Archive for October, 2009

Joy

October 30, 2009

  While driving across our beautiful state earlier this week, obsessing about problems and desperate for creative insight, I turned on the radio.  Iowa Public Radio, to be precise, and a program about lucid dreaming.  That’s when you’re in a dream and know it.  There is even such a thing as dream yoga in which adepts reportedly develop remarkable facility.

  The discussion also recounted a wide range of dream research and anecdotes.  Abraham Lincoln had a dream premonition of his assassination shortly before the tragic event.  Sting and Johnny Cash, to name but two, have had songs come to them in dreams.

  Solutions to important math problems have appeared in dreams.  Or moments after a sunrise awakening.  (Which brings to mind the incredible underpinning mathematics seems to provide our universe.  Hmm, brains certainly aren’t rectilinear…)

  One of the cofounders of Google had his flash of insight appear to him in a dream.  A Nobel winning chemist whose work had to do with the chemical transmission of nerve impulses in the brain owes his prize to a dream.

  “Sleeping on it” works.  A study was done in which a problem requiring a creative approach was presented to two test groups.  One group got the problem early in the morning and allowed half a day to solve.  The problem was given to the second group shortly before bedtime with the answer due by noon the next day.  Second group was far more successful.

  Brought to mind two of the most incredible dreams I’ve had.  Both occurred during visits to my terminally ill brother.

The first was when I joined him at a beautiful secluded meditation retreat in the mountains of Oregon.  He had been diagnosed just weeks prior.  He looked fine and acted fine, but wasn’t.

Tashi Choling

  We arrived at night in a blizzard.  My emotions were roiling and after meeting his friends, both enrobed monks and lay people, I slept in my clothes it was so cold.  Wood heat.  My dreams were of such utter tranquility that I awoke with a smile certain that all would be ok.  And he was during the next seventeen months during which I visited him several times.

  When I arrived for what proved to be my last visit though, his condition had worsened dramatically over the short interim since my previous appearance.  I was so shaken that upon first seeing him I called the nearby Golden Gate Bridge something other than that.  Clearly the end was near.  Couple weeks.  He could see that I was shocked and joked about my mistake.  I was nearly overwhelmed.

  Several of his fellow Tibetan Buddhists were there with us.  That night I dreamt that my wife was giving birth to another child, another girl and I was in the next room waiting for the announcement.  There was some sort of muffled commotion and I went in.  

  Those about me were sobbing. The baby had been born, but wasn’t yet breathing.  It looked healthy and was clean of all birth fluids and blood etc.  I held her and talked softly to her.  She smiled and began to cry.  We were all overcome with joy and so that was what we decided to name her – Joy.

  Next morning, amazed at the tone and nature of that dream given the situation and my mental state, I recounted it to my brother.  He said “I’m tellin’ ya man, there’s somethin’ to this stuff…”

*Interviewee was Robert Waggoner/International Association for the Study of Dreaming.

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“The Fewer the Men the Greater the Share of Honour”

October 23, 2009

  OK.  Enough.  Enough with the peace and quiet.  I’m not a girlie man.  Back to the blood, guts, and gore.  Real thing this time though, with The Bard’s representation to boot.

  Sunday (October 25) is St Crispin’s Day.  It’s named for twins Crispin and Crispinian who were martyred in about 286AD.  They were removed from the liturgical calendar by Vatican II, but they’re not what make the date noteworthy anyway.  Several historically important battles have been fought on October 25s: The Battle of Balaklava (The Charge of the Light Brigade) in 1854, The Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific in 1945, and The Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

  The event at Agincourt occurred because King Henry V of England invaded Europe to prosecute his claim on the throne of France, the hand of Princess Catharine daughter of Charles VI King of France, and a dowry of 2 million crowns.  It is notable because of the fact that the English force of some 6,000 defeated catastrophically the French who numbered perhaps as many as 30,000. 

  Several factors worked to King Henry’s advantage including: the composition of the forces, the nature of the battlefield, and the sure knowledge that defeat would mean annihilation.  The resulting motivation helped overcome fatigue, hunger, and disease.

  Over 80% of Henry’s men were archers/longbowsmen.  Half of the French were dismounted knights and men-at-arms, a thousand or so mounted knights, and the balance archers.  These counter posed armies came to face each other in a very narrow strip of recently plowed open muddy land surrounded by dense forest.

Agincourt

  Short and simple, the English and Welsh archers on the flanks loosed tens of thousands of arrows killing and wounding many, hitting French horses on their unarmored hindquarters driving them madly through their own ranks. 

  The armor laden French pressed forward wave upon wave, but slogging through the muddy bottleneck tired quickly, were easy prey, and fell in huge piles.  Some even drowned in the mud.  Crucially, they were unable to outflank their opponents because of the thick wood on both sides.

  Once all arrows had flown, the English moved upon the French with hatchets and swords.  Without the weight of armor they tore through the horrible wallow with relative ease.  At the end of some three hours there were approximately 112 dead Englishmen, and as many as 10,000 French.  Uh, whoa.

  King Henry’s glory has regaled far more than just those with particular interest in military history through the agency of one William Shakespeare.  His Henry V dramatizes the story and Hank’s “St Crispin Day Speech” has to be one of the most stirring and momentous in all of literature.  After reading the play, you should rent and watch the film version with Kenneth Branagh in the lead role.  Or maybe be lazy and just watch the clip below.  Either way, be careful with your cutlery for a while thereafter.

Dunes

October 17, 2009

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The huge dunes in the foreground were formed by the interaction of wind, water, and stone over the course of many eons.  They are the largest and most extensive (330 square miles) in North American and comprise the Great Sand Dunes National Park in south central Colorado.

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  Most of the sand came from the San Juan Mountains to the west, but the larger grains were shed from the Sangre de Christos on the east such as Kit Carson and Crestone (pictured below) – two of Colorado’s fourteeners.

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  The dunes loom some 700 feet above the sand sheet and sabkha just to their west.  The visual effect of the afternoon sun upon them is unforgettable.  Why should the sun on a big pile of sand have such an impact?  Well, not long (in cosmic terms) after life evolved beyond a simple unicellular state, as ability to discern between light and less so developed.

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  Billions of years later we see in 3-D and Technicolor, but the pre-primal legacy still influences our perceptions.  The incredible lights and shadows of the dunes mediated by the undulating ridges transfix one’s gaze.

  All visitors thus moved, if only for a moment, what better place for an artist to imbue and convey?  Wife is artist-in-residence here and as usual has made the most of the situation.  Observations from many points of vantage have inflected her current work while observers, young and old alike, have added tactile impressions to their experience of this unique bit of terra firma NA.

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  Bonus for this here strong back is that the location of the park, far far removed from the nearest town makes for a similarly prehistoric level of noise and light pollution.  Have seen more falling stars than I’ve fingers and toes.  Me lucky boy.

Ah, The Peonies!

October 9, 2009

Heat

    Ever see the movie Heat?  It’s a really great cop v robber flic with Pacino (cop) and De Niro (robber).  Val Kilmer is a steely with chinks bad guy too.  Ashley Judd’s his wife.  De Niro and crew are skilled, astute, and only go after the largest of hauls.  Last one eight figures.  Movie is wonderful, mesmerizing, in your face violence.  In fact, De Niro demands that his last victim “look at me, LOOK AT ME!” before delivering the revenge fueled coup de grace.

  My savor of the gunplay and bloodletting came to mind while reading a bit about the President of Liberia – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – the first female president of an African country.  Question: “If women ran the world, would wars still exist?” Answer: “No. It would be a better, safer, and more productive world. A woman would bring an extra dimension to that task – and that’s a sensitivity to humankind.  It comes from being a mother.” 

  Question: “But if women had power, they would be more likely to acquire the negative traits that power breeds, like selfishness and territorialism.”  Answer: “It would take a very long term of women absolutely in power to get to the place where they became men”.*

  What is up with us men?  I remember studying the Yanomamo people who inhabit a bit of the jungle between Venezuela and Brazil.  Napoleon Chagnon wrote the best selling anthropology treatise of all time about them.**  They were fascinating for having been theretofore untouched by civilization.  Real time look at primal.  Garden of Eden it was not.  Guys sat around blowing hallucinogenic drugs up each other’s noses all day while women slashed, burned, and cooked.  Third of the men died violent deaths.

yanomamo

  I’ve read elsewhere that our incredible inability to get along is what led to the original diaspora from Africa.  Group gets to 5,000 or so in size, factions arise, violence attends, they spread out.  Years on, given half a chance, a group more technologically advanced wipes out one less so.  Jeesh.

  Somehow though we’ve made it this far.  Truth and beauty do exist and are known to exist by men and women alike.  President Sirleaf might well see more soulful women than men, but some men have tamed or cathected their urges and transmogrified their blood lust. 

  Mountaineers, for example, challenge gravity and weather to suffer a cold and frightful experience risking their contribution to the gene pool all the while.  First ascensionists get to pick the line and have naming rights when successful.  Sometimes position and kinesthetics combine to make a stairway to heaven.  On the massive Gogarth Sea Cliffs in North Wales for example, Ed Drummond put up a spectacular route which he named “Dream of White Horses”. 

Dream of White Horses

  Or – just saw an exhibition of Cy Twombly’s late work.***  Unspeakable beauty.  Unspeakable.  The representation below of one picture from his “Peony Blossom Paintings” conveys only the slightest of hints of an in-person experience, but alongside panel six he has a haiku by Takarai Kikaku inspired by 14th century samurai Kusunoki Masashige: 

Twombly Peony 2

Ah, The Peonies

For which

Kusonoki

Took off his Armour

Cool, huh?

* NYT Mag, 8/23/09

** Yanomamo, The Fierce People by Napoleon Chagnon, Holt Rinehart Winston 1968

***Cy Twombly: The Natural World Selected Works 2000-2007.  The Art Institute of Chicago May 16 – October 11, 2009

C=BT2

October 2, 2009

  Ever I hear folks arguing vociferously about the ascent of man I think about fathers coming out of the bleachers at little league games.  Ridiculous irrationality.  Give me a break.

  On the one hand you have folks who believe that an old dude of their own race awaits them in the hereafter.  A scary throwback to Old Testament literalism.  On the other, well, scientist Stephen Jay Gould once wrote: “Most important scientific revolutions involve the dethronement of human arrogance”.  How many times have thinkers of one stripe or another claimed to have reached the end?

  Myself?  I think that the middle ground, if you want to call it that, will be found in relation to consciousness.  Significantly, it’s origin and nature have not yet been discovered.  Sure, correlates of mental phenomena have been observed through brain imaging, but there is no consensus about how thoughts actually arise or what constitutes mind (as opposed to a brain).

  Some respected thinkers believe that consciousness might be another force – like gravity say – and similarly permeate all existence.  As I’ve mentioned before, approximately 75% of the universe, that has been calculated to exist, has not yet been found.  I think it works out something like this: Consciousness x Bell’s Theorem* = that 75%.

  Dial in the richness of Jung’s observations and there you have it.  In the September 20, 2009 New York Times Magazine there was an article about his long hidden “Red Book” titled The Holy Grail Of The Unconscious.  The book is said to stem from his mid-career “confrontation with his unconscious” during which lucid and florid dreams and visions came in “incessant streams”.  It is spectacularly illustrated by his own hand.

Jung Red Book

  He believed that we are all linked by a collective unconscious holding the whole of our history pretty much all the way back to stardust.  It manifests in each of us through the myths and archetypes that are made to constellate differently in an individual life by the forces borne upon them. 

  “Together, the patient and I address ourselves to the 2,000,000 year old man that is in all of us.  In the last analysis most of our difficulties come from losing contact with our instincts, with the age-old unforgotten wisdom stored up in us.  And where do we make contact with this old man?  In our dreams.”***

  There are many today skeptical, to say the least, of the utility of dream interpretation or any aspect of the “talking cure” for that matter.  I’d first refer them to the Gould’s words above and then simply say that once aware of Jung’s perspective it is incredible to follow him through a particular set of memories, dreams, and reflections – especially his own. 

  Herefrom echos my approach (only offered nearly seventy-five years ago). “I have been convinced that at least a part of our psychic existence is characterized by a relativity of space and time.  This relativity seems to increase, in proportion to the distance from consciousness, to an absolute condition of timelessness and spacelessness”.***

  Read some of his stuff, I’ll bet you’ll find resonance.

* Bell’s Theorem proves the non-local nature of reality.  cf July 18, 2008 below.

** From his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, and Reflections.

***NYT October 4, 1936