Adjusting the Lens

The tributes to Ruth Bader Ginsberg inspire and warm the heart.

Turning the channel, I’m with this week’s New Yorker magazine and “One-Star Yelp Reviews of Heaven” by Jay Martel.

Inspired by a one-star Yelp review of the Eiffel Tower, “Too much steel,” he took a critic’s eye-view of heaven.

“I feel kinda bad about the one star, but I guess it was just way overhyped to me, and when I got here I took one look at the clouds and the angels and everyone in white gowns and thought, “Really?”  It’s such a cliche.”

“Not a fan of the pearly-white color scheme.”

“I really wanted condor wings.”

“Smaller than I imagined. Also bigger than I imagined.”

And so may you adjust your lens so today and every day is a five star, or ten star, or many constellations and galaxies of a day.

Moving In and Out

I woke this morning thinking of the spirit of Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  We carry her in us now.

I was on a Sensory Awareness call today, and was led to feel the air moving in and out, the response in my tissues as I allowed awareness to percolate in and out.  We’re not alone.  We live in connection, as we move, are moved, in and out.  

Maya Angelou says it beautifully in this poem “When Great Trees Fall”.

When Great Trees Fall

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.

When great trees fall

in forests,

small things recoil into silence,

their senses

eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,

the air around us becomes

light, rare, sterile.

We breathe, briefly.

Our eyes, briefly,

see with

a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,

examines,

gnaws on kind words

unsaid,

promised walks

never taken.

Great souls die and

our reality, bound to

them, takes leave of us.

Our souls,

dependent upon their

nurture,

now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed

and informed by their

radiance,

fall away.

We are not so much maddened

as reduced to the unutterable ignorance

of

dark, cold

caves.

And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill

with a kind of

soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never

to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be

better. For they existed.

– Maya Angelou

Grief

I just learned Ruth Bader Ginsberg has passed on. She fought so hard, gave so much. This is beautiful to read right now, through sorrow and tears.

Possibility

My driver’s license is up for renewal and because I’m now over 70, I need to go in for a written test.  I’ve taken the on-line ones, and feel primed, so today is the day.  I go on-line to make an appointment.  I see that because of covid, I have a one year extension and can’t make an appointment online.  Hmmm!  Why not put it off until the new year?  It works for me. 

Today I’m entranced with the Diving Bell Spider that breathes underwater by capturing a bubble of air.

I’m in awe!

Martin Buber, a religious philosopher, wrote that “Play is the cultivation of the possible.”

I wonder if long ago spiders were playing and wondered, “what if?” and so now they inhabit another place to be.  Where now might I cultivate expanded ways to be and breathe?  

Group Pressure and Coming Together

 I promoted the BBC show The Century of the Self in my last post.

Today I was invited to complete a ten minute on-line survey evaluating my local hospital.  It’s being rebuilt and the architect is now considering the interior, and they wanted to know what I, and others of course, thought of the interior as it’s been.

I was given a list of adjectives – calm, unsettling, agitating, peaceful, like that.

Part of me thought well, it’s a hospital so yes, a bit unsettling when I’ve been there, but through the questions I saw what they could do, since now, it’s being re-done, to make it a more peaceful, calming, and supportive experience.

I’m glad the survey was anonymous and on-line since in person I might not have been so critical and direct.  I remembered back to a freshman psychology class at UCLA where one requirement was to participate in experiments.  I learned how we want to fit in, so we will tend to agree with the group, or at least be influenced by it, unless perhaps we are an 8 on the Enneagram, the Challenger.

Of course I’d never heard of The Enneagram at the time.  I’m said to be a 2.  Relationship is a priority with me.

Anyway, The Century of the Self emphasizes corporate, and now political emphasis, on using focus groups as to how to lead and direct us in a certain way.

Thinking about it, I recalled one focus group I participated in.  About 16 subscribers to Ode magazine, now called The Intelligent Optimist, gathered in a room in a high-rise building in San Francisco. There was a see-through mirror on one side and a leader in the room.  We were there to discuss how to keep Ode magazine alive.  They needed advertising.  What would we discerning, obviously intelligent, environmentally conscious readers consider acceptable?  

It became a bit of a rout as each person seemed to want to outclass the other as to how little they consumed, and how amazingly superior they were in the way of conservation and preservation.  Advertising couldn’t reach us because we needed nothing. We were immune to ads and suggestion. I can feel the energy of self-righteousness even now and this was many years ago.

You would have thought we all walked there in foot coverings made of bark.  I had taken the ferry but my shoes were leather.  Oh, my!  

The Century of the Self ends with Robert Reich speaking.  He says we need a leader.  Governments can’t be run by the whim of the moment.  A focus group may say railroads aren’t the most important thing to them, and then, the railroad breaks down, and yes, it is.

We need a wider vision, a compassionate vision that honors that, yes, of course, we are all individuals, and we are in this together on one planet which is stretching its wings as we look out to the moon, Mars, Venus, and the stars.

On another note, Dan Coats points out in an opinion piece today that we have to ensure this election is fair.  Too much has happened for most of us to trust the process.  He suggests: 

The most important part of an effective response is to finally, at long last, forge a genuinely bipartisan effort to save our democracy, rejecting the vicious partisanship that has disabled and destabilized government for too long. If we cannot find common ground now, on this core issue at the very heart of our endangered system, we never will.

Our key goal should be reassurance. We must firmly, unambiguously reassure all Americans that their vote will be counted, that it will matter, that the people’s will expressed through their votes will not be questioned and will be respected and accepted. I propose that Congress creates a new mechanism to help accomplish this purpose. It should create a supremely high-level bipartisan and nonpartisan commission to oversee the election. This commission would not circumvent existing electoral reporting systems or those that tabulate, evaluate or certify the results. But it would monitor those mechanisms and confirm for the public that the laws and regulations governing them have been scrupulously and expeditiously followed — or that violations have been exposed and dealt with — without political prejudice and without regard to political interests of either party.

Also, this commission would be responsible for monitoring those forces that seek to harm our electoral system through interference, fraud, disinformation or other distortions. These would be exposed to the American people in a timely manner and referred to appropriate law enforcement agencies and national security entities.

Such a commission must be composed of national leaders personally committed — by oath — to put partisan politics aside even in the midst of an electoral contest of such importance. They would accept as a personal moral responsibility to put the integrity and fairness of the election process above everything else, making public reassurance their goal.

Commission members undertaking this high, historic responsibility should come from both parties and could include congressional leaders, current and former governors, “elder statespersons,” former national security leaders, perhaps the former Supreme Court justices David Souter and Anthony Kennedy, and business leaders from social media companies.

The whole column is here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/17/opinion/2020-election-voting.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

The Century of the Self

Last night I watched a show I highly recommend: The Century of the Self.

My sons have often asked me how we went from the idealism of the 60’s to what followed so that we’re living on a planet suffering from racism, injustice, and man-made manipulation and climate change.

The show helps me understand.  It’s four hours. I planned to watch over four nights but I was hooked and couldn’t stop.  

One thing that surprised me is how young Bill and Hillary Clinton look, like children, and they were idealistic until the midterm elections shut them down.  Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher also look, and are, young.  Bill was 46 when he took office, Obama 47, and Kennedy 43.  Reagan was 69 and Trump 70.  

The Freud family and Ronald Reagan do not come off well.  The 1954 horrific manipulation of the U.S. in Guatemala is painfully sobering. The U.S. as controlled by corporations has a lot to answer for. How do we combat psychological warfare?

Reagan made it okay to not be compassionate.  We’re seeing that now with Trump.  

Anyway, it’s a four hour history of the 20th century with wonderful footage from the past, some of which I know. Now, in this century, we know we’re manipulated by social media, and yet, do we turn it off? Many of us connect through it. Can we override the dark side?

I believe, properly monitored, it allows us to connect with those we might not otherwise meet. I remember the first Gulf war. I live in a relatively homogenous political arena, but my oldest son was going on the internet and interacting with people with different beliefs. He heard other “sides” of the issue, and interacted with those who were there.

I think of the chemical elements and how they come together. What a gift it is that hydrogen and oxygen open to each other and bond to give us water, and with water, life. What about sodium and chloride coming together to make salt? Can’t we come together and open our bonds to create what separately we might not be able to imagine?

On another note, I woke from a dream of my mother.  She was here, or so it seemed, and I woke missing her with the same ache of when she passed fifteen years ago.  Is she still here?   Well, in me, of course, but I felt as though I could simply open a window and reach out and she’d be there/here to touch.  It was a sad way to wake, and perhaps it represents all the tears that accumulate with a long life as we surrender to receive what comes.

Rose surrounded by and supported by leaves
My friend Elaine Chan-Scherer took this photo yesterday from SF looking at Marin – clear sky and the hills so dry

Adjusting the Lens

For many of us life of late appears challenging.  The environment is changing around us, in us.  Those of us inhaling smoke feel it in our lungs.

I’ve been feeling my breath like a plane on a runway, waiting for take off, then, the thrust and lift, the sail above the clouds, and then, back to land.

There’s no place for despair in this image, and that brings me to the last lines of Jane Hirshfield’s wonderful poem “My Debt” written to counteract a poem she had written on despair.  She ends her latest book Ledger with this poem.  This is the last stanza of “My Debt”.   Jane Hirshfield:

Forgive, 

spine-colored leaf, soft-bodied spider

octopus lifting

one curious tentacle back toward the hand of the diver

that in such black ink

I set down your flammable colors.  

Learning with Trees

I love books, books I hold, and paper comes from trees, though a friend just sent me a card made from elephant dung in Thailand.  It’s beautiful.  Who knew?

When we moved here forty two years ago, there was a redwood tree in the yard.  It was about twelve feet tall.  Then the trunk began to divide and it rose as two, and now it’s a beacon in the neighborhood.  

A child of this tree has begun to rise even closer to my home, and my husband says it should come out. I can’t bring myself to do it.  It’s rising up rapidly, probably four feet now, a pet, a friend.

When my sons were young, they each received a redwood sprout at Scout-a-rama.  We planted them, and as they grew, I bought bigger and bigger pots.  One never rose higher than a few feet, but the other began to tower over our home, and clearly needed to come out.  I saw so clearly how we can’t know what will nourish one being, and not another, or maybe it is that one is meant to grow, and one to squat, each knowing enough.

This morning this poem by Jane Hirshfield comes to me.  It guides my day.

Tree

It is foolish

to let a young redwood

grow next to a house.

Even in this

one lifetime,

you will have to choose.

That great calm being,

this clutter of soup pots and books–

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.

Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

jane hirshfield

Childhood Inspiration

Today I learn this from Writer’s Almanac about Roald Dahl, author of children’s books.  

One of the few things he enjoyed about his childhood was that the Cadbury chocolate company had chosen his school as a focus group for new candies they were developing. Every so often, a plain gray cardboard box was issued to each child, filled with 11 chocolate bars. It was the children’s task to rate the candy, and Dahl took his job very seriously. About one of the sample candy bars, he wrote, “Too subtle for the common palate.” He later said that the experience got him imagining what a candy factory might be like, and from it he wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964).

Think back and enjoy the mingling of present and past.

Sun Rays

My world just brightened as the sun pried its way through fog and smoke.  We’re still warned to stay inside, and yet, there is a lift and lilt to the air this moment, where I am.

This morning,  I’m counseled by this poem shared today on Writer’s Almanac.  

I delight in knowing that earthworms have taste buds “all over the delicate pink strings of their bodies”, and then, I come to the last line, ah, yes.  

Feeding the Worms

by Danusha Laméris

Ever since I found out that earthworms have taste buds

all over the delicate pink strings of their bodies,

I pause dropping apple peels into the compost bin, imagine

the dark, writhing ecstasy, the sweetness of apples

permeating their pores. I offer beets and parsley,

avocado, and melon, the feathery tops of carrots.

I’d always thought theirs a menial life, eyeless and hidden,

almost vulgar—though now, it seems, they bear a pleasure

so sublime, so decadent, I want to contribute however I can,

forgetting, a moment, my place on the menu.

“Feeding the Worms” from Bonfire Opera by Danusha Laméris, © 2020.

Reading books is my guiding light these days, balanced with dips into the news.  This piece on NPR is sobering on how once again we’ve been duped.

https://www.npr.org/2020/09/11/897692090/how-big-oil-misled-the-public-into-believing-plastic-would-be-recycled

To counteract that, I suggest reading Gerald Durrell’s wonderful books The Corfu Trilogy: My Family and Other Animals. There’s some wonderful home-schooling advice, though most of it is conducted outdoors which is still iffy here these days.

In reading Niall Williams book, This Is Happiness, I set intention to become more of a “self-appointed Judge of Existence”. From the book:

“On the bicycles Christy and I came up where Patsy Phelan in his three-piece suit sat on a small carpet on his front wall.  Patsy enjoyed the privilege of stillness, most days did absolutely nothing but breathe and look and hear and smell the world turning. A self-appointed Judge of Existence, at noon he went in for his dinner, then came out again for the second sitting.”

I set intention to enjoy the privilege of stillness, reception, and sitting with the play of Light.

A Rose Comes Forth