Comedy? Tragedy? Just Another Day?

Take this quiz:

Read the dialog below:

Dell Chat Session Log
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Dell Inc.
Wed, Apr 16, 2008 at 7:48 PM
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This is an automated email sent from Dell Chat. The following information is a log of your session. Please save the log for your records.
Your session ID for this incident is 18600762.

Time Details
04/16/2008 06:38:44PM Session Started with Agent (Mayank_164048)
04/16/2008 06:38:46PM Agent (Mayank_164048): “Thank you for contacting Dell Technical Support. My name is Mayank and my rep ID number is 164048. How may I assist you today?”
04/16/2008 06:39:14PM Richard Goldberg: “All my wordperfect documents have disappeared.”
04/16/2008 06:39:35PM Agent (Mayank_164048): “May I have your telephone number, along with the area code to update our records?”
04/16/2008 06:40:40PM Richard Goldberg: “Let me give you the background. I was working with a Verizon technician. His servicepoint program runs a tune-up. This tune up would remove wp from my computer. 2128742008 10023”
04/16/2008 06:40:55PM Agent (Mayank_164048): “Thank you for the information.”
04/16/2008 06:41:21PM Agent (Mayank_164048): “Is the Word Perfect missing or the files are missing that open up in Word Perfect?”
04/16/2008 06:41:46PM Richard Goldberg: “As I was saying, in the course of working with him, when one desktop icon was dragged into the recycle bin, all the others attached and were dragged also. When recycle w as opened, it was empt y.”
04/16/2008 06:42:23PM Richard Goldberg: “All the files, all my writing, have disappeared. My poems, my resume, my work stuff, it’s all gone. The program, itself, is there.”
04/16/2008 06:43:28PM Agent (Mayank_164048): “Richard, since it is the files that have been deleted and not the program, the only way we could have recovered it is from recycle bin. Now, there is not way we can get those files back. Unfortunately they have been deleted permanently.”
04/16/2008 06:43:29PM Richard Goldberg: “I am hoping we can go back to an earlier period in time to find and retrieve them.”
04/16/2008 06:44:10PM Agent (Mayank_164048): “You would not be able to retrieve files by restoring system to an earlier time. It is only when a program has been uninstalled accidentally that you want back.”
04/16/2008 06:44:25PM Agent (Mayank_164048): “It would not help in retrieving files back.”
04/16/2008 06:45:03PM Richard Goldberg: “I am sad that there is no help. Good night.”
04/16/2008 06:45:46PM Agent (Mayank_164048): “I can imagine your situation but you can search for some online programs that can help you get those back.”
04/16/2008 06:46:13PM Agent (Mayank_164048): “I am not sure about how to use that but there are some programs that can serve this purpose. Hope it works for you.”
04/16/2008 06:46:13PM Richard Goldberg: “Tell me about this.”
04/16/2008 06:46:33PM Richard Goldberg: “What are they called?”
04/16/2008 06:47:01PM Agent (Mayank_164048): “You may google this online. These are called file recovery softwares.”
04/16/2008 06:47:20PM Agent (Mayank_164048): “”
04/16/2008 06:47:45PM Richard Goldberg: “Thank you. Again, good night.”
04/16/2008 06:47:57PM Agent (Mayank_164048): “You are welcome. Is there anything else regarding your Dell system that you need help with?”
04/16/2008 06:48:27PM Richard Goldberg: “No.”

Now here’s a hint:

Researchers Say Merely Anticipating a Laugh Can

Jump-Start Healthy Changes in the Body

By Kelley Colihan
WebMD Medical News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 7, 2008 — OK, take a deep breath. Now put your hand on your belly. Imagine your stomach jiggling, as if you are starting to laugh. You may have just taken a step toward reducing stress hormone levels.

Researchers say merely anticipating a laugh can jump-start healthy changes in the body.

The findings come from a small study, made up of 16 healthy men. The men were divided into two groups. The experimental group was told to anticipate something funny. The other group was used as a comparison.

Researchers then tested the levels of three stress hormones participants had in their blood and compared that to the control group, which did not expect a laugh was on the way.

Researchers found that the group anticipating the laughs had reduced levels of three stress hormones compared to the other group.

Here’s the breakdown from the experimental group.

* Cortisol levels dipped 39%. Cortisol is known as a major stress hormone.
* Adrenaline levels dropped 70%. Adrenaline is also known as epinephrine.
* Dopac levels dropped 38%. Dopac is a chemical related to the “feel-good” chemical known as dopamine.

Persistently elevated stress hormone levels in the blood, as happens under chronic stressful situations, has been linked to a weakened immune system.

“Our findings lead us to believe that by seeking out positive experiences that make us laugh we can do a lot with our physiology to stay well,” says researcher Lee Berk in a news release.

The researchers were following up on a similar study they did two years ago in which they found that anticipating laughter led to an increase in healthful chemicals such as beta-endorphins.

Now cast your vote in the “Leave a comment” box.

Published in: on April 16, 2008 at 8:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Love Makes the World Go Round–or–Seven Days in March

Chan HallThe third week in March I participated in a 7-day silent Koan Retreat at Dharma Drum Retreat Center in upstate Pine Bush, New York. Seven days spent focusing on a short exchange between a head monk and a zen master written maybe a thousand years ago. 7 days of silence. No “hellos,” “howahyas,” no “pass the salts,” “‘scuse mes” or any other words. Really! Aside from chanting and my part in three 20 minute interviews with John and Simon, our leaders, I said nothing. (Those of you who know me may smile here.) Plenty of time to ponder.

Koans are short renderings of exchanges between zen personalities or reports of their doings. They’re constructed so as to both provoke and defeat thought, ultimately turning investigators away from their habitual thought processes (read: ruts) and thus opening to fresh ways of seeing. ( Imagine a blocked railroad train jumping off its track and dancing in field.)

The retreat’s first full day was devoted to arriving, to transitioning from our daily routines to the peace and simplicity of just being there: a day of simple meditation on the breath and adjustment to the fully choreographed 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. schedule.

On the second day we were directed to pick the koan or huatou (basically the punch line of a koan, used commonly by Ch’an (the Chinese parent of Zen) with which to work for the remainder of the retreat.

“Pick the one you feel has some connection to you,” was the only guidance here. Eagerly I read through the dozen or so choices. Several times I read through them, but found myself drawn to none. No problem though. Remembering the old Zen saying, “Don’t just do something. Stand there!,” I confidently picked none. See, I’m at my best when I’m not in my own way. I’ve noticed this more and more at work. My most successful interventions with clients–particularly in emotionally charged situations–come when I don’t know what to say, but just allow the words (or silences) to appear. So, knowing (believing?) that the appropriate choice would bubble up on its own without my intellect and emotions interfering, I opted to go with whatever I heard my voice say. It said, “I pick this one:”

Head monk asked the master, “How is it that pure, original nature immediately gives rise to mountains, rivers, and the great earth?” The master replied in a loud voice, “How is it that pure, original nature immediately gives rise to mountains, rivers and the great earth?” The head monk suddenly understood.

My brain, of course, immediately demanded, “So whydya pick this one?” I immediately responded, “Its repetition makes it easier for you, my concussion-damaged brain, to memorize.” Of course that wasn’t it.

Next came periods of sitting, walking, working and eating meditations on the koan. Brainwork–developing chains of logic, piles of clues, heartfelt examinations of whatever emotions came along–told me I was onto something. O, what a brain! Soo smart! But first there two minor matters that had to be brought into compliance with it’s emerging theory.

The master spoke loudly, but with what inflection? Did he simply mirror back the head monk’s intonation only louder to call greater attention to it? Was he cynical? Were his words simply loud words, nothing but the disconnected flatness of one’s words into a telephone repeated by the voice of an automated respondent: “Click one if you said one…seventyfive…west7-ty…six…streeeet…?” Was his volume angry? Was it lyrical? Curious? Did that matter?

Whatever the voice, what was the intention? Not the meaning, though. There’s never meaning in these things. Meaning in Zenland is no more than an overlay, an addition, an arbitrary and gratuitous mind product. It’s not part of reality. I explored all these possibilities if only casually. Something had begun to call me and I was not about to be distracted from it.

As for the question being asked and repeated, not for a minute did I take the business of the pure, original nature’s activity as having to do with the heart of things. I, in my ungrounded wisdom, knew it wasn’t about that. In perhaps my third interview, when I was asked, “How is it that pure, original nature immediately gives rise to mountains, rivers and the great earth,” I replied without thought, “It has no choice. That’s what it does for a living.” I believe that answer was greeted with a smile. But, as I do, I get ahead of myself.

My first response to the koan was that, indeed, the head monk did suddenly understand. Yes, I knew that koans sometimes lie, but still, it did say so. More than that, I wanted him to succeed if only as an encouragement for my success. See, at this point, despite all the teaching, I really wanted to solve this koan, to get it right, to be the Zen Star of the Retreat. In fact, some part of my brain was already rehearsing a fittingly modest silent acceptance response to the unspoken accolades of my teachers and fellow meditators.

Here’s where the brain was going: my logic, arising from my work as a therapist, rested in the belief that clients held their own answers (so why not the head monk?) and that by mirroring, by repeating what they’d say, we cool and spiritual therapists simply direct them lovingly and respectfully back to their own insights. Clearly the master, no matter what his intonation, was doing what I’d do. Thus I could identify with him as well as with the head monk. Hell, this was truly all about me and I had this thing coming and going and my life approach was being validated in the process and who could possibly doubt my stardom?

At my first interview with John Crook, the retreat’s prime leader, I told him what I’ve told you. We talked warmly, almost conversationally about my findings. I felt soo good! He concluded that I’d made a “good start”. I left the interview swimming in “GOOD” and ignoring “start.”

More sitting, walking, eating, sleeping, chanting and working. I maintained the men’s bathroom (cleaning floors, urinals, toilet bowls and sinks, stocking toilet paper hand towels, soap and hand lotion) and water station (stocking teas–no sugar please, napkins and cups) in the meditation hall. Then, 2 days later, an interview with Simon Child, the second leader: Simon took photos during retreats. Last year he actually came upon a bear and snapped it a few times. His easy-going presentation complemented John’s scholarly precision. Both have marvelously developed senses of humor. I looked forward to sharing my conclusions with Simon. Conclusions, I say, because 2 days of subsequent meditation on the koan hadn’t moved me an inch from my findings as reported to John. In fact, I was so sure of my self that I often returned to counting breaths during zazen (sitting meditation) rather than work at all on the koan. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

And so it was with great pride (humbly rendered) that I voiced my flawless findings to Simon. Simon at first looked at me quietly. Then, and I’ll never know how he did this, his face morphed from that of a delightful family physician completely into that of a fierce, bushy eyebrowed scowling zen master monster. “By selecting your approach,” he said in a voice so powerful it needn’t be loud, “you’ve bypassed all the other possibilities.”

Damn! Damn damn damn!!!

I was instantly devastated. The brain’s confidence and pride (“ego” seems to fit here nicely) suddenly lay shattered on the interview room floor. I’d been good-cop/bad-copped! I’d been stripped of my strengths. I was…I was……back on my mat, kneeling toward the great wooden Buddha, feeling weak and empty and, yes, stupid. But again something was happening. I’d latched onto an understanding of the koan based on a very personal, ego-based logic, and however arbitrary it might be, to me it was compelling…compelling. Suddenly this was no longer about right or wrong or stardom or defeat. Again something was happening! Feelings fell away as I realized this had become about…commitment! In my life I’d made and would undoubtedly continue to make commitments here and there based on things deeper than intelligence, things deeper than feelings.

Now love came into the picture. This time, for the first time, I knew what that meant: love that is beyond the popular emotion and in my understanding ultimately motivates pure, original nature–the one that immediately gives rise to mountains, rivers, the great earth and (o my God!) me!

I’d left the head monk and the master half way around the world in another millennium and made the koan mine, made it an endlessly wide road of undetermined length and no particular direction. The koan had become my life koan.

And I knew that, should I bring this to him, John would smile and tell me that my good start was continuing. Simon, on the other hand, just might show me a photo of a bear.


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Published in: on April 5, 2008 at 1:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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