Saturday, April 27, 2013

THE REAL REALITY – It's In Our Nature

The bogus tweet and the stock market's reaction

This past Tuesday, a hacker managed to get into the AP’s twitter account and tweet “breaking” news that there had been explosions in the White House, and that President Obama was injured. In a matter of seconds the stock market fell 150 points, and some $136 billion in stocks were dumped in a robotic knee-jerk of automated mass trading.

Does anyone else find this troubling? Not just for its obvious implications for the integrity of our financial system, but for its potential political and psychological impact. Besides making a few people with nothing but ill intent and good timing quite rich, it seems this mere 72-character incursion into a mostly mindless social medium seriously threatened yet another body blow to our already fragile national psyche. 

Now I’m guessing most people would be concerned about what this says about the security of our investment apparatus. I wonder what it says about something far more profound: the state of our collective consciousness.

The AP/Twitter fiasco is far from the only abuse of our increasingly virtual connections with reality. Add to this a rash of other false news reports—some by news organizations we’d like to think might still value some degree of integrity—and one sees a disturbing pattern emerging: a kind of Faustian bargain in which we exchange our hard-won intelligence and God-given sense of curiosity for the quickest possible information—regardless of its source.

At least folks who've partaken of those 
fictions knew they were fictions.

What is it about this maniacal need to be the first to know, even at the expense of truth? Is it possible any more not to buy into it?

Indeed, the line between the real and the virtual started blurring a very long time ago. Escapist novels, theatre, film and television—each, in its heyday, the favorite pastime of nearly anyone in the world who could afford them—were the early culprits. But at least folks who've partaken of those fictions knew they were fictions.

Recent decades have spawned new choices and levels of virtual experience. So-called historical fiction, the TV docudrama, on-line dating. With the blossoming of the digital age, ever smaller computers, the social media and the cell phone have assured that almost no one, wherever they might be, whatever the time of day, is beyond the reach of news and information, further clouding the difference between real-life, face-to-face communication and a poor likeness that, again, sacrifices substance for convenience and speed.

Then there's video gaming, involving ever more realistic outlets for everything from playfulness to murderous rage. Virtual communities like Second Life allow subscribers to lose themselves in fantasy worlds of their own design, even carrying on a sort of hybrid of virtual and real commerce. No doubt someone's at work on the virtual vacation.

It's bad enough that we've lost touch with real experience, but we don't even know where our information is any more. We can't touch it; hell, we can't even hide it. No wonder, I guess, that the wisp of certainty we're left with these days is that it now resides "in the cloud."

Many of you know me as the “wonder guy,” the author of this blog on how to slow down, unplug from technology and appreciate life’s many small wonders. I want to help spread the word about the tragedy—and high cost—of our increasing alienation from Nature.

What we need is for individuals, families, communities, organizations and governments to realize that allowing Nature into every aspect of our lives—the way we're wired to operate—is absolutely vital to our physical and mental health…not to mention that of our planet.

Nature is the ultimate reality check, 
the consummate teacher of truth.

So, what’s the connection with hacking and bogus news reports and virtual you-name-it? I have this crazy theory that all these travesties may be symptomatic of our profound disconnection from Nature—and that repairing that rift might go a long way toward getting a generation's (real) feet back on the (real) ground.

Nature is the ultimate reality check, the consummate teacher—of wet and dry, cold and hot, open and closed, high and low, slow and fast—in fact, of any measure of where and how we are in space and time. There is no virtual here, only what is, only the truth.

And more of that truth, it seems to me, would serve us well in how we live our lives. Nature teaches human beings awareness, curiosity, wonder and gratitude. She knows nothing of deadlines. Her time isn't parceled out to fit neatly between station breaks. Her messages aren't sucked dry of nuance and color just so they'll fit on a 3" screen in less than 140 characters. And she has no interest in making life all about winners and losers.

So how do we use Nature's example to help us reclaim our own sense of reality? Let's start with a couple of broad strokes: First, we should do what we say we do, and let technology be our tool, not our life. And we need to break out of our media-induced expectation of instant gratification, and learn be more patient and mindful.

Examine the myths of certainty and expectation  that may color your life, and ask yourself their price.

More specifically, here some simple steps anyone can take to start building a new, healthier, more honest reality:
  • Get off the screen and into the scene. That means taking regular breaks where you disconnect from demands on your time and attention by anyone or anything that's not actually there with you.
  • Get outdoors as often as possible. (Why not take scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki's 30/30 Challenge and spend at least 30 minutes a day outside in Nature every day in May?)
  • Give yourself permission to not have an agenda. Find a beautiful, quiet place and just sit, just be.
  • Don't bring a book. I know some will bristle at this, but the escape you want is to the here and now, not being transported to some other time and place.
  • Take a kid with you sometimes; they're the original experts on honesty and presence.
  • Examine the myths of certainty and expectation (including that of instant gratification) that may color your life, and ask yourself their price.
  • Celebrate the difference between real-life, firsthand experience with Nature—the kind that uses all your senses—and the sped-up, dumbed-down version parceled out to us by the 24/7 global news/entertainment industry.
       (Can you think of other steps? We'd love to hear them – leave a comment!)

Think of these measures as an investment in a safer, saner reality, one whose return might be realized not just in greater clarity about what's genuine and good, but in better physical and mental health, in the richness and reach of your spiritual life; in sheer fun and relaxation, and in so many other ways.

And it's an investment whose principle can never be touched by the failings of ego or excess…or, God forbid, 72 lousy characters of virtual reality aimed at suckers who don't know any better.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

GOOD 4 U – Kids: Take Your Parents Outdoors!

We humans—like many animals—have five basic senses (that is, the senses most of us learn to use the most). Can you name them?

When I was a kid, we used all of our senses, all the time. We spent tons of time outdoors. When we got on our parents' nerves, they just said, "Hey, I've had it! Go outside and play!"

We had TV, but our parents only let us watch it when there was something really good on that the whole family could watch together. We had no computers, no video games, no cell phones. If we were bored, we went outside. What do 
you do when you’re bored?

The best, most interesting, most beautiful things 
in the world are already right there, within reach 
of our own, natural, non-electronic senses.

Today, we have all this technology, all these wonderful machines that make life easier, allow us to do things faster, connect us with other people—across the room and around the world.

But all these machines, all that amazing technology, has a dark side. Too many people are starting to confuse it with their real senses. It makes us forget that, often, the best, most interesting, most beautiful things in the world are already right there, within reach of our own, natural, non-electronic senses.

What’s happening in this photo? What would you be doing if you were in their place?

Okay, video games, TV, computers, cell phones and the Internet are great tools for some uses, like learning, looking up information, and just having fun. But there are still some things technology will never be able to do.

Too many kids—and adults too!—are losing touch with all the information, learning and fun that's already right out there in their back yard, down the street at the park, or at a beautiful nature center nearby. What have you learned about Nature close to your house?

Technology often gives us information or experiences made up by someone else. They may be fun, but they don't make you use your senses, your imagination, your creativity…all things that need exercise and that make you smarter and happier.

Your body gets soft and weak…and so does your brain!


You can be in touch with your friends by cell phone or texting, but usually that's all it is, just saying hi, where are you? whatcha doing? It's not really like talking, just very short, not very important messages. What’s different about talking with your friends in person instead of texting or tweeting them?

To really communicate with someone, you have to use all your senses, don’t you? You want to see their eyes, the expression on their face; sometimes you need to touch them.

Nature’s full another kind of energy, one we all need much more than we need electricity.

It's the same when we communicate with Nature. Is seeing a picture of a beautiful waterfall the same as being there, standing in front of it? No! Seeing the picture, even listening to someone talk about that waterfall only calls on us to use a couple of our senses, and even those are kind of weak…because what we're sensing is just a story; it's not real. What senses would you use if you were standing next to a waterfall?

Have you ever noticed how, when you have a bad cold, you can't taste your food, even your favorite things? That's what it's like if you're not really outdoors where you don't just see and hear Nature, but also feel it and smell it and taste it.

Nature has no electrical outlets, no Internet, no cell phone reception. But it's full another kind of energy, one we all need much more than we need electricity.

Now, are smelling, tasting, touching, hearing and seeing our only senses? Some people think so, but I believe there are other senses, ones that are a bit harder to describe and might be very different for different people. One of them is called the sense of wonder.

Wonder is what you're feeling when you come across something that's completely new and amazing, something you've never sensed before—like the first time you turn over a rock or a log and find a little bug or worm that lives under there, the tracks where it's moved, maybe its eggs, and all you can say is Woh-h-h-h!

Wonder is when you're looking up at a big flock of birds and, all of a sudden every single one of them turns at the same time as if they were one giant bird. It's when, in the wintertime, you shuffle your feet across the carpet and then touch something—or some one—and BZ-Z-Z-T!! There's a spark. Have you ever 
done that?


Wonder is my favorite of all the senses, but it's very hard for some people to find. Why, because it isn't something you can go looking for. In fact, the harder you look, the less likely you are to find it. No, wonder is something that has to find you! And the only way it can do that is if you leave the door open and make room for it.

That can be hard, because we're all so busy. We've got school, music or dance lessons, sports, sleep-overs, and all kinds of other events. We're always worried about being on time, not missing anything. Our time is full, our minds are full…

If you guys keep growing up as disconnected from Nature as many kids are, Nature will have a very hard time staying healthy herself. 

Well, what wonder looks for is a place where you and your senses have nothing else to worry about except just being—being quiet, being observant, being curious, sometimes being playful...just being. That's when life's amazing little miracles happen…or should I say that's when you notice them, 'cause they're happening all the time, even if you don't notice them. It's just a lot more fun when you do.

So I hope you'll ask your parents to help you find times when you can make room for wonder. Times to be outdoors, not with any kind of toys, but just with Nature. Times with nothing else to do or worry about except playing, exploring, learning…just being with Nature.

If you've made room for wonder, you'll never be bored and you'll never be lonely, because Nature can be a very good friend. Do you have any friends that aren't people?

Learning to sense wonder in Nature is good for everyone. It's good for you because it helps you grow strong and healthy and smart and happy. It's good for your parents, because they want you to be all those things—and also because they want to be all those things too!

And it's good for Nature, because if you guys—this generation of children—keep growing up as disconnected from Nature as many kids are, Nature will have a very hard time staying healthy herself. Because only when we know and love something do we do what's necessary to take care of it.

We need to take care of Nature. Only if you girls and boys and your parents care enough to make sure we don't pollute the air and water, don't build things where they ruin the homes of wild animals, keep people and companies from using more and more and more stuff we don't really need, can we make sure that when you grow up, your children and grandchildren will still have a beautiful, WONDER-ful world to love too.

The truth is that being outdoors is just as safe 
and beautiful as it was when they were kids.

So, do your parents—and yourself—a favor. Take them outdoors whenever you can. Remember, they probably spent ten times more time out there when they were kids than you do now. Maybe they've forgotten. Maybe they're so busy that it seems they have no time. Maybe, like most parents, they just worry about keeping you safe.

But you can help remind them that:
  • You need free time—when you have nothing else to do, and they're not around. That’s when you’ll get outside, explore and play with your friends and the many animal friends and fun toys Nature provides.
  • Many of their concerns about keeping you kids safe come from news on TV, radio or the Internet that focuses only on a few bad people and bad things. The truth is that being outdoors is just as safe and beautiful as it was when they were kids.
  • You don’t have to go to the wilderness, out in the country, or even to the suburbs to experience Nature. It’s can be as close as your front porch or back yard. 
  • Nature is good for you. Science is proving that it helps you be healthier, smarter and happier.
So, kids, can you do that: remind your parents that you need Nature every day just like they did when they were kids? You will? 
(For another perspective on kids, technology and Nature, see my post from March, 2012, SCREEN-BOUND KIDS – The “Missing” Generation)

Friday, April 12, 2013

WITH THE FLOW – An Appreciation of Rivers

There are ocean people; there are lake people; and then there are river people.
I’m a river person.

When I was seven, my parents bought a summer home, an old white frame farmstead nestled in the valley of the St. Croix River, the beautiful, largely unspoiled stream that for its last 125 miles forms the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

There were other kids in our little settlement, and I enjoyed playing, hiking and exploring with them. Among them, a couple of very sweet girls my age infused this mix of fun and adventure with a note of unfamiliar urgency. But it was the river that became my best friend.

      In it and along it dwelt all the characters who 
    taught me to be quiet, curious and reverent.

It was out there, on the water, where I escaped from whatever demons might possess a pretty happy,  privileged boy. That’s where I did my thinking, or, as became the case more and more for me, turned off my thinking.

The St. Croix defined certain stages of my growth: the first fish I caught; my first unaided swim across to the Wisconsin shore and back (required of all the kids in the village before they were allowed to take a boat out alone); the first time I got up on water skis; the first—and I hope only—time I helped drag for the body of a drowning victim.

The river was also my conveyance, not just to sand bars, fishing holes and meandering sloughs, but also, in a very real sense, to wonder. In it and along it dwelt all the characters who taught me to be quiet, curious and reverent.

What is it about rivers that gets into a boy’s blood? Sea lovers talk of the ocean’s power and mystery, its rhythms of swell and surf and tides. Rivers, too, have their rhythms, winding, rising and falling, rushing and slowing, freezing and thawing. But the power that most resonates with me is their constancy, their sheer inevitability.

The sea can take you places, but usually it takes a sail, oars, an engine or some other device to power you. A river is the power that moves you.

At least theoretically, you could fill in a portion of the sea bed and all it would do is to raise the level of the rest of the sea a fraction of a millimeter. But block a portion of a river and, like a channeled tsunami, it just keeps coming. Just ask someone whose home sat this morning a mile from the Red River of the North and just got swept away like so much flotsam.

Perhaps it’s this silent, inexorable power that hooked me as a boy and still moves me today. Part of the fascination, I suppose, is the danger, one I’ve never sensed from any but the biggest, most wind-prone lakes. Along with our amazing Midwest thunderstorms and the occasional tornado, rivers taught me to not just embrace and trust Nature, but to respect her.

        Lake waves are like joy suppressed,  
        slipping out in mere muffled snickers.

A river is always new. The water—and everything on or in it—that’s here now will all be 100 miles downstream by this time tomorrow.

The ocean’s too ponderous, too serious, to countenance water’s playful side; a river invites it to frolic, leaping over rocks, dodging deadheads, carving corners, chortling through rapids. And embedded in all these antics are some practical physics lessons, the kind one absorbs best when more aware of the fun than the learning.
And I’ll stack the roar of a waterfall up against the crash of surf any day. As pleasant as those rollers—or the gentle lapping of lake waves—can be, they’re like joy suppressed, slipping out in mere muffled snickers. A waterfall lets it all out, one constant, exuberant belly laugh.

On the other hand, for all this repression, the sea does have its breaking point. Then it erupts—overreacting in stormy snits, heavy-handed hurricanes, tsunami tantrums. Here rivers prove the shrewd, resolute adults of the waters family, exerting their influence, their discipline, with deep wisdom and eternal patience.

If the sea is the heart of earth’s weather, rivers are its veins, collecting and channeling the very same molecules of water back to the sea, the clouds and the land, again and again, forever.

              There the rivers are, lacing together a 
         patchwork quilt of browns, yellows and 
         greens—quite literally watercolors.

This elemental, nourishing flow is never more evident to me than when I’m  flying. I look down and there the rivers are, lacing together a patchwork quilt of browns, yellows and greens—quite literally watercolors.

Perhaps it’s part of the wonder of that timeless flow that, while the sea wages its constant tug-of-war between earth’s and moon’s gravity, a river answers to just one master, its flow so fundamental, so uncontested. It simply takes the shortest path it can find to lower ground, stopping only at the sea, which can only sit and await its constant arrival.

So, what’s your relationship with rivers? Is there one that’s scoured and shaped your life? How does its magic stream over, around and through you? And how do you celebrate its wonders? We’d love to hear your comments...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

 TIP #83
Turn a chore into an experience.

No matter how dirty or menial the task, invest yourself in 
the sensations; get in sync with its rhythms and repetitions.  

Relieve the task of expectations. Gently turn obligation to 
intention, and welcome it into your beautiful life.