Still Alone in the Wilderness

I’ve been alone in the wilderness now for more than twenty-four hours. Other than the occasional canoe passing by I’ve seen or talked with no one.
Nothing particularly unusual has happened here other than last evening I fell in the lake trying to get into my canoe. I spent considerable time after that rigging up lines to dry things out which they pretty well were by morning.

So, I was thinking about what I miss being in the wilderness and one of the first things that came to mind is music which when I’m not in the wilderness I am usually listening to or is at least playing in the background.

I find it interesting how some musicians’ names seem to fit their profession so well. Take Esa-Pekka Salonen or Luigi Boccherini or Antonine Dvorak. When I say these names out loud I just want to repeat them over and over because they’re so rhythmic sounding (well, maybe not Antonine Dvorak so much).

The composer I’m thinking of now is Aaron Copeland who I guess doesn’t have a particularly rhythmic sounding name but his music seems to suit the wilderness. It seems to me Appalachian Spring would be really good background music for where I presently am. I’m not in Appalachia and it’s not spring but never the less.

I do know the title of that work really doesn’t refer to the season but rather a water source. I found this out only recently. Even so I still am inclined to think of the season when I hear the piece. Also I think of Jody Foster who sang Simple Gifts in an episode of Kung Fu for David Carradine who played Kwai Chang Caine even though he’s Caucasian.

The movie that I think of when I think of Jody Foster is Taxi Driver with Robert DeNiro. In it she plays an adolescent prostitute.

Alone in the Wilderness

I’m all alone in the wilderness. At least it’s someplace I would call wilderness. I know for a fact no one lives within miles of here and there aren’t any roads within miles of here either.

That’s not to say there aren’t people around. I saw four people just minutes ago but they aren’t within sight now. For all intents and purposes I’m all alone. At least I have been for the last three hours and seventeen minutes which is how long ago I entered the wilderness.

Right now I’m looking out across a lake.

Although it’s been a couple of minutes since I wrote that last sentence I’m still looking across the same lake in so far as I haven’t moved from the spot I was at when I wrote the last sentence. It’s a beautiful scene; the sun sparkling off of the water, the variety of greens in the trees on the far bank, the multi-colored rock outcroppings reaching down into the dark water. It could be a painting.

Of course I know it couldn’t really be a painting because then what I’d be looking at would be some sort of pigment spread on canvas or paper or something rather than the real water and rocks and trees I’m seeing.

That’s not to say if what I was looking at was a painting that the painting wouldn’t be real. It is real in my imagination in so far as I can imagine this scene as a painting.

So I guess there’s no reason to think that the painting I’m imagining of the scene that I’m looking at is any less real than the water, trees and rocks.

Mindfulness Overdone

My daily meditations have me focusing, lately, on mindful attentions. Today, as I arise from my nocturnal slumbers to the feng-shui of my bedroom, I inhale deeply, exhale, and mindfully absorb the world around me. As I turn to the closet I wait, patiently, for the day’s wardrobe to present itself. Today I embrace change; I will become the plaid shirt and striped pants.

In the kitchen I am enveloped by the silence. I inhale the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee. Staring down into the dark, amber liquid I deliberate on the space between my thoughts. Mindfully, I lift the cup and contemplate the anticipated feel of the warm liquid on my palate and dwell for a time on the importance of observation in place of determination.

The tamarack tree outside my window beckons. I feel myself becoming one with its gnarly branches lightly swaying in the breeze and find myself becoming rooted to this place. As the wind begins blowing harder my back twists, fingers bend painfully, needle-like leaves detach. I am aware of the impermanence of existence and I share the suffering and pain of the fragile Larch for whom I shed tears in empathy. I pull away, release my embrace. Life is process not a state of being.

Well, at this point I’ve pretty much killed most of the day as far as doing anything productive goes; my painting languishes, I’m behind in my reading, the lawn needs mowing and forget about the groceries for supper. Maybe part of the discipline of mindfulness needs to be being mindful of what is necessary for basic functioning.

 

 

Primitive Science

I was reading, recently, that science, in the broadest sense is simply the systematic knowledge obtained through observation and experimentation, which means, I guess, that our earliest ancestors were practicing science as they observed and learned the habits of their prey and the locales where edible vegetation could be found. And then, later, our forebears developed a pretty sophisticated understanding of stellar and planetary movements affecting seasonal change and growing seasons: science without question.

There have been, of course, a few observational glitches along the developmental path. Grasping and accepting heliocentricity involved overcoming considerable cognitive dissonance (which might be attributed, to a considerable extent, to the Catholic Church). And, I guess, religion has thrown a monkey wrench into the workings of scientific progress on a somewhat regular basis through the ages. There are still quite a number of folks out there suspicious of ‘science’ when it questions long held beliefs or offers inconvenient truths.

But, it’s hard to argue that our very existence today isn’t due to a significant extent to our embrace of science. And, as we understand more and more about the workings of the natural world and even more questions arise we will trust science to address the questions with the knowledge that a definitive explanation of how it all works will probably never be seen. Progress will continue, nevertheless, new ideas will be presented and peer reviewed until established facts present themselves.

I can only hope education will prevail. Science, after all, is without ulterior motive; the betterment of humankind is its only goal.

 

Poetic Naturalism

I was reading the other day that what we are, when it comes right down to it (way, way down I might add) is ‘collections of vibrating quantum fields, held together in persistent patterns by feeding off of ambient free energy according to impersonal and uncaring laws of nature.’* Vibrating one-dimensional strings or sub-atomic particles organize themselves to form our senses and memories, record and qualify our experiences which are then interpreted in language containing personal pronouns which identify self and, voila, we awaken and become conscious of our individual selves.

It’s a great story, a believable narrative that answers a lot of questions about our unique natures and our reality as we conceive it. There are, of course, other narratives. On a macroscopic level our complex beings seek out and find entities beyond the physical that on occasion reach out and touch us, make us aware of the magic in a changing natural world; give us the capacity to embrace beauty, to love others than ourselves, give us courage in the face of adversity, offer a benevolent overseer to rule our very existence.

There are without a doubt other narratives as well. The question we need to ask is: which stories carry the greater validity, answers the most questions, accounts for nature as we know it. I must admit I’m often swayed by a well stated thought which leads me to embrace, for the moment, the ideas of poetic naturalism, seeing as how it is so convincingly backed up by theoretical physics.

So, for now I will embrace the beauty and complexity of a naturalistic view and set aside explanations requiring any sort of supernatural participant. At least until the next new, well-thought-out conception comes my way.

*credit to Sean Carroll for this wonderful summation.

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Our Innate Spirituality

I’ve been reading, lately, that our innate spirituality is deeply rooted in our evolutionary past. According to the religious scholar John Teehan (actually I don’t know if he’s religious or not but he sure knows a lot about the origins of religion) a sense of the supernatural developed very early on in our evolutionary past.

The early pre-historic survivors of a very dangerous world were those who maintained a constant alertness. They thrived because they kept a watchful eye on the beings around them. They were, more than likely, overly conscientious which led to them over-interpreting under-determined phenomena. In other words, rustling in the bushes and other things they weren’t quite sure about were attributed to intelligent being, like dangerous animals or hostile others. These overly-cautious folks, though, were the survivors because they were ready when danger appeared.

Over the millennia, the watchfulness gene was passed along. Even when no danger was present our surviving ancestors sensed intelligent life where clear knowledge wasn’t available: the mountain top, beyond the clouds, in the dense forest. This sense of an ever-present but invisible intelligence developed into an animistic sense of spirit beings and then eventually evolved to the conception of gods.

I guess what this all means is that the human mind is designed to naturally and automatically interpret the world in terms of intelligent agents: beings acting with intention.

So, anyway, with all this in mind, I’ve been thinking of revisiting the vortices in Sedona, you know, let my primal mind take hold and embrace the spiritual power, maybe even pass through a portal into another realm. Like Kierkegaard said in another context: embrace the absurd and leap into faith.

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Limbo

I seem to be existing, these days, in a state of limbo, not knowing, when I awake in the morning, whether the weather demands long johns or permits short sleeves. Well, it’s not just the weather. It’s also the whether, loose ends and multiple mental directions that have interrupted my normally productive routine.

I understand that, theologically, Limbo has a lot to do with Original Sin. It is, I guess, a place reserved for those who, having given up the ghost but who haven’t had the opportunity to participate in those actions necessary to ensure residence in either the heavenly realm or The Deeps, must go to wait awhile. Maybe a long while, so I understand.

I don’t see the limbo I’m experiencing to be quite so serious. I’m pretty sure I’ll snap out of it soon. Maybe when the weather improves so I can spend more time outside I’ll be able to pull myself together.

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An Aversion to Heat

I’ve found myself, lately, inextricably rooted in a mindset of cynicism that I think may be due to being in the heat of these southern climes where I am temporarily residing.

Cynicism is not foreign to my nature by any means but it seems to have assumed a stronger grip on my thought processes these days as I endure temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s. For example, when I see all the elderly individuals down here, plodding along on their walkers or holding up traffic in their golf carts, rather than commiserate, I am drawn to thinking that their migration to these sunny climes is but preparation for their soon to experience date with the crematory oven.

And then there’s the ubiquitous border patrol’s insidious presence on the roadways seeking to intercept any illicit Hispanic migrants who might be crossing the border looking for honest work. And this is not to mention the legions of homeless individuals on bicycles, pulling wagons containing all of their worldly belongings, sleeping in the parks while being ignored by a government adverse to social provision of any sort.

Anyway, I’m thinking it may just be the heat that has me so off-center; it may be time to proceed north to cooler climes and a more compassionate perspective.

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Mandalas to Order

An idea has come to me lately that, perhaps, the problem I have with meditative practice has to do with not having an appropriate focus to immerse myself in to. I’m pretty sure that if I’m ever to build regular periods of meditation into my daily goings-on I’m going to need a more meaningful target on which to concentrate.

As much as I love the Buddhist mandalas, I find it difficult to fully appreciate the iconography. The multiplicity of various Buddha manifestations and bodhisattvas and their relationships and stories, although colorful and interesting just don’t work for me from a meditative stand point.

But, the idea of sitting before one of these large circular structures, concentrating on ‘entering’ and moving through the various protective layers to reach a meaningful center has a lot of appeal. So, I’m thinking that maybe a more appropriate mandala for those of us not steeped in a religious tradition might contain aspects of our familiar environs: imagery that we non-religious can relate to. Those of us desiring a regular time of introspection who happen to live in rural areas might relate better to landscape elements; city dwellers in need of times of reflex ion might appreciate urban elements in their mandalas.

Well, I’ll see what I can come up with; let me know what you think.

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The Inadequacy of Language

There is a certain philosophical perspective I’ve been reading about lately that maintains language is the basis of all thought. Not only can one not think without a language structure, but, on this view, one experiences in terms of language; to know the empirical truth before you is to be able to formulate what you see, hear, smell, and taste in language. In fact, on this view, all cognitive activity of any value is language based.

I have no doubt there are nuances to philosophical thinking that are beyond me, but this view seems just wrong. I don’t know how, exactly, these thinkers determine what is valuable but it seems to me there are plenty of thoughts and experiences that precede language and to my mind are pretty significant. For instance, if I tell a story about an experience I have, if I tell it well, it may provide insight, even be elegant but the story will never be the experience or get at all the experience, whatever it may be, means to me. In any experience I, and I would think anyone else, has beside the sensory input from all of my senses occurring simultaneously, memories, relationships, and various connections come into play. My story, being necessarily linear can do little more than summarize.

And, as far as thoughts go, when I’m making a sculpture or painting the thinking I’m doing having to do with structure and color or whatever certainly precede any language that may later be applied to them. I think this is true for most people; consider how inauthentic, ridiculous even, artistic statements made after the fact often appear.

So, I will continue to enjoy the complexities and depth of my experiences and activities, and, although there will be much I experience of an ineffable nature I will always know of the reality they hold.

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