have to stay closer than they normally would if the pace is honest.  The first half of the race is just as important as the last half.  A jockey’s mistake in judgement can cost a horse all chances of winning before they reach the half-mile pole.

Dortmund

Dreamer is prancing on his toes with his head held high as he passes us in the post parade.  Mark has obviously done the most anyone can do to prepare Dreamer for the race.  Now, the rest is up to the horse.  Dreamer is a solid fourth choice at odds of five-to- one.  Morton bets a hundred on him on the nose—typical Morton.  I bet twenty on Dreamer to win.  I know that Mark never bets on the horses he trains.  It’s a good habit.  Many lesser trainers bet on their horses because they think they will make a big score and they need the money.  Sometimes they make that big score, but it’s just not a classy thing to do.  The top trainers don’t do it.

Ten minutes later, the horses have warmed up and are entering the starting gate.  Mark has instructed Irad to do a minimal prep for the race, just a slow, short gallop to get his legs and muscles loose.  We watch the loading through binoculars.  The horse in slot six is acting up, delaying the start.  We can see Irad stroking Dreamer’s mane to keep him from getting upset by the unruly horse next door.  Finally, all of the horses are loaded.  We wait nervously for the starter to open the gates.  It seems like an eternity, then the gates spring open and the horses explode out of the gate with pent up energy.  The number five horse from England veers in and knocks the four horse off stride.  Irad deftly guides Dreamer away from the trouble.  The rest of the field sorts itself out naturally after the troubled break.

Due to the mishap, Dreamer runs third in the fourteen-horse field, closer to the pace than he normally likes to be.  Irad lets him settle back into fourth, but the bulky field is tightly bunched behind the two horses battling for the lead.  The number four and ten horses cut out the first quarter in twenty-three seconds flat, which is fast for the mile and a quarter distance.  The number ten horse backs off and lets the four horse have the lead.  They go the half in forty-seven and one fifth seconds, a more reasonable pace.  Irad keeps Dreamer poised in fourth place.  As the horses reach the three-quarter pole, the number ten horse moves up to challenge the four horse for the lead again.  The pace quickens.  Irad stays put as other horses pass him on the outside.  I grow concerned that Dreamer will not be up to the challenge of running against the best horses in the world.  In my imagination, I see Dreamer floundering on the rail and falling behind as the serious run for the finish line begins.

The front runners reach the quarter pole in one minute ten and four fifths seconds.  It’s an honest pace for horses of this caliber.  Now, Dreamer starts to move up on the rail as the horses turn for home.  Irad is taking the shortest distance home.  The danger of another horse blocking him looms.  It’s a risky move that Irad attempts, but he has no other choice.  He will lose too much ground if he tries to go around horses.  Irad has one of the best clocks in his head of any jockey alive.  I know that his timing is impeccable, but the rail in front of him is suddenly blocked by the tiring front runners which are slowing and shortening their strides.  Irad has to make a move; now or never.

Irad angles Dreamer off of the rail.  I see another horse rushing up behind Dreamer vying for the same lane to the wire.  Irad taps Dreamer on the shoulder with his whip and the horse responds with a burst of acceleration, beating another horse to the three-path.

Dreamer blows by the faltering front runners and opens a clear lead down the homestretch.  With a similar explosion of speed, I watch the number one horse, named Bal Harbour Boss, burst out of the pack in mid-stretch.  It gobbles up ground from behind Dreamer with every stride.  The fast-closing “Boss” reaches Dreamer’s flank on the inside and they run in tandem, neck and neck to the wire.  As Dreamer and his adversary pound to the wire lengths in front of the rest of the field, I expect Bal Harbour Boss to tire because it has had to cover more ground with a wide ride outside of horses up the backstretch all the way to the quarter pole.  Except the damn horse is resolute.  It won’t give an inch.

BREEDERS CUP FINISH

 

The hundred thousand plus throng of spectators bellows so loud that it feels like the ground is shaking and an earthquake is coming. The Jockeys urge their mounts onward.  The race announcer’s voice crescendos as Dreamer and Bal Harbour Boss bob heads to the finish line.  Photo finish.  I can’t tell if Dreamer got his head up in time.  It’s impossible to tell with the naked eye which horse has won the race.  So much is on the line.  The first-place purse is worth three million dollars.  The winning horse will command a high stud fee.  And then, there’s the thrill, prestige, and satisfaction of winning one of the biggest races in the world.

Morton is white as we wait for the results to be posted.  I give him a hug and tell him. “No matter what, we proved that Dreamer has the genes and the heart of a champion.”  Morton says nothing.  He stands there, white as a sheet.  I know what he’s thinking.  Second place is “nowheresville” in Morton’s vocabulary.

The results flash on the tote board in the infield.  The number one is posted on top of Dreamer’s number seven.  Morton slumps.  We’ve lost.  We’ve been nosed of the win.  Then a red square appears around the two top numbers.  Next to it, the words “DEAD HEAT” flash in red.  It’s a tie.  Beautiful Dreamer is a co-champion with Bal Harbour Boss.  I hug Morton.  I hug my stepmother.  We are delirious.  Sharing the top honors beats the hell out of losing.  The dead heat is the first in Breeders’ Cup Classic history.

We meet Mark in the winners’ circle.  I can tell that he’s beside himself.  He doesn’t show emotion easily, but he’s obviously overcome by the biggest achievement of his training career.  The winners’ ceremony is a long one because both horses and their entourages have to be photographed.  I hug Mark.  I hug Irad Ortiz.  They are both slightly taken aback by my display of emotion, but I can tell they understand.  Mark and the Jockey are both ecstatic, albeit a bit more quietly.

The sight of Beautiful Dreamer wearing the Breeders Cup Champion yellow garland of flowers will be forever etched in my memory.  Sharing a moment like this with signicant others goes beyond any feeling I can describe.  I can’t remember anything immediately after the race.  I’m just somewhere else, and it’s a very good place to be.  The next thing I know, I’m driving to a restaurant in North Miami for a victory dinner.

After several hours of  intense celebrating with my father and Jennifer at an excellent Italian restaurant named Il Tulipano, I return to my humble one bedroom apartment and stumble into bed.  I’m asleep in seconds from the sheer exhaustion of a long day filled to the brim with exciting moments.  When I wake up, I’m back home with my wife, seventy-years-old again.  My first reaction is bitter disappointment, but then I realize that I have my wife and daughter back again.  I remember what my father said at dinner in Il Tulipano, another ghost of the past that has disappeared and moved on.  With his wine glass raised, my father said: “We’re fortunate to have won this race, but what’s most important is that we’re together and we care about one another.”  My father’s words remind me to appreciate the people who are with me now.

Was it all a dream, or did it really happen?  I decide it was just a glimpse, like in the movie “Family Man” with Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, and Don Cheadle.  An angel has given me a glimpse of what my life actually was and might have been, like Don Cheadle did for Nicolas Cage in the movie.  Yeah, that’s what it was; a beautiful dream that became real for a few fleeting moments in time; a precious glimpse I will always remember with an uplifting feeling of love.

"The Family Man" Copyright 2000 Universal Studios

Nicolas Cage and Don Cheadle Copyright 2000 Universal Studios

 

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The Importance of Self-Confidence


Image courtesy of TeachHub.com

Where does self-confidence come from?  Where does it go when we need it most?

How does an energetic child with a mountainous capacity for curiosity grow into a narrow-minded, emotionally constricted adult full of hopelessness and suffering?

The answer is simple.  We lose the key to the door that opens to a satisfying existence; belief in ourselves and the faith that every day can be sculpted into a masterpiece of joy.

Self-confidence is an elusive commodity that fluctuates with life’s events including, but not limited to; our mood, brain chemistry, the weather, acceptance or rejection.  It is a fragile, unpredictable elixir; here today, gone tomorrow.  Yet for a fortunate few, it is a constant, a second nature, a faithful servant and friend.

With self-confidence, we can create the next, great wonder of the world.  Without it, we walk bent over through life, a mere shadow on the wall, a faint reflection of our glorious and noble human potential.

If your self-confidence is at a low ebb, you can take the first step towards a more joyful and productive life by LOVING YOURSELF.  Forgive yourself for past transgressions, whether real or imagined.  Start each day with a clean slate.  The past is dead.  The future is a possibility based on how you think and what you chose to do in this very moment.

Think with hope in your heart.  Hopeful thoughts are positive, creative, loving thoughts.  Hopeful thoughts will fill you with possibilities.  They will fill you with confidence in yourself because they come from your true self, the real you.

There are always two roads stretching before us.  One road leads to freedom and joy.  The other one leads to misery and limitation.  Take the time, right now, to cast away doubt and fear.  Listen to your inner voice, the one that wants to set you free.

Self-confidence comes from being the person you truly are; your best self.  Trust yourself.  Love yourself.  Let the flame of love grow in your heart.  Seek the sources that support and nurture your truest and best self.  Self-confidence will bloom automatically, along with passion and a free enjoyment of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Indie Reader Interview


MICROMIUM EBOOK COVER

Advice from Indie Approved Author David Gittlin: “Learn the basics of creating conflict, memorable characters, and compelling plots from professional authors.”

Micromium: Clean Energy from Mars received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.

Following find an interview with author David Gittlin.

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

Micromium: Clean Energy from Mars.  The book was published March 6, 2018.

What’s the book’s first line?

“This is trial eighteen,” Kate Blackstone announced.  “Testing five one hundredths kilogram of enriched X435.”

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”.

The year is 2038. Earth’s biosphere is on the brink of destruction from the effects of global warming and pollution. The World Energy Council has awarded a lucrative contract to a major US corporation to mine a precious ore discovered by the first manned mission to land on Mars.  One kilo of Micromium can power a large city for a year without environmental side effects.  A few grains of the ore can fuel a car for a year or longer. Micromium promises to provide clean energy to a thirsty planet far into the future.

When two people die in a mining accident on Mars, the World Energy Council sends Commander Logan Marchant and a crack team of astronaut specialists to investigate.

Confronted with a lack of cooperation from the mining colonists, the investigation is further complicated by Logan’s growing attraction to the team’s beautiful and brainy geologist.  While tensions and tempers rise, Logan and the audit team make one shocking discovery after another, until the investigation leads them into mortal danger, and ultimately, to a surprising conclusion.

What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?

Micromium started with a dream I had of a glowing chunk of ore discovered by astronauts exploring a comet.  The idea of a pure, miraculous new energy source excited me.  I am somewhat surprised by the story that eventually developed from the idea.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?

I wrote the book for someone like you.  I want you to have a good time and I want to inform you.  It’s a good book.  You’ll like it.  Trust me.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character?  Who-real or fictional-would you say the character reminds you of?

Commander Logan Marchant has survived the tragic loss of his beloved mother in early childhood and an emotionally abusive relationship with his father.  Despite these hardships, he has ascended to high rank in the Air Force and the NASA space program.  When Logan meets Kate Blackstone, a brilliant and talented member of his audit team, he is forced to confront the deadly pit of darkness and emptiness that has threatened to consume him for as long as he can remember.

Logan reminds me of a number of successful people, Hollywood “A” list actors in particular, who suffer and often self-destruct as a result of a bottomless pit of loneliness, insecurity, hopelessness and despair.  Their suffering usually stems from the trauma of abuse and/or inadequate childhood nurturing.

If they made your book into a movie, who would you like to see play the main character(s)?

I’d like to see Chris Evans play Logan Marchant and Kate Beckinsale play Kate Blackstone.

When did you first decide to become an author?

I began writing short stories in my early forties.  I decided to become an author of long fiction when I turned fifty years old.  I figured (and still do) fiction writing was something I could do for the rest of my life.  My writing “arc” started with copy writing and all manner of marketing communications, to short stories, screenplays, and eventually novels.

Is this the first book you’ve written?

No.  My first novel, “Three Days to Darkness,” is a science fantasy.  My second novel, “Scarlet Ambrosia“, is a paranormal romance/thriller.

What do you do for work when you’re not writing?

Writing is my work.  I don’t have a real job anymore (thank God!).

How much time do you generally spend on your writing?

Two to four hours per day depending upon outside distractions and daily responsibilities.

What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?

The best part of being an Indie Author is not having a commercial publisher breathing down my neck with deadlines and suggestions as to what I should write next or rejecting a book proposal that I am enthusiastic about writing.  The hardest part is the difficulty of getting books in stores and making my books “discoverable.”

What’s a great piece of advice that you can share with fellow indie authors?

Learn the basics of creating compelling characters and plots from established, professional writers.  Learn how to create scenes packed with conflict and drama that move the story forward while capturing your reader’s attention.

Would you go traditional if a publisher came calling?  If so, why?

It would depend upon the publisher which came calling.  If a major publisher came forward, I’d have to go with them because I want my books to reach as many people as possible.  Also, having a traditional publisher helps enormously with media placement and reviews in widely read newspapers and magazines.

Is there something in particular that motivates you?

It’s fun to create and live in imaginary worlds populated by characters that become like a family to me.  Above and beyond this, I want to communicate a central theme that I am passionate about that I feel will have universal appeal.

Which book do you wish you could have written?

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

 

 

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Micromium Gets Some Love From Indie Reader


MICROMIUM WEB RES 2

Verdict: A fun science-fiction thriller with both unique and familiar concepts, MICROMIUM delivers a satisfying story with memorable characters you don’t mind
spending time alone with on a desolate planet, millions of miles from Earth.

MICROMIUM by David Gittlin is a delightful science-fiction adventure set in a near-future where a possible clean energy source from Mars has captured humanity’s hope. A team of scientists travel to the red planet to perform an audit of the privately run mining operation. The team does their job a little too well, uncovering a secret that the company was desperate to keep hidden.

The story that unfolds in this novella is very compelling and carries the reader along with a fast-paced tale that isn’t difficult to follow. The characters are at their most interesting when they are working to solve the central problem of the book and working together as a team. When major twists are thrown their way, readers are eager to follow along with the team wherever they’re headed. There is drama and excitement, and all of it serves the larger story.

The characters’ stories are full of gripping drama and very real stakes. In sci-fi, it can be difficult to cut your characters off from the help they might need in a technologically-advanced society. Stuck on a planet millions of miles from that help, where the very atmosphere is deadly, solves that problem in a very real way. Like other recent stories focused on the red planet, the threat of being stranded there is ever-present, adding another layer of stakes to an already high-tension story.

Like all good science fiction, MICROMIUM features both a specific narrative that is enthralling and a larger universe that seems ripe for future storytelling. Many writers fall prey to focusing more on the latter element than providing a resolution for the former that is both complete and satisfying. Gittlin does not. The story he sets out to tell is resolved very clearly, but how that ending unfolds opens the possibility for more stories about both these characters and the world in which they live. Readers are left wanting more, but not because the story that drew them into the book was left unfinished.

Joshua Patton–Indie Reader

 

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Wasn’t That a Time?


Wasn’t that a time?  Wasn’t that a time to try the souls of men?  Wasn’t that a terrible time?”

The lyrics from a sixties folk song made popular by Peter Paul and Mary reverberate through the decades and remain relevant today.

Unfortunately.

The lyrics to the folk song harken back to the war for American independence and major conflagrations waged since including World Wars I and II.

I recently bought an album by Tom Paxton.  Listening to his music on YouTube brought me back to the turbulent sixties and my love for the folk artists who became popular then.  Listening to these songs of social conscience and satire, love ballads, Children’s songs and others that reflect beautifully, poignantly and heartfully on our human experience, I am struck by the purity of this music.  It moves me deeply.  It penetrates my soul.  It inspires me to pick up my guitar and sing.

Looking back, I realize that these artists, these wandering troubadours, were great men and women.  Some of them are still alive and singing.  What a time the sixties were.  What noble visions for a better world, given voice by these passionate musicians, arose from the struggle.

Some of these visions have been realized.  We live in a better world today in some respects.  Yet we haven’t yet learned our lessons.  We live in a world where human beings still murder other human beings in the name of God.  We live in a world where a Russian President is intent upon restoring Russia to its Cold War boundaries by invading autonomous neighbor states.  We live in a world where hatred and intolerance still threaten our very existence.

When will they ever learn,” Mary Travers sings plaintively.  When, indeed, will we ever learn?

 

 

 

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Sneak Preview


Here’s an interview that will appear on my new blog tour later this week.  I figured you guys couldn’t wait so I’m posting it here.  Sales of Scarlet Ambrosia are so strong that we are actually running out of digital copies.  If you’ve been thinking about buying the book, I’d do it now.  You don’t want to get trampled in the Christmas rush.  If you’d like a paperback copy, let me know and I’ll put you on the waiting list for the second printing.  (We never did a first printing.)

Interview

Blood Is The Nectar of LifeWhere are you from?

Good question. Sometimes I wonder.  I was born in North Carolina, grew up in New Jersey, and I’ve lived in Florida for most of my adult life.

Tell us your latest news?

I just finished an outline for a science fiction novel that I feel fits together well and is believable if I can execute it properly.  It’s a great feeling to finish a rough draft and have it come out better than expected. The bad news is I’ll have to do an ungodly amount of research.

When and why did you begin writing?

I started writing short stories in high school.  I thought I was a genius destined to have a world-wide audience.  That hasn’t worked out exactly the way I expected.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

It happened about five years into my career when I started to work in marketing.  I noticed that writing was the only thing I liked about working.  I quit my day job about ten years ago and I still like to write, but not when it becomes a job.  I admire people who like to work.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I always dreamed of becoming a successful creative writer.  Going from short stories and copy writing to long fiction (novels) seemed like trying to jump the Grand Canyon on Schwinn racing bike.  Some daredevils can do it but I’ve never been one.  So I took an intermediate step and wrote a screenplay with two characters in mind that I thought would be fun to play with.  It was fun.  I wrote two more screenplays before summoning the guts to write a novel.  I turned the original screenplay into my first novel, “Three Days to Darkness.”

Do you have a specific writing style?

I try not to write with a style.  I just write the way I write and hope that someone else will find it interesting and entertaining.

How did you come up with the title?

It just came to me and it really works (I think). 

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

A year after writing Scarlet Ambrosia, I see the story through a different pair of eyes.  At the core of the novel is a young man’s struggle with the forces of good and evil within himself and the world around him.  The vampire archetype, I now realize, is a metaphor for my heart’s dream to realize its divine nature.  The supernatural powers and ramped up energy level Devon acquires as a vampire make him half-human and half-god, something like the mythological Greek gods.  He can choose to use his new powers for good or evil purposes.

I believe everyone has the potential to become a divinely human being.  I’ve been a spiritual seeker for most of my adult life.  Awakening isn’t easy, but I’ve found it’s worth the effort.  What happens for Devon is happening for me in a much subtler way without the super-human powers, but happily, minus the need to drink human blood.

How much of the book is realistic?

I think we have to be careful with the word “realistic” when we’re talking about a novel with paranormal romance thriller tendencies.  I always try to create fictional worlds that work logically if the reader accepts the genre conventions.  I build my characters with relatable motives, desires, and character traits.  Then the story has to evolve believably and the characters have to behave consistently with their basic traits as they grow and eventually make decisions and act in ways that surprise us, but at the same time, we can see where those actions and decisions came from.  I hope this is not too much information.

What books have most influenced your life most?

Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, had a powerful effect on me when I first read it in my late teens.  I’ve recently read a series of book on spiritual awakening by Saniel Bonder that have inspired me to open up to a higher purpose.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

I’d say Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) although I don’t write in his style.  His remarkable imagination and sense of humor inspire me.

What book are you reading now?

 I’ve just discovered a fine new thriller writer by the name of Jeff Abbott. His books are hard to put down and very good for the long plane rides.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

I’m going to read a new novel by Andy Weir titled “The Martian.”

What are your current projects?

I’m working on an outline for a sequel to Scarlet Ambrosia and I’m exploring a new idea for a science fiction novel as I mentioned above.

What would you like my readers to know?

The book trailer for Scarlet Ambrosia is fun and interesting.

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Words From A Far Are Not Enough


Mentoring Relationships

I enjoy reading words of inspiration as much as you probably do. I believe in the power of positive thinking. I love practicing the art of creative visualization. (My man Jordan Spieth, last week’s winner of the US Open Golf Championship, is the ultimate practitioner of creative visualization.)

Having said this, I have to say something more. You probably guessed I’d go on for a bit in this week’s blog. It takes more than a stranger’s words to affect lasting, positive change and success in any endeavor. It takes loving support from caring mentors. The ideal personification of this support comes from a set of caring, loving parents. Let’s take Jordan Spieth again as an example. He seems to have an ideal relationship with his loving, caring, teaching parents plus a monumental talent that have helped him to win two major golf titles in his young and promising career.

Jason Day, a young professional golfer from Australia, battled bravely through dizziness and nausea caused by vertigo to finish high in the US Open final standings. Jason, unlike his contemporary Spieth, did not have a strong connection with his parents while growing up. He had a troubled youth before meeting Colin Swatton at Kooralbyn, a golf-centric boarding school in south-east Queensland. Jason’s mother had to borrow money to send her son to Kooralbyn in a desperate attempt to do something about his delinquent behavior after his father died of stomach cancer when Jason was 12.

Colin Swatton was a golf instructor at Kooralbyn when he first met the head-strong, rebellious Day. Swatton’s non-confrontational style won Jason over. When Swatton moved on to teach at Hills International College, Day followed him. From there, Swatton became Day’s golf coach, mentor, close friend and full-time professional caddie. Jason Day is now one of the top-ranked golfers in the world with a family of his own and the admiration and affection of his peers.

After I’ve read a self-help book the inspiration and advice usually fade within forty-eight hours. Formulaic self-help exercises quickly become dry practices that yield little or lasting benefits. I picked up a few Wayne Dyer books a year ago and two things became immediately clear: (1) Wayne has a lot of nice things to say and (2) I could not practice or live what Dyer says if I tried for a million years.

So what does it take to move forward, achieve, and grow? To amplify what I said earlier, it takes a special personal relationship. It is a relationship that always accepts and honors who you are and where you are.  It can be a parental, mentoring, teaching, romantic, or friend to friend relationship. In the case of the first three, the relationship begins with the child, mentee, or student receiving more at first.  I’ve learned that over time the best of these relationships blossom into mutuality where both parties reap significant rewards. There’s an energy and information exchange in these relationships; call it love, call it caring and concern, call it chemistry. Whatever it is, it’s a radiant, magic elixir. It produces extraordinary human beings; some famous and others who live and work quietly outside of the limelight.

 

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Blog Tours


Scarlet AmbrosiaWhat is a blog tour? I’m not entirely sure, really, but I’m learning. To the best of my knowledge, a blog tour is made up of several “stops” at book review sites, all arranged by an online publicity service. Why am I writing about blog tours? I’m deeply fascinated by them and, purely by coincidence, my first Scarlet Ambrosia blog tour starts today.

A blog tour “stop” is actually a  website created by someone who loves to read and review self-published and traditionally (legacy) published books. Often, these independent book reviewers are authors themselves. They promote their own books as well as other books of interest to them. Typically, these independent book reviewers (IBRs) do not get paid to review books. They do it because it’s their passion.

From what I gather, there are three ways to promote your book on an IBR site: (1) a live or written interview (2) a book review or (3) a book spotlight. I don’t know what a book spotlight is but I’ll find out soon because there’s a “spotlight” stop on my tour. Blog tours can last for a few days or a few weeks with optional bells and whistles added depending upon the amount of cash the “emerging” author is willing to pony up.

According to my service provider (Sage’s Blog Tours) “Virtual blog tours allow authors to professionally promote their work without leaving the comforts of their home. Each tour stop enables authors to gain new readers and social media fans, while reaching a worldwide audience.”

As a great Jewish sage once said, “It should only happen.”

I want to thank my good buddy, Joe Canzano, for introducing me to blog tours and to Sage’s Blog Tours in particular. Joe is a talented writer, musician and marketing guy. I’m sure he’s good at a few other things too. Joe has just published his new novel, Magno Girl. If you like humor, action and romance check it out.

 

 

 

 

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Cosmic Orange Juice


auraTransmission. Everybody has one. Not your car transmission. It’s more like an energy signature.

The transmission of an awakened human being can be life transforming and life enhancing.  It is like cosmic orange juice–a vitamin for the soul, water for the seed, nectar for a heart thirsty for joy, wholeness, well-being and fulfillment.

In his book, Healing the Spirit/Matter Split, spiritual awakener Saniel Bonder writes:

“As [students] lose more conceptual, belief-based faith in their old pursuits, the pilot light of their intrinsic being becomes more accessible to the catalytic heat of our transmission. With a sufficient exposure to that energy, Being itself is then able to initiate the awakening and transformational process within the individual. The results are no less profound than that of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.”

One of the major obstacles to personal and spiritual growth is an inability to admit that we need something outside of oneselves to truly activate and accelerate the  process of self-realization. That something is hard to define and harder still to find.  We can admit that we need family, friends, a spouse or boy/girlfriend. We can accept the help of a trained mental health counselor when our limited internal and external resources are not enough to meet the difficulties life hurls at us. Yet it usually takes a rare form of desperation to seek the help and wisdom of a spiritual teacher.

It is only when everything else fails to satisfy that we are ready to go beyond the boundaries of convention and delve into the realm of the Spirit.

This point of extreme desperation is the beginning.  It may require a change from one teacher to another. The deep need for spiritual nourishment may begin with curiosity and deepen with time, perhaps lifetimes, until the time is right to dive deeply. You may audition innumerable teachers and philosophies until you walk into the right room.  Once you walk through that door, however, it soon becomes clear that what you hear and feel are what you are looking for. The transmission and the words fit like a glove—perfect for your needs. In time, you won’t hear everything that you want to hear, but that is another stage of the process.

I am grateful to have found in bountiful measure the cosmic orange juice that my heart craves. May it be so for you.

Blessings on your journey.

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The Golden Rope


golden connectionIn my last blog, I promised to write more about my residential retreat with Saniel and Linda Groves-Bonder at their home in Sonoma, California.  I left you and me hanging on the question whether I would have enough to talk about during my two-day retreat.  It turns out my fear was almost groundless.  I did run out of “personal stuff” to bring forward, but it didn’t matter.  We filled the space by working on two projects I’m doing with Saniel and Linda, and by simply being together in simple, every-day terms.

For instance, I volunteered to drive Saniel into Sonoma to do some errands, including buying cat food and six rather large sacks of bird seed.  Linda likes to feed the birds—every one of them, it seems, living in Sonoma County and beyond.  I can imagine word of mouth traveling at warp speed within the aviary community about delicious, free food.

Have you ever been inside a hay/grain/birdseed store?  Not this city slicker.  I had only been to the main “drags” in town.  Saniel helped me to experience Sonoma from a resident’s point-of-view.  It’s a quaint country town with a population of only 10,400.  Let me add, I gave myself a few extra days to explore some of the surrounding cities.  I found Sausalito to be the most interesting of these.  It’s a beautiful town overlooking the San Francisco Bay with lovely homes terraced into the hills and populated by artists, musicians, New-Age thinkers, and other adventuresome souls.  The more conventional residents were probably working in nearby  San Francisco somewhere across the Golden Gate Bridge.  The weather in northern California at this time of year can only be described as “glorious and majestic.”

Pardon my digression.

I become really happy around Saniel and Linda thanks to their powerful transmissions.  During our time together, we laughed, worked hard, and had lots of fun. There was a bonus event (for me) on Sunday called “a sitting” where Saniel and Linda hosted nine local people for a two-hour session of meditation and sharing.

After these two and a half days, I’m cooked.  I can’t say if I’m rare, medium, or well-done.  I just know I’m cooked and it’s a good thing.

While meditating at the Sunday morning sitting an image came to me: hands knitting golden threads into a golden rope.  The image suggested to me a certain perfect harmony that surrounded everything Saniel, Linda and I said and did.  There was another entity at work with us, weaving together the strands of our collective efforts into a golden rope.  Everything that happened just sort of fell into place, as if by magic. (I know what my next book project will be about.  It fell into my lap as lightly as a feather.)  The golden rope brought us closer together; more comfortable in our Being and knowing of one another—linked heart-to-heart, now and into the future.

 

 

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Just Blurt Out Whatever Comes Up


Say What's On Your MindI’m on a Jet Blue flight to San Francisco.  The purpose of my journey is a two-day “personal retreat” in Sonoma with my teachers, Saniel and Linda-Groves Bonder.  The retreat is part of an intensive ten-month course entitled “The White-Hot Yoga of the Heart.”

I’m concerned about filling the two days with Saniel and Linda with enough meaningful material to discuss.  It will be just the three of us.  No other students will be present, which is usually the case with the other “in person” retreats and the tele-course seminars.  I won’t be able to snooze or go off into my own little world.  There will be no opportunities to take “time off” during our sessions.  Gulp.

We’ll spend some time working on marketing projects that I’ve initiated and we’ll take a trip to the beach or the mountains.  We’ll do some meditation.  This still leaves a lot of time to fill in two days, including lunch and dinner.

We’ll talk about “my stuff,” or in more dignified terms, “my process.”  As I’ve grown on this path, I’ve become less inclined to talk about myself, yet some self-talk is necessary.  It’s a challenge to decide what is worth talking about and what isn’t.  I suppose it’s hard to know in advance what to talk about, but it makes sense to come ready with a few notes.  When push comes to shove, I think the shotgun approach is the best way to go: just blurt out whatever comes up on the topics I’ve come prepared to discuss.  The golden nuggets will spew forth in the midst of the dross.

I’ve learned to try to listen to feedback and not sit there thinking about what to say next.  For me, that’s easier said than done.

Lately, I’ve developed the habit of saying succinctly what little I have to say.    This new habit only exacerbates the problem of how to fill the time.  My teachers are experts in filling the awkward gaps in conversation.  Still, I feel responsible for coming to the retreat with enough material to fill the space.  I’m not exactly brimming over with material.

I’ll just have to be cool and see what happens.  I’ll fill you in on the flight home.

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A License to Steal


LICENSE TO STEAL007 has a license to kill.  Insurance companies have a license to steal.  Here’s a typical example.

My mother suffers from back pain mostly due to her advanced age.  Her doctor prescribed lidocaine patches for the pain.  The patches are expensive, almost five hundred dollars per box.  My mother’s Blue Cross Blue Shield supplemental insurance declined to cover the patches.  Why?  According to BCBS, the FDA says the proper diagnosis for prescribing this patch is diabetes.  What?  Did BCBS make that up?  Sounds like it.

What’s the real reason for squirming out the responsibility to cover the patch?  Answer: it’s too damn expensive.  So let’s find a reason not to cover it.

According to AARP, 200 million insurance claims are rejected every year.  Insurance companies try to spread their risk and keep as much money in their organization for as long as possible as they “adjudicate a claim.”  They use auditing software to sift through millions of submitted claims.  These programs are often referred to as “denial engines” because their intent is to lower the amount of claims paid out.

Can we chalk this thievery up to rising medical costs?  No.  Insurance companies pay only a fraction of what doctors and hospitals charge.  I can hear the insurance company executives laughing in their Dayton, Ohio offices (which are located a long way from my little Starbucks table in Aventura, Florida.)

We need insurance reform badly.  I’m not talking about Obamacare. To facilitate their criminal activities, insurance companies hire supermen lobbyists with some of the money they should be paying out in claims.  They buy yachts, homes, Bentleys, commercial real estate, investment securities and commodities with the rest of their profits. They win. We lose.

It’s time for the public to start suing insurance companies en masse. My daughter is preparing to become a prosecutor. When she reaches the Federal level, watch out Aetna, Blue Cross, and all you other bums!

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Something Different This Way Comes*


Visit The New Scarlet Ambrosia Site

A year after writing Scarlet Ambrosia, I see the story through a different pair of eyes.  At the core of the novel is a young man’s struggle with darkness and light.  The vampire archetype, I now realize, is a metaphor for my heart’s dream to realize its divine nature.  The supernatural powers and ramped up energy level Devon acquires as a vampire make him half-human and half-god, something like the mythological Greek gods.  He can choose to use his new powers for good or evil purposes.

*Blog title inspired by Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

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A Thrilling Tale of Two Hearts’ Desires


Blood Is The Nectar Of LifeJust in, this review of my new novel, Scarlet Ambrosia, now available on Amazon.com and coming soon to Barnes and Noble and iTunes.

“There’s a relatively new but rapidly expanding genre on the market called “urban fantasy,” that has as its older sibling the vampire novel, born of Anne Rice’s first book decades ago and now a genre in its own right. And then, there’s the classic vampire struggle between darkness and light—a struggle that immerses unwitting victims, vampires, and survivors in a world dominated by blood-lust.

“With so many vampire novels on the market today, one could wonder at the need for yet another; but Scarlet Ambrosia is a vampire story of a different color, seasoned not so much by the drama of blood-letting as by the more universal themes of self-discovery, human nature, and redemption. Ultimately this is what makes or breaks any genre; especially one such as the urban fantasy or vampire story, which too often tends to eschew self-examination in favor of high drama. And this is just one of the reasons why Scarlet Ambrosia stands out from the urban fantasy genre crowd.

“Sure, protagonist Devon’s outward battle is against an ancient evil vampire, Egon Schiller, but it’s also against himself. Devon is no stranger to the dark forces within him after years of therapy, but the darkness he’s confronting now proves far beyond his wildest dreams.

“Scarlet Ambrosia‘s inner light shines forth: a light that starts with Devon’s inner world and expands to embrace the wider concern of disappearances on the city streets.

“This part is predictable as Devon confronts an undercurrent of blood-lust and vampires in Miami’s underworld. What is less predictable is his foray into the drug world in search of evidence that will support an international investigation into one of Egon’s illegal activities, fostered by his encounter with the sly, alluring Mathilde, who harbors her own secret agenda.

“There’s a suggestion of romance between Devon and Mathilde that’s evident from their first encounter but which is suppressed in their growing focus on greater goals, which are developed as the quest progresses, as evidenced in Mathilde’s statement:

Vanderling fears what Schiller will do every day he roams the earth more than he fears what might happen to us if we fail.” “It’s ironic how Schiller’s existence can matter more in the scheme of things than yours or mine,” he said. “When we first met, I told you I could handle Egon. That was another lie to help you feel more secure in your new situation.

“There is acknowledgement of the forces of light and darkness that occasionally rise up, unfettered, to try to take over people and the world. And as Devon becomes involved in kidnapping and worse, he finds all facets of his life are called into question with a series of decisions that reach out to affect even his relationship with his beloved parents.

“As lies, secrecy, and murders build, Devon finds himself paying for the bad decisions of others, and must come to admit his own inner nature before he can make a proper decision on honing his skills for either greater good or evil.

“The web of lies builds and threatens to immerse everything Devon holds dear, eventually spilling over into something greater than he’s ever known.

“Scarlet Ambrosia is not your usual vampire story. Its intrigue, romance, and thriller writing are all wrapped up in a bigger picture. It offers much food for thought in the course of following Devon’s evolutionary process and decisions, and it’s not a light-hearted romp through a vampire’s realm, as so many such novels offer.

“As such, it’s especially recommended for readers seeking more depth and undercurrents of philosophy in their literary choices. How does a protagonist not become the evil he fights in the process of battle? The classic vampire struggle between darkness and light just assumed a new cloak of complexity here—and wears it well.”

Source: Midwest Book Review, Diane Donovan, Senior e-Book reviewer.

 

 

 

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The Ultimate Goal


The question is, how can I make the best use of my time?

I’ll bet you’ve asked yourself that question a few times. It used to come up for me once in a while. Now it pops up at least once a week. It’s because I have less time. I can hear my “consciousness clock” ticking louder and louder, like a woman who wants to bear children hears her biological clock ticking.

The child I want to bring into the world is my realization of consciousness. It’s time for me to awaken. I don’t even know what that means. I’ve read about it extensively, but it takes more than reading. It takes practice, focused intention, an activating, energetic transmission, and I don’t know what else. Maybe that last missing ingredient is “grace.” I don’t know what that is either.

Most of the people throughout history who have realized consciousness have done so with the help of a teacher or a series of teachers. Finding a teacher is usually a matter of sincere intention. When this intention reaches a “boiling point,” an appropriate teacher, or adept, enters the student’s life. It’s a phenomenon well documented by inspiring stories handed down through the ages.

And so it falls to me to take full advantage of the teachers and the community of fellow students who have recently come into my life.

Achieving any major goal is a tricky business. It helps enormously to have a carefully chosen team of mentors, teachers, and peer support to overcome the inevitable obstacles and downright perplexing passages along the way.

It is so easy for me to be distracted. For example, my mind constantly presents me with pressing issues that aren’t truly pressing, and concerns that have little importance in the big or the little scheme of things.

That’s where my team comes in. They help me to stay focused on what I consider to be the ultimate goal of human existence; awakening to the bliss of the infinite Self, and then learning how to integrate that consciousness with my individual self. It will take a small or large miracle, but when I get right down to it, there isn’t much else on my drawing board that really needs to get done.

AWAKEN CONSCIOUSNESS

 

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Highest and Best Use


There is a phrase I learned when I was a commercial real estate broker;  “the highest and best use of a property.”

As time passes, economic conditions and neighborhoods change. A commercial property originally built as a three-storey parking garage can have higher income potential and use if it is torn down and rebuilt as a high-rise office building.

I feel something analogous is happening to me as my awakening unfolds. The highest and best use of the property given to me, my body, is evolving into something that can be of more use to me in terms of enjoyment and of greater use to others.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m morphing into, but I’m positive it’s not a new X-Man character. I’m excited to find out who I become. In the meantime, I’m writing a few more blogs.

Photo: http://www.barnabyisright.com

realize consciousness

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I Am Who I Am*


divine humanI’m growing out of this idea of “becoming a better person.”

Now, it’s more like honing my skills or adding another tool to the toolbox to move forward in this process of becoming.

It seems to me that self-improvement is just a concept with no substance, no foundation in the field of Reality.

My daughter emailed me a list of 30 “Earth Shaking” self-help books. I said, “Danielle, I’ve read more self-help books than you have miles on your five year-old car. None of them helped, but this practice of Waking Down is transforming my life.”

I wasn’t trying to convert my daughter. I was just speaking my truth.

*I may have stolen the title of this blog from Popeye.

Photo: http://www.soulmirror.net

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To Publish or Not


Blood Is the Nectar of LifeTo publish or not to publish…That is the question.

Okay, I wrote the book. Then I re-wrote it five times. Now what? You’re probably thinking–You publish it, dummy. Well, it’s not that simple. It’s almost as big a commitment to self-publish a book as it is to write it. The hardest part is promotion. (See “Book Marketing 101“). To paraphrase, it’s a huge undertaking of time, energy and money. And the results almost never equal expectations, to put it mildly.

So I’m thinking, does the world really need another Vampire novel? Yes, it has a few unique elements, but will the world be a better place with my book in it.

I brought this burning question with me to a weekend retreat in Atlanta. On Sunday, late in the afternoon, an answer arrived. Actually, it was more of a solution than an answer. Write an author’s note and insert it on the last page of the book, a voice told me.

At the core of the novel is a young man’s struggle with darkness and light. The vampire archetype, it turns out, is a metaphor for the (my) heart’s dream to realize its Divine Nature. This is what gives the story “socially redeeming value,” I realized in perfect twenty-twenty hindsight.

So now, I feel more confident and motivated to publish the book. I expressed my thoughts differently in the author’s note to communicate them in more broadly digestible terms. Here’s what I wrote:

Since writing the first draft of “Scarlet Ambrosia,” I’ve gone through many changes.  Fortunately, most of them are for the better.  To put it succinctly, I’ve found a new process of self-discovery.  This new process has allowed me to see Devon Furst’s journey in the story from a new perspective.

Along with his battle against Egon Schiller, Devon’s other major conflict is the struggle between the forces of darkness and light within himself.  This conflict corresponded to my own struggle with these forces when I wrote the novel.  I’m not speaking of alcohol, drugs, or any other type of addiction here.  I’m speaking of my struggle to find peace, contentment, happiness, and a deeply felt purpose to my life.

As I write this, I’m happy to say my new “process” has taken me a long way towards experiencing what I’ve been longing to find for most of my adult life.  By the way, it has nothing to do with becoming a vampire.

 

 

 

 

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As Being Comes Alive


 

As Being comes alive in me…               

…Fear and anxiety dissipate

…I feel more peace

…Every action I take has meaning

…Heaviness yields to lightness

…Clarity, simplicity, and focus become second nature

…The future is uncertain yet full of possibilities for creativity and enjoyment

…I can make every breath serve a higher purpose

BEING COMES ALIVE

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It’s Everywhere


advertising proliferatiomAs my spiritual awakening deepens, I find my perception of the world around me is shifting. I am actually seeing, feeling, and hearing things differently and reacting to external stimuli differently. I am becoming more sensitive to whatever comes to me via these five senses.

This state-of-affairs is a double-edged sword. I can appreciate and enjoy with more gusto whatever strikes me as beautiful, interesting, noble, and inspiring. I am “feeling into” the simple pleasures of ordinary life and the warmth of close personal relationships.  In general, life is steaming forward in a more serene and graceful manner.

Then we have the other side of the sword.  Whatever irritates me, irritates me more. One of these irritants is advertising.

The fact that advertisements lie is not news to anyone.  Yet, as I experience more of what is real inside me, I can feel more deeply what is false or just plain stupid outside of me.

Advertising, like the human race, is multiplying at an alarming rate. I can’t pump gas anymore without TV ads talking to me. As we speak, ads are marching across the small television screen on the back of the airplane seat in front of me. Advertising is ubiquitous. (It means “everywhere”—a good word to learn if you haven’t already). Soon, I won’t be able to go to a public bathroom without ads talking to me.

And, as my awareness deepens, it becomes funny, even hilarious, and sad, to observe how advertising warps “what is” into “something else” in a calculated effort to plant a message in my subconscious that usually has little connection to what I want or truly need.

I am literally struck dumb by the brazenness and stupidity of most ads. In my humble opinion, the award for “Most Obnoxious and Irritating Ad of the Year” goes to Dos Equis beer for their “Most Interesting Man in the World” TV commercial. If you haven’t seen this ad, do yourself a favor and keep it that way. If you have seen it, then you know what I’m talking about. I’d also like to nominate this commercial to the award for “Most Demeaning Ad to Men and Women Ever Created.”

I’m not sure how we wound up on the subject of advertising, but while we’re at it, I’d like to leave you with a question: Would ads be more effective and less irritating if they told the truth and used birth control pills?

Photo: www.atomicplum.com

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Thumbs Up


Three Days to DarknessIt’s time to blast my own horn again.

The Midwest Book Review gave “Three Days to Darkness” a “Thumbs Up.” It’s encouraging when anyone other than my wife, daughter, mother-in-law, and best-friend Joe Canzano responds positively to my novel. (My mother read half the book. She liked the writing but not the story). 

Here’s the review by Diane Donovan, Mid-West Book Review eBook reviewer:

“The magic number is three. Three days to save the world. Three people to help Darius McPherson succeed. And three important life lessons to learn in the process.

The setting is a war being planned in Heaven itself by a reluctant warrior too young to be in Heaven in the first place, and the mission involves saving humanity from its own follies: no mean assignment for a young man killed in a drive-by shooting and suddenly tasked with saving the world.

Three Days to Darkness is about magic on many levels: the incongruity of Heaven and its purposes, the absurdities of Mankind, and the passionate concerns of a boy faced with apocalypse on a scale that moves beyond singular death and into the destruction of humanity itself.

As if this wasn’t enough, add demons and a road that literally leads to Hell (albeit paved with good intentions) and you have a fast-paced thriller novel that defies the usual genre definitions of fantasy, thriller or action piece and creeps into the realm of the impossible.

Three Days to Darkness darkens rapidly as Darius investigates company clinical trials, angel operatives, and deadly courses of action, spicing his approach with a cocky blend of offense and defense that presumes a degree of training he actually lacks: “Crooking his arm, Darius lifted his hand just below chin level with all five fingers splayed. He reminded himself of David Carradine as Caine in a “Kung Fu” TV episode. A more experienced angel operative would certainly prepare to attack with “way more” subtlety, he figured.”

Doses of humor are tossed in for effective comic relief as Darius questions why a Heaven governed by the concept of free will would intervene in the affairs of man – and why it would choose to do so for one event and not another: “Darius sat perfectly still for a while with his hands in his lap before speaking again. “I’m confused,” he said with a solemn expression. “On the one hand, you say everything that happens to a man is the result of free will, and on the other hand, you send me to Earth to stop a pill from going on the market. I don’t get it.” “Good observation, Darius. It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s more like a distinction. We have to pick our fights carefully. We try not to interfere with the operation of human free will. We sat by and watched in horror, for example, when Roman soldiers crucified Christ and terrorists flew commercial airliners into the Twin Towers. But there are times when we must take action, when a worldwide catastrophe could result from human failure, to put it in a shorthand manner. We intervened during the two world wars and the Cuban Missile crisis, to cite a few recent cases. We have also been involved when the psychological, moral or spiritual evolution of the species is at risk. A literal example of such a case was our influence on the outcome of the famous ‘Scopes Trial.’”

What lessons will Darius learn in his latest incarnation as a new angel? He has only three days to absorb them – or witness the end of all days.

Three Days to Darkness is a fast-paced, vivid read that incorporates all the elements of a superior mystery, thriller, and fantasy. It’s certainly not a portrait of a predictable afterlife, a conventional Heaven, or a banal post-life mission. All these facets merge to create a uniquely involving story

blending amusing moments with engrossing encounters between disparate forces; each with their own special interests and agendas.

And Darius? He’s in it for the ride, and takes readers along with him in an unexpected journey through Heaven, Hell, and beyond.”

 

 

 

 

 

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The Problems of This World Including Coffee Machines


coffee machineMy coffee maker died yesterday. It was six months old. It died of the mechanical equivalent of a grand mal seizure or a massive heart attack, I’m not exactly sure which applies. One thing is certain; the death was premature.

For the past two years, I’ve been trying to find an upscale coffee maker to replace my old, reliable, cheap Mr. Coffee. I am in search of a more aesthetically pleasing machine that makes better coffee. I’m not talking about a ridiculously priced espresso machine. I’m talking about a good-looking machine in the neighborhood of seventy-five dollars including tax that makes yummy coffee. I don’t think that’s asking too much, especially considering the premium coffee I use. If there’s anything my daughter and I agree upon, it’s the importance of good coffee in large quantities to start the day. For the record, my wife does not drink coffee.

There are not many coffee maker brands available in retail stores.  Besides Mr. Coffee, there are only three or four other major brands on sale in major retail chains When my search began, I thought these brands represented the “best of the best” using the theory of Darwinian Economics. So far, I’ve chosen two of these brands to try with disappointing results.

I bought a sixty-nine dollar Cuisinart with high hopes. Unfortunately, I chose the color white, which turned out to be a bitch to clean. Within a few months, I grew weary of the futile struggle to keep the Cuisinart free of ugly coffee stains. Two months later, the clock broke. I was actually happy this happened. It gave me an excuse to buy another coffee maker.

I bought another Cuisinart, this time in black. It broke down nine months later. To add insult to injury, I did not notice any real difference in the quality of the coffee it made, except when I replaced the charcoal filter. The better taste lasted two or three weeks, then it went back to “ho-hum” quality. I will never again buy anything made by Cuisinart.

Due to my stubborn preference for cone-shaped filters, I was left with only one viable alternative in my price and shape range. I bought a sexy-looking Krups coffee maker. I expected the German reputation for precision and quality products to hold true for their coffee machines. As reported above, my Krups machine expired after six months. I’m sure the damn thing was made by a tragically underpaid worker half a world away from Germany. What is this world coming to?

It occurs to me that we are faced with much larger problems than poorly made coffee makers. I would gladly buy a coffee maker every six months if it helped to solve the problems in Ukraine and Iraq, for starters.

Photo: http://www.nextnature.net

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Heart Seat Share


winding corridor to my heartThis past week I attended a seminar presented by Saniel Bonder titled “The Sun in Your Heart is Rising–Activating Your Embodied Awakening, Wholeness, and Unique Purpose.” Nine people attended the five-day event at Kripalu Yoga Center in western Massachusetts. One of the exercises in the seminar is called “Heart Seat Share.” Each person in the group speaks for seven minutes about what is going on in their lives and their process of awakening with time allotted for feedback from the teacher and group members. I decided to write my heart share down and read it to the group.

Here I am.  It’s my time to share.  Please excuse me if I repeat some of the things I said in the small group.  Wait a minute.  I really don’t want to repeat myself.  Why don’t I just check in with myself to see what’s happening.  I can go deeper if I write this all down.

I imagine myself walking down a long flight of steps in my throat. I arrive on the first floor of my chest cavity.*

Leaving the first floor stairwell, I encounter a winding corridor with abrupt ups and downs spaced randomly for no apparent reason, maybe just to keep things interesting.  Fortunately, I’m walking along a single corridor with no doorways or branches where I have to choose which way to go.  I just need to put one foot in front of the other and have faith that these very same feet are taking me to a place I want to go.

Finally, I see a doorway in the distance.  The overhead lighting becomes increasingly bright as I reach my destination.  It’s a plain, wooden door, not a wrought iron gate, no carvings in the wood or lettering, not even a white coat of paint.  I wonder why the door isn’t more elaborate.  I’d certainly make it so if I were writing a story.  But this is sharing.  I don’t have to impress anyone with my incredible powers of imagination.  I simply have to say how it is.

I grab the plain brass handle on the plain wooden door, turn it, and nothing happens.  The door is firmly locked.  I knock a few times and wait.  Seconds go by and then a full minute.  No response.

“Anybody home?” I call out.

Total silence. Not even the sound of air-conditioning.

“You know, I’ve come a long way to get here.  The least you can do is answer the door.”

I’ve traveled this way many times before.  I’ve come to realize this place is the door to my heart.  No big discovery, no unique metaphor, just the plain old door to my heart.

I’ve been told by numerous teachers that someone or something dwells deep within the recesses of that heart.  I’ve always believed this to be true.  I never doubted it.  Yet here I am, standing here like an idiot, all by myself.  I’ve heard some vague rumblings from time to time from the other side of the door.  I’ve had a few inklings, maybe even heard a few burblings, but that’s about it.

“This is getting embarrassing,” I say to the door.  “I’m here in front of the class, and I need to sound halfway intelligent.  Can you please give me some material to work with?”

“Like what?” a voice says from the other side of the door in a slightly irritated tone.

I almost fall down in place.  These two words are more than I’ve heard in thirty years.  It’s a clear, unmistakable, somewhat irritated voice.  I quickly regroup before the voice loses interest.  I must take advantage of this opportunity.  I have to get right to the point.  I imagine whoever is speaking to me is quite busy.  I’m not even going to imagine if it has a shape.  I can’t risk wasting its time.

“Okay,” I begin.  “Can you tell me why we haven’t met yet?”

“It’s a very long story all having to do with you that we can’t get into now because it would exceed your share time.”

“Okay, okay.  Well, then, can you tell me when it might be possible for us to meet.”

“I really can’t believe you haven’t figured this out yet,” the voice answers wearily.  “I suppose I’ll have to spell it out for you.”

There is a long pause before the voice speaks again.

“You aren’t ready to meet me.  And PUHLEASE, don’t ask me when you’ll be ready.

Another pause.

“You’ll be ready when you’re ready.”

“I feel like I’m getting ready,” I say like a little boy holding out a shiny apple for the teacher.

“Good.  Keep it up.  Let me give you one word of advice: Patience.  Everything is timing.  Have you heard that one?”

“Of course.”

“Then practice it.

I wait for more words of wisdom.  There are none forthcoming.

“Is that it?

“Yes, David. I must say you’re doing quite nicely.  THE SUN IS ACTUALLY RISING IN YOUR HEART.  Hang in there.  You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.”

*The first floor of my chest cavity is actually the highest floor in relation to my feet.  The floors numbers increase as you take each flight of stairs down, which is the opposite case in most buildings.

**The construction of an elevator is underway.  Please pardon our dust and debris while we make this a better living space for your comfort, convenience, and safety.

***Photo by http://www.thisarchitecture.com

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Some Advice I Need to Follow


Enthusiasm I wrote this seven years ago.  I just updated it.

I have found one of the best ways to keep my life interesting is to make a regular practice of doing things I haven’t done before.

If I am bored, apathetic, uninspired, or generally in a rut, it is usually because I have allowed myself to become a creature of habit.   I have found the best ways to renew enthusiasm include exposure to new ideas, a new hobby, continued education, or even a new career.

We are all born with a natural curiosity to explore the world around us and the world within ourselves.  This innate curiosity is often most evident in children.  As we grow older, there is a tendency to lose touch with this curiosity as survival needs, responsibilities, and pressures to conform literally choke the life out of our thirst to know more.

Nature hates a vacuum.  If I am not moving forward, I am automatically moving backward, even though it may seem I am standing still.  Within us, there is an urge to expand.  I must make a conscious choice to move forward; to expand.  If I don’t, the default choice of moving backward and becoming smaller will automatically be engaged.

It takes an act of will to grow, to reach my highest potential.  It takes courage, determination, and perseverance to blaze my own path. I must constantly remind myself the rewards far outweigh the risks.

I must always remember Self-realization and the achievement of personal freedom require discretion, discernment, and self-examination.  I am endowed with the creativity to shape my life into the reality I carry in my heart.  The path stretches before me.  I only have to take one step at a time.

How do I begin?  I listen to my heart.  I summon the courage to follow my heart, even if it tells me things that may make no sense at first.  I live with my heart on fire as much as possible.

I am very clear about what I want now.  I am Love.  I am Peace.  I am Joyful.  I am creative in a way that benefits others.  I am Radiant.  I am having fun.

The most important thing to remember is that I am not alone.  I make an effort to connect with my Divine Self every day.  I seek the things my heart yearns for, and then prepare to receive them.

 

 

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Book Marketing 101*


Buy eBook on AmazonComparatively speaking, writing a novel is the fun, easy, first step of the self-publishing process.  The second step, creating an attention-getting eBook cover (and optional print version cover) offers its own unique set of challenges.  The most intimidating undertaking, to most authors, is the third step—marketing.  The word strikes terror in their sensitive little hearts because many authors want as little to do as possible with the outside world.

The largest, most demoralizing marketing question is, “Where do I begin?” Guess what? I’m not going to tell you. There are about a billion articles and blogs on “How to Market Your Book.” Go read one.  In this blog, I plan to relate the first steps I’ve taken to escort my eBook into this over published world.

There are more than seven billion people alive, but how many of them read regularly?  Better yet, how many of them are looking for my book? Answer: None—Zero—Zilch—hence the need for marketing.  I carefully packed this thought away in a dark corner of my creative attic upon beginning the journey of writing a first novel.

As I neared the climactic scenes of my first draft, I noticed it became harder to write.  After a good deal of soul-searching and hand wringing, I diagnosed the problem.  My writer’s block stemmed from the subliminal understanding that it was almost time to say goodbye to my family of characters and their world.  That world had nearly ended, but it was far better than my ordinary life and the real world terrors of self-promotion.  Excuse me for this digression.  I couldn’t help it.

Flash forward 18 months.  I’ve uploaded the eBook to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and ibooks.  I’ve developed a Three Days to Darkness web site and a Facebook page.  After a year-long struggle, I’ve managed to place a hyperlinked image of my eBook in the right hand column of this blog (see “I Finally Did It”).

Now what? Gulp…

This is the seriously hard part—driving people to these outposts in cyberspace.

I started with an ad on Book Daily.  Your book is featured for one day per month on Book Daily’s E-Zine. Your first chapter is e-mailed to a combined audience of 25,000 readers (many of them authors).  They e-mail your chapter to a subset of readers by genre on three consecutive days during the month.  With each exposure, your book is piggy backed with five competitive books.  The ad costs $49.00 per month.  I sold two books the first month.  I cancelled the campaign.

I’m experimenting with ads on Facebook. You can create a campaign budget and target audience starting at $5 per ad.  So far, I’ve spent $35 on three ads. I’m having fun racking up tons of likes. I’m waiting for the book sales to come rolling in.

Next, I’m planning a press release on PR Web with a target audience of 30,000 journalists and bloggers. The idea is to drive traffic to my web sites and to generate publicity on major news sites and search engines. The campaign will cost $250. To do it right, I will need a book trailer video as part of the package. A simple video will cost another $250. I am using California Videowork to produce the video.

Wait a minute…This makes no sense.

I will have to sell at least a thousand digital copies of my book at $3.99 each to generate a profit (after deducting advertising and self-publishing expenses, plus a few hundred hours of my valuable time).

The odds of selling a thousand digital copies of my book are probably north of a zillion to one.

You know what?  Fuck the odds.

*I apologize for assaulting you with another image of “Three Days to Darkness.”  I posted it to get a hyperlinked image of the eBook on my Facebook page.  I can’t figure out another way to do it.  I think Facebook makes it impossible to hyperlink images on FB pages because they want you to spend money advertising.  I could be wrong about this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Finally Did It


 

my brain spoke to meI’m not ashamed to admit it took me nearly a year to figure out how to post the cover image of my e-book in the right hand column of this blog. I’m sure you will understand once I explain it.

First, though, please take a moment to shift your gaze slightly to the right. There it is—shining out into the world in all of its glory. Isn’t it beautiful?*

Technically, the cover image is a widget. Widgets are normally easy to use on WordPress.  As with every rule, there are exceptions. The image widget is one of them. Here’s why. Upon opening the image template, I found a box requesting a URL for my cover image. I immediately said to myself, oh no. I may have used harsher language, but it was so long ago I can’t remember.

I tried to imagine the JPG of my cover art floating on a URL somewhere out in cyberspace. How, I wondered, can I get my image up on a URL?

I tried creating a blog post featuring the cover art all by its lonesome. Didn’t work. I tried creating an interior blog page. Also didn’t work. I made many other attempts, each with the same result: total despair. Fate had sentenced my cover art to live in obscurity in the back pages of my blog. It would never be allowed to take up permanent residence in a prominent place on the front page.

It would have been so easy if the software engineers had designed the image widget with a box and a button to upload cover art. Let the software create the damn URL, not me. That job is way above my pay grade.

As I fumed about the situation for the hundredth time, an idea bulb went off in my head. (I know idea bulb is a cliché. My head hurts too much from trying to solve this mystery to come up with an original metaphor.)

Try using the media library in your dashboard to find the URL, my brain told me.

Okay, I replied.

In my media library, I found several URL’s for my cover art. I tried each of them. The widget template stubbornly refused to accept every one I entered. In a rage, I smashed my head several times on the wooden Starbucks bench and nearly strangled the person next to me. This is why my head hurts. No kidding.

Maybe the image you are using is too heavy, my brain suggested. Try using an image with less than 1.55 megabytes; dummy.

Right, good thinking.

I followed my brain’s advice. Finally, one of the URL’s worked. I can’t describe the ecstasy that came over me. I had finally done it. I had achieved one of the basic steps towards marketing a book online.

To put it mildly, writing a novel and self-publishing it is a long and interesting journey. The fun really starts, however, when it comes time to go out into the world to sell your book. Though I’ve just begun this process, I feel the urge coming on to write a blog about marketing. Stay tuned.

*By clicking on the cover image, you can go to my Amazon page. I’m not suggesting you try this. I just wanted to mention it in passing.

 

 

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American Airlines Odyssey


Grok in Fullness

Grok in Fullness

I arrived at Chicago O’Hare International Airport feeling relaxed and in good spirits after a weekend seminar held in the small town of Elburn, Illinois. In light, mid-morning traffic, I had negotiated the trip from Elburn to O’Hare without making one wrong turn, thanks to my able navigator, Siri.

I strode across the Avis parking lot reflecting on what I had learned at the Human Sun Institute seminar.  I looked forward to a few hours of reading, novel editing, and eating a leisurely lunch before my plane took off. All I had to do was walk up to the ticket counter to collect my boarding pass.

When purchasing my airline tickets online, I could not resist the option of upgrading my return flight to first class for only $149.00. In addition to the enjoyable routine I planned before boarding, I had the comfort and luxury of a non-stop, first class flight back to Fort Lauderdale to contemplate as well.

Upon entering the American Airlines terminal, I noticed immediately how tired the ticket counter attendant looked. I figured she had begun her workday at some obscene, early morning hour. I was determined to treat her nicely. I made a few cheerful comments, gave her my flight information, and presented my ID. Her fingers flew across the keyboard. I stood there smiling, radiating all sorts of peace and joy.

The attendant looked up from her keyboard and said calmly, “I’m sorry, Mr. Gittlin, your flight has been cancelled.”

NBA sportscaster Jeff Van Gundy uses a phrase that I love. He did not coin the phrase, but Jeff has a unique way of saying it that never fails to amuse me.

Standing at the American Airlines ticket counter, I suddenly became Jeff Van Gundy reacting to the bad foul call of a referee.

“Are you kidding me,” I said to the attendant.

With my reservation, I had given my email address and cell phone number to the American Airlines computer. The computer, in response, did not email, text, or call me about the flight cancellation. Instead, it booked me on a non-stop coach flight back to Fort Lauderdale scheduled for takeoff seven hours later.

When I asked the ticket attendant for a refund on the first class part of my ticket, she informed me there was no refund since I had upgraded the return flight from an economy fare on the first half of my trip.

“But I bought trip insurance,” I said.

“We have nothing to do with that,” she replied. “You’ll have to go to the web site of the trip insurance provider to see if they will give you a refund.”

Thanks mainly to the peace circulating in my body from the weekend seminar I did not hate the ticket attendant. I did not scream or berate the poor woman. She was only doing her job. She had no control over how badly her job was screwing me.

After a minute of researching alternative flights, we settled on a flight to Fort Lauderdale with a stop in Dallas. I would arrive in Fort Lauderdale two hours earlier but three hours later than the cancelled flight. Whoopee! The attendant upgraded the flight from Dallas to first class, although the airline was not required technically to do so. Thank heaven for small favors.

I felt relieved until I learned the flight to Dallas was boarding in ten minutes. I had all of ten minutes to go through TSA and find my gate in another terminal.

While going through the TSA ordeal, I began to wonder about the cosmic significance of this abrupt change in flight plans. Surely, I was meant to deliver or receive some important message from a fellow passenger.

Encouraged by this thought, I went to pick up my carry-on bag. A TSA officer grabbed it and informed me he had to search it. This had never happened to me in forty years of infrequent flying.

I feared the search had something to do with the raft of prescription drugs I was carrying. It turned out to be a problem with my shaving cream and hair gel. I have never been busted before for these items in my carry-on, but whatever, at least I wasn’t going to jail.

With bags re-packed, I set out in search of terminal “C.” Following the signs, I found the Sky Lift to the terminal. I noticed the steps on the escalator were frozen. The elevator wasn’t working too well either. I’m not making this up, people. All of this stuff happened. It all had to be part of a grand plan for my betterment and the betterment of Mankind. I believed in this deeply.

I struggled up the frozen escalator steps lugging my laptop and carry-on bag. The woman in front of me was breathing so hard I thought she was having a heart attack. Somehow, we both made it to the top without passing out.

After boarding the flight to Dallas, I settled into the very last seat in the bowels of the coach cabin. The guy next to me looked just like a Waking Down in Mutuality mentor I had met in February at a seminar in Atlanta. I made this comment to him. He politely confirmed he was not the person I had in mind. I used the opening to talk about doppelgängers and the seminar I had just attended. My fellow passenger showed zero interest, again politely, plugged his iPhone earplugs in, and settled back to listen to music for the rest of the trip.

Okay, so nothing momentous happened on the first leg of the trip. The cosmic implications of these highly unusual events would surely kick in on the second leg of the journey.

While waiting at the gate for the flight to Fort Lauderdale, I noticed someone who looked like Lexi Thompson. Lexi is 18 years old and one of the best women golfers in the world. She lives in Florida. The woman sitting nearby looked exactly like her mother. I had seen a close up of Lexi’s mother and father on TV. Then, a slim man in his early thirties sat next to the mother. I recognized him as Lexi’s older brother Nicholas, a PGA professional golfer. This confirmed the presence of the famous Thompson clan.

I had to figure out what having Lexi Thompson and family on my flight meant—in the cosmic sense, of course. Okay, I thought, they’ll be travelling in first class like me. I’ll more than likely be sitting next to one of them.  I will have an auspicious conversation with one of them.

Instead of the famous Thompsons, I sat next to a rotund Wal-Mart salesperson from Arkansas. She showed little interest in conversing with me, preferring instead to commune with her iPad and iPhone on the journey home.

Desperate for answers, I asked the steward if American cancelled flights regularly. I had not flown American in ages. This was the first time I had ever had a flight cancelled.

The steward informed me that flights can be cancelled if there is not enough freight in the cargo hold to make the flight profitable. He defined freight as bodies in caskets, mail, or any commercial product paid for by a vendor. He explained that American had lost its contract with the US Mail. This had put a large dent in American’s freight profit center.

The steward then revealed this startling fact: The amount of commercial freight on board a commercial jetliner determines the profitability of a flight. Passengers do not determine profitability. We exist to absorb the cost of overhead including fuel and payroll.

I thanked the steward for the wisdom he had generously imparted. I proceeded to contemplate the Parable of the Airline Freight for several minutes.

In a flash of enlightenment, the purpose of my American Airlines Odyssey struck me.

OMG!!!

The events of the trip suddenly made perfect sense. I groked in fullness the hidden meaning:

I am not as important as I think I am.

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The “N” Word


I cannot understand why African-Americans use the “N” word as a term of endearment. Let me re-phrase that—I understand but I don’t understand.

The convention says blacks can use the word with other blacks.  Black artists can use the word in their work—especially in the music industry. White people cannot use the word publicly or in the presence of blacks. I’m fine with the last part. I just don’t get the first part.

I am Jewish. According to the above logic, I’m permitted to use the word “Kike.” In case you were born yesterday, “Kike” is a hate word used against Jewish people in the same way the “N” word is used against black people. Now, here’s the interesting thing. Jewish people are not in the habit of affectionately calling each other a “Kike.” To Jews, the word conjures up bitter memories of centuries of persecution. Jews have been bloodied and beaten to death by angry mobs. Jews have been herded into ghettos. They have been burned in ovens. They have been treated as second class citizens.

Like African-Americans, Jews know too well the meaning of the word oppression. Jews, however, do not use a hate word to symbolize their freedom from oppression.

I do not mean to imply here that Jews are superior to blacks in any way. My point is, in my opinion, the common use of the “N” word by blacks, regardless of the context, causes collateral, involuntary, psychological damage on subtle, unconscious levels. The practice also keeps the burning embers of hatred and bigotry glowing simply by the mere repetition of the word. I strongly feel this holds true for any minority group that promotes a hate word into a term of endearment, or any other use.

I can’t imagine why a person would willingly associate himself or herself with a demeaning, destructive word. Is this an effective way to promote self-confidence and self-empowerment?

This is a free country. Anyone can do what they want within the law. I’m just saying, I feel African-Americans do themselves a disservice with their use of the “N” word.

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Hugging the Buddha


awakeningThe title of this blog is misleading. I wrote it to get your attention. If you feel manipulated, PLEASE DO NOT STOP reading. I promise to make this interesting.

The man who became the Buddha lived and died 2500 years ago. Since there was only one Buddha, it is entirely impossible for me to have ever hugged him. I also admit that I’ve never hugged the Buddha in a dream, so that pretty much takes care of Buddha-hugging in my case. I’m also under the impression that the Buddha did not make a practice of hugging his disciples, but who knows?*

I did have a chance recently to hug Saniel Bonder, the founder of Waking Down in Mutuality. Saniel makes absolutely no claim to being the next incarnation of the Buddha. He is not a Buddhist, nor is Waking Down a Buddhist teaching. Saniel does not refer to himself as a Guru. He calls himself an “adept,” someone who has achieved proficiency in a particular field or endeavor. I don’t want to say anything more about what Saniel is or isn’t. He speaks for himself eloquently, powerfully, and courageously in his books and in person.

I attended my first seminar with Saniel this past weekend. The first thing that struck me was the intimate setting. About twenty people sat in the cozy living room of a two-story house in the suburbs of Atlanta. I sat only a few feet away from Saniel and his wife, Linda Groves Bonder, a Senior Teacher in the Waking Down in Mutuality organization.

I mention the setting and my proximity to Saniel and Linda, the seminar leaders, because it all contrasted sharply to the decades I spent sitting in large auditoriums filled with hundreds or thousands of people, listening to a Guru on the stage. For many years, I felt these experiences were impersonal, but I could not find a suitable alternative.

It appears I have found that alternative. My Waking Down experience has been warm and highly personal, from the first moment I walked into a WDM meet up group in Miami, to the Human Sun seminar I attended in Atlanta.

In his book, Healing the Spirit/Matter Split, Saniel refers to the Waking Down work as “aspirant-centered.”  I came to the Atlanta seminar to put Saniel’s words to the test. I have to say that Saniel, Linda, and the three attending WDM mentors passed. They answered questions and commented on everyone’s sharing with compassion, love, deep insight, and a profound commitment.

I came to the seminar thirsty. My head buzzed with questions about the teaching. I left filled with precious feelings of relief, love, peace and joy. I made some new friends. The only question that remained in my head for the moment was, “Why did it take me so long to find this?”

*I do not intend, in any way, to disrespect or denigrate the Buddha, Buddhism, Buddhists, or Buddhist teachings. I’m just having a little fun here.

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A New Way of Going


Stone PathwayI have always liked the saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

In my life, this phenomenon is occurring for the second time, and not a moment too soon. For the past few months, I’ve been investigating, in my own words, a new way of going. I won’t divulge the name of this “new way” because I’m still in the investigative stage. I can report, however, this new way has filled me with hope and a renewed sense of adventure.

This feeling is not merely the initial burst of inspiration that comes at the beginning of a new project or program of study. It seems to come from a much deeper place, as confirmed by my research.

For a while there, the only objects I could see on the horizon were old age and sickness. This bleak view originated from nagging feelings of emptiness and lack of purpose. I had lost what the robots in the movie “The Transformers” refer to as their “Prime Directive.”

For many years, I have been on a path that I assumed would eventually lead to “Self-Realization.” It became increasingly clear to me that the path I was on was never going to get me where I wanted to go. I had lost touch with my Prime Directive. I felt alone, abandoned, and a failure. During this time, I experimented with a number of groups and teachers. There are hundreds of  new age spiritual groups here in South Florida. Most of them seemed ridiculous to me. A few resonated with me. I made the effort to try the ones that spoke to my heart.

Self-Realization is a somewhat bulky term that many people might think of as an impossible goal set by foolish, pompous, self-deluded people who refuse to face life. Without doubt, the path to this goal is fraught with danger and pitfalls. The good news is that, according to what I’ve been reading, there is a distinct shift underway in the “achievability” of this goal. The goal is no longer reserved for saints, mystics, and yogis who go to extreme lengths to “awaken.” Today, the goal is available to ordinary people, like me, who lead ordinary, worldly lives.

What is truly remarkable is that dozens of people walking this “new way of going” have already awakened. I have met one such person. I recently read a book written by another person who is now a senior teacher of this way. I found her book both interesting and convincing.

“Self-Realization” or “Awakening,” if you are not familiar with the process, involves the discovery of the divine within, or infinite consciousness. Words cannot adequately describe the awakening experience. One way to approximate it is the uncovering of the essential YOU, not temporarily, but permanently, or at least as long as YOU are in the body.  This new teaching I am investigating does not require the practitioner to deny his or her human nature or personality traits. It is a path of self-acceptance. Ultimately, this method facilitates a harmonious coexistence and integration with the individual ego identity.

Certainly, no worthwhile goal is easy to achieve. This way requires work, sincerity and persistence, like anything else. The payoff, however, is a deep sense of happiness, peace, love, and well-being. I’m feeling the first faint rays of this inner sun already.

I’ll be going to Atlanta at the beginning of February for a two-day intensive. I guess you could call it the acid test. Hopefully, I’ll have positive news to bring back.

My father once said to me, “Son, don’t kid yourself. You’re going the way of all flesh.” Well Dad, my body may be going that way, but not me. I will not go quietly into that dark night.

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Why Is Hazing Tolerated?


Think about what it takes to become an NFL draft pick. A young man must be a standout player in high school to make the team at a college or university with a nationally recognized football program. The same young man must play at a high level at his college or university, establish a reputation as a man of character, and avoid a career-ending injury. Talent, discipline, perseverance, hard work and luck are just a few of the necessary ingredients for success.

After college, the young man goes through the rigors of training for the scouting combine and an extensive vetting process by NFL teams. The next excruciating step is the NFL draft, where the dreams and expectations of deserving, hardworking young men are regularly shredded like paper documents by the blades of NFL football reality.

Finally, consider that only first and second round draft picks receive guaranteed contracts and a spot on the fifty-three man NFL team roster. The other draftees, taken in the third through seventh rounds, must compete with established players possessing competitive instincts and talent honed to such a high level that they are nothing less than freaks of nature.

All of the foregoing begs the question that has nagged me since the Ritchie Incognito and Jonathan Martin story broke in the news: Why must men who have endured so much be subjected to rookie hazing? What do these men, who have overcome staggering odds and every kind of adversity, have left to prove in terms of their talent and manhood?

The answer is nothing.

Why does rookie hazing exist? It seems to me, in this enlightened age, there is no place for this practice. To call rookie hazing a rite of passage is an unfortunate misnomer. Rookie NFL players pass through a demanding gauntlet so severe that only a tiny percentage of their peers pass the test.

Rookie hazing exists for the purpose of entertaining veteran players, pure and simple. It is a perk for older players who have survived, for however short or long, in the NFL. The problem with this is that it comes at the expense of young men who have already paid a very high price to ascend to the perilous and exalted status of NFL team player. It is grossly unfair to demean these men with the immature and sometimes cruel practices that come under the heading of rookie hazing.

NFL players justify the practice as “good fun” and even “therapy” that helps to defuse tension in training camp. I’m sure the players doing the hazing are having fun, but what about the rookies? They might be smiling, but it’s only because they have to. And, there is the ever lurking danger that this good fun and therapy will cross the line into harmful and damaging behavior.

Does hazing help the rookies and older players bond? I doubt it. I can’t see how hazing can effectively build team chemistry. It can certainly build counter-productive resentment in the rookie players.

I am reminded of the Miami Heat basketball team, where veteran players regularly mentor and encourage younger players to build their skills, work habits, and character. This is a product of team culture. It is something we should see much more of in the NFL.

I say rookie hazing should be banned by the NFL, or anywhere it exists. In professional sports, the penalties should be fines and suspensions.

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Don’t Panic*


At 4:30 am last night, I began praying for the light of reason to switch on inside the heads of our congressional leaders. To be fair, my prayers applied specifically to a small, right wing segment of the Republican Party. I’m sure these individuals are acting out of what they consider their “social conscience.” I choose to call it something else: selfishness and irresponsibility.

EMERGENCY STOPJust in case you’ve been glued to re-runs of “Grey’s Anatomy” for the past month instead of the national news, the issue that has caused our congressional leaders to tear each other into little pieces and culminate in an unthinkable government shutdown is the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as “Obamacare.”

I do not “have it in” for Republicans because I happen to be one myself. In addition, I am not an advocate of “Obamacare.” In my situation, the only “benefits” I stand to reap from the law are higher insurance premiums and a longer wait to see my doctor. But there are a couple of things I realize and accept that the “Tea Party” Republicans choose to conveniently ignore. Obamacare is now the law of the land. It was passed by both houses of Congress and ratified by the Supreme Court. I’m not sure if the majority of citizens in this country favor the law, but certainly our elected leaders favor it. The last time I checked, the majority rules in a Democracy, and we are bound to follow the laws of the land.

In time, I hope amendments to the law will be passed that will allow everyone in this country to live with the Affordable Care Act in peace. Perhaps a future administration will dismantle the law if we find it does more harm than good. Whatever the case, we have no reason to panic. Life will go on. Affordable Care will live or die on its own merit or lack thereof.

Instead, we have a few people holding the government hostage and causing untold suffering to hundreds of thousands of people in addition to disrupting financial markets and an economy finally showing signs of life.

In 1995, a political party impasse caused a government shutdown. It cost taxpayers 1.4 billion dollars to stop and restart the engine. Here are a few examples of people affected by the shutdown, paraphrased from an article by Fred Grimm in the October 1, 2013 edition of the Miami Herald.

Somewhere between 800,000 and a million government employees cannot go to work. Nine million mothers-in-need will be denied supplemental food and nutritional education for their infants and children. The shutdown disrupts research by the National Institutes of Health and by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Environmental Protection Agency will go dark. 1.1 million Head Start kids are affected adversely—and on and on.

The Tea Party faction of the Republican Party will no doubt view the plight of people directly affected by the government shutdown as collateral damage in their holy war against the “Affordable Care Act.” For these compassionate souls, I pray the law of Karma will kick in to apply swift and sure payback.

* Although “Don’t Panic” is a public domain phrase, I’d like to give the brilliant writer Douglas Adams credit for his use of the phrase as advice for space travelers in his novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

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Whispers From My Soul


The Way to Heaven

While opening a dialogue with my inner divine being, these words came to mind:

Peace

Power

Persistence

Presence

Poise

Purpose

Potential

Patience

Plenty

Positive

Perspective

My feet are firmly set on a path of divine realization.

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Winning the Battle of Self or “Movin’ On Up”


BLUE SPACE LIGHTHere’s a mind-blowing thought: We are born into this life with a predisposition towards happiness or unhappiness.

Call it a happiness quotient. It can also be described as a mindset, a unique calibration on the happiness scale embedded in the foundation of a human personality. This mindset is usually affected positively or negatively in early development by parenting, external circumstances, and life experiences.

Recently, I’ve discovered, or perhaps admitted to myself, that my internal atomic clock is set in an uncomfortable sector of the happiness scale. Let’s call it a bad neighborhood and be done with it. I don’t want to dwell on where I’m at or how I got there. Suffice it to say I won’t be spending precious time or disposable income on past-life regression therapy.The past, as a wise man said, is dead. I’m going to re-set my internal clock and, like George Jefferson, “move on up” to a better neighborhood on the happiness scale.

I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to achieve this minor miracle, but I have a reasonably good plan that I’ve been working on consciously and unconsciously for a while. This past weekend, the elements of the plan came together as if by magic, and not a moment too soon.

What I’ll be doing is sort of like breaking down a plaster statue and recasting it into a far more pleasing figure. I intend to transform my inner weather from dark and cloudy into radiant sunshine. It’s entirely possible with the right elements in place. Goodbye self-limiting thoughts and beliefs.  Hello person I always wanted to be.

I feel strongly that anything can be accomplished with a combination of will power, exposure to uplifting and self-empowering thoughts, and a loving source of spiritual energy.

This past weekend, I attended on full day seminar (led by Lee Ann Somers) designed to introduce participants to the Seven Healing Rays for the purpose of self-development. This will be a seven month program. I’m looking forward to every minute. Okay, I know that “the Seven Healing Rays” sounds like something straight out of “The New Age Nut Cracker Suite.” I ask that you bear with me for a few more paragraphs.

The Seven Rays represent seven unique aspects of divine energy. Each ray is a different color and embodies specific divine qualities. That’s all I want to say about the rays for now, mainly because I’ve just begun the course and don’t know much more, and additional information is beside the point. What I want to say is that the key component to the model for winning the battle of self is spiritual energy. The right energy at the right time facilitated by the right teacher unlocks human potential.  You can attract all of this “right stuff” by knowing what you want, asking for it, and keeping an open mind as to the package it arrives in.

I wrote in an earlier blog that I have grown tired of going in circles, chasing my tail. I believe this past weekend marks the beginning of an exciting journey that I want to share with you. Stay tuned.

PS—I’ve been listening to exceptional, empowering, guided meditations by Kelly Howell. You can listen to her stuff for free on YouTube.

FLOWER WITH SUN

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The Price of Printing or Planned Disappearance


Stairway to Printer Heaven

Stairway to Printer Heaven

My printer passed away last night. The print head had a massive heart attack. I performed several emergency medical procedures prescribed by my HP Solutions Center–all to no avail. Funeral services will be announced.

A helpful store clerk at Office Depot informed me that printheads often break within two to three years. “It costs nearly as much to repair them as it does to buy a new printer,” he added, smiling. I did not argue with the man. Some critcal part of every printer I have ever owned has broken down within this time-frame, and it never makes economic sense to replace the part.

Yet, I continue to buy HP printers, despite their limited life-span and the outrageous prices of the ink they voraciously consume. HP is a market leader, and I follow the herd because I shudder to think what catastrophes await the buyers of lesser brands.

Most printers displayed on major retail shelves are made in horrid factories by underpaid workers somewhere in China. I tell myself the HP factories are less horrid and produce better products than the others. At least I know what I’m getting when I buy an HP printer–a short but trouble free life span and high quality inks at unconscionable prices.

My new printer cost $149.00 (on sale) and the new ink cartridges cost $93.99.  At the risk of sounding unsympathetic and disrespectful to the dead, my old printer expired with about $50 worth of unused ink. My new printer is the updated version of the old printer. Naturally, the ink cartridges are not transferable. I had no choice except to buy new ink. This brings the total cost of my new printer to $292.99, not including sales tax.

As we all know, it’s not the cost of the printer that hurts. It’s the cost of the inks. I find that my color ink cartridges last about three months each, and the double size black cartridge lasts about six months. I am convinced the life span of HP ink is controlled by a secret technology kept ingeniously under wraps by the manufacturer.

My cartridges need frequent replacement regardless of the steps I take to economize on ink. If I avoid printing in color, my color cartridges still need to be replaced. The only explanation I have for this is that the secret HP technology enables the color cartridges to combine mysteriously to print in black.

My New Printer

My New Printer

If I cut down on using my printer, it makes no difference. In this case, the secret technology causes the ink in the cartridges to evaporate at a predetermined rate, thereby ensuring a three-month replacement cycle.

Adding to my consternation, it took me three hours to set up the new printer. This included a few breaks to watch my beloved New York Giants lose in the last two minutes to the Dallas Cowboys. This did not help to elevate my mood.

It used to be easy to set up a printer. There was basically one way to install the damned thing, and it was easy to follow the idiot-proof instructions. Now, there are several options at every step of the process requiring an advanced degree in engineering to decipher. On one of the setup screens, none of the options fit my setup criteria. I finally decided to go on to the next step without checking any of the boxes. I expected to see an error message pop up, but lo and behold, nothing happened. I had made the right choice, that is–no choice. I had guessed right, but I ask you, doesn’t that sound a bit counter-intuitive?

At some point, we will no longer need printers, paper, or ink.  Documents and images will fly through the air directly into our heads. Until that time comes, however, I could use a little advice on the subject.

“Stairway to Heaven” image by Sigurd Decroos / www.cobrasoft.be

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Giving Up to Get Ahead


Sunset Over MexicoEvery so often, it’s not such a bad idea to give up.

The word I really want to use is surrender, but I’m not really sure what that word means in the truest sense. I’m going to barge right ahead and use it anyway.

Once every ten years or so, I get to the point where I just want to surrender. I feel like I have done everything that can be done to accomplish my goals, and nothing seems to be happening. The feeling usually lasts for anywhere between three minutes and three days.

The funny thing is I find that I actually get somewhere when I reach this point. In one sense, it’s a scary place, a place of desperation, a feeling of being at the end of my rope. But I’ve found it can be an auspicious place. I wrote this yesterday on the subject (in less than three minutes).

I want to go higher, but don’t know how. It seems like I’ve tried everything, only to fall, crashing back to earth, unkindly.

I think, however, I’ve been this way before. When it seems like I have looked in every crevice and corner, turned over every stone, in search of the faintest glimmer of light—the light is usually not very far away.

There comes a time when Grace is met by human effort. I know that Grace will have to come sooner, rather than later, because I have been relentless in my pursuit of peace, joy, and love. Life becomes much easier when you know what you want.

One of the good things about advancing age is that it makes it easier to focus on priorities. I mean real priorities—the meaningful stuff, because the clock is ticking, louder and louder. There simply isn’t time to screw around with trivialities and false values. I’m tired of the tricks my mind plays on me. I’m tired of chasing my tail. I’m tired of being lost in the fun house of illusion.

I want the real thing—the beauty within my heart—and I know that it can’t be far away. I’ve been everywhere, done everything, made a fool of myself, and accomplished a few things. You can’t elude me much longer, dear Friend.

Photo Credits: “Sunset Over Mexico” by Bettina Schwehn / uniqraphy , Illusion Photo by Mateusz Stachowski

Lost in the Fun House of Illusion

Lost in the Fun House of Illusion

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Same Old Strategy In Syria


Credit: Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Credit: Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Why is President Obama determined to attack Syria when the rest of the world is reluctant to do so?

It is troubling that our President is hell-bent on making the same mistake that previous administrations have made by involving the United States in situations where we don’t belong. It is ironic that this President promised to do business differently than his predecessors when he first ran for office.

Our country no longer wields the economic might it once did in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. This unfortunate fact of life gives us less of a margin for error than we have enjoyed in the past. We can’t afford to squander precious resources on a limited strike against Syria. Many lawmakers in the Congress and Senate believe a unilateral missile attack by the U.S. will have little or no effect aside from killing more innocent people.

We have many social issues in America crying out for resources and constructive solutions. The last thing we need is an ill-conceived, destructive attempt to impose our will in Syria.

Referring to Asad’s attack against his own people, Obama recently said, “It makes a mockery of the global prohibition of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria’s borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.”

This paranoia-laden statement echoes similar statements made by past administrations to justify military intervention abroad. As in the past, Obama’s statement conveniently ignores or twists the facts. Asad has his hands full fighting against his own people. The chances of Asad attacking his neighbors are practically nil. As far as our national security is concerned, what do you think a U.S. attack on an Arab country will do to further endear us to terrorist groups?  It will only serve to stoke the fires of their hatred towards this country, of course. An attack against Syria will only make the world a more dangerous place for U. S. Citizens.

It is easy to see that there is no real justification for the U.S. to take it upon itself to launch missiles into Syria. I view such an attack as an act of senseless violence. We the people are responsible for peace on earth, not the government. I intend to let my representatives in the Senate and Congress know how I feel. Let your voice be heard.

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Peace on the Inside–Introducing Peace Education in a Pennsyvannia Jail


Guest-blogger Chip Presendofer provides us with a unique perspective on the steps he and a dedicated group of individuals have taken to launch a Peace Education Program in Berks County Jail, Pennsylvania. Volunteers like Chip and his team are introducing The Peace Education Program in prisons, colleges, universities, civic groups, hospices, and other institutions around the world. Peace Education (PEP) and Food for People (FFP) are two humanitarian aid programs developed by the Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF).

PEP Team (Not All Members Pictured)

PEP Team (Not All Members Pictured)

In January of 2013, I reviewed the latest Peace Education Program curriculum  with three other people at a friend’s house. Ever since I first heard about the Peace Education Program,  I’ve been motivated to contact local prisons, but all my early attempts met with rejection. The curriculum renewed my enthusiasm, and seeing a video about the Peace Education Program in prisons titled “Peace on the Inside” last summer made me feel we had a real story to tell. I think the idea of bringing a message of hope to people who have made some poor choices in their lives is worth the effort.

Feedback from Dominquez State Jail in San Antonio confirms my feeling. We began by hatching an action plan. Two team members wrote an introductory letter and compiled a list of potential recipients who we felt would be able to help us get the Peace Education Program information in the right hands. We sent about ten letters and got a nibble in neighboring Berks County.

On Thursday, February 21st, we met with an official who told us to follow-up with a specific commissioner on the prison board. We persistently followed up with the commissioner, and on February 28th, 2013 we received a letter from the warden expressing interest in implementing the Peace Education Program in Berks County Jail.

Now what? We had to wait until prison management allocated staffing and space resources at the jail. In the meantime, there was paper work to complete for background checks and volunteer training. In April, the prison scheduled training for July 17th, so we were in a holding pattern.

At this point, it seemed like a good idea to bring together everyone who had an interest in PEP under the premise of reviewing the curriculum materials. The thought was that a team of volunteers would identify themselves over successive meetings, and that’s exactly what happened. Every Sunday for about six weeks we met, reviewed the PEP curriculum, and discussed all the information we could glean from everyone involved with PEP. A number of people in the United States, South Africa, and Canada were extremely helpful and forthcoming with information and advice. We were hearing about what volunteers had done, what not to do, what they had learned, and how rewarding it was to actually bring a message of peace and hope into a prison environment.

Five people attended the Volunteer Training at the jail in July. It became very real for us at that meeting. The list of things that could go wrong and the picture painted of the inmates was an eye-opener. As it turned out, the staff instructors were making us aware of what could happen in a worst-case scenario, but when we asked both of them if they would allow their sisters to volunteer, without hesitation they both said yes. This made us feel a little more comfortable, but there were still a lot of unknowns. We discussed our fears and concerns in our meeting and we all decided the risk was worth the effort. It was a real moment-of-truth that we shared and the experience solidified our resolve to keep moving forward.

Peace Education Classroom

Peace Education Classroom

On August 2nd, two PEP team members met with the volunteer coördinator at the jail to look at the classroom and confirm a start date on August 9th. The classroom we chose was large enough for twenty students. On Friday, August 9th, we held our first class. Seventeen inmates attended. After all the students arrived and took their seats, I briefly told them we were going to play a video to give them a sense of what was going to take place and then I would take attendance. All eyes seemed fixed on the screen at the beginning of the class. It was easy for the students to relate to the prison scenes and the inmate interviews kept their attention.

I took attendance by calling out everyone’s name and tried to make sure I pronounced the names correctly. Prior to putting in the first video, I thanked the students for coming and said that the information they were about to see was directed to them as human beings. I asked them to try to listen without comparing it to anything they had heard before. Then I pushed the button on the remote and the class was underway. The class proceeded smoothly, although it seemed the longer videos challenged some students’ attention spans. Experienced PEP volunteers had advised me that it would take a few classes for the energy in the room to jell and for people to feel comfortable enough to ask questions and expose their thoughts.

The inmates came from different cell blocks. Some knew each other (fist bumps) while others were not acquainted. In general, the inmates had no trouble finding seats and being in relatively close quarters. They were orderly, quiet, attentive and helpful. Perhaps in our next class, I’ll invite them to share a little of what they heard and hopefully get them a little more involved.

Before we knew it, the class was over. After replacing the tables and chairs to their original positions, all the inmates wound up standing in a circle around the perimeter of the room. The atmosphere was instantly more relaxed and one man asked whether a person without a conscience could find the peace within. I said those are two different things. Consciousness is being aware of your existence and conscience helps us distinguish between right and wrong. I said I didn’t think a person without a conscience would seek the peace within, but I didn’t really know. He thanked me for being honest with him, and then he said he was just trying to sound smart and not to pay him any mind. I said I was just trying to sound smart also, and that got a laugh from a few people. It was the first time during the class that it felt like we might have connected a little more on the personal level.

Inmate Housing Unit

Inmate Housing Unit

I received another important piece of advice from my fellow volunteers: It’s important to connect personally with inmates without getting too involved. That advice makes a lot of sense to me. The students don’t have to like us individually, but they should know we relate to them as human beings, not as prisoners. This is a fine line, but one that holds significant promise for us as facilitators. If we respect the inmates, there’s a good chance they’ll respect the volunteer team and feel comfortable enough to reveal their thoughts in class. I don’t feel it’s my place to draw the students out, but I do feel like I need to create an environment that will allow them to open up if they wish.

The ability to walk out of the prison made me realize how fortunate I am and what a privilege it is to be able to make my own decisions about my day. Driving home, someone asked me how I felt, and I answered, “Relieved and curious.” Relieved we had broken the ice and now had an idea what we needed to do for next week and curious to see who will return.

With only one class behind us, we have many, many more to go. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and one lit candle can light hundreds of others. We’re on our way, and for that I’m thankful. Looking back, it took a lot of effort to get the program started, but the journey has just begun and the bulk of the effort is still in front of us.

Berks County Jail

Berks County Jail

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Can We Make Fewer Babies?


All this talk about overpopulation is finally beginning to hit home. Lately, it seems like almost everywhere I go, hordes of people come crawling out of the woodwork.

It’s really becoming annoying. Take, for example, a trip to the mall. You have to use a slide rule to calculate the ideal time to go, to avoid peak hour pedestrian traffic trampling you underfoot.

At the rate the world population is growing, many of us will have to consider living on another planet in some distant galaxy.  It won’t be long before scientists discover a suitable planet to colonize and they build a faster-than-light-speed spacecraft to take us there. I’m going to make sure my retirement account is healthy enough to buy a one-way ticket for me and my family to make the journey.

Starting over, however, is not going to be easy.  There won’t be any NFL or NBA games to watch, golf to play, books to read, or computer games to play—save the ones we take with us.  My wife and daughter will miss Lifetime, Housewives, nail salons, and shopping malls, to mention only a few life staples, before civilization reasserts itself.

How did we get ourselves into this situation? According to an actuarial study commissioned by the US Social Security Service, life expectancy has increased by 28 years for men and 26 years for women from 1900 to 2001. According to the same study, this is due to several factors:

• Access to primary medical care for the general population

• Improved healthcare provided to mothers and babies

• Availability of immunizations

• Improvements in motor vehicle safety

Clean water supply and waste removal

• Safer and more nutritious foods

• Rapid rate of growth in the general standard of living

I’d like to add one more item to this list: Thanks to medical science, people are living longer. In my humble opinion, some people are living longer than they should. Please allow me to explain.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a cancer center waiting for a vitamin B-12 shot and thanking God I don’t have cancer. I see people shuffle in, many in their eighties and nineties, supported by walkers and canes, wearing bandages, heads bent, half asleep. You have to feel sorry for these people while praying you don’t wind up like them.

Certainly, cancer has many causes, but one of them is simply the aging process. We reach a point where our immune system grows too feeble to protect us. At this point, the party is over. We become like AIDS patients before the curative cocktail, with nothing to look forward to but one disease after another.

Yet people hang on, thanks to the wonders of medical science, hoping life will one day be worth living again. Maybe that day will come when full-body transplants become available. If this doesn’t happen in the next ten or twenty years, I hope I will have the wisdom to know when it’s time to gracefully exit stage right (or left.) To put it another way, to have the courtesy to make room for someone else and stop contributing to escalating healthcare costs.

In the meantime, I’ll go on meditating, exercising and pursuing the interests that make me feel happy-from-the-heart. And for the sake of EVERYONE’S quality of life, can we PLEASE be a little more conscious by making fewer babies?

Planet Colonization

Planet Colonization

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Voir Dire and the Hydrogen Bomb


Nobody likes it. I am no exception. We’re talking about jury duty, of course. I kept trying to forget the impending date, but something kept reminding me, like, the Jury Summons itself sitting in a corner of the bedroom on my desk. Despite the negative anticipation and a six a.m. alarm, I wound up having a pretty good time on my day in court—believe it or not.

For starters, the clerk called out my number and name among the first panel of prospective jurors summoned that morning. I went directly upstairs to await the process of Jury selection instead of sitting in an over-crowded room of eight hundred people coughing, burping, farting, and talking on their cell phones.

Being selected randomly by the computer for the first panel of jurors equates to winning the lottery…well, maybe the scratch off lottery. I sat in a waiting room outside the courtroom on the fifth floor with seventeen other fortunate souls awaiting Voir Dire (to speak the truth) also known as jury selection. The bailiff ushered us into the courtroom where six attorneys (three for each side) and the judge awaited us.  Everyone except the judge stood during our entrance out of respect for the judicial system and our suffering…whoops, I mean our service.

I feel compelled to interject a few words about the judge here. She belied all of my preconceived notions about judges, the product mostly of television programs. She showed uncommon courtesy, sympathy and compassion for the jurors, and a kindness as well as fairness towards the attorneys.

The judge read a brief overview of the case to us. It involved a former police officer who was suing the girl who stabbed him while on duty and Wal-mart where the crime occurred.

Now the process of Voir Dire began in earnest with the lead attorney for the plaintiff asking us a series of questions. Here are some of the highlights. When asked if anyone on the panel had a problem with personal injury lawsuits, two gentlemen and one woman offered that they believed more than fifty percent of PI lawsuits were frivolous.  Another woman stated that she, as a Christian person, had a problem with all lawsuits, professing that people should not sue one another.

When asked about our opinions about lawyers in general, one gentleman said, “I hate lawyers. My ex-wife and her scheming attorney sentenced me to a lifetime of alimony payments.”

It seems to me the only explanation that people make statements and express views such as these is for the express purpose of being relieved of the burden of jury duty.

After a lunch break, the lead defense attorney approached us for questioning. He began by asking, “Does anyone on the panel bake.” Three women raised their hands. The Plaintiff’s attorney immediately objected. “We don’t have any cakes or baking in this case.”

The Judge allowed the defense some leeway when the defense attorney promised to, “tie in” the question. He made the point that baked goods must have a specific number of ingredients included for a successful result. Failure to include one or more ingredients will doom the baking project. In a similar fashion, the plaintiff’s attorneys were duty-bound to prove all the elements required by law for  the jury to award damages.

It dawned upon me that attorneys begin indoctrinating the jury even before the formal proceedings begin. You learn something new every day.

The defense attorney then asked us if anyone had a bad customer experience at Wal-mart. One gentleman raised his hand. Under repeated questioning, he admitted a manager resolved the matter to his satisfaction. ice-age-ahead-iaa.ca

Then the attorney dropped, what turned out for me, the hydrogen bomb. He asked if anyone on the panel “had a problem with Wal-mart in general.” In that moment, I realized I did—a big problem.

I flashed back six months to a PBS Frontline documentary titled, “Is Wal-mart Good for America.”  I found it enlightening and a bit shocking.

I proceeded to tell the attorney that I did have a problem with Wal-mart. He said he would question me in private about it. Obviously, he didn’t want my opinion to contaminate the other panelists.

After the defense attorney finished his questions, I expressed my views with the other jury members outside the room. I said I had learned from a PBS documentary that Wal-mart is a major contributing factor to the erosion of the manufacturing base in this country and our widening negative balance of trade, with more products imported than exported.

Wal-mart buys most of its products from China. Sam Walton, the founder of the company, had a firm policy of buying American. Unfortunately, Sam Walton, along with the rest of the world, has passed on.

I also learned that Wal-mart underpays its employees, despite making thirteen billion in profits in 2012. In addition, the company indirectly supports the policy of many foreign manufacturers paying their employees what amounts to slave wages to produce at prices low enough to satisfy Wal-mart.

Wal-mart also practices deceptive advertising. They promote low prices on loss leader items while many other items in the store match the prices of other major competitors. Wal-mart makes more profit on these items than their competitors due to their massive buying power, but the savings are not passed on to the consumer.

I concluded my remarks by saying in my opinion Wal-mart does not serve the public interest. The company does not contribute one iota to the standard of living of anyone in this country. Instead, Wal-mart detracts from our quality of life by making it harder to find a good-paying job or to own and operate an independent business, small or large. I embellished these remarks with one final stroke of the sword: “Wal-mart is a cancer growing steadily in developed and developing countries worldwide.”

The defense attorney just stood there behind his lectern in disbelief.

In trying to discern my motives for this outburst, I have yet to come up with a solid answer. Should I commend myself for telling the truth, or did I simply find a creative way to weasel out of jury duty? I honestly don’t know.

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The Power of Joy


There was a wooded lot two houses down from my home in the neighborhood where I grew up. We called it “the woods.” At times, the lot became an enchanted forest.  This was especially true when I invited a friend to play in the woods with me.  One of my friends shared my enthusiasm for 1950’s horror films.  We transformed into monsters and created our own scripts using the enchanted forest as our stage.

One afternoon, I remember playing Frankenstein to my friend’s Wolf Man. The scene remains fixed in my memory in crystal clarity forty years later. When our time together had almost expired, an invisible alarm clock sounded inside me. We had to return to my house. My friend’s mother would be calling any minute to arrange a pickup. I stood at the border of the woods, one foot in the wilds and the other on the neatly mown grass of an adjacent estate home. This is the thought that ran through my head:

Next year we’ll be in seventh grade and we won’t be able to do this anymore.

Another alarm clock had sounded, only the chimes of this one struck an infinitely more somber note. It said the time had arrived to put this chapter of my life behind me. I was not in the least bit happy at the news.

Growing up is often associated with pain, and I am certainly no stranger to this experience. Growing up is scary. We have to separate from the umbilicus of parents, stand on our own two feet, compete for a niche in society, establish loving relationships, become parents, and face death at the end of our journey. I’ve never really wanted to grow up. To this day I am not a big fan of “putting away childish things.” But it seems growing up is something a human being cannot avoid if he or she desires to lead a constructive, creative life.

Here’s a trick I’ve learned that makes the medicine of growing up a lot easier to take—ladle in generous doses of joy every day.

I get stuck creatively and psychologically if I’m not experiencing joy on something that approaches a regular basis.

Obviously, joy is a precious and elusive commodity. It takes effort and a multi-faceted strategy to experience it. Joy is the elixir of life in my universe. It is the oil that allows this machine called me to run smoothly. When I’m feeling joy, I’m more creative. My work reaches a higher level. I am more motivated. I want to expand my heart and mind. I want to do what it takes to reach my goals. I am more equipped to help others. When I’m feeling joy work becomes play. I’m back in the enchanted forest with my sixth grade friend. Resistance evaporates in the presence of joy.

If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I practice meditation and recommend it to my readers to feel peace and joy from within. The meditation I do feeds my heart. Thinking the right thoughts is another essential element in the pursuit of joy. We attract what we think about. Currently, I’m reading “Ask And It Is Given” by Esther and Jerry Hicks. This fascinating book offers a unique strategy for manifesting your heart’s desires.

I wish you joy.

 

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The Case of the Missing Box Office


Escaping from his empty life, traveling salesman Todd Woods (Paul Giamatti –L) discovers the joys of karaoke singing and a new friend in ex-con and soulful singer Reggie Kane (Andre Braugher –R) ©2000 “Duets” Hollywood Pictures

I like movies with heart. “Duets” is a movie with a big heart that nobody went to see.  Well, almost nobody.  Despite an intelligent, one-of-a-kind script and a star-studded cast, “Duets” tallied a mere 4.73 million dollars in domestic box office sales.* In terms of Hollywood studio economics this paltry sum is tantamount to a financial implosion.

“Duets” is (mostly) a feel-good road movie about people following their hearts and discovering who they are. I don’t see any harm in a story like that, particularly if you can add a few new twists and keep  folks smiling.  I thought “Duets” did both, but a lot of people disagreed.

I can find only two explanations why “Duets,” a movie I liked, was so universally overlooked by the movie-going public. Explanation 1: I have very bad taste. Explanation 2: An overwhelming number of negative reviews by movie critics cut off the hand that feeds the box office.

According to Metacritic® (www.metacritic.com) a sample of 29 professional movie critics gave “Duets” an average rating of 40 % out of 100. In contrast, a sample of twelve “Users” (people) gave the movie a rating of 8.8 points out of 10. (I realize this is a small sampling of “Users,” but let’s not forget that not many people saw this movie.)

According to this compact study then, “Duets” is a predominantly people friendly movie with an allergy to movie critics.

Here are a few typical movie critic reviews:

“Miserable as it crawls for two eternal hours towards being “life affirming.” Wesley Morris, San Francisco Examiner

“Simply creaks with contrivance—particularly in its overwrought finale.” Curtis Morgan, Miami Herald

“A leaden piece of whimsy that looks for profound life lessons among a group of karaoke bar aficionados.” Steve Daly, Entertainment Weekly

To be fair, some critics praised “Duets, as evidenced by these reviews:

“A highly likable movie.” M.V. Moorhead, Dallas Observer.

“Appealing, and ultimately moving.” Bob Graham, San Francisco Chronicle.

Gwyneth Paltrow (L) stars as Liv, an innocent Las Vegas showgirl in search of a connection to a lone wolf karaoke hustler (Huey Lewis–R) ©2000 “Duets” Hollywood Pictures

Now let’s hear from a few movie-goers:

“Her name was Lola. She was a show girl…dah de dah de dah. This movie was fun interesting and catchy. What is better?” James R.

“This movie is engaging, the story unfolds around the music, and Paul Giamatti is great. Apart some predictable things typical nowadays in American movies (family values, etc.), this movie is fun.” Pablo E.

“I loved it. Movie critics suck.” Stephanie R.

“The karaoke scenes were great…the film got me.” John O.

“Bette Davis Eyes…I like this song! Especially when Gwyneth Paltrow sang it.” Jiae K.  (I agree with you, Jiae. Paltrow sings the song like a sultry angel in her own voice–no dubbing.)

It’s interesting to note the difference between the critical reviews and the “User” reviews.  Critics, for the most part, write about the movie from a purely intellectual and artistic point of view. Believe it or not, I feel strongly this point of view does the movie-going public a disservice. For a more detailed explanation of what I mean by this, please read my earlier post, “Do Movie Critics Have a Heart?”

The people who commented on “Duets” experienced the movie in a completely different way than the critics. They connected with the movie emotionally.  They had a good time. People primarily go to the movies to be entertained. I believe this is a fact most movie critics tend to forget.

Here is my own somewhat extended review of the movie.

The script weaves the stories of three sets of people into a road movie unified by the common thread of karaoke. I give the screenwriter, John Byrum, credit for coming up with this unique concept. Before watching the movie, I never knew karaoke bars existed, and people competed in karaoke competitions for cash prizes. I discovered an entire karaoke subculture and its attendant technology. One of the things a good movie will do is open a door to a world you’ve never experienced before. For me, Duets succeeded admirably in this regard.

Down on his luck cabbie Billy Hannon(Scott Speedman–L) comes to the rescue of wannabe singing star Suzi Loomis (Maria Bello–R) ©2000 “Duets” Hollywood Pictures

Good music of any kind never fails to stir the human soul. This comes through in the “User review” excerpts. I found the music and the surprising singing talent of the “A” list actors showcased in “Duets” both refreshing and moving. I am astonished that movie critics, in large part, failed to respond to the musical dimension of “Duets.”

“Hard to take stone-cold sober,” writes critic Jack Matthews of the New York Daily Times.

Instead of asking, “Do movie critics have are heart,” I wonder if it might be more appropriate to ask, “Do movie critics have a heart beat?”

What about the acting? Well, Huey Lewis is definitely a better singer than actor. But I thought he basically got the job done in his role as a karaoke hustler and recalcitrant father. I have some questions about the choices Gwyneth Paltrow made in playing her role as Lewis’ long-lost daughter. I think she was going for innocent, but I didn’t feel it worked.  I’d say this was the one major flaw in the film. I thought the other stars, Giamatti, Braugher, andMaria Bello all brought “A list” luster and ingenuity to their roles.

I found the three stories in the movie appealing, and yes, even insightful, some more than others. I enjoy movies that have the unmitigated gall (according to critics) to explore questions like “What the hell am I doing here?” or “What does it take to be a good person?”

I believe the emotional center of the movie revolves around the disillusioned-with-the American-Dream character of Paul Giamatti playing opposite Andre Braugher, an ex-con. Braugher (Life on the Street) brings his customary moral compass and dignity to the role, plus a singing voice you would not believe he commands if you had not heard it yourself. This can also be said for Gwyneth Paltrow, and to a slightly lesser degree, Paul Giamatti and Maria Bello.

I connected with “Duets” emotionally. Like John O said, “…this movie got me.”

I’ll close by saying it’s very hard to make a compelling, engaging movie that switches back and forth between three different stories.Yet here I am, twelve years later, still thinking about “Duets.” Am I smart or senile to like this movie? Why did it fail at the box office?” Did “Duets” make a comeback in movie rental receipts?

If you have the answers to any of these questions, I’d love to hear from you.

*September 17th to October 29, 2000. Source: Wolfram Alpha Computational Knowledge engine (www.wolframalpha.com)

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Do Movie Critics Have a Heart?


black hole or heart?

At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m fed up with movie critics. Critics are supposed to help me find good movies, and they tend to fail miserably at this.

My purpose here is not to be unkind to movie critics. Instead, I’m trying to understand by thinking out loud on paper why movie critics are so unreliable.

Most movie scripts share a common shape.  By this I mean the stories are grouped into three acts designed to build dramatic tension, climax, and ultimately resolve the conflict. A number of precise rules for screenwriting success are drilled into the heads of screenwriting students. I have experienced this first-hand as a screenwriting student at UCLA. There are pros and cons to the three-act formula. The good news is that the structure works fairly well. The bad news is that it can impede creativity. Most writers and film makers need a structure or a shared convention to shape their work, no matter how badly they resent it. Genius writers and filmmakers break the rules at will and succeed handsomely. You just have to know where you fit in.

The point I’m trying to make is that there is a basic flow to most movie stories. I don’t think most movie-goers mind the similarity. Critics do. They complain bitterly about it. Unfortunately, not too many people can come up with a movie like Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” every time they pull the trigger.

Critics know this. They aren’t dumb, after all. They are just bored with watching so many stories that unfold in a similar manner. They also get tired of the same themes, over and over again. And the movie they are reviewing often reminds them of one of the many others they’ve seen. They conveniently forget there is nothing new under the sun and filmmakers tend to influence one another. So the pro critic is prone to bouts of grumpiness, a jaded outlook, and unreasonableness.

My intention is not to make excuses for bad movies.  We all know there are too many sub-par films hitting the streets every day. I do need to point out, however, that it’s hard to make a decent movie. Many elements have to come together gracefully and, in a way, miraculously.

A good film begins with a good script. After the filmmaker pens or acquires a good script, no easy feat in itself, he or she must assemble a cast of competent actors. In Hollywood, they have to be “A” list actors to get financing. Trying to get a few people from a small pool of famous actors interested in your script isn’t the easiest thing to do in the world.

Add cinematography, sound, makeup, costumes, editing, scenery and other artistic functions requiring a high degree of talent and expertise, and you have an accident waiting to happen unless everyone involved knows what they are doing. Add another intangible element like the chemistry that develops or fails to develop between cast members and crew, and you can see why filmmaking is a risky business.

Obviously, a great deal of blood sweat and tears, not to mention money, goes into making a “major motion picture.” There is no doubt that a lot of movies fall far short of the artistic vision that breathed life into them. But there are a lot of movies that deserve more credit than critics are willing to give them.

I understand that a critic’s job is to criticize. Go ahead and nitpick about whatever aspects of a movie that may not work.  But please, I beg, pay a little more attention to the overall effect the movie evokes. That’s what People care about.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about Duets, another movie I felt received short shrift from professional movie critics.

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Iceberg Lettuce and the Door to the Infinite


Photo by Gabi Helfert

The moment arrived unannounced during a set of solitary yoga postures on my plush, living room rug.  A long stretch to relieve the tension of the day popped something open inside me.  It was not a ligament or a tendon.  It was my hardened heart.

In the Hollywood version of the story, the hero manages to crawl to the phone, call 911, and then wakes up in a hospital bed after a miraculous, life-saving operation by a brilliant, open-heart surgeon.  The experience impresses upon our hero a number of crucial life lessons.  After the crisis, the hero’s character and actions towards others change profoundly for the better.

Unfortunately, life does not resemble a Hollywood B movie.  My physical heart had not split open while in shoulder stand on the rug.  A more subtle heart had opened, and with it, a door to a new world and another destiny.

It all started with Jorge, the new employee I would never have gone to lunch with if my usual lunch-buddies had not run off somewhere without me.  Jorge was Mexican, the only Latin guy on the second floor executive suite of Wallco, a wallpaper distribution company that hired mostly white Anglos in 1981, when Miami’s transformation into a multi-cultural city began in earnest.

Jorge, like me, was in his early thirties, average looking, average height, dark hair, brown eyes, thin mustache — an easy to get lost in the crowd kind of guy.  I had no idea his unheralded arrival would trigger a seminal occurrence in my life.

Wallco hired Jorge for its fledgling export division.  Jorge’s mission was to open up markets in South America and the Caribbean–approximately one quarter of the world–all by himself.  He had the ability to speak Spanish and, I presumed, super-human sales skills coupled with a pioneering spirit.  I didn’t envy Jorge one bit.

I considered myself above Jorge.  I was the high and mighty Marketing Director—Jorge the lowly new sales recruit.  I had served my time in sales.  I was grateful beyond words not to have to spend my days selling wallpaper sample books to dealers who had no more room in their stores for them.  I figured, if nothing else, I could learn something about the export market by going to lunch with the new recruit.  Besides, Jorge was the only soul left on the second floor other than myself.

Jorge suggested we eat at a quiet, natural food restaurant in Miami Springs.  My lunch prospects had just been elevated from a singular, fatty, McDonald’s affair to a tasty, low cholesterol engagement.  I happily agreed.

Over salads and grain burgers, I discovered Jorge was a vegetarian and engaged in practicing meditation on a daily basis.  Here was a subject I had some interest in, having experimented with various forms and teachers of meditation over the years.  You might say I was a semi-serious spiritual seeker.  I had reached a curious crossroads, a sort of impasse in my life.

I had everything a thirty something American male could wish for: the perfect job in a field I enjoyed; a great boss; a townhouse bachelor pad; girlfriends, a few pals to hang out with; a sports car and club memberships.  I had scrupulously followed the prescribed formulas for success.  I had cobbled together many of the accoutrements of an ideal life.

Yet I felt restless and unfulfilled.

I was terrified there was something terribly wrong with me.  I felt the cold winds of middle age blowing in my direction.  I saw myself dating one girl after another well into my eighties, until I finally abandoned the search for true love when my body and spirit caved in from old age.

There I was, sitting across from this lowly new recruit munching on his iceberg lettuce.  He casually mentioned losing 80 pounds after becoming a vegetarian.  I commented that it must have taken a great deal of willpower.  He answered, “Not really.”

I began to pepper Jorge with questions.  The guy was unlike many of the salespeople in our company I regularly rubbed elbows with.  He had a depth and an intensity that I found intriguing.

I asked Jorge what kind of meditation he practiced.  He said it was not a “kind of meditation.”  He launched into a passionate discourse about a profound experience of peace the meditation opened up for him.  He invited me to a presentation scheduled at a hotel on Miami Beach that evening.  I told myself there was no way I was going to drive all the way from South Miami to the Beach to attend some dubious spiritual seminar.

That night, I found myself sitting in a lime green, orange accented meeting room at the Carlyle Hotel.

Curiosity—and some undefinable vibe emanating from between Jorge’s words at lunch had picked me up from the chocolate brown pit sofa in my living room and deposited me in an uncomfortable chair surrounded by a room full of strangers.

Indian music played from six-foot speakers flanking a makeshift stage.  The only thing that kept me in my seat was the absence of Hare-Krishna-like chanting.

I glanced to my left and caught a glimpse of Jorge, who smiled kindly at me.  Someone took the stage and began speaking into a microphone.

The Indian Music and the microphone are the only details I recall after the program began.  My perspective slowly shifted from an external focus to a pleasant inner experience.

A succession of three speakers addressed the gathering that evening.  I do not recall a single word any one of them said.  I just remember feeling relaxed.  I had an experience that can only be described as feeling at home with myself.

For the first time in a very long while, I had actually enjoyed myself without a great deal of effort or alcohol to help me along.  I felt like an invisible hand had knocked off a layer of caked mud from my body.

It is difficult for me to describe what happened after that evening.  I can only say that it marked the beginning of a long journey that lasts to this day, to this very moment.

In the days and weeks after the event at the Carlyle Hotel, I met Jorge’s teacher, who essentially introduced me to myself.  I thought I knew myself pretty well.  I began to see that the image I held of myself was only a faint glimmer of a deeper, broader Self, filled with possibilities. 

Many years later, my life remains full of challenges, but I face them with real joy and optimism.  I have discovered that life can be every bit as beautiful as you want it to be.  It takes some courage and effort, but the possibility is real for anyone willing to step up to the plate.

I look inward now for satisfaction, rather than chasing it on the outside.  I shake hands with myself on a daily basis through meditation.  I feel more grounded.  I feel more love from within, which reflects positively into my outer life.

It occurs to me that I should have picked up the tab for Jorge’s lunch.  Jorge, buddy, if you’re out there somewhere and can read this, please know that I owe you one.

Top photo from the Dutchville Exhibition at the Netherlands Architecture Institute

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