A Cool Million

I pay for satellite radio in my car. I almost never listen to it. I wanted satellite because of the noticeable difference in commercials and interruptions to actual music. Still, as I said, I pretty much never listen to it. One evening, recently, on the way home from the gym I decided to turn it on and see what new songs had been released lately.

Because of my general disconnection with the world at large, I’m still not sure if this song is anything new. It seemed to me that this song carries lots of deep karmic implication. Most of us get lost in daily living and forget so much about our Self and our Life and how closely, how intimately, we’re connected to others. This connection, manifested as various daily interactions, provides each of us the opportunity to manipulate our own karmas and influence those of others. You might never know the difference you’re making – another perfect chance for renunciation of the fruits of your actions. The perfect way to be in the world, but not of it.

P.S. The homosexual in me finds this young man’s guy-ish looks a tad cute. That is all.

Om Shanti


Inked Margins are Clear, or The Day I Sang for 45 Minutes Solid


Today was a great day. I took the whole day away from work. It wasn’t necessary, and I’m sure soon enough I’ll wish I had the PTO, but I have no regrets about it yet.

I awoke at a time that afforded me some extra slumber, piddled around my home for roughly two hours, and then started my day. After showering, I called my maternal grandmother who’d just texted me about a check she’d mailed me. She noticed it wasn’t showing on her bank statement and wanted to know why I hadn’t cashed it. (Fine, grandma, I’ll take your money.) After chatting with her, I left and got some quick & cheap fast food, stopped by the bank and then rested at a local library with my laptop while I added more posts to a hefty series I’m working on.

A little under two hours later (about 1/3rd the amount of time I would have liked to stay at the library), I left and got myself a damned haircut. Then it was time for the real reason for the day… a follow up appointment with a specialist. Here’s where I’ll get blurry on you…

Without giving too many details, I’ll confess that someone very beloved to me was potentially facing a cancer diagnosis. A few months ago, something was looked at, biopsied, and found to have pre-cancerous spindle cell blah blah blah. Having worked in the cancer field only months ago, I immediately went to a dark place.

Readers, PLEASE read my words: Anything, anything AT ALL, remotely related to cancer is bad. Take care of yourself and if something is known to be very likely to cause cancer, avoid it. And have EVERYTHING checked out. This isn’t to say you need to be a worry wart or a hypochondriac. But there’s no cure for cancer. However unnecessary it may end up proving, it will always be best to assume the worst and actively seek to disprove it, until you’re 100% sure you’re out of the woods. In the fight against cancer, our very best science and medicine makes you sick as a dog and the rest is muchly just hope. The minute you assume you’re okay, is possibly the minute you lose say in the matter – you never want to lose say in regard to your own health or life.

The person in question wasn’t technically diagnosed with cancer, but very nearly. It was called Stage Zero, which is essentially just precancerous. As I said, I’ve worked in the cancer field. I’ve literally seen the tiniest spot on someone’s shoulder end up being the cause of their death. It sounds ridiculous and exaggerative, but I swear on everything holy – I’m not exaggerating. Someone can have a small freckle over their temple, and end up losing their eye nearest to it and chunks of their skull.

So a first biopsy was done. And then another was needed when it was discovered to be “deep” instead of “wide.” An additional and very scary aspect of this is that those Stage Zero precancerous cells that were deep-facing were headed to bone and blood flow. Both of those are very bad places for anything cancer-related to touch. I’m probably a little scarred from working in cancer, but I’m aware of how quickly control is lost in a situation like this and since before last Christmas I’d been a bit on edge regarding the whole situation.

Most of the time we think we have control and we’re just fooling ourselves. In fact, probably even more than most of the time. When it comes to this, I don’t care, and can be a bit of a sore loser. When facing something like this, in regard to anyone I consider beloved, I instantly becomes defensive – and often offensive! Something kind of fierce within me comes forward and I immediately become even less tolerant of bullshit than I normally am. My step-mother will attest to this fact from a fancy little stay my father had in my hometown’s hospital a while back. This usually means that I step on a few toes, possibly tell some medical staff to get fucked (naw, c’mon!), and generally I become kind of ugly. It’s probably not the best way to conduct myself, but it gets the results that are needed and truly has cut some of the bullshit in past instances.

There’s a part of all this that is surely my ego acting up. But, if you can believe it, a bigger part of “me” in those moments is that other fierceness trying to protect those beloved to “Josh.” When my paternal grandfather passed a few years ago, I was very sad but not in much pain from the loss. The absolutely most devastating aspect of his physical death for me was watching my father and other loved ones grieve. It disturbs me to see my beloveds sad or suffering or in danger, and when I’m able to step in on their behalf, I almost literally can’t help myself.

And so I get bossy. With medical staff. Sometimes with my beloveds. And with God. Yep. I boss God around. Knowing what I know about my Self and God, I have no problem with it, actually. I’m not rude or anything, but I’m direct and honest and not afraid to demand. Religious texts throughout human history have documented that when you generally work hard at a relationship with the Divine, you can be direct and honest and demanding and bossy – and you may well get the results you seek.

For now, I’m very glad to have been direct and honest and demanding with God. The results of the final biopsy were given today and the most magical words on the entire page were “…inked margins are clear.” In this case, that means that all the of “bad” had been removed and no further action was needed. For now, the worst that the whole ordeal brought is a Frankenstein-like scar which will lessen over the next 15 months.

Relieved in a way that I’m still unable to fully describe, after getting back to my own car I spent the entire 45 minute drive home alone singing the only two songs I know in praise of my ishtadevata, Ganesha. I sang them again and again and again. My head hurt slightly when I arrived home and I was super thirsty, but it’s all good. Sometimes I ask (demand?) a lot, but I’m always willing and happy to make it worth the while of the one who gave, whether I perceive that one to be human or Divine.

The last time I felt this way, and behaved this way, was when I desperately wanted the job I now have. I might be spiritual all the time, but it’s when I truly want something from God that I get religious.

Om Shanti


Life is about learning. No? From the lowest level of conscious life on this planet, learning is a must – and it’s a blessing. In life forms that are “below” the human level, consciousness of differing degrees is found. And, in many cases in direct proportion to the degree of consciousness, there are degrees of learning capability.

In virtually every sub-human existence, pain in some form is an absolutely necessary part of the learning process. 12-stepping addicts everywhere would agree that this is true in every instance, never mind sub-humans. Most of the animal kingdom operates on a majority instinct level, and learning happens as a matter of survival for the most part -either to avoid pain altogether, or to lessen current pain. When learning for survival provides an organism (or a population of organisms) enough of an “edge” in its existence, sometimes consciousness begins to expand. I have a feeling that this is a foundational element of nature’s evolution, and is also a huge part of why evolution is, typically and literally, painfully slow. In “A New Earth,” by Eckhart Tolle (a book everyone should read, at least once) this “blossoming” of consciousness was first evident in flowers. His words on this, which I think I recall coming early in the book, are very eloquent and powerful, and enlightening. (Through his own dedicated effort, Tolle is certainly a modern living Jnana Yogi. Believe it.) There are many sub-human forms of life on Earth that don’t learn ONLY in this way. Many mammals and some bird species (among an entire host of other life forms) are known to have “deeper” components to their lives. These components point to a level of consciousness much closer to that of humans, although these beings are still primarily governed by instictiveness.

Human life, on the other hand, has allowed its animalistic components to atrophy a bit in favor of a more developed consciousness. An unfortunate aspect of this trade is a simultaneous increase in ego, but that’s for another post. One of the biggest benefits of this swap, however, is the developed capacity for humans to learn without the aforementioned pain so often necessary for other animals. In truth, there are a number of animal species who have been discovered to have this capacity, too, but only in humans is this particular evolution of consciousness so well-developed and potentially (depending on the human individual) so finely tuned. Here, precisely, is where human consciousness has one of the greatest gifts. We can learn by the usual and common method of pain, but that mustn’t be the only way we learn. Indeed, we’re one of the only animals on the planet who are able to learn solely by observation, and we’re certainly the only organism on the planet to be able to learn so thoroughly in this way.

At this point, I’m recalling a common saying among my Nichiren Buddhist friends. I think it comes from the Daishonen’s sayings somewhere, but the idea is that through chanting we’re able to tap into “Myoho,”  and transmute our karmas into something more, thus elevating our life state. I’ve known these great and optimistic humanists to be fond of speaking about “turning poison into medicine.” To me, this points at even deeper component to the human existence. We’re not only in control of our learning, but we’re responsible for it.

As we find ourselves in the middle of the yearly holiday season, many of us would do well to take a look at our “poisons” and search how we might turn them into medicines for our betterment. A poison might be defined, superficially, as anything that seems to rob us of happiness. Anyone who’s followed my writing at all, might be aware of how deeply I adore my parents. For me personally, few things in my current existence are likely to be as painful (…potentially poisonous…) as the eventual death of either of my parents. Certainly, I anticipate very few things with as much dread and immense pre-emptive sorrow as either of these two events.

With this in mind, my heart and thoughts go out to anyone who’s lost a parent, and faced such (potential) poison. Sadly, I’m able to list a number of acquaintances who fall into this group, from this year alone. For this post, and for sake of a wonderful example, I’d like to mention someone who is perhaps surprisingly, and definitely increasingly dear to me. And that’s my mom’s brother’s wife, Wendy. What I know about Wendy tells me that she’s a truly great human. Without spilling everything about her, I can surely say that she loves her family and friends and is loyal to them. She works hard in her career, like so many others. She does her best to enjoy life. And she fights her battles as best she’s able and keeps moving, knowing she has to be strong for the next. One of these battles, recently, was the loss of her own mother.



Three days from now will be Wendy’s first Christmas holiday without her mother. Without a doubt this season will be a trying time for her. Certainly, Wendy has experienced ups and downs in her time managing her grief. You can find her story about the poison she faced here.

One thing I’ve noticed is that she’s consistently able to “turn poison into medicine.” She could easily be paralyzed by her loss. I know I would be. She didn’t have much time at all to prepare for the poison she was about to face. Instead, she continues moving forward. She still works. She still loves her family and friends. And she’s investing more of her time in pruning her internal landscape in very practical and hopefully effective ways, which will be the surest sign that the poison she’s experienced has been transmuted into very powerful medicine.

As humans, we don’t need pain to learn. Ideally, we’d be gifted with both the foresight and the time to prepare and learn on our own so that the Universe and our karmas don’t have to facilitate this learning for us. For those of us, like Wendy, who aren’t allotted ample time for preparing for what we don’t want to come, it’s my hope that we can at least enter into such unfortunate experiences with a fully human awareness and, like Wendy, with the capacity to take that experience and turn its poison into our medicine.

As this year and holiday season comes to a close, my prayer is that your awareness and mine will expand and cause our hearts to swell. Realize what an incredible boon you have, being born a human. What an immense opportunity has been awarded to you to assume the responsibility for your own growth. Face the poison in your life, and let the divine with you change it into medicine for your betterment and healing.

In the coming year, all the grace that is mine to give I gladly forward on to you.



I went recently to the wake of a young patient I knew from work, whose life ended on the 18th. Working in oncology, I see death more than many might. It’s not super pleasant, but the more familiar it becomes, the more you realize how personal death isn’t…. at least not inherently. Being born is like stepping into line at the BMV: at the start you grab a number, and in a completely logical and predictable and impersonal manner, when you’re number is reached, it’s your turn. I mean, it’s not any more personal than your fingernails growing.

Ummm….but sometimes it is. I’ll try explaining.

The first big reason death is impersonal is that it happens naturally to everything that is born. The crazy cycle here is that we all already know this, but because it’s such a part of life, we’ve become desensitized to it in a bizarre and perverted, forgetful kind of way. Because of this forgetfulness, we’re perpetually shocked by it. And so, we’re entirely unfamiliar with something that has been with us since we were born.

Secondly, almost all people die of some kind of “natural” thing. Think cancer, heart attack, stroke, old age. There’s nothing personal, in any way, about these. I can vouch that this is true, at least from a purely clinical standpoint. When cancer shows up in someone, it’s not a personal attack. I promise. The real problem here is that folks attach their sense of self to their body. Which is why people sometimes ask, “Why me?” Ummm….not you, dummy. Your body. Two different things. When you think you are your body, then you’re bound(as in “caught in the trap of…”) to take whatever happens to your body as a personal attack. Lame.

Thirdly, many folks take death to be so very personal because they view it to be an “end.” Life, though, is not the opposite of death. Birth is. This is why everything that’s born must die. Life can have no more an opposite, than can energy ever actually be created or destroyed. Simply not possible. It should also perhaps be noted that many many times, dead things are born. And so, congruently, birth also does not equate life.

Those are just three reasons I find suitable for a discussion as to why death shouldn’t be taken personally. There are lots more that could be gone into. I know many will disagree with me and I’m not disturbed by that.

However, there is an instance in which I think death is quite a bit more personal than it normally is.  Care to guess?


This is how the young patient mentioned earlier died. He’d had cancer a number of times, beating it each time. He was healthy. Although he maybe didn’t stay cured for long, he was a survivor by most definitions. After the last “win,” it was determined that a stem cell transplant would benefit him, so he did it. He underwent the procedure, recovered, and then sometime after he seemed fully recovered and doing well he had a “nervous episode.” He was placed into psych care, I think, and was never the same thereafter. Eventually he was back into the normal swing of things, and functioned well-enough, but just… different. Same old kid, minus the sparkle he once had. We found out not long ago that he’d taken his own life, and tonight I went to his wake to say good-bye to his body.

For Hindus this word, suicide, is atmahatya. Culturally, atmahatya is frowned on. It’s viewed to be a violation of ahimsa(nonviolence or noninjury or non-aggression). It’s equal to murdering another. And according to lore, it leaves one to become a wandering ghost in the next life, punished in some kind of severe hell until the karma created by the act is spent-at which time the atma is reborn. The form taken is said to be either the form of an animal which is a level or two below humans, or a human life once again where certain karmas that weren’t fulfilled in the prematurely-extinguished life are given another try.

Umm… with all due respect to my chosen dharma, I think this is (mostly) bullshit.

I know for a fact that my religion, in certain cases, allows for suicide. The word we use for it is prayopavesha. Technically speaking, it’s a sanctioned form of starvation with all kinds of rules attached to it in regard to how and when and why it’s permitted. According to multiple sources, it’s meant as a controlled means of leaving this life for someone who has no ambition, no desires, and/or no responsibilities. It’s strictly regulated. But it’s still killing yourself, and herein lies the distinction. If suicide leads the jiva to wander as a ghost in hellish states of existence, then even the sadhu/monk/holy man who consciously ends his life is cursed in this way. Nonsense.

Stay with me.

If I take a gun and choose someone, and then shoot them. It’s murder. If someone comes at me and attempts to harm me, the very same action is labeled self-defense. The difference? The state and condition of my mind, as obviously influenced by my surroundings, when my finger pulls the trigger. Many would argue that the difference has more to do with the circumstance that caused the shooting. I’m certain it doesn’t. In this case and in all other cases, shooting a gun is simply shooting a gun. Doesn’t matter whether you’re in sun or snow, standing or sitting, murdering or defending. The action is literally the same. The only possible difference, as far as a person’s karmic patterns are effected, pertains to the internal landscape of the person when the shooting takes place. (This, among 800 million other reasons, is why emotions should never be any sort of governing force in a person’s life, and why bhakti is something to be chased slowly and in a very regulated manner instead of dove(dived?) into. If my emotions run everything, I’m incredibly more likely to react instead of act.)

My point is that the action itself isn’t what matters. It’s simply an impersonal aspect of that individual’s karma-phala. What does matter is the level and quality of awareness behind that action.

So, in the same way that death is simply death-nothing more, nothing less, I think so is “suicide.” The wisest way to approach this when someone encounters an instance of self-killing, is from a place of atmajnana/atmavidya. You have to know that the body and the person aren’t synonymous. You have to realize that the person and their mind and their emotions are also different entities.

Although there have been exceptions throughout history, most cases of atmahatya don’t occur before an audience. And truly, whether they do or don’t, it’s virtually impossible for anyone other than maybe the most advanced sages to know what’s going on inside that person. As such, it shouldn’t be assumed that the automatic result of suicide is a hellish, tormented, ghostly wandering of the underworlds until punishment has been exacted.

The young male patient, whose body I visited, has moved on- his future dictated by his karmas and self-realization. Aside from whatever karmas were already due to him, I don’t foresee that he’ll be punished for this act automatically. For reasons I’ll never know, and don’t need to know, the components of his past existence as a young man, a cancer patient, a son, brother, and boyfriend… his mind and emotions and physical body… they were done. Just done. The very same thing, literally, will happen to you and me in our own time, although perhaps not by our own hand. He’s quite literally non-different from you and me and shouldn’t be judged by us any more than we’re willing to judge ourselves. At any rate, given that we’re in Kali Yug, I’d wager that most of us hardly know ourselves as well as we should, let alone a young male cancer patient.

I suspect the only (real) tragedy here is that which my mind and emotions and attachments assign to it, which ultimately has little to do with Ultimate Reality.

Om Shanti, shanti, shantihi