This is why I blog….

Here on this weblog, I write about whatever interests me at the moment, even though, at the time, I recognize that it might not interest anyone else.

But every once in a while, out of nowhere, it does.

I just received an email from a man in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada regarding a blog post I did back in 2003 about friends of mine leaving to join a group in Edmonton that I consider a cult.

You can read the post here – and be sure to read the comments as well.

Apparently, a colleague and friend of my e-mailer, who was missing since March 22, has been found dead. Police do not suspect foul play; my e-mailer suspects suicide. He also seems to believe that she was somehow involved in de Ruiter’s group.

I guess he is doing his own investigation, and so I gave him the names of my old friends who left all of those years ago, in case they are still around and can help him. And in case they might like to get back in touch with me.

That’s why I blog. Because all of my stuff is sitting somewhere out there in the world wide web, and sometimes it is just what someone is looking for.

Well, it’s one reason I blog. I blog because I’m a writer and I need a place to write.

Whatever. It all works for me.

just like in the bible

Well, almost.

Aaron stuck a stick in the ground and it flowered.

I stuck a willow branch in the ground and it’s budding.

budding willowJapanese willow

The branch is from our Japanese willow tree . It will be a bush rather than a tree, but otherwise will look the same.

I wonder if Aaron’s rod was really a thick willow branch, which roots very easily and buds quickly.

willowWillow trees are part of my Polish heritage; they grow all along fences and stables and wayside shrines throughout old Poland. I have a collection of translated prose and poetry from 1945 called “Wayside Willow.” It is a first edition, signed by the editor and all of the contributors. The dust jacket is missing, although the flyleaf portion is stuck inside like a bookmark. It was a gift to my Dad, who was very active and well-known in the downstate New York Polish community. It comes with me wherever I go. I have to admit that I have never read through the entire publication. Maybe today, Father’s Day, is a good time to do that.

The willow has a rich mythology, some of it controversial.

The above link says that I am a willow person….

Willow people (i.e. those born in March) are beautiful but full of melancholy, are attractive and very empathic, they like anything beautiful and tasteful and love to travel, they are dreamers and restless, capricious and honest, they are easily influenced but are not easy to live with being demanding, they have good intuition, but suffer in love and sometimes need to find an anchoring partner.

…but the truth is that I don’t like to travel, I am not easily influenced, and I’m awfully easy to live with. As for the rest, I’m not sure that I can be objective.

in case you forgot how crazy it is out there….

Each week, Harper’s publishes a weekly review of what’s happening around the world with links to the original source.

What I’m always interested in is the stuff that isn’t widely covered, for example, these in this past week’s Review:

! In Afghanistan, suicide bombers attacked the defense ministry and spectators at a game of buzkashi, a sport played on horseback using a headless goat carcass.

! In Egypt, where the attorney general’s office was encouraging the practice of citizen’s arrests, soccer fans set fire to a police social club, a fast-food franchise, and the headquarters of the national soccer federation in protest of death sentences that were upheld for 21 rioters involved in a 2012 stadium riot that killed more than 70 people.

! Archaeologists in England uncovered a mass grave thought to contain the corpses of fourteenth-century Plague victims.

! In Tshwane, South Africa, eight-year-old Sanele Masilela was ritually wedded to 61-year-old Helen Shabangum.

! in Amsterdam 70-year-old twins Louise and Martine Fokkens retired from prostitution. “It is very different now,” said Louise. “No sense of community these days.”

! Faced with a shortage of swordsmen, Saudi Arabia was considering replacing beheadings with executions by firing squads.

It all makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

I dream

I dream every night, double feature sagas that roam places I’ve never been. Except that I have. People plague the landscape — people I’ve never known. Except that I have. I fight the mornings, waking out of time. Someday, I will sleep in endless oblivion. But now, I dream dystopias.

Books. I….

One for my ears and one for my eyes. That’s how I do books — usually two at once. Maybe it’s an escape — a way not to think about the things I really don’t want to think about. You know what I mean — female infanticide in India, the GOP debates. You know what I mean.

The book I just finished was on digital audio, and I just couldn’t stop listening to it until I was finished. Everything about it was unique — the format, the characters, the premise, the language.

The Night Circus.

The author is incredibly talented on a number of fronts. I was particularly fascinated by her Flax-Golden Tales. Be sure to take a look.

The Night Circus was nominated for a Golden Tentacle Award, which

ts awarded annually to the debut novel that best fits the criteria of progressive, intelligent and entertaining. The book must be the author’s first published work of novel-length fiction in any genre.

Take a look at the other nominees if you are into “progressive, intelligent, and entertaining” reading.

Of course, I download almost all the books I read from my library’s digital catalog. I was surprised to see that they even had The Night Circus. Usually I wind up with a mystery or suspense, which is what’s on my mp3 player now. Not on the level of The Night Circus, but it keeps me from thinking about the things I don’t want to think about. You know what I mean — malnourished people, malnourished animals, malnourished dreams.

woodchuck meditation

Groundhog medicine urges us to clear away destructive thought patterns and habits, so that we may be able to delve into the deepest mysteries of life and the Universe. Groundhog energy is about as deep as you can go without actually dying.

A chubby woodchuck
in the middle of an empty parking lot
stops to watch me walk in circles
around a June afternoon
awash in dandelion seeds
and gently dappled sky.

He twitches his nose,
ambles a few more steps
sits on his haunches,
rests his paws on his full belly –
a curious and patient and satisfied
Buddha.

“The soul needs its burrow,”
the woodchuck says,
“a warren to wend a way
through the solitary earth,
some private ground to hog,
a place safe to spend
that deep season of wonder.”

And, with a fanciful last twitch,
Buddha leaves the spotlight,
his coat a slow and sensuous shimmer
along the grave pavement.
Without looking back,
he disappears into the grasses
between the shadowy sumac,
leaving me to wander
toward my own way
in.

c elf 2003

proselytizing by any other name is still…

There are some things I will never understand, and one of them is why it seems so impossible for people to have strong convictions/beliefs without proselytizing.

Religious fundamentalists of all ilks are the big offenders, but I’m seeing more and atheists who are becoming similarly inclined. And it seems to me that there is a big difference between making one’s case/having an intelligent debate and trying to convert someone from her or his way of thinking to yours.

In truth, I’m a big fan of Pharyngula’s PZ Myers and Skepchick’s Rebecca Watson — both hard-nose atheists whose function in this larger world group of thinkers seems to be to press the offensive line of rationality against all who are against them. They are both incredibly brilliant, and, in that brilliance, incredibly arrogant. But, hey, they are so good at what they do that I enjoy the ride they take me on. (Watson’s clips on youtube are in-your-face riveting.) And they are not wrong in their analyses. But neither does that mean that they are all right.

Let’s face it. There will never be global agreement on why we are here and how we got here. Sometimes scientific evidence and religious beliefs might overlap. But usually their perceptions of reality are just too different.

I read somewhere recently something that explained that science is a way of knowing, and knowledge evolves as evidence is uncovered; religion is a way of believing, and faith/belief does not evolve.

There are many individuals who somehow can blend the two in a way that brings them both comfort and enlightenment. Deepak Chopra, one of them, recently wrote the following in his piece in the Huffington Post:

We often hear that humankind is on the verge of a major change in our perception of reality, a paradigm shift as it is called. But there’s no necessity for the new paradigm to break into laboratories and smash all the test tubes.

The brightest prospect is for an expanded science, one that takes consciousness into account. This is actually unfolding all around us. Even 10 years ago, a scientist who took consciousness seriously risked career suicide. He was likely to be rebuked with a common Physics slogan, “Shut up and calculate.” In other words, stop this foolish speculation and go back to what we trust — mathematics. But there is no getting around the bald fact that every human experience occurs in consciousness, including mathematics. If there is a reality beyond our awareness, by definition we will never know it. One branch of science after another, starting with the quantum revolution in physics a century ago, has been faced with mysteries that force it to consider consciousness. How does the brain produce thought? Why do genes respond when we interact or have experiences? Is biology a quantum phenomenon? Happily, there are now sizable conferences on these once unthinkable topics.

To be honest, I find the rantings of atheists more exciting and challenging then the writings of paradigm-shift philosophers. But that’s just me.

Like Walt Whitman, I’m just one big contradiction.

Because, in truth, I don’t get why we all can’t say “this is where I’m coming from, but/and, hey, whatever works for you is fine.” Of course, that all has to be in the context of some overarching values, such as “first, do no harm,” and “treat others the way that you want to be treated,” and “hey, you never know but you have to keep looking.”

I just don’t get what’s so hard about that.

Of course, proselytizing is what sells books, makes money, strokes egos, and earns notoriety. And there are lots of people who get off on that. And everyone needs to earn a living.

Finally, maybe it’s just that I’m getting old and am tired of the debate, and feel that, if you lead a life that is responsible to others and to the planet, what difference does it make what you “believe” on a religious or unreligious level.

And so, when I read something like the following, written by (much maligned scientist) Bruce Lipton in the Huffington Post I an inclined to hope his is right:

Humans evolved as the most powerful force in supporting Nature’s vitality. However, we have misused that power and are now paying the price for our destructive behavior.

The crises we face present us with the greatest opportunity in human history-conscious evolution. Through consciousness, our minds have the power to change our planet and ourselves. It is time we heed the wisdom of the ancient indigenous people and channel our consciousness and spirit to tend the Garden and not destroy it.

The story of human life on Earth is yet to be determined. Our evolution depends on whether we are willing to make changes in our individual and collective beliefs and behaviors, and whether we are able to make these changes in time. The good news is that biology and evolution are on our side. Evolution — like heaven — is not a destination, but a practice.

But I’m still a fan of PZ Meyers and Rebecca Watson, because while people like Lipton and Chopra are pulling at one end of the envelope, those other two and pushing at the other.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then I contradict myself.
I am large, I contain multitudes.

Walt Whitman

not quite Kansas

The dark sky made it obvious that a storm was brewing the other day as I sat on the front steps, waiting for my daughter and grandson to drive back from Holeyoke, where he had a vision therapy appointment. I went inside and put on the weather channel, just to find out how bad the storm was going to be.

TORNADO WARNING!

Huh? A tornado in western Massachusetts? And it seemed to be developing just behind the path along which my daughter would be driving — Route 5, and I91. I called her. “I’m almost home,” she says, when I tell her there’s a tornado warning and I hear the stunned silence at the other end of the phone. “I’m almost home,” she says, again.

I go back to the television, where the live sky cam on top of a local tv station in Springfield is showing the gathering clouds and slowly forming funnel.

In a few minutes, my family is home, unloading groceries. I am glued to my television as I watch the funnel sweep through the city and cross the Connecticut River less than 5 miles from our home and across the highway that my daughter had traveled on not that long ago.

It’s been three days since we’ve been able to watch tv or flick on a light switch to see where we’re going in the dark. But we have flashlights and batteries and a gas stove and a public library in the next town with power and wifi.

And that’s where I am now, charging my dead cell phone and catching up with email on my netbook. Even my Nook is recharging, since about all we’ve been able to do for entertainment in the evenings is read. By booklight. I’ve also been able to listen to some books on tape that I had downloaded from the library onto my iphone (which is part of the reason that I’m now recharging it).

Now I’m going to go and look at the news sites to find out just how bad the tornado damage is just a few miles from me. Without the television and internet, I have no idea. Thank goodness for free public libraries and wifi.

What a world!

of wild violets and whale tales

Our lawn is adorned with wild violets.

Most people treat them like the weeds they are categorized as. Others, like us, welcome them into our yards:

….it has chosen to live here and delight my senses. And be a host to the lovely fritillary butterfly.

For violets suit when home birds build and sing,
Not when the outbound bird a passage cleaves;
Not with dry stubble of mown harvest sheaves,
But when the green world buds to blossoming.

~Christina Georgina Rossetti

As with so many ideological positions that humans embrace, there often is no right or wrong. Wild violets are weeds. It is OK to enjoy them, ignore them, or eject them. Whatever works for you.

What works for us is letting them grow wherever they want and then mowing them along with lawn AND transplanting them where they make beautiful borders or mounds in strategic places. I just transplanted some to grow at the foot of our little sitting Buddha and to top off this goofy head/planter that guards a little side garden plot.

I wonder if they’ll grow happily all year in a globe of water, the way my Prayer Plant and various ivies and vines do. I’ll probably give it a try.

Which leads me to the tale of the whale.

While I do not believe in a god of any kind and, therefore, by definition, am an atheist, I do believe that there is a wisdom — a kind of energy — deep down in each of us with which we easily lose touch. Or maybe we never actually found it to begin with.

And, it’s possible (given quantum mechanics stuff) that such wisdom is connected somehow to everything else in the universe. What I call wisdom or energy, many people call SPIRIT. But that word conjures something close to a being, and so even that word doesn’t work for me.

So, where does the whale come in, you might ask.

There have been times in my past when I felt in touch with that inner wisdom, that energy. (If anyone was able to explain that feeling of connection it was Carl Sagan:)

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”

“Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature.”

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”

So, in my pursuit of what I have lost touched with, I’m seeing a therapist who uses “active imagination.” I have engaged in this practice many times before in my past and have found it useful, helpful, and creatively engaging.

One of narratives that can be introduced into an active imagination exercise is the “Personal Totem Pole,”, a technique developed by Dr. E.S. Gallegos. I participated in a Totem Pole workshop that he led more than 25 years ago, and I still remember how the experience energized me and helped me to begin resolving issues that I had with myself.

Oh yes, the whale.

Well, that’s the image that appeared in my chest (my heart chakra), where I have been physically feeling a great deal of constriction. Apparently, the whale is not the usual image associated with the heart chakra, but there he was, looking more like a Disney cartoon than a real whale.

The thing about these “inner journeys” is that whatever comes up is the right thing to come up. So, a cartoon whale is as valid and as powerful as the image of a singing humpback.

So, now I both spend meditative time with this whale as well as time googling around for information about whales in general and whales at totem animals. I also popped over to Itunes and downloaded some whale songs. Sometime this week I will dig out and again watch our DVD of Whale Rider.

The process that starts with a guided imagery/active imagination exercise fascinates me. It takes me down learning paths I never would have gone otherwise. It uses my affinity for symbols and metaphors to stimulate journeys into my unconscious that always wind up unleashing some of that inner wisdom/energy that is hard to consciously tap into.

With wild violets and whales, I launch myself into Spring.

this strange world

Each week, Harper’s offers its “Weekly Review—a digital newsletter that distills the world media’s discharge into three simple paragraphs.”

Here are some discharges (some amusing, some downright scary) from this week’s Harper’s Weekly Review. The links will take you to the original stories.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi denied accusations that he paid a teenage runaway for sex, explaining that he gave $65,000 to a bellydancer who goes by the name of Ruby the Heartbreaker to help her escape a life of prostitution by launching a beauty parlor, and that he thought she was Hosni Mubarak’s granddaughter. link

Donald Trump, who is giving “serious, serious thought” to running for president in 2012, outlined his Libya policy: “Either I’d go in and take the oil,“ he said, ”or I don’t go in at all.” link

Previously unseen emails revealed that BP tried to control independent research into the consequences of the Gulf oil spill. link

Hydraulic fracturing companies, an investigation revealed, injected hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous or carcinogenic chemicals into wells in at least 13 states between 2005 and 2009, as well as salt, instant coffee, and walnut hulls, to stimulate the release of natural gas from underground reserves. link

Bolivia prepared to pass the Law of Mother Earth, which will grant nature rights equal to those of humans, although it is not yet clear how the legislation will be implemented. link

Scientists identified the part of the brain integral to embarrassment by asking subjects to listen to their own karaoke renditions of the Temptations’ 1964 hit “My Girl” played back without the musical accompaniment. link

A retired greengrocer from Southampton, England, spent 400 hours knitting a three-tier wedding cake to celebrate the upcoming marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. “It’s not based on a pattern,” said 74-year-old Sheila Carter. “I just made it up. link

While I have to admit that, being an fanatical knitter, I was intrigued by the story of the knitted wedding cake. But only for a moment.

What really caught my attention was the Wired story about Bolivia.

Bolivia is one of South America’s poorest countries and is seeing its rural communities suffer with failing crops due to climatic events such as floods and droughts. Temperatures are set to rise by up to four degrees celsius over the next 100 years, while most of its glaciers are likely to melt within 20 years.

The Bolivian government — under president Evo Morales — will establish a ministry of mother earth and commit to give communities the authority to monitor and control the industries and businesses that are polluting the environment.

I hope the media keeps track of this story to see if what Morales proposes can work, given corporate greed, even in Bolivia.