Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Purpose of Purpose

“The Purpose-Driven Life”, “The Power of Purpose”, “Life on Purpose”, “Find Your Purpose”, “In Pursuit of Purpose”, “Living on Purpose”. As I survey the pages of Amazon.com, it’s clear that many readers crave – and many authors wish to provide – a sense of purpose in life. Even Eckhart Tolle, one of my favorite authors, titled one of his books, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. One of my favorite bloggers, Steve Pavlina, has an exercise (which I would highly recommend) titled How to Discover Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes. Many personal development experts down through the ages would agree that having a clear purpose in life is the key to true success.

And yet other teachers, especially those more familiar with Eastern traditions, have much more cautious feelings about our drive to find “purpose”. In fact, in Taoism and Zen, nature is described as “purposeless”, and it is meant as a complement – a state we should imitate.  Alan Watts, one of the great teachers of a few decades ago, believed that life was like music. There is no finish-line type of goal in music. Musicians don’t get higher ratings for reaching the end of the piece faster. When you dance, your purpose isn’t to arrive at a specific location on the floor. When you play, you aren’t trying to “get something out” of it – and if you are, it isn’t really play.

In the midst of the present moment we find the pure beauty of being. Even a pebble or a blade of grass is a wonderful thing. The pleasure of filling our lungs with air – the simple feeling of our body being alive- simply to BE is purpose enough for anyone. But the ego is rarely content with that. We feel that we must have some heroic purpose. We want to change the world (and receive the credit for changing it).  And in desperately looking around for some divine purpose, we overlook all the beauty of the present moment, and the joy of simply BEING. We ignore the mysterious and wonderful gift of existence and look instead for something more gratifying to the ego.

Often, our quest for “purpose” may simply be a deep-seated fear and discontent with who we really are. Our search for “meaning” may represent a dissatisfaction with the reality of existence in the NOW, the only place where the essence of Being is to be found. Under these circumstances, to rest in the contentment of purposelessness is a wonderful thing. Neale Donald Walsch wrote a book titled “What God Wants”. After several chapters of building up to the question, we finally arrive at the title chapter… which is blank. Walsch’s point is that God doesn’t want or need anything from us. We are loved freely and unconditionally, and it is enough for God that we simply ARE.  To be consumed with fear that we are wasting our life and not fulfilling our divine mandate is to misunderstand God’s gift to us.

So much for the dangers of an ego-based “purpose”. But perhaps there is more to living life with purpose than simply being discontent with ourselves. We are each unique. No other being experiences life exactly as you do. If we fully and completely accept this gift of existence, then we DO discover a purpose and meaning in our life. God is found right in the middle of the here and now. That is where we meet divine grace and purpose. And if we put up no resistance and allow grace to flow through us, then purpose flows into our lives. Not a selfish need to be special, but a delicious joy in being ourselves.

The point of exercises like Steve Pavlina’s that help us discover our “purpose” is this – that we discover who we really ARE. Not what someone else wants us to be. Not as we wish we were instead. Not some fantasy that depreciates reality, but a whole-hearted acceptance of our unique being. Our purpose is to BE. To be ourselves as we were created. Not to be someone else. If we strip away all the layers of our expectations, we will be ready for our true divine purpose to flow through us.

We may find ourselves manifesting amazing creative projects. Or we may find ourselves sitting alone in a quiet room. Or we may do both. It’s interesting that the two major figures of the Bible – Moses in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament – spent decades in quiet obscurity before their periods of activity and “accomplishment”. But Jesus was fulfilling his purpose every bit as much living quietly in a small village as he later was preaching to multitudes. None of Moses’ years of the simple shepherd’s life in Midian were wasted ones.

And so my conclusion is that life SHOULD be filled with purpose. Your purpose is to really BE yourself, completely and totally, right here and right now. All the books, exercises and programs are simply to clear away the junk that hides you from yourself, and separates you from the divine purpose that is hiding in plain view, right in front of your eyes.

Or you can find a more ego-based idea of purpose articulated by Agent Smith in the clip below:

The UltraMind Solution

The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First by Mark Hyman MD is a book that I had included on my earlier list of gift suggestions for the health – conscious (The Gift of Health). The book piqued my interest because I have several friends and family members who struggle with such issues as depression, anxiety and insomnia, but who have had poor results with orthodox medicine and are looking for alternatives.

The premise of the book is simple – the brain is a part of the body, and problems in the brain are the result of problems in overall health. By using the latest in science and holistic medicine, Dr. Hyman gives you a program for finding your body/mind problems and fixing them with a total program of mental and physical health.

You can hop on over to Dr. Hyman’s website to find a complete down-loadable set of diagnostic tests that will help you decide which areas of body/brain nutrition are your weak areas. Then the program in Hyman’s book will give you the steps to follow to correct the problems, including balancing nutrition and hormone levels, detoxifying , fixing digestive problems, increasing energy levels and working on calming the mind directly. These suggestions are packaged into a six week program.

Some of his diet suggestions are radical, but some of the results reported are nothing short of miraculous. If you are struggling with mental issues and are strongly motivated to try  a solution that is guaranteed to make you feel better in every way, this is an excellent program.

Dr. Hyman’s website is found at www.ultramind.com. Below is one of a large collection of videos Dr. Hyman has on Youtube explaining the principles of his program. Dr. Hyman is the kind of author who doesn’t stop at just a book, but puts out videos, guides, nutrition supplements and everything but the kitchen sink. The good news is that a lot of his information on the site and on Youtube is free. At the very least, you can get a good idea of what he’s all about before you plop down your money for his book. But when you’re ready to buy, we’d love it if you’d use our link above, so your purchase can help support our site. In any case, check out his materials and see if this is the kind of program that appeals to you.

The Five Love Languages

Over the holidays I finished The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman. I had previously read his Love as a Way of Life. Like the previous book, The Five Love Languages started in a rather quiet, understated way and gradually grew on me.


As with many of the books I review, I was listening to this one in audio format, and Chapman’s Midwestern accent initially got on my nerves. But his gentle sincerity began to come through as he got down to business and the book turned out to be very readable (or listenable as the case may be).

The thesis of the book is simple: Each of us has a preferred “love language” – something that most clearly says “I love you” to us. Chapman identifies five of these primary languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Each of these can have various “sub-dialects”. The problem comes when partners don’t know the other’s primary love language.

For example, if you show your love to your wife by giving her thoughtful gifts, but her primary love language is actually quality time – she will come to feel unloved, in spite of your attempt to communicate love to her using a different language. If she gives you words of affirmation, but your primary language is physical touch, or acts of service, you will tend to feel emotionally empty.

Often we try to communicate our love to our partners in our OWN preferred love-language, or in the languages our parents used with each other. But these may not be our partner’s love languages at all. Chapman leads you through questions and exercises to figure out what your primary love language is, and what your partner’s primary love language is. Few people, once they KNOW their partner’s love language, fail to speak it.

Chapman also emphasizes that once the brief period of intense attraction (usually lasting about two years) is over – love is a conscious choice. You can choose to speak love in your partner’s language – even if you don’t particularly LIKE your partner at this stage of your relationship. And these conscious choices WILL fill up your emotional bank as a couple and make your life much happier.

This is a deservedly popular book, and I would highly recommend it for anyone who feels their relationship is less than it could be (which includes most of us).

Below is a short intro to the book by Dr. Chapman.

An Easy, Inexpensive and Romantic Gift Idea

I had gotten my wife a Christmas gift earlier in the month, but I still thought I needed something more personal.  Here’s the idea I came up with, that I would like to share with any of you last-minute gift givers. It’s easy, inexpensive, personal and, if you want, romantic.

Here’s what you do.

Buy a small, colorful journal or notebook. Write your significant other’s name in front. Then write a short poem or note in the notebook. I’m pretty quick with poetry, so I wrote a quick sonnet. But you can do free verse or just a heartfelt note. Explain that on special occasions (or no occasion at all) you will write additional notes or poems in the notebook, so that gradually your sweetheart will have a whole book full of your personal thoughts to read over whenever they want.

As a variation, you can suggest that you trade the book back and forth. You write a note or poem and leave the book for your sweetheart, who then writes a note or poem and gives it back.

I really like the idea because my wife and I write wonderful things in our cards to each other, but I’d have a really hard time finding all of them. A lot of wonderful notes and poems that we’ve written over the years may well be lost. This way they’re all in one place.

Did you come up with a really good gift idea this year? Let us know about it.

Meditations for Manifesting

Continuing on the theme of my own personal spiritual practices, let me introduce an audio CD by Wayne Dyer, Meditations for Manifesting. The CD contains a simpl explanation of a morning and evening meditation using vocal sound. The intent of the mediation is manifestation – ie causing the things you want and need to appear in your life.

The major portion of the CD is a live walk-through of the morning and evening meditation. The intent is that you follow along with Dr. Dyer as he performs each of these meditations for about 15 minutes. You can continue to use the CD in this way – following along with Wayne every morning and evening, or, once you get the hang of it, you can simply use the same method on your own.

First of all, let me say that this CD was very helpful to me during a time when I had to make a difficult decision regarding changing jobs. I needed to quit my job when I basically had nothing to turn to in it’s place – while supporting a family. But Dr. Dyers books and this CD gave me the courage to strike out into the unknown. And indeed, a better situation was waiting for me when I did.

I found the program very transformational even aside from it’s potential to manifest good things in your life. After 15 minutes of the morning sound meditation, I felt completely lifted above the physical world. I was more spiritually grounded for the entire day.

I should warn that some people who were great fans of Dr. Dyer found this CD a bit of anomaly. They found his voice distracting, or were hoping for more lecture content instead of the long sections of “meditate with Wayne”. The CD is short on explanation and long on demonstration.  As for myself, it was just what I needed. It was quite unlike any meditation I had done previously and I don’t think I would have persisted with it without the CD to help me.

So if you are interested in manifesting – if, for example, you are a fan of The Secret, and want to do some serious work with it – this CD can be a very helpful product. I’ve just begun using it again recently and hope to have interesting things to report.

Centering Prayer – Christian Meditation

thomas_keatingSomeone recently asked me about my spiritual practices. I practice several forms of prayer and meditation, but one of my favorites is “centering prayer”. Although called “prayer”, centering prayer does not involve speaking at all. There is no petitioning or list of requests. It is closer to what most people would think of as “meditation”.

It is, in fact, very similar to many eastern forms of meditation, although it was actually derived from a long history of Christian mystical tradition – largely forgotten and neglected. The fact is that mystics of all religions tend to encounter many of the same inner experiences. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton discovered that he was able to share many experiences with his Buddhist friends regarding meditation and contemplation.

Most modern Christians aren’t familiar with what “contemplation” means in the ancient Christian mystical texts. It does not mean simply “thinking” about spiritual topics. Contemplation is a special spiritual state in which the soul opens itself to union with God.

Father Thomas Keating is the one largely responsible for reviving the practice of centering prayer in recent years.

There are a number of resources online that can teach you centering prayer, but here is a brief outline of how to begin.

First, you will select a word that will be used as a focus of the prayer, to represent your intention to approach God. Popular choices include “God”, “Jesus”, “Peace”, “Abba”, “Love”, “Being” etc. Any word that is meaningful to you will do, and you can change your word if you need to, but it helps to settle down on a single word, as soon as you can in your prayer practice, as your mind will learn to associate the word you choose with the state of contemplative prayer.

Once you select the word, you close your eyes, focus on feeling peace and love toward God, and begin your prayer by directing your attention to your chosen word. When you notice that your thoughts have drifted off, you gently return your focus to the chosen word.

It’s important to understand that you don’t repeat the word over and over. It is not a mantra.. It is simply a symbol of your intention to approach God. You return your focus to it only when you notice that your attention is wandering. And it is important to be gentle with yourself. Do not beat yourself up when you find that your attention has wandered. Gently return your focus to your chosen word, and once your attention is centered, let the word fade into silence and open yourself to that silence.

It’s not necessary to assume any particular physical posture for centering prayer. Most people prefer to pray in a seated position. It’s probably better not to attempt centering prayer while lying down, as it will be too easy to fall asleep.

Try to work up to at least 20 minutes of prayer, and devote the last two minutes to simply resting in silence, slowly coming back to your normal state of mind, but trying to bring the silence with you into your waking life.

Below is a short video introduction to centering pray from Father Thomas Keating, the most well-known modern instructor in the practice.

The China Study

chinastudyThe China Study – a book by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II – will help you understand like no other book the root cause of most of the chronic disease in America. To come straight to the point, that root cause is … eating too many animal products.

The book will be of great interest to vegetarians, vegans, and those who simply want to cut back on the meat and animal products in their diet. And if you are trying to adopt such a lifestyle and are getting opposition – this book is your best friend.

While there is a chapter devoted to incorporating this insight into your diet and lifestyle, what the book focuses on is the science. And it does it with a vengeance. The largest part of the book is devoted to the scientific evidence that diets high in animal products are responsible for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, auto-immune diseases, and a host of other chronic maladies.

Exhibit ‘A’ in the book is the “China Study” of the title. This study – the largest of its kind by far – compared the health people in China who had very similar genetic and environmental backgrounds, but who differed in diet. Some had adopted a more western, animal-based diet and some had retained the traditional Chinese diet – mostly plant based. The differences in health were remarkable, particularly because in the homogeneous culture of China, genetic and other factors were more easily ruled out.

The data from this study was combined with cross-cultural studies and hundreds of other papers and research efforts to paint a total picture that is completely convincing. I found myself not only educated – but angry. So many of the problems both I and my family have suffered with simply don’t exist in cultures that feature a more plant-based diet.

The latter part of the book is even more eye-opening. Dr. Campbell narrates his view of the history of government and medical policy on eating. As a part of several important committees and groups, Dr. Campbell was in a front-row position to see them hijacked again and again by the food and drug industry. I am left with a rather low opinion of both organized medicine and government-sponsored “expertise” .

If you want powerful evidence to convince yourself or someone else that a plant-centered diet is a healthier way to live, this is the book for you.

Should You Get a Flu Vaccination?

vaccineToday at work I received yet another reminder that free flu shots are available. I won’t be getting one. For several reasons. First of all, let me just state up-front that I’m pathologically terrified of needles and only submit to them if there are serious health reasons. Some of you may decide that this irrational fear is the basis of all my other rationalizations. Perhaps you’re right. I still won’t be getting one.

For another thing, I’ve not had a flu for… well… decades. I have an unusual resistance to flu, and have been able to fight off every single one of them at the first sign of symptoms, using a method I described in Self-Healing from Colds and Flu. So, being reasonably good health, I consider the potential benefits rather slight in my case.

But – and here’s where we get controversial – I have some misgivings about a lot of vaccinations and flu shots in particular. I understand the basic science behind them. I’m willing to bet that they have contributed significantly to the eradication of some diseases. But I’m also aware that there is a lot of money in vaccinations, and that large amounts of money have the potential to corrupt both politics and also science.

That politicians can be corrupted is hardly news. The pharmaceutical industry is one of the largest political contributors, funding both sides of the most recent election at a level of about $30 million. More upsetting is the realization that science and scientists – who have the image at least of being more sticklers for the truth – can also be bought. Just as a quick example, the chapters in Campbell’s book The China Study on the manipulation of science by the food industry were very disturbing.

With that in mind, I look at the controversy over thimerosal, the mercury-based vaccine preservative manufactured by Eli Lilly and Company and used in nearly all flu vaccines. Thimerosal clearly has damaging effects on cell cultures in the lab, and there have been correlations between increases of autism in children and the increased exposure of children to thimerosal in vaccines. But studies commissioned by high-level agencies as the CDC found the evidence of harm “inconclusive”. This in spite of the substance being banned in a number of countries, and even here in my home state of California for children under three and pregnant women.

I’m not sure why California thinks mercury is ok for me but not for children. Perhaps I’m too far gone. But getting back to the general point, do I trust the CDC and federal agencies? Quite frankly – no. Perhaps thimerosal is perfectly safe. But if it isn’t, I really don’t trust a government that accepts $30 million from the pharmaceutical industries to be conservative about telling me. This is the same government who’s Food and Drug Administration resisted for years allowing stevia to be sold as a sweetener, for pete’s sake.

And thimerosal isn’t the only problem that vaccine critics have with vaccines. For one thing, even doing a controlled study on vaccine effectiveness is difficult and controversial. After all, you have to give a control group a placebo vaccine that won’t work and then expose them to the disease. There ARE known side-effects and vaccine-related deaths. You do have to sign a disclaimer when getting vaccinations for yourself and your children after all.

So I can see both sides of this argument. I believe the scientific principle of vaccination is fundamentally correct – but I also believe science can be corrupted. I get particularly worried when talk starts to emerge of forcing people to receive controversial vaccines. One doctor who’s site I read on this topic contented that refusing any vaccine was unethical, and perhaps should be illegal.

What are your thoughts? Are people who refuse vaccines criminals, nuts, or are they on to something?

Eat, Pray, Love

gilbert.jpgI just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. I had mentioned it earlier on my Give the Gift of Enlightenment post as an excellent idea for a gift for spiritual seekers. My reading of it has only enhanced my enthusiasm. It is an profound, uplifting and touching book.

I’m generally not a fan of biography and memoir. What makes this one an exception is that the writing is so witty and fun to read. I was delighted with her language, her quotations, her stories and examples. The quality of the writing carried me through.

The book is a record of a year-long spiritual odyssey taken by Gilbert to re-build her life after a catastrophic divorce and equally catastrophic affair. She divides the time equally between Italy, India and Indonesia (Bali specifically). In Italy, she focuses on pleasure (partucularly the pleasure of eating), and learning to allow herself to experience enjoyment.

In India, the focus is spiritual (as one might expect). In Bali – where she has been invited to visit a Balanese medicine man, the focus is on balancing material pleasures with spiritual insights, and also becomes a place for the renewal of her romantic interests.

I have to admit that the sexuality discussions are a bit beyond my usual preference, but there were only a few passages where the sharing was a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately, the honesty she uses in the sexuality topic is very welcome when applied to illuminating the spiritual and emotional ups and downs of the story.

Some people, based on the reviews, really dislike the book, because they really dislike the self-absorbsion and focus of Gilbert’s memoir. But as a generally inward-focused person myself, I can relate. Gilbert shows you who she IS, not who you WANT her to be.

After a few days listening to the audio version, I went and checked out the book from the library, simply because I wanted to copy down some of the superb quotes she manages to find to illustrate the narrative. Also, if you are interested in the audio version, you’ll be pleased to find that Gilbert reads her own book, which in her case is a significant asset. She has a wonderful reading voice that adds to the enjoyment.

So I stand by my original recommendation. It’s a wonderful book and any spiritual seeker should enjoy it tremendously. If you are unfamiliar with Gilbert, let me recommend listening to her talk at the Ted talks (which I’ve liked below). In fact, the talk below is what inspired me to read her book. Enjoy.

Organizing Gift-Giving in a Large Family

presents3Let me share a system we developed this year for organizing gift giving in our family. This system was invented for two reasons:

1. All my children are at an age at which GIVING presents is as much fun as receiving them.

2. Economics are difficult this year. Both myself and my children are operating on very small budgets. Some of the kids can’t find work and others have had their hours cut back.

Last year present-buying was a bit chaotic.  I was running around at the last minute trying to “balance” all the gift-buying. The kids were having trouble getting gifts for everyone on limited budgets. A few gifts were almost duplicated. So here’s the system I came up with:

Those of us who have any money this year will pool all the money together. I turned this over to one of my more organized children with a bank account.

The children will meet together, divide this money up evenly and order or buy gifts for everyone.  They will have a brief series of meetings to decide on everyone’s gift. Naturally, each person is excluded from the meeting where their gift is being discussed.

The Organizer arranges purchases, recruiting others for driving and shopping as necessary. Our Organizer signed up for a free trial of Amazon Prime (which I would highly recommend trying out). For the whole month, she can order Amazon gifts with free two-day shipping and no minimums! We can cancel after a month if we like and pay nothing.

All the gifts to each other will be “from everyone”.

I buy the gift for the Organizer myself. That way she doesn’t have to buy her own.

The advantages of this system for us are many. First of all, everyone gets to participate in gift GIVING. Those who can’t contribute money contribute time, energy and organization. Secondly, everyone can receive nicer (though fewer) gifts.  Each person trying to buy gifts for a large family with very little money results in frustration and lots of very inexpensive gifts.  Thirdly, a lot of the burden is unloaded from my wife and I. We don’t have to run around shopping, buying and wrapping (unless we WANT to). The children do all that as their contribution to the presents. And yet we (and everyone) have the fun of helping decide on the gifts, and the fun of watching them being unwrapped knowing what they contain – being in on the secret. Forth – there’s is no danger of duplicating gifts. The Organizer sees to that.

So there’s our new system. Please share your own ideas and systems for gift-giving in the comments.

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