zenpencils soes Carl Sagans Pale Blue Dot
I loved Carl Sagans series ‘Cosmos’ and would implore anyone to check out the whole series. This version of a tiny portion is a brilliant comic expression. The man behind Zen Pencils is a real inspiration. Glad I found him!! Show your children, show your friends, show your grandchildren, show the law makers, the law breakers, the money makers, show everyone.
‘If one makes music, as the Orient would say, disinterestedly, that is, without concern for money or fame but simply for the love of making it, it is an integrating activity and one will find moments in his life that an complete and fulfilled.’ – John Cage.
I suppose the same goes for any occupation we choose to partake in. Engage in the activity, and the truth begins to emerge that when we are experiencing ‘flow’, then material benefits pale in comparison. This is a political statement because it addresses the fundamental values on which we build our societies, whether we look to increasing productivity or whether we look to increasing the value of human life, the opportunity for human beings everywhere on the planet to look toward a fulfilling, active life . Increasing productivity increases the wealth factor for a very small minority of capital providers whenever the means of production are owned by very rich capitalists.
My aim is not to polarise the argument but to raise the question amongst the producers and consumers , what are you doing? Who are you doing it for?
“Greed and envy are the real dirt in the world”
But realistically whenever the difference between the rich and the poor remains so great, there will always be aspiration to achieve the status and the luxuries in which the richest indulge. The matter then appears to reduce the divide, and how is that achieved? Only by politics. Only be sharing the ownership of both the challenges we encounter and the resources with which we manipulate the world. And that has to begin with ourselves, and knowing our motivations. Do I want to earn enough to have a swimming pool? Do I want to earn enough to feed my family?
If we can free ourselves of our ego driven aspirational desires, and address the matter of working in order to provide the necessities, then it will emerge that work itself is not what people despise. It is the kind of work they are driven to perform in order to maintain a lifestyle.
…”..My composition arises out of asking questions. I am reminded of a story early on about a class with Schoenberg. He had us go to the blackboard to solve a particular problem in counterpoint (though it was a class in harmony).
He said, ‘When you have a solution, turn around and let me see it.’ I did that. He then said: ‘Now another solution, please.’ I gave another and another until finally, having made seven or eight, I reflected a moment and then said with some certainty: ‘There aren’t any more solutions.’ He said: ‘OK. What is the principle underlying all of these solutions?’ I couldn’t answer his question; but I had always worshipped the man, and at that point I did even more. He ascended, so to speak. I spent the rest of my life, until recently, hearing him ask that question over and over. And then it occurred to me through the direction that my work has taken, which is renunciation of choices and th substitution of asking questions, that the principle underlying all of the solutions that I had given him was the question that he had asked, because they certainly didn’t come from any other point. He would have accepted the answer, I think. The answers have the questions in common. Therefore the question underlies the answers.” John Cage
The questions we ask ourselves is what life is all about.
” Cage linked his life and his music. Life is filled with uncertainty. Chance events happen to us all. Each of us must take responsibility and make decisions. None of us should be imposing our ego image on others. Most music tries to control its circumstances, just as most of us do. But there’s another way to live. Accept indeterminacy as a principle, and you see your life in a new light, as a series of seemingly unrelated jewel-like stories with a dazzling setting of change and transformation. Recognize that you don’t know where you stand, and you will begin to watch where you put your feet”
– Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism by Kay Larson
Could it be that Petrarch had the same concerns seven hundred years ago without the advent of social media? Some things change, some things stay the same. Considered to be the father of humanism, and to instigate the Renaissance, Petrarch embodied a new and vigorous way of thinking, disdaining the centuries preceding as a time he dubbed ‘ the Dark Ages’. I would have wanted to have sat down and shared a meal with him. His father chose for him the study of law, which he deplored and left. He favoured contemplative study, and looking back to the classicism of Ancient Rome and Greece, creating a body of writing as fresh and as cogent today as when he wrote them.
Let me say, then, that I detect in your writings a constant effort to make a display…… As Seneca has said, it is unseemly for a grown man to go gathering nosegays; he should care for fruit rather than flowers. ….
You seem to take delight in exploring new regions, where the paths are unknown to you and you are sure to go astray once in a while or fall into a pit. You like to follow the example of those who parade their know ledge before their doors, like so much merchandise, while their houses within are empty. Ah ! it is safer to be something than to be always trying to seem to be. Ostentation is difficult and dangerous. Moreover, just when you are most desirous of being deemed great, innumerable little things are sure to happen which not only reduce you to your true dimensions but bring you below them. No one intellect should ever strive for distinction in more than one pursuit. Those who boast of preeminence in many arts are either divinely endowed or utterly shameless or simply mad. Who ever heard of such presumption in olden times, on the part of either Greeks or men of our own race ? It is a new practice, a new kind of effrontery. To-day men write up over their doors inscriptions full of vainglory, containing claims which, if true, would make them, as Pliny puts it, superior even to the law of the land. But when one looks within-ye gods! what emptiness is there! So, in conclusion, I beg you, if my words have any weight, to be content within your own bounds. Do not imitate these men who are all promise and no performance; who, as the comic poet has said, know everything and yet know nothing. There is a certain wise old Greek proverb that bids everyone stick to the trade that he understands. Farewell.
Francis Petrarch (1304 – 1374)
From James Harvey Robinson, ed. and trans.
Petrarch: The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters
(New York: G.P. Putnam, 1898)
254 dialogues attempt to explore the effects of good and bad fortune on the soul. This is Petrarch’s book of practical philosophy, completed in 1360, A German illustrated version was published in August 1532 and remained in circulation for two centuries having a significant cultural impact .
Petrarch was very taken by a story told to him in the Italian vernacular by his friend Boccaccio and was so struck by it that he felt the need to retell it in Latin. this became the Story of Griselda, in turn admired by Chaucer who Petrarch may or may not have met. Chaucer related the story as part of his Canterbury Tales, known as the Clerk’s Tale.
One of the features of Petrarch that strikes me is his introspection. This is not a popular character trait in modern times, where speed of response and immediate gratification is seemingly moulding a different sensibility to the human condition. But I like him all the more for demonstrating that and for producing work of lasting importance. During his life he chose to explore a mountain, and contemplated who to take with him, settling finally on his younger brother. This would not be an easy ascent, and at the summit he reputedly drew upon a book of St Augustine for inspiration or solace , and according to his record the book fell open at this point,
And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not.
Back to Petrarch;
“I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned from even the pagan philosophers that nothing is wonderful but the soul, which, when great itself, finds nothing great outside itself. Then, in truth, I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from my lips until we reached the bottom again. […] [W]e look about us for what is to be found only within. […] How many times, think you, did I turn back that day, to glance at the summit of the mountain which seemed scarcely a cubit high compared with the range of human contemplation […]”
Thanks go to http://petrarch.petersadlon.com/books.html for his insight into a fascinating member of the human race.
Drawing on inspiration from mediaeval manuscripts, I was bowled over by the beauty with which they illustrated their reading matter. I wanted to meld the frames that they laboured over with inspirational writing that has transformed the way I think. My character has been formed by what I have read, the thoughts of men and women that have lived different lives from me have continually shaped the way I think and feel about my own life, have broadened my perspective and helped me to dig into my own feelings about what life means.
From Shakespeare to Tolstoy, Einstein to Tagore, and to more contemporary wirters, Bryan Appleyard, David Foster Wallace, Dorothy Rowe, Doris Lessing.
Thank goodness for writers, thinkers and artists everywhere.
Below are some pictures taken from Medieval illustrations which can be seen at the British Museum and the Bodleian Libraries.
Lots of things are whizzing around my brain at the moment, all trying to interconnect and make some fabulous pattern, as you might see on a snowflake up close and personal, but instead it feels more like one of those bumper ride cars at the fair, where the idea is to miss rather than to collide, but everyone bumps each other and much mayhem proceeds. So where to start the unravelling tonight?
Microbes. Microbes make up so much of us, that without them we just wouldn’t be. For every human cell , there are about ten times as many microbial cells, mainly bacteria. Spooky. This was revealed to me on a brilliant radio programme http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rvpkb
Within the programme there were fascinating details about the parallel worlds of colonies of bacteria, fungi,eukaryotes, viruses etc that make up the human microbiome. Our human cells and the microbial cells are symbiotic, they rely on each other to exist. We are playing host to their worlds, in a similar way that the Earth is playing host to us. It is thus scientifically expressed how interdependent the living organism of the universe is. We are beginning to shed yet more light on explaining the connections that tie us to the air, to the earth, to the fabric of existence.
Since man started to use language , we have tried to explain life, it’s abundance, it’s range, it’s mechanisms. We have used our senses to feel the interconnectedness, and our intellectual capacities to express it through art, music , language, dance. The sense of ‘individual self’ has been questioned by religions, philosophies and poets since the dawn of language; now science is illuminating how erroneous a rigid sense of individual ‘self’ is. O f course we live our individual lives within a sense of a body separate to other physical entities, but separate is different from being in isolation from. John Donne’s poem ‘ No man is an island’ comes to mind, as does the Buddhist understanding that we are all One.
Perhaps this exciting development in studying the human microbiome will lead us to develop further understanding into our place in the universe, no longer the pinnacle of evolution, master of all we survey. Perhaps we can start acting more like guests at the party, remembering our manners.
Walt Whitman says it here, in the spirit of others before and after him.
Be alert to miracles in your world. Isn’t everything suddenly more ?
Perhaps, and it is a big perhaps, the American writer David Foster Wallace would have lived if he had read the book I am reading . Titled ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’, and written by a man from my generation, Jonathan Haidt, this book states in simple terms how human beings can live their lives more satisfactorily.
David Foster Wallace hung himself at 46. He had wanted to live generously but in an interlude where he was not taking drugs to help with his clinical depression, life became unendurable. He is acclaimed in America as the writer of his generation that will endure, reflecting life in America with acuity and humour. The joke was not taht funny for David. He did not find much sense in America’s modern fantastic interpretation of the world in the 21st century. He wanted to think, and did think about life in thoughtful, considered, educated ways. He wanted to live in a world where he shared the planet where the majority used their brains to think and acted on their resultant discoveries. He found that all of us are deeply flawed, we may want one thing but we do another. We have conflicting desires, our rational brains are sometimes unable to drive our emotional brains. The result leaves human societies everywhere having to encounter poor decision making at domestic and national levels. As a result marriages become domestic hells, and countries go to war or economies fail.
You see, I think David was right about some of the things that he said. He wanted to share his insight about the damage that a society travelling at speed, unable to stop and smell the coffee, was one hell bent on destruction of what it means to be human. David needed medication in able to write. He needed it in able to live. He is no different from me on that one. He saw the world through a lens that burnt the impression too brightly, too painfully . Had he read Haidts book, he would have been instructed from the various disciplines of philosophy , social sciences and neuroscience, and that collaboration helps any reader to build up a store of reserves to fall back on when strength fails.
I have a personal interest in this subject of finding the happiness hypothesis. I have wanted to be unalive on various occasions. I have felt so numb and bereft of the feelings associated with being human that I have felt less than human, and the pain of that leads the will to want to stop breathing. I suspect most people have toyed with the idea of suicide at some time, possibly most during teenage years when the emotional temperature is higher, and the impetus to act is more urgent. Most people who are well mainly drive away those difficult feelings by recalling family bonds, or friendship commitments, or the need to complete a worthwhile venture. Most people may ignore those potentially threatening feelings because they are too difficult to confront, which benefits the person as they stay alive another day.
If you want to know some important ways of staying strong, of building your reserves I implore you to read Jonothan Haidts book. It just might save your life. It just might improve it. At the very least, it will introduce ideas that are interesting, diverting and intelligent.
David Foster Wallace left a valuable legacy of fiction and non-fiction writing that you may want to explore. Many Americans will be acquainted with his Kenyon College commencement address,and I quote from it here, for the full address go to http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words
The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
More botanical illustration adapted for a more contemporary audience. Mulling over what to do for my next project whilst prevaricating over the ironing. Mulling is a preoccupation of mine. This is probably self evident in the blogs. Not much of my time is spent with others, and that allows the mind to wander, to meander and to explore. Then the dilemna arises when the others do appear and more domestic chores rear their heads demanding attention. Part of the human condition is the need to be employed in service. Servitude is a default setting. You might not recognise that and think ‘hey, I serve no one mate’, but take a moment. Its when you are in service that you probably feel most acheivement, whether you’re serving your family, a corporate boss, a God, or the Army, even a rebel leader. When we serve, we transcend our own needs. I serve my family. Sometimes with joy and grace, and sometimes with an imp on my shoulder pressing me to jump. Mostly with a sort of resigned shrug and a contentment that they are all healthy and living a life they like, even if that means at a distance. They are growing up and away, and I find it inevitable and a little bit sad. Nothing unusual there. Listened to Kahlil Gibrans verse on the same theme from the Prophet on Sunday, driving across the country and leaving my 17 year old alone to manage his own breakfasts etc for the first part of the week. He is delighted to be in charge , I am missing him already.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.