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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Chants of a Lifetime by Krishna Das

I first heard Krishna Das, a kirtan (yoga chanting) leader, in early 2001 when he sang in a scene in the documentary Ram Dass: Fierce Grace. I reacted viscerally to the sound of his voice. I simply had to find out who this guy was and hear his sound again, so I bought his CD Live on Earth. Even though I’d experienced sudden heart-openings (aka meltdowns), I felt like a maniac listening to this music. Every time I started to chant, I’d erupt in spasmodic sobs. After a couple of weeks of this, I emailed the guy, and was thrilled when he wrote back: he was going to be singing at a downtown yoga studio and I should feel free to come. I have been hooked ever since. So when I heard he had a book coming out this month, I got a copy.

The worst thing about Chants of a Lifetime is that you can only read it for the first time once.  Read More 
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Shapeshifting with Our Animal Companions: Connecting with the Spiritual Awareness of All Life

I’ve got a cold. The world’s worst cold, to be precise. I’m hacking, spitting, and I feel as if I’m ten feet under water. What better time to read a book about consciousness? My brain is already exploding. My thoughts and ideas bore me to tears, so dropping them and saying to myself, “What if this is true?” has been a relief.

The book I’ve been reading requires nothing less. Shapeshifting with Our Animal Companions by Dawn Baumann Brunke (Bear & Co., 2008) is categorized as New Age/Nature because it is about people’s spirits, animals’ spirits, plants’ spirits, and all spirits sharing information and, ultimately, being one consciousness. But the categories of New Age and Nature are limiting in a way that is false — the same way our notion of separate consciousnesses for dogs and trees and rocks and people is false, according to author Brunke. Read More 
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The Courage to Linger: A Single Man (movie) and Eric Bibb: Booker’s Guitar (CD)

The other night on PBS News Hour, computer scientist and author of You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier, bemoaned the fact that the Internet has birthed cyberfill (read as “landfill in cyberspace”). “Consumer identity got the best of people,” he explained. “And everybody just wants things for free. And that’s created this strange kind of cheapness to everything, where everything becomes throwaway.”

Recently I’ve imbibed (and that is the right verb) two works of art that are so full, so deep, so imbued with human spirit, so un-cheap that I believe they will linger inside me forever. They are extremely different — a movie and a CD — but they share the same courage. Nowadays it takes courage not to toss off throwaway or sensational material, but instead to quietly linger. When you linger over a face or a story or a tune, you expose it, and for it to stand up under such scrutiny, it must have soul.

There is not one throwaway second in A Single Man, the debut film of director Tom Ford, a fashion designer who had to finance his vision himself. Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, the movie is the opposite of throwaway fluff, and actor Colon Firth, the main subject of the camera’s lingering lens, deserves every second of scrutiny.

A Single Man is the story of George Falconer (Firth) a gay English professor who, in 1962, leads “an invisible” life. Unrecognized by even the family of his partner of 16 years, he is briefly notified of the man’s death and then told that “only family” will be attending the funeral. It is this excruciating, largely wordless scene which demonstrates tour-de-force lingering — and it brings me to tears just to think about it.

Nothing in A Single Man is forced. Not the action, the characters’ choices, the emotions. Ford has directed to the metronome of his own lingering heart: the color, the camera angles, the music — oh my God, the music! (by Abel Korzeniowski) — feel like a heartbeat, and feeling our common heartbeat, how can we not love everyone?


Acoustic guitar player and singer Eric Bibb is another artist who is not afraid to take his time. After “meeting” and playing Delta blues legend Booker White’s steel-bodied guitar, he was inspired to write a song that became an entire album, Booker’s Guitar (TEL-31756-02, releases January 26).

Imagine taking a slow stroll, or rocking on a porch swing, or sitting at the feet of your elders listening to stories. That is Booker’s Guitar. In an easy, gritty, timeless voice, 58-year-old Bibb tells stories that linger and hypnotize in such a way that you find yourself spontaneously rocking, feeling instead of thinking, just taking it in.

This whole album makes you breathe, smile, and rock — whether it’s the song “With My Maker I Am One,” with its assertion that “I am the doctor … the junkie … the champion,” or “Flood Water” about a flood in 1927 that sounds eerily like the Katrina debacle, or “Rocking Chair” that beckons someone to “set down” and “just rock,” or “Turning Pages” where Bibb declares that reading books (a shamelessly time-consuming activity) is the foundation for everything he knows.

Thank you, Tom Ford and Christopher Isherwood, Eric Bibb and Booker White! Perhaps there is still hope that the lingerers of the world will survive — even in this digital age — perpetuating the wisdom of those who have gone before them.











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Contemplating a New Year ... Dreaming the Future

This week I’ve been watching a lot of old movies on my very new, very high-tech computer. I suspect I’m seeing more pristine images with more clarity than directors Preston Sturges or William Wyler ever imagined possible. I’m admiring and enjoying the movies, despite periodically cringing at the racist images and appalling stereotypes and even animal abuse (lovely Audrey Hepburn terrorizing a poor cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s). After all, such things were believed to be acceptable in the twentieth century.

Since a new decade is around the corner, it seems fitting to contemplate that which is considered acceptable today that may someday cause us to cringe or laugh in horror. What common practices will seem primitive? What will cause future generations to shake their heads in shame? Although I am not a professional psychic or a historian or particularly smart, I do live in the age when every thought can be publically published, ergo, here are mine (feel free to contribute your own in “comments”): Read More 
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“The Really Terrible Cook + Occasional Fashion & Beauty Tips"

I believe I have finally found my next career. It happened in an epiphanous Facebook post when I realized my true calling. Following are installments of my new Online show, “The Really Terrible Cook + Occasional Fashion & Beauty Tips.” My expert credentials: None whatsoever.

Enjoy, and you’re welcome.


A Unique and Speedy Dinner:
Although I am not a cook, I’ve become giddily experimental since cooking a vegan Thanksgiving dinner for my friends Nurse Mia and Dr. Robert (a die-hard carnivore, who liked it). And my middle name is Julia, which, I believe, qualifies me to put stuff in a pan: vegetable stock, scallions, onions, kale, mushrooms, eggs, salt, pepper, wheat flour, black currents. Stir till it’s not so watery or your arm gets tired. A very tasty and unique experimental dinner from Ms. B. Julia. You're welcome. Read More 
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Thanksgiving

Last week when I sent out a humongous email blast, I thought I was just trying to drum up some freelance editing work. I thought I was being professional. I thought the effort would most likely be ignored but was worth doing anyhow. Boy, was I wrong.

One of my favorite things is learning how wrong I am. When that happens, my heart expands. I may get some work from the email effort, but the more important thing I got was a tidal wave of support, validation, and, yes, I’ll use the “L” word — Love.  Read More 
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Finding a Gift for a Goddess

In my experience, places where people come together to work on their issues — spiritual communities; self-actualization, therapy, and intentional change groups; small gatherings devoted to identifying and resolving personal gunk — become, by necessity, very gunky oceans of gunk. And when you become friends with a fellow gunk-swimmer in an ocean of gunk, it’s real and deep in a unique and wonderful way.

Over a decade ago, I met Trish Corbett in such an ocean of gunk, and she is a true beauty. So when she turned seventy a few weeks ago, it felt important to find a birthday gift that celebrated both her beauty and her years of fearless gunk-swimming. Read More 
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Godly Wonder



I’m high! I’m drunk with beauty! I’m over the moon!

This morning I took a three-hour walk in the park. It is the Friday before the New York City Marathon, and people are everywhere, speaking every language on the planet, excited to be in one another’s company. Read More 
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The Moth Radio Hour


Since I finished writing a new novel, I’ve been down. It’s the contraction that inevitably follows the expansion of creative emission, I tell myself. Or maybe it’s the fact that my agent says that nobody’s buying fiction, no matter how good or well-written or funny it is. Or maybe it’s the purple vertical pinstripe that appeared this morning on my computer monitor, that I’m told is the beginning of a pinstripe cancer that will render my screen unreadable. Whatever it is, I am down and depressed and feel like wallowing. “Why?” I rail at the universe, sounding like a middle-aged Nancy Kerrigan. And that’s when the Moth Radio Hour comes on. Read More 
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A New Way to Discuss Health-Care Reform

“Body movements affect emotional processes. For example, adopting the facial expressions of specific emotions (even via unobtrusive manipulations) affects emotional judgments and memories,” says a study in the August 25th volume of Psychological Science. So here is me, writing this blog:
(picture of a funny looking smiling girl, which keeps disappearing)

The study goes on to say that lying down makes you react less angrily  Read More 
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Itty Bitty Matters


There are three pertinent pieces of background to this story:
(1) I am allergic to tomato plants;

(2) It takes approximately 500 years for a plastic bag to decompose in a landfill;

(3) Anything that demonstrates a determination to stay alive is an object of my admiration.
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Inspiration Stew: The Recipe

There is a new trend in business. It’s a sometimes-desperate scramble to pinpoint the latest trends in order to be on the forefront, the cutting edge, the winning team … in order to make lots and lots of money. But there may be a problem with this. There may be a problem because what appears to be one of the newest and most widespread trends (harnessed with awe-inspiring efficiency by the Obama campaign) is for individuals and small groups of passionate people to do good deeds with no concern for financial returns.

“We set up tables with cookies and candy in the park and give out Smile cards,” explained Shephali Patel, a 30-year-old volunteer with the Smile Card project. She is one of 20,000 volunteers who have been playing a form of global altruistic tag: You do a selfless “Radical Act of Kindness,” then leave a card encouraging the recipient to do something nice for someone else and pass the card along.

And this was just one of the examples of easy-to-do selfless service actions discussed at last night’s second meeting of an organization called Stay Inspired (see March 30th blog) held at Gallery 138 in New York City, where about 40 people gathered to eat good food and share ideas about how to remain inspired during hard times. Read More 
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Why I Sleep with Toys

A provocative title, huh? I’m trying to get attention. Did I succeed? Are you still reading?  Read More 
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A Sublime Evening in Central Park

“Hallelujah!” shouted a man after the first movement of J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, played with simultaneous passion and heartbreaking sweetness by Lara St. John.

Hundreds of us felt the same as we listened, spellbound, to the first of this season’s free concerts at the Naumburg Bandshell, arguably the heart center of New York City’s Central Park. As dusk gave way to night, the violins soared and so did two ducks, taking in the concert from their bird’s eye view. The audience swayed, breathing in Linden tree perfume as sweet as 104 years of truly free music — the gift of a haberdasher turned banker named Elkan Naumburg who began financing the concerts in 1905, and, in 1923, created the present-day bandshell with its perfect, unamplified acoustics.

I arrived at the bandshell with my little dog, Maya, at about 7:20. The concert began at 7:30. There was no admission charge, no line to pass through. There was nobody who said, “You can’t bring a dog to this concert.” The bandshell is a place where all beings are free to assemble. I took a chair. Maya took another. People smiled at us. There were free programs and even free CDs for children at intermission. The musicians, too, were free. They played with relaxed arms, standing and swaying like one body in the cool breeze. Maya laid her head on the leg of the man beside her, and without looking at her, he submitted to her love.

As night fell, flutist Andrea Griminelli explained to the audience that Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor was very long, so it might be best if we held our applause until the last movement … and then he demonstrated our cue.

The final piece was sublime — The Knights orchestra along with virtuoso siblings Lara and Scott St. John playing Bach’s Concerto for 2 Violins, Strings and Continuo in D Minor — closing the first evening of the oldest continuous free outdoor concert series in the United States.

And to think that all this might have been destroyed. The story of the bandshell’s survival is the story of a seven-year David and Goliath battle. In 1993, Christopher London, the great-grandson of Elkan Naumburg, took on the Central Park Conservancy and the New York City Parks Department, foiling their attempts to demolish the bandshell. The agencies’ reasons for the destruction were many and ran from the bizarre (unamplified music was outmoded) to the more bizarre (an antipathy to freedom of assembly; no good could come from just anybody — even homeless people — sitting down to enjoy music).

Last night, hundreds of us not only sat down, but we did so amiably with only the trees and the cityscape against the moonlit heavens as housing. And after the concert, hundreds of us rose en masse, still savoring the music, and strolled home peacefully. This is freedom. Now why is that so scary?

The next concerts will take place Tuesdays, July 7, 21, and August 4. For more information, go to NaumburgConcerts.org. Read More 
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Thoughts on Tomatoes, Lousy Posture, and the Alexander Technique

It’s another soggy day in New York City, so it seems appropriate to talk about my posture. I have lousy posture. I slump with my chin out and up like a turtle and, since I’m very flexible, I have a tendency to sit with pretzel legs. I also have a big, ugly lump on the back of my neck which has alternately been explained as a sign that my spiritual center is connected or that I have an energy block. I believe it’s due to my lousy posture.

Because it is raining today and I’m having such a difficult time remembering to sit upright, it seems appropriate to also complain about my allergies. I recently discovered that I am allergic to my tomato plants. Not the tomatoes, but the Deadly Nightshade leaves that smell so good but make my eyelids swell like over-sized shrimp. My tomato plants live on my neighbor, Nurse Mia’s, terrace because my building superintendent kicked them off our roof. Nurse Mia is the one who diagnosed my tomato plant allergy, so the last time I pruned, I suited up with swimming goggles, a surgical mask, and latex gloves. Read More 
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