Hope in the Modern World

wish-1a“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh

Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The impact of the explosion blew Sadako out of her bedroom window and she very nearly died. Though she survived the blast, the radiation eventually gave her leukemia and doctors insisted that she wouldn’t live longer than a year. Sadako’s story so far might sound like a tragedy, but it is actually a story of hope.

There is an ancient Japanese legend that anyone who successfully folds one thousand paper cranes would be granted a wish. Sadako’s only wish was to survive and so she folded her very first origami crane. Sadako’s condition worsened over time and she eventually ran out of paper, but this didn’t discourage her or stop her from making cranes. Without paper she started using medicine wrappings and bits of rubbish to reach her goal; some of the cranes she made were so small that she needed tweezers to make the folds. Sadako died at the age of twelve on the morning of October 25, 1955, less than a year after she was diagnosed with her illness. She had only folded 644 cranes. Before she passed, her family gathered around the bed and requested her to eat something. She asked for tea on rice and someone hurried off to get it for her. She took a spoonful of the rice and after eating it, announced, “it’s good.” She took a second spoonful and passed away as if falling asleep. Those were her last words. Continue reading

Aliens, Death Threats and a Free Flight to Brazil

602944_101063933409157_2060999100_n1

“I am willing to pay your way to face me, not because you believe in aliens, but because you’re an obnoxious asshole that needs to be shown your actions have consequences. In this case it is pain, mutilation and a lifetime of regret.”

In 2011, I uploaded a post about crop circles. While I don’t necessarily believe crop circles are made by extraterrestrials, I did think that the one in the video was particularly amazing, and figured it’d be a decent way to start up a discussion on aliens. Because, let’s face it, who doesn’t enjoy discussing life outside our planet? I didn’t receive any comments until a year later, when a user by the alias of ‘slrman‘ called me stupid for believing in aliens. A harmless debate ensued, where he persisted in calling me names in a lame attempt to get me to ‘prove’ that aliens existed, which I admitted I could not. An average night out on the internet, right?

Eventually ‘slrman’ – a 70-year-old man called James Smith – became so infuriated with me that he offered to pay my way to João Pessoa, Brazil (where he lives) so that I could meet him face to face and tell him that I believe in aliens, oh, and so he could beat the shit out of me for holding that belief. With nothing better to do, I decided to humour him. I wanted to find out if his intentions on buying me a plane ticket to Brazil were genuine, and besides, I figured I could use a holiday. Continue reading

The Dark World of Balinese Cockfighting

philippines-el-nido-cock-fightingWords by Michael Cunningham. Photos by Albert Retief.

On an otherwise uneventful day in Bali, I found myself standing in the sweaty crowd of an illegal cockfight. Being the only white person present, I was left wondering what I was doing there, and more importantly, why I was betting money.

I know many of you reading this are already reaching for your pitchforks and blazing torches, and that’s ok. Cockfighting is a dirty sport, and one that probably shouldn’t exist, but the reality is that it does. I only knew of its occurrence through word of mouth prior to my first hand experience of it, and even then I compartmentalised it in a section of my brain I like to call ‘things that exist that I pretend don’t exist’ , and imagined it would do a life sentence there. However, when I was standing in front of that pit, watching two roosters fight to the death in a very violent display, I was forced to re-evaluate my entire outlook on reality, especially the dark side of it that I had simply chosen to ignore.

Continue reading

Guide to Vice Magazine

nnn_cover

Here’s my take on Vice‘s 311-page “best of” edition, covering all 72 issues from 2003 to 2008. If this is their best of the best, I wanted to see how good it really was.

I’ll be covering the first 100 pages, which contain three sections: ‘Vice Guides,’ sex, and lastly, drugs. Each Vice article will have a short review along with a link to the original article (hyperlinks in the titles) so you can check it out for yourself and form your own opinion on whether it’s good or not.

Continue reading

Guide to Writing Fiction

Plot Fist

 

‘There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.’
– Somerset Maugham

A plot is the skeleton of a story, and is therefore essential to any work of fiction. If you plan on writing a story without a plot, don’t even expect your mother to read it, yet alone the rest of the world. In this guide, we’re going to outline a bulletproof formula to plan and establish a solid plot for your story. This system was developed by James Scott Bell, author of the book Plot & Structure, and is very easy to remember – it’s called the LOCK system.

Continue reading

Psychedelic Mushrooms and You, Part Two

179959_10150810511001301_1252803218_n (1)“A psychedelic experience is a journey to new realms of consciousness. The scope and content of the experience is limitless, but its characteristic features are the transcendence of verbal concepts, of spacetime dimensions, and of the ego or identity. Such experiences of enlarged consciousness can occur in a variety of ways: sensory deprivation, yoga exercises, disciplined meditation, religious or aesthetic ecstasies, or spontaneously. Most recently they have become available to anyone through the ingestion of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, DMT etc. Of course, the drug does not produce the transcendent experience. It merely acts as a chemical key — it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures.” – The Psychedelic Experience

This is an extension to my earlier post Psychedelic Mushrooms and You, which covered the process of finding, identifying, drying, and storing magic mushrooms found in the wild. That guide was written with the intention of making psychedelics more readily available to those seeking it with the hope that the information might open doors for those who were wanting to explore different planes of consciousness and not just get high for kicks. It also served the purpose of helping others become more capable in avoiding poisonous lookalikes, thus avoiding potential unnecessary deaths. Psychedelics can be a real game changer as far as your life is concerned; they can be fun, exciting, playful, weird, tense, frightening, expanding, contracting and everything else on the spectrum. At times taking psychedelics can be like putting your mind under under a microscope, or plugging it into an amplifier – it can and probably will confront you with yourself, and this can either enlighten or frighten the shit out of you depending on your level of preparation. It is for this reason that it is important to treat psychedelics with a great deal of respect, and one way of doing this is to mentally prepare yourself for the experience before you have it.

Note: a lot of the photos in this post were taken on an amazing mushroom trip I had in the spring of 2012, whilst road ‘tripping’ with two close friends through the great alpine road in a rented winnebago, which we affectionately named the ‘dojo’.

Contents

Continue reading

Child Development 101 – History and Theory

The last subject we covered in university before I dropped out was child development – an area of psychology overflowing with zany theories and crazy ideas (cough, Freud, cough). In all seriousness though, child development is one of the most interesting topics in psychology to learn about and is also, arguably, the most important, as just about everything that we think and do today as adults has its roots dug firmly in our childhood.

While it might be too late for you to change your past, with some fundamental training in developmental psychology you should be able to raise your current or future children the best way they can be raised. Also, knowing how your past has shaped the person you are in the present is essential to mending history’s mistakes and moving on so that when the time comes to have children you are better equipped for the challenge. First, like with most things in life, we have to start slow, that is we gotta talk about the history! Walk with me, take the blue pill, and listen closely while I explain to you the fascinating story of psychology’s obsession with children, and their life journey from birth to neurosis.

Prometheus Rising (1983)

PROM_RISE_TAPE Prometheus Rising (1983) by Robert Anton Wilson is a mind-blowing neuropsychological manual on how to reprogram your own brain. The book combines Timothy Leary’s Eight Circuit model of consciousness, psychological imprinting and conditioning theory, Gurdjief’s self-observation exercises, Quantum Mechanics, Yoga, Cybernetics, Freudian psychoanalysis, sociobiology, psychedelics, Alfred Korzybski’s general semantics and much more to construct a strange but enlightening lens for viewing the world and our place in it. Prometheus Rising began as Wilson’s Ph.D. dissertation called “The Evolution of Neuro-Sociological Circuits: A Contribution to the Sociobiology of Consciousness” in 1978-79 for University Paideia, but in 1982 Wilson rewrote the manuscript for commercial publication by removing footnotes, adding chapters and exercises, sketching out diagrams and illustrations, and injecting plenty of humour. Oh, and he threw in a chapter on how to brainwash yourself and others titled ‘How to Wash Brains and Robotize People’. Continue reading

A Collection of Zen Stories

zen enlightenment

“We gain enlightenment like the moon reflecting in the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the whole sky are reflected in a drop of dew in the grass.”
– Dōgen Zenji

Man and His Horse

There is a story in zen circles about a man and a horse. The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts, “Where are you going?” and the first man replies, “I don’t know! Ask the horse!”

A Beautiful Goose

A Zen monk saw a beautiful goose fly by and he wanted to share this joy with his elder brother who was walking beside him. But at that moment, the other monk had bent down to remove a pebble from his sandle. By the time he looked up, the goose had already flown by. He asked, “What did you want me to see?” but the younger monk could only remain silent.

Zen Tea

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Zen Dialogue

Zen teachers train their young pupils to express themselves. Two Zen temples each had a child protégé. One child, going to obtain vegetables each morning, would meet the other on the way.
“Where are you going?” asked the one.
“I am going wherever my feet go,” the other responded.
This reply puzzled the first child who went to his teacher for help. “Tomorrow morning,” the teacher told him, “when you meet that little fellow, ask him the same question. He will give you the same answer, and then you ask him: ‘Suppose you have no feet, then where are you going?’ That will fix him.”
The children met again the following morning.
“Where are you going?” asked the first child.
“I am going wherever the wind blows,” answered the other. This again nonplussed the youngster, who took his defeat to his teacher.
“Ask him where he is going if there is no wind,” suggested the teacher.
The next day the children met a third time.
“Where are you going?” asked the first child.
“I am going to the market to buy vegetables,” the other replied.

Continue reading

Zen Story: Publishing the Sutras

zen oxTetsugen, a devotee of Zen in Japan, decided to publish the sutras (teachings of Buddha), which at that time were available only in Chinese. The books were to be printed with wood blocks in an edition of seven thousand copies – a tremendous undertaking. Tetsugen began by traveling and collecting donations for this purpose. A few sympathizers would give him a hundred pieces of gold, but most of the time he received only small coins. He thanked each donor with equal gratitude.

After ten years Tetsugen had enough money to begin his task. It happened that at that time the Uji River overflowed. Famine followed. Tetsugen took the funds he had collected for the books and spent them to save others from starvation. Then he began again his work of collecting. Several years afterwards an epidemic spread over the country. Tetsugen again gave away what he had collected, to help his people. For a third time he started his work, and after twenty years his wish was fulfilled. The printing blocks which produced the first edition of sutras can be seen today in the Obaku monastery in Kyoto. The Japanese proudly tell their children that Tetsugen made three sets of sutras, and that the first two invisible sets surpass even the last.

Anapana-sati Meditation

buddha anapanasatiThe following simple meditation is drawn from the well of Theravada Buddhism, which is the oldest surviving form of Buddhism. The meditation is called Anapanasati: Anapana means inhalation/exhalation, while sati means mindfulness, and so the meditation is no more than mindfulness of the breath. Seeing as we all share the breath in common it is a meditation that can be performed by anyone, at anytime, and anywhere. You don’t need to go to the shop to buy anything and you don’t need to find a teacher, you are the only instrument you need. The Buddha promised his devotees that mindfulness of the breath, “developed and repeatedly practiced, is of great fruit, great benefit.” Anapanasati is the meditation that Buddha practiced as he sat underneath the Bodhi tree and realised his own enlightenment, and so it is the method that he stressed the most to his followers, and is the core meditation practice in Theravada Buddhism.

The Buddha’s teachings of this meditation can be found in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta (The Greater Discourse on Foundations of Mindfulness). In it he says: “A monk, having gone to the forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty hut, sits down. Having folded his legs cross-wise, straightened his body, and set up mindfulness in front of him, at the tip of his nose, just mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out. Breathing in long, he knows: ‘I breathe in long’; or breathing out long, he knows: ‘I breathe out long.’ Breathing in short, he knows: ‘I breathe in short’; or breathing out short, he knows: ‘I breathe out short.’; thus he trains himself.”

Continue reading

Hindu Story: Tell the Truth, Don’t Get Angry

arjunaIn the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, the young princes studied archery with the famous archery guru, Dronacharya. In ancient India, instruction in a particular art or skill was not limited to the techniques of that art alone but involved discipleship – the student would be trained in self-discipline, surrender, meditation and self-knowledge, as well as archery or whatever skill was being taught. One day Dronacharya told the class: “My lesson for the day is ‘Tell the truth; do not get angry.” Contemplate this and come back when you have mastered it.” The princes wrote the lesson down and went off to consider it. The next day all the princes except Arjuna (the hero of the Mahabharata epic and the famous Bhagavad Gita, which it belongs to) arrived on time for class. Dronacharya asked them: “Can I take it that you have mastered my last lesson, ‘Tell the truth and do not get angry?” The princes agreed that they had. Their lessons continued.

Days passed, but still Arjuna has not returned to class. After a week Drona sent for him. When Arjuna appeared he asked him why he had missed so many sessions. “My revered teacher,” Arjuna said, “you told us to contemplate ‘Tell the truth and don’t get angry.”
“That is correct,” said Drona.
“But,” Arjuna said, “you also said that we were not to return until we had mastered it. So far I have only mastered, ‘Tell the truth…'” Deonacharya smiled: “My son, it is indeed easier to learn to tell the truth than not to get angry, and your fellow princes have not even learned that much.” He turned to the other students: “Learn from Arjuna, this is not a lesson to be mastered in one day. You have not demonstrated your cleverness, only your dishonesty!” The student’s heads turned to Arjuna angrily.

The Only Dance There Is: Book Review

ram dassThe book I am reviewing – The Only Dance There Is – is a compiled transcription of two lectures Ram Dass gave to a room of psychotherapists in the early 1970s. The first lecture was at the Menninger Foundation in 1970, and the second at the Spring Grove Hospital in 1972. Seeing as Ram Dass was a trained Harvard professor and psychiatrist before he transformed into a yogi, he was in the fortunate position of having two perceptual vantage points to overlook the whole thing. His clear insight into the Western approach to solving man’s spiritual problems through psychology, and his new understanding into the Eastern approach through yoga and meditation allowed him the opportunity to act as a solid concrete bridge between the worlds of East and West. Prior to Ram Dass bridges existed, but they were of the old and fragile, made of rope variety, which were rarely crossed out of fear of the bridge collapsing and you falling into the abyss below. Because of this the game at this point in time was very polarised – us vs them, hippies vs police, East vs West, and so on.

In these lectures Ram Dass attempted to share the Indian’s non-dualistic outlook on life, called Advaita Vedanta, to an audience very much attached to the separation of all living things. Ram Dass eloquently shared what he had learnt in India, and what he had given up in Harvard, by comparing the comparatively new Western psychology to the 10,000 year old Eastern method of yoga and meditation. For example, he discusses in detail the Hindu chakra system, and how it closely resembles psychological systems for understanding human motivation – an area that Ram Dass happened to specialise in when he was a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Richard Alpert.

Continue reading

Sufi Story: The Impermanent Ring

kings ringThere once was a king who was going to put to death many people, but before doing so he offered a challenge. If any of them could come up with something which would make him happy when he was sad, and sad when he was happy, he would spare their lives. All night the wise men meditated on the matter. In the morning they brought the king a ring. The king said that he did not see how the ring would serve to make him happy when he was sad and sad when he was happy. The wise men pointed to the inscription. When the king read it, he was so delighted that he spared them all.

And the inscription? “This too shall pass.

Hindu Story: Tat Tvam Asi

atmanOnce a seeker went to a great master. Bowing reverentially in the traditional manner he said: “O master, I seek enlightenment, please initiate and teach me so that I may attain That!” The master replied in a kindly manner: “Certainly my son, tat tvam asi, you are That, the divine Self lives within you. Meditate on that Self, know that Self, merge in that Self, realise that Self!” The seeker was disappointed. “O master, I know all that already. Why, that very teaching was featured in this month’s Yoga Journal. Please give me the secret teachings, I want the real stuff!” The master said: That is all I know. That is my entire teaching I have no secrets. There is nothing that I have not given you. However, if you are not satisfied, you can go down the road to the next swami’s ashram and see if he has something more suitable for you.”

The seeker approached the other guru and said: “O master, I seek enlightenment, please give me the initiation and your most secret teaching so that I may attain That!” The guru said: “I do not give my teachings so easily. You must earn them. You must do sadhana, spiritual practice. If you are sincere then you can stay here and work for 12 years. Only in this way will you earn my initiation.” The seeker was delighted: “That’s just what I wanted. That is real spiritual life, real sadhana. I’ll begin at once.” The guru assigned him the job of shovelling buffalo dung in the back paddock. The years went by. Each day as he shovelled the dung the seeker dreamt of his future enlightenment. He ticked the passing days and months off his calendar.

Finally 12 years were up; the great day arrived. He approached the guru with hands folded palm to palm. “O my guru, I have served you faithfully for 12 years. I request your teachings and initiation as you have promised. Please bestow your grace upon me.” The guru said: “My son, you have served me well. You truly deserve my teaching. Here it is: “Tat tvam asi. You are That, the divine Self lives within you. Meditate on that Self, know that Self, merge in that Self, realise that Self!” The seeker became enraged. “What! Is that all? The guru up the road gave me that the first time I met him and I didn’t have to shovel buffalo dung for him for 12 years!”
“Well,” said the guru. “The truth hasn’t changed in 12 years.”

Psychedelic Mushrooms and You

img_0422-1-991x470DISCLAIMER – This guide is in no way meant to advocate the use of illegal drugs; it exists solely to spread an important pocket of knowledge that might have the potential to save lives, or at the very least, trips to the hospital. There is currently too high a risk for the uninformed novice to mistake a poisonous mushroom for a psychoactive one, and so it is my hope that this article helps illuminate the otherwise dark and mysterious pursuit of magic mushroom identification.

DISCLAIMER #2 –  I do not have magic mushrooms (or any other illegal substances) in my possession. I destroy all evidence of this rewarding (but sadly illegal) hobby by means of digestion. Every year in Victoria, Australia, between the cold months of April to August, magic happens. This magic reveals itself in the form of psychoactive mushrooms. They grow wildly in parks, playgrounds, creeks, forests, nature strips and garden beds They thrive pretty much anywhere with wood chips, tanbark, or mulch that gets a lot of rain and shade. Of course, there are lots of poisonous doppelgängers out there, so it pays to have a bit of experience in identifying the right ones. This ‘experience’ is something we have acquired over the past five or six years of picking and eating magic mushrooms, and so this guide is written with the hope of sharing that knowledge with others. Why buy a man a fish when you can give him a fishing rod, right? This guide will attempt to explain how to find magic mushrooms on your own (or with friends), and outline some good methods of drying and storing them.

Contents

Continue reading

The Last Question

big bang universeThe following short story, written by the famous science fiction author Isaac Asimov, is a gripping tale of Man and Machine’s evolution of consciousness, and their place in the infinite yet impermanent universe. The story was first published in the November 1956 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly, and is to this day considered by many to be his best work. The author himself even thought so, and in 1973 he said of it:

“Why is it my favorite? For one thing I got the idea all at once and didn’t have to fiddle with it; and I wrote it in white-heat and scarcely had to change a word. This sort of thing endears any story to any writer. Then, too, it has had the strangest effect on my readers…”

The short story is split into seven story arcs, with the first one beginning in 2061, and each one after progressing further and further into the future. Despite the changes in time, space, and characters, each of the stories share in common humanity’s relationship with a supercomputer called Multivac and its successors – every sub plot revolves around certain characters discussing the life span of the universe and then asking the Multivac computer whether entropy (destruction) of the universe can be reversed, which is a question it has insufficient data to answer until the very end. This is a great read from start to finish – I give it a 5 out of 5; it is WAY ahead of it’s time!

Continue reading

Be Here Now: Book Review

Be Here Now Ram Dass

“Embrace the 10,000 Beautiful Visions”

Be Here Now (1971) is a classic text on Hindu spirituality that bloomed open like a lotus flower in the wake of the hippie movement. The seed for this book was planted in the mind of Harvard psychiatrist turned Indian mystic, Ram Dass, and was written – with the blessings of his guru Neem Karoli Baba – for a Western audience who were, for the most part, materially rich but spiritually poor

Be Here Now offered it’s readers and followers a drug free alternative for attaining higher states of consciousness, while its simple message to live in the present encouraged the pursuit and cultivation of inner peace. Since it’s original publication the book has sold more than 2 million copies and has had an enormous influence on the Western world’s adoption of Eastern philosophy and spirituality. I can’t speak for everybody, but my copy of Be Here Now is one of my most treasured possessions, it opened the door of spiritual discovery and casually pointed towards the way. To this day, Be Here Now’s teachings shine like the sun and penetrate even the darkest spaces. I recommend it with all my heart to those with an open mind, and a thirst for self discovery.

be here now

Continue reading

My Journey Into Aokigahara Jukai (青木ヶ原 樹海) – The Suicide Forest

IMG_4567-2

Disclaimer: Firstly, there are a lot of images and videos in this post, so I had to break it up into 10 pages to save loading time – you will see the page numbers on the bottom just before the comments section. Secondly, everything written below actually happened, nothing is fabricated.

Lastly, and most importantly, if you’ve happened upon this post and you live in Japan, keep an eye out for your close friends and talk to them if you think they might be having suicidal thoughts; here is a very helpful pdf which details the warning signs of someone who may be suicidal: Suicide First Aid Guidelines For Japan. Also, if you are having suicidal thoughts yourself, try to stay positive and remember that your pain is only temporary once you realise that others can help you – there is help out there. Please talk to your friends and loved ones, if there is nobody who you can trust, please visit the Tokyo Counselling website or the Japan Counseling directory and find a professional to talk to. Life is worth living, if you give it another chance, you might realise that too.

“Meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life and is therefore the equivalent to illness. Meaning makes a great many things endurable – perhaps everything.” – C.G Jung

Contents

aokigahara mt fuji

1200 years ago, Mt Fuji erupted for ten straight days. For the entire duration it spewed molten lava down its summit and casually layed waste to everything in its path. Many people perished, and a great number of homes were destroyed. Huge amounts of lava pooled up in a large lake at the foot of the volcano and divided it into two smaller lakes; Lake Saiko and Lake Shōjiko. Some time after the lava had dried, trees started to emerge out of the ruins, eventually making way for the 35 km2 forest known as Aokigahara Jukai (青木ヶ原 樹海), which translates as ‘The Sea of Trees’. Few could have predicted the darkness that would continue to surround it.

Today, an average of 100 bodies are found in its depths every year, and many are left undiscovered. Few people enter the forest, and those who do rarely return due to its reputation for having the second highest suicide rate in the world. Sadly, the forest has carried an association with death long before it became a popular place for suicide, as ubasute is believed to have been practiced there, which is an old Japanese tradition where the elderly and sick are carried up a mountain or into a forest and left to die – sort of like the story of Hansel and Gretel, except with old people.

The forest is known by many names: Aokigahara (青木ヶ原), Jukai (樹海), The Sea of Trees, the Suicide Forest, the Cursed Forest, the Black Forest, and finally the locals I asked in Japan called it ‘NOOO, don’t go there!’ while they made the shape of an X with their arms.
Continue reading