Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Do you ever go back and read something that you enjoyed a long time ago? It’s interesting to do so because the book is the same but you are not. Time and experience have altered your perspective since the initial reading so that you’re seeing it now through new eyes. You may still love it or shake your head in disbelief that you have changed so much.

I’ve recently been re-exploring books I read some 35 years ago about Taoism. During that time I was an ardent “seeker,” and Eastern philosophy, particularly this one, resonated within me (and still does) at a deep level

Taoism is called “The Watercourse Way” because the non-resistant flow of water is analogous with its principles of being in tune with the world instead of aggressively attempting to impose one’s will. The first sentence of the Tao Te Ching, written by Lao Tzu over 2500 years ago provocatively states that “The Way that can be described is not the Way”—in other words, the complexity and perfection of the Universe is far beyond the feeble attempts of language and the human mind to understand.

Yin/yang, the mutual interdependence of opposites, is central to Taoist teaching and very difficult for Western minds to grasp. Here we believe in absolutes, like ending war and poverty, when in fact we can have no concept of peace without war or being rich without poverty

How would you know day(light) if the sun never gave way to nightfall? “Day” would just be what “is.” And that’s the whole point of Taoism—at the Universal level, everything just “is.” That thing growing out of the ground with bark, limbs, and leaves isn’t really a tree—it’s a manifestation of nature we call a “tree” so we can communicate about it. And so it goes with “bark, “limbs,” “leaves, “and “nature”---just words, not reality.

Intuitively we know this to be true just as we know there is more to us than the “meat suits” we wear around our whole lives. That’s what makes getting your arms around Taoism so elusive. It can never be formally taught or learned, for any effort to be effortless is immediately off the mark.

Re-reading my old books is encouraging. Looking back over my life I can see that I’m not as big of a knucklehead as in my youth, but I’m nowhere near being a sage either. But the cool thing about Taoism is this—accepting it can and does happen in an instant. It’s just that trying not to try is maddeningly difficult. .

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Sorry, I couldn't resist the teaser headline.

I was reading an article today about the benefits of the “Mediterranean Diet” and I started thinking about the silliness of fad diets and dieting in general. It seems like almost everybody you talk to is on some diet or thinking they need to be on one.

Diets fall into the category of “self-help,” a contradictory term that upon examination illustrates the fallacy of the whole concept. How exactly are you helping yourself when you’re relying on advice and assistance outside yourself? So when you gain back the weight, when your Personal Power is turned off, when your path to success remains a Secret, you search for the next self-help guru who will gladly provide another expensive dose of snake oil.

The most hopeless alcoholic cannot be helped by intervention, rehab, or AA until he decides, from the depths of his being, that it’s time to stop drinking, period. That’s real self-help, the only kind that works and matters. All the other stuff makes for interesting reading and conversation, but true, lasting change only occurs when “the student is ready and the teacher appears.”

Here’s the great news: by accepting this personal responsibility, neither blaming others for your shortcomings or looking to others for your salvation, you get to paint the canvas of your life.

I’ve been blessed with a slim physique my whole life. Well, once I was 20 pounds over my current weight, but that was when I briefly got “fitness” confused with “fatness.” If you want to lose weight and keep it off forever, I’d like to share my Edditerranean Diet. Actually it’s not a diet at all, and you can eat and drink absolutely anything you want. Plus I’m probably not going to tell you a thing you don’t already know.

The key to weight control is portion control. Eat a lot of what’s good for you and a little of what’s not. Voila—that’s pretty much it. See, you already knew that. Lean meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, skim milk, water---giddyup. Processed food, fast food, greasy food, fatty food, sweets, alcohol---slow down.

Come on, this isn’t rocket surgery. So what’s the real problem? It’s simply that the pleasure a lot of people get from eating outweighs (pardon the pun) the pain of how they look and feel. The delicious (there I go again) irony is if they would ever allow themselves to reach their ideal size, overall quality of life improves so dramatically that enhancement of appearance, while exciting, is secondary. Pains disappear, energy skyrockets, sound sleep returns. In other words, the 1-2 hours of “happiness” while overeating each day makes the other 22-23 varying degrees of miserable.

Interesting tradeoff.

There you have the Edditerranean Diet. No calorie counting, no points, no special products. Delicious food, simply prepared, in proper amounts. It’s easy; it works. Try it. And let me know what happens.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I’m so sore today I can barely move. Why? Because I decided to take a hike on Mt. Charleston yesterday, but didn’t really know what to expect until I got there since I’d never hiked there before.

Now in a lot of ways a hike is a hike—you’re basically walking around in nature somewhere. What varies is the weather, the scenery---and the degree of difficulty. The sign at the beginning of the trailhead labeled my excursion “strenuous.”
“OK, I’m good with that,” I thought. “This will be some great exercise.”


But first let me tell you that the drive to get there is amazing. Once you get off the freeway (the entire trip is only 30 minutes from the house) the elevation increases about 5000’ over the next 15 minutes. None of that exhausting hairpin turn, constantly-slamming-on-the-brakes stuff here—you pretty much just gun it straight up the side of the mountain.

Because of the surreal swiftness of the journey you experience a different ecosystem every 5 minutes. First you’re in the blah-looking Vegas desert; soon the vegetation seems greater than the bare ground; then—what’s that ahead? Trees?—you round a curve and are surrounded by forests of fir and pine. Remarkable.

Back to the hike. I immediately noticed patches of snow here and there in the woods. Then came a snow-covered section of the path. Very cool, I thought. I even stopped to take a photo of it. Five minutes later the “path” is completely covered with frozen precipitation. Both snow and ice.

H-m-m-m----what to do? I’m there; I’m walking on it OK—what the hell, keep going.

Let me tell you, “strenuous” + snow & ice = “treacherous.” Don’t get me wrong, I was having a blast, but this hike involved an elevation gain of 3000’. Taking on that angle of ascent plus having to focus on every single step along the way added an unanticipated element of “being in the now.”

Plus I was totally alone out there. I heard a bird now and then but never saw one. If there was no breeze the only sound anywhere was the crunching of my steps and the heaviness of my breathing (it took a while to adjust to the thin air). There’s something about the realization “if something happens to me, I’m screwed” that ratchets up the old concentration.

But what probably sounds like a lot of negatives actually made the hike so special. After deciding to proceed, after I got my breathing under control, after my body quit complaining, my mind quieted and I just----hiked.

The sound of the wind in the fir trees; the total quiet and stillness as I sat looking at the perfection of a vast canyon and the untold miles beyond; changes in elevation and lighting that made what I’d seen only minutes before look completely different; above all the peace, the peace.

On the way back down I broke my concentration once to congratulate myself on a job well done. At that exact moment I slipped and busted my ass—what a great lesson that my ego had no business on this hike. Reinforcement came a little later when I thought for a moment about that incident and almost fell again!

I’m paying a price today but the pain is definitely worth the gain. Perhaps the best way to find yourself is to first lose yourself.