Winter Solstice — Renewal

Sun On Horizon

 

As December 21st approaches, I reflect on the significance that the winter solstice held for indigenous peoples and mark it in my own life as a way to attune, as they did, to the order and rhythms of nature and the cosmos. Having studied Mesoamerican cultures, particularly the ancient Maya, for forty-five years, I use them as my general reference here. But all indigenous cultures the world around, from Egypt to Indonesia, had rituals based on the summer and winter solstices.

Without instrumentation, the ancients developed their understanding of the world by observing the movements of the sun, moon, planets and other celestial bodies. The sun was viewed as the creator because it was known to be the source and sustainer of all life—an observation that is, of course, accurate, whatever name we attach to the sun.

For the Maya, Ajaw K’in, “Lord Sun” and his movements were therefore of primary concern. His risings and descendings made the day, and his journeys made the seasons. They didn’t take continuance for granted. Were the sun not to rise—perhaps from not being fed properly with prayer, incense and blood (considered the sacred sap of life; without it, there is death) the world would end. Every day, the sun’s ascension from the underworld was considered a rebirth. His dying, indicated by his descent at dusk, was seen as the necessary precursor for his rising or rebirth. The cyclical pattern established the model for everything that lives.

Every morning, for hundreds of years, generations of sun priests got up well before dawn and stood on the steps of a temple facing due east to observe and mark the position of the sun, sighted initially to distant poles on the horizon, and temple rooftops later on. From June to December the markers showed the sun moving in a southerly direction. Then, on December 21st or 22nd, the winter solstice, something astonishing happened. (The exact date can vary by a day depending on the location and year). The sun “rested.” It stood still. The next day the journey began again, now in the opposite direction. Continuing their observation, on the summer solstice, June 21st or 22nd, the sun paused again and began “his” journey southward.

The significance of this “turnabout” for the ancients was that it indicated a time of rest and changing direction. It was a time for renewal, new beginnings, and rebirth. Logically, since the sun and the other celestial bodies (all perceived as gods) were so orderly in their journeys, the way to honor them and encourage their continuance was to emulate them. As a consequence, ritual practices derived from the notion “As above, so below.” One of the reasons why I was attracted to the Maya was that they, more than any other culture, to a remarkable extent, modeled every aspect of their lives on the order, patterns and processes they observed in the sky and in nature. And they sustained that perspective and rituals for millennia.

For me, the winter solstice serves as a reminder to appreciate and align with the order of the universe, and pause to reassess my life’s journey. Is what I’m doing on purpose? What can I eliminate in order to better focus on what truly matters? Are my priorities consistent with my authentic values and goals? Am I doing at least one thing every day to realize my potentials, goals or dream? And might this be the time to prepare for or take a new direction?

The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.

Black Elk

About This Image

Title: Sunset Over The Gulf Of Mexico

Theme: Winter Solstice and Renewal

File #: DC1444

Location: Indian Rocks Beach, FL

Just being at the right place at the right time with a camera.

Lifecycles

DF 753

 

When I was in high school, the authors of biology and chemistry textbooks considered independent motion as the defining characteristic of life. If it moved on its own accord, it was alive—organic. Viewed under a microscope, cells and bacteria move. Minerals do not. Water moves, but it was not considered to be “alive,” except that it contained living microbes. Now we know better. Everything moves. According to Einstein’s famous equation, motion is always in accord with and relative to the motion and condition of everything else. To be is to be related.

Because the movement of an object, substance, person, system or society is propagated by the larger system within which it moves and has its being, there is no such thing as independent movement. Nothing of substance moves on its own. Not even galaxies. The picture that emerges, of course, is that of nested systems within systems, wholes with wholes, holons within holons. The condition of life is cyclical interdependence. It’s why I chose the image of circles within circles as the masthead for this blog.

The image above prompted a consideration of seasons and how they constitute a cycle. Winter, marked by overcast skies, bare tree limbs, and snow, is one of the stations within a cycle of life on this planet, a period when we’re farther away from our radiating star. Motion begets change. At times the change can be random, but the pattern itself is constant and cyclical. Trees grow leaves in Spring and release them in the Fall.  Fish and birds migrate. People change jobs and the jobs themselves change. There are the rise and fall of rock stars and relationships, products and processes. Artists have preference phases and scientists alternate between breakdowns and breakthroughs. Effort and rest, the awake and sleeping states. Eating and digesting. Hearts beat and rest. Political parties, governments, and entire civilizations rise and fall. Likewise stars and galaxies. At every level, the cycling in and out of form or condition is a kind of breathing.

Practitioners of insight meditation focus on the breath to quiet the mind and direct attention to the present moment. The sound of a distant airplane, an itch, odor or thought is less a distraction than an opportunity to focus, accept and appreciate what is, and shift gears. Perhaps less noticed in this process, the awareness of breathing in and out carries the added benefit of attuning the meditator to the cyclical nature of his or her being—of all being and being itself, the quiet experience of life happening. Flow. Masters of this practice advise students to observe how it’s not just the breath that rises and falls, everything is rising and falling, just at different frequencies and rates. Diamonds, for instance, have value and symbolize “eternity” for us because on earth they are the hardest of minerals with the longest lifespan. Nonetheless, they are not eternal. They rise and fall like everything else.

One of the reasons for my attraction to native cultures has been their knowledge of and connection to nature. The ancients went to great, at times monumental, effort to observe the natural world and attune themselves to it through language, art, architecture, costuming and ritual. We moderns hear about the solstices but few of us understand that these calendar points mark the time in the yearly cycle when the sun does an “about face” when sighted along the early morning horizon. We have one word for “rain.” Rainforest dwellers the world around have many. To us, the chirping of chacalacas in the morning is just a sound, perhaps an annoying one. To the ancient Maya, it was an announcement that the sun god was making a new day—something they didn’t take for granted. Where we would cut down a vine that blocks our way, natives use the direction of its growth like a compass when the sun is not shining. NOTE: Greenpeace estimates that today there are approximately 150 million indigenous people living in ancient forests worldwide.

In an attempt to better understand and connect to nature I have a number of practices. Besides reading, I watch the sky and the birds associated with each season. I used to observe the planets, and stars through a telescope, but because city lights make it difficult, I do less of that. Still, I know when to look for certain constellations, planets and stars. And it’s always a delight to see them. One example is Sirius, a nearby binary star that’s twice the mass of our sun and the brightest star in the sky. Another is Betelgeuse in the Orion constellation, which is easy to spot in the winter months. I marvel at this red supergiant because its radius is a thousand times that of the Sun. If it were placed in the center of our solar system it would reach beyond the orbit of Jupiter!

One of the mind games I play to become more aware of nature’s cycles is to guess the lifespans of familiar objects. It’s not that I look at a doorknob, computer screen, political party or cultural conflict and think about when it arose and when it will succumb to entropy. Rather, I note in passing that these substances, systems, and events are instances along a continuum of change. That they, like me, are moving along a temporal trajectory. One of the benefits of these observations is a sense of being carried along on a gentle wave—a local experience of the universal ocean of motion—consciousness. It’s a perspective that evokes spiritual relaxation and confidence that all is well. I still struggle in some areas, so I’m not there yet. But I’ve reached the point where, as the commercial goes, I want to “spend less time getting there and more time being there.”

Our minds are just waves on the ocean of consciousness. As waves, they come and go. As ocean, they are infinite and eternal. These are all metaphors, of course; the reality is beyond description. You can know it only by being it.

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

ABOUT THIS IMAGE

Title: Winter Forest

File: DF753

I love to photograph in the snow. It’s one of the few environments that allows for simplicity. Also, it’s very quiet and there are fewer people out and about because of the cold. This image was made on a three-day visit to Amish country in mid-state Ohio. Unfortunately, I didn’t record the precise location. But it’s typical of the area where hills are unobstructed by telephone poles and electric wires.

In order for a camera to render snow as white—rather than the gray its electronics are designed to make of it, I changed the camera’s exposure compensation to plus 5. Shooting in RAW mode helps considerably, allowing control of more or less texture in the highlights. As you see, I made the sky slightly darker than the snow, not only to give some separation but also to maintain the sensibility of an overcast day.

Shifts In Perception

Scanned from negative

 

One of my long-standing pet peeves has been littering. I even won a speech contest by ranting and raving about it in my high school years. Linda and I were running errands recently and we saw several places strewn with litter. Two years ago when I contacted the person in charge of cleaning up litter in the city, he not only encouraged me to report areas of gross negligence, he followed through, even to the extent of notifying his counterparts in surrounding municipalities that were not in his jurisdiction. Gratefully, the areas I brought to his attention got cleaned up.

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

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

Waste is a global challenge. Travelers to Germany report that their land and cityscapes are largely litterfree. In other countries littering and letting garbage collect is the only option. So how a society handles its waste is a complex issue, conditioned by historical, geographical, cultural, political and economic circumstances. As such, less developed countries deserve some understanding in this regard rather than judgment on my part. They just don’t have the resources to manage waste.

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

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

When I arrived home from my walk and separated out a bottle and this beer can for recycling, the dew on its surface forced me to put on my photographer’s hat. In its own way, this smashed can was an object of beauty, a common item that was now visually striking. And the negative thoughts it evoked in me made it, well, evocative. I’d considered this image for a posting, but put it off because I couldn’t decide on a theme. Then I saw a bumper-sticker that read, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

I laughed. But it was just the impetus I needed. My perspective shifted! One moment saw this beer can as litter, evidence of someone’s not caring and not taking responsibility for the neighborhood or planet, and moments later considered it an object of beauty. And then a bumper-sticker—comically but nonetheless poignantly—pointed to its place in the broadest of contexts. The can didn’t change, but my way of seeing it did. One of the aesthetic terms among the Japanese is “wabi-sabi,” finding beauty in things that are dying or decaying. It’s an appreciation of impermanence, including that which is incomplete or imperfect.

So this contemplation reinforces for me, how even the smallest, seemingly innocuous and possibly annoying things in life can be seen in a different light. It’s not that I gained a greater appreciation for litter. I didn’t. It still offends my aesthetic sensibilities, but I’m more at peace with it now, trying to rest in wabi-sabi.

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

Zen Teaching

ABOUT THIS IMAGE

Title: Smashed Beer Can

File: 903-A1

I didn’t want the dew on the beer can to evaporate by bringing it inside, so I left it out in the cold while I made preparations to photograph it on my copy stand. Once the camera and the background were in place, I brought the can in, turned on the lights, quickly centered it in the frame and clicked the shutter. What you see is the actual dew that was on the can. No spritzing needed. In Photoshop I softened the contrast to keep from blowing out the highlights. And I darkened the bottom part of the can so it would match the top part in tonality. Oh, and I recycled the can.

Home

The recent fires in California provide us all with a hightened appreciation for our homes. Our prayers and best wishes go to those who have lost their houses. Wondering what it takes to rebuild a home, I was reminded of a gathering of our families when my daughter made a reference to her “home” at the dinner table. I had a moment of wondering whether she was referring to her home with us, her parents, or her current home two hours away from us with her husband and son. I asked her, “What do you think of, when you think of home?” It was remarkable how the question sparked more questions and a fascinating discussion.

What do you think of, when you think of home? Is it people, place or circumstances? All of these? Around our table, one of the responses was, “I think of my college years. That was when I was happiest.”

What is the experience of being at home or feeling “at home?” When I was working on projects that involved frequent trips to both coasts, I felt so at home with the people I was working with I regarded them more as friends than colleagues. Having shared interests and goals was a factor. So also was resonance. But I would not have chosen to live with those people. On the other side of the coin, when I visited Palenque, a Maya site in Chiapas, Mexico, I felt so comfortable sitting on the steps of a temple there, I had the feeling that I was at home. I didn’t know anyone there, but I felt like I could have stayed there the rest of my life.

When were you most at home? I expected those around our dinner table to cite their present dwelling place. Not so. It took me several moments to discover the answer for myself—that where I live now is home. It’s where I feel most myself. If your current dwelling place is not home, is there anything or anyone that would make it so? I think most of us would agree with the adage that “a house does not a home make.” I wonder about people who have multiple homes. Are they equally at home in all of them? The notion of home as a quality of being is a curiously complex phenomenon.

What qualities and characteristics are essential for you to consider a place home? Location? Type of dwelling? For instance, could you consider yourself at home in a condo or apartment? If so, what would be necessary? If not, why not? And in your current dwelling place, what and how much could you eliminate and still feel that you are home? Now, pare down these qualities and items so only the absolute essentials remain. Write them down. And then ask what it is that these provide. Be brutally honest. For instance, cameras and a darkroom are on my list. Without them, I wouldn’t feel at home. I’d have to acquire them all over again in order to feel at home. The Buddhists would call this “clinging,” but the truth is the truth. When I asked myself what photographic equipment provides, the answer came quickly—the capacity to understand and express myself in order to better fulfill my purpose.

Are you at home in your skin? I like this question because it points to our dual nature—body and spirit or soul, whatever we choose to call it. “Am I at home in my body?” elicits the question, Who is the “I” who is asking? Am I comfortable with what I see and how I feel? How can I change these—if that’s desirable or possible. If not, might acceptance or forgiveness tilt the scale toward increased satisfaction?

What does it mean to be at home?  The protagonist in my novel, Jaguar Sun, discovers that home is a personal construction requiring both inner and outer resources. Before he can come to that place, he has to know who he is. From a physical standpoint, the nest in the above image is a composite of elements from the environment—like furniture—suited to warmth and protection. Certainly these are components for us as well. Might we also consider that, given our composite nature, the place we call “home” includes emotional and psychological environments that are conducive to comfortable living and peace of mind. Or is home just where we have our stuff? Is home the place where we live with our significant others? It has been said that “Home is where the heart is.” For me, qualifying further, home is the context within which I can most be myself and work toward becoming a better self. I’m reminded of my posting of a full image of an egg. Within it, there is nourishment, safety, comfort, connection and the development of potential.

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

About This Image

Title: Robin’s Nest

Theme: Home

File #: 499-C1

Linda discovered this nest in the back yard. I took it inside, placed it on the camera stand and photographed it against a black background. The eggs are situated as they were found.

Gratitude

 

“Over the river and through the woods…”

I lived in the city growing up. My grandparents lived in the country about thirty miles from us. We visited them most Sundays, year round, from the time I was born through high school. This image brings back memories of our Thanksgivings there. Topping the list of the downside of going to Grandma’s house was the two-hole outhouse (Who ever thought two holes was a good idea?) with pages of the Sunday Supplement covering the walls, spider webs in the dark corners and, well, the odor. When I was little, I had to be convinced that I wouldn’t fall in and nothing would come out of there to bite me in the butt. 

Because the house was heated by a wood stove in the back room, aided at times by the kitchen stove, the downstairs was warm enough in the winter time, but my sister and I froze upstairs, napping under three or four blankets with our clothes on. With the exception of my father and me, the men in my family were very much into sports—and smoking cigars. So while they were watching “the game” and the women played cards around the kitchen table, it fell to my dad to keep my sister and me occupied. And that leads me to the upsides.

Dad took us on walks to the nearby Clermont County Fairgrounds, where we would wander around the empty livestock stalls and climb the steps of the grandstand that overlooked the oval buggy track. In the summertime we would go to the corner market where, out in front, there was a bin where we reached in and fished among the blocks of ice for a bottle of pop. At Thanksgiving the main event was always the meal. The scene in the dining room was like a Norman Rockwell painting. Grandma was known for her cooking, so the long table was pulled out even further to accommodate all its leaves, and extensions were added as needed. There could be fifteen or more people, passing turkey with stuffing, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, corn, peas, carrots, cranberries… And then came the cherry, apple and pumpkin pies, to accommodate everyone’s preference.

Like forgiveness, gratitude spoken out loud delivers benefits to those who express it as well as those to whom it is expressed. Studies show that a simple “Thank you” makes people more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. Psychologist Robert Emmons found that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. A University of Kentucky study found that grateful people are more sensitive and empathetic toward others, they sleep better, have higher self-esteem, experience less stress and exhibit greater resilience when under stress.

Giving thanks at our Thanksgiving dinner has always presented me with a conundrum. The list of things I’m thankful for is impossibly long, so I have to prioritize when speaking them out loud. Words are inadequate. So I say to myself that I’m grateful for (capital “E”) Everything.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

John F. Kennedy

About This Image

Title: Amish Country Road

File #: DC5729

Location: Walnut Creek, OH

My practice on overnight trips to Amish country in mid-state Ohio is to drive on the gravel and dirt roads, wherever I see horse and buggy tracks. At “magic hour” in the evenings, I tend to drive a little faster so as to cover as much ground as I can while the sun is going down. In this instance I stopped, literally in the buggy tracks, because the setting sun was strongly backlighting leaves in the dark forest.

With the sky so bright and the forest so dark, I set the camera on “automatic” to see what would happen. Reviewing the image on the viewfinder, I was amazed to see that it had captured some detail in the trees but left enough definition in the highlights that the sunset was apparent. I didn’t need to take another exposure.

Phase Transition

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

The little ripples in the water evidence both wind and energy alternatively reflecting light and darkness as life moves forward. In the tree I’m reminded that my personal reality is a reflection of Absolute reality, allowing me to interpret its reflection freely. I understand that the reflection is not the tree, but does it even come close to representing it faithfully or fully? Of course, that’s the great mystery. When we look at images of stars and galaxies, are we seeing the universe as cold and lifeless, a place filled with immense objects that collide with unimaginably gigantic consequences? Might the processes—there and here—be the very means by which consciousness expands as part of its reach to attain fuller realization of the Absolute? Of awareness itself. Might spacetime on this planet be a local phase transition for consciousness as it reaches for that awareness?

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

Zooming into the molecular level, I find a social consideration represented along the “shoreline” where water meets ice. Indeed, at 3:1 magnification on the computer it closely resembles the coastline of Maine. On one side the molecules stubbornly seek to maintain the status quo as a liquid, whereas the molecules on the other side are just as rigid—literally so—to remain solid. By zooming in even closer I arrive at the place where individual molecules conflict. I imagine their conversation. “I’m liquid and I’m going to stay that way.” “Well, I’m solid and there’s no way I’m going to change!” Well and good. But they are forgetting two things. They are both the same in substance. Irrespective of location and form, they are both water. And they do not exist in a closed system.

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

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

The interface between opposites is the place of transformation.

William Erwin Thompson

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

Eva Jablonka

 

ABOUT THIS IMAGE

Title: Tree Reflection; Water  and Ice

File: DC1757

It was February and I was photographing in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery where there are several ponds and a wide variety of trees. On one of the ponds there’s a fountain and it created the ripples that inched against the ice that was forming along the shoreline. I made several exposures from different angles, some emphasizing the ripples, others the reflection of the tree. As a result of this contemplation I now understand why this particular image appealed to me—it illustrates a phase transition, a phenomenon I always found fascinating.

Fear

My posted contemplations are primarily about appreciation, gratitude and perception. While fear is generally an undesirable sensation, I appreciate it as one of the primary forces that affects human behavior universally. It has survival value for individuals, and socially it’s an evolutionary driver. I also appreciate it’s significance as one of the most poignant topics of our national conversation today. That’s why I chose it. Further, it provided an opportunity for me to reflect on it and put it into perspective. To do this I referenced “fear” in my files and databases to see what the experts had to say. These are some of the observations that stood out.

You can’t see wisdom, but you can see its reflection. Its reflection is happiness, fearlessness, and kindness. Silvia Boorstein

Environments that motivate through fear literally shut down the potential for growth. Those that motivate through vision, open us up to express unforeseen possibilities. Bruce Lipton

As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others. Marianne Williamson

What you think is what you get, what you fear is what you attract, what you resist persists. Neale Donald Walsch

The move from one era of civilization to another causes anxiety, especially among those whose egos are weak and whose sense of mother love, earth love, wisdom, and love as children has been truncated or aborted. (Religious fundamentalism) results from mysticism repressed and denied, and it always leads to scapegoating—the projected hatred of others. Matthew Fox 

We have to treat others as part of who we are, rather than as a ‘them’ with whom we are in constant competition. Robert Bellah

The crisis that threatens our planet, whether seen from its military, ecological or social aspect, derives from a dysfunctional and pathological notion of the self. It derives from a mistake about our place in the order of things. It is a delusion that the self is so separate and fragile that we must delineate and defend its boundaries, that it is so small and so needy that we must endlessly acquire and endlessly consume, and that it is so aloof that as individuals, corporations, nation-states, or species, we can be immune to what we do to other beings. There is no logical or scientific basis for construing one part of the experienced world as “me” and the rest as “other.” That is so because as open, self-organizing systems, our very breathing, acting and thinking arise in interaction with our shared world through the currents of matter, energy, and information that move through us and sustain us. In the web of relationships that sustain these activities there is no clear line demarcating a separate, continuous self.  Joanna Macy

We have imagined that we are a unit of survival and we have to see to our own survival, and we imagine that the unit of survival is the separate individual or a separate species, whereas in reality through the history of evolution, it is the individual plus the environment, the species plus the environment, for they are essentially symbiotic. Gregory Bateson

There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life. John Lennon

Fear of any kind throws us into an ancient survival mentality that, when fully active, shuts down our higher modes of evolutionary awareness. But it is these higher realms of our neural system that hold the open-ended possibility through which we can modify and modulate the reality structure of a particular moment. (The shift from our higher verbal-intellectual forebrain, the neocortex, to the lower reptilian, limbic brain) shortchanges our intellect, cripples our learning and memory, and can lock our neocortex into service of our lower brain. Joseph Chilton Pearce

On evil: excerpted from: “Radical Optimism: Rooting Ourselves in Reality” by Beatrice Bruteau

We have developed a cult of the descriptive self, our own personal image industry. It is indeed a matter of images—pictures of reality, but not reality itself. The living person cannot be pinned down in any set of descriptions (for instance, black or white American or African, male or female, married with two kids, Protestant, Republican, businessman, golfer, weighs 180 pounds, has an IQ of 120, drives a Mercedes,  prefers wine over beer…).  These are all conventional categories that we use as a kind of shorthand for organizing our affairs for getting acquainted, identifying people, and carrying on a conversation. But all these descriptions could be otherwise and that person, the real person living inside, would still be there with the same interior sense of ‘I am, I am here, I am now, I am I.’ It is this interior sense of actually existing in this moment as a sheer ‘I am’ that is the real living person. This person is undefined, indescribable, and transcendent of all categories and descriptions.

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

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

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

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

__________________

The image of barbed wire is here represented as a symbol of separation, fear and domination—the components of a paradigm built on male superiority and the perspectives “Survival of the fittest” and “Subdue the Earth.” The paradigm of separation may have gotten us to where we are, but now we’re experiencing the realities—and consequences of interdependence. We live in a world where the thoughts, words and deeds of a single individual are having instant and profound global influence—for better and worse. We’re increasingly relying on each other for safety, the quality of our food, medicines and other products. The gap between haves and have-nots has widened in this country to the extent that “three Americans hold as much wealth as the bottom 50%” (Scientific American, November, 2018). Security measures surrounding air and rail travel and congregating are tightening. The crises in the Middle East are heating up. And populations are shifting. Fencing (as depicted above) literally and figuratively, sustains the paradigm of separation and fear.

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THIS IMAGE

Title: Barbed Wire

File: 132-C3

This image was made on a day trip in the country. With the camera on a tripod, I aligned the principle barb above the setting sun and used a wide aperture to blur the other barbs as well as the background.

Belief

 

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

Certainly, I can choose a destination and get on board with ideas and plans to get me there. That’s “entrainment.” But what about those switches, the plans that don’t—or do—work out, the emergency phone call, lottery ticket, birth, diagnosis, failed plans, new interest or the person we meet who changes the course of our lives? Some things happen beyond our control that changes us, at times even altering our destination. In large part, I think it’s our encounter with life’s unexpected turns that urges the search for meaning. Is life just a random sequence of events—over which I have some but not much control? And why all the unexpected switching along the way? What are we to think? How do we respond to change and uncertainty? When switches altered my dad’s life journey he would shrug his shoulders and say “What can you do?” Indeed, when life is leading, the wise course is resignation, go with the flow, align and allow. Resistance can be painful.

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

One thing is certain—each track provided a unique set of life lessons, chapters in the story of me and my becoming. Hard lessons learned leave little to regret. Rather, ideally, they lead to constructive intentions and choices when a familiar lesson comes again. My belief for now, and it could change tomorrow, is that life stories are written before we appear—already complete, perfect and happening in the Eternal now. That we don’t remember them allows us to freely choose both tracks and switches. The tracks we’re on lead us toward destinations appropriate to the soul’s plan. The engine of belief provides the momentum. And so, whether or not we’re aware of it, we move in the direction of our beliefs.

I’m a believer in belief. I think it’s creative, determinative of our personal realities and prerequisite to manifesting the components of that reality. Gandhi described the mechanism—

Your beliefs become your thoughts

Your thoughts become your words

Your words become your actions

Your actions become your habits

Your habits become your values

Your values become your destiny.

Mahatma Gandhi

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

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

I harbor another belief that personal realities are relative to the individual. Obviously, they’re personal, and as I said, creative. As we believe, so we tend to become. Certain eastern spiritual traditions go so far as to say that when we die our experience coincides with our beliefs about the afterlife. Christians will walk with Jesus. Buddhists will sit with Buddha. Muslims will feast with Mohammad. Again, we cannot know. The tracks we’re on lead us toward destinations appropriate to the soul’s plan. And the engine of belief provides the momentum. And so, whether or not we are aware of it, we move in the direction of our beliefs.

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

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

Jerome Perlinski

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

Shakte Gawain

 

About This Image

On a two-day photographic expedition driving through Illinois, I came upon this scene at sunset. I got out of the car and worked the location, shooting a variety of shots through sunset.

 

Entrainment

 

 

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

Writing in Evolution’s End: Claiming The Potential Of Our intelligence, Joseph Chilton Pearce ascribes it as significant in relation to child development. “Play,” he says, “is the foundation of creative intelligence… the child who is played with will learn to play. The child who is not played with will be unable to play and will be at risk on every level.” He says that storytelling is a vital component of play. “The child listens to the storyteller with total entrainment; he grows still, his jaw drops, his eyes widen, and he stares fixedly at the speaker. His vision, however, turns within where the action is, for the words of a story stimulate the creation of corresponding internal images.” Indeed, the words of a story are linear, like a train. They pull us along a fixed path of images, a sequence that lead us to the author’s destination—the point, lesson or truth of the story. “This imagining,” Pearce continues, “is the foundation of future symbolic and metaphoric thought, both concrete and formal operational thinking, higher mathematics, science, philosophy, everything we consider higher mentation or education.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emotional entrainment is the heart of influence. 

Daniel Goleman
ABOUT THIS IMAGE

Title: Tractor Tires

File: CDC 5919

At the intersection of Illinois routes 36 and 71 there was a lot of junk lying around. With no one there to ask permission I photographed a number of items, among them these discarded tires. Always looking for textures, I went in close to exclude the weeds that were about two feet high. The original image is in color, but because the tonalities worked so well I made the transformation to black and white using Adobe Photoshop (Under “Adjustments). It’s an ideal way to do this because the application lets the photographer manipulate the full spectrum of colors—so each can result in a lighter or darker shade of gray or black.

 

Order

 

In nature and in the world of man-made objects, geometric order evidences the interrelatedness of all things. Using the above image as a model, humanity may be said to consist of a single string within the spacetime continuum. Rather than forming a straight line—the way we experience time—the process of human evolution has been an ever unfolding and ordering spiral. For the most part we have not yet realized or accepted that order, novelty, expansion and complexity are ultimately unifying forces. But even conflicts over diversity can be seen as drivers, urging us to realize and accommodate to the reality that we are one, interrelated and interdependent species.

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

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

As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes, “Psychic negentropy refers to an ordered state of energy or knowledge, a state in which work can be carried out with the least waste and effort. A negentropic system, whether physical, informational, or mental, is one in which the parts function together in synergy, with minimal friction or disorder.” In his book, Being Adolescent: Conflict and Growth in the Teenage Years, co-authored with Reed Larson, Mihali identifies the specific traits that carry the highest negentropic potential. These include positive feelings toward self and others, happiness, friendliness, joy, meaning, a sense of energy, competence and intrinsic motivation to be involved with people moving toward constructive goals. Projected to adults, I can easily see how these would be the forces, among others, that are urging us toward alignment and synergistic engagement. In this way, on each turn of the evolutionary spiral, the invisible hand of Nature winds the string around a core, albeit one that imposes a design that is in process. And one that we are not yet privileged to see.

Writing about traumatic events experienced by adults—such as occur in family life as well as in business and politics—Csikszentmihalyi goes further to say in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, that the ability to draw order from disorder is what transforms negative experience into meaningful challenges. Paul Cézanne famously said it was the artist’s task to become “concentric” with nature, to align with it. I see that happening in this image. I also see how the center—the core of an object or idea—determines the pattern that will emerge as time goes on. For instance, if the string here pictured were wound around a cube or a triangle a very different pattern would result. The same with an idea or ideology. The core of a belief system shapes thinking, which produces patterns of behavior. It’s the reason for the biblical injunction “By their fruit you shall recognize them.” (Matthew 7:16). Others know us by what we do.

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

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

Corinne McLaughlin

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

Margaret Wheatley

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

Duane Elgin

About This Image

Title: Ball Of String

I came upon this ball of string at the Cincinnati Zoo. About the size of a grapefruit, it sat on a table with a number of other items. I had a macro lens on the camera, but without a tripod and no direct sunlight I had to increase the ISO setting to 2000 so I could use a fast shutter speed to minimize the blur from camera movement. I was pleasantly surprised that the image was sharp and there was little detectable noise from the increase in sensitivity.