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  • Writer's pictureJ Felix

On China

Updated: Feb 25

In one of my first teaching assignments in South Central, Los Angeles, I walked into a classroom with no books. I was appalled! To me, it was a symptom of deeper, structural problems. The injustice of it stung. How did we expect innocent children to trust and follow our lead, to learn, to grow, to contribute? My fighting spirit was kindled; I transformed anger into action and alchemized disgust into resolve.

I was an employee for one of the largest school districts in the country with a budget in the billions- larger than the GDP of Jamaica and Nicaragua. Here I was scrambling for resources. Unions were often calling for strikes for better pay and benefits. And while I was in partially in agreement, I wondered why we weren't protesting waste or mismanagement or indifference or dysfunction. Why weren't we holding ourselves accountable and providing a better return on investment for the billions spent?

I worked within my circle of control. did the work that needed doing and the work that I could do. I didn't have the superintendent's ear; I didn't have a classroom budget. But I did find a warehouse that sold used textbooks for pennies and purchased class sets of math, science, reading, and history books with my meager earnings. I also found a science center that loaned out science materials, models, and kits. Within days, I transformed the classroom into a place of learning for children. I used my artist and musical gifts to create my own content. Later, I wrote grants and secured enough funding to transform my classroom into a hi-tech learning environment where children could explore robotics, programming, engineering, digital music, art, and videography. We used to call this the Can-Do American spirit. A few colleagues had this fire. And we all worked quietly, in the shadows.

I met regularly with parents- and answered to them. They were (and remain) my allies.

I wanted to design a curriculum heavy on science, math, and technology. Many of my students were second language learners. I reasoned that they would sooner understand science and mathematics than they would the eccentricities of the English language.

Nearly half of American Nobel Laureates are foreign born, 45% of our physicists, computer scientists, and mathematicians were born abroad. The 21st Century economy, I reasoned, demanded more scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Inasmuch as scientists made up less than 5% of the population, they contributed more than 50% to the GDP. An engineer with bad grammar would likely contribute more to a nation’s GDP than the liberal arts major. Mathematics and physics were and are universal languages. The volume of a sphere, V = 4/3 π r3, is the volume of a sphere in China, America, Germany, Russia, Ghana, Argentina, and anywhere else.

Yet, it seemed we were hellbent on graduating an army of English majors, activists, and ideologues.

I wanted to teach skills that would be as valuable in Los Angeles as they would be in Shanghai, Tokyo, Dubai, Frankfurt, London, Delhi or anywhere else. I wanted them to be able to make a living no matter where they went. So, I focused on science, mathematics, and engineering. And I used technology and the arts as to stealthily break through their fears and defenses.

Music, for example, opened the door to other disciplines. Music is math in sound. Fractions and whole numbers make rhythm. When I taught fractions to children, I introduced drum machines and had them create and listen to patterns. Mathematics could be heard, felt, and intuited. It became much more accessible than any worksheet. We divided measures into quarters, halves, eighths, sixteenths. More complex polyrhythmic patterns stacked thirds over fourths, sixths over eighths, fifths over sevenths. African, Afro-Latin, and classical Indian Konnakol were beautifully complex examples. Children could feel complex mathematical rhythms in their body. They wiggled to it, danced to it, expressed through it.

Music played well with technology. I used microcontrollers (Makey Makeys, Raspberry Pis and Arduinos) to invent and program new instruments. Today, I am integrating movement, dance, tech, and music. Music and dance are siblings. The circuitry of the motor neurons are intimately related to the neural circuitry of sound. The body responds to rhythm and certain frequencies of sound.

Using motion sensors as MIDI controllers, we can make music with movement. The x, y, z axes as well as the accelerometer and gyroscope can all be used to control parameters like pitch, cutoffs, low or high frequency oscillation, volume, or anything else. Many disciplines come together (dance, music, technology, mathematics, and physics). And it's fun, engaging, and developmentally appropriate. Sitting still for extended periods discussing literature or solving for x is not.

While I've come a long way, I had no formal training in technology. In the mid 90s when I started my career, a few desktops made their way into the classrooms. I requisitioned one, although I had limited experience with computers. A colleague taught me how to turn it on and off. She showed me how to open a document and print. She also created an email account for me so that I could send and receive email. The learning curve was steep. I was intimidated and pestered her every time the computer did something unexpected. Never would I have guessed that within a few years, I would go from being a nuisance to a mentor to a specialist to director of academic technology and IT consultant.

My education started with the arts. So, I reasoned I could attract more students if I leveraged art and technology to teach more complex disciplines. When I introduced physics to children, for example, I would use digital audio workstations (DAWs) and Sonic Pi (a coding language). With a DAW, children could manipulate the physics of sound and engineer new sounds or instruments. With Sonic Pi, children code music sound by sound. Through exploration and play, they learned about the physics of sound. They could explore different waves types, for example: the sine, saw, triangle, and square; learn about wave properties (e.g. frequency, amplitude, period, length, velocity) and learn to manipulate other properties of sound. As they changed parameters, they could hear the changes in output. Equations on paper would not provide the same immediate feedback or intuitive grasp that music could.

Music and technology paved the way to engineering. Sound engineering was one domain; building instruments was another. My first build project was an Afro-Peruvian cajon. My second was a 3D printed Native American flute in a minor pentatonic scale with a second octave range. The length of the flute, the spacing and diameter of the holes as well as the 3D printers limitations and functions all had to be worked out. Mike Prairie explains the physics of the Native American flute here.

To me, science was more than chapter 5 in a science textbook. It was a rigorous and disciplined approach of mind. Curiosity was the root of science and a quality to exploit and encourage. Children made terrific observations. I wanted to encourage them, to be as curious about the world as they were. Monthly, I would rent a van and take children bird watching, hiking, star gazing, flying, or exploring to learn Nature's secrets.

I wanted my students to be able to compete, not be bound to lives of menial labor, low expectations, mediocrity, victimhood, and poverty. My students could not compete with their more affluent peers. Nor would they be able to compete with the millions of other children with whom they would be vying for jobs in the highly competitive marketplace which was becoming increasingly flat and global.

America's affluence, paradoxically, was a competitive disadvantage. A company could find an accountant, an analyst, or an engineer in Bombay or Guangdong for a fraction of what it’d cost to hire an American with a degree from a decent university. Costs to do business were higher in America. And most of the children in the communities I served were being given an education that would not only render them uncompetitive in the global marketplace, they were non-competitive. The sense of entitlement and self-absorbtion fostered in schools were rendering many unemployable. They lacked the discipline, skills, and resilience to grind and compete.

America's wealth was a blessing and curse. We were becoming more complacent, more entitled, less disciplined, fatter, stupider. Anti-intellectualism was epidemic in America; it was especially acute in the inner-city where smart kids downplayed their intelligence.

Our educational system was once the envy of the world. For decades, we neglected educational reform, undermined discipline and personal responsibility, diluted academic rigor, weakened institutions structurally, and devalued education generally. Politicians, judges, and bureaucrats who never taught were dictating policies that promoted ideology and dysfunction. The price for mediocrity would surely be passed on to a society that invested more in prisons than in schools, in bullets than books.

The new economy required less brawn and more brains. American competitiveness was a function of the quality of our educational system. Many low-wage jobs were being automated. Entire sectors were being disrupted by technology. Autonomous vehicles would soon disrupt the transportation sector, still a source of decent paying jobs. Artificial intelligence, robots, and machines, I reasoned, would be destroying even more livelihoods.

Our children appeared too mollycoddled and self-absorbed, moreover, to pose a challenge to the growing multitudes in the East who were focused on the fundamentals: strong family structures (India has a divorce rate of around 1%), a respect for education (Asian children spent far more hours in schools), entrepreneurship, frugality, hard-work, and sacrifice for the greater good. For every diligent and talented student, I counted a score of unmotivated and apathetic ones who couldn’t appreciate what was at stake, nor would they understand the implosion to come were we to continue our present course.

As a teacher, I expected results and avoided vapid one-liners: “You can do it!” “I believe in you!” “Just keep your head up and do what you gotta do!”

Better than 100 lectures on self-esteem were 100 good lessons!

I’d congratulate the kids after they beat the odds. The world would celebrate them if they overcame their obstacles, not for being pummeled by them, for the world does not respect weakness, but exploits it.

Pep talks were no substitute for self-discipline, tenacity, hard work, and sacrifice. In the Information Age, those cultures which respected and cultivated knowledge (especially in math, science, and technology) would, in the end, dominate those which didn’t. It had always been this way. During Islam's Golden Age, the caliphates were custodian's of the world's knowledge. They grew weaker while Europe was growing stronger. The torch was passed down. Since the explulsion of the Moors from Spain in 1492, Europe was ascendant. Now the West is growing soft.

China, to give another example, was once the most advanced nation on Earth. China’s influence stretched over all of Asia. Buddhism flourished in China. One of my favorite Buddhist texts, the Blue Cliff Records, was published in China in 1125. The martial arts developed at the renowned Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province. China gave the world papermaking, printing, gunpowder and the compass, the mechanical clock, silk fiber, acupuncture, iron smelting, bronze, porcelain, paper money, row crop farming, and the humble toothbrush (among other inventions).

They began subscribing to bad ideas and their nation grew weak. They were conquered by England then Japan, tiny island nations a fraction of her size. The Chinese remember well what they call their Century of Humiliation.

But China changed course. In my lifetime, they went from a Third World country to a global superpower. In a single generation, a nation that did not appear on any of the international league tables pulled itself up from its bootstraps. In 1980, their gross domestic product (a measure of national wealth) was less than 300 billion dollars. As of this writing, China's GDP is 4.8 trillion dollars and was growing at a pace equalling the GDP of Greece every 16 weeks, and an Israel every 25 weeks. Since the Great Recession of 2008, 40% of all the economic growth has occurred in just one country- China.

In 1980, China's trade with the world amounted to less than 40 billion dollars. It is 5.87 trillion today. China began growing in influence and making power moves. The Chinese were flattening their competitors- including the United States. By some indicators, China has already surpassed America. Purchasing power parity is considered a more accurate measurement of a nation's wealth than nominal GDP because PPP takes into account the relative cost of local goods, services and inflation rates of the country, rather than using international market exchange rates, which may distort the real differences in per capita income. By this metric, China ranks first in the world, with a PPP of 35.04 trillion. America comes in second at 27.97 trillion.

China, called the land of superlatives, has the world’s largest population, as of this writing, and the biggest standing army. China is the world’s largest consumer of concrete, copper, oil, and steel and the world's largest producer of ships, steel, aluminum, furniture, clothes, textiles, cell phones, solar cells, and computers. China is also the world's largest consumer of most products. America was the birthplace of the mass assembly of automobiles. Today, China is the largest automaker and the largest auto market. China is the world's largest market for cellphones and e-commerce. China is the primary engine of global economic growth.

China controls 95% of the production and supply of rare earth metals, integral to manufacturing magnets for electric vehicles (EVs) and wind farms. They have a monopoly on critical minerals like cobalt. They are the world's largest trading partner. China boasts the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, the highest bridges, and some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. It is one of the world’s oldest extant civilizations and has the fastest growing economy in human history. The US economy is several times that of China’s. However, many economists believe that it is only a matter of time before China catches up. Indeed, many economists and scholars predict an intellectual and wealth transfer from west to east. The 21st Century, many believe, would be China’s Century.

China is making power moves: buying ports and oil fields, negotiating for resources in Africa, Asia, and South America, modernizing and expanding its military, negotiating agreements with manufacturers, pharmaceuticals, and other corporations where, in exchange for access to their domestic markets, they’d get technology transfers and gain equal ownership in intellectual property.

China had bid on iconic American corporations, some of strategic importance, purchased divisions of Blue Chip companies, and injected liquidity to cash strapped US financial institutions during the Great Recession of 2008. It’s asserting its maritime claims in the South China Sea and asserting its control over disputed territories across Asia. Power moves.

Not only has China become a manufacturing giant, where factory towns sprouted on farmland and where companies throughout the world are setting up shop, China continues investing in capital intensive technologies and has expanded into knowledge-based sectors. They’ve been growing muscle and brains. China has more children on the honor roll than the United States has school children, graduating from 4 to 10 times as many engineers as the United States (1.6 million vs 300,000).

While America wars with Islamic extremists and squabbles internally over racial, ethnic, and gender identity, China is trading and negotiating with the world. China's Belt and Road Initiative is a colossal infrastructure project that stretches around the globe and at a cost of 1.4 trillion dollars (equivalent to 12 Marshall Plans- adjusted for inflation). Built around ancient Chinese trade routes, they are not just building roads, bridges and dams, but fiber optic cables, power transmission lines, ports, airports, and pipelines across Africa and Eurasia. This economic network is spreading across the globe altering the international balance of power. Even long time U.S. allies are kowtowing to China.

"China's overseas influence activities are now more prevalent, institutionalized, technologically sophisticated, and aggressive," according to a report to Congress by the US-China Economic Security Review Commission.

The business of China is business. China is a perceived threat to America’s dominance. And not America only, but Japan, Germany, Europe, and others worry and have been watching warily as the dragon stirred and roused itself from its slumber.

I was fascinated by China’s precipitous rise. Under Mao Zedong, Chinese intellectuals and capitalists were persecuted by the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. During the Great Leap Forward, millions were persecuted or died of starvation. Millions were killed; millions more fled the country. And China stagnated in the ranks of the Third World.

They then radically changed course. Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping stood before his comrades declaring that, “To be rich [was] glorious!” Communist Chinese became capitalist and began wooing back Chinese expatriates, entrepreneurs, scientists, and intellectuals. Mr. Deng, like many Chinese, was eminently pragmatic, not an ideologue. Our politicians, by contrast, have become less pragmatic and more ideological.

Mr. Deng was more interested in results than ideological purity. "Black cat or white cat, if it can catch mice, it's a good cat." Politically, China remained Communist; but they adopted capitalism with Chinese characteristics. Meanwhile, American politics was becoming more dysfunctional, our choices more regulated and circumscribed, and our economy more state-controlled.

Once sleepy fishing villages are now mega-cities with real estate valuations than rival those in Silicon Valley. By 2005, the country was building the square foot equivalent of Rome every 2 weeks. Between 2011-2013, China used more cement than the United States did during the while of the 20th Century. In 2011, a Chinese firm built a 30 story skyscraper in 15 days. Another company built a 50 story skyscraper in 19 days. China built the equivalent of Europe's entire housing stock in just 15 years.

Today, China is doing in hours what it takes years to accomplish in the United States. The Chinese Convention and Exhibition Center which hosted the 2010 World Economic Forum was built in 8 months. The Expo covered more than 16 square miles (5.2 square kilometers) and contained more than 70 exposition pavilions. By contrast, it took a Washington Metro crew about the same time to repair 2 tiny escalators at a Red Line station in Maryland. Closer to my home, the bridge over the Charles River in Boston has been under reconstruction for more than 4 years. In November 2015, Beijing replaced a much larger 1,300 ton bridge in 43 hours. China built 2.6 million miles of roads- including 70,000 miles of highways- between 1996-2016 overtaking the United States as the country with the most extensive highway system by 50%.

China has constructed the world's largest high speed rail network with over 12,000 miles of railway lines on bullet trains at speeds of 190-220 miles per hour- a distance roughly equivalent to two round trips from New York to Los Angeles. China has more high speed rail tracks than the rest of the world combined. During that same decade, California struggled to build a 520 mile connection between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It is expected to be completed sometime in 2029 at a cost of 68 billion dollars. China will have completed another 16,000 miles of rail connections by the time we've laid down 520. Closer to home, the Massachusetts Transit Authority is close to finishing a commuter rail line from New Bedford, MA to Boston ( a distance of 50 miles). The project has taken 16 years.

China has changed course. It wasn't the first time. China is the only country to sit atop the world order thrice. All other empires have their day in the sun then went the way of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Romans, the Aztecs, the Ottomans, the Byzantines, the Incas, the Assyrians et al. China's empires and dynasties, by contrast, have keep rising Phoenix-like from the ashes. They've been playing the long game; their dynasties are measured in millennia. American politics, by contrast, is measured in 2-4 year election cycles; the business cycle is measured in quarterly financials.

Ironically, China could not have accomplished its latest resurgence without America's cooperation and blessing. In 1971 (the year I was born), President Nixon ended convertibility of U.S. dollars to gold. The discipline the gold standard imposed on financial markets and politics was undermined. The dollar was the world's reserve currency "which was no longer anchored to anything except the self-restraint of U.S. policy officials," writes David Stockman in The Great Deformation. Nixon opened up trade and bilateral talks with China in 1972. China, like most emerging Asian markets, pegged its currency to the dollar which made their exports cheaper and more attractive compared to American products.

During these early years of floating, fiat money and easy credit fueled inflation which was partially offset by cheap labor in Asia and elsewhere. Businesses began shuttering in America and setting up shop in Shanghai, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and other cities both in China and globally. A generation of Chinese were willing to pay the costs- e.g. poor working conditions and environmental degradation- for the benefit of the unborn (or perhaps out of desperation)- whereas many in the West were willing to sacrifice the well-being of future generations for short-term pay-offs, higher deficits, monetary inflation, cheaper foreign goods, and immediate gratification.

China is now pushing to internationalize its currency, the yuan. China's share of cross-border lending grew to 28% in 2023. And the People's Bank of China has signed bilateral currency swaps with more than 30 central banks including Saudi Arabia and Argentina.

In 2001, China formed its own economic club as a counterweight to American led global institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Called BRICS- which included Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa- they recently increased their membership to include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. Goldman Sachs analysts forecasted BRIC nations to grow more quickly than the Group of Seven (G7). The G7 are the world's seven most advanced global economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.

This would be concerning to most Americans- if we weren't so preoccupied with trivial and inconsequential matters. If we delayed addressing the minor problems when money was plentiful, how would we compete if confidence in US financial discipline and political stability waned, if foreign central banks began off-loading their dollar reserves? How will the young fare when the bills come due (to pay for the excesses, policies, and decisions made by older generations) and the existing international order gives way to disorder? So few Americans understand this that the majority continue voting for politicians from both parties whose promises and policies keep pushing the debt higher. The disorder and unraveling we are living through is, in truth, quite orderly and, to a degree, predictable.

Education is a pillar of power- as are financial and political stability, economic competitiveness, innovation and technology, global trade, and military strength. In his brilliant macro view of world history, hedge fund investor Ray Dalio, elucidates the underlying principles- the causes and conditions in Buddhist-speak, that explain the changing world order.

By every metric, America, while still competitive, is losing its edge. As an advocate for children and equity in education, I remain deeply concerned with the trends I've seen taking shape during my 30 year career. All the while, China keeps making power moves.

When I was born, China stood at the bottom of international rankings in almost every discipline- education, mathematics, science, technology, and innovation. After 2 decades of investment in the countries human capital, it rivals and out-performs the United States by some metrics. The International standard is the Programme for International Student Assesment (PISA). China ranks close to the top and above the OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) average; the US ranks below the OECD average. My state, Massachusetts, is ranked 20th (if it were measured as a stand alone country) down from 9th place a decade ago.

Among other things, scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and computer scientists build weapons systems. Military might is one of the last bastions where America holds dominance, but even here, China is a formidable adversary.

Recently, a new threat was circulated. A Chinese military report suggested that their military tactics were shifting away from conventional warfare to disarming and controlling minds. They're merging four major technology fields for military purposes: nano, bio, information and cognition. Cognitive warfare is the sixth domain of military operations; the mind is the new battlefield. The focus is to attack the enemy’s will to resist, not physical destruction. "The supreme art of war,' wrote the Chinese general Sun Tzu during the Zhou Period (around 2500 years ago), "is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

In November 2020, François du Cluzel, a project manager at Nato Act Innovation Hub, issued a report entitled Cognitive Warfare, identifying the human domain with nations racing to weaponize neuroscience. The US government blacklisted Chinese firms like TikTok, institutes and firms it believes to be working on dangerous “biotechnology processes to support Chinese military end uses”, including “purported brain-control weaponry”. The Chinese People’s Liberation army (PLA) is investing heavily in cognitive domain operations, including AI research in brain-inspired software, hardware and decision making.

Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, a China specialist at the Rand Corporation, calls this nothing less than an “evolution in warfare, moving from the natural and material domains – land, maritime, air, and electromagnetic – into the realm of the human mind”. The PLA, he says, hopes to “shape or even control the enemy’s cognitive thinking and decision-making” abilities. From disinformation campaigns to modern weapons targeting the brain, “brain warfare” is rapidly becoming a reality.

Platforms like TikTok exert cognitive influence by shaping the beliefs and preferences of its vast user base while collecting data and developing psychogenic profiles of its users. TikTok’s algorithm has the power to mold public opinion and exploit user data to shape preferences, biases and beliefs. “The algorithm tries to get people addicted rather than giving them what they really want,” Guillaume Chaslot, the founder of Paris-based AlgoTransparency, a group that has studied YouTube’s recommendation system, told the New York Times.

Banning apps like TikTok, imposing sanctions on Chinese technology companies, or educating users about potential dangers and promoting digital literacy will likely not halt America's decline.

In his 1838 Lyceum address Lincoln said, "At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."

Indeed, by most metrics (including suicide rates which rose by 5% since 2021), America seems to be imploding from within. We are too strong militarily to be attacked from without. I'm more likely to be killed by one of my own countrymen than die at the hands of the PLA. The crime rate in the United States is higher than in many other developed countries.

The standard American diet (SAD) sickens and kills far more Americans than any foreign government. The foods we eat are rendering us fat, sick, and stupid (cognition and metabolism are closely linked). No foreign power is fattening us up for slaughter. We're doing that to ourselves.

Congress fears TikTok is aggregating data and using algorithms to keep us addicted to mindless content. Facebook (FB), FBs Instagram, SnapChat, Google, YouTube, and other American tech companies are also aggregating data and using neuroscience to control behaviors that may not serve our best interests. We were using algorthims to shape beliefs and preferences long before TikTok. We were using technology for surveillance long before the Chinese.

No foreign power is dumbing us down as effectively as we are. The 2022 math score for US students was not only lower than it was in 2012 but it was "among the lowest ever measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in mathematics" for the U.S. The Chinese weren't dumbing us down. We did that ourselves.

"The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home," the renowned Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote 3,000 years ago. No foreign power is a greater threat to the American family than its own government which began meddling in family affairs with the best of intentions and incentivizing divorce in the 1960s. Single parenthood has been normalized- hardly discussed as the consequence of bad policies, changing cultural norms, or economic pressures often the result of bureaucratic meddling that are hardly understood by a financially illiterate and heavily indebted public. Family instability is a major public health problem for children which must be addressed at the roots. Research has documented that parental divorce/separation is associated with an increased risk for child and adolescent adjustment problems, including academic difficulties (e.g., lower grades and school dropout), disruptive behaviors (e.g., conduct and substance use problems), and depressed mood (Dohoon, 2016). Children of divorced/separated parents are also more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, live in poverty, and experience their own family instability. Risk typically increases by a factor between 1.5 and 2. Indeed, working at both ends of the economic spectrum, single parenthood was greater in the poorer neighborhoods (~67%); two-family households prevailed in the private schools where I taught (over 70%).

Regardless of the metric we choose- drug abuse, suicide rates, mental illness, metabolic diseases, financial health, divorce rates, political dysfunction- looks like we're heading in the wrong direction.

This is yet another reason to train the mind as rigorously and as intentionally as I've been advocating all these years. I teach fundamentals: sleep, diet, exercise, social connections, mind-set, hard-work, frugality, self-discipline, accountability, integrity. These are disciplines and values worth promoting. Although these lessons fell under wellness and well-being, they could just as well be for resilience, inoculation, or national security.

China is a formidable competitor, not an existential threat. The biggest threat to our national security is us. A nation of weak-minded, sick, entitled, willfully ignorant, overweight, financially illiterate lemmings are greater threats to themselves.

Can we reverse the decline? Can we course correct? We have many times in our history and have an opportunity to re-invent ourselves for the better. Mindful living can take us there.

The mind has always been a theater of operations. Indeed, many contemplatives often refer to a disciplined life as the warrior's way. With meditation, we develop powerful qualities of mind. We ruthlessly cut mental elaborations. We impose strict disciplines on the self: fasting, restraint, simplicity, long hours of stillness and silence, solitude, stoicism, asceticism. Practice always begins with resolve and self-discipline. We learn to stabilize the mind and train attention, concentration, focus, morality, insight. We integrate the emotional centers of the brain with forgiveness, self-compassion, non-judgment, visualization and other techniques, but also with a degree of intensity and severity. We walk la via negativa- or the path of negation, refraining from those intoxicants and pleasures that addle less stable minds. With a sober, stable mind, we examine our lives with ruthless honesty. and take radical responsibility for our choices The deeper we are willing to go, the more insistent the inner injunction to integrate the insights into our daily lives. We align our values with our actions. Right livelihood is integral to living an authentic, meaningful life. This is not easy. Letting go takes courage and faith- but these are other qualities we cultivate in meditation. Naturally and gradually we become less attached to things. We recognize and respect our connection with nature. We recognize our commonality with all humanity, all beings, all that is. The mind becomes strong. A nation of strong, principled, hard-working, intelligent, disciplined people are a power unto themselves and a blessing to all of humanity.

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