Saturday, November 27, 2010

Absolute Freedom

Sometimes, if rarely, in the middle of a conversation, and for no apparent reason, out of no animosity or anything... it occurs to me that I could just... take a swing at my friend, knock him right to the ground. Or sometimes that it'd be kind of fun to just walk away while the person is in the middle of a sentence. To just intentionally do something extremely antisocial. Sometimes I get this sudden objective appraisal of the scene I'm in, and the countless options available, most of them absurd. It's a weird feeling. I've never acted on them. I wonder if this occurs to other people.

This isn't about desiring to do these things; but it's interesting, that you are free to do whatever you want, whenever. You could go down to the airport and get on a plane for Argentina or something, right now. Or just go out your front door and start walking, to see where you'll end up. You could bark like a dog at the next person you see.

What's stopping you? Nothing but the rules you have written in your mind, rules you have let society write in there. Society in the guise of well-meaning teachers, parents, friends, and others, of course. Mostly they make life livable and sane; imagine the chaos if people were really free. But there's always the option. Not that in the next break in the conversation you should kick your friend in the crotch. I'm not saying that.

But wouldn't it be fun to make use of that vast freedom now and then, albeit in a somewhat more constructive fashion? It could-- it would change your life, from the flow of countless consequences and effects. You never know where it might lead.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Blown Away

How could this cosmic autumn be so fair?
as falling, every beauty ceased to be
but little more than flowers at my feet
there doomed to die and whither endlessly.

And who could help but weep to see it go?
as melancholy seasons take their turn
to die one to the next, and in the flame
of Time’s dread passing leave the world to burn.

The leaves, the days, the years all pass me by,
the stars once hung through heaven drift away,
and in the quiet space behind the breeze
there’s but the empty sound of ending days.

It’s all so soon, this flowering of the world;
we’re blown away as soon as we’re unfurled.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

River Music

Staying on the same topic, silence, I'll continue. I must, for this book has in a way opened for me a whole world, that cries out for examination. The author's quest to preserve natural silence, and to spread awareness of the need for it, really resonates with me, even though I may not be as good at hearing the subtleties like he is, given that he's been focusing on sound, on listening, for so long. I hardly give any thought to sound, beyond listening to music; but, not being a musician, it's pretty casual listening. My sister, who was in the school choir in high school, says of a country group she like, "I love the way they use a lot of sharps and flats." I don't know what that really means. I know the definition of what sharps and flats are, but don't know how to hear them. I don't have the understanding behind it.

So, reading this passage sort of blew my mind:

From the sound of the water alone I've learned to distinguish the age of a tumbling stream. Older flows, such as those in Appalachia that escaped the last glaciation, have been tuning themselves for many thousands of years. Their watercourses and stony beds, smoothed to paths of least resistance by the ageless cycles of torrents and floods, sing differently. To my ears, they're quieter, more musical, more eloquent. Youthful streams, with their newly exposed and angular, unsmoothed rocks, push the water aside brashly, with a resulting clatter. (p 23; One Square Inch Of Silence)

A stream as music, literally! Oh sure, we've all heard that said poetically, but who among us have ever listened to a stream close enough to understand the water as tuning itself to the hillside, singing a duet of mountain and water? The passage continues:

In all cases, the rocks are the notes. I sometimes attempt to tune a stream by repositioning a few prominent rocks, listening for the subtle changes in sound. (p 23)

I've done this before, as a child making little dams and rockwalls in streams, and have myself noticed the way the sound changes. How could it not? Of course, our additions and subtractions to the stream are more intrusive than anything, and are probably quickly erased as the river finds it's own harmony. But it's fun, at any rate, to read that the music of running water is also reality, that the poetry applies directly. It makes me want to go sit down by a stream and hear the world sing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Poverty of Wealth

I hear that most of the wealth of our nation lives in the cities. But when I look around at what we've built, all I can do is wonder why a wealthy people puts up with such an impoverished landscape. All the new buildings are bland and identical; you drive through whole developments, subdivisions, condo complexes, and everything looks the same. It's almost as bland and uniform as the old Soviet apartment highrises, except instead of gray, we might have some color splashed around. But it's a uniform color scheme, repeated on every condo, every house. Businesses like big box stores abound with blank walls facing every direction, and all the lawns sitting there as mere squares of flat green. What a waste.

Beyond that is what I call the tyranny of noise. It's appropriate that I'm reading One Square Inch Of Silence right now, because when you really stop and notice, here is no such thing as quiet space in a city. And most of the noise is just senseless. I've long had a major hatred against car alarms. I've never, ever in my life heard anyone say, upon hearing an alarm go off, "oh, someone must be breaking into that car!" Ever. I wonder if they're even effective for their intended purpose.

Yet, yesterday, with the windows open, I could hear them blaring all day. At one point, taking the trash out, one car just started going off on it's own. Nothing had touched it, nobody was around; the wind wasn't even blowing! But it honked for several minutes, filling the evening with noise and frustration. And earlier, one was going off for about a half hour before its hapless owner heard it, or the battery died. I really hope it was the latter.

I just don't know why we've all agreed to so much less than what's possible. A well-built cabin in the woods is more human than miles and miles of uniform condos. A meadow is more beautiful than a lawn. And a place where silence is at least an option is far more valuable than all the transportation systems in the world.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I'm reading this book called One Square Inch of Silence, by Gordon Hempton. It's about his project, his quest, to preserve the experience of silence in the backcountry (namely, Olympic National Park in northwest Washington) by designating one square inch that is meant to have only purely natural sound. With his sound equipment, he checks on the place often. Now, this square inch of silence impacts much of the surrounding area, because it means in theory, no jets anywhere near there, no sigh-seeing flights, no chain sawn, no off-road vehicles, etc. I'm only 50 pages into the book, but already find it very eloquent and fascinating. I'll be writing more about this book in days to come, I'm sure.

It strikes me, though, the irony of reading this book here in the Dallas area. Today I was sitting out on the balcony with the book, and would from time to time come into awareness of the soundscape around me. Almost 100% unnatural. I'd say it was all man-made, but in truth, it was all machine made. Sometimes it seems to me that we've created this system of engines and mechanics and electronic beeping, and are no longer really in control of it; it has a life of it's own. Human noise isn't as bad, it's voices, coughing, clapping, farting, belching, laughing, singing. It's the growl of internal combustion engines, the car horns and alarms, the scanners beeping in the store that are out of place and stressful.

Point is, save for the occasional gust of wind rattling the leaves of the few trees that poke up through the grassy islands of the parking lot, there wasn't much natural sound. But, I still have my memories. I've been to a lot of places, way out in the backcountry, more or less. One instance where I especially remember the presence of silence really hitting me was on a camping trip at Horseshoe Lake, MI. It was a tiny rustic campground on a small kettle lake, a left-over from the glaciers and hardly more than a pond, surrounded by second or third growth pine forests. A beautiful place. Of the nine campsites, only three were occupied, including mine, and when I arrived no one else seemed to actually be in the campground.

After I'd set up camp and had begun to unwind from the city and the drive, I walked down the slope to the edge of the lake, just below my site. Presently, it struck me how quiet it was. Not true silence, no. That's not the point, neither of my story or of the book. But the stillness of the world, even as it hums its own slight chorus of light wind in the white pines, the occasional burst of a chickadee's song, the tiny sound of the little waves caressing the sandy shore... Suddenly it seemed even a sin to speak aloud, only a whisper was permitted. But, it was also all that was needed.

It occured to me that back in our city world, we're usually almost shouting at one another, just to be heard. I think Mr. Hempton said it well, right at the start of his book, when he mentioned that in order to hear the silence, one must first silence one's mind. In our city world, this is impossible; there's always so much going on, so much to think about, and no down time. Down time means the TV is on, with the commercials screaming at you, the laugh-track playing, the talking-heads pontificating. It's all so loud, making up with volume what it lacks in substance.

Even if unconsciously, I know the persuit of quietness is a big part of why I'm always heading for the hills. A Forest Service employee I knew in Utah once mentioned, with a grin, that he belongs to the Church of G.O.D., that is, the Great OutDoors. I agree. Like walking into a church, the wilderness demands quietude, not the roar of engines.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wu Wei

You know, I've noticed I breathe very shallowly usually. The last two days, I wake up and notice how very deeply (and slowly) I'm breathing. Yet every other time during the day, I hardly seem to breathe at all. Really shallow, I don't understand it. I used to wonder if I have asthma, but really, I think I just need to work on consciously breathing deeper. Maybe I wouldn't always feel so tired if I did. Also, I notice I tend to clench my jaw a lot. And, I find that when I'm hungry, I'm often touching my lips. It's funny how little attention we pay to our bodies, which are there all along telling us about ourselves. If we'd only pause and take notice.

I mean, think about how much effort is wasted on tension; vast volumes of energy spent in rigidity. Instead of looking at things, we stare. Instead of being attentive, we try to pay attention. In both case, the only difference is the muscle tension. As if you could muscle your eyes into seeing, or your mind into recieving sensations. We only have so much energy at our disposal, and to put so much into wasted effort must take its toll. In the end, not only does it get in the way of these actions, but it is also all the while sapping our energy reserves. We come home, spent.

I remember trying to focus in school, to make myself pay attention. I'd get all tense in my neck, furrow my brow, and generally end up not really hearing the lecture, I was concentrating on concentrating. I always did far better by just doodling all class, relaxed, and letting the words come in passively. That's what sensing really is, after all; passive. The eye sees best when it doesn't get in its own way.

It's all very Zen, all very yin. It always makes me think of one of my favorite chapters in the Tao Te Ching, that little book of Taoism that holds so much wisdom.


We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

Making that void within yourself; relaxing yourself and stepping back and letting things flow, this is the meaning of the Chinese term wu wei, or not-doing. Take the lesson from your own senses: the eye is not a darkness, but neither is it light. It is a void, it makes a space within itself and the light comes in on it's own accord, according to its nature. The ear accepts passively the sound waves, because it waits; to get all tense by trying to hear would block hearing. Thoughts flow of their own accord into the mind, which is like a great void; try to force the thoughts and you'll grow confused and knotted up.

The body is always there, seeming to dangle from the neck, hanging forgotten from the mind. But it's always present with its lessons, and all we have to do is be present with it. Life flows. The body is still one with nature, with life, no matter where our minds have drifted off to. If we can tune in to that, and understand what it's saying to us, we can untie those knots a little bit. Maybe we'll find a lot more energy in our lives.

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's Possible

I once read somewhere that it's possible the human brain is now about as complex as it can get before it becomes too complex and thus becomes unstable. I have to wonder if perhaps it already is unstable. The way we behave is certainly out of balance with nature; we're burning down our own home, and laughing. So maybe the entire species is already insane.

It’s kind of funny to think about.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Here is a whole forest of trees before me,
rhythmically rocking back and forth
like retards and lunatics
while the mosses lay draped,
catatonic, at their feet.

This rain is endless ignorance falling
dumb from an empty-headed sky,
babbling nonsense ideas into the mind
of the brook, a stream of drool
from the slack mouth of the clouds.

Meanwhile the rocks, morons all,
stare blankly out at me from lichen-crusted
beds they haven't moved from in years, as if asking:
"Well, what were YOU going to do?"

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mind vs Matter?

What is a thought? What is consciousness? Where does meaning come from? How do you go from an electrical burst in a neural chain to a subjective sense of a thought? Science won't answer these. Every human, even the scientists, have emotions and thoughts, but of course, no one has ever seen them. At best they have seen readings on a chart during a brain scan, or maybe the neurotransmitters that supposedly cause them. If they were to watch a brain in action, somehow watching a thought course through the nerves, all they'd see is electricity. Because they cannot physically "see" the subjective part of thought (the meaning, the consciousness), they are forced to call it nonexistent. Seriously, in psychology, consciousness is considered a hallucination caused by the electrochemical reactions taking place within and between neurons. Ridiculous, right?

I had to stop studying psychology because of bullshit like that. I've always been interested in this stuff, and it's probably why I picked such an unlikely major for an eco-freak like me. But when I found such things as self, consciousness, and the nature of thought totally glossed over in a few sentences, I was aghast! This is the very foundation, ignored. These are the questions asked by mankind since the beginning, and it was swept under the rug, presumably because it's too hard to study.

It comes down to a split between mind and body. Descartes drew the line sharply, and shaped the philosophy of science ever since. He said that nothing of the mind is in matter, and nothing of matter is in the mind; they are completely seperate. This sort of split has defined scientific worldview, the division between subjective and objective reality. Science chose to study the "matter" end of things, leaving the Church "mind," (aka the soul) and thus today science is mired in "objective reality." It tries to be totally empirical, that is, limiting itself only to what can be preceived by the senses (and their technological extensions), and what can be repeatably tested. Its worldview now says that we are all physical machines, acting according to universal laws, in a universe that is stupid. Everything is deterministic, and they tack consciousness on at the end, as something that came somehow out of the material world at the last minute. But how does consciousness come from non-conscious matter? That would be getting something from nothing.

Now, things like ESP, precognition, out-of-body experiences, and spiritual healing (to say nothing of dream states, trances, and the placebo effect) keep coming along. And every time they do, they are ruled out of the discussion in the same dogmatic way that the Catholic Church did to science back when it was starting out. No one can question that these things are experienced. The data, the anecdotal evidence, just keeps coming in. We know from "the inside" that we are not mere machines, that thought, emotion, consciousness are more than molecular reactions, they in fact are the center of our existence. And while Quantum Physics itself has disproven the deterministic nature of the universe and the nonexistance of objectivity, the massive implications are not being followed through on. Science is being extremely remiss in not investigating it seriously. It claims an open mind, but that claim has become a lie.

The main point here is that there is a disconnect. Every scientist must realize that science only exists because we can think, and because there are meanings in those thoughts. Science is, after all, an intellectual activity. But they declare thought and meaning off-limits, or even call them delusions! They call it superstition, or junk data, or write it off as a hallucination (which is a very derrogatory word when used this way). How can science ever be a coherent worldview if it cuts off the very part of the world that gives it birth? Isn't it clear that we can be objective only because we are first and foremost subjective beings? Objectivity is a learned way of thinking.

As it stands, we are stuck between the religious and scientific worldviews. We must either choose the dogmatic religions, which often won't look beyond their scriptures to see the real world, or with fuzzy, nebulous spirituality that is lost with its head in the clouds; or we must choose a science that however throrough it seems, and however illuminating its theories are, still fails to be something to live by, and fails to recognize what makes us truly human. Here, instead of the clouds, science has its head in the sand. Now, I like science and feel it has gotten closer than any other system to a true understanding of the universe. To see it still fall so vastly short of that understanding is perhaps what drives me to write this.

A cohesive, accurate worldview, this is the goal. The gap between spirituality and science must be bridged. We can no longer compartmentalize morals, ethics, value, feeling, and intuition away from what science calls "the real world," which it claims to describe Science cannot make that claim until it accepts that compartment, that half of the human being, which everyone knows exists. No more amputated science, no more amputated spirituality.

Science must remove its blinders, and begin making an honest, unbiased study of inner space if we are to survive as a species. We've mastered the atom; but can we master the mind that has mastered that atom?