Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dawn

"The day, when it is established, is barely noticed in itself; continuous interests claim us; only if there is a dramatic thunderstorm, a blizzard or a partial eclipse of the sun may we momentarily forget the pursuit of our own life.

But at the beginning or the end of the day, at dawn or at sunset, when our relationship with all that we can see is in the process of rapid transformation, we are inclined to be as aware of the moment as of what we fill it with - and, often, more aware.

In the face of the dawn, even the supreme egotist is tempted to forget himself."

Page 41, 'G', John Berger
Photo: Sunrise at 4 AM in Lachung, North Sikkim, India (May 2003)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Christmas Memory

One freezing cold windy afternoon around Christmas time (Dec 2000), I take the subway to Harvard Square in Cambridge, Boston. Freezing cold windy afternoons usually find me inside heated houses remembering the warmth of the Indian sun and its people. This afternoon, I brave it all in layers of sweaters and caps and socks, the cold still cutting through the skin of my soul, because at The Coop bookstore, I had seen a notice about a storytelling session.

I find my way up to the second floor landing. There is a small group sitting on sofas chatting and nursing hot cups of coffee. I take my place among this group of strangers. And then comes the storyteller, a man in his forties perhaps, big warm smile, books in his hands. And without much ado, he starts reading Christmas stories to this motley group of adults, of different nationalities, most of us strangers to each other.

And we listen to Truman Capote's A Child's Christmas, a story about a young boy's memories of Christmases with a crazy old aunt, his best friend. Christmases going into the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree, and baking cakes for all the people who have been good to them, like the bus driver who went out of his way to drop them, and all the people who were spending Christmas alone.

And then a story by Dylan Thomas about childhood memories of Christmas in Wales. Within no time, we are feeling the snow crunch under our feet in bright fir-lined countrysides. Listening to the sound of logs crackling in warm fireplaces. Smelling fresh plum cakes just taken out of ovens. Tasting heady wine. And raising a toast to the spirit of Christmas - the spirit of forgiveness, renewal, and everlasting compassion in the face of all dryness, indifference, and betrayal.

When the one and a half hour session is over, there is a pause before everyone bursts into applause. And then people smile and laugh, tears in their eyes, and look at each other with warmth, and oddly, no one seems that foreign anymore.

As a French storyteller told during a session here last month, stories are not just meant to make little children sleep, but to make grownups think. And perhaps feel again what we lose touch with, in our haste to fit in with the world's definitions of success.

Stepping out into the darkness, the cold no longer seems so terrible. I stop to watch a group of youngsters doing a rap song and dance on the footpath to make money "to go perform in New York", a handwritten board says. Pretty weak performance by all standards, but I put some money in their collection box with a smile, so what if they just make it to the nearest pub and have a jolly good time - youth and laughter and joyful winter evenings rubbing shoulders with friends are still wonderful things in our fragile lives, and therefore causes worth supporting :)

The cold returns to us every year from the faraway places it goes to during the summer, to remind us how precious warmth is in all its forms, and how it must be created and preserved for our sustenance and continuance, now and forever.

(originally written as Editorial for 'Winter Solstice', the winter edition of the office newsletter Oct '03)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thanatos

"..In classical Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the death drive ("Todestrieb") is the drive towards death, destruction and forgetfulness. It was first proposed by Sigmund Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. The death drive opposes Eros, the tendency towards cohesion and unity. The death drive is sometimes referred to as "Thanatos" in post-Freudian thought, although this term has no basis in Freud's own work.'

When Freud worked with people with trauma (particularly the trauma experienced by soldiers returning from World War I), he observed that subjects often tended to repeat or re-enact these traumatic experiences, a phenomenon that Freud called repetition compulsion. This appeared to violate the pleasure principle, the drive of an individual to maximize his or her pleasure. Freud found this repetition of unpleasant events in the most ordinary of circumstances, even in children's play (such as the celebrated Fort/Da (Gone/There) game played by Freud's grandson, who would stage and re-stage the disappearance of his mother and even himself).

Freud's initial dichotomy between the reality principle (Ego) and the pleasure principle (Id) was unable to account for this phenomenon, as well as several other clinical phenomena, including primary masochism and depression. It was difficult to attribute such non-pleasurable activity to either the self-preserving ego or to the libidinal instincts solely focused on pleasure....

...To explain this discrepancy, Freud postulated the existence of a fundamental death drive that would counterbalance the tendency of beings to do only what they find pleasurable. Organisms, according to this idea, were driven to return to a pre-organic, inanimate state.

In doing so, Freud kept his earlier instinct theory almost intact, while omitting the property of reversal of content used to compensate for non-pleasure-principle behaviours of the sexual instincts, replacing it with a separate instinct of destruction and aggression not influenced by the pleasure principle.

Thus, for example, masochism is no longer the reversal of content of the sexual/self-preserving instincts, but rather the change of objects of sadism from external to internal, notably to the ego. Sadism is thus considered "a direct manifestation of the death instinct".http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_drive

Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

"Because of its unique and distinctive sound, the (Shipping Forecast) broadcasts have an appeal beyond those solely interested in nautical weather. The waters around the British Isles are divided into sea areas, also known as weather areas and many listeners find the well-known repetition of the names of the sea areas almost hypnotic, particularly during the bedtime (for Britain) broadcast at 00:48 UK time."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shipping_Forecast
Watch/listen to a Shipping Forecast: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnfywzFE63s
Prayer
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Carol Ann Duffy
And this explains it: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8383178.stm
....................................................................................

Monday, November 30, 2009

A light and fluctuating state...

"What a strange, wondrous thing, music. At last the chattering mind is silenced. No past to regret, no future to worry about, no more frantic knitting of words and thoughts. Only a beautiful, soaring nonsense.

Sound - made pleasing and intelligible through melody, rhythm, harmony and counterpoint - becomes our thinking. The grunting of language and the drudgery of semiotics is left behind. Music is a bird's answer to the noise and heaviness of words. It puts the mind in a state of exhilarating speechlessness.

During the Concerto in B flat, music was my thinking. I don't recall any words, only a light and fluctuating state of being-in-music."

Page 116, 'The Time I heard the Private Donald J.Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton'-
from the book 'The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios' by Yann Martel

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Adios, Jimmy

So we had to kill Jimmy, end his suffering, or so we thought, reduce his already brief life as a fish. Euthanize, that is the word.

A fish. A solitary soul floating around in a round bowl, glad to see me every morning at office, because I was the provider of food, unfailing, dependable.

Since I am way beyond believing in unseen powers taking personal interest in the likes of me and Jimmy, it is not for me to see signs, things are just as they are, ordinary, of no consequence in the bigger scheme of things.

The universe, random as always, in its cruelty.

Insane

"...The road twists and banks and curlecues and descends and we and the cycle smoothly roll with it, following it in a separate grace of our own, almost touching the waxen leaves of shrubs and overhanging boughs of trees. The firs and rocks of the higher country are behind us now and around us are soft hills and vines and purple and red flowers, fragrance mixed with woodsmoke up from the distant fog along the valley floor and from beyond that, unseen - a vague scent of ocean... ...

How can I love all this so much and be insane? ...I don't believe it!"

'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'
Robert M Pirsig

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Sacred

After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank

in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing

things he'd chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,

their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person

who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need

to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.

"The Sacred" by Stephen Dunn, from Between Angels.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Avoidance

"It is true that many creative people fail to make mature personal relationships, and some are extremely isolated. It is also true that, in some instances, trauma, in the shape of early separation or bereavement, has steered the potentially creative person toward developing aspects of his personality which can find fulfillment in comparative isolation. But this does not mean that solitary, creative pursuits are themselves pathological...

Avoidance behaviour is a response designed to protect the infant from behavioural disorganization. If we transfer this concept to adult life, we can see that an avoidant infant might very well develop into a person whose principal need was to find some kind of meaning and order in life which was not entirely, or even chiefly, dependent upon interpersonal relationships."

Anthony Storr, 'Solitude: A Return to the Self'
Quoted in 'Into the Wild', the story of Christopher McCandless, who "went away". By Jon Krakauer

Cat Solitude

Two Cats

It's better to be a cat than to be a human.
Not because of their much-noted grace and beauty—
their beauty wins them no added pleasure, grace is
only a cat's way

of getting without fuss from one place to another—
but because they see things as they are. Cats never mistake a
saucer of milk for a declaration of passion
or the crook of your knees for

a permanent address. Observing two cats on a sunporch,
you might think of them as a pair of Florentine bravoes
awaiting through slitted eyes the least lapse of attention—
then slash! the stiletto

or alternately as a long-married couple, who hardly
notice each other but find it somehow a comfort
sharing the couch, the evening news, the cocoa.
Both these ideas

are wrong. Two cats together are like two strangers
cast up by different storms on the same desert island
who manage to guard, despite the utter absence
of privacy, chocolate,

useful domestic articles, reading material,
their separate solitudes. They would not dream of
telling each other their dreams, or the plots of old movies,
or inventing a bookful

of coconut recipes. Where we would long ago have
frantically shredded our underwear into signal
flags and be dancing obscenely about on the shore in
a desperate frenzy,

they merely shift on their haunches, calm as two stoics
weighing the probable odds of the soul's immortality,
as if to say, if a ship should happen along we'll
be rescued. If not, not.

"Two Cats" by Katha Pollitt, from The Mind-Body Problem. © Random House, 2009

Bryson, on Cricket :)

"After years of patient study I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game (cricket) that the introduction of golf carts wouldn't fix in a hurry. It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavours look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect. I don't wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game.

...Imagine a form of baseball in which the pitcher, after each delivery, collects the ball from the catcher and walks slowly with it out to centre field; and that there, after a minute's pause to collect himself, he turns and runs full tilt towards the pitcher's mound before hurling the ball at the ankles of a man who stands before him wearing a riding hat, heavy gloves of the sort used to handle radioactive isotopes, and a mattress strapped to each leg. Imagine moreover that if this batsman fails to hit the ball in a way that heartens him sufficiently to try to waddle sixty feet with mattresses strapped to his legs, he is under no formal compulsion to run; he may stand there all day, and, as a rule, does.

If by some miracle he is coaxed into making a misstroke that leads to him being put out, all the fielders throw up their arms in triumph and have a hug. Then tea is called and everyone retires happily to a distant pavilion to fortify for the next siege. Now imagine all this going on for so long that by the time the match concludes autumn has crept in and all your library books are overdue. There you have cricket

....Now the mystery of cricket is not that Australians play it well, but that they play it at all. It has always seemed to me a game much too restrained for the rough-and-tumble Australian temperament. Australians must prefer games in which brawny men in scanty clothing bloody each other's noses. I am quite certain that if the rest of the world vanished overnight and the development of cricket was left in Australian hands, within a generation the players would be wearing shorts and using the bats to hit each other.

And the thing is, it would be a much better game for it."

"Page 155, 'Down Under', by Bill Bryson

Fred Martin

My French artist friend Fred's beautiful sketches, drawn during his many wanderings, across many continents. He used to show me these sketches he drew of people, in his notebook, while waiting at bus stands, travelling in trains etc.
http://lescarnetsdefred.blogspot.com/
Check out his work with clay masks of people's faces - http://baptemesdeterre.blogspot.com/
And his installations with these masks, in the most unexpected locations: http://baptemesdeterre.blogspot.com/
Bonne Chance, Fred!

A terror way beyond falling

"The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing.

The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant.

The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors.

It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling."

David Foster Wallace

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Writing

"A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a distant star sending signals. He isn't telling or teaching or ordering. Rather he seeks to establish a relationship of meaning, of feeling, of observing. We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say-and to feel- " Yes, that's the way it is, or at least that's the way I feel it. You're not as alone as you thought."

Letter to Peter Benchley, Sag Harbour, 1956 from 'A Life in Letters' - John Steinbeck

Ants

If an ant got into your food packet and you travelled hundreds of kilometers and he had to get down in a strange place all lost and bewildered how would he start his new life in a place where he does not know anybody, since ants have been genetically programmed to live in communities?

Or are ant communities good Christians and will they welcome him warmly and just say "Step in line, pardner!" because they remember that "I was a stranger and you took me in" (Mathew 25:35 ), and "Whatsoever you do unto the least of these, so also you do unto me" (Mathew 25: 40), and "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:1-2) ? Have been wondering about this for years.

Jan 2004

Number Locks

A new wave of anti-Semitism alarms France, so magazines say. The Jews back in the dock. Reminded me of this novel about a little Jewish boy in America. Living with his family that has fled Europe to start life afresh. The boy has no idea what had happened back in Europe, his questions are not answered. One fine day, the Red Cross deposits Grandpa home in an ambulance. Old, senile, survivor of the Holocaust, not completely there. Always smiling, talking only to himself, living in a different world only he knew. The little boy is very curious about this mystery, but does not know what to do, he just cannot get beyond the veil.

One day at school he learns about number locks. That a combination of numbers can be used as an unlocking mechanism. He remembers the strange numbers branded on Grandpa's arm. (By the Gestapo, but he does not know that). So one evening, alone with Grandpa in his dimly lit stuffy basement room, he sits in front of the old man and repeats the numbers in a quiet slow voice, like a magician, trying out all possible permutations. Hoping one of them will unlock Grandpa, the secret world that he inhabits. But Grandpa continues to smile unseeing, talking in a strange mumble as always, lost beyond comprehension.

In the end the boy gives up in frustration. He realizes, with a feeling of suddenly having grown up, that Grandpa has closed himself in a world where nothing, not even the magic of numbers, can free him.
Dec 2003

Birds

Passing through Cubbon Park in the morning, I see men feeding crows in a mango grove. Remembered this Polish lady I met who said that pigeons make her nostalgic for home. Her strongest memory of growing up in Warsaw was feeing pigeons in the park.

Birds. They fly across our lives, unobtrusive, light, mute witnesses. They are of the earth, and of the sky. Connected, yet not connected. Roots, and freedom. Closeness, and space.

A fine balance we seek to attain, all our lives.

Nov 2003

Once in a While

Mother was agitated all morning.
A call had come from her brother Harold,
who was spoken of only in whispers
and despised by those with a talent
for never changing their minds.
But Mother loved him.

Somehow I learned that my uncle
had forged checks and spent time in prison.
And I knew he played the saxophone
in small jazz bands.

In late afternoon the doorbell rang.

My uncle stood in the hall.
A tall man slightly stooped, he shook snow
from his long brown overcoat. He had a high
hooked nose and wavy brown hair
that fell across his forehead,
and he carried packages wrapped in Christmas paper.

My stepfather signaled: disappear.

In early evening Uncle Harold
knocked on my door with a gift for me:
jazz records, the first I'd seen.

Fats Waller beaming from the album cover
is clearer to me now than my uncle's face.
"I can't give you anything but love, baby."

A mourning sax backing Lee Wiley:
"Once in a while, will you give just
one little thought to me…"

At first light my uncle was gone,
His footprints vanishing in a fresh fall of snow.

by Mark Perlberg

Pavement

Yesterday, saw an Elder's Day procession on Cubbon Road. Some of the old gentlemen were carrying pink heart-shaped baloons. Like children on a picnic. The only difference being they were followed by an ambulance.

Remembered this old Anglo-Indian lady I saw the other day at K.C Das. I saw her from the distance standing in front of the shop, thought she might be waiting for someone. I was going in when she asked me whether I could help her get down the small step on to the pavement. The step was so low, I would not have even noticed it. But she was standing there waiting for someone to come and help her down.

The helplessness of old age, the diminishing of your faculties that nothing can stop. How ill-prepared you are for it, how unimaginable that one day you could be standing on city roads seeking the help of strangers. Strangers who will never see, beyond the wrinkled skin and sagging muscles, the strong, agile, fiercely independent young person you once were.

October 2003

Worlds

The other day at the General Post Office, it was a Sunday afternoon, there was this crowd of poorly-dressed men crowding and jostling at the counters and preventing the rest of us from getting any work done. Was irritated and trying to find other free counters when I realized what was happening - they were apparently laborers and had come to send their wages to their families perhaps, and wanted to make money orders. And none of them could read and write, so the counter people had to write each one of the money orders one by one while these people gave addresses in broken language, sometimes repeating them many times anxiously, perhaps worrying that their hard-earned money would get lost somewhere because there was no way they could check if the man at the counter was writing them correctly.

Thought of their families far away in small villages waiting for these slips of paper.

Most of them did not even have slippers and looked rather lost in the huge vaulted GPO hall with its majestic dome and giant pillars and surrounded by the rest of us educated well-dressed confident city people.

What different worlds we inhabit, living shoulder to shoulder in this vast country.

October 2003

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Old friend, Prufrock

"...I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown."

From 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' by T.S.Eliot

Listen

One of them strange vivid dreams, among the many you have all the time. Where you meet this old woman, in a foreign-looking colony of people. And you go speak to her and ask her about her past. And once she starts telling you stories, her smiling face lit by the early morning sun coming in through the window on the right, slowly starts becoming younger. Golden light and youth returning on a warm gentle face. The wrinkles disappear, the cheeks fill up, the hair becomes blond and thick again, and the eyes turn luminous. Absolute magic.

It is but natural, come to think of it. When someone cares enough to listen to our stories, we become young again.
It is not age, but the weight of the untold stories of our days, that bends our backs.

Aug 2006

Impermanence


"What did we ever own that hadn't
the quality of seasons
their numerous dyings?"

Winter Song, Brian Patten

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It is not the growing older that bothers you, but the realization that proportionally the older people who are dear to you are also growing older and therefore more vulnerable - each time the phone rings with that long-distance tone, you freeze in terror.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
A buddhist ritual where they make an elaborate beautiful rangoli/mandala [colorful design] on the ground, and then the sand is brushed together, collected, and dispersed in flowing water.
To re-inforce one of the basic principles of life, and of Buddhism - the impermanence of things.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Somebody Else's Problem :)

"Somebody Else's Problem (also known as Someone else's problem or SEP) is an effect that causes people to ignore matters which are generally important to a group but may not seem specifically important to the individual. Author Douglas Adams's description of the effect, which he playfully ascribed to a physical "SEP field", has helped to make it a generally recognized phenomenon. The label is now widely used to focus public attention on matters that might have been overlooked and, less commonly, to identify concerns that a depressed individual should ignore. It has also been employed as trivial shorthand to describe factors that are "out of scope" in the current context.

...Douglas Adams has his character Ford Prefect describe Somebody Else's Problem in Life, the Universe and Everything, the third book of the five-book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy:

"..An SEP is something we can't see, or don't see, or our brain doesn't let us see, because we think that it's somebody else's problem.... The brain just edits it out, it's like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won't see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somebody_Else%27s_Problem

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Schizophrenia & the Limits of Rational Thought

"Many people have noticed that schizophrenics seem to appear in successful and intelligent families. People with a mild version of the disorder, as noted earlier, these are sometimes called "schizotypal" people - are often unusually brilliant, self-assured, and focused.

...One absurdly precise study estimates that 28 percent of prominent scientists, 60 percent of composers, 73 percent of painters, 77 percent of novelists, and an astonishing 87 percent of poets have shown some degree of mental disturbance.

As John Nash, the Princeton mathematician, said after recovering from 30 years of schizophrenia and accepting a Nobel Prize for his work on game theory, the interludes of rationality between his psychotic episodes were not welcome at all. "Rational thought imposes a limit on a person's concept of his relation to the cosmos."

The psychiatrist Randolph Nesse of Michigan speculates that schizophrenia may be an example of an evolutionary "cliff effect", in which the mutations in different genes are all beneficial, except when they all come together in one person, or evolve just too far, at which point they suddenly combine to produce a disaster.

Perhaps schizophrenia is the result of too much of a good thing: too many genetic and environmental factors that are usually good for brain function all coming together in one individual. This would explain why the genes predisposing people to schizophrenia do not die out; so long as they do not combine, they each benefit the survival of the carrier."

Page 122, 'The Agile Gene, How Nature turns on Nurture' by Matt Ridley, author of 'Genome'

Walk

Going for a walk with a dog, unleashed. He runs ahead of you smelling, exploring, marking. Far ahead of you. You are alone, yet not. Narrow country road, deserted hillsides once again being reclaimed by the night. There's just you, and somewhere ahead, a dog. You stop to hear a stream gurgle under a small bridge. And when you want to return, you shout out to him. He's gone ahead the bend in the road. And he pretends to not hear you. So you turn back and start walking. Like a lightning shot, he's turned back and run far ahead of you. And he stops to pant and look back at you. And then again you lose him in his explorations among the tall grass and the trees.

And when you finally turn in towards the house, you think you have lost him. But he comes in from among the grass, covered with seeds, happy. He runs ahead to the house. He is there first. When you turn into the verandah, he's there, with that smug look on his face - "Look, she's coming home so late." And you still want to hug him.

05 Jan 2007

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Storytelling in Mongolia

"Like all societies dependent for communication on word of mouth, the Mongols had bards, poets and storytellers who commuted between grassland camps and tent-palaces. They even became the subject of their own stories:

How Tales Originated among the Mongol People

Once upon a time, plague struck the Mongols. The healthy fled, leaving the sick, saying 'Let Fate decide whether they live or die.' Among the sick was a youth named Tarvaa. His spirit left his body and came to the place of death. The ruler of that place said to Tarvaa,'Why have you left your body while it is still alive?' 'I did not wait for you to call me,' he replied, 'I just came.' Touched by his readiness to comply, the Khan of the Underworld said, 'Your time is not yet. You must return. But you may take anything from here you wish.' Tarvaa looked around, and saw all earthly joys and talents - wealth, happiness, laughter, luck, music, dance. 'Give me the art of storytelling,' he said, for he knew that stories can summon up all other joys. So he returned to his body, only to find that the crows had already pecked out its eyes. Since he could not disobey the Khan of the Underworld, he re-entered his body, and lived on, blind, but with the knowledge of all tales. For the rest of his life, he travelled across Mongolia telling tales and legends, and bringing people joy and wisdom."

If later traditions are anything to go by, the performances of bards, poets and storytellers brought more than joy and wisodm. They were crucial in moulding a sense of identity. Mixing legend and history, they explained traditions, recollected origins and portrayed the deeds of heroes. The repertoire was huge, as was the range of instruments and styles. In some areas, it still is.

Page 31, Genghis Khan, Life, Death and Resurrection, by John Man

Monday, June 22, 2009

There's No Forgetting (Sonata)



If you should ask me where I've been all this time
I have to say 'Things happen.'
I have to dwell on stones darkening the earth,
on the river ruined in its own duration:
I know nothing save things the birds have lost,
the sea I left behind, or my sister crying.
Why this abundance of places? Why does day lock
with day? Why the dark night swilling round
in our mouths? And why the dead?

Should you ask me where I come from, I must talk
with broken things,
with fairly painful utensils,
with great beasts turned to dust as often as not
and my afflicted heart.

These are not memories that have passed each other
nor the yellowing pigeon asleep in our forgetting;
these are tearful faces
and fingers down our throats
and whatever among leaves falls to the ground:
the dark of a day gone by
grown fat on our grieving blood.

Here are violets, and here swallows,
all things we love and which inform
sweet messages seriatim
through which time passes and sweetness passes.

We don't get far, though, beyond these teeth:
Why waste time gnawing the husks of silence?
I know not what to answer:
there are so many dead,
and so many dikes the red sun breached,
and so many heads battering hulls
and so many hands that have closed over kisses
and so many things that I want to forget.

Pablo Neruda

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A suffusion of yellow

From "The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul", Douglas Adams

"A suffusion of yellow." (A calculator's response to the question of any math problem with an answer larger than four.)

The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks.

It was his subconscious which told him this - that infuriating part of a person's brain which never responds to interrogation, merely gives little meaningful nudges and then sits humming quietly to itself, saying nothing.

Dennis Hutch had stepped up into the top seat when its founder had died of a lethal overdose of brick wall, taken while under the influence of a Ferrari and a bottle of tequila.

Certes, aujourdh’hui

Certes, aujourdh’hui mes soirées
Ne se passent plus en réunions

J’aime mieux rester dans le silence de mon bureau
Même si sans doute je me sens un peu coupable
De ne passer mon temps qu’à cultiver des états d’âme
Vaguement à l’écoute des rares bruits de la nuit

D’une corne de brume par exemple
Lorsqu’un bateau quitte l’estuaire
Et le refrain de son moteur lent
Saluant de sourdes vibrations
Les fondations de la maison
Semble ausculter les profondeurs nocturnes…..

J’habite ici, Jean-Claude Pinson

And where do we fit in?

Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, 'We are All Writing God's Poem'
by Barbara Crooker

Today, the sky's the soft blue of a work shirt washed
a thousand times. The journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step. On the interstate listening
to NPR, I heard a Hubble scientist
say, "The universe is not only stranger than we
think, it's stranger than we can think."

I think
I've driven into spring, as the woods revive
with a loud shout, redbud trees, their gaudys
carves flung over bark's bare limbs. Barely doing
sixty, I pass a tractor trailer called Glory Bound,
and aren't we just?

Just yesterday,
I read Li Po: "There is no end of things
in the heart," but it seems like things
are always ending—vacation or childhood,
relationships, stores going out of business,
like the one that sold jeans that really fit—

And where do we fit in? How can we get up
in the morning, knowing what we do? But we do,
put one foot after the other, open the window,
make coffee, watch the steam curl up
and disappear.

At night, the scent of phlox curls
in the open window, while the sky turns red violet,
lavender, thistle, a box of spilled crayons.
The moon spills its milk on the black tabletop
for the thousandth time.

Memory and Fear

From delanceyplace.com
In today's excerpt - memory and fear. The emotion of each memory is chemically encoded in the brain's amygdala. And each memory is changed - chemically altered - each time we retrieve it, for better or for worse. Therapists try and use this in helping patients overcome fears:

"Learned fears [such as stage-fright] are acquired in part in circuitry centering on the amygdala, which Joseph LeDoux likes to call the brain's 'Fear Central.' LeDoux knows the neural terrain of the amygdala intimately; he's been studying this clump of neurons for decades at the Center for Neural Science at New York University. The cells in the amygdala where sensory information registers, and the adjacent areas that acquire fear, LeDoux has discovered, actually fire in new patterns at the moment a fear has been learned.

"Our memories are in part reconstructions. Whenever we retrieve a memory, the brain rewrites it a bit, updating the past according to our present concerns and understanding. At the cellular level, LeDoux explains, retrieving a memory means it will be 'reconsolidated,' slightly altered chemically by a new protein synthesis that will help store it anew after being updated.

"Thus each time we bring a memory to mind, we adjust its very chemistry: the next time we retrieve it, that memory will come up as we last modified it. The specifics of the new consolidation depend on what we learn as we recall it. If we merely have a flare-up of the same fear, we deepen our fearfulness.

"But, ... if at the time of the fear we tell ourselves something that eases its grip, then the same memory becomes reencoded with less power over us. Gradually, we can bring the once-feared memory to mind without feeling the rush of distress all over again. In such a case, says LeDoux, the cells in our amygdala reprogram so that we lose the original fear conditioning. One goal of therapy, then, can be seen as gradually altering the neurons for learned fear.

"Treatments sometimes actually expose the person to whatever primes their fear. Exposure sessions begin with getting the person relaxed, often through a few minutes of slow abdominal breathing. Then the person confronts the threatening situation, in a careful gradation culminating in the very worst version.

"[For example], one New York City traffic officer confided that she had flown into a rage at a motorist who called her a 'low-life bitch.' So in her exposure therapy that phrase was repeated to her, first in a flat tone, then with increasing emotional intensity, and finally with added obscene gestures. The exposure succeeds when, no matter how obnoxious the repeated phrase, she can stay relaxed - and presumably when back on the street she can calmly write a traffic ticket despite insults."

Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence, Bantam, Copyright 2006, pp. 78-79.

Depersonalization

"...The automobile was important to Los Angeles, a city more technology-dependent than any in the world. Los Angeles could not survive without the automobile, as it could not survive without water piped in from hundreds of miles away, and as it could not survive without certain building technologies. This was a fact of the city's existence, and had been true since early in the century.

But in recent years Ross had begun to recognize the subtle psychological effects of living your life inside an automobile. Los Angeles had no sidewalk cafes, because no one walked; the sidewalk café, where you could stare at passing people, was not stationary but mobile. It changed with each traffic light, where people stopped, stared briefly at each other, and then drove on. But there was something inhuman about living inside a cocoon of tinted glass and stainless steel, air-conditioned, carpeted, stereophonic tape-decked, power-optioned, isolated. It thwarted some deep human need to congregate, to be together, to see and be seen.

Local psychiatrists recognized an indigenous depersonalization syndrome. Los Angeles was a town of recent emigrants and therefore strangers; cars kept them strangers, and there were few institutions that served to bring them together. Practically no one went to church, and work groups were not entirely satisfactory. People became lonely; they complained of being cut off, without friends, far from families and old homes. Often they became suicidal – and a common method of suicide was the automobile. The police referred to it euphemistically as "single unit fatalities". You picked your overpass, and hit it at eighty or ninety, foot flat to the floor. Sometimes it took hours to cut the body out of the wreckage…"

Page 147. The Terminal Man
Michael Crichton

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Island

The mind gets used to things. It expands to contain, and profit from, what it is made to endure. And what once wrenched your guts out with pain can later become a necessity.

Alexander Selkirk (on whom Robinson Crusoe was modeled) was stranded on the island of Juan Fernandez off the coast of Chile for 4 and a half years.

After his rescue, ...."Selkirk eventually returned to his home in Scotland, where he became quite a celebrity. Though he did get married, he never quite recovered from his stay on the island. Spending much of his time alone, he didn't feel comfortable living indoors and built a sort of cave or bower behind his father's house that he stayed in. He also trained two cats to perform little feats, like he did on the island.

Eventually he returned to the sea and he died of fever off the coast of Africa in 1721 at the age of 45."

Why isn't everyone creative?

From the chapter 'The Childlike Adult'. Page 148, 'The Human Zoo' by Desmond Morris:

"In any thriving super-tribal city all the citizens should be potential 'inventors'. Why, then, do so few of them indulge in active creativity, while the others are satisfied to enjoy their inventions second-hand, watching them on television or are content to play simple games and sports with strictly limited possibilities for inventiveness?

Part of the answer is that children are subordinate to adults. Inevitably, dominant animals try to control the behaviour of their subordinates. Much as adults may love their children, they cannot help seeing them as a growing threat to dominance. They know that with ultimate senility they will have to give way to them, bu they do everything they can to postpone the evil day. There is therefore a strong tendency to suppress inventiveness in members of the community younger than oneself. An appreciation of the value of their 'fresh eyes' and their new creativeness works against this, but it is an uphill struggle.

By the time the new generation has matured to the point where its members could be wildly inventive, childlike adults, they are already burdened with a heavy sense of conformity. Struggling against this as hard as they can, they in turn are then faced with the threat of another younger generation coming up beneath them, and the suppressive process repeats itself.

Only those rare individuals who experience an unusual childhood, from this point of view, will be able to achieve a level of great creativity in adult life. How unusual does such a childhood have to be? It either has to be so suppressive that the growing child revolts against the traditions of its elders in a big way (many of our greatest creative talents were so-called delinquent children), or it has to be so un-suppressive that the heavy hand of conformity rests lightly on its shoulder....

The vast majority of children will, of course, receive a more balanced mixture of punishment and reward for their inventiveness and will emerge into adult life with personalities that are both moderately creative and moderately conformist.Their attitude to the childlike adults will be ambivalent; on the one hand they will applaud them for providing the much-needed sources of novelty, but on the other they will envy them.

The creative talent will therefore find himself alternately praised and damned by society in a bewildering way, and will be constantly in doubt about his acceptance by the rest of the community. "

Nostlagia


".................for memory to function well, it needs constant practice: if recollections are not evoked again and again, in conversations with friends, they go. Emigrés gathered together in compatriot colonies keep retelling to the point of nausea the same stories, which thereby become unforgettable.

But people who do not spend time with their compatriots, like Irena (character in the novel) or Odysseus, are inevitably struck with amnesia. The stronger the nostalgia, the emptier of recollections it becomes. The more Odysseus languished, the more he forgot.

For nostalgia does not heighten memory's activity, it does not awaken recollections; it suffices unto itself, unto its own feelings, so fully absorbed is it by its suffering and nothing else."

'Ignorance' (page 33)
Milan Kundera

Burn, Burn, Burn

"...They rushed down the street together, digging everything in the early way they had, which later became so much sadder and perceptive and blank.

But then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like the fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centrelight pop and everybody goes "Awww!'."

Page 11,
"On the Road", Jack Kerouac

Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication :)

It said: "The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases.

"For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?"

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Hitchhiker's_Guide_to_the_Galaxy

Frameless Reality


"..You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness. "

Questions

As Bill Atterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, said in his speech to students at Kenyon College, his alma mater:

"...Reading those turgid philosophers here in these remote stone buildings may not get you a job, but if those books have forced you to ask yourself questions about what makes life truthful, purposeful, meaningful, and redeeming, you have the Swiss Army Knife of mental tools, and it's going to come in handy all the time....

Your preparation for the real world is not in the answers you've learned, but in the questions you've learned how to ask yourself."

Fear

"...For what gives value to travel is fear. It breaks down a kind of inner structure we have. One can no longer cheat - hide behind the hours spent at the office or at the plant (those hours we protest so loudly, which protect us so well from the pain of being alone).
I have always wanted to write novels in which my heroes would say:" What would I do without the office?" or again: "My wife has died, but fortunately I have all these orders to fill for tomorrow." '

Love of Life
'from' Lyrical and Critical Essays' by Albert Camus
Translated by Ellen Conroy Kennedy

Pace

"Dheere Dheere Re Mana, Dheere Sub Kutch Hoye
Mali Seenche So Ghara, Ritu Aaye Phal Hoye."

Slowly slowly O mind, everything happens in its own pace
The gardener may pour a hundred buckets,
the fruit arrives only in its season.

Kabir 1398-1518

Certes, aujourdh’hui


Certes, aujourdh’hui mes soirées
Ne se passent plus en réunions

J’aime mieux rester dans le silence de mon bureau
Même si sans doute je me sens un peu coupable

De ne passer mon temps qu’à cultiver des états d’âme
Vaguement à l’écoute des rares bruits de la nuit

D’une corne de brume par exemple
Lorsqu’un bateau quitte l’estuaire

Et le refrain de son moteur lent
Saluant de sourdes vibrations
Les fondations de la maison
Semble ausculter les profondeurs nocturnes…..

'J’habite ici' , Jean-Claude Pinson

Karma

"...But in Buddhist science, karma has nothing to do with fate - it is an impersonal, natural process of cause and effect. Our karma at a given moment of life or death or the between is the overall pattern of causal impulses resulting from former actions connected with our life-continuum. These form a complex that impresses its effects on our bodies, actions, and thoughts. In turn, our ongoing actions of body, speech and mind form new causal impulses, which determine the nature and quality of our lives in the future. This complex can be called our evolutionary momentum.

There is an old Tibetan saying, "Don't wonder about your former lives; just look carefully at your present body! Don't wonder about your future lives; just look at your mind in the present!" This expresses the sense that our present body has evolved from a long evolution driven by former actions, and our future embodiments will be shaped by how we think and what we decide to do in our present actions."

Page 28. The Tibetan Book of the Dead [The Bardo Thodol]
Translated & Introduced by Robert A.F. Thurman

Liberation

"...Growing detachment from the world is of course the experience of many writers as they grow older, grow cooler or colder. The texture of their prose becomes thinner, their treatment of character and action more schematic. The syndrome is usually ascribed to a waning of creative power; it is not doubt connected with the attenuation of physical powers, above all the power of desire.

Yet from the inside the same development may bear a quite different interpretation: as a liberation, a clearing of the mind to take on more important tasks.

The classic case is that of Tolstoy. No one is more alive to the real world than the young Leo Tolstoy, the Tolstoy of War and Peace. After War and Peace, if we follow the standard account, Tolstoy entered upon a long decline into didacticism that culminated in the aridity of the late short fiction.

Yet to the older Tolstoy the evolution must have seemed quite different. Far from declining, he must have felt, he was ridding himself of the shackles that had enslaved him to appearances, enabling him to face directly the one question that truly engaged his soul: how to live."

Page 193. 'Diary of a Bad Year' by J.M.Coetzee [Nobel Prize, 2003]

Mystic


"You will not be a mystic until you are like the earth - both the righteous and the sinner tread upon it - and until you are like the clouds - they shade all things - and until you are like the rain - it waters all things, whether it loves them or not."

Bayazid Bistami

What's logic got to do with it?

"But all of these old conceptions of morality are based on a fundamental mistake. Neuroscience can now see the substrate of moral decisions, and there's nothing rational about it. 'Moral judgment is like aesthetic judgment,' writes Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at the University of Virginia. 'When you see a painting, you usually know instantly and automatically whether you like it. If someone asks you to explain your judgment, you confabulate ... Moral arguments are much the same: Two people feel strongly about an issue, their feelings come first, and their reasons are invented on the fly, to throw at each other.'
"Kant and his followers thought the rational brain acted like a scientist: we used reason to arrive at an accurate view of the world. This meant that morality was based on objective values; moral judgments described moral facts. But the mind doesn't work this way. When you are confronted with an ethical dilemma, the unconscious automatically generates an emotional reaction. (This is what psychopaths can't do.) Within a few milliseconds, the brain has made up its mind; you know what is right and what is wrong. These moral instincts aren't rational. ...
"It's only after the emotions have already made the moral decision that those rational circuits in the prefrontal cortex are activated. People come up with persuasive reasons to justify their moral intuition. When it comes to making ethical decisions, human rationality isn't a scientist, it's a lawyer. This inner attorney gathers bits of evidence, post hoc justifications, and pithy rhetoric in order to make the automatic reaction seem reasonable. But this reasonableness is just a facade, an elaborate self- delusion. Benjamin Franklin said it best in his autobiography: 'So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.'
"In other words, our standard view of morality - the philosophical consensus for thousands of years - has been exactly backward. We've assumed that our moral decisions are the byproducts of rational thought, that humanity's moral rules are founded in such things as the Ten Commandments and Kant's categorical imperative. Philosophers and theologians have spilled lots of ink arguing about the precise logic of certain ethical dilemmas. But these arguments miss the central reality of moral decisions, which is that logic and legality have little to do with anything."
Jonah Lehrer, How We Decide (excerpt from delancey.com)

Silence

"...He waved us away, shaking his heid and screwing his eyes up. Ah sais nae mair. Whin ye feel like he did, ye dinnae want tae talk or be talked at. Ye dinnae want any f... fuss at aw. A didnae either. Sometimes ah think that people become junkies just because they subconsciously crave a wee bit ay silence."

Page 7, Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh

Hana-bi

The Japanese are the masters of understatement. Watch Hana-bi by Takeshi Kitano - ruthless, violent, yet poetic, minimalist, lyrical. Such style, such elegance. Not one extra gesture, not one unnecessary word.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hana-bi

Class, the Japanese way. And what a guy, Kitano - director, actor, stunning painter.

This one won the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Nachiketa

Nachiketa is the main character of the Katha Upanishad.

Once when his father Vajasravasa was donating cows to gain religious merit, Nachiketa, who was just a teenage boy, asks him - "What merit can one obtain by giving away cows that are too old to give milk?" His father does not pay heed to his questions, and is irritated that his young son is seeing through his hypocrisy, and spelling it out too. To make his father realize the meaninglessness of this false ritual, he asks, "To whom will you offer me?" He asks this again and again. Angered, his father blurts out ,"To death I give you!"

So the obedient Nachiketa goes to meet Yama, the God of Death, and waits until he gets an audience with him. All of Katha Upanishad is the dialogue between Yama and Nachiketa - the latter answering the questions on life and death, posed by the young, respectful, but clear-thinking, intelligent young boy.

Read it in Eknath Eswaran's words - " ...As for the student, we can only pause in admiration of this ancient civilization whose hero is a teenager who has not learned the rudimentary grace of civilized existence - to hold his peace in the presence of hypocrisy. Nachiketa is an attractive character who cannot go along with sham; but he is not an obstreperous rebel: he is more sincere about convention than his father (including the convention of obedience to a father, even when the latter has lost his temper) and his first wish [Yama grants him 3 boons] is for reconciliation with him.

At no point does he lack respect. But that is just the point; he forces the issue by taking the demands of religion seriously when the majority have long since allowed external observance to paper it over, making of it a dead letter that no longer communicates anything about personal struggle. But by poking holes in society's shroud of complacency, he represents, again, what it would take to awaken any and all of us.

..........Then follows the encounter of Nachiketa with Death, and its dramatic reversal when he passes Death's severe test and changes him from a gruff and off-putting deity to a delighted teacher." *

* 'The Upanishads', by Eknath Eswaran, Penguin Books

The Five Hundred Gold Pieces

One of Junaid's followers came to him with a purse containing five hundred gold pieces.

"Have you any more money than this?", asked the Sufi.
"Yes, I have."
"Do you desire more?"
"Yes, I do."
"Then you must keep it, for you are more in need than I; for I have nothing and desire nothing. You have a great deal and still want more."

Page 72. Chapter: Attar of Nisharpur.
'The Way of the Sufi' by Idries Shah

Madras Central



The black train pulls in at the platform,
Hissing into silence like hot steel in water.
Tell the porters not to be so precipitate-
It is good, after a desperate journey,
To rest a moment with your perils upon you.

The long rails recline into a distance
Where tomorrow will come before I know it.
I cannot be in two places at once:
That is axiomatic. Come, we will go and drink
A filthy cup of tea in a filthy restaurant.

It is difficult to relax. But my head spins
Slower and slower as the journey recedes.
I do not think I shall smoke a cigarette now.
Time enough for that. Let me make sure first
For the hundredth time, that everything's complete.

My wallet's in my pocket; the white nylon bag
With the papers safe in its lining-fine;
The book and my notes are in the outside pocket;
The brown case is here with all its straps secure.

I have everything I began the journey with,
And also a memory of my setting out
When I was confused, so confused. Terrifying
To think we have such power to alter our states,
Order comings and goings: know where we're not wanted
And carry our unwantedness somewhere else.

Vijay Nambisan

Going to take betel nut

“The basic concept of [the Khasi] religion rests mainly on the three doctrines: ban Tip Briew Tip Blei, ban Tip Kur Tip Kha and ban Kamai ia ka Hok: to know Man, to know God, to know the maternal and paternal relations and to earn righteousness.

...It follows from this, therefore, that Man lives in the world to earn righteousness and having so earned it, he then returns to his Maker when he dies. The Khasis call this return "leit bam kwai sha iing U Blei" - going to take betel nut in the House of God."

‘Around the Hearth - Khasi Legends’ , by Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih
Penguin Books. Folktales of India series

Everything is really FINE!

So Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise have hitched this ride East from San Francisco with a "tall, thin fag who drove with extreme care" in a car that Dean called "a 'fag Plymouth'; it had no pickup and no real power". In the front seat are this couple, and in the back seat Dean and Sal are having this crazy conversation full of real and imagined stories and laughing like hyenas....

"...We were telling these things and both sweating. We had completely forgotten the people up front who had begun to wonder what was going on in the back seat. At one point the driver said, "For God's sakes, you're rocking the boat back there." Actually we were; the car was swaying as Dean and I both swayed to the rhythm and the IT of our final excited joy in talking and living to the blank tranced end of all innumerable riotous angelic particulars that had been lurking in our souls all our lives.

"Oh, man! man! man!" moaned Dean. "And it's not even the beginning of it - and now we are at last going east together, we've never gone east together, Sal, think of it, we'll dig Denver together and see what everybody's doing although that matters little to us, the point being that we know what IT is and we know TIME and we know that everything is really FINE".

Then he whispered, clutching my sleeve, sweating, "Now you just dig them in front. They have worries, they're counting the miles, they're thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they'll get there - and all the time they'll get there anyway, you see. But they need to worry and betray time with urgencies false and otherwise, purely anxious and whiny, their souls really won't be at peace unless they can latch on to an established and proven worry and having once found it they assume facial expressions to fit and go with it, which is, you see, unhappiness, and all the time it all flies by them and they know it and that too worries them no end."......

"Man, you dig all this." He was poking me furiously in the ribs to understand. I tried my wildest best. Bing, bang, it was all Yes! Yes! Yes! in the back seat and the people up front were mopping their brows with fright and wishing they'd never picked us up at the travel bureau. It was only the beginning, too.

...It was with a great deal of silly relief that these people let us off the car at the corner of 27th and Federal. Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life."

Page 194, "On the Road" Jack Kerouac

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Well I've been...

"...Well I've been to the mountain
And I've been in the wind
I've been in and out of happiness
I have dined with kings, I've been offered wings
And I've never been too impressed..."

Bob Dylan

Pratchett Speak :)

"Intellectually, Ridcully maintained his position for two reasons. One was that he never, ever, changed his mind about anything. The other was that it took him several minutes to understand any new idea put to him, and this is a very valuable trait in a leader, because anything anyone is still trying to explain to you after two minutes is probably important and anything they give up after a mere minute or so is almost certainly something they shouldn't have been bothering you with in the first place."

................................................................

Tortoise: "How many talking tortoises have you met?"
Brutha: "I don't know." Tortoise: "What d'you mean, you don't know?"
Brutha: "Well, they might all talk. They just might not say anything when I'm there."

Terry Pratchett

Liberation

"...There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:

Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons;
and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives—unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle.

This is the use of memory:
For liberation—not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past..."

T.S. Eliot
Little Gidding. The Four Quartets

On Defining Oneself

Michael Crichton climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. And says:“…..

What I learned was this: that I had defined myself as a person who didn't like heights or cold, a person who didn't like to be dirty, a person who didn't like physical exertion or discomfort. And here I had spent five days cold, dirty, and exhausted; I had lost twenty pounds; and I had had a wonderful experience.

I realized that I had defined myself too narrowly.

The experience of climbing Kilimanjaro affected me so powerfully that, for a long time afterward, if I caught myself saying, “I am not a person who likes to do that activity, eat that food, listen to that music, " I would automatically go out and do what I imagined I didn't like. Generally I found I was wrong about myself-I liked what I thought I wouldn't like. And even if I didn't like the particular experience, I learned I liked having new experiences.”

Chapter: Kilimanjaro
from'Travels' by Michael Crichton

Suicide and Murder

"Views concerning the main causes of suicide have differed widely, but hardly anyone denies that re-directed aggression is a major factor. ..

There is a lower rate of suicide during times of war. The suicide curves for the present century show two huge dips during the periods of the two world wars. In other words, why kill yourself if you can kill someone else? It is the inhibitions about killing the people who are dominating and frustrating the potential suicide that force him to re-direct his violence. He has the choice of killing a less daunting scapegoat, or himself. In peace-time, inhibitions about killing make him turn most often towards himself, but during war-time he is ordered to kill, and the suicide rate goes down.

The relationship between suicide and murder is a close one. To a certain extent they are two sides of the same coin. Countries with a high murder rate tend to have a low suicide rate, and vice versa. It is as if there is just so much intense aggression to be let loose, and if it does not take the one form it will take the other. Which way it goes will depend on how inhibited a particular community is about committing murder. If the inhibitions are weak, then the suicide rate goes down. It is similar to the war-time situation, where inhibitions against killing were actively and purposely reduced."

Page 40, 41. "The Human Zoo", by Desmond Morris

Happiness

"Will and I could hardly wait for the morning to come, to get at something that interested us. That's happiness."
-- Orville Wright, co-inventor of the airplane

Acquainted with the Night


I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Robert Frost
From "New Hampshire", 1923

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Globalization and the Loss of Identity

"...The sobering lesson to be learnt from all this is that the ancient biological need of the human species for a distinct tribal identity is a powerful force that cannot be subdued. As fast as one super-tribal split is visibly mended, another one appears. Well-meaning authorities talk airily about 'hopes for a global society'. They see clearly the technical possibility of such a development, given the marvels of modern communication, but they stubbornly overlook the biological difficulties.

...Theoretically there is no good reason why small groupings, satisfying the requirements of tribal identity, should not be constructively interrelated inside thriving super-tribes, which, in turn, constructively interact to form a massive, global mega-tribe.

Failures to date have largely been due to attempts to suppress the existing differences between the various groups, rather than to improve the nature of these differences by converting them into more rewarding and peaceful forms of competitive social interaction.

Attempts to iron out the whole world into one great expanse of uniform monotony are doomed to disaster. This applies at all levels, from breakaway nations to tearaway gangs. When the sense of social identity is threatened, it fights back."

Page 34, Status and Super-Status, "The Human Zoo". by Desmond Morris

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Aretê, a higher idea of efficiency

‘...What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism’, Kitto comments, 'is not a sense of duty as we understand it-duty towards others: it is rather duty towards oneself. He strives after that which we translate "virtue", but is in Greek aretê, "excellence". It runs through Greek life.

Phaedrus is fascinated by the description of the motive of 'duty toward self' which is an almost exact translation of the Sanskrit word dharma, sometimes described as the 'one' of the Hindus. Can the dharma of the Hindus and the 'virtue' of the ancient Greeks be identical?

'When we meet aretê, in Plato,' he said, 'we translate it "virtue", and consequently miss all the flavour of it. "Virtue" at least in modern English, is almost entirely a moral word; aretê, on the other hand, is used indifferently in all the categories, and simply means excellence.

Thus the hero of the Odyssey is a great fighter, a wily schemer, a ready speaker, a man of stout heart and broad wisdom who knows that he must endure without too much complaining what the gods send; and he can both build and sail a boat, drive a furrow as straight as anyone, beat a young braggart at throwing the discus, challenge the Phaeacian youth at boxing, wrestling or running; flay, skin, cut up and cook an ox, and be moved to tears by a song. He is in fact an excellent all-rounder; he has surpassing aretê.

Aretê implies a respect for the wholeness or oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency - or rather a much higher idea of efficiency, an efficiency which exists not in one department of life but in life itself.'

'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' Robert M Pirsig

The sewage pipes first, indeed

Letter to the Chinese Premier -

"...I gather you yellow-skinned men, despite your triumphs in sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, still don't have democracy. Some politician on the radio was saying why we Indians are going to beat you: we may not have sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, but we do have democracy.

If I were making a country, I'd get the sewage pipes first, then the democracy, then I'd go about giving pamphlets and statues of Gandhi to other people, but what do I know?"

Page 96,
'The White Tiger', by Aravind Adiga, Man Booker Prize for 2008

A Square of Wood

"...The Great Khan tried to concentrate on the game: but now it was the game's reason that eluded him. The end of every game is a gain or a loss: but of what? What were the real stakes? At checkmate, beneath the foot of the king, knocked aside by the winner's hand, nothingness remains: a black square, or a white one. By disembodying his conquests to reduce them to the essential, Kublai had arrived at the extreme operation: the definitive conquest, of which the empire's multiform treasures were only illusory envelopes; it was reduced to a square of planed wood.

The Marco Polo spoke: "Your chessboard, sire, is inlaid with two woods: ebony and maple. The square on which your enlightened gaze is fixed was cut from the ring of a trunk that grew in a year of drought: you see how its fibres are arranged? Here a barely hinted knot that can be made out: a bud tried to burgeon on a premature spring day, but the night's frost forced it to desist."

Until then the Great Khan had not realized that the foreigner knew how to express himself fluently in his language, but it was not his fluency that amazed him.

"Here is a thicker pore: perhaps it was a larvum's nest; not a woodworm, because, once born, it would have begun to dig, but a caterpillar that gnawed the leaves and was the cause of the tree's being chosen for chopping down... This edge was scored by the wood carver with his gouge so that it would adhere to the next square, more protruding..."

The quantity of things that could be read in a little piece of smooth and empty wood overwhelmed Kublai; Polo was already talking of ebony forests, about rafts laden with logs that come down the rivers, of docks, of women at the windows...."

An excerpt from Calvino's "Invisible Cities"
Quoted in Chapter 3: Exactitude
From: "Six Memos for the Next Millennium - The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 1985-86", by Italo Calvino

Consciousness

"...The biologist Stephen J.Gould makes a good point: "Science is not 'organized common sense'; at its most exciting, it reformulates our view of the world by imposing powerful theories against the ancient, anthropocentric prejudices that we call intuition."

When I say I'm angry, I may be, but I might also be wrong. I might really be afraid or jealous or some combination of all these. Donald Hebb pointed out long ago that outside observers are far more accurate at judging a person's true emotional state than is the person himself.

Some, perhaps, many of the things we do, including the appraisal of the emotional significance of events in our lives and the expression of emotional behaviours in response to those appraisals, do not depend on consciousness, or even on processes that we necessarily have conscious access to."

Page 65.
'The Emotional Brain - The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life'
Joseph LeDoux, Phoenix Books, 1998

The Moment


The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

Margaret Atwood

Raupuch

"...Every language is a storehouse of indigenous culture and knowledge. It reflects a peoples' worldview. English and Hindi have words for someone who loses their spouse or their parents, but they do not have a word for a person who loses a sibling. Great Andamanese does - raupuch. This tells us a lot about this society and the emphasis it places on family kinship."

Anvita Abbi, Linguistics Professor, JNU

from the article - "Mind your Languages: Dwindling populations, social pulls, sound the death knell of India's rare tongues"
by Debashri Dasgupta, Outlook Magazine, 19 Nov 2007

The Wish-Fulfilling Tree

The proverbial benevolent uncle turns up in the village and sees the children play with ragdolls and simple make-do toys. He tells them they can have even better toys if they stand under the kalpa-taru outside, the Wish-Fulfilling Tree, and make a wish. The children do so. But a strange thing happens. They ask for sweets - they get them, and they also get stomach-ache. They want toys - they get them, and they also get boredom. Bigger and better toys - bigger and bigger boredom.

"..........What they have not realized yet is that the Wish-Fulfilling Tree is the enormously generous, but totally unsentimental cosmos. It will give you exactly what you want - "this world is your wish-fulfilling cow," says Krishna [III:10] - and with it its built-in opposite. Nothing in this world comes single; everything comes with its built-in opposite.

The tragedy of the world is not that we don't get what we want, but that we always get exactly what we want - along with its built-in opposite. We are trapped under the Wishing Tree."

from The Introduction
The Bhagavad Gita - Transcreated from Sanskrit by P.Lal.

Animus, and Anima

"..............Jung called its (the unconscious) male and female forms "animus" and "anima".

The anima is a personification of all feminine psychological tendencies in a man's psyche, such as vague feelings and moods, prophetic hunches, receptiveness to the irrational, capacity for personal love, feeling for nature, and last but not the least-his relation to the unconscious. It is no mere chance that in olden times priestesses (like the Greek Sibyl) were used to fathom the divine will and to make connection with the gods.

A particularly good example of how the anima is experienced as in inner figure in a man's psyche is found in the medicine men and prophets (shamans) among the Eskimo and other arctic tribes. Some of these even wear women's clothes or have breasts depicted on their garments, in order to manifest their inner feminine side-the side that enables them to connect with the "ghost land" ( i.e., what we call the unconscious)."

'The anima: the woman within'

Part 3: The Process of Individuation
M.-L.von Franz
from the book 'Man and his Symbols'Edited, with an introduction, by Carl Gustav Jung

Au bout du chemin

Au printemps j’ai des chemins creux
Qui poussent dans la tête, des envies de campagne

Rarement je passe à l’acte
Je me complais plutôt à choyer la mémoire

D’un jour à l’ile aux Moines où nous avons marché
Entre deaux fanfares d’aubépines
(la métaphore tant pis trahit la paix du lieu)
le vert d’une île en face faisait comme un motif
sur la très grande assiette de la mer

Pourquoi étions-nous si sereins?
Était-ce au bout du chemin la certitude
Que serait une plage
Où ramasser des coquillages ?

' J’habite ici', Jean-Claude Pinson

Ju Do

"....It brings into play altogether new powers of adaptation to life, of literally absorbing pain and insecurity. ...The principle of the thing is clearly something like judo, the gentle (ju) way (do) of mastering an opposing force by giving in to it.

The natural world gives us many examples of the great effectiveness of this way. The Chinese philosophy of which judo itself is an expression - Taoism - drew attention to the power of water to overcome all obstacles by its gentleness and pliability. It showed how the supple willow survives the tough pine in a snowstorm, for whereas the unyielding branches of the pine accumulate snow until they crack, the springy boughs of the willow bend under its weight, drop the snow, and jump back again.

If, when swimming, you are caught in a strong current, it is fatal to resist. You must swim with it and gradually edge to the side. One who falls from a height with stiff limbs will break them, but if he relaxes like a cat he will fall safely. A building without "give" in its structure will easily collapse in storm or earthquake, and a car without the cushioning of tires and springs will soon come apart on the road.
The mind has just the same powers, for it has give and can absorb shocks like water or a cushion."

'The Wisdom of Insecurity' Alan W. Watts

Escalator Temporarily Stairs

I like an escalator, man, 'cause an escalator can never break. It can only become stairs. There would never be an "Escalator Temporarily Out of Order" sign, only "Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the Convenience."

Mitch Hedberg

Consider the lilies...


'From the Garden'
Anne Sexton

Come, my beloved,
consider the lilies.
We are of little faith.
We talk too much.

Put your mouthful of words away
and come with me to watch
the lilies open in such a field,
growing there like yachts,
slowly steering their petals
without nurses or clocks.

Let us consider the view:
a house where white clouds
decorate the muddy halls.

Oh put away your good words
and your bad words. Spit out
your words like stones!
Come here! Come here!
Come eat my pleasant fruits.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The emptiness of space

In today's Delanceyplace.com excerpt - the emptiness of space, the distances between planets and stars:

" 'The universe is a pretty empty place, and that's something most people don't get' said Michael Brown of Caltech. 'You go watch Star Wars, and you see the heroes flying through an asteroid belt, and they're twisting and turning nonstop to avoid colliding with asteroids.'

In reality, he said, when the Galileo spacecraft flew through our solar system's asteroid belt in the early 1990s, NASA spent millions of dollars in a manic effort to steer the ship close enough to one of the rubble rocks to take photos and maybe sample a bit of its dust. 'And when they got lucky and the spacecraft actually passed by two asteroids, it was considered truly amazing,' said Brown. 'For most of Galileo's journey, there was nothing. Nothing to see, nothing to take pretty pictures of. And we're talking about the solar system, which is a fairly dense region of the universe.'

"Don't be fooled by the gorgeous pictures of dazzling pinwheel galaxies with sunnyside bulges in their midsections, either. They, too, are mostly ghostly: the average separation between stars is about 100,000 times greater than the distance between us and the Sun. Yes, our Milky Way has about 300 billion stars to its credit, but those stars are dispersed across a chasmic piece of property 100,000 light-years in diameter. That's roughly 6 trillion miles (the distance light travels in a year) multiplied by 100,000 ... miles wide. Even using the shrunken scale of a citrus sun lying just twenty feet away from our sand-grain Earth, crossing the galaxy would require a trip of more than 24 million miles."

Natalie Angier, The Canon, Houghton Mifflin, Copyright 2007 by Natalie Angier

Monday, May 25, 2009

Being a wild pig :)

“James Averill, a major proponent of social constructivism, describes a behavior pattern, called “being a wild pig”, that is quite unusual by Western standards, but is common and even “normal” among the Gururumba, a horticultural people living in the highlands of New Zealand. The behavior gets its name by analogy. There are no undomesticated pigs in this culture, but occasionally, and for unknown reasons, a domesticated one will go through a temporary condition in which it runs wild. But the pig can, with appropriate measures, be redomesticated and returned to the normal pig life among the villagers.

And, in a similar vein, Gururumba people can act this way, becoming violent and aggressive and looting and stealing, but seldom causing harm or taking anything of importance, and eventually returning to routine life. In some instances, after several days of living in the forest, during which time the stolen objects are destroyed, the person returns to the village spontaneously with no memory of the experience and is never reminded of the event by the villagers. Others, though, have to be captured and treated like a wild pig – held over a smoking fire until the old self returns.

The Gururumba people believe that being a wild pig occurs when one is bitten by the ghost of someone who recently died. As a result, social controls on behavior are lost and primitive impulses are set free. According to Averill, being a wild pig is a social, not a biological or even an individual, condition. Westerners are prone to think of this as psychotic, abnormal behavior, but for the Gururumba it is instead a way of relieving stress and maintaining community mental health in the village.

Averill uses “being a wild pig” to support his claim that “most standard emotional reactions are socially constructed or institutionalized patterns of response” rather than biologically determined events (one wonders, though, where the wild impulses come from) ."

Page 115, ‘The Emotional Brain’ by Joseph Ledoux
Chapter 5: ‘The way we were’

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I've seen a frog lay most as many

From 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' [1884] , Mark Twain

"It's lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened - Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many.

Jim said the moon could a laid them; well, that looked kind of reasonable, so I didn't say nothing against it, because I've seen a frog lay most as many, so of course it could be done.

We used to watch the stars that fell, too, and see them streak down. Jim allowed they'd got spoiled and was hove out of the nest."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Use it lose it!

"Research on the physical results of thinking has shown that just using the brain actually increases the number of dendritic branches that interconnect brain cells. The more we think, the better our brains function – regardless of age. The renowned brain researcher Dr. Marian Diamond says, "The nervous system possesses not just a 'morning' of plasticity, but an 'afternoon' and an 'evening' as well."

In fact, older brains may have an advantage. She discovered that more highly developed neurons respond even better to intellectual enrichment than less developed ones do. The greatest increase in dendritic length occurred in the outermost dendritic branches, as a reaction to new information.

As she poetically describes it: "We began with a nerve cell, which starts in the embryo as just a sort of sphere. It sends its first branch out to overcome ignorance. As it reaches out, it is gathering knowledge and it is becoming creative. Then we become a little more idealistic, generous, and altruistic; but it is our six-sided dendrites which give us wisdom."

http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/exercise.html#top

Spring-irrevocably


come quickly come
run run
with me now
jump shout(laugh
dance cry

sing)for it's Spring

-irrevocably;

and in
earth sky trees
:every
where a miracle arrives

(yes)

you and i may not
hurry it with
a thousand poems
my darling
but nobody will stop it

With All The Policemen In The World.

e.e.cummings

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