Bare Bones Biology 219 – Emptiness

Nobody knows what you are trying to say.

That’s why humans need art and spirituality to create and sustain community, or to reach out to each other across communal boundaries. Because the human words and contexts for these things are different in different communities.

Ki. I once wrote a whole big blog about ki. Ki is the beautiful stooping green tree outside the window of my Japanese teacher, in Bryan Texas. That’s what it is to me. I don’t know what it is to him. Maybe the masses of white cherry blossoms alongside a stream bed in Tokyo? For me, one of these is a tree – the other is ki. Now. Before I met my Japanese teacher they both were “trees.”

140221-flower-ASC_8082RLSssOutside of community (and that is the community within which you learned how to COMMUNicate without words) – without that, there is nobody to hear you. You are only a reflection of what they think you are. That is why divide and conquer works, even if it is as simple as changing the definitions of words between one generation and the next. Like Love, or war, or happiness, or emptiness, or the one that bugs me most “heart.” An essential bodily organ. Try to crack it open. It won’t crack. Cut it open and you die. Unless you are attached to a heart-lung machine at the time.

If anyone wants to talk to me about love and they want me to be listening (instead of wondering why the inside of their body is not sloshing all around with blood) they should not talk about hearts cracked wide open.

Something like about only about 60 years ago, I have been told, some English-speaking British Christian missionaries went to Tibet and translated the language into the same basic English words that you see today represented in the attempts of Americans and Tibetans to understand each other. Whatever the word is in Tibetan (or Sanskrit) I do not know, but I do not believe the religion of the Dalai Lama could conceivably be based in any concept so trivial as the American English meaning of the word “happiness.” And yet, that is how both Tibetans and Americans try to represent that essential Tibetan word in English.

The religion of the Dalai Lama is deep and penetrating and has meanings we cannot imagine. Like another word that has been (irrationally) translated as “emptiness.” I also blogged about this, quite recently. It is one of the most unifying concepts I have ever heard. The images it brings into my head are a combination of the “net of Indra,” which I think is originally neither Christian nor Buddhist, and the measurable facts of science, which are also neither of the above.

Emptiness, I say, is one of the most beautiful philosophical concepts I have ever encountered, but of course it is not real, and that’s not how anyone else describes it. Nobody else in the world could understand how I think of “emptiness,” (unless of course I am right in my interpretation), though possibly, perhaps, the Dalai Lama’s translator might, because I got the clue from something he wrote. But nobody else. Therefore, like spirituality and art, and love and compassion, emptiness cannot be explained because nobody is listening. They are too busy trying to explain it to me.

Human emotions are not real either, depending on your meaning of the word “real.” They are nothing more than electrical currents communicating among your cells. But we humans all do have the same sorts of electrical currents and the same sorts of cells so (unlike the words for them) we also have the same kinds of emotions and instincts.

Therefore we CAN (as do horses, cows and other communal animals) understand – within the herd – our emotions, but that does not mean emotions, thinking, belief systems, language, are “real” in the solid “thing” sense of the word – any more than words are real – no matter how real they feel. Even if it is a simple matter of changing the pictures that come into your head when a word is spoken, because the pictures in your head are also not “real.”

So it may be true that nobody knows what you are trying to say. Or maybe they DO know but you can’t understand their way of saying so, because fundamentally everyone does know how you feel.

The audio version of this blog can be downloaded at:

REFERENCES

Joseph Campbell
The Dalai Lama, The Middle Way

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Bare Bones Biology 116 – Wendy Johnson Workshop

Bare Bones Biology 107 through today, 116, are about communication. Different kinds of communication. And of course we didn’t scratch the surface. Communications has become an entire discipline. I know someone with a PhD in the subject. But there’s nothing new about the simple point of this series of blogs — that all communications are real, but they are useful to us in different ways, as we grow own personal future or, more importantly in the long view as we try to resolve the biological illness that faces our ecosystem.
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We know we cannot survive without the ecosystem. Therefore, picking out whatever we like to believe, or whatever communication stirs our emotions, or whatever we wish were true — and working very, very hard for it – or going with the flow because that’s normal human behavior – none of those approaches to communication will resolve our current biological dilemma. What we mostly need is good information and good discussion. Sometimes a good place to look for these is in a workshop setting.

I recently attended a workshop about the four elements with Wendy Johnson (author of “Gardening At the Dragon’s Gate,” Bantam Dell), at Upaya Zen Center (http:www.Upaya.org).

The workshop experience merged our awareness of our human values, emotions and needs with the mother-nurture of nature as we examined each of the four elements that are organized by Buddhism as: earth, water, fire and air (and space). We all know that these are the fruits of the ecosystem, that we cannot do without them, that our behaviors influence their availability, and that I have also been talking about these issues from my perspective of our physical survival needs. It was a joy to experience Wendy’s beautiful rendition of the same issues, blending the physical survival needs with our human emotional needs and a practical approach, learning through gardening, that goes beyond either perspective.

We really could resolve our biological dilemma, if we would only reach that one step beyond the science and beyond the emotions and use our inborn compassionate nature, and our recognition that the problem at its roots is biological, as an incentive to study the fact-based needs of the ecosystem – and find a way to give the mother life what it needs that is different from what we need – for it and for ourselves and our future. We have everything to do that — except the will. The facts are available and so are the technologies. The compassionate will, however, is being drowned in a sea of fear, hostility, short-sighted self-interest and false propaganda.

Here is Wendy’s better vision.

“I love to make the connection between the outer waters of the world and the inner waters that do compose us. Three-fifths of water of our bodies is carried inside our cells, and then another two/fifths outside as blood plasma, cerebro-spinal fluid and intestinal tract fluid. So we are walking bags of water. We can feel that. Especially in a dry place. Those of us from the Bay Area, from Portland, Oregon, where water animates the air. We have to search for the resonance that is our human inheritance.

“And every day, every day, three percent of the water in our bodies is replenished with new molecules. Water from the deep abyss of the ocean, I was thinking this morning we are replenished, not only with fresh water, but from water that is in the huge hydrologic cycle, coming up fresh, and that water includes water from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, water mixed with the ancient fire of oil, water from rain on the tall grass prairie, and from the ancient forests. Actually, we measure water, in the woods, we measure water by how much stored fog and vapor. In the ancient redwoods, now whittled down to 2.5 percent of their original size. How much water they give back, so stepping into the redwood forest, I remember years ago with Thich Nhat Hanh (www.plumvillage.org), he said: ‘We step into a Sangha of water and life.’ You can feel it, stepping onto that ground, water vapor breathing with the trees. So, three percent of our bodies are always refreshed by the upwelling and the sinking down, by the rhythm of water.

“And yet water shortage, water depletion, the so-called resource, I hate to even use that word in connection with water, the so-called resourcefulness of water is already one of the greatest challenges we are facing.”
For more of this and the remaining elements, check out Wendy’s podcasts part one and part two at Upaya http://www.upaya.org/dharma/the-four-elements-series-all-2-parts/. Or for air, surely you remember Bare Bones Biology 093 was also pretty good, and the same general interdependence relationship is also true of energy (fire) and earth. I recommend you listen to Wendy’s podcasts of this workshop, parts one and two, and I also highly recommend her dharma talk of the previous week. http://www.upaya.org/dharma/wendy-johnson-06-13-2012-the-four-elements-return-to-their-true-nature/

During this workshop, we went down to the little Santa Fe River to put our feet in the water and wonder what it would feel like without water.

Bitsy and I went back again last week and splashed about while the children swung on the tire. But two days later there was no more water in the little Santa Fe river. Only a place in the bottom of the channel where some animal had tried to dig for it.
Bare Bones Biology 116 – Wendy Johnson Workshop
KEOS-FM, 89.1, Bryan, Texas
For a podcast of this radio spot, click here
Or go to http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Recommended References and Trackbacks:
Upaya Zen Center, http://www.Upaya.org
Wendy Johnson, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate gardeningatthedragonsgate.com/
http://www.upaya.org/dharma/the-four-elements-series-all-2-parts/
http://www.upaya.org/dharma/wendy-johnson-06-13-2012-the-four-elements-return-to-their-true-nature/
Bare Bones Biology 107-115 and 093
Thich Nhat Hanhwww.plumvillage.org http://www.plumvillage.org

Communication is Not Limited to Intellectualism

No, indeed, not at all. Intellectual is only important if you must plan for a specific outcome in a field that requires good data. Like building an airplane, for example.

We have done some fairly deep “left-brain” communication in the past couple of Bare Bones Biology radio spots (which you can find if you scroll down) — but before you get to the thinking part you will be struck by some clear messages that have no words at all. For example, the first thing you will see is Bitsy and Santa in tete-a-tete. So to clear up our obvious omission of the visual and the body language, we will have in the near future, maybe in about a month, a Bare Bones Biology message from Eth-Noh-Tec. Just a sample is posted here above to whet your appetite, and because we can’t show it on the radio.

Bare Bones Biology 110 – Ritual Communication

How many people claim to “hate” ritual? And how sad for them. What would we have without our rituals? The answer that first jumped into my head was: “Without ritual we would have chaos.” My second thought was that chaos itself is apparently just a different form of organization that we don’t fully understand and in that sense is akin to ritual. I thought about the book entitled Chaos, written by James Gleick, an elegant book, that in essence describes the discovery that chaos, rather than describing disorder, actually represents a more universal, sensitive and intricate kind of order.

There could be no life without organized interactions among all the components of life. Whether the elements are emotional — anger and love and compassion — or physical — earth, air fire and water – or perhaps carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen and their kin — or more likely all of that – life consists of overlapping systems of order, and ritual is one of these. Ritual is a part of life. It just is.

Any thing that just is – and we can’t change it – the best way to work with that thing is to learn how to use it well – rather than to despise it, fear it or deny it.

Why is ritual important in our lives? I don’t really know; probably it is a part of our inherited human makeup. It’s not only humans who grow rituals. My dog Bitsy knows when it’s time to get up – a ritual that was set in our pre-dog lives by the old cat who wanted her breakfast at 4 am, and I don’t remember how that began, but it has been so ever since, though the cat is gone to her reward. Four AM is the waking time in our group. Or 5, depending what time of year it is.

That’s one kind of ritual. Another kind of ritual has come down to us from our cultural backgrounds and serves as a safety net for the community. It tells us who we are, where we came from, and where we are going, and it binds us together on the journey. Ritual is a way to recognize ourselves as human beings, and join together as human kind. Ritual is a way to be together for a species (us) that needs to be together with others of its kind because that’s just how it is. It’s how we biologically are made. Like horses, or cows, or dogs, but not like, for example, Paramecia or perhaps desert tortoises. I don’t know any desert tortoises, so probably that’s not a good example, but most humans are made to commune with our common herd, and ritual is one of the best ways to educate the young and preserve our communities.

One of the greatest benefits of community is the ability to pass knowledge from one generation to another. “That’s where the snakes live; or don’t step on that plant; or don’t run across the road.” We ritualize these things because it’s better to know by learning than by stepping on a snake, or a poisonous plant, or running under a car. In this way, the community rituals protect the individual members of the community for today and also for tomorrow, long after the first person told her children where the snakes live and then told the story to the whole community so it would live through the generations.

If our rituals stop serving us in that way, then we as are in deep doodoo, and so is the community — because there can be no community without the contributions of the individuals of which the community is composed. The more complex the culture, the more we need help from the wisdoms of the past.

As thinking people, we have the choice to use rituals to help provide a better future, and for our fulfillment as individuals. Or sometimes we use ritual to cause harm and to deceive others, and we should all be aware of this reality — but isn’t that like abusing our own selves? Why would anyone want to do that?

Bare Bones Biology 110 – Ritual Communication
KEOS Radio, 89.1, Bryan, Texas
This podcast is available here
Or at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com
Photo by Lynn, taken at Upaya

Recommended References:
Joseph Campbell Foundation Web Site: http://www.jcf.org/
Chaos, written by James Gleick
Heads up folks, I’m not going to link you to Amazon any more. They put a giant ad at the end of my blog instead of the simple little free link that I gave them.

Bare Bones Biology 109 – Communication

In the past two Bare Bones Biologies, that’s 107 and 108, we tackled one of the most complex of human topics, communication. There are people who specialize in this area, and I probably should consult such an expert, because I confuses me. We so seldom use communication to communicate our reality, and then we have to translate, or guess, what people mean by what they say, and I’m not a good guesser. I finally did figure out the reason people don’t listen to what I say – that’s one of my biggest complaints – is because they’re listening instead to what they would have meant if they had said it.

This is not necessary by the way. If we did understand each other it would eliminate a lot of confusion, and it would only require asking a few questions. But now I find a generation or two of people who are offended by questions, because they equate questioning their meaning with – “dissing” them. (To diss = to disrespect.)

I can understand this, because so many people in our culture are addicted to – or afraid of – power. So we often use words as we would money, or expertise, or machismo or whatever we have at hand to reinforce our own sense of dominance or of defence. The result is not very useful.

I remember a time when expertise was envisioned as useful, not because it gave us an individual edge in a world of fearful competition, but because our individual expertise, whatever it is, can be used to contribute to the welfare of the community. There still exist communities, and some new ones growing, in which each person within the community supports the efforts of the other (even if by support we mean pointing out the flaws so together we can grow a better effort).

Every effort has value, and the values among the many can be discussed. They have worth. None is perfect and none is expected to be perfect. But all together, if the information is made available for solving problems, the community is in a position to deal with the real problems as a group, and so the community has more power than the individual to build a better future for the whole.

Generally, in our culture, we tend to view these communities a primitive, but let’s face it, primitive peoples lived sustainably for thousands of years until we came along with the so-called advanced cultures that are not sustainable within the factual reality of the earth ecosystem. Loving the ecosystem will not change this fact. Neither will technology. Until the spiritualists and the technologists are willing to learn about limiting factors, our advanced human cultures are on a fast track to destruction. Because we do have responsibilities to the earth itself, and unless we know what they are, and fulfill them, well, then our spiritual and technological good intentions are, and I quote St Bernard of Clairveux: “the road to hell, paved with good intentions.”

In a society of competition, where everyone is afraid of everyone else, we cannot use our expertise compassionately to benefit the whole, because the whole is composed of other people, most of whom are more concerned with their own physical or emotional survival.

The result is useless and fruitless power struggles rather than a compassionate intention to address real problems. And in a society where people are hooked on feeling good, or aspiring to feel good, there can be very little compassion, because in a crisis situation, compassion most often does not feel good. Doing what’s best to benefit the whole, often does not feel good. But that is what compassion is – doing what is best for the long-term interests of the other and the whole.

When a solution to a problem is well documented in fact, then it is the responsibility of compassion to study these facts and use them to promote the overall welfare, that is the least suffering, of the whole. For that, we must learn to listen and to discuss. Without listening and discussion of the impact of the facts on all the levels of life, from the individual through the ecosystem, there can be no deep, sustainable, compassion.

Bare Bones Biology 108 – Communication
KEOS 89.1 FM
This program can be downloaded here
Or at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Owl photo taken in New Mexico at TheWildlifeCenter.org
Discussion photo taken in California at the conference of: TheEconomicsofHappiness.org

Stewards of our Children’s Future

On April 12, 2011, the Community Sustainability Commission of Benicia, California in collaboration with Solano Community College launched the first lecture-workshop in a five part series. The first speaker is a Texan in California!

The Mayor of Benicia, and the President of Solano community college introduce the first of a 5-lecture series in Benicia, California. I think it’s a model for those of us who want to DO SOMETHING, rather than just worry or complain or wish. I know that we have a very different sort of community here, and sometimes we tend to look to our University for resources, but TAMU has a different vision, and in any case cannot generate community outside of itself. They can give us information and helpers, but community has to come from the community. I think College Station is looking for the failed “American Dream,” but I think Bryan really might be looking toward community as that old dream of infinite growth fades into the past and we must look to a more realistic future for the children.

We will have a DVD copy of this series on file at the Peach Clubhouse to watch or borrow. Economics of Happiness will be shown again at the Unity Church in Bryan on Wednesday April 20 at 6 pm (or, come at 6, it will probably start about 6:15) and will continue to be available.

Benicia Education

As you know, our group has several tentacles. The Benicia group is very active. You may remember that Dot’s article about population growth even “made” the Benicia newspaper. Now I bring you news of two more actions from Benicia, California. The first is Marilyn’s letter in answer to my recent rant about education. Her letter is posted below.

The second activity is a lecture series sponsored by The Community Sustainability Commission, collaborating with Solano Community College. The lecture series is intended to help us understand and fulfill our obligation to create a more sustainable community and economy, to reduce our impacts on climate and respect, repair and restore the natural world around us. The series is entitled:

“Stewards of Our Children’s Future: 2011… For Ecologic + Economic Health = Community Resilience.” CSC.flyer for lecture series.3.21.11

The lectures begin April 12, run for 6 weeks, and will be posted on UTube and we will plan to maintain copies in our library at the Peach Clubhouse. The commission is also planning a longer series beginning in the summer.

But today we hear from Marilyn in Benicia.

Last night, several of us Sustainability Commissioners on the edu workshop, attended Mary Farmer Elementary school’s science fair, which was set up in a multipurpose room at the school in Benicia, California. There were about 12 long tables set up, and each one had room for about 4 projects, each done as a panel display, (main panel in the center, two wings on the side). It was clear that the science teacher had given guidance and limits as to the formatting of the displays, which did remind me of an international cell-biology conference held in San Francisco, which several of us had been invited to drop in on, to view the displays. The studies involved hypotheses about sources for evolutionary changes in various critters (for instance, about evolution of dorsal fin structure in dolphins).

Anyway, I was impressed to see the kids’ displays and what they’d chosen to investigate. Each display outlined, in the child’s own words, (this varied, depending on age and whether info was sought by computer search, etc) a subject problem that would be probed by investigation, observation and experiment. Also noted: the hypothesis, the chosen method that would be pursued to accomplish a comparative study; tools involved; controls and limits, including time frames; journal entries of observations made, and finally, a conclusion that restated the hypothesis and the “result” derived. The last statement was “what I learned” from doing the experiment. I think you would have been moved. There were kids at all grade levels up to 6th grade involved, yet the requirements for the studies were consistent, so that even a kindergarten level project demonstrated that the child had learned about the nature of an experiment and how to think through the process of investigation, how to observe, etc etc. Some of the projects were very simple to accomplish. For example, to show how an egg could be made to float, the child only needed a wide beaker, water, an egg, and lots of salt. Photos were taken of the egg in the glass as more salt was added to the water. The last photo showed a floating egg. The project had been defined in terms of a question to be answered: “What is density?” There were other pictures explaining the concept–of a fist being pushed through a bowl of popcorn, and by contrast, a fist being “stopped” by a hard popcorn ball. There was a brief statement about the molecular character of different materials as related to the idea of density, so that the invisible structure of water and that of an egg could be compared by virtue of how much space a particular molecule occupied in relation to others in its vicinity. So, even a very simple experiment, to float an egg, had huge import for learning about the physical world.

What was evident was the level and quality of instruction by the several science teachers whose classes were represented.

The problem you cite about the quality of science education, or lack thereof, (teaching by memorization–too true, I imagine, in undergrad training for medicine!), is not limited to the physical sciences. Twenty-five years ago, studies in liberal arts became “fuzzied up” or politicized, “PC’d” or what have you, until you could hardly think why you were bothering to read a book rather than its annotated “deconstructed” version produced either by venerated lit critters installed in various named chairs at ivy league schools, or, echoed by the lower level acolytes of same, stuck and underpaid at Podunk State College. Sociological analysis trumped any tribute to feeling for the ineffable qualities so intrinsic to great works of art. (Example: a third-rate etching of sowers in the field could be rendered “equal” to a Van Gogh or Millet, if a work’s cultural value is made equivalent to its social content and “lessons” thus derived about class and whatever other topical issue prized. Apparently, there’s hope that this fashion is waning… none too soon. It’s a dismal situation, but havoc is being wrought, departments are being dismantled or drastically cut, so that maybe all that will be left is the facsimile, “edu online”. If there ever was the opportunity for serious teaching, (and there were always noble teaching efforts made by a few who really stood out, looking back) now there’s going to be even less opportunity and hope for real mentoring and apprenticing… well, the worst case scenario may be the only affordable option anymore.

Your rant about people not being able to discern FACT from OPINION with regard the physical laws of the universe, and also, about the applied uses scientific research is driven toward and where we’ve ended up without sense of restraint or judgment as to long term effects, etc. etc., speaks to a VERY DEEP problem of communication, considering the propaganda for status quo, and given the enormous deficit in people’s grasp of the interrelatedness of all things and beings on the planet, and how utterly dependent we are on a maintained healthy diversity of life and living systems on land and in the oceans. It seems there’s hardly any discussion of the concept of a closed system and LIMITS. I’m especially sensitive to the kind of casual banter about promoting “sustainability” as if discussion of ecology were a sidebar discussion not central to conceiving of a “more sustainable” way of life. So few seem to understand the fundamental necessity of the concept of LIMITS. We seem in a rush to talk about making a “green economy” while avoiding the third rail discussions pertinent to how, in a short space of time, in no more than 150 years, have we reached such a point of accelerated declines of all earth’s ancient resources. After 30+ years, even after the second book “Beyond Limits to Growth”, it’s still difficult to get anyone to spend more than a few minutes talking about “overshoot” of the planet’s carrying capacity by expanding populations. (The “Story of Progress”, the single reignite story we continue to tell ourselves, according to Greer is the most destructive mythos humankind has ever promulgated.) How to bring people toward deeper understanding of the core problem is a central question for those of us who find ourselves working with others on projects that might invite such learning, such as the aquaponics project proposed to us by Randy, as we gardened on Wednesday.

A project such as aquaponics suggests invites curiosity, and a learning opportunity about closed systems–at least, until you take a fish out of the water and eat it. That, too, is a lesson! Perhaps there should be an altar nearby, where a ceremonial act of gratitude could be performed to acknowledge the taking of a fish from its tank. The utilitarian function of such a project, e.g., to provide food for others and also plausible income for those operating it, can also shed light on the problem of producing more food for more people — when do we stop having so many mouths to feed anyway? Why not fund birth control centers everywhere instead and build schools for girls and get women into colleges?

Well, as always, your meditations and “rants” open up whole realms of questions to ponder. In the end, we address both the immediate sense of urgency and emergency (I love how the word “emergency” suggests an emergent “thing”, no matter whether a crisis or the bloom on a rose in spring), but we can’t help ourselves but look way farther out and around, beyond our own deaths, about the fate of our wondrous world and to that “end”, what our brief time here means.

Marilyn talks about aquaponics because that is another of the education proposals of the Benicia Council. More about that very active group in an upcoming blog.