Patience

Before we have an effective vaccine, the sooner we do what it takes to prevent the Covid-19 virus from spreading, the sooner we can fill the seats of performance and sports venues, restaurants and personal grooming facilities, open more businesses and get back to work.    

Until then, in addition to wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing and washing hands, we can safeguard our mental, emotional and social health by practicing patience, bearing annoyances and difficulties without complaint, anger or irritation, and resting the mind and emotions when confronted with delays. Patience, the quality of ease under pressure, has two levels of attainment based on cause. The first is the simple choice to keep ones “cool” so not to be frustrated. Lasting and sustainable patience, however, occurs as a consequence of trust based on the deep belief that everything happens for a good reason and all is well.

When we dwell in the now, unattached to outcomes, irritation and blaming naturally fall away. By surrendering to what is and allowing life to unfold without concern to what will be, we take our foot off the gas peddle and watch as reality unfolds. By aligning with Source and relinquishing the pressure of time, we gain the confidence to accept circumstances that are beyond our control. And that frees us to focus on realizing our purpose and doing what we can to reach the intended goal, whether it be waiting for a computer to boot, Congress to pass a bill or being able to shake hands.

By staying in the moment and allowing what is, patience is strengthened. Resistance and controlling just make us miserable. Wisdom teachers from a variety of traditions agree: The journey is more important than reaching the destination. 

  

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, and compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.

Lao Tzu

_____________________________

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Spirit Lives On

Downtown on a playground

A little girl saw a white man

With a camera

And she ran to him.

Take my pitcher!

Take my pitcher!

Take my pitcher!

She shouted.

When photographing in other cultures

The pointing of my camera

Caused children to turn away

And adults to turn their backs.

What’s the difference I wonder?

Was it the camera?

The man being tall and white?

Or how their image might be used?

What I know for sure,

The photograph of the playground girl

Makes my heart grin

Every time I encounter her smile.

 

Dear Follower:

Thank you for following! As has happened several times, in order to keep the material (and me) fresh I’m adding another dimension to Contemplative Photography. From the outset, my purpose was to share and generate appreciation for the subject matter. That will continue, but now the focus will be less on “things” and more on ideas and insights that contribute to meaning and enhanced living. The  pacing and format will be the same as when I started—one photograph each week, usually B&W, with contemplations kept as short as possible. The categories will include:

          • Anthropology
          • Art
          • Climate
          • Consciousness
          • Cosmology
          • Ecology
          • Evolutionary Process
          • Media (Function, influence, potential)
          • Nature (Appreciation)
          • Personal Growth
          • Philosophy (Eastern and Western)
          • Photography (As medium for personal growth)
          • Social Development
          • Spirituality (Not religion)
          • Transformation
          • Whole Systems Thinking

As always, I invite you to share your thoughts on both the content and photographs. 


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Scottish Pine: Symbol Of Responsibility

In 1753 Carl Linnaeus classified pine trees in the Pinus genus. Until then, they were called “fir” based on the Germanic word  fyr, which meant fire, light and the rising sun. The word “pine” derives from the Latin word pinus and the Sanskrit word pituh meaning “sap, juice or resin.” Their evolutionary story begins in the early Jurassic Period about 130—200 million years ago when they were abundant in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Scottish Pine, the most widely distributed conifer in the world, is Scotland’s national tree. (They  call it Scots Pine). The trees can grow to 50 feet or more and have greyish-brown scales at the base.  Unlike many other pine trees, the Scots pine has an irregular shape when young that expands into upright spreading arms as an adult. In the upper story, they have thin, flaky orange scales. 

Scots Pine trees have two blue-to-green leaves—needlesper bundle. They grow in pairs and take on a yellowish tinge in winter. The shape of the needles reduces the number of pores and helps the snow slide off the branches so they don’t break. Each needle is coated with cutin, a waxy substance that prevents water from evaporating, and keeps the cells from freezing. As true evergreens, they retain their needles for at least two growing seasons. 

Scots Pines have thick scaly barks, and their branches are arranged in whorls around the barks. To protect the trees from fungal infections and invading insects they secrete a sap or resin that seals their wounds. 

The cones grow up to three inches long and are either solitary or cluster in groups of two or three. Dry cones make good kindling for fires.

Scots Pine was one of the first trees to colonize Ireland after the melting of ice sheets around 12,000 years ago. The trees disappeared from the country until the 17th century but were reintroduced from Scotland. Before Stonehenge, pine trees were used to build megalithic “wood hedges” as early as 8500 BCE. In Germany, the Goseck Henge, which dates to 4900 BCE,  had a large outer circle of pine poles that surrounded one in the center aligned to the North Star, thus creating a sundial, clock and calendar to mark summer & winter solstices and spring & fall equinoxes. Expanding from Scotland, it wasn’t long before pine trees inhabited most of Europe, as far as the Arctic Circle. Pine forests surrounded ancient Scottish castles and villages, and because the wood was durable and water-repellent it was widely used for shipbuilding in Scotland and England.

Brought to North America during the Colonial days, the trees became widespread throughout the United States and southern Canada. Today, the Scotch Pine is favored as a Christmas tree because it retains it needles and will keep fresh for 3-4 weeks. Throughout Europe and several Asian countries, Scots Pine forests are managed to produce pulpwood and timber for veneers and plywoods.

Pine trees grown for lumber on plantations mature in about 30 years. The wood is used in the manufacture of paneling, window frames, floors, roofing and furniture. Some species produce pine nuts, used in cooking and baking, which are a major source of amino acids and proteins making them highly nutritious. The resin is distilled to make Turpentine, and when processed as synthetic pine oil, Scots Pine in particular, makes a fragrant cleaning agent. When vapor emitted by pine needles reacts with oxygen in the air, clouds form that block the sunlight and reflect the rays back into space, thus helping to reduce the rise in temperature and slow global warming.

For Native Americans, pine trees represented wisdom and longevity. Certain tribes in the Southwest regarded pine trees as sacred. The Nez Perce believed that the tree carries the secret of fire. They used the needles, sap, bark and nuts for medicinal purposes, traditional handicrafts and ingredients in recipes. It was a staple for tribes in the Great Basin area of the Western United States, including the Shoshones, Paiutes and Hopis. The nuts, usually harvested in late summer and fall, also played a role in some of their Creation stories. Pine-needle baskets are still being made. 

Because the trees are evergreen and point upward to Heaven, certain Christian sects considered them to represent God’s everlasting love for humanity and eternal life. The trees were often planted in cemeteries because they represented eternal life. The pine cones specifically represented continuity and renewal.

In the East, a Taoist legend says that pine resin, absorbed into the subsoil after a thousand years will produce fu-ling, a mushroom that gives eternal life. In Japan, pinewood is used to build Shinto temples and ritual tools. Used in wedding ceremonies, it represents the constancy of conjugal love. And during Japan’s New Year, they situate pine trees on both sides of doors to honor the Kami, the Shinto deities that live inside the pines. In Chinese art, pine trees stand at the doors to immortality. Romans ate pine nuts to increase their strength and physical vigor.

For the Celts, the Scots Pine was a symbol of immortality, so much so, they used the resin to purify, sterilize and embalm objects that one wanted to preserve over time. It was also used in censers to purify sacred spaces. Druids used to light large bonfires of Scots Pine at the winter solstice to celebrate the passing of the seasons and to turn back the sun. For the Maya, both ancient and modern, offerings to the gods are enhanced by burning them on a bed of pine needles. And in Scottish folklore, the trees were used in the Highlands to mark the burial places of warriors, heroes and chieftains. Further south, they marked ancient cairns and crossroads. In England as well, Scots Pine was used to mark certain roadways. 

Various cultures associate the Scots Pine tree with aspects of time, seasons and immortality advising us to take responsibility for achieving our goals and dreams now, rather than putting them off. The message comes to me just days after I learned that a lifelong friend had died, and when the Coronavirus is spiking higher than before in the U.S. because many people have not been taking responsibility for protecting themselves and their neighbors. 

The word “responsible” derives from the Latin responsabilis, meaning to be “answerable” to another for something, to promise in return. I taught my students that in business, a responsible employee does what they say they will do—they follow through. My advice was to not say you’re going to do something unless you actually can and will do it, not just hope or intend to follow up. 

To say you will do something and then not do it risks being branded as being irresponsible, not trustworthy or reliable, especially if it becomes a pattern. In my experience, many in the Gen X generation have unwittingly adopted the practice of not following through as a social norm—perhaps because they’re too busy to do so?    

On the societal level to be “responsible” is to be accountable for one’s actions. In particular, civic responsibility refers to actions that are not required by law but are helpful to the community and involve citizens working for the common good. Acting on behalf of the health and well-being of ourselves and others is an implicit obligation we bear as citizens, members of larger living bodies—family, business, community, church, institution, nation and planet. 

According to Learning To Give, an organization that promotes civic responsibility, a citizen is “a person owing loyalty to and entitled by birth or naturalization to the protection of a state or union.” And citizenship means a “productive, responsible, caring and contributing member of society.” Whatever the reason, motivation or justification to not act responsibly in society effectively renounces citizenship in the greater whole systems that make our lives meaningful. Of course, that is a choice we are free to make, but like all choices, it has consequences. 

Every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.”

John D.Rockefeller Jr

There can be a high that comes from feeling like a “rebel,” acting contrary to the social good. But at a deep level, in quiet and alone moments of reflection, after the dust has settled, there comes a recognition that acting against rather than acting for the social good is self-destructive. Because acting against it is often loud and visible, the energy expended ends up being counterproductive. Nothing is accomplished, aside from the violator gaining a negative reputation and a deepening sense of separation and alienation. People of goodwill don’t want to associate with people who are irresponsible. 

A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.

Bob Dylan

Some people argue that requirements made by politicians are an infringement on freedom. The Collins Dictionary defines freedom as “The state of being allowed to do what you want to do.” And specifically democratic freedom as “The idea that everyone should have equal rights and should be involved in making important decisions.” We are free and so is everyone else. So it is morally wrong to violate the freedom of others, for instance in a pandemic when the freedom at risk is their health. In a democracy we are free to shout FIRE! in a crowded theater, but to do so would deny the freedom of the audience to remain healthy during the performance. And by any standard, putting the health of others at rist is morally wrong. I’m writing this on the day after civil rights advocate and longtime Congressman, John Lewis, died. 

Freedom is not a state; it is an act.

John Lewis

The spirit of the Scots Pine tree calls us to act responsibly on behalf of all living systems, in the first place to seek and maintain their health and well-being. And to remind us that, personal goals and dreams can only be realized in association with others, and those associations are best nurtured by acting responsibly in personal relationships and society.

Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.

Eleanor Roosevelt


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Water Lily: Symbol of Constancy

Water lilies are freshwater plants in the Nymphaeaceae family. The name derives from Greek legends where “nymphs” protected springs and streams. There are about 70 different species of water lilies, divided into eight different genre commonly found in garden ponds and landscape features. The roots dig deep into the ground underwater, while the leaves or “pads” float on the surface. The petals of the flower fan out and can be found in many colors. The lotus is similar in appearance, but it belongs to the Nelumbonaceae family. 

Recently, scientists announced the discovery of the fossilized remains of the earliest flowering plant. Found in northeast China, it’s at least 125 million years old and possibly the ancestor of all flowering plants in the world today. Its closest living relative may turn out to be the water lily, as the ancient plant lived in clear shallow water with its flower and seeds extending above the surface. Drawings in European pre-ice-age cave drawings have the same basic form as water lilies that exist today. 

Early in the last century, white men discovered the large and fragrant flower in the freshwater lagoons of South American jungles. The natives called them Yrupe, meaning “water platter,” observing that they were resting places for frogs. The white men were amazed as they watched the flowers change color almost daily. Water lilies first came to public attention in England in the early 1800s, where water lilies flourished in the ponds and gardens of noblemen. Eduard Ortgies, caretaker to Joseph Paxton—gardener to the Duke of Devonshire—created the first water lily hybrid called Nymphaea ortgiesiano-rubra. In the United States, the first hybrids were developed by Edmund Sturtevant in 1876.

The white water lily common to North America is the fragrant Nymphaea odorata. The flower blooms in the daylight and gently close at night. Its commercial appeal has made it an “invader” that multiplies so quickly it can destabilize underwater ecosystems—natural ponds, rivers, lakes—posing a risk to native species.

Tropical varieties bloom during any time of the day or night, and the blossoms stay open until they fade, although some will open only in the morning or evening to attract pollinators. These  lilies can be pink, yellow, red, or blue and there are many kinds that are hybrids. Water lilies only live in shallow and still water where the stalks can extend their fleshy rhizome tubers into the soil to take in and store nutrients. 

The pads are heart-shaped and rounded. The upper side is water repellant and green, while the underside is purplish-red. The world’s largest water lily is the Victoria amazonica, native to the Amazon River basin. The first night it opens the flower is white, the second night it becomes pink, and the pads can be 10 feet in diameter with stalks as long as 26 feet. 

The metal girders around London’s Crystal Palace during the 1851 Great Exhibition were said to be inspired by  water lily’s rib-like cross-ridges.

In their art, architecture and hieroglyphs the ancient Maya depicted a water lily monster that  linked the underworld with the surface of the water. It has been suggested that, because the presence of water lilies indicates the absence of toxic substances, their shallow reservoirs may have contained potable water. I was shown a pond in Belize about a half-mile wide that was covered with water lilies.

The water lily symbolized Upper Egypt. When combined with the papyrus flower, the symbol of Lower Egypt, they represented the unified country. With blooms opening in the morning and closing at night, waterlilies were associated with the rising and setting of the sun.

Specifically, the blue water lily was considered sacred. It’s depicted on Egyptian temples as a representation of the sun and rebirth. To ensure their resurrection, priests and rulers were often buried with necklaces made of these water lily blossoms.

In Buddhism, the water lily blossom is associated with enlightenment. Different colors have different representations. For instance, red connotes love and passion, the purple lily represents mystic power, white signifies mental purity and blue is associated with knowledge. Relative to enlightenment, the pink blossom is the highest. In the Hindu religion, the water lily is a symbol of resurrection. As with the Egyptians, they reference it to the flower’s opening and closing the day. Because the plant grows in mud but is free from blemishes, it’s also a symbol of purity. The white water lily is the national flower of Bangladesh and the state flower for Andhra Pradesh, India. In Sri Lanka, the blue water lily is the national flower. In the West, some contemporary brides choose waterlilies to adorn their bridal bouquets because they represents chastity and purity of the heart and soul. They can also symbolize eloquence or gracefulness.

The most popular use for water lilies is as an ornamental in garden ponds. Other uses include  lotions that make the skin soft and smooth and reduce redness and swelling, an herbal extract to regulate insulin levels, promote liver health and regeneration and reduce pain from swelling. A poultice made from water lily roots can reduce painful swellings, boils, ulcers, wounds and cuts. A tea made from the roots can heal gums and is used as a gargle to reduce inflammation in the mouth and throat. And the same solution has been used as an eyewash. Native Americans used the tea to treat coughs, tuberculosis, inflamed glands, mouth sores and to stop bleeding. And a folk tradition suggests a mixture of water lily root and lemon juice removes freckles and pimples. 

There is a caution, however. Scientists warn that water lily supplements should not be used by those who are taking  medications or pain relievers of any kind used in the treatment of dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease and disorders relating to the central nervous system. Further, because of the lack of research about the plant, those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take water lily in any form.

French Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840–1926) imported water lilies for his Giverny garden from Egypt and South America. The city council demanded that he uproot the plants before they poisoned the area’s water, but he ignored them and they became the main focus of his painting during the last thirty years of his life. Many were done while he suffered from cataracts.

According to one source, the water lily is a symbol of courage, of rising above struggles, being of great hope, aligning to our highest aspects including the beauty that emanates from within receiving guidance from above. Another says the flower represents purity of the heart. While these are excellent qualities, I’m drawn to the symbolism the ancients derived from the flower’s characteristic of opening at sunrise and closing at sunset. It calls to mind the paradox that  although everything changes, there is a constancy in many of nature’s fluctuating systems. For instance cosmically, the length of the day determined by the earth’s spin, the length of a year based on its rotation around the sun and the seasonal changes that occur due to the tilt of its axis relative to the sun. Currently, cosmologists are reviving Einstein’s term, “Cosmological Constant,” because it improves the agreement between the theory of general relativity and observation that the expansion of the universe is speeding up and it contains mysterious dark matter and dark energy, neither of which are influenced by gravity.

Constancy is also evident in the interdependencies of all living systems, now referred to as the web of life—no longer “the food chain,” which ignores the interdependencies of ecosystems. From bottom to top—diatoms which are microalgae found in oceans, waterways and soils around the world, to the enormous honey fungus that covers nearly four square miles of the Malheur National Forest in Oregon—a balance is maintained in the process of all life forms consuming other life forms. But now, due to human interference within the web of life, the constancy of the whole system (planet and life) is in jeopardy.

In order for living systems (organisms) to function normally, they need to maintain internal constancy or homeostasis. In humans, this involves the regulation of blood sugar via insulin, the regulation of body temperature by the hypothalamus, constant vigilance by the immune system, regulation of blood pressure, balancing the pH level in the lungs and so on, all this despite fluctuations in every cell and in the external environment. In Science and the Reenchantment of the Cosmos: The rise of the Integral Vision of Reality, Ervin Laszlo illuminates the paradox—

The human body consists of a million billion cells, far more than the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Of this cell population 600 billion are dying and the same number are regenerating every day—over 10 million cells per second. The average skin cell lives only for about two weeks; bone cells are renewed every three months. Every 90 seconds millions of antibodies are synthesized, each from about 1,200 amino acids, and every hour 200 erythrocytes are regenerated. In the span of a year, 98 percent of the atoms that make up the body are replaced as well. No substance in the body is constant, though the heart and brain cells endure longer than most. Yet the substances that coexist at a given time produce thousands of biochemical reactions in the body each and every second, and they are all precisely and almost instantly coordinated so that they maintain the dynamic order of the whole organism.

Considering the interacting masses of matter and gasses such as stars, planets and galaxies going on overhead, and the tiny-to-enormous life forms that live in the relatively thin biosphere of the Earth, there is reason to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that we are here, sustained by and engaged in the living planet as members of its body. And to really understand and respond appropriately to the message that ecologists have been preaching for years—and which for me is now displayed in the beauty of water lilies—that what each of us does to the Earth we do to ourselves. 

The intelligence of life is constantly keeping us on course.

Jacob Israel Liberman


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Birch Tree: Symbol Of Adaptability

Renaissance Oasis Paper Birch

Birch trees belong to the Betulaceae family, found wherever the climate is temperate. There are about 60 different species that can be white, yellow, silver and black, recognizable by their bark which peels off in strips. Having shallow roots, they thrive in moist soil with full sunlight. The typical lifespan of birch trees is 40-50 years, but under favorable conditions, they can live as long as 200 years. Some trees grow to 40 feet tall; the “paper” and “yellow” birches can grow to 80 feet tall. Birches were among the first trees to appear after the glaciers receded. Male and female flowers bloom on the same tree, the male catkins bloom in clusters during the late summer or fall, and the female flowers bloom in the early spring. The trees produce a fruit that disburses about one million seeds each year. 

The name is thought to have derived from the Sanskrit word bhurga meaning a ‘tree whose bark is used to write upon’. One source said that when the poet S.T. Coleridge called birch the ‘Lady of the Woods’, “he was possibly drawing on an existing folk term for the tree.” Birch figures in many anglicized place names, such as Birkenhead, Birkhall and Berkhamstead, and appear most commonly in northern England and Scotland. In 1842 J.C. Loudon in his Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs wrote that “The Highlanders of Scotland make everything of it.”

Being tough, heavy and straight grained, birch wood is used to make handles and toys and it’s good for turning. The essential oil derived from the bark has a balsamic, some say wintergreen aroma. It’s not used in aromatherapy, but is used extensively in chewing gum, root beer and toothpaste in small amounts. Twigs and leaflets of the white birch were tied together and used in saunas for skin toning in Scandinavia. 

Because it contains oils, it burns well without popping. Split into sheets, the wood will ignite with even the smallest of sparks. Birchbark manuscripts have been traced to 1st century Buddhists in Afghanistan. The oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain are Roman period Vindolanda tablets, written on birch bark. The bark is used for tanning leather, and the sap can be tapped as it rises in spring and fermented to make birch wine, a process still practiced in the Highlands of Scotland today. The Druids made it into a cordial to celebrate the spring equinox. It’s a traditional drink in Northern Europe, Russia, and Northern China. And in these countries, it’s used to make birch syrup, which is poured over pancakes and waffles. 

Because the wood is water-repellent, lightweight, flexible and easy to work, the Native Americans used it to construct strong, waterproof and lightweight canoes and bowls. When used for the center pole in wigwams, teepees and yurts, the birch symbolized a new beginning. Being a highly adaptive tree able to sustain harsh conditions with casual indifference, the wood was  considered by Celtic cultures to be a symbol of adaptability, growth, renewal, stability and initiation. The Siberians considered it sacred, viewing it as an invisible ladder that spanned the distance between Earth and the celestial afterlife. The Chinese honor the birch tree for its qualities of protection, communication and rejuvenation. It’s the national tree of Russia, Finland and Sweden, and it’s the state tree of New Hampshire. According to Scottish Highland folklore, a barren cow herded with a birch stick would become fertile, or a pregnant cow would bear a healthy calf. Baltic birch is one of the most sought-after woods in the manufacture of speaker cabinets. It contains betulin and betulinic acid used in the pharmaceutical industry and is an old folk remedy for stomach ache. Extracts of birch are used to make leather oil, and the cosmetic industry uses it in the production of soaps and shampoos.

Because birch trees are quick growing, relatively immune to disease and hardy survivors, they’ve come to symbolize both adaptability and the ability to create new beginnings, even after catastrophic events. Given the current, second round of spikes in Covid-19 infections, I think it’s important that we take a lesson from the birches. When circumstances change, especially those that threatens the health, well-being and survival of species—human and otherwise—they present the choice to adapt. Or not. The long and consistent record of evolution is clear: species that adapt live to reproduce. Those who don’t, do not.

Evolution works by a process of lifting, through adaptation to selective challenges, and then gifting the resulting innovations to the next generation. Individuals’ efforts (and sacrifices) enable the community to progress. This lifting and gifting narrative of our evolution and the current situation is a more constructive beacon to guide us through treacherous waters into a bright, increasingly collective future.

Bruce Damer

Typically, individuals tend to resist change unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Even then, certain members of a species will prefer to die rather than change. It’s why paleontologists are digging up the remains of dozens of two-legged homo sapiens, including the Neanderthal, who for whatever reason didn’t or couldn’t adapt to their changing physical and social environment. In the much narrower timeframe of the early 21st Century, homo (creatures who know that they know) are again confronting changes in these areas, with one big difference—we created the crises that are calling for change.

A two-year-old article in The Guardian warned that a sixth mass extinction event was already underway. Since my postings are intended as appreciations, I won’t present the facts that support this perspective, but if you’re interested in staying current with the science on the changing climate worldwide, I highly recommend NASA’s Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. It’s a beautifully illustrated, interactive site with a wealth of information, maps, charts including projections of future rises in sea level all over the world.

To survive, living things must continually learn from and adapt to their environments.

Ken Baskin

The positive side to the Covid-19 pandemic has been cleaner air, lower carbon emissions, a respite for wildlife and increased awareness and appreciation for many of the privileges we enjoyed before it struck—shaking hands, hugging people, eating in restaurants, attending plays, movies and concerts in halls and massive crowded events outdoors, being together in workplaces, being with loved ones when they’re gravely ill or dying, not having to wear a mask, traveling by car, train or airplane without concern for cleanliness and so on. 

Currently, we are shifting and adjusting, mutating and suffering extinctions: the human ecology is in motion, groping for adaptation.

Fritjof Capra

The big question now is whether we can capitalize on this moment. Systemic crises are only resolved at the individual level. The quality of life in the future rests on the shoulders of each one of us. It took only one person to contract and then spread the virus worldwide. To eradicate it takes a species-wide adaptation, basically a rewind where every person in the world does what they can to assume responsibility for neither contracting nor spreading the virus. Taking the message of the birches, we can embrace this period as an opportunity to begin making the changes in lifestyle and consumption that will stave off the sixth extinction. Business leadership teacher M. Scott Peck observed that “What distinguishes most humans from other creatures is our extraordinary adaptability and variability, our flexibility to do the different and often seemingly unnatural thing.”

Bright and beautiful trees, the birch is a pioneer, courageously taking root and starting anew to revive the landscape where no other would before… The birch asks us to take root in new soils and light our lives with the majesty of our very presence. The birch sings to us: ‘Shine, take hold, express your creative expanse, light the way so that others may follow.’

Avia Venefica


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Daisy Flower: Reminder To Stay Positive

Depending on the species, daisies can be white with a yellow center, purple with a brownish center, red with a yellow center, orange with a yellow center, pink with a yellow center, yellow with a dark red center or blue with a green center. Part of the sunflower family and more than 4000 years old, daisies are vascular plants. They circulate nutrients and water, and they’re attached to the ground via a rhizome. Technically, the daisy consists of two flowers: the petals taken together, and the central disc or “ray” secured by a base called a peduncle which holds the composite together. 

Daisies grow everywhere on Earth except Antarctica. The most popular are the Marguerite, Gloriosa, Shasta, African and Gerbera—shown here. The name daisy derives from the Old English “daes eage,” meaning “day’s eye,” referencing the way they close their petals at night and open them again at dawn, the beginning of a new day. Scientists refer to this periodic process as “nyctinastic movement.” Bees are the primary pollinators of daisies. In the process of procuring nectar from them, they pick up thousands of microscopic pollen grains and redistribute them from the male anthers to the female stigmas. Moving from flower to flower, pollination is repeated hundreds of times each day. Some daisies are annuals, lasting only a year, while others are biennial blooming every other year. 

Closely related to the artichoke and being high in Vitamin C, daisy leaves are sometimes included as a garnish in salads, soups and sandwiches. They’re also used to slow bleeding, relieve indigestion and ease coughs. In homeopathy, the “garden” daisy is known as the gardener’s friend due to the leaves ability to ease an aching back and accelerate healing after surgical procedures. In traditional medicine, the leaves were sometimes taken internally to treat laryngitis and bronchitis, and used topically to heal scratches, open wounds, hemorrhoids and bruises. Today, some cosmetic companies include them in concoctions intended to reduce wrinkles.

Daisies were first cultivated around 2,200 B.C. They’re depicted on Egyptian ceramics, were grown in gardens surrounding temples and were used to treat illnesses. According to Celtic legend, whenever an infant died, God would sprinkle daisies across the land to console the grieving family. In Norse mythology, daisies symbolized love, fertility and motherhood. Because they were the sacred flower of the Freya, goddess of love, fertility, and beauty, daisies came to represent childbirth, motherhood and new beginnings. In a Roman myth, a nymph turned herself into a field of daisies to avoid hurting the feelings of Vertumnus, the god of seasons. The English used daisies to cure eye problems and stomach ulcers. King Henry the VII was known as the King of Daisies, and the flowers are often depicted in Medieval paintings of meadows.  In some places, Christians consider the daisy a symbol of the Virgin Mary or the Christ child. In Native American lore, the daisy is considered a sun symbol representing joy, life and truth. And throughout the world, people pluck daisy petals to determine if “He Love Me; He Loves Me Not.” On record are 331 people in Milan, Italy who played this game all at once.

The symbolism associated with daisies includes purity, innocence, loyal love, beauty and simplicity. Oxeye daisies symbolize patience, and gerbera daisies are gifted to send the energies of happiness, cheerfulness and a positive outlook. Considering the preponderance of negative happenings being reported in the news these days, my thoughts turn to this latter feature—to maintain a positive outlook.

George Leonard, author of The Transformation, a 1973 book that predicted a worldwide shift in consciousness due to a confluence of breakdowns in government, health, corporate greed and consumerism. It was the first book I read on the subject of social change and I will never forget it, even kept several quotes from it. Relevant to staying positive he wrote, “History has shown that the success of cultures and even of great civilizations is measured by the way they deal with crises; the greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity for positive response. The same is true for individuals.” 

Reading that quote got me thinking about some of the opportunities we might find in the crises that are confronting us at the moment. Leonard’s basic insight was that crisis precedes and precipitates transformation. He says a positive outcome requires a shift in consciousness because the former ways of seeing, thinking and acting resulted in a crisis, and to get beyond it with a positive outcome requires a new way of thinking and acting. Here, I reflect on four specific crises currently making news and what we can learn from them—to create a positive outcome personally and socially. In each, I observe that it’s the stress-points—what’s not working—that point to the necessary shifts in perception, thinking and behaviors that open the gate to a positive future for all. 

The Covid-19 Pandemic

The stressor here is not the virus. In the first place it’s a lack of worldwide understanding and precautions relating to sanitation in all phases of dealing with living systems (the vegetable and animal kingdoms). Secondly, it’s worldwide lack of foresight and preparation against the potential spread of lethal viruses and substances, however they occur. Lacking these, the virus  quickly went global and the stress continues to grow exponentially as individuals separate themselves into mask-wearers and non-mask-wearers, those who want to protect others as well as themselves, and those who either don’t care about the situation or choose to set their personal freedom above the safety of others. 

The evolutionary imperative is obvious: Worldwide we need to replace intuitional and leadership reticence with understanding and become proactive in research and preparation concerning potential threats to the health of citizens. And the opportunity for individuals is to stay informed about the crisis, appreciate the social freedoms we once enjoyed, participate in and create new forms of communication and protective engagement, discover new ways to offer or express our unique gifts to the world, model and teach our children how to respond safely to the threat and especially, act in ways that safeguard the health and well-being of the whole—society, nation, world—as well as our own.   

Evolutionary change takes a looooooooonnnnnnggggg time, even to learn the lessons of survival. And relatively speaking, the human project is still in its infancy. The positive perspective is the realization that as soon as a person takes advantage of the opportunities just enumerated—by living them within his circle of influence—that person’s transformed perspective  creates a more viable mindset that will keep growing, because it’s in alignment with the direction of life. For these individuals, being alive at this time is both a privilege and a responsibility. In one generation, by modeling and passing on right responses to crises—positive outlook and productive perspectives and behaviors—to our children and grandchildren, we help to shorten the duration and lessen the severity of evolutionary lessons. When crises occur, we need to let them blow past, bending in the wind like palm trees in a hurricane, confident that “the sun’ll come out tomorrow.”      

Systemic Racism

Here too, the stressor is not race (which biologically is a defunct category). The stressor is fear prompted by feelings and thoughts of insecurity. Skin color is just one among many signs of difference that separate people. Whatever the difference, the prejudicial mindset says in effect, “I can’t tolerate the idea that someone different from me could have more power than me—heaven forbid power over me, have more of the good than I have, be as good as me at anything or make more of himself than I can.” In everyday living, the conscious or unconscious assumption among those who foster separation is that “Whenever someone different from me—by skin color, nationality, religion, political or sexual preference—talks or acts in ways that express their difference, they validate my perception that they’re ignorant, inferior and dangerous. Where would I be if they became the majority?” 

Insecurity is an inherited trait, coming from many thousands of years when homo sapiens were in competition with their two-legged cousins struggling for survival. We couldn’t tolerate their differences, so we killed them or starved them out. Fast-forward to today, global growth is closing the field, pressure due to proximity is mounting and killing is prohibited by law. Those who break it will effectively forfeit their freedom and quality of life for a very long time. Overcoming a species-adaptive trait is difficult and takes time. But one of the encouraging features of the evolutionary process is “punctuated equilibrium.” After a long period of stability or status quo, a shift occurs suddenly, almost overnight. The cause is usually a crisis, a change in the environment that requires adaptation. It transforms the way we think and act or we will die trying to preserve ways that are no longer viable. 

Currently, the physical, social and global environment is changing rapidly. The Covid-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, conservative vs liberal polarization, nationalism vs globalization, self-indulgent leadership and climate catastrophes can all be seen as breakdowns—or responses to breakdowns—calling us to wake up to the reality that we really are in this together. Failure or success as a nation depends on whether and how quickly we adapt. And everyone is needed. 

I think it’s no accident that the U.S. Constitution laid the groundwork for initiating a relatively swift social transformation by proclaiming, “That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The claim is that all men and women, irrespective of gender, cultural heritage, beliefs, preferences or socioeconomic status are created equal and entitled to these rights, and not just Americans—every human being on the planet, no exceptions. 

That we stand by this declaration and will give our lives to defend it is what made America great in the eyes of the world. Now, given the pressures of everyday living under the cloud of racial atrocities, our personal opportunity is to defend this claim—as we can, right where we are, with as much or little as we have. And teach our children, through historical examples and personal modeling, that all living entities at all levels are to be valued and respected for the spark of life common to us all and those we engage to become their best selves. 

Social Polarity

How Americans became so polarized along political and social lines is a long and complex story that could be debated and interpreted in many different ways. Whatever the facts and beyond speculation, the essence of polarity—including racism—is the illusion of separation. From the beginning, human beings have seen themselves as separate from one another for the obvious reason that we have individually distinct bodies and minds. That alone created competition in  the quest to survive and reproduce. “My wife, my cave, my tools. Go away. Go get your own—or die trying to take what is mine.”

Fast-forward to today and the division is less about possessions and more about how we think and survive as a group. “I know what’s right and best for the group. Don’t try to convince me otherwise. I’m smarter than you, and my group is better than yours; we know what’s best for everybody because we know what they want. And you don’t. Your values are misplaced and your methods are corrupt, misguided and unworkable.

The stressor in the social polarization is not differing points of view. It’s again, fear motivated by underlying feelings of insecurity. In this instance, it stems from a desire to gain or hold onto personal and corporate power. Often both. What’s at stake is ones status, job security, worldview and sense of purpose, even the meaning of life. Combine this with the defensive posture characterized by certainty that prevents open-mindedness, and you have a room full of deadlocked barking dogs. It’s deemed essential for the members of a club to hold on to and defend its power while attempting to increase it. What suffers in the tug-of-war between two clubs chartered to accomplish a common task is the collaborative engagement of minds seeking the best method among alternatives to optimize the success of their shared commitment. 

The obvious opportunity relating to social polarization in the political arena is to vote for representatives at all levels who are openminded, intelligent, empathetic and collaborative as well as champions of the issues we care about. In this regard, a red flag should go up whenever anyone speaks in language that puts the club first. Staunch loyalty to a group, any group in any setting, tends to block consideration and collaboration. 

Another opportunity, arguably the most effective and positive one personally, is to affect a shift in perception by dispelling the illusion of separation. This is accomplished by noticing the many ways in which we’re interconnected and interdependent, and importantly, living its implications, for instance not judging and complaining about others or their situation, acknowledging successes, sharing information and resources, helping where help is needed and offering advice when requested. And a crisis of any kind always provides an opportunity to respond virtuously, for instance to practice such things as patience, kindness, generosity, friendliness and compassion. Globally, important outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic include  appreciation for those in the health and helping professions, and the realization of just how interconnected and interdependent we are. 

Climate Change

The stressor here is not the changing climate. Not enough of us have experienced it. Evidence of it in worldwide catastrophes can be disregarded by some as anomalies. “And even if it’s real, I’ll be long gone before it happens where I love.” And there are people who don’t make the connection between the weather and the quality and availability of the food they eat. The stressor here is the prospect that laws will be enacted that will restrict freedoms and negatively impact life and livelihood. “I won’t change my ways until it becomes necessary, and that day’ll never come.”

The opportunity for the rest of us is to become aware, to read and understand how species are dying and what is compromising the health of the planet as it responds to human activity. Then, to act on behalf of all living systems by doing what we can to reduce our consumption of non-renewables and cultivate habits that contribute to life enhancement, diversity and sustainability. 

Instead of striving for “zero impact,” which is negative, in Climate: A New Story Charles Eisenstein advocates a positive approach in relating to the environment. Instead of leaving no trace, he says, “Leave a beautiful trace or leave a healing trace. (And ask) What is our proper role and function in service to the health, harmony, and evolution of this whole of which we are a part?”

As noted, we are not separate from each other. Neither are we separate from the Earth. What we do to the planet we do to ourselves. In writing this, I notice that the pressures we’re facing stem from the same root—we don’t yet know who we are, why we’re here and how deeply interrelated we are. I could elaborate on other crises such as nationalism vs globalization, cybersecurity, terrorism and poverty, but the lessons they’re trying to teach us—and the transformative opportunities they present—are the same. Currently, the great human divide that evolution is trying to break is the question of meaning. Are we in this world solely for our personal enjoyment, advancement in status and wealth so we can have varied and exciting experiences? Or are we here to learn, grow and contribute to the health and well-being of all living systems as we follow the paths that give us joy? If we look closely and with the heart, I suggest the answer can be found in the face of a daisy. 

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.

Shakti Gawain


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Mangrove: Symbol of Strength and Support

The genus name for mangrove is Rhizophorais, which comes from the Greek word rhiza meaning “root” and phoros meaning “bearing,” a reference to its stilt-like roots. The trees are highly adaptable, being the only ones that are salt-tolerant. They literally breathe through their roots, which take up the salt water and excreate it throught thick waxy leaves.  

Mangroves are located along river and ocean coastlines in tropical and subtropical locations. Their roots and branches rise from the mud, sand and water like long and sturdy fingers that  support the trees against the battering of the sea and changing tide. Higher up, thick waxy leaves filter out and excrete the salt from the water. Worldwide, there are between 50 and 100 different species of mangroves, the most common being black mangroves, buttonwood mangroves, white mangroves and red mangroves. They can grow as small shrubs or reach heights of 40 feet, depending on species.

Indonesia and Brazil have the greatest number of mangrove forests, and Australia comes in third with nearly 18% of its coastline (14,000 square kilometers) covered in mangrove. In the United States, mangrove cover about 2,500 square kilometers (about 1,500 square miles), most of them in southern Florida.

Mangrove forests provide many benefits. It’s estimated that two-thirds of the fish we eat spend part of their life in mangroves. This is because the underwater roots provide an ideal protected environment for young fish. Because their roots hold the soil in place, they prevent erosion and degradation of the coastline during hurricanes and storm surges. They store 10 times more carbon in the mud than land-based ecosystems, which is a major defense against rapid climate change. And they reduce ocean acidification, which helps to prevent coral bleaching. A case has been made by some researches that mangroves do more for humanity than any other ecosystem on Earth.

Increasingly, mangroves are being threatened by rising sea-level, water pollution and in some cases being cut down to provide better ocean views. They’re battered by wave-strewn trash, goats eat them and barnacles choke them. Of native mangrove around the world, 35% have been destroyed, mostly due to shrimp farming. Once gone, the land erodes and tides and currents reshape the coastline, making it nearly impossible for them to grow back. After Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines’ coastal communities the government planted a million mangroves, but because the trees were planted without regard to locating the right species in the right places, many of them died.

I saw first-hand what I’d read about the method of mangrove propagation. After touring Cerros, a Preclassic Maya site in Belize, my guide took me a few miles down the New River to show me an enormous lake covered in lilypads—so beautiful I’ll never forget it. Coming back, he cut the boat’s engine and steered into the treeline where there wasn’t an inch of land. I helped him push several branches aside and we entered a tiny lagoon where we were surrounded by thin and very tall trees—red mangrove—that converged overhead like the dome of a cathedral. 

I was in awe of the place. So quiet, only the sound of birds.

All around, bobbing on the water like upright string beans, were many dozens of 10-12 inch long seed-pods. Researchers refer to them as “propagules” because they grow high up on the parent tree. The guide pulled one of the pods out of the water and explained that they fall and float some distance to disburse, “looking” for water of suitable depth. Eventually, they become waterlogged and sink to the bottom where they germinate the roots of another mangrove tree. He explained that over many years of growth and decay, the mangrove forest expands and actually creates new land. The water in the lagoon was crystal clear, three-to- five feet deep and there were hundreds of tiny fish swimming around the roots. The experience was so moving, I made it the setting for an important scene in my novel Jaguar Rising: A Novel of the Preclassic Maya.

My guide backing the boat out of the mangrove temple

Mangrove trees symbolize strength and support. The image of their intertwined roots evokes several questions relevant to the human situation. For instance, who and what anchors us in the ebb and flow of everyday living, including the emotional storms that threaten to topple our dreams,  desires or decisons? Who comes to mind as the person or persons who provide regular and ongoing acknowledgment, encouragement or inspiration? Who can we count on when the going gets tough? What can I myself do to stay grounded in purpose? And how can I support the people in my circle?  

In a world moving at hyper-speed, where so many of us are anxious because of the rate of change, the soulful move is the move toward contemplating the source of things deeply rooted in eternity, the things that always are.

Phil Cousineau

One of the privileges of having close connections to family members is that they’re usually the first responders when we’re in need of serious support physically and emotionally. I specify these only to suggest that they’re the bottom-line supporters in times of a crisis, and to note that  there are different kinds of support and people differ in the kinds and frequency of support they can offer. For instance, a close family member or loved one may not be able to offer substantial support to someone whose career or interest is highly technical or top secret; their support comes in the form of caring and empathy. So support can be physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual in nature. Whether it comes from a person, group or institution, we always appreciate it because it builds confidence. And it suggests that “We’re in this together.” 

Like mangrove trees, we can’t grow alone. Individual trees and people need the support of others, particularly those in close proximity. The roots (a metaphor for purpose) of those in our circle are intertwined with ours, each making the other stronger, more stable and secure in who we are and what we’re doing. In times of crisis, such as Covid-19 pandemic, there’s strength in numbers, in particular the people who wear masks and practice frequent hand washing and social distancing. In the tree world, whatever the species, trees that have been infected by a virus or insect sound the alarm throughout the forest so the other trees can protect themselves. And they collaborate in healing the infected tree(s) through the secretion of helpful fungi at the roots. Always, their ultimate concern is for the health of the forest. Offering support to others is not only comforting and confidence building, but it also has survival value and improves the health (quality of life) of those involved.    

A new experience of being, a new rootedness in the universe, a newly grasped sense of higher responsibility, a new-found inner relationship to other people and to the human community — these factors clearly indicate the direction in which we must go.

Vaclav Havel   

On the other side of the coin is the consideration of how we support others. At the very least we can acknowledge them whenever they express the joy of accomplishment, no matter how small it may seem to us. It recognizes them as a success in achieving a goal, and minor successes, when acknowledged, snowball into huge successes because of the confidence they build. In my experience, it was commonplace for academics (not so much business professionals) to pass on resources such as books, articles and websites to others, even when the information was outside their interest area. There was a constant and frequent sharing of information, not to gain points or reciprocity, but to support someone’s interest. 

Bottom line: The message of the mangrove is to build our strength by establishing roots that go deep and anchor us in purpose, to support others and show our appreciation for the support we receive, to spread the energies of courage and confidence by standing firm against the headwinds and hold the health of “forest” (society and planet) as the ultimate consideration.     

The roots of violence:

Wealth without work, 

Pleasure without conscience, 

Knowledge without character

Commerce without morality,

Science without humanity,

Worship without sacrifice, 

Politics without principles.

Mahatma Gandhi


 

 

NOTICE: The 2nd edition of my novel, Soul Train, is now available on amazon.com. It’s about the family life and happenings off and on the train, particularly conversations with passengers, that constitute a black man’s journey of spiritual inquiry.


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The Allium Flower: Symbol of Unity And Strength

Within the Allium genus of 800 there are about 1250 species of perennial bulbous plants, notably the cultivated onion, garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives. “Allium” is the Latin word for garlic. The species name—Allium sativum—means “cultivated garlic.” Native to Southwestern Asia, the plants are grown throughout the world. Because of their beautiful globe-shaped heads, they’re mostly planted in flower rather than vegetable gardens. One of the benefits of being in the onion family is the warding off of rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals. Some gardeners purposefully plant allium and daffodil bulbs in their lily beds to keep these critters away.

Blooming in late spring and into summer, allium flowers range in size and shape with globe-shaped clusters that can be purple, pink, blue, white or yellow. Researchers found the onion variety to be among the world’s oldest cultivated plants, particularly in India, China and the Middle East. Ancient Egyptian inscriptions refer to the spherical bulb as a symbol of the universe. Cut in half, or hung on a string, Eastern cultures used allium to keep away bad luck, sickness and even witches. Russian botanists discovered alliums in Central Asia and brought them to the Imperial Botanical Garden in St. Petersburg. When the British learned about them they began a breeding trend, and one of the “new” varieties is named for Mount Everest where it  grows today.

In addition to the Allium representing strength, patience and prosperity generally, married couples and long-time friends sometimes include the flower in a bouquet as a sign of unity. The latter because the Allium cluster displays the union of many blossoms that together constitute a whole more beautiful than its parts. The dynamics of union is sometimes misunderstood and underappreciated, so this—and the aspect of strength—prompts my consideration for this posting.

Dystopian movies such as 1984, Brave New World and The Hunger Games have painted a picture of human unity as a condition where individuality and free will are suppressed or lost, and people are ruled by dictatorial overlords. The perception of individuality and freedoms lost is bolstered by the image of beehives and other insect colonies where this appears to be the case in nature. In the human context, the capacity to self-reflect, imagine, create and choose, which is largely the function of consciousness, tells a different story.

In the first place, no lives at any level could exist or function without the underlying unity of life.  Celebrated in the movie The Lion King, every living thing has it place within “the circle of life.” The proof of this is the food chain; to sustain, all life feeds on life. Those of us who place a high priority on the quality and sustainability of the environment and the climate challenges ahead, recognize that all human beings are dependent upon the need to eat to survive. It’s so obvious its easily forgotten—if all life forms other than ourselves were to die or become toxic, we would all die. That’s why environmental and health issues transcend all other issues, including jobs and the economy.

As the world population has grown and the availability and quality of food, resources and goods have been disproportionately distributed between nations, our species is becoming more vulnerable and stressed. We see it in the rise of gun violence, terrorism, internal dissension, social polarization, the trend toward nationalism, the widening gap between the wealthy and poor and the Covid 19 pandemic. What each of these crises has in common is an underlying pursuit of the individual good without concern for the security and health of the whole body. And it’s the defining characteristic of cancer. 

The solution to vulnerability and escalating breakdowns lies in the strength of unified numbers. It’s not reasonable to expect everyone to see or understand this, but it’s realistic and arguably the best solution because its based on billions of years of evolution. Whatever the species, the principle is the same: “United we stand; divided we fall.” The current pandemic slogan that “We’re in this together” is a recognition of this. As more people and necessary systems experience the pressure of breakdowns, at a certain point a threshold will be reached that will affects a shift  from the consciousness of separation and fear to unity and love. And it doesn’t need everyone to provide a demonstration of its survival value—or to operationalize it. The message life is sending is the evolutionary imperative to “grow or die.” And the growth that affects change most rapidly and effectively is the growth in consciousness, how we see ourselves, others, the planet and the cosmos.

As consciousness becomes more refined, that is, compassionate, aware of the whole, focused on quality rather than quantity, wanting to contribute to the whole and uplifted by feelings of appreciation and joy, goodwill (constructive relations and sharing between all people) will emerge as the everyday norm in global thinking and acting. Evolutionary theologian Ilia Dulio specifies that “I do not exist in order that I may possess; rather I exist in order that I may give of myself, for it is in giving that I am most myself… Being is first a “we” before it can become an “I.” There is no being who can stand up and say, “I did it alone.” 

In his studies of paleontology and evolutionary processes, French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote extensively on the dynamics of union. His principle of “Creative Union” describes a quality of joining that differentiates and personalizes the individuals as they give their unique gifts to the whole. The model he sites is the fabric of nature where smaller whole unit to form larger whole systems—atoms to molecules, molecules to cells, to organisms and so on up the chain of life including social bodies such as communities and nations, and the universe itself. He wrote that “love-energy marks the history of the universe. It is present from the Big Bang onward, though indistinguishable from molecular forces. It amplifies itself by way of union because it is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious of the cosmic forces. The physical structure of the universe is love.”

At every level, as entities unite based on this energy, they maintain their identities and create emergent properties beyond the capabilities of the constituent living systems. At the biological level, the new whole comes about through the interactive sharing of the part’s distinctive energies. At the human level, the uniting forces are primarily the energies of affinity—the full spectrum of love.  

Evolution works by interaction, making new wholes of the union of previous wholes. This compounding creates new entities, new relations, new behaviors, and new abilities to create yet further compounds of interactivity. This is the ‘self-creating’ aspect of the universe.

Beatrice Bruteau

Unlike the dystopian movies where individuals merged into a homogeneous collective, persons and groups in creative union enable each other to preserve and express their identities, develop their distinctive uniqueness, experience creativity and enrichment and reach their higher potentials. Teilhard applies this equally to husband and wife, parents and children, members of a team, social groups and large international bodies. Dr. Bruteau describes the process of bonding.

It is the sharing of energies that constitute the bond, or principle of union, of the new level entity… Thus, each time a new type or level of being appears, it appears because it succeeds in uniting from the inside elements of the preceding level.” As a philosopher of both science and religion, she observed the process at work in the realm of spirit as well.

To paraphrase: When we liberate ourselves from identifying with our predicates—appearance, personality, wealth, power, occupation, status—then the energy spent protecting and amplifying these becomes available for the radiation of goodwill to others. Beatrice again—

We will have realized ourselves as the Self that says only I AM, with no predicate following, not “I am a this” or “I have that quality.” Only unlimited, absolute I AM. The interesting thing is that as soon as you experience yourself this way, you at once find that you also are saying to the world, ‘Let it be!’ It seems to be the nature of that which is I AM to say, ‘Let it be.’ This is the love that is called ‘agape.’  It is love that seeks the being, well-being, full being, ever-fuller being of the beloved. It is a love that is not a reaction to the beloved but rather a first action, an action beginning in you, coming out from the center of your being because of the nature of your being. The True Self in us is constantly radiating this willed goodness.

Dr. Neel Burton, writing about love in Psychology Today, defined agapé as universal love, such as for strangers, nature or God, encompassing the modern concept of altruism, the unselfish concern for the welfare of others. “More generally, altruism, or agape, helps to build and maintain the psychological, social, and indeed, environmental fabric that shields, sustains, and enriches us. Given the increasing anger and division in our society and the state of our planet, we could all do with quite a bit more agape.”

The Allium flower’s part-whole makeup demonstrates that there’s tremendous strength and beauty that comes from treating others as we would like to be treated. It doesn’t mean we have to like people who are different from us, interact with those we don’t know or join a group or movement. It’s enough to acknowledge the spark of divinity in all people (by virtue of their indwelling light) and respect their unique expression. 

Knowingly or not, all of us are embarked on a common journey in consciousness whose goal is our full awakening to unity with everyone and everything.

Anna Lemkow


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Palm Tree: Symbol Of Peace And Flexibility

Washington Fan Palm

There are over 2,500 species of palm in the Arecaceae family of evergreen plants. They’re found throughout the world, in climates as diverse as desert and rainforest where they can grow in the form of shrubs, trees or lianas. The needle palm is so hardy it’s found in Alaska. 

Palm trees have two different types of leaves—palmate, which grow in a bunch at the end of a stem, and pinnate that are like feathers growing along the sides of a stem. They can grow up to 197 feet tall, the tallest being the Quindio wax palm, which is Columbia’s national tree. The Mexican fan palm common to Los Angeles and Southern California can grow up to 98 feet tall. Date palms are fast growers and they can reach up to 80 feet. And the Coco De Mer variety is distinctive, having the largest seeds of any plant on Earth—20 inches in diameter and weighing 66 pounds.

Manila Palm Seeds

The edible fruits of many palms include coconuts, dates, betel nuts and acai fruit. Others, such as the sago, are poisonous to humans and animals. In Mesopotamia 5000 years ago, date palms  provided oil for food and cooking, and wood for construction tools. The Assyrians considered palm trees growing beside a stream the ultimate symbol of eternal life. The Romans used palm branches as a sign of victory, handing them out to champions of games and wars. In Judaism and Christianity, palm branches were mentioned in the Bible dozens of times representing peace and plenty. The same with the Quran. In Asia and Africa, a wine called “kallu” is made from coconut palms, date palms, the Chilean wine palm and other species.

Franciscan missionaries are credited as the first to plant palm trees in California. Some historians cite the 1932 World Olympics in Los Angeles as the reason they were planted along streets, in public parks and other gathering places in the city. It’s estimated that the project—planting 40,000 Mexican fan palms along 150 miles of city streets—employed nearly 400 men during the Great Depression. Ever since, palm trees have become one of the many icons of the City of Angels.

Arguably, the palm tree became a symbol of peace because it weather’s violent storms by bending and not breaking. The lesson in this is that peace—the state of tranquility, harmony, calm and freedom from disturbances and fighting—requires flexibility. In the human context, where “storms” are usually over differences and perceived threats, the challenge is to respect, accommodate and accord diverse people the freedom to express their individuality and values as fellow travelers—souls—on the road to understanding and realizing their reason for being. 

Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living beings, man himself will not find peace.

Albert Schweitzer

As I watched the crowds of protesters all over the world demanding police accountability resulting from the murder of George Floyd, I noticed in the first place that they were far more diverse racially than in the demonstrations and riots of the ’60s and ’70s. I also noticed, as has been reported, that the overall intention of the protesters is peaceful, while among them are  a few young people, some of them organized, taking advantage of the crowded situation under the dark of night to loot, destroy, set off fireworks and generally inflict mayhem and violence. At the same time, it was encouraging to see demonstrators locking arms to block the looter’s access to stores, to see the offenders being arrested and police officers expressing—through word and action—their sympathy with the protesters. 

It was also comforting that the four past-presidents contributed their perspectives on the situation, filling the void of understanding and empathy by speaking directly to people of color.  Especially moving for me was President Obama’s vision for young people. 

“I see limitless potential in them (young  people of color) to flourish and thrive, to be able to learn and make mistakes and live a life of joy without having to worry when you walk to the store, go for a jog or driving down the street or looking at some birds in a park.” 

Basically, he provided a simple and clear definition of peace that everyone could understand. And then he expressed hope, concluding with an empowering message.

“You have the power to make things better… You’ve communicated a sense of urgency that is as powerful as anything I’ve seen in recent years.”

When we experience acts of crime, abuses or social upheaval  directly or indirectly, the reptilian brain urges a fearful response. It’s where we go first. But we don’t want to live there because fear blocks love, and love is always the best response to everything. And if not love, then compassion for self as well as others, society, humankind and the world. On the one hand, fear demonstrates a deep concern for the safety and security of those closest to us. The natural tendency is to shield our loved ones and that’s appropriate. At the same time, tragedy presents an opportunity to open and uplift the personal environment with expressions of courage—”There are better days ahead” and optimism—”The worst of times brings out the best in us.”

Research tells us that the act of witnessing a crime or any distressful situation triggers a brain response as if these are actually happening. While our first response may be fight or flight, is that the mode of expression we want to perpetuate—and demonstrate to our children? Or would we rather wake ourselves up and use the experience to create a more positive response, one that takes advantage of the teachable moment? Knowing that love blocks fear and creates an inner unbalance that diffuses into the environment, we can return to center by activating and integrating the cerebral cortex (center of reasoning) and the empathetic heart in responses that exude confidence and compassion, thereby creating an atmosphere of peace. One of Dale Carnegie’s life-management slogans was “Act enthusiastically and you’ll be enthusiastic.” It works. And it applies across the board. Act peaceful and you’ll be peaceful.

Peace is a personal choice. By our speech and everyday choices, we have the opportunity to construct a personal reality that’s tranquil and calm, free from disturbances, anxiety and fear. When we feel that circumstances or people around us have ignited a spark that could escalate into a fire, we can step away from the situation (or persons), take a breath and remember that peace of mind is a higher value than being right, better, smarter, wealthier or winning at anything. Moral flexibility in the human realm is largely about accepting differences in other people. When we’re securely rooted in who we are, knowing why we’re here, what we’re uniquely qualified to do and can change how we respond to the storms in life, we can bend like the palm trees and let them blow past. Tomorrow is another day. And we will have demonstrated to our children and loved ones what it takes to live in peace.

 

If there is to be peace in the world,

There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,

There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,

There must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors,

There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,

There must be peace in the heart.

Lao-tzu


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The Poppy Flower: Symbol Of Abundance And Sharing

There are more than 70 species of poppy (Papaver) in the family Papaveraceae. Found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, the Arctic Circle and in southern Africa they’re mostly cultivated as garden ornamentals. Notably, the Papaver somniferum species is the source of opium, a narcotic that contains alkaloids used in the production of morphine, heroin and codeine. Poppies have been used medicinally and recreationally since ancient times. Because the narcotic is so powerful, worldwide production is monitored by international agencies which only allow the production of opium from the “oriental” poppy flower.

The seeds of the poppy are rich in carbohydrates, calcium and protein so they’re used to make cooking oil, salad dressing and margarine. The oil can also be added to spices for cakes and breads. Health-wise, the flower has been used since ancient times to make teas that produce a calming effect and relax the nerves. The color of the flowers includes white, lilac, pink, yellow, orange, red, violet and blue.

Papaver somniferum was domesticated and used for ornamentation by the indigenous people of Western and Central Europe between 6000 and 3500 BC. Between 4500 and 1900 BC the  Sumerian people were cultivating it for opium. From there, via the Silk Road, by 2700 BC the Minoans in Crete were cultivating the plants for their oil and opium. In Egypt, the flower is depicted in jewelry and other art objects found in tombs dated 1550-1292 BC. Inscriptions indicate that their physicians used the seeds to relieve pain. In Greek mythology, the poppy was associated with Demeter, goddess of fertility and agriculture. Planting them in a field was said to yield a bountiful crop.

In the United States, poppies are the most popular among wildflowers, and they’re worn in remembrance on Armistice Day. Placed on tombstones, poppies symbolize eternal sleep, and this was evoked in the novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, where a magical poppy field threatened to make the protagonists sleep forever. The Eschscholzia Californica is the state flower of California. In Britain and the Commonwealth, poppies are used to celebrate those who died in all wars. And in 2004, 2008 and 2010, Canada issued special 25-cent coins with a red poppy on the reverse side. The 2004 quarter was the world’s first colored coin in circulation.

The poppy flower has many different meanings across cultures, but most have viewed it as a symbol of sleep, peace and protection from death because of its relaxing property. Other meanings derive from the flower’s various colors—red for passion, white for purity, purple for resurrection and so on. Considering the current challenges that are encouraging a transition from self to whole-centered consciousness, I prefer the perspective of a more contemporary and philosophical source (Universe Of Symbolism) that says the poppy “symbolizes riches and abundance…being grounded in your prosperity, having enough to share and bringing feelings of security and overall well-being.”

The richness of the poppy flower’s colors and the plant’s tendency to grow and thrive in abundance is evident. Less so is its grounding in prosperity and evoking feelings of security and well-being. What caught my attention were the values of abundance and sharing. They reminded me that the practice of sharing was a survival mechanism among the first hominoids, and that sharing evolved into the commonly held belief among indigenous people worldwide that “the good” (land and goods) were blessings to be appreciated, conserved and shared. For instance, Native Americans didn’t—and most still don’t—believe that anything can be owned. One of the fine ideas I encountered in the Jesuit seminary was how everything we had available to us—food, clothing, vehicles, tools and a variety of personal items including pens, photos of family members and the trunks we kept them in—were not possessions. The vow of “poverty” meant giving up ownership completely. We had the use of all these things, but the attitude toward them was identical to that of native people—everything is a gift. Even the things we wear or use over a long period of time are on loan to us—from God, the gods or the universe. When someone else needs my lawn mower, I give it freely. The same with a car, bicycle, book or basketball. The same with money.

Writing at a time when the Coronavirus pandemic is causing social havoc and taking lives, it’s wonderful to see so many people sharing what they have, be it food, talent or tangible goods, and finding innovative ways to communicate. My dear friend and mentor Dr. Beatrice Bruteau wrote in God’s Ecstacy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World that “It is the interactive union of the parts, the sharing of their beings, their energies, that actually constitutes the new whole.” Her  reference was to a world where self-centered consciousness is on the descendent and whole-centered consciousness on the rise, largely due to the increasing integration of science and spirituality.

Now, it appears that the pressures of compounding social challenges—lack of responsible and collaborative leadership in government, the dumbing-down of popular culture, educating exclusively for jobs rather than personal growth, inadequate disease management, gun violence, climate catastrophes and the consequences of in-turning tendencies toward nationalism and preoccupation with electronic devices—all are urging us to create a fresh worldview and reality where separation and fear take a back seat to unity and love. In indigenous (and ecological) terms, it’s a world that’s sustainable for all and for many generations.   

Whatever we possess becomes of double value when we share it with others.

Jonas E. Coblentz (Amish)

True accomplishment is not about winning, acquiring, or being on top. It is about sharing, giving and including.

Lewis Richmond (Zen Priest, Author)


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