A Beautiful, Very Dead, Moth

“Who could look at these pictures and not believe in God?” my Muslim friend asked. My Christian friend had expressed a similar idea as a statement. I wasn’t going to disagree with either one.

Figure 1: Digital Color Photo of Moth Body: The wing was pulled off, stuck onto an electron microscope stage, and coated with palladium.

Indeed! Insects are always interesting to look at in a scanning electron microscope. But the beauty of this dead moth far exceeded my expectations.

I save dead bugs when I see them, for educational purposes. This poor moth had been sitting around for quite a while, before I decided it’s time had come.

Figure 1 shows the moth in question, after I had broken off one of its outer wings, and taped it down to an electrically conductive specimen holder (aluminum) and sputter coated it with palladium to render it electrically conductive. A kindof boring motley brown, but surprising orange and white on the hidden pair of wings.

The moth wing was also surprising in how soft it felt when I broke it off.

If you zoom in to Figure 1, taken with a Olympus Tough Gear 5 digital camera, in microscope mode, you can see that the individual scales have different colors. This camera is currently available on Canon’s website for $500.00. It can do a lot of things. It will also take me a while to make it do what I want! (It’s pretty complicated.)

Figures 2 – 4 show additional views, obtained with my scanning electron microscope, at magnifications up to 6000x. But it is still impossible for me to tell if the “holes” are empty, or filled with a thin film of some sort.

Figure 2: Center of length of the wing
Figure 3: Note scalloped scale edges.
Figure 4: Note lacy structure. Are the holes empty or filled with some thin film?

Figure 5 shows the pointed end of the wing, where it used to be attached to the rest of the body.

Figure 5: The wing at the “shoulder” attachment point.

 

The different shapes of the feathery scales are beautiful. Figures 6 and 7 show how the scales are attached to the underlying shell of the insect.

Figure 6: Detail of how the individual scales are attached to the shell of the insect.
Figure 7: Broken off scale. How like a leaf!

I don’t know the cause of death of the moth. I found it whole, so maybe it simply came to the end of its life span. I’ll never know. But I honor the moth, the miraculous world we live in, and the “ugly beauty” of this plain insect.

Sacred Disobedience

Animals in nature never disobey their instincts. They can’t. By definition, animal behavior is pre-determined almost completely, by genetics and environment. Humans are different. Our essence is that we can overcome these pre-programmed instincts. How was this achieved in humanity? Of course this is one of those unanswerable questions, but we have myths that hint at the deeper truth. The story of Eve and Adam is one of those myths. God told these adult-infants that they were to enjoy all the fruits of the garden, except the tree of knowledge. Now the slightest effort at objective thinking will reveal God’s intent to use reverse psychology to entice Eve and Adam to eat that very fruit. Duh. Self-evident truth. Of course, self-evident truth is not available to the casual observer!

If you are still not convinced, imagine a puppy in your kitchen. You hold up a piece of steak. You call your puppy. “Fido! Here Fido!” You hold up the steak in front of Fido’s nose. “Here Fido! Don’t eat this meat! No Fido! Don’t eat this meat!” Be sure you are using a pleasant, friendly, and nonchalant voice-tone when you say this.

Do you really think Fido is going to walk away, before he eats the meat, or tries to?

God might be infinite and omnipotent, but it would have been self defeating to remove all of the layers and layers of self-preservation instincts from the new beings. God knew his creations, and that’s that. Eve and Adam were set up to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge, but no parent is going to tell his or her kids the Truth about this. No. Because then the parental authority that allows the “younguns” to survive infancy will be undermined. Becoming an adult requires the discernment to know when to disobey. Disobeying, whether after proper discerning thought processes, or flawed ones, is the first step toward adulthood, and the promised freedom that humanity is working toward.

The Old Testament is hardly the only sacred literature to promote the idea of disobedience. Jesus tells his followers to disobey their cultural customs, which are basically experienced by most people as laws, and “leave the dead to bury the dead,” at the same time he insists that he has not come to change the law. If you are a Christian, or if not, but you believe that maybe those old texts have something to say about the human condition, pay attention here. There’s more than meets the eye.

The self-evident truth is that there must be another way to obey the fourth commandment to honor one’s parents. My personal take on this is that we honor our parents by living our lives in accordance with whichever of their values we can. For example, my parents probably don’t like my theory of how to deal with money, but they were pleased that I chose to become skilled at my chosen profession, and that I used my skills to promote the life of intellect and social justice. Jesus, whom my culturally Jewish parents didn’t study, understood the necessity of disobedience.

Moving on to India, the Ramayana tells the story of Ram, a powerful deity who decided to come to earth as a man to “re-enforce” the religious laws. He incarnated, the story goes, as a king. He married a beautiful woman, who loved him very much. Of course. Duh. But then, the evil demon king kidnapped his beautiful wife. Sita, the queen, remained faithful to her husband, and the evil demon king never forced her to sleep with him, although he invited her every night. Eventually, Sita was rescued and returned to her husband, as the property that most of the ancient laws considered her. But Ram had incarnated for the sole purpose of enforcing the laws, and the laws said that Sita must undergo a trial by water. She did not drown, proving her statement of fidelity to her spouse. But Ram was not satisfied. He feared that the other men of the kingdom would interpret his acceptance of Sita back into his household as weakness, that would undermine the cultural integrity of the kingdom. He made up more tests. Finally, after passing them all, Sita walked outside of the palace grounds, and called on Mother Earth to swallow her up, since Ram obviously did not deserve her as his queen. Any thoughtful person can see that Ram, god and king, the upholder of the law, was a jerk. Plain and simple.

Cultural laws are never perfect for every situation, because laws are always being made in response to particular situations. Being a human means that we must cultivate the discernment needed to know which rules and laws to break, when.

The concept of disobedience being a good deed, rather than a sin, was indeed difficult for humans to grasp. As we look around us, it’s clear that, for humans, blind obedience to cultural norms has taken over blind obedience to natural instinct. But obedience to cultural laws is only an intermediate step in our spiritual evolution. This step has been and continues to be necessary, as Mother Nature was so thorough and redundant in making sure her creations would be able to survive.

For example, in order to ensure propagation of a variety of human societies, Mother Nature endows us with hormones that drive us to find mates who are attractive to us. But the criteria of attraction vary widely. Then we are provided with hormones that attach us to our mates, and their families and friends. Then we are given different sets of skills, making us more and more reliant on each other. We have a very extended time of dependency as we learn what it takes to survive in the climates and terrains that we are forced to inhabit, as we become more and more numerous. Our need for each other must be made strong indeed, to overcome the already robust instincts for individual survival. The choice facilitating urge to disobedience is a latecomer to the game, and struggles for acceptance.

Really, at some point, humanity as a whole will realize that we must give up the entire idea of the “dis/obedience dichotomy,” and substitute a “sliding discernment skill scale.”

Let’s look at a few more examples of teaching stories on the subject of obedience. In Genesis, we find another of God’s attempts to teach humans that blind obedience is not always a good deed. When God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his favorite son of his beloved wife, Abraham is supposed to figure out that he is supposed to disobey. In one way, we can see that the whole point of God telling Abraham to get the hell out of Ur was so he could create a new culture that substituted love for fear, and the first step on the path forward on that was to eliminate sacrifice of one’s fellow humans.

Even many rabbis agree that Abraham was supposed to disobey. But he didn’t get it. Perhaps it was too much to ask. Of course, if God was to find a new prophet, he had to pick someone who could hear him. The words hear and obey are related in many languages. So poor Abraham. He failed this test. And this set up the poor daughter of Japthah to later be sacrificed, which then necessitated the sacrifice of Jesus, as the son of God, so that God could prove that he wouldn’t refuse to do what one of his subjects was willing to do. This time, again God tried to make it clear. No more human sacrifices.

However, we still believe in Holy War. So once again, we can see that we have not come to the end of the spiritual path, or even that short section called “love your neighbor.”

As the great Swami Vivekananda said, had it not been for the horrible demons of sectarianism and fanaticism, which continue to lead to war, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.

Step one on a spiritual path is for “spiritual” leaders to start acting like spiritual leaders, and tell their “flocks” that humans are meant to creatively disobey. There will always be consequences of disobedience, sometimes extremely painful. But that is a result of the human condition. Learning to think for ourselves is the foundation of living the fullest possible human life.

Joy Arises from the Very Ground We Stand Upon

A few months ago, I decided to memorize the Chicago Address of Swami Vivekananda. I’ve been letting his spontaneous words of upliftment on the root causes of bigotry, fanatacism and violence diffuse into my mind.

I’ve also been “channeling” a fictional wise woman that I created for the Moses of Kosbar novel that’s going nowhere fast. But I have been enjoying channeling Merwegon. Maybe you will also ponder her message from this morning. It was an attempt to use the language of Vivekananda and the knowledge of Merwegon. See what you think!

Sisters and Brothers of Kosbar!

Joy arises from the very ground we stand on, if we can but learn to tune ourselves to its wavelength. Those who curtail our actions can only fail miserably when they try to contain our thoughts. Rather, the thought patterns of all beings who experience consciousness are concentrated, filtered and rebroadcast at the time of the cessation of their bodily processes. The resultant thought fields rush to fill the cosmos, resonating with the ready along their way.

Brothers and sisters, please remember that the good and the true will overcome the forces of chaos in the end times. This must be the case, as the good and the true are an emanation of the real, while what we perceive as evil is simply the system noise of the fundamental functions of the eternal transformation of consciousness into energy, energy into matter, and their reversed analogues.

Perfection, unlike joy, arises not from the ground we stand on. The perception of perfection results within the concentration of matter called the brain. All perceptions, visual, auditory, and those of both longer wavelengths and denser energy fields, are inherently perfect. Only perfection allows description, and description births perfection. You may wish to think about this a little longer. It might not mean what you first think.

The apprehension of the simplicity of perfection reveals the perfection of simplicity. We are but channels for the evolution of the hierarchy of the levels of the signal processing guardian system. This guardian system allows us to see what matters. This is not a tweak to our signal processing system. This is the essence of our mind. We choose to take as axiomatic that we have, together, one mind. We also have individual small minds, that are where the initial signal processing is performed.

Our guardian system allows us to access freedom of thought. We save our enemies because of how we have freely evolved. We give charity to those who ask because of how we freely evolve. We choose to save our enemy because we choose to become someone who saved our enemy. How much easier will we then find it to choose to become someone who gave charity to those with empty chairs and empty tables?

Real Spirituality Bears Sweet Fruit

What is the difference between religion and spirituality?

Many people are totally confused about this.

Religion  literally means binding back. On the whole, being religious means binding oneself to a learned cultural pattern that is founded on the efforts of believers in some set of revealed truths. Religions provide a rather poor quality ready-made moral compass based on a set of conditions that no longer exists the moment it is formulated.

All religions started with and have spirituality at their root, but in all cases, the transformation into a “marketable product” reduces the freedom inherent in the founder’s spiritual insight.

Real spirituality is liberating. Rather than being based on a report of how reality works, spirituality is based on experiencing the world through a lens of understanding that, ultimately, everything is connected and interdependent.

Real spirituality provides the only reliable moral compass.

The person who is spiritually motivated understands that they can never insulate themselves from the pain of others, no matter how far away.  The person following a real moral compass may wander or “tack.” This is a necessary consequence of the spiritual aspect of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

In both the Old and New Testaments, a criterion is provided for those who wish to be able to distinguish between real and false prophets.

“Know them by their fruit.”

What is fruit in this sense?

The effects of the prophet’s teachings.

Do the teachings uplift and liberate humanity, or hold us back to the old patterns of the extremely uneven division of resources that came with “civilization”?

Real spirituality bears sweet FRUIT, when evaluated in the most inclusive frame of reference imaginable.

People who are predominantly spiritual in outlook eschew belief in favor of personal experience. Real spirituality encourages us to go beyond whatever world we find ourselves in. Real spirituality challenges us to recognize the world beyond our senses (or technologically enhanced senses.)

BUT real spirituality does not require a belief in a separate spiritual world. Real spirituality provides a continually enriched understanding of what reality is.

As a certain spiritual master is said to have taught: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

A way to look at that teaching is to realize that every “great truth” has “great lies” associated with it.  Niels Bohr, the Nobel Prize winning physicist said something to the effect that:

The opposite of a great truth is another great truth. The opposite of a mundane truth is a lie.

Swami Vivekananda said that all religions are true. Swami Vivekananda gave his CRITERION for that statement. His criterion was that all religions have women and men who rise to the most exalted levels of serving humanity.

And Swami Vivekananda called out the falsehoods of the so-called religious, those who teach intolerance and persecution of the other. He rightly called out the falsehoods of those who even confine themselves to promoting any uncharitable feelings toward their fellow humans.

The way many established religions promote ideas of specialness (holy or sinful) has as its inevitable consequence the promotion of uncharitable feelings toward others. Uncharitable feelings toward others are the most important fertilizer of discord in the multi-cultural society that prevails over the face of the earth.

As Rabbi Akiva said: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.

This teaching can only have its intended uplifting “fruit” if we understand that it refers to the visible world, as well as the “spiritual world.” This is the best of spiritually guided religion. Akiva used his spiritual understanding of the unity of humanity to call humans to respect each others’ rights to exist. The founding fathers of the USA also gave voice to this idea, even if they did not back it up.

 

What about atheists? They have the advantage of not teaching their kids that their non-conforming neighbors are going to hell.

The problem with many vocal atheists is that they are so dogmatically atheistic. Richard Dawkins, for example, who wrote Consciousness Explained, has been justifiably mocked as having written “Consciousness, Explained Away.”

Dogmatic atheists could be lumped in with Fundamentalists, into an overarching group called “Certaintists.” Where does faith leave off and false certainty take over?

As Osho says: Doubt is the greatest gift.

Certainty leads to arrogance.

Confidence is different. Confidence is founded on experience. Experience is the foundation of the personal reality of each being. Experiences are interpreted as they happen. Thus confidence is sometimes misplaced. Certainty is always misplaced.

The ignorant often have trouble distinguishing justifiable confidence from arrogance, which is never justifiable.

A Call from Charlottesville

Way back in 1893, the great Swami Vivekananda, an unknown monk from India, traveled to Chicago to participate in the Parliament of the World’s Religions, part of the Great Chicago World’s Fair, or “Colombian Exposition.”

After days of boring speeches in academic style, the Swami’s first five words led the entire audience to stand and give an ovation. What were those words?

“Sisters and Brothers of America!”

Instead of focusing on differences, the Swami greeted all who could hear him with words showing our ultimate connections. In fact, the Christian organizers of this event had pretty well been thinking that after all the “heathen” participants had been able to present their talks, the entire world was going to “see the light” and convert to Christianity. Instead, the Swami’s talk is practically the only one that is remembered today. And instead, the Swami ended up spending a lot of time in America, teaching the “wonderful doctrines” (a phrase from his speech) of Hinduism to eager Americans.

Of most interest and relevance today, are three sentences toward the end of the talk.

“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often in human blood, destroyed civilizations, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.

Swamiji closed his talk with the following, equally uplifting words:

“I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

Please see the following link for the entire text of his speech.

http://www.ramakrishna.org/chcgfull.htm

Perhaps equally important to us today, is the end of the Swami’s closing talk.

If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written in spite of resistance: “Help and not fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”

I ask, when are the religious leaders of the world going to step up to the plate and do their part to make Swami Vivekananda’s hope a reality?

When are we going to demand that all of our leaders, religious and secular, renounce bigotry at all levels?

When are our leaders going to fan the warming flames of tolerance, if not universal acceptance, with the same fervor that some currently use to oxygenate antagonism to the point of mutual destruction?

When, at the very least is the United States of America going to stop giving tax exempt status to organizations that teach their pre-logical children that their fellow citizens are going to hell for calling the Divine by the wrong name?

When?

 

All She Wanted

All she wanted was for people to be a little nicer to each other. In her youth, she had been more naive, and then all she wanted was for people to be nice to each other. But now, she had discernment, and realized that was way to much to ask. So nicER. Just a little bit nicER.

She had spent decades wishing for understanding. Understanding for the sake of itself. At that early part of her life, she had perhaps been confused into wanting understanding due to a misplaced belief in the inevitability of beneficial consequences flowing from understanding. She hadn’t encountered David Levy’s book, so she did not know that sometimes, to understand is to change, but often, simply to understand a situation results in no practical change at all.

As time marched on, she got what she wanted. She gained more and more understanding of human nature. Eventually, she understood that there are lots of excellent reasons that most people want money or love much more strongly than they want understanding. Her father wanted money. He told her so. He also told her that it was clear to him that he would never understand people, but he could understand money. Her mother wanted justice. That interfered a little with her father’s accumulation of money, but that is life. We are all conflicted. Because whatever most of us want to sustain our bodies in comfort, most people also want to climb the stairway to heaven.

She had a colleague. A friend. He will remain nameless for the purpose of this article. His actions (the organizations he supported with this time and energy) say he wants the Protestant Christian vision. He spends some significant part of his time hanging out with financial planners, claiming he is working to help the poor to get their piece of the pie. As far as she saw it, investing in the stock market would do nothing to bring the Kingdom of Heaven.

She knows that it is a mistake to believe that the fantasy of financial stability  can ever be a foundation of social justice. Those who believe this clearly don’t even bother to flesh out the meaning of social justice, or realize that social justice is both the original and ultimate, and effectively,  only real type of justice. The concept of social justice is one of the ideas that the symbol of the blindfolded lady is intended to demonstrate. Justice has to close her eyes to the particulars of the case,  and consider the whole picture, which only becomes visible in the metaphorical darkness (freedom from distraction). To quote Billy Joel, it can only be seen by the eyes of the blind. In other words, at least in Western Civilization, we don’t believe in cutting off the hand that stole food to feed the hungry.

She knew that there was more to justice than punishing a book crime. She knew that the judge was supposed to be able to see into the heart and mind of the accused, and weigh the needs of the accused against the resources of the society.

Hunger in a land of plenty is a sin. Hunger in the land of scarcity may be as benign as a sad fact.

She knew, she understood, that her colleague with the misplaced focus on money was a mirror, sent by God to remind her of who she was, by virtue of what she wanted and what she knew. What she didn’t know was why others couldn’t understand that we can never escape the consequences of the wants of others. We can ignore them, at least for a time, but never escape. She knew that wants drive thoughts, and then action.

She knew that thoughtful thoughts have a greater chance to eventually drive elevating action and hasty or superficial thoughts drive actions with higher probabilities of negative unintended consequences.

She sometimes allowed herself to feel depressed by her colleague’s belief that social time spent with part time financial planners who were funding an orphanage in India was the most effective step he could take on the stairway to heaven. But she was usually able to treat the depressive thoughts by reminding herself of the teachings of The Great Merwegon (a fictional wise woman).

For over twenty years, she had devoted herself to cultivating clarity, and to teaching any others who were open to it, to doing the same. She knew that the basest wants are the strongest wants in most, which opened her to criticism for empowering people to hurt themselves and others, as they experimented with the cultivation of clarity.

She ever hopefully opened her mind to arguments that there was a more direct path toward increasing humans’ tendency to being nicer, but, to date, no convincing ones had been offered. With the possible exception of the book highlighted in this link. Instead, she was accused of manipulation, and even brainwashing, by her own father, no less. She would have felt that as a greater burden had she not already worked through the flawed thinking of a past accuser.

To her, that was the saddest thing. That people couldn’t distinguish someone teaching self-empowerment from someone seeking power over them. For now, she rededicated herself to cultivating clarity and teaching the teachable.

 

The Archetypal Symbol of the Miracle of Transformation

Side View of Monarch Chrysalis, Day 10

Do you think you see?

What does seeing mean?

Do you think you see with your eyes only?

Look! Look at the glowing turquoise chrysalis.

Really see what is in front of your eyes.

See the butterfly forming inside.

See the black wing markings already taking shape.

See the gold spots.

Notice the gold spots.

(Click on the images to zoom in, they are high resolution.)

What do you see now?

Wing Markings of Monarch Butterfly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please tell me what you see.

I found the caterpillar that became this chrysalis as it was climbing up my storm door on June 21, 2017.

I am pretty sure the spirit of my recently departed mother sent it to me. She was an Aquarius, which is an air sign, and thus symbolized by a butterfly, which moves in air.

These photos were taken July 1, 2017.

Front view of Monarch chrysalis. What are the water drops?

I’ll try to update the progress of the transformation.

By the way, the black blob at the top is the scrunched up remains of what was the caterpillar’s skin. Usually it falls away from the chrysalis, but this time it got caught in the threads the caterpillar spun to attach itself to the jar I put it in.

After you have looked at the photos, or gone out and found your own caterpillar, read up on how to take care of them. It’s pretty easy. I was lucky to have the bookSally’s Caterpillar when I was young. By the way, do not believe that you can download this book for free. A web search sent me to ahdio.co.uk/sallys/caterpillar/sallys_caterpillar.pdf which sent me to a bunch of other places and I got sucked into giving a credit card number but the file is NOT there. Maybe US residents are not allowed to see the file, but the book is apparently out of print.

You can also read or listen to my story (click on this link) about a little boy who finds a monarch caterpillar.

Friend of the Cobra

HEAR THE POEM READ ALOUD….

For whom does this chimera pipe his silent tune?
The cobra, whose neck he so calmly holds with his left hand?
Or for me, the current audience?

Bronze Snake Charmer Figurine from India

In what key does he play?
Is it a traditional tune?
Or something a little more sexy?

I bought this copper casting at the government store in Mahabalipuram.
The agent said tribal people made these figurines, and this one was probably three hundred years old.
“The people of the younger generation
don’t care about their ancestors’ art.
They’d rather have the money.”
Sadness and uncertainty lurk in my mind.
I too have lost many of my parents’ customs.

On arriving home, I ask my new friend
“Who are you?”
I discover that his pipe,
with a mid-length bulge,
pours forth music, not smoke.

Charmer’s features look African.
Charmer’s bracelets and necklaces
call “Royalty!” and “Ancient Near East.”
But the cobra itself and the exotic flute cry “India! India!”

The melody reaches my ears after all!
That’s must be why I knew he was coming home with me
the minute
I saw him.

***

Now, it’s only the cast copper charmer’s chant that soothes the cobra.
The human snake charmers in India have been silenced by people
who find it cruel to keep a snake in a basket and make it dance on demand.
As if the cobra doesn’t have a way to make known its own displeasure.

***

Whose mind does the charmer’s melody mollify?
Could the eternal enemy become a friend?
Millions of years ago, our primate predecessors
had already made up a word for
“enemy from below,” and it was “snake.”

But wait! What about the viper in The Little Prince?
Or the Snake in the Garden of Eden?
Charmed, Snake refrained from striking
beautiful Eve, and taught her to
exercise free will, a very difficult task,
efficiently carried out, in a dialogue
only a few sentences long.
A doctorate in Psychology, in a minute.
A gift for a lifetime of life-lines.

The END!

But wait! My Pakistani friend says that there are still live snake charmers in Karachi!

Hiring a Saint

“I took the liberty,” Dharmendra said, “of asking a saint to come with us.” I must have looked a little confused. “A saint?” I asked. “Yes, he’s a saint. I asked him to come so he can do a ritual for your mom.”

We were on our way to a thousand year old temple in the Kumaun  (click for some maps), a division of the State of Uttarakhand, on the Indian side of the borders of Tibet and Nepal. I had already traveled twice to the Kumaun, and always found myself wishing I used some type of prescription tranquilizer as the taxi travels along the narrow roads, along the edges of nearly vertical mountain slopes. Dharmendra has been my guide all three times. We’ve never actually gone to the peaks of any of the tallest Himalayan mountains. Only the foothills. But the views are fantastic.

During the last trip to India, in 2008, which was a birthday gift from my parents, my mother, who was born in West Virginia, and could not wait to move away to a big city, but who always loved mountains, turned to me at one point, and said “I see why you wanted to come back.”

My mother was quite an impressive woman. She passed the CPA exam in 1956, and the Maryland and DC bars in 1967. There were not very many women lawyers at that time. In any case, she certainly impressed Dharmendra on that trip. He informed me that MAYBE my mother was as good as packing suitcases as he was. But he seemed to acknowledge that she was going to get what she thought was her due, and he learned some skills in that vein from her. I had gotten the news that she had fallen, and was unlikely to survive, a few days before I was to leave Chennai and head to north India, for the “vacation” part of my trip to the sub-continent. There was nothing I could do for my mother at that point, by going home right away. So I continued my trip, with modifications in case I had to cut the trip short, which I did.

An Indian engineering colleague had a question for me at the time I was planning the 2008 trip. “Is it wise to use Dharmendra’s services? Is he accredited by the Government of India?” I said no, but I couldn’t let myself worry. Dharmendra’s tour guide service is no ordinary tour guide service.

Dharmendra is going to give his clients an experience to remember. It’s never mediocre. Apparently, as I found out on this trip, it includes the services of a saint to pray for your mother’s soul, should the need arise. Dharmendra arranged for me to do what he would have done had it been his own mother near death.

Swami Shivachaitanyananda, I found out the next day, really is considered a saint.

Swami Shivachaitanyananda at Shangrila Resort, holding a children’s book in English, that someone had left behind. The Swami doesn’t read English.

After spending twenty years in a cave, he decided to rejoin society. He loves to talk. Making up for lost time, he’s extremely cheerful and active for 70. He is a self appointed concrete inspector. If he sees the wrong mix of sand and cement, he complains to the authorities. Apparently, a large construction in Rishakesh was redone after the contractors were caught cheating by the Swami.

His materials engineering skills don’t interfere with his regular swami activities. He taught me a few Vedic mantras on the way to the mountain temple. He was impressed with my Sanskrit pronunciation, which I had learned at the beginning of my trip at a chanting yoga retreat.

After driving for 5 hours, to get to the town with the nearby temple, we got out of the car, bought around 150 pounds of rice, potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, etc., and called the temple priest to send down people to carry the food up the 3.5 km switch backed, gravel, rock, and tree root covered, steep path. I only had to carry myself and my purse. The taxi driver carried my sleeping bag and knapsack, along with his own stuff. As I looked up, and reminded my dear friend and tour guide that there was a reason I brought a cane with me, and that there was a difference between 3.5 km horizontal and 3.5 km vertical, he assured me it wasn’t strictly vertical. I made it. Slowly. The Swami beat me. Easily. Here’s the view from the “guest house,” at the 3.5 km mark. A mere half km from the top of the mountain, where the actual temple is. It was worth it.

Hopefully there will be a photo of the guest house itself in a later post, but for now I will say that we took the room that did not smell like burned plastic. The rest of the amenities? A concrete floor and a metal door, and two small windows with metal shutters. They were nice. They gave the spoiled American 3 extra blankets.

The resident priest made dinner for us. The most delicious dahl (spiced lentils) I have ever had. Dharmendra claimed it was because it was cooked on a wood fire. Despite the hot meal, I had never really warmed up after breaking into a sweat on the hike up. The mountain air was cold.

“No, Dharmendra,” I said. “Narendra (our driver) is not sleeping in a different room. He’s sleeping with us, to add his hot breath and heat radiations to the three of us.”

I asked if I had been snoring when we all woke up, and an affirmative answer let me realize that I did probably sleep for a few hours. Morning light at 7 meant time for me to eat the chapati that the priest had made specially for me so I could take my pain meds before walking up the last half km to the temple.

The last part of the climb to a mountain temple is reliably steeper than the rest. Getting to a mountain top temple is most of the prayer. As one of my companions on the earlier part of the trip, the yoga retreat, said, “The Indians With Disabilities Act has two words: Tough Shit.”

But with the cane, I made it. And the Swami performed the healing ritual for my mom. It turns out that she started breathing on her own, right around that time.

Never underestimate the power of prayer, whether it is from your own tradition or not.

Ultimately, as I already knew would be the case, my mom did not survive. But because she was breathing on her own, they were able to remove the ventilator mask, and my dad got to see her face, and kiss her face, and that meant a lot to him at the time.

Seeing her face, he was able to see that “she” was gone from the physical shell that had housed his wife of 59.5 years. It was still hard to let her go, but I think easier than it would have been otherwise.

Back at the guest house, the priest and Dharmendra had a little disagreement. Turns out that the Swami really is considered a saint, and the priest did not think that we should pay if we brought the Swami with us to bless his facility. Dharmendra had to clandestinely leave the money to pay for our accommodations.

Back at the bottom of the trail, as we got in back in the car, Dharmendra told me “Now you realize you are stronger than you thought you were.”

Dharmendra at
http://www.exotic-himalayas.com/

Miraculously, my arthritis pain was greatly reduced the day I got off the plane in India. Still, after two years of severe inflammation, my fitness condition wasn’t great. Back in the US for a month now, the arthritis pain continues at a much lower level than it was before I left. Maybe this is part of why old people go south for the winter. And probably why this wasn’t my last trip to India, even though I had said before I left that it was my bucket trip.

It was supposed to be MY bucket trip, not my  mom’s.

 

 

 

 

 

Spiritually Attached to India

“She won’t like it here,” the good professor wrote. “Westerners never do. There’s no room service, and the food in the cafeteria is all South Indian style.”

“She’s spiritually attached to India. She speaks fluent Hindi. This isn’t her first trip. She’ll be fine.”

My soon to be friend Shankar nailed it. I had never thought about it in exactly those words though. I’m spiritually attached to India. It would be my third trip to the subcontinent. The fluent Hindi was a bit of an exaggeration. I had pretty darn good tourist Hindi, maybe a thousand words. Grammatical mistakes in most of my sentences, but I was usually understood, then corrected, proving that they understood what I was trying to say. (My most used sentence on the hair-raising ride on the 1.5 lane wide roads on the sides of the “foothills” of the Himalayas, was -after correction- Nicche na dekko!!- “Don’t look down!”

Scary Road on the way to Rudraprayag

 

sometimes followed by “But Look Down- it’s beautiful!”)

Shankar was correct, but he humored the professor, and asked me if I agreed that the accommodation planned, without room service, would be ok. I assured him that it would, and was very happy to have this new idea of spiritual attachment, and to have had someone who never met me in person realize it was true. I can’t really explain it; maybe I had a past life or three in India.

Really, my main concern about hotels in Asia is that the mattresses  are so hard. Difficult on my arthritic joints. But I had resolved to just take extra pain killer, when I needed it. This was my bucket trip. I was acting on my desire to teach a failure analysis class in India, before the onset of my ultimate, inevitable deterioration. The mattress at the University guesthouse was unlikely to be harder, I reasoned,  than the one at the rural Christian monastery where I was going to be spending the first week and a half in India on the upcoming trip. And the food was unlikely to be more difficult to enjoy than what the monks and nuns ate. And anyway, I had just returned from Japan, where I became convinced that the more expensive the hotel, the harder the mattress.

If I really hated sambar, rasaam, and idly, I probably wouldn’t go to south India. But I had learned to eat, if not love, the first two items, spicy soups, back in the mid 1970’s, when my South Indian ex-boyfriend moved to a town near my parents, who really liked him more than any other boyfriend I had before or after, and proceeded to teach my mother how to do South Indian cooking. I learned to more or less enjoy idly, a somewhat bland lentil flour based sponge, used to sop up the sambar, on my first trip to India, where they served it at the Hindu monastery (ashram) that hosted the meditation retreat that I was attending in 2001.

So I just had to deal with the reality of the hospitality that my hosts, for what was becoming a four day speaking tour in Chennai, were able to provide. I had offered to teach a two day seminar, give a dinner talk to my fellow members of our international engineering society, and a lecture to the engineering students at the local university.  I ended up also giving a longer version of the dinner talk at two private companies, and another presentation to some eleventh graders, entitled “Is a Career in Materials Engineering Right for Me?” I wasn’t charging a speaking or teaching fee, but I thought it was reasonable to ask them to cover my expenses for the four days that I’d be visiting them. They agreed, but were concerned about the budget. It all worked out. I was back to normal food after buying myself four days of temptations at the Radisson Blu buffets.

Back home after a month in India, I feel more spiritually attached to the people and place than ever. After twenty years of trying to get traction exploring new ideas of how engineers can embrace critical and creative thinking, or what I’ve started to call “cultivating clarity,” I am lucky to have developed a small group of local, American people, who appreciate my creative approach to critical thinking. But each of the two Indian companies that invited me to the give the “Thinking Skill Optimization” talk had 85+ people attend. And they participated. And their managers thanked me in unique ways that allowed me to see that they were also paying attention. My new friend Prasad told me “You have gotten pretty close to giving a method for developing intuition.”

Yes, that’s right. And it was very interesting to me that someone who lives in the land of the longest lasting collective consciousness, the very source of intuition, understood that to be a major part of my approach. Of course many engineers would not be attracted to a class on developing their intuition, and even if they were, I imagine they’d have a hard time convincing their bosses to cover the costs to attend. It sure is useful to have a way to calibrate intuition though. When effective, it’s a lot faster and easier than calculations and analysis.

Thinking about it further, I am just realizing how unusual it was that both managers attended the training with their employees. How often does that happen in the USA? Most American managers think that the only thing they need to know how to do is balance a budget.

I think there is more to the success of the contribution of Indian industry to the global economy than low wages.