Endangered Aesthetics and the Future of Beauty

Surveys reveal that audiences cannot tell the difference between musical compositions written by humans and those by artificial intelligence and often rate the AI compositions as more "inspiring" and "soulful."

However, there are some timeless principles for how to appreciate beauty, such as those elucidated by the heavily Buddhist-influenced yet culturally endangered Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi. Perhaps the outlook is more critical than the outcome. By mindfully tuning to the reality that nothing is perfect, nothing is complete and nothing lasts - we can experience more freedom, acceptance and a deeper sense of spiritual wonder for the unfolding of the drama of it all.

”Technology has flooded the world with music. We used to have to pay for music or make it ourselves. Playing, hearing and experiencing it was exceptional - a rare special experience. Now, hearing it is ubiquitous and silence is the rarity we pay for and savor.” –David Byrne

The Last Taboo
the last taboo

Death is the great mystery surrounding existence, and the nature of belief about the beyond forms the core of each religious philosophy.

But imagine if we could replay the unfolding of the universe and the emergence of life on this planet never included a physical death in the equation - would there have even been religion?

It seems the ephemeral aspect of the human body is what ultimately creates the spark of spiritual seeking in the mind. However, it remains as difficult as ever to have meaningful conversation with others about the subject. Studies suggest that less than 20% of adults dare to attempt to discuss "end-of-life" preferences with family members.

75% of Americans die in the hospital or nursing home. Additionally, medicare spends as much as $200 billion annually on care during the last two months of life. This represents a significant chunk of total health expenditures in America. It is estimated that no more than 30% of this spending leads to any real benefit for the patients. Contrast this with the fact that 88% of people on Earth believe in an afterlife. That we could be more emotionally prepared as a society is an understatement.

Ordinarily, to talk about death would seem too dark for many but there is a difference between a healthy awareness of our own mortality and an obsession about it. It is difficult to fathom how alienating it must be for those directly and privately dealing with dying or loss while the community-at-large appears fully engaged in what philosopher Ernest Becker described in "The Denial of Death" as their "immortality project."

Surveys show that millennials are the least religious generation in human history. The need for new and open-minded discussion is apparent. Surely, meditative insight now into this one certainty that connects us all - need not be dark but rather enlightening. Just think of the kindness and clarity of purpose that could manifest and how petty hangups and bitterness could be more easily released along with so much needless suffering by bringing into focus what is most essential.

"Fear of death follows from the fear of life. One who lives fully is prepared to die." -Mark Twain

Epic Philosophy of Epictetus
mount olympus

Many people may think of stoicism as putting on a strong face during adversity and forcing oneself to endure without complaining. 

But stoicism is also a system of philosophy with a set of mindful principles that were carefully studied and practiced by big thinkers of ancient Greece. When a seeker deeply contemplates and scientifically experiments with these precepts, the inner resources to pass life's seemingly harshest tests will manifest even before they are needed and one can experience more mental balance like a calm mountain during a storm.

This episode explores a few of the stoic insights from a 2,000 year old text known as "The Manual" to see how this ancient wisdom can apply to modern living. Excerpts rendered into contemporary English by Sam Torode.

Putting The Awe Back In Awesome

We use the word "awesome" very loosely in conventional speech - typically to describe someone, something or a situation that's agreeable or favorable in any way. But the genuine feeling or experience of awe is rarer, much deeper and less understood when compared with other emotions. However, emerging research, such as that conducted by psychologists Keltner and Haidt, is helping to unravel this mysterious state of consciousness and it's evolutionary potential.

Awe may best be defined as a blurring of the emotional boundaries between admiration and fear. Therefore, some psychologists hypothesize that it is felt in the autonomic nervous system when both the fight-flight and relaxation responses are turned "on" - to some extent - at the same time.

This feeling can be triggered by encounters with vastness or in the presence of unfathomable qualities in nature, art, technology and people. MRI studies point to a reduction of activity in the parietal lobe of the brain. This region is involved with our sense of self as distinct in space, and inactivity in that part of the cortex may account for or correlate to self-transcendence and a sense of oneness. These brain and perceptual changes have also been observed in studies of meditation, sensory deprivation, and psychedelic drugs.

Awe is not nearly as inaccessible as it sounds. It is uncommon because it is subtle. Thus, mindfulness may be our most practical tool to safely explore this state and derive it's unique benefits.

Peace in the Center
Peace in the Center

The spinning wheel can be dizzying, but, in the center, there is stillness.  Similarly, the formidable waves are only found on the surface of the ocean, not when one dives deep.  Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise or disturbance but to find calmness within the heart despite outer circumstances.  This episode unwraps some ancient contemplative texts, including passages from the Tao Te Ching, and reflects on the lives of a few peaceful figures.  


Clarity: Cutting Through The Clouds

Beyond the clouds, the sky is always clear. Similarly, most diamonds have flaws known as cloud inclusions, which reduce the clarity of the otherwise precious crystal and limit its brilliance or shine. A diamond is the most concentrated form of pure carbon on Earth, and the flaws are often hard to detect with the naked eye. 

The human mind also has subtle clouds that obstruct mental clarity. In psychology, these are known as cognitive biases or heuristics - patterns of flawed shortcuts in the brain.

This episode explores some of the most interesting distortions that block clear thinking. By cutting through these clouds, we can naturally illuminate the mind and let the light of knowledge shine through us.

Bending Time: How Physical Laws, Culture And Mindfulness Change The Clock

It flies and heals. People try to make it, buy it, save it and kill it.  Yet, there is never enough of it, and it might not be real.  It is T I M E. 

Many cultures personify and deify Time.  Kronos is the father of Zeus in Greek mythology and therefore older than god.  Hindus may worship Mahakala or the lord of time.  In America, we have the expression, "Father Time is undefeated."   Even if only imaginative mythology, it can teach the importance of respecting time and using it wisely.

This episode breaks down our ideas and beliefs about time to illuminate a radically different but potentially happier and saner approach and like a child, even a slowing down of this strangely beautiful flash of life.

(Music intro by E. Fink and song "Timeless" by Lee Rosevere)

Democracy Of Trees: What The Forest Can Teach Us About Community Health

Trees care for each other in very special ways. They have family relationships. Sometimes, the offspring of a felled tree will continue to keep the parental stump alive with its roots, even for centuries. There are bonds beyond family as well. For instance, Fir trees and Birch trees take turns supporting the other in winter and summer. Nutrients and information are shared underground via root systems and the mycorrhizal network of fungi. This is evidence for the importance of biodiversity.

The poet John Donne wrote, "No man is an island... and any man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind." Trees seem to live this wisdom and understand on some level that every tree matters to the well-being of the whole forest. If even one tree is destroyed, the eco-system becomes comprised, the canopy has a hole and the micro-climate shifts in temperature and moisture jeopardizing the health of all trees.  Therefore, they employ unique mechanisms to protect the community.  In this episode, Todd explores the philosophy, mythology, and ecology of the forest world and how it relates to human potential.

"Trees are poems that the Earth writes upon the sky." -Khalil Gibran

(Intro by E. Fink and song "Morning Walk" by Lee Rosevere)

Light In The Dark
light in the dark.jpg

The first day of winter is known as the solstice and is the shortest day of the year.  But it also indicates the return of the light and each day from that moment will be longer until the first day of summer.  

This episode explores the problem with the notion of absolute good and evil with metaphors and music as tools for getting at the heart of things.

"What is a good man but a bad man's teacher. What is a bad man but a good man's job."  -Lao Tzu

(With intro music by E. Fink)

Paradox of Humility

Humility is often defined as meekness and refers to having a modest opinion of one's importance and yet, it is practiced as a virtue in spiritual traditions around the world as a way to manage the ego and part of a path to self-actualization and transcendence.

Now, we have new scientific evidence and research from Duke University that shows how being intellectually humble actually expands one's influence, enhances leadership and makes us all-around better people. 

"True humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less."  -C.S. Lewis

(With intro music by E. Fink, courtesy of Crooked Creek Records and music by Christopher Lloyd Clarke, licensed from Enlightened Audio)

Todd Fink
Silence Is The Musician's Canvas

Is silence really silent? Ordinarily, we have minimal access to and even avoid silence until it's time to retire for sleep. This episode explores the deeper significance of silence as evidenced in the work of two legendary musician philosophers of the 20th century - one trained in Western Classical music and the other in Eastern Classical music.

(Music "Through The Prism" courtesy of and written by Chris Russell)

Your Brain On Art
brain art

A mirror neuron is a brain cell that fires both when someone acts and when he or she observes the same action performed by another.  So, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of the other, as though the observer were acting.  That may be why we get a dream like feeling looking at a Monet painting.  Perhaps, we can actually experience in our brains, to some extent, the inspiration of the artist during the creation of the work.  There is also a response in the brain when we look at a beautiful painting similar to that of looking at somebody you love. Mindfully perceiving art can elevate consciousness and improve our emotional health. 

(Music "Stillstream" by Russel Norman, courtesy of Crooked Creek Records)


Todd Fink
Intention Requires Attention

Intention is part of mindfulness practice and involves keeping one's awareness more in the present moment.  There are times when it is helpful to direct our awareness to the past and future also.  To reflect and reminisce about the past can bring understanding and happiness.  To plan and prepare for the future can help us accomplish goals and solve problems.  Beyond that, our thoughts can easily fall into patterns of fixation, rumination or obsession.  

Intention reconnects us with purpose and authenticity. Yes it can help us get better results out of the most meaningful areas of our life but the real blessing is being able to live our values even when others don't.  And that is true self-empowerment.

(Music by E. Fink, courtesy of Crooked Creek Records)

Todd Fink
Growing Grateful: Ancient origins and new neuroscience

Gratitude has been called the mother of all virtues and the key that unlocks all doors. This episode explores the etymology of "thank you" and the modern science of the grateful brain. Specific gratitude practices are shared that are scientifically proven to grow key regions of the brain, increase life satisfaction and enhance overall well-being.

(Music "Mindful Zone" by Chris Russell)

Todd Fink
Compassionate Communication

What we are speaks louder than what we say. This episode explores the legend of Buddha transforming Mara's arrows into flowers and how we can cultivate that power in modern life with the acronym PETALS.  Each letter stands for a mindfulness-based strategy for resolving interpersonal conflicts.

(Music from "Helix" by Russell Norman, courtesy of Crooked Creek Records; Music "Mindful Zone" by Chris Russell courtesy of Chris Russell)

Todd Fink
Anatomy of Habit

This episode explores the basic brain science behind our habits and routines and how to utilize those scientific insights, along with techniques from wisdom traditions, to experience more fulfillment. 

“You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.”                                                                                                                    -Walt Whitman

(Music by Christopher Lloyd Clarke, licensed from Enlightened Audio)

Bouncing Back: New perspectives on resilience

Psychological resilience typically refers to the ability to regain emotional balance and stability after encountering stressful or traumatic events.  This talk explores how emotional maturity, positive attitude, and creativity influence this life skill.   Also included are recent studies and scientific evidence that expand our conventional understanding of resilience and demonstrate the need for mindful strategies for changing our relationship with problems.

(Music by Christopher Lloyd Clarke, licensed from Enlightened Audio)