Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from me and the Snowman

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Rainbow and the Covenant

Whilst stirring my oatmeal in the morning I usually read my current Patrick O’Brian novel. Having just completed the series again, I was reading instead 1001 Pearls of Bible Wisdom by Malcolm Day. Regular readers know I have no qualms about posting religious insight along with the philosophical, be it from the Bible or the Talmud or the Koran. I was reading the section about forgiveness and reconciliation. 
All my life, I have always had a hard time understanding how Jesus could ‘die for our sins’. Why should God forgive us because Jesus died on the cross? I understood that Jesus asked God to ‘forgive them for they know not what they do’ but why should He? And it was always strange to me that, for such a central concept, I had not come across any explanations, no elaboration about why this should be.

Well, at 53, stirring my porridge one morning, I finally understood why.

The Rainbow and the Covenant

After the flood that destroyed all living things, except those taken into Noah’ ark, God made a covenant, or pledge, with humanity never to devastate the Earth again. As a reminder of his promise he placed a rainbow in the sky: ‘I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant…” (Genesis 9:13).  The covenant was fulfilled in the Passion of Christ. Jesus straddles the divide between human wrongdoing and God’s judgment and, through the Crucifixion, enables God to be reconciled with sinful humanity. People no longer need to endure God’s wrath – their sins are forgiven.

And following this introduction we read …

… in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them … 2 Corinthians 5:19

In Jesus God took on the form and condition of a man, open to fear, weakness and pain. Yet Jesus could ask God to forgive his persecutors while on the cross. Thus God could see that there was some good in man, despite his sins. Thus he was reconciled and the covenant fulfilled.

I am reminded of that quote we saw in Into Great Silence:

Behold I am become human. If you should not want to join me in becoming God, you would do me wrong.

Image by Brian Parton

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Laughter Yoga - by Maria Rainier

Since discovering Moymoypalaboy (see October and November 2010 posts) I have been playing and replaying their videos almost every day for a dose of laughter. Not only do I laugh, but I am delighted, rejuvenated and encouraged. We know laughter has this effect on us, so why don’t we do it more? Maria Rainier tells us more about the effects of laughter and how one doctor has made it into a Yoga form. Here is her guest post for Healing Philosophy.

A child laughs 400 times a day; an adult laughs 15 times a day.  What gives?

This is the entire premise of laughter yoga—restoring laughter to those who have forgotten or lost reason to laugh.  

Dr. Kataria and Hasyayoga 

Medical physician Dr. Madan Kataria began his research into laughter after reading the findings of Norman Cousins, an American journalist who purportedly cured his degenerative heart disease with massive doses of Vitamin C and by training himself to laugh.  Inspired, Kataria began encouraging his family members and friends to laugh by telling jokes, but as the jokes ran out, Kataria resorted to psychosocial and playful techniques to arouse laughter.  He then discovered hasyayoga (laughter yoga), which he made popular in 1995 from Mumbai across the entire globe.  Today, 60 countries together boast over 6,000 Social Laughter Clubs.

What is Laughter Yoga?

Laughter yoga combines unconditional laughter (laughing for no reason: no jokes, no comedy, no innuendo, merely joy) with yogic breathing (pranayama).  Laughter yoga is exercised in a group of people who, with eye contact and childlike playfulness, turn little giggles into laughter from the belly.

What Are Its Benefits?

Other than it being fun, the benefits of laughter yoga are many.  Clinical research from University of Graz in Austria; Bangalore, India; and in the US indicate that laughing—even fake laughter, which the human body cannot differentiate from real laughter—lowers stress hormones like epinephrine and cortisol in blood.  Regular reminders to laugh also allow individuals to deal with stress more productively by putting stressful situations into perspective with the rest of one’s life: what’s a burned pancake in view of one’s overall health?

Who Benefits?

In fact, the benefits of laughter yoga have been recognized to the extent that many schools of Surat, Baroda, and Bangalore (India) have introduced it into their curriculum.  Schedules include ten minutes of hasyayoga in the morning assembly and five minutes of hasyayoga at both the beginning and end of each day in classrooms.  Students’ grades as well as theirs and teachers’ moods have improved; they work better together with more positive attitudes and improved communication, discipline, and attendance.  American college students at Ithaca College are quickly catching on to the trend.

If children and young adults can stand to gain from laughter yoga, so can businesspeople.  Humor is a common tool in the office to break tension and keep workers going through the day; laughter yoga is a reliable and effective method that allows even adults to laugh wholeheartedly for 15 to 20 minutes with short breaks of yogic breathing.  India, Denmark, and many business environments in the U.S. show benefits of reduced stress and improved productivity after only three weeks of laughter sessions.

Seniors, medically ill patients, and patients with physical and mental challenges also benefit from laughter yoga.  Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease make it difficult to comprehend humor, but with hasyayoga, no humor is needed to laugh, exercise, and feel pure joy.  Coping with pain and trauma becomes easier for cancer patients such as those who perform laughter yoga during chemotherapy sessions in the Swedish Cancer Hospital in Chicago.  Children with mental and physical handicaps enjoy improved motor and expressive skills and health.  

Laughter yoga has even been introduced to the prison system.  British actor John Cleese visited Mumbai Prison in 2001 and found that prisons—concentrated hotbeds of negative emotions and thoughts—of all places could use laughter yoga.  Reduced violence and improved moods and prisoner/staff relations have ensued in several prisons in India, Europe, and the U.S. with regular practice of laughter yoga.

Watch this clip from BBC’s Human Expressions, which explores the benefits of laughter yoga.

Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where recently she's been researching online music degree programs and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quantitative Easing Explained in 6 minutes

I came across this video at Juggling Dynamite. It has ‘gone viral’ reaching 2 million views in the last week. Pass it on to your friends, you can’t make this up.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Ordertaker - Moymoypalaboy

This one will not be everyone’s cup of tea and I normally do not appreciate heavy punk music or whatever it is called. But I love these guys: they put such heart into it and their expressions have me in stitches.
I was very angry this week and I have been watching this video and laughing as a kind of therapy. This is exactly how I would like to react sometimes....

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Laugh with Moymoypalaboy – If you wanna be my lover

These guys look like they are having a ball, as well as making us roll on the floor. (There’s a mixed metaphor in there somewhere).

Lots more here at Carambabr’s Channel

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Laughter, the best medicine - Marima by Moymoypalaboy

These guys are great. If they don’t make you laugh, you are in big trouble.

Lots more here at Carambabr’s Channel

Monday, October 18, 2010

Stephen Maturin discusses handwriting with Jack

Regular readers know I am a great fan of Patrick O’Brian and his Aubrey-Maturin series of novels. I am again reading the lot one after another and today I happened to come across one of those references to good handwriting in ‘The Commodore’. In the days O’Brian is writing about, handwriting was used in many official naval documents: ship’s logs, maps, Admiralty orders, pretty much everything, and the ability to write in a good hand was much valued. Perhaps it was so in Plato’s time also.

Stephen said, ‘Will I tell you another of Plato’s observations?’
‘Pray do,’ said Jack, his smile briefly returning.
‘It should please you, since you have a very pretty hand. Hincksey quoted it when I dined with him in London and we were discussing the bill of fare: “Calligraphy,” said Plato, “is the physical manifestation of an architecture of the soul.” That being so, mine must be a turf-and-wattle kind of soul, since my handwriting would be disowned by a backward cat; whereas yours, particularly on your charts, has a most elegant flow and clarity, the outward form of a soul that might have conceived the Parthenon.’
Jack made a civil bow, and pudding came in: spotted dog.

Of course, Stephen is a doctor and who ever heard of a doctor with good handwriting. And if anything, Stephen is the proof that Plato’s observation does not always stand the test. But whereas a bad hand is not always a condemnation, a good hand is certainly always a recommendation. 

Image: extract from the log book of HMS Victory

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The History of Writing

This is a guest post by Louise Baker. Louise ranks online degrees for Zen College Life. She most recently wrote about the best colleges online.

Ever since time began, man felt the need to express all his thoughts, feelings and desires within the format of the written word. It is very likely that man evolved the concept of writing long before he established the capacity for any form of intelligibly audible exposition.

Early Writings

The earliest forms of writing were more than likely simplistic scratchings on clay, sand or rock. Recently, certain clay tokens were found which had the possibility of being the earliest example of written communication in ancient times. In the prehistoric times, certain pictograms upon numerous cave walls have been collectively acknowledged to be the fundamental precipitators of the written word as we know it today. Interestingly enough, the pictures operated with the same underlying compulsions which would have spawned the written word; the need to convey thoughts, ideas and the ability to mark and record daily business transactions in a tangible and understandable medium. For the longest time, writing consisted of pictographs recorded on malleable substances such as clay or soft rock. Cuneiform and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics combined elements of pictures and words to express thoughts as fully as possible in what is considered some of the most advanced writing systems at those times. In the Orient, however, the standard for the written characters of most Oriental cultures stems directly from one source... the Chinese; whose influence is established in the writing systems of both Vietnam and Japan.

The Evolution of Writing

Writing would then continue to evolve in varying states from culture to culture. The Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and many other cultures would go on to develop extremely sophisticated writing systems, but with a rudimentary element of established format which would allow for easier accessibility to many as opposed to just a few specialized learners. In addition, the change in writing materials, from papyrus and parchment to the invention of paper in about 100 A.D., writing would become more widespread and less time consuming. (When compared to the previous materials available, that is.) The Eastern cultures, in particular, would yield some of the most dynamic writings and evolution of complex writing systems ever known. The Arab culture, with its particularly difficult codex of written language, relied on Western cultures to simplify its writings into something more manageable.

The Alphabet

The continuation of the evolution of writing would eventually yield one of man's most significant tools for written communication... a standardized Alphabet representative of a variety of sounds established by a series of vowels and consonants. With the advent of the Alphabet, sounds could be more easily conveyed into a tangible medium for a more comprehensive understanding of what the written text represented. Roughly about the fourth millennium, there are a number of examples of such systems being used in the writing of those times, but it wasn't until about 1850 B.C. that a formally standardized Alphabet was used for purely such a purpose. And in about 100 A.D., the Romans gave us what would eventually become the single most recognized system of writing in the world, our modern 26 letter Alphabet.

Who says the Romans never did anything for anyone?

Image: The Rosetta Stone on display at the British Museum since 1802 by Chris Devers

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The fading art of handwriting - Marketwatch

Well shipmates, it seems the subject of handwriting is the talk of the town right now.  Today Marketwatch (one of my favourite financial hangouts) published this video entitled ‘Write on: Wendy Bounds discusses the fading art of handwriting, pointing out that new research shows it can benefit children's motor skills and their ability to compose ideas and achieve goals throughout life’. No kidding? Does that mean the old ways are sometimes better than the new ways?

More on handwriting

Ryukan's Reply to a Friend's Letter

Your smoky village is not so far from here
But icy rain kept me captive all morning.
Just yesterday, it seems, we passed an evening together discussing poetry
But it’s really been twenty wind-blown days.
I’ve begun to copy the text you lent me,
Fretting how weak I’ve become.
This letter seals my promise to take my staff
And make my way through the steep cliffs
As soon as the sun melts the ice along the mossy path.

From ‘Zen Poems’, edited by Manu Bazzano with illustrations by André Sollier

Monday, October 4, 2010

Letter-writing quotes

Here are some quotes about letter-writing, by which we mean writing letters by hand in the ‘old-fashioned’ way. They follow on very nicely from my post of Umberto Eco’s The lost art of handwriting and my own thoughts on the matter here and here.
I like the one about the old hotel.

In an age like ours, which is not given to letter-writing, we forget what an important part it used to play in people's lives.  Anatole Broyard

It seems a long time since the morning mail could be called correspondence.  Jacques Barzun

Take pains ... to write a neat round, plain hand, and you will find it a great convenience through life to write a small and compact hand as well as a fair and legible one.  Thomas Jefferson

I stayed in a really old hotel last night. They sent me a wake-up letter.  Steven Wright

In a man's letters you know, Madam, his soul lies naked, his letters are only the mirror of his breast, whatever passes within him is shown undisguised in its natural process.  Nothing is inverted, nothing distorted, you see systems in their elements, you discover actions in their motives.  Samuel Johnson

When he wrote a letter, he would put that which was most material in the postscript, as if it had been a by-matter.  Francis Bacon

In the midst of great joy do not promise to give a man anything; in the midst of great anger do not answer a man's letter.  Chinese proverb

The word that is heard perishes, but the letter that is written remains.  Proverbs

You don't know a woman until you have a letter from her.  Ada Leverson

To find out your real opinion of someone, judge the impression you have when you first see a letter from them.  Arthur Schopenhauer

Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.  Lord Byron

One good thing about not seeing you is that I can write you letters.  Svetlana Alliluveya

Letters have to pass two tests before they can be classed as good: they must express the personality both of the writer and of the recipient.  E. M. Forster

I have received no more than one or two letters in my life that were worth the postage.  Henry David Thoreau

Please write again soon. Though my own life is filled with activity, letters encourage momentary escape into others lives and I come back to my own with greater contentment.  Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey

Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls; for, thus friends absent speak.  John Donne

A letter is a blessing, a great and all-too-rare privilege that can turn a private moment into an exalted experience.  Alexandra Stoddard

We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend.  Emily Dickinson

Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Letters are like wine; if they are sound they ripen with keeping. A man should lay down letters as he does a cellar of wine.   Samuel Butler

The tender word forgotten,
The letter you did not write,
The flower you might have sent, dear,
Are your haunting ghosts tonight.  Margeret Elizabeth Sangster

It does me good to write a letter which is not a response to a demand, a gratuitous letter, so to speak, which has accumulated in me like the waters of a reservoir. Henry Miller

I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.  Blaise Pascal

A person who can write a long letter with ease, cannot write ill. Jane Austen

Letter writing is an excellent way of slowing down this lunatic helterskelter universe long enough to gather one’s thoughts.  Nick Bantock

Poets don’t draw. They unravel their handwriting and then tie it up again, but differently. Jean Cocteau

A Letter is a Joy of Earth -
It is denied the Gods.  Emily Dickinson

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting. Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.  Mother Theresa

Image by The Missive Maven. Check out her blog.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The lost art of handwriting - Umberto Eco

Speaking of the stop teaching handwriting in school or not issue, would you believe it? It appears I am once again well behind the program on this one. The following is a piece written by Umberto Eco and published in The Guardian on Monday, 21 September 2009 (a year ago almost to the day). Needless to say I am of his way of thinking.

The days when children were taught to write properly are long gone. Does it matter? Yes, says Umberto Eco

Recently, two Italian journalists wrote a three-page newspaper article (in print, alas) about the decline of handwriting. By now it's well-known: most kids – what with computers (when they use them) and text messages – can no longer write by hand, except in laboured capital letters.
In an interview, a teacher said that students also make lots of spelling mistakes, which strikes me as a separate problem: doctors know how to spell and yet they write poorly; and you can be an expert calligrapher and still write "guage" or "gage" instead of "gauge".
I know children whose handwriting is fairly good. But the article talks of 50% of Italian kids – and so I suppose it is thanks to an indulgent destiny that I frequent the other 50% (something that happens to me in the political arena, too).
The tragedy began long before the computer and the cellphone.
My parents' handwriting was slightly slanted because they held the sheet at an angle, and their letters were, at least by today's standards, minor works of art. At the time, some – probably those with poor hand- writing – said that fine writing was the art of fools. It's obvious that fine handwriting does not necessarily mean fine intelligence. But it was pleasing to read notes or documents written as they should be.
My generation was schooled in good handwriting, and we spent the first months of elementary school learning to make the strokes of letters. The exercise was later held to be obtuse and repressive but it taught us to keep our wrists steady as we used our pens to form letters rounded and plump on one side and finely drawn on the other. Well, not always – because the inkwells, with which we soiled our desks, notebooks, fingers and clothing, would often produce a foul sludge that stuck to the pen and took 10 minutes of mucky contortions to clean.
The crisis began with the advent of the ballpoint pen. Early ballpoints were also very messy and if, immediately after writing, you ran your finger over the last few words, a smudge inevitably appeared. And people no longer felt much interest in writing well, since handwriting, when produced with a ballpoint, even a clean one, no longer had soul, style or personality.
Why should we regret the passing of good handwriting? The capacity to write well and quickly on a keyboard encourages rapid thought, and often (not always) the spell-checker will underline a misspelling.
Although the cellphone has taught the younger generation to write "Where R U?" instead of "Where are you?", let us not forget that our forefathers would have been shocked to see that we write "show" instead of "shew" or "enough" instead of "enow". Medieval theologians wrote "respondeo dicendum quod", which would have made Cicero recoil in horror.
The art of handwriting teaches us to control our hands and encourages hand-eye coordination.
The three-page article pointed out that writing by hand obliges us to compose the phrase mentally before writing it down. Thanks to the resistance of pen and paper, it does make one slow down and think. Many writers, though accustomed to writing on the computer, would sometimes prefer even to impress letters on a clay tablet, just so they could think with greater calm.
It's true that kids will write more and more on computers and cellphones. Nonetheless, humanity has learned to rediscover as sports and aesthetic pleasures many things that civilisation had eliminated as unnecessary.
People no longer travel on horseback but some go to a riding school; motor yachts exist but many people are as devoted to true sailing as the Phoenicians of 3,000 years ago; there are tunnels and railroads but many still enjoy walking or climbing Alpine passes; people collect stamps even in the age of email; and armies go to war with Kalashnikovs but we also hold peaceful fencing tournaments.
It would be a good thing if parents sent kids off to handwriting schools so they could take part in competitions and tournaments – not only to acquire grounding in what is beautiful, but also for psychomotor wellbeing. Such schools already exist; just search for "calligraphy school" on the internet. And perhaps for those with a steady hand but without a steady job, teaching this art could become a good business.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Stop teaching handwriting in school, do not

A few weeks ago I fell on an article written by a professor proposing that we stop teaching handwriting in school. I will not link to it, but if you Google it you are sure to find it. Her son was having trouble writing certain letters at school and she found, after a brief overview of the history of writing, that the time had come to move on to electronic writing methods and she ended with a fling at writing as so much pushing of a graphite stick in various directions. When I finished reading this, if I had had immediate access to the comments section, I would certainly have written that this was the stupidest idea I had ever heard in my entire life. I might have added something like, is your son also having trouble with art at school? Perhaps we should stop teaching art as well, we have computer graphics programs now, and after all it is just so much pushing around a paintbrush in various directions.
I was quite shocked at my reaction, at the strong emotions I felt, and of course I realised that that was partly the author’s intention: to be provocative. I then decided it did not merit serious thought or a serious reply and moved on.
Since then I have noticed that my post The importance of good handwriting is quite popular and I am constantly reminded of the contrary article. I have found myself mulling it over. Then I began to think (cue heavenly light) that perhaps it fell to me to reply to the article (cue singing angels), that my entire life up to now had brought me to this moment (cue dark clouds of doubt parting), that my blog was the perfect vehicle (cue sun), and that my blog post on this subject might be read by some young impressionable mind and it would encourage him to persevere in his handwriting technique and he would go on to become a second Shakespeare who would influence an entire generation…  (OK, cut the heavenly light, angels: take 15). 
I am not a professor, nor a writer; I am just a guy with a blog but I will tell you what I think off the top of my head and you will be the judge.
I find it sad and surely irresponsible that an educator should hold such a mistaken view (and encourage others to hold it) but I suppose it is a sign of the times. There will always be people impatient for change and impatient of the old ways. I know because I have acted in that way in my time also, unfortunately. It is the lot of impatient youth.
But it seems to me that learning how to write is the basic building block of education. And no matter how easy to use and ubiquitous the electronic tablet becomes, pen and paper will always be necessary and indeed an art form. Necessary because pen and paper are (almost) always to be had - computers, tablets, electricity and batteries are not. Use those other electronic forms by all means, but handwriting has to be there to fall back on. I am not going to belabour the point, it seems so obvious to me. I am sure you can think of a hundred situations where a written message is the best or the only way.
It also seems to me reprehensible that an educator should undermine children’s resolve to learn how to write by hand and also parents’ efforts to help and encourage them. Perhaps it is more difficult for some children than others, but if we were to choose what should be taught in school on that basis where would we be? There is something to be said for the process of overcoming difficulties and personal inclination and mastering a useful skill by perseverance.
Civilization has come the long road through many a dark brutal age to the point where literacy is possible for everyone today and the suggestion to abandon the written word in school after so many have struggled and fought to bring literacy to the world would be to do them and our children a great disservice.
But my real argument has more to do with this ‘fling it down the gutter’ attitude to all the old ways of doing things. I must sound very much like the baby boomer I am as I write this, but I do assure you in my time the shoe was on the other foot as you can read in my last post about handwriting. I have evolved, my attitude has changed, for the better I hope. The computer and the advance of technology is not the secret of happiness. People are less happy today than they were 50 years ago. All the twitters and e-mails you may send your friends may be fun, but I doubt they give as much pleasure as our ancestors (parents, grand parents!) enjoyed when they received a single thoughtful (handwritten) letter.
I am not against technology or progress. I have a blog don’t I? I am simply saying that not every technological advance is necessarily an advance for human happiness. Technology has to be used wisely, usefully, reasonably. And respect for the old ways is a virtue. A well-written, thoughtful letter is an art form in itself. Where there is no art in daily life, there is no life. No life worth the living.
I am reminded of something I read about the art of the Japanese Zen garden. The author was talking about how one might apply to a (Japanese) Zen garden master to become his pupil. He gave the master’s postal address. He advised that it might take some weeks or even months to receive an answer. Zen garden masters did not have faxes, still less computers.
I am sure they are quite, quite happy without them.

Read more about the lost art of letter writing at Proverbs 31 maiden.

Image: ‘Winter’s Child’ by Lucia

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I Ching therefore I Pod - new update for Yi Jing app

In June I received a nice e-mail from Brian Arnold, president of Flat Earth Studio, the developer of the Yi Jing application I use on my I Pod. He thanked me for my kind reviews of the Yi Jing app and told me the good news: the company has now teamed up with Princeton University Press to offer the famous and definitive Wilhelm/Baynes edition of the I Ching as an update to the app. Here is an excerpt from the press release:

Princeton University Press and Flat Earth Studio are pleased to announce the newest version of the popular iPhone App, Yi Jing, now available from the iTunes App store. This major update for Yi Jing App includes new features and improved book content for additional purchase, including Princeton University Press's all-time bestselling edition of The I Ching, or Book of Changes, edited by Richard Wilhelm and translated by Cary F. Baynes. The New York Times says, "Princeton's Bollingen edition [is] still regarded as the best and most authentic by I Ching aficionados."

Yi Jing is the definitive mobile version of The I Ching, or Book of Changes, done the way it was meant to be experienced. Ancient meets modern as one of the oldest books written is re re-crafted to take advantage of the unique features of your mobile device. The updated App contains all of the features you need, including a question oracle, an integrated journal, and multiple translations and interpretations. The complete Wilhelm/Baynes text is provided for the first time in interactive readings.

"We are incredibly pleased to team up with Flat Earth Studio to make the Bollingen edition of the I Ching available in this format," said Daphne Ireland, Director of Intellectual Property at Princeton University Press. "The updated app allows fans to engage with this material in a completely unprecedented way."

See the full press release here, which provides links to Flat Earth Studio’s web sites, to iTunes, and to a YouTube video Yi Jing v2 walkthrough.

So there you have it. The already best I Ching app available just became the definitive and classic I Ching must have app. And rightly so.

On the mountain, a tree:
The image of DEVELOPMENT.
Thus the superior man abides in dignity and virtue,
In order to improve the mores.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Base jumping with The Snowman

I have just discovered the following video that combines a little masterpiece of a song with a little masterpiece of an animation from Howard Blake’s little 1982 masterpiece ‘The Snowman’. I thought about saving it to post later this Christmas but it is just too good to deprive you of for any length of time.
So here it is. It captures so well those times of our childhood when Christmas was filled with magic and wonder; times when there was so much about this world we didn’t know or understand that the line between what was real and what was imagined, the possible and the impossible, was yet to be drawn.
For today’s children that line must be ever and ever more tenuous. A child today can watch this video and decide that he wants to experience walking in the air. He can base jump with the Snowman. Perhaps a video like this one inspired our own Halvor Angvik to become a base jumper. If you read this Halvor, how about putting this music to one of your next videos? Maybe it will inspire some young minds.

For a funky club mix twist to this music I doubt you’ll find better than this:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Why is the sky dark at night? - Olber's Paradox

Here is an entry from my personal diary for Friday. Though it rambles on for a couple of paragraphs, the essence of it passed through my mind as a flash of insight lasting perhaps 10 seconds that struck me as I was on my way home from a reluctant evening walk. This is what I wrote about it when I got home (with very little editing). It is an example of the limited power of words to express what is in our mind.

The other day I saw a video – ‘Why is the sky dark at night? – about Olber’s paradox. It is a question that puzzled medieval astronomers: if the universe is infinite and has existed forever, the light from an infinite number of stars should fill every available spot in the night sky making it bright as day. The video explains that today we know that the universe is not infinitely old and therefore not all the light from all the stars has had time to get here. The narrator says ‘the darkness of the night sky is a characteristic that argues against infinity’.
Tonight as I was walking home from a walk (yes I wrote that), I had an insight as I remembered this video and phrase. The universe has not existed infinitely: it has a finite beginning. But the space existed. Something existed for there to be a big bang in. Where did those gases come from? Where did the space before the big bang come from? Wherever it came from is a place of higher being, higher intelligence, higher good. The paradox may argue against infinity, but it argues for God, for another essence beyond our comprehension. If we align ourselves with this essence, we align ourselves with creative powers and principles – with God – and we cannot go wrong. We will prosper. If not, we will not prosper (or not for long). In this we can rely, in this we can have faith. Not that we should expect everything to go our way without effort all the time. There can be no guaranteed results or there would be no life, no point, no merit. ‘Do not expect God to change the laws of nature for you’. But having faith is the correct attitude. Following the virtues as much as we can is the correct conduct. Courage, patience, love etc. Discipline also : discipline and courage are needed to harness virtue as the sailor harnesses the wind.
To know what one should do – for one’s health for one thing – and not do it is weak and stupid. To have gifts and not develop them – even moderate gifts that can become greater – is a terrible waste. To have the ability to understand virtue and not to follow it is against the intention of the higher essence, against the laws of nature, against the will of God.
To have faith in God is to have faith in oneself, since God is inside us. When we have faith in ourselves, we reward ourselves, as God. We allow ourselves to succeed, because in our hearts, our subconscious, we know that we have merited it by following the laws of nature and of God. And so it happens to us, according to our faith.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


All my life I have been very sensitive of the concept of fairness. I think I have stated before in my posts on anger that I have a very revengeful nature. Certainly if I am wronged or treated unjustly I have a hard time dealing with my anger for that person. I will remember a wrong for years. I will cut out any person who has wronged me; I will ignore them from that time onwards. (I have a long way to go on the spiritual path of forgiveness).
However, if I have deserved a criticism, if I have acted badly, if I have wronged first, that is an entirely different matter. I may grumble, mostly in anger at myself, but I am not infused with the same anger or revenge for that person. Fair is fair.
People who lie, who bear false witness, are the lowest of the low in my eyes. I can’t abide dishonesty and falsehood. Some of you reading this who know me may know what (and who) I am talking about. Anyway, this weekend I had occasion to think about integrity and the malice of those who don’t have any. I looked up some quotes. The following ones are most in tune with my own thoughts at this moment. I will no doubt write more about integrity or the lack thereof in the future. I think it is an important subject.

O, what a tangled web we weave; When first we practice to deceive!  Sir Walter Scott

He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions. Thomas Jefferson

There is no vice that doth so cover a man with shame as to be found false and perfidious. Francis Bacon

If you have integrity, nothing else matters.  If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters.  Alan Simpson

He who indulges in falsehood will find the paths of paradise shut to him. Abu Bakir

It is an affront to treat falsehood with complaisance. Thomas Paine

If a man does not resent slight injustices, he will soon be called upon to face giant wrongs. Taoist tradition

'Tis better to suffer wrong than do it.  Thomas Fuller

Take care that no one hates you justly.  Publilius Syrus

If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well-nigh useless, since their chief purpose is to make us bear with patience the injustice of our fellows.  Jean-Baptiste Molière

Update: if we believe the author of this quote, then it would seem God agrees with me:

All malice has injustice at it`s end, an end achieved by violence or by fraud; while both are sins that earn the hate of heaven, since fraud belongs exclusively to man, God hates it more and, therefore, far below, the fraudulent are placed and suffer most. Dante Alighieri

Monday, August 23, 2010

5 things you didn't know about Zen meditation

This is a guest post by Louise Baker. Louise ranks online degrees for Zen College Life. She most recently wrote about the best colleges online.

After a hard day at work, we need an opportunity to relax and unwind. An excellent way to clear one's mind at the end of the day is through Zen meditation. This Buddhist practice will help relieve the body, calm the mind, and relax the soul. However, many people are unaware of the fantastic benefits that Zen meditation can provide. These five facts regarding Zen meditation will help you bring calmness to your everyday lifestyle.

1. The Traditional Aim of Zen Meditation is to Discover Your 'Buddha-Nature'

The religion of Buddhism states that all living being possess a 'Buddha-Nature,' or a type of unlimited wisdom, which is accessed by experiencing the mind's most natural state. In Zen meditation, you try to achieve this state by tuning out the outside world and focusing on your inner nature. It is believed that by tapping into your 'Buddha-Nature,' you will gain a deeper understanding of the world and its inhabitants.

2. You Don't Have to Be Buddhist to Practice Zen Meditation

Although the practice of Zen meditation is rooted in religious traditions and beliefs, you do not have to practice the religion of Buddhism to enjoy the benefits of meditating. Many people find Zen meditation's search for inner knowledge to be very relieving after a long day. By retreating into your own mind and ignoring the outside world, you can focus on promoting your own well-being, rather than constantly thinking about the issues you must deal with in your day-to-day life. This break from the trials of everyday life has a remarkably soothing effect.

3. You Can Meditate Anytime, Anywhere

There is no 'right' time or place to practice Zen meditation. As long as you can create an atmosphere within yourself that is suitable for fostering a Zen state of mind, you can meditate anywhere and at any time of day. The important part is that you ensure that you are in a place where you can sit comfortably for at least fifteen minutes.

4. Zen Meditation Can Take Practice

Many people have difficulty achieving a Zen state of mind the first few times they try to meditate. It can be difficult to ignore the distractions that are presented both in the outside world and in your own mind. However, you simply need to practice. In time, you will develop the ability to tune out all other sounds but the wisdom of silence.

5. Zen Meditation Provides Universal Understanding

After tapping into one's 'Buddha-Nature,' many people feel endowed with a new sense of knowledge. Meditation enables you to understand yourself and the world around you, adding peace and harmony to the world.

Image : Nitobe Memorial Garden at UBC by hermida

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Into Great Silence

This is not a review of Philip Gröning’s work: to ‘review’ such a film would be as presumptuous as a book review of the Old Testament. But I will share with you here what I saw and felt in this film in order that you might wish to see and feel it also.

The Monastery of the Grande Chartreuse is considered to be one of the most ascetic monasteries in the world. In 1984, I asked them for permission to film on location. It was said that it was too early. Maybe in 10, 13 years. 16 years later I received a call from the Chartreuse. They were now ready.  – Philip Gröning

‘Into Great Silence’ is a fly on the wall’s view of monastic life in the Grande Chartreuse. It is a film like nothing you have ever seen before because what it sets out to do is make visible and palpable the invisible and the impalpable. And in this it succeeds like no other film you will ever see. How do you tell the story of a life devoted to the invisible Spirit, spent largely in silent communion with God, in menial tasks performed gratefully with a pure heart?

The Lord passed by. Then a great wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord,
But He was not in the wind.
After that there was an earthquake,
But the Lord was not in the earthquake.
After that came a fire,
But the Lord was not in the fire.
After the fire came a gentle whisper.  – Kings 19, 11-13

This is the first of several quotations from the Bible that occur like milestones or guiding stars along the journey of the film. And we are immediately seized by the power and poetry of those words. This feeling stays with us as their meaning is given form in the daily life of the monks. 

One of the earliest scenes shows a monk preparing vegetables in the kitchen. 30 seconds of watching a monk cutting the leaves off celery. One might begin to think to oneself that the director is setting the scene, preparing us for the action to come. But, with great courage, Gröning continues to show us the monk cutting the celery. There is no action to come. This is the action. The smallest of tasks are given their due place in life. It is borne in on us that all our daily tasks are noble and a meditation if performed in the right spirit. We need to slow down and pay attention to our lives.

In my opinion there is absolutely no doubt Gröning was divinely inspired and guided throughout the making of this film. Can you imagine that all the monks’ prayers - the whole monastery’s most earnest prayers - for a happy outcome to their film project would go unanswered? Think about it. Even I feel the breath of an angel over my shoulder as I write about it.

Gröning slows us down in every successive scene and makes more and more obvious the complete disconnection between our frenzied superficial world and this timeless, peaceful world of the Spirit. At first we may feel uncomfortable. Those afraid to be alone, afraid of the void, afraid to think, or afraid to be away from their cell phones for more than 5 minutes, may feel very uncomfortable. But after a while we begin to think that this quiet life is the real life and that other frenzied life is uncomfortable.

Interspersed with the scenes of daily tasks and prayer and silent communion with God are scenes of nature, time lapses of the stars at night, camera angles of the play of shadows on the wooden floor boards, dust specks floating in the light. Scenes that ordinarily might go unnoticed are now presented to us in their own right to make us look at the visible beauty of the world and how it suggests the invisible beauty of the Spirit that created it.

Anyone who does not give up all he has cannot be my disciple.

We try to imagine what it must be to give up all we have and become a monk, a disciple. We fail. These words are old but for these monks they are new and imperative. We look on with a kind of awe. Gröning has no qualms presenting us with several series of 30-second full-face shots of the monks. Humility, kindness, simplicity, forgiveness: all manner of virtues are to be read on their faces as they look us benevolently right in the eye. One might even say God looks us right in the eye.

The ‘aha’ moments are many in this film, although they are no doubt somewhat different for each individual. I found the following quotation particularly poignant. It perhaps sums up the whole meaning of Christianity and the spiritual imperative in its two lines:

Behold I am become human. If you should not want to join me in becoming God, you would do me wrong.

‘Join me in becoming God’: that is what the monks wish to do with all their heart. And their journey, revealed to us by the inspired hand of Gröning, is very poignant and uplifting. Poignant because a life devoted to the Spirit is what we are born to and what we would desire above all things if we only knew it, but we don’t know it. Uplifting because these monks, although only men like us, have been able to choose this path and to follow where it leads.

You shall seek me and you shall find me. Because you seek me with all your heart, I will let myself be found.

I hope I have encouraged you to see this important film. I am sure it will change the way you look on your own life - perhaps at first in small, imperceptible ways - as it has changed the way I look on mine.
I will leave you with the following clip that shows many of the aspects I have discussed and has an excerpt of the beautiful Night Office at the end. (Unfortunately the presentation of the opening quotation has been modified but do not mind it: the rest is worth it).

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wingsuit proximity flying - that crazy guy again

You may remember last October I posted a spectacular video of some crazy guy base jumping with a wingsuit down the north face of the Eiger. I commented at the time that such a practice might be laudable in pursuit of some military objective that would save lives but was foolhardy gambling with one’s life in the pursuit of thrills. The next day, that crazy guy (Halvor Angvik) wrote me a very scientific and reasoned four page reply showing that preparation, knowledge and practice removed much of the risk and that risk-taking was anyway a necessary part of life, at least a necessary part of a life worth living. And I had to admit he was in the right of it.
So now, ladies and gentlemen, let me present for your viewing horror Halvor’s latest video entitled ‘Wingsuit proximity flying – working a line’ in which Halvor makes 5 jumps, each successive jump more hair-raisingly spectacular than the last. I need a coffee.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How to be alone

Well shipmates, you are in for a little treat. You know the music vid, now know the poem vid. A beautiful, refreshing little video called ‘How to be Alone’ by Tanya Davis. My blog has a contractual obligation to post anything called ‘How to be Alone’.
I will not spoil the surprise for you by making any other comments, but you can trust me, its great.

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond