Tag Archives: Musings

Weekly Photo Challenge: Big

“The sublime is rendered by prodigious power or by enormous space: when you reach a mountaintop, for instance, and the world breaks open: a motif that is used in Buddhist art a great deal, and the reason temples are put on the top of hills.  In Kyoto, there are gardens where you are screened from the expanding view while climbing, and suddenly – bing! – the whole vista opens up before you.  That’s sublimity.  So, power and space are two renditions of sublimity, and in both cases, the ego is diminished.  It’s strange: the less there is of you, the more you experience the sublime.”

Reading this, it seems true by examination.  We’ve all had these kinds of experiences.  On the mountaintop, or looking out over a seemingly infinite body of water, or finding yourself on a dark lake on a clear night with the full moon on the water or the Milky Way arcing overhead, the awesome awareness of our own powerlessness and insignificance is the source of a sublime feeling of expansive connectedness.  I witnessed the birth of my girls and am forever struck by the mystery of such infinite complexity, driven so repeatably; everyday miracles of stunning scale, countless times a every day, everywhere on Earth.

How easily, though, we slip back into the ego-centric.  Once back down from the mountain, back in the Real World, we’re self-concerned again.  Back to work on Monday, with the demands, deadlines, and personalities that we engage and entangle with.  That was a cool experience, but this is the Real World and I have to feed my family, after all.

Art and meditation and contemplation allow access to that ego-reduced experience of the profound, for those of us who can’t go on vacation and climb a mountain every day.  A shared moment with a family member or friend, a painting or a piece of music, a well-written metaphor, quiet minutes looking at a tree or looking inward with eyes closed.

“It’s strange: the less there is of you, the more you experience the sublime.”

Quotation from ‘Reflections on the Art of Living, A Joseph Campbell Companion,’ page 136.

Sunday inspiration: When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer, Whitman

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Saturday morning muse

First Saturday morning of the school year, basking in the togetherness and at-homeness of it all.

There’s much to be done today – in fact it’s one of those days where there’s a huge Lazy Susan of ideas, opportunities and necessities spinning in my head, and I can’t quite bring myself to stop it and pick the one thing to be done next.

One thing’s certain, that I’m continually haunted and pursued by the need to dedicate time and effort to a writing practice.  I find myself wishing for foul weather, which would force downward my available options and I could feel good about retreating to the new office I’m creating downstairs.  I tell myself we need to follow through on plans to create living-room space in the adjoining big room downstairs so I can still be near the ladies while I pound away at this new lifestyle.  Wait, I know! – I need a whiteboard in that office so I can really get going, mind-mapping stuff, plotting and planning.

“Just shut up and write”, they tell me, so I turn and tell that to myself.

OK – right after I work on this bike.

Old school roadie on the stand – extreme makeover Saturday

A busy week, and reasons for racing hard

I wrote in my last post about cultivating some balance in our lives, and how our steady progression toward the end of summer might assist that goal.  Returning from vacation to work this week, that balance seems elusive.

It’s not just the grind of returning to the day job, but meetings after work every evening this week to address needs related to my civic commitments.  I serve our local community as a Village trustee and also as a trustee at our local community library, and I believe strongly at this point in my life in putting some effort into helping to keep our village as that place that first attracted us to live here…so while tired and off-balance toward the end of this week, it’s all worth it, all toward the right ends.

Plus…to cap the week off…

Our oldest daughter turns 13 today.

She was born at 9am, and I’ll never forget holding her and looking deep into her wide eyes that first night, when she was 12 hours old, while my wife slept soundly, getting some needed rest.

Not yet a day old, she lay wrapped in a blanket in my arms, hiccuping and looking back at me.  I had the profound, mystical feeling that there was wisdom behind those eyes, that she knew things I couldn’t know.  I held her there for quite some time, not wanting to let go of that moment with her new life in my hands.

I tell her this story every year around her birthday, as I want her to grow up knowing the impact she had on me that first night.  Right now, she lays in the bottom bunk (with her sister in the top) in the room behind me, having slept away her 12-hood, soon to wake up as a teenager.

There have been, and will be many more, times when ‘wisdom’ is the furthest word from my mind to associate with some of her actions or behaviors (or her sister’s), but the memory and the impact of that first night persists.  And whether or not she really knew unknowable things that first night, she and her sister have taught me so much…

So we’ll move through the work days and the birthday festivities today and Friday, remaining joyfully off-kilter, and will look to rebalance over the holiday weekend…

Unwinding to wind again

We spent the early part of this week in northern Lower Michigan – a day trip to Mackinac Island launched from our several-day base in Petoskey.  This has become a tradition for us over the last several years, a late-August trip together as a family before our free-form summer lifestyle reverts back to the phased rhythm of work and school routines.

“Loving where I live” is a major component of my TGQ (Total Gratitude Quotient), and of course “loving other places within a few hours’ drive from where I live” factors into the equation as well.

Experiencing this recurring ritual getaway affords an opportunity to benchmark our girls’ growth over time.  We pass this way another year older, and that brings a little more clarity to how they’re growing and changing.  We’ve shed the baby jogger and the scooters, and there are no more rides on Dad’s shoulders as we hike into the Petoskey Gaslight District from our hotel a mile out.  New opportunities and perspectives emerge, riding bikes around Mackinac Island and letting them wander down to the shoreline by themselves while we watch from a distance.

This brief unwinding also brings into relief the balance that we try to strike in our lives.  We’ll start the cycle again soon – school will start with the requisite drop-offs and dramas, routines of homework and music lessons.  We’ll measure it off with the Monday through Friday metronome, and learn again together how sweet Saturday mornings are.

Orion’s scout

I snuck out and caught you this morning, Betelgeuse.

Yes, I was drawn out by brilliant Venus, backed up by regal Jupiter in the early twilight. But I saw your orange shimmer down close to the horizon, about to be veiled in the rising sun’s radiance, like you were peering through the crack of an open door.

Every mid-August I look forward to the appearance of Orion in the morning sky. He brings the promise of cool fall weather and I think ahead to him riding high above in the dome of a crystalline winter night sky.

For now it’s still July, and at 6am the new daylight streaks across the east and north; it will be warm again today and summer still dominates our attention but look closely – our days are noticeably shorter, evidence that the grand wheel spins. Betelgeuse sneaks into the early morning sky affirming that change is afoot, letting Orion know that the coast will be clear in another fortnight.

Glorious, how we roll.

Why He Wrote (…and why I should write more)

Why I Write: George Orwell on an Authors 4 Main Motives – Maria Popova – The Atlantic.

I find this fascinating, not least because of the source.  Orwell these days is such a monolith that it’s intriguing to find him here describing the very human motivations for his work.

The item on his list that strikes me here is political purpose, writing out of a desire to ‘alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.’  Politics in our time leaves me with such a feeling of bitterness.  Debates are constrained within bounds deemed reasonable by the big underwriters of our governments.  We don’t have serious conversations on what should be huge topics of our time; war, the role of government in ensuring the best life for all of its citizens, financialization, assault weapon libertarianism, and so on.  Because the terms of debate have already been fixed, only a narrow range of opinions are considered acceptable by the clique.

Of, by and for the people seems to have left the building some time ago.

I look forward to picking up a copy of Orwell’s ‘Why I Write’ – I guess I might have something to say too.

Moment of silence

Today’s tragic events in the news give each of us cause to pause – of course to reflect on why, and pray for those directly impacted.  Those who are supposed to lead us then make grave pronouncements expressing their sorrow and and contempt for the Evil Deeds. Others go further and try to exploit events to advance their own selfish agendas – I’ll say nothing here about that beyond a single word, karma.

But in the choice of that word Evil, I think, comes another choice, conscious or not, to mark the perpetrator as ‘other’, not human like the rest of us.  In so doing, it becomes easy to then turn away from the knowledge that the capacity for such atrocities lies within each one of us, that ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I.’

History is full of examples of common people doing violence to their fellow man, whether motivated by mental illness, prejudice, poverty, jealousy, preservation of their ‘way of life’, or merely survival.  Each is its own deep tragedy, whether made known via cable & internet or not, and each resonates in ways we’ll never sense.

I believe the only appropriate response begins with silence and a humble prayer for the souls of the victims, families, perpetrator and all of the rest of our human race.

And then reflection on what we might each change within ourselves to make a difference. Peace.

I, cricket

It’s hot in the house.  We’re in the middle of the great midwestern drought of 2012 – here on July 12 we’ve had approximately 0.1″ of rain since the beginning of May.  I’m learning now that the absence of moisture in the region’s soils allows the daily temperatures to rise unmoderated, so our daily highs are more easily reaching the 90s even though the nights descend to delicious low 60s.

We’re about 3 weeks past the summer solstice, but living here on the western fringe of the Eastern time zone, our July twilights extend well into the 9 o’clock hour and beyond.  Now, approaching 10 o’clock, the cool sets in with the brilliant blue/black of receding day and gradually the averted eye catches planets and then stars in the sky (always interesting to note that averted vision is more sensitive to faint light that direct vision…maybe that’s true in some metaphorical sense as well?).

Through the screens and open windows (resisting turning on the air conditioning), the insects in the woods make their high, continuous whine; then, listening closer, I hear the spectrum of frequencies and overlapping signals – that which I first thought was a one-dimensional stream is a three- and four-dimensional orchestral arrangement for an unseen audience.  Who else is listening and who responds?  Listening closely to these noises and imagining lives lived, I recognize how little I understand what goes on in my backyard.

Same with our daughters.  There are so many signals we want to make sure they receive amongst all the others available to them; some are basic instructions met with frustration when not followed, others could be life lessons if the connection is made.  Among other things, I want Mack to come out with me for a ride around the lake on the tandem or on the lake in the canoe – time outside with me, the sun, water and wind.  But for now, she resists, refusing to align with my ideal of what a great time that will be.  Maybe in a day or a week if I don’t push too hard, she’ll come with me.  And I want the same for Alex, continue to show her facets of the world she might not have known otherwise – such is the infinite potential of parenting that I too-rarely slow down enough to act on.

And their time with us is like this one night, so I’m out here in the woods, desperately calling, happily willing to call all night, hoping they hear and respond before the sun comes up in the morning.