Watching Life

Once I watched an exciting past episode of Lost with a friend who also enjoys it, but who couldn’t stop thinking about it as he watched it. An action scene begins, and he shouts, “No way! The water wouldn’t have risen that high!” or “I really doubt Kate would’ve said that; that was off.” Fine. But that’s looking at the show, interpreting it, critiquing it—not experiencing it. He’s enjoying it in a certain way, but I wonder if he wouldn’t enjoy it more to simply enter the world that’s presented on screen for 45 minutes, and leave the analysis aside until the end credits. (I know I do!)

I find myself in an episode that’s going on 24 hours a day, every day. It’s there for me to enjoy every minute, whether that means laughing, crying, complaining, or sleeping.

For me at least, it’s turning out that there’s nothing very mystical about “mysticism” after all. It’s just the desire to experience reality, nothing more.

RockOm, Part Deux

This is another shameless plug for, a site that my partners and I are continuing to develop. I’m writing this, because if you like what you read at, I’m certain that you’ll love what you can read (and listen to!) at RockOm is not a mere blog, but a developing social network, focused on exploring the whole realm where spirituality and music intersect, with all musics and all spiritualities, questings and questionings included.

If that sounds like big territory, it is. Our premier issue included interviews with musical personalities as diverse as Grammy-winning Christian bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs, to Hindu kirtan performer Krishna Das.
Trevor Harden and Tommy Crenshaw recently finished a coast-to-coast trip to gather more interviews with amazing performers with penetrating insights into the human condition. But, course, we don’t let national borders stop us either. We’ve Skyped across the ocean to interview Joseph Rowe, translator of dozens of books (including The Gospel of Thomas) and an exceptional musician with an emphasis on Sufi music, and we’ll do more to bring together musicians from around the world.

Some of RO’s features current features:

  • RockOm blog: Near-daily new content ranging from music and artists, to questions and musings
  • RockOm podcast: a weekly in-depth interview with some of the most interesting and insightful musicians alive
  • Featured Track of the Week: An exciting new track every week available to listen to from one of our guest artists
  • Featured Articles: Transcriptions and photographs from our interviews,
  • RockOm Forum: The heart of the RockOm community, where we discuss anything and everything.

Following RockOm is easy. Subscribe to our RSS feed to have our blog posts come right into your feed reader. And it’s easy to add the RO podcast feed to your iTunes or any other MP3 player, by following the links on RockOm’s home page. You can also follow RockOm on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Very soon we’ll be adding the RockOm store, offering compilation disks of music from our guest artists, and later on, group pages and other features that will further develop the social network aspects of RockOm.

Now another reason I’m writing: We need your help to continue to grow RockOm and realize our vision. Not money, but support. If you like RO, please help us get the word out.

Do you have friends who are interested in music with a message? Tell them about RockOm. Do you have a blog or site of your own? Please consider adding a link to Also, we’d love for you to submit a post for the RockOm blog.

Do any of the songs, podcasts or posts strike a chord? Or not? Agree? Disagree? Tell us about it in the RockOm forums.

Finally, we appreciate your prayers, intentions and wishes for our continued growth and success. Thanks, and RockOm!

The Boy from Lebanon

The Boy from Lebanon is a thought-provoking and intense depiction of a true story, a plot by Hezbollah to assassinate then-president François Mitterand by using a child. It’s one of the most striking foreign films I’ve seen in the last few years, and it far surpasses “Syriana” in showing how rather ordinary young people become terrorists. But The Boy from Lebanon is a more than a mere consciousness-raiser about the plight of children in war-torn areas—it’s a shocking drama, and an wonderful portrayal of the power of friendship.

Djilali (Teufik Jallab) is a scant eleven years old when he’s sold—literally—into terrorism. Djilali is emotionally shattered, detached, and empty. Even his hatred of “the Jews and the infidels” is something he holds out of duty, and his lack of emotion and whole-hearted dedication to his mission makes him ideal for Hezollah’s purpose.

To get close to the French president, though, he must not only go to France, but meet and prepare to take the place of Karim (Younesse Boudache), a Lebanese-French kid who will meet the president at a Christmas party. Karim, who knows nothing of the plot, is practically Djilali’s direct opposite, an ebullient Huckleberry Finn of Paris’ Arab slums, who hates no one.

To play his role, Djilali must live with Karim for a few days, and the interaction between them is the heart of the film. Djilali regards Karim as despicably frivolous, while Karim sees Djilali as hopelessly out-of-it. The few days they spend together will shatter both of their worlds completely.

Sometimes it gets a bit confusing; shifts between Karim’s French slum and Djilali’s flashbacks are difficult to catch at first, and in my case I had to watch it a second time to understand everything. In addition, the adult actors are sometimes less-than-convincing, but The Boy from Lebanon isn’t about them. The main characters are memorable and masterfully portrayed by these child actors. The director, Gilles de Maistre, is an award-winning French journalist, who presents the characters compassionately, along with a side of Paris that most movies assiduously avoid.

My teacher commented on the Virginia Tech massacre with the observation that Seung-Hui Cho had had no friends, and wondered would he have done what he did if he had. A similar question is brilliantly posed by “The Boy from Lebanon.”

Watch it. You’ll be glad you did.

Into the wild

I could write a thousand-word review about this movie. I could call it the Walden of our times. I could tell you how it is an ode to the beauty of America as The Constant Gardener was to that of Africa and Spring, Fall, Summer, Winter… and Spring was to that of Asia.

I could tell you that its five chapters, Rebirth, Adolescence, Manhood, Family, and The Getting of Wisdom, form a remarkable portrait of renunciation and self-discovery in the mystical journey. I could tell you how it reminded me of my teacher’s wise counsel to me when I was “hell-bent” on getting enlightenment as soon as possible. (And, of course, I just did.)

But there’s something about profound experiences that demands a restraint of the tongue, a savoring of the sublime, and a respect for silence, so that the fewer the words, the better.

You see, watching Into the Wild is a sacred act. It is prayer. And, as prayer, there is nothing to say afterwards but “Thank You,” or “Amen.” Thanks to Trev for pointing me to this inspiring, but insightful and honest examination of one man’s incredible journey.


I almost feel like I’m coming back to life after being gone awhile!  For the last three days, I’ve been on a “detox” diet, eating vegan, avoiding sugar, limiting caffeine, and exercising.  I already feel a vast difference… I have more energy and better concentration, and my mood isn’t just lighter—I feel an incredible optimism.

Earlier this fall I got hooked on NBC’s show Heroes. (I’ve got a bad habit of missing the first season of good shows… happened to me with Lost, too.) This week I began watching the first season episodes to catch up… still only about ten episodes through it, so no spoilers, please!

Why I mention both of these together is that both of them fit together in my life now. When I lost weight a long time ago, I remember feeling almost unstoppable, like I could do anything. There’s something in this massive tale of people discovering abilities that they didn’t know they had, that resonates with my own discovery of strength and joy that I’ve forgotten I had.

Of course, Heroes resonates strongly with me as a spiritual metaphor. It’s about spiritual warfare, the work of bodhisattvas versus the forces of destruction, fear, violence, and ignorance. This is something that’s coming back to me as well… for quite a while now, my sense of mission and purpose had been receding. Now it’s resurging. Heroes isn’t fiction. It’s spiritual reality. There really was a Spider-Man in New York. The one I know didn’t sling webs or swing from buildings, but he did jump into any fight at a moment’s notice with the goal of saving both the victim and the aggressor, and whenever possible, prevented fights from even starting.  His name is Vernon Kitabu Turner, and now he trains others in the way of the spiritual warrior.

There really are Isaac Mendezes.. . prophets who paint the future they see, presenting the challenge to change it.

There really are Peter Petrellis… persons who catch the spirits of others. One word, which might come from you or from me, might be enough to make them soar into discovering the cure for AIDS, or to bring peace to a war-torn land.

There really are Claire Bennets… people so resilient, they can return day after day to stresses that would tear up most of us.

There really are Hiro Nakamuras… people so filled with delight and wonder they might seem not to take much seriously… except their place in the mission of saving others and saving the  world.

And of course, there really are Jessicas and Sylars… people who will use any means possible to seize money and power.

What kind of hero are you?


Just some quick notes on what’s going on now:

  • Peaceful Warrior was great. My teacher’s Zen and martial classes saw it together on Sunday. Everyone loved it. The audience as a whole seemed very appreciative. Hopefully, it will stay in theaters a few more weeks and the word-of-mouth approach will bring more people to see it.
  • I’m doing fairly well in Spanish, now. I can make myself understood on a variety of topics, although I make tons of mistakes, and understanding spoken Spanish is still pretty difficult. I can read simple books, like The Alchemist (El alquimista, en español) fairly easily. On the other hand, books like El arrecife, are still quite intimidating.
  • I’ve begun studying Catalan as well. Catalan is the everyday language of most people in Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands of Spain, as well as of Andorra, a small part of France, and one city in Sardinia, Italy. Catalan is very cool! It sounds something like French, but without the nasalized vowels. It’s almost a cross between Spanish and French. Pronunciation rules are regular, though more complicated than in Spanish, but actually pronouncing words seems to be easier to me. Catalan uses an L like the English L after vowels, single S’s are voiced between vowels just as in English, and it has plenty of schwa sounds so you can relax a bit instead of having to keep every single vowel pure. Also, Catalan words are amazingly short for a Romance language, and often even shorter than words in English. Consider: bo (good), vi (wine), (hand), nu (naked), xei (lamb), mòn (world), net (clean).
  • I got a press kit and CD in the mail today to review a movie called “Simple Things.” I might not have time to do it till the weekend, but I’m looking forward to it. When I was in college, a friend of mine said I should become a movie reviewer. Well, after doing a number of reviews on this site, I guess I am one of sorts… still, WTG is just a modest personal site and blog; I never thought I’d be contacted by a media company to do a review! Move over, Ebert! 🙂
  • My car is in the body-repair shop for a few days. (It got hit while parked a little while back.) So some more opportunity for car-pooling or bike-riding to work.
  • I am happy. I am very happy. I hope you are, too.

See Peaceful Warrior Free

Anyone who knows me well knows that in my opinion, far and away the best movie of 2006 was Peaceful Warrior, based on Dan Millman’s beloved autobiographical novel Way of the Peaceful Warrior, which has been a portal to the inner path for many. Simply put, there is no movie I am aware of that more honestly and movingly shows what learning with an authentic spiritual teacher is like, capturing the traps, lessons, pains, and joys experienced upon the way.

I paid to watch Peaceful Warrior three times in theaters last year. This weekend, I’m going to see it for free. Universal Studios is offering $15 million dollars worth of free tickets to see the movie in the first weekend of its general release, starting from today through Sunday.

Claim your tickets here!

Pan’s Labyrinth

An evil stepparent. a lost princess, a magic book. a dangerous maze, a series of challenges, a terrible choice, and a world of war and woe. Guillermo del Torres’ movie, El labirinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) operates at many levels and in many ways: war story, horror flick, fairy tale, coming-of-age movie. Critics are raving about it; at Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 96% “fresh” rating, the highest I think I’ve ever seen.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to call Pan’s Labyrinth a masterpiece, it’s a powerful film, loaded with provocative, profound spiritual metaphors, and it isn’t easily forgotten. It may well become the most successful foreign film in the US since Life is Beautiful, and could even surpass it.

Our protagonist is Ofelia, a 12-year-old girl being taken by her mother to live in a small army post commanded by her new stepfather, a sadistic captain in Franco’s regime determined to crush the remaining opposition in the foothills of the Pyrenees. If you ask a group of people to name a brutal European dictator who came to power in the pre-War period, you’ll hear the names of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, but probably not Franco, the Fascist who escaped Allied attack and continued to brutalize his people for four decades.

Ofelia’s world could hardly be worse. Not only is she fatherless in an awful environment, but her mother cannot help her either… she’s not only enduring a difficult pregnancy complicated by another illness as well, but even worse, she’s suffering the paralyzing realization that the beast she just married is incapable of love.

The Challenge of “That Age”
In addition, Ofelia is at the brink of puberty, that precarious age balanced between the mysteries of adulthood, sexuality, and growing up on one hand, and holding on to childhood on the other hand. Given her circumstances, it’s not surprising that Ofelia chooses the comfort of her fantasies, and uses the magical presence of a huge and frightening stone labyrinth to walk straight into the world of symbol, mind, and spirit.

But it’s in fairy tales that the awesome powers of choice, life, and death become even more clear. Her labyrinth is not a refuge, but the fuel for the challenge in discovering her true identity. There Ofelia meets a frightening-looking, but apparently benevolent faun, who reveals to her that she is not really of this world, but is the reborn princess of a spiritual realm who has become lost. As in all good fairy tales, he gives her three tasks she must accomplish to realize her destiny, and a tool to help her accomplish her ordeals.

The coming-of-age aspect is key to understanding the mysteries of Pan’s Labyrinth; the need to make adult choices with no help from others is crucial. Symbolically, Ofelia’s coming of age represents the spiritual coming-of-age challenge before all of us. Can we find out who we really are? Are we of this world of circumstance, or are we spiritual creatures? Who is our true Father? Will we take the challenges necessary to find the answers?

The Magic Book
The tool the faun gives Ofelia is a magic book that describes what she must do. However, its pages remain blank unless she opens the book to read them alone. This seemed to me a marvelous metaphor for meditation… Our souls are opaque, unknown and unreadable to us, until we center into the quiet, and let Isness inform us with a wordless knowing. Not only does the book describe her tasks for her, but it also lets her know and feel the pain of others; at one time in which she consulted the book, the pages turned red to warn her that her mother was hemorrhaging at that very moment.

In the same way, meditation also enables us to sharpen our sense of connection with others to serve them with love… helping her mother through her illness becomes an additional task to the initial three.

The Power of Choice
Ofelia is warned by the chief housekeeper (Maribel Verdú, Y Tú Mamá También), whose name is Mercedes (“mercy” in Spanish) “to be wary of fauns.” Nevertheless, Ofelia continues to meet the challenges posed to her by the faun, each increasing in difficulty and danger. The final task is almost complete when she learns that it also entails shedding innocent blood. Here there’s a choice to be made: to continue to follow the voice that has been guiding her thus far, or to refuse to. The faun has become not only the voice of authority, but of trusted, beloved authority to her. It’s both friend and father figure, and can be seen as a metaphor for the common religious view of God as the Authority on high. Has Ofelia been duped? Is the faun really a devil? Or is it the Demiurge, the twisted god who creates worlds of strife and confusion and demands obedience over everything? Is she even of the spiritual world at all? Was it all just lies? Where can she turn now?

In this pivotal scene, Pan’s Labyrinth re-examines the Abraham and Isaac story the same way Pleasantville re-examined the Garden of Eden story. We’re told that Abraham was a hero of faith because of his obedience, but this movie makes us wonder if obedience was really the highest virtue on God’s list. If Abraham had said, “Hell, no!” would his faith have been less, or would he have been tuning into a faith in mercy and life, which God ended up showing him anyway?

(In God is a Verb, Rabbi David Cooper states that many rabbis consider Abraham a greater hero than Noah not for his obedience, but because he had the guts to stand up to God concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In contrast, Noah meekly enabled God to destroy the world by quietly cooperating with his ark-building.)

In the parallel “real-world” story, a doctor bravely stands up to the Captain and says that blind obedience is something only the Captain could do… that he must obey his conscience.

Choice is ultimately what defines us all. It’s the vessel through which we navigate the manifest world. We are one soul, but the one makes many different choices through our wills. And all choices have consequences: Labyrinth explores their weight brilliantly. Some people pay dearly for their choices. Others never choose wisely at all.

But choice must be informed by knowing the truth, as Ofelia endeavors to. We must tune into the deepest parts of our hearts, where the soul can be informed directly by God, and remember where we really came from, and who our real Father is. Then choice becomes the power that turns spiritual children into spiritual adults. As Jed McKenna remarks in Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment, “often a seventy-year-old is an eleven-year-old with fifty years of experience.” We need more people that can make adult decisions for compassion, rather than childishly following the forces of authority who tell us their agenda is always for the best. “Only a little blood will be shed in this war. It’s for our own good.” Our choices must move us into living consciously for justice and mercy.

A caution
Unlike other fantasies, Pan’s Labyrinth alternates between the make-believe violence of the fantasy landscape, and the shocking violence of the real world. While this serves to further contrast Ofelia’s path of trust and the Captain’s path of fear, some scenes should have been deleted or heavily edited. The depiction of violence is extreme. Do not bring the kids. But do bring your heart and mind. They will be well fed.

My friend Darrell Grizzell has written a contrasting review.

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Blogjam vs. Block

Everyone’s familiar with “writer’s block,” the point where a writer working on a specific project either can’t start or can’t finish. (The movie Stranger Than Fiction not only gives a great portrayal of the problem, but some wonderful spiritual analogies and philosophical questions as well.)

Bloggers—at least those of us who share our lives and insights rather than links to news releases and such, have a different problem: it’s not a block, but a logjam. Blogjam. There’s not a scarcity of stuff to write about, but everything touches on the theme of your blog, and choosing what part of everything to present is the challenge.

Here’s an example of the challenge as I’m experiencing it:

  • I came back from a mini-vacation to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. Blog material there? Not really.
  • I’m still processing the ongoing ideas that Mark and his sensei have been sharing this month at Eternal Awareness. Blog material there? You betcha. But I’ve little to add because Mark says it all so well.
  • I watched West Side Story last night for the first time in ages. It made me cry as it always does. I thought about just putting up a post asking you to share what movies make you cry. Seemed kind of flimsy, though, like my last real post this month on studying Spanish!
  • And then there’s just this thought that’s been in my head today. It’s from an observation that Fr. Matthew Fox made in The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. that the Greek god Chronos ate his children, but Christ gave himself to his children to eat. I’d thought I’d give some nice, deep, philosophical observation on the destructive and constructive principles, time vs. eternity, or some similar bullshit. But I’d feel that it’s bullshit, so I wouldn’t. Except that I just did. Oh, well.

So that’s my blogjam. In fact, I’ve got four drafts ready to go on different subjects that I thought I’d use when I didn’t know what else to post, but none of them feel appropriate to the day either.

So take your pick, comment on whatever you like–blogjams, movies that make you cry, metaphysical principles, what’s going on in your lives.