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.

Searching For An Opening to the Spirit

I know it’s pushing the limits a bit psychologically and cognitively to grasp explanations about the nature of circumstances, which you may not have personally experienced, and you may not know exactly where to begin, but with patience and applying our talents for thinking and reasoning, I believe it is possible to gain some greater understanding of “genuine experiences,” as described by those of us who have some familiarity with them.

The general nature of life itself should, by now, be broadly understood to consist of a variety of levels of experience and being, and to include more than what can be easily detected or ascertained by our five senses. It should also be obvious that life is comprised of characteristics of much greater complexity than what can be satisfactorily described or demonstrated scientifically, but in order for you to open yourself to the transcendent, it is still necessary to comprehend, at least in some general way, the nature of physical existence.

In my case, the awakening to the spiritual path happened a bit in reverse, and I recall having a number of extraordinary experiences as a very young child that seemed to me, even then, to be from a source outside of my own physical existence.  Naturally, I could not comprehend fully the implications of those experiences at that time, but neither did I question their validity or their importance.

To me, they seemed quite normal as experiences went, since I had no basis for judging them beyond the subjective experience of their occurrence, and assumed quite understandably that everyone else was having them also.  It wasn’t until I began school and my indoctrination into Catholic orthodoxy at around age six that it suddenly became unacceptable to acknowledge any extraordinary experience as anything other than “God’s mystery.”

I’ve written a couple of times about the way my thoughts and early childhood notions were suppressed by a fairly strict religious upbringing, and how I was often told not to concern myself with such “imaginings.”  All those years of suppressing my own thoughts eventually contributed to the “explosion” of unconscious contents that Jung described as often occurring “abruptly,” when we finally reach some sort of boundary condition psychologically.  In spite of this intensely restrictive environment, I still continued to experience a number of moments when I felt overwhelmed by a sense of “otherness” toward my inner world, even some occasionally striking events of precognition; the sense of the presence of invisible energies or individuals, or an extraordinary feeling of deep connection to other individuals in my limited temporal circle.

There were also several “out of the body” experiences during moments of extreme danger or tension, including one that occurred during a fall from a thirty-foot scaffolding platform in high school, where I remember floating above my body listening to the teachers telling others that I was dying. Once I even heard an inner voice of a girl, of whom I was not physically aware, as she was approaching me from behind saying to herself, “I hope you still want to be with me.” Imagine my surprise when I turned to see her standing there, and when I answered, “Yes, I do still want to be with you.” I thought she had said it out loud—until she asked me “How did you know I was going to ask you that?”

The events in Massachusetts in 1973 are a great deal more complicated in their explanation and description, and it has taken me decades of research and exploration to even be able to say that I am beginning to appreciate just how complex the explanation of the nature of our subjective experience of human consciousness must ultimately be. 

To say that my experience in the autumn of 1973 suggested the influence of a transcendent source is quite an understatement.  Jonas Rice was, in so many ways, a kindred spirit; a brother from another mother; another soul with whom I shared a great deal more than a fleeting sense of connection or an out-of-the-body experience.  It always seemed to me that during those episodes, we occupied the same physical space in some way, and there were moments when it felt as though I was seeing through his eyes, and at other times, that it was simply a presence which seemed to be guiding me or steering my attention.  Whether any of that actually explains my experiences is far from definitive for me, even today, and although they seemed objectively real to me at the time, as a rational person, I must acknowledge that the true nature of that connection is still really, to some degree, “unexplained.”

The explosion of our unconscious contents, when it occurs in the way Jung described it, can be inexplicable in any sort of satisfying temporal terms, precisely because our unconscious mind is, itself, quite mysterious and usually inaccessible subjectively. In my case, the eruption was so violent and it affected me so intensely physically, that nailing down the full explanation naturally resists logic and normal reasoning. If you’ve read that portion of the story well, you may recall that a fair amount of what I wrote was not legible at all, and my attempts to transcribe what was legible, were hampered by the feeling of complete and utter confusion that I felt afterwards.

The name Jonas Rice was a guess on my part about those two words as they appeared on the page, but when I stood at the tombstone in the center of Worcester, the paralysis in my body was real and my rapid heartbeat and inability to catch my breath were frightening.  I was having a panic attack and it shook me to the core.  I still get goosebumps when I think about it.

 If you look back thoughtfully through the events of your own life, you also may actually be able to discover that you may have had some version of experiences in this regard, which, though not as severe, still point to a non-physical aspect to our nature as cognitive sentient beings in a physical universe. Perhaps you suddenly got a hunch about where you might find a missing item which was in your possession days before, or experienced a pleasing sense of delight at a particular moment for no apparent reason.  You may even have felt particularly bad or good about the circumstances of someone you knew or someone you love, even though you had no real sense of what was causing it, or why it was particularly good or bad to them. 

Our personal sense of intuition is commonly influenced by our own experiences of such events, but applying the memory of our experiences is not always sufficient to explain an intense feeling or a particularly keen sense of the suffering of another.  You may not have ever associated your heightened awareness of these types of things with any sort of transcendent source, but if you dig a little deeper when you experience such feelings, it often becomes more apparent that the circumstances alone really don’t completely explain why you feel the way you do.

Opening yourself to the possibility of transcendence—placing yourself deliberately on the path of greater understanding—is the first step toward recognizing why you once found yourself engaged in a conversation with your friend on the question of whether or not God is real, or how it is that you recall an extraordinary experience years or days ago, when you sensed the urgency to initiate some unexpected response to an event, leading you to take a different path on a particular day, which resulted in that unusual experience.

Should you decide to investigate these possibilities as they relate to your own life, don’t worry about having “meaningful questions,” or “coming up blank,” when you consider the relevance of particular experiences right away. This is new territory for anyone who hasn’t previously contemplated the nature of subjective experience. You will be expanding your realm of experience simply by looking into the subjects you are encountering.  When a question arises in your mind, you will know that it is time to ask it, and to explore the subject further. Until then, you should keep searching and reading and thinking.

I am very glad to be sharing my experiences with the visitors and readers here and recommend that you take the time to explore these ideas on your own and investigate the subjects surrounding them; you will eventually come up with ideas of your own that you will want to explore.

To anyone who asks me, what I recommend as a means to increase their understanding is to begin writing in a journal, recording whatever random thoughts or feelings or ideas come to mind. Even if, in the beginning, nothing particularly interesting or helpful comes up, eventually the practice itself will yield new thoughts and may, upon reflection, stir those questions, and you may even find new avenues to explore.

The Spiritual Journey Continues

The story of my life is now about to expand into a whole new direction and the events that brought me to this place and time, for some mysterious reason, have resulted in a whole new path, which became evident after receiving a request for me to perform a wedding ceremony for a beloved family friend.

“Me?”  “You want ME to marry you?”

During a virtual facetime meeting, due to Covid restrictions, the happy couple explained that they considered me to be the most spiritual person they knew, and that I was also the only person they knew who already did what they were about to do, which is to bring together two families, and start one of their own—together.

Combined with the long term relationships between many of the participants in this ceremony, it was clear that they looked at me as someone with a degree of wisdom that I could share, and get them off to a good start.

Not everyone thought it was a good idea, but most of the people I consulted thought it was fine. I embraced the opportunity whole-heartedly. I did my research, followed the instructions and spent time training in the areas of interest, applied for the certification and received it several weeks later.

I am officially an “Ordained Minister,” registered and supported by the Universal Life Church, located in Seattle, WA.  I am legally entitled to marry people and to perform spiritual services as requested or which may be needed in any given circumstance.

It’s a non-denominational organization which is promoting the spread of spiritual awareness, revival, and promotion, without imposing or exclaiming any specific dogma.  Each of us, if we decide to explore such an idea, must discover that place where we can see ourselves as spiritual beings, and while there are many different paths one might pursue in the interest of their own spiritual well-being, each of us must ultimately seek out our own resource for spiritual guidance as well, and continue to search until we locate one which either resonates with us personally or which might be recommended by others we respect. 

When the importance of this opportunity finally began to sink in to my incredulous psyche, I started to dig down a little, down through the deeper levels of consciousness, and when I came up for air, I had to confess to myself that the choices I made, and the life I have led, didn’t exactly fit the common description of what a minister’s life usually looks like.  I felt as though I was both on the edge of a cresting wave, and suddenly realizing that I don’t know how to surf very well.

I didn’t think I was worthy of the honor, not because of any deficit in the requirements, but because I didn’t see myself as someone who earned the privilege—at least—not at first.

As time progressed, I began to see a vague sense of coherence in the way my life was unfolding, and accepted that these developments might actually be necessary, in order to step off into the next phase of my evolving life!

So be it.

I decided to embrace this moment now—this one—the one I am constantly experiencing inside my head.  When events like this occur in our lives, we have to recognize why it’s not a good idea to dwell on the past, but also not to forget the important lessons our experiences provided.  It’s also becomes important not to look ahead to the future with anxiety or well-defined expectations—but also to realize that sometimes we still need to plan and prepare.  We need to adapt and overcome, when necessary, but still hold close to our values as people.

One day, all of this will likely be understood in a way that could not possibly be understood at this moment. The perspective of time is necessary, since what occurs may not be clear at the time when it happens, and it may require additional distance in time and circumstance to become clear.  In retrospect, some of what we conclude initially will make sense and some of it may not, but the lines which summon us to the task of greater understanding, all originate within us. 

In order to gain in perspective and illuminate the components of a broader understanding, it is important to be able to quiet the mind and, to some degree initially, to let go temporarily of our attachment to the temporal.  This is not an abandonment of reality, nor is it in any way a compromise of our most essential self.  It should be thought of as simply setting aside our attachment to surface matters, just long enough to allow ourselves to approach more closely our innermost being.  Each aspect of our humanity is equally important to honor and to attend to as a part of the fullness of our lives.

Our current 21st century way of life tends to emphasize the immediate temporal circumstance and, in doing so, can subsequently lead to a tendency to gravitate away from our deeper selves—to embrace a state where we avoid apprehending any sort of deeper meaning in favor of a less satisfying surface existence.  We sometimes fail to appreciate just how much we can gain from exploring and expanding our point-of-view to include a fuller range of human experience.

The world is rapidly changing now and trying to keep up with the latest trends and the explosion of information technology can obscure the path toward our inner life, by becoming so pervasive in our daily lives that there simply isn’t time to absorb it all.  The pathway becomes so clogged up with surface matters and distractions of every sort that it eventually prevents any substantial progress from being made.  Less concern for achieving any sort of deeply personal, spiritual, or philosophical appreciation for our inner lives can result in spending much less of our available energy and time on anything that might otherwise lead us toward a greater understanding.

An essential effort in the service of achieving a degree of balance in our lives includes giving deliberate attention to both the wider range of our very human nature, of which we are all a part, as well as attending to our inner world—the world which is not technically inside of our bodies—but rather, outside of our temporal experience of the world itself. 

It is truly challenging to contemplate such an essential aspect of our humanity, which is also beyond the temporal boundaries of our bodies. We spend so much time in the early part of our lives becoming familiar with our subjective experience of being alive as a human person, that we tend to associate the physicality of our bodies and the relentless stream of thoughts which occupy our minds with our essential “self,” and only after many years of life experience does it become possible to begin to understand that life is much more expansive and complex than our own individual experience indicates.

Unfortunately for many of us, early childhood often consists of indoctrination into some form of religious doctrine and practice, which is often well-intentioned and earnest on the part of our caretakers, but which can sometimes cloud our thoughts, rather than lead us to any degree of enlightenment. This certainly was true in my case, and although I was very fortunate to encounter many deeply spiritual experiences along with the religious regimen, I often found myself at odds with those same doctrines and practices.  It seemed there were always many more questions than answers available to me along the way.  It wasn’t until I was an independent young man that I finally found myself free of those restrictive beliefs, and able to pursue my own inclinations spiritually.

I struggled greatly with my relationship with my parents as a result of my independent explorations and pursuits, but the struggles were necessary and ultimately led me to a much greater appreciation of my own deeply spiritual nature. 

I am now about to embark on a totally new spiritual journey as a mature man and as someone who will be considered in a whole new light from anything I have ever done before. 

After The Rain

After The Rain

The silence is only an illusion.

It’s just that we do not always hear

What is actually still there.

The echoes of the rain,

Stored in memory,

Play over again as the dripping remnants

Give a rhythmic tapping serenade.

The chaotic winds rise and fall as they cause

The rustling of leaves not yet fallen. 

Outside my window,

The swishing hiss of passing cars,

Interrupts the silence briefly,

As they pass through the overflow,

Sliding along the rain-drenched streets.

The air is fresh and cool.

I breathe deeply and deliberately.

Sometimes the wind will gust just enough,

To move the air around my skin. 

I always pause at that moment, if I can—

Embracing the opportunity to become

Completely present in that moment.

The pleasure is exponential when

The gift of a breeze is met

With gratitude and appreciation. 

So it is with us.

We see our lives through a prism at times.

Everything looks distorted and chaotic

Through such a lens.

Particular aspects of our lives

Can also become clearer

In the swirling swishing of time.

But we have to keep our chins above water.

Relentlessly swimming through your life

Can only go on for so long,

Before we begin to question our methods.

 

We dread the rain when it comes without mercy;

Today the rains fell with a vengeance. 

The deluge knocked the plants off the porch rail.

Even as I endured the worst of the storm;

I knew it could not last—this downpour.

But all the while, I feared it would outlast me.

I prayed that it would soon subside.

Life changes and is modified, moment to moment—

After several hours of relentless deluge,

The winds subsided and the rain lessened. 

After the rain, what feels like silence reigns,

The forecast for tomorrow is

That it will be a lovely day; sunny and mild. 

That’s what they always say.

© September 2021 by JJHIII

Hope you enjoyed reading my most recent poem. I’ve been working on a video series of short snips of different subjects to try out the visual arts capabilities of my computers and other devices. I am putting together a preliminary sneak preview of the most recent video-series-in-progress.

I know that trying to control every aspect of the presentation is a fool’s errand, but for the first few videos in the series, I wanted to keep it simple and figure out how to integrate any future skill with this in mind. I enjoyed the process immensely, and there are a few hilarious outtakes that will probably survive should that ever become something of interest.

For now, I am focused on reading, research, writing, conjuring, getting through things. There is so much good in the world, and not everything is about mainstream media either. Some of the best reading anywhere happens frequently here at WordPress.com. Hang on out there!

Kindest regards…John H.

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. 

A Capacity for Intelligence

According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, intelligence is defined as:

noun
1. capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.
2. manifestation of a high mental capacity: “He writes with intelligence and wit.”

In a recent study conducted at the University of Western Ontario, researchers acknowledged the limitations of current scientific research, but offered a basis for suggesting factors to consider. They “looked into the brain areas that are activated by tasks that are typically used to test for intelligence,” and reported their results–

“…based on the set of brain areas that might contribute to those tasks. However don’t get too excited, the methods used have severe limitations and we are still only at the hypothesis level. We do not know how these areas contribute to performance in intelligence tests and we do not know why they are activated and how they interact together to create the behavior.”

http://blog.brainfacts.org/

According to a recently published neuroscientific paper, “a broader definition was agreed to by 52 prominent researchers on intelligence:”

“Intelligence is a very general capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test‑taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—‘catching on’, ‘making sense’ of things, or ‘figuring out’ what to do. Intelligence, so defined, can be measured, and intelligence tests measure it well.”

Reviewing the many related brain structures involved in cognitive functioning, researchers concluded that:

“…variations in these structures and functions may be “endophenotypes” for intelligence — that is, they might be intermediate physiological markers that contribute directly to intelligence. Therefore, genes involved in intelligence might be more closely linked to these variations in brain structure and function than to intelligence itself. In fact, in all studies to date, the genetic influences on these structures and functions were highly correlated with those on general intelligence.”

–excerpts from “The Neuroscience of Human Intelligence Differences,” by Ian J.Deary, Lars Penke and Wendy Johnson

There are a number of individuals today who are beginning to make associations between the technological advances of modern science and some of the ancient esoteric traditions like yoga, in an attempt to explain our subjective experience of consciousness:

“If hypothetical machinery inside neurons fails to explain qualia, (the ‘what-it’s-like’ quality of experience) must we then consider the molecules that make up the neuronal machinery, or the atoms inside the molecules, or the subatomic particles inside the atoms? Where is the difference that causes the qualia of subjective experience? A less problematic explanation is possible. German scientist, Gottfried Leibniz, postulated irreducible quanta of consciousness he termed ‘monads.’ Matter does not create consciousness. Instead, matter is animated by monads. It seems hardly a coincidence that Leibniz’ monads would perfectly fit between the moments of time that lead to Kaivalya, (Yoga term for enlightenment or nirvana.)

Ultimately, Kaivalya is an ineffable experience. But the claim of yoga is that it provides means to experience what is outside of the individualized mind. The experience of going through the center of consciousness and emerging, as it were, on the other side is very much one of turning inside out. In our ordinary consciousness we are turned outwards towards the world-image which we externalized around us.

In going through our consciousness the entire process is reversed, we experience an inversion…that which was without becomes within. In fact, when we succeed in going through our center of consciousness and emerge on the other side, we do not so much realize a new world around us as a new world within us. We seem to be on the surface of a sphere having all within ourselves and yet to be at each point of it simultaneously…the outstanding reality of our experience…is the amazing fact that nothing is outside us.”

–excerpts from article by DONALD J. DEGRACIA, Associate Professor of Physiology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, in EDGESCIENCE MAGAZINE #16 • NOVEMBER 2013

artificial-intelligence-8-638

Recent research in artificial intelligence has begun to approach what might be described as a kind of tipping point, where the lines will likely begin to blur between what is clearly a type of machine intelligence, like the current offerings in robotics and self-driving cars, to something more akin to the kind of intelligence that talks back to you or responds in a more conversational manner like Apple’s “Siri,” and the Windows 10 offering of a personal assistant application called “Cortana.” Many of these innovations are built upon interest in the idea of eventually being able to develop the technologies surrounding A.I. to the point where they will function so much like the human brain, that communicating with them will be virtually indistinguishable from doing so with another live human person.

While this is an enormously appealing concept to our modern sensibilities, and currently fueling a huge amount of research in the industry, even supposing that it might be possible to produce a device or platform commensurate with the trillions of connections between neurons in the human brain, characterizing any resulting machine as either “intelligent” or “conscious,” requires us to re-examine what it means to be intelligent and conscious. Our current understanding of these terms, even as they apply to humans, is still not especially comprehensive or complete, and looking at the development of “human” or “biological” intelligence through the millennia, demonstrates a key component of the challenge in creating an artificial version that might qualify as equivalent.

artificial Human-Evolution1

Early humans and their fellow primates and mammals, along with all the various species endowed with sufficiently complex neural structures and central nervous systems, at some point, eventually possessed a brain or other neural configuration of adequate strength, size, and architecture, which allowed for the retention of memories, and for processing the sensory data gleaned through the available senses. These structures, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, at some point provided the necessary support for adaptive learning or for acquiring a sufficient degree of species-specific abilities, in order for the organism to make efficient use of that information, and to produce a range of results, commensurate with their species-specific capacities and habitation, which enhanced their survival in their respective environments.

Once our ancient ancestors reached a certain level of development, through the integration of incremental evolutionary changes, they achieved a nominal degree of enhanced cognitive talents, attaining a sufficient capacity for what we describe as “human intelligence,” which eventually led to the ability to reason and plan well enough to override emotional distractions, needs and desires, and to awaken to a penetrating level of subjective self-awareness. As any parent of a healthy child can tell you, intelligence does not appear immediately even in modern human children. In spite of advantageous circumstances and environments in which these amazing cognitive human creatures develop, it still requires a minimal degree of relevant experience in the world to accumulate a useful and functional knowledge base, to hone learning skills, and to be able to draw on a collection of memories, which enhance whatever cognitive, genetic, and other physiological resources they might bring to the process.

As a consequence of the random combinations of chromosomes in the human reproductive process, there is a sufficient degree of diversity in the general distribution of combinations available to the human genome, so that each human child has a relatively unique set of circumstances genetically. This diversity is necessary for the health of our species, and as a result, we observe a full range of endowment, which can result in bestowing our descendents with a general baseline capacity for the development of cognitive efficiency, or at the other end of the spectrum, a potential for an enhanced intellectual development, right from the start. A vast array of cultural and environmental variables can either promote or inhibit whatever potential is present, and throughout human history, we have observed how a viable or disadvantageous environment, as well as individual initiative or apathy, can alter the equation in either direction.

It seems likely, in view of these mitigating factors, that it is through a combination of innate cognitive talent, genetic endowment, and environmental conditions that we see contributions to the general flow of intelligence either making a significant appearance, or faltering and struggling to gain ground, in much the same way as it has been since the earliest neural structures appeared in whatever creatures are still existent today. In every case, whatever degree of potential existed within a particular species, it was either successfully developed and exploited for survival, or ended up being thwarted by circumstances from developing successfully enough to sustain a niche for a particular species, resulting in their extinction.

artificial33

Our challenge in the 21st century is finding a way to determine which contributing factors for increasing intelligence can be safely selected by humans for the most productive incorporation into what we are currently describing as “artificial intelligence,” or “machine intelligence.” Unfortunately, no matter what we are ultimately able to do, in my view, we won’t be able to incorporate our humanity fully into machines, nor will we be able to artificially endow them with the experience of “being human.” In order for us to be aware of our experience of existing as a human being, while clearly requiring a variety of nominally functional, finely-tuned, and integrated biological systems, each of which are essential currently, because there is so much more to being a subjectively aware human person, there must be something that it is like to be human, which cannot be precisely replicated by any technological advancement or created through sheer engineering genius. The subjective experience of human consciousness utilizes our very human capacity for intelligence, as well as our access to a penetrating awareness provided by an astonishing array of electrochemical processes in our miraculous brains, but what we are accessing is not PRODUCED by the brain, but rather it is PERCEIVED by it.

It’s interesting to me how some scientists and thinkers in all the various fields of investigation into artificial intelligence believe that it is simply a matter of achieving a sufficient degree of complexity in the structures we devise for the processing of the voluminous data necessary to be equivalent to the human brain, constructing a sufficiently pliable, flexible, and interactive software, driven by the necessary algorithms, and we will eventually produce a sentient, intelligent, and conscious machine.

In his fascinating and expansive book entitled, “The Universe in a Nutshell,” Stephen Hawking posits that if “very complicated chemical molecules can operate in humans to make them intelligent,” it should follow that “equally complicated electronic circuits can also make computers act in an intelligent way.” He goes on to say that electronic circuits have the same problem as our chemical processes in the brain, which is to process data at a useful speed. He also rightly points out that computers currently have less computational power than “a humble earthworm,” and while they “have the advantage of speed…they show no sign of intelligence.” He also reminds us that even with our capacity for what we call intelligence, that “the human race does not have a very good record of intelligent behavior.”

2 brains

The possession of a capacity for intelligence of any sort, artificial or otherwise, is clearly not a “stand-alone” feature that is sufficient to sustain any species in and of itself. As we have observed throughout the evolutionary history of the natural world, constructing and sustaining a successful organism requires the development of a range of compensatory and complimentary abilities and potentials, commensurate with the designs and functions of a particular species, in order to achieve a requisite degree of balance.

In the case of Homo sapiens, our particular brand of human intelligence, as we currently understand it, appears to be primarily the result of human evolution and progress throughout our history as upright, bipedal, and increasingly cognitive beings. As a result, our species is apparently uniquely well-suited for our evolutionary niche, and dominates currently among the other living organisms, mostly for this very reason. While we share much in common with our primate and mammalian family of creatures, and bearing in mind that we are equally indebted to all living things and to the Earth itself for our continued ability to sustain ourselves, intelligence appears to exist in remarkably adaptive and unique ways in each of the various evolutionary paths for each family of species that coexist with us today.

It would be arrogant to suggest that our variety of intelligence is in any way superior to that enjoyed by other organisms on our planet, except in the context of its usefulness to our specific nature as humans. Our own highly-adaptive nature is fairly well-suited generally to the requirements of our species, and while one might reasonably argue that our inclinations and intelligence are lacking in one way or another, for the most part, even considering our limitations, foibles, and perceived deficits, human intelligence has managed to keep pace with the unfolding of our continued evolution thus far, and providing that we persist in developing and adapting to our ever-changing circumstances, there is cause for optimism in my view.

What we tend to miss in most of our estimations of what sort of artificial intelligence might emerge from our efforts to produce it, is that no matter what results are forthcoming, it will very likely be profoundly different than our own ultimately, in spite of how specifically we aim to recreate the mental processes and physiological structures of our own exquisitely adaptive brains.

Finding Our Way Forward

                                                         

 

 

Even though the world seems to be under a cloud of serial struggles and daunting difficulties presently, there is still good cause to be hopeful that we will find our way through whatever comes.  It’s not because we can just wish it all away, or because we can delude ourselves with confabulated stories about what is actually taking place in the world.  It’s because we humans have, over the millennia, consistently demonstrated the capability to repair what we’ve done or begun in the wrong way, and to turn the challenges we face into opportunities, by deliberately and purposefully working toward those aims with hope and determination to make them a reality.

 

We sometimes lose sight of our history as human beings.  Our focus is too often narrowly confined to recent history, and only to the events of our collective recent memory.  Thirty or forty years ago, none of us who are old enough to remember well the state of the world back then had any idea what the state of the world would become in 2020.  Young people who weren’t even born yet in the 1980’s and 1990’s have only a very short span of history to draw upon for viewing the events taking place now, and unless those of us who can remember those times have some sense of the history of humanity, it may not be possible to have sufficient perspective to conclude that we have endured through times that contained much greater peril and challenges for the world.

 

 

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned or that the difficulties we face currently are any less urgent to address.  It’s not simply a matter of the degree of peril that informs the times we live in; it is the need for us to bring a degree of perspective to these times informed by our mutual history. 

 

We are capable of fixing what’s wrong and we can educate ourselves to better understand what it is that is needed to put us back on the road to progress, but the way to start back in that direction requires us to step back a bit first, and at least look at what led us to be in these circumstances, aside from the most recent news reports on television and the internet.  We don’t really have to go back that far to see the difference between the way things are now and the way they used to be before the technological explosion brought the invention of digital devices and instant communication of events from all over the world. 

 

A good illustration of how life has changed over the years can be found in my experience of responding to a recent column by Marc Fisher of the Washington Post, which expressed sadness about the loss of the neighborhood bookstores to the much more economical and less complicated practice of ordering books online at places like Barnes and Noble.com or Amazon.com. In much the same frame of mind as many of us who cherish the experience of walking amongst the rows of freshly printed pages and browsing our favorite sections, inhaling the scent of new books and cappuccinos, and thumbing through our cherished, secret, and silent worlds, Mr. Fisher’s lament struck such a chord with me that I emailed him expressing my empathy and agreement.

 

 

Not even thirty years before that, I wrote a letter to a well-known columnist, Darryl Sifford of the Philadelphia Inquirer, about a column he wrote. I typed my message on a manual typewriter, neatly folded the single sheet of paper upon which I typed, stuck it in an envelope with a stamp on it, and mailed it. A week later, he responded with a nice note, which he also typed on a manual typewriter, and mailed to me. I sent my email to Marc Fisher by clicking “send” on my Hotmail account with my “mouse” at 5:58 PM and received his response at 6:04 PM, just six minutes later!

 

 

Going back a bit further in time, the presence of televisions in homes across the USA only became commonplace in the 1950’s, and was, at that time, the primary medium for influencing public opinion, with newspapers a close second.  Prior to WWII, the invention and usage of the telegraph took place in the 1830’s and 1840’s, and radio communications came later in the 1890’s.  These inventions revolutionized long-distance communications of the day, which previously took place over much longer periods of time.

 

 

Within the time frame of the establishment of the independence of what would become the “United States of America,” writing letters or conducting any sort of regular correspondence between individuals took weeks or months to send, be received, and for the recipient to respond.  Communicating with individuals overseas in England or France was only possible by placing your correspondence on a boat heading that way, and news of any kind was painfully slow in arriving and being dispersed out into the world-at-large.

 

 

There was no formal highway or railway system. You rode a horse or hired a carriage to travel whatever distance you needed to go.  At Monticello, the famous home of Thomas Jefferson, when anyone was invited or expected to visit, they had to plan weeks in advance, and no guest could be expected to stay less than a week or so. Travel was an onerous endeavor for anyone needing to arrive anywhere with any urgency.

 

 

Imagine the logistical challenge faced by both the British and the American militaries to marshal their forces for battle, slogging their way through largely unchartered terrain, with no well-established roadways or knowledge of which route might best be chosen. It’s a wonder at all that our country was able to get itself off the ground under such daunting conditions, and other urgent matters like healthcare, education, commerce, social interactions, and the necessity of conducting the foundational financial operations of such a large organization must have been exponentially more difficult given the state of the world at that time.

 

 

We take so much for granted these days as we travel with relative ease, flying large distances to nearly any destination in a matter of hours; driving our cars and assorted other vehicles to places even hundreds of miles away in a day or two.  I can communicate with anyone interested in receiving such communication instantly just about anywhere in the world. 

 

 

I can speak to and see each of my family members simultaneously, regardless of their location, as long as they have internet access, and before long, depending on the affordability and widespread availability of recent technological innovations, it’s likely we may eventually be able to enjoy a virtual reality experience of sitting next to them in real time.

 

 

There are a number of options in this regard which exist already that are not widely available, but which can mostly be accessed by those with sufficient resources and relevant knowledge of how to access them.  Eventually, it will likely be as common to possess such technology in the future as owning a cell phone is today, and people may one day look back at our options for communication in our “modern” society in the 21st century and muse about how quaint it was to push buttons and swipe screens on one of those “old-fashioned communicators.”

 

 

As always, the future holds enormous promise and potential for both progress and difficulty, and it is really up to us which option holds sway in the main.  I suspect that the choices we make in the near future will have lasting effects that may be even more difficult to mitigate unless we begin to take the time to consider the broad scope of ideas and efforts made by our ancestors to resolve and build upon, what were for them, serial struggles and daunting difficulties.

 

With best wishes for a prosperous and healthy new year to all my subscribers and readers…John H.

Hope Springs Eternal

 

 

 

                                                                        “Hope” is the thing with feathers—
                                                                       That perches in the soul—
                                                                       And sings a tune without the words—
                                                                       And never stops—at all—

                                                                       And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
                                                                       And sore must be the storm—
                                                                       That could abash the little Bird
                                                                       That kept so many warm—

                                                                       I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
                                                                       And on the strangest Sea—
                                                                       Yet—never-in Extremity,
                                                                       It asked a crumb—of me.


                                                                       Emily Dickinson – 1861

 

 

 

Anyone paying attention to the state of affairs in America recently knows well the challenges we have had to face these days, some of which we share with the rest of the world like the global pandemic and its economic fallout, and some that are uniquely American, not the least of which has been a terribly divisive and contentious election process this November.

While these issues have often seemed to dominate the relentless range of available news in the world’s media outlets, they often haven’t fairly and accurately represented the broad range of positive and noteworthy efforts by innumerable individuals that have accompanied those difficulties. News organizations tend to emphasize the more sensational aspects of these events generally, and in order to get a more balanced perspective, it seems that we must not only temper our exposure to such reports these days, but we also need to dig a bit deeper for sources of information that can provide additional input to help us gain that greater balance.

 

 

Emily Dickinson provides us with a good starting point in her poem, which begins with “Hope” is the thing with feathers, immediately leading us to infer a metaphorical association, as a feature which “dwells inside the human spirit,” according to an analysis on http://www.litcharts.com, and which was “written to honor the human capacity for hope.”

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief in America when the news came that there would be a change in our national leadership, and while there has been an unfortunate lack of acknowledgement by everyone in the positions of influence regarding the ultimate outcome, there can be no doubt that the tide has now turned back toward the preservation of our democracy, and away from the deliberate efforts to undermine the collective values enumerated in our founding documents.

Beyond these pressing considerations of our current national circumstances, there are other concerns that require our attention, which are much closer to our hearts and minds as members of our extended families and local communities. This morning, as I slowly rose to waking consciousness, there was an echo of a particular theme upon which I have been ruminating of late, and it played subtly over and over in my head, prompting me to sit down at the writing desk to capture whatever I could of the momentum I had built as I contemplated the start of yet another day.

 

 

There can be no greater task for us as living beings than to achieve a degree of urgency in recognizing just how tenuous and fragile our existence might become if we do not attend to our individual lives as being a part of something much greater than the daily machinations of national governance or to the selfish tendency of some to restrict their concerns to a more narrow-minded viewpoint. Our fortunes clearly do rise and fall together in important ways, and unless we can step back to some degree from the limitations produced by such viewpoints, we may eventually find ourselves in even more dire circumstances than those which might have prevailed had we not done so.

Right within our own very personal environments now, we have come face-to-face with the necessity to avoid close contact with others in order to keep us safe from a deadly virus. The very structure of our social lives has been disrupted in a myriad of ways, and as we observe the necessary precautions to preserve our health and restore a sense of normalcy, we have begun to see much more clearly how important our personal connections to others have been all along, and their absence is keenly felt.

Our family gatherings and typical celebrations have been relegated to sharing in the much less personal venues of video images and exchanges made available through the internet. While these options have their own sort of appeal by providing opportunities to actually SEE each other and to interact when being together in person is not possible, the visceral experience of proximity with other human beings is immediately raised to a level of appreciation that we hardly knew would figure so prominently in its absence.

 

 

As the year slowly winds down, we reflect on the astonishing parallels of this absence, to those which we experience in a variety of situations of loss. We miss the proximity and the personal interactions with those we have already lost over the preceding years of our lives, having accepted as far as we can the unavoidable aspects of age, accident, or illness, as well as the inevitable changes which occur as a result of the variety of fluctuations within relationships of every sort. If we are even minimally aware of the importance of our social relationships, we quickly appreciate the significance of the consequences wrought by the pandemic.

Our celebrations this holiday season will be severely limited in comparison to other years, and perhaps there might not be any better circumstance for regaining our perspective on the importance of being able to interact with our close family relations and our dearest friends. We can no longer take such relationships for granted, and once the threat of illness from the virus subsides, we should not forget the sense of loss we now feel.

 

 

A few years ago, as I documented in a previous posting at year’s end, I wrote a scripted scene which my niece and I performed for my immediate family at our annual Christmas gathering. Within that text, I included this excerpt, which now seems prescient.

“There are so many reasons for me to have hope for the future, however long it might be for me. In spite of the sometimes unceremonious departures from this life of others in the same neighborhood of age as mine, I have seen the brightness of spirit that filled many of the moments of their lives, and I am heartened beyond measure to have shared such a range of wonders with these bright spirits, that it begs the question for me…What contribution have I made…and what might I still contribute in the days to come… especially at this time in my life, when every morning is a gift, and every effort requires the presence of hope.”

May all of my readers and visitors here at John’s Consciousness embrace the spirit of the holiday season, no matter how you celebrate it, and my wish for you all is a prosperous and healthy new year to come. I look forward to sharing with all of you in 2021 and thank you all for your continued generosity and kindness as this year winds down to a close.

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.

 

When A Tree Falls

 

To hear me recite the poem click on the video link below:

 

When A Tree Falls Video

 

When A Tree Falls—An Unexpected Reprieve

 

https://onedrive.live.com/?cid=DE7BF189930200B0&id=DE7BF189930200B0%214659&parId=DE7BF189930200B0%21206&o=OneUp

 

 

Already a bit on edge anticipating the arrival of the tree removal people, I decided to sit outside after a quick breakfast and drink my coffee on the deck out back. I normally find it soothing in the summer to look out at the natural greenery which surrounds the yard, while I sip my morning cup of java, listen to the birdsongs, and watch the squirrels hunting for something to eat.

 

 

This particular morning, the usual calming effect I’ve typically enjoyed wasn’t working its normal magic.  Even though the coffee was a little stronger than I customarily make it, it almost seemed like the morning tradition was having the opposite effect today. Visually, everything looked the same.  The sun was finding its usual paths between the branches to make a patchwork of light and shadow on the ground beneath the trees.  I observed the mostly blue sky dotted with the occasional puffy white cloud. The cats milled about oblivious to everything except for the need to pursue their periodic cleaning routines.  And yet, nothing seemed to be quite as expected.

 

 

Midmorning temperatures were already in the upper 80 degrees F. In the shade, the air temperature was only marginally cooler than in the direct sunlight. I couldn’t help but suppose that my perceptions were being colored by my anxiety and uncertainty about the impending tree removal.  

The usual hustle and bustle of the neighborhood was minimal as I sat contemplating the events of the day, but after an hour or so as the noon hour approached, I suddenly became aware of a variety of sounds that I hadn’t noticed before.  The traffic on the street seemed unusually busy and there were a number of buzzing sounds from people cutting their grass along the street. A variety of dogs were barking in the distance, almost as though they were having a long distance conversation with each other. The birdsongs seemed to have stopped altogether, and even the cats decided the best strategy at this point was to simply lie down and take a nap.

When I was informed that the tree company had to cancel for the day, it almost felt like a reprieve.  Perhaps, the universe wasn’t quite ready for the tree to come down.  I know I wasn’t really ready, but I was aware that it was going to come down one way or another, and perhaps the universe realized that I was the one who needed some more time to prepare myself.

Whatever the reason, I was relieved, if only temporarily.

The Day Unravels

The actual morning of the removal, a little over a month later, temperatures had slowly begun their descent into the upper 70’s F during the day, but were decidedly cooler in the morning. When I opened the door to go out and pick up the newspaper, I was wearing a sweater for the first time since the spring.  I stared momentarily out the window through the storm door at the tree, but in a way that I never imagined I would do.  I took a few more photos, even though I had taken more on the morning of the reprieve, and several in between that day and this morning. This morning, everything felt different.

I shuffled out to the kitchen and got the coffee started as usual, but there was a palpable sense of an impending alteration of my reality.  I spent a few minutes outside just walking around the house, almost expecting to see some gaping hole in the ground with a glowing meteorite still smoking at the bottom of the crater.

This morning, it was a fairly cool—64 degrees F, and as I waited for the coffee to get done, I sat on the patio out back, looking briefly at the headlines in the paper, gathering my thoughts, and steeling myself for what was to come. I nervously typed out a few sentences on my laptop, hoping that I might somehow find the right words to calm myself.

After a few minutes, the coffee was ready, and as I poured the first cup of the day, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. My normal routine became a more nuanced ritual than usual.  Everything felt different.  While I was stirring the cream into the cup, I thought to myself, “Maybe I should go out front and sit with my silent friend. She’s comforted me plenty of times over the years; perhaps she would be glad to have some company on her final morning as a tree.

 

I moved the chair and side table out to the front yard, and resumed typing out my thoughts a few feet away from the grand lady.  The sun was just peeking up over the roof of the house across the street, and I stopped for a moment to take it all in, and snapped a few quick photos.  I honestly can’t say what I thought I would capture in that scene that I hadn’t already preserved in the dozens of others images I made before this morning, but it definitely felt like it was important to record the final moments before demolition.

 

 

The street was quiet for the most part.  I don’t recall ever actually sitting out in front of the house in the morning like this, although I often walked around the yard for one reason or another.  Sometimes, when the kids were small we would have some event to deal with and there would be some sort of activity out in the front of the house, and most mornings in recent years, I usually walk out to pick up the newspaper at least.  Several of the neighbors were stirring and setting out on their way to work or whatever else they had planned for the day. 

 

There were a few young folks walking to the local middle and high schools which are right down the street from us. A couple of school buses drove by, but other than that, it was fairly calm.  I started to silently consider what was about to happen, and sat staring at the tree for a solid minute or two.  The idea that it wouldn’t be there by the end of the day didn’t seem real at all, and it occurred to me that knowing what was about to happen was almost like contemplating my own eventual demise—something that I never could quite imagine or ever wanted to consider. 

 

A Long History of Being

We have so little genuine knowledge about what a tree might be feeling or perceiving or be aware of in some way, and this particular silent friend only has a few years on me age-wise.  My parents were still dating when they planted the tree in 1947 when the house was built, and I didn’t come along for another six years.  Even though I am a bit younger than the tree, there is a real connection that has developed over the last thirty years that makes it feel like we are very much equal in age, although aging for a tree is likely a much different proposition than it is for humans.

I supposed I would have an opportunity to see the rings on the stump of the tree at some point and hoped to be able to determine the precise age in some way.  My interest in every aspect of the process and being able to participate in it and witness it every step of the way had already been keen, and it felt like the right thing to do in view of our long association. 

 

A September Mourning

Once the tree company crew arrived, I immediately felt a strange sort of calm overtake me.  I greeted the foreman and asked about the process they would use to remove the tree. I had expected them to bring one of those “bucket trucks,” to cut the uppermost branches without endangering the electrical wires or any of the surrounding obstacles.  He reassured me that they would simply climb up the tree with their safety equipment and conduct the “surgery” without a problem. 

I moved my patio chair a safe distance away, and watched the expert crew leader climb high up into the branches, tie off his safety harness to one of the larger limbs and begin to work.  I had already decided to record the process with my phone camera, but found myself often simply observing and carefully moving my vantage point to get the best angle of view.  It was mesmerizing to watch in a very odd way, mixing in all my emotions and anxieties, while still finding the experience strangely compelling to witness.

As the work progressed, there were several moments when large sections of the tree’s limbs would come crashing to the ground with a loud “thud,” sometimes landing on the street, sometimes landing in the yard. There were several opportunities in between the precision strokes of carnage to view the inner surfaces of the tree’s appendages, which revealed an astonishing array of colors and conditions.

One of the larger side limbs had been under assault by a colony of black ants, which had hollowed out the central core of a small section of it, apparently begun only a short time ago judging by the minimal progress made. Several of the larger sections of the trunk were cut out in pieces and provided an astonishing view of the layers of growth, with a variety of different colors and widths.

 

As the work was nearing completion, the inevitable sensation of melancholy began to slowly creep in to my mindset, and although I was resigned to the outcome all along, watching as they shredded the final sections of the main trunk, now lying on the sidewalk like slices of cake on a platter, the full impact of the loss was becoming apparent. I felt a bit deflated as the crew began to clean up the area, and walked up to the remaining layer of the stump, feeling empty as the air that now filled the space where the tree stood.

I thanked the crew for doing such an expert job without creating any safety concerns, and complimented the crew leader for his obvious skill in navigating through the tangle of limbs and branches to execute his task. The professionalism and quality of their work on this assignment, although it was an unhappy one from my point of view, was admirable and very impressive nonetheless.

 

When A Tree Falls

 

I sat for some time afterwards, just staring at the gaping hole in the once familiar landscape out in front of the home I have lived in for thirty years, and in spite of my resignation regarding the removal, I couldn’t help but feel that what was now missing from the scene was simply a tangible structure of nature’s handiwork.

 

 

What once had been contained within a physical structure, had now been transformed into a memory, and even though the actual wood that composed that structure was mostly sawdust and shredded bits of a once grand living tree, what was most compelling and satisfying about my relationship with it was not lost at all. I carried every bit of my attachment and affection for my silent friend with me as I headed back to the house, and will keep it with me always.

 

 

As I requested, the crew leader made sure that I had a collection of logs from some of the smaller branches to stack out in the backyard to dry out and age a bit, so that I can eventually honor the memory of our connection by burning the logs in the woodstove, to warm the house in the bitter cold days of winter, or to illuminate the evening sky on some future evening on the patio.

 

When a tree falls, nature compensates in a number of ways by providing shelter for the tiny creatures of the forest floor, or eventually enriching the soil when it breaks down over many years, back into the land from which it came. My hope is that the enrichment I have received, by sharing our connection over the years of life for the tree, will continue to inform my own life, and endure in the years to come.