On Water

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‘Furough’ is inexact:
No ship could be
converted to a plow
traveling this vitreous ebony.

seal it in sea-caves and
you cannot still it:
image on image bends
where half-lights fill it

with illegible depths
and lucid passages
bestiary of stones,
book without pages:

and yet it confers
as much as it denies
we are orphaned and fathered
by such solid vacancies:

— Charles Tomlinson, born this day in 1927

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Together we reclaim our humanity

Let us disperse from our aloofness and serve the weak who made us strong, and cleanse the country in which we live. Let us teach this miserable nation to smile and rejoice with heaven’s bounty and glory of life and freedom.

Kahlil Gibran, born this day in 1883

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The “I” in me, my friend, dwells in the house of silence,
and therein it shall remain for ever more,
unperceived, unapproachable.

What is Depression?

We have been told that depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain.  The bad news is that there’s something wrong with your head.  The good news is that we can fix you.  Just take this $15-billion pill.

It’s not just the pharmaceutical industry that profits from this myth.  The fact is that an epidemic of depression has coincided with an epidemic of unemployment, of government lying and suppressed information, with a paucity of ways that people can contribute meaningfully to their community and widespread doubt whether our traditional institutions are worthy of our participation.  Treating depression as an individual disease is part of a climate of denial that allows the ongoing rape of democracy by capital.  If we weren’t taking Prozac, we’d be marching in the streets.

Depression is a mismatch between people’s legitimate expectation that modes of fulfilling participation and cooperation be the mainstay of their lives, and the collapse of society’s ability to provide opportunities for fulfilling participation.

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(The above is my opinion in my language (JJM).  Here is an article by Olivia Goldhill writing in Quartz last week.)

Truant

Hide all your snares, vain town
Gilded with cross and crown,
Lest your foul streams deter
The day’s new worshiper.

Break in my heart, O chains,
Your self-inflicted pains,
And every shackle fall
From me for good and all.

Let the grey dawn propose
Conjunction with the rose,
And the blue noon fulfill
indolently its will.

Where the warm vales repeat
The ecstasy of heat,
And the slow forest heaves
in transport all its leaves,

i can uplift my eyes
To th’enduring paradise,
And cast white flames in the air
Of proud unsecret prayer.

A E Coppard, born this day in 1878

 

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Liberation from self-forcing

(This essay is adapted from a podcast by Charles Eisenstein, part of his course, Dietary Transformation from the Inside Out.  The ideas are mostly Eisenstein’s; the words are mostly my own —JJM)


As a way to change behavior in the long run, willpower is problematic.  It’s also perfectly consonant with our dominant cultural model, which seeks wellbeing through control.

Our culture tells us that nature is random, soul-less—maybe even hostile, because we live in a world of competition, both biological and economic.  If you believe that, then control is the safest course.

Our habit of seeking control is modeled on a hostile external world.  But “self-control” is a problematic concept, when you think about it.  Imagine clamping your jaw closed with your hand to prevent your mouth from eating too much!  We don’t do that, but what we do is akin to setting up a war within ourselves.  We seek to use the surface mind, the conscious and “rational” part to hold in check the impulses that run below the surface.

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Implicit in this program is the assumption that our rational minds know better.  Our instincts are crude—honed for survival in a long-ago world.  Our instincts were programmed into us by natural selection at a time when food was scarce and the everyday world held lethal threats.  No wonder we eat too much!  No wonder we are liable to chronic anxiety!

 

 

How do we assert self-control?  We can learn about this by looking at the way we control others.  Rarely do we do this with overwhelming physical force.  More often, we try to control the people around us by offering and withholding affection—threats and promises.  Or we do it by moral suasion—manipulation by triggering socially-conditioned emotions, now within all our heads.  We may attempt to raise feelings in another person that say, “I am a bad person if I do this.”

“Self-forcing” is the use of these same techniques on the self.  We offer ourselves strokes, internally, if we do the desired thing.  We tell ourselves, “I am bad, bad, bad” if we do the forbidden thing.

Underlying all these ways of maniipulating others and manipulating the self is fear.  Fear of withheld affection, fear of ostracism or shunning.  If this sounds like a stretch, remember the experience that all of us had coming into the world.  Our mothers were our lifeline to protection, nutrition, and comfort.  We were utterly dependent on a loving mother to provide for our survival, and most of us had mothers who leveraged that dependence to control our behavior, to socialize us, to keep us quiet and out of the way.  Or worse, in some cases.

Conditional approval in our childhood becomes internalized as conditional self-approval in the adult.  Contrast this model with the ideal of unconditional love.  If we were loved unconditionally (by our mothers, by ourselves), would we then behave irresponsibly, constantly stepping on each others’ toes in a campaign to get more, more more?

That is certainly the model of human behavior on which our control methods are based.  It comes from a 17th-century British philosophical tradition of Locke and Hobbes.  But it is not in line with contemporary ideas of how most humans work.

It is the people who were most effectively manipulated by parental guilt when they were young who become selfish adults.  “Spoiled” children are not those who are given everything they want, but rather those who are given toys and candy as substitutes for unavailable love.  Children raised with unconditional love tend to become unconditionally loving adults.  Both our experience and modern psychological studies tell us this.

It’s not too late.  Try treating yourself the way you wish you had been treated by an unconditionally loving mother.  Have patience if you run to excesses of undisciplined behavior for awhile. Give the program a chance.  Trust that if you swing out, you will swing back to a more grounded, more stable equilibrium.  Relax all self-forcing.

Nature is not a random, indifferent world, but an innate intelligence, a holistic order.  You can trust your instincts to take care of you, once you cease the internal warfare and become your own best friend.

New Year’s Resolution

By and large, willpower doesn’t work. When you’re ready for a new habit, it will become difficult, then impossible to maintain the old one.  In fact, one good application of willpower is to force yourself to continue in an old habit that feels wrong, to allow yourself to feel deeply the motivation to change.

When people set out to lose weight by sticking to a diet, over 95% of them fail. Most actually gain weight after a short initial period of success.  Feeling like a failure is part of the pattern that keeps the weight in place, and the harder you try to force yourself, the greater the resistance.

Other attempts to impose change on yourself are almost as futile.  Perhaps you can encourage growth and transformation by focusing more awareness on your moment-to-moment experience.  But to some extent, even focused awareness is a gift.
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Resolve nothing.  You are already on exactly the right path, even if you don’t know where it is taking you along the way.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.  As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.  Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their stories.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.  If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.  If you enter a new relation in a spirit of trust, you make it easy for others to trust you.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, but you need never surrender the playful abandon of your youth, nor close your mind to what is truly new.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But culture an expectation of warm connections and serendipitous good will. Remind yourself that most fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; surely you deserve sympathy and forgiveness as well as those you love best.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Her to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world, and you may laugh in good conscience.

— Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, edited JJM.

From flickr.com: waterfall {MID-219671}

 

In 1927 American writer Max Ehrmann (1872–1945) wrote the prose poem Desiderata, which was first published in The Poems of Max Ehrmann in 1948.  In 1956, the Reverend Frederick Kates, rector of Saint Paul’s Church in Baltimore, Maryland, included Desiderata in a compilation of devotional materials for his congregation. The compilation included the church’s foundation date: “Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore AD 1692″. Consequently, the date of the text’s authorship was (and still is) widely mistaken as 1692, the year of the church’s foundation.