Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box – Part 7

GPS for the Soul – The Huffington Post
Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box – Part 7

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP, Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University, P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York


In our prior post we reconstructed the concept of “you”, which we all typically, think of as bounded by the skin and the body it encloses.  But a hallmark of 21st-century science is to tear down boundaries.  A limitless universe that springs from the quantum vacuum, (along with possibly multiple universes) is the setting for an unbounded “you” – a self that merges with creation. The bond that unites you with the universe isn’t simply physical, although every atom in your body comes from stardust, much of it the residue of exploding supernovas in intergalactic space.  Far more importantly, “you” are a mental construct, and therefore the bond that weaves your life into cosmic life is invisible.

We’ve argued that human intelligence most plausibly arose from an intelligent universe. As the great physicist Erwin Schrödinger declared, “To divide or multiply consciousness is something meaningless.” In other words, consciousness is one. It only appears to be divided up into billions of human minds, and likely into uncountable forms of consciousness in other species. In the same way, you might see an aqua sweater as blue while I see it as green, but “color” itself is a single thing; two people can’t have their own separate definition of it. There’s a telling metaphor in the Vedic tradition: When the sun shines on a perfectly still sea, there is one sun reflecting back. But when the sea is rippled and moving, there are millions of tiny suns shining back. This appearance doesn’t mean that the sun isn’t one. This insight comes very close to an ancient passage from one of the central texts in Indian spirituality, the Yoga Vasistha: “Cosmic consciousness alone exists, now and ever. In it there are no worlds, no created beings. That consciousness reflected in itself appears to be creation.”  In short, either consciousness is unbounded or you haven’t looked deep enough.

The reason that Schrödinger felt competent to talk about unbounded consciousness was that physics had finally reached deep enough, to the most fundamental level of nature. In the quantum realm we know for certain that notions of “boundaries” evaporate: the wave functions that describe the locations and boundaries of “particles” extend in all directions to the borders of the universe itself.  Eventually the dissolution of boundaries became total. Einstein, who was a conservative in these matters compared to some of the other quantum pioneers, wrote a condolence letter to a friend who had just lost her husband. It contained the following famous passage: “Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Quantum physics forced us to re-conceive ourselves as creatures who appear to be physical and bounded by time, even though our substance isn’t material and has no boundaries in time. Down further in scale, re-conceiving who we are becomes an ever greater imperative: gluons, quarks, neutrinos, mesons, bosons (including the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle”) all intimately overlap. The universe – and you – continually bubbles up from these shadowy subatomic entities, each sensing, reflecting, and interacting in a seamless whole. In the nanoseconds when these elusive entities escape their invisible domain, science touches on the same picture painted by the Yoga Vasistha, of a creation born of unseen activity beyond the reach of inner thought and probably beyond the reach of imagination as well. What’s left is mathematics clinging to the edge of the cliff with clutched fingers, hoping not to fall.  But mathematics isn’t reality, while consciousness is.

All of us, including scientists, protect our boundaries, finding it hard to join unbounded reality. But if consciousness is real, we don’t have to leap into an alien realm to reach the foundation of creation – it is inside ourselves. The limits of physicality have been reached. This is an area on which there is scientific consensus, thanks to quantum theory: There is a smallest level of scale beneath which one can go no further, at least in this “real” universe of four-dimensional spacetime, known as the Planck scale: 10-35 meters (-1 followed by 35 zeros).  Besides defining where physicality ends, the Planck scale also marks the end point of the environment that encloses material things, such as time, space, and the laws of nature. We don’t know for sure what the smallest entities are like.  (The five senses don’t help at such an inconceivable scale.) Some think they are the “multidimensional strings” of string theory, but there are other theories as well each sorely lacking in evidence but backed up by various intricate and beautiful mathematical formulations – indeed, the real problem is that there are too many mathematical possibilities that all seem equally valid – or invalid.

Whatever the smallest “stuff” is, it cannot be subdivided into smaller bits and pieces with known locations in time and space.  Instead, the universe emerges from the energetic void that is the foundational nature of creation. But even “void” is a tricky term, since the pre-creation state isn’t empty, a pure, empty, vacuum. There are huge amounts of energy linked to vast numbers of virtual particles that potentially manifest an observable reality. Emptiness is spontaneously and continuously giving rise to these tiniest entities, coming and going in a “quantum foam.”  Thus, from the smallest level of scale, the universe is not a place, an empty box in which we reside.  Creation is a process that brings existence out of non-existence. You are that process. You are seamlessly woven into a reality that is complete, whole, and perfect just as it is.  Surprisingly to some but not to all, the subjective experiences found in the Yoga Vasistha and many other ancient texts emphasize the unity of experience. These texts, as it turns out, precisely reflect our objective scientific understanding of how the universe arises.

The usual terms attached to ancient texts (e.g., spiritual, religious, wise, intuitive, enlightened) send up red flags to scientists and their ingrained distrust of subjectivity. So let’s resort to a neutral term that links subject and object: observation. In a reality where artificial boundaries have collapsed, the “in here” of subjectivity is no longer walled off from the “out there” of objectivity.  The seamless flow of creation expresses itself in both. An observer-based science can be founded on meditation or the Hubble telescope. In a dualistic framework these are opposite poles.  But they come together in an unbounded framework.  For a century quantum physics has wrestled with the so-called observer effect as it impinges on isolated waves and particles. It was mind-blowing enough to believe that the process of observation turned waves into particles.  But the logical extension is mind-expanding: Everything in the universe depends on the linkage between observer, observed, and the act of observation.

If it is willing to adopt a touch of humility, science will see that ancient contemplative traditions arrived at conclusions that were not duplicated until “objective” methods acquired incredibly advanced, precise tools. The Higgs boson required billions of dollars in machinery, and countless hours of theorizing, in order to pry out a new piece of knowledge about how subatomic particles emerge from the void.  The ancient wisdom traditions began with the big picture instead, and their descriptions of the big picture still outstrip ours. The ancient explorers of consciousness understood the nature of the void, encountered not through mathematical calculation but through direct experience. The void revealed itself to be none other than mind, usually written as Mind to signify that it lies beyond our small, personal minds.

Getting contemporary physics to begin with the observer meets a great deal of resistance, but an observer-based science has one great advantage: There is no other way to get where we want to go.  Once physicality ends at the Planck scale, something must hold the universe together, and this something can’t be in time or space, nor can it be made of physical “stuff.”  We won’t leap to the obvious conclusion: this something sounds an awful lot like God. The word “God” can conjure many different reactions based on different traditions and history. To use a value-neutral word, what this something actually sounds like is reality itself. The skeptics have their chance for rebuttal. If anyone can define reality in non-physical, non-linear terms, freed from all boundaries and yet capable of erecting the incredibly organized cosmos, it’s difficult to imagine how mind isn’t the answer. Otherwise, a timeless agency that can create time, a causeless entity that gave rise to causation, and a source that has no place but created space itself – such an origins story would be inconceivable to us without it being conscious.

And so we finally come to our conclusion.  Where time, space, matter, energy, gravity, and mathematics reach their limits, there is the source of creation, and the most plausible candidate is consciousness.  Reality is more than existence waiting to be filled with random events. It is existence guided and governed by the qualities of consciousness – intelligence, self-organization, self-awareness, orderliness, evolution, and infinite creativity.  What will it take for anything like consensus on this conclusion? The dominant metaphors of our modern culture are those of science and engineering.  These metaphors prejudice the contemplation of the question, what is the mind?  Materialist ways of thinking posit that the universe is an immense machine that created things like mind and the human brain by randomly tossing the building blocks of atoms and molecules until they happened to land in a pattern instead of scattered across the floor.

In this series of posts we’ve taken you from an automatic acceptance of these dominant, mechanistic metaphors, not to prove that they are wrong but to raise sufficient doubt about their certainty that you can entertain another possibility: Consciousness, or mind, is what the universe arises from and is made of.  Mind isn’t just gurgling out of brain cells like water from a spring. It isn’t merely a side effect of the brain’s electrical and chemical activity, like heat from a bonfire. There isn’t logical substantiation that brain = mind, even though  the majority  of scientists, philosophers, and the public may assume that this is so, since thoughts come out of the brain. Music comes out of a radio, but that doesn’t mean that radio = music.

Radios don’t contain little tiny rock bands or news commentators or symphony orchestras, yet they give rise to rock and roll, commentary, and symphonies. Radios transduce radio waves, which embedded in the infinite electromagnetic field, into specific, understandable auditory signals.  Similarly, the brain can be just as readily conceived of as the transducer of infinite Mind into our specific thoughts. And the brain could just as easily be thought of as transducing the quantum field into everything we perceive: matter, energy, time, space, and all perceived sensations. Could Mind have used evolution to arrive at the brain so that we can live as adaptable, interactive beings in a world that perfectly mirrors our conception of it?

In this view, our brains are mind the way every subatomic wave/particle is also mind. This unity solves the problem of deriving brain from mind or vice versa – they are two aspects of the activity of consciousness. The seemingly intractable issues that science faces today, particularly the challenge of consciousness, may actually have a simple answer, as we propose here. There’s no surprise, then, that an fMRI scan can pick up very specific brain activity that corresponds with a person’s emotions, mood, desires, and other aspects of mind. The match is seamless and perfect, as it has to be.  Radios don’t get to eliminate the violins from a Mozart symphony; there has to be electrical activity for every aspect of the music. This is where the radio metaphor gets difficult: Can you imagine a functional radio that is itself constructed of radio waves?  In a very real sense, a radio, along with the entire universe, is derived from invisible wave functions. So ascribing mind to neurons merely begs the question. No “thing” can give rise to mind. Hard as it may be to accept, “things” were metaphors all along.

As easy as it is to think that the brain in its skull casing is all that is necessary to produce mind, it’s just as easy, if you permit yourself, to think of Mind as the fundamental nature of everything that exists. By definition, reality lies beyond metaphors.  We’ve tried to convince you that the conventional set of metaphors must be discarded if you want to know reality, which means knowing yourself. Rather than discarding science, we are expanding it. We ask you to contemplate: What is the most scientific approach?  One that excludes some topics as “inappropriate for study”?  Or one that encourages even-handed investigation of all the evidence and phenomena at hand?   This is where “thinking outside the box” pays its greatest dividends, by expanding the capacity to be human and along the way to solve the unending mystery that is “you.”


Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books translated into over 35 languages with over twenty New York Times bestsellers.  Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.

How Do We Define Success For Kids?
In an achievement-oriented culture — where mounting academic and college admissions pressures are beginning earlier in life than ever — raising balanced, resilient children can be a challenge.

George Estrada, Vice President of Technology at the Center for American Progress, told HuffPost Live’s Nancy Redd that children are feeling the pressures of achievement earlier and earlier.

“Our culture is this hyper success-driven idea that you have to be successful all the time,” he said. “There’s a medal for everything, there’s a trophy for everything, so the minute you don’t get it, you feel you’ve failed.”

But getting children aligned with a philosophy of looking inward, upward and onward — one that is preached to adults — can be tricky, according to Renee Jain, an expert on childhood resilience and happiness.

“You talk about The Third Metric and aiming to redefine success going beyond money and power, but what’s the equivalent of money and power for kids? So how do we define success for kids?” Jain asked.

Jain explored the answer to those questions in a blog post published here on HuffPost. “Let’s teach our children that goals aren’t intangible, floating ideals. Let’s teach them that it doesn’t always matter where the starting line is. What matters more is a commitment to work hard, to accept failure as an opportunity to learn and a re-commitment to work harder,” she wrote.

Catch the full conversation on Third Metric parenting at HuffPost Live HERE.

Green – The Huffington Post
Discovery Channel’s ‘Hawaii’ Shows Just How Amazing The Islands Are
“It was nature’s greatest experiment in evolution, an experiment that asked a big question: What would happen if you put the world’s most active volcano in the wettest place on the planet, and then made it all so remote, that everything that happened here happened in complete isolation from the rest of the world? Now we know what would happen. Hawaii would happen.”

That’s how “Hawaii,” a 2010 documentary from the Discovery Channel, begins, and boy oh boy does it deliver. The film, which was one third of a three-part Discovery series called Atlas4D, does a more thorough job than James Michener in covering everything about the Hawaiian islands — from their violent birth after being spit up from undersea volcanoes to their inevitable fate of being swallowed by the sea again. It shows birds whose beaks are specially shaped to only fit one flower, explains how Polynesians first reached the islands roughly 1,000 years ago, and even makes a compelling case that eels can be adorable.

The film is three years old, but remains a necessary staple for both visitors to Hawaii and locals. Because magic happens on these islands, and “Hawaii” shows you how the magic happens.

George W. Bush Remembers His Late Dog Barney, Who Would’ve Been 13 Today (PHOTO)
President George W. Bush reflected on the life of his beloved dog Barney Monday by sharing a photo of the president and his former pup on Facebook.

Bush wrote that Monday would have been Barney’s 13th birthday.

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Wildlife Rangers Featured In Final Video Of WWF Series ‘Stop Wildlife Crime’ (VIDEO)
“Every four days, a ranger is killed in the line of duty.”

So begins the final video in the World Wildlife Fund’s comprehensive and troubling series, “Stop Wildlife Crime.” The short film highlights the ongoing, and increasingly violent, efforts by wildlife rangers to protect endangered species including elephants, rhinos and tigers.

Demand for both ivory and rhino horn has skyrocketed in recent years. Nearly 700 rhinos have been slaughtered in South Africa this year, surpassing last year’s record of 668. Wildlife experts also estimate more than 35,000 African elephants were killed in 2012.

You can add to the conversation with the hashtag #StopWildlifeCrime, and head on over to the WWF’s YouTube page to watch the other videos in the series.

Global Warming and You (CARTOON)
What if someone – or something – else did something about climate change?

global warming

Click below for more Grooch.

Offshore Wind in Europe: Lessons for the U.S.
There are a lot of great things Europe has that the U.S. doesn’t — comfortable taxis, good table wine, Idris Elba — and then there’s offshore wind, lots and lots of offshore wind.

I spent last week in Europe hearing from key offshore wind leaders — from top officials in industry, government and finance — about how they built a large, successful offshore wind industry. I learned some key lessons, and heard some precautions, about how we should go about offshore wind development in the U.S.

I listened to them with a wary ear. There are many differences between the U.S. and Europe on energy policy and, on some issues, we in the U.S. will never go Europe’s way. Nevertheless, in the area of offshore wind, U.S. energy policymakers can learn a lot from the lessons Europe has to offer.

Here is what I picked up from the leaders in the field.

A Large Commercial Industry. Compared to the U.S. where we have no turbines in the water, in Europe offshore wind is serious business. Total installed capacity of offshore wind power from 55 wind farms (1,662 turbines) in ten European countries by the end 2012 was 4,995 MW megawatts, the combined capacity of several nuclear plants. More than $15 billion in investments has been made in the industry over the last 8 years. There were about 58,000 jobs in the industry in 2012, with growth expected up to 191,000 in 2020. Many of the major European public investment banks like the European Investment Bank, and public pension funds, are investing in the space.

Long-term Policy. Europe’s offshore wind surge did not happen by accident. The simple and strong message from industry leaders was plain: The only way a country (or a state) can develop a strong offshore wind industry is through a long-term policy in favor of offshore wind. Public officials and private sector representatives emphasized that targets committing to build large installations in stages over a twenty-year period have created the industry in Europe and are essential.

The U.S. approach so far — hit or miss, on-again off-again policy — will not work. The European experts all warned against such a self-defeating approach.

The UK and Germany have had fairly stable policies to promote offshore wind for about 20 years. Unlike in the U.S., Europe has a consensus in favor of offshore wind despite changes in governments.

A Commercial Industry, Not R&D. The key issue in Europe is how to get projects to scale, to co-locate multiple gigawatt projects, to raise billions of dollars. The talk there is not about more research, although that is happening. Instead, the industry walks and talks like a serious commercial sector poised for greater growth, unlike in the U.S. where governments tend to view this area as a research arena. The basic technology works, and more R&D won’t get existing technologies to scale. But, R&D and demonstration in new technologies like floating turbines could be important actions for the U.S. offshore wind market development.

How to Attract Supply Chains. European governments compete for the economic development benefits of the offshore wind industry, as in the U.S. But they realize that the most important way to get those benefits for their own countries is through favorable long-term policy — and not by poaching investments from other countries. Again, long-term national targets ensure projects and, in turn, those projects bring jobs and investment: a simple message repeated and confirmed across the European spectrum of opinion.

Critical Public Investment. Public investment is critical to this still-emerging industry. In Germany and the UK, public banks provide long-term debt to offshore wind projects and companies. The projects are expensive, many over $1 billion, so a mix of public and private capital is needed. In contrast, in the U.S., no government, federal or state, has yet committed to a public debt package for offshore wind projects. No state has yet done a financing deal except Cape Wind, through a utility mandate. No green bank has moved into the space, as the UK Green Bank has done with a $1.5 billion commitment over the long term.

Industry-Government Partnerships. Despite the recession and the pull back of banks from lending, the governments and industry look for ways to cooperate to deploy projects. While Europe is besmirched as the heart of government regulation or worse, success in offshore wind is all about private and public sector partnerships. These productive investment partnerships between the wind industry and the government occur with both liberals and conservatives in power.

EU Political Consensus. Many major governments across Europe promote offshore wind as one of the best hopes to produce large-scale sources of no-carbon power. For them, climate matters as a policy driver.

Waiting on the U.S. There are few European offshore wind leaders clamoring to build in the U.S. So far, the relative instability of U.S. offshore wind policy has convinced them to keep their money on their side of the Atlantic. The Siemens work in Massachusetts relating to Cape Wind is one bright spot. Currently, the risks are too high to encourage major European investment in a U.S. industry.

But not everything is perfect on the offshore front in Europe. And in that, there are more lessons for the U.S.

Costs Are Too High. The costs of offshore wind are still too high in Europe too. While they went down when more and larger projects were placed in shallow waters, costs are going up for projects in deeper water. As a result, European policy continues to be focused on cost reductions. So the U.S. is right to be concerned about high costs. The European industry and government leaders are working to do something about this. For them, more volume is the best cost-reduction strategy. And R&D funds are being allocated to develop newer, cheaper designs for accessing deeper water.

The Politics of Energy Price Spikes. The high energy costs are not politically popular. There are many reasons for fairly large spikes in energy bills across Europe, and one is thought to be the public investment in offshore wind. Governments have not solved that problem. In fact, in the UK, the Labor Party (now the minority party) promised last week to freeze energy bills if they win the next election. Again, this justifies a concern by U.S. energy officials.

Some Policy Still in Flux There. There is an ongoing debate about changes to the current policy for offshore wind in Europe. The difference from the U.S. debate is that there is general EU consensus in favor of the technology. There the discussion is instead over the details of already strong support policies, especially in the UK, to move to more market-based strategies. These potential changes have caused the industry to worry about the reliability of future government support. So policy flux is a problem there too, but on a much lesser level than in the U.S.

Stability Is the Message. But all in all, the message from Europe on offshore wind is one of stability and success, with a positive view of the future of the technology.

Here in the U.S., the coastal states and the federal government have a lot to learn from the decades of European experience with offshore wind. For states in the U.S. struggling with existing efforts or those looking to create new offshore wind policy, lessons from across the Atlantic are a good starting point for rebooting the offshore wind policy framework in the U.S.

Good News – The Huffington Post
Three Blind Athletes Complete Historic Swim From Alcatraz To SF
SAN FRANCISCO — Max Ashton had one goal before heading off to college: swim from Alcatraz Island to Aquatic Park in San Francisco.

The blind, 17-year-old high school senior in Phoenix, Ariz., completed the trek on Sunday along with two other sightless swimmers. “It’s just good to show people I can do everything, really,” Ashton told the San Francisco Chronicle ( after he made the 1.25-mile swim across San Francisco Bay. Ashton has previously climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, crossed the Grand Canyon and thrown out the first pitch at a major league ball game.

He was accompanied on the swim by 24-year-old Tanner Robinson, who works in state government in Arizona, and 19-year-old Katie Cuppy, a freshman at Northern Arizona University.

The three blind athletes were guided by sighted swimmers Mike and Paul Tiffany, both of Phoenix.

The challenge when swimming blind is staying on course. But Robinson said there’s also an advantage

“The nice thing about being blind is you don’t know where the finish line is,” he said. “It was just like another training.”

Robinson trained for the swim at Lake Pleasant in Arizona. He finished it in an hour and 16 minutes.

Cuppy came in eight minutes after him.

Ashton finished the swim in a little more than 50 minutes. He was born with a rare eye disease that left him with only a fraction of his peripheral vision, The Arizona Republic reported (

The event was organized by the Foundation for Blind Children in Phoenix, which also organized the Mount Kilimanjaro and Grand Canyon trips, according to the Republic.

Robinson told the newspaper the swim showed there are no barriers for people with visual impairments.

“Hopefully, there are people out there who will (see this and) take more challenges themselves just in their daily lives,” he said.

Healthy Living – The Huffington Post
A Life Permanently Changed
I’m going to talk about terror  –  about truly coming face to face with what you fear most in life.

As a young child I used to have a reoccurring dream that my neighborhood burned down and took everyone and everything with it.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 1986. I was 21 and living in Washington, D.C. My boyfriend at the time had invited me down to Richmond, Virginia, for a New Year’s Eve party. We were driving there with another couple, and then staying overnight and returning on New Year’s Day.

Like any 21 year old who was smitten with her boyfriend, I couldn’t wait for my first overnight trip with him.

As I was getting prepared for the trip, I was listening (and dancing) to Earth Wind & Fire when there was a news interruption on the radio about a hotel fire erupting in Puerto Rico. My heart skipped a beat — my parents were vacationing in San Juan for the holiday week.

I called my brother and learned that my parents were not staying at that particular hotel. In fact, they were staying on a different side of the island. Phew. Instant relief. I went about curling my hair, trying on a dozen different outfits until I found the right one and putting the finishing touches on my makeup.

Finally at 8 p.m., we began our 90-minute journey to the party.

Once in Richmond, we attended the bash until well past midnight and then headed to the Hampton Inn.

When we turned on the TV at the hotel, CNN was the first channel that popped up. Splashed on the screen were horrifying images of the hotel fire that I had heard about earlier in the day. By now they were starting to count the number of dead and interview some of survivors. The Dupont Plaza Hotel fire had been set at 5 p.m. ET by a disgruntled employee and within minutes, spread from the casino to many floors of the building. Images flashed showing terrified victims jumping from windows, ambulance sirens shrieking in the background and smoke billowing from every opening in the building.

Deep breath, Susan. Your parents were nowhere near the hotel. My boyfriend suggested — actually demanded — that I turn off the TV and go to sleep and we’d find out all was okay the next morning. But the TV was like Pandora’s box for me. How could I shut it off? Thankfully he won the argument, as what I would have seen had it stayed on would have probably caused me to go into shock.

My father was next up to be interviewed on the news.

The next morning, I woke up at 8 a.m., startled  –  an early hour for anyone on New Year’s Day. It was sleeting, which only added to the dreary feeling engulfing all four of us. We started our trek home, slowly, because of the weather. Legend says that Virginians don’t drive well in freezing rain and snow.

When we stopped for gas, I decided to call the apartment I was staying in to see if anyone had called for me. Reaching into my jeans pocket, I fished out several dimes and dialed. My roommate answered the call before I could even blubber out a whisper of “good morning” and almost shouted: “Where are you and how far are you from D.C.?”

He told me that my brother and cousin had each called before 9 a.m. A wretched feeling came over my body, and I felt as if I might throw up. I asked for more info, but he didn’t share — all he said was hurry back. My head hung low as I wandered in a blur back to car.

As we headed north, I stared outside counting the icicles drop from the sky as they smacked the sides of the car. Washington’s all-news radio religiously repeated the headlines every seven minutes with the increasing numbers of the victims. First 35, then 45, then 60 and up. The drive seemed to go on for an eternity, and remember, these were the days without Internet, smartphones, or even in many cases, answering machines. There was literally no way to get updates.

Finally, four hours after leaving Richmond, we pulled into my aunt’s driveway in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. Standing at the door were my cousin Anna and my Aunt Arlene. I began my dizzying walk up the long staircase. When they opened the door, I knew that the worst moment of my young life had occurred. My beloved mom was missing and not expected to be found. I fell into their arms.

Ninety-six people perished on that fateful day and left 96 families and loved ones in utter despair. I came face to face with the nightmare that had plagued me as a young child. The fire had won this time. My life would be irrevocably changed forever. There was no turning back.

Almost 30 years later, there are few days that go by that I don’t think of her and the senseless and tragic loss of her life. What I do carry with me is a strange and rather bizarre gift  –  a gift of having experienced one of life’s worst tragedies. I confronted terror head-on. It was challenging and harrowing — the hardest time of my life. But ultimately, I survived. I endured. And I know that no matter what life throws my way, I will eventually be okay.

For more by Susan McPherson, click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.

Postcards From Lebanon: Part 8 in a Series of Cancer-Related Commentary
Where the streets have no name… (U2)

I thought I’d take this opportunity, as my body ejects the cancer cells and recovers for the next round of chemotherapy, to discuss how different people have reacted to being told I have cancer. Like responses to chemo, everyone’s experiences are different. Of course, these are my experiences; but I believe they contain universal truths.

Spouse/Partner/Significant Other:

If you are in a relationship with a caregiver then they will continue in that capacity for the duration — you are in good, loving hands. If you are not in a relationship with a caregiver you need to understand that the person you fell in love with may not change into someone who can nurse you back to health. It doesn’t mean they love you less, it’s simply who they are. It may be difficult to understand, but the person you chose to share your life with is the same person — you are the one who has had a change of circumstance. Let them be themselves; continue to love them for who they are; don’t try to make them into someone they are not; and you will both be happier for it.


I don’t have any biological children, so I don’t have any familiarity for this area. I’ll defer to others to comment on their experiences in the comment section below. What I will say is that having been a child I know that the love for a parent is strong — never forget children love you, unconditionally.


I had an interesting relationship with my mother prior to notifying her that I had cancer (my father passed many years ago). I’d call her and she’d talk about herself, never once asking about me. It was when she was in her late 80s that I told her I had leukemia; then she never talked about herself until I asked, and only briefly — she wanted to know everything I had done since we last spoke. It completely changed the dynamic of our relationship in that she became both a friend and a nurse to my patient. This change made our times together before her passing that much more rewarding; and, while I may not like to, I have my leukemia to thank — a silver lining.


We grow up together and then we part, some farther than others. What I would suggest we all remember is that our siblings have their own lives and families; and the distance in multiple factors (age, miles, etc.) impacts the manner in which they respond. Some will be selfless, while others will resort to still being a sibling within the hierarchy of the family. If you can understand this then you can handle how they will behave, from denial (since they don’t want to think they may also get cancer due to any hereditary factors) to taking over (usually an older sibling, which can be a blessing and a pain). But let them live their lives as they, too, need to live with your cancer in the best way they know how.


Cancer is the ultimate decider of who your true friends, or angels, are. In our lives we are lucky if we have a few best friends who, when the cancer chips are down, are there without having been asked. We think we know who these people are, but the wonderful thing about having cancer (I know, somewhat of an oxymoron) is the joyous surprises of love your friends will shower on you in both big and little ways. It’s as if a ray of sunshine pierces your heart each time an offer, a mention, a meal, a smile, a call, an email comes your way. The simple act of asking, “How are you?” is a radiant sunrise given so effortlessly, yet promising so much.

I would ask that you also forgive those friends who seem to disappear. I had two such friends who, once I told them I had leukemia, never called me again; and this after I had been there for them during their recovery from being run over by a car and a divorce. But I can’t blame them, for I was the one who chose to be there for them during their time of need. We each deal with adversity in our own way, and this is how they chose to deal, or, as the case may be, not to deal, with my misfortune. Be prepared for this and you will be a stronger person in the end. And don’t be afraid of letting these people go no matter how much you may think you love them or have invested in them, for if they truly love you they will come back. (I know, sounds like releasing that butterfly slogan. Be prepared for them not to come back.)


People who we meet and interact with on a limited basis may surprise you upon finding out you have cancer. There are people you won’t know well who have a need to be helpful — let them. There are people who are good friends of your friends who will rally around you in support of that friend — embrace them. There are people who will observe silently from the sidelines — help them. There are people who make offers with all good intentions but no follow through — forgive them.

And then there are people from your past (near or distant) who may reach out offering encouragement, providing a moment of uplifting pleasure from their simple act of having contacted you — be ever thankful.


They don’t want to know anything; and if they know something, the less they know the better — for the company. You need to bear in mind that it is the company for which you work. If you receive health care from your company, all the more reason for the company to not want to know about your health. But tell your boss as soon as you know you have cancer; give them as much information as you have because you will need them, the company’s health insurance, when the time comes.

My bosses, for the most part, were supportive in our discussions; but they would never broach the subject with me — I had to initiate any conversations either verbally or in writing. What you need to realize is that they are doing their job, as you should be doing your job. It may seem cold and harsh, but it is the reality of the workplace today — do not hold it against them.


And yet here you’ll find people who care and don’t have an issue by asking you, from time to time, how you’re doing once they hear you have cancer. People you pass in the hall will display concern for your wellbeing — totally unsolicited — as they, too may have experienced cancer in one form or another during their lives. These are the same individuals you may have worked with for years or only briefly who suddenly take a keen interest in you — hold close those that do.


During the cancer journey you will come across many new faces. Some will become your angels and friends for life, while others will be looking to you for direction and information, and still others may dismiss you as being condescending. Don’t ignore the strangers you encounter as they are looking to learn, seeking how to be brave, wanting to know more without acknowledging it. For, yes, we all want to have the knowledge, to be empowered — they simply may not know it yet. Please note that those who may condescend have their own issues they are trying to cope with — let them be.


How you react to being told you have cancer, and how you deal with it on an ongoing basis, is as individualized as snowflakes. My advice is to not blame anyone, especially oneself — it isn’t productive. You might begin by reviewing the many self-help books and guides, as well as alternative routes to take. Learn as much as you can about your individual cancer, and then begin the process of educating yourself on how best to continue with your life with cancer. This takes many forms, from the food we eat, to where we live, to whom we have around us, to options for healing with herbs and meditation as well as the medicines you will be prescribed. No one told me I couldn’t try something if it had even the remotest chance of it making me feel better. But do ask your health care provider first as some things have been clinically proven to be harmful to the type of cancer you may have, and they will know.

If your cancer was brought about due to negligence or work related practices, it is understandable that you will be upset with the responsible party. I ask that you remember that anger does not make you healthier — it actually serves to make you worse. First and foremost — be good to yourself.

As for me, I still feel disoriented and confused from time to time, along with short-term memory loss where I can’t remember names and details combined with an inability to concentrate or focus for long periods — what I call chemo brain; fatigue is a constant, while my fingers tingling has lessened. During this entire cycle I have had nasal congestion and cough which appear to be lessening. And the other side-effects I experience dissipate as I get closer to the next round of chemotherapy — at least they have so far.

Timing: Oct. 7 through Oct. 12, Cycle Three (3) of chemotherapy.

Where the streets have no name…

Postcards From Lebanon: Part 1

Postcards From Lebanon: Part 2

Postcards From Lebanon: Part 3

Postcards From Lebanon: Part 4

Postcards From Lebanon: Part 5

Postcards From Lebanon: Part 6

Postcards From Lebanon: Part 7

#alkalinity #alkalinitymovement #7.2 #sevenpointtwo


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