Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Thanksgiving has come and gone. Only the memories remain, memories of a family get-to-gether and a delicious, big meal. The turkey, maybe the meal itself, has become a symbol of Thanksgiving.
In the hustle and bustle of preparations for Thanksgiving Day we sometimes forget what the day was meant to be for—to give thanks for having survived another year.
After years of prosperity, we have become complacent about our life of ease and abundance. Sometimes one can detect even a trace of entitlement.

Is gratitude going out of style?

I don’t think so.        

Gratitude is a basic human courtesy. Cicero goes a step further, he says: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

When someone renders us a kindness, it’s not for the sake of a thank you. Yet when the recipient of the kindness shows a total lack of appreciation, it cools the giver’s heart. Why should he bother again if the recipient does not care? Indifference puts off kindness. Gratitude encourages it.

Our mothers used to ask us: “Have you written your thank you notes yet?” Today, we have cell phones and email, a great boon for showing gratitude. Perhaps it is not as formal as a written note, but it will be appreciated just the same, especially if  done promptly.

Young children tend to be totally absorbed by a gift, and remain oblivious of the need to thank the giver. It is vital to teach children the art of gratitude, especially when we assume that gratitude is the parent of all other virtues.

Gratitude is at its best when it becomes part of our attitude toward life itself; when we no longer take our blessings for granted, but have gained a daily awareness of them that fills us with joy and confidence.

Grateful people radiate serenity and contentment no matter what the day may bring.

There is much to be thankful for—the beauty of this world, the food on our table, the happy face of a child, and the simple fact of being alive.

Kahil Gibran sums it up in The Prophet: “You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.”

Until next time,


Monday, November 11, 2013


Why does simplicity have such appeal? Newton strove for utmost simplicity when he observed nature. And he revolutionized science. Einstein spent his life searching for a simple equation that would explain the workings of the universe. It may still be found.

“Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”   — Isaac Newton

Henry David Thoreau explored simplicity by stripping his life to the barest minimum. He built a one-room cabin on Walden Pond, surrounded by trees, and lived there for a year, savoring the beauty of simplicity. No distractions, no clutter, no sounds but the rustling of the leaves and the croaking of the frogs.

“In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.”   — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Some women prefer dresses of simple design, and get complimented for their classic look. Chopin strove to create music that is profound yet simple, some artists excel in creating a strong yet simple design.

“Beauty of style, harmony, grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity.”  — Plato

The appeal of simplicity lies in its clarity. We can understand it. We find no hidden surprises or misleading data, as we might find in an insurance policy that promises coverage on page one, followed by some 37 pages of exclusions and limitations that are rarely read.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius…and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”   — E. F. Schumacher
An acquaintance walked by and said hi, whereupon I responded with a quick how are you and hurried on. But I didn’t get far; she had reached for my arm and started in on a litany of ailments and problems that were besetting her. I’ve avoided that phrase ever since, unless I really mean it.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." 

  — Albert Einstein

We can hire Organizers today, persons who simplify the clutter that surrounds us. It’s tough to throw out things that once were dear to us—those comfortable shoes, yesterday’s suits and dresses, letters, documents and our children’s toys. We’ve saved it all, for years and years and years. Yet when we need it—should that day ever comes—who can possibly find it? We might as well pass it on to the Goodwill and free our closets of clutter.
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”   — William Morris

Leonardo da Vinci sums it up:  “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Until next time,


Monday, November 4, 2013

$2.99 Special for Kindle Readers

Two of my books will be available for Kindle Readers for $2.99.

“The Madman and His Mistress”

and “In Search of the Good Life”

But only briefly. On November 6 the price will go to $4.99
and on the 10th it reverts to $7.99.

It’s a new amazon.com/Kindle feature.

Happy reading,


Thursday, October 24, 2013


What is happiness?

We all know the feeling of being happy. Yet happiness is difficult to define. It is a very personal experience and can have a vast variety of causes. It can be temporary or it can last forever.

Temporary happiness may be the result of many things—getting a compliment, a new gadget, or a promotion. Our delight may last for a few minutes or a few days, but then it will fade away.

Long lasting happiness is rarely the result of an external cause. It springs from a positive inner state of mind. It is ingrained into our attitude and thinking, no matter what the external circumstances. It’s part of us. It’s not a momentary thrill, but a permanent feeling of deep contentment.

Some say that a happy, positive attitude may be genetic. It can also be acquired—either by observing and imitating it while growing up. Or by acquiring it as an adult when we realize that life is a precious gift that needs to be accepted with gratitude.

Most people want to be happy, unless they are struggling for survival or involved in war. Yet few people realize that happiness is within their reach.

Long lasting happiness appears to be based on three basic attitudes—being content with what we have, accepting what we cannot change, and being grateful to be alive.

The very simplicity of happiness may make it so elusive.

Advertisers provoke a constant stream of desires—for the latest fashion, a fancier iPhone, a bigger entertainment center. The list is endless. We live in a highly competitive society where contentment may even be frowned upon. Ads keep clamoring for our attention—buy, hurry, compete!

Competition, actually, can be a good thing—not necessarily competing against others, but competing against oneself, such as living up to our potential, to do our best, to improve ourselves, to keep learning. Happiness is bound to crown these efforts.

On the other end of the scale are sundry human emotions that destroy all sparks of happiness. Among them are jealousy, insatiable desire, feelings of hate and anger, and the desire for revenge. These passions are the very antithesis of happiness.

Some two thousand years ago, a Greek slave, Epictetus, heard someone talk about philosophy. He was still a child, but he took courage and asked his master if he could study this intriguing subject. He got his master’s permission and did so.

The young slave learned eagerly, and gained wisdom and respectability, and eventually was freed. Though severely crippled, Epictetus lived a happy and simple life while teaching his favorite subject.

He strongly believed that external events are not within our control. We must calmly accept them, he urged. Unhappiness results when we try to control what is uncontrollable. And when we neglect to control what we can and should.

Here is one of Epictetus’ maxims written in the first century A.D. that expresses well his philosophy of achieving happiness:

Conduct me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
Wherever thy decree has fixed my lot.
I follow willingly; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched would I follow still

Not many mortals reach a perfect state of inner happiness. But we can get ever closer to reaching long lasting happiness, and get better at warding off unwarranted unhappiness.

Until next time,


Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Happy the day that we are born—we are the Center of the Universe!

We know there is a me and we realize there are others—we think of them as them. Some of those others, though, we soon discover, are worthy of accepting into our world, like my mom, my dad, my doggie.

As we grow up, our world widens. We happily include friends, neighbors and colleagues into our universe.

And the world of them keeps shrinking, until quite without fanfare the day arrives when we realize that we are all fellow travelers of Planet Earth on our journey through life—with similar hopes, similar fears and similar dreams.

For some people this path is troubled, tedious and tough. They cling tenaciously to the all-important me and build a wall against those they do not like, or those who appear more powerful, or those who are suspect of thinking differently from them.

Yet one day they too will see the light. They have to struggle a little longer to find their way back to the Center of the Universe where Life takes on a larger meaning than the me and them. Life becomes a precious gift and a privileged opportunity to share life’s path with others.

Until next time,


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Price of Guns

“I do miss Judy,” Eric Sahlin murmured; over the years he had taking many exquisite photos of her.

“I miss her too,” I thought, even though I had never met her. But I had read the heart-felt memorials her friends had written, so Judy took on life in my imagination.

When she was young, her family had to flee from Communist Hungary. They moved to Canada and Amsterdam. In Spain she became an expert in Flamenco dancing, in Israel she attended the Hebrew University and became fluent in her fifth language. But her greatest passion was music and opera. “She composed beautiful pieces and played them on her piano,” one of her friends wrote in her memories.

When she lost her computer job, she began training dogs. She had a wonderful way with them—though she was delicate and soft-spoken, they respected and obeyed her. Her life was starting to come together again.

Then it suddenly ended. She became Oakland’s homicide victim #56.


It happened barely a week after 8-year-old Alaysha had been shot dead in Oakland, while her 7-year-old friend and little brother and their grandmother were wounded and made three of the two million gun-related emergency visits.

It was 1:00 in the afternoon. Judy had trained a dog and was driving home. On her way, two youths blocked the road. They exchanged words, when one of the youths grabbed a garbage can and bashed in her window. Judy took her cell phone and snapped a few shots of them and drove on.  But she didn’t get far; they shot her dead at close range and jumped into a car to speed off. Judy’s car kept rolling until it hit a parked car. Moments later, the boys came back to collect her cell phone with their photos.

Why did they shoot her?

We’ll never know. The witnesses declined to talk. It’s an ironclad rule in the City of Oakland—you don’t squeal or betray one another. If you do, you jeopardize your life and that of family and friends.

Could it be that we have too many guns in the streets, or too little gun control, or inadequate punishment? Several European countries have realized that the primary purpose of a handgun is to kill, consequently, they do not allow anyone to own one, not even the police.

Guns did have their useful place once when we had to hunt for our food and protect ourselves against the wild. But those days are long gone; technology and big business look out well for our needs. It’s our human instincts and habits that adapt more slowly—remnants of our old passion to hunt, shoot and kill—so we shoot animals now as a sport. When we shoot other human beings we call it military sanction or intervention.

In America, 11,078 persons were shot during last year—31 human beings every single day. In Japan, the total for the whole year and the whole country was eleven. According to the Digital Journal of 12/16/2012, “it is easier to purchase a gun in the United States than in any other industrialized nation, which could explain the United States’ high numbers of gun homicides.” When it comes to most European nations, their gun-caused homicides are much fewer than those of the City of Oakland.

Do we really value guns higher than a person’s life? I doubt it. Maybe those millions of dollars spent by our legalized pressure groups that promote guns warp the picture. Life, no doubt, is a precious, fleeting gift, more precious than any gun.

“Judy, we miss you.”

Until next time,


Friday, August 23, 2013


What could be more welcoming than a warm glow in the fireplace or sitting around a campfire with your friends? Yet, what could be more devastating than seeing your home go up in flames?

It can happen in minutes. We had dinner with friends near Sun Valley. They have a lovely, spacious logwood home. After dinner we watched the Idaho forest fires bellowing smoke over the distant mountaintops. The setting sun resembled a red tomato. 10,000 acres had burned down already. “The fire wouldn’t come down here, would it?” we wondered.

Next day, Highway 20 was closed; the fire had jumped across it. Sun Valley’s air was thick with smoke. Some smoke had hung in the air for days, but now it was intense. With a heavy heart I said good-bye to my children and returned to California.

At home the phone rang. “We’re in Black Butte,” one of my daughters said, “we got pre-evacuation notices and moved things into storage all day. Do you remember the house of our friends where we had dinner on your last evening here? We saw her canyon from a distance—it looked like a volcano, bright orange, yellow and red! Days later it was confirmed, their lovely home with all mementos and treasures was devoured in the inferno. Even though Helicopters and firefighter had been working around the clock to battle the blaze, nothing, absolutely nothing, was left but the base of three lonely chimneys. Apparently, the wind had picked up during the night and shifted. It happened with raging violence and with enormous speed, the smoke getting so hot that it ignited spontaneously.”

I wanted to learn more about fire and signed up for the CERT program, an emergency training program that also covers fires. It’s a superb course and an eye-opener for me. Empty an ashtray into a wastepaper basket, the ashes continue to smolder and create smoke. It takes two and a half minutes for the smoke to build up and heat sufficiently to bursts into flame. In another two minutes the smoke near the ceiling can reaches 800 to 1,400 degrees and set whole room aflame. If windows and doors are closed, there’s no sign of fire from the outside until one of the windows explodes and smoke and flame leap outside and enter other open windows. In another five minutes, nothing will be left of the house.

Winter, the major season for home fires, is around the corner. Can you name three major culprits? They are chimneys, free standing heaters and electrical overload. Chimneys that have not been cleaned are particularly dangerous. You light a fire in the evening. When it’s totally out, you go to bed. Yet the soot in the chimney will smolder for hours. If there’s enough of it, it will burst into flame and set the attic afire.

With dismay I heard the instructor refer to extension cords, which I dearly love and often use, as highly unsafe. “They are nothing but temporary fixes”, he said. If covered by a rug, they fray and cause fires. If too many gadgets are plugged into an outlet, it causes an electrical overload. Older homes are particularly vulnerable since they were not designed for today’s high power demand for all the gadgets we own. Consult an electrician; he may avert a disaster.

One last tip, never use water on a kitchen fire. Especially when your frying pan is aflame—water will explode the grease into your face! Why? Because grease is lighter than water. The heavy water dislodges and disburses the hot grease into the air.

And then there’s another kind of fire—the fire that turns friendship into love, and love into long lasting friendship, blessed with understanding, sharing and forgiving. May this kind of fire light and brighten your life.

Until next time,


Monday, July 29, 2013


Sun Valley, 6,000 feet above sea level. My grandchildren and I are gazing at the stars above us. A glorious sight, this vast universe.

“Did you read about the Higgs Field in the Smithsonian, grandma?”, my grandson asked. “It’s hard to imagine that all this empty space is just an illusion. It’s permeated with radio and television waves, and with gravitational and magnetic fields, but now they think that the whole universe is filled with a Higgs Field.”

I took another awed look at the sky and timidly asked, “What is a Higgs Field?”

“Hard to describe. About 50 years ago Professor Higgs came up with a mathematical equation that suggested that an invisible something permeated the universe. No one believed him, but he pursued his idea and soon other scientists set out to find proof. Last year, thanks to the giant collider in Switzerland, physicists did find evidence that his theory was correct.”

“Do you mean that math can project theories long before we find actual evidence?”

“Apparently so—as Einstein did with his Theory of Relativity, or Karl Schwarzchild predicting black holes, or Paul Dirac anticipating anti-matter. Physicists come up with elegant equations, which are usually rejected, but eventually they catch on, until finally someone discovers evidence that proves they’re sound.”

“Amazing that mere, cold numbers can tell us the secrets of the universe!  So what exactly did they discover?”

“They discovered the Higgs boson, a particle that is totally different from all known particles. Each particle has a characteristic spin that never changes, but the Higgs boson has no spin at all. More important, the Higgs equation seems to indicate that the universe is filled with something that causes resistance to anything that passes through space that causes particles to have a measurable mass. These math equations, therefore, seem to be of great value, because they may hold true anywhere in the universe—but only if we look at it from a universal perspective, beyond the particularities of our Planet Earth.”

“Perspective.” The word caught my imagination. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could bring a broader perspective into our daily lives? It might save much pain and disappointment.

We tend to see life filtered through the narrow prism of our personal experience, and remain oblivious of the experiences of others. 

Envision a fish trying to imagine what it would be like to move through dry air—difficult, if not impossible! I never would have guessed how much effort it takes to run in water until the day I tried it—too much effort! I prefer jogging in the open air.

Looking at the world with a broader perspective might help us understand people’s actions and reactions that differ from ours. We tend to create our own little universe placing ourselves at its center, and often remain unaware of the perspectives of others.

Perhaps if we looked at the world as though we were seeing it for the very first time or maybe for the very last time, we might perceive a clearer image.
I gazed again at the stars above me and tried to imagine how it would feel if we saw them only three times during our lifetime— it would be a monumental event!
As Allen Klein says, “A little perspective, like a little humor, goes a long way.”
Until next time,

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Introverts and Extroverts by Guest Author Alison Poulsen PhD

Many people are naturally introverted—they gain energy while spending time alone. Others are naturally extroverted—they become energized by spending time with others. However, both introverts and extroverts can often benefit from finding a healthy balance between spending time with others and time alone.

Introverts who spend too much time socializing and spending time with others may become depleted and drained. In the words of Henri J.M. Nouwen they come home “with a feeling that something precious has been taken away from them or that holy ground has been trodden upon.” They need to find ways to nourish their desire for solitude.
On the other hand, introverts who spend too much time alone tend to become increasingly uncomfortable and awkward around other people. Thus, to avoid becoming a recluse, it’s important to balance their preference for being alone with some ongoing association and interaction with others.
In contrast, extroverts who spend an excessive amount of time socializing often lose a sense of groundedness and depth. When they are forced to spend time alone they tend to feel listless and forlorn. An evening alone can become downright painful and scary because they have lost touch with their own self. It’s like being stuck with an unapproachable stranger.
Nourishing our natural preferences is important, but we should beware of becoming extravagantly imbalanced. It’s ideal if we can avoid both extremes of onesided socializing and avoiding others at all cost.
Over-entertaining others
Notwithstanding personality differences, people who feel drained from entertaining others are perhaps putting too much effort into their interactions. The notion of having to “entertain others” may be part of the problem.
Some people think that they have to make sure everyone in a given situation is enraptured, fascinated, or amused. They may take over the spot light in an effort to enthrall and enchant others. Ironically, such forced attempts to non-stop “entertain” others can actually cause others to feel exhausted and ignored! When entertainment is a one-way profusion of speech or energy, it often neglects spontaneous interaction, and may ignore the audience’s reactions, thoughts, and even their very presence.
Being aware and open
A truly enriching relationship between people does not involve one person entertaining the other. Rather, it is based on meaningful connection, which involves being present, paying attention, and responding with authenticity. This is not to say that entertaining story-telling should be avoided. However, relating with others including story telling is more rewarding and less exhausting if you focus on being present with others rather than on entertaining them. In new age terms, it helps to allow the back and forth flow of energy, thoughts, and words.
If you notice people aren’t responsive to your “entertaining” monologue, try asking them questions. Paying attention to the other person allows you to interact with spontaneous, relevant and responsive ideas and humor that makes interaction truly interesting and alive. Cultivating genuine, heart-felt and mindful connection with others can benefit us all, no matter how extroverted or introverted our tendency.
by Guest Author Alison Poulsen, PhD

Friday, June 28, 2013

Microbes Revisited

Click here for easier reading:   http://rosicoloredglassesblog.blogspot.com

The previous blog, Man’s Miraculous Microbes, has raised many questions. Before answering them, let me say that this information is based on very recent medical research, and scientists have barely scratched the surface.

It’s a fascinating new science—our body being host to trillions of living microbes, but also a most challenging one because these microbes interact in a highly complex fashion that affects our health and wellbeing, possibly even our mood. If this community of bacteria gets out of balance or if we lack the right ones, serious problems can arise.

Much of the data comes from Michael Pollan’s in-depth article in New York Times’ Magazine of May 15, 2013.

To answer your questions:

1.    How can I ensure the best possible mircrobiome (bacteria) for my children? Primarily by nursing a child. Mother’s milk contains nutrients that nourish not only the baby, but also the baby’s vital bacteria, which was unknown until recently. Caesarian delivery of a baby has disadvantages, because it deprives the baby of important gut bacteria that it acquires while traveling through the birth canal.

2.    Should I worry when my child gets covered with mud or hugs our dog? Not at all, unless your dog is sick or has worms. It enriches the child’s bacterial world that becomes more varied and robust to fight off diseases. Apparently, when we live in the city away from animals, plants and soil, we miss out on many beneficial bacteria and become prone to autoimmune diseases and allergies.

3.    Why can’t we live without microbes? Apparently we can’t. Microbes help us digest our meals, they tell us when we’re hungry, and when we are full. They prevent the intrusion of foreign bacteria and help us to adapt to our changing environment, such as pollution and new toxins in food. In effect, some scientists are sounding the alarm that due to industrialization, antibiotics and the sterility of processed foods several of our bacteria have become extinct and our microbiome is becoming increasingly impoverished, causing disorders, such as immune deficiency diseases, asthma, allergies and Diabetes 2.

4.    I keep gaining weight, what can I do? One important species of bacteria, the H. pylori, has practically disappeared. It neutralizes the bacteria that urge us to eat when we are hungry. When we have eaten enough, the H. pylori tell us that we are full. Without it, we tend to keep eating, which may be the cause for today’s widespread obesity.

5.    How can we optimize good health? Good bacteria thrive on a varied and fiber-rich diet, also on foods made with live cultures such as yogurt, and on fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi. It’s a good idea to keep our toothbrushes at least six feet away from the toilet. Whenever we flush, large amounts of bacteria are stirred up. “The world is covered with a fine patina of feces,” says Stanford Microbiologist Stanley Falkow; house dust is no exception.

6.    Are fiber supplements the answer? Probably not, because fiber is not a single nutrient, there are hundreds of different polysaccharides. It’s better to vary our diet and include different types of fiber—resistant starch fiber as in bananas, oats and beans, soluble fiber as in root vegetables such as onions, and insoluble fiber as in bran, whole grains and avocados. It also matters how they are prepared. Al dente pasta is preferable to overcooked one; steel-cut oats are better than rolled; raw and lightly cooked vegetables are better than well done.

7.    What determines our microbiome? We acquire our first microbes from our mother while traveling through the birth canal. Therefore, if possible, avoid having a Caesarian. Mother’s milk provides the next set of good bacteria. Others are picked up from our environment. A healthy community of microbes keeps foreign and hostile bacteria away. Depending on the robustness of our gut bacteria, for example, one food can make one person sick, but not an other.

8.    Why are gut bacteria so important? Gut bacteria are instrumental in creating serotonin, enzymes and vitamins, such as Bs and K. They not only influence our immune system, but they may also regulate our stress levels. Experiments have shown when gut microbes from an easy-going mouse were transplanted to an anxious and nervous mouse, it became more relaxed and enterprising.

Gut bacteria also regulate our appetite and digestion, and thus our metabolism. Malnourished children may require more than food; they need to have their gut’s microbial community rebalanced. (see 5.)

9.    Why do antibiotics cause problems? Antibiotics have saved many lives. Yet they should be used only if truly necessary, because they kill bad as well as good bacteria and thus cause havoc in our bacterial world. They may even be the cause for our gaining weight. Unfortunately, livestock is fed large quantities of antibiotics today; as a consequence antibiotic microbes have been found in meat, milk and surface water. Even hand sanitizers and chlorine washes for lettuce may be suspect.

Probiotics may be a good antidote when taking antibiotics, but it may not be prudent to take them as a constant supplement. Too little is known about them. The probiotic market is not regulated. When 14 products were tested, only one contained the exact species stated on the label.

Processed foods too are raising concern because of their sterility. Also, they contain detergent-like ingredients such as lecithin, CMC, polysorbate 80 and Datem that can lead to low-grade inflammations—a response of the immune system to a perceived threat. Some researchers suspect that a majority, if not most, of today’s chronic diseases are in fact inflammations originating in the gut. They may lead to metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and possibly some cancers.

Patrice Cani at the University of Louvain in Brussels recently produced evidence of how this is possible. He fed a high-fat, junk-food diet to mice. This noticeably changed the microbiota in their gut—it also happens to humans when on a similar diet. On closer examination, Cani discovered that the lining of their gut had become permeable, allowing endotoxins to leak into the bloodstream. The result was a low-grade inflammation that eventually led to metabolic syndrome. Researchers suspect that the cause of most if not allchronic diseases may point to the microbiota of the gut.

Industrialization will continue to cause pollution, cities will cement over mother Earth, processing will deplete our food and high technology is likely to expose us to increasing levels of radiation. However, there’s no need to despair about the negative aspects of our modern world. While we cannot turn back the clock, we can make sensible choices; we can take good care our microbiome and nourish it well so it can do its job to protect us and help us adjust to unavoidable changes. Indeed, we have the choice of enjoying the best of both worlds.

Until next time,


Friday, June 21, 2013

Man's Miraculous Microbes

Appearances are often deceiving. It took many years to convince earthlings that they are not the center of the universe or that the earth is flat.
Yet most of us are still rather certain that the human race is the most advanced of all species, even though coyotes run faster, dogs can smell better, owls can see at night, bats hear what we can’t, and turtles live far longer than we do. And none of them own an alarm clock to rouse them from sacred slumber and face rush-hour traffic to get to work. Seagulls sit complacently and contemplate the waves, bluebirds soar into the sky and view the world from above, and mischievous monkeys play catch under a shady tree.
Life on Earth has existed for many years, but not so homo erectus. We are a recent arrival. If life on Earth were measured in twelve hours, men arrived just before the clock struck twelve. Mankind has only one species while other life forms have thousands of species, even beetles, fungi, viruses and bacteria. This poses a serious threat to our survival. Remember the Irish potato? When a disease struck that plant, the potatoes in the whole country were wiped out, causing the serious famine of 1740/41.
Scientists recently discovered that the human body has a surprising function—it is host to many thousand species of other life forms, namely bacteria. In fact, researchers estimate that each human being hosts over a hundred trillion of these one-celled organisms, a number reminiscent of the astronomical figure of our national debt. It means that we have ten times more bacterial cells living in our body than we have human cells. The total number of human beings living on this planet is about seven billion; yet the number of microbes living in each and every human being is 14,000 times that large!
Bacteria are tiny and amount to about five pounds of our bodyweight. Yet they seem to have an enormous impact on our life, affecting our health and wellbeing, possibly even our tendency to gain weight.
Thanks to recent research, bacteria are no longer seen as our enemy; they are regarded as our benevolent partners. Hundreds of different bacterial species live in our mouth, our ears, and our gut, for example. This internal world of bacteria of ours, also called microbiome, develops after we’re born and seems to be determined by our early environment, resembling often that of other persons in the household. It can slowly change over time, depending on diet, environment and lifestyle, as well as on the medications we take.
Antibiotics were once considered the Holy Grail for fighting infections. Today, researchers are having second thoughts. Antibiotics kill not only bad bacteria, they kill good bacteria as well, and therefore can upset the harmonious balance of our bacterial microbiome and our health.
One day, researchers hope to find ways to harness our innate bacteria to handle our diseases. They may even find ways to track down the microbes that cause us to gain weight and how to keep them in check.
Life is miraculous and a constant source of wonder and amazement.
Until next time,

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Self-Centered Person

Life is suffering, so warned Buddha some 2500 years ago. Not much has changed since then. Anguish and pain still prevail around the globe today.
Much of it is caused by external factors—war, genocide, big-city crime, unemployment, illness, accidents, and poverty. Yet much pain and suffering is inflected by our own ego.
Take a self-centered person, for example. Such a person is motivated by selfishness and easily falls prey to jealousy, anger and hate. Yet from experience we know that none of these negative traits have ever brought joy or happiness.
The ego of one person may pine for possessions, while that of another may crave attention or power—and the deeper we fall victim to these whims and vices, the more we cause suffering to others as well as to ourselves. Machiavelli’s famous book, The Prince, illustrates a power-seeking person as one who resorts to stirring up anger and discontent among his possible opponents in order to pave his own way. Yet this tactic, Machiavelli warns, can easily backfire.
An extreme example of power-seeking selfishness was Adolf Hitler, a person we hope never to see again; and yet, someone like him could reappear any day and sadly any place.  In his brazen desire to rule the world Hitler trained a group of thugs as his bodyguards, the early SS, and sent them out to stir up riots in the streets.* This gave him the desired pretext to take away the German people’s liberty—all in the name of national security.
After the June 1944 attempt on his life, Hitler mercilessly and most gleefully had some 500 of his best generals, who’d won him enormous victories at a huge price, executed for conspiracy; they and their conspiracy provided him with the urgently needed excuse for the many staggering defeats he and his “invincible” army had suffered that year.
Machiavelli was right, the idea of cooperation for the benefit of others is an unacceptable concept for the power-craving and suffering-causing ego. Have you ever tried to explain to a self-centered person that his way may not be the best approach? Your explanation probably fell on deaf ears. The unbalanced ego sees but one way, and that is its own way, because it needs to be right at all times.
It’s interesting to note that Hitler’s self-righteous, or more accurately, psychopathic actions, brought intense suffering not only upon the German people and the people of Europe and America, but also upon himself.*
It is no secret that a bad seed seldom produces good fruit. But how should one interact with such a potentially malicious person? Preferably as little as possible, and certainly not in kind. If someone is hitting us, we may be tempted to hit back; if someone shouts at us, we may want to raise our voices too. Yet to what avail?  It is better to summon our self-control, yet stand our ground.
The challenge is to rein in our own ego and not fall prey to feelings of retribution and revenge—that would only perpetuate the cycle of pain and suffering. As Buddha’s teachings tell us, our primary goal is to become a better person, which improves our chances for a happier life because the law of cause and effect tends to reward good actions and punishes bad ones. When we succeed in being compassionate and kind to others, we have a good chance that our efforts will bear good fruit in the long run.
Until next time,

* The Madman and His Mistress by Roswitha McIntosh, pgs. 29 and 155