Sunday, November 8, 2009

Afterlife and Angels: Message From Spirit Guides

For about the last six years, I have been participating in what many people might think of as a strange meditation group.  It has, at least for me, been a very unusual but personally rewarding experience.

In short, I have been in a group of very loving folks, one of whom has for more than 40 years been purportedly channeling spirit guides.  It is my understanding that it is the perspective of at least most of the participants of the group over the years that our friend has been given a gift that allows the spirit guides or, if you will, the guardian angels, of all the group participants to speak with one voice through our friend.

The group meets about twice a month, and at each group meeting the message from the previous meeting is read aloud and discussed.  After the discussion, each group member offers a prayer (either out loud or silently), the friend who does the purported channeling offers a prayer, and then the guides purportedly begin to speak through him while we all are in a meditative state of consciousness.  What is spoken is tape recorded and later transcribed by one of the group members.

Copies of the transcripts back to1979 are on my computer which allows for keyword searches.  I have not by any means read all of the transcribed material, but what I have read has been for me extremely inspirational.  I feel blessed for having the opportunity to be one of the participants in the group.

Everyone, of course, is free to draw his or her own conclusions about the messages and from where they come.

What follows is a "Spirit Guide message" received on April 05, 2005 after the death of a member of our group.

Afterlife and Angels: Message From Spirit Guides

God illuminates your lives with compassionate love, with a caring concern, and with a warmth that reflects endurance, strength, vulnerability, and openness.  God’s love reflects your love just as yours reflects God’s.  All souls are like mirrors that reflect at many angles, that take light and spread it outward and create an illumination that provides light to and from all creation.

Your prayers for Marie are deeply felt.  She is with us.  She is resting.  She is filled with love.  She is filled with a great peace and great joy.  Marie is surrounded by all those whom she loved who preceded her to the spiritual manifestation of love.  She recognizes all.  She sees your own lights.  She knows of your concerns and interests, and she feels your support.  But it is also important that you realize that she surrounds you with love and light and peace.   She will communicate with each of you.  You will know when it is appropriate.

Marie has entered the first of several stages of spiritual enlightenment.  These stages, these levels or spheres of development are experienced by all souls.  When a soul joins us, it is part of a continuous process of growth, of healing, a process of learning more about love, a process that leads some to teach, as we teach.  For others, the process is converting energy more purely into love—the energy of creation, the energy of light, the energy of mankind, the energy of the inanimate as well as the animate.

There is much that occupies the life of a soul.  Yes, it is filled with peace.  Yes, it is filled with joy, with love, with light.  But the growth of which we have spoken continues constantly.  You might ask why such growth continues, what is the benefit?  The benefit is in strengthening the power and presence of God, affirming the power of love, enabling love to overcome all that is negative, allowing beauty to reign—beauty that you see and beauty that is beyond your vision.  The purpose of growth is always to bring affirmation, to create an environment in which love flourishes in a nonjudgmental manner.

We learn much in our growth.  We learn what it means not to be different in superficial ways.  We learn the beauty of individual characteristics.  As we learn that beauty, we become empowered even more to help you learn these lessons.  Your guides are not at the lowest level of spiritual development.  We are not on the first sphere, but we have experienced the first sphere.  We have learned from that, and we are a part of that continuum of growth.  Eventually our growth leads us to different activities.  Even though we are not forever your individual guide, we are always with you and we always are in support of that spirit that has chosen to shepherd your lives through the human condition.

There are, therefore, many layers to the Spirit.  You wonder about angels and archangels, the Holy Spirit.  We can tell you that it is true, there are numerous levels.  Angels or guardian angels…they are the same.  When you sense an angel is with you, you are sensing your guardian angel, your guide.  But as there are so many levels of spiritual growth, there are equal levels of angels.  It is perhaps most helpful for you to feel that your guardian angel is your guide, but there are different such levels.  All are angels.

Mankind has forever been concerned and sometimes consumed by the issue of angels, of spirits—spirits in nature, spirits in the trees, spirits in the clouds, spirits in the earth, spirits in the rock—for all human beings seek at some level to understand: Why life?  Why am I alive?  Why are you alive?  Why is there human life?  What is the relationship between human life and the natural environment that surrounds you?  In the desire to understand those relationships and in a desire to understand why one has life at all, some cultures establish deities.  Some cultures establish icons that represent spiritual identification.  Some cultures teach about the existence of angels.  We can tell you in truth that all of these constructions collectively are correct, but each culture has its own view of that ultimate reality and for that specific culture, that view is truth, that view serves the highest purposes.  Such views are not complete, but they are in themselves within their own limitations, correct.

All religions of the world try to explain life beyond what is seen and heard and felt, and so each religion, each belief system is created to provide meaning for people.  For this reason, no religion can claim sole authority for what is correct.  Is there an absolute truth that separates one belief system from another, that gives validity to one group at the expense of another value system?  The answer is yes and no.  There is absolute truth.  That truth is: God Is; You Are God.  All else comes from these statements.  God Is and therefore You Are.  There is no You without the existence of God.  There is no Us on our level of spiritual growth without God, for we are as much a part of God as each of you.  We are not more a part of God.  We have a greater understanding, a greater knowledge of God, for we understand more what it means to be loving, but that does not make us more a part of God.  We are closer to the Source because we are all Spirit, but we are not more a part of God.

There is so much strife in the world created by a sense of exclusivity, of owning the “real truth.”  As we grow in our ability to experience and express love, we are given the power to help break down the sense of exclusivity.  As each of you joins us, the collective ability to change and influence mankind is enhanced.  That which we learn in our own stages or spheres of development is essentially a clearer understanding of the God-center of all that is.  Your journey on that path of growth began during your human life to take on specific characteristics.  You learned before you became human, but human life provided and continues to provide the context for what you learned prior to human life and what you continue to learn during human life.  This context gives richness and depth to your lives.

Human life is but a moment in the continuum of spiritual deepening.  The first level of spiritual life that is experienced after human life is also one step in the direction of ultimate perfection, of being drawn to the Spirit-center that is God.  All souls make that journey regardless of what was learned prior to human life, regardless of what is learned during human life.  The journey is successfully completed.  This journey is not arduous for it is a journey based solely on the expression of love.  As you express love as human beings, you become more capable of expressing greater love.  

It is the same for us.  We learn to love more deeply and in that process we guide you, we are your guardian angels.  It is not so important that you know our names.  For some individuals it is essential, for they feel that in knowing the name of their guide, there is a personal connection.  It is no longer anonymous, it is no longer a concept.  It seems more personal, identifiable.  We had names in our previous life, but those names in themselves are not of great importance.  What is essential is our loving duty to be with each of you.  Some of us become guardian angels for spirits on our side, for in addition to being surrounded by those who have loved you and those whom you have loved, spirits are also surrounded by guides.  We have our guardian angels.  Our guardian angels have their guardian angels.  The life of spirit is a life of shared giving to one another, teaching, loving.

It is this environment that Marie has entered so joyfully and so peacefully.  You are about to honor Marie.  You are about to celebrate her presence among you, and you wonder what can be done for her and what can be done for each of you.  Most importantly, you can pray for her growth and you can feel gratitude and love for her love in your lives.  Each of you is given the opportunity of assisting souls who have joined us.  It is certainly understandable and fitting and appropriate to mourn her loss, for it is a shared loss.  But you will ultimately give her strength when you use your sense of loss as a springboard for prayer for her growth.

We benefit always when we are prayed for.  We obviously grow when you ask for our help, for in our response to your request, growth is also achieved.  Holding one who has transitioned to us in a loving light that is peaceful, thankful, and asks only for the best for that soul, provides a support beyond your imagination.

We grow when you pray.  Our lights are brighter because your prayers send out a great illumination.  We mirror that warmth, we mirror that light back to you and back to countless others.  When you pray for us, many whom you do not know are warmed and sustained by that prayer, for we reflect that love back to human life.  We share life together.  We walk with you, you walk with us.  Our lives are enhanced because of what you do just as much as your lives are enhanced by an acknowledgment of what we do.  It is a permanent partnership of love.  There is no end to this relationship.  There is no end to a relationship between you and one you have loved who has joined our side.  

So many beliefs describe the transition as the great divide.  In truth, there is no distance.  We are no further away nor separated from you than your thoughts are from you.  We are around you, we are within you, above you, below you.  If we had physical bodies, you would feel our touch constantly.  Some of you may sense our presence physically.  Others may sense our presence visually.  Jim’s experience of an aroma is also a manifestation of spiritual presence.  Your relationships to nature are a manifestation.  But there is no distance between us, between those you love, and you.  It is for this reason that our relationship to you and our relationship to other spirits is permanent, for one cannot be separated from what one is.

You are each spirits, but you are each part of Spirit with a capital S.  You are each drops in the ocean.  You are never separated from that ocean; you are always in contact.  Energy knows no boundary; the Spirit has no boundary.  Those who have joined us have no boundary that separates them from you.  You are no longer able to see them in the way you saw them before, but that never changes the reality of their presence.

Pray for Marie, pray for her growth, pray for her peace, pray for her love.  Express your gratitude for her presence.  Express your love…that is what is needed.  she is on his journey through your prayers and with the assistance of our loving presence.  It is a time of rejoicing for Marie’s new life.  It is a time for missing her immediate visible presence in yours.  The two go hand in hand.

Affirm life, life that is permanent.
                      Affirm the Spirit.
                                Affirm your love for one another.

For more on guardian angels or spirit guides see:

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Jew Among The Baptists

by Jim Wells
Hebrew Name: Yaakov Maoz Eliad ben Abraham and Sarah
May 25, 2005

I think on some level I have always known that I am a Jew, though I was born into a Southern Baptist family in Greenville, North Carolina, where when I was growing up there were only a few Jews.  My mother’s sister married a Jew she met while teaching in Wilmington.  Her sons were raised Jewish, though she remained a Methodist.  Two of my mother’s brothers worked for awhile for a Jewish merchant.  To my knowledge there were only two Jewish families in the town.  Morris Brody owned a very successful women’s apparel store, and Eli Bloom was a lawyer and a member of the same Masonic Lodge to which my father belonged.   Morris and Eli were friends of my father and my Uncle Al. My brother Stuart’s best friend was Morris’ son Hyman.   The nearest synagogue was about 30 miles away.

So why do I believe I’ve always been Jewish or at least possess a Jewish soul?  That’s what I am about to share.

In July, 2003, at the Kibbutz Shefayim in Israel I sat sobbing as I listened to Austrian Eveline Eichmann, daughter of a Nazi, tell the story of how she found out about the horrors of the Holocaust.   She  was  speaking in German which was being translated into English by Hedy Schleifer, who spent her earliest years in a refugee camp in Switzerland.  I had not experienced such deep emotion since the death of my father.  I really couldn’t understand it at first.  Though Stuart Cohen was my best friend when I was in the Navy, Jim Bedrick my best friend in medical school, and Roger Perilstein my best local friend and professional colleague currently,   I didn’t  think  I could attribute the intensity of my feelings to my connections  with  these Jewish  friends and their families.   I also have very close Austrian friends, Walther and Ilse Gruber and their family.  I had these close Jewish and Austrian connections, but the feelings were stronger than I could attribute to these friendships.  These feelings seemed  to  be  coming  from  the  depth  of  my  being.   Then I remembered my mother having told me that I said when I was very young that I used to be a freckle-faced little boy from Grimesland, a little town near Greenville.  Could I have said Rhineland or some other German name for which she had no reference?   I don’t know, but at that moment I had the thought that I had once been a child who was killed in the Holocaust and then reborn in this body in 1947.   Through streaming tears,  I told Yumi, Hedy’s husband, that it might sound crazy;  but  I  thought  perhaps  I  had  been  a  child  killed  in the Holocaust.  He said that it didn’t sound crazy to him and shared that he believed Hedy was the reincarnation of his sister who had been killed by the Nazis.

As a child going to a Baptist church, I remember thinking that I didn’t believe you had to be a Christian to get into heaven.  How would the Creator of all of us reject some of us who might not have even heard of Jesus?  I also questioned the notion of a virgin birth and Jesus being the only begotten son of God.  What about Buddha?  What about all of us being called children of God?  What was the difference between being a child of God and being the son of God?   I  could  be  a  child  of  God  like everybody else, so why wasn’t I also a son of God?   I also had trouble with the idea that just believing Jesus to be the son of God was sufficient to put someone in the “saved” column, while good people who really tried to live an upright life were going to hell for lack of belief.  At the same time, I really liked what Jesus was teaching about loving God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.  It was confusing.  I loved the teachings of Jesus and yet, couldn’t buy into many things being taught by the church.

During college I suppose I thought of myself as an agnostic and that religion was a way of controlling the masses, much as Karl Marx had said.  I thought the really important thing was treating others in a way that we would want to be treated, or maybe more to the point as stated by Hillel, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.”  I didn’t know whether there was an afterlife or not, but  I believed  it important to be as  honest and fair as possible in our dealings with one another.  I figured that if there was a God and this God was at all good and just, then I would go to heaven if there was such a place; not because I was such a good person, but because I was a responsible person who was trying day to day to act in a kind and decent manner toward others.

After marrying the widow of a Presbyterian minister and mother of  two young sons, I began to think with her about finding a church where we could find community and support and hopefully like-minded people with a social consciousness.  We found Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill.  It was a very socially active congregation with an ecumenical spirit.   It was a  place  where  someone  could  be agnostic and be welcome.  The Bible was believed important but not inerrant.   I think it was a good place for us.  When people would ask me where I went to church, I would say the Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist Baptist church next to University Mall.  For six years I lead a meditation church school class for adults, was four times elected to three-year terms on the Diaconate, and was twice the Diaconate chairperson.  The people of Binkley Church will always hold a special place in my heart.

The  only  problem  for  me  with  Binkley  Church  is  that  as open  to  diverse perspectives as it is, there is still more Christian theology than I can wholeheartedly embrace.   I am no longer an agnostic; but neither am I now, nor have I ever been, exclusively Christian.  I now think of myself as a Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew  who wants to live and worship as a Jew while deeply appreciating the teachings of the Jewish Jesus about love, non-violence, and social justice.

I believe that there is an organizing force that created the Universe and that I am a part of that force and that force is a part of me.   I believe that the Creator of the Universe is One and that although there are many names for this Creating Force, these names merely represent different aspects of the One which is All-That-Is.   I believe that my consciousness is a gift from the Source of all Life and that I am not truly separate from anyone or anything else.  I believe that all of Creation is sacred and that this experience of separate consciousness is for the purpose of experiencing the diversity of Life and for learning that we are all co-creators in unity with the Divine.  “Hear O Israel.  The Lord, our God, the Lord is One.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Health Care Reform: Facebook Friends Respectfully Agree to Disagree

A friend and I have recently had a discussion via Facebook about reforming health care delivery in the United States.  I am sharing here, with her permission, our exchange of ideas.  If anyone would like to add to this discussion or comment on the way the discussion was undertaken, please leave a comment here on the blog.

I will begin by sharing the last few posts of  our exchange that took place over four days on Facebook beginning on October 31, 2009:

Marjorie (pseudonym), would you mind if I share our discussion with some friends who probably think more like you than like me concerning the things we talked about? I can replace your name with a pseudonym if you prefer. I think it would be interesting to get some additional feedback from other folks who have been thinking about these issues.

I suspect that nothing I said was enlightening since I ended up shooting from the hip every time, but if you don't use my name or inform me of the cynical laughter emanating from the readers, you may attempt to find worthwhile feedback using our discussion.

Thank you! I think you are great! Not only were you willing to seriously engage me in an exchange on a topic about which you obviously have strong opinions, you also are willing to let others consider our exchange and potentially ridicule (though I hope not) your ideas or mine.

The exchange on Facebook began when Marjorie posted:

ABC's John Stossel Destroys/Pulverizes/Crushes Obama's anti-American 'Health Care' Plan

(Click on link below to watch Stossel video.  Then to return to blog click on back button of browser.)
Stossel Video

Jim responded:
Marjorie, Are you saying President Obama and the Democrats who are in the majority (having been elected by the American people) are supporting an "anti-American 'health care' plan?" That's what the title of your post suggests to me.

And having watched the video, it makes sense to me that you may fear having to perhaps wait a little longer to have hip replacement surgery or something similar. I'm wondering, though, if you mean that people who don't have a job that provides insurance and can't afford the high cost of a non-group policy should just take their chances as my son has been doing and then go bankrupt (leaving everyone else to pay his expenses) if he is in a serious car crash or comes down with MS or some other terrible condition? And do you mean that health care decisions should be based on who has enough money to pay cash (or the best insurance coverage) rather than on who needs a procedure right away? It seems to me that if health-care costs have to be contained in order that the country not go bankrupt, then the current House proposal will provide a big step in that direction while helping thousands who would have died for lack of coverage a good chance at getting the care they need and would have otherwise had to do without. I am quite confident that rich people will ALWAYS have access to a fast, private option. This true in Austria and France where unlike here everyone regardless of socio-economic status has access to quality care. Here, people who are very poor are covered by Medicaid, and disabled folks are covered by Medicare. It's the people in the middle who are losing their homes when they win the serious injury or illness lottery. As a physician who cares about all my patients, I can hardly wait for The President and Democrats in Congress to succeed in reforming a system I believe is seriously broken. It seems to me that the video is an effort to frighten folks into believing change is anti-American if the currently well-enough off are going to be inconvenienced even a little even if the slight inconvenience helps a lot of people live longer and helps decrease the budget deficit.

Marjorie replied:
I knew I would hear from you; you have a list of questions that I should not respond to with questions, so I will wait until I can give my response more time. I do not like the health plan, though. I do not believe that the current proposed plan answers your emotional questions. My favorite cousin died as a result of not having insurance; that that could happen in this country is appalling. In her situation, though, I believe that under this new plan she would have died, also. One question: Why am I not allowed to disagree with the current majority party? It seems every time I do I am accused of being hard-hearted or against the poor and hungry. Furthermore, if John Stossel was fired for this report, then ABC is definitely NOT an unbiased news source; that point was the purpose of my posting this link. Former Teen Dem president and not a strict "party-man" voter, Marjorie

Jim replied:
Marjorie, It seem to me it's one thing to disagree with aspects of a plan and quite another to post a video entitled, "ABC's John Stossel Destroys/Pulverizes/Crushes Obama's anti-American 'Health Care' Plan." I certainly support you having any opinion whatsoever contrary to the majority, but to label the majority health-care plan "anti-American" sounds to me more like Rush Limbaugh than the expression of a thoughtful, majority-contrary opinion.

Seems to me that if the primary reason for posting the video was to object to the firing of John Stossel or to say that as you see it, ABC is biased in some direction, it would have been helpful to comment to that effect when posting it. Stossel's report seems very biased to me. Makes me wonder if he was fired for double dipping from both ABC and the health insurance lobby?

Marjorie, I'm not trying to come down on you; and I am concerned about using terms like "anti-American" to describe The President with whom you may, in my opinion, freely disagree but who, as I see it, is certainly not pursuing an anti-American agenda. Using words like "anti-American" and "Destroys/Pulverizes/Crushes" seems to me to be extremely provocative, perhaps even inflammatory, and doesn't, in my opinion, contribute to a thoughtful examination of specific differences in perspectives about the legislation currently being debated.

Marjorie responded:
I did comment by asking if it were true; then I went to snopes and found nothing; then I Googled them both with no definite answer as to whether or not that was why he was fired, so I removed the question. Sorry. I did not entitle the video; it came to me that way; however, I believe Socialism is anti-American. It has been since FDR instituted Social Security, which is being used as a retirement plan when it was never meant to be used that way. Both of my sons and my daughter have gone without health insurance at times themselves, and I agree that that is dangerous. The military families I talk to are not happy about their free medical service; my friends in Denmark are not happy about their almost 40% national sales tax; my friends in Canada are not satisfied with their socialized system; my point is that we should not look at and seriously revise the current insurance system in the US, but there is a lot about it which is better than anywhere else in the world--we don't need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Rushing into this serious a change when no one has bothered to even read the entire bill and pork has been added to it is a grave error. What I know about it, I do not agree with doing; the main thing that scares me is what everyone else and I don't know about it.

Marjorie said further:
I meant to write that my point is that our system needs some revising but that any revising needs to be done carefully, that other systems in use should be studied from all angles, and that even though you can hardly wait for the revamping, patience is important when you are dealing with so many people's lives and the economy in this great nation.

Jim replied:
Marjorie, I've been at the hospital for awhile, so I'm just now getting back to you again.

I'm reading you as saying that you intended to comment on the video and checked it out via snopes and google but didn't find anything but in any case you do believe that Socialism is anti-American and that it has been since FDR instituted Social Security, which you believe was never meant to be used as a retirement program. You also agree that going without insurance is dangerous and have been told by some military families that they do not like their free medical service and by other friends around the world that they do not like their medical delivery systems nor do they like their high taxes. Sounds like you believe that while the system in the US may need some revision after careful examination, there is a lot about it which is better than anywhere else in the world and that you think we don't need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I'm hearing you say that you think nobody has read the entire bill and that you believe a lot of pork has been added to it and that what scares you is what everyone else and you don't know about it and think that other systems need to be studied from all angles before revamping something that deals with so many people's lives and the economy of this great nation. Am I hearing you correctly?

If so, it makes sense to me that since you seem to think no one has even read the bill and since you also seem to think that Social Security is a form of anti-American socialism, you would be very concerned that the result of this effort to reform health care delivery will be terrible; that The President and members of Congress don't even know what they are putting together; that it will be filled with pork; and that there is a significant risk of acting so hastily that the result will be another anti-American, socialistic program.

Is there more that you would like to say about this before I respond with a few more thoughts of my own?

Marjorie replied:

I have a migraine and don't dare comment at this point; however, you kind of get what I am saying. I am not saying "filled" with pork; I am not saying it "would" be terrible; not reading the entire bill means that the president and congress are unaware of everything it says; socialism is the mildest thing I could call what proposals I have understood.  I hear you saying that you believe that "fear" is motivating me, and that news stories such as John Stossel's are the source of my "fear." Somehow, I don't think I am as emotional about this decision as you seem to be. So far we have rushed through everything we have done since January, and the results are not good. This bill is way too wide-sweeping to rush through it. Respond away, Jim...

Jim replied:

Sorry about your headache.  Hope our discussion hasn't been a contributing factor and that you are now headache-free.

As I read your last post, seems to me that you think I'm kind of getting what you are saying but that you are not saying that the House health care bill would be terrible.  On the other hand, you do think that The President and members of Congress haven't read the bill and are not aware of everything it says and that "socialism" is the mildest thing you could call the proposals that you understand are included. I'm also reading that you think that everything done since January has been rushed with results that you think are not good. Given that you are concerned that changes are being made that you don't think are good and that it is your perception that everything is being rushed, it makes sense to me that you want this wide-sweeping bill on health care to be carefully deliberated.

I guess I'm still not sure about your SPECIFIC concerns. To what proposals specifically in the House bill do you know you have objections? It is hard for me to understand what you think is inappropriate, misguided, or corrupt about what is being proposed without specific examples.  I hear your general concern that the bill will lead to something worse than socialism ("socialism is the mildest thing I could call what proposals I have understood"), but to what specifically are you referring, and what from your point of view would be a less mild but more accurate description of what you think is being proposed?

From my perspective, the current House bill as I understand it is inadequate, because many will still be left uninsured. This concerns me not only because of the personal costs to the individuals involved but also because of the increased costs to the rest of us when the health care of the uninsured is neglected due to not being able to afford it leaving them with treatment in an emergency room as their only option.  The cost of that treatment will be passed on to you and me as it is now.  As I understand it, government is already either directly or indirectly paying for 65% of the cost of all health care provided but with less than optimal results.  I am concerned that despite having the most expensive health-care system in the world, we still have a maternal death rate higher than many other developed nations (41st in the world for maternal mortality rates It bothers me that when I do evaluations in the emergency room that many of the people I see can’t afford the medications most likely to help them and will stop taking the medicine I prescribe after the 30-day supply provided by a pharmaceutical company coupon has run out.  Then it is highly likely that they will return to the emergency room and perhaps even have to be admitted to the hospital with no means of paying for those costs.

It seems to me that “socialism” is bandied about as a pejorative term  which may often be meant to frighten people but without being specific about what is considered objectionable about the policy being maligned.  It could also be that “socialism” is a term that can be applied to our collective paying for fire protection, police protection, military expenses, and other government services.  Seems to me that just as for many other words, “socialism” is a word that has different connotations for different people.  I don’t think, however, that it implies something that is inherently unconstitutional or “anti-American.”

Marjorie responded:
Migraine left after a night's sleep and medicine. I'm not sure what sparked this one, but it could have been several things, one of which was working on a a project for my daughter in poor lighting.

"Most socialists share the view that capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth among a small segment of society that controls capital and derives its wealth through exploitation, creates an unequal society, does not provide equal opportunities for everyone to maximize their potentialities and does not utilise technology and resources to their maximum potential nor in the interests of the public." Lenin believed that socialism was the middle stage between capitalism and communism. There is a difference in our paying taxes to provide protective services for society and "sharing the wealth." As a republic, even since before colonial times, we have been faced with a tenuous balance which has to be maintained between personal freedom and government protection. Those who had to live within the walls of a fort, for instance, to save their families from Indian attack, chose for a period of time to protect themselves by relinquishing some of their personal freedoms. Those who chose to live in communes in the 1960s chose to share everything on principle; they chose to relinquish their freedoms in order to remove themselves from the materialism and capitalism they disagreed with in the US society. That was their choice. It was not mine. I believe that capitalism is one of the secrets of our government's survival over the two centuries.

From where do you get your facts on the health plan; have you read the 1900 pages? what do you believe is in there that will save our poor and hungry? Do you really believe that independent companies will continue to make a profit in competition with our government run plan? do you really believe that employers will continue to provide the perks of health insurance to employees who can simply accept the government plan? do you really believe that costs for private insurance will drop due to that government competition? do you really believe that the new program will pay for itself in ten years?

Jim replied:
Glad you no longer have a headache.  Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn talks about being grateful for non-toothache.  I think the same goes for non-headache.

In True Success:  Ideas About Living And Loving In An Unbalanced World (1991) I wrote, "Seldom does anything have to be all or nothing.  The best available approximation of a balance between the extremes is usually desirable."

I also wrote in True Success, "The world needs to discover a balanced synthesis of two ideals, one American and the other socialist. In an ideal world there would be a spirit of cooperation which would encourage all of us as members of the world community to consider the priorities of everyone else in the world as we set our own priorities.  The "greatest good for the greatest number" is a principle which is consistent with this spirit as long as the basic needs of all INDIVIDUALS are never forsaken involuntarily for the interests of the majority.

The inalienable individual rights of The First Amendment to The Constitution of The United States of America are considered in the U.S.A. to be "basic needs," while in socialist countries "basic needs" are adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.

Rather than adopt either of these definitions of "basic needs" exclusive of the other, it would be far better to join forces as a world community in which no one person is allowed to have excesses above a certain level until the basics of both The First Amendment AND adequate housing, food, clothing, and medical needs are provided for all inhabitants of the world.  In order for this to be possible, while avoiding irresponsible exploitation of our environmental resources, it might be necessary to encourage vigorously the limitation of the world's human population.  At least limit the population until technological developments make it possible to provide the comprehensive basic needs to all without doing irreparable harm to the environment which belongs to us all and to all future generations.

How could this synthesis between individual rights and collective rights be attained? First, we have to come to understand that we are all in this together--that our world has become so small as the result of technological developments, increases in the global human population, and intertwined national economies that we can no longer pretend that we can sagely isolate ourselves from each other.  We are capable of ruining our entire world environment with all kinds of chemical, biological, and nuclear pollutants even if warfare never becomes a factor. Second, we must preserve the opportunity for individual economic incentives while not allowing any single individual or small group of individuals (in business corporations or governments) to exert so much power that they cannot be prevented from doing irreparable harm to the environmental birthright of us all.  Third, we must spread the news that true success does not come from more and more wealth and power but rather from meeting our basic needs and having a loving attitude toward ourselves and equally toward others.  This loving attitude must be demonstrated by our respect for ourselves and for the rights of others.  After meeting our own basic needs, freely given service to others within our own unique limitations can then replace self-centered and ultimately unsatisfying greed and provide us with genuine mutual satisfaction."

Even though those words were written more than 18 years ago, I continue to think in a way that is consistent with what I wrote then.

My perspective on "sharing the wealth" is that it is already being shared but in the opposite direction from what I think you mean.  As I see it, people who work two jobs and can barely make ends meet are sharing their wealth with the people who do nothing other than invest money and bet on the market. I know some folks who held "short" positions in the market before October of last year about which one of them who was already very, very wealthy said, "This was the biggest transfer of wealth in history."  It was a transfer of wealth from hard working pensioners and people invested in mutual funds to people who bet on the market to crash.  Somehow, that doesn't seem like the best way to encourage ordinary people to work hard and invest their hard-earned capital, though I am certainly one who has worked very hard and invested my capital in various ways consistent with our system.  I'm not in any way suggesting we adopt socialism or communism in place of capitalism, but I do think that given the human propensity for power to corrupt, there have to be checks and balances in place that protect the less powerful from the potential intentional or unintentional exploitation by the very powerful.

My information about the House bill on health care reform comes from David Price, Representative from the 4th Congressional District.  While I have not read the entire House bill myself, I have known David well for many years and trust that he has either read it all or is being advised by members of his staff who have read it all.  My answer to all your questions is basically, "Yes." I think that while there will always be the need to make changes in whatever decisions are made about this issue or any other, the House bill on health care reform should, in my opinion, help move us in a direction which will overall be quite beneficial.

Sorry - you left me completely when you said "it would be far better to join forces as a world community in which no one person is allowed to have excesses above a certain level until the basics of both The First Amendment AND adequate housing, food, clothing, and medical needs are provided for all inhabitants of the world." We just are going to have to agree to disagree.

Marjorie, It also seems to me that we are not likely to agree about the best way to reform health care, though I suspect there are lots of other things about which we have pretty similar perspectives. For instance, I bet we are both fans of Tarheel basketball, both love our work, both want our children, grandchildren, students, and patients to have satisfying lives, and both appreciate having been lucky enough to grow up in Greenville rather than Siberia or some other desolate place. Thanks for an interesting discussion; and may the highest and best for all concerned, whatever form that may require, eventually unfold.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Meditation: Does It Matter? How Hard Is It?

In a previous blog entry I spoke of how I think it is often useful to BEAM LOVE.  The M in BEAM might stand for "Mission" as suggested by Mara or "Meditate often" as I suggested in that blog entry and in "Keeping  Cool Under Pressure."  While I think having a mission or purpose is very important, I am inclined to think that meditating often is even more important.

So, why do I think meditating often is so important?  In my experience, meditation is much more than a way of achieving profound relaxation which is, indeed, often a significant benefit.  In my experience, meditation can also be a method for connecting with an expanded or perhaps universal consciousness that has awareness and understanding of far more than my own limited experiences can possibly allow me to perceive, much less understand.  Am I saying that by meditating I can access answers to otherwise impossible conundrums? Perhaps, but not exactly.  There have been times when after meditation, I have seen a problem from a different angle or, if you will, with new eyes.  It has often seemed as though my capacity for attention to details that were previously overlooked has been enhanced and my ability to see previously unseen patterns has emerged like lighting a candle in the darkness.

Several years ago I traveled to Texas to the Southwest Vipassana Meditation Center where a group of other folks of all ages and backgrounds and I were somehow drawn for a 10-day, silent retreat.  It is an isolated spot about 40 miles from Dallas.  As I recall, the first three days were very difficult for me, primarily because I wanted to do it right and because my mind could not seem to get quiet despite meditating from 4:30 in the morning until 8:00 in the evening with breaks for meals and toileting.  There was instruction given in the evening by the teacher from 8:00 until 9:00. On about the fourth day, though, my mind chatter began to dissipate. I found that I could breathe in from the top of my head and breathe out through the bottom of my feet, or the reverse.  As my breath moved,  I noticed not only the sensations in and around my nose and upper lip but also the sensations that emanated from the surface of my entire body, one section at a time as my attention moved to a particular body aspect.  If there was an itch on the side of my left knee, I would notice it when my breath passed my knee and not notice it again until the next breath again passed that same spot.  Other thoughts were strangely absent most of the time.  It was as if my mind was in neutral while my attention was nearly totally  focused on breathing and on the surface sensations of my body.  It was as if my mind had slowed almost to a stop.  The effect was very peaceful.  I felt at once both open to all that was within and all that was without; almost totally free of judgment.

Upon subsequent exposure to people in the Dallas International Airport, I felt more in an observation mode than was usual for me.  As I now recall it, just being, without judging, seems the best description of  my state at that time.  When my son picked me up at the airport in Raleigh, he said he had never known me to appear so peaceful.

Following that retreat, I continued to meditate often but not for so long each day.  It was, however, long enough to provide a kind of maintainable equilibrium for quite awhile.  Gradually, however, I spent less and less time in meditation and more and more time immersed in the day-to-day pressures that seem to me to accompany most of us on our journeys from birth to death, all of them usually amounting to very little when remembered from a distance.

So, does the practice of meditation really matter?  As I see it, meditating often is a way of experiencing internal and external validation and acceptance and a way of being sufficiently peaceful that listening to learn all that Universal Mind has to teach becomes a greater possibility.  For me,  meditating often definitely matters.

And how hard is it to meditate?  My perspective now is that meditation is as easy as paying attention to my breathing. It doesn't require special agility or equipment.  Many different techniques can be very effective at bringing about the various benefits.  A very simple approach that I like is to sit quietly with my head and spine erect, both my feet firmly on the floor, my eyes gently closed, my hands placed either on my knees, in my lap, or on  my chest, one over the other, while breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth.  As I breathe in, I think only "in;" and as I breathe out, I think only "out."  This can be done for 5 minutes or much longer, and my experience is that just doing it once or twice a day is more important than the length of each session.

How does my description of my experiences with meditation compare with yours? Please consider sharing your own meditation experiences and the meaning your meditation practice has had for you.  From my perspective, there is so much we can learn from one another.

More on Vipassana can be found at or on meditation in general at

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"O Peacock-Feathered Dreams": A Story of Validation and Acceptance

Several years ago on a fall afternoon after spending an hour in meditation while sitting on our covered, screened porch as it rained steadily in the surrounding woods, something happened which I had never experienced before nor have I sense.  I saw in my mind's eye two words written in white letters on a black background, almost like credits on a movie screen.  The words led me to a specific page on a web site in India.  The page was in Hindi; but after a time, I discovered someone who translated the page into English. It turns out to have been a story entitled, "O Peacock-Feathered Dreams."  I think it is a beautiful story of a husband coming to understand his wife in a new way, followed by his validation and acceptance of her. It has subsequently been an inspiration to me and to others with whom I have shared it. I offer it here for your consideration.

O Peacock-Feathered Dreams

By Ms Seema Shafaq

"Loosely translated" by Parmesh

This is the story of a woman told in first person. She has a troubled childhood, and remembers that she would seek escape from the harsh realities by tuning off and looking at the skies, and fantasizing that the clouds are taking the shapes she desires.

Thus when she grows up, all she wants to retain of her childhood days are the clouds in the sky, the mist of the mornings. When her traumatic childhood events would come to haunt her, she would close her eyes, and live in her dear dreams. Her husband Raman, finds this very disconcerting, and would ask her, 'Why always these fantasies!'

How can he ask me after knowing everything, she feels. Once she murmurs to him, 'Let's make love in front of a beautiful temple.' He was very hurt. 'How can I make love to you in a public place?' She says, 'It is possible, everything is possible in dreams; just close your eyes!'

One night, Raman holds her in both hands and says affectionately, 'Darling, please do not take me amiss, but I think we should consult a psychiatrist. Is it okay that you are living in a world of your dreams?' She is devastated. He holds her to his heart. In shivering tones, she says, 'How can you understand? You grew up in a house which had lots of doors and windows; I grew up in a small house, which had lots of open squares - huge open spaces, where strong winds would lash from all sides. I had no protection, except a piece of a cloud. I have been using this cloud as a blanket. Whenever I have shed tears in my innumerable times of distress, not one drop has fallen down; it has been captured by the piece of cloud. Do you know, Raman?

What we call as rain, is actually the tears of countless people. They also must be having pieces of cloud, which, when completely full, squeeze themselves.... and people say, 'See it's raining!'

My dearest, in this rain, if the peacock did not spread its rainbow-hued wings, how would this life be? How will the festivities of Diwali and Dassera pass? In these dreams I have held my father's hands, whom I have never seen in real life. How can I leave these? Children of broken homes have only these peacock-feathered dreams as their legacy, my dear Raman....they have nothing else!'

Her voice is getting broken. Raman barely composes himself, gets water for her and turns to give it to her, when he finds she is lying near her son, dozing. He wants to wake her to give her water, buts stops short...he does not want to disturb her dreams.  He places the water on the table and turns off the light.

The End....or perhaps just the beginning.

There's more to tell about the words I saw that led me to the web site, about the web site itself, and about Parmesh; but I will save those stories for another day.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Long-Term Care Insurance and Other Reflections on Growing Older

This morning I reviewed information on long-term care insurance supplied to me by my insurance agent. Libba and I have to make a decision within two weeks about which policy to purchase in order to avoid a premium increase due to Libba's impending birthday for insurance purposes (her actual birthday is not until late May).  In addition to the cost of insuring that we can afford to be taken care of should we be unable to provide for our own ADLs (activities of daily living like feeding ourselves, bathing, turning over in bed, getting dressed, brushing our teeth, sitting on the commode, and cleaning ourselves after a bowel movement), it contained a page entitled "Exploring the Myths of Long-Term Care." It begins with, "Advances in medical and health care technology are enabling us to live longer.  While it is encouraging, an extended life brings with it the increased likelihood of experiencing a long-term illness.  To effectively preserve our dignity and freedom of choice tomorrow means carefully considering our options today."

Well, carefully considering the potential for becoming totally dependent on someone else for some of my most basic needs is not such a pleasant prospect and seems unlikely to hold much hope for preserving my dignity and freedom.  While I am currently strong and vigorous, I remember an uncle who could not walk down a short flight of steps without experiencing terror over a potential fall.  I also recall the agony expressed by my grandmother when a physical therapist was attempting to loosen her contracted joints following a stroke.  A younger friend with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)* also comes to mind. He is locked inside a totally immobile body with absolutely no way to communicate with his caregivers.  He can feel an itch but has no way of communicating his desire to have the itch scratched.  I hope he has been able to find some way of turning off awareness of discomfort through some kind of profound meditation, but he may be more likely to be entirely insane but with no way to even scream or grimace.  There is no way of knowing his state of mind unless he can communicate through ESP, which I suppose may be possible. It is hard for me to think about my friend's tragic condition and usually don't as a result.

So, what do I think it will be like for me if I grow old enough to experience the almost inevitable ravages of age? Will my condition become horrifying in some way?  Will my friends have difficulty thinking about how bad it is and avoid me or pity me or talk to me in condescending ways, not out of lack of caring but out of their own discomfort with what seems all too possible for any of us to experience some day? Dignity and freedom, indeed! Is either truly possible in the face of severe debilitation?  I also think of some of my patients who are young enough and healthy enough but who are plagued by delusions which prevent them from living independently, much less from enjoying life.

Depressed yet?  I have to say that for me the prospects of losing my physical and mental agility could be very depressing if focused upon as a definite inevitability.  It seems to me that the only way to prevent a sense of despair over what may eventually be my plight is to validate the tragedy of these conditions and the fear associated with imaging having them, accept that some things about life cannot be changed, and live in the present moment as effectively as I possibly can.  I think effective, present-moment living includes being conscious, enjoying what there is to enjoy about each moment as it unfolds, accepting what is, and meditating often (BEAM for short).

I plan to keep in mind this BEAM prescription next week as I pay my first premium for long-term care insurance.  May the "golden years" of each of us be enriched by building upon our positive life experiences, and may we not be too burdened by our fears of the very real potential for experiences of pain and diminished capacities that may await us.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Prayer: Magical Thinking Or A Transforming Shift in Consciousness?

It has seemed to me for a long time that a significant difference in perspective when it comes to a religious belief has frequently been one of the most difficult subjects to discuss with some people. In this entry I will express some of my perspectives on personal prayer.  It is my intention to do so in a manner that will allow others who hold different beliefs about personal prayer to receive what I have stated and consider it with a minimum of defensiveness.  Please let me know after reading it whether you think I have likely succeeded in this effort to get my point across without invalidating the perspective of others.

Over the last several years I have come to experience personal prayer as extraordinarily powerful in transforming the world around me.  Is this merely wishful thinking, or is there a shift in consciousness that has immediate and far ranging effects? If you are reading this entry with a hope to find a definite answer to this question, I expect you will be disappointed.  On the other hand, you may read something that resonates for you in such a way that how you think about this question is altered slightly in one direction or another.

Ultimately, it seems to me, that each of us has within us the potential for believing that there is a power greater than we that can have a direct effect on our lives, the decisions we make, and the unfolding circumstances we find ourselves experiencing. As I see it, though, believing something doesn't necessarily make it so. Having said that, it surely seems to me that what we believe is true effects significantly how we interpret our life experiences and effects profoundly the decisions we make. I think that if we believe a particular task or goal is impossible to accomplish or achieve, then we are not very likely to attempt to do that task or pursue that goal. So, I think that what you already believe is possible through prayer or meditation is likely to influence whether you think my assessment of the effects of personal prayer has any validity or relevance for you.

Nearly every day, many times during the day,  I pray this prayer, "Dear God. If it be your will, please increase the beneficial energy associated with my being and completely transform the detrimental energy into beneficial energy.  And Dear God, if it be your will, please adjust the frequencies of all the energy systems known and unknown to me so that the highest and best for all concerned may be the result. And Dear God, if it be your will, please help me to be an instrument of your peace today.  In deep gratitude, I pray." In my experience, even when prayed silently, there are immediate effects on me and on the people around me; at least so it seems to me.

There have been many times when chaos has seemed to be prevailing in a personal or professional setting prior to my prayer; and within seconds of the prayer, there has been a marked change in the apparent level of emotional tension associated with the situation.  On one occasion my wife Libba was very distressed with me about something and was telling me so in what seemed to me to be a very angry manner.  I silently prayed as I have described; and she immediately paused, took a deep breath, and said more calmly, "Let me say that differently." 

On many other occasions there have been similar situations with similar results.  In one instance in the emergency department I was asked to do a psychiatric evaluation on a young man who had become psychotic while in his freshman year of college and was acting in a bizarre manner.  When I approached him, he said in a very deep and ominous voice, "I have the boy, and you cannot have him."  My immediate response was to pray out loud this same prayer for energy balance.  He immediately ceased to be agitated; and in a normal voice and manner before leaving for the inpatient unit, he asked me to continue praying for him which I agreed I would do.

On another occasion two years ago as I was driving home from the hospital and had been praying my prayer for the highest and best for all concerned, I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice to take some pictures of this beautiful fall foliage that would include some birds among the leaves."  It was a simple thought upon which I did not dwell after thinking it.  Eventually I arrived home; and upon stopping in my driveway, a male cardinal flew to the spruce tree immediately adjacent to the car.  He got my attention.  I then looked up at the dogwood tree above the spruce and saw perched on a limb among the fall foliage a barred owl which I proceeded to photograph.  Was this an answer to my prayer?  Does the peace that seems to occur so often following my prayer come as a direct result of my prayer?  What do you think? 

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why yet another blog?

Mandala made by members of Imago Peace Project, Austin, TX, February, 2005.

Over the last 32 years I have been working with individuals, couples, families, and groups to help them get past emotionally difficult life situations including resolving or finding peace in interpersonal conflicts, family discord, coworker disputes, and politically tense ideological differences in perspective. My experience has been that most folks who have continually found themselves stuck in one kind of distressing interpersonal interaction after another would like these tension-filled conflicts to stop happening or at least have them happen less frequently and if possible with quicker resolution. I believe that when someone keeps approaching interpersonal conflicts in the same ways used unsuccessfully in the past, then the same unsatisfactory results will be obtained over and over again. The solution seems obvious to almost everyone. It's time to learn new skills with a track record for working rather than a track record of perpetuating conflict or at best reaching an angry standoff. I intend on this blog to share some of the things I have learned from my professional practice as a psychiatrist who has for many years practiced individual, couples, family and group psychotherapy, from Al Turtle and my other dedicated and amazingly caring colleagues in the Imago Peace Project (, from my very loving friends at The Compassionate Listening Project (, and from my experiences with family and friends who have kept loving me even when my skills were less developed or when I've forgotten or been unable to put them into practice. It is my hope that this blog can become a forum for sharing skills that any of us may have discovered which work well in diminishing interpersonal conflict.

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