Saturday, February 23, 2013

Oscar Pistorius Won't Ruin My Day

It's snowing outside and it looks like I'm inside one of those shake-up globes with the white stuff coming down. Or is it falling up? Hard to tell sometimes. Why we love winter, the sense of unreality we get, the upside-downness. Is that even a word? When it's snowing, the whole world comes to a stop. No getting around it. But it all depends. Perception is everything in this wintery world, and this fact -  the dominant role perception plays in everything we think and do -  could be a tragedy, or a great benefit. You're stuck, the snow's coming down, you have to stop and look at things in a fresh way, and sometimes life seems empty, not as good as it could be, the green-eyed monster of envy is staring back at you from that Facebook post, just got a rejection letter from a job application, and, like a car going off the road, before you know it, you're mired in depression and negativity.

More and more I find that much of life comes down to the theory of relativity. It all depends on the vantage point of the observer. Even more, this vantage point is also relative to the internal condition that the observer is under, which is a changeable condition. And the internal condition of an observer is subject to what exactly? What is it that flips the switch so the life energy is flowing one way or the other? Does anyone know for sure? No, because we don't know how the brain functions, or even what it is at its deepest levels. Sometimes our mood is a conscious decision, but sometimes it isn't. And that's when you get stuck, when the decision as to point of view remains unconscious and out of the realm of executive functioning.

I just read a great blog post about how to remember your dreams. The trick is to keep your eyes closed when you first awake and try to carry one thing, one image from the dream with you as you come into the waking world. The same thing could be applied to those days when we wake up and it seems that the world is crashing down in hopelessness. Bladerunner has massacred his beautiful girlfriend. The Pope is resigning because of a secret report detailing blackmail and gay sex rings in the Vatican. Nobody and nothing on earth is as it seems. It's clear as the nose on the end of your face that everything is pointless and there's no redeemable feature to your life at all. Okay, relax. It's one of those days. You've reached a point in your life when you recognize there's an ebb and a flow to things and a closer look is always a good idea. Try to remember one detail, one image from before, when you were still in the world of the positive. Maybe the sight of your daughter working on a drawing at the kitchen table, perhaps an idea you had for an upcoming vacation. Something small and trivial that seemed like a message, a wake up call. There is good. The trick is to put yourself in a positive cycle and remember that nothing is set in stone. The landscape of winter is the landscape of dreams. It depends how you look at it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Chelyabinsk Meteor - A Reminder of Our Fragility

The Russian meteor over Chelyabinsk may be one of those moments in history that will go down as marking a turning point in our global civilization. The hair-raising videos captured by residents of the Urals and posted all over the Internet are yet one more instance of catastrophe in one part of the settled world immediately being shared and lived with people everywhere. But on top of that, the spectacle of a fireball raining down from heaven is such an iconic image of the end of time that there are very few people whose thoughts didn't spring to celestial retribution for sin and sloth. The amazing thing is how few deaths there really were. It was like we got the warning and the big bang and the glass shattering, but were spared any of the pain. Nowadays, of course, we laugh at notions of messages from the beyond, but really, even if you disavow thoughts of a creative transcendent spirit able to pull the strings of time and space and send rocks hurtling at will at recalcitrant beings on a distant outcrop of a planet, it's not too far-fetched to admit that the image of the meteor, and the dangers it represents of planetary peril, has brought people closer together in the way of a memento mori, a reminder of the fragility of our presence in the vast reaches of space, and the need we have of being more mindful of the care we take of each other. Indeed, one of the immediate and most interesting after-shocks of the meteor's fiery end were calls at the highest levels of the Russian government for a joint US-Russian and Chinese military effort going forward to identify and counter space debris which poses a high risk of massive destructive force against our people, anywhere on Earth.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Digging out from Nemo

Digging out from Nemo, I learned a few things. Sometimes a curve ball can be just what we need. I know - the loss of productivity and earnings, not to mention the tragic, unintelligible deaths and damaged property, makes it hard to see it as an overall benefit to society, but on another level, think of all the down time, the self-assessment, the rapprochement of family members who live separate lives in the same space, all the incalculable benefits of having to weather a storm. Yesterday, after enough snow had been dug out that we could safely take some time for ourselves, my wife and I went on a walk on a loop we occasionally take that goes past some old farms and some woods on the edge of town. We went past a woman's house, an acquaintance of my wife's that she talks about from time to time and someone I have never met. She was doing some digging herself around by the garage and front door, trying to clear enough space so she could get the car out. She's in her eighties, and so my wife stopped to chat and took the shovel out of her hand and handed it to me while the woman put up some mild squawks of protest. Okay, I finished the job for her while the women made small talk and it made me feel useful in a way I would never have had the chance to feel if not for Nemo.  Then we continued on our way up the hill into the woods where the trees provided a little shelter from the wind. The rest of the walk went by in a blur, thinking of all the things affecting our lives at the moment - all the particular junctions that we face individually and together and that constantly make up the bulk of our conversation as we try to sail our ship along as husband and wife and parents. We didn't do much talking, but it was a pleasant blur, and definitely one in the win column for me.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I Like the Ravens

We're halfway through the winter and the sheep are big, looking like twins for a few of them at least. It's the beginning of lambing season and reminds me that Ground Hog Day was originally called Imbolc, meaning in the belly in Gaelic, and it was a feast designed to celebrate the advent of the rising sun in the sky and the sap in the trees, and the groundhog was originally the serpent at the center of the world uncoiling itself for a new stab at the growing of new life. But for me it seems like it could be seen as an inner imperative to turn away from the natural pessimism that arises in the winter months. I see it in my classes in my job as a teacher and there's just a spirit of meanness that pervades all of our consciousness at a certain time in January with the cold snap and the snow and the dark days. It's basically the lack of light in us that makes us want to hurt others or ourselves. We want to take this time to turn again to the light and affirm basic principles, no matter what faith tradition we hold to. It helps to hang with others in a festive setting, and thus Super Bowl parties come at a good time, a reenactment of ancient pagan motifs unbeknownst to us. Instead of bonfires we have glowing digital displays and hulking masculine life forms throwing themselves around in some kind of semi-absurd ancient sacrificial ritual while hyped up maidens jump and throb on the sidelines. What is it that causes these archetypes to arise again? Sometimes I think we are just puppets on invisible strings being yanked around by the unfolding patterns of human evolution.