The Heart of the Matter
March 30, 2016
A Simple Question For You

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March 26, 2016
The Wise Woman Does Nothing

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Oil pastel: Evelyne Pouget
Poetry earrings: Lao Tzu

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March 25, 2016
The Orange

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Every spiritual tradition in the world has its own collection of rites and rituals that make up the warp and woof if it's particular path. These rites and rituals, the origins of which are not always understood, give its practitioners something to do -- something not just think about or meditate on, but a physical activity they can focus on to help them remember the metaphysical connection to the essence of their path.

I get it. I do. Rituals work. Or as my rabbi liked to say, "If you want to learn to dance, sometimes you need to start with the box step."

My kids, for example, cannot celebrate Christmas without leaving milk and cookies out for Santa, even though its been years since they realized that the fat guy in the red suit didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of making it down our chimney.

While I have never been a big fan of rites and rituals, I definitely have experienced their benefit, the most memorable one happening for me in 1974. That was the year I lived in a spiritual commune, on a 600 acre farm, 12 miles outside of Charlottesville, Virginia.

Three times a week, the six of us would sit, cross-legged, in our living room and, as a part of a spiritual practice given us by the same wonderful Teacher, share from the heart.

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It was at one of these gatherings that I first heard the news about an ashram that would soon be moving to our little town. An ashram! A center of spiritual life! A divine abode of God-seeking souls -- students of the same teacher I had -- who had dedicated their lives to the realization of the highest truth.

I couldn't believe my good fortune. Now, I would have a place to go and serve whenever I wanted to dive deeper into the depths of the spiritual path I was on. Cool.

Back then, as I understood it, the prevailing ritual of welcoming a new ashram was to bring a gift -- usually a flower or a piece of fruit -- and place it on the altar. And so, on the day the ashram was going to open its doors, I made a pilgrimage to my favorite grocery store in search of the perfect piece of fruit.

The cantaloupes looked great, but seemed a bit too big to place upon an altar. The apples also looked great. They were red, unblemished, and shiny. Too shiny, I thought -- almost as if they had been polished in some back room to make them stand out. Uh uh. No way did I want my offering to stand out. I wanted my offering to fit in with the other flowers and fruit. Hey, this wasn't about me and my offering. This was about selfless giving, right? That's when I noticed the oranges -- perfectly round, unpolished, and delicately textured pieces of fruit. Yes! Oranges!

Choosing the roundest and most orangey orange I could find, I blissfully made my way through the 5 Items or Less check-out lane, carefully positioned my orange on the passenger seat of my 1966 Volkswagen, and began driving to the ashram -- a destination that was going to be the radiant sun around which the Pluto of my longing was going to revolve.

Driving more slowly than usual to ensure my orange didn't roll onto the floor, I closed my eyes and meditated at every traffic light and stop sign along the way. Beauty was everywhere around me. The dogwood trees were blooming. The robins were singing. And the sweetest of fragrances filled the air.

And then, as if choreographed by the hand of an all knowing God, the perfect parking space opened up right in front of the ashram. Whoa! If this wasn't heaven, it was pretty damn close. How fortunate I felt! How graced! I closed my eyes and meditated some more.

Five minutes passed. Then another five. If there was one thing I was sure of it was this: my front seat meditation was not going to be of the token "minute of silence" variety. Nope. No way. My meditation was going to be the real deal -- as real as the feeling that brought me here in the first place.

Lovingly lifting my orange in the air, inspecting it for dust and dirt, I made my way out of the car, ascended a few steps, and found myself standing on the front porch. Pausing briefly, I lifted my hand and rang the bell. What a sweet sound it was -- a chime for all times. And then... as the sound slowly faded away... I enjoyed an even sweeter silence. A few seconds passed. Then the door opened. Standing there was a hairy, pot-bellied man in a stained undershirt. He had a bottle of beer in his left hand.

"Yeah?" he said. "Whaddya want?"

"Um...er.. is this the ashram?" I asked.

"Hell no," he barked. "Those people don't move in until tomorrow." Then he slammed the door.

I just stood there, unmoving, a perfectly round orange in my right hand.

The above story is not included in my recently published book

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March 24, 2016
You Find Freedom Inside

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This wonderful poster made by Tommy Nahulu as a gift to his awesome mother, Verna -- a deep and gifted soul who so many of us love. Thanks, Tommy! And thanks, Verna! Keep shining. The play continues...

Tommy on Facebook

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March 23, 2016
Tiny Sparks of Light

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EDITOR'S NOTE: A few weeks ago, I asked my Facebook friends to send me a story their father liked to tell. The one that follows, submitted by the appropriately named, Michal Story, touched me deeply and reveals a common humanity we all share, even during times of difficulty. I hope you enjoy it. If YOUR FATHER, like Michal's, had a favorite story he liked to tell, please consider sending it to me for possible publication on this blog.

"My father was a man of many secrets. Not by choice, but by temperament. He rarely spoke of his past. He'd come from a chaotic childhood and left home at 16 to join the Navy. He loved the camaraderie it afforded him and was proud of his service. He was what they called a 'lifer.'

I was a teenager in the 1960s when my father and I bonded through watching football and tuning up the car together on weekends. But it was between his tours of duty in Vietnam, when he invited me out onto our patio in the late Louisiana summer evenings, that I realized just how close we were. He'd sip scotch and smoke cigarettes while we listened to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline on the record player. Most of the time, we'd sing along with Hank and tell corny jokes. And sometimes, he'd comment on the heavy, warm humid air that reminded him of times in Vietnam. It was these times that I knew was in for a good story.

He spared me the horror he must have witnessed and would tell me stories of his friends and how they would pass the time. One particular story still strikes me.

I don't remember where, specifically, he was stationed, but it was on a border between North and South Vietnam. There was a rickety four-foot tall barbed-wire fence which separated the enemies and they could hear distant sporadic gunfire and explosions during the day. The fencing spanned a treeless, grassy field where each side could easily see the other's buildings. There was no movement between them during the day. My Dad's squadron's sole mission was to ensure that no one crossed. And no one ever attempted to cross from either side. It was an "easy tour" as he called it.

Late at night, and every night, a very different scene took place, however -- one my father said haunted him in a way that none of his other war experiences had. It would take place long after the gunfire and bombing had settled down to an almost peaceful calm.

My father and his brothers-in-arms would spot tiny sparks of periodic light emanating from the buildings across the field -- almost like a signal. The handful of American men on the night shift would approach the fence without hesitation, as if they were back home taking a leisurely stroll. As they approached, they'd see their counterparts, equally relaxed, approaching the fence. There they would meet and exchange brief greetings in whatever limited language each could understand -- making hand gestures, offering up cigarettes and, from the dim light of a match, show each other photographs of their families back home. Sometimes they would exchange odd wares unique to their respective cultures.

These men were no longer enemies in this nightly routine. They were just people managing to turn a blind eye to what divided them -- an American on one side, a Viet Cong on the other. No one knew when or how this ritual started. But it was repeated, nonetheless, by each new troop arrival. Was it from boredom? Curiosity? It didn't really seem to matter. Whatever the reason, it was a chance to be human again. The only danger seemed to be in caring."

One of my father's favorite stories

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March 22, 2016
World Water Day is Coming and PeaceCast TV is in the Flow

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Eight days of inspiring videos
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And Now a Word from PuppetJi

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March 15, 2016
Right Now

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March 05, 2016
A Bag of Small Red Berries

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Today, I was sitting in Mesa Grande, the cafe I most love to frequent in San Miguel, when I noticed an old, weathered woman entering the place. Dark skinned, wrinkled, and small, she was moving very slowly across the room, more like shuffling than walking, stopping at each table and attempting to sell whatever it was she was carrying in her gnarled left hand.

Averting my eyes, I felt myself withdrawing, not wanting to encounter yet another beggar of the day needing something else to survive, but she kept coming, pausing now and then to rest.

When she finally made it to my table, all she did was stand. That's it. Stand. She said nothing. She did nothing. She just stood there, holding, in her hand, what appeared to be a bag of small red berries. I continued pretending to be busy, looking down, not wanting to be yet another refusal she would get that day, hoping she would leave, but she did not -- now the still, sudden tribal center of the room.

Unable to ignore her presence any longer, I slowly raised my head, then looked into her eyes. She held my gaze. Like a flower. Like the way a baby, without guile, looks at a stranger. Gently, she shook her bag of berries, explaining without a single word that she was NOT a beggar, simply a seller of small red berries on a Tuesday afternoon. In the distance, I heard the familiar whooshing sound of a cappuccino machine.

"Cuanto?" I asked, holding her gaze.

"Veinte," she replied.

"Veinte?" I asked again, wanting to stay with her for as long as my Spanish would allow.

"Si", she said, "veinte."

"Bueno," I replied, pulling a 20 peso note from my pocket and placing it in her small brown hand. Smiling ever so slightly, she handed me the bag of berries, paused, bowed, and continued on her way.

I checked my email. I made a list. I ate a piece of fruit. Ten minutes later, Carlos, the waiter, walked over to me, saw the bag of berries by the sugar bowl and asked if he could have one.

"Si Carlos", I said, opening the bag so he could choose his favorite.

An hour later, when it was time to pay the bill and figure out the tip, I handed Carlos the bag and asked him to share the contents with his esposa and hijo when he got home that night. A few people came and went. Someone ordered a croissant. But Carlos and I just stood there, grinning, unmoving, a bag of small red berries now the center of our world.

Photo: Jesse Ditkoff

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March 02, 2016
The Essence of All Paths

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Welcome to Mitch Ditkoff's blog about what's really important in this life: Peace, gratitude, love, joy, clarity, and the effort required to wake up and smell the roses. Enjoy!

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