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A Wild Beast or a God?

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Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god.
– Francis Bacon
Solitude, my refuge as a boy, felt like imprisonment for much of my later life. From my last year in high school and through my 20s, I struggled ceaselessly to avoid it.I structured my life to reinforce connection. I hitch-hiked across the United States and Canada to force myself to ask strangers for rides and places to stay. I lived with roommates so that I was seldom really alone. I made arrangements to meet friends for meals and a movie even when I could afford neither and was living mainly on brown rice and omelets. I found work as a reporter to force myself to interview strangers, and as a teacher to push myself out of solitude and into connection with my students.E. M. Forster’s “Only connect!” became my motto, and without frequent connection, particularly intimate connection, I often collapsed into despondency. Solitude became a necessary evil. The time I spent writing, although absorbing, was ti…

Now, Be, Here

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I was 20 when I first encountered Baba Ram Dass’s square, purple-covered Be Here Now, the book that launched many of my generation on an Eastern-inspired journey. I was walking though the student center of the University at Buffalo when I ran into a high school friend sitting on the floor outside the bookstore, guitar at his side, leafing through it. He handed it to me.Be? Here? Now?More than 40 years later, I’m still asking what that means.One of my most important teachers is Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk whose simple exposition of Buddhist principles has been life-changing for thousands of people worldwide. Like Ram Dass, his most compelling observation is that we are already who we are, already in the only moment actually available to us. “The past is gone, the future is not yet here,” he says, “and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.”It seems so simple; yet being here now is not easy for most of us. We are inundated wit…

How the light gets through

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Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
– Georgia O’KeeffeIn August, 2003, I attended a five-day, mostly silent retreat with Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (and 900 others). I thought of it as “Buddhist boot camp.” We awoke at 5:30 a.m., exercised with Thich Nhat Hanh or one of his monks or nuns, and spent the day meditating, listening to dharma talks, participating in discussions of Buddhist thought, and in general immersing ourselves in Buddhist practice.At that time the older brother I never had, my close friend Robert, was in a bad way. Like me, he had nearly died about ten years before, and like me had struggled with his infirmities. For a long time, he did well, but in recent months he’d fallen into a deep depression. I was also battling depression at that time and it strained my limited emotional resources to be with Robert. In the best of times, our relationship was 70% Robert, 3…

Looking for a few good … opinions!(And offering a giveaway)

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Thanks for your thoughts on The Art of Balance title earlier this fall. The book is moving through its early pre-release stages. I’m busily getting feedback, making revisions, building a new website for Transformations Press, and investigating ways to network.But before I can get much further, I need a good cover!1. The Scene:You’re feeling stressed and you’re scrolling through books on stress relief in the hope of finding a solution to your woes. You come upon one of these four book covers:2. The Survey:Click hereto tell me, in this one-question survey, which cover you’d be most likely to click (and, optionally, why you were drawn to that particular one). Your opinions on the survey (and any additional thoughts) will be helpful in shaping the future of this book.3. The Giveaway:While you’re waiting for The Art of Balance to relieve that stress, take a look at these free books and courses.For Black Friday, I’ve teamed up with several other authors. We’re offering books and courses tha…

Garbage and Flowers

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For the last several years, I’ve found myself attracted to the dead leaves I see on the ground as I walk, particularly those in late fall and winter. I’ve taken thousands of pictures of them. A friend’s mentioning to me the concept of wabi-sabi helped me understand why.For the last several years, I’ve found myself attracted to the dead leaves I see on the ground as I walk, particularly those in late fall and winter. I’ve taken thousands of pictures of them. A friend’s mentioning to me the concept of wabi-sabi helped me understand why. Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese term for finding the beauty in imperfection, and accepting the cycle of birth, growth, aging, death, and decay.I’m 66. It’s about time.The Buddhist teacher and writer Thich Nhat Hanh talks about this cycle when he speaks of seeing the garbage in the flowers and the flowers in the garbage. “When we look at garbage,” he writes, “we also see the non-garbage elements: we see the flower there. Good organic gardeners see that. When they…

Time: Visible and Invisible

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My first experience of time as a continuum occurred when I was about ten years old. Before that, I think time was invisible to me.I was riding my bike past Johnny Sybulski’s house and I stopped, suddenly, for no particular reason. I looked at the simple brick facade, the white trim, the unkempt bushes, and I became aware of myself looking. I thought, “This is just one second in my life, and I’ll never remember it again.” But that moment is one of my more vivid memories from childhood. It marked the beginning of my sense of myself as mortal.Both of my grandfathers had died that year. In each case I had seen them nearing death in the hospital some weeks before and had seen their dead bodies in the funeral home. Perhaps that’s why I noticed that moment, or perhaps ten is when most boys begin to understand time and death; I don’t know. What I do know is that from that point on, time had a kind of linearity it had not had before, and this linearity soon became part of my background underst…

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is!

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A recent trip to Vermont reminded me that, although I’m still enamored of the mountains north of Santa Fe, NM, New England mountains also have their particular, softer charm.Some views of the Green Mountains, north and southP.S. If you find what you read here helpful, please forward it to others who might, too. Or click one of the buttons below the blog entry.
Comments always appreciated!Books:
Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
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Love Lives On

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The gaze of love is not deluded. Love sees what is best in the beloved, even when what is best in the beloved finds it hard to emerge into the light.
– J. M. CoetzeeWhen I was 25, living in Manhattan, and trying to jump-start a career in writing and photography, I visited my parents and brothers in Buffalo two or three times a year. On those trips, I also saw my maternal grandmother.It was painful to witness Bubby’s decline. Though only in her mid 70s, by then she was legally blind, mostly deaf, unable to manage on her own. She had a room at a Jewish nursing home downtown, an institutional environment where I always felt uneasy.On one visit, as I was leaving I noticed two of Bubby’s former neighbors sitting in folding chairs on the lawn. I went over to them. Mr. Klein’s recent stroke had paralyzed one side of his body and frozen half his face; his attempts to talk were unintelligible. Mrs. Klein, however, seemed virtually unchanged since I’d last seen her, more than ten years before. S…

Electrocuting the Ants

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I did terrible things to insects as a child.Like many other boys growing up with nothing better to do, I tore the legs off Daddy Longlegs, incinerated pill bugs with magnifying glasses, and set fire to more than one ant hill. But I didn’t stop there.I was a kid scientist. Spurred on by the early space program and largely ignored by the adults around me, I dreamed of one day voyaging to the stars. Meanwhile, to prepare myself, I read Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Bradbury, and other SF masters of the day. At the same time, I plowed through one field of scientific inquiry after another, beginning with magnets and batteries – I built my first lead-acid battery when I was seven – and moving quickly through fossils, geology, chemistry and electronics. But entomology was my most enduring interest and bugs were my favorite experimental subjects.The insect kingdom was convenient for testing ideas that came up in both my scientific and science fictional pursuits. My interest was, I believed, purel…

How to leap tall buildings in a single bound

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The only way to find the limits of the possible is by going beyond them to the impossible.
– Arthur C. ClarkeDuring much of my childhood, I lived in the realm of possibility: machine intelligences, aliens, mutants, future worlds, alternate pasts. Infinite possibilities.My first science fiction book was Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. I was 10 when I found a copy at a Temple Sinai rummage sale. It opened the universe to me. Soon, I was wandering over to the adult section of the library every week, taking out as many science fiction books as the librarian would permit. I also haunted the local pharmacy’s rack of science fiction and mystery novels, trying to figure out how best to allocate my 50-cent allowance. By my early teens, I had amassed a collection of several hundred science fiction books and had read many more.Around the time I discovered Asimov, I decided I wanted to be a “space scientist,” a dream that carried me all the way through my first year of engineering school. By then, I had …

The Cast of Characters

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NOTE: I’ve been working with an illustrator on the characters in my forthcoming book on balance and thought you might be interested in what we’ve developed. Here’s the cast of characters and a brief introduction to them.Know thy self, know thy enemy.
Sun Tzu, The Art of WarThis is a book about balance: What disrupts it, what restores it, and how to keep it going.It is also a story, and like any story, it has a cast of characters.Some are friends and fellow travelers. Some are enemies. In the pages of this book you will come to know them well. But first, some introductions.Al/AliceWe are the heroes of this saga, an epic battle not only for balance but literally for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.UnBalancerThe villain in our story is the nefarious UnBalancer.UnBalancer is a fearsome and sometimes deadly force. It strives single-mindedly to unseat us, and sometimes it wins the battle – but not, as we’ll see, the war.BalancerOur chief ally in combating UnBalancer is Balance…

Miracles

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There are two ways to live: You can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.
– Albert EinsteinI am a miracle worker by trade. Or more precisely, a facilitator of miracles.I state this with humility. My powers are as ordinary as those of the Wizard of Oz, whose only real magic was tricking Dorothy, the Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion into beginning a journey out of their self-limiting beliefs.The best trick I’ve found to facilitate miracles is deceptively simple. (Like the Wizard, I, too, sometimes need to be a little deceptive). It’s called the Miracle Question and it goes like this:Imagine that after you finish this essay you do whatever you would normally do with the rest of today. But tonight, while you’re asleep, a strange thing happens: A miracle occurs. This miracle is just for you, and it’s that all your problems and concerns are solved. Wonderful, right? However, there’s a catch. Because the miracle happened while you were …

Got Anxiety? How to Help

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NOTE: This article first appeared on lifehack.org, where I am now a columnist.In Part I of this two-part series, we looked at what anxiety is and how to tell if you or someone close to you is suffering from an anxiety disorder.Now let’s explore the causes of anxiety disorders and the treatments for them. We’ll also delve into the best self-help strategies anxiety sufferers can practice themselves and how their friends and families can help.Types of people who are prone to anxiety disordersThe causes of anxiety disorders are not completely understood, but most people I’ve worked with seem to have one or more of the following: a more sensitive temperament, to have suffered events that felt traumatic to them early in life, and to have endured a period of stressful situations. The combination of these factors brought them to a tipping point that created an anxiety disorder. Specific risk factors for anxiety disorders include:Childhood trauma, such as abuse, neglect, or witnessing a trauma…