Thursday, December 24, 2015

Bookmark 2015

Here is this year's holiday bookmark. Encouraged by exTA Collin Hughes' appreciation of last year's, I'll try to keep posting them every year I make them. I've only missed one year in over three decades of creating them for family and friends which now includes my blog readers. Print it, cut it out, put it between two pieces of clear contact paper to protect it, then cut it out again.
Enjoy having a gargoyle to watch over your reading and enjoy your reading.
If you're looking for a different kind of book, try "The Family Fang" by Kevin Wilson.
Happy Holidays!  

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Anticipation 2

Open Mind

The physical brain is the repository of what’s learned about living in material existence. We are each an exquisitely complex integration of mechanisms to perceive and understand the world and because we walk around separately having different experiences there is the illusion that awareness is separate. But science has been unsuccessful at locating a place for consciousness, so the idea of awareness that flows through us bringing consciousness to our place in the world, what Sri Aurobindo calls the superconsciousness is not a far-fetched notion.

Our own experience of this is in how similar, exactly the same really, the perceiving mind in our head seems to be throughout life. I remember that phase in childhood when the idea of separateness was upon me and didn’t make sense, and I feel that same questioning mind using my personal mental equipment now. It’s what provides the outlook. Years of meditation have loosened my attachment to the personal in a shift to viewing it as a particular instrument for learning about creation.

It was interesting to read that brain scans show less over all activity and ego consciousness during time on hallucinogens. Yet the experiences reported are more elaborate and intense. This would support Huxley’s idea that the brain is a filter, screening out all that is not useful to our purposes. When the filter is disconnected the awareness ranges beyond the personal mind including sights and experiences not accounted for by brain activity. There are many reports from doctors and scientists of people having consciousness without brain activity and the testimony all mystical religions shows how stilling the mind opens it. Meditation is a way to let the brain settle. Day to day demands emphasize the personal, so it’s easy to get caught in the illusion that is all there is. As personal agendas fade, the mind expands into larger perspective. The extended mind opens the channel for inspiration, influenced by the needs of the field of mind. In this way a larger field of mind guides us to what we need and the individual contributions that grow from separate life history are what it needs. The noosphere described by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his "Activation of Energy" is the self-regulating organism of mind that encloses the planet like an atmosphere.
In a beautiful way of saying this from an essay by Bhikka Bodhi, “When the soul becomes embodied, it forgets its original nature and becomes enmeshed in material creation. This creates the self.”

We are particle and wave. When we’re identified with an isolated self, we’re particle. When identified with a higher frequency, consciousness remembers its original nature. Just like crest and trough are all part of the wave, we shouldn’t let our distinctions between figure and ground give the impression they’re separate and that only one side is important. Because we are material does not mean that’s all we are. As the wave, we are continuous with the energy spectrum.

Opening the mind to the possibility that consciousness is not confined in the body allows more access to the creative stream fueling the growth of the future. To be the wave is to resonate with the larger field of consciousness and feel the connection to all of creation.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Anticipation 1

Bernie Sanders

 Whenever I tell someone I support Bernie Sanders, the first thing they say is he can’t win. This sounds to me like people who’ve compromised, who have resigned themselves to a system that if allowed to continue its current course will stomp everyone that’s not already rich down to gravel underfoot, because the rich already have too much power. With an army of PR companies strategizing about how to keep people distracted and acquiescent, corporate messages flooding into every relevant source, the public is convinced there is no other course. Competitive aggressiveness is tearing the world apart.

The morning after the first democratic debate I tuned into NPR to see how they were playing it. The point that stood out for me was that it was the highest rated Democratic debate in many years. This had to be because of Bernie Sanders. Everyone else was a politician and politicians are the reason people have become cynical and uninvolved. His message came from the heart. He sees the big picture and what most needs to be changed about America. Control of the country is being bought up by the few. In a documentary almost entirely made of uploaded individual footage of the Occupy Wall Street movement as it spread, the range of people marching together is the most diverse of any march I’ve seen.  The courage and creativity felt more true of America than the glitzy soul-killing media version. These are people with principles who care about other people. The title “Rise Like Lions” was drawn from a Percy Blythe Shelley poem quoted at the beginning encouraging people to stand against oppressors. The power of this movement is behind Bernie Sanders because he’s getting at the roots of the problem. It’s not a fluke that he’s getting such big crowds. The Seattle demonstrations against the WTO drew over 40,000, which then fueled the Occupy movement. When the mainstream media mocked the movement saying, “Occupy What?”the answer  seemed obvious. People want to occupy their country again. Our police are no longer the smiling Andy of Mayberry sheriff protecting the people of the town, they are the guns that protect the new polluting factory FROM the people of the town. That capitalism has become pathological is shown by the soaring wealth of some while a growing number struggle and do without, a gigantic shiny tumor hanging off the side of the shriveling body politic.

Young people today are beyond being swayed by labels. The media may think enough shouting the word “Socialist” will make a difference but the generation coming up is smarter than they think, multisensory. While the elders are yelling, they may have the earbuds in listening to DemocracyNow and scanning world wide articles on reddit. If the mainstream media can’t see what’s happening it’s because they are too close to the 1% themselves.

There is still time to have a just and humane world that respects everything in it. Having a mission to make it happen can unite across surface differences and stop reacting to what the media wants us to be upset about. They say he can’t win because of their own fear, not knowing what a just America would mean to those now on the winning end. Taking the incentive out of greed might be a relief for everybody. If anything over a certain amount goes in a 90% bracket the competition to have the most might be defanged. Without so much extra money, the extremists might not get funded. The best in people could be allowed to flourish without self-interested parties telling them who to hate.

Bernie Sanders is visible because of the lions. Let’s join the pride.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Variety and Enrichment

What made talking about the art from my “Imaging the Idea” class such a pleasure was partly due to the wonderful variety of approaches this semester’s class represents. It was stimulating to go from paintings and constructions to photography, animation and video collage, stuffed objects and reconstructed prints offering a thorough exploration of expressive iconography. That combined with the interesting and perceptive responses from the group got my own ideas moving into brand new territory. This is serious enrichment. I can revisit any one of the works mentally and get to know the mind that created it, feel their humor and priorities, the particular gifts each brings to the things they need to show us. Perspective is enlarged by the accumulation of many ways of seeing. This was the reason I created this class and the “Imaging from Current Events”, as a way of spreading a variety of visual and verbal ideas on the table so everyone gets a sense of the range of the ways others come at a topic without dispute. No idea has any more claim to being truth than another. Building the skill of moving through and pooling ideas rather than using mental resources to defend and prevail offers a more interesting, open journey through the field of ideas, the extended mental space of collective perception.

Variety is enrichment at every level of biology. When people are threatened by difference it can often be because they aren’t attuned to essence. The idea that everyone has to come around to one way of
thinking is an archaic remnant of colonialism. The availability of multiple points of view needs a more open-ended orientation toward belief that allows for growth and change. Understanding underlying relationships, how things function and the patterns of behavior formed in early development provide a platform for understanding all that is shared. Every human being has the experience of being a helpless baby that then begins to sit, to crawl, to begin the struggle to stand and
walk, and these shared early experiences are an important component of how we respond to gravity, position, obstruction, imbalance and their analogue in the composition of art. Art communicates through the human response to space. The metaphors based on functioning in the world are universal.

Understanding this essential responsiveness should enable us to transcend superficial physical descriptions and appreciate the ways in which human beings are varied as valuable. A restricted gene pool and monoculture weaken a species and make it more vulnerable, whereas interbreeding takes advantage of the best genes on both sides to makea more vigorous next generation. When Picasso saw African masks it opened a new creative direction for him. Whatever is new and different stimulates dopamine in the brain, which is represented in behavior as curiosity and focused attention. This is not something to be suppressed.  One way to make use of the untapped potential of the mind
is to expose it to more difference and find the novelty that most inspires creative thought. If as so many are now saying, we are moving into a post-knowledge era our tools for depth understanding and creative thinking will be essential to the future.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Behaviorism (detail)

Unconditional Attention

It was back when I was in my twenties working at a mental hospital that I learned the two most important lessons about the mind even after forty more years of study. The first was that the labels put on people’s misery told you very little about individual reality and nothing at all about the situations that led up to why they were there. We who worked there and the patients weren’t that different as human beings, the ones inside were more overwhelmed by their circumstances, but we that were the aides were there as part of a searching led by our own psychological fragility. It was while I worked there that I heard Thomas Szasz speak on “The Myth of Mental Illness” as something used by society to standardize people.
The other thing I learned is that what really healed people, at least on my hall, was Katy Phair. She was a wonderful woman who listened with wide-open acceptance and I could see people relax in her presence, even when they weren’t talking, because she was so totally with them. And she included the aides in her generous attention. Her look seemed to value me and helped me accept myself. One day in regard to something I was saying which I don’t remember she said, “Susan, you can’t have expectations of others.” Now this was the most revolutionary idea that had ever been said to me. I’d been brought up in a web of expectations. I couldn’t imagine not expecting things of others and couldn’t accept it at the time. It took me years to shake off the baggage of expectations when it comes to other people. The brain works by predicting, so expecting what happens next is part of its method but projecting the “shoulds” that are part of our own conditioning is a hazard to healthy relationships because expectations put conditions on how you pay attention.

What does it mean to say something given is unconditional? The obvious answer is to need nothing back, have no expectations resting on what’s given. Less obvious are the automatic internal judgments triggered by the receiver’s reaction. To give unconditional attention means to have no agenda, to take someone in as they are, really observe and learn the individual background and personal sensitivities. Taking someone in and learning about their reactions gives an understanding of what something means to them. People protect their insensitivity by saying the other over-reacted, that it was not our intention for them to react that way. We don’t learn our lessons when we say the other took it wrong.  To dismiss another’s reaction is disrespectful and refuses to learn about the legitimate response of another. The I Ching says if you want to know what kind of person you are look at the effects your actions have on others. The ripples started by the action are the messages left in the field around you.

Practice attention as a gift to others. Like a plant grows and flourishes with careful tending, true attention feels like love. It’s the concrete evidence of love that words alone can’t show.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Setting Limits

The Inner Self

Human response to visual art is as personal as it is to music. The feeling in the work resonates with feelings in the heart that want recognition. As real and substantial as this inner world is for us, the world of surface functioning tends to see only surfaces, signals like shoes and attitude. People are sold a set of values that disrespects human depth and creates boundaries based on marketed standards. The range of perceptions is narrowed to the superficial categories linked to surface appearance. From the very beginning of life there are currents of being that aren’t recognized and acknowledged by others, yet this rich inner life feels like the heart of who we are. Just as history has told the story of what has happened in the outer world, art has chronicled the inner, showing what it feels like to be human. It is the artist that verifies the life within. Whether in the mood of a scene, the associations with a still life, the energy of an abstraction or the attitude in a portrait, we’re attracted to what relates to our own inner life. Preferences vary with the emotional climate so what we’re drawn to at a particular moment in life will shed light on how we feel at the time. It validates an emotional truth and its connection to the feelings of others. Recognition of this level reminds us how much more there is to us than merely the surface roles we play.

The wide range of art accumulated through time offers many choices to reflect different temperments and different states of mind. The fact that novels like “The Goldfinch” and “Girl With A Pearl Earring” build around a single work from centuries ago is testimony to the centrality of the emotional essence and mystery of the inner world. When art captures the expansive moment the connection to a deep human pattern celebrates the inner self. It can be a powerful tool for self-knowledge that is much more aligned with how people actually experience life than the few words we have to express it. The connection is forged by recognition of an active personal archetype, a truth in our life drama. Modern culture lives on surfaces but the power in human beings is in the depths and any comprehensive understanding needs the clarity of perceptual cognition. Perception sees the whole picture and the interrelationships. Educating perception develops the intelligence that understands the whole. It is the only thing that can help us find solutions to the problems in a fragmented and complex world.

Looking at art has dual benefits in the development of visual intelligence. First is the insight into personal psychology that can unearth blocks and distortions. People are so used to hiding the weather within that they come to disregard it and lose access to the guidance offered by the response to the whole. Second is the refinement of holistic seeing, awareness of overall structure that guides attention to the truly significant in how that structure functions. It reinforces the original intelligence of the body, knowledge of what we expect from spatial relationships, which can get ignored in the labyrinth of the seductive intellect.

Friday, July 17, 2015


Deep Perception

Perception is continuous, the mediator of our relationship to the world and in that role, the place where meaning starts. Our sense of where we are is built from the ongoing dance of body in environment that leaves impressions we crudely label as “uneasy” or “tense” or “calm” or “uplifting". These automatic adjustments are shared by all beings that move around in the world and though as humans we may have gained some power to articulate them, each of us knows how specific and perhaps never to be seen again the fleeting qualities in any given moment. Yet in the moment the meaning is clear to us. Deep perception is where the rich inner life takes place, the anguish of a secret tragedy hidden behind the smiling selfie, confusion and uncertainty
under the surface while projecting mastery to those around you. The contradictions of being human are the stuff of drama, literature and art. It’s an area that goes ignored by the compartmentalized demands of life until art comes to resuscitate it. The play or music unlocks
the feelings that come from that level of knowing. But visual art has several advantages. First it is not time based. Revelation can be immediate, an insight born of the change in perception created by the image.

Because vision is always directing attention behind the scenes it can lead our thoughts forward. What we see initiates associated images triggering thoughts and ideas that underscore what the image means to us. It helps us see the personal pattern that led us to a particular painting. The stronger the feeling we have about what we see, the deeper the connection to individual emotional themes revealed by the artist’s expression of this sense of life. By boiling down essential patterns art offers the structure by which many analogous ideas can be constructed. Put an elementary school child in front of a painting and ask them what they think is going on and you’ll see this generative imagination work. That’s why talking about art has been shown to be so effective in building a child’s intelligence concretely demonstrated in higher test scores. ( Since there are no wrong answers there is free use of language and expression of the inner life.

Perception is so important to our navigation of being, developing our sensitivity to deep level patterns can only be a benefit to human intelligence. Though meditation is best for training attention in the present moment, looking at a painting can provide a personally chosen
enrichment to reflection, to add a level to the meditation that gives room for associations to flow and change. Whether you choose from visionary art that transcends the purely human or a modern portrait that resonates with existential confusion, the choice is led by deep perception of your current state and clarifies what you need to see.

We navigate the world guided by perception in the moment and haven’t had to give the visual level much thought because it does its job so well without conscious attention. But the world has become too complicated for linear processes to handle. We need the speed and overview of perception to see the patterns in the whole that guide attention to what is out-of-balance. Developing the range and sensitivity of immediate reactions to the overview means becoming more attuned to visual structure. Allowing room for deep perception gives
us time to pause and reflect on the meaning of what caught attention
and allow space for a more thoughtful response.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Causality (detail)

Updated July 16, 2015

Behavior Patterns

Each individual has a particular space-time image of reality. Patterns of day-to-day behavior reinforce a unified way of seeing and living. The word, “lifestyle” was coined by Alfred Adler to refer to a person’s habitual way of interacting with the world. Contemporary of Freud and Jung he broke from the group in favor of a more individualized approach to psychoanalysis and was the ancester of what has become cognitive psychology. He saw how each person’s early adaptations to life created patterns that could interfere with them later on. These life patterns could be changed once recognized, reorganized into a style of living that would one’s capacities to grow. His psychiatry was practical. The “inferiority complex” starts with the universal experience of being dependent on others. After all, as a baby we can’t do anything but observe the caregiver and their attitude toward both us and our many requirements. The sense of inferiority is strengthened if much is made of our inadequacy, which pushes us to overcome it. It could be the motivation to great accomplishment since getting beyond an obstruction involves building skills, which become their own reward. His psychoanalysis involved how an individual participates in their world. Thinking about the whole context and treating everyone equally, his was a common sense , big picture perspective.

Early understanding of concepts begins with the feeling of our body in response to what the pattern leads us to expect. This is the visual analysis going on beneath conscious awareness and guiding decisions most of the time, and like any other unconscious process if we don’t know it’s there we can’t change it. Becoming aware of shifting feelings is the door into more choice of response. Sensitizing perception to the overview, to unifying patterns within the whole, leads to sensible action.
The difficulty is around the issue of trust. The promptings of perceptual thinking are often dismissed. One of the ideas that started with Freud and was then taken up with a vengence was that people are basically terrible and have to be controlled, that the unconscious forces below the surface were full of negative drives and appetites. How this allowed those in power  and doing the controlling to believe that they were different is a question for history to expose.

The great American philosophers John Dewey, Samuel Pierce with Jane Addams saw the value of ideas as in their use and brought common sense back into philosophy, saw context over law.
It’s been a pleasure seeing Abraham Maslow coming up more often as the more-or-less father of the current trend in happiness research. Real pleasure isn’t something pursued for its own sake, it’s the by-product of using capabilities to the fullest, whatever they happen to be, to unfold the full extent of what we can do with our particular potentialities and interests and grow in participation with whatever we have to offer. The entertainment culture sidelines a wealth of personal gifts by fanning fears that inhibit action. It’s only through action that we reveal ourselves in the various roles as we function in relation to our world. Spinoza wrote that anxieties are caused by inadequate ideas which he defines as those we don’t act on. Empty imagining without effort just makes us dissatisfied and dissatisfaction should be the beginning of motivation. They are closely related in the brain.

For Adler the will to power is the driving force in being human. Not power over others but in most effective use of individual power, meant to overcome weakness by building knowledge and skill. Self-improvement demonstrates the meaning of life, developing personal capacities to show yourself who you are, creating behavior patterns that exhilarate rather than pacify.