Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Thanks for it all

Lynn has found the prayer introduced to us by Peggy Senger Morrison in
her talk and in her book "Le Flambeau Driving School" to be useful and
inspiring. Morrison says that she learned of the prayer from a
Benedictine nun but when I tried looking it up, I found references to
a woman Zen master Sono. The prayer is:

"Thank you for everything. I have no complaints."

In "Le Flambeau Driving School", Morrison explains her introduction to
gratitude practice by way of direction she got from a friend. Peggy
was nearing the end of a counseling practicum and her supervisor had
consistently found her wanting in every way. The friend was also a
counselor and listened to her counseling tapes. He found them totally
acceptable but advised Peggy to approach her closing evaluation
session with total gratitude, carefully and honestly expressed.

She passed her practicum but the point of Sono's prayer is to realize
and stand behind the value of the troubles, frustration, pain and
losses we get while living. When you stop and think about it,
separating the valuable lessons and the lucky connections that came
your way in life from the negatives and errors is not easy. You don't
really know which are which. Admit it: you have finite knowledge,
limited vision and uncertain memory. It would take another lifetime
and divine abilities to follow all the threads through your
development. Why, just the processes at work while you grew from a
fertilized egg to a born baby are beyond your comprehension and mine
and everyone's.

So take Sono's shortcut: don't even try to separate the threads. The
gifts are unending but unsorted. Give thanks for it all. The entire
set produced the marvel you are today!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Truth and talk

In a nation, in a marriage, in a single mind, there are changes and
oversights and emphases. One person is focused on the right hair cut
while another feels bad wearing shoes that don't shine. One person is
secure with the right bank balance while another is happy with a
loaded gun in the house. The only way we can all concentrate on one
idea, one symbol, one principle, one truth is to be forced to. Even
then, it is going to be lip service to the official line while
internally, minds and opinions go off in their own directions.

One of the most powerful forces is a group of open minds free to
object, add, subtract, modify. Group discussion is the tool of the
ancients and it is the tool of the modern scientists. The broader the
range of the group, the more encompassing the resultant conversation
can be. Let's say that a basic tool of men is challenge. I certainly
don't say that women avoid challenging others but for some women,
being nice, being supportive, being friendly is more basic and feels
better than challenge and opposition and correction. Let's say that a
basic tool of women is indeed supportive encouragement. I don't say
that men aren't supportive or good at being encouraging. They
certainly can be.

It makes sense to check out ideas, projects, possible changes in a
group that includes both sexes. Similarly, a group that includes
young people and senior citizens has a better chance of hearing the
reactions that matter. We are beginning to see that giving our two
cents and grasping the way people see things is more valuable when we
have contributors from all races, religions, political persuasions,
ethnicities and social classes. That is the strength of a house of
parliamentary procedures, whether it is a dorm council, a church
board, a corporate board or a state legislature. Yes, discussions can
lead to bullying, to ignoring the needs or fears of a minority and a
thousand other tricks and mishaps. But a group consideration is a
very powerful tool and it grows more powerful as the participants
learn to state their views and absorb those of others.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Not healthy but heavenly

I like to jot down with a pencil on scrap paper, five or so possible
themes for writing a blog post. Doing that gives me a reminder to
take a moment and notice what has been happening, inside the mind and
in my life.

A man stood up in the final Quaker gathering, held in a beautiful and
impressive chapel at St. Benedict's College and sang "Annie's Song" in
a moving solo. I could write about the skill and courage standing up
and singing alone into an immense space filled with silent
worshippers. The song was written and recorded by John Denver and can
be heard on YouTube. It is a love song that tells a woman how she
fills up the senses of the singer but the words and meaning can apply
very well to a worshiper's feelings about God or a hiker's feelings
about nature.

I am near the end of the audiobook "Fear Itself", a history of the US
during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. The author is an
older historian and he emphasizes the questions that arose about 1939
in both the US and Europe as to whether a squabbling, argumentative
democracy was capable of dealing with the organized, swift, obedient
forces massed under dictators. It seems clear that our country was
unified, electrified by the challenges of the war. I was only a baby
but as a little kid, I remember the amazing moment. My father was
outside the dining room windows on a ladder and my mother was in the
kitchen. All of a sudden, they both went crazy. I later came to
understand they had heard an official announcement on the radio: the
war was entirely over!

But I don't want to write about either of those things today. I want
to write about a cinnamon roll with sour cream icing. If that doesn't
sound appealing, good: there will be more for me. We have a little
coffee shop hidden away on the edge of the college campus. It is easy
to miss but I advise you to locate Zest and have a cup there. Have
whatever you need to allow yourself to buy such a roll and take a
bite. You may tremble, you may feel yourself temporarily in paradise.
We both know we don't need more calories, especially not in the form
of sugar and white, wispy dough. It ain't healthy but it is heavenly.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Longtime nursing and parenting

I think that some fish and amphibians create babies by squirting large clouds of eggs or sperm into the water and letting physics mix the two.  For them, that's it as far as sex, procreation and parenting goes.  When you contrast that with 20 years of direct parenting followed by another 20 or so of worry and wonder about the kids and where you might have gone wrong with them, you can see that humans have developed an oddly taxing way of reproducing.

I have a longtime interest in nutrition and it has led me in recent years to the subject of cooking.  Cooking, like parenting, is a big deal with humans and scientists like Richard Wrangham (see his "Catching Fire" but his book, not the Hunger Games novel) have charted out the ways that the adoption of cooking affects humans.  It does so in many ways, from supplying more calories and nutrients in less eating time than the other animals can manage with only raw foods.  But of course, cooking and table settings and table manners and table conversations and coordinated meals do much more for us and to us than just lessen chewing time.  As I mentioned, in some primitive societies, sex together is one thing but being offered food and accepting it is a way bigger deal and equals getting married.

If you think about what we normally call "childhood" and contrast that with the baby frogs or baby alligators who move about unsupervised at birth and live by luck and instinct, you get a glimpse of another very human and special way of doing things.  You can see nature films of young wildebeests being born and managing to stand within minutes.  They can run awkwardly and stay with the herd right away.  They nurse from their mammal moms standing up.  Watch "Call the Midwife" (PBS and Netflix) and see the help and assistance human babies need for months.

Whether a parent or not, we all were squalling little bundles and we would all have died without years of support and nursing and care.  Speaking and understanding speech is a basic mark of being human but so is upright, two-footed walking around.  We take years to master those skills and that is only when everything goes optimally.  We don't even start to get our adult teeth for 5 or more years.  Then, the years of elementary and secondary education and life during that time.  So, maybe at age 17, we get college or apprenticeship or a beginning job.

Much of our lives and activities are built around the extended human childhood.

Friday, July 22, 2016

White privilege

At our recent Society of Friends Gathering (with a capital G), there
was talk, and interest and concern with white privilege. I was
interested in what sort of things showed the existence of special
treatment and such for the great majority of those attending. They
looked "white" to me, although nobody is actually white. I looked up
the books that seemed to be related to the subject of special breaks
for white people and I chose the book by Lena Williams called "It's
the Little Things". Since I have been listening to an audio copy of
"Fear Itself" by Ira Katznelson, a historian with good credentials, I
heard about efforts by many members of the US Congress during the
1930's and 40's to try to keep conditions, laws and rules arranged to
favor whites and give blacks more obstacles and limitations. The book
"Fear Itself" about the Roosevelt and Truman years, from the end of
the Great Depression, through World War II and into the Atomic Era.

Katznelson documents the voting in the House and Senate along with
amendments to bills. I don't know much about the motivation for the
steady efforts to create conditions more favorable to whites than to
blacks. One example that stuck in my mind was passing appropriations
for agricultural research to be done by colleges and universities but
not those that were black. World War II called for many soldiers and
how to get them and motivate them to risk death and injury while
maintaining what had been the customary segregation was a steady
problem. WW II had the whole country employed and humming economically
and the federal government had agencies and powers aimed at keeping
high employment after the war. A common strategy was to try to
complain about federal power and to support states' rights. Most of
the time, when a program or a law was administered by the individual
states, some sort of difference between rights and possibilities for
whites and blacks was instituted by some states.

One example is a continuation of the previous practice of advertising
"white" job openings in a separate newspaper list from "black" jobs.
Some administrators would purposely offer a lower level job to a
black, knowing that person had much higher skills. Once the black
rejected that job, a way would be found to deny that person
unemployment benefits.

Lena Williams has been a reporter for the New York Times for more than
40 years. She is black and knows both black and white life in the
north and in the south of the US. She opens her book with the
business of long, flowing hair on women. She explains that many black
women have hair that doesn't lend itself to the typical white young
woman's hairstyle of long hair. She says that black women accept
their weight more often than white women but obsess about their
hairstyle more than whites. Many young black women have been
conditioned to believe their hair is never right or beautiful by ads.

Williams gives many examples of different sorts of law enforcement for
the two groups. Police and others, such as gas station operators, may
be quicker and more severe with rule and law enforcement with black
people. For instance, many gas stations require that some form of
payment be completed before refueling begins. If a white begins
refueling without having paid, they may be allowed to continue while
in some cases a bigger, louder, more humiliating deal is made when a
black does the same thing.

The black woman law professor who spoke at our Gathering mentioned
that when she shops with her sons, she cautions them to behave
themselves and to stay close to her. She does not want them accused
of theft or of preparing to steal. She certainly doesn't want them
stopped or stalked by a store detective or arrested.

I recommend "It's the Little Things" but it is not pleasant reading.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Moving toward better consideration

Rex Ambler is a British Quaker who has oriented certain groups toward
a better practice for thinking about their lives, plans and problems.
His book "Light to Live By" available from Quaker books and in paper
from Amazon is a translation of a lecture he gave in German to the
German Quakers. By the way, I have been told that the country with
the most Quakers per head is Kenya. Surprising, huh?

Amber has several books and he founded the "Experiment with Light"
program of revitalizing and focusing on the best instruction in the
use of Quaker consideration and contemplation. In "Light to Live By"
he explains the parallels between what he has found in writings of
George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends (official name of
the Quakers) 350 years ago, modern Quaker and secular quiet
contemplation and the work of Eugene Gendlin's program of "focusing".
In much the way that modern advocates of meditation advise, the basic
ideas are to sit quietly but comfortably with little or no excess
movement or fidgeting and simply see what comes to mind.

The Buddhists, longtime specialists in meditation, also advise that
any problem that is bugging the mind should be considered honestly and
openly. If one's worries or needs are too frightening to be looked at
squarely, wait until they are more face-able. Virtually all coaches
of mind use advise trying to face what is happening, what has happened
and what is desired in the future, near or far fully. Not running
from guilt or anger or fear or disgust can be very helpful. Looking
calmly and clearly and deeply enlists all sorts of strengths and casts
the famous light on possibilities and stances that one can use.

Ambler's book "The Quaker Way" emphasizes that the Quaker way is more
of a procedure and less of a series of statements to be believed or
followed. You can imagine how much trouble such a stance got the
early Quakers in when it became clear that they were advocating a
direct relation with God instead of one that used a priesthood or
governmental authority.

You can download The Quaker Way for $7.99 from Amazon and you can see
quite a bit of Gendlin's book "Focusing" in Google Books.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Landlines and answering machines

Sometimes, Lynn or I want a nap. I would say 25% of nap attempts are
interrupted prematurely by a phone call, most of the time from an
organization asking for money or our vote. We still have a landline.
So, we have an answering machine. I don't want a phone ringing, a
voice saying "Leave a message" or any other loud sound when we are
trying to take a nap. So, I unplug the phones and the answering
machine., That may be harder than it sounds if the phones have backup
batteries or other ways of continuing to allow incoming calls and
rings or other alerts.

I want a master switch to cut off all incoming sounds but I don't have
one. I go around the house disconnecting our landline phones and the
answering machine. I could set that machine's volume level to zero
and maybe now I will.

Lately, the answering machine hasn't been cutting in. Most of the
charity and political calls are machine made and those machines can
detect when an answering machine has turned on. They end the call
when that happens. But lately, the answering machine hasn't been
turning on. We have had that machine for more than 20 years and I
thought it might be getting old. I tested calls several times and it
failed to work. I went to the store and got an up-to-date machine
with a nice price and good looks. Came home and started putting it in
place. I found a cord dangling from the machine in a loop. Both ends
of the loop were plugged into the answering machine. I am not an
electrical guy but I am pretty sure that no cord is helping if it runs
right back to the machine it is hooked to.

I checked out the logic and wiring and reconnected the wires the way
they are supposed to be. I guess I disconnected stuff for a nap and
failed to pay attention to what I was doing. You guessed it. Old
machine works perfectly. Back to the store and returned the new
gadget.

Watch how you plug up them machines!

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