Tag Archives: Spirituality

Morning Coffee

I can’t really explain time.

Right now, I know I’ve let days slip away without posting to my blog and it’s time to start writing.

Writing is sort of an addiction.  I love it.  And I am writing in my mind all the time.  But some days there are simply other things I need to do with my time, either to keep up with the mundane parts of life, or to find inspiration to bring stories to life.  Or maybe I should say, bring life to stories.  Creative time.

Of course, it’s not “my time” to begin with.  How could we possess something so ethereal?

Time has a way of standing still yet slipping by at the same time.  Especially when I’m with the people I love, or when I am taking time out in nature.  Time’s simply gone or was time there to begin with?  The true measure of time never really existed.  It is artificially set.  Having no more substance than turning hands on an arbitrarily numbered dial.

While time is an arbitrary concept, at least in the physical world, time is limited for us.  So, sharing that finite time with others is perhaps the greatest gift we can give.  Maybe we’ll have infinite time to share in the spiritual world.

For some reason we decided to define time by motion.  One day is equal to the time for the Earth to complete a full rotation on its axis.  To do that, the Earth is moving, rotating, at approximately 1,040 miles per hour.

In addition to its own rotational speed, the Earth is zipping around the sun at about 66,660 miles per hour.  A full rotation around our star takes what we’ve defined as a “year,” some 365 days in double rotational motion, more or less.

What’s more, the sun and our solar system are orbiting the Milky Way Galaxy at somewhere around 450,000 to 500,000 miles per hour.  This galaxy is huge.  It takes our sun about 225 to 250 million years of motion to complete that journey around the galaxy’s center – that’s called a “cosmic year.”

And if that’s not enough motion or time for you, our galaxy is moving in relation to other galaxies and is on a collision course with the Andromeda Galaxy.  These galaxies are moving toward each other at the rate of 252,000 miles per hour!

Are you dizzy yet?

And while time is an artificial concept based on motion, I can’t even tell you where I am at any given moment in time.  For I, and all of the atoms in my body, are in constant motion.

You see, under particle theory in quantum mechanics, anything, including us, have multiple probabilities of being in multiple places at the same time.  It is not until a measurement of some kind, often an observation of effect as opposed to seeing the actual subatomic particle, is taken that a “real” and yet temporary placement of anything or anyone can be defined.

My new goal is to be unmeasurable, so no one can place me anywhere at any given point in time.  I will remain in eternal motion.  How could I not be?

Actually, I’m really just having my morning coffee 😊

***

Photo:  My morning cup of coffee catches the first rays of the rising sun.

An Oil Painting for the One I Love

Sitting in the quiet,
contemplating the nothingness that surrounds me.
Imaging a different world,
one with color, with fragrance, tasting, touching.

An oil painting for the one I love.

I see the greens, yellows, oranges, and reds of autumn.
An old farm road, slightly overgrown, bending gently with the breeze, contouring an old barn, faded wood, peeling paint.

The character of a grandfather with aged wisdom.

A Great Horned Owl sings in the distance,
a soulful melody that echoes across the nearby lake.
It repeats at a slightly higher pitch.

A pause, an answer – this one lower and softer.

The synchrony begins as they call, urgency growing.
Powerful yellow eyes take flight and the couple unites,
the tone softens, is warm, in harmony, complete . . .

***

Great Horned Owl - 6 - 25th Nov + Crop

 

Photos:  A Midwestern sunset on the fly – one-handed, while driving with the cell phone.  And a Great Horned Owl sits majestically, the master of this territory, calling to its mate.

Published !  So grateful to have had this poem picked up in the Fall Issue of Halcyon Days.  If you have haven’t seen this online magazine, you should really check it out.  It is beautifully done!  

My Intuition Tells Me . . .

I bet you can complete this title.  And how many times has your intuition been correct? But just what is intuition?  Is it something instinctual?  Or simply a regular cognitive process? Is it rational to trust our “guts?”

I don’t know about you, but I continually try to tune into my intuition, and I believe it has saved my hide a few times.

I recently read a neuroscientist’s perspective on intuition.  To sum up her point of view, intuition is sort of a “predictive processing framework” whereby our brains are constantly taking in sensory information, comparing that information with accumulated knowledge and experience and then making a spontaneous decision based upon how these data “match” or align.  The process is said to be automatic and subconscious.

Intuition supposedly can be a sloppy process that can fail because it is based on outdated information.  However, analytical thinking, based upon more current information, can be too slow to allow a timely response and can also err when we over-think a problem or a situation.  These two types of “thinking” are theorized to work in concert giving us a good balance.  And there are times we use analytic thinking to make a post-hoc justification for a decision based on intuitive thinking.

That all sounds like a bit of over-thinking to me.

The neuroscientist says we can trust our intuition if we follow this thought algorithm:

“Thus, for every situation that involves a decision based on your assessment, consider whether your intuition has correctly assessed the situation.  Is it an evolutionary old or new situation?  Does it involve cognitive biases?  Do you have experience or expertise in this type of situation?  If it is evolutionary old, involves a cognitive bias, and you don’t have expertise in it, then rely on analytic thinking.  If not, feel free to trust your intuitive thinking.”

But none of this gives me a true understanding of how I just “know” I’ve hit my turn around point on the trail.  My gut tells me there is some danger out there if I continue and it’s time to go home.  As I leave, I hear a hunter’s shot ring out and a deer runs out of the underbrush and passes by me.  Or a large tree branch falls where I would have stepped next.

How about, when I walk into a business and I just get the vibe that something is about to go south there so I turn around and leave.  Then, I read in the paper the next day that there was a fight that broke out in that establishment and someone got shot.  Or the place was robbed just moments after I left.

Or I see a vehicle pass me on the road and just “know” something is amiss.  Then I later pass it as it sits a contorted mass, in a deadly embrace with a semitruck.

What about the times there is no danger?  But I “know” to follow a butterfly who leads me to a wonderous discovery.  An overlook into a canyon that was off-trail and thoroughly hidden. Inspiration and beauty, I would have walked right on by but not for my gut.

Or I meet a person and within seconds I’m sure they have a good heart.  As time passes, this assessment proves to be 100% accurate.  People seem to have that intuitive trust with me too, and often just open up to me and share very personal information before they know anything about me.  I can’t tell you how many times this has happened, and the person says to me, “I don’t have any idea why I’m telling you all of this.”

None of these situations appear to involve past or present sensory input that could lead to a predictive outcome.  It is merely a feeling or my “inner voice” that I have listened to.

As the Universe would have it, the same day I read the neuroscientist’s article I would be directed to another about the topic of what it means to be “clairsentient,” or to be someone who feels things very deeply.  Notice, this is not the same as being clairvoyant. Not the same as being able to “see clearly” or predict the future.

The author of this article lists out 25 traits that may accompany being clairsentient.  And I don’t want to oversimply a complex topic, but suffice it to say such a person is extremely tuned in.  Not only to their own feelings, but to the energy fields surrounding everyone and all things.  This hypersensitivity allows for acting on senses without necessarily having any discernable information.  Or it allows a different level of accessing and analyzing information to make predictive outcomes.  To act purely upon a subconscious process where we are fed information.  It is almost as though that information comes from an outside observer who has clairvoyance.

Or maybe that is precisely what this is.  Being hypersensitive may just mean being in tune with all of the spiritual energy surrounding us.  This allows for lightening fast decisions based not upon historical data accumulated in our brains, but on real-time or even future-time data coming from external sources.

Imagine that.

And since we are talking about the subconscious, let’s talk about consciousness for a moment and what that means.  To be conscious means we are presumably awake and aware of our existence, our sensations, our thoughts, and our surroundings.  The subconscious mind concerns “the part of the mind of which one is not fully aware but which influences one’s actions and feelings.”  While on the other hand, the unconscious mind is said to be “the part of the mind which is inaccessible to the conscious mind but which affects behavior and emotions.”  And being unconscious, well we all know what that means; lights out and nobody’s home.

But these are not the end descriptors of consciousness and subconscious processes because we also have “collectives.”  The collective conscious is “the set of shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes which operate as a unifying force within society.”  The “collective unconscious,” in Jungian psychology, is “part of the unconscious mind which is derived from ancestral memory and experience and is common to all humankind, as distinct from the individual’s unconscious.”

Now that’s a lot to wrap your brain around.  And maybe the collective unconscious could provide a source of data for our intuitive responses.  But how do we get that package of ancestral memory jammed in our heads?  Is that knowledge carried in our genetics?

Well, I have a different idea about the collective minds, or perhaps “energies” is a better word.  What if the collective unconscious was not ancestral memory?  What if the subconscious or unconscious minds of all were collectively linked, 24/7, in the present moment?  What if we could, through “intuition” or other means, tap into all that data and awareness?  What if being clairsentient meant exactly that, being tapped into this collective energy?  Wouldn’t that allow you to be extremely empathetic, to sense another’s innate qualities and characteristics, to perhaps perceive disruptions in the energy fields that tip you off to events unfolding?

I don’t know.

A number of years back I built a bridge.  It spanned a 22-foot, water-filled ravine that fed a lake on my property.  I arched it slightly and it had no supports underneath it to resist gravity or to support its own weight.  It was the biggest carpentry project I undertook, and I did it with virtually no experience or knowledge.  I drew the design out on a brown paper bag.  I was no engineer.

Each night before bed, I would formulate a question in my mind with regard to part of the project.  Usually a problem that needed to be solved.  And each morning I awoke with an answer in my conscious mind.  An answer that worked.  Now where did this information come from?

I had no inherent knowledge in my mind to process in my sleep with regard to bridge building.  Could it have come from some ancestral memory, really?  Or could I have tapped into a real-time collective of conscious, subconscious, or unconscious minds, or energy fields, that provided the answers.  I have no idea, but that bridge is still standing 22 years after I built it.

Bridge - 3 Winter
And it’s a nice metaphor too.  Bridging between conscious and subconscious and unconscious dimensions 😊

Of course, I don’t know that words can ever adequately describe such a process.  And you can call me crazy if you want to, but I do know that the times I didn’t listen to my inner voice were the times that I got into trouble.

So, I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to tune-in.  Tap into all that is out there.  And trust what my inner voice is telling me.

Pleasant trails, keep listening, and trust your gut.

***

Photos: I built this bridge in the summer of 1996 – winter and summer views.

Links: Here are links to the articles I read.  All links are subject to link rot.

Is it rational to trust your gut feelings? A neuroscientist explains

25 Signs You May Be Clairsentient — Someone Who Feels Things Very Deeply

Quotes: And here are a couple of nice quotes on Intuition:

“Intuition is seeing with the soul.”
― Dean Koontz

 
“The material world is simply an expression of the mind; that’s what so many fail to see. We’re so dependent on what is before us that we discount our intuition. Yet if one dismisses instinct, how can one understand or believe in a world that exists beyond one’s sight?”
― Megan Chance, The Spiritualist

 
“Intuition comes in several forms:
– a sudden flash of insight, visual or auditory
– a predictive dream
– a spinal shiver of recognition as something is occurring or told to you
– a sense of knowing something already
– a sense of deja vu
– a snapshot image of a future scene or event
– knowledge, perspective or understanding divined from tools which respond to the subconscious mind”
― Sylvia Clare, Trusting Your Intuition: Rediscover Your True Self to Achieve a Richer, More Rewarding Life

 
“Situations produce vibrations. Negative, potentially harmful situations emit slow vibrations. Positive, potentially life-enhancing situations emit quick vibrations. As these vibrations impact on your energy field they produce either resonance or dissonance in your lower and middle tantiens (psychic power stations) depending on your own vibratory rate at the time. When you psychic field force is strong and your vibratory rate is fast, therefore, you will draw only positive situations to you. When you mind is quiet enough and your attention is on the moment, you will literally hear the dissonance in your belly and chest like an alarm bell going off, urging you from deep within your body to move in such and such a direction. Always follow it. At times these urges may come to you in the form of internally spoken dialogue with your higher self, spirit guide, guardian angel, alien intelligence, however you see the owner of the “still, small voice within.” This form of dialogue can be entertaining and reassuring but is best not overindulged in as, in the extreme; it tends to lead to the loony bin. At times you may receive your messages from “Indian signs”, such as slogans on passing trucks or cloud formations in the sky. This is also best kept in moderation, to avoid seeing signs in everything and becoming terribly confused. Just let it happen when it happens and don’t try looking for it.”
― Stephen Russell, Barefoot Doctor’s Guide to the Tao: A Spiritual Handbook for the Urban Warrior

Red Coral – To Feel is to Heal

I hike into the canyon and I am marveled by what surrounds me.  It’s Fall.  Greens, golds, reds, oranges, pinks, a rainbow of leaves held tightly by the trees while others, released from that grip, float softly through the air to blanket the ground.  Painting abstract portraits.  Pastel pathways.

There are majestic mountains, and underground streams.  Dry stream beds until the elevation is ripe for the water’s emergence.  It trickles, then flows, then forms small falls over rock out-croppings.  A Damselfly lands on a Horsetail Reed.  Metallic green, it’s wings shine in the sunlight.

This land I walk, used to be on the bottom of the ocean.  Fossil remnants confirm its history.  Bivalves and crinoids and coral.  Once a shell inhabited by an animal, or symbiotic pairings of algae and invertebrates forming exoskeleton metropoles.  All forms of calcium carbonate taking on infinite designs.  All now limestone.  And eventually dust, from which something new will rise.

The silence is broken by the cry of a Hawk.  Its flight interrupted by a Raven that dive bombs it.  A battle ensues in mid-air.  And the Hawk acrobatically rolls onto its back.  Inverted in flight it claws back at its interceptor.  I’ve never seen a Hawk fly upside down.  Never.  I’m amazed at its agility.  What a true gift this vision is.

I am surrounded by life.  I hear it, feel it, taste it, smell it, touch it.  I perceive it.  Enter it intuitively.  And yet I walk alone.  Connected, yet separated.

Night time comes and I’ve returned to shelter.  And I think, how much better the day would have been could I have shared the experience.  To have gazed through more than my own eyes.  To share laughter and surprise.  A warm smile, shining eyes looking back at me.

Being alone is not the same as feeling lonely.  Tonight, I feel alone.

How nice it would be to hold someone in my arms.  Just hold them and feel their touch.  Infinitely.  Hear their breath.  Their heartbeat drum.  Feel their warmth.  Their fire.  Their love.

We all want answers to the big questions.  They usually start with the word “why?”  Why am I walking alone?  But then “where?”  Where do I find the answer?

My inner voice silent.  I look outside into the darkness.  The Coyotes synchronize their howls.  The Crickets, high-pitched chirping.  An Owl joins the chorus.  Life surrounds me in my solitude.  Why?

We all have places or entities to where we direct these questions.  Consult the ancient texts?  Cast stones or charms?  Read cards?  Deep meditation?  Extrapolate from dreams.  We find affirmations from the world around us.  Intuition is valid.  These sources nourish it.

Tonight, I pull a book.  Sacred Path Cards by Jamie Sams.  I draw an accompanying card for a daily reading.  “Coral.”  Some people might call this mysticism, paganism, or even heretical.  But isn’t it strange how these ceremonies end up being spot-on.

Coral speaks to the absurdity of my question.  It tells me to cut the “I am the only one” refrain.  We are never alone.  As the Seneca would say (Ms. Sams’ tribe), we are continually surrounded by “All Our Relations.”  It’s time to reconnect with All.

To paraphrase Ms. Sams:

Coral symbolizes the blood of Mother Earth.  It acknowledges that all “two-legged” have the need to be nurtured from their own kind.  But it reminds us who our true “Mother” is.  Red blood runs through every creature.  Water, the oceans, symbolize the blood of Mother Earth.  And Red Coral, arising from those waters carry that representation.  The “Water Nursery of Creation” gave birth to all life and Red Coral, and its connection to the sea water of its own origin, symbolizes our birth and the connection to the “Mother Of All Things.”  Every life form, “All Our Relations,” is sustained by Mother Earth.  Using Coral can allow us to reconnect to our own blood and the waters of Mother Earth.

Once we reconnect, we can “develop a communication with our physical form that is not based upon addiction, compulsion, fear, gluttony, or selfishness.”  We can recognize that our physical body is our vehicle for connecting with our spirit and our needs.  We, therefore, must learn to respect and care for our bodies.  All nurturing is dependent on our ability to recognize our feelings and needs.  And if we don’t know what we need, how would we identify the needs of others to give comfort.  “To feel is to heal.”

It is time for self-nourishment.  For reunion with the Planetary Family.  To listen to All Our Relations and acknowledge we are never alone.

While I ponder the message, I think back to today’s hike.  I fumble through my backpack and produce a stone I found.  I wipe it with vegetable oil and it comes to life.  Patterns emerge.  Skeletal patterns, flower-like shapes, concentric circles.  It’s fossilized coral. Coincidence?  I quit believing in coincidences a long time ago.  Why did I pick up that particular stone for the later discovery?

While I was on top of the ridge, and while I was down in the bottom of the canyon, I was standing on the ancient ocean floor.  The sea, the blood of Mother Earth, once flowed here.  The many connections I made today with my “Relations,” why did I try to separate myself from them?  They all visited for a reason.

The Damselfly with the power of light.  The Hawk with its visionary power, the guardian. The Raven, the magic shapeshifter.  The Coyote, the balance of wisdom and folly.  The Cricket, the bearer of luck and success.  The Owl, it’s silent wisdom, the visionary of the night.  And even the ocean creatures frozen in time.

While it’s true, I seek connection with another “two-legged,” I have that connection as I share my story of the struggle.  Like the hawk and the raven, we internally battle.  Visions versus fleeting images.  Mirages and echoes.  Our self-deception.  The denial of our eternal connections.

Others can experience what I have, see it through my eyes, brush my hand with theirs, share the joy.  I wasn’t alone, and I can be nourished by nourishing others with my words.

We are never alone.

***

Photo: I found this photo on the Internet in the public domain.  The link accompanying it tracked back to a New York Post article titled: “Forcing Coral to Have Sex Could Save the Great Barrier Reef.”  As with all web-links, this link is subject to “link rot,” and I can only say it is valid at the time I posted this article.

Attribution to The Urban Howl:  On June 18, 2018, this article was published by The Urban Howl under the title of “The Unmistakable Message Of Red Coral: To Feel Is To Heal.” I am honored to be a part of this wonderful publication.

The Dream by Don Miguel Ruiz

I have read two books by Don Miguel Ruiz.  The first was “Beyond Fear: A Toltec Guide to Freedom and Joy” and the second was “The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book.”  In both books he included the passage below.

In Beyond Fear, he presented it as an exercise for us to dream.  In The Four Agreements, he included it as a passage titled: “Prayer for Love.”  The version in Beyond Fear was slightly different, I think better written, so I’m posting that one.

The author uses the word “Christ” near the end of the passage.  But as I have said before, I believe you could substitute whatever entity or title you wished, your own belief in what constitutes the “Source,” and the message still rings true.  Enjoy.

***

In this dream I find myself in the most beautiful forest at mid-day.  I am completely comfortable surrounded by beauty.  I see the sunbeams lighting the trees and the flowers.  I see butterflies, and I hear the sound of a river.  I walk to that river where an old man sits beneath a big tree. With his white beard and his strong, kind eyes, the man emits a radiant aura of beautiful colors.  I sit in front of him and wait until he feels my presence and looks at me.

I ask, “How can you send out these beautiful colors and can you teach me how to do it?”

He smiles at me.  “Your request brings back memories for me because one day I saw my own teacher doing the same thing and I asked him the same question.  As an answer, he opened his chest and he reached in and pulled out his own heart.  From within it he took a radiant flame.  He opened my chest and put that flame inside my heart.  From that moment on, everything changed inside me because that flame was unconditional love.  I felt the flame of that love and it became a consuming fire.”

“I shared that love with, and gave unconditional love to, every cell in my body.  That day I became one with my own body.”

“I decided to love my mind.  I loved every emotion, every thought, every feeling and every dream.  That fire transformed my mind completely and my mind loved me back so much that the fire grew even more and I had the need to share my love even more.”

“I decided to put my love in every tree, in every flower, in every blade of grass and all the plants in the whole forest.  They reacted to my love and they loved me also and we became one.”

“But still my love grew more and more so I had an even greater need to share my love.  I decided to put a little piece of love in every rock, in the dirt, in every metal on the earth, and they loved me back.  We became one.”

“My love still grew.  I decided to put a little love in every animal that exists, in the birds, the cats and the dogs.  They loved me back and they protected me.  We became one.”

“My love still grew and I decided to love the water.  I loved the rain, the snow, the rivers, the lakes, the oceans, and I became one with the water.”

“When my love continued to grow, I decide to love the atmosphere, the breeze, the hurricane, the tornado, and we became one and they loved me back.”

“My love did not end there.  It grew even more and I turned my face to the sky where I saw the sun, the moon and the stars.  I decided to put a piece of my love in them and they loved me back and we became one.”

“Again, my love expanded and I decided to share it with every human, with the elders, with every man, woman and child, and we became one.”

“Now wherever I go, I am there waiting for myself.”

Then the old man opened his chest with his hands and took his heart out before my eyes.  He took a flame from his heart and he opened my chest and my heart, and he put that flame in my heart.  When I awoke and opened my eyes, I felt that flame become a fire.  Now I share my love with you.

At this moment, I open my chest and in front of your eyes I open my heart.  I take a small flame and I open your chest and your heart.  I put that flame in your heart.  That flame of my love is the flame of Christ.

And that is the dream.

***

Photo: This is a great shot of my woodstove with a particularly expressive fire.  I can see a swan in the flames to the left.  Others have seen the devil in the middle and a woman in the flames to the right.  What do you see?  The flame of unconditional love?

 

 

It’s Really About Outnumbering

Disclaimer: This piece is not intended as an attack on any religion.  What it tries to point out is how groups try to control and manipulate power.  I’m all for anyone who seeks spiritual awareness in any context.

***

There has been a lot of controversy swirling about the new administration’s policies on immigration. And while the words “terrorism” and “extremism” have been thrown about as justifications for issuing unconstitutional, blanket bans on specific target groups, I do not believe this is the real reason behind such actions. And guess what, there has been no dramatic influx of radical terrorists without the unconstitutional ban.

It’s really all about “outnumbering.” Backtracking to an earlier time in this country, we can look at the history of abortion laws. How is this related? Well, it’s like this. Over a hundred years ago abortion was legal in this country and you didn’t need a doctor to perform it. Salons sprouted up offering these services. Two opposition groups developed. One was doctors, they were upset that they were not getting a piece of the pie. The protestants, the second group, were upset because white, middle and upper class, protestant woman were now getting frequent abortions. The original outlawing of abortion had to do with doctors wanting money, under the guise of controlling anything they would deem to be medical, and the fear the protestants had about being outnumbered by the Catholics. The Catholics weren’t as worried, abortion was strongly against their religious tenants and the obedient posed no threat, they were out there being fruitful and multiplying, even where the children could not be fed.

You see, religious leaders longed for the days when religion dominated government. In Republics, like ours, this was eliminated, but the easy solution was to outnumber other religions – control the populous. That way, the majority of elected officials would share your belief system and the laws would be shaped to reflect and enforce that singular religious set of values and morals over any other set. Americans, and their elected officials have, for a few centuries now, been dominated by white, European Christians. This has now changed because of immigration. And in another 30 to 50 years, for the first time in this country, white, European Christians will be in the minority. Not surprisingly, we see an increase in white, nationalist Christians wanting to solidify their powerbase, and the only way to maintain control for the long-term is to limit immigration. And what better way to package and sell this idea than FEAR. After-all, those in power don’t want to admit they are really opposed to other religious beliefs.

I don’t think the real fear is rooted in Islamic Extremism. I think the fear is that Muslims are growing in number world-wide, and growing in populous in the US. And those in control don’t approve of Muslim values and teachings – they are still fighting the battle of proving their God is the best and superior God – instead of actually acquiring any spiritual awareness. Terrorism provides a convenient excuse for other agendas, like “othering” an entire group of people on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion to purposely discriminate and eliminate if possible. For example, terrorism has been an excuse used by the Russians to invade in the Ukraine and involve itself in Syria. And “fake news,” just like the label of “terrorism,” will now be used to discredit any source in opposition to any agenda being propagated by those in control. Almost all of the terrorism that has occurred in this country has been from home-grown terrorists – good white Christians. They all had their justifications.

People can choose not to act from the basis of fear and make intelligent and lawful choices, but will they? People are easily led by fear-mongering.  A couple of quotes come to mind:

“Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear–kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor-with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it …” — General Douglas MacArthur.

“Of course, the people don’t want war…that is understood. But voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” — Hermann Goering.

Next year, will there be too many Germans, Italians, or Chinese in this country? That’s why our forefathers designed the Constitution the way they did – to prevent all forms of discrimination and one of the primary means for preserving this country’s freedom has been to keep religion separated from politics.

Good luck playing the discrimination game, two generations from now this country will look a lot different than it does now. In another 500 years we may only have one race – what will the racists and bigots discriminate against then – oh yeah, there is still religion : – )

 ***

Photo:  This photo was found on the Internet in the public domain.  I’ve been unable to find any other attribution for its source.

Gray Days

In November, long before the Winter Solstice, we will experience the first of many “gray days.”  The trees now bare, having shed their leaves, draw charcoal lines across an infinite sky of nothingness.

Gray is considered to lie exactly between white and black and is actually called “achromatic,” which is a contradiction in terms – to have a colorless color?  It has also been described as refracting light without spectral color separation, or as having zero saturation and no hue.  And while we might struggle to find words to convey the absence of something, there are certainly plenty to describe the feelings that are aroused by these gray days.

As if they may be called “days,” residing, instead, somewhere between the light of day and darkness of night, a sort of twilight time.  An extended boundary between the birth and death of a day.

Simply stated, these gray days are depressing.  But that word is far too vague to instill a true sensory perception.  Drab, ashen, somber, leaden, stone cold, cineritious, favillous, worn, anemic, pasty, melancholic, sallow, blah, sullied, faded, dreary, muted, gloomy, caliginous, tenebrous, bleak, washed out, dismal, and uninspired.

These are the days that suck the spirit right out of you.  Drab, as in lacking brightness; somber, as in humorless; leaden, as in a weight too heavy to bear; ashen, as in the color of death.  And they come, one after the other, after the other . . . trampling the psyche.

Uninspired. Cold. Despairing.  Why would one bother exiting a warm, soft bed on such a day?  The coffee will taste burnt.  Cream putrid. The muffin, singed.  Butter rancid.  Life pales when Grandfather Sun fades, when he retreats to the southern hemisphere.

The winter months are described symbolically as representing death before the season of rebirth – spring.  But there is surely beauty lying within the bleak, even if buried or hibernating in the heart.

It can be unveiled in the snow. Crystalline water sparkling like diamonds.

It’s exhibited in the cedars.  Their healing ever-green luminescence.  Their balsamic, terpenic perfume.

It’s manifest with the birds.  Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, Chickadees, and Finches, even in their winter cloaks, radiate brilliant color and warmth.  They hang in the branches like dazzling ornaments on a Christmas Tree.

It’s uncovered when a doe emerges from her winter bed with her fawns.  Shy and diminutive, alluring brown eyes, graceful as they glide over the snow-covered terrain.

Even the cold, biting wind on these days has balmy stories to tell.  If we listen.  It whispers the legends of wolves on the hunt, devouring their prey to feed the fire burning in their bones.   It speaks of the silent flight of the Owl through the forest.  Their yellow eyes of the night, penetrating the hidden aspects of the soul.  Their tufted ears, hearing with clairvoyance.  They see and hear all.  You cannot hide.

The gray is really a dreamscape.  A blank canvass upon which our minds may paint surrealistic animations.  Silhouettes of structures.  Wild beasts and sensuous lovers.  Warm glows emanating from woodstoves and candle light.  Reflections as old as time.

This artistry, this imagery, burns brightly in our consciousness.  A fire in our hearts that can never be extinguished.  We are the keepers of this eternal flame.

As Thoreau observed:

“There is a slumbering subterranean fire in nature which never goes out, and which no cold can chill…. This subterranean fire has its altar in each [person’s] breast, for in the coldest day, and on the bleakest hill, the traveler cherishes a warmer fire within the folds of [their] cloak than is kindled on any hearth. A healthy [person], indeed, is the complement of the seasons, and in winter, summer is in [their] heart.”

Yes, why would someone roust themselves from their slumbers on such a bleak, gray day?  To write about it, of course . . .

***

Photo:  I caught this scene early one December morning.  The humidity and cold created “ice fog.”  This fog lifts, having painted the trees with a coating of ice.  The ice lasted about fifteen minutes before the air had become warm enough to melt it.  The world of images, ever transient.

** If you are wondering about the bracketed words in the quote, I replaced all of the male oriented pronouns with gender neutral ones.  The writers of old, while quite eloquent, often wrote as though women didn’t exist.  I don’t particularly care for that.

 

 

 

 

Paint Me a Masterpiece by Gordon MacKenzie

This is an excerpt (the last chapter) from the book called: “Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace” that was written by Gordon MacKenzie.  While MacKenzie uses the word “God,” I believe you could substitute whatever entity or title you wished, your own belief in what constitutes the “Source,” and the message still rings true.  Enjoy.

Paint Me a Masterpiece

In your mind, conjure an image of the Mona Lisa.  Visualize that masterpiece’s subtleties of hue and tone as clearly as you can.

Next, shift to the image of a paint-by-numbers Mona Lisa.  Envision the flat, raw, colors meeting hard-edged, one against the other.

Now let me relate a fantasy about masterpieces, paint-by-numbers and you. It goes like this:

Before you were born, God came to you and said:

“Hi there!  I just dropped by to wish you luck. And to assure you that you and I will be meeting again.  Soon.  Before you know it.

You’re heading out on an adventure that will be filled with fascinating experiences.  You’ll start out as a tiny speck floating in an infinite dark ocean, quite saturated with nutrients.  So you won’t have to go looking for food or a job or anything like that. All you’ll have to do is float in the darkness.  And grow incredibly.

And change miraculously.

You’ll sprout arms and legs.  And hands and feet.  And fingers and toes.

As if from nothing, your head will take form.  Your nose.  Your mouth.  Your eyes and ears will emerge.

As you continue to grow bigger and bigger, You will become aware that this dark, oceanic environment of yours – which, when you were tiny, seemed so vast is now actually cramped and confining.  That will lead you to the unavoidable conclusion that you’re going to have to move to a bigger place.

After much groping about in the dark, you will find an exit.  The mouth of a tunnel.

“Too small,” you’ll decide.  “Couldn’t possibly squeeze through there.”

But there will be no other apparent way out.  So, with primal spunk, you will take on your first “impossible” challenge and enter the tunnel.

In doing so, you will be embarking on a brutal no-turning-back, physically exhausting, claustrophobic passage that will introduce you to pain and fear and hard physical labor.  It will seem to take forever.  But mysterious undulations of the tunnel itself will help squirm you through. A nd finally, after what will seem like interminable striving, you will break through to a blinding light.

Giant hands will pull you gently, but firmly, into an enormous room.  There will be several huge people, called adults, huddling around you, as if to greet you. If it is an old-fashioned place, one of these humongous people may hold you upside down by the legs and give you a swat on the backside to get you going.

All this will be what the big people on the other side call being born.  For you, it will be only the first of your new life’s many exploits.”

God continues:

“I was wondering.  While you’re over there on the other side, would you do me a favor?”

“Sure!” you chirp.

“Would you take this artist’s canvas with you and paint a masterpiece for me? I’d really appreciate that.”

Beaming, God hands you a pristine canvas.  You roll it up, tuck it under your arm and head off on your journey.

Your birth is just as God had predicted, and when you come out of the tunnel into the bright room, some doctor or nurse looks down at you in amazement and gasps:

“Look!  The little kid’s carrying a rolled-up artist’s canvas!”

Knowing that you do not yet have the skills to do anything meaningful with your canvas, the big people take it away from you and give it to society for safekeeping until you have acquired the prescribed skills requisite to the canvas’s return.  While society is holding this property of yours, it cannot resist the temptation to unroll the canvas and draw pale blue lines and little blue numbers all over its virgin surface.  Eventually, the canvas is returned to you, its rightful owner.  However, it now carries the implied message that if you will paint inside the blue lines and follow the instructions of the little blue numbers your life will be a masterpiece.

And that is a lie.

For more than fifty years I worked on my paint-by-numbers creation.  With uneven but persistent diligence, I dipped an emaciated paint-by-numbers brush into color No. 1 and painstakingly painted inside each little blue-bordered area marked 1.  Then on to 2 and 3 and 4 and so on.  Sometimes, during restive periods of my life, I would paint, say, the 12 spaces before the 10 spaces (a token rebellion against overdoses of linearity).  More than once, I painted beyond a line and, feeling embarrassed, would either try to wipe off the errant color or cover it over with another before anyone might notice my lack of perfection.  From time to time, although not often, someone would compliment me, unconvincingly, on the progress of my “masterpiece.”  I would gaze at the richness of others’ canvases.  Doubt about my own talent for painting gnawed at me.  Still, I continued to fill in the little numbered spaces, unaware of, or afraid to look at, any real alternative.

Then there came a time, after half a century of daubing more or less inside the lines, that my days were visited by traumatic events.  The dividends of my noxious past came home to roost, and the myth of my life began horrifically to come unglued.  I pulled back from my masterpiece-in-the-works and saw it with an emerging clarity.

It looked awful.

The stifled strokes of paint had nothing to do with me.  They did not illustrate who I am or speak of whom I could become. I felt duped, cheated, ashamed – anguished that I had wasted so much canvas, so much paint.  I was angry that I had been conned into doing so.

But that is the past.  Passed.

Today I wield a wider brush – pure ox-bristle.  And I’m swooping it through the sensuous goo of Cadmium Yellow, Alizarin Crimson or Ultramarine Blue (not Nos. 4, 13 or 8) to create the biggest, brightest, funniest, fiercest damn dragon that I can.  Because that has more to do with what’s inside of me than some prescribed plagirism of somebody else’s tour de force.

You have a masterpiece inside you, too, you know.  One unlike any that has ever been created, or ever will be.

And remember:

If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece,

it will not get painted.

No one else can paint it.

Only you.

***

Photo: This masterpiece was painted by Claude Monet and is called “The Japanese Footbridge.”  Oil on canvass – 1899.  I took this pic when the portrait was on display in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Balance

I’ve noticed on social media that the hosts are doing things to try to keep their participants engaged.  It makes sense, there is so much going on and we all can’t be tweeting, linkingin, facebooking, instagraming, blogging, emailing, texting, etc., all at the same time. There simply isn’t enough time in the day; at east not if you expect to take a deep breath once and a while, or keep your life in balance.

When I lapsed in making posts on Twitter they began sending me summaries of my followers’ tweets.  I guess to try to pull me back into interacting on their forum.  “Come back, come back,” they cried.  They probably have advertising dollars at interest – more viewers, more money for them.  Sorry, that’s the cynic in me.

On LinkedIn, I suddenly began receiving notifications called “Daily Rundown.”  Now these I actually like, because they give brief synopses of trending news stories in the business world.  You can skim them fast and be on your way.  And, two of these posts caught my attention in the past couple of days.

First, I learned that: “The world got a new billionaire every two days last year — a new record, according to a report from Oxfam International. Wealth is “increasingly concentrated” at the top, the charity says, with 82% of money generated last year going to the richest 1%. The world’s 2,043 billionaires saw wealth surge $762 billion in 2017, and billionaire wealth has grown an average 13% per year between 2006 and 2015.”

Second, in America: “We don’t have a shortage of jobs, but we might have a shortage of employers — and that could explain why wages aren’t rising. Hourly pay, adjusted for inflation, has grown by a meager 0.2% a year since the early 1970s. A group of economists argue in a working paper that limited competition between employers — due to mergers and other forms of industry consolidation — may be a prime culprit, reports Slate. The economists found that, between 2010 and 2013, local job markets were dominated by a disconcertingly small number of employers. It’s called a monopsony: A situation where a company is pretty much the only game in town, giving them major sway over suppliers, business partners, and employees.”

So it seems that 1% of the people world-wide control 82% of the world’s entire wealth, and their wealth grows at the current rate of 13% every year.  And I’m not sure what wages look like in other countries, but in America, wages have only been growing at the rate of 0.2% a year for the past almost 50 years – that’s 10% growth over 50 years.  Wow!  What a disparity.  Things certainly seem out of balance, especially from a socioeconomic humanitarian point of view.

It seems, at least in some circles, there is more concern for consolidating individual wealth and power than there is for helping our fellow humans or contributing to the growth of community.

I remember back to my senior year of nursing school.  I was in a professional development course and the topic was centered on socioeconomics and health.  I don’t remember how the conversation started but I remember adding that I would be willing to lower my standard of living to help improve the standard of living of others.  The instructor asked the class if anyone else agreed with me.  Not a single student raised their hand.  And perhaps there is an illustration of the problem.  I don’t blame the individuals, it is the way people are socialized and the values they are taught.

We can all do things, even small things, to help achieve balance.  Balance in ourselves, balance between work and home, balance between taking and giving.  While certainly not in all sectors, the scales seem to have tipped away from humanitarianism.

Thoughts?

***

Photo:  From a Japanese Garden in Idaho.

Update: Some new numbers to mull over, but I wouldn’t let the numbers get you down.  I put a premium on happiness and peace of mind.  They aren’t measuring these when they take these surveys.

From LinkedIn this morning (Jan. 27th, 2018) – a success survey to show what Americans think defines “Making It.” “For the average American, the picture of success is about $150,000 in annual income, marriage, a couple kids, a 10-minute commute, and a generous amount of vacation time, reports MarketWatch, citing survey data from ThermaSoft.”

Last time I checked the average income for a family of four was around $50K, but that number included benefits. And over half of Americans had only $1000 or less in savings. It looks like the materialistic brainwashing is way out of step with reality, or basically, very few people are “Making It.”

From the article: “This is what success looks like to the average American” in MarketWatch.

Making It Graph

Another Update – March 11, 2018: We now have a dollar amount of what equates to “happiness.” It apparently takes earnings of $60 to $75k a year to be “happy.” But you have to earn $95K to achieve “fulfillment.”  See the full article: “How Much Money Do You Need To Be Happy? More Than Most People Are Making.” Again, I don’t believe happiness is measured in terms of material wealth, but we do live in a society that does.

Another Update – March 15, 2018: I try to keep updating this post with relevant material and another piece of the puzzle came along today.  This one is about health care and what happens to our income if we need to be hospitalized.  I’m quoting from the article “Getting Sick Can Really be Expensive, Even for the Insured.”  “On average, people in their 50s who are admitted to the hospital will experience a 20 percent drop in income that persists for years. Over all, income losses dwarfed the direct costs of medical care.”  Also:  “A 2015 survey conducted by The Upshot and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that, among people struggling to pay medical bills, 29 percent said their illness or injury had led to a drop in household income.” It seems, the US is behind other advanced countries that offer some form wage insurance.  Since the leading causes of bankruptcy in this country are divorce and a single serious illness, medical treatment represents a huge factor in individual wealth and security.  A healthy lifestyle and insurance goes along way to help maintain economic “balance.”  These are strong arguments for a universal health care program.

Update – March 26, 2018: The average Wall Street bonus in 2017 was $184,220, according to the Washington Post.  This represents a 17% increase from the previous year.  It is also the closest the industry has come to its pre-2008-crisis high of $191,360 in 2006, according to data from the New York State comptroller. The financial industry’s revenue increased 4.5% last year to $153 billion. Wall Street accounts for less than 5 percent of local jobs but 20 percent of private sector wages in the city.

Update – May 17, 2018: I think this study sums up something I’ve been saying for a very long time.  The stock market is not an actual measure of the wealth of the average American.  Historic stock market highs only mean a few selective people are getting wealthy.  The study found that 34.7 million working U.S. households live above the official poverty line, but below the cost of paying ordinary expenses.  That is double the 16.1 million that are in actual poverty.  “These are households with adults who are working but earning too little — 66% of Americans earn less than $20 an hour, or about $40,000 a year if they are working full time.”

You can find the summary of the results of the study here: 40% in U.S. can’t afford middle-class basics, and the full report here: Do You Know Alice?  As with all web links, they are subject to “link rot” and the article may not be there forever.  “Alice,” by the way, stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.”

Update – May 23, 2018: Well the economic data just keeps coming.  This time it is from the Federal Reserve’s Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017.  I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves, but it looks as though few Americans are going to be able to afford retirement.

Economic Well-Being

A large majority of individuals report that financially they are doing okay or living comfortably, and overall economic well-being has improved over the past five years. Even so, notable differences remain across various subpopulations, including those of race, ethnicity, and educational attainment.

• When asked about their finances, 74 percent of adults said they were either doing okay or living comfortably in 2017—over 10 percentage points more than in the first survey in 2013.

• Individuals of all education levels have shared in the improvement over the past five years, though the more educated still report greater well-being than those less educated.

• Over three-fourths of whites were at least doing okay financially in 2017 versus less than two-thirds of blacks and Hispanics.

• Three in five urban residents describe the economy in their local community as good or excellent versus two in five rural residents who offer this positive of an assessment of local conditions.

The latest SHED interviewed a sample of over 12,000 individuals—roughly twice the number in prior years—with an online survey in November and December 2017. The anonymized data, as well as a supplement containing the complete SHED questionnaire and responses to responses to all questions in the order asked, are also available at http://www.federalreserve.gov/ consumerscommunities/shed.htm.

In an effort to understand how the opioid crisis may relate to economic well-being, the survey asked questions related to opioids for the first time. About one-fifth of adults (and one-quarter of white adults) personally know someone who has been addicted to opioids. Exposure to opioid addiction was much more common among whites—at all education levels—than minorities. Those who have been exposed to addiction have somewhat less favorable assessments of economic conditions than those who have not been exposed.

Income

Changes in family income from month to month remain a source of financial strain for some individuals. Financial support from family or friends is also common, particularly among young adults.

• Three in 10 adults have family income that varies from month to month, and 1 in 10 adults experienced hardship because of monthly changes in income.

• Nearly 25 percent of young adults under age 30, and 10 percent of all adults, receive some form of financial support from someone living outside their home.

Employment

Most workers are satisfied with the wages and benefits from their current job and are optimistic about their future job opportunities. Even so, challenges, such as irregular job scheduling, remain for some. Three in 10 adults work in the “gig economy,” though generally as a supplemental source of income.

• Less than one-fifth of non-retired adults are pessimistic about their future employment opportunities, although pessimism is greater among those looking for work or working part time for economic reasons.

• One-sixth of workers have irregular work schedules imposed by their employer, and one-tenth of workers receive their work schedule less than a week in advance.

• For many, stability of income is valued highly. Three-fifths of workers would prefer a hypothetical job with stable pay over one with varying but somewhat higher pay. Those who work an irregular schedule in their actual job are somewhat more likely to prefer varying pay in the hypothetical choice than those who work a set schedule.

• Three in 10 adults participated in the gig economy in 2017. This is up slightly from 2016 due to an increase in gig activities that are not computer or internet-based, such as child care or house cleaning.

Dealing with Unexpected Expenses

While self-reported financial preparedness has improved substantially over the past five years, a sizeable share of adults nonetheless say that they would struggle with a modest unexpected expense.

• Four in 10 adults, if faced with an unexpected expense of $400, would either not be able to cover it or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money. This is an improvement from half of adults in 2013 being ill-prepared for such an expense.

• Over one-fifth of adults are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full.

• Over one-fourth of adults skipped necessary medical care in 2017 due to being unable to afford the cost.

Banking and Credit

Access to bank accounts expanded further in 2017. However, substantial gaps in banking and credit services exist among minorities and those with low incomes.

• Nearly 95 percent of all adults have a bank or credit union account. However, this varies by race and ethnicity. One in 10 blacks and Hispanics lack a bank account, and an additional 3 in 10 have an account but also utilize alternative financial services, such as money orders and check cashing services.

• One-fourth of blacks are not confident that a new credit card application for them would be approved—twice the rate among whites.

Housing and Neighborhoods

Satisfaction with one’s housing and neighborhood is generally high, although notably less so in lower income communities. Renters face varying degrees of housing strain, including some who report difficulty getting repairs done or being forced to move due to a threat of eviction.

• While 8 in 10 adults living in middle- and upper income neighborhoods are satisfied with the overall quality of their community, only 6 in 10 living in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods are satisfied.

• Nearly half of adults age 22 and older currently live within 10 miles of where they lived in high school, but those who have moved farther from home are more likely to be satisfied with the overall quality of their neighborhood.

• Three percent of renters were evicted or moved because of the threat of eviction in the past two years.

Higher Education

Economic well-being rises with education, and most of those holding a postsecondary degree think that attending college paid off. The net benefits of education are less evident among those who started college but did not complete their degree; the same is true among those who attended for-profit institutions.

• Two-thirds of graduates from bachelor’s degree programs feel that their educational investment paid off, but less than one-third of those who started but did not complete a degree share this view.

• Just over half of those who attended a for-profit institution say that they would attend a different school if they had a chance to go back and make their college choices again. By comparison, less than one-quarter of those who attended not-for-profit institutions would want to attend a different school.

Student Loans

Over half of college attendees under age 30 took on some debt to pay for their education. Most borrowers are current on their payments or have successfully paid off their loans, although those who failed to complete a degree and those who attended for-profit institutions are more likely to have fallen behind on their payments.

• Among those making payments on their student loans, the typical monthly payment is between $200 and $300 per month.

• Nearly one-fourth of borrowers who went to for-profit schools are behind on their loan payments, versus less than one-tenth of borrowers who went to public or private not-for-profit institutions.

Retirement

Many adults feel behind in their savings for retirement. Even among those who have some savings, people commonly lack financial knowledge and are uncomfortable making investment decisions.

• Less than two-fifths of non-retired adults think that their retirement savings are on track, and one-fourth have no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.

• Three-fifths of non-retirees with self-directed retirement savings accounts, such as a 401(k) or IRA, have little or no comfort in managing their investments.

• On average, people answer fewer than three out of five basic financial literacy questions correctly, with lower scores among those who are less comfortable managing their retirement savings.

Update – May 28, 2018: A new survey by the Pew research center that examined issues facing rural and urban households found many similarities.  A couple of the interesting responses are that some 60% of the respondents say they cannot afford the life they want, and that workers across all areas in the US have seen their wages drop by 1 to 3%.  You could compare that with the wage stagnation cited above when I made the original post.  The Pew report is here:

Five charts prove urban and rural Americans have the same problems

Update – June 24, 2018:  Home prices and mortgage rates have outpaced wages so fast that now 75% of US wage earners cannot afford the median price of a home, which has risen to a record $264,800.

U.S. Homes Prices Least Affordable in Almost a Decade

Update – August 12, 2018: The 2018 World Inequity Report

So here are some of the take-aways from this report with respect to the U.S.

2.4 Income inequality in the United States

Information in this chapter is based on the article “Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States,” by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, forthcoming in the Quarterly Journal of Economics (2018).

Income inequality in the United States is among the highest of all rich countries. The share of national income earned by the top 1% of adults in 2014 (20.2%) is much larger than the share earned by the bottom 50% of the adult population (12.5%).

Average pre-tax real national income per adult has increased 60% since 1980, but it has stagnated for the bottom 50% at around $16 500. While post-tax cash incomes of the bottom 50% have also stagnated, a large part of the modest post-tax income growth of this group has been eaten up by increased health spending.

Income has boomed at the top. While the upsurge of top incomes was first a labor-income phenomenon in 1980s and 1990s, it has mostly been a capital-income phenomenon since 2000.

The combination of an increasingly less progressive tax regime and a transfer system that favors the middle class implies that, even after taxes and all transfers, bottom 50% income growth has lagged behind average income growth since 1980.

Increased female participation in the labor market has been a counterforce to rising inequality, but the glass ceiling remains firmly in place. Men make up 85% of the top 1% of the labor income distribution.

Income inequality in the United States is among the highest of rich countries
In 2014, the distribution of US national income exhibited extremely high inequalities. The average income of an adult in the United States before accounting for taxes and transfers was $66 100, but this figure masks huge differences in the distribution of incomes. The approximately 117 million adults that make up the bottom 50% in the United States earned $16 600 on average per year, representing just one-fourth of the average US income. As illustrated by table 2.4.1, their collective incomes amounted to a 13% share of pre-tax national income. The average pre-tax income of the middle 40%—the group of adults with incomes above the median and below the richest 10%, which can be loosely described as the “middle class”—was roughly similar to the national average, at $66 900, so that their income share (41%) broadly reflected their relative size in the population. The remaining income share for the top 10% was therefore 47%, with average pre-tax earnings of $311 000. This average annual income of the top 10% is almost five times the national average, and nineteen times larger than the average for the bottom 50%. Furthermore, the 1:19 ratio between the incomes of the bottom 50% and the top 10% indicates that pre-tax income inequality between the “lower class” and the “upper class” is more than twice the (1:8 ratio) difference between the average national incomes in the United States and China, using market exchange rates.

Income is very concentrated, even among the top 10%. For example, the share of national income going to the top 1%, a group of approximately 2.3 million adults who earn $1.3 million on average per annum, is over 20%—that is, 1.6 times larger than the share of the entire bottom 50%, a group fifty times more populous. The incomes of those in the top 0.1%, top 0.01%, and top 0.001% average $6 million, $29 million, and $125 million per year, respectively, before personal taxes and transfers.

As shown by Table 2.4.1, the distribution of national income in the United States in 2014 was generally made slightly more equitable by the country’s taxes and transfer system. Taxes and transfers reduce the share of national income for the top 10% from 47% to 39%, which is split between a one percentage point rise in the post-tax income share of the middle 40% (from 40.5% to 41.6%) and a seven percentage point increase in the post-tax income share of the bottom 50% (from 12.5% to 19.4%). The trend is also of relatively large proportionate losses in income shares as one looks further up the income distribution, indicating that government taxes are slightly progressive for the United States’ richest adults.

Update – August 19, 2018: This one is on CEO compensation, and it comes to us from Pacific Standard and their article titled: “CEOs Got a Big Raise in 2017.”  We can sum this one up with a few quotes from the article.

“In 2017, the ‘average CEO of the 350 largest firms in the United States received $18.9 million in compensation, a 17.6 percent increase over 2016,’ the report states. (By another measure, which includes stock options granted, average CEO compensation rose from $13.0 million in 2016, to $13.3 million in 2017.)”

“Between 1978 and 2017, CEO compensation (including stock options realized) increased by 1,070 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute report. During this same time period, compensation for the typical American worker increased by 11.2 percent.”

“Today, as a result of this surge, the average CEO’s compensation (including stock options realized) is 312 times that of the typical worker, a ratio that’s dramatically higher than the 1980s (although still not quite as high as in 2000).”

“The Trump administration maintains that wage growth for average Americans will come, although even fans of the tax reform legislation suggest it may not be ‘immediate.’ In a report released yesterday, the Tax Foundation, a center-right think tank whose modeling of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s effects has typically been more optimistic than most other models, projected that long-term wages will increase by 1.5 percent. Nicole Kaeding, the Tax Foundation’s director of federal projects, told the Washington Post that they ‘definitely think it’s going to take a few years for this to obviously manifest.'”

So there you have it.  The CEOs win the lottery every year while the average wage earner’s income can’t even match inflation.

Update – December 18, 2018: Even rent is becoming unaffordable and contributing to the growing housing crisis. “Since 2001, gross rent has increased 3 percent a year, on average, while income has declined by an average of 0.1 percent annually, falling from $56,531 in 2001 to $56,516 in 2015.  This widening gap between rent and income means that after paying rent, many Americans have less money available for other needs than they did 20 years ago.” See the PEW research article American Families Face a Growing Rent Burden for more.

Update – January 27, 2019: I came across two articles of interest today.  One discusses how the super-rich are becoming younger, not by working and earning wealth but through inheritance.  The big take-away from this study is not about the wealthy, the big news is that typical Americans saw their net worth plunge 41% between 2007 and 2016.  From the article:

Even as more young people entered the top 0.1 percent, most of their Millennial and Generation X compatriots were struggling. Americans 75 and older are the only age group whose median net worth rose from 2007 to 2016, according to the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer of Finances released in July 2018. Typical Americans age 35 to 54 saw their wealth—heavily concentrated in housing—plunge by more than 41 percent in that time frame.

Source is Bloomberg News:  Super Rich Americans Are Getting Younger and Multiplying

The next article addresses the issue of how older Americans can no longer afford to retire.  The factors contributing were: (1) the financial crisis in 2008 that wiped out many nest eggs; (2) the inability to save for retirement, i.e., low wages and wage stagnation; (3) children no longer earn enough to help support their parents; (4) the shrinking birth rate resulting in less paying into Social Security and Medicare; and (5) the decrease in immigration due to current White House policy.  The lack of low-wage earning immigrants means child care costs are higher, which discourages population growth.  And less immigration also means there are less immigrants that pay into our safety net systems because they pay more in to it than they receive in benefits.

Source is Bloomberg News: Too Many Americans Will Never Be Able to Retire

***

Note: All web links are subject to link rot and I cannot guarantee the links will take you to those sites forever.

 

The Mythical Arrowhead

This piece was published under the title of “Found Your Arrowhead? Seek This Counsel In The Natural World,” in The Urban Howl on November 8, 2017.   I highly recommend you check out this wonderful online publication at http://theurbanhowl.com/.  I have since completed a more expansive version of this article.  If you would like to read it, let me know in a comment.

“Found Your Arrowhead? Seek This Counsel In The Natural World”

by Harold Stearley

Knowing, or believing, something exists doesn’t mean that you will find It, or that you should search for It.

As with many people I know, the past couple of years have been a time of great change, of searching, a call to become whole again. We have searched and found before, but we’ve lost pieces of our soul going through the grinder of daily existence in a world that values the material over the spiritual, that places labels over substance, illusion over reality.

My current search began with the “dissolving” of a marriage and the loss of a career by forces seemingly outside the realm of personal control. Or did I somehow manifest this destruction to force myself to rediscover my true nature? The answer to that question is now irrelevant to the path I walk.

The marriage hit a melting point when my wife evolved into an end-stage alcoholic and nothing could persuade her to seek treatment.

The career flame was extinguished as the result of internal office politics – I would not succumb to playing their corrupt games – outsiders and misfits are usually left outside, perhaps with a note begging for adoption.

So now what, where do I go from here?

Where do all of us go from a starting point of what we perceive is darkness and despair – a contraction of space and time? Do you start believing the crowd of voices in your head entrenched there from years of social “domestication,” the “mitote” as the Toltecs call it, telling you that you are not good enough, not beautiful enough, not smart enough, don’t make enough – the ever-gnawing feelings of inadequacy – the ever-present need to acquire more? More what?

Will all of the “shoulds” injected into your mind from the moment of your first breath predominate every step you take – fill every “rational” conscious thought? Will the search for a definition and identity of your ego be satiated by finding a new label?

Will another hollow paycheck somehow provide “meaning” to the fabricated definition of who you are? Will the ever-turning wheels in your mind condemn you to the prison of living in the past and in future projections, instead of experiencing the here and now?

Perhaps it’s time to awaken to the fact that the true journey is inward. Answers, awareness, enlightenment, and true happiness do not come from external sources.

My search began externally with looking for a new job, a new living location, perhaps a new partner. After a year of re-learning to live alone, of constant rejection of job applications, and upon finding defects with every possible living location I explored, I woke from my slumbers. I awakened to realize that I was enjoying, in the present moment, the things that had come to fill my time.

The daily ventures into nature, the meditation of motion and stillness, the re-connection with “reality.” The “real world” that surrounds us is filled with infinite riches and beauty, which most overlook. Like the caterpillar, I was transforming. I was repossessing what I had lost.

Upon achieving some balance, real magick begins to happen. New connections materialize. Some of these connections are there to show you that you’re on the right path, others to show you what to avoid. Your intuition is developed. Just like the mole who has sacrificed vision in return for all its other senses becoming heightened, you sacrifice illusion, a life style, possessions, sometimes even rationality, in exchange to feel and experience truth, to know in your heart what nourishes your soul.

False messages still come and can gain intensity; beckoning you to return to the land of illusion.

The bait to step back into that world of darkness and confusion can take many forms. In my case, I am presented with a job opportunity, which has now acquired a sense of oddness since the beginning of this walk when I spent hours seeking some job that was seemingly always beyond grasp. And, as I mechanically prepare for an interview, I ask, why now?

To contemplate this change in direction, a possible new path that could really be a return to an old one that no longer serves, I seek out counsel with the natural world.

It has never misled me or given me false promises. I hike. I find myself standing in a creek bed, surrounded by the sound and essence of moving water and by hundreds of thousands of pieces of limestone and chert. Chert is a very hard silicate-based, sedimentary stone that when struck forcefully enough and at the right angle produces conchoidal fractures with extremely sharp edges.

Most people know the variety of chert called flint that can give rise to fire – a powerful nature indeed – that of transformation, illumination, or destruction. Because of its fracturing qualities, chert was also the perfect stone for the Natives to craft arrow and spearheads and other cutting tools – sharp as a razor and stronger than steel.

I know as I stand here, contemplating and seeking guidance, that there is an Arrowhead among these stones.

Missouri Creek - Rocks

It is a given that rivers, streams and creeks are the best places to find them, where the earth has been eroded by the waters – the feminine universal womb, the source of all potentialities. Many treasures are revealed by the waters’ power to purify. And a natural curiosity, plus a desire to acquire such a power object, sparks the urge to hunt for it, to search it out, to discover its mystery. Being more intuitive now, however, I ask, what is the real message I’m receiving? And why did this imagery suddenly pop into my mind from nowhere? Time to consult the symbolism and ancient wisdom of the Earth.

The Arrowhead is said to represent the hunter and adventurer in each of us, as well as alertness, for it takes a good eye and strong arm to use a bow and arrow. It is also believed to indicate protection and courage and to signify direction, force, movement, and power.

Arrows pointed in opposite directions meant war, while a broken arrow meant peace, and crossed arrows meant friendship. Arrows are piecing, representing the masculine. The flight of arrows can symbolize the accent to the celestial. And an arrow, once let loose from the bow, results in consequences that cannot be undone, whether the arrow hits or misses its intended target.

As I stood there in that creek bed reflecting, I couldn’t help but notice the obvious. I was not moving in any direction. I was static. To stare and search for this Mythical Arrowhead amongst a million other stones, is not advancement down any path. The Arrowhead is not mythical in the sense of being a falsehood, it does exist. And, it is not some traditional story involving supernatural beings that somehow speaks to the psychology, or customs, or ideals of a society either. Rather, it serves as an allegory – not a cold definition but full of warmth in its meaning.

I could spend many hours being static in a search that produces no results, that hits no target, that creates little more than frustration. This speaks a little to the past years’ events. Or one might find the Arrowhead, secure it to the shaft and let it fly, it’s effects being unchangeable.

It may miss the intended mark and not fall on the path of enlightenment and happiness. But even if it hits the target aimed for, if that target is based on illusion and false “shoulds” that bring no spiritual advancement, then you’ve hit no target at all. You have to have both, a proper path or target, and you must lodge that arrow squarely in that target with a clean shot. So, if you’ve found the target, then, perhaps, it is truly worth the search to find the arrow to strike it.

But, the real message I believe I’m receiving is not to seek out something mythical with a false believe of attaining Bodhi in a place external to your soul. And once one realizes that, and takes the inward journey instead, then perhaps there is no reason to seek out the Arrowhead and all its power at all, perhaps we’ve already found it.

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Arrowhead