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Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy’

While my brother Dr Jim was getting punished with a foot of snow in MN, Spring has sprung here in Nashville.

We’ve been busy collecting the daffodils in Ms Berdelle’s secret garden, and practicing Quigong on her patio. This past weekend I enlisted my young neighbor, Ashley, to give this ancient form of exercise and healing a try; but when she asked me what Quigong actually is, I was at a loss. I’d only studied T’ai Chi in the past and since today is Tuesday, I’ll be aligning my Chi pretty soon!

Still, Berdelle’s son is a Master of Quigong, and luckily he was visiting and the weather has been cooperating, I was game to give it a try:

When you start practicing Qigong exercises, the primary goal is to concentrate on letting go, letting go, letting go. That’s because most imbalance comes from holding on to too much for too long. Most of us are familiar with physical strength of muscles, and when we think about exercising, we think in terms of tensing muscles. Qi energy is different. Qi strength is revealed by a smooth, calm, concentrated effort that is free of stress and does not pit one part of the body against another.  https://www.consciouslifestylemag.com/qigong-exercises-healing-energy/

If that sounds like a song from a Frozen movie you’d be right. This is less like a Pelloton workout and more like a meditation on harmony, with birdsong as background music. When our Yin and Yang energy becomes unbalanced (or as Dr Jim would put it, we are too tightly or too loosely strung), it’s important to LET GO of everything that is holding us back and weighing us down.

Since Great Grandma Ada’s NJ house has just gone on the market, I’ve noticed a change in her – realistically she knows that her “collections” have served their purpose and she doesn’t need the hundreds of dishes, pots, silver and heavy furniture she has accumulated over a lifetime. In fact, she has sent the Steinway Grand piano out to California for the Rocker to enjoy!

But emotionally, she is still coming to terms with this new reality. Who are we without all our stuff?  

When I studied Buddhism at UVA, our class was told to write down words to describe who we are: Woman. Mother. Writer. Wife. Gardener. Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. (I wasn’t a grandmother yet)… but you get the point. How do we define ourselves? Irish. Democrat! Progressive! Feminist! Then our teacher told us to erase all those words, and some people had plenty of descriptors.

We were looking at a blank page.

The point was to empty our minds of all our labels, labels meant to divide us socially and politically, to create havoc and borders and even war. This past week we watched House Democrats try to come up with an Anti-Semitism bill that devolved into an anti-hate bill and lost its legs – criticizing a policy of racism and apartheid is not the same as hating a people for their ethnicity. Or spreading stereotypic garbage for that matter.

Is it possible to become one with the human race? To meditate and find the flow that connects each and every one of us to the earth and other living things. When I look into Ms Bean’s soulful eyes I see unconditional love. When we look into a new baby’s black, blue or green eyes we experience that same tenderness.

For some this is a very hard exercise, to give up everything we think we know about ourselves. We might feel like a ship stuck at sea with no harbor in sight. But for some, it is the very definition of freedom.

The Bride was asking me about Great Grandma Gi the other day. She wanted to know how and why the Flapper came to love Buddhism because she is seriously studying Yoga. Born in 1908, my Mother had a long hard life – she was abused as a young girl, had to relinquish two of her children for a time, and then her sixth and last child, me, after our Year of Living Dangerously. She survived a horrific car accident and buried three husbands. But her strength was a direct result of her suffering.

Gi was not a fabulist or a pollyanna in any way. She worked hard and constantly told me that every person has a story. Studying the interaction of mind and body became her religion in late life; just as integrative medicine, blending Western science with Eastern philosophy, has become accepted by wellness experts in America.

In this Year of the Pig, I will try to meditate, to breathe and to plan on letting go.

“I will practice coming back to the present moment,

Not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past,

Or letting anxieties, fear or craving pull me out”

Thich Nhat Hanh 

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I’m listening to Terry Gross’ interview with Bo Burnham, who wrote and directed “Eighth Grade,” his first feature film. He’s talking about social anxiety and social media and the confluence of our hyper-connectivity and how it’s different growing up today.

Burnham was an early YouTube star, in high school, performing his own satirical songs in his bedroom. The songs went viral, he went to MTV, and the rest is history.

‘The digital gap used to be between those people who grew up before computers and smartphones and those who were digital natives. Now, there’s a gap between those who grew up with Facebook and those who grew up with Snapchat and Instagram.’

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/27/680356663/director-bo-burnham-on-growing-up-with-anxiety-and-an-audience

The Rocker was born in 1984, and I vividly remember taking him out to a greasy spoon breakfast in Little Silver, NJ. We ordered Western omelets, with a side of their special waffle fries and bacon. A group of middle school boys drove up on their bikes, dropped them in the dirt and plowed into the restaurant giggling and pushing and shoving. They sat down in a booth and flipped open their phones. The Rocker looked me in the eyes and said,

“Ma, I’m glad we didn’t have cell phones in school.”

He was home from college for a break. Having breakfast together again was a ritual I’d been missing. As a toddler, I would happily make him breakfast number 1, and breakfast number 2, because his motor ran fast. The future Rocker was always hungry for action and adventure, but mornings were sacred. His big sister would go off to school and we would have a slow start to a jam-packed day.

If he ate a great morning meal, or two meals, then food for the rest of the day was optional. Remember, my foster parents belonged to the “Clean Plate Club.” Food battles would not define my parenting style!

I can also remember that day on our deck, overlooking the Blue Ridge, when the Rocker told me that Facebook was so over. He and Aunt KiKI signed me up for Instagram – she took my picture in a sun hat and he picked my moniker – it was love at first sight.

So who could blame me if I thought our L’il Pumpkin should be the next YouTube star?

Have you heard of Ryan, the 7 year old making gazillions of dollars opening up toys, screaming with delight, and playing with them? His mama started uploading his videos to YouTube when he was 4, and by last year he had made 22 Million dollars!

“What’s almost as baffling as the amount of money that Ryan has made before his eighth birthday is why today’s kids would rather tune in to watch another one play with toys than play with toys themselves. The answer, it seems, is that today’s kindergarten set lives vicariously through Ryan.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/maddieberg/2018/12/03/how-this-seven-year-old-made-22-million-playing-with-toys-2/#1ecce4d54459

He’s had 26 Billion views on his channel, “Ryan Toys Review” and now he’s got his own toy brand at Walmart. He is a part of what’s known as “Unboxing” in advertising slang; people who film themselves opening mostly tech things and demonstrating how to use them.

The Bride looked at me with horror. Her child? A YouTube star?? I guess it is different for kids growing up today on social media. Their parents are on a spectrum of embracing technology with them, to becoming Luddites. Forging an identity online, counting followers to validate your existence, finding out you missed the big 8th grade party on Insta.

IF you could live your life without an audience, would your life still exist?

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Hallelujah! Star Wars the Last Jedi has finally opened on this side of the pond; Bob and I started our Friday morning by buying tickets online for the megaplex outside of town. Out of 21 theaters in the art deco masterpiece, 12 were featuring Star Wars! We opted to go after lunch, thinking other times might be sold out, plus first we had a date with the Little Pumpkin!

The Festival of Lights is in full swing and the Temple Preschool invited parents and grands to a Hanukkah Shabbat service. The sanctuary was shimmering in sunlight as the Rabbi strolled in wearing a dreidel on her head! Children played, the Cantor sang and we all laughed and watched an amazing juggler. Pop Bob even had a few latkes, with apple sauce. I remembered why I liked this religion so much.

As our tiny red head sat on the Bride’s lap, clapping and singing, time was suspended for a moment of pure joy.

Now I don’t want to ruin the new Star Wars movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but we all know it’s about an epic fight between good and evil – the Light Last Jedi side vs the Dark Conflicted Kylo Ren side. Returning to its existential roots, the latest film in the series does not disappoint, and seeing General Leia (always the princess to me) was bittersweet to the point of tears. I only wish the latest villain, General Hux, wasn’t a red head…

Returning to “reality-based” villains, maybe Alabama turning Blue was the last straw for Mr T? Because I awoke today to this little tidbit of news from the esteemed Washington Post on my phone:

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”  

The analysts were naturally skeptical, they thought maybe this was a joke? I thought it must be an Onion satire when I first read about our government banning words from official documents. After all, HHS has already archived information on LGBT rights; isn’t it better NOT to relay critical methods used to stop HIV infections in certain communities? It would seem we are slipping into the Dark Ages, where climate change is challenged, evolution can be debunked, creationism taught, and women senators humiliated via Twitter at the puny hands of our Groper-in-Chief.

After a thrilling Friday, my morning is sunny and bleak. We gave our Little Pumpkin a Star Wars super duper light saber kit for Hanukkah. His sister had painted his nails black and we sat outside looking for “mean guys.” We must do better with this next generation, and teach them to put the earth and science above myth and money. It’s time for every American to choose the Light or the Dark side.

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A psychologist friend once told me that 80% of our lives are filled with duties, things we feel obliged to do, like cleaning the kitchen let’s say. Or visiting a sick friend with a pot of soup. This same doctor told me it’s alright to lower that ratio, to do more of what we really really want to do, and less of all that obligatory stuff. Now that’s a hard pill to swallow for a recovering Catholic school girl, but since our move I figured I’d give it a try.

It’s an age old philosophical question, that may inform some of our political divisiveness today. For instance, Kant wrote about ethical dilemmas that were universally accepted. Is it ever OK to lie? Or, by allowing a society to think that lying (alternative truths) is acceptable, don’t we call everything anyone ever says into question?

It’s the credibility factor, this feeling we Americans have of watching our government implode like an episode of Big Brother or Celebrity Apprentice. For Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a metaphysical philosopher, morality consists of differing layers of duty:

“…a duty is something that we are obligated to by the Categorical Imperative. In other words, it is something that that we can see as a universal rule for all of humanity necessary for a morally just society.” 

…a perfect duty is one which one must always do and an imperfect duty is a duty which one must not ignore but admits of multiple means of fulfillment. Kant specifies two imperfect duties: the duty of self-improvement and the duty to aid others.

So maybe we could try to get our imperfect duties down to 50% self and 50% others?

For Great Grandma Ada, painting is her time for self-improvement and learning, mixed with friends and fun. For me, the practice of writing weekly, attending workshops and authors’ readings are my ways of self-indulgence. For the Bride, keeping up with her continuing ed credits and practicing yoga to prevent burnout help to improve her life. And for the Love Bug? Well just about everything is about learning these days, but she already told me she loves music class!!

Now when it comes to our “duty” to aid others, this is the divide I’ve noticed in our political life. Since the extreme right Tea Party takeover in the late 90s, there’s been less cooperation in government and more castigation. The whole #MAGA movement held a kernel of truth in its inception. Gone are the days when we were the world leader in democracy. Only Mr T hasn’t really been making us great again, he’s been digging our collective grave.

Few countries look anymore to Trump’s America as a global exemplar, the “city upon a hill” Reagan spoke of in his farewell address to the nation. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel is routinely described as the leader of the free world, the moniker bestowed on the US president since the days of FDR.
The Economist, which trolls Trump almost weekly, has described Chinese President Xi Jinping as the most powerful man in the world. American exceptionalism is now commonly viewed as a negative construct. “Only in America” is a term of derision. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41826022

And partially this fall from grace is due to a new GOP philosophy of individualism – that Ayn Rand sector of old white men. Ronald Reagan wouldn’t recognize it. It’s “all for one” and no one for all. Of course they want to abolish taxes for their richest 1% of donors, and they don’t care about millions losing their health insurance. They’ve become callous pioneers of a myth they’ve sold middle America.

Lately I’ve heard that many of my VA friends, who are self-employed, are losing their Anthem coverage. These people are certainly not impoverished, but they may be if they have to quadruple their health insurance payments. Now they didn’t vote for Mr T, but I wonder what his followers are thinking. It’s funny how the word “entitlement” only applies to others, to “socialists,” until they reach age 65, or have their insurance companies pull the rug out from under them.

If the White House has truly become an “Adult Day Care Center,” we can only hope that Mueller finishes his investigation soon, and that Republicans with a conscience stop quitting politics altogether and step up to the madness before it becomes an existential crisis. I’d like my 5 year old grand daughter to have more days filled with music, and less active shooter drills.

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Just the other day I was talking with my brother Dr Jim and my sister Kay. We like to conference call between the Minnie Apple and the Big Apple and now the Music City. Dr Jim told us, in cleaning out a closet, he’d found the original book titled “101 Poems” that the Flapper used to read to them while they were doing chores around the house, after our Father died. There was no TV or internet, the radio was it for entertainment; that, and the human voice.

I told them how I’d recite “The Owl and The Pussycat” for the Love Bug and her brother while they climbed into a box and pretend to sail off to sea in a ‘beautiful pea green boat!’ They would look at me with wonder as the lilting, melodious words tripped off my tongue from some region in my brain that has to be reptilian. I must have loved that poem as a child, and I can imagine the Flapper after our car accident, lying on a couch with her legs post-surgery straight out in front of her, reading it to me over and over again.

Today I awoke to the memory of yesterday, to all the emotions of another terrorist act on our soil, at a country music concert. And because the gun man is white, without an apparent motive, gun nuts would like to chalk this one up to mental illness. But maybe, just maybe, this time our Congress might see through the lies of an NRA lobby, and have some bit of courage they couldn’t summon after Sandy Hook. There is NO need for our citizens to carry assault weapons that can spray death from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort. NONE.

For my morning meditation I turned to poetry. Like music, words always help me cope with the unimaginable. And I found this couplet from a 1961 poem by Philip Larkin, “Ambulances”:

Sense the solving emptiness

That lies just under all we do,

And for a second get it whole

So permanent and blank and true.

If poetry is your prescription for pain, you may enjoy an anthology by William Sieghart of 56 different poems, an Rx to help process the curve balls life can throw our way titled  “The Poetry Pharmacy.” He actually tells the reader which poem to read for which ailment – anxiety or the loss of a loved one? Or do you just need to get motivated? Maybe you’re approaching the end of life, and you wonder what it’s all about…Alfie.  http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170927-the-words-that-can-make-us-calmer

Thoughts and prayers just don’t do it for me. I’d rather read a poem and then call Congress!

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“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”                

Willa Cather

I wonder about the Star Wars hype this weekend, will Star Wars: The Force Awakens live up to its name? To be honest, I was enamored of the first trilogy. In fact, we took the Bride to “see” her very first movie when she was six months old, 1980s The Empire Strikes Back. She was enthralled with the lights for the first half hour, then fell promptly asleep in my arms.

We know that this is really an old fashioned morality play, a fight between good and evil. George Lucas and writer/philosopher Joseph Campbell were friends, and we know that Campbell’s book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” helped Lucas flesh out his sci-fi plot. But the story is as ancient as Aristotle. A young hero arises, is given a test, finds a mentor, must go into a cave to fight the dragon, returning victorious. Of course in each telling, the journey becomes infused with different details, but the story remains the same.

Carl Jung also detailed creation myths and archetypes of universal characters from around the world long before the internet helped to flatten it. The Swiss psychologist wrote about “… constantly repeating characters who occur in the dreams of all people and the myths of all cultures (and) suggested that these archetypes are a reflection of aspects of the human mind – that our personalities divide themselves into these characters to play out the drama of our lives.”

Jung spoke to our “collective unconscious.” A place where every culture invents its own religion and set of rules in order to make sense of the vast universe, to answer some old existential question like how did we get in this mess?:

” A young hero, the wise old man or woman, the shape-shifting woman or man, and the shadowy antagonist.”     http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero’s_journey.htm

Listening to the GOP debate this week, it all sounds too familiar. ISIS is the Evil Empire, and for some reason it will take one of these conservative hawks to defeat it. But they are not the heroes in my playbook. Because they can’t see what’s happening right here at home. The bloodshed our own home-grown terrorists have caused, our own mentally ill with guns – killing themselves, accidentally killing their children, murdering unarmed people on the street. Killing a nine year old boy for the “sins” of his father.

When the whole LA County school system has to shut down because of a threat, we may be too late to the battle. One thing Campbell’s hero would have done, he would have recognized these GOP tricksters for what they are. He OR She would have found a way to change our collective perception of Evil.

I heard a refugee from Syria on NPR say the jihadists are all young men buying candy bars and Cokes with American dollars. We need to fix our American dream, in order to sell it to them. We need to reawaken the hero in us all.

Here is my hero in the aviary. He just got a new iPhone, after years of refusing to come over to the Light Side of Apple. May the Force be With You!  IMG_3616

 

 

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When the Rocker was two years old, we moved back to our home state of NJ. It was a tricky transition. I loved and still love New England. I love the kind and fiercely independent people; I love the weather, a little like the Emerald Isle; I loved Martha’s Vineyard in the Spring and Tanglewood in the Summer. And believe it or not, I loved the Winter. We would ice skate on frozen ponds and go cross country skiing out our back door, through a bird sanctuary. And the Fall foliage was like no other.

It’s true you can’t go home again, but I wanted to keep something of the Berkshires for my transplanted babies in NJ. Instead of driving to the Big Apple Circus in Lenox, we took the train to Lincoln Center. And instead of skating on a frozen pond, I signed the Rocker up for ice hockey when he could just barely carry his own equipment bag. I would sit and freeze at the Jersey Shore rink, watching him skate like he was born with blades on his feet.

That was the first time I heard of a “Hat Trick.” And for the rest of my days I thought it was a hockey term.

Until Sunday night. World Cup Soccer was the cap on a dismal Fourth of July weekend – my Fourths are almost always dismal – (Bob working the Fourth and our Year of Living Dangerously culminating on the Fourth with the Flapper’s car accident combine to make this holiday less lovely for obvious reasons).

Anyway, I was kvelling over Carli Llyod’s third blistering mid-court goal in the Women’s World Cup Soccer game, and I heard the term again. She had scored the first three goals in the first 16 minutes of the game! I missed the first one because I was feeding Ms Bean, but immediately caught the replay. Bob then returned home from the hospital to find me hopping around the living room, twirling my dish towel like a banshee!

The U.S. was the superior team through and through. Not content with four, it scored yet another goal — an easy finish by Tobin Heath in the 54th minute. It had had seven shots on goal to Japan’s four.

Much of the credit goes to the U.S. goalie, Hope Solo.

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/07/06/football/womens-world-cup-final/

Before ice hockey, I was the Rocker’s pee wee soccer coach. I cut up the oranges before games and tried not to act like ALL the other male soccer coaches. Sometimes cruel, often not fair, and loud as only NJ coaches can be, I was the Yin to their Yang. Since I had to look up this complimentary Chinese philosophy, to make sure I was using the phrase correctly, I was amused to find the feminine form “Yin” is the negative force?! Huh? “Yin is negative, dark, and feminine, Yang positive, bright, and masculine. Their interaction is thought to maintain the harmony of the universe and to influence everything within it.”

Believe it or not, the term Hat Trick originated in 1858 by Brits playing Cricket, whenever someone got three wickets, whatever that means, they scored a Hat Trick. Fans would collect money to buy the champion Hat Tricker a new hat back in the day. http://mentalfloss.com/article/65863/where-does-soccer-term-hat-trick-come

Well ladies, my hat is off to you! To the Scarlet Knight from Rutgers, Carli – to the Huskie from U of Washington, Hope, – to the Gator from U of Florida, Abby. To the two UVA Cavs on the team, my heart has been officially won! And anyone with a little girl in love with soccer, here are the top colleges for future World Champions, and UVA is number 2! http://college.usatoday.com/2015/02/20/these-are-the-10-best-d1-womens-soccer-schools-in-the-u-s/

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