26 March 2006

Fear is our programmed response to danger, heightening our senses, supplying a surge of internal energy that we may require to save our lives. But our danger detectors never did work perfectly, and they were programmed in our evolutionary past, when sources of danger and means of escape were both different from what we face today.  The result is that fear is very far from a reliable indication of danger, and yet it remains a powerful force within us. ‘Panic’ is the word we use to describe irrational fear, and it can deprive us of our critical functions at a time when we need them most.  It may not matter so much that we are gripped with fear as we watch a horror movie, but the fear that engulfs us as we stand before an audience can distort our performance, alter the message we seek to communicate.

Deconditioning our fear responses is a lifetime endeavor.  One by one, we replace them with sound judgment about what is a threat to be avoided, and what is an adventure to be embraced.

It has been said that transcending fear, we arrive at love. 

~ Josh Mitteldorf

25 March 2006

Nature is what we don't see
the nocturnal bloom that folds itself
in the day, throws its fragrance
in the dead of night as lovers
hide in each others' bosoms
below the soft glare of the moon.

Centimetre by centimetre
it creeps forward to display
majesty to the world.

Nature is what we don't see
the shadow play master tilting the earth
petals of the bloom dance
the successive cells here, there
guided toward optimal function
and that orgasmic tremour
that shuttles the world round and round.

John Tiong Chunghoo

24 March 2006

Not what you expect to see when looking through your telescope...

This double helix comes from the Spitzer Space Telescope.  It's a pattern in illuminated gas, caused, perhaps, by twisted magnetic field lines near the center of our galaxy.

Needless to say, it came as a complete surprise to plasma theorists.

Article in Space Daily 


23 March 2006

“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.”

Erich Fromm, born this day in 1900 Germany, was jolted into adulthood by WW I, and escaped the Nazis for America in 1938. Raised a Jew, he evolved into an ‘atheistic mystic’. Fromm resisted mightily the despair and cynicism that was woven into the philosophy of his day, and found within himself the roots of a new psychology, built upon hope and heart, rather than a catalog of human ills.

“Our whole culture is based on the appetite for buying, on the idea of a mutually favorable exchange. Modern man’s happiness consists in the thrill of looking at the shop windows, and in buying all that he can afford to buy... He (or she) looks for [a love partner] in a similar way...”

The capacity to love is primary, and yet “almost everything else is considered to be more important: success, prestige, money, power...” the acquisition of all the accoutrements that make us an attractive love object. The result: “There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love...” And to resolve this dilemma, 

“The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering.” ...and of course, we must culture our souls.

from the introduction to The Art of Loving (1956).

22 March 2006

“Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.

“Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.”

from The Fourteen Precepts, by Thich Nhat Hanh 

This is wise counsel, especially coming from a man whom many would be tempted to idolize or to deify.  But in offering this warning, Thich assumes that new knowledge about the world will be the impetus for us to adopt a new, more useful point of view.  Too often, we do so under emotional duress, unwilling to stand by a principle which has served us well in times of lesser stress and clearer vision.  

So, how are we to know when it is time to abandon our old ideology for a new one?  I don't have an answer, but I suspect that one good guiding principle is that if a new perspective offers a solution which is easy or convenient:  question its wisdom.

21 March 2006

For winter's rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

Algernon Charles Swinburne  (1837–1909)

Poetry for Spring

20 March 2006

Gutta cavat lapidem, non vi sed saepe cadendo.

The drop excavates the stone, not with force but by falling often. 

~ Publius Ovidius Naso

20 March, 43 BC is Ovid's traditional date of birth.  His work Metamorphoses was as widely read in Medieval Europe as was the Bible.

Quod sequitur, fugio; quod fugit, ipse sequor. 

I flee who chases me and chase who flees me. 

from The Loves, Elegy XIX