16 September 2007

I am in a cramped airplane seat, the roar of jet engines in my ears, waiting for the flight to be over. Earlier today, I was in a hotel room, standing on my head for ten minutes as is my wont every Sunday morning.  I was waiting for the time to be up. Yesterday morning I found myself in the front row of a lecture hall with biochemistry passing over my head, waiting for the session to be finished.  How many years of my life have been passed waiting to be in a loving relationship?

Waiting.  I think: this is no way to live! I must train myself out of this habit, and learn to live in the moment. But even to contemplate an escape from the condition, I must understand it.  What does it do for me?

I live in a state of hopeful anticipation, expecting that something better is just around the corner.  It sustains my optimism.  This is not a bad thing.

It means, however, that I am not satisfied with this moment. Aye, there's the rub. I don't want to live in a continual state of dissatisfaction.

Would I be blissful if I lived in the moment?  Why, I don't know!  But at least it would be real. I would be eschewing the lie that something better is coming.  It would be honest.

That's the essence of Buddhism.  Simply what is.

Sigh.  Buddhists are joyless.

A small, still voice that knows me well says that this continual state of anticipation grows from a fear of death.  On a deep level, I am seeking to compensate myself for the unspeakable horror of an eternity of non-existence.  Life had better be pretty darned amazing to make up for that!

Yes, perhaps there is a logical fallacy in a life that always looks to a future, a constantly receding horizon.  I walk toward the rainbow, trying not to notice that it is always where I am not.

But death is something that I cannot change.  Perhaps it is better I should permit myself this one illusion, the perpetual anticipation of joy.  It saves me from being a joyless Buddhist.

But it is not possible to knowingly delude myself. The illusion is imperfect, so I will always feel a sense of malaise.

Malaise – I certainly don’t want that.  I had better train myself to be perfectly happy with what is, while simultaneously enjoying an anticipation of what is to come.

So, for now, I find I am living for the day when I will have conquered the need to look to the future for my fulfillment.

– Josh Mitteldorf

15 September 2007

protest Feb 15, London

February 15, 2003 saw the  largest antiwar demonstration in the history of the world.  People gathered in the streets of hundreds of cities throughout the world, united in our hope to prevent a tragedy in Iraq.

Calculating costs and benefits, it is hard to justify any individual’s efforts and expense to participate in a demonstration.  What can be the impact of one more individual in a crowd of hundreds of thousands?  But fortunately, people are motivated by passions and moral absolutes.  A sense of empowerment grows from the realization that there are many of us, united in this one conviction.

Today we are marching on Washington to end the war.  There is no question but that we will succeed in time.   May the violence soon end, and the healing begin.

The people want peace; indeed, I believe they want peace so badly that the governments will just have to step aside and let them have it.” 
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

14 September 2007


Far as I gaze at the depth of Thy immensity
I find no trace there of sorrow or death or separation.
Death assumes its aspect of terror
and sorrow its pain
only when, away from Thee,
I turn my face toward my own dark self.
Thou All Perfect
everything abides at Thy feet
for all time.
The fear of loss only clings to me
with its ceaseless grief,
but the shame of my penury
and my life’s burden
vanish in a moment
when I feel Thy presence
in the center of my being.

~ Rabindranath Tagore

13 September 2007


Do you think you can clear your mind by sitting constantly in silent meditation?  This makes your mind narrow, not clear.  Integral awareness is fluid and adaptable, present in all places and at all times.  That is true meditation.  Who can attain clarity and simplicity by avoiding the world?  The Tao is clear and simple, and it doesn't avoid the world.  Why not simply honor your parents, love your children, help your brothers and sisters, be faithful to your friends, care for your mate with devotion, complete your work cooperatively and joyfully, assume responsibility for problems, practice virtue without first demanding it of others, understand the highest truths yet retain an ordinary manner?  That would be true clarity, true simplicity, true mastery.

Lao Tzu, Hua Hu Ching, translated by Brian Walker

12 September 2007

Sam Slaven is an Iraq War veteran who experienced gunfire and explosives at close range, and learned to associate danger with the race of the people he was fighting.  He came home from the War plagued by feelings of hate and anger toward Muslims.  After he finished his term in the Army and went back to school, he continued to suffer from nightmares and panic attacks.

In many ways just a regular guy, Slaven had the rare gift to judge his own responses with some perspective, and he realized he needed help.  He decided to confront his anxiety head-on.  He joined his college’s Muslim Student Association, re-experienced his terror by association, and transformed suspicion into friendship.  This remarkable story was featured last weekend on Ira Glass’s This American Life.


11 September 2007

James Jeans, like Einstein, was an esteemed physicist from the turn of the century, who turned his attention toward astronomical discovery and the structure of the cosmos in the period after 1910.  Both became gaping onlookers in the great quantum revolution of 1925.  Jeans was 48, Einstein 45, and both were well established – too conservative to consider the insane, revolutionary logic of quantum mechanics until it was forced upon them by the younger theorists, Schroedinger, Heisenenberg and Dirac (who were still in their 20’s). 

The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter...we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.

James Howpell Jeans, born this day in 1877

10 September 2007

Countdown to the Singularity

Ray Kurzweil’s scheme of the history of life, civilization, and information, showing exponentially accelerating change.  The point of the graph is in the logarithmic scale on the bottom.  Notice that 1 billion years on the left occupies the same interval as 1 million years in the middle of the plot and 10 years on the right.  Important turning points are arriving faster and faster, Kurzweil claims, not just for us but for the universe as a whole.  For it is Kurzweil’s thesis that human intelligence is destined to merge with machine intelligence over the next few decades (not the next few millennia, mind you), to spread through the universe and dominate it.  The ‘singularity’ about which he writes is the point at which machines become capable of designing and building new machines, with each generation smarter than the last.  A new and very rapid kind of evolution will thus be initiated, with consequences about which we can only dream.

We live in a uniquely interesting time.
Read more on the Singularity.