Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Only

Couldn't concentrate last night on studying for my exam tomorrow, felt a bit down. Wrote this poem instead in half an hour. Somehow the words are stronger and have more meaning in Chinese. Some of it is lost in translation, I'm sure. Below is the poem in Chinese, atonal pinyin, and English. I may explain it later.



(wei yi)

(ni hai ji de wo ma?)
(ni hai ren shi wo ma?)
(wo shi ni de shen me?)
(zhi shi yi ge peng you.)
(kan bu dao wo,)
(ting bu dao wo,)
(ni bu zhi dao,)
(bu zhi dao wo de bing.)
(wo de xiong kou ya zhe,)
(wo de xin shou zua zhe,)
(ke shi lian bu gan dong.)
(mei you qi neng hu xi,)
(mei you yan lei neng ku.)
(zhi you wo yi ge ren,)
(mei you di er ge ren,)
(yong yuan xiang zhi yang ma?)
(wo qing ni kan zhe wo,)
(ting zhe wo, ji de wo,)
(ren shi wo, zhi dao wo.)
(wo bu neng zhi shi wo yi ge ren.)

The Only

Do you remember me?
Do you recognize me?
What am I to you?
Just a friend.
You don't see me,
don't hear me.
You don't know,
don't know my pain.
There's a pressure on my chest,
there's a hand grasping my heart,
but my face is unmoved - emotionless.
There is no air I can breathe,
no tears I can cry.
There is only me,
there is no other person.
Will it always be like this?
I ask you to look at me,
hear me, remember me,
recognize me, know me.
I can't be just me anymore.

Picture from here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

In Defiance . . .

. . . against studying for my exams next week. This is a really random post and it may end up being longer than I intend. You've been forewarned. :P

I was on my way to the library today to study during the football game because the library would be deserted. On my way, I took this pic:
No joke, I was literally within a meter or so of that deer. And it didn't even flinch. Just stood there eating. The deer on north campus here must be really used to people.

Speaking of creatures, there are a lot of fruitflies in my apartment. Which makes little sense because there isn't any fruit laying out, much less overripe fruit. I think these fruitflies have evolved to live off another food source, like my chocolate. I saw a fruitfly in my bag of chocolates (don't worry, the chocolates were still in their wrappers) and I thought that was odd.

Yesterday (Friday) I had the LONGEST lab meeting ever. I was good for all by the last 10 minutes or so, in which I began nodding off. I made the unfortunate choice of sitting right in front of the presenter's seat. So every time the PI looked back to talk to the presenter, he had to look past me (at least the presenter couldn't see if I was nodding off or not). I had also planned to attempt my apparently very ambitious 1-day Western blot. Apparently I am the "expert" on Western blots in my lab (my lab is not a protein lab). So much so that my researcher, while absent due to studying for the USMLE, has charged me with troubleshooting the Western blot technique in the lab and developing a modified protocol for our experiments. That did not happen on Friday as I had to measure and aliquot the amount of protein to use, and by then I didn't want to stay in lab any longer. To get an idea of how long a Western blot takes, skim the following (it's boring, so I won't blame anyone for skipping):

1.5 hours running the protein gel
30 minutes transferring the proteins from gel to membrane
1-2 hours blocking the membrane in milk
1 hour incubating the membrane in primary antibody
10-minute washes in TBS-T solution, 3 times
1 hour incubating the membrane in secondary antibody
10-minute washes in TBS-T solution, 3 times
Expose glow-in-the-dark proteins (if successful) to film and develop

In other news, I brought back my cello over break! I've missed playing my cello. :D I also played my piano a bit while I was home. Oh, right before break, a strange thing occured when I went to the gym. After I had finished working out I wanted to wash my hands, so I walked to the bathroom in the locker room. When I got near there was this guy, in his 40s or 50s I imagine, shaving his head naked at the sinks. I turned around, got dressed, and just left. Who does that (shave their head naked in the locker room, I mean)?!

Speaking of working out, I've come to realize that my legs are disproportionately more muscular than the rest of me, but not by a huge margin. My arms and shoulders are developing nicely (albeit slowly), and to think that 3 years ago I wouldn't even dream of seeing even the faint traces of muscle there. Now, if only there was a good way to work out my abs to get rid of the flab there (and to lose 10-15 lbs in general) . . . anyone have any suggestions?

The last two weeks or so have been really strange for me. Each day I swing back and forth between being really horny and really not horny. And by really horny I mean suddenly getting hard and all sensitive down there and then jacking off 2-3 times in 2 hours. My skin's starting to get sore from going back and forth so much, maybe I should use some lube if this trend continues . . .

Anyway, the real point of this post. I have a take-home exam in epidemiology that I'm avoiding. And I have to study for my toxicology (anti-pharmacy) exam next Thursday which I'm avoiding. I really shouldn't as that exam can kick my ass. I also have to write something up on biobanking. So what was I doing to avoid studying? Reading blogs. So while listening to several of Brahms' symphonies, I read the following blogs and left a batch of comments (potentially to the annoyance of their owners?):

Small Step on the Other Side
AJ's Ramblings
The Random Thoughts of Crash

All are cool new bloggers, so go over and say hi! :D Also, give AJ a hug, he needs one right now.

Lastly, a quote I told Tim from a story of a boy and the universe I'd post:

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more than facts. Its is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company . . . a church . . . a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past . . . we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude . . . I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you . . . we are in charge of our attitudes."

~ Charles Swindoll

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Life is for the Living

I'm putting the tangent at the beginning this time because the post following this is quite long. So there appear to be an exponential increase in blogs of late, haha. I haven't gotten around to all of them (or even the older ones that I've had bookmarked for some time now). But I did get to the two following:

a story of a boy and the universe
I Gotta Story To Tell

So if you get a chance, go over and say hi. :D

There is a proposal of great concern in my state right now. I know this issue isn't one in many other states, but mine has one of the strictest limitations. And that is Proposal 2, which if passed, would make embryonic stem cell research legal in my state.

Proposal 2 would allow embryos that would otherwise be discarded from fertility clinics - because they're either diseased, inviable, or were created in excess of fertility treatment - to be allowed to be donated to labs to conduct embryonic stem cell research on. Again, these embryos would have been discarded because they're either no longer useful or could never be useful in IVF; and now they can be used for embryonic stem cell research instead of being wasted.

I keep seeing in the student-run newspaper letters to the editor against embryonic stem cell research. And it infuriates me because it exposes the obvious misunderstanding and lack of knowledge on this subject. It's even likely that these opponents of embryonic stem cell research won't even look further into the issue, or that's at least how they sound. I will attempt to debunk several myths/misconceptions used by opponents.

Before I begin, let me very quickly elaborate what embryonic stem cells are. When the embryo is only a few days old, it becomes 2 kinds of cells - the trophoblast and the inner cell mass. These two cells form a hollow ball with the inner cell mass inside the trophoblast (the embryo at this state is also called a "blastocyst"). The inner cell mass has the ability to become any kind of tissue in the human body, whereas the trophoblast cells become all the kinds of non-body cells (i.e. the placenta, amniotic sac, etc). Adult stem cells are partially differentiated, meaning that they can only become a handful of different cells. For example, bone marrow is more or less blood stem cells, so it can become any kind of blood cell in the body. There are skin stem cells that just become skin. So on and so forth. Now to the issues.

The first is that embryonic stem cell research would take away funding from adult stem cell research, which has been proven effective in over 70 different treatments. This is egregiously wrong on many levels. First, embryonic stem cell research would not take away funding from adult stem cell research. Both kinds of stem cells are very important and need to be researched. It stands that adult stem cells just aren't as powerful, or potent, as embryonic stem cells. Also, all of those 70+ or so treatments using adult stem cells are not yet approved and can't be used by the public. They're still in the infancy of clinical testing, or stage 1 (maybe stage 2 if lucky). The most promising thus far is cord blood from the umbilical cord, where the adult stem cells there can be used to create any kind of blood cell in the body to replenish the body's ability to make blood cells after blood cancers like leukemia. But that's all they can do.

The second is why do we still want to use embryonic stem cells when there have been successes in "re-programming" adult stem cells to behave like embryonic stem cells? Well, it's certainly true that by fiddling around with 4 genes that researchers can "revert" adult stem cells back into embryonic stem cells. The problem here is that to do this the researchers have to use a virus to introduce the necessary genes. That's hard and will never pass clinical trials. The second problem is that these 4 genes also control cancer. So in a lot of samples, rather than becoming embryonic stem cells, these re-programmed cells become cancer. And there hasn't yet been a lot of success in bypassing that and making the "reversion" more efficient. So this is more costly and dangerous than just using embryonic stem cells in the first place, though it's an avenue of research that should (and will) continue to be pursued.

This last one is the one I personally hold the most frustration against. And it's the idea that to get embryonic stem cells that embryos are destroyed. Let's be clear on the word "destroyed." Destroyed, as I understand it in this context, means death or the cessation of life. So when embryos are discarded from fertility clinics, they are verily destroyed. Killed, what have you. Embryonic stem cells on the the other hand are very much alive, in fact, they're immortalized. A researcher takes the inner cell mass and grows them on a plate indefinitely, so they're technically still alive. Yes, the embryo as a functional unit is destroyed. But as far as the properties of living go, these cells are very much still alive.

An extension of this is that life is being destroyed when the embryo as a functional unit is destroyed. Let me reiterate, many of the embryos in fertility clinics can't survive anyway. Again, there is no way these embryos can ever develop into a person because they have a defect in their genomes. It's estimated that 2/3 of all pregnancies end in miscarriage and most of the time the woman doesn't even realize she's miscarried. Even the diseased or defective embryos are of use to science because with them we can understand the genetic background underlying development and genetic diseases. If we know that a particular embryo will develop a particular kind of genetic disease, then drugs can be tested on those cells rather than on animals or people.

I'm not going to trample on anyone's definition where "new individualistic life" begins, but know that most of the time, these embryos just won't survive anyway. And the extras will just be thrown away. Discarded. Destroyed. Dead. Why not put all of these - both the ones that can't survive on their own and the extras - and give them a purpose? If one truly believes that life begins at conception, then every single embryo in a fertility clinic - regardless if it can survive or not, if they're extra or not - should be implanted into a woman somewhere and given a "fair" chance at developing into a person. And this just won't happen. It can't.

I watched a documentary a couple days ago called "Life is for the Living." And you see in there all these people with these horrible dieases and accidents such as Parkinson's, type I diabetes, spinal cord injuries, etc. And right now there are no cures for these. Embryonic stem cells do offer real hope and real potential. If research happens, there could be a cure for these problems one day. I could feel my tears well up several times throughout the film and it's hard to believe that people would deny these people, with all the suffering they've had to put up with and people that are fully realized as human beings, a hope or a chance at a treatment or cure.

So here's the issue: there are about 100 million Americans suffering from diseases and disabilities every day and embryonic stem cell research offers the hope for treatment and cures. That's about a third of the US population we're talking about here. And the question is this: are you willing to let these people suffer because you don't want to "take life" by allowing embryonic stem cell research using embryos that will never have a chance of developing into a person anyway? Would you rather save the thousands of embryos in a clinic to be discarded over the millions suffering today, every day?

If after this and you're still against embryonic stem cell research, fine. That's your decision. No one can stop you from opposing it. But please don't deny the millions of people the hope they need. If you don't approve of embryonic stem cell research then don't use any therapeutic treatments or cures that arise from the research. And heaven forbid, if in the future you should break your spine, or get Parkinson's, or get Alzheimer's, just know that you said "no" and that you are happy and proud to refuse any treatment and/or cures that arose from embryonic stem cell research that could improve or even save your life.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

If Only You Were Here

Read first In Memory . . .
I'm sorry I missed your birthday and I only realized now that you're not with us. You'll pardon us if we forget, as we all too often get mired in our busy lives without your bright and lively person to drag us out and have some fun, once in a while. :P But as for me, you'll have to pardon the tears that sporadically threaten to well up in my eyes.

Remember freshman year? The lot of us pre-meds? Haha, we were foolish then (we still are I suppose), but guess what? We made it! We graduated and most of us got accepted to med school, one way or another. We have been able to fulfill another phase on our self-ordained fate, our purpose. You should've been with us, among us, as we celebrated graduation and our acceptances. It's been a rough 4 years, with a particularly stressful senior year as we drove ourselves insane with the med school application process. But now that the dusts have cleared, we move forward again.

You should be here. You deserve to be here. You would've made it as well, I'm sure. You shouldn't have been shafted by the very system you were about to dedicate your life to. You should've gotten better and quicker care from one of the best medical centers in the world here. It's not fair, as it stands, it's not fair.

You would've liked Obama. Haha, yeah you would. You would've campaigned for him until the ends of the Earth; I could see you now on campus - handing out flyers, telling people to vote. You were always outspoken and determined. One way or another change is coming. The world will be different by the time we get out of med school. Hopefully the system that was meant to help everyone actually will. And I hope it saves the next person when it wasn't able to save you.

It's now the transition between seasons, autumn. How beautiful and sad are the changing and falling of leaves. It makes you appreciate the fragility of life, doesn't it? All I have of you are memories now, I don't think we even took a picture together. How sad is that? Oh, if only you were here . . .

Anyway, even if I don't blog, post, or really talk about you again, I want you to know that you'll always be in our thoughts and a part of you will always be with us.

In memory of Kavya V.
10/12/1986 to 10/17/2006

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Much Needed Break

I'm home right now for the next 4 days. Hurray for short fall study break! Too bad it's rather cold at home, as my parents are resisting turning on the heat for as long as possible.

I got my grade on my pathophysiology exam on Monday. I got an A!! :D Apparently our class murdered the average, as it's usually around 60-70% whereas our average was around 81%. There were some poorly worded questions, though none particularly difficult.

This week was my first full week of work. It's tiring - so many tumor samples. Here's a pic of the lobby of my research building. I work on the first floor off to the far right corner.

And 3 days ago I got a package in the mail. When I opened it up, I saw that it was a package from my friend JW-F from New York. It was a venus flytrap!! I've no idea how I'm going to manage to keep it alive in the long-run, but it's really really cool. Maybe it'll eat some of the bugs crawling about my apartment.

I think I'll call it "Zetsu" (villain from the anime Naruto). Yes, I'm dorky like that.

And finally, a few pics to indicate that autumn has truly begun here in the midwest.

Lastly, I added in the sidebar of this blog a section called "Cast of Characters" as I realize that it may be difficult to follow who routinely pops up in my blog, as I code names (because I don't feel like inventing names for people). You may have to scroll down a bit to get to that section.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Long Week (Addendum)

- I present "Exhibit A" otherwise known as my biotransformation (metabolism of toxicants) notes. Everything in cursive and the organic molecules in the margins are in my writing. I need to know this for an exam the day before Halloween. Grrr.

- AG-F, SR-F, and I went to eat Indian food tonight. We all got dosas (large crepe-like things) and naan (flatbread thing). We all suddenly got full within about 5 minutes of each other. And we're still full I'm sure, and it was painful to walk to AG-F's apartment afterwards.

- I got my absentee ballot in the mail! Yay!!

- I did my laundry on Monday. But I still haven't folded it yet. Yeah.

- My calculator officially died. I need new batteries otherwise I can't do my epidemiology and genetics homework (what IS this, homework in grad school?!).

- I woke up this morning at 7:50am or so, to go help out at a flu clinic about 40 minutes away. We also helped with an anthrax emergency preparedness event. So in the event of bioterrorism, know that (at least in my state) the government has your back health-wise.

- I tried to play Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne, with my friend TR-M (JR-M's older brother) because he's been wanting to play with me for like 4 days. Alas, our internet connections didn't like each other. We tried to connect to each other's games for about an hour before giving up.

- My friend JW-M, all the way from Beijing, notified me of the new Blizzard game developments. That effectively disrupted my studying for quite some time. The new Diablo 3 game just announced their 3rd class, the wizard! I'm SO going to play the wizard. Don't judge, just know that even future health professionals play video games from time to time.

- This firefox add-on called ctrl-tab is amazing! I'm so going to use this, as I tend to have like a thousand tabs open at once.

- Heroes is becoming more and more ridiculous, and yet I still watch that show. It's getting interestingly weird now, haha. SR-F was like, "I'm not watching this anymore." Meanwhile, I got AG-F hooked on it, lol.

- AG-F in lab, turning on the computer: "I don't know why I turned the computer on. It's because it has a button. If it has a button, it must be pushed. It's a rule."

- Several times this week I've wanked (I suppose everyone's using this particular slang nowadays) twice within 2 hours. I feel like something's out of balance, because that's way more than usual for me. And now perhaps I've said too much.

- JR-M's girlfriend looks kind of like Allison Mack (from the show Smallville). They could be sisters, except JR-M's girlfriend has blue eyes.

- When I go to sleep tonight, I'm not setting an alarm tomorrow. If I wake up at noon, so be it. And it will be glorious.

I think this brings my long week to a final close.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Long Week

It's been a very long week. I think I already posted about the symposium on aging I had to attend on Monday, so I won't discuss that further. I have a tendency to write a lot in my posts, so for those with short attention spans, I apologize but nothing's going to change overall. But tonight, as every minute of typing is one minute of precious sleep I won't be able to get, I'll restrict myself to 15 minutes as of right now. So if it takes me 15 minutes to type this, it'll certainly take you less than 15 minutes to read this.

Two things of note this week. On Wednesday night, after my pathophysiology exam, I went with CM-M to our friend JR-M's premiere of his movie. I've seen it before but I went anyway to support him. It's really really impressive. With a budget of practically nothing, he made a 30-minute film look practically professional. And I never watched it on a big film screen, so that was really cool. I saw both of his older brothers, the oldest whom I haven't seen in almost a decade (wow . . .). I also talked with JR-M's mom for a while. When I first saw her before the movie started, I went to shake hands (you know, as any proper formal-ish greeting). Instead she just went around for a hug and said, "What's this? It's good to finally have a doctor in the family." That was really touching. After the movie we talked some more, along with CM-M. She's a career counselor, so I think she was kind of silently figuring out whether or not becoming a physician was "right" for me. Since she didn't say anything to the contrary, I'll assume that she approves.

After all was done and said, I went with JR-M and some of his friends at his university to a local bar. It was pretty nice. They had a lot more fun than I did, but that was probably because they all knew each other and I only knew like half of the people who went. I must say though, JR-M found himself a really nice and really hot girlfriend. I'm kind of jealous. I still haven't told JR-M about me being bi, but that night wasn't the right place and time. I wouldn't dare take away his attention and thunder that day. It was all very well-deserved. In any case, I left a little depressed. Most of my close friends moved away since we graduated and I just felt really lonely again.

The other major event was today (Friday). I started working in my new lab today! I had to wake up really early to get to lab meeting, but because I missed the earlier bus, I was 10 minutes late. But they hadn't really started yet, so it was alright. All I have to say is, holy crap I know nothing!! It was a struggle to keep up with all the info.

After the lab meeting, the post-doc I was helping out basically showed me around and taught (but really, re-taught) me some of the things I'll be doing. He's really nice but also really particular, which right now is annoying as I'm still under his supervision. It's okay because I'm particular in the lab too, so once I get his protocols and routines down I'll be okay. By the end of the day I was bombarded with papers and protocols to read!

Oh! The hot MPH/PhD guy (I've mentioned him a couple posts prior) walked into the lab for a while to use a machine down the bench from me. It took some effort not to turn my head and stare. He has one of the hottest smiles I've seen in person - again, he's all tall, lean, and rugged. If he shows up again on this blog I'll have to code him, haha. Also the Spanish PhD visiting scholar, EC-F, is pretty hot herself. Her accent only adds to it all. Our lab went to a bar afterwards (yeah, it seems I've been going to bars a lot recently) and she was really nice to talk to as she asked all about the US and comparing it to Spain. It was good to hang out with the lab outside of work, as you get to know that these are "real people" who aren't just dorky robotic lab things.

I think I'm pretty much done here. I FINALLY got around to reading and catching up to this all-mighty blog: steevo in cali. If you haven't gone over to read, well, do so!

So my time's probably up now. But I'd just like to say two quick things. My lab is a cancer genetic epidemiology lab, so we basically study cancer in the population and how genetics plays a role in all that. I'll elucidate later on exactly what I'm doing, as that's pretty involved.

Now, two, I'm actually quite annoyed with epidemiology. Epidemiology doesn't actually "know" anything, it merely utilizes study designs and statistics to determine associations between two things. It doesn't have a way of determining how things work on a mechanistic level, which annoys me greatly.

I also feel epidemiology is poorly translated into news, as it's really easy to misinterpret the results and disregard the "limitations" section of each paper. And in many papers, the limitations section is the majority of the paper! One topic in particular (I won't go into it here and now, ask me about it in an email if you're that curious) involves one of the most common surgerical procedures in the US and a particularly unique disease. -_-

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Let the Chips Fall Where They May

I really shouldn't be blogging right now. Pathophysiology exam on Wednesday. It's okay though, I managed to just finish going over all my notes. Now to go over them at least another 2 times. I've only got to memorize immology, the pulmonary system, the cardiovascular system, and cancer. No big deal (really, this won't be as hard as it sounds, I hope).

This morning (and by "this morning" I meant yesterday morning, as right now it's 1:45am) I had to wake up at 7am to go to a symposium on global aging. Ugh. Take away messages - aging sucks, and the Japanese totally own us at the whole living longer and healthier thing. Oh! I sat near the hot MPH, PhD guy who lectured in my anti-pharmacy class. He's hotter up close (although also thinner), as when he leans forward his shirt strains against his back and side muscles.

I talked to the PI of my lab today. It's all set! I'm getting paid $10/hour and I start on Friday. I need to hand the secretary my class schedule as well as my potential lab availability hours. From the looks of it, if I intend on working 12-15 hours/week, I'll be either at lab or in class from about 10am until 6pm everyday. T.T Well, at least I'll enjoy the company of a hot female PhD student from Barcelona for the next 3 months. Her accent only increases her hotness factor.

But when will I go to the gym? I don't go quite as often as I'd like as is. I don't seem to be improving in this area of making myself fitter and looking even remotely hot/attractive. It doesn't help that I sat here studying cardiovascular diseases while eating ice cream. Ugh, I'm going to get fat and die. And I don't want to turn 25, much less older than that. I mean, I'm 22 and I haven't done so many things yet! (Read: anything romantic/sexual in any way.) And now life is flashing before me.

Anyway, on a completely different topic, I'm going to JR-M's premiere of his movie Wednesday night. I just need to call CM-M to get a ride. I should get on that . . .

New blogs! W00t. Still working on reading blogs that I've bookmarked and haven't gotten through yet. Long blogs are long. And the more I delay, the longer they get. But until then, enjoy these two rather new ones:

Confused teenager's thoughts about life
Stuck In The Middle

Go over and say hi! :D

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Theological Discussion

In one of my courses today, "Issues in Public Health Genetics," we had a guest lecturer (SBK-F) discuss the theological issues concerning public health genetics, or what are theological issues in general. Apparently, there's such a thing as a Doctorate in Ministry in Spirituality. Her discussion today was so inspirational that I thought to discuss it here.

First a few disclaimers. I apologize for writing her words in any way less precise than she had described them herself to us. I'm going off the imperfection of human memory (and her PowerPoint slides), so pardon my distilled and potentially diluted words. This following will be long, so be patient if you're going to read it all. Also, no attacking me!! Lastly, keep an open mind.
SBK-F puts forth an idea called soulful reasoning. It is a means through which we take a step back and look at the whole human being. It is a holistic approach that posits that we are all more than the sum of our parts, that we can sense something beyond what is tangible to our five senses. Soulful reasoning is also a means to connect spirituality and science as partners.

What is meant by spirituality? And what is meant by religion? The two are not synonymous though they are intimately linked such that it's difficult to separate them. Spirituality is the "beyond," the "more than" that we sense beyond our five senses. Different cultures give it different names. Religion is the means through which different groups of people understand and connect to spirituality, ultimately how we manifest spirituality.

SBK-F present this quote (from who I forget) that goes something like this: "There is a realm for which there are no words. There is then a realm for which there are no words yet we grasp for words. And then there's the realm for which there are no words and yet we settle on words because we need words." Spirituality is like that first realm, a place for which we have no words. Religion is like the last two realms, a place where though we may not have the words, we give it words because we need them.

What is faith and what is ideology? Both are meaning systems and must be developmental, dynamic, and always growing and essentially alive. Neither can become static or else they hazard becoming too rigid and ultimately obsolete. Faith deals with the final or ultimate questions, seeking understanding of the unknowable. Ideology is the practical means through which faith may be executed. Religions all contain both the elements of faith and ideology. The fundamental danger of both faith and ideology is to avoid dualism. Dualistic thought is where things are clearly divided into discrete categories. For example, good and bad, right and wrong. Both faith and ideology need shades of gray in which to operate. There cannot be only good or bad, only right or wrong.

Values are a set of principles, standards, or qualities considered worthwhile or desireable. They may be things, ideas or people that are important to us and give our lives meaning. They help us make decisions and choose paths in life, shaping our behavior and defining who we are. The stronger the value is to us, the less willing we are to change or compromise them - this in itself is dangerous. There are many different "kinds" of values ranging from personal to religious to institutional to societal to cultural to work. In many cases values may overlap in several categories. Core values are the set of values that we stand for, are the most important, and that we encourage.

Moral values (or simply morals) are the standards of good and bad that govern an individual's behavior and choices. An individual's morals may be derived from society, government, religion, or from oneself. A "set of morals" as a whole are not derived from a single source (such as society or religion) though "individual morals" may be derived from a particular source. Morals are a source of great power but also of great danger. Morals present the pitfall of becoming dualistic, of saying with "certainty" what is right or wrong, what is good or bad. We need to always be aware that there are gray spots that morals operate in.

When moral values are derived from society and government they will change as laws and the social mores change. An example given was impact of law changes on the moral values between marriage and "living together." Several decades ago it would've been appalling for people to simply "live together" without getting married. Today there are options and people are freer to choose. Morals derived from oneself is shaped by our experiences from childhood to adulthood and help us determine what's acceptable and what's forbidden, kind or cruel, generous or selfish. Going against these morals tends to elicit guilt. Lastly, most religions have built-in lists of morals that individuals of that religion follow. For example, the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, the Five Pillars of Islam, the Five Precepts of Buddhism, the Ten Dharma Embodiments of Hinduism.

Spiritual values and religious values are often used interchangeably though they may be used to distinguish between human values and doctrinal beliefs that become expressed as values. The two are not necessarily the same but often share a lot of overlap.

The following is what leads me to believe in the "more than" which has been called Enlightenment, the Oneness of the Tao, the Divine, Heaven, etc.

There are five human values that are found across ALL spiritual traditions: truth, righteousness, love, peace, and non-violence. Furthermore, there are very similar religious values that seem to apply to a universal ethic of human respect and dignity. (The following are copied from her PowerPoint slides, so I don't know for sure if they're quoted exactly from the sources.)

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful (Udana-Varga 5:18).

Confucianism: Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not do unto others what you would have them do unto you (Analects 15:23).

Taoism: Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain and your neighbor's loss as your own loss (T'al Shang Kan Yin Pien).

Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow human. That is the entire law; all the rest is commentary (Talmud, Shabbat 31a).

Christianity: In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12).

Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself (Qu'ran, Sunnah).
So what are some "take away messages" from the discourse presented by SBK-F through me? What I got out of it is that it's dangerous to hold onto a value or moral in a very tight grip. If one holds on to it too tightly, they lose sight of its source, they lose sight that there may be alternatives that are just as good. We all operate in the gray area between two extremes and that if we were to ever eliminate this gray area, conflict results. Because if one person believes he/she is right "beyond any doubt," does that mean necessarily that everyone else is wrong? Also, morals (and by extension morality) does not solely stem from religion. It does, in part, but not entirely. Like many things in life, morals are complicated and are derived and synthesized from many influences, whether we recognize it or not.

Also the most powerful message is that, regardless of religion or non-religion, everyone seems to share the same basic spiritual and human values. SBK-F had us do an exercise in class where she dictated to us the public health values and assigned each group of three a set of personal values and a set of institutional/work values. And we had to come up with 2-3 spiritual values to reconcile or appeal to those disparate values. The most interesting thing is that everyone ended up choosing very similar spiritual values (sometimes with different terms, like charity and compassion, but ultimately similar) but used them in different ways to deal with the very different value systems laid before us.

So that which unites us, all of us - whether or not we're religious, whether or not we believe we're spiritual, whether or not we share the same values and/or morals - is somehow something fundamental to everyone. It is something "more than," something greater and beyond us, something we can't sense with our five senses and yet know is there, whether we recognize it or not.