It’s been a busy week of writing deadlines, so I’m taking a shortcut today to share this wonderful article, “Why Do We Experience Awe?” from last Sunday’s New York Times. I love their suggestion, based on years of social psychological research, for how we can feel more connected to each other and the world around us. It’s simple: experience awe on a daily basis.
“ . . . awe is the ultimate “collective” emotion, for it motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. Through many activities that give us goose bumps — collective rituals, celebration, music and dance, religious gatherings and worship — awe might help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong.”
The world we’ve created for ourselves is so complicated, fast-paced, hyper competitive, and stressful. It’s a profound relief to encounter a couple of scientists who’ve taken the time to test, and prove, this simple hypothesis: Continue reading
This guest post is by Duane Marcus. You can read a bit about him on the “Denizens” page.
I saw a meme on social media that suggested we need a new pronoun for “Nature,” a pronoun other than “it.” This got me thinking about “Nature.” Is nature an entity? Is there a thing we have named “Nature”? When we suggest someone spend some time in “Nature” what do we mean? Most would agree that canoeing through the Everglades or hiking the Appalachian Trail would constitute spending time in “Nature.” Is an urban park “Nature”? Is the beach in front of a wall of million dollar condos “Nature”? Are fields of corn and soybeans “Nature”? How about a street full of weedy abandoned lots in Detroit?
Nature Deficit Disorder is a hot topic these days. Wikipedia describes it thusly.
Nature deficit disorder refers to a hypothesis by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. So would walking down Madison Avenue help alleviate this? Don’t let your kids do this without adult supervision though because you might get arrested for neglect and child endangerment. Continue reading
This guest post is by Lindsay McLaughlin. You can read a bit about her on the “Denizens” page.
The fields of our residential community: the little one behind Pinestone, and the larger one that embraces the garden and often hosts the sheep, are awash in shades of green. The grasses are growing, it seems, more than an inch every day. The hummingbirds are back, dancing in the azaleas; the whippoorwill sings like a fool in love outside our windows and doors every night. Rabbits and squirrels hop and scamper. In the garden, radishes are busting out of the earth, lettuce and kale and an array of other growing things make a thick green blanket from fence to fence. Insects buzz and hum and chirp and whirr. The wood frogs trill and the air is thick with pollen dust and the smell of warm earth. The rain and chill of only a couple weeks ago is another world.
All this heat and bother is waking up the reptilian, cold-blooded creatures in our neighborhood. Scot, who seems by some charm to find or be found by such as these, has encountered (so far) a milk snake in the sheep field, a black snake in the wood shed, a ribbon snake by his front door, and a very stubborn copperhead in the woodpile. Each time Scot tried to catch this copperhead, it slipped the noose and dropped down into the woodpile, wrapped in a cloak of invisibility. Its disappearing act forced the practice of patience, as Scot waited for it to emerge and settle on top once more. This dance went through four revolutions until finally, after re-designing the snake stick, Scot was able to catch the snake and escort it far up the power line. Continue reading
Part of living into new stories of connection and belonging is to recognize that our body is an incredible gift, an ally in this life, and a teacher. Recently, in the middle of a particularly grueling interval training class at the gym, this thought hit me: the only way to become the sort of person who can do these exercises is to do them. In one of the cruelly brief breaks between stations, I mentioned it to the class leader. Joking as I struggled to catch my breath that it’s a good lesson for life. She said, not only that, but you’re not supposed to get good at the exercises. It works this way: as soon as you can do them, you have to find a way to challenge yourself again. You always want to be reaching to the point of failure.
Reaching to the point of failure is the opposite of how I was raised. I was taught that whatever you do, at all costs, never, never, ever fail. Play it safe, go easy, don’t make waves, toe the line, do what you’re told. Oh, and excel at things. At everything you try, preferably. Bonus points for making it look easy. If you can’t excel, don’t try it. If this sounds unfamiliar and sadly neurotic to you, congratulations. You’re probably better equipped to live in these crazy times than I am. My inherited aversion to risk seems related to my disconnection from my body. Both come from and engender a lack of trust. Continue reading
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.” ~ Audre Lorde, 1984
The resonance of our inner callings with needs and trends in the outer world seems to be gathering momentum lately. In this time between stories, I am being urged, by both interior and exterior promptings, to value my unique voice and speak up more. The signs I get range from encouragement like Audre Lorde’s 1984 speech, to learning from Priscilla Ward’s eye-opening essay about her experience as a black woman, to the fierce witnessing of Nell Bernstein in this interview about her book on juvenile incarceration, Burning Down the House.
At the time of Audre Lorde’s speech, I was just graduating from college, looking to work a year in a firm before grad school. Very much playing the game by the rules. Ronald Reagan as President was busy dismantling the social safety net so carefully woven over the last decades. The Soviet Bloc countries boycotted the summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Feminism had been around for a couple of decades. Though I did not identify as a feminist, I was entering a traditionally male profession, slipping noiselessly if unconsciously through the access hard-won by my sisters before me. Continue reading
When I am unconsciously following the rules and stories installed in me during childhood, I sometimes worry that I am doing my life wrong. For instance, I was never taught that there are times when it’s perfectly justified to follow my instincts, to do or be what my heart urges. In fact, a life well-lived is a life entirely guided by the heart’s urgings. Still, I can feel a bit guilty when I need to withdraw from the world’s demands on me.
For so long, I believed that my retreat from conflict, difficulty, boredom, hostility, shame or blame was a bad thing that I inflicted, selfishly, on my close relationships. In this beautiful essay on hiding, the poet David Whyte sees it as a form of self-preservation, a drawing inward to prepare for transformation, and a necessary storing up of vital energy for growth.
“Hiding is one of the brilliant and virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world. . .”
I’ve long been fascinated by the ways that my inner and outer worlds mirror each other. Even way back in college, I somehow knew that annoying people are reflecting something in me that I don’t like. I’m devoted to dream work and my morning journaling for the insights and clarity that often come, and to writing in this blog for the same reason. I tend to regard this reciprocal conversation as a way to diagnose what’s wrong from the inside out, more so than to notice and appreciate what’s right outside, and how it reflects goodness on the inside.
Yet it does work both ways, and it’s going on all the time. When someone I respect questions or refuses to encourage my latest grand scheme, that is showing me the degree to which I am not on board with it myself. But it’s also true that if I look around at my comfortable home, good health, lovely neighbors, engaging work, responsible husband, and yummy food in the fridge—all that is reflecting an inner world that is safe, healthy, and full of good companionship, worthiness, love, creativity, intelligence, security, and nourishment. Continue reading
“It’s not easy to be patient in an emergency.” ~ Wendell Berry
What is this hold our cultural stories have over us? Even when many of us know the dominant narratives are misguided, damaging, even destructive, we cling to loyalty and feel a terrible sluggishness to act. Like those dreams where something horrible is about to happen and your feet are glued to the ground, or you can’t move your limbs, or have no voice to scream.
Stories exert a powerful magic. Shawn Coyne’s new book, “The Story Grid,” talks about the classic form of the quest story, also called the hero’s journey. It’s an integral part of our humanity, with us since at least the Greeks. Coyne observes that stories give us guidance, models to follow in times of change, and help us temper our anxieties about the unknown. He illustrates with this observation from the book, “The Examined Life,” by psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz: Continue reading
Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.
~ Mary Oliver, from “Mysteries, Yes”
I am a recovering expert. For many years, I was paid to have answers: to advise clients on the best approach for their project; integrate the work of structural, mechanical and civil engineers; and design details that keep the weather out while looking great, costing little and lasting years with no maintenance. In short, I had to know how to juggle a staggering number of variables, get along with others, and tolerate a high potential for disappointment or even failure. It was stressful.
During his recent online course, “The Space Between Stories,” Charles Eisenstein made the observation that thinking you know anything is a prerequisite for despair. He illustrated with a recognizable litany of things we know: We know the world is doomed because of climate change, species extinction, human trafficking, genocide. We also know how things work and what’s possible, so we know it’s not possible to fix any of this. We’ve tried. Consequently, we know we’re doomed. Continue reading