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Winter Rhapsody: a meditation by David Rickey

How to savor lasting impressions of beauty in the present moment

DAVID RICKEY — I am sitting by the window listening to a recording of Le Tombeau de Couperin, by Maurice Ravel, performed by Pascal Rogé. Ravel was one of the great French impressionist composers. The music lends itself to drifting in thought, and. . .well . . .impressions.

I gaze out the window, seeing the bare trees of winter outlined against the flat grey sky. I see the mottled brown crumpled leaves lying dead on the newly green grass. And I see a robin perched on a branch, perhaps looking for a worm to emerge from the cold, damp earth. This season, especially in California, is such a wonderful mixture of color and dullness, life and death.

And it is all good.

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Does “For richer for poorer” work, even during a recession?

Recession pushed a real-life couple into therapy.  What they found when they got there: money was synonymous with love and security.

DAVID RICKEY — In early 1988 I began work with a couple, (we’ll call them George and Martha), whose relationship seemed to be a victim of the ’87 recession. Martha worked as an interior designer; George worked at a Wall Street investment firm.

The recession was the cause of his being laid off and it also saw a decline in her business. Before this upheaval they had lived a very comfortable lifestyle on the Upper Westside of Manhattan.

They came to me because they found that most of the time that they were together now, they were fighting or just irritable, and there was a big decline in intimacy. They thought all this had to do with the decline in their income and therefore the lowering of their “lifestyle”.

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7 Ayurvedic tips for de-stressing your digestive system

The spiritual secrets of fine dining: No. 2, Have a glass of wine with your meal

GUEST COLUMN: VAISHALI — Our digestive system is the cornerstone of all the body’s health and strength – emotional, mental, as well as physical. These are simple Ayurvedic tips to optimize your digestive system.

1. Do not eat if you do not feel hungry. Feeling hungry is your body’s way . . .

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Will Shari Arison be the first major self-help star of the new decade?

The self-improvement industry is dominated by a dozen multi-millionaire celebrities, and a big guru has not emerged since 2004. Shari Arison is already a billionaire in her own right, and may have the inner right-minded stuff to break out

The wealthiest woman in the Middle East, Shari Arison ranks 234 on Forbes magazine’s rich list and presides over an estimated $3-billion fortune and Israel’s largest bank.

An excerpt from her new book, BIRTH: When the Spiritual and the Material Come Together — For most of my life I have received messages—images and worded communications, sometimes even in an ancient language—that come to me from above. In the past, I used the help of channelers who interpreted the messages for me, but today I know how to receive those messages directly, without the need for interpretation, without the inevitable bias that takes place when information passes through someone else’s filters . . .

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All I want for 2011 is a compassionate brain

Karen Armstrong announces a “Charter for Compassion“. David Rickey, a pastoral counselor, Episcopal priest and Soul’s Code dude, invites us to sign up — and do our own inner work

DAVID RICKEY — Perhaps especially in this holiday season, we hear a lot about compassion, usually when we are being asked to contribute to a worthy charity.  And so, “compassion” and “charity” can mingle into a concept of reaching out to those less fortunate than ourselves.  It even gets associated with “mercy” and “pity”, and all these words can tend to have an air of looking down on others, and giving us an attitude of superiority.  The word “compassion” comes from the Latin com and passius meaning to suffer with another, or to sympathize. We say, “I know just what you’re feeling”, meaning, “I have felt the same. I know what it is like.” But usually, when we exhibit compassion we aren’t really “suffering” with the other but are trying to relieve the suffering of another, or more often, unfortunately, relieve our own discomfort at seeing someone else  suffer.

Teachings from The Buddha

The Buddha said:

“Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed.”

But perhaps we might find this easier if we understood compassion in a more positive sense. Rather than suffering with others, wanting others to feel as good as we do. We have the expression, “before you judge another, walk for a while in his shoes.” When I think of that, a corollary comes to mind. “If you like how it feels walking in your shoes, consider buying an identical pair for someone else.”

The Golden Rule has no spiritual borders

All great spiritual traditions have some form of what we call “The Golden Rule”. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, or do not treat others as you would not want to be treated. Another, more direct statement, is the principle of Ahimsa in Sanskrit, or not doing any harm to any creature.

All of these expressions have one thing in common, the recognition of our relationship with all other living things and our responsibility (ability to respond) for the welfare of others. We are all related, interconnected. Our actions and choices affect others and their actions and reactions to our choices affect us.

When we realize this, it makes perfect sense to treat all beings well. But we don’t. Our ego-mind sees distinctions and doesn’t easily “get” the connection. It is an evolutionary thing. From birth we each think we are the center of the universe. And indeed, that gets reinforced as all our needs are met for us. We are ego-centric.

As we grow up and begin to realize that our family and community takes care of us to an extent, but also expects some caring in return, we usually move to what is called an “ethno-centric” mind and our behavior may shift accordingly. We are to become “world-centric.”

In this increasingly globalized world, we are being challenged to realize how our actions affect the whole world -- financially, climatically, even gastronomically. (Read Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma“) We are to become “world-centric”. But this takes effort.

Reprogamming the reptilian brain

The ego-mind still holds remnants of the sense that it is at the center of everything. That’s not our fault, exactly. It’s just the way our brain works -- the left side processes information that way, and the reptilian brain or amygdala reacts to the world first. That’s its job.

The keys to developing compassion, then, require reprogramming the brain, literally. And there are two primary ways to do this. The first is meditation. By actively learning to quiet the mind’s chatter (primarily the ego-left-sided generated “noise” in our head) we have access to the other (right, more holistic) side of our brain. This is work.

But it is work worth doing, especially if you want to help create a better world around you. A somewhat shorter route is to first become aware of your thinking -- learning to observe the chatter from another place of awareness. Then as you become aware of the reactions and judgments that flow from the ego- or ethno-centric chatter, you can realize that there is a tiny gap between the thought and the resulting action.

You can notice the thought before the action happens. Then you can insert your will into that gap and decide whether you really want to react that way, go down that road.

And you can, with practice, stop the reaction and think about a better response. There is even some nice payoffs with this practice. First you realize that you have more control over yourself -- you don’t get so bothered by things. And second, you’ll find that people start responding more nicely to you in return -- you haven’t triggered a reaction in them (even if they may be less enlightened than you -- though, remember, smugness will go before your fall!).

Change is coming to the world. . .with or without us

We are clearly at a crossroad in our evolutionary journey on this planet. The planet itself is beginning to smack us upside the head, trying to encourage our growth towards “world-centric” thinking and behavior. As we watch the Climate Change Conference and the Health Care Debate, to name only two of the most pressing problems, we can see the need for compassion and for changing of our mind’s very wiring to think more holistically about the problems that confront us. It is very frustrating, even depressing.

But we must remember Ghandi’s teaching:

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

David Rickey is an Episcopal priest, Soul’s Code co-founder and counselor in San Francisco who does a weekly ministry at a residence for the elderly in northern California. Follow David on Twitter.

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Meetings with Remarkable Men and Women

David Rickey reports on the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, and his dialogues with the Dalai Lama, Pujya Swamiji, Amma, and other leading lights of enlightenment

BY DAVID RICKEY — I’m happy to report back on an amazing week I spent at the Parliament of the World’s Religions where I saw and heard, up close, the Dalai Lama, Swami Chidanand Saraswati (Pujya Swamiji), Amma Sri Karunamayi (Amma) and many others. Those others included some wonderful young people who are not potential leaders of the future, but leaders now!

There were two significant messages which I brought home with me, and which I offer to you: First, you as an individual, have the power to change the world. And second, it is important that  we all begin doing so immediately.

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How I choose love over the norm, i.e. fear

An interviewer asked me if I knew the meaning and purpose of life. I answered in the affirmative, footnoted by Monty Python, Boston Legal, Animal House and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg

GUEST COLUMN: VAISHALI — The interviewer was somewhat taken aback. He admitted that he did not fully expect me to be able to answer that question. He had posed the same question to Timothy Leary, Ph.D. Leary was surprised by the question and, after stumbling through an awkward response, admitted that he did not know the answer. Needless to say, not exactly the climactic moment the interviewer was anticipating.

It does illustrate the fact that most intelligent people, when asked the “big question,” feel at a loss for an immediate, direct and concise response.

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Gitmo justice: The high way, or the eye-for-an-eye way?

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tried to use 9/11 to send a message to the world; Let’s use his trial to send a higher-minded one back

BY DAVID RICKEY — Whoever put the words “Vengeance is mine; I will repay” into God’s mouth may have thought they were attempting to remove revenge from the human heart, but they just switched the battle ground. With that quote, humans can believe that God will send wrath on the “enemy” and probably do a better job of it than we could hope for. Yes, we continue to hope for revenge on our “enemies.” We can just trust that God will do it for us.

I bring this up in response to the recent outcry around the Obama Justice Department’s announcement that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the operational director of the 9/11 attacks, will be tried in federal civilian court rather than in a military tribunal.

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With signs of apocalypse all around us, even Hollywood is obsessed with 2012

Worried about war, depression, global warming and the price of gas? No wonder everyone’s talking about the year 2012

BY VAISHALI, author of You Are What You Love® and Wisdom Rising

Everywhere I go I hear conversations — rumblings about 2012. As I watched the Dow zig-zag across 10,000 and Congress authorize trillions of dollars to rescue us from the financial crisis, the rumblings got louder.

What exactly is 2012, and why all the buzz about it? Google “2012,” and you’ll get a quarter-billion hits. Now, two years in the making, Hollywood’s publicity machine is adding to the uproar with the marketing campaign for Roland Emmerich’s holiday-season disaster blockbuster, 2012.

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Faith, Hope and Charity equals Love, Actually

Overcoming ego-related barriers will allow this admirable triad to flourish

DAVID RICKEY One of the most favorite New Testament passages used at weddings is First Corinthians 13,  the passage about love. . .well faith, hope and charity/love, depending on which translation you use.

Given this popularity, do we really know what those terms mean, and more importantly, how many newlyweds (or even those married a long time) actually practice these highly touted qualities?

Faith is often misunderstood as “belief.” The Greek word “pistis” means conviction or belief but with the emphasis of trust, not so much in an idea as in a relationship. For “believers” this is a relationship with God, or Jesus.

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