The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Brain / Mind ... Religion ...

One of the main tenants of Buddhism is that the self, along with our sense of self-awareness and our ego, is overrated. Buddhism teaches “annata”, the concept of “no-self”. We are earthly beings subject to perpetual change, and therefore there is nothing fundamental and unchanging within us, no matter how deeply you look within. Thus, we do not have a soul or a true essence unique to our own individual identity. We are just chaff blowing around in the wind.

Another key tenant of Buddhism is the importance of regular meditation, so as to realize the deeper truths (including the “fact” that our lives and selves are ultimately an illusion). Interestingly, there is a recent study on the effects of meditation on the human brain, that indicates this to be a bit paradoxical. The NY Times said of this study:

The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.

More precisely, the study abstract in Psychiatry Journal states:

Analyses in a priori regions of interest confirmed increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus. Whole brain analyses identified increases in the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum in the MBSR group [group that meditated regularly] compared with the controls. The results suggest that participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

So, it seems pretty clear that these researchers are saying that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:18 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Personal Reflections ...

I have memories of the long winters and huge snowfalls that happened in the early 1960s, when I was back in 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades. As soon as you went outside you were surrounded by the cold white stuff. There were huge piles of it everywhere you looked. We haven’t had winters like that since.

But actually we have. In fact this winter, just about half over now, has seen more snowfall in my area than any year in the past. We’ve already broken the record, and probably still have a handful of storms yet to go. And actually, the runner-up years were not in the early 60s; the winters of 1996 and 2004 rank 4th and 6th; 1961 comes in 7th.

So we have huge snowpiles everywhere you go. And it’s starting to seem to me like like those early 1960s winters. But the piles today must be worse than in 1961, as we’ve had two-thirds more snow this year (with more to come, most likely). So it’s probably a mind question, about how everything seems bigger when you’re a little kid. I remember the strange feeling I would get as a 5th or 6th grader when I would go into a classroom where I had 2nd or 3rd grade. Everything seemed so much smaller than I had remembered! It seemed like a doll-house version of the classroom that was locked in my 2nd grade memories.

And thus the same for the snows of yesterday. They seemed so big and awesome when I was small. Now it takes a snow monster to re-kindle that feeling. And that snow monster has finally come to New Jersey. This will be a winter to remember! (Along with what I recall as monster snowfall, from 1961).

Stay warm, everyone, and keep your chin up. Spring will get here somehow, someday. It always does. This year, we will definitely have earned it!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:11 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Current Affairs ... Food / Drink ...

In 1991 I was in my second year as a development officer with New Community Corporation in Newark, a non-profit community development agency. NCC had already started a number of small business ventures meant to create jobs for the low-income people of Newark, and maybe even leave NCC with a small profit to help start more businesses or build new housing or family centers. That was the theory, anyway; none of its businesses even returned a profit and almost all of them were closed by 2009. However, in the early 90s there was much hope in the air for NCC’s entrepreneurial outreach. It was going to be the next big wave in NCC’s efforts to lead the way to Newark’s revival.

As part of NCC’s entrepreneurial spirit, the leader and founder, Monsignor William Linder, immersed himself in the nitty-gritty of small business management. Aside from going to seminars and talking with vendors and business operators and bankers, he read as much as he could about the topic. His reading list included Inc. magazine, a business publication focusing on the little guys. Being new at the time, I was still one of his “trusted few” (he appreciated unquestioning loyalty, something I couldn’t do for long). So he would pass on some of his readings, including an occasional issue of Inc. This included the August, 1990 issue, which had as its cover feature a story about Rick Duhe and his failed attempt to make it as a soda-pop magnate, based on the spicy cola drink that he thought up. It was called Cajun Cola and it caught the attention of many newspaper writers and TV reporters around 1987 or so, as the next big thing; but it didn’t do well on the supermarket aisles and thus went the way of various other next-big-things that weren’t. (Interestingly, NCC’s business ventures would eventually go the same route, despite much initial media acclaim for Linder’s “social entrepreneurship”).

I read the article about Mr. Duhe and his adventure in soda capitalism and I was moved by it. It was well written and reflected the human / emotional side of what Mr. Duhe went through in thinking Cajun Cola up, in struggling to get it financed, produced and distributed, in receiving high praise from the food and culture critics, only to finally see his new-born business sink into a pit of debt and bankruptcy due to lack of sales.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:19 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Photo ...

Just an imperfect attempt at sharing what I see . . . on a cold January night, outside my living room window. Basically, just some snow and some tree moonshadows on the driveway.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:56 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

In my last post, I had a quick aside about Korea, as to whether it can avoid another war. I pondered that question some more, and I conclude, with much trepidation, that there is not going to be another big battle between the north and south. However, that does NOT mean that things are going to be just peachy for the USA with regard to North Korea.

Here’s my geo-political theory du jour. North Korea is essentially China’s puppet, part of China’s plan to weaken the USA’s global strength while keeping it alive as a market for China’s growing factories and trade networks. China cannot afford to take blustery swipes against America and its world dominance, like the old Soviet Union did. But China does want to see that dominance shrunken over time.

North Korea’s unending threats to our interests in Asia certainly are a drag on America’s military and economic posture. This will create an economic, technological, military and doctrinal vacuum in the East, as the USA grows more distracted and weaker. That vacuum will spread throughout the world.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:39 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Current Affairs ... Society ...

I’ve expressed my opinion in this blog as to where things in the USA seem to be headed; generally I think they’re heading south. I appreciate the fact that the USA is a great nation simply because people like me can express their political sentiments without fear of reprisal. There are still so many wonderful things about America. But increasingly, things seem to be going wrong. I had much more hope for America’s future back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, especially when the Vietnam war finally came to an end. But since then we’ve gone through a wide variety of crisis situations (e.g., energy shortages, terrorism, financial collapse, and once again, political assassination), and although things got better every time, the healing never seemed complete. It seems as though changes and problems are coming at us quicker and quicker every year, and are starting to overwhelm our national resolve. America once seemed to have unlimited resolve, but I’m not so sure about that anymore.

But that’s just me. I thought it might be interesting to consider another viewpoint, from a fellow who grew up in Canada. Back in 1984, in his early middle age (after completing med school and becoming a doctor), he moved to the USA and started a family here. Why? Here are some of his thoughts:

At the time, Canada’s economy was weaker and the country appeared to be on a socialist tack. Weather was a big factor also; I don’t like 5 months of winter, and the practice climate for MD’s was deteriorating. Ironically, this was about the time the US economy began to develop the imbalances that today have reached unsustainable proportions.  »  continue reading …
◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:05 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
History ... Society ...

I had lived in the Washington DC metro area from 1976 thru 1978, but I left to come back to New Jersey as to go to law school (and wound up staying). One of the last things that I did before leaving in late 1978 was to visit the Lincoln Memorial. When you actually live in or around Washington, you don’t make a big effort to visit all the usual tourist attractions; you figure there is plenty of time to get to them. I would drop in on one of the Smithsonians now and then, and I recall having a nice afternoon at the National Archives. But I hardly went out of my way to see the great monuments up close. They’d be there anytime, right?

As I was getting ready to leave, I decided that I should pay a visit to Honest Abe. I picked a late-morning weekday in the fall, when there would hardly be any tourists around. I wanted to have my “moment” with Mr. Lincoln. I wanted to feel the power of his presence, to stand in awe of his great achievement in saving the nation and setting African Americans on the path to freedom, and then losing his own life to a fanatic. I figured that would take at least 20 minutes if not the better part of an hour at his Memorial down at the far end of the reflecting pool on the Mall. So I climbed the steps that day and walked past the columns, stepping into the temple chamber. I approached the super-sized “portrait in stone” of the 16th President of the United States, the awe circuits in my brain tingling and ready to go. It was about to be me and Old Abe, contemplating the ages together.

Well, not quite. Turns out that I wasn’t alone, and that my companion at the site wasn’t there for awe-struck contemplation. An elderly African-American fellow  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:16 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Personal Reflections ...

To start the New Year, I came up with another metaphor for my life. Or this metaphor came to me, one way or another. So what’s the metaphor? Well, my life is like a seasoning, an herb or spice. The basic idea here is to look at life and community as a feast. Just who is eating this feast? Well, I guess that we all are, in living our lives and having our many experiences. We are all at the table, and our lives are all on the plates, all mixed up together on a social basis . . . like a big soup or stew or whatnot. Got all that so far?

So, what food roles can an individual play in this big “feast of life”? Well, you can be a main course, a slab of meat (or preferably beans or tofu, given that I am a vegetarian) or a slice of apple pie. If you are a main dish, then you are in tune with life. You are noticed, you are part of the main event.

Or you can be a side dish or a sauce. You don’t get as much acclaim as the main dish, but you still have your big moments. You might also be a glass of wine or coffee. Again, you have your moment of brilliance.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:02 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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