February 22nd, 2012 § § permalink
(Originally posted on Triplepundit on February 17, 2012)
The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, interest rates are high, stifling investment in new businesses.
What are the alternatives to our dysfunctional economic system?
Is it possible to identify new economic and social models that can act as rallying points for concrete social and political change?
People, rightly so, are scared of utopian visions of heaven on Earth. So let’s put utopianism aside.
No promises here of a communist or capitalist paradise.
Just some concrete thoughts on what people, good people who seek good change, can think about in creating effective strategies of progress.
My favorite model is based on the phrase coined by the Nobel-prize winning economist Amartya Sen: development as freedom.
For Sen, development is not just the reduction of poverty — it is the affirmative expansion of freedom.
Not simply political freedoms (which are important), but also social freedoms that bring about freedom from want or physical suffering.
As Sen puts it, development means “removing poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or overactivity of repressive states.”
I like the concept of development as freedom for several reasons:
- Development as freedom mirrors human rights law, specifically the two major human rights treaties enacted after World War II. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protects rights like freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to a fair trial. Meanwhile, a sibling treaty, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), requires countries to ensure their citizens can make a “decent living” (article 7) and have access to health care and education. Development as freedom asks people to respect both sets of rights. Freedom of speech means little if a person does not have the education to speak her mind; freedom to live without undue government interference means little if a person cannot stay healthy.
- Development as freedom is adaptable. In these times of growing ecological stress, development as freedom means reducing carbon impacts and creating sustainable economic systems that can last more than just a few generations.
- Development as freedom provides dignity to ancient cultures that today grapple with endemic poverty. The world will lose something if civilizations like India and China, thousands of years old, throw away the bulk of their collected social and cultural knowledge in order to carbon copy the development paths of the United States and Europe.
- Development as freedom means there is work to do even in so-called rich countries. The consumer society in the United States has brought many luxuries, but it has destroyed communities, wrecked the environment, and isolated and atomized people to a degree never before seen in history. Development as freedom offers a way to look beyond physical luxury to those human needs that remain impoverished even in the midst of monetary wealth. No person lives on bread alone.
February 7th, 2012 § § permalink
(Cross-posted with COMAR LAW.)
The United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit today affirmed the judgment of a federal trial court in striking down California’s same-sex marriage ban “Prop 8″. Perry v. Brown, No. 10-16696 (9th Cir. Feb. 7, 2012).
But the court refrained from deciding the broader question as to whether the Constitution requires that marriage be open to gay and lesbian couples.
Instead, the court decided the more narrow question whether Prop 8 violated equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Under the Equal Protection Clause, a law that distinguishes people into different categories must have a rational basis to a legitimate government purpose.
In Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), the Supreme Court held that a law that serves only to discriminate against disfavored groups was not a legitimate use of state power. “A law declaring that in general it shall be more difficult for one group of citizens than for all others to seek aid from the government is itself a denial of equal protection of the laws in the most literal sense.” Id. at 633.
Romer involved an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that prohibited the state from enacting laws to prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians. The Supreme Court struck down the amendment.
The Ninth Circuit relied on Romer in striking down Prop 8. ”The People may not employ the initiative power to single out a disfavored group for unequal treatment and strip them, without a legitimate justification, of a right as important as the right to marry.”
Prior to Prop 8, the California Supreme Court had recognized that marriage was a fundamental right possessed by all Californias, straight or gay. Accordingly, when Prop 8 was passed, it put in place a new rule of constitutional law, the only effect of which was to deprive a targeted minority of rights they had possessed.
The Ninth Circuit looked at the four possible reasons offered for the legitimacy of Prop 8: (1) furthering an interest in childrearing and “responsible procreation”; (1) proceeding with caution in changing the institution of marriage; (3) protecting religious freedoms and (4) preventing children from being taught about same-sex marriage in schools. None of these goals were actually met by Prop 8, and could not act as a rational basis for the law.
In fact, the only effect of Prop 8 was to “withdraw from gays and lesbians the right to employ the designation of ‘marriage’ to describe their committed relationships and thus to deprive them of societal status that affords dignity to those relationships.” The effect of Prop 8 is “so far removed from these particular justifications that we find it impossible to credit them.”
The Court had the opportunity to discuss whether the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution provided a “fundamental right to marry” to which gay and lesbian couples were entitled.
It declined to do so, however, since its analysis only hinged on the purpose of Prop 8. “We therefore need not and do not consider whether same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry, or whether states that fail to afford the right to marry to gays and lesbians must do so. Further we express no view on those questions.”
August 19th, 2011 § § permalink
(Ed. note: This post is cross-posted with COMAR LAW)
Is the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to “keep and bear arms” still relevant in modern America?
The United States Supreme Court seems to think so. Second Amendment jurisprudence has shifted radically in the last few years.
What was once an almost forgotten amendment has taken on significant new life because of two recent decisions: District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010).
In Heller, the Supreme Court explicitly held for the first time that the right to keep and bear arms is a a “right” that is “exercised individually and belongs to all Americans.” (District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) 128 S. Ct. 2783, 2791.)
The Supreme Court also took the opportunity to define “arms” as “weapons of offence, or armour of defence,” and “any thing that a man wears for his defence, or takes into his hands, or useth in wrath to cast at or strike another.” (Id. at 2791.)
To “keep arms” refers to a “common way of referring to possessing arms”; and to “bear arms” refers “to the carrying of weapons outside of an organized militia.” (Id. at 2792-93.)
Because the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, the Supreme Court struck down Washington D.C.’s total ban on the possession of handguns as an infringement of that right:
“The handgun ban amounts to a prohibition of an entire class of ‘arms’ that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society for that lawful purpose. The prohibition extends, moreover, to the home, where the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute.” (Id. at 2817-2818.)
Two years later, in McDonald v. Chicago, the Supreme Court expanded this guarantee against the American states. As such, a near-total hand gun ban enacted by Chicago was unconstitutional.
What should someone make of all of this?
My own views on the Second Amendment have shifted significantly over the last several years.
I used to think that the protections of the Second Amendment were an anachronism, akin to the Third Amendment’s guarantee against the quartering of soldiers — a holdover from an earlier day when people distrusted each other, had little government and relied on firearms to hunt.
Today, I am not so sure.
I have come to appreciate why the Framers included the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights.
As noted in McDonald, the essence of the right to keep and bear arms is, ultimately, the right to self-defense:
“Self-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day, and in Heller, we held that individual self-defense is ‘the central component’ of the Second Amendment right.” (McDonald v. Chicago (2010) No. 08-1521, 561 U.S. __ (slip op., at 19).)
Interestingly, the Supreme Court’s discussion of the right to keep and bear arms did not focus on colonial America — rather, the Court talked about the Civil War and the numerous attempts by Southern militias and governments to take away firearms from newly liberated slaves:
“In the first session of the 39th Congress, Senator Wilson told his colleagues: ‘In Mississippi rebel State forces, men who were in the rebel armies, are traversing the State, visiting the freedmen, disarming them, perpetrating murders and outrages upon them; and the same things are done in other sections of the country.’” ((Id. at __ (slip op., at 24).)
The Supreme Court quoted Samuel Pomeroy, a Republican senator from Kansas, who was alarmed at the disarming of newly freed slaves:
“Every man . . . should have the right to bear arms for the defense of himself and family and his homestead. And if the cabin door of the freedman is broken open and the intruder enters for purposes as vile as were known to slavery, then should a well-loaded musket be in the hand of the occupant to send the polluted wretch to another world, where his wretchedness will forever remain complete.” (Id. at __ (slip op., at 28).)
Does such a right make sense in modern America, where people have access to social services and the police? I believe the answer is still yes — mostly because we are not as civilized and peaceful as we would like to think.
And the discussion in McDonald is fascinating precisely because the Supreme Court acknowledged this violence in American history.
It is a violence where the strong beat the weak; the rich exploit the poor; where families turn and fight each other.
In discussing the right to keep and bear arms, the Supreme Court did not emphasize colonists, pioneers, militia movements or the NRA.
The Supreme Court discussed the right of former slaves, black-skinned, to hold off angry white mobs by arming themselves.
The right to keep and bear arms protects the right of the weak to defend themselves against the aggression of the strong.
This is what the Second Amendment says: “If you are weak, if you are defenseless, then band together with others; discuss your problems; defend yourselves — that is your right. And if necessary, keep and bear arms to defend yourselves.”
There is, in fact, a significant gun violence problem in the United States. But the causes of this violence are deeper than simple access to guns.
Gun violence is a reflection of the violence that permeates American culture.
It is a reflection of the frayed social fabric and the continued way in which Americans target each other (look at Congress) instead of working together.
As such, any staunch supporter of the right to keep and bear arms should strongly favor the following:
- Firearm education — It goes without saying that if Americans want to live in a society where the right to keep and bear arms is fundamental, then Americans should be educated on how to responsibly use this right. This is a good idea for every right protected by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but in the case of firearms the results of ignorance are lethal.
- A robust mental health system — Much of America’s gun violence results from deeply troubled individuals who lash out at the world with firearms. Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho, Jared Lee Loughner: these names, and many more, are forever a deadly reminder of the wholly inadequate mental health care system amongst the United States. These people should have been treated long before they took up arms against innocents. Anyone who cares about the right to keep and bear arms should support mental health programs to ensure that such a right is never abused by people in desperate need of medical attention.
- Economic opportunity — Gun violence erupts from mental illness; and it also erupts from poverty. It is the poor who succumb to robbery, theft and gun violence in order to feed themselves and find meaning in a state of deprivation. If the American states can provide better economic opportunities — and in particular, jobs that provide meaning and dignity — people will turn away from violent careers that may be more “profitable” in the short term but are just pathetic in the long term.
In the coming weeks, Comar Law intends to file an appeal concerning an unconstitutional deprivation of Second Amendment rights and will post the briefs on its website. We are excited to be entering the foray of constitutional impact litigation, and it is fun to begin with the Second Amendment. It is one piece of the puzzle; there are many more battles to fight and win. It’s just the beginning, and we’re excited to see what’s possible.
July 10th, 2011 § § permalink
Ed. note: This post is cross-posted with COMAR LAW.
Most Americans are familiar with their political rights — their rights to free speech, freedom of the press, assembly, a fair trial and other types of due process.
But are Americans entitled to other sets of rights?
How about a right to work?
Or a right to health care, or to education, or to an adequate standard of living?
Under international human rights law, the answer is a resounding yes. And the basis of these rights is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”).
The ICESCR has its genesis with the founding of the United Nations. When delegates from about 50 countries met at the end of World War II to discuss the post-war order, they agreed to produce a set of universal rights that all countries would honor. This, in turn, led to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and two human rights treaties: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) and the ICESCR.
The ICCPR (ratified by 167 countries, including the United States), obligates countries to provide the types of political rights that Americans would consider uncontroversial — things like due process and protection of individual liberties.
The ICESCR, however, focuses on rights related to quality of life and social security.
Just as a few examples:
– Article 6 requires countries to recognize a “right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.”
– Article 7 requires that countries enforce labor rules that provide for a living wage (specifically wages that provide a “decent living”), “safe and healthy working conditions,” “equal opportunity” in employment, and “rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours.”
– Article 12 requires countries to “recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”
– Article 13 requires, among other things, that countries make higher education “equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”
As part of the human rights legacy of World War II, the formulation of economic and social rights are a product of the same push towards democracy and openness that characterized America’s rationale for participating and winning the war.
The principles of ICESCR follow directly from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “freedom from want”: a promise that all people deserved the “economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.”
The division between political rights on the one hand and economic and social rights on the other is something of a false dichotomy. Economic and social rights do not take away from political rights — they only add and expand to them.
Freedom of speech means nothing if you don’t have the education to speak your mind.
Freedom of the press means nothing if you don’t have the critical reasoning to engage in debate.
Maybe the answer to the current economic crisis is as simple as the phrase, “more freedom”: specifically, the freedom to live in a society in which basic physical and educational needs are provided.
May 5th, 2011 § § permalink
Ed. note: this post is cross-posted with COMAR LAW.
Are Americans entitled to internet access as a matter of constitutional right?
What was once a highly theoretical question becomes increasingly relevant in a world where the internet is a daily part of life.
With courts already grappling with how the Fourth Amendment applies to internet activity, it may not be too long before someone argues that internet access itself is a fundamental right guaranteed by America’s political system.
Already, courts have ruled that internet access is a right that cannot be arbitrarily denied by the government.
Much of this analysis has come from appellate courts reviewing internet bans imposed on sexual predators. For example, in United States v. Heckman, 592 F.3d 400 (3d Cir. 2010) the Third Circuit overturned a lifetime internet ban on a defendant with an “extensive criminal history,” which included a “strong thread of sexual offenses to minors and child pornography” in his criminal record. Id. at 404.
Noting that a lifetime ban would be “unprecedented,” the Third Circuit further observed that internet bans are “draconian” because they hamper a “defendant’s employment opportunities upon release,” and limit “freedoms of speech and association.” Id. at 408
While internet access may not be arbitrarily revoked, is access itself guaranteed?
One argument would be a simple “no”. After all, the internet is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. And since the 1970s, federal courts have resisted recognizing new constitutional rights that are not explicitly spelled out by the text.
On the other hand, a reasonable argument could be made that the internet furthers key rights such as freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and the right to petition the government — all protected freedoms under the First Amendment.
More so than television technology, the internet strikes at the heart of Americans’ everyday social interactions and the way they live their lives.
And as recent events in the Middle East appear to indicate, the internet has become a powerful tool in promoting democratic accountability.
State constitutions, as well may confer greater protections related to internet access than the federal Constitution.
In California, for example, people have free speech rights at private malls under the California Constitution that are not recognized under the federal First Amendment. Fashion Valley Mall, LLC v. NLRB, 42 Cal. 4th 850 (2007). It is conceivable that California, or another state, could recognize a broad right to internet access under its own state constitution.
Internationally, Finland has already declared internet access — specifically broadband access — a guaranteed legal right.
Estonia, France, Greece, Spain and Costa Rica appear to be other countries that have guaranteed internet access in some shape or form.
Indeed, future American administrations could make a global internet treaty a centerpiece of a human rights agenda founded on internet access, government accountability and transparency, and broad-based protections related to freedom of expression and conscience.
March 14th, 2011 § § permalink
Today, people in their 20s and 30s — the next generation — struggle with their work.
They struggle with bad bosses, bad working environments, high debt burdens, and lack of motivation.
In a country filled with so much abundance, why is it so difficult to find meaningful work?
The reason, in a word, is greed.
Over the last 30 years, the American middle class has been gutted.
It has been gutted by tax and financial policies that favor a small elite over the common good, and large corporations over small businesses.
This America was actively created by economic policies — profoundly misguided economic policies — that have now left governments in debt and people without work.
Jobs have migrated overseas where labor is cheap.
Wages have stagnated or even declined.
And technology has made many jobs simply obsolete.
Today, this movement is now targeting public unions: people like transportation workers, civil servants, and teachers.
The viciousness with which a teacher or a civil servant is blamed for America’s current economic problems is extraordinary as much as it is misplaced.
America is a place that is increasingly divided between rich and poor, creditor and debtor, have and have-not.
The fact that people still have enough of the basics is testament to the tremendous abundance of America.
But lack of starvation does not justify gross disparities in economic inequality.
Men and women do not live on bread alone.
But herein lies the rub. The situation will never change unless people want it to change: unless people in their 20s and 30s, the next generation, say, “No more; I am entitled to work I find meaningful and that supports a reasonably comfortable existence.”
And this will only happen through solidarity.
Solidarity is the act and intention of uniting with another to manifest a common vision.
Today in America, there is little solidarity. People are not kind to one another, and they do not discuss the possibility of a better future.
Instead, there is a war of all against all, an endless competition for money, status and fame.
This is what keeps people without meaningful work, without genuine security, without the possibility to have a reasonably comfortable existence free from worries related to debt.
The challenge for Americans in the 20s and 30s is to reach out to one another and recognize that the things that unite them are far more relevant than anything that might divide them.
Lack of economic opportunity, lack of financial security, lack of health security, lack of meaning: these are issues that the next generation struggle with everyday.
Yet they are too busy thinking about other things — anything else really — than confront the roots of their most basic worries.
It is possible to create a world where people can find work they find meaningful and personally rewarding.
It is possible to create a world where people can have genuine economic and social security that allows them to sleep better at night without worrying about the burdens of debt.
It is possible to create a world where energy is directed to solving problems that must be confronted to create a habitable future for all people — problems such as resource and animal extinction, climate change, and overpopulation — instead of living in a world where those problems get progressively worse every day.
It is possible to do all these things, but it will require that men and women see each others as brothers and sisters in a common cause.
It will require that men and women look past their differences of social class, skin color, and culture to see just another soul that is looking for greater freedoms and economic securities.
It will require that men and women, instead of mindlessly competing with each other for the few economic scraps that remain, look with kindness on their friends, neighbors, and colleagues, and reach out to them in mutual aid and comfort.
No better definition of solidarity can be found than the words of Margaret Mead: ”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
In a time of abundance, this is the only thing still lacking.
February 16th, 2011 § § permalink
Do people still create a personal philosophy?
Is there room in a fast-paced, technologically based consumer society for the cultivation of a unique perspective relating to the nature of reality, and how to positively interact with it?
Thousands of years ago, the Greeks left behind treatise after treatise discussing different ways to look at life.
Only a handful have survived. But the ones that have reflect a wide diversity in perspectives.
For example: The Hedonists famously believed that life was about maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.
The Epicureans believed that life was about knowledge, friendship, virtue and temperance.
The Stoics believed that life was about ridding oneself of harmful emotions and desires through the cultivation of reason.
Religions, too, sometimes offer a philosophy of life. They vary from the Buddhist notion that life should be about cultivating equanimity in the face of suffering, to the Christian belief that life is about accepting Jesus Christ to avoid going to Hell in the afterlife.
Many more examples could be given.
And then there is literature.
One of the wonderful things about world literature is observing the conflicts and dramas that develop between characters as they live out their personal philosophies.
Literature is the seat of philosophy.
In making a philosophy, there is no right or wrong; of value is the mere act of engaging and playing with different perspectives.
As the Greeks observed, happiness is something that comes about through living a good life.
People may disagree on what it means to live a good life; but the fact that they try at all — the fact that they try to understand the ingredients of such a life — is a wonderful step.
My own philosophy is a work in progress, and I suspect it will be for the rest of my life.
I believe deeply in the capacity for progress and betterment inherent in the human spirit.
I believe that the benefits of material wealth are best used towards spiritual reflection and the cultivation of the heart.
And I believe that a person who risks everything on the belief that altruism is innate and fundamental; that decency and dignity are universal values; that humans, at heart, are creatures of amazing idealism, creativity, adventure and love; and that liberty is a driving force of human progress: this is a person who will triumph no matter the challenges.
February 9th, 2011 § § permalink
Too often, it is easy to get into a rut.
A rut means feeling bored, anxious, irritable, and unhappy with life.
For a person who lives life without any self-awareness, who wakes up every morning to do the exact same thing yesterday and tomorrow, the past and the future are one.
The past and the future are one because behavior is the same. And when behavior is the same, then outcomes remain the same as well.
Life remains boring, because no behavior has changed to make it interesting.
Life remains anxious, because no behavior has changed to make it more peaceful.
The rut persists.
This has nothing to do with a cruel world, an unjust God, or a horrible destiny.
This is the reality of cause and effect: do something a certain way, and a certain outcome will happen.
In Eastern thought, the link between the past and the future is known as karma. This word is not really translatable into English, but it has come to be associated in the West with an outside force which punishes bad actions and rewards good ones.
But this is not really what karma means. Rather, karma is the idea that the outcome to any endeavor is determined by the initial seed of action.
The way a person approaches a challenge, the perspective that is brought, the intention that one carries: these are the seeds that, once planted, will produce either good or bad fruit. The input determines the output; the war will be won or lost before the first battle is fought.
From this perspective, it is easy to see that the best predictor of someone’s future is their past.
A person who wakes up every morning without thought, without knowledge of her life, without an awareness into the motivations and intentions which guide her behavior — this person is condemned to a life of constant repetition.
This person will have the same problems, the same frustrations, the same agonies over and over because her approach to life is always the same.
She will be continually planting the same seeds day in and day out, and reap nothing more but the same failed harvest.
Such a life is a life of real Hell. Heaven and Hell are not physical destinations. Heaven and Hell are states of mind. A life without awareness is Hell because it is a life of frustration. The same problems come up over and over, and the same tired old solutions are used to tackle the problem once more.
When you look around at the people in your life, both friends and acquaintances, you may start to see how people repeat their problems in ways that may seem silly to you. Perhaps they are chasing after the same rotten type of people or worried about their same rotten job, or engaging in addictive behaviors in a variety of contexts.
When it comes to other people, it is easy to observe these patterns because we are their observer. We are their witnesses. And as witnesses, we can see things clearly and without any blinders.
Sometimes we become so good at witnessing others that we begin to issue harsh judgments. The others we witness seem like idiots. It seems so clear to us.
But therein lies a basic problem of life — we are remarkably good at witnessing other people, but we are no good at all at witnessing our own lives.
A wise man once said, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you don’t see the beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you’ll see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
There is real wisdom in this. Unless a person begins to witness her own life, she will never escape the Hells which she creates and which doom her to a life of constant repetition.
Only by witnessing is it possible to break the cycle which equates the past and the future, the cycle of karma, and discover real freedom.
The Hell of the mind comes about because of our relationship with our memory. Too often, people treat memory as a compass. They think of the pleasures and pains they experienced in the past, and they want to distill out the pains and recreate the pleasures. They engage in the same behaviors but think that if they are just a bit smarter, they can avoid the pains and recoup the pleasure.
Do you see this fallacy? They plant the same old seed but think this time they can get a different type of tree and a different type of fruit.
This is how the past becomes the future, and why the future remains the past.
When a person acts as her own witness, when she is aware, she experiences something much more beautiful.
With witnessing, she develops a different attitude about memory. She no longer uses it as a compass towards some future gain, but rather as a way of analyzing and learning about cause and effect.
She can think back to an old love, with whom she had pleasure and pain, both sunshine and poison. The person without awareness, the person in Hell, who does not act as her own witness — this person wants to recreate that same pleasure without the pain.
But this is not possible. Pain and pleasure are siblings; pleasure is a result of pain, and vice versa. This person condemns herself to this type of love over and over, perhaps recapturing that pleasure for just a moment but also that same pain once more. Can you see why this is Hell?
The person with awareness, who is now acting as her own witness — this person thinks differently. She says, “no, this love cannot be repeated; the pleasure I experienced came along with the pain, and they are inseparable; I cannot chase this pleasure without also accepting the pain as well.” And instead of planting the same seed, this individual plants a new seed for something different, having learned the lessons of the past.
In such a manner, karma is avoided, the cycle is broken, and a new future is created.
So many times in life people are tortured by the same anxieties. A certain trigger puts the mind in a downward spiral of worry that is neither justified nor rational but seems inevitable and necessary. Over and over, the same triggers make people feel so helpless.
The person who is witnessing, however, comes to see these triggers and can prevent the spiral of anxiety from ever taking place.
This is the power of witnessing. Nothing in life is inevitable, nothing in life is set in stone.
Through witnessing, it is possible to access power — a real creative power which is the hallmark of freedom.
It is freedom because a person who witnesses has the power of infinity at her disposal.
For the person without awareness, who does not want to witness her life, who repeats the past over and over, the future is nothing more than a carbon copy of the past; the details may change, but the underlying patterns, the archetypes of behavior, all of these things remain the same.
On the other hand, for the person who witnesses, the future is no longer a prison but becomes a blank slate. And on this slate, the person who witnesses can utilize intention to make anything, absolutely anything, manifest into reality.
The future becomes a state of infinite possibility and not merely the stage for further misery.
In this existence, the most holy act each one of us can do on this Earth is to celebrate the witnessing of our lives, and to celebrate the sensations which we feel and the mind which acts as host to them. We are all part of this Creation, and when we witness, it is Creation itself that is also witnessing.
Do you see how holy this is, the idea that the Universe, through us, comes to learn about itself? The evolution and flowering of our individual minds does not take place in a vacuum — it takes place amidst the backdrop of universal sentience which both acts as teacher and as pupil, as both destiny and outcome.
When we learn, when we grow, when we witness, we do it not only for ourselves, but for all of Creation as well, for the entire fabric of sentience.
This is the responsibility of life and the joy and glory of existence itself.
This is what it means to find Heaven, and Nirvana, and Moksha and to break the cycle of karma.
These are the flowers and the fragrance which come from the seeds of witnessing.
January 28th, 2011 § § permalink
Tunisians and now Egyptians take to the street, fueled by the internet.
Wikileaks inspired Tunisians; and then Tunisians inspired Egyptians.
What does Egypt do? Shut off the internet:
(image courtesy of Computer World)
Maybe the internet is finally living up to its hype as a technology that can threaten government power.
Egypt’s blockade of the internet is described as “unprecedented” and the “Armageddon approach” by network analysts (see the Computer World article).
The other lesson from all of this is that wikileaks is inspiring a lot of change.
Only 1 percent of the diplomatic cables have been released.
1 percent has done a lot.
What’s in the other 99 percent?
January 27th, 2011 § § permalink
Religions are so varied around the world. They are all quite beautiful in their own way, and in the way they describe God.
It is a lucky thing to be exposed to so many conceptions of God.
In light of such diversity, maybe it is best to remain open-minded about the nature of human consciousness and the real beauty that pervades this universe.
In fact, spirituality is so unique — and individuals are so unique — that every person probably has his or her own special ideas about God, about experience, about life and death.
It is totally fine to have a connection with the larger universe and to have a sense of spirituality without subscribing to any particular church or doctrine.
And it is totally fine for people to disagree about their ideas about spirit and about God.
Not only is it totally fine, but in America it is legally expected that people will have different ideas about religion — which is why the First Amendment protects all forms of religious worship.
The only important thing is that people should decide for themselves what it is they believe.
People should never blindly follow something or someone. That is not genuine investigation into the nature of reality; that is simply acting like a sheep.
And human consciousness is too precious to behave like a sheep.
Here is one example of a unique perspective of God: God as the bridge that connects a person’s intentions, desires, hopes, and prayers to their material manifestation.
A person sits, and quiets her mind, and then opens that mind to all of creation and feels a comfort that all will be well, all can be healed, everything will be OK.
No need to worry.
In this state, it is possible to formulate an intention and ask that it come true, so long as it is in the best interests of all involved. And if it is, then it happens — that moment is God.
Here is another conception of God: God as the connection to all of consciousness.
When you sit by yourself, and you feel the presence of a loved one who may be thousands of miles away, or even someone who has passed on — that moment is God.
Or when you sit in a garden and can delight in beauty, happy to be alive — that moment is God.
One great purpose of life is to seek freedom. Freedom means the defeat of fear, and values promulgated on such fear.
When you confront a fear, and you knock it down, and you obtain greater spiritual and psychological freedom — that moment is also God.
And because the mind is God, when the mind grows, then God grows in tandem, maturing with a person as he or she explores this Creation of which so little is known. God as our twin, as our teacher, as our child, all at the same time.
How pleasant to think of God like that.