Backwards Mind

We move forward in time while looking only backwards.

We are blind to the future– we stare at the past, aware only of what has already happened. Unable to change the past, we shape the future– the very future we cannot see.

A strange predicament; predicting and shaping the future from past events– a fools errand in any other context.

Such a stunt requires spirit. A guiding principle, a concept– arguably one of our creation– moving us forward a little less blind. It’s difficult to know where we’re going when we see only what has already happened.

There is, it seems, a pre-conscious awareness– right at the moment of sensory contact where the future becomes the past. Our conscious mind stares openly at the near past, understanding it through lenses of perceptions, useful metaphors for facing a world we are otherwise blind to experience.

Before conscious awareness and after sensory contact, there is a moment where the perceptions are applied and the metaphors created. You look up to see the sky, before the metaphors of ‘blue’ and ‘brilliant’ are applied, there is an awareness; a childlike awe and it is here that is best described as a spiritual awareness– and from this spiritual awareness the metaphors of consciousness are created and your actions follow such that your conscious mind may think "what a brilliant blue sky".

It is here that we are closest to experiencing life as it truly exists, and it is here that we find the spiritual awareness that guides us forward. As our mind creates perceptions of blue and brilliant, something guides it– something decides ‘brilliant’ before the image is even constructed. Attempting to explain this we create more metaphors, Gods and all kinds of spiritual abstractions.

Because this moment occurs before the usual metaphors of conscious awareness– gods, religions, and all created forms fail to adequately describe it– yet these are often the most useful way to bridge your conscious awareness to this preconscious spiritual awareness.

Create the most useful metaphors to bridge your conscious awareness to spiritual awareness.

This could be ancient scripture, a personal god or gods, scientific models of human cognition, currents of mystic energy– all are metaphors, don’t be lost in the metaphors. Find the song in your own heart that awakens you to this bliss, to the rapture of existence that is spiritual awareness– and see the infinite in the world around you.

Why are you traveling?

On the road you meet lots of people, other travelers–
Some wandering, some drifting, others on destination, rarely on itinerary
Some are out to save the world– only to learn that the world is in no need of saving
Find yourself, lose yourself, eventually you realize those are the same things
Getting away from the ‘real world’ only to discover the real world
And a life free from regrets

on Letting go

The fires of your minds-eye rage forward,
fueled by streams of
the Sights most moving, of
the Sounds calming, of
the Tastes and wafting Scents delicious, and of
the Touches from lovers longing

All die as quickly and beautifully as they become

Look within, look without
Beyond these shores of strained eyes
The doors of perception swing to and fro
as swiftly as the breath that wisps from nose to lips

Silent Meditation at Suan Mokkh

suanmokkhTen days of silent meditation at Wat Suan Mokkh in southern Thailand; at the mercy of the mosquitoes and alone in your thoughts.

The monks give daily Damma talks on Anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing). They speak of dukkha (suffering), and the cessation of dukkha.

Most of the time you sit silently and meditate. Actually, everything is silent, there is no talking.

Daily Life

You sleep on a concrete slab with a straw mat and a wooden pillow. The monastery bell rings at 4am, you arise and walk to the meditation hall for sitting meditation.

Yoga, and then more meditation before 8am for a breakfast of rice soup.

And then chores, I swept one of the meditation halls. Afterwards the bell rings and back to sitting meditation, followed by walking meditation. Eventually lunch, the last meal of the day.

In the afternoon one of the monks gives a Damma talk. Afterwards walking meditation, and then sitting meditation. And then you either continue sitting or join in on chanting (in Pali)– chanting is a nice way to exercise your vocal chords and break up the silence.

Late afternoon there is tea and free time to sit in the hot springs. As the sun sets the bell rings and you walk to the meditation hall for (you guessed it) sitting meditation. Then group walking meditation, walking barefoot in the dark, mindfully so as not to step on any centipedes, scorpions or snakes. A candle-lit path around a pond, stars above.

Silence

nibbana
In the silence the pace slows, day by day people are walking slower and slower, you move at the pace of life and the nature to which you are apart.

Your mind may race in the silence, all notions of self and ego fight to maintain their place in your mind, the monks tell you these are illusions– and anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing) brings these illusions to your awareness.

“I” and “My”

Everyone seems to get something different from this experience. Confronting your self in the silence, you may or may not like what you find.

Dig deep enough and you find the illusion of self, that “I” and “my” are delusions.

There are many sides to who you think you are, many even conflict with each other, which one is the real you?

Question your possessions, relationships, memories, personality, body, and even the mind itself — all of these things change (dramatically) during the course of a single human life; which one is the real you? Or are you the very process that witnesses the continuous change of life? If you peel off the layers one-by-one there’s little left.

I thought, perhaps there’s a self in each moment, dying and reborn continuously as we experience life. Question even this, and peel this off as yet another delusional layer of ego– eventually there is no more ego (“I” or “my”) to question.

Ego-less existence feels like a dream when you know you are dreaming. Content, beautiful, blissful freedom.

Free from craving
Free from suffering
Free to crave
Free to suffer.

Immigration, Visas, …

lock… and the decaying remnants of a European colonial world-view.

I have a lot of incoherent and often contradictory thoughts on the topic of immigration, visas, and passport control.

I’m hoping that one day I’ll land a clear and concise view on the topic.

In the meantime, I’m finding it harder and harder to understand the reason for the continuation of visas and passport control.

We share one world

First, a simple perspective. Communication and access to information happens at the speed of light. Goods and services are available to international audiences. You can pick up a phone and talk to your friend on the other side of the earth.

It is right in front of your face, we are one people sharing the same earth.

And yet, if one person wants to physically go to the other side of the earth to continue a conversation started via phone or Internet, they will hit a border of passport control and immigration, a centuries old concept better suited for feudal kingdoms than our modern world.

By sheer luck of where you were born, this one variable will determine where you can travel and where you can do business in-person.

It’s stupid, unethical, and racist

Restricting the physical presence of certain individual based not on merit but right of birth, is plainly stupid.

Most of our current political borders are the direct remnants of centuries old European colonial borders– this is even more stupid.

In a sense, where you can travel or work in this modern age is directly determined by where you were born according to mostly arbitrary lines drawn by crusty old white guys 200-600 years ago. I apologize for being dismissive of important historical events and the many natural cultural borders, but we are enforcing centuries old policies in a world where they clearly no longer apply.

Being forced against your will to stay in the area of your birth, is ostensibly unethical. And yet this happens every day with varying degrees of restrictions — and the type of restrictions, ranging from absolute to silly paperwork, are also based on where you happen to be born.

Realpolitik

I understand there are practical realities of why things are the way they are– and yet, I can’t help but to think this is a non-sustainable practice that in our lifetimes will be reduced to lame bureaucracy and then further reduced to nothing.

Corporations are quick to exploit human labor and slowly erode this outdated notion– hiring migrant workers from less wealthy countries is hardly a new concept. But I have to ask, why is this acceptable while freely traveling is not?

I suspect our future world-view will look back on passport control and visas with the same kind of embarrassed disdain that we currently reserve for imperialistic colonialism or manifest destiny.

I imagine a day where all humans are free to travel and free to work where they have the will and the want. Where people can move as freely as ideas– and human rights and dignity apply to all humans, regardless of where you happen to be born.

Food in Jars

At first I thought, that’s clever, my hosts keep cereals and other foods in hermetic jars.

A day later I have decided it is genius!

I am used to cereal packaging that is bright, colorful and designed to be exciting– as if to jump out of the shelf and into your hands. Your shelf starts to look like a rainbow exploded in a toy chest and less like human consumable food. The aesthetics of an average pantry are horrendous to say the least.

I found it wonderfully serene to pour a bowl of cereal from a transparent jar– I could see the food that I was about to eat. There were no distractions. Eating cereal became a calm experience.

My lesson for the day: Storing food in an air-tight jar is both practically advantageous and it restores the aesthetic to your pantry.

Blissful Ego

stardust_cropFirst, some words about Pluto.

I’ve been reading about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s experiences at the Hayden Planetarium and the controversial solar system display that resulted in an international debate on whether or not Pluto is a planet.

With the exception of Tyson, there was little discussion on why we call some things planets and not others. No one was disputing whether Pluto exists, the dispute was whether or not we should label it with the word “planet”.

This boring semantic debate sparked worldwide controversy and renewed the publics interest in astronomy.

The arguments and legislation (yes, legislation) claiming that Pluto is a planet were not only unscientific but completely absurd, irrational, and most interesting of all: emotionally charged.

Wow, all of that over Pluto.

Emotions ran high and ego’s collided, but why would anyone’s ego have a stake in Pluto? If we answer that question, perhaps then we could explain why so many people have such strong feelings about other equally irrational topics.

Let me recap the nearly decade long debate: one day Pluto is a planet and there are nine planets in the solar system, all is good. Over time our knowledge of the solar system increased so profoundly that the belief of “nine planets” is inconsistent with what we now know. Pluto is reclassified.

Pluto is a wonderful example of how people cling irrationally to beliefs despite evidence to the contrary (evidence that gives us a richer and more beautiful view of our universe).

Our ego’s can be dangerous, blinding us to the beauty that awaits discovery. What future discoveries will clash with our current beliefs?

I propose a different foundation of ego. An ego that is not based on any world view, but an ego based on what I call the Bliss of Existence; an open mind and a realization of our connection with all things.

Your ego need not depend on thinking the earth is flat and that we are the center of the universe. Your ego need not depend on an imaginary God that happens to look like an old bearded white man. Your ego does not need to depend on religious beliefs that contradict known science. Your ego does not need to depend on your nationality, nor your social status.

Your ego can depend wholly on the bliss of existence, on the recognition that we are at one participants with and components of a larger cosmic order.

Whether we perceive it scientifically as Neil deGrasse Tyson explains with his “we are star dust” metaphor, or whether we perceive it spiritually (as Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, and Jewish teachings often attempt to convey)– the conclusions are the same and the meaning behind the metaphors is the same.

There was a time when our ego’s were founded in the world view that the earth is flat, lightning is a weapon of Zeus, and Pluto is the ruler of the underworld. An ego based on a static world view is detrimental to human advancement. The unfortunate history of Islamic science, Catholic inquisitions and the evolution/creation debate are clear examples.

If we look back in history we scoff at the views of humans before us, and we admire those individuals that brought about new ways of thinking that reshaped societies. The history of human progress is not owed to any one culture or people– but to the open minded convictions of those brave enough to question the limits of their knowledge.

Whether you are scientist, an athlete, an executive, a doctor, or just some guy or girl … you will be a better scientist, a better athlete, a better executive, and in every way you will have an advantage in anything you do in life — all by separating your ego away from the static world view you were taught in school and replacing it with an open mind and the realization that all things are fundamentally connected.

Can you imagine a world where ideas flow freely without judgment and constraint? Can you imagine the progress, the advances not just in science and medicine, but of culture and art?

Such a world would not be free of problems, but imagine the unity of all people to overcome and survive those problems.

Imagine that every child, everywhere, was taught to value new ideas and critical thinking.

Perhaps in such a world (in a not so distant future) every person is free to travel, to live, and to work anywhere they have the want and skill– world views come and go as easily as our knowledge of the universe expands, and Pluto is still not a planet.

Best of your Being

You are unable to submit
to the life other would have you live
It brings neither joy nor completion

Rebel and face the world
on your own terms

It is overwhelming happiness
A joy in every breath

Bank of America, Hopes and Dreams

On December 24, 2009 a charge for $4.97 was posted to my Bank of America checking account from “Hopes and Dreams”.

I did not make this charge. The transaction noted a telephone number, 478-394-4395, and a Google search revealed many other people were also struck with an unauthorized charge for $4.97 from “Hopes and Dreams”.

hmm, charge a small amount of money from many cards under the guise of a charity… genius!

I guess my Bank of America check card has been compromised. And apparently I am not alone.

This was troublesome as I am traveling. I do have a backup card from a different bank. The backup card occasionally wouldn’t work where the BofA card would. I found that the combination of a Visa and a Mastercard from separate banks is very useful while traveling in the world. I decided to live with the risk and keep the BofA card active until the issue is resolved. I thought it would be resolved quickly.

I emailed BofA, the response was that I need to call the customer service number to dispute the charge. Making an international phone call during California business hours while traveling (I was in Japan at the time) is not an easy thing to do. This fact didn’t seem to register in the emails. Also, opening an investigation is impossible, the only recourse is to dispute the charge and cancel the card. Canceling the card while I’m traveling and having them mail a new card is less easy than making the international phone call during California business hours.

In the past couple of months I’ve made numerous attempts to call Bank of America and get this resolved. Usually I was put on hold and then disconnected. Separately, they did freeze my card as soon as I arrived in the Philippines. Using your card in the Philippines counts as “suspicious” to Bank of America (Japan, Korea, and Taiwan are ok, sorry Philippines). Apparently the multiple emails I have sent explaining that I am traveling were never read (or at least, never read by the right department). I was able to get through to the Bank of America Checkcard Security department from the phone number on the alert they sent me (about suspending my card). I reported the unauthorized account activity from “Hopes and Dreams” and they told me they couldn’t do anything about that, and that I need to call the customer service number during regular business hours (i.e., California business hours).

Interesting, Bank of America Checkcard Security department does not handle the security of your checkcard. They do monitor your account and freeze your card if you travel to the Philippines. They do not have an email. If your card is compromised they cannot do anything; you must call customer service during regular banking hours.

It has been two months and three countries after “Hopes and Dreams” posted an unauthorized debit on my card. Today, I was able to call Bank of America customer service and file a claim. The trick was to keep calling back after being disconnected by the first round of customer service agents. You’ll need to survive four separate transfers, none of which know your account number and will continually ask for your social security number, drivers license number, and other highly sensitive (and personally identifiable) information that they were never supposed to ask me over the telephone (I signed up for some security measure where a password and ID number would be used instead of personally identifiable information).

One time I had made the mistake of not telling them my social security number (because I was in a public cafe). The response was to freeze my entire account and require me to show up in-person at a Bank of America branch with two forms of ID. This is not very nice when you are traveling.

I realized this is an institutional problem. Occasionally a representative on the phone would try to help me, and never were they empowered to resolve the issue. One department does not share information with any other department. And yet all departments can touch your account, and put restrictions on it that they may not be able to lift. Each department has a specialized role and anything outside of that specialized role will not be resolved. I was unable to find a department for “someone is stealing money from your customers!”

Eventually a customer service representative transfered me to some fraud resolution department, the solution was to credit my account $4.97. The fact that this is not an isolated incident did not seem to register to anyone. Also, they have not credited my account, after I spoke to the agent who created the claim I was transfered to an automated message. The automated message explained to me that I must mail (yes, mail) the claim information to receive the credit, and if I do not mail this information then my claim will be dropped. They’re using the mail-in rebate scam… I guess I still haven’t alerted Bank of America that someone is actively stealing from their customers. The $4.97 is less the issue, someone stealing money via a fake charity is the issue.

They did tell me that they were putting a hold on my card (which was already suspended because I used it in the Philippines) and were going to mail me a new card. I requested they not send me a new card, as I will not be needing one.

Fortunately, in less time than I have been dealing with Bank of America over $4.97, I have opened an international checking account (with a different bank) that waives all international fees. I now have two separate checking accounts that I rely on and neither one is from Bank of America.

For anyone who plans on doing serious travel, here are some recommendations:

  1. Keep the bulk of your travel money in a secure online savings account. HSBC and ING both offer such accounts. The only way to touch this money should be to transfer it to a checking account.
  2. Maintain at least two separate checking accounts from separate banks. It varies by country, but one Visa and one Mastercard is recommended. This combination covers most ATMs in the world.
  3. Keep only enough money to survive in each of your checking accounts. If a card is stolen or compromised you don’t want to end your trip early.
  4. Don’t bank with Bank of America. Hell, even if you’re not traveling, don’t bank with Bank of America. There are plenty of competent banking institutions and credit unions to cover your financial needs.

I’m now in Singapore, I’m up late (California banking hours), and I’m looking at my Bank of America check card. It says “customer since 1994”. I feel a little sentimental since this account has been with me since I was a kid. Oh well, thanks for the good times BofA!

Thoughts on the World

It’s hard to describe the sense of freedom achieved by traveling the world with no plans of return. Your perspective shifts dramatically. Cultural differences dissipate and your senses are overwhelmed with a beautiful, open, and accepting world.

Life is Perfect

I believe the world we perceive is an illusion we construct to aid our survival. We see the world as we want to see it, and the reality that we live is only the perceptual illusion that we create.

The truth, if there is a such a thing, is that everything is and must be perfect. Everything is perfect exactly as it is at every moment that it exists. This means the world around you is perfect, every bit of it necessary for this existence. Life is continuously dying and continuously reborn, all perfect exactly as it is…

If there is a heaven, it is right in front of you; and if there is a hell, it is your blindness to this perfect existence. Your laughs, cries, sorrows, joys, all of it perfect. The perceptions are yours to control, you can see the world in any way you choose. And this life, your life, is perfect in every way.

Life is Fundamentally Simple

I believe that being happy is a choice. Anything you want can be achieved merely by focusing your awareness.

A wonderful trait of being human, we shape our world through our every want, it is as natural as breathing. We are the shapers of our world. I believe our brains are more limited than we imagine and yet more powerful than we often realize.

I also believe that everything negative has a positive opposite. Your perception of what is negative is a wonderful gift to guide your life. Focus on the positive opposite of every negative thought, life is as simple as that…

You are what you want
Who are you? Who am I? Who are we?

Your wants are the answer, your life and your existence are affirmed through the acceptance of you wants. If you want to know yourself, follow your heart, follow your bliss, and understand that doing the things you enjoy are the very definition of who you are… All the answers are already known to you, be quiet and listen!