In the winter of 2017 I awoke one morning with pain in my right thigh. The pain felt like a serious bruise; maybe a torn muscle as my range of motion was limited; but there was no related black and blue skin marks to corroborate that diagnosis.  Moreover, I didn't recall banging my thigh to cause injury. Yet the pain and the limited range of motion made me think that it would take a couple of weeks before I could get back to playing squash. Sort of a long time as I had had a meniscus and a couple of hernia operations in the past and was able to get to the squash courts in a week's time. Ten days later with the symptoms unabated, I went to my personal doctor for a diagnosis. She had me take an MRI. The next day, a Friday, she informed me that it looked like I had a tumor which most likely was cancerous. She set me up for Monday and Tuesday consultations at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and at Yale University Hospital. She also sent me the MRI report which I immediately emailed everyone on my contact list with a note: "Just got notice from my doctor that it looks like I have a cancerous tumor in my leg; further examinations to follow. Wish me luck it's not the big "C. Will keep you posted." I received many responses to the email, wishing me well. Some friends were shocked as I'm generally perceived as very healthy. Some doctor friends opined that in fact the MRI indicated a cancerous tumor more than anything else. Others offered encouraging words. In the ensuing days, my wife was a wreck as we discussed the real possibility of having a leg amputated. I was good with the situation, figuring come what may. I also shared the particulars of my circumstances with everyone; from my doormen to strangers I'd meet on the grocery checkout line. Monday I went with my dutiful son, Alex, to Sloan Kettering. Alex joined me so that we would have a clear understanding of the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment protocol. At Sloan I met with Dr. Patrick Boland, a "top doctor" specializing in orthopedic cancers. As I understood his examination would involve a surgical biopsy, before he started I told him that "I know there is a small but real chance the best way to proceed is to amputate the leg. If you think during the biopsy operation that's the way to go, I'm good with that. However, if that's what you think, don't do anything. Just leave the leg as it is. Let me enjoy it for another couple of weeks and I'll come back to have it removed." Dr. Boland laughed, more than a bit surprised by my marching orders. Dr. Boland and his assistant first examined my leg, pushing and tugging it forcefully. After not saying much beyond sounds like "hmm" and "ahah," Dr. Boland said he had seen many tumor and cancer patients but I was different, "none look like you." I thought my upbeat attitude was not what he commonly encounters. Dr. Boland then recommended more tests, an X-Ray and a sonogram. Hours later, with test results in hand, I met with Dr. Boland again. The good doctor advised me that the apparent cancerous tumor was just old dried blood from a long ago bruise that had leached spider-like to appear as a cancerous tumor on the MRI; that unbeknownst to me I must have banged my leg recently to cause my thigh muscle strain. As I had an appointment the next day at Yale and the weather looked good for a drive up north from the city, I went to the meet the doctors at Yale. They confirmed Dr. Boland's diagnosis. Driving back to the city, I noticed that the pain in my thigh was no longer. Two hours later, I was playing squash. Upon arriving home, I wrote to my email list that the cancer scare was a cancer scare, nothing more; that in fact I was back on the squash courts. Lots of congratulatory emails came back, though some a bit cynical. On Wall Street friend called my experience "the tumor rumor." Another friend, a Catholic, said mine was a divine recovery; the Friday email sounded like I was in hospice and five days later a miraculous complete recovery; from hospice to squash court; Jesus must have played a role. How did I feel about this rollercoaster ride? Terrific, from beginning to end. Terrific I had an early diagnosis, terrific that I could avail myself of modern medicine, terrific that I was not ill, terrific that I was able to play squash, terrific to have had an entertaining experience; or that's how I chose to remember it. Before the good news that there was nothing wrong, I wasn't particularly stressed out by the dire possibilities. That might be a function of my general attitude and sharing my diagnosis with anyone who would listen. The sharing in effect had many others share my burden of an ominous ordeal which made moving forward, whichever the direction, relatively easy. When we have a problem and tell everyone about it, we ameliorate our anxiety and are better able to enjoy the moment....

In 2014 my mother collapsed in her apartment in Brooklyn. Simply, her legs gave out. An ambulance took her to Maimonides Hospital to diagnose the problem. Initially she was diagnosed with having had mini-strokes. As she had been to hospital over the years for one problem or another, I wasn't concerned but felt best to visit her; overruling her objections to do so. At hospital I was told she was in Room 520. I went to Room 522 where there was an old man in a wheelchair sitting outside the room. I approached him and said: " Mother, how you doing?" He looked a bit confused, so I said: "Mother, it's me, Victor. You ok? Don't you recognize me?" Then quickly, "This is room 522? You're not my mom. Have a good day." He laughed. I then went next door to Room 520. My mother was there, in bed, alert and smiling. As well, her doctor and a nurse were there. After greeting my mother, I turned to the doctor and asked how my mother was doing, whether I needed to make funeral arrangements. Everyone was a bit shocked but for my mother who knew me too well. But I then added: "No, I understand, this is a serious matter. But before we get into it, I want to be sure I understand the relationships here. You are the doctor, she is my mother and I am her son. You're not the patient, she's not my son and I'm not my mother?" From there we got onto business. The doctor said that he initially thought my mother suffered from mini-strokes but as her neurological motor system was deteriorating further, she might actually have Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Guillain-Barre is an autoimmune disease wherein the body's immune system attacks the peripheral nerves and damages their myelin insulation, rendering the patient paralyzed to a greater or lesser extent. Within a year, 90-100% recovery is possible. After extensive and painful testing, including a spinal tap, the doctor determined she in fact had Guillain-Barre. In the ensuing days, as her condition worsened, she was put into hospital's Intensive Care Unit. I hired additional nurses to be by her bedside 24/7. In the ICU she was put on a ventilator and a feeding tube was inserted into her stomach which made her two favorite activities, eating and talking, not possible. A couple of days later I visited my mother. I asked her nurse how my mother was doing. The nurse said I need to ask the doctor making rounds. I went out the room looking for the doctor. I approached a man in uniform and asked him how my mother was doing. Another nurse volunteered that the man I was talking with was not a doctor but an HVAC man. That didn't matter as for me every opinion counts. I took the HVAC man to my mother. I told my mother that he was from Harvard Medical School and a specialist in Guillain-Barre. Then I said: "Doctor, what do you think?" Well, he was a religious guy from Jamaica and said best we consult scripture. My mother laughed. Some days later, as her condition stabilized, my mother was moved out of the ICU into a less intensive care patient's room. By then my mother had been on the ventilator for 10 days. Medical protocol called for her to be taken off the ventilator and to be intubated as continuing with the ventilator increases the risk of infection. Alternatively, she could be taken off the ventilator and effort to breathe unaided. If she was unsuccessful breathing, she would suffocate and die. I told my mother that the next step was intubation and that over time she might get better and lead a normal life. However, as she was 86, she might never recover and be with feeding tube and intubation until the end of her days. I asked her what she wanted to do, try to breathe on her own now at the risk of dying or go with the intubation. She couldn't speak but pointed to me. I asked her if she wanted me to make this decision. she shook her head indicating "yes." I then said: "OK, this is what are going to do. You're going to hold my hand as tight as you can, close your eyes, concentrate on breathing and the nurse will take out the ventilator. If you can't breathe, you will transition. So before we get started, I want to tell you I love you, it's been a wonderful trip, thank you for everything and God bless you." The ventilator came out and my mother lived. My mother never fully recovered and was wheelchair bound until she passed a couple of years later from congestive heart failure. My mother didn't have a lot of marbles but whatever marbles she had she retained until she passed. In my mother's last days she said she had but one wish. She wanted to pass in the daytime, not at night. I asked her why the daytime and she said she would likely be sleeping at night and not during the day and she wanted to see what it was like to die. She died a couple of days later, after the sun turn from up high, in the early afternoon. I guess she then knew its journey from there. That was my mother. No wonder I am who I am....

In life there are always more variables than equations. Hence, there are forever unknowns and a rational approach to solve all of life's mysteries is a fool's errand. Only through the realm of the divine can we truly know the unknowable. This is the role of the mystic. The etymology of the word mystic is via Latin from Greek mustikos from mustēs 'initiated person,' from muein 'close the eyes or lips.' An initiate is someone who has been, often via rituals, admitted into a secret or obscure society or group. Closing the eyes means dispensing with conventional views. Closing the lips means not telling others of your secret society membership as in so doing you might be perceived as mad; as only those who can imagine the mystical experience can see it. By definition, a mystic is one who by contemplation and self-surrender seeks to obtain unity with God or who believes in the spiritual understanding of truths that are otherwise beyond the rational. In the play of life the role of the mystic is unlikely to win an Academy Award as it's generally a supporting role with few lines. However, otherwise it's good to be cast as a mystic as it makes for a fascinating experience and much fun.   While I am who I am, professionally as an actor in the play of life I'm a mystic or at least I hope so as otherwise I must be mad. In any event, it's much fun....

Some years back I attended a wedding in the English countryside. The bride was pretty and ebullient. I congratulated her and wished her the best of luck; adding that she was wise going with an arranged marriage as those tend to be more successful than "love marriages."  She was a bit taken aback, claiming her marriage was a love marriage, not arranged; her parents had nothing to do with her choice of groom. I explained that in times past children married at a young age and didn't know much about choosing a mate. Moreover, as marriages were a merger of families, parents arranged the marriages of their children. Today, however, children are no longer young and living with their parents when they marry; post marriage family get-togethers are mostly on ceremonial occasions; and there are often great socioeconomic differences between parents and children; thus, children arrange their own marriages and pay lip service to their families' input. The bride and groom were both good-looking, graduates of a top university, Jewish, bourgeoisie, in professional jobs at highly acclaimed organizations and had common life goals. That seemed like an arranged marriage on good footing. Had the bride chosen to marry an ugly uneducated elderly drunken bum with no means of support, that would have been a "love marriage." When we make choices based on emotional feelings without practical considerations, it must be out of love. However, emotional states of mind are like the weather, they can change unpredictably. Likewise, emotional love relationships often don't sustain themselves and have a higher failure rate than arranged marriages. My view was that the bride was in love with the particulars of the marriage she had arranged, not with the groom. However, I was proven wrong. It was a love marriage. The marriage lasted less than two years and ended with great acrimony....

Is the sky blue? Is the sea blue? Maybe the blue in one reflects the blue from the other? Maybe as the blue sea water evaporates it makes the sky blue? Maybe the sky rains blue water making the sea blue? The sky is clear and so is the sea, everything is clear but me; befuddled by thoughts of from where comes the blue, making me blue....

Enlightenment is simply being one with the light. As everything is light and its infinite manifestations (E=M*C*C), when we are one with the light we are one with everything. We treat others as we wish to be treated because we and they are one. Moreover, those who are enlightened have multiple perspectives on whatever because they can view whatever from the perspectives of others with whom they are one, not solely from the perspective of their own finite selves. The first proposition is compassion and the second wisdom. The enlightened  are free to experience the present as it unfolds. They dismiss the past as an illusion whose only purpose is to teach us from our mistakes and successes. Otherwise, stories about our past are stories, an illusion. Thus, the enlightened can experience the present unshackled by preconceived notions. The enlightened also realize the transitory nature of  life and as such don’t take much seriously. They get a great laugh when they see others taking themselves seriously. In other words, they are one with the light and take things lightly. The last characteristic of enlightened people is that the light they emanate unveils the true nature of the universe . This is the ultimate purpose of enlightenment, to not suffer in life or death....

We are all cells in one human body; some of us nerve cells, heart cells, fat cells, skin cells, blood cells, etc. Virtually all (other than those on the border) of each specific type of cell lives in a world surrounded by similar cells. These clusters of cells are all essentially identical in their function and behavior. As well, they think alike. The most unusual cells are the blood cells. Red blood cells don't have a nucleus, they are essentially ego-less. Unlike all other cells, the blood cells travel the body and visit all the other cell clusters. Unlike other types of cells, the red blood cells have the most direct interaction with other cells as they bring them oxygen for sustenance and remove carbon dioxide which would otherwise kill them. Other cell clusters recognize the red blood cells as cells of the body but as unlike themselves; they view the red blood cells as eccentric because they think and behave differently. While each cell cluster depends on the red blood cells for survival, the commercial relationship they have with the red blood cells is not like the familial relationship they have with cells similar to themselves.  Each unique cell cluster thinks differently, but likewise as regards red blood cells. The red blood cells, unlike other cells, recognize that there are many different types of cells in the body whose experience of being alive and perception of the world is very different. The red blood cells identify with all other cells as they know that all cells do not have an independent existence, they are manifestations of the body. By identifying with all cells, the red blood cells have many perspectives of the world. While the nerve cells might be the smartest, the white blood cells the toughest, the stomach cells the most caustic, the bone cells the most rigid, etc.; clearly the red blood cells are the wisest. As their perspectives are many and as they devote their lives to serve others, the red blood cells embody the essence of enlightenment: wisdom and compassion....

In the cold of winter, February 1992, I drove with a guide from Lhasa Tibet to Kathmandu. During the four day trip we picked up a couple of hitchhikers. One was a 40 year old woman who looked deep into her 60s. Her skin was very dark for a Tibetan but that was apparently dirt from not having recently bathed. She was friendly and open about her life. She said she rarely bathed since her village home had no running water; had last bathed in a river in the summer; never in her life had a shower. Every morning as I shower I think about that woman, imagine how she would feel in the shower with its temperature controls, great water volume and soothing soap melting accumulated dirt, yak candle smoke and caked perspiration. Feeling it's the first shower of my life, my awareness of everything is heightened, I glow with gratitude; an unforgettable experience. When involved in the mundane, it's easy to fall into automatic pilot mode and oblivion. Imagining ourselves as someone who has never experienced these activities allows us to experience them as for first time which in fact it is as each time is never as any time before....

The mind is like a pond reflecting reality. We experience reality not as it is but as reflections. The reflections most accurately represent reality when the mind is calm, undisturbed by motion beneath the water and activity above. Motion beneath the pond is a function of us not having integrity and our reacting to stories of our past we've created.  Activity above the pond is a function of multitasking and distractions like desiring that which we don't need. Mindlessness is the purpose of meditation. Meditation is a tool to calm the mind by focusing on, say, solely our breathing. This is mindfulness meditation. Beyond mindfulness, we can advance to mindlessness meditation wherein we focus on the space of nothingness between breaths; that is, the space between when we exhale and before we inhale again. In the space of nothingness we are free from distractions and are ready to experience reality (the present) before it becomes just a reflection from mind. In the space of nothingness we experience the present and the nature of mind is revealed. Once revealed, we realize the mind's reflections are not reality but a derivative based on reality that's distorted by a disturbed state of mind. This realization transforms our relationship with mind from the mind being our master to our servant. The is the foundation of enlightenment. So remember, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. If we forget this, enlightenment will be the least of our problems....

The past is the past and what we perceive as the present is also the past. We consciously experience the present as "present-passed," not  the "true-present." The true-present is waves of energy in an otherwise empty space. The true-present is the pre-sent, reality before we consciously experience it. The conscious experience of the past (the past and present-passed) is our perception of reality as it's reflected off our pond-like mind. The mind is a mnemonic device (etymology of mind: memory). Memories are illusions we have about the past. We perceive the past as memories and related stories we've created about it. Again, the reflections are reflections of the past, an illusion. The two constants in the universe are change and interdependence. Thus, the true-present cannot be described beyond saying that it is what it is whatever it is. Like God who meets Moses in the desert and like the Tao, it is nameless. We experience the true-present when we are in the gap between true-present and present-passed. This is the space of nothingness. It is like breathing. After we exhale we pause before inhaling. That pause is the space of nothingness. When in that space, we are set to experience the true-present as it unfolds. "Nothing's gonna change my world." -- The Beatles, Across the Universe. The true-present unfolds as waves of light and sound energy; visually, like a kaleidoscope. It is overwhelming, like trying to drink water coming off a fire-hose. The purpose of the mind is to organize the true-present so that it's drinkable, not overwhelming. Experiencing the true-present is akin to hallucinating. The etymology of the word hallucinate is to wander in the mind. In our everyday life, we experience the world as reflections from a point along the perimeter of the pond-mind. As is our habit, every day we go to the same point on the perimeter which results in us having a consistent perspective of the world. However, the mind often is turbulent (a function of our lacking integrity and other distractions) and its reflections distorted. When we calm the mind (through practices like meditation), we can leave its perimeter and wade into the pond, wander in the mind. It is here we can experience the true-present. In experiencing the true-present, we realize that the reality we've heretofore experienced was not reality; just reflections, illusions. The true-present is curvilinear and rectilinear cosmic waves of images and sounds that overwhelming come upon us until we drown. Our drowning however results not in our personal demise; it's the demise of the various identities we've created that define us, the various stories we've made up about who we are. It is here when we realize that the past was just an illusion; that we are truly one of the waves, one with everything; as we've always been from before our beginning. Then, we fall down laughing as we realize the play of life and our roles in it are based on illusions. The play starts as a tragedy and ends as a farce when the true-present is revealed....