Saturday, April 30, 2016

LASERED IN THE BACK – The Price of Infinity

We all, I daresay, wonder about the universe. Always have. Gazing up into an unfathomable, starry sky, we can’t help asking ourselves, how far does it go? And when you get to the edge, what then? What lies beyond that?


     Shoot an unflagging, perfectly-focused laser 
     beam straight out into space and it will never, 
     ever, reach the edge of anything.

Now I’m no astronomer, and the notion of infinite space can get pretty impenetrable (not to mention that its explanation likely involves the existence of multiple parallel universes). Part of the problem is that we human earthlings and our limited, linear ways of thinking are poorly equipped to understand stuff like this.

But something quite simple that I heard decades ago helps me at least begin to grasp even these inscrutable truths: there is no such thing as a straight line.

That’s right, shoot an unflagging, perfectly-focused laser beam straight out into space and it will never, ever, reach the edge of anything. And how will you know this? From the intense burning sensation…in the middle of your back. Everything—space, time, truth, life—comes back, ultimately, to itself.


So with nothing more than this rudimentary understanding, even some of the veiled mysteries of what it may mean to exist among other, parallel universes begin to peel back. Like what? Like knowing that:

      ...there may indeed be no limits other than those we impose on ourselves.

      ...something we always supposed lay ahead of us, always just out of reach,
      might actually be right behind us.

      ...because there’s always a part of “them” in “us” and “us” in “them,”  it’s
      always about Us.

      ...we could be only just barely separated (if at all) from the ideal, the sacred,
      the timeless.


      “There is a Collective Entanglement of the frequencies of all life's energy. It is this String 
      that ties the past to the future, one’s unconsciousness to another’s consciousness, from one 
      dimension to all the others, from here to the infinite. SIMON CROWNE


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

MY 400th POST!

Have you heard about the new twelve-step program for the habitually long-winded? Yeah, On-And-On-Anon.

Well, sometimes it feels like that's what I've been doing here at One Man's Wonder these past few years. I hope I've been picking my battles and choosing my words well enough so you don't agree.

FROM DUTY TO DEVOTION
It seems like just yesterday that I first stuck my toe into this blogging ocean. My first post, So This Ant Walks Into a Bar, got one comment.

At that time, I was grateful just for the support of my family and a few of my closest friends who—despite their shyness about leaving comments—dutifully came to see what Jeff's new diversion was all about.

Four hundred posts, a quarter million page views and seventy-four countries later, I'm feeling pretty encouraged. I think I'll stick with it!

And speaking of encouragement, that, besides the sheer joy I find in the writing, is really what's kept me going—from those requisite visits of loved ones, to the small leaps of faith made by my followers, to all the "lurkers" who tell me they follow me anonymously, to the cherished relationships I've formed with fellow bloggers, authors and other kindred spirits. This online community is amazingly generous and kind-spirited.

Thank you, everyone! I'll make you a deal: you keep checking in at One Man's Wonder, leave me a comment when the spirit moves you, and share your favorite posts with others; I redouble my efforts to keep posting reflections and inspiration worthy of your interest.  Deal?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

NIXED BLESSINGS – Laying Claim to Life’s Elusive Gifts

The past few years have been trying times for me. A couple of serious health problems have been taking a toll on both my body and my spirit.

When I’m down like this, I find that one of the best ways to feel better is to get out of myself and help someone else. So I enlisted as a hospice volunteer.

       Why, when she seems so lost about 
       everything else, did she sound so certain, 
       so fully present, about this?

Today I was visiting Bill, one of my patients. Though he still possesses nearly all his faculties, he lives in a facility that specializes in so-called memory care, so I’m accustomed to seeing his neighbors wandering aimlessly, misplacing what little stuff they have left, often looking quite bewildered.

Just as we’re leaving his room, one of them tottered up to me. June is a very quiet, shy woman who walks idle laps around the perimeter of the floor and often mistakes Bill’s room for her own. She rarely speaks to anyone—certainly not to me—and when she does, it’s usually just to ask for directions.

PHOTO: Imgur

Okay, I thought, maybe she’s mistaking me for a staff member or a fellow resident. So I said a casual hello, and then, just as I turned to walk away, she reached out, put her hand on my back and rubbed it sympathetically. “It’s going to be okay,” she said in a sure but gentle voice. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

That scene—the effect of June’s touch, the clarity of her gaze, the knowingness in her voice—has kept replaying in my mind all day. Was she just confused like she is about other things? Why, when she seems so lost about everything else, did she sound so certain, so fully present, about this? Could she possibly have sensed that I’ve been hurting?

    It’s as if there’s this rhythm to life. We can’t 
    always hear it because the dance hall is such 
    a cacophony of other sounds.

DEAF TO THE MUSIC
I realize now that it’s entirely up to me what the meaning of this little interaction was—and is—for me. And no matter how or why it was given, I believe it was a gift. Not only did it help me feel better; it also reminds me of how many other blessings there are in my life like this one, hiding in plain sight.

Little gifts like this come very close to us all the time—warm smiles lost in passing, inspirations not seized, narrow escapes unappreciated, coincidences rationalized away, Nature’s wonders taken for granted. It’s so easy to miss them in the muddle of agendas, expectations, worries and sheer self-indulgence that surrounds us much of the time. 

It’s as if there’s this rhythm to life. We can’t always hear it because the dance hall is such a cacophony of other sounds. We falter and stumble. But once we manage to turn the din down, even a little bit, sure enough, there it is. And, once we hear the rhythm, feel it, suddenly, miraculously, we no longer have to even think about where to place our feet, for the music is moving us.


Isn’t that the way it is with small wonders? When we allow the background noise of life to get too loud, they don't move us because we can’t hear them. Just like the simple gift June bestowed on me, it’s so easy to miss them, or at least to misinterpret them as chance or error or simply devoid of meaning.

Don’t we have the power—and I would suggest a compelling need—to give them that meaning?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

FALLING SENSATION – The Sad Decline of Empathy

“You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.”   
  JOHN STEINBECK

Are you an empath? How does one even know?

Some time in my thirties my own answers to those questions presented themselves to me. I was watching some kids playing. One little brat tripped a playmate—a klutzy little boy—who fell like a ton of bricks, skinning a knee and a wrist. As he was falling I felt this sinking sensation in my gut…as if I were the one falling.


I’ve experienced that sensation many, many times since. It doesn’t matter who’s falling—a child, an adult…even a bad guy—nor if the fall occurs in real life, a movie or the tiny screen of my iPhone. As long as it’s a fellow human being I always end up sharing the drop. (It’s funny, though; I don’t remember ever feeling it when I see a pro football player falling. Why do you suppose that is?)

I also catch myself absorbing all kinds of other little human dramas—from kindnesses to conflict, gladness to grief. Is there something wrong with me? Do I just have too little emotion in my own life? At times I wish I could turn it off.

If Empathy 101 is simply learning to be aware of and experience others' pain, then the next semester would start instilling the ability to truly care what happens to them. It's what psychologists call "transcendence," a deep-seated desire to see and help others achieve their potential. Perhaps it takes an idealist like me to hope this sort of altruism would beat in the heart and soul of every person, organization and culture.

And I hope it applies not just to what happens to other human beings in the here and now, but even to what might happen in the future after we're dead and gone. I can think of no more telling measure of this kind of empathy than our wise, gentle care and handling of the environment so that future generations may enjoy the same kinds of joyful connection with Nature we experienced when we were young.

   It gets beaten down, covered up…by an ugly 
   collaboration...conspiring to make what’s really 
   all about them feel like it’s all about us.

HARD-WIRED, SHORTED OUT
Empathy, like so many of our better, more practical emotions, is hard-wired into us at birth. How do I know this? First, there’s a wealth of research showing it. And there’s also an element of logic: why, if empathy is not meant to help guide our behavior toward other human beings, would I feel absolutely none of that sinking feeling when I witness an animal falling?

The good news is that this inherent spark of empathy can be kindled—through experience, teaching, role-modeling and the influence of Nature. The bad news? Judging from the growing number of folks who seem to have utterly lost it, apparently it can also be extinguished.

Like children’s inbred curiosity and wonder, empathy too often gets beaten down, covered up, by years of learned structure, stress and cynicism. By values drummed into us by an ugly collaboration of sometimes-dirty players like commerce, politics and the media—all conspiring to make what’s really all about them feel like it’s all about us.

      Scheming, conflict, denigration and gotchas
      —that’s what they’ve decided we want.


A FAUSTIAN BARGAIN
The dying out of empathy is not an illness; it is a symptom—of a disease brought on by the Faustian bargain the past few generations have signed onto: we get to make more money, accumulate more stuff, pretend to be “connected” with more people and information. In exchange for that illusion of power, knowledge and love, we agree to allow the circumference of our real, first-hand experience be ever shrunk, reduced to what’s determined by some algorithm to suit us, and then spoon-fed to us through a phalanx of little glowing screens.

Among the collateral damage inflicted by this attack has been the loss of empathy, that most precious survival mechanism, the one that used to give us true connection, allowed us to be kinder, more collaborative, more creative…and kept most of us from killing each other.

But someone's decided kindness and civility no longer sell ad space, air time or bandwidth. So, nearly everywhere one looks—entertainment, advertising, journalism, politics—it’s all gotten turned upside down. Now more and more of the human interaction we see on our screens involves scheming, conflict, denigration and gotchas.

One of the most obvious casualties, during this election year, is an entire political party—one claiming to represent more than half the people in the United States. It has turned, in the past decade or two, from its roots as the protector of individual freedoms and opportunity to an angry, take-no-prisoners ideology based on fear, judgement and control. (I'll let you decide for yourself which one that is.)

If that’s what the powers that be have decided we want, it’s far from what I consider being human to be all about.

Teach them that the way they see the world around them is a product of what’s going on inside them

THE WORLD IS A MIRROR
So, what do you want? Are you still able to see the essential core of goodness in every human being and truly care what happens to them? Can you still feel someone else’s hardship and pain in your gut, even folks who might be quite different from you? Do you care what happens to this precious planet  even after your life on it is over?


After all we’ve traded away let’s take a step or two backward and revisit that Faustian bargain. If we won’t reclaim real connections with each other and with the earth for ourselves, let’s at least do it for our kids and grandkids. Teach them that the way they see the world around them is a product of what’s going on inside them—their awareness, their curiosity, their kindness, their sense of wonder. And teach them never again to bargain away those gifts.

And teach them that, at the very heart of what makes us human lies a generosity of seeing that makes what we perceive hinge directly on what we are willing to give of ourselves to that connection.
 

“I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization.”
  ROGER EBERT

Thursday, March 31, 2016

HASTA PRONTO – A Farewell to Paradise

As we bid a wistful farewell to magical Zihuatanejo for another year, I share the fifth and final round of my Tequila Shots -- visual sips of this place I find so delicious and intoxicating.

These images pick up on the theme of my previous post, Up Close and Far Away, which invites amateur photographers—in fact, anyone who wants to see the world and life in more nourishing ways—to always be aware of both the exquisite detail and the broader context of virtually everything we experience.













Friday, March 25, 2016

UP CLOSE AND FAR AWAY – The Soul of Vacation Photography

When one is on vacation, as Sally and I are for a month here in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico, one tends to appreciate sweeping new vistas. A tropical climate, with its exotic flora and fauna, cuts in on what was proving a long, grudging dance with a northern winter. A whole people with faces, words and customs perhaps different from our own.

We want to paint it all with a broad brush, taking long shots of the sea, the beach...maybe the bar.  Look, Facebook friends, I am here!—we want them to see as much as possible in one or two photos. About as close to details we come is when we take pictures of the people we're sharing that experience with. And too many of those are taken quite spontaneously, with no regard for a background that might impart even the slightest notion of specifically where we are.
 
I've finally come to realize...why the question, "Want to see our vacation photos?" elicits more lame excuses than "Can you help us move?"

A SENSE OF PLACE
Believe me, I've taken hundreds of exactly that kind of photo. But I've finally come to realize—most often weeks later when I show them to someone else—why the question, "Want to see our vacation photos?" elicits more lame excuses than "Want to help me move?" The reason? Most of those images have no soul.

So in recent years, though I still shoot the occasional "look where I am and who's with me here" landscape and portrait, I've found myself drawn to more subjects I hope will capture a deeper sense of place and culture.

Here are some of those soul shots I've taken this month in and around Zihuatanejo. Images capturing very specific places—some of them no bigger than a square foot; the colors, shapes and patterns of a natural environment and a culture. And people—most often not posing, but captured at play or on the job, perhaps in a happy or pensive or poignant moment.

If you're still with me to this point, I think you can tell that, every year, I leave more here in this lovely town than a chunk of dinero; I also leave a piece of my heart.

The Holy Week crowd of Mexican tourists begins on Playa La Ropa

Yeah! Maybe that older guy with the limp and the camera!

Up and away!

Primordial patterns

The breezy colors of la Calle Adelita

Sign-painting crew about to add sponsors' logos to firemen tribute

To every season...even if it's only two

Still life with fertility goddess & re-bar

Proud mamá and her beautiful little girl


, I am zi one zat inspired Godzilla

She's kept an eye out for fashion trends along Juan Alvarez for nearly a decade.

Entrance to the Vega household

One of Zihuatanejo's excellent strolling minstrels - a dying breed

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

Who is this young man whose passport photo settled into this crude stairway?

Fish guts - one of Zihuatanejo's many stunning murals


Banded Peacock - Anartia fatima

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A GOOD DAY –

Today was a good day.

I learned something. I needed a word in Spanish meaning way more than funny. My trusty old Latin American Spanish/English dictionary's definitions for uproarious, hilarious, a scream and half a dozen other terms fell short of the task. I Googled it. Finally, my ten-minute search paid off; I found just the adjective I needed: arrasador. (Its primary meaning is destructive or devastating.)

          For those four glorious minutes, 
          my spirit took wing.

I gave something. Today's the day I visit one of my two hospice patients. This one, to my great delight, has actually "graduated" from the program's six-month life-expectancy window, deciding, at age 91, that he was no longer a dying man. Now he's an active, curious, creative person with a mischievous sense of humor who not only creates digital art, but teaches art to his fellow care center residents. He inspires me.

I experienced wonder. In fact it happened twice before I'd finished breakfast. I was looking out my Minneapolis window at Nature all decked out in fresh white. I thought of how exotic the colors of a Caribbean reef or the deepest Amazon forest are to me, and imagined someone who'd never before seen snow finding this sight every bit as breathtaking. It struck me that, even for one who's seen snow all my life, this was indeed that kind of glorious moment. I just hadn't realized it before.


Just then, on the radio, they played Gershwin's Fanfare for the Common Man. I'd just started my cereal. I stopped chewing, put down my spoon and just listened. I let those sounds, the soaring and the sublime, transport me. For those four glorious minutes, my spirit took wing.

Yes, it was a good day. But such days are not uncommon for me; I seek them out...or should I say they seek me out?

What makes a good day for you?