Monday, June 24, 2013

JACK AND THE BIFLOP – Hypnosis for Dummies

You are feeling completely relaxed and yet very alert…Your eyelids are so buoyant you couldn’t shut them if you tried…You will read what follows as if it held the key to eternal happiness…

The human mind is an awesome—sometimes frightening—thing. Exploring it is like sticking your head into a dark cave. You want to see what’s in there, but you realize that, whatever it is, it may not want to see you. Nonetheless, those of us who are incurably curious, who never want to stop learning and growing, can’t help ourselves; we continue sticking our heads in that cave.

If you’re curious about Nature, you have to be curious about your own mind. You want to know how it works, how it gives rise to your feelings and actions, why it changes, and where its blind spots are. By the same token, if you’re too busy, too self-obsessed, too encumbered by stress to notice what’s going on around you, you’ll almost surely fail to notice and appreciate what’s going on in you.

One of the most compelling glimpses into the mind I’ve ever seen seemed, on its surface, just a frivolous prank. I was at Fort Devens in north-central Massachusetts, training to be an army communications security analyst. I learned that Jim, one of my barracks mates and a fellow student in Morse code class, was a recreational hypnotist.

The human mind is like a dark cave. You want to see what’s in there, but whatever it is, it may not want to see you.

Jim had been asking around our unit for guys who’d be willing to let him put them out—not just willing subjects, he admitted, but good, easy, gullible ones. He didn’t have to look far. Jack Smith, a regular Army private from Detroit, eagerly volunteered. Jack was a nice young man, tall and, though somewhat doughy, reasonably trim. I suspected he hadn’t had access to much education.

Jim hypnotized Jack several times, putting him through hilarious routines, some of which went so well that I suspected, at first, they’d been rehearsed. He created imaginary "force fields" around things that would make Jack unable to touch them, no matter how hard he tried. He'd make Jack shiver and sweat simply by telling him the room was getting colder or hotter.

Seeing Jack’s actions completely taken over by someone he hardly knew was simultaneously hilarious and chilling. Perhaps the most amazing demonstration was Jim’s planting a knockout “trigger” word in Jack’s mind. Just before we went on Christmas leave, Jim hypnotized Jack and told him that, even after he was out of his trance, whenever he heard Jim say the word biflop, he’d immediately fall into a deep sleep and do whatever Jim told him to do.

Jim had Jack wrapping his arms around himself and shivering, and then, a minute later, he was turning red and sweating.

When we returned from leave, Jim got everyone together, ostensibly to share stories of our trips home. He made sure Jack was sitting down on a bunk with guys on either side of him.

Jim started talking about his Christmas with his family, and then decided to tease poor, gullible Jack. He needed a word that sounded like it was going to be biflop, but wasn’t. We all had a corner of our eyes on Jack. “So,” Jim continued, “I was anxious to get back ‘cause I couldn’t wait to go out on… biv-v-v-ouac.”
As that very deliberate, emphasized first syllable passed Jim’s lips, Jack’s eyelids fluttered and his chin started to slump. Quickly recovering from the false start, Jack couldn’t figure out why everyone was in stitches.

Jim continued his monologue for another half minute and then dropped the bomb right in the middle of another innocent-sounding sentence. “…It was an amazing dinner: turkey, dressing, squash, you know, all the biflop…” Jack collapsed, saved from falling to the floor only by the men sitting next to him.

I never let Jim hypnotize me. First of all, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t work. I wasn’t suggestible enough, not to mention trusting enough. Secondly, I’ve never much liked being embarrassed.

Finally, I must admit to fearing such a profound loss of control, and the possibility of being exposed—especially without the presence of a professional psychologist—to whatever monsters might unwittingly have been provoked from the margins of my consciousness.

How about you? Ever been hypnotized? How has it helped—or hurt—you? Has it helped you be more aware? More curious? Are we, in some ways, hypnotized unconsciously by our daily routines, our schedules, our gadgets, the media? How might this affect our children and grandchildren as they inherit stewardship of this amazing, fragile planet?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

KEY TO THE REALM – A Dad's Faith In Nature

My parents embarrassed me. They were older than the parents of most of my friends. I was sure my buddies’ dads took them out camping, hiking and fishing all the time. Mine didn’t; he was always working. I thought he was a wimp.

Many years later, when Dad was in his 80s, he started parceling out some of his memorabilia to me and my siblings. They brought to light a story of his earlier years that blew my assumptions right out of the water.

Among his keepsakes were merit badges and other emblems of what appeared to have been a stellar stint in the Boy Scouts. And a few small black-and-white pictures of him canoeing with another young man in Minnesota’s north woods. They looked to be in their late teens or early twenties, young and fit and suntanned.

There were also receipts from outfitters in Ely and Winton, Minnesota, near entry points to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). They listed flour, sugar, lard and various canned goods, all in quantities sufficient for extended stays in the wilderness.

And there was a map, printed on treated canvas, of a portion of Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park, the BWCAW’s even wilder counterpart across the border in Ontario. (On it was hand-drawn a new portage the two had blazed across the base of a long peninsula, cutting off an hour’s paddling time around it. They’d tentatively named it with their initials)

Notice the details; celebrate the simple elegance of how things are and how they work; expect wonder.

My time with my dad was more likely spent helping with a home-improvement or yard-care project than camping or exploring. But it was not without its quiet lessons on life, love and Nature. While we were in the backyard gouging rock-hard putty out from around a cracked pane of glass, I could tell he was in tune with the life that teemed around us. He’d comment on the clouds, a smell, a cricket he'd picked up. He’d reply to the lovesick call of a cardinal.

Dad showed me, by example, how rich silence can be. While we may not have solved the world's problems, nor bared our respective souls, we were nonetheless in touch through our shared connection with Nature.

He taught me to be curious. Again, the application usually involved some little engineering challenge—like how best to haul our boat to and from the river each spring and fall without a trailer or rack. But the lesson was pay attention; notice the details; celebrate the simple elegance of how things are and how they work; expect wonder.

As I grew up, I'm sure Dad tried to share more outdoor adventures with my brother and me, but, strangely, that effort and our schedules seldom managed to align. Yet, again, the value my dad placed on our connection with Nature and adventure, was clear. What experience he couldn’t provide himself, he made sure we got anyway.

When I was ten, I attended a YMCA summer camp where my cabin group set a record for the camp’s longest expedition to date—canoeing from Hudson WI, 360 miles down the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers to E. Dubuque IL. Two years later, I went to YMCA Camp Widjiwagan, where I learned about wilderness canoeing and camping, this time in Dad's long-ago stomping ground, the BWCAW.

It was one thing for my dad to promote my learning these outdoor skills; it was another altogether allowing me to apply them on my own. By the time I was 15, five friends and I had planned and outfitted our own eight-day wilderness canoe trip.

In a show of faith I still can’t imagine having granting my own teen-age kids, Dad and Mom, conferring with my friends’ parents, gave us their blessing. They trusted us, and they trusted in Nature not to throw more at us than we could handle. (Since we were still too young to drive, they ferried us six hours north to our put-in point, and came back eight days later to pick us up at the end.)

It's taken me many years to give my dad credit for the wonderful lessons he taught me—lessons about integrity, about hard work, about faith, and, ultimately, modestly, about the value of a life in love with Nature. Thank you, Dad!

In what ways has your father (or grandfather) opened the gate to Nature's 
realm for you? How are you passing that legacy along to your kids? Happy 
Fathers Day!

Thursday, June 13, 2013


It was a very long winter here in southeastern Minnesota. It takes a certain kind
of internal strength—some might call it insanity—to weather those five months
of short, too-often-gray days. Now, spring’s crept in tentatively…and seems
reluctant to leave.

It seems like just a few weeks ago that it finally hit me, even if the air wouldn’t yet admit it, that we were finally out of the gray winter woods. That day, I brushed my arm against the black wrought iron frame of a bench I was sitting on and nearly burned myself.

You can see why, around here, we might take the sun less for granted than most.

Few of us have ever experienced more than 
a few days without the company of shadows.

Like so many of Nature’s omnipresent wonders—like water, trees and air—even if it sometimes seems in short supply, the sun is still awfully easy to disregard. After all, few of us have ever experienced more than a few consecutive days without the company of shadows, not to mention natural warmth, light and all the sun’s other gifts. In fact, the sun’s so integral to life on earth, that its absence is utterly unthinkable.

That familiarity, no matter how we might try to fight it, breeds apathy. Like food
or water, unless we were to experience life without the sun, none of us can ever
fully appreciate its wonder. But hey, do you think that will keep this WonderMan from trying?

So how often do you think about the sun? Can you imagine how it might look and feel if you’d never experienced it before? If all the ambient warmth, light and plant-growing energy you’d ever felt had been somehow man-made?

It turns my skin darker, but has 
the opposite effect on my hair.

Here are just a few of the reflections I can imagine one might have on the wondrous novelty of natural sunlight, seen for the first time:
  • How can anything so small—it takes up only about .0005 percent of the sky—be so bright, so warm, so all-enveloping?
  • That tiny orb’s glow heats things it lands on, but not the air it passes through on the way. (Kind of like how your microwave heats your cocoa but not the mug.)
  • When I face it with my eyes closed, it turns my eyelids into fiery orange lighting gels (a perfect background to show off my little, black, stringy eye floaters).
  • It moves across the sky all day and then, apparently, sleeps somewhere at night.

  • Just after turning in, its glow lasts a while, turning clouds amazing shades of pink and orange.
  • It seems to do something to my plants that grow lights can’t—like they’re on steroids or something.
  • It turns my skin darker, but has the opposite effect on my hair.
  • The thing’s so powerful that if I let it shine on me for an hour it burns my skin.
  • It uses the spaces between trees’ leaves like lenses, focusing its light into so many circular pools, like thousands of tiny spotlights.

Can you imagine experiencing natural sunlight for the very first time? Could you see it the way a five-year-old would? What observations might you have?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

AS IF FOR THE FIRST TIME – White Pine Flower

I just came across these white pine flowers. I'm sure I've seen 
them before, but today I saw them as if for the first time.

What will you see that way today?