Saturday, April 30, 2011

Coping with Chaos by Categorizing

Excerpt from “Chaos Promotes Stereotyping,” by Philip Ball,, April 7, 2011:

A study shows that messy surroundings also make people more likely to stereotype others.

Diederik Stapel and Siegwart Lindenberg, social scientists at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, asked subjects in messy or orderly everyday environments (a street and a railway station) to complete questionnaires that probed their judgements about certain social groups. They found small but significant and systematic differences in the responses: there was more stereotyping in the disorderly areas than the clean ones…

Study subjects sat further away from someone of another race when the train station was a mess.

In one experiment, passers-by in the busy Utrecht railway station were asked to sit in a row of chairs and answer a questionnaire for the reward of a chocolate bar or an apple. The researchers took advantage of a cleaners' strike that had left the station dirty and litter-strewn to create their messy environment; they returned to do the same testing once the strike was over and the station was clean.

In the questionnaires, participants were asked to rate how much certain social groups — Muslims, homosexuals and Dutch people — conformed to qualities that formed part of positive and negative stereotypes, as well as qualities unrelated to stereotypes. For example, the 'positive' stereotypes for homosexuals were (creative, sweet), the 'negative' were (strange, feminine) and the neutral terms were (impatient, intelligent).

As well as probing these responses, the experiment examined unconscious negative responses to race. All the subjects were white, but when they were asked to sit down, one chair at the end of the row was already occupied by a black or white Dutch person. In the messy station, people sat on average further from the black person than the white one, whereas in the clean station there was no statistical difference…

Stapel and Lindenberg say that stereotyping may be an attempt to mentally compensate for mess: "a way to cope with chaos, a mental cleaning device" that partitions other people neatly into predefined categories.

Read the rest of the article…

See also: Broken Windows Theory

Friday, April 29, 2011

Daybreak in Alabama

by Langston Hughes, from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes

When I get to be a composer
I'm gonna write me some music about
Daybreak in Alabama
And I'm gonna put the purtiest songs in it
Rising out of the ground like a swamp mist
And falling out of heaven like soft dew.
I'm gonna put some tall tall trees in it
And the scent of pine needles
And the smell of red clay after rain
And long red necks
And poppy colored faces
And big brown arms
And the field daisy eyes
Of black and white black white black people
And I'm gonna put white hands
And black hands and brown and yellow hands
And red clay earth hands in it
Touching everybody with kind fingers
And touching each other natural as dew
In that dawn of music when I
Get to be a composer
And write about daybreak
In Alabama.

[Thanks, Poem-a Day!]

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fear is a Natural Reaction

Excerpt from When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön:

Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.

If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.

See also:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011



“Paradise may be the time when we finally turn to our past and see that its beauty was there despite our being there. In fact, its beauty can finally be seen because we aren't there.”

~ Fanny Howe

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Life In Itself Is Nothing

West 2nd Ave., April 24, 2011

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Aesthetically Pleasing Balance

See also: Desperately Seeking Symmetry

The Psychology of Belief and Compassion

“I think that these three habits of mind, animisms, creationism, dualism, are present in all of us. They're not biological adaptations, they're accidents. But I think they're what make religious belief attractive and plausible and universal.”

~ Paul Bloom, from “Hardwired for God?Big Think, Dec. 22, 2009

“When people are less focused on self and the problems of the self, there is a kind of alleviation of stress.  There’s nothing like reaching out and contributing to the lives of others to give a person, first of all a sense of significance and purpose.”

~ Stephen Post, from “The Science of Compassion,” Big Think, April 24, 2011

Searching for Heaven

"Heaven and earth don’t exist anymore. The earth is round. The cosmos has no up and down. It is moving constantly. We can no longer fix the stars to create an ideal place. This is our dilemma.

It is natural to search for our beginnings, but not to assume it has one direction. We live in a scientific future that early philosophers and alchemists could not foresee, but they understood very fundamental relationships between heaven and earth, that we have forgotten…North, south, east, and west, up and down are not issues. For me, this also relates to time. Past, present, and future are essentially the same direction. It is about finding symbols that move in all directions.

My spirituality is not New Age. It has been with me since I was a child. I know that in the last few decades religion has been made shiny and new. It’s like a business creating a new product. They are selling salvation. I’m not interested in being saved. I’m interested in reconstructing symbols. It’s about connecting with an older knowledge and trying to discover continuities in why we search for heaven."

~ Anselm Kiefer, from “History of Our World

The Mountain from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

Three Lilies
by Brooks Haxton, from Uproar: Antiphonies to Psalms

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in
            the morning. Psalm 30

Before dawn, under a thin moon disappearing
east, the planet Mercury, the messenger
and healer, came up vanishingly
into the blue beyond the garden where
three lilies at the bottom of the yard
arrayed white trumpets on iron stalks
under a slow, slow lightning from the sun.
I stood on a rotten step myself,
and smelled them from a hundred feet away.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


“There are many doors to the spiritual and they don’t all have a big sign over them saying SPIRITUAL.”

~ Shinzen Young, from Working with the Dying


Have Mercy

by Franz Wright, from God’s Silence

at the foot of the universe

I ask

from this body
in confusion

and pain (a condition

which You
may recall)

Clothed now in light
clothed in abyss, at the prow
of the desert
into everywhereness —

have mercy

Mercy on us all

Finding New Ways to Speak

"It is human nature to look at someone like me and assume I have lost some of my marbles. People talk loudly and slowly to me. Sometimes they assume I am deaf. There are people who don't want to make eye contact. It is human nature to look away from illness. We don't enjoy a reminder of our own fragile mortality.

That's why writing on the Internet has become a life-saver for me. My ability to think and write have not been affected. And on the Web, my real voice finds expression. I have also met many other disabled people who communicate this way. One of my Twitter friends can type only with his toes. One of the funniest blogs on the Web is written by a friend of mine named Smartass Cripple. Google him and he will make you laugh.

All of these people are saying, in one way or another, that what you see is not all you get."

~ Robert Ebert, from “Remaking My Voice,” TED Talks, April 2011

To Cultivate Attention

Excerpts from "Buddha Nature: Living in Attention," by Ken McLeod:

"It seems to me that the intention of all these practices is to cultivate attention, either by practicing attention directly or by removing what prevents attention from developing. Once attention is present, appropriate action, skillful means, bodhicitta, everything else flows quite naturally. There is no need for minute dissections of Buddhist ethics or philosophy. The phrase ‘Be there or be square’ acquired a new meaning for me. Very simply, attention reveals buddha nature and enables it to manifest in our lives...

Once I shifted my effort to paying attention to what was arising, doors started to open. I began to see a little more clearly what was going on. I'd had to let go of old ways of looking at things, some that I had learned in the course of my training, others going back much further to family patterns. The patterns became apparent. The function and purpose of the patterns also became apparent...

Bring the attention to what is arising and we know, directly, what needs to be done. This changed not only my own practice but how I tried to teach others. The source of that knowing is buddha nature. And the practice is very simple in principle: strip away whatever prevents it from manifesting.

Read the entire essay...

[Thanks, Kit !]

Silence No One Hears

Poem with No Speaker
by Franz Wright, from Earlier Poems

Are you looking
for me? Ask that crow

across the green wheat.

See those minute air bubbles
rising to the surface

at the still creek's edge—
talk to the crawdad.

of the skinny mosquito

on your wall
stinging its shadow,

this lock
of moon

the hair on your neck.

When the hearts in the cocoon
start to beat,

and the spider begins
its hidden task,

and the seed sends its initial
pale hairlike root to drink,

you'll have to get down on all fours

to learn my new address:
you'll have to place your skull

besides this silence
no one hears.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Uncoupling Negative Emotional Reactions from Behavior

From the abstract of a recent study looking at the impact on meditation practice on the decision-making process:

“Human decision-making is often framed as a competition between cognitive and emotional processes in the brain. Deviations from rational processes are believed to derive from inclusion of emotional factors in decision-making.

Here, we investigate whether a group of experienced Buddhist meditators are better equipped to regulate emotional processes compared with controls during economic decision-making in the Ultimatum Game.

We show that meditators accept unfair offers on more than half of the trials, whereas controls only accept unfair offers on one-quarter of the trials…

In summary, when assessing unfairness, meditators activate a different network of brain areas compared with controls enabling them to uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior. These findings highlight the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision-making.”

*     *     *     *     *

See also:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Darkness Flooded in Light

The Avett Brothers

There was a dream
One day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage 
I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid, with a head full of doubt
So I scream till I die 
Or the last of those bad thoughts to find me now

There’s a darkness upon you that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell you what’s wrong and what's right
And it flies by day and it flies by night
And I’m frightened by those who don’t see it

[Thanks, Dara!]

Poetry Doesn’t Need Music; Lyrics Do

Green Finch and Linnet Bird
by Stephen Sondheim, from Sweeney Todd

Green finch and linnet bird,
Nightingale, blackbird,
How is it you sing?
How can you jubilate,
Sitting in cages,

Never taking wing?
Outside the sky waits,
Beckoning, beckoning,
Just beyond the bars,
How can you remain,
Staring at the rain,
Maddened by the stars?
How is it you sing
How is it you sing?

Green finch and linnet bird,
Nightingale, blackbird,
How is it you sing?
Whence comes this melody
    constantly flowing?
Is it rejoicing or merely halloing?
Are you discussing
Or fussing
Or simply dreaming?
Are you crowing?
Are you screaming?

Ringdove and robinet,
Is it for wages,
Singing to be sold?
Have you decided it's
Safer in cages,
Singing when you're told?

My cage has many rooms,
Damask and dark.
Nothing there sings,
Not even my lark.
Larks never will, you know,
When they're captive.
Teach me to be more adaptive.

Green finch and linnet bird,
Nightingale, blackbird,
Teach me how to sing.
If I cannot fly,
Let me sing.

*     *     *     *     *

"Lyrics, even poetic ones, are not poems," states Stephen Sondheim in the introduction to Finishing the Hat, a collection of his lyrics from 1954 to 1981. "Poems are written to be read, silently or aloud, not sung. Some lyrics, awash with florid imagery, present themselves as poetry, but music only underscores (yes) the self-consciousness of the effort…Poetry is an art of concision, lyrics of expansion…Poetry doesn't need music; lyrics do."

"Green Finch and Linnet Bird," sung by the character of Johanna in Sweeney Todd, may not be a poem, but to read it without its haunting, angular melody is to "hear" it slightly differently.

~ From Knopf’s Borzoi Reader Poem-a-Day from today. Visit the site to hear actress Kate Levy reading Sondheim’s lyrics.

Feeling Emotion Conveyed by a Performer

Chopin’s Étude Op. 10 No. 3, Tristesse,
performed by Derek Wang (11 years old).

The Musical Brain

The brain processes musical nuance in many ways, it turns out. Edward W. Large, a music scientist at Florida Atlantic University, scanned the brains of people with and without experience playing music as they listened to two versions of a Chopin étude: one recorded by a pianist, the other stripped down to a literal version of what Chopin wrote, without human-induced variations in timing and dynamics.

During the original performance, brain areas linked to emotion activated much more than with the uninflected version, showing bursts of activity with each deviation in timing or volume.

So did the mirror neuron system, a set of brain regions previously shown to become engaged when a person watches someone doing an activity the observer knows how to do — dancers watching videos of dance, for example. But in Dr. Large’s study, mirror neuron regions flashed even in nonmusicians.

Maybe those regions, which include some language areas, are “tapping into empathy,” he said, “as though you’re feeling an emotion that is being conveyed by a performer on stage,” and the brain is mirroring those emotions.

Regions involved in motor activity, everything from knitting to sprinting, also lighted up with changes in timing and volume.

Anders Friberg, a music scientist at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, found that the speed patterns of people’s natural movements — moving a hand from one place to another on a desk or jogging and slowing to stop — match tempo changes in music that listeners rate as most pleasing.

“We got the best-sounding music from the velocity curve of natural human gestures, compared to other curves of tempos not found in nature,” Dr. Friberg said. “These were quite subtle differences, and listeners were clearly distinguishing between them. And these were not expert listeners.”

Dr. Daniel Levitin’s project found that musicians were more sensitive to changes in volume and timing than nonmusicians. That echoes research by Nina Kraus , a neurobiologist at Northwestern University, which showed that musicians are better at hearing sound against background noise, and that their brains expend less energy detecting emotion in babies’ cries.

Separately, the Levitin team found that children with autism essentially rated each nocturne rendition equally emotional, finding the original no more emotionally expressive than the mechanical version. But in other research, the team found that children with autism could label music as happy, sad or scary, suggesting, Dr. Levitin said, that “their recognition of musical emotions may be intact without necessarily having those emotions evoked, and without them necessarily experiencing those emotions themselves.”

Read the entire article here… 

*     *     *     *     *

See also:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Open and Listening

Excerpt from "Corner Office: Mark Fuller," by Adam Bryant, New York Times, April 16, 2011:

Mark Fuller, C.E.O. of WET Design (Photo: Richard Perry, NYT)Improv, if properly taught, is really about listening to the other person, because there’s no script. It’s about responding. I was noticing that we didn’t have a lot of good communication among our people (WET Design).

If you think about it, if you have an argument with your wife or husband, most of the time people are just waiting for the other person to finish so they can say what they’re waiting to say. So usually they’re these serial machine-gun monologues, and very little listening.

That doesn’t work in improv. If we’re on the stage, I don’t know what goofball thing you’re going to say, so I can’t be planning anything. I have to really be listening to you so I can make an intelligent — humorous or not — response.

So I got this crazy idea of bringing in someone to teach an improv class. At first, everybody had an excuse, because it’s kind of scary to stand up in front of people and do this. But now we’ve got a waiting list because word has spread that it’s really cool.

You’re in an emotionally naked environment. It’s like we’re all the same. We all can look stupid. And it’s an amazing bonding thing, plus it’s building all these communication skills. You’re sort of in this gray space of uncertainty. Most of us don’t like to be uncertain — you know, most of us like to be thinking what we’re going to say next. You get your mind into a space where you say, “I’m really enjoying that I don’t know what he’s going to ask me next, and I’m going to be open and listening and come back.”

We’ve got graphic designers, illustrators, optical engineers, Ph.D. chemists, special effects people, landscape designers, textile designers. You get all these different disciplines that typically you would never find under one roof — even making a movie — and so you have to constantly be finding these ways to have people connect.

So we do things like improv, and I think they really have developed our culture.

* * * * *

See also:

Monday, April 18, 2011

You Don’t Have That Kind of Time

lamott "When I was 38, my best friend Pammy died, and we went shopping about two weeks before she died, and she was in a wig and a wheelchair. I was buying a dress for this boyfriend I was trying to impress, and I bought a tighter, shorter dress than I was used to. And I said to her, 'do you think this makes my hips look big?' and she said to me, so calmly, 'Anne, you don't have that kind of time.' And I think Easter has been about the resonance of that simple statement; and that when I stop, when I go into contemplation and meditation, when I breathe again and do the sacred action of plopping and hanging my head and being done with my own agenda, I hear that 'you don't have that kind of time,' you have time only to cultivate presence and authenticity and service, praying against all odds to get your sense of humor back."

~ Anne Lamott, from “Beyond Bunnies: The Real Meaning Of Easter Season,” with Michele Norris, NPR’s All Things Considered, April 18, 2011

Animated Prose

Using around 3,000 still images, Andersen M Studio has animated an extract from Maurice Gee's novel, Going West, for the New Zealand Book Council...

Colenso BBDO commissioned Andersen M Studio to create this stop-frame animation, which took around eight months to complete. The film was designed and animated by the studio's Line Andersen and photographed by her brother, Martin, who set up Andersen M Studio in 2000.

"The entire film is handmade, using only 10A scalpel blades and paper," explains Martin Andersen.

~ Creative Review (11.30.09)

See also: Altered books (Wikipedia)

I Don’t Know

by Cloud Cult, from Light Chasers

The airport's clear for a landing.
The snow is melting on the garden.
All our anxieties are in a box I mailed to Pluto.
And I feel like the sun.
Gonna burn it all away.

We rest our heads upon one pillow.
Beg for falling stars to break in our window.
Outside the evergreens are blowing out their birthday candles.
And I feel like the wind.
Gonna blow it all away.

Pray to the 'I Don't Know' that made me.
Protect my Love, protect my friends, protect my baby.
I may have worries, but I'm not going crazy.
I feel like the rain.
Gonna wash it all away.

I can't breathe unless you're in my air.
I'm not here unless you're somewhere near.
When old age calls, we'll share a rocking chair.
And I feel like the dawn.
That light is getting near.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

To Think Oneself into the Minds of Others

Excerpt from “Only Love and then Oblivion,” by Ian McEwan, the Guardian, September 15, 2001:

I suspect that in between times, when we are not consuming news, the majority of us are not meditating on recent foreign policy failures, or geopolitical strategy, or the operational range of helicopter gunships.

Instead, we remember what we have seen, and we daydream helplessly. . .

This is the nature of empathy, to think oneself into the minds of others. These are the mechanics of compassion: you are under the bedclothes, unable to sleep, and you are crouching in the brushed-steel lavatory at the rear of the plane, whispering a final message to your loved one. There is only that one thing to say, and you say it. All else is pointless. You have very little time before some holy fool, who believes in his place in eternity, kicks in the door, slaps your head and orders you back to your seat. 23C. Here is your seat belt. There is the magazine you were reading before it all began. . .

If the hijackers had been able to imagine themselves into the thoughts and feelings of the passengers, they would have been unable to proceed. It is hard to be cruel once you permit yourself to enter the mind of your victim. Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.

Redefining Apathy

Dave Meslin identifies seven barriers that keep us from taking part in our communities, even when we truly care.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Guide Her, Protect Her

A Mother’s Prayer for Its Child
by Tina Fey, from Bossypants

tina_fey First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered, may she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.

Guide her, protect her when crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels. What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen.Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever, that she may be spared themisspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back. “My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.


Listen to Tina Fey read from this essay on Fresh Air (April 13, 2011).

How Is It That the Innocent Survive

Excerpt from "Wicked’s Gregory Maguire on What Turns a Story into a Fairy Tale":

You might say that every fairy tale at its heart is the story of growing up, of a protagonist successfully navigating the treacherous path through the woods from innocence to experience without being eaten by the wolves. For children a fairy tale is about hope. They don’t yet know if they are going to make it. They read fairy tales as being about what might happen, that they might have the strengths to make it through the woods and fight the dragons, and end up in the castle with the princess or the prince. Adults look at fairy tales differently, because, if they are adults, presumably they have made it to that safety zone of having survived their childhoods. They look back at fairy tales with a combination of nostalgia––because don’t we all love something about our childhoods anyway, including the mystery of what was going to be on the other side of childhood––and a sort of clinical curiosity. We want to know how is it that the innocent survive when they are really so clueless. We love to read about how people became who they became, how Picasso became Picasso, or how Elizabeth Taylor became Elizabeth Taylor. As adults, let’s face it, even if we have make it to adult life, we are still not sure exactly who we are. To look back at the story of a fairy tale, which is to look back at the story of a path from cluelessness to potency, can continue to give us courage.

Erik Christian Haugaard, a Danish writer who is now dead, said in a speech once, “The Fairy tale always takes the side of the weak against the mighty. There is no such thing as a fascist fairy tale. A fascist fairy tale would be an absurdity.” There is something essential about that fact. The protagonist can’t be dominating or mean or the bully of the playground. There might be new fairy tales, but there are some eternals that have to exist. If they don’t exist, what we see is not a fairy tale––it is something else. The absolute requirement of a fairy tale may be that the protagonist has to be in some way less strong and more humble than other people in the story. But as long as that is in existence than the form of a fairy tale can change infinitely and it will always be recognizable by anyone who hears the words “once upon a time.”

See also: Director Joe Wright explains the surprising five films that inspired the making of Hanna.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Real Life

Phil Stutz describing the 96 Hour Academy Awards Principle to Kim Masters on KCRW’s The Business (April 4, 2011):

My rules of life are there’s uncertainty, there’s pain and it requires constant effort. You can’t abrogate those rules. I don’t care how many Academy Awards you’ve won. I find the high lasts roughly 96 hours. After that, the person’s a little bit stunned because life is going on just as it was, they just can’t believe it. And once in a while, they’ll really crash badly. The principle isn’t a treatment for it. I just try to warn them in advance. If they get nominated, I put them in the army to prepare.

*     *     *     *     *

Barry Michael describes the Realm of Illusion (New Yorker):

Our culture denies reality. It suggests that you can live in a world that is free of hardship. The media portray the beautiful people who inhabit this world. Their lives seem like glossy magazine photographs—airbrushed, like a “perfect moment” frozen in time. Phil Stutz was the first person I heard give this mythical world a name: the Realm of Illusion. We’re trained to feel like failures if our lives don’t resemble this ideal world.

But there’s a way to accept the imperfections of real life and still feel good about yourself: First, you must face the truth about reality.

Phil encapsulated this truth in the drawing above. The Realm of Illusion is depicted above the line. The stick figure is you on a quest for the perfect life (symbolized by the square with the dotted line). This realm is just an image. It has no more depth or movement than a still photograph.

Real life is below the line. Each circle represents an event (one project, one confrontation, even one day). The black dots inside each circle are turds. That means that no event is perfect; pain, uncertainty, loss are always with us. But, whether you consider an event a success or a failure, life will keep moving and produce another event. It’s this constant movement that gives life its creative power.

Look at the picture every morning. It reminds you that the Realm of Illusion doesn’t exist. No one’s life is without turds, no matter how successful people appear to be. Practice projecting yourself into the illusion at the top and then forcing yourself downward into the flawed (but alive) reality at the bottom. You’ll develop the following strengths:

  1. You’ll become more accepting of yourself and stop judging yourself against an impossible standard.
  2. You’ll deal with difficulties calmly and rationally as a natural part of life.
  3. You’ll begin to feel a sacred kind of wisdom in events, even the bad ones. This builds faith.

See also: “Hollywood Shadows: A Cure for Blocked Screenwriters,” by Dana Goodyear, New Yorker, March 21, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

You Will See

Evelyn Corley Buzbee

“Go into your own familiar yard. It may be a beautiful garden. It may be only a weedy lawn with a few half-dead shrubs. No matter — if you throw back your shoulders and look up into the sky, you will see what else is yours.”

~ Evelyn Corley Buzbee, lifelong gardener

See also: Cabin Tiger Studio

[Thanks, Pat!]

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Compassion for Fun and Profit

“The first step is attention training. Attention is the basis of all higher cognitive and emotional abilities. Therefore, any curriculum for training emotional intelligence has to begin with attention training. The idea here is to train attention to create a quality of mind that is calm and clear at the same time. And this creates the foundation for emotional intelligence.”

~ Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s “Jolly Good Fellow,” talking about how the company practices compassion in its everyday business and the Search Inside Yourself program.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Still Not Found

A Buddhist priest prays for the souls of the victims still not found in the rubble, Yamada, Japan.

A Buddhist priest prays for the souls of the victims still not found in the rubble, Yamada, Japan. (New York Times)

See also: To Be Bothered and Perception, Intense City

Virtual Choir

“In a moving and madly viral video last year, composer Eric Whitacre led a virtual choir of singers from around the world. He talks through the creative challenges of making music powered by YouTube, and unveils the first two minutes of his new work, ‘Sleep,’ with a video choir of 2,052.”

Looking for Meaning in Objects

Excerpt from “Alive Enough?on Being, April 7, 2011:

Krista Tippett (host): I'm utterly intrigued just by the way you describe your passion, your interest and concern, that you study this objective side of our encounters with technologies, that I'm concerned with— the human meaning of the objects of our lives. And just as we start, I wanted to ask you a kind of question I ask everyone, which is, was there a spiritual background to your childhood?

Sherry Turkle (author of Alone Together): Well, I think in my case the question didn't come from a spiritual quest. It came from a deeply personal psychological quest. My father — my biological father disappeared from my life when I was around two. My mother, my grandparents, my mother's sister, my aunt, didn't want me to know anything about him. And so, of course, I only wanted to know things about him and would search…

There were these places. There was a closet that had old books and trinkets and there was a junk drawer. There were just these places where the memories were kept. I would scour them for traces of him and finally I found one. I found a photograph of him in which someone in anger had rubbed out his face, but I found all kinds of information from that photograph, you know, that he wore tweed pants, where he was standing, what his lace-up shoes looked like, and I just think that some place in that quest of a child, the notion of looking for objects to fill in human meaning became very close to my heart in a very personal way.

As I became a sociologist, [I discovered] there's a fancy word for studying this; it's called bricolage. It's the science of studying meanings and the interplay of objects, and I realized that that's kind of what I'd been doing all the time. A little bit like Molière's, Monsieur Jourdain who'd been speaking prose all his life without knowing it, I'd been a bricoleur all my life without knowing it.

*     *     *     *     *

To make our life livable, we have to have spaces where we are fully present to each other or to ourselves, where we're not competing with the roar of the Internet and, quite frankly, where the people around us are not competing with the latest news off the Facebook status update. They may not have anything new. They may just be there being in a way that needs attention. I mean, people like to put things on Facebook--and certainly Twitter--that are happy. I've interviewed people who say things to me as simple as, you know, I don't even like to put that my dog died...because it doesn't seem the place. It doesn't seem the place for a lot of people to share negative things.

Anyway, I guess I'm saying that sacred space [are] the places in your daily life where you want to keep them for yourself and the people who you need to give your full attention to. I have very simple rules — so far as I have rules — for how to know you're close to one or in one or should be having one: it's dinner, it's sharing meals with your family, it's that moment at school pickup when your kid looks up and is trying to meet your eye. You know, you're looking down at your smartphone and your child is trying to meet your eye.

swing I have enough data from children who're going through this experience to know that it's a terrible moment for them. It's on the playground. Very bad when your child's on the jungle gym and is desperately trying to have you look at them, for them to be taking hands off the jungle gym to try to get your attention — accident time. I mean, be in the park. Be in the park with them. Spend less time there, but make it a space. Make it a moment. These are important moments.

*     *     *     *     *

See also: “Brainpower,” To the Best of Our Knowledge, 4/10/11

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Wherever They Are

“Wildflowers don't move to find the sun's rays. God makes them fecund wherever they are.”

~ Frère Christian de Chergé, from Of Gods and Men

Friday, April 08, 2011

To Increase Flourishing

From Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin Seligman:

When I started my work in Positive Psychology, my original view was closest to Aristotle’s—that everything we do is done in order to make us happy—but I actually detest the word happiness, which is so overused that it has become almost meaningless. It is an unworkable term for science, or for any practical goal such as education, therapy, public policy, or just changing your personal life. Moreover, the modern ear immediately hears “happy” to mean buoyant mood, merriment, good cheer, and smiling. “Happiness” historically is not closely tied to such hedonics—feeling cheerful or merry is a far cry from what Thomas Jefferson declared that we have the right to pursue—and it is an even further cry from my intentions for a positive psychology.

To understand what “happiness” is really about, the first step is to dissolve “happiness” into more workable terms. When I wrote Authentic Happiness a decade ago, I thought that happiness could be analyzed into three different elements that we choose for their own sakes: positive emotion, engagement, and meaning. Positive emotion refers to what we feel: pleasure, rapture, ecstasy, warmth, comfort, and other such emotions that contribute to the “pleasant life.” Engagement is about flow: being one with the music, time stopping, and the loss of self-consciousness during an absorbing activity, experiences which contribute to the “engaged life.” The third element is meaning. I go into flow while playing bridge, but after a long tournament, when I look in the mirror, I worry that I am fidgeting until I die. Human beings, ineluctably, want the “meaningful life”: belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than you are. Happiness and life satisfaction, I thought, could be increased by building positive emotion, engagement, and a sense of meaning in life.

This is not enough.

I no longer think that positive psychology is about happiness, or about a quest for increasing life satisfaction through positive emotion, engagement, and meaning. It turns out that how much life satisfaction people report is itself determined by how good we feel at the very moment we are asked the question. Averaged over many people, the mood you are in determines more than 70 percent of how much life satisfaction you report. If positive psychology is to be more than a “happiology” of cheerful mood, we need to shift our focus to well-being. I believe the gold standard for measuring well-being is flourishing, and that the goal of positive psychology is to increase flourishing. Flourishing rests on five pillars, each of which we value for its own sake, not merely as a means to some other end. Positive emotion, engagement, and meaning are three of the pillars, but they cannot do the “heavy lifting” of supporting human flourishing by themselves.

Room to Grow

April 7, 2011

“Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.”

~ Janet Fitch, from White Oleander

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Maybe We Try Too Hard

April 6, 2011

"Maybe we try too hard to be remembered, waking to the glowing yellow disc in ignorance, swearing that today will be the day, today we will make something of our lives. What if we are so busy searching for worth that we miss the sapphire sky and cackling blackbird. What else is missing? Maybe our steps are too straight and our paths too narrow and not overlapping. Maybe when they overlap someone in another country lights a candle, a couple resolves their argument, a young man puts down his silver gun and walks away."

~ Naomi Shihab Nye, from Time You Let Me: 25 Poets Under 25


Narratives of Grace

Engels (Anselm Kiefer)

“We normally think of history as one catastrophe after another, war followed by war, outrage by outrage — almost as if history were nothing more than all the narratives of human pain, assembled in sequence. And surely this is, often enough, an adequate description. But history is also the narratives of grace, the recountings of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstance.”

~ Thomas Cahill

No More Goals for You

Horoscopes For the Dead
by Billy Collins, from Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems

Every morning since you fell down on the face of the earth,
I read about you in the newspaper
along with the box scores, the weather, and all the bad news.

Sometimes I am reminded that today
will not be a wildly romantic time for you,
nor will you be challenged by educational goals
nor will you need to be circumspect at the workplace.

Another day, I learn that you will miss
an opportunity to travel and make new friends
though you never cared much about either.

I can’t imagine you ever facing a new problem
with a positive attitude, but you will definitely not
be doing that or anything like that on this weekday in March.
And the same goes for the fun
you might have gotten from group activities,
a likelihood attributed to everyone under your sign.

A dramatic rise in income may be a reason
to treat yourself, but that would apply
more to all the Pisces who are still alive today,
still swimming up and down the stream of life
or suspended in a pool in the shade of an overhanging tree.

But it will come as a relief to learn
that you don’t need to reflect carefully before acting
nor do you have to think more of others,
and never again will creative work take a back seat
to the business responsibilities that you never really had.

And don’t worry today or any other day
about unwanted problems caused by your failure
to interact rationally with your many associates.
No more goals for you, no more pressing matters,
no more money or children, jobs or important tasks,
but then again, you were never thus encumbered.

*     *     *     *     *

Billy Collins was selected as the author of the year by the Bexley Community Book Club and will be giving a reading at Bexley High School April 20 at 7:30pm.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Bach in the Forest

To showcase Japan's NTT Docomo's Touch Wood phone, a giant wooden xylophone was constructed in the woods of Kyushu, Japan to play Bach's Cantana 147 with a wooden ball.


See also: Lego Ship in a Bottle

Who's This?

Disappearing Act
by Elizabeth Ross Taylor, from Blackbird, Spring 2002

No, soul doesn't leave the body.

My body is leaving my soul.
Tired of turning fried chicken and
coffee to muscle and excrement,
tried of secreting tears, wiping them,
tired of opening eyes on another day,
tired especially of that fleshy heart,
pumping, pumping. More,
that brain spinning nightmares.
Body prepares:
disconnect, unplug, erase.

But here, I think, a smallish altercation
Soul seems to shake its fist.
Wants brain? Claims dreams and nightmares?
Maintains a codicil bequeathes it shares?

There'll be a fight. A deadly struggle.
We know, of course, who'll win. . . .

But who's this, watching?

[Thanks, Linda!]

Monday, April 04, 2011

Seeing a Song, Dripping with Color

“What happens during a Cloud Cult show is that I start with a blank canvas and the idea is that it is a visual instrument and that people get to see a song being visually rendered on stage each night.”

~ Scott West, Visual Artist & Live Painter for Cloud Cult

The Only Life You Could Save

April 4, 2011

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.                                                                           

It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Just Another Phenomenon of Consciousness

Excerpt from “Just One Breath: The Practice of Poetry and Meditation,” by Gary Snyder, Tricycle Magazine, Fall 1991:

snyder Traditions of deliberate attention to consciousness, and of making poems, are as old as humankind. Meditation looks inward, poetry holds forth. One is private, the other is out in the world. One enters the moment, the other shares it. But in practice it is never entirely clear which is doing which.

In any case, we do know that in spite of the contemporary public perception of meditation and poetry as special, exotic, and difficult, they are both as old and as common as grass. The one goes back to essential moments of stillness and deep inwardness, and the other to the fundamental impulse of expression and presentation.

People often confuse meditation with prayer, devotion, or vision. They are not the same. Meditation as a practice does not address itself to a deity or present itself as an opportunity for revelation. This is not to say that people who are meditating do not occasionally think they have received a revelation or experienced visions. They do. But to those for whom meditation is their central practice, a vision or a revelation is seen as just another phenomenon of consciousness and as such is not to be taken as exceptional.

The meditator would simply experience the ground of consciousness, and in doing so avoid excluding or excessively elevating any thought or feeling. To do this one must release all sense of the "I" as experiencer, even the "I" that might think it is privileged to communicate with the divine. It is in sensitive areas such as these that a teacher can be a great help.

Read the entire essay…

Lost & Found



See also: Todd Bieber Finds Owner Of Missing Film From NYC Blizzard


[Thanks, Scott!]

Avoiding Interesting Jobs

Inn at Honey Run, March 30, 2011 (Pat Schmitt) p schmidtt

"I consider myself kind of a reporter — one who uses words that are more like music and that have a choreography. I never think of myself as a poet; I just get up and write. For most of my life, I haven't had the structure of an actual job. When I was very young and decided I wanted to try to write as well as I could, I made a great list of all the things I would never have, because I thought poets never made any money. A house, a good car, I couldn't go out and buy fancy clothes or go to good restaurants. I had the necessities. Not that I didn't take some teaching jobs over the years — I just never took any interesting ones, because I didn't want to get interested. That's when I began to get up so early in the morning — you know I'm a 5 A.M. riser — so I could write for a couple of hours and then give my employer my very best second-rate energy...

You have to be in the world to understand what the spiritual is about, and you have to be spiritual in order to truly be able to accept what the world is about...I think about the spiritual a great deal. I like to think of myself as a praise poet....If I have any lasting worth, it will be because I have tried to make people remember what the Earth is meant to look like."

~ Mary Oliver, from "Maria Shriver Interviews the Famously Private Poet Mary Oliver," O Magazine, March 9, 2011

Friday, April 01, 2011

To Really See It

Wherever We Are

Cleveland, March 25, 2011

by Daron Larson

The hotel room is roomier
now that we’re older,
largely because of your frequent business travel
which rewards loyalty with extra comforts.

There’s even a small kitchen,
though nothing to eat,
and a living room with a couch
that can become a bed for guests.

I pull back the curtains to let the light in.
You’ve already managed to unpack
everything we’ve brought
and sort it all into the drawers —
a tendency I used to tease you about.

The bathroom counter is organized
(his, his).

The white towels hang perfectly undisturbed.
Our books and electronics wait on our nightstands
(yours, mine).

How can we ignore the similarity
between borrowing and owning?
Is it possible not to notice that
home is wherever we are?

When I get up in the middle of the night
to use the bathroom,
I take care to step over the dog,
even though she’s asleep in the kennel
not far from where we live,
hoping to wake from
the confusion of her disrupted routine.

In the morning, we make the bed.
You find coffee and read the paper
while I try to let go of my story
until the bell rings,
and then again whenever I’m able
after the sound trails off.

On the other side of the door
waits a blend of familiarity and strangeness,
not unlike every other door we have ever
closed or opened,
locked or walked through,
alone or together,
for as long as we both have lived.