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.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Early cherry blossoms

Early Blossoms, Koishikawa Botanical Garden, Tokyo, Japan, February 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 200mm, Exposure 1/80 sec @ f5.6, ISO 200, with flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

During a recent trip to Japan, a couple of friends and I took our cameras to a botanical garden to take some pictures. The plum blossoms were out, as was expected, but these are cherry blossoms and are unusually early. Probably a unique species.

All I know is that I was appreciative of the color and faux springtime. Enjoy this reminder -- Spring is just around the corner!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Patterns finale - illusion

Mosaic, Taj Mahal, Agra, India, August 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/350 sec @ f5.0, ISO 50, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

In closing out this week's series, it is interesting to consider illusions. Seeing things that are not really there. Like this medievil flooring, clearly laid in two-dimensions but with colors and contrasts that give it a three-dimensional appearance.

Well, now that we know the trick, it is clear, right? And we would never make the mistake again, right? Ha. We are more easily fooled than that, and every day.

For example, we have a full moon tonight. If you have clear skies, get outside tonight and watch the moon rise over the horizon. It's an enormous orb as it clears the tree line. Come back in a few hours and look up to see how much smaller it has become. Why? Just another optical illusion dealing with relative size comparisons. You can thank your mind.

And while you are looking up at the night sky, notice both the large number of stars, and the vastness of space that separates each star. Now consider your own body, or that rock on the ground. Solid and dense, right? Actually, we also are mostly "empty space" if we consider the fundamental building blocks that constitute our physical nature.

But then, that also depends upon the lens with which we examine life. Are we looking at particles or waves? Energy or matter? As you probably know from introductory physics, they are just different manifestations of the same thing. So in a large degree, what we see "out there" really is just an illusion -- made to look real to our senses.

Just like the clever use of color and contrast in the mosaic on the floors surrounding the Taj Mahal to create an illusion to our eyes. So it is that much that we see as "real" in this world, is really just an illusion to our senses.

You may find it useful to question that which you experience as "real", "absolute", "fixed", or "truth". Or you may be happier just accepting what your senses tell you about the world. Personally, I enjoy them both -- the beauty my senses take in, and the beautiful enigma which lies behind it all.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Patterns - weathered

Weathered shakes, Pickity Place, Mason, NH, January 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/135 sec @ f2.8, ISO 100, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Sometimes the years leave their tell-tale signs upon us. Sometimes we try to hide it -- cover it up with a new coat of varnish, as it were. Othertimes we are willing to let our age show.

It differentiates us from the young and inexperienced. And in the end, the only thing that will avoid it showing is an early demise, and who wants that?

To me I see character in those lines and wrinkles. I see experience and wisdom. I see understanding and compassion. I see warmth and comfort. (Interestingly, I didn't see all that until I started to develop those lines and wrinkles myself -- hmmm.)

Before our mass media took control of our lives, there was a time when age was honored, perhaps even revered. Somone had to have lived life's lessons, and be willling to pass them down.

Ask yourself how you view aging. Is it a path to be respected and honored, or one to be covered up and hidden?

Perhaps that inquiry will cause you to question our culture's message. We might just benefit from a little more wisdom these days.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Patterns - color

Colorful Kayaks, Rockport, MA, August 2003, Sony Cybershot, Exposure 1/125 sec @ f7.1, ISO 100, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Life is full of color, isn't it? And by noticing it, our lives are just a bit richer.

If we open our minds up a little, we can realize just how much color there is out there. The colors we can see with our eyes are limited to a very narrow spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. From about 400-700 nanometers (millionths of a meter) in wavelength.

But of course, this is just a part of a much larger spectrum, that includes lower frequency waves (longer wavelengths) that we pick up as vibration, slightly higher ones that we detect as sound, still higher ones that carry information to our radios and TVs, very high energy ones that produce X-rays, and higher still like gamma rays from cosmic events.

So while we see the richness of color in this world, keep in mind that we are seeing a pitifully small section of the true richness of "color" that bombards our world and our bodies every day.

So why not keep your mind open to the true vastness of the world we live in, and see just how colorful it can be?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Patterns - perspective

London Eye, London, England, September 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/100 sec @ f2.8, ISO 50, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Ever notice how things look differently when viewed from another perspective? How can that be? Same thing -- looked at from two vantage points -- and it looks different? Just what is real, then?

Well, this isn't quite as philosophical as it sounds. Scientists from the last century finally figured this out. The term is relativity, and it means that everything depends -- yes Everything -- on our frame of reference. This is not some mystic's viewpoint, but scientific, measured, proven results.

Take this bicycle wheel. Obviously the camera is set low on the ground, giving it the appearance of enourmous size, right? You can see the axle, the spokes, the tire rim. And what are those things around the tire anyway? Ha, ha. You could tell, I'm sure, that this is really the London Eye. Not a bicycle tire at all, but a massive ferris wheel that just happens to look like one, from the right perspective.

So when you are so sure that you have found the truth. And you find yourself becoming quite righteous about it. Think for a minute that it might only be "right" relative to your persective. And then try (and this is hard) to see it from another's perspective. Perhaps that is "right" also. The world really does work like that. Really.