Monday, June 29, 2015

"When we focus on others, our world expands."

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection - or compassionate action.” ― Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

                Without the feeling of empathy most of us would have died in infancy. Luckily, our mothers felt enough compassion, caring and connection to allow us to survive childhood. Without  empathy, our ability to understand suffering, fear, happiness, joy and  especially trust are nearly impossible. Empathy is the cornerstone of morality. Unless we can relate to other human beings as truly human like ourselves, we have no problem hurting, oppressing, torturing or killing them. Until we hear or read another persons story or relate to their personal journey they remain apart from us, "other".  People who refuse or have an inability to see themselves in others are often inflexible, intolerant, arrogant, hypocritical, insecure or bullies. Taking the perspective of others not only allows us to perform heroic deeds such as saving the lives of abused children or animals, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor or providing shelter for the homeless, compassion increases our understanding of inequality. Seeing someone or something as less than ourselves is inequality. Inequality stems from feelings of privilege, power and superiority to other human beings, animals or even the environment, whether its a feeling of moral, cultural or income entitlement. Until we meet face to face, eye to eye, right where we are without judgement, and listen to each others stories in the present moment, we will continue to fail at creating the kind of "Utopian" communities we feel we deserve.

       Empathy has the ability to narrow the chasm of injustice and in many cases of inequality it's our last hope. Empathy encourages us to reach out, support and help others rather than exploit, hold back, hold down or victimize. When we see ourselves in others, we come to realize that we are connected in the most intricate ways imaginable in our every day ordinary existence. Who sewed the buttons on the shirt you're wearing? Who assembled the smart phone you're texting with today? Who paved the road you traveled to work? Who designed the subway car you're riding? Who picked the strawberries in the cereal you're eating for breakfast? Who picked the coffee beans for your latte? Who drives the ambulance to our home when we dial 911?  Who cares for the sick and dying patients in hospitals? Who protects our countries borders while we sleep? Who teaches our children to read and write?  If  as a society we truly desire peaceful action, harmony and positive change, "How would it feel to be you?" is a question we should  reflect upon every single day of our lives.   

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"We have no one but ourselves to blame."

"We are effectively undoing the beauty and the variety and the richness of the world which has taken tens of millions of years to reach."- Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction

                 In the last 100 years scientists worldwide concur extinctions would not be taking place without human activity. The extraordinary acceleration of species extinction rates is far from a natural occurrence. The Holocene or Sixth Extinction includes a  large number of  families of plants and animals such as birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and arthropods. The International Union for the Conservation of  Natural Resources   confirms the vast majority of 875 extinctions occurring between  the years of 1500 and 2009 were undocumented. The present rate of extinction may rise to a phenomenal 140,000 species per year.

    The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History  is a  Pulitzer Prize  winning general non-fiction (Henry Holt & Company 2014) book written by American journalist,  Elizabeth Kolbert. Recently Kolbert stated in a National Geographic interview:

 "We are now changing the climate, very, very rapidly, by geological standards. We are changing the chemistry of all the oceans. We are changing the surface of the planet. We cut down forests, we plant mono-culture agriculture, which is not good for a lot of species. We’re overfishing. The list goes on and on."

When asked if its possible for human beings to slow down the damage Kolbert bluntly expressed,

"The sort of fundamental question is, can 7.3 —going toward 8, going to 9 billion people —live on this planet with all of the species that are now still around? Or are we on a collision course, in part because we consume a lot of resources that other creatures also would like to consume? That’s a question I can’t answer."       
         But our own survival depends on the survival of these species which is the greatest cause for alarm.  Researchers at Stanford University, Princeton and Berkeley, affirmed vertebrates were disappearing at a rate 114 times faster than any time in recorded history. Such a loss would normally be seen over a period of up to 10,000 years, scientists say. Their findings replicate those found in a report published by Duke University last year. Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich, who can be seen in the video above declared,

      "There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead. We are sawing off the limb that we are sitting on."

 *A special wish goes out to my brother Steve on the 26th. Yes, I inadvertently managed a monkey card for your birthday. Love you.*

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"Out beyond ideas..."

...I'll meet you there.

         Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
                               there is a field.                                                                                                  I'll meet you there.

                  When the soul lies down in that grass,
                         the world is too full to talk about.
                              Ideas, language, even the phrase                                                              "each other" doesn't make any sense.

                                                         Rumi-                                                                                                                                       Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi - 13th century poet, philosopher

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

" The greatness of a nation...."

"The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
   -Mahatma Gandhi

             This is not an easy subject to write about. We don't want to see photo's of tortured or mutilated animals. Being aware of  intense suffering and injustice for most people is too process. Psychologically, it's easier to deny such terrible acts occur or we try to justify torture. As an animal advocate who absolutely loves and respects dogs with all my heart, a dog meat festival where 10,000 animals are brutally murdered horrifies me. The "Yulin Dog Eating Festival" is a yearly tradition in Yulin, Guangxi Zhuang which is an autonomous region of China. The summer solstice celebration follows an ancient ritual beginning June 21, 2015. Despite what we may believe in the United States regarding the Chinese festival, torturing animals is not "cultural". Rounding up hundreds of stray dogs, stuffing them into crude wire cages, stealing dogs from their families, skinning, boiling and burning them alive is not "cultural" or just "accepted" behavior among modern Chinese students and citizens. Some dogs are transported into Yulin from the countryside in unsanitary overcrowded shipment trucks increasing the likelihood the dying animals will carry contagious diseases or even rabies. Human beings consume this meat at great risk to their own health. If children are fed contaminated meat they could die. World health organizations are ready to step in as well.There are millions of Chinese citizens who are passionately protesting and trying desperately to put an end once and for all to the atrocities in Yulin. Thousands of native protesters are outraged and ashamed that this sickeningly cruel event continues to take place in contemporary Chinese society.

Please, if you are against all forms of animal torture, sign the petition from which will support a worldwide ban on Yulin's barbaric animal cruelty. WARNING: This link contains a video that is not suitable for children. Adults please use caution, Note subject matter is disturbing  .

    For many people our disbelief  that dogs can be treated with such unimaginable cruelty stems from our deep understanding and knowledge of what dogs are capable of doing for human beings. Dogs are not only trusted affectionate, loyal companions, hunters and field workers, they are keenly intelligent therapists, intuitive healers and protective guardians. Dogs are family. Premiering next Friday, June 26th look for Max in theaters near you. But this Max is far from being "Mad".  Max is a "Best Friend, Hero and a  Marine,"  Written and directed by Boaz Yakin (Now You See Me, Safe )  with Sheldon Lettich, the film revolves around the  heroic story of a military canine that assisted US Marines in Afghanistan. The dog returns Stateside to his adopted handler's family after suffering trauma. The official Max movie trailer is approved for all audiences.

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Before we make music, music makes us."

" At the root of all power and motion, there is music and rhythm, the play of patterned frequencies against the matrix of time. We know that every particle in the physical universe takes its characteristics from the pitch and pattern and overtones of its particular frequencies, its singing. Before we make music, music makes us." 
Joachim-Ernst Berendt, The World is Sound

               Music lovers deeply immerse themselves in the mysterious oceans of sound. Music can be a form of escape. It gives us a voice when words fail. Music is the universal language that allows people to see themselves in others. Through music we validate suffering, pain and joy. Legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix once proclaimed, "Music is my religion.".  It is a tonic for the mind and a salve for the soul. Whatever makes us feel good has healing properties. But to what extent does music really affect our brain and body chemistry?  
       A  recent study by Oxford University  found classical music compositions matching the rhythms of our bodies can be used to control the beating of our hearts. Research presented to the the BCS-  British Cardiovascular Society  conference in Manchester, UK suggests that listening to music with a 10-second rhythm directly coincided with a drop in blood pressure. The findings show significant heart rate reduction. Beethoven's 9th Symphony adagio was one of those selections. (listen above) Compositions used in the Oxford study with similar heart rate effects include Franz Shubert's Ave Maria in Latin, Nessun Dorma by Giacomo Puccini and Va Pensiero by Giusuppe Verdi,
     The study seems to indicate soothing music calms us regardless of whether we prefer the Foo Fighters or Franz Liszt. So it's not surprising heavy metal, rock music and even classical compositions with pulsating beats and quick tempos increased heart rates. But that doesn't mean rock music is harmful to our health either, It's not the 1950's. In fact more research will be done to examine the effect of music on our resting heart rates and blood pressure. Some day soon your cardiologist may be writing you a prescription for Dvorak instead of Diuril.

       Many scientific studies have concluded or are still in progress evaluating different aspects of music and music as therapy. Instinctively, we may know that music heals, gives us happiness and finds a way to connect us to people who lived hundreds of years ago and those who live a thousand miles away. 

This blog post is dedicated to my musician nephew, Drew celebrating a birthday, Saturday June 13th. Like many families, friends and strangers we have formed a bond by our love of music. So for those about to rock or Bach, we salute you.


Monday, June 8, 2015

"Free speech is the bedrock of liberty..."

"Free speech is the bedrock of liberty and a free society. And yes, it includes the right to blaspheme and offend." — Ayaan Hirsi Ali, activist, author, Nomad: From Islam to America

            For four years 31 year old, Raif Badawi ran the Liberal Saudi Network, a medium open to
 the exchange of ideas, encouraging online debate and discussing religious and political issues. On June 17th, 2012, Badawi was arrested on a charge of insulting Islam by electronic channels. In December of 2012, he was also cited for apostasy (the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief) a conviction which carries an automatic death sentence. During that same month, a General Court in Jeddah decided to proceed with the apostasy ruling however, the higher court refused to hear the case and referred it back to the lower court. After receiving 50 lashes in January it was announced on Monday, June 8th that Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court had upheld the sentence for Badawi of 1,000 lashes and 10 years of imprisonment for blogging his beliefs. Foreign outcry has been intense off and on. Human rights groups worldwide such as Amnesty International  have been campaigning on Badawi's behalf since his original arrest. Full details can be seen here:

        Raif Badawi's blog the Saudi Free Liberals Forum  (sometimes interpreted  as Saudi Arabian Liberials’) championed free speech and self-expression. In many of his writings he urges the importance of separating religion from the state. The following is taken from a recent article in The Guardian which printed and analyzed many of Badawi's blog posts.

 "Secularism respects everyone and does not offend anyone ... Secularism..... is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world."

      Freedom of speech is the United States most important Constitutional right. Freedom of speech and expression is considered a universal right of birth. Yet it's also the right we take most for granted. Imagine if your local police department or the FBI showed up on your doorstep because you posted on Facebook or Twitter. "Secularism respects everyone and does not offend anyone ...Secularism the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world." 
     It's almost beyond our comprehension that even speaking about  progressive movements or understanding the depths of secularism is cause for a jail sentence or even the slightest bit of outrage. But this is what bloggers and free thinkers like Raif Badawi and millions of Saudi Arabian men, women and children face every day. This type of unjustified censorship and persecution occurs in hundreds of countries around the world. Saudi Arabia is not an enemy. They are our allies. It's time American citizens become more conscious of our freedom of speech and start using it.

The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible."
[Defend the right to be offended (openDemocracy, 7 February 2005)]”
― Salman Rushdie, author

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"Deep ocean, vast sea."

"Our past, our present, and whatever remains of our future, absolutely depends on what we do now."
— Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer

                     Friday, June 5th is World Environment Day,  Monday, June 8th has been designated World Oceans Day and the entire month of June is dedicated to education and awareness of our deep oceans and vast seas during National Oceans Month.

     World Environment Day (WED) is the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging immediate worldwide action for the environment. - See more at: 

     Be an agent of change. Start today. The 2015 WED theme  is "Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care."   In order to sustain life as we know it, we need to take immediate action for the well-being of our environment, the world economy, and the health of humanity. Our planet’s natural resources.are being consumed far more quickly than the Earth can possibly provide.  We are killing animal species at an alarming and frightening rate. Our air is polluted and toxic. Our oceans, rivers and lakes are now garbage dumps. We have a limited amount of time to make serious sweeping changes- worldwide governmental reforms, corporate responsibility, education and innovation are crucial. It has to happen right now. Time is running out to ensure there is enough water, food, and energy to meet the demands of  rapidly rising populations.

    70 percent of our Earth is water so it's little wonder the entire world celebrates the oceans and seas  which links us all. On June 8th and during the entire month of June there are numerous ways to honor our beautiful, life giving oceans. Any one who has ever been fortunate enough to visit or live along our worlds oceans understands the depth of our connection to the water. Our beaches and aquatic wildlife need to be cherished and protected. It is our collective responsibility,   For more information and ideas to help honor and heal our waters go here :

 The fascinating documentary  "Light the Ocean" provides us a glimpse of the immense mysterious world beneath the sea. The film was produced by National Geographic and can be seen in the video above.

    "With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you're connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live. Most of the oxygen in the atmosphere is generated by the sea."
— Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer

Monday, June 1, 2015

"On this summer night..."

On this summer night.....

On this summer night
                               by Jusammi Chikako

 On this summer night
All the household lies asleep,
     And in the doorway,
For once open after dark,
Stands the moon, brilliant, cloudless.

A special birthday wish to my beautiful and wise sister Leslie, born June 2nd.
Love and peace to you always.