A fabulous time to reassess what it means to have these holidays …

Wow, what a gorgeous word. How eloquent.

Mendacity (n.) means deceitfulness, dishonesty, puffery, misrepresentation, disingenuousness. I just read a wonderful article by artist and author, Jack White (http://faso.com/fineartviews/47488/mendacity) in which he specifically discusses the downside of using mendacity to sell one’s art, either by exaggerating one’s talents, or otherwise misrepresenting their accomplishments or the value of their art. This type of dishonesty is rampant in our society. Sadly, it seems even to be encouraged, as when parents praise their children for anything they do from the time they get up in the morning; every word from these parents’ mouths is “I’m proud of you, Johnny.” That does not teach the child the value of perseverance, or struggle and effort; and it certainly discourages the child from developing a backbone of honesty.

If I told you I had the perfect marriage, would you believe me?  You might.  But more likely, you would simply smile benignly, thinking to yourself, Yeah, right.  Most likely, you would be listening through your own filters, which have been shaped by your upbringing, your environment and your own personality.  But consider for a moment.  We have all made mistakes in our lifetimes.  And we have all made choices in our lifetimes.  As a dear friend pointed out, a mistake is spilling a glass of milk — it’s an unfortunate event, and is not likely to affect your entire life.  A choice is a decision you made — consciously or unconsciously — that has brought you to your current situation.  Your life right now is a reflection of all the choices you made in the past.  When I claim that your life is perfect, I mean that it is exactly as it should be.  It is precisely as you designed it.

Now, you might protest, but did I choose to be fat?  or, did I decide to have a heart attack (or some other disease, fill in the blank)?  In a sense, you did.  Your choices are not necessarily conscious choices, but they are still choices.  Your current state of health is a direct reflection of how you have lived your life until this moment.  Consider your choice of spouses.  Did married life turn out as you expected?  If so, great – you get to feel proud of a choice well made; if not, the choice is still yours, to stay or leave or effect changes.  And remember that whatever changes are needed require effort from both parties.  Also remember that whatever change you choose to make may not be the “final” change that will hereafter carry you on wings of bliss from this moment on.  A choice is for the moment.  Its outcome may last much longer.  The important thing to realize is that we do have choices.  They can sometimes be obscure, difficult to make, difficult to accept as one’s own.  It’s much easier to lay blame on outside circumstances. 

I realize it is unnerving to look at one’s life and admit that it is perfect.  It almost suggests capitulation.  If it’s so perfect, why seek to make any changes?  The reason for that is again because of the choices we make.  If we are to accept our life as perfect just as it is, this would not argue against making changes in the present moment.  Remember that whatever we do at this moment becomes our past one moment later.  Therefore, if you feel your marriage does not support you, assess your options and consider the consequences.  Whatever you decide to do will then be your life at that point.  Can you be guaranteed that your life will be “better” after any decision?  Of course not.  But the crux of this exercise is the realization that you, ultimately, are solely responsible for how things are – and that translates to a life that is exactly as it should be, given the circumstances, given your current choices.  It is perfect.

New Orleans: Thank you message in the grotto o...

New Orleans: Thank you message in the grotto of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church; added by those for whom prayer or miracles were granted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night, one of my colleagues gave an inspired speech about appreciation.  He defined appreciation as the act of thanking someone for a job well done, not as vain flattery, but as a sincere acknowledgment of that person’s hard work.  Indeed, he pointed out how rarely one is acknowledged for going above and beyond, although I must say that in my experience, “management” is begun to acknowledge employees.  Problem is, it is a form of blanket acknowledgment, rather than sincere recognition of those employees who go above and beyond.  In my company, there are so many employees that perhaps that would be an insurmountable task, to not only be able to monitor each and every employee, but also to then make that employee feel special.  So, our company has instituted various games and contests, with the winning contestant earning gift cards of various denominations, or other more valuable gifts.

As my colleague explained, recognition of a job well done is a gift.  It is a gift when given freely and sincerely.  And sincerity is felt, as is flattery.  Flattery does not feel genuine, and therefore does not feel good; in fact, it may actually feel demeaning if one gets the impression that he or she is being mocked.  But sincere acknowledgment is also felt.  The words used, the way they are used, the body language, and the situation for which they are used are all underpinnings of what winds up feeling genuine, deserved and ultimately good.

I love being acknowledged for a job well done.  For example, when I come across a discrepancy, and bring it to the attention of my supervisor, it would really feel great if the supervisor pointed out, “Gee, that was a good catch!” 

Sincere appreciation is akin to gratitude, about which I have written previously.  With gratitude, one feels thankful for one’s gifts, for the opportunities and situations, for the personal characteristics, for one’s strengths — even for one’s weaknesses, as a source of learning.  Where gratitude is internal, appreciation is a gift we give another.  So, without being phony, do spend some energy acknowledging the people around you. 

There seems to be a prevalent attitude that compliments might go to a person’s head.  What is meant by that is that saying something good about that person would render him or her insufferably obnoxious, with an attitude of haughty superiority.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Neurolinguistic programming suggests that the words we use affect our attitudes, and therefore, our behavior.  And our behavior affects our moods and attitudes.  Tell a child to sit in the back of the class because he doesn’t participate well, and is distracting, is a sure way to ensure that the child behaves according to that pronouncement.  The opposite is also true: that success breeds success.  And “success” can be translated to acknowledgment, gratitude, or anything that will encourage the recipient to continue to act in the direction of the words just pronounced.  Look into your own lives; recall times when you have been admonished and criticized, and times when you have been adulated.  Then, extrapolate and recall how you felt, and what you were moved to do next.  I can assure you that being complimented made you want more of the same.  And vice versa.

Film poster for Casual Sex? - Copyright 1988, ...

My usual TV programming before falling asleep is invariably something on the Food channel – something benign and entertaining, that does not require much concentration, just a background drone of recipes to lull me to sleep.  That, until last night.  While flipping through the channels, I came upon a gentleman who was evidently lecturing an unseen audience.  I don’t know why I lingered as he spoke about how casually young women nowadays engage in sexual relationships, claiming that they “don’t mean anything,” and that they don’t “get emotionally involved,” claiming that “It’s just sex, it’s no big deal.”  The gentleman argued that sex is a big deal, and should be a big deal, and that giving it casually away is a mark of fear on the part of women.  Fear?  Here is the reasoning.  Sex, especially casual sex with no responsibilities, no “feelings,” no promises is what young men most want.  By yielding to that urge, a young woman is avoiding rejection, thinking that the young man is not likely to reject sex.  But in so doing, what she is accomplishing is to build a very thick wall around herself; she is not revealing her inner soul, her tastes, her values, her various interests, her personality — all she is accomplishing is giving away that which she thinks the young man wants and will not reject.  She is, therefore, avoiding rejection.  But the rejection she is avoiding is the shallow kind.  Casual sex, the hookup that “doesn’t mean anything,” is nothing more inspired than what the lower animals do.  With the difference that the lower animals only engage in it to reproduce; and humans engage in it for fun.

True, it is fun.  It is pleasurable, and it should be.  But it is so much more than simply an exchange of bodily fluids that “doesn’t mean anything.”

The man lecturing was an elder in the Catholic Church.  Who knew?

key to happiness

key to happiness (Photo credit: ~FreeBirD®~)

I have come to understand that happiness takes many forms.  And rarely do these forms include a state of giddiness or silly irresponsibility.  In my case, my happiest moments have been when I have accomplished a great feat, a difficult project, or achieved an important goal.  For example, one of my toughest courses at the university was a specialized computer course that I failed at first, but then chose to face the monster again and vanquished it, triumphant, and was granted the highest grade without needing to take the final exam.  That was a victory over the subject matter, but much more importantly, it was a victory over myself and my own demons.  It was just such difficulty that allowed me to see my deeper self, my core, realize my own strength; and it was that realization that produced a sense of joy and happiness. 

There was another occasion where I chose to override my own urges; where I chose to toe the line, even though it was unpopular, unnecessary, even, and yet that choice of asceticism produced an enormous sense of joy, satisfaction, victory, triumph over myself that cannot be duplicated in any other way.

So, I ask you: is personal choice the way to happiness?  In many ways, yes.  In the situations I described above (and many others), clearly, it was a choice on my part to follow a certain course of action, action that was not as comfortable or pleasant, but action which ultimately was a measure of my mettle.  It is that very sense of pride which has produced my happiness.  And in my ability to make choices also resides my personal freedom.  Were I not free, could I make any choices at all?  Indeed, how many choices would be available to me?  As it is, I have designed my life in such a way so as to have many choices in many situations, and looking at the sum total of my life, it looks like the choices I have made thus far have been solid ones.

In 1984, I applied and was accepted at George Washington University.  I was thrilled and proud to have been accepted at such a prestigious university.  But of course, that would have involved relocating to Washington, D.C. where I knew no one, had no job, and did not like the weather.  The more I thought about it, the harder it became.  Leaving Miami meant abandoning my best friend, relinquishing the deep affinity and meditative spirit I attained from my weekly early morning pilgrimages to the beach, and also meant being far away from my son.  The choice to study at GWU was all the more undesirable when I considered that I would have to push graduation farther by a year and a half to comply with its academic requirements.  To clinch the deal, my boss gave me a raise which I simply could not refuse.  The pros and cons did not even come close.  Prestige of a degree from GWU vs. the life I had carved for myself thus far.  My current life won.

More importantly, in retrospect, I am happy with the choice I made in 1984. 

Then, in 1989, I had yet another opportunity to relocate to Washington, D.C., and again, life in Miami won out. 

The point is that as I look over the choices I have made, I realize that they were all my choices — the so-called good ones, and the not-so good ones.  In fact, we all have infinite choice.  The test is which ones we take?  Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, is quite applicable here:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost
I cannot know, of course, how my life would have turned out had I taken the other road.  I do know how my life is now, and when I take full responsibility for my choices, I can clearly recognize the power behind the freedom I have, the freedom I have had to make the choices I have made, which have all converged to bring me to the present moment.

I had a conversation with my son in which I asked him if he was happy.  Without hesitation, he answered, “I’m extremely happy.  I am free to do what I want, when I want it.  My life is just good.”  I pondered that answer, and felt some envy at his sense of freedom.  I, by contrast, do not feel free.  I feel weighed down by “stuff,” responsibilities, my job and limited finances.  So I put that question to a couple of friends: What is happiness, and what is freedom?  The answers came rapidly and authentically: Happiness is the state of accepting what one has with gratitude.  Freedom is a bit trickier.

On gratitude, I can easily echo the sentiment.  I have, indeed, many, many things to be grateful for, not the least of which is my health, and my living environment which is a sunny locale, warm and comfortable.  And once I begin to focus on what I am grateful for, from the most minuscule to the grand, I indeed feel happy and blessed and lucky and proud of myself.


This is a topic explored by many philosophers through the ages.  In an anonymous article, the author explores whether it is possible to teach virtue.  I proposes that virtue can be taught, but the person being so taught must want to be taught, and must then act virtuously.  Virtue is the quality of being able to discern right from wrong.  But “right” from “wrong” is influenced and shaped, indeed, defined, by societal standards, as well as the times in which one lives.  In the West, issues of right and wrong are rooted in the Ten Commandments. However, Buddhism is not a monotheistic religion; it does not teach that there is one almighty God who has handed down rules for living; but rather teaches the Five Precepts: Anger (or violence, or more specifically, avoiding killing or harming other living things), Greed (or more specifically, avoiding stealing), Lust (or more specifically, avoiding sexual misconduct), Delusion (or more specifically, to avoid lying, and avoiding consuming intoxicating items.  Any thought, speech or action that is rooted in these precepts leads us away from Nirvana (bliss, enlightenment), and any thought, speech or action that involves love, giving and wisdom leads us closer to Nirvana.  In god-centered religions, to know right from wrong, one has only to do what he is told; but in human-centered religions, like Buddhism, one has to develop a deep sense of self-awareness.  Morality that is based on self-understanding is much more powerful than that which is based on command.  For example, being the target of mockery is an unpleasant and painful experience.  Knowing that, one would guard against inflicting that type of pain on another; making fun and ridiculing another would be considered doing “wrong” to another, because it would cause pain and embarrassment.  To know right from wrong in Buddhism, one would look at the intention of the act, the effect it might have on another person, and the effect it would have on oneself.  Cheating in marriage, for example, might very well lead to a dissolution of the marriage.  However, taken within this premise, what is the intention of the cheating spouse? Even if he or she claims “it just happened,” being a conscious human being precludes any such excuse.  What is the effect on the other person?  Even if the other person at first does not realize the situation, clearly, such behavior on the part of the cheating partner creates a duplicitous behavior at home, and such duplicity cannot be avoided.  The effect on the cheating spouse is also grave: It takes great energy to lie, maintain the lie, support it with various alibis, try to maintain a neutral face at home, while giving generously of one’s love and devotion to two lovers.  In other words, if my intentions are good (rooted in love, giving and wisdom), then my deeds and actions are wholesome and moral.

Still, it might be worth asking whether there are some universal standards of right and wrong.  Consider that during the Crusades, it was right to smite so-called nonbelievers in the one true church.  And smite they did, with what we now consider horrible methods, including torture, to induce suspected heretics to confess their sins.  We no longer subscribe to these methods — or do we?  Have we not resorted to torture at Abu Ghraib, Iraq?  Do we not resort to torture when we water-board a suspect?

The dictionary definition of commitments is pledge or promise; obligation.  A deeper definition is engagement, keeping one’s word, being involved (in a cause or relationship), behaving with integrity. 

Each word above is rife with deeper meaning, but the most direct meaning of keeping one’s commitments, one’s promises to each other is really embodied in the Golden Rule.  How sad that so few follow that rule, even though so many profess to a deep religious faith.  Doing onto others as one would have others do onto one is a direct reflection of trying to sustain harmonious relationships among our fellows.  That means, if one if invited, don’t promise to show up if you have no such intention to do so; an invitation is not casual.  Extend yourself a bit beyond your own sphere; act with empathy to your fellow – how would you feel, for example, if you prepared a large spread, and only three people showed up, instead of the 20 you invited?  Of course, this does not refer only to party invitations.  You can extend from this all form of interactions, such as being a bit gentler behind the wheel and letting another car into traffic.

Sadly, our lifestyle has become all too casual, as evidenced by the behaviors of the people depicted on reality TV – how they talk to each other, the easy way in which they find reason to attack each other, the offensive language they use … what have we come to?