WHAT IS A PLACEBO?

placebo-written-pills-tablets-capsules-isolated-vector-illustration-white-background-placebo-pills-medicine-word-117241807[1]

Without a doubt, Shikido produces positive effects on the body and mind. In regard to me, it made me more open to others and steadier. Is it possible that these positive effects are due to autosuggestion rather than to the real effectiveness of the discipline? What is autosuggestion? What is the difference between reality and illusion, waking and dreaming, existence and vacuity?
When I was about twenty years old, one night my Belgian friend, Brigitte, gave me an effective pill to sleep peacefully. It worked perfectly, and I slept well all night. The following day, she showed me the capsules that seemed to contain the drug inside. But they were all empty. The pill I had taken was also empty! I didn’t know it. Nonetheless, it was effective to me. Did the same happen with regard to Shikido?
What is the criterion that makes us distinguish between reality and illusion? In pharmacology, the effectiveness of drugs is often tested through a placebo. Without their knowing, a group of patients is given a dose of a placebo drug while another group receives the real drug. Even though the placebo contains nothing effective, it often produces the same effect as the actual drug. Sometimes, so-called magicians, healers, and
clairvoyants provoke a placebo effect in their clients who are really convinced of benefiting from them. Do meditation and prayer produce placebo effects as well?
When I attended secondary school, before a written test, I entered the church and lit a small candle to Saint Joseph. My grandmother told me that, if the flame of the candle was
brilliant, the result of the test would be good, but if it was feeble or flickering, the result would be not good. Almost always what my grandmother said happened to me! Was it a placebo effect?
In ancient times, predictions were sometimes gotten through the observation of the flight of birds or their entrails. In Greece, the Delphian oracle was renowned. It seems that its predictions were infallible. But we can’t know whether it was true or not. For some people, even stigmata are the fruit of autosuggestion.
How to distinguish illusion from reality? Once, a friend of mine gave me his answer on this topic.
“I can state, with absolute certainty, that everything we can touch, see, and hear through our senses is true and real.”
The answer is only partially correct. At that time, I felt that his opinion was materialistic. There are many invisible truths. Senses are connected to the mind, which rules them. We sense things through the filter of the mind. So, how can we be sure that what we see, touch, and listen to corresponds to the absolute, true, and ultimate reality? We can’t know the truth! This is the human condition! From this basis, the path of knowledge has to proceed toward the search for another dimension where we can perceive the ‘source of the universe’ from which reality derives.

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

HOW TO DEFEAT ANXIETY

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In the past, I strove to remain serene. But it was very difficult for me, because I couldn’t put into practice my resolution in daily life. Although I deeply wanted to be free from anxiety, I couldn’t succeed. Anxiety and mental confusion always got the upper hand on me. What to do!
When Manuela and I got back to the house of the organization, I went to my room to lie down on my bed, and went over my past experiences and attempts to get over my anxiety and depression.
On the sides of the lake in my hometown, there were some apparatuses for doing gymnastic exercises. My friends used to do rolls on the rings. I couldn’t do that exercise, even though I knew how to do it in theory. I knew that it was not dangerous, and nothing would happen to me. I had a body structure suitable for doing that, but I lacked the courage to grip the rings and launch myself with my head downwards. I couldn’t put into
practice what I knew in theory. I was too anxious to do a roll.
How could I keep my anxiety under control?
There are many methods that claim to be a good treatment for anxiety and depression. Many of them consist in taking medicines. I have always viewed those chemicals with suspicion. They are artificial treatments for temporary serenity. Tranquilizers and medicines for mental diseases and personality disorders also have side effects and are addictive. A person’s inner balance is kept artificially on these drugs. If treatment is stopped, the frail equilibrium breaks. Drugs fight the symptoms, not the disease. Undoubtedly, the medicine triggers a chemical, artificial reaction that affects the person’s behavior and impairs his free expression of emotions and ideas.
Once, I talked about this issue with a psychiatrist. I expressed to her my opinion about drugs and addiction. If mental disease is kept under control by medicines, then the patient has to take them for his whole life.
“Don’t be so upset! Many body diseases can be controlled by taking medicines. For instance, think of the pills to control diabetes or high blood pressure. They must be taken daily and for life. That kind of medicine doesn’t provoke any scandal. Unfortunately, people are embarrassed to take drugs in the treatment of mental or emotional diseases,” said the psychiatrist.
As for me, I have always refused anything that was artificial and unnatural. I was convinced that if I had taken drugs to cure my anxiety and depression, my spontaneity would have been impaired. They would have undermined my spirit of adventure, my desire for knowledge, and my spiritual quest to understand the meaning of life. Furthermore, my critical and judgmental capacity would have dwindled away, as well as my passion for travel. So, I never turned to medicines to resolve my emotional, existential, and psychological problems.
Once, a Buddhist friend of mine taught me a kind of meditation.
“The technique I will teach you,” he said, “doesn’t provoke any side effect. It doesn’t break the natural equilibrium of your character. It strengthens your spirit of adventure and desire for knowledge instead of reducing them. In fact, this technique removes the negativity inside you and the hindrances that interfere with your inner growth. Hence, whenever anxiety and depression are about to invade you, use this technique.
“Just sit down and watch your breathing. Watch as if you were an external watcher. Don’t judge the thoughts that pass through your mind. Confine yourself to watching them. Pay attention to the air that comes in and out of your nostrils. Then, when you inhale, imagine that a white light passes through the crown of your head, floods into your body, and purifies it. When you exhale, imagine that your exhalation is a black smoke that carries out your negative thoughts, worries, and delusions.”
From then on, whenever I meditated in that way, my anxiety subsided a little. One day, when I was jogging around the lake, I stopped by the apparatuses. I stood facing the rings and meditated for a while as my Buddhist friend had taught me. Then, I grasped the rings, bent my head downward, made a jump, and lifted my feet toward the sky, without hesitating. Finally, I had done it! It was an easy exercise. My anxiety had prevented me from doing that. Both the white light and the black smoke didn’t exist. They were a figment of my imagination, but so was my anxiety.
While traveling in Tanzania, I resumed that meditation technique. I did it whenever I could, even that day, in the organization’s house. The results were good. My depression and anxiety subsided a little.

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

AFRICAN DANCES

african-dancers-african-dancers-wearing-dancing-attire-made-animal-leather-botswana-100252977[1]

On Sunday, William and I went to a village almost 150 kilometers away. There, they were having a celebration for a member of the organization who had been advanced in his career. To get to that village, we crossed a torrid zone of the Rift Valley. It seemed that all the vegetation had been destroyed by a wildfire. The trees were without leaves. William told me to be careful not to be stung by tsetse flies, because I would sleep for a long time or forever if one of those flies stung me. Even the cows sometimes died from a sting of a tsetse fly. I laughed to myself. How could I avoid coming across a tsetse fly? For sure, I couldn’t travel inside a mosquito net! However, we passed that arid zone unharmed. Once in a while, we saw some monkeys and guinea hens.
In the village, there was bustle and a festive air. There were many street vendors. I purchased a flashlight, which can be very useful in Africa.
Walking in the street, I saw something that seemed to be a very old rite, but nobody was able to explain its meaning to me. On one side in a small square, three men were beating
their drums. On the opposite side, there was a big porcupine inside a cage made of reeds on a table. I had never seen such a big porcupine before. The animal was terrified and hook its posterior part, which seemed to be a tail. At almost two meters from the cage of the porcupine, a white circle with a diameter of about one meter was drawn on the round. Inside the circle, there were some quills of the porcupine, a metal tray, and other objects that I couldn’t make out. Two women alternated in dances. The rhythm of the drums was continuous. A man wearing a sharp tail made of cloth danced.
I wanted to know the symbolic meaning of that old dance and of the white circle drawn on the ground. I tried to analyze the symbols, but I couldn’t make out any meaning. Later, I asked a member of the organization to solve the mystery about those symbols. He was an anthropologist and an authority on African lore.
“African dances,” he said, “are just dances of joy and are performed to celebrate something. They are not rites and don’t have any symbolic meaning. Here in Africa, people dance only for enjoyment. In past times, the Africans danced to welcome the warriors who returned from battle. Here, the dances have no other meaning but expressions of joy, love, and peace.”
“What is the meaning of the porcupine, the white circle, the dances of those women, and that man who danced with a tail made of cloth?”
“Porcupine meat has an exquisite taste. This animal is a protected species in Tanzania, but sometimes poachers catch it. The porcupine you saw will be killed to be eaten. The ones who danced are not women, but men disguised as women. The white circle was drawn just for fun to give the impression that they were witch doctors. That dance was just a joke, fun, and nothing else.”

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

CAN WE CONTROL OUR MINDS?

mind-burst-grid-series-background-composition-human-head-fractal-colors-to-complement-your-layouts-subject-dreams-40792238[1]

Lorenzo, the classic literature teacher, broke in on Mario’s story, allowing him to get his breath back . . .
“The guilt complex was largely treated and described in their mythology by the Greeks. Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, committed an awful crime; he killed his mother Clytemnestra. The Erinyes or Furies, who symbolized remorse, haunted him for all his life.”
“I have been plagued by the Erinyes as well,” Mario said, turning pale, “because of my fatal fault. Nevertheless, Orestes committed his crime with intention and premeditation, fully conscious.”
“That’s wrong!” Giovanni, the criminal lawyer objected. “Intentional crime doesn’t exist. All human actions are unintentional. They derive from the frailty of the human being. The external world is like a picture painted by the mind. If it is calm and serene, the painting will be magnificent. Yet, if the mind is uneasy and suffering, it will paint an ugly picture.”
“Do you mean that intentional actions and free will don’t exist?”
“I don’t want to arrive at such a conclusion. Nevertheless, I can say that almost all my clients in the prisons are ignorant with uneasy and dull minds. It is rare to find a scholar in jail. That means that crime is mostly caused by ignorance and fault. Hence, where is the intention? Where is the conscious mind? Everything depends upon our mind. But who controls the mind? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe it is I who controls my mind. Or is it my mind that controls itself? If it is so, I want to know how. If the mind is fidgety, how can it calm itself down? And, if it is peaceful, how can it keep itself calm? It is not possible that the controller and the controlled coexist at the same time. Therefore, we can’t think about the mind that controls itself.”
“It is obvious that it is the ego that controls the mind. So, I can say, with absolute certainty, that at this very moment I, Lorenzo, am controlling my mind, keeping it either calm or uneasy according to my will.”
The discussion in the lounge of The Club of the Noblemen became animate. My Uncle Salvatore also joined in.
“That is not exact!” he said. “If it were true that I can control my mind I would never allow it to become uneasy or dull because I would turn against myself by doing that. Nobody chooses to have a restless or a dull mind. It follows that I can’t control my mind. However, I want to know whether the mind is something material or immaterial. Where is it in our body? Inside the head? Or in another place of the body? Is it just an illusion? Maybe only the body exists, ruled by its brain. Nothing else, nothing else!”
“It is possible,” replied Giovanni, “that the mind or soul, whatever you like to call it, doesn’t exist at all. In this case, we are composed of two elements: the body and the ego, which I define as self-perception, self-consciousness, or the thought of ‘I am.’ I wonder, where is the ego that decides, acts, has self-awareness, and aims even at surviving physical death? Is it inside the brain? Inside the heart? Near the heart? We don’t know. It
is invisible. How can we know? If you know something about this, tell me! Anyway, my opinion is that we act unconsciously and are not fully aware of what we do. Therefore, we can’t label ourselves guilty or not guilty, good or bad. Good and evil don’t exist indeed. We act out of ignorance and unconsciousness.”

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

THE NOBLEMEN DISCUSS THE NATURE OF LOVE

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In The old Club of the Noblemen, lawyer Giovanni got up from his armchair and turned to Alberto.
“You are an old dreamer, Alberto! Youngsters look for pure and everlasting love, not old men like you! The love between a man and a woman doesn’t exist at all. It is just illusion. What happens between them is just sexual attraction. Many people think they have found their ideal partner. But then, being attracted by someone else, either younger or more beautiful, they end up leaving the former lover to join the new one! Love is not stable. It exists only in our dreams. True love should last forever. But what we call love vanishes sooner or later, and we move from one partner to another. Often, when a relationship ends, what seemed to be a great love turns into hatred. How many lovers swore eternal love first, and then it becomes eternal hatred! Is this love? I don’t think so! For me, love is just hormonal compatibility.”
“Sometimes,” said Uncle Salvatore, “love is more than hormonal attraction. It is also affection. First, we are attracted by the partner’s shape, but gradually, our love grows more and more. I don’t think that only affection or only sex exists. Love is a mixture of affection and sex. In human love, we need both of them.”
“What is love for you?” Mario asked Uncle Salvatore.
“For me, love is like two wings of an eagle.”
“What kind of answer is that?” said Judge Cangemi.
“An eagle can’t fly with only one wing, so unilateral love is not possible. Love needs two living beings who exchange their love each other. If only one person loves and the other is indifferent, love is not possible. Altruistic and unselfish love is platonic. Every love is a mixture of altruism and egoism. If love is only altruism, it is not love. It is like asking an eagle to fly with only one wing. It can’t do that. But with two wings, it can soar so high that no other birds can reach it. Love is like that, it requires two beings who love each other. I don’t believe in unreciprocated love. It is useless and a waste of energy.”
“There are some kinds of unilateral love!” said old Judge Cangemi, raising his index finger to give much solemnity to his assertion. “Try and imagine the love of Jesus for humankind. It is a typical example of unilateral love. Jesus loved human beings, and his love was repaid with flagellation, mockery, and crucifixion.”
“Objection!” said lawyer Giovanni, irritated and sure of himself. “Jesus’s love was altruistic, not unilateral. It was reciprocated and deeply returned. Think of the apostles or the women who cried desperately at the foot of the cross, or the many Christians who were martyred under Jesus’s name. If Jesus’s love had not been repaid, his death would have been nonsense. However, I don’t want to talk about mystic love, but about the love which happens between a man and a woman — conventional love. I want to know why almost always a man falls in love with a beautiful and pretty woman, not with an ugly one. Why is external appearance so important? Love should concern the soul, but it involves the body, the shape of the body. Why?”
“I can give you the proper answer,” said Lorenzo, the classic literature teacher. “In ancient Greece, love was called ‘the smile of life’ and beauty ‘the smile of the earth.’ Both smiles were embodied by Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty. She was born from the sea foam. Her beauty enchanted the gods of Olympus. We human beings are allured by the harmony of the forms like the ancient pagan gods. We don’t like ugliness. We are reluctant to fall in love with an ugly woman. But beauty and grace are not enough for the birth of love. It needs something more. Lovers should open their hearts to each other and enjoy staying together. If they can do so, they feel natural and comfortable. This feeling goes beyond physical appearance or sex. If you look for your partner only for sex, that is not love. It is the basis of love to feel joyful and grateful when you stay close to your beloved.
“In Greek mythology, Eros, Aphrodite’s son, symbolizes love. He embodies changeable, blind, and irrational love. Eros is blindfolded and winged. He shoots arrows into the hearts of humans to make them fall in love.
“The mystery of love is contained in the myth of Eros and Psyche. Psyche was a very beautiful girl. Eros fell in love with her. In the nighttime, he met her in a house in the middle of the forest, without ever revealing his appearance. ‘If you don’t see me,’ said Eros, ‘our love will last; otherwise, it will vanish like snow in the hot sun.’ But, Psyche couldn’t resist the temptation of seeing her lover. So, one night, while Eros was sleeping, she saw the extraordinary beauty of her man in the light of an oil lamp. Yet, a drop of hot oil from the lamp fell on Eros’s shoulder. Suddenly, he woke up and disappeared. Psyche
couldn’t see him anymore! The meaning of the myth is clear. You can’t understand love or observe it too closely. If you try to know what love is, it will vanish. You just have to live love without ever asking what it is. Love is a mystery! Just live the mystery!”
“For me,” said Mario, “there must be something rational in love. Someone says that love is an art that can be learned and understood.”
“I don’t think so,” replied Lorenzo. “If love were an art to be learned, lovers would have realized how to make their love last forever. Yet, it is not like that. Almost all loves end up extinguishing sooner or later, like fire that flames at first, but with time burns out.
“Someone thinks that it is possible to use some techniques to make a person fall in love. I don’t think so. Love is attraction and feeling. I think no technique can make a person love somebody. The biggest mistake one can make is to consider love as a safe haven to live happily and serenely for all life. Love is unstable!
“However things are, it is certain that you can’t buy love. Even the rich and the potent can’t buy it with their money and power. So, love is the peak of justice because it doesn’t make any distinction between the rich and the poor, the weak and the potent.”
“Nevertheless, I will keep traveling and looking for my ideal soul mate. I won’t give up, even if I can’t find her until the end of my life. I will always cherish in my mind the hope
that somewhere I will find a woman who suits me. Someday, my eternal love will appear to me definitely,” Alberto said sincerely.
“Don’t search for love outside yourself! You won’t find it!” said Judge Cangemi. “Love is a state of your being! If you become love, everything is love. If you are not love, you can’t find love outside. To find the real eternal love is illusion! You’d better try to become love yourself!”
“I agree with Judge Cangemi,” concluded Uncle Salvatore. “Yes, love is important in our life, but I think the most important journey is to search after the immortal soul and the source of our frail but precious life.”
For about fifteen minutes, the lounge of The old Club of the Noblemen fell silent. No one had any intention of standing up. The theme ‘love’ had stirred up their buried emotions.
They were all old men. Many years had gone by since the first date with the loved girlfriend, the first kiss to her. But, time couldn’t wither their hearts. Love has no age. It is timeless and boundless. Love is the source of life in the universe.
The keeper of the club came near the small group of members.
“Sorry to disturb you all. It’s time to close,” he said with
submissive voice.
“Yes, let’s go home!” said Uncle Salvatore.
Everybody stood up and headed for the exit of the club. The keeper lowered the shutter. The last part of the day was painted with a conversation about love. Tomorrow, another story of life would be continued.

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

TRAVEL TO ROME

rome-night-14453025[1]I arrived at Termini Station in Rome. It was the year of the Jubilee. I wanted to follow the instructions that the Catholic Church imposes on the occasion of the Jubilee. Besides doing a good deed, like giving alms, a pilgrim is asked to visit the catacombs and all four patriarchal churches.
Leaving from the side exit of Termini Station, I walked to the Basilica of Saint Mary the Greatest, and then I kept walking on Merulana Street and visited the Basilica of Saint John in Lateran. From there, I took a bus to the catacombs. When I arrived at the Vatican, I headed for the basements. I meditated for a few minutes before the tomb of Pope John XXIII and made an offering for his beatification.
It was already late. To complete my Jubilee, I needed to visit the Church of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. I took the subway and got there in time, a few minutes before the basilica closed.
After having admired the harmonious and austere colonnade outside the church, I went in and stopped briefly to have a look at the splendid mosaics on the ceiling.
While I was admiring the drawings, a gray-haired guy about forty-five years old, with a southern Italian accent, came up to me.
“What about dividing the cost half and half?”
I was surprised by his asking and had a quick look at him to make sure he was a good guy. He wore casual clothes and looked very self-confident. Soon, I recovered from my astonishment.
“What cost?”
“If we insert some coins into the slot of this telescope, we can see the mosaics on the ceiling closer.”
“Yes, of course!”
We inserted the coins and admired those gorgeous mosaics. Then, the stranger told me something about the basilica.
“It stands on a place where it is believed that Saint Paul was buried. This basilica is the biggest after Saint Peter’s. The emperor Constantine erected a small building in this place, but the subsequent emperors demolished it to build a new basilica, which lasted until a disastrous fire. This basilica was rebuilt similar to the one before the fire. Under the altar, there is the tomb of Saint Paul.”
“I would like to confess. Have you seen any priests who hear confession?”
“Yes, I saw one near the door on the way out.”
We walked together toward the priest, but he refused to listen to me because it was too late, and the church was about to be closed. Actually, the priest was tired because he had heard confessions all day long, and for him it was enough! So, my new friend and I went out of the church and walked down the street.
On the way, we talked about the Jubilee, morals, and religions.
“There is too much theology in your mind. You should use your heart not your brain!” the stranger said.
“Maybe you are right.”
“Once, I knew two exceptional persons. One of them was Padre Pio, a Franciscan friar with the stigmata in his hands just like Jesus. He bore the signs of Jesus’s passion for fifty years until his death when the stigmata disappeared, and his hands returned to be normal. He had the ability to read people’s minds. He was able to be present simultaneously in two different, distant places. Another remarkable person is Natuzza Evolo. Like Padre Pio, she can read people’s minds. She lives in Paravati, Calabria.”
We said goodbye, and then, he headed for the subway station. I kept hanging about the area. After about half an hour, I saw him again, sitting on a bench, waiting for his train.
“You are here again! Well! Since we meet again and not by chance, I want to give you this gift.”
He took from his pocket a sheet of paper, a little bit crumpled, with writing on the front and back and handed it to me. Meanwhile, the train arrived. Getting on the train, he waved his hand to me and smiled from ear to ear.
The train left. I have never seen that man again in my life, but the precious sheet of paper is still with me. I sat on a bench and unfolded it. It contained a list of forty-four titles of books. Later, just to be on the safe side, I made some photocopies.
The first book in the list was, The Book of Mirdad; the last, Dogen and Soto Zen.
The listed books range over many subjects: literature, philosophy, meditation, cultures, and religions. There are books about Sufism, Gurdjieff, Saint Augustine, Plato, Osho, and so on. The titles are handwritten, so difficult to decipher. Some are almost impossible to read. Yet, there is a bookseller in my hometown who helped me to read the titles. Finally, we deciphered all the titles except two.
From time to time, I give a copy of the list to some friends of mine. So far, I have read more than half of the listed books. I hope to read all of them before the end of my life.
At Termini Station, I collected my baggage from the checkroom, and I then took a train to Paris.

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

TRAVEL TO TANZANIA – THE MASAI

portrait-young-masai-tanzania-40780819[2]

In the afternoon, I went for a walk along the same dusty sidewalk as the day before. The rain had compacted the dust. It seemed to follow a sandy riverbank. Here and there, there were puddles. While I was walking at a slow pace, two men of the Masai tribe came up to me. Once I had watched a documentary about the Masai on television. This time, I had the chance to be face-to-face with them. They were lean and taller than me. They didn’t wear the typical red attire. Their mantles had a bluish hue. One of them wore three or four anklets and some bracelets. They held in their hands sticks made of light-colored wood, but they were not long.
“What is the use of your stick?”
“It is a symbol.”
I guessed that a true Masai always brought his stick, even though he didn’t breed sheep or cows. They wore shoes made of pieces of tire, fastened around their big toes with a tire buckle. There was a small button on the buckle. I had seen a similar kind of tire shoe in my hometown a long time ago. Usually, the farmers wore them in the countryside. The Masai asked me to barter their shoes for mine and their bracelets for my watch. I answered no, because I needed them for walking. At the same time, my watch was my friend’s gift and was a reminder of that friend. We said goodbye to each other. They walked away along the sidewalk. I followed them with my eyes until they disappeared in the distance.
Later, in the dining room of the organization, I talked about the Masai with a German lady who came to Tanzania for three months every year.
“The Masai recycle the entire wheel of a car. Besides making their shoes, they make ropes for tying up their animals from the tires. Moreover, since they have no bells, they hang a rim on a tree or on a wall and strike it with a piece of iron as if it were a gong. In this way, they inform the community whenever an event begins or ends,” she said.

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo