Tales from outer turnip head...

Tales from outer turnip head...

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday's post...

question everything...
the doubter will have the strongest faith

instigate change...
the revolutionary is the artist of society

practice acceptance...
the reed bends only to whip back into place

place yourself last...
the humble walk in a powerful position

learn compassion...
the greatest teachers advocate this

absorb and study the texts... 
for an individual must search
but let faith be an individual experience free from stagnation...
unhindered by others' intolerance

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day."

Wisdom from Pooh... again: Rains come, naturally, and can make days gloomy. Eeyore—lovable despite his gloom—finds a reason to whine but manages to endure. Owl might find solace by sitting inside with a book and a fire. I like the book and the fire option as it makes the gloomy cold days sorts of wonderful, but still the world outside is raw and can be unpleasant. But there is another side to those rainy days; rains fill rivers, and rivers flow, and "rivers know this; there is no hurry. We shall get there some day." -- A.A. Milne

"Rainy Days and [Tuesdays]"... Last Tuesday I was in a funk. (This story today starts on that day, and it ends nicely despite all this gloomy preface.) So, nonetheless, Tuesday's have been difficult for me lately for a number of known and some unknown reasons... Reasons aside, I was really in a funk... spinning.

There's got to be plenty of nature in the 100 Aker Wood: I get stuck in my head... and I talk a lot. I think the two are linked. But this post isn't about that introvert stuck at performing an extrovert's role in the world—the Pooh caught up in thinking like a Piglet and behaving like a Tigger—this post is about one of those times when we find the things we need most at the times we least expect to find them...

It's hard to find a moment of quiet while doing 60 down the highway: So I was driving away from a difficult day at school; driving toward an appointment I did not want to keep. I was driving away from a day in which I had done real good for a few others, but had done little to remedy my own funk. I found myself abusing a bit of my free time spinning up my brain into a tizzy of ineffective anxiety over things I have no control over, yet have a deep desire to affect nonetheless. Driving seems to afford me the time where I can do that.... And so I turned on the radio to find some peace in music. I found none in the buggle-gum pop of 92.3, the new-metal of 103.5, or the unpredictable progressive of 102.7. Did I dare a mid-day try at 90.3 (NPR) to be assaulted by medical-call in shows, or worse, the seemingly near-constant fund-raising of Alan Chartock? I dared... and pleasantly tuned in to hear a man talking about clouds; how stopping to look at nature was centering and peaceful. He was interesting to listen to. He seemed a quirky kook who might in fact be a sage. He suggested that if we all stopped to look up for a moment and lose ourselves in that moment of nature we might find some peace in our day. There seem to be so many sages who offer similar advice—simplify, observe, breathe—and this one was speaking to me as I drove myself down the road, slowing the spinning, quieting the anxiety, thinking about clouds...

2000 temples and shrines intended for sitting still: And immediately after the cloud-man's story, was the story of a writer/journalist who had found happiness in his busy-ness, as he traveled the world satiating his curiosity... and yet found there was never enough time to do it all. So he gave up much of his life, moved to Kyoto, Japan and began sitting in stillness. He said "it's in stillness that we prepare ourselves for dealing with the realities of life, which are often very difficult ones." I did that once, by accident; went to a spiritual place and sat in stillness when I was 20. I found a peace that allowed me to become a person I liked better than the one who went off on an adventure to see part of the world. My wife liked the me-who-came-back better, too (although she was not yet then my wife). There's something to the stillnesses of life...

It's both about the destination and the journey. Where we get to is contingent on how we get there: I arrived at my meeting after a fruitful but fraught-filled day immediately after the last notes of the NPR transition music was over. I arrived with a quieter, stiller mind, happily thinking that it felt a bit like providence that I had driven at the time of such a good 1/2 hour of NPR. The meeting surely went differently than if I had arrived with a head full of worries. We were productive and more focused. We seemed to talk with each other, not at the other. It was like Piglet and Tigger had been left back on the highway and Pooh was able to just have a proper Tuesday like any other good day in the 100 Aker Wood...

The following are excerpts from the talk show that I found so interesting along with a link at the bottom to a page where the TED talks are hosted if you feel interested to delve deeper:

NPR TED Talks on Nov. 13, 2015
Finding stillness in unexpected places.

Susan Cain wrote a book about how introversion is undervalued, Quiet.
CAIN: One answer lies deep in our cultural history. Western societies, and in particular the U.S., have always favored the man of action over the man of contemplation. But in America's early days, we lived in what historians call a culture of character where we still at that point valued people for their inner selves and their moral rectitude. And if you look at the self-help books from this era, they all had titles with things like "CHARACTER: The Grandest Thing In The World." And they featured role models like Abraham Lincoln who was praised for being modest and unassuming. Ralph Waldo Emerson called him a man who does not offend by superiority.

But then we hit the 20th century, and we entered a new culture that historians call the culture of personality. You know, what happened is we had evolved from an agricultural economy to a world of big business. And so suddenly, people are moving from small towns to the cities. And instead of working alongside people they've known all their life, now they are having to prove themselves in a crowd of strangers. So quite understandably qualities like magnetism and charisma suddenly come to seem really important. And sure enough the self-help books changed to meet these needs. And they start to have had names like "How To Win Friends And Influence People." And they feature, as their role models, really great salesmen. So that's the world we're living in today. That's our cultural inheritance.
Megan Washington is an Australian musician who finds peace through singing.
WASHINGTON: I have a problem. It's not the worst thing in the world - I'm fine. I'm not on fire. I know that other people in the world have far worse things to deal with, but for me, language and music are inextricably linked through this one thing and the thing is that I have a stutter. It might seem curious, given that I spend a lot of my life on the stage. One would assume that I'm comfortable in the public sphere and comfortable here speaking to you guys, but the truth is that I've spent my life up into this point and including this point, living in mortal dread of public speaking.

Public singing - whole different thing.
John Francis started not talking for a day, it lasted 17 years.
RAZ: When you were out there on your own, was your mind clear? Was it full? Was it quiet? Was it loud? Like, what do you remember?

FRANCIS: Yeah, there were - there's a couple of things that when I'm walking - and I might be thinking of the road and where I'm going. But at some point, I realized that as I'm walking, I'm not thinking about the road and where I'm going. In fact, I catch myself not thinking. And then I'm thinking again, of course. But so there are long periods of times that I was just being on the planet and breathing. And I think maybe breathing has a lot to do with that.

RAZ: After 17 years of silence, John Francis got so good at listening to other people that he'd almost become a different person. And the voice he once had - kind of angry, a little combative, unsure - it was gone.
Gavin Pretor-Pinney thinks we should all learn by keeping our heads in the clouds:
PRETOR-PINNEY: Well, you know, there are a lot of distractions (laughter). And in fact, there are probably more distractions these days than there've ever been. You know, you never stick on anything for long. And so I talk about cloud spotting being something that legitimizes doing nothing. And I had this the other day before a talk. I was kind of nervous. And I stepped outside and walked along, and then I saw a hummingbird come along and take some nectar from the blossom of a tree in front of me. And I just sort of locked on that and looked at it for a moment, and that was kind of enough to sort of center me. It's the same thing with - with clouds. I find that sometimes by paying attention to something outside of yourself is just enough for you to kind of find yourself centered again.
Pico Iyer gave up journalism and started sitting in stillness 27 years ago and it has changed his life in profound ways.
IYER: I think you clear the anxiety by sitting still and addressing it and seeing it come and go in some ways. But you're absolutely right. When I go and sit still at my desk as a writer for five hours every day, often those hours are agonizing. They're torture, and I think a monk would tell you that a large part of the time he spends alone in his cell is spent with doubt and darkness. But running around is never going to address those feelings very well. It's only going to evade them. And I think actually one of the things that you find if you sit still is those feelings of anxiety and all the sufferings and pains that every one of us know fall into a kind proportion.

Link to the NPR site with the TED videos.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life."

On March 18, 1939 James Thurber's short story masterpiece, The Secret Life of Wallter Mitty, was published in The New Yorker. Words like Mittyesque and Mittyish have become oft used adjectives for people who seem to resemble the ineffectual fantastical day-dreamer, Walter.
Although the two film adaptions of this story differ greatly from the original story, the central roll of a  character, Walter Mitty—who fantasizes heroic and triumphant moments sometimes at the expense of very real moments in his own life—is common to all three. I recently watched the most recent film adaption a second time, liking it even more than my first viewing—in which I felt "I really liked that movie a lot. What a great, fun, movie. Why didn't we see this when it was in theaters?"
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a 2013 romantic comedy-drama adventure cult film directed by, produced by, and starring Ben StillerGore Verbinski served as executive producer.[7][8] This is the second film adaptation of James Thurber's 1939 short story of the same name. The 1947 version was produced by Samuel Goldwynand directed by Norman Z. McLeod, with Danny Kaye playing the role of Walter Mitty.[9] The film premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 5, 2013.[10] The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was theatrically released on December 25, 2013 in North America, to generally mixed reception, and was a moderate box office success, however the film has gathered a cult following since its release.[11] (Wikipedia)
I want to avoid plot items and spoilers, but need to figure out how to convince people to go back a few years and see this movie that so many seemed to have missed. It's a film where the underdog has moments of success that we can share. It is not overly sickeningly sweet, but offers elements of optimism in the midst of seemingly overwhelming insurmountable odds. None of it feels real, and yet all of it feels completely real. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, eh? Ultimately, Mitty is supposed to be an ineffectual dreamer, but Ben Stiller (lead actor and director) manages to present us with an extremely likable Mitty who manages to DO something in his life beyond just dream. He comes off as heroically likable while somehow still playing the teased schoolboy who often gets picked last or who is overlooked completely.

The cinematographic shots are excellent. There is a quirkiness that works well with Mitty's day-dreaming. Locations from Greenland to Afghanistan make me want to travel and trek. It seems fitting for a plot that centers around the last print cover for Time-Life Magazine:  

Watch a trailer and then go rent the movie:

Sunday, November 8, 2015

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart” --Helen Keller: 
In a flash I knew that the word was the name of the process that was going on in my head. This was my first conscious perception of an abstract idea... --H.K.
Feelings: Abstract processes of our perception of the world around us: Wikipedia partly defines feelings as follows: 
The word was first used in the English language to describe the physical sensation of touch through either experience or perception. The word is also used to describe experiences other than the physical sensation of touch, such as 'a feeling of warmth' and of sentience in general... Perception of the physical world does not necessarily result in a universal reaction among receivers, but varies depending on one's tendency to handle the situation, how the situation relates to the receiver's past experiences, and any number of other factors. Feelings are also known as a state of consciousness, such as that resulting from emotions, sentiments or desires. (wikipedia)

Dr. Gloria Wilcox's Feelings Wheel, 2001
Serene-->Loving-->Peaceful: Feelings wheels have been around for a while. A quick search yields numerous variations, and it is not clear which is "borrowing" from which. Dr. Gloria Wilcox has been credited with a popularly used wheel developed in the early 2000s with her book Feelings: Converting Negatives to Positives. At the center of the feelings wheel are core feelings like scared and peaceful, joyful and sad, etc.

I'm at a loss for words: Feelings wheels and charts can be useful to help people find the right word to describe the abstract feelings they have in words that are understandable. Although these words do not always suffice, it is a start in identifying how we process some of the emotional cause and effect that makes us feel what we are in any given moment.

Forgiveness is the key: While Wilcox's wheel seems to help in identification, other wheels seem to intend a process. The one to the left helping us to move from negative feelings to positive ones by progressing from shame through forgiveness to love. The similarities to Wilcox's wheel are evident, but there is a directional purpose offered here. There seems to be more judgement in this second wheel, with the hope for progress to a positive emotion. Although Wilcox hoped to help people move from negatives to positives, her wheel was for identification in that process, while this second wheel builds in it's purpose to help draw the observer "south" to love emotions away from shame emotions. While Wilcox implies that Isolated equals Lonely equals Sad, this second wheel seems to imply some causation: Lonely is an indication of being Abandoned which causes Shame.

Emotions are so complex; its about our perceptions of the world around us: Interestingly, as I searched for authorship of these wheels, or even the impetus behind their various constructions (finding little, by the way), I kept discovering variations on the theme. This next wheel seems to combine the two wheels above for a much larger and complex set of offerings:

Good literature helps us explore our own feelings about the world around us: The most recent wheel to splash the inter-webs is one attributed to an english teacher, Kaitlin Robbs, who wished her students to employ better vocabulary in their writing. Her idea is to start at the center of the wheel, identify the general feeling you wish to explore, and then move outward until you find the right specific word for the occasion. It's an interesting creative writing answer to the ideas popularized by Wilcox et al.

Peacefully Artful Displays of Rocks: Good writing is about people, I think; People who feel real. And it is in our complexities and abstractnesses that we establish ourselves in this world uniquely as what we are. Our complexities and abstractnesses make us so much more interesting than say, a pile of artfully displayed rocks (although rocks can be delightfully interesting to look at and described, there is little room for development or transformation there). So below I offer Kaitlin Robbs' feelings wheel for your perusal, amusement, and illumination. Use it as you wish...

Sunday, November 1, 2015

"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive..."

Necessities, not luxuries: The title of today's entry is a quote from the Dalai Lama. Read it again while breathing slowly and deeply. Take the words in and let them sit for a moment...

"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive." --Dalai Lama 

Basics: When we speak of what should be coverable by a "minimum wage" we often list food, clothing and shelter. I think there should be more. I continuously ask my students if we should be adding adequate health care and education to the post secondary level to that list, hoping to provoke a questioning response. Although the intangibles of love and compassion cannot be quantified nor guaranteed, nor do they add to a "cost" applicable to a minimum wage, I have long believed (and know now deeply in my heart), that these are also essential for our survival as something more than beasts...

We must love one another or die:
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
Tuesdays are my toughest days these days: I came to know W. H. Auden's Poem, September 1, 1939 when I read Mitch Album's Tuesdays with Morie. Morie loved Auden's poetry; as he approached death, Morie began teaching his living wisdom to those around him, and especially to his former student Mitch. Morie lived a difficult and blessed life. He saw the world clearly and was unafraid to speak his heart and mind to his students and loved ones. The verse that Morie offered (according to Album's rendering of the tale) is reproduced above. It is somewhat controversial; Auden seemed to dislike this stanza and especially the last line of it. He grew to hate his poem, trying to keep it from publication stating it was flattering to himself and his readers, calling it trash, and proclaiming shame in having written it. He allowed it to be included in one anthology years later, changing the last line of the stanza from "We must love one another or die" to "We must love one another and die" (my emphasis). The meaning behind each of these lines is substantially different. The first, a forceful mandate on how we need to progress through the hell of the chaos around us. We are presented with a choice. Love and endure, or else we die. It is sentimental, and in my opinion, excellent. The second writing (after being deleted all together for a while) offers a softer, fatalistic progression. There is no choice offered, love and die, not love or die. Either way, Auden demands that we love in order to progress out of the darkness in the world. The poem became widely popular despite Auden's attempts to keep it out of print. I offer below his original version for your enjoyment. We must love one another or die...

September 1, 1939
W. H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.