Portuguese man o’ war (photo by Fiona Wilkinson)

At seven years old happiness was a day at the beach with my cousins.  One of our adventures was capturing jellyfish in plastic cups.  We were saving unsuspecting swimmers from the stinging nemesis otherwise known as the Portuguese man o’ war.  After a few hours of exhausting assignment, we hungrily ran to our mothers who promptly supplied us with homemade sandwiches and cold drinks.  And life was good.

At around 15 years old, happiness was having to attend school, but getting through it with friends and playing tennis every afternoon, then going home for dinner.  By age 25, however,  happiness became harder to find.  It became selfishly impossible things like not having to work, winning or inheriting  lots of money (so I didn’t have to work), or meeting Mr. Right who would do and say everything perfectly so I didn’t have to get upset or be annoyed.    

Now in my thirties, I can see the self-absorption of my twenties much more plainly  and with some amount of fondness.  Fortunately, I’ve discovered in my slightly wiser years that the keys to happiness does not require me to win the lottery or to find Prince Charming.  But of course I tried first, discovered second.

I bought lotto tickets, gambled in Vegas, entered sweepstakes contests.  I even considered paying thousands of dollars to learn the secrets of buying and flipping real estate with other people’s money.  I also found a guy who with enough elbow grease on my part, could have passed for a prince.  Oh sure, now that I phrase it this way its obvious I’m the one with the issues.  Funny how it didn’t seem that way at the time.  Never does.

Needless to say at the end of my shallow pursuits of happiness I found myself sick and tired of being miserable.  This is not a pleasant route toward changing for the better, but it definitely works.  How ever you arrive at the shores of dissatisfaction, rest assured you are not alone.  

From our most esteemed colleges to conferences on powerful ideas, we as a country desperately desire to be happy.  But despite our power and wealth we remain largely in the dark about what happiness is and how to get it. 

Around the year 2000, Tal Ben-Shahar began teaching Harvard’s course on Positive Psychology or how to be happy.  At that time the most popular class on campus was Intro to Economics or “how to get rich”.  Within six years the Positive Psychology class easily superseded its predecessor with around 900 students each semester eagerly enrolling to learn the secrets to happiness over the secrets to economics.

One of TED’s 20 most popular talks includes The surprising science of happiness by Harvard psychologist Ted Gilbert (2004), author of the New York Times best-selling book Stumbling on Happiness.  In 2005, the New York Times published an article on one country’s mission to measure its well-being by GNH or gross national happiness.  Inspired by this article, Roko Belic traveled across the globe interviewing people for his film on what it means to be Happy.  (Too bad he didn’t visit Denmark, a country known to be the happiest place on earth.  Oops)

Each of these forays into the concept of happiness, clearly conclude that beyond needing money for basic needs and comforts, more money does not make people more happy.  Not having to work actually tends to have the opposite effect on a person’s well-being.

Happiness studies also make no mention of a requirement to find the perfect soul mate.  Like the concept of not having to work, our search for “the one” tends to have the opposite effect on our happiness and inevitably leads to disappointment.  So if neither a boat load of money nor an all-consuming romance is the key to happiness, what pray tell is?     

Happiness studies conclude that the number one predictor of a person’s happiness is the presence (or lack) of a strong network of friends, family, and community.  Meaning life is hard; it’s a downright struggle.  This is a given and so one requirement for happiness is to know unequivocably that we are not alone in this (hard) life; that we are connected to others. 

Of course having and maintaining good relationships requires a lot of time and effort.  So finding happiness means knowing what is important.  Whereas I used to believe happiness was when everything external was perfect i.e. my job was fun and paid really well with lots of vacation, my husband would know me so well that things could be left mostly unsaid, I now believe happiness is exactly the opposite.  Happiness is when everything internal is perfect.  It’s when work isn’t so fun, but it doesn’t bother you, not because you’re settling, but because at the end of the day you have your friends and family and a connection to something larger.

Ted Gilbert says happiness is “synthesized”.  We have to cultivate it like we cultivate gardens.  Tal Ben-Shahar says we have to do things like meditate, excercise, simplify, be grateful, and forgive on a regular basis.  No wonder we prefer to watch T.V. or play video games instead.  No wonder we have to be sick of being miserable in order to change.  The truth is we have to work at being happy.  Happiness is a state of mind achieved only through personal growth.  And so the big fat secret is that most of us are just too lazy to be happy.  We’d rather find happiness at the mall, purchase it and bring it home because its much easier than cultivating more patience through meditation and self-imposed time-outs.

And so as I approach the milestone age of 40, I strive to re-create the happiness of my childhood.  Only after trying the easy way out first and failing miserably, I once again find happiness in simpler things… 

Happiness is a Sunday afternoon swim in the blue Pacific listening to my daughter squeal in delight at every wave.  This despite all the work it took to arrive there and despite the chores waiting for me at home and despite the inevitable Monday that follows every Sunday afternoon.

Increased severity of droughts

August 21, 2014

One thing I remember from chemistry class at the University of Washington is balancing the equation on both sides (the other thing would be cute pre-med students).  And so much to my professors credit, 15 years later it makes sense to me that along with increased intensity in rainfall in some parts of the world is increasing intensity of droughts in other parts of the world.  The globe is one equation and it will, it must naturally balance.

Unusually low lake water levels in California (Lake Mead, Getty Images)

Unusually low lake water levels in California (Lake Mead, Getty Images)

At the beginning of the year California’s governor, Jerry Brown, declared  a drought emergency for the state as it perhaps faces its worst drought in over a hundred years.  California’s drought isn’t just this season;  below average rainfall three years in a row sustains this prolonged and severe drought.  It’s now August and the affliction still hasn’t cured itself, but seems to have settled in as the new norm.  Click here to see a photo gallery.

Where has all the water gone?  Perhaps some of it rained down on places like Hiroshima, Japan, which experienced record-breaking rainfall on Wednesday.


Increased rainfall and landslide events

August 20, 2014

Most proponents of climate change say climate change is already here and the record-breaking temperatures and rainfall data we see in the news is the new norm.  Earlier this year for example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a global consortium of scientists assessing climate change, released their fifth assessment report, stating with confidence that the world will experience higher risks due to extreme weather events.  

Hiroshima’s devastating landslides today gives weight to the scientists’ claim in a more real and emotional way.  The landslides struck without warning at about 330 am Japan time killing 39 people.  One victim was a firefighter who had just rescued five people from a collapsed residential building.

The culprit was an underestimated slow-moving thunderstorm that dumped a record-breaking 8.5 inches of rain in three hours.  The last record wasn’t even half that amount.  According to scientists these kind of record-shattering weather events are the new norm and predict worse is yet to come.   Per the Weather Channel, landslides in Japan have increased to nearly 1200 per year in the last decade compared to 770 per year in the decade before.  That is an alarming 156% increase.

And yet its just another day for the world at large.  Some accuse climate change scientists as alarmists (some probably are), but I think on the whole most of us are in denial.   The numbers speak for themselves;  like the beginnings of an illness, we ignore the symptoms hoping it miraculously cures itself.  One day I suspect, perhaps twenty years from now in 2035 barring a miracle cure, we may finally accept that our climate is not well and do something as drastic as live underground to escape the extremes of parched lands and torrential rains.  For now, aside from the 400,000 people nearest the landslides in Japan who know something is amiss, we carry on business as usual.

I won’t start constructing my hobbit-like home set into the hillside yet.  But you can bet during the next rainstorm in the middle of the night, I will be up and Adam and peer outside to check on the ground.

The internet and collective consciousness

I admit, I have a deep fascination with the paranormal.  I sometimes watch The Long Island Medium on The Learning Channel Sunday evenings.  And most Thursday mornings on my way to work, I tune in to Island 98.5 and Nadine the Suburban Psychic on the radio.  Both shows are regular reminders of what I long suspect–that there is literally much more to life than meets the eye.  Listeners call in asking Nadine one question for free (the bait).

Is my wife fooling around?  I interviewed for a job. Am I going to get it? My wife is pregnant. Are we having a boy or a girl? I’m going through a divorce. Am I going to get what I want? My grandmother passed away. Is she okay?

The drama of people’s lives are endless and tirelessly entertaining especially when the husband (or wife) is apparently cheating, a point the Wake-up Crew does not hesitate to exploit (the hook).  But underlying all the juicy tidbits is listening to Nadine at work, revealing intimate details she could not possibly know…unless…she is the real deal.

Suppose psychic mediums are real, how do know what they know? 

Psychics claim their information comes from a kind of volume of human consciousness, a storehouse where all human actions and intentions are recorded and documented for posterity, and accessible to all merely by asking a question.  Psychics are just much better at receiving information from beyond than the rest of us.  Nadine receives information in the form of thoughts or images in her mind’s eye, or even in the form of actual physical sensations.

It’s quite the fantastic claim, I know.  But despite my unchildlike skepticism for a telepathic library of human consciousness, I believe psychics are telling the truth about how they know things ordinary people don’t. 

Edgar Cayce plaque, Selma Alabama

Edgar Cayce, the famous Sleeping Prophet, was known in the 1900s for accurately diagnosing a person’s ailments and prescribing treatments while lying down, eyes closed, under hypnosis (and not physically inspecting the patient at all).  Educated only through the ninth grade, Cayce said the information came not from himself, but from the same mysterious place Nadine does.  Only, he gave it a name and called it the great Akashic records.


In Hinduism, akasha (the Sanskrit word for space or ether) is a primary element from which all others (earth, water, fire, air) are borne.  In other words it’s the realm of consciousness, of ideas and intentions, out of which physical things manifest.  Cayce asserts this non-physical realm contains records, or the energetic imprints of each thought and action of each human for all of human history.  

If we accept what psychics are saying, then somewhere in all that dark matter of the universe is a virtual encyclopedia of sorts automatically storing the thoughts, ideas and actions of every human being on the planet–our so-called collective consciousness. 

Really?  Sounds awesome, but still more like science fiction slash fantasy.  And yet, in today’s Age of Communication, the idea of the Akashic records, of a collective consciousness is not mere sci-fi, but very much down-to-earth. 

Everyday without fail, I use a remarkably vast, seemingly infinitely expanding thing.  If I don’t, I feel isolated and out of touch.  I use this thing to ‘travel’ instantly anywhere in the world, to ‘be’ at the Australian Open and watch a live tennis match, or to research ailments, or recipes, or to go shopping for anything I can think of, including dog food and light bulbs.  More recently I used it to enroll in a college course at Rutgers University while staying on location in Hawaii.  This mysterious, super-connecting thing is of course the internet.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The internet–a miraculous, hyper-evolving, ever-expanding, ubiquitous modern invention is organic and fed by each and every one of us who ‘plugs’ in everyday, adding, editing, deleting, watching, liking content.  The amount of information stored in this digital global cloud is beyond comprehension.  Thankfully, Google and others have made it a much more manageable place.  All I have to do is think of a question, type it, hit return, and quite instantly I can scroll through a myriad of pages of what other people all over the world, past and present, are thinking related to my question.

I might venture to say, that with the help of the internet and Sergey Brin, I am now somewhat of a psychic.

Image Source: blog.slideshare.net

People can record every thought, event, deed, rambling essay, video, all on the internet.  And at any moment, barring subscriptions and paid content, I have access to nearly all of it.  I can watch how Michelle Phan does make-up, read about some guy’s struggle with his new marriage, watch videos of people and their pets, peruse what others think about a certain restaurant or hotel, listen to a personal conversation between Donald Sterling and his mistress.  I can read ad nauseam the rambling thoughts of bloggers around the world or conversely share my own endless, rambling thoughts.

Its astonishing really.  And the more I think about it, it bears a striking resemblance to the idea of the Akashic records, a collective place to record human experience for the sole purpose of sharing.  We are awash with modern-day inventions aimed at doing just that: Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, Instagram, Facebook.  We dismiss it as socializing (well clearly a lot of it is), but really we are hell-bent, pre-programmed you might say, on cataloguing our collective experiences for posterity.  We’ve built a more tangible, albeit imperfect, version of the Akashic records.  

If, as some people believe, that everything we have ever invented in the physical realm is inspired by their nonphysical prototypes in the unseen Akashic realm, our digital library of human consciousness may very well be the best real evidence we have that a higher Akashic version does indeed exist.  If we can build a physical, clumsy version, then a non-physical, flawless, counterpart in the Akashic realm is not only likely, but a necessary precursor.  Either way, the resemblance is more than just coincidence and adds weight to an idea stretching back over a century ago through to present day and likely beyond.

There, our mere ideas and thoughts are themselves real ‘things’ that self-organize like things in the physical world.  Like water vapor released to the sky and finding its way to others of the same kind, eventually forming whole clouds of similarity, our thoughts and ideas do the same, released from our minds into the ether beyond and automatically organizing themselves to whole clouds of similarity within human history. 

What, if anything, does it all mean?

The existence of a collective consciousness, an actual mechanism behind the sentimental idea that what happens to one of us, happens to all of us, implies that beyond the sentiment, is something more hard-wired and grounded in truth: we are all irreversibly connected, cells of the same organism, agents of the same agency.

Our collective mission?  Free knowledge for all.  An enlightened humanity.  Peace for a thousand years.  Evolution toward higher Jedi-like powers.  Nothing.  I’ll save the possibilities for another post.   

Whatever our collective purpose, there is no denying the omnipresent existence of unseen, powerful, organized collections of information.  It’s hard to keep this intangible world in mind during the daily grind and demands of physical life.   And so every Thursday morning I tune in for my paranormal dose and am reminded of it, that everything isn’t as it seems or as Einstein much more famously said it, that reality is merely an illusion.  We are not as separate as we make ourselves out to be and because of a pervasive network we cannot see, our thoughts and intentions somewhere become thoughts and intentions everywhere.

I meditate in traffic

AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

Well I tried it this morning anyway, and you know what? Its do-able.
Yah, it’s far removed from the idealized image of serenity, quiet, and calm somewhere on a hilltop preferably with a gentle breeze and cherry blossom petals floating on its trails. But if I wait for that, I’ll never get to it (sort of like waiting for Prince Charming…just kidding). So I’m settling for reality and making do (exactly like getting married…kidding again) and not meditating at the break of dawn to a beautiful sunrise, but after sunrise during my daily morning bumper-to-bumper commute, which takes twice as long without traffic.

Its perfect when you think about it. I can meditate twice a day—morning and afternoon. I don’t have to set aside extra time somewhere from my busy day. It’s already allotted. And the best part is I can’t get out of it, unless I stop going to work. Normally, I have to shell out money to someone like a yoga instructor for that kind of discipline.

While commuting, I’m completely alone in my car; no co-workers, no kids, no spouses. Just me…and a boat load of other people, also mostly alone in their cars. Wait a second. Complete, un-interrupted alone time 1.5 hours a day? All of a sudden I’m okay with traffic. And I am beginning to wonder whether there is a larger force at work in these high-density cities. As if traffic is a divine plan to slow everybody down on purpose. So far the collective reaction to traffic is road rage and frustration, but what if we respond instead, with a collective sigh of relief for the new-found time to ourselves, and a spontaneous group meditation hour. Imagine that? Either way we are stuck in our cars everyday for that amount of time.

Logistics aside, my meditation in traffic is about breathing out all the worries and logistics of the day. It’s about my mind racing with a ton of things I have to do such as updating my credit card information on all my auto-bill payment accounts (electricity, cell phone, cable TV, YMCA etc) because my old credit card was cancelled due to suspicious activity, drafting a report that’s due, completing employee evaluations, deciding what’s for dinner, getting cash from the ATM machine, yada, yada.

I exhale all of the seemingly infinite details of the daily grind and breathe in peace and calm. I take a deep breath of ‘Everything is fine even though I am stuck in traffic’. I breathe out all the things I think are important and breathe in thoughts like, “Everything I need, I already have.” “For right now, this moment, there is nothing to do, but drive very slowly.”

Right away the background chatter is considerably subdued and I feel noticeably more relaxed and at peace. The chatter about my life is still there, but its background to the brilliant first light of the morning and to the last sharp, orange, light of late afternoon. Its background to the rain in the green valleys and the rainbows arching over them. Its background to an overall sense of well-being and a feeling that everything is exactly the way it should be.

It’s amazing what a difference it makes compared with the enormous amount of energy I normally spend on my To Do lists, or worrying, or worse–being angry and annoyed at all the damn traffic, which doesn’t get me to my destination any faster. Ironically (or not) meditating while driving is exactly opposite to texting while driving. I used to think meditation required shutting my brain down somehow and not thinking, and thereby transporting myself from here to elsewhere, in which case, driving and meditating would not be a good idea. But I’ve never been able to shut my brain off, which I have come to understand is not the point of meditation.

My definition of meditation now includes any time I can quiet that voice inside my head, enough to concentrate on doing only the task at hand, whether that is having a conversation with someone, or eating a meal, or playing tennis, or driving in traffic, or sitting quietly. In fact, I think the crux of meditation is to be able to do it in less than ideal conditions.

The vast, endless, sea of cars

And so I give my meditation muscles a big work out and sit in awe at the vast sea of cars stretching both as far forward in front of me and back behind me on six lanes of freeway. I think its worth a try. You might have a better day at work and return home to your families happy and refreshed. I know I am already feeling better about commuting home later today.

Happy Halloween in 2013!

So my daughter is dressing up for Halloween as last year’s costume. Yah, my five year-old remembers, off-hand, the comment her father made after spending $50 on last year’s costume, “You have to use this (overpriced) costume for two Halloweens.”

And so my kid insists she must be a water fairy again. I re-assure her that she doesn’t have to and that she can use any of the dress-up clothes she already owns. This includes Strawberry Shortcake, Snow White, and Princess Belle.  Still out of some sort of innocent and pure need to listen to her father she insists, she must be a water fairy again because that’s what her dad said. “Okay,” I say knowing full-well how difficult it is to change the fixated mind of a child. “Water fairy it is…again.”

Along with last year’s costume, is a lot of non-fanfare over Halloween this year. Our home has exactly one Halloween decoration and it was provided by my 5 year-old. Here it is:

Owl line-up

Owl line-up

I quite like it actually. Thank you Ella for brightening up an otherwise completely futty-dutty home.

There was no visit to a pumpkin patch this year, not even the one at Whole Foods. So naturally, there was no pumpkin carving and of course there is no candle-lit  jack-o-lantern on our porch step.

As a small effort to do something in the spirit of Halloween, I spent $4 on two small bags of Nestle crunch candy bars. Whether I actually hand them out remains to be seen. What a lazy bum!

To my credit, I won’t be available to handout candy since I will (for sure) be walking around the neighborhood with my little water fairy this evening!

Happy Halloween in 2013!

Shutdown from my point of view

Day 15 of the (partial) government shutdown


I’ve moved on. I can’t seem to stay interested in a bunch of old fogies, namely Boehner and Obama, disagreeing on the national budget. It’s as interesting as being involved with my parents’ disagreements.

Dad: “Your mother can still wash the dishes.” Mom: “Dad just doesn’t get it.”

Obama: “Government can re-open right now, this minute.” Boehner: “The President won’t negotiate.”

There is no other appropriate reaction to this kind of banter than to roll one’s eye-balls. Continue reading

#Dear Congress

91 veterans from Mississippi treat the shutdown the way it should be–like it never happened.                                              Photo by Karen Bleier / AFP / Getty Images

Five years ago you agreed to bail out the big banks with public funds. It was a remarkable feat of transfer of corporate loss to public loss minus the lofty profits. Call it an act of congress. No, call it a great act of congress.  

Lacking any acts of congress this week, let alone a great one, maybe the big banks could throw a bailout to the 800,000 furloughed federal employees while you sort things out?

Posted shutdown signs at the Statue of Liberty         Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images

I think it would mean a lot to the people, not only to those federal servants and their families, but also to those veterans traveling from afar to remember their fellow fallen men and to those thousands visiting our country’s iconic (now increasingly ironic) symbol of Liberty.  Thanks.



Earth’s chemical imbalance

Et tu, Earth? Yes, Earth too. There is large debate about the reason for climate change with all sorts of data thrown about like the significant CO2 output of human activity. I, for one say yes, human activity is the culprit and the current weather imbalance is a reflection of our own off-kilter lives. In short, we consume more than we need and we definitely take more than we replenish.

If earth was my patient, my diagnosis would be this: Stage 3 human cancer isolated to earth’s outermost crust. The cancer can be successfully treated and removed with severe weather. Earth’s long-term prognosis is good. In the meantime…

Broomfield / Lafayette border, Colo. (AP Photo / Cliff Grassmick)

Broomfield / Lafayette border, Colo. (AP Photo / Cliff Grassmick)

In severe weather news this week we have flooding in Colorado. Parts of Colorado saw heavier rainfall in one day than it has in all other days in the last 95 years. Just another record-breaker? Yes and no. Yes, it’s another record, but the pattern suggests this kind of record-breaking is a new norm that started only in the last decade.  This new norm coincides with warmer temperatures also this past decade, as mentioned in a previous post.

For instance, last St. Patrick’s day was the warmest St. Patty’s day recorded in Chicago since 1872. And last year’s hurricane Sandy holds a few record-breaking facts: its central pressure at landfall was the lowest recorded pressure of all storms on the Atlantic coast since 1938 (lower central pressure is generally equated with stronger storms) and the ensuing storm surge surpassed the previous 1960 record of 10-feet by nearly a whopping 4 feet causing New York City to essentially shutdown, including the subway and the stock exchange.

As for this week’s record, if you were a resident of Boulder for the last 95 years you would say “Heavy summer rains are normal here, but this…I have never seen rain like this before…ever.”

Coal Creek, Golden Colorado Sept 12, 2013 (AP photo/Reuters/Rick Wilking)

The reality of such record-breaking weather is sweeping forces of destruction. So far there are four reported deaths due to Colorado’s flooding. 

Perhaps nature is decidedly the ultimate healer of healers, knowing best how to treat its own ailments–treating earth’s higher temperatures with droughts and deluge, which wreaks temporary havoc on its surface, but effectively disrupts large-scale human activity. One day we just might be disrupted enough to change the way we do things.

My first week of kindergarten…

…again. This time as a parent.


My recollection the first time around is a memory of surprise at recognizing a boy from preschool and…that’s about it. His name was Derek. This time around as a thirty something year-old, I am likely to remember a lot more including the monumental sigh of relief at making it to the first bell. In the lead-up to the first day I am overwhelmed by the wealth of things I had to do like obtain up-to-date vaccinations, register with a copy of my utility bill (to prove in-district location), and purchasing then labeling a myriad of school supplies with my kid’s name i.e. extra clothes, backpack, folders, art apron, and…each crayon/marker in 9 boxes worth of crayons/markers. Really? Continue reading