Sunday, January 25, 2015

Musical Interlude: Vangelis, “Intergalactic Radio Station”

Vangelis, “Intergalactic Radio Station”

"A Look to the Heavens"

"Some spiral galaxies are seen almost sideways. NGC 3190, one such galaxy, is the largest member of the Hickson 44 Group, one of the nearer groups of galaxies to our own Local Group of galaxies. 
Click image for larger size.
Pictured above, finely textured dust lanes surround the brightly glowing center of this picturesque spiral. Gravitational tidal interactions with other members of its group have likely caused the spiral arms of NGC 3190 to appear asymmetric around the center, while the galactic disk also appears warped. NGC 3190 spans about 75,000 light years across and is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Lion (Leo).”

Chet Raymo, “A Life Sentence”

“A Life Sentence”
by Chet Raymo

“’We each only really speak one sentence in our lifetime. That sentence begins with your first words, toddling around the kitchen, and ends with your last words… in a nursing home, the night-duty attendant vaguely on hand.”

Where did that come from? A review by David Kirby of poet Mary Ruefle's new book, quoting Ruefle on a thought that Ezra Pound learned from Ernest Fenollosa... OK, OK, forget the provenance, or who the heck is Ernest Fenollosa. It's that lifelong sentence I'm interested in, the one that begins with ma-ma and ends with… Well, we'll have to wait and see.

I'm writing that sentence now. Every period in these nine years of posts could be replaced by a semicolon. It's a sentence that has been unspooling for more than seven decades, a long thread of words, sometimes landing in a tangle, sometimes blessedly stitched into a half-way decent fabric.

I loved diagramming sentences in grammar school, and there was a time as an adult that whenever I came across a long, complex sentence I couldn't resist trying to diagram it in the old way. (Even now, I'm tempted to diagram the flawed sentence I just wrote.) It's part of having been trained as a scientist, I suppose- taking something apparently chaotic and revealing its underlying structure.

And what would it look like, that lifelong diagrammed sentence? It would cover a football pitch, even in 4-point type. But from the Goodyear blimp, overhead, what would it look like? I know what I would want it to look like. Deep in the bowels of London's Victoria and Albert Museum are several splendid 15th-century wall-sized tapestries, the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries (above, click to enlarge). I've spent a long time in that otherwise almost empty room, dazzled that mere thread could be woven into such intricate beauty, hugely complex, yet glowing with an underlying unity, themes folding back upon themselves, sometimes new themes floating up by surprise, sometimes old themes receding into the background.

Words, tumbling forward, leaping like a hart, rooting like a boar, tumbling like a hound, soaring like a falcon, whinnying like a steed. Words, words, millions of words, woof and warp, the shuttle flying. Ruefle writes: "If you are blessed, they are heard by someone who knows you and loves you and will be sorry to hear the sentence end."

"The Right Cards..."

“Just because fate doesn't deal you the right cards, 
it doesn't mean you should give up. It just means you 
have to play the cards you get to their maximum potential.”
- Les Brown

"I Pity You..."

"Said a philosopher to a street sweeper, “I pity you. Yours is a hard and dirty task.” And the street sweeper said, “Thank you, sir. But tell me, what is your task?” And the philosopher answered saying, “I study man's mind, his deeds and his desires.” Then the street sweeper went on with his sweeping and said with a smile, “I pity you too.”
- Kahlil Gibran

"Fate..."

“Sooner or later, fate puts us together with all the people, one by one, who show us what we could, and shouldn’t, let ourselves become. Sooner or later we meet the drunkard, the waster, the betrayer, the ruthless mind, and the hate-filled heart. But fate loads the dice, of course, because we usually find ourselves loving or pitying almost all of those people. And it’s impossible to despise someone you honestly pity, and to shun someone you truly love.”
- Gregory David Roberts, “Shantaram”

“The Prisoner: ‘I am not a number. I am a free man!’”

 “The Prisoner: 
‘I am not a number. I am a free man!’”
By John W. Whitehead

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared we would become a captive audience. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in "Brave New World Revisited," the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In "Brave New World," they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate would ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.” - Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (1985)

Thus goes the strain of thought in two of the great prophetic minds of literature, not so much opposed in their rationale as intertwined like the serpentine strands of DNA. The relevance of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell lies in their fears, which in recent years are being actualized at an accelerated pace.

Like the automatons of Orwell’s "1984," our glazed eyes have melted into the television screen. Recent statistics, for example, indicate that approximately 1 in 7 or 42 million Americans cannot read a newspaper or even the instructions on a pill bottle. If people cannot read, or if they simply will not, the safeguard of a democracy—an educated and informed citizenry—is in peril. The importance of an educated citizenry, as envisioned by the architects of the American scheme of government, is that they have the analytical and intellectual wherewithal to recognize and challenge the inevitable corruption of government. Without such an education, inevitably, the people become pawns in the hands of unscrupulous government bureaucrats.

Have we become pawns manipulated by a government-entertainment complex? This was the question debated in seventeen episodes of "The Prisoner," the British television series that baffled and confused a generation and still intrigues viewers today. Regarded by many as the finest dramatic television series ever broadcast, "The Prisoner" first aired in Great Britain 45 years ago. The subsequent summer of 1968, a summer of dissidence and unrest, sixteen of the seventeen episodes were broadcast in the United States (and reprised in the summer of 1969). The strength of this enigmatic series rode on the heels of Patrick McGoohan, who had built a reputation as the spy John Drake in the Secret Agent television series. After tiring of the Drake role, McGoohan immediately fell headlong into "The Prisoner" as he wrote, directed and otherwise hovered over the series.

The themes of "The Prisoner" are still relevant today—the rise of a police state, the freedom of the individual, the perversion of science and the nature of man—and they in part account for the series’ cult following.  “I am not a number. I am a free man,” was the mantra chanted on each episode of "The Prisoner". Perhaps the best visual debate ever on individuality and freedom, the story centers around McGoohan, a man who finds himself living in a mysterious, self-contained, cosmopolitan community known as The Village. The Village’s inhabitants are known merely by numbers, and McGoohan is Number 6.

In the opening episode (“The Arrival”), Number 6 meets Number 2, who explains to him that he is in The Village because information stored “inside” his head has made him too valuable “outside.” Number 6 chooses not to give in to Village authorities but struggles to maintain his own identity. “I will not make any deals with you,” he pointedly remarks to Number 2. “I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.” Thus, Number 6 remains a prisoner, although his captivity is spent in an idyllic setting with parks and green fields, recreational activities and even a butler.

Number 6 seeks to preserve his individuality as a “free man” as he tries to escape from The Village or learn the identity of Number 1, the person presumed to run The Village. But Number 6 is watched continually by surveillance cameras and other devices, and his escapes are thwarted by ominous white balloon-like spheres known as “rovers.” In the final episode (“Fall Out”), Number 6 overcomes his overseers and discovers that he was Number 1 all along.

Although esoteric, "The Prisoner" was McGoohan’s vehicle for translating some very definite viewpoints to the screen. As he stated in a 1982 interview: "It was about the most evil human being, human essence, and that is ourselves. It is within each of us. That is the most dangerous thing on the Earth, what is within us. So, therefore, that is what I made Number 1—oneself—an image of oneself which he was trying to beat. The most pernicious element of this evil essence is the domination and annihilation of individuality and freedom, which are essential to human nature. Thus, initially the struggle for freedom is against oneself."

Fundamentally, however, "The Prisoner" is an epistemological exercise that focuses on the concept of reality, both in the subjective and objective sense—that is, can we really know anything about anything? Is reality a mere social construct? Since society creates any knowledge that people may possess, does this mean that human beings are simply products of the given social setting from which they are manufactured? As Steven Paul Davies notes in "The Prisoner Handbook" (2002): “Thinking for yourself is not necessarily thinking by yourself.” And as Number 2 warns Number 6 in the episode entitled “Once upon a Time”: "Society is the place where people exist together. That is civilization. The lone wolf belongs to the wilderness. You must not grow up to be a lone wolf."

Therefore, the ultimate goal of those in power is conformity to the constructs of society. This means both figuratively and literally eliminating the lone wolf, the individual. Modern psychiatry defines “normality” as conformity. This “measuring of the human psyche by psychologists,” as Davies puts it, has seriously affected how we live our lives and how we view nonconformists. Media representations of “normality” have become the criteria that society uses to evaluate its members. The concept of normality has become subjective as our views have changed to meet societal demands. The individual, as the term was once defined, is becoming passé. As McGoohan commented in 1968: "At this moment individuals are being drained of their personalities and being brainwashed into slaves. The inquisition of the mind by psychiatrists is far worse than the assault on the body of torturers."

In a media-dominated age in which the lines between entertainment, politics and news reporting are blurred, it is extremely difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Moreover, the struggle to remain “oneself in a society increasingly obsessed with conformity to mass consumerism,” writes Davies, means that superficiality and image trump truth and the individual. The result is the group mind and the tyranny of mob-think.

Huxley clearly saw that people would come to love entertainment and trivia, and that those would destroy their capacity to think and eventually annihilate any freedom we may possess. Humanity’s bent toward distractions—that is, the bread and circuses of entertainment—leads them to sell their collective souls for one more voyeuristic peek into a celebrity’s life. Indeed, our society is one in which people’s love of entertainment and trivia, according to Davies, has “destroyed their capacity to think and takes away their freedom.”

McGoohan was quoted as saying that “freedom is a myth.” When we think of freedom, what exactly are we talking about? After all, none of us is free to choose when and where we are born, what sex we are, who our parents are and so on. As we reflect on the question of freedom, we see that there is very little freedom at all. We are so bombarded with images, dictates, rules and punishments and stamped with numbers from the day we are born that it is a wonder we ever ponder a concept such as freedom. “We’re all pawns,” notes a character in Episode One, in a game that cruelly plays itself out for most of us. In essence, this means that the only hope for true freedom is to break the chains of destiny in an attempt at some momentary individualistic moment, something few ever experience.

In the end, we are all prisoners of our own mind. In fact, it is in the mind that prisons are created for us. And in the lockdown of political correctness, it becomes extremely difficult to speak or act individually without being ostracized. Thus, so often we are forced to retreat inwardly into our minds, a place without bars from which we cannot escape, and into the world of video games and the Internet. That’s why "The Prisoner’s" existential experience of continually questioning everything, including ourselves, is so vital to any concept of individuality. It is only within this existential questioning that there is hope for what we may call freedom. The fact that "The Prisoner" even attempts to raise such questions is astounding. It is against the meltdown of the modern mind that "The Prisoner" stands, and it is this background that gives it increasing relevance.

McGoohan’s ambivalence about the concept of freedom is reflected in the surrealism of the final episode. Number 6 emerges from The Village into the center of London. The Village, then, is the present reality. In an earlier episode (“The Chimes of Big Ben”), when Number 6 believes he has escaped to a Secret Service office in London, he asks his superior: “I risked my life … to come back here, home, because I thought it was different … it is, isn’t it? Isn’t it different?”

"How It Really Is"

"Fortune’s Fools"

"Fortune’s Fools"
by Phil  Rockstroh

“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.”
 — Miles Davis

"As a general rule, musicians, artists, and writers, as well as those possessed of an ardor for self-awareness and a commitment to political activism have been advised to avoid a habitual retreat to comfort zones…to take note of the criteria that causes one’s pulse to quicken, brings flop sweat to the brow, causes sphincters to seize up, and delivers mortification to the mind. In order to quicken imagination and avoid banality, it is imperative to explore the fears that cause one to awaken in the darkest of night to stare bug-eyed at the ceiling until dawn; to embrace discomfort; to shun crackpot complacency; to wander through the teeming polis of the psyche, and, in so doing, to not only stray and mingle among the outcasts, demimonde and mad, but proceed to the locked-down wards of the region’s lunatic asylum, and make an exhausting inquest into the nature of the hopeless cases that have been hidden from public view.

As of late, my darkest thoughts and angst-engendered imaginings have involved the following: The ecological debasement of the earth, the ongoing degradation of daily life within U.S. society, and the attenuated destiny of the individual under the yoke of late stage, global capitalism. My ruminations have been, in large measure, engendered and inflamed by the following: On Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, a son was born to my wife, Angela and myself.

August Franklin Rockstroh came into this world at a time when the planet he will inhabit is warmer than it has been in 11,000 years, a condition caused by the industrial production of man-made greenhouse gasses. He arrives into an age wherein it is imperative that we as a species re-imagine nearly all we know. Thus far, from the halls of power to the floors of minimarts, our avidity for avoidance of the realities at hand does not augur well for humankind’s chances.

Two weeks before the Deepwater Horizon, Macondo Well “spill” (what a dishonest word for that noxious, bleeding gash) into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, I dreamed of a badly injured fish who had had half his face torn off by some brutal method employed by the practitioners of industrial scale fishing operations to exploit the world’s oceans… The fish had worked himself upon a rock on a craggy shoreline. Holding an eternity of suffering in his remaining eye, the fish turned to face me. Ever since, this dream image has lived within me. I carry the fish’s suffering and I bear his dark rage regarding what our species has done to his/our home — this complex, mysterious, beguiling, dangerous, sublime, monstrous, and magnificent world we were cast into… my sense of sorrow, at times, seems unbearable; my rage… bottomless. Who will speak for the voiceless — who will make amends for their suffering?

This much is clear: The means that sustain the present economic order not only defies moral justification (i.e., a culture dependent on the enforced misery of the multitudes and the wanton exploitation of nature) but the order has proven anathema to the balance of the earth’s life-enabling forces — a balance of forces mandatory to the continuance of the human species on the planet. The fate of the earth is inexorably linked to our personal destiny.

Deep down we know this to be true, but the atomizing nature of late capitalism inflicts learned helplessness. Social and political change seems impossible. Personal transformation is relegated to the realm of New Age snake oil. Human longing is deracinated. The Tree of Knowledge rendered a Chia Pet. The unruly call of destiny is bowdlerized into sterile careerism.

Yet, my newly arrived son, as we all do, will long to embrace his own authentic destiny. The alienation at the mechanized heart of the corporate/consumer state’s structure will present a daunting challenge to him, for it is difficult to live a life imbued with depth and resonance without meaningful human engagement. Abiding bonds that bring the depth of oneself deep into life must be formed. A social milieu must be in place that allows for love and friendship, for coming upon mentors, for grappling with antagonists, whereby one is destroyed by catastrophic victories and enlarged by propitious failures.

Although every individual arrives at a fate uniquely his/her own, soul-making is a collaborative effort. Destiny only appears to be a solo act. My character, like yours, is a composite of all the events, happenstance, and circumstances that transpired before, and after, I arrived in this world. It is resultant from the accumulation of my choices — and the choices of those in positions of power and authority, over which, I am, all too often, powerless. But if you discern what I yearn for, you will know who I am.

One’s destiny awaits just over the crest of the horizon. It is glimpsed in sublime snatches like a beautiful stranger who catches your gaze from a passing train. Yes, it sleeps within, but must be roused into being by interaction with the outer world. It awaits you in the vastness of life. The truth of your being is honeycombed into life’s intricacies. As a general rule (Emily Dickinson accepted) one’s destiny does not make house calls.

If character is destiny, the soul of the world is the catalyzing agent that conjures manifestation. While, to some degree, all who live are imprisoned by the past, it is best to be aware of what criteria brought about your incarceration to habit and circumstance. It is essential to become aware of the contours of your cage…to be in possession of a blue print of the prison. In this way, your odds of escape are greatly enhanced.

Are you weighted down by feelings of powerlessness…nettled by feelings of helpless rage? Good. Your feelings are appropriate to the tone and tenor of the times. Use the feeling of being weighted down to your advantage: Descend deep into the deepest recesses of your being and listen to the garrulous silence therein. Appropriate your blessed rage as well: What admonitions cry out from the heart of light ensconced within your darker places?

What is it that is essential about your deepest nature that needs to find its way into Animus Mundi — the soul of the world…must seek out collaboration with even the most mundane moments of the breath of day. This is how the creative spirit flourishes, how every moment is made holy.

And remember: Your life is a question that you live your way into. Any attempt to coerce an answer amounts to vivisection, not art.

Conversely, and anathema to the process, the guiding principle of the neoliberal economic order reduces the things of the world to mere economic entities. At this point, this much is, or, at least, should be grimly obvious: Existence within a system that defines all things by their ability to enrich the fortunes of a predatory class of elites starves the soul and blights the landscape; it has come to exist…as a thief, defiler, and squanderer. Exploited and demeaned, the populace grows callow and empty. Desperate to sate the hollowing emptiness within, the citizens of the corporate/consumer state have internalized the noxious mythos of endless growth, peddled by their exploiters, and have been driven to devour their seed crop.

In doing so, all concerned will condemn their society to the landfill of history. Yet, even in this age of corporate despotism, political duopoly, communal atomization, ecocide and the attendant alienation and ennui, life can be lived with passion and grace, and, as individuals, we can take measures to promote a transformation of the prevailing order.

There are simply too many hidden variables involved to predict and control the future. Consequently, this is what we can do: resist the present, corrupt order; organize to bring it down; and strive to create more viable alternatives. All of which exist within the spectrum of the doable.

At the end of the day, it is a far better choice to err on the side of your inner calling, than to languish as a simulacrum of yourself… evincing a counterfeit consciousness that demands you spend your days compliant to the demeaning dictates of a ruthless few. As a general rule, one stands powerless before the sweep of history and the caprice of the ruling elite. Regardless, you must choose to slouch in the direction of your destiny, or else your life will consist of a litany of thwarted longings — an agonizing death within life that is absent death’s release and resists the warmth and proffered consolation borne of the living.

All the world may be a stage, but don’t allow yourself to be miscast as an expendable, one dimensional character, conceived by miserable hacks. Deep down, your life’s calling is encoded within you. Throughout your lifetime, it will arise as inchoate yearnings, reveal itself as implausible daydreams, or as dream-borne symbols that seem, in regard to your daytime exigencies, abstruse or useless. You may know it as a hollow ache in your chest. Or a nettling voice, in the recesses of your awareness, that asks, “how did it come to this?”

Ignore destiny’s entreaties at your own risk. Although, your soul will stay at you; it will implore you to pay attention…even if it must pummel you with nightmares or conjure a state of depression that brings on a darkness at noon.

“We are all subject to the fates. 
But we must act as if we are not, or die of despair.”
 — Philip Pullman

To paraphrase Rilke, if you ignore the beckoning call of your own uniqueness, your soul will serenely distain to annihilate the false notions that propel you through the harried hours of meaning-denuded day. When shunted aside or blocked by barriers of calcified habit, the soul’s inexorable agency will be experienced as a kindly cataclysm. At times, becoming ensnared in the dark night of the soul will allow a lodestar to reveal itself.

Withal, on a cultural basis, the nature-decimating, soul-shredding agendas of the neoliberal enterprise are propelling us collectively towards economic and ecological cataclysm. When questioned by the youth of future generations, those born into the world created by our myopic choices, about how you responded when the earth was burning, will you reply that you went to the mall, sat in public places staring at a glowing electronic box, engaged in cretinous palaver about the private lives of sub-cretinous celebrities and the dim machinations of reality show jerk-rockets?

At this critical juncture, one’s individual calling will be interwoven with the fate of the earth and the collective destiny of all of humankind. The age of elitist narcissists is drawing to a close. The time for dreamers, visionaries and activist has arrived, and their time of arrival is long past due."

“The world is full of magic things,
patiently waiting
for our senses to grow sharper.”
 — W.B. Yeats

"Smoothing Transitions: 10 Steps to Making Change Easier"

"Smoothing Transitions: 10 Steps to Making Change Easier"
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOM

"Change can be hard for anyone, following these ideas below can make it a little less stressful.

1. Begin by making small changes or break up large-scale changes into more manageable increments. This can make you feel better about handling the changes you are about to make while making you more comfortable with change in general.

2. Mentally link changes to established daily rituals. This can make changes like taking on a new habit, starting a new job, or adapting to a new home happen much more smoothly. For example, if you want to begin meditating at home, try weaving it into your morning routine.

3. Going with the flow can help you accept change instead of resisting it. If you stay flexible, you will be able to ride out change without too much turbulence.

4. When a change feels most stressful, relief can often be found in finding the good that it brings. An illness, a financial loss, or a broken relationship can seem like the end of the world, yet they also can be blessings in disguise.

5. Remember that all change involves a degree of learning. If you find change particularly stressful, try to keep in mind that after this period of transformation has passed, you will be a wiser person for it.

6. Remember that upheaval and confusion are often natural parts of change. While we can anticipate certain elements that a change might bring, it is impossible to know everything that will happen in advance. Be prepared for unexpected surprises, and the winds of change won’t easily knock you over.

7. Don’t feel like you have to cope with changing circumstances or the stress of making a change on your own. Talk about what’s going on for you with a friend or write about it in a journal. Sharing your feelings can give you a sense of relief while helping you find the strength to carry on.

8. Give yourself time to accept any changes that you face. And as change happens, recognize that you may need time to adjust to your new situation. Allow yourself a period of time to reconcile your feelings. This can make big changes feel less extreme.

9. No matter how large or difficult a change is, you will eventually adapt to these new circumstances. Remember that regardless of how great the change, all the new that it brings will eventually weave itself into the right places in your life.

10. If you’re trying to change a pattern of behavior or navigate your way through a life change, don’t assume that it has to be easy. Wanting to cry or being moody during a period of change is natural. Then again, don’t assume that making a change needs to be hard. Sometimes, changes are meant to be that easy."

Paulo Coelho, "Defeat"

 
"Defeat"
by Paulo Coelho

"Does a leaf, when it falls from the tree in winter, feel defeated by the cold? The tree says to the leaf: ‘That’s the cycle of life. You may think you’re going to die, but you live on in me. It’s thanks to you that I’m alive, because I can breathe. It’s also thanks to you that I have felt loved, because I was able to give shade to the weary traveller. Your sap is in my sap, we are one thing.’

Does a man who spent years preparing to climb the highest mountain in the world feel defeated on reaching that mountain and discovering that nature has cloaked the summit in storm clouds? The man says to the mountain: ‘You don’t want me this time, but the weather will change and, one day, I will make it to the top. Meanwhile, you’ll still be here waiting for me.’ Does a young man, rejected by his first love, declare that love does not exist? The young man says to himself: ‘I’ll find someone better able to understand what I feel. And then I will be happy for the rest of my days.’

Losing a battle or losing everything we thought we possessed will bring us moments of sadness, but when those moments pass, we will discover the hidden strength that exists in each of us, a strength that will surprise us and increase our self-respect.

Wait patiently for the right moment to act. Do not let the next opportunity slip.

Take pride in your scars. Scars are medals branded on the flesh, and your enemies will be frightened by them because they are proof of your long experience of battle. Often this will lead them to seek dialogue and avoid conflict. Scars speak more loudly than the sword that caused them.”

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Near the center of this sharp cosmic portrait, at the heart of the Orion Nebula, are four hot, massive stars known as the Trapezium. Gathered within a region about 1.5 light-years in radius, they dominate the core of the dense Orion Nebula Star Cluster. Ultraviolet ionizing radiation from the Trapezium stars, mostly from the brightest star Theta-1 Orionis C powers the complex star forming region's entire visible glow. 
Click image for larger size.
About three million years old, the Orion Nebula Cluster was even more compact in its younger years and a recent dynamical study indicates that runaway stellar collisions at an earlier age may have formed a black hole with more than 100 times the mass of the Sun. The presence of a black hole within the cluster could explain the observed high velocities of the Trapezium stars. The Orion Nebula's distance of some 1500 light-years would make it the closest known black hole to planet Earth.”

"Ten Rules For Being Human"

"Ten Rules For Being Human"

Rule One:
You will receive a body. You may love it or hate it,
but it will be yours for the duration of your life on Earth.

Rule Two:
You will be presented with lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called 'life.'
Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons
or hate them, but you have designed them as part of your curriculum.

Rule Three:
There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of experimentation,
a series of trials, errors, and occasional victories. The failed experiments
are as much a part of the process as the experiments that work.

Rule Four:
A lesson is repeated until learned. Lessons will be repeated to you in various
forms until you have learned them. When you have learned them,
you can then go on to the next lesson.

Rule Five:
Learning does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain lessons.
If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.

Rule Six:
'There' is no better than 'here'. When your 'there' has become a 'here,' you will
simply obtain a 'there' that will look better to you than your present 'here'.

Rule Seven:
Others are only mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another
person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.

Rule Eight:
What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need.
What you do with them is up to you.

Rule Nine:
Your answers lie inside of you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.

Rule Ten:
You will forget all of this at birth. You can remember it if you want
by unravelling the double helix of inner knowing.

- Cherie Carter-Scott, 
From "If Life is a Game, These are the Rules"

The Poet: Mary Oliver, "The Eskimos Have No Word for ‘War’”

 “The Eskimos Have No Word for ‘War’”

“Trying to explain it to them
Leaves one feeling ridiculous and obscene.
Their houses, like white bowls,
Sit on a prairie of ancient snowfalls
Caught beyond thaw or the swift changes
Of night and day.
They listen politely, and stride away,
With spears and sleds and barking dogs
To hunt for food. 
The women wait,
Chewing on skins or singing songs,
Knowing that they have hours to spend,
That the luck of the hunter is often late.
Later, by fires and boiling bones
In streaming kettles, they welcome me,
Far kin, pale brother,
To share what they have in a hungry time
In a difficult land.  While I talk on
Of the southern kingdoms, cannon, armies,
Shifting alliances, airplanes, power,
They chew their bones, and smile at one another.”

 ~ Mary Oliver

"Who Says You Have To?"

"Who Says You Have To?"
by Ali

"Something I’ve become very aware of recently is how often I say or think “I have to” or “I need to” when, actually, I don’t. You probably do this too. Almost everyone does. I’m thinking of things like:

have to clean the kitchen this weekend.
need to phone my mother.
have to try a bit of that cake.
need to lose weight.

In almost every case, it’s just not an accurate way to describe the situation. In particular, any time you start feeling that you have to or need to do something because it’s what society (/your friends/your dad/etc) expects, then it’s time to pause for thought. The truth is, there aren’t many things which we truly need to do. And if you’re want a life which is meaningful and fulfilling to you, then it’s better to focus on what you want to do.

We Don’t Need To Do Much: There are also sorts of things which we might feel we just have to do. Perhaps everyone we know does the same. Perhaps we’ve been taught from an early age that we “should” do certain things. I’d encourage you to pause a moment and think about anything where you feel you need to do something (even if you secretly hate having to). Maybe it’s visiting particular relatives. Maybe it’s your job. Or your degree. Or ironing. Or going out for a drink on Friday nights. The truth is, we need to do very little in order to survive. We need food, water and shelter, and (arguably) some level of social contact. All around the world, people live in vastly different cultures. And even within your city, within your street, people may be living very different lives from you.

Legal Requirements: Do we need to obey the law (as in “I need to wear a seatbelt”)? In the strict sense of “need”, we don’t, but I’d guess the consequences are such that most of us want to. Plus, you may well hold values which include not breaking the law– even laws which you personally may disagree with. Which leads me on to…

Do You Want To? I think that asking ourselves what we want to do is incredibly useful– and it surprises me how easy it is to ignore or brush off this question. Maybe you feel that what you want doesn’t matter… because society (or family, friends, etc) expect a certain set of behaviours from you, and you’re obliged to stick with those. In most cases where we grudgingly feel we “need” to do something, it’s because different wants are conflicting. Perhaps:

You want to be a dutiful son/daughter and visit your parents regularly, but you also want to have your weekends to yourself.
You want to eat dessert every day but you also want to lose 50lbs.
You want to have a great time shopping but you also want to save for the future.
You want to pay the mortgage but you also want to quit your job.

It’s tough when different wants conflict. Sometimes you might need to balance short-term pleasure with long-term fulfilment (like with dieting or getting out of debt). Sometimes you need to simply accept that there is a conflict there: perhaps you find visiting Aunty Agatha every month really boring, but the value which you place on family means you want to carry on doing so out of a sense of duty.

There might not be a perfect solution. But getting honest with yourself– about what you want to do, and why you want to– is a good start to working through a problem. It can also help you accept a particular situation in your life, rather than feeling anxious or angry about it.

What’s Important to You? Whatever you do with your life, there’ll be someone who heartily disagrees with you. If you make unusual choices, in the pursuit of your own meaning and purpose, then you’ll almost certainly get some criticism. But even if you try to live a blameless life, doing all the things which you feel you “should” do, you’ll find that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again. You get to live your life. No-one else has to. So what if someone doesn’t like your pink Mohawk? It’s your hair. So what if you want to read 18th century novels or knit or play the saxophone or read web comics? It’s your time. And so what if you decide to paint all your walls bright red? It’s your house. You get the picture. Other people’s comments and disapproval can be really hard to shrug off– I find this very tough myself. But ultimately, you’ve got to decide what matters to you, and build your life around what you really want to do.

This isn’t about pursing a hedonistic lifestyle. This is about figuring out the reasons behind something. Maybe you want to go to work because you enjoy having a regular paycheck. Maybe you want to lose weight because you’d love to be able to run around with your kids. And so on. Over the next few days, pay attention to any time you find yourself saying “I need to…” or “I have to…” or “I should…” and ask yourself Do I want to?"

The Daily "Near You?"

Travelers Rest, South Carolina, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

Paulo Coelho, "Incompetence Behind Authority"

"Incompetence Behind Authority"
by Paulo Coelho

"Jean was walking with his grandfather through a public square in Paris. At a certain point, he saw a shoemaker being mistreated by a client, whose footwear showed a flaw. The shoemaker listened calmly to the complaint and apologized, promising to correct the error.

Jean and his grandfather stopped to have coffee at a bistro. At the table next to them, the waiter asked a man to move his chair a little in order to make space. That man burst into a torrent of complaints and refused to move.

“Never forget what you have seen today,” Jean’s grandfather said, “the shoemaker accepted the complaint, while this man next to us didn’t want to move. Useful men, who do useful things, don’t mind being treated as useless. But the useless always judge themselves as being important and hide all their incompetence behind authority.”

"Come To The Edge..."

Chet Raymo, "A Walk In The Woods"

"A Walk In The Woods"
by Chet Raymo

"I went for a walk in the deep woods west of Boston with sons Tom and Dan and spouses. The highlight of the day was coming across this beaver dam.


We were bowled over by the size and engineering sophistication of the dam, as impressive in its own way as Hoover Dam on the Colorado. Constructed by rats. OK, not rats, but rodents. A huge undertaking of felled trees, rocks and mud, ingeniously placed at the perfect spot along a tiny stream, as if planned by a human engineer. "OK," the engineer might have said to the assembled beavers. "Here's the blueprints. Go to work."

I stand to be corrected, but I think biologists are of the opinion that dam and canal building by beavers is primarily innate. Which means dam building is encoded in beaver DNA- a four-letter code for assembling proteins that somehow self-construct the beaver's cerebral hardware. And the hardware comes loaded with engineering software.

GATTACATTGAAC…

All this in a package a hundred times smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. One could think about this all day and never get tired of the wonder of it.

My favorite example of innate behavior is the flight of the red knot, which I mentioned in "Skeptics and True Believers." For details of the story I am indebted to Brian Harrington's "The Flight of the Red Knot." The red knot is a small shore bird that each year wings its way more than 18,000 miles, from the southern tip of South America to the arctic islands of northern Canada and back again. From October to February, the birds live and feed on the beaches and mud flats of Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost land on Earth, excluding Antarctica. Then, they lift off in flocks of hundreds or thousands for the journey to islands of the Canadian archipelago north of Hudson Bay.

In the northern summer, they mate and breed, each female laying four speckled eggs which she and her mate incubate in turns. By mid-July, the female adult birds head south again, and male adults follow a few weeks later. The juveniles fend for themselves until late August, when they too take to the air for the 9,000-mile journey to Tierra del Fuego. These young birds in their thousands, without adult guides, find their way along an ancient migration route, down across New England's Atlantic beaches, across the Atlantic to Guyana and Surinam, then down along the east coast of South America, arriving at precisely those places along the way where they are sure to find food, eventually joining the flocks that include their parents.

A map of their journey and the knowledge they need for navigation are part of their genetic inheritance. When you consider that they started their lives, like the rest of us, as a single information-packed fertilized cell, their migratory feat stands as one of the great wonders of the natural world. That single cell contains the biological equivalent of a set of charts, a compass, a sextant and maybe something equivalent to a satellite navigation system.

GATTACATTGAAC…

DNA. Proteins. Evo-devo. We understand a lot of what's happening, but my guess is there's still a key discovery to fall into place before our understanding of complex instinctual behaviors is complete, maybe something as revolutionary as the insights of Darwin and Watson and Crick. Meanwhile, biologists are beavering away.”

"How It Really Is"

“As Time Goes By, It Gets Tougher to ‘Just Remember This’”

“As Time Goes By,
It Gets Tougher to ‘Just Remember This’”
by ScienceBlog

“It’s something we just accept: the fact that the older we get, the more difficulty we seem to have remembering things. We can leave our cars in the same parking lot each morning, but unless we park in the same space each and every day, it’s a challenge eight hours later to recall whether we left the SUV in the second or fifth row. Or, we can be introduced to new colleagues at a meeting and will have forgotten their names before the handshake is over. We shrug and nervously reassure ourselves that our brains’ “hard drives” are just too full to handle the barrage of new information that comes in daily.

According to a Johns Hopkins neuroscientist, however, the real trouble is that our aging brains are unable to process this information as “new” because the brain pathways leading to the hippocampus — the area of the brain that stores memories — become degraded over time. As a result, our brains cannot accurately “file” new information (like where we left the car that particular morning), and confusion results.

“Our research uses brain imaging techniques that investigate both the brain’s functional and structural integrity to demonstrate that age is associated with a reduction in the hippocampus’s ability to do its job, and this is related to the reduced input it is getting from the rest of the brain,” said Michael Yassa, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in Johns Hopkins’ Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. “As we get older, we are much more susceptible to ‘interference’ from older memories than we are when we are younger.”

In other words, when faced with an experience similar to what it has encountered before, such as parking the car, our brain tends to recall old information it already has stored instead of filing new information and being able to retrieve that. The result? You can’t find your car immediately and find yourself wandering the parking lot. “Maybe this is also why we tend to reminisce so much more as we get older: because it is easier to recall old memories than make new ones,” Yassa speculated. The study appears in the May 9, 2011 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is available at www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/05/05/1101567108.

Yassa and his team used MRI scans to observe the brains of 40 healthy young college students and older adults, ages 60 to 80, while these participants viewed pictures of everyday objects such as pineapples, test tubes and tractors and classified each — by pressing a button — as either “indoor” or “outdoor.” (The team used three kinds of MRI scans in the study: structural MRI scans, which detect structural abnormalities; functional MRI scans, which document how hard various regions of the brain work during tasks; and diffusion MRIs, which monitor how well different regions of the brain communicate by tracking the movement of water molecules along pathways.) Some of the pictures were similar but not identical, and others were markedly different. The team used functional MRI to watch the hippocampus when participants saw items that were exactly the same or slightly different to ascertain how this region of the brain classified that item: as familiar or not.

“Pictures had to be very distinct from each other for an older person’s hippocampus to correctly classify them as new. The more similar the pictures were, the more the older person’s hippocampus struggled to do this. A young person’s hippocampus, on the other hand, treated all of these similar pictures as new,” Yassa explained. Later, the participants viewed a series of completely new pictures (all different) and again were asked to classify them as either “indoor” or “outdoor.” A few minutes later, the researchers presented the participants with the new set of pictures and asked whether each item was “old,” “new” or “similar.”

“The ‘similar’ response was the critical response for us, because it let us know that participants could distinguish between similar items and knew that they’re not identical to the ones they’d seen before,” Yassa said. “We found that older adults tended to have fewer ‘similar’ responses and more ‘old’ responses instead, indicating that they could not distinguish between similar items.”

Yassa said that this inability among older adults to recognize information as “similar” to something they had seen recently is linked to what is known as the “perforant pathway,” which directs input from the rest of the brain into the hippocampus. The more degraded the pathway, the less likely the hippocampus is to store similar memories as distinct from old memories. “We are now closer to understanding some of the mechanisms that underlie memory loss with increasing age,” Yassa said. “These results have possible practical ramifications in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, because the hippocampus is one of the places that deteriorate very early in the course of that disease.”

The team’s next step would be to conduct clinical trials in early Alzheimer’s disease patients using the mechanisms that they have isolated as a way to measure the efficacy of therapeutic medications. “Basically, we will now be able to investigate the effect of a drug on hippocampal function and pathway integrity,” he said. “If the drug slows down pathway degradation and hippocampal dysfunction, it’s possible that it could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by five to 10 years, which may be enough for a large proportion of older adults to not get the disease at all. This would be a huge breakthrough in the field.”

"Any Beliefs..."

 "If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I 
have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons."
- James Thurber

Rumi, "If You Are Seeking..."

“If you are seeking, seek us with joy
    For we live in the kingdom of joy.
    Do not give your heart to anything else
    But to the love of those who are clear joy,
    Do not stray into the neighborhood of despair.
    For there are hopes: they are real, they exist –
    Do not go in the direction of darkness –
    I tell you: suns exist.”

    - Jalal-ud-Din Rumi

“The Most Powerful Way To Respond To Negative People”

“The Most Powerful Way To Respond To Negative People” 
by Huffpost

“Most families have at least one relative whose modus operandi is to shoot people down. While your best approach may be avoidance, there are certain times of year when there's no escaping these characters at big family gatherings. On an episode of "Oprah's Lifeclass," television host and author Steve Harvey explains the best way to react to such negativity.


"That's probably the most hurtful hurt there is, when it's family that's your critics and haters," he says. Whether the constant critique comes from a close sibling, a distant relative, a friend or even your own parent, Harvey has the same advice: Stop sharing your aspirations and goals with these people, period. "You can't tell big dreams to small-minded people," he says. "You may have a person in your life who you can no longer take with you on the journey."

Harvey, a once-homeless college drop-out who's now a wildly successful Emmy Award winner, has used this strategy in his own life with powerful results. "I stop telling negative people everything that I think and want, because I know they can't handle it," he says simply.

In his book "Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success," Harvey breaks down the different categories of haters that everyone should be on the lookout for, including the "I-hate-everything hater," the "drag-you-down hater," the "situational hater" and the "self-hate hater." If you have any of these haters in your family or otherwise, Harvey says it's time to remove them from that part of your life.

"When I share an idea with you and you don't show me how to make that idea work- all your conversation is why it won't work- I immediately end that conversation," he explains. "I'm not interested in why it won't work. That's going to arise on the journey. I just need to know, can you feel what I'm saying, are you on board with it, do you have a suggestion how to make it work? The moment I hear, 'Well, you know, I don't think that'll work,' I respond, 'OK, cool, thank you.' And I'm gone."
Excellent related article, and website:
“Dealing With Negative People”