A Dream Within a Dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

This has always been one of my favorite Edgar Allan Poe poems. It goes well with questioning the nature of reality, the nature of the self, the passage of time in that reality, of life. We structure all these in our perceptions from our own nature. We have a beginning and an end (at least in this plane of existence) and a structure that we feel we perceive accurately based on our existence in our reality. But even our concept of time in everyday life -for example linear time or sequential time or synchronous time – comes to us from our culture and beliefs.

amelia-island-march-2011-049Some philosophies see no beginning or end of time, no boundary to the universe. Infinity is a difficult thing for our minds to conceptualize and comprehend. A few weeks ago, Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s “Star Talk” discussed “Is Our Universe a Stimulation?” Perhaps we are all just part of a computer program similar to “The Matrix,” except it is just a machine with a programmer somewhere writing the code. We would have no way of proving of disproving the assumption. There could even be an infinity of universes or multi-verses. Whenever any decision is made, a timeline is created. That would theoretically make time travel a possibility since new timelines would create the logical possibility for paradoxes. I love reading counterfactual history. The speculation is always intriguing. What if Churchill had died when hit by a car in New York City in 1931? In some timelines, he would have.

An interview with Donald Hoffman called “The Case Against Reality” is a very interesting read. He uses physics to argue that the world is not hereas we see it. You can read it here or here. Even the concept of universal mind and the oneness of eastern philosophy is possible in his model.

I will end with these words from Alan Watts in his “Taoism: Way Beyond Seeking“: – “The world that we see is a creation of eidetic imagery. We select the human concerns as the significant areas. In a way, this is our answer to the cosmic Rorschach test. So, in that manner we have performed maya, the world illusion. But maya also means “art,” and it also means “magic.” Therefore, the magical evocation of the world of things from the formless world – which means from the world of pure Tao that simply wiggles – that is the real creation of the world.”

Chiune Sugihara, his wife Yukiko and children

Chiune Sugihara, his wife Yukiko and children

A few decades ago, I attended a wedding reception on Long Island and had a conversation with a person that has stayed with me all these years. I only had that one short talk with her and don’t remember her name, but she was very engaging and quite fascinating. She was Jewish and was born in Poland. She was a young girl when Germany invaded her country and systematically began to exterminate her people. Her life was saved by the actions of a Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, who provided exit visas to Jews in Poland and Lithuania. The woman and her father made their way across the Soviet Union via the Trans Siberian Railway to Japan to Canada and eventually to New York. I was fascinated by her story but the part that has stuck with me all these years was her wisdom of perspective. She said that we tend to focus on the present and forget to put things into perspective. She would catch herself complaining about the cold New York winters, but then she would remember crossing Siberia and the bitter cold. New York was not so cold after all. When I hear someone say, “this is the worst ever” or even “this is the best ever” I think of her. She saw both the worst and the best in people. And when I hear people judge others as different and as outsiders to be rejected, as we in the US did to the people on the SS St. Louis fleeing certain death, I think of the compassion and bravery of Chiune Sugihara and his family. Too few of us have their integrity.

All we have is the current moment, and how we view and live in that moment ripples through time in ways we can barely imagine.

zhuangzi

Zhuangzi

 

Many years ago, I was facilitating a group for folks who had been referred by the courts for drunk driving and had been evaluated as having a problem with alcohol. I came down to the group room early one afternoon, and one of the guys had gotten there early, too, and we just sat at the table and talked for a while before anyone else arrived. He was concerned that his son, who was about 12 years old, did not respect him as he had respected his dad. I asked him to tell me about his relationship with his son. They went fishing together, they talked, and his son could confide in him, and he could correct his son with words. What he did not do was hit his son. I asked him how did he see respect. “When I did something wrong, daddy didn’t talk, he just flailed us.” It became clear fairly quickly that what he had with his son sounded like a healthy loving relationship that included respect , but he saw respect as lacking. The relationship did not have fear in it. His son was not afraid to talk to him. As an adult, the man I was talking with was still afraid to confide in his father. He still felt fear of his father, and thought that was respect.

So what is respect? In a culture of western religion, we are taught we have a loving God, but that we should also fear that God. Politicians preach that for other countries to respect us, they must fear us. That same belief comes to permeate relationships among those in the community to those in the family and to friends.  In personal relationships, some come to believe that if they are not feared they are not respected.

How well does that work? A child cannot be honest with a parent. Western religions have the concept of original sin and being redeemed by being forgiven by the loving but feared God. Over the millennia, some believers, from various religious traditions, have chosen to kill those they deem nonbelievers in order to save them and to serve their God and spread their belief. Some mix their chosen economic system and put it into their religion, regardless of how incompatible they may be, and again hate and try to destroy those nonbelievers and  forcibly spread what they believe is truth. Nations, and individuals, may lie to each other, try to intimidate each other, and try to be at least one up on all others. Being on top means being the most feared in the hierarchy. Fear doesn’t plant the seeds of honesty very well. Fear kills honesty. For all the television and movie action stories that rely on fear and torture to get the truth, the reality is that those methods don’t work very well, and are often counterproductive. Meeting anger and hatred with anger and hatred just intensifies and increases and spreads the anger and hatred and fear. You reap what you sow in an endless feedback loop.

More and more, neuroscience focuses on the attachment style we acquire as infants and that style affects every relationship we have in life including relationships with addictive behaviors. Here is Allan Schore talking briefly about the effects of abuse and neglect on attachment.

Chinese philosophy doesn’t have the concept of original sin nor an eternal afterlife nor the need for the supernatural to save you from sin and eternal damnation. It is based in nature. The philosophers, who lived during the Warring States period, tried to teach a way that would help people treat each other decently, and the way of each philosopher was directed by their view of whether people are inherently good or evil or born with the capability for both with the outcome based on how they were raised. Confucius taught the need for ritual to be able to act and react in the right way with “de” or virtue. Mencius had us develop our “moral sprouts.” Laozi taught the need to get back to our original nature, which he felt was inherently good. Mozi taught the need to measure the utility of everything and direct behaviors based on outcomes. He also said that maybe it was better that people believe in ghosts and spirits for then they would behave better. Modern psychology does find that people tend to behave more ethically when they feel they are being watched. A poster of a drawing of eyes on the wall in a break room can increase the contributions to the honor collection for coffee. Mozi, however, never indicated that he believed in such beings.

Zhuangzi taught that no matter what path you take, you focus on the path and do your best. There are many ways to strive to get to the top of the mountain. Virtually every philosophy/religion has some version of the golden rule or categorical imperative – treat others as you would like to be treated. Love one another as you love yourself. The only life long relationship you have is with yourself, and the relationship you have with yourself affects your relationship with and attachment to others. Which gains more respect – treating yourself and others with honesty, a desire for understanding, empathy, compassion, and loving kindness, or in ways that invoke fear? How would you like to be treated? And how do you treat yourself and others?

How The Police Generate False Confessions, by James L. Trainum

Review of “How The Police Generate False Confessions,” by James L. Trainum

There is an old adage that confession is good for the soul. But what if the confession is false and the result of coercion and the stakes are your life? In his book, “How the Police Generate False Confessions: An Inside Look at the Interrogation Room“, James L. Trainum tells us just how that can happen. He follows the case of the Norfolk Four, and in particular the case of Danial Willams, throughout the book as he guides us through the investigative process that is commonly used by police and prosecutors in the US. The case was also featured in a Frontline documentary in 2010 called “Why Would Anyone Confess to a Crime They Didn’t Commit?”

The reason is because of the investigative techniques used in trying to close the case, which doesn’t necessarily mean solving the crime. Trainum is now a consultant but was a police officer and detective for many years and said that by using the techniques generally employed by police, he also caused a false confession. There is no standardized investigative method in the US. There may be training or it may be on the job or some combination. Typically you receive a lot more firearms training than you do investigative training. Court decisions and cultural changes have taken out the “third-degree”, though “enhanced interrogation” and torture still finds its way in at varying levels and has been reinforced in pop culture in television series such as 24 and Hawaii Five-O. It makes for marketable drama but is lousy for finding accurate information and evidence. Shane O’Mara published his work, “Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation” last year that laid out the evidence. That can be a hard sell, though, with pop culture driving home the storyline that it does work and enables the “hero” to get to the bottom of the case in roughly 48 minutes of air time.

Trainum says that just as many police mourned the loss of the third-degree and felt it would make their jobs impossible, they felt the same after the Miranda ruling. Police quickly evolved to find creative ways to get around that decision, though, and again you can see that in books such as “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” by David Simon (which is an excellent book) and pretty much any current police procedural program.

One source of training that Trainum discusses throughout the book is The Reid Insititue. Reid provides training on interviewing and interrogation. One problem that seems to typically occur in investigations is that the focus is on closing the case quickly which leads to investigators in good conscience making a quick decision as to guilt or innocence and moving from the interviewing and gathering evidence stage straight to the interrogation phase. The sole goal of the interrogation phase is to get a confession of guilt. Methods include lying to the person, sometimes procedurally questionable line ups, tag teaming during the interrogation so the questioners are fresh but the suspect is continually worn down, jail house snitches, deal making, and when the physical evidence doesn’t match the hypothesis of guilt, rather than looking for a different suspect who is the actual guilty one, the hypothesis is changed. That is what happened in the Norfolk Four case when the DNA did not match Williams. Rather than looking at another person (who had been named by a witness early on and who later was found to be the actual perpetrator), the police decided that there must have been accomplices. I suppose it is difficult for anyone to admit they may have been mistaken. People do get wedded to their theory. Years ago, I was trained to investigate client rights allegations of abuse, and one of the techniques taught was having the person be able to save face. It would be nice if investigators and prosecutors could admit they were wrong and have some way to save face. I also remember one person who was receiving the training had a big smile when he said substance abuse counselors would be great at these types of investigations. I thought of that as I read this book. I never felt comfortable with the old style denial busting heavy confrontation of traditional substance abuse counseling.   The person had to admit they were an addict, and confess that they had a problem. Otherwise they would never get better. Talk about a Catch-22. If you go along, you are labeled an addict. If you say you are not, you are in denial and the confrontation goes on. It is the same style here. Whether the allegation is true or not, sometimes people just get worn down and confess and are not always aware of the consequences.

Trainum does an excellent job of showing just what can go wrong with our current system. He even mentioned a case from Vermont in which a person confessed to murder and was condemned to death even though a body was not found. Fortunately, the person supposedly murdered was found alive before the execution. You can read about that case and other similar ones in “Wilkie Collins’s The Dead Alive: The Novel, The Case, and Wrongful Convictions “by Rob Warden of Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. This book is also a worthwhile read and reviews many cases of wrongful convictions, including a death penalty case in Virginia in which the person was put to death – the case of Joseph O’Dell. A case was brought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond afterwards to re-examine the DNA evidence and the court ordered the evidence destroyed. According to Warden, the “prosecution argued that if the requested testing turned out to be exculpatory, ‘it would be shouted from the rooftops that the Commonwealth of Virginia executed an innocent man.'” Warden also mentions the case of Roger Coleman who was executed. When DNA testing had advanced enough to be able to tell whether the now executed man was innocent, the court did not allow the testing. Whether you agree with the death penalty or not, one thing that cannot be argued is that the dead who turn out to be innocent cannot be brought back from the grave, and the guilty are still out there. The death penalty is also a good tool to get a confession, including a false confession. “Do as we say and confess, and we let you live. Go to trial, and we will seek the death penalty. This is a time limited offer. Choose now.”

One technique often used is lying by the police and prosecutors to suspects in order to obtain a confession. Trainum points out that in the US, “we justify the use of lying to suspects by saying that they are on a ‘lower moral plain’ than the rest of us. This is a dangerous mentality that has been used to justify all sorts of abuses, including but not limited to the use of third-degree tactics. Lying not only increases the risk of false or unreliable confessions and statements, it damages the reputation of law enforcement in the eyes of the public.” So even before a person is charged, he or she is considered to be of a “lower moral plain.” With stereotyping and profiling, some people are automatically put into that category without having done anything. Perhaps those who like to point out that all lives matter could take into consideration that engrained cultural prejudices (conscious and unconscious) can produce situations in which some of our lives are treated as less than equal in mattering and as being worthy of justice. Some folks, whether because of race or gender or economic status or beliefs, are automatically classed as being in that “lower moral plain” because of history and culture and the time in which we live. Fortunately there is training to help counter unconscious biases in the use of force by officers. Hopefully training also includes addressing judgments and biases in the techniques of questioning and mitigating quick decisions on guilt. The justice system is not the only part of our culture with unconscious biases. We all have them. You can check out your own attitudes at Project Implicit. Project Implicit is a “non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition – thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a ‘virtual laboratory’ for collecting data on the Internet.” You can also examine your beliefs at Understanding Prejudice. You will become more informed by the information on the site.

Trainum’s goal is to see that the right people are convicted. That can be very difficult to do in highly charged emotional circumstances. We can be so repelled by the viciousness of a crime that we want justice and vengeance as soon as possible. Tunnel vision takes over.

Trainum does discuss a way of investigating that is very different than the US model. The investigative mindset in the UK is Assume nothing; Believe nothing; and Challenge everything. It is the UK model he recommends and which he describes using the acronym PEACE.

  • P – Planning and Preparation
  • E – Engage and Explain
  • A – Account Clarification and Challenge
  • C – Closure
  • E – Evaluation.

Trainum does of good job of explaining the model and the rationale for it. He provides US objections and the UK response to each of the parts. PEACE is a model of seeking the truth and of accountability. It is a model of critical thinking and evaluation. It has oversight and maintaining a trail of the investigation including videotaping of interviews. Investigators and prosecutors do not lie and manipulate. The oversight also allows investigators to change theories and save face. Our current model can not only contaminant the memories of the suspect but also of the witnesses. This model seeks to rectify that problem. A detailed outline of the model can be found here. All members of the criminal justice system that are looking to seek the truth in cases and find justice by arresting and prosecuting the correct perpetrator would do well to consider looking at Trainum’s arguments and his rationale for change. It would do us all good to read this book to see just how justice can work, or sometimes not work. Trainum opens the book with a scenario showing how easily a person can quickly become a suspect and almost immediately be subject to an interrogation with the sole purpose of getting a confession. As for the Norfolk Four, according to Trainum they are out of prison but have not been able to get a full pardon despite the evidence and the subsequent legal and ethical issues of the investigator who got the confessions. “One has been released from prison, having served his full term. The others are out, granted conditional parole by a governor who, though admitting the existence of the evidence pointing to their innocence, does not feel that he can grant a full exoneration because they ‘confessed.’ It is true – the power of a confession can trump all reason.” Trainum devotes chapter 12 of the book to recommended safeguards and reforms. His closing paragraph is powerful:

“Change and reform begins with you. As evidenced in the 2015 public responses to police shootings of unarmed African American men, the criminal justice system (and law enforcement agencies in particular) will respond to adverse public opinion. One good thing remains: As resistant as law enforcement agencies are to change, deep down, most individual investigators want to get it right. They need the right tools, the right training, and the right mindset. With your voice, and the reforms suggested in chapter 12, they can get it. Then we can all sleep better.”

Santa Fe 2009 298Many of the people I work with in both taijiquan and counseling have chronic pain. According to the National Health Interview Survey done by the CDC , about 25 million Americans suffer daily pain and about 54 million Americans have chronic pain. In working with pain, I use a combination of movement and mindfulness. Taijiquan and qigong can work wonders for pain relief. Each is a gentle way to get moving again and a way to attain balance in all parts of life.

There are several books I suggest to folks. First are the works of Toni Bernhard. You can read more about her at http://tonibernhard.com/. She addresses pain management from a Buddhist perspective. She has written several books on the topic and about her own coping with chronic pain. Another book is “The Pain Antidote: The Proven Program to Help You Stop Suffering from Chronic Pain, Avoid Addiction to Painkillers and Reclaim Your Life”, by Mel Pohl, MD and Katherine Ketcham. You can find out more about it at http://www.thepainantidotebook.com/index.html. Pohl helps people get off opiates and develop alternate and more effective ways of coping with pain.

Taiji and qigong work with pain by changing your relationship with gravity, changing the way you breathe, and calming your mind and body. A principle of taiji is that you only expend the energy and engage the muscles for whatever it is you are doing at that moment. Everything else is relaxed but ready. Your joints are never locked. Your spine is upright and your head rests in balance on your shoulders. If you had a plumb bob attached to the center of the top of your head and it ran down the center of your body, that plumb bob would always touch the floor somewhere between your feet as you move. Standing at rest, it would be equidistant between your ankles. Your shoulders are relaxed – neither tucked forward nor pulled back. When you change your relationship with gravity and are balanced, there is less pain because you are not tilted forward or back putting a lot of work on your neck, shoulders, and back. You also carry your body differently according to mood. Being in balance and harmony with gravity can also balance your mood.

Breathing to your diaphragm also reduces stress which can reduce pain. There is an emotional component to pain. Calming the emotions can help reduce the pain. Abdominal breathing slows the heartbeat, reduces blood pressure and blood sugar, lowers stress hormones in the blood, changes the blood flow in the body, improves digestion, and even changes your vision. You are going from fight-flee-freeze-faint mode to rest and digest mode. This is a guide to finding balance in a standing meditation.

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You can read more about the principles of taijiquan and qigong here.

You can also change your relationship with pain by changing the emotional relationship with it. Rather than fighting it, have a conversation with it. What is it trying to tell you? How does it feel? Is it hot, cold, throbbing, a dull ache? Notice it, be with it. Change your self talk with pain to change that relationship, too. Pain is not a bad thing, it is there to tell us something is wrong. Sometimes the harder we try to make it go away, the harder it works to be heard. Changing self talk can help with that as well. You change your relationship with pain.

 

Another option is humor. In 1979, Norman Cousins wrote a book called, “Anatomy of an Illness As Perceived by the Patient – Reflections on Healing and Regeneration.” I came across it back when it was published in 1979. My dad was in an intensive care unit for most of two years during that time. Cousins found that a component of his healing was humor and included things like watching Candid Camera and Marx Brothers movies. Laughter changes the hormones in your body and can bring on pain relief. Even just a smile can begin to bring calm and start to lessen pain. When people have found that support groups sometimes unhelpfully come down to contests of who hurts the most, humor can erupt to help with coping, especially in the form of Monty Python. Just the thought of the Yorkshire men can bring on a smile.

 

 

 

2015 May 16 to 23 Bar Harbor 052

Root to the earth and rise to the sky like a tall straight tree.

It is difficult to feel centered sometimes. We are scattered by all sorts of distractions – perseverating thoughts, loud noises, flickering lights, and most often these days from electronic devices like phones and tablets. There seem to be multiple things at any given moment getting us scattered mentally and emotionally, and also physically. Pay attention to your body when you are feeling scattered. Are you grounded and relaxed and in harmony with gravity? Or are you tense, stiff, tilted forward or to one side with gravity pulling you down.

 

Our bodies and minds are one and when you are scattered in one, the other is out of balance as well. In taijiquan and qigong, your center is your lower dantien. That is the energy center about three finger widths below your belly button and three finger widths inside your body. Essentially, it is your center of gravity, and we move around and breathe from that center. I sometimes say in taijiquan class that life is a struggle in finding balance with gravity. It is always there. Astronaut Scott Kelly was two inches taller after spending about a year in space. Gravity compressed his body back that two inches after his return to earth. When you are out of balance with gravity, your body pays a price. Your neck, your lower back, and your spine all struggle to keep you upright. The outcome is increased pain and an increased risk of falling.

When you are out of balance, you also do not breathe as efficiently. Beginning about age 6 or 7, our breathing tends to start moving from our belly towards our upper chest. This style of breathing is less efficient. We get less oxygen, we have to work harder to breathe and tend to breathe more quickly. This “upper chest” breathing engages your sympathetic nervous system, or your fight/flee/freeze/faint system. Your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and breathing rate all rise. You get tunnel vision. Your blood moves from your internal organs and brain out to your arms and legs to get you ready for action. Your ability to think and improvise goes away and you automatically “go with what you know.” Your adrenalin and cortisol levels rise and form a feedback loop between your adrenal glands and your brain that causes the levels to continue to rise. Take a moment and put one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your abdomen just below your belly button. Now breathe like you normally breathe. Which hand moves? Are you breathing from your abdomen or your upper chest?

You can practice getting your center – finding your balance and breathing efficiently. You will move better. You will feel better. You will function more from the parasympathetic nervous system’s rest and digest way of being. You might even be more likely to use the other response to a threat – tend and befriend – when you are balanced.

This is an exercise we do at the beginning of classes to find balance with the earth and harmony with gravity.

Kona Hawaii 2013 116Recently a friend mentioned how different he felt while on prednisone, and as a Buddhist it helped bring home the tenuousness of the concept of self. Alan Watts wrote extensively about the concept of self in Daoist and Buddhist philosophy, with one example here.

I get to listen to about 10 or 15 minutes of Radio Lab on NPR during my Wednesday commute and recently there was a piece on the element lithium. Lithium is used as a psychotropic, but they also mentioned that towns which have an incredibly small amount of lithium naturally occurring in their water supplies also have lower suicide rates than towns with even smaller amounts. It reminded me that when lead was removed from gasoline and paint, crime rates went down. Transcranial magnetic stimulation not only helps with relieving depression, but in at least one study, people changed a decision after the stimulation. They didn’t realize the stimulation had occurred and had a rational explanation as to why they changed their minds, and the explanation went along with our concept of self and free will. So much of what we do and who we are occurs below our conscious level.

One theory in neuroscience I have come across is that the construct of “other” evolved first followed by the construct of “self.” These came about so that we could communicate and get along in this world. Music also evolved for our social and emotional well being, and it can have a very big impact on emotion. Think about the use of music in the soundtracks of movies, television and radio and how that affects your experience of the story. Athletes use music to change their performance. You can even use a soundtrack in your mind to change your mood and to change your self-talk. In Negotiating the Nonnegotiable, Daniel Shapiro tells how at his workshops he uses a soundtrack of drums to increase the sense of tribe for workshop participants who have to negotiate bringing their separate tribes into one tribe or else the world will end. The world almost always ends in the exercise. I wonder if that would change without the beat of the tribal drums during the cohesion of the tribes.

Shapiro devotes an entire chapter to the self – the “dual nature of identity.” He refers to our sense of self as the “fixed-identity problem.” Identity is not static, and includes our beliefs, rituals, allegiances, values, and emotionally meaningful experiences. We have various mindsets of the self. There is the fundamentalist who sees identity as fixed and governed by forces outside our control. There is the constructivist who sees identity as an “ever-evolving social construction.”   There is the anattist who sees us as having no permanent identity and transcending “the material world of attachment, experiencing identity as shifting waves within the ocean of life.” Lastly, there is the quantumist who sees identity as “a combination of nature and nurture” with identity both fixed and fluid and there are many possible selves. And we may change that perspective over time. They are not fixed either. With these different perspectives, how do we get along with each other? We change our relationships in that space between us. You can learn more by listening to Shapiro here.

A few years ago, I was cleaning out the attic in the home where I grew up. I found the speech I gave at my high school graduation. The last line was “we are all in this together.” All these years later, I still believe that. Shapiro’s work gives us good guidance on how to get along with each other in this world, and some different perspective on just what the “self” is.

When you hurt another, you may ask forgiveness from them. The Pope has asked forgiveness of those molested by priests and for the treatment of indigenous people in the New World. People convicted in court may ask forgiveness just before sentencing. Preachers and politicians ask forgiveness when caught in sin and then enter rehab to prove just how sincere they are. All of us do wrong at some time. Forgiveness is an issue that comes up often in life and in counseling. What does that word mean?

It does not mean saying that the wrong is now okay. “Sure you hurt me, but I forgive you, now it is okay.” That definition makes forgiveness extremely difficult if not impossible. It is giving a gift of dispensation to the one who harmed you. There is another view. Forgiveness can mean, “I don’t like what you did, and it is not okay but I will let it go. It doesn’t mean I want to have anything to do with you again, but I am not going to let anger and resentment devour me.” A quote attributed to the Buddha is that holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal. The one who gets burned is you.

Many years ago I was having a conversation with a person who was working on recovery in AA and was doing step work. The eighth step is making a list of people you have harmed and you become willing to make amends to them. The ninth step is to make direct amends to those you have harmed except when to do so would injure them or others. It became quickly obvious that the person’s goal was to seek forgiveness even though in that case it would cause pain to the person wounded and to others. There was no talk about making amends. One universal principle throughout cultures and spiritual traditions (including secular ones) is to give without thought of return. When the Bodhidharma met with the Emperor Wu, one of the questions Wu asked was how much merit he had earned for all the monasteries he had built and all the other good deeds he had done in the name of the Buddha. “None,” said Bodhidharma. According to the story, the conversation was a short one. There are times when asking forgiveness is a manipulative act. We are asking forgiveness of the one we have already harmed with the sole purpose of making ourselves feel better. What is the merit of that? None. You are just doing more harm.

This is a place where the steps give good guidance. Look into your heart. It may be better to seek how you can make amends to those you hurt rather than ask forgiveness. Forgiveness belongs to the one harmed, and it is for them and within them that forgiveness occurs. If you are going to ask anything, ask how you can make amends and even then, only ask when doing so causes no further harm. Making amends with no expectations (including the expectation of forgiveness) may be a better way and work better at allowing yourself forgiveness with time.

For further thoughts on working on reconciliation and the process of forgiveness I strongly recommend “Negotiating the Nonnegotiable: How to Resolve Your Most Emotionally Charged Conflicts,” by Daniel Shapiro. Shapiro is the founder and director of the Harvard International Negotiation Program. As a psychologist and negotiation specialist, he has worked with families as well as corporate and governmental groups including conflicting parties in the Middle East. He provides a very thoughtful and guided method for the process of forgiveness and reconciliation.

On Friday, we had snow, then sleet, then some rain and then into Saturday it became sleet and then back to snow that lasted almost into Sunday morning. The weather forecasters had been tracking this storm for a while. It looked touch and go as to what we would get and how much and when it would start here in eastern Virginia. A manager at one of the places I work sent out one of the best cancelation emails I have ever received: “Due to the impending doom, classes are canceled tomorrow.” She is from upstate New York and has a sense of humor about snow south of the Mason-Dixon. And my work schedule put me at the particular work place just as it started to snow. She ended up canceling classes for the afternoon as well. The snow stuck to the roads pretty quickly.

Today, Sunday, is chilly and beautiful. The wind has calmed and the sky is achingly blue. When I looked up early this morning, I thought “I haven’t seen a sky that color since I was last in New Mexico.” I went out after breakfast to start shoveling the driveway. We have a fairly long and curved driveway. It is uphill all the way to the street and trees line both sides. I have to shovel the whole thing side to side so that we can get traction up the hill to get out, and so that we don’t accidentally slide into a tree or slip into the side of the house trying to traverse its aggregate length on the way back down. I decided last year that I would know when it was time to move when I get too old to shovel it.

I have a system for shoveling. I start at the top and work in angles and use gravity to help. It is the simple kind of geometry I liked back in late elementary and early high school. I still wear the galoshes I got around 6th grade complete with loafers from that time inside. My coat is a nylon jacket I got in 9th grade all those decades ago. They feel like old friends that are there for me every winter. And I wore thermal and wicking shirts I used in winter while I trained for marathons some years ago. Marathons take over your life. I just run for fun these days. It is a nice meditation time. I think I wrote most of my dissertation while running.

I walked up to the road. The only tracks in the snow were birds and squirrels and rabbits. I wondered how the little fox who used to hang out some last summer is doing. Hope he or she is okay. The first thing I noticed as I started shoveling was that the alternation of the types of precipitation resulted in snow on top of a layer of ice. Ice does not shovel very well. Hidden in the snow were lots of branches and small limbs that had come down in the wind yesterday – little barriers that could stop a blade quickly. The combination of snow and ice took me back to the snows of ’66 back home. We missed a lot of school for snow days that year, and a snow fort I built in our front yard stayed there for weeks with its ice armor over the snow walls.

I like shoveling snow. It is a kind of meditation. There is the cold, the stark clarity of the landscape, the clean scent of frozen air. There is the serenity of the quiet. Just birds and squirrels were out except for three times when people and their dogs walked by. Today was interesting. How to push snow while standing on ice. I do a lot of balance work with taijiquan and qigong. I used those principles to stay upright. Relax, sink your energy (qi) down to your center and below. Root your feet to the earth. Let energy come up through your feet and legs, direct it with your waist – silk reel – express the energy with your arms and hands. Keep the posture up, breathe to the diaphragm, move from the lower dantien. Embrace tiger, return to mountain. Flow with Dao in harmony with nature. Hard to stay mindful all the time, though, and that is okay. Memories of past snows, thoughts of internal ongoing conversations and writing projects, the occasional blasts of songs by Adele in time to movement of the shovel. Sometimes the brain was as busy as the arms and legs. If I did start to slide, I would just flow with it and stay upright and in control. Just pretended I was in a pickup hockey game with Denis Leary.

The fitbit says I walked a little over three miles. I could probably go out and do the whole thing again now. The sun has softened up the ice. But it is getting late in the day. The temperature is falling. The sun and its yang power will be back tomorrow to take the yin cold of the ice and turn it to water. Let softness, yielding, and flexibility overcome the hard and rigid – practice wu wei in the aftermath of the storm.

Since 2008, Massive Online Open Courses have been providing free or low cost high quality college courses.  There are several sites that offer outstanding courses from universities around the world.

EdX.org is based in Cambridge, MA and governed by Harvard and MIT. You can read more about their principles and goals at https://www.edx.org/about-us.  As with most MOOCS, you can take courses live, or you can audit an archived course that has ended but stored online and still available. More about EdX later.

Coursera’s mission is to “provide universal access to the world’s best education,” and has partnered with major universities all over the world. Like EdX, it has apps for your Android and iPhone as well, to make it even easier to take courses.

iVersity is a European based MOOC with a variety of courses. EdX, Coursera, and iVersity all offer courses in languages other than English if you also want to practice your other-than-English language skills.

You can also use these as resources for students, and there are some geared just to students with resources for teachers and parents.  Khan Academy is a good resource and also has test prep for the SAT and other tests. If you, or someone you know, are interested in tech and coding, there is the Code Academy and Udacity. The World Wide Web Consortium also has classes with certificates you can earn for learning various computer languages and coding.

For a long list of free courses, MOOCS, and other free learning sources, take a look at Open Culture.

I hope you check these out and find something to stretch your mind. The course you take may be work or career related or just something you are interested in and take for fun. The most recent course I took on EdX was called “Chinese Thought: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science” taught by Edward Slingerland of the University of British Columbia. Slingerland did an excellent job of looking at Chinese philosophers such as Confucius, Mencius, Mozi, Laozi, Zhuangzi, and others and using modern neuroscience, psychology, anthropology and sociology research to examine the ethical models of human behavior that each philosopher espoused.  Do expect to spend time on courses. There are lectures (the EdX ones I have taken are not classroom lectures but more like very well made documentaries), reading assignments, message boards for class participation, tests, and papers. There are certificates for passing. Be sure to read the details on the site where you sign up.  Give your brain a work out, and keep learning and growing your entire life.

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