Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

[Click on the collage to enlarge the photos]

Can there be anything more beautiful than a family, together and healthy, sharing stories and laughter on Christmas? May your holidays be just a beautiful as ours.

See below if you would like to read our holiday letter.

[Click on the letter to read]

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful for the insight

Thankful for the foliage, Amherst, NH, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 18mm, Exposure 1/60 sec @ f3.5, ISO 200, exposure bias -4/3 stop, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

I received the assembled quotes below from Mitchell Ratner, a Senior Teacher at the Stillwater Mindful Practice Center. I've only been there once (they are in the DC area), but continue to receive their e-mail meditation topics. They practice in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, with whom I seem to resonate.

Below he describes some of his concepts of "Interbeing". A recognition of the inter-relationships that make up every thing we see (and tend to take as a separate object). It is a very different way to view the world, and once internalized, makes it so much easier to recognize our shared humanity and mutual dependency. Which of course is what nature teaches us every day if we pay attention.

I hope on this Thanksgiving Day holiday, you are able to take a moment and reflect upon not only all that for which you can be grateful, but also how that relates to so much more of the world around us. Indeed, we can be grateful for it all, for we are but a small part of this world, and this world is us.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Extracts from The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh
[Excerpts assembled by Rev. Susan Manker-Seale]
“I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth.  In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality.  People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.  But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.  Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize:  a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child--our own two eyes.  All is a miracle...

"…the great body of reality is indivisible.  It cannot be cut into pieces with separate existences of their own…

“Consider the example of a table.  The table’s existence is possible due to the existence of things which we might call ‘the non-table world’:  the forest where the wood grew and was cut, the carpenter, the iron ore which became the nails and screws, and countless other things which have relation to the table, the parents and ancestors of the carpenter, the sun and rain which made it possible for the trees to grow.

“If you grasp the table’s reality then you see that in the table itself are present all those things which we normally think of as the non-table world.  If you took away any of those non-table elements and returned them to their sources--the nails back to the iron ore, the wood to the forest, the carpenter to his parents--the table would no longer exist.

“A person who looks at the table and can see the universe is a person who can see the way…

“We have to strip away all the barriers in order to live as part of the universal life.  A person isn’t some private entity traveling unaffected through time and space as if sealed off from the rest of the world by a thick shell…  In our lives are present a multitude of phenomena, just as we ourselves are present in many different phenomena.  We are life, and life is limitless.”

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Why bother?

Floating leaf, Tucker Pond, Salisbury, NH, October 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 200mm, Exposure 1/50 sec @ f5.6, ISO 200, exposure bias -1/3 stop, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Personal transformation has a difficult time breaking through the husk of comfort. Why bother, the essence asks? You are comfortable and secure inside your shell. You are protected. Life is pretty nice, just the way it is.

Are you a gardener? A tender of plants? A planter of seeds?

Sometimes, depending on the seed, to encourage germination you are advised by the packet to soak the seeds overnight, or to scratch the seed shell to encourage root emergence. Yes, sometimes, even nature provides too much comfort to allow the essence to emerge, and to grow and develop. At least, much of the time.

So what to do? Only a fool would cast aside the safety and security developed over years of careful planning and execution, right?

Only a fool indeed. A fool that had seen glimpses of the creative energy that is life itself. A fool that rested among the rustling grasses, warmed by the setting sun, smiling at the birds overhead as they began their journey south, pulled by an unseen and unnamed force. It is that force — subtle and nondescript, at least in the language of our work-a-day world — that begs this question: ‘why bother?’

Why bother, indeed. Just who is keeping score? Will you be a success or a failure at this game called life? How big is the field, just where are the goal posts? Help, you ask, please — the rules are changing as you think. Or better, once you stop thinking. And start to listen. To that small, quiet voice — it’s a feeling, really — deep within — or maybe out there somewhere — in another dimension perhaps — hitting you with a glancing blow, from an oblique angle, orthogonal to what we call the “real world”.

You know, it’s funny. You know the answer. You absolutely know what to do. This is the revelation.

The question is — do you trust that insight? Will you follow its guidance — and take the needed risks? Put your own comfort, and the security of your family, at risk? Is this nothing more than a selfish endeavor? Why do you get to make the call? Just who says that’s OK?

You know the “right” answer. But do you have the courage and the conviction? The depth of faith? (Oh God how I’ve come to hate that word.) Will you take action?

Just a few more years, you hear yourself saying. Until you earn some more money. Build up a bigger nest egg. Then you’ll be able to do what is asked. What you ask. Be patient. You have responsibilities. You must think not only of yourself.

Oh, but what of those souls that never act — who suppress their essence. They remained ungerminated. Dead, within their soil and their soul. Contributing to our collective evolution only though their own decomposition. Compost for the next soul. May the next one have the strength and the urgency.

No, you cannot accept that fate. Sure, that will be your end, but you have so much life left to live. So much creation left within you. This is your chance to influence the flow. To dip your toe into the stream of life, and make a unique contribution to the river of dreams.

No, you will not recoil from this challenge. You will not ignore this invitation. You are one of the lucky ones. You have asked “why?” You have listened for the answer. You may have even glimpsed into the fire of the moment. Seen the cauldron of creation. Witnessed the peace of the Now. The bliss of awareness. The reflection of beauty in every thing — which we label “pretty” and “ugly”.

The real crime would be to leave that insight to fend for itself. You must water it — fertilize it — keep it warm — even transplant it if needed. You cannot let this languish, to be overtaken by the weeds of the mundane and routine. It is too precious. At least you think so.

But this spark – this essence — is everywhere. So if you ignore it, it will not matter. Life will keep offering up the opportunity the each of us.

But you don’t want to ignore it.

This is where you'll find your bliss. You must follow that, says Joseph Campbell. But you know, it is different than pursuing a goal. You do not imagine it and then create it. Instead, it finds you. I’ve had this experience, maybe two or three times. It is almost indescribable. Picture yourself with a gentle smile — not a big grin, but certainly not a frown. A contented awareness. A satisfied knowing. A pleasantly surprised insight. And a recognition of the oneness in which we exist. This is the bliss I am talking about.

Time slows down. You can almost see the flux of life as it flows around the toe you have dipped in the water. That is the difference you have made. Without you, it would be something else. You are now a part of it. Not a leaf caught on the surface in the eddy of a backwash, but the rock itself that alters the stream's meander.

This is why you bother. This is why it is worth your time, and your energy. This is why it demands your courage. This is why it requires your faith and your trust. This is why it is worth the risk. Yes, I am sure it is worth the risk. Are you?

Come with me. Hold my hand. I’ll help you, and you can help me. Together, we will take the plunge. We will put one foot in front of the other. We will walk toward the stream. And when we get to the water's edge, we will sit for a while. We will convince ourselves that we know what we are doing. Even though we cannot know.

And then we will take off our shoes, roll up our pants, and step confidently into the stream. Come. Come with me. We need each other. Now is when we need to act. This is why we bother.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Fall comes quickly

Fall comes quickly, Amherst, NH, October 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 18mm (varying), Exposure 1/30 sec @ f3.5, ISO 720, exposure bias -2/3 stop, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]
I thank You God for most this amazing day;
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;
and for everything which is natural
which is infinite
which is yes.


-e.e. cummings

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Finger of God


Finger of God, Mystery Lake, Sierra Mountains, CA, October 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 18mm, Exposure 1/1600 sec @ f20, ISO 200, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

There it is again. Do you see it? The circular rainbow around the sun?

You wouldn’t have seen it if you didn’t somehow block out the sun’s intensity. But once done, the rainbow was revealed. That act allowed one to "open ones eyes" and see the inherent beauty that was present.

So why the “Finger of God”?

Well, first of all, you had the power within you to see this rainbow, or not, as you chose. Many people ascribe such wonders of nature to God, and why not? The only question, then, is just who (or what) exactly is this God?

Western cultures, born of the Abrahamic religions, presupposes that this God is “other” than Man; indeed, is outside, apart, and separate from all that we envision. He (and it is always male, isn't it) lives in Heaven, which is a place where we humans might get to go, after we die. We cannot unite with God during this life, but must wait for our Judgment Day, and the hope for Salvation, that we may once again unite with Him.

Interestingly, some Eastern traditions (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism) recognize God very differently. That which we call God is sometimes referred to as Brahman, Buddha-nature, the Ground of Being, One without a second, and many other traditional names. Rather than the dualistic view that we are separate from God, these traditions teach that we can be one with God — that we all have this Godliness within us, and it is our challenge to “awaken” to this reality.

God lives not elsewhere, up in Heaven. But right here, right now, in this very moment. Not the concept of immortality or eternity, but rather timelessness. Not concept of everywhere or infinity but rather spacelessness.

We humans (and everything else manifest within all that is our universe) are but a expression of God itself. Not separate from a God that is watching over us, judging our behaviors, and being saddened by our sins. But a very part of Creation itself, that which we call God, or Nature, or ... (insert your traditional phrase for the ineffable).

So yes, what you see in the picture above is indeed the “Finger of God”.

We humans are on a long (think eons), inexorable path of evolution from “lesser” to “greater”, from creatures that were once unconscious, to humans who are now conscious and self-aware, and to a future state, illuminated by the leading wave of supra-conscious individuals we have called sages, saints, mystics, mahatmas, enlightened beings, Buddha, and Christ. These awakened beings illustrate the future evolutionary path of our species.

But more importantly, they help us to realize how this “Godliness” is within each of us, right now — if only we awaken to that truth. We all intuit this reality, to a lesser or greater degree. It is that “call” which drives us to look for meaning in our lives, to honor our spirituality, to become “seekers” of truth. They show us how to accept our mortal lives, and transcend both time and space in the here and now. They help us remove the primal fear of mortal death, and not replace that with mythic tales of everlasting life; but instead, realize timelessness right now, and now, and now again, in this very Moment of Life itself. That recognition brings with it a state of peacefulness and calm and wholeness, and replaces the inherent fear and anxiety of a separate self, cut off from the world and others, seeking to postpone an inevitable death.

Take a look. Squint your eyes a bit. Dare to place your hand in front of the Sun and see that Finger of God. Realize your interconnectedness with all that is. It is not our separateness that defines us, but indeed, our Oneness. It is not just your hand which contains the finger of God, but that of the saint, and that of the sinner. Not only the benevolent souls, but the street bums. Can you wrap your mind around that reality? It adds a level of beauty to all that is a part of this world we have manifest.

Namaste, my friend. We are One.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The sanctuary?


The sanctuary, Köln Cathedral, Köln, Germany, October 2001, Sony Cybershot, Exposure 1/30 sec @ f5.6, ISO 400, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

The concept of a sanctuary is comforting. A place one can go to avoid having to do battle, whether physical, legal, or emotional. But of course, like any other concept, it is only in our minds (singularly, or collectively). And it is true only as long as we (the royal we, or all of us) choose to believe it.

In a story that I recently read, traditional places of sanctuary actually became the nice convenient collection points for brutal killings, and the actual sanctuary for the story teller, turned out to be a tiny bathroom in a pastor's house. But that is not my point -- I just needed to explain the title and photo for this post.

So ... What have you been reading on your summer vacation?

I just finished an interesting, if somewhat unlikely, choice for some spare-time page turning. It is entitled “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust,” by Immaculee Ilibagiza with Steve Erwin.

OK, so that might sound like a bit of a downer, and a rather poor choice. Especially with the 7th Harry Potter book recently released and all. (And, I didn't have to worry about some loudspoken fellow traveler giving away the ending ;-) But I must tell you, I really enjoyed it. I found it quite moving — both emotional and inspirational. And I would highly recommend it.

Here are a few quotes from it that caught my mind:
The world had seen the same thing happen many times before. After it happened in Nazi Germany, all the big, powerful countries swore, “Never again!” But here we were, six harmless females huddled in darkness, marked for execution because we were born Tutsi. How had history managed to repeat itself? How had this evil managed to surface once again? Why had the devil been allowed to walk among us unchalleneged, poisoning hearts and minds until it was too late?
I prayed for God to receive the child’s innocent soul, and then asked Him, How can I forgive people who would do such a thing to an infant?
I heard His answer as clearly as if we’d been sitting in the same room chatting: You are all my children ... and the baby is with Me now.
It was such a simple sentence, but it was the answer to the prayers I’d been lost in for days.
The pastor told his children to take a good look at us. “There, but for the grace of God, go any one of you,” he reminded them. “If you have the chance to help unfortunates like these ladies in times of trouble, make sure you do it — even if it means putting your own life at risk. This is how God wants us to live.”
He grabbled Felicien [Hutu gang leader that killed Immaculee’s family] by the shirt collar and hauled him to his feet. “What do you have to say to her? What do you have to say to Immaculee?”
Felicien was sobbing. I could feel his shame. He looked up at me for only a moment, but our eyes met. I reached out, touched his hands lightly, and quietly said what I’d come to say. “I forgive you.”
Now, some might be put off by the subject matter. Others might be put off by the explicit references to God and Christianity. But I urge you to look past those, if they concern you. I see a story that transcends any particular religion. Indeed, I see a story that both defines and transcends faith itself.

And this is not simply a story about man’s inhumanity toward man. Nor is it a story about mankind’s innate goodness. It is a reminder to us all. All of us caught up in our petty concerns, our busy-ness, our happiness or our sadness. The reality of our world is a complex thing. Our day-to-day lives could be turned upside down rather quickly. Things which are truly unimaginable really can happen. And that might be for good or for bad.

And to me it is a reminder of the only antidote we have to such pain, such loss, such tragedy: Compassion, forgiveness, and loving-kindness. Revenge will not work. Even justice can be misguided. We must consider the eternal wisdom from all religions and all traditions: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” It is the only principle that scales.

Beyond that, I think this book is remarkable in its ability to remind us what evils can prevail from a “tribal” mentality. That is, anything that causes an “us versus them” mentality. Whether we are talking about race, ethnicity, religion, or even politics. If you find yourself siding with “your kind” against “those idiots,” well then, somewhere your train has left the track, and you had best put it right again.

If you see yourself listening to extreme positions, put forth by the media talking heads, religious evangelicals, or political leaders, be suspect. Their job is usually to convince you of their position, rather than inform you to let you make up your own mind. And mass hysteria can lead a group of otherwise rational individuals to act like a pack of wild dogs. It is a fascinating and dangerous trait of human nature.
I come from the East, most of you are Westerners. If I look at you superficially, we are different, and if I put my emphasis on that level, we grow more distant. If I look on you as my own kind, as human beings like myself, with one nose, two eyes, and so forth, then automatically that distance is gone. We are the same human flesh. I want happiness; you also want happiness. From that mutual recognition, we can build respect and real trust of each other. From that can come cooperation and harmony.
-- His Holiness the Dalai Lama
But once again, I come back to compassion, forgiveness, and loving-kindness. Or just Unconditional Love for short. Regardless of your spiritual background or your religious persuasion. Consider its power, and its salvation for humanity, and that most complex, and at times, disconcerting thing called "the human condition". And then smile at your insight, for you have found the path to peace and bliss.
Someone asked me, “Aren’t you worried about the state of the world?” I allowed myself to breathe and then I said, “What is most important is not to allow your anxiety about what happens in the world to fill your heart. If your heart is filled with anxiety, you will get sick, and you will not be able to help.” There are wars  big and small  in many places, and that can cause us to lose our peace. Anxiety is the illness of our age. We worry about ourselves, our family, our friends, our work, and the state of the world. If we allow worry to fill our hearts, sooner or later we will get sick.

Yes, there is tremendous suffering all over the world, but knowing this need not paralyze us. If we practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful sitting, and working in mindfulness, we try our best to help, and we can have peace in our heart. Worrying does not accomplish anything. Even if you worry twenty times more, it will not change the situation of the world. In fact, your anxiety will only make things worse. Even though things are not as we would like, we can still be content, knowing we are trying our best and will continue to do so. If we don’t know how to breathe, smile, and live every moment of our life deeply, we will never be able to help anyone. I am happy in the present moment. I do not ask for anything else. I do not expect any additional happiness or conditions that will bring about more happiness. The most important practice is aimlessness, not running after things, not grasping.

-- Thich Nhat Hanh, from the “Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching”

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Heavenly Light

Heavenly Light, Inyo Mountains, CA, August 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 26mm, Exposure 1/30 sec @ f22, ISO 500, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

We completed our summer vacation this week. We visited my brother-in-law in Los Angeles, who took us camping up in the Ancient Bristle Cone Pine forest located in the White Mountains of California. It was a great trip, with many, many photos taken, and some great hiking to some very remote areas. After I go through them all, I’m sure more will show up here.

In the meantime, while driving back to LA, I noticed this pillar of light out the window and snapped a photo from his moving truck. And it made me think of this inspirational poem by the 12th century Sufi mystic, Rumi. I hope you enjoy his words along with this photo. Namaste.

Looking For Your Face, by Jelauddin Rumi

From the beginning of my life
I have been looking for your face
but today I have seen it.

Today I have seen
the charm, the beauty,
the unfathomable grace
of the face
that I was looking for.

Today I have found you
and those that laughed
and scorned me yesterday
are sorry that they were not looking
as I did.

I am bewildered by the magnificence
of your beauty
and wish to see you with a hundred eyes.

My heart has burned with passion
and has searched forever
for this wondrous beauty
that I now behold.

I am ashamed
to call this love human
and afraid of God
to call it divine.

Your fragrant breath
like the morning breeze
has come to the stillness of the garden
You have breathed new life into me
I have become your sunshine
and also your shadow.

My soul is screaming in ecstasy
Every fiber of my being
is in love with you

Your effulgence
has lit a fire in my heart
and you have made radiant
for me
the earth and sky.

My arrow of love
has arrived at the target
I am in the house of mercy
and my heart
is a place of prayer.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Art of Drowning

Dawn clouds, Tucker Pond, Salisbury, NH, July 2003, Sony Cybershot, Exposure 1/80 sec @ f2.8, ISO 100, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

A good friend sent me a poem by this author (who served two terms as U.S. Poet Laureate), and as it always does, one thing led to another, and here is one of his that caught my eye.

Right now, my daughter and I are getting our scuba diving certificates -- so perhaps you see the connection ;-) Anyways, without further ado:
The Art Of Drowning, by Billy Collins

I wonder how it all got started, this business
about seeing your life flash before your eyes
while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,
could startle time into such compression, crushing
decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.

After falling off a steamship or being swept away
in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn't you hope
for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand
turning the pages of an album of photographs-
you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat.

How about a short animated film, a slide presentation?
Your life expressed in an essay, or in one model photograph?
Wouldn't any form be better than this sudden flash?
Your whole existence going off in your face
in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography-
nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned.

Survivors would have us believe in a brilliance
here, some bolt of truth forking across the water,
an ultimate Light before all the lights go out,
dawning on you with all its megalithic tonnage.
But if something does flash before your eyes
as you go under, it will probably be a fish,

a quick blur of curved silver darting away,
having nothing to do with your life or your death.
The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all
as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom,
leaving behind what you have already forgotten,
the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.
Yes indeed.

No visit to the pearly gate;
no judgment meted out by an over-worked apostle;
no flash of insight to help guide your baby-choosing adventure on the next merry-go-round.
Just the “high travel of clouds” overhead.

Let us not forget that while we are still breathing.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Reflections on reflections

Stillness on the water, Tucker Pond, Salisbury, NH, October 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/800 sec @ f4.5, ISO 100, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

I collect quotes. Don’t ask me why — I don’t know. Whenever I read something that affects me, or has a ring of truth (or irony, or humor), I tend to file it away. For later. For when my mind is elsewhere, and needs to be re-grounded.

Lately my mind has been everywhere, except here. That’s not good or bad, it just is.

But I came across this today, and just felt like sharing. The world is a reflection of us, and we of it. It is quite difficult at times to distinguish the reflection from the reflected. And so it should be. For there is no difference. Really, no separation between the two. We understand this when the water settles, and our mind is clear and free from distraction.
The world is your mirror.

The good you find in others, is in you too.
The faults you find in others, are your faults as well.
After all, to recognize something you must know it.

The possibilities you see in others, are possible for you as well. The beauty you see around you, is your beauty. The world around you is a reflection, a mirror showing you the person you are.

To change your world, you must change yourself. To blame and complain will only make matters worse. Whatever you care about, is your responsibility. What you see in others, shows you yourself.

See the best in others, and you will be your best. Give to others, and you give to yourself. Appreciate beauty, and you will be beautiful. Admire creativity, and you will be creative.

Love, and you will be loved. Seek to understand, and you will be understood. Listen, and your voice will be heard. Teach, and you will learn.


-- Author unknown
So, when all is said and done ... Here’s looking at you, kid. Take a gander in that mirror. You just might notice something you hadn’t seen before.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Just how courageous are you?

Spider and web, Chiang Rei, Thailand, November 2005, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/320 sec @ f5.0, ISO 64, with flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Do you think you are brave? Courageous? Willing to take a stand? Fight for your principles? Take on injustice?

Well, here’s another view.

That’s not really the hard path. The hard path — where courage is really needed — is to accept that adversity as a fact of life. To be present in the face of the suffering for which you are all ready to take up the good fight.

We all seem to think that the world should be somehow different than it is. And, being good citizens, and very altruistic, we would like to be a force for that change, right? Social activists. Politically involved. Green consumers. Back to nature. Anti-war. Truth and justice.

Well, what if that was the wrong first step? What if that fundamental premise — that the world should be different than it is — puts us on the slippery slope of right/wrong, good/evil, us/them. Do you see it?

Consider this a test. You can feel your inherent reaction to this idea. Let go of that. Expand your thinking. Open your eyes and your mind.

I think the question, then, is can you be so courageous as to be present for another’s pain and suffering, or your own. Accept the fact that life will deal you happiness, sorrow, and everything in between, and it is NOT your job to change things.

Maybe now you can see just how hard this task will be. And why it will require such an act of bravery.
”As long as we are caught up in always looking for certainty and happiness, rather than honoring the taste and smell and quality of exactly what is happening, as long as we’re always running away from discomfort, we’re going to be caught in a cycle of unhappiness and disappointment, and we will feel weaker and weaker. This way of seeing helps us to develop inner strength.”
-- Pema Chödrön

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It's a mystery

Frosty edges, Amherst, NH, November 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/40 sec @ f2.8, ISO 200, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

It is a mystery, this life of ours, is it not? So many processes we do not fully understand. So many connections we can't begin to visualize. So we make up gods and godesses to fill in all of our gaps. Like the ice crystals on the edge of this leaf, even they are but a coating on the rich and complex edge of our universe of understanding. It goes so much deeper. It is much more intricate.

Should we try to understand? Well, why not. Why not let our scientific and spiritual inquiries takes us just as far as they can. And I suspect, we will add more to our already encyclopedic knowledge. And yet, even that will just illuminate how much more there is that we do not really understand.

So feel free to continue on with these quests. Full speed ahead at making this world a "better" place to be. Just keep in mind everyone and everything as you do so. For we really are all just a part of the same mystery we call life.

And keep in mind that even during such pursuit of knowledge, sometimes we need to step back from our conceptual understanding of life, and just live.
Being your true self, being your true nature, is different than experiencing it with thought. Realize that you are the mystery, and that you can’t really look at the mystery because you are only capable of looking from the mystery. There is a very awake, alive, and loving mystery, and that’s what is seeing through your eyes at this moment. That’s what is hearing through your ears at this moment. Instead of trying to figure it all out, which is impossible, I suggest you ask, "What’s ultimately behind this set of eyes?" Turn around to see what is looking. Encounter pure mystery, which is pure spirit, and wake up to what you are.

The mystery always takes care of itself -- as long as we are not addicted to following concepts. This addiction cuts off your access to the mystery. It’s like having a jewel in your pocket but you can’t get your hand into the pocket to pull it out. When you deeply know that you are the mystery experiencing itself, you realize that’s all that is ever happening. Whether you call an experience a me or a you, a good day or a rotten day, beauty or ugliness, compassion or cruelty -- it’s all still the mystery experiencing itself, extending itself into time and form. That’s all that is happening.

If this understanding is held only in your head, you can know it but you are not being it. The head is saying, "Oh, I know, I’m the mystery," and yet your body is acting like it didn’t get the message. It’s saying, "I’m still somebody, and I’ve got all these anxious thoughts and wants and desires." When we are being it knowingly, the whole being receives the message. And when the whole body receives the message, it’s like air going out of a balloon. When all the contradiction, turmoil, and searching for this and that deflates, there is the experience that the body is an extension of the mystery. Then the body can easily be moved by the mystery, by pure spirit.


-- Adyashanti, From "Emptiness Dancing"

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Yes you can

Looking down from on high, Flying into Narita Airport, Tokyo, Japan, January 2007, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/525 sec @ f4.5, ISO 50, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Can you make a difference in the life of another person? Yes you can.

Can you push yourself beyond the bounds of what others accept as limitations? Yes you can.

Can you stare adversity in the face, and not recoil from it, but choose instead to embrace it and redefine it? Yes you can.

I'm sure you've read the stories about this father-son team. I had heard about them somewhere. Thought it was cool. There is love there beyond one's imagination.

But I hadn't seen this video, though, before today. I was simply moved to tears. I recommend you check it out. Oh yeah, might as well crank up the volume too. Grab some tissues. And plan on watching it again. Oh yeah, and check out some of the other links on that site as well.
"Nobody wanted Rick in a road race. Everybody looked at us, nobody talked to us, nobody wanted to have anything to do with us. But you can’t really blame them - people often are not educated, and they’d never seen anyone like us.
Not really too surprising, I guess. But that's not why I clipped this quote.
... they’d never seen anyone like us ...
I found that wording so very interesting.
Any ONE like US.
Isn't that what we have to understand? Really. Simply, that we truly are all one.

Then, just imagine what the world might be like with a little more love and compassion from each of us. And acceptance. Yes we can.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Separation of Church and ???

Church Steeple, Warner, NH, May 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 52mm, Exposure 1/125 sec @ f5.6, ISO 200, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

We have this thing about separation of church and state. And I guess I'm all for that, given the alternatives we see in too many places around the globe.

But we are strong proponents of education. Which is what -- learning how to learn, and gaining knowledge, which hopefully will lead to wisdom.

And what about our spiritual wisdom? Where does that come from? Is it only from individual journeys, prompted by mid-life crises or that calm, quiet voice from within? Perhaps it is it unteachable? Must it be found only on a self-guided path of discovery?
You are not your body.
Your body is not you.

You are not the doer.
You are not the enjoyer.

You are pure awareness,
The witness of all things.

You are without expectation,
Free.

Wherever you go,
Be happy!

-- Ashtavakra Gita 15:4
Such simple words. I find a resonance in them. And I wonder why this took almost 50 years. Would they make any sense at all at an earlier age? Do they make any sense at all to you?

Sometimes, I just wonder.

A public-domain English translation of the Ashtavakra Gita is available for those that would like to read more.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

In a daze

In a daze, Amherst, NH, April 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 18mm (zooming), Exposure 1/13 sec @ f22, ISO 200, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Have you ever found yourself in a pleasant, mindless daze. Where you look at nothing, yet see everything. Or is it look at everything, and see nothing? I was in that state the other day. I've only really been in it a couple of times -- two other times that I can remember right now (and yes, I wrote about them here and there). It is immensly pleasurable.

Characteristic of these experiences is a knowing smile, and the appreciation of beauty in everything that you see, and gratitude. The state is clearly observable by others -- who tend to think you've gone slightly mad ;-) You are not really looking clearly at any one thing; indeed, you are looking at nothing in particular, but seeing so much. We've all had that experience, right? Usually for just a brief moment, caught staring (but not really looking) at the dinner table candle, or whatever. It's that same experience, but applied to everything.

This particular experience lasted me most of the day. There was a profound sense of peace and calm. Everything was just "right" with the world -- yes, even with all of its faults -- just the way it was. It is a sense of recognizing your place in such a world. Of effortless existence. Not fighting for positions or opinions. Ultimate acceptance of what is.

I don't know what brings on these states. In all three cases, they occured outside, and the weather was nice. But other than that, the conditions were all quite different. One occurred just after I had been all "spun up" after missing my flight -- so my mind was clearly agitated. This one occured the morning after a party, and by any right, I should have been severely hung-over.

No, I don't know why these states appear, or how to "will" them into existence. But I do know that for me, they are glimpses of a state of existence that I wish to spend more time in. They are confirmation to me that I am on the right path, all having occurred within the last year.

Have you ever experienced such states of bliss? If so, do you know what triggered them? Care to share your experience?

Monday, April 30, 2007

Your reaction, please ...

Green Snake, Berlin Zoo, Berlin, Germany, July 2004, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/80 sec @ f4.2, ISO 200, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]


So tell me, what is your first reaction when you see a snake? Do you have a "natural aversion"? Or perhaps you understand this as a "conditioned response". Conditioned from what or by whom? Maybe you have just the opposite reaction -- perhaps you have grown up with an affinity for snakes.

You see, for me, I have no problem with snakes. I was a camp counselor, and worked at a wildlife display where many snakes were present. We would routinely take out the snakes and handle them, even putting them around our necks for dramatic effect. But it is interesting how many people's reactions are inherently fearful or squeemish, rather than curious or friendly or interested. (BTW, I have my own squeemishness -- just not snakes.)

I received an interesting comment to one of my earlier posts , and thought I would share it in this context (indeed, it prompted this post)

" ... Early this morning, I received a surprised call from this very special man and I must admit that he had, brighten up my day despite the fact that in the midst of our conversation, I could feel goose-pimple "popping" out on the surface of my skin !! He actually rescued a poor little spirit, oops, I mean a flimsy,slimy greenish and yellowish looking snake across the path with a stick as it was struggling to do so. Most people at the sight of it will probably scream their hearts out or they will just run away and withdraw. Gee, I would never be a able to overcome the fear of all the crippy crawly insects, let alone lifting up a snake !! This guy is the real Hero of my life and it takes a lot of courage to do that- what a splendid act on SPONTANEITY !"

" ... As for your story about the snake -- how interesting our conditioning, eh? One person hears this story and feels goosebumps; another imagines putting down the stick and picking up the snake with their bare hands. Educated (so he knows if the snake is poisoness) and experienced (so he knows how to handle snakes, and not exhibit fear), this is no problem at all."

"Kind of like life. We need both wisdom and experience to walk along the path of life, and understand how to deal with snakes and other slithery creatures that cross our paths. ..."


Life certainly is interesting, isn't it. So hard to tell what are "natural" reactions, what are "conditioned" reactions, and what are "instinctual" reactions. It seems to me, any time we find ourselves "reacting", we might choose to analyze the underlying reality.

And give ourselves the space between the event (e.g., seeing a snake) and our reaction (e.g., scream our hearts out), to determine what our response will be.

I believe it was a holocaust survivor who wrote,
"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom"
-- Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Friday, April 27, 2007

Blinded by the light

Circular Rainbow, Amherst, NH, April 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 20mm, Exposure 1/800 sec @ f14, ISO 200, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

...
Mama always told me not to look into the eye's of the sun
But mama, that's where the fun is
...
~~ from Manfred Mann's version of Blinded by the Light,
~~ originally written by Bruce Springstein
The other day, I happened to look up at the sun. Yes, it had been a while since we last saw it ;-) And what did my eyes behold? Blindingly bright light, surrounded by a circular rainbow. For this picture, I let the peak of our garage block the sun. So you don't see the entire rainbow, but trust me, it goes all the way around.

I've seen these kinds of rainbows before, but only from airplanes, looking down onto the tops of clouds. This was the first one I've ever seen from the ground. I did a little Google research, and every reference I found to circular rainbows said you need to see them from on high -- but this one is from the ground looking up. Perhaps a little more rare than I had imagined.

Anyone else ever see one of these from the ground?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Like a pebble in a boundless ocean

Boundless Ocean, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii, February 2005, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/800 sec @ f7.0, ISO 64, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Something about the ocean is both alluring and scary to me. It’s calm, rythmic, lullabye can quickly place one in a meditative trance. But its ferociousness during a storm or tsunami can also make you run for your life.

And then there is its boundlessness, stretching on past the horizon, seemingly toward infinity. With depths greater in some places than our highest mountains, and pressures that would crush virtually all living things.

The ocean has the power to take life, and to sustain life, with food and by providing us with oxygen — more plentiful than the Amazon rain forest, thanks to the vastness of its simple algae.

In short, the ocean is a metaphor for the universe. And in such a universe, what is the meaning of any one of our simple lives. Surely it can be no more significant that the dropping of a single pebble into the boundless ocean, right?

Please consider this story as related by James S. Hewett:

Some years ago Alexander Woolcott described a scene in a New
York hospital where a grief-stricken mother sat in the hospital
lounge in stunned silence, tears streaming down her cheeks. She
had just lost her only child and she was gazing blindly into space
while the head nurse talked to her, simply because it was the duty
of the head nurse to talk in such circumstances.

"Did Mrs. Norris notice the shabby little boy sitting in the
hall just next to her daughter's room?"

No, Mrs. Norris had not noticed him.

"There," continued the head nurse, "there is a case. That
little boy's mother is a young French woman who was brought in a
week ago by ambulance from their shabby one-room apartment to
which they had gravitated when they came to this country scarcely
three months ago. They had lost all their people in the old
country and knew nobody here. The two had only each other. Every
day that lad has come and sat there from sunup to sundown in the
vain hope that she would awaken and speak to him. Now, he has no
home at all!"

Mrs. Norris was listening now. So the nurse went on, "Fifteen
minutes ago that little mother died, dropped off like a pebble in
the boundless ocean, and now it is my duty to go out and tell that
little fellow that, at the age of seven, he is all alone in the
world." The head nurse paused, then turned plaintively to Mrs.
Norris. "I don't suppose," she said hesitantly, "I don't suppose
that you would go out and tell him for me?"

What happened in the next few moments is something that you
remember forever. Mrs. Norris stood up, dried her tears, went out
and put her arms around the lad and led that homeless child off to
her childless home, and in the darkness they both knew they had
become lights to each other!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Caricature

Caricature, Tokyo, Japan, February 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 82mm, Exposure 1/5 sec @ f5.3, ISO 200, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Caricatures are interesting, don't you think? And they can be quite fun and entertaining as well -- perhaps you've had one drawn of you or someone in your family.

Of course, we understand what we are seeing here. The good ones are recognizable likenesses of the subject, but usually with many of their least flattering features exaggerated for comic effect. It can be a good laugh. Or it can sometimes hurt a bit, if the subject lacks self confidence.

And so we have the Virginia Tech massacre, and the media frenzy. I mean, really, have you seen anything like it? No, no, I don't mean the tragedy. I mean the media.

Some of you may know that I don't watch TV, don't listen to talk radio, and I don't read the newspaper or weekly news magazines. Ohmigosh, how will I ever know what is going on in the world? Well here is my secret. I subscribe to two free news summaries over the internet (CNN and NYTimes). I receive daily headlines and editorials. Based on the headlines, I decide if an article might be worth reading. Perhaps you can guess that I don't read very many of them.

So yes, I did know about the shooting. But that is all I really needed to know. I could easily predict the media frenzy.

In the comments section of a recent post regarding Attention, an anonymous commenter from the other side of the planet and I veered into this topic area. Feel free to check out that dialog if you like. It is where I realized that what we are seeing on the media is simply that: a caricature of American life, intentionally designed to exaggerate our least flattering features.
[D]o not become trapped. This is NOT America, nor the world. This is a caricature drawn for a single purpose: to titilate, to stimulate, to profit. There is no accuracy to the picture. You know that in your heart. Your experiences tell you that as well. But the infernal drumbeat looking to steal your attention will continue. Just turn it off. That is your choice.
OK, so you know my bias. But what on earth is my point?

Just this: Life as told to you by another person is nothing but a concept. There is nothing real about it. You are distorting what you've been told with your own biases, just as that person distorted his perceptions when forming them into concepts and words. This may be intentional (like much of the media) or not (like a friend trying to make you understand their perspective).

But either way, it is not reality. What you must do is find for yourself your own reality. You must directly experience life, and come to a deeply resonant internal "knowing". Some would call this a mystical experience. Again, this is but another concept, which surely means something different to you than it does to me.

And when I look with mindful attention, when I am present and deeply aware of my surroundings, I can see the pain and the suffering in the world, and I can try to be fully present for it. But I can also see the compassion and the joy, and I can try to be present for that as well. And when I am mindful, I keep noticing beauty and safety and kindness and compassion all around me.

So let's not report on what others see. Let us describe our own experiences.
Let a thousand individual voices create the harmony that reduces the media drumbeat to mere background noise. Which your mind is designed to naturally filter out. Until it might as well no longer exist.
When you see the caricature painted by the media, and the frenzy of talking heads feeding at the trough of sorrow, throw back your head and laugh. It is tragic comedy, not reality. The suffering for the families of the victims, and the family of the killer are real. We can be present for that. Respectful of that. And offer them our love and forgiveness. And one act we can take to help heal our worldly family in this time of sorrow, is to turn off the TV. Just turn it off. Be present for your own family. And begin your own journey of awakening to real life.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Check for messages

Mailboxes, Rockport, MA, August 2003, Sony Cybershot, Exposure 1/500 sec @ f5.6, ISO 100, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Are you checking for your messages? They could be in your mailbox, in that e-mail you just received, perhaps on your voicemail?

Or perhaps with the neighbor you visited, or the bum on the street corner, or maybe your grocery bagger?

Here is a nice little video story about such messages, and the joy it obviously brings to both the giver and the receiver. Imagine such a win-win situation. Yes, it's a little different from the transaction-based mentality of our advertising messages. This is something deeper. Something more connected. From the soul, and for the soul.

Or for wisdom. I remember my kids had a teacher in highschool (or earlier?) that used to start class with WOWs. Words of wisdom. I don't remember now if they discussed them, or if he just left them on the chalk board. But I can tell you that often we discussed them at home. I thought that was a great offering to the students.

Anyway, check out the video and see what you think. It may be a little saccharine for some, but I think you can see the sincerity and the love despite that. And enjoy.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Do you have the time?

Magnificent sunset, Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, February 2005, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/500 sec @ f6.5, ISO 64, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

So tell me ... do you have the time? Time to visit? Time to be aware of the world around you? Would you miss a beautiful sunset like this because of your pre-arranged plans?
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

-- from "Leisure," by W.H. Davies
We've all heard the phrase "it's the journey, not the destination" but how many of us really understand what that means and live by it? How many of us get caught up in the busyness of planning to get to Point X, then traveling to Point X, and finally reminiscing about Point X? All the while missing what might have been in store for us at Point B or on the way to Point G, or while zipping right past Point Q?

(BTW, when trying to spell "busyness", I accidently spelled it "business". I think that is somehow profound.)

I came across this article from the Washington Post today. It's rather long, and knowing you are busy (and might not have the time ;-) I thought I would excerpt a couple of quotes from it.

This is a story. Actually, a well told story of an experiement. Of a world-class violinist positioned as a run-of-the-mill street performer at a busy D.C. metro station. Do you stop and listen? ... What if he's really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn't you?

I wish not to spoil the results of the experiment. You might want to read the article. Over tea, perhaps. When you have a moment. Or two.

The violin is an instrument that is said to be much like the human voice, and in this musician's masterly hands, it sobbed and laughed and sang -- ecstatic, sorrowful, importuning, adoring, flirtatious, castigating, playful, romancing, merry, triumphal, sumptuous. ... So, what do you think happened?

This might cause you to reflect philosophically: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?

How might you have felt, lucky enough to be one of the passer's by during this experiment? Would you really notice? Would it make a difference? The violinist's bow begins to dance; the music becomes upbeat, playful, theatrical, big. ... "Whatever it was," he says, "it made me feel at peace."

Are you sure? Perhaps you have another focus. A hundred feet away, across the arcade, was the lottery line, sometimes five or six people long. They had a much better view ... if they had just turned around. But no one did. Not in the entire 43 minutes. They just shuffled forward toward that machine spitting out numbers. Eyes on the prize.

What kind of tunnel vision do we create for ourselves? Let us not blame it on the work, or the lists, or the destination. "Couple of years ago, a homeless guy died right there. He just lay down there and died. The police came, an ambulance came, and no one even stopped to see or slowed down to look. People walk up the escalator, they look straight ahead. Mind your own business, eyes forward. Everyone is stressed. Do you know what I mean?"

In closing, I'd ask you to reflect on the experiement, and the story. What is it trying to tell you? How do you interpret it? If we can't take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that -- then what else are we missing?

What else indeed. How can we possibly know?

But there is good news here. Really good news. You control the end of this story -- how you choose to treat each passing moment, each glimmer of beauty, each breath-taking sunset. Why not pull up a chair, lean against a wall, turn off the iPod, put down the paper, and have a look and a listen. I promise you -- you won't be dissapointed -- and you do have the time.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Just below the surface

Just below the surface, Souhegan River, Milford, NH, September 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/60 sec @ f2.8, ISO 50, with flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Can you hear the gentle rippling of the shallows? You can see by the convergence of diminutive waves and crests? This is the where the current reflects off objects in the stream, and creates the dance of light and sound.

And there, just below the surface, a fallen leaf waits patiently, taking a little respite from its journey down stream. Soon enough, the water will shift again, and an upward current will likely bring it back to the surface. Soon enough — but until then - it is art. We call it art, nay, together, we make it art.

But of course, first we must notice ...
"The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself." -- Henry Miller
And what of it? Well, listen closely. Can you hear the notes ... the melody? I can. So soothing, so moving. As you lean back and soak up the afternoon sun, smell the pine bows, feel the damp soil with your hands, and smile. Something connects. Nothing else to do. Nowhere else to be. This is where you belong, right here, right now.

What of it, indeed ...

It’s waiting for you, just below the surface of our work-a-day world. There, just below the surface, where you are protected from the current that is trying to sweep you along, to jostle for your attention, to whisk your day away, in the never ending lists, and the stuff that must be done.

Listen again, more closely. Isn’t that your song? Don’t you recognize it? It is in us all, somewhere deep within ...
"To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common--this is my symphony." -- William Henry Channing

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Up close and personal #3

Feathered Friend, Amherst, NH, December 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/200 sec @ f3.6, ISO 200, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

I remember the morning well when I visited with this little fellow. I was out soaking up the early morning sunrise, as the overnight frost was beginning to thaw. And of course I had my camera ;-) Frito was off visiting the neighbors, when I noticed this little bird on the ground, just underneath a cedar tree.

“What are you doing down there?”, I thought, as I snapped a couple of pictures. And as one with a camera is wont to do, I kept inching my way closer, waiting for him to fly to the safety of an upper branch. But he did not move. “He must be injured,” I thought. I lay down on the ground (bathrobe and all ;-) and looked closely at him, but could not see any injuries. So I snapped a few more pictures — this is one of them. I love how you can see the detail of the feathers, fluffed up on his chest, to give him some insulation from the December chill.

“What should I do? Get a shoe box and take him inside?”, I wondered. As I headed toward the house, after visiting with him for 5 or 10 minutes, he just flew away. Clearly not injured. Why he was warming himself on the ground, and why he was so trusting, I do not know. But I was happy for the visit.

++++++++++

This past weekend, my wife and I repaired a bunch of broken bird feeders we had kept in the garage, and now have them swinging to and fro in our front and back yards. We must have over a dozen now. And the offspring of this little slate-colored junco are flittering all over, enjoying plenty of food, joined by the occasional cardinal, woodpecker, goldfinch, and chickadee.

And speaking of chickadees, I came across this story as I was flying over to Japan (and yes, you can definitely call me a frequent flyer). See what you think — I enjoyed it ...

++++++++++

Frequent Flyer -- by Bob Perks
A bird at my feeder clearly had a message for me. What was it?


I had seen him before. In fact, I believe now that, after seeing him nearly every time I go into the backyard, that there is a purpose in our meeting so often.

I speak to you of signs, verbal nudging, brilliant, glowing, attention- grabbing moments, that make me aware that God is trying to say something to me. But there are also subtle, seemingly insignificant occurrences that may in fact, bring even more important issues to light.

He sent me a feather.

"Oh, Bob, there are feathers all over the yard around bird feeders," you might reply. That's true. So what is so significant about this one?

The tiny bird handed it to me.

"Okay, too much medication, Bob!"

It is most likely the fact that because I am back to my old self, I have once again found life in the smallest of things. Most of which goes unnoticed.

A chickadee. A black-capped chickadee. Not any bird. But the same one over and over.

How can that be? How could I possibly know one from another? This one has one good leg. The other is crippled and held close to the body. The very first time I noticed it, I was amazed by the perfect balance and ease this bird expressed in doing what every other chickadee does.

I have made it a point to stand just a few feet away from the feeders so I can see them close up. The only birds that appear unaffected by my presence are the chickadees and an occasional sparrow.

My one legged friend always stops by. We talk. Yes, it's true. I make a high-pitched "beep, beep beep," sound and he responds. My friend even dances from pole to pole on the feeder, finally grabbing a sunflower seed and vanishing to the nearby holly bushes and back again.

"How do you do it?" I asked. "You are limited and not the same as all the others." He teases me and jumps back and forth to show off his power to adapt.

Every single time I walk out there, he appears. Every single time I stand there, amazed by his ability to be what he was created to be no matter what limits were placed on his life.

"I see you and want to be that brave," I said. The thought then came to me that perhaps he looks at me and thinks I'm limited because I cannot fly.

"Oh, my friend. I would give anything to fly!" I said, and walked back into the house. Later in the early evening, as a part of my regular routine, I went back to the feeders, filled them, added water to the bird bath, and waited. As always my feathered friend appeared.

"Beep, beep, beep beep!" I said. He quickly darted back and forth showing off a bit. For the first time he came close enough that I could almost touch him. The right leg was indeed damaged beyond use.

"Fly for me, please, and take my spirit with you so I can soar in my dreams tonight."

This will be hard for anyone to believe, but trust me I thought it to be amazing, too. He tucked his head under his right wing and plucked a feather. Looking at me as he nervously cocked his head back and forth, he released the tiny feather from his mouth.

What seemed to me like a dreamy slow-motion moment, I watched the feather falling and reached my hand to catch it. Looking down into the palm of my hand, I thought I saw the tiny feather appear to glow in contrast. I looked back up at my "frequent flyer friend," and said "Thank you!"

Now, as silly as this may seem to you, I see it as a precious gift from God. For I had asked my friend to take my spirit soaring and he in turn gave me a feather so I could fly. "It won't get me off the ground!" I said, laughing.

"But it is a beginning. A little piece of a dream to prove there are no limits to the abilities you have been given," the Voice said to me.

The only limits that exist are the ones you choose to accept.

So, fly!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Crying wolf

Modestly Priced, London, England, September 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/166 sec @ f3.0, ISO 100, no flash, some post-processing color adjustment © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

I love this photo. I remember the store display -- it certainly had me do a double-take. I thought of that the other day when I read a NY Times editorial regarding advertising techniques, and the effect of trickery on our collective psyche. One quote from the editorial:
What happens to us when greed masquerades as need, when cries for help become casting calls for chumps, when our most noble actions make us patsies?
It's an interesting question. I don't know about you, but I can remember as a kid, telling myself to not be so gullible, and to keep myself on-guard for various pranks and tricks. Makes one grow up, I suppose. Prepares us for a rough-and-tumble world. But the loss of innocence is somewhat sad, upon reflection. Of course, just who were the perpetrators -- other children.

So should it be any surprise then if the charade continues later in life? Should we feel any regret if we harden our outer shell to protect us from such continued trickery and manipulation. In fact, we are constantly told to be on guard, to protect ourselve and indeed, our very identities, from those willing to take advantage of us. Lock your doors. Screen your calls. Buy a shredder.

Prudent action I am quite sure. But I worry about the hardening. As the editorial demonstrates, such trickery can cause us to curtail our natural generosity and compassion. Perhaps. But it is our choice how we will respond. Will we become hardened? Or just redouble kindness. Will we turn the proverbial other cheek? That is my choice. And no one can take that choice away from me.

Here's to hoping our random acts of kindness and charity make this world a little kinder, and a little gentler. But either way, I'm happy with my choice. How about you? And if cynicism rears its head, I always take refuge in this classic poem:

Anyway

People are often unreasonable,
illogical, and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight.
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough;
Give the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis
it is between you and God;
it was never between you and them anyway.

Note: this poem is typically attributed to Mother Teresa, probably because it is reported to hang in an orphanage in Calcutta, India. However, it seems to have been originally written by Kent M. Keith, while a 19 year-old student at Harvard University. You can read more here if you are interested. I found this extract from his interview to be noteworthy:
Lynn Green: How can we keep from becoming cynical in this crazy world?

Kent M. Keith: Cynics think the worst of people. It often strikes me that cynics are disappointed believers. They want to believe in people, but then become disappointed. Cynicism is the pose they adopt to cover their disappointment. We won't become cynics if we live our most cherished values, stay close to our families and friends and do our personal best. If we live that way, we will begin to notice others who live that way, and our sense of trust in human nature and people's motives, our own and others', will grow.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Attention, please

Morning Flower Arrangement, Anantara Resort, Chiang Saen, Thailand, November 2005, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/80 sec @ f2.8, ISO 64, with flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Can I have your attention please? Do you see our gardener in the picture, at the Anantara Resort in Thailand? He is very focused on his task -- creating a beautiful floating flower arrangement. Not a cell phone in one hand, palm pilot in the other, nor iPod buds in his ears.

I was just reading this NY Times article about multitasking. It did, of course, point out the dangers of distraction of multitasking while driving, or even just crossing the road. And then it went on to try and quantify from a business perspective the impact of letting yourself be interrupted by e-mail. (Yawn. Why must it always be about business.)

But I found this quote rather fascinating:
The human brain, with its hundred billion neurons and hundreds of trillions of synaptic connections, is a cognitive powerhouse in many ways. “But a core limitation is an inability to concentrate on two things at once,” said René Marois, a neuroscientist and director of the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt University.

Think about that for a minute. We have all heard and perhaps taken for granted that we underutilize our brains. That they are capable of much more than we ask of them. But perhaps, that is much more focused awareness on a single moment. And the next.

Now clearly our brain-body has multiple processing sections. It keeps our heart beating, our lungs breathing, and the rest of our autonomic nervous system running beautifuly in the background while our conscious mind is left free to ponder the next big thing.

But isn't that your experience? That at any moment, your conscious mind is only (can only be) focused on one thing at a time. That's the central processor that is controlling your perception of the Now moment.

And one more thing. If you want to really blow your mind, you can actually stop your thoughts entirely. No, not by sleeping ;-) But by being very accutely and actively aware. Try this experiement.

In a calm, quiet location, after sitting quietly for a while (meditate if you know how), place all of your awareness toward "Speak, I am listening". Don't think about that thought, but rather, actively set your mind to be "listening". Not your ears, but your mind. This conscious awareness of "Speak, I am listening" forestalls your own thoughts as you rest in awareness.

In the beginning, you will be lucky to get a few moments of thought-free time. Your mind will take over and begin its cogitation. But over time, you can extend this period, and then learn to just release each of your thoughts as they arise, and return to the awareness "speak, I am listening".

And so what? Only this: you will actually see your own thoughts arise. And when you do, you will realize that the thinker and the Seer are not the same. It is a peek into a wonderous reality, but we will save that discussion for another time. (You can read more about some aspects of a related experience in a previous blog entry.)

In the meantime, just realize that your conscious mind focuses on one moment at a time. And this is entirely consistent with Life, which is lived only Now. And Now. And Now.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Still Water

Still water, Tucker Pond, Warner, NH, October 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/625 sec @ f3.4, ISO 100, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

We are a generation, and a people, exposed to more information than at any time before in our brief human existence. And the rate of change has been absolutely fantastic. Truly unbelievable. Is it for good, or for ill? Well, of course, like everything in life, it is neither, and at the same time, it is both. That is, there is nothing intrinsically good or bad about this availability/onslaught (depending on your bias) of information. And of course, it can contribute to both significant good, or possible ill.

Take our mental health, for example. What is the effect of being bombarded by mass media messages of world-wide disasters, environmental peril, never-ending desire for more, juxtaposed with unimaginable poverty elsewhere in the world? It is hard for some to just turn this off -- or to consciously choose which information spigots they wish to open. But I would strongly encourage such control -- in this case, we are more in charge than we sometimes care to admit.

But what if the overhwelming message we get is one of despair? One of concern, about ourselves, our family, or our children's children? Well, if you haven't read this poem, perhaps you will find wisdom in its words. A balm for our overstimulated, overloaded psyches. Breathe deeply. Find peace and quiet. And if possible, let nature offer her suggestions:

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Butterfly Effect - take 2

Butterfly wings, Garden Pond, Amherst, NH, September 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/290 sec @ f2.8, ISO 50, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

You've heard of The Butterfly Effect, right? Chaos theory, large effects from very small differences in initial conditions, etc. I've even blogged about it before. Well, I just saw a movie by that same title. Now, I'm not going to recommend the movie, per se, but do want to talk about the underlying message.

Why am I not recommending the movie? Well, it is hard to watch at some points. Not for any graphic violence, but instead for some of the physcological inferences. In fact, my wife "walked out" of it (and we were watching it at home ;-) But also, she left at the toughest part it turns out -- the story was just beginning to be told. And upon reflection, it was understandable why they played those heavy-handed cards. Again, I'm not recommending it per se, but I did like the deep, underlying message.

Which was what, exactly? Well, that small differences in initial conditions can have a dramatic impact on people's lives -- yours and others -- in the future. In fact, you are creating that future through the decisions that you make (or don't make) at every moment.

Now this may sound like some new age mumbo jumbo. But just the other day I was reading one of the e-mail missives that I regularly receive, and it was telling a story of profound effects very specific moments can make on people. Consider this seemingly trivial case:
In another case, we asked Kristin, a management consultant, "What is the greatest recognition you have ever received?" Her answer: "Three words in an e-mail." We then found out that when Kristin's mother passed away, a mentor at work whom Kristin had admired throughout her career wrote her a special note. Her mentor's e-mail concluded by saying: "Your mother was very proud of you, and so am I." After 25 years with her company, three simple words carried more meaning than any other recognition Kristin had received in her entire life.
Now there is no way to know which moments will have profound effects. So to me that indicates we need to live from the perspective of 'cause', and not 'effect'. 'Means', and not the 'ends'. What actions are we taking, what decisions are we making, today, right now? Regardless of whether they will be monumental ones in the end or not (for there is no way to know that now). But you have to realize that each moment can potentially have a dramatic effect on someone's life -- and possibly your own.

Like the bishop in Les Miserables. When Jean Valjean is captured by the constables for stealing silverware, and instead of confirming that truth, the bishop creates the potential for another reality when he offers the candlesticks as well, and tells Valjean that he has a soul. Sure, that is fiction (and perhaps a bit too religious for some), but you can imagine or perhaps know yourself situations that have helped to turn around individuals lives that seemed otherwise lost. Oh, the power of those moments and those decisions.

So what is the real point? Only this: seen from this perspective -- every moment, every decision, nay, every life -- plays an essential role in creating our reality. Even death itself will influence the course of events.

Your existence matters, perhaps more than you can imagine. And with that awesome power, comes an equally awesome responsibility. To choose wisely. To awaken to this reality. And to realize the gift you have been given, no matter your circumstances, and to let it form a foundation of gratitude and compassion. For the life you save may not just be your own.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Swan Reflection

Swan Reflection, Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan, February 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 75mm, Exposure 1/250 sec @ f5.3, ISO 200, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Which is real -- the swan or its reflection? Of course, they both are "real", right? But you cannot have the reflection without the swan, so perhaps the swan is "more real"? Or perhaps I have to ask instead about the water, since without the water, there is no medium for reflection?

Step back further and ask about the observer. If there is no one to see the reflection, does it exist? Depending on the angle of the observer, and the sun, one may or may not see a reflection. Or one observer may see it, and one in another location, may not.

I think the answer is that the only thing which is real is the observer-swan-water-sun-reflection-etc... combination. Remove any one of this endless chain of being, and what you see here will not have ever existed. It is that level of dependency, that cocreativity, which really defines being.

So what does that mean? Well, it means, essentially, that you cannot "really" cut up the world into separate subjects and objects. The swan does not exist in isolation. Just like its reflection. Nor do you.

Think of the swan as a energy perturbation in a continuum known (for the moment) as the universe. That energy perturbation will be perceived differently by different observers (and their sensory organs). So the only correct explanation is the subject-object combination itself. And this continues ad infinitum, until it engulfs the entire universe. No subjects. No objects. Only being.

Enough of the physics (or metaphysics). What of the beauty? Is it inate? Inherent in the swan? Or its reflection? Or the photograph?

I don't think so -- the beauty is in you, the viewer. Either it is beautiful to you, or it is not. This is a purely subjecive aspect -- yes, one that can be shaped by convention and norms -- but subjective, nonetheless.

So is the beauty "real"? Surely someone can tell you they know beauty when they see it -- it is not a random occurance. It could be tested and is repeatable. And I hope this particular image represents something beautiful to you ;-)

And yet, some people say they see beauty everywhere. Even in what other people "typically" think of as ugly. In death. In squalor. In war. Why do these people see so much more beauty than the "average" person? And is that "real"? Can one be "trained" to see more beauty? Will it come about from other personal changes? From what some call enlightenment?

I don't know. But I do know that depending on my outlook, my perspective, my attention, my intention ... I will see more or less beauty. And I'm always happiest when I'm surrounded by beauty. Wherever and whenever I am.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Suddenly there came a tapping ...

Gobble, Gobble, Amherst, NH, March 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 200mm, Exposure 1/50 sec @ f5.7, ISO 200, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

I had a rather interesting couple of visitors today.

But to explain, let me use my pictures, and someone else's words (well, mostly).

With soooooo many apologies to Mr. Poe ...


Once upon a workday dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious e-mails, just cause for snore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my office door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my office door -
Only this, and nothing more.' ...


... Back into my office turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, 'with a furtive glance, someone's at my patio entrance;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!' ...


... Open here I flung the handle, surely t'was a feathered vandal,
In there stepped a stately gobbler of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, gamely crossed my office door -
With his friend, crossed the threshold of my office door -
Came to visit, for a moment, nothing more.