On Washington’s Ancestral Home…

Monday Musings for July 6, 2020
Volume X, No.27/495

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Sulgrave Manor, Sulgrave, South Northamptonshire, England

Happy Birthday America Part II

Sulgrave Manor, a Source of Pride or Shame

 By Assad Meymandi, MD PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

Last week we observed the birth of our beloved nation by recalling the death of two most brilliant Founding Fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  Today we continue with Part II of same topic, a memory of years past.   To me, George Washington was a holy person and his ancestral home, the Sulgrave Manor, is a sacred space. GW’s gift to limiting his appetite for power is considered by many including Goethe as a “remarkable and rather rare attribute.” Washington Is admired by all nations friends and foes. After fathering America, serving two terms as President, like the famed Greek General, Cincinnatus, he returned to his farm. He liberated his slaves and worked and lived as an ordinary citizen. So, I am offering below as an overture to the stunning opera of the birth of our nation.

 

Around my house, we are purists. We celebrate and observe Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, and pay homage to the father of our country on his natal anniversary on February 22. Today’s “Monday Musings” was written on July 4, 1973 after a visit to Sulgrave Manor in Northampton, England, and has been reprinted every year since.

Sulgrave, a hamlet, population 58, houses one of the most significant pieces of American and British history, unbeknownst to many Americans and certainly British. Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington, the father of America, lies 14 miles southwest Northampton, a busy city of 120,000. No, you won’t find it in the Northampton city directory, nor does it appear on the county or “Shire” map. The Chamber of Commerce of Northampton politely said “We do not know, Sir” to my telephone inquiry as to the whereabouts of Sulgrave Manor. No place in London, including the eager to please Bureau of Tourism, acknowledged its existence. Like an in- house secret shrouded in mystery, it eluded my persuasive curiosity.

My host, Dr. Michael O’Brooke, a consultant psychiatrist at Saint Andrews Hospital in Northampton, almost changed the subject when I asked about Sulgrave. Somehow we ended up talking about the newly discovered oil off the Britain’s coast. Finally I pinpointed him, and demanded an answer. With his genuine English wit he snapped “Oh, yes, I will have my driver to take you there…” He made it clear in his elegant old Anglo-Saxon, non-verbal but piercing way, that he did not wish to discuss the matter any further.

I rode through the bustling streets of Northampton. It belied that it was July 4. No picnic, no American flags and no Happy Birthday! Total oblivion of the importance of America’s birthday enveloped this industrial city which lies 70 miles southwest of London. Finally, we arrived at Sulgrave. It was a bright and sunny afternoon. A fairly short, thin gentleman whose bushy eyebrow literally covered his eyes, with graying full head of hair combed straight back giving ample space for a high forehead, looking like a character just stepped out of one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, greeted me with a simple but eloquent Churchillian deep voice: “Good afternoon! I am Mr. David Robbins, your guide.” We talked a bit. I felt like he was genuinely happy to see me breaking his loneliness, somehow reminding me of the British version of the Maytag repairman commercial.

The layout of Sulgrave Manor was elegant. Eight courtyards, a vegetable garden, and immaculately kept manicured yards and shrubs took me back 350 years. Foxglove of several colors graced all sidewalks. A British and an American flag were flying on the sides of the building. Mr. Robbins gave me a quizzical look upon finding that I might write up the Sulgrave experience for my fellow Americans. He briefly disappeared, soon to reappear with brilliantly printed brochure. He wanted to be sure that the facts were accurately reported…As Mr. Robbins and the brochure have it: the main part of the house was built of stone and he made sure I understood that it was the original structure, and not like the wooden colonial houses which were burnt and re-constructed—a mere replica—this house was built by Lawrence Washington in 1560. General George Washington was the seventh descendant of Lawrence Washington, who incidentally, was the mayor of Northampton in 1539 and again in 1545. Mr. Robbins took me around the building with utmost care, explaining that the perpetual Board of Trustees of the manor consists of the British Ambassador to US and the American Ambassador to England. The manor and the grounds belong to both countries. The cost of maintenance, conservation and purchase of pieces of land are born directly by both countries.

There was an air of ambivalence inundated by moments of awkwardness as Mr. Robbins’ basic loyalty to his own country and crown saw George Washington as a rebellious rash soldier with poor manners who committed an act of treason by fathering America, along with the pride that he finally acknowledged for the American experience, offered twinges of cultural/patriotic schizophrenia. Here I stood, on a 4th of July, my country’s birthday, proud to be an American and concerned about my host’s mixed feelings. I empathically told him that if I were in his place I, too, would be most uncomfortable. There was a sudden glitter in Mr. Robbins’s eyes. After so many years of working there, he had found a person who looked at and talked with him as a person with feelings. He looked me in the eyes and invited me to the afternoon tea. As we were sipping the tea he asked me about my work. “Psychiatrist” I said. “Oh Lord, I should have known not to ask…” he said in reply. I saw not only the most proudly and secretly kept historical monument in England, but also had made a good friend in Mr. Robbins, the official host/guide of Sulgrave Manor.

Mr. Robbins and I kept in touch. He was scheduled to come to US for a visit but died of a sudden heart attack in the mid-eighties. He was 80 years old.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine(1995-2012). He is a dramaturge. Received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On July 4…

Monday Musings for Monday June 29, 2020
Volume IX. No. 26/494

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Thomas Jefferson                      John Adams

Happy July 4th! Natal Anniversary of America and Mortal Anniversary of John Adams Thomas Jefferson -What Kind of Music Uncle T.J. Liked?

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DSc (Hon), DLFAPA*

Happy 244th birthday to our beloved nation. We thought it is fitting to honor the US flag by flying it in today’s Monday Musings, instead of our regular book logo. On July 4, 1826, on the 50th golden anniversary of signing of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams died. Historians put his death at around 9:00 AM. Adams and Thomas Jefferson, political arch enemies for decades, had reconciled and become good friends and pen pals in the last two decades of their lives. They exchanged more than 300 letters before that fateful day, July 4 1826. According to reliable history, Adams’ last words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives…” not knowing that Thomas Jefferson, too, had died that morning at age of 83.

Tuesday July 4, 1826 was a very hot day. The sun seemed to have a notion of what was happening, since it hurriedly rose and climbed to the top of the sky in mid-morning. No wonder, two US Presidents, both belonging to the super exclusive club of the “Founding Fathers of America”, both signatories to the Declaration of Independence, and one the actual author of that sacred document, died that morning on the same day.

Faithful readers of this space recall that we have examined the books the founding fathers read. In this essay and subsequent ones we will examine the music they loved and played. We will start with Thomas Jefferson. In a way, we celebrate July 4 by getting to know the musical taste of staggeringly curious and intellectually superior polymath of all time, Thomas Jefferson, the third President of our beloved nation.

Thomas Jefferson was an accomplished violinist. He even bought a pocket fiddle that accompanied him wherever he went. He was an active member of chamber music ensemble that played for the royal governor of Virginia. According to musicologist and former Meymandi Fellow at the National Humanities Center, the learned author and researcher, Professor Stuart Isacoff, Jefferson loved and admired Corelli, Haydn, Gluck, Handel, Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Boccherini, Stamitz, Clementi, and J. C. Bach (J. S. Bach’s youngest son). The 6500 volumes that Jefferson sold to the government which formed the nucleus of the Library of Congress, in addition to work of the above composers, contained sheet music by lesser known composers such as Padre Martini, Gaetano Pugnani, Ignaz Pleyel and Italianized German composer, Giovanni Adolfo Hass. Thomas Jefferson fell in love with a patrician beauty, a rich young widow, Martha Wayles Skelton whose favor he won in a competitive race with two other suitors by playing his violin when he courted her. Jefferson continued to practice daily and play his violin which Martha thoroughly enjoyed. He wanted to commission a piece to honor his beloved wife after her death. He was aware that Mr. Goldberg paid JS Bach to compose the Goldberg Variations. According to some apocryphal sources, Jefferson even had a brief meeting with Mozart to discuss the matter, but somehow the commissioning never materialized. Jefferson’s not being fond of Mozart, because of Mozart’s “conduct” may have had something to do with the project not materializing. However, Jefferson recognized Mozart’s genius and loved his music.

Also, Jefferson liked Handel’s Messiah, Hayden’s solo cantatas, John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and many American folk songs and music of emerging American composers such as his fellow Declaration signer, Francis Hopkinson. In the writings of Jefferson’s grand daughter, Ellen Coolidge, who lived in Monticello, there are many references to Jefferson’s love for music. As the former president became older, he wrote more about music and spent more time collecting, humming and playing his various favorite composers.

Happy 4th to All. There is no place on earth like America, where the beacon of freedom continues to shine, where the flame of liberty continues to illuminate the landscape of humanity, where the rule of law and not the whim of Shahs, Mullahs and dictators is supreme. God Bless America.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine(1995-2012). He is a dramaturge. Received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On the Magna Carta…

Monday Musings for Monday June 22, 2020
Volume X, No. 25/488

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Happy Birthday, Magna Carta !

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

 Magna Carta, Latin for “Great Charter” is the  treaty born in England and signed by King John on June 15, 1215.  Today we celebrate Magna Carta’s 805th natal anniversary or birthday. First a brief history followed by some reflections:

Next time you are in London, go by the British Library, near Euston Station, climb the stairs. On the left you enter a pavilion full of old books, ancient manuscripts, including a Guttenberg Bible, etc. On the right, you will find a good size room set aside to display the magnificent British document, the Magna Carta, signed by King John of Lackland dated December 28, 1215. The document was actually written in Runnymede on June 15, 1215.

The room exhibiting Magna Carta is wired with the latest technology to give the viewers all they want to know about Magna Carta. But I have found the display, describing King Lackland’s Magna Carta, much lacking (pun intended), especially in the intellectual and political history of the precious document. What is presented in the British Library is very useful, but short on depth and epistemic understanding of events leading to the birth of the document. Here are some thoughts and a brief critical analysis of the document:

Faithful readers of this space recall the essay on Queen Matilda Maude of England (February 7, 1102- to September 10, 1167), who laid the cornerstone of Anglo-Saxon freedom and the governance of the rule of Law. Matilda was like our 20th century Susan B. Anthony (February 15, 1820 to March 13, 1906), who championed women suffrage by laying the work for the 19th amendment which was signed in 1919 by President Wilson. What a feat, nearly a century of freedom and voting right for the American women.

Going back to Matilda Maude and her important work to sow the seeds of Magna Carta in Britain’s mental space: Matilda and her younger brother were the only two legitimate children of King Henry I who had altogether sired 23 children. She reigned for a  brief period of time and was never crowned, thus not listed in the British monarchic line of succession. Instead, her male cousin Stephens of Blois was the monarch 1135-1154 and is listed in the history books. Omitting the work and contribution of Matilda Maude form history of Magna Carta is a major historic and intellectual oversight.

Another significant omission is the impact of assassination of Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, on December 29, 1170. As one notices, he was assassinated one day short of 45 years before the signing of Magna Carta. Archbishop Becket was assassinated by four knights from the court of King of England Henry II. They were dispatched to “rid England from a bothersome and intruding priest”. With the brutal killing of Beckett, the public became sensitized to the atrocities of Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their three sons and a ground swell of revolt against kingship began to slowly brew over the next 45 years.  Indeed the excesses of Kings of England over a century brought on the emergence of Magna Carta, the principle message of which was to severely restrict the powers of the throne.

King John Lackland who signed Magna Carta was not a benevolent and humanitarian king like King Cyrus the Great of Persia and Hammurabi of Babylon and other famous altruists of yore. The 12 years old battle of Bouvines definitely restored French power under King Phillip II Augustus bringing the Angevin-Flanders conflict to an end.  But the battle of Bouvines in 1214, enfeebled King John considerably. By 1214, King John was a worn out fellow bereft of energy and friends. The British Lords and aristocracy viewed him as a usurper of land with hedonistic tendencies similar to those Henry III. They detected King John’s weakness and vulnerability by moving rapidly and writing a document consisting of 61 clauses, they named it Magna Carta. It restricted the liberties of the king and moved England toward a constitutional monarchy. Magna Carta is essentially an unimpressive document mostly dealing with laws of commerce and cannons of trade. It does not hold a candle to US Constitution, our Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence But some of its clauses are brilliant examples of human rights advocacy. Consider Article 39. It states “No freeman shall be arrested or imprisoned or deprived of his freehold or outlawed or banished or in any way ruined, nor will we take or order action against him, except by the lawful judgment of his equals and according to the law of the land.” Doesn’t it sound like something written by John Locke or Thomas Jefferson?   In America, we are blessed to have the intellectual depth, wisdom, and knowledge of 2500 years history by a group of devoted patriots, America’s founding fathers who gave us our Republic. They skillfully wove concepts from Declaration of Human Rights by Persia’s King Cyrus the Great, dubbed Messiah in the Bible (Isaiah 41), Code of Hammurabi, and the renaissance philosophers, especially Pico Della Mirandola’s “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in the tapestry of our beloved nation.

Personally, I love America. Unlike many of my misguided colleagues who are ashamed of America, I am proud of America. I love the cacophony and gridlock in US Congress with 8% approval rating. I love the liberty and freedom to disagree, argue, and have robust and serious conversation without fear of being arrested and jailed. I love America’s devotion and commitment to supremacy of the rule of law and not those of a ruler, a Shah, an Ayatollah or a some two-bit dictator-President-for-Life.  And I am happy to pay my taxes to ensure the survival of our freedom, but not happy to see my taxes wasted, and moneys misspent on programs that encourage delinquent and antisocial behavior.   Behavior like irresponsibly fathering many children by many women, and not being a daddy to them (See Monday Musings for Father’s Day). Behavior like setting one’s highest ambition in life to get on public welfare. Behavior like coming to America, living here for many years, enjoying the fruits of the liberty, freedom and equality America offers, yet not learning the English language, and not assuming any civic pride and patriotic responsibility…

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association; and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted into Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On Father’s Day…

Monday Musings for Monday June 15, 2020
Volume X. No. 25/488

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Pieter Jozef Verhagen.   Hagar and Ishmael Banished by Abraham, (1781)

Father’s Day

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

 This coming Sunday, June 21, 2020, is Father’s Day. A few reflections:

Brief History

Arkansas has not only given us the Clintons and the perennial presidential contender, the Reverend/Governor/evangelist/guitar picking/author Mike Huckabee, but it has given us Sonora Smart Dodd who literally created Father’s Day back in 1910. She celebrated the first Father’s Day in Spokane, Washington to honor her father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, a single parent who raised his six children single-handedly in Arkansas. Sonora was moved to recognize her father’s contribution by proposing a day to honor all fathers. However, it was not until 1972, 58 years after President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day official, that the Father’s Day became a nationwide holiday in the United States.

Father vs. Dad

 It is so easy to be a father. All it takes is a willing partner and nine months later a child is produced. But it takes a whole lot of preparation and commitment to be a dad. One of the main reasons we have more per capita prison/jail inmates than anywhere else in the industrial nations is this very simple notion: plenty of fathers who bring children to the world have no preparation or commitment to be or become a dad. Recent statistics point to the fact that the rate of imprisonment in the United States more than quadrupled during the last four decades. The U.S. penal population of 2.2 million adults is by far the largest in the world. Just under one-quarter of the world’s prisoners are held in American prisons. The U.S. rate of incarceration, with nearly 1 out of every 100 adults in prison or jail, is five to 10 times higher than the rates in countries of Western Europe and other democracies. The reason is simply too many men, like sex machines, reproduce and abandon. Most prisoners grew up without love, care and devotion of a dad. And our government seems to reward this delinquent behavior by giving incentive in expanding the welfare state. It is an abomination that so many single mothers of four or five, and so many children who have never met or known their fathers…

Dads love, care, provide, and offer moral leadership to, and role models for their children. Dads are selfless, giving and loving. Dads offer security, permanence, and they are there for their children forever. To be a dad is the most responsible job on earth. No, I am not suggesting to cut resources of, and services to, the children. On the contrary, we need to pump in love and all resources necessary to make sure the children who are already here have what it takes to become responsible citizens. I am saying that family planning should be emphasized and through education and information, sex machines dismantled. If we could spend the corrections budget on education, eventually we will decrease the prison population drastically.

Historically, the roots of the Arab Israeli conflict go back to the days of Abram (before he became Abraham–Genesis 17) of Ur. The two biographers of Abraham, Zakaria-ye- Massuyeh, and Honein Ibn Ishagh ably trace the origin of the Arab-Israeli conflict to Abraham and his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. The two brothers were fighting as most children do. Ishmael gathered his friends in one camp which became the origin of Arabs, and Isaac doing the same, naming his camp and entourage/followers the Israelis. Two brothers and their progenies, blood related cousins, have been killing one another for more than three thousand years…I guess one might say that Abraham was a faithful and superb prophet, fathering Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but did not know how to be a daddy to his own sons.

Personal Memories

 Speaking of children fighting, I remember as a small boy being the youngest in the family. I used to argue and fight all the time with my sister next in age to me. We used to go to my father with our stories as to how we were victimized, expecting father to intervene on our individual behalf. My father would sit patiently and dispassionately listen to us carefully one at a time. My sister and I would anxiously await a judgment and a disposition. My father would hold both of us in his arms and say something like “I see you two have a disagreement, and I have faith in both your abilities to resolve the disagreement by understanding and talking and not fighting…” He would kiss us and let us go. My father was an esthete. He was a poet and a calligrapher. He flooded our home with books, and books and books… We had music, poetry, and flowers…Next to God, love and family, education was most revered by our father.

What to Do?

 What do we need to do to correct what Abraham failed to do? How do we bring peace and reconciliation to Jews and Muslims? All major religions and their Holy Books including Bhagavad Gita of Hindus, Avesta of Zoroastrians, Torah of Moses, Quran of Islam and Bible of Christians recommend forgiveness and conciliation. As one exposed to all these Holy writings, I am most impressed by Christian love and the Pauline theology of hope, possibilities, forgiveness, and redemption. It is the unique attribute of Christian teaching to transform one’s enemy through the act of love and turning the other cheek. What a magnanimous feat of humanity and Godliness. I am for establishing dialogue, learning the enemy’s language, pressing flesh and showing acts of love and mercy.

Happy Father’s Day to all.

The Meymandi touring Exhibition Gallery, North Carolina Museum of Art, is named for my late father, Farajollah Meymandi.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is a dramaturge. Received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On Moosa’s Ghazali…

Monday Musings for Monday June 8, 2020
Volume X, No. 23/486

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Ghazali & The Poetics of Imaginations

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

A Book Review
Ghazali & The Poetics of Imaginations
by Ebrahim Moosa
Introduction: 32 pages, 289 pages of text, 28 pages of Notes
five pages of Glossary, 22 pages of Bibliography
and 12 pages of index
Publisher: UNC Press, 2005

Intellectual oxymoron

Of the eminent Persian poet and philosopher, Hamid Ghazali, we have spoken before. The faithful readers will recall that we discussed Ghazali’s devotion to seeking, learning, and discovering through his devotion to faith on the one hand and skepticism on the other, a true intellectual oxymoron. The issue of faith and skepticism, like many other confounding discourses, such as Saint Augustine of Hippo’s theory of predestination and will, present theological oxymoron, if not conundrums. We are keeping our promise by reviewing a most remarkable book about Al-Ghazali by Professor Ebrahim Moosa.

As a child, I recall my father encouraging us to read Al-Ghazali to strengthen the gift of doubt in his children. In a recent conversation with a learned friend about education, after a lengthy discussion, we agreed that in order to encourage our college students to adopt a more vigorous orientation and grounding in critical thinking, they should read Al-Ghazali and Abu Nasr Farabi (872-950, known to West as Alfarabius), Persian polymath, scientist, poet, philosopher and theologian to strengthen their intellectual wherewithal.

Who was AL-Ghazali?

Abū Hāmid Muhammad ibn al-Ghazālī (1058-1111) was born and died in Tus, in the Khorasan province of Persia (modern day Iran). He was a Islamic theologian, jurist, philosopher, cosmologist, physician, psychologist and mystic of Persian origin, and remains one of the most celebrated scholars in the history of Sufi Islamic thought. He is considered a pioneer of the methods of doubt and skepticism, and in one of his major works, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, he changed the course of early Islamic philosophy, shifting it away from an Islamic metaphysics influenced by ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophy, and towards an Islamic philosophy based on cause-and-effect that were determined by God or intermediate angels, a theory now known as “occasionalism.”

Ghazali and the Poetics of Imaginations starts with a 32 page comprehensive introduction, nine sections and a conclusion . The book is a symphonic rhapsody of the understanding of the “SELF.” It is very difficult to translate the Arabic word NAFS or NAFS-AL-EMAREH into a meaningful English word. The word “SELF” may asymptotically approach the true meaning of NAFS but never reaches the complexity, richness and centricity of its Arabic equivalent. This book is all about “SELF”.

”The first segment “Agnostics of the Self” pushing skepticism to its limit, the author acknowledges that Ghazali’s ethics are at time inseparable from his poetics (imagination.)

Section 2 has this book, author Ebrahim Moosa, devotes to the discourse to “Narrativity of the Self”, a brilliant exegesis of Ghazali’s ability to wed poetic imagination and rational ideas. He forwards the argument that Ghazali was skeptical toward “and took a dim view of the confabulations promoted by specialist raconteurs and story-tellers.” As a physician, I am acutely aware that confabulation is a symptom of systemic poisoning of certain parts of the brain, namely Para-median grey that is destroyed by too much alcohol and cannabis. The pseudo-Sufis of Ghazali’s time, one may conclude, did indulge heavily in both.

Section 3, “Poetics of Memory and Writings” reminded me of the book 11 of Saint Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions, devoted entirely to Memory. It combines Plato’s views on writing, some explanation of the origin of the myth of writing, and explore authoritatively, the contribution of Neo-Platonist to understanding memory and writing.

The subsequent six sections on “Liminality and Exile”, ”Grammar of the Self” which includes “Grammar of Religion”, “Metaphysics of Belief—Faith in a nutshell”, “Dilemma of anathema of Heresey”, ”Hermeneutics of the self” and “Technologies of the Self” complete the volume.

Who is Ebrahim Moosa?

Dr. Moosa is the former Associate Research Professor of religious studies and Director of The Center for the Study of Muslim Networks at Duke University. In my experience with languages, the humanities, and religious studies, I have found that these fields attract a disproportionate number of pretend-scholars, phonies, and pseudo-historians, if not downright charlatans. There are “experts” in Mowlana Masnavi Molavi Rumi who market distorted ideas and cleverly sell Rumi, while not knowing a word of Farsi, the language of Rumi. Edward Fitzgerald and Rubaiiat (quatrains) of Omar Khayyam is another example of clever marketing and exploitation of the most holy name in Sufism. For example, in one quatrain, where Khayyam speaks of a “14 year old beloved and a two year old wine….” he is not speaking of a lecherous pedophile who is a wine guzzler. Khayyam is speaking of Prophet Mohammad pbwh who at the age 40 (four ten or ‘fourteen’) was called upon by Angel Gabriel to found Islam, and it took two years (the fruit or the wine), the Holy Quoran, to be completed. These are but a few examples of the attraction of the fields of humanities and religious studies for the unwashed and uninitiated pseudo-scholars who exploit their subjects…

Professor Moosa is not a phony! He is an Arab, he knows the language, and has a deep understanding of the Arab and Persian cultures. His remarkable knowledge of the subject and brilliant exegesis of the life and writings of Al-Ghazali make reading of his book a sheer pleasure. For those who would like to gain a better understanding of the rich tapestry of Sufism, mysticism and witness the holy marriage of poetry, transcendent imagination and disciplined facts of the past (not history), this book is gold mine.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association; and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is a Raleigh, North Carolina writer and dramaturge and the 2016 winner of the NC Award in Fine Arts.

 

 

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On Letting Off the Steam of Anger…

Monday Musings for Monday June 1, 2020
Volume X, No. 22/485

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Mount St. Helen

Preventing Anger From Erupting

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

(Editor’s note: 40 years ago, on May 11, 1980 Mount St. Helen volcano, State of Washington, erupted causing enormous damage and death of 67 people. The news media across the world, simulated the incidence to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius of Italy in 79 AD. The article below ran in the op-ed page of the Sunday May 25, 1980 edition of the Fayetteville Observer, Fayetteville, NC. In my practice, I see ever increasing level of anger on domestic, national and international scenes. I am especially concerned about domestic violence, the volcanic eruption of parental anger to which coronavirus and being locked up for extended periods of time has contributed much. .Parents, adolescents and children could all benefit by the simple steps outlined in the article).

 The recent eruption of the Mount Saint Helen’s volcano reminded me of how some people deal with their anger. Anger exists. Everyone needs to recognize, understand, and channel this ever-present emotion so that it does not become destructive. The fellow, who went to the Texas clock tower and gunned down 42 people several years ago, is a good example of how a human volcano can erupt, and indeed cause more destruction than a true volcano.

It is a serious and damaging condition not to be able to express anger. We either allow it to fester so when it is expressed it becomes explosive; we turn it inward so it turned into depression, ulcers and heart attacks; or we take it out on other people who did not cause it; or we learn to resolve it which is obviously the most reasonable and healthful way to deal with anger.

I am outlining four basic steps in resolution of anger. They are:

The first step is to recognize the anger. People often speak of being disappointed, frustrated or let down, or hurt when they are actually repressing anger. Also the anger may be denied because we feel guilty about it, that it is not nice or we are afraid to express it.

The second step in the resolution of anger is to recognize the real source of your anger. This may require professional help.

After you recognize your anger and know where it is coming from; the third step is to try to understand the reason for your anger. Some people feel so guilty about their angry feelings that they try to over-compensate or deny them. An example is the saccharin sweet person who is not really sweet at all but a bitter individual, and, because we sense this, we avoid associating with them.

The fourth step is to deal with the anger realistically. A constructive confrontation with the person provoking the anger may be reasonable.

A word about confrontation: When you try confrontation you should say “I am angry at the way you’re treating me” rather than “you are no good, you are evil and I am angry at you” …by verbalizing how the behavior is affecting you, you are not “wiping out” the other person, but making them aware of your feelings and clearing the air so that the bad feelings do not fester and turn into depression and ulcers…

If confrontation is impractical or impossible, and you must put up with the situation, you should find other outlets for the energy. Some useful outlets are strenuous exercise, beating on a pillow, beating on a dummy or other inanimate objects, which does not affect damage. Whatever you do, don’t suppress your anger. It’ll turn into depression, ulcers, heart attacks, stroke, etc. Ninety-five percent of all hospital beds are occupied by folks who don’t have the simple skills of resolving their anger as outlined above.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On Memorial Day…

Monday Musings for Monday May 25, 2020
Volume X, No. 21/484

arlington

Memorial Day, Pericles, Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

Today is Memorial Day. Some reflections:

In so many great books and in so many great bodies of literature, we are told that “to die for one’s own country is the noblest deed.” The conceptual architectonics of this notion goes back to 5th century BC Athens and to mid-nineteen century AD America. The architects are two superb statesmen, Pericles of Athens and Abraham Lincoln of America separated by almost 2500 years. The occasion was the funeral oration by Pericles for the war dead in Athens 404 BC, and the funeral oration by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg in 1865 AD for the America’s civil war dead. Both speeches proclaim that democracy is worth sacrificing lives and spending the nation’s financial and material resources. In their speeches, Pericles and Lincoln forcefully and eloquently submit that “to die for the cause of democracy and national unity is the noblest act.”

Pericles and Lincoln, these two incomparable souls had qualities that set them apart as statesmen. They were not merely politicians. They both had bedrock principles and solid foundation of beliefs that did not change with public polls and political expedience. They both had a moral compass and had a sense of absolute right and wrong. They each had a vision for their nation as a model for the world and humankind, and they had the ability to build consensus. Pericles and Lincoln both led their respective nations, Greece and America, into civil wars. Pericles led his nation to war between Sparta and Athens (431 to 404 BC), and Lincoln led America to our Civil War (1861 to 1865). The Athenians and Spartans spoke the same language and worshipped the same gods. So did the Confederate soldiers and their brethren to the north. They spoke English (or according to H. L. Menken they all spoke ‘American’) and worshipped the same God. As an aside: you will enjoy reading H.L. Menken’s “American Language” which gives a deep analysis contrasting British English with American English.

The Origin of Memorial Day

The journey starts with Pericles and his funeral oration of 404 BC. Later Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BC to 19 BC), usually called Virgil or Vergil in English, the celebrated Roman poet in his famous epic poem in Latin, Aeneid, translated the words of Pericles from Greek to Latin. Lincoln, an intellectual and scholar, had read Aeneid as much as he had read the Bible. Aeneid is a poem about war. It spells out the conduct and the protocol of man at war. Virgil came to the conclusion that men who gave their lives to their country should be memorialized. Virgil popularized Pericles’ of views some 400 years earlier, laying down the roots of what we today know as Memorial Day.

Lincoln used Virgil’s concept of memorializing the dead soldiers. He also emulated Pericles who with unparalleled eloquence and clarity concluded that “to die for one’s nation is the noblest deed”. Almost 2500 years after Pericles, Abraham Lincoln, on November 19, 1863 in his funeral oration in 272 words Gettysburg Address told the nation why the war, where he was going with the war, and what the outcome of the war would be. He clearly articulated why 620,000 soldiers have given their lives. He told the nation that the ultimate goal was to ensure the unity of the nation and guarantee freedom for all Americans.

The Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s marvelous use of words loaded with religious and Biblical symbolisms such as “fourscore, dedicate, consecrate, hallow, and sacred ground” invoked the spiritual dimensions of his persuasive message. And Lincoln did not have a team of speech writers and spin artist pollsters on his staff… In contrast, it is unclear to us why the ill-defined Iraq and Afghanistan wars now going on 16 years, at a cost of thousands of lives, and the expenditure of hundreds of billions dollars, continue. America is still waiting for an explanation of why we are there. Would not it be nice if we had a living Lincoln who could use 272 words to give us this reason?

Memorial Day as we know it today, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Memorial Day was born out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. Memorial Day is now observed in almost every state on the last Monday in May with Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971. This helped ensure a three day weekend for this Federal holiday, though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead.

Salute to the veterans for the noble act of sacrificing for America and condolences to the families of the deceased.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is a dramaturge. Received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On Wagner and Opera…

Monday Musings for Monday May 18, 2020
Volume X. No. 20/483

E9 Bayreuth  Margravial Opera Stage

Bayreuth Margravial Opera Stage

Happy Birthday to Richard Wagner: A Few Thoughts about Opera

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

Friday is Richard Wagner’s 207th birthday (May 22, 1813- February 13, 1883). We celebrate his natal anniversary with joy and some added reflections:
Wagner was a German musician, opera composer, and a disciple of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, (Feb 22, 1788- September 12, 1860) with whom he split over the issue of “toleration”. Wagner was truly a genius. But he hated the Jews and the Italians, all of whom he called barbarians. He also hated the word opera because it is an Italian word and he thought Italians are of a lower race. Instead, he called his work “Music Drama“. Wagner was a contemporary of Verdi (October 10, 1813-Jan 27, 1901), the world famous and renowned Italian Opera Composer. Toward the end of his life, Wagner had a change of heart about Italians and had some good things to say about Verdi. But he remained a staunch anti-Semite.

Richard Wagner, the ruthless, racist and megalomaniacal genius not only composed his own opera but wrote the libretto (pleural, libretti), designed the stage, and conducted the work. His compositions are not just opera but an all-encompassing Gesamtkunstwerk, like the Super Bowl halftime show! In addition to writing the libretto, composing the music, and designing his sets, he was a brilliant prose writer. I recommend getting a hold of some 12 volumes of his original work and read them for the sheer power of their syntax and thematic composition.

He also architecturally created the Bayreuth Opera House where his work was produced and staged. After 201 years, almost all of his operas including Flying Dutchman, Ride of Valkyries, Tannhauser, and Die Meistersinger Von Numbergare are a steady diet of most opera houses and symphonies throughout the world. Several years ago, the North Carolina Symphony played in the first half of the program, Prelude to Act I, Lohengrin. The second half featured the memorable performance of virtuoso violinist, Itzhach Perlman playing Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 35, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. As an aside, on May 12, 2015, the world renown violinist, Joshua Bell, played Jean Sibelius’ Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 27, with North Carolina Symphony to a standing room only crowd in Raleigh’s Meymandi Concert Hall. And there will be a special program of classical music with Conductor Grant Llewelyn featuring Joshua Bell this coming fall. Raleigh has an extraordinarily rich cultural life.

Back to Wagner:

Wagner’s writings and Teutonic operas tell us that he had a deep knowledge
of history. His operas, especially Tristan and Isolde, and the “Ring Cycle” consisting of four operas, 18 hours, are full of Zoroastrian parables, Buddhist reference to “nothingness” before becoming “something” and the writings of Rumi, Shams Tabrizi, and Baba Taher Oryan. He loved Aryan Persians as much as he hated the Jews. He spoke of the Jews as inferior creatures preoccupied with usury, money changing, and nothing else. He made fun of Jewish cantorial music and ridiculed the religious tradition of the
Jewish synagogue.

Delving into his personal life, one discovers that he was an illegitimate child of a Jew, Ludwig Geyer. He was born in the Jewish quarter of Leipzig, the ninth child of Carl Friedrich Wagner who died six months after Richard’s birth, following which Wagner’s mother began living with the actor and playwright Ludwig Geyer with whom she had a longstanding relationship. Ludwig was a friend of Richard’s late father. Richard almost certainly suspected that Geyer was his natural father. He and Ludwig whom he publicly
called “Dad” shared a love of theater, opera and language. Around age 14, however, Richard changed his name from Richard Geyer back to Richard Wagner.

In his early life, Wagner was heavily influenced by Shakespeare and Goethe. He was determined to set the writings of these two illustrious authors into music. In 1826, at age 13, he started to take music lessons. By 1827, the family had moved back to Leipzig. Wagner’s first lessons in harmony were taken in 1828-1831. In January 1828 he first heard Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and then, in March, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony performed in the Gewandhaus. Beethoven became his inspiration, and Wagner wrote a piano transcription of the 9th Symphony. Regarding his obscure genealogy, He often kiddingly said “Maybe Beethoven is my dad!”… Wagner was also greatly impressed by a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. From this period we have Wagner’s early piano sonatas and his first attempts at orchestral overtures. In 1829 he saw the dramatic soprano Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient on stage, and she became his ideal of the fusion of drama and music in opera. In his autobiography, Wagner wrote, “If I look back on my life as a whole, I can find no event that produced and left so profound an impression upon me.” He had an unsuccessful marriage to his second wife, Cosima, and had disastrous relationships with other women including Minna Wagner.

In Wagner lies an enigma. He was a truly brilliant artist with gifts in music composition, writing, poetry, and deep knowledge of history who was pathologically intolerant of others, especially Jews. Yet he was the son of a Jew and had Jewish DNA. His profound anti-Semitic rant has given to millions of words of psychobabble attempting to explain that his hatred of Jews was deeply rooted in self-hatred. As a person, he had no shred of
decency and no touch of sublime humanity. He broke with his idol and mentor, philosopher Schopenhauer, because of Wagner’s extreme hatred of Jews. Schopenhauer could not take Wagner’s extreme intolerance of the Jews. Personally, I take and enjoy Wagner’s rich and lasting contributions to the arts and literature, and merely ignore the rest of him. Wagner was a superb writer and philosopher.

On the local scene in Raleigh, the transfer of Dix property to the city of Raleigh was accomplished on May 5, 2015. A group of citizens is working very hard to create a world class destination park on the 303 acres of land in the heart of downtown Raleigh for all to enjoy. Personally, I am looking forward to the day we will have an opera house built on Dix Park, NC’s Central Park. With such a venue, we can not only do the more lavish and demanding Wagner operas, but stage some modern operas the list of which is approaching 90. I have noticed and admired the Met’s willingness to add some of the modern operas such as Cyrano de Bergerac with Placido Domingo as Cyrano, Sondra Radvanovsky (Roxanne), and librettist Henry Cain. I have yet to see any opera in America by Michael Tippett, Hans Verner Henze and Olivier Messiaen (I saw his Saint Francois D’Assie in Paris several years ago), and other composers.

Meantime, Happy 205th Birthday to Richard Wagner!

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is a dramaturge. Received Raleigh
Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On Humanity…

Monday Musings for Monday May 11, 2020
Volume X. No. 19/482

st-augustinemaimonidesIbn_Khaldun

St. Augustine of Hippo, Moses Maimonides, Ibn Khaldoun

 

Omnipotence or Ominous Impotence

Of Human and Humanity

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

Looking over the annals of human history, it is undeniable that we have made progress in industry, mechanization, discoveries, and advancement in health, technology and finance.  After all, we put men on the moon with their safe return to earth more than 50 years ago.  But one wonders if we have made any progress in civility, humanity and assertion of the necessity of love and charity in human relation.  One wonders if we have succeeded in overcoming greed, if we have learned to stop manipulating, exploiting and using our fellow humans for our selfish gain.  

1770 BC, a fellow by the name of Hammurabi, in Khuzestan, a part of Susa, Persian Empire, wrote a set of 282 rules or laws, each of which dealing with the rights of individual and the ultimate respect for one another. Over 50 of the 282 codes deal with equality of humans and specifically with the dignity and rights of women. 

Cyrus the Great, the Persian Emperor, to whom the Bible has more than 100 references over 2500 years ago, ruled his kingdom with dignity and beneficence. One of the Biblical references, for example, Isaiah 45, calls Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, the Messiah.  Cyrus  emancipated the Jews and established equal rights for men and women.  In managing his vast empire, to be in touch with his emissaries, rulers in distant parts of the kingdom, he developed a formal service charged with sending and receiving communiqués to and from his lieutenants, thus the birth of the postal service which he called “Peyk”. The cabinet of Cyrus the Great consisted of twelve vizirs (ministers or secretaries) several of whom were women. The first person in charge of the Royal mail service was a woman.  Her name was Mithra (which in Zoroastrian parlance means, dignity). The father of the United States Postal Service (USPS), the polymath Benjamin Franklin, has referred to Mithra in both official language, as well as amorous terms.  After all, the gentleman was a lady’s man!  No wonder he had special regards for Mithra…In 2020, in the same county, Persia, they are stoning women for as insignificant offense of showing their hair, or ankles or holding hands with a male in public. Is this progress in civility, humanity and human dignity?

Fast forward the clock of history.  Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (24 February 1463 – 17 November 1494), the Italian Renaissance philosopher, at the age of 23, in 1483, in his equivalent to today’s PhD thesis proposed to defend 900 theses on religion, philosophy, natural philosophy and magic against all comers.  The result was the famous Oration on the Dignity of Man.  It has been called the “Manifesto of the Renaissance”, and a key text of Renaissance humanism.  In this essay, Pico invokes the writings and thoughts of all ancient wise men, going back to Moses, Zoroaster, Zerubbabel, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Platonic philosophers and well neo-platonic philosophers such as Plotinus to conclude: “At last, the Supreme Maker spoke: we have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.”

So, where are we?  Why we are not rising to the superior orders in advancing the cause of humanity, human dignity and enhance connectedness in human family?

Saadi Shirazi, the eloquent Persian poet (born 1210, died 1290) has a poem, the rough translation is (Bani Adam, the progenies of Adam. That is to say, we humans) are organs of one body…An organ separated from body cannot function…So, we humans without one another cannot function…”  He goes on to say, “If one organ of the body is ill and aches, the rest of the body experiences pain and become restless…” I do not know of any more eloquent and descriptive simile that illustrates human being’s connectedness and brotherhood.  Yet we have constant war, constant destruction and constant killing.  In America, we have a population of 330 million or about 4.5 to 5% of the world’s roughly seven billion, yet we consumed over 25% of the world reservoir of energy. We have over 2.5 million people in prison, more than any other developed nation. Reliable sources report up to 80% of our prison and jail population have a diagnosable psychiatric illness and should be treated in rather than imprisoned. Certainly, what International Affairs Committee is doing and has done since its inception in 1995 is helpful to bring these matters to the forefront of consciousness, and bring people together. Congratulations the NADE’s Board of Director and to host Jeffrey Price.

The title I have chosen for “Monday Musings” today “Omnipotence or Ominous Impotence” draws on these historical facts. The life of Neolithic man on this earth is short, about ten thousand years.  Looking back 8000 years ago with the emergence of Sumerians and invention of writing in Lydia, the world has witnessed rise and fall of many dynasties, empires and powerful nations. There was Mesopotamian kingdom, Acadians, Egyptians, and the mighty Roman Empire, Pax Romana, which was destroyed by Rome’s pre-occupation with the affairs of the Middle East. Then there was the Persian Empire now in shambles,  and in modern day, the empires emerging in the developed world, British Empire and now America…  Pax Americana…They have all experienced omnipotence, yet the ignominious ending has been nothing but impotence, destruction and reduction to a vague memory forgotten in the dustbin of human history. In England, there was Lady Matilda Maud (1102-1167) who first wrote a manifesto of human and women rights. Her activities led to emergence and development of King John’s Magna Carta in 1215. In America, Susan B Anthony (1820-1906) fashioned her activities after Lady Maud. In 1920, the 19th amendment to the Constitution signed by President Woodrow Wilson gave women right to vote.  

With the historical decline and retrogression of human values and the humanities, I am offering some thoughts and suggestions. The history of humanity has offered us some brilliant role models who forcefully invite us to espouse the kind of altruism that promises the salvation of humanity

I want to invoke the names of three brilliant stars in the intellectual firmament whose teachings have influenced human behavior the most. The first one is  Saint Augustine of Hippo, born 345, died 430 AD. He was born a pagan, converted to Christianity at age 32, in 386, was baptized Easter Sunday April 4, 387. He wrote 49 volumes in theology, philosophy and other topics related to humanities, a total of 25 millions words. Saint Augustine’s autobiography, 13 books of Confessions bravely talks about his stealing from his parents, fathering a son out of wedlock, stealing pears form neighbor’s yard, lying to his mother and finally sneaking off to Carthage, thence to Rome where he became a Manichean and finally met his intellectual superior in the person of St. Ambrose in Milan. St. Ambrose one of four Latin Doctors (besides Augustine, Saint Jerome, and Pope Gregory) was instrumental in setting Augustine’s course to conversion and ultimately to priesthood  and Sainthood.  

Saint Augustine’s writing is replete with man’s dalliance with false omnipotence. He wrote extensively about narcissism, self indulgence and greed. As a matter of fact, he called a newborn baby not a bundle of joy and innocence, but a bundle of sin, because the baby is wrapped up in self and survival and removed from consideration of others.  This is what in psychoanalytic jargon is called “primary infantile autism” or “primary infantile narcissism”. As the child grows and the central nervous system matures, reality testing skills and learning to have consideration for and, deference to, others are developed. The opportunity to grow and become more altruistic, more giving, and less selfish and self centered is the gift of life. Saint Augustine was a proponent of the concept of grace and salvation. He espoused Pauline theology of grace which briefly is described as “an unearned and undeserved free gift”.  He wrote more than a million words on grace.

The second brightest star of the intellectual firmament we are exploring is Moses Maimonides of Cordoba, born 1135, died 1204, a Jewish physician, colleague, theologian, philosopher, clinician and practitioner. He too wrote about ten million words in his life time.  He, too, was concerned about the issue of grace and salvation. Moses, in spite of being the Caliph’s personal physician in Cordoba, was reissued by anti-Semitic forces to flee to Egypt. The is a small statue of Moses (Rambam) in Cordoba. Emily and I take a single long stem rose  and place it at his statue every time we are in Cordoba. We do the same when we visit the tomb of Claudio Monteverdi, father of Western Opera (Orpheo et Euridice 1607) in Iglesia de Santa María Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice, Veneto Region, Italy.

The third brightest star of the intellectual constellation is Ibn Khaldoun, born 1336, died 1420, an Arab/Muslim theologian, economist, philosopher, music lover and advocate and writer. He too wrote about 10 millions words in his lifetime. Ibn Khaldoun was the father of trickledown economics which was adopted by the late President Reagan in 1981. Reagan appointed Columbia Professor Robert Mundell, as Chair of the White House Economic Council. My late wife, Emily, and I had lunch with him at his villa near Florence in 1993. And our conversation was around Ibn Khaldoun whose books and writings surrounded Robert’s study. He won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1999, after fathering the birth of Euro as a unit of currency for Europe. At the age 87, he is now busy developing a unit of currency for the Middle East. Incidentally, Ibn Khaldoun’s advocacy of music was ingenious.  A word of history of the role of music in Islam is in order: 

Prophet Mohammad (pbwh), the founder of Islam, was born 580 AD.  At age 40, 620 AD, he started Islam and two years later, the Islamic Holy Book, Quran, was completed.  In early Islam, music and paintings were prohibited by Islamic cannon and Fatwa. Ibn Khaldoun, a lover of music noted that it is permissible to sing the passages from Quran as the Muezzins sing their invitation to prayer from minarets five times a day. He suggested to the ruling grand Ayatollah of the day to organize a competition and invite the best readers of various Islamic nations to come to a place and compete, picking the best singers of the Quran passages. It is called Talavat  Quran Majeed. It started in 1365 and continues to this day. It is like the Olympics of signing. He later introduced percussion (tablah) and strings to enhance the majesty of Qur’anic passages. The Talavat competition has gone on uninterruptedly since 1365. The only other  continuous musical event regardless of war, depression and uncertainties is Handle’s Messiah, since 1742.  The performance was attended by George I. He was so moved by its Alleluia chorus that he stood up, handing down the custom to this day.   

These three writers’ advice against hubris, omnipotence, appearance and glitz, repeatedly warn us not to mistake ominous impotence for power and omnipotence. The distilled message of almost 60 million words written by these three sages is—and I am offering it as a take home treat–  “The road to grace, salvation is to know what is good inside of you, that is intellect love, compassion, altruism, empathy, access to the rich array of so many other feelings; and knowing what is good outside of you, family, connectedness, friendship, music, nature, flowers, dance, and poetry; And to be thankful for them by giving something back and making a difference in the lives of others. The issue of awareness is very important. It takes discipline to be aware. The heightened form of awareness in Sufi is called “Zekr”, that is to be constantly of aware of all good things inside and outside..Mowlana Rumi sid “Blessed those who are in Zekr, they are in constant prayer…”  What do we do with all this doom and gloom and pessimism?  I think there is hope, there possibility, there is redemption.

I believe that ultimately for those who believe in God that God wants us humans, His children or Her children (I am comfortable with the notion of god as a woman) to succeed and progress. From time to time, one is chosen to become a role model. He sent Buddha to teach us patience, wisdom and awareness. He sent Zoroaster to give us the concept of good and evil, epistemological dualism. He sent Moses to exemplify discipline, devotion and yes, the gift of doubt. He sent Jesus of Nazareth to demonstrate the power of love. He sent Mohammad to offer us Islam total submission to the will of God. He sent Mozart to illustrate the power of music. This every day common man with multiple organ system failure, including kidneys  and liver ravaged by alcohol, mourning the death of his mother and his little daughter, in the summer 1886 wrote Symphony in G minor, topping the trio with Jupiter Symphony in C major.  No mere human can do this.  Finally he sent America, our Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Madison, Benjamin Franklin and others to give us a system of government, a Republic, that cherishes the supremacy of rule of law, and not the whims of kings, shahs and Ayatollahs.  America is a decent and generous nation. America is there in case of natural disaster, in Tahiti, in Pakistan, in Nepal and Myanmar. America is a land that allows its citizens to reach their maximum potential. I am very optimistic about the future of the world because the world has America. 

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Mother’s Day…

Monday Musings for Monday May 5, 2020
Volume X No. 18/481

mother

Happy Mother’s Day

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon) DLFAPA*

Mother’s Day is coming on Sunday May 10.

Mothers have a special place in the construction and fiber of every society– Western, Eastern, Northern and Southern. Way before the prophets of the Old Testament, Avesta, the Zoroastrian Bible, recorded the “lofty status of mothers before the shrine of Ahoura-Mazda . . .” In the writings of Cyrus the Great, the liberator of Jews from Babylon, who reigned nearly 2600 years ago, he repeatedly insisted that “The wisdom and love of mothers should be employed in all ranks and posts of the government…”

Mothers indeed were more than slaves who cooked and kept the children clean. In the court of Cyrus the Great, there were many mothers as high functionaries and Viziers (ministers). In the personal notes of Benjamin Franklin, credited for founding US Postal Services, he refers to Cyrus the Great the inventor of the postal service, and his first Postmaster General who was a woman by the name of Mithra.

In biological terms, the relationship between a mother and her fetus is unique and unparalleled. This is the ultimate in intimacy: fusion of two human beings, loving, protecting and nurturing of one person, the fetus, who is in the process of becoming, by another person, the mother. A pregnant woman–prospective mother– offers such an in depth and stirring example of “giving-of-one’s-self-totally-to-another” (altruism) that no psychiatrist or behavioral scientist has ever been able to fathom and explain. Freud has written much about women’s penis envy. I am afraid we men cannot have that ultimate form of intimacy in a relationship that women have. Only in recent years have we been looking at, and talking about, this form of ubiquitous pervasive envy that men unconsciously have, being blind to the fact that many men have womb (uterus) envy, that they hold for women.

Frankly, a pregnant woman is angelic in sight. The rich hormones estrogen, progesterone, oxytocin, and oodles of other corticosteroids make her soft, loving, lovable and pure. The mere appearance of a pregnant woman stirs all kinds of noble and altruistic feelings in others. We want to reach out and help, carry their baggage, compulsively ask about how far along they are, and many other brotherly and platonic gestures of love and compassion. I don’t know of any other sight that evokes more noble and altruistic feelings in mankind than the sight of a mother-to-be.

Mothers are saints. Have you noticed that at times of extreme stress, even the most powerful people immediately think of their mothers? This is almost a reflex reaction as commonplace as the knee jerk. When Napoleon Bonaparte was captured in Russia, he cried vociferously, “ou es tu, maman? . . .” “Mother, where are you?” In our own era, when the late former President Nixon was forced out of office, while almost crying, he spoke of “my mother was a saint …”, while 100 million people watched on TV. Much attention has been paid to this fairly inappropriate remark. However, it was most appropriate; because at the time of stress we tend to call on our most intimate and powerful friends. One’s mother, at the time of total impotence and distress is indeed the most intimate powerful and rescuing force.

Being a mother is the most important job on earth. It is also the least rewarded and the least recognized job by the western societies. It takes the nurturing, the selflessness, the staying up all night, the love and care of a mother to raise a child. No creature, under any circumstance, gives so much, so unselfishly, so constantly as does a mother.

My own mother, with whom I share the same birthday died in 1994 at the age 101. Kobra, who was always called Janbibi– means BiBi or Lady of the world-was never, ever, by any one in our family called by her given name Kobra, which would have been blasphemous–loved life. She loved music, dance, poetry, singing, chansons, and parties. And yes, she loved to travel. Like her parents, she, too, fed the poor and there were regular intervals when they made rice and lamb and served them in huge copper trays to the masses that would come to their vast court yard. Our mother was equally serious about knowledge, learning, education, and studying. She had us all memorize Hafez, Saadi, Rumi and of course, the Holy Quor’an. Right up to the last days of her life, when I would talk to her on the phone, after the preliminary exchange of greetings she wanted to know “What did you learn today?” or “What are you reading today?”…

A Personal Note

One of the myriad of things my mother has done for me is to sharpen my sense of observation and awareness. Often when climbing stairs together, when we reached the top of the stairs, she would say “Ageh gufti tchand ta pelleh? Can you tell me how many steps? We travelled together much and she counted the steps in all places- we climbed the 898 steps to the top of the Washington Monument; we climbed the 710 steps of Eiffel Tower in Paris, not only once, but several times; we climbed the 354 steps to the crown of the Statue of Liberty in NY, not to mention the 463 steps going up to the top of Duomo in Florence, Italy and the 285 steps separating the upper hilly Buda and the lower Pest, in Budapest, Hungary, just to name a few adventures…

Well, my mother’s gift, in addition to the gift of medical education which puts extremely high value on observation and encourages paying attention to detail of what one sees, as well as memorizing facts, have made me a quite aware human being. We (my brothers and sisters) have all read the Holy Quor’an over and over.

Do we know how many times the name Allah has been invoked in the 114 Surahs –2,698 times. How many times the name Buddha is invoked in Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy book? Do we know how many words are in the 66 books of the Old and the New Testament, especially in the 1611 King James Translation? In the Old Testament there are 593,493 words and 181,253 in the New Testament giving a total of 774,746 words in the 66 books. I know many members of our families have travelled extensively. Well, in celebrating my heritage, I have set out to count the number of times the names of the Kings of Persia are invoked in the 66 books of the Bible. The result is astounding. Isaiah is the best press for the Old Persian kings. For example, Isaiah 45 is almost singularly devoted to the doings of King of Persia whom they called Messiah. Isaiah is pure PR and good press for the liberator King of Persia…In the book of Esther 3, Haman, assistant or Vizier to King of Persia, Ahashuerus, who hated Mordecai, shows how the wise king handled the dispute…At any rate according to my count there are dozens of references to the Kings of Persia in the Bible. The origins of the Persian months starting with Nisan (see my Monday Musings for Nowruz, March 21, 2017 which lists all the months of the Old Persian calendar) are all recorded in the Old Testament.

Today, as I recall my mother and with intoxication and spiritual élan, I celebrate that lady’s birthday. I wish all to be infused with love of knowledge, love of wisdom, love of sensitivity to the needs of others with beneficence and altruism. That would satisfy Kobra Meymandi, our Janbibi, and our Lady of The World. She was a magnificent teacher and learner. Right up to the last moment, she sang and wrote poetry. She had faith in herself, in her God and in her children.

Salute to all mothers.

Kobra Hanjari Meymandi died in 1994 at age 101. The Raleigh Concert Hall, home to the North Carolina Symphony which opened on February 21, 2001, was named for her.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is a dramaturge. Received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award,

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