Ram Dass – The Only Dance There Is (1974)

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If there is one book that most affected the way I look at the world, it is perhaps Ram Dass’s The Only Dance There Is. After reading Anne Lamott’s mention of the book as one that most affected her life, I decided to pick it up. Ram Dass, born and called Richard Alpert before his conversion to Buddhism, was a professor of psychology (among other things) at Harvard in the 1960s. He became preoccupied with Buddhism and devoted his life to its practice, largely leaving behind his academic endeavors, becoming a spiritual leader and speaker. Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

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Now what is Awareness or Consciousness? This is where the whole dance gets so incredibly far out that it boggles our mind. Usually we can’t handle it. It’s like Einstein saying, “I didn’t arrive at my understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe through my rational mind.” He used the word “intuition.” Intuition is something we really don’t understand, but we use it. We use it when we don’t know what else to say about something. We say, “Well, he intuitively knew.” Intuitively. Well, what in fact it is, is that there are other ways of man knowing things than through his sense and through his thinking mind. But we don’t know how to use them. That is the difference. Our thinking mind and our senses know things as objects. But there are a whole range of things that we know in the sense what we work with them all the time, but we don’t know them in that way.

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As I said earlier, there are seven chakras or focal points and the transition from the third to the fourth is the first one into the transcendent state. It’s the first one into the state of compassion, that is, where one experiences the shifts over figure-ground relationship so that one sees that you and I are human beings behind not only blue-suitness or dark-suitness and white-shirtness but also behind personalities and ages and bodies, and there is a place where – although we still see each other as separate – we are experiencing a feeling of a unitive nature with one another. That is another level of consciousness, where that unitive nature is real, rather than intellectually known. It’s a real plane. And that compassion is the compassion that what is happening to you is happening to me, because in that place you and I are a unitive being. We’re just two different manifestations of that one consciousness. That’s already fourth chakra.

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We got home and he said, “What would you like to do now?” I said, “I don’t care, Dad, anything you’d like to do.” He said, “Well, I want you to rest. You’ve had a long trip and…” He said, “I’m going to make raspberry jam,” because that’s one of his hobbies, is making raspberry jam. So I said, “Well, can I help you?” “No, don’t bother.” I said, “I’d like to.” He said, “All right.” So I go in and we start to make raspberry jam. We’re sterilizing the bottles and mashing raspberries and he’s telling me about the horror of his life and how sad it is, and how everybody’s forgotten him and, boy, he’s got a routine. It’s a very heavy story, very heavy story. I feel fantastic compassion for him because I love him very dearly and at the same moment I see the predicament his consciousness is in. I see where he’s stuck. So I’m just doing my mantra and mashing raspberries and so on, and I’m saying to him things like, “Should the bubbles all rise to the top? Are the bottles right? Where do we put that?” and so on. And after a while, since I’m giving him no reinforcement at all for this fantastic dark cloud that he’s creating and holding all by himself, since I’m part of us, but I’m not helping him hold it up particularly, he starts to say, “Well, get all the bubbles up…” and pretty soon his conversation is shifting until it’s in the here and now. That is, he’s talking about how to make raspberry jam, right? And as he starts to talk about how to make raspberry jam the lines of his face are relaxing and the whole model of himself as somebody who’s old and about to die and his life is lived out and all this stuff about his failures and unhappiness and bankruptcy of the railroad and all that stuff, that’s all sort of falling into the past and here we are making raspberry jam. We’re just two guys making raspberry jam, right?

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You can look around and see that the universe is being kept at the plane it is and isn’t going up in smoke at the moment Continue reading

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Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) 5 Years Out

A little over five years ago Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on March 23, 2010. Today the Supreme Court voted to uphold state subsidies in the ACA, thus ensuring the survival of the new healthcare system into the foreseeable future. Let’s take a look at what the reformed system has achieved, some of the major criticisms of it, and what remains to be done.

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Achievements of the Affordable Care Act – 5 years out

1. ACA’s biggest accomplishment: Extending health insurance to an addition 17 million people since its inception.

Before the Affordable Care Act was passed, 51 million Americans or 16% (out of 320 million) lacked health insurance. In 2015, the number of un-insured has decreased to 34 million out of 320 million or 10.5%.

2. Other improvements to the health care system brought on by the ACA:

a. Health insurance providers can no longer turn away customers nor charge higher premiums based on pre-existing conditions. Many who were previously deemed “uninsurable” can now enroll in coverage.

b. Children can now stay on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26. As a result 5.7 million young more adults have gained coverage over the past five years.

c. Insurers must now cover various types of preventative care: a host of wellness exams, screenings, annual physicals, mammograms, cholesterol and diabetes tests are provided for free.

d. ACA is beginning to combat frivolous / wasteful visits by incentivizing “payment for care, not for visits.” Doctors and hospitals are paid less no per visit or test (as before), and increasingly are paid one fee to treat a patient’s condition and are penalized if the patient is re-hospitalized quickly. Thus incentives encourage doctors to treat them efficiently and get them home and out of the system, rather than adding unnecessary tests and visits to make additional money.

Critiques of the Affordable Care Act – 5 years out

1. The Gap: For those not poor enough to receive Medicaid, but too poor to purchase ObamaCare, the ACA’s original design required the expansion of Medicaid in each state (at the state’s expense) to cover this gap. However, in 2012 the Supreme Court struck down the Medicaid Expansion requirement placed upon individual states in the ACA. It became voluntary and states could choose to expand Medicaid or not. 27 states opted NOT to expand Medicaid and 23 chose to expand. In the states that did not expand Medicaid, a large gap remained and this is where the majority of uninsured continue to reside.  Some 4.9 million people will not be covered in 2016 if these states don’t expand, according to the Urban Institute. Another 1.5 million uninsured are in six states that are considering expansion, but have yet to approve it.

Possible Solution: To convince Republican-controlled states that have opted out of extending Medicaid to do so. This will cover a significant portion of the remaining 34 million un-insured (10% of population).

2. Costs Remain High Part I: Administrative Costs

Administrative costs within the private insurance companies that provide coverage for most Americans Continue reading