Emergence

We continue to speak as though we “came into this world.” But we did not come “into” this world; we have come “out” of it—as leaves come out of a tree, we have come out of the universe. As leaves are organically parts of the tree, we are organically part of the universe.

Thomas King S.J., Theology professor, Georgetown University

 

When a child is born it appears he came into this world, as if the soul resided in another world or dimension—a common belief among traditional faith communities. Speaking just physically, our bodies don’t come into the world so much as they emerge from previous organic substances that, as Fr. King noted, can be traced back to the stars. 

In concert with this perspective, just as the spirit of a tree gives rise to and inhabits its leaves, the spirit of the universe gives rise to and indwells its most complex expression—human beings. And everything else. In part, it reveals to us further understanding of the phrase, “We are one.”

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The Universe in a Chair

There’s more space than matter here, but the combination served a beautiful purpose.

Photographed in Venice, Italy

 

When we look at a chair, we see the wood, but we fail to observe the tree, the forest, the carpenter or our own mind. When we meditate on it, we can see the entire universe in all its interwoven and interdependent relations in the chair. The presence of the wood reveals the presence of the tree. The presence of the leaf reveals the presence of the sun. The presence of the apple blossoms reveal the presence of the apple. Meditators can see the one in the many and the many in the one… The chair is not separate. It exists only in its interdependent relations with everything in the universe. It is because all other things are.

Thich Nhat Hanh

 

A lesson from both quantum physics and Buddhist philosophy: the farther and more deeply we extend our perception into matter, the less there is of it. At base, there’s string-like vibrations, energy fields. As more and more scientists recognize that energy as consciousness, I think about the carpenter who made this chair. What a wonderful contribution, a comfort to all who rested on it. So many. And here, again, as an image, it points to the tree, the forest, the sun—everything.  

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Immigration and Assumptions

The assumptions we make have consequences

Experiences, positive and negative, result in assumptions that drive policies, action and reactions, all of which have consequences for identity, for demonstrating—not just talking about—who we are as a people. A case in point is the current global immigration crisis.

The purpose of this blog is to reflect and appreciate through the contemplation of images, so my intention here is neither to judge nor offer solutions to this complex issue. Instead, I reflect on the assumptions underlying the creation of laws that drive decisions, which in turn have consequences. Atticus Finch’s closing argument in To Kill A Mockingbird, illustrates the power of assumptions.

“The witnesses for the State…have presented themselves to you, in this court, in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption—the evil assumption—that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption one associates with minds of their caliber. Which gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson’s skin, a lie I do not have to point out to you. You know the truth, and the truth is this: Some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women—black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men. There is not one person in this courtroom who has not told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire.”

The science of whole systems and biological evolution support the long term viability of “inclusion.” Life evolves by creating novelty, variety. Despite the accommodations it requires, the dynamics of diversity propels evolution forward. Within all living systems there are cells that, for a variety of reasons, are or become toxic. To assume that all or most of them are toxic would be ignorant and dangerous—the body would turn on itself. In the human body, the immune system is the first line of defense, protecting it against toxic behaviors. The social equivalent of the immune system are law enforcement agencies. 

When a society fences itself off from diversity, as the previous administration did, it severely limits its most precious resource—people with potential, and seriously weakens its resilience in overcoming adversity. The more diverse the members in a system, the greater the experience and intelligence available to find workable solutions to crises.

Persons, humanely treated, have constructive potentials that can be cultivated. Aside from the few bent on destruction, the vast majority of immigrants are highly motivated to make things better. Their intention is to build. Among them may be the next generation’s grand contributors. Closing out also fences in. In time, the “insiders” will experience limited resources and labor.  

A compassionate people view themselves as a whole, interdependent system composed of individuals capable of manifesting both light and shadow, angel and devil, good and evil. They devise laws and put into place systems that attempt to minimize the darkness, but not at the expense of the light.

Of course, the world has changed dramatically since the days of Ellis Island where 450,000 people entered the United States in the first year. And of the 12 million admitted between 1892 and 1954, only 2 percent were deemed unfit to become citizens. Certainly, the American “melting pot” was more of a “cauldron,” but out of it came the scientific geniuses, captains of industry, artists, engineers, philosophers, educators, politicians, day-laborers and you and me—who built and continue to build the most powerful free nation on earth. 

Destructive forces have always played, and continue to play a central role in biological, human and social evolution. It’s one of the ways that nature continuously renews herself. Now that humanity is largely directing its own and the planet’s evolution, it’s how we learn what works, what doesn’t and how to manage the shadow aspect within us and around us. Over the past four years we learned that a reactive and biased posture, operating from fear and exclusion only concedes more power to the forces of destruction. Negative thought and energy begets more negative energy.

The measure of a people’s strength is not their potential to blame, belittle or fend off diversity. It’s the ability to create a context wherein diverse people can live and work together safely, optimize their health, pursue an education if they want to and help each other to realize their potentials and dreams. 

Breakdowns occur in nature and in life as pressures to pay attention, make a fresh examination of the situation and choose more wisely by considering the consequences of any action before it’s taken.

With regard to making judgments about any group of people, I repeat Atticus’ response to the evil, shadow aspects of human nature, made by the prosecution and bystanders.

We know the truth, and the truth is this: some people lie, some people are immoral, some people, irrespective of race, religion, national origin or worldview cannot be trusted. But this is a truth that applies to the entire human race. There is not one person in this courtroom who has not told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire.”

Holding a mirror up to one’s self encourages tolerance, fairness and compassion, qualities associated with light.

 

Begin challenging your assumptions. Your assumptions are the windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile or the light won’t come in.

Alan Alda

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What’s Your Story?

Our backgrounds reveal who we once were and how we got to where we are

The empty patio chairs and the cleared table seem an appropriate symbol of our inability to gather this past year. At the same time, the chairs evidence the many conversations that went on there, sort of a “musical chairs” effect as people came and went. 

Two events converged to prompt this contemplation. One is the many television images of young people partying on the beaches for Spring Break, older folks in restaurants and dancing at parties, all eager to burst out the coronabubble that’s plagued us for a year. The other is the accumulated experiences of seeing people of all ages ignoring the people they’re with, preferring to talk to someone else on the phone. I sometimes wonder; What’s so important it can’t wait? And what are they talking about?     

While writing my novel Soul Train, I wanted to model one of the characters after a dear friend and colleague of twenty years. He’d recently passed away and I realized that the only thing I knew about his personal life, aside from what I learned from his wife, was the university he attended. I knew his worldview and philosophy of life, but I knew very little about the experiences that had shaped it. Fortunately, after contacting some of our mutual friends and colleagues, I was able to piece together some of the amazing places he’d been and things he’d experienced and done. In the process, I became aware of how little I knew about many of the people who, on many business and social occasions, sat across from me.

When we apply for a job we hand over our resumes and curriculum vitae to strangers, but chances are members of our family and friends would be surprised by some of the items on them. Maybe we don’t share that information out of modesty, or because it would bore people. But in an appropriate context, such as informal get-togethers, the sharing of stories about a person’s family, education, employment, travels, significant others and formative events can promote understanding and deepen our appreciation, perhaps even provide life lessons for young people and others. It would provide topics for future conversations with a person, and deepen our respect for their life’s journey.

To avoid the “Do you want to talk about me or should I?” embarrassment, the host or someone else could suggest, “You know what would be great? How about we go around and each one take ten minutes to tell the highlights of their story?” My first experience of this was in a Dale Carnegie class when I was in high school. The lesson being taught was “Speak in terms of the other person’s interests.” I came away knowing the names and backgrounds of thirty adults (I was the youngest). Much later, as an adult, I experienced this again on several occasions. Each time it was so delightful, I remember many of the people and their backgrounds to this day. And importantly, those “round-robin” stories invigorated our conversations on other matters. 

The sharing of personal histories within the family is especially important for young people. It helps to shape their identity, ties them to the past and provides lessons for the future. Whatever the context, family, fun or business, it stimulates a lot of wonder, appreciation and laughter. 

Telling our personal story constitutes an act of consciousness that defines the ethical lining of a person’s constitution. Recounting personal stories promotes personal growth, spurs the performance of selfless deeds, and in doing so enhances the ability of the equitable eye of humanity to scroll rearward and forward. Every person must become familiar with our communal history of struggle, loss, redemption, and meaningfully contemplate the meaning behind our personal existence in order to draft a proper and prosperous future for succeeding generations. Accordingly, every person is responsible for sharing their story using the language of thought that best expresses their sanguine reminiscences. Without a record of pastimes, we will never know what we were, what we now are, or what we might become by steadfastly and honorably struggling with mortal chores. — Kilroy J. Oldster (Author, Dead Toad Scrolls)

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A Paradigm Shift In Consciousness

Tenants of the shift to interdependence, unity and love

Diverse cells rise, become illuminated and enter a circle of light, expanded consciousness. Higher yet is the Great Mystery where infinite potential resides.

According to Mirriam-Webster Dictionary, a paradigm shift is an important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way. The phenomenon was defined and popularized by Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolution, where he argued that scientific advancement occurred in “intellectually violent revolutions” where “one conceptual world view is replaced by another.” Examples from the modern world include the Industrial Revolution, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the digital revolution, the internet, quantum physics, smart phones, artificial intelligence, robotics, gene splicing and nanotechnology. 

Since the early ‘70s, authors and scientists have been writing about the coming “transformation,” describing  shifts in consciousness from independence to interdependence, and from separation and fear to unity and love. It’s important to note that ten random people asked to describe the “current significant shifts in our ways of thinking” would result in ten different lists, possible with some duplication, certainly with different language and emphasis. 

My research into paradigms turned up sites that specialized in business, political and economic shifts. Also, there were sites where individuals and organizations with particular agendas described both positive and negative shifts. Acknowledging my interest and philosophical biases—humanity’s evolving consciousness and a positive future—I list here a brief summary of the tenants I’ve been reading about since George Leonard published his book, The Transformation in 1973. (Amazon has the paperback listed at $768.00. The Kindle edition is $3.95).

 

Tenants Of The emerging Paradigm

Authenticity

To live authentically is to make choices based upon the deepest part of our being, rather than the opinions or expectations of others or society.

Balance

Whole-systems balance requires harmonizing components, all stakeholders. Harmony occurs more often when there is a balance between matter and spirit, and heart and head. “In a democracy, there is not a center. Rather, needs and resources are balanced for the good of the whole by all its parts.” (McFague, 2013). “A customer-centric store shifts the balance of power away from the merchant and toward the customer… it’s about empowerment of the individual.” — Jeff Bezos

Competition and Cooperation

“Evolution depends on competition and cooperation, on independence and interdependence. Competition and independence are both important to individual survival, while cooperation and interdependence are important to group, social and species survival. Individuals and their societies are holons at two levels of the same holarchy. These levels must achieve mutual consistency by looking out for themselves and working out between themselves a balance of competition and cooperation, of dependence and interdependence.” (Sahtouris, 2000).

Consciousness 

The great wisdom traditions held that the universe is consciousness, the excitation of consciousness, the activity of consciousness and the experience of consciousness. It evolves in consciousness, and we evolve in consciousness. “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative of consciousness.” (Max Plank, physicist).

Diversity

The great advantage of diversity is resilience, the ability to adapt to changing situations. For a diverse community to become resilient, it must be aware of the interdependence of all its members. As they are enriched, the community is enriched. (Capra, 2018)

Economics

Equatable economic systems need to safeguard the viability of the whole community. Only as they thrive will their members thrive as well. “This begins with sustainability and distributive justice, not with the allocation of resources among competing individuals. The community must be able to survive (sustainability), which it can do only if all members have the use of resources (distributive justice). This kind of economics is not value-free. Its preference is the well-being and sustainability of the full spectrum of holons, including the Earth.” (McFague, 2008).

Education

“We need to teach our children, our students, and our corporate and political leaders, the fundamental facts of life—that one species’ waste is another species’ food; that matter cycles continually through the web of life; that the energy driving the ecological cycle flows from the sun; that diversity assures resilience; that life, from its beginning more than 3 billion years ago, did not take over the planet by combat but by networking.” (Capra, 2018).

Energy

The laws of quantum physics indicate that the universe is constituted of energy. Energy is primal. Matter is derivative. There are far more information and potential in what we cannot see, than in what we do see. Space is not empty. (Laszlo, 2017)

Ethics and Integrity

“To retain a positive image, businesses must be committed to operating on an ethical foundation as it relates to the treatment of employees, respecting the surrounding environment and fair market practices in terms of price and consumer treatment.” (Horton, 2020)

Inner / Outer

“The inner world precipitates the outer world. Perceptions, beliefs and attitudes are a higher order than genetic endowment. Through perception and belief, we can modify 30,000 variations of every gene. Our perceptions and responses to life dynamically shape our biology and behavior.” (Lipton, 2008).

Interdependence

All living systems are interconnected and interdependent. “This interdependence of parts and the whole applies in both spatial and temporal terms… Anything that exists and has an identity does so only within the total network of everything that has a possible or potential relation to it. No phenomenon exists with an independent or intrinsic identity.” (Dalai Lama, 2005).

Life

“To live is to communicate life because life is essentially a spreading, growing phenomenon. Therefore, the more one communicates life, affirms life in one’s fellows, gives oneself to enhance their lives, the more one is alive, is truly living, and thus, is truly oneself.” (Bruteau, 1979)

Pattern & Trajectory Of Living Systems

Enduring patterns in the evolutionary process demonstrate that life moves inexorably in the direction of increased freedom, order, diversity, integration, novelty, complexity and consciousness. “Increasing diversification and integration are driven by selection. An understanding of the trajectory and causal drivers of the trends suggests that they are likely to culminate in the emergence of a global entity. This entity would emerge from the integration of the living processes, matter, energy and technology of the planet into a global cooperative organization. (Stewart, 2014).

Power

The paradigm of dominion, “power over,” is giving way to “power with,” the empowerment of others. The ideal structure for this is not the hierarchy but the social network, which is driven by interconnectedness. The network hubs with the richest connections and resources become centers of power. They connect large numbers of people to the network and are therefore sought out as authorities in various fields. Their authority allows these centers to empower people by connecting more of the network to itself. (Capra, 2018) 

Purpose

“Our essential nature is identical to the central nature of the cosmos—pure consciousness, or love or spirit. According to all the major wisdom traditions, we are here to access, embody and transmit this divine consciousness into the world until material reality is made sacred—that is, until cosmic consciousness returns to Earth or, alternatively, until ultimate reality—God—returns to its original form of infinite oneness.” (Laszlo, 2017).

Spirituality

From an ecological perspective, “spirituality” is not about what gods we praise and how piously we do it, but about how our lives affect other human beings, including natural habitats and the Earth viewed as a living system. (Berry, 1999)

Stewardship

As members of one, whole and living body—the Earth—we are responsible for our actions concerning it. Acting responsibly means doing no harm and preserving, ideally promoting the health and well-being of all living things. Geologian Thomas Berry distinguished between an “environmental movement” that seeks to adjust the earth community to the needs of human beings and an “ecological movement” where human beings adjust to the needs of the earth community. (Berry, 1999).

Unity

The universe is one, a whole, living, creative, evolving, self-organizing and self-making system. “All evolution is a dance of wholes that separate themselves into parts and parts that join into mutually consistent new wholes. We can see it as a repeating and sequentially spiraling pattern of unity-individuation-competition-conflict-negotiation-resolution-cooperation-and new levels of unity.” (Sahtouris, 2000).

Worldview

“A worldview is a way of describing the universe and life within it, both in terms of what is and what ought to be… In addition to defining what goals can be sought in life, a worldview defines what goals should be pursued.” (Kiltko-Revera, 2004). Individuals who hold negative worldviews eventually demonstrate what does not work for the good, the qualitative sustainability, of the whole. Those holding positive views of the world have the potential to make lasting contributions.

 

Contemplation

Shifts is consciousness can be difficult for individuals. They can happen quickly, as when we adopt a more workable idea, or over a long time where we grapple with a concept that requires a worldview adjustment. For a society, nation or humanity as a whole, a shift in thinking that’s newly introduced requires testing. And that can take years, decades or longer because it upsets the status quo, established ways of thinking that are working for most people.

Throughout the testing period, when a worldview that was once successful starts to become toxic it meets resistance. The same with consciousness. Too many people may depend on it for life and livelihoods. For instance, when it became obvious that manufacturing industries were polluting the air globally with devastating health consequences the voices of concern and innovation, the emergents, were disregarded or drowned out by politicians, lobbyists and executives who made the case in support of the status quo. 

But the status is never quo. Change is constant. And the emergents lead the way with more viable thinking, in part due to the increasing pressure of entropy. Unresolved breakdowns escalate into a crisis. Evolution favors the thinkers who, while adapting to changing conditions, find a better way to sustain and increase life. The more encouraging thing about a paradigm shift in consciousness is the realization that it’s both fundamental and directed. Everything emerges from consciousness and it’s always ascending. As Buckminster Fuller said, “You can’t learn less, you can only learn more.” Life is an ascent. The direction of evolution is onward and upward because that which becomes more complex becomes more conscious, centered upon itself. More aware.

This means that whatever drives learning, be it a crisis, innovation or aspiration, life eventually learns and grows. As conscious members of the web of life, human beings are now the leading edge of evolution. So it’s up to us to determine whether, how and how quickly we, as a species, will learn to live in harmony with each other, the rest of life and the planet.

 

References

Berry, Thomas. The Great Work: Our Way Into The Future. New York, NY.: Random House, 1999.

Bruteau, Beatrice. The Psychic Grid: How We Create The World We Know. Wheaton, IL.: Quest Books, 1979.

Capra, Fritjof and Pier Luigi. The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision. Cambridge, UK.: Cambridge University Press, 2018. 

Koltko-Revera. The Psychology of Worldviews. Review of General Psychology, Educational Publishing Foundation Vol. 8, No. 1, 3–58. 2004.

Lama, Dalai. The Universe in a Single Atom. New York, NY.: Three Rivers Press, 2005.

Horton, Melissa. The Importance of Business Ethics. Investopedia, July 1, 2020.

Laszlo, Ervin. The Intelligence of the Cosmos: New Answers from the Frontiers of Science. Rochester, VT.: Inner Traditions, 2017.

Lipton, Bruce. In Daniel Goleman, Measuring The Unmeasurable: The Scientific Case for Spirituality. Boulder, CO.: Sounds True Publishing, 2008).

McFague, Sallie. A New Climate For Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming. Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 2008.

McFague, Sallie. Blessed Are The Consumers: Change and the Practice of Restraint. Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 2013.

Sahtouris, E. Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution. iUniverse, 2000.

Stewart, John E. The Direction of Evolution: The Rise of Cooperative Organization. El Sevier Abstract, Vol. 123, September 2014, Pages 27-36.

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Awe

The feeling we get when touched by something vast

After watching the last episode in season three of Northern Exposure, I got up from my chair and for several minutes walked around exclaiming, “Awesome storytelling! Awesome writing! Awesome acting! Wonderful, awesome costuming! Fantastic location—how’d they do that? Atmospherics—awesome! Lighting—awesome!” Wearing out the word “awesome,” I searched for a higher, more expressive word, but couldn’t come up with anything better to express my joy. So I decided to look into it. And I’m glad I did. 

Clinical psychologist Neil Farber defines awe as “an overwhelming feeling associated with vastness, reverence, wonder and at times a touch of fear; a sense of transcending day-to-day human experience in the presence of something extraordinary. Awe is inspired by objects or events that are considered to be greater than yourself such as genius, great beauty, extreme power, and impact or sublimity.”

Awe turns out to be an important feature of positive psychology. There’s recently been a wave of studies on its cross-cultural power. Psychotherapist Kirk J. Schneider says in his article The Sense of Awe Takes Center Stage, “the studies indicate that the cultivation of awe—above and beyond even happiness—can increase life-satisfaction, patience, volunteerism, gratitude and empathy for one’s fellow humans. The studies also suggest that the sense of awe can have beneficial effects on the immune system, on psychological problems such as anxiety and depression and disease in general. Finally, the studies are revealing the potency of awe to connect people to a nondogmatic, noncontrolling “higher power.” This power has had remarkable effects not only on the reduction of addictions but on a sense of the creativity and richness of day-to-day life.”

Dr. Schneider lists some of the conditions that favor the awakening of awe —

  • The time to reflect
  • A capacity to slow down
  • A capacity to savor the moment
  • A focus on what one loves
  • A capacity to see the big picture
  • An openness to the mystery of life and being
  • An appreciation for the fact of life
  • An appreciation of pain as a sometime teacher
  • An appreciation of balance (e.g., between one’s fragility and resiliency)
  • Contemplative time alone
  • Contemplative time in natural or non-distracting settings
  • Contemplative time with close friends or companions
  • In-depth therapy or meditation
  • An ability to stay present to and in conflict accept that “this too shall pass”
  • An ability to stay present to and accept the evolving nature of life
  • An ability to give oneself over—discerningly–to the ultimately unknowable
  • An ability to trust in the ultimately unknowable

Awe is the source of all true art and science. — Albert Einstein

As I write, synchronicities keep coming. In that same episode of Northern Exposure, radio announcer Chris in the Morning quoted renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell who said, “Awe is what moves us forward.” Jennifer, our daughter, had just watched that episode with Jason, her husband, and they raved about it as much as we did. And a close friend of hers had just sent her an article, “How the Science of Awe Shaped Pixar’s “Soul.” Besides being instrumental in shaping the movie, the article had a link to Greater Good Magazine where awe was defined—“Awe is the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world, like looking up at millions of stars in the night sky or marveling at the birth of a child. When people feel awe, they may use other words to describe the experience, such as wonder, amazement, surprise, or transcendence.” Turns out, Greater Good Magazine was a wealth of information on awe. For one thing, it provided a list of its benefits.

Benefits

The research on awe has been demonstrated to have long-term effects on our minds, bodies and social connections.  

  • Awe feels good: Along with it can come a cascade of other positive emotions such as joy and gratitude, which are linked to greater health and well-being.
  • Awe makes us happier: Research shows that people have higher well-being on days when they have positive experiences of awe, compared to days with no awe. In another study, participants who imagined viewing Paris from the Eiffel Tower reported feeling more satisfied with life than participants who imagined viewing a plain landscape.
  • Awe encourages curiosity and creativity. People who experience awe find greater interest in abstract paintings, for example, and persist longer at difficult puzzles.
  • Awe makes us more generous, encouraging us to help others even when it costs us.
  • Awe helps us gain perspective.
  • Awe is linked to better physical health: Awe-prone people show lower levels of a biomarker (IL-6) that reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, and autoimmune disease.
  • Time seems to expand as we feel awe and immerse ourselves in the present moment, detached from our normal, mundane concerns.
  • Awe sharpens our brains, encouraging critical thinking.

Michelle Shiota, associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University, specializes in the study of awe. “How often you experience awe depends on your mindset: how open you are to the novel and unexpected in your environment; whether you choose to seek out extraordinary experiences; how much you attend to the wonder and beauty present in everyday life. These all help create moments of seeing the world as a beautiful and amazing place.” If you’d like to learn How Awe Transforms the Body and Mind, check out her video on YouTube. 

I notice that the experience of awe can be dramatic, as when I cried witnessing the beauty of Hawaii’s Napali Coast on a helicopter tour; paddling a canoe alone in the rain for an hour, down a narrow jungle stream in Belize. It can also be subtle, for instance, when I was overwhelmed to tears at the foot of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, seeing my daughter for the first time, sitting eight feet away from Ansel Adams showing us (RIT students) his exquisite photographs and sitting atop the Temple of the Inscriptions (Maya temple in Palenque, Mexico), feeling at peace and at home. 

Jennifer experienced awe driving around Tuscany, flying over the Grand Canyon and observing the artwork in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Linda, my wife, said she experienced awe every year when she entered the classroom and saw her freshmen students for the first time. I imagine that awe is a frequent experience for the astronauts who get to orbit the Earth. What about you? I’d love to hear your experiences of awe. 

I noted that the experience of awe can be dramatic or subtle. What the awesome sunset, kind gesture, smell of a rose and transformative thought have in common is contact with the vast and mysterious. Whether inside or out, it’s like touching the soul. The airplane pilot’s poem tells about touching “the hand of God.” We either know it’s there or sense that it is. And then Boom! Confirmation. We get a taste of the numinous. At once, we know there’s more going on the universe than we can imagine. And greater experience lies ahead.  

Create experiences that leave you in awe, for these will be the highlights of your life. — Ryan Blair, Entrepreneur and author Nothing To Lose, Everything To Gain

NOTE: The “Cicely” episode of Northern Exposure won a Peabody Award in 1993. The award is given to  “recognize when storytelling is done well; when stories matter.” I consider the Peabody more prestigeous than the Emmy.

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Mythic Dancing

A form of expression that unites persons, community, culture and cosmos

Maya “Long Nose” dance. Dressed as the long-nosed Ek Chuah, God of merchants and patron of cacao, the dancer acts out the impregnation of Lady Xquic, daughter of a Xibalba (underworld) lord. The man on the left beats a drum. Ek Chuah has a rattle and fan, and there’s a humming bird nibbling on a plant in his headdress.The woman is apparently singing. The man on the right sounds a gourd-like instrument. In Maya art, extended heels indicate dancing. (Photo courtesy of Justin Kerr Rollout Vase Collection).

 

My wife and I have been replaying Northern Exposure, one of our favorite television programs. In Season Three, within an episode entitled Seoul Mates—where Maurice learns he has a Korean son—Marilyn Whirlwind, played by Elaine Miles, tells the Tlingit raven clan myth about how Raven brought light to the world. Toward the end of the program, she and a troup of natives in raven costumes dance the story to drums and flutes as she tells it again voice-over. Watching it, feelings of joy welled up and my eyes watered. I wondered why.

Marilyn Whirlwind: “A long time ago, the raven looked down from the sky and saw that the people of the world were living in darkness. The ball of light was kept hidden by a selfish, old chief. So, the raven turned himself into a spruce needle and floated on the river where the chief’s daughter came for water. She drank the spruce needle. She became pregnant and gave birth to a boy, which was the raven in disguise. The baby cried and cried until the chief gave him the ball of light to play with. As soon as he had the light, the raven turned back into himself and carried the light into the sky. From then on, we no longer lived in darkness.”

For one thing, cutaways showing the delight in the eyes of people in the audience made me empathize and appreciate the extent of the community’s coherence. It didn’t matter that many of them didn’t own the myth as part of their culture. And many viewers probably wondered if the natives in attendance believed the story was factual, or whether it was accurately told relative to the Tlingit oral tradition. The story I found online, Raven Steals the Light, was longer and far more detailed. But none of that mattered to me. 

The long, black-beaked bird headdresses and costumes with feathers, the many Tlingit banners with abstracted bird faces, the bodies of the dancers painted black, the dancing and bird-gestures, music, drumming and rattling held me spellbound. Those in the audience and we who watched the performance on television were one, engaged in a culture’s connection to nature, the universe and how its features came to be. It made me want to live in Cicely, Alaska, a place where diverse people shared and debated substantive ideas and everyday human concerns. Considering that there’s a Northern Exposure Facebook page and a KBHR radio station in operation today, I’m not alone.

Catherine Bell, a religious studies scholar, writes that “The performance of ritual creates a theatrical-like frame around the activities, symbols and events that shape the participant’s experience and cognitive ordering of the world, simplifying the chaos of life and imposing a more or less coherent system of categories of meaning onto it. As anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff put it, “Not only is seeing believing, doing is believing.” Doing—mythic dancing—solidifies order, belief and identity.

The earliest evidence of ritual dancing comes from 9000-year-old cave paintings in India. It became widespread by the third millennium B.C. when the Egyptians and Maya and likely others, used dance as an integral part of religious ceremonies. As different as cultures are in their personification of earth forces and otherworld deities, it’s the quest for order and meaning that gave them an identity distinct from all others. Likewise in the modern world, we’re Christians and Buddhists, Americans, Italians and Japanese because of the stories we cherish. 

It’s relatively easy to find dance performances that celebrate folk traditions and notable historic personages such as Alexander Hamilton, but these aren’t rituals. Anthropologists Emily Shultz and Robert Lavenda, writing in A Perspective on the Human Condition, say a ritual must fit four criteria. It must be a repetitive social practice, be different from the routines of daily living, follow a ritual plan and be encoded in myth. Merrian-Webster defines “myth” as “A usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the worldview of a people or explain a practice, belief or natural phenomenon.” Mythic dancing then, tells how something of cosmic significance happened. 

Curiously missing from the long list of creation myths, are those of the modern era. We certainly have many myths to tell—Adam and Eve, Moses and the tablets, Jesus changing water into wine. Why aren’t we dancing them? Turns out, there are many mythic stories in the history of Western Civilization beginning with the Greeks. But with few exceptions, we’re not seeing them danced or even celebrated. There seems to be good reason why. Old and New Testament writers regarded the physical body as “profane,” “corrupted.” Dance was considered an invitation to sin. One’s attention was more properly placed on the Soul or Spirit.

“For the desire of the flesh is against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another.” (Galatians 5:17).

“The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6).

“For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, nothing good dwells.” (Romans 7:18)

Later on, the “Church Fathers” took it to extremes in dogma. Regarding dance, a Catholic site, Tradition in Action, provides some history. The Jews incorporated dance as a means to express piety. King David danced before the Ark of the Covenant and some women danced to celebrate military victories, but men and women never danced together. “Dance largely degenerated under the influence of the Roman and Hellenic cultures. Later, in early Christendom, the bad leaven of pagan heathen dance led the Church to condemn dancing as unfit for Christians… The Council of Laodicea (363 AD) forbade Catholics to join in wedding dances. The Third Council of Toledo (589 AD) condemned dancing at the commemorations on the eve of Saints’ feast days and repeated the warning for Catholics to avoid participating at weddings where love was the subject of songs or dances. The Council of Trullo (692 AD) excommunicated any layman who participated in theatrical dancing; it also deposed any cleric who did so.” Continuing the trend, missionaries put a stop to the mythic (“pagan”) dancing of indigenous people everywhere. 

So the separation of body from Spirit largely blocked many cultures from dancing their myths. Yet the Western world has many myths. Jewish & Christian Mythology lists some of them with descriptions. Throughout Central and South America, dancing is a prominent feature among Catholics today, but these dances mainly occur in the context of ceremonies and celebrations rather than mythic storytelling.  After considerable research, I only found two cultures where mythic events are regularly danced today. Among several Native American tribes, there’s the Jingle Dress Dance,” the “Grass Dance” and the “Hoop Dance.” And the Aborigines have a ceremony called corroboree, where they meet and dance stories that depict the creation of human beings, animals, customs, law, lands, plants and sacred places. 

Watching the Tlingit television reenactment of Raven bringing light to the world, I felt, as I often do reading about indigenous ways and wisdom, that we’ve lost something precious, a form of expression that unites us in a way that mass and social media can’t. I was touched. Literally, a connection was made between the dancers, the narrator, those in attendance, me and the cosmos. That’s why the tears of appreciation and joy.

The first function of mythology is to waken and maintain in the individual a sense of wonder and participation in the mystery of this finally inscrutable universe. — Joseph Campbell

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My portfolio site: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

My Photography Monographs

 

Altruism

One of the ways we lift the human project

In the above sunflare, I always saw a dove. As well as “peace,” the dove symbolizes altruism. And in this context, the trees represent the strength and growth that accompanies the privilege to give and help. The word “altruism” was coined by French philosopher Auguste Comte. In French, altruisme, is an antonym for egoism. He derived it from the Italian altrui, which in turn was derived from Latin alteri, meaning “other people” or “somebody else.” (Wikipedia)

Arguably, the greatest social debate that’s been raging worldwide since the discovery of fire has been the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In Genesis 4:9, after Cain killed his brother, Abel, the Lord asked him where his brother was. He lied, saying he didn’t know and posed that infamous question. Ever since, different people affirm or deny that we, as human beings, have an obligation to support or provide for anyone who is lacking or suffering.

 

The Religions

Christians are taught to love one another. The apostle Paul wrote (1 Thessalonians 5:12-15) “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.” Similarly, Buddhists are encouraged to practice “loving-kindness” toward one another. Neither emotional nor selfish, it’s seen as the most effective way to maintain purity of mind and to purify the mentally polluted atmosphere. 

In the Metta Sutta, the Buddha expanded this perspective. “Just as a mother would protect her only child even at the risk of her own life, even so, let him cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings. Let his thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world, above, below and across without any obstruction, without any hatred, without any enmity.” Love of neighbor has been one of the fundamental precepts of all the traditional religions. 

 

The Dissenters

Among the skeptics and outright dissenters to the principle and practice of altruism, novelist Robert A. Heinlein believed altruism was “based on self-deception, the root of all evil.” Industrialist H.L. Mencken said it was “grounded on the fact that it is uncomfortable to have unhappy people about one.” Business and political writer Andrew Tobias said “there’s no such thing as altruism.” Marcel Proust, novelist and critic, said “Human altruism which is not egoism, is sterile.” Science fiction writer Greg Bear wrote “Altruism is masked self-interest. Aggressive self-interest is a masked urge to self-destruction.” And novelist Ayn Rand proclaimed that “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.”

 

The Science

Dr. Abigail Marsh, author of The Fear Factor, reported in Psychology Today that after six years of MRI research working with dozens of altruistic kidney donors, researchers Kristin Brethel-Haurwitz and Abigail Marsh of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. found that altruists are “particularly attuned to signs that another person is in distress. They have a better-than-average ability to recognize when others are frightened, which seems to result from an area of their brain, called the amygdala, being more reactive to fearful facial expressions. This fear sensitive part of the brain is also physically bigger in altruists. These patterns are especially interesting because they are the opposite of those seen in psychopaths—particularly uncaring and selfish individuals—who have smaller, less active amygdalas. Together, these results suggest that humans may naturally vary along a sort of a “caring continuum,” a spectrum ranging from highly altruistic people who care a lot about others’ welfare to psychopathic people who don’t care much at all.”

 

The Wisdom Teachers — In their own words

The root of happiness is altruism – the wish to be of service to others. — Dalai Lama

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. — Mahatma Gandhi

When you are able to shift your inner awareness to how you can serve others, and when you make this the central focus of your life, you will then be in a position to know true miracles in your progress toward prosperity.” ― Wayne W. Dyer, Motivational speaker

Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now. ― Jack Kerouac, author of The Portable Jack Kerouac

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal. — Albert Pike, Arkansas poet and lawyer

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. — Albert Einstein

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. — Winston Churchill

My sister, Joanne, and I were raised to be generous, especially toward those in need. My wife wasn’t raised that way, but being highly empathetic giving became natural to her. Our daughter, Jennifer, excels in that area and Jason, her husband, has such a strong impetus to service that helping and giving are prominent features in their family. 

In my experience, in addition to the feeling that I’ve helped someone, incidents of giving and helping evoke a powerful sense of gratitude for what we have. As with power, privilege comes with responsibility. No matter how small the contribution or help, irrespective of the motivation and circumstances of the receiver, altruism is one of the ways we can lift the human project—one person, one organization at a time.      

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My portfolio site: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

My Photography Monographs

Acceptance

Receiving something offered; not resisting what is; going with the flow

It’s easy to accept a good thing when it’s offered, not so easy when life presents an upsetting or life-threatening challenge. Acceptance doesn’t mean liking, wanting or agreeing with what is, it’s a matter of embracing what’s happening because it has a purpose. Doing so, allows us to work on discovering why something’s happening so we can understand the cause and return to balanced living. 

Easier said than done, especially for those who’ve lost a loved one, people who are hungry or starving, being abused, treated unfairly or struggling with physical or mental illness. The rest of us can offer them compassion and prayers, perhaps direct assistance or support if conditions allow. Whatever the challenge, we have a choice—to ignore the pain (whether it’s ours or someone else’s) accept or reject it. Ignoring maintains the situation and over time the pain evolves from a “whisper” to a “scream” for attention. Accepting what is, aligns us with reality and opens the door for positive action. 

Everything that needs to happen happens exactly when it needs to because the intelligence of life is guiding our every move. Our real healing comes from the unconditional acceptance that accompanies this realization. — Jacob Israel Liberman, author, Luminous Life: How the Science of Light Unlocks the Art of Living

In The Power of Acceptance, Chuck Danes, independent researcher and founder of Enlightened Journey Enterprises, says “Resistance, although often “perceived” as being the means to avoid unpleasant and undesirable experiences, is in actuality the very choice that enables the unpleasant to become real… (it) only serves to draw to you more of the ‘unpleasant,’ the polar opposite of what so many claim they want.” Conversely, accepting what is allows us to attract what we want rather than unconsciously attracting what we don’t want. Danes continues, “Resistance becomes real by choosing a state of fear, doubt, worry and anxiety and the result is the attraction, manifestation, and growth of the thing resisted. Acceptance becomes real by choosing to accept the circumstances as they are, absent fear, doubt, worry and anxiety and all that can grow from this ‘chosen state’ are acceptable or pleasing circumstances.”

 

Getting To Acceptance

Consciousness is fundamental. Thought precedes and produces form. So every form, experience, condition and circumstance in our lives is a result of our thinking. Pain, discomfort and annoyances occur for two reasons. They’re a consequence of erroneous beliefs about ourselves, others and the world, thinking that’s out of harmony with the intelligence of the universe. Or they’re required by the soul, formulated prior to incarnation, lessons necessary for our evolution. In  both cases, acceptance is a graceful path. In the former, we accept what is and work on changing erroneous beliefs. In the latter, we accept that the condition is necessary for growth and allow it to unfold as it will. Go with the flow. Resisting in either situation makes no sense. It just creates a lot of friction—in us and beyond us.

In her book, The Energy Codes: The 7-Step System to Awaken Your Spirit, Heal Your Body, and Live Your Best Life, Dr. Sue Morter speaks of acceptance. “When you really get down to it, we either embrace or reject everything in life. When we say or even think or feel, ‘This isn’t happening,’ or ‘I can’t accept this’—when we avoid looking at our reality clearly because we don’t like what we see, or when something happens that doesn’t live up to our conscious desires and expectations—we are rejecting it… When we are rejecting, we are disconnecting from our ability to metabolize life: to lean in, to release, to move on. Our resistance then becomes an interference or blockage in that spot in our system, and our flow stops there… It doesn’t go away.” So healing—unblocking— becomes necessary.

The way to change a circumstance or condition that’s intermittent or temporary is to become aware of both conscious and subconscious negative beliefs (I write them down) and replace them with positive beliefs, those that align with the energies of love, self-compassion, confidence, joy and forgiveness—and adjust our view of people and life in general. Because thoughts create form—reality—if I expect that bad things are going to happen, they will. If I believe things won’t work out for me, they won’t. If I believe money is scarce, it will be. Fear creates reasons to fear; hate creates reasons to hate; lack of self-confidence produces evidence of it, and feeling unloved produces that reality—but only so long as the negative beliefs or feelings persist. 

Negative thoughts are transformed by becoming aware of them and immediately reframing them in the positive. From “I’m not…” to “I am…” When something triggers a negative thought, we turn it around and accept the positive. In this regard, significant progress occurs when we shift negative assumptions about life or the world into positive ones. (See my blog entitled “Worldview”). Examples of positive, health-promoting worldviews include the belief that ultimately, everything happens for a good reason, that there is perfection in being, yet progress still needs to be made in becoming, that all of creation is the Infinite Creator’s expression of love, that good and evil, right and wrong, true and false—all dualities—are two sides of the same coin, that 13.5 billion years of evolution shows us what works, that all is well and All is One.

My work is loving the world. — Mary Oliver, American poet

For photographers and other artists, especially empowering is the Jesuit imperative to “See God in all things.” Eckhart Tolle speaks of acceptance as “A surrender to the Now… strength, peace and serenity are available when one stops struggling to resist or hang on tightly to what is so in any given moment. What do I have right now? Now, what am I experiencing?… Acceptance means allowing; allowing unwanted private experiences (thoughts, feelings and urges) to come and go without struggling with them.” And there’s the familiar quote by Reinhold Niebuhr adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous—“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Heidegger said, “I care, therefore I am.” William Blake said, “I am in you, and you in me, mutual in love divine.” And Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “The physical structure of the universe is love.” 

All that is required to realize the Self is to be still. — Ramana Maharshi, Indian Hindu sage

 

Higher Level Acceptance     

Each of us is here for a reason. As noted, one of the main reasons has to do with fulfilling the requirements of the soul—karma. Beyond that, pain in the body-mind is a signal that our thinking and behavior is out of step with the vibrant wholeness that we are in reality. A line of thought that helps me get back on track both personally and socially, is remembering that those of us alive now constitute the leading edge of evolution. How we look physically, how we talk and behave, what we talk about and how we dress, our customs, beliefs, what we’ve built, what we’re working on, triumphs and tragedies are the legacy of all that and those who’ve come before us. Now, life is calling for us to move global evolution and the human project forward. 

Will we accept our role in this? What are the kinds of thinking, building and relating that would benefit the next generation—and those to come? We know what lifts consciousness—love, joy, compassion, inclusion, collaboration, virtuous living and stewardship of our planetary home. And we are the generation of choice. Will we ignore the signals—the pains in our personal, national and global bodies that are telling us where different thinking and behaviors are needed. Will we resist and persist in dysfunctional thinking, valuing and behaving; create more friction and fear, producing more frequent and more severe breakdowns? Or will we accept the precepts of the wisdom teachers in all cultures and traditions, align with nature, adopt sustainable innovations and shift the kind and quality of our “doing” so life at all levels can thrive?

As noted, pain directs our attention to the locations of blockage or dysfunction. In the social body, these are the places of breakdown, including confrontations and disruptions of order. Allowed to continue, they get worse and become chronic, eventuating in a crisis, a threat to survival. Given the area of concern, what is the thinking and valuing, especially in the subconscious, that’s creating the disfunction? With a little reflection, the erroneous beliefs appear—along with right-thinking solutions.

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. — Epictetus

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I welcome your comments at <smithdl@fuse.net>

My portfolio site: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

My Photography Monographs