Friday, November 11, 2011



Numbers like 11-11-11 demand attention. It’s a visual alignment that seems to signify without us really knowing what. Advertisers play on it, movies are released, armistices have been signed (though without that final 11). Sure, it’s easy to remember if you’re scheduling an event, but myself, I’ve always found beauty in numerical arrangements, with particular appreciation for symmetry. A palindrome on my odometer is a small moment of grace, a glimpse of order happening by itself, reminding me of the many changes unfolding all around me, most hidden from perception. Repeated numbers convey a unison, all in accord, and though this is personal symbolism on my part, it has the concrete effect of Zen’s bell of mindfulness in meditation or daily life. It brings me back to the present and for the time the number is present with me, until 3:33 turns to 3:34, I stay right there.
At the grocery store the other day the woman exclaimed “Four Forty-four” as she handed me the receipt. The correspondence gets our attention whether we ascribe meaning to it or not. And she was smiling. As visual form there’s a beauty that’s enhanced by its unlikeliness. If the receipt said, “forty-four, forty-four” it would be even more noteworthy. That underlying sense of the probability factor is the only real connection with mathematics itself, which often finds the right solution by its elegance. We experience our awareness of probabilities when we notice the rare coordinance of numbers or planets. And with both numbers and planets we know it will happen again, the numbers on the clock will do the same thing tomorrow and for the most part we don’t notice, but when we do it’s like we’re in alignment too and in that moment of awareness our perpetual motion, mind and body, slows down. Manmade patterns are built on the cyclic patterns of nature and like the pleasure of all beauty; it’s a pleasure of connection.
In the case of accidental alignments there’s also a sense of personal discovery.
As hard as it may be to believe, I just walked into the kitchen and the clock over the stove said 11:11. So it was 11:11, 11-11-11. So cool. I experience these moments as little blessings, am always surprised, so maybe my pleasure is not just the endorphins from beauty but also the dopamine of the unexpected. In any case the delight is a temporary release from the things that wear us down.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


The Personal Map

From the beginning, reading “Infinite Jest”, I’ve been fascinated by David Foster Wallace’s use of the phrase, “ eliminate his/her/your map” to refer to death. At first it seemed like a kind of slang- the obscure phrase that a particular in-group will use to define themselves with private language. But the more I thought of it, particularly in relation to all of the brain science I’ve read, the more it seemed like he had struck upon the one truly unique feature of every human being’s individual self. From the beginning we create our own inner map of the world that includes not just all we’ve done and experienced but also how we feel about it. And what we recognize in our surroundings, spring from memories seen in the places of our lives, which clarify the meaning of the experience that’s conveyed by the feeling. We map not just where we are, but all we know in time and space. Since my father’s lost so much of his memory, I’ve found that when we do discover remembered areas it’s always in relation to places. Talking this week about weddings, he couldn’t remember my brother’s until I mentioned Hiss Avenue. The reception was in the back yard of my sister-in-law’s childhood home and given the scene Dad’s memory came drifting back to what a great guy her Dad was and the boat her brother Woody built and their fish pond. This place in his map still had its connection to the sights, sensations and feelings of his past experience and I could tell he enjoyed remembering and re-experiencing his connection to life. He got his mind moving by finding a way into his map.
This map, primarily in the hippocampus, but riding up against the parietal lobes (where we are in space) on one side and the feeling centers on the other, establishes our sense of ourselves in space/time and personal meaning. Where we are forms the core of who we are. The brain is full of maps that correlate one kind of experience with another. The map is the hub of what we know, the hippocampus the trigger point of all the rich associations spread throughout the brain.
This is a concrete reality and not a metaphor, but as a metaphoric image it helps us comprehend the notion of an Akashic field, where all the information of all that’s happened and been thought continues to accumulate, enriched by our very own thoughts in the here and now. Though an ancient idea its appeal is growing. New experience adds to the field and enables us to tune to information already there. In a state of flow the field of information moves through us unobstructed, but filtered through our individual frequency. I used to resist the idea that what’s experienced by me as my mind is not necessarily all in my head. That the modification in my brain as I have new experience might be simply expanding the reception of my tuner. Like a radio filtering out a particular broadcast to pull in we receive information through our highly sophisticated personal brains. Likewise we send it out, add what we know to the field of information. This is the model proposed by Rupert Sheldrake. That even our own memories aren’t in our brains but are in the information field impressed with those experiences and the shape of the energy that rippled from it; this was an idea that was headbashingly difficult to take in when I first read it. In his book, “The Sense of Being Stared At,” Sheldrake writes, “Trying to understand minds without recognizing the extended fields on which they depend is like trying to understand the effects of magnets without acknowledging that they are surrounded by magnetic fields.” Broadening our idea of what constitutes mind will require images to shape a new model of how we conceive of it.