Monday, January 31, 2011

Healing Properties of Phenacite

 Phenacite crystal

Phenacite, also known as phenakite, is a rare beryllium silicate mineral that has been traditionally used as a gemstone. Phenacite has been mined together with emerald and chrysoberyl from the mines near Yekaterinburg in the Urals region of Russia where it was usually found in form of large crystals embedded in mica formations. Phenacite is also found in granite formations of Urals Mountains, Russia and Pikes Peak region of Colorado, USA. Considerable amounts of phenacite are also found in Madagascar, Myanmar, Norway, and Zimbabwe. Probably the most beautiful phenacite comes from the Minas Gerais near San Miguel de Piricicaba, Brazil. The stones excavated from these mines are famous for their rare beauty and exceptional clarity. 

Phenacite occurs as very well formed free trigonal (rhombohedral) crystals, large prisms, or relatively small prismatic wands. It may also form a small clusters. Phenacite is either transparent or milky and comes in different colors. Very often it is colorless, but can also be white, yellow, pink, light red, or even brown. 

The name phenacite derives from the Greek word phenas which literally means liar or deceiver. Phenacite earned this name because its growth patterns often resemble other minerals. It is often confused with quartz, topaz, or even tourmaline. When used as gem, phenacite receives the multifaceted brilliant cut and can be mistaken for diamond. 

Phenacite is considered to be one of the most powerful minerals that are used in crystal healing. It can be used to assist personal and spiritual growth. The stone appears to open one's mind and speed the progress. Those who use it may experience synchronicity phenomena occurring unexpectedly in their lives.  

Phenacite has a remarkable healing potential. It is able to clear, cleanse, activate, and align all the chakras in the body. It increases the vibrational energy and helps the body cells to regenerate. It can be used to heal neural disorders, nerve damage and cerebral imbalance. It activates the third eye chakra and helps to clear the mind and gain the insight. It has the capacity to bring love and positive energy into one's life. Phenacite promotes meditation and permits access to the regions of the mind that go beyond intuition. The healing takes place on a quantum level and there is nothing magical about it. 

In esoteric circles the stone is believed to have the power to stimulate the eighth chakra also known as the soul star chakra and to allow access to higher dimensions. The eighth chakra is located within the astral body above the crown chakra. The stone has the capacity to induce powerful dreams and visions and precipitates immense spiritual growth. Sensitive individuals may experience enhanced paranormal activity.  

Phenacite is a very interesting mineral. It is rather rare and expensive. The best specimen are seldom found outside museums and private collections. Although its beauty is rather unobtrusive, the power of phenacite cannot be underestimated. During meditation or for the healing purposes phenacite can be used with other crystals. It has the ability to amplify their effect on both, the body and the mind. 

By Dominique Allmon

*This article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease.


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Healing Properties of Phenacite by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Master and the Thief

One evening, Zen master Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras when a thief entered his house with a sharp sword, demanding "money or life". Without any fear, Shichiri said, "Don't disturb me! Help yourself with the money, it's in that drawer". And then, without paying any attention to the thief,  he resumed his recitation.

The thief was startled by this unexpected reaction, but he proceeded with his business anyway. While he was helping himself to the money, the master stopped and called, "Don't take all of it. Leave some for me to pay my taxes tomorrow". The thief left some money behind and prepared to leave. Just before he left, the master suddenly shouted at him, "You took my money and you didn't even thank me?! That's not polite!". This time, the thief was really shocked at such fearlessness. He thanked the master and ran away. The thief later told his friends that he had never been so frightened in his life.

A few days later, the thief was caught and confessed, among many others, his theft at Shichiri's house. When the master was called as a witness, he said, "No, this man did not steal anything from me. I gave him the money. He even thanked me for it."

The thief was so touched that he decided to change his ways. He repented. Upon his release from prison, he became a disciple of the master and studied the dharma with unsurpassed diligence. Many years later, he attained Enlightenment.

Image source unknown, but greatly appreciated


Friday, January 28, 2011

25th Anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

 Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986

25 years ago on January 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after its launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Six astronauts and one civilian, five men and two women, died that day in a tragic accident that was caused by the failure of the booster engine. This was worst space disaster ever. Millions of people across America and abroad watched it live on television.

Those who perished were: Challenger's commander Francis Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, mission specialists Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe, who was selected to be the first teacher in space.

The Space Shuttle Challenger crew

Challenger was named after two vessels: a British corvette HMS Challenger that was the command ship for the Challenger Expedition undertaken from 1872 through 1876, and the Apollo 17 lunar module Challenger, which landed on the Moon in 1972.

Following its first flight in April 1983, Space Shuttle Challenger quickly became the workhorse of NASA's Space Shuttle fleet, flying far more missions per year than the Space Shuttle Columbia. Challenger flew on 85 percent of all Space Shuttle missions in 1983 and 1984. Even when the orbiters Discovery and Atlantis joined the fleet, Challenger remained in heavy use with three missions a year between 1983 and 1985. The fateful flight twenty five years ago was Challenger's twenty fifth flight.

According to Rogers Commission Report, the disaster was caused by the failure of the pressure seal in the aft field joint of the right Solid Rocket Booster, due to a faulty design that was unacceptably sensitive to several factors such as the effects of temperature, physical dimensions, the character of materials, the effects of re-usability, processing and the reaction of the joint to dynamic loading. The investigation also revealed that NASA was more concerned with schedules and public relations than with the safety of its program.

On the night of the Space Shuttle disaster, President Ronald Reagan went on national television to pay tribute to the courage and the bravery of those who perished in the disaster. In an address to the Nation Reagan said: "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."

President Reagan, who ordered an immediate inquiry into the disaster, also stressed that the space program would continue in honor to the dead astronauts.

Official ceremony to commemorate the 25th anniversary of this tragic accident took place on the January 28th, 2011 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Among the special guest was the widow of the Challenger's commander, June Scobee Rodgers, who was also the prime mover behind the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Judging People of the Past

  Madame de Pompadour and the Marquis de Marigny by Alexander Roslin, 1754

A mistake constantly made by those who should know better is to judge people of the past by our standards rather than their own. The only way men or women can be judged is against the canvas of their own time. - Louis L'Amour in "Education of a Wandering Man"

It appears to be absolutely logical that the people of a particular era could only have acted the way they did. They acted accordingly to their knowledge and their understanding of the world. This includes morality of the particular period. 

Yet, some questions come to mind: Are moral values universal or do they depend on the "fashions" of an epoch? What was right then may seem absolutely outrageous today. We are quick to blame. But who are we to judge from our own standpoint? Would we have acted differently if we lived then? Do moral judgments depend on the political and social contexts of a particular era or are certain moral truths valid universally and independently of time and place?

Evolution of the society includes evolution of consciousness. As both, the individual and the collective consciousness evolve, people gain more and more understanding of the human condition. And yet, moral relativism remains a haunting issue. We may intuitively believe that it is wrong to do this or that and act accordingly, but we may never be certain that the future generations would think of us as righteous. No matter how enlightened we may feel we are, it is possible that one hundred years from now our moral values will be judged as barbaric. And it is very much possible that we would not be judged from the perspective of our own times. The judging and the judged never share the same understanding or experience.

By Dominique Allmon ©2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

Missing Reagan

 40th President of the USA, Ronald Reagan

By Chester Pach

Historians have had difficulty assessing Reagan's contradictory record. The most recent poll of scholars, completed three years ago, placed Reagan in the "average" category, far below the greatness of Washington and Lincoln but comfortably above the failures of Harding and Buchanan. Yet this composite ranking is misleading, since many members of the panel thought that Reagan was anything but average. Seven of the thirty-two jurors considered Reagan's record "near great," but nine thought he was a "below average" chief executive. Four consigned his presidency to "failure." 

Surely these polarized evaluations remind us that there are no universal standards for evaluating presidential performance. Even criteria that gained wide acceptance, such as those advanced forty years ago in Richard Neustadt's masterly study of Presidential Power, tended to generalize too much from the "active" leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt, while slighting the "passive" stewardship of Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

Yet whatever standards scholars might use to rate presidents, none is objective. Historians try to be fair and judicious, but their evaluations necessarily reflect personal values and cultural norms. Presidential reputations wax and wane not only because we learn more as previously restricted archives and personal papers become available, but also because we alter our views of what constitutes success in the Oval Office. It's no accident that Eisenhower, once derided for providing little more than inertia during the supposed complacency of the 1950s, now looks better simply for avoiding the excesses of his imperial successors.

Reagan rarely spoke or wrote about presidential greatness. But on one of the few occasions when he did, the 250th anniversary of George Washington's birth, Reagan invoked criteria that are as good, if not better, than most others. "He did more than live up to the standards of the time," Reagan proclaimed of Washington, "He set them." The first president was able to do so because he possessed "a vision of the future" and "exceptional character."  

In many ways, Reagan was far more ordinary than he was exceptional. He possessed only modest intellectual gifts, and he used them indifferently. What impressed more was his smile, sincerity, and soothing rhetoric, talents he honed as an actor and as a spokesperson for the General Electric Company.

But Reagan cared deeply about some issues, and by the early 1960s he had developed a clear, conservative philosophy, whose core was opposition to big government and the evils of communism and that guided him throughout his political career. As president, he possessed an unshakeable certainty that his vision of the future would prevail - that tax cuts would produce prosperity even as the recession of the early 1980s deepened; that communism would ultimately be relegated to "the ash-heap of history," as he predicted in 1982, even as the Cold War grew more intense. 

With remarkable effectiveness, Reagan set the political agenda for the 1980s. The issues that he considered most important - including tax reform, deregulation, reductions in social welfare programs, and increases in defense spending - dominated the politics of the decade. Reagan was brilliant and beguiling in rallying support for his programs. But his public pronouncements, often laced with assertions of principle and moral certainty, masked a tactical flexibility that was one of his most notable assets as president. Reagan, despite his unconventional background, was hardly just an actor who happened to be good at saying his lines. He was an accomplished and resourceful politician.  

Yet before we place Reagan alongside Washington, we should remember that even the Great Communicator could not persuasively explain some of the major contradictions in his own record. Reagan never submitted a balanced budget to Congress despite his commitment to fiscal restraint, and the national debt tripled during his presidency. While insisting that his administration would never negotiate with terrorists, the president secretly approved the trading of weapons for hostages that became public knowledge during the Iran-contra scandal. And although he expressed a genuine compassion for the poor - a sympathy so great that he occasionally sent personal checks to people who wrote to him about their privations - his policies exacerbated the disparity between rich and poor.

However we assess this complex and sometimes puzzling record, we ought to do so with caution and modesty and with a clear sense that our judgments must be provisional. In recent years we have learned to appreciate, in the phrase of historian John Lewis Gaddis, "the unexpected Ronald Reagan." The fervent anti-communist who condemned the Evil Empire surprisingly became Gorbachev's partner in ending the Cold War. The opponent of the nuclear freeze movement actually abhorred nuclear weapons, so much so that he discussed their complete elimination at his summit conference with Gorbachev at Reykjavik in 1986 and signed the INF treaty in 1987 that liquidated all U.S. and Soviet intermediate-range nuclear missiles. 

As the Presidential Records Act leads to faster and more predictable opening of documents at the Reagan Library, there are indications that we might expect more of the unexpected. Our first glimpses at the President's Handwriting File, for example, have challenged some of the myths about Reagan's lethargy. Reagan was notorious for his "hands-off" and disengaged style of administration, even to the point that he joked about nodding off at cabinet meetings. Yet Reagan's newly opened files show that the president answered much of his correspondence himself, not just to long-time friends but occasionally to ordinary citizens who sent letters of praise or complaint. While many of Reagan's most memorable phrases came from the brilliant speech writer Peggy Noonan, quite a few of the president's speeches contain long passages that came from Reagan's own pen. And while there's no doubt that Reagan took naps and frequent vacations, the paper trail shows that he spent hours on the phone or meeting face-to-face with undecided or wavering members of Congress as crucial votes approached.

That Reagan often spoke from scripts that he wrote, rather than those others prepared for him, hardly makes his ideas profound or wise. And it is still not clear, aside from a few crucial issues like the Strategic Defense Initiative, exactly what role the president played in the evolution of policy. But it seems a safe bet that the documents that will be the foundation of the new Reagan scholarship will force us to reconsider some of our familiar views of Reagan. 

Evaluating the Reagan presidency is challenging and controversial. While it may be tempting - maybe even unavoidable - to use the standard categories of "great," "average," and "failure," these terms seem to fit an unconventional leader like Reagan even less than most presidents. For now, maybe we should be content with recognizing that Reagan was an exceptional president who will continue to surprise us.

Article source here
Image source here

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Beauty Redeemed

By Trebbe Johnson

The frog, kissed, turns into a prince.

We all know the story. The arrogant young princess had wanted nothing to do with the slimy, splay-toed creature who showed up right after her treasured golden ball bounced into a deep well. When the frog promised to retrieve it if she would take him home with her, she airily agreed. She was a princess, used to getting what she wanted, and she had no thought of complying. Ball in hand, off she went. That evening, when the frog showed up at the castle, and demanded to eat from her plate and sleep in her bed, she turned her face in disgust. Her father, the king, however, insisted that she keep her word. Later - some say that very night, some say after days of eating and sleeping together - Frog asked for a kiss. When the princess complied or, as in an early version of the tale, when she hurled him against the wall in fury, she freed him from a spell that had been cast on him, and he turned into a handsome prince.

What’s going on here?

On one level, it’s easy. You can say: kindness turns ugliness into beauty. Digging deeper, Bruno Bettelheim believed that the story is a lesson about sexuality for the maturing adult; it promises that, with time and continued intimacy, disgust will fade and “we will experience a happy shock of recognition when complete closeness reveals sexuality’s true beauty.” True, perhaps, but the fascination in this and other stories in which ugliness, confronted, is transformed not just to beauty, but to the original beauty of the metamorphosed one, lingers on, past adolescence. Myths and fairy tales endure because they are complex and pliant. Lean into any particular spot of a myth, and the fabric, like an elaborately embroidered arras in a Shakespearean drama, will fold around you, and shape itself to your query.

So what is the shape of beauty in tales of an ugly creature redeemed through the attentions of another?

Shape shifting is a familiar ploy in world myth. Gods and wizards can change their own forms in a blink. They can also transform others if provoked by anger, jealousy, or simply whim. Suddenly, a person looks down to see his familiar body subsumed in the limbs and skin of another creature, while his own acute human consciousness quails at the horror of the situation. Often, it is only an act of the gods that can turn the human back again. In Greek myth, jealous Hera changes Io into a cow after Zeus - disguised as a cloud to hide his crime - has raped her. Then, after poor Io spends years wandering and bellowing around the world, Zeus has a moment of compassion and changes her back again. Sometimes, as in the Irish tale of the children of Lir, it is only time (in that case nine hundred years) that can reverse the spell. Every now and then the victim cures himself, as Lucius does in the Roman story, when he eats the roses that change him from an ass back to a man.

But in other tales from diverse lands and traditions, beauty is redeemed not by the gods, time, or an antidote, but by another human - like the imperious princess. Those rescuers don’t have superpowers. They can’t turn the tortured victim into some other creature, and, in fact, it would not occur to them to try to do so, since the magic they enact is seldom deliberate. What they can do is change the ugly one back to his or her original - and beautiful - form through purely human behavior. In the process, two people transform: the ugly one whose beauty is redeemed, and the redeemer him- or herself.

It is not with the petulance of a princess, but with a knight’s sense of honor, that a human act restores lost beauty in the Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell. King Arthur had been threatened with the loss of his head if he could not come up with the answer to the question posed by the ferocious Green Knight: “What do women want?” Traveling the kingdom in search of the answer, Arthur met Dame Ragnell, who, like Frog, was willing to exchange favors: she would tell him the answer if Arthur’s knight, Sir Gawain, would marry her. Unfortunately, Dame Ragnell was “the most ugly hag mankind had ever seen: face red, nose snotted withal, mouth wide, teeth yellow and hanging down over her lip, a long thick neck, and hanging heavy paps.” Sir Gawain conceded, however, and Arthur got his answer: Sovereignty. What women want most is sovereignty.

The Green Knight was defeated, and Gawain duly returned to Dame Ragnell and married her. On the wedding night, after he forced himself to lie down beside her, she asked teasingly for just one little kiss. Gallantly, the knight assured her that he would do more than merely kiss her, at which point she turned into a beautiful woman. She then presented her astonished bridegroom with a choice: she could be beautiful by day when others saw her, and ugly at night when they were alone; or she could be ugly during the day, and beautiful at night - just for him.

Sir Gawain had learned his lesson. “My lady,” he replied, “the choice is up to you.”

The supremacy of her autonomy acknowledged, Dame Ragnell declared that henceforth she would be beautiful all the time.

Sovereignty means being independent and unlimited by any other. It is often said that one nation “recognizes” the sovereignty of the other, as if the state of autonomy actually pre-existed a more recent one of subjugation. When we acknowledge the sovereignty of another person, we affirm that they are independent from us, whole and complete - hence beautiful - unto themselves. Avowing that he will make love to his hideous bride, Sir Gawain exceeds the conditions of the bargain and takes on the task of what Clarissa Pinkola Estés calls loving the not-beautiful:

What is the not-beautiful? Our own secret hunger to be loved is the not-beautiful. Our disuse and misuse of love is the not-beautiful. Our dereliction in loyalty and devotion is unlovely, our sense of soul-separateness is homely, our psychological warts, inadequacies, misunderstandings, and infantile fantasies are the not-beautiful. Additionally, the Life/Death/Life nature, which births, destroys, incubates and births again, is considered by our cultures the not-beautiful.

Estés is writing here about another myth in which the rescuer extends himself in a patient, deliberate way, to transform the ugly back to the beautiful. In the Inuit tale of Skeleton Woman, a woman who had turned to bones and lay twisting and turning beneath the sea was pulled up in the net of a fisherman. When he first glimpsed this horrifying catch, the fisherman was appalled and wanted only to push her back into the depths. But his own humanity got the better of him, and he took her back to his snow house and carefully revived her by untangling her bones and laying them out aright. By and by she became again a whole woman, fleshy, warm-blooded, sensual.

Both Sir Gawain and the fisherman show us that the beauty of the other is revealed only when we stop wishing for the ugliness to disappear, and accept the other person fully. But acceptance alone is not enough. Loving the ugly back to its original beauty is a task that cannot be accomplished passively. Active loving is necessary. Gawain can’t simply marry Ragnell and then, wishing her a pleasant good night, shut himself away in his own room. The fisherman can’t dump that heap of bones on the beach and head home, consoling himself that somebody else will take the trouble to deal with the problem. To restore beauty, it is necessary to give beauty abundantly, even as instinct tells us to flee. In other words, we have to begin the metamorphosis by transforming our own expectations of what it is possible for us to do. We must move beyond the confines of what is safe and familiar, and even desired, and say Yes! to the scary, but compelling, possibility before us. Or, as the contemporary scholar of myth, Roberto Calasso, puts it, it is necessary to touch the monster. “The monster can pardon the hero who has killed him. But he will never pardon the hero who would not deign to touch him.” Daring to touch the unbeautiful, we realize that not only are we not dragged down into something loathsome, but that just the reverse occurs. We feel empowered, joyous, connected with the other. To give beauty- to our own misshapen selves, to another person, to a group of people, even to a damaged place on the earth - is to move past the fear or repugnance that keep us separate from life itself. To restore beauty is to marry the world, outside us and within.

For those who do undertake such an act of faith and courage, both redeemed and redeemer are even further transformed, as the Iroquois legend of Hiawatha beautifully shows. All the five nations of the Iroquois were at war with one another when the Peacemaker, Deganawidah, appeared among them in a canoe of white stone. He began going among the tribes, offering his teachings of peace, and eventually arrived at the house of the notorious Man Who Eats Humans. When Deganawidah climbed onto the roof and peered down through the smoke hole, he saw the man setting onto the fire a kettle containing the meat of a human body. At that moment, the Man Who Eats Humans looked into the pot and saw, reflected in the water, Deganawidah’s face imposed on his own, and in that moment he had a revelation. He realized that the man who possessed such a wise and noble face could never eat human flesh. Immediately he took the kettle outside and emptied it.

Deganawidah taught his message of peace to the reformed man, and the two of them continued on together to deliver the message to the tribes. Deganawidah called the man Hiawatha, He Who Combs, because he knew that he would have to confront and convert the greatest obstacle of all to peace, an Onondaga man named Atotarho, who was so cruel that his body had become twisted, and his hair a mass of writhing snakes. And so it was. At first Atotarho mocked the Great Law of Peace. Then he cast a spell on Hiawatha’s wife and daughters that killed them. For a long time Hiawatha sat by a lake grieving, unable to go forth until Deganawidah came to comfort him. Then they continued with their mission.

At last all the tribes were united, but still Atotarho refused. Deganawidah promised him that he would be chief of all, and keeper of the fire. Still Atotarho balked, asking who had the power. The chiefs of the five tribes came together and Deganawidah said, “Here is power.” Then Atotarho’s mind was changed, and Hiawatha combed the snakes out of his hair, and the twisted body straightened.

Transformed himself, Hiawatha goes on to change others, especially his enemy, Atotarho. This is the ultimate redemption. And it occurs not just once, but in steps: with Hiawatha’s realization of his own nobility, as reflected in the face of Deganawidah; his active participation in spreading the Great Law of Peace; his continued commitment to that new path, even after he has been plunged into great suffering; his willingness not only to teach peace to his enemy, but to give him the responsibility for maintaining it as chief; and finally, the touchingly personal and compassionate act of combing the snakes out of the enemy’s hair. This tale reminds us that confronting ugliness in ourselves enables us to penetrate and overturn it, since we know its difficult ways. Hiawatha’s journey also assures us that we will be tested, that we must expect to encounter the unbeautiful in ever-new forms that will demand ever-new expressions of beauty.

In each of these stories, lost beauty and brokenness are redeemed through the fire of suffering. Not just one, but two people undergo this trial, the one whose beauty has been stolen and then redeemed and the redeemer him- or herself, through the process of confronting the ugly. Beauty is superficial when it is untried. Lost, unseen, and unbelieved, and then, wonder of wonders, loved back to life, it flourishes, and both the beautified and the beautifier are stronger and wiser. Just as human consciousness remained locked within the victim during the time of trials, now, we hearers and readers of these tales assume, the memory of the hard times will endure after the transformation. One who has suffered and survived undergoes an alchemical process. She or he is like glass, which, as the nineteenth-century alchemist Shaikh Ahmad Ahsa’i wrote: after repeated fusings, refirings, and infusion of the magical Elixir, “becomes diamond. It is still glass and yet no - it is something other - but not so, it is certainly itself but itself after undergoing all these trials.” The heroes in these tales are themselves, but themselves after undergoing all these trials.

Ample research has shown that facing ugliness or unpleasantness and giving of oneself to transform it, improves the psychological well-being of the giver. Taking this principle as a spiritual mandate, Zen master Roshi Bernie Glassman offers “street retreats” in downtown Los Angeles, during which his students live as the homeless do. He claims that this work enables spiritual seekers to confront parts of themselves that have been rejected. We can encounter and transform ugliness into beauty in countless ways: by helping one another, by acknowledging some fearsome secret in ourselves, and by rejecting our own propensity to victimhood and striving for vitality in bad situations. We can even transform the physical world around us or, rather, we can transform our relationship with it. For the Global Earth Exchange in the summer of 2010, people all over the world went to natural places made ugly through mining, clear-cutting, pollution, and other assaults. After spending time there, they created a simple “act of beauty.” Lucy Hinton of London went with three friends to a dump near an industrial site, where they made a sculpture out of trash. “It was as if the place had been dead before, and now it was alive,” she wrote later. “When it was time to go, none of us wanted to leave. After spending time with the place in such an intimate way, it felt as though we had given some of ourselves to the place, and it to us. By the time we left, we felt relaxed, at home, like pioneers who had begun the process of breaking an invisible barrier that, until now, held this wounded place in some kind of soulless imprisonment. We dreamed of returning and helping to break up the baked hard topsoil so that seeds could emerge through the surface crust, and the birds and color might return once more.”

Together and individually, myths and tales of beauty redeemed build a teaching in how to reveal the beautiful beneath the ugly:
  • show compassion
  • acknowledge the sovereignty of the other
  • confront the unbeautiful
  • love actively
  • turn suffering itself to beauty
There is one more step we can take, if we dare. Persian legends relate the trials of Majnun, a crazy-in-love young man who devoted his whole life to searching for his beloved Layla, from whom he had long been separated. One day, a man noted for his piety came upon Majnun sifting through dirt in the middle of the road. “You claim to be so devoted to your beloved,” the holy man said scornfully. “If that is so, how can you grovel here, searching for a pearl like Layla in the midst of all this rubbish?”

“Well,” Majnun explained, “I seek Layla everywhere, so that one day I may find her somewhere.”

As Majnun shows, we can choose not only not to avoid the ugly, we can place ourselves right in the midst of it. Even garbage can become beautiful, since our hands and intention must sort through it to come upon what is precious. Knowing that the essence of beauty, love, and authenticity we seek could be anywhere, we look everywhere. Then we may discover for ourselves what Majnun knows with all his heart: searching for beauty, we have the opportunity to encounter beauty anywhere.

Article source PARABOLA

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Caroline Painting from Behind by Rodney Smith

Self-revelation is a cruel process. The real picture, the real ”you” never emerges. Looking for it is as bewildering as trying to know how you really look. Ten different mirrors show you ten different faces. - Shashi Deshpande

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Resveratrol - The Longevity Molecule

What is resveratrol?

Resveratrol, also called the longevity molecule, is a polyphenol found in certain red grapes, red wine, and few other plants. It is well researched for its antioxidant capability and the ability to inhibit inflammation in the body. In plants, resveratrol acts as a defensive molecule, so called phytoalexin - a natural antibiotic that plants produce as a reaction to pathogenic infection, nutrient deprivation, and mechanical stress. Resveratrol is considered to have similar protective and life prolonging qualities in the human organism as well. 

Resveratrol is found in abundance in red grapes, especially the skins of the pinot noir variety, raspberries, mulberries, blueberries and bilberries. Substantial amounts are found in peanuts, certain pine trees, and in the roots and stalks of the Japanese knotweed plant known in the Traditional Chinese Medicine as Hu Zhang (Polygonum cuspidatum). Most resveratrol used in nutritional supplements is commercially derived from this plant, although there are some products on the market that also contain resveratrol from red grapes (Vitis vinifera). 

Resveratrol - the longevity molecule

After observing a surprisingly low rates of heart disease among the red wine drinking French population whose diet is rather high in saturated fat, scientists discovered a molecule that was responsible for the phenomenon. They called it resveratrol. Subsequent research demonstrated that resveratrol has a unique ability to mimic the gene expression effects of caloric restriction.

Gerontologists consider caloric restriction to be the only way to maximally extend the life span. However, the long term calorie restriction program is not very easy or very practical to follow and most people do not just want to live longer, but also wish to enjoy life in its entirety, which, of course, includes the joys of good cuisine. Resveratrol, however, may offer a solution. The molecule not only mimics caloric restriction, but it also increases the caloric expenditure and improves the insulin sensitivity thus contributing to optimal body weight - another important co-relate of longevity. 

Scientists also concluded that resveratrol which activates sirtuin protein in the body, may be helpful in prevention and treatment of metabolic disorders that are related to mitochondrial dysfunction thus giving hope to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients. More research has to be conducted in this field before an effective drug could be patented.

Resveratrol was also found to support the health of the endothelial tissue that is lining the blood vessels in the human body. This is a very important find as the scientists believe that atherosclerosis begins with the inflammatory damage in this tissue. The resveratrol molecule also seems to decrease the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein or LDL thus further promoting the cardiovascular health.

Research also demonstrated that resveratrol has the remarkable ability to inhibit the growth of many cancers. On the one hand, the resveratrol molecule blocks the activity of the NF-kß - a protein responsible for initiating the inflammatory process in cancer genesis. On the other, it speeds up the apoptosis or death of cancer cells. Scientists also observed that people who drunk red wine regularly were less susceptible to certain cancers. Red wine drinkers, for instance, were less likely to develop colorectal cancer.

Why trans-resveratrol?

Resveratrol is a very unstable molecule that degrades quickly under the influence of light, heat, and oxygen. It degrades to its cis-resveratrol form which is less effective. Many resveratrol products on the market are not delivering what they promise. They contain resveratrol glycosides, or resveratrol bound to sugar. They are ineffective, unless they contain the stabilized resveratrol molecule called trans-resveratrol. Trans-resveratrol in supplements is almost identical with the resveratrol used in laboratory testing and as such contains enough antioxidant power to activate the SIRT1 protein. Before buying your resveratrol supplement make sure that it contains trans-resveratrol that was encapsulated in environmentally sealed nitrogen capsules.

A next generation of resveratrol supplements appeared on the market recently. The capsules contain micronized trans-resveratrol and promise even higher bio-availability and effectiveness. 

Products containing both, trans-resveratrol from red grapes and the grape seed extract, are considered to be the most effective. 

Dosage - when less means more

There is no established dose of resveratrol. Relatively small doses of trans-resveratrol are sufficient to induce the life prolonging effect. Trans-resveratrol in large doses has the adverse effect. It sends a death-signal to the cells and causes cell apoptosis, or self destruction of cells. This fact is being explored in anti-cancer therapy. Research has demonstrated that extremely high doses of trans-resveratrol shrunk tumors in laboratory animals.

However, when resveratrol is used as a nutritional supplement for prevention of disease, healthy adults should not take more than 100 mg of trans-resveratrol daily. Higher doses may have unwanted side effects that call for caution. In laboratory setting high doses of resveratrol inhibit liver enzyme P450 which is involved in metabolism of some common medications. This means that resveratrol can theoretically increase the bio-availability of certain drugs. Individuals using statin drugs, benzodiazepins, calcium-channel blockers, or medication to treat erectile dysfunction, should not exceed the recommended dose of 100 mg per day. People using anticoagulant or anti-platelet drugs should not take more than 100 mg resveratrol per day as the molecule has the ability to inhibit platelet aggregation in humans.

Drug companies are currently seeking to patent a resveratrol resembling molecule in order to produce pharmaceutical drugs that could treat and prevent diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or Alzheimer's disease. Until such drugs appear on the market, consumers can indulge in red grapes and an occasional glass of a pinot noir. Next best thing are the trans-resveratrol capsules containing resvertrol in its most bio-available form.  

By Dominique Allmon


*This information is for educational purposes only. Please, consult qualified health care provider before beginning supplementation. Nutritional supplements do not replace a healthy diet.

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Resveratrol - The Longevity Molecule by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ophiuchus - The Thirteenth Sign of Zodiac

Kepler's drawing of Ophiuchus from his book
"De Stella Nova in Pede Serpentarii"
indicating the location of the 1604 supernova

"Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." - William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar

Parke Kunkle, an astronomy professor at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College and a board member of the Minnesota Planetary Society, caused more commotion than he could ever imagine when he recently told a Star Tribune of Minneapolis journalist that Earth's wobbly orbit caused a shift in the alignment of our planet with the stars. This means that the Earth is no longer aligned with the stars in the same way as when the signs of the zodiac were first conceived by the Babylonians some three thousand years ago.

This message stirred the entire astrological community. But the astronomers were aware of the wobble in the Earth's orbit already around 130 B.C. and Kunkle wonders about the whole hype: "This is not new news. I have no idea why it went viral this time. Almost every astronomy class talks about it." 

"When (astrologers) say that the sun is in Pisces, it's really not in Pisces," he said. This phenomenon occurs as a result of something called “precession”. Precession is caused by the wobble of the Earth which affects how we see the distinctive patterns in the night sky.

Since the astrological sign is determined by the position of the sun on the day one was born,  this would mean that everything we thought we knew about our horoscopes was incorrect. And while some of us couldn't care less, many people who decided to order their affairs around the astrological predictions find this very problematic. 

Shelley Ackerman, an astrologer and spokeswoman for American Federation of Astrologers, said she's been swamped with e-mails from worried clients whose signs would change under the new system. She advises her clients not to overreact.

"This doesn't change your chart at all. I'm not about to use it," she said. "I've told all of them not to worry about it. Every few years a story like this comes out and scares the living daylights out of everyone, but it'll go away as quickly as it came."

Ms. Ackerman said there are an infinite number of ways to divide the constellations, and that scientists are continually discovering new stars or a new solar system. Astrologers don't change their systems for every new change, she said.

"Just as in medicine when there are new discoveries you don't change the entire system, you just work with it to see if and where it fits into existing system," she said.

Many people may be unaware of the fact that a similar "shift" already occurred once, namely, when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in place of the Julian one. The Gregorian calendar was first proposed by the Pope Gregory XIII who issued a papal bull in 1582. The previously used Julian calendar became more and more inaccurate. Because the calendar was incorrectly determining the date of the Easter, Pope Gregory XIII decided to reform the calendar in such a way that the Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurred around the Vernal Equinox. Due to this adjustment the Sun would enter let say the Gemini constellation in July - a month normally dedicated to Cancer. The astrologers did not make any adjustments there.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kunkle enjoys answering all the phone calls he now receives from journalists all over the world. He hopes that maybe this would spark interest in the science of astronomy. This may happen, but right now millions of people are concerned about their fate. There is no mass hysteria yet, but many people seem to be either angry or confused, because their sign has shifted and a thirteenth sign of the Zodiac has been added to the astrological calendar.

According to the current astrological principles, the Sun travels directly from the constellation Scorpius to the constellation of Sagittarius. But in reality, the Sun enters the star constellation Ophiuchus before entering Sagittarius. This fact creates the astrological necessity of a new sign in the Zodiac - the sign of Ophiuchus the Serpent Holder. The astronomically correct astrologers were probably aware of this necessity long ago, but used the traditional twelve-signs system for the sake of symmetry or convenience.

In astronomy and astrology the Zodiac is defined as the belt of starry constellations through which the Sun, the Moon and the planets seem to travel. But the number of constellations that were defined under that very ancient scheme was not twelve. It was actually thirteen.

Ophiuchus did not appear out of nowhere. It is and has always been the thirteenth constellation on the Zodiac belt, but nobody has ever wanted to include it in the astrological manuals. The reason for it may have lied in the simple fact that there were only twelve months in the year, but probably also in a deep rooted superstition against the number thirteen. Thirteen is a feminine number associated with the Moon in the occult work. Its dark symbolism can be traced to the Norse myth in which an honorary banquet was held in Valhalla for Baldur, the God of Nobility, Redemption and Admirable Strength. The twelve Norse gods were paid an unexpected visit by Loki The Trickster who came to the banquet as an uninvited thirteenth guest.

The omission of Ophiuchus throws some light on the whole unscientific process of devising horoscopes by the astrologers who assure their clients that not only their fate, but also their psychological traits depend on the configuration of the stars and the planets in the sky. What if you were born under Ophiuchus, but you wrongly believed that you were Sagittarius? Would this new knowledge suddenly change who you are? Would you suddenly discover personality traits you never knew you had?

Ophiuchus is a large constellation located around the celestial equator and is traditionally represented by a man grasping a serpent. The name "Ophiuchus" derives from two Greek words: ophis - serpent and ekhein - to hold, have, keep.

Ophiuchus was one of the forty eight constellations listed by the second-century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the eighty eight constellations known to us today. It was formerly called Serpentarius - a Latin word with the same meaning as Ophiuchus.

The Ophiuchus constellation is located between Aquila, Serpens and Hercules, northwest of the center of the Milky Way. The southern part lies between Scorpius to the west and Sagittarius to the east. It is best visible in the Northern sky during Summer when it appears opposite to Orion. The constellation Serpens is divided into two parts - the Serpens Caput and the Serpens Cauda.

As every other constellation known to the Greeks, Ophiuchus received its share of drama. It took its storyline directly from the Greek myth about the healer Aesclepius who was trying to revive Orion The Hunter and who was struck and killed in the process by a thunderbolt hurled at him by Zeus. Hades, the God of the Underworld, was alarmed that Aesclepius' ability to revive the dead would soon put him out of business. He prevailed upon his brother Zeus to intervene in the matter. Zeus who also was afraid that Aesclepius was capable of making the whole human race immortal, complied with his brother's request and delivered the deadly blow. Later on Zeus placed the image of Aesclepius in the heavens to honor the healers good deeds. Aesclepius was venerated by the Greeks as the God of Healing and Medicine.

Scientists decided to restore the Zodiac to its correct form and include the constellation of Ophiuchus. Astrologers will now have to adapt their charts to the new system. The astrological signs will shift accordingly. Moreover, the astrologists will have to develop the whole new set of traits, fortunes and misfortunes for the people who were born under the sign of Ophiuchus.

Here is where the real signs of the Zodiac should fall:

Aries = April 19th - May 13th
Taurus = May 14th - June 19th
Gemini = June 20th - July 20th
Cancer = July 21st - August 9th
Leo = August 10th - September 15th
Virgo = September 16th - October 30th
Libra = October 31st - November 22nd
Scorpio = November 23rd - November 29th
Ophiuchus = November 30th - December 17th
Sagittarius = December 18th - January 18th
Capricorn = January 19th - February 15th
Aquarius = February 16th - March 11th
Pisces = March 12th - April 18th

For many people life will never be the same. The whole existing astrological literature became obsolete not because it is unscientific, but because the whole system does not reflect the real picture in the sky. For the sake of simple convenience, it actually never did.

By Dominique Allmon ©2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

On Doubt and Uncertainity

 The theory of everything

By Richard Feynman

If you expected science to give all the answers to the wonderful questions about what we are, where we are going what the meaning of the universe is and so on then I think you can easily become disillusioned and then look for some mystic answer to these problems. How a scientist can take a mystic answer I don’t know because the whole spirit is to understand… well never mind that, anyway I don’t understand that… but anyhow… if you think of it though… I the way I think of what we are doing is, we are exploring, we are trying to find out as much as we can about the world.

 People say to me, "Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?” No I am not. I am just looking to find out more about the world. And if it turns out there is a simple ultimate law that explains everything so be it. That would be very nice discovery. If it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers and we just sick and tired of looking at the layers then that’s the way it is! But whatever way it comes out it’s nature, it’s there, and she’s going to come out the way she is. And therefore when we go to investigate we shouldn’t pre-decide what it is we are trying to do except to find out more about it. If you said…but..the problem is why we do you find out more about it, if you thought that you are trying to find out more about it because you are going to get an answer to some deep philosophical question you may be wrong and may be that you can’t get an answer to that particular question by finding out more about the character of the nature.

Anyway it’s no use to argue, I can’t argue. I am just trying to tell you why the scientific views that I have do have some affect on my beliefs. And also another thing has to do with the question of how do you find out if something is true? And if you have all these theories of the different religions and all different theories about the thing then you begin to wonder… once you start doubting… just like you are supposed to doubt, you asked me if science is true, no no we don’t know what is true… no no we don’t know, we are trying... start out understanding religion by saying everything is possibly wrong, let us see, as soon as you do that you start sliding down an edge which is harder to recover from. And one…so with the scientific view or my father’s view that we should look to see what’s true and what may not be true, once you start doubting... which I think, to me, is a very fundamental part of my soul is to doubt and to ask, when you doubt and ask it gets a little harder to believe.

You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and then many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask, “Why we are here?” and what that question might mean. I might think about it a bit and then if I can’t figure it out then I go on to something else.

But I don’t have to know an answer, I don’t have to… I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose which is the way it really is as far as I can tell possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.
Richard P. Feynman in "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out"

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Explaining Evil


 By Cal Thomas

In the aftermath of the senseless wounding of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, and the murder of six others, including U.S. District Judge John Roll and 9-year-old Christina Green, there will be many who will use this tragedy to advance their own political agendas.

Explanations will be sought and blame assigned. Necessary questions will be asked: Did the clerk at the Sportsman's Warehouse in Tucson violate any laws in selling the Glock 19 9mm gun to the accused, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner? Loughner reportedly cleared an FBI background check. So why didn't that check discover what one Arizona official called Loughner's "mental issues" and should they have disqualified him from purchasing the weapon? 

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is being criticized because she "targeted" some Democratic members of Congress for defeat in the November election, superimposing crosshairs on their districts on her SarahPAC website. Rep. Giffords was one of those "targeted." At the time, Giffords criticized the display saying people need to be "responsible" for their actions. Left-wing bloggers blamed Palin for contributing to the poisoned political atmosphere, but that explanation is too easy.

Next week is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's inauguration. Less than three years later, left-wing Soviet sympathizer Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated Kennedy. Were liberals to blame for that horrific killing? Of course not. The assassins of Presidents William McKinley (an unemployed anarchist) and James Garfield (a disgruntled man rejected for a diplomatic post) lived in an era free of talk radio and cable TV. Radio, TV and social media didn't exist when actor John Wilkes Booth, a confederate sympathizer, shot and killed Abraham Lincoln. More gun laws would not have stopped Booth, or the others for whom laws against murder were not deterrents. 

The best "explanation" for this horror came from Arizona Republican Senator John McCain. In a statement, McCain put the blame where it belongs, on "a wicked person who has no sense of justice or compassion." He added, "Whoever did this; whatever their reason, they are a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race, and they deserve and will receive the contempt of all decent people and the strongest punishment of the law."

That is moral clarity. It places blame where it should be, on the shooter. Many people listen to talk radio, or watch political debates on cable TV. They don't then pick up a gun and attempt to assassinate public officials.  


The saddest thing is that the tragedies are often used for political gains. The debate that is taking place right now is really disconcerting. The blame was quickly put on the conservative media, conservative politicians, and especially on the Tea Party movement. - Dominique Allmon

Article source here
Image source here