Job, Work, Vocation

Human activity: Toward what end?



This image reminds me to appreciate and not take for granted the opportunities I had along the way to choose work that I enjoyed doing. My parents didn’t have that luxury. I think of the difficulties people had in finding jobs during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era, including the immigrants who came—and are still coming—to this country without two nickels to rub together. And I think of the billions of souls worldwide who, under the thumb of kings and dictators had no choice but to spend their days toiling in the fields, building temples and fighting on battlefields. Subsistence and staying alive throughout most of human history was “job one.” 

Every year, when I asked my students what was more important to them in considering a career, money or the opportunity to be creative, the vast majority chose the latter. That was not surprising because they were majoring in a creative field—filmmaking, visual communication and television production. Had I put that question to accounting or business majors, the answer would likely have been different. One of the benefits of education beyond high school is that students have both the freedom and opportunity to choose a field of interest that can lead to either work or a job.

A “job” is a contract, usually an exchange of a person’s time and energy for money. The reward is primarily extrinsic. Young people use them as stepping-stones to learning and becoming self-sufficient. And many adults, like my father who couldn’t afford to pursue advanced education, find security and fulfillment it their jobs. “Work” is an activity that provides intrinsic rewards as well as financial compensation. This includes anything that satisfies us as a person. 

I further distinguish between work and “vocation,” the motivation of which has less to do with personal gain or fulfillment, and more to do with feeling “called” to a particular endeavor. It’s work that’s compelling, regardless of compensation. It feeds the soul. Poet-philosopher Kahlil Gibran wrote that “Work is love made manifest.” In this category I include religious orders, great artists, innovators and emergents, people whose lives and work is motivated by love.

Among them was Fr. Thomas Berry, a writer and promoter of deep ecology. He wrote, “The great work before us is reverence and restoration”—reverence for all living things and restoration of the planet, viewed as a living system. Another is theologian Matthew Fox who asked, “Are we making products that are useful and necessary or are we exploiting the earth and degrading our planet for future generations? How does our work relieve the suffering of other beings on the planet?”

The above image, combined with these perspectives, prompts several considerations for further contemplation. How am I investing my time and energy? What is my reason for doing what I do? What are the intrinsic rewards? Is my work commensurate with what I’ve come here to do? To what am I contributing? (See my posting on “Contribution and Legacy”).

Once we recognize that we are interdependent, it only makes sense to work together. It does not make sense to try to beat out the other guy, because there is no such thing, in the ultimate calculus, as “I win, you lose.” I can only win when we all win.

Willis Harman, Engineer, futurist


Photography Monographs (Select a book. Click on in it to turn pages)



What is it? Where is it?


The image of this nest evokes the notion of home. At a family gathering where Jennifer, my daughter, referred to her “home” at the dinner table, I questioned whether she meant her home with us, her parents, or her home nearly two hours away with her husband and son. I asked her, “What do you think of, when you think of home?” Her response sparked fascinating insights and discussion around the table.

So, what do you think of, when you think of home? Is it the people? The physical structure? The circumstances? All of these? Around our table, one of the responses was, “I’m reminded of my college years, I was really happy where I lived.”

What for you is the experience of being at home or feeling “at home?” When I was working on projects that involved frequent trips to both coasts, I felt so at home with the people I was working with they became friends as well as colleagues. That happened because of shared interests and goals, also resonance. But curiously, I didn’t decide to move close to them. Also curious, when I visited Palenque, a Maya site in Chiapas, Mexico, I felt so comfortable sitting on the steps of a temple there, I felt at home, like I could have stayed there the rest of my life.

When were you most at home? I expected those around the table to cite their present dwelling place. Not so. It took me several moments to even discover the answer for myself—that where I live now is home. It’s where I feel most myself. If one’s current dwelling place is not necessarily home, is there anything or anyone who could turn it into one? I think most of us would agree that “a house does not a home make.” And what about people who have multiple homes? Are they equally “at home” in all of them or just one? And what about “homeless” people? If they retain a memory of home, do the long for what they had, or a perceived ideal? 

What qualities and characteristics are essential for you to consider a place home? Location? Type of dwelling? For instance, could you consider yourself at home in a condo or apartment? If so, what would be necessary to take with you? Considering your current dwelling place, what could you eliminate and still feel that it’s your home? With only the essentials remaining, what do they provide? Mine include computers, books, family photos and photography equipment. Without those, I wouldn’t feel at home. They are the tools that provide me the opportunity to better explore, understand and express myself in order to grow and contribute. 

What does it mean to be at home?  The protagonist in my novel, Jaguar Sun, discovers that home is a personal construct requiring both inner and outer resources. Before he can come to that place, he has to know who he is. Knowing that, he can be comfortable wherever he sleeps. From a physical standpoint, the nest in the above image, a composite of twigs, dirt and other items gathered from the environment, provide the bird and its young with warmth and protection. Is that the essence of home? Does a roof over our heads with comfortable appliances and furnishing do the same for us?

Might we also consider that, given our composite nature, the place we call “home” includes emotional and psychological environments that are conducive to comfortable living and peace of mind? Or is home just where we have our stuff? Is it the place where we live with significant others? As an armchair anthropologist, what stands out for me is the diversity of responses to these questions. In the end,  home is a construct. Largely because of the diversity in upbringing and life experience, we define it differently. 

It’s been said that “Home is where the heart is.” I’m reminded of a prior post featuring a closeup image of a chicken egg. Nested within such an egg, there’s nourishment, safety, comfort, connection and the development of potential. Maybe what we want in a home is not all that different.

Considering the meaning of the word “home,” one of the fundamental characteristics of living systems is  “nesting.” We live and move and have our being somewhere in the middle between quarks and cosmos, between suffering and peace. Along the way, we learn that a home isn’t merely a place. 

If there is to be peace in the world,

There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,

There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,

There must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors,

There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,

There must be peace in the heart.

Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher



Who am I?


On another day this image could evoke a contemplation on birth, fertility or gestation. Today, because I’m seeing this chicken egg as the potential for an individual, it draws me into considerations of identity. It prompts me to ask, “Who am I?”

I once heard a story about a prince who was asked this question by his sage tutor. The prince gave his name and the sage shook his head. “That is what they call you. I want to know who are.” The prince answers with his title. “Are you not more than your title?” asks the wise. “Who are you?” “I am the son of a king,” the youth says. Again, the teacher shook his head. “Who are you?” This went on and on until the prince could answer no more. “If I am not all these things, who am I?” The sage looked the prince in the eyes. “Remove everything about you that can be named. What is left is who you are.” The prince frowned. “But that would be the same for everyone.” The sage patted his pupil on the hand. “Now, do you see? We are one in being, many in becoming.”

The story suggests that identity is a verb, not a noun. We are entities in process, lives under construction within the context of “interdependent co-arising.” This is a Buddhist phrase signifying that everything is contingent upon everything else, and that everything in the universe is emerging as a unified whole at every moment.

But there’s more to it. Being precedes becoming. I have to be, in order to become. So our deeper identity is even more fundamental. And that leads me to another story. This one actually happened. Ishi was a Native American who survived the genocide of the Yahi Indians of California by living in a cave for many years. Anthropologists Alfred Kroeber and T.T. Waterman were excited to find someone who spoke the nearly extinct language. Fortunately, they found a speaker of Yana, a related language, and this man understood a little of what Ishi was saying. With the tape recorder turned on, the first question they asked was “Who are you?” Ishi responded by telling a story that lasted two and a quarter hours. And he refused to stop until the story was fully told. Eventually the linguists discovered that he’d told part of a creation story called “How Wood Duck Wooed His Bride.” To explain who he was, Ishi told about the archetypal characters from whose wise and foolish acts he learned his strategies for living. He saw himself as one who enacts, re-creates or brings into the world through his living, the wisdom and behaviors of the creators. Such enactments of creation are at the heart of indigenous ritual around the world.

In both stories, individual identity equates with the whole, however that is perceived. Our labels, skin color, family, ethnicity and other attributes do not define us. Distinctions just make it easier for outsiders to separate one person from another. By increasing their number, incidental identity can be narrowed, a necessity for those in the identity business who rely on social security numbers, fingerprints and pin numbers.

What about DNA?  It’s unique to every individual. Doesn’t that define us? Actually, DNA is just a blueprint for a particular body; it doesn’t define us as a person. Okay, I know I’m more than my body. What about being self-aware, conscious?  Am I then an amalgam of a uniquely integrated body, mind and spirit system? That doesn’t work either. Heraclitus famously noted that we can’t step into the same river twice because it keeps changing. Just so, this body, mind and spirit—person—is not who it was yesterday. Add “anything that changes” to the list of disqualifying definitions of who we are.

A mind game provides some insight. Imagine that you’re the only person on the planet. It’s a fact. Everything is intact, as it is today, and you have complete access to all the riches and resources of the planet. No locked doors, everything is open, available. You have the world all to yourself and everything magically appears simply for the asking, including food, music and information. The only downside, nothing is running because there are no people to operate trains, planes and roller coasters. After a while, it gets very lonely. Devastatingly so. Studies have shown that isolated human beings don’t survive for very long.

Now, add another person of the same sex. When you were alone there was no distinction. Now there is. His skin is white, yours is black. He’s short, you’re tall. You like art and music; he prefers fast cars and hunting. Now add a third person of the same sex and there are even more distinctions. When asked by this person, you say “I’m the tall black guy who likes art and plays a guitar.” As people are added, distinctions become more and diverse. And as the numbers increase, each person becomes more unique and his or her bundle of differences can be used to identify him or her—incidentally.

But substantially, the differences do not define them. In the previous stories, the perception was that I am who I am as a consequence of the whole. Said another way, my being is grounded in the beingness that we share. The more of us there are and the more diverse we are, the more unique each individual becomes. Philosopher Beatrice Bruteau expressed this succinctly when she wrote that “Distinction and union arise together.” It may seem counterintuitive, but the more united we become, the greater is our opportunity to develop and express our individuality.

Union differentiates and personalizes

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin S.J, Priest, paleontologist

In this image of an individual egg, I appreciate that its fundamental identity as a potential bird, rests neither in the attributes that will distinguish if from other chickens, nor in its function as a producer of more eggs and chickens, but in the fullness of its “chickenness.” So one chicken asks another, “Who are you?” The philosopher chicken answers, “I am the substance of chicken.”

Extrapolating, when asked about our own identity, an answer that approximates the truth is that we are the spirit, potential and substance of humanness. From my perspective, it references the soul. And through the evolution of our species and the planet, we’re coming to understand more of that mystery and what it means. For now, I appreciate the Indian greeting “namasté” because it comes close to acknowledging who we are in essence. It says, in effect, “I honor that place in you where, when you are in that place and I am in that place, we are one.”

Birth is bringing what is inside out. Ecstasy is bringing what is inside out. The whole natural order, the cosmogenesis, is a cosmogestation. It is growing as an embryo grows, organizing itself, and progressing from stage to stage, ‘fulfilling itself,’ so to speak, becoming what it is.

Beatrice Bruteau, Author, philosopher


Photography Monographs (Select a book. Click on in it to turn pages)

Contribution And Legacy

Whole systems considerations on what’s worth doing

Feather In Rock

What do we leave behind? What are we contributing? And to what? Does it matter? These questions come to mind as I contemplate this image. Irrespective of the bird’s unconscious act of fluffing off a feather, it served as a contribution by triggering my aesthetic appreciation. And by thinking and writing about it, I’m paying it forward globally. It’s a kind of redemption—the bird’s contribution of a feather had—and continues to have—value. 

The feather could have been blown away in the wind, carried away by someone to use as a decoration or shape into a writing instrument. Or, it could have simply disintegrated. But when a human being finds beauty in some discarded living form, the locus of contribution becomes mental, a thought or image. In this instance, the feather’s form, texture and graded values enhanced by the rocks that frame it caught my eye as something beautiful, even evocative. 

Applying the idea of contribution and legacy to human beings, we leave behind our stuff, our belongings, the objects we made and acquired throughout our lives. Everything, including words on paper, images carved in stone and projections on electronic screens, has a limited lifetime. Eventually, all matter succumbs to the law of entropy.

Buddhists embrace the reality of “impermanence.” In the face of this, why do anything? Is there anything we can do to make a contribution that matters, one that might last beyond our lifetime? Certainly, the world doesn’t need another one of my photographs or contemplations. When asked what the world does need, the voice in my meditation responded, “The world needs human beings who are becoming more self-aware, more present, more virtuous and attending to their souls by engaging in whatever gives them joy.”

My readings in the social and physical sciences suggest that human evolution is advanced by individuals realizing their higher potentials—acts and expressions of love, compassion, empathy, altruism and so on. Whereas the physical evolution of life forms and planets is largely invisible and occurs over eons, the process of human evolution is currently evident in the breakdown and transformation of social and political systems.

Through decades of applying band-aid solutions to breakdowns, humanity is gradually learning what is not sustainable for either individuals or the planet. Given current trends, toxic thinking and behaviors will increasingly wreak havoc until the breakdowns affect us personally—or a critical mass of individuals affect a transformation of thinking and behavior that values quality of life over quantity of material goods and peak experiences, safeguards and promotes health and well-being, fosters stewardship of the living planet and the development of political and economic systems that function for the good of all—seven generations out. 

That seems like a tall order and a long prospect, but the time span can be tremendously shortened considering the gifts life has given us—creative intelligence, wisdom, compassion, capacity to love…— and using them constructively.

Individually, we can inquire: What am I contributing? What am I contributing to? Is it substantive? Constructive?  Am I just making someone else wealthy? Am I serving a system or agenda that’s ethical? Am I realizing my potentials, aligned with my inner guidance? What virtues do I want to express into the world? Am I contributing to the well-being of the planet? Am I the person I want to be, living a life that fulfills me? What will be my legacy? What would increase my daily dose of joy? These are fundamental whole-system considerations, critically important because we act according to what we think, and our actions contribute to the identity and experience of the whole. 

If Carl Jung is right about the “collective unconscious.  If Teilhard de Chardin is right about the “noosphere,” (the thinking envelop that surrounds the planet like an atmosphere). If Irvin Laszlo and the Theosophists are right about the “akashic field,” (where every thought is recorded and can be accessed) then every thought, word and deed is a contribution. Building or tearing down, they endure.

Nothing is lost, not even to time. Rather than being saddened by the reality of impermanence, these observations encourage us to engage more in activities and relationships that optimize potentials and expand consciousness. And what does that? Again, thinking and acting that brings us joy. Not pleasure or happiness. Joy is much deeper, more subtle, a sense of satisfaction and rightness that comes from being present and in the flow, attuned to inner guidance. 

We must become the change we want to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi, Indian lawyer, ethicist

Every piece of the universe, even the tiniest little snow crystal, matters somehow. I have a place in the pattern, and so do you.

T.A. Barron, Author of children’s; nature books


Photography Monographs (Select a book. Click on in it to turn pages)

Light And Shadow

An aesthetic and so much more

There’s an intrinsic satisfaction, an aesthetic pleasure, that comes from the experience of light when it plays a prominent, sometimes dominant, role in a photograph or painting. The works of masters such as Rembrandt, Turner, and Hooper are largely characterized and revered for the qualities of light they depict. Light and shadow are so pervasive in everyday living, we tend not to regard them, but they can be key to an appreciation of the day in addition to artistic contexts.

I have sort of a meditative hypothesis about those moments when we become aware of light and shadow, when we allow ourselves to enjoy and appreciate the forms, contrasts, and gradations they delineate in objects such as this cocktail glass. Just as sports provide an abundance of metaphors for life and living, I think images where light is prominent do this as well—particularly in still images where there’s time to explore the elements and relationships within the frame.

In life, we experience “bright” ideas, “illumination” and “flares of insight.” There’s “light” at the end of the tunnel, the “light” and “dark” or “shadow” side of being human. We have “contrasts” in personality, lifestyle preferences and beliefs. We speak of “color” and “values,” which are properties of light. “Transitions” are equivalent to gradation. “Tone” relates to music and variations in emotional intensity. And “patterns,” both in life and imagery, display the qualities of order and repetition.

Of course, we don’t consciously make these associations when we use these words, not even when we look at a photograph or painting. But I think the subconscious makes these kinds of associations as part of our quest for meaning and significance. Conversely, the role of the conscious mind when confronted with an image is to seek recognition on the way toward analysis and assessment. What is this? Do I like/not like it? Does it move me? Is it curious or provocative? Evocative? Repulsive? Or am I indifferent to it? The objective mind wants to know if something has value or meaning that’s positive or negative. And the subjective mind wants to know how it feels.

Lighting for motion pictures requires the Director of Photography (DP) to begin a lighting design by identifying the scene’s real or studio-replicated environment, including the source of both primary and secondary light sources. Having practiced and taught this procedure, images where light plays an important role call me to “consider the source” of light, what and where it would naturally be.  It’s a phrase my students came to use when analyzing and designing images, because it results in more potent and true representations.

For instance, from what direction is the “key” (predominant) light coming from? The answer is found by looking at or imagining the shadows. From their placement, one should be able to point to the light source—or where it should be given the situation. What kind of light was used? Shadows with sharp edges are produced by specular, point-sources like the sun on a clear day or bare bulbs. Images with no shadows or soft edges indicate a source that was diffused in some way. Paying attention to these and other qualities of light in an image—and in life throughout the day—is more than a technical exercise. It’s an attunement that heightens perception, deepens appreciation for the great mystery of light, and teaches us how to manage it more effectively at home and in the workplace. Whether we’re aware of it or not, every image is about what the light is doing.

Regarding the mystery that light is, physicist Arthur M. Young wrote in The Reflexive Universe: Evolution Of Consciousness, “Light, itself without mass, can create protons and electrons which have mass. Light has no charge, yet the particles it creates do. Since light is without mass, it is nonphysical, of a different nature than physical particles. In fact, for the photon, a pulse of light, time does not exist: clocks stop at the speed of light. Thus mass and hence energy, as well as time, are born from the photon, from light, which is, therefore, the first kingdom, the first stage of the process that engenders the universe.”

What’s more, increased awareness of the source, qualities, and functions of light—in our lived spaces as well as in photographic or painted images—deepens our appreciation for the capacity of sight. Had evolution not provided the combination of eyes to collect certain photon frequencies and brains to interpret them, we would only be feeling the radiation coming from the sun—and every other source.

Light created the eye as an organ with which to appreciate itself.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Poet, statesman

Light is energy and it’s also information, content, form, and structure. It’s the potential of everything.

David Bohm, Theoretical physicist


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Emergents and the Universe Story

In considering this image for contemplation, the theme that first came to mind was “immensity.” However, in keeping with my propensity to trace subject matter back to its origins, I observed that every human being and before that, critters with eyes who ever lived, has seen skies like this. Curious to know when an atmosphere developed on the early Earth, I turned to my science database and found that it occurred about three billion years ago. While there, I came across a statement by cosmologist Brian Swimme that made me decide instead to reflect on the theme of  “emergence.” He wrote—

The universe is not a place, it’s a story or an irreversible sequence of emergent events.

It’s an ongoing creative event.

The universe as a whole, and each being within it, is permeated with the power of emergence. 

                                                                                                                      Brian Swimme, Cosmologist

As a consequence of this perspective, he said the challenge for each of us is to find our personal story within the great “epic of being—the universe story.” This struck a cord because one of the dominant reminders of the past year has been the realization that our personal realities are a construct, that we are the authors of our experience, particularly in how we respond to what’s happening around us, and also in the choices we make in terms of exposure to the realities of others. The first couple of months in the new year are an especially appropriate time to reconstruct and recognize what’s authentic and core to our being, and then to re-write the story that emerges from it.

Within the image of the clouds, on the left-hand side, a tiny jet-trail brings to mind an image of the Earth and its biosphere as an incubator wherein each life that emerges creates and contributes an individual story to the greater stories of community, nation, species, planet and universe. I highly recommend  The Universe Story, which Brian Swimme coauthored with one of the great ecological minds of our time, Fr. Thomas Berry.

If the individual stories of human beings going back 40,000 years ago were represented by blips of light, and the intensity of each was determined by its contribution to the whole, an animated video of human evolution would begin with dim flickers in Africa that accelerate, spread, and burst into a globe of bright, pulsating light—brighter than what we see in night images of the planet taken from space. A large contributor to that light is innovation.

In whole-systems science and positive-change theory, innovators are sometimes referred to as “emergents.” These individuals literally emerge from within the status quo but are not satisfied with it. Having experienced the dysfunction of no longer workable ideas, emergents dream of better ways to live and work. And as soon as possible they adopt them. They write a new story for themselves because they want their presence and actions to matter beyond a paycheck, status or notoriety. They are their own people, authentic to the core, the modern-day equivalents of the “rugged individuals” who settled the American West.

Among them today are spiritually oriented people and social engineers, agents of positive change and social development. In business and industry they’re working on alternatives to carbon-based energy, sustainable ecology, responsible forest management, animal and watershed conservation, health promotion, nutrition, applications of nanotechnology, energy-efficient transportation, and the exploration and commercialization of space. These and others like them are more commonly recognized as visionaries, authors, life-coaches, globally-consciousness individuals, motivational speakers and teachers who champion positive improvements in every field. They’re easy to identify because they live principled lives and walk their talk; they put Integrity over fame and financial gain.

Less dramatic, but equally deserving of the label emergent, are family members and neighbors, everyday people who are quietly living moral and ethical lives, people actively looking for ways to work more creatively, smarter and kinder with consideration for all and love of the planet. They do a good job and take pride in it, no matter how menial the work may seem to others. They’ve opted out of popular culture, preferring the more quiet and substantive values of personal enrichment, fulfillment and service.

Because the contributions of emergents have survival value for the planet and all its inhabitants, I see them as paving the way toward a positive and more sustainable future. Many of them were either the founders of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) or are current leaders in them. They deserve to be acknowledged, encouraged, and supported—by all of us, including the mass media.

After a talk where I profiled some emergents and what they are doing, a woman commented that she felt inadequate compared to them. “It’s just not in me to do that kind of thing.” My response was to say we can all identify someone whose work we admire and support them however we can. Whatever it is, no matter how small it seems, even just praying or sending a blessing, we’re attaching our story to their story. In truth, it’s a contribution to Akashic Record, the universal library of consciousness where every thought and act has been and is recorded— and available to be accessed.

Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.

Jean Houston, Author, advocate of human potential

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography


The process of coming to know who we are and coordinate

Lincoln Memorial

This image brings to mind History, not as a subject to be studied but as a lived experience of past performance. The posture of the woman above seems to say she is exhilarated, feeling the power of the place in that moment. As well, her juxtaposition between columns and the statue of Lincoln provides a symbol of humanity standing on the threshold, looking to the future from a background of struggle and achievement—triumph over adversity and a shift in social policy toward freedom for all.

The way I was taught early on, History amounted to a series of wars and power struggles, accounts of powerful individuals who led notorious lives in the context of creating or engaging in violence and abuses, always from the perspective of Western civilization. Nothing seemed to happen before then. I don’t remember any mention of other cultures in Africa, Polynesia, Australia, New Zealand, Central and South America (including the indigenous populations throughout the Americas) China and the rest of Asia. Japan was an exception because of World War II.   

Much later, graduate courses in anthropology introduced me to the history of diverse cultures. Wars and conflicts were included, but the emphasis was on values and customs, subsistence, architecture, creativity and belief systems. It opened my eyes to the validity of and underlying reasons for differences in perceived realities and how people responded to them. Whereas the study of history was about power struggles within and between whole systems, the focus of anthropology was on people and how they managed those systems. 

I learned that globally, irrespective of time, environment, religious beliefs or social conditions, even genetics, people’s commonalities are far greater than their differences. And the idea of race, a social construct  born of historical and contemporary social, economic, educational, and political circumstances, had no inherent physical or biological meaning. From the early 30’s anthropology textbooks cited studies showing that there were no “pure-blooded” people on the planet.

Humans are not divided biologically into distinct continental types or racial genetic clusters. Instead, the Western concept of race must be understood as a classification system that emerged from, and in support of, European colonialism, oppression, and discrimination.

American Association of Physical Anthropologists

We also learned that across cultures and at great time-depths, humans were motivated by the same quests—survival, affection, affiliation, trade, comfort,  technological development, creative expression and the making of meaning.

From the perspective of human evolution, a much broader category than History, the shape of a culture or civilization and how events unfold with them is largely determined by the perception of whom their component individuals see themselves to be—as a people, their identity as whole system. And significantly tied to it, a functioning sociopolitical structure that’s resilient and sustainable in the face of change.

After studying twenty-two collapsed civilizations, historian Arnold Toynbee found that what they had in common was inflexibility under stress and the concentration of wealth into a few hands. Another contributing factor “a loss of social unity in the society as a whole.” He said, “The West will terminally decline unless a new spiritually motivated minority emerges offering new creative leadership, bringing the society to a new level of consciousness and development.”

Systems scientists refer to this developing group as “Emergents.” (The topic of next week’s post). Basically, these are diverse people of faith guided by love, goodwill, planetary sustainability and justice for all. 

The fate of a civilization depends not only on its political system, its economic structure, or its military might. Perhaps, indeed, all of these ultimately depend in turn upon the faith of the people, upon what we believe and feel about man; about the possibilities of human nature; about our relation or lack of it to such intangibles as the meaning of morality or the true nature of value.”

Ashley Montague

In his day, Abraham Lincoln was such a person. Beyond but including his many accomplishments, his vision and integrity, I appreciate with gratitude the shift that he affected in the way we perceived ourselves—a nation united, a people undivided, “With liberty and justice for all.” From the perspective of human evolution—and American history—his creative leadership brought us to a new level of awareness and overall social advancement. 

For me, the Lincoln Memorial is not just a reminder of the man and his legacy. It’s one among many monuments around the world that celebrate the struggle and quest to discover what it means to be more fully human. On the surface, it may appear that History is about war and struggle. But those are actually the consequences of self-centered, separatist thinking. The greater story is the process of learning our true (spiritual) identity, including the potential we have when we unite to create a world that works for everyone.

In our time, what is at issue is the very nature of humankind, the image we have of our limits and possibilities. History is not yet done with its exploration… of what it means to be human. 

C.Wright Mills, American sociologist

Photography Monographs (Select book and click on pages to turn them)

Authenticity / Going Home

Where is our true home?

Geese In Flight


As these geese take flight, returning to the places they were born to find food and mates, my thoughts turn to the place we call “home.” For some, it’s where we were born, the house we lived in the longest or where we live now. If “Home is where the heart is,” it could simply consist of thoughts or memories of living together. What is it that makes a home? Is it the place? The house? The people who live in it? All of these? Something else? Something more?

I notice that as our location changes we make new homes. And I wonder about those who have several houses. Are they all considered home? Or is there one place that has priority? And do different members of the family consider the same place home? Sometimes I hear people talk about “Home-home” and “Home away from home.” So what constitutes home? Is it where the heart is? I think for most of us, it’s the household where we felt or now feel most connected and comfortable, the place where we can be our most authentic self.

The image of these geese, particularly their reflections on the water, has me pondering what it means to “return home.” Many of us go home for holidays, perhaps to reconnect with our roots, relatives and friends. Whether or not this involves travel, we return to the places where we found or currently find comfort, hopefully acceptance and the opportunity to be truly ourselves and be appreciated.

I also recognize that there’s an inner home, the place where the true Self resides. Returning there, connecting with that place in me, I’m inspired to live as I ought, not just as I want. Yasuhiko Kimura, a Japanese mystic and author who integrates spiritual philosophy and science, defines authenticity as “The clarity of being in which there is no self-deceit.” Liiving authentically then, is the expression of thought, word, and deed with integrity to purpose rather than social norms, circumstances or the expectations of others.

Going home in this sense is reconnecting and recommitting to a life of focused purpose—What am I here to be? As well as what am I here to do? One of the ways I do this is by reading through my Meditation Workbook, a collection of my own and other’s inspirational thoughts, poems, prayers, meditations, contemplations, essays and information—writings that have been important to me. As with photographs, they reflect back to me certain qualities of identity and aspiration. By reconnecting with my “family” of beliefs and values in those pages, I can better act deliberately in ways that reinforce them—always with an open mind and a willingness to modify them as consciousness evolves. As a source of inspiration, these materials always re-energize me and call me to center.

What a blessing it is to have comfortable and enriching homes, both in the world and in consciousness. The temptation is to think that these are due to circumstances. But just as a house is not automatically a home, both domains require continuous work—physically, mentally and spiritually. And like migrating geese, to get there we have to go there.

The light that shines farthest shines brightest at home.

Rhoda and Homer Slabaugh (Amish)




A sign of balance and agreement

Train Trestle Symmetry

According to Nobel laureate Phil Anderson, “It is only slightly overstating the case to say that physics is the study of symmetry.” The word “symmetry” comes from the Greek, synnetria, meaning “Agreement in dimensions, due proportion, arrangement.”

I’ve chosen this theme for contemplation because, somewhere along the line, I’d gotten into the habit of noticing symmetries and associating them with the aesthetic sensibilities of harmony, proportion, and balance—touchstones in my everyday aesthetic awareness. 

Whenever I’m made aware of something symmetrical, whether in a garden or grocery store, on a digital clock or distant highway, I experience a little Aha!, a twinge of harmony. I’ve come to think of it as a sort of attunement to the fundamental patterning of the universe. The experience seems to say to me, “What you’re thinking or doing in this moment is in harmony with your purpose—and all is well.” I reached this conclusion because, over the course of many years, the feeling that “all is well” occurred consistently in association with sightings of symmetry. Subtle experiences like this are rarely talked about, yet imagination and pattern recognition are among the features that distinguish us from other members of the animal kingdom.

This is not to say that symmetry is the only or even primary arrangement of the universe. It’s not. Asymmetry is the other side of the coin—and just as significant. But to show the pervasiveness of symmetry and to help us know where to look, it commonly appears in many domains.

Accounting: (Balance sheets)

Aesthetics: (Symmetry in faces has been shown to be physically attractive)

Architecture: (Every civilization. Cathedrals, temples, mosques, pyramids, White House)

Art: (Pottery, jewelry, quilts, sand-paintings, carpets, furniture, masks)

Biology: (The DNA spiral. Bilateral animals: humans, plants, starfish, sea urchins)

Chemistry: (Symmetry underlies all specific interactions between molecules in nature)

Communities: (Certain suburbs, streets, city grids)

Consciousness: (Yin/Yang. Logic: If Paul is as tall as Karen, Karen is as tall as Paul)

Food: (Fruits and vegetables cut in half are all symmetrical)

Games: (Chess, Chinese Checkers, Playing Cards, Hop-Scotch, Jump-Rope)

Geometry: (Drawings and transformations, scaling, reflection, rotation)

Language: (The words—“Mom” “Dad” “Pop” “Nun”)

Mathematics: (Algebraic equations. Even and odd functions in calculus)

Music: (Canons, permutations, invariance, pitch, scales)

Nature: (Rainbows, raindrops, leaves, sand dunes. beehives, bird, birds, insects, reptiles)

Physics: (The symmetries of the laws of physics determine the properties of particles)

Roads: (Right & left lanes, cloverleafs, tunnels, overpasses)

Social Interaction: (Reciprocity, empathy, dialog, respect, justice, revenge)

Spatial relationships: (Vertical or horizontal. The photograph of the above train tressel)

Time: (Expressed in numbers: 9:09am , 10:10pm, 6:36pm, 1:41am, 3:33pm)

Transportation: (Cars, trucks, trains, airplanes)

It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details.

Henri Poincare, French theoretical physicist


Photography Monographs (Select a book. Click on in it to turn pages)



Where peace precipitates the power of potential

On the evening this photograph was made, the dominant sound in this airport parking lot was birds—a stark contrast to the busyness and clamor of cars, shuttle-busses and conversations that once pervaded it day and night for several years. The difference between the activity then and the serenity I experienced is heightened, I think, because the central structure existed, literally, to provide shelter. Ironically, the emptiness of the space in this image sort of fulfills the site’s purpose aesthetically by conveying the sense of peace.

The emptiness and quiet of the landscape encourages me to reflect upon its elements. Had there been cars, shuttle-busses and people in the photograph, my attention would have been drawn to the human rather than physical aspects of the image. Instead, the simplicity of elements and the long shadows direct my attention to the expanse of asphalt. I think of the forest it must have replaced, the animals and birds that were displaced, the mountains of sand and gravel, oil and paint that were used in its construction. It’s not that I object to this use of natural resources. I don’t. Building is what we humans necessarily do—it’s the activation of energy flowing from the desire to create and grow.

In addition to the raw materials that it took for this landscape and shelter to exist, I appreciate the army of individuals who envisioned, designed, leveled, supplied and built them, including the electricians who wired it for lighting and those who manufactured the glass and aluminum. Having traveled in countries where paved roads and electricity were barely functional, this facility stands as a testament to the power of collaboration.

The emptiness of a space designed to facilitate the movement of lots of people has a haunting quality. Not in a spooky way, but in the sense that purpose here is at rest. Potential. And because everything looks fairly new—no weeds pushing up through the asphalt, no fallen light poles or broken glass—there’s the hope of renewal. (And that hope has recently been realized. Today, this parking lot is back in action serving as an airline hub for a major freight company).

In serenity it’s easier to touch impermanence, ebb and flow, rising and falling, coming and going. It gives rise to the place in us where purpose discovers its most appropriate and creative action, for in the state of potential, all things are possible.

The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. 

James Allen, British philosopher