It is possible to transform anxiety into élan.
— Josh Mitteldorf
(Depression is not amenable to such magic, and must be healed at a
1 June 2008
I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.
All that is eternal in me
Welcomes the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.
I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.
May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invite me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone by dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.
~ John O’Donohue ~
(To Bless the Space Between Us)
2 June 2008
Dudley Field Malone
In my book, you get m ore credit for being a feminist if you have a
Y chromosome, and more credit yet if the year is 1915. Born this day in 1882,
Dudley Malone was a feminist before his time.
After inheriting a position in New York’s Democratic machine, he resigned his appointed position and the Party
in order to protest Woodrow Wilson’s failure to support women’s suffrage.
He later ran third-party campaigns to support his progressive
‘I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me.’
3 June 2008
How can I keep from singing?
‘I honestly think the future is going to be millions of little things
4 June 2008
Clemency of our children
‘Parenting has to be monstrously difficult.
Every parent lives with the pain of compromise and regret for
things they wish they had handled differently…
and yet most young people are so resilient, they come
– Chris McGinley
5 June 2008
‘There are now a dozen venture capital startups [and
one multinational titan] with serious potential for creating
anti-aging treatments. The irony is that the first effective
anti-aging drug was discovered 100 years ago, and no one is going to
make a dime from it.’
6 June 2008
When Death Comes
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
Mary Oliver ~
This poem is a first for this page.
Death is a difficult subject for me, and I have not known how to treat
it in the context of inspiration, except by denial.
We pass our lives learning to accept, but not just
to accept: also to trust, for acceptance without trust is resignation.
Death is the hardest thing to trust.
(But what else can we do but trust?)
7 June 2008
a little cosmology
For this lazy Sunday morning, I’d like to describe for you what we
know about the history of the Universe. (This is all standard cosmology,
except that the comment at the end is my personal view.)
What we know from experiment can be summarized in a few lines, even
though each of these facts required hundreds of man-years and millions
of dollars in equipment to gather the data:
- We have a rough idea of the average mass density of the universe
(from the law of gravitation and the speed at which stars are
- Matter in the universe is clumped into stars, and stars
cluster into galaxies. Galaxies cluster, too, and clusters of
clusters are known to exist. But stars and galaxies represent just
the part of the matter in the Universe that we can see directly.
There is also a great deal of thin hydrogen and helium gas -
isolated atoms, really, floating in space. It’s not clear whether
this gas is clumped around the galaxies, or whether it is spread
more uniformly. It is not clear whether the universe as a whole is
uniform on the largest scale. It could have an irregular shape.
- The Universe is expanding, and the expansion has
accelerated over time.
(The acceleration is a surprise. Physicists had expected that, if
anything, the expansion would be slowing because of the mutual pull
- The Universe contains about 71% Hydrogen and 28% Helium.
(If the Universe started out as all Hydrogen, all the stars burning
Hydrogen → Helium since the beginning of time would have created
just a small fraction of this amount. So we have to think most of
the Helium was there at the beginning.)
- The entire sky glows the way a red-hot coal glows, but not
nearly so hot. The temperature is about 3o above absolute zero, and
the glow is almost perfectly uniform in all directions.
There’s a thermodynamic law that determines how things get cooler as
they expand. Since the Universe has been expanding a long
time, it was once much hotter.
In fact, if we extrapolate all the way back to the
First Three Minutes, the whole Universe was as hot as the inside of
a star, and Hydrogen was burning into Helium. So one of the great
games that cosmologists can play is this:
Using the known density and temperature of the Universe during
the first three minutes, calculate whether the gas that emerged from the
Big Bang would have been 71% Hydrogen and 28% Helium.
Just in the last few years we have measurements of the temperature
and density that are reliable enough that we can say for sure that this
doesn’t work. We need more matter in a form that adds to the
gravitational pull, but it can’t be made of electrons, neutrons, and
protons, because then it would screw up the proportion of Helium*. This has led to a mainstream consensus in the
scientific community: there must be some kind of
Also in the last few years, we have become confident enough in the
cosmic acceleration to say that something is pushing outward harder than
gravity is pulling inward. This possibility exists in Einstein’s
theory of gravity, but, again, it has never been observed except in this
very indirect way. The negative-pressure stuff has been dubbed
The thing that is so disturbing about these conclusions is that dark
matter must be in a form that has never been observed before. What
kinds of particles are there that could be so copious in the Universe,
but that we have never seen them in the laboratory, including all our
particle physics experiments.
And dark energy is even worse. Its properties are fundamentally
different from all the kinds of particles that we have observed
in physics experiments.
Here’s the part that is my opinion: Perhaps dark matter and dark
energy really exist, and someday soon we will find ways to detect them
directly. But the chain of inference that got us here has other
weaknesses as well. What the calculations are really telling us is
that our model of the Big Bang doesn’t quite work, and this is an
invitation to apply our imagination to come up with new models.
Caltech physicist Sean
Caroll says, “It’s no fun being a theoretical cosmologist these
days, all the data keeps ruling out your good ideas.”
* It’s actually Deuterium, the heavy isotope of Hydrogen, that’s the
8 June 2008
How to unleash your creativity
There are four different skill sets, or competencies,
that I’ve found are essential for creative expression. The first and
most important competency is “capturing”—preserving new ideas as they
occur to you and doing so without judging them...There are many ways to
capture new ideas. Otto Loewi won a Nobel Prize for work based on an
idea about cell biology that he almost failed to capture. He had the
idea in his sleep, woke up and scribbled the idea on a pad but found the
next morning that he couldn’t read his notes or remember the idea. When
the idea turned up in his dreams the following night, he used a better
capturing technique: he put on his pants and went straight to his lab!
The second competency is called “challenging”—giving
ourselves tough problems to solve. In tough situations, multiple
behaviors compete with one another, and their interconnections create
new behaviors and ideas.
The third area is “broadening.” The more diverse your
knowledge, the more interesting the interconnections—so you can boost
your creativity simply by learning interesting new things.
And the last competency is “surrounding,” which has to
do with how you manage your physical and social environments. The more
interesting and diverse the things and the people around you, the more
interesting your own ideas become.
— Robert Epstein, from an
interview in this month’s Scientific American
Go for a walk.
Julia Cameron (from the same interview)
9 June 2008
A moth can smell its mate from as far off as seven
miles, and a shark can scent blood in the water two miles away. A
bloodhound can detect the scent of an absconding criminal for scores of
miles among thousands of other scents left by animals and human beings
that have walked the same way. Bees find their way by polarized light
imperceptible to human beings, and whales locate their prey with sonar
echoes thousands of feet below the ocean. What worlds are hidden from us
we cannot even imagine!
— Gopi Krishna
Shall any gazer see with mortal eyes,
Or any searcher know by mortal mind?
Veil after veil will lift — but here must be
Veil upon veil behind.
born this day in 1832
10 June 2008
“If I knew what I was doing, it wouldn't
be called research.”
11 June 2008
Richard Hayes Phillips is a
modern-day minstrel with a PhD in geology,
but what he loves to do most is to work in the wild with the Adirondack
Trail Improvement project .
‘The reason why most people cannot do what they
want to do, or what they are called to do, is because their time is not
their own. Most of us have a full-time job, or are looking for one, or
are studying in preparation for one. Most of us struggle to pay the
bills and cannot possibly finance a serious investigation, even on a
shoestring basis. Most adults have dependent family members in need of
income, care and sustenance. And most of us shun controversy because we
fear criticism, ridicule, intimidation, retaliation, and ostracism; or
because we doubt that we can do what we have never done before; or
because we think that nothing we can do will make a difference.’
Phillips has recently completed a
3-year investigation of the
2004 election in Ohio
12 June 2008
Bill Godshall quit his day job 22 years ago to work full-time as a
self-appointed tobacco control lobbyist and grassroots organizer in
Pennsylvania. He was convinced that curbing secondhand-smoke
exposure and clamping down on tobacco promotion to teens could save
thousands of lives a year. It was his highest calling.
Within two years, he celebrated a bittersweet victory: the
legislature passed a bill that made incremental progress in smoke-free
dining, but contained technical provisions that locked out progress for
many years to come.
Fifteen years ago, he found a legislative ally in State Sen. Stewart
Greenleaf. Sen. Greenleaf introduced legislation for smokefree
public facilities in 1993.
In the years since, thirty other states have passed legislation
protecting non-smokers, while Greenleaf’s bill in Pennsylvania went
nowhere year after year. Popular support has mushroomed. In
recent years, legislators have been so reluctant to oppose the bill,
that they have not let it come up to a vote, even in committee.
Today, Godshall and Greenleaf celebrated as Gov Rendell signed into
Smokefree Pennsylvania Act.
13 June 2008
FROM the Silence of Time, Time’s Silence borrow.
In the heart of To-day is the word of To-morrow.
The Builders of Joy are the Children of Sorrow.
14 June 2008
If we can learn to tease apart
Our fear from out our pain,
The former yields to faith of heart
(If not dissolved by reason);
The latter be our gain,
To teach us for another season.
— Josh Mitteldorf
15 June 2008
The joy of bathing is in the water
The man of science knows, in one aspect, that the world is not merely
what it appears to be to our senses; he knows that earth and water are
really the play of forces that manifest themselves to us as earth and
water — how, we can but partially comprehend. Likewise the man who has
his spiritual eyes open knows that the ultimate truth about earth and
water lies in the apprehension of the eternal will which works in time
and takes shape in the forces we realize under those aspects. This is
not mere knowledge, as science is, but it is a perception of the soul by
the soul. This does not lead us to power, as knowledge does, but it
gives us joy, which is the product of kindred things. The man whose
acquaintance with the world does not lead deeper than science leads him,
will never understand what it is that the man with the spiritual vision
finds in these natural phenomena. The water does not merely cleanse his
limbs, but it purifies his heart; for it touches his soul. The earth
does not merely hold his body, but it gladdens his mind; for its contact
is more than a physical contact, — it is a living presence.
Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1941
16 June 2008
‘He who wonders discovers that this in itself is wonder’
“Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.”
— M. C. Escher, born this day in 1893
17 June 2008
“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another
mind than in the one where they sprung up.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr
18 June 2008
Aristotle spent his days writing
‘We become just by performing just
actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing
brave actions...We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not
an act, but a habit.’
We imagine that we take control of our lives in those defining moments
when we choose a partner or a city to live in or a career or a college
major. But in reality those choices are dictated (to a greater
extent than we are comfortable admitting) by our temperaments and our
history. It is the small choices we make each day that determine
our habits, and the habits that form our essence.
Aristotle was right. If we can wrest control of our habits,
we can take charge of our destiny.
He wrote over 300 books, of which 50 have been preserved.
19 June 2008
The proper use of thrills
‘The reason why some people love to engage in dangerous activities,
such as mountain climbing, car racing, and so on, although they may not
be aware of it, is that it forces them into the Now — that intensely
alive state that is free of time, free of problems, free of thinking,
free of the burden of the personality.’
I’ve found this tendency in myself, and sought for safe ways to
feel fear. Looking out the window from the upper floors of
skyscrapers does it for me. Jumping into cold water is just as
bracing a reminder of the present, though fear is not exactly what it’s
20 June 2008
Veils of Silence
Three veils of Silence, Summer draws apace.
The noon-tide Peace that broods on hill and dale,
That passes o’er the sea and leaves no trace,
That sleeps in the moveless clouds’ moveless trail:
The wave of colour deepening day by day.
The yellow grown to purple on the leas,
Blue within there beyond the dusky ways;
A green-gloom dusk within the grass-green trees.
The third veil no man sees. She weaves it where
Beneath the fret and fume tired hearts aspire
And long for some divine impossible air.
Out of Man’s heart she weaves this veil of Rest—
Sweet anodyne for all the feverish quest
And ache of inarticulate Desire.
William Sharp (1844-1905)
21 June 2008
The more loving one
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time
— W. H. Auden
to a musical setting by Josh Mitteldorf, sung by Suzanne Erb
22 June 2008
When you come to the edge of all the light you have
And step into the darkness of the unknown
Believe that one of two things will happen to you
Either you’ll find something solid to stand on
Or you’ll learn how to fly.
— Richard Bach, born this day in 1936
23 June 2008
“‘I can forgive, but I cannot forget’ is only another
way of saying ‘I will not forgive.’ Forgiveness ought to be like a
cancelled note — torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be
shown against one.”
— Henry Ward Beecher, born this day in
An advocate of women’s suffrage, temperance and Darwin’s theory of
evolution, and a foe of slavery and bigotry of all kinds, religious,
racial and social, Beecher held that Christianity should adapt itself to
the changing culture of the times. Later, in the 1870s and 1880s,
Beecher became a prominent advocate for allowing Chinese immigration to
continue to the United States, and is credited for delaying the passage
of the Chinese Exclusion Act until 1882. (Wiki
Achiles’s heel: As a preacher, he denounced the practice of
free love, and was hoisted on his own petard when caught in an
24 June 2008
The main focus of crazy wisdom is the youthfulness of
the enlightened state of being. This youthfulness is the immediacy of
experience, the exploratory quality of it. “But wouldn’t exploring age
us, make us old?” we might ask. “We have to put so much energy into
exploring. Do we not become like a traveler who grows old through
traveling?” Surprisingly, this is not the case. Exploring is no strain. You might have to do the same thing again and
again, but each time you discover new facets of it, which makes you
Discovery yields a nourishing energy.
It brings your life to a full and healthy state. So each time you explore, you
gain new health. You constantly come back to a sense of being up to date
in your experience of the world, of your life. And so you have
— Chogyam Trunkgpa Rimpoche
So near is grandeur to our dust—
So nigh is God to man,
When duty whispers low ‘Thou must’
The youth replies ‘I can’.
25 June 2008
The artistic temperament
“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A
human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.
a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a lover,
a lover is a god,
and failure is death.
Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to
create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or
poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is
cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some
strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”
~ Pearl S. Buck,
born this day in 1892, was one of the most popular novelists of the 20th
Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner who has fallen into near
“...the novel in China was the peculiar product of the common
people. And it was solely their property. The very language
of the novel was their own language, and not the classical Wen-li, which
was the language of literature and the scholars...The real reason why
the Chinese novel was written in the vernacular was because the common
people could not read and write and the novel had to be written so that
when it was read aloud it could be understood by persons who could
communicate only through spoken words...From such humble and scattered
beginnings, then, came the Chinese novel, written always in the
vernacular, and dealing with all which interested the people, with
legend and with myth, with love and intrigue, with brigands and wars,
with everything, indeed, which went to make up the life of the people,
high and low...
“A good novelist, or so I have been taught in China, should be above
all else tse-ran, that is, natural, unaffected, and so flexible
and variable as to be wholly at the command of the material that flows
through him. His whole duty is only to sort life as it flows
through him, and in the vast fragmentariness of time and space and event
to discover essential and inherent order and rhythm and shape. We
should never be able, merely by reading pages, to know who wrote them”
26 June 2008
Some fishermen pulled a bottle from the deep. It held a piece of
paper, with these words: “Somebody save me! I’m here. The ocean cast me
on this desert island. I am standing on the shore waiting for help.
Hurry! I’m here!”
“There’s no date. I bet it's already too late anyway. It could have been
floating for years,” the first fisherman said.
“And he doesn’t say where. It’s not even clear which ocean,” the second
“It’s not too late, or too far. The island Here is everywhere,” the
third fisherman said.
They all felt awkward. No one spoke. That’s how it goes with universal
27 June 2008
You name it, and exercise helps it
“The single thing that comes close to a magic bullet, in terms of its
strong and universal benefits, is exercise.”
Frank Hu (Harvard School of Public Health)
I have written often about the protective roles of exercise. It can
lower the risk of
peripheral vascular disease and 12 kinds of
Brody (NYTimes Health Columnist)
“The data show that regular moderate exercise increases your ability
to battle the effects of disease,” Dr. Moffat said in an interview. “It
has a positive effect on both physical and mental well-being. The goal
is to do as much physical activity as your body lets you do, and rest
when you need to rest.”
Marilyn Moffat, NYU Dept of Physical Therapy
“With every increasing decade of age, people become less and less
active...But the evidence shows that with every increasing decade,
exercise becomes more important in terms of quality of life,
independence and having a full life.”
Miriam Nelson, Director, John Hancock Ctr at Tufts University
When my father had a heart attack in 1968, he was kept
sedentary for six weeks. Now, heart attack patients are in bed barely
half a day before they are up and moving.
28 June 2008
It’s not your fault
Do you carry anxiety and irrational fears? Do you blame it on
the pace of life? Economic and family pressures? On the way
you were raised?
It helps to realize that much of it is culturally imposed. We
are being manipulated with fear. Citizens who are chronically
frightened make docile subjects for an oppressive government. TV
audiences gripped by fear cannot change the channel. Together, the
government and the news media have profited from blowing up threats that
are remote and manageable to create a haunting, obsessive specter.
Crime, natural disasters, even environmental doom are far more remote
than we have been led to believe. What we need to consume to be
healthy and comfortable is far less than we have been told. But by
far the most prominent example of this phenomenon in America today is
Islamic terrorism. This is overwhelmingly a manufactured threat.
The reality is far less threatening than the image.
The remedy is to talk to each other. Share with our friends the
fact that we are skeptical of what we read in the papers and watch on
— Josh Mitteldorf
Encourage Fear, words by Steven Wangh, music by Molly Scott, sung by
Court Dorsey with piano accompaniment by George Fulginiti-Shakar.
This song was written not about George W. Bush, but about Ronald Reagan,
26 years ago.
29 June 2008
If I were a rich man
People invariably believe that money can make them happy — and rich
people usually do report being happier than poor people do. But if this
is the case, shouldn't wealthy people spend a lot more time doing
enjoyable things than poor people?
“In reality,” Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues wrote in a paper
they published in the journal Science, “they should think of spending a
lot more time working and commuting and a lot less time engaged in
— from a
Washington Post article
30 June 2008