An uplifting news item, poem, thought or quotation each day.
Archive of past entries

28 August 2005

Living is learning. We are alive to the extent that we are willing to assimilate new experience. If we limit ourselves to the same environment, or if we view the new through the comfortable filter of familiar categories, then we are complicit in our own death. In seeking friends who challenge us, new ideas and ways of doing things, we keep fresh, stimulated, alive.

Of all learning experiences, the most profound and useful (also the most difficult) is to learn about ourselves. How can we be objective when studying our own words and actions, let alone the contents of our own minds? This is truly a lifelong project.

~ Josh Mitteldorf

27 August 2005

The history of the Women’s Movement through the 19th and 20th centuries stands as a beacon of hope for any group seeking freedom and justice. With patience and vision, women in leadership grew to see attitudes gradually open up over the course of entire lifetimes. Laws would follow, lagging sometimes by decades.

At the Seneca Falls convention of 1848, delegates debated whether seeking the right to vote would subject them to ostracism and ridicule, making their other work more difficult. They chose to focus first on laws that denied women the right to hold property separately from their husbands, and presumptions in the case of divorce that the man should have custody of children. At the time, no university in America permitted women to matriculate.

The 1970s and 80s were a time when US women gained a toehold in professions, and transformed the American family.

Yesterday was the 85th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting suffrage to women in the US in 1920. 

26 August 2005

"To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time."

Leonard Bernstein loved life and loved people, lived at a manic pace and embraced every human story, every progressive cause of his era.

"This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."

He was the kind of genius for whom music was not an abstraction but an overflowing of emotion. As music director of the New York Philharmonic, his aim was always to expand the audience, to help new people appreciate his art. (As a child in New York in the 1950s, I attended his Young People’s Concert series.) As a composer, he was at his best writing jazz.

"The key to the mystery of a great artist is that for reasons unknown, he will give away his energies and his life just to make sure that one note follows another... and leaves us with the feeling that something is right in the world."

Leonard Bernstein was born this day in 1918.

25 August 2005

Edgar Allan Poe, who is best known to us for his terrifying mysteries and melancholy songs without music, gave us his account of cosmology and metaphysics shortly before his untimely death in 1849. In a long essay entitled Eureka, he comprehends the astronomical science of his time, and weaves in a pantheistic spirituality. 

Remarkably, he anticipates some broad themes of modern cosmology. He knows, of course, that the earth revolves about the sun, but more impressive, he is aware that the sun revolves about the center of a galaxy, and has a reasonable idea of its dimension and time scale. His universe was born in a Big Bang, expands, then re-contracts to a Big Crunch, only to explode anew with a different character after each bounce:

"...a novel Universe swelling into existence, and then subsiding into nothingness, at every throb of the Heart Divine."

The basic substance of the universe is not matter but spirit, which pre-dates the material world and gives rise to its existence.

"...we are now permitted to look at Matter, as created solely for the sake of this influence – solely to serve the objects of this spiritual Ether. Through the aid – by the means – through the agency of Matter, and by dint of its heterogeneity – is this Ether manifested – is Spirit individualized. It is merely in the development of this Ether, through heterogeneity, that particular masses of Matter become animate – sensitive – and in the ratio of their heterogeneity; – some reaching a degree of sensitiveness involving what we call Thought and thus attaining Conscious Intelligence. In this view, we are enabled to perceive Matter as a Means – not as an End."

In childhood, we had a memory of our infinite past, and only as we grew up did we accede in the illusion that we were born from nothingness, and knew no existence before that birth:

"So long as this Youth endures, the feeling that we exist, is the most natural of all feelings. We understand it thoroughly. That there was a period at which we did not exist – or, that it might so have happened that we never had existed at all – are the considerations, indeed, which during this youth, we find difficulty in understanding. Why we should not exist, is, up to the epoch of Manhood, of all queries the most unanswerable. Existence – self-existence – existence from all Time and to all Eternity – seems, up to the epoch of Manhood, a normal and unquestionable condition: – seems, because it is."

Each of us is a soul broken free from that one spirit, and our consciousnesses will someday re-unite, and Poe identifies God as that conjunction of us all.

"Think that the sense of individual identity will be gradually merged in the general consciousness – that Man, for example, ceasing imperceptibly to feel himself Man, will at length attain that awfully triumphant epoch when he shall recognize his existence as that of Jehovah. In the meantime bear in mind that all is Life – Life – Life within Life – the less within the greater, and all within the Spirit Divine."

24 August 2005

Today is the 106th birthday of Jorge Luis Borges.

Who else but Borges can help us remember the insubstantiality of all that we rely upon, and all that we worry about?

Borges always confronts us with the unexpected paradox, reminding us that the foundation of our reality is merely a construct that we cling to in order to keep our bearings. The underlying reality is far more fantastical, far more terrifyingly mysterious than we can tolerate. Except, perhaps, in those isolated moments of epiphany when the bottom falls out and we catch a glimpse of reality.

Did Borges live in continuous, ongoing epiphany? Or did he simply refrain from writing from the vantage of those mundane in-betweens?

The celibate white cat surveys himself
in the mirror's clear-eyed glass,
not suspecting that the whiteness facing him
and those gold eyes that he's not seen before
in ramblings through the house are his own likeness.
Who is to tell him the cat observing him
is only the mirror's way of dreaming? 

23 August 2005

All that we are is a result of our thoughts; it is founded on our thoughts and made up of our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. If a man speaks or acts with a harmful thought, trouble follows him as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

All that we are is a result of our thoughts; it is founded on our thoughts and made up of our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. If a man speaks or acts with a harmonious thought, happiness follows him as his own shadow, never leaving him.

Watchfulness is the path to life, and thoughtlessness the path to death. The watchful are alive, but the thoughtless are already like the dead.  Awake, and rejoice in watchfulness. Understand the wisdom of the enlightened.

Hating can never overcome hating. Only love can bring the end of hating. This is the eternal law.

You, too, will die one day, as everyone will. When you know this, there will be an end of hating.

You, too, will die one day, as everyone will. When you know this, love will take root.

-verses from the opening of the Dhammapada, essential Buddhist teachings, tr Thomas Byrom


22 August 2005

While gas prices climb and politicians wring their hands about the choice between coal and nuclear energy, solar cell technology has been in a slow, steady advance for decades. If the trend continues, then solar cells will soon be the cheapest source of electric energy.

Solar cells contribute nothing to global warming, generate no waste and no pollution, and deplete no resources. They are made of silicon, which is refined sand.

Recently, a research team from UC Berkeley has developed a way to make solar cells from silicon that is not so highly refined lowering the cost another big step.  Read more ...