Enriched Beyond Measure

View of the lake in the Pennsylvania mountains

Several times during the year, I have recently been able to enjoy the exceptional privilege to be invited to my sister’s lakehouse in Pennsylvania, occasionally for family gatherings, and sometimes simply for the pleasure of a visit. As someone who savors opportunities for communing with the natural world, over many years now I have also learned to appreciate well the bounty available in the mountains and woodlands as an avid camping enthusiast. I have written about my experiences in this regard several times in this blog, and posted photos of some of my favorite locations.

View of the lake in the Moreau Lake State Park in Saratoga County in New York

Far from the maddening crowd, completely removed from the daily grind and the routines of everyday home life, spending time out in the woods is always a welcome respite, which has very few of the creature comforts of life in our modest home, but is so rich in the benefits of being outdoors among the natural landscapes in the northeast corridor of the USA, that it outweighs any inconvenience or extra effort required to sustain whatever amount of time that is possible to participate in the cherished time away.

Creek along the Cascades Trail within the Jefferson National Forest in Pembroke, Virginia

My good friend and fellow blogger Anthony at zenothestoic.com recently inspired me to revisit a particularly important and relevant episode in my writing life by referencing the famous book by Henry David Thoreau called, “Walden.” In so many ways, Thoreau’s account of his years living in his “cabin-in-the-woods,” exemplifies not only the many benefits of spending time in solitude in the natural world, highlighting his extraordinary ideas about what constitutes “necessary” with regard to living well, but also presented him with numerous opportunities for personal growth and raising his awareness of what truly matters in life.

Sign at the site of Thoreau’s cabin next to the pile of stones left by visitors from all over the world

Visit to Walden Pond, Concord, Massachusetts, April 25, 1998

Sitting by the shore of Walden Pond, I experience an odd sense of euphoria. Dashing behind passing clouds, the sun, when it emerges, feels warm on my face, and the air is filled with the intoxicating aroma of the surrounding woods. It is early afternoon and there is barely a sound to be heard, aside from my footsteps crunching rhythmically along the stony path leading to the site of Thoreau’s original cabin. A gentle breeze stirs the tops of the narrow pine trees, which now sway in a graceful natural ballet.

At the edge of the pond, in the cove just below the site, I set up my camera to capture an image of myself, standing in the spot where I imagined Thoreau himself must surely have stood once, possibly admiring a glorious spring day like this one. A guided path for visitors to the site ends abruptly at the edge of the cove, and I am left to discover my own way. Surprisingly, there are no other travelers whatsoever on this path, and I am alone as I approach the famous pile of stones near the markers delineating the boundaries of the Walden hut.

Imbedded in the ground, a stone memorial is carved into the foundation for the cabin’s chimney, discovered in 1945 by members of the Thoreau Society. A wooden sign stands near the memorial displaying the well-known quotation pictured above.

The view of the pond from where the cabin once stood gives a good indication of why Thoreau selected the location. Near enough to make good use of the water, but not so near as to be exposed to any hazard, the dwelling sits in the high ground providing both seclusion and an advantageous sight line to the shimmering pond.

Standing in the very place where the words were written, Thoreau’s descriptions of the surroundings and the pleasures of solitude come vividly alive for me, and I am nearly hypnotized by the symphony of sights and sensations that surround me. I sat for nearly an hour, soaking in the experience, savoring the beauty and serenity of Walden Pond.

Included in the preservation efforts of the area by the Thoreau Society is a replica of the Walden hut, built at the Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord, which was constructed according to Thoreau’s descriptions and plans. He used mostly recycled wood and building materials from pieces of an abandoned shanty, hand-cutting many of the components, reportedly spending a whopping $28.12.

Along the return path, I paused periodically, reluctant to relinquish the moment. Turning to the panorama one last time, it occurred to me that I had not managed to make this pilgramage until the age of 44, the same age as Thoreau when he died in 1862. The writer in me grinned widely. Perhaps he was with me this day, whispering encouragement to continue writing. I drove away enlivened and enriched beyond measure.

Finding Meaning in the Winter Season

Once again, as the year winds down and the fullness of the winter season begins to take hold, we are presented with a whole range of considerations and expectations, which seem to appear typically at this time.  For me, this year has been as tumultuous as they come, and there is a flood of concerns yet to be addressed, as well as the unfolding of events which have prompted me to reconsider my current path, and inspired me to investigate further, several of the ideas which have occupied my mind of late.

Chief among these have been the ever-changing landscape surrounding my home.  I have been paying close attention to the comings and goings of the plants and trees and flowers this year, and continue to marvel at the sometimes astonishing changes that have taken place.

As many of you readers may recall, I have been mourning the loss of the large tree out front, and have truly been inspired by the natural resilience of that tree to continue to sprout new growth in spite of being recently reduced to a stump.  The final images were a bit disappointing, as the leaves simply turned brown and fell off around the stump.

And yet, the smaller tree stump near the house, finally burst forth with some brilliant leaves this fall and provided a few lovely images that reminded me of years past.  The relentless growth of the ivy creeping once again up the front of the house truly astounds me with its dynamic persistence, and will require some additional attention this spring.

The autumn this year provided some wonderful opportunities for photography, and I was fortunate to have the chance to expand the range of my travels to include some fabulous scenery in several of the surrounding states near my home.

One of the most impressive blossoms of the year came just a few days ago, where the unusually warm weather of the past few weeks apparently triggered the blossoming of the rose bush out front in a spectacular burst of color, just ten days before Christmas!

This year, even with the restrictions of the pandemic, and the relentless stream of unfortunate events out in the world-at-large, I have been prompted to consider what meaning might be found in the winter season, and particularly, how it all gets wrapped up in the Christmas rush.

It’s not everything that has been done and said, written or expressed through history that reveals the significance of the Christmas season.  It’s clearly not only about all the hoopla and the carrying on, the decorations and sales, or the visits to Saint Nicholas at the local mall.

It’s also not really just about what has been depicted in the many traditional religious interpretations of the season from around the world.  If we look back in human history, long before there was a Christmas morning with a baby in a manger, expectant parents forced to stay in a stable, and wise men traveling to see the newborn king, there were a number of other traditions and much cultural reverence for the winter solstice, when the Earth tilted just the right way, after the harvest, leading us into the approaching winter.

When you look back over the ancient literature of the past centuries, you will see often an equivalence drawn between a human life and the seasons of the year.  The spring being the birth of all life on the planet, through the blossoming of the flowers and trees, the unfolding green lushness of the world of summer, all the way through to the maturity of the autumn, where the beauty becomes ubiquitous and startling. As it fades, we gradually find ourselves leading up to the winter season, when all things begin to decay and return to the Earth, and for a time, we must endure the harsh realities that appear at the end of the year.

These rhythms have been with us long before Christmas as we know it today.  Humans have long drawn the comparison of a human life to the turning of the seasons; we are born in the spring; we grow and flourish as we enter the summer, which brings with it the peak of our powers, and as we age, we reach the autumn of our years—the most brilliant, most productive and beautiful part of our lives—right before the encroaching winter as we enter the final stages of life.

In time, even the religious implications of the stories surrounding the preparations of the birth of the Christ child, were altered to fit the calendar; all of the various ideas surrounding the religious traditions constitute an expression of the symbols of the season and were made meaningful by the humans who created them.  If you have even a small amount of sensibility, you can see how the seasons shape us—how the tides of our lives shape us—and how all these aspects mirror a truth—a reality—and while it might not conform precisely to whatever traditions we follow, it does suggest something very human.

As we approach the season of Christmas in our current tradition, we all look forward to coming together, sharing familial love, and receiving gifts.  As young children, we have always looked forward to receiving gifts at Christmas—which is completely reasonable—and even as we age we may look forward to receiving a gift from that special someone in our lives.  As you age even further, you begin to understand a bit better, that the most important gifts we can receive at the winter solstice and at Christmas time do not need to be wrapped in paper and sealed with ribbons.

The most important gifts can be as simple as an embrace; as a loving glance; as a heartfelt “I love you,” spoken by the people we love.  And while recently there have been far fewer opportunities for such gifts, those of us in our maturity now can look back over a lifetime of all such gifts, and we understand now, better than we ever could before, that the greatest gifts are often intangible.  There’s no need to embellish or invoke cultural mythologies or any of the variety of religious connotations. This time of year, this season, is a reminder to us of the finite nature of life, which begins with birth in the spring, continues through the growth and flourishing of all things in summer, transitioning into the glorious peak in the fall, and ending with the diminishing seasonal winds of winter, when all things once again, end and renew.

While we may not especially look forward to the relentless broadcasts of seasonal music everywhere you go, there’s no reason to be opposed to the music that invokes the arrival of the winter solstice, the end of the seasons of the year or the winter of our lives.  The traditional songs and music are the echoes of what runs through everything, not just through the music we hear at this time of year.

There’s no need for discord or disbelief. It doesn’t matter what we believe. What truly matters is the embrace, the heartfelt glance, and the echo of the words, “I love you,” from those we love.

Let’s not forget, that everything that came before us, is what brought us here today, and as we celebrate here and now, what we show each other will fill in the moments of the memories of our children and our grandchildren, and we hope that they will feel the same way that we do.

God Bless Us, Everyone!

The Benefits of Unexpected Outcomes

In the maelstrom of our daily subjective experience, within the confines of our everyday reality, everything seems so familiar. Unless we are on a vacation or traveling to an anticipated change in location, we awaken each morning and assume that the familiar will resume.  And of course, it generally will.

We usually do not question what is familiar.  During the course of a typical day, we do not challenge our perceptions of our reality…Usually.

But we must. The realm of possibility is infinite.

And how do we know?  Well, we normally infer that what we witness taking place in the temporal world has a degree of predictability, based on our previous experience, but we are also aware that even the tiniest variation of the familiar can, under certain conditions, precipitate a radical departure from what has taken place before that moment. It doesn’t always end up as a radical departure, but it CAN.

Every nuance of experience can have components that are both familiar and unexpected, and oftentimes, what we expect becomes what we experience…until it isn’t.

Variables and potentialities can occasionally confound us and alter our experience.  We cannot know, at any particular point, which variables may affect the outcome, and which will only delay or imperceptibly alter the result.  All we can really say is that our reality is generally composed of variables and potentialities that are sometimes combined with what is familiar, as well as with what is commonly thought to be a matter of chance.

We see it all the time.  Some variables involve practical temporal circumstances.  The car breaks down. Traffic prevents arrival as expected. Power failures happen unexpectedly which prevent actions or reactions to take place. Flights are cancelled.  We are unavoidably detained and miss a window of opportunity.  We are delayed in equal measure with other events, which, in spite of the delay, begin just as we arrive.

We plot and plan with relentless precision and occasionally get it just right, but at other times, in spite of our relentless efforts, something goes WRONG.  Sometimes, despite our efforts to avoid mishaps or diversions, something goes wrong, which unexpectedly ends up precipitating something that goes very RIGHT. What traditionally might constitute a diversion from the path, under normal circumstances, may end up being the very thing that needs to happen in order to achieve our intended goals.

Statistics often paint a picture or tell a story.  Usually, when a sufficient number of the same actions produce similar consequences, predictable results can typically be expected.  However, history is replete with examples of unexpected results from previously predictable outcomes.  The smallest variation of temporal circumstances can either result in no significant change in the ultimate result, or it can end up altering the landscape of life for centuries to come.  There is no way to know for certain.

There are ways, though, to improve the odds in our favor if we employ the “three I’s.”

Imagination

Utilizing our imagination isn’t just for storytelling and creating works of art. It is a vitally important aspect of the learning process and for discernment generally.  What is it like to be another person?  What will happen if we don’t attend to important matters?  How can we overcome enormous obstacles or solve complex problems?  We must imagine that something is possible before it ever will be.

Intuition

Without flexing our intuitive muscles, it becomes much more difficult to manage our confrontations with the unexpected.  There are often subtle signs or vague intimations of the nature of our experiences hidden beneath the surface of our everyday reality.  Our natural inclination to pick up on them can be honed with consistent practice; numerous failures to recognize them can be instructional upon reflection.

Word Cloud by www.epictop10.com

Investigation

No one is born knowing all about the nature of reality or can become an expert in every subject. There simply isn’t time over the course of our lives to understand it all, but we can investigate and take advantage of the experiences of those who came before us, to supplement our individual experiences with knowledge gained by other experts.

For those who are blessed with at least nominally functional sight in both eyes, seeing what transpires in the world, depending on their viewpoint, can be either uplifting or painful. It is generally thought to be an advantage to see well with both eyes, and in most circumstances this seems like a reasonable assertion.

Unfortunately, there are also extreme cases within which one might actually wish to “un-see” a terrible sight, or perhaps regret having to deal with the memory of what was seen. It’s not always the case that “seeing is believing,” either, and we know that the eyes in our heads can be fooled through “slight-of-hand,” or other optical illusions.

We often neglect to associate what we see with our eyeballs with what we see with our “inner eye.” We process our visual experiences inside our brains, and may see things differently utilizing that miraculous instrument, if we give it our full attention, and combine our experience with the intellectual and cognitive capacities of our “inner eye.”

In spite of life’s numerous challenges, with careful planning and consistent effort, we can feel relatively optimistic about the outcome of our experiences.  These actions can provide a degree of confidence in our own expectations, and in the expectations of others, that our efforts will eventually yield predictable results.

Work hard; save your money; and eventually you can afford to make financial choices that advance your goals.  Faithfully attend classes; study hard; avoid skipping important tasks related to your course of study; and eventually you will obtain a diploma or achieve other advanced educational goals. 

Relentlessly pursue the attainment of a greater understanding of what perplexes you; confer with experts; research relevant subject areas of a quandary, and, at some point, you will at least begin to understand it better.

There is an argument to be made for both dedicated effort to achieve a particular goal, and implementing a degree of spontaneity in our actions along the way, in order to reap the benefits of unexpected outcomes, made possible by engaging the realm of possibility, which exists at all times, within the parameters of our daily subjective experience.

Our three eyes—the two in our heads, and the one inner eye, combined with the other three “I’s”—Imagination, Intuition, and Investigation—can ultimately improve our experience and enhance our understanding.

After A Tree Falls…Nature Responds

Just after the tree company demolished the front yard tree, I somberly examined the remaining stump and photographed it for posterity, sadly contemplating the loss as a necessary but unfortunate development.

I even stood upon the stump in a defiant expression of frustration at the total destruction of a long term relationship with a lovely arboreal companion.

The link above tells a little more about what followed this summer, and my astonishment about the power of nature to renew itself, but this next series of photos really adds a fitting follow-up to the disappointment I felt last September when the tree was cut down.

This is the same stump this morning as I took a walk around to the front yard. It is hard to believe that it has simply refused to be extinguished!

This growth is now fuller and amazingly taller than me! It’s getting to the point where I may end up having to trim it down again. It is oddly reassuring to me that the tree seems not to want to “give up the ghost,” and has somehow defiantly asserted itself so that I can’t now stand again on the stump, unless I figure out some way to make my way through the foliage that has erupted all around it.

In an interesting side note, I recently attended the wedding ceremony of a family friend and was pleasantly surprised that the location for the reception included a large meadow out in back of the venue, and when I stepped out into it during a break in the action, I discovered this wonderfully robustly healthy tree cousin of substantial proportions.

In a very comforting way, standing next to this behemoth of the same variety as the one removed from my front yard gave me a sense of calm and admiration for what is possible in Nature when given sufficient opportunity to grow.

I’m actually hoping to see some sort of autumnal transition to occur in the regenerated tree stump out front, and will post something either way when enough time has passed.

Life Revealing Itself

There is a movement taking place within me and around me as the year progresses toward the autumn and winter seasons.  It’s creating a degree of both anticipation and trepidation, which I find a bit unsettling.  Even when we are anticipating the arrival of something wonderful, it alters our outlook if we are paying attention well enough, just as naturally as when we look ahead with some anxiety toward uncertainty or disruption in our immediate circumstance.

It has always been like this for me. Even as a young man I recall both the excitement of the arrival of new experience, especially when it is expected to be of a positive nature, as well as the fear brought about by not knowing what will happen, or how I might endure adverse circumstances.  In my early youth, I was always reacting to whatever circumstances prevailed at the time, and rarely had any time to prepare myself or any idea of how to deal with those circumstances, beyond what I could conjure on the fly.  

I was notoriously impulsive and spontaneous in most every circumstance, and often acted without thinking things through, no matter what the outcome might potentially be. This approach to living my life occasionally served me well when the outcome was advantageous in some way, but more often than not, my lack of sophistication and inability to mitigate my impulsive nature caused either me or someone else a degree of difficulty that was daunting in one way or another, and it took me many years to begin to understand why I always seemed to find out the hard way that my choices needed to be less impulsive. 

Joining the military at age 20 was a turning point like no other before it, and although it forced me to implement a greater degree of self-discipline, once I became more confident and successful in that environment, I still wasn’t completely able to let go of my spontaneous nature altogether.  I had finally stepped back away from the precipice of chaos, at least enough to be more measured in my actions, and the overall percentage of advantageous outcomes increased dramatically.

As a mature person in my thirties, it became a necessity to become more consistently reliable since I had become a parent to small children, and while I was able to provide for them sufficiently in the main, I constantly struggled with my own well-being in the process.  Throughout my working life, even when I had achieved a reasonably stable and prosperous level of income, I constantly had to submerge my personal interests so as not to endanger the well-being of those in my care.

This constant back-and-forth condition was both frustrating when it held me back, and equally compelling when it led to a burst of progress toward my personal goals.  The contrast between the two conditions was maddening at times, and there were moments which tested my resolve in both directions. It took me until well into my fifties to settle down enough to manage my general outlook in a way that didn’t undermine either my daily obligations or my personal well-being.

I know now, after many years of study and contemplation of the subjective experience of human consciousness, that in order to understand it and to move toward it, we need to realize that whatever the source of consciousness may be, it goes much deeper, and is more meaningful and profound than we currently suppose.  This search I have been on all these years has clearly been aided by my willingness to be open to the experiences of my personal journey, even with all of its starts and stops—even with each step forward and back. 

Just as it seems now, in consideration of our current understanding of the laws of physics and quantum theory, that the physical universe which we observe and study is reliant upon unobservable phenomena and additional dimensions outside of our direct perception—in part—a manifestation of non-material aspects—so too now, does consciousness appear to be, at its source, non-material.  The difficulty then becomes, trying to discern how the non-material aspects of the universe and of consciousness affect the physical world and interact with our daily waking awareness of our existence.

Many philosophers and neuroscientists wish to express the phenomenon of consciousness as an emergent property of our brain physiology, and in doing so, eliminate any other possible avenue of exploration and explanation.  We can certainly sympathize with this inclination in view of the enormous progress of the physical sciences generally, and of neuroscience specifically, that has been made without invoking any additional layers of existence or positing immaterial forces or energies that may contribute to the full understanding of both cosmology and consciousness.

Over the decades of my existence, what has consistently led me to be convinced to the contrary has been my own profound inner sense of something taking place within me, which informs me about my existence, in addition to my own personal physical experience of the world.  To the extent that I have studied the physical sciences and the laws of physics, and read and listened to a host of great thinkers of human history, nothing I have encountered along the way has been sufficient to dissuade me from concluding that my own personal awareness—my own subjective experience of existence—my own consciousness—is perhaps the greatest source for acknowledgment and discernment about my existence that I could possibly hope to possess.  There could be no more reliable source of inspiration or self-awareness for any of us than our own subjective experience, and while none of us is infallible or omnipotent, no other aspect of our awareness is more certain than our own experience of existence.

Anyone with generally good health and a reasonably stable physiology experiences their physical existence through the five senses, and processes the signals sent to their brains from the central nervous system as their waking consciousness, and so long as these physical systems remain nominally functional, our experiences of the world can be stored in memory, we can learn new skills, and generally remember most of the important knowledge we gain through experience.  The mechanisms of brain physiology are indeed wondrous and fascinating to study, and without these important functions operating correctly, our ability to be aware and to be able to experience our existence can be compromised. One need only look to the pathologies present in the human population from disease, genetic defects, and serious injuries to the brain, in order to appreciate the importance of these systems in providing us with access to a functional and productive subjective experience.

What may not be quite so clear is the full understanding of how it is exactly that these functions are accompanied by our extraordinary subjective awareness.  My whole life has contained an array of experiences and a keen sense of awareness of a level of existence that cannot be described in temporal terms, and several key experiences have provided me with an affirmation of my general notion that I have carried with me throughout, that everything we see, everything we do, every act, every nuance of experience, is made possible by a source which cannot be defined in material terms alone. 

Especially during times of profound sadness and exquisite joy, during any of the many extreme circumstances that occur in our lives, we are more readily able to sense our closeness to this source if we are open to doing so. 

Even on a much smaller scale, when we encounter other individual human spirits, with whom we immediately feel a sense of connection, even if they don’t recognize it themselves, we may become aware of our connection to THEM, in a way that is so clear and so deep, that we are able to sense something existent within them that connects us with no ambiguity at all. 

The feeling of being connected to other like spirits, even when it is immediate and without precedent in our experience, can overwhelm us at times, making it terribly difficult to ignore, or to dismiss it as some sort of response to a biological process or instinctive reaction within us.  In my experience, reviewing these episodes of connection that have occurred so often in my travels, gives me good cause to suppose, that what we generally attribute to basic instincts or biological imperatives, or even to our physiological responses to stimuli, all of it may well be a manifestation of an ineffable source which subsequently allows us to “instinctively” lean toward the awareness of non-material aspects of life in the physical universe.  When we fall in love or when we feel enormously compelled to seek out certain situations or individuals or when we follow a hunch or are obsessed by certain ideas, all of these are indications of a connection to something larger than ourselves. Since we only have a limited range of responses that we CAN give, we tend to associate the brain’s activity as being the source of those responses, rather than recognizing the possibility that the source might be something else entirely.

After A Tree Falls

Back in September of last year, I posted an account of the removal of the tree out in front of my home, whose presence we had enjoyed for the previous thirty years of residence in our neighborhood, and I shared a video of me reciting the poem I wrote in response to the event itself, but also to the significance of the event for me personally, as the caretaker of that magnificent natural structure.

Since posting that account, I have observed the natural progress of the living entities which surround our modest home, and have marveled at the tenacity and the almost human determination exhibited by the plants and trees to not only survive, but also to thrive, in spite of the determined efforts on my part to remove and diminish their presence at my location.

While I have not really wanted to conduct the necessary trimming and pruning and removal of the natural plants and trees in the yard, intellectually I understood the need for doing so, and deliberately approached the tasks with respect and affection, even as I had to acknowledge that my efforts were, in some ways, detrimental to the natural life all around me.

Back in December of 2018, I posted images of the results of my pruning and removal efforts out in my front yard, where a sapling descended from the original tree out front had grown so tall and so formidably so close to the house that I had to remove it.  After I chopped the fledgling tree down to less than a foot from the ground, I followed up with an image of the bush that sprang up from the stump I left in the ground.

In an image I shared that was taken in the following autumn of 2019, you could see that the “bush” had not turned to the colorful results I had hoped would occur, and I supposed at that time that there wouldn’t be such a development.

In the spring of 2020, I forcibly removed all of the ivy crawling up the front of the house, and cut the stump completely down to the ground level once again. 

Imagine my astonishment when I began to attend to the summer outdoor chores this year of cutting the grass and straightening up the yard, and observed the incredibly dynamic return of almost every living thing out in front of the house.  The ivy had not only returned, but appeared to be twice as thick and dense as it was when I had removed it.

Fast forward to June of 2021, and against every expectation, not only had the “bush” from the sapling returned with a vengeance, but the stump of the original tree out front had sprouted new life in an amazing display of determination in resisting the efforts to be removed completely.

Clearly, I had taken no pleasure whatsoever in the removal of the tree out front, even though it was done with respect and due consideration of what was necessary and prudent, given the circumstances.  My admiration for the power of nature to restore itself had already been well established, and my awareness of the sometimes astonishing abilities of the natural world to replenish itself in the face of detrimental conditions and adverse circumstances had been admired by me, well before any of these events.   

While consideration and reflection by me on all of these ideas had taken place over the course of many years of participation in activities in the remote forests and mountains of the northeast corridor of the USA, and elsewhere, it occurred to me that knowledge of these principles could just as easily have happened, right in my own yard.

It seems likely that it will be necessary, as time progresses, to attend to these matters with some degree of regularity, if I am to maintain a handle on the chaos and dynamics playing out in my local plot of land, but even as I plan for the steps to take to keep nature at bay here, I realize that the natural world cannot be tamed completely, no matter where you travel in the world. 

What You Hold In Thought

“The evolution of life in the double direction of individuality and association has nothing accidental about it: it is due to the very nature of life.”

“Essential also is the progress to reflection. If our analysis is correct, it is consciousness, or rather supra-consciousness, that is at the origin of life. Consciousness, or supra-consciousness, is the name for the rocket whose extinguished fragments fall back as matter; consciousness, again, is the name for that which subsists of the rocket itself, passing through the fragments and lighting them up into organisms.”

“The effort we make to transcend pure understanding introduces us into that more vast something out of which our understanding is cut, and from which it has detached itself. And, as matter is determined by intelligence, as there is between them an evident agreement, we cannot make the genesis of the one without making the genesis of the other. An identical process must have cut out matter and the intellect, at the same time, from a stuff that contained both. Into this reality we shall get back more and more completely, in proportion as we compel ourselves to transcend pure intelligence.”

“On this new ground philosophy ought then to follow science, in order to superpose on scientific truth knowledge of another kind, which may be called metaphysical. Thus combined, all our knowledge, both scientific and metaphysical, is heightened. In the absolute we live and move and have our being. The knowledge we possess of it is incomplete, no doubt, but not external or relative. It is reality itself, in the profoundest meaning of the word that we reach by the combined and progressive development of science and of philosophy.”

—excerpts from “Creative Evolution,” by Henri Bergson, 1907

The world is neither simply what we perceive it to be, nor is it strictly a metaphysical mystery beyond our understanding.  These two apparently opposing approaches to our understanding are, it seems to me, more correctly to be two components of the same conundrum.  We tend these days to gravitate toward specialization in almost every arena of endeavor, and in doing so, we seem often to be missing the larger picture of what might be most helpful in increasing our understanding generally.

Mr. Bergson, who wrote extensively about the nature of matter and intelligence more than 100 years ago, even without the accelerated advances in knowledge we enjoy currently, correctly framed the question of how we might advance our understanding.  We cannot simply focus on a narrow selection of material, intellectual, or spiritual criteria and cannot reasonably consider only one approach as sufficient to give us the broadest understanding.  Mr. Bergson just wasn’t equipped enough by the technology of his day to take it further.

Today, we know more and understand better about the world in which we live, but we are still struggling to catch up on the broadest inclusion of ideas possible, and we must allow the full investigation to proceed in each of the three realms of material, intellectual, and the spiritual.  It’s not possible to eliminate any reasonable approach just yet, but these three each have important components to contribute.  It’s a generalization in terms of describing the issue, but we definitely need to expand our realm of possibilities to include a variety of approaches which just may support the others in some useful way.

Lots of new material is in progress here at John’s Consciousness, and I hope my visitors and readers will be patient with me as I navigate the path forward.  I have been immersed in some of the most important and profound life works of my nearly 70 years of living this past year or so, and, like most of us, I feel like I just want to break out of isolation into something that truly matters.  I’ve been developing a new approach to sharing my writing here, and when I am ready, I will begin to engage more fully with the content of my writings, and to share more fully the ideas which occupy my heart, mind, and soul. 

Stay tuned.

The Greens and Colors of Hope Return

The view out of my office window

Spring has been fully underway since mid-April on the Eastern seaboard in America, but it’s taken these past few weeks to really blossom into the spectacular array of greens and colors that we’ve come to expect during this time. The contrast in the character of the currently available scenery is illuminating when compared to that of the winter views like the one below here out of the same window last winter.

Whenever we consider the state of our personal reality, it’s important to maintain a degree of perspective in both cases. During the winter, the natural course of the season includes the loss of leaves on most trees, fewer sunny days and fewer hours of daylight, and the eventual absence of most colors provided by the plants and trees in our local region. Once the winter season begins to wane, the natural progression toward the spring begins, the renewal of every living thing becomes a much anticipated event that provides an astonishing array of scenes, even just in the modest confines of the property surrounding our humble home.

The greens are the first and most noticeable colors to appear.

Prior to the arrival of spring, the backyard looked particularly devoid of color, and looking up into the trees had little to appeal to the eyes, except perhaps as a contrast of black and white limbs against a grey sky.

Once the spring gets fully underway, the contrast and the vivid colors among the leaves is quite a sight!

The green leaves are really starting to fill out now.

But in order to truly feel the full effect of the change of seasons, I usually have to wait until the last week of April and the first week of May, when all around the house bursts of color explode!

Pink Azaleas
purple flowers and hyacinth
traditional daffodils
yellow azaleas
Hard as I try, I can’t seem to stop the relentless crawling of the ivy in the yard.
Flowers out in the front yard.
Tulips are usually the last to show up.

With all of the chaos and isolation of the past year, almost everyone has held out hope that by the summer or early fall we might be able to emerge from the social distancing, and most everywhere you go, the conversations surround the attainment of both doses of the covid 19 vaccine. Up until recently, finding a spot on a list was a daunting task, and most often, unless you had some particular condition or were of a certain age, the wait was indefinite. In my case, as a part-time “essential worker,” I was fortunate enough to qualify through my employer to receive the opportunity a few weeks ago. I had to travel over fifty-two miles to a large site operated by the National Guard and wait in line with hundreds of other individuals to attend a drive-thru inoculation.

Winding my way through the lines of cars waiting to get the vaccine.
After about an hour in line, I finally approached the vaccine distribution tent.

After the long winter in isolation, other than for the most essential tasks, we are finally beginning to see the gradual lessening of restrictions, and as someone fully vaccinated, I can be less concerned about my own health regarding the virus, and can look forward to being together with my other family members who are also vaccinated. The return to even a modicum of normalcy feels very much like the arrival of spring, with the renewal of life and the return of the vibrant colors in the yard, matching up quite well with the hopeful anticipation of a season of living and renewal long awaited this year, perhaps more than ever before.

While there is still much to do to recover and to move forward across the globe, the greens and colors of hope available in my own yard are encouraging to me personally, and I am hopeful that with time, the rest of the world will catch up also, and that the terrible lessons we had to learn over the past year or so will provide us all with an incentive to renew our hope, and increase our determination to make the best of our individual circumstances, as we navigate the years ahead.

A Cascade of Autumn Leaves

 

Last Gasp of Summer

Sitting out in the backyard on a November morning with brilliant sunshine and mild temperatures approaching 75 degrees F, sipping on my morning coffee, it seems almost surreal given the circumstances.  Perhaps it is the last gasp of summer, or simply a consequence of a random twist or turn in the weather patterns bringing warmer air from the south currently, but whatever is responsible, it is a welcome development. The warmth of the sun on my skin is oddly out of sync with the calendar as we approach mid-November, but even as I embrace the experience of the ambient air and savor the flavor of my morning jo, I know well that it cannot last much longer, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and allow the thoughts to flow out of me while it lasts.

 

 

The day is young and there isn’t much activity in the surrounding area yet, so it is relatively quiet, with a few more distant sounds barely discernible in the background. Within there is a barely noticeable sensation of anticipation, which seems to be cautiously awaiting acknowledgement as I let go of the temporal stream of events, and open to the vibrations of my inner life.  So much of what flows through the conscious mind can be ignored or cast aside in favor of the immediate circumstance one finds one’s self in until an effort is made to focus more specifically on a separate task, and it takes an extra degree of attention to filter out what may somehow interrupt the flow of attention and disrupt your focus.

 

As I sat contemplating my next sentence, a tiny baby spider dropped on my laptop screen, momentarily interrupting my concentration, just as a curious young squirrel stirred right beside my chair, apparently expecting some sort of attention as well. 

 

Intermittent Moments of Silence

The silence is intermittent as the neighbors on either side of us stir and attend to their chores, but as I wait for the next moment of silence, I begin to notice other audible intrusions in the distance.  The leaves have begun to fall in earnest now from the backyard tree and with the gentle wind stirring occasionally, bits of tree branches or other debris also drops to the ground, disturbing the intermittent silences.

It is curious to me how much is transpiring at every moment in the yard that is only apparent when sitting in a chair awaiting the moments of quiet.  The movements of nature are generally detectable as they catch my eye, whereas the actions of people are obvious at a much greater distance since they can be heard more easily than seen.  As the sounds reach my ears and are processed by my brain, I am able to discern what they are and to decipher the degree of attention they may or may not deserve, but the activity of the natural inhabitants in the yard barely make a sound.

Now it has become a contest to see how long I can go with near-total silence before being interrupted by one or the other of the distractions currently available.  The relentless drone of distant traffic is easy enough to filter out, and the occasional bird song or squirrel chatter isn’t particularly intrusive, but even a distant single-engine plane can intrude in a way that requires a pause in the absorption of silence.

 

Melancholy Beauty

There’s a distinctly melancholy beauty about such an afternoon.  There’s hardly a cloud in the deeply blue sky; the air is unusually warm and dry; the wind rises and then dissipates in an unpredictable rhythm.  The cats have joined me in the afternoon sun, attending to their routines at my feet, and as I type these words, I feel a degree of calm that is uncommonly pleasing and refreshing.  I’m almost hypnotized by the sweetness and delightful lack of concern I’m experiencing about what comes next. This is a new sensation for me, and even though I know it will not persist as the day rambles on toward the darkness of night, I am content to allow myself to absorb each and every aspect of this sensation for as long as it lasts.  I am able to close my eyes briefly and imagine a time and place where such delight might be available on demand, but quickly realize that the pleasure is heightened by the rarity of opportunity for such experiences, and easily dismiss the idea in favor of the kind of serendipity which produced these circumstances.  When I open my eyes, I begin to look around and observe my world of the moment, to take notice of this melancholy beauty.  

 

The leaves are thinner on the branches than they were yesterday.  They are falling all around me. The air is oddly warmer than usual for the middle of November; there is a gentle breeze that stirs every so often which releases the tenuous leaves for their short trip to the ground, and there are thousands of leaves already laying on every surface outside.  It’s hard to believe that I had swept off the porch out back just yesterday, when I stand at the wall looking out over the scene.

I savor the mildness in the air and the easy breezes which send a cascade of autumn leaves all around me, and I am able to catch a few as they descend in mid-air.  These are the ones I will press into my writer’s journal and preserve them between the pages as I have many times before. 

 

Occasionally, as I peruse one of the hundreds of books on the shelves in my office, looking for a passage to quote or when reviewing the pages from one of my journals, I will encounter a leaf that was placed there years ago, and it always brings a smile to my face, knowing that it was collected from some late autumn day, sitting outside somewhere, fully intending to rediscover it at some later date.

The coffee is starting to cool off now, as I approach the bottom of the cup, and it’s time to refresh it, and review what I have written today.  The words are only pointing toward a thought, a sensation, or a feeling; they reach out in an attempt to capture a moment in time, and to make it possible for the reader to share in that moment.  

For me, it is a delight and a privilege to have this moment of life, on a warm and luminously beautiful autumn afternoon.  One day, on some bitter cold winter morning, as I prepare my coffee in the kitchen, I will bring up this entry on my laptop, and relish the memory of every delightful second, inhaling the fresh air, the sensation of warmth from the sun on my skin, and the periodic moments of silence that inhabit my world as I contemplate the exquisite pleasure I once enjoyed on one fall afternoon, not so long ago.

Epilog:

This morning before I posted this entry, I walked out into the brilliant sunlight out in the backyard; I was astonished to see that overnight nearly every leaf left on the trees just yesterday appeared now to be on the ground.  The trees out back are now almost completely leafless, with a few stragglers still clinging to the nearly bare branches. 

It began to sink in that winter is well on its way now, with cooler temperatures and shorter days, and reluctantly grabbed the rake out of the shed to clear the avalanche of leaves off the deck.  As I began to work, I enjoyed a brief moment of Zen, looking down at the various and multi-colored remnants of the season now ending, embracing with gratitude, the memory of the numerous pleasures experienced during the autumn this year, while still hoping for a gentle or less harsh winter season to come.

 

Hello October!

 

                                             When we finally arrive in October,

                                             Our feelings are usually mixed;

                                             We love all your glorious colors;

                                             Our eyes, on your leaves, are transfixed.

 

 

                                              We know that in spite of such splendor,

                                              The winter will soon come again;

                                              It creeps up and sneaks up upon us,

                                              We can’t know with certainty when.

 

 

                                              But nothing is taken for granted,

                                               We cherish the October skies;

                                               We enjoy the true bounty of autumn,

                                               We hope, with the years, to grow wise.

 

(c) Southampton City Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

                                                 For love doesn’t fade through the seasons,

                                                 And joy we can find all year long;

                                                 Our children continue to need us;

                                                 Our friendships throughout can stay strong.

 

 

                                                  We greet you with joy unencumbered,,

                                                  It’s truly the way we should live;

                                                  We brace for the scenes of bare branches,

                                                  And treasure each blessing you give.

 

 

                                                  November will shortly be knocking,

                                                  We’ll soon have to open that door;

                                                  But for now we rejoice in our fortune;

                                                  We welcome the chance to do more.

 

 

                                                Be still now and hear your own heart beat,

                                                Don’t fret over leaves that must fall;

                                                October can bolster contentment;

                                                Embrace it right now with your all.