Tag Archives: United States

Rupert Sheldrake – a persistently open-minded scientist

As those of you dropping by here will know by now, I am as interested in science as I am in esoteric topics – and what I most admire in scientists apart from breadth and depth of knowledge is: open-mindedness, and generosity towards those with whom they may disagree. Rupert Sheldrake is one of those. To his great credit, he has kept up that spirit despite severe testing by diehard reductionists in recent years.

Rupert Sheldrake

Rupert Sheldrake

What I most dislike is dogmatic dismissal of others’ theoretical positions, knowledge bases or viewpoints, especially if that dismissal is rooted in ignorance of the body of knowledge or subject area which is being dismissed.

Astrologers know all about this!

I am putting together a small group of books to re-read over this summer/autumn period, one of them being Rupert Sheldrake’s recent book which I first read in 2012 and which I featured here then. Here is my 2012 introduction both to the book and Rupert Sheldrake’s talk:

“…I’ve now read and very much enjoyed “Science Set Free” (USA) / “The Science Delusion” (UK)  and would highly recommend it. Whom better than the author himself to let you know what it’s about?…”

Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uD2qScZlvYE

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200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012/2015

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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How do YOU define success?

I just love this quote. What makes it special is the hope and encouragement it offers that the ‘ordinary’ lives of most of us, in their own way, hold a good measure of success, which should not be defined in terms of professional or public achievement alone…….

“To laugh often and love much, to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – this is to have succeeded.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson(1803-1882) American essayist and poet

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

http://www.online-literature.com/emerson/

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Note: I’ve just discovered whilst checking its provenance via Google that this quotation may NOT be from Emerson after all!

If you are interested in researching its origins, check out speculation at www.transcendentalists.com

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200 words copyright Anne Whitaker/R.W. Emerson 2015
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Certainty versus mystery: where do you stand?

As anyone with even half a braincell tuned into current affairs will know, 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’.

When I grow angry, and weary of those pointless, destructive posturings, I turn to one of my enduringly favourite quotations for perspective and comfort, from the scientist David Eagleman  :

” 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….”

Northern Lights Treshnish Isles

Northern Lights Treshnish Isles

200 words copyright Anne Whitaker/David Eagleman 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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These rules work for hang gliding, tennis, sex – oh, and writing….

I can see you.

The spray can of heavy duty industrial oven cleaner parked on the kitchen floor is a dead give away. Peel off those rubber gloves, stop pretending that your family will drop dead of food poisoning tonight if you don’t clean those charred meal residues insulating the inside of the oven right away. Follow me. Yes, just as I thought. The study door is ajar. I can see the laptop screen from here. Closer….yes, that’s it. Don’t die of embarrassment, it won’t help. A new document  is open on screen. A title?

(NB – provisional ) Of authorship and toads….

" Of authorship and toads...."

And ?  I suspected this. One paragraph indentation, and the word  “The”…...can that really be all ? Oh. There’s a new line.

“ F— this, I might as well be cleaning the oven!!!!”

I have two words to say to you. Pay attention, they really will help, I promise:

Natalie Goldberg.

A few months ago, I visited Glasgow Buddhist Centre in search of a meditation stool. Yes, you’ve guessed, I had an article which had to be in the post by 5pm. I was distracted from the article by the stool, then distracted from the stool by Natalie Goldberg. Her bookWild Mind : Living the Writer’s Life drew me like a lure. What a wonderful writer! What an inspiring book! Did the article get to the postbox? I’m not telling you.

Natalie Goldberg is an American writer  and creative writing teacher. She is sharp, witty, compassionate, lateral….and tough. She has bottom lines and is not afraid to state them. She has rules. My guess is, if you follow these rules on a regular basis, you’ll rarely be distracted by oven cleaning or any other form of housework ever again.

She is fanatical about writing practice. “ If you learn writing practice well, it is a good foundation for all other writing.” We need to do it as regularly as possible, she says.

“ When you sit down to write, whether it’s for ten minutes or an hour, once you begin, don’t stop. If an atom bomb drops at your feet eight minutes after you have begun and you were going to write for ten minutes, don’t budge. You’ll go out writing.”

In essence, writing practice is a technique for cracking open the confining grip of our conscious, rational mind – and flying free into the big blue sky of what Goldberg calls “ wild mind”.

Here, briefly, are Natalie’s rules:

(She also thinks they mostly work for hang gliding, tennis and sex.)

1. Keep your hand moving. If you stop your hand, you stop the creator’s flow and give the editor in you an opportunity to interrupt.

2. Lose control. Just say what you want no matter how inappropriate. Just go for it.

3. Be specific. Don’t write flower, write narcissus.

4. Don’t think. Stay with the first thing that flashes into your mind.

5. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar.

6. You are free to write the worst junk in America ( or in your case, could be anywhere in the world ! )

7. Go for the jugular. Whatever comes up, no matter how frightening or disturbing, write it down.

There you are. Begin writing practice today. Next step, buy Goldberg’s books on the writers’ craft. They are a wonderful investment. I’m doing well with my writing practice, by the way. I’ve bought two new notebooks. Still can’t decide which one to start….

600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Festive Inspiration from ‘the happy wanderer’

It’s been tough, coming up with Festive cheer to end this year, with civil war raging in all its ghastliness in Syria, other conflicts world-wide, this autumn’s hideous Jimmy Saville paedophile sex abuse revelations accompanied by other kinds of institutional corruption in the UK – and the appalling ‘massacre of the innocents’ in the USA just last week.

However, at the eleventh hour, just before Xmas, I have succeeded – thanks to one Graham Hughes, a native of Liverpool, UK.

Graham arrived back in the UK on the Winter Solstice 2012, having begun a most unusual adventure on January 1st 2009. His take on doing ‘something nobody had done before’ was this: to become the first world citizen to travel to all 201 of the world’s sovereign states without flying. And he did it, the Odyssey Expedition, unsupported by a back-up crew, doing his own filming – on a budget of less than $100 (£62) per week. The charity Water Aid is to benefit from the sponsorship he has raised.

A98drSVCEAAIE8W(from Twitter, 23.12.2012, via Marcus Chown ‏@marcuschown “It’s a beautiful world: Milky Way over Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia” (Credit: Florian Breuer) 

I read about Graham’s amazing journey yesterday in the MY WEEK section of the UK’s Sunday Times. How did he manage it? “It helped that I’m a good blagger” he is quoted as saying in his relating of the tale to Francesca Angelini.

How about this, his best blag? He managed to get a free ride on a cruise ship travelling from New Zealand to Australia – complete with a huge room with champagne every day, “even although my shoes were in pieces and my clothes were threadbare.”

By the end of 2009 Graham had ticked off Central America, North America and Europe, and had been to 133 of his list of countries. Having broken off to go home to Liverpool, UK  at the end of 2010 to spend time with his terminally ill sister before she died, “I thought about packing it in, but my sister wanted me to keep going”. So he returned to his journey, carrying on where he had left off.

Of his many adventures and setbacks including a brief  spell of mistaken imprisonment on the Cape Verde Islands, his best story comes from an overnight bus journey in Iran.

He describes sitting near a little old lady who was chatting to someone on her mobile phone. Suddenly, she prodded him in the ribs and handed him the phone. The person on the other end introduced himself as Said Hussein, grandson of the old lady. She had called Said to express her worries for Graham, being concerned that when the bus got to its destination in the morning, he might have nowhere to go for breakfast. She wanted to know if she could take him home to cook breakfast for him.

By the time I had finished reading this wonderfully touching story, I was almost in tears. But it was his conclusion that really uplifted and inspired me. I want to share it with everyone who reads this blog:

“You come across jerks in each country, but for every one there are 100 people who will do everything in their power to help you. Most people are good eggs really. This trip reaffirmed my faith in humanity.”

Festive greetings everyone! Thanks for your continuing support via visits, comments and emails – and may 2013 be a fulfilling year.

River Kelvin Dec 2010

River Kelvin Dec 2010

600 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Graham Hughes/Francesca Angelini 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Order and Chaos – a Buddhist ‘take’ : honouring the late Bo Lozoff

I found out tonight from the Big Island Chronicle (Hawaii) which published a link from my blog yesterday, that the great Buddhist teacher Bo Lozoff  died in a car crash on 29th November 2012. This post featuring Bo’s wisdom, is republished in his honour.

Along with many people, I owe a large debt to Buddhist wisdom. Of the many books of Buddhist psychology I read during my 2001-8 time in the Underworld, three stand out which I would recommend to anyone going through crisis. They provide both practical coping techniques and spiritual support:

Pema Chodron’s When things fall apart”, Jack Kornfield’s After the ecstasy, the laundry”, (see  Book Reviews  page for review of this great book) and  Bo Lozoff’s“It’s a great life – it just takes practice”.

Lozoff describes a prolonged solo retreat in which day in, day out, he meditates upon the following :

“Anything that can happen to anyone at any time can happen to me, and I accept this”. He keeps this meditative thread running through days of allowing fantasies of the worst things that could devastate him, and those he loves, to rise and dissolve. At the end of the retreat he goes home, more at peace with the realisation that chaos can and does arise at any time to sweep away the order of our personal and collective lives.

Bo Lozoff is now in his sixties. His spiritual journey began at the age of eighteen. A typical self-absorbed materialistic American teenager (his own description) driving home late one night, a momentary lapse of concentration caused him to crash into a lorry and smash himself to bits.

Many months of painful surgery and rehabilitation put him together again – a person much deepened and strengthened in spirit, no longer interested in pursuing the shallow materialistic agenda of his culture, intent on a life of service and of finding deeper answers to the big WHYs : eg  Why are we here ?” and “Why do we suffer ?”

In essence, the Buddhist view is that suffering is caused by wishing for things to be other than they are.

I found reference to this simple, penetrating piece of wisdom – prominently displayed in our kitchen –  bracingly therapeutic during my long period of recovering my energy, especially at times when self-pity threatened to take me over.

Life requires both chaos and order. With chaos alone, nothing could take form. Order by itself shuts down creativity and ultimately life itself. Chaos and order interpenetrate at every level from the most trivial to the most profound.

Most of us who are at all computer-literate have at least once had the experience, early on, of pressing the wrong key or clicking the wrong box – sending our beautifully ordered and pleasing words which we haven’t backed up, into the void. And I know of hillwalkers who, slipping in the wrong place, fell to their deaths throwing loved ones’ lives into chaos in seconds.

How do we cope with this ?

Buddhism advises us to hold very lightly to order, knowing it can turn at a blink to chaos; and to walk into chaos, regarding it as ‘very good news’ in the challenging words of renowned teacher Chogyam Trungpa.

Clinging to outdated structures whilst the storms of life are tearing down everything familiar, usually doesn’t work. ‘Leaning into the sharp points’, trying to face and learn from upheaval, is a more fruitful strategy. But its rewards may take time to become evident, and it can be very hard to find the trust that new order will eventually emerge.

At an ordinary day-to day level, the key to coping well with the ever-changing energy pattern of life is cultivating the ability to live in the present moment. “Carpe diem” as the Roman poet Horace famously said in his Odes : “seize the day”. Now is all we’re sure of. Let’s live it fully!

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600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Saturn through Scorpio : “Sex – Death – and Taxes….” 18th November 2012

“As above, so below”

 This ancient maxim sums up the interconnectedness of all life, a reality which periodically pushes itself to the forefront of our awareness when nature wreaks savage destruction and we are confronted with power which we are utterly unable to control.

Force of Nature

Force of Nature

For example: the aftermath of hurricane Sandy will continue its devastating effects on many lives long after it has ceased to be immediate headline news. But it may also force the upper echelons of political power in the USA at last to take the threat of climate change seriously and stop blocking those who are at least trying to do something about it.

“….If the worst Atlantic storm in U.S. history holds an economic lesson, it is this: We all need to come to terms with the cost of climate change….”

Being forced by circumstances beyond our control (which often have their genesis in collective or individual choices made long ago but now forgotten) to confront profound and threatening matters many would rather not face, sums up the symbolic action of Saturn  – the stern old patriarch of the planetary pantheon –  as he purges his way through the sign of Scorpio once every 29/30 years.

Saturn entered Scorpio early in October 2012 and remains there until September 2015. Time to clean up our act, individually and collectively (i).

Though the lenses of sex, abuse of power, and death – three of of Scorpio’s key themes – we can see the collective challenges of this shift already. In the UK, as Saturn began his sojourn in Scorpio, sexual abuse scandal began early in October with utterly shocking revelations of the activities over many decades of Jimmy Savile – probably the worst paedophile in UK history rapidly  spreading to permeate much of UK’s institutional life.Then sexual misbehaviour scandal surfaced at the top of the US military and continues to rumble on.

Yesterday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard ordered a rare Royal Commission, the highest form of investigation in the country, into how churches, government bodies and other organisations have dealt with possibly thousands of child sex abuse claims.

And the Indian government is currently putting diplomatic pressure on the Irish government over the death of a young Indian woman resident in Ireland, who was allegedly refused an abortion despite miscarrying, dying of blood poisoning as a consequence. There have been mass protests in India and Ireland as a result, calling for reform of Ireland’s abortion laws.

An old cliche has it that Scorpio’s main realms are ‘sex, death, and taxes‘ – the latter is certainly coming into sharp focus too, as the European Central Bank puts increasing pressure on debt-ridden economies., eg on 9th November …. “More austerity may please the Germans, but it is an unnecessary tragedy for Greece ….”

Following hard on the heels of considerable relief at President Obama’s re-election, which  possibly heralds the slow death throes of the hegemony of angry WASP males in the USA, we have the dreaded Fiscal Cliff looming in January 2013 – “….the effect of a number of laws which (if unchanged) could result in tax increases, spending cuts, and a corresponding reduction in the budget deficit beginning in 2013….”

At a collective level we can certainly see the power and challenge of  Saturn’s symbolic journey through Scorpio – only just beginning. There has been an eruption from the murky depths of material which we would rather had stayed there. Now we have no option but to face up to what confronts us. It is a slow, painful process. But when the collective wound is cauterised and cleansed, there is a chance for some healing to begin….

Do the same underlying principles apply to individuals as well as nations? What do you think? In the next post, following shortly,  I will be having a look at some personal stories…..what is beginning to take shape for individuals? What is beginning to emerge from the murky depths of what  we don’t want to face? I am reminded of a counselling supervisor I had many years ago, who every so often would hit me with the following challenge: “What is it you don’t want to talk about today, Anne? Let’s talk about that….”

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NOTES

(i) those readers who have studied astrology to a level ‘beyond the sun signs’ will also have noted that this symbolic energy is amplified by mutual reception with the planet Pluto, ruler of Scorpio, in the sign of Capricorn. Also, for the next year Saturn makes a beneficial link by trine aspect with the planet Neptune. 

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750 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

Samhain: A little flare of magic in the night!

If you went down to The Children’s Wood, North Kelvin, Glasgow, UK  tonight, you’d find this:

a little flare of magic....

a little flare of magic….

photo: Anne Whitaker

in the centre of the photo, a tiny flare of fire: a long IPhone shot of a beautiful, leaping bonfire on a crisp, cold, dry autumn night. Fireworks going off all round, sparks and whorls of vivid colour in the dark. Dozens of parents and children: children entranced, parents sipping mulled wine, enjoying the first mince pies of an extended winter season which now seems to begin at Hallowe’en. Yes, The Children’s Wood hosted a stunning event then too….fairy lights, food….and five hundred neighbourhood folk.

The local community has proved over the last six months that we need and want and use this  green space. Support us by signing the North Kelvin Meadow Campaign petition. I have recently discovered that most of my blog followers live in the USA and Canada, followed by the UK and a healthy sprinkling of readers around the world. Can you help make this campaign international? If you can, sign the petition and circulate the link. Thank you!

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200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Samhain: what will we find in the dark this Winter?

It’s 6.30 am here in dark, rainy, leaf-strewn post-Hallowe’en Glasgow, Scotland – and I have been catching up on one of my favourite blogs: Linda Leinen’s “The Task at Hand: a writer’s ongoing search for just the right word”.  Her latest post is The Sandburg Season, a meditation on the American poet Sandburg’s prescient commentary on the state of America in the 1920s, Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind”. She, like the poet, contemplates the state of the nation in the aftermath of the ravages of the latest devastating hurricane to hit the USA – at this time in USA’s history a grim prelude to the upcoming election on 6th November, a mere six days away.

Samhain Blessings!

Samhain Blessings!

magickalgraphics.com

Reading this deep, rich post and the wonderful range of replies has put me in a meditative mood. It’s now 1st November – Samhain – Samhain has been celebrated in Britain for centuries and has its origin in Pagan Celtic traditions. It was the time of year when the veils between this world and the Otherworld were believed to be at their thinnest: when the spirits of the dead could most readily mingle with the living once again. It is a contemplative time; a time for honouring the renewing power of darkness, and for facing the humbling fact that everything passes, including us….

Later, when the festival was adopted by Christians, they celebrated it as All Hallows’ Eve, followed by All Saints Day, though it still retained elements of remembering and honouring the dead.

The core sentiments of the Sandburg poem recalled for me Shelley’s “Ozymandias”. (So out of tune was I with my early secondary education that, having been sent home from school to learn Wordsworth‘s “Daffodils” by heart, instead I learned “Ozymandias” …..I should have realised then that I was in for a complicated life!) Both poets comment on the vanity of human endeavour in the face of the irresistible forces of Nature and of Time. So I was very struck by Shelley’s great poem appearing via one of Linda Leinem’s commentators, Steve Schwartzman. I sense a community of reflection out there, as we descend into the dark: ready for our symbolic death into Winter, knowing the rebirth into Spring will also come.

We need the dark, as this festival of Samhain reminds us. Within the year’s natural cycle, the diurnal alternation of light and dark brings restful silence at night and the restorative power of sleep, without which all creatures including us would burn out and die before their time. We are in danger of forgetting this – at our peril – as an increasingly technology-driven culture sweeps the world, creating the illusion that we can live sustainably and healthily in defiance of the ancient rhythms set by the great cycles of nature. The Great Round of  conception, birth, maturation, decline, death and rebirth applies to everything, from gnats to galaxies. Human endeavour is not exempt.

Perhaps our whole culture/civilisation is in its Winter phase – the signs of descent are everywhere, should we care to look…….and in the meantime, I am with Linda Leinen: “Most of the time, I just try to do what I can.” Renewal, whether we live to see it or not, is always round the corner….

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What are YOUR thoughts and feelings regarding the Descent into winter? It would be interesting to have them!

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500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page