Happy Birthday in Every Moment

My body was already sixty years old when I began to see with some clarity that I don’t exist as I’d always imagined.  I’ll try to explain what I experienced.

What I noticed first is there had been at different times a different person in my body.  I’ve given them Nordic patronymics.  Leon Leonardsson came first.

Leon came to life in England during WW2 in an isolated farm-worker’s cottage with no utilities.  He was the only child of Leonard and Florence Sidwell, a happy kid fascinated by farm machinery.  Because his parents had no friends, Leon’s social skills were weak but he was highly intelligent.  Florence made him study every day and he got the best results of all students in the exam that determined which school he would go to when he was eleven.

Leonard’s work since WW2 driving an excavator to maintain waterways paid very little but Florence found him a better paying job at this time selling insurance door to door.  They were now able to buy a house with a tiny garden in the neighboring town.  But Leonard hated his new job and that he now had so little room to grow vegetables.  And Leon had nowhere to play and nobody to play with.  As Leonard’s passivity evolved into depression, Leon fell prey to the same disease.

Leon’s new school, a bus-ride away in the county town, was an undistinguished private establishment founded in 1608 that had been recast as a State school ten years before Leon arrived.  Life continued there almost as if the British Empire remained triumphant.  Leon studied and remained top of his class but he was disoriented in this new world.  Told after a couple of years to take the exam for a scholarship to Eton College, he passed but then read about life there and, horrified by the prospect of the even more foreign culture of the aristocracy, he failed the oral interview.

During that first year or two as Leon floundered in his new environment, a less passive new person, Sid Leonsson, began taking over.  He told himself he was justifiably alienated from an antiquated culture, started building the personality of an intellectual and began reading philosophy.  He labeled himself an existentialist.

The secondary school curriculum in England in those days channeled students into either the sciences or the arts but Sid insisted on continuing to study both Physics and English literature.  Then, impatient with a curriculum that still felt too narrow, he drifted ever further from both subjects, roaming far afield into theories about the human condition.

He was delivered a great shock by “Three Faces of Eve”, a psychologist’s account of a patient whose body hosted three entirely different people vying for control.  What if he was not the only one in his body?  His current identity felt inauthentic.  Maybe other personalities would spring forth, and none would be authentic?  A friend whose psychologist father specialized in schizophrenia introduced him to much unsettling literature on this topic.

Sid was also deeply moved by Wilfred Owen and other WW1 poets who expressed the horror and insanity of war.  His grandfather, Whalley Sidwell, had faced execution for treason by refusing to join that war and was jailed for two and a half years.  Whalley’s five younger brothers also refused .  One explained: “What if I kill a German boy then I meet his mother and she asks me why I did that?”

Whalley was a powerful presence.  His son, Leonard, drove a van with a film projector all over England during the 1930s for the Peace Pledge Movement.  Their idea was to make war impossible because everyone would have pledged not to participate.  When WW2 broke out, Leonard did refuse to participate and he was jailed.  On his release he was assigned to agricultural work.  Sid did not yet notice that Whalley was occupying his body, too.

Further study felt useless to Sid by the time college was due to start and he decided he must get a job. Having no other idea how to get one, he went to the government office where jobs are posted and was given one picking apples.  When all the apples were picked, someone told him jobs are also listed in newspapers and showed him one as an inventory clerk.  A couple of years later someone told him the computer department would be better so he went there as a computer operator.

A year later, married and living in London, Sid for the first time searched for a job.  He found one as a programmer at a Dickensian insurance company.  A year or two later someone encouraged him to apply to IBM where for three years he for the first time worked alongside thinking people.  He liked that but disliked the culture.  Asked “What is the purpose of business?” he realized he didn’t know.  The answer was: “To make a profit”.  That can’t be right, he thought.  It’s like saying the purpose of life is to breathe.

So, when Sid saw a small American company’s advertisement about opening for business in England, he joined them.  A couple of weeks later they decided not to enter England but gave him a job in America.  It was 1970, and that was when Martin Sidsson, the third person to do so, took the reins of what was by now a 26 year old body.

Sidsson made a determined effort to fit into the entrepreneurial technology startup and the local culture.  It was not hard because everyone he worked with was smart and interesting.  He also made a determined effort to take the initiative and he was soon assigned to manage development of a precursor to the Internet.  Over the next few years he eagerly took on additional responsibilities and made a determined effort to manage according to his belief that the chief purposes of business are to delight customers and provide opportunity for employees.

He eventually remedied his utter ignorance of business operations, established a management consultancy and learned how to market and sell.  That led him to study why businesses fail and how to set effective strategies.  His last decade of work was in leadership positions in a long established global business followed by an Internet-based startup.

Sidsson’s career was not entirely a smooth progression, however.  In the same way that Whalley and Leonard Sidwell had played an important role in Leonardsson’s life, Leonardsson resurfaced a few years into Sidsson’s.  Sidsson always started out ignorant about new responsibilities he took on and he enjoyed the necessarily fast learning, but because his responsibilities grew rapidly, it was stressful.  Also, everything took extra effort because of the depression he had inherited from Leon, Sid, Leonard and Whalley.

As Sidsson’s stress built up, Leonardsson saw an opportunity to regain control.  Believing farming to be the only truly satisfying occupation and unhampered by understanding the unending work required or why small scale farming was no longer viable where Sidsson lived, he got Sidsson to establish a sheep farm.

Some years later, Sidsson recognized another presence in “himself”.  His mother, Florence Sidwell,  had believed there was no problem she could not fix and no challenge she could not overcome.  Without her presence Sidsson could never even have attempted what he had achieved.

By the time he retired, Sidsson was aware not only of his immediate predecessors, Leon and Sid, who were still vying for control of his body, he also saw his parents, Leonard and Florence, taking action with his body.  He no longer had a strong sense of self and was not surprised when a new person, Martin Martinsson, emerged and took control.

Martinsson went trekking in the Himalayas and experienced there a culture that attracted him greatly.  People were cheerful, as if that was their policy, and they were respectful of each other.  What was the cause?  It seemed to be their Buddhist practice.  A few years later, after many more long treks, much reading, and closer study of the reality, he realized the truth is much more complicated.  The people he thought were Buddhist were mostly animist, Nepal’s traditions come to a great extent from its Hindu aristocracy, and it is a caste society with much domestic violence.

But by the time Martinsson saw that more complex picture, he was acting on what he had first sensed.  He was practicing Tibetan Buddhism.  He had received teachings from Anam Thubten whose book, “No Self, No Problem”, makes clear that we do not have an intrinsic self and whose magnetizing presence shows that one really can he happy in all circumstances and can always be spontaneously kind.

He then met a second teacher, Phakchok Rinpoche, who insists his students follow a disciplined program to reach the state Anam Thubten and others exemplify.  We can’t think our way to that state, he insists, we must slowly, slowly retrain our mind by observing how it works, studying teachings, and reflecting.  Now Martinsson had something to work at, which felt good because it exercised the discipline his first incarnation, Leonardsson, had inherited from his parents, Leonard and Florence.

“What is Buddhism?” Rinpoche asked.  The answer: “Selflessness!”  When you experience not having a self that is intrinsically separate from others, your behavior naturally is selfless.  But gaining and sustaining that experience takes practice.  Having “no self” is not how we ordinarily feel.  Instead, we feel we are in a body that actually is separate from others.

Struggling to understand this, Martinsson returned to physics.  The butterfly effect and more in James Gleick’s “Chaos” got him reflecting on the weather, which manifests in different ways in different places, calm, windy, hot, cold, clear, foggy, sunny, raining, snowing, and always changing.  He came to see that what we call weather is the product of a giant energy field of swirling currents which constantly interact with and change each other, that have no fixed boundaries, and that are always different from moment to moment but which recur in broad form from season to season.

Martinsson recognized that just as weather manifests in the Earth’s environment, what we think of as selves manifest in the environment of bodies.

He continued deeper into quantum physics.  Einstein recognized decades before even Leonardsson was born that matter and energy are different manifestations of the same thing.  Sid had not felt that truth in High School physics classes but Martinsson now began to feel the reality that atoms are not solid things, and nor are solar systems.  Studying Lee Smolin’s explanations of theoretical physics in “The Trouble with Physics”, he began to see that what we experience as things like the Earth, our own body, atoms and everything else do not in fact have fixed boundaries or any intrinsic nature.

Matter is congealed energy; energy is liberated matter.  It only appears to us sentient beings that matter and space are different.  The boundary between them is simply a product of our mind.

The configuration of energy that manifests as a human body is sentient, but with limitations.  Every human body is uniquely configured — the high intelligence of Leon, Sid, and the Martins results from the configuration of the body they share, for example – and every body is constantly changing.

Martinsson began to see not just that everything is in flux, but everything is a manifestation of an energy field whose flows constantly interact producing results that propagate endlessly.

There is no real beginning or end of anything, only of appearances in our minds that manifest from flowing energy.

Catching up on quantum physics made the Tibetan Buddhist teachings real.  Martinsson could now to a growing extent feel the two levels of reality, an underlying energy field and what manifests from that energy to our senses and concept generators as, for example, things and personalities.  Leon Leonardsson, Sid Leonsson, Martin Sidsson and Martin Martinsson all exist on both levels, manifestations of an ever-changing energy field that has also manifested Leonard Sidwell, Florence Sidwell, Anam Thubten, Phakchok Rinpoche and so many more who we think of as “others”.

Well now, am I saying that Leonardsson, Leonsson and Sidsson were real people?  Yes and no.  The more I told you about them, the more real they would seem, but that’s also true of Martinsson.  All of them manifested as real in a situation which made that possible.  They were real in the same way as a rainbow when sunlight is separated by raindrops into colors that we usually perceive as one.   We think of a person as having an intrinsic nature in the same way we think of a rainbow as a thing.

Is a rainbow made of matter?  Is it energy in the form of light?  We don’t ordinarily ask such questions.  We do speculate about people and their nature, but with the wrong perspective.  We think of behaviors that manifest as a person as something with an intrinsic nature although those behaviors are in fact manifestations of an ever changing interaction of energy flows with no fixed boundaries and which, although ever changing, never end.

What does all this imply?  The body labelled Martin Sidwell was conceived at a specific time, was born at a specific later one, and will die at a specific future moment, but the sentient being who manifests in that body had no fixed beginning, it has no fixed nature, and it will have no definite end.

Our every act takes place within and is part of an unimaginably complex energy field.  Our every act changes that flowing energy, just as the tiny force of the butterfly’s flapping wing interacts with the results of other acts and eventually manifests a tornado.

Buddhists refer to how the system operates as karma.  To a great extent our actions are shaped by our concepts and emotional habits.  We rarely respond directly to what we see because what appears in our mind is something that fits an existing pattern there.  We see what we expect to see.  We don’t experience each new moment as unique.  We don’t experience it as it really is.   Karma means we keep reacting as we always do until we shed our fixed ideas and emotional habits.

So everything we do matters, and everything we do out of habit instead of what is actually present is flawed.

Pattern recognition and autopilot enable us to navigate what appears — we must, after all, stop automatically for red lights.  Feeling the energy behind what appears — that results in compassion and brings happiness.

Depression: Addiction

Many who have felt the utter desolation of depressive episodes are compelled to help their fellow-sufferers.  Mike and Michael’s stories in Depression: The Willpower Delusion and other stories in previous posts illustrate the compassion that arises from what they learned.

Those who have experienced depression know that willpower alone is not a cure, and they know what makes treatment even more elusive.

As Katie wrote in Depression: Help for Young People:  “Our culture teaches us that mental illness is something we must keep to ourselves … something we should feel ashamed of.”

By stigmatizing it, our culture amplifies the pain that comes directly from depression.  And there’s something even darker.

A friend who lost a family member to drug addiction, which stems from and is a form of mental illness, points out that addiction is far worse stigmatized.

I said little in Out of the Closet about my self-medication with alcohol, not because I want to keep it secret any more but because I did not become addicted.  Enormous numbers of us are not so lucky.

Overcoming addiction takes both enormous courage and the right kind of support.

My friend wrote: “Drug addiction is condemned by our society and abused by the insurance industry.  This person was sent home after 5 days of detox to an outpatient program that met three times a week for 3 hours.  The insurer said they would pay for an inpatient program if the person failed the outpatient treatment.

“He failed.  The insurer did not have to pay.”

That’s heart-rending…

Systems that result from our culture can be bewilderingly cruel.   We don’t usually reflect much on culture.  When we examine its results, it can be startling sometimes to see how very far things have gotten from being OK.

We don’t choose to become depressed, or become addicted, or get cancer.  We might act in ways that put us at higher risk, or it might just happen.  What is best for society in either case is that we get cured.

But recovery, or at least mitigation of the symptoms, is something we must choose.  That can be an agonizing truth when a loved one is addicted.

Addiction can only be overcome by someone who has arrived where every other alternative, even suicide, feels worse.  We may be able to help them arrive, but feeling cannot be commanded.

And there is a second agonizing truth.  They may reach that feeling but be unable to get treatment.

We must end addiction’s stigma.  That will make it less difficult to seek treatment, and it will make it no longer “acceptable” for insurers to deny coverage.

Depression: The Willpower Delusion

Nancy’s story in Depression: Parents and Children shows how she came to accept joy in what at first she did not want, and tells about her work to help suffering children.

Many of those who suffer depressive episodes help fellow-sufferers.  It is a natural response and we know better than anyone that willpower alone is not a cure.

Mike wrote: I see so many struggling as I do, but support is not available.  We are often left to cope on our own or get support for a very limited period.  Suicide rates are increasing in young men in the UK.  

“Society still doesn’t understand and I often find that people just don’t know how to respond when you are open.  I once stood up in a meeting at work and explained why I was doing reduced hours because I was struggling with my mental health.  Everyone looked very uncomfortable.  

“Afterwards the only responses I got were from members of staff who were suffering from depression.  They turned to me for support because I had been open about it.  

“What happens then is I support them and ignore myself, until it all gets too much and I crumble.  

“It is seen as a weakness, but we are all so strong because we battle through this every day.”  

Mike’s story illustrates how ignorance about mental illness prevents us from helping and even increases suffering, and that imagining depression to be weakness is utterly incorrect.

Mike also shows us the very sad truth that his form of depression is like some physical illnesses–the symptoms can be mitigated but there is no cure.

And we see another very sad truth.  Because he is a exceptionally kind as well as courageous, Mike tries, despite the additional suffering he knows it will cause himself, to help others who cannot get society’s help.

Michael is less unfortunate because he is often in remission.  He  helps fellow-sufferers via an established channel.  He wrote:  I have struggled myself on several occasions.  Now I provide CBT-based therapy through the UK National Health Service to those who suffer anxiety and depression.  

“Once a week I facilitate a workshop to approximately 25 people.  One of the best aspects of this is that the clients can see that depression is very common and does not discriminate.  

“I am keen on public health initiatives that help to ‘normalize’ depression, while acknowledging the debilitating effects that it can have on those who suffer.  In the UK one in every five visits to a doctor is for anxiety or depression.

I replied:  We are trained by society to imagine we can overcome depression with will power. The implication is, if we can’t do that we are weak.  Will power is essential just to keep going but battling depression is exhausting.  It can become impossible to carry on.  

“We must eradicate that delusion.  We don’t expect anyone to overcome diabetes with will power.  We understand for so many other maladies the need for treatment.”

Michael responded:  “If people could ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ they would have done so. Depression is exhausting and it can take massive will power to just get out of bed. This is a characteristic of depression, not evidence of weakness or laziness – though unfortunately those who are depressed are often all too quick to flog themselves with such thoughts.”

Doug added:  More generally, no mental illness of whatever type is amenable to a willpower cure.   It can lie undisturbed under the surface for arbitrarily long periods and then emerge to endanger any or all aspects of one’s life.   I’m a board member of NAMI New Hampshire which lobbies for treatment options, produces training materials, and provides support for family members.   Along with other readers of Martin’s piece, we do not believe in the miraculous self-help model.”

So, fellow-sufferers from depressive episodes, when opportunities arise and you have the strength, please help others recognize that depression is illness, nothing more and nothing less, and that even those with chronic illness can suffer less and be more productive with treatment.

And everyone, perhaps you can help change society in a systematic way as Doug and others do.

We must eliminate the idea that willpower is a cure for illness.

Depression: Parents and Children

In Depression: Panic Attacks and Focusing Connie tells how she tried and failed and at last found a successful treatment for her panic attacks.

Now Nancy’s story points to two great truths–when we can accept what we have been given we can find the joy in what we did not want, and we must change what in our society creates suffering.

Nancy wrote: Like many parents of special needs children, I experienced debilitating depression for several years.

“I tried all sorts of natural treatments, including two years of no alcohol.  Ultimately, only meds helped, and as I started to deal with recovery in more positive ways, i.e. changing to a special education career, I gradually began to accept and appreciate the cards I was dealt, and no longer needed the meds.  

“Our son brings Chris and me so much joy (and laughter) that today we cannot imagine a life without him.”

The practical short term truth this illustrates is that depression, like other illnesses, may require medication.  The longer term truth lies in what Nancy says about the result of treatment, that she became able to accept what she was given and in that acceptance find joy.

First treatment, then recovery into joy.

Then Nancy wrote:  I now am working with a local mental health hospital, overseeing education services for their adolescent program.

“This experience has been enlightening in many ways, from first hand exposure to the trauma and suicide ideation/attempts these patients exhibit to the horrific insurance hassles parents face.  

“Our special education system, though broken, is at least mandated for all.  Our mental health system discriminates against people of little or moderate means.

“The only way patients who are not wealthy can participate in this program is through scholarships, which are few and far between. Insurance companies masterfully block coverage in ways that seem unbelievable, though true from my experience. 

“This segment from 60 Minutes is an excellent treatise on the problems parents face.”

It had never occurred to me!  How odd it is that our society provides education for every child, including those with special needs, but does not provide treatment for illness to every child.

That’s startling enough but early one morning a few years ago I was staggered by these words of fundamental truth: “If you really want to end suffering, it’s very simple.  Just stop creating it.”

We can end suffering created by our society’s systems and beliefs–we can change them.  We can end our own suffering by accepting what we’ve been given–which may first require treatment.

 

The Practice of Generosity

Could I do a good enough job asking for donations for Doma’s college education?  I’d never done anything like it before.  I knew she would get some of what she needs because I have such good-hearted friends, but how much?

Doma is amazed that fully four fifths of the total has already been given!  She needs only $5,000 more for her first year at Hampshire College.

But what’s left now is the hard part.

We get so many appeals and we can’t give to them all.  Worse, we’re usually too busy when an appeal arrives to figure out if it’s worthy of support.  Will this appeal really make a difference?

Yes!  Doma, an amazing young low-caste Nepali woman, is transforming her own future.   All she needs from us is 50 more supporters to donate $100.

Most of us could do that very easily.  Five $20 bills don’t buy much any more.  Many of us buy $100 items online without hesitation.

So the fact that Doma still needs those donations means I must do a better job.

Maybe it’s time for crowd-funding, aiming to reach people I don’t know?  Certainly, when Doma is here, she can give traditional Nepali dance performances at fund-raisers.

But how much more powerful for Doma if her education sponsor’s friends support her completely even before they’ve met her.  Let’s raise the rest of what she needs for her first year right now.

I never asked you for anything like this before so you know it’s important even if you don’t have time to read what makes it so.   Is there a $100 meal or some other luxury you could forgo?

If you are blessed in this way, help Doma transform her future by clicking here to donate that $100 now.  It takes only a moment.  Ask your friends to do it, too.

Thank you and bless you!

 

 

 

Surprised by the Antichrist

If you’re ever on I-84 near where it meets the Mass Pike, stop in at the Traveler Restaurant, be served a good diner-style meal by friendly waitresses and choose three free books.  I’ve been going there every chance I get since 1985.

What I found there most recently is Kevin Phillips’ 2006 American Theocracy.  In his 1967 book The Emerging Republican Majority Phillips showed how gaining Southern voters could propel the Republican Party’s revival.  He is now horrified by the result.

American Theocracy has three sections.  Phillips starts by reviewing how our dependence on oil led to our foreign policy and wars in the Middle East and ends by showing how our financial and business leaders got the Republican Party’s traditional principles of sound finance abandoned.  What surprised me is the middle section.  There he examines the rise of fundamentalist Christianity and apocalyptic expectations and shows how they shape our policies.

Phillips cites the statistics on Americans with a religious preference.  From 17% in 1776 it rose to 34% in 1850, 45% in 1890, 56% in 1926, 62% in 1980 and 63% in 2000.  We were established as a secular republic when fewer than one in five Americans had any religious preference.  More than three in five of us now has a religious belief.

Almost half (46%) of Americans now identify themselves as “born again” Christians.  And more than half (55%) in a 2004 Newsweek poll believe the Bible is literally accurate.

In the 2000 elections 87% of the “frequent-attending white religious right” voted for George W. Bush (GWB).  Only 27% of secular voters favored him.  I had no idea religious belief had such an impact.  I did recognize that when GWB characterized his invasion of Iraq as a “crusade”, that really was his view.  I should have realized, too, that a significant percentage of those who supported him also imagine we are now engaged in a holy war in the Abrahamic end time.

But I was entirely unprepared for this on page 260 “Some 40 percent of Americans believe that the antichrist is alive and already on the earth” even though I knew that under GWB, Saddam Hussein was identified as the antichrist.   Who, I wondered, is the antichrist now Saddam Hussein is no more?

In this 2013 Public Policy Poll Report I discovered that 13% of voters in the 2012 election believed President Obama is the antichrist and a further 13% was “not sure.”  Among voters for Romney 22% believed Obama is the antichrist while fewer than 3 in 5 believed he is not.  It may be yet more alarming that 5% of voters for Obama believed him to be the antichrist.

In that report we also see 58% of Republican voters believed “global warming is a hoax”, 33% believed “Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11”  and 73% did not believe “Bush misled on Iraq WMDs.”

What to make of all this?  My assumption about the widespread lack of respect for facts and skeptical inquiry in America was mistaken.  The great problem is not the mechanics of our educational system but the purpose many want it to serve – certainty in the literal truth of the Bible.

I’ve written before about fundamentalism.  Our media tells us it’s a problem among Muslims, especially in the Middle East, where terrorists hope to kill us all.  But some American fundamentalists are also eager for war, perhaps because they fear our nation is in decline.

Fundamentalism results from fear when social, economic or political trends look like a threat to existence.  The desire for certainty in a way out grows overwhelming.  Everyone else must then embrace the same faith because belief in something that cannot be proved is a lot easier to maintain if nobody is expressing doubts.

But we will inevitably do harm if we imagine we are fundamentally different and have mortal enemies.  Only misery can result.

What to do?  We must calm and clear away the fears.

Everything we do, say and think boosts or shrinks fear in the world.  A butterfly could alter the path of a hurricane or prevent its occurrence — the flapping of wings is one of so many tiny forces on the atmosphere.  It’s the same with human moments of love or hate.

The Appeal of Dishonesty and Bad News

Why are we content with dishonesty in the media, and why do we so avidly consume “news” about crime and tragedies?

I’ve been pondering the comment, “We no longer have news organizations dedicated to fair and balanced reporting that educates instead of indoctrinating the public” on the first post in this series.

The superficial answer is it’s what we’re accustomed to, what we grew up with.  Maybe we realize “the news” is not to make us less ignorant but to stimulate our emotions so we will want to buy things, as I explored in this post, but how does it work?

Let’s start with “balanced reporting.”  That means a balance between how things look from left and right in the sphere of domestic affairs.  More specifically, it means things are not presented in a way to polish the Democratic or Republican Party brands.

How about “indoctrinating the public?”  It is indoctrination when a proposed tax change is presented through the prism of a political party’s tax policy brand: when facts about the proposal are selected and highlighted based on how closely they align with ‘taxes bad,’ ‘soak the rich’ or some such slogan.

It is likely to be indoctrination when we see warfare and civil violence in other parts of the world.  Why?  Because the implication usually is that such things do not happen here, but they will if we don’t keep “those people” from coming here.

We have an idea of what makes us different: we are rugged individuals who take care of our own, we are freedom-lovers, we are can-do people.  The problem with labeling ourselves as Americans and assigning such properties to the label is it means we also characterize un-Americans.

Un-Americans might be Canadians, Mexicans, or stateless Islamic terrorists.   They might just have a funny accent and silly ideas about governance, they might sneak in and take our jobs, or they might come and blow us up.  At best they are harmlessly inferior, at worst our mortal enemies.

The problem is branding in a sphere where it is not a helpful convenience but a stimulus of hatred.  Branding saves us time when we buy things.  We don’t have to look at every can of soup because we’ll be happy with the brand we trust.

But what if we’re a Marlboro man?  That’s branding of a specific product, Marlboros, and a product category, cigarettes.  The Marlboro branding leverages our self-concept of rugged individualism, freedom-loving and so on.  It also leverages branding that makes us ignore tobacco’s impact on our health .

And the effects grow darker when we identify so strongly with the Democratic Party as to demonize Republicans or vice versa, or we become a crusading Christian or Muslim.

In fact, the problem begins when we become a partisan.  Joining with others to promote policies favored by a political party or interest group is not a problem.  That’s how democracy works, the least worst way we have yet found to govern.

Following the teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Muhammad (alphabetical order) or others who gained wisdom is good because they help us grow better.

The problem begins when we believe there is something wrong with those who do not follow our practice.  That leads not to growing better but to hatred.

However, we’re still at a superficial level.  Why do we become partisans?  Why do we identify so strongly with our tribe, American, Democrat, Christian or whatever that we end up hating those we identify as members of a different tribe?

Why do we watch news that we know is less than honest, certainly not balanced, and that motivates us to hate (or envy) others?

Because we want our beliefs confirmed.  We want to feel we are not alone.  We want security.

Feeling our connection with others is good.  Mistaking that feeling for an idea about our nature, however, that is not good.  It gets us thinking, “I am one of those who are superior (or unfairly inferior) to others”  and then we start thinking it’s OK for us to attack them.

The ultimate root of the problem is our desire for security.

I asked, “how [can we] encourage more people to WANT honesty [in the media?]”  What each of us can do is speak up about harmful untruths and publicly debate legislative changes because that helps us recognize when we (ourself) don’t know or misinterpret some facts.

What I do not know is how we can educate ourselves to differentiate between facts and beliefs.  According to a 2001 Gallup poll, for example, about 45% of Americans believe “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”  Whether or not we believe in a Creator is a belief — we cannot know.  We do know, however, that human beings were not created in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.

If we don’t see the difference between religious beliefs and facts we will also not see the difference between political or any other kind of beliefs and facts.

I will return to education in future posts.  There must be a way to motivate making it more effective.

Returning to the root problem and what each of us can do about that, we can recognize that ultimately there is no security.  We are both utterly alone and inextricably connected, not fundamentally different from those “over there.”  Every single one of us will end up old, weak and dead.  Unless we first grow sick.  Which could happen at any moment.

Ultimate safety doesn’t lie in beliefs about the rightness of “people like me” and the wrongness of others.  The only real security is being OK with the fact that there is no security and therefore nothing to worry about.  Recognizing that requires re-training, which I can testify is long and initially hard work but which I’ve seen in others is ultimately fruitful.

So we must point out the harm untruths cause and even more important, eradicate our own false ideas.  There is no silver bullet against poison in the media.

What Doma Learned from her Mother

Here is Doma’s answer to: “Community – educational, geographic, religious, political, ethnic, or other – can define an individual’s experience and influence her journey. How has your community, as you identify it, shaped your perspective? (250 word limit)”

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Doma at SwayambhuMy mother is from a low-caste family in Nepal’s hill country. Like other village girls she had no schooling, spoke only her tribal language and had an arranged marriage when she was fifteen. I was born the same year. My father brought her to Kathmandu where she had to learn Nepali. He abused and soon left her; then she raised me alone. Because she had no education, the only job she could get was as a hotel maid.

But my mother is intelligent, she learns quickly, she thinks clearly and she is strong and confident. If something must be done, she finds a way to get it done. She has made great sacrifices so I can make a better future.

The obstacles for a low-caste girl like me are outweighed by my advantages. Because my mother always worked hard, so do I, and although she could not help me with school work, by listening to her, I learned to think.

At first I did not believe my future would be different from hers because that was the only life I had seen, but she put me in a good school and I began to see other possibilities. Later, at Budhanilkantha School in a community of well-educated, wealthy students, I realized there is actually no limit to what I can do.

I have grown up Buddhist so I must live ethically. What I inherited and learned from my mother means I can live that way.

Doma’s Dance Essay

“Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.”  Several colleges asked variants of that with limits ranging from 75 words to a page.  Here’s one of Doma’s longer responses:

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IMG_1141“Dance like there’s nobody watching,” William W. Purkey taught. That is the mantra I repeat before every performance. My first was when I was four and I have been dancing ever since.  The music comes on and the moves just flow out of me: it’s amazing.

In my younger years I mostly did folk dances of my Tamang caste and other indigenous people. Later, I started doing modern and classical dances. My first experience in front of a huge crowd was in an inter-school competition when I was five.  Our group was awarded first prize. Since I was the tiniest, I was in front throughout the dance and everyone noticed me. It was so much fun.

Later, when I was at Budhanilkantha School for the equivalent of Junior and Senior years in High School, I participated in the inter-college ‘Kaleidoscope’ competition that is held every year in National Academy Hall.  It includes dancing, singing, a fashion show, kite making and debate. We did Indian classical dance in class 11 and a modern dance in class 12.  It was a great opportunity to represent our school at the national level and meet many different people.

In my senior year at Budhanilkantha School, the Head of my Choyu House assigned me as cultural captain, an honor and responsibility I very much wanted. For the annual dance competition for juniors, it was my job to decide the theme, compose both modern and folk dances, prepare props and choose only eight of the forty dancers who wanted to participate. I wanted to join them in the performance but I could only watch. The announcement of the result made me burst into tears: 1st in folk dance, 2nd in modern dance, and an overall trophy. The performance and the applause ended long ago, but my joyous feeling is still lingering.

The second great event that year was an hour-long ‘cultural program’. To show diversity, we included a musical skit as well as modern, classical and folk dances – a total of eleven items. We couldn’t use our study hour for practice, so I had to choreograph and teach the dancers from 9 pm until midnight. We all worked hard, all the dancers cooperated well and the audience very much enjoyed our program.

My friend posted this video of a performance I choreographed for Monday Assembly at Budhanilkantha School. I based the dance on the tradition of Sherpa people who, like my Tamang caste, came to Nepal long ago from Tibet. Because the dance has parts for both girls and boys but Choyu is all girls, some of us dressed as boys. I am the shorter of the two girls in red tops who enter from the left; then I dance in the center.

Dance always matches my mood. Most of my times are good. Then it expresses my happiness. In bad times, dancing helps me find who I am when I lose myself.

Doma: My Greatest Gift

Supplementary essay: “Please tell us about a gift, given or received, that was particularly meaningful to you. What was the gift, and why was it meaningful? (150 words max)” Doma & Niran after SLC Graduation

Doma wrote:

Birthday gifts, Christmas surprises and other presents are not what I am thinking of.  My greatest gift is the education my mother gave me.

My mother had no schooling and was married at fifteen.  My father abused her and soon left us.  Since then mom struggled to support us by working as a hotel maid. Somehow, she managed to keep me in a good school.

For Class 11 and 12 mom wanted me to go to Budhanilkantha School (BNKS) because it is one of the best. I was scared because most of its students are from rich families.  What I learned in that world is there is no limit to the future I can create.

My mother’s gift allows me to make a future so much better than her own life:  it has made me what I am, and what I can dream of to become. What an amazing gift!

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Comments by Martin:

I wrote the following comments when Doma was admitted by Randolph College, the first of five excellent colleges.  I explain her decision to accept Hampshire College’s offer on the Doma Ghale page.

The picture is from when Doma graduated from Amrit School in what we call High School sophomore year.  Doma and her mom, Niran, are dressed in Tibetan style because Norkyel, her first education sponsor, had just honored them for Doma’s graduation in the “First Division with Distinction”.

We were thrilled then by what Doma had achieved, which Niran sacrificed so much to make possible.  Our hopes for Doma’s future were high.   Would she be accepted at Budhanilkantha School for Junior and Senior years?

Two years later, our hopes are again high.  Will Doma be able to come to the US for a college education?

There are some differences this time.  Doma is not afraid as she was about Budhanilkantha: she is excited about the far more different world here.  And for Niran, no sacrifice is possible to make US college affordable: one year at a good US college costs the same as two houses where she lives.

Doma may succeed and be accepted but we might fail to establish enough funding.  Nonetheless, I said, Doma and I will, in different aspects of the process, try our utmost.  And we did.

Doma has been accepted with enthusiasm by Randolph College.  Their academic scholarships range from $6K – $20K.  They granted Doma the maximum and will consider her for their Presidential Scholarship which covers all tuition costs.  The gap will be $26K annually if Doma does not get the Presidential Scholarship, $13K if she does, plus her travel and incidental expenses.

Randolph College is a fine institution where Doma would thrive.  She has also applied to 15 other colleges, some of which have substantially larger endowments than Randolph.  One of them could even cover all her costs including two fully paid trips home each year.

But so many factors go into admission decisions: there is no way to predict what choices Doma may have, or their net cost.  What we do know is I would not be able to provide all $30K-ish a Randolph education may cost.

I mention this because if Doma does need more financial aid than I can provide, I will invite everyone to help.  I would establish a dedicated bank account for Doma’s education, set up a Paypal link or equivalent to facilitate donations, and provide accounting and other updates.

April 2014 Update:  Details about the dedicated bank account and a Paypal link to donate to it are now on the Doma Ghale page.   There is also a Paypal link to donate to it on the Donate page.   Details about financial aid, donations and expenses are on the Accounting page.  Other updates are on the News page.