Go out laughing
Beethoven’s music was full of fun in the last months of his life. The 16th and last
string quartet op 135 is known as “Muß es sein?” = “Must it be?”,
which sounds weighty enough, until you realize that it’s about the repayment of a 50 cent loan.
Listen to the scherzo, fast and energetic with constant rhythmic surprises and the
most repetitions of a bass figure (I count 48) of any work of Beethoven (that I know of).
1 February 2014
Leadership and spiritual growth — oil and water
Are there good reasons to assume leadership and press – perchance to fight – for major social or political change? It would seem that the great majority of people doing this work are unclear, if not megalomaniacally deluded as to their own importance. It is a common story to hear that a spiritual leader begins with a grounding in his practice and the truths that he is moved to share, but is gradually seduced by his own success, becoming autocratic or even abusive. Political leaders are just the same, except that they don’t even begin from a place of clarity or grounding. Much good may be accomplished by progressive, idealistic leaders nevertheless, even if their own lives are destroyed in the process.
Seeking to influence large numbers of people by any path, while maintaining humility and a spirit of service, is certainly a treacherous path for any individual. It is critical to pursue one’s vision passionately, while checking constantly that one’s own sense of fulfillment and well-being are not contingent on outward success.
I suspect that this is a path to which one is called irresistibly at a deep level, that rational thinking about pros and cons is of little utility, and that even the most highly-developed bodhisatvas harbor a bit of latent egotism. The path of leadership may be aided by
- A daily practice of meditation and introspection
- Commitment to exercise and diet that maintain physical health
- A moderate and varied work load
- Ongoing participation in other communities, where one is a participant and supporter, but not a leader
Emulate Gandhi. Read his autobiography, and learn from his lifelong struggle with this issue.
— Josh Mitteldorf
2 February 2014
How does matter give rise to consciousness?
or maybe it’s the other way ’round.
Consciousness is the raw material, the potential from which all experience is crafted.
Maybe it is consciousness that is the source of the material universe.
There are hints of this in quantum physics, as well as in every mystical tradition.
We think of our consciousness as arising in the brain, but maybe consciousness is primary.
Maybe what the nervous system does is to bring consciousness more into focus.
Atman = Brahman: Atman is the sense of “I”, the “I-ness”. Brahman is the creator.
The source of all creation is the conscious self.
— Watch an illustrated lecture by Peter Russell, The Primacy of Consciousness
3 February 2014
The shadow describes the part of the psyche that an individual would rather not acknowledge.
It contains the denied parts of the self.
Since the self contains these aspects, they surface in one way or another.
Bringing Shadow material into consciousness drains its dark power and can even recover valuable resources from it.
The greatest power, however, comes from having accepted your shadow parts and integrated them as components of your Self.
Everyone carries a Shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.
At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
— Carl Jung
4 February 2014
CVS to stop selling cigarettes
CVS/Caremark, the country’s largest drugstore chain, announced on Wednesday that it planned
to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products by October.
Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a statement
that the CVS decision was “an unprecedented step in the retail industry”
and predicted it would have “considerable impact.”
— read more from NYTimes
5 February 2014
Adding up all the numbers
Suppose you add up all the positive integers, 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 +
and so on forever.
The sum gets bigger and bigger without end. It is unlimited. This is what the word “infinity”
was invented to describe. The sum of all the positive integers is infinite.
Curiously, there’s another way to approach the problem. Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler
discovered this in the 18th Century. He devised the Zeta function, defined as the sum
1/1s + 1/2s + 1/3s + 1/4s +
For s=-1, this is the sum of all integers. By approaching this sum from another direction,
using imaginary numbers, Euler was able to get
a finite answer, to whit - 1/12.
About 150 years later, Indian math prodigy Ramanujan
working in isolation in a remote village, rediscovered the same answer independently, just scribbling in his own notebook. He
wrote to British mathematician G. H. Hardy,
“Dear Sir, I am very much gratified on perusing your letter of the 8th February 1913.
I was expecting a reply from you similar to the one which a Mathematics Professor at London wrote asking me
to study carefully Bromwich’s Infinite Series and not fall into the pitfalls of divergent series. —
I told him that the sum of an infinite number of terms of the series: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + · · · = −1/12 under my theory.
If I tell you this you will at once point out to me the lunatic asylum as my goal.
I dilate on this simply to convince you that you will not be able to follow my methods of proof if I indicate
the lines on which I proceed in a single letter.
In the late 1940s when physicists had their first success combining Einstein’s special relativity
with Heisenberg’s quantum mechanics, the theories had the embarrassing consequence that certain straightforward
calculations (the mass of the electron, for example) came out infinite. The first solution to
this dilemma was just to ignore the infinity, and use the number that everyone knows from experiment
is the correct mass for the electron.
But then things waxed stranger. Some physicists found if they continued to stare
at the equations long past midnight, they could imagine that there were two parts to the calculation,
a finite part and an infinite part. If they ignored the infinite part, the finite part gave the right answer,
or close to it. So physics became adept at the dubious art of subtracting infinities to get a physical
answer, an answer they could compare to experiment.
65 years on, theoretical particle physicists are so used to calculating with infinities, they have almost
forgotten that the very idea once seemed absurd, and maybe it still does to seasoned mathematicians. But Euler’s
Zeta function has become a staple trick of the trade, and certain physicists will tell you with a
straight face that they can add up more and more integers and get a bigger and bigger sum, but if the
sum actually extends to infinity, the answer is -1/12.
— Here’s a video from Numberphile.
Here’s a longer video at a more advanced level..
6 February 2014
This is the zeta function.
It climbs to infinity at the left for s=1,
which corresponds to 1+2+3+4+...
There has been steady process in recent years creating an interface between
human nerves and computer systems. Yesterday, NPR reported on an Italian
prosthetic hand that can be attached to existing nerves. The nervous system
does half the job, because it is plastic, and the brain learns how to
interpret its signals and navigate its manipulations.
— Read more from Morning Edition
7 February 2014
For you alone
Every man has his own vocation. The talent is the call.
There is one direction in which all space is open to him.
He has faculties silently inviting him thither to endless exertion.
He is like a ship in a river; he runs against obstructions on every side but one;
on that side all obstruction is taken away, and he sweeps serenely over God’s depths
into an infinite sea. This talent and this call depend on his organization,
or the mode in which a general soul incarnates in him.
He inclines to do something which is easy to him, and good when it is done,
but which no other man can do. He has no rival.
For the more truly he consults his own powers, the more difference will his work exhibit
from the work of any other.
When he is true and faithful, his ambition is exactly proportional to his powers.
By doing his work he makes the need felt which only he can supply.
— R W Emerson (“Spiritual Laws”)
8 February 2014
May you experience as much ecstasy as you can handle.
May your capacity to handle ecstasy grow from more to more.
May you experience more ecstasy than you can handle.
— Josh Mitteldorf
9 February 2014
Listen to this segment of the Vespers of Rachmaninoff, and watch slides of
Russian landscape and churches.
— Youtube video
10 February 2014
We’re doing a phone survey, asking
average people like yourself, attractive, cynical, smart, etc.,
people who cook with garlic, who, if married,
it’s not the first time. People who have had
two or more jobs in the last three years.
We want to know what your preferred response is
when you hear,
if in fact you do hear,
the voices. Shall I clarify?
Voices that converse
on the great unhappiness and failure
that is yours. How often
would you swear you’re not drunk, no,
but the trees are swaying. We’re calling to ask
if you ever get confused and mistake
the swaying of trees for the lapping of water,
until you can’t get your bearing. Is that when
the voices advise you, smooth
as a nail going in? Are there certain words that,
can I say, sneak in from behind, know all
the back entrances? Would you agree
the secret of their strength
is that they will not let you give in
to your hunger? How often
all you've said and all you've done, torn
like meat from a bone. Is that when you go out, walk
past lighted windows? Go to a movie? Have a coke?
Or do you hang around, drift off
till the voices wake you with a jolt or slap: “Payback time.”
Like a street person in front of a diner, begging for change,
who will not let you go in and get your lousy cup of coffee
though the sign on the diner flashes: OPEN ALL NIGHT.
Are the voices familiar with, say,
streets you walked as a kid,
torn signs, dead trees?
We’re asking if the voices, now or in the past,
have ever told you that you have to go back
to the path by the precipice. Because that is your path.
Would you mind answering? Or am I interrupting something?
Shall I call back later? What time would be best?
— Carole Glasser Langille
11 February 2014
I dreamed I had come into an immense underground temple with lofty arched
roof. It was filled with a sort of underground uniform light.
In the very middle of the temple sat a majestic woman in a flowing robe
of green colour. Her head propped on her hand, she seemed buried in deep thought.
At once I was aware that this woman was Nature herself; and a thrill of
reverent awe sent an instantaneous shiver through my inmost soul.
I approached the sitting figure, and making a respectful bow, ‘O common
Mother of us all!’ I cried, ‘of what is thy meditation? Is it of the future
destinies of man thou ponderest? or how he may attain the highest possible
perfection and happiness?’
The woman slowly turned upon me her dark menacing eyes. Her lips moved, and
I heard a ringing voice like the clang of iron.
‘I am thinking how to give greater power to the leg-muscles of the flea,
that he may more easily escape from his enemies. The balance of attack and
defence is broken…. It must be restored.’
‘What,’ I faltered in reply, ‘’what is it thou art thinking upon? But are
not we, men, ty favourite children?’
The woman frowned slightly. ‘All creatures are my children,’ she
pronounced, ‘and I care for them alike, and all alike I destroy.’
‘But right… reason… justice…’ I faltered again.
‘Those are men’s words,’ I heard the iron voice saying. ‘I know not right
nor wrong…. Reason is no law for me-and what is justice?-I have given
thee life, I shall take it away and give to others, worms or men… I care
not…. Do thou meanwhile look out for thyself, and hinder me not!’
I would have retorted… but the earth uttered a hollow groan and
shuddered, and I awoke.
— Ivan Turgenev
12 February 2014
God sleeps in a rock.
...dreams in a plant
...stirs in the animals
...and begins to awaken in humanity.
— Ibn al Arabi, Sufi mystic 1076-1148
13 February 2014
Love takes us over.
We receive a gift of grace and the self dissolves in caring for another.
Worry for our future is absent. It is not that we are confident in abundant provision for ourselves, but rather that this is of no concern.
Sometimes, there is great joy.
14 February 2014
Valentine’s day: The Morning After
It turns out that real love is a feeling utterly unlike what we pictured to ourselves.
Love, indeed, is not a feeling at all, it’s a malady, a certain condition of soul and body.
It does not develop gradually.
One cannot doubt about it, one cannot outwit it, though it does not always come in the same way.
Usually it takes possession of a person without question, suddenly, against his will —
for all the world like cholera or fever….
It clutches him, poor dear, as the hawk pounces on the chicken,
and bears him off at its will, however he struggles or resists….
In love, there’s no equality, none of the so-called free union of souls, and such idealisms, concocted at their leisure by German professors….
No, in love, one person is slave, and the other master; and well may the poets talk of the fetters put on by love.
Yes, love is a fetter, and the heaviest to bear.
At least I have come to this conviction, and have come to it by the path of experience;
I have bought this conviction at the cost of my life, since I am dying in my slavery.
— from Diary of a Superfluous Man, by Ivan Turgenev
15 February 2014
Stand up for justice on behalf of others, less privileged than yourself, and you will experience the magic of concerted action.
Expect no justice for yourself, or you will become bitter with dissatisfaction.
Expect the unexpected, and you will be surprised by miracles that transcend your imagination;
hope for any miracle in particular and you court disappointment.
— Josh Mitteldorf
16 February 2014
Science and Mysticism (my favorite topic)
“People become mystics … for one of three reasons: because they’ve had a mystical experience, because they want one, or because they’re in love.”
— Rabbi Harold Kushner
Were Rabbi Kushner a scientist, he would know there is another path to mysticism.
Follow any scientific investigation thoroughly, honestly, deeply to its root and you will
find that it leads not merely to questions for which we have no answers, but to cavernous
paradoxes, a threshold to mysticism.
Nils Bohr went in search of objective reality, and found that there is a co-creative role for the observer in the fundamental laws of physics.
Kurt Gödel sought to systematize the process of mathematical proof, and found a proof that there are infinitely many mathematical statements that can never be proven true and can never be proven false.
Einstein set out to understand physics in terms of influences that propagate in space from cause to effect, and found that quantum mechanics implied an entanglement among events and particles that are widely separated in space and in time, and that could not be framed as “cause and effect”.
David Bohm discovered that in addition to the causes and effects that we study as physics, there are patterns woven through space and time like a hologram, impossible for us to discern because they are everywhere and nowhere.
Robert Jahn sought to eliminate all sources of statistical bias and hidden paths of subconscious influence from his experiments with telekinesis and telepathy, and found anomalies that persisted over decades and grew to be statistically significant at the level of p<10-15.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross set out to study the cultural taboos that keep us from confronting our mortality,
and came to think that maybe we’re not mortal after all.
Animal communication, cold fusion, the evolution of evolvability, and the values of the fundamental physical constants
are other areas where I find that pursuit of traditional science leads us to questions that force us to expand our framework and our very idea of what constitutes a scientific view of reality.
How 20th Century Science Knocks the Door to Mysticism
17 February 2014
Michael Stone on Non-attachment
Non-attachment doesn’t mean not caring. The world needs us to care.
Non-attachment to our theories and ideas is what it’s all about.
The willingness to be with what is, especially when it is not what we thought, or what we wanted.
...not a witness, dispassionate and dissociated, but totally immersed in life, nature, community, Gaia
— Watch short video of Michael Stone
I would just add that for people like me, there is another lesson in non-attachment to renown and leadership. -JJM
18 February 2014
Reality is what’s left after you peel away our perceptual and conceptual filters
And then it happened. Something peeled off the visible world, taking with it all meaning,
inference, association, and words. If anyone had asked, I would have said
I was looking at a tree, but the word “tree” was gone, along with all the notions
of treeness that had accumulated in the dozen or so years since I had acquired language.
Was it a place that was suddenly revealed to me? Or was it a substance — the indivisible,
elemental material out of which the entire known and agreed-upon world arises as a fantastic elaboration?
I don’t know, but I was alarmed to discover that when you take away all human attributions — the words,
the names of species, the wisps of remembered tree-related poetry, the fables of
photosynthesis and capillary action — that when you take all this away, there is still something left.
They were just doing their job, these poets, which is really the job of all of us —
to keep applying coat upon coat of human passion and grandiosity to the world around us,
trying to cover up whatever it is that lies underneath.
— Barbara Ehrenreich, in next month’s Harper’s Magazine
19 February 2014
Previously I did not understand why I got no answer to my question;
today I do not understand how I could believe I was capable of asking.
When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of “No answer.”
It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze.
As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question.
Like, “Peace, child; you don’t understand.”
— C. S. Lewis
20 February 2014
Life, liberty and
(maybe we should leave it at that)
No one ever told me that happiness is a choice.
Like everyone else, I grew up with the impression that happiness is a state that you reach
when you achieve what you want. Most of us think happiness is a goal.
It’s written right there in the Constitution: “the pursuit of happiness.”
But pursuing happiness is a fool’s errand. Anything you chase will run away from you.
So it is with happiness.
All of us tend to search outside ourselves for happiness because we think it’s a state to be reached,
a goal to be pursued. It’s not. Happiness is a skill. You have to develop this skill like any other: practice. Happiness is a choice, moment to moment.
About every three seconds, you have to choose to be happy.
— read more from Nabeel Afsar
If we think of happiness as a way of being, as something that represents a state of flourishing, of fulfillment,
of a well-being that endures through all events in life, even all different kinds of emotions and mental states, something that gives you
the inner resources to deal with whatever comes your way—pleasant, unpleasant circumstances, helpful circumstances, adverse circumstances —
something that gives you some kind of platform or way of being that’s behind all that, and that gives you the resources to deal with all that.
So then if it’s something that pervasive, then it’s not something that is so personal that it’s incommunicable with others. – Mathieu Ricard
21 February 2014
Spanish Alternatives to Capitalism
In this video, British journalist Dan Wilcox talks about living alternatives to capitalism,
focusing on the Andalusian village of Marinaleda. People in this village campaigned for years in the 1970s and 80s before
the Spanish government relented, buying a few square miles of fallow farmland from a fantastically wealthy Spanish
aristocrat, and turning it over to the town. Thirty years later, we have a stable farming economy, based on labor-intensive
crops that don’t necessarily make traditional economic sense. Everyone who wants to work can work. There is no unemployment.
There is strong community and enthusiastic support for a vibrant, transparently-democratic local government.
Also mentioned is the larger, more diversified cooperative Mondragon Corp, also Spanish, also radical,
and also not without its own difficulties.
22 February 2014
You don’t have to be religious to want to align your life with a higher purpose.
It’s your truest instinct, and the deepest form of common sense.
— Josh Mitteldorf
23 February 2014
Out of Habit
If I had my way I would take you
under the shadow of trees
and tell you things. I would take
one of your hands
in both of mine, below hills
where moss clings
to the curve of rocks. Part of us
is unfailing. As light
as sun through water. Though water
is reckless. Waves crash. From them
the last drop of mist contains
enough life to populate a world. The world
is shivering - listen. Your voice
is a river spilling into an ocean, or night
rushing into a darkening sky. Like coming home late,
the house cold. Who is waiting but someone you once knew
and were not expecting
and were hoping to see again. And there’s wine
and cake left from last night.
In the most unexpected places,
you're waiting. Years from now
we won't remember the pact we made: to confess
nothing, not to lean
over the edge of the world.
My children are asleep and friends
have gone home. It is all
enormous. I'm forced
to start small.
If I had my way...
But each life requires love
it cannot use.
Yes, it is me.
It’s the invisible me who won’t forget
and who you hold without touching.
— Carole Glasser Langille
24 February 2014
Perhaps a reasonable proxy for wisdom is the ability to stop thinking when you want,
to interrupt the tortured spiraling progression of thoughts that serve no function and lead nowhere,
the symbolic productions of a machine gone mad.
Like much else, this can (and, I think, should) be approached as a skill that can be practiced, as part of a general
package of cultivable techniques.
— Rishidev Chaudhuri, writing for 3 Quarks Daily
Chaudhuri is a rationalist, realizing as his thoughts become unproductive, that there are limits to the understanding that can
be had from thinking, but still not quite comfortable following this logic to the conclusion that we are left with our intuitions
(revelations, epiphanies, ‘acts of will’)
Still, do we lose something in this distance? At the least, should we ignore the constant
collection of background thoughts? I’m tempted to think that these thoughts do carry
some significance, that they do play a role. There is a fundamental terror
to being a transient unstable being in a capricious and uncontrollable world.
In the spirit of Jung’s observation that neurosis is a substitute for real suffering,
I think of these thought loops as trying to make this terror concrete, so that something
can be done about it in the act of thinking.
And the constant act of thinking, the constant interior monologue helps screen the awareness
by forming a kind of background static.
Is there something to be gained by dropping this static and looking at what’s really
always there? If we are to live in a way that is not irredeemably tragic,
there must be, though deciding this might be more an act of will than of reason.
25 February 2014
Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.
Truth is by nature self-evident.
As soon as you remove the cobwebs of delusion that surround it, it shines clear.
26 February 2014
There is something innocent and magical about making a wish,
something that recalls the energy of childhood.
Wishing is not about formulating a plan and following it step by step
o attain a goal, which is the realm of adulthood.
Wishing is more like a playful volley across the universe, an invitation
to play. Waiting for the response is an integral part of the process.
Wishing inspires an innocent opening to the possibility of magic as we wait
to see if the invisible realm will bring our wish to life.
This opening is a beautiful gesture in and of itself, regardless of the outcome.
We place ourselves in a magical mind, and this mind is arguably as wonderful
as the fulfillment of our wish itself.
— Daily Om
27 February 2014
Hymn to Intellectual Beauty
The awful shadow of some unseen Power
Floats through unseen among us, — visiting
This various world with as inconstant wing
As summer winds that creep from flower to flower—
Like moonbeams that behind some piny mountain shower,
It visits with inconstant glance
Each human heart and countenance;
Like hues and harmonies of evening—
Like clouds in starlight widely spread—
Like memory of music fled—
Like aught that for its grace may be
Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.
28 February 2014