Isolation Contemplation

With much more time being spent at home these days, I’ve had more time than usual for actually sitting at my desk and have been reading and writing a bit more often, and taking the opportunity to consider more carefully the events in the world-at-large, as well as those closer to home. The photo above was taken of a tree branch right outside the window in my upstairs office, and got me to thinking about an upcoming event in my life that has been the source of some anxiety, and writing about it seemed like a good idea in order to help me prepare for it.

This week I started writing in a brand new writer’s journal presented to me as a gift over the holidays last year. On the cover of the book itself is an ancient map of the world, and as I began to record my thoughts on the first pages, I began to wonder about the origin of the map and launched an investigation to see if I could locate it. It took a fair amount of searching on the internet, but I was able to find it and it is a visually rich and intellectually appealing image, which harkens back to an age of exploration and discovery, no longer possible on the same scale except perhaps in the depths of the oceans, or out into the vastness of space.

Very rare double hemisphere map of the World, engraved by Henri Le Roy in Paris and published by Michael Van Lochum. The map is based on Hondius’ World map of 1617. The map was the first to show Le Maire’s Straits and the islands in the Pacific discovered by Le Maire and his explorations in New Guines.

When it was published in 1636, we were only just beginning to understand and fully appreciate the enormity of our planet, and much of what appears on the map is only suggestive of the actual dimensions and shapes of the land masses so familiar to us now, since we have the perspective of viewing the Earth from space.

Even though the world has been constantly changing since the beginning of time, in ancient times, they believed that most of what we could observe and know was fixed and immutable, and that the Earth was the center of the Universe. Since life was profoundly more difficult to endure and life expectancy much shorter typically, surviving past what we now call “midlife” was rare, and with the world nearly always in a state of war or at the mercy of conquering armies, there wasn’t much an average person could do to affect the outcome of events.

It has taken tens of thousands of years for humans to make sufficient progress in order to make the necessary changes that have brought us to modern life in our century. Yes, times like those we are experiencing currently may cause some to wonder aloud if we’ve actually made much progress at all, but with even a brief investigation of ancient history, we can see that life in ancient times was often “brutish and short,” and the concerns which we all feel so worried about today are, by just about any standard, far less worrisome by comparison.

Still, our lives these days do contain urgent matters with varying degrees of difficulty, given whatever kind of circumstances and limitations we encounter, and when we are pressed to make certain choices these days, it isn’t always clear which one is most or least advantageous. Due to a number of different circumstances where I live, I’ve had to make a choice to cut down the large tree out in front of my house where I have lived for nearly thirty years. She’s a grand old lady, this one, and after months of wrangling with the authorities and pondering the fate of the tree, it became clear that it has to be done.

Without getting too deep into the whys and the wherefores, the decision to take it down brought me to consider several other similar relationships with other trees, specifically, the even grander and older tree in my backyard, and one that recently came to my attention in the news. Current events have a lot of us thinking more about what is important to us generally, and while contemplating a story about a tree might not seem to fit logically into the narrative of what’s taking place now in the world, it got me to thinking about what meaning might be found in these events, and it felt right to explore it in the context of our connection to the natural world.

The story of the death of a very famous tree in California caught my eye recently and the response of people familiar with the iconic “Witness Tree,” in Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, California touched me deeply, especially in view of my own impending loss of a familiar arboreal friend out front. The story goes that the “Witness Tree,” was probably more than 100 years old, and had been the site of numerous events for locals during that time, but also served as a location for a number of Hollywood films and television shows, including “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” and HBO’s “Westworld.” In 2018, the now infamous “Woolsey Fire,” destroyed the entire set surrounding the tree, and so badly burned the iconic symbol that it wasn’t able to come back to life. One particular couple, who had their wedding underneath its canopy, posted a couple of photos typical of the many stories surrounding the tree.

 

My own reflections of my thirty-year relationship with the enormously appealing Silent Friend growing still in my backyard, give me a much greater appreciation of how these living arboreal beings could have so much importance to generations of people who interacted with them for decades. Contemplating the loss of any tree that has a familiar place in the events of our lives over a lifetime or more gives us a glimpse of what matters to us in other ways as well.

During this global crisis, with millions of individuals at risk from the virus circulating through the entire population of the Earth, it seems our best defense against it is to hunker down in our own homes, and remain isolated from everyone we know, at least physically, providing us not only with a challenging endurance run of being out of circulation, but also providing an extended period of time to reflect on the importance of all our relationships, including those we acquired right in our own backyard.

There are many thoughts bubbling up from within me as I write these days that beg for expression, and since there is ample time to attend to the need to release them, I have taken to recording them by hand in the beautiful journal that’s been sitting on my desk since the holidays, and reminiscing with my “silent friend,” out in the backyard, contemplating the impending loss of the tree out front, and how the unfortunate need for isolation from the rest of the world-at-large has provided this time for us all.

The Flames of Life

As I write, there is a single candle burning in front of me, its flame dancing in the corner; the light bouncing off the wall behind it and beside it sends tumultuous shadows dancing across the wall. A selection of beautiful music accompanies the swirling shadows. At the heart of the candle, at the very center of the flame, where it appears to be white hot, I consider how my life is like the wick, slowly being consumed by the flame. A common candle burning in the darkness clearly has the advantage of being so small and yet still representative of fire in all its manifestations. Like so many similar phenomena in the world, in the extreme, not all flames are as comforting or as benign.

The wild fires burning in California and Australia are the opposite in every way. The consequences of such extremes are not at all like the flames on a birthday cake; the sight of such dangerous extremes do not make us feel the same way a collection of candles can as they cast a beautiful, shadowy panorama around a room. Even a campfire or a carefully controlled bonfire wouldn’t qualify as anything more than a benign pleasure deliberately chosen.

Fires can be destructive and lethal. They can be the result of negligence or deliberate malice. They can be initiated by lightning in remote areas where they clear away the dead trees and undergrowth, thus making possible the renewal of a natural balance in a natural setting. There is a clear connection between our intentions in igniting a flame under certain conditions, and the havoc which results when control is lost or momentum is gained in other conditions. The full range of possible scenarios can alter in significant ways, the future consequences of whatever choices are made and whatever results occur.

In the same way, our lives consist of both deliberate choices and happenstances from the realm of what is possible. They also can be altered significantly by how we envision our futures, and on what aspirations and opportunities are either present or absent.

Visions and imaginings are potentials—possibilities not certainties, but when I arrive at that place where these potentials exist within me, I cannot easily tear myself away. I linger there, not wanting to relinquish the potent inner affinity for the ideas embodied in that state of mind. So often, I struggle to sustain the momentum gathered during these episodes, to relish the sensations they produce, to savor the moments of bliss which sometimes occur, and to cherish the memories they can sometimes create. We live out our lives as they unfold, having made a whole host of choices along the way, which did not include a broad range of other choices, which could have altered our trajectory through the life we did choose.

What we seldom consider is how even the smallest changes to the course of our lives can potentially represent enormous consequences to the path which results. What if the world had gone in a different direction or what if my life had been even slightly altered in a way that did not include certain subsequent events? It seems likely that moving forward at that point would have a totally different direction and a host of other subsequent events. The visions and imaginings in my mind’s eye—my vision of the future—both remarkable and beautiful, and not without pain and suffering—those tend to come along no matter what choices we make—but I believe that no matter how we envision our future lives, if we carry that vision with us; hold onto it and follow it through whatever pain and suffering we encounter, embrace the moments of joy while we continue to persist in the face of adversity, we may then be able to look back and recognize a degree of fulfillment of that vision.

Part of my vision of the future is to help to inspire the upcoming generations, to look more deeply at life, to try harder to make the life they envision to be realized, to expand, and to blossom. In order to do this, one must fall in love with life, and embrace what is possible; the realm of possibility is wide. It contains all possible outcomes—all that is possible—and I want to dive head-first into that realm, to explore, to discover, and bring to the world, that which I uncover.

And so I am grateful to be in the presence of this little flame in the corner this day. I am the beneficiary of the light, the dance, and the white hot center, which is the center of me; we are consumed by life, gradually if we are lucky, and for a time, our light burns brightly, especially in our youth. If we are fortunate to arrive in the later stages of life, we can look back on numbers of days, hours, minutes, and seconds, where a flame illuminates everything.

My Reply to the Expression, “Everything Happens for a Reason.”

A recent visit to a fellow blogger’s site which featured the statement above prompted me to express my response to it, and to address the role of destiny and fate. They aren’t interchangeable terms in my view, and while I understand why it may be comforting to suppose that there is an underlying order to everything in the physical universe, chaos theory posits a degree of randomness that’s hard to ignore.

We all would like to think that there is some good cause for everything that happens in the world, especially for what might happen to us personally in our own lives, but the truth is that sometimes things happen TO us or AROUND us, and sometimes things happen BECAUSE of us or our actions or inactions. In many instances, there may be an EXPLANATION for what happens. There may be causes we can identify for our suffering, just as there are causes for our success. There may be a way to figure out why CERTAIN things come about, but just as often, we may not be ABLE to discern a cause or source or rationale for the events that take place in our life experiences. Such blanket expressions like, “everything happens for a reason,” are not particularly useful nor do they make our lives seem any easier in the face of challenges or troubles.

We cannot control what happens TO us many times, but we can often decide how we are going to act as a RESULT of what happens. We can take whatever talents we manage to acquire and SQUANDER them, or we can strive to improve them and put them to good use. Even when doing so, we may not succeed at what we are striving to accomplish, but life isn’t just about RESULTS; it’s also about the journey itself. We may or may not become successful no matter what happens to us or because of us, but if we want to truly make a deliberate and important contribution to the OUTCOME of our efforts, we must apply whatever resources we can muster and CHOOSE our path when we can, and follow wherever it leads us. Destiny is something we can choose to do or to attempt to do, but we can also ignore it or abandon it.

When we FAIL to choose, or fail to TRY, or fail to act when we should, that’s when fate takes over. What we work toward to the best of our ability is our destiny, fulfilled or not, and we have to acknowledge that our participation is essential if we truly seek to achieve our destiny. Whatever happens will have some sort of explanation ultimately, but the outcome may NOT be for any particular reason, or it may have AS a reason, our determination to achieve it. It’s really up to us.

What I have Come To Understand

“When someone enters your life unexpectedly, look for the gift that person has come to receive from you. I have sent you nothing but angels. Others see their possibility in the reality of you.”

–Neale Donald Walsch from his book series, “Conversations With God.”

Have you ever been momentarily captured by the strains of a melody in a song or musical piece that you were hearing for the first time?

 

Have you ever stumbled upon a broad vista or panoramic view while hiking and been momentarily overwhelmed by how beautiful it was?

 

Have you ever held a newborn child in your arms and marveled at the miracle of a new life?

 

There are many examples of extraordinary events that can occur in our lives, which are unexpected or have unexpected effects when we are made aware of them, and it suggests some sort of connection that exists between people and places, and the realization of a degree of resonance that can exist even without prior knowledge of or exposure to specific stimuli.

Over the course of my nearly seven decades of life, and considering the number of extraordinary events that have punctuated those years along the way, you might think I would have become a bit more adept at deciphering them when they occur these days, but life always has opportunities for learning and expanding our understanding and awareness, and right alongside of the challenges and struggles we often face each day, if we are fortunate, we also encounter moments that lift us up and result in degrees of enrichment we never expected.

 

Reviewing the positive and negative events in the world at any given time, it can seem that one or the other may be dominating, but as I consider what has been most often the case for me personally, on balance, I would say that trying to understand the character of each has been one of the main reasons I have been driven to investigate our very human nature, by both researching the many aspects of subjective experience and consciousness, and comparing them with my own experiential reality to raise my awareness of the extraordinary aspects of being a living, breathing, human being.

It also has occurred to me that I may be so thoroughly out of sync with the times—an outlier in the modern world—that any hope of progress toward my goal of raising the awareness of what I have come to understand about the world-at-large may be overly optimistic. Nearly all of my responses to individuals who, for one reason or another, impress me as being extraordinary or potent in some way, seem often to be inexplicable in temporal terms, and attempting to express the importance of these interactions sometimes creates a degree of confusion or uncertainty as a result. I have long since passed that point in my life where refraining from expressing my honest responses to others in this situation feels like the correct thing to do.

 

Since crossing over the mid-sixties in age, I am painfully aware that I can no longer suppose that there might be plenty of time left to engage in genuine expression of my feelings. Naturally, most of us have no idea how long our lives will be no matter what age we have attained, but it becomes more apparent in the upper ranges of human aging that, even barring unforeseen circumstances, we still realize more readily how precious life has become, especially in view of the smaller portion of life one might have to experience and to share our insights.

The events of my life have been particularly instructive in this regard, since I often refrained from freely expressing my genuine responses to individuals in the past, and I realize more clearly now, that tomorrow is not a guaranteed gift for any of us. If there is a feeling we wish to express, or an experience we hope to share, it becomes a matter of greater urgency, since there are fewer tomorrows within which to do so.

I understand that others, especially those who are not as familiar with these ideas and who are not approaching the age of seventy, as I am, may not fully appreciate this urgency in the same way that I do, but I cannot change the arrangement of the circumstances which exist currently, and must act upon the urgencies which present themselves to me in a way that is responsive to my own character and disposition. There is now little time to waste in hedging or delaying expression.

 

 

While I acknowledge that others also have their own circumstances to consider, as a general principle, I tend to defer to the inclinations of those with whom I interact. Conversely, I also no longer feel as though my own inclinations aren’t worthy of attention either. I express whatever it is that I feel in as measured and considerate a manner as I can, and if the response is positive, I allow the interaction to unfold as it will, and if not, I am fond of saying, “I am easily discouraged.”

I normally rely on mutual agreement to determine whatever degree of sharing might take place, and would not ever seek to impose my own inclinations on anyone. Many times, the initial circumstances which ensue upon meeting an individual who captures my attention in a big way, far from being automatically engaged, are now much more likely to prompt caution at first, at least until some reciprocal response is detected.

Once it becomes clear that there is sufficient encouragement to continue, I usually will, and if it becomes clear that continuing would impose some difficulty, I tend to step back or away from further interactions, recognizing that anything other than a positive response must be acknowledged as well. The real challenge comes when the individual is uncertain or vague in their response, and doesn’t give a clear indication of a negative or positive response. In cases like these, I tend to err on the side of caution, or, at the very least, refrain from any overt response, until such time as a more definitive indication is forthcoming.

Over the years, I have become a better observer of body language, facial expressions, and other circumstantial indicators, and have learned to better trust my own instincts. Self-doubt is still a factor in some cases, particularly when the interactions are intense or disproportional to reasonable expectations, but having suffered through a number of emotionally agonizing consequences from miscues or misunderstandings, I am far less inclined to go where angels fear to tread.

All of these machinations and interpretations of previous encounters still haven’t prevented me from suffering to some degree when an extraordinary individual arrives and presses me to respond in a more immediate way. The recent encounter with a “kindred soul,” which prompted the creation of the previous poem, was similar in character to some others, but, as the poem indicated, it was surprising in its complexity, and stunning in the degree of delight it produced with no apparent outward cause.

These are the truly mysterious kinds of unexpected encounters that occur so infrequently, and strike with such suddenness and intensity that I am typically thrown back on my heels, holding my breath, and uncertain as to how it was even possible.

In this case, I was fortunate to have time in between encounters to consider what my response might be, but even these advantages seem to have failed to prevent me from feeling completely confident in determining just what my response should be. Clearly, the initial response warranted an additional opening to the interaction which occurred several days later, but I am now beginning to wonder if I have tested the patience of an angel.

Underneath all of our temporal inclinations, beyond the considerations of brain physiology and neuroscience, and in spite of uncertainty surrounding the basic understanding of our subjective experience, the human spirit remains for me the “élan vital,” at the heart of all contemplation of human nature, and I savor the delight of interacting with every positive moment, and strive at all times to learn from the others, and to grow and share what I have come to understand.

 

Samsara

This week, I was finally able to view a film I’ve been wanting to see for some time called, “Samsara,” directed by Ron Fricke and produced by Mark Magidson, and was stunned at the richness of the diversity of locations filmed, and was both inspired and disturbed by the powerful effect of the contrasts presented in the film.

In Indonesia, Balinese Tari Legong Dancers perform a dance in a tradition that goes back over 100 years. Kilauea Volcano erupts and spews forth massive clouds of steam and smoke and lava in a process that began billions of years ago on the primitive Earth. A human child developing in the womb, almost fully formed, shown in the tiniest graphic detail, with the very beginnings of human life hanging in the balance.

A human corpse of the anonymous Tollund Man, discovered in 1950 in a peat bog in Denmark, perfectly preserved, lies frozen in time, from the 4th century B.C., with the tiniest details of skin and facial hair preserved in its most raw form. The death mask of Tutankhamun displayed in brilliant detail, painted and golden, preserved with equally astonishing verity, from thousands of years ago. Each of these scenarios, in exquisite 70mm format, is part of the lead which introduces the film, “Samsara,” from the creators of the film, “Baraka.”

An extraordinary, almost alien landscape in the early morning haze, presents testimony to the extraordinary contributions that human beings sometimes make to the scenery of the natural world. Thiksey Monastery boys in Ladakh, India turning a prayer wheel. Monks making sand Mandalas. Switch from the barren deserts of Saudia Arabia, to the lush waters of Erupa Falls, in Angola.

Utter destruction from a modern catastrophe is followed by the exquisite beauty and grandeur of a palace in Europe. Natural wonders like spectacular waterfalls in Africa, rock formations in Utah, and volcanos in Hawaii, are contrasted with human-made wonders from ancient times like the pyramids, the Mayan ruins, the Hindu Temples of Angkor Wat, and the great Cathedral of Notre Dame.

According to Wikipedia:

“The official website describes the film, “Expanding on the themes they developed in Baraka (1992) and Chronos (1985), Samsara explores the wonders of our world from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of humanity’s spirituality and the human experience.”

Consulting the BBC.com website, I found a reasonably good explanation of the term, “samsara.”

“Hindus believe that human beings can create good or bad consequences for their actions and might reap the rewards of action in this life, in a future human rebirth in which the self is reborn for a period of time, as a result of their karma, which operates not only in this lifetime but across lifetimes: the results of an action might only be experienced after the present life in a new life.

This process of reincarnation is called samsara, a continuous cycle in which the soul is reborn over and over again according to the law of action and reaction. The goal of liberation (moksha) is to make us free from this cycle of action and reaction, and from rebirth.

An individual under the influence of Samsara will re-incarnate over and over again (not on purpose – only due to lack of knowledge) and always believe in the concept of death. Samsara is the world as created by ego; Samsara is the world of Maya—the world of illusions.”

For me, the most significant takeaway from this extraordinary film was the astonishing variety within the collection of depictions of the works of humanity and of Mother Nature. The presentation is exquisitely executed and it provides a great deal of material for thoughtful reflection without a single word being uttered throughout. It is, at times, mesmerizing and uplifting, and at other times, it is deeply disturbing and thought-provoking. I recommend viewing it when you have sufficient time afterwards to consider the impact it will no doubt have and to allow the messages it carries to sink in.

The Realm of Possibility

Time has never been my friend especially. Like many of us, what we call “time” frequently feels like there’s never enough of it—not enough for what needs to be done nor for what we want to do. Just as often, it feels as though we are racing against it, trying to squeeze as much out of it as we can, or lamenting that we must relinquish it too soon, especially when it expires during a favorite activity.

Time is relentlessly ticking away at the exact same pace at all times according to our devices which measure it, display it, and remind us of its passing in one way or another, but from our unique perspective, it rarely seems to proceed at a consistent rate.

As a young child, a mild summer afternoon can seem to endure endlessly, and events which we know will occur in a few months can seem like a year away or more. As we age, mild summer afternoons are still delightful in many of the same ways, but often pass much too soon to our mature sensibilities. Even as the sun lingers long into the evening hours at the height of summer, these days, I often turn to see the sun setting on the horizon and think to myself, “already?” Events which I know will take place in a few months often seem to arrive unexpectedly soon, sometimes only garnering my attention at the last minute.

It’s not just the passing of years, of course, which appears to twist and distort the passing of time, and it’s not just the degree of delight which hastens its passing or a particularly challenging burden which slows it down to a snail’s pace. How we perceive time is a mental exercise assisted or hindered by our approach to whatever task is set before us, and the way we proceed when working toward our goals, either with vigor and enthusiasm, or without either of those assets, can influence our perception of time profoundly.

We hear a lot these days about “being in the moment,” and practicing “mindfulness,” giving our full attention to the very moment in which we are experiencing life, and in doing so with regularity, proponents of these ideas suggest that we may begin to experience the passage of time in a more balanced manner. The idea is meant to address our tendency to spend too much of our time worrying about what is to come or lamenting about what has taken place in the past, and to encourage us to concentrate our focus more often on where we are and what we are doing and experiencing right now.

Most of us can probably recall a period of time in our lives, however brief or at length, when everything seemed to be running along smoothly and with a satisfying synchronicity with our expectations and desires, and when we eventually reflect on that period of time, it seems to have taken place in a much shorter amount of time than what we supposed in our minds. It seems like we just got started a short time ago, when we actually had been engaged in the activity for hours. Deepok Chopra refers to this experience of losing track of time as “timeless awareness.” Our awareness of the passage of time is lost due to being so in tune with the right path and being in the flow of life.

Each of us, regardless of our age or circumstance, is living on time borrowed from the field of infinite possibility. Potentiality for every possible outcome in every single spirit ever born is initially without limit. The circumstances of our lives, and our perceptions of those circumstances, can frequently become mismatched due to adopting the mistaken assumption that what we expect out of life is what will happen simply by applying the right kind and amount of effort. While those attributes are certainly an important part of achieving the desired results of our goals, the world is not made up of only ourselves, and our motivations and intentions while we pursue them can be equally influential.

In one lifetime, each of us draws from a reservoir of life’s limitless potential, but we are also bound in the very same way to acknowledging that being born into a world with such potential also places us at the mercy of the realm of infinite possibility, which may include the development of misfortune. We clearly have a certain amount of control over some things, and possessing potential won’t produce much without a sustained and vigorous effort. However, as I wrote some months ago, in a poem entitled, “Tomorrow’s Promise:”

“Time passes in moments, some rushing by,
We don’t often stop to ask ourselves why.

Contained in reflections, words, thoughts and deeds,
Are every last one of life’s hopeful seeds.

With yesterday’s joys, our hearts we can lift,
Tomorrow’s promise—an uncertain gift.”

Timeless awareness is an acknowledgement of the true nature of life. While the universe seems to be governed mainly by predictable physical laws and exists as a physical phenomenon, manifested in our participation in “time,” within a limited region of our material world here on Earth, life is far more mysterious and consists of additional ineffable components that interact with our subjective experience of life, in ways that have inspired many great writers and thinkers throughout human history.

This is our time. We exist here and now. We are part of a dynamic synergy of life that is both tangible and ineffable, and we can either plod along with our clocks and our measurements of time, or we can strive to transcend the material aspects of existence, and open ourselves fully to the realm of possibility.

Letters Between A Young Man Serving Overseas And His Mom at Christmas

Since I personally have direct experience in being away from home on military assignment during the holidays, I felt compelled to share with you an excerpt from an historical exchange, which took place at that time, by way of excerpts from two important letters, written while I served overseas in the winter of 1975, between me and my mother.

November 29, 1975

My Dear son,

First of all, we received your recent letter, written while on duty today. I was very happy to receive it, and all read your letter with feelings of concern, yet also happiness. It is hard to explain. We all love you, and hope that the time you must give to the Army goes as quickly as you would wish it to go…in spite of everything.

(What follows is a section of that letter, which contained my description of the experience of being on duty at the border station.)

“Dear Mom and Dad and everyone,

By the time you receive this letter, I will have returned to Augsburg, with the mission completed. I won’t be able to send it until I get back. We are on a border site mission, which means that right now, your son is sitting about 5 km from the East German border. We are on top of a small mountain from which you can see into East Germany. Right at this particular moment it’s snowing pretty well, after having snowed yesterday about a half a foot before it stopped last night. It’s really quite cold; however, I am relatively comfortable considering the circumstances. We work in shifts so no one is out in the cold for too long. When we finish work for the day, they drive us into a nearby town to take showers and have a few beers. It’s really not too bad actually.

The one thing I really wanted to tell you all about was the feeling I had last night as I watched the snow fall over the other side of a large barbed-wire fence that separates the East Germans from the free world. It’s not a spectacular scene really, but the implications, at least for me, are very graphic. The fence itself and the area within about 50 meters are lit up like it was daytime. Every hundred meters or so, you see a guard tower with the East German border guards sitting up there just watching you watch them. There was hardly a sound to be heard.

The snowfall seemed to make everything peaceful, and I began to think a little bit about just what it must be like to live on the other side of that fence. How does that East German soldier feel about his lot, and how he must wonder about what I’m thinking? Needless to say, it was a very sobering moment. I thought of you all, just at that moment and I have to admit I cried just a little bit and wished I was home. I was tired and cold and I guess a little lonesome for my family—a feeling that I learned to appreciate a while ago, emphasized somewhat by my surroundings; one that I could not have known without having had the experience.”

(Back to Mom’s response)

“By the way, I mailed a Christmas package. A couple of things are to be opened immediately, but others should remain until Christmas. It’s hard to be away for the holidays, son, but remember, we are thinking of you, and when you are home again, we shall have the biggest homecoming party you have ever seen!

The whole house is starting to become active with secret shopping and the Christmas Spirit! Your sister tells me, “It’s building!” We have our nativity scene up on the mantel piece. We are hearing more and more Christmas songs on the radio. Stores are decorated and it’s cold out—down to the low 20’s tonight. No snow yet!

We expect your sister and her family on Christmas Day; both your brothers will be here Christmas Eve also. We have a limited Pollyanna because both married children, plus our military son, will not be here on Christmas Eve. Your older brother is going to cut down the tree tomorrow. The girls and your younger brother are going with him. We expect to trim the tree Sunday.

Everyone is getting excited as usual. They all have come to me at different times and said how much they miss you, and how much they wish you were here for Christmas. My dear son, your mother thinks of you often and also of our talks in the kitchen when you were home. They are a great comfort to me. I love you and miss you.

God Bless You, with Love…Mother”

As you can see from this exchange, the circumstances for me and for the whole family were affected by my assignment and deployment, and while the situation wasn’t anywhere near as dangerous or difficult as those brave soldiers serving in combat zones, the stresses and responsibilities are still daunting in their own way. I know my parents and siblings were worried about me and missed me. It was difficult to be away from home for so long and through times when we were traditionally together, but it was vitally important work that we were doing in defense of our country, and at the end of it all, once that duty was finished, the lessons learned stayed with us.

In the photo above, at Christmas time one year later, my parents and four of my siblings came over to visit me in West Germany, and we were joined by the German family who hosted me in Augsburg, more than making up for the lonely Christmas the year before.  My German friends understood well the important American values held by our family.

Being far away from home, during the holidays especially, our appreciation of the freedoms we enjoy in America, and the love we have for our families and for our way of life as Americans, become something more than just words on a patriotic poster, or in some speech by a politician. The deeper meaning of our values and our heritage as citizens of the United States comes into sharper focus, in a way that just reading about such things could never impart.

The changes you go through, the challenges you face, and the altering of your view of the world, acquired as a result of participation in the defense of your country overseas, regardless of the motivations you may have had when you entered the service, will very likely stay with you for the rest of your life, just as they have for those of us who have served in the past.

We all recognize that the sacrifices made by our military men and women in uniform are necessary in order to fulfill their responsibilities, and we must support them unconditionally in their endeavors.  I recommend to all military folks out there to be sure and write or communicate in some way with your loved ones. Take it from me, it’s the best way to get you through whatever comes.

May God bless them all and keep them safe always, and continue to bless the United States of America!

Majesty and Misery, Miracles and Mystery

From one perspective, the month of December signals the arrival of that part of the year after the crops have been harvested, the trees and vines have yielded their ripened fruits, and the leaves have all withered and fallen to the ground. The light of day is at its shortest duration, and the longest periods of darkness at night hold sway until the Earth once again tilts more toward the sun in our hemisphere. The majesty of the renewal of all life in the Spring, the lushness of Summer, and the brilliant colors of Autumn have waned, and the bitter cold misery of Winter nips at the edges of our flesh for weeks to come.

Depending on one’s point-of-view, each of these generalizations about the seasons might ring true, but to those with an open heart and mind, the determination of whether one is experiencing misery or enjoying the majesty may fluctuate in any number of ways. The Spring also brings, for some, the misery of airborne allergens and high pollen counts, as well as seasonal flooding; the Summer also brings days of stifling heat and humidity, and the dangers of heat ailments and sunburn; the Autumn also brings to an end, the lush green symphony of all the plants and trees, the shortening of daylight hours, and the toils of the harvest.

None of these characterizations are necessarily good or bad inherently, and the cycles of the natural world are neither malicious nor benevolent by design; each season simply proceeds through its cycles according to its nature, and as a consequence of the physical laws which govern the actions and reactions of planets and solar systems, contained within our galaxy and beyond. There clearly are aspects of our existence, as we commonly perceive it, which are governed by predictable physical principles, and to which we are all subjected without any deliberate discrimination detectable through our current methods of scientific inquiry. The Universe is what it is and we are unquestionably bound by its nature to either endure or enjoy whatever transpires within it, for whatever time we are granted in this life.

Recent rereading of John Keats’ poetry as a result of a posting by my friend Anthony brought me to review another of Keats’ works called “Bright Star! Would I were as steadfast as thou art,” and this morning, as I slowly returned to waking consciousness, the terms Majesty and Misery, Miracles and Mystery, floated up from my subconscious in a period of contemplation before committing to place my feet on the floor and begin the day. The concepts of each of these terms has been “percolating” within me this past week, and Keats’ poem really brings home the significance of their meaning in an important way.

Keats himself was only twenty-five years along in his life when he was consumed by tuberculosis and perished after an agonizingly difficult period of time suffering with the disease. His brilliance as a poet, and his urgency to express what was within him were enhanced greatly by his awareness that he would not survive long into his twenties, and by his passionate interest in every aspect of his existence, especially in consideration of the brief amount of time he would have to experience it.

The “majesty” part of this poem is in the awareness of the durability of the star, the unparalleled view of the world upon which it shines in the night sky, and its longevity, which Keats envied in a way. He also recognized that while the star enjoyed these advantages, that such longevity for Keats would not be necessary for him to fully appreciate his own life, but simply to live long enough to grow to maturity, and to experience a lifetime in the usual way, with the advantages and simple pleasures of human love, might well seem like an eternity to someone facing their own mortality. The “misery” part might well go beyond the difficulty of disease, and into the longing for something more, and the impending loss of all that might have been.

The “miracles” of our modern lives, no longer simply a phenomenon within the purview of an esoteric religious viewpoint, consist of the broad range of potentials inherent in the birth of every living thing, in the blossoming of that life, and even in the cycles which govern those lifeforms through whatever span of time they take place. Our own experience of life can contain many such moments as those described by Keats, and are all the more precious and miraculous when we consider how he would not survive long after describing those which mattered to him.

The “mystery” aspect of all these ideas are where we have the most fertile soil for contemplation and philosophy. Many of life’s secrets have been revealed by our scientific and medical research over centuries now, and the life of our current poets and philosophers, artists and acrobats, scientists and sensualists, no matter what their persuasion, can be either bitterly brief or roundly robust, but ultimately, how it is that we are born into this world in whatever circumstance and with whatever advantage or lack thereof, we have the opportunity to embrace life and to ponder its mysteries, and even with only a very short time to do so, Keats pointed the way toward the apprehension of life’s mystery–through the recognition of the majesty of life, acceptance of the experience of misery which can occur, the wonder of life’s miracles, and the pursuit of those mysteries, for however long we are granted in this life.

Here at John’s Consciousness, the pursuit of apprehending life’s mysteries continues; the appreciation of life’s miracles are frequently expressed, the periods of misery are acknowledged, and the full embrace of life’s majesty is often recommended and expressed.

Looking forward to my tenth year of sharing the miracles and mysteries in 2020!

The Allure of Sanctuary

Way back in 1976, a film appeared on the scene called, “Logan’s Run,” starring Michael York as a law enforcement “sandman,” tracking down people trying to escape from being “renewed,” at the age of thirty, in a futuristic dystopian world where no one grows old. He is assigned to go undercover and expose a place where those who don’t want to “renew” go for refuge called, “Sanctuary.” It’s an interesting film which also stars Peter Ustinov as one of the very last surviving “old people,” and it presents the viewer with some thought-provoking material regarding the value of maturity and of Sanctuary.

Sanctuary can be one of the most important ideas to ponder, as well as one of the most useful places, that we can seek out, no matter where we live, and no matter what our circumstances. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve an elaborate or hidden place like the one in the film, but, by definition, it constitutes a safe location, but it may simply require achieving a peaceful and calm state of mind, in order to be considered a sanctuary of sorts.

 

It is difficult at times, especially in the midst of chaos or turmoil, to disassociate ourselves from our circumstances, even temporarily, and so a sanctuary generally takes place away from the general run of life, maybe a quick stop at a library, or a local park, during a walk on a brisk winter day, but with practice and determination, we may also be able to find sanctuary within ourselves, even when the physical place isn’t ideal. Wherever we are able to be alone with our thoughts and to disengage, even for just a few minutes, from our busy modern lives, we can find brief encounters with solace and sanctuary.

 

When we can actually divert our attention from the everyday hum of life, even a humble spare room in an attic or basement can suffice, and as someone who spent more than 20 years raising a group of six children, I can assure you that the effort to find even brief moments of what one might describe as sanctuary can make a huge difference in one’s ability to cope with the fast pace that such a life can attain at times.

 

My own first attempts at achieving some degree of calm and quiet as an aspiring writer nearly always required me to simply wait until everyone was asleep, and then dragging out all my books and papers and materials out to the kitchen table, and then dragging them all back before they woke up. Eventually, after the nest started to empty, I was able to cordon off a section of the laundry room for a desk and a bookshelf, so at least I didn’t have to keep moving everything around, but as you might imagine, the parade of people into the laundry room and the relentless running of the washer and dryer didn’t always add up to a clear sanctuary experience, but the “waiting-until-sleep” mode was still available.

More recently, as the nest finally emptied in the traditional sense, I was able to convert one of the upstairs bedrooms into a real “office,” with the customary equipment and options for dedicated application of a “writing space.” For some time now I have been able to spend continuous hours of quiet and calm in my own version of “sanctuary.”

 

Sanctuary should be a place where we can “let go,” and not worry so much about the world outside of us. Something important to remember, though, is that we cannot forget, even when we are in that place, that it’s not supposed to be a total disconnect from the WHOLE world, because every moment as a living being takes place in THIS world. It is mainly up to us to figure out how much is too much, and to what degree our disengagement must achieve in order to be useful and productive.

I occasionally take great satisfaction in the available moments of quietude to run a bunch of warm water and soap into the tub and withdraw into the warmth with some calming music to distract me from even the way working in my office can’t always seem to do.

The important part of all this is to recognize and establish whatever routines help us to “clear out the cobwebs,” or to seek refuge in whatever space might be available, and to attend to our inner life…advancing our “inner evolution.”

A Greater Understanding

© Courtesy of Attila Krasznahorkay Physicist Attila Krasznahorkay, right, works with a fellow researcher at the Institute for Nuclear Research at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Recently, scientists at the Institute for Nuclear Research at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, believe they may have discovered evidence of a previously unknown “fifth force,” that may be in addition to the four known ones, gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Apparently, this research has been conducted for over three years and the experimental results have been reliably repeated, and other scientists have been unable to determine any notable flaws in the methodology used.

The gist of the paper published by the scientists concludes that the previously undetected particle, called X17, “because they calculated its mass at 17 megaelectronvolts,” did not follow any of the paths of currently known particles, and theorized that the variance in the angle of its trajectory suggests evidence of being acted upon by a “fifth force.”

For most of us non-scientists, while we may be able to appreciate this news in the broadest sense of experimental results being confirmed and proper scientific methodology being confirmed by others, recognizing the implications more specifically requires a greater understanding of physics, and appreciating the full scientific explanation, demands an even greater depth of knowledge that most of us generally don’t possess. It is, nonetheless, a remarkable development, and the news has been particularly exciting for those engaged in this research.

 

In a related development, I came across a book review appearing last month in the Wall Street Journal by John Horgan, himself a notable scientific mind. He reviewed a new book by Sean Carroll, a physicist at Caltech, called, “Something Deeply Hidden,” in which he is quoted as saying, “As far as we currently know, quantum mechanics isn’t just an approximation to the truth, it is the truth.” He insists that despite the skepticism surrounding the implication in quantum mechanics of the existence of a “multiverse,” a collection of many universes, of which ours is only one, the science which suggests it is on fairly solid footing currently. Whether it is true or not, and regardless of whether or not we are one day able to establish evidence for such an assertion empirically, the community of individuals who support this idea are not supportive of other explanations, which may require that “consciousness is a necessary component of reality,” or necessitate some “ad hoc tweaks of the wave function.”

 

An exhibition currently taking place at the Cleveland Museum of Art, “Michelangelo: Mind of the Master,” according to a review by Eric Gibson in the November 18, Life and Arts section of the WSJ, “features 51 drawings by Michelangelo…Tracing the arc of his career…from anatomical illustrations, to figure studies…to architectural renderings.” Gibson makes particular note of how the “outlines reflect greater effort. They are darker, having been repeatedly gone over…as if Michelangelo regarded these contours as a kind of keynote, the essential element to be got right if everything else was to follow as it should,” remarking notably that the “intense energy and vigorous handling gives them an almost overwhelming power.”

 

While I also have experienced similar responses while attending art exhibitions by other great artists, each of these examples of extraordinary ideas and accomplishments in a variety of fields, suggest that there are clearly forces and energies at work in the world, which demand at least to be considered as belonging to possible explanations of immaterial components, as well as being suggestive of potentially revealing a dimension of our temporal existence that science and physics cannot satisfactorily address in a comprehensive way.

 

In a recent blog post, Brain and Mind, I express my own contention, “that while we are clearly dependent on a nominally functional nervous system to interact in a meaningful way with other sentient beings, the delicate balance of brain chemistry and neuronal functionality only provides a platform from which we can launch our lives as cognitive creatures. After decades of contemplating and studying the subject of human consciousness, what seems more likely to me, is that there are also other more subtle and less well understood forces at work in our lives, some of which we may eventually comprehend and predict reliably, and others that are essential to life, which are also essential for understanding why simply accumulating a sufficient number of neurons, or developing some advanced technology for processing computer data points, will not result in a conscious machine.”

I’m not suggesting that my own ideas enjoy any sort of parity with those of great scientists and artists from either recent history or the ancient past, only that we must continue to expand the realm of what we consider as possible, before a greater understanding can begin.