Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The meditative power of balancing rocks [PICS]

Michael Grab is a veteran at doing the impossible.

[Editor's note: After first posting about Gravity Glue here, I was so inspired by the video that I headed out to a creek days later and tried rock balancing myself. It's strangely addictive and very internal. Everything else becomes still and the focus is intense. When I'd snap out of it, I had the same feeling I get after a session of yoga or meditation. I recommend the next time you find yourself with the opportunity, to take advantage. - Carlo]

I BALANCE ROCKS for a number of reasons. My initial attraction was the good feeling it gave me; the meditative aspect is relaxing. That is the fundamental basis for my continued practice. As I did it more, I noticed that small crowds would start gathering to watch.

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There is a mutual creation that begins once people are watching. What I do next is often influenced by spectators. Its almost as if they feed off the energy surrounding the gardens, but simultaneously my creative flow feeds off of peoples interest in the activity.

Its also a great way to spend time without consuming, the excess of which I believe to be the basis of many of the economic troubles facing this country and the world. The practice is something very spiritual to me. It has turned into a relationship with the Earth. If the wind blows them over, I view that as the Earths will, though most of the time I think she welcomes the practice for the effect it has on people that see it.

I sometimes like to think that the gravitational threads keeping the rocks in balance are beacons that radiate and collect positive energy to and from people, into Mother Earth. Perhaps that theory might be a bit farfetched. Who knows

Ive been doing this about four years now, mostly in Boulder Creek during the summers. Ive also started my own rock garden in my backyard. Perhaps it can be classified as an addiction? The biggest challenge I face when balancing rocks is overcoming the will to stop. Some of the balance points are rather challenging and can take a mental and physical toll on the body to the point where my mind tells me to stop.

I approach this challenge with what i believe is a yoga technique where one leans into the discomfort by exercising mind over matter. Ultimately, I have the choice whether I stop or not. A balance point is very rarely, if at all, impossible; patience, discipline, and stamina are required.

When looking at these, the mind often tries its hardest to tell you this impossible, but the eyes contradict the mind.

Images are All Rights Reserved. To contact the author about the use/purchase of any of the photos, please visit

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Im trying to be compassionate, dammit!

Did you know theres a website you can go to to anonymously vent or listen to someone vent?

ITS CALLED Compassion Pit. Its simple. You dont have to register or log in or post anything about yourself. You simply go there and choose to be either a Venter or a Listener.

Ive worked hard on being an understanding person. I guess you could say I have a passion for compassion. Its something Im very conscious about and I like to exercise it in my daily life, both with people I interact with and people I dont. I even tried to practice compassion for the hooligans and looters who burned cars and smashed windows in Vancouver during the Stanley Cup riots.

What a great way to extend this, I thought, via the web. I could practice compassion in a tangible way toward people from god knows where. I clicked on Listener. Then I waited.

Compassionate Pit screenshot

click to enlarge

Not sure what happened there. Did she get freaked out that I was a first-time Listener? Maybe as a first-time Venter she thought at least one of us should be experienced. After all, sex between two virgins isnt that fun. (Ive done it. I know.)

The site automatically places you in the queue for another connection when this happens. You dont have to sit there staring at the screen waiting. If you go to another tab or program, the system dings at you when a connection is made (assuming youve left the Enable Sound tickbox checked). I got a ding. In fact, I got a few dings.

Compassionate Pit screenshot

click to enlarge

I had no idea what to expect. What would these people vent to me? How would I react if it was something racist or homophobic orit could be anything. Problem was everyone disconnected as soon as the connection was made, just as I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for some words to flash across the screen, waiting to reply with something like, I hear you, go on or whenever youre ready, Im listening.

But nothing. By the looks of it, there are more Listeners than there are Venters at Compassion Pit. I find that interesting. Judging (by the way, I adhere to being non-judgmental as much as being compassionate) by conversations Ive had over my lifetime, I would venture to guess that 95% of people are terrible listeners. Most people are more concerned with thoughts in their own heads than thoughts in anothers.

But whatever. I tried my best. I just happen to think they missed out on one of the best ears around town.

Hello? Is anyone listening?!

Monday, August 29, 2011

What you might not know about Ramadan

Photos by author

Baxter Jackson unveils a side of Ramadan that might surprise you.

THE FIRST TIME a grown man ever kissed me was during Ramadan. I was at a posh all-night iftar buffet in the dusty outskirts of Cairo with my fiance, Kristina, when I ran into Mohammed, an Egyptian acquaintance of mine.

He greeted me with a smile as warm as the night air. His arms, open. Kristina saw the panic in my eyes but shouldered me toward him anyway, giggling in anticipation of what she knew Id been trying to avoid.

He leaned in for the customary Arab man-hug. The stubble of his cheeks pressed against my own, his pursed lips firmly planting on both of my cheeks first the right, then the left. After hed finished greeting me, he continued to hold me at arm length, looking at me puzzled.

Its my first time being kissed by a grown man, I explained. He and Kristina both burst out laughing. He patted me on the back and told me get used to it cause, after all, This is Ramadan, habeebi.

Ramadan and I just dont get along but being kissed by men is not the reason why. I do love the idea of it. Its just what actually goes down during Ramadan that scares me enough to make me think twice about leaving my apartment.

Dont get me wrong gorging myself on a Thanksgiving-style meal of epic proportions every night for a whole month while watching television debuts till the wee hours of the morning sounds like decadently good fun to me. And to have this month of nocturnal feasting and marathon television viewing to be followed by an entire week off from school and work to celebrate Eid Al Fitir (during which I get to barbeque and hang out with all my friends and distant family that I only get to see once or twice a year) sounds like a killer party.

And thats just the fun stuff. Theres the spiritual side of it, too. The idea appeals to me: to temper earthly desires, to empathize with those who suffer the pangs of hunger and thirst, and to improve conscious contact with God through prayer by abstaining from food, water, and sex (and smoking even) during daylight hours.

But just as there are some Christians who criticize Christmas for its over-consumerism, price gouging, and negative health effects, so too are there some religious types who find fault with what actually happens during Ramadan.

Sheikh Salim Al Amri, a local Imam at the Al Hail mosque in Muscat, Oman bemoaned the nocturnal overindulgence and over-consumption in a recent front-page article in the Times of Oman.

Instead of devoting their spare time to do good, we see Muslims celebrating night to dawn by smoking sheesha, eating lavishly, spending more money that they can afford and addicted to television serials.

Sheikh Salim is not alone in his sentiments either. Another religious leader, Sheikh Ahmed Al Abri, the Imam of Maabela Mosque (also in Muscat) warned the worshipers at Friday prayers to guard against gluttony in food and shopping at this time of spiritual renewal.

Many people have endless plates of food placed on their tables at iftar. They later go out shopping to buy things they dont need. Restaurants and shopping malls are full at night in Ramadan. Why dont they spend their time and money on good causes instead of filling their bellies and throwing their money like this?

We know a lot about throwing money around in the US, especially during Christmas, when many proprietors make their profits for the entire year. Its no different in the Middle East during Ramadan. The pressure to make a buck is such that some unscrupulous entrepreneurs raise prices in anticipation of the biggest shopping time of the year in the Muslim world.

Sheikh Abubakar Giro, an Islamic scholar in Nigeria, condemned such price gouging on food at the onset of Ramadan and pleaded with retailers to resist the temptation to make fast money.

In Qatar, price hiking during Ramadan is such an issue that the Trade Ministry had to step in and put price caps on 156 different food items. Despite this government intervention, the price of fruits and vegetables continue to rise.

In Cairo, The Daily News Egypt reported that the Chamber of Commerce announced that food prices during Ramadan would increase as expected due to the cost of domestic raw materials rising by 50 percent in anticipation of rising demand.

Besides price gouging, theres also the inconvenience factor of Ramadan. Almost all restaurants, supermarkets, and convenience stores are closed during the day. Private sector and government offices reduce their working hours to 9am to 2pm, so getting anything done becomes a major hassle.

Come back later and come back tomorrow become familiar refrains as many employees cash in their sick days to sleep off the food coma theyve induced by eating all night. All this leads to an overall drop in productivity and means nothing much gets done during the month of Ramadan.

But the real reason Im a little scared of the holiday: if youre not careful, Ramadan can actually kill you.

Abstaining from food and water during the day causes dehydration and a decrease in the rate of metabolism, both of which lead to lethargy, migraines, decreased mental acuity, and irritability. When people who suffer from these effects get behind the wheel of a car during Ramadan, people can die.

In Jordan, for example, the Civil Defense Department (CDD) had to deal with 9,098 traffic accidents, 6,844 injured, and 130 deaths during last years Ramadan alone. Preparing for the expected big jump in the normal number of accidents and fatalities, they strongly advised the public to stay off the roads from 3pm until iftar because these are the most dangerous hours of the day (irritability at its highest, blood sugar at its lowest).

Traffic pile-ups have also effectively doubled since the holiday started.

Jordan is not an isolated case. In a Khaleej Times article, police in Sharjah, UAE, reported that the number of traffic accidents averaged 60-80 a day before Ramadan and 300-350 a day since it began. Traffic pile-ups have also effectively doubled since the holiday started. The majority of such accidents occur in the hours leading up to iftar (3pm to dusk), further corroborating the CDD report from Jordan.

In Algeria, 125 people have died and 281 people have been injured in the first two weeks of Ramadan this year. The first three days were the deadliest with five fatalities and 24 injured on the first day, 11 dead and 28 injured on the second day, and 12 dead and 42 injured on the third day.

Whats even scarier than these statistics is that some Muslims with medical complications such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart conditions stop taking their medication, but continue driving, because they believe that taking their medicine invalidates their fast.

The over-consumption, the price gouging, and the blatant consumerism of Ramadan dont really bother me Im used to all that because I grew up with Christmas. The situation on the roads, on the other hand, is enough to make anyone start praying for salvation.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Notes on balancing effort and surrender

THE WORD FLOW is an oft-heard one around the city of Nelson. Lets just see how it flows. Im just gonna flow and see where it takes me. Its one of the reasons I love it here. But sometimes it can get to be too much. I have a friend that I havent seen all summer. She lives about a 15-minute walk from me and has no cell phone. Id love to see her and catch up, but efforts to make plans never seem to take. She usually ends these efforts with something like, Lets flow with it, itll work out.

One of the quintessential Kootenay* summer experiences is to float down the Slocan River on a hot, sunny day, sitting in an inflatable tube/chair/boat/whatever, drinks (alcoholic or not) tied and immersed in the cold water, friends to laugh with and make should you choose to. In yoga today, our instructor who had done the float twice in the past week was talking about flow.

Most of the time the river guides you to where to need to go, but sometimes you need to put in some muscle and paddle.

She was talking about the parts of the river that branched off and where one wanted to avoid going down. (Stay left.) She said most of the time the river guides you to where to need to go, but that sometimes you need to put in some muscle and paddle. She was talking about the balance between effort and surrender. It was something my friends and I talked about when we went a couple of weeks ago.

A few always seemed to be on guard, giving instructions to paddle this way to avoid something. Someone asked, Wont the river just take us where we need to go? I stopped paddling as much and went with the flow. The river did indeed seem to guide us down, taking us on curves without any effort to turn. But, yes, sometimes it was absolutely necessary to put some effort into it (illustrated by the remnants of a deflated boat hanging from a tree branch).

Life is a river. There are those that fight against the current and fight against where it might be leading us. There are those who put the paddle away and get caught in the dead branches or get taken down an undesirable arm. How do we determine when to paddle and when to put our feet up? I like to think that our higher selves our heart, soul, intuition know the answer. The trick is learning how to listen to it.

Each life experience gives us a bit more wisdom, provided that we get in the right mindset and learn the lessons we are meant to learn. And its something that never ends; its not a goal to be attained. It just keeps flowing.

*The Kootenays is a mountainous region in southern BC in which Nelson is located.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

How to win the lottery

Are you passionate about playing the lottery?

FIRST STEP: Change your mindset. As Bashar says, there is a profound difference between the idea of having your numbers match reality vs. reality matching your numbers. When we say, I hope I pick the winning numbers we speak as though the numbers are already drawn.

More importantly though, he says, what were actually doing when we play the lottery is processing our relationship to wealth and abundance. On the surface, we may think that what we really want is to win those millions of dollars. But, he claims, like with anything else, passion manifests itself into reality and, for many who play, there is no real passion in the lottery. The passion lies in doing whatever winning the lottery could afford us to do.

When you play the lottery, play it to allow yourself to get in touch with your relationship with wealth and be in the state that you prefer to be, and you will win every time in some way. When winning in any way becomes equal to winning in any other way, you actually afford yourself the greatest probability of allowing abundance to come to you in that way, as well as other ways in which you play.

Whether or not someone could actually manifest a literal lottery win by truly being passionate about the game is beside the point. What I take from this is that any time we align ourselves with our true selves, when we are pure in our intentions and open to exploring our internal relationships, we will manifest abundance in the most appropriate way. And when that happens, we all win.

Feature photo: Montage Communications

Friday, August 26, 2011

Islams largest nation disgusted by the judgment of its holiest

The hardline, Wahhabist followers of Islam in Saudi Arabia bump heads spectacularly with the government of Indonesia.

THE FUROR BEGAN with the beheading of Ruyati binti Satubi, a 54-year-old Indonesian grandmother, after she was convicted of stabbing her employer by a Saudi court. In truth though, the seeds of the anger that saw Indonesia recalling its ambassador to Riyadh and suspending nationals from leaving to work in Saudi Arabia go much, much deeper.

Satubis death was a perfect storm born of fundamentally different perspectives within the faith, and less metaphysically anger at what many Indonesians see as the horrific treatment of foreign workers by their Saudi employers.

Saudi Arabia has, for a long time, been held in a stable political arrangement by an effective bargain between the ruling family and Wahhabist puritanicals. The ruling family gets a religious endorsement, while one of the strictest subgroups of broader Islam gets a free hand on religion and the law. That Saudi Arabia is home to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites in the religion, grants the Wahabbists point of view a disproportionate weight in the Muslim world.

In comparison, Indonesia has long been a bastion of a more moderate and humanistic interpretation of Islam. Not only the worlds most populous Muslim nation, the country is also home to Nahdlatul Ulama, possibly the religions largest organised group. Compared to Wahhabism, the differences could not be more stark.

While women in Saudi Arabia have yet to be allowed to drive, or given the legal status of an adult, women in Indonesia enjoy far wider basic rights in a nation that, for the most part, has fostered genial relations with its religious minorities.

With Satubis beheading, philosophical differences between the strict, uncompromising view of Islam amongst the Wahhabists and humanistic beliefs of the moderate Indonesian majority have been brutally tested.

Even beyond issues of religion, Satubis death was the last straw in a chain of mistreatment of many foreign servants working for Saudi employers. In January, a Saudi princess stood accused of physically assaulting her Indonesian servant for forgetting to pack her sunglasses, walking in front of her in in a Florida mall and demanding to be treated like a human being during a trip to America. This, sadly, is improved behaviour by a Saudi royal, after a grandson of the Saudi king battered a manservant to death.

Given that there is some dispute as to whether Satubi may have been acting in self defense in killing her employer, resentment by many Indonesians has finally come to a head over the case. Some see Saudi Arabias behaviour as utterly hypocritical for a nation that is home to Islams geographical heart. Others simply find it revolting that anyone should treat fellow human beings in such a disgusting way, regardless of religion.

Watching the Saudi governments posturing to smooth over what it seems to view as a fixable political spat with Indonesia, it would seem that the country is intent on getting back to business as usual as soon as the dust settles.

That should not be allowed to happen.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The end of money (and the return of the gift)

Amid the growing crisis of our age, Charles Eisenstein offers an illuminating idea: to change the world we must change our money.

From the introduction of his new book Sacred Economics:

IT IS HUGELY IRONIC and hugely significant that the one thing on the planet most closely resembling the forgoing conception of the divine is money. It is an invisible, immortal force that surrounds and steers all things, omnipotent and limitless, an invisible hand that, it is said, makes the world go round.

Yet, money today is an abstraction, at most symbols on a piece of paper but usually mere bits in a computer. It exists in a realm far removed from materiality. In that realm, it is exempt from natures most important laws, for it does not decay and return to the soil as all other things do, but is rather preserved, changeless, in its vaults and computer files, even growing with time thanks to interest. It bears the properties of eternal preservation and everlasting increase, both of which are profoundly unnatural.

The natural substance that comes closest to these properties is gold, which does not rust, tarnish, or decay. Early on, gold was therefore used both as money and as a metaphor for the divine soul, that which is incorruptible and changeless.

Sacred Economics - Learn more

Moneys divine property of abstraction, of disconnection from the real world of things, reached its extreme in the early years of the twenty-first century as the financial economy lost its mooring in the real economy and took on a life of its own. The vast fortunes of Wall Street were unconnected to any material production, seeming to exist in a separate realm.

Looking down from Olympian heights, the financiers called themselves masters of the universe, channeling the power of the god they served to bring fortune or ruin upon the masses, to literally move mountains, raze forests, change the course of rivers, cause the rise and fall of nations. But money soon proved to be a capricious god.

As I write these words, it seems that the increasingly frantic rituals that the financial priesthood uses to placate the god Money are in vain. Like the clergy of a dying religion, they exhort their followers to greater sacrifices while blaming their misfortunes either on sin (greedy bankers, irresponsible consumers) or on the mysterious whims of God (the financial markets). But some are already blaming the priests themselves.

What we call recession, an earlier culture might have called God abandoning the world. Money is disappearing, and with it another property of spirit: the animating force of the human realm.

Photo credit: Terry Thomas

At this writing, all over the world machines stand idle. Factories have ground to a halt; construction equipment sits derelict in the yard; parks and libraries are closing; and millions go homeless and hungry while housing units stand vacant and food rots in the warehouses. Yet all the human and material inputs to build the houses, distribute the food, and run the factories still exist. It is rather something immaterial, that animating spirit, which has fled.

What has fled is money. That is the only thing missing, so insubstantial (in the form of electrons in computers) that it can hardly be said to exist at all, yet so powerful that without it, human productivity grinds to a halt. On the individual level as well, we can see the demotivating effects of lack of money. Consider the stereotype of the unemployed man, nearly broke, slouched in front of the TV in his undershirt, drinking a beer, hardly able to rise from his chair. Money, it seems, animates people as well as machines. Without it we are dispirited.

Money is disappearing, and with it another property of spirit: the animating force of the human realm.

We do not realize that our concept of the divine has attracted to it a god that fits that concept, and given it sovereignty over the earth. By divorcing soul from flesh, spirit from matter, and God from nature, we have installed a ruling power that is soulless, alienating, ungodly, and unnatural. So when I speak of making money sacred, I am not invoking a supernatural agency to infuse sacredness into the inert, mundane objects of nature. I am rather reaching back to an earlier time, a time before the divorce of matter and spirit, when sacredness was endemic to all things.

And what is the sacred? It has two aspects: uniqueness and relatedness. A sacred object or being is one that is special, unique, one of a kind. It is therefore infinitely precious; it is irreplaceable. It has no equivalent, and thus no finite value, for value can only be determined by comparison. Money, like all kinds of measure, is a standard of comparison.

Unique though it is, the sacred is nonetheless inseparable from all that went into making it, from its history, and from the place it occupies in the matrix of all being. You might be thinking now that really all things and all relationships are sacred. That may be true, but though we may believe that intellectually, we dont always feel it. Some things feel sacred to us, and some do not. Those that do, we call sacred, and their purpose is ultimately to remind us of the sacredness of all things.

Read the full article on Reality Sandwich

What do you think about our relationship with money? Share your thoughts in the comments.