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Posts tagged “nature

Assumption Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

“To think you know something is the most dangerous thing in the world.” Lao Tzu

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This is one of my favorite stories about assumption. . .

Waaaaaaaaay back in 1981, two doctors, Dr. Barry Marshall (internist) and Dr. Robin Warren (pathologist) from Australia said they had found the cause of stomach ulcers in people. But it wasn’t even close to the prevailing belief among doctors or the public as to what causes ulcers, which was “stress” of course. Seems our Australian doctors had the whacky idea that ulcers are caused by a bacteria (h. pylori). I remember when this first made the news – I also remember how they were ridiculed and called crazy, especially by other doctors. . . “Why, everyone knows high stress and poor diet causes ulcers. . .” Yes, everyone, including doctors, who are supposed to be scientists, at least in part, with open minds who evaluate physical evidence and facts in the interest of giving their patients better, healthier lives and preventing needless deaths. What’s more, Dr. Marshall and Dr. Warren also found this bacteria causes stomach cancer. Now keep in mind, even if there is no cancer, stomach and duodenal ulcers cause much pain and suffering, can result in having to remove a large portion of the stomach, and can be fatal. So this was not something to be taken lightly, even as many doctors kept saying that ulcers were really in people’s heads and if they would just relax more and eat better they would be just fine.

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Happily, Dr. Marshall did not give up. He couldn’t use mice to experiment in the lab, because h. pylori only affects primates. Regulations prohibited him from experimenting on people. So, a real hero, Dr. Marshall borrowed a cup of h. pylori from one of his patients and drank it, infecting himself. He followed the course of his own disease and biopsied his own stomach, proving conclusively that h. pylori causes stomach ulcers in people. (This, by the way, is the difference between thinking you know and actually knowing.) As a result of these doctors’ work, ulcers and stomach cancer claim far fewer lives in the industrialized world.

In 2005 (way too late, in my not-so-humble-opinion) Drs. Marshall and Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine for their discovery.

But, one of the most amazing things about all this, to me, is how many people STILL believe stomach ulcers are caused by “stress”.

See here for a recent interview with Dr. Marshall.

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.


High Visibility Zen

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This post is about people you may know, from other media, who bring us excellent examples of zen principles and show us how they work in everyday life.

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Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear- Why Americans Are Afraid Of The Wrong Things. This book is an unflinching look at reality, the reality of how one of the most powerful and primal human emotions – fear – is being used to sell us everything from newspapers to burglar alarms, and to get us to vote for some very questionable people. If you are interested in REALITY you will love this book. It will probably make you angry, make you feel better, and tell you some very interesting things you probably didn’t know.

From the cover of the book: “In the age of terrorism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, financial collapse, Amber Alerts, and vaccine scares, our society is defined by fear. But are we living in exceptionally dangerous times? In The Culture of Fear, sociologist Barry Glassner demonstrates that it is our perception  of danger that has increased, not the actual level of risk. Glassner exposes the people and organizations that manipulate our perceptions and profit from our fears, including advocacy groups that raise money by exaggerating the prevalence of particular diseases and politicians who win elections by heightening concerns about crime, drug use, and terrorism. In this enlarged and updated edition of a classic bestseller—more relevant now than when it was first published—Glassner reveals the price we pay for social panic.”

2003 Interview with Barry Glassner

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Cesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer- Week after week, Mr. Milan patiently, compassionately, intelligently, and sensitively reminds us that dogs are dogs, not people. He shows us that treating dogs like people are bound to cause problems, for both our dogs and ourselves. Week after week, the people he helps with their dogs are happily surprised at how well treating a dog like a dog works. Often as I am watching his television show I wonder how many dogs he has kept from being needlessly euthanized or given up to rescue organizations. The relief and happiness of the dog owners is obvious. He exemplifies zen leadership; stressing reality and balance, always remaining calm, patient, and a “firm correctness.” In his own words,  “I rehabilitate dogs, I train people.” And lucky for those of us who love and live with dogs, he does it very well.

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.


OK – Time To Get Serious About Assumption

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N June of this year a new book was released, Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved, by Matt Rossano. The author is head of the psychology department at Southeastern Louisiana University. (I haven’t decided if I want to read this book yet, once you read this post you will understand why.) According to reviews, one of the main premises of the book is that “Religion made us human.” Already I have a problem. . . . . .

What exactly do we mean when we say “human’? Technically speaking we are animals, primates, homo sapiens.  Surely you have heard it said that humans and chimpanzees share 99% of DNA – what you may not have heard, or thought about is, one of the things this means is that a human and a chimpanzee could produce viable offspring. That’s how close we are! A very similar situation as is found with domestic dogs and wolves.

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So. . . .again, what exactly do we mean when we say “human’? There are some basic assumptions here, assumptions that I think can result in bad science, especially in the areas of psychology, sociology, and cultural anthropology.

First there is an assumption that “humans” are unique in a special way, superior somehow to other “animals”. Hmmmmmm. Let’s see, would you say that otters are superior to giraffes when it comes to living most of life in the water? Are bats superior to dogs when it comes to flying? Are bears superior to chinchillas when it comes to catching salmon to eat? Now, compared to a dog, humans are positively stupid when it comes to sense of smell. Compared to cats, humans are blind in the dark. Bonobo (a species of chimpanzee) social structure makes that of humans look horribly primitive. Hmmm, yes, chew on that one a bit – humans may not be the most highly socially evolved critter on this planet. And I have kept my examples within the class of mammals. Insects, critters that technically don’t even have brains, have adaptations that are truly brilliant compared to humans.

“Humans” are different, yes. But so are giraffes and dogs and chinchillas. What is actual is that nature (evolution) adapts each species to it’s environment. “Humans” have their adaptations and so does all the rest of life on this planet.

What about intelligence, consciousness, self-awareness, etc? Does this really set “humans” apart from the other “animals”?

Well, when it comes to intelligence, dolphins have bigger brains than we do, and may actually be more intelligent than people. There is a school of thought that emerged in the 1980’s that says we may not be equipped to correctly evaluate the intelligence of other species, because we are limited by our own adaptations and biology. As I said in a previous post, we only have one lens to look through, the “human” one. And how can we hold other species to the same standard we apply to people? Another way to say this is: Maybe you have to be a dolphin to correctly evaluate the intelligence of dolphins.

Science has debunked all the myths of what we want to believe sets us apart from the other animals so far: Other animals use tools, have symbolic language and complex communication, practice deception, form lifelong friendships, make choices and decisions, have some degree of self awareness, etc. It has been known since 1967 when it was written about by Desmond Morris in his book The Naked Ape, that dolphins, chimps, whales, and elephants have culture. Where mammals especially are concerned, the only real differences in any of these things are in degree, not kind.

So. Whatever else religion may or may not have done, it didn’t make us “human”. Nature, through evolution, made us what we are.

Now, lets look at some of the things “humans” do that other “animals” don’t. Other “animals” DON’T invent religions and then go to war over them. Other “animals” DON’T go to war over ideology. Other “animals” DON’T kill, maim, and torture others over religion. Other “animals” DON’T invent religion and then try to force it onto all the other “animals” through government, public policy, and culture.

Oh, they do fight, and some even have “wars” – ants and chimpanzees come to mind as warring creatures. But chimps go to war for only 3 reasons: territory, resources, and mates. Ants go to war for only 2 reasons: territory (expanding colonies literally need more physical space) and resources.

Interesting, no?

I think I’ll come back as a chinchilla in my next life!

Sources – related reading:

What Makes Humans Unique?

Are humans unique?

Do Animals Know Who they Are?

A Comparison of Some Similar Chimpanzee and Human Behaviors

Liberating Women – an interesting perspective from bonobo social structure

How ants carry on war

Apes of War – is it in our genes?

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.


The Waters of March by Antonio Jobim

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I got an email today asking, “What is zen?” from someone who seemed very sincere. This, with a bit of further explanation, is how I chose to answer – it’s the lyrics to an old (circa 1970’s) Brazilian song. It’s long been a favorite of mine. I think it answers the question “What is zen?” perfectly. . . .  .

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A stick, a stone,
It’s the end of the road,
It’s the rest of a stump,
It’s a little alone

It’s a sliver of glass,
It is life, it’s the sun,
It is night, it is death,
It’s a trap, it’s a gun

The oak when it blooms,
A fox in the brush,
A knot in the wood,
The song of a thrush

The wind in the wood,
A cliff, a fall,
A scratch, a lump,
It is nothing at all

It’s the wind blowing free,
It’s the end of the slope,
It’s a beam, it’s a void,
It’s a hunch, it’s a hope

And the river bank talks
of the waters of March,
It’s the end of the strain,
The joy in your heart

The foot, the ground,
The flesh and the bone,
The bend in the road,
A slingshot’s stone

A fish, a flash,
A silvery glow,
A fight, a bet,
The range of a bow

The bed of the well,
The end of the line,
The dismay in your face,
It’s a loss, it’s a find

A spear, a spike,
A point, a nail,
A drip, a drop,
The end of the tale

A truckload of bricks
in the soft morning light,
The shot of a gun
in the dead of the night

A mile, a must,
A thrust, a bump,
It’s a girl, it’s a rhyme,
It’s a cold, it’s the mumps

The plan of the house,
The body in bed,
And the car that got stuck,
It’s the mud, it’s the mud

Afloat, adrift,
A flight, a wing,
A hawk, a quail,
The promise of spring

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It’s the promise of life
It’s the joy in your heart

A stick, a stone,
It’s the end of the road
It’s the rest of a stump,
It’s a little alone

A snake, a stick,
It is John, it is Joe,
It’s a thorn in your hand
and a cut in your toe

A point, a grain,
A bee, a bite,
A blink, a buzzard,
A sudden stroke of night

A pin, a needle,
A sting, a pain,
A snail, a riddle,
A wasp, a stain

A pass in the mountains,
A horse and a mule,
In the distance the shelves
rode three shadows of blue

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It’s the promise of life
in your heart, in your heart

A stick, a stone,
The end of the road,
The rest of a stump,
A lonesome road

A sliver of glass,
A life, the sun,
A knife, a death,
The end of the run

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It’s the end of all strain,
It’s the joy in your heart
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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.

The Waters of March © Antonio Jobim


Babaloo’s Chinese Brain

There is a “new” (2003ish) theory, backed by research and such formidable technology as MRI, of course, that says our brains are wired differently according to culture. The studies were of East Asians and Westerners (mostly Americans). See here, here, and here.This is especially interesting to me because it comes particularly close to home. . . .

Jung wrote about the differences between Easterners and Westerners many years ago, before all the sophisticated technology. I think it speaks volumes that so many of Jung’s ideas and observations are proving to be right on the mark- but that’s another post.

. . . .So the reason this comes close to home is that after reading yesterday’s post (Morning. . . . see next post below this one) here in my blog, the person who introduced the “culture wires our brains differently” theory in one of my forums, said that-

“For whatever reasons, you appear to possess an (allegedly East Asian) perceptual mind rather than the (allegedly Western) discursive mind. Is one superior to the other and if so why?”

And I answered- “I would say you are correct. Interestingly, I am an American, and have never been out of my country. I have always been this way, even before I discovered Jung, zen, or Asian culture, literature and writing. I do not know if one is superior to the other. I only know that for me, the way I am is best. It does cause me difficulties though – I am often misunderstood, very often. People don’t know ‘how to take me’ many times. They think me quite eccentric and strange. Also I have been told often that I would ‘fit right in’ in Asia and that people there would not think me strange at all.”

Not only that, but according to the Jungian system of psychological types, my type is less than 1% of the population in America – but the majority of the population in China. I have been told I’m “strange”, “weird”, “different”, “eccentric”, and yes, sometimes even “crazy” all my life. It has caused me serious problems sometimes. Yet I have a clean bill of mental health. So I’m just different, VERY different, according to my culture.

What I want to know is- how did an American girl child, with parents of caucasian European stock, who never had any Asian caregivers or friends, and was never exposed to any Asian culture beyond occasionally eating at the local Chinese restaurant, end up with a Chinese-wired brain??? All of my exposure to Asian culture came later in life, MUCH later, and yes, it really did feel like coming home! I hate to poke a great big hole in all the research, but what can I say? Or maybe the theory already has a hole in it?

And while this post is funny – still it’s a serious question, I’m very curious about how I got to be so different. I mean, less than 1% of the population is not just a little different – that’s a BIG difference.

Now when someone tells me I’m weird or crazy I can say, “Don’t hate me because my brain is Chinese!” or “I’m an egg!” (white on the outside, yellow on the inside) or “Get lost round-eye, you just don’t get it!” or “Kiss me! I’m Chinese!” Such reactions no doubt would make them SURE I’m very weird and/or crazy – – then maybe they will leave me alone. . . . . . . . .

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.


Morning. . .

This morning I followed my usual routine. I splashed cold water on my face, made coffee, and took my cup out onto the veranda. The sky was palest blue-gray-lavender, nearly white, backlit by the sun behind the thick clouds. Mist hugged the earth, dragon’s breath, turning some of the trees that sage-ish, more-gray-than-green and making others a bright, vibrating green. The usual morning choir of cicadas was silent in the dimness, the night crickets still singing mutedly. The birds were hushed too. My spirit expanded and relaxed and sighed with deep happiness as I sipped my coffee and let myself be absorbed into the mists. . .

A little while later, after breakfast, I went out again to leave what remained of the morning meal for the neighborhood strays and fill the bird feeder. Now the sun, a little higher and stronger, had thinned the clouds and mist some. The sky was bluer. The mist looked like thin veils made of pearl, shining with that muted rainbow light, as pearls do. The trees and plants looked as though they had been hung with nets of diamonds as the sunlight prismed through the moisture clinging to them and making hundreds of sparkling little points of light.

And I was caught up, soaring into pure joy. . . . .

“The mountains, rivers, earth, grasses, trees, and forests, are always emanating a subtle, precious light, day and night, always emanating a subtle, precious sound, demonstrating and expounding to all people the unsurpassed ultimate truth.” –Yuansou

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.


Puppy Love

There is a koan from The Gateless Gate where the student asks the master whether a dog has the buddha nature. I don’t know the answer to the koan. What I do know is that my dog teaches me daily, by excellent example and with not a single word spoken, about zen.

If he sees a rabbit, he does not stop and ask me if it’s really a rabbit. He does not ask where the rabbit came from, or where it is going. He does not ask me what rabbits mean. He does not ask me why there are rabbits. He doesn’t ask what should be done about the rabbit. He doesn’t ask what the implications of rabbits are. He doesn’t ask why rabbits are brown and white, and not purple. He doesn’t ask if it’s a sin to chase rabbits, or if he’ll get bad karma.

HE CHASES THE RABBIT.

He just does what comes naturally.

“Act when you need to, without hesitation or doubt. People today can’t do this – what is their affliction? Their affliction is in their lack of self-confidence. If you do not spontaneously trust yourself sufficiently, you will be in a frantic state, pursuing all sorts of objects and being changed by those objects, unable to be independent.” –Linji

If he needs to make water, he asks to go outside and makes water. When he is tired he goes to sleep. When he wants to play, he brings me his ball. He eats whatever food I give him happily.

When I’m tired, or disconcerted from ‘having a bad day’, or when something has made me sad, he comes and lays his head in my lap or cuddles up to me. He does not ask what is wrong. He doesn’t tell me I’m silly to worry or feel sad. He doesn’t ask philosophical or existential questions.

And yes, I’m attached to my dog.

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.