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Welcome to H.O.P.E.

…where you find out who you really are… where we know that at the core of our being all humans strive to be healthy and whole—a process called healing; all of us are persons; and because no two of us are alike, we are all exceptions to each other…. Moreover, an intense, indomitable curiosity about life, health, and our spirituality has brought us to see that we are alive because the whole marvelous Universe is alive, and It’s not in the business of repeating Itself… we are, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin told Jean Houston just before he died in 1955, “spiritual beings immersed in the human condition!”

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Cancer is a living metaphor for fear

I would like your attention for a few moments while this physician/surgeon shares with you how he sees that cancer is a living metaphor for fear; and how a simple instruction in second year medical school led to the discovery of a powerful and effective means of confronting fear–peacefully–through the power of hope and love.

In medicine, I was taught that cancer was a cellular disease caused by deep distortions of the cellular blueprint that made it a stranger in the body of its host. It then grew without any regulation or control of the growth. It was able to bring blood vessels to itself to give it oxygen at lower than normal levels. It came under attack by the body’s immune systems, and learned to defend itself against them. It developed ways to spread itself, hiding in dark corners in the host body, compromising the life of the host and ultimately causing the death of the host and itself, all the while being unaware of the fatal nature of its behavior.

In the beginning of the second year in the McGill University Faculty of Medicine in Montréal, the class was told in very simple terms that our responsibility to our patients was to inform them of the nature of their disease according to their ability to understand, and, if it was life-threatening, we were to advise them to get their affairs in order and get on with their lives. Then we were told we were to promise them that we would do our best to help them get on with their lives. That, to me, was a life–affirming–and–changing oath that I remember and swear to, to this day, creating a context for all of my service.

In order to help a person get on with her or his life, I had to learn to ask for a life–story and listen to it when it came. I found I had to give it back to my patient; so they could know I’d listened, thus creating a solid relationship between us. Having no training in this, I had to work to develop the skill that it required. After about four years of simply doing my best to help my patients get on with their lives, I was introduced to the work of Earl Nightingale – arguably the world’s greatest student of success. He defined success as “the progressive realization of a worthy ideal,” and went on to stress that every one of us is born with just such an ideal, but that circumstances of life not uncommonly caused us to forget it. He went on to advise me that the greatest thing that anyone could do for self and others was to recall that worthy ideal and focus on serving it. I quickly learned to incorporate this into my practice… to the benefit of my patients and me.

Earl went on to teach me that the power to make that shift in consciousness was a function of the “gold mine of the mind,” the key to which was a single word… “Attitude”. He taught that attitude is always chosen, and if the attitude we saw in the world around us could be seen as a reflection of what we were projecting, we could choose again were it not what I wanted. Shortly after learning this from Nightingale, I was introduced to the work of Bernie Siegel, M.D, which focused on helping cancer patients develop healthy attitudes by working together in support groups. Within a month of becoming a student of Siegel, I was introduced to the work of Gerald Jampolsky M.D, a child psychiatrist who was running support groups for life–threatened children that stressed what he called “Attitudinal Healing”.

For these two physicians, the two attitudes that healed were hope and love. They were also the two attitudes, which, according to the Viennese psychiatrist, Victor Frankl, M.D, were the two attitudes common to all survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. (He was incarcerated in four of them from 1942 until liberation in 1945!) Incredibly, those horrible conditions led him to be able to say, “I found the meaning of life in Auschwitz.”

In early 1987, after 12 years of study and application of what I was learning, I was called to start a support group for five of my cancer patients. We chose to name it H.O.P.E, standing for “Healing of Persons Exceptional”. For us “Healing” was becoming whole; “Persons” included all of us humans; and “Exceptional” implied that no two of us are alike – all without anyone being superior or inferior to any other. The groups focus on their participants helping each other find hope, which Vaclav Havel described as the discovery that “things can make sense regardless of how they work out”. It was clear to participants that the work was work of compassion and forgiveness… an attitude and an action that together comprise a pure function of love.

Now, after more than 5000 H.O.P.E. Group meetings, the work has been beautifully summarized by an expression I’ve learned from a woman raised in the Ojibwe healing traditions, “Be present, and let go of all fear.” From her and many others of indigenous and Eastern traditions, I have come to see that fear is an illusory projection in time to a time that does not exist. Similarly, anger is an illusion of projection in space to a space that does not belong to the angry one, and guilt is an attachment to a time that no longer exists; so it, too, is an illusion.

As I look at the world around me through very much the same eyes that have been looking at it for the last 40+ years, cancer is certainly far more than a cellular disease. It is a disease of the soul that prevents us from recognizing our spiritual nature. It lies behind all forms of violence – violence between two individuals or two million. Do love and hope help heal a physical cancer? Yes. Is it possible that they help heal the spiritual cancer? Yes, it, too.

All right – “How,” you may ask. Please note that the key word behind all illusions is “projection”. Projection is a form of attachment; so how do we free ourselves from projections and attachments? It is a simple yet challenging process called forgiveness! Forgive literally means “give away”. How to we give away our attachments? Through the practice of compassion! Compassion means “suffer with…” transforming the suffering into peace. How does one effect this seemingly impossible transformation? The Tibetan Buddhists do it with the breath – a practice of taking in and letting go called “Tonglen”. What happens when I let go of my fearful attachments? I become aware and live in the present moment… my anger projections? I come home, and become present… my guilt? I become responsible for my mistakes. All in all, I become centered.

I learned all this nearly 30 years ago from two Tibetan Buddhists: Sogyal Rinpoche in his wonderful book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (Harper, 1992) and Pema Chödrön in a 1990 Sounds True audio cassette production (Boulder). They are both wonderful teachers: the Rinpoche founded Rigpa in 1979 to present the tradition of Tibet, and Ani Pema Chödrön who today is the abbess of the Gampo Abby on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Tonglen begins when I give myself permission to be present to the suffering of myself or another. I imagine it to be like a cloud around the object of my concern. I see myself breathing that cloud into the space around my heart – the lungs, of course. Pema describes the heart as being the “noble heart”. I hold the cloud in the space around that noble, loving heart for a long moment, letting my heart transform the cloud into peace – nothing but peace. I breathe the peace out to the object of my concern and repeat as needed until I start feeling more at peace. Yes, I need this, too!

That’s it. Simple. Transformative – the power of love.

Try it. It works. It may be the only thing one can do in the face of the deepest suffering….
I end with the physician’s injunction: “First do no harm,” to which Pema added: “Do some good. Help someone.”

Consider for a moment the power in this practice….

Peaceful blessings be….

The one Source of everything

There is but one Source of everything and we have countless names for It and a whole host of prophets, many of whom claim to be the sole authority to speak for that which cannot be named. As the Tao Te Ching puts it in its opening lines, “the name that can be named is not the eternal Name.”

With these words, I invite you to join me in exploration of that which appeared some 2500 years ago in the mind of a legendary figure in China known as Lao Tzu. Very little is known about him, even his name. However, these words open up rich realms of the mind, just as Abraham’s mind sensed the oneness of the nameless Source in a burning bush some 4000 years ago. And many others have explored the path of the singular nature–the oneness–of that Source, which I chose to call by a more traditional and conventional name that has a profoundly disturbing effect on some for reasons that I hope will become clear. For the sake of all those offended by the old and judgmental name, I feel comfortable with using “Source” for that which is truly nameless and indescribable.

As I explore my long-standing interest in our history, I see that we humans have tried for thousands of years to explain our existence. [click to continue…]

The Root of Violence Is Separation

The root of violence is separation—separation from the other and the Other. It is, simply put, an illusion—the greatest illusion of all: the illusion of separation… the root of all evil.

That illusion is the source of all violent behavior… it is fear of the most horrible kind… the raw sense of desperation that arises from believing that we are nothing but an accident of matter: meaningless in a meaningless universe consisting only of matter devoid of consciousness, and, therefore, conscience.

Did that get your attention? Yes? Good! It was meant to. I invite you to stay with your thoughts and feelings and share them so that we all may learn. I would offer you that you are free of a tragic human conditioning and that you remember who we really are.

Did it not get your attention? Not so good! I invite you to direct your attention to its implications for the persistent violence we see growing exponentially throughout both the “civilized” and “uncivilized” world. I invite you to pay attention to the absence of feeling and consider the harm that comes from making that choice. I would offer you that you have been conditioned by a tragic human conditioning several thousand years old, and you have forgotten who we really are.

I invite all of you to stay with me now while we explore both matter and consciousness at a useful and functional level. I am not about to claim any special “understanding” of the whole Mystery. However, my take on it since I was very young is that it is all part of a single Mystery that goes by thousands of names. So, for now, I ask you to choose your own name for the Source of the Mystery while we explore the implications of the coexistence of matter and consciousness.

Let us now look at the historical biblical accounts of creation, for which there are two stories: one of Earth and Sky (Heaven), and the other of Consciousness (the Word). (If you think I am taking liberties with these words, I freely admit that I am. When I look back at the stories behind the words, I find them there then when the stories were first told. They are still here in the creation stories from around the world.) I appreciate the stories for where they have taken me over the last 82 years: into a rich appreciation of the coexistence of dimensioned, finite, space–time matter; dimensionless, infinite consciousness; and the immeasurable, indefinable, unnameable Spirit that manifests itself in both of them.

There is a duality of the universe that I find to be wonderfully beautiful. Through our ability to observe and measure, we have found that we live in an expanding universe, the origin of which appeared as a “point of light within the mind of God” (cf. Alice Bailey, 1945, The Great Invocation) that astronomers have been able to determine first appeared nearly 14 billion years ago—the Big Bang.

Our great curiosity has led us to study the nature of matter, where we found information exchange between subatomic particles that was beyond space and time. I consider that to be a description of consciousness. I have found over time well-done studies and stories of the dimensionless nature of consciousness. I have come to appreciate the second phrase from Alice Bailey, “let light stream forth into human minds,” as an invitation to participate in the workings of the unnamable Spirit.

How and why did Spirit choose to manifest itself in matter? A spiritual consciousness that I am aware of and with which I synch is that in the realm of matter the evolving Source experiences Its own evolution. It does so through what might be called “individual” manifestations of its spiritual self called “souls”. Consider that the soul is a “light being” that has existed since the beginning of time. Consider the implications of this… we are immortal beings incarnate in human animal bodies.[1]

It appears to me, and I am sure it does to you, that there is a separation between matter and consciousness/Spirit. It is as if Spirit has drawn a veil between matter and consciousness. Why? To a less mature mind, the absence of that veil would have drastic psychotic consequences in the material realm. It appears that today, as we mature continuously, the veil is thinning.

I am aware, as I am sure that you are, that the entire world is experiencing great confusion and fear. This is a symptom of a fundamental shift in civilization: the death of the old one and the impending birth of the new. We are on the threshold of leaving the old civilization based on control and hierarchy—fear—in order to build a new civilization based on kindness, caring, compassion, creativity, support, respect—love.

In short, we are all One with the Source, living in perfect relationship to It and everything in It.

Give yourself permission to be an essential part of the creation of a new civilization that involves the entire world. Look at the incredible resistance to such a possibility… meaningless insane behavior. Isn’t this madness—this chaos—speaking to the probability that this is really a spiritual metamorphosis? Consider that the veil between matter and consciousness is really thinning and we can see how beautiful they are. Now please consider the personal and collective benefits of creating that new civilization. Ask yourself what role you can play in that metamorphosis… like being a caterpillar and becoming a butterfly. Know this: you have been given all of the resources that you need to be able to fill that role.

Come join the winning side…!


 

[1] Returning to Our Source for Answers. Nancy L Danison (October 1, 2007)

Ending War and Beginning Peace

If we are to talk about ending war and beginning peace—bringing the ghastly social destruction of war to an end—we must talk about what we are going to replace it with. We have a long history of conducting the mass killings that we call warfare… about 14,000 years of it, in fact. We don’t really have a history of conducting peace. Rather, it was more of a quiet time before the “inevitable” conflict began again for whatever fear-based reasons. For that reason, I call this post “Ending War and Beginning Peace”.

To look at the current status involved in ending war and beginning peace, I would like to bring to your mind four human beings, all of whom lived and served within the last hundred years. The first, US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, “The Fighting Quaker” (1881–1940), who served a 34-year career in many combats around the world, becoming the most decorated Marine in US history, including not one, but two, Medals of Honor. During his military career, he became progressively more disenchanted with a very dark side to warfare: profiteering from its tremendous consumption of resources, both human and non-human. This resulted in the writing and 1935 publication of an exposure of the actions of war mongers called War is a Racket, which is still in print. In his 1935 words, “War is a racket….It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”

The second human being—one who comes to mind because of his great leadership qualities that earned him in 1942 the rank of General of the Army, and 10 years later the Presidency of the United States of America — President Dwight D Eisenhower. [click to continue…]

Meditation and the Pachelbel Kanon

This post is about my experience with guided imagery, meditation and the Pachelbel Kanon in D, and HOPE Attitudinal Healing support group work. When I was introduced to support groups in 1986, one of the first humans I met in the field was Bernie Siegel M.D., a cancer surgeon at Yale University. Bernie had started support groups in his practice for cancer patients and used what was known then as “guided imagery” to help them create healing images. I knew that I was to learn the method. As I was already a practitioner of silent meditation, I could see that both meditation and guided imagery took place in an internal environment of altered consciousness that was essentially the same in both.

As I studied and practiced the art, I began to see that the particular piece of music that Bernie used had a certain structure which induced an altered state of consciousness. It was easy to see that meditation was a condition of deeper alteration in consciousness than guided imagery was. As I began to use it in H.O.P.E. Group meetings as a part of the closing, I learned that some people went into states of deeply altered consciousness for the duration of the guided imagery… much like what I was used to experiencing in deep meditation.

I was very much aware of how the physiology of the body changed with deep meditation; for I always returned with a powerful sense of inner peace. I also was shown that background music had a demonstrable effect on the quality of the guided imagery. The work of Helen Bonny in choosing specific music to match the quality of her guided imagery is a beautiful example of that. As I listened to Bernie Siegel’s guided imageries, the background music that he chose for all of them, Daniel Kobialka’s extended Version of the Pachelbel Kanon in D, had very specific qualities that lent themselves beautifully to the induction of these beneficial altered states of consciousness.

First of all, it must be established that Kobialka extended the nine minute Kanon to 24 minutes, thus providing the practitioner of guided imagery and/or meditation with quality time in the beneficial altered state of consciousness. Secondly, Kobialka did not simply repeat the Kanon twice to get the longer version, he danced with the original Kanon, keeping it in the key of D and at a tempo of 70 beats a minute.

I would like to add here that I have experienced the original Kanon in a beautiful exercise conducted by a healing master, Richard Moss, M.D. Moss had us pair off and extend our arms out to the side, all the while looking our partner squarely in the eye and repeating to the four/four rhythm of the Kanon, the four words, “How I love you,” all the while holding your partner’s arms up with nothing but your love! (While the Kanon played over and over!) Talk about inducing an altered state of consciousness! Thrilling!

To return to the qualities of the extended Version of the Kanon, there are three components that comprise it: the induction, the body, and the closing… all comprising a very well-done work with altered states of consciousness. The induction of this piece consists of single notes from a synthesizer in a regular pattern lasting a few minutes, during which one can get the sense that they are ringing in every cell of the body. Suddenly, gentle chords (in D) appear, accompanied by two grace notes four beats apart, thus establishing the rhythm for the rest of the piece. It has been my experience that the listener’s own heartbeat quickly synchronizes with the beat of the music, and it is strikingly important to know that this is the heart beat rate of your mother when she was carrying you in her womb! Kobialka maintains this melodic phase for about 15 minutes, which allows you to adjust your breathing rate to the rhythm of the piece… all in time with your heart beat!

Now give yourself permission to know that you have let the music of this lovely work adjust your rhythmical bodily functions to the most peaceful rhythm of all for both heart and lungs. You are now at about 20 minutes into the experience, and the quality of the music begins to gently change in such a graceful way that it draws you back to a state of being peacefully alert. Now you can give yourself permission to carry that peacefulness with you for the rest of your day

Both a Mystic and a Rebel

Both a Mystic and a Rebel am I: I have been told by a good friend and advisor that I am not only a mystic but a rebel, and after listening to my heart around this, I realize that I am a rebel… not one who is against something… rather one who is for something. For me, that something is life, creativity, passion, respect, devotion, love…. As these rich concepts—thoughts—that science cannot define—rise from heart to mind, I am aware that this has always been what I stood for. I have had many fine humans come forward to teach me more about this. I remember some of their names, and I have forgotten many of their names. Nevertheless I live with deep gratitude to every one of them for their gifts.

I started H.O.P.E. in 1987 as a support group for people who had cancer and who wanted to get on with their lives. The rebel in me was passionately in a rebellion for life but not against cancer which I simply saw is a mistake of life, sensing that virtually any mistake can be corrected. The McGill University Faculty of Medicine emphasized this apparent rebellious thinking and acting for the six years I spent there. In short, it was the context of life and caring for life that made all of my therapies work. My professors were those who taught me how to use the science and data of medicine to help my patients get on with their lives. My teachers were those who taught me about the value of life and helping people get on with their lives—my patients in particular.

Through this marvelous group of humans—both professors and patients—I was shown the power of focusing on a particular aspect of life: the unique heart–song with which every person comes into their life. I couldn’t pretend to know what that song might be in any of my patients. Rather, I somehow knew how to listen for it and then comment on it in such a way as to give it back to the person who came with it. I learned that at times I was not being sung to, rather that I was being shown a beautiful dance… a “beauty–dance”. At times I was aware that I was listening to what can be called a “soul–cry” complete with all of the passion in that cry. Again, somehow, I knew how to give my appreciation for the sharing of that “beauty–dance”… that“soul–cry”.

Early on I was attracted to the way of the Quaker, George Fox, who taught that there was “that of God” in every one. This, to me, was, and is, to this day, perfect truth. And, as a physician, I was often shown that we human beings have a challenging time trying to accept the wonderful idea that we are divine; meaning that inside these finite physical bodies of ours there resides a piece of universal consciousness called Soul. Learning to be present to the beauty–dance, the heart–song, the soul-cry taught me how to get out of the way of my ego and to listen to the cry of my own soul.

Then, in short order, I was introduced to the work of a modern Quaker, Douglas van Steere, who saw this listening as a sacred function that all of us could learn to use. He called it “holy listening” and said that it “listens a soul into life… through a process of discernment and discovery… that may be the single greatest service one human being can do for another.”

To and for these ends I rebel.

Tao Te Ching; Book of Changes; or, simply, the Tao

Come with me on an exploration of the ancient and classic Chinese text known as Tao Te Ching. The text, which is laid out in 81 sections, is often enigmatic, which, to the Western mind, can be very confusing. Over centuries, much time and thought has been spent exploring this work, creating a confusion of interpretations. The version created by Stephen Mitchell and published by HarperPerennial in 1988 appeals to me because Mitchell studied many translations of the text in several different languages and came to the realization that he could express this in a contemporary version. This has received both praise and criticism from scholars. However, he does not claim that this is a translation; it is a version and I happen to like it. It still leaves me with many challenging, contradictory thoughts that stimulate my creativity.

I will simply say that this work excites my love of the Mystery that I have never been able to explain; nor have I wanted to. I only spend time appreciating the profound Mystery of the very existence of the entire universe including you and me.

Today, I invite you to spend some time with me on the first section of Mitchell’s version of the Tao, which reads,

The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The unnamable is the eternally real. Naming is the origin of all particular things. Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations. Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source. This source is called darkness. Darkness within darkness. The gateway to all understanding.

For me, and probably for you, too, this is a mass of contradictions, and, with our minds disciplined by the ancient Greeks and their system of logic, the contradictions cancel each other out. The result: both sides of the contradiction disappear… lost to us for over 2000 years. The Greek thinking that began around the time of Socrates, creates an “either-or” thought form that destroys the Mystery of our very existence. I offer you the consideration that the challenges we face today, which appear so daunting, arise from the limitations of this way of thinking known as “dualism”.

The first sentence says, does it not, that there can be two “way”(s) of looking at the Mystery. The second sentence gets more specific, saying that “telling” and “naming” define their object. Let’s face it, there is no way that we can define—confine—the mystery of our existence, regardless of our propensity for the intellectual pursuit of virtually all answers and understanding. My senses tell me that it is an ego trip to believe that we can define the Mystery. For those who think we can define it, I humbly request their humility. That humility frees humans from desire—that which sees only the manifestations of the Mystery—not both. To be able to see both is to be able to be aware that the two contradictions arise from the same source. That source can only be total darkness, which, to me, is a symbol for that which was always there before the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.

“Darkness within darkness” sets up a situation that is impossible to understand, but what really must be an invitation into the Mystery. I cannot begin to take that apart, and yet I can give myself permission to be uncomfortably present to it and appreciate what is meant by “the gateway to all understanding.” I feel a great opening and receptiveness within me. I appreciate what is meant by “vulnerability”. I hope you can, too.

To close, I offer you a challenge that Richard Whittaker found in an interview http://www.conversations.org/story.php?sid=285 which he did with Peter Kingsley in May 2011, titled, Remembering What We Have Forgotten. Kingsley (http://peterkingsley.org/), a passionate student of pre–Socratic Greek thinking as found in the work of Parmenides and Empedocles, has an intense appreciation of the wonder of that Mystery. He saw that those Tao–like thoughts of these two great mystics were so confusing to subsequent Greeks that they were simply left out of all logical discussion… and so we have forgotten who we really are. This skilled, passionate scholar is the author of five books that express his devotion for remembering the truth of the pre-Socratic Greeks. The last of them is A Story Waiting to Pierce You http://www.goldensufi.org/book_desc_a_story.html. In it, he describes his discovery that the source of the pre-Socratic wisdom was carried from Mongolia by a shaman named Abaris and given to Pythagoras to bring to the Western world (through Parmenides and Empedocles). Read it if you are challenged by the evidence of our forgetting and want to remember what these messengers from the past brought to us.

Everything in this blog has come together in a way that has taken apart my amnesia and, to put it simply, helped me remember that you and I have been promised these lives since the beginning of time—the greatest mystery of all—and because that is who and what we are, I encourage you to remember that you are an immortal product of love… as are we all.

Hate, Compassion, and Tonglen

Freeing oneself of hatred by practicing compassion…

You may well ask how hate, compassion, and Tonglen could possibly relate to each other… a single word will do… fear! Hate is a simple, animist, survival response to fear. Compassion transforms that response to peace. Tonglen is a specific practice of the breath that comes from the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, and which makes that transformation a physical process.

Now, you may well ask how I might be familiar with all of this… my answer… my healing traditions; my choice to become a physician; my fascination with physiology (the study of bodily functions); and 40 years of helping myself and others with what can well be called “attitudinal healing”, especially that aspect which makes it possible to become peaceful inside regardless of what is happening outside. I have been shown in many ways that compassion is the attitude which makes the action of cutting attachments—forgiveness—possible. [click to continue…]

Love, honor, and respect all women

I invite you to come with me on a journey to love, honor, and respect all women. I share with you a segue of two quotes, the first from Carl Sagan: “The old appeals to racial, sexual and religious chauvinism and to rabid nationalism are beginning not to work. A new consciousness is developing which sees the earth as a single organism and recognizes that an organism at war with itself is doomed.”

The second comes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “It is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men.”

I began working on this post, “Love, honor, and respect all women” shortly after I had posted the one concerning our evolution from violence through nonviolence to peace. [click to continue…]

A Dream of the Future

About three years ago, I had a “key dream” (the kind I remember forever), a Dream of the Future. It developed around an off–the–track train wreck that I saw happen, but in which I was not involved as a passenger. After it had passed, I scrambled through the wrecked trees into the still–standing trees of a deep, dark forest that called me to walk through it, on the other side of which I saw a beautifully clear image of where we humans are going. [click to continue…]