Category Archives: Favourite Quotes (archive)

On the mystery of “our deeply strange existence” from scientist David Eagleman

We are living in an era where humans seem to need the strong seasoning of certainty even more than ever. Militant atheism seems hell bent (pardon the expression, a tad inappropriate in this context, eh what?!) on ramming down our collective throats their conviction that religion is pernicious rubbish. And militant religious fanatics have been turning to their usual tools, honed to a fine art  over many bloodsoaked centuries, of persecution and/or slaughter in the name of whatever faith they aver is ‘the one and only truth’.

How totally refreshed I was, therefore, given our current less than calm and reasonable collective context, to come across a wonderful opinion piece in a recent New Scientist magazine, from which the following quote is taken:

” But when we reach the end of the pier of everything we know, we find that it only takes us part of the way. Beyond that all we see is uncharted water. Past the end of the pier lies all the mystery about our deeply strange existence: the equivalence of mass and energy, dark matter, multiple spatial dimensions, how to build consciousness, and the big questions of meaning and existence….good scientists are comfortable holding many possibilities at once, rather than committing to a particular story over others. In light of this, I have found myself surprised by the amount of certainty out there….”

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. His book of ‘possibilian’ tales, Sum, became an international best-seller and is published in 22 languages.

To read the whole of the opinion piece  “Why I am a ‘possibilian'” which I found so refreshing, click HERE.

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300 words copyright Anne Whitaker/David Eagleman 2010 and 2016
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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As 2016 begins: some thoughts on light, dark and the curse of being right…

As part of the slow process of emerging snail-like from the tinsel shell of the Festive Season, and preparing to greet the new world of 2016, I checked my Stats yesterday for the first time in a while. They had increased by around 500% at the turn of the year. Why? I wondered, bemused. Here is the reason: Rumi’s wonderfully wise poem “This being human”. Do read it, if you have not done so already. It contains great wisdom regarding the turbulent duality of light and dark forces which constitute not only human nature, but also Life itself.

Light and dark are inseparably interdependent: maybe, Rumi is suggesting, it would be wise to honour them both, since those dark destructive energies which periodically sweep through, causing havoc personally and collectively, contain  messages, guidance  from Beyond, which are telling us something we usually do not wish to hear.

I am not alone in having had Life hurl me against the same wall a few times before I eventually ‘get the message’, and with painful slowness begin the process of change which is being demanded of me by a deeper, wiser Self –  that chip of divine light which is present in every one of us.

I was moved by seeing those increased stats, and finding the Rumi post to be largely responsible. A year’s turn, no matter what our beliefs, brings with it a deeply-ingrained, archetypal need to take stock, reflect on the year gone by, and perhaps resolve to make some positive changes in the New Year emerging.

Those of you who drop by this blog regularly will know how much comfort and inspiration I take from wise quotes– and from poems. It is good to know that so many folk share my need to turn to quotes, and poems, in reflective moments.

Writers offering comforting platitudes skimmed from a glide across the surface of life, or perhaps digging down a little, do not move me. My help comes from  those who look unflinchingly into the world’s dark heart without underestimating in any way the destruction and cruelty to be found there, but who can balance what they see with inspiring affirmation.

Despite all the awfulness of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ which is an ever-present reality through the ages both personally and collectively, Life is full of opportunities to be ‘surprised by joy’, to seek and find meaning in even the most scouring of experiences. That is certainly what I have come to believe.

Some writers have a way, also, of reminding us of how we need to change by poking us where it hurts. Reflecting on the current dismal-looking state of  planet Earth and its denizens as 2016 begins, I was chewing upon one of my favourite anger-generating topics: how our need to be RIGHT  – and its world-wide manifestations via religious, political and scientific fundamentalism – has probably caused more bloodshed, mayhem and havoc throughout history than anything else, when I came across this short but pungent poem by the poet Yahuda Amichai.

With thanks to Monica Domino who published it yesterday on symbolreader, I offer you this as a New Year meditation:

“The Place Where We Are Right”

“From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the spring.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.”

Yehuda Amichai

Yehuda Amichai

 

 

 

 

 

600 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Yehuda Amichai 2016
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

Invincible summer – in the chill of winter….

All my life I have loved and been inspired by quotes.

At this dark time of year approaching the solstice, as winter begins to grip, I thought I’d post a couple of special favourites: I hope you find them inspiring! And – feel free to share one of your own in a comment…

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River Kelvin Dec 2010

River Kelvin, Glasgow UK, Dec 2010

photo: Anne Whitaker 8.12.10

“In the midst of winter
I finally learned
That there was in me
An invincible summer”      

(This is a popular quote whose original source I have as yet not traced, but have come across a slight variation ie ‘within me there lay an invincible summer’ – different sites have different versions. Come on, detectives out there! Where in Camus’ writings does this quote appear? Let me know!)

Albert Camus

( Albert Camus 1913-1960 was a French philosopher best known for his book L’Etranger (The Outsider) whose existentialist philosophy influenced a whole post-war generation)

AND

“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than with the idea of will.Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into shape. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go.”

John O’Donohue, pp 83-4 “Anam Cara” Bantam Books 1999

(John O’Donohue 1956-2008 was an Irish poet turned priest, whose writing merged Celtic spirit and love of the natural world)

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300 words copyright Anne Whitaker/John O’Donohue/Albert Camus/ 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Advent: “a winter training camp for those who desire peace…”

It is Advent. I can scarcely believe the speed with which this year has flown past. Neither can I quite believe – despite all the dimensions of our world which are still positive, creative and hopeful – the quantum leap which our troubled planet seems to have taken this year: into a frightening level of  population displacement with its attendant human misery, and of mindless violence for the continuation of which, it appears, we have to steel ourselves for the foreseeable future until our political lords and masters can come up with some kind of solution. As I write, that solution is not at all obvious.

Advent's Light

Advent’s Light

What can we do about this at an individual level, to help our feelings of pain for the suffering of our fellow human beings, and to make us feel less helpless?  At a practical, outgoing level, we can send donations of food, clothing, money to help ease the plight of  those millions of refugees displaced by violent upheaval.

Advent, however, invites us to pause, be still, go within…The great psychologist and mystic Carl Jung observed that if there is something wrong with the world, then there is something wrong with us.  We can start the process of possible change for the better by looking unflinchingly into our own hearts  – and amending our own behaviour. Writer Edward Hays puts this challenge beautifully:

   “Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare… Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace. By reflection and prayer, by reading and meditation, we can make our hearts a place where a blessing of peace would desire to abide…

   “Daily we can make an Advent examination. Are there any feelings of discrimination toward race, sex, or religion? Is there a lingering resentment, an unforgiven injury living in our hearts? Do we look down upon others of lesser social standing or educational achievement? Are we generous with the gifts that have been given to us, seeing ourselves as their stewards and not their owners? Are we reverent of others, their ideas and needs, and of creation? These and other questions become Advent lights by which we may search the deep, dark corners of our hearts.

An Advent Examination
Edward Hays, A Pilgrim’s Almanac, p. 196

Readers, do you have a favourite Advent reflection, meditation or poem which has inspired and comforted you? If so, do share it in a comment. 

Advent's Light

Advent’s Light

400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

“…to deal more kindly with one another…” A Big Picture perspective from the late Carl Sagan

Like everyone else, I have been feeling crushed and deeply dispirited by the dreadful events in France last Friday, and now Mali today. I’ve also been feeling the need to post something on my blog by way of response. Thanks to Robert Bruce over at 101 Books, I found a wonderful quote from the late scientist Carl Sagan which offers a large enough perspective to encompass the horrors currently happening across our beautiful planet.  It was inspired by an image of Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft on February 14, 1990 from a distance of more than 6 billion kilometres. In it, our Earth appears as a tiny dot against a background of  muted slanting bands of colour. I have taken the liberty here, though,  of illustrating the quotation with the most famous picture of the Earth ever taken:

Our beautiful planet

Our beautiful planet

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

I took some comfort from this wise statement. What do you think of what Sagan says here? Do you have favourite quotes to which you turn in dark times?

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500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

As summer loses hold…a melancholy musing…

I have always loved August, that month where a particular coolness in the morning air on stepping out, a papery rustle tingeing the wind blowing through the trees, intimates that Summer is losing its hold upon the year, that Autumn is ascending…

August is my birth month. There is an almost, a poised melancholy about it which fits my temperament well. From a very young age I have been very aware of the transience of Life: for all its challenge, turmoil, joy, grief and seemingly endless possibility, its manifold excitements, loves and pleasures, it is soon gone: a frail leaf drifting down to the river of Time which carries everything mortal to the great Universal Sea.

Whilst in a pleasingly melancholy August mood today, I dipped into a favourite inspirational book and found this gem, which I thought I’d share, from Katherine Mansfield…

Death of a Rose…

“…It is a sensation that can never be forgotten, to sit in solitude, in semi-darkness, and to watch the slow, sweet, shadowful death of a Rose.

Oh, to see the perfection of the perfumed petals being changed ever so slightly, as though a thin flame had kissed each with hot breath, and where the wounds bled the colour is savagely intense . . . I have before me such a Rose, in a thin, clear glass, and behind it a little spray of scarlet leaves. Yesterday it was beautiful with a certain serene, tearful, virginal beauty, it was strong and wholesome, and the scent was fresh and invigorating.

To-day it is heavy and languid . . . So now it dies . . . And I listen . . . for under each petal fold there lies the ghost of a dead melody, as frail and as full a as a ray of light upon a shadowed pool. Oh divine sweet Rose. Oh, exotic and elusive and deliciously vague Death..”. Katherine Mansfield: The Death of a Rose (from The Virago Book of Spirituality, Edited by Sarah Anderson, published 1996,  p276 )

One fallen leaf....

One fallen leaf….

350 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

A time of waiting…the hours before the Light returns…

There is a stillness about Easter Eve. Whether you are Christian, hold another faith, or none, the underlying archetypes of the Easter journey are common to all human experience.

Iona Cross, Full Moon, August 21 2013

Iona Cross, Full Moon

photo: Anne Whitaker

We have all, unless we have led a supremely charmed life, been cast out into the wilderness at one time or another. Life has crucified us all, to a greater or lesser extent. We have been in the Underworld, have known what it is like to go through experiences so severe that we die to our old selves. Then there is the wait, the wait in darkness, fear, and not knowing.

Will we ever emerge, reborn? And when we do emerge, who are we now? Who recognises us, acknowledges and honours where we have been?

And the most profound  question of all: what should we do with the life which has been given back to us?

As ever, in times of waiting, the great poets have been there before us, giving a context, bringing collective dignity to our individual struggles. Here are some magnificent lines from T.S.Eliot to see you through this dark night, before the Easter light returns:

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

T.S.Eliot “East Coker” No 2 of the Four Quartets

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T S Eliot

T S Eliot

300 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page