Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Zhangjiagang Wisdom Studies Declaration (2013)




On the 29th of November 2013, a group of Chinese Wisdom Researchers met for two days during the fifth session of the Chinese Wisdom Studies Symposium and the third session of the Chinese Scientific Thinking Symposium, held in the city of Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu province. After reviewing the international and domestic development of Wisdom Studies over the last decade, the participants reached a fundamental consensus. The consensus is hereby published as the ‘Zhangjiagang Wisdom Studies Declaration.’

In the 21st century, with the ever deepening process of globalisation and the development of information technology, human society is facing new and challenging problems. Due to the unprecedented complexity of these problems, a superior (and outstanding) wisdom is required. However, as the development of information is at its height, knowledge can be retrieved at anytime. The rapid development of science and technology has led to unprecedented material growth, and this inturn has led to an accelerated rate of development of education in modern society. There is now an urgent need to develop the subject of Wisdom Studies so that society can benefit fully from its presence.

In recent years, knowledgeable people, both inside China and abroad, have started paying attention to this issue, and have begun to promote awareness of the emerging academic discipline of Wisdom Studies. In the United States, first there was the famous Psychologist Robert J. Steinberg who led a group of scholars in a spontaneous research programme in Wisdom Studies. Following this, there was the development of Wisdom Studies carried out at the University of Chicago. In Europe there is the ‘Berlin Wisdom Paradigm’ which has a group of Wisdom Study researchers. In China during the last 50 years of the 20th century there was the famous educator Luo Jia Lun who considered the relation between wisdom, learning, and knowledge. He produced a penetrating analysis of the three inter-related subjects.

The famous scientist named Qian Xue Sen, (as far back as the mid-1990’s), proposed a ‘Great Compendium of Wisdom Studies’ school of thought. In the 21st century, the famous educator Gu Ming Yuan, the President of the Chinese Association of Education, developed the academic subject of Wisdom Studies. Within China there has been the development of the Chinese Wisdom Project Research Council, together with the emergence of the International Chinese Wisdom Society in Hong Kong, as well as the Zhangjiagang City Wisdom Studies Project, and other similar academic institutes. As a consequence there have been a number of important academic conferences held, and many pioneering papers published on the subjects of wisdom, learning, and knowledge, which has led to the development of a practical curriculum designed specifically for Wisdom Studies. The academic brothers Zhang Qing Lin and Zhang Qing Song are credited with designing and implementing the first ‘Learning Wisdom in College’ courses, which have achieved many important results.

However, whether in China or the United States of America and despite the fact that leaders in both countries clearly advocate the development of wise thinking amongst the people, it has to be acknowledged that Wisdom Studies (and the ability to ‘think’ wisely) is an acquired skill, and that there must be appropriate planning if it is to be made socially acceptable and relevant to the masses. In this regard, Wisdom Studies remains in its initial stage of development. However, the fact that there are now ‘Wisdom Cities’, ‘Wisdom Tourism’, and ‘Wisdom Study Schools’ serves to illustrate the success of the project, and the willingness of people to embrace wisdom. In fact intelligence is the facility people use when choosing their words and actions – and it can be said that Wisdom Studies encourages the development of a clearer (and superior) thinking process. Wise thinking can be used to tackle the most difficult of problems with an innovation that is capable of producing new inventions. Amongst the workers, the use of wise thought is the foundation of the generation of all productive forces.

In order to promote and develop Wisdom Studies further, it is agreed that this ‘Zhangjiagang Wisdom Studies Declaration’ is a method designed to arouse the attention of humanity to its cause and application. This statement also reaffirms the commitment of Wisdom Studies Researchers already engaged in the task of developing the subject with a relentless pursuit of the highest level of spiritual (i.e. psychological) developmental knowledge and wisdom, that is possible to attain through the cultivation of human civilisation. We hereby collectively support the ‘Zhangjiagang Wisdom Studies Declaration’, and agree to the establishment of an ‘International Wisdom Day Plan of Action.’ We call upon the international community to support the call for the establishment of an ‘International Wisdom Day’ in a variety of ways. We are convinced that the establishment of an ‘International Wisdom Day’ through various activities and methods will create the conditions for the rapid development of the Wisdom Studies research programme, and in so doing facilitate the development of human intelligence to a higher level. This will make the 21st century the century of the development of true wisdom, which will see the raising of the level of human consciousness across the globe!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

the problem with pom poms

While I don't celebrate Christmas, it would appear that it is a major holiday for the mad kitten. She is literally buried in Christmas gifts. From the stuffed stocking with the highly desired pillow with the gold bow, to the 7 lb. bag of (shhh it's just diet food) treats she is mad for, to the bubbling Buddha fountain she can sip from to the piece de la resistance - the scratching post with the pom pom on top.

I think this may be the toy that finally causes her to snap and call for a pickup from her alien friends.



You see, the pom pom post is a gift from the pizza place up the street. This is no sisal wrapped toy, but a plush velvety kind of fabric covered post that stands upright and proud on a lovely cushioned base and is crowned by a purple pom pom that rests on a silver spring. I thought she was going to hyperventilate and pass out when she saw it. What is funny is normally it takes her a few minutes to warm up to a larger toy, but this run she was on top of the second I set it down. The first thing she grabbed at was the pom pom, which had been merrily swaying back and forth when I held the post in my arms.

She grabbed it and it stopped moving. She let go and tensed, but alas! The pom pom settled into an aloof rest. She grabbed it again, but still no life. Frustrated she turned to investigate the post and base. That was all well and good until she started scratching the post, and the pom pom began to dance around on its spring. She grabbed it, and it stopped. She let it go and it sat there. Cautiously, she crouched down like a sphinx and scratched meditatively on the post while keeping her eyes glued to the pom pom that danced away with each pull. She is madly frustrated and can't figure out how to keep the pom pom dancing without scratching. If she is scratching, she can't grab it. If she stops scratching, the pom pom goes still and that is just no fun.
She alternates between staring and scratching, before retreating for a snack and a sip under the Buddha's gaze.

I have to admit, this is the first year that Christmas - the holiday (not to be confused with 'Christmas - The Movie) really got under my skin. Normally, I can get into the spirit, even though it's not a holiday I have reason to celebrate by faith. And I also normally get into the spirit of the 'let's bitch about commercialism' etc. and so forth - but it was very different this year. I found it horrific.

A lot of it stemmed from watching all the stress and anger the "holiday season" causes. The endless greedy demands and expectations, the lack of interest in anything but yourself and how you come off - and that goes for the surge in charity acts too. I think - a lot of the intensity of my feelings comes from my accident and the aftermath - it has really hit home to me how as a global culture, we are so divorced from valuing human life for its potential and presence, and instead have become masters at putting a value holder in place of actually showing up for life. Everything has become potential collateral damage.

How do you find your way back to valuing life? It's become hard to even find that when you suffer loss as so many are so self-absorbed grief is only understood through personal pain, not in compassionate suffering.

 The new cult of illness and mystical recovery continues to disturb me because I feel like it is a misguided attempt to become reconnected to living, only without having to suffer for it.

Ehhhhhhhh....

Life can present so many puzzles. Like a pom pom on a wire, how do you keep something moving when it requires you to do something else that prevents you from fully engaging with the object of your desire? Or maybe, the message is that a large part of life is found in longing for the unattainable, but always striving towards it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ice, ice baby - money, madness and mad kittens

I am sitting here, the Mad Kitten is laying on my foot, holding my ankle with her claws just so and her head is stuffed up my pants leg. She is purring. When I shift, she extends her claws just the smallest bit to let me know that is not acceptable. It is our holiday tableaux. I would make it my Christmas card if I did such things.

It would appear the Pope is a communist. Or at least a Marxist, if his critics are believed. Francis has impressed me from the beginning with his words and actions. His recent public questioning of bonuses and salaries has brought about the denouncement of Marxism. I love him for his response that he wasn't but had known quite a few and they had been wonderful people.



The point that he is making is that there is a point when the reward ceases to have value and becomes just greed. Money is a curious thing. By itself it has no value, but currency is meant to represent the value of something else that cannot easily be toted around. Is money a necessity? Of course, even if you take a vow of poverty and refuse payment there will be someone 13 feet behind them with a small bag of coins to make the payment. Is there such a thing as too much money? Yes. Hard to believe isn't it? But there does come a time when money loses its value because it loses its usefulness. There is only so much rainy day security that you can have - money won't prevent death, illness or injury - while money can make care and recovery easier, there is no amount that can restore a human life, even if only partially taken.

That said, did you know that the human life is valued at $200,000? Give of take some inflation adjustments, in America this is the base amount assigned to every life. This is how we calculate costs when reviewing what highway projects and repair projects to undertake, as well as any other endeavor that carries the risk. You see, you don't have to do a 200 million dollar bridge repair if you have have 1.6 million to cover the average loss of human life or damage that will statistically happen over 10 years if the bridge is left untouched. When you run through the human slush fund, then you have to do the other repair work. Until then - go build a stadium.

The problem with capitalism and a free economy only lies with the resistance of its proponents to honestly state what they consider a commodity. Under these systems, a human life is a commodity that has a cash valuation in everything. The twisted faux capitalistic market we prance around where everyone tries to fund social welfare programs for no other reason that "life is cherished" and for reasons of "social responsibility," is why the economy is screwed up. A free market economy requires that all life have a monetary value placed on it, money is the placeholder for life - end of story.

The poor Pope makes the common mistake of blaming capitalism for not being something else.
But that's like kicking a dog because it should have been a platypus. The thing is, no society can exist with just one type of economy. Ask any 8 year old what the phrase "putting all your eggs in one basket" means and you can save yourself the trouble of
reading volumes on economic theory. Each part of society requires a separate micro
economy and then there must be a shared currency. Here's the problem - that currency must
be backed by something that holds the same level of value across all the micro-economies.
This is why a economy that values gold will never be compatible, or successful partners, with one that values frugality (the traditional definition of that word).

The other thing I watch with interest is the bitcoin, but that is a whole other story.

In short, the Pope is not a Marxist, its just that he is the leader of a marginalized society with an incompatible economic model and is trying to sway a society with a majority capitalistic one. But economic currencies also represent our core values - think about it.

I successfully swapped out the kitty crack with diet treats and the Mad Kitten is becoming
lighter, happier and more of a pain. She no longer has to lean against a wall to clean herself and no longer wheezes which is a relief. Of course, I have to suspend the diet food from a coat hook because she is just mad for it.

heh...

just mad for it

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Eating apples in a flying chair

Vision is a tricky thing. We don't see what is really there, our brains just sort of "ya-ya" us and fill in the details from experiential memories whether or not they match the reality of the present. This is why it can be so hard for witnesses to agree on details, siblings to remember the same family history, or to recognize someone we have only met once or twice. This problem with vision can also extend to how we imagine we appear to others.

It's too cold to ride the eZip very far. Even though I have added insulation to the batteries, the cold lowers the range so much that most days I have to take the bus. Not because the eZip couldn't handle the short trip on most days, but because the 2 hours it would have to sit in the cold between coming and going would mean going would turn into pushing. So I am taking the time to get ready for the next round of modifications and to also document what I am doing.

Just about everyone who buys one of these things winds up making changes. Before I bought mine I watched endless videos of what other people had done to theirs. Since I have a slight different angle to my modifications (range is god, not speed), I want to post my two cents as well. Last Sunday, it was overcast but warm enough for me to do my grocery shopping on it so I took pictures and made a small video.

Then I watched it.

And realized why so few of the videos I had seen showed an adult riding the eZip. I could barely stop laughing after seeing what I looked like and totally understood why the kids have nicknamed it "the flying chair." You see, in my mind's eye - I looked much cooler. Naturally, I then hunted around for the proper sound effect and voila!

The Flying Chair



A large part of the meditative practices of mindfulness and compassion involve developing the willingness to see things as they really are, not as we wish them to be.

It is easier to get an understanding of this with a very basic mindfulness exercise of practicing mentally acknowledging everything you see on your way to work, school or a store without passing judgment on it. You can say to yourself "There is the tree on the corner" but not "There is the beautiful tree."

The goal of the practice is to reduce your minds ability to cover vision with experience and encourage you to be present in the moment. Another easy way to practice is to set an interval timer that rings a bell or tone every 3 seconds for 3 minutes. Calm your breathing and every time the bell rings, shift your focus to something new and name it to yourself.

Developing the ability to practice compassion without projection is much harder. It can be difficult to truly desire freedom from suffering without your mind quickly filling in what that would look like. Or to practice loving-kindness without a limited definition of what love and kindness will appear as. It is one of the reasons that the four lessons of Liao Fan has been one of the most widely read books in the Eastern world, and least known in the West. Liao Fan's lessons start by outlining what we commonly expect with compassion, that somewhere it is connected to either a personal reward or retribution. As the lessons progress, the explanation is explored that the only type of compassion is that which is uncertain of its own act. This book has been popular in the East for centuries, not because they are more spiritually advanced or enlightened then the West, simply because they have been around longer than most Western societies.

What I hear, as I travel through my days, is a deeper questioning of the nature of compassion from people of a Western descent. We don't have a history with much teaching on it; we are just starting our explanation of it.

In America, perhaps the youngest of all Western societies, we are just tentatively finding our ability to stand on our own without the infants need for unconditional love and support. That need is solely person centric and excludes anyone else; until you reach it in its highest form when it excludes all individuality and separation.

In many of the economically marginalized communities in the US there is an informal index used to gauge if something is truly meant to benefit them, or if it is a vision of kindness and compassion wearing some very foggy glasses and incapable of seeing itself in the mirror. I was reminded of this the other day during a nutrition discussion. Fruits and vegetables came up and different ways of trying to afford them in your diet. This led to the mention of the farmer's market, which oddly enough I had just had someone talk to me about at another recent event.

The farmer's markets here, as in many other places, issue tokens or allow for food stamps to be used for purchases. Very few of the people who need food assistance take advantage of this. Why? It boils down to the apple index. As one woman put it,"If I go to the Farmer's market I will pay $3 for a lb. of apples, that's about 3 apples. They may be organic and locally grown, but that's a dollar an apple. I can get a 5 lb. bag for 99 cents at Save-a-lot. Maybe they aren't as good for me but I get to eat and apple or 2 a day."

Farmer's Markets work best when they know what they are. A wonderful way to support local farmers and artisans. Rather than try to hybridize them into food vehicles for the poor and reveal a gross misunderstanding of poverty and the role of food in culture - let them find a venue to provide other support. It doesn't take much. One of the most successful ones (in regards to benefiting all strata's of society) simply included a free area to sit and eat and hang out with your kids whether you had purchased anything or not.

Creating instances of community around what we already share goes much farther toward creating compassion than constantly trying to serve or negate differences. Instead of trying too hard to be everything, simply be what you are in that instance. You will be surprised at the benefit to others that appears.

As one very famous man said, "the poor you will always have." As another commented, "Save one dish and I will wait to teach the dhamma until the last farmer has set right his fields and can come share with us, who are provided for, without causing harm in his life."



Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pulling a Barbara Cartland

I had an idea. Actually, I had two and neither of them is really rock solid, but both of them kind of encapsulate the oddities in my life - of which I would be the largest. The first one had to do with ergonomics.


Depending on weather and other issues, sitting up can be uniquely uncomfortable and tiring. I have tried standing desks, loved them but then didn't like what it did to my lower back as I was standing on concrete. It also gave the Mad Kitten more opportunity to pull my pants down so work consistency suffered. Sunday I was tired and had unavoidable hours of computer work to do so I decided to pull a Barbara Cartland and work from bed. I propped myself up, arranged my version of bonbons and the Mad Kitten enthusiastically plowed face down beside me and snored the day away. The problem with this arrangement began Monday.

We even look alike :)

On Monday I woke up bright and early and went to go work at my deskish area. This was unacceptable to MK and we fought on and off throughout the morning. I have posted a picture of my amply compensated cat a few posts ago so you can imagine what she weighs. Now, add in that she is feral, smart and very determined. She literally would launch herself at me from all sides to bite and claw, taking aim at my neck, arms and legs. A fun time was had by all. By 5am, I moved the laptop back into bed and life calmed down.

The second idea I had also occurred on Sunday, in between naps, bonbons and working I went out to feed Ralph and friends. When I opened the door, Ralph (the amply compensated white pigeon) barreled over to me on a complete mission so determined I thought he was going to crawl up my leg. He stopped at my feet and did his "I'm hungry" dance which confused me. There was still rice left out from earlier in the morning. None of the other pigeons were eating it, Ralph was dancing away and that's when I realized the rice had frozen to the ground. Then the thought came, "I need a whistle." I am saying nothing more about this idea for now but by Spring, I may have an entire flock to do my nefarious bidding that will make Amazon drones look amateur.

Being the good Buddhist that I am, I just ordered a copy of Mother Theresa's letters. I have read about her letters but never pursued getting them because I knew that I wasn't ready to learn from them. Now, I feel like that point has arrived.

To say that she was a complicated woman is to commit an error of understatement. To realize that she did all of her work from the depths of despair after having lost her faith is astounding. We have such a need for the structure and stories that faith gives us to make sense of life that many who suddenly lose faith, don't survive to recover their life. Yet here is someone who lived, worked and sacrificed for years in the name of something that strengthened the belief of so many and powered so many good works and all along she was without any comfort or belief from the very faith that now seeks to canonize her. In many aspects she embodies the reality of working to improve community and also its greatest conundrum.

If the community is the most important embodiment of life, and it is best served by helping the individuals within the community – who helps the helpers and is that something that should happen at all? Part of the role that Mother Theresa embodied was that of someone powered by faith and vows to be self-sacrificing for the good of the whole. It is by the sacrifice for others that others were helped and could create a stronger community. So if this means that one must put others and community before your needs in that role, is there anyone who will ever do that for you and is that a just expectation? And how to you reconcile that she was the most extreme example of what a faith espoused, and that she was an icon of, without believing in it at all?

The one thing that none of the articles ever addresses is to whom Mother Theresa was writing. I am very curious to know the nature of her confidant. Is it, as is sometimes suspected, that the taking on of these types of roles embodies the Buddhist call to let go of all desire, self, ego and attachment? If then – what is the connection that is left to suffering and despair? There are Buddhist teachings on this but they are of a very deep and esoteric level, what they say is something that has a ring of truth but would completely undo its attraction to the Western world.

There aren’t really answers to these questions, and a good teacher will tell you so. To try and find a solid and final answer means you have stopped being willing to learn. Life is full of new situations for which we have no direction. We may have a misremembered past experience to draw from, or maybe we have adopted a belief with a set of rules to tell us how to act, but every second is new. Whoever said that everything has been done before really had no clue to the depth of the experience of living. Nothing has ever been done. From that point the experience of life can begin to look less bleak, and yet more sparse than ever before.

One of the things I am learning about building community is the definitions are not important, infact over defining a community can start the process of it coming apart before it is even in existence. It is in creating the space to voice unanswerable, and sometimes unthinkable, questions that begins to build a sense of belonging, safety and strength. It is in having a place to go where there are examples of people having made it through, not because they did things right or overcame something, but simply because they survived not knowing - that can make it such a supportive well.

I think I mentioned that I had purchased battle ropes for Dragon Mountain. I decided on them because of me. Since there is so much cardiovascular activity I can’t do anymore, I needed to replace it. I had to find a way to get that kind of activity in place in a life where it could no longer be done the normal way. Also, martial arts fairly well is awful for cardio activity. It can have its moments, but there are few styles that maintain a way of teaching that can include it because it is just downright unappealing to people.

I researched and researched and the battle rope won out as the best, low impact, varied form, full body and high cardio activity. So I got one. The Mad Kitten hates it. One day of watching her treatball and her turkey tangle get caught up in the ropes and thrown around and she takes off to hide the moment it uncoils. I love it. The students love it. It wiped out the first 2 hour Kung Fu class in 19 minutes last Saturday.

On Monday night, the 8 year old girl showed up. I knew she would want to try it so I came up with some safer exercises and we played around with it. Then she got tired. Then she got bored. Then she started trying to pull herself along with the rope in a kind of bunny scoot across the carpet. I am not sure what got into all of us but that launched 30 minutes of profound experimentation with clipboards, cutting boards, standing and sitting that resulted in her father being on one end of the room and I being on the other with the ends of the battle rope wrapped around our waists as she sat on my plastic cutting board and pulled herself across the room just laughing and laughing.




Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Deal on Meditation

I should stop right there. Just writing the phrase “Black Friday Deal on Meditation” is so deeply ironic and condemning that it should be the entire blog post. So anyway, here is the Black Friday deal on Meditation – just click here and you can get a deal on my next workshop in Providence. Black Friday brings up many things in this culture, mostly a form of self-defeating judgment and self-flagellation that does little to interrupt the mad consumerism. But is it really all that bad?

Leading up to Thanksgiving and Black Friday you can find any number of articles, structured blogs and sheer rants on how the drive to buy and consume is destroying the meaning of the holiday. It really hasn’t. The meaning of the holiday has just adopted a modern application. Thanksgiving has always been about a celebration of abundance and expression of gratitude for making it through tough times. Every culture has some sort of celebration like it, some have several. They are tied to harvests and season changes. They celebrate family, not because family is so close knit and valued, but because family used to play a much different role in life. Family was the people you worked closest with. We married to form alliances and to strengthen business opportunities and had children to help share the work and to continue growing what we had started. Not until the industrial revolution did our work and family lives become separate and the whole idea of family as a source of love and emotional support evolve.

In America, our industry has transformed from creation to consumerism. There is nothing bad about that. It may not be philosophically ideal or elegant, but it is a reality. We are consumers and we excel in providing and consuming within the service industry. That our holidays are an expression of who we are should come as no surprise. The real surprise is why we are one of the few cultures to deem our present reality so awful and unacceptable – so worthy of punishment. Much of that stems from the bizarre duality that we are trying to live with, that of wanting to be supermen (or women) on all fronts of life rather than just be average people who are good at living their own lives. Each life that is lived should be a matter of choice that is consciously made. If you choose a life of material success, if material goods and money hold a place for what you value in your life – then so be it. Use them in that way. If you have chosen a life in which the value money and materialism is a placeholder for does not include emotions, then recognize it and honor it. Neither side should be trying to force the other into adopting their means of living.

But there is a peculiar thing that happens within us that scientists suspect is hardwired in our DNA when presented with lives that are outside of our own. We believe that whatever group we belong to is the best. Everyone else is wrong and we are right. It is why there is more recognition that working in focus groups to try and solve social problems is a self-defeating approach. Communitarianism will always exceed the most outrageous behavior of elitism because at the core of the community is the shared belief that only your people know what is good and are the best.

Which then brings up the question of how do you evolve culture in a way that community is inclusive of all so that no one is deemed worthy of being trounced on or abused? That is a huge part of what Kwame McKenzie’s work in Social Capital and Mental Health looked at. Social Capital is the concept of how we our worth is perceived as individuals (or marginalized communities) by a broader community. In America, our take on promoting Social Capital for marginalized communities has been to try and normalize differences. In Europe, the pendulum is beginning to swing to recognizing that our differences are important, can’t be normalized but that shared values and activities can increase Social Capital perceptions. In other words, you will never understand my experience as being someone with a mobility issue and most people will, by default, place me in a category of less value (as a candidate for jobs, influence or potential relationship), but if you discover that you and I share the same activity and interest – then suddenly, the balance begins to tip the other way. The emphasis is not on my having a right to do or go the same places you can because society should provide a means for me to minimize my difference, but that I share with you a portion of your life interest and values and society can then create opportunities for us to share what we have in common.
This approach to Social Capital does not deny the power of group identification, but instead incorporates it to increase social welfare. You still get to be the best and part of the best group, but your group begins to get a little bit bigger. Someday, it just might get big enough to include the whole world.

Let’s take Thanksgiving for example. Thanksgiving, in America, is defined by its excess in food and shopping. The crux of the day, the Thanksgiving dinner, is when it is expected that you eat more than you should of foods you probably would avoid any other time in life. It is also a time when there is a high interest in volunteering at soup kitchens etc. because “everyone should have a Thanksgiving dinner.” However, the plan slightly backfires. Rather than being a unifying and equalizing act that joins us together in a larger community, it serves to separate us even more. Ask anyone who is dependent on a community Thanksgiving dinner how they pick the one they go to and you will get an interesting education about how the worth of the dinner is defined. It is not in the food or the sharing or the Thanksgiving – it is in the ability to eat to excess should you want to. In other words, what is the defining factor of the community dinner is not the shared food, but the shared availability of excess. The homeless will turn away from a dinner if they know they are limited to 2 pieces of turkey. It is not because they have a sense of entitlement or are not hungry, but they have keyed into which of the dinners actually include them in the broader spectrum of American community, and which will keep them trapped in a horrific marginalized category. It is also why food pantries try to suggest brand label foods rather than generics. The generics may be just as good, but they isolate people further from the general populace.

One of the failures of modern spiritual movements has been an emphasis on unconditional love. First off, unconditional love comes with a terrifying responsibility (which I will get into sometime later). Secondly, rather than being equalizing and welcoming; it shuts people off and shunts them into isolation. Why? To truly love unconditionally is a high spiritual goal, but it immobilizes any communication or compassion. Unconditional love means that no one is different from anyone in anyway at any time. Unconditional love doesn’t mean that your differences are accepted, it means that they are deemed so unimportant as to be nonexistent. It is based on a very core set of values about life that have no room for any deviation or momentary distress. You cannot form care for a person if you love them unconditionally. It is a very high spiritual value, but there has to be a very real, human spiritual love that is conditional in order for anything to get done. Unconditional love can be what powers your experience of living, but not your action or efficacy. To love one’s neighbor as you love yourself requires conditions.

Right or wrong, like it or not, excess and branding is a part of the fabric of American community on a large scale. Is it important to change this? Why of course – I think so, and so does the community I belong to – because we are right (because it is my community). Some people would think elsewise. Is the solution to allow excess and branding for all? Or is it to bring the expectation for consumption and branding down a few notches across the board to make it accessible to everyone? The opinion on that will depend on who you ask.

The real solution is to look beyond what requires a placeholder to what is held in actuality. Right there the playing field is leveled. When money is removed from the equation, what then defines our broader society? Football? Not really. Baseball? No. There hasn’t been much work done on defining the values of the modern American society that is separate from consumerism. While consumerism is a defining characteristic of the society, it is a value placeholder. Understanding the value beneath is where we can begin to look at what we hold worthy of social capital. Or is there anything underneath?

Such questions on a Black Friday.

The battle rope came in (not purchased with a black Friday deal but I did get free shipping), so I am going to toss it around a bit and refocus on my day.

The Mad Kitten is ticked because I spaced and forgot to get the treats she likes. Now there is an example of simple definition of value. Does she love me unconditionally? I say not. If she did, she wouldn’t be some damn vindictive just because I forgot the kitty crack.


Oh yes, I am almost successfully out of my semi-retirement now as a poet and performer as well. This means the love and words site is back and a new video will be released by Christmas. Ironic, isn’t it?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Two Fresh Tears

My family is unusual, which means it is very common. I try not to read into the fact that I traveled to see them on the "Twinkling Tinkerbelle" and returned on "Two Fresh Tears." It makes me wonder about the people who run Peter Pan bus line - if they have personal issues, if someday it will not be enough for them to mess with the omens other people may see in their lives.
Before, I think I would have marveled at the omens of the names and wondered what their portent would be in my life. I would have spent much brain power on seeking the proof of my interpretation of their meaning while dismissing anything that didn't pay by the rules I made. I have grown older and wiser. I do my best to live in reality. This means that where before I would have seen omen, now I see metaphor. Tinkerbelle and Fresh Tears were apt bookends for the journey.

I am not sure what bears the honor of being dubbed "meaningful coincidence," but I am starting to think that as we become more aware and focused on an aspect of our individual lives, we begin to see and hear it all around us. Immaturity takes the view that it is meaningful coincidence. I say immaturity because meaningful coincidence is based on the self assigned role of being the center or the universe. I have noticed that since the accident I have become markedly intolerant of those arrogant enough to assume themselves equal to God and the most important thing in all of existence. I think more it is that our shifting inner awareness changes what we focus on and take in. It is not that "suddenly everyone is talking about" whatever you are concerned with, it is that because it is your concern, you are more apt to notice who else is interested in it. Most likely, it was always there being noticed by someone else.
The role of meaningful coincidence lies not in personal direction from the heavens, but from the acquisition of a small part of the communal mind. That is my current take on it. I believe there are outside and inexplicable circumstances that may be created to get you somewhere in hopes you wake up and notice all the other people there too; but I think it inconceivable for one person to be dubbed catalyst. Jesus, had no one noticed him; would have still been God's son. Buddha says it is not the teacher that teaches the dhamma, but the student who becomes aware of it. Mohammed is not Allah; he was quite clear about that.
My family has all arrived at the same place, in the same year, but I am fairly certain it was on quite different buses. We are all at the point of awareness that, “It doesn’t matter what you do or believe, we all wind up in the same place.” By this I mean that we all have become sharply aware of our mortality and limited time left. It has given to us an odd sense of ease with each other and openness. Not, mind you, to look backward and seek explanations of anything in the past – although some of that does happen – but to look forward. It also made me realize something that I had been slowly edging around for the past few years.
If I want to see who I am, I only have to look at where I came from. In my family, I can see everything that I cherish as good about myself, all the things I judge bad, and examples of what I would like to bring to my life and what I hope never arrives. This is a new place to be. Generally, we tend to first blame, then avoid, then are satisfied with drawing boundaries of difference, settle into a kind of tense tolerance then bemoan the lack of resolution when death occurs. It is different to be in a place where you begin to see your family as people. People who have influenced you just as much as you have influenced them.
Cheng Yen said that there is a way in which you can tell if your practice is diseased; it is by looking at your family and friends. He was speaking about the necessity of having a teacher that you were in steady contact with to help guide you in meditation and spiritual practice so you didn’t use it to re-enforce wrong mindedness, selfishness and mental disorder. He cautioned to look at your family and friends – the ones you have kept for the longest – to see the effect that your commitment and practice had on them. It should, he says, have inspired them to pursue their own, if not your path. If, however, you have spent years in meditation and study, have gone on endless retreats and the effect is that your friends and family think you are odd – chances are that your practice is ill. Spirituality, even if it is not agreed upon in the specifics, should always serve as an inspiration in some form or another. One should not look at one’s peers as you are always beginning from a point of confirmation bias.
So I looked at my family in a different way this trip. I didn’t look to see how I inspired them; fortunately, I have seen a positive effect from my own life on their willingness to try meditation and to take on their own spiritual pursuits. I looked to see if I could find out how they inspired me.
And you know what? I found more ways than I thought possible. As contentious and awful as our relationships have been sometimes, I realized that they have each had a positive and beneficial influence on me and I had a feeling of respect for each of them. Respect, I will admit, was something I don’t think I even entertained when it came to thinking about family. In the past it has been a great deal more about who gets what blame.
I came home to discover that the mad kitten did not enjoy my few days away. She took down all the curtains and rods, wouldn’t look at me when I came in, and when I tried to go to sleep she went in the other room and paraded around and bitched. I even stopped at the cafĂ© on the way home to get a small piece of ham to try and make peace.
Today, she finally deigned to climb in my lap and I think things are back to normal.
However…
She is about to get introduced to the concept of diet food. I play GO. GO is played on a grid of 19x19 lines. It is a good sized board. It is a great game and a good way to measure your cat. It also would appear to be what I needed to see my fat cat laid out on to really see that she needs to drop a few pounds for her health.
She is…amply compensated for her presence in my life, too compensated. I will have to chase her fine furry self up and down the hallway more often in the morning too.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's not pretty, but its there

I have had cockroaches on my mind a lot of late. It’s been a running theme and it has been interesting the different types of cockroaches I have been thinking about. There are the beautiful and mythical jeweled cockroaches of the Yucatan –

                                                                   
Which have a poignant story behind them of a princess denied her true love that is transformed by curse into the insect; she captures him and attaches him by a small leash to her clothing so they will never be apart. They are given as tokens of affection.

Then there is this –

                                                              

Robo Roach.

The robotics kit for kids that allows them to insert electrodes into a roaches head after breaking off their antennae so they can control the roaches still living body using the robotic pack they have also glued to their body (having sanded off the natural protective coating first. This kit is causing an absolute uproar among many, except the US based company that made it who fails to see that perhaps this may not be appropriate for children.

The interesting thing is the argument of why the company says that allowing children to harm this insect and turn it into a remote control toy is OK. They say that by 2030, over 20% of all people will suffer from a neurological disease and by letting kids play with this kit; it will inspire them to go on and cure these diseases. In a time where computer modeling and gaming has reached a height of realism, the use of a live animal as a toy to potentially inspire future scientific and medical careers seems a little suspect. In the US, we are experiencing a rise in behaviors from the underage set that have a shared characteristic of lacking any sense of consideration for the impact of their actions on another’s life. The global issue of bullying has these elements as well. It reminds me of the old science play kits that actually had radioactive elements in them; the science often is ignorant of the impact on society because it is enamored of what it can do.

Way back when, in another lifetime, my career had a start in designing multi-player gaming worlds. This was back when you still had to know UNIX to roam the net and gaming was mostly done by MUDs and standalone DOS based programs. It was the beginning of the GUI (graphical user interface) that was so exciting because it promised to allow people with absolutely no understanding of how a computer or the Internet works access and control over it. The conferences surrounding the technology were very exciting – there were virtual worlds and multi user environments and pre-cursors to the Google glasses being shown. There was also a small voice rising of concern that perhaps we were falling in love with what the technology could do without considering if the technology should be allowed to do it. The question, of course, was about the rise of violence in gaming and how the use of graphics began to shift gaming from an adult entertainment to one that would invariably attract children. It represented a shift from a puzzle solving game format to one that focused on point gaining.

The problem has never been that violence in games (or scientific toy kits) is inappropriate for children; it is that the violence is designed from an adult contextual understanding and then presented to children with the expectation that they will be able to understand it from a mature contextual point.  The recent study about depictions of gun violence in PG-13 and R movies and how it corresponds to a rise in the willingness of children who view an image of a gun to act in more hostile manners shows that while an adult may understand a gun in a story, a child doesn’t. We also know that the area of the brain that is capable of understanding and considering cause and effect is not even fully developed until your early twenties so the argument of children understanding the difference between play and real life, cause and consequence is strained at best.

The expectation that a child will make the leap from burning off a cockroach's antennae and pushing electrodes in its brain to saving the world from neurological disorders is something that cannot happen. The child that grows up to create innovations in neurological treatments will be one that will arrive there whether they are playing with play-doh or kitting out a bug with invasive electronics. What the robo roach does is allow an adult invention of how technology can be used to be put into real time use without much thought or consideration of its impact on the roach or the person. Outside of the context of a neurological lab, there is no justification for this except for entertainment, and what kind of person is entertained by harming anything?

But the world is a very strange place in which the right to do something just because you can is taken as more important than the right to choose not to do something because of recognition of its impact. I have a little petri dish lab that I watch this play out in on a weekly basis, it is called the parking lot in front of Dunkin Donuts. When I go, early in the morning, to sit and try and orient myself before going down to run the Wellness program, I get to see a variety of behavior. Because I go often, and at the same time, I get a chance to see the same people doing the same thing.

There is a woman – young – who roars up and invariably chooses the handicap parking space. There are usually parking spaces on either side that are free but she pulls into the space sort of half way and gets out with the engine still running, and glares at anyone watching before stumping in to get her coffee. The handicap space, I should mention, isn’t the one that is usually available and is most convenient to the door. For some reason, she chooses to park there – I suspect because she isn’t supposed to and yet she can. She is not handicapped in any way, shape or form.

Interestingly enough, I got a chance to see her run into a few of her friends at the place today. They all share the same style, clothes and body orientation. They had all stood out in their own way for simple failures of consideration – one ignored the start of the line, another let the door slam in someone’s face whose hands were full. The woman in question roared into the handicap space and got out and they had a loud conversation about shopping for clothes.

Consideration is the hallmark of social maturity. It means that just because you feel something, or want something, or have a reaction to something – that you pause before acting and consider the impact it may have on the environment and people around you that may neither benefit nor harm you – but will have an effect on them. Consideration is where community begins.

 I very often go on and on about negative group identities (and am sure I will again) but at its core is a restriction on who is deserving of consideration. My students often complain that it takes a lot of work to live with consideration, it’s a constant process of stopping yourself and checking the potentials; and I tell them yes, there is no point when it gets easy. But as you practice, parts of it become intuitive. When you reach those moments, suddenly you begin to understand what it really means to be awake and alive. There are few words to explain it, but if you have ever touched it for a moment you know what I mean. Those few moments, however, also reveal how much more work and diligence needs to be done too.

 Life is complicated and it is hard. Life is work. It should be. Otherwise we are all here just keeping ourselves moronically busy until we die and what is the purpose of that? The flip side of that question is to what purpose is it to work at these things if you die anyway? That answer is surprisingly easy but it requires a shift in context that has become much devalued over the past few centuries. Given the rise of mental and physical disorders over the same period of time, it may behoove us to examine the concept again. But more on that later (the tease). The prevalence is not attributable solely to our increased ability to diagnose disorder, but our increased ability to create it.

The first real cold and a touch of snow. The eZip handles fine but the batteries don’t like the cold. I have to work on that. I just had a brief conversation with the guys from the chopshop next door and they agree that battery operated socks may be the way to go with the batteries because of space issues. The mad kitten has shifted into winter mode which consists of the consumption of treats and the draping of herself in inconvenient ways to promote communal napping. She is more successful than not and I have to get myself back on schedule.


Before I forget, the Zen Oasis app is now available. This came out of the work from the Responsive Wellness program at MHCA/OASIS. It is not perfect, but it is there and it is evolving. It has a bit of everything from meditation timers to games to a link out to the AI wonder, “Eliza.” It was built using appsbar and as I transition my skills over to the java family, I will continue customizing it. The secret wonder will be “The Good World,” which has a placeholder in the app now, but won’t be available until later this spring. Technically it is supposed to work on all platforms and should automatically update itself as I continue refining and adding things. You can find it in the Google Play store under Zen OASIS, it is free. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

kittens

I have 3 fish who try to convince everyone I don't feed them, a disgruntled and overweight cat, and a small flock of 150 birds who can recognize me from three blocks away and mug me for cooked rice...and now...it would appear that I have kittens.

On Sunday, at 7pm, Dragon Mountain looked like this:

  

I had been steadily trying to take down a section of wall to expand the main practice room, but not only were there live wires in the wall but I also made the slightly moronic decision to buy what can only be described as a Tinkerbelle saw. In my defense, it has been very well made and comes with lots of fabulous attachments I can use for my other projects. By day 4, however, I realized its 3 inch half-moon vibrating wall blade would have me still cutting the wall out in spring.

So I called a friend and got a honking righteous circular saw and whipped that wall down in no time. It still took several hours because I had to carefully break it down in sections and shift the wires out of the way, but by 7pm it was down.

Feeling rather self-congratulatory and with my ears still buzzing (after the first 20 minutes I stopped for a break and realized I couldn't see the fish through the sawdust in the water and the cat and I were wheezing so I got a mask and was wearing glasses and gloves but had no ear plugs), I went outside for a well-earned coffee and a pipe before beginning the job of cleaning. 

Remember, it looked like this:


My morning meditation starts at 6am so somehow, all of that had to be made right.

I stood outside in the bracing chill and smoked my pipe for a bit before noticing that several eyes were upon me. There was a small family of cats - two adults and 3 kittens - outside poking around. One of the kittens got curious about the white of the rice that the birds hadn't finished on the ground and went over to it. On discovering it was food, that kitten all but ate the pavement.

The others came over and joined in, although the adults hid in the bush. I resisted my impulse for a minute and then went inside to get them food and water. I have noticed that my disgruntled fat cat never bats an eye if I take some of her food outside, but try to walk out the door with a treat and she is on it.
I came out with two platters and set them down. It took about 2 seconds for the kittens to race to the food, the adults hung back for a bit and watched before eating. I smoked and thought, and smoked and thought until the platters were clean and they started playing.

There is an art and balance to giving. I wish I could tell you what it is. If you had asked me last year, I could have pontificated on the subject. Now, I know there are no rules except to give without thinking. That means if you have to think about it for any reason, don't do it because you may be taking things from yourself that you don't have to spare.

Those things may not be material or money; it could simply be that you aren't in the space to offer compassion and charity. That sounds like an awful thing to say and goes against the concept of "faking it till you make it" but underlying intention is what gives a gift the power that it can have. We don't talk much anymore about how influential our intentions and motivations are, but the wrong one in the right place can turn a good thing cancerous.

Someone at MCHA/OASIS asked me the other day how they could handle giving. This is someone on SSI and very limited means, and they felt bad when they couldn't give and then felt worse when they gave and people told them they shouldn't. I told them that they should only give when they knew they could bear the pain of giving.

Too often we think just because someone has something we don't that we are entitled to their charity and we receive help like it is our right. It isn't a right, it is a relationship of support and respect between the giver and receiver that acknowledges that suffering caused by both giving and need.

The kittens should be trapped and brought to a shelter, but they are hungry now. The kittens should be trapped and brought to a shelter, but they are also a part of a feral community of cats who tend to do just fine. There is quite a difference between an abandoned domesticated animal and a wild one, we forget that. Like the birds, a gift of food is appreciated, but not expected. If it doesn't appear, they go somewhere else. They may be hungry in the getting to, but should things work out they will get there.

By 6am, the main room was ready.









Thursday, October 31, 2013

Getting Number One All Wrong

So I found out why the lights occasionally blink at Dragon Mountain. I am expanding so walls are going up and walls are coming down. In taking off the socket covers on a wall to go, I got a hell of a shock because the socket is live wired. Makes for a very slooooooow demolition job. 
I can't turn off the power to the room because I don't know which fuses apply. I can't just "test" to find out because both neighbors have their servers involved with major projects and one doesn't have the backups system fully connected (if the power goes out naturally I am golden, but he is screwed). All of this has turned my 24 hour remodeling spree into a prolonged meditation in recycling and the noise levels of power tools. I am actually glad for the delay because it has let me see how to use pieces of the old wall better in the new space.
In 1996, there was a rally for the Klu Klux Klan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As a nation, we were listening to Oasis, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Madonna, Mariah Carey and Marilyn Manson. 30 black churches were burned in the South and the Summer Olympics were in Atlanta. Depending on your age you probably mark the year with memories of Elmo, the first release of Java or the divorce of Charles and Princess Di.
In 1996, the KKK followed the law and got a permit for assembly. No one was happy about it, but free speech rules. A group of protesters showed as well, outnumbering the KKK and their supporters by a vast margin. The police were there and all eyes were trained on the bad guys.
Suddenly, one of the anti-KKK protesters noticed the enemy in their midst. A lone middle aged white man with a sloppy belly, a T-shirt with the confederate flag emblazoned on it and SS tattoos. Seeing he had been noticed and attention was focusing toward him, the man started quickly walking away from the crowd. The walk turned into an awkward run as the mob turned on him and with cries of "get him!" began to chase. He tripped and fell to the ground. The mob began to punch, kick and hit him with their protest signs. The placards promoting tolerance and peace becoming crumpled and unreadable as their wood poles became batons.
Keisha Thomas, a 19 year old black woman there to protest the KKK, jumped from the mob and threw herself over the man's body to shield him from the blows.
photo by Mark William Brunner
Would you?
Keisha doesn't think much about that day. As she puts it, she is more concerned with things that have to be done. She does remember that a few weeks later, a white man in his 20s stepped in front of her and bluntly said, "Thank you." When she asked for what, he replied, "That was my father."
Of late, Keisha's story has been featured on news outlets across the world. Why? It isn't the anniversary of the event. No new story has come about to bring it to mind. Just suddenly, everyone but Keisha is thinking about it.
One of the things that we are discovering that we have gotten very wrong is the concept of "looking out for number one." Oddly enough, although the wording is modern the idea has been with us since civilizations began. Only during the course of the past 200 years or so has the understanding of who is number one become so wrong.
It isn't you.
And it isn't me.
It is we.
Taking care of number one means to take care of your fellow man and community. Why? Because it benefits us all. Every major religion teaches this and they teach that the individual is to be overcome because no one person can survive or contribute to life on their own. No man is an island, to borrow a certain phrase.
Especially over the course of the past 80 years there has been a steady transition to thinking the individual has more value than the community. They don't. It is the community that shapes life. By placing an emphasis on the individual subjective and temporary experience as being more important than the nurturance of community, we create only things that fail, hurt and destroy.
We have even managed to take love and strangle it on the altar of the individual, rather than allow it to be a companion to a much larger influence. 
Recently, they have concluded from a vast cross sectional study of artifacts that warfare and hostile aggression is not natural to human communities. To act defensively yes, but to act to gain - no. That is something that only came about as the person, and not the role, of leadership became more valued.
Keisha protected the essence of what hated her and sought her harm in this life because she was horrified at the thought of the community it put her in membership of to watch a mob kick and beat a person for a difference of opinion.
As I have said before, your opinion doesn't matter to anyone but you and isn't real. What you do reveals who you are and what you value. Like Gloria Steinem said, if you want to know what you really believe in, look in your checkbook register. if you want to know who you are, look at how you act in thought, word and deed.
We can't predict or promise how we will engage in emergencies, but we can live so no other choice would be available to us then the morals and ethics we profess to believe.
Amituofo

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Understanding Comfort (or, How to Panic in Slow Motion)

I am aghast. The pigeons are cheating on me. I was zooming (buzzing) down the road the other day and saw a flock of pigeons playing in the sky. They landed on the roof of the hospital, all nicely lined up on the edge and there they were - Ralph and Edie in the middle, the two white doves. All of them were staring at me. 

That is not a projection. Pigeons are very smart, loyal and can recognize people. They usually can recognize the scooter and me from 4 blocks away and gather on the street. They seem shocked to see me down by the hospital too. Little stinkers. Serves them right I forgot to get rice and they kibitzed and complained their way through the pumpkin seeds and crushed soy nuts of this morning. Of course this didn't stop me from running in to get fresh rice as soon as I saw them back on the mill chimneys. They play me like a fiddle.
Someone commented recently that the most amazing thing to see is a) how happy I get talking about the pigeons and b) how up I am on their drama. What can I say? Life without TV and a YouTube habit begins to make the antics of living things interesting.
I had a moment, earlier in the week, in which everything went awry. A part of what I do is freelance writing and I am on a long term contract right now that is dependent on my meeting a daily 8am deadline. If you don't meet the deadline, you are off the contract no matter how long you have been doing the job. It is the nature of the work. 
7:07 and the Virgin Mobile Tower decides to get shy and hide from my phone. I access the Internet via a June Fabrics connection (if you don't know what that is, look it up, it will make your budget happy). 7:12 and there is no sign of the Tower coming back, I have no Internet connection and am watching my potential stable income fall away.
I am crushed, thinking that the soonest I am scheduled to be out in a place with Wi-Fi will be 10am and excuses just won't fly with this job. It's the first cold morning and it is just not a good thing. Then it occurs to me that I have the eZip. There is a momentary struggle inside as I wrap my brain around the 30 degree chill and I realize that I am clinging to the idea of only being able to reach Wi-Fi by ten because of my comfort. But what is more comfortable? To be able to meet responsibilities and support yourself? Or to be warm on a cold morning and lose it all?
I decide to rush off to the nearest Wi-Fi spot, have a donut and make the upload deadline. So off I go fueled by that underlying panic and dread of missing something you promised to do.
It wasn't until I was on the road, leaning forward with the throttle slammed down that I realized that panic, rushing and stress just don't go with the eZip. I came across more like a cross between the Wicked Witch of the West on a kick-n-go chasing a Dorothy who was walking than someone speedily resolving a technological problem. By the time I crossed the pedestrian bridge at a masterful 8 mph against the biting wind, I was singing to myself and relaxed. I knew I would make the deadline, but the need to rush and panic was gone. If I missed it, I would still come close enough to know that I tried and whatever happened would happen.
I live a very small life with a lot of limitations that originate from a lack of income. Once upon a time, I had a very different kind of life with tons of disposable income. As I came to know what I believed in, having a life that matched it with integrity became more important than holding onto the comforts that money can buy. But it isn't just the material comforts I have given up, time and time again I have to face choices between sacrificing or loosening up just a bit of what I know is integrity in order to make something easier. I don't always make the right choice immediately. Most often I will adopt a passive "let me think" attitude which is little more than an attempt to see if somehow the world will turn and I will be able to have some of both worlds. Life isn't like that. 
If you dare to believe in something, it is only worth the integrity of the life you live that reflects it. I am thinking of the Bishop of Bling, Deepak Chopra, Cheng Yen and Mother Theresa. The latter two live(d) as best they could with integrity; the former spend an awful lot of time telling us why people would expect proponents of anti-materialism to have multi-million dollar mansions and nice cars. Here is a truism in life - unless you live what you believe then you don't really believe in it.
It isn't that you cannot make a good living doing good things and helping people, it's that if you choose the wrong form of payment you will pay with your soul. Money is fairly useless to someone with goals of compassion, care and community. It has its use, but it is a very limited tool and its value is not that high. Time, commitment, service, dignity and integrity - these are the commodities of the compassion trade. Money is nice and has its use, but if you are bringing in too much money in a compassionate endeavor and not more service and time from people, then something has gone very wrong.
Money is a tool that has outgrown its value representation in more ways than just not having gold to back it up. Yet it isn't just money and items that represents materialism. One need only look to the Prosperity Theology that defines American Christianity and the New Age Movement to see that. 
The monetization of spiritual pursuit, not in the sense of cost but in the rise of the spiritual experience and practice as a form of social capital has been swift over the past three decades. The more you can lay claim to a direct experience, the more worthy you are perceived and the more artificially inflated your sense of self-worth. 
I am a huge fan of Meetup and have noted of late the growing numbers of spiritual groups featuring meetups that promise a spiritual or mystical experience on demand. This type of "peak experience" demand can't do anything but create an eventual implosion. Like the revival tents and faith healers of the depression era and the mediums of the late 1880s, every time we react to periods of demonstrated lack of control over our circumstances we seek a miracle bias that shows how we can make God itself show up on demand. In fact, just the other day a new group posted that is featuring table tapping. The result of this reaction is a form of communal narcissistic angst that then eats away at our individual ability to act with compassion, consideration and care - for ourselves and others. This narcissistic angst also generates an inability to withstand dis-stress and an immediate demand for relief from all pain - emotional, physical or mental. 
People begin to jump from faith to faith, belief to belief, when they "stop working;" or worse, become strident true believers who don't even engage with what they believe anymore unless they can be seen. All of this creates a person and society that is lacking in the values of patience, modesty and humility. These "three jewels" are essential to the spirit of life because they acknowledge the individual lack of control and efficacy, while emphasizing the balance of individual necessity to the whole. It is keeping this balance of "us and them" in delicate movement that provides for spiritual fullness as well as individual and communal health. The currency exchanged is consideration which requires an outward turn to the interior life and weighs responsibility to effects that will not be felt by the individual. We don't hear much about developing a sense of accountability and responsibility towards others in our Westernized religions, but that is what is at the core of all the different Eastern and Middle Eastern ones we have adopted. To take it one step further, it is even at the core of the indigenous beliefs localized on this continent. Yet we have lost that in the West and now are pushing our western individuation to the East, despite the evidence we now have of how destructive and ill it can make society.
The answer doesn't lie in turning inward, but outward. To still your mind and emotions and realize that however you define the world is not as important as how your definition works with another's. This is why they say that you cannot come to love yourself until you love another because without an external reflection from an autonomous life that we feel responsible for - we are nothing but children wanting fairytales and surety in a world where the only sure thing that exists is that we all are dependent and responsible for each other.