Wednesday, April 30, 2008

There's Nothing Like a Good Leash-Free Adventure


Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
-Helen Keller

My dog Captain likes a good adventure. A good leash-free adventure that involves wide open spaces, lots of scents and lots of other animals to chase. There's something about the chase that's ingrained in his being, like his need to run full speed, just because he knows he has the capacity to. He innately knows that he has energy to discharge and so, as we are nearing the end of our jaunt, sometimes he'll do 6 or 7 extra laps, because he knows that we're nearing the car, and he wants to expend as much energy as he can before the "walk" is through.
I can only observe this by being a bystander.

He begins, though, at a leisurely pace. Nose to the ground, he's gathering information. Sensing there have been many other animals here before him, He needs to case the joint so that he'll be prepared for what ever he might scare up: horses, deer, or an occasional fox. On one occasion, I saw him get nearer to the fox than he's ever been, but the fox took shelter in an island of brush that was thicker than my dog could enter, which left him running in circles around it, sure that he'd just chased a young fox which had now disappeared. It's a cat and mouse game, but this "mouse of a fox" has to experience lessons like these in his lifetime, It's natures way. He learned that low-lying brush is a refuge when you're being chased by a much larger predator.
And there's nothing like a near-miss to launch you forward.

Now the deer he comes upon are another matter all together. He may see 4 or 5 of them in the distance. They stare each other down in stillness for a moment, until Captain, raising his right front leg in point, breaks the silence and they flutter their cotton tails in unison and harmoniously flee. They're graceful in their flight, as they flow rhythmically forward, four or five strides, then a great big beautiful leap. For although they are long-legged, swift animals of flight, they still have to learn the same lessons as the low-to-the-ground fox. They've learned from their own individual experiences that they may need that extra propulsive leap to insure their successful flight from confrontation. They've learned to "skip a few steps" but only through the experience of almost being caught could they have learned that lesson.

My Grandmother lived to be 89, so she had lots of experiences under her leopard print belt-Lots of near misses.When giving advice, she'd say "I've already made the mistakes, so you don't have to." Although we value the wisdom of our elders a great deal, there's something innate in us that has to experience it ourselves to really learn the lesson, to really feel its wisdom. I have to remind myself of this regularly, when my kids resist the advice I can't help giving. I have to take a step back, and put myself in their flip-flops at their ages, and remember: They're the only ones who can propel their own big beautiful leaps forward.
As much as I'd like to "save them a few steps,"
there's something about the chase that's ingrained in their being.
Like their dog Captain, they're ready for a good leash-free adventure.

And I can only observe this by being a bystander.

"There are three kinds of men: The one that learns by reading, The few who learn by observation, and The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence to see for themselves."

Tell a Friend

-Will Rogers

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Mirror, The Neuron and The Umbilical Cord

One of the most awe inspiring moments in a human being's experience is the birth of a child. One of the longest moments is the one which follows. The one in which the obstetrician lifts the child, still attached by it's life-giving umbilical cord, and says "It's a......" And the moments that follow, each more awesome than the next. The information you receive, as you gaze ever intently into the soul of this yet perfect little being, is comparable to everything you've learned thus far. And this new little being's awe, as he looks into your soul, cannot be matched, until he gazes into a soul of his own creation.

And as we gaze, in the days and weeks that follow,  into the depths of this new little being, eager to know what is yet to be known, our intentions  become one. The child, inherently begins to mirror us as we coo.We purse our lips, he purses his. We raise our eyebrows, he follows.  It's called mirroring, and neuroscientists have found that this mimicking is caused by a small set of neurons. The more we learn about these neurons, the more clear it becomes, how vital they are to that which makes us human: empathy, language, interdependency, and the list goes on and on. We are hardwired, then, it seems, to connect, and to depend on one another.

Our very survival relies on the abilities these neurons provide us, to have our needs met, and indeed to follow convention itself. Herd behavior is the perfect example of how a decision by one to flee when a threat is perceived, ignites the same urge in others near by. It is a mechanism which protects the group from predators. Similar examples can be found in consumerism like trendsetting and trend-following. 
I've even heard it called "The Oprah Effect".
 
Mass Hysteria and Mob Mentality, are the other sides of the coin.

 There's the Bandwagon Effect, and Groupthink, and on and on and on. Mirroring abounds, compounding, and compounding Ala' MC Escher. 



But herein lies the kicker: We can create the reflection. Consider  the immortal words of Mahatma Gandhi: 

"Doesn't the New Testament Say that if your enemy strikes you on the right cheek, offer him the left?...I have thought about it a great deal, and I suspect he (Christ) meant that you must show courage. Be willing to take a blow; several blows, to show that you will not strike back, nor will you be turned aside, and when you do that, it calls on something in human nature, that makes hatred for you decrease and his respect  increase. I think Christ grasped that, and I have seen it work"

"Be the Change You Wish To See in the World"

The truth of the matter is that attitude is contagious. Not only to those who look up to us,those who depend on us for survival, for direction; but to everyone around us, everyone we come in contact with is effected by our attitude.  What goes around doesn't really come around, it ricochets; in a nanosecond it reflects right back at us. 
Attitude is a boomerang. Whatever you project not only injects the other, but it seeps right out and injects us right back.

"I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor."
Henry David Thoreau

We can consciously effect our own attitude. And we know that attitude is contagious. Attitude is like the life-giving umbilical cord from me to you. Can we be conscious then, of creating an attitude in ourselves that we can feel comfortable disseminating?

"People of Character do the right thing, not because they think they can change the world, but because they refuse to be changed by the world."
-Michael Josephson
Ethicist
Creator of "Character Counts"

Attitude is Everything.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Brain, The Bridge, and The Barefoot Traveler

"The great tragedy of science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact." 
Thomas Huxley

The Brain is an utterly amazing thing. It has two hemispheres with two completely different functions. Although there is no way we'll ever know the full magnitude of the brain's functions, what we do know is that each side processes information entirely differently.

 The left side approaches information in an entirely linear fashion, methodically sifting through information, categorizing, stacking, labeling; placing things in neat little piles. Lots of individual pieces of information. There are plenty of opposing piles: past, future: good, bad: delicious,foul. All it sees is extremes.

 The right side, however, receives information in a much different fashion. It's much more carefree. It sees all of that stimuli out there, but it sees it as a whole. A beautiful landscape. It senses: It experiences: It feels what it sees. Everything is connected, so there's just one pile. It is here and now, in the present moment, Alive.

In my book, it's marvelous proof that our existence is no accident. The brain, indeed the human body as a whole, is creativity  in action; beyond the scope of what we'll ever be able to thoroughly understand, yet we understand  it enough to be awed. As much as we may think we are dominantly left brained or right brained individuals, we always have the ability to prove ourselves wrong. For you see, there is another part of the brain I forgot to mention. It's the Corpus Callosum. It serves as a bridge between the two hemispheres, responsible for communication between the two, and some say for the phenomenon of intuition itself. For there isn't a scientist alive who serenely accepts that the complex computer which is our brain, can be fully understood. And there isn't an Artist alive who can accept that the perfect landscape can be created with anything but a hand and an imagination.

 But there are Artistic Scientists out there, thanks to the Corpus Callosum. Scientists who have attempted to understand the brain in non-conventional ways. Some, who by the grace of God were given the opportunity through non-conventional, albeit creative means. Take the neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor. She was "given" a stroke, and lived to tell the tale. She actually felt the function of her left brain diminish in slow motion, and was  blessedly "stuck" for a period of time, in her right brain. She felt separate from nothing, connected to everything, so much so that she felt too large for her body. She fully recovered, but emerged convinced, that the right brain is the place to be more often.
 
And we can physically choose to  be-in our right brain by choice. We can consciously  cross that bridge  when we come to it. The bridge that releases us from past and future as we enter the present moment,where we have the opportunity to feel a great sense of connectedness, and beauty, and without the constant categorizing  the left side delivers, we feel the oneness of  the beautiful landscape of which we're a part, of which we create.
We Sense.
We Experience.
We Feel.
And those are just some of the Highlights Life has to Offer. So cross that bridge whenever you come to it. It's not the Rickety Bridge you might think, It's freshly paved. It's so smooth you can easily cross it barefoot.
 Just like you came into this world.

"He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed." 
-Albert Einstein

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Michelangelo's Pieta and the Special Olympians' Magnum Opus


Recently, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Italy, the country of my origin. Having been a lifelong dream of mine, It was with great anticipation that I prepared for my pilgrimage. We traveled all across the country, savoring every moment; every sight, every taste, every smell; every climate change, every interaction, every doppio espresso.

 But one of my favorite moments was when we experienced Michelangelo's works in The Vatican city. I've long been consumed with The Pieta, the only work which he actually signed. Just the thought of it aligns me with the Blessed Mother's Role in Christ's ultimate Magnum Opus, His Masterpiece, or Great Work.
Indeed, The Pieta can be considered Michelangelo's Magnum Opus, as it is the only sculpture he actually signed.( I have read that, the other works, he felt were unfinished.)When it became clear that we were getting close to the Actual Pieta, I felt as if I would be overcome; becoming witness to the Blessed Mother's anguish, as she holds the body of her crucified son. But I wasn't overcome, in the way I thought I might be. It was beautiful; 
I was witness to her Magnum Opus.
I have read that Michelangelo said his role, as an artist in stone was just to "remove the excess stone" to free the figure that already existed within it. That is quite a concept to consider.
There is a Magnum Opus within every stone, within every Being, yet to be revealed.

I once read the story of a Special Olympics event, where the contestants were running in a race.
 They all had Down's Syndrome. The gun went off, and they all sprung to their feet with great anticipation, their eager spirits, enthusiastically, contagiously following footstep upon footstep, when suddenly, a single contestant misstepped, and in slow motion,tumbled to the ground. Without a single misstep, the other contestants, realizing he had fallen, shifted their direction, contagiously, and began running now in the direction of their fallen teammate. They addressed his needs, their purpose now shifting, and together, arm in arm they all crossed the finish line together, their Magnum Opus.
A Magnum Opus is a Magnum Opus is a Magnum Opus.

 Michelangelo's triumph is no greater than The Special Olympiads. There is Something Miraculous in Each one of us. And as we make our own personal pilgrimages, We may discover our own Magnum Opus, and those of others along the way.

"We should say to each: So you know who you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo a Beethoven. You Have the Capacity for Anything."
                                ~ Pablo Casals

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Pendulum Effect, and Optimism

Have you ever walked into a clock shoppe and noticed the pendulums all swinging together in perfect rhythmic harmony? It's true, when placed together, clocks with pendulums will all "fall together" into rhythmic unison. It's really amazing when you think about it. Here are these mechanical instruments, and something draws their functions into harmony. But what is that something? I honestly don't know if I could really understand it if it was explained to me, but having seen it, I can accept it as true. Sometimes we don't have to even have proof, necessarily, to believe something as true. We can see it written or hear it said, and we just have a deep inner knowing that it is so. It can be said to resonate with us. 

This Phenomenon of spontaneous synchronization is called entrainment, and it exists in many different schools of thought. In physics, it is described as:

 "..the tendency for two oscillating bodies to lock into phase so that they vibrate in harmony..."

Entrainment exists in numerous forms, from the synchronization of fireflies illuminating to the harmonious resonance of mosquitoes wings flapping. Girls going off to college experience a synchronization of their menstrual cycles to those of their roommates. Our brainwaves will even entrain to the musical rhythms we introduce.

The author Paul Pearsall, in his studies of heart transplant patients notes the amazing tendency of a single cardiac cell to throb in unison, not only with another cell that it sides up against, but indeed with the cells of another heart! Before the Transplant takes place, the two hearts when placed alongside each other, will begin to beat in unison. (the heart continues to beat, even after it is removed, for a short period of time.) This information leaves me awestruck. What's more, is that, individuals, when holding hands together, before long, will share cardiac rhythms: their hearts will beat in unison. 

As a massage therapist, I have also found that, not only do the heart rates entrain, but the breath rates of the client and therapist do as well. Knowing this, I must be certain that my state of mind is a good one, so that I do not convey any negativity. I must center myself before beginning, and I pay special attention to the Music I use as background, because , you guessed it, there is such a thing as 
Biomusicology
§  the synchronization of organisms to an external rhythm.

You may consider this interesting, and find it awe inspiring, or you may just chalk it up to science, and be done with it.
 But consider this:
 Consider the practice and concept of Optimism.
If entrainment exists in so many forms, where one form of energy entrains itself to another, in a beautiful example of Nature's interwoven cloth,
then
 How might one's state of mind, and general mode of being affect another's? 

Do you notice how the emotional climate of the room physically changes when someone walks into the room with a joyous baby?
It becomes transformed.

Optimism is contagious.
But so is pessimism.
Optimism Feels good.
Pessimism, Not so much.

When a pendulum swings, it has two extremes.
Optimism Feels Good. Pessimism, Not so much.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

When Life Hands You Magazines, and Unwanted Catalogs.......

Not long ago, I began the practice of collaging. I had stacks and stacks of magazines and books, and began cutting images and words for the purpose of creating a brochure. It reminded me of my days in Catholic school when we were required, fairly regularly to create collages. I really use to love it. Give me a project! any project, and I could show you just how much I really knew. Just How much was really percolating inside me. I could lose myself for hours cutting out pictures and words, making poems and images and generally just expressing my inner nature.

I think it's a valuable tool for unearthing all those thoughts and ideas that have remained unexpressed. It has become an enjoyable and enlightening pastime for me, and I find it quite relaxing. When the magazines and catalogs begin building, and it's time to recycle them, I sit down with my special scissors in hand and begin cutting. Creating collages bring back one of the old joys of childhood, and brings to the forefront a healthy life practice I know of called
"Letting Go."

"The hardest part is what to leave behind. It's time to Let Go."
-Winnie the Pooh

Collaging, for me, represents "cutting away" all that isn't serving me, and holding onto only that which does serve.

When my session is through, I have a nice little pile of images and concepts. I add them to my shoebox.

What is left over, I Don't hold on to any longer. I let go of it. Letting go of what doesn't serve me any longer, I Recycle.
In doing so, I feel like I've made the most out of the magazines I've ordered. I've read them, I've taken out of them what I needed, and then I recycle what's left over.
It lightens my load, and reduces the clutter in my home and in my mind at the same time. Two Birds with one stone. Well, actually 3. It satisfies my need for self expression, and my need to create. O.k. 4. But do you see it's value?

Now it's time to begin the actual collage. I begin selecting words and phrases I am drawn to. Inevitably, a theme emerges. I place the word or phrase that seems to be the "Title" and build around it. I choose images and words which apply, and before you know it, I have a very visual definition of a theme from deep inside me. My pages have become uplifting guides for me; reminders of what my soul yearns for, and just how much is really percolating inside me.
It's also a gentle reminder
that the Master Recycler is capable of one Robust Brew.

And that's quite a wake-up call.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

"Be Bold and Mighty Forces Will Come to Your Aid" or Walk Right Through


"I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship.”
-Louisa May Alcot
Have you ever purposely walked in the rain? You've committed yourself to a walking regimen and you're disciplined enough to stick to it even when it's raining.
I'm impressed!
I have a neighbor who walks his dog rain or shine. What a lucky dog! And what a wise neighbor. He's committed to Walking right through it.

He adjusts his clothing and footwear to the conditions, and he walks right through it.

A good anorak will protect you from the rain that falls, and keep you dry underneath. Oh you'll feel the rain as it falls, but a good anorak is made from a prepared fabric, so the rain, or the sleet or the snow, will roll right off. And a good pair of rubber boots will protect your feet just the same. They are made from one solid piece of rubber, so the likelihood of them leaking is slim to none. And they usually have a good tread on them which allows you to power through the mud without slipping.

But when you are out and about, disciplined as you are to your regimen, do you avoid the puddles, and the mud? Or do you walk right through it, secure in the knowledge that your solid rubber boots have got you covered?

I recently bought a pair of rubber boots, so that I'd have no excuse for not walking my dog in the rain. But when I was walking the other day, I noticed something. Even though I was wearing these great-fun, turtle-covered, green knee-high rain-boots, I was still avoiding the puddles and the mud. I must have associated, somehow, somewhere, puddles and mud with undesirable conditions. I certainly didn't see them that way as a child. In fact, I welcomed them.

Children are wonderfully resilient, and they instinctively know their rain boots are too. They know that a garden hose will wash away any mud that has clung to their boots, so they happily use them as they were intended. They walk right through. They know that tomorrow, they'll be starting with fresh boots again.
As adults though, sometimes we forget that we can walk through the rain, and still come out dry. We just have to choose to stay dry. We choose it by allowing the experiences to occur without avoiding them, and surrender to the fact that it's raining. When we fully allow ourselves to experience the unpleasantries that befall us, but choose non-attachment,choose not to cling, we are allowing our boots and our anoraks to do the job they were made to do. We trust they won't leak, because they're prepared for the job they are about to do. And we know that the garden hose will do its job when we return, and we'll be starting with fresh boots again tomorrow.

When we choose non-attachment, we are impervious, in a sense. When we choose non-attachment, in essence we are choosing to remain in the present moment, which is where there is no past or no future. It is, a "calmly resting, quiet trust", as Basil King, who quoth, "Be Bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid," spoke when referring to overcoming fear.

It is much easier to practice non-attachment when we practice being present. Because, we are moving on, moving away from, what was, and into what is. And
What is
Is really all there is.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
-Winston Churchill
Related Posts:
(But then again, Everything is Connected)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Rubber Boots, Seances, and Stray Cats: The Joys of Childhood




They remind me of running through puddles,
And swimming in May
Collecting rainwater in mayonnaise jars
To rinse the "Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific" from your hair

They remind me of barefoot-running
on gravel-covered roads
And outdoors without sweaters
And wearing shorts as soon as the daffodils sprung
playing "Spud" on the front lawn

And sleeping outdoors
On Mother's Day Eve
3 houses of kids
Gathering tent stakes
And sleeping bags
And pillows and flashlights
Pop the popcorn
And We're free!

Walking down to the Convenient store
Before it closes
And combining our change
To buy the night's snacks-
Potato chips and candy, packets of Kool-Aid
Just enough for water balloons

Catching the first fireflies of the season
Watching them glow
Playing 2 A.M. kickball
Between neighboring back yards
Until we get caught

Seances in the glow
Of the flashlight-filled tent
Not really scared
The Ouija board writes
"Bring Back the Soul of Mabel Able"

And one by one
Away we drift
We have an alarm clock
We have a plan

Sneaking down the street
In the early a.m.
to borrow flowers
From neighbors yards
To present to our Mothers
In leaking tinfoil vases

The Lilacs in our own yard
Are about to bloom
And soon we'll be picking dandelions
And placing them under our chins
To see if they glow yellow
And to see if we like butter

And not soon after
We race to find
The turned-to-fluff dandelions
Blowing their seeds about
and spreading dandelion cheer

Getting our Pool passes
Stitching them tightly on to our New Bathing suits
Rolling them tightly
in our towels
With the copper-colored pool passes showing
To flash at the attendant
and Run to the locker Rooms

Slathering yourself with Coppertone Butter
To help your tan along
and sneaking little lemon-shaped bottles
from the fridge to squeeze
lemon juice in your hair

Swimming then
and challenging each other
to dive off the high dive
straight on till dinner time

Running through the yard
Bare-foot
Under the Logan Berry Tree
Stepping on Fallen Berries
Turning our feet Blue

Finding fallen Robin's eggs
Feeling sad for them
Wondering where they came from
And why they fell

Swinging on the tire swing
Making Forts outside
Playing Tag
And Hide and Seek

Not joining the Library's summer Reading Club
But checking out Books on the Loch-Ness Monster
And Big Foot
And The Guinness Book of World Records
Getting Grossed-out by the World's Longest Fingernails
And Wondering just Where Nessie really is
And if the Foot-Prints are Real

We found
Our Stray Cat "Cola" in the back yard
Having Kittens
We didn't even know She was pregnant

What Joy!

We named them Pepsi and Coca
And made them a Bed
From A Cardboard Box and Towels

Soon They'll be grown
And Become Stray Cats on Their Own
We'll feed them Baloney
And say "They Followed Us Home!"

Mom Says It's Time Already
To Order Next Year's Uniform
Rats!
Find My Yellow Rubber-Duckie Book Bag

September's Here
And The Pool is Closed
Bed time Returns
And We Begin Again.


I pull on My bright Green Rubber Boots with a deep sigh, and a Spring in my step, and go out to walk my dog and greet the April Morning, and the Puddles and the Mud, and Smile.
Maybe a Stray Cat will follow us home.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Not Against:With

"Always fall in with what you're asked to accept. Take what is given, and make it over your way. My aim in life has always been to hold my own with whatever's going. Not against: with."
Robert Frost


Every song, Every book, every magazine article, has a hook. So does every fisherman. Without a hook, you are much less likely to catch a fish. When baited with something the fish is interested in, the fish comes hither, and begins to investigate. It takes just a small taste and before you know it, he's hooked. He struggles and struggles, all the while, only becoming more deeply hooked. When the fisherman begins to reel on the other end, the deal is sealed. If only he hadn't investigated that tasty morsel. But, it's man's nature to seek sustenance, and it's in the nature of the fish to seek sustenance. Their nature's intersect.

Just like the "hook" of a familiar song, advertising jingle, or sales pitch, or first line of a novel, It's the hooks in our lives that bring us closer to what we're suppose to be learning. If a song doesn't have a great hook, (a catchy line or melodic phrase), you aren't likely to listen further, and find out what the song's really about. How likely are you to continue reading a book, if the first paragraph doesn't grab your attention? There are lots of hooks in our lives. Some we swallow willingly, and others that snag us unaware. Both cause us great struggle, but just as the fish realizes it's no use in struggling, and surrenders to the hand of the fisherman, so must we.

Once we're hooked, and we realize we're hooked, swimming against the stream is fruitless.

It usually happens when we're swimming aimlessly along, unaware of the boat above us. Oh it's motor is running, but we don't hear it. We're too involved with the dramas in our lives. We're swimming along, but we're not really swimming. Not really enjoying the warmth of the water, and the glorious feeling of weightlessness, but we're swimming alright--right into the hook of the master fisherman, who's been trying to get our attention for sometime now. Before you know it we're snagged, foul hooked, and we begin to struggle. But it's only when we stop struggling that we can see that the fisherman's intention was to get our attention. He's been putting out bait for sometime now, and it was only serendipity that you happened to swim past it and it grabbed hold of your bathing suit. Had we been swimming mindfully, appreciating all of the sensations that swimming allows, we may have learned our lesson in a much more direct way. But then again, the more painful the lesson, the more deeply embedded. Sure enough, the next time we enter the water, we're much more aware. But we've learned something new.For it is in man's nature to learn and grow; And it's the universe's nature to instruct. Their nature's intersect, and it's no accident.

"Nothing makes a fish bigger than almost being caught."
~Author Unknown