Tuesday, December 24, 2013

SEASON'S GREETINGS!

I may be unplugged for a few days, so I want to wish all my visitors and loyal followers from all over the world—over 70 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! 

Friday, December 20, 2013

THE BAGGY COAT – A Holiday Reflection


During this season of generosity swirling with obligation, of simple joy made sad by unmet expectation, of grateful abundance diminished by addictive excess, I'm trying on, once more, the baggy coat of acceptance, a garment whose fit depends on not its own but the wearer's measure.

         

What do you need to accept or let go of to let the simple, joyous spirit of the holidays wrap comfortably around you?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – TIP #47
Get a charge out of static electricity.















Some dry winter day, shuffle slippered feet on carpet and touch someone’s unsuspecting skin—someone who can take a joke.

Rub a balloon on your hair and watch it cling to things. Pull off a sweater in the dark; see and hear the miniature electrical storm.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

NATURE’S A MIRROR – Why Shining Our Light Enlightens Us

I started my book, Under the Wild Ginger, as a collection of essays about noticing and exploring the world around us. As I considered which pieces to include, a friend with whom I’d been sharing some of my ideas pointed out how much more interesting the collection would be if it included an appreciation of the wonders within us.

As I considered his suggestion, what really convinced me was my belief that
what we see—or, perhaps more accurately, what we choose to see—is, in fact, a reflection of who we are.
 

One can’t be moved by Nature’s splendor without letting oneself be moved. And this is by no means a given. Take a walk in the woods, and even those of us who see ourselves as Nature lovers often have a hard time noticing the incredible details right in front of our noses. We appreciate being there…but we’re not all there.

    What we so often fail to realize is that Nature 
    can heal many of those hurts if we let her.

It’s not for lack of the right tools; most of us have reasonably well-developed senses. It’s because we’re so used to having our whole world revolve around “bigger” concepts. Business people looking for the next big thing; consultants promoting a new paradigm; friends simply distracted by their own commitments, conquests or simply coping. Whatever it is within us that hungers for a connection with things more universal, more timeless, it’s just not able to find its way out.

For others, the problem may be more than just being too busy. Too often, there’s genuine pain, from injury, loss or disappointment. It’s hard to put yourself out there when you hurt. And in a way that’s even more of a shame, because what we so often fail to realize is that Nature can heal many of those hurts if we let her.

ORIGINAL INNOCENCE
I don’t consider myself a religious person, yet I’m quite spiritual. I believe
that everything and everyone is an embodiment of what I call God, an incomprehensibly vast and powerful force of beauty, goodness and love.

We are all, somewhere at our cores, sweet, innocent children. Problem is, our parents, our culture, our circumstances and, in some cases, a genetic or chemical roll of the dice has stifled that pure goodness, heaping layer upon layer of muck
on top of it: ambition, expectation, responsibility and guilt, to name a few.

And technology, like a delicious dish or drink best consumed in moderation, only goes so far before it becomes presence’s undoing. For too many of us, it’s discrediting every last excuse we have for not being
able to do everything, for anyone, all the time.

So truly connecting with Nature and wonder is about removing some of those layers. Rather than following the workaday world’s mantra of making things happen, this is about slowing down, quieting the voices that drive us, restoring healthy boundaries and letting things happen—things that, as it turns out, were there all the time.

USE IT OR LOSE IT
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, just as we learn to let Nature’s little hidden wonders find us, we would all devote the time and attention it takes to peel back some of our innermost layers and find ourselves? It might be a dirty, smelly job, but chances are what we’d find is something very good indeed. In fact, this innate, inner goodness is the one essential gift which, no matter what our condition in life—rich or poor, educated or self-taught, able-bodied or hobbled—we have to share with the world.

               Unlike more tangible gifts, 
               this one, if not given, is lost.

One of my favorite spirituality thinkers and writers, Marianne Williamson, in her book, A Return to Love, wrote about that essential good, that inner light that shines within each of us:

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone…As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.


Every day, I try to let these brilliant words hold sway over all the lessons of modesty and self-denial I was taught growing up. I remind myself that every single person I pass that day represents my chance to shine my light. Whether it’s by helping them, listening to them or simply greeting them with a smile and a kind word, that’s the gift I have to share. And, unlike more tangible gifts, this one, if not given, is lost.



WHAT GOES AROUND...
If only it were as easy extending this blessing to God’s other creations. Too often, even if we’re successful in uncovering our inner, curious child, our understanding of Nature is superficial. We take her for granted, assuming that, because we so long to be with her, she’ll always be there and will always welcome us.

But that assumption fails to understand her sheer frailty, the damage we’ve already inflicted on her, and her urgent need for the same kind of understanding and care we’d give a vulnerable friend or a child.

By loving Nature superficially—wanting what she gives but failing to understand what she needs—we end up loving her to death. And in Nature we mustn’t forget that, as powerful as that image of shining one’s light may be, it’s only half the picture.

Remember the premise I started with: what we see reflects who we are? The other half of the picture is letting our light shine back into us. For it is that energy—which, as Williamson says, also kindles it in others—that recharges our own ability to shine in the first place. Whether it’s in Nature or with other human beings, only by giving that energy—the energy I call seeing generously—can we receive it.

Shine on, my friends!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

YAWN – As If For the First Time

LEAVE IT TO A TEN-YEAR-OLD
Ten-year-old boys, it seems, are especially good at discovering and exploiting
the quirks of the body.

When I was in grade school, my best friend, Peter, showed me this truly odd little experiment in fluid dynamics. First, you have to yawn. (We learned it’s pretty easy to make oneself yawn on demand.) Yawning does several things: it opens your mouth (obviously); it draws your tongue back and up; and it produces a rush of saliva (tears too).

While your mouth is still open and your tongue back, you force your tongue quickly down and forward. The little pool of saliva that’s collected in the soft pocket under your tongue gets squeezed, and, if you’re lucky, a few drops will squirt out, maybe a foot or two. As you can imagine, we had contests to see how far each of us could squirt. (But Mom, we were just studying our physics—AP physics, at that.)

(It turns out Peter was not alone in discovering this odd phenomenon. It even
has a name: gleeking.)


HO-HUM HUMDRUM
Yawning’s an amazing and mysterious thing. It crosses all geographic and cultural boundaries. Humans of all ages do it—even those in utero. Nearly all vertebrates do it, including fish and birds, but with the exception, it’s said, of giraffes and whales.


It’s one of those bodily functions that’s so ubiquitous that, like blinking or breathing, it usually comes and goes without our slightest notice. But have you
ever felt a yawn coming on, stopped what you were doing and allowed yourself
to be fully present with the experience?

Here’s what it feels like for me: it starts, subtly, deep inside my head. It’s like my whole cranium, or at least some compartment or sac within it, is about to expand. Then in my ears I feel some kind of passages opening up; it sounds like the two sides, coated with earwax, start out pressed together and then pull stickily apart.

My mouth starts to open, not the way it does when I talk or eat, but from the back, as if the jaw hinges themselves were separating—like the way a python unhinges its jaws to consume large prey.

           The experience, much like farting, 
           is much more satisfying when you 
           really open up and let it rip.

Then the rumbling starts. Again, it seems to come from somewhere deep inside my ears. It's loud, but somehow doesn’t drown out the music and other ambient sound here in my studio.

By this time my eyes close reflexively. I notice I can keep them open if I try (something I’ve never been able to do while sneezing). I start salivating and my eyes water.

Sometimes I keep my lips closed while yawning—usually when I think someone might be looking—but the experience, much like farting, is much more satisfying when you really open up and let it rip. Same with that universal little non-verbal vocalization that always wants to accompany a good yawn.

For me, there’s a distinct tipping point in a yawn. Somewhat like a sneeze or an orgasm, it starts with an impulse, builds in tension, crests and then, inexorably, releases. Occasionally, it doesn’t quite reach that crest and fizzles disappointingly.
_______________________________________________________

AWARENESS CHECK: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but chances are you’ve yawned at least once just since you started reading this. See if you can be aware of the next one coming on. I decided to log my yawns when I started writing this, and in the hour or so it’s taken me to this point, I’ve done it no fewer than nineteen times!

_______________________________________________________

MONKEY SEE…

There are many theories as to why we vertebrates yawn. The most popular seem
to be: that it’s the body’s need for a rush of oxygen; that it’s a muscle-stretching process (which might explain why it’s so often accompanied by the urge to stretch the arms, legs and back); that it triggers a surge of alertness when the brain senses we’re asleep on the job (this one seems counter-intuitive to me); and that it somehow helps regulate the temperature of the brain.

None of these theories enjoys common agreement; in fact, most have been debunked in one study or another. All I know is my own experience with yawning. Yes, like just about everyone, I yawn when I’m tired and bored. But, more curiously, I also catch myself yawning when I’m nervous or anxious. How about you? When do you yawn?

        Simply writing about yawning makes 
        me yawn (doing it now, as we speak).

One of the most fascinating characteristics of yawning is its contagiousness. Among all the causal theories, none disputes this, although several possible reasons are suggested. Almost everyone agrees that it’s an empathetic response, one wired into the circuits of earliest man, perhaps to demonstrate our ferocity (as in don’t mess with me!) or even as a pre-verbal signal for a group to change activities.


Whatever the reason, this power of suggestion is undeniable. We don’t even have
to see someone yawning; we can simply hear them yawn over the telephone. And
I can tell you from my current experience that simply writing about yawning makes me yawn (doing it now, as we speak)—not just now and then, but repeatedly and often. (Since the awareness check, above, I've done it at least five more times.)

Are you aware of what triggers your yawns? Has reading this post, along with the inspirational photos, unleashed the ho-hum monster in you? Do you have a favorite memory or a trick involving yawning? We’d love to hear of your jaw-dropping experiences!

Friday, November 22, 2013

LOOKIN’ WHERE THEY AIN’T – The Wisdom of Circuitous Seeing


The other day, as I waited for my take-out order in a busy Asian restaurant, there was a deafening crash. Someone in the kitchen must have dropped a stack of large pots and pans onto the hard tiled floor.

The sound came from my right. Everyone around me—everyone in the whole place, I should think—turned toward it. For some reason my first reaction was to turn the other way, to my left, and watch the reaction of a woman standing nearby.

This observation has given me pause. First of all, I don’t remember jumping or even feeling very alarmed. Does this mean there’s something wrong with my fight-or-flight instinct? And why was my rote response to check out what others were doing instead of doing something myself?

    I get animals to come to me not by reaching 
    for them, but by turning away…

TRICKS OF THE TRADE
As with most ponderings of this sort, I’ll probably never have the complete answer, but here’s what I’m thinking:

I’ve long felt I have a gift for noticing things. People I’ve walked with in the woods seem to marvel at my pointing out stuff they’d just walked right past without seeing. In this era of banal sensory distraction and overload, this is the gift I’ve dedicated much of my time to sharing by way of my writing and blogging.

One way I counsel my followers to be more aware is by learning to sense more creatively. That means watching not just the flock of starlings, not just the school of sardines, but picking out one individual and seeing what it might do. It means getting out early or maybe staying late, times when Nature’s less likely to be introverted. It means getting down low to look at something most people see only from above—or vice versa.


And one of my favorite tips for the uninitiated: Look where others aren’t looking. You see, nothing makes an observer more undetectable to an observed than distraction. The young doe riveted on the sounds and smells of a rustling woodchuck (or the well-placed toss of a stick) is far less likely to notice the measured movements of me and my camera.

I use this oblique approach to small wonders all the time. When I take pictures of people, I often get the most candid, spontaneous results when I wait until another photographer’s stealing everyone’s attention for a formal shot, and then snap mine just before or just after hers. If I want to connect with a skittish pet, I get them to come to me not by reaching for them or cooing, but by turning away, lowering myself and being still.


    This kind of sensing is more an attitude than 
    an action, more an instinct than a discipline.

PASS IT ON
Apparently my discipline of distraction works, even on me. Haven’t you ever struggled to remember something, only to find that the harder you try the less likely you will? That only when you let go and start thinking of something else does the elusive memory come to you? It’s those last three words that are most telling; you’ll notice I said “come to you,” not “be found.” There’s a big difference.

This kind of sensing is more an attitude than an action, more an instinct than a discipline. To many, especially in our American culture of linear thinking and direct, literal connections, it may seem counter-intuitive, but it can be learned…and it can be taught.

It’s a skill we’d do well to teach to a new generation of nature-starved kids and grandkids (as well as the adult guides in their lives).

If you want to see unusual things, see in unusual ways.
Photograph a group posing for someone else.
As the quarterback drops back, watch what the center does.
Turn away from setting sun for a glimpse of rising moon.

FROM UNDER THE WILD GINGER – A Simple Guide to the Wisdom of Wonder


Friday, November 15, 2013

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – TIP #18
Chew your food longer.


















There’s this amazing little place where even the simplest of dishes 
is explored, savored as if it were the last meal of your life.

It’s a place where eating’s not rushed, never a chore. So bring 

all your senses and appreciate the glorious gift of food.


Monday, November 11, 2013

THE MULTITASKING MYTH – Why There’s Still Hope For Us Men


PHOTO: New York Times
This post is in remembrance and honor of Clifford Nass, the late Stanford professor whose pioneering research into how humans interact with technology found that the increasingly screen-saturated, multitasking modern world is not nurturing the ability to concentrate, analyze or feel empathy. He also proved that multi-taskers tend to not be very good at any of the tasks they undertake…including multitasking! Nass died in 2013 at age 55.

                                 *        *        *

Most of us can easily do two things at once; what’s all but impossible is to do one thing at once. ~ MIGNON MCLAUGHLIN, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook

There should be a new law targeting dangerous drivers. The offence: DWL – Driving While Listening.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m listening intently to someone, in the car or anywhere else, I might as well be blind. I came to realize this about the tenth time I sailed right past our exit when listening and responding—as a good husband should—to my wife.


Is it that the signals my brain receives from my ears somehow trump those coming from my eyes, or is it just that one sense—any sense—when applied fully, taps all the concentration my brain can muster at any given moment? In other words, can I, or can anyone, really do two things, both of them thoughtfully and thoroughly, at the same time?

       The serial-tasker...might complete just 
       one of the tasks, but likely in finer detail.

A ZERO-SUM GAME
There’s no doubt some people are better at the multitasking game than others. God knows, everyone’s better at it than I. And, while all kinds of people can do it to one degree or another, it seems its mastery is something that’s hard-wired into the nervous system of more females—especially mothers—than men.

You'll notice I said "seems." Though females may seem better able to do several things at once, I believe it’s really a zero-sum game. They, and men who multitask, are taking roughly the same amount of concentration and intensity that others possess, mixing it up and spreading it over a wider area.

So, even though none of the individual tasks gets the exhaustive attention a serial-tasker might have given it, they’ll all get done. That serial-tasker, in roughly the same amount of time, might complete just one of the tasks, but likely in finer detail.

PHOTO: http://www.palmpressinc.com/product-tag/baby-in-sink/

You divert some attention to a second or third task, and the rest suffer a performance deficit of almost exactly the same amount.

A recent public television documentary on the impact of the social media (including e-mail, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) shed some light on my zero-sum theory. Some of the brightest students at Stanford and MIT were interviewed about their ability to multitask, both while studying and during classes. (There was no attempt to compare males with females.)

To a person, the students insisted they could easily exchange email and manage their cyber-persona, while in class, without any adverse impact on their learning comprehension. Their professors, incredibly, seemed to agree.

Sound too good to be true? It is. The program’s research indicated exactly the opposite. It concluded, as I’d expect, that “multitasking” simply divides a finite amount of attention into fractions. You divert some attention to a second or third task, and the rest suffer a performance deficit of almost exactly the same amount.

Nowhere is this more dramatically illustrated than on our streets and highways. There’s no question, despite their protestations to the contrary, that those who pretend to drive cars and also do anything else at the same time—like putting on makeup, futzing with the GPS or texting (in my case, I guess the list should include listening to my wife)—are doing so at their own and others’ great peril.

After examining the behavior of truck drivers covering more than 6 million miles of road, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute concluded that people who send text messages while driving are 23 times more likely to be in a crash (or what they call a near-crash event) than nondistracted drivers.


How do you choose which approach is better? The answer is we don’t; that’s why we have marriage.


THE WAY WE’RE BUILT
So, back to the perilous ground of gender typing, might all this amount to some kind of vindication for us predominantly-male uni-taskers? Or does it even make sense to compare the sexes’ relative capacities for concentration?

One is broad; the other, deep. One is strong; the other, fast. One’s analytical; the other, intuitive. How do you choose which approach is better? The answer is we don’t; that’s why we have marriage.

In terms of evolution, this equal-but-different arrangement meant the males who got to carry on the blood lines were those best able to hunt or fend off predators, unconflicted by other concerns or emotions. They operated on raw courage, intimate knowledge of Nature, and finely-honed focus.


Meanwhile, the women who tended to survive were those best able to nurture several kids, maintain the cave and simultaneously manage family and community relationships, endeavors laced with emotions and nuance.

Turns out the two sets of roles complemented each other perfectly. When I hear couples lamenting each other’s shortcomings—pretending that, as rational adults in this day and age, they should be able to get past those timeless, stereotypical roles—I want to remind them that neither of them can help it. It’s the way we’re built.

BLOGGING AHEAD
All of this has an immediate, very personal significance for me as I work on my writing and blogging. I’m left with the conclusion that, in order to fully concentrate on any of it, I have to…..uh-h-h, just a second…What’s that smell? I…..oh, no! Damn! I left my dinner in the oven and it seems there’s a small fire! Just a minute. Where’s my…Let’s see, 9…1…




Monday, November 4, 2013

FLOW - Meditation by a River

(When it's my turn to host a meeting of my men's group, I like to offer some kind of calming, centering exercise to help everyone shed the stresses and concerns of the day and be fully present in the here and now. This time, I've been unable to find just what I was looking for...so I wrote my own brief, guided meditation.)


Your life’s wanderings have brought you to a small river. You sit on a large deadfall—oak, perhaps—whose body time has stripped of bark. The dry wood is warmed by late May sun.

Better than silence, the place murmurs with comings and goings of countless living things. You watch life’s drama play out, as if unreeled slowly, frame by frame, by the passing water.

A kingfisher laces the far bank of the river, dipping and rising from one vantage point to the next. The filament of his presence passes from riverine space into that of your soul, seamlessly, and back out again, then slowly out of sight down around the bend.

       You imagine the thoughts and concerns 
       of your day, like these other living things, 
       coming into view.

Just below you, a school of redhorse works the shallows, vacuuming the sandy bottom. You marvel at the interplay between each purposeful individual and the seeming randomness of the group. It, too, swirls slowly past with the current and disappears.

You imagine the thoughts and emotions of your day, like these other living things, coming into view in and over the water. They too fly and swim and pass through, from the unimaginable expanse of the cosmos, into and through the slice of it that is your consciousness, and then back out again to join the eternal flow of life.

You sit there, as aware as one can possibly be of the simple joy of this place of calmness and connection. You glow with gratitude for the fact that your presence, your being, is solid and true, informed, but not defined, by concerns of the mind. You sit…and feel…the smooth, warm wood under your seat.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

THE GIFT OF WONDER – Pass It On!

UNDER THE WILD GINGER
A Simple Guide to the Wisdom of Wonder

 


BEST 
GIFT BOOK 
OF 2013!

Order one for 
yourself and a
few to give! 
A lovely meditation on what makes life worth living.
RICHARD LOUV, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle 
 
A welcome invitation to see the world through new eyes.
MARTI ERICKSON, cofounder, Children & Nature Network; cohost, MomEnough.com
 
Warmhearted, wise, uplifting—simply enchanting!
ROBIN EASTON, author of Naked in Eden: My Adventures and Awakening in the Australian Rainforest
 
Inspires us to keep our childlike wonder alive.
ANN BANCROFT, polar explorer, teacher and author
 
Nourishes the soul. 
MEG PIER, travel writer, photographer, ViewfromthePier.com
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
RECLAIM THE MAGICAL!
Do you remember how it felt when, as a child,
you first discovered some little creature or flower
you’d never seen before and when, moved beyond
speech, all you could manage was a breathless wow?

That little whisper, that crystalline moment of pure
wonder, is what Under the Wild Ginger is about.

You can reclaim the magical in your hectic life. You’ll learn how to open both your senses and your spirit to your surroundings, how to notice and celebrate the countless small miracles that await, often right under your nose.

(CLICK HERE TO ORDER) 

A guidebook to journeys of wonder 
with children and grandchildren

SEE GENEROUSLY!
The book introduces the concept of seeing generously. It suggests that, while sensing may seem a kind of acquisition, it’s really as much about giving as taking—letting go agendas and schedules; surrendering cell phones and computers; committing your time; applying your imagination; and, above all, simply paying attention.

Giving something of yourself to the process of perception restores the curiosity and joie de vivre each of us possessed naturally as a child but which got buried in layer upon layer of adult structure, stress, and cynicism.

Under the Wild Ginger is a book to enjoy in quiet moments by yourself, to give to kindred spirits, and, perhaps most importantly, to share with your children and grandchildren as a guidebook to journeys of wonder you’ll undertake together.

(CLICK HERE TO ORDER) 



Monday, October 28, 2013

GINKGO – Living Fossil, Esthetic Wonder

LAPPING ELEGANCE
I first came to appreciate ginkgo (ginkgo biloba) trees about 20 years ago when I was collecting fallen autumn leaves for a craft project. I was using pressed leaves to create gorgeous lampshades. Since I placed them not just as scattered elements on the shades, but as a solid field of color and texture, I had to factor into my designs how the leaves’ shapes worked when repeated in a continuous pattern.

Most challenging were the highly irregular, lobed leaves like oak and maple; it was nearly impossible to lap one over the next without leaving voids here and there. Considerably easier were the more-or-less round or oval ones, which overlapped in neat lens shapes. And loveliest of all were the ginkgo leaves. Their elegant fan shapes dovetailed nicely in a beautiful, saffron yellow fish-scale pattern.


             I kept looking around for the pasty-
             faced kid who’d just blown lunch. 

Shape and color weren’t the only advantages of ginkgo leaves. Their flat surface was also far easier to glue down to the shade’s styrene substrate than most leaves, whose prominent veins interfere.

Of course, gaining this kind of intimacy with ginkgo leaves soon made me more aware of the tree than ever. I began looking for them and noticing other wonderful qualities of this ancient, unique species. (Among the oldest of all trees, its leaves are nearly identical to fossilized specimens dating back 270 million years. With no close relatives, ginkgo biloba is the sole survivor of its family.)

U-REEKA!
Sitting on a bench outside of Frank Lloyd Wright’s first home in Oak Park, Illinois, I was nearly overcome by the smell of vomit. I kept looking around for the pasty faced kid who’d just blown lunch.

Seeing no one looking the slightest bit queasy, I looked down and noticed the brownish-yellow, grape-sized fruit (technically seeds) that had fallen from the big old ginkgo tree spreading over us. I reached down and picked up one that had been partially squashed under someone’s foot and smelled it. E-e-e-w! That was it all right. (Turns out ginkgo fruit is full of butyric acid, the same substance released when butter goes rancid.)


   In China, where it is the national tree, ginkgo 
   is revered as a symbol of longevity and vitality.

Later that fall, I noticed that nearly all the trees the city of Minneapolis has planted along some blocks to replace the decimated American elm are ginkgoes. As I collected the most perfect of their leaves for my lampshades, I noticed that one or two of the trees on each block was dropping fruit.

Come to learn that there are male and female ginkgo trees, and that, while city foresters try to plant just the non-fruiting males, apparently distinguishing between them is not easy. So I always watch my step in late summer and fall.

Another unique property of ginkgo biloba is the way it branches—or should I say doesn’t branch. Just as the leaves lack the continuously-branching vein network of other leaves, so the branches seem to spurn the sequential branching so common in other trees. Most of ginkgo’s branches depart from the trunk and simply reach straight out, sprouting nothing but leaves to the very tip.


CURE OR CROCK?
Ginkgo biloba is well known for its purported medicinal qualities. In China, where it is the national tree, ginkgo is revered as a symbol of longevity and vitality. It is used there and around the world to treat respiratory issues, incontinence, indigestion, intestinal worms, gonorrhea, poor circulation, depression, dementia and inner ear problems, among other ailments.

While some studies have supported its effectiveness, many have debunked it. So I suppose one could say that, at the very least, it is as good a placebo as any other. And, since I depend on ginkgo for nothing more than its considerable esthetic qualities, I can say that, in that regard, its potency is undisputed.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

SEEING GENEROUSLY – What Goes Around...

At first glance, vision may seem like a simple one-way transaction. We open our eyes. An image goes in and gets processed by the mind. If it's something important, it may move us to feel or do something, or it gets stored somewhere for future reference.

In fact, it's easy to think of all our senses like that—merely taking in sensations. But it doesn't have to be that way. Consider touch. I mean we generally see, hear, taste or smell anonymously—without any involvement of the thing we're sensing.

But when we touch something, it always, automatically, touches us back. Until recently, I thought touch was the only one of our conventional senses that could
do that.

As soon as you begin to let go of objectives and schedules, turn off the cell phone and truly notice, something begins to change. 

CONSUMED BY CONSUMPTION
Wouldn't it be wonderful if seeing were more like touch? It's hard to imagine, because we've gotten complacent in our seeing. We expect to find our images delivered effortlessly to us on screens, often while sitting alone or at least in our own little worlds. With virtually no contact with the actual things depicted on the screen, it's kind of a sad exercise in anonymity.

This consumption mentality of seeing affects even the way we perceive real stuff. For example, we seem to prefer looking at things we already know. Like so many TV re-runs, their familiarity soothes us, keeps us company, actually turns off our minds. Nothing's really new. We give nothing, we invest nothing and, one could argue, we get nothing.

So what is seeing generously? What does it look like?

Is our seeing all it can be?

It may happen unconsciously. Let's say you're looking at something—an animal, a sunset, another person. If, at that moment, your mind has its foot on your spirit, you won't be especially moved. But as soon as you begin to let go of objectives and schedules, turn of the cell phone and truly notice, something begins to change.

When we see things in this way, we grow, our consciousness grows and the world becomes a more mindful, loving place.

At first, it may be just small increments of investment, feelings like appreciation or satisfaction. That's okay; it's a start. But then, if you can allow yourself to be curious, the way you were naturally when you were a child, the transaction starts to truly transform. Now your seeing's become a gift, not just to yourself, but to the person or thing you're curious about.

When we see things in this way—not just with our eyes, or even our mind, but with our heart and our spirit—we grow, our consciousness grows and the world becomes a more mindful, loving place.

Have you ever noticed the way a person lights up when the conversation turns from the typical self-promoting, cocktail party chatter to genuine interest in something that really matters to that person? You know, when "Me, me, me…well, enough about me. What do you think about me?" turns to "What about you?"

When we see someone that way—or when we wonder at one of Nature's miracles—that's a blessing we give to that person, that creature or that thing.

That is how seeing generously looks and sounds. Seem familiar? It should; any five-year-old can do it. And that's the point. You already possess this gift. All you have to do is dig it out, wrap it in joy and give it away.

Do you see generously? We'd love to hear about your ideas and experiences!

Friday, October 18, 2013

100,000 PAGE VIEWS – A World of Wonder


When I first moved into this cyber-neighborhood a few years ago, I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I was pretty skeptical as to how effective this blogging platform could be for what I had to say. I also had serious doubts as to whether one could really form any kind of meaningful relationships through the exchange of "follows," "likes" and "retweets."

AFFIRMATION FIX
Those first few weeks, it seemed I checked my stats almost hourly. I'd get excited if I'd had five or ten page views. And I was blown away when the occasional visitor from another country showed up.

And why have I been getting thousands of visits 
from folks in the Ukraine, of all places?

Well, this afternoon I logged my 100,000th page view. Now I realize that, for a top blogger, that's about the number of views you might expect in a day or two, but to me it's huge. It shows me that what I've been trying to do here at One Man's Wonder has at least been getting out there, and I figure that even these modest numbers suggest folks have been liking and sharing my content with others.

And I've now had visitors from 72 countries. For some reason, this strikes me as even more amazing than the page views. Maybe it's the intrigue—wondering what kind of person each new tick represents, imagining the perils they might encounter for subscribing to the free expression of ideas in countries like China or Iran. And why have I been getting thousands of visits from folks in the Ukraine, of all places?

Well, I guess it's kind of like flying for me. I know there are good solid reasons why it works. Still, no matter how often I do it, I just sit here like an awestruck kid, thinking it's nothing less than a miracle.

It's not about the numbers; it's about the dialog, 
the relationships you make, how you're affecting 
your readers.

WHAT REALLY MATTERS
At the same time that I celebrate this little milestone, I must keep in mind what the wisest and most experienced bloggers have told me: it's not about the numbers; it's about the dialog, the relationships you make, how you're affecting your readers.

I've realized for myself the validity of this advice, often succumbing to the seductiveness of the numbers only to have that temporary burst of energy and confidence fall off like the rush of a cheap drug. What truly energizes me—and keeps me energized—is the writing and the responses of readers who find it interesting and inspiring.

So I'll keep denying my admitted need for affirmation and keep my focus where it belongs. Among my goals for the coming months:
  • to post consistently high-quality content that you find worthy not only of subscribing to, but of sharing with like-minded folks;
  • to find more and better ways of participating in the growing movement to rescue and restore our (especially children's) natural affinity with Nature;
  • to get outside the comfortable role of preachin' to the choir, and find new audiences who may not yet know how much a part of their souls Nature and wonder are.
  • to elicit more of your comments (I've always intended this to be a dialog, not a soliloquy) and
  • to continue broadening and strengthening my connections with other bloggers.


THANK YOU!
Many thanks to all who've visited One Man's Wonder, those who've taken the time to comment, my faithful RSS-feed subscribers, and to those who've shared, liked and tweeted about OMW.

Thanks to my fellow bloggers who, as a rule, have proven to be kind, generous and supportive. So many of you have mentioned or shared my posts with your followers, offered suggestions, posed challenging questions, and/or agreed to share my work as guest posts at your sites.

Thanks, too, to those who've been kind enough to review or mention my book, Under the Wild Ginger – A Simple Guide to the Wisdom of Wonder: Stacey Mathews, blogger, outdoorswoman and epic hiker, Patricia Hamilton of Patricia's Wisdom, William Ricci of Stone Path Review and Cassandra Herbert of Just Bee Wellness. I'm sure I'm forgetting someone.

My friends, your encouragement and support has been a great blessing, often coming, miraculously, at just those times when I most needed a pat on the back. THANK YOU!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Little Tips

 TIP #23
Hold things up to the light.

PHOTO: Steve Jurvetson

Leaf, fish scale, agate, maple seed. All have inner beauty—veins, cells, grains, layers, colors—revealed only in their translucence.

Let the sun or your own illumination be your x-ray, curiosity your power...and see deeply.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

THE SHAPE OF WIND – Currents of Life and Wonder

The other day, as I was driving to my new studio, I stopped at an intersection I've traversed a hundred times. As I waited for the light to turn I noticed—as is my compulsion—something I'd never seen in the same way before.

     I noticed…the way the fluid undulations of 
     foliage lent shape and sequence to the wind.

There were the same trees, the same shrubs and tall grasses that were there last week and last year. No strangers to me their forms and textures. I'd watched them unfurl and wither, get trimmed back now and then by whoever cares about such things, and faithfully adorn each season in its accustomed colors.

But what I noticed most that day was their motion, the way the fluid undulations of foliage animated each plant’s existence and at the same time lent shape and sequence to the wind.

PHOTO: Russ Seidel

Wind is one of those wonders of Nature you don't have to directly see, hear, smell or even feel to know it's there. You can be locked inside the best insulated of buildings and, with just a glance out the window, you still know when it’s there. Like a river's invisible current swaying a half-submerged branch, breeze can reveal itself merely by what it does to other things.

Perhaps the river analogy is good one, for that rolling motion of green, the way the flowing air alternately pushed and plucked at those living forms made it look like the whole thicket could have been underwater.

         Like the wind, your presence here is 
         invisible unless you do something.

ELUSIVE PRESENCE
Do you feel, as I do, that we can see ourselves in Nature? In the wind’s tousling of foliage, would you be the wind or the foliage?

How do you sense small wonders you can’t really see? Couldn’t we apply this notion of indirect sensing to ourselves and our relationships—perhaps better knowing our own qualities by the effects they have on others?

And speaking of elusive presence, I try very hard to put up content here on One Man’s Wonder that will interest and inspire you, encourage you to see the world afresh. Yet only something like one percent of you ever leave any trace of your presence here.

C’mon folks, let me know my musings are having the desired effect (or not). Leave a comment. Share this on Facebook or Twitter. Let other anonymous readers know you're all part of a sizable movement to reclaim awareness, curiosity and wonder in this sped-up, dumbed-down, us-versus-them world.

Remember, like the wind, your presence here is invisible unless you do something. Let us feel your wind!

Monday, September 23, 2013

DOUBLE BUBBLE – Finding the Miraculous in the Mundane

PHOTO: Tony Matthews http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonym2009/4609055811/
Brushing my teeth this morning. Saw something out of the corner of my eye, a tiny bubble about the size of a BB. Filled with the warmth of my breath, it hovered next to my face for a eight or ten seconds before cooling, falling. Then it popped, and inside was a second precious bubble half the size.
Sometimes there's joy to be found in the most mundane of tasks...if you're ready to see it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A WING AND A PRAYER – The Amazing Reach of Presence

When it comes to praying, I suppose I’m no different from the next person. I thank my god—that incomprehensible power I think of as the architect of everything— for the privilege of being alive, and ask for guidance in proving worthy of that gift.

I say thanks for the good fortune that I and those I love are in reasonably good health and have come to no harm today. And I count my many other blessings: peace where I live, my country’s hard-won freedoms, a loving family, devoted friends, a beautiful home in a caring community, a safe,  comfortable bed and plenty of food to eat.


     Nearly all that good fortune has befallen me...
     by the sheer luck of the draw.

I acknowledge that nearly all that good fortune has befallen me not because of anything I might have done to deserve it. Not because I’m better, smarter, more thoughtful or more conscientious than anyone else, but by the sheer luck of the draw.

I think of all the millions of folks around the world who, no less deserving than I, experience few if any of the blessings I enjoy. I ask my god to let the next hand they’re dealt include at least a few cards of comfort and hope.

LIFTING LOST SOULS
The part of my prayer I find most compelling is one I’ve added just recently, a product, I’m sure, of having read hundreds of books about sailers and explorers fighting for survival. (Besides the obvious escapism, I guess such stories help put my own day-to-day challenges into perspective.)

I ask my god to bless those who are lost, perhaps trapped in a collapsed building or mine, mired deep in a remote jungle, adrift at sea or unjustly imprisoned. Or maybe they’re lost in plain sight, surrounded by people living carefree lives, yet unnoticed, unloved and desperately lonely.


I ask my god to let each of these casualties actually feel my prayer, coming directly from me, right then and there, in real time.

Please, I pray, hold these forlorn souls in the warm embrace of all that is good, loving and beautiful about life. Give them the hope, the strength, the faith to hold on. Let me be perhaps the one person in the world who notices them and accepts the privilege of helping…somehow.

WHERE MYSTICS DARE

And—now here’s the part that makes this prayer feel like no other—I ask my god not just to intercede, but to let each of these casualties actually feel my prayer, coming directly from me, right then and there, in real time.

Think of it. You’re afraid, you’re in pain, you’re exhausted. You wonder if anyone even knows you’re there. Chances are you’ve lost all hope. You struggle to accept the reality of dying. And, worst of all, you are utterly alone.

Then it comes, like the first human touch after years of isolation, the strong sense, the certainty, that someone, a real, live person, knows you’re there. Someone has found you and cares what happens to you. (At that moment it may be more important just to know it’s someone than for it to be one who can physically save you.)
Does anyone else find this notion incredibly moving? What does it all mean to those of us who are wander and wonder?

    Never doubt the power of what we human 
    beings...can do with our minds and our spirits.

SOMEONE IS WAITING

The idea that one might be present for a stranger halfway around the world is not just some new-age pie in the sky. It’s a belief in the incredible power of human beings’ connection with one another (and everything else, for that matter). Like our capacity for love, wonder and happiness, that connection is hard-wired into us from birth.

But the older we get, it seems, the easier it is to misplace this gift of connection. We get distracted into thinking life is more complicated than that. We get so overwhelmed with the challenges of caring about those closest to us that we forget the power we have to affect others, even total strangers. Maybe we just get lazy and self-centered.


      I don't have the slightest shred of evidence. 
      But does that really matter? 

Never doubt the power of what we human beings, with our unique abilities to reflect and create, can do with our minds and our spirits. We have the ability, rare among all living things, to care about more than our self-interest. And we have the unique capacity to converse with the great spirit.

With those two gifts alone we can be forces of love, healing and salvation—for our fellow beings, for all living organisms, for the earth. And the range of that beneficence is limited by nothing but our faith.

So can we really connect spiritually with a hopeless stranger on the other side of the earth or across town, one separated from a fearful, solitary death by no more than a wing and a prayer? I don't have the slightest shred of evidence. But does that really matter?

Isn't this one of those ideas that's just too damn good to let a little doubt get in the way? Try it. After all, it takes just two things for it to work: your faith in love, kindness and the oneness of everyone and everything; and the openness of spirit of that one desperate person who, perhaps even subconsciously, is waiting for you.

A good bet, if you ask me.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

CALL ME CAP'N CRUNCH – Walking On Acorns

While out on my evening walk yesterday, I found myself doing something that's become, for me, a harbinger of autumn. I crunched dry acorns underfoot. In fact, I go out of my way, to the very edges of the sidewalk where most of the iconic little oak bombs lie, swept aside by the elements and a hundred other walkers.

Whole acorns don't crunch so easily; even the broken ones still have a little meat
to cushion the blow. But those little caps, they're the crème de la crème of crunch, delivering a crunch so deep and satisfying you can feel it in your head.

Be careful, though. If you step and there's no give, there you are on a bed of ball bearings, and the crunch you hear might indeed be in your head.

Here, fittingly, is one of my favorite posts in my series, 101 Tips on How to Be 
In the Moment.

 TIP #65
Celebrate your own footsteps.

A whisper through crispy autumn leaves; the earnest crunch of dried acorns; the thin chatter of a kicked pebble.

Though they bear the weight of the world, let your feet proclaim their joy…not just in getting somewhere, but in the going.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

UP – 120 Degrees of Separation

It’s easy to think of discovery as something that happens at arm’s length. When I’m walking in the woods or on the beach, I tend to be looking close, looking down. Maybe I pick something up and look even closer.


Sure, I look around—at the path ahead, at other people, at animals on the ground or in the lowest branches of the trees. But raising my gaze more than 20 or 30 degrees above the horizon is something I have to keep reminding myself to do more often.

   What are we missing when we let the horizon, 
   like gravity, keep a tether on our awareness?

That incomprehensibly vast half-universe above holds enough beauty, enough wonder, enough elegant details to captivate any curious observer, even those of us who aren’t astronomers.

GIFTS FROM ABOVE
So what are we missing when we let the horizon, like gravity, keep a tether on our awareness?

Birds, clouds, tricks of light played by sun and atmosphere. Aircraft, from the loud and lumbering to that sleek one with a contrail whose faint roar comes from seven miles behind its image.


Treetops, alive with wild critters of all kinds…and perhaps the odd stranded cat. Fair skies splashed with the bright hues of our amusements: kites, model airplanes, balloons, some released to wind’s fancy.

        ...stuff we’ve cast off and the sky has 
        the good sense to throw right back at us.

Stars, comets, meteors and satellites, their pinholes and slashes in night’s black drape so sharp, so unchallenged, you can’t tell if they’re a couple hundred miles away or 23 quadrillion.*


Northern lights, among our planet’s most amazing and serenely beautiful events (and one consolation of living up here above the 45th parallel where earth’s magnetic field starts to weaken).

Stuff falling from on high, like raindrops, in all their manifestations from hovering mist to monsoon dollops; from feathery snowflakes to hailstones the size of baseballs. Soot and ash, and other stuff we’ve cast off and the sky has the good sense to throw right back at us.

What small wonders visit you 

when you remember to look up?

* Twenty-three quadrillion miles (4,000 light years) is the approximate distance of the farthest single star visible from earth 
with the naked eye.

Monday, September 2, 2013

CICADA SIZZLE – The Dying Gasps of Summer

These waning days of summer show their age: today warmth and light won't
last 16 hours; here and there leaves run out of green; and there's a new sound
in the air.

Cicada sizzle.

Like a two-inch civil defense siren, it winds slowly up, crescendoes, then
tapers slowly off, so sharp a sound as to leave its imprint in the ear—a kind of
mental echo.

The bittersweet sound evokes, for me, the end of carefree boyhood summers,
a sad turn from natural impulses and rhythms to disciplines not my own.


                   Can you pick up the beat
                   of such
cicadian rhythms?


And what a paradox: a sound so intense, so penetrating, it goes right through you. Yet it sneaks into city soundscapes so deftly that we barely notice, inhabiting the background like cricket strum or nighthawk's airy plea.

As I ride my bike along high, sunny river bluffs the shrill whines play leapfrog with me. At times, they flow together, one continuous sound as if from a single cicada flying along just above me.

I cross the bridge and return home on the other side—the shady side—where I notice there are fewer singers. Too cool here, I guess, for good vibrations.

Can you pick up the beat of such cicadian rhythms? Keep your ears open.


The most common cicada we have here in Minnesota is Tibicen canicularis
also known as the dogday cicada, harvestfly or annual cicada.