3 June 2007

The real dangers in our lives are seldom the ones that terrify us.  The best thing we can ask of our intellects is to keep us safe in reality, while supplying the foundation of confidence that we need to go forward in spite of our fears.

Following my passion toward an uncertain future, I feel waves of elation and anxiety, the breathlessness and the vulnerability of the naked warrior. 

– Josh Mitteldorf

2 June 2007

I’ve always taken Edison’s line about genius being ‘1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’ to mean that getting a good idea is just the beginning, with much hard work required to turn it into a reality.  But the order can also be reversed:  years of learning and training go into a moment of inspiration.  I imagine Sir Edward Elgar sitting at the piano, improvising on a melody for his wife’s enjoyment.  He conjures in his memory 14 friends, and expresses the one common theme through each of their personalities.  All his musical training, his expertise is right there.  His knowledge of harmony and voice leading has long since become a reflex he can draw upon without interference from his conscious mind.  Music flows out of an inspired semi-trance.  There is no tape recorder, but magically he remembers enough over the ensuing days to write it down and parse the voices for orchestra.  Enigma Variations is Elgar’s most enduring musical legacy.

Sir Edward Elgar is 150 years old today. 
Listen to Nimrod, variation 9 from the Enigma Variations

1 June 2007

In December 2005, a 15-metre female humpback whale got tangled in crab lines near the Farallon Islands off the coast of northern California. The extra weight was making it difficult for her to keep her blowhole above water, so divers courageously went to set her free. “When I was cutting the line going through the mouth, its eye was there winking at me, watching me,” James Moskito recalls. After her release, the whale nuzzled each of her saviours in turn and flapped around them in what one whale expert has described as “a rare and remarkable encounter”. Moskito says the whale stopped about 30 centimetres away from him and began nudging playfully. “It felt to me like it was thanking us, knowing it was free and that we had helped it.”

New Scientist article on Animal Emotions

31 May 2007

Vesak, the fifteenth day of the seventh month (according to the Oriental calendar) is a triple anniversary: the day that Siddhartha the Buddha was born, the day he was enlightened, the day he died.  

We seekers who have yet to experience enlightenment: how can we know what it is that we celebrate today?  It is, perhaps, too easy to celebrate our seeking.  The practice and attitudes of the seeker are necessary and requisite; yet it is not at the end of a path that we will find our grace.  It is a gift, a schöner Götterfunken.

My experience this morning is of the bald terror of renouncing security, of walking into the unknown.  The core of my fear is the idea that secure commitment is the foundation of relationship, so that in rejecting commitment I avoid relationship; with trepidation, I embrace the still tentative conviction that true relationship knows no security.

30 May 2007

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The delight of the blood drawn from ancient springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth;
Never to deny its pleasure in the simple morning light,
Nor its grave evening demand for love;
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass,
And by the streamers of white cloud,
And whispers of wind in the listening sky;
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.
Born of the sun, they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

~ Stephen Spender 

29 May 2007

It was just a few years ago that the standard medical understanding of osteoarthritis was that cartilage in joints wears out over a lifetime, and older folks would just have to make do with pain relief medication.  The new view is that arthritis is an inflammatory disease, self-reinforcing as pain signals the nerves to respond with more inflammation.  In a new study on mice, it has been shown that interrupting the pain can cure the disease!  An injection into the animals’ joints genetically re-programmed the inflamed cells to become 1000 times more sensitive to the body’s own pain relievers.  Not only did this interrupt the pain, but it cured the inflammation.

Report from University of Rochester on the work of Dr Stephanos Kyrkanides 

28 May 2007

Widespread human willingness to sacrifice ourselves in warfare derives from the highest virtues of altruism and faith in leadership. That faith has been abused and manipulated time and again through history, cynically and knowingly for conquest and plunder. We are learning to be skeptical of claims about ‘foreign threats’.  We are still far too easily manipulated, but with each new, senseless tragedy, our eyes open a bit.  In the long sweep of history, humanity is winning and war is losing.