Sunday, January 31, 2010

Of Trees and Towns

In the Mojave desert one often comes across the notorious ghost towns: constructed near gold mines, they were abandoned once all the gold had been extracted from the earth. They played their part and it made no sense to continue to inhabit them.

When we walk through a forest, we also see trees which, once they have played their part, fall down. But unlike the ghost towns, what has happened? They have opened up space for light to penetrate, fertilize the soil, and their trunks are covered with new vegetation.

Our old age will depend on the way in which we live. We can end up like a ghost town. Or like a generous tree, which continues to be important, even after it has fallen to the ground.

excerpt from Warrior of the Light
by Paulo Coelho
found for free at Feedbooks

You reap what you sow.

Haven't we all heard that before? If you spread good will and kindness, then good will and kindness will make its way back to your heart. But if you spread nastiness and evil around you, then that too will be what winds up on your doorstep.

Coelho suggests in this story that we have a choice as to what sort of life we will build during our time on earth. We can build a structure that is designed only to last for the moment, to serve our immediate needs and desires, and that will wither away through disuse once that transient need has been satisfied. Or, we can build a structure that serves a purpose far greater than our own, a purpose that not only meets our needs, but the needs of those around us. I suppose you could say that the difference is between choosing to be selfish and choosing to belong to something larger than yourself.

Which choice is the right one? Contrary to what most people would say, I don't believe that there is a right choice, there is simply a choice. You can choose to devote your life to doing things for yourself, meeting your own needs and desires, and having a blast all the while. I see nothing wrong with that. However, there are those who choose to devote their lives to doing things for others, helping others to meet their needs, and also having a grand time all the while. There is nothing that says to help meet the needs of others, you must suppress and ignore your own needs and desires. You can have both, you know.

That is the choice made by a Warrior of the Light. Help yourself. Help others. Leaving a legacy behind you such as a large corporation or larger bank account would be nice, but more to the point, why not do things in the present that help people now. No one suggested that we have to leave behind a marble palace for everyone to marvel at; no one said that we each must have our profiles carved on stone. What about simply doing your best in all things, giving others around you a hand up when they need one. Their success becomes your success. Finally, when we are gone from this world, there will still be others who were propped up by our example, and so it goes. Our actions today will continue to resound in the future, not because we did something amazing, but because we lived well.

Or you can leave a shell of a town behind that no longer serves any purpose.

The choice is yours.

The Warrior of Light

I have not been posting much lately, or at least, posting much of anything that is remotely interesting, or novel, or original. I fear that fear has taken over my mind and I am quite unable to focus on much of anything other than my uncertain future, one that could very well end up with my life, such as it is, coming to an abrupt end. No, I don't mean that I will be killed off in some dramatic vein, like some cheap and tawdry soap opera character, but rather, my future being dictated to me by agencies and offices, my own plans and desires no longer being of any matter whatsoever.

I have been trying to gather my own inner strength by focusing on what I know I have accomplished in my life before now, on the many people I have helped, and the fact that many many untrue things have been said about me, all of which has been of little practical help, to be honest, but there you are. (Holy crap, that is one insanely long sentence; I will let it stand, though.) I have also taken refuge in my strong faith, some of which I have shared here in previous posts, faith that has no relationship to religion, please recall, but even that seems of limited value in the face of what I am having to contend with at the moment. By the way, I apologize for not going into detail about what those problems are, but my two (expensive) lawyers have instructed me to say nothing to anyone about the matter. Let that be a suggestion of what I am going through.

In previous posts, I have shared with you messages that I believe have been from the Divine. Call it what you will: God, Allah, Yahweh, the Cosmic Consciousness, Mother Nature, or Zeus. It doesn't really matter to me in the least. Some of the messages came from a book titled God Calling, edited by RJ Russell. Some of the messages were given to me directly through a friend of mind who has always had contact with spirits. During the time she spent with me, I would see her grab a pencil and begin to scribble down words on a page that were directed to me, words that I know could not have come from her.

The book that I have been reading lately, and which is helping me to wrestle with my own fear and worry is titled Warrior of Light, by Paulo Coelho. Prior to my current problems, I had already discovered Coelho's writings through books such as The Alchemist and The Devil and Miss Prym. I have recently discovered a book that is a collection of anecdotes and tales that he has previously published through his blog, his Facebook, and his MySpace, titled Warrior of the Light. I have found, if not inspiration, at least words of strength in its pages.

The book is partly an account of his travels through the world in search for enlightenment and partly retold stories he has collected along the way that illustrate what he learned. The book was available for free through Feedbooks, so I am assuming there is no problem with my reposting portions of the book here, with suitable credit.

So, for the next few days, there will be an anecdote posted here with a message behind it, a message that is meant as an object lesson for those seeking something beyond themselves. Call it wisdom, call it insight, call it truth. I am certainly not qualified to tell you what it is. I only know that the stories have struck a chord within me, as being, if not a path to become a warrior of the light, to at least finding a path to understanding and personal strength.

I hope you enjoy them. I hope you get something out of them. And if not, feel free to move along to the gay porn blogs. You won't hurt my feelings.

We Are All Responsible

A group of men came along the street; heavily armed soldiers leading a condemned man to the gallows.

"That man is no good," said a disciple to Nasrudin. "I once gave him a silver coin in order to help him start his life afresh, and he did nothing important."

"He may be no good, but perhaps he is now on his way to the gallows because of you," argued the master. "Perhaps he used the alms in order to buy a dagger, which he then used in committing his crime-because instead of helping him with love and care, you chose to give him alms in order to release yourself from your obligation."

an excerpt from Warrior of the Light
by Paulo Coelho
found as a free download through Stanza


Mullah Nasrudin, Coelho explains, is the central figure in many of the anecdotal stories told in the Sufi ( the mystical sect of Islam) tradition. Much like the figure of Socrates in the Platonic Dialogues, Nasrudin delivers wisdom to his pupils, or disciples, through stories and cautionary tales.

I happen to like this particular story because giving money as a means of assuaging my need to help others was very much my modus operandi during the days I actually had money to give away. You name a charity, and I gave to it. Come the annual United Way campaign, I was the first one to fill out the gift form and turn it in, proudly wearing my stupid little plastic pin that proclaimed, "Look at me! I am generous and caring towards those less fortunate than myself!"

Every Christmas, when it was time to sign up to purchase gifts to donate to a child in need, my name was first and last on the list. To paraphrase the orphan kid from Pee Wee's Big Adventure who had just been adopted, "I want to give, sister!" And after turning in my tastefully wrapped and overly priced packages, promptly forgot about the families I had just donated to and wandered off to the mall to buy a gift for me.

Church raffles, church donations, Girl Scouts, candy bar sales, I did it all, patting myself on the back for "helping".

But was I really?

Were money and expensive items really going to help anyone? Sure, you could argue that the governing bodies that I had donated to would make sure the money did some good for the right people. But I think Nasrudin is suggesting that we each have an obligation. Not a monetary obligation, or a legal obligation, but rather, a moral one. A human one.

If a person who is in need appears in our lives, Nasrudin is saying that we need to care about them, love them, help them in a real sense. This very much goes against what we in our Western Civilization believe. Our culture says that each man is responsible for himself. If a man is struggling, it's because he isn't working hard enough. It's his own fault that his needs aren't being met, so tough luck. I have mine, and it's not my problem that you don't have yours. Move along.

The Sufi mystics have a far different philosophy. Each of us has the ability to make a difference in lives around us. So, what will each of us do?

Flick a coin at them and declare, "Hit the road," a la Bugs Bunny? Or be a channel for love and concern?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fanboy Geekout

I have to admit that for several days now, I have been looking forward to Apple CEO Steve Jobs' Major Announcement scheduled for today. Everyone was speculating that he would be unveiling the, heretofore shrouded in secrecy, Apple iPad. And he did! Yay!

Of course, due to my horrible insomnia, I didn't fall asleep last "night" until 6:15 AM today, and so, slept through the live announcement which was being carried live by Gizmodo. Oh well......

As soon as I arose from my crypt, I hopped online to see what was out there and immediately upon seeing the iPad, decided that I needed one in my life. Not want one, mind you, but need one, as in all of the mitochondria in my body would stop functioning simultaneously, causing me to drop immediately into a coma and pass away unless I have one in my hand. Not that that would be a bad thing, mind you.

 Once I managed to shrug off the fuzziness brought on by several days of sleep deprivation, however, my fanboy reaction was tempered by the fact that I was just looking at a big iPhone. It does the same things that an iPhone does, it doesn't do anything that an iPhone cannot do, and costs at a minimum, $500.

To make sure that I wasn't just bagging on the iPad as a result of dementia, depression, or a case of bad gas (phfffffft........pardon me...) I surfed around to see what other people were saying. I found a well done article that had a pros/cons list which summarized my initial impressions succinctly. And so, I thought I would share it. The excerpt came from here.

  • Interface is extremely similar to the iPhone/iPod Touch.  This means that most of the 50 million odd owners of one of these devices should be able to pick it up and go.
  • The App Store is the iPad’s single biggest strength.  No company has a finer base of programs (or nearly as many) available to its end users.  Apparently 140,000 or so of those App Store programs will be able to be loaded up right away on the upcoming iPad.
  • Large screen.  In fact, its 10 inches makes it larger than most netbook screens, portable DVD players and mobile video game players
  • 10 hour battery life is pretty decent.
  • Big developer buy-in – It was good to see both Gameloft and EA demo their stuff during today’s presentation
  • Ability to read books, newspapers and magazines in a simple format.
  • Built in speaker and microphone
  • No multitasking.  In fact, its Safari browser seemingly doesn’t support multiple websites being pulled up
  • No flash.  Flash is a major part of the web.  Without it being included, you will likely be missing a lot.
  • No removable battery.  When it dies completely, so does the iPad.
  • It’s too big to easily carry in one hand.  1.5 pounds can weigh you down after an hour or so of reading.
  • Questionable endurance.  How long can a device that only weighs 1.5 pounds take abuse?  One of its selling points is that kids could use this for their textbooks in school.  I don’t think I am going to allow Little Bobby Butterfingers near this $500 piece of technology.
  • No HDMI port, no camera, no built in phone
  • Screen does not use 16:9 aspect ratio (as many videos now are) resulting in a black box on each side when they are  played.
So, what does all this say? Though I have been really looking forward to the iPad, the fact that it seems to be a bigger version of a piece of equipment that I already own means I don't need it. Well, and to be honest, after being out of a job since April '08, my available monies are practically exhausted. Food or an iPad....hmmmmm......

Exactly. iPad, here I come!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dinner With the Doc

Back to the healthy meals.


I am trying to eat chicken 3 times a week, sweet potatoes 4 times a week, more avacado, more almonds as snacks, etc. Alcohol is out of the question (sniff, sniff) as is bread, desserts, sugar, etc. Red meat is down to once a week, though I tend to bend that one a bit. Well, I mean come on, I do live in Texas!

The plan also calls for oily fish 3 times a week, but I can't do that. The only way I can eat fish is if it has been deep fried, and I don't think that is in the spirit of eating healthy. So, I just throw in more chicken.

This particular dinner is roasted chicken (rubbed with olive oil, sprinkled with house seasoning), roasted sweet potato (with Smart Balance instead of butter), and fresh corn sliced off of the cob (cooked with a small amount of cream [I'm trying, dammit!], garlic, salt, and pepper).

No, it's not absolutely healthy, what with the corn, cream, and chicken skin, but it's a heck of a lot better than I had been eating. Baby steps.......

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Fajita Friday

Seeing as how I have been trying to eat a bit more healthily lately, I decided to treat myself to a Tex Mex dinner. Part of the meal was a freshly made pot of pinto beans, the recipe for which follows. Now, I know what you are thinking. "Dr. Mandragora, why do I need to know your recipe for beans? They are easy to make."

No. No, they are not. I cannot even begin to tell you how many home-cooked beans I've had at barbeques, get togethers, etc. that royally sucked. So please, give these a try. You won't be sorry.


1 and 1/2 cups of dry pinto beans
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, chopped
3 slices of smoked bacon, chopped
1 jalepeno pepper (though today I used bell pepper instead)
5 cups water
salt/pepper to taste

Add all of the ingredients into a pot and cover. Simmer on medium low heat for around 3 hours, or until the beans are soft and the cooking liquid creamy. Keep an eye on the pot, by the way; if the water level gets too low, add in some extra. You should never be able to see exposed beans, they should always be covered with cooking liquid.

Now, if that isn't a recipe that any goofball can follow, then I don't know what is.
Please note, by the way, that I didn't specify how much salt or pepper to use. I tend to salt and pepper food fairly liberally, so I do not want to tell anyone how much salt to use.

My very delicious beans were a part of my Tex Mex feast which had fajitas, rice, beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, and (not homemade) tortillas.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Public Service Announcement

If you have a cat, I can only suggest that you stay alert and wary at all times. Ever since their fall from power after the Egyptian pharaohs were overthrown, cats have been working to retake the world.