Friday, April 20, 2018

Discussion of Ecclesiastes 1: Everything is Meaningless/ All is Vanity.

This talk is available on my Vimeo page: 
Sunday April 22 we will meet at my office to discuss the meaning and implications of this powerful passage from Ecclesiastes 1, New International Version (NIV):

Everything Is Meaningless
The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.” 

Here is another translation/version of the same passage:

Ecclesiastes 1 English Standard Version (ESV):All Is Vanity 

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

The entire book of Ecclesiastes is very challenging to our ordinary assumptions about the meaning and purpose of life. It is an outlier in the Old Testament. From Wikipedia: "The presence of Ecclesiastes in the Bible is something of a puzzle, as the common themes of the Hebrew canon—a God who reveals and redeems, who elects and cares for a chosen people—are absent from it, which suggests that (the author) Kohelet had lost his faith in his old age. Understanding the book was a topic of the earliest recorded discussions (the hypothetical Council of Jamniain the 1st century CE). One argument advanced then was that the name of Solomon carried enough authority to ensure its inclusion, but other works which appeared with Solomon's name were excluded despite being more orthodox than Ecclesiastes." 

We are fortunate that this book somehow slipped into the official canon. Ecclesiastes is one of the most powerful texts in the Bible. Although Biblical scholars have had a hard time making it fit traditional understandings of Judaism or Christianity, the author speaks very directly about the futility of our ordinary ways of living. This book provides an excellent and very clear diagnosis of the nature of our suffering. There's very little offered as a solution, other than to enjoy whatever simple and fleeting pleasures life offers. Even this recommendation is offered in an obligatory and half hearted manner. 

From my perspective, the author deserves enormous credit for his refusal to offer simple minded and pat solutions to the very vexing problems of life. Far better to not know at all then to be certain yet wrong. So much of what is currently offered in the name of religion requires the submission of questioning and not knowing to the certainty offered by fixed belief. There are no simple or easy answers offered here. Nor does the author sugar coat his description of ordinary life, but rather speaks honestly from the heart. Although he has everything, he feels empty inside. It is a perfect and highly accurate description of the human condition. As such, it is worth taking seriously.

What can we learn from this challenging work? The author could not be more clear about the problem. What is the solution? It is recommended but not required that you read it. 
If you are interested in attending, please RSVP as space is limited. 

Here is the remainder of Chapter 1:

"What do people gain from all their labors    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.
All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say,  “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. 11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens.What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
 the more knowledge, the more grief."

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Who is crucified? Who is resurrected?

Here is a link to a video of this talk:

Sunday April 8 we will meet at my office in Binghamton at 2 pm for 15 minutes of silent meditation followed by a discussion prompted by the Easter season of the meaning of the crucifixion and revival from death of Jesus Christ. From the perspective of nonduality, it is important to consider Jesus as not exactly the same as us, but not completely different either. If we see Jesus as only other, meaning separate or not me, we miss the profundity of his sacrifice. We also miss the important way we actively participate in his death and resurrection. 

From the nondual perspective, time and space are fluid, relative, indistinct. Can we imagine Christ’s death and resurrection occurring in a moment to moment manner now, in our self? How do we kill the Christ that lives in us? What causes us to die? Another way of asking this question is: How do we attempt to separate ourself from the presence of God? How do we return to life through rebirth in the spirit? This is the same question as: How do we live a free and meaningful life, in full accord with our Christ nature? What would that look and feel like? 

We have pointers as to how to understand the death and resurrection of Jesus in the writing of Paul in his letter to the Galatians: Galatians 2:19-21 New International Version (NIV),

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”[a]

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ lies at the heart of Christian belief and practice. Whether or not we ascribe to Christian or other beliefs, we always have an opportunity to deepen our intuitive appreciation and respect for the profound mystery represented by Easter. It can be difficult to avoid the temptation to stand back and feel separate and unaffected by the suffering in the world of one man or woman or many millions. Realizing that no separation is possible allows us to begin to question, to wonder, and to be open to transformation.

The talk will be streamed live at:
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Monday, February 12, 2018

What's Up with Hope Hicks?

The current Trump-related drama in Washington has John Kelly’s former high-level aide Rob Porter convincingly accused of physical and emotional spouse abuse by not one, but two ex-wives. Trump, of course, has come to his defense, as has Porter’s boss. None of this is surprising-more like business as usual in this administration. What actually is most interesting in this mess is the perspective of Hope Hicks. Ms. Hicks is the administration’s communication’s director and is apparently one of Trump’s most trusted and loyal aides. The 29 year old former model is alleged to have had a substantial role in writing the initial awkward defense of Mr. Porter, whom she is said to have been dating for some time: If true, this would represent extremely poor judgment by Ms. Hicks. Again, though, the interesting part to me is that she is dating Mr. Porter. Wouldn’t she know that Porter’s FBI clearance had been “held up” because both of his ex-wives spoke candidly to the FBI during his security clearance investigation? She now says it would be “extremely out of character” for him to be abusive. Really? How are we to understand this comment?
This question becomes more compelling when we remember that Ms. Hicks also dated former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who seemed to have major anger management issues at the time: I do not intend this post to be a criticism of Ms. Hicks or her dating habits. She is an intelligent grown woman who can make her own choices in men without advice from me. However, I have spent over 40 years doing full time psychotherapy with primarily women. Many of the problems I have attempted to ameliorate have been related to the poor treatment inflicted by the husbands, boyfriends, and dates of my clients. Years ago, I began to reflect on the importance of careful mate selection. It can very hard if not impossible to ‘fix’ a poor choice after the fact. Consequently, I have tried to understand the choices women make in men. Here are a few thoughts.
Both of Hope Hicks former boyfriends are almost certainly alpha males. They seem like very powerful, assertive, take charge men. In fact, I strongly suspect both men would be called control freaks. Such men are typically extremely compelling to women. Ms. Hicks probably hasn’t yet seen the dark side of Mr. Porter. To paraphrase one of his ex-wives, if she hasn’t yet seen it, she certainly will: Assuming she hasn’t yet experienced directly his reported rage reactions, there is a simple reason why. Here is the reason: she has never said ‘No’ to Mr. Porter about something of importance to him. If she did say No, and did not provoke a rage, it was probably because Mr. Porter didn’t care about her opinion on the subject. Therefore, he did not take the No personally. I hope these ideas are useful to her and all women in understanding otherwise perplexing behavior by men.
 I do not know these people and have no information about their lives except what I read in newspapers and magazines. However, I have seen the behavior pattern described in national news sources on many occasions. It is the source of enormous pain and confusion for women (and some men). It is also extremely common, and there appears to be little awareness of it in the general population. I assume John Kelly’s comments about Mr. Porter are an accurate description of his work behavior. That is, at work he is an outstanding contributor, who is well respected. Of course, this means he keeps his anger in check at work. Only someone who is perceptive, intuitive and deeply aware of this pattern might notice the intense anger and frustration lurking underneath professional failures, rejections, or criticisms. These comments apply to all men, but especially to those who are most dominant and powerful. Mr. Porter is simply one example of millions. I am using him and Ms. Hicks to illustrate a huge problem. Bringing conscious awareness to previously unconscious patterns is what I do as a psychologist.
So how does knowledge of this pattern affect dating relationships? Because of centuries of cultural programming and conditioning, women of all ages enter the dating arena attempting to please men who seem to be worthy of their interest. Most women try very hard to please the men they select for dating. They are not consciously aware that they virtually never reject or disagree with any advance, need, or opinion of their dating partners. Women find powerful alpha males to be nearly irresistible, for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. Women understand intuitively that these are men with whom you do not oppose or disagree if you want to continue seeing them. I have seen women unceremoniously dropped by such men for the smallest of ‘transgressions’, such as asking to be reminded about the time of a dinner date. Again, it is possible to politely and mildly disagree with such a man as long as the issue isn’t important to him. Needless to say, rejecting sexual advances would be difficult, as virtually all men require reassurance of their romantic/sexual appeal in the dating process.
Do we also have alpha females? Yes-of course, and in relationships, these women will need to be dominant. If they are not allowed to be dominant in matters of importance to them, they will either become abusive, emotionally withdraw or leave. It’s that simple. The only meaningful difference between highly dominant men and women is that the women do not send their partners to emergency rooms on a regular basis. Not a very romantic picture, is it?
Once I became aware of this pattern, I started actively looking for it in my client’s romantic relationships. It was there in nearly all cases. It seems the most effective way for a relationship to survive long term is for one of the partners to be submissive. This is true even when neither partner has a rage disorder. I believe it is present in most long term, successful relationships. Think about the successful, long term marriages in couples you know well. Does one member appear to almost always get their way? If you look closely, the answer is going to be Yes. This may be a difficult truth to face. If you carefully examine a long-term relationship and do not see evidence of this pattern, look again. Remember, disagreement or opposition can usually be tolerated by the dominant partner as long as the matter is of little or no importance to them. Do not be deceived by superficial appearances. The more submissive partner will often demonstrate mild opposition in a public setting. The purpose of this performance is to suggest a kind of equality that doesn’t exist in private. If the opposition is well tolerated by the dominant member, it represents a well-practiced and very safe example of fake equality. Always remember to ask: does the dominant member routinely get their way on matters of importance to them? From my observations, these dynamics appear in virtually all ‘successful’ relationships-straight or gay. The pattern is most apparent when one of the partners is a ‘strong’, forceful, domineering person. However, I believe it is still present even when both partners are not naturally domineering or controlling. For the relationship to work one will need to be in charge.
From this perspective, we can offer a new definition of what a successful relationship is. Our new understanding will also be a guide to how to have a meaningful relationship that succeeds for both partners. This is an important point, because virtually all currently available dating advice is wrong, useless or misleading in this regard. An effective, mutually fulfilling, lasting relationship is one in which the more submissive partner skillfully, enthusiastically and routinely submits to the emotional, sexual, and other important needs/demands of the more dominant partner. Obviously, the more submissive person will need to find satisfaction in this experience. Whether this is truly possible or not is another question. Conversely, the dominant partner must learn to not be violent or abusive on the rare occasions when they do not automatically get their way. They must also learn to at least consider the possibility of compromise and negotiation. Such words are anathema to true alpha males and females, as they make them feel weak and ineffectual. I know this assessment sounds like a parody of traditional psychological advice about relationships. I am simply reporting in a clear, simple and direct manner what I have repeatedly observed.
It is possible to teach willing individuals to stop having rage reactions. I have done so many times. Teaching powerful, dominant men and women to value another’s opposing view is more tedious and time consuming but may be possible in some cases. Most humans, and nearly all alpha males and females, have a very difficult time accepting rejection or criticism and maintaining an emotional connection. What we have been taught about how romance should work is a fairy tale. The quicker we unmask and deconstruct nonsensical beliefs, the better for everyone.
Obviously, this new definition of a successful relationship is far from politically correct. Keep in mind, I am not trying to define what I think a successful relationship should be, like so many other writers. I would be perfectly happy if successful relationships were equal, fair and balanced, mutually respectful, etc. My conclusions are based on observations of how such relationships actually work in the real world, as it is. In this case, I am not interested in what is perceived to be fair, just, moral, or appropriate. Platitudes about how life should be but isn’t do not interest me. I am only interested in what actually works. Advocating what should work but doesn’t seems stupid to me. In my PhD program, I was trained to trust empirical, verifiable observations. In other words, I am interested in observing and reporting what actually works in relationships. I aspire to see the world as it is-not as I was taught it is, wish it was, or believe it should be. 
What’s the take home advice for the myriad of Hope Hicks in the world? Here are a few unsolicited ideas, freely offered:
1)    Learn to find some of the 90% of men who aren’t alpha males attractive and worthy of romantic consideration. Many will be far more enjoyable and workable partners.

2)    If you absolutely must only consider alpha males, try to pick ones that do not have violent rages. There are some. The way to know is to say No to them early and often in the dating process. Have firm boundaries about issues of importance to you and stick to them. If they cannot hear No without becoming verbally, emotionally or physically abusive, move on. Quickly. It is critical to find this out early, before sex, and before emotional attachments have been established.


Update 3/29/2018

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Susanne Marie will be a guest teacher Sunday October 29

We will have a talk/discussion October 29 led by nondual teacher Susanne Marie. This will be a wonderful opportunity to experience an accomplished teacher who has many years of experience dwelling in and communicating this direct seeing that we so often discuss. Here is a link to her website:; and here is a link to a Buddha at the Gas Pump interview with Susanne and Adyashanti: Her topic for this talk will be: The Natural State. I am delighted that we can sit with a mature teacher with many years’ experience who understands experientially the natural state. Susanne also appreciates the critical importance of the thorough integration and embodiment of nondual awareness. It is a real pleasure to have her join us.
As always, we will begin at 2 pm with 15 minutes of silent meditation, and will plan to end around 3:45 pm. We will meet at the conference room of the Hampton Inn in Vestal: 3708 Vestal Parkway East, Vestal, New York, 13850. There is limited space Please RSVP as soon as possible if you are interested in attending. As with all recent talks, we will stream this talk live on Facebook on Matt’s page: The suggested donation is $25. 

Before they call I will answer

Sunday October 15 we will meet at my office at 2 pm for 15 minutes of silent meditation followed by a talk and discussion of the meaning of this beautiful passage from Isaiah 65:24: "Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear." New International Version. Here is another version: "I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!"  New Living Translation.

It is helpful to think of certain passages from the Bible, including this one, as the Living Word. Such passages radiate direct knowing. They have the capacity to awaken any of us who are willing from our deep slumber. They are alive in every meaningful sense. This passage from the Old Testament prophet ends with the phrase “says the Lord”. It is God speaking through the prophet. All of us, here and now, have access to the same direct knowing and speaking shown by Isaiah. The experience described in this passage is available to everyone, at any time. It is, in fact, ‘outside’ of and not limited by space and time. How do we access this profound direct knowing of Truth? We will consider this question and discuss examples of the same knowing expressed by Isaiah that occur in our ordinary, daily lives. Because this Truth is living, it is in no way limited. Such knowing has always occurred to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. The very nature of such Truth is that it is ever present, endless, formless, and unrestricted. It is here, now, equally available to us all.

 This talk is available for viewing here:

Sunday, September 17, 2017

How 'Free' is Free Will?

Sunday September 24, we will meet at my office at 46 Riverside Drive in Binghamton at 2 pm for 15 minutes of silent meditation followed by a discussion of the concept of free will. We are taught to believe that we actively and consciously make decisions about our behavior. Since we decide what to do and not do, we are also responsible for our choices. A corollary belief is that we deserve to be punished for our ‘bad’ decisions and praised for our ‘good’ decisions. All religions have some version of the Christian notion of sin deeply imbedded in their core belief systems. In both the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible, there is frequent discussion of the painful results of sin. The God of the Old Testament is a frightening character indeed.

For the usual concept of sin to make any sense, there must be free will. There is an underlying assumption that we could make the ‘right’ decision or choice if only we would. If we don’t or won’t make the ‘right’ choice, then we must suffer the consequences. However, what does free will really mean? Recent scientific studies in neuroscience raise doubt about our ordinary ideas of free will. We will discuss several scientific articles which call into question the nature of free will, and consider the ramifications of a revised understanding of just how free we are to make our own choices.
 A quotation from the article referenced below: 

"There has been a long controversy as to whether subjectively ‘free’ decisions are determined by brain activity ahead of time. We found that the outcome of a decision can be encoded in brain activity of prefrontal and parietal cortex up to 10 s before it enters awareness. This delay presumably reflects the operation of a network of high-level control areas that begin to prepare an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness." 

Assuming this experimental finding is accurate, what does it mean for the concept of free will?

If you are interested in attending the talk this Sunday, please RSVP as space is limited. 
Below is one scientific article that will be considered in this talk.

Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brainNATURE NEUROSCIENCE VOLUME 11, NUMBER 5, MAY 2008. Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze & John-Dylan Haynes.