"Rough diamond" by Unknown USGS employee - Original source: USGS "Minerals in Your World" website. Direct image link: [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Diamonds in the Rough

“A diamond has the highest hardness and thermal conductivity of any bulk material; it can be contaminated by very few types of impurities. Most natural diamonds are formed at high temperature and pressure. A material with superlative physical qualities, most of it original from the strong bonds between its atoms.” -Wikipedia

Sometimes, people rise above their circumstances to greatness. They are forged, hardened by pressure and time to rise above their surroundings and to become more than anyone thought they could become. I’ve been lucky to witness this in several people from all over the world. People all over the world have the capacity to be greater than their circumstances would “normally” dictate.

There’s a popular saying going around now: “Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.” I have come to believe that this is completely untrue and a complete idealization; all you have to do is look at the amount of corruption in much of our species to know that people often take the easy way out. Look at the US senate, can you really say they are doing the best they can with what they have?We are lazy beings, like all other mammals we want to be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the sun and the food it grows. (in balanced quantities of course)

This isn’t to say that people will always take advantage of everything they can; instead, its acknowledging that there will always be both sides to the equation; those that take complete advantage and those that take none and in fact give willingly with no thought of receiving. I’ve witnessed a lot of both lately while I’ve been traveling.

Yesterday was a rough day for me; the traveling and budget have gotten to me and I’m exhausted (you can read yesterday’s article on my mental fatigue here. But the equation will always balance itself out. Today I met an absolute gem of a woman on my way to the Minh Mang tomb. Her name was Rei Nguyen.

Rei was a farmer and told us that she and her husband made around 5 million dong per month (about $250). She sent her kids to a school that cost about 2 million per month, in the city of Hoi.

My girlfriend and I rented a scooter for $4 and headed to the tomb this morning, pretty excited to see the most renowned tomb in what appears to be the cultural center of Vietnam. Largely affected by the Vietnam War (known locally as the American War), we were able to see a lot of the effects of the war in our travels, most particularly the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). There was a good amount of propaganda at the museum, especially geared towards the use of illegal chemicals such as agent orange, the US’s involvement in the war, and Vietnam’s victims. This is not to say there wasn’t massive effect from illegal chemical weapons used by the US, but there was no mention of Russia, or of the civil war in Vietnam. As usual, there was a scapegoat to take the blame and the US took full brunt force of it; it’s probably deserved. (again, I’m not saying I know the situation, but I’ve seen this before in WWI & WWII propaganda, Civil War propaganda, and pretty much every war in history is necessarily affected by propaganda where one country is blamed for the entirety of the war)

Rei’s english was incredibly good for anyone in Vietnam, let alone a farmer with an education that ended when she was 12. She works 10 hour days out in the fields with her husband and eats mostly rice and noodles, though she wasn’t malnourished as far as I could tell. She was extremely kind to us, showed us a shortcut to the tomb and then invited us to her small house by the river to talk and have some tea.

The tomb was incredibly peaceful; death has a way of making the life so powerful.  We walked around the tomb for a couple of hours in the scorching heat and humidity, then returned with her to her home.


I noticed she was lucky enough to have electricity and running water; he house was small, with wooden walls and a tin roof and she graciously offered us tea while we spoke about her life and how my life was very different from hers. She ultimately ended up asking for money for her children’s school, but it was far more of an afterthought than most of what I have experienced in Vietnam. Most will ask for money, then turn their back and mutter under their breath when you refuse their service. She offered us a kind smile and sharing of words and experiences that has been unique in my trip to Vietnam.

In this trip, I’ve met people poorer than you can imagine that still show kindness and refuse to take extra money no matter how hard you try. I’ve met people who I’ve gotten along with like I’ve known them my whole life.

One sterling example of this is one of my Muslim friends from Yemen; probably the one of the nicest and friendliest people I have ever met. He owns about six AK47’s at his home and Yemen and left to pursue a more peaceful education in Mysore. Yemen is currently in Civil war and he has been directly affected by it with the death of some of his immediate family members, yet still he pursues kindness and happiness relentlessly. I was with him while it started and there was definitely a lot of swearing and frustration, but it didn’t change his outlook. He goes against any stereotype I could have held against someone of the Muslim religion.

The owner of the Chakra house, Rajesh was like this as well; one of the nicest and most relaxed people I have ever met. He and I will be friends just like the day I left if I ever return to Mysore (which is highly probable). It’s funny how you meet people who you feel like you’ve known your whole life when you travel.

People are individuals and that’s how they should be treated. One is not representative of the whole, because there is so much variation in our species. So at the same time that there are all of these awesome people I have met, there are also some abominable ones.

Let me give you some examples, from history. I don’t like to talk about negatives in reality because people can change and who am I to judge them. With that said, world leaders are different and I feel at full liberty to judge their decisions. There are some terrible people in our world: Kim Jong Il, definitely not doing the best with what he has especially after his most recent execution; neither did Stalin, or Hitler, or Mussolini. Even American leaders smell of stank corruption that can ruin the people: George Bush, Dick Cheney, Nixon, Ulysses S Grant, Kennedy. Even the greatness of America has such powerful potential for corruption because of the essence of its power.

The truth is, humans will look out for themselves before others and in our modern world we absolutely HAVE to expect this from everyone. Think about it this way; even if you are about self-sacrifice, you would give to your children first and foremost the greatest opportunity to succeed in the world. We look out for ourselves before others and this isn’t a bad thing, it’s simply the reality of humanity. This is why the US is struggling right now, our system of checks and balances has become completely unbalanced in the wake of our economic prosperity in the 80s and 90s and leaders continue to take advantage of the people they rule just as they have since the beginning of time.

Unfortunately, this can even apply to our immediate family. You see celebrities with major mental and stability problems, likely because they can’t even trust their support systems and families anymore (this is just my observation, feel free to comment on it). It’s really sad, but that’s how money can corrupt people. Greed, it seems, is simultaneously the great human strength and weakness.

But on the other side, there are people who will give without even caring about what they receive; they give kindness freely and love as often as they can, as long as their basic needs are met. Sometimes, they even defy those. Remember to think of it as an equation, because that’s what the world we live in requires.

Writing yesterday made me feel so much better, today the same. I really hope that these comments are misunderstood, I am trying to be very objective and am applying my experiences to the greater scope of the world we live in together. I walked around today with a big smile and decided that I would kill my fatigue with kindness and it has worked. I feel a hell of a lot better.

Please let me know what you think of this article in the comments, or on Facebook

I always love to hear from readers.

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Constructs of the Imagination

The human mind is constructive. We create our world, inside of our own heads. To understand the way that we as individuals think, the way that we construct reality, we have to examine some of the moving parts of the consciousness system that are involved. Some of these parts are cognitive, some emotional; things like abstract reasoning, probability prediction, sampling,  grouping, chunking, compartmentalization, and relationship architectures are all necessary to understand how we construct the world around us.

The first and easiest places to examine when talking about the functioning of consciousness are the senses. Foremost is sight, simply because we have more built-in equipment for sight than any of the other sense. We fill in the blanks with out eyes, sometimes seeing things that aren’t there to make sense of patterns. Then sound, which is continually processed; touch, which is a pressure system that is built to feel things outside, but simultaneously internalize them as part of ourselves, such as hugs, touching which releases oxytocin, kissing, etc. The senses construct the mental world inside of our brains and allow us to interact with it.

We also construct socially. We imagine what others may think about us, or even what others may be doing in comparison to our own activities. There is also a an imagined hierarchy that normally forms due to various reasons; usually strength is a deciding factor. We have groups of people that we consider to be part of us, clicks, friend groups, religious communities, etc. This helps to give us a sense of worth by belonging to something, which is why community is such an important aspect of healthy living.

Humans also have a sometimes tragic flaw, called hubris, or pride. We believe ourselves to have accomplished something when we put forth great effort and achieve desired results, which can lead to a sense of accomplishment. This is most certainly a constructive process where we place a sense of value on ourselves for something that has been completed or finished with our participation. This also provides us with a sense of worth and accomplishment.

Humans also project our judgements onto the things around us, sometimes in terms of morals, sometimes in terms of positive or negative. This gives the object a perceived value and allows us to make judgement calls for very important things (i.e. the quality of food that you eat). This also allows us to manipulate the environment in a positive way for our own circumstances, in a similar way to a bird building a nest. It helps us to survive in a very real way.

Humans also have an ability to reason abstractly to plan. It allows us to save food and other resources during harder times and to effectively project ourselves into the future to deal with our environment. This is probably the reason for our massive success on the planet; we have the ability to forego now for later. This is tremendously valuable in social situations, especially those involving trade and bartering, because we can amass specific resources in an efficient manner to trade them for other valuables. This concept is what originally allowed humans to begin agriculture, which then provided us with free time and the ability to work less because we don’t have to always be focused on survival.

However, this amazing ability to plan also has a dark side; fear, anxiety, and idealization. We always want to hope for the best, even if it is an unreasonable outcome of our current situation. We sometimes create false realities because of our own fears and idealizations which then can cause negative effects. We get anxiety for future situations because of past situations that we have already experienced, or we think we know the outcome of a given situation simply because we have experienced a similar one. Fear is the epitome of this dark side, sometimes leading us to create false realities known as neurosis. But in judgement for survival, fear is absolutely necessary.

Fear is possibly the most constructive aspect of the human mind. It gives us the ability to avoid things we have experienced, to efficiently escape certain environments, and to react effectively when faced with danger. However, in social situations, fear has almost no value and can completely degrade relationships. Have you ever been in a relationship where the other person is overly jealous, or protective? This is a perfect example of a fear that degrades a relationship and that is completely unnecessary until some kind of evidence appears.

Humans can construct completely different realities. You can see this in cultural and religious values, where some people believe that the “right” way to live is what they have been taught; or when someone goes into neurosis because of over-stress, or simply genetic factors combined with the environment. In the modern world, stress is almost always the result of imagined or projected fears, which is why it is such a powerful force in our lives. Our ability to deal with the stress physiologically is almost always dependent upon our beliefs about the stress. Sometimes, this can force us to construct completely different realities to allow us to cope with the stress from the environment.

There are a few other things that we make up to deal with the environment; time, measurements, communities, languages, mathematics, mythologies, religion, and stories. Stories are incredibly fascinating, because they allow us to ‘tap in’ to the experiences of another consciousness through communication with our ability to reason and construct abstractly. This can allow us to learn, without really experiencing anything significant in the environment (of course you are reading a book, which is a part of the environment).

These are some of the different ways that we construct reality within our minds. This is why the concept Maya exists in eastern religions. Fear is an extremely interesting phenomenon in humans, almost certainly one to be avoided in social situations. So while you are out there, remember that YOU are constructing the subjective world that you live in and that it is specific to each individual.

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Maya | माया | Illusions of Reality (Cartesian Skepticism)

What is Real?

Maya is the concept of illusion. Mostly this pertains to consciousness, and it’s limitations. Consider that everything you have ever known or seen is only a half truth, if that. In reality, you can see far less than half, smell far less, and hear far less than what is really in your environment. Luckily we don’t need to see more to survive on this beautiful planet we call home.

I hope this title doesn’t turn you off, because I my own mind this will be the most interesting article to date. This is a way for me to talk about mind and matter under a reasonably explicit title, together, with lots of philosophical nomenclature.

I have recently come to the conclusion that it does not matter whether or not god exists. Whether there is an extreme nothingness at the source of the universe, or an extreme somethingness at the core of the universe, it doesn’t seem to matter. I have obtained this belief from the contrast of Hindu and Buddhist believe systems and learning how both are supported in my own experience in different ways.

Maya’s Source

My personal definition of god is the pulsation of the universe, the energy behind the sustenance of existence, if you will. The reason why there is something, other than nothing. The closest religious depiction of this is Lord Vishnu, who is the protector and sustainer of the universe, from Hinduism, though his cosmic form isn’t talked about often in the Ancient Indian texts.

After studying Jainism and learning more about the eastern religious concepts of God, I have concluded that there cannot be a creator “god” behind the creation of the universe. It is an illogical conclusion, because even if this “god” created the universe, something would necessarily have to create “god”. If you want to consider “god” as the creator, you have to address the creation of this “god”, that super cedes universal existence. And for that, we need a bit of evidence, which no human has ever been able to provide. So I say, god or no god, the universe exists and to my knowledge and in the relativity of my current existence, it is infinite. I understand that there is a lot of evidence to support a beginning of the universe, but I do hypothesize that we are looking at only a small, imperfect picture of the universe’s history and that it could be far vaster and more complex that humanity can even imagine at this point in our evolution. So I choose to believe in thermodynamics and unknown compressive forces behind black holes that seem to be at the core of existence.

The Dream of Consciousness

I hope that explained a bit about my stance entering the conversation of what reality is. The possibility that we live inside of a dream, or an alternate reality, or the matrix and what we, as individuals, experience.

Lately I have been listening to a lot of philosophical talks, to aid in mediation and generally to learn more about eastern philosophy, I do have to thank my friend Kyle for telling me who Alan Watts is and I have listened to him, Osho, and a few other philosophers over the past couple of weeks and their talks on consciousness.

I am very luck to have been educated by Jesuits, perhaps the most philosophically inclined religious sect in existence in the Western world.

It is important, when discussing consciousness, to bring up the idea of subjectivity, and the infinite randomness of the universe. We have created, for our own benefit, systems of knowledge that can accurately and precisely categorize, therefore, predict future events in our relative sphere. However, this overgeneralization is an illusion, as is the illusion of a “normal” or undeviated being.

Maya in the Modern World

The United States does not really exist, it is simply a collection of people who live in an area that are grouped together for administrative purposes. Just as the human race does not truly exist, it is simply a way of identifying our own species. So to understand the variances of consciousness, we must view it as a spectrum, as infinitely varied as the human species itself.

In this world, there are many illusions created by the subjectivity of our consciousness This illusion is the same as the illusion of separateness. Humans share 99.99999%, yet all we see is diversity. In truth, the difference lies in our path, the journey we are pulled towards, and our in own interpretations of how the individual interacts with the world. So I will attempt to explain how this illusion seems to function, in its most basic of forms.

You only know you exist because you are reflected by the external world. If you had no effect on the world, you would not know, or have any credence to support the idea of your own existence. You see this in a mirror, in your best friend’s perception of you, of the opinion of your parents, of the way you are treated by strangers. You begin to learn more, at least about how you as a person are perceived by the other humans around you. We see this in a crappy movie like “ghost” where the hero doesn’t realize he is dead until enough events pass, and eventually finds a mentor to teach him how to interact with the world in his present form. He learns his own existence from the external environment. It is why we feel fast, or strong, or confident, because we have had significant experience with our environments, in the case of fast and strong, our muscles, and in the case of confidence, our past dealings with other humans.

It is the opposite when you explore the external world, you find different aspects of yourself that you did not know existed. This occurs because you are pushing the limits of comfort, or normalcy, and are expanding upon your prior experiences. So we cannot truly know about how we would act in a situation unless we are put into that situation, because everything else is idealism. The environment forces us to comes to terms with our humanity, our limits, and our exceptional qualities. Indeed, if used often in the external world, our human capacity seems to have a tremendous potential for creation. However, that is a different argument all together.

But what does Consciousness really do?

Consciousness seems to function optimally in the state of learning, or at least adjusting to the external environment internally. This is the reason why consciousness seems to have come about to begin with; to fine tune the functioning of life to the sun, essentially. It is why all mammals have a pineal gland, to regulate the resting/waking cycle of the being’s existence and to keep the being in a rhythm that corresponds to the rhythm of that being’s relative cosmos, in our case the sun. So we can establish the consciousness exists because of the external environment. To perceive and interpret, in whatever limited fashion it can, the electromagnetic spectrum of energy and its effect on the being. So from the beginning, we must accept that consciousness is extremely limited in its perception, if it can indeed perceive anything at all.

Life itself, is a process, a constantly evolving thing that cannot be defined by a state by itself. The qualities change over time and therefore, even in the individual’s lifespan, there is a tremendous amount of change in the individual. We learn through the patterns, through the causes and effects that we realize and know as conscious knowledge, and the things we learn subconsciously as a part of the unconscious mind. But our own view of life and our experiences are the result of experiments and predictions and observations that we have taken from the outside environment and taken to be a repeated pattern. So we start to see the world in sorts of patterns and that really is the nature of consciousness, at its essential functioning, even cognitive neuroscientist will agree with me, in essence, the way the world changes, shifts, and the patterns interact in the world around us. This is, in essence, the way the entire universe functions, in patterns and changes and constantly evolving changes and fluctuations of energy.

Karma in Maya

I will hypothesize that the only true way to know the world is to act upon it, in it, as a part of it to see where your ripples effect that of the entire “pond” of the world. This is the essence of Karma, or existence in the world. No animal was ever fed by thinking, “I want eat.” It requires the physical act of eating, if nothing else.

You cannot use the language of the illusion without getting into confusion, for it is ever paradoxical. This is why reality, enlightenment, and the illusion (maya) are so difficult to grasp. They are the different sides of the same coin, and to the unseeing eye, they are parallel and exist as the same.

Humanity is a part of the cosmic nature of things, rather than some being that was kind of plopped here and told to make due by god. This assertion, in fact, becomes completely ridiculous in the eyes of a skeptic, because there is no evidence.

We question the true unity of the universe is a function of the cosmos. If we are all one massive collection of energy, simply broken down into electrons and quarks and all of those subatomic particles, then again, we are missing something. The idea that I am, as a separate function that of the universe, that I can realize that I, in fact, do exist, even if it is true that I do not exist.

Either nothing exists at all, or its all one big massive collection of energy that we categorize with the feebleness of our own consciousness. But there is still this issue of the separateness of consciousness which doesn’t seem to make sense if we are all the same.

Our understanding of the functioning of human consciousness will change drastically over the next thirty years as alternative forms of consciousness are explored in greater degrees, mainly referring to that of our primate cousins and the large mammals that live in the depths of the ocean. Their conscious functioning in combination with increases in the field of neuroscience, particularly imaging, are really required to know how the spectrum of conscious experience varies on the planet. But if you don’t believe other animals are conscious, spend some significant time with an intelligent animal, such as a chimp or a dolphin. Their ability to interact with you is proof enough that they can at least predict and analyze your own behavior, let alone adjust their own behavior according to yours, which is an extremely intense conscious experience of learning.

We have to resolve separateness by consideration of subjective dimensions, which is again, part of the illusion. We are separate because it allows for the compartmentalization and therefore specialization of energy. It is how complex organisms evolved from single-celled organisms, and eventually led way into the human being, one of the most complex beings on the planet (it depends on how you measure complexity).

Maya Tricks us into Separation

So in reality, everyone on earth is really a part of the earth. To think we are separate is a part of the Maya, the illusion of consciousness. If we humans destroy our planet, we are inevitably committing suicide. Unless we become a part of another planet before the extinction date, or event horizon, or whatever. We contribute to and fluctuate with the planet, the waves, the sun, the sky, the trees, the wind, everything really. Reality seems to be the recurrence, the constants, the things that are unchanging and always seem to exist; however, there is a taint, and that taint is your self and the culmination of your prior experiences and genetics and anthropological background that has led you to now. Reality is the present, tainted by the lackings and shortcomings of the human’s limited perception of his world (consciousness), which without illusion (maya) of separateness, has glimpses of awareness of the constant fluctuations of energy and form and nothingness. This is consciousness, to know and enjoy the limits of perception and to be constantly pushing them, exploring and playing with all that you can while on the planet.

Always remember, people will show you what they feel they are lacking. It is the nature of the ego. The teachers and people who talk about love, light, peace, etc tend to talk about it so much because they feel they are missing something, or lacking in some way and therefore have to make up for it by being perfect. But in fact, the human is already perfect, already lovely, already beautiful. So saying these things is an affirmation, something that the ego needs to feel validated. Goodie goodies are the thieves of virtue. To be perfect is to be something that isn’t human, so beware of anyone that does not show you their humanity. The true teachers have the most awkward senses of humor, have an attitude about things as being the way they are, and is a bit of a rascal, or a bit of a motherfucker, if you will. Just a few notes about from the Dao that rang true for me.

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