Monday, March 28, 2011

You are not in the world. The world is in you.

A self-portrait merged in photoshop with an image of Josh's Pond in CT taken last fall,.

Deepak Chopra says in The Shadow Effect: "Become who you really are, and from that moment on darkness is no longer anything you can identify with." From then on, you are at peace:
"You are not in the world. The world is in you."

The beech tree is the last to let go and admit that spring is here.

In the woods behind our house, 3/28/11
Musing as I walked in the woods today:
In all of Nature, the beech leaf is the last to let go and admit that spring is here.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The geese return...Spring is here!

Photo taken in Concord just above Sewall's Falls on the Merrimack, 3/20/11
"One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, 
cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring."
From A Sand Country Almanac by Aldo Leopold

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reflections and Indra's Net

I took this photograph at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston last month. If you look carefully, you can see me at the instant I took the photo in the upper right hand corner of the image. But it is not really me but a reflection, reflecting not reality but a digital image. That makes sense in Eastern philosophy where self is considered an illusion: Nothing in and of itself but merely a reflection of all that surrounds us. The Rig Veda has a name for these reflections: Indra's Net.

At every crossing of the threads there is an individual.
And every individual is a crystal bead.
And every crystal bead reflects
not only the light from every
other crystal in the net
but also every other reflection
throughout the entire universe.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Important sign-posts in life decay without vigilance

The corner of Jillet Road & Route 9, Barrington, NH   03/21/11

Important sign-posts in life decay without vigilance...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Vernal Equinox

Moon rising through the Black Cherry Branches, Jenness Pond   03/19/11
The moon rises with a flare
Revealing a new season:
The vernal equinox
The start of Spring

Arousing a stirring in the body
And a yearning in the mind
A signal from the fertility goddess:
It’s time to plant seeds.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When I grow old

Merrimack River, Concord NH, February 2011

When I Grow Old
When I grow old, I want to dwell in a cabin by the Merrimack.
And like an ancient Hindu, sit in silent meditation by the river,
cleansing myself in Her sacred waters each day.

With the end of my life's journey in sight
the horizontal realm of my having world is receding:
Things I used to cherish are falling away:

Some things I have discarded by choice:
Quitting smoking was the worst, leaving my mistress of enchantment.
Quitting eating fish and animals was easier but I still have cravings,
yet learning to walk lighter on the earth is worth the sacrifice.

But in most things, I have no choice:
Faltering vision and hearing going to hell,
Strength and memory getting weaker all the time.
Jobs and hobbies peter out while my friends pass on.
My dick becoming a bully stick for the dog.

Yet, amazingly, as all these things I used to have ebb away–
Here I am… not only still here but free at last:
Relieved of the burden of carrying the weight of the world,
Now it’s time to learn just to be.

I’m psyched to start!
I want to run toward death passionately,
like a lusty teenager with his girl racing toward the swimming hole,
discarding his clothes and inhibitions along the way.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reality is stranger than fiction

Hampton Beach 3/13/11
Looks like scene from the American Southwest but it's really a horse rider at Hampton Beach trying to get a head start on Spring.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Light and Shadow

Friday was a perfect, sunny winter day: Intense shadows radiated from every tree, black against the white snow.  On impulse, I decided to document this austere beauty with my camera while taking a drive around the lake I live on. 
My conscious motivation was pure and unemotional: just observe the interplay of shadow and light. I knew I was following in the spirit of Eastern thought where yin and yang are often described in similar terms as sunlight playing over elements in nature. Yin (in the literal sense) is the dark area shaded by the mountain while yang (in the literal sense) is the brightly lit sunny place: “As the sun moves across the sky, yin and yang gradually trade places with each other, revealing what was obscured and obscuring what was revealed.”⁠1
Eastern thought is so refreshing, I thought – as I drove around the lake, stopping here and there to take photographs – compared to our own mainstream news and politicians who rarely try to find balance between opposing elements of a story; instead issues are presented in  black or white terms as either  good or evil, pleasant or unpleasant, beautiful or ugly, true or false.

I continued to muse as I drove around the lake: Choosing between opposites limits us in many ways, collectively as well as personally. If we are forced, as we are in Western society, to choose between dichotomies, our ego-centered consciousness tends to  identify with the positive side while dissociating itself from the negative side.

This  splitting creates a real problem. The negative parts of ourselves that we deny become suppressed, over time, to the point that that they are purged from our conscious mind; at that point, according to Jung, our repressed feelings and memories become a reservoir of human darkness which he called the shadow. We all carry such a shadow, he said, and the less conscious we are of it, “the blacker and denser it is."⁠2

I marveled at the elaborate deviousness of the human mind as I transferred my digital photos into my computer.  After reviewing them, one image stood out: my photograph of the old twisted apple tree with its distorted shadow was by far the best, the most abstract and mysterious – but it also had a strange, ominous feel to it.

What was it about this particular tree: Is it just the nature of the composition or is there, perhaps, a Jungian explanation – a personal shadow lurking behind the tree shadow?  It was true, in a general sense, that I had a personal connection to this tree that I did not have with the rest. The twisted apple tree happened to stand in an old abandoned orchard that had once belonged to my grandmother. But that was that.

Or was it?

As I sat in reverie, more forgotten memories started filtering into my consciousness like recycled water through a filter. I remembered helping my father cut this field when I was  a very young teenager, around 12 or 13 years of age. While he drove the tractor with the mowing machine with its 5’ cutter bar of sharp triangular knives, I cut the grass he couldn’t reach, close by the apple trunks, with my sickle.

Suddenly with an agonizing, caterwauling screech,  a cat sprang out of the high grass, falling victim along with the hay to the gnashing mowing machine knives, and ran bouncing in an exaggerated manner, as if running over red-hot coals, into my grandmother’s barn. There my father and I cornered it and discovered one hind leg dangling, attached by only skin and ligament. Blood was everywhere.

My grandmother was in a convalescent facility, recuperating from a fractured hip. The cat was a barn cat who was expected to fend for herself.  My father wrapped the cat in an old shirt and told me to hold her tightly and not let go. The cat was still screaming and, needless to say, by that time I was crying, too. 

He took a carving knife he had found in the kitchen and attempted to finish the amputation. But the cat fought mightily, clawing, biting, wiggling, writhing valiantly attempting to avoid the knife which, when it did make contact, was too dull to cut cleanly.

After three attempts, which seemed like an eternity, the leg fell free. The cat clawed her way out of my grasp and beat a retreat out the door, leaving behind a bloody trail. My father and I stood there motionless in the sudden silence, drenched in our own sweat, splattered with blood, attempting to come to terms with what had just happened so suddenly and unexpectedly.

After a few moments, my father reassured me again that the cat would be all right, we cleaned up in the kitchen and went back to work cutting hay. Later that summer the now three legged cat was back in the field hunting mice as if nothing had happened  My father and I soon stopped talking about the incident and it soon receded into the dark reservoir of my subconscious – until now.

The rational part of my memory of coping with the cat accident–which took place in only 5 minutes of my life over 50 years ago –  seems more illusionary than any of my dreams.  But, now after recovering that memory, the emotional part of me feels like I’m just a kid again back in that barn with my father: I can see the dangling leg, smell the blood, and taste the fear.

Jung’s shadow exists, that’s for sure, and the more unconscious it is, the blacker and denser it is.  It makes one ponder: What is more real, the real event or its shadow?


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Take a Deep Breath

Photograph taken on Pleasant Pond, Deerfield, NH: February 2011

This photograph and following essay was published in the Concord Monitor 2/27/11

Never have I seen the Concord Monitor editorial page so deadly serious. Gone is the usual back and forth of political debate, often spiced with a bit of humor and understanding for the other. Now it seems like high noon at the OK coral – complete with modern day cowboys carrying guns. Threats of retaliation and fear of Armageddon have sucked the oxygen from the air.

It’s hard for politicians, government workers, and even occasional columnists like me to stand up and be counted: As soon as you stick up your head, you become the target. The truth is we have all become prisoners locked inside the rigid cocoon of our respective ideological camps, desperately trying to pretend that our partisan political slogans are real solutions to our problems.

It’s time to take a break. And more than just a kindergarten timeout! What we really need to do, following the prescription of most religions, is to set aside a special day of rest and reflection to ponder our current political stalemate.

It seems clear our current belligerent behavior will not lead to positive solutions but only more acrimony, bitterness, and a deepening paralysis of the body politic. Neuroscience agrees, telling us that walling ourselves off in rigid camps and spouting programmed answers based on abstract theory does not promote new learning; in fact, it does just the opposite, poisoning the well-springs of our creativity.

In addition, behavioral scientists have found that learning is impossible in a pervasive atmosphere of fear such as we now generate with our overheated political rhetoric which is often nothing more than fear mongering: one side suggesting that if things don’t change, we will be killed in our bed by ax welding criminals while the other side says we will die in our beds from a lack of affordable healthcare.

If our government is to work, we need a radically different approach. Behavioral science has proven that people learn and work together best when we appeal to their strengths, not their fears.

Carl Rogers used that approach in the 1960s to heal people in psychotherapy He didn’t believe that the client was broken and needed to be fixed; Instead he believed that each person already has the capacity to heal herself if she was treated with total genuineness, empathy and unconditional positive regard.  It worked then and, I believe, it would uplift our political discourse now.

We also need to start nurturing our unique human ability to think outside the box through the power of sudden insight, or what neuroscientists call the ‘Aha!’ moment. Neuroscience has discovered that not only does our most profound learning takes place during these epiphanies of sudden insight but that this type of creative problem solving results in “the most intense pleasure the brain can experience.”

Epiphanies should be the natural birthright of every American but finding time to relax and daydream, a necessary prerequisite to promote these higher states of learning, is a difficult goal to achieve in our hyper-paced, 24/7 world.

Because the potential rewards are so great, not just to us as individuals, but to our state, this is an area where Governor Lynch could make a huge difference – while at the same time, continuing NH’s hallowed tradition of not spending any money.

Therefore, I hereby propose that Governor Lynch declare a special day of reflection, effective immediately, to henceforth be known as The Day of Epiphany.

I know this idea sounds crazy. But there is one sure fire way to find out if it works: try it for yourself. Take a day off. Go down to the lake, pull your deck chair out on the ice, sip on a mint julep…just relax and let your mind wander.

When you least expect it, out of the clear blue winter sky, a lightning bolt will strike, and in the flash of that ‘Aha!’ moment, the old political quagmire will start to fade away.

Take a deep breath.

You will find yourself leaving the old abstract world of fear and harsh judgment and entering into the particulars of the here-and-now, a living process evolving in real time along a constantly ebbing and flowing continuum.  Rather than the old either/or dichotomy, the new world is one of both/and where you discover that you can have your cake and eat it too.

You can revel in your liberty while, at the same time, taking responsibility for your loved ones and your community; you can honor your love of freedom while, at the same time, willingly curtailing it to help out your neighbors when they are in need, taking solace in knowing that if the tables were turned, they would do the same for you. You discover that a new day of possibility is dawning.

I know this sounds like pie-in-the-sky lunacy but such a vision could become the new reality for us all if we took our hopes and dreams seriously enough and followed Carl Rogers’ guidelines of treating everyone with unconditional positive regard.

And what Carl Rogers said about individuals also holds true of our community: There is nothing broken we need to fix if each one of us gets personally involved: stepping up to become an active participant in the conversation. If we all join in dialogue with each other – treating each person with total genuineness, empathy and unconditional positive regard – the problems we fear are unfixable will dissolve in front of our eyes by the magic of mutual caring and understanding.

The only way we can fail is if too many of us remain standing on the sidelines, waiting for someone else to solve our problems, allowing the shrillest among us to bring out the worst in all of us.