The Inner Reaches began in Outer Space

From the June 1962 cover of National Geographic

February 20th marked the 50th anniversary of the day astronaut John Glenn orbited of Earth. He was one of NASA’s original Mercury astronauts, depicted in the recent film, “The Right Stuff.” The mission lasted just under five hours, allowing Glenn to circle the globe three times in the capsule he named, ” Friendship 7.”

When John Glenn made his historic flight, I was just 9 years old, but it had a huge affect on me even then. My father was an executive in the General Electric Company in the Missile and Space Division for many of the years leading up to the moon landing in 1969, and would often come home with souvenirs from NASA and the related teams that were a part of the space program. One day, when my Dad came home from work, he made all of us wash our hands in the kitchen. We couldn’t figure out why but did as we were told.

Once we had clean hands, he lined us up in a row and shook each of our hands like he was a visiting relative or dignitary who had just been introduced to us. When he was done, he told us, “You just shook the hand of the man who shook hands with John Glenn!” We were astonished, and began jumping up and down and shouting about our amazement. John Glenn had visited the facility where he worked that day and he had the opportunity to meet and talk to him briefly as the manager of his division. He also got an autograph, and told Glenn that he had a few amateur astronauts at home. Here is the paper with the autograph on it:

Soon after the memorabilia started to accumulate, I started to gather it in a large scrapbook, like other boys my age, and dreamed of being an astronaut. I called my scrapbook, “Man Reaches for the Stars: The History of Manned Space Flight,” and continued to accumulate newspaper clippings and images from magazines, and a variety of actual photos that my father was able to bring home to me from his workplace. I never once really thought I had the “Right Stuff,” but I loved to dream about traveling to space and loved everything about space. We were on vacation down at the shore in Brigantine, New Jersey, when the American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, and we sat together with my Dad, and marveled at how far we had come since the days of the Mercury Astronauts.

Looking through my scrapbook this evening, I felt a little nostalgia for those days of amazement and wonder, and for the richness of the world my father had helped to paint for me, and how he encouraged me to dream big dreams, even if they wouldn’t all come true. I still share the fascination with space today, and when I look at the images of the earth from space, it always makes me long to see the view for myself, to experience the amazing sight first-hand. No view is quite like it…

First things first…

Patrice, my good friend and kindred spirit at “The Heartbreak of Invention,”  http://patricemj.wordpress.com/ asked me to join in on this revealing look at personal “firsts,” inspired by one of her fellow bloggers, and in the spirit of friendship I offer this humorous look at some of my own firsts.  Enjoy!

First Girlfriend:  My first efforts at attracting what might charitably be described as a “girlfriend,” were so meager and tentative, that I really wouldn’t feel right putting any young woman in such a category until I reached high school, in which case I would have to say a wonderful young woman in my freshman year named Joan certainly qualified.  We met shortly after the school year began, and before long we had kissed and said, “I love you,” to each other, and were inseparable for quite a while.  I was so inexperienced as a “boyfriend,” that when I started to notice other girls, I couldn’t hang on long enough to make it work, and it ended badly for us both.  She married another guy years later and wrote to me that while it wasn’t the same “head-over-heels” kind of relationship that we had together, it was definitely better.  So much for my beginnings on the relationship road.

First Person I kissed:  A while before I met Joan, I was participating in one of the “after school” activities in my freshman year, and was cornered by a young woman who clearly had been “dared” to attempt it.  We were backstage in the auditorium, and she ran up to me, wrapped us both up in the curtains, and kissed me squarely on the lips, quite unexpectedly.

First Job: I was a porter at Dunkin’ Donuts at the age of 15, after school and then during the summer.  The manager was a wonderful man with an artificial leg with whom I would have “donut fights,” with the donuts we had to throw away at the end of the shift.

First Pay/What did I buy:  My first ever paycheck went straight into the bank in a savings account (per parental decree), but when I was finally allowed to actually buy something with my own money, I bought my first set of genuine artist’s watercolor paints and several high quality brushes in preparation for my summer art classes. (age 16)

First CD I recall buying:  It’s always funny to think of CD’s as the only way of buying music these days, because my first ever purchase of music was a 45 (record) by B.J.Thomas called, “Hooked On A Feeling,” which I played so many times it eventually became unplayable.  My first purchase of an album, which was an LP (record) was Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s “Trilogy.”  In between LP’s and CD’s were cassette tapes, and my first cassette purchase was “Yessongs,” by the progressive rock group, “YES.”  My first actual CD purchase when they became available was “Abbey Road,” by the Beatles.

What Age Was I When I Moved From My Parent’s Home:   I enlisted in the US Army at the ripe old age of 20 and never went back for more than a few weeks after that except for the summer after I got out of the military when I spent the whole summer with my parents down the shore in Brigantine, NJ.

First Holiday Abroad:  When I completed my military training, I was assigned to the Federal Republic of Germany, and only two weeks after arriving in that country, I spent a week in Munich, and attended the Oktoberfest.  Not only was it my first ever visit to another country, but one of the most amazing international celebrations imaginable.  I met people from all over the world, and discovered what might possibly be the biggest and best beer party in the whole world.

OK….and now I will pass this Memes:First challenge to http://jennifermhartsock.wordpress.com/   who is one of my favorite young writers here at WordPress.com and who might have some fun firsts to share, and also to http://justmarj.wordpress.com/  who is a wonderfully talented writer and teacher of English in the Philippines who inspires me with her drive to enhance her skills in all areas of language.

This is my first ever reblog, but it is clearly a very important message.

creatingreciprocity

 

Sadness is not contagious.  In our valiant efforts to be constructive and positive in a world full of difficulty, we can mistake avoiding the distress of others for a way of maintaining our own positivity.

Thanks to our mirror neurons and our natural empathy with other living creatures, encountering sadness most definitely touches us and can even make us feel upset.

But while avoiding the pain of others may momentarily make us feel better, it doesn’t really contribute to our own well-being – or even our own happiness.

Engaging with others in their suffering has an important place in our development as individuals and as societies.

The Charter for Compassion, founder, Karen Armstrong, has some interesting points to make about this subject.

In Buddhism, compassion (karuna) is defined as a determination to liberate others from their grief, something that is impossible if we do not admit to our own…

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Love is Wholeness

(Thanks to Trish at Creating Reciprocity for the inspiration for this message. The poem, “Mad Girl’s Love Song,” by Sylvia Plath is featured on her blog and you should check it out. http://creatingreciprocity.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/for-the-day-thats-in-it/ )

One of the most important reasons to express the way we feel about everything that happens to us in our lives is to come to terms with it ourselves. Writers throughout history have inspired many other people to become writers themselves, and untold millions of others who only read the work of those writers, come away with insights and perspectives that might otherwise have been impossible to acquire by other means.

The modern day celebration of love on this day, and all the hoopla surrounding romantic love, which is wonderful and joyful and essential in every life, almost completely misses the full spectrum of the experience of love, and pretends somehow that any other experience of romantic feelings for another, other than the one we see in commercials and in advertising, doesn’t even exist.

Sylvia Plath by magnetic-eye Traditional Art / Drawings / Portraits & Figures ©2009-2012 ~magnetic-eye

Sylvia Plath was an extraordinary wordsmith, who was profoundly affected by the loss of romantic love, but more importantly, was unable to overcome the tragic loss emotionally.

The experience of being human includes a variety of potential emotional events, of which the fulfilling and joyful experience of romantic love represents only a portion, and to single out one aspect of that full range of emotion to the exclusion of all others can tip the balance of wholeness to the point where we are irretrievable as a whole person.


Self Portrait and Muse, 1911 by Khalil Gibran

In his most famous work, “The Prophet,” Kahlil Gibran writes comprehensively about love, including this passage:

“When love beckons to you, follow him, though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you–yield to him, though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you–believe in him, though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden. For even as love crowns you–so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth–so is he for your pruning. Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, so shall he descend to your roots, and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; for love is sufficient unto love…And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.”

Sylvia may have been mentally disabled due to some pathology of the brain or because she was suffering from clinical depression, but the world in which she lived, very much like the world in which WE live, was lacking in an emphasis on wholeness and balance, and there is ALWAYS an alternative to giving up on life.

We all need to know love in its many manifestations, and to see beyond the emotional response to the source of love, in the spirit of life. True love is spiritual at its core, and includes every variety of love, and THAT is what we should be celebrating every single day.

John H.

Consciousness, Empathy, and Love

I composed the photograph at the top of this post in the late Spring of last year, but the image came powerfully to mind as I began my day, braving the sting of winter’s breath on my way to my annual physical, as the sun poked its nose over the tips of the trees, with deliberate thoughts of Spring permeating my consciousness. The rose bush is directly outside my bedroom window, and every year I anticipate the arrival of the roses with a grateful heart, and a keen sense of the natural beauty that is a vital component of my experience of the world. Contemplating the events of the past few weeks, hoping for a clearer perspective, my deliberate effort to connect to my deeper nature made me think of this enchanting image. It also brought my heart and mind to bear on an unexpected meeting with someone who needed to connect to their own nature.

Upon arrival at the medical center, I couldn’t help but notice how the air seemed thick with disharmony. I instinctively smiled and nodded as I made my way to the nurse’s station, but was unable to discern any reciprocal response at first. After filling out the forms, I was able to turn my focus to the people in the waiting room with a bit more attention to detail. Most of those assembled seemed to be either preoccupied with their smartphones, or not feeling well, but there was a young child sitting in her mother’s lap who seemed quite unphased by the wait, and she smiled sweetly, so I smiled back and enjoyed the feeling of empathy it produced. After what seemed like a fairly long wait, my name was called, and as I glanced over to the nurse holding my file, I immediately got the sense that something important was about to happen. I followed her to the examination room, and simply allowed myself to be open to whatever was to come.

Without saying a word, as I cooperated with the evaluation, my heart seemed to open, slowly at first, but then as the conversation began, I could feel my inner self swelling in response with a kind of compassionate or cognitive empathy. Before long, I found myself immersed in an exchange of thoughts and ideas that took me quite by surprise. I mostly listened at first, but soon found myself sharing some personal thoughts and history in a reciprocal manner to what was being shared. As the final test was being administered, the nurse was sitting directly in front of me as we waited for the computer program to run its course, and she asked me what I thought about what she had told me. I opened up just like the roses in the photo, and felt the same gratitude and keen sense of connection that normally rises within me when I see that image. She smiled as we parted, and on the drive home, I felt certain that the connection to this person was equally shared and appreciated.

For a very long time, I have asserted that we share an intimate connection to all life, and this awareness has manifested numerous times in my life, but is most often experienced in the fleeting transcendent moments of every life, whether we recognize it as such or not. Puzzling still, in some measure for me, is the purpose of being subjected to the variety of emotional and psychological states of others, so characteristic of such encounters, prompting me over the years to investigate human consciousness, and to conclude that there is a great deal more to understanding this aspect of our nature than simply investigating the brain.

As the Hallmark Holiday on February 14th approaches, far from being irrelevant or silly, it simply misplaces the emphasis on romantic love, when what we should be celebrating is a more universal love for every living being, and encouraging empathy for other people and for all life, whatever form it takes. Acknowledging the broad spectrum of love, and its many manifestations and opportunities to share it more broadly, is at the very heart of human consciousness, and the best medicine for the sense of longing for Spring on a bitter cold winter morning.

Madness and the Demise of Common Sense

painting by untitled blue on flickr – Acrylic on 4 Canvas: 125x90cm

On a recent errand to acquire a bottle of aspirin from the neighborhood drug store, (never actually having set foot in the place previously,) as I walked through the door, I was immediately seized by an overwhelming desire to check the sign out front again to make sure I entered the right building! What I assumed was a place to buy medicine and health care products now appeared to be a Wal-Mart. Looking around briefly, I was tempted to ask directions to the pharmacy. Refusing to be intimidated, I walked past the lawn chairs, gift wrapping, housewares, videos, toys, and food, eventually ending up in the part of the store where one could find over-the-counter medicine. After a minute or two of further searching, I ended up in the aisle containing aspirin.

Easily forty feet long, what looked like a row in an aspirin warehouse contained hundreds of boxes of analgesics, with innumerable varieties of additives designed for every contingency of illness, except perhaps for the anxiety produced by too many choices.


Mike Kemp/Getty Images

Finding a particular brand, if you knew which one you wanted, was only marginally easier than deciding on a brand if you didn’t know. Cost-conscious consumers would have it a little easier, only having to choose amongst the generic versions of every brand name, knocking the search down by half. At that point you need only narrow your selection to small, medium, or large bottle; liquid or gel-tabs; chewable or time-release capsules; coated or plain. If you read labels you may have to spend the night! Of course, this is possible since the store is open twenty-four hours a day. What led to this madness? How did we get diverted from the relative simplicity of life a hundred years ago, to the virtually limitless chaos of modern life?

Common sense, long ago revered as the most important form of everyday reasoning, seems to have all but vanished from modern life in the 21st century. So diverse are we that finding something in common with even most of us may be unreachable. Ask people what is meant by common sense, and you will inevitably get no consensus. In a very unscientific survey of a dozen diverse men and women in different departments of my own workplace produced twelve remarkably different responses. Here are the results of my short survey:

1. What ought to be obvious and sensible to a majority of individuals.
2. The innate ability to reason and find the easiest and most efficient way.
3. What you know instinctively to be the right way to do something.
4. Going along with the norms of society.
5. The ability to think without external guidelines.
6. Knowing right from wrong.
7. The golden rule. Don’t do to someone else what you wouldn’t do to yourself.
8. Popular opinion
9. The ability to handle life situations and react in a logical, thoughtful process.
10. Native intelligence.
11. Levelheadedness.
12. The understanding of logic.

Unable to find agreement among my contemporaries, I sought out some definitions from established sources. Webster’s dictionary defined it as “sound practical judgment not based on reasoning or special knowledge.” Ralph Waldo Emerson described it as “Genius dressed in its working clothes,” and “the shortest line between two points.” In an essay for the first issue of the Atlantic Monthly in 1857, Oliver Wendell Holmes related a criticism of an old gentleman, responding to a statement Holmes had made, which the gentleman said made him sound, “like a transcendentalist,” and proclaimed that “for his part, common sense was good enough for him.” Holmes then replied, “Precisely so, my dear sir, common sense as you understand it.”

Perhaps the most famous pamphlet in American history was the one entitled, “Common Sense,” published in January of 1776 and written by Thomas Paine advocating a “Declaration for Independence,” by the American colonies. In it, Paine asserted that “the more formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason.” He summed up his view on common sense in this way:

“Could the straggling thoughts of individuals be collected, they would frequently form materials for wise and able men to improve into useful matter.”

It was a very different world in which Mr. Paine announced his essential description of common sense, and who actually qualified as”wise and able men” is unknown. However, even a brief examination of life in the colonial era shows how the word “common” applied. Life in colonial America was difficult. Many people lost their lives while attempting to adapt to frontier conditions. Compared to our modern standards of scheduled working hours, vacations, and leisure time, the colonist’s lives were bleak and tedious. They worked from dawn to dusk and could not restrict their work to any set number of hours. The needs of simply existing required constant effort. The family unit was paramount, spending time with each other in a way that is virtually unknown today. Most people had so much in common, that “sensible” almost always translated into “self-evident.” These days, we appear to have so little in common that what could be called common before, not longer seems possible.

Recent quantum leaps in the availability of information technology have resulted in an overwhelming volume of possible avenues to explore, presenting an entirely new problem to challenge the survival skills of modern humans. With this landslide of technology, we seem find ourselves slowly being buried under the weight of every new development, and its accompanying library of information. Take a look at any computer or science magazine these days and you will notice a great deal of shouting going on about the latest technological leap. Wizardry that makes Merlin’s magic pale by comparison is now routine. Our mass media is replete with spectacular showcases of special effects and futuristic fanfares designed to dazzle and delight, and anything that does not contain these elements, regardless of its significance, seems to end up somewhere between invisible and absent.

State-of-the-art technologies in the real world, such as those responsible for the Hubble Space Telescope, the Space Shuttle, satellite communications, and the many breakthroughs of modern medical science have long term, permanent, and profound consequences for all of humanity. Already, in the short time it has taken to develop these bodies of knowledge, we have been faced with serious moral and ethical questions. As the pace accelerates, so too does the necessity to search deeper within ourselves for the wisdom to create appropriate responses to them. As we expand our horizons, we expand our understanding, and acquire the raw materials for enlightened social change. We will not be defined so much by the new technologies of the future as we will by our thoughtful and intelligent use of them. Before we plunge headlong into the new and spectacular, we need to be better prepared for the challenges they will present.

Before the greatest ballerina gives her greatest performance, she hones her skills, relentlessly practices her routines, and labors endlessly to be the best she can be. Buying a bottle of aspirin, by comparison, should not require quite as much work. We must find a way to shift our concentration from consumerism and razzle-dazzle, to the urgency to prepare like the great ballerina, for the most important performance in history–our future survival as human beings.