Thursday, December 29, 2011

RECLAIM WONDER! – Some New Year's Resolutions

I believe I'm surrounded by wonders great and small, all the time, wherever I am.

I understand that many of those miracles lie hidden to first glances.

I will open my spirit to wonder. My eyes, my ears, my heart will follow.

I will make time for awareness, curiosity and wonder.


I will turn off the television, put down the book and start looking, learning and living first-hand.

I will decide for myself what entertains me and, more importantly, what nourishes my soul.

I will notice and celebrate the power of presence.   

I will carefully examine the myth of certainty, and value learning more than knowing.

I will be more aware of the miracle of grace that resides around and within every person.

I will shine the light of my own spirit, and will give other people the chance to shine too.

I will try to experience everything as if it were for the first time.

I will approach each day with faith in Nature's instruction, and with gratitude for being Her lifelong pupil.

I will be patient, not just with Nature, but with myself, celebrating small steps in the right direction.

I will seize every opportunity to help a screen-bound child reconnect with Nature. 


For your own FULL-COLOR, FRAMEABLE VERSION of the Reclaiming Wonder Pledge, just send me an e-mail: jeff@willius.com

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

AWESOME, SCHMAWESOME – The Slow Death of Superlatives

Awe is the most transcendent of all human emotions. That makes it hard to talk or write about. After all, words are all we have, and they are so inadequate. That doesn't keep us from trying, though—sometimes, perhaps, a little too hard.

ILLUSTRATION: Katy Farina

HYPER-HYPE
For example, in my lifetime the word awe in all of its manifestations, as well as other terms used to describe profound emotion, have been rendered virtually powerless by their misuse and overuse. The media—especially the entertainment media (which now apparently includes journalism)—seem afraid that if they don’t out-awe the competition, they just won’t get noticed.

Awe, awful and awesome...roll off people’s tongues like so many watermelon seeds at a July picnic.

And it’s rubbed off on everyone; just listen to how people talk. Awe, awful and awesome, not to mention ambitious words like disaster, horrific, unbelievable, extreme or mega-fill-in-the-blank, roll off people’s tongues like so many watermelon seeds at a July picnic.

CALL THE AWE POLICE
My children’s generation managed to attach awesome to everything from Nikes to Napster, rendering that word, in particular, powerless to describe much of anything that’s truly important. Come on now, if everything’s awesome, then nothing is.

So how do we describe something that really is rare and awesome—or unspeakably bad—when the words we once reserved for such occasions have gotten so threadbare?

I suppose we could try to restore those words to their long-lost potency. Under threat of arrest, we’d reserve them for describing—or should I say trying to describe—only things that really matter. Like an experience (good or bad) we can never fully understand, and which truly humbles us. Short of that, very, very little of what most of us are or do or see qualifies as either "awful" or "awesome."

Wouldn’t the truest, most articulate expression of an emotion this powerful be utter speechlessness?

THE ELOQUENCE OF SILENCE
The other solution, one that makes more sense to me, would be to just accept the fact that some words, especially those derived from awe, have simply become too frivolous to be used or believed any more. After all, wouldn’t the truest, most articulate expression of an emotion this powerful be utter speechlessness?

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." ~ ALBERT EINSTEIN

Friday, December 23, 2011

SEASON'S GREETINGS!!

I may be without a computer for a few days, so I want to wish all my visitors and loyal followers from all over the world—over 65 countries so far—the very best of this season. For us Christians, that means MERRY CHRISTMAS! (para mis hispanohablantes amigos, ¡FELIZ NAVIDAD!) For my Jewish friends, it's HAPPY HANUKKAH! For all of us here in the northern hemisphere, it's HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE! 

Whatever your celebration, may these days be kind to you, your families and your loved ones! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Tips

TIP #13
Find Your Core.


Too much of life occurs at the margins—those rough spots where we chafe against obligation, assumption, expectation, fear.

So how do you find your sacred center, that place where all time is now? Go where your heart leads; it alone knows the way.

Friday, December 16, 2011

ON TLALNEPANTLA TIME – Savoring a Mexican Moment

One of the many things I admire about Mexican culture (at least in parts of the country I’ve visited) is the way people savor life.

For generations Mexicans have gotten a bad rap for being slow, unreliable and lazy. While I know from much experience that this is far from an accurate characterization, I can see how an ignorant person might get that impression.

It’s a responsibility to things on which a norteamericano or an europeo might not 
place as high a value.

Mexicans don’t let plans, schedules or clocks run their lives. This isn’t because they’re inconsiderate or irresponsible; they aren’t. In fact, it’s often because they are so responsible that Mexicans find it so hard to be bridled by time. But it’s a responsibility to things on which a norteamericano or an europeo might not place as high a value—especially their commitment to family and community, and their unfailing graciousness.

SIMPLE PLEASURES
Mexicans know how to appreciate the simple little wonders that life presents while others might be busy making other plans.

One telling—and typical—experience with this occurred several years ago when I, two of my fellow Spanish students and my friend Silverio were visiting the home of Silverio’s old friends, Ignacio (Nacho), Marta and their three daughters in Tlalnepantla, a northern suburb of Mexico City.



Mexicans know how to appreciate the simple little wonders that life presents while others might be busy making other plans. 

They were going to join us for dinner and a night out in the big city’s infamous Garibaldi Square. We arrived at their house at about 8:00 PM. I thought we were in a bit of a hurry, since we’d planned to leave for the restaurant by about 9:00.

After hugs all around, I presented our hosts with the customary regalito—little gift—a bottle of maple syrup I’d brought from home. (On a previous trip I’d given them another taste of Minnesota exotica, a ceramic moose.)

ONE KERNEL AT A TIME
We sat around the dining room table. Nacho offered us the obligatory tequila, poured from the fanciest of four or five bottles prominently arrayed on the overwrought bar—obviously his pride and joy. When Marta asked if anyone wanted popcorn, the hands of Brenda, Andrea and Abril, shot up in the air, making it unanimous.

A few minutes later Marta emerged from the kitchen carrying nine paper napkins and one small, steaming bag of microwave popcorn. We all helped ourselves to our share, just about a handful each, which we piled on our napkins.



One precious kernel at a time, they’d hold it up, inspect it and finally place it in their mouths.

I watched the little girls as they quietly savored that popcorn. It was as if it were the last popcorn they’d ever see. One precious kernel at a time, they’d hold it up, inspect it and finally place it in their mouths. They made those few buttery morsels last for about ten minutes.

PRECIOUS MEMORIES
I got up to stretch my legs, taking a closer look at some of their prints and knick-knacks. Nestled in the corner of the living room was a small all-glass étagère with three or four shelves. On each were displayed cheap little souvenir items from places the family had been to or dreamt of going to: a baby spoon engraved with the name of some amusement park; a shot glass from a resort area near Guanajuato; a plastic replica of the Statue of Liberty. And there, front and center on the top shelf, was my moose.

By this time, everyone else had joined me around the curios. For the next half hour, we all stood there admiring those three- or four-dollar items, listening to the girls recalling each trip, hearing all about the people who’d sent them this keepsake or that. At times, I felt a bit uncomfortable with the lengthy silences, no one uttering a word except for a few contemplative “Hm-m-ms.”

Many of us north of the border strive too much, 
talk too much and admire too little.

SILENCE IS GOLDEN
I suspect that here in the United States this scene would have played out quite differently. First, the mementos would have been more expensive by a factor of a hundred…but that’s not the point. Even if they were Faberge eggs and Hummel figurines, we’re not exactly famous for our attention spans. Chances are, the first time there was a lull of more than a few seconds, someone would have jumped at the chance to change the focus to something more exciting.

Many of us north of the border strive too much, talk too much and admire too little. Silences make us nervous. I’ve tried to adopt a bit of the Mexicans’ appreciation of little things, their comfort with quiet, thoughtful interludes in conversation, and their knack for being in the moment.

All these gifts, it seems to me, lend themselves very well to our relationships, not just with other human beings, but with ourselves, with Nature and with whatever it is we find sacred.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
JOHN LENNON – "Beautiful Boy"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

ORANGE APPEAL / As If For the First Time

(This is the first in a new series of reflections, As If For the First Time, describing the most commonplace of experiences through a fresh lens, one of innocence and wonder.)

With the possible exception of apples and bananas, the orange is probably the most common fruit most of us here in the USA know.

But, like so many of Nature's little wonders, the moment we start seeing it as if for the first time, the orange turns into something quite sensational.


PEEL-AWAY PACKAGING
First of all, just look at the color. How many foods are truly orange? Okay, carrots, peaches, maybe a good yam, but an orange is the only one with that semi-gloss surface that so deepens and intensifies the color.

Once you've broken through the tough skin...
the stuff zips off like a tight sweater.

Peeling an orange is a satisfying experience—almost as neat and definite as peeling a banana. Once you've broken through the tough skin enough to get the end of your thumb under an edge, the stuff zips off like a tight sweater. The thicker the peel, the easier the peeling. (Then again, if it's too thick, I always feel kind of cheated, don't you?)


If you're lucky, a few jets of fragrant orange oil will spritz out of the fruit's glands—those little dark spots just under the outer surface—letting anyone within twenty yards know what you're up to without even looking.

The two sides of the peel could hardly be much different: tough, leathery, dimpled like pigskin on the outside; soft, creamy-white and kind of furry on the inside. Some of this stuff—the pith—always tries to cling to the fruit. I don't mind; it doesn't have much taste, and besides, I hear it's good for you.

AN EXPLOSION OF FLAVOR
The meat of the orange, when you step back from its familiarity, is like something you might read about in the tale of a journey to some exotic eden. Sheer membranes divide it into these little bite-sized, translucent wedges that peel
neatly apart.

...hundreds of tiny little teardrop-shaped sacs explode, filling your mouth with their luscious juice.

 

You raise one section toward your mouth. If you think its cool, rubbery texture suggests what it's like biting into it, you're in for a surprise. As your teeth penetrate, hundreds of tiny little teardrop-shaped sacs explode, filling your mouth with their luscious juice. (If it's the kind of orange I like, those oil glands in the fruit's skin have infused the juice with their orange essence, and the sweetness is balanced with a nice acidic bite.)

WHENCE LITTLE ORANGES COME
Then there are the pips (seeds). The color of rich cream, each is like a tiny parcel wrapped in crinkled wax paper. Inside is the smooth, tender, white-centered seed. Hints of green suggest its miraculous potential for new life.*

A navel orange, of course, has its belly button at one end and, inside—amazing!—a second little orange in embryonic form. Eating it—if you can set aside the embryo image—is an adventure of still more flavors and textures.

Next time you peel an orange, try my approach: do it as if you'd never done it before. Try to forget what you know will happen. Take your time, open all your senses and enjoy! Then won't you please share your "as if for the first time" experience here by leaving a comment? Thanks!
*I've heard people say orange seeds are poisonous, but I don't believe them. In fact, I've eaten a number of them, just to see what they taste like. Personally, I think there's a greater chance you'd choke than be poisoned.

Friday, December 9, 2011

THE LUXURY OF HABIT – A Chat With My Older, Wiser Self

Maybe it's all this writing I'm doing about awareness, wonder and gratitude…
or perhaps just something that happens to human beings of a certain age.

Lately I've experienced a series of small epiphanies, flashes of astounding clarity that feel like messages coming back to me from an older, wiser version of myself.



STRUCK BY BEAUTY
They say hindsight is twenty-twenty. The trouble is, of course, that you can't benefit from it until it's already too late to do anything about it…or can you?

The latest of these little flashbacks from the future occurred just yesterday, as I drove to work. I'd been absorbed in the usual trivial logistics of my morning routine: having breakfast; scanning the paper; collecting stuff I might need for the day; rolling the trash can in from the curb; getting in the car and setting off for my office.

Pedestrians and other drivers turned from nameless, faceless obstacles I had to negotiate to living, breathing people I could care about.

When you do the same thing every morning for decades, it gets pretty much programmed into you. I make all the correct turns, stop at all the red lights, pick up a latte at the coffee shop and arrive at my office building—all with hardly a conscious thought of what I'm doing.

Yesterday was different, though. Just as I was turning onto University Avenue, a thought suddenly snatched me from my reverie, a realization of how much of my life I'm taking for granted. I'm not sure what the catalyst was—most likely a stirring piece of music on the radio. But all of a sudden I was seeing everything differently.



The unexceptional clouds became amazing clouds; the snow, no longer just random splashes of white, struck me for its exotic beauty—a wonder most people on earth will never experience; pedestrians and other drivers turned from nameless, faceless obstacles I had to negotiate to living, breathing people I could care about. Peace and freedom, conditions I nearly always take for granted, suddenly enveloped me in a radiant glow of gratitude.

ALL IN THE FAMILY
Where, I asked myself, was this acute awareness, this fresh perspective, coming from?

More than just a passing notion, it felt like my point of view had shifted from that of the man I am now, with all my options still pretty much open to me, to a man 15 or 20 years older. This older man had already endured some of the losses most of us will inevitably, grudgingly, trade for living a longer life.

It dawned on me that this voice was my own, 
that of the man I have yet to become.

He could no longer be trusted to drive. It was assumed he would no longer work. He was unable to walk very far on his own. Many of his family and close friends had passed away.

The one capacity that hadn't yet betrayed him was memory. And here he was, in the car with me—in the welcoming space of my consciousness—sharing the bittersweet wisdom of that perfect, twenty-twenty vision of hindsight. It dawned on me that this voice was my own, that of the man I have yet to become.

COMINGS AND GOINGS 
The man told me he'd had very few regrets about his life, but one would haunt him forever: complacency. Here with me he could see so clearly what he'd taken for granted for most of his life, those trivial events that comprise most of our daily experience and which become so commonplace that we no longer fully appreciate what they mean.

But to this old man that meaning was quite clear indeed:

You, he pined, still have the freedom to go wherever you want, even if that's only these two rote miles to work. To me, that simple jaunt would mean the world.

You still enjoy the sweet blessing of communities of your own choosing. I am, no matter how nicely you put it, institutionalized.

You can still observe, with wonder, the routine comings and goings of your fellow human beings, and feel your shared humanity. My peers no longer come and go any more than I do.

You still bask in the astounding beauty of Nature—the kind to be found in wilderness if that's what you choose, but also in this most ordinary urban day. I will consider extraordinary the day someone takes me outdoors…anywhere.
He reminds me…of the curiosity and playfulness
of childhood that still smolder somewhere inside humans of any age.

 

THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD…?
As I pulled into the parking lot, my visitor went on his way, but not before asking me a couple of questions:

When you reach the place where I am now, will you look back on your life with bitterness and a sense of loss as I do?

Or will you have the grace to remember these moments of clarity you're having now, and focus not on what you've lost, but on the many, many precious gifts you've received…and still receive?

Not just the big gifts like life, good health, a loving family, a relationship with your higher power, but also the simple, everyday wonders of Nature and humanity that surround you every day.

Perhaps most importantly, will you have the well of joy, the generosity of vision, to believe that such wonders still exist, if you let them, no matter how "small" your physical world?

I guess time will tell.

I hope my older, wiser self keeps coming back for these little visits. He reminds me—in the voice of someone who knows and cares—of the very things I believe in and pretend to write about: the curiosity and playfulness of childhood that still smolder somewhere inside humans of any age; patience; challenges that test your faith, connect you with others and make you grow; the eloquence of just sitting silently with someone you care about…

…and yes, I suppose, the luxury, the guilty pleasure, of habit.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Tips

TIP #1
Remember, for any given moment there's more than one way to be in it.


In the concert of life, are you tuned in to the musicians? To the conductor? Perhaps it's the music, taking you far away.

All that presence asks is that, wherever experience takes you, that's where you go—fully, gladly and all the way.
 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

WANT SALT ON YOUR FLIES? – A Resurrection to Savor

I cannot in good conscience take credit for this amazing little experiment. In fact, I don’t even know who does deserve the credit. Maybe it was some high school biology teacher...or for that matter, maybe a Nobel Laureate. All I know is that I witnessed it first-hand. Call it a cheap bar trick if you will, but don't try to tell me it wasn't a wonder of Nature!

I was working for a small advertising agency in Walpole, New Hampshire (the town that documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, calls home). When my boss discovered that our biggest client was a fishing fanatic, he decided to take him on a fly-in salmon fishing trip to northern Maine. Trouble was, my boss didn’t know a dry fly from a Daredevle. But he knew I did, so there I was—after our narrow escape from crashing the float plane on take-off from Lake Sunapee—in a remote, rented lake cabin about 40 miles northeast of Mt. Katahdin.

Mount Katahdin from Millinocket Camp, by Frederic Church, 1895

As we were preparing our gear for the next morning’s outing, our French-Canadian bush pilot, Bernie St. Laurent, made us a bet. “See dis fly?” he asked, pointing to one of the dozen or so common black houseflies that shared the cabin with us. “Bet I can kill da ting and den bring ’im back ta life.”

The few beers already under our belts made us easy marks. “The hell you can!” my boss and I blurted, reaching for our wallets.


The show began on an impressive note with Bernie neatly grabbing one of the flies right out of the air with his hand. He plopped his palm down on top of a beer glass he’d filled three quarters full of water, trapping the fly. Then he carefully stuffed a paper napkin under his hand until its wet mass held his poor victim underwater with no escape.

After struggling for a while, the fly finally stopped moving. “You guys tell me when you tink he’s a goner, eh?” Bernie said. Just to be sure, we waited a couple more minutes before giving him the nod.

“Okay den,” he said as he removed the soggy napkin, the dead fly’s leg barbs still attached to it. With a toothpick, he carefully pried the corpse away and positioned it, upright, on the table. He reached for the saltshaker and began sprinkling the wet carcass.

Soon the pile of tiny translucent cubes completely covered the fly. Like any good con man, Bernie took advantage of the moment to sweeten the pot, goading us out of a few more bucks. Hey, how can you bet too much on a sure thing, right?

Bernie waited a bit longer and then began delicately plowing aside the salt with his toothpick. Soon all that was left was the last wet layer of crystals that clung directly to the body. Like a fly brain surgeon, he used the instrument to gently dislodge individual crystals.

It took several minutes, but finally he’d gotten just about all the salt off that he could. Then, with a wry, confident grin, he tapped the fly’s corpse with the flat end of the toothpick. On the fourth tap, the fly’s wings twitched. Then it shook its legs and began using them to scrape off the remaining salt.

In less than 20 seconds, the damn thing shook off the last of the salt and flew back to the window sill to tell his friends of his alien abduction.

We all agreed that Bernie had earned his money. Now, if only he’d had a way of sprinkling some of that magic on the salmon!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

ULTIMATE REALITY SHOW – A Kid and a Puddle


What is "reality" for a kid growing up in this sped-up, dumbed-down, 140-character world? Is their idea of connection a matter of how many "likes," "follows," or "friends" they've accumulated through the social media?

Beyond what little exercise may be mandated by their school, how much time will they spend today doing something that elevates their breathing and heart rates? Do they know more about the pop culture preferences of their friends than they do about Nature in their own back yard? Do they show more reverence for the escapades of the Kardashians than for the wonders of Creation?

If something about your answers to those questions bothers you, you're not alone.

There's a vibrant, growing movement among educators, physicians, environmentalists, schools and, yes, parents, to help this generation of children rediscover Nature. To convert them back from watchers to doers, from consumers to creators. In other words, back to what—until just this current generation—children have always excelled at: awareness, curiosity, imagination, play and wonder.


What can you do? For information, inspiration and resources go to the Children & Nature Network. While you're there you can also donate to the excellent work C&NN is doing to help kids get back outdoors, playing, learning and growing in the fresh air.

C&NN Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Richard Louv (author of the best-sellers, Last Child In the Woods and The Nature Principle describes his vision in a recent fund-raising letter:

I’m writing to ask your help, first by imagining a newer world. A world in which all children grow up with a deep understanding of the life around them, where they know the animals and plants of their own back yards as well as the televised Amazon rainforest, or better.

A newer world where the point of education is wonder and awe, where every school has a natural play space or garden. Imagine a world in which pediatricians prescribe nature. A world in which families become closer, and join with other families to explore the natural world. Where children, in inner cities and far suburbs, experience the joy of being in nature before they learn of its loss, where they can lie in the grass on a hillside for hours and watch clouds become the faces of the future. Imagine a newer world where every child has a human right to a connection to the natural world, and shares the responsibility for caring for it. Where every child has the opportunity to help create that world.

Please help the Children & Nature Network build the movement to connect children, their families and their communities to nature – and to imagine a newer world.
Donate to C&NN

I could not say it better myself.


Monday, November 21, 2011

WONDERS GREAT AND SMALL – A Thanksgiving Blessing


As we celebrate Thanksgiving in the U.S. I'll have to send my best wishes to all of you long distance. I'm in Mexico, where they refer to it as el día de acción de gracias.
Here's a Thanksgiving blessing I'd like to share with you. I happen to pray to God, but if your reverence for the incredible is directed to a force of a different name, feel free to plug it in as you like.

 Oh God, you appear to all of us in different ways. Ways so vast and powerful that we cannot grasp them, so minute that we fail to notice them. Lord, hear our thoughts and prayers of thanksgiving and help each of us be more fully aware of your blessings large and small:

Thank you for the vast expanse, the limitless wonder, of your creation,
And for the cold, wet, honeycomb pattern of the skin on a dog’s nose.

Thank you for Nature’s great ebbs and flows—her awesome power;
her transcendent beauty; her inexorable rhythms,
And for our lover’s heartbeat.

Thank you for the fascinating family of man—in all its colors, shades and textures—and the values and aspirations we share.
Thank you too for our family—those sitting at this table and those present in our hearts.

Thank you for the good, the pure, the true that resides at the core
of every human being,
And the chance to share a smile and a kind word with a stranger.

Thank you for your infinite bounty—the abundance with which you
nourish us in body, mind and spirit.
And thank you for this glorious meal we’re about to share.


Thank you for your promise of eternity,
And for this moment—this one...precious...moment of life.

Amen

Friday, November 18, 2011

US VERSUS US – Tied Together by String Theory

This post is inspired by, of all things, physics—specifically quantum string theory. Now, before you start nodding off, bear with me for just a minute or two.

If I can presume to understand recent science journals and PBS’s Nova, string theory proposes that everything in the universe consists of incomprehensibly small, vibrating, string-like objects. The concept modifies the traditional notion of a space–time continuum by integrating Einstein’s relativity with more recent quantum mechanics. The result is a rather elegant explanation of absolutely everything—space, time, matter and all natural forces, including gravity.


Elegant, yes, but there’s one small problem. In order for all of this to work, there would have to exist not just the four space-time dimensions of which most of us are able to conceive, but as many as eleven dimensions, some of which can only be described as parallel realities. I don’t know about you, but I find this pretty mind-boggling!

By employing these and other "senses" of which we might not even have been aware, it challenges us to think, feel and express ourselves in new ways.

Why should we be interested in parallel realities? First, the concept invites us to compare science with art and religion, all of them fields of thought which help us in observing and appreciating Nature, and which, traditionally, have defied reconciliation.

Secondly—the part on which I want to focus for now—the idea of parallel realities has many implications for those of us who pride ourselves on our curiosity, our empathy or, as I call it, our ability to see generously. Among them, it encourages us to expand the palette of ideas from simply those of our hard, five-sense experience to include those softer ones born of instinct, intuition and spirit. By employing these and other "senses" of which we might not even have been aware, it challenges us to think, feel and express ourselves in new ways.

YOU GOTTA BELIEVE IT TO SEE IT
Understanding the incomprehensible requires a small leap of faith. Of course, no one pretends that we’ll soon be able to actually see quantum strings. But there are many things we know are real, even though we can’t see them, because we can see their effects on something else. For example, I’ll bet you can look out your closed window and tell me how windy it is today.


Because there’s always a part of “them” in “us” and vice versa, it’s always about us.

In politics, in international relations, in personal conflicts and even in war, it’s never really about what we think it’s about. It’s never really the simplistic “us versus them” paradigm we’ve invented to make sense of complexity and manage our emotions. Because there’s always a part of “them” in “us” and vice versa, it’s always about us. Period. The answer to any conflict is for both parties to find this common thread and start weaving.

So...what does it all mean to those of us who find our inspiration in discovery, creativity and wonder? It means that:
  • There’s always another way of looking at something, another way to experience and explore it.
     
  • We can learn something important both from what exists and what doesn’t exist. (For example, isn’t it true that what’s not said is often more eloquent than what is said?)
     
  • The same experience can represent different realities for different people.
 We're only just barely separated (if at all) from the ideal, the sacred, the timeless.
 
  • Some of our beliefs and goals will always overlap with those of others. If we're sensitive enough to recognize them, these commonalities can form the basis not just of new relationships, but of new ideas, new institutions, new realities.
     
  • Our next great idea for creating something new and inspiring, as daunting as the challenge may be, could already be within our reach.


 
  • If we’re waiting for a change in circumstances before allowing ourselves to be happy, we may be waiting a long time. Nothing that ever happened in the past or that will ever happen in the future exists in any way other than as we manifest it now.
     
  • Finally, and perhaps the most important implication of all, it means that there are no limits other than those we impose on ourselves. In fact, we’re only just barely separated (if at all) from the ideal, the sacred, the timeless.
Some would find these things frightening; I find them profoundly energizing and hopeful.

 "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

Monday, November 14, 2011

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Tips


TIP #68
Study a soap bubble.
 
www.derekgulden.com - Used with permission

Behold the perfect gossamer globe; its oceans and continents shimmer and glow like fluid rainbows.

Let your eye search its swirling currents for your filmy reflection, a reminder of your own exquisite impermanence. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

BURNING BUSH


Spiraea shimmers with color in warm, waning autumn sun, the pointillist dabs of color not quite blending in the eye.

A closer look gives away the artist's stunning range of hues—
greens to golds to reds to plums—and the secret of their airy depth.




Tuesday, November 8, 2011

CATCHING THE LIGHT – Nature's Strokes of Brilliance

We were just leaving a friend's home after a Christmas party.

It was one of those crackling-cold, minus-twenty nights we get here in Minnesota. The air was so dense that the airplane 20,000 feet above me sounded like it was on approach for landing. As I walked across the street to warm up the car, the snow squeaked like dry Styrofoam® underfoot.

LIGHT PILLARS
Something odd caught my eye, and I looked up. Just through the bare branches of trees, the street light from the next block cast a distinct, golden beam of light 50 or 60 feet straight up into the sky. That's odd, I thought, the light must be broken…but how could it shine straight up like that? And since when do street lights cast such a distinct beam?

It was clear we were witnessing a wondrous, once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. 

PHOTO: Tristan Greszko - www.tristangreszko.com

By the time I picked up my wife in front of the house, we noticed pillars of light balancing atop other lights in the neighborhood too. On our way home, as we passed lighted signs and other cars, it was clear we were witnessing a wondrous, once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. (Most spectacular was a two-block-long colonnade of light fronting a well-lit used car lot.)

We later learned that what we'd seen were "light pillars." They're caused by a light source—typically the sun or moon, but occasionally artificial sources too—reflecting off of the horizontal surfaces of tiny ice crystals that fill the atmosphere in extreme cold weather.

This experience got me thinking about all the other amazing tricks light plays on us. Here are just a few of the other ones I've experienced or come across through a little research. Maybe you've witnessed some of them for yourself.

The result is...a nearly biblical effect...a multi-hued halo of light seeming to emanate from their head.

CRESCENT SUN DAPPLING – You know about the pinhole projection method of safely following the progress of a solar eclipse: you make a small hole in a piece of cardboard, hold it out and watch the tiny image of the partial sun projected on the sidewalk below.

But have you noticed that the same effect occurs naturally? Most days, the dappled sunlight that seeps through tree foliage actually comprises many overlapping, round pools of light. During an eclipse, though, each of those circles turns into a crescent as the moon takes a bigger and bigger bite out of the sun. 

Elliptical sun dappling during solar eclipse

GLORIES – You've probably seen a halo around the sun or the moon. But have you seen a glory? Again, it's a type of projection; in this case the "screen" is a mass of water droplets—like a cloud or the spray of a waterfall.

If the observer happens to be standing directly between the sun and those water particles, the result is a Brocken spectre, a nearly biblical effect of the person's shadow, with a multi-hued halo of light seeming to emanate from their head.

Glory, with Brocken Spectre

THE GREEN FLASH – Of all the beach sunsets I've experienced, I've never once witnessed the mythical green flash that's rumored to occur at the instant the sun disappears into the sea horizon. I thought it was one of those things where your odds of seeing it improved with the number of tequilas you'd consumed.

Turns out the green flash is a real phenomenon. Apparently the optical mechanism is similar to that of a prism. Since shorter wavelength light (the greens and blues) bends more than longer wavelength light (reds and oranges), the blue-green rays of the top edge of the setting sun stay visible slightly longer than the red-orange ones. I'll keep looking…and counting on the tequila to help.

The Green Flash

HEILIGENSCHEIN – Similar to the Brocken spectre, this "holy glow" occurs when a strong sun shadow is cast onto a surface coated in dew droplets. Each droplet acts as a lens to intensify the brightness and project it onto the surface it rests on.

Some of that light also bounces around in each droplet and is cast back toward the sun. (A commercial application of this effect is found in reflective materials like ScotchBright®, where a layer of tiny glass beads replaces the dewdrops.)

Heiligenschein

CLOUD IRIDESCENCE – This rare refraction phenomenon occurs when sunlight passes through thin, wispy clouds. That keeps most of the light rays from passing through more than a single water droplet, which refracts the light like a prism. (When the rays encounter thicker clouds, they encounter multiple droplets, and the prism effect gets scattered and diffuse.

Because this effect occurs mostly in an area of the sky near the sun, the sun's glare usually consumes it, so it helps if a building, tree or other object blocks one's direct view of the sun.

Cloud Iridescence

SHARE THE LIGHT!
These are just a few of the wonders Nature can paint with light. Others I've enjoyed include sun dogs, northern lights, phosphorescence, alpenglow, mirages and many more. Have you witnessed any of these...or others? I'd love to hear comments!

Information in this post not derived from personal experience comes from Wikipedia, as do all photos except Tristan Greszko's wonderful shot of the light pillars.

Friday, November 4, 2011

LONGING TO BE SHORT? – A Man of Words in a 140-Character World

"Be sincere; be brief; be seated." ~ FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

Brevity's an immense challenge for a writer. Mastering this craft is about one-third actually putting words on paper and two-thirds deciding which words not to put there. And the closer you are to what you're writing, the harder that gets.

They say brevity's even more important on the Web than in print. That depends. Sure, as a generation of texting, tweeting, sound-biting, multi-tasking readers imagines it can process more and more information, attention spans shrink. If we don't get the point across in the first few lines, they say, they've already moved on to someone else's come-on.

I hope it will be a long time before we're snarfing down ten-page novels.

But we writers must be careful to understand our audience—and ourselves—before we allow this admonition to dilute the flavors and colors of our craft. Certainly there's a place for brevity, but I hope it will be a long time before we're snarfing down ten-page novels.

A PALETTE OF TWO COLORS?
I love that language can be more than a vehicle for information; it can be the medium for painting a picture. Pictures are complex. If I'm to draw readers into the scene with me as I recount a story, I want them to experience the same vistas, the same sensations, the same awe I did when I was there in the first place.

FREDERIC CHURCH – Heart of the Andes (1859) Metropolitan Museum of Art

The reason I experienced those things the way I did, and why I try to articulate them, is my belief that wonder seeks you out only when you've made room for it. You have to set aside distraction, expectation and constraints of space, time and, yes, word count.

And that's all I ask of my readers, whether it's in your first-hand experience of wonder, or the vicarious one I offer here. Be patient; make time and space for wonder to find you; open your senses and let the smoldering spark of your spirit be kindled.

WHO ARE YOU?
So, the question facing this wonder blogger is this: for whom am I writing? Is it the content shopper, who's skimming for information, advice or the quickest way to accomplish something? Is it the broker, looking for substance, but mainly to parcel it out to others?

Readers…are asked to give something it seems is quite valuable these days: patience.

Or is it the reader? Readers—at least those I seem to be connecting with—are looking to experience something. To be transported, not necessarily to places they've never been, but to new ways of seeing and appreciating those places.

Readers understand that experiencing wonder is, in many ways, an act of generosity. They know that, both in the original experience and in the vicarious experience of it through another's words, they are asked to give something it seems is quite valuable these days: patience.



Maybe I'm preaching to the choir, but if you're still with me, thank you for being a reader. Thank you for that patience, that generosity. To anyone just dropping in for the first time, I hope you'll appreciate my selective avoidance of brevity, and that you won't be in a hurry to leave.

Of course, there will still be folks telling me to keep my posts to a few spartan paragraphs, a few bullet points, perhaps. "Who's going to read all that?" they'll ask. "Readers," I'll reply, tempered in my resolve. 

"Any philosophy that can be put in a nutshell belongs there."

        BRANCH RICKEY

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

RECLAIM WONDER! – Take the Pledge!

YEARNING FOR SUBSTANCE
In this increasingly sped-up, dumbed-down, 140-character world, are you starting to hear, as I am, that little voice of unease from somewhere deep in your soul?

Doesn't some part of you just want to say no to all that virtual "reality," all the quick, shallow relationships this digitized culture expects us to buy into? Don't you yearn to recapture that sense of wonder we all had naturally when we were kids?

Use the ideas as goals, resolutions, or just occasional affirmations of your intention to live      a more attentive, curious and grateful life.

That's what my Reclaiming Wonder Movement is all about. It's recognizing that yearning, and beginning to make our own choices as to the kind of depth and substance we want in our relationships with ourselves, each other and Nature.

THE RECLAIMING WONDER PLEDGE
The movement can start philosophically and lead to lifestyle changes, but it's inevitably a spiritual journey. Lots of people want to take part in this journey, but don't quite know where to start. That's why I've crafted the Reclaiming Wonder Pledge.

Think of it as a list of first steps and/or mileposts to guide you on your quest for more mindfulness. You can use the ideas as goals, resolutions, or just occasional affirmations of your intention to live a more attentive, curious and grateful life.  
You • can • do • this!!

Framing example only; frame not included in offer.
 
ORDER YOUR FREE, FRAMEABLE, FULL-COLOR 
PLEDGE DOCUMENT WITH ONE CLICK!
Use the peach-colored order form to the right and above. ->
Print it out, frame it, or make it the background of your computer desktop. Give a framed copy to someone you know who's also yearning to reclaim wonder in his/her life.
Thanks for taking the Reclaiming Wonder Pledge! Have a wonder-full day!

Friday, October 28, 2011

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Tips

TIP #92
 Imagine yourself in a critter's place.


Would you worry about the past or future if you knew you were being hunted? Could you afford not to be in the moment if you were the hunter?
Any chance you'd not feel threatened by that huge, strangely upright creature watching you?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

LICHEN ON BIRCH


Lichen splashes cool, barely green, on silky birch paper.
Scorning guidelines, these lapping, liquid forms
belie the Artist's plodding brush work
in paint that well outlives the canvas.


(Flavoparmelia caperata is one of more than 10,000 species of lichen. Lichens are composite, symbiotic organisms often comprising both a fungus and an alga. The former provides structure; the latter, sustenance, through photosynthesis. Most species grow less than a millimeter per year, and, given a durable substrate, can easily live for centuries.)


Friday, October 21, 2011

TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF – Nurturing the Creative Impulse

Discovery is born of curiosity. I find interesting things because I’m fascinated with the way Nature works. I want to see where things come from, where they’re going and what makes them tick. I've make it a point not to let myself get so preoccupied of mind and heart that I fail to notice beauty when I see it, or lack the time and inclination to dig for it when I don’t. For I know the beauty’s always there.

Once I find something beautiful, my curiosity doesn’t stop there. It’s like appreciating a gift so much that you can’t wait to open it, turn it over, examine it from all sides and play with it.

     It’s like appreciating a gift so much that you 
     can’t wait to open it, turn it over, examine it 
     from all sides and play with it.

This is how one of my hobbies came to be. One autumn afternoon many years ago, I was walking to the Metrodome for a session of indoor roller-blading. I was kind of in a zone—you know, that abundant state of mind where ideas flow freely and all thoughts are positive.

While shuffling through a pile of dry leaves, for some reason I decided to pick one up and look at it closely. As I turned it over, it happened to catch a glint of late afternoon sun. As if autumn leaves weren’t wonderful enough, the light coming through this one just seemed to ignite it with color. All the veins and little irregularities, silhouetted against that bright background, made it all the more stunning.


I stopped right outside of Gate D and wondered, How could I make something out of leaves that would cause light to shine through them and show off these rich textures, this incredible, radiant color? Without hesitation, the muse of creativity answered: Make lampshades out of them.

Long story short: I’d seen lampshades with a few leaves applied to the surface, but what I do is to cover the entire shade with them, arrayed in elegant swaths and patterns. Working on a light table, I sometimes allow the leaves to overlap, creating secondary shapes and shades of color.

Other, more painstaking designs call for cutting and tiling the leaf material for a sort of mosaic effect. Then I cover the whole montage with a sheer paper film, which, once coated with a special sealer, adheres to the leaves and dries transparent.

        Once an idea like this germinates, the 
        creative impulse begins to take on a life, 
        an energy, of its own.


I’ve collected and pressed many varieties of leaves, discovering more surprising qualities as I’ve worked with them. Among my favorites are the leaves of grape vine. When dried and applied to the shade, they’re a muted, mossy green. But turn on the lamp, and the color changes to a sumptuous burgundy.

The point of all this is that I had to make—or, perhaps more accurately, let—several things happen in order for this idea to come to life:
  • I had to be “in a good place,” my mind calm, positive and receptive to discovering
 something new.
  • I had to let my curiosity move me to pick up the leaf and look at it.
  • I had to notice when that fleeting ray of sunlight hit the leaf.
  • I had to allow myself to think of the possibilities.
  • I had to take the first step toward making those possibilities into realities.

        Put yourself with Nature. Give yourself 
        to Nature. Be Nature.

Once an idea like this germinates, the creative impulse begins to take on a life, an energy, of its own. You’ve probably been there: you go to bed at night so full of ideas and plans that you can hardly get to sleep. And you wake in the morning thinking breakfast is little more than an inconvenience standing between you and the work at hand. You believe in yourself.

Would you agree that one might be considered lucky to experience this kind of creative energy once or twice in a lifetime? I suggest that, with some deliberate cultivation and a bit of practice, you can summon it anytime at all.

Where does one start in nurturing the creative impulse? I can think of no better place than in Nature. It starts inside, in your soul, in your spirit, but it’s everywhere. Put yourself with Nature. Give yourself to Nature. Be Nature.

Monday, October 17, 2011

HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU – A Reflection on Eye Contact

When I was a newly-arrived freshman in college, someone told me that one of the distinguishing qualities of the "Amherst Man" was that he always acknowledged and made eye contact with passersby. So, of course, I did just that. As a freshman, I guess it was just to make sure I fit in. By the time I graduated it was woven into my personal code, meshed with other common courtesies, like saying please and thank-you or holding the door for someone—simple acknowledgments of another's existence and worth.


I still try always to look to the eyes of strangers. And because my work is all about observation, I think about eye contact and have come to appreciate its nuances. I'm also aware, perhaps more than most, of how rare the practice seems to have become.

One thing I've noticed is how many of the people I most admire—as well as occasional strangers who just strike me with the power of their presence—tend to be those who best connect with others through eye contact.

So what is eye contact all about? What difference does it make?

It suggests you can trust me, I know what I'm talking about, I find you attractive or a score of other messages.

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
I can't begin to comment fairly on eye contact without acknowledging the great cultural and historic differences in how this powerful form of expression is perceived around the world. In some Islamic, African, south Asian and Native American cultures, among others, eye contact—or eye contact for more than a very short period—is considered disrespectful.

I suspect this may also hold true in some sub-cultural groups, such as inner-city gangs and abusive households, where day-to-day survival seems to hinge on the same kind of dominance-subservience rituals that apply in the animal kingdom. Here, to those bent on violence, eye contact may be taken as a challenge or even an act of aggression.

In the realm of my experience, though, it's hard to understand how meaningful communication can be done without looking at the face of the person you're conversing with. In my world, eye contact is an indispensable authenticator of any dialog, demonstrating attention, competence, confidence, attraction and, yes, respect. This is the context—you could say the bias—in which my reflections should be taken.

NON-VERBAL MESSAGES
As children we instinctively absorb all things visual, our eyes like little black holes of curiosity. So it's no coincidence that kids look people right in the eyes. Before we're even a year old aren't we already learning that changes in the facial expressions of those we most depend on might make a big difference in how we're treated?

Depending on that treatment, the innocence, the openness, the disarming clarity of our childhood gaze might survive our growing up—if we're lucky. But more often than not it gets pushed down by learned associations like fear, guilt and shame.

And this all works the other way around too. Just as we learn how to interpret messages in others' eyes, we also learn how to send those same messages with our own.

Eye contact is an eloquent form of non-verbal communication. To a stranger, it may say simply I'm here, my receptors are open for business, and I'm ready to interact with you if you like. Add a little smile or perhaps a simple greeting and it suggests I'm sharing a bit of my spirit with you today. With a whole vocabulary of other, sometimes subtle, visual clues, it might say you can trust me, I know what I'm talking about, I find you attractive or a score of other messages.

Acknowledging another human being with your eyes is also an act of generosity. It's a sharing not just of time, attention and some of those implied messages, but also of a sort of spiritual energy. Don't you, as I do, experience a lifting of your spirit when a stranger bestows a smiling greeting on you?

Don't we all have days when we're so sad or angry or ashamed that we just wish we were invisible?

TURNING INSIDE OUT
When I pass someone whose gaze remains fixed straight ahead—or who never even looks up—I imagine what might be going through her head. I try not to make judgments—Well, she's sure an unfriendly sort! or Geez, what a snob!—and understand that, instead, she might just be deep in thought, feeling insecure or coping with any one of a thousand ailments. Or is it one of those cultural things?

I know I sometimes feel I don't have enough energy or goodwill even to get through the day, not to mention sharing it with someone else. And don't we all have days when we're so sad or angry or ashamed that we just wish we were invisible?

Sadly, some misplaced instinct tells us keep to ourselves just when we could most use a little human contact—when we're depressed or lonely. Isn't it precisely the diversion of isolation to contact, self-pity to altruism, that so often proves the best antidote for these afflictions?

Might the same factors that make us avoid eye contact with others also cause us to miss the myriad wonders going on all around us every day?

So when I observe the eye-avoidance behavior in others, I know I have a choice. I can either take the hint—whether intentional or not—to keep my distance, or I can share the light of my spirit with them anyway. When I'm on my own game, I'll do the latter; I smile, say hello and wish my fellow human being a good day. Sometimes there's no response...that's okay; I hope the gesture helps in some way.

On a really good day, I might add a little unspoken blessing to my acknowledgment—perhaps wishing the stranger the strength he needs to hold up under whatever that burden he's bearing, and the clarity he needs to find his way out from under it. And in this case, though eye contact wouldn't seem absolutely necessary to convey a blessing, I still try. I guess I hope that, in the same way a handshake seals an agreement, eye contact might help ensure that the "message" gets delivered.

EYE CONTACT WITH NATURE
I can't think for long about anything without asking myself how it relates to Nature and the ways we humans interact with Nature. So, here's a two-bit theory for you: Might the same factors that make us avoid eye contact with others also cause us to miss the myriad wonders going on all around us every day?

And, just as the human interaction of giving and sharing can draw us out of ourselves and restore us to emotional and spiritual health, doesn't a similar interaction with Nature produce the same kinds of healing?

Every single day, whether you live in the wilderness or the inner city, you're surrounded by Nature's gaze. Return it.


So, even if you're having a bad day—especially if you're having a bad day—let your eyes be your vehicle to that healing. Look for connections with others. Realize that, as poorly as you may feel about yourself, the person with whom you make eye contact just might need that affirmation, that blessing, more than you do.

Look, too, for connections with Nature. Every single day, whether you live in the wilderness or the inner city, you're surrounded by Nature's gaze. Return it. Send it the blessing of your spirit, your loving intention.

It's all about what I call "seeing generously," the notion that, by looking with care, compassion and wonder, we confer our blessing on every person, place or thing we behold.