Friday, November 14, 2008

Choosing Our Future 

Indian spiritual philosophy offers a useful concept called ghora, which can be loosely translated as lower pulls, and aghora, the higher pulls. The world of human beings has always been a struggle between these two pulls – the archetypal clash between good and evil that has been described using different words and images in different cultures and religions.
  • The Sanskrit word ghora can be translated as "terrible." Ghora attitudes, energies, and actions pull the world down into the cesspool of delusion, fear, anger, hatred and greed.

  • Placing "a" before a Sanskrit word generally means "not" that thing, so aghora thoughts, intentions, and energies lift the world up to higher goodness, consciousness, rightness, respect, and light. 
One example of the difference between higher and lower energies, vibrations, thoughts, actions and results of those actions, can be demonstrated by looking at two hypothetical future scenarios based on the current economic crisis sweeping this country and the world, with so many people losing their jobs, homes, and livelihoods.

If the higher aghora energies win this contest with a "majority of the vote," many will find the growth, blessings, and lessons available in this and every kind of downturn that can challenge our spirit and resources, individually and as a society. Through good thoughts and right actions, people moved by the higher pull to light, oneness, compassion and positive thoughts will have an opportunity to step up above the frey of usual mediocre living to shine their light more brightly, to be kinder to others, and to share what they have more generously.

Ultimately the goal of this higher aghora nature is to bring liberation from that which covers our spiritual awareness, and creating more positive actions, thoughts and energies in this world can create a much better field within which to attain greater personal and spiritual heights.

The higher approach would lead to greater prosperity of many kinds, while giving people an opportunity to give and receive more freely during what would likely be a short-lived economic crisis. Artists would give their works; doctors and dentists would be moved to offer their skills to help those who are suffering but unable to pay for their services, parents would help their children and vice versa; we’d see friends helping friends with small loans or gifts to help them to make it through this time.

People would delve into their greater wisdom and spiritual awareness to be true Christians, true Buddhists, true Hindus, and true Muslims. The societal consciousness would expand beyond its recent focus on greed and materialism, and shift to a greater universal view of interdependence and empowered selflessness. Those who have bank statements that report more than they'd ever possibly be able to spend would give generously to help those who need a relatively small amount just to keep their lives together. Humanity would shine forth in its greatest glory. Some would say that to force this kind of sharing is called socialism, but when it done voluntarily, with a deeper understanding of spiritual laws, it is simply the expression of a good and decent human being in an evolved and conscious society.

If the lower ghora energies were to have their way during this economic crisis, then greed, fear, hoarding, and divisiveness would take hold. Then we’d see families on the street with nowhere to go while homes across the nation sit empty, or bought up for pennies on the dollar by fat cats who just want to guzzle more and more into their bottomless pits of greed. Ghora energies could create almost a third-world situation for our country and the world.

A traditional American Indian story tells of an elder who was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me, a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person.”

One child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The elder replied... "The one you feed."

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

THE HEALING OF A NATION: An Exploration of Spiritual, Metaphysical, Social, and Karma Lessons from the 2008 US Presidential Elections 

At the end of the storm is a golden sky, 
and the sweet silver song of the lark. 
- Michael Ball

To be honest, I’ve never been all that interested in politics – especially after living a decade of monastic ashram life with only a vague peripheral awareness of the ongoing worldwide events. 

These days, while living a life of creative solitude “in the world,” I do keep an eye on world events while also guiding my attention to spiritual realms beyond the ephemeral world that spiritual scriptures describe as being made up of “maya,” or illusion. I’ve generally avoided getting too swept up in politics and other social change movements outside of my small contributions to the greater good through my video, music, writing, and other creative works. But this year was different.

This year I had to pay attention because this election was tremendously significant in deciding the future course of human life and culture. This was a test of our country’s evolution, in my view, one of the most determinative events and choices in all of human history.  Political correctness aside, I knew, mind, heart, and soul that this election was a pivotal choice between darkness and light for our country and the world.  We also had such a choice after September 11, 2001 when the entire world was mourning our losses after being attacked on our soil.  I discuss some of the choices we faced and made after this event in Secret 29 of the book Secrets of Spiritual Happiness:  "Finding Grace in Challenges and Blessings from Tragedy."

Let me begin by sharing my personal worldview that, from a greater perspective, this universe is a conscious, karmic, and ultimately benevolent teacher. As with most significant events, this election has been filled with a wide variety of spiritual, metaphysical, and karmic lessons. We’ve gone through a very exciting season of “Political Idol,” and so here I offer my piece of the puzzle by sharing some observations and thoughts about the 2008 elections.

Our Tabloid News Culture

I have to take some responsibility here for being an editor for the first tabloid television show, “Hard Copy,” in 1989, just weeks after leaving a decade of spiritually vibrant monastic life to move to Hollywood. This successful show began before cable news or 24-hour news had hit the media landscape, and its success inspired some news shows to tilt to the tabloid.

While I worked at Disney’s KCAL-TV in Los Angeles, our producers would snigger as the program manager for our local CBS affiliate started turning his station’s news shows into slash-and-burn shockers, implementing an “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality that had not been so prominent in the news landscape before this time. Eventually, I also did free-lance work at this KCBS station, which included editing sports a few times with none other than Keith Olbermann, who was fairly patient with my lack of sports knowledge.

The best example I can cite to show the kind of numbness to horror that pervaded the KCBS newsroom is when I edited a story about a man who had been shot, stabbed, and run over by a car (I was at least directed not to show close-ups of the sobering carnage). In a news show, each story has a short phrase called a “slug” that identifies it in the news program schedule. For example, a story about the mayor giving a press conference about crime might be called “mayor press crime.” In the case of this poor man who had been shot, stabbed, and run over, the official slug for the story was “bad day.”

Since that time in the mid 1990’s, news has become even more sensation-focused, because in general, television shows go where the money flows. Their goal is to entice you to watch their show, even it it means creating a gossip society that obsesses over salacious and embarrassing details about public figures. Surely these practices have harmed society on many levels, and this year we all had a chance to see politicians also play into this tabloid mentality by firing shocking allegations that the hungry media machine would lap up and spit out again and again. I’m sorry to say, dear Darwin, but it seems we haven’t really evolved all that much from when our ancestors sat in Roman coliseums cheering with thumbs up or down while watching people get ripped apart by lions.

One other aspect of this tabloid media that has become more pronounced this year than ever is what I call the “ya drishti sa srishti” effect. “Ya drishti sa srishti” is actually a deep philosophical concept from ancient India that generally translates as “the world is as you see it.” This teaching points to the effects that our beliefs and preferences have – not only on how we perceive the world – but also in a metaphysical way that actually affects the manifestation of this world, an idea that is touched on by materialistic manifestation fads such as “The Secret.” According to “ya drishti sa srishti,” our thoughts are connected with the “mind of God” within which all creation takes place. It’s deep philosophical stuff, but a more mundane example of this teaching came up this year for those who dared to flip stations from, for example, MSNBC’s reporting of the election to Fox News.

These stations may as well have been reporting on completely different elections. Their stories were chosen to emphasize the obvious bias both stations had toward their chosen party and candidates. Even their poll numbers were completely different. Obama was way ahead on MSNBC during the same times that McCain was ahead on Fox. Liberal blogs were showing double digit leads for Obama, while Drudge Report headlines announced McCain’s surprising lead. This really was a case where you could choose whatever station or websites matched your view of the world and have the comfort of living in that news reality without too much ideological trauma, as long as you didn’t change the channel!

Deception and Twisted Words

Honesty hasn’t exactly been given a front row seat in this 2008 election. I have a reasonably dependable BS meter, and it has been on overload, not only during the 2008 elections, but for the past eight years – rather make that ten years to include the attempted destruction of President Clinton, whose own deceptions gave others material for theirs.

Sometimes politicians use opposite words to deceive – such as calling an initiative that relaxes pollution standards the “Clean Air Initiative” or saying “Country First” while knowing that your choice of who would be a heartbeat away from leading the free world was based more on “get us elected” first. Sometimes they accuse their opponents of their own faults or weaknesses, just as war-avoider G.W. Bush accused war hero John Kerry of being a bad soldier, or as Governor Palin kept warning that we don’t know anything about Barack Obama, when he’d written memoirs and appeared in many debates and television interviews, and all we knew about Palin was that she governed a state across the maritime border from Russia, hunted moose with her young daughter, gave a lot of information that was being debunked by facts, was not well-read about world situations, not to mention not knowing the job description of the vice president, and was boldly proclaiming a lot of personal achievements that didn’t seem to pass the truth test, while shouting, “Who is Barack Obama?”

Personally, I feel that President Obama ran an impressively sincere, calm, and honest campaign, especially considering the pressures of the race and the accusations being hurled his way. In general, Obama showed integrity by fighting dishonesty with truth and refusing to step into the mud bath that some opponents were throwing – first at him and, once the campaign ended, at each other as some turned their predilection for exaggerations and accusations toward the pretty girl they’d brought in to enliven the ticket.

There Senator McCain would be day after day, shouting that Obama was going to raise taxes while speaking to crowds of people who would almost all receive tax breaks under Obama’s plan. How many hundreds of times did McCain bring up Joe the Plumber, who was neither named Joe nor a licensed plumber – talk amongst yourselves. . . In fact, with “Joe” not really having the money to purchase the company that didn’t actually make as much as he’d described while questioning Senator Obama, Joe would also benefit taxwise from Obama’s plan. Still, with complete disregard for the facts, McCain and Palin continued to hammer home with repetition and convincing conviction the false accusation that Obama wanted to take money away from Joe the Plumber (whose book is now available for pre-order at

Senator McCain and Governor Palin got trapped into bitchy mode for more than a month before the election, filling nearly every speech with snarky, angry, over the top accusations. It started during the RNC convention with Governor Palin taunting Obama for being – sneer – a “community organizer.” By the way, Ms. Palin, it looks like being a community organizer isn’t such bad experience for a candidate to have when he's wanting to get people out to vote, or for a president who needs to be able to organize local, national, and world communities.

Senator McCain and Governor Palin actually used their soapboxes to trigger and call forth the very worst qualities of the American psyche – prejudice, fear, hate, and aggression. During the final weeks, these candidates hardly mentioned their own platform aside from vague superficial fluffs, while putting forth terrible examples to the nation’s children and adults of how to speak about others. If you’ve got information, put it on the table, but shooting out nasty exaggerated slanders to incite anger and hatred goes way beyond the level of evolution human beings should have reached by now.

All you had to hear were the responses of the crowds – including the one booing at the mention of our new president’s name on election night and shouts of “terrorist” and “kill him” during the campaign to see what damage these candidates have wrought upon those who were most vulnerable and susceptible to being dragged back into the kind of unenlightened ignorance that has plagued this country’s history. Even the secret service had to increase watch of Obama after receiving heightened warning of death threats.

Now that the election is over, these attacks have left a large group of people feeling angry, hateful, disenfranchised, and perhaps in some cases, violent. With due respect for your service to this country, heck of a job, John McCain. You always were regarded with respect for your decency and integrity in spite of slipups such as the Keating Five and the way you left your first wife, but in just a month, you've created a significant dent in your legacy and the positive impact I’m sure you would like to make upon the world.

Karma is as Karma Does

One important understanding we can gain from the ancient eastern philosophies, is the understanding of “karma.” No English translation does justice to this word, though the statements, “as you sow, so shall you reap,” and “what goes around comes around” can at least give some sense of karmic law.

The best way to grasp karmic law is to watch the world as it manifests inside and around us. This life is a living textbook on the laws of karma. We can observe how our thoughts so often create exactly what they most desire or fear; watch as the most vehement persecutors seem to inevitably become the persecuted, and notice how our own good actions can lighten our hearts and create an opening for more goodness to enter our lives. Even the scripts of our movies and novels reflect our intuitive understanding of these laws, as good wins over evil nearly every time, even if only moments before the final credit roll.

What screenwriter could have come up with a more creative set of situations and cast of characters? As reality-based television producers have discovered in recent years, fact is definitely more compelling than fiction, especially when no friend or reviewer is able to spoil the ending before we get there. We’re all watching this movie together.

One spiritual truth we can apply to this situation is to enjoy the play of creation as it evolves before our eyes, and to participate in learning from it, both on a group level -- as a country and planet – and also on an individual level. A multi-faceted event such as this election is not a bad thing, but rather an opportunity to explore and discuss and improve our beliefs and institutions.

As I write this, the same Republican campaign managers who told Sarah Palin to “come on down” from Alaska to play "Let’s Make a Deal, world leader style," have been plundering her name in the press. Breaking News: “One aide estimated that she spent ‘tens of thousands’ more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as ‘Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast,’ and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.” Other reports have Governor Palin apparently unaware of what countries make up North America and whether Africa is a country or a continent. Oh, and she also popped out of the bathroom of her hotel room wrapped in just a towel and told the campaign aides to talk with her husband while she got dressed for their meeting.

These things would have been more useful to share before voters possibly elected this unprepared person to one of the highest offices in the land. Now, it is looking like a snarky attempt to dethrone and destroy her name, which – hmmmm – looks vaguely familiar. Who has spent the previous month spreading this kind of slander about someone else? Why, it was Sarah herself, suggesting not that Barack Obama wasn’t qualified to be president or that his policies were wrong, but that he was, gulp, a terrorist loving figure who just might want to destroy America. Not only did Palin smear Obama’s name but also that of his minister and people who had worked on committees with him, bringing up events from the 1960’s to destroy Obama with little care for the collateral damage that might be caused in other’s lives.

Well, Sarah, what these gossipy republican aides have done to you is not nice, and anyone with a sense of compassion would feel sorry for you – yet, there is a sense of justice in it all. As a fortune cookie version of karmic law might say, “If you smear others, you eventually get smeared.” All you have to do is look at other smear campaigns throughout history to see that this karmic payback happens all the time. When people like Congressman Henry Hyde and Speaker-designate Bob Livingston worked to impeach President Clinton due to his infidelities, their own dalliances were uncovered, as both persecutors resigned from their positions in shame.

From a higher perspective of karmic law, the post-election attacks against Sarah Palin may actually be a blessing, because they help to dissipate the negative karmas she created while stirring up hate and running a McCarthy-style campaign that was harmful to everyone concerned, including the country at large. According to karmic law, every action brings forth a responding action or event, and sometimes it is a case of the sooner the better. Karmic responses can come in a day, a week, month, year, decade, or even perhaps in future lifetimes, according to reincarnation theorists. For Sarah Palin to get smeared back so quickly after smearing another just may help to free her from that dark karma cloud and give her the opportunity to learn some lessons and change her ways in the future.

To be fair at the same time, you have to hand it to Sarah Palin for having courage and chutzpah.  After all, she is a religious person who by her own admission asks God for guidance and trusts that when doors open, if they also make sense logically, that it is meant for her to walk through those doors even if she may feel not quite ready for prime time.  

I can relate to Governor Palin in this regard.  Many times in my life, doors have opened that invited me to step out of my boundaries and into something I may not always have felt perfectly prepared to do -- from playing drums in front of thousands of devotees while living in an ashram, to getting a job with Disney fresh out of my ten years of monastic life, to drinking peppermint schnapps while chatting for several hours with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many other examples, including the privilige of writing Spirituality For Dummies (which in spite of some people's judgments of the title is in nearly every bookstore and gives a deep, personal, and comprehensive dance through ancient, universal, multi-religion, spiritual philosophy, practices, and principles).  

When I was first up for the project, I actually had an inner image of myself kneeling down before the burning bush like Moses in the Ten Commandments movie, and asking, "But Lord, why me?"  Nevertheless, I stepped up to the plate and trusted the same divine guidance that opened that door to also guide me in fulfilling it.  So on this level, I do understand and respect Sarah Palin.  But that doesn't discount the "in the red" reading that registers on my internal "B.S. meter" nearly every time she speaks.

Imagined Plotlines

In my musings while trying to make sense of all the strange twists and turns of this elections saga, I came up with two scenarios that might make a good novel or movie plot.

The first storyline would be similar to the movie “The Producers,” where the producers came up with a way to scam the Broadway show system by creating a play so bad that it would be shut down immediately, bringing in a large insurance fund settlement. The play was called “Hitler in Springtime,” and in spite of the title and the ridiculous play, it became popular.

In a similar way, my plot would have some of the bad-seed republicans realizing that they’d plundered the country so much that only a democratic agenda could possibly bring the wealth and standing of the United States in the world back up. Karl Rove and Dick Cheney types come up with a plan to basically throw the election and find their way back in once things are filled up again, with a plan for more upward direction of wealth into the pockets of their friends and companies like Halliburton.

In my imaginary film script, these “producers” use various stealth methods to bring back a candidate who had been all but written off – someone who had so many counts against him that he would never be elected. This candidate was older than any president in United States history -- he'd been through bouts with cancer, and had been tortured for years – which might make him a hero, but also would likely bring psychological scars to rival his inability to raise his arms up to shoulder height. The producers are certain that only the reddest republicans would vote for him, bringing about the democratic win that they secretly want.

The producers (Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, et al) are shocked to find that McCain is still leading in the polls. What to do? They arrange for their insider campaign advisors to insist that McCain bring on as second in command and a heartbeat from the presidency, a pretty lady who had barely eked a journalism degree out of five different colleges, to go with John McCain being fourth from last in his class. They’d seen this lady in action before and knew that it was only a matter of time before she showed her lack of preparation for a role with such high responsibility. But then time went on and on, and no matter what ignorance came through Palin’s few interviews, more than half the country still wanted to vote for her! Even these “producers” were shocked to find that they’d overestimated the public.

What they didn’t take into account was how the whole country had become numbed by having a president and administration that for 8 years sputtered, lied, and showed the intelligence of teenage boys playing a game of dungeons and dragons.  After nearly a decade of such shennanigans, many Americans had lost their discernment, as our fellow countries could see.

As an aside, I remember watching an episode of Larry King Live several years into GW Bush’s presidency. Bill Clinton was the guest, and while watching him speak, I was completely shocked and in awe. He was a genius! I realized that my high opinion of Clinton was also a sign of the relatively stupid veneer of the current administration. Clinton actually seemed to think what he thought, unlike GW Bush. He thought it and then said it as clearly as could be. He didn’t use catch phrases or cowboy words, but spoke the way one would expect an intelligent world leader to speak. Indeed we had been numbed by mediocrity.

So my imagined movie plotline continues as the “producers” realize that their bimbo pick of Palin was backfiring, because she was also ruthless and had no qualms about stirring up deeply seated racial fears and hatred. Finally, the “producers” find a way to crash the entire economic system, which finally gets even the most extreme racists to vote for Obama, because. . . black don’t look so bad when you’re in the red.

A second version of this movie theme had more of a “Defending Your Life” comedic flavor, with astral plane world event designers realizing that the United States was going down and bringing the rest of the world down with it. One of the reasons for this plunge was an accumulation of bad karmas from bad actions that had been undertaken by the country and its representatives. The recent wars and many civilian casualties were the straw that broke the camel’s back, although the biggest blight on the United States’ karmic record was something much more awful and long-term – slavery.

The only way to save the country was to heal this karma by honoring a member of this race with the highest position, and since these were not Karl Rove or Dick Cheney, but being astral plane angel types from the “department of karmic rightness,” they were able to select and mold the perfect person for this role, who happened to be Barack Obama – half black, half white, relatively free from the usual corruptions in his public and personal life, a great community organizer who would be able to bring the whole country together, and as intelligent a man as they come.

This second “movie script” goes on with many of the similar machinations in an attempt to get “old America” evolved enough to do the right thing (as Spike would say). Well, there were many more details, but these are the gists of my creative attempts to make some sense of the strange twists and turns I was watching in this 2008 election.

Rekindled Hope and Tears of Joy

To quote President Gerald Ford, when he became president after Nixon resigned, “Our long national nightmare is over!” 

Already, the world gets to taste what the descent of GRACE feels like, as hope sweeps across the country and world the way a spiritual blessing can sweep through the circumstances of our lives. As is often the case, this breeze of blessing tastes especially sweet after years of national hopelessness, disappointment, and heartbreak.

The United States of America and the world in which we rest finally have a leader with intelligence, authenticity, right motive, and soul. With his election, we move from ignorance to intelligence, darkness to light, greed motives to altruistic goodness, and messy confusion to careful decisions. The sun will shine a little more brightly, birds will chirp a bit more happily, and people will be kinder to one another. Okay, maybe that’s a little overboard, but it does feel great to even think such things.

I was the editor and associate producer for the children’s shows Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and X-Men, where the heroes would often save the entire world from destruction by one or the other monster. Now, I finally have a taste of the relief that comes from feeling that the world has been saved. In this case, it was saved by the victory of intelligence and democracy in action, as well as a lot of hard work, money, and dedicated efforts by many, including of course Barack Obama and his family, whose job is just beginning.

Sure, our tears of joy came in part from the greatness of electing a black president, from looking at elderly, middle-aged, and young black people and feeling the glow of renewed hope for them as well. Electing a black man somehow brings a certain meaning, perhaps even an archetypal justification to the terrible acts we perpetrated on this race of human beings – taking so many away from their loving homes across a large ocean to a world where they were sold and treated like cattle. It is a great day when a nation can right such a wrong.

But the tears of joy for this election, of which I shed quite a few myself, also come from something much larger than the color of Barack Obama’s skin. We have finally elected an intelligent man who really seems to have right motives and little baggage – a man who seems to really be the kind of loving family man, husband, and father that we haven’t seen in the White House for a very long time, if ever.

An important difference in Barack Obama from most politicians who would seek this highest office of the land is summed up by one of his advisors, David Axlerod, who said, ""My fundamental concern for him wasn't whether he had the capacity, 'cause I think he's the smartest guy that I've ever worked with or known. But it was whether he had that pathological drive to be president. You know, so often, what defines presidential candidates is this need to be president, to define themselves. He didn't have that. And, you know, we told him, 'You're gonna have to find some other way to motivate yourself.' And he did, which was what he could do as president."

No longer do we have to apologize for having a president who can sometimes barely eek out a thought or sentence, and thank God we managed to avoid putting someone else in that position who doesn’t know her basic government civics and geography, among I’m sure a very many other lackings. No, it took a lot of work by the universe and perhaps many angels on high and here on earth to make this shift, but we did it. “Yes we can” became “yes we did,” and for those who see the world with eyes that seek peace and happiness for all, we’ve shifted into a whole new world.

Now, one of my more sober friends recently wrote on his Facebook page that he always thought that church and state were supposed to be kept separate. “Be warned about messiahs. They have a funny way of disappointing you.”

Of course, he is also correct, and my response to him was, “Don’t worry John, it’s just that relative to this past decade, having a representative with intelligence, eloquence, and right motive just feels like a messiah.”

For those like me who have been watching our country’s recent actions with sadness and sometimes horror, we let out a collective sigh of relief. Of course, things will go wrong – natural disasters will continue, we’re still in a major economic downward spiral, our deficit is sky high, and there are still those in the world who would like to harm our citizens to make a point. Nevertheless, when a leader has right motive and positive spirit, even challenges aren’t quite as frightening, just as in our own individual journeys, where challenges are made more palatable and heal more quickly with the balm of hope, optimism, and right action.

Barack Obama is not perfect or super human – perhaps he’s not even divinely anointed, although he is certainly Oprah-anointed. But compared with what we’ve had, where we’ve gone, and what we stood to lose as a country and individually, Barack Obama is divinely anointed, super human, and perfect enough to trust and support. He will do his best to make good decisions and seek good counsel, unlike what we’ve had in recent years.

I am enjoying this feeling of faith in the right intentions of a world leader. I often write about the importance of finding blessings in tragedy, and one blessing from the tragedies of this past decade is to awaken from apathy, criticism, and complacency and to step forward as each of us is moved to do, and offer positive thoughts, support, and even love for our country and the whole world.


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