Friday, December 14, 2012

in memoriam

mourning for lives barely begun and for lives marked by others' inexplicable actions.

i feel deep grief in my gut, at the corners of my eyes, it feels like a burgeoning rage which i try to suppress. a hollow, guttural moan forms in my gut. grief. beyond the usual question, why?, lie clues: mom was teacher in classroom where shootings occurred. but, not much else. so far.

i'm reminded of alice miller's research: when celebrities kill themselves, the whole world asks "why?" but the world doesn't do more than look at the present: gleaming luxury car, gleaming glamorous lifestyle, gleaming social notoriety, gleaming good looks. what we would discover if we were to turn over the mossy rocks would be a childhood of punishment, neglect, abandonment, witholding, trauma, rejection.

the fact remains: they were small children. what have they to do with another's unhappiness except being in the way?

the fact remains: mom was a teacher in the classroom where the shootings occurred.

lives lost. potential lost. families broken.

tell children the truth and show them where to get help. the truth is that adults don't always know how to do everything right. the smart ones, the good ones, ask for help. before their pain causes others pain.

a quote, Columbine principal: "I think as a society, we need to come together. It has to stop, these senseless deaths."



pray hard and steady.

and let's work on "stop[ping] these senseless deaths."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

bet you didn't know that ...

expertise emerges from roughly 10,000 hours of study

things that appear to be obstacles turn out to be desirable in the long haul

struggle is not optional - it's neurologically required

struggling in certain targeted ways - allowing yourself to make mistakes, to seem stupid - makes you smarter

the zone of proximal development is the difference between what we can do on our own and what we can accomplish with the help of a guide, a teacher, or a mentor

the inner side of human life is the most important starting place for all endeavors

chance favors the prepared mind

the mind can activate the brain's circuitry in ways that change the brain's structural connections

you can use the subjective, inner aspect of reality to alter the objective, physical structure of he brain

the physical and mental sides of reality co-occur in time and comprise the wholeness of reality

any map of a territory is just that: a guide, not a prison

we can learn to loosen the grip of habit and engrained aspects of what we call personality to become more mindful

sometimes we need to name it to tame it

there are neural networks in our guts and hearts and they signal the brain's neural networks through an area called lamina I in the spinal cord

the brain continually monitors the external and internal environment for signs of danger in a process called neuroception

all human beings are hardwired for positive emotions

pleasure is the result of positive emotions rather than just hedonism

positive emotions widen our tolerance, expand our moral compass, and enhance our creativity

while pain, grief, and rage provide short-term benefits, positive emotions provide benefits over the long term

love is the shortest definition of spirituality

society ignores the emotional brain at its peril

our capacity for positive emotion and altruistic action comes from our inarticulate, subcortical, limbic, mammalian brain; these capacities are inarticulate because they are not directly connected to our neocortical language centers

our emotions are controleld by the powerful, nonverbal subcortical brain structures

the brain is designed to regard human attachment as more useful that calculus and emotional intelligence as more adaptive than a high IQ

in humans, love and attachment are auditory and visual; without visual and auditory contact, attachment in humans becomes difficult

love comes in through our eyes and our skin

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

how do you feel ...

 ... about THE HOLIDAYS?

depending on how old you are, you either remember, or you do not, these quintessential things that marked the winter calendar days in red: school winter break; ice skating; baking soft pretzels and sprinkling them with big chunks of salt; practicing carols; buying the tree; watching black-and-white bing crosby - fred astaire movies; of course, it's a wonderful life (also black-and-white); decorating the tree; drinking too much hot chocolate and licking the cookie batter spoons before they were washed; coralling the carolers and caroling everybody you knew, some you didn't; getting your fill of spiced cider and home-baked treats at every house you stopped to carol; going to bed early, saying special prayers, including a prayer for this night to pass quickly; getting up before the crack of dawn to see if Santa passed by your house; going to church, all dressed up, greeting everybody you knew and singing wholeheartedly for the joy of the world.

the red calendar days used to be marked thusly and, by the way, this is still an accurate fact: around the 21st of december, the sun, our source of warmth and light, stops traveling further and further south, as it has for the past several months. it just seems to stop. solstice is the name for this, linking together the latin words for sun, "sol" and standing, "stice." for three days, it rises and sets in the same place, far to the south, until the 25th of december, when it rises a little northward on the horizon.

the beginning of the return of the light.

ancient people tracked this movement, and those who used a calendar based on the sun often suspended time for those three days, holding feasts and religious rituals to honor the return of the light.

wikipedia says that the word holiday is a derivative of "Holy Day." we know this. or, if we don't, we intuit it. wikipedia further explains that it "... gradually evolved to its current form. the word originally referred only to special religious days. in modern use, it means any special day of rest or relaxation, as opposed to normal days away from work or school."

i have significant trouble with this derivation. i feel rebellious and nostalgic, desirous for some things to be preserved in their original incarnation. Holy Days, for example.

for if we were to have left these red calendar days ... alone, unmarred by the falsely-created need for "new and improved," "bigger, better, more, modern," we may well have avoided an observable increase in "holiday" crankiness, higher rates of depression, frantic drivers, morose sales persons, post-"holiday" blahs, disappointed children, significant dents in our budgets, inexplicable feelings of malcontent and alienation.

had we preserved the Holy Days, we may well have been warmed simply by a cup of mulled wine, singing old tunes, rejoicing with friends and family, a lit candle, and a string of lights.

what keeps us, collectively, from a return to red-letter Holy Days?

only ourselves.

christmas lights.jpg
Sometimes Christmas is as simple as a string of lights. -- LH

i wish you all a very merry season of peacefulness, joy, warmth, and good cheer!


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

stillness and solitude: the art of noticing, assimilating, and/or discarding

a quote, annie dillard:

"One thing struck me as odd and interesting. A gesture drawing took forty-five seconds; a Sustained Study took all morning. From any still-life arrangement or model's pose, the artist could produce either a short study or a long one. Evidently, a given object took no particular amount of time to draw; instead the artist took the time, or didn't take it, at pleasure. And similarly, things themselves possessed no fixed and intrinsic amount of interest; instead things were interesting as long as you had attention to give them. How long does it take to draw a baseball mitt? As much time as you care to give it. Not an infinite amount of time, but more time than you first imagined. For many days, so long as you want to keep drawing that mitt, and studying that mitt, there will always be a new and finer layer of distinctions to draw out and lay in. Your attention discovers - seems thereby to produce - an array of interesting features in any object, like a lamp." 

and this:

"Artists ... noticed the things that engaged the mind's private and idiosyncratic interior, that area where the life of the senses mingles with the life of the spirit: the shattering of light into color, and the way it shades off round a bend. The humble attention painters gave to the shadow of a stalk, or the reflected sheen under a chin,or the lapping layers of strong strokes, included and extended the scientists' vision of each least thing as unendingly interesting. But artists laid down the vision in the form of beauty bare - Man Walking [Giacometti] - radiant and fierce, inexplicable, and without the math."

why these long quotes? because it's annie dillard! (and she is exquisite and surgical in her descriptions.)

these quotes because i think a lot about (and read a lot about) paying attention, focus, technology, time, speed, energy, being human, slowing down. so that we can see. and (re)connect. with ourselves, firstly. then with others. then with the rest of the beautiful, intricate, mysterious world around us.

i recall an art school 3-d (of all classes to mention in this post!) assignment redolent of the dichotomy of beautiful - ugly, natural - man-made. it was chicago in the late 80s, the late days of industrial/goth/post-punk - all genres i was enthralled with/entrenched in at the time. all my peers were, for the most part, devotees of same. the assignment was to bring in 2 objects - one we found beautiful, another we found ugly. absolutely! subjective opinions. yet, lo and behold, as though we had called each other the night before (and this is not very likely to have happened, because art students do not, by definition, communicate as effortlessly and commonly as regular folk), as we reveal our choices sitting around in a circle, the majority of us chose a natural object to represent beauty and a man-made object for its opposite qualifier. leaves vs. plastic. speckled sand vs tupperware. a feather vs a briefcase. 

i know the opposite may hold true; we have evolved to refinement, after all. we are, after all, no longer 18-year-old irascible art students. a paperclip can hold beauty, as can a perfectly-crafted shoe. ma-made can be beautiful.


independently of each other, about 20 sullen 18-year-olds deep in the throes of hardcore music and urban nihilism mutually agreed - in their deepest interior, in their heart of hearts - that natural trumps man-made. that, unencumbered of progress and civilization and cultural relevance, sticks, and stones, and feathers, and leaves are to be qualified as unreservedly beautiful.

annie dillard invites the reader to remember to look. and to be still. and to record. 

whether one becomes an artist or not is moot. what matters is the practice of seeing. and internalizing. perhaps even cataloging. the opposite of these actions is inarticulate chaos.

who cares if the average attention span has decreased by 4 seconds in 12 years?

how can you capture the beauty of a child saying, after observing the reflection of irregular raindrops on a shiny surface, "i wish we could wrap this up and give it as a gift"?

(what) do we stop to see? and record? if for no reason other than to still the cacophony of modernity and (re)connect with our feeling/sensing/perceiving/thinking selves, which always (silently) await our return home?

people want pictures :)


go draw a picture!

but first check this out: 

i had a hunch.

smile. it's just your brain ... on media overload :)

recipe (part of treatment plan): grab a pad of paper, a not-too-sharp HB pencil, put on shoes, jacket, maybe a pair of sunglasses (if you're lucky), go outside, take in a big gulp of (hopefully) fresh air, look ahead, left, right, up, down, trust your instinct, walk in intuited direction, when it feels just right, sit, crouch, stand, or lean, put pencil to paper, and draw that which you are looking at. do this for at least 30 minutes.

report back in a week.