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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Cheers to Annelise

-for her uplifting chants and earth-grounding meditation leads in the magnificent Williamsport pipe organ room. Now I know more about self-correcting, soul-shaking chakras. You made a difference, impacting some of the quietest souls in our NAMI fellowship. And who knew about twelve-step programs harmonized with yoga? What a perfect match.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Less traveled cheers & jeers
Draft 2
Cheers to the flag lady with the sunny disposition on Route 45. You helped many-a-motorist spark off their day well, with a nice smile from your animated character. During our morning commutes we looked forward to guessing what your next original act might be and we hoped you would stop us in traffic so we could enjoy watching your playfulness.

Jeers: to the inconsiderate motorist who last spring purposely drove over a turtle on Brush Valley Lane. The poor turtle was seeking a field to lay new eggs. You could have easily avoided her, but you ruined a lady friend’s day, which had been perfect up to the marvelous sunset, until she saw an opposite polarity of how awful people can be. Perhaps the transportation department with help from our Sierra Club can help install nature crossing conduits under the road by ponds tortoises enjoy transiting amongst, so they can avoid the likes of you.

Cheers to Annelise for her uplifting, acoustical chants and earth-grounding leads in the Williamsport pipe organ room. Now I know more about self-correcting, soul-shaking chakras. You made a difference, impacting some of the quietest souls in our NAMI fellowship. And who knew about twelve-step programs harmonized with yoga? What a perfect match.

Jeers to the prisoner who senselessly assaulted two correctional officers at Rockview. Sadly, you must be a slow learner. What was there to gain from such an impulsive act? Has what you did made you contemplate yet how the guards will now treat you? Well, now you’ll have plenty of time to contemplate your unscrupulous behavior.

Cheers to the many that made Grange Fair come together as a successful fete. I’m glad I audio-recorded delightful glees coming from the phantasmagorical overhead whirligig, to play back in the doldrums of winter as a reminder of how good summers can get here.


Well, I always wanted to have more cheers than jeers, and am pleased to live in an area where it’s easy to do this. So I will stop with a cheer for now.
Less traveled cheers & jeers

Cheers to the flag lady with the sunny disposition on Route 45. You helped many-a-motorist spark off their days with a nice smile from your animated character. During our morning commutes we looked forward to guessing what your next original act might be and hoped we would get stopped in traffic to enjoy watching your playfulness.

Jeers: to the motorist who last spring purposely drove over a turtle on Brush Valley Lane. The poor turtle was seeking a field to lay new eggs. You could have easily avoided her, but you ruined a lady friend’s day, which had been perfect up to the marvelous sunset, until she saw an opposite polarity of how awful people can be. Perhaps the transportation department with help from our Sierra Club can help install nature crossing conduits under the road between ponds that tortoises enjoy transiting amongst, so they can avoid the likes of you

Cheers to Anneliese for her uplifting acoustical chants in the Williamsport pipe organ room. Now I know more about self-correcting soul-shaking chakras. You made a difference, impacting some of the quietest souls our NAMI group. And who knew about twelve-step programs matched with yoga? What a perfect match.

Jeers to the prisoner who stupidly assaulted two correctional officers at Rockview. Sadly, you must be a slow learner. What was to gain from such an impulsive act? Has what you did made you contemplate how guards will now treat you? Well, now you’ll have plenty of time to contemplate such bad behavior.

Cheers to all who made Grange Fair come together as a successful fete. I’m glad I audio-recorded some delightful glees coming from the phantasmagorical overhead whirligig, to play back in the doldrums of winter as a reminder of how good summers can get here.


Well, I always wanted to have more cheers than jeers, and am pleased to live in a place where it’s easy to do this. So I will stop with a cheer for now.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill 
Went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down
And broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.

Up Jack got 
And home did trot,
As fast as he could caper;
And went to bed 
And plastered his head
With vinegar and brown paper.

When Jill came in 
How she did grin
To see Jack's paper plaster;
Mother vexed 
Did whip her next
For causing Jack's disaster.
My friend wears handicap blinders
My slightly disabled friend kindly gives me rides sometimes, so I hesitate being a backseat driver, but recently I noticed a pattern he employs that bugs me when it comes to his handicap parking.

My buddy has a disability permit. His first doctor said he was well enough and that he should walk more. The doc would not recommend a special parking placard. So what did my friend do? He drove to the next town for a second opinion.

I don’t believe he told the second doctor what the first thought. Perhaps my friend exaggerated his agony, trying to gain quick empathy. Another thing that bothers me is when my friend sometimes aims to park in a designated spot; a regular parking spot is also open mere steps away. What if someone with a more difficult disability needed the spot my friend just snagged? Someone blind who’s experienced a horrific crash or a quadriplegic needing room for his wheelchair?

Mt friend doesn’t see it this way. For him it’s “First come, first serve!” When I see attitudes like this I’m reminded of the nine UCLA football players who counterfeited handicapped placards back in 1999*. Here was a case of our most able-bodied men caught being parking cheats.

My friend makes the argument that he needs the closest spot in the event of an icy pathway. Well, maybe so, but some desired spots are icier because they’re closer to the building shade! I would hope for snow my friend would don proper shoes or use lightweight cleats. And call on me to guide him to the door.

 Meanwhile, if my friend would consider nicer courtesy toward those with less fortunate ambulatory capabilities, it would be a nice turn of a walk for him to take.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Wisdom of Trees: Walt Whitman on What Our Silent Friends Teach Us About Being Rather Than Seeming


A supreme lesson in authenticity from a being “so innocent and harmless, yet so savage.”

The Wisdom of Trees: Walt Whitman on What Our Silent Friends Teach Us About Being Rather Than Seeming
“When we have learned how to listen to trees,”Hermann Hesse wrote in his lyrical love letter to our arboreal companions“then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.” Two generations earlier, a different titan of poetic sentiment extolled trees not only as a source of joy but as a source of unheralded moral wisdom and an improbable yet formidable model of what is noblest in the human character.
At fifty-four, a decade after his volunteer service as a nurse in the Civil War awakened him to the connection between the body and the spiritWalt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) suffered a severe stroke that left him paralyzed. It took him two years to recover — convalescence aided greatly, he believed, by his immersion in nature and its healing power. “How it all nourishes, lulls me,” he exulted, “in the way most needed; the open air, the rye-fields, the apple orchards.” The transcendent record of Whitman’s communion with the natural world survives in Specimen Days (public library) — a sublime collection of prose fragments and diary entries, restoring the word “specimen” to its Latin origin in specere: “to look at.” What emerges is a jubilant celebration of the art of seeing, so native to us yet so easily unlearned, eulogized with the singular electricity that vibrates in Whitman alone.
Walt Whitman circa 1854 (Library of Congress)
Walt Whitman (Library of Congress)
In the years following his stroke, Whitman ventured frequently into the woods — “the best places for composition.” One late-summer day in 1876, he finds himself before one of his favorite arboreal wonders — “a fine yellow poplar,” rising ninety feet into the sky. Standing at its mighty four-foot trunk, he contemplates the unassailable authenticity of trees as a counterpoint to what Hannah Arendt would lament a century later as the human propensity for appearing rather than being. In a meditation from the late summer of 1876, Whitman writes:
How strong, vital, enduring! how dumbly eloquent! What suggestions of imperturbability and being, as against the human trait of mere seeming. Then the qualities, almost emotional, palpably artistic, heroic, of a tree; so innocent and harmless, yet so savage. It is, yet says nothing.
Illustration by Arthur Rackham for a rare 1917 edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.
Nearly a century and a half before researchers uncovered the astonishing science of what trees feel and how they communicate, Whitman adds:
Science (or rather half-way science) scoffs at reminiscence of dryad and hamadryad, and of trees speaking. But, if they don’t, they do as well as most speaking, writing, poetry, sermons — or rather they do a great deal better. I should say indeed that those old dryad-reminiscences are quite as true as any, and profounder than most reminiscences we get.
Art by Jacques Goldstyn from Bertolt, an uncommonly tender illustrated story about of the friendship of a tree.
Two centuries after an English gardener exulted that trees “speak to the mind, and tell us many things, and teach us many good lessons,” Whitman considers their quiet wisdom as a model for human character:
Go and sit in a grove or woods, with one or more of those voiceless companions, and read the foregoing, and think.
One lesson from affiliating a tree — perhaps the greatest moral lesson anyhow from earth, rocks, animals, is that same lesson of inherency, of what is, without the least regard to what the looker on (the critic) supposes or says, or whether he likes or dislikes. What worse — what more general malady pervades each and all of us, our literature, education, attitude toward each other, (even toward ourselves,) than a morbid trouble about seems, (generally temporarily seems too,) and no trouble at all, or hardly any, about the sane, slow-growing, perennial, real parts of character, books, friendship, marriage — humanity’s invisible foundations and hold-together? (As the all-basis, the nerve, the great-sympathetic, the plenum within humanity, giving stamp to everything, is necessarily invisible.)
Art by Cécile Gambini from Strange Trees by Bernadette Pourquié, an illustrated atlas of the world’s arboreal wonders.
Specimen Days is a beautiful, healing read in its totality. Complement this particular fragment with a tender illustrated ode to our bond with trees, the story of how Marianne Moore saved a rare tree’s life with a poem, and a lyrical short film about our silent companions, then revisit Whitman on democracyidentity and the paradox of the self, and his timeless advice on living a vibrant and rewarding life.

Hermann Hesse on What Trees Teach Us About Belonging and Life

Hermann Hesse on What Trees Teach Us About Belonging and Life – Brain Pickings

“When we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.”

Hermann Hesse on What Trees Teach Us About Belonging and Life
I woke up this morning to discover a tiny birch tree rising amidst my city quasi-garden, having overcome unthinkable odds to float its seed over heaps of concrete and glass, and begin a life in a meager oasis of soil. And I thought, my god*, what a miracle. What magic. What a reminder that life does not await permission to be lived.
This little wonder reminded me of a beautiful passage by Hermann Hesse (July 2, 1877–August 9, 1962) — one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read — from his 1920 collection of fragments, Wandering: Notes and Sketches (public library).
For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A questionable search engine encounter
Draft 2 -300 words

As I was ambling down Foster Street on 08/08, I spied a newfangled Google Maps car filming the area with a 360° lens. While the gadgety car snapped my photo I tried shooting in return, to frame the Bug in my camera; but alas, my drawback was too slow, even though I’m recently returned from decades in the Wild West.

Being captured so unexpectedly, I glanced where I had stood moments before, in hopes that I had not presumed too slovenly a posture to be marked on my permanent State College record. The dynamic doodlebug pressed forward, it filmed a woman carefully pushing a baby in a perambulator; then in front of the curious baby I sensed another stir and became excited for a young couple, as their freshly-surveyed teacup poodle will be soon featured on a new map.

The all-seeing car then wound through other avenues, leaving me behind. I wanted to question the driver, being curious about his job with its weird and waspy ways. I imagine the driver stops for lunch. He would know good diners from his maps. He probably has a list of snappy answers ready for inquiring minds: Can Google illuminate maps for blind people? What type of protection does the vehicle have? How many kilometers does he cover on a normal day? In what types of settlements does he encounter the friendliest folks? How much of everything does Google vacuum up? Does it sniff information from all nearby devices; for later use in a valuable database? How do our munificent mapping overlords purport to measure the quality of a good college town?


Besides simple streets, what other dead ends will the futuristic data-collecting car help us and our curious babies to avoid as we evolve and mature?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A questionable search engine encounter

As I was ambling down Foster Street on 08/08, I spied a newfangled Google Maps car filming the area with a 360° lens. While the gadgety car snapped my photo I tried shooting in return, to frame the Bug in my camera; but alas, my drawback was too slow, even though I’m recently returned from decades in the Wild West.

Being captured so unexpectedly, I glanced where I had stood moments before, in hopes that I had not presumed too slovenly a posture to be marked on my permanent State College record. The dynamic doodlebug pressed forward, it filmed a woman carefully pushing a baby in a perambulator; then in front of the curious baby I sensed another stir and became excited for a young couple, as their freshly-surveyed teacup poodles would be featured on a new map.

The all-seeing car then wound through other avenues, leaving me behind in the dust. I wanted to question the driver, being curious about his job with its weird and waspy ways. I imagine the driver stops for lunch. He would know good diners from his maps. He probably has a list of snappy answers ready for inquisitive passersby: Can Google illuminate maps for blind people? What type of protection does the camera car have? How many miles does it film on a normal day? In what types of settlements do you encounter the friendliest folks? How much of everything does Google vacuum up? Does it sniff information from all nearby devices; for use later in a valuable database? How do our munificent mapping overlords purport the measure the quality of a good college town?


Besides simple streets, what other dead ends will the futuristic car with its many-faceted tools capturing our immense data, help us to avoid?



AFTER 75 YEARS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, IT'S TIME TO ADMIT WE HAVE A PROBLEM

Challenging the 12-step hegemony.

For much of the past 50 years or so, voicing any serious skepticism toward Alcoholics Anonymous or any other 12-step program was sacrilege—the equivalent, in polite company, of questioning the virtue of American mothers or the patriotism of our troops. If your problem was drink, AA was the answer; if drugs, Narcotics Anonymous. And if those programs didn’t work, it was your fault: You weren’t “working the steps.” The only alternative, as the 12-step slogan has it, was “jails, institutions, or death.” By 2000, 90 percent of American addiction treatment programs employed the 12-step approach.
In any other area of medicine, if your doctor told you that the cure for your disease involved surrendering to a “higher power,” praying to have your “defects of character” lifted, and accepting your “powerlessness,” as outlined in the original 12 steps, you’d probably seek a second opinion. But, even today, if you balk at these elements of the 12-step gospel, you’ll often get accused of being “in denial.” And if you should succeed in quitting drinking without 12-step support, you might get dismissed as a “dry drunk.

DODES SHOWS THAT MUCH OF THE RESEARCH THAT UNDERGIRDS ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS IS A CONFLICTED MESS THAT CONFUSES CORRELATION WITH CAUSATION.

The latest salvo comes from Dr. Lance Dodes, the former director of Harvard’s substance abuse treatment unit at McLean Hospital, who weighs in with a book called The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry. While much of Dodes’ diagnosis of the problems with rehab and 12-step programs was originally made by maverick psychologist Stanton Peele in books like The Meaning of Addiction(1985), Dodes benefits from several decades of additional data, and he covers complicated scientific issues lucidly. The results are largely persuasive.


Dodes doesn’t pull his punches. “Alcoholics Anonymous was proclaimed the correct treatment for alcoholism over seventy-five years ago despite the absence of any scientific evidence of the approach’s efficacy,” he writes in his introduction, “and we have been on the wrong path ever since.”
Dodes shows that much of the research that undergirds AA is a conflicted mess that confuses correlation with causation. It’s true that people with alcoholism who choose to attend AA regularly drink less than those who do not—but it’s not proven that making people attend works better than other options, including doing nothing.
In fact, some studies find that people mandated into AA do worse than those who are simply left alone. (If true, that would be no small problem. AA’s own surveys suggest that some 165,000 Americans and Canadians annually are court-mandated into the program—despite the fact that every court ruling on the issue has rejected such coercion as unconstitutional, given AA’s religious nature.)
Contrary to popular belief, most people recover from their addictions without any treatment—professional or self-help—regardless of whether the drug involved is alcohol, crack, methamphetamine, heroin, or cigarettes. One of the largest studies of recovery ever conducted found that, of those who had qualified for a diagnosis of alcoholism in the past year, only 25 percent still met the criteria for the disorder a year later. Despite this 75 percent recovery rate, only a quarter had gotten any type of help, including AA, and as many were now drinking in a low-risk manner as were abstinent.
Unfortunately, compared to the rehab narrative, the stories of people who get better without treatment are rarely as compelling. They tend to consist of people leaving college and realizing they can’t binge drink or take drugs and hold a job and care for a family. And since most people who straighten out on their own never show up in treatment, the worst cases congregate in rehab and make addiction recovery seem quite rare.
This is not to say that there is no benefit at all to 12-step programs: It’s clear from studies of recovery, with or without treatment, that some of the most important factors in success are having social support and a sense of meaning and purpose. Both of those can be provided by AA—at least to those who find its approach amenable. Rather than treating AA as one potentially excellent resource out of many, though, all too many people still regard 12-step programs as the only true way.
One effect of this 12-step dominance is that addiction continues to be seen by many people as a moral failing rather than a disease. This is somewhat ironic, because many 12-step advocates firmly consider addiction to be a disease, as do government agencies like the National Institute on Drug Abuse. But it is awkward to posit addiction as a disease while simultaneously promoting AA’s non-medical and moralistic course of treatment. For what other medical condition does 90 percent of the treatment consist of meetings and prayer?
Dodes is eloquent on what drives addiction, and his argument that much of it results from an attempt to counter a sense of helplessness is convincing. In his view, addiction is a compulsive disorder, an attempt to cope with anguish by engaging in ritualistic behavior that is soothing and predictable, despite ongoing negative consequences.
But Dodes stakes out dubious territory with his claim that some compulsive disorders, like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), are primarily chemical in origin, while others, like drug addictions, are purely psychological. Most psychologists reject this idea—a fact Dodes fails to acknowledge.


Dodes advocates traditional treatment, such as talk therapy and medication, for what he labels “chemical” compulsive disorders (including most of what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders calls OCD). For instance, someone who can’t stop washing his hands might receive Prozac and a specialized type of talk therapy. But Dodes recommends individual therapy for what he labels “psychological” disorders—including what we commonly think of as addiction. Specifically, he prefers psycho-dynamic therapy, which involves looking deeply into a patient’s past and often takes years to bear fruit.
Unfortunately, psychodynamic therapy has not been found to be any more effective than the 12-step programs Dodes so ably eviscerates. Although he admits he has his own bias in advocating psychodynamic therapy, Dodes thinks it’s an approach that hasn’t yet been studied well enough for its true effectiveness to be reflected in data. This is an unsatisfying answer. In a major review of the literature featured in The Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches, psychodynamic therapy ranked 46th out of 48 in effectiveness for treatments of alcoholism, even lower than Alcoholics Anonymous, which ranked 38th. It seems unlikely that additional study will cause a complete inversion of those numbers. (The review was notorious for finding an inverse correlation between what is most practiced in treatment and what is most effective in helping people.)
Dodes also fails to mention the success of certain approved medications for addictions—like buprenorphine and methadone for opioid problems, which have been shown to be more effective than any type of talk therapy or self-help in terms of saving lives and reducing the spread of blood-borne disease, according to the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization.
Still, Dodes has a deeply humane understanding of the ailments he studies, and has made an excellent case for why we need to overhaul our treatment system and provide more evidence-based options. If his book has weaknesses, they only underscore how much we still need to learn if we want to cure the multifactorial disorder we call addiction.
This post originally appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Pacific Standard as “Kicking the Habit.” For more, consider subscribing to our bimonthly print magazine.




Whenever I interact with someone,
May I view myself as the lowest amongst all,
And, from the very depths of my heart,
Respectfully hold others as superior.
The first verse pointed to the need to cultivate the thought of regarding all other sentient beings as precious. In the second verse, the point being made is that the recognition of the preciousness of other sentient beings, and the sense of caring that you develop on that basis, should not be grounded on a feeling of pity toward other sentient beings, that is, on the thought that they are inferior. Rather, what is being emphasized is a sense of caring for other sentient beings and a recognition of their preciousness based on reverence and respect, as superior beings. I would like to emphasize here how we should understand compassion in the Buddhist context. Generally speaking, in the Buddhist tradition, compassion and loving kindness are seen as two sides of same thing. Compassion is said to be the empathetic wish that aspires to see the object of compassion, the sentient being, free from suffering. Loving kindness is the aspiration that wishes happiness upon others. In this context, love and compassion should not be confused with love and compassion in the conventional sense. For example, we experience a sense of closeness toward people who are dear to us. We feel a sense of compassion and empathy for them. We also have strong love for these people, but often this love or compassion is grounded in self-referential considerations: "So-and-so is my friend," "my spouse," "my child," and so on. What happens with this kind of love or compassion, which may be strong, is that it is tinged with attachment because it involves self-referential considerations. Once there is attachment there is also the potential for anger and hatred to arise. Attachment goes hand in hand with anger and hatred. For example, if one's compassion toward someone is tinged with attachment, it can easily turn into its emotional opposite due to the slightest incident. Then instead of wishing that person to be happy, you might wish that person to be miserable.

True compassion and love in the context of training of the mind is based on the simple recognition that others, just like myself, naturally aspire to be happy and to overcome suffering, and that others, just like myself, have the natural right to fulfill that basic aspiration. The empathy you develop toward a person based on recognition of this basic fact is universal compassion. There is no element of prejudice, no element of discrimination. This compassion is able to be extended to all sentient beings, so long as they are capable of experiencing pain and happiness. Thus, the essential feature of true compassion is that it is universal and not discriminatory. As such, training the mind in cultivating compassion in the Buddhist tradition first involves cultivating a thought of even-mindedness, or equanimity, toward all sentient beings. For example, you may reflect upon the fact that such-and-such a person may be your friend, your relative, and so forth in this life, but that this person may have been, from a Buddhist point of view, your worst enemy in a past life. Similarly, you apply the same sort of reasoning to someone you consider an enemy: although this person may be negative toward you and is your enemy in this life, he or she could have been your best friend in a past life, or could have been related to you, and so on. By reflecting upon the fluctuating nature of one's relationships with others and also on the potential that exists in all sentient beings to be friends and enemies, you develop this even-mindedness or equanimity.

The practice of developing or cultivating equanimity involves a form of detachment, but it is important to understand what detachment means. Sometimes when people hear about the Buddhist practice of detachment, they think that Buddhism is advocating indifference toward all things, but that is not the case. First, cultivating detachment, one could say, takes the sting out of discriminatory emotions toward others that are based on considerations of distance or closeness. You lay the groundwork on which you can cultivate genuine compassion extending to all other sentient beings. The Buddhist teaching on detachment does not imply developing an attitude of disengagement from or indifference to the world or life.

Moving on to another line of the verse, I think it is important to understand the expression "May I see myself lower than all others" in the right context. Certainly it is not saying that you should engage in thoughts that would lead to lower self-esteem, or that you should lose all sense of hope and feel dejected, thinking, "I'm the lowest of all. I have no capacity, I cannot do anything and have no power." This is not the kind of consideration of lowness that is being referred to here. The regarding of oneself as lower than others really has to be understood in relative terms. Generally speaking, human beings are superior to animals. We are equipped with the ability to judge between right and wrong and to think in terms of the future and so on. However, one could also argue that in other respects human beings are inferior to animals. For example, animals may not have the ability to judge between right and wrong in a moral sense, and they might not have the ability to see the long-term consequences of their actions, but within the animal realm there is at least a certain sense of order. If you look at the African savannah, for example, predators prey on other animals only out of necessity when they are hungry. When they are not hungry, you can see them coexisting quite peacefully. But we human beings, despite our ability to judge between right and wrong, sometimes act out of pure greed. Sometimes we engage in actions purely out of indulgence--we kill out of a sense of "sport," say, when we go hunting or fishing. So, in a sense, one could argue that human beings have proven to be inferior to animals. It is in such relativistic terms that we can regard ourselves as lower than others. One of the reasons for using the word "lower" is to emphasize that normally when we give in to ordinary emotions of anger, hatred, strong attachment, and greed, we do so without any sense of restraint. Often we are totally oblivious to the impact our behavior has on other sentient beings. But by deliberately cultivating the thought of regarding others as superior and worthy of your reverence, you provide yourself with a restraining factor. Then, when emotions arise, they will not be so powerful as to cause you to disregard the impact of your actions upon other sentient beings. It is on these grounds that recognition of others as superior to yourself is suggested.