Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

Just over a year ago, a community came together to celebrate the imminent arrival of its newest member.  Last weekend, we celebrated her first trip around the sun, and premiered the video shot on that day along with an animation that imagined the subtler, behind-the-scenes story.

Today, on Mother’s Day, that labor of love animation and video is unveiled to the world.

While such a production obviously takes many hands and hearts to pull together, it also points to the love and care that John Silliphant and Loveleen Dhillon invest into everything they do and every friendship they cultivate.  What else could motivate Jonathan Bhuvanesh Mason to put in the hundreds of  hours and many all-nighters needed to animate the opening sequences?  How else would Smita Khatri and Vicki Virk of DholRhythms conceive every dance step and then train a small army of love warriors to execute them?  Why would the Scott & Anamika Stoller cook vegan, sattvic feast for one hundred in a park?  Why else would body artist Alvin Petty wakeup at 5am on a Sunday to paint a belly for 4 hours straight?

May all beings live in such blessings.


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Buddha taught us how to sit.  Gandhi taught us where to sit.  And Krishna taught us when to stand up.

Its time to stand up for Pancho.

A true satyagrahi, he’s being held for meditating at Occupy Oakland, making local (pictures 24 – 27) and international news (BBC videoat :57 seconds).

There has been an incredible outpour of support for Pancho, though it is no surprise, it speaks to his love and impact on everyone he comes across. There have been so many emails and phone calls that have gone back and forth over the last 24 hours with a lot of information, support, and updates.  In order to better enable people to support Pancho, remain informed, and to allow for clear communication and coordination among everyone so that we are all engaged in the most optimal manner for Pancho, we held a conference call this afternoon (thank you Sri and Swetha for coordinating) and here is the latest update (including input from Pancho’s lawyer who was able to participate).

Here are the key updates:Pancho is currently is on track to be arrested/taken into custody by ICE (sometime after his arraignment tomorrow morning – Wednesday, November 16th at 9am and taken to Arizona unless we do something NOW.
The most immediate thing we can do is contact the offices of Congresswoman Barbara LeeCongresswoman Diane Feinstein, and Congresswoman and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi asking them to call ICE directly to lift the hold on Pancho.


What can you do NOW:

1)    Call/email offices of people above – the links above will provide you with their office phone numbers and email (both local to CA and in DC). Call them on both sides!

2)    Get in touch with Sheriffs office and ask to not honor the ICE hold – (510) 272-6878

3)    Write letters to give to lawyer Francisco Ugarte describing Pancho’s impact on community – please send the scanned letters (they must be signed) to Amit Dungarani (amit@servicespace.org)

4)     Get in touch with influentials to do the above as well (community leaders, faith leaders), time is very short, 12-24 hours – An additional call list has been provided at the bottom of this email.

5)     Additional ways to reach out include social media and petitions, language for which will be handled by communication team.  We need to get this out far and wide in a way that resonates.

6)  If you are local to Oakland/Berkeley/SF area – look for an email from Guri Mehta on events tonight and tomorrow to come to in support of Pancho including public city council meetings, Pancho’s hearing, etc.

7)  Meditate. Meditate in solidarity with Pancho and send love his way and to everyone else including those who have put him behind bars. This is what he would want.

Talking Points (from Pancho’s Lawyer) for points 1-4 above:

Request Pancho’s release because– He is a humanitarian, volunteer for several YEARS

– Former student of astrophysics at UC Berkeley

– violence prevention in Fruitvale neighborhood

– promoter of meditation and non-violence in expanded groups

– his inclusiveness of all communities

– anything else of this ilk (even personal stories)

–  Key Point: Why use valuable money to arrest a pillar of community rather than on pay for police, schools, etc? I want my tax dollars spent on schools, fireman, police and teacher pay and not to deport humanitarians/pillars of the community who focus their whole time on serving the community.

What NOT TO SAY (for points 1-4)–          Anything specific about his immigration status, as even the lawyer doesn’t fully know the situation here.  In general terms it’s alright though as its already out there.

-There is a strong possibility that Pancho could be arrested as soon as tomorrow and sent to Arizona for proceedings. We do NOT want this to happen because of the legal and political environment out there. Though there is a strong team of supporters out there, it would make this more challenging. Thus, the best thing we can do is work in a coordinated manner.

-Pancho’s words to lawyer – “It should not be about me, its about the injustices to the occupy community and to undocumented peoples.”

-Lawyers words about Pancho – “I have never met anybody in 25 years that has made a bigger impression on me in just 20-30 minutes”


Team Pancho

(humbly written by Amit and Birju)

P.S. Agencies & Politicians to Contact

ICE: (415) 844-5512

Alameda County Sheriff: (510) 272-6878

Oakland Police Department: (510) 777-3333

Mayor Quan: (510) 238-3141 (leave voicemail) or e-mail her

Barbara Lee: (510) 763-0370

Santa Rita Jail: (925) 551-6500.

Alameda County Supervisors:

Supervisor Scott Haggerty (510) 272-6691

Supervisor Nadia Lockyer (510) 272-6692

Supervisor Wilma Chan (510) 272-6693

Supervisor Nathan Miley (510) 272-6694

Supervisor Keith Carson (510) 272-6695



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Just before my last meditation retreat in mid-August, I was fortunate to see off my dear friends Uma and Sriram with a dinner and sleepover 🙂 on the eve of their big move back to India.  They were so lovingly persistent and curious in asking about how my retreat went that the answer below finally flowed out over email.  The long story and ‘play-by-play’ still hasn’t found time to come out, so I thought I’d share this semi-concise note to them in a more public forum.
I’ve been grappling with the right way to share my Vipassana experience because I suppose I’m simultaneously concerned about people thinking I’m crazy, and not being sure myself that I’m sane 🙂  I’ve mentioned it before, but this last retreat was the most difficult and profound sit ever.  To people who have asked thus far, I only shared the difficult part of the story without the other side (which was equally challenging, but not as negative).  Suffice to say that I remembered things, and saw connections, and experienced insights that the rational part of my mind can’t explain.  Greater aspects of the work I have to do in this lifetime, both on the personal, family, and community level became clear to me though I still find my courage in integrating all of that to be less than the seemingly large task.  Perhaps most importantly, it was clear to me that all the identities I/we create for ourselves are false (by virtue of being only partially and superficially true).  They’re just stories, but the extent to which we cling to them is the extent that we take away from the scintillating mystery of who we are in this very moment.  Prior to the retreat, I had this growing and very uncomfortable problem of not knowing who I was–something I had never really felt in my life prior to the last year or so.  After the retreat, I still don’t know the answer, but I’m no longer afraid that I don’t know (and so its not a problem that I can’t explain who I am to people who try to size me up).  That alone has felt liberating.  And I’m less locked in to any story about “me” from any part of my past.  I feel more free, and more fearless, and more committed to staring down my weaknesses and owning up to my mistakes.  
In short, things will never be the same.

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Talking about insights after a meditation retreat seems a bit like walking on a pool of corn starch.  Immersion (in wisdom) would be the expected outcome, but its definitely more titillating to dance along the surface by talking about a truth instead of living it.  The danger is that this dance conveys a deceptive image of mastery, whereas the stillness and acceptance of the truly wise would dissolve any momentary solidity into a natural fluidity and immersion that allowed for much more than a fleeting moment of sensational glory.

So with the caveat of not having fully mastered and integrated my insights, here is a high-level play-by-play of what came out of my last 10-day retreat.

Visualizations & Ideas

During the first couple days of my retreat, I often struggled with intensely vivid and absorptive visualizations or seductively engaging (and often grand) ideas that distracted from the task at hand.  These seemed to burst forth as my breath would become more still, and would make me completely lose track of observing respiration.  When I emerged from that, I found myself ironically making mental to-do lists to capture and drive these flashes despite recognizing the futility of that process. Ultimately, the fireworks display of my mind calmed enough to stay with my breath and not become enraptured and dazzled by these bursts.

Attachment vs. Love

The first and biggest wall I hit was one of deep attachment to my wife.  I found myself missing her so intensely that its fair to say that I was addicted to her presence.  It was very difficult to get to the bottom this at the level of what was happening in my body, and at times disheartening to feel so challenged and ensnared by these feelings.

Despite knowing better at the intellectual level, my love had become confused or conflated with attachment, even driving me to ask the assistant teacher in a moment of weakness if its possible to separate the two.  His answers did not satisfy, but gave me enough to keep pushing onwards.

Almost all of my senses and my mind craved some sort of contact with her, but as I began to slow down and stabilize, I saw beneath my game.  Behind each sensory or mental contact that I craved lay an idea about some sort of quality of hers that I attached to this, and it turned out that it was the quality that I was craving more deeply than the sensation.   But that too is not fully accurate, as every idea I held also carried a subtle sensation which I craved.  There were so many nuances and complexities to this that I did not succeed in fully understanding it myself, but as the game started crack, another reality became apparent.

Stillness and observation of the craving lead to the unraveling of its meaning, and as more of these unraveled, a sensation started arising in my chest that I often feel when I’m experiencing love.  Though I did not completely work this out, it seemed that my attachment was actually choking the flow of love despite the attachment somehow tracing back to love itself.  What was that hiccup, or twist, that caused the confusion that lead to this spiral of complexity?  I did not find a standard answer, but I suspect its a gap in integrity about how to seriously cultivate the qualities I admire in my wife.  Contemplating her positive qualities with a concentrated, integrated mind gives rise to both that sensation associated with love in my chest as well as some energy to actually live those qualities with my actions.

Dissolving attachment and the craving behind it was not a diminishing of my love for my wife, but instead a return to a more natural, healthy, and productive state that allowed me to feel and express love more strongly and purely.

One Job In Life

Prior to this retreat, some pretty solid and heavy things were arising on the cushion at home, sometimes leading to real difficulties in day-to-day life.  Part of my intention behind this 10-day was to do the ‘heavy-lifting’ there so life at home would be smoother.  But after a multi-day struggle with spousal attachment, I discovered that I didn’t have much choice in the personal issues I chose to work on over the next 10 days.

We’re often approaching life with a ‘plan and execute’ strategy, full of to-do lists that never seem to end.  Yet there is a harvest of our past actions ripening at every moment, often with both good and bad fruits.  The inattention towards what seeds one cast in the past and their respective germination times means that we’re never certain about the harvest we can expect in the moment.  And dealing with that unknown harvest of results is half of the job to be done at any point in time.  In this sense, the work chooses you.  Life decides to drop a challenge in your lap, and that makes it YOUR challenge.

In another way, the work is all the same.  Observe everything that is arising at any moment in time.  Is it good?  Does it lead to happiness for oneself and for others?  If so, amplify it and push it out into the world so others can also benefit.  If not, recycle it back into the soil of the mind to nurture something more wholesome.

We have one job to do: examine the quality of the fruits (or results) we’re receiving, and pay close attention to the quality of the seeds (or intentions) we’re planting.  When we perfect that process, I suspect that everything else gets taken care of.

Hard Work

Growth happens outside of our comfort-zone.  We all know this, and so we push ourselves when we want to grow.  But we’re often too pushy, too impatient.

I discovered that when I got too hardcore about pushing my limits and intensity on the cushion, it turned out to be counterproductive.  It was exhausting, and made me not want to work as hard the next day.  If I had to quantify it, I would say that 80% of maximum intensity is optimal to stimulate progress.  Anything less, and you could definitely do better by working harder.  Anything more, and you’re on the burnout trajectory.

I also discovered that some things seem like hard work because we’re looking at them through aversion-colored glasses.  Its a worthwhile effort to keep examining the lens of our perspective, because every so often, the those lenses shatter and that which seems so difficult actually turns out to be very easy.

That said, I think I only averaged about 70% maximum intensity, and I’m open to the idea that this whole calculus could just be the machinations of my own laziness and comfort-seeking.

Anyone else have insight with regard to hard work?


The idea that continuity of practice was the key to success really hit home on this retreat.  I started maintaining my ‘vipassana practice’ even during meals and breaks and was initially struggling with the amount of ‘hard work’ this entailed.  After a little bit of burnout and some of the prior insights, another insight on the continuity problem struck.

The phenomena occurring at the level of body and mind are continuously flowing.  The only thing that stops is our attention toward what is happening.  And that attention turns out to be more a matter of choice than a question of hard work.  Attention moves away because we decide that its more interesting to focus on something else instead of ourselves.

The moment that I recognized that I myself was a fascinating, unknown, scintillating mystery, there was nothing more interesting than what was happening at the level of my body and mind.  That leap couldn’t have happened without spending time practicing equanimity, otherwise the mystery of who and what I am and how I work gets lost in roller-coaster journey of discovery along the way.

Once these continuity and related insights struck, I was able to watch and observe myself for much of the waking hours for many weeks after my retreat.  To observe myself became a choiceless choice.

That said, several months later, it now takes some stronger effort and intention to maintain this, and my continuity has sputtered.

Meditation and Integration

The process of meditation is actually a process of deepening integrity, getting more closely aligned with the truth of the moment.  How do we miss that truth?

Various thoughts and ideas flash and splash through our conscious minds but beneath them is a more vast and subtle reality.  Just as the ripples on a lake or the waves in an ocean represent only a surface phenomenon, our conscious mind turns out to be the very surface of something immensely more powerful beneath the surface.  So long as this great force hiding below is outside our understanding, its also outside our control.  Despite our best efforts, we’re ultimately at its mercy so long as we remain on the surface.

Meditation deepens this understanding of what lay beneath the surface.  Equanimity helps to tame it.  And wisdom helps us master it.  Just as light becomes a laser when all its waves are synchronized, harmonizing our conscious mind with our subconscious mind make our words and actions come from a space of deep integrity and thus deep power.

Turns out that the inner process has a basis in our neuroanatomy.  In our cerebral cortex, much of the rational, deductive part of the mind resides in the forebrain, and just behind this, at the boundary of the frontal and parietal lobes lay the the prefrontal gyrus, home of the primary motor cortex.  This region of the brain has what is called a ‘homunculus’, or little man embedded in it– essentially a representation of the sensory surface of our bodies.  As we pass our attention up and down the surface of the body, our attention is actually passing up and down this small ridge in the brain.

But our brains are vastly interconnected.  Sensation is connected to so many layers of cognition, memory, and conditioning.  Moving through sensation, we start to unravel and understand these complex interconnections in our consciousness, and the extent to which we are not overpowered by what we uncover is the extent to which we can go still deeper.

Our neuro-impulses are also electrical phenomena.  The repeated conscious movement of attention starts to generate a field that harmonizes other neurons the way that a magnet will make ordinary iron magnetic after repeated contact.  Very loosely, I suspect that this collective, dynamic, electrical harmonic property of the brain is the kind of integrity that happens through a deepening practice.  And that the ability to consciously move our attention through ever-larger portions of our neuro-anatomy is the basis for the opening of these subtle and seemingly infinite realms of consciousness.

Eventually, the space between what you think and what you feel and what you do becomes smaller and smaller until you become a fully integrated person, with each thought or word or action coming from the depth of your being and resonating with every fiber of who and what you are.

Its a long journey, but the process is beautiful enough to keep me returning to the cushion over and over again.

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Elephants were the most powerful, unstoppable animals known to the ancient Indians so its no surprise that Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, is one of the most worshiped deities of the Hindu pantheon.  What is quite surprising is the genius with which the deity was conceived.  While I do not possess a complete grasp of the epistemology, I’ll attempt to deconstruct several salient aspects of Lord Ganesh.

All Hindu deities are rich in mythology, philosophy, and symbolism.  The mythology is most accessible to the masses, and conveys moralistic ideas meant to encourage behaviors for a stable and happy society.  In the case of Lord Ganesh, one key moral conveyed through the mythology is respect for one’s parents.  The lesson comes through a story where Ganesh triumphs over his younger brother, Kartikeya (aka Skanda aka Murugan, the god of war) in a ‘race around the world’ by circumambulating his parents and conveying that his parents are his world while Kartikeya tries to circumnavigate the globe.

Ganesh goes around his parents while his brother zips off on his own vehicle, the peacock

The philosophy of the deities is accessible to the educated and intellectual class, and conveys psychological ideas or concepts meant to be contemplated or meditated upon to reveal the nature of the mind, mind-body complex, or beyond mind-body construct.  Exploration of this dimension often necessitates navigating between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ experience,  into and out of the uniquely personal and rational.

"Lam", the seed sound of the muladhara chakra

In yoga philosophy, Lord Ganesh is the ruler of the muladhara chakra at the base the cerebrospinal axis, and is the remover of obstacles in life and the spiritual path.  To validate or appreciate this idea beyond blind acceptance as a (bizarre or unusual) religious belief requires submission to a specialized and specific discipline of internal investigation, usually through meditation.

The symbolism of a deity conveys wisdom, and relates to the processes the wise engage in to eradicate personal and collective suffering, and move towards liberation or enlightenment.  These aspects of a deity are often the most subtle, and while the intellectual classes may be able to decode or interpret the symbolism, only those who have walked the path have the subjective experience of the truth or natural law being conveyed.  One symbolic aspect of Lord Ganesh is his vehicle: a mouse.  The whisper of wisdom behind this symbol hints that the largest, most powerful things depend on the smallest, most seemingly trivial things.

Put in another way, Ganesh is the juggernaut of a revolutionary event or phenomenon in black swan theory, while his mouse is all the little things we overlooked that brought us to toward the unexpected inevitability.  The elephant power of Ganesh is the emergent properties arising from the interaction and interference of tiny things.

Often missed mouse at Ganesh's feet

The wisdom of Ganesh is about the power of small as one of the most significant and overlooked forces for personal and collective evolution (or destruction).  His mouse is a reminder to subdue the ego which seeks the grand and personal, and recognize that the unstoppable co-creation manifesting in small ways from moment to moment is a process for which no individual, no matter how brilliant or powerful (or diabolical), can take full credit.  Simultaneously, this wisdom says that if you want this unstoppable ‘elephant power’ behind you, then the small and humble processes of the mouse are its vehicle.

There are many other symbols, philosophies, and mythologies concerning Ganesh and the degree to which even one deity can be explored is utterly staggering, further speaking to the genius of their conception.  As with all Hindu deities, they are rich with microcosmic depth which reveals macrocosmic reality and open to a wide range of subjective and objective interpretation, so any exploration of the wisdom of Ganesh must necessarily be only the tip of the iceberg.

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At a time when politicians and the insurance companies debate about who deserves health care at what price, Dr. Aumatma Shah and the other practitioners at Karma Clinic literally gift their care and services to patients  in an offering that is full of sacrifice in the truest meaning of the word– “to make sacred”.

Health care can often be characterized as a pretty sick business, leaving many patients wondering whether their physicians got into medicine because of status and financial security rather than the compassion they hope to be at core of the profession.

Karma Clinic practitioners remove any doubt about their desire to help people heal and reduce their suffering by putting money and status on the sidelines.  They regard themselves as humble partners in healing, with financial security outsourced to the circulation of gifts of gratitude that come from their service.

The debt incurred through acquiring a medical education and the sword of malpractice hanging over most doctor’s heads encourages the self-interested physician to orchestrate a delicate dance of concern against profit, often leading to minimal time with patients, costly ‘cover your a$$’ diagnostics and tests, and over-reliance on pills and procedures for patients to the neglect of prescriptions for health-supporting changes in lifestyle.

While Karma Clinic practitioners have incurred financial debt for their medical education, they’re driven by the debt of gratitude in being instruments of healing.  Patients get intensive time with the practitioners, with an emphasis on arriving at the root cause of health problems and treatments geared toward adjustments in diet, attitude, and lifestyle as much as the remedies and procedures provided.  Treatment itself is a gift, removing the quid pro quo of ‘care’ for money while pushing the burden of sustainability to what overflows from the gratitude at becoming whole.

We think of sacrifice as a dirty word we’d rather not have to indulge in, but if you could trade your fancy car for the health and longevity of a loved one, wouldn’t you do so in an instant?  In a consumer-driven society, we forget that real sacrifices are always offerings that get us closer to our real treasures in a step toward the sacred.

Karma Clinic is a dance in the sacred, radical in that its practitioners dare to see you as an equal and care for you as much as a member of your own family.  Wouldn’t you rather have a doctor who sacrifices their Benz for your health, rather than visa versa?

While gifts have sustained Karma Clinic so far, the experiment is about to intensify for one of the practitioners.  Dr. Shah’s med school loans are about to come due starting in May.  The increased expenses give the community an opportunity to join the sacred dance through sacrifices of their own that allow the clinic to sustain.

Check out a video on Karma Clinic from GoInspireGo:

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People buy iPhones to be universally connected and have a ton of cool functions and features at their fingertips.  But as Rev. Heng Sure once said, everything we create in silicon already exists in carbon.  I’d add that the silicon technology is a poor facsimile at best.

So how exactly do you tap into the wonderful carbon technology you carry around with you all the time?

Meditation is a phenomenal tool to do just that.

Here are five areas where meditation beats an iPhone.

1. Connectivity

The truth is that you can’t really connect to anyone else unless you’re in touch with yourself.  The iPhone allows and encourages you to be marginally present when physically absent, and marginally absent when physically present.

Meditation gets you back in touch with yourself and helps you be present.  Period. Sometimes meditators are so present, they’re even present when absent!  And that makes their ability to connect way beyond what the iPhone allows!

2. Social Networking

Let’s face it: Twitter is often mostly random bits of irrelevant thought that you cursorily follow from people you don’t always know.  That Facebook’s popularity surpasses porn suggests that there is certainly something sexual about its magic, as 400+ million people compete for collecting more friends and appearing to have the most fun while waiting for the next ‘serendipitous’ connection.

Behind their popularity is the myth that quantity makes up for quality. 

How many of your Facebook friends could you call in a jam at 3am?  How many tweets will you ponder longer than a 160 character attention-span?

The truth is that quality is what counts, and meditation eases the disease of a random mind to add increased quality and relevance to ‘mental tweets’.  Random thoughts get slowly recycled into the mental soil, fertilizing the thoughts worth nurturing as attention stabilizes and intensifies.  The growing relief felt from all the chaos sloshing around in your head starts building sympathy for other people’s struggles.  You yourself start becoming a person willing to dash to the rescue at 3am, or just helping to make people around you a little bit happier, and that starts earning you deeper friends willing to respond in kind.

Cooling down with meditation

Suddenly you’re having real fun wherever you are, with no time left to tweet about it, snap pictures for facebook, or passively stalk other people’s lives.  Birds of a feather flock together, so you’re soon surrounded by like-minded people, paving the path for serendipitous connections that give you goosebumps in ways that connecting to your 2nd-grade-best-friend or unrequited-secret-lover-from-prom on facebook never can.

3. Features and Functionality

Is the iPhone’s 2-megapixel camera not enough for you?  How about the 324-megapixel equivalent of the human eye?  Not enough storage on your iPhone for those kinds of pictures?  Nobody knows a good way to calculate the storage of the human brain, but credible guesses say it can hold 1 to 1000 terabytes of information.  Can’t remember that much, you say?  Meditation improves memory, reverses memory loss, and delays or prevents Alzheimer’s and dementia.  How about GPS?  Meditation really grounds you and helps you figure out where you’re at and where you’re headed.  What about apps and games?  Meditation starts unlocking the games you play best and opening you up to more productive applications.

4. Environment

When 3G turns to 4G or 6F or whatever is next, your smart iPhone gets closer to becoming e-waste, full of toxic chemicals that California consider to be hazardous waste.  Be sure to recycle it when you’re done playing, and remind the other kids to do so too.

Meanwhile, meditation doesn’t add to your footprint on the planet, but might just soften it.  There isn’t much research on this, but a lot of anecdotal evidence that shows that you’ll start feeling the need for fewer material things.  And that’s great for the planet!

5. Cost

After all your fancy data plans and minutes, you can spend $5 or more a day on your iPhone.  Meditation is free, barring what you pay to learn or attend a course.  If you decide to try Vipassana, a past student who benefited will pay for your course!  And if you’re serious about practicing, meditation starts paying you, as all of that focus makes you more productive, creative, insightful, and energetic.  I’d call that a fantastic investment in any economic climate  🙂

In short, meditation is an unparalleled technology that surpasses the iPhone by leaps and bounds.  In fairness, any technology simply amplifies the will you place behind it, and its possible to use things like iPhone, Twitter, and Facebook while minimizing their downsides just like its possible to misuse meditation.

Yet playing with our silicon technology seems to have a much more slippery slope than figuring out our carbon technology, and that will keep me away from iPhones for a while.

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