Barefoot Zen?

Barefoot Zen?
Namaste, Y'all...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Begging Dalai's Pardon (not Dolly Parton)

About once every two or three months, a list starts circulating around the internet, via email chains or links to blogs, new age-ish websites, etc.  The list is a wise, if not trite, collection of "Life Lessons from the Dalai Lama".  Thoughts like, "Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly", "Once a year, go somewhere you've never been before", and "Great achievements involve great risk."

Yeah, sure...ok.

My problem with the list?  The Dalai Lama hasn't ever gone on record saying these things.  His last 'lesson', in particular, reeks of suspect dogma:  "Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon."  I'll buy that Rachel Ray might've said this, but not His Holiness.

Most of the quotes attributed to the 14th Dalai Lama actually come from a book you may have bought for one of your grandparents:  "Life's Little Instruction Book" by H. Jackson Brown  (who, incidentally, did not pen "Lawyers in Love").

Why am I so defensive about this?  Well, certainly it bothers me that one of the spiritual figures I most admire is being misrepresented, but that kind of thing has happened to everyone from Jesus to Mohammed, and they are considered a deity and a prophet respectively, not just 'a simple monk'.

I think it's that we've come to accept a lot of our spiritual guidance as nothing more than a series of cliched self-help axioms, so naturally, when a man who has made some of the most profound statements about human suffering and existence is misquoted offering travel and culinary advice...well, I get a little twitchy.

We now live in a day and age where anyone can go online, attribute something, and it could very well go unchallenged until, just like in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", legend becomes accepted as fact.
Intentional or not, it feels like a slippery slope.

To my Christian friends, I ask, how would you feel if someone claimed it was the Apostle Paul who famously said, "Life is like a box of never know what you're gonna get."

Besides, being raised Southern Baptist, I have a hard enough time defending my Eastern Philosophy leanings.  Don't make it harder for me by turning the Dalai Lama into Erma Bombeck.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Instant Karma, Just Add Butter...

So, the latest news in the world of Food and Nutrition?  Paula Deen, the Empress of Transfats, will announce she is now battling Type 2 Diabetes and will also partner with Novartis, a big pharm company, to help raise awareness about the disease...and presumably help them shill their co-pay covered wares.

OK, this is where the cynic in me has to keep things in check.  Antony Bourdain recently called Ms. Deen the most dangerous woman in America because of her fat-laden recipes.  Now, I don't want to get into a food war.  Chances are, I wouldn't get along too well with either of the aforementioned folks.  I'm not a foodie, I don't have a distinguished palate, and over-the-top Southern women who cook uber-fatty food because that's how "mama an' 'em" done it make me cringe.

However, I will venture to say that it's no surprise someone who believes two Krispy Kreme donuts are an appropriate way to wrap a bacon burger is about to have to start taking insulin.  If Ms. Deen is going to earn big dollars from her disease, which I am sure she will, I do hope that the awareness she raises around diabetes has some true wisdom and influence behind it.

My dad has managed diabetes for over 25 years now.  My sister was just diagnosed with it this month.  So, I've got some skin in this game.  See, my sister worships at the altar of Paula Deen.  I mean, like I follow Springsteen.  She's road tripped to her restaurant, she's got all her books, she's stood in line to meet her.  So, you can see why I have a vested interest in Ms. Deen giving more than lip service to this disease.

I don't believe in an America where people are not free to put whatever crap they want to in their bodies.  I do believe, however, that we live in a country where a lot of people don't know the choices they have, have awareness around where to find good information, or perhaps just can't afford to eat foods that will sustain instead of decay their bodies.  Monsanto has bought the farm, quite literally, and we're all being processed into dietary submission.  Ms. Deen is just a symptom.  Hell, at least she cooks with a few natural ingredients.

Go to:  Fight Big Food  to find out more if you aren't tracking with me here.

Meanwhile, I hope Ms. Deen manages her disease state well.  I hope she turns to healthier recipes, on her own plate, and on her show.  I hope we find a way to start referring to fresh, locally grown food as 'comfort food' instead of a box of Mac 'n Cheese.

And, I hope I move a step closer to that myself in 2012.  I put these thoughts out there not because I am a shining example, after all.  I am a bit of a backsliding hypocrite, and a bit of an idealist who believes that I can continue to do better, eat better, cook better, and perhaps dodge the diabetes bullet that seems to reside in the Housworth genes.

So far, so good.  But, I've also got two kids, and they need the right example, the right roadmap, and the right cookbook.

So, please.  Don't pass the butter.  At least not the whole bucket.

Gratitude and Cynicism: Finding the Balance

I think we all want to live our lives with more gratitude, less complaining, and a truly glass-half-full mindset.  I think we also realize there's a reason for the axiom, "too much of a good thing".

Let's be honest, we've all been around those peppy people whose glass is not just half-full, it overfloweth with positivity and potential.  To a point, it's inspiring.  Give them enough time, though, and you'll want to break their brimming glass and corner them with a shard of its jagged remains.

We're Americans.  We were raised on cynicism.  Heck, for some of us who don't smoke or drink, it's really our only catharsis from a world that seems, all too often, to have all the order of Jackson Pollock's drop cloth.

Let me be clear here.  I try to wake up every morning and look for the good that is coming my way that day.  More importantly, if I am truly present, I can appreciate even the crazy makers, the speed bumps, and the full-on detours that come my way.  Problem is, sometimes I'd rather be Patton Oswalt than Pema Chodron.  And with that comes - I dunno, is it negativity, or is it just a survival mechanism that allows us all to separate the superficial and the stupid from the pure sublime?

It's an election year.  It's the year that many believe the world will end, be it because of Mayans, Nostradamus, or some poor evangelical schnook in California who keeps getting the wrong 'save the date' notes from Jesus.  Our television sets are overrun with people that P.T. Barnum could not have invented if we'd given him a jigger of mutant DNA and free reign over Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory.  To not be cynical is to not be alive, in many ways.

And yet, just as too much Sister Mary Sunshine can make you want to punch someone in the throat, the constant, insistent cynic is just as painful a dinner partner.

Perhaps, as a whole, we do a pretty good job of balancing these two seemingly at-odds traits.  We must be a fairly optimistic nation to keep spending like we do as we slowly climb out of a brutal recession.  And we must be fairly cynical if we can turn on Jon Stewart every night and laugh at him poking fun at said economic hardships.

I don't think we're completely in denial either.  I think it all comes down to how we feed our souls.  Some can do it all on faith.  Some have an empty tank where that's concerned.  And for those of us who ride the middle ground, we find it healthier to believe in our better angels, while realizing that all the most delicious moments here on earth are - at the very least - created with devilish wit.

So, I wake up every day grateful for this nation, but cognizant of its flaws.  Grateful for my family, but aware that they will serve up equal parts of frustration and joy.  Grateful for my health, but willing to test it with the occasional cheeseburger.  Grateful for my work, but fully aware that sometimes clients have no earthly clue what does and doesn't work creatively.  Grateful that I can stay in touch with so many friends on Facebook and aware that some people shouldn't be allowed to post anything online, ever.

Gratitude & Cynicism.  They may be opposite sides of the same coin, but sometimes they harmonize as beautifully as Simon & Garfunkel.

One Pill Makes You...

The NYT article that I've linked below reminded me of a conversation I had a year or so ago with a group of fellow creative folks.  Seven of us were sharing tapas and tales one evening and the topic of drugs came up.  No, not meth and ecstasy, but the prescribed sunshine that doctors provide to so many Americans nowadays:  Prozac, Zoloft, Cymbalta, Adderall, and the other forms of modern day blotter acid that big pharm is having a field day with.

Now, before you fire off a response about my insensitivity toward these very real maladies such as depression, anxiety, and inability to focus, please know that I am totally empathic with those who struggle with these very real disorders.  They can wreak havoc on people's lives, and they suck.

That said, I was amazed to discover that I was the only person at the table NOT taking one of these medications.  It gave me pause.  Was it because we were somewhat creative types and with that role comes a certain oppressive monkey that insists upon digging into our backs?  One that paralyzes us when we should pounce, one that makes the brightest of days still feel somewhat gray?

Or is it that we've become the generation that has been led to believe we've been dropped in the midst of a dark forest and the only bread crumbs toward home are blue and oval-shaped?

Now, I have my days.  Not days when I lay in bed and wonder if it's worth getting up.  But, like everyone, I sometimes look at the hamster wheel I'm on and wonder why I bother keeping it moving in circles.  My answer is always simple - I do it because I'm good at it, because I love my family, and because I am scared to leap out of it and try something new.

Seriously...if there were a courage pill, I'd be all over that.  My novel would be written, and every literary agent in the country would be weary from my insistent follow-up calls.  I'd eschew barefoot running and just start training for barefoot mountain climbing.  And I wouldn't have panic attacks when taking my kids zip lining.

And lest I seem like a hypocrite, I do have my anti-depressant.  It's called coffee, and I rely on it like Burroughs relied on horse.  Take away my three cups a day and I'll become a barely walking homicidal, suicidal, bipolar troglodyte.  Half man, half bleary eyed black bear with his paw in a trap and his bear balls in a vice.  So, I've got that going for me...

Meanwhile, when it comes to creative souls and mellowing meds,  I do have to wonder what would've happened if Hemingway had Zoloft, or if Van Gogh could've scored a prescription for Wellbutrin.  Was there a drug out there that Kurt Cobain and Jack Kerouac missed, and if so, would it have helped them instead of sending them further into their downward spirals?

I don't know the answer, and I'm not judging anyone I know here.  I do know the 'prescription as solution' mindset is running a little rampant in America, and it makes you wonder what we're doing differently that requires us to stay so medicated.  Did our forefathers and mothers get cut from a tougher swath or were they just quietly sad about their shorter, even more bleak lives?  Did they suck it up better than we do?  Did they get by on a better diet, a stronger faith, and less daily stimuli?

If so, when does that pendulum swing back?  Because the next generation is headed even further down a road where comfortably numb - be it through narcotics or electronics - is a way of life.

Here's the link to the age of anxiety article.  I found it pretty interesting.  What do you think?  What's put us in such a funk as a generation?  As a nation?  Is it biological, chemical, environmental, or just societally acceptable?  

It's Still the 'Age of Anxiety.' Or Is It? -

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Oh, Boycott...

When I was in college, I remember Cracker Barrel fired a kid for wearing an earring.  As I recall the story, it wasn't that the earring broke their dress code, it was that it would give customers the impression he was gay and, thus, would create problems for their store.  That's how I remember the story anyway.  I also stopped eating there in protest.  Not that this was difficult, as I think I only darkened their door once every half decade or so anyway.

Then there was the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  I started buying my gas from BP when that happened.  Because they were so much more environmentally conscious.  Cough, cough...

Hey, I was young, I was full of political verve, and I was gonna show all those wayward corporations a thing or two by withholding my struggling actor's paycheck from their coffers.  If Don Henley or Michael Stipe told me it was an issue, well then, it was an issue, by God.

Fast forward a couple of decades.  We've got a WalMart going up less than a mile from our house in the next year or so.  A favorite local eatery was shut down because the nearby Pet Supermarket couldn't contain a rat problem they created.  The Susan B Komen organization isn't giving enough of its earnings toward finding a cure, so some say.  And I've got a client or two who - politically speaking - don't share my precise worldview.

In fact, truth be told, if I were to walk the halls of any of my client's home offices wearing an Obama 2012 button, I would likely bump into a few higher ups who would like to have a word or two with me.

On the other hand, I have reached a point of exhaustion with people telling you that you're inadvertently supporting a cruel dictatorship in Nomengrad by not spending the extra five bucks a bag on the free trade Pekoe tea leaves.   And while I hate to see the disappearance of CD stores and bookstores, the scant selection we already have is what drives me to Amazon and I-Tunes.

I want to do the right thing.  But I have to pick my battles.  I also have to accept that the media - everyone from the left of Huffington to the right of Fox - have their agendas and tell us what they want us to hear.  And thanks to everyone having a blog and a voice on the internet these days, so much information is erroneous, that ultimately, I have to trust the experience I am having locally much more than what I am being told is happening by some bitter chatroom troll whose post went viral.

Just this past week, I read a satirical piece about a presidential candidate.  It was a fairly dark satirical piece, handled with much less finesse and humor than 'The Onion', for certain.  It was obviously the goal of this blogger to put something out there under the guise of satire and then let it catch on as fuzzy truth.  I watched it work with a majority of people who reacted to the article on line.

These are scary times, living amongst these Information Wars.

Meanwhile, here I am in need of guinea pig food on a busy Sunday.  Do I drive the extra five miles to PetSmart, or do I forgive Pet Supermarket their carelessness?  Do I check the Blue Book to see whether Kroger or Publix gave more to Amnesty International before I choose which direction to turn for groceries? And if The Eagles, that most liberal of American bands, exclusively released their last album at WalMart, does that mean WalMart has done a lot to change their policies, or does that mean that Glenn Frey just needed to recoup the losses to his stock portfolio?

I'm not being snarky here.  I am sincerely asking, where do you draw your line?  Who do you trust?  And how do you choose who gets your money, which I am to understand, is still how we truly vote in this country?

Let me hear from you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Resolution? Nah. Just Bodhicitta

I gave up on the whole New Year's Resolution thing years ago.  It seemed pretty self-defeating, asking myself to make transformative changes at the whim of a date change, with no real blueprint for success.
My tendency - like so many people - was to take a scattershot approach, in an attempt to flip a switch and tackle all of my ills, from dieting to spiritual conquests, exercise to work ethics.  I would read two books a month, go vegetarian, train for a half-marathon, dust off my guitar, finish my novel, meditate for 40 minutes a day, volunteer monthly for a good cause, learn chess, get organized...

You see where this is going, right?  Make yourself too many promises and you set yourself up for broken resolutions and a genuine case of "I-suck-ilitis".

However, a recent Elephant Journal article reminded me that if you focus your energies on one thing - one broader goal that somehow encompasses all of the aforementioned aspirations, you stand a better chance of making marked progress.  It's not about finishing the novel, or losing 25 lbs, or exercising six days a week without exception.  It's about growth.  It's about how we look at each day and make the most of it in the way we treat others and ourselves.

So, if I dare make a resolution, it would be to practice Bodhichitta (lovingkindness) each day.  An openness toward others, a gentleness toward myself, that allows for change, growth, and possibilities.  Everything - staying in shape, being a good dad, a focused writer, an effective freelancer - stems from this. We live a more powerful life when we have a philosophy to engage, not a checklist to follow.

While Bodhichitta is a word born from Buddhist thought, it's a universal behavior - each religious and secular ethics system has their own word for it.  Don't get hung up on the handle, just drink deeply from the cup.

Here's the link:

The most meaningful new year’s resolution: Bodhicitta.