Sunday, November 30, 2008


Girl on Horse
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
This morning as I did my asanas I listened to Rachel Naomi Remen being interviewed on Speaking of Faith. The program closed with this story.

The most important questions don't seem to have ready answers, but the questions themselves have healing power when they are shared. An answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering. Life has no such stopping places, life is a process whose every event is connected to the moment that just went by. An unanswered question is a fine traveling companion. It sharpens your eye for the road.

In some fairytales, there is a magic word which has the power to undo the spell that has imprisoned someone and free them. When I was small, I would wait anxiously until the prince or the princess stumbled on the formula and said the healing words that would release them into life. Usually the words were some sort of nonsense like "Shazam." My magic words have turned out to be "I don't know."
Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal

I’ve posted here some teachings regarding stories. Byron Katie is huge on how they hide us from the Truth about ourselves. We tell ourselves stories and make the situation worse. She encourages us to look closely at what we say and ask, “Is that true?” Usually, we must reply, “I don’t know.”

Well, Rachel Naomi Remen takes just about the exact opposite approach. But, it doesn’t mean she comes out in so very different a place.

Here is a story regarding tikkun olam, “restoration of the world.” I have also posted about tikkun before.

In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. And then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It's a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It's the restoration of the world.

It's a very old story, comes from the 14th century, and it's a different way of looking at our power. And I suspect it has a key for us in our present situation, a very important key. I'm not a person who is a political person in the usual sense of that word, but I think that we all feel that we're not enough to make a difference, that we need to be more somehow, either wealthier or more educated or somehow or other different than the people we are. And according to this story, we are exactly what's needed. And to just wonder about that a little, what if we were exactly what's needed? What then? How would I live if I was exactly what's needed to heal the world?

You can find the complete transcript of the interview with Dr. Remen here. It’s good.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Ghosts Inside Your Genes

Spinal Tap
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
For years I pulled my own existence out of emptiness.
Then one swoop, one swing of the arm, that work is over…

Do you think I know what I am doing?
That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself?
As much as a pen knows what it is writing,
or a ball can guess where it’s going next.
Rumi, as quoted by Suzanne Segal, in Collision with the Infinite.

Today’s title comes from the subtitle of a lecture I went to yesterday on epigenetics.
The speaker, Dr. Michael Skinner (here he is on the BBC) opened by saying,
“My grandmother’s environment will cause me disease as an adult.”

This is not biology as usual and I have written about epigenetics before.
What Dr. Skinner pointed out was that the current paradigm for the genetic basis of disease does not explain well established observations:

1) There are regional differences in diseases. In Japan, for instance, there’s a lot of stomach trouble, but cardiovascular systems are strong. The reverse is true for the U.S.
2) There is a relatively low frequency of genetic diseases. E.g., only about 5% of breast cancers have the BRAC 1 and 2 genes. 95% of breast cancers are caused by something else.
3) Identical twins have different frequencies of disease.
4) Many environmental toxins don’t mutate the DNA, but they do cause disease.

Skinner’s list went on, but you get the point I hope.
We do inherit diseases tendencies, but that is not the entire story.
Diseases don’t always arise because a healthy gene mutates.
And yet, the environment is clearly doing something to our genes.

If a mother is exposed to an environmental toxin, her offspring can be affected in an “non-Mendelian” manner.
Usually, an inherited trait diminishes in frequency with each new generation.
But, Skinner spoke of finding 90% of off-springs affected even in the fourth generation- so we’re talking here about a great-great grandmother as if she was just yesterday.

My daughter was birthed in a darkened room, so she wouldn’t be shocked by bright lights, into a large basin filled with warm water to ease the transition…

How can one describe a baby being born to no one?
She had no mother, yet the birth occurred just fine, and in the years to come the mothering function would take care of her…

she was an extraordinary child who showed no signs of being traumatized in any way… I was able to “fool” everyone into thinking I was just as I used to be…. How extraordinary the mind thought. There is no one here, and it’s apparently unnecessary to be someone for mothering to take place.

Mothering mothers, just as talking talks and thinking thinks.
The mind has a hard time getting used to this.
Suzanne Segal, Collision with the Infinite, on the birth of her daughter, Arielle.

We are all conditioned to have expectations, both in life and in science.
Buddhists call it conditioning. Scientists speak of paradigms.
Something’s got to give in our preconceptions for progress to occur.

Dr. Skinner is working with “endocrine disruptors,” molecules that bind to hormone receptors, molecules like phthalates. They are in shampoo, that new car smell, plastic bottles, the fungicides for fruits including those for wine.

What he’s found is that exposing a mother to these poisons, or rather, exposing her embryos (for we’re talking rats here) led to a huge array of adult onset diseases.

The genes themselves are not changed in the sense of being mutated.
Rather, the DNA in the embryos is being methylated in new patterns.
The new pattern of methylation turns some genes on that usually would be off, while other genes, usually on, are forever silenced.
In the past when I’ve heard of this it was called imprinting.

We have such potential within our cells. We begin life truly “totipotent.”
Development and growth requires turning off most of that potential.
We need to differentiate into tooth and claw and hair to become our human selves.
We get a double dose of most chromosomes, one paternal one maternal.
Often that’s too much. Imprinting can silence genes and whole swaths of chromosomes.

But, that full potential still resides inside us.
And while some environmental inputs to our mother’s womb cause hyper- and hypo- methylation that drive us to disease, there’s no reason a priori that these shifts must all be detrimental.
Some changes may be beneficial. And they definitely impinge on evolution.
Dr. Skinner is licking his chops on that angle and I am intrigued myself.

To Arielle, who was born into the infinite…

She was a delightful, happy child who was constantly impressing people with her precociousness. She was able to laugh in the face of any challenge…
I was relieved to see her so happy, since I had repeatedly wondered whether …the radical shift of consciousness that had accompanied the last five months of my pregnancy had left any problematic impressions on her.

Whatever impressions may have been left did not appear to have traumatized her. As she has matured into a teenager, she has continued to exude the wise happiness that has always radiated from her… In fact, she has frequently expressed a clear knowing that she is both different from and the same as other people.

At times she finds this confusing, and generally she would rather not speak about it. But on at least one occasion she has said, “You know, Mom, when people look at you and they think you’re someone, but you know you’re not that person?”

“Yes, sweetheart,” I’ve answered, “I do know that experience.”
Suzanne Segal

Friday, November 07, 2008

Why This Goes So Deep

marigolds and cathedral
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

We are birthed into sangha, into sacred community. It is called the world.

Yesterday, a friend in Mexico sent me this quote regarding the election:
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the Hawaii Legislature in 1959, two years before Mr. Obama was born in Honolulu, and declared that the civil rights movement aimed not just to free blacks but "to free the soul of America."

My friend also sent this picture from her neighborhood in Mexico.
It reminds me of other words of Dr King regarding visions of the Promised Land,
and, much to my chagrin, it reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City on the hill.”

Actually, this is a Catholic edifice built by the Spanish on top of an Aztec structure, the world’s largest pyramid.
I deliberately divert my attention from the subjugation of the Spanish act.
I choose instead to focus on these words of Isaac Newton:
If I have seen farther than most men, it’s because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.

Words. Visions. Souls and politics. We are in this all together.
For days now, I have been trying to articulate what has touched me so deeply about Barack Obama’s election. For me, it’s hasn’t really felt about race and civil rights.

"I’m white. I can’t really get what this means to African Americans. All I know is that deep inside my heart and belly, something has grabbed a hold of them. Something huge has been stirred. There’s joy and tears and I cannot find the words. But, is has to do with Goodness."
This is what I told a black friend, a Dutch citizen, on the morning after.

My friend’s eyes blazed. “Pat, that’s exactly how I feel!”
She too couldn’t really attribute the depth of her feelings to issues about race.
Only later, after she heard from overseas relatives would she come to me and say,
“Pat, in Holland, they call you nigger right to your face.”

Yes, huge issues regarding race are being addressed. There is that level. But, even my black friends feel there's something deeper going on. Something else eludes my understanding.

A day later, I still hadn’t found the words.
But, I had recognized that the stirrings deep inside is exactly what I feel when I truly hunger for the Divine.
There is joy because I can intuit what is possible.
There is heartbreak because I know I am not there.
And all the hope and joy and heartbreak exist beyond all words,
exist beyond all superficiality.

How very strange.
Why should an election feel the same as hunger for the Divine?
Then, I recalled the first time Obama made me cry.
It was his 2004 speech to the Democratic Convention.
I cried as he made me recall the Goodness of our nation’s ideals.
I cried as he recalled in me my sense of separation from our Goodness.
I cried as he stirred up the vision, the hope, that as a country we might one day live up to our potential.

Then, on the drive in to work this morning there was an old Jim Croce song on the radio:
Like the pine trees lining the winding road
I’ve got a name …
Like the singing bird and the croaking toad
I’ve got a name…
And I carry it with me like my daddy did
But I’m living the dream that he kept hid

I hadn’t heard the song in years.
It conjures images of idealistic college days and little kids marched on stage to sing for parents swelled with pride.
It seems a song about potential.
But, today I noticed that it also sings “living the dream that he kept hid.”

That’s it.

There is a dream, a hope, a profound hunger, at the core of each and every human being.
And, we keep it hidden.
Our deepest dream is far too precious, too heartbreakingly beloved, to risk revealing consciously even to ourselves, let alone admitting it aloud to the World.

It is our hope of one day reuniting with our own Divinity.
We not only keep it hidden, usually, we down right deny it.

We aim for something much more superficial, something more obvious and of the World.
We become under-achievers and over-achievers, drug addicts and CEOs.
We become smart and suave and cynical.

We revel as our children sing in innocence,
yet we hide our hearts in unconsciousness.
We become Adults: conservatives, liberals and libertarians, black and white and multi-racial.

We tie ourselves into knots.
We divide against ourselves as we live separate from our true Self.

Then this skinny, young, black guy comes out of nowhere
and has the audacity to offer us Hope!
And guess what…The American people stood up and shouted, “Yes, we can!”

Last night as I mulled this over more words came to mind.
They are the words with which Thomas Jefferson concludes the Declaration of Independence:

… with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Yes, Dr. King was right.
This is a matter regarding our souls.
And that is why my heart is breaking and my tears are those of joy,
And why the election was indeed about Hope.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I kept breaking into tears yesterday.
And it's not about the economy, stupid.
It was about my heart opening in a deep and rather inarticulate manner.
It's about Hope.
It's about Goodness.
It's about All of Us.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

I am awaiting Tuesday night eagerly. I early-voted last Friday. Two and a half hours in line, in the cold, and doubled-packed in tight long hallways.
I wouldn't have missed that for the world.
Like serving on jury duty, meeting my fellow voters restores my faith in the basic goodness of the American people. (Which is not to say... there are not some real idiots.)
But, we all seem to sincerely want what we think is best.
We vote our hearts and pain bodies.
Here's hoping!