Weather ’tis Nobler in The Mind

Ten years ago, when Al Gore first published his book on the environment, Earth in the Balance, some of his Senate colleagues believed it was so radical it would ruin his career. President George H.W. Bush called him « ozone man, » and claimed, « This guy is so far out in the environmental extreme, we’ll be up to our neck in owls and outta work for every American. He is way out, far out, man. »

Gore took nothing but grief for calling the internal combustion engine a « mortal threat » to human civilization that should be made obsolete in 25 years. His insistence that global warming was a serious and growing crisis was also greeted with Bronx cheers, as conservatives insisted that global warming was a fiction conjured up by extremist environmental groups. Columnist George Will declared the book « a jumble of dubious 1990s science and worse 1960s philosophy. »

Eight years later, the book was still a favorite Republican prop for Gore-bashing. On a campaign stop in Michigan, George W. Bush held up a copy and declared that Gore « calls autoworkers his friends, but in his book, he declares that the engines that power your cars are his enemy. » Republican fact sheets declared that, « Like Gore’s nearly quarter-century of public life, Earth in the Balance is plagued by a combination of liberalism, elitism, hypocrisy, and hyperbole, punctuated by an unhealthy extremism. »

Gore parried by saying that he wore the attacks like a badge of honor. And then he went down for the count, losing the election to the most anti-environmental candidate since Ronald Reagan. In a bittersweet epilogue, however, Gore’s environmental manifesto was finally vindicated. In April this year, with 50 mpg Japanese hybrid electric cars selling in the United States like hotcakes, and Detroit years away from producing its own, Michigan’s Republican Gov. John Engler–who not so many years before had branded Gore a threat to the auto industry–announced the creation of a state-funded $700-million energy research center. Engler conceded that the center’s research would eventually make the internal combustion engine obsolete.

A month earlier, in an alarming harbinger of the seriousness of global warming, the 12,000-year-old Larsen B Antarctic ice shelf, the size of Rhode Island, collapsed into the sea–30 years before scientists had expected it to. And in June, George W. Bush suffered a minor public relations debacle after his own Environmental Protection Agency released a report declaring conclusively that not only is global warming real and ongoing, but that it is also caused by human activity. The report, which directly contradicted Bush’s position that the jury was still out on the issue, might be called « Al Gore’s revenge. » The Bush administration had to release the report because it was mandated by a 1992 international climate agreement that Gore helped negotiate as a senator.

Say what you want about Al Gore, but when it comes to difficult, complex matters of public policy, he has an impressive record of calling it right when others called it wrong. As a senator, Gore was the only Democrat to vote in favor of the Gulf War. He didn’t « invent » the Internet, but he did sponsor the congressional spending bill that allowed it to expand outside the Pentagon. He was one of the hawkish members of Clinton’s inner circle whose early advice to bomb Slobodan Milosevic in Bosnia and Kosovo to stop ethnic cleansing was both morally and strategically right. He was also a fiscal hawk who argued that cutting the deficit would lower long-term interest rates and lead to prosperity–a policy that worked beyond everyone’s wildest expectations. He headed up a commission on airline security, whose recommendations, had they been followed, might have helped prevent September 11.

But more than anywhere else, it is on the environment that Gore can claim to have what every leader needs but few possess: vision. Before the rest of the world had ever heard the term « global warming, » Gore was holding the first congressional hearings on the subject–in 1980! While Republicans like George H.W. Bush were denying the existence of global warming, Gore was helping gather evidence. While researching his book, Gore took a trip to the North Pole on a nuclear submarine and realized that the U.S. Navy had 40 years’ worth of data on the thickness of the Arctic ice cap. Recognizing the untapped potential in the vast and largely unused information, he brokered a deal to release it to civilian scientists, who discovered that the ice cap had thinned by 40 percent just since 1970, a story that made world headlines.

The only thing more amazing than Gore’s command of environmental issues is his almost complete failure to use it in the 2000 presidential race. After months of rehashing the Florida recount, revisiting that race is tiring, to say the least. Because the race was so close, with 20/20 hindsight, you can pick almost any factor that might have turned the tide in Gore’s favor. But his inability to exploit his biggest strength and Bush’s biggest weakness stands as one of the least appreciated screw-ups of that whole period.

As political strategist Dick Morris writes in his recent book, Power Plays, « This was truly amazing. Al Gore, who had boldly staked out the environmental turf fifteen years earlier, had gained no advantage over Bush on the issue. It was as if Richard Nixon had received no credit for a tough stand on law-and-order, or Reagan was bested on the issue of tax cuts. »

It was a screw-up in which Gore had help from all the forces that have long made the Democratic party dysfunctional: environmental groups who portrayed Gore as a sellout; big-money donors with conflicting agendas; consultants peddling a paint-by-numbers populist message that focused only on the dangers and not the opportunities inherent in running on his trademark issue. Still, Gore made the final decisions, and it was his legendary caution that led him to stifle an issue that, in retrospect, could have won him the White House.

Even on a more basic level, though, the most compelling reason for Gore to create his own terrain on the environment was that Bush was so clearly vulnerable on it. Texas, with less than 7 percent of the nation’s population, is responsible for a seventh of its carbon emissions. Of the 50 largest industrial companies in Texas, 28 violate the Clean Air Act. Texas also ranks first in the nation in cancer-causing toxic air emissions from industrial facilities. As governor, Bush only made it easier for those companies to do business as usual, and those same companies smogging up Texas repaid the favor by bankrolling Bush’s presidential campaign.

The green contingent inside the campaign also knew first hand that voters react strongly when they believe that the environment is threatened, as they showed after 1995, when the new Republican Congress tried to roll back environmental laws and privatize national parks. Gore himself had persuaded Clinton to focus on the environment in what turned out to be a shrewd and successful strategy against the new majority–one he failed to employ on his own behalf in the race for the White House.

Scorched Earth
Faced with the issue on the campaign trail, the visionary environmentalist looked like a deer in the headlights. Gore rarely attacked Bush on the environment in any pointed fashion. Paralyzed during the debates, he failed to win a single point on the environment, sticking to vague references about « big oil » that made him sound like an old man railing against the Rockefellers.

Eskew says that Gore actually did devote a fair amount of time to the environment, but that the media largely ignored it. « The press that traveled with us was like, well, Al Gore is talking about the environment. So what else is new? » But when Bush talked about the environment, he got noticed, says Eskew. « It’s more news when someone plays against type. »

Part of the problem was that Gore’s approach was conspicuously tepid–two sentences here, a minute there, mixed in with endless speeches about putting Social Security in a lockbox. He could have taken a play from George H.W. Bush, who sank Michael Dukakis in part by standing in front of the polluted Boston Harbor and accusing the governor of failing to clean it up. Unlike the elder Bush, who had a terrible environmental record himself, Gore would have been on moral high ground if he had, say, taken a well-publicized stroll through the toxic morass of Texas’s Refinery Row. There, he could have surrounded himself with poor Hispanic children stricken with asthma and other pollution-related illnesses and demanded to know why Bush was willing to sacrifice the children for oil profits. The image would have stuck with people, especially critical Hispanic voters, and shown a powerful difference between the two candidates. And the media would have eaten it up.

Bush was worried about such attacks–so worried, in fact, that shortly before one of the September presidential debates, he released a proposal for mandatory reductions in carbon emissions that was more significant than anything Gore had done. (Of course, Bush promptly reneged on it once in office.) But he needn’t have bothered. Instead of hammering away on Bush’s record, Gore nattered on about his allegiance to « the people not the powerful, » while sidestepping specific environmental issues that would have rallied his base.

During more than four hours of televised debates, the environment came up for discussion for a grand total of 15 minutes. When the issue of clean air did arise at one point, instead of pressing the need to clean up dirty power plants, Gore touted the potential benefits of « clean coal, » clearly pandering to the swing state of West Virginia, where « clean coal » mining companies have indefensibly razed the tops off mountains–and which Gore ended up losing anyway.

As the campaign progressed, Bush steadfastly stumped on a platform that he knew the public was not wild about, like cutting taxes for the super-rich, but that were very popular with his conservative base. Meanwhile, Gore refused to go to the mat on positions that were popular with the public, crucial to his base, and which everyone knew he cared deeply about. The immeasurable but undeniable effect was that Bush looked principled and strong while Gore looked insincere and overcautious.

Long-time Gore supporters were mystified. Leon Panetta, a former White House chief of staff and strong Gore supporter, told the press that the environment is « a gut issue » for the vice president, who shouldn’t « tiptoe around these issues. He ought to make this part and parcel [of the campaign]. This is who he is. »

Green Meanies
In downplaying the environment, both Gore and his advisers ignored Lyndon Johnson’s famous rule of politics: It’s better to have your adversaries inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in. Bush had learned this lesson the hard way, watching his father lose in 1992 to Bill Clinton after being assaulted from the right by fundamentalist Christians who thought he was ignoring their interests. When Bush entered the race, he made sure that he reined in the more unruly fringes of the GOP, cutting deals with Christian conservatives and bringing them into the tent with the unified goal of simply winning the election.

Gore and his camp may have factored in Jesse Jackson, but they made no such calculations when it came to environmentalists. As a result, they were completely unprepared when a lot of them began dampening his tent. Environmentalists had been mounting increasingly heated attacks on Gore during his last term in office for failing to do more on climate change. In 1997, the Sierra Club ran TV ads in early primary states urging Clinton and Gore to « stand up to the special interests » and push for stronger clean-air rules. Environmental groups sent a polemic to editorial writers deriding Gore’s comments on global warming as « hot air. » In 1998, Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, and others met with Gore and asked the administration to mount a fight in Congress to reduce emissions from electric utilities. The meeting broke down into a shouting match after Gore flatly refused, yelling « Show me one vote! Name me one senator who’ll support me on this! »

As the campaign progressed, and Gore backburnered his green views, the environmentalists felt Gore was taking their votes for granted, which made it difficult for the environmental leaders who did sincerely support him to rally their troops. « The candidate wasn’t helping us, » says the League of Conservation Voters’ Deb Callahan. « We could only take it so far. If he had done more, we could have done more whipping up people. »

But former Gore campaign staffers and Clinton administration officials suggest that the environmentalists bear much of the blame for putting Bush in office. Carter Eskew, Gore’s message man, says, « They weren’t exactly unified behind Gore, rah-rah. »
At the grassroots level, many activists showed little understanding of the compromises necessary to get one of their own elected. Some went on to protest Gore outside the 2000 Democratic Convention, and in some cases only grudgingly gave him their endorsement. (At least one major group endorsed Bill Bradley during the primary.) During the campaign, Republicans gleefully touted a 1999 email from Sierra Club board member Michael Dorsey, in which he accused Gore of holding natural resources « hostage to the highest bidder, » adding: « With this legacy, no real environmentalist could ever endorse Al Gore. »

The Sierra Club quickly reaffirmed its support for Gore, but the environmentalists’ public unhappiness with Gore left the door open for a left-wing assault from Ralph Nader, who forced Gore to wage a real and expensive battle in places like Oregon, where Democratic presidential candidates had easily prevailed since 1988.

Activists in Oregon pushed Gore to come out in favor of removing dams from the upper Snake River to help restore the wild salmon population. But Gore was caught between an electoral rock and a hard place. The dams were actually in Washington, where the state leadership was adamantly opposed to removing them because of their role in providing electrical power, and Gore needed Washington as much as he needed Oregon. Gore insisted that he sincerely cared about the salmon and promised to convene a « salmon summit » as soon as he was elected, much the way Clinton did to broker a compromise over the spotted owl controversy in the early ’90s. But as one Clinton official puts it, « Their expectations were just impossible. »

Nader pounced on Gore’s vagueness on the salmon issue as proof that there was very little difference between Gore and Bush on the environment–a perception Bush happily capitalized on. Gore advisers believe that the environmental groups allowed that impression to stand unchallenged until the very end of the campaign, when the race came down to razor-thin margins. But by then it was too late, and now, the current president flat-out opposes removing the dams and most other measures to revive the salmon habitat. As one Gore campaign consultant laments, « The environmentalists blew it giving Gore a hard time. It’s a case study in how interest groups often don’t know what’s good for them. »

Too Yellow to be Green?
Nowhere was the impact of environmental politics more apparent than in the hotly contested race for Florida. While much has been written about how Gore could have done things differently during the recount, largely overlooked was his dismal campaign performance in a state that is home to 325,000 members of major environmental groups, not to mention thousands of others sympathetic to the cause. Because of its importance to the tourism industry, the environment is so critical to Florida politics that even oil-dynasty Gov. Jeb Bush has opposed offshore drilling there. In a brazen move to shore up Jeb’s reelection prospects, the president didn’t think twice about spending several hundred million taxpayer dollars to buy out oil-drilling leases off Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The League of Conservation Voters did a survey to see whether members of environmental groups voted more than the general public. In 1996, they did not, so the group orchestrated a « get out the vote » campaign to rally environmental voters to the polls. After the 2000 election, they went back to check to see how successful it had been. « In Florida, the number of environmental group members who voted dropped by 9 percent, » says Callahan.

She suspects that one reason for the drop-off was Gore’s failure to pick a side in the fight over the future of Homestead Air Force Base. The base had been severely damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and was slated to be closed. Local politicos in Miami-Dade County, including Democratic mayor and Gore fundraiser Alex Penelas, quickly seized the moment to hand over the development rights to a group of investors who included the son of legendary Cuban leader Jorge Mas Canosa. The group intended to turn Homestead into a commercial airport. The problem, however, was that the base was situated right in the middle of the Everglades and Biscayne national parks, which environmentalists feared would be badly damaged by pollution and traffic.
The Clinton EPA and Interior Department both came out against the airport, as did Gore’s rival in the Democratic primary, Bill Bradley. Polls also showed that two-thirds of Floridians opposed the airport. But once the campaign heated up, Gore inexplicably refused to take a position, infuriating many South Florida environmentalists who had watched him give a passionate speech at the Capitol announcing the administration’s plan to spend $8 billion restoring the Everglades. « He spoke for 20 minutes without notes, » says Alan Farago, who led the fight against the airport. « We were blown away by how much he knew. »

Yet on campaign swings through South Florida, says Farago, Gore adamantly refused to even discuss Homestead. « Gore’s silence made us doubt that he knew himself what his campaign stood for, » says Farago.

In February 2000, Florida novelist Carl Hiaasen wrote a scathing editorial in The Miami Herald attacking Gore for his lack of position, writing, « Vice President Al Gore, who claims the greenest pro-environmental credentials of all the presidential candidates, is showing a flash of yellow . . . braced with South Florida’s most controversial environmental issue, the environmental vice president has elected to wimp out and keep quiet . . . If he doesn’t take a stand soon, we can assume that the self-proclaimed green candidate isn’t referring to the green of the Everglades, but rather the green that Alex Penelas is stuffing into Democratic coffers. »

Green voters’ suspicions deepened further when they learned that the vice president’s point man in Florida, land-use lawyer Mitchell Berger, had financial ties to one of the developers involved in the airport proposal. Environmentalists became so furious that they threatened to picket Gore’s appearances, at one point forcing him to cancel a campaign stop. Disappointed with Gore, many environmental-minded voters supported Ralph Nader, who took a very public stand on Homestead and garnered more than 95,000 votes in Florida. National exit polls later suggested that about half of Nader’s votes would have gone to Gore, which would have been more than enough to put Gore over the top.

« Gore lost Florida because of environmentalists, » says Callahan. « If Al Gore had inspired environmental voters in Florida and not been ambiguous on some issues like on the Homestead development he would be president today. »

Mercury Rising
Much has changed since Al Gore conceded the election in December 2000. If the environment wasn’t a top-tier issue then, it will certainly be in 2004, if only because George Bush has made it one. Barely a year and a half into office, Bush proposed abandoning stricter regulations for arsenic in drinking water and scrapped plans to limit snowmobiles in Yellowstone Park even as photos of park rangers wearing gas masks flickered across the airwaves. He’s pushed for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other sensitive areas to oil drilling, gutted EPA’s enforcement budget and the Clean Air Act, pulled out of the Kyoto agreement on global warming, reneged on an agreement with the auto industry to raise fuel efficiency standards, and allowed Enron to write the administration’s energy policy.

Even without Bush’s proactive agenda, the environment has emerged as a pressing concern again simply because the public is starting to realize that something is seriously wrong with the way the earth is supposed to work. As Tim Wirth puts it: « We’re frying. »

The public didn’t need the recent National Academy of Sciences’ report, or the EPA assessment to the United Nations, to confirm their suspicions that global warming is not only happening, but also that humans are playing a huge role in it. Just since the beginning of the year, the media have produced a litany of foreboding stories about the strangely behaving global climate. The year 2001 was the second-hottest year on record, behind 1998. The East Coast this winter resorted to water rationing on the heels of a four-year-old drought. Olympic athletes in Salt Lake City held global-warming education rallies as they realized that the Winter Olympics was an endangered species.
In Alaska, where the average temperature has risen about seven degrees since the 1970s, roads are buckling, spruce forests have been wiped out by beetle epidemics, fires are raging across the state, and entire coastal towns may soon have to be abandoned or moved inland because of rising sea levels. Even the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline is in danger of collapsing into the melting permafrost. Taken together, these phenomena have been so disturbing that even one of Congress’s most anti-environmental senators is now talking about the reality of global warming. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) admitted recently to The New York Times that, « Alaska is harder hit by global climate change than any place in the world. »

The newspaper reports are eerily familiar, having been largely predicted in Al Gore’s book a decade ago. « Everything we’ve learned since then has just reconfirmed what we knew in the 1980s, » says Dr. Robert Watson, the former chair of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He notes that not only is the science more solid, but the projected temperature increases are now actually higher than they were when Gore wrote Earth in the Balance.

The observable evidence of global warming on the planet has convinced the rest of the industrialized world to move forward with a sense of urgency to address the problem. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has come out as one of the world’s most forceful leaders on climate change, and his country’s emissions have dropped by 5 percent since 1990; Germany’s emissions fell by 19 percent, even as U.S. discharges went up 18 percent during the same period. The E.U. and Japan have ratified Kyoto, and Russia is slated to do the same by the end of the year. A handful of multinational corporations, including BP, Shell, Toyota, and DuPont, have begun making voluntary reductions in their emissions, in part because they realize they otherwise won’t be able to compete in a post-Kyoto world. « Most people are getting it, except the U.S. administration and U.S. Congress, » says Watson.

Carpe Diem
Al Gore understands these issues more than just about any politician alive, and if he chooses to run in 2004, he has much to gain and nothing to lose from campaigning on them. Bush and the Republicans may have worked hard to brand Gore as an extremist for his environmental views, but the polls also say that nearly everything Gore supports, the public does, too.

Overwhelming majorities of Americans believe the federal government isn’t doing enough to protect the environment. Even higher percentages favor higher emission and pollution standards for industry, stronger enforcement of environmental regulations, and higher auto emission standards for cars. And despite Gore’s advisers’ fears that the public would view his support of Kyoto as a liability, after Bush pulled out of the treaty negotiations, 61 percent of Americans told ABC News pollsters that they thought the United States should sign it.

The environment could energize key Democratic constituencies, such as the young people who flocked to Ralph Nader’s campaign. Polls also suggest that the environment is a key factor in winning the votes of the ever-critical independents. Perhaps the best evidence for this is the decision by maverick Sen. John McCain to take up the issue of climate change. As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, McCain began holding hearings on climate change two years ago, and in February this year, he joined with Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Ct.) in introducing legislation that would increase fuel efficiency, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

From the Senate floor, McCain said it was clear that soon there would be a world marketplace that « rewards improvements in energy efficiency, advances in energy technologies, and improvements in land-use practices and we are running the risk that America is not going to be part of it. » McCain’s bill has been endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and most other Democratic presidential contenders.

But while Democrats are seizing the moment to display their environmental bona fides, and fighting Bush’s attempts to roll back environmental protections, Gore is taking a powder, missing a tremendous opportunity to exercise leadership on his favorite issue. His absence is noticed. As one former Clinton official says with exasperation, « Where the hell is Gore? »

Since conceding the election, Gore has made a few speeches, and on Earth Day, wrote an editorial for The New York Times on global warming. Yet just as during the campaign, his recent speeches and writing have been long on anodyne calls for new investment in clean technology, but notably bereft of bold positions, such as supporting mandatory caps on carbon emissions, which every other Democratic contender has taken. An early June speech to the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention shortly after the flap over Bush’s EPA report on global warming didn’t even make national news.
Should he run in 2004, Gore will not be able to nickel and dime his way to beating Bush, who in 2000 successfully blurred the distinctions between the two candidates on issues like Social Security and Medicare, and managed to portray himself as a moderate on the environment, the one area where that should simply not be possible. Gore has a natural, authentic advantage on the environment, but only to the extent that he makes an issue out of it. He’ll have to do it boldly, taking on a few choice, controversial issues in a way that cuts through the media chatter. He should pin Bush to the ropes in the process, reminding the public at every possible turn that the current president is the same man who, when running for Congress in the 1970s said, « There’s no such thing as being too closely aligned with the oil industry in West Texas. » If this plan seems too radical, Gore should recall his own words on global warming from Earth in the Balance, in which he predicted that « proposals which are today considered too bold . . . will soon be derided as woefully inadequate. » 

SELF IMPOSED PRISONS

For most of us, when we think of prisons we picture large concrete buildings, barbed wire, electric fences, and steel bars. We envision criminals being held there for crimes against society.

There is also a different kind of prison. This prison is one whose bars are invisible to the naked eye. The walls are the human mind which houses the prisoner. And what are the barriers that form this prison? Fear, anxiety, worry, lack of self-esteem are just a few. Emotional problems we can’t break free from imprison us as does addiction.

Fear is a form of prison that prevents us from doing things we may want to do. Fear may force us to hold our tongue when we want to speak. Fear can confine an individual in his or her own home. Most of us are afraid of something. What, we must ask ourselves, assuming our fear is realistic, is the worst that might happen? Could we be harmed? True, some amount of fear is necessary. Healthy fear keeps us from doing things like jumping off bridges or standing in the middle of a four lane highway, so it is important to determine initially if what we fear is normal or if it is a form of self imprisonment.

I spent seven years living with the fear of being abandoned and rejected. I felt I had to be perfect. I didn’t voice my opinions, but allowed myself to be manipulated and controlled by another person. I sacrificed myself to keep someone else happy so I would feel safe, and guess what? My worst fear was realized anyway. I was rejected, abandoned, and betrayed. In reflection I realize that I am better off now because I have liberated myself from that self imposed prison. I am a lot happier also because I no longer fear what already happened.

Anxiety and worry are other forms of prison. All the worry and anxiety in the world won’t change the outcome of anything. It won’t add a single day to your life but may indeed take away a few years. This type of prison can affect your health. Individuals prone to anxiety and worry frequently suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease, high blood pressure, and insomnia. How is one released from this repetitive cycle? It isn’t easy but it can be done. It takes practice, determination, and a lot of support from good friends and family. Each time you worry about something ask yourself if there is anything you can do to change the situation. If there isn’t, then take a deep breath, try to relax, and if you are a spiritual person, pray a lot. The best advice I have ever received is to just « Trust in the Lord » or « Give it to God. » Recite the Serenity Prayer to yourself, over and over. Call up a trusted friend with a listening ear. It does help.

Through intimidation people attempt to imprison others, both intentionally and unintentionally. If you are the one being intimidated, you must break the hold it has upon you. If you allow others to intimidate you, you are giving up your own independence. Learning how to stand up for oneself is not easy, I know. When you find yourself being intimidated, ask yourself: « What can this person really do to me? » In the majority of cases there is no threat of physical harm; it is the emotional harm that could be inflicted upon us that we most fear. This is because we allow it to harm us. Most of the damage is being done by our own perception of reality. I have only recently begun to break the chains of this prison for myself by speaking my mind and seeing what transpires, and I have discovered that my fears were groundless! Those I allowed to intimidate me were not really dangerous. I allowed myself to be afraid and was held hostage by my own mind.

Lack of self-esteem can imprison us as well. When you don’t believe in yourself you can never realize your full potential. You don’t fail by trying. The only real failure is in not trying at all. Even when you don’t succeed at something, it is not a failure: it is a learning experience. Keep this old expression in mind: « If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. » Encouragement is the key. Encourage yourself. Tell yourself that you can do it. We all can use a little praise from our peers from time to time but don’t become dependent upon it. If you do, you have just built yourself another prison. Believe in yourself and be free.

Another form of imprisonment is addiction. This is a much more difficult problem and professional help will be needed. I worked in this field for many years. The first step towards freedom from this prison is admitting that a problem exists. Until one admits to an addiction, it cannot be overcome. The second step is asking for help. No individual can or should go through this alone. There are resources available. Support groups are listed in the phone book. Remember, drugs and alcohol never solved a single problem, they only create them and hold you prisoner. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you are in a self imposed prison, you have just taken the first step towards unlocking the doors that keep you hostage. Start walking towards the exit, one step at a time and don’t look back. The hallway may be long, but don’t be discouraged. If you come up against a locked door along the way, just take time to think about the problem blocking passage and you will discover the key to opening the doors of freedom, one portal at a time.

Perseverance

When the veil of darkness has draped itself around your life and concealed the tears of your pain and despair, when you stand alone in your hour of adversity and need and no-one is willing to stand beside you, when the battles within your life are on the verge of defeat and ruin, when you are in exile within your own mind, when your heart is empty and dampened by the tears of your anguished soul.

When you feel like a bird behind bars, which once flew free and unfettered, when sorrow has embraced your soul, when the temples of your hopes lie in ashes like the ruins of an ancient age gone by and there are no traces of your footsteps within the valley of your dreams.

When the haunting silence of night hangs like a shadow within the depths of your heart, when you cling like a child to the memories of yesterday, when the light of dawn refuses to appear and the sun does not shine, when each day has become an eternal struggle to survive.

When your wounds cry out to be healed, when fear has held courage ransom, when your soul stands in solitude and loneliness choking in isolation under a moon which no longer smiles nor yearns to gaze at his children, the stars, when all have betrayed you, when love has left your heart and not returned.

When you no longer believe in yourself, when pain and grief are your constant companions, when there is no vision within the mists of your agony, when no one listens or understands you, when peace is a distant world, when you have become a fugitive within your own mind, shackled like a slave within your own insanity —

Refuse with every last drop of sacred blood within your bruised and battered body to surrender your soul to the pains of your existence!

Believe in yourself, even if all those around you doubt your ability to rise above the chaos and stand tall against the obstacles and challenges in your life. Remember that the only limitations are those you place upon yourself and your thoughts make the world what you want it to be. Therefore, mold your thoughts into a weapon of immense power. Within us all lie an inner strength and peace which the world cannot penetrate nor ignorance poison. Embrace that inner source of strength and you will become fearless.

Become like the seasons: ever changing, ever adapting, ever moving. Nature is in constant flux, the old gives way to the new. This is the course of life, yet within this existence life continues despite its pains. Within the midst of our suffering there is meaning!

For just as water runs from a stream, as the oak tree grows strong and upright, as snow –the softest and most peaceful of Nature’s elements– covers the fiercest of mountains, so new life and meaning will emerge from your own inner being.

The Crucifixion of Christ, American Style

« For God so loved the world… » he returned his only begotten son to the land where he shed his grace on thee.

Vindication for the faithful, rejoicing for the true believers, it was the second coming of Christ—and he was coming to America. Not to bring Armageddon, but to save mankind from Armageddon.

Jesus will make his appearance at the intersection of the streets appropriately named « Liberty » and « Church » in New York City, located at what has come to be known as « Ground Zero. »

Lower Manhattan was virtually shut down as millions of the faithful and curious flooded the streets to get a glimpse of the second coming of their lord and savior.

Even the New York Stock Exchange suspended trading as the crowds swelled from the Battery to midtown Manhattan. The joy and hope that Christ was bringing was palpable—breathtaking, you might say—in the near carnival-like atmosphere that was created in lower Manhattan.

Songs like « Amazing Grace » and « Jesus Christ Superstar » played from loudspeakers where the Twin Towers had once stood. American flags and crosses were everywhere.

Martin Luther King’s « dream » was now a reality, as black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, young and old, « red staters » and « blue staters, » even atheists and agnostics, all joined hands in love and friendship at this celebration of the second coming of the Prince of Peace.

The media frenzy was unprecedented.

It was « all Jesus all the time »: round-the-clock coverage as priests, rabbis, and even an ayatollah appeared as expert commentators to explain what this all meant and what we should think.

Mel Gibson, who produced the film « The Passion of the Christ, » was interviewed on so many television stations the joke was he must have a double. A female CNN reporter facetiously asked if the handsome Gibson’s identical twin was married.

The night before, the new Pope, Benedict XVI, gave a rare interview with Mike Wallace from the CBS News show, « 60 Minutes. » And for good reason: This was to be « the greatest story ever told. »

On vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, President Bush read a brief statement, calling the second coming of Christ a « miracle of faith, » and formally welcoming him to America. Bush ended his remarks by declaring, « Let freedom reign and God bless America. »

Christ had chosen to begin speaking at 8:46 a.m., the precise time when, on September 11, 2001, the first plane smashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

The clock in the corner of the TV screen read « Countdown to Jesus » as the minutes and seconds ticked away. It looked a little like we were about to launch the Space Shuttle, one reporter noted.

At exactly 8:46 a.m., there was a sudden, immediate, « deafening » silence, almost as if the world had ended. Then Jesus Christ appeared alone before a massive bank of microphones, placed just two blocks north of Ground Zero on a little street appropriately named « Trinity Place. »

Looking much as he did two thousand years ago, the longhaired, bearded Jesus Christ, shabbily dressed in a robe and sandals, began to speak in a soft voice.

« Shalom, salaam and may peace be with you, » he offered.

« I, Jesus of Nazareth, use this sacred ground to symbolize where nearly four years ago, at this exact moment, man’s inhumanity to man was broadcast live for the entire world to bear witness to.

« Those who committed these barbaric acts thought of themselves as ‘believers,’ but only a believer in Satan could commit such a heinous act, » said Christ.

The applause rang out like booming thunder, echoing off the skyscrapers along the narrow streets of lower Manhattan, and down the section of Broadway known as the Canyon of Heroes. Shouts of « hallelujah, hallelujah » sent goose bumps up people’s arms. The faithful were not crying; they were sobbing. Some people fainted.

For the viewers at home, in the corner of TV screens a small woman provided sign language for the hearing impaired.

Christ continued. « But I come before America today, for she is the greatest danger to world peace since Genesis.

« To suggest that God, our father, would ever be on the side of an America—or any country, for that matter—which attacks poor, defenseless, impoverished people out of revenge, fear, ignorance or greed, contradicts everything I stand for today and, more importantly, died for two thousand years ago. »

On the streets and watching at home and at work, the American people were in « shock and awe » at this blunt criticism from their lord and savior.

A few cheered, but Christ’s condemnation of America’s response to the evils of 9/11 and of their President, Bush—the born-again man of faith, leader of the greatest country on earth—drew immediate and harsh disapproval.

Christian conservatives went on the attack, charging that Christ was wrong to criticize Bush while he was fighting the evil forces of Satan in his divinely inspired worldwide crusade on the war on terror. Christ, as one remarked, seemed to speak with a French accent, and sounded a lot like a bleeding-heart liberal.

Fearing that Christ’s message might undermine troop morale in Iraq and Afghanistan conservative Republicans launched an urgent campaign to—as they term it— »swift-boat » Christ.

« Swift-boat » is a new verb in the American lexicon, meaning « to smear in the name of truth, justice and freedom. »

A Conservative evangelical group from the Bible Belt was quickly formed, named « The Twelve Veteran Disciples for Truth. »

Using only their first names, Peter, Paul, James, John, Andy, Phil, Bart, Matthew, Simon, Thad, Tom, along with their spokesman, Judas, appeared together on Fox News to, as they stated, « set the record straight. »

They all claimed to have ancestors who served with Jesus back in the Middle East, and stated that his message of « love your enemies » was outdated and dangerous in these troubled times, when terrorists and evildoers lurk around every corner and can strike at any moment.

« George W. Bush is a strong and sincere proponent of Christianity, a strong advocate of using military force to attack—even preemptively attack—our enemies. Notice that I say ‘attack,’ not ‘love’, » said Judas.

Vice President Dick Cheney, appearing with former Georgia Senator Zell Miller before a uniformed military audience in Texas, suggested that Jesus’ « love your enemy » message was a thinly veiled liberal euphemism that meant Christ wants to cut the defense budget and reduce the federal funding for the body armor badly needed by our brave young men and women in harm’s way.

« Let he without sin cast the first spitball, » Cheney mocked, to a standing ovation from the troops.

The American media, which loves simple soundbites to always entertain and sometimes inform, played Cheney’s clever spitball line over and over ad nauseum.

One enterprising young Republican trademarked the term « Let he without sin cast the first spitball, » embroidered it on t-shirts and is selling them on eBay, along with a scowling « have you hugged a terrorist today » teddy bear wearing a little turban.

On his daily radio program, Rush Limbaugh—the lord of the airwaves, the voice of the people, his excellency in broadcasting, revered by millions of « ditto heads » —asked whether the wounds Jesus suffered during his crucifixion had possibly been exaggerated.

According to Limbaugh: « Thorns can only cause flesh wounds, and nails in your hands and feet are not lethal. »

« Nails, » Limbaugh went on with a chuckle, « should be an occupational hazard for Jesus Christ, the carpenter from Nazareth. What’s next: Christ building houses for the poor, along with the second most annoying liberal, that other bleeding heart carpenter, Jimmy Carter? » Limbaugh mocked.

Immediately after the show, on sale at http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/ were steel-toed work books adorned with the American flag, a pair of « thorn-resistant » « holy » garden gloves (minus the holes), and a box of Band Aids with tiny red crosses should the gloves fail.

On his program, radical preacher and firebrand television evangelist Pat Robertson referred to Christ’s « meek shall inherit the earth » remark as « communist infiltration and extremism. »

He suggests, like Limbaugh, that the liberal Christ is soft on the freedom-hating Islamic evildoers who detest our values.

Robertson went so far as to say that Christ was dangerous, and posed the question « perhaps someone needs to take him out before he brings on Armageddon? »

President Bush, speaking to new Marine recruits at Paris Island, praised the Lord Jesus and thanked him for his sacrifices. The President, who speaks to God regularly, insisted, however, that God also put him on this earth during these dangerous times to do his will.

« Christ is my brother, » Bush emphasized, « and brothers often have differences of opinion, that’s all. Christ believes in turning the other cheek; I prefer an eye for and eye. Or, as we say in Texas—dead or alive, » he said to applause from his troops.

« Semper fi, » shouted Bush.

Bush declared, « Jesus has never been elected to any public office. I come to work every day as your Commander–in-Chief with war on my mind. Christ speaks of peace this and love that… all kinds of dangerous messages in the post 9/11 world, when we have been attacked by the evildoers who can’t stand our freedoms, » Bush said, to a standing ovation.

Bush ended his speech by reciting his own version of « The Lord’s Prayer »:

Our Father, Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
And never forgive the terrorists,
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into appeasement,
and deliver the U.S. from evil. Amen.

The Democrats, eager to dispel rumors that they will forever be irrelevant, have got into the act. »

Fearing that the compassionate Christ might be pro-life, they have set out to—as they term it— »Bork » Jesus.

Like « swift-boat, » « Bork, » taken from the name of the rejected Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, has also become a verb meaning « to publicly destroy the character of those opposed to the Democrats’ single issue of abortion. »

Teams of lawyers paid for by the Democrats, many of whom, opponents allege, have never read a Bible, sworn on a Bible or seen a Bible except in a cheap motel room, are now scouring the Bible to determine whether Jesus, two thousand years ago, may have had an inappropriate relationship with Mary Magdalene and engaged in a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

Former President Bill Clinton advising the Democrats, as an expert in this area, stated emphatically, « Jesus did not have sexual relations with that woman! »

With Clinton’s declaration, Democrats ended the investigation and went back to their fund raising.

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal stepped in and was sharply critical of Christ’s message that « the love of money is the root of all evil and that it would be easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. »

Greed, according to the Wall Street Journal is good; greed works; greed is what made America great.

They added that « to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s » suggests that Christ is in favor of raising taxes to fund liberal social programs and increase handouts to welfare mothers.

Jewish groups, fearing that Christ—who was, after all, born in Bethlehem, Palestine—would be sympathetic to Palestinian suffering and thus would oppose increased military aid for Israel, labeled him anti-Semitic.

When reminded Christ was born Jewish they amended the label to « self-hating Jew. »

Catholics, fearing that this time around not only would Christ clear the temples, but the churches too, were quietly distancing themselves from their lord and savior. With skyrocketing insurance premiums caused by the lawsuits stemming from the church’s sex scandal, Saturday Night Bingo is needed now more than ever and must not be interrupted.

President Bush’s advisor and brain, Karl Rove, has denied reports suggesting he was the source of the leak that begs the question « when did Christ stop beating his gay wife. »

A defensive Rove vehemently denied he was the source and offered proof by reminding everyone that the Bush administration is clear in its opposition to gay marriage.

Sensing blood in the water, the Republican spin machine revved up to full throttle.

Ann Coulter, the « angelic »-looking « Republican Party Doll, » appeared on The O’Reilly Factor in a pure white dress with a Victorian collar, her Rapunzel-like blond hair gleaming; under the set lighting. O’Reilly, complimented Coulter saying she reminded him tonight of « Glinda, the good witch of the north in the Wizard of Oz. » However, some critics suggested she sounded more like the « wicked witch of the west » when she said: « …with his sandals, long hair and beard, Christ bore an eerie resemblance to Osama bin Laden. » O’Reilly said nothing but nodded his approval.

But the coup de grace for Jesus was when Judas, the spokesman for « The Twelve Veteran Disciples for Truth, » approached the Justice Department with evidence that the Middle Eastern–born, bearded Christ, who speaks Arabic and is in the US illegally, is a card-carrying member of Al Qaeda.

Judas charged that Christ was not the son of God, but rather the son of Allah.

With silver selling at about $6.80 an ounce (down 9.5 cents), thirty pieces of silver—about $200—just doesn’t buy what it did two thousand years ago. So Judas opted for « fifteen minutes of fame » instead.

He is scheduled to appear on « Oprah » tomorrow, « Larry King Live » at night and « Good Morning America » the next day.

President Bush has invited him to his State of the Union address in January, where he will sit beside Laura Bush.

All suggestions regarding book deals and movie rights are referred to Judas’s agent at International Creative Management.

With Christ-approval numbers now in the single digits, and with compelling evidence from the « disciples for truth » that Christ is a member of Al Qaeda, he was arrested under the provisions of the US Patriot Act and whisked off to an undisclosed location.

The indigent, penniless Christ was represented in court by a public defender who appealed Christ’s incarceration all the way up to the US Supreme court.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who is of Italian ancestry tracing back to ancient Rome, when speaking for the court refused to hear the appeal. In a tersely worded opinion for a unanimous court, he stated: « We wash our hands of this case. »

The High Court, however, then overturned the twenty-five-year sentence of convicted WorldCom (MCI) thief Bernard « Bernie » Ebbers, declaring that his rights under the 8th Amendment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment, were violated.

Ebbers was immediately released back into society and received a hero’s welcome in his hometown. Signs of « Give us Bernard » appeared everywhere.

Outside the court at Christ’s hearing, one lone supporter of Christ held up a sign that read « crucify the sinless, and set the guilty free. » He was immediately arrested.

Accompanied by his legal aid lawyer, Christ was returned to the courtroom from his undisclosed location, along with two other prisoners.

Dressed in an orange jumpsuit and shackled at the wrists and ankles, he looked gaunt and sad at his circumstances.

His public defender angrily referred to this proceeding as a « high-tech crucifixion. » The public defender was immediately cited for contempt of court by the judge.

« You judge, you will be judged, » Christ’s lawyer reminded him.

Christ never spoke during the brief hearing, except when the judge asked him if he had any final words before sentencing. « Yes, your honor. Father, forgive them, again, for they know not what they do. »

Dethroning the Gods of the Religions

When the body-mind is indivisibly unified in consciousness man is continuous with the universe of life forces. The threads of unity, the lines of force that connect the body-mind to the cosmos and to the universal are in that case open and full. Their sundering coincides with the collapse and inversion of the body upon itself in self-protection. These lines of force are precisely the nadis of the yogic tradition, the hitas of the Upanishads, the jing luo (meridians) of the Chinese tradition and the varmas of the Siddhanta tradition of South India. They are the threads of force by which the universe is integrated; they constitute the web of life, the circuits of the life-force or of the current of manifestation. These threads are integrated and synthesized in the body-mind by means of its psycho-cosmic axis which we have termed the sushumna. The sushumna is the living prolongation of the axis mundi in function of which the body-mind inheres in the universal matrix, in the web of universal force (shakti) on which the world lives.

Severed from the cosmos and from consciousness itself – for it is by consciousness alone that man realizes direct, unmediated participation in reality – man perforce falls out of the universal and out of reality and into the folds of the collective mind where it finds security, meaning, direction and the means of its survival as a separated organism. The mass mind is unconscious, for the forces which govern and condition it rule it through the subconscious. On the basis of the prior detachment of the individual from the universe he or she becomes entirely susceptible to authoritarian repression and control. This detachment from reality or the loss of the sovereign consciousness of universal man marks precisely the passage from consciousness to unconsciousness, from the individual to the herd and the creation of a subconscious psychic domain which henceforth becomes the de facto controller of the now superficial conscious mind of the waking state. The mass mind operates precisely in virtue of the ascendancy of the subconscious as the new seat of psychic functioning.

The term reality is synonymous with the term being or existence.Metaphysically, we could say that only existence exists and there is no alternative to it, regardless of whether someone perceives it or not. This also means that existence is both undifferentiated (yet paradoxically comprised of distinction) and unlimited (yet paradoxically comprised of limits) since it must exist in every point of space-time and there could be no gaps, no emptinesses and no nothings where it is not. Therefore existence is not in space-time, rather space-time is in existence [1].

From a different point of view we could say that reality is life itself, and by this we mean the life-force (shakti) of existence manifesting as all forms and beings. The uncaused, self-originated life-force is undifferentiated (although, paradoxically, it is all-possibility) since its transmission requires a universal connective medium. Just as electrical conduction requires both a conductive medium (such as copper) as well as a continuous closed circuit, similarly participation in real life means that the individual being must break out of its defended self-bubble and enter the universal circuits of the life-force, that is, the being must become unobstructed and conductive.

The separation of the body-mind from the universe and from consciousness and its retreat into narcissistic self-enclosure has given rise to the corruption of the cognitive process and of the capacity to existentially participate in real life. Man projects his separated condition onto the universe on which, therefore, he projects an external causality, namely, a separated or external Creator God or some other cosmological singularity such as a “Big Bang” prior to and independent of space-time. Because he finds himself psychologically outside the universe and separated from life in function of the sundering of the lines of universal integration – the nadis, hitas, and so forth – this permits him the illusion that he can locate his awareness outside the universe or that there is, or can be, such a point of view. In reality there is no outside the universe, there is no outside of existence except nonexistence which precisely is nothing. Any point “outside” the total universe would either be nowhere and nothing or else it must be part of existence. Hence there is no universal causality; there is no agency external to existence which causes it. Existence always exists.

This is precisely why such questions as “is the universe finite or infinite” or “what caused the universe” are false and cannot be answered because the point of view from which such questions arise does not really exist and is unattainable. It presumes that consciousness can take up a position outside existence as such in order to observe it – and that the totality of existence can be an object to it – which is impossible on pain of immediate self-negation. Therefore the universe perceived by this separate mode of awareness in a certain sense does not exist in the form in which it is perceived and therefore a science or a theology which attempts to do so starts from a cognitive position that is already false.

From the standpoint of consciousness itself, truly realized, the universe appears altogether differently from that projected by the religions or even by modern astrophysics. Existence is an infinite potentiality or a potential infinity which has no opposite, no contrast, no outside and no inside [2]. In that case reality is recognized as nondependent and unoriginated; it has no external cause; it simply exists in uncaused ecstasy. Once the separated body-mind coalesces or merges into the aggregate of the collective psyche it projects a causality external to itself and thereby lays down the conditions for control by external authoritarian agencies.

Although a full treatment of the subject is outside the scope of this essay, we should note in passing the significant fact that both modern science and the religions adopt an authoritarian point of view when they speak of Nature obeying immutable laws, or laws laid down by a Creator God. In reality the universe is not functioning in passive abeyance to any laws; all existents are functioning according to their specific nature and are not simply submitted to an external determination. To deny this is to admit that reality is a nothing and has no inherent identity and that the qualities and behavior exhibited by phenomena are the result of the imposition of an exogenous force or will which, in either case, amounts to reduction to the arbitrary. A true understanding of the universe cannot with impunity bypass the process of realizing the central position of consciousness itself in which cognitive distortions resulting from the superimposition of the separative point of view on reality are resolve [ 3].

The formation of the mass mind is governed by three fundamental determinations which – through complex subconscious mechanisms – control all the individual beings that compose it. In a descending order of importance, the first and the most important is the influence of the ancestral reservoir from which all genetic heredity flows; the second is the immediate parental generation that has given birth to any generation currently alive, and the third, commonly considered to be the most powerful but in reality the least, is the environment. An environment is in reality the product of the accumulated achievement of the whole historical line of a given sector of humanity – and in particular its representatives closest to the present – and this is why its effective influence is derivative and not primary. The environment is precisely the exteriorization of the contents of the collective psyche and not its cause. It serves both to fix and stabilize it as well as provide the field for its activity and its external identity.

The ancestral pool or the hereditary deposits of all antecedent generations, in other words the dead, being infinitely greater in number than those physically alive are to the same degree immensely more powerful than the total quantum of force represented by the living. The cumulative mass of hereditary force represented by the ancestral ascendants therefore, and in particular those proportionately more proximate to the generations physically alive, exercise by far the greatest influence over the collective subconscious of the mass mind and determine both its qualitative characteristics and the directional tendencies of its historical development.

Current generations continually contribute to this pool and the course of its development as they pass from physical existence but the strength of their influence is significantly weaker than the momentum communicated by the past. However, while not ignoring the great achievements that the great historical individuals have contributed to this mass, the true individual attains real consciousness only by emerging from and therefore radically transcending the immense force of gravity of the lunar pool of the mass mind [4].

Because the mass mind is unconscious, it is passive and therefore tends to coagulate in fixed patterns of behavior and thought which persist indefinitely unless modified by an external force. These patterns are the traditions which define it and give it significance. Therefore, all the achievements of civilization, to the extent that it exists, have been the achievements of individuals and not of collectivities. All positive evolutionary changes in collectivities have come from individual men and women who precisely have to some degree or another emerged out of the general conditioning. Even in the case of inventions, their creation was made possible by men and women who asked why not. However, because collectivities are passive and have been formed largely from the legacy of its past ancestral heredity all changes are slow and only take effect after continuous repetition, that is, until they are integrated into the subconscious and become part of the collective conditioning.

The conscious individual is, in integral terms, one who has engaged in a yogic process of association with the very force of Existence itself by virtue of which he or she acquires the capacity to emerge from and overcome the gravity field of the mass. In that event the conscious individual steps out of the stream of horizontally determined time and realizes a complete vertical discontinuity with respect to the past. The immensity of the task of conscious individuation lies precisely in the fact that the collective mind, as I have said, is constituted not only of the existing generations but also by the whole cumulative influence of its hereditary antecedents which are continually active at the level of the subconscious mind. Consciousness may become conditioned by such hereditary elements but it is neither caused by them nor is it inherently bound by them.

One of the most important conclusions that can be drawn from these considerations is that a true civilization, what I have called a civilization of the universe, one that is really in harmony with the universe, is the achievement of an organic integration of conscious individuals, not the exteriorization of the mass psyche, or the collective mind. Only the conscious individual is connected to reality. For the collective man, reality is mediated through the unconscious mass mind and therefore he is fundamentally delusional. Even in the modern case where a succession of unique individuals have contributed to the economic and technological improvement of the man of the mass, the result is not an advancement of civilization because it does not result in the emergence of the conscious individual.

The contributions of the great individual have historically been put at the service of the usual narcissism of the mass mind once they have become part of it. Hence mankind remains completely tribalist and fundamentally primitive in its disposition for which patriotism and nationalism are but thin disguises. Civilization is a not a possibility of the mass mind. Reality is relational and real knowledge therefore means total integration with reality, not distance, not separation, not provincialism, not isolation, not prejudice. The conscious self-responsible, self-originated and self-realized individual – one who has directly realized reality – is the only true man or woman, the only source of truth and sanity, the only foundation of a civilization worthy of the name and the only hope for the future [5].

Since the mass mind of terrestrial humanity is passive – the direct realization and identification with reality having being broken or rendered ineffective – it is necessarily controlled by that which lies outside it, and given the overwhelming obstructions in its historical development, it follows that the ultimate controllers of the current humanity are not beings who have transcended the psychic domain by virtue of a unique realization. They are not individuals or truly individuated beings who have conquered the collective unconsciousness of the mass psyche on the basis of a sublime realization of the spirit or consciousness itself. The controllers of the present humanity pertain to yet another mass mind that lies outside the vectors and coordinates of the terrestrial plane and properly pertain to an extra-human species. This species clearly demonstrates a vaster psychic amplitude and mechanical cunning than does the present humanity in virtue of which this species is able to dominate it. Even the Gods of the religions have been exceptionally useful tools for its purposes. There is a faction on earth that sees the human species as another animal to be husbanded.

It should be noted at once that the Gods of the religions – including the ancestral and tribal Gods – represent or demonstrate in general, not omniscience as they typically claim for themselves – but the average of the humanity that they control, both in terms of intelligence and character. This observation holds the key to uncovering their real identity. Their existence arises out of a collective psychological condition of dependency and fear which presupposes the mind-body split – and their characteristics are precisely limited by the qualities inherent in this milieu.

The causal mechanism by which such quasi-entities arise will be examined in detail below, but to properly understand the phenomenology of this process the following key principle must always be borne in mind. At the very moment that man’s primordial link to consciousness itself and to the life-current of the universe becomes severed, the mass mind is formed and arises. This causal relationship is direct. The Gods of the religions are a special class of psychic entity that arise solely in relation to and in the context of the mass mind; they never arise to an individual that has realized its immediate link to reality. Such entities are a unique and invariable characteristic that is inseparable from the conditions associated with the specific structure of mass psychology. These two forms of consciousness, the collectivist and that of the realized, self-originated individual, are precisely the basis for the distinction between the solar and lunar religions that has been developed elsewhere [6].

According to the theories of modern western psychology the mind is merely an effect or an epiphenomenon of biology or of matter; it does not arise in the context of an environment that is continuous with its own order of reality, that is to say, a cosmic meta-domain of mind exactly as the body arises in the contextual domain of the physical world. Consequently the traditional conception of God is regarded by this psychology as merely a projection of man’s fear’s and hopes and is reducible to them.

However, from the standpoint of a non-reductionist perspective in which the physical world is a dimension within the cosmic meta-domain of the psyche things appear otherwise. While the genesis of the religious Gods does require a mass psychology of dependency they are not merely subjective hallucinations. They arise as symbiotic dimensional entities that have no independent existence from the psychic energy of the collectivity from which they draw their power. The relationship between such Gods and the groups in which and on which they live is not merely parasitic, it is reciprocal and hence symbiotic. Because such Gods are inserted in a subtle dimension of the world-process that is in reality psychophysical in nature they are associated with or can acquire influence over certain of the elemental forces of the natural world and bring about real effects of a purely external order on behalf of their votaries.

Having defined the class of entities to which the religious Gods belong we can now examine their genesis and the functional mechanisms by which they operate which we will illustrate with examples drawn from the so-called Semitic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In the Cosmic Origins of Species it was shown that existence has no contrary and therefore no cause: nonexistence does not exist otherwise it would be something and therefore cannot antecede or have caused existence. Likewise consciousness is always the case, it cannot be derived from what is not conscious; therefore it is uncaused and unoriginated. Finally Life is energy, therefore radiation. It follows that manifest Life must always be the case since non-manifestation is not a possibility of what is by its very nature radiant. Therefore, existence as such always and everywhere exists in eternal duration, it has no beginning and no end and in this respect we agree with Aristotle. There is no Creator of the universe or of any universe. All universes are macrobeings that reproduce themselves in generations exactly as all living being reproduce themselves in generations. Every universe contains the seeds of succeeding universes and reproduce themselves in endless beginningless duration.

In the face of this evidence the Gods of the religions invariably claim to be the omnipotent creators, maintainers and destroyers of the universe and of man. This claim is false: no God created the universe and claims of omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence and the like by religious Gods can be rigorously shown to be superstitious nonsense on the basis of both logical and empirical evidence. Throughout the course of human history thousands of Gods have claimed to be the creator of the universe by means of an enormous variety of mechanisms; all of these divergent claims cannot be true because none of them is true.

In order to project its absoluteness and omnipotence and thereby gain the total allegiance and unconditional subservience of its devotees, every God must make time and space begin with itself and claim to be in control of every force and particle in the universe. A mere glance at the history of the world in general and of the religions in particular- given their reciprocal ostracisms, their internal contradictions and the strictly limited scope of their influence and expansion – renders such claims obvious nonsense. The proposition of a transcendent unity of religions – of a single source of their emanation – entertained by certain metaphysical systems is not supported by any facts. Religious sectarianism has directly or indirectly been the single greatest cause of bigotry, murder, treachery, narrowness, stupidity and deception far exceeding every other cause in the history of man.

On the contrary what is clear is that the Gods exhibit both the best and the worst characteristics of every human collectivity attached to them. This is necessarily the case since they are symbiotic entities which, through the worship and ritual acts of its votaries, progressively accumulate power by absorbing the psychic constituents of its worshipers both while alive and after death. Therefore the demonstrated qualities of the Gods of the religions are entirely human, both in their weaknesses and in their strengths and give evidence of a level of intelligence that hardly ever surpasses the average of the collectivity in question.

In modern times this racial or nationalist narcissism and the imperialist mythology to which it gives rise exists to one degree or another among the Japanese, Chinese, Arabs, Russians, Germans, Americans and others and it is by no means the prerogative of the Jews. Wherever it appears, its effects have been without exception disastrous, and the millennial Jewish version of it is qualitatively no different from those of other peoples merely because it has been dressed up in the garments of religion [8].

Judaism would have remained an insignificant tribal cult had it not been annexed by Christianity and thus by Europe and it was in this manner that it entered onto the world stage and achieved the status of a “great” or “world” religion. The historical vehicle for this development was the Roman Empire which had already realized the unification of the European tribal states under a single form of government centered in Rome.

Once Christianity had been adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century C.E. under the emperor Constantine the conditions for the Judaization of Europe had been established, a process that reached its ultimate term of completion with the Protestant Reformation when the Bible for the first time became directly accessible to the masses and no longer mediated through the Latin church.

Now it was Jesus the Nazarene who created the breach in the hermetically closed tribal religion of the Jews and taught a message about a universal, non-authoritarian God of love. Rabbinical Judaism declares that their religion was the first to universalize the one God. This is false. The Jewish God was and still is the one God of the “chosen people” who was “jealous” of every other God and despised other peoples whom he always sought to undermine and destroy unless they willingly submitted themselves in tribute to his favored tribe [9]. It was Jesus who attempted to universalize God beyond “the chosen people” and for this he was apparently killed by the Jews because to do this he had to claim a universal authority they refused to recognize.

A careful examination of the gospel texts suggests that the God of the Nazarene is a distinct condition of reality from the God of the Jews, which belongs to a class of entities we have identified in the foregoing. But the identification of the two resulted in the immediate destruction of the revolutionary teachings of the Nazarene and thereafter European humanity fell under the influence of yet another symbiotic authoritarian force from which came the profound retardation of the European peoples and the disaster of the so-called Middle Ages. The author of this crime was Paul of Tarsus and the ultimate consequences of his teachings were enacted into canon law by the early Councils of the Church starting with that of Ephesus in 326 CE.

For the Nazarene, the Way was to love God by the total release of the body, mind and heart into the condition of God, then to see, feel and release all beings (not merely those in one’s tribe) into that very condition through love. While this writer does not by any means endorse the teaching of the Nazarene in its totality, the foregoing could be said to be an adequate summary of its most important elements free of all dogmatic and cultic superimpositions. Moreover, he explicitly taught that the realization that was true in his own case was duplicable in its entirety by all who engaged it sincerely. Not so, according to Paul.

The new Pauline Way is principally a matter of the saving power of belief in a unique, unrepeatable event, the death and resurrection of Jesus who Paul eventually coverts into a hypostatic aspect of the one and only God of the Jews. The sole efficacy of the Way taught by Jesus was not his teaching-message nor the demonstration of his life, but his death and resurrection. The Way is not transformation of the body-mind and the world by the force of love but belief in the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of the world. No human is qualified to practice the Way because man’s inherent and inescapable corruption requires that the only possibility open to so wretched a condition is the ransom or the substitution of the death of Jesus for everyone before “the Father”. And therefore the only guarantee left for man was the guidance of the Church and of the Bible to the alleged evidence of this one and only saving event [10]

Paul’s assault on man and on the universe was the tool with which he utterly devalues and nullifies all human achievements as products of the “flesh” and the “wisdom of the world.. Then comes the ultimate inversion borne of a psychology poisoned with resentment and revenge, it is the foolish and the weak who are truly great in the eyes of his authoritarian God and who will finally judge the world. In I Corinthians 1:20-28, he writes:

“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? … But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty. And the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things which are. That no flesh should glory in his presence.”

This Christianity thus requires the complete debasement of the world before the God of Paul and his band of “believers”, a God who is at war with all that is great and natural, who is afraid of both human intelligence and the body. Moreover, in order for this new Pauline Christianity to equip itself with the right to imperialist or worldwide domination, it had to present itself as an extension of Judaism notwithstanding the fact that the Nazarene had abrogated and rescinded the Mosaic law for his disciples on the premise of the all-sufficiency of the liberating force of love and the universality of the divine reality.

Therefore to the deviation of Paul was added yet another, the adoption and annexation by Christianity of the Torah, the Histories of the Kings of Israel and the Prophetic Books – all of which make up the Old Testament – with a view to establishing the belief that the God of Jesus was identical to the one and only God of the Jews and that he was their promised Messiah who would deliver the world from evil and place it under the subjugation of the “chosen people,” which of course was now to be the Christians with the Messiah at their head.

The monotheistic religions, ruled by jealous Gods who have declared the nonexistence of all other Gods, have cut man off from the universe which they demonize and calumniate. By such cunning man in his natural state has been made something deformed and loathsome; he has been made sick and despicable to himself. Obedience and belief are his only redemption from guilt for all clever parasites and impotent usurpers know that the reign of God requires that man must first be broken, filled with self-hatred and put in chains. All Semitic religions live under the curse of Adam; from his very birth man feels himself guilty and cursed for a crime by an alleged ancestor against God whose prophets, priests and “holy books” have imputed to all his descendants. Even modern courts are more sane: no one throws an entire family and that family’s family ad infinitum into jail because the father allegedly committed a crime [11].

The emergence in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of technocratic civilization hostile to nature and to life was possible thanks to a single event which was its necessary precursor: the desacralization of the universe and the deprecation and depopulation of the Gods of nature by the monotheisms. For since the Gods of nature posed unseemly competition to the fatuous Semitic Gods drunk with unlimited vanity, nature and all that is natural must be slandered, held up with suspicion and dominated. Hence the screaming hysteria and manic paranoia of the Semitic traditions in the face of all the paganisms, the “heathens” and the “idolaters” of antiquity. Hence the opposition of the natural and the supernatural, the vilification of the first and the exaltation of the second.

In the war against the universe God becomes the enemy of all that is natural, of the inherent joy of existence. The consequence of this was twofold: on the one hand it allowed for unlimited blind intervention in the natural order and on the other hand it cut man off from the universal powers and hence his enfeeblement, his enslavement and progressive psychological deterioration.

Technocratic civilization dispenses with the religious Gods even while benefiting from the legacy of their hostility to nature and their assault on the natural. It takes up and carries forward to its final conclusion the priest’s method of degenerating and taming man: completely destroy man’s link to nature – which always remains the only hope for his freedom and independence from the collectivist man-made world – and destroy nature itself in the name of his economic improvement.

It must be asked: how could the industrialist purveyors of our modern environmental crisis not really understand the suicidal nature of the path they have chosen? How could they flout the biological fact that every organism survives only because it has achieved an equilibrium with its environment and no organism survives by progressively degrading its environment? Why are they apparently not concerned with providing a world that their children and grand children can live in?

The priests of modern science propound the dogma of the chemical nature of all life. Armed with this article of faith, our industrialist parasites see no end to economic power. Profit by destroying nature and then profit again by giving nature back to man in the form of a chemically synthesized world. In such a world man is wholly controllable and manipulable with no possibility of escape. In the moribund world of the machine as projected in modern science-fiction where computers, metal and plastics constitute man’s sole environment and in which laboratory structured chemicals have become man’s food, he is a husbanded animal to be identified by a control number and whose every brain modulation is the provenance of the priests of chemistry. 

The ideology of messianic consumerism advocated by our political lackeys as the redemption for the world is the motive force for this final globalist conversion of man into a pack animal which by its compulsive interminable consumption of goods and services will make its masters all-powerful. Hence the insidiousness of the ruling dogma of narcissism or “personal success” elevated to a supreme value whose expense account is life cannibalized and a universe plundered but never revivified.

God is not one in the quantitative sense, the one and only all-controlling entity of the universe. God is Existence itself which is not separate from anyone or anything. It is Existence in the form of all existents and Life in the form of all living beings and just as enlightenment has no significance whatever for the universe unless it integrates the body directly by means of the sensual principle, so too the divine condition does not exist in the world unless and until it has been bodily realized. This is the sole condition for the transfiguration of the world.

There is no entity in charge of the world like a great bureaucrat or administrator controlling world events such as political elections, sports competitions, the outcomes of corporate and governmental board room meetings and the like according to « a Plan » no matter what anyone believes. The religious mentality has not emerged from the fearful child psychology of external, authoritarian dependency, and on the basis of this mass psychology of fear and dependency it has projected an illusory world of “God,” supernatural “causes,” “higher worlds” and consolations for the “weakness of the flesh.”

For this mentality, truth and the process by which consciousness identifies that which is – or real being – has no value; what matters for it is belief and what is believed, whether the object of belief actually exists or not. That something should be believed becomes more important than that it exists. In this case the fearful, separative consciousness of the egoic state is made superior to reality and the creator of it, a reality born of a compensatory psychological mechanism, a reality that it must compulsively believe will save and preserve it. This is the triumph of the negation of mind, of anti-cognitive belief cosmeticized as “faith,” over the real process of knowledge. This is the ultimate epistemological inversion: the triumph of the make-believe over truth; it is the institutional abolition of truth and the knowability of truth. In our time “you create your own reality” is the New Age slogan for enlightenment as if that were not the very definition of insanity.
Religion degenerates human consciousness and the sublimity of the senses; it undermines the cognitive process just as it destroys man’s body as an “inferior” shell; its deprecation of the body is an attack on the organic seats of consciousness by virtue of which consciousness is embodied in the world. It is the enslaver of all that is great in man whom it must humble for the sake of his ultimate good. It exalts what is weak, dependent and sickly for “the meek shall inherit the earth. » It advocates that which does not exist, a supreme all-powerful God – what it worships is the symbiotic psychic sublimation of the mass mind – and it negates what does exist, namely Life – which it identifies with sin or karma and throttles with “morality”. This is the triumph of unreality over reality, the ultimate ontological inversion.

Real divinity as the unconditional affirmation of life, as the apotheosis of life, as life in the condition of absolute intensity, enters the world-process through a free will being, through the conscious individual, through the principle of radical consciousness and the free alignment of the body-mind to the universal life-current of radiant energy. Apart from this process there is no God and there is no divine in the world for there is no process by which the divine can enter the world.

This process is objective; it is not a matter of “faith.” Unless the radical process of consciousness is exercised in which it participates directly in reality, the divine is absent – it has no opening – no matter what is believed to be the case. Therefore if the divine is not incarnated here in direct bodily terms, the world is mechanically and unconsciously governed by a vast vortex of intersecting and opposing secondary powers, agencies and causes, both human and non-human. The solar hero and heroine enter into this labyrinth and align it; man in the condition of radical bodily inherence in the divine is the emerging divinity in the world; there is no other God that is “outside” of it and manipulating it.
The Gods of the religions arise as a consequence of the collectivization of man, his conversion into a deformity, a husbanded pseudo-animal, into a herd – which necessarily means disaster and deviation since man has no instincts which allow him to automatically conform to and thereby preserve and enhance nature and the universe. Only the realization of consciousness by the free individual permits an alignment with the universe that prevents the collective social and environmental deviation that the dissociated man of the mass cannot avoid or escape. Therefore only the arising of the man and woman of consciousness, only the arising of the self-originated and self-responsible individual spells the end of the hoax of religion, the hoax of one and only supreme Gods and the hoax of all parasite “controllers,” “rulers” and “governments.”
Against and in opposition to the lunar religions of the collective psyche which project and require external interventions, revelations, lawgivers, saviors, prophets and extra-cosmic causes and deities stands the solar religion of universal man. It’s sole manifesto is consciousness itself. Its sole practice is the full integration of consciousness and the body. It looks to no external power or agency in dependency. Like the sun itself it is self-luminous, self-radiant and self-originated being. The great means for its realization is contained in the body if man itself.

The human body-mind itself is built on the same structure as the worlds of experience. The divine axis of the world as represented in ancient symbolisms as a Tree, Column or Pole is precisely the Path, Way or Circuit of the life-current through which it descends and ascends, enlivening and existentiating the worlds in the unbounded sphere of existence. It appears in the body-mind as its fundamental axial structure or “vertical” circuit through which the life-current is conducted. This axis is the spiritual Path or Way of the adepts. The Path is not the search or the progressive quest for some goal which can be identified as “spiritual” or “divine. » The sushumna itself is already the great Way, the Path up and down, in and out of the worlds, the Channel in which the worlds themselves ascend and descend, in which they are born and are transformed. It is the great synthesis by means of which the threads of living force (nadis) of which the body-mind is woven are reintegrated into the web-matrix of life which is love-bliss. It need only be regenerated. This is the birth of the free man.

The Art of Giving

Throughout the ages, we have been told that generosity is the wellspring of happiness and that, « as we give, so shall we receive. » Generosity unfolds in the art of giving, and giving comes from the heart.

Life is short and the time to give is while we live. Our most treasured gifts are those with messages that speak with beauty and remind us of the joy of life blessed by Love.

The following story illustrates this and is our gift to you for the holiday season. Its author wishes to remain anonymous.

* * * * *

There is a destiny that makes us brothers:
None goes his way alone:
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own.

This is a true story that happened to a good friend of mine during the Depression. I’ve been retelling it these days, especially to those passing through difficult times. As best I remember, this is how it went.

We lived in Denver where my father had a small business. I was only eight years old then. My mother was as loving a mother as anyone could have, and my sister, Maggie, who was sixteen at the time, was just like Mother, with a big, generous heart.

I’ll never forget that evening, a few days before Christmas. It was snowing — one of those big Colorado blizzards. I was reading when Maggie tip-toed into my room, and with a hurried whisper, said, « Come with me to Mother. » I looked up from my book, surprised.

Maggie was very serious: « I heard them talking this morning. Something went wrong with Father’s business. He is terribly worried. Mother was trying to encourage him, but I could tell they were both troubled. We’re in an awfully tight spot, do you understand? There is no more money. Father was saying they’ll have to make big sacrifices. Now you and I must do the same. We must sacrifice, too. Are you ready? Good. I will do the talking, and you nod ‘yes’ and promise to do everything I say. »

Maggie motioned me to follow, and we went quietly downstairs to our mother, who was sitting on the sofa in front of the fire, knitting. I curled up on one side of her and Maggie on the other.

« Mother, I have something to tell you – we both want to talk to you. »

She looked at us, puzzled.

« Father’s shop is failing, isn’t it? »

« What are you saying! » exclaimed Mother, blushing. « It’s not true! What gave you that idea? Who told you? »

« I know, » said Maggie resolutely.

« Well, listen, Mother. Jimmy and I want to make sacrifices, too. You had promised me a coat for Christmas and Jimmy was hoping for a new watch, but we don’t want anything now. We don’t want you to spend money on us. We’ll be happy just the same, Mother. »

Mother tried to speak, but Maggie insisted, « No, that’s the way it’s going to be. We have decided that until the shop is doing better, we don’t want any desserts, fruit, toys, or anything else. Soup will be enough, and for breakfast, we’ll eat bread, so our expenses will be less. We promise you that we’ll be just as happy, won’t we, Jimmy? »

I nodded, « Yes. »

« You’ll see us just as happy, » repeated Maggie, placing a finger on Mother’s lips to stop her from protesting.

« And if there are other sacrifices to make, we’ll make them…and we’ll sell our gifts. I’ll give away all my things, and I’ll do the housework. We’re not going to hire help from outside our home. I’ll do the work you need done, before and after school, and on the weekends, whatever you ask. I’m ready to do anything! Anything! » she exclaimed, throwing her arms around her mother’s neck, « just so you and Father have no more sorrows, so you won’t worry anymore, so you can feel good, like you used to. Between your Maggie and your Jimmy, we love you so much we would die for you! »

I had never seen my mother as moved as when she heard those words. She had never kissed us so intensely on the forehead, crying and laughing, unable to speak. Afterward, to regain her self control, she got up to stir the logs in the fire, and turned to us calmly, assuring us both that Maggie had misunderstood — we weren’t so desperately poor. Mother thanked us a hundred times and was happy all evening. When Father came home, she told him everything. He said nothing, poor Father! We found out later that his business would be bankrupt by the turn of the year.

On Christmas morning, we gathered around our little tree. There I found my watch and Maggie her coat. I felt a great happiness and a great sadness.

Father smiled bravely: « There’ll be no sacrifices at Christmas. Where there is love, there is no abiding poverty because that’s when we best remember how rich we really are. »

We received help from our grandparents, and after the business folded, Father went to work for a local mining company. I took up a job delivering papers. Mother and Maggie made a small income knitting sweaters and selling the bread they baked. Before long, things changed. Father started another business, and we were able to help others who were experiencing hard times, as we had. 

This story may sound sentimental in our skeptical times, but one thing never changes: a loving family is still and will always be the greatest fortress in hard times, far safer and more reliable than insurance companies or welfare. Where there is love, there is no abiding poverty. 

Two questions remain: Do we have the courage to love one another? Can we turn away from greed and violence and learn to live together on a restored earthly garden? The answers will depend on the efforts and vision of each and every one of us.

Wishing you all a joyous holiday and a peaceful 2007.

An Open Letter To Women Everywhere

December 14, 2004

Dear Sisters,

I am moved to write to you as a result of my participation in the March For Women’s Lives. Speaker after speaker at the rally immediately prior to the April 25th March admonished the gathering throngs on the Mall in Washington, D.C., that the ensuing two-mile March through the nation’s capital would be for naught if action did not occur to get out the vote for pro-choice candidates running for public office. I am not sure, however, that this historic event, organized by an astounding coalition of approximately 1,400 organizations, did not already succeed just because it came about.

Of course, women’s rights would certainly be advanced, or at least prevented from sliding backwards, if the March participants were to locate and register for future elections the 15 million women eligible to vote—but who did not—in the 2000 national election. And yes, the speakers’ hearts would certainly be gladdened if the March participants were now inspired to run for public office, and exhorted their sisters to do so. Indeed, just one scant week after the March, the Florida state convention of the American Association of University Women offered several workshops on how to increase voter turnout for the 2004 elections.

The rally speakers, chief among them Hillary Clinton, said that if no visible action followed immediately from the March that the event would have been a wasted effort. I think not, because sometimes the galvanization of action does not immediately flow from a momentous event, but must percolate first through a crystallization of conscience and belief among its participants and bystanders (not the least important of which are the media representatives who report and analyze the event to many millions of their viewers, listeners, and readers). Changes in consciousness often bring about changes in debate, education, and eventually action, among officeholders and the electorate alike.

Of the more than 1.1 million Marchers from all corners of the U.S. and from 57 countries, about 10% were men, who, like me, support women’s reproductive right to choose, and want the government to be less intrusive in citizen’s private lives. If only 20% of the participating men learned something from the experience, or who, like me, had some prior thoughts jell and fall into place (such as those expressed in this letter), then 22,000 men came away more enlightened. Similarly, if 20% of the women came away from the experience with more solid beliefs, then 198,000 women (or 220,000 people including the men) are now more capable of advancing the causes of women’s rights specifically, and human rights more generally.

This does not mean that people should not do more right now to bring about badly needed changes in the civil rights of women, nor that these rights will come about if nothing is done. Later, I will give an example of how a dramatic health care issue was promulgated in this country even after years of non-action, and I will also give examples of some actions that people can take right now to hasten changes in women’s rights.
I’m not able to comment on the thoughts of my brothers and sisters whose mental light bulbs went off as a catalystic (and perhaps cathartic) result of our experiences with the March. However, some of them may, indeed, share at least a few of my beliefs resulting from their immersion in this historic occasion.

Before outlining my beliefs, however, I would like to give you some impressions of the March in order to reveal my biases, and also to add a little amusement to what might seem to be a dry, analytical disquisition. Then, I will discuss my thoughts on women’s rights that became more organized in my mind as a result of my participation in the March. I will then suggest some actions that women can take to further their rights, and offer a proposed governmental and corporate experiment as a parting recommendation.
One of the goals that social scientists (which I used to be) try to accomplish (or so at least some of us think we should) is to become more aware of our feelings and reactions in a situation, and to account for our resulting biases and make them public. Otherwise, we will be unable to account for how these feelings affect our conclusions. However—and this is very important—if even by revealing our biases we can not control and account for how they affect our reporting, we can at least provide the readers the courtesy of making it possible for them to account for these biases (and even to dismiss them entirely). To me, this “subjective revelation,” or “reflexivity,” not the “objective” use of language, methodologies, and statistics, is at the heart of science, especially the social sciences.

Here are several sources of my biases that may affect how I describe and analyze this historic March. During a large event like this, there are many factors that limit, dull, and even overpower the observer’s senses and abilities to describe, analyze, interpret, and communicate the facts. Here are some that surely affected me. First, I could only observe an infinitesimally small slice of the rally and the March, since I was only one person located among a veritable sea of humanity that stretched a mile from the Washington Monument to the US Capitol reflecting pool.

I attended the event with my wife and daughter. We searched for, and eventually found, other participants from Palm Beach County, Florida, who came as a coalition of many organizations, among them the local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Planned Parenthood, and the Executive Women of the Palm Beaches. My wife is an active member in most of these and other Palm Beach County groups.

During the rally, people on the whole were very polite, given the inevitable jostling that comes from the close proximity of so many humans in one place. Few people seemed to get upset when bumped into or stepped on, and nearly all the people I could see excused themselves profusely whenever they tried to thread themselves through the patchwork of people sitting, standing, and milling around.

Four sets of large screens and loud speakers were situated along the Mall so that everyone could see and hear the speeches and entertainment on a stage otherwise invisible to most. The Palm Beach County contingent was on the Mall almost exactly half way between the stage in front of the Washington Monument where the March was to begin at noon, and the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol where the March was to end.
Nobody seemed to become upset if someone stood in the way of a screen or if a person spoke at the same time as one of the featured speakers, although most people appropriately applauded, yelled, raised signs, and whistled on cue to whatever was transpiring on the stage. From news sources later, I heard that there was virtually no violence—how, you ask, can there be a million people all moving around with no violence?—and only a few arrests, one an anti-abortion bystander for throwing ink at sign-toting Marchers, and 16 others for demonstrating without a permit. At football games with less than 100,000 in attendance there are more arrests!

Related to this, I observed two phenomena at the rally and during the March that I found to be equally amazing. First, except for an occasional police car and officers on bicycles on the streets, and a helicopter overhead, there were no police among the participants. (Of course, there may have been some undercover police working in the crowd.) Second, there were virtually no alcoholic beverages consumed, and virtually no smoking. Nope, not even pot smoke.

Regarding the surprisingly small number of tobacco smokers, this is a good example of how, after focusing public attention on tobacco’s health hazards and on social policies and laws that needed to be changed, an immediate lack of public action did not necessarily auger badly for this cause. Cigarette smoking was known to be a public health problem for years, but nothing seemed to change. Still, debate and educational efforts increased, beliefs changed, people quit smoking, teenagers didn’t begin smoking, and finally, lawsuits prevailed and state and local laws sprang up limiting tobacco advertising and eliminating smoking in public places in many cities, counties, and states throughout the country. In fact, the US is now much ahead of most other countries in the decline of tobacco smoking. Twenty-five percent of adults smoke in America, down from over 50% twenty-five years ago. Throughout this same time period, Russian adult smoking rates have remained above 50%.

I believe the same phenomenon will occur with women’s reproductive rights. Already, a majority of people in this country believes in a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. I believe this pro-choice figure will rise 25% in the next decade, during which time social action and laws will change to reflect this rise. (And just think, you can say you read it here first!)

Returning again to the March, two other factors limiting my powers of observation were the noise and color surrounding me. Most notable were the T-shirts from every conceivable group in every thinkable color. I couldn’t imagine that someone in the organizing committee might coordinate the colors of the shirts, but none of the shirts seemed to have the same colors. Neither did any of the signs, which were raised on high showing approval of a speaker’s words, and carried proudly during the March.

There were literally hundreds of different signs and banners, but the ones I saw in most profusion seemed to be from NOW, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL Pro-Choice America. The latter made thousands of yellow and blue signs, and its volunteers assiduously handed them out at every subway METRO station in the city. My three-person family alone carried three NARAL signs, a NOW sign, and two Planned Parenthood soft plastic tube signs (used when inflated to bang together to sound like a drum), and we also wore Reform Judaism Action Center T-shirts, onto each of which were affixed dozens of buttons and stickers handed to us on our walk to the morning rally.

The air was constantly punctuated with applause, whistles, shrieks, war cries, and spontaneous chants from the myriad nonprofit organizations and college groups who had ample opportunity to perfect their chants and cadences during interminably long bus trips to the nation’s capital. All of this noise and color blended together in my brain as a background rumble.

Together with the constant milling and slow, inexorable shuffling—a controlled stampede as I saw it—along the parade route, the continuous rumbling noise and profusion of color reminded me of how densely packed everyone was. As a suburbanite not used to this density, I reacted with a low-level fight or flight anxiety that surely must have impacted, if hot warped, the accuracy of my senses.

One sidelight should be noted that added to the background noise: As with every large event, there were various hangers-on and hawkers who took advantage of the opportunity for exposure to thousands of people. At the rally, these groups included organizations propounding religious, racial, poverty, environmental, global, and homosexual causes, many of whom sought out people to sign their petitions. In our democracy, I believe these groups belonged in the March as much as the members of the media, and as much as the vendors who were there supplying pretzels, beverages, ice cream, and souvenirs to the participants.

Yet another factor biasing my analysis was an intellectual and emotional experience that occurred to me. Several of the speakers referred to the Mall as a sacred place and as hallowed grounds. Indeed, any large communion promoting an urgent cause and seeking solutions can often metamorphose a profane area into a sacred place. Such a realization can lead to an emotional response among participant observers like me. At one point, I was sitting on the ground, my view of the screen blocked. As I listened somewhat lazily to the speaker and slowly gazed around me, tears rolled out of the corners of my eyes.

I wondered what the speaker could have said to make that happen, because she wasn’t saying anything others hadn’t said before, nor spoken it with any more fervor than the others. Neither did anything surrounding me set me off (except for all the women, about which more in a minute). What I did think of, though, was the fact that we could have such a large, private gathering without the interference of the government.
With the exception of Red Square in Moscow, Tienanmen Square in Beijing, and a few other places around the globe, there are no urban grounds where such a throng can gather without the prodding of the government and without its controls of what could and could not be uttered. I put together this fact with the idea of the speakers’ references to sacredness, and came up with the idea that America itself is a sacred place; the tears flowed then, and as corny as it seems, they flow again now as I write this.

Shortly, I’ll mention more about Thomas Jefferson, but it’s significant to point out that the evening prior to the March, my family went to the Jefferson Memorial for an Havdalah service, a Jewish ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath. The weather was warm—warmer even than the day of the March—and the sunset over the Potomac River was glorious. Before the service, we had an opportunity to read Thomas Jefferson’s words inscribed on the memorial.

Although I didn’t realize it just then, Jefferson clearly implied the sanctity of America in his writings, and I noticed that several times during the Havdalah service, and at other times throughout the evening, I found myself thinking about Jefferson’s messages. I believe his thoughts also pushed into my mind at the mention of one of the speaker’s reference to the Mall as a holy space and voila, the idea of America as a sacred place was formulated in my mind: Where church is separated from the state, atheists given equal rights to people who believe in God, and the flag—perhaps America’s holiest symbol of all—can be burned—this then is the most sacred location of all: America, what a magnificent paradox! Pass the tissues please.

Leaving behind my crying, let’s turn now to another factor biasing my analysis, perhaps the most prejudicial of all: the fact that I am a heterosexual male. Normally, the observations of a person in a minority role, as I was in the March, can be more objective
in a situation like this, since he can see with fresh eyes what the people in the majority too often take for granted, and therefore do not even notice. In this case, however, the cliché of receiving too much of a good thing—too much estrogen in this case—could easily have short-circuited my brain and clouded my judgment.

Like the anxiety of the density of the human ocean in which I was immersed, the female sea surely created a bias in me of which the reader needs to be aware. In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that the distraction of being surrounded by so many women indisputably affected my observations of the event, and must color everything I say about the March and women’s rights. More than this sexual aspect, though, is yet another factor even more biasing; namely, my hypothesis—formulated long before the advent of the March—that generally speaking women are superior to men. Moving forward, the reader should keep in mind this unabashed pro-women stance, as I think it is an accurate encapsulation of my bias.

Despite this bias, though, I believe that there is much in the chronicles of human development to merit consideration of the hypothesis that women have been superior to men in advancing civilization. Whether from their innate biological requirements of being mothers, or because of their relegation to an inferior status to men in most societies, I do not know. Perhaps it’s a mixture of these and other conditions.
In any event, women seem to exhibit more compassion than men, which slowly, over millennia, have allowed nomads and hunters and gatherers to grow and share food supplies, expand market places, and establish educational systems that neither depended so much on conquering other lands, nor on the vagaries of weather, nor on the availability of wild animals.
Richard Leakey, Jr., a brilliant paleoanthropologist , noted in his book People of the Lake that humans alone among the primates gathered fruits and nuts that could be stored and shared among all members of their tribes. What he didn’t point out, though, is that it was primarily the women who gathered the food to be shared. Similarly, The Ascent of Man, J. Bronowski’s seminal book describing the great technical and intellectual leaps of humanity, is an example of how men have missed the roles that women have played in bringing about a more peaceful and prosperous world.

We now know that women are intellectually equal to men when given the same educational opportunities, and they, too, could have been the great inventors celebrated by Bronowski if given the chance. So, except for a few notable exceptions, how did women, relegated to the back seat of Spaceship Earth, propel their people toward more civilized societies? I believe they simply willed into being more compassionate ways of treating each other.

History is replete with women who developed into very skillful backseat drivers with the use of artistry, cunning, guile, gall, sex, bravery, deceit, and treachery, even occasionally jumping into the front seat to take over the helm of society. Women also manipulated the course of history through the upbringing of their children, passing along their compassion to their daughters and softening the bloodlust in the next generation of men, while at the same time encouraging their sons to show at least a shred of respect for their sisters. To these mothers, it was not enough for men to protect their women from outsiders as bits of property only to ravage them later: they deserved more dignity than that.

Having studied and taught the subject of women’s roles in society in different cultures and during various historical eras, it occurred to me that women, again generally speaking, have been oppressed for a long time around the globe. One of the roots of this oppression is the belief that since women bear and nurture children, that they necessarily ought to rear them. It’s only in the last 50 years that men and women have come to acknowledge that the sexual biological roles of childbearing and child nurturing do not have to be confused with the social gender role of child rearing. Contributing to the disentanglement of these two different role types, were women who showed during World War II that they were as competent as men in handling technology and in carrying out typically “men’s roles.” Finally, when Rosie the Riveter was scientifically determined to be as intellectually equal to Joe the Riveter, was the need for oppressing women exposed to be false.

Still, old habits die hard, and truths are mightily resisted. Thirty-five millennia of oppression, prejudice, and discrimination cannot be expected to disappear over night. There are two basic reasons for this, I believe. First, once patterns of accepted behavior are ingrained in society, they become internalized by a vast majority of oppressors and oppressed alike. In other words, men come to rationalize their superiority by thousands of years of accepted thought, and women come to view men’s power (and women’s lack of it) as legitimate. That is, they come to accept the authority of the imbalance of power, whether based in religion—after all, we are told, Eve came from Adam’s rib, and then seduced him into sin—or in medicine, psychology, education, the law, and in virtually all other social institutions.

In other words, the external institutionalization of oppression by the majority against a minority (regardless of whether the minority in question is defined by sex, race, age, disability, marital status, occupation, wealth, and so on) results in repression, the internalized justification of the oppression, by individuals in both the majority and the minority groups. Therefore, changing this state of affairs in the sexual arena requires a transformation of consciousness among both men and women, which, I believe, must result in two layers of social change.

First, it requires the majority and minority to allow for people of both sexes to receive equal pay for equal work, and to allow women easier entrance into more prestigious, higher-paying jobs (the so-called glass ceiling). It also requires in the realm of reproductive health care a whole host of changes, including access to these services:
sex and contraceptive education for both men and women, emergency contraception, abortions (such clinics of which are unavailable in 84% of all US counties, and even one fourth of these clinics’ clients are victims of antiabortion violence), Medicare and Medicaid funding for abortions, Federal funding for abortions for women in the armed services, fewer doctors advising unnecessary Caesarian births, access to brain stem research for medical advances, and better laws and enforcement against harassment and violence at home and in the work place. The needs for this access only increase for women—already a minority on the power scale around the world—who carry the stigma of additional minority statuses, such as skin color, national origin, religion, age, economic disadvantage, and single parentage.

A second layer of change required before social equality between the sexes can be achieved is that the level of discrimination and hostility directed against women who have been able to rise above the glass ceiling through their meritorious efforts must be reduced. In fact, there is an incredible amount of retaliatory behavior against successful women and their families. This hateful behavior is no less than what Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron had to endure when, respectively, they broke the color barrier, and approached the breaking of Babe Ruth’s Major League Baseball home run record.
Such vituperation by the majority in the form of personal harassment and legal actions often results in members of the minority leaving their hard-earned positions, while other promising women become deterred from even trying to improve their economic and social status. Often, these women leave their positions, silenced by payoffs, fear, and shame. What they experience is not much different than a woman who prefers to not press charges after being raped. In the words of Graciela Chichilniski, women who leave their lofty careers in silence after being targeted by the majority have been “socially raped.”

In order to change this institutionally immoral situation, consciousness must be changed. I believe it is possible for men—the majority—to change sufficiently their consciousness to give up their majority status by allowing equality between the sexes. Men did, in fact, give women universal suffrage, but only after women changed their consciousness and demonstrated it through their behavior (such as the very obvious courage they showed in bringing civilization to the newly emerging Western states). Similarly, men will eventually pass the Equal Rights Amendment. (That’s right, folks, you first read this here, too!) After all, even Afghanistan has equal rights between the sexes written into its new constitution.

For the ERA to succeed here, though, women will first have to bring their collective consciousness to a higher level. Frankly, I don’t know how many women either did not care about the ERA or were against it when it failed more than 22 years ago, but I’m sure it was at minimum a significant minority of women. In the same way, there are still too many women against reproductive rights in order for women to obtain them.
More change in women’s collective consciousness is needed, and this needs to be demonstrated to the men (and the few women) in power. How will this be demonstrated? One way is that solidarity among Sisters across all economic, color, and age lines must be clear for all to see. For example, older middle class white women must emphatically say that the denial of rights to their more downtrodden young black, Hispanic, and poor sisters will no longer be tolerated. Once cross-class, cross-racial, and cross-age solidarity is demonstrated, all rights will come within reach for all women. I did not see a vast amount of women minorities in the March, but then again, it is very possible I was not able to see them from my limited vantage point.
Another sign of increased consciousness is a level of anger, which again, I didn’t observe at the March. Anger for sure was present in the speakers’ messages and in the participants’ responses, but not in a degree sufficient for the majority to sit up and take notice. After all, violence—one of the surest indicators of anger—was not present among the Marchers.

Earlier, I lauded the participants in the March for their self-control, yet such control may stem from repression, which, consciously or not, displays a low degree of anger that safely can be ignored by those in power. Please note that I am not advocating violence, but only pointing out that majority groups frequently do not grant more rights where minority groups do not forcefully demand them. The eminent social historian, Andrew Ross, more boldly states that no significant changes in civil rights can be changed without civil disobedience. In any event, a lack of anger is seen by those in power as an indicator of weak solidarity that does not warrant social change toward equality.

This brings us to the question of why more women are not for equal rights and freer access to health care and reproductive rights. I have already touched upon the social and psychological processes of oppression and repression that cause minorities to see the current state of inequality as legitimate. I have also alluded to the possibility that women are more caring than men, and therefore do not mind seeing their spouses and significant others succeed above themselves. There is yet another possible factor contributing to women’s “false consciousness,” as Karl Marx might say, where they do not act in their own self interest.

Carl Jung, an eminent analytical psychologist who pioneered in the field of medical psychiatry with Sigmund Freud, pointed out that in addition to the day-to-day oppression that becomes repressed in people’s unconscious, there lurk ancient archetypes. These are primitive images and modes of reacting to the environment that are passed down through millennia, generation after generation, in people’s unconscious minds. For example, the archetypal image of women being the weaker and less capable sex has been passed down through the ages, and resides buried in everyone’s unconscious. Such archetypes can indeed change, but only after at least hundreds of years have elapsed.

We need not wait, however, for such archetypes to change in order for our norms of behavior to change. Since the March, I’ve gleaned these few suggestions about what women, both collectively and individually, can do to raise consciousness and advance women’s rights now. Following this list is a proposal for a government and corporate experiment that could change everyone’s consciousness and lead to more gender-based equality. First, here’s what women and sympathetic men can do right now:

  1. Boycott all companies that do not support equality in the work place and who tolerate sexual harassment. Support only those few companies whose policies show a greater proclivity toward equality and reproductive rights for women.
  2. Write your state and national representatives and ask to meet with them to discuss how to put the ERA into the Constitution. Can you imagine what would happen if the more than one million Marchers wrote such letters, faxes, and e-mails to their elected representatives?
  3. Obtain copies of newly published booklets from the AAUW describing the roles that historically obscure women have played in advancing the cause of civilization. Discuss with your local school officials about how to insert such writings into the history lessons of all public school curricula.
  4. Read at least a little bit about how oppression, repression, consciousness, and the unconscious can influence women (and men) into willingly accepting socially inferior roles and lower rewards. There are hundreds of such books in the library beginning even before Plato. I’ve already mentioned Jung, Freud, and Marx. Some of my other European and American favorites written within the last 150 years include, in no particular order, writings by George Herbert Mead, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, Vilfredo Pareto, Thorstein Veblen, C. Wright Mills, Erving Goffman, Alvin Toffler, Erich Fromm, Betty Friedan, Margaret Mead, Bronislaw Malinowski, Alexis de Tocqueville, Gloria Steinham, Noam Chomsky, and Peter Berger.
  5. Seek out and help local groups to find and register people, both men and women, to vote in state and national elections.
  6. Run for office or get involved as an appointed volunteer in your local government.
  7. Finally, at least for now, understand how the ideas of Thomas Jefferson can help to free you from the repression of the past. His memorial in Washington clearly indicates that Jefferson was a champion of the Industrial Revolution and the new scientific ideas that underpinned it. These new ideas, he stated, had to be considered and debated without regard to religious beliefs. For a devout Christian, this was an astonishing position to take at the turn of the 19th century, because it meant that the way to salvation was not through any religious beliefs (an idea that actually had its origins in the Old Testament—but that’s for another treatise), but by supporting and being a part of the American trinity of science, capitalism, and democracy. In short, for Jefferson, America itself had become the hallowed ground on which people could (and should) base their decisions, irrespective of any religious doctrine.

For us, both men and women, this means that we must no longer allow ourselves to be cowed by quotes from the Bible, Koran, or any other religious texts. This does not mean that we should not allow religious beliefs to be part of the national debate. We should—and must—because free speech is guaranteed in our Constitution. It only means that we can not let our stand on free choice be affected by threats of eternal damnation. Letting go of the guilt and the threats will relieve us of the repression of the past, and help us to fulfill the promise of Jefferson’s hallowed America. For example, dispel the guilt of the Original Sin referred to earlier: sex education is not dirty, and access to it is your right. (After all, how the heck were humans ever going to learn responsibility if they didn’t leave the Garden of Eden? But again, that’s for another treatise.)

Now for my government and corporate proposal. It is often heard that women are not capable of making sound decisions either in government or in business. Let us test this hypothesis by having women take over every House and Senate seat in the Federal government and in every statehouse for a period of one year. Current office holders would stay on as paid advisors to their “temporary replacements.” Perhaps where issues of foreign policy are concerned, the elected officials would still cast the deciding votes, and their “replacements” would act as their advisors.

This proposal could also be implemented in local governments, although the impact on improving the civil rights of women would not be as significant as on the state and national levels. Similarly, businesses, especially small, private ones, could more easily implement this proposal. In any event, wherever the experiment is attempted, it is important to chronicle how women’s decisions are reached and what the impacts of their decisions are.

Of course, the chances of this proposal being attempted at this time is as small as those of Jonathan Swift’s in Gulliver’s Travels being adopted in 18th century England. Nevertheless, perhaps a less radical proposal could be attempted. For example, each officeholder could appoint one or more volunteer women advisors whose ideas regarding women’s rights are diametrically opposed to the officeholder’s. Much learning would transpire, I believe, between officials and advisors alike, and the current wheels of government would not turn any the slower.

I wish all my Sisters everywhere a better life with more freedom. Such freedom is closer than you think, and, with dedication and hard work, is yours to ask for and to achieve.

Pythagoras: A Search for Universal Truth and for The Good

It can be said that we are influenced both by those who precede us and also by our contemporaries. Certain individuals stand out within the context of history for these persons are exceptional in their thinking, and in the enduring nature of their contributions to our understanding of humankind and the world in which we live. Pythagoras is such a man. He made significant contributions to our knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, and music. Yet, the contributions of Pythagoras reach beyond an expansion of knowledge in these areas. Pythagoras sought to shed light on the essential questions of our existence: What is the purpose of our being? What can we know? And what constitutes the good? Pythagoras was successful in arriving at answers to these questions, although Western civilization has departed from the teachings and beliefs of “the long-haired Samian” (Iamblichus, 1818/1986, p. 14).

Pythagoras was born circa 569 B.C.E. on the island of Samos, located in the Aegean Sea in Magna Graecea. He was the third son of Mnesarchus, a Phoenician, and Pythais. Immediately prior to Pythagoras’ day, great minds of the time included Zoroaster, the founder of a significant Persian religion, and the Chinese poet and philosopher Lao-tse. In India, the Brahminic religion flourished and gave prominence to the concept of the transmigration of the soul, which likely influenced Pythagoras’ own beliefs and teachings a century later (Grun, 1975, p. 8).

Pythagoras lived in a time that reached “a zenith of human wisdom and achievement” (p. 10). Pythagoras was a contemporary of Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as Buddha, in India. He was also the contemporary of Kung Fu-tse, otherwise known as Confucius, in China. In the time that Pythagoras walked the earth, Mahavira Jina founded Jainism in India. There appear to be many parallels between the beliefs and practices of the Pythagoreans and the Jains. Both adhered to a belief in asceticism, which requires self-discipline and the renunciation of material things (Bowker, 2002, p. 58). Moreover, both Pythagorean philosophy and the Jain religion embraced the concept of transmigration of the soul. Tacit within this belief is the concept that one must strive toward the good in this life, so that the soul may be reborn into a higher status of being, or, freed from the trappings of a physical existence in this world (p. 58). As Pythagoras and Jina were, in fact, contemporaries, it is difficult to ascertain to what extent each influenced the other. It is possible that influences went in both directions, as information traveled by word of mouth with the traveler.

Pythagoras was more directly influenced by the teachings of Thales and Anaximander in Ionia (Strohmeier and Westbrook, 2003, p.26). Thales and Anaximander sought to make sense of the world and of the universe through observation and reason. It is said that Thales’ “studies of astrology and the movements of the heavens enabled him to accurately predict eclipses and the yield of harvests” (p. 26). Anaximander, who was Thales’ student, hypothesized that “the visible world must evolve out of ‘the limitless,’ a single divine and immortal essence that surrounds and steers all things” (p. 27). It should be noted that, at this time in history, most people explained mysterious phenomena through fable, myth, and magic, in an effort to make sense of the world. But Thales and Anaximander searched for universal truths, and their teachings strongly influenced Pythagoras. In fact, it can be said that the teachings of Thales and Anaximander served as a foundation for Pythagoras’ own beliefs, which further expanded and evolved thereafter (Strohmeier and Westbrook, 2003, p. 27).

Due to a changing political climate, Thales encouraged Pythagoras to leave their homeland. The tyrant Polycrates had risen to power in Samos, and Pythagoras’ mentor urged him to travel to Egypt and study with the priests there, just as Thales had done before him. Pythagoras followed this sage advice, and, at the age of eighteen, set sail for the coast of Phoenicia en route to Egypt. In Egypt, Pythagoras entered into the learned society, and devoted himself to deepening his knowledge of mathematics, science, and music, in particular. He would come to master astronomy, “surpassing Thales himself in his ability to predict the future” (p. 35). Pythagoras would remain on foreign soil for more than three decades, and did not return to Samos until the age of fifty-six (p.35).

During his twenty-third year in Egypt, the region was overtaken by the Persian armies of Cambyses. The reigning Pharaoh, Psammetichus, was executed. Members of the Egyptian priesthood, together with Pythagoras, were captured and brought to Babylon. The Magi, leaders of Persian religion and science, recognized Pythagoras’ brilliance and his exceptional countenance. At this time, Pythagoras encountered yet another culture, and its associated knowledge and ideas. During his twelve years in Babylon, Pythagoras “perfected his knowledge of number, harmony, rhythm and the other mathematical sciences” (p. 35). Thus, Pythagoras’ own unique philosophy had Greek, Indian, Egyptian, and Persian influences. From these diverse cultures, Pythagoras adopted certain beliefs and practices, and discarded others. Pythagoras was guided by a primary belief that he must search for universal truth and for the good.

“Pythagoras was the first to call himself a philosopher (a lover of wisdom)” (Sorensen, 2003, p. 22). When Pythagoras eventually returned to Magna Graecia, he settled in Croton, located in modern-day southern Italy, and disseminated his ideas to a community that he founded there. Pythagoras made no written record of his ideas and teachings. He asked that his followers also refrain from documenting his teachings in written form. Moreover, certain teachings were to be restricted to the Pythagorean community only. There was a degree of secrecy that some have asserted is not unlike a cult (Kahn, 2001, p. 8). In any case, we must rely on less direct accounts than Pythagoras himself to gain knowledge of Pythagorean beliefs and practices. According to Iamblichus, Pythagoras “was adorned by piety and disciplines, by a mode of living transcendently good, by firmness of soul, and by a body in due subjection to the mandates of reason” (Iamblichus, 1818/1986, p. 5).

Pythagoras led a life that adhered to moderation in all things. He was a vegetarian, drank no wine, and believed that one should not excessively indulge in intimate relations with one’s spouse. A mid day meal would usually consist of bread and honey or honeycomb (Strohmeier and Westbrook, 2003, p. 50). Pythagoras and his followers dressed simply and modestly, at a time when embellishment was the fashion. Iamblichus noted that the Pythagoreans “wore a white and pure garment” (Iamblichus, 1818/1986, p. 54). Pythagoras encouraged his followers to observe catartysis, an elegance of manners (p. 51). Pythagoras believed that these habits of living brought one closer to “the good life.” According to Pythagoras, the good life is reflected in qualities such as modesty, temperance, and generosity (Strohmeier and Westbrook, 2003, p. 47).

For Pythagoras, “self restraint was the key to healthy living”(Strohmeier and Westbrook, 2003, p. 93). Pythagoras advised that one should withdraw from the company of others when anger rises to the surface. The individual should remain alone until the passion has subsided, and then rejoin the companionship of others. On a daily basis, the Pythagorean practiced being true to the teachings in his mind and his body. By all accounts, Pythagoras lived a life that was in concert with his spoken word. He thus garnered the respect and devotion of his followers. Pythagoras’ character was part of his greatness.

It was not a facile undertaking to enter into Pythagorean life. One had to turn over one’s individual wealth and possessions to the Pythagorean community (p. 45). In addition, there was a three-year probationary period, during which the individual had to maintain a vow of silence. After the probationary period, the individual’s character and comportment would then be carefully evaluated. Some persons were invited to leave the community, and their wealth would be returned to them two-fold (p. 48). Those who continued on as a disciple then entered into a five-year period of silence. To be a true Pythagorean demanded self-discipline. Conviction that there is a higher purpose beyond this mortal life fortified the Pythagorean to continue on his ascetic path.

As stated previously, Pythagoras believed in immortality and transmigration of the soul. This concept of the soul is related to Pythagoras’ vegetarianism in the following manner. One may be reborn as an animal. Thus, the eating of animal flesh would defile the soul (Iamblichus, 1818/1986, p. 58). According to Pythagoras, one must respect the sanctity of all life. To have compassion for another life is to advance the status of one’s own life. The Pythagorean perspective does not concern itself with pleasure in the sense of self-indulgence; rather, the Pythagorean view is one that seeks to achieve eudaimonia, a greater happiness that is not transitory in its nature (Robinson, 1997, Lecture 14).

Pythagoras believed that one’s relationships with others were of great importance. Pythagoras thought that friendships should be honored, and one must not betray a friend (Strohmeier and Westbrook, 2003, p. 63). A friend by Pythagoras’ definition was any person who adopted his way of life. The kindness and generosity of the Pythagoreans was well known: “So famous were his followers for their care of one another, that until the Christian era, Greeks would call any person of extraordinary kindness a Pythagorean” (p. 63). Pythagoras taught his followers sayings such as “friends have all things in common” (Kahn, 2001, p. 8), and “my friend is my other self” (Strohmeier and Westbrook, 2003, p. 62). Pythagoras’ teachings on philiafostered a sense of community. Philia was extended not to a select few, but to the larger community of followers. Moreover, Pythagoras believed that respect and compassion should also be extended to those persons who were not followers of the Pythagorean way, as the whole of mankind is one within the universe.

Numbers, such as the number one, for Pythagoras had both literal and metaphorical meanings. The number one was called monadand it signified Being, ousia; one is also a point on a plane (p. 70). The number two, dyad, signifies “polarity, opposition, divergence, inequality, divisibility” (p. 71)Dyad is also two points connecting a line. The number three signifies “that nature has beginning, middle, and end” (Kahn, 2001, p. 107). The number three is also three points that can represent a triangle. “It was the Pythagoreans who…came forth with the conception of form. For them, form meant limit, and the limit is understandable especially in numerical terms” (Stumpf, 1993, p. 11). Through numbers, Pythagoras sought to discover that which is universally true within the kosmos. And he did find truth in mathematics, in geometry, and in science.

Pythagoras discovered the theorem that now bears his name: “the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle equals the sum of the squares of the sides forming the right angle” (Strohmeier and Westbrook, 2003, p. 68). Pythagoras has also been credited with what later came to be known as “the Platonic solids—the pyramid, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron, and icosahedron—although he regarded the sphere as the most perfect, and thus the most beautiful figure of all” (p. 69). It is with Pythagoras that man begins to describe the physical world with precision.

Through his study of astronomy, Pythagoras hypothesized the following truths. Pythagoras “argued that the Earth itself was a sphere; he demonstrated that day and night were a result of the Earth’s revolution; and he showed that the change in seasons was due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis relative to the sun” (p. 90). Furthermore, Pythagoras understood that the moon shines by the reflected light of the sun. He thus understood solar and lunar eclipses (p. 90). The genius of Pythagoras is evident in the way he applied calculation, observation, and reason to discover truths of the natural world.

Pythagoras was fascinated by the physical world; at the same time, he looked closely toward the betterment of mankind as he acquired knowledge and understanding of physical truths. For example, in music, Pythagoras believed that certain tones and rhythms were beneficial to health, and also aligned the individual with the harmony of the universe. Pythagoras believed that “music was an expression of harmonia, the divine principle that brings order to chaos and discord” (Strohmeier and Westbrook, 2003, 78). In the morning, residents of the Pythagorean community awoke to concordant sounds that prepared them to begin the day in a tranquil manner. Certain rhythms and melodies were thought to help free the Pythagorean from feelings of sadness, anger or envy. Instruments of the day included the lyre, the flute, the aulos, a kind of oboe, and the monochord, an instrument with a single string. In the evening, the Pythagorean community listened to melodies designed to induce a peaceful state. “Blending particular intervals and modulations of the voice, sometimes with words, these evening songs produced in his disciples a restful sleep, with pleasing and meaningful dreams” (p. 79). Pythagoras endeavored to create an environment that would posture one toward inner peace and good will toward others.

Pythagoras was able to arrive at certain discoveries in music through mathematical inquiry, or more precisely, through exploration of the relationships between numbers:

He determined mathematically the progression of eight tones that makes up the scale (an ancestor of the modern do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do). This came to be known as the ‘Eight-Stringed Lyre of Pythagoras.’ Later, he calculated the structure of other musical modes, including the chromatic and enharmonic orders, using simple ratios to create complex intervals (p. 85).

Iamblichus noted that “it is said that music was discovered by Pythagoras” (Iamblichus, 1818/1986, p. 229). This statement would seem to be hyperbolic, but it is also a testament to the significance of Pythagoras’ contributions to our understanding of music.

Pythagoras was not without his critics. Some persons objected to the “cult-like”aspects of the Pythagorean community, which were seen as secretive and exclusive. Members of the Pythagorean society were called homakooi, “those who come together to listen,” and their assembly hall was called a homakoeion, “a place for hearing together” (Kahn, 2001, p 8). What the Pythagoreans heard was an akousma, a “hearing” or a symbolon, a “password” (p. 8). Pythagoreans who had successfully completed both the three-year vow of silence, the probationary period for entering into Pythagorean society, and the five-year vow of silence were allowed in the chamber where Pythagoras spoke. The newcomers to Pythagorean society were permitted to listen to Pythagoras’ akousma only from behind a linen curtain. Persons from outside Pythagorean society were not admitted, as “the teachings of Pythagoras were not to be revealed to nonmembers” (p. 8). Thus, some persons from the surrounding community of Croton viewed the Pythagorean community with suspicion and distrust.

Pythagorean philosophy was unique in its day, and it did contain special information and views that were not disclosed to those outside of the society. For example, Pythagoras assigned importance to the number four, the tetrad, for this number represents completion:

Everything in the universe, both natural and numerical, is completed in the progression from one to four. There are four seasons, four elements, four essential musical intervals and four kinds of planetary movement. As Plato was to expound, there are four faculties—intelligence, reason, perception and imagination. Four points in space give rise to the first three-dimensional solid, the pyramid…Because four completes the progression 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10, it also gives rise to the tetraktys (Strohmeier and Westbrook, 2003, p. 73).

The tetraktys, composed of ten points that form the shape of a pyramid, was considered “a symbol of the human psyche and also a numerical model for the kosmos” (p. 73). Members of the Pythagorean society took an oath not to disclose the great wisdom of the tetraktys. For Pythagoras, numbers and numeric relationships could be used to reveal truths about the material world; but numbers also transcend their literal meanings through symbol, metaphor, and archetype.

Pythagorean philosophy would later influence Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. “Socrates asserted that leading a good life meant that the person was using reason to discover the truth and had determined to live according to it” (Gutek, 2001, p. 2). In Socrates, one sees the synthesis of belief and action, when Socrates sacrifices his life in order to be true to his principles. Socrates was sentenced to take his own life drinking hemlock. He could have left the region and saved his own life, but chose not to. As did Pythagoras before him, Socrates believed that his life had a higher purpose than his mere physical existence. Socrates’ student, Plato, also devoted himself to the search for universal truths and for the good. In 387 B.C.E., Plato founded a school of higher learning called the Academy. Plato and his students “examined questions dealing with metaphysics, the study of ultimate reality; epistemology, the study of knowledge; and axiology, the examination of ethical and aesthetic values” (p. 3). Plato developed philosophical idealism, which significantly contributed to the foundation of Western thought. Aristotle then carried forward the quest for knowledge and for the good. He said, “good is what all desire” (Gomes, 2002, p. 49). Aristotle was likely influenced by the Pythagorean concept of the dyad, which is evidenced in his concepts on metaphysics. Aristotle’s metaphysics addressed the force of opposites, such as good and evil, light and darkness, limit and limitless.

Pythagoras’ thirst for knowledge and understanding also led him to discoveries in mathematics, geometry, music, and science. More than two thousand years after the time of Pythagoras, Albert Einstein said that the scientist is many things but that he may also view himself as “a Platonist or Pythagorean insofar as he considers the viewpoint of logical simplicity as an indispensable and effective tool of his research” (Kahn, 2001, p. 172). Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Einstein, and myriad other great thinkers have valued reason as the pathway to that which is true.

Pythagoras was influenced by those who preceded him. He, in turn, influenced many who came after him. Thus, a seed of thought planted within the framework of history gives way to new thoughts and understandings.

Pythagorean philosophy is enduring for it addresses essential issues of our being in the world. Man has the ability to use reason, and he must search for the good. That which constitutes the good is not self-serving; rather, according to Pythagoras, the good becomes manifest in the attributes of modesty, kindness, generosity, and reticence. Poised at the commencement of the twenty-first century, Western society appears to have diverged from the teachings of Pythagoras. We live in a time when individuals often seem self-absorbed and excessively focused on the accumulation of personal wealth. Perhaps strict vegetarianism, communal living, and lengthy vows of silence seem incompatible with many in the modern era. However, it would bode well for mankind to reflect upon our purpose in this life, and to return to consideration for the whole of humanity as we venture forth and live our lives.

In The Golden Verses it says, “know that death comes to everyone, and that wealth will sometimes be acquired, sometimes lost” (Strohmeier and Westbrook, 2003, p. 139)The Golden Verses were not written by Pythagoras. They were written in the fourth century B.C.E. But within these lines we can hear the voice of the philosopher from Samos. There are many important messages in the teachings of Pythagoras. However, one significant counsel within Pythagorean philosophy is that this mortal life will surely pass, but the soul will go on. Therefore, we must ask ourselves what is meaningful and what is good. And then we must strive toward that telos with our whole heart.

The Importance of the Personal Touch

Publishers and editors are human and as in need of recognition, human contact, and praise as are writers, artists, and all of us. 

Some writers, having suffered too many rejections, develop a negative image of the professional women and men who have the burden of saying « no » more often than « yes. »  Equally, editors and publishers often form the wrong attitude toward unpublished writers who present themselves with a large dose of ego.

Being an editor and publisher, I have often had to reject submissions, but being a writer in a family of writers, I empathize with the writer’s disappointment.  So instead of sending a standard rejection slip for a work that shows promise and effort, I send a personal comment on one of the cards from my collection at Greetings With Heart, gently suggesting that they try also to create a human bridge with the publishers and editors they contact in the future. My cards seek to capture the cosmic mystery in Nature. The personal touch of giving should come from the heart and honor the recipient’s human value.

I have been surprised by the results of this simple personal touch.

Dear Viktoria,

Thank you for your very helpful suggestion about adding a special touch when communicating with publishers.  I sent out my poetry with a friendly hand-written message on your photo art cards.  Out of 7 submissions, 5 responded.  This has never happened to me before.  In each case, the response included an acknowledgement of my personal greeting.

One in particular stands out:

‘I kept looking at that magic flower image on my desk (somehow, I couldn’t throw it away), and I realized I hadn’t gone over the submission that came with it.  Thank you for that stunning image.  As an editor, it has been a long time since I’ve received such a nice personal note.’

I was floored.  All I had written was:

‘So simple a beautiful image may explain why images are worth a thousand words.  On the other hand, a single haiku poem reverses this thought, and suggests that a few words can convey a thousand images.’

Anyway, I just wanted to send you my appreciation for your good advice.

THE LEGACY

Shortly after my father’s death, my mother and brothers decided that I should assume ownership of his car. Because it was larger and heavier than the one I’d owned for several years and would ostensibly secure my personal safety to a greater extent, they agreed I should have it. Though my initial reaction was one of satisfaction, it quickly acquired an aura of ambivalence. I felt slightly guilty that the quality of my life might improve simply because my father had died. I had done nothing to earn the car and was no more deserving of it than either brother. However, as the decision had been made in my absence, and had apparently been thoroughly considered by all concerned, I accepted the offer.

For several weeks, I was unable to ask for the car keys and continued to drive my smaller car back and forth from my condominium in a nearby suburb to my mother and father’s home on the bay. Every few days, my mother moved the car from one side of the street to the other to accommodate the local street-cleaning ordinance, making it appear as if the car had grown slightly restless awaiting my father’s return, like a lonesome dog pacing by the gate. I began to look for the car when I turned onto their street. Sometimes it was directly in front of the house, while other times it was further down the block. It grew dusty and looked sad.

I was relieved when my mother finally offered me the keys several days after my birthday. However, in my father’s absence, the car’s battery also died, and so my mother drove it to the local body shop and left it there for repairs. We decided that I should retrieve it, leaving mine in its place in their parking lot, until it could be picked up also. Driving to the body shop, I could clearly see my father’s car in the lot as I turned the corner. The proprietor and I commiserated about my father’s untimely death, and when I took the key from his hand, I nervously ran my fingers along the chain like a rosary. After receiving a courtesy wash, the car was released to me. I silently transferred the last few personal possessions from my old car, leaving only a « for sale » sign exposed in its window on which was written my phone number and the asking price, and drove away.

Once back at my mother’s house, the house that had been theirs but was now hers, I pondered the sad task of examining and removing the last of my father’s belongings remaining in the car. My brother had already removed the files and papers essential to running the business they’d shared for twenty years. I was left with the flotsam and jetsam of my father’s daily life, the bits and pieces that innocently accrue, becoming revelatory only when considered from a posthumous perspective. Because my grief and shock were still violently raw, I handled every scrap as if it were a religious icon to be treasured, housed in this latter-day reliquary, the automobile. Each object was gently observed, sorted, catalogued and finally removed to a box on the kitchen table awaiting my mother’s final disposition.

I saved every object except a crushed piece of candy that I recognized as being the sort dispensed by cashiers in the moderately priced breakfast or luncheon restaurants frequented by busy working individuals. From a corner of the trunk I removed two very worn bungie cords. In the center of the trunk sat a tan canvas bag originally used to transport gym clothes but now containing several very old and dirty telephones and a new white towel that smelled like my father’s office. Unable to control myself, I wept into the towel with such force that I had to sit down. The trunk also contained several large plastic bags of the type sold by my father and brother in their janitorial supply business. I decided to keep them, though wasn’t sure why.

When I finally removed everything that had once belonged to my father and would now belong to my mother, including a very torn black yarmulke, I sat down in the driver’s seat to remove the last bits of trash from the car’s interior. After tossing several stretched-out rubber bands and a dried out pen, I noticed a tiny scrap of torn paper in a little bin near the ashtray and picked it up. Looking more closely, I saw that the paper had been torn hastily from the margin of a piece of newsprint from the Los Angeles Times dated four years earlier, December 9, 1998. As is so often the case when no other writing pad was within reach, my father had used instead a sliver of newsprint upon which he had written three cryptic directives: Be well. Do good things. Keep in touch.

I studied the familiar printing, the swooping « T’s, » the boldly written consonants and fluid vowels and wondered to whom these words were intended. Not knowing exactly when they were written, I couldn’t help but wonder whether my father had actually saved that scrap for four years or whether it had simply acquired the invisibility that befalls most mundane objects when viewed on a daily basis. I stared at the shred, asking myself when my father might have written those enigmatic yet pithy instructions. Did he write those words four years earlier or perhaps nearer to the date of his death, quickly tearing a scrap from an old newspaper article that had ceased to be important. Whenever he wrote them, it was clear to me that his message was urgent, that he felt compelled to record his thoughts before they evaporated.

I sit in the car in the garage and think about my father, how he had been an articulate man with an expansive sense of humor. He connected with others via the spoken word and frequently arranged his thoughts in writing prior to delivering them orally. Tragically, he developed an acute aphasia during the last month or so before he died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage, making it frustratingly impossible for him to express himself. He could no longer write, speak or read well.

I listen to the sounds of the gardener’s loud equipment next door and chastise myself for having failed to detect the incipient signs of disease earlier in its course. Apparently, he and my mother had colluded to hide this rapidly worsening disorder, telling themselves it was due to normal forgetfulness or fatigue or whatever. Understandably, they were unable to admit that something was terribly wrong, something horrible was happening.

I selfishly went away for the New Year’s holiday after having an uncharacteristically loopy telephone exchange with my father. I went away when it was clear to me that he had developed an acute aphasia. Maybe he’s tired, I rationalized to myself, though I feared something much worse, diseases for which I could barely formulate the words, « stroke, » « transient ischemic attack, » even more terrible words like « aneurysm » or « tumor » or « cancer. » I continued on with my train of thought, « If something’s wrong, Mom will call me immediately. » When no phone call came, I went off with my friends, assuming that he must be okay but nagged by fears that I had exercised very poor judgment.

Several days into the trip, while driving to the grocery store for barbecue supplies with my best friend, whose mother had recently died, I mentioned my concerns. She and I looked at each other for a brief moment when our true fears were communicated. Before we could address the enormity of those terrors, we resumed our defensive postures by stepping back into the safety of our professional roles, she, the nurse, and I, the psychotherapist. After buying all the junky food products that appeal to hungry kids drunk on the indulgences of school vacation, we drove out of the parking lot joking about our own encroaching mid-life memory lapses. We talked about the beautiful scenery, about our friendship spanning nearly forty-five years and enjoyed our few precious moments alone together. I said nothing more about my fears.

With my index finger, I swiped designs in the dust that had deposited itself thickly on the dashboard of my father’s car and watched the neighbor’s cat, Idaho, pass by. I mentally replayed the phone conversation I had with my mother while en route home from our trip. I called to tell her I’d be home in an hour or so but mostly wanted to know about their New Years eve. I knew it had been disappointing and sad, because the loss of my friend’s mother had terminated a thirty-five year old tradition held by our parents. They always went away together as a foursome for the New Years holiday. When they couldn’t arrange a trip, they shared dinner and a movie. This tradition survived several heart surgeries, major illnesses and family disasters but was now unbearable for my friend’s father. My parents were left alone to mourn the loss of this special partnership and yearly ritual, while considering the insidious undertow that was in all probability going to pull them apart also.

They were sad, and I was worried and sad for them. When my mother answered the phone, said she and Dad had brought in the new year with Alton, their grandson, and that it was fun, but my mother sounded vulnerable, and her voice was melancholy. I was about to say something conciliatory when she added enigmatically, « Well, I guess I can tell you now, » and then said nothing. Sitting in the cold garage, my skin grew icy just as it had that day, and I shivered. « Tell me what, » I had asked calmly.

My mother proceeded to tell me that my father had been « a little forgetful » during the past month or so. « Forgetful, » I almost shrieked and then tried to soften my voice, because there were kids in the car and I knew that screaming wouldn’t help. « Mom, » I continued, « he can’t string two words together. He’s aphasic. Do you understand what that means? Just how long has this been going on? » I don’t recall the exact dialogue that ensued but, at my emphatic urging, my father underwent an emergency MRI the very next day. Confirming my worst fears, it revealed a lesion the size of a large walnut in my father’s head, a primary brain tumor that would ultimately steal all his language abilities, that is if he lived long enough. The glioblastoma would send out shoots and runners like deadly crabgrass, but prior to ultimately killing him, he would be subjected first to the worst of all possible indignities. He would be isolated in his own private tower of Babel, devoid of all discernible receptive or expressive language skills. This man who readily made friends while on line to the bathroom, would be left completely and terribly alone.

I obsessively evaluated and reevaluated every possible course of action, though secretly hoped he wouldn’t live long enough to necessitate them. In the final analysis, all roads led straight to the grave. There was no recourse. Life and suffering could be prolonged by surgery, nothing more. Alone at home, I was wracked with the terrified sobs of disbelief and helpless rage. Unable to thwart life’s final insult to this good man of language, this storyteller and orator, I prayed that he would be spared further misery. I prayed for my own oblivion. Within ten days he was dead.

Sitting in my father’s car, I cried again, and my nose began to run sloppily like a child’s. And so in the end, there had been no more time to smooth the rough edges and emotional abrasions raised between us over the course of my lifetime as I had always hoped. During those last days, language would recede, leaving us both mutely trying to absolve each other of all the varied resentments and misunderstandings that unintentionally aggregate on the heart like barnacles. My brother arrived from New York, and we shared one last family weekend together.

How I longed for a final legacy that would tie up those loose ends, some biblical blessing or birthright to grant us both peace. I wanted to receive the archetypal patriarch’s message of wisdom for perpetuity. Please G-d, let there ensue some inspired clarity between us to lend order to this chaos of abbreviated life and loving, cut off so abruptly in mid-sentence. Of course, this didn’t happen, and we were left with our all too human selves. We would continue to struggle with our imperfect, needy longings and frustrations, our very evident love and bubbling anger. We reached out toward each other across the flowing river of evanescent mortality but were sorely restricted by our human framework and its sensory limitations. Perfect comprehension or attunement would remain where it must, in the realm of infantile fantasy, available to us only in broken fragments so eclipsed by the exigencies of life’s daily demands upon us that we question its actual existence.

Life is messy. We die in the middle of living, leaving behind an unfinished puzzle of what and who we were that must be deciphered and reconfigured by those left behind to mourn. Instead of perfect resolution and completion, I am left alone holding my end of all the partially unraveled ropes, ribbons and chains that bound me so intensely to my father. And so I stood at the foot of his bed, trying to rub warmth into his feet as he died, watching the monitor quantify the cessation of his bodily functions. I grieved as the tension between us finally slackened as he gently released his hold and moved onward. Though it will take years, it is now my job to untangle and reweave those fibers. I only hope my tapestry will be a testament to the vitality of a living relationship, uniquely beautiful even when its colors clash.

I picked up the remaining pieces of debris clinging to the floor of the car and watched the cat, Idaho, drop down onto the warm concrete for a nap. I worried about my future and sincerely doubted my ability to satisfactorily fulfill my own existential obligations. Holding the small scrap of paper on which my father had written something meaningful to someone else, I was unable to decide whether to drive home or remain immobilized in the garage. I silently repeated the message written on the scrap like a mantra. Be well. Do good things. Keep in touch. 

As I did so, I stopped wondering about its origins. Sitting in the worn leather driver’s seat of my father’s car, I felt comfortingly surrounded by his essence and began to relax. I sank down deeper and soon felt as languid as Idaho, the cat, asleep on the driveway. I decided that, despite its original destination, the message was meant for me. It was my legacy if I wanted it.

I fall into a soft reverie, a kind of dream in which I find myself standing in a lovely predevelopment-era California landscape. I look around and see that I’m standing underneath a tall old tree beside an old stretch of Route 66. Nobody is traveling this stretch of highway. It’s empty, quiet and still. I see my father standing nearby. He is once again young and hopeful. Busy putting his bags and belongings into the back of a vintage car – the kind we had in the 50’s, though it looks new – he looks up at me and smiles. While not surprised to see me, he doesn’t stop what he’s doing but continues preparing for his trip. He knows I’m watching him but makes no attempt to say anything. I see that his hair is soft red again, and it shines brightly in the sun. I smile back and nod imperceptibly but don’t move. I understand that I’m here only to bear witness and so stand very still, lest my father disappear again. Be well, I silently say.

My father gets into the car and closes the door. Without looking back at me, he turns on the ignition, pulls away onto this two-lane highway and slowly begins to drive away. He’s in no hurry and appears to be taking his time. He has all the time in the world now. My heart lurches forward after him. I’m not sure where he’s going but know I can’t follow. I suppress a small cry that catches in my throat. I know if I call to him, he won’t answer, and I feel the inchoate longings of a tiny, lost child. The late afternoon sun moves downward in the sky and prepares to set in front of us. It glows warmly at the horizon where the road disappears into the hazy distance, a beckoning radiance.

Suddenly, I’m weightless and levitate off the ground like a butterfly. I rise to the height of the treetops, where my new vantage point allows me to see him better. He continues to drive at a relaxed, slow pace. I follow him with my eyes as he ventures on. Do good things. I watch him drive further and further away, his image growing more distant and faint. Daddy, where are you going? I want to see through his immortal eyes, but I don’t move. Held aloft by the warm air, I hang suspended above the tree’s swaying branches. Fluttering beneath my feet, new spring leaves wave good-bye. Holding my breath, I watch as he turns a bend in the road and disappears. The sun sets, leaving behind its bright pink wake. Keep in touch. 

I close my eyes and hear Tom Waits singing the bluesy song that we played at his funeral. I hum along and find myself back in the front seat of his car. I feel a tiny bit less lonely knowing well that I’ll find that road again for myself someday. He’s just gone a little bit ahead. The cat, Idaho has disappeared. It’s late afternoon. I turn the ignition key of my new car and drive off toward home.

And so I keep the tiny scrap of paper on which were written three cryptic directives, a legacy from my father.