Monthly Archives: October 2011

What does English sound like to a Foreigner?

Standard

What does English sound like to a foreigner? [VID]

By On October 13, 2011 · 25 Comments

Photo by lemasney

Even if you don’t speak a word of a language, chances are you can identify it based on the sounds you hear.

GLOTTAL STOPS, LILTS, PITCH – there’s a lot more to hearing a language than just the words. Do you speak German? If not, do you know when you hear someone speaking German? Probably so.

And what about English? More than once, I’ve attempted to hear English through the ears of a non-speaker by eavesdropping on a conversation and going into an almost meditative state, focusing on the sounds and not the words. It only lasts for a few seconds at a time.

This short film, entitled “Skwerl,” gives us an idea of what English sounds like. I have to applaud these actors for managing to get through this without laughing. Their “English-ish” language seems to be a mix of actual English words and sounds in a nonsensical order. (See if you can catch “Elton John” and “make the pope cream.”)

 

 

 

Advertisements

Having lived in appalachia…

Standard

I’m pretty offended.

Coal lawyers hit with ethics complaint over remarks about inbreeding in Appalachian coalfields

October 6, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

Regular readers of Coal Tattoo will certainly recall the incident in July when coal industry lawyers from the firm Crowell & Moring tried to blame the increased rate of birth defects among residents near Appalachian surface mining sites on inbreeding.

Remember what they said (without even being able to spell the word correctly)?

The study failed to account for consanquinity [sic], one of the most prominent sources of birth defects.

Crowell and Moring removed the material from its firm website and a spokeswoman issued an apology … But it appears the lawyers involved haven’t heard the last of this.

Earlier this week, a former West Virginia lawyer who now teaches at the Charlotte School of Law in North Carolina filed a formal ethics complaint against attorneys Clifford J. Zatz, William L. Anderson, Kirsten L. Nathanson, and Monica M. Welt over the matter.

Assistant law professor Jason Huber alleged that the four Crowell & Moring lawyers violated the Washington, D.C., Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers because their web post “contained a materially misleading statement in an attempt to solicit business from the coal mining industry.”  Huber wrote:

The advertisement perpetuates and exploits the empirically debunked notion that inbreeding is regularly practiced by the Appalachian People.  Despite the firm’s frequently flaunted ‘ample’ and ‘significant’ experience in birth defect litigation, the authors failed to recognize the lack of scientific evidence to support their attempt to mislead the reader into believing that Appalachian incest, not mountaintop removal mining, caused the observed birth defects.

I’ve posted a copy of the ethics complaint and related materials here. Nicole Quigley, a spokeswoman for Crowell & Moring, issued this statement in response to my inquiry:

We again express our regret for any offense that might have been taken with the client alert, as it was meant only to relay a possible flaw with a scientific study. However, the complaint is without merit.

The complaint cited rules 7.1(a) and 8.4(c) of the D.C. Bar’s rules. Under those rules:

A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it:  Contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading…

The complaint said:

The ill-conceived assertion that ‘the study failed to account for consanquinity [sic] one of the most prominent sources of birth defects’ was materially misleading for two reasons.

First, the authors’ assertion is based on the patently false premise that higher rates of inbreeding occur in Appalachian communities where mountaintop removal mining is most prevalent.

… Second, the advertisement misleads the reader into discrediting the study by implying that consanguinity is usually accounted for in similar studies.

The complaint concluded:

Appalachian stereotypes have been scientifically disproven, and yet they persist in popular culture precisely because of statements like the one published on Crowell & Moring’s website. Capitalizing on such inaccurate stereotypes in attorney advertising is extraordinarily unprofessional, misleading and prejudicial to the people lawyers serve and to the public in general.

This is especially true in light of the firm’s ties to the mining industry and the preexisting tension between the industry and the Appalachian people It is sound policy for the Bar to punish the use of misleading stereotypes in attorney advertising. The authors of the advertisement neglected their duties and violated the mandate that ‘the rules do not  … exhaust the moral and ethical consideration that should inform a lawyer.”

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 8:00 am and is filed under Legal actions, Mountaintop Removal. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Scraping away the Skin on Skull Nickels

Standard

Scraping Away the Skin on Skull Nickels

September 28th, 2011 at 3:07 pm
Art, Picture Pages

Skulls Carved into Hobo Nickels

The term “Hobo Nickel” describes any small-denomination coin (though, normally soft nickels) that people carve to create miniature reliefs of…well, all sorts of things. It started sometime in the 18th century but continues to this day; There’s even an entire society dedicated to the art of nickel carving.
This all sounds stimulating, I know, but have a little faith. As with all types of art, something that seems simple in explanation is made beautiful and complicated in the hands of right artists. Check out a few of these “Skull Nickels“, a very surface view of just what carvers do with these “Hobo Nickels“.

Skulls Carved into Hobo Nickels
Skulls Carved into Hobo Nickels
Skulls Carved into Hobo Nickels
Skulls Carved into Hobo Nickels
Skulls Carved into Hobo Nickels

Source – Colossal Art & Design

And the income gap gets worse…

Standard

 

 

 

Inequality

Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.
THE FAT AND THE FURIOUS The top 1 percent may have the best houses, educations, and lifestyles, says the author, but “their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live.”

I t’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.

S ome people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie. That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America’s—is not likely to do well over the long haul. There are several reasons for this.

First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.

Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

E conomists are not sure how to fully explain the growing inequality in America. The ordinary dynamics of supply and demand have certainly played a role: laborsaving technologies have reduced the demand for many “good” middle-class, blue-collar jobs. Globalization has created a worldwide marketplace, pitting expensive unskilled workers in America against cheap unskilled workers overseas. Social changes have also played a role—for instance, the decline of unions, which once represented a third of American workers and now represent about 12 percent.

But one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1 percent want it that way. The most obvious example involves tax policy. Lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride. Monopolies and near monopolies have always been a source of economic power—from John D. Rockefeller at the beginning of the last century to Bill Gates at the end. Lax enforcement of anti-trust laws, especially during Republican administrations, has been a godsend to the top 1 percent. Much of today’s inequality is due to manipulation of the financial system, enabled by changes in the rules that have been bought and paid for by the financial industry itself—one of its best investments ever. The government lent money to financial institutions at close to 0 percent interest and provided generous bailouts on favorable terms when all else failed. Regulators turned a blind eye to a lack of transparency and to conflicts of interest.

When you look at the sheer volume of wealth controlled by the top 1 percent in this country, it’s tempting to see our growing inequality as a quintessentially American achievement—we started way behind the pack, but now we’re doing inequality on a world-class level. And it looks as if we’ll be building on this achievement for years to come, because what made it possible is self-reinforcing. Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth. During the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s—a scandal whose dimensions, by today’s standards, seem almost quaint—the banker Charles Keating was asked by a congressional committee whether the $1.5 million he had spread among a few key elected officials could actually buy influence. “I certainly hope so,” he replied. The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United case, has enshrined the right of corporations to buy government, by removing limitations on campaign spending. The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift—through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price—it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.

 

America’s inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way. There is, for one thing, a well-documented lifestyle effect—people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their means. Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real. Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military—the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain. The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich: they encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes on corporations, weakens health and environmental protections, and undermines what used to be viewed as the “core” labor rights, which include the right to collective bargaining. Imagine what the world might look like if the rules were designed instead to encourage competition among countries for workers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment—things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don’t need to care.

O r, more accurately, they think they don’t. Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them. It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else. All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation—voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.

In recent weeks we have watched people taking to the streets by the millions to protest political, economic, and social conditions in the oppressive societies they inhabit. Governments have been toppled in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The ruling families elsewhere in the region look on nervously from their air-conditioned penthouses—will they be next? They are right to worry. These are societies where a minuscule fraction of the population—less than 1 percent—controls the lion’s share of the wealth; where wealth is a main determinant of power; where entrenched corruption of one sort or another is a way of life; and where the wealthiest often stand actively in the way of policies that would improve life for people in general.

As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places.

A lexis de Tocqueville once described what he saw as a chief part of the peculiar genius of American society—something he called “self-interest properly understood.” The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.

Waking up alone

Standard
Print E-mail
Page 1 of 3

Shambhala Sun | September 2011
You’ll find this article on page 46 of the magazine.

THE PATH OF LOVE: BREAKING UP

1Waking Up Alone

 

Everything changes; nothing lasts. In matters of the heart this can be a hard truth to wake up to. KAREN MAEZEN MILLER on what to do after the love story ends.

It was the toothbrush that told me. Alone and overlooked in the emptied medicine chest, it was one of the few things my departed lover had left behind. When I found it, I knew with certainty something I’d been denying for some time.

It was over.

In truth, our relationship had been over for longer than I’d wanted to believe, but in beginnings and endings, one party can lag behind the other on the uptake. If the toothbrush was my messenger, what was his? Perhaps the time I kicked his suitcase to the curb? For years after the breakup, I would forget that part in the telling of the story. Everyone, after all, tells stories their own way, from their own perspective.

Whether by choice or circumstance, by the fleet seasons of romance or the final curtain of death, love ends. At least the love that is a story ends. And when that happens, what are we left with? A passage we might otherwise never have dared to take—a passage through denial, disbelief, and despair, through rage and madness. A portal, beyond delusive fairytales and melodrama, into a state of wakeful grace that is true love.

True love is what is left behind when the story of love ends. But it only looks like the end. Make it through one ending, and you might change your mind about all endings. That is the miracle cure, the ultimate healing, which is left behind on an empty shelf.

When Form Empties

Form is exactly emptiness. Emptiness exactly form. — HEART SUTRA

Practicing Buddhists may regularly read these crucial lines from the Heart Sutra, said to be the most concise and complete statement of the true nature of reality. As we study the words, we may think we understand them. Leaving aside any spiritual insight and reasoning solely on the basis of scientific fact, we can easily see the truth of impermanence. Everything changes. Nothing lasts, not even feelings. It’s obvious, and yet in matters of the heart, it can be a hard thing to wake up to.

I must have been about thirteen years old when my mother hung up the phone one evening, turned, and told me that my uncle had come home from work at lunch that day, walked into the kitchen and told my aunt that he didn’t love her, had never loved her, and was leaving right that minute. Since then, I’ve heard of many parting scenes with a similar script, and even uttered a variation of it myself. But, at such a young age, to hear the words that shattered a family and dissolved its story made the ground give way.

Whether we notice it or not, the ground is always giving way, disappearing into the vast chasm of impermanence and inconceivability, where our understanding of a line or two of ancient text doesn’t begin to reach. To suffer a loss or heartbreak is to live the irrevocable truth through which one’s own wisdom awakens. It’s the hard way to wisdom, but it’s the only way, and the path is well worn. When the love story ends, take the path that lies before you, and it will always lead you out of suffering.

Not What You Think

The thought of enlightenment is the mind that sees into impermanence. — DOGEN ZENJI

A broken heart can seem like an undignified or even trivial way to start a spiritual transformation, but it’s a powerful one, as the life of the great Dogen Zenji attests. His mother died when he was but a boy of seven, and some scholars trace his prodigiousness as the revitalizer of thirteenth-century Zen to that early event, when his mind was seized by unanswerable questions.

We experience a subtle spiritual awakening the moment we see that life goes on, even after our life has been ripped apart by loss. However unimaginable, life goes on even when we don’t recognize it as our life. It’s absent of the familiar people, places, or things we previously used to navigate it, and it’s without the tenuous threads we used to bind it together. When a relationship so central to our life proves unreliable, we might wonder what is real.

 

If we look deeper into our discursive mind we see how we create memory, sentiment, and meaning. Suddenly nothing means what we once thought it did. Ordinary things take on the weight of our rage and the freight of our pain, and a toothbrush is no longer just a toothbrush. Indeed, your home may be your new hell; your bed, a torture chamber; a sleepless night, an eternity.

Perhaps nothing is what we conceive or perceive it to be. When this thought occurs to you, take heart. Doubt is the dawn of faith, and faith will see you through darkness.

The Stride of No-Stride

This is the greatest illusion of all. — MARPA, weeping over the death of his child

It would be nice if we could keep from falling apart when our lives collapse around us. It would be handy if by our spiritual learning alone we could pull ourselves together, keep up appearances, and maintain our stride. We might be saved embarrassment and shame. We might look like we’re coping. We might even stay positive. But that is not the way reality works. We can’t outsmart it. Impermanence always knocks us off our stride. It is a pothole, a landmine, and a head-on collision. We tumble and fall, and that can be useful. Falling is the fastest way to drop our arrogance, cynicism, pretense, and indifference. Pain brings us fully to life.

Such is the lesson in the story of Marpa, the eleventh-century Tibetan teacher, who wept copiously over the dead body of his young son. Finding him in the throes of inconsolable grief, Marpa’s disciples were taken aback. Hadn’t the master taught them repeatedly that life was an illusion? Why was he carrying on like this? Was he a liar or fake? Marpa responded, “Yes, everything is an illusion, but the death of a child is the greatest illusion of all.”

Your pain is the most piercing illusion of all. Facing it, feeling it, you will awaken your sympathy and kindness. You will feel compassion for yourself, and soon, for all. You will find your footing by losing it.

Your Angry Child

You are the mother for your anger, your baby. —THICH NHAT HANH

Face it, you’re angry.

Anger is so unpleasant, so altogether ugly, that we usually attribute it to someone else. Someone else made you angry, that certain someone who tore out your heart and ruined your life. It’s easy to blame others for our injuries, but if we persist in seeing our own anger as the unavoidable outcome of someone else’s actions, we are going to be angry for a very long time. Anger is power, and blame is powerlessness. When we take responsibility for our anger, we take back our power to change. That power has never belonged to anyone else.

This is what Thich Nhat Hahn teaches when he suggests we view our anger as a howling baby. No one wants to be around it, but it cannot be ignored. Someone needs to do something about that baby! The baby is yours, and the only one who can do anything is you. However disagreeable the infant is, you pick the baby up and place it in your lap. Then you rock and comfort her, and wait. You attend to yourself without judgment or blame. In this way, anger wears itself out. The baby goes to sleep.

In the wake of anger, you may find the strength and determination to live differently. If you don’t, you haven’t yet seen fully to the needs of your own screaming child. You are rejecting it still.
There’s time. You’ll have many opportunities to quiet the rage. You’ll have many chances to apply the alchemy of your own gentle attention to whatever is disturbing you. Screaming babies go to sleep, eventually, and every wise parent learns to let a sleeping baby be.

Be Completely Sad

When you’re sad, be sad. — MAEZUMI ROSHI

Anger, we despise, but sadness, we might cherish. At least I did. Sorrow can seem such a rich and complex place to dwell; we might forget that it, too, is impermanent.

One time I went to see Maezumi Roshi after a meditation session in which the tears streamed in rivulets down my cheeks. “I’m sitting in a field of sadness,” I said to him. I was a tiny bit pleased by my poetic expression. I thought we might talk about it, rooting out the cause, and apply a treatment.

“When you’re sad, be sad,” he said. And that was all he said. I confess I found it abrupt, considering my experience with other counselors. He didn’t criticize or correct me, he just didn’t dwell. I was unaccustomed to making so little of what felt like so much.

We usually have an impulse to do something with what we judge to be a “negative” emotion. Perhaps we should explore, explain, or fix it. Surely it’s not “right” or “normal.” Is it possible to be sad and then be done with it?

Sadness is a good guide and even a good sign. Sadness may initiate your spiritual practice. Because most of us suffer when we are sad, it can lead us to seek solace and resolution. You might notice, for instance, that when you begin a meditation or yoga practice, you cry for no good reason at all. This can indicate that you are releasing long-held emotions and fears.

To be sure, grief is its own teacher and takes its own time. It feels good to cry. And it feels good to stop. By itself, crying always ends. Sadness changes to something else, because all things, even thoughts and emotions, change when we let them.

Soon enough you’ll see that a heartbreak doesn’t break anything for long. Take care that you do not turn back and take up permanent residence in the ruin, or you will condemn your life to the shadows of the past. Keep going straight on.

Sit Down for a While

Through the process of sitting still and following your breath, you are connecting with your heart. — CHÖGYAM TRUNGPA

I copied this quotation in a personal journal I kept during my breakup eighteen years ago. Now I can see how clearly the dharma always leads us back to ourselves.

The surest way to keep going through any difficulty is to sit down and stay put—specifically by practicing meditation. It’s what all the teachers tell us, and you can prove it to yourself. Meditating while you are angry, sad, disappointed, or afraid is the most direct way to resolve the difficulty. Why? Because you’re facing it. Meditation is the practice of facing yourself completely, cultivating intimacy with your breath and awareness. It is an intimacy that goes far beyond the companionship and gratification we seek from another. Keeping company with yourself can change the expectations you place on a relationship. Through a mindfulness practice, you see firsthand what it means to take responsibility for your own happiness and fulfillment, and you experience love of a different kind—unconditional love, which arises spontaneously as your true nature.

When you practice formally with a group, you’ll have the opportunity to sit in silence for a day or more alongside someone you’ve never met. Eventually, your mind will grow quiet and your concentration will deepen. You will share proximity without the judgments and expectations we usually impose on those around us, and be in relationships that are not conditioned by what another person is doing for you or how they are serving you. This is what happens in a silent meditation retreat. At the end of the time together, you might be inclined to do what I do: turn to the stranger sitting nearby, smile, and spontaneously say, “I love you.” The thing is, I really mean it. Is it possible to love in this way? Yes, from the very bottom of your heart and mind, when everything else drops away, it is possible and it is effortless.

Now, can you live that way with people you actually know?

The Romance of No Romance

Where there is no romance is the most romantic. — HONGZHI

As surely as trees bud in spring and leaves fall in autumn, couples in a long relationship encounter all the same stages as those who don’t make it. Yet their union endures. They survive anger and resentments, disappointments and reversals. They watch their interests diverge and their devotions ebb. Their responsibilities grow; their families expand; their houses fill and then empty again. What is it that favors one partnership over another? Some say it is magic, the machinations of fate, the movement of stars, the right choice, or sheer luck. I think it is something we have the power to realize and actualize for ourselves.

Love that lasts allows the love story to end. It isn’t laden with romantic fantasies or regret; it’s not defined or limited, not stingy or selfish. Without form or name, this love allows all things to be as they are. It sees all of life in every season as a process of perpetual change, growth, maturation, and renewal. This love is our inherent treasure, and when we practice, it shines. It is true love because it is truth.

Several years after my lover left me peering into the emptied medicine chest, I got married to another man, and he and I have been together now for a long time. I make no claims for our future, nor do I sentimentalize the past. Our toothbrushes sit in silence side by side on the bathroom counter. They stand sentry over a life shared through mutual courage, acceptance, forgiveness, and very small kindnesses.

Every morning I reach for my toothbrush in a transcendent act that will spread boundless love wherever I go. I brush my teeth, brighten my smile, and begin again.