Luxuries that need to be maintained and improved upon

Roadway Underside

It didn’t take the drought in the West or lead in the water in Flint, Michigan for me to appreciate the abundance of clean water we have in Cincinnati, Ohio. Not always, but many times when I’m taking a shower, washing my hands or watching the sprinkler in the garden I think to myself what a blessing it is to be able to turn on a tap and have clean, affordable hot and cold running water.

Quite often I hear people express gratitude for water, consistent electricity, waste collection and recycling, roads, bridges and sewer systems—the physical and organizational systems that are necessary for a society to maintain health and functionality. We don’t talk about it much, but the appreciation is there—at least in my circle.

Our street was torn up on both sides last year so new gas lines could replace the old ones. While at times the noise, mud, dust and steel plates covering holes in sidewalks and driveways were annoying, we all knew the neighborhood would be better and safer for it. Our house is 90 years old, so we’ve had to replace and clean out sewer lines, repair leaking walls in the basement and reroute runoff from the roofs. It’s always a drudge when one of these systems fails, but the time, energy and money put into repairing them always pays off.

Having traveled in countries that have little or no infrastructure, my appreciation is not just that we have functioning systems in the United States, it goes especially to the people who built them in the first place and the countless workers who maintained them thereafter. Before the immense roadway pictured above was built, there was a two-lane street with parking meters on the right and a hillside of weeds on the left. Now, I not only marvel at the engineering design and intelligence that when into the creation of this immense structure, I wonder about the birthing process. What social-political entities initiated this project? Who decided what the roadway needed to be and where it should be placed? Who provided the steel and concrete—and at what cost? What parties came to the table to finance it? I am amazed at how undertakings this huge come to fruition.


Concrete Sewer Pipe

Research by the United Nations indicates that most people in the world do not have the luxuries of abundant and clean water, healthful waste-disposal systems, paved roadways and access to an energy grid. In thinking about what it takes to create these structures, I’m reminded of the Peace Corps and what it provides—know how, community development and engagement toward the “eradication of disease, feeding the hungry, and addressing other challenges through innovative, grassroots solutions.” Many of their efforts involve innovation, training, creating infrastructures with the material and human resources at hand—and often in challenging if not impossible political and environmental climates.

I cannot begin to grasp the complexities involved in helping communities in need, whether here or anywhere else. As an armchair appreciator of infrastructure, I just observe that the systems we enjoy—and sometimes complain about and question how to maintain—began with individuals who responded to a pressing need by bringing together people of means and influence to envision a solution and get it financed. The names of these individuals constitute a Who’s Who list of American entrepreneurs and industrialists, people who amassed great fortunes for themselves by investing in the materials and machines that largely resulted in our infrastructure.

Today, gratefully, the tide has turned. Individuals who have generated great wealth are joining Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates as signatories to The Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. I recommend a visit to their web site where you can click on their names and see the faces of the people who are quite literally, building a better world. Their generosity is a demonstration that consciousness at the top is shifting from “me” to “we.” And it gives us hope.

They are not alone. Investment firms and businesses worldwide have chosen to identify themselves as socially and environmentally responsible, engaging in practices that are focused on more than making a profit, activities intended to “make the world a better place.” Also encouraging are the initiatives of past presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. In his book, Giving: How Each of us Can Change The World, President Clinton profiled many of the innovative efforts being made by companies, organizations and individuals to solve problems and save lives “down the street and around the world.” The Clinton Global Initiative has the former president not only walking the talk, but bringing together global leaders “to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Whenever I enjoy a hot shower, drink water from the tap, drive on well-paved roads, enjoy a constant source of power and take comfort in knowing that our waste is being handled properly and recycled, I want to appreciate that these are luxuries that need to be maintained and improved upon. While I am not playing much of a role in these activities, I am  nonetheless participating by being grateful, eagerly paying taxes and voting my conscience.

It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, because discrimination, poverty and ignorance restrict growth, while investments in education, infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase it, creating more good jobs and new wealth for all of us.

William J. Clinton, Former President of the United States

My other sites—

Love And Light A twice-weekly blog featuring wisdom quotes and perspectives in science and spirituality intended to inspire and empower

David L. Smith Photography Black and white and color photography

Ancient Maya Cultural Weekly blog featuring the traits that made this civilization unique 


The application of skill and imagination to create new things

I’ve long thought that typewriters were amazing. I used the above machine in my freshman year of college. The image called out to me, so I decided to try and understand why. Consulting the web, I discovered that in 1575 an Italian printmaker named Francesco Rampazetto built a machine to impress letters on paper. Centuries and many iterations later, the machines were huge and impractical. Then in 1868, Americans Christopher Latham Sholes, Carlos Gladden and Samuel W. Soule of Milwaukee invented the first commercially successful, small device that everyday people could use to type words on paper. A prototype was made by machinist Matthias Schwalbach and E. Remington and Sons (sewing machine fame) purchased the patent for $12,000. To promote and sell the machine, they called it a “typewriter.”

The number, variety and complexity of working parts in a typewriter still has me marveling at how a person could envision the whole system and then create the many metal parts such that they fit together perfectly to perform its function. “Ingenuity,” the quality of being clever, original and inventive is certainly the word for it.

In the movie The Martian starring Matt Damon, his character was a master of ingenuity, inventing solutions to seemingly impossible, life threatening circumstances. After a moment of  accepting his inevitable death he decides instead to survive—and he gets busy. And the television series MacGyver has gained popularity in part, I believe, because ingenuity overcomes seemingly impossible situations. Although these are fictitious stories, they demonstrate the very real capacity for human beings to envision and then act in order to build, improve, discover, prevent or recover. To innovate is to advance.

We all know, the motion picture and television industries have evolved the capacity to seamlessly put on the screen anything we can imagine. I think humanity itself is going down that road. The ability to create what we envision is so strong in us, we can well imagine that human beings placed on a lifeless planet, given enough time and opportunity, could turn it into a habitable place, perhaps even transform it into a living system. Like my dad often said, “The impossible just takes a little longer.”

Along with the application of ingenuity and innovation comes advances in understanding our fuller potentials, including who we are, why we’re here, what works and what doesn’t work and the part we’re playing in the unfolding story of the universe. We are not only human beings, we are also human doings.

Observing human activity over the past several decades, geneticists have found that even in the physical domain, “Human evolution has sped up in the past 40,000 years, becoming 100 times faster in the past 5000 years alone.” Buckminster Fuller, whom I was privileged to know, found that up until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years. “Nanotechnology knowledge is doubling every two years and clinical knowledge every 18 months. On average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months.” In 2013 IBM postulated that the Internet will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. And then there’s Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, which says “There’s exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. As we discover more effective ways to do things, we also discover more effective ways to learn.” He says we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate.

From the perspective of the individual person, the activities of satisfying day-to-day needs and wants challenges us to be clever, original and inventive. We envision and take action to secure a better life for ourselves and our families. And we’re always looking for a better way of doing things. Standing back and looking at all this activity from an evolutionary perspective, it appears that we are agents of the universe, exercising a variety of drives that are moving us through increasing complexity, awareness and experimentation to become more on its behalf, perhaps to realize more of its unlimited potential. Could it be that through us, and possibly other intelligent creatures, the universe is expressing all that it can be? Assuming so, I asked myself: Specifically, what are these drives, the urges within us, that are moving the human project forward?

Pondering this when my head hit the pillow, I kept getting up to make notes. Before long, annoyed but grateful, I had a list of action words, ways the universe is “using” us to become more aware, envision, build and grow.

Accelerate / Accentuate / Affiliate / Allocate / Appropriate / Articulate / Authenticate / Communicate / Compensate / Concentrate / Congregate / Contemplate / Create / Cultivate / Decorate / Demonstrate / Discriminate / Educate / Eliminate / Extrapolate / Fascinate / Fixate / Illuminate / Incorporate / Integrate / Interpolate / Investigate / Invigorate / Manipulate /  Migrate / Orchestrate / Participate / Penetrate / Perpetrate / Procreate / Propagate / Reciprocate / Recreate

It seems to me, this partial list of urges illustrate how so much of what we’re dreaming about and creating is the universe operating through us—including the conflicts and breakdowns that are showing what doesn’t work. These urges, better seen as “energies,” lead me to conclude that we’re not just here for ourselves, that we are the leading edge of Earth consciousness, manifesting the world by acting on our everyday needs, wants and aspirations—and finding ingenious ways of realizing them. From this perspective, the universe is as much a verb as it is a noun. A doing, a process of increasing complexity. Thus, the typewriter begets the computer, begets…

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us

Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, abolitionist and poet

My other sites—

Love And Light A twice-weekly blog featuring wisdom quotes and perspectives in science and spirituality intended to inspire and empower

David L. Smith Photography Black and white and color photography

Ancient Maya Cultural Weekly blog featuring the traits that made this civilization unique 

On Contemplation

I came across the following from Thomas Merton. I’ve never read a better description.

Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. Is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is a spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceeds from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source.

Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason and beyond simple faith. For contemplation is a kind of spiritual vision to which both reason and faith aspire, by their very nature, because without it they must always remain incomplete. Yet contemplation is not vision because it “sees without seeing” and knows “without knowing.”

It is a more profound depth of face, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in the words or even in clear concepts. It can be suggested by words, by symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what is knows the contemplative mind takes back what it has said, and denies what it has affirmed. For in contemplation we know by ‘unknowing.’ Or, better, we know beyond all knowing or “unknowing.

Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, theologian, mystic

Author, New Seeds of Contemplation

Shifting Perspectives

Seeing the sacred and profane in the same object

Scanned from negative

One of my long-standing pet peeves has been littering. I even won a speech contest by ranting and raving about it in my high school years.

Linda and I were running errands recently and we saw several places strewn with litter. Two years ago when I contacted the person in charge of cleaning up litter in the city, he not only encouraged me to report areas of gross negligence, he followed through, even to the extent of notifying his counterparts in surrounding municipalities that were not in his jurisdiction. Gratefully, the areas I brought to his attention get cleaned up.

Around that same time I was picking up trash in the neighborhood on my too infrequent walks for exercise, when I picked up this beer can. Wearing my “waste management hat,” I saw it as garbage and the negative thoughts came pouring in. How many such cans are going into landfills or clogging up sewer drains? How much of the earth’s supply of aluminum is being used to deliver gazillions of one-use substances every month that take minutes to consume? And I wondered about people who litter. What are they thinking? Or are they not thinking at all about what they’re doing? Also, how does a person get to the point where they have so little or no regard for their neighborhood, community or planet, much less an aesthetic sensibility that would make them think twice about littering?

Some years back a young colleague observed a neighbor drop a bag of half-consumed fast food onto the yard of the apartment where they both lived. My friend knew this person well enough that he could ask about it. The man’s reply was “Why should I care? Nobody else cares. What has the world ever done for me?” (A direct quote). That was insightful. Not everyone in this country grows up like I did—in a loving family, particularly one in which consideration for others and respect for property was strictly enforced—and modeled. And not all educational systems in the United States teach young people about the impact we are having on the environment, and that something (recycling, not littering and cleanup initiatives) can be done about it. I was recently surprised when I spoke with a 50+ woman who hadn’t even heard the word “ecology.”

Waste is a global challenge. Travelers to Germany report that their land and cityscapes are largely litter-free. On the other hand, there are countries where littering and letting garbage collect is the only option. Clearly, how a society handles its waste is a complex issue, conditioned by historical, geographical, cultural, political and economic circumstances. As such, less developed countries deserve understanding in this regard rather than judgment on my part.

Closer to home and on a more scientific note, research by Keep America Beautiful has determined that people litter because they feel no sense of ownership, even though areas such as parks and beaches are public property. They believe that it’s the job of park maintenance or highway workers to pick up after them. Their other findings include:

  • People of all ages and social backgrounds have been observed littering, but individuals under 30 were more likely to litter than those who are older. In fact, age, and not gender, is a significant predictor of littering behavior.
  • 18% of all littered items end up in our streams and waterways as pollution.
  • 1. 9 billion tons of litter ends up in the ocean every year.
  • $11.5 billion is spent every year to clean up litter.
  • 50% of littered items are cigarette butts.

On the positive side, over the past decade, the Keep America Beautiful network has:

  • Mobilized 10’s of millions of volunteers and participants.
  • Picked up over half a BILLION pounds of litter and debris.
  • Recycled over 250M pounds of materials.
  • Cleaned over half a million miles of roads, trails, and along waterways.
  • Planted millions of trees, flowers, and bulbs.

When I arrived home from my walk and separated out a bottle and this can for recycling, the dew on its surface forced me to put on my photographer’s hat. Suddenly, the smashed can was an object of beauty. And the negative thoughts it evoked in me made it, well, evocative. I had been thinking about using this image for a blog contemplation, but I’d been putting it off because I couldn’t decide on a theme. Then, I saw a bumper-sticker that read, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

I laughed. But it was just the impetus I needed. My perspective shifted! One moment I’m seeing this  beer can as litter, evidence of someone’s not caring and not taking responsibility for their neighborhood or planet. Moments later, I see it as an an object appealing to my aesthetic. And then a bumper-sticker comes along and points to the can’s place in a broader context. The can didn’t change, but my way of seeing it did. Oh, and what  had to happen for that can and beer to even exist? A contemplation for another day.

So this contemplation reinforces for me, how even the smallest, seemingly innocuous and possibly annoying things in life have their place. How I see them determines my mental-emotional experience. It’s not that I gained a greater appreciation for litter. I didn’t. It still bothers me. But I’m more at peace with it now, seeing that everything, even litter on the streets, is evidence that all is well and the universe wants us to be happy.

Ultimately the best way of teaching, whether the subject is mathematics, history, or philosophy, is to make the students aware of the beauties involved. We need to teach our children unitive perception, the Zen experience of being able to see the temporal and the eternal simultaneously, the sacred and the profane in the same object.

Zen Teaching


Phase Transition

Form changes while substance stays the same

For me, every element of this image provides opportunity to reflect. The color alone evokes the sensibility of winter, the time of year when, for many of us, the often overcast sky tends to dampen the desire for activity. The lines where snow meets ice and water recalls phase transitions: changes of state, chapters in life where, instead of changing form—as the combination of hydrogen and oxygen do under different temperature conditions—our perceptions and attitudes change under the influence of experience and reflection.

The little ripples in the water evidence both wind and energy, alternatively reflecting light and darkness as life moves forward. In the tree I’m reminded that my personal reality is a reflection of Absolute reality, allowing me to interpret Its reflection freely. I understand that the reflection is not the tree, but does it even come close to representing it faithfully or fully? Of course not, that’s the great mystery.

When we look at images of stars and galaxies, are we seeing the universe as cold and lifeless, a place filled with immense objects that collide with unimaginably gigantic consequences? We’re not seeing then as they are, rather, how they were in the immense past. Might spacetime on this planet be approaching a phase transition for consciousness as it reaches for grander awareness—and community?

The “tree” of our personal reality may at times appear to be barren with only the forces of change and chance moving the branches. But wait! Within them lies the  potential for new growth and radiant color. I observe that on the right side of the reflected tree, life appears to be solid and gritty. On the other side, it’s liquid and flows smoothly. In between, in the center, stillness propagates a reflection. And as this image demonstrates, the greater the stillness the fuller and more true the reflection of reality.

Zooming into the molecular level, I find a social consideration represented along the shoreline where water meets ice. Indeed, at 3:1 magnification on the computer it closely resembles the coastline of Maine, reminiscent of fractal geometry. On one side the molecules stubbornly seek to maintain the status quo as a liquid in motion, whereas those on the other side are rigid, solid and still.

By zooming in even closer I arrive at the place where individual molecules conflict. I imagine their conversation. “I’m liquid and I’m going to stay that way.” “Well fine, but I’m solid and there’s no way I’m going to change!” Well and good. But they are forgetting two important things. They are the same in substance. Irrespective of location and form, they are all water molecules. And they do not exist in a closed system.

A change in the climate, particularly the temperature in this case, would force the change in one direction or the other depending on the presence or absence of heat. Living systems are self-making and self-organizing, but their fate is inexorably determined by changes in the environment. The inevitable choice for all living systems is either resignation or transformation. As George Land put it in his classic book on transformation—“Grow or Die.”

Because atoms and molecules are invisible, we tend to think of them as being still, lifeless and without consciousness. Of course, it depends on how we view life and consciousness, but if characteristics such as individuality, vitality, self-making (autopoiesis) and community-building are part of the formulation, the universe is literally teeming with life and consciousness.

The interface between opposites is the place of transformation.

William Erwin Thompson, Social philosopher, poet


A new phase occurs when communication between agents makes cooperation and interdependence more beneficial than conflict.

Eva Jablonka, Israeli evolutionary geneticist

Fear and its Antidote —

Open minds and unconditional love

My posted contemplations are primarily about appreciation, gratitude and perception. While fear is generally an undesirable sensation, I appreciate it as one of the primary forces that affects human behavior universally.

Fear has survival value for individuals, and socially it’s an evolutionary driver. I also appreciate it’s significance as one of the most poignant topics of our national conversation today. That’s why I chose it. Further, it provides an opportunity for me to reflect on it and put it into perspective. To do this, I referenced an excerpt “On evil,” excerpted from Radical Optimism: Rooting Ourselves in Reality by my friend and mentor Dr. Beatrice Bruteau.

We have developed a cult of the descriptive self, our own personal image industry. It is indeed a matter of images—pictures of reality, but not reality itself. The living person cannot be pinned down in any set of descriptions (for instance, black or white American or African, male or female, married with two kids, Protestant, Republican, businessman, golfer, weighs 180 pounds, has an IQ of 120, drives a Mercedes,  prefers wine over beer…).

These are all conventional categories that we use as a kind of shorthand for organizing our affairs for getting acquainted, identifying people, and carrying on a conversation. But all these descriptions could be otherwise and that person, the real person living inside, would still be there with the same interior sense of ‘I am, I am here, I am now, I am I.’ It is this interior sense of actually existing in this moment as a sheer ‘I am’ that is the real living person. This person is undefined, indescribable, and transcendent of all categories and descriptions.

Because it is not defined, the real person cannot be thought about. Whenever you think about something, you are attending to an image, a definition, a description. Similarly, your feelings are about and toward a descriptive image because the image and the descriptions are as they are, relative to you. 

It is my contention that evil comes about because of what is perceived as a basic metaphysical need in the agent, the need to stay alive, to maintain one’s being. Where moral evil is involved, the agent identifies exhaustively with the image self, the descriptive self, and instinctively recognizes the primordial need to stay in being. It is the self-image which the agent endeavors to maintain in being and enhance in being, because the agent believes that this is all the self-being the agent has, and that if the agent does not tend to its sustenance and welfare, it will suffer diminishment, because nobody else is going to sustain it. It is in order to avoid these life-losses that people do what we call evil. 

In the concrete, we find that evil is not usually done just as a response to the possibility of loss. Nearly always the agent of evil is a person who has already actually suffered severe losses on some level of life. (I am not saying that everyone who has suffered loss will engage in evil, but that someone who commits evil will probably be found to be someone who has suffered loss.) Therefore, the agent seeks urgently to protect the self and put down, diminish, dominate, and destroy others. All this is done to keep the self in being, in bigger and better being.

All this comes of not understanding the nature of unconditional, creative love, that it is addressed to the true Self which transcends all the descriptions. Only the self that has realized itself as transcendent of descriptions so it can afford to lose them, is able to love the enemies of those descriptions, or to love one’s enemies in spite of their descriptions. 


The image of barbed wire is here represented as a symbol of separation, fear and domination—the components of a paradigm built on male superiority and the perspectives “Survival of the fittest” and “Subdue the Earth.” The paradigm of separation may have gotten us to where we are, but now we’re experiencing the realities—and consequences of interdependence. We live in a world where the thoughts, words and deeds of a single individual are having instant and profound global influence—for better and worse.

The paradigm of love however, represented by the sun in the background of the image, represents the Source emitting unity and unconditional love, illuminating the deeper reality, which is interdependence. Our minds, accustomed to constructing a dualistic reality—up/down, good/evil—tend to see these as being in conflict, each battling for supremacy. But they are two sides of the same coin, part of the unfolding process of human evolution, as trial-and-error demonstrates what works and what doesn’t.

Because love is the antidote to fear, the need is try to see and regard the true Selves or souls of those around us—young or old, known or not known to us—beyond their descriptions and behaviors, especially those who appear to be disenfranchised or suffering from mental illness, abuse or neglect. It can be as simple as a thought, word or deed. It takes very little to pay attention to someone, to provide a genuine sign of caring or support—unconditional love where conditioned love appears to be lacking.

It may be too late for those who have already been marginalized or radicalized, deprived of or blinded to the deeper truth of their being. Hopefully not. But there is hope for the future. Across cultures, parents can prevent destructive indoctrination from happening to their children by making sure they feel safe, loved, nurtured and supported as they seek the realization of their unique and constructive potentials. Importantly, young minds develop resilience and intellectual integrity in a context of free and open inquiry, where they have the opportunity to acquire critical thinking skills and apply them to diverse and opposing points of view.

The challenges of our time are those of identity and definition—understanding who we are as soul-endowed persons and choosing who we want to be as a people. By our individual choices, behaviors and the quality of our interactions we are defining who we are and how we will be perceived.

Are we allowing ourselves to be defined by descriptions, attributes and possessions that require constant feeding and defending? Are we just a higher form of animal life, one that’s absorbed in inordinate consumption and self-indulgence, one that has knee-jerk reactions to social and political change? Or are we members of one, whole and integrating body of intelligent and creative individuals working together to facilitate the realization of everyone’s higher potentials and close the gap between the haves and have nots? Are our hearts and hands open or closed? Many of us want to make a difference in the world. I can think of none better than the exercise of open minds and unconditional love.



We move in the direction of our beliefs

Life isn’t ever a straight line on a single track. Rather, it’s a progression along many tracks with lots of switching going on. Although I have switched “tracks” purposefully, there were many instances, probably more, where a switch occurred and I didn’t see it coming. The analogy raises questions about control and self-determination. How much control do I really have over my life?

Certainly, I can choose a destination and get on board with ideas and plans to get me there. That’s “entrainment.” But what about those switches, the plans that don’t—or do—work out, the emergency phone call, lottery ticket, birth, diagnosis, failed plans, new interest or the person we meet who changes the course of our lives?

Some things happen beyond our control that changes us, at times even altering our destination. In large part, I think it’s our encounter with life’s unexpected turns that urges the search for meaning. Is life just a random sequence of events over which I have some but not much control? And why all the unexpected switching along the way? What are we to think? How do we respond to change and uncertainty? When switches altered my dad’s life journey he would shrug his shoulders and say “What can you do?” Indeed, when life (the soul) is leading, the wise course is resignation, go with the flow, align and allow. Resistance just creates frustration and pain.

Somewhere along the line, likely paralleling philosophical tracks, I found comfort in the notion that the inner animating force—I call it the “soul”—of each individual is like the engineer on a train, making decisions about which tracks to take and which switches to activate, when and where.

Looking back I can see how my life as been punctuated by unanticipated events, people and experiences that altered my course. Some were outright challenges that were either met or not—opportunities for growth. Others were tangible opportunities, like when a full scholarship to graduate school was presented to me without my even applying. Others were gifts, one of the most memorable being a friend’s sale to me of about $8,000 worth of high-end darkroom equipment for one dollar. And then there’s the lost opportunity as when Ansel Adams offered to sell a group of us students at RIT, original photographs for fifty dollars—prints that now sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In retrospect I can barely imagine that I was all those people who did what I did and didn’t do what I now wish I had. That every switch and each new track presented an opportunity of one kind or another adds credence to the soul being in the driver’s seat.

One thing is certain—each track provided a unique set of life lessons, chapters in the story of me and my becoming. Hard lessons learned leave little to regret. Rather, ideally, they lead to constructive intentions and choices when a familiar lesson comes again. My belief for now, and it could change tomorrow, is that life stories are written before we appear—already complete, perfect and happening in the Eternal now. That we don’t remember them allows us to freely choose both tracks and switches. Whatever the outcome, lessons were learned. Or not.

The tracks we’re on lead us toward destinations appropriate to the soul’s plan. The engine of belief provides the momentum. And so, whether or not we’re aware of it, we move in the direction of our beliefs.

And I’m a strong believer in belief. I think it’s creative, we get what we believe. Gandhi described the mechanism succinctly—

Your beliefs become your thoughts

Your thoughts become your words

Your words become your actions

Your actions become your habits

Your habits become your values

Your values become your destiny.

Mahatma Gandhi

Through years of study, personal experiences, readings and conversations with people like Dr. Beatrice Bruteau, the friend and mentor I mentioned last week, I’ve come to believe that the soul, which is already one with the universe, has constructed a plan for each individuation. However, once embodied, the egoic personality can choose to alter it. Further, I believe that we will ultimately need to confront the lessons of the plan that we ourselves have made—lessons that balance, correct and lead us toward the realization of our true identity. The question is, “With regard to the more difficult choices, when life throws a switch that’s uncomfortable or undesirable, will we face it now or later?”

There are instances when a particular track or switch is obviously part of the plan—as when I discovered photography, met my wife and saw my daughter for the first time. More often it’s by hindsight that I learned an event was part of my soul’s plan. In either case, knowing that my universal Self is driving my life toward the fulfillment of my purpose, that it’s setting me on the right tracks at the right time and will continuously throw the switches that favor of realization, I feel like the story is unfolding properly and beautifully. I’m grateful for that, including the privilege of feeling that way. Of course, there is no way to know if my beliefs are in alignment with Absolute reality. But they are comforting and the effects are constructive.

NOTE: If this topic interests you, I highly recommend a book by cellular biologist Bruce Lipton entitled, The Biology Of Belief. He presents recent studies on the biochemical effects of the brain, showing that all the cells of our bodies are affected by thought. Further, he talks about the profound effects this has on our personal lives and the collective life of our species. It’s a great read!

This is a make-believe world. We make it according to our beliefs.

Jerome Perlinski, Teacher, History of Ideas

The most powerful thing you can do to change the world is to change your own beliefs about the nature of life, people and reality to something more positive… and begin to act accordingly.

Shakte Gawain, Teacher, Personal Development



Getting on board the thoughts of others

The image of these tractor tires calls to mind the word “entrainment” because they are essential components of vehicles designed to pull and plow. According to several dictionaries, to “entrain” is to pull, drag or draw along. Because the word describes a process, social scientists apply the word “entrainment” to a variety of topics.

Writing in Evolution’s End: Claiming The Potential Of Our intelligence, researcher Joseph Chilton Pearce ascribes it as significant in relation to child development. “Play,” he says, “is the foundation of creative intelligence… the child who is played with will learn to play. The child who is not played with will be unable to play and will be at risk on every level.”

He found that storytelling is a vital component of play. “The child listens to the storyteller with total entrainment; he grows still, his jaw drops, his eyes widen, and he stares fixedly at the speaker. His vision, however, turns within where the action is, for the words of a story stimulate the creation of corresponding internal images.”

Indeed, the words of a story are linear, like a train. They pull us along a fixed path of images, a sequence that lead us to the author’s destination—the point, lesson or truth of the story. “This imagining,” Pearce continues, “is the foundation of future symbolic and metaphoric thought, both concrete and formal operational thinking, higher mathematics, science, philosophy, everything we consider higher mentation or education.”

Entrainment occurs in nature as well. In an unpublished article by James Anderson entitled The Physics of Meditation, he describes the principle of rhythm entrainment, “The ability of two or more oscillators to get synchronized. For example, you’re walking with a friend, and you find yourself in step with that person… Pendulum clocks in the same room will eventually swing together. Soldiers marching across a footbridge are commanded to ‘break step’ so their steps will not act as a driving force for the natural resonant frequency of the bridge. Fireflies which begin blinking at random will tend to synchronize after a while. Nature simply finds it more economical for periodic events (of nearly the same frequency) to get in step with each other.”

In his groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman cites entrainment as a social mechanism relating to “emotional contagion”—how we are influenced by others. “When it comes to personal encounters, the person who has the more forceful expressivity—or the most power—is typically the one who’s emotions entrain the other. Dominant partners talk more, while the subordinate partner watches the other’s face more—a setup for the transmission of affect. By the same token, the forcefulness of a good speaker—a politician or an evangelist, say—works to entrain the emotions of the audience. That is what we mean  by, ‘He had them in the palm of his hand.’”

Television programs, commercials, movies, electronic games and social media platforms are equally powerful vehicles of entrainment. In a linear fashion, they lead our attention and thoughts along tracks toward specific destinations. Whenever we surrender our attention to language or images produced by someone else, we hitch our thoughts to their values, consciousness and agendas. Adults are supposed to be wise enough to realize this, so they can stand as witness to what is being offered and apply their critical thinking skills. Children, however, haven’t yet developed the capacity to understand manipulation or discriminate between what’s real and what’s not. Play and storytelling are examples of the higher vibrational applications of entrainment. The lower vibration is its power to radicalize and brain wash.

In Radical Optimism: Rooting Ourselves in Reality, Christian philosopher and contemplative Beatrice Bruteau wrote of entrainment as “The phenomenon of two rhythmic beings gradually altering their phases until they are locked together in the same rhythm. Insects that chirp or blink will do it; even two human beings talking to each other will do it.” She said whatever we continuously think about or meditate on, we become. In her words, “What we think of, we tend to become.” Filling our minds and especially our imaginations with the life-rhythms of a person, ideal, event, place or idea, we latch on to them. And they carry us along, dominating our choice of reading materials, electronic media offerings, music, sports, personal relationships and affiliations. Dr. Bruteau writes, “Everything that ever enters the consciousness has some effect on it and takes up some kind of residence there.”

Whether by mind or heart, there’s a tendency for us all to connect and follow along with others. The above photograph and others like it, remind me to be aware of the trains of thought that I’ve coupled my mind to. Whether the exposure or influence is to an idea, organization, company or product, a writer, political candidate, artist or television program, I want it to be a conscious choice based on a destination that’s constructive, harmless and desirable. I want to travel along the tracks that will take me to where I want to go, not where somebody else thinks I should be going. So basically, managing entrainment is about continuously and exclusively making choices that are authentic to who we are as unique persons. And it’s a defense against false news, trash talk, conspiracy theories, advertising and social/political manipulation.

NOTE: I highly recommend the books above that have active links. I consider Joseph Chilton Pearce’s book to be essential reading for parents interested in child-through-teen development. Especially important, he talks about the significance of media entrainment, how prolonged exposure to an electronic screen retards the mylination of neurons—resulting in decreased ability to concentrate and imagine. Daniel Goleman’s book is a primary resource for understanding the nature and significance of social and emotional learning.

Beatrice Bruteau‘s book paints a picture of what a mature and mindful Christian life looks like from an integral and evolutionary perspective. Click here for a brief sampling of her perspectives on spiritual evolution. Beatrice encompassed the fields of mathematics, physics, whole systems theory, psychology and East-West spirituality in an attempt to bridge the gap between science and spirituality. In God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World, she does this masterfully. She and her husband Jim Somerville were long-time dear friends to me and my family. She passed this life on November 16, 2014. I dedicate this posting to them.

Emotional entrainment is the heart of influence. 

Daniel Goleman



The essence of living systems is self-organization

In nature and in the world of man-made objects, geometric order evidences the interrelatedness of all things. Using the above image as a model, humanity may be said to consist of a single string within the spacetime continuum. Rather than forming a straight line—the way we experience time—the process of human evolution has been an ever-unfolding and ordering spiral.

For the most part, we have not yet realized or accepted that order, novelty, expansion and complexity are ultimately unifying forces. But even conflicts over diversity can be seen as drivers, urging us to realize and accommodate to the reality that we are one, interrelated and interdependent species.

In the above image, if one string represents a lifetime, we can see how it overlaps and aligns with many others. With a little consideration, we can see the process of ordering at work. And we can see that an individual life is one long and finite string, one that’s shaped by an enfolded and fundamental order—the core, which is characterized by infinite potential, patterning and exquisite beauty. Notice how the mind’s eye sees a star in one place and then another. As in certain geometries considered “sacred,” the pattern in this ball of string is dynamic. It seems to move.

Contemplating Order In Personal And Social Contexts

Socially we find examples of this dynamic in the messy domains of business and politics, where over time conflicting perspectives, goals and methods eventually produce more ordered systems and solutions.

A crowning example of this is the founding of the United States of America. Because the founders—and we today—differ in perception, values, goals and desires there was and will always be conflict, argumentation and debate. In the messy process of sorting things out, an order emerges that overcomes psychic entropy—negative thoughts, ideas and ideologies that, if held long enough by a system’s members, leads to dis-integration and eventually the system’s demise. Order then, along with information, is negentropic. It overcomes entropy, at least temporarily.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes, “Psychic negentropy refers to an ordered state of energy or knowledge, a state in which work can be carried out with the least waste and effort. A negentropic system, whether physical, informational, or mental, is one in which the parts function together in synergy, with minimal friction or disorder.”

In his book, Being Adolescent: Conflict and Growth in the Teenage Years, co-authored with Reed Larson, Mihali identifies the specific traits that carry the highest negentropic potential. These include positive feelings toward self and others, happiness, friendliness, joy, meaning, a sense of energy, competence and intrinsic motivation to be involved with people moving toward constructive goals. Projected to adults, I can easily see how these would be the forces, among others, that are urging us toward alignment and synergistic engagement. In this way, on each turn of the evolutionary spiral, the invisible hand of Nature winds the string around its core, one that imposes a design that is in process, one we are not yet privileged to see.

Writing about traumatic events experienced by adults—such as occur in family life as well as in business and politics—Csikszentmihalyi goes further to say in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, that the ability to draw order from disorder is what transforms negative experiences into meaningful challenges.

Paul Cézanne famously said it was the artist’s task to become “concentric” with nature, to align with it. I see that happening in the ball of string image. I also see how the center—the core of an object, idea or soul of a person—determines the pattern that will emerge as time goes on. For instance, if the string were wound around a cube or a triangle a very different pattern would result. The same with an idea or ideology. The core of a belief system or worldview shapes thinking, which generates patterns of behavior. It’s the reason for the biblical injunction “By their fruit, you shall recognize them.” (Matthew 7:16). Others know us by what we do, not what we say.

In the above photograph, the winding of a string around a spherical core results in a star pattern with concentric circles. Standing back, it resembles an eye. Computer scientist, Christopher Langton, and others in the field of “artificial life” observe that the essence of living systems is in selforganization, not the involved molecules. It couldn’t be otherwise, because at the atomic level it’s the organization of atoms that determines and discriminates one element from another.

At the heart of the most random or chaotic event lies order, pattern, and causality, if only we can learn to see it in large enough context.

Corinne McLaughlin, Educator

Author, The Practical Visionary: A new world guide to spiritual growth and social change.


It is the natural tendency of life to organize — to seek greater levels of complexity and diversity.

Margaret Wheatley, Management consultant

Author, Leadership and the New Science: Discovering order in a chaotic world


When driven into far-from-equilibrium conditions, systems do not just break down, they generate new structures that pull higher forms of order out of the surrounding chaos. It is as if nature reaches into herself and draws forth structures that reflect the inherent potential of the system for higher orders of self-organization.

Duane Elgin, Media activist

Author, Choosing Earth: Humanity’s journey of initiation



Pay attention to the ordinary

Whenever I bring up this image it reminds me to pay attention to the commonplace items and situations that tend not to be seen or are easily passed over. It may be the act of seeing beyond looking, more than anything else, that enriches the present moment.

Brief acts of perceiving are the visual equivalent of contemplation. One of the benefits of contemplative photography is that it allows us to stop and spend an unusual amount of time pondering, perhaps just soaking in the beauty of the subject’s form and texture, how it’s situated and lit.

I sometimes recommended a little exercise to my students when they’re in waiting situations—an airport terminal, doctor’s office, business meeting or just at home with the electronics turned off—to pick a subject, put an imaginary frame around it and forget any words or functions associated with it. As a blind person seeing clearly for the first time, enjoy the subject’s attributes. Notice how it’s lit, and how the light accentuates certain features while diminishing others in deep shadows.

It’s a practice that not only cultivates aesthetic perception, it accomplishes the Buddhist practice of mindfulness—accomplished by being aware in the moment, of the moment; being present with what is, no matter what it is or where we are. And if we care to go there, paying attention to singular being—like a towel, thumbtack, pencil or computer mouse—can evoke appreciation for all being.

I thought of titling this post “Perception,” but the point that I most need to remember is to STOP NOW! PAY ATTENTION! Just sit or stand still with no distractions and appreciate what’s in front of me, what I normally take for granted. Even the computer display, the keyboard, the picture on the wall or the tissue box. As I look at these without naming, the question arises, What did it take for this to exist? Right here, right now. How many people were involved in bringing this into being—and then bringing it to me?

It’s part of the Great Mystery—that we and everything else exist and are present as witnesses to cosmic and human evolution. One of the teachings in Zen is “unitive perception,” the experience of being able to see the present and eternal simultaneously, the sacred and the profane in the same object.

By stopping and paying attention to the little things, that can happen. And afterward, through the act of deep awareness there comes a feeling of exhilaration from having tapped into essence, the Reality beyond the personally constructed one.

A person has not only perceptions but a will to perceive, not only a capacity to observe the world but a capacity to alter his or her observation of it—which, in the end, is the capacity to alter the world itself. Those people who recognize that imagination is reality’s master we call “sages,” and those who act upon it, we call “artists.” 

Tom Robbins, Novelist