Success and Failure: Partners in Crime

Success is not a place at which one arrives, but rather the spirit with which one undertakes and continues the journey.“ - Alex Noble

At age 30, Martin Ramirez left his wife and two children in Mexico to earn money on the railroads of California. After five years, the Great Depression threw him out of work and he wound up homeless.  Living on the street, he became mentally ill and was institutionalized with catatonic schizophrenia.  He spent the rest of his life in mental hospitals and died in DeWitt State Hospital in Auburn,  California in 1963.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Ramirez a failure. His life was sad, hard, and lonely, but he had one thing. While institutionalized, he started creating large art works with available materials, including brown paper bags, scraps of examining-table paper, and book pages glued together with a paste he made by chewing potatoes until they were soggy. You can see some of his works here.

Martin Ramirez Horse

Martin Ramirez Tunnel

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5 Ways of Looking at Yourself

These five meditations will help you step outside your mind. You can see things differently out there.  I suggest trying one at a time over a series of days to see which you like. Some may not be right for you, and all at once would be too much.  As with any meditation, you will be distracted; your mind will wander. Just keep bringing your attention back to the theme as best you can. We’re not grading you. Find a quiet place and at least ten minutes and go for it.

Outside / Inside
See yourself from the outside. Imagine you are in the room watching yourself, or watching through a camera on the ceiling or the wall. Notice how you move, how you interact with the environment, how you feel. Are you comfortable? Are you present?

See yourself from the inside, from your body’s point of view – your breathing, your muscles, your organs. Feel as much as you can. Realize you are a physical body. And you are the one watching that body.  Your thoughts take up most of your time, but thoughts are only a small part of who you are. 

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The Music of Life

Last month I was at a clinic getting my blood drawn. The Jamaican lab tech was singing the whole time. Her voice cheered me up and relaxed me. I asked her why she sang, and she said, “I just like the way it feels.”

What a lovely person she was, but not unusual in her attitude to music. Unless you’re one of the few people who hate it, music has been a source of pleasure, energy, comfort and various emotions for you since babyhood. It can make you cry with its beauty or the memories it stirs. It can energize you or calm you.

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Everyone on Earth

Three things you might not know about the people you share this world with:

1. Everyone on Earth is here to entertain you. Enjoy the show.
2. Everyone on Earth is here to teach you something. Pay attention.
3. Everyone on Earth is here to give you an opportunity to love. Go for it.

Does everyone on Earth being here just for you sound pretty self-centered, or a bit crazy? Of course people have other jobs, too.  Perhaps I should tell a couple of stories to explain.

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Other People’s Joy

Here’s a hard attitude to learn: rejoicing over the good fortune of others.  If you get this habit, though, it can open your life in wonderful ways.

The Buddha called this attitude mudita, or unselfish joy. It’s the opposite of envy, a word which has no opposite in English.

From what I’ve seen, mudita is indeed rare. My two young friends: nine year old Leona and her six year old sister Lisa could certainly use some mudita. When someone does something nice for Leona, Lisa breaks down in tears.  When something good comes to Lisa, Leona tries to sabotage her good feelings with an insult or a boast.  I’m pretty sure they react negatively to each other’s infrequent good fortune because they feel deprived, mostly by their absent mother and fathers. Still, aren’t their reactions just juvenile versions of what most adults show?

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Celebrate Your Variance

One thing I learned from studying Statistics: everyone looks at the average — the mean or median — but the real story is in the variance.  The more the population varies, the less the mean means.  Statisticians have drowned; the saying goes, in rivers whose average depth was six inches.

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Unwanted Blessings

When painful things come to you, look deeper. They may be blessings in disguise.

When my friend Nora was 24, she married Fredrik, her tall, good-looking high school sweetheart. She supported him through medical school and residency in San Francisco, working as a counselor. When they returned to Wisconsin, she gave up her job to raise their son Arne; then aged two, now 12.

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The Happiest Man in the World

Long ago in what is now Kazakhstan, a man named Jameel reached middle age. His children were grown. He had some land and a little home; he was doing well by the standards of the time. But he wasn’t happy.

He felt there must be more, so he sought help from a series of teachers. He studied yoga, practiced meditation, learned philosophy, but he still wasn’t happy. Finally, he traveled over the mountains to see a renowned guru.

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Seeing People Right

Last week I went to a playground with my granddaughter Anaya on a rare sunny day in San Francisco. A mother came in with her seriously disabled nine or ten year old son. He had cerebral palsy, and his mother held him up with her hands lifting his underarms. That way he could take a few struggling steps at a time.

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The River of Creation

Look around the Web. Do you see the rushing river of visual art, impassioned writing, humor, and new ideas pouring out and spreading around social media and other sites?  True, a lot of garbage and poison comes with it, but there is still enough good work to keep anyone with access intrigued and uplifted.

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