#4. The universe is an oracle

“The universe is an oracle, an instantaneous feedback loop that is a living revelation of itself, and it is speaking symbolically, just like a dream. Literally.” — Paul Levy

Another thought as to why we need to pay close attention to the details, the insignificant-looking ones, the ones that require our full presence of mind to notice and interpret, hopefully with clear vision and without the taint of ego.

Deep Listening: Pauline Oliveros

Pauline Oliveros was an American composer and an early pioneer in the development of post-war electronic music. I don’t know about you, but listening to this album above (a collaboration with Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis) sends chills down my spine and calls to something deep within.

In developing a new musical theory of “sonic awareness”, Oliveros also coined the term “deep listening”. According to Wikipedia:

In 1988 as a result of descending 14 feet into an underground cistern to make a recording Oliveros coined the term “Deep Listening”, a pun that has blossomed into, “an aesthetic based upon principles of improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation. This aesthetic is designed to inspire both trained and untrained performers to practice the art of listening and responding to environmental conditions in solo and ensemble situations.”

The Deep Listening Band, which included Oliveros, David Gamper (1947–2011) and Stuart Dempster, specialized in performing and recording in resonant or reverberant spaces such as caves, cathedrals and huge underground cisterns.

And “sonic awareness”:

Practice of the theory creates “complex sound masses possessing a strong tonal center”, as focal attention creates tonality and the global attention creates masses of sound, flexible timbre, attack, duration, intensity, and sometimes pitch, as well as untraditional times and spaces for performance such as requiring extended hours or environmental settings. The theory promotes easily created sounds such as vocal ones, and “says that music should be for everyone anywhere.”

It’s intriguing how upon hearing something layered deep, resonant and powerful, that all your senses expand to encompass this new experience, and your whole being seems — for the moment — to become that which you hear.

#2. Smallest things

2-meme-sivananda

Originally trained as a doctor, early 20th century spiritual teacher Swami Sivananda taught a number of disciples who then went on to continue the lineage of teachings, founding well-known modern yoga schools around the world, such as Integral Yoga, Sivananda Yoga and the Bihar School of Yoga. Written below is one of Sivananda’s pamphlets about yogic practices; they were given out freely and widely, in contrast to precedent: “Sivananda’s reliance on printed materials for the dissemination of his teachings was a break from the traditional transmission of yoga in the one-on-one guru-disciple relationship.” Sivananda’s open approach and the emphasis on health and healing helped yoga break free from stereotypes of the day which viewed yogic practices as too esoteric, “savage” and “backward” — his contributions helped build part of the foundation of the modern yoga we see today.

20 Important Spiritual Instructions

By Sri Swami Sivananda

These twenty instructions contain the very essence of all Yoga Sadhana, Karma, Bhakti, Jnana and Yoga will all come to one who follows them whole-heartedly. They are the unfailing keys to quick and effective development and culture of the physical, mental, moral and spiritual self of man.

1. BRAHMAMUHURTA

Get up at 4 a.m. daily. This is Brahmamuhurta which is extremely favourable for Sadhana. Do all your morning spiritual Sadhana during this period from 4 a.m. to 6:30 or 7 a.m. Such Sadhana gives quick and maximum progress.

2. ASANA

Sit on Padmasana (lotus pose), Siddhasana (adept’s pose) or Sukhasana (any pose you like) for your Japa and meditation for half an hour, facing east or north. Increase the period gradually to three hours. Practice Sirshasana (headstand) and Sarvangasana (shoulderstand) for maintenance of health and Brahmacharya. Take light physical exercises as walking, etc., regularly. Do twenty rounds of easy, comfortable Pranayama (breathing exercises). Do not strain yourself while doing Pranayama.

3. JAPA

You can repeat any Mantra (sacred syllable), such as pure Om or Om Namo Narayanaya, Sri Ram, Sita Ram, Sri Ram Jaya Ram Jaya Jaya Ram, Om Namah Sivaya, Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya, Om Saravanabhavaya Namah, Hari Om, or Gayatri (a sacred Vedic Mantra), according to your taste or inclination, from 108 times to 21,600 times daily. Devotees of Christ may repeat the name Jesus or Hail Mary, Mother of Jesus. Parsis, Sikhs and Muslims may select a name or Mantra from the Zend Avesta, Granth Sahib or Koran respectively.

4. DIETETIC DISCIPLINE

Take Sattvic food. Give up chillies, tamarind, garlic, onion, sour articles, oil, mustard, asafoetida. Observe moderation in diet (Mitahara). Do not overload the stomach. Give up those things which the mind likes best for a fortnight once or twice in a year. Eat simple simple food. Milk and fruits help concentration. Take food as medicine to keep the life going. Eating for enjoyment is a sin. Give up salt and sugar for a week or a fortnight. You must be able to live on rice, dhal and bread without any pickle. Do not ask for extra salt for dhal, and sugar for tea, coffee and milk. People taking non-vegetaraian diet should try their best to gradually give up flesh-eating as completely as possible. They will be immensely benefited.

5. MEDITATION

Have a separate meditation room under lock and key. If this is not possible then a corner of the room should be set apart with a small cloth screen or curtain drawn across. Keep the room spotlessly clean.

6. SVADHYAYA

Study systematically the Gita, Ramayana, Bhagavatam, Vishnu-Sahasranama, Lalita-Sahasranama, Adityahridaya, Upanishads, Yoga Vasishta, Bible, Imitation of Christ, Zend Avesta, Quran, the Tripitakas, the Granth Sahib and other religious books from half an hour to one hour daily, and have Suddha Vichara (pure thoughts).

7. ELEVATE THE MIND

Get by heart some prayer – Slokas (prayer verses), Stotras (hymns) and repeat them as soon as you sit in the Asana before starting Japa or meditation. This will elevate the mind quickly.

8. BRAHMACHARYA

Preserve the vital force (Veerya (seminal energy)) very, very carefully. Veerya is God in motion or manifestation (Vibhuti). Veerya is all power. Veerya is all money. Veerya is the essence of life, thought and intelligence. This instruction is not for bachelors only. Householders also must follow it as far as possible. They must be extremely moderate in their marital connections with their spouse. This is very important.

9. CHARITY

Do charity regularly, every month, or even daily according to your means. Never fail in this item. If necessary forego some personal wants but keep up this charity regularly.

10. HAVE SATSANG

Give up bad company, smoking, meat and alcoholic liquors entirely. Have constant Satsang (association with holy people). Do not develop any evil habits. Deliberately exert to develop positive virtuous qualities.

11. FAST

Fast on Ekadasi (11th day of the Hindu lunar fortnight) or live on milk and fruits only. Christians must fast on alternate Sundays, Muslims on alternate Fridays, and Parsis on a suitable day every fortnight.

12. JAPA MALA

Have a Japa Mala (rosary) around your neck or in your pocket or underneath your pillow at night. This will remind you of God. Twirl the beads during your leisure. You should repeat the Name at all times, whatever task you may be engaged in.

13. OBSERVE MOUNA

Observe Mouna (vow of silence) for a couple of hours daily. Do not make gestures and inarticulate noises during the period of silence.

14. DISCIPLINE OF SPEECH

Speak the truth at all cost. Speak a little. Speak sweetly. Always utter encouraging words. Never condemn, criticize or discourage. Do not raise your voice and shout at little children or subordinates.

15. BE CONTENT

Reduce your wants. If you have four shirts, reduce the number to three or two. Lead a happy, contented life. Avoid unnecessary worry. Be mentally detached. Have plain living and high thinking. Think of those who do not possess even one-tenth of what you have. Share with others.

16. PRACTICE LOVE

Never hurt anybody. Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah (Non-injury is the highest virtue). Control anger by love, Kshama (forgiveness) and Daya (compassion). Serve the sick and the poor with love and affection. This is service of God.

17. BE SELF RELIANT

Do not depend upon servants. Self-reliance is the highest of all virtues.

18. HAVE SELF-ANALYSIS

Think of the mistakes you have committed during the course of the day, just before retiring to bed (self-analysis). Keep a daily spiritual diary and self-correction register as Benjamin Franklin did. Maintain a daily routine and resolve-form. Do not brood over past mistakes.

19. DO YOUR DUTY

Remember that death is awaiting you at every moment. Never fail to fulfil your duties. Have pure conduct (Sadachara).

20. REMEMBER GOD

Think of God as soon as you wake up and just before you go to sleep, and at all other times whether engaged in any work or not. Repeat His Name always. Surrender yourself completely to God (Saranagati).

This is the essence of all spiritual Sadhana. It will lead you to liberation. All these spiritual canons must be rigidly observed. You must not give any leniency to the mind.

Via: Divine Life Society

Memes (and quotes): A year of them

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Sometimes the process of change rolls molasses-slow, and one needs an infusion of inspiration to keep the soul tuned in. So in the grand old tradition of setting resolutions for the coming year, this storyteller is going to try things from another angle: posting one hand-picked, graphically re-interpreted inspirational quote or meme every day week (or whenever I can) for the coming year, found either in my daily readings or wanderings. There’s something to be said about writing down these sparks that ignite the flame, consciously digesting them and manifesting them somehow into reality.

It was written:

Culture is a meme war. “Memes” are informational units that virally replicate mind, just as genes replicate body.

Ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins, who first coined the term in 1976, illuminates the nature of modern communication with the assertion that “memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation,” which continues to live as long as it is remembered and replicated.

I suppose I should point out that I mean meme in the pre-Internet sense:

In 2013 Dawkins characterized an Internet meme as being a meme deliberately altered by human creativity—distinguished from biological genes and Dawkins’ pre-Internet concept of a meme which involved mutation by random change and spreading through accurate replication as in Darwinian selection. Dawkins explained that Internet memes are thus a “hijacking of the original idea”, the very idea of a meme having mutated and evolved in this new direction. Further, Internet memes carry an additional property that ordinary memes do not—Internet memes leave a footprint in the media through which they propagate (for example, social networks) that renders them traceable and analyzable. Internet memes are a subset that Susan Blackmore called temes—memes which live in technological artifacts instead of the human mind.

So with the idea of spreading some visual bits of inspiration and optimism, here goes Day #1.

I chose this quote as the basis for this meme-bit because it echoes something I once told a dear friend, whom I’ve always considered to have a deep spiritual nature. But the mundane, slow grind of our daily lives can make us forget who we really are on the inside, can make us feel that our lives are only what’s external and what’s in front of us. That’s what my friend was going through at the time, bogged down by the responsibilities of a new job that didn’t feel fulfilling. But these accessory things of career, status and acclaim are only a tiny part of what actually is there, of what is possible. I told her: “I want to tell you, to keep your eyes and spirit on nothing earthbound.” She understood; her face brightened and her eyes sparkled so. We all need these reminders sometimes.

Hanuman Chalisa By Heart (sung by Nina Rao)

hanuman

I will admit this: I’m rather partial to monkeys. I suppose it is because I am born in the Year of the Monkey, according to the Chinese zodiac. One of the most famous Chinese legends is that of the Monkey King, one of the main characters of the Chinese story Journey to the West. The Hindus have Hanuman, their version of the archetypal monkey sovereign — a brave, clever warrior who was utterly devoted to the virtuous Lord Rama, as told in the Indian epic the Ramayana.

In India, the Hanuman Chalisa is a devotional hymn (stotra) sung by millions of Hindus everyday. I first heard it sung in New York City, during one of the kirtan (call-and-response devotional singing) gatherings at the yoga studio of Dharma Mittra, a well-known local yoga teacher. I also remember hearing it being chanted upon entering the famous hilltop temple of Hanuman located near Hampi, India. To my pleasant surprise, it was not the priest, but an American chanting it at Hanuman’s altar — by heart. It was one of the many magical moments in those bouldered hills, supposedly the birthplace of this great hero.

The Hanuman Chalisa consists of 40 main verses, praising the monkey king’s courage, strength, intelligence and complete devotion to the Divine, as embodied by Rama. Here in North America, one might be familiar with the Hanuman Chalisa as sung by American kirtan singer Krishna Das, whose album was recently nominated for a Grammy. But I came across this lovely rendition of the Chalisa sung by Nina Rao, who is Krishna Das’ business manager and tours and sings with him as well. She has a short explanation of the song’s significance at the beginning, but singing starts at 8:12. Via Yogaville Livestream:

More on Hanuman’s remarkable feats, via Kashgar:

Hanuman’s tale as told in the epic Ramayana is renowned for its ability to inspire its readers to face ordeals and conquer obstructions in their own lives. At the time of the Ramayana, Hanuman is sent as an advance spy to Lanka, the capital of the mighty demon Ravana’s empire.  Ravana has provoked Lord Rama by carrying away his beloved wife Sita in order to start a war.  During the epic times that follow, Hanuman brings hope and secret messages to the captive Sita, leads Rama’s monkey army in the Battle of Lanka and single-handedly kills many demons including Lankini, Champion of the demons.  During this time Hanuman is captured by the enemy, only to outwit them with the cunning use of his powers.  He returns to find Lord Rama and his brother Lakshmana themselves captured by the enemy and about to be sacrificed to the goddess Kali by the sorcerer Mahiravana.  In a tale of great daring, Hanuman outsmarts the evil lord into becoming the sacrifice himself, thereby earning the eternal respect of Kali.  She appoints Hanuman as her doorkeeper and today many of her temples are seen to have a monkey guarding their doorways.

After the defeat of Ravana, Rama and Sita are crowned King and Queen of Ayodhya. Hanuman is offered a reward for his bravery and asks only to continue in service to him and to live for as long as men speak of Rama’s deeds. He remains as Rama’s favorite general to this day.

Because of his bravery, perseverance, strength and devoted service, Hanuman is regarded as a perfect symbol of selflessness and loyalty.  Worship of Hanuman helps the individual to counter the bad karma borne out of selfish action, and grants the believer fortitude and strength in his or her own trials during the journey of life.  Hanuman is also invoked in fights against sorcery and protective amulets depicting him are extremely popular among his devotees.

Here are the lyrics and translation of the Hanuman Chalisa, via Nina Rao’s website:

Shree Hanuman Chalisa

Mangala moorati maaruta nandana
You are the embodiment of blessings, Son of the Wind
Sakala amangala moola nikandana
You destroy the root of everything that is inauspicious and harmful

Shree Guru charana saroja raja nijamanu mukuru sudhaari
Taking the dust of my Guru’s lotus feet to polish the mirror of my heart
Baranaun Raghubara bimala jasu jo daayaku phala chaari
I sing the pure fame of the best of Raghus, which bestows the four fruits of life.
Buddhi heenatanu jaanike sumiraun pawana kumaara
I don’t know anything, so I remember you, Son of the Wind
Bala budhividyaa dehu mohin harahu kalesa bikaara
Grant me strength, intelligence and wisdom and remove my impurities and sorrows

Seeyavara Ramchandra pada jai sharanam
Refuge at the feet of Sita’s lord, Ram

1.  Jaya Hanumaan gyaanaguna saagara, Jaya Kapeesha tihun loka ujaagara
Hail Hanuman, ocean of wisdom/Hail Monkey Lord!  You light up the three worlds.
2.  Raama doota atulita bala dhaamaa, Anjani putra Pawanasuta naamaa
You are Ram’s messenger,the abode of matchless power/ Anjani’s son, “Son of the Wind.”
3.  Mahaabeera bikrama bajarangee, Kumatiniwaara sumati ke sangee
Great hero, you area mighty thunderbolt/Remover of evil thoughts and companion of the good.
4.  Kanchana barana biraaja subesaa, Kaanana kundala kunchita kesa
Golden hued andsplendidly adorned/with heavy earrings and curly locks
5.  Haata bajra au dwajaa biraajai, Kaandhemoonja janeu saajai
In your hands shine mace and abanner/ a sacred thread adorns your shoulder.
6. Shankara suwana Kesaree nandana, Tejaprataapa mahaa jaga bandana
You are an incarnationof Shiva and Kesari’s son/Your glory is revered throughout the world.
7. Vidyaawaana gunee ati chaatura, Raamakaaja karibe ko aatura
You are the wisest of the wise, virtuous and very clever/ ever eager to do Ram’s work
8. Prabhu charitra sunibe ko rasiyaa, Raama Lakhana Seetaa mana basiyaa
You delight in hearing of the Lord’s deeds/ Ram, Lakshman and Sita dwell in your heart.
9. Sookshma roopa dhari Siyahin dikhaawaa, Bikata roopa dhari Lankaa jaraawaa
Assuming a tiny form you appeared to Sita/ in an awesome form you burned Lanka.
10. Bheema roopa dhari asura sanghaare, Raamachandra ke kaajasanvaare
Takinga dreadful form you slaughtered the demons/completing Lord Ram’s work.
11. Laayasajeevana Lakhana jiyaaye, Shree Raghubeera harashi ura laaye
Bringing the magic herbyou revived Lakshman/ Shri Ram embraced you with delight.
12. Raghupatikeenhee bahuta baraaee, tuma mama priya Bharatahi sama bhaaee
The Lord of the Raghus praised you greatly/ “You are as dear to me as my brotherBharat!”
13. Sahasabadana tumharo jasa gaawain, asa kahi Shreepati kanta lagaawain
Thousands of mouths will sing  your fame!”/ So saying Lakshmi’s Lord drew you to Himself.
14.Sanakaadika Brahmaadi muneesaa, Naarada Saarada sahita Aheesaa
Sanak and the sages, Brahma, and the munis/ Narada, Saraswati and the King of serpents,
15. Yama Kubera digapaala jahaante, kabi kobida kahi sake kahaante
Yama, Kubera, the guardians of the four quarters/poets and scholars-none can express your glory.
16. Tumaupakaara Sugreevahin keenhaa, Raama milaaya raaja pada deenhaa
You did great service for Sugriva/ bringing him to Ram, you gave him kingship.
17. Tumharomantra Vibheeshana maanaa, Lankeshwara bhaye saba jaga jaanaa
Vibhishana heeded your counsel/He became the Lord of Lanka, as the whole world knows.
18. Yugasahasra yojana para bhaanu, leelyo taahi madhura phala jaanu
Though the sun is millions of miles away/ you swallowed it thinking it to be a sweet fruit.
19. Prabhumudrikaa meli mukha maaheen, jaladhi laanghi gaye acharaja naaheen
Holding the Lord’s ring in your mouth/ it’s no surprise that you leapt over the ocean.
20. Durgamakaaja jagata ke jete, sugama anugraha tumhare tete
Every difficult task in this world becomes easy by your grace.
21. Raamaduaare tuma rakhawaare, hota na aagyaa binu paisaare
You are the guardian at Ram’s door/ no one enters without your permission.
22. Saba sukhalahai tumhaaree sharanaa, tuma rakshaka kaahu ko dara naa
Those who take refuge in you find all happiness/ those who you protect know no fear.
23. Aapanateja samhaaro aapai, teenon loka haanka ten kaanpai
You alone can withstand your own splendor/ the three worlds tremble at your roar.
24. Bhootapisaacha nikata nahin aawai, Mahaabeera jaba naama sunaawai
Ghosts and goblins cannot come near/ Great Hero, when your name is uttered.
25. Naasairoga hare saba peeraa, japata nirantara Hanumata beeraa
All disease and pain is eradicated/ by constantly repeating of your name, brave Hanuman.
26. Sankata ten Hanumaana churaawai, mana krama bachana dhyaana jolaawai
Hanuman, you release from affliction all those/ who remember you in thought word and deed.
27. Saba paraRaama tapaswee raajaa, tina ke kaaja sakala tuma saajaa
Ram, the ascetic king, reigns over all/ but you carry out all his work.
28. Auramanorata jo koee laawai, soee amita jeewana phala paawai
One who comes to you with any yearning/ obtains the abundance of the Four Fruits of Life.
29. Chaaronjuga parataapa tumhaaraa, hai parasidha jagata ujiyaaraa
Your splendor fills the four ages/ your glory is renowned throughout the world.
30. Saadhusanta ke tuma rakhawaare, asura nikandana Raama dulaare
You are the guardian of saints and sages/ the destroyer of demons and the darling of Ram.
31. Ashtasiddhi nau nidhi ke daataa, asa bara deena Jaanakee Maataa
You grant the eight powers and nine treasures/ by the boon you received from Mother Janaki.
32. Raamarasaayana tumhare paasaa, sadaa raho Raghupati ke daasaa
You hold the elixir of Ram’s name/ and remain eternally his servant.
33. Tumharebhajana Raama ko paawai, janama janama ke dukha bisaraawai
Singing your praise, one finds Ram/ and the sorrows of countless lives are destroyed.
34. Anta kaala Raghubara pura jaaee, jahaan janama Hari bhakta kahaaee
At death one goes to Ram’s own abode/ born there as God’s devotee.
35. Auradevataa chitta na daraee, Hanumata se-ee sarva sukha karaee
Why worship any other deities/ from Hanuman you’ll get all happiness.
36. Sankatakatai mite saba peeraa, jo sumire Hanumata bala beeraa
All affliction ceases and all pain is removed/ for those who remember the mighty hero, Hanuman.
37. Jai jaijai Hanumaana Gosaaee, kripaa karahu gurudeva kee naaee
Victory, Victory, Victory Lord Hanuman/ bestow your grace on me, as my Guru!
38. Jo satabaara paata kara koee, chootahi bandi mahaa sukha hoee
Whoever recites this a hundred times/ is released from bondage and gains bliss.
39. Jo yahaparai Hanumaana chaaleesaa, hoya siddhi saakhee Gaureesaa
One who reads this Hanuman Chalisa/ gains success, as Gauri’s Lord (Shiva) is witness.
40. TulaseeDaasa sadaa Hari cheraa, keejai naata hridaya mahaan deraa
Says Tulsi Das, who always remains Hari’s servant’/ “Lord, make your home in my heart.”

Pawanatanayasankata harana mangala moorati roopa
Son of the Wind, destroyer of sorrow,embodiment of blessings
Raama Lakhana Seetaa sahita hridayabasahu sura bhoopa
With Ram, Lakshman and Sita, LIVE IN MY HEART, King of Gods!

Seeyavara Ramchandra pada jai sharanam
Refuge at the feet of Sita’s lord, Ram

Mangala moorati maaruta nandana
You are the embodiment of blessings, Son of the Wind
Sakala amangala moola nikandana
You destroy the root of everything that is inauspicious and harmful

Additional couplet from Ramacharitmanasa sung in “Nina Chalisa”:

Pavana tanaya bal, pavana samaana
budhi viveka vigyana nidhana
kavan so kaaj katin jaga mahin
jo nahin hoya tat tumha pahi

Son of the Wind, you are as strong as the Wind himself. You are
the embodiment of intelligence, discrimination, and true wisdom.
What undertaking in this world is too difficult for you to accomplish?

“The Infinite Proceeds From The Infinite”

The beginning of yet another year, yet another present moment in this holographic emanation of time. How we come back again and again to the infinite Here Now. What is revealed…?

From Wikipedia:

Ancient and medieval Indian scholars have referred to Brihadaranyaka Upanishad as a foundation to discuss psychological theories, the nature of psyche, and how body, mind and soul interact. For example, Adi Shankara in his commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad explains the relation between consciousness, the mind and the body.

Verse 1.3.28 acknowledges that metaphysical statements in Upanishads are meant to guide the reader from unreality to reality. The metaphysics of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is non-dualism (Advaita). For instance, in verse 2.4.13 Yajnavalkya asserts that everything in the universe is the Self. The nature of reality or Self is described as consciousness-bliss in verse 3.9.28. Neti-neti or (not this—not this) is a method of emphasizing the discovery of the right, by excluding the wrong. The verse 5.1 states that the Universe, Reality and Consciousness is infinite.

पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते ।
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥
pūrṇam adaḥ, pūrṇam idaṃ, pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya pūrṇam evāvaśiṣyate.
“That (Brahman) is infinite, and this (universe) is infinite. the infinite proceeds from the infinite.
(Then) taking the infinitude of the infinite (universe), it remains as the infinite (Brahman) alone.”

“From infinite or fullness, we can get only fullness or infinite”. The above verse describes the nature of the Absolute or Brahman which is infinite or full, i.e., it contains everything. Upanishadic metaphysics is further elucidated in the Madhu-vidya (honey doctrine), where the essence of every object is described to be same to the essence of every other object. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad looks at reality as being indescribable and its nature to be infinite and consciousness-bliss. The cosmic energy is thought to integrate in the microcosm and in the macrocosm integrate the individual to the universe.

We carry a bit of the Absolute in all of us, and this Absolute-ness pervades everything experientially. What is heard is felt and “Seen” and Known.

Music from Solar Fields.

In Memory of John Trudell (1946 – 2015)

trudell-quote

Indigenous activist, poet and writer John Trudell passed away last week on December 8, 2015. His voice will be missed around the world. I previously wrote about his courageous activism, encouraging us to act in non-cooperation with a capitalist system that is slowly killing the planet — and our humanity.

Once again, in my daily life practices I’m reminded of the truth that “we are energy” and where we put our energy really matters. If we want a better world, we have to put our energy behind that belief, whatever form it may take.

We may not want to believe it, but modern society as it stands today wants to disempower us as human beings, resplendent as it is with technological bread and circuses, and other forms of subtle and not-so-subtle social conditioning, expressed through our unsustainable, sprawling cities and the echo-chamber of our media. Our apparent disempowerment is reflected in the global epidemic of addiction — to drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling, technology — anything to fill the void left by the disintegration of self-knowledge, community and meaning.

But there is hope, I think. We must look closely — not just around us, but within ourselves. There are everyday miracles, and sometimes they are closer than we think. We must never forget that power lies not in the system, but in us, ourselves. We built this structure, these modern myths and falsehoods, and we can take it apart. “We are power.”

The Emptiness of Data as a New Religion

network-effect

The Internet has overtaken many of our lives in ways that were impossible to imagine a mere two decades ago. Many of us have some kind of online “presence,” be it through a social media file, or as data recorded through our Google searches. There is so much data out there that we now have so-called Big Data, data scientists and a new array of tools to mine, quantify, analyze, tweak and “monetize” this neverending flood of information coming from this virtual dimension. It seems so real, like another nascent consciousness. But is it? Artist and data scientist Jonathan Harris’ recent project, The Network Effect, presents an intense, psychological window into the life of the Internet, through keywords and a stream of real information, sound and images sourced from the Net that assaults the senses. The idea was to show the “emptiness of data” and its limitations, as the artist explains in this interview with PSFK:

Jonathan Harris: Data is good at describing the superficial qualities of the ways things are currently. However, it is really limited. Many of the important and illuminating dimensions of human experience cannot be quantified or measured.

The trap of data is that when we start to see our whole reality through the lens of data, almost as a new kind of religion, then we suddenly see our reality as devoid. Things like mystery, magic, wonder, the ineffable, intuition, embodied experience and feeling something in your stomach, all those human mortalities are beyond the reach of data. The danger of believing in data completely is that you’re starting to marginalize those wonderful human capacities. And I think those capacities have gotten less attention lately because of the our current obsession with it.

Human consciousness is truly the last frontier. Like our natural environment, our mental environment is something worthy of preservation, of care, of reverence. More than that, eco-psychology views that the two are inextricably linked: our inner, psychic landscape and outer landscapes are permeable continuities closely linked to ‘exterior’ nature. As Harris points out, our mental attention is a precious commodity — actually, it is our life — and it is something not to give away so freely.

PSFK: Network Effect creates this intense experience for people to reflect upon the Internet’s psychological effect on us. What do you think leads to the current social media reality we are facing?

Jonathan Harris: We have the current social media reality largely because of the realization by a small number of companies, the realization of the preciousness of human attention, the idea that human attention is finite natural resource, the realization of a lot of money can be make by monopolizing a finite natural resource, which is the same logic that leads to the creation of the early fortunes of Robber Barons in the early 1900s, the same as the oil monopoly. Because they realize the value first, they’re able to hold it and monopolize the market before other people realize the value of that market. And huge fortunes are made that way. [..]

My hope with projects like is to be a small component of the awakening — how precious their attention really is and in fact that’s all they have and in fact it is the same as their life. Attention is life. And to give away your life mindlessly so that money can be made out of it is a great tragedy. It’s unnecessarily a tragedy. It requires nothing else but individual wakening. It doesn’t need anything more than that. Everybody has that capacity.

There’s no doubt we all have to wake up from this collective, virtual stupefaction. Here’s an exercise: take a mindful moment to close the eyes, focus on the ebb and flow of your breath, the deep mystery of just being — nothing to do, nowhere to go, just the fullness of the present moment. Keep that mindful experience in memory, and contrast that with a visit to The Network Effect. What is real, and what is not?

It’s hard to say. Then again, maybe it isn’t. Data is certainly powerful, as we’ve seen and experienced with the enormous changes this age of information that brought into our lives. But data is not everything, and it is not power — we are power. And we would do well not to forget that truth.

Cymatics & Mantra: Tapping into Matter with Sound Vibrations

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The ancients of India believed that all existence arises from sound vibrations. There is a lot of fascinating literature on this, and the bija mantra (seed sound) of AUM is a well-known one. It may seem like some esoteric tidbit, but there is science underlying this ages-old tenet.

A relatively new field in modern science, cymatics (from kyma, Greek for wave) is a term used to describe the study of modal phenomena, visible sound and vibration, which seems to have roots in a very old realization. Cymatics asks: is there a connection between sound, vibrations and physical reality? Do sound and vibrations have the potential to influence matter, or even create it? This is a fascinating question, with profound implications for transforming our way of relating with the world — that the world is not made of separate entities, but in fact consists of a flow of interdependent, interwoven, rippling modularities. It is an engrossing thing to watch complexity increase, as the frequency goes higher and higher:

Beyond YouTube, cymatics has a long history. Its proponents assert that there is a connection between sound and physical reality. From Wikipedia:

In 1787, Ernst Chladni repeated the work of Robert Hooke and published “Entdeckungen über die Theorie des Klanges” (“Discoveries in the Theory of Sound”). In this book, Chladni describes the patterns seen by placing sand on metal plates which are made to vibrate by stroking the edge of the plate with a bow.

Throughout the 1960s, up until his death in 1972, Swiss medical doctor and Anthroposophist, Hans Jenny took a methodological and exhaustive approach to documenting Cymatic phenomena. He coined the term “Cymatics” in his 1967 book, Kymatik (translated Cymatics). Inspired by systems theory and the work of Ernst Chladni, Jenny delved deeply into the many types of periodic phenomena but especially thevisual display of sound. He pioneered the use of laboratory grown piezoelectric crystals, which were quite costly at that time. Hooking them up to amplifiers and frequency generators, the crystals functioned as transducers, converting the frequencies into vibrations that were strong enough to set the steel plates into resonance. He made the resultant nodal fields visible by spreading a fine powder lycopodium spores of a club moss, as well as many other methods and materials.

From his experiments, Jenny theorized that there is a threefold play of forces at work: periodicity, figure and dynamic movement, says Dr. John Beaulieu:

Dr. Jenny observed three fundamental principles at work in the vibratory field on the plate. He wrote, “Since the various aspects of these phenomena are due to vibration, we are confronted with a spectrum which reveals a patterned, figurative formation at one pole and kinetic-dynamic processes at the other, the whole being generated and sustained by its essential periodicity.”

What Dr. Jenny is saying is that one can hear the sound as a wave; he calls this the pole of kinetic-dynamic process. One can see the pattern the sound creates in the plate; he calls this the pole of “patterned-figurative formation”. And if Dr. Jenny were to touch the plate and feel it’s vibration, he would call this the generating pole of ”essential periodicicity”.

Making the jump in connecting sound with matter may seem too much, but Jenny was unequivocal that sound vibration is inextricable from the rest:

Since the various aspects of these phenomena are due to vibration, we are confronted with a spectrum which reveals patterned, figurate formation sat one pole and kinetic-dynamic processes at the other, the whole being generated and sustained by its essential periodicity. These aspects however, are not separate entities but are derived from the vibrational phenomenon in which they appear in their “unitariness”. Even though one or the other may predominate in this or that phenomenon, we invariably find these three elements present.

In other words, the series we have formulated is in reality confluent in homogeneous activity. It is not that we have configuration here and organized pattern there, but that every effect of vibration bears the signature of configuration, movement and a play of forces. We can, so to speak, melt down our spectrum and observe the action of its various categories as a continuous play in one and the same entity.

If we wish to describe this single entity, we can say this: there are always figurate and patterned elements in a vibrational process and a vibrational effect, but there are also kinetic and dynamic elements; the whole is of a periodic nature and it is this periodicity which generates and sustains everything. The three fields — the periodic as the fundamental field with the two poles of figure and dynamics — invariably appear as one. They are inconceivable without each other. It is quite out of the question to take away the one or the other; nothing can be abstracted without the whole ceasing to exist.

It would be interesting to discover the intersection between the modern cymatics and the ancient teachings of the Rig Veda about sound, in particular mantra (the root “man-” means “to think” or “mind,” and “-tra” meaning “instrument of thought”).

It’s been said that mantras, which are traditionally sounded in the ancient language of Sanskrit, are designed to create sounds that literally vibrate in the body. According to Dr. David Frawley, author of “Wisdom of the Ancient Seers,” mantra is not like our ordinary, artificial and rigid language, but is an organic “language in which sound and meaning correspond”:

[Mantric language] is a science of sound wherin the meaning and force of all sounds is known and developed toward mergence in the Divine Word. [..]

[Words in mantric language] are not names in our ordinary sense at all. They are the essential sound-idea behind the object that evokes its being, which becomes the tool whereby its essence is grasped. They are the mantric names of objects which arise within the mind in meditative perception, as the mark of entry of the being of the object into the fabric of the mind. [..] They are the vibration of the mind uniting with the being of the object in the unity of seeing. [..] In the mantric sense, therefore, to name is to know the nature of the thing, to touch its essence.

Essentially for the ancients, sound, vibration and matter were one and the same. Language for them was a way to tap into the cosmic unity of all creation, unlike our use of language(s), which often serves to fracture us into different nations, religions and identifications. It does seem that primal sound — without modern, separatist, linguistic leanings — could be our ultimate salvation. Frawley notes that during the Satya Yuga, or Golden Age of prehistory, it is said that humans spoke only one language and were spiritually more developed and united. He continues on about how this mantric language differs from our languages today:

Such mantric names do not reflect an arbitrary cultural usage. They reflect the archetypal vibrations behind all phenomenal objects, the vibrations of the Divine Word itself. This is not a religious belief, but the vibratory energy of cosmic intelligence that informs all things. [..]

Such language really has only one word, which is the cosmic word of truth and harmony. It has only one message: that all is Divine, all a formation of the Divine Word. It has no practical message… or bias. Its purpose is to break all the barriers of the mind and merge it into the unity of cosmic intelligence — to break all our limiting constructs and dissolve the mind into the direct seeing of unconditioned being.

Is sound a vibrational thought-form, made manifest in physical reality by the periodic modulation of space-time? No wonder the study and practice of mantra is a whole discipline unto itself, with numerous benefits. It appears that sound is a tool, one that can be used intentionally, whether for uniting us all, or keeping ourselves in ignorance. Read more over at Soulwise.

The Privatization of Consciousness

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Most of us don’t think much about advertising. Granted, we find most ads annoying, but on a certain level, they get under our skin and seem to colonize our awareness in the strangest of ways, unbidden and unwelcome. like that jingle we can’t get out of our heads.

I became most aware of this after spending six months in a South Indian eco-village, where it was positively free of advertising compared to here. No billboards, corporate posters, commercials, etc. My mind and spirit felt peaceful.

Author Jerry Mander is one of my favourite thinkers on the impact of technology and advertising. In his book In the Absence of the Sacred, published years before the Internet took off, he correctly foresees the “failures of technology,” which he predicted could be used to surveil, control and collect data on ordinary citizens on an unprecedented scale. We see these hypotheses now played out by the Edward Snowden story and the recent revelations of widespread NSA surveillance.

In his article “Privatization of Consciousness,” he outlines the history of advertising, which developed massively after the end of the second world war, as a way to boost the mass consumption of goods now made in factories that once made war weapons. To keep the economy going, people had to be convinced to buy things, and television was a major vehicle of this new consumerism, and still is, writes Mander:

Over the last half century, the combination of television and astronomical advertising spending has effectively reshaped the consciousness of the United States and the entire planet: our self-image, the way we aspire to live, our habits, our thoughts, our references, desires, memories. [..]

Ours is the first generation in history to have essentially moved its consciousness inside media, to have increasingly replaced direct contact with other people, other communities, other sources of knowledge, and the natural world which is anyway getting harder and harder to find with simulated, re-created, or edited versions of events and experiences.

This is something that Mander has also alluded to in Absence of the Sacred, and which he attributes to the deliberate creation of a global monoculture of the mind, perfect for unquestioning, mass consumption at all costs, including that of our own sanity and health, and that of our planet:

It’s a primary drive of corporate globalization that every place on Earth should become like every other place on Earth. This creates new investment opportunity for global capital and promotes efficiency in resource management, production planning, marketing, and distribution for millions of commodities and their producers. But the external homogenization process also requires an internal homogenization process a remake of human beings themselves our minds, our ideas, our values. The ultimate goal is a global monoculture of human beings that fits nicely with the redesigned external landscape, like so many compatible computers. In the end, corporations seek a mental landscape that nicely matches the physical landscape of freeways, suburbs, franchises, high-rises, clear-cuts, and the sped-up physical life of the commodified world.

Mander also pinpoints that the uninspired, concrete monotony of our built environment plays a huge part. Yes, architecture influences our consciousness, and it’s no accident that big box stores all look the same, suburbias and condo developments all over are interchangeable, nondescript and soul-destroying:

Most of our lives are contained within physically reconstructed, human-created environments—cities, buildings, streets—where nature is no longer visible. It’s as if we have moved inside the minds of the people who imagined these constructs and realities. In this way, generation to generation, we go more deeply into human thought and creation: mediated reality.

From our mediated, physical environments, it’s a seamless step to mediate, spin and distort the information that comes out of the media, and ultimately the truth:

With most of our information mediated that is, processed and edited and changed by human beings who have specific purposes for the image and without any direct contact with the true circumstances of an issue, how can anyone possibly know what is right and what is wrong? And yet we are asked to make our country’s major decisions based on the knowledge we receive from the machine. So, it’s Murdoch or Eisner, or Shell Oil and GM, or Democratic media consultants, or Republican media consultants, who enter our brains, leave their viewpoints, and firmly implant their images. Then they each spend millions of dollars’ worth of political ads, most of which are wildly distorted. We can only guess what to finally believe.

Mander suggests that to fight this ubiquitous intrusion of advertising, we have to see it as a kind of “mental pollution.” He proposes some radical but rational steps to curb this corruption, such as banning advertising in public spaces, controlling Internet advertising, taxing advertising and introducing statutory regulation of the ad industry.

Mander’s ideas are compelling, and he isn’t the only one calling to protect our mental landscape and our collective consciousness as a precious resource. If we don’t protect it from unwanted corporate colonization, we risk being alienated from our true nature — and being replaced by a cookie-cutter consumer addicted to buying and keeping up appearances. Perhaps this is why some are pointing to a rapid globalization of addiction, as addiction can be seen as a psychologically based symptom manifesting out of spiritual emptiness and dis-ease, a kind of separation of our true selves. This separation is what prompts us toward a kind of existential death wish, to annihilate what we mistakenly believe to be empty, and is what drives the decline of this civilization. While it looks dire, the good news paradox is, that according to the ancient sages, we can never be truly separated from our true nature, it was and is always there, waiting to be revealed. Easier said than done, but at least it’s said.

Read more over at “Privatization of Consciousness,”

Image: Oscar Keys

The Architecture of Consciousness

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Our built environment is a kind of manifestation of our consciousness, our awareness of our place in the world, and a statement of our relationship with others, the world at large, and our selves. The ancients understood this, hence the mystic forms of the Egyptians, Mayans, Druids, as well as other old civilizations like India, where the practice of vastu shastra (“science of architecture”) prevailed, and still resonates today. Much like Chinese geomancy, the principles of vastu shastra governed the design, layouts, proportions, ground preparation, spatial orientation and siting to balance the beneficial flows of energy between nature and the dwelling’s inhabitants.

Most modern-minded skeptics probably dismiss these geomantic practices as backward superstition. Perhaps younghorn architects today are more drawn to the parametrically designed, computationally generated curiosities of our technological age, rather than the seemingly esoteric architectural texts of yore. Yet, perhaps the ancients knew something more about the very essence of architecture, and its effect on the consciousness, than we do today. They understood that architecture is a microcosm of the greater Universe, and is not exempt from the laws of Nature. Take, for example, the Hindu temple, conceived and built as a model of an infinitely fractal cosmology. Via Data Is Nature:

It’s not just that these temples appear to be algorithmically generated, the ancient Vastu Sustra texts provide procedural rules or recipes for their design, layout and build (including the positions of ornaments). The texts transmit recursive programs, by verbal instruction, to masons so that according to Kirti Trivedi, the Hindu Temple becomes a model of a fractal Universe. A model which represents ‘views of the cosmos to be holonomic and self-similar in nature’. The idea of fractal cosmology is no stranger to western academia. In 1987 the Italian physicist Luciano Pietronero argued, in his paper, that the Universe shows ‘a definite fractal aspect over a fairly wide range of scale’ based on correlations of galaxies and clusters, their spatial distribution and average mass density.

‘According to Hindu philosophy the cosmos can be visualised to be contained in a microscopic capsule, with the help of the concept of subtle element called ‘tammatras’. The whole cosmic principle replicates itself again and again in ever smaller scales’ – Kirti Trivedi

Kandariya-Mahadev_Temple

These mind-blowing temples, built by hand before the advent of any computer-aided whatnot, seem to embody something beyond what our modern, Newtonian, mechanistic minds can fathom. But perhaps our technological tools, something that the modern world excels at developing, are helping us get to the forms that the ancients once prescribed. Data Is Nature:

The initial temple plan is based on a grid form known as the Vastu-Purusha Mandala. Tellingly Trivedi remarks in his paper that the Vastu-Purusha Mandala is ‘not a blueprint for a temple, but a ‘forecast’, a marking of the potential within which a wide range of possibilities are implied’. The significance here, should not be underestimated. A ‘potential for possibilities’ within a predefined rule-set predisposes architecture to be governed by a degree of emergence. While emergence in parametric architecture arrived, recently, with computers and algorithms, India has been enacting emergent masonry for thousands of years thanks to the open rules of the Vastus Sustra.

But form must have some kind of context, which informs it and those within. In this fascinating talk linking modern research into vastu shastra and architect Jonathan Lipman, AIA (educated at Cornell) describes how the “superstitions” of geomancy may have a foundation in science. For example, vastu shastra suggests that east one of the better directions for sleeping, recuperating and “brain coherence.” Lipman cites studies that proves these principles may hold scientific water, and convincingly makes a case why a modern science of architecture — like the one that vastu shastra has upheld for centuries — should be developed. Correctly made architecture would be a way to “hack consciousness,” says Lipman, and not only would a house be made like Corbusier’s “machine for living,” it would be a machine that would actually work and be a healthy, nurturing place to dwell.

Image: Vijayanagar, Hampi, by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

All Aboard a Sinking Ship

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Changing course in the middle of a slowly unfolding disaster is no small feat. Our society is a great system of systems, all of which work against the self-realization of the individual toward freedom, true community and happiness. Even worse, it commodifies everything. Everything. Not just the air, water, land and animals, but is this mindset of monetization is now reaching into our thoughts and emotions. It’s a scary thing, raising the question of why so many of us are going along with this slow-motion train wreck — sometimes against our will, sometimes unconsciously.

In this thought-provoking post on Truthdig, Chris Hedges skillfully analogizes our existential angst with that of the crew of Moby Dick:

And those on the ship, on some level, know they are doomed—just as many of us know that a consumer culture based on corporate profit, limitless exploitation and the continued extraction of fossil fuels is doomed.

“If I had been downright honest with myself,” Ishmael admits, “I would have seen very plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this way to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was to be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the open sea. But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing.”

We, like Ahab and his crew, rationalize madness. All calls for prudence, for halting the march toward environmental catastrophe, for sane limits on carbon emissions, are ignored or ridiculed. Even with the flashing red lights before us, the increased droughts, rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, monster tornadoes, vast hurricanes, crop failures, floods, raging wildfires and soaring temperatures, we bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess. We believe in the eternal wellspring of material progress. We are our own idols. Nothing will halt our voyage; it seems to us to have been decreed by natural law. “The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run,” Ahab declares. We have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death. Microbes will inherit the earth.

In our decline, hatred becomes our primary lust, our highest form of patriotism and a form of eroticism. We are made supine by hatred and fear. We deploy vast resources to hunt down jihadists and terrorists, real and phantom. We destroy our civil society in the name of a war on terror. We persecute those, from Julian Assange to Bradley Manning to Edward Snowden, who expose the dark machinations of power. We believe, because we have externalized evil, that we can purify the earth. We are blind to the evil within us. Melville’s description of Ahab is a description of the bankers, corporate boards, politicians, television personalities and generals who through the power of propaganda fill our heads with seductive images of glory and lust for wealth and power. We are consumed with self-induced obsessions that spur us toward self-annihilation.

This mad march toward our own destruction has always perplexed me. It’s a collective death wish, perhaps spurred by a illusory sense of unworthiness? We know that sleeping evil within us, and perhaps have yet to find the inner strength and courage to defeat it for good? It’s difficult to say. As long as there is a glimmer of hope in the human spirit, there will always be Edward Snowdens and Bradley Mannings, people who override the habitual sense of self-preservation to make a stand. Are we — as individuals and as a collective — able to aspire to their example and do the same?

Read the rest over at Truthdig.

“Donimo” by Cocteau Twins

I first heard about Cocteau Twins via Chinese singer Faye Wong. Ethereal and otherworldly, a kind of rhapsodic glossolalia from the higher dimensions. Of course, in reality, there is another story behind the music. Betrayal, broken promises and denial, via The Guardian:

[Lead singer Elizabeth] Fraser’s decision to pull out of the reformation was made for the same reasons that contribute to the band’s split in the first place: she could no longer face working with the group’s guitarist, Robin Guthrie – her lover until 1993, and the father of her first child. But while they were together, the Cocteau Twins established themselves as one of the three main pillars of British alternative music, alongside New Order and the Smiths. Guthrie provided shimmering swathes of effects-laden guitar – surely the inspirtation for what then Radio 1 DJ Steve Wright’s spoof rock critic character called “sonic cathedrals of sound” – while real critics swooned over Fraser’s otherworldly and often incomprehensible vocals, one describing her singing – to her embarrassment – as “the voice of God.”

She and Guthrie were lovers for 13 years, during which time the difficulties any relationship faces were compounded by being in a band together. “We were so close, but certain responsibilities were too much for us,” Fraser says. The birth of their daughter Lucy-Belle in 1989 “didn’t impact as positively” as she’d hoped.

There were resentments on both sides, she says. They were “outgrowing each other” and Fraser was increasingly unhappy in the band. She resented “doing what people wanted all the time” and began to break free, a process documented on the unusually direct lyrics of the 1993 album Four-Calendar Cafe. The situation was sharpened by Guthrie’s dependency on alcohol and drugs, revelations (which came from him, after the band’s split) that shocked fans. But Fraser’s own unhappiness was unnoticed by her colleagues.

“I turned to others for some sort of reality check, [but] they hadn’t even noticed there was a problem,” she says. “And that was another thing that sent me absolutely round the bend. When you need things measured and it’s not happening it can make you feel quite mad.” Fraser endured a nervous breakdown, and underwent a course of psychotherapy. Today, she remains irked by the suggestion Guthrie made after completing rehab, that he’d needed the drugs to make the music.

“I don’t believe that and I don’t think he believed that in the beginning,” she insists. “I mean, I tried to keep up, but I find it difficult enough to communicate anyway. On drugs I just shut down. I just thought they’d get fed up with it, and get into something … healthy.” She allows herself a chuckle. “But it never worked out.”

Art & architecture stores memories of the past

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Art and architecture are repositories of memory, the stories we tell ourselves as a culture. I came across a mention of French art historian Henri Focillon, and the impact of his thinking on art history. Most people may think of art history as a flowing continuity, where one style “progresses” into another. But Focillon envisioned history as layers, embedded within works of art and architecture, exuding meaning and memories of the past. It’s an interesting thought. Via Shigeki Abe, of Chuo University:

As an art historian, Henri Focillon always viewed works of art on the horizon of time. Placing something on the horizon of time means to always treat it as something in the process of transformation, pregnant with the past and leading toward the future. Works of art are, of course, nothing more than a spec in the chronological scheme of things. As living things, however, they are always connected to the past below the surface, and their forms retain traces of the time that has elapsed.

From time to time, Focillon asserted this connection to the past in a bold manner. For example, in his article “Prehistory and the Middle Ages” (“Senshi Jidai to Chusei”) written in 1941, he links and discusses these two periods of history, separated by thousands of years, with great ease. According to Focillon, history is structured like a geological formation. It is made up of many overlapping layers, from the older layers at the bottom to the surface layers at the top. The fact that the older layers are usually not exposed, however, does not mean they have disappeared. Likewise, ancient periods of history live on as the older layers, so to speak, in our collective consciousness or the subconscious of individuals, and they sometimes exert an effect on the history of surface layers from deep inside.

I wonder what ancient things does our collective subconscious still remember: matriarchal societies? Our nomadic pasts under a great landscape of stars, slavery and ancient wars that still continue today…?

Art is not made in a vacuum, and it makes sense that art is made as a reflex of these latent impulses of remembrance. I suppose that is why it can resonate so profoundly with us, while we subconsciously know that new images, a new layer of continuity, is urgently needed today. Ultimately, we all play a part in (re)making this layer history. Read more over here.

The Globalization of Addiction

Addiction is a hotly debated issue; is it a brain disease as some contend, or is it a collection of compulsive behaviours that arises from a psychological process, a forging of maladaptations to deal with emotional or psychological trauma. Others, like Canadian psychology professor Bruce K. Alexander, posit that the rise in addictions of all kinds (to drugs, alcohol, shopping, overeating, television, internet, gaming) are a response to the gradual erosion of belonging, of communal identity, brought out by modern society’s insistence on consumption, competition and individualism:

Global society is drowning in addiction to drug use and a thousand other habits. This is because people around the world, rich and poor alike, are being torn from the close ties to family, culture, and traditional spirituality that constituted the normal fabric of life in pre-modern times. This kind of global society subjects people to unrelenting pressures towards individualism and competition, dislocating them from social life.

People adapt to this dislocation by concocting the best substitutes that they can for a sustaining social, cultural and spiritual wholeness, and addiction provides this substitute for more and more of us.

History shows that addiction can be rare in a society for many centuries, but can become nearly universal when circumstances change – for example, when a cohesive tribal culture is crushed or an advanced civilization collapses. Of course, this historical perspective does not deny that differences in vulnerability are built into each individual’s genes, individual experience, and personal character, but it removes individual differences from the foreground of attention, because societal determinants are so much more powerful. Addiction is much more a social problem than an individual disorder.

This perspective reminds me of Oberlin professor David Orr’s assertion that the current age’s rampant environmental degradation and disconnection from nature stems from our “dis-placement” — the loss of our ties to a particular place, or genus loci. Violence, destruction, the self-destruction of addictive behaviour, fill this emptiness and dislocative disconnection. Our collective dislocations allow for atrocities to occur: addictions to substances, harmful behaviours, addictions to oil and greed for money, a bottomless greed for more and more. It will never be enough, even as we annihilate ourselves. As eco-psychologists hypothesize, the way we treat our external environment is analogous to how we treat our inner landscapes, a reflection of our individual and collective psyches. Is there some kind of profound emptiness we are afraid to confront?

The “globalization of addiction” a fascinating hypothesis, speaking to the possible larger picture of what addiction — as an existential problem, a spiritual emptiness — could truly represent. More over at The Globalization of Addiction, and The Agenda with Steve Paikin.

The woman who lived in a giant tree for two years

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Our inculturation as “moderns” sometimes leads us to view unconventional people in a misguided light. Portrayed as a tree-hugging radical, Julia “Butterfly” Hill is a well-known environmental activist and writer, best-known for her two-year long “tree-sit” occupation of a 200-foot tall ancient redwood tree in Humboldt County, California, to save it from being cut down by loggers. I’ve written about her before, and regardless of what mainstream media has said, Hill is one of those inspiring, unforgettable figures precisely because of her act of profound courage. She is one of those modern mystics that have blazed a path into a great spiritual unknown, starting with this singular act. As I said before: “You can speak Gandhi and Martin Luther King, non-violent civil disobedience, in the same breath; certainly, this image of a woman standing tall on a even taller tree, surrounded only by sky, is that indomitable human spirit in the service of love and truth.”

But judge for yourself; here are some of her own words, from Inner Self:

* * * * * * * *

“Committed Love in Action” – article by Julia Butterfly Hill

I was born into a deeply religious family. My father was an itinerant preacher and we traveled across the country offering our service to rural communities. My father would preach, my mother would sing, and my brothers and I would perform puppet shows to entertain the young ones. My early life lessons were to respect my elders and to offer myself to the greater good.

In our family we placed God first, community service second, and our own personal concerns last. Like many teenagers, I rebelled against my upbringing and questioned the way I was raised. Because we were extremely poor and religious, I rebelled by valuing money and deviating from organized religion.

I graduated from high school at sixteen. I decided to study business in college because I truly believed that our value in society was measured by our financial wealth. Because I am someone who prefers experiential learning, I left college and opened my own restaurant when I was eighteen. I am a hard worker, and the next two years of my life were devoted to this business. I even helped others run their enterprises. My life revolved around saving for the future. Yet like most young people, I liked to party and have fun.

In 1996, I was out late with some friends, and I was the designated driver. I was driving a small two-door hatchback and was rear-ended by a drunk driver in a Ford Bronco. The steering wheel jammed into my skull, causing brain damage.

The accident affected my short-term memory and my motor skills. I underwent nearly a year of cognitive and physical therapy. During this period, I had time to contemplate the possibility that I might not fully recover. What if I could not function normally again and what if that impaired my ability to work and earn money, the way I had become accustomed? This possibility struck a chord in me that forced me to question my perceived values. I realized that my value as a human being was certainly greater than my ability to earn money. I began to ponder what my true meaning and purpose on Earth were.

When your way of life is threatened, nothing is ever the same. I suddenly saw everything in a new light. All the time and space I had taken for granted became precious. I realized that I had always been looking ahead and planning instead of making sure that every moment counted for something. Perhaps because I had injured the analytical side of my brain, the more creative side began to take over, and my perspective shifted. It became clear to me that our value as people is not in our stock portfolios and bank accounts but in the legacies of life that we leave behind.

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Mathemusician’s doodles demystifies the agony of numbers

Mathematics is a beautiful language that helps us describe nature and her inexorable laws. For the layman (or laywoman in my case) this means a garbled bunch of indecipherable symbols, Greekery and equations, but it need not be the case if you would like to comprehend some concepts intuitively.

One person that I’ve come across who explains it without much fuss — and almost breathlessly, it seems — is YouTuber Vi Hart. Her singsong monologues are entertaining, insightful and best of all, educational, whether it’s explaining the Fibonacci series or mind-blowing hexaflexagons, and usually accomplished with masterful doodles.

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Living alone in the taiga for 70 years

Stories of survival are irresistibly captivating. They speak to the strength, courage and resilience of the human spirit, and is something that inspires us to wonder, what would we do in a similar situation.

The story of Agafia Lykov is one such tale. (After a long Canadian winter, I was especially drawn to her story.) Born into a Russian family that was persecuted for their religious beliefs, her father and mother packed up and retreated to a remote mountainside in the taiga, 240 kilometres (150 miles) away from the nearest town. Agafia’s family of six was mostly self-sufficient, though they faced starvation more than once and decades of bitter winters — all without human contact for years. The VICE video above is really worth watching, and here are more details of the Lykov’s incredible ordeals, via the Smithsonian Mag:

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Radiant City

Radiant City by Jim Brown& by Gary Burns, National Film Board of Canada

Shining a light on the inherently dysfunctional structures of North American suburbia, this National Film Board of Canada docudrama Radiant City is named after French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier’s utopian and unrealized Ville Radieuse concept, which envisioned a new, modern way of living and urban organization, featuring clear and almost “totalitarian” demarcations between living, working and leisure. Via ArchDaily:

Today, in the aftermath of Modernism, Le Corbusier’s built cities are hardly ever described as Utopias. Brasilia, for example, has been harshly criticized for ignoring residents’ habits or desires and for not providing public spaces for urban encounters. In addition to this, the Unité-inspired apartment blocks, which lie on the outskirts of nearly every major city today, have become incubators of poverty and crime; most have been thoroughly remodeled or demolished.

It’s certainly worth a watch, and if you’ve ever lived in suburbia, it is eerily familiar; as that is one of the characteristics of suburbia: that it attempts at the familiar yet ultimately feels incredibly alienating. Imagine growing up here; environmental author David Orr pegs our society’s current sense of massive “displacement” squarely on this kind of urban development, resulting in our detached relationship to our environment, allowing for its degradation.

James Howard Kunstler, an outspoken critic of suburban sprawl, says this in the film:

80% of everything that has been built in North America was built in the last fifty years and most of it is brutal, depressing, ugly, unhealthy and spiritually degrading.

The suburbs are a kind of modern purgatory; a result of chasing an empty, modern dream at the expense of true community and connection with nature and our fellow human beings. “Turning our backs on the world,” in a way. A pretty dire situation that we’ve built ourselves into; can we get out of our personal and collective suburb before it eats up everything? I certainly hope so.

iambic – Touch the Sky

Insanely lovely track.

iambic is an electronic music act based in London, UK which was created by Guy Andrews in 2004. The music is based around the ambient genre but fuses elements of many other styles together including Jazz, Soundscape, IDM, Post-Rock and Break Beat to create a new and evocative sound.

Since the release of the first iambic LP ‘Under These Stars, We’ll Sleep Again’ on the Austrian based electronica label ‘Laridae Records’ at the start of 2007 , iambic’s fan base has steadily risen both in the UK and abroad. Due to this, Guy was asked to create a live act for his music and has now played live gigs both in the UK and abroad.

I love the acoustic instruments mixed with the downtempo electronic beat, making it more emotionally evocative. Emotions are a language of their own, our heart center being the mouthpiece of this language, and nothing puts the heart into eloquence than music — hopefully, stuff of the uplifting kind.

“I Am Not a Leader”: Russell Means

russell-means

Plenty of food for thought, written by American Indian Movement (AIM) activist and controversial figure Russell Means in a 1980 cover story for Mother Jones:

Distilled to its basic terms, European faith—including the new faith in science—equals a belief that man is God. Europe has always sought a Messiah, whether that be the man Jesus Christ or the man Karl Marx or the man Albert Einstein. American Indians know this to be totally absurd. Humans are the weakest of all creatures, so weak that other creatures are willing to give sip their flesh that we may live. Humans are able to survive only through the exercise of rationality since they lack the abilities of other creatures to gain food through the use of fang and claw. But rationality is a curse since it can cause humans to forget the natural order of things in ways other creatures do not. A wolf never forgets his or her place in the natural order. American Indians can. Europeans almost always do. We pray our thanks to the deer, our relations, for allowing us their flesh to eat; Europeans simply take the flesh for granted and consider the deer inferior. After all, Europeans consider themselves godlike in their rationalism and science. God is the Supreme Being; all else must be inferior.

All European tradition. Marxism included, has conspired to defy the natural order of all things. Continue reading

Bed Peace: Yoko Ono & John Lennon’s “bed-in” for peace

Several playthroughs of “Here Comes the Sun” in anticipation of spring got me down this Beatles road again.

Yesterday marked the day that John Lennon and Yoko Ono‘s honeymoon began in 1969, a week after their marriage in Gibraltar, near Spain (Lennon’s “Ballad of John and Yoko” gives a pretty concise rundown). Instead of indulging in a private getaway, the couple embarked on two highly publicized week-long “bed-in‘s” for peace, where they stayed in bed and talked about world peace to reporters and various visitors (remember, the Vietnam War was in full swing at this time).

Ono made footage of the May 1969 bed-in in Montréal public in 2011. It’s been 45 years since that famous maneuver for non-violence, and the message still resonates today. Continue reading

Hypnotic drawings with clay & potter’s wheel

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Created with wet clay spinning round and round on a potter’s wheel, this video is completely mesmerizing. Via This Is Colossal:

As a person who’s spent more than a few hours at the seat of a potter’s wheel I can attest to the strangely soothing act of doodling around with wet clay sludge (called slip) before or after throwing a pot. As fun as it is, it’s still somewhat surprising to see the act elevated to this level of artistry by Michael Gardner Mikhail Sadovnikov who blurs the line between performance and visual art as he creates pattern after pattern on an empty wheel.