4 November 2007

Glorious distractions

Early in my practice of meditation, I discovered that though my resolve was to focus just on my breath, I would find myself engrossed in the most captivating, creative thoughts I'd ever experienced. Insights into myself and my relations with others, ideas for creative projects, solutions to scientific puzzle, and general all-around fascinating ideas would crowd the subtle sensation of the breath right out of my thoughts.

This is just an early phase, a milepost on the path - but thirty years on, I find myself no less distracted and no less fascinated than I was as a neophyte.

Is this fount of creativity a stealth agenda, the unspoken point of meditation? or is it a Siren's song, hauntingly beautiful perhaps, but ultimately a diversion from my path? The answer is not so clear to me, but, fortunately, it doesn't much matter: the more insistently I return my attention to my breath, the more profound and wondrous are the insights and ideas that bubble up from within me.

— Josh Mitteldorf

3 November 2007

“Conceive of God in terms of universal Nature – a nature God in whom we really live and move and have our being, with whom our relation is as intimate and constant as that of the babe in its mother’s womb, or the apple upon the bough. This is the God that science and reason reveal to us – the God we touch with our hands, see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and from whom there is no escape, who is, indeed, from everlasting to everlasting.”

~ John Burroughs

Through primrose tufts, in that sweet bower,
The periwinkle trail’d its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

~ William Wordsworth

Pantheist Association for Nature

2 November 2007

There are times when we feel the pull to meditate but are swayed from it by
the excuses that spring to mind. We may think that we are too busy, have no
time to ourselves, or that we do not have the right place to meditate. Our
minds can think of dozens of reasons to put off meditation. But those are
even stronger reasons to look past the illusion of the hustle and bustle of
daily life and to connect to the place within that intersects with the
timeless power and limitless potential of the universe. From that place we
can experience that potent stillness that exists at all times, and it is
only as far as away as our breath.

It might be useful to ask yourself why you would put off something so
beneficial to your peace of mind and general well-being. There may be fear
that if you were to stop your frantic pace, your world might fall apart, and
then you would have to face the undeniable reality of who you really are and
the results of the choices you have made. You might be afraid that you will
be forced to make huge changes in order to align yourself with the universe
and harness your true potential. Sometimes the frustrations of the known
world seem less scary than the possibilities of the unknown. But the truth
is that when we cooperate with the universe by creating our lives from the
truth of our being, life becomes less of a struggle and more of a process of
living blissfully on purpose.

Daily Om

1 November 2007

“Life on earth...is overwhelmingly microbial.  ‘Our planet has been shaped by an invisible world,’ says Roberto Kolter, a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at Harvard Medical School. ‘Microbes mediate all the important element cycles on Earth, and have played a defining role in the development of the planet.’

“Although a few microbes are known to cause disease, the precise role played by the vast majority is essentially unknown....  There are a billion of them in a gram of soil, and a billion per liter of seawater, but we know neither what they are nor what they do.”

We do know that our own bodies and every other animal and plant in the world are all utterly dependent on symbiotic microbial communities for our survival.  It has also become clear that many of the great breakthroughs in evolution have occurred not because of a chance mutation in an animal, but because bacteria have transmitted a useful new gene right into the animal’s DNA.  Because of their huge numbers, vast diversity, and short generation time, bacteria evolve much faster than macroscopic life forms.  It’s been a great boon to evolution of the larger life forms that bacteria share their genes.

“The planet is about 4.5 billion years old...The oldest rocks we can look at are 3.8 billion years old. Chemical evidence suggests that life was already present then...”  But multi-celled life did not appear until 0.5 billion years ago.

— from a Harvard Magazine article by Jonathan Shaw

31 October 2007


Plein de très vieux poissons frappée de cécité,
L’étang, sous un ciel bas roulant de sourds tonnerres,
Étale entre ses joncs plusieurs fois centenaires
La clapotante horreur de son opacité.

Là-bas, des farfadets servent de luminaries
A plus d’un marais noir, sinister et redouté
Mais lui ne se révèle en ce lieu déserté
Que par ses bruits affreux de crapauds poitrinaires.

Or, la lune qui point tout juste en ce moment,
Semble s’y regarder si fantastiquement,
Que l’on dirait, à voir sa spectrale figure,

Son nez plat et le vague étrange de ses dents,
Une tête de mort éclairé en dedans
Qui viendrait se mirer dans une glace obscure.

~ Maurice Rollinat

The Pond

Abounding with old fish struck blind: the pond
Under a sky of mute, rolling thunder
Unfurls between primeval reeds
The pounding horror of its own opacity.

The dreaded goblin may serve as prophet
For many a sinister black marsh,
But in this desolate place he reveals himself only
Through the frightful croaking of tubercular toads.

But then the moon peaks, just at that moment
Reflecting in the waters a hallucinary vision,
As men will say, a ghostly face.

His flat nose, the strange suggestion of teeth
Reveal a gleaming skull
Mirrored in the dark ice.

~ tr  R. Lalande & J. Mitteldorf

Listen to L’Étang from Two Rhapsodies by Charles Martin Loeffler (1861-1935)

30 October 2007

Controlled Indulgence

“Most people who know me well know that I love ice cream. It has been my favorite comfort food since early childhood, when the Good Humor truck came around daily and a local luncheonette sold double cones for 25 cents. But a new friend was shocked to learn that I routinely keep about six half-gallons of ice cream in my freezer...

“...despite my well-known interest in healthful eating, I don’t believe in deprivation. I learned long ago, when I struggled unsuccessfully for more than a year to lose 35 pounds, that deprivation feeds desire and can lead to overindulgence at the first opportunity.

“And so I adopted a philosophy that I call controlled indulgence. In the two years it took me to return to a reasonable weight for my 5-foot frame, I allowed myself one small treat each day — perhaps two cookies, a thin slice of cake or pie or a few tablespoons of ice cream. The strategy worked, and I continued to use it in the decades of weight maintenance that followed.”

Jane Brody

29 October 2007

“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over. So in a series of kindnesses there is, at last, one which makes the heart run over.”

James Boswell, born this day in 1740

(He also wrote “A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.” and “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.”)