Weekly Roundup

Some interesting reads from the last week:

Does P90X Really Work?

I just finished watching a video from Yahoo! News article about four people who tried the P90X program for 90 days (where the 90 in P90X comes from), and how they fared at the end of the 90-day trial. Essentially, none of them achieved their fitness goals.  They all completed the program but they barely registered any changes in body fat or muscle mass.  So I guess the point of this video/article was that these kinds of programs don’t work the way marketers say they will.  But there is a big problem with that assessment:  as far as I could tell, the four people who participated in this “experiment” made no changes to their diet.  Granted, I don’t know what their diets are like (although one guy did say his diet wasn’t very good), but I do know that when it comes to weight loss and changing your body composition, nothing is more important than diet.

I am a self-confessed fitness enthusiast.  As a matter of fact I am in the process of studying to obtain my personal training certificate (which is why I have been bad about updating the blog — sorry about that to anyone who cares). Here’s the thing about weight loss and fitness — your diet is far more important than exercise.  This is especially true if you want to lose weight.  But even for people who want to gain muscle, you need to fuel your body correctly in order to optimize muscle gain.  And you fuel your body through food (and to a much lesser extent, beverage).  So if you have a poor diet that consists of a lot of processed foods and high amounts of sugar, you aren’t going to see much in terms of results — even with an intense exercise program like P90X.  I haven’t tried P90X but I can tell just from watching promos for it that it is no joke.  If you follow a healthy diet while doing this program, you absolutely will lose weight and gain muscle.  I’m not saying you will look like a fitness model (because honestly most of us don’t have the genetic make-up to look that way — or the extreme discipline it takes to achieve that kind of a body), but you will get results.

So let this be a warning to anyone who wants to try a new exercise program — whether it be P90X or anything else: you absolutely must have a wholesome, balanced diet in order to obtain a change in your body composition.  I know that the marketers of these exercise programs fail to mention this tiny yet vastly important detail (because they know that if they did most people wouldn’t even bother trying it), but weight loss and any change in body composition is about 80 percent due to your diet.

I”m sure that right now some people are thinking, “Then why even bother exercising if it doesn’t really help you lose weight?”  First of all, exercise has been proven time and time again to be a very important part of a healthy lifestyle. It helps to prevent various diseases (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers, etc.), it gives you energy, it relieves stress, it helps your cognitive abilities (especially as you age), and people who exercise regularly generally live longer.  Second of all, exercise will help with weight loss if used in conjunction with a healthy diet.  Additionally, you can’t gain muscle mass if you don’t work out your muscles — because as wonderful as this would be, your biceps (and any other muscle) won’t increase in size on their own. And the more lean muscle you have (which, again, you can only gain through exercise), the more calories you will burn.  In fact, you will burn more calories even at rest since muscle requires more energy than fat. So exercise is very important for healthy living, and it is a great aid for weight loss.

Another little tip:  if you are interested in starting a new exercise program (and I recommend you see your doctor before you do), don’t start with a program like P90X.  It is advanced, which means it is hard.  Start with something more beginner-friendly, and then once you have gained some muscle and improved your cardiovascular fitness, then move on to P90X to maximize your results.

So to answer the question of whether or not P90X works, yes it does — but you must maintain a healthy diet.  Without a healthy diet, don’t expect to obtain that much of a change in your body composition. You will still get stronger, and the workouts will become easier as your muscle strength and endurance improves, but you need eat a healthy, balanced diet in order to optimize weight loss and increase muscle mass.   I know you have heard this before — because it is so true — you simply cannot out-exercise a bad diet.

Weekly Round-up: Baltimore Edition

Things have been relatively quiet the past few days in Baltimore.  I have heard that tomorrow (Saturday) there is supposed to be a huge rally downtown — hopefully it will remain peaceful.  I have read a lot of stories about Baltimore this past week, and below I’m linking to a few of them for our weekly round-up.  I know that the national media has painted a pretty bad picture of Baltimore, and while some of it is true much more of it has been sensationalized.  Don’t believe everything you read and hear.  Take it from a lifelong Baltimorean — we have a great city with great people.

I will discuss my feelings about the State’s attorney’s decision to bring charges against all six police officers involved in the Freddie Gray homicide in another post.  There is a lot to cover, and I want to make sure I say everything I want to say in the way I want to say it.  For now, please take a look at the articles linked to below.  I hope everyone has a great weekend (mine won’t be too crazy considering I have a 10 o’clock curfew).

 

 

Violence in Baltimore

I’m sure most of you are aware of the chaos and violence that took place in Baltimore last night.  As of right now, 20 police officers were injured, over 200 arrests were made, 144 cars were set on fire and destroyed, buildings were burnt to the ground and stores were looted.  The Governor declared a state of emergency and right now 2,000 members of the Maryland National Guard are now in Baltimore to help keep the peace.  Other local law enforcement agencies have also joined the Baltimore City Police, and city and state officials have asked other states in the mid-Atlantic region to help as well.

If you read my post yesterday about the death of Freddie Gray, you know that Baltimore is my home town, and I still call it home.  Well, today I am absolutely heartbroken.  My city is in such pain.  Every day on my way to and from work I drive past the city skyline on interstate 95.  Usually I don’t pay any attention to it, but today as I headed home from work early (my office was closed early due to riot threats nearby), I looked over at the skyline and I began to sob.  It has been very hard to watch what is happening to my great city. It’s surreal — like watching a movie.  I remember how upset I was watching the violence in Ferguson, but seeing this happen to my own city is just devastating.

I understand the anger and frustration of many Baltimore residents.  As I stated in my post yesterday, police brutality is all too common in Baltimore.  The relationship between the Baltimore City Police Department (BCPD) and the residents of Baltimore City has been strained for decades.  There is little trust there.  This is especially true for young African American men.  But violence is never, EVER the answer. You cannot bring about positive change with negative actions. Again, I understand their frustrations and I agree that the people of Baltimore — and anywhere in this country — have every right to peacefully protest for changes within police departments and within their communities, in order to bridge the divide between the two (this is actually a First Amendment right).  We need to discuss this problem in a rational, positive way.  Only then can we make real progress.  Violence, destruction of property and looting is only making this already horrible situation much worse.

What’s even more upsetting is that these cowards yesterday were exploiting the death of Freddie Gray as an excuse to engage in this violence.  The Gray family explicitly asked that there be no protests yesterday as they laid their son and brother to rest.  And then this happened.  It’s infuriating to me that this family had to watch this. As if they haven’t been through enough.

I had the news on all night last night — mostly because if I ever felt like I was in danger (fortunately I live on the other side of the city from where most of the violence was taking place) I was going stay with my brother in the county for a few days. I mostly watched the local news because they understand the city better and they aren’t out there just to focus on the violence and destruction.  If you watched CNN or other national news agencies, you probably didn’t see much of the positive things happening last night, and throughout the last week or so.  Like the hundreds of demonstrators — mostly local clergy members — who came together and marched down the street, arm-in-arm, to try to restore calm and order.  Or the fact that members of local gangs (who were wrongfully accused of coming to a truce to harm the police) were actually working together to stop the violence and chaos.  And this morning as I watched the news they were reporting on the hundreds of people who were coming to help clean up the destruction from last night.  This is the Baltimore I know and love.

Baltimore is a city that has worked very hard in recent years to clean itself up, and in doing so hopefully change its image, making sure it lives up to its nickname:  Charm City.  You may wonder why we choose to live here when it appears to be so violent, but that’s only because you have never had the pleasure of visiting Charm City. The residents are very proud of our city. We know it is far from perfect, but we love it all the same. It’s a tough town that is no stranger to adversity, but it has some of the nicest, most down-to-earth and hardworking people you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting.  It’s not all drugs, gangs and violence.  If it was I wouldn’t live here.

I love Baltimore first and foremost because of the awesome people that proudly call it home.  I love Baltimore because it has such a wonderful, rich history (Star Spangled Banner, anyone?).  I love Baltimore because it is authentic and unpretentious.  I love Baltimore because it is a large city but has a small town feel.  I love Baltimore because it is a great sports town with two of the best franchises in all of professional sports (in my humble and slightly bias opinion).  I love Baltimore because of steamed crabs and crabcakes and Natty Boh.  And I love Baltimore because it’s a gritty survivor.  No matter how difficult the circumstances, Baltimore always pulls through — even if by the skin of its teeth.

It’s incredibly hard to see my city suffering like this, but honestly, it has suffered for decades.  Right now, we are seeing years of frustration and anger boiling over.  Deborah Weiner, a local news reporter for WBAL Channel 11 reported last night, “I asked the clergy what they thought of the State of Emergency that the Governor declared.  They said there has been a State of Emergency way before tonight in Baltimore City, an emergency in poverty, lack of jobs [and] disenfranchisement from the political process.”  Sadly, this is very, very true.

But like I have said many times on this blog, whenever there is a crisis there is also an opportunity to create much needed change.  This is the opportunity Baltimore has right now.  We will get through this and our great city will come out stronger than it ever has.  Just like I have such great faith in our generation, I have great faith in my city.

We appreciate all the prayers and positive energy that others have been sending our way.  And we appreciate that you are concerned for us and our city.  But please don’t pity us.  We’re a strong people and we don’t need or want anyone’s pity.  This is a great town, and I cannot emphasize enough that what makes it so great is the people. And that’s what will get us through this tough time. We, as one united city, will work together to cultivate positive change. And we will show the country and the world just how resilient Baltimore is.

I want to thank local law enforcement officials for their bravery and professionalism throughout these last few tense days.  And I want to thank all the law enforcement officials who have come to Baltimore from other cities and states to help keep the peace.  We truly appreciate your sacrifice.

This may be the greatest test Baltimore has ever faced.  But make no mistake, Hon — we will prevail.

The Death of Freddie Gray

Since I am from and currently live in Baltimore, the upheaval surrounding the death of Freddie Gray literally hits home for me.  I’m no stranger to the high level of crime, drug use and violence of Baltimore.  As a matter of fact, I’m quite desensitized to much of this stuff, sadly.  Seeing what we call a heroine zombie or someone doing the “dope feign lean” is perfectly normal and happens quite frequently (think Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s). Similarly just about every night the local news covers stories surrounding gang violence, a homicide(s) or multiple shootings (this is why I don’t watch the news that much).  And honestly, stories about police brutality are quite commonplace as well.

Unfortunately, during the protests of Freddie Gray’s death this past Saturday, a few young people got violent and some businesses were vandalized around the downtown area.  Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which was hosting a game between the Orioles and the Red Sox at the time, was also put on lock down for a short period of time until the police were able to get the crowd under control.

Overall, I heard 35 people were arrested.  All week there have been peaceful protests in Baltimore, but it only takes a few idiots to ruin everything.  The people of Baltimore are really upset and angry about this, and we sincerely hope that the rest of the country doesn’t think that the people who got violent are representative of our great city. Because they absolutely are not.  There were over 2,000 protesters and about 100 of them got out of control — that’s five percent. Moreover, some of the protesters intervened in the violence and the Baltimore City Police Commissioner even credited them with helping to neutralize the troublemakers. Of course the media didn’t cover that, but please know that they are the ones who represent Baltimore.

These protests are about bringing awareness to an issue that is clearly a big problem in our country: police brutality. People are fed up with it.  We want answers, we want justice, we want accountability, we want more transparency and we want to be able to trust the police — not fear them.  As I said, the Baltimore City Police Department has quite a long history of allegations of police brutality. This isn’t anything new, but with all the attention surrounding similar incidents of police brutality, the death of Freddie Gray is rightfully getting national attention.  I don’t know if any of you watched the video of Freddie Gray’s arrest, but it is very difficult to watch. The man was clearly in excruciating pain as the police were trying to get him into the back of the police van.  This seems to be a case of complete neglect by the officers involved.

Someone very close to me was the victim of police brutality once.  And of course, when we tried to get the name of the officer who beat him up while he was chained to a wall (both ankle and wrist cuffs), the police department conveniently didn’t have his name — or the names of any of the officers on duty that night.  Not surprisingly, nothing was ever done about this.  So I sympathize with the family of Freddie Gray.  But at least my relative is still alive.  As I type this Freddie Gray’s family is laying him to rest.

It’s important to note that this issue is fairly complicated.  Police officers have a very difficult job.  It is extremely dangerous, largely thankless and they have to put up with a lot of bullshit.  A friend of mine is a nurse and she said that they frequently get people sent to the hospital after they were arrested because the perpetrators complained of pain or illness, when in fact there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.  But the police have to get them medical attention regardless of whether they think the person is being truthful or not (which is why I said that Freddie Gray’s death appears to be a case of severe neglect).

I think most people understand and appreciate how hard it is to be a police officer, and they know that most police officers are good people.  The issue is that when police officers abuse their power or cause someone undue harm, there rarely seems to be accountability.  The police department covers it up (or tries to) and does everything it can to make it look as if the officer(s) did nothing wrong. And this is where the public frustration lies.  It is also quite obvious (to me, at least) that black males are disproportionately victims of police brutality.

While I will withhold final judgement regarding the Freddie Gray case until all the facts are known, it is blatantly obvious that changes need to be made within police departments all over the country so that these kinds of incidences happen less frequently.  As I already said, there needs to be more accountability, transparency, and respect for the law that the officers are supposed to uphold.  And maybe police officers need better training (that certainly seems to be the case). I’m sure there are many ways to improve the relationship between the police department and the community it is supposed to protect.  And whether police departments like it or not, the onus is on them to take the necessary steps to begin rebuilding trust and respect with their communities.

R.I.P. Freddie Gray.

Earth Day 2015

Happy Earth Day!!!  Our planet is being celebrated today as people around the world take a moment to appreciate this beautiful rock floating in space that we affectionately call home.  Unfortunately, we usually aren’t very kind to Mother Earth.  We don’t respect her and give her the appreciation and love she deserves.  It does seem like more and more people are waking up to this harsh reality and finally admitting that we, humanity, are destroying our planet.  We are recognizing that we have nowhere else to go, so if we destroy earth we are also ending humanity.

I post this quote every year on Earth Day because it is so, so, so true:  “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”  One of the most important parts — if not the most important part — of the Millennial Generation’s legacy will be the state of our planet when we pass the torch onto our children and grandchildren.  Will we leave a planet far in decline from years of neglect and abuse and denial of man-made climate change?  Or will we begin to change the way we live so that we can reverse some of the damage we have done, and so we can give future generations a healthier, more sustainable planet?

It’s time we stop making our commitment to taking better care of Mother Earth as a clichè.  Clichès are what everyone knows to be true but almost no one lives by.  And that’s how we treat sustainable living — as a clichè. Now that isn’t to say that you have to go completely green and never do anything that would harm our planet. Because that is unrealistic.  But it is time we take climate change seriously and stop acting as if it might be some grand hoax.  Climate change is real!!!!!!!!  And we need to invest more in sustainable energy (and actually start using it), and be more mindful of how the way we live affects our one and only home.

There are a lot of little things that each of us can do that will make a huge difference.  Take recycling, for exmaple. Now if just one person recycles than that isn’t making any difference really, but if 500 million people recycle that will make a big difference.  So don’t think about your actions only on the individual level — think about the collective effect something simple like recycling will have if millions of us do it.  There are so many small changes we can make that will make a big difference in the health of our planet, and that will show that we value and appreciate our beautiful floating rock.

Let me ask you this:  Would you treat your personal home the way we treat our collective home (Earth)?  Would you pollute your house, throw trash all over it, dump harmful chemicals in your water, never vacuum or dust, never clean the bathroom or clean up after you spill something?  If something in your house broke — like say your water heater — would you not fix it?  If you found out that you were doing something that had a negative effect on your HVAC unit (your climate), would you keep doing it anyway?  The vast majority of us would never treat our homes this way.  So why then are we ok with treating our planet this way?

Sustainable living should not be a clichè.  And it isn’t difficult or expensive or time consuming (usually).  What it is is a necessity.  So on this Earth Day, my fellow Millennials, let’s make a commitment to actually practicing what we preach. If we care about our beautiful planet and how we treat it while it is on loan from future generations, then for crying out loud let’s start acting like it!

Weekly Roundup

I know I’ve skipped a few weeks (sorry), and since I will be away this weekend I wanted to get this up today.  Here are some interesting reads from the last couple of weeks:

Happiness

2016 Presidential Candidates

So far, the 2016 Presidential Candidates are big names with lots of experience.  The first heavy weight from the GOP to announce his candidacy was the fiery Ted Cruz (R-TX).  Shortly thereafter the controversial Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, announced his run.  And last week there was the Libertarian darling, Rand Paul (R-KY). Then on Sunday — not to anyone’s surprise — Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for the Democratic Party. And just a little bit ago Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave his big announcement.  Some people are wondering if Mitt Romney might throw his hat in the ring for a third go-round (I highly doubt it) and further shake up this already crowded GOP field.  And now that Hillary is officially running, many wonder if there is anyone in the Democratic party who can challenge her (some think maybe Martin O’Malley from Maryland, but he is my former Governor so I’m very familiar with him, and I just don’t see him being much of a threat).

What I’m wondering is if Millennials will actually be interested in this election, especially since it could once again be historic considering we could have our first female president.  And make no mistake, Hillary will absolutely need the youth vote to win.  But there is a lot of disenchantment among Millennials surrounding politics and our federal government — and understandably so.  But if you regularly read my blog, you know how I feel about the lack of interest and involvement in our civic duties.  No need to get into all of that right now, but let’s just say I don’t exactly agree with the apathy so many Millennials — and all Americans, really — have towards voting.  As the election approaches, I’m sure I will be very vocal regarding the importance of voting and of being an informed voter.

But for now, let’s all enjoy the shit show that is sure to ensue as the candidates destroy each other in the primaries. This, to me, is always the most entertaining part, as it is usually where all the good, juicy dirt is churned up and brought out into the open.  Is it bad that I take so much pleasure in this?  Hell, I don’t care if it is.  Let the poo-throwing begin!

The Benefits of Gardening

Why Growing a Vegetable Garden This Spring Could Benefit Your Mind, Body and Soul

Written by Helen Baynes

With Spring upon us, now is the opportune time of year to set up a vegetable garden. The practice of growing your own produce has been steadily gaining popularity for years now and far from the outdated perception of it being a pastime aimed at the older generation, one British study indicates that many younger people find gardening cooler than going to the movies! Anyone can set up a vegetable garden; even those who live urban lifestyles in high rise apartments can use a window box, rent an allotment or sign up for community gardening schemes. And with a number of financial incentives as well as health and lifestyle benefits, getting green fingered could be the most fruitful pastime you take up this year. Here are some of the ways growing your own food can benefit your mind, body and soul.

It’s great exercise

Gardening may not be an obvious choice of exercise but it does involve a lot of physical exertion which can help burn calories, strengthen muscles and improve general health. Pushing a lawnmower or barrow across grass is a form of resistance training (similar to weights) while bending or stretching to pull weeds and prune trees is a good way of improving flexibility and building muscle strength. Hauling, digging and lifting can be forms of cardio exercise and will certainly get you working up a sweat and burning calories which is great for tackling obesity and the associated diseases that come with it.

It encourages you to eat healthily

Studies show that people who grow their own produce are more likely to eat healthily – this is especially true for children so enlist them in the gardening process too. The reason for this is because gardeners take an active interest their own crops which usually include fruits, salads and vegetables which are all are packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – great for keeping the immune system strong. And of course they then utilize their produce in their daily meals and enjoy organic food that hasn’t been treated with any chemical pesticides. Certain vegetable plants also grow year after year (providing they are well looked after) so you will also see huge financial gain from investing in a vegetable garden. Although Spring is the best time to get going, you can maintain a garden all year round with many root vegetables (onions, garlic etc) actually thriving through the colder months and giving you plenty of produce for warming winter strews.

It’s good for mental health

Gardening outdoors is thought to be good for mental health by reducing stress levels and keeping your brain active and functioning. The physical exertion associated with gardening (and exercise in general) is also renowned for being a natural mood enhancer – when the blood gets pumping, the brain releases feel good endorphins around the body which in turn give you a positive, motivated sense of wellbeing. On a practical level, gardening in allotments and community gardens can be a very social pastime and as humans thrive when they interact, you could argue that this is another way of promoting happiness and harmony. But more scientific studies go a step further, linking gardening and other leisure activities with the prevention of neurological diseases such as dementia because it requires sophisticated brain activity.

It’s spiritual

For centuries people have believed that being close to nature is a spiritual and soulful experience. The garden is indeed a peaceful, beautiful setting which is ideal for relaxation, so the repetitive nature of many gardening duties lends itself well to spiritual healing and contemplation. The very act of growing is also thought to be good for the soul; you are starting out with a seed, planting it, watering it, pruning it and maintaining it until has reached the stage where your end product is a crop with which you are able to feed your family. This in itself is a rewarding experience that can do wonders for self esteem and personal pride. Perhaps this is the reason why many clinics, rehabilitation centres and recovery groups such as compulsive behavior support groups offer or suggest gardening as a form of therapy – it gives them a healthy pastime which is productive and results with them having something to be proud of.

Religion, Spirituality and Atheism

I read a very interesting article at cnn.com titled, The Friendly Atheists Next Door.  The author spent 10 months with the Shaughnessy’s, a white, middle-class family of five from North Carolina.  The story centers around the father, Harry Shaughnessy, an outgoing and outspoken business owner, and former Irish Catholic.  Harry has a crisis of faith of sorts, and decides that Catholicism just doesn’t do it for him, so he and his wife decide to stop going to church.  A few years later Harry decides that he is doesn’t believe in the concept of a God, and then he and other atheists decide to start an atheist congregation, which is like church but without all the God talk.

Essentially, the article explores why some people with strong religious backgrounds end up shunning their faith. What causes them to want to break with the church and what is it like to live in a country that is, to put it bluntly, quite hostile towards Atheists?  Why are people so afraid of atheists anyways?  I don’t get it.  How is not believing in the concept of a God such a terrible thing?  This is really a discussion for another post, but it’s just so baffling to me that so many people don’t trust atheists.  Moving on…

While it may not seem like it due to the strong push by conservative Evangelicals to attach their religious beliefs to every law in the country, the United States is actually becoming less religious.  According to the article, atheists now make up a larger percentage of the U.S. population than American Jews.  And Millennials are the least religious of all generations alive today.  Not only are Millennials twice as likely to identify as atheists as other generations, they are also less likely to be absolutely certain that God exists.

As someone who has had shifting views on religion during my adult years, I always find it fascinating to see how others go through their own religious metamorphosis.  For years now I have identified as an agnostic, which simply means that I don’t know whether there is a God or Gods or not.  I have many issues with organized religion, and as a former Catholic myself I certainly could relate to a lot of what Harry Shaughnessy said throughout the article (although long, it is a very good read).

I’ve also recently been looking inward and getting more in touch with my spiritual side, so to speak.  I do consider myself spiritual, but not religious.  I’ve recently learned that to be truly spiritual, you need to be more aware.  It is about becoming more conscious, and in touch with your true being (your soul).  It isn’t enough to just say you are spiritual.  Anyone can say they are spiritual, but what does that mean?

I have always felt a deep connection to the universe.  I know that the atoms that make up my body came from stars, and those stars came from other stars. All energy in the universe is connected.  So essentially, I am the universe, and so are all of you.  To quote Eckhart Tolle, “You are the universe, you aren’t in the universe.”

And I’ve evolved in how I think about God.  To me, God isn’t a human-like entity, as God is often depicted.  God is the lifeforce that is found all throughout the universe.  God really is in each and every one of us because this force is what gave us life, just as it gave life to the universe.  At the moment of creation, all that could ever exist in our universe was also created. All matter and all energy can be traced back to the moment our universe burst into existence. So I guess if you were to ask me now if I believe in God,  I would say yes.  But again, God to me is simply an energy found in all of us and everything in the universe.  It isn’t some omnipotent entity.  It is an omnipresent energy that connects everything in the universe.

I think the reason why religion never really resonated with me was because it was never fulfilling spiritually.  I found my religion (Catholicism) it to be a bunch of phooey for the most part. To me, the Bible is a book of stories written before science was able to explain most things — like evolution.  And I really dislike the general hypocrisy, intolerance and close-mindedness of organized religion.  As I’ve tapped into my spiritual side recently, I’ve felt much more at peace. I’m learning to be more present, to be more grateful, to be more accepting and loving.

“Religion is belief in someone else’s experience. Spirituality is having your own experience. Atheism is no experience, only measurement.” –Deepak Chopra

 

And even though I am not a fan of religion, I don’t blame religion for the evils of the world.  It is easy to say that religion has caused countless wars throughout history, millions of deaths and endless suffering.  And it is easy blame religion for modern day terrorism.  But none of that is religion’s fault.  Religion is just the patsy — the human ego is the true culprit of all the suffering in the world, both past and present.  But unfortunately, religion is like crack-cocaine for the ego.

Ego controls our minds and forces us to live an unconscious life.  Only by becoming more aware can you strip ego of its power.  Ego makes us envious of others.  It stifles our confidence, and thus our potential.  It makes us angry and resentful.  It makes us defensive and causes us to dwell on the past.  It causes perpetual want so that we aren’t aware of the blessings in our lives.  When ego is in control, we become obsessed with the negative — judgement, guilt, self-pity, anxiety, worry, frustration, lack, anger, sadness, jealousy, and most detrimental of all, fear.

“In most cases, when you say “I,” it is the ego speaking, not you, as we have seen. It consists of thought and emotion, of a bundle of memories you identify with as “me and my story,” of habitual roles you play without knowing it, of collective identifications such as nationality, religion, race, social class, or political allegiance. It also contains personal identifications, not only with possessions, but also with opinions, external appearance, long-standing resentments, or concepts of yourself as better than or not as good as others, as a success or failure.”  –Eckhart Tolle

 

A friend of mine recently said something I found to be quite profound.  We were talking about religion and ISIS and he mentioned the beliefs of someone (whose name I do not recall) and how they could possibly explain terrorism.  This person said that love and hate are separated by a very thin line, and that those who are religious extremists love their religion so much that they hate anyone who disagrees with them.  They see the nonbelievers as a threat to something that they deeply cherish, and that is what causes the hate.

Think about how much you love your family, and that if anyone or anything threatened them you would defend your family no matter what the costs.  And if it was another person threatening them, you would probably hate that person. That is how much extremists love their religion.  They will defend it all costs and they view anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs as a threat that must be eliminated.  That certainly doesn’t excuse their behavior, I’m just trying to offer an explanation for religious extremism.

I take comfort in knowing that humanity seems to waking up.  We are sensing that we must change the way we treat one another and the way we treat our planet.  And I see this most in the youth.  I know that the vast majority of many Millennials — all over the world — share the desire to build a more tolerant, loving, peaceful and sustainable world.  And while this seems crazy, the fact that there is so much chaos means that humanity is, indeed, evolving. Those who refuse to evolve clearly feel deeply threatened, and therefore they are acting out.  That is why terrorism is rising in intensity, and it is even why religious conservatives here in the U.S. are becoming so outspoken.  These conservatives have repeatedly said that they are scared that so many Americans are “losing faith”, as they put it.  They feel threatened by this (well, they say it threatens our nation), so they are doing whatever they can to keep our country from moving further away from “Christian values” as possible.  Even if it means turning our nation into a theocracy where our laws are based on their very conservative religious beliefs.

It is hard to look at the state of our country and the state of the world and not feel hopeless.  But you should actually feel hopeful.  We are waking up; we are evolving.  Humanity is still a young species, and right now we are in adolescence — and we are experiencing some serious growing pains.  We will act out and we will feel confused and upset a lot of time.  But we’re progressing.  Little by little, we are progressing.  And our generation has in its lap a unique opportunity to push humanity further than ever before.

Whether with religion or without religion, humanity is destined for much more than this.  The more we learn to live consciously in the present — because the present moment is all you ever have — the more we will advance. Eckhart Tolle said, “The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment:  You create a good future by creating a good present.”  We cannot change a future that hasn’t yet happened, but we can make changes right now that will positively effect the future.  We can choose to be more tolerant and accepting. We can choose to take better care of our planet.  We can choose to compromise with one another in order to fix the many problems that threaten our future.

This is our generation’s destiny.  It’s up to us to decide right now to create a better future.

“Choice implies consciousness – a high degree of consciousness. Without it, you have no choice. Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and its conditioned patterns, the moment you become present….Nobody chooses dysfunction, conflict, pain. Nobody chooses insanity. They happen because there is not enough presence in you to dissolve the past, not enough light to dispel the darkness. You are not fully here. You have not quite woken up yet. In the meantime, the conditioned mind is running your life.”  –Eckhart Tolle