Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The sun is a painter and a sculptor

"It is the unqualified result of all my experience with the sick, that second only to their need of fresh air is their need of light; that, after a close room, what hurts them most is a dark room. And that it is not only light but direct sunlight they want. I had rather have the power of carrying my patient about after the sun, according to the aspect of the rooms, if circumstances permit, than let him linger in a room when the sun is off.  People think the effect is upon the spirits only. This is by no means the case. The sun is not only a painter but a sculptor. You admit that he does the photograph. Without going into any scientific exposition we must admit that light has quite as real and tangible effects upon the human body."   (Notes on Nursing, Florence Nightingale, 1859)

I was at the coast in Wilmington (NC) during Christmas. When I drove there Christmas Eve, the sky was a strong clear blue, the air chilly. Later that evening, the temperature dropped. Rain began to fall, and into the next day. Christmas day was cloudy, and we had reports of hard rain.  Wind blew hard. For dinner, our cooks adapted their grilling plan with the sideways rain and strong wind. (The steaks were delicious!) Before I drove home, the following day, I went to Wrightsville Beach and had a walk on the sand by the ocean. The sky was grey more than blue, no rain, and the waves blended into themselves, smoothing out on the multi-colored sand. I breathed deeply.  It felt wonderful. Surfers in wet suits jumped and paddled in the grey water. When I read this sentence in Florence Nightingale's Notes on Nursing, I thought of experience as a wave itself, each memory cascading together, with the deep breaths reminding me in this moment of how wonderfully infinite they were and we are.

Healing. The basics of healing are and have been so easily forgotten. I am glad to be reminded, and so glad for the Earth, wind, sky, our family of life.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Live and Let Live

 "London gravesites double up to accommodate the dead."  AARP Bulletin, December 2009.

I might never have guessed that the same person who wrote The Time Traveler's Wife wrote Her Fearful Symmetry. I like this aspect of Audrey Niffenegger's work - and I prefer the tour-de-force pace of The Time Traveler's Wife. That book gave me a narrative ride I hadn't had in years. I marveled at this debut novel; I marveled at her careful building of this "fractured" world; I marveled mostly at the regular clipping pace and rhythm of the language as the characters lived and hurtled through their world. I saw the film too, and liked it - though, typically, the two seemed only loosely related, similar siblings not identical twins. I appreciate the imagination of all artful image-makers.

What I also find fascinating in Her Fearful Symmetry is the explanation, if somehow appropriately thin, ethereal, of ghosts, of the relationship between energy and matter. The Chapter, Her Electrical Nature, for example - the lingering ghost discovering her powers, with concentrated focus, to affect electrical elements (dimming lights, etc.).

I love her choice of the Beatles' lyric at the beginning. Such a perfect opener for this book. "She said, 'I know what it's like to be dead. I know what it is to be sad.' And she's making me feel like I've never been born."

There is a lot of coming and going, a lot of clinging and cleaving, lingering, a lot of nesting boxes; juxtaposed with the open-air, old, historically dignified cemetary, complete with devoted supporters and knowledgeable tour guides. The underground tube, maps, getting lost amidst crowds, moving alone in a world crowded with ghosts, and love urging personalities out of nesting boxes into the sunlight of the street. To simply move, get out of bed, energies must be summoned, focused, to act, and we come to know our powers. We must also come to accept that so much is beyond what we may expect or believe. Add this to the consistently growing exploration of the "ghost-world," seen on television, in movies, in books.

Know what it means to be dead?
Know what it means to live?
Be careful what we wish for.
We live and learn. Tea and toast. Love.

What I enjoy about the logic of life is that answers always come. Some details I missed lingered, because they were keys to the nature and change of ghost to animation, in the story. How did Elspeth's ghost get back to the flat from the apartment, if she couldn't leave the flat? Valentina's much quicker way of solving the mystery of escape, freedom, made me smile. Be open. Open wide. Feel the new sensations. Trust. Do. Live and let die.

I was born the 3rd of triplets to a mother who was an identical twin. (Mom died in October, so I have to get used to saying, past tense, "was.") Her spirit lives, her energy presence as I knew her, lingers.  The multiple mirror creation in my life made me even more curious about this "twin powers" story. Open your eyes. See what's inside them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Monday, December 07, 2009

The quest for knowledge, and learning today

Mark Schwehn's Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America:

"The quest for knowledge of the truth, if it takes place in a context of communal conversation, involved the testing of our own opinions. And we must, of course, be willing to give up what we think we know for what is true, if genuine learning is to take place. At times, this will be easy, as when we learn that we were mistaken about some geographical detail or another. But much of our self-knowledge as well as our beliefs about what is truly good for us are not simply matters of what we know but matters of who we are. We thus often risk ourselves when we test our ideas."

I read this quote after following a link on Paul Harvey's post (Risk, Wisdom, and Education), which quoted John Fea's blog essay What is a Liberal Arts Education? Risk and Wisdom. I am always interested in people's ideas about what learning truly is. I've changed my thoughts and understanding of learning during my lifetime. I've always appreciated learning at some levels, and enjoyed it. Still, as I've learned more (to expand my mind-fields), I've deepened my understanding of learning as the conscious integration of knowledge which becomes our active (dynamic) truth of that moment.

I've explored the same thoughts that some of the students quoted here have expressed. It's an odd idea, really - we believe we are expressing our individualism, our "freedom of speech," our Rights, when we say we are offended by something, as students, and demand to choose for ourselves. It's a fascinating pattern, I think - for me, because I have not had children, I suppose I gain from this in a way parents already know. This inherent pattern of parents teaching children, of children being either open or resistant to learning, the dynamics of same, continues and repeats itself in so many ways. The rebellious adolescent mind does not want to be "told what to do." I am belligerent in my demand for my rights, for my self-expression. Yet until I mature my own mind, my self-expression and my expression of my rights are not tempered with the love (Ethical Values) which guide a truly mature and wise mind.

As Paul wrote in his post, "it's a strange sense of entitlement indeed, to demand not to be educated in literature, in a class on literature. " I see this parallel in life - and, as Kathy Oddenino wrote in her books: we think we are open to learning but we resist being taught. I have certainly lived with this attitude, and I thought about it when I taught literature to students too. Applying this to life in general, and to what Spiritual Philosophy has taught me, I recognize this pattern as one we, as humans, created as a way to "grow up." We have to be open-minded to question our perceptions, our beliefs - about ourselves, about life, about love, about death, about change, about learning. We have to want to THINK!

The passion for learning, which is based in love, makes learning, and therefore living, a joy. This would have sounded trite to me at one time; or, I might have thought I understood it, without really thinking about it further. As my heart opens to the vicissitudes of life (experience, including the smiles which come as morning breaks open, the sadness I share in my own or a friend's loss, the scare of the vulnerability of death as we know it, the absolute joy of the love in true friendship, the refreshment of the first taste of bold organic coffee in the morning), I appreciate the creation of context all the more. With each choice, I create.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Heroes, Internal Eternal Human Values

Thanksgiving night, my sister and I and a few other family members watched part of the CNN Heroes program honoring 10 nominees for "hero of the year," and acknowledging the good, productive efforts of many. I love the program, and each time I watch it, remembering bits and pieces of profiles I've seen throughout the year, I think more deeply about what it means to be human, and what courage it takes to live a truly human and humane life.

When I mentioned to my cousin that our focus of study in Spiritual Philosophy is the Ethical Values, he told me about a very popular Harvard Professor whose classes are now full and growing, and whose dialogue focuses on values, how and why we choose and believe as we do. He gave me an example he heard in the class, and said he'd send me the info - it's fascinating, he said!

All during the holiday, I thought about what motivates me in my life. I thought about this as we created and lived our familiar rituals, including the constant changes big and small. I'd bought my plane ticket early (as Thanksgiving is the busiest travel holiday of the year), we'd all made our plans to be in Memphis (even though Mom had died in October, and Dad in February, and their house is now empty). Cousins made their plans accordingly as well. As we ate familiar food, saw familiar faces, took naps, laughed together, threw the football, washed dishes, I thought about the nature of rituals and how we want them to become "second nature." Yet they require conscious planning, thought, execution of a plan.

Ferrell McCollough, a fantastic photographer, wrote a great post on his blog called The Creative Plan. He explained his creative plan. The deliberate creation to fulfill a "look" or a vision in his mind - intention carried out by active pursuit,planning the necessary physical details, always open to change-in-the-moment. When I read this, I thought again about our rituals of life, and what motivates me in mine.

If true learning is truly unlearning what we think we already know, then we have one more validation that change is the only constant! Without Mom and Dad's physical presence at Thanksgiving, our biggest annual family ritual, change was evident, yet love lives on, life goes on. I felt my Mom's presence in every twinkle in my Aunt's eye, in every laugh she offered, in so many gestures she made, stirring her coffee after adding sweetener, touching her hair. I felt Mom's smile and sigh when I turned toward another on the couch, and when I rolled over in bed as I spoke to her in my mind. I miss you, Mom, I said, smiling, and with tears rolling down my cheeks. I had visions of Dad as his old smiling self, his sighs, his simple pleasures, his love of life and of people. I asked questions.

What motivates me? The energy of life and love is my creation, and the growth and change of my own consciousness as an energy being is the ultimate in self-motivation. The branches of that tree are many - all I enjoy about life, and the crazy details that sometimes make it up. Sometimes I feel I am gathering too many thoughts, details, ideas, plans in my arms like a big load of warm laundry from the dryer, to the next stage of folding. Socks drop. I'm learning to appreciate this sense I've grown into, and in small ways always had, of life being so BIG, so full, and my arms so small. Energy is real. The image of myself as running with balloons always fits, stooping to taste chocolate ice cream and keep it from dripping onto my clean dress, squinting into the sun, and, always, studying the waves in water. We have a lot to be grateful for, as Dad always said. Energy is Real.

Happy Thanksgiving...go fish, football, sunshine, Food...Family...Memphis, TN