Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Yoga in India Part 2

I'm loving the India story.  Steph has told me a lot of this story before but not all of it.  It's been so long that I've forgotten much of it.  The details she is sharing here are just so vivid and outright comical.  I think she should make a book out of this!!!

Health is Wealth. Peace of Mind is Happiness. Yoga shows the Way. Swami Vishnudevananda

…The smell of incense, BBQ chicken, and dung grew stronger and changed, like a location signature, as we passed through different villages (none of which had traffic signals, just crazy round-abouts with no yield signs). We made many abrupt stops for men riding elephants and herds of goats and sari-clad women in the middle of the road balancing baskets on their heads, and then we arrived at the Sivananda Yoga Vendata Dhanwantari Ashram in Neyyar Dam (www.sivananda.org/neyyardam/
I realized that I hadn’t practiced converting rupees to dollars in my head, so I paid the curry-scented cabbie the amount he quoted, unsure how far we’d traveled and if I was overpaying with the wad of play money in my fanny-pack. The cabbie took my money, unloaded my gear, and sped away leaving a cloud of dust on the unpaved road.
It was hotter than India, and the steps up to the ashram were as steep as the ones that Uma Therman had to climb to reach her Kung-Fu master, Pai Mei, in Kill Bill. I was a panting, sweaty mess when I reached the top and took a moment to collect myself and soak in the surreal scene. Again, I was overcome by an intense gust of reality.
Beautiful trees and flowers with pink and orange blossoms filled the entrance. The scent had changed. The incense smelled somehow holier, there was no smell of grilled meat in the air, and the subtle notes of dung had been replaced by a strong, blossomy perfume. 
A marble temple was tucked back behind the trees. A communal bunk house and vegetarian snack shop stood to the left, and the shaded camp grounds lie to the left –  it was the place I would be calling my home for the next month - beyond that were the ‘facilities’ which were fed by the unfiltered lake water. A communal bucket with boiled iodine water was to be used for brushing teeth (I opted to brush at my tent with my liquid gold Evian instead).
These ‘safe water’ buckets were located throughout the ashram with rules posted for proper drinking etiquette. You were supposed to hold your mouth just below the spigot (not touching the nozzle) and turn the handle to release the strange tasting red water. Every student in the teachers training program was assigned a ‘karma’ task to be performed each afternoon. One of the jobs was to boil the water and carry it to each of the water fountains. I was not assigned to this cushy post.
I realize that I am bouncing in a non-linear fashion as I tell my story – but you’ll have to just deal because it takes too long to craft it just right.
I was assigned to garbage detail which involved collecting trash and carrying it to the burning mound located in a clearing in the forest. The long path to the smoldering dump was a cloud of mosquito escorts who could be carrying any one of a vast array of plagues. I shouldn’t have been concerned since I’d had my shots before leaving the states (Japanese encephalitis, Hep B, typhoid, malaria, they had no vaccination for cholera since there were thousands of varieties in India), but I was still a little concerned.
We had to sit Indian style on the dung packed patio floor by the lake for meditation (5:30am and 8pm) and theory classes (10am-12 and 2pm-4). One of the students scratched some mosquito bites on his ankle until they were bloody, and they got infected from being rammed into the dung floor for so many hours a day (so we thought). His ankles blew up like grapefruits so they took him to the ayurvedic doc in town, and it turned out that he had to be rushed home because he had TYPHOID!
I’d scratched bites on my ankle to bleeding too, so not taking any chances – I petitioned for a new karma job. I was assigned to be a (waitress / assistant to the assistant cook) at the ashram snack shop. It was a decision fraught with regret.
I knew that Indians did things slower (like they do down south in the US), but the slowness there was even more exaggerated. I’m from Chicago where things move fast – I walk fast, talk fast, type fast, and could take a McDonald’s order for a family of six, ring it, and serve it in less than 90 seconds. But the disorganization and deliberate sluggishness in India was insufferable. Why? I couldn’t figure it out. All of the Indians I'd worked with in IT had been real whiper-snappers and gained my respect.
However, I questioned the competence of my bosses the first day on the job. I’d redesigned the process flow of the snack shop in my head in less than an hour. If I'd had my way, it would have flowed just like a McDonalds at lunchtime. I shared my ideas with upper management, and they listened patiently – turning their heads from side to side in unison to signify that I had their attention. When I finished, they told me ‘no, no, no - that’s not how we do it here’ and looked at me like I was crazy for even suggesting the changes. So I was forced to endure the frustration for the next three weeks. I was even tempted to ask for a transfer to swab the toilet holes with my friend Eva, but decided against it…
(India - Part III   will be posted soon)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Yoga in India Part 1

As I said before I never had the guts to do the stuff that Stephanie did.  Here is the next installment on her trip to India and it confirms my reasons why.  NO WAY would I have been able to do that ALONE.  Maybe with another person but not alone.  I still say Stephanie is one brave hippy.

Donned in patchwork overalls and sandals on a frigid Saturday in February, my family and live-in boyfriend bid me goodbye as I boarded the plane to Kerala, India from O’hare airport – unsure of exactly how I’d ended up in that situation.
The first leg of my 40 hour journey was a 6 hour flight to Heathrow airport where I had a 3 hour stop-over before catching my Gulf Air flight to India. I killed the time by playing Magic the Gathering with a six year old boy who had an extra green (worm-filled, giant growth) deck for me to play (against his black and blue). He won two of the three games and gave me a distorted opinion of the general intelligence level of kindergarteners.
I’d already lost track of time when I boarded the plane to Abu Dabi, Saudi Arabia for my 10-hour stop over. I knew I was headed to parts unknown when the flight attendant (dressed in a hat, veil, and puffy pants exactly like Jeanie) brought me some of the spiciest chick pea curry I’ve ever had.
Upon arriving at Abu Dabi airport, two attendants with machine guns quickly escorted me (I was unveiled, dressed like a dirty hippy, and my toenails were painted whore-house red) to a taxi van to take me to a lay-over hotel for Americans. It was Ramadan and everyone in the airport was kneeling on mats facing towards Mecca and praying like crazy.
I ate and slept until it was time to leave in the van to go back to the airport. I didn’t understand why, but the armed guards didn’t escort me to my gate, and I had time to admire the incredible architecture of the airport before passing through security.
After about 40 hours of travel, I landed in India. I descended the stairs of the 20-seater plane, and my ruck-sack and case of bottled water was waiting for me on the ground. It was about 100 degrees, humid, and the heavy air was saturated with the smells of incense, tandori chicken, and dung.
I had my passport, travelers’ checks, and Indian money (I’d hit a currency exchange in Chicago before leaving) in my fanny-pack and followed the others into the two room airport. The customs attendant was unfriendly, and when I was officially ALONE IN INDIA, I experienced a sobering surge of reality.
The surge caused an immediate rush of rolling thunder in my bowels, so I headed to the single, uni-sex bathroom – lugging my water and ruck-sack crammed to overflowing with a tent, sleeping bag, yoga mat, towel, toilet paper (incredibly, I’d made a correct estimate of how much I’d need for five weeks), 20 cassettes of the favorite Dead and Phish shows I’d attended (1st generation copies from my taper friend), toiletries, and a minimal amount of clothes.
The stifling bathroom had a hole in the floor, a water spigot, and a tin cup – that’s all!  I’d read Fodor’s travel book on India, so I knew all about the primitive “facilities”, but the logistics of actually make doodie while squatting over a hole should have been covered in a little more detail. I dug out my first roll of Northern and set about my business, being as frugal as possible with my treasured 2-ply papyrus.
I left the airport in a full sweat, on the verge of tipping over backwards from the weight of my ruck-sack, and promptly removed it minutes later when I was spotted by a cab driver in an old-timey British looking car. I gave him a slip of paper with the address of the yoga ashram, and he conversed on his walky-talky in a terse, yet somehow fluid, stream of an Indian dialect which I came to know as Malealum (spelling?).
He took off (they drive on the wrong side of the road there) and barreled down the dirt roads like there weren’t any traffic rules. I still wonder if an Indian ‘Rules of the Road’ book exists, and if so, what it could possible say regarding safe driving practices.
The smell of incense, BBQ chicken, and dung grew stronger and changed, like a location signature, as we passed through different villages (none of which had traffic signals, just crazy round-abouts with no yield signs). We made many abrupt stops for men riding elephants and herds of goats and women in saris in the middle of the road with baskets on their heads, and then we arrived.
More tomorrow…

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Second Midlife Crisis

I remember an interesting time when Stephanie packed up and left for India.  I was impressed.  She went there all by herself.  I would never have had the guts to do such a thing.  She was always doing things that blew my mind.  Not that I WANTED to go to India.  I just wanted to have the GUTS to go to India if I did want to go.  Back then everything scared me.  I'm a much braver person now.
So anyway, I really wanted her to tell us the story about India.  This is her first installment just giving us the background of WHY she decided to go in the first place.  She will tell us more about what it was like later on.  I'm excited about this one.  

I had my second mid-life crisis when I was 27. My first one, at 24, was a bust and didn’t come off as planned. I was dating three non-committal guys at the time and was planning to leave them all, sell my condo, quit my job, and travel to an artist kibbutz in Israel for six months and then to a yoga commune in Canada for the next six months (no plans after that).
However, I couldn’t sell my 600 sq. foot, half-bedroom condo on Lake Shore Drive, and I started dating a fourth guy who wanted to commit. We bought a three-flat together, and after 2.5 years of living together with no marriage proposal, I decided to revisit my failed mid-life crisis.
I’d amassed a large sum of surplus cash as an IT consultant / 3-flat landlord – and had no problem swinging the adventure financially, so I quit my job and booked a flight on Gulf Air to Kerala (Thiruvananthapuram city), India for a month long program to become a certified Yoga instructor – after which I planned to travel to the bottom tip of India,Kanniyakumari, where the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal meet, and then hang out on Kovalam beach by the Arabian sea for a week – then jet over to Rome to meet my boyfriend, my sister, and her boyfriend on a two week trek from Italy to Austria to Germany to the Czech republic to Switzerland. To return to Chicago and start my new career – Yoga instructor / Shiatsu practitioner (since I wasn’t certified yet – I’d have to work in Merrillville, Indiana - but that's another story).
Details about Yoga in India, the European leg of my mid-life crisis, and my return to Chicago in later posts…

Monday, July 23, 2012

You Enjoy Myself

As well as the Grateful Dead, Stephanie is a big fan of Phish.  She wrote a stream of consciousness post for me about the song You Enjoy Myself.  This is Stephanie's "Brain on YEM."

Just listening to You Enjoy Myself - Live Phish, Volume 7, Disc 3 – trying to pick out the bass parts – I’ve tried to figure out a bunch of Phish songs on bass, but have had very limited success, even after following along with the hacked out tab available online.  YEM is one of those songs that I’d never even think of attempting since songs like Suzy Greenberg  and Sample in a Jar (the ones I can sort of pull out of my ass just by knowing the chords) are more my speed, and because my memory is shit, and all of those different parts would drive me insane.
Anyway, I was listening to YEM on my way to the Metra after work and got to thinking how cool it would be if they would issue these live discs where you could isolate an instrument to bring up in the mix so that you could have a fighting chance at figuring out how to play it.  I know it’s possible to do it with Rock Band (which I could play all the live long day), but I don’t have an xbox gold membership, and even if I did, I couldn’t play on the train, and four colored buttons does not a bass player make – not by a long shot!
Sometimes I think that if I could just sing the bass parts (which seems much easier than figuring out the notes and strings and transitions and hand positions) and get those down perfectly, that I’d be in a better position to figure out the parts on the four strings (except I don’t have a 5-string bass like Mike, so should I tune down, if so how far – c#? just the e string? does he ever play a b on the open fifth string? How important is that fifth string anyway? Could I get by without it or does that string anchor the whole operation down? I need to watch some footage of him playing…)   
Back to thoughts of singing the bass lines…but I can’t sing as low as a bass, so I’d have to bring it up an octave. And I’d have to be alone, cuz I’d sound pretty funny at first, and I’d have to have the time… the car would be a good place…but I’d need to do a lot of rewinding to get parts just right…
Then, at around 17 minutes in to the song, they kicked off this wicked cool a cappella jazz odyssey thing.  I started thinking that it would be funny if there was a contest where Phish fan groups try to pull of all vocal versions of YEM (like that one TV show). Then I started pretending that I was in on the vocal jam and was playing air vocals in my head, coming up with cool counter harmonies and rhythms to augment their dissonant poly-chords…ticka ta flicka flicka fla...Aaaaaalice…. Aaaaaalice…doe be doe doe doe – cha cha bicca chow chow –eeeech  eeech – jacko jacko jacko jacko….didit didit …do do do do do….washa fla feet-sees ohhhhh… flicka fla flicka sees… mamma see feet sees…. eeehhhhhhhh…oohhhhhh… mmmmmmmm
Then I wondered, are there any groups of fans who would be interested (and remotely capable) of even attempting this feat(sees)? Who would sponsor this contest? Who would be the judges?  Would there be prizes?  Would everyone have to do YEM, or could they pick the song (Halley’s Comet, Simple) – and then be rated based on level of difficulty?
Want to know what I do sometimes?  I pretend that there’s a ‘Guess that Phish Song’ contest where you get a half a measure in a solo that has deviated very far from home (like in Reba where you forget what song it even is for a while). I like to fancy myself an expert song picker (although I imagine a contest would probably alter this assessment) .
Another contest that I think would be fun is where you listen to a live song and have to pick the next song in the show.  I love contests!  OK, almost home….  I like this ‘My Brain On – stream of consciousness thing’ – I may do more

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Interview on KNON Radio in Dallas

Friday night I received an email from Stephanie that she was going to be on a radio station in Dallas, TX for am interview about her book, Scarlet Begonias.  I was in a hotel in Birmingham, AL at the time but managed to stream it on line.  HOW EXCITING to hear my cosmic pal on the radio.

Unfortunately, they had difficulty with her call because she was calling on a cell phone and they couldn't transmit it without her sounding like a robot.  BUT, she sounded calm, cool and collected and I wish I could have heard much more.  I asked her to write about this experience with KNON.

Hey man - here is the post that I just put on Facebook to Eric Schultz. (and the questions that I emailed to him)  ---
Eric, thank you so much for having me on your KNON Lone Star Dead show last night. I really enjoyed talking to you about my novel, 'Scarlet Begonias' - High-brow sci-fi for hippies. Sorry the cell phone reception was so bad, I hope you'll have me on again during your pledge drive - I'll be sending over a few more books to give away.
I wanted to ask the listeners a few questions. I'm compiling a list of responses for a youtube talk show channel I'm working on to promote my book. I'll be posting the questions on my blog today, I'd love to hear your responses. Thanks again! SciFiSteph.com
Here are the questions that I wanted to ask for an interactive twitter exchange. Since I wasn’t able to ask them on the air – please offer your responses here. I can’t wait to read them!
1)    What are your favorite Grateful Dead songs? What are your favorite lines of lyrics? – I was lucky enough to get permission from Ice Nine Publishing & Robert Hunter to print my favorite line from Scarlet Begonias – “Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right” – Thank you to them again!
2)   Did you ever have a major epiphany at a GD show? If so, please describe – which show?  How were you transformed?  -- check out my post about my first show
3)   Do you think accelerated evolution is possible?  If so, describe what that would even mean and the possible ways to achieve it.  Have you ever had an unexpected gust of evolution?
4)   Do you think it’s possible to unravel your ego?  If so, why would you want to do it?  Is it good or bad to have an ego with a large gravitational pull?
5)   Have you ever read the Carlos Castaneda books? If so, which ones? How did they impact your belief system?
6)   Can you lucid dream?  Please share your experiences – even if you tried, but weren’t able to do it.
7)   What do you think about the new Higgs-Boson discovery?  -- read my made-up article (about a real scientific dilemma)  about the drifting mass of the International Prototype Kilogram on my website (book page) and give your thoughts – Can something exist if it can’t be measured?
8)   Do you ever have unusual levels of serendipity or coincidences?  Do you ever get affirmations or signs from the universe? Please share.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I asked Stephanie if she believed in God.  Here is her response.

Do I believe in God? - Part 1
Yes – but not in the sense that most people do. I consider ‘god’ (no need to capitalize since we don’t capitalize universe – although we do capitalize ‘I’, but that’s because of a grammar rule, otherwise we would capitalize all of the pronouns) to be all that is, is not, was, and could be – to include the measurable and immeasurable – detectible and invisible – virtual and real – potential and realized – fantasized and actualized.
My god = 100%. My god is the space-time-energy-matter-perception-probability continuum (including any other unit of measure that accurately defines the ratio of the whole) .
My god is a collection of the divided permutations of itself which is all that is, is not, was, and could be (which according to my definition - includes both my awareness and my physical body).
So, if I am part of god, then why aren’t I omniscient?  How, when, why, where, and into whom did the whole divide itself? Why has the whole forsaken part of itself?
(100% - me% = God with self-imposed amnesia of initiating the division)
How – Do a thought experiment - imagine that you are pure awareness – time, space, and matter do not exist. Energy (as we know it) does not exist - it is pulled taut, like a slingshot, into the center of The All - infinite potential - even our awareness is not as we currently know it – it is pure, unaltered by the filters of a physical form, not blurred by the filters of socialization and linear experience. Imagine that all you sense is that you exist – you are aware.  But you need a brain to be aware! – really?  Are you sure you do? This is thought experiment – and since you are performing it within the confines a brain, you have no other choice but to pretend that you don’t.
Why – If you were aware that you existed, but had no idea what you were, because you had nothing to compare yourself to – you might be curious. Am I alone? Am I all that there is? Is there nothing that I am not? If so, does nothing know that it is nothing – and not something – as I know myself to be something? Does nothing have a sense of its nothingness?  Wait, maybe I’m nothing – but if I can conceive of the state of nothingness, then isn’t nothing really something?  OK, I’m deciding that I’m something because nothing is just nonsense. Non-sense. I can’t sense what I am not. But I can wonder about what I am not.  Is nothing created by my wonderment of what I am not? How much nothing can I create? If I create nothing by wondering about it, will nothing wonder if it is alone? Will it be aware? Will nothing think it is something?
OK, that is the seed of why?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mail Order Tickets

Back in the day when Steph and I used to go to Dead shows we used to send in for our tickets via mail order.  There was a special and almost magical process to it.  In one chapter of her book, Stephanie writes about the mail order process. This is what she has to say about it.

The first chapter of ‘Scarlet Begonias’ introduces the protagonist, Suzi Greenberg, a directionless art student on the brink of graduation, and her college roommate, Eve Mendel.  They are sitting on the floor of their boarding house trying to figure out the mail-order instructions for the Grateful Dead spring tour of 1991 - the April 27-28 shows in Las Vegas to be exact and the setting for the pivotal nexus around which the story orbits.
Have any of you experienced the convoluted ricockulosity required to complete the paperwork for a Grateful Dead tickets lottery?  If you have, then you already know the pain involved. But if you’ve never had the pleasure, then here’s a peak into the mind of a Deadhead with order-form in hand.
Firstly, the name itself ‘ticket LOTTERY’ is daunting.  How many tickets are available through this process?  Do repeat buyers really have a better chance? Will I find out if I got the tickets before they go on sale at Ticketmaster? If not, will I have to go to Jewel that day to buy more just in case – how fast do the shows sell out – will there be a line – what time should I get there?  
If I have to buy the tickets twice, then why even bother with the lottery – are the seats better – do I even want seats when I like dancing in the lawn better? Do I have a better chance of getting tickets if I just select lawn? Maybe – but if I get really good tickets, then I will have better leverage when bartering for magical provisions in the lot before the show – we can trade our good seats for lawn tickets + goodies.
We only need two tickets, but should we order the max of six, in case our friends don’t get theirs?  Duh – that’s a no brainer!  If we get extra, we trade. That could be a lot of extra tickets – six mail order + six through Ticket master – 2 for us = 10. If the show doesn’t sell out, will we have to eat the 10?  Are you cracked in the ass – have you ever been to a show without loads of desperate hippies with cardboard signs around their necks and fingers in the air begging for a miracle?
How many postal money orders do I need? (one for the lawn price + the difference between seats and lawn (in case of a partial refund))x(the # of venues attending)……all of which need to be labeled correctly. And don’t forget a stamp for the self addressed stamped envelope.
What’s a #10 envelope? Do we have any 3x5 index cards? Did you spell San Rafael right? If we decorate the envelope with mushrooms and bright colors, and fold up the corners, will it get picked first? If we put it in the mailbox at the airport at midnight, will it get postmarked and put on a plane to California faster?
See what I mean – the thought and coordination involved in that transaction was maddening! And was required for every season they toured!!  
Just in case you are wondering – yes, Suzi and Eve got the tickets. In fact, so did Mannie, Driscol, and Rajesh of the Psycho-cartographers. And in Jerome, AZ, a record number of bong sales financed the tickets for the entire Heart of Gold Coven.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Higgs Boson

OK so it seems there's this thingy that was discovered yesterday.  Hooray we found God!!!  But really what did we find and what does it mean?  I am talking about this Higgs Boson aka The God Particle.  My husband wants to know  if it is the "God" particle why it did not discover itself.  Good point.  Ha!  I asked Steph what she thought about the whole thing.

The Higgs Boson was discovered yesterday (7/4/2012) – your birthday J  I spent a while figuring out exactly what this meant.  On numerous occasions (mostly on wiki while waiting for a program to run at work) I’ve tried exploring the whole particle accelerator / annihilator, the standard model and the various flavors of decay, but my physics background just doesn’t bridge the gap between interest and understanding.
So, there’s no point in talking about the ‘God Particle’ as if I have a clue about how it was actually discovered, the math behind it all, and why yesterday was the tipping point for the number of observations necessary to qualify for the Sigma 5 status of “Discovery”.
But I will ponder why the average Joe should even care, it’s not like they could ever prove it wrong, and if somebody did prove “it” wrong (where “it” = a data blip found among yotta-bytes of data by a super-computer signifying the existence of the theorized interaction necessary to validate… (I can’t say with more than Sigma 3 confidence, so I won’t even try))…
If somebody ever did prove “it” wrong, it’s not like mass, the standard unit of measure, would freak out or change somehow – nobody would even notice (unless the news was re-tweeted enough times to get enough energy to exist as a non-virtual entity) except for the people whose reputations depend on the validity of the data blip.
Or would the standard unit of mass care?  I think maybe it would since its definition is on very shaky ground – being the only SI still tied to a physical artifact and all. Maybe this is the break its been waiting for, the ultimate make over – to be defined in terms of decay.
OK, this is what I want to know – am I any closer to having a replicator that can make me some earl grey – hot? 
Are these Higgs Bosons the minds that give the ‘mass’ stem cells their identity?  Are there more than one Higgs Boson, or if you’ve found one – you’ve found them all?
I read on wiki today that there are some skeptics who doubt the foundation upon which the Higgs hypothesis was built. (However the top of the screen said that this entry may be too difficult to follow for non-technical readers, and to check back soon for the summarized version – I ignored the warning and read on). 
There was talk of Technicolor theories, models of physics beyond the standard model that address electro-weak symmetry breaking – the process by which particles acquire mass.  The Technicolor theory claims to be natural – with no need to ‘fine-tune’ parameters in order to get mathematically pleasing results.
I like any theory that goes against the grain, especially ones that go against grains of unknown varieties.  My most favorite theories are ones that can go against grains that it generates itself, spontaneously, right out of thin air – while streaking – au natural – through the dark music of phase cancelled space.
I’ve decided to come up with one of those types of theories in response to yesterday’s discovery to use in my next book.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Carlos Castaneda Part 2

Here is another installment of Stephanie's view of Carlos Castaneda.

Moving the Assemblage Point – Shifting your awareness away from the usual filters though which you view reality.
Don Juan described the assemblage point as the energetic nexus of awareness located between the shoulder blades. I understood this to be the anchor of my physical, earthly concept of reality. My identity is defined by the way I am programmed to view the world, and since birth, as each day passed, my anchor gained mass until my personality became so fixed that very few influences were capable of shifting my concept of existence. So much so, that any personal goals and desires which contradicted this fixed anchor of perception were very difficult to implement – as they required a vast amount of energy to alter my anchor.
I am speaking of myself in the past tense, as though I am now able to morph my identity with ease.  This is not the case.  I am very much ME – with ego intact. My filters of perception are fully fixed. However, I am keenly aware of them, and the hold they have over me.
But, I recognize that there is another ‘I’, a higher ‘I’, which is the seer – wearing my filters as goggles. And if my goggles change, that ‘I’ never stops being the seer – it just watches a new show.
I also recognize that there is another ‘I’, the ‘I’ which exists between the two planes of awareness, the ‘I’ that has the ability to alter the goggles – the programmer – the ‘I’ which can manipulate the filters of the mind – the ‘I’ which is continually aware of the fixed nature of the filters – and in that manner – somewhat free from their gravity – the ‘I’ that is self-aware.
By moving this fixed assemblage point of perception, the ‘I’ of self-awareness is shifted and becomes even more detached – closer the ‘I’ of the Seer.
Don Juan began his teachings with Carlos by trying to instill a level of command over his assemblage point. He did this with a variety of exercises to slowly erode the anchor of awareness, while occasionally shocking his assemblage point into abrupt shifts to convince Carlos that his reality could, in fact, be altered – drastically.
I’ll talk next about the methods, and my attempts, to slowly erode the dense anchor which holds my assemblage point fixed…

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Back in the mid 90s Stephanie and I attended shiatsu massage classes.  Both of us practiced it for a few years.  For me it started when a friend received a gift certificate for a shiatsu massage from her husband.  He worked with the wife of a practicing shiatsu massage therapist.  This therapist eventually turned into one of my mentors.  He talked me into taking classes.  I talked Stephanie into joining me on this strange journey.  This is her side of the story.

In 1994(ish), Kim and I decided that our calling of the day was to be Shiatsu therapists. I’d been working as a programmer / database architect for five years and was in the midst of my second mid-life crisis. I’d left the world of full time employment and was working temporary gigs as a consultant. The pay was insane (almost double what I made as a salaried employee), so I was able to take large chunks of time off to follow the Dead and Phish around the country and take week long Shiatsu workshops with the Ohashiatsu school of oriental massage in Evanston, Illinois.
Shiastu is different from regular, Swedish massage in a number of ways.  Firstly, the client is fully clothed and lies on a mat on the floor. Secondly, instead of trying to work out muscular knots, the goal is to manipulate energy (chi) in the body in the same way as acupuncture, on the same points (tsubos) on the same energy lines (meridians) in order to restore overall balance.  There is an entire philosophy of Eastern medicine which this type of massage follows, which makes the training that much more intensive.
At the beginning of our training, we went to a week-long workshop at Honeycreek, a camp in Wisconsin with cabins and a lake and a mess hall. The experience was magical and transformational, and we were hooked.  There’s nothing better than a shiatsu massage, and a non-stop week of it, even by novices, was heavy-duty.
The main gist of a session is to restore balance by releasing stagnant energy from meridians that are blocked (jitsu) and to increase the energy in meridians that are lacking (kyo). Each meridian relates to different internal organs which relate to various emotional excesses or deficiencies, so restoring balance is considered to be healing to both body and mind.
That week changed my whole energetic configuration. A major block in my yang wood meridian (gall bladder) was coaxed into releasing some of its control – and my overall outlook on life was just different afterward – similar to how I was changed by my first Grateful Dead concert.
I don’t necessarily believe in the whole theoretical model on which the practice of shiatsu is based, but I do agree with the need for models as a way of describing and distinguishing the framework for being. There are many models that were created to define the self  - like chakras, auras, and astrology – but I don’t think they are ‘Real’ because they are immeasurable and subject to individual interpretation.
 I see them as just tools, like a language, to help people get on the same page when discussing the subtleties of existence. It was uncanny, however, that the deep-seated pains and ailments in my body correlated directly with the personality traits of a jitsu wood element with a kyo earth element.
 It would be ridiculous to believe that five elements (water, fire, metal, wood, earth), which were chosen before the periodic table was invented, can define our state of being, just as the alignment of the planets at our birth could never generate a predestined personality - I am a Scorpio and my personality didn't change when when Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf influence on our solar system.
Question:  How many of you really identify with your astrological sign and feel it is an accurate representation of your character?  How many know your moon sign and rising sign - are these accurate as well?   
Sorry - I lost focus...this post is getting long - ask me more about my mid-life crises and my stint as a massage therapist / yoga instructor some time, and you will hear more about my thoughts on Shiatsu.  And ask me about the Echo of Life - remember that?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Negative Thoughts

Today I am wrestling with negative thoughts I am really starting to get on my own nerves. I cannot get anything accomplished today.  So I thought I'd get some advise or insight from Stephanie.  This is what she had to say...

OK – as far as negative thoughts go – it requires diligent work to abolish them, but it isn’t really that hard (as long as you are properly medicated - ** we can discuss the long-term effects of cannabis / hallucinogen usage later **). 
Every time you have a thought that isn’t positive, reprimand yourself like a parent would.  "Stand up straight, stop slouching, get your elbows off the table, get your hair out of your plate, look both ways, ..." The need to remind yourself never stops, but it does become less frequent. And eventually negative thoughts take you by surprise, because days or weeks have gone by without having one.
Every negative thought decreases your personal power and, when shared, can function as a psychic energy vacuum - causing the person listening to either try to make it all better, or to join you in your mental cesspool and feed your negativity, or to just tune you out (which is lonely for both of you).  I don't know of many people who can field the negativity of others like a skilled diplomat.
Until my first mushroom cap, I was hard and cynical - negative about everything - very righteous and condescending and intolerant. But after that night, I decided to unload the baggage that was weighing down my soul. The unloading process was unpredictable, sometimes slow - sometimes instantaneous, as was my ability to isolate and accept ownership of the baggage in the first place. 
My ability to wrestle down most of my negative thoughts is a fairly recent development - maybe only within the last few years.  When I first started to scold myself - maybe that's the wrong analogy - it's more like using the reins and your heels to keep a stubborn horse in line.  When I first started self-correcting, I'd sometimes have the same negative thought a hundred times in a day, and every time I would say 'Stop it, shut up already, you're annoying me, I thought I told you to shut up, ...'. 
It became funny after a while - 'wow, you're up to that again? what made you start saying that?' It became easy to isolate the event that triggered the flair up. But then, some new negative thought would enter into the picture under my radar - festering unnoticed until it ruptured into my attention.
I stuck with it, and the negative chatter eventually lost its hold. But in writing this, I am wondering if I need to take inventory of my thoughts to catch any evil lurkers that I may be missing....

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Carlos Castaneda Part 1

I have read nearly all of Carlos's books and Steph has read them all a few times.  I've asked her to talk about their impact on her life.

How the Carlos Castanedas books affected my life (Part I – An Overview)

When I was 19, the summer before my Junior year of college, I went to Maui with my parents and came across the books ‘The Sorcerer’s Crossing: A Woman’s Journey’ by Taisha Abelar and ‘The Handbook for Higher Consciousness’ by Ken Keyes, Jr. After the trip, back at my parents’ house, I found Carlos Castanedas’s first book – ‘Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way ofKnowledge’ on my mom’s bookshelf. An interesting coincidence since I’d finished the book of his disciple, Taisha (she went by many other names I came to find out), a few days earlier on the plane.
The book interested me because its study of power plants (I was quite enamored with cannabis at the time), but I don’t think I was aware of the connection between Carlos and Taisha at the time. Carlos’s book was disappointingly dry and read like the doctoral dissertation in anthropology that it began as (or actually was – I’m not sure). The entire second half of the book listed research references and was even drier than the first half, in which he recounted his encounters with a Yaqui Indian sorcerer (Nagual) named Don Juan Matus. But, the concepts described in the book resonated in me deeply and plucked a cord of awareness that had been resting quietly, only virtually present, waiting for its opportunity to oscillate into existence.
A few months later, after an awkward break-up and a jarring motorcycle accident, I moved into the boarding house with you (Kimberly Jane Bennett), and my unraveling began. Let’s circle back to the details of that year in later questions – k?
Throughout my twenties, I proceeded to read all of the Carlos Castanedas books which were written as a layered tapestry of different teachings by his Toltec teachers, Don Juan and Don Genero, and the related ‘magical happenings’ that occurred. Carlos remembered these encounters with his naguals (masters of existential sorcery) as disjointed waves of perception that occurred over the same period of time, and he recounted his experiences in varying levels of detail in each subsequent book.
I am going to discuss these different teachings and levels of understanding in installments (most likely not consecutive). A summary of the basic concepts is listed below, all of which need to be performed in order to SEE and DREAM, which form the realm of the 2nd ATTENTION.
Losing Self Importance – The process of unraveling the ego – a necessary transformation to release the energy which binds us to our dense existence as a physical, socialized being with needs and expectations.
Controlled Folly – Performing an action with the utmost tenacity and intent in achieving a beneficial outcome, but not caring whether or not you are ultimately successful. Like play acting your life as an expert actor, with full knowledge that you are just a character.
Not Doing – Choosing to perform an action in a manner that is not consistent with your character. Or to do anything that is out of the ordinary in order to expand the boundaries of your established personality.
Erasing Personal History – The act of loosening your connection with elements of the past that served to define the filters of perception through which you view reality. It is the act of rebirth – the becoming of a new self with no prior baggage to define your identity.
Recapitulation – The process of cataloging the events of your past that you remember as “defining moments” in the development of your filters of perception, and then recounting them, in exhaustive detail, while performing specific movements and breathing techniques in order to release the strength of their lingering impact.
Petty Tyrants – They are psychic vampires - those people in your life that try your patience or attempt to dominate you by stealing your personal power.  These people should be viewed as gifts from the universe, opportunities to exercise your will and overcome their psychic vacuum.
Moving the Assemblage Point – Shifting your awareness away from the usual filters though which you view reality.
Power Plants – Plants (such as cannabis) which move the assemblage point without having to perform the exercises listed above – they should be used sparingly – only to shock you into realizing that it is possible to view your existence in different (less restrictive) ways.
Affirmations from the Universe – Signs from the universe begin to appear when your energy levels have reached the level necessary to notice these affirmations.  They are not messages, just cosmic inside jokes, similar to somebody saying ‘testify’ after you’ve said something particularly profound.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tell Us About Your First Dead Show

It was at the New World Music Theatre, Tinley Park, IL – Brent’s 2nd to last show.
Transformational is the best word to describe it. I saw the light and was converted to a faithful follower of the Church of the Dead. It was a magical day that stripped away many layers of deep seated angst and cynicism, rendering me as free and unencumbered as a child.
I’m sure the mushroom cap helped me to accept the reckless abandon that overtook me, but without the Dead’s special brand of music and community, I wouldn’t have had the cathartic experience that evolved my soul. I was forever changed.
A chapter in Scarlet Begonias (Qualia Spectarum) goes into more detail about my experience that night, but is told as if it were a memory of Rajesh Weinstein, the physicist who is attempting to isolate the International Prototype Kilogram’s missing mass.  Here is the snippet which tells of my Dead re-birth:
“So where’d you get the pen from?” Driscol whispered, not intending for his question to sever their communion with the Ouisa.
Rajesh resumed his search for the pen and returned the vial of Ouisa to its protective pouch without either of them realizing that, without even having to uncap the most recent incarnation of Mannie’s potent elixir, the is-ness had entered orbit around the vibrating pinnacle of the Noumenon.
 “No, I got it at that Grateful Dead show in Las Vegas the weekend when we met,” Rajesh said into his pack. “I don’t know why we got off on the wrong foot back then, but I’m glad you decided to stop hating me.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about all that,” Driscol paused mid-apology, and the eerie quiet of the stairwell seemed to tug at his mid-section. “I didn’t think you were going to the show. You said you weren’t into the Dead.”
“I wasn’t back then. I don’t think I could’ve recognized a single song of theirs besides Trucking and Casey Jones,” Rajesh said. “I had no intention of going when I went back to the roulette table in the morning to see how close you guys were to becoming hundred-aires.”
“I think we left a little before sunrise,” Driscol said. “Mannie decided to call it quits when I passed out under the table.”
 “The same croupier was working when I looked for you after breakfast,” Rajesh said. “He was surprised that Mannie’s scheme had worked better than he’d expected. But after we talked awhile, we both agreed that, even if Mannie’s idea was viable, he would have to play all day, every day for a month to make any headway on turning his winnings into anything substantial.”
“So how’d you get a ticket to the show?” Driscol asked, practically banging his head into Rajesh’s to aid in the search. “They sold out right after they went on sale.”
“Mannie gave the croupier a ticket to the show as a tip, probably when you were passed out,” Rajesh nudged him away. “But he couldn’t go and knew I was looking for you guys, so he asked me if I wanted to buy it. I said yes because I wanted to find out for myself why the Dead was able to draw hippies from all over the country to come see them play.”
“I can’t believe you actually went,” Driscol said. “Did you go alone?”
“I didn’t want to. I tried to find you and Mannie again in the casino when my conference ended to ask if I could tag along, but the lobby was a madhouse,” Rajesh said. “I didn’t decide to go until the last minute. The Dead-heads in the lobby were so excited, and then all of a sudden I was in a cab and the doorman was closing the door. I don’t even remember getting in it.”
“Well? What did you think?” Driscol asked. “Did you like it?”
“I loved it from the minute I climbed out of the cab,” Rajesh said. “It was like I was entering a whole other world I never knew existed. Going to that show was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I felt so at one with everything. It was like I wasn’t completely alive until that night.”
“That’s how everyone feels after their first time, except for the asshole intruders who tuck their shirts in too tight,” Driscol said, but realized his unintentional dig too late. “Oh shit, please tell me you didn’t have your shirt tucked in.”
“I did,” Rajesh said before Driscol seized the chance to bombard him with friendly insults, “But I didn’t leave that way, so don’t give me any grief about it.”
“So what got you to pull your shirt out of your pants?” Driscol asked, restraining himself from offending Rajesh the way he would have if he’d been with Mannie. “Were you getting it on in the back of a VW microbus with some hot hippy-chick?”
Rajesh played along and raised his eyebrows with suspenseful promise, but continued on with the disappointingly less titillating explanation of his fashion transformation.
“When the concert began, everyone around me stood up and started dancing like lunatics,” Rajesh said. “I felt so out of place at first just sitting there so I stood up, but I still felt like I was from outer space.”
“That’s because you are,” Driscol said, and all of the posters surrounding them seemed to contract in unified agreement.
Driscol looked at Rajesh to see if he’d experienced the strange telepathy also. Rajesh widened his eyes in silent confirmation, and they waited through an eventless moment of alert silence before Rajesh continued to recount the long-winded details of the untucking.
“The girl next to me stopped dancing and held her hand out to me like she wanted to shake my hand. It was so weird and out of the blue, I couldn’t imagine why she’d be doing that, but I shook it because I didn’t know what else to do.” Rajesh’s eyes darted around the surreal stairwell in anticipation of another telepathic episode. “Then she leaned over and asked me if I was all right and wanted to know why I was just standing still. She told me to loosen up and dance, but I didn’t want to dance. Everybody else looked like their bodies were supposed to move all wiggly like that, but all I could think about was how idiotic I’d look if I tried it.”
“But that’s the whole point.” Driscol’s emphatic response generated a jarring reverberation between the walls so he continued with a softer tone. “Nobody’s judging anybody at a Dead show. You’re supposed to look goofy. It should be a requirement to get in. You should’ve seen Suzi and Eve do one of their jimble dances.”
“I just felt like an outsider who didn’t belong,” Rajesh said. “But I wanted to dance. Everyone who was dancing seemed so happy. I wanted to be one of the happy people too, but my body wouldn’t let me.”
“I can’t be at a show and not dance,” Driscol said and noticed how uncomfortable he felt sitting stooped over on the hard stairs. He stood up and placed his hands on the stairs above him, sticking his behind out to form a partial downward-dog. The stretch released a flood of lurid images featuring Suzi striking a series of provocative yoga poses.
“My body starts to dance before the music even starts,” Driscol continued and leaned deeper into the stretch. “Sometimes I’ll even catch myself dancing when I’m not at a show, like somewhere in public where it would look pretty strange, especially since I look kind of strange already.”
He finished his stretch and picked up his guitar case. “So, did that dancing girl get you to loosen up?”
“She told me to take my shoes and socks off,” Rajesh said and followed Driscol down the stairs.
“My God, you were wearing socks?” Driscol stopped on the stairs in disbelief, turning to Rajesh to see if he was kidding.
“Don’t worry, I took them off,” Rajesh said. “She sprayed my feet with her spray bottle because it was still so hot outside. The water smelled like lavender and something else. I don’t know what it was, but it made me happy. It reminded me of the flowers growing behind my house in India, but spicier.”
“What happened after she moistened your naked feet?” Driscol nudged Rajesh as they walked past the deserted bar toward the stage. “Was she cute?”
“She was a big Mamma Cass looking hippy about forty-ish I guess, long hair, very earthy looking,” Rajesh recalled. “She was acting so silly that it made me laugh. She stood right in front of me and danced until I felt more stupid just standing there watching her than I would have if I’d just let myself dance, so I did, and it was amazing.”
“Rotund and middle-aged. Nice combo,” Driscol joked, “How amazing was it? Did she give you her room number?”
Rajesh took a second to think. “You know, it’s weird. Now that you mention it, she actually could have.”
“How could you not know?” Driscol asked. “Did she or didn’t she?”
“She asked if she could see my ticket stub,” Rajesh said, “and she handed it back to me along with the pen she wrote on it with. But a bunch of people knocked into me and I almost dropped them, and I didn’t want to stop dancing, so I just shoved them in my pocket without reading what she’d written. She hugged me real hard right before the song ended and then just danced away into the crowd.”

July 22nd, 1990
1.Box of Rain
2.Feel Like a Stranger
4.Beat It on Down the Line
5.West L.A. Fadeaway
6.When I Paint My Masterpiece
7.Far From Me
8.Tennessee Jed
9.Hell in a Bucket

10.Samson and Delilah
11.Hey Pocky Way
12.Estimated Prophet
13.Eyes of the World
15.The Wheel
16.Gimme Some Lovin' - (The Spencer Davis Group cover)
17.Stella Blue
18.Throwing Stones
19.Turn On Your Love Light
20.Knockin' On Heaven's Door
(Bob Dylan cover)