Hurricane Update 2PM

It’s Monday afternoon here now and the storm has begun to show its effects. The satellite image above looks ominous in revealing the magnitude of this storm, and we are continuing to track the storm for as long as the power holds out. We have several mobile devices in the house, although we expect even they might not be fully functional at the height of the storm, which is projected to be later tonight and into Tuesday morning. If the mobile networks hold out, I will try to post as possible. We are hunkered down here and hope that all our preparations will carry us through. It has been raining fairly steady most of the morning, but the wind seems to be picking up now and overnight last night the leaves seem to have mostly fallen out of the trees in the front and back yards.

Water has already begun to accumulate in front of our garage. I’m guessing later on today the photos will look much different:

Unfortunately, we may have to endure the bulk of the strongest part of the storm in the dark, as it is projected to peak sometime after 8PM. As I am able, I will report on our progress, and keep you updated.

It appears that I will have plenty of time for reading by lantern light and I’m hoping that the experience will produce something of interest to my readers.

…fingers crossed…..

Hurricanes and Hope

As I write, Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on the East Coast of the US, and is expected to make landfall plus or minus 50 miles from our home. We have spent most of the day in preparation for punishing winds, torrential rain, and possible flooding. The storm is approximately 900 miles wide and will affect everyone from Virginia to Massachusetts according to the latest reports. My workplace called to say that we will be shutting down our facility tonight and not to report until we get clearance from local authorities. We are told to expect to lose our electric power as the storm hits sometime in the morning, so I thought I would try to post something while the internet is still available.

The image above is a satellite image of the storm from space, and it shows that this storm clearly is enormous. We have our battery-powered lanterns ready, plus two that are recharging from the camping supplies. We stocked up on some additional bags of ice and have followed all the suggestions for securing all loose items outside and put everything up higher that might otherwise get wet if there is flooding. While all of these considerations are important and have occupied my time for most of the day, all along the way, and certainly now as we can only sit and wait, my thoughts have turned once again to recovery and hope.

Jean Le Capelain (St. Helier 1812-1848)
Fishing boats at anchor and weathering the storm

With the impending storm outside approaching as I write, I couldn’t help but think of how the past few weeks seemed very much like weathering a storm of a different sort. The emotional and spiritual upheaval of the past few weeks as I tended to my brother’s care, knowing full well that the height of that storm was very near, now gives me a sense of calm, even in the face of a serious “superstorm” on the way. By morning, the winds are expected to reach sustained speeds of 50 mph, with gusts as much as 70 mph. The eye of the hurricane, if it continues to follow the predicted path, will pass very nearly directly over us, with a plus or minus 50 mile leeway. Torrential rains, flooding, and widespread power outages will combine to make “weathering the storm,” more than just a catch phrase.

As is my habit, during times when the situation gets stormy, I generally turn to reading when the power goes out. I’ve been considering what I might read and was delighted to come across a passage from Emerson that seemed to fit the circumstances:

“The wise man in a storm prays God not for safety from danger, but for deliverance from fear. It is the storm within which endangers him, not the storm without.”

By comparison, even this “superstorm” that approaches as I type at my desk feels less daunting than the storm within me, as I contemplate the loss of my dear brother. With all the advantages of being close over the years, and right up to his last days, the implications of the storm within confirm Emerson’s insight.

As I consider what has been lost, even the trials of a hurricane seem far less urgent than the stirrings within me. The resolution lies somewhere in the maelstrom of consciousness, and shines through the darkness occasionally. It flashes before me in brief and startling snippets, as well as in more subtle moments which are no easier to comprehend. Out of nowhere, I am alerted to the possibility that the answer might be in my grasp. In those moments….hope lives on.

…..more to come…..

Consciousness in the World: Finding Our Way

I have felt such a broad range of emotions of late, and have switched between experiences of different key elements so frequently, that I have been unable to focus very clearly on any one matter for very long. The crux of the matter seems to be that the disparate elements vying for my attention all seem equally urgent to me in their own way. Without the benefit of some sort of priority evaluation, it puts me at a distinct disadvantage, not to mention creating a degree of paralysis, which, while daunting, is also the subject of some fascination in a funny way.

Looking back now, more than fifty years ago, at the very first memories of my life, there was a long period of those early years when I had virtually no concept whatsoever of what my existence was about, how it came to be, or what the purpose of it all might be. In the photo above, according to my mother, I was fascinated by my younger brother, and apparently unaware that I should be anything BUT fascinated. My other siblings appeared not to have as much interest. In some ways, how we view our existence is formed in these early years, due to the nature of our dependency as young children on the inclinations of our caretakers. We all must rely on our parents or guardians for sustenance and guidance as we become aware that we exist, and depending on the character of that intervention at such an early age, we begin to form our view of the world and our place in it, based on those influences.

Generally speaking, once we begin to more independently perceive the world through our own eyes, and construct our own notions of our experience of the world, we come to understand that there is a great deal more to the process than simply absorbing our caretaker’s view of life. Even with all of our mental faculties intact and nominally functional, as a young person lacking in experience, we may not fully comprehend the experiences we DO have, even when our perceptions are accurate and take place in an advantageous environment. After accumulating a greater number of experiences over many years, our ability to more fully appreciate similar perceptions has a larger context culturally; our perceptual skills have expanded in breadth and depth as a consequence of our expanded baseline of both life experiences and practice in applying our cognitive talents to interpret and analyze those elements.

Imagine how our early ancestors, previously having only limited opportunity to expand their perceptual and cognitive skills, finally began to utilize perception and cognition TOGETHER in ways that only became possible after the newly expanded cerebral cortex began to be exposed to experiential reality! Perceptions, memories, and accumulated cognitive experience, at some point, finally became sufficient to produce an enhanced range and depth of comprehension. Once the progress of the general population within groups and regions reached an adequate level of “shared experiences,” which produced common results and enabled routine processing of specific thoughts and similar ideas, analysis and comparisons of perceptual experiences slowly formulated the beginnings of more generally homogenous “view” of reality. Even as WE look back on the early Homo sapiens limited experiences, thousands of years from NOW, our own progress today will, no doubt, seem primitive to the future human world.

Resonating through the eons of time, all varieties of human experience frequently influence the subsequent character and quality of experience for future generations. Some of this influence is the result of witnessing first-hand particular events or the consequences of those events, by many individuals, who then not only report their accounts of those experiences to others, but also devise solutions, or take actions, to ensure that others about whom they care either benefit from the positive effects, or are warned against the negative effects.

In the morning, I will be participating in the memorial service for my dear brother, who lost his struggle with brain cancer this past Monday, and dedicate this posting to his memory. In so many ways, my life, and the lives of every one that touched his, were influenced by his passion for life, his devotion to his beliefs, and by his relentless pursuit of understanding his existence in the context of our mutually shared experiences. Our conversations in these last few months, while he was still able to converse competently, have both inspired and empowered me to continue to pursue my own passion for life and understanding, represented in my many postings here. In the middle of all this emotional and spiritual upheaval, at the core of every loving and joyful moment of our time together, I saw so clearly, the soul of the man I had come to love beyond measure. Throughout all of the medical treatments, doctor visits, and the struggle to persist in spite of the odds, even in what would become the final days of his life, the light in his eyes never dimmed.

In my tribute to him tomorrow, I will read these concluding lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, “Ulysses:”

“Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Artist: John William Waterhouse
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

Life Ebbs and Flows

image

Sitting beside my brother’s bed in the early morning hours, watching him sleep peacefully, I came across this image of earth from space, and it occurred to me how remarkable it is that life as we know it exists at all.  We rarely contemplate the larger implications of life on earth since we are immersed in it so completely as terrestrial creatures, but looking at the earth from this perspective, gives us the opportunity to include every other manifestation of life on our planet as we contemplate our own.

image

From the smallest berries that blossom on the branches in the summer, to the largest and most powerful humans who walk upright in the light of day, not a single living entity can avoid the ebb and flow that runs through life, and the rhythms which govern them, while some are well-known and well-documented by intelligent life, often escape our notice as we ride their relentless swirls and eddies.

image

The universe is teeming with life. There are galaxies in the night sky as far as the human eye can see with our most powerful technologies, but in all the universe, there is only one of each of us.  The life that ebbs and flows through the whole universe is the same life that ebbs and flows through us, and while life may be abundant by most measures here on earth, each manifestation of life is bound together in the ebb and flow supported by the sometimes mysterious and invisible rhythms of life.

Consciousness in the World: Between Life and Death

Recently, I posted about the development of consciousness in our distant human ancestors, and the parallels between that development and how our modern children develop.  I wasn’t expecting to be considering how there might be a parallel to be drawn from the gradual loss of access to consciousness as a consequence of the debilitating effects of brain cancer.

Over the past year and a half, I have been witness to the painfully relentless progress of a glioblastoma multiforme invading my brother’s brain.  Utilizing every possible strategy one could employ in response to such an affliction, my brother has extended his original prognosis of a fourteen month survival duration to twenty-seven months.  These last three months have seen his physical condition deteriorate more rapidly than ever before, and as I write, he is struggling just to breathe.  The tumor in his brain is pressing against his left parietal lobe, severely affecting his ability to speak and it has virtually paralysed his entire body.

And yet, through all of this, whenever he has been able to be present, there have been clear signs that he was there, in the moment. Although he often struggles to find the words, at particular moments, he hits on the right combination, and the familiar resonance of the man I know bursts forth from within him. At other times, as we attempt to entertain him or distract him, his typically distant look turns into one of absolute recognition of the intended reference, and he breaks into a knowing smile.

image

My bedside vigil these past days have kept me from my writing here, but it has also caused me to reflect deeply on the nature of consciousness in ways I had not anticipated.

….more to come…