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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

The Unbearable Sweetness of Being Human

I’ve been kind of blue this week. Actually, that’s inaccurate. I’ve been red — beet red with eyelids that look like obese shellfish — but blue is more descriptive of my mood. A red mood sounds angry. I haven’t felt angry. I just enjoy vision. Apparently swelling up like a prizefighter after a really bad night plus a nasty rash is my new reaction to tree pollen. Although I could barely open my eyes, I decided it was a good time for reading, and my friend Liz from the greenhouse had recommended Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Read More 
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Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult by Jayanti Tamm — review & interview

In this time of risk-taking based on promises of exorbitant returns from precarious investments, what could be more timely than the tale of growing up in a community where everybody has surrendered all decision-making and self-responsibility for the promise of divine protection and maybe God realization?

In her riveting, sometimes heartbreaking, often hilarious memoir, Cartwheels in a Sari (Harmony Books, April 14, 2009), Jayanti Tamm recounts how her parents, like so many people who came of age in the sixties and seventies, met a guru after years of spiritual seeking. So moved were they by the experience that they didn’t question his direction to marry each other — despite the fact that they’d just met. They did, however, flaunt the directive to remain celibate.  Read More 

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Rx for Unemployment Blues: Seeking Peace by Mary Pipher

It may seem paradoxical that reading about panic attacks due to overwhelming professional success and an abundance of work is calming to a person who’s been unemployed for months and battered by the recession, but that was my experience reading Mary Pipher’s new book Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World. It may seem counterintuitive that reading about a big, warm circle of supportive family could make a person whose family is mostly dead feel hugged, but, again, that is the case with this simultaneously comforting and entertaining book about a bestselling writer’s meltdown and recovery. Read More 
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Staying Inspired

Last Wednesday night, storyteller extraordinaire Laura Simms described the moment during an international phone call when she made the split second decision to adopt her son, Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone who would go on to become a bestselling writer and an advocate for children trapped in wars. “If I can get out of here, can I live with you?” he asked. “The phone may cut off and I need you to tell me the truth.” “Yes,” she screamed. “Yes!” and the phone went dead.

She described that moment as one of electrocution — the instant and complete realignment of every cell in her body. It was a moment when Spirit demanded something sudden and life-changing — what the oracle Viking Runes refer to as “an empty-handed leap into the void” — and she said, “Yes!”

She told the story at a “Friend Raising Party” at Tibet House in New York City given by a two-year old organization called Stay Inspired, the brainchild of a very unusual guy named Charlie Hess. Read More 
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The Yoga of Beautiful Jewelry

The first thing I notice about the woman crossing the hill to me in Central Park is color. Sizzling grey-blue jacket, violet scarf, purple something else topped by a mane of chestnut hair shining golden in the sunlight, penetrating green eyes flecked with something that stops you dead and demands attention. Her colors are so radiant that it isn’t until we are face to face that I realize I know her.

Mikelle Terson was my aerobics teacher about 20 years ago. I remember the colors even then: after an hour of sweating, she led a cool-down visualization of kaleidoscopic golden light, wafts of green, and cool blue pools of peace. Read More 
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Tierney Sutton’s DESIRE

Teachers of self-actualization often use an exercise where you stare into another person’s eyes for a long time. If you’re not used to it, your eyeballs can go spastic. If you’re practiced at the exercise, all kinds of things can happen: Sometimes the person in front of you morphs. Their face literally changes so that it becomes like watching a special effects movie.

Listening to jazz singer Tierney Sutton’s new CD, Desire, is something like this.  Read More 
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A Bedtime Story for the Recession


I was born and I’m still alive.

That’s the short version. The longer version that I tell myself when I’m lying in bed wide awake at 2 a.m. thinking about never finding another job, or finding one that I hate and feeling stuck, or dying penniless and who will take care of my dog, or winning the lottery and — oh my God — how will I set up a foundation and how much do I realistically need to live and what if I’m so besieged by desperate people I give it all away, and then I’m without funds again?!? When I’m lying there worrying about all that, I tell the long version of the story:

I was born. I grew up. I went from one job and career to the next. I went through hard times and was really afraid, but eventually I landed somewhere that was better than where I started. And by the time I get through my whole resumé and history, I fall asleep from boredom.

I little while ago, I interviewed the author/psychologist/radio talk show host Daniel Gottlieb for a magazine article. (By the way, his newest book, Learning from the Heart: Lessons on Living, Loving, and Listening, just won the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award for the best self-improvement title in the Motivational category.)

One of things I love most about Dan is his business card. In the place where you put your profession, his card says “Human Being.” He’s earned the title. Since a catastrophic car accident in 1979, he has been a quadriplegic with limited use of his arms and hands, and his humanity has been tested. It’s not that he’s perfect — far from it, he told me. But he has a basic faith in his — and everybody’s — ability to survive just about anything.

“We get used to stuff,” he told me. “All of us do. And underpinning that is faith: When I sit across from a patient, I have faith in the human spirit that they’ll heal. Whatever form it takes, they’ll heal. I can sit with fear because I have faith — not in some external, divine power, but faith that I can bear fear. And I can bear sadness. And I can bear despair. I know I can because I have, over and over and over again. And you have, over and over and over again. And everybody has, but we don’t notice that we get through it.” Read More 
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Leonard Cohen: The Secret to Life's Great Questions

Leonard Cohen has always known the answer to life's great questions, and now he shares it: eight syllables. Listen to his concert at NPR. It just went up on the site today. Wear earphones. Lie down on something soft. Close your eyes. Listen hard. Listen soft. Feel the unspeakable! Laugh. Cry. Everything’s there. I promise.











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Robert Thurman & Karen Armstrong on Compassion


Imagine putting the palm of your hand on a hot stove burner. Probably the idea makes you wince. Well, imagine if doing something — anything — destructive, vindictive (even if it seemed merited), or harmfully selfish evoked the same wince. And suppose that wince made you alter your behavior such that you were only capable of acting compassionately. Read More 
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106-Year-Old Adventurer

Last night in a lecture hall on the west side of Manhattan, Alex Imich, former chemist/current parapsychologist/lifelong intrepid explorer of all things outside the box, celebrated his 106th birthday. The occasion was introduced by Michael Mannion, a science writer and co-founder (with his partner Trish Corbett) of The Mindshift Institute. Here is the story Michael told:

When Michael started dating Trish, he soon understood that before anything serious could happen, he would have to pass muster with Trish’s friend, Alex Imich. At the dinner they shared, Michael learned why ... and why Alex was Alex. A Polish Jew, Alex escaped the Nazis by fleeing east — only to end up in a Siberian slave labor camp where inmates worked in 49 degree-below-zero weather and slept on top of each other to keep warm. One night, Alex could not sleep, so he stepped outside of his barracks to get some air. What he witnessed changed everything. “I saw the aurora borealis,” he told Michael, still in a state of awe more than a lifetime later. “And that’s when I decided to make this into an adventure.”  Read More 
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Really Bad Hair Day

Ring the bells that still can ring,

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack, a crack in everything—

That’s how the light gets in …

Leonard Cohen, “Anthem” Read More 

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Oscar Nominee John Patrick Shanley: Transcending Fame

About a million years ago, I used to hang out with the author and director of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play and Oscar-nominated movie Doubt. We were in the same playwrights group. I read his stuff. He read mine. I don’t really remember his writing. I remember that he was cute, a little scary, a bad-ass romantic.

Today, John Patrick Shanley is still all the things I remember, but wise in a way that can take your breath away. In the foreword to the published version of Doubt, he says:  Read More 
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Evan Handler: It's Only Temporary

As managing editor for a national magazine (a job that was downsized away just in time for Christmas), I looked at a lot of books for possible excerpting. Not long ago I received one that claimed that the nature of the Spirit is not fearful, confused, resentful, weak, or overwhelmed, but instead it is powerful, vital, fearless, content, and compassionate. That sounds awfully nice, but I found myself wondering how the author knew this. He started out by saying that, per Genesis, we are created in the image of God. Well, my image and the images of everyone I have ever met (including a whole slew of spiritual teachers) include fear, confusion, anger, etc. So why aren’t those qualities as much a part of our essential nature as all the blissful stuff?

I prefer a notion of spirit with a small “s.” This spirit lives inside all of us, and it is beautifully described in a book called It’s Only Temporary (Riverhead, 2008) by actor/author Evan Handler. A chapter titled “I Don’t Know” states our plight so nakedly:
“I am fascinated by our conundrum as humans living on planet Earth,” writes Handler. “I’ve said to friends, probably more times than they’ve wanted to hear, ‘We live in outer space. Do you know that? Can you believe it? We live in outer space.’ It’s a crucial thing to remind myself, because it justifies and enhances my choice to remain committed to philosophical non-commitment. We do not know where we live. We have no idea of our own address. . . . we have no idea what substance contains us, where it came from or where it’s headed, if it has a purpose or what it might be, how it started, or how long it will last.” Read More 
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