Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Spiritual Insight From Loosing 80 Pounds

I have not written for this blog in some time. I stopped when I began a diet program that involved - well extreme caloric reductions to be honest – and it took every ounce of focus I had to maintain the diet. Since the end of October I have lost 81 pounds.

Let me first say that cutting back calories at 1200 per day was done through the Center For Medical Weight Loss in Lakewood, Colorado. That sort of restriction should only be done under medical supervision. Do not try it unaided at home. They are a huge help and very supportive, should you try it. As you roll off this diet a great source of motivation and very solid information is the Fat2Fit podcast ( . It is a good source for ongoing information.
I wanted to write about a few lessons I learned as part of this process, some of which concern spirituality and some of which are interesting lessons or discussion points.


Buddhist teachers talk of delusions and delusional thinking routinely. I had lessons in my own ability to self-delude during this diet process.

Before starting this journey I did not think of myself as obese, though by every objective measure I was obese. I was 306 pounds, making me a candidate for gastric bypass surgery. I was 40% body fat. Still, I was hitting the gym and lifting weights. I knew I was pretty strong for my age, measured against the other men I saw lifting while I was in the gym. I was deluding myself, however, about my overall shape and condition. I was eating a good deal of junk. I had lost all sense of portion size and proportion. Nevertheless I told myself that I was in shape. I was active; I could take long hikes or bike rides. I could lift heavy things. I deluded myself into thinking I was just beefy.

It was a long slow journey to realize the extent of my delusions, and I am still working on it. As the diet eases I hope to get back to practicing and writing, so I do not need to focus so much of my attention on breaking the cycle that put me in such an unhealthy place.

It is also worth noting how delusions feed dukkha. I got some very short term pleasure out of eating all that junk, however, over the long term, it led to suffering. My knees hurt all the time.
I had sleep disorders, and I missed out on many activities that I can now do so much better – like skiing bumps.

The Importance of Sangha

If we consider Sangha a support group, then my family and my colleagues in Houston are that Sangha during this journey. They were extremely supportive of my efforts in losing weight.

Breaking the Cycle

There are two approaches to dieting that I have read or discussed with others. The first is advocated by Fat2Fit radio and makes a good deal of sense. To risk oversimplification, one determines a goal weight, then starts to live the life of the person at that goal weight with the amount of exercise and caloric intake a person already at that goal weight would consume. This is a very sensible, conservative and healthful approach.

The second method is the one used by many diets. There you start with some form of extreme food restrictions. You will lose lots of pounds in the first few weeks, then the loss will taper off as you start to use “real food.” This is the approach that often leads to unhealthy yo-yo dieting. There are two reasons for this. First, most of these diets do not push dieters to exercise or partake of a more active lifestyle. Second, the transition off the diet and back to real food has minimal support or education associated with it. So many folks lose some weight, go off their diet and go back to a sedentary life and eating fast food.

I am finding a mixed approach is working for me. First, as I noted I was obese, and I needed some rapid and big success to keep me motivated. Second, I began to look at my diet as food boot camp. In the same way the military breaks a recruit down and builds them back up again, I was breaking myself down and building a new, thinner healthier person. While I was not conscious of this when I started, I used the initial 1200 calorie/day diet to break my very unhealthy response to food.

What is missing from the crash and fad diets is the training a recruit gets in boot camp. I got some from the Center For Medical Weight Loss, but 15 minutes of counseling once per week is, I think, insufficient to combat the barrage of media messages we get every day from the food industry telling us that it is acceptable to eat junk every day. I took it upon myself to provide the training I would need to face those sales pitches and resist them. I strongly recommend the film Supersize Me and the books Fast Food Nation, In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Listen to podcasts like Fat2Fit, and get a buddy group or family support group to help you and keep you honest.

I also found that measuring and recording everything helps but that may be because I am a geek, therefore very data driven and into gadgets. Nevertheless, the BodyBugg is very useful for measuring calories burned. Write down everything you put in your mouth. You will be surprised how much this helps avoid temptations.

I am now in the process of graduating from diet boot camp and moving on. I have, hopefully, broken the cycle of lose some weight, gain it back from diet boot camp.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Inherent Injust of Laws Preventing "Equal Marriage"

Recently there was a protest in Denver over California’s recently enacted Proposition 8, which banned marriage between same sex couples. In response to the coverage of the protest in The Denver Post there was, as one might expect, the typical hateful and homophobic rants and name calling. The words used do not bear repeating, and are the equivalent of the use of the “N- word” applied to African Americans.

There was, however, one comment that requires a more considered response.

“Protest all you want, but in this society sometimes you are not going to always have your way, the majority of the people in california [sic] spoke they said no, so why does the minority in that state insiste [sic] on pushing there [sic] beliefs down the throats of the majority.”

Even as a strait person, I can understand how my gay brothers and sisters would reflect the same feelings of Martin Luther King in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail:

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection….

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.”

There are, of course, both just and unjust laws. Again to quote Dr. King’s letter

“To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust….[Laws] are unjust because segregation distort the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I-it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things….

An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.”

Once can and should use the same logic with respect to our gay brothers and sisters. Laws that prevent them from marrying because it degrades the human spirit which is uplifted by marriage. These laws give heterosexuals a false sense of superiority, as witnessed by the hateful responses to the article on the Denver Post’s on line edition. These laws inflict on my gay friends conditions that are not binding on me as a strait man, and are thus differences made legal.

When I was practicing Christianity I firmly held that we are all children of God, no matter what our status in life. In my evolving Buddhism, I hold that all sentient beings have Buddha nature, the inherent ability to become enlightened. These are different ways of expressing the same truth. We all have some divine spark. Any law that says, in essence, I have a divine spark but you do not is unjust on its face. Proposition 8, and any other law that prohibits the divine expression of love between two people in marriage is, therefore, an unjust law.

This is not a question of a minority seeking to impose its views on a majority. It is, instead, a minority rebelling against unjust laws imposed upon them by the majority. These laws must be opposed for the same reason African Americans fought to ride in the front of the bus and eat at the same lunch counter and vote when the "majority" spoke and said no. Because those laws were unjust. Because justice delayed is justice denied. Because when someone can deny the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness to any one person, they can deny it to everyone. Because we all have a divine nature, and any law that seeks to suppress the expression of the divine is an injustice that must be remedied by people of conscious, no matter their sexual preference.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

O! What a morning!

I was not going to join the chorus of folks writing about the election until I read this post in reaction to the election of Barack Obama on the Denver Post web site, “this is a very sad day in the history of America[.]”

Let’s really consider this.

The year my wife was born, Brown v. Board of Education was decided.

The year before I was born, President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne into Little Rock so that African American children could safely go to desegregated schools.

When I was three, buses carrying freedom riders were firebombed in Alabama.

When I was 5, Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech.

It was not until I was 7 that the University of Mississippi admitted its first African American students.

When I was 8 the authorities in Birmingham were turning fire hoses on peaceful marchers. The KKK murdered 3 young men during the Freedom Summer in Mississippi.

When I was 10, Dr. King was murdered.

Some of my earliest memories are of watching National Guard troops prepare for going to Newark, NJ to deal with race riots.

When I was a sophomore in High School, a white man was photographed using an American flag as a spear on a black man in the violence associated with bussing in Boston.

I did not have any black friends until I was in college.

Just 10 years ago, black friends attempting to visit me at my home were harassed by the Delmar NY police department. These friends happened to be NY state troopers and a NY corrections officer.

Now a man who happens to be black has been elected President of the United States based on the quality of his character.

And yet, this poster said "this is a very sad day in the history of America"?

This is indeed a great day for America. This is the day when we finally fulfilled our promise. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..."

Friday, October 31, 2008

Us vs. Them, II

Said from a Christian perspective, but in a far more articulate manner...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Us vs. Them

I have been finding it difficult to respond in a skillful and compassionate way to many of the recent attacks, mostly coming from the right wing of American politics, both in public and made against me personally in response to some of my posts.

As examples:

• Elizabeth Dole runs an ad in her senate campaign accusing her opponent of being in league with “godless Americans.”
• Senator Kit Bond critiqued Barack Obama because Senator Obama wants to appoint judges who “have a heart, have an empathy [sic] for the teenage mom, the minority, the gay, the disabled. We want them to show empathy. We want them to show compassion.”;rightRailInner
• Sarah Palin has begun to attack Barack Obama because he attended a party for a fellow faculty member at the University of Chicago who happened to be Palestinian and disagrees with the unconditional support offered to Israel by the United States.
• “Joe the Plumber” claims, effectively, that Barack Obama has more volunteers because liberals do not work as hard as conservatives and therefore have more time on their hands.
• Keith Olberman nominates a “Worst Person in the World” prize every night on his news show.

My reaction to all of the above, as well as numerous other examples of the “us vs. them” line of attack is disgust. Indeed, I have such a strong reaction that I must limit my intake of the news lest my anger boil over and I say things I will later regret.

Of course, I think my reaction is natural, because all of these statements define me as one of “them” – the other to be feared. As a Buddhist who does not accept the idea of a God, I am certainly “godless.”

As a person who worked for years in the criminal justice system, I certainly think judges should be compassionate within the bounds of the law. After all, if the law were mechanical we would put automatons on the bench rather then attempt to put our best legal minds there.

I certainly disagree with unconditional support of Israel and think that we should be doing far more to help Palestinian moderates. In point of fact, I find the McCain’s campaign of disparagement of anyone who happens to be an Arab American and associated with Barack Obama to be racist.

Finally, the only reason I have not done more to work for Senator Obama and Mark Udall (running for senate in my home state of Colorado) is the amount of time I must devote to my job.

I pay my taxes, keep my front lawn in reasonable shape, and do my best to raise my son to be the best person he can be. So what makes me scary?

On the other side of the political spectrum, I am sure Mr. Olberman alienates anyone who happens to agree with that evenings “worst person” nominee.

We can see the spiral of fear to anger to hate escalating here. The saying of the Buddha, “hatred does not cease through hatred at any time. Hatred ceases through love. This is an unalterable law.” Has many counterparts in the Abrahamic faiths, yet we never seem to learn this lesson.

Our greatest leaders have never appealed to our fear and hate; they have appealed to our better natures.

FDR’s stirring “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Abraham Lincoln said “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.” and at the close of the long bitter Civil War,

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

I truly despair for my country when we do not seem to hold charity to be a civic and social virtue, not just an individual virtue; when we engage in fear mongering solely to gain power. We must see that we are all interconnected and that the suffering of any one person leads to the suffering of us all. A foreclosure on someone else’s home drives down the value of mine; the failure to provide universal health insurance drives up my costs; the failure to provide decent food housing, education and jobs with a living wage drives up crime. Yet, our political leaders, when given a choice between stepping out into a new day, or withdrawing into a locked and dark room, huddling in fear, they choose the later.

We need to show the courage and hope that we will step out into the sunshine of a new day. Sure there may be rain or snow, but to stay huddled in the darkness is the path of misery and suffering screaming at each other because not stepping out is obviously the fault of “them.”

If we reject our fear we can move forward and move on beyond fear, to a bigger, greater compassionate nation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An approach to the election

“When a society comes together and makes decisions in harmony, when it respects its most noble traditions, cares for its most vulnerable members, treats its forests and lands with respect, then it will prosper and not decline”

--Buddha, Mahaparinirvana Sutra

It is good to contemplate this as we approach the election. The level of discussion has become so shrill and hateful that, should we continue down this path, we will surely decline.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Christian Voting

I encourage any Christians who happen to come across this to read the recent post on Sojourners

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bodhisattva Voting

I have been watching the anger that emanates from the McCain campaign and some conservatives. In turn, I am feeling angry, myself, over the turn the election has taken. The epitaphs that have issued from Palin and McCain supporters are very disturbing. There have been ugly racial words used. Someone shouted “Kill Him!” at a Palin rally while Senator Obama – a sitting United States Senator – has been labeled a “terrorist” and a “traitor” at these rallies.

In an online discussion of the escalating poverty in Douglas County, Colorado, where I live, there were some posts that both blamed the victims of the economy, and advocated that we simply not help them. As a society, these folks argued, we should simply allow these people to become homeless and starve.

In the meantime, the global financial system continues to spin out of control and the United States is ensnared in two wars. The killing will continue, though I expect one candidate will bring it to a close faster then the other. The economic pain will continue, and the resulting layoffs and unemployment will be with us well into the next administration.

This is a spiritual blog, so I want to approach the election from just that perspective. Every religion has a core value of compassion. In Christianity it is the value of caritas that is one of the three great theological virtues. In Islam, Zakat is obligatory for all believers. The Talmud commands that all Jews are to be “rachmanim b’nei rachmanim” (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors). In Buddhism, the ideal of generosity or of loving kindness is one of the virtues practiced by any aspiring bodhisattva. So, if we are to be true to our faith, we must approach our votes with the universal values of compassion, wisdom and equanimity; values shared by all faiths.

Our votes, therefore, should be an exercise in compassion and generosity, not exercises in fear, pettiness or covetousness. We should not be voting based on “everyone’s favorite radio station WII FM” or “What’s In It For Me” as a salesperson I once knew would say. I may get a slightly lower tax bill under one candidate or another, but that should not be my primary consideration.

For my vote, I consider first how my vote will exercise compassion and ease suffering in the world. Which candidate do I expect to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan faster? Which candidate espouses policies that will reduce the suffering of the poor and the sick? Which candidate, in short, will lead us to a more compassionate society?

By that standard, beyond question, the candidates who will get my votes are Barack Obama for president and Mark Udall for United States Senate. While space here is too short for a complete analysis, some points do stand out.

First, the health care proposals of Mr. Obama will certainly provide for superior coverage for the poor and the sick. This will allow people to seek care before they are seriously ill or forced to go to an emergency room, easing their pain. Care will be less expensive for us all, easing some of our economic anxiety, another form of suffering.
The proposals for care for the environment from both Mr. Udall and Mr. Obama will ease pollution and global warming, while opening new, ecologically friendly industries such as solar and wind power and the manufacturing plants needed to support that infrastructure. This will ease global warming as well as preserve space we need to ease our minds and be a peace – places like the Rockies and the seashore.

Most important, the plans proposed by Mr. Obama for ending the Iraq war have already been received favorably. We must end that suffering.

I encourage you all to contemplate carefully your vote and use it as a way to help all beings find peace.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Letter to Senators Allard and Salazar and Congresssman Tancredo on the financial crisis

I am writing to express my concerns about Secretary Paulson’s proposed bailout of financial institutions While we clearly need to lower the levels of volatility and stabilize the credit markets, the bill fails certain common sense tests in current form.

1. The bill provides a blank check with a floor of Government investment of $750 Billion. There are no limitations on the risk the Treasury Department will take on for the nation. There are no consequences for those who took on such risk and, effectively, ran our financial system into the ground. While I recognize they can not be punished ex post facto, we can limit the rewards they make. In short, we need to make sure the so called “moral hazard” is enforced. In short, the bill should impose reasonable restrictions on the amount of risk shouldered by taxpayers and prevent executives from reaping unreasonable profits (e.g. from severance packages) should they accept a taxpayer bailout.
2. The bill gives unfettered power to the Treasury Department. Section 8 states “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.” I consider Secretary Paulson a good and honorable man, but we all make mistakes and abuse our discretion. The reasonable restrictions mentioned here should be reviewable by Congress under its Constitutional Spending powers.
3. The bill does not get to the root cause of the problem. This, by itself, is not a reason to vote against the bill, however, I would be remiss in not insisting for a separate measure to assist homeowners in danger of loosing their homes. The root cause of this problem is the current credit crisis in housing. By stabilizing the housing market and the ability of homeowners to afford their homes, we would stabilize financial instruments that rely on those mortgages for their value (e.g. Credit Default Swaps and Collateralized Debt Obligations)
4. A separate root cause of this problem was the inability of any regulatory agency to enforce rules concerning the risks taken on by these companies or the rating systems those companies relied upon for taking on that risk. Often Collateralized Debt Obligations were rated as investment grade securities by ratings services with severe conflicts of interest. There was no ability for the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department or the Securities and Exchange Commission to limit the risk these companies took on, even though these risks ultimately fell on we, the taxpayers. These regulatory loop holes must be closed.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Save A Life

This is borrowed from the ACLU web site, though I agree with this completly.

Subject: Subject: Help save a life!

A man who is almost certainly innocent needs your help, and fast.
On Friday, the Georgia Department of Pardons and Paroles is going to meet and decide if he should be executed.

They will either take into account compelling evidence challenging his guilt, or they will choose to ignore that evidence and allow his sentence to stand. They have to power to stop this indefensible execution and we must implore them to make the right decision.

Troy Anthony Davis was convicted of the murder of off-duty Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail in 1991. No physical evidence links him to the crime, and he has steadfastly maintained his innocence. His conviction was based solely on the testimony of witnesses. There was no other evidence against him. Since his trial, seven people who had previously testified against Troy changed the story they had told in court.

Some witnesses say they were coerced by police. Others have even signed affidavits implicating one of the remaining two witnesses as the actual killer. But due to an increasingly restrictive appeals process, none of this new evidence has ever been heard in court.

Can you take 30 seconds and help save the life of a man who is almost certainly innocent? You can learn more and take action here: