The Secret Life of Trees & The Science Behind Forest Bathing

September 29, 2018 § 9 Comments

59929f4616406__880[Trees exhibiting a behavior called “crown shyness,” when they don’t touch branches in order to cohabit peacefully without blocking one another’s light]

“A force hums in the heart of wood…the tree is saying things, in words before words.”

~ Richard Powers, “The Overstory”

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.”

~ Herman Hesse

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

~ John Muir 

Recent studies confirm what poets & dreamers have always known in their hearts: the trees are talking to each other.

A revolution has been taking place in the scientific understanding of our arboreal friends. Biologists, ecologists & foresters are observing that trees have a quantifiable communication system and intelligence.   We are learning that the forest is a community that cares for its own. Trees are social beings who work together for the survival of the whole.

trees21-2[Nic Taylor]

There is a growing body of evidence, pioneered by forest ecology professor Suzanne Simard, which shows that trees communicate through interconnected root systems, in collaboration with fungal networks. This symbiosis forms what is known as “the wood wide web.”

This unifying network is composed of mycorrhizal fungi, of which there are many different species. The fungi send out gossamer-fine threads through the soil and weave into the tips of plant roots, bonding at a cellular level and creating a super-organism.

wood.wide.web.internet

This collaboration of roots creates an information superhighway, functioning like an underground organic internet. The wood wide web connects whole forests, enabling trees, not only to communicate with one another, but also to share resources.

For example, a tree which receives an excess of sunlight will transmit the resulting nutrients via the wood wide web to a tree that receives only shade. Healthy trees have been known to nurse felled friends, keeping stumps alive for as long as centuries. Parent trees nourish their saplings via the wood wide web, and will even reduce their own root growth to make room for their offspring.

forest

Forest dwelling networks of trees warn one another of danger–-drought, predators, or disease, for instance. They do this by sending electrical signals through their root systems, simultaneously releasing molecules into the air; chemicals which act as messengers. Information can be transmitted in as little as seconds, or take as long as days.

Responding trees then alter their behavior, releasing chemical defenses to ward off predators or conserving water in the case of a drought warning. Trees will even alter their chemical composition in response to warning signals sent by friends under attack, making their leaves taste more bitter to an influx of a certain predator. In short, they work together to survive and thrive.

2017-12-13_judi-dench[Actress Dame Judy Dench in her recent BBC documentary “My Passion For Trees.”]

How might our own communities improve if we took our inspiration from the forest? What does this new understanding of trees have to teach us? Nature is wise. She knows that in giving, one receives, and that the benefit of one improves the whole.

“A tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it,” notes Peter Wohlleben, arboreal ambassador & author of the best-selling book,  “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World.”

black-and-white-christmas-tree-download-wallpaper-black-and-white-tree-in-many-resolutions-bellow

As Biology professor, George David Haskell notes: “Dogmas of separation fragment the community of life; they wall humans in a lonely room. We must ask the question: ‘can we find an ethic of full earthly belonging?’” (“The Songs of Trees.”)

Theoretical physicist David Bohm notes that the process of dividing the world into parts is a convenient way of thinking when applied to practical matters. But then we become fooled by our own fragmented perception.

“Man thus obtains an apparent proof of the correctness of his fragmentary self-world view, though, of course, he overlooks the fact that it is he himself, acting according to his mode of thought, who has brought about the fragmentation that now seems to have an autonomous existence, independent of his will and of his desire.” (“Wholeness & Implicit Order.)

Juan-Gris-Portrait-of-Pablo-Picasso[Portrait of Picasso by Juan Gris]

What better way to reconnect with our environment than a walk in the woods?

The Japanese have a word, shinrin-yoku, which translates to “forest bathing,” and means “taking in the forest atmosphere.”

Developed in Japan during the 1980s, shinrin-yoku has become a cornerstone of preventative healthcare & healing in Japanese medicine.

plant-neurobiology-feature[Plant Neurology]

Scientific experiments conducted in Japan reveal a host of health improvements that result from a simple 40 minute stroll in the woods:

  • Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved mood
  • Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  • Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
  • Increased energy level
  • Improved sleep

tree.hugger [Caryndrexl]

Studies show that people who just looked at a forest view for 20 minutes had a 13% lower concentration of the stress hormone cortisol. (“The Healing Power of Trees.”)

Many trees give off organic compounds that support our “NK” (natural killer) cells, which are part of our immune system’s way of fighting cancer. (“The Science of Forest Therapy.”) 

world.tree.cosmic.tree.magical

Trees have occupied a sacred place in human mythology for all of time. The Tree of Life appears in all of the world’s major religions, while The World Tree appears in a host of Indo-European & Native American cultures.

With its roots in the underworld, it’s trunk in our dimension, and its branches reaching up into the heavens, the World Tree is seen as being the axis that holds the cosmos together.

And trees indeed make our world possible.

Trees

I’ll leave you with a bit of tree wisdom from zen master Thich Nhat Hahh:

“I asked the leaf whether it was scared because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, ‘No. During the whole spring and summer I was very alive. I worked hard and helped nourish the tree, and much of me is in the tree.

“Please do not say that I am just this form, because the form of leaf is only a tiny part of me. I am the whole tree. I know that I am already inside the tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. That’s why I do not worry. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, ‘I will see you again very soon.’”

three-leaves

 

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Breaking The Movement Taboo: Reclaiming The Body’s Power Through Dance

August 6, 2017 § 4 Comments

[Martha Graham]

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.

~ Martha Graham

Several years ago, I attended an art opening. During the event, I noticed a woman in the crowd start to move in a way that caused her to stand out. Dressed in flowy black clothing, she slowly, with great poise, began to extend her arms, moving her fingers as though sculpting the air. Eyes slightly downcast, unfocused and internal.

People stopped looking at the art and began looking at the woman. What was happening? Was she drunk? Having a slow-motion meltdown? The air in the room became tense and thick.

We are born into bodies that are fluid and free...Rhythm, breath, music and movement become tools of seeing and then freeing the habits that hold us back. When we move our bodies then our hearts begin to open, when the body and the heart taste freedom the mind won't be far behind. ~Gabrielle Roth[image source]

Like underwater kelp, she allowed her body to gently sway back and forth, stepping forward to move ever-so-slowly across the room, all the while tenderly crafting the space around her with fluid fingertips. Her pace and reverence were reminiscent of Tai Chi, but more evocative. Each movement was graceful, flowing into the next.

And then . . . we understood.

She was a dancer, and part of her performance was to take us by surprise. One moment she was one of us, standing around, looking at the paintings on the walls—conforming to the confines of accepted physicality (sitting, standing, walking). The next, she was breaking the movement taboo. Neither sitting, standing, nor walking, but expressing, emoting through her body.

The movements themselves were simple enough, but they were affecting. They came from a deep, committed place within the dancer.

Martha Graham 1948.jpg[Martha Graham by Yousuf Karsh, 1948]

I was struck, not only by the performance itself, but also by that string of moments when people were taken aback by the simple act of a woman moving authentically. You could see in their faces that until they could categorize what was happening, they mistrusted it. Until she was officially “a dancer” in their minds, she was potentially a loose cannon for daring to step outside the confines of acceptable movement.

As we watched her perform, I noticed how sharply her physical fluidity and emotiveness contrasted our own uniform rigidity. It was then that I realized there exists an invisible tyranny over movement. An unspoken, shame-based restriction so pervasive, we don’t often think to question or challenge it.

[“Birthing The New God,” By Paul Bond]

Dance has been an important part of human ritual, healing and celebration since before the birth of the earliest civilizations. Archeologists have discovered paintings in Indian and Egyptian tombs depicting dancing figures from as far back as 3300 B.C.

While in tribal scenarios we once danced together—and still do in some parts of the world and small pockets of society—as culture has evolved, a distinct division has occurred between professional dancers, who are in effect “socially sanctioned” to move expressively, and regular folk who make jokes about having “two left feet.”

Break dancing is one notable exception, in that self-taught dancers are celebrated. But even in this scenario, it’s the most exceptional, skilled and practiced performers that are given audience. There are still parameters. Technique is required. One couldn’t simply improvise and make up for a lack of skill with feeling.

[image source]

Beyond perhaps shaking their hips at a dim, crowded club here and there, most people without a background in dance feel intimidated by the idea of engaging their body in expressive movement.

Most of us who are not professional dancers have at one time been shamed—or watched others be shamed—by peers when we step outside the box of acceptable movement. The shadow of social stigmatization looms large. We fear being a joke, Elaine, in the TV series Seinfeld, who famously loved to dance but moved with embarrassing seizure-like jerks, thumbs and knees akimbo, all the while thinking she was the life of the party.

This unspoken shame and fear surrounding expressive movement prevents most people from ever experiencing the immense therapeutic benefits of dance.

https://rachelneville.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/joymarie-thompson-black-history-exhibit-dance-photography.jpg?w=490&h=613[Photo by Rachel Neville]

Swedish researchers have shown dance to improve mood and increase mental health. It builds cardiovascular, bone and muscle strength. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, dancing can decrease the onset of dementia, boosting immunity, memory and cognition. A Standford Study has found that movement to music creates new neural pathways by integrating several brain functions at once: kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional.

The depth of skill required to perform any kind of classical or structured dance is undeniably impressive. But many people don’t realize there exists a genre of dance which specifically celebrates the authentic movement that springs from the untrained body.

Postmodern dance emerged in the late ’60s as a reaction against the compositional constraints of modern dance. In the same way, modern dance itself once rebelled against the rigid formalism of classical ballet. The Judson Dance Theater, a collection of Greenwich Village artists, dancers and composers, rejected formalism in favor of fostering the purity of ordinary movement.

They saw beauty and value in the freshness of instinctive human self-expression, often using untrained dancers in their performances. Postmodern dance is typified by natural movement—versus learned form.

José Limón’s Influence On Modern Dance[José Lemón]

Around the turn of the last century, people like Isadora Duncan had developed a style they called “free dance”—a rejection of classical formality, which paved the way for a deepened expression of natural movement. Drawing on inspiration from classical Greek arts, folk dances, nature and natural forms, Duncan “followed [her] fantasy and improvised, teaching any pretty thing that came into [her] head.” (Barefoot Dancer: The Story of Isadora Duncan.)

Several years after my experience at the art opening, I found myself stretching on a studio floor with a dancer-friend of mine. A modern dance teacher, she had been kind enough to give me a crash course in movement. As we warmed our bodies up and felt into the space around us, she told me all about postmodern dance and the virtues of authentic movement. Hearing from a trained, professional performer that my natural, untrained physical impulses had value was nothing short of mind blowing to me.

"You were wild once. Don't let them tame you." - Isadora Duncan

[Isadora Duncan]

As she stretched her hamstrings, my friend explained that, just like any art, the main purpose of contemporary dance was to develop one’s “authentic voice.” As a writer, I recognized this phrase and understood it. Authentic voice highlights the value of personality and uniqueness in making effective art. It denotes the pleasure provided by idiosyncrasy, honesty and sincerity.

To cultivate authentic voice takes experimentation, risk and practice—it’s a meditation on the power of vulnerability. Applying this idea to dance was a game-changer for me. Ultimately, developing one’s true voice in dance is not about technique, it’s about having the confidence to go deep, and to be vulnerable, allowing authenticity to shine through.

[Photo by Javier Vallhonrat]

I started in my living room. I began to play with what my body wanted to do. My dancer-friend had mentioned Bartenieff Fundamentals, a method she had studied which begins with a focus on breath, and evolves into one of the body’s extremities taking the lead in expressing itself.

It could start with a hand, a shoulder, a toe, the spine…I learned that if I waited and listened, with music playing, some part of my body always volunteered for the job. And after that, another part inevitably followed.

The goal, my friend said, was simply to become comfortable with my own patterns of authentic movement. And then to eventually build and expand upon those patterns. Modern dance pioneer Martha Graham’s concept of Contraction & Release (a contracting movement with each in-breath, an expansive one with each outbreath) was also a helpful touchstone to begin.

In flamenco, there is a word called, duende, the spirit of the dance. Flamenco dancers wait to start moving until they feel the duende move them. They will wait, poised while the music plays, for as long as it takes.

NaBa Photography: Valeria - Flamenco Dancer, Red Dress[Photo by Naba Zabih]

My first time experiencing being moved by the duende of dance was life-changing. I felt a natural rhythm take hold of me, propelling me. I wasn’t thinking at all, which felt delicious. As a writer who spends most of my creative time in my head, it felt amazing to move my focus to the body, to learn this new visceral language and communicate beyond words. My body rejoiced in its newfound freedom, and it had a lot to say. Stored emotions surfaced, flowing through me, released. It felt good to move expressively. In fact, it felt essential. I wondered how I had ever lived without it.

I started my dance practice while snowed in during the month of January, while fighting an immense depression. Without exaggeration, dance lifted me out of an epic funk and into a new exciting space of possibility. I had broken through the movement taboo and it was deeply liberating. I dare anyone to throw themselves into dancing to the full length of a song they enjoy and not feel a marked sense of uplift by the end. It’s an endorphin rush, athleticism meets creative catharsis.

Isadora Duncan More[Isadora Duncan]

Dance is a vital resource of physical health and emotional wellbeing. You don’t need to take a class to do it. Dance is for everyone. With the exception of the completely paralyzed, someone in a wheelchair can move their upper body expressively to music—there are whole dance companies created by the differently abled.

Deep, expressive movement works as emotional therapy, a physical boost and a cardiovascular workout that you won’t even know you’re doing—until the song ends and you feel how fast your heart is pounding in your chest. Even a slow song, if you work on consistent pacing and fluidity, is a major core workout.

This is an invitation to shed the shame, break the taboo, and reclaim your body’s natural joy in movement. All it takes is 5 minutes, some space, some music, and your willingness to open up to what your body wants to say.

[Alexander Yakovlev]

 

*For some inspiration, follow my journey as an untrained dancer exploring free/postmodern dance & movement on Instagram, @taiwoodville. Special thanks to Alissa Hattman for her notes on this piece, and for Michele Ainza (my dancer-friend) for freely sharing her wisdom, knowledge and inspiration.  

 

 

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Neuroscience & The Next Level Of Consciousness

May 7, 2017 § 8 Comments

Bombshell[Javiera Estrada, “Pillars of Creation.”]

”When you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in.”

– Eckhart Tolle

Neuroscientists at the University of Sussex have identified what they regard as evidence of higher consciousness.

“Consciousness is measured on a sliding scale by the diversity of the brain signals given out and ranges from wakefulness to a deep coma, normally. However, researchers have now found that when under the influence of certain drugs, that diversity range is well overstepped.” (Scientists Uncover A Higher State of Consciousness.)

By measuring magnetic fields in the brain, researchers observed a higher diversity of brain signals when on psychedelic drugs. Users of psychedelics would not be surprised at all.

Dancing in the Dark[Javiera Estrada, “Pillars of Creation.”]

Obvious though it may seem, the importance of this discovery can not be underestimated. This shows us that the spectrum of consciousness has a larger radius of possibility then previously measured.

The typical report of someone on psychedelics mirrors language of the saints & the mystics—a state in which the sacredness of life becomes self-evident. (See Parallax post: “Beyond Division: Studies in Bliss.) This bodes well for the future of humanity, since developing higher states of consciousness has pulled significant & mounting public interest. How else can we save our species from self-destruction but to awaken its higher centers, starting with our own.

Image result for meditation art

Meditation is the most consistent way to access higher consciousness through creating inner space. When we step back from the constant babbling stream of our thoughts, we feel our distinct being-ness outside of the mind’s relentless parade of emotions. According to sacred texts from Vedanta to the Tao, this inner witness is our essential nature, a source of power & peace.

“Mindfulness meditation has been shown to cause distinct changes in brain structure and brain function,” notes neuroscientist Yi-Yuan Tang.
Image result for inner peace art
Meditation measurably reduce anxiety—the plague of our modern era. Science writer Belle Beth Cooper explains why:

There’s a section of our brains that’s sometimes called the Me Center (it’s technically the medial prefrontal cortex). This is the part that processes information relating to ourselves and our experiences. Normally the neural pathways from the bodily sensation and fear centers of the brain to the Me Center are really strong. When you experience a scary or upsetting sensation, it triggers a strong reaction in your Me Center, making you feel scared and under attack.

When we meditate, we weaken this neural connection. This means that we don’t react as strongly to sensations that might have once lit up our Me Centers. As we weaken this connection, we simultaneously strengthen the connection between what’s known as our Assessment Center (the part of our brains known for reasoning) and our bodily sensation and fear centers. So when we experience scary or upsetting sensations, we can more easily look at them rationally.

Inspired
On that same thread, talking to ourselves in the third person has also been proven to reduce anxiety.

I’ve been listening to the Headspace App this month to get me back into a regular meditation routine. It’s first ten sessions are free & I invite you to just try one, because it’s meditation made easy and the benefits for me were immediate. Much easier than trying to dive right in on your own, a helpful guide.

oodNy14

And as Eckhart Tolle reminds us, every action can be a meditation on mindfulness:

“You can practice [witness consciousness] by taking any routine activity that normally is only a means to an end and giving it your fullest attention, so that it becomes an end in itself.”

What are your favorite meditation practices?

What Is Consciousness?

May 1, 2017 § 6 Comments

“Everything we do is for the purpose of altering consciousness. We form friendships so that we can feel certain emotions, like love, and avoid others, like loneliness. We eat specific foods to enjoy their fleeting presence on our tongues. We read for the pleasure of thinking another person’s thoughts.’‘ – Sam Harris

”The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.” Lao Tzu

“As we grow in our consciousness, there will be more compassion and more love, and then the barriers between people, between religions, between nations will begin to fall. Yes, we have to beat down the separateness.” Ram Dass

Consciousness is awareness of our own existence; the mind contemplating itself & its place in the world.

It gets a little trickier when we try to elaborate.

Article Image

”The human brain contains about one hundred billion interacting neurons,” relates science writer Michael S. Graziano. ”Neuroscientists know, at least in general, how that network of neurons can compute information. But how does a brain become aware of information? What is sentience itself?”

”What is the essence of awareness, the spark that makes us us? Something lovely apparently buried inside us is aware of ourselves and of our world. Without that awareness, zombie-like, we would presumably have no basis for curiosity, no realization that there is a world about which to be curious, no impetus to seek insight, whether emotional, artistic, religious, or scientific. Consciousness is the window through which we understand.” (‘What Is Consciousness? Neuroscience May Have Answer To The Big Questions.”)

Fajar P. Domingo[Fajar P. Domingo]

“Consider an analogy from physics,” adds psychologist Kristian Marlow, “knowing every equation predicting how mass and gravity interact does not tell us why they interact in the way they do. To understand why mass and gravity interact, we must appeal to highly esoteric explanations involving relativity, quantum mechanics or string theory. ”

Graziano offers a simpler metaphor: a child and his father watch as a magician saws a woman in half. “How do you think he does that?” asks the father. “Dad,” says the kid. “It’s obvious!” “Really?” asks the father, intrigued. “How?” The child replies: “The magician does it.”

Neuroscience, at this stage, Graziano asserts, is merely pointing at the magician; not explaining the trick.

how to become a magician[image source]

In philosophy, the study of consciousness is called phenomenology.

The mind–body problem examines the relationship between mind and matter, specifically the relationship between consciousness and the brain. The issue was addressed by René Descartes in the 17th century, resulting in Cartesian dualism. Descartes asserted that the the seat of intelligence & sentience was distinct from the brain, “a ghost in the machine.”

[ Fajar P. Domingo]

In the world of philosophy, physicalists maintain that consciousness is entirely physical,  while dualists think we are dealing with a two part system in which mental phenomena are, in some respect, non physical.

The philosopher Spinoza apposed Descartes’ theory of dualism, asserting that all matter was in fact made up of a single substance: an impersonal God with infinite attributes.

Spinoza’s theory represents a monist worldview, in which the distinctions we perceive are not ultimately indications of separation—a view which quantum physics appears to confirm & the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta established thousands of years ago.

How To Shoot Stellar Milky Way Double Exposure Portraits[image source]

Pioneering writer & philosopher Starhawk comments that the dualist way of thinking has created a culture of estrangement in modern life in which people feel “as strangers in the world,” disconnected from nature, each other & themselves.

Within this stock narrative of dualism in Western culture, Starhawk observes that “all qualities can be broken down into pairs of opposites—one is good, idealized, and the other is bad, devalued. Psychologists call this thought process “splitting”—the inability to see people or things as wholes containing both desired and undesired elements. In the split world, spirit wars with flesh, culture with nature, the sacred with the profane, the light with the dark.” (“Dreaming The Dark: Magic, Sex, Politics.”)

Forgive me folks if this post is something weird for you. What you read is totally my own. I respect your ideas about this.: [image source]

Starhawk observes that the split narrative becomes a metaphor for hierarchy. The fact that the “good guy versus bad guy” theme is the most dominant story line in Western culture is no accident, she asserts: it implants the message that in order for some to be good, others must be bad. A mental program that keeps us eternally divided, from each other & within ourselves.

Although we are technically all conscious as long as we are living, sometimes, although we are operating in the world, we may feel dull, uninspired, disconnected, apathetic. We encounter people who seem checked out as well.

This state has been dubbed in the parlance of modern spirituality “unconsciousness”: that trance-like state when you’re technically alive but don’t feel particularly vital or connected with your environment, yourself, a sense of purpose, etc—when, as Starhawk would say, we feel “as strangers in the world.”

Julian Pacaud:

[Julian Pacaud]

Contrast this with the experience we have all had at certain times of feeling intensely present, conscious & vital—in which we feel awakened to a sense of possibility & connection.

But words fail, because this “awakeness” is an extra, internal layer of awareness & alertness beyond the physical mechanism of simply not being asleep. This experience is universally typified by a sense of peace & uplift. Insights, which seem to recede into the background in “the trance, ” re-emerge as self-evident truths.

[Fajar P. Domingo]

Spiritual practice could be defined as the conscious cultivation of accessing this experience of “awakeness”—as one often seems to stumble into it and out of it. But tools like meditation, mindfulness & gratitude practices can help us access this feeling at will. This sense of deepened awakeness is often referred to as higher consciousness, and connecting with this state is the goal of spiritual practice.

We might define higher consciousness & its pursuit as: consciousness being conscious of itself as consciousness, and seeking to refine that awareness.

[Fajar P. Domingo]

What are your thoughts on consciousness? Which camp do you fall in (dualist or monist) & why? What is your experience of the awake/unconscious scenario?

*

If you enjoyed this post, try:

“Dreaming The Dark: Technologies of Immanence”

“Stardust Contemplating Stardust: Inner Space & The Science of Illumination.”

“The Human Soul & The Floating Man”

“Polarity & Paradox, Black & White Thinking In A Rainbow World.”

Dreaming The Dark: Technologies of Immanence

March 10, 2017 § 3 Comments

jefferson-muncy-visions[“Visions” by Jefferson Muncy]

“Magic is the technology/psychology of immanence, of understanding that everything is connected.”

~ Starhawk, “Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex & Politics.”

Before advertising stole our souls and scientific materialism denied its existence, dogmatic religious institutions held our souls hostage. The result has been a continually morphing and adapting form of systematic soul erasure in the Western world.

Author & activist Starhawk calls this “removing content.” She notes that it allows for power relationships in which human beings are exploited, and for a worldview that results in the exploitation of nature, because the inherent value of being has been denied.

Compartmentalized Sanity by KingaBritschgi[KingaBrit]

“I call this consciousness estrangement,” Starhawk details, “because its essence is that we do not see ourselves as part of the world. We are strangers to nature, to other human beings, to parts of ourselves. We see the world as made up of separate isolated nonliving parts that have no inherent value. Among things inherently separate and lifeless, the only power relationship possible is manipulation and domination.

“As we become separate, and are manipulated as objects, we lose our own sense of self worth, our belief in our own content, and acquiesce in our own exploitation.”(Dreaming the Dark.”)

In this worldview emptied of spirit, a tree becomes merely timber to be measured in feet, given value only by its profitability; not its being, its beauty, or its part in the larger ecosystem.

Considering that Western society sees virtually nothing as sacred, it’s easy to see why we are poised on the brink of collective self-destruction.

[Robin Wood]

And so an effectively soulless society is created, inhabited by shells who struggle to see their own value beyond doing & having. A sense of nonreality permeates our lives. As my dear poetry mentor, Barry Spacks, once phrased it: “Waiting to arrive, we’ve been here all along.”

“We live our lives feeling powerless & inauthentic—feeling that the real people are somewhere else, that the characters on the daytime soap operas or the conversations on late-night talk shows are more real than the people and conversations in our lives; believing that the movie stars, the celebrities, the rock stars, the People Magazine-people live out the real truth and drama of our times, while we exist as shadows, and our unique lives, our losses, our passions, which cannot be counted out or measured, which were not approved, or graded, or sold to us at a discount, are not the true value of this world.”

[“Blessed Art Thou” by Kate Kretz]

Starhawk notes that estrangement permeates our society so strongly that to us it seems to be consciousness itself. Even the language for other possibilities has disappeared or been deliberately twisted.

“Yet another form of consciousness is possible. Indeed, it has existed from earliest times,  underlies other cultures, and has survived even in the West in hidden streams,” Starhawk notes.

“This is the consciousness I call immanence—the awareness of the world and everything in it as alive, dynamic, interdependent, interacting and infused with moving energies: a living being, a weaving dance.”

img[Victor Tongdee]

“Magic is a word that makes people uncomfortable,” notes Starhawk, “so I use it deliberately, because the words we are comfortable with, the words that sound acceptable, rational, scientific, and intellectually sound, are comfortable precisely because they are the language of estrangement.”

She details that magic can be very prosaic—a leaflet, a lawsuit. Anything that changes consciousness at will. It can also be esoteric—inner work, interacting with the cosmos at large. At its heart, magic is moving energies.

“Ironically, as estranged science and technology advance, they have begun to bring us back to a consciousness of immanence. Modern physics no longer speaks of separate, discrete atoms of dead matter, but of waves of energy, probabilities, patterns that change as they are observed; it recognizes what shamans & witches have always known: that matter & energy are not separate forces, but different forms of the same thing.”

42-46209404.jpg__800x600_q85_crop

Starhawk defines: “To say something is sacred is to say that we respect, cherish and value it for its own being.”

In a world stripped of sacredness, it is a revolutionary act to see the innate beauty and value in being—one’s own and others’—to cherish & respect, to view life with reverence. When we remove the veil of Western materialism, the world comes alive again; and anything is possible.

This paradigm shift—from viewing reality as composed of separate, isolated, nonliving parts; from seeking power-over-–must be replaced by a worldview that acknowledges the living ecosystem of our dynamic inter-connectivity, to seeking power from within.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the survival of our species depends on it. And change starts within. Like seeds, we dream in the dark earth, but inside us we hold a blueprint for blooming.

So let us feel into our own aliveness today, let us expand our attention to include our own being; let’s look for it in others, in animals and plants. The world is shot through with immanence… for those who care to see.

ashes to snow, elephant, gregory colbert, empathy art[Gregory Colbert, “Ashes & Snow” series.]

If you liked this post, check out:

Beyond Division: Studies in Bliss”

“Unveiling The Mystery of The Higher Self”

Connectivity Through Form”

Carl Marx described man as being estranged from his Gattungswesen (“species-essence”). 

Giving Your Future Self Gifts

January 2, 2017 § 6 Comments

christian-schole-twin-heart, empathy, self-love, self-care artwork[“Twin Heart” by Christian Schloe]

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”  ~Audre Lorde

A great many New Year’s resolutions revolve around exercising self-discipline, which may in the moment yield less pleasure, but will create a better outcome in the future.

Yet, 25% of New Year’s Resolutions are broken within the first week, and research at the University of Scranton suggests that only 8 % of people achieve their annual vows of self-improvement.

Recent research reveals that the part of the brain responsible for self-control is the same area that allows us to feel empathy.

Tigran Tsitoghdzyan, art, self-reflection, collage, portrait photography, mirror LLL [“Mirror LLL” by Tigran Tsitoghdzyan]

 The human brain perceives the future self as if it were a stranger.

Tests reveal that when we think about ourselves in the present, parts of our prefrontal cortex light up that remain dim when we think about a stranger—or try to imagine our future self.

“Empathy depends on your ability to overcome your own perspective, appreciate someone else’s point of view, and step into their shoes,” remarks science writer Ed Yong.

“Self-control is essentially the same skill, except that those other shoes belong to your future self—a removed and hypothetical entity who might as well be a different person.” (“Self-Control Is Just Empathy For Your Future Self.”)

1-reflection-photography-by-giulia-marangoni-1, http://webneel.com/25-stunning-reflection-photography-examples-and-tips-beginners

The English word empathy finds its root in the Ancient Greek pathos,” which means “passion” or “suffering.”

In the early 20th century, German philosopher, Robert Vischer, adapted the word to create the German term Einfühlung—literally “feeling into”—which was then translated into English as empathy, defined as “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference.”

ashes to snow, elephant, gregory colbert, empathy art[From Gregory Colbert “Ashes & Snow” exhibition.]

Research has uncovered the existence of “mirror neurons,” which react to emotions expressed by others and then reproduce them.

This is why we get caught up in the emotion of art & performance, as well as the reason we feel a twinge of discomfort when we witness someone else experiencing pain.

Paul Apal’kin http://magazine.clickalps.com/fotografare-i-riflessi-fotografie-di-riflessi/#gallery reflection, art, black and white photography, two selves [Paul Apal’kin]

Some people—a case notably examined on the podcast “Invisibilia”-–have an overactive level of empathy, known as mirror-touch synesthesia, wherein they experience a debilitating level of physical empathy for any reaction witnessed in others.

“The capacity for empathy seems to be innate,”relates Jane E. Brodey, “and is evident even in other species — the adult elephant that tried to rescue a baby rhino stuck in the mud despite being charged by its mother, as recounted in “When Elephants Weep.”(“Empathy is Natural, But Nurturing it Helps.”) 

http://madebyrona.deviantart.com/, animals helping other animals, elephant rescuring kitten, compassion, empathy[Rona Helvrich]

Empathy is a skill that can be learned & developed. The more we practice imagining what it feels like to be in another person’s circumstance, the better we become at doing it—and at giving our future self gifts, not grief.

“Think of [it] as a kind of temporal selflessness,” notes Ed Yong. “It’s Present You taking a hit to help out Future You.”

http://jadoresimone.tumblr.com/image/133579951670

But for all the buzz empathy is getting these days, it’s possible that its sister state, compassion, is the more constructive practice to cultivate.

Buddhist Monk & French writer, Matthieu Ricard-–known as “world’s happiest man”—reflects that while empathy can lead to emotional burnout, the mood of compassion for another being is nourishing, energizing & empowering.

worlds happiest man, mathieu richard, red monk robe, http://www.gq.com/story/happiest-man-in-the-world-matthieu-ricard[“The World’s Happiest Man Wishes You Wouldn’t Call Him That.’]

The French monk details:

The cerebral networks activated by meditation on compassion were very different from those linked to empathy. In the previous studies, people who were not trained in meditation observed a person who was seated near the scanner and received painful electric shocks in the hand. These researchers noted that a part of the brain associated with pain is activated in subjects who observe someone suffering. They suffer when they see another’s suffering.

“When I engaged in meditation on altruistic love and compassion, [the researchers] noted that the network linked to negative emotions and distress was not activated, while certain cerebral areas traditionally associated with positive emotions, with the feeling of affiliation and maternal love, for instance, were.” (From Matthieu Ricard’s book, Altrusim: The Power of Compassion To Change Yourself & The World.”)  

Big sister comforts and embraces her little brother to alleviate fears and anxieties

Empathy fatigue can breed avoidance of the distressing emotions that can accompany resonating with another’s pain, but cultivating a focus on compassion is affirming & fortifying.

“When altruistic love encounters suffering it manifests as compassion,” Ricard tells us. “This transformation is triggered by empathy, which alerts us to the fact that the other is suffering. One may say that when altruistic love passes through the prism of empathy, it becomes compassion.”

French psychologist Christophe Andre writes, “We need the gentleness and the strength of compassion. The more lucid we are about the world, the more we accept seeing it as it really is, the easier it is to accept that we cannot face all the suffering that is encountered in the course of our lives unless we have this strength and this gentleness.”

We can apply this same philosophy to those “strangers” of our future selves.

christian schloe, two selves art[Christian Shloe]

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Surviving The Collective Exorcism

October 16, 2016 § 10 Comments

“Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”

~ John Kenneth Galbraith

“We try to fix the outside so much, but our control of the outer world is limited, temporary, and often, illusory…achieving durable happiness as a way of being is a skill. It requires sustained effort in training the mind and developing a set of human qualities, such as inner peace, mindfulness, and altruistic love.”

~ Matthieu Ricard

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

On top of an already fraught, fearful & divided world, the approaching presidential election of 2016 has ramped up feelings of rage, alienation & despair across America.

In part, because social issues—race relations & sexual politics—are at the forefront of the debates between Clinton & Trump, this election season has invoked a truly personal, emotional response in us.

black pain, african american tear, oppression art[Detail from K.A Williams (aka “WAK”) “The Worst Sight.”]

The advent of smartphones has given us the means to monitor our monitors, and footage of police abuse of power against black male bodies surfaces constantly, raising pleas for social justice to a fever pitch.

While many are listening to these raised voices of protest, large swaths of the conservative demographic are reacting with mistrust and shutting down. And so the #blacklivesmatter movement gives way to responses of #allivesmatter and #bluelives (meaning officers) matter.

us vs them, teams, war, chess

Yes. We all matter. That is the point of the “black lives matter” hashtag—a reminder that a swath of our “all” is struggling and needs attention.

As if this issue weren’t fraught enough, it has become politicized. The left, being the party of social progress, has taken up this and other causes, attempting to “explain it” to the right; which has largely been perceived by conservatives as a buzzword-fueled lecture and accusation.

Although it may be difficult to understand why anyone with such superior social power would deign to listen to the struggling underdog, this reaction itself is framed in a certain view with specific assumptions. The people who aren’t hearing the message behind #blacklivesmatter, for instance, aren’t filtering it through the same set of reference points. The right perceives itself as the underdog under attack.

The “us” vs. “them” mentality is in full effect, raging across America like a wild fire. We seem to be in a Chinese Finger Cuff situation—the harder we pull, the more stuck we become; if the goal is ultimately peace and human unity. Which, come on, if we are to survive as a nation and a species, it logically has to be.

political art(source.)

One important fact to remember is that the “us” vs. “them” mentality is literally hardwired into our neurology; the second we identify with a certain group, it has been proven in experiment after experiment that the brain begins filtering facts to skew the data towards the perceived “us.”

“Our tendency toward partisanship is likely the result of evolution—forming groups is how prehistoric humans survived,” remarks Brian Resnic (“How Politics Breaks Our Brains.”) “That’s helpful when trying to master an unforgiving environment with Stone Age technology. It’s less so when trying to foster a functional democracy.”

us vs them, we, unity

“Studies have shown,” adds Steven Handel, “that people tend to favor a group bias even when they are categorized on relatively meaningless distinctions, for example: eye color, what kind of paintings they like, or even the flip of a coin.

This tells us that we can potentially separate ourselves from a certain group of people on any random and arbitrary characteristic. Therefore, everyone is susceptible to be a perpetrator and/or victims of social prejudice and ostracism.” (“The Us Vs. Them Mentality.”)

us vs them, dr. seuss

Although it feels like things are getting worse, this very well may be a time of national exorcism; the rock we didn’t want to look under has been overturned and we are staring directly at its maggoty underside. At least now we are facing it directly; the dank hidden pocket of darkness is being aired. And we are looking at it, talking about it.

A hundred years ago, only white men could vote in America. Today we have a black president and a female candidate. We have progressed! But we are still healing from historically recent wounds. Sociological blindspots, unconscious prejudice, glass ceilings and abuse of power still remain as a result of that past. The specters of oppression can not be banished so easily or quickly.

anxiety_by_vera_chimera-d57e6fw[“Anxiety” by Vera Chimera] 

With emotions running high and so much dissonance in the air, empaths and highly sensitive people are particularly vulnerable to depression & anxiety—it is essential that we combat this by practicing steady, systematic, daily routines of self-care. We must stoke our own light in order to better illuminate this darkness.

As we all navigate these stormy times of controversy, misunderstanding, anger, alienation and above all the tendency to break off into warring factions, let us try to outsmart our biology.

When politics breaks our brains, let us turn to the heart. For our goal logically must be harmonious co-existence, and we are united by more than divides us.

rainbow hand

 

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