Saturday, January 20, 2007

Transformational Life

Visiting Butterfly, Tucker Pond, Warner, NH, July 2005, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/320 sec @ f5.6, ISO 64, with flash © Steven Crisp
"And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." -- Anais Nin

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly." -- Richard Bach

"A man with outward courage dares to die. A man with inward courage dares to live." -- Lao Tzu
There is wisdom in these quotes. Just what is life and its purpose anyway? To maximize the number of days on this planet? Or to reach and stretch and grow, by taking risks, by daring to go where others do not, and in the process, to evolve toward something greater than ourselves? Answer that with your actions, not with your thoughts. Through your heart and your love, not your fear.

Life is ever unfolding. Ever expanding. Always changing and frequently challenging. If you fret and worry about the future, you will be paralyzed with fear. But if you focus on the tasks before you in this moment, you will find self-assuredness, confidence and competence to address those challenges. And this will let you cast off your worries, hoist up your inhibitions, and sail out to meet the sweet sunset of eternity.

Sunset and palms, Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, February 2005, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/320 sec @ f4.6, ISO 64, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Friday, January 19, 2007

Your Enemy?

Trick or Treat, Amherst, NH, Halloween 2002, Sony Cybershot, Exposure 1/10 sec @ f5.0, ISO 100, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Tell me, how do you feel about your enemy?

Who is he? Why is he your enemy?

‘Enemy’ is but a label, like ‘white’, ‘black’ ‘Hispanic’, ‘Jew’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Fundamentalist’. It is a word, a concept — it is not real.

He is not your enemy. He is a human being. He is your brother.

How can this be? You say he wants to kill you! He hates you!

No he doesn’t. He hates his enemy. He wants to kill his enemy. That is what he’s been taught. And so have you.

Likely from your father. From your teacher (or your history books). Perhaps from your religion (or at least its history). Your politicians. The media.

Would you harm your real brother? Would you exact judgment against your true friend? Would you ask him to pay for the sins of his father?

Don’t you see the madness? Don’t you see how we all create this madness in our minds? Wake up! Open your eyes!

But you say he must change first, lest you be harmed. He must prove his peacefulness, while you keep the ability to strike. You are still asleep.

And this bad dream — this nightmare of conflict — will not be over until you see that you and your “enemy” are one. And you have no reason to hurt yourself.

You can hear the small, quiet voice inside. You hear it and know this is truth. You can understand the wisdom. Awaken! And love your enemy as your brother.

There is no other way. There need be no other way. You understand this deep within you. It is time to embrace it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Seeing Eye to Eye

Seeing Eye to Eye, Four Corners Farm, Milford, NH, September 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/70 sec @ f3.0, ISO 200, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Where does butter come from? Those of you that have lived a somewhat sheltered life might say the supermarket. But of course, butter comes from cow's milk. Specifically, from the cream portion of the pre-pasturized, non-homogonized natural milk. And notice that no other ingredients are required to make the butter — just skimming and churning.

So if you were to look at some natural cow’s milk, and someone asked you, “is there butter in there?” what would you say? Where else is the butter? Certainly it is not outside the milk. So it seems like the only correct answer is yes, the butter is inside the milk. Additional effort must be applied to get the butter, but it is otherwise wholly contained within the milk.

This illustrates an important example: that you can see (or more generally sense) a thing, and not immediately know its true, or at least complete, nature. You can’t judge a book by its cover. You can’t judge a human only by the actions you have seen. Inside each person, I believe, is some “butter” -- the sweet cream potential, if you will. All that is required is a little effort to bring it to the surface, and to make it manifest. Like the making of butter, it takes the inherent qualities of the milk — its essence — and the application of some effort to bring out these new qualities that were always inside, but remained hidden to the world (and quite likely to the individual himself).

And the effort I am speaking of is a cooperative effort — requiring some interior work by the individual, but is often initiated in the co-creative, intersubjective context of interaction and encouragement from others. Perhaps it comes from reading a book, perhaps from heartfelt discussions, perhaps even from some distressing situation that causes one to wonder just what the meaning of one’s life really is anyways.

So when you see another human being that is not behaving well, or living a life that you have come not to respect, remember there is still “butter” inside. It is inside all of us. It is nothing special, really. It is just the essence of our being, and indeed, our humanity. And consider this ... Perhaps, somehow, you could be a contributor to helping that person manifest his “butter-nature”. Consider that before you judge him harshly. That butter has not yet come from milk in no way means it isn’t in there. It is always in there. Waiting for the right set of conditions, the right application of effort and energy, to emerge.

So work to bring out the “butter” in your life, and if you can be of assistance, in the life of another as well. It is at least a partial answer to that question you’ve been asking. It is one of the reasons you are here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

So ... Let's Really Talk

Damselfly on Flower, Tucker Pond, Warner, NH, July 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/525 sec @ f2.8, ISO 55, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

I've posted about something similar to this in the past. The issue of superficial chit-chat. Do you ever feel like you are only getting to see the surfaces, and not the depths, of another being? Do you sometimes want to penetrate their defenses, not to gain an advantage, but just to know their soul?

Well, I came across this story thanks to the random synchronicity of the Internet. (If the 'net doesn’t steal too much of your time, it can be a godsend.) Please take a moment to read the story below, and consider the question. Are you prepared for a heartfelt reply? If so, feel free to share a little in your comments.

With a Little Help from a Stranger -- By Beadrin Youngdahl

I met a friend of a friend when they included me in their lunch plans. My friend is a rare enough bird so I could have anticipated that her friends would rise, exponentially, on the scale of non-traditional species. No surprise, then, when I was led into a home eclectically decorated with exotic remnants of extraordinary places. Not a spoon collection or snow globe in this riverfront bungalow. How about a coconut shell, carved into a totem likeness of my hostess; "a gift from the shaman," she explained casually.

Over lunch I had to pretend perfect calm as I noted not one but four wasps buzzing at the overhead plant in her kitchen. "Oh, those are rescued. I had to save their hive and they live in here and on the patio. They won't hurt you." And they didn't.

She supported herself as a freelance art photographer. Her work was tastefully exhibited in discreet clusters. Her name was something ethereal, full of A's and R's, requiring a leisurely roll about the tongue. She was one of the most genuine humans I had ever chanced to meet.

And so it was that in the presence of the free-range wasp colony, ice water with the freshest twist of lemon and a lunch of hummus on pita bread, this most unusual of creatures turned to me, full and attentive, sincere and with absolute meaning and said, "Tell me about you."

I like to think I'm articulate enough, having suffered enough showers and spousal work gatherings to know small talk with some flair, but nothing prepared me for "Tell me about you."

"Well, I. . . ."

She really wanted to know!

"I guess I'm . . ."

She was still paying attention. She wanted me to tell her about Me.

So, I suppose I stammered about being a nurse or a grandmother or winters in Minnesota. I'm not sure. I was quite unsure of my role in this question, and further, my role in my own world.

It was a take-home gift, that kind query. I don't think I was meant to answer it properly there, or ever, for her.

If I'm not what I do, or a person in a relationship, or a resident of a particular place, but all that and none of that, then tell me about me.

If I could return to that luncheon table, wasps singing above (still safe in her presence, I'm sure), I would try to answer her. I might talk about the things I wish for and the things that make me unexpectedly happy, or the darkest thoughts I've ever had to sweep from my mind. I might tell her the things I pretend to be or to feel or to understand when I really don't believe a bit of it. How about when I should be sad but am really only angry, or when I seem red-hot angry but really feel ice-blue with fear? What if I told her all the things I wonder about and how little I know for sure?

So, on those days when uncertainty reigns supreme and I'm tempted to skitter off into a familiar pattern of internal chaos, I can take myself, for just a moment, back to that warm, blessed kitchen table in the house by the river and begin, "Let me tell you about Me."

I'm the one who needs to attend to the conversation that follows.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ripples of the Mind

Ripples in autumn, Tucker Pond, Warner, NH, October 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/108 sec @ f3.2, ISO 105, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Those who know me are well aware of my notorious memory (or simply lack thereof). For as long as I can remember (ha!), and seemingly increasingly so in recent years, I just do not recall basic things that have happened to me in the recent past. My family is both frustrated and somewhat humored by this.

I find it at times rather embarrassing (e.g., people who’s names I really should know), but I have come to accept it. Is it the start of a deeper neurological disease? I don’t think so — but who knows? I think of it like the surface of a pond -- the memory of a pebble ripples outward until it is all but gone.

I’ve actually tried to turn this into an advantage. When people tell me old repeat stories, I often hear them as freshly as if it were the first time. When my family describes an old adventure, I take heart not in my recollection of it, but in a manner of experiencing it anew. The more detailed the recollection, the more fun to relive it all over again. Another pebble is tossed into my life, and each time, the mind ripples anew.

Cloud ripples, Amherst, NH, June 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/150 sec @ f4.5, ISO 50, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

And I suspect there is one more factor at work here. I do have a strong desire to live in the present moment, and not dwell upon the past or anticipate the future. So my poor memory serves me well in this objective. And then I came upon this quote, which I think relates quite well to what is going on in my head, however unwittingly:
The mind is your past. Die to your past and you will suddenly become fully conscious. The past is nothing but dead debris. Get rid of it and you will learn how to witness.

When you die to your past, to your thoughts and your memories, then you will be fully in the present. When you truly exist in the present, you are simply witnessing. The past can only exist as long as there are thoughts. When the thoughts are eliminated, the past disappears and you abide in your own Self.

The Self does nothing but witness. The Self is not a person - it is Pure Awareness. It is completely detached from all phenomena. It is the state of becoming the one subject, the core of your existence.

-- Mata Amritanandamayi

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Apple of Knowledge

Apple of knowledge, Cider festival, Amherst, NH, October 2004, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/250 sec @ f4.0, ISO 64, with flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Many of us live as though and think that we are objective in our examination of various ideas and concepts. After all, we’re educated. We’re relatively enlightened. We can consider a point of view free from the bias of our upbringing, and consider it on its inherent merits, even if it tends to benefit “them” and perhaps indict “us”.

Nice theory. But how true do you really think that is? I’d say not very true for the vast majority of humans beings (at least at present).

Take many Christians that you know (I only pick on Christians because I have some first hand experience here; trust me, I’ve had these same conversations with a devout Muslim). They say that salvation comes through accepting Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and if this isn’t done (depending on their denomination) you will not be Saved, which basically means eternal damnation (but let’s not get hung up on that).

You know, this is a big benefit for the children that are born into Christian societies. We are a lucky bunch. Consider the child born in Iran, or China, or Thailand, or Japan. The odds of them being exposed to Christianity (in a positive light) during their upbringing is very low. Now some Christians believe if they are never exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ, they get a free pass from damnation. But not all of the denominations.

Let’s ask ourselves how well we were taught about something other than the Christian faith, or God forbid, the concept of athiesm. Was that a fair and balanced presentation, if there was any exposure at all? You know children are pretty susceptible to the prejudices of their parents. How open minded are the parents that you know? And if you are fortunate to be raised in a liberal enlightened community, consider the rest of the world.

I think our religious indoctrination is probably the greatest disservice we do for our children. Not that I don’t want them to have a particular faith (or not), but rather, that I wish they would be encouraged to have the inquisitiveness to ask the question why there are multiple faiths, and just what does it all mean to them. And then to go do some honest investigation on their own. And from that, draw whatever conclusion works for them. But, generally speaking, we really stack the deck against this objective and sincere inquiry. And why not — many parents feel their children’s salvation rests upon their indoctrinations.

I hope (and expect) that over time, we will move away from this mindset. The whole notion of “blind faith” is worrisome to me. I don’t believe we need rational proof to consider the spiritual aspects of our lives, but I do believe we need to figure it out for ourselves. And if possible, pursue our spirituality sincerely and genuinely enough until we have our own personal experiences upon which to base our beliefs and insights.

Japanese girl at Shinto shrine, Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo, Japan, December 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/212 sec @ f4.7, ISO 93, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

And to that end, I share with you this excerpt from Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”. I believe all parents, parents-to-be, and maybe anyone with an influential role in children’s lives, would do well to consider these words, and apply them in their own investigations into the ineffable.

"Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness; For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."

-- Kahlil Gibran, excerpt from “The Prophet”

"Doubt everything. Find your own light." -- Buddha

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Wings of change

Wings of change, Garden Pond, Amherst, NH, August 2006, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/500 sec @ f5.0, ISO 64, with flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

I have often lamented the indecision of bureaucrats and bosses. Their seeming inability to agree on anything earthshattering or to take principled positions that would benefit more than their constituents or employees. Their seeming inability to create or legislate a new paradigm. I’ve even said to myself — if we could elect or select our best and our brightest, perhaps then we would see governments and organizations create systems that truly benefit the whole, and not continue self-serving interests.

But I just had an aha moment, I think. Something else is needed to make an organization, a social structure, or a being of any kind to evolve to a new level. We’ve recognized by now that this does not happen with discrete random mutations. (Darwin was brilliant, but his theory was not complete.) A dragonfly wing or a human eye did not emerge though the hundreds of random mutations that would be required for such a quantum level change. Something — scientists do not understand what at present — causes this quantum change to manifest — to emerge from where there was nothing before it. After that, our good friend natural selection can take over and decide if that quantum change really benefited the being or not, in its current environment.

Chaos, Store front sign, Tokyo, Japan, January 2007, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/60 sec @ f3.0, ISO 54, with flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

And perhaps one contributing factor to that emergent development (ignoring for the now the underlying mechanism) is crisis. Or its more scientific brother, chaos. Perhaps it is inherently natural and a part of life itself, that such revolutionary changes can only come in times of crisis. Otherwise, there is no systemic force motivating dramatic enough change.

So now you see me smiling. Not because I want crises to occur — they can produce very painful circumstances — but if you can recognize crises or chaos as a natural and necessary part of the evolutionary process, then you realize they are not only not a bad thing — they are an essential thing of forward progress. And then, when the next crisis occurs, while you deal with the inevitable consequences and the aftermath, perhaps you can still smile at the recognition that you are standing in the midst of life transforming itself.

In the Midst of Transformation, Garden Pond, Amherst, NH, August 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/370 sec @ f5.0, ISO 100, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]