Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety
Sometimes, I run into the same message twice in a short span of time. I was reading through the reference list of "Timeless Healing", which is a good practice for finding additional sources related to something I like. I found that Herbert Benson had collaborated on an article with one of my favorite authors, Mark Epstein. Epstein is a psychiatrist and a strong practitioner of Buddhist ideas and philosophy. He has written several books and I have most of them. One of his earliest ones is "Falling Apart Without Going to Pieces". It was one of those good books prior to Kindles that had to wait to be offered in that form. I saw Epstein's name in the reference list and was reminded to check if Falling Apart (Epstein's expression for letting go of preconditions and restricted thinking) had been converted to Kindle yet.
It had and I immediately downloaded it. It was the first Epstein book I read. I had it on my shelf for 5 or more years and finally read it, marveling at how useful the book was. With it securely in my Kindle now, I started re-reading it. The first part is about spiritual materialism and I could see that I had not grasped what that was all about back when I read it in paper.
Lynn reads a bit of a book to me after breakfast every morning. She reads for 10-15 minutes and she should, since I read to her most evenings for 30 - 60 minutes. Right now, we are reading Deepak Chopra's "The Book of Secrets." It is another book that I have read before but am enjoying listening to it. Actually, I like to listen to Chopra, an MD endocrinologist who has written many books on spiritual and philosophical ideas. He has a great Indian accent which I am sorry to say he is losing as he ages and continues to live in California and attempt to help people see his view of life, which is alternately helpful and imaginative but sometimes vague or exaggerated.
Today's reading was about SPIRITUAL MATERIALISM! Between Epstein and Chopra, I get the idea. It is seeking, striving, collecting, as in "My life would be fine if I could just acquire a few more X" where X is spiritual books, experiences, treasures or some other spiritual tool or skill or jewel. It is getting deep into "if only", where if only I were more virtuous or more focused or more studious or self-denying or...or...or...
I use the label "the Buddhist problem" for my version of this. I can see that if I am totally satisfied, I mean fully, deeply, COMPLETELY satisfied, I might not need or want to draw another breath, eat another bite, much less buy another gallon of gasoline or natural gas. I might just be still and evaporate off into the atmosphere. Since I imagine I will struggle for one more heartbeat at the very end of my life, I expect to be somewhat unsatisfied, somewhat governed by animal lusts and hungers and needs right through this whole earthly adventure. I try to accept my needs and desires calmly and prune away what I can but even if it is folly, I am going to want more meals and more books and more kisses.
I read that Ravi Shankar, a famous Indian sitar artist, attended a concert by Rostropovich, the great cellist. Asked afterwards his opinion of the performance, Shankar said that it sounded like the cellist had played that piece before.
I listened to a Great Course by Bill Messenger on "The Elements of Jazz". He explained that during the birth years of jazz, young people in the South heard the music and liked it. At a dance, the usual band was asked to play jazz but the result was entirely unsuccessful. So local black musicians who were known to be excellent were called in and they played just what was desired.
Our guide on the recent tour of Pueblos and Navaho lands prayed aloud each morning before our bus took off. Her prayers to traditional Navaho powers and forces, such as the four sacred directions, marked by the Navahos by four sacred mountains, were lovely. Several of us were interested in the prayers and asked for copies. She told us that she composed each prayer the night before and that copying or distributing them would be inappropriate religiously.
This business of unique, on-the-spot creations versus careful and deliberate reproduction of a composition, such as a Mozart aria, is interesting to me. On the molecular level, no two things are identical. In fact, merely sitting in slightly different places makes two indistinguishable drinking glasses a little different. The two glasses get used by different hands, are handled a little more or a little less, so do not have identical existences. My wife is a potter and aspires to be able to make ceramic creations that look totally uniform. But so far, each of at least 250 creations has been unique.
The question of what is more laudable, a perfect execution of a pattern or score or blueprint more than once, or a creation that is completely one of a kind interests me. It may be a somewhat arbitrary choice as to which to give higher praise. I am reminded of Huston Smith's comment that in some religions in the world, it is wrong to enter a religious building with shoes on and in some, it is wrong not to wear shoes. Similarly, with covering your head or not covering it.
I guess part of which way an art goes is dependent on local ability to record. Without the technology to record a voice or a play, the situation of quite different from being able to listen or watch a performance repeatedly. Before the invention of a way to write music down, there would have been only human memory to remember what a song was. The emerging subject of 3D printing can make it possible to create a pattern used by a 3D printer to make extremely similar objects.
In writing this blog, I have tried to write each post anew and not to repeat myself. I am confident that if I took one of the over 1400 posts in this blog and reposted it without identifying it as a repeat, most readers would not realize it was not its first appearance. I am sure that the value of posts and the skill of expression in them varies so maybe sometime, I'll try reposting one of the better ones. Rereading a book or watching a favorite movie over again are possibilities so maybe I will use a post over.
I have mentioned in other posts in this blog that various experiences, ideas and books got me interested since 1985 in relaxation and meditation. Watching the TED talk by Dr. Alan Watson changed and expanded my interest. When I first heard of transcendental meditation, I heard of a mantra, a word, phrase or sound that one repeats silently or aloud as a focus for 10 to 20 minutes, all the while relaxing all tension everywhere in the body. I preferred to use a visual method, finding some small point in my visual field and silently keeping my eyes on it. I found that I could notice when my gaze had shifted off the target while avoiding going into a trance. I wanted to try to stay in a state of relaxed readiness, as though I needed to be able to see the first sign of movement or change in my focus point, not be in a dream state of suspension.
The word "mindful" can mean many different things and as research piles up in diverse areas and disciplines, we hear it more and more often. I am interested in the sort of mindfulness or awareness that gives me a chance to notice what it is that I am thinking about, in order to reject or modify the subject or direction or tone of my thinking. This visual concentration on something accompanied by calmly and gently shifting my eyes and thoughts back to the spot when I notice I am wandering has improved my reflex to notice what I was thinking. When I notice, I can quickly sense whether that is a good direction for me at the moment.
However, going from attention training to related areas such as deliberate and effective calming my whole body when I want it and healing any part of mind or body that needs to be healed, has gotten me into other sources and practices. The book "The Healing Power of Breath" seems a likely source since it is written by two Harvard MD's. Watkins showed that regular breaths of the same depth and duration quickly returned the body to a state of calm, according to the measures of calm used, such as heart rate and the breathing rate when allowed to go back on automatic. "Healing Power" speaks of slower breathing. Some sources speak about coherent breathing but I am not clear about what is coherent with slower, regular breath. I do see that emotional state, heart rate and respiration are related in the body.
On a different tangent, Herbert Benson, MD, one of the first sources I read on meditation and author of "The Relaxation Response" and several other books, uses "Timeless Healing" to discuss meditation and the placebo effect, which he wants to name "remembered wellness." Benson is a mature and insightful researcher and I credit him with good sense and good observational powers. Benson tracks evidence related to body healing and religious belief. Another author/physician, Andrew Weil, has a small audio book on breathing, which I haven't gotten to yet. I guess various Russian thinkers and scientists have been interested in manipulations of the breath for health and calming. The power of meditation, anchored by breathing or focused on a visual target, is mentioned in this Harvard Medical School newsletter article as possibly affecting the expression of genes in the body. What all these tangents have in common is the connection between mind and body.
I learned a lot from W. E. Deming, one of the main gurus in the quality movement. One of his principles was to be suspicious of numbers in goals or directions, such as "Load with no more than six persons." He had often found that the number specified was arrived at somewhat arbitrarily and without much or any data. So, whenever I spot a number, I wonder about it. Similarly, with speedy checkout counters. Some specify no more than 10 items while others have signs with a limit of 15 items. Since different sorts of items and different clerks are often at the same counter, one wonders if the parameter (the number) is set at its most useful value.
Similarly, I am suspicious of ordered categories, hierarchies, such as grades or steps. Frequently in instruction, one is told to learn A and then B, being careful to learn A completely since it is the basis for B. Yet, when I come upon a learner who is having trouble with A but performs B satisfactorily, I can see that the supposed step-dependency doesn't hold. School, education, instruction and training might be improved if we were a little more restrained in announcing what we think are step-dependencies.
Learners who are very cautious or highly motivated to be "perfect" can fail to move forward when they are told it would be wrong, immoral, dangerous or silly to try further steps without mastering the early levels. So, they can self-restrain, as well as be held back of course, simply because all involved think the logical steps are the only route possible.
My experience is that it is best to present material in as logical and helpful order as possible but not to make too much of the supposed order underlying the material. Whenever, one teaches over time, there will necessarily be something taught or presented first and then later, something else. Whenever we find learners scattered among the items to be learned, with mastery of this but not that, we have evidence of a lack of genuine dependency. Actual information as to WHAT was mastered and WHAT was not is often omitted. Learners are accustomed to being told the number or percentage of items that were wrong but not WHICH ones.
In a related way, I have seen many people stay mute in discussions on the grounds that they didn't read the assignment or the book. Of course, when a participant is completely in dark, it is only polite to stay quiet or skip the gathering. However, once I learn that Rosemary was betrayed by her landlady, I may have a completely legitimate comment or question, whether I read the story or not. The spottiness with which we all remember read or heard material is testament to the lack of dependency between exposure to the material and complete grasp of every word, idea and possible question related to it. Often, discussion reveals angles to the material that we would not grasp without interaction with others.
Some of things I learned
Pueblos and Navahos are separate groups.
Navahos seem more organized and united.
There were times when Navaho and Apache raiders plundered the Pueblos.
The two tribes had some legends that sometime, important, maybe holy visitors would come from the east bearing a cross. When the Spanish conquistadors showed up from the east, bearing a cross wearing armor and having swords and muskets, they seemed godly. Over time, the Catholicism in the two groups has, for some, lessened and an interest in their own religious practices and beliefs has re-emerged.
Our Navaho guide, having been a student at Stanford, Wellesley and Johns Hopkins, gave us personal examples of her piety and facility in praying to the spirits of the four key directions. She said a prayer aloud at the beginning of each day and what she said was poetic, beautiful, evocative and powerful.
Even though the Pueblos do not all speak the same language, they were able to plan and execute the "Pueblo revolt" in 1680 when they made clear their displeasure with Spanish rule. They were independent of the Spaniards for 12 years but were then reconquered later. The Spaniards and the tribes managed slightly better relations as time went on.
There have been times when Catholic priests tried to eradicate the native religions, by such means as finding and destroying all religious objects and forbidding all religious activities, such as dances. There have been times when Pueblo leaders attempted to return their people to non-Catholic practice and belief by essentially the same methods. Neither group was totally successful.
Both Pueblo and Navaho were non-literate societies. Living in such a society is very different from what most current Americans are used to. We may tend to think that writing and reading are not all that important in our lives but such a thought underestimates the reading involved in signs, buttons, switches, ads, instructions, directions, etc.The subject of writing and the maintenance of written records and documents is a big one and again, it is easy to underestimate how much the writings of those now deceased affect our daily lives. Socrates warned against the incursion of writing as a skill and tool on the grounds that its use would deteriorate human memory skills. It probably has done so but on the other hand, as a person who has taken great comfort in making lists, using email, making notes, I can see that I lead a life intimately connected to writing. It may be worthwhile to note how much you actually write in any form these days. Modern tools, not available to me in childhood, include multiple ways to record both voice and pictures, still or moving, and they constitute a new sort of record that is used very much in our lives.
There are young people who are interested in tribal matters and their heritage and using modern media to tell about them. The movie "Turquoise Rose" (2007) is an example of serious Native American cinematographic art.
I have not slept in many odd places. Maybe the oddest was when I was a young teen and joining the Order of the Arrow in the Boy Scouts. We had to sleep in an open field but we did have ground cloths (waterproof tarps) to keep the ground moisture and dew from soaking us. We followed in a straight line through a field and slept at the place the leader pointed to for each of us in turn.
Last night, I slept in a sleep center. Lynn says I tend to snore some every night and snoring is a sign of possible apnea ("no breath"). I wore a test glove offered by a local dentist and it showed moderate apnea, about 18 times an hour where I stopped breathing for 10 seconds or more. The body is evidently quite vigilant about getting oxygen and will stir the sleeper to correct the problem and get air. However, the cessations of breathing are tough on the heart. Restricted breathing that doesn't really completely cease is also hard on the heart which tends to beat faster to try and get more air to the lungs and through the body. Also, the stirrings and elevated heartbeat awaken or partially awaken the sleeper, which degrades the quality of sleep.
As a boy, I was sometimes required to "go to bed" when I didn't feel sleepy and I had other, more exciting things I wanted to do. But an incident in the 2nd grade convinced me that sleep mattered. Although normally, reading was easy and fun, one day I had a devil of a time with the word "apple". Later, I told my mom that I was stymied by the word and was surprised to have trouble during our reading class. She said it was probably due to lack of sleep since family events had kept me up extra late the night before.
As a 5th grade teacher, I often wondered about the sleeping habits, conditions and routines of my students. It seemed to me that good sleep was something even poor families could provide for their children although I now have a better appreciation of the possible noise, duties and conditions that might well prevent kids from regular, satisfying sleep.
I listened to Prof. Craig Heller of Stanford University discuss what science knows about sleep. I learned that my general picture of the body more or less checking out during sleep and going into a neutral state of suspension of life is way off base. Many processes in the brain and body are conducted during the hours of sleep, which are completely essential to life, just as much so as is breathing and eating.
I got a call from the sleep center that they had a cancellation and were offering the slot to me. I have a general rule to take opportunities when they come along. I checked in at 9:30 PM. I had wires and sensors put on my head, neck, chest and arms. My breathing, body position and many other variables were read. The sleep center has a camera and microphone that can pick up sights and sounds while I sleep. They have a trained watcher in attendance all night. Two sleepers are assigned per watcher and four sleepers were accommodated last night.
I had a great night's sleep and am looking forward to an appointment where they tell me my fortune.
(I just got a phone call that my appointment in the local sleep center is moved up to tonight. So, I will write a post now for release tomorrow. It may be a bit later than usual.)
The woman called Byron Katie has helped many people, including herself, strip away false assumptions and limiting beliefs and face reality clearly. In her book "Loving What Is", she writes:
Once, as I walked into the ladies' room at a restaurant near my home, a woman came out of the single stall. We smiled at each other, and, as I closed the door, she began to sing and wash her hands. "What a lovely voice!" I thought. Then, as I heard her leave, I noticed that the toilet seat was dripping wet. "How could anyone be so rude?" I thought. "And how did she manage to pee all over the seat? Was she standing on it?" Then it came to me that she was a man—a transvestite, singing falsetto in the women's restroom. It crossed my mind to go after her (him) and let him know what a mess he'd made. As I cleaned the toilet seat, I thought about everything I'd say to him. Then I flushed the toilet. The water shot up out of the bowl and flooded the seat. And I just stood there laughing.
Katie, Byron; Mitchell, Steven (2002-05-07). Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life (Kindle Locations 416-422). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
We had a long winter. It wasn't terribly fierce but it seemed as though it would go on forever. We longed for spring. We went on a trip for a couple of weeks. We were just knocked out by the beauty, the green, the birds, the flowers when we returned. So lovely! So welcome! What a wonderful time and place to be!
Then, it got a little too warm for us. We have been assaulted by mosquitos several times lately. First, it is too cold. Then, it is nice and beautiful and green but bugs! When will everything ever be just perfect?
Ever since the industrial age began with mechanical looms, we have found that machines can be built to do things we want done, often doing them better and faster than we can manage without the machines. The book "Race Against the Machine How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy" by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee is one that looks at the continuing spread of modern machinery. The invention of digital methods continues to affect more and more aspects of human life. In the past, people have been too quick to announce that a trend had ended and it looks to me that we may yet see some very surprising and powerful innovations emerge, beyond the many that have and are modifying our lives.
I have seen speculation that human economy might someday reach the point where it no longer makes sense for humans to work. At that point, everything might be better done by machines, leaving people to just lounge about, playing games and sports and musical instruments.
But there is another competitive race that I think also deserves notice. That is the race between women and men. I mean a race for position, power and prestige. It wasn't that long ago that women were meant to be in the kitchen, the nursery and the bedroom. No owning property or learning to read. Since many men are larger, stronger and heavier than most women and since we are biologically wired to assume that bigger is more powerful, it seems that women are quieting replacing men in field after field. How can that be? How can they do it?
The modern age of digitalization, theory, and knowledge seems to fit very nicely with the quiet and concentration in which women excel. I remember reading that when the Iranians captured those Americans and over-ran the American embassy, they grabbed a sack of shredded diplomatic documents. They lusted after the information that might have been contained within and hired some of their patient women weavers who steadily reassembled the documents. Try getting a group of red-blooded warriors to accomplish that!
On many campuses, in many professional schools and occupations, the numbers of women are climbing. Everywhere that people skills, good memory, careful verification matters, women are doing better and better. Science, engineering, medicine, law, politics, all sorts of administration are fields in which more and more women are excelling.
I feel some sympathy for directors of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Like the unlikable superintendent of "Rabbit Proof Fence", it would be easy to be a fairly intelligent, reasonably promising person that the President or Congress or whoever selects to be the head of the Federal agency dealing with the over 600 native tribes in the US. Just like the early European and American explorers actually did, it would be quite easy to come upon little villages, or long houses, or tee-pees, and immediately decide that these poor, ignorant people were pathetically behind me and my culture. It would be easy to tenderly and lovingly open the door to these poor creatures and allow them entry into my way of life.
Yet, I see, as depicted quite nicely in the older film "The Gods Must Be Crazy", as exemplified by the reception of Cardinal Wojtyła as the new Pope John Paul II, that a less cluttered, less material life can be both a challenge and a guide to us "Connecteds". The hero of "The Gods" has only a small kit of his belongings. Pope John Paul surprised his housekeeping staff with the few, worn-out articles of clothing he brought with him to the Vatican from Poland. The Navahos have stories of four previous worlds we have lived in, starting with a time of darkness and void much like what is depicted in Genesis. They refer to our current world as the world of glitter. I find this a very solid and insightful term. We might say we are in an age of bling: light, inexpensive, catchy little bits that are fun but not of much lasting significance.