Friday, March 29, 2013

“Who Me?”


My grandfather o.b.m. served during WWII in General Patton's fifth armored division. As a child I proudly looked up to him as a hero for having fought the nazis. I felt that there was so much to be proud of for having played a role in vanquishing the nazi menace that I was taken literally aback when he sparingly shared a few stock war stories at bedtime. In fact, whatever little he did share came after tug between my begging and his reluctance.

When I questioned him why? He explained that there is a horror to taking lives no matter what the justification or cause. Further, he explained that he wasn't fighting the SS, but, youths, forcibly harvested from their mothers' embrace to fight for the "varmatch". Commensurate with such feelings, I later learned from my mom that some ten years after the war he burnt his uniform in the basement.

In my early teens, my grandfather went through a divorce that required him to temporarily deposit some of his precious possessions with his daughter, my mother. It was then, in the storage section of our attic, that my siblings and I first discovered hundreds of his war photos. We had no stories to attach to them. So we had fun making up our own. There was one relic among these possessions, however, that did speak to us. Apparently, after the war a couple of soldiers put together a cartoon-like booklet called "Who Me?" highlighting the saga of the fifth armored division. This booklet became my surrogate voice for all those missing stories that I had hoped my grandfather would share.

Eventually, my grandfather's life stabilized and took back all his photos, along with "Who Me?". For years, I missed the booklet, but, its images remained seared in my memory as representative of my grandfather's experience.

This year on Passover (a time when our inner child returns) my research minded brother presented me with a huge surprise, a copy of "Who Me?"; printed from an internet download. I had no idea that it was available all these years online. With wet eyes, I turned each page wrapped in nostalgia and thankfulness. The Creator's miracle of internet! 

Here's the link for anyone interested:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Anchored in Reality:

This morning I learned how overwhelming fantasy can be. Certainly there's a place for the movies we naturally produce in our heads. However, we can't always escape to the movie theater of the mind and expect our reality to improve. Even though in Biblical prophecy a divine message or vision was projected on a prophet's imaginative faculty, s/he was first very well anchored in reality.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Unblocked Lips


I find it interesting to see how the message of Passover can be related to real life issues. Here's a recent realization of mine in that spirit: 

Moses complained that he was of “blocked lips”. Conventionally I understood this to mean, as I was taught in my childhood, that Moses had a speech impediment due to the story of the angel moving his hand away from the gold to the coals and then touching his mouth, which was burned.

Years later, a Breslover devotee explained to me that “blocked lips” really meant that Moses felt blocked from bringing down his deep spiritual understanding to someone living in Pharaoh's narrow mindset. To Moses, the gap seemed unbridgeable. In fact, this was a taste of the entire Jewish situation, where slaves were unable to express their reality to even themselves let alone to their masters. Often enough, really deep pain can paralyze the heart and mouth from expressing. At least, Moses heard the voice of his own heart. He just expressed doubts about being able to reach Pharaoh. However, when it came to the Jewish slaves the Bible relates,”They did not hear Moses because of short breath and hard labor.”

Moses did not tell them anything strange. He was merely talking to their all too familiar inhumane condition. Yet, even someone speaking sympathetically about their own hardships did not resonate with them. Unlike Moses, mired in the daily grind of enslavement, they were internally deaf to their own voices of pain. Surviving slavery demanded a heavy personal price paid in the currency of psychological repression. One had to be blind not to see that they were trapped in a very frightening state of enslavement. However, this was accompanied by a second even more tragic state of enslavement -  an internal enslavement. The slaves internalized their slavery and their masters’ self serving narratives that went along with their sorry state.

Emerging from slavery, meant freedom from the blockages that were the bricks and mortar of their slave mindsets. It meant being released from the  suppression of their own inner voices.  Interestingly, the Hebrew word for Passover, “Pesach” can be seen as a contraction of two words “Peh Sach”, meaning "the mouth speaks". Of course on the obvious level this is referring to overt conversation. However, on a more subtle level this is referring to the mouth behind our mouths, the mouth of the human heart - an internal mouth which speaks the words into the biological mouth. Obviously, liberation from their internal slavery took much longer than their liberation from Egypt, the land mass. Even so there was a measure of immediate success as the Jews were able to express themselves in song right after their redemption. Their inner wellsprings spontaneously burst open into unified song.

In my teens, a Rabbinic teacher related to me that while the Jewish journey through diaspora is still happening, it is impossible to adequately mourn the unspeakable inhumane treatment and losses we suffered. Wading through the diaspora’s mire, mutes the heart. We will first have a long period of national mourning when the Messiah arrives and then followed by everlasting rejoicing.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

To Amplify a Silent Whisper

The other day, I heard an interview on “Science Friday”, a popular talk radio program in Philadelphia, with the futurist Ray Kurzweil (recorded on December 12, 2012). The interview is titled, “Is it Possible to Create a Mind”. Ray Kurzweil claimed that it already is possible for the human brain to be internet wired via a pea sized implant. He explained that such implantation is already being performed on Parkinson patients for the purpose of wirelessly downloading programs into their minds. He projects that in the 2040’s it will be commonplace to have our brains internet enabled in order to allow our memories to be backed up into the cloud for easier retrieval.

I seriously doubt that memory enhancement is the end road envisioned for such cyber implantation. If the technology can become sufficiently far reaching to enable cloud backup of human memory then why push even further to engineer implants capable of scanning and communicating across the entire spectrum of the internet? Imagine the innate intelligence humans will suddenly acquire, along with the added advantage of being able to communicate with almost anyone in a style that resembles telepathy. Also, imagine also how this bio-technology can be used to introduce sights and sounds into the minds of the terminally deaf and blind. This future wave certainly carries innumerable advances, capable of vastly expanding and improving the horizons of the human experience.

While the sea of optimistic potential implied by these futuristic advances truly seem like earth’s paradise, there also seems to be a very serious downside. Implanting internet enabled devices into our minds could easily blur the line between artificial and natural intelligence, which threatens to blur our ability to distinguish between own thoughts and imported thoughts. On a less pervasive level some of this problem already exists even without implantation. However, when internet implantation becomes widespread, the line between the stream and the self will become awfully fuzzy because the thoughts of so many others will be received cyber-telepathically and the mind will treat all the thoughts that are already alive its inner sanctum equally.

Imagine, a scenario where propaganda that a person would normally reject if read in a magazine suddenly resounds in his/her head with all the clarity and features of a naturally produced thought. With the mind’s internal gateways entirely bypassed, it becomes much harder to reject or at least question what should really be considered a “foreign thought”. Even today, as we become more widely exposed to a world of ceaseless communication, to some extent our internal filters become weary and are in danger of being easily bypassed. However, this problem will become massively magnified if distinguishing between a naturally produced thought and a streamed in thought becomes extremely difficult because both have similar, if not equal “mind feel”.

A possible solution to this problem is to teach people how to discover their ultimate self or pure self. For centuries, spiritual traditions have taught humanity that in each of us there is a pure center of self that lives beyond our thoughts, feelings and appetites. It can become detached and isolated out through meditation. It is not coincidental that certain traditional forms of meditation require of the meditator to cease all forms of thought in order to facilitate the detachment of self from thought. Some even suggest viewing thoughts take shape and form, as if one were standing outside their ever changing patterns.

Spiritual traditions have taught these meditative techniques in an effort to bring one into direct contact with the soul. Whether or not all people believe that the pure self is the soul (as I do), there still remains tremendous value in mining these spiritual traditions in order to learn techniques for helping people isolate their pure selves. Once in touch with pure self, one should be able to participate in the vast sea of information without drowning, as one can stand outside of all thoughts - whether natural or imported. Such connection with pure self is already important for today’s internet involvement and will certainly become an essential for tomorrow’s involvement.

Without becoming adept at isolating our pure selves, it’s natural for us to confuse our pure selves with our appetites, feelings and thoughts. The source of the confusion is that our core selves tend to “dress up” in our appetites, feelings and thoughts. So to some extent the self can be found there, the way a hand can be found in a glove. However, just as a hand can detach from a glove, so our pure self can exist independently - detached from the trapping of other inner experiences.

Due to the natural difficulties people have identifying their pure selves, before becoming internet implanted; they should be required to participate in an educational program designed to help them discover their pure selves. It’s important for psychology to embark on a research and discovery mission to cull meditative techniques from various spiritual traditions in order to repackage them for use in today’s educational environment. The need for us to discover our pure selves has become too urgent to leave to the unreliable winds of optional spiritual growth. In a secular, spiritually neutral way, such inner discovery needs to become integrated into regular education.

In most cases, attaining such pure self-awareness is not automatic and requires learning. We’re too close to ourselves to see ourselves. It’s like the idea that our faces are so close that we need a mirror to see them. As the prophet Elijah discovered the inner truth wasn’t in the loud sounds, but, in an easily missed silent whisper. Since the 1950’s, the technology for amplifying a singer’s whisper above the clamor of a band has been perfected. We need to learn how to do the same thing on the psychological level. Each of us needs to learn how to amplify our own silent whisper.


My diet plan:
Eat the same,
Just half!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


24 Adar 5773, 03/06/13, Wed., Starbucks in Philly

Dearest Sweet Divine Parent,

Thank You for the insights You gave me on randomness. So many events in our lives tend to appear random. They make people wonder whether there truly is individual divine involvement. It seems to me that randomness of events follows the mathematical system of statistics. Even a believer, if s/he’s thinking, has to bow his or her head to the reality of statistics. 

The larger the population, the more likely a statistic is to match the expected mathematical predictions - with a quantifiable standard deviation.  So the more a coin is flipped, the more likely it is to end up 50% of the time heads and 50% tails. Like all mathematics, statistics is part of the amazing laws of nature that You created. It is up there with the laws of thermodynamics, gravity, time dilation, calculus, geometry, etc. It is part of Your collection of paint brushes with which You paint Your universe.

People might wonder, “If events in the universe seem to obey the laws of statistics, how is there room for the Creator to get the results He seeks in His universe. Isn’t He stymied by the rigidity of the statistical system He created?”

While it might seem like You are likely to trip over Your own wires, it’s really not so. Firstly, in most cases statistics is flexible enough to allow for exceptions. Much can be accomplished on the margins allowed for by exceptions. Secondly, You are a master chess player who gets the desired results by strategizing very intelligently within the rules. Just like the chess master gets his or her desired results without breaking any of the rules of the game, so too You get Your desired results without needing to break any of the laws of nature, including mathematical ones - like statistics.

So apparent randomness is not a barrier to Your plan. If anything it aids the plan by allowing for free choice and in probably far more ways than I can know of. If like in a Skinner box every time we did right, You openly rewarded us and every time we did wrong we suffered, there would be no free choice. We would be robots to You and unable to enter into a relationship with You naturally and organically, with the life filled feeling that a relationship is supposed to have. So You kindly allow us space to develop, to grow, to become. This makes us more valuable partners in a relationship with You.

Thank You for the freedom that You allow me to everyday rediscover myself anew in my relationship with You, as my development morphs and evolves. It might not seem perfectly stable, but, “perfectly stable” is something produced by a factory - not something humanly real.

Thank You for this very special prayer inspired by grappling with a question posed by a very special person.

Love and Kisses...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ex Nihilo - Something from Nothing


This morning upon reviewing of a section of Rabbi Bachya’s “Gate of Unity”, I noticed something very interesting that I must have glossed over in the past. He wrote that there is no entity in between the Infinite and the finite. Apparently, according to him the Infinite and finite are so paradigmatically different that there can be no entity that somehow contains features of both, functioning in the capacity of an intermediate entity - bridging the gap between the two. Therefore, creation did not come about because there were successive stages leading downward, like a ladder, from Infinite to less Infinite to partially finite and finally to fully finite. With this he affirms that anything which isn’t the Creator came about literally ex nihilo - i.e. literally something from nothing.

This does not seem to match the notion of ex nihilo I have learned in Chabad philosophy, where divine emanations transform into a creations by a radical paradigm shift. In such a scenario, the creation is said to be created ex nihilo only because of the radical difference the original substance has undergone. Ultimately, the new creation is still from the original substance in the emanation phase.  One might say that this latter kind of ex nihilo is a "borrowed term". It’s not too literal. Whereas, the ex nihilo of Rabbi Bachya is very literal.

Now I see more clearly the view of those who say that Kabbalah does not say anything about the Essence of the Creator. Accordingly, even the Lurianic Infinite Being referred to as “Ein Sof” is not the Essence. This is because the whole stratified system of emanation and creation where the Lurianic Infinite Being leads downward like a cosmic ladder to successively less and less spiritual levels, all expressions of potentials latent in previous higher spiritual levels, is not literal ex nihilo in the sense Rabbi Bachya explained it. In some sense, this ex nihilo is ultimately a morph, an evolutionary process. Real ex nihilo is not evolutionary chain. It’s from nothing literally.

Now that I became aware of this, is it still possible that Rabbi Bachya believed in Monism, that there’s nothing other than the Creator, or was his true belief that how the creation co-exists with a truly Infinite Creator is an unsolvable mystery; since one of the two parties in this co-existence is ultimately unknowable?

What amazing food for thought!

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Road Toward Origin


Years ago, I somehow intuited that anger is pain which has simply soured. If the pain is either kept from degenerating into anger or if the anger is regressed back into its original state of pain, a more useful, enlightened and possible prayerful state can be attained. With this wisdom, I learned to cry rather than to rage. I trusted that honest pain can be illuminating. In its midst, a person can glean a deeper understanding and sensitivity to issues. In contrast, anger is very often blinding. It doesn’t easily lend itself to the wider panoramic view of situations, necessary to work on them.

Last night, I needed this insight as someone lashed at me in anger in a very cutting way. Instead of arguing back, I cried and cried. I walked away, cried some more. I prayed to the Creator for help. While still crying, the person followed me and actually calmed down somewhat (though not entirely) and sat near me. We spoke. We honestly laid out our needs. No … we didn’t come to a solution or even to a tentative next step. However, at least there were new factors on the table that weren’t there beforehand. In anger, this honest meeting, even in the midst of disagreement, would never have happened.

This reminds me how much wisdom there really is at staying close to the origins or the roots. So many of life problems can be solved, healed, or viewed more positively by not losing sight of the origins and roots. In pain, it is a lot easier to be in touch with the origin or root of the suffering than it is in anger.

This is possibly why scientists are looking to genetics and the origins of our universe. While these efforts are certainly driven an intellectual curiosity, it’s also downright practical. Solving a problem at the seed level often cleans up issues at the trunk, branches, leaves, flowers and fruits.

However, getting at this original pure state, is often very difficult. Which explains why people often lay on the therapist’s couch for years before they attain insights into the origins of their problems. So this leads to an interesting question, “Why is it so difficult to discover the origins?”

We often stew in issues, not because we don’t want to know the origins, but, rather because somehow access to this knowledge is blocked. So how do we unlock the access?

There’s no easy answer. I thought years ago that studying Kabbalah would do this for me. It would serve as my shortcut to understand the origins and roots of created reality. To some extent it had. In fact, my learning the value of not allowing pain to degenerate into anger or reverting existing anger back into pain came precisely from Kabbalistic styled thinking. However, I found that sometimes Kabbalah’s teachings are worded unclearly, as the real material is very ponderous. Also, at times the teachings did not seem to address my need to understand more intermediate or lower levels of reality. When it comes to the cosmos, Kabbalah usually shoots for the top of the top.

So the need for the search for origins needs to continue in every field of study in general and in all personal lives in particular. With fields of study, what often helps is cross referencing across various disciplines and developing a more unified image pulled together from many legitimate strands and streams of thought. Often, a unified underlying theory of origin can develop from such efforts. So through a unity of accumulated ideas it’s possible to reach for the origin. Once the origin is discovered, further discoveries can be made using the newfound origin as the key to gracefully open more doors, multiplying the implications.

Other times, these efforts don’t discover the origin, but, at least they narrow down the range of possibilities to several possible origins of the situation under consideration. A narrow set of possible origins might be still more useful than a broad set.

In personal life, finding the psychological origins of our feelings, moods and needs is also a process of discovery. Except, that here the process of discovery often works differently. Whereas, in the physical sciences the approach is more quantitative, an accumulation of ideas and observations, in the inner self the process is more qualitative. It’s about discovering deeper states of self. It’s more of an attunement process than an accumulation process. This attunement is an ability which can be enhanced by life experience, meditation, reading, relaxation, therapy, etc. When attained, a person can make more informed life decisions that will lead to greater satisfaction and happiness.