Tag Archives: existence

Selfish Snowflake

Creation is a process of separation.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. December investigates charity.

In the grand scheme, we can view all of physical reality, Creation, as separation from God.

When my daughter experienced a miscarriage, she wondered what happened to that soul. I suggested that was like asking what happens to a raindrop when it returns to the sea.

A raindrop is the result of separation of water molecules from the gas phase of the solution that is our atmosphere. Each raindrop possesses an identity separate from the rest of the world, with a boundary that defines inside from outside; however, it lacks recognizable individuality.

A snowflake is iconic individuality. Not only are snowflakes particularly unique, but they are products of a process some claim to be physically impossible: the spontaneous change from disorder to order. The exquisite structure of solid crystal lattice geometry springs forth from the relative chaos of a gaseous mixture without effort of energy.

Snowflakes are proof that order is built into the Laws of Creation.

So are we, you and me. We are separate individuals, unique in our own special ways, and that is okay. It really is.

There is no need to find the prettiest snowflake, the largest, the most ornate, symmetrical, or intricate.

There is no need to contrast the complicated snowflake with the simple raindrop, the peacock with the sparrow, the bramble with the oak, or the lion with the shrew.

So why do we do that to ourselves?

Ego is just another word for self much maligned in quotes from wounded egos blaming the wounding on other egos, and that’s okay, too. The separation that is our creation isolates us and frightens us. It threatens our existence as individuals.

It’s rather amusing. The separation that creates and defines our individuality is the same separation that threatens the survival of that individuality. Then we blame it on Freud’s creation, ego, which is actually blaming it on…wait for it…ourselves.

I have an idea: Let’s accept our egos because without an ego, individuals quite literally cease to exist. No, we do not have to be egoists or self-centered in any way. When we accept individual ego, we can become our true, complete self.

Charity is nothing more than sharing ourselves with others, but first, we have to accept ourselves so that we might become the best inchworm, teacher, salesman, or soldier we can be. We just have to be ourselves, and we do that by finding our own uniqueness, our gifts, our talents, our beauty.

Happy Tracking!

Undying Love

She was in her ninety-seventh year and fading like her eyesight and her insight, but she still recognized me, my brothers and sisters, and many of her grandchildren, although she got some names confused. She mixed up faces, calling a great granddaughter by her mother’s name. Only some of that was age.

Sixty years ago, I sometimes thought my name was Rodney Butch Erv. It is a product of large family size.

Her family was huge, and she could still report on the pride and problems of many of them, keeping track of about a hundred of us. But this year, that faded, too.

She still remembered my wife, Nancy, but not always her name. She would ask if she were with me.

“No, Mom, she’s in Arizona, working.”

“That’s far away.”

And she would look far away, out the big window of her assisted living facility, and watch. She would describe what she saw, and I would think it was real—at least in her mind. But, sometimes it was only an artifact of an aging brain.

She lifted her hands and studied them in something like mild horror.

“Something is wrong,” she told me. “They don’t work right, anymore. I’m falling apart.”

“I know, Mom.”

She held my hand. Arizona is so far from Wisconsin, and I said goodbye every time I left, for about four years I think. Then, one day, I would drop in and she would recognize me, ask about her (Nancy), and report on the family.

Sometimes she held my hand. One day she studied me, tearing up a bit.

“I just love you so much,” she told me.

“I love you, too, Mom”

Royal Ballet

Each afternoon of late, among the fragrant blooms of the Willow Acacia trees on our little campus, a wonder of Nature dances across our day. Orange and black butterflies flit and fly, casting subtle shadows on the students sitting in the sun, below. I wonder if they know the complexity of the ballet, the theme of the art form above them. I wonder, “Do I?”

Awareness is the key to survival. Are you aware of shadows crossing your path, shadows of birds of prey high in the sky or of delicate butterflies only a few feet overhead? Does the gentle movement in your peripheral vision penetrate your perception? Or, like me, are you sometimes too engrossed in thought?

It is a simple concept, really, Nature as art. If I invented it, I am certainly not the first. Aboriginal cultures always look to their natural world to inform their own lives—a set of metaphors for the rules of human existence. Nature teaches us how the world works.

I have stopped trying to define God. It is not because I am no longer curious or interested. I have just accepted the limitations of my understanding. Instead, I try to learn something of God the artist by studying the art, and that would be Nature.

Birds live in those Willow Acacia trees, the Lantana bushes the butterflies also frequent, and the fruitless mulberry trees, small-fruited fig trees, and both date and fan palms. But, the birds don’t eat the butterflies, the large, bright-orange and black adults flying with apparent disregard for the danger of predation, as though they sense no vulnerability.

Such freedom. How do they get away with that? Are they special? Somehow immune?

They are noble. I actually do not know the species, for they are not all the same and I have not classified them with a reliable key. But, I am close.

There are at least four common types of orange and black butterflies that frequent Yuma: Princess, Viceroy, Queen, and Monarch. Princess is a rather generic term for various species. Most of these butterflies avoid getting eaten, and all of them are orange and black. That is a clue.

We now have a project at Arizona Western College to propagate native milkweed plants to support migrating Monarch butterflies. They actually fly hundreds of miles seasonally—well, not individually, but as a species, for it takes multiple generations to complete one cycle. They must reproduce.

Milkweed is required. Monarch females only lay eggs on milkweed plants, and it doesn’t seem to matter much which species of milkweed. The babies eat the milkweed which contains toxins, but the caterpillars store the poison rather than succumbing to it. Birds that eat the caterpillars are not so fortunate. They get sick. They learn to not eat Monarch caterpillars or butterflies.

I suppose PTSD can be compared to Monarchs. If I am filled with enough poison, people learn to leave me alone. It’s hard on families, though, and I am not immune to my own poison. I am no Monarch, although I may take some lessons from their migration habits.

Remember me telling you that I didn’t know if these butterflies were Monarchs? That’s because Nature has other tricks, and one is mimicry. Other butterfly species that look like Monarchs are also spared by the birds. No, they do not eat milkweed and are not poisonous, but they look toxic.

Hmmm. Maybe I only need to imitate mean, scary people to be left alone.

Somehow, I think the lessons are deeper than that. Whether these butterflies are Viceroys or Monarchs, for I have it narrowed down to those two, they are teaching me something. They are being butterflies—the best butterflies they know how to be—and that is all they are doing.

Being myself, both humble and noble. That is my lesson, today. That is what Nature is teaching me. Be myself, and enjoy the being.

Science of Joy I: God’s Art

This is the season of anticipation of joy. For the next four weeks, I would like to explore the possibility of abundance and joy as appropriate for our human experience. Even as our hemisphere endures the coming of our darkest hours and the austerity of winter’s demands, we can rely upon the bounty of our harvests just celebrated and prepare for spring. We can celebrate our blessings and rely upon hope.

What does Our Creator teach us about joy through His art of Nature?

Last summer I walked the trails of Florence County land with my new camera. High in the sky above the sugar maples I spotted a raven and decided to experiment with the automatic focus and fast-frame shooting on a setting for motion. To my surprise, I was able to catch the bird in flight with a few shots. Here is one picture blown up several times.

Diving Raven

Only when I looked at the enlarged photos did I realize what this bird was doing. He or she was playing. Ravens are not predators hunting by diving. They do not snatch prey from the air as falcons do. For some reason that sure looks like sheer joy, this probably young bird was flying aerobatics, soaring high and tumbling into a dive, then pulling up, again. We can learn a lot from ravens. Do we still play? Do we live our joy?

Puppies play—and coyotes, foxes, wolves, bears, cougars, otters. When is the last time we enjoyed watching them play?

Deer are curious. Several years ago, I cut many aspen saplings to clear an area, so I dragged them down by the edge of the open stream valley to make a hunting blind. I watched one doe walking across the valley on a trail in front of the blind. She took notice of my work and turned off her course, stepping right over my saplings and into the blind. For several moments, she looked around, smelling, as if to ponder the question about what this thing might be. Are we still curious? Do we wonder? Or, even notice something new?

Enjoyment might be simpler than this. One of the exercises I offered to students in Solar Starship was a quiet sit in Nature. Go to some natural place where you can enjoy peace and solitude. Walk into the area as slowly and quietly as you can. Sit, preferably right on the ground or log for half an hour or more—until time no longer matters. Clear your mind and simply observe God’s art. Walk back from your sit area taking at least twice as long as walking in. Write your reactions, especially how you feel.

Many students did this, and the reports they shared with me confirm that most enjoyed it. If you have never tried such a thing, give yourself a gift this season. If you have experienced this but it has been too long, give yourself a gift. You don’t need wilderness. Even your own back yard may suffice, but I prefer more animals and fewer people to observe. Animals seem to enjoy life more.

Observe the plants, the rocks and water, even the air. Feel a part of it. Be a part of it. Then, come back here and post your comments for others to share. I will give myself a gift and post my comment tomorrow.


Re Quest: Everybody’s Choice

In all of human existence, there is only one choice necessary.

That’s the good news.

The perceived tyranny of freedom—the necessity to constantly make decisions that affect my life, the lives of family and friends, and the lives of strangers around the world consequent to my ballot box choices—is less paradox and more illusion. When I feel overwhelmed with the burden of deciding if, how, and when to publish, I need only go back to that one choice and I am, again, free. Not choosing is not an option, it is a choice. I must choose. How can I be free of that burden without being a slave?

I cannot. I am a slave except for one major fact. I have the freedom to choose my master.

“I am the Captain of my soul,” ( William Ernest Henley, “Invivtus”). Okay, who’s the Admiral (or, General)?

Hopefully, many of you disagree with me right about now. Good. I do not want to be your master or general. I hope you will choose for yourself.

Do you ever wonder why so many people are cranky in this land of freedom? Why are people angry? I don’t mean what they say about why they are angry, I mean the real underlying cause of the anger.

We are afraid. More than anything else, I am afraid of being wro…, wro…, not right. I am afraid of being responsible for my choices. I am afraid of being ridiculed and ashamed. There is a way out.

I wait for somebody else to make the choice, and then I ridicule him or her. I manipulate situations so that others must choose. I don’t run for office. I blame those who do. I don’t make laws. I blame those who do. I don’t judge—wait. I don’t accept the responsibility for legally judging, I blame those who do. It’s not my fault, really. I’m scared.

I do not need to be scared. I can simply adopt a set of rules for making decisions. Then, I don’t have to decide for myself. I simply follow. I can join a gang, political movement, military unit, church….

Okay, by now most of you have to be in disagreement. Very good.

The more complete the set of rules adopted, the fewer decisions I have to make. I don’t have to think anymore, and I don’t have to be responsible. I know which hat to wear, how to place it on my head, and when (for whom) to remove it. I may even know what my haircut should look like. Oh…should I have earrings? I better check the rules.

If you are still reading this, I’m guessing you can see a flicker of truth. Rules are comforting. Anthropologists call it culture.

How do we react to other cultures? I better check the rules. False religion. Human rights violations. Indecent grooming or attire. Inferior genes. Ugly language. My affinity for conformity to avoid ridicule and shame drives me to ridicule and shame those who choose to adopt a different set of rules. Desperate otherness.

If you choose to be your own master, you are responsible for all the consequences. If you think that is easy, watch the political debates. Where are the individualists? They can’t get elected.

There is only one choice required in Earthly human existence: Choose your master. You cannot have two, only one. All other choices are mere extensions of that one choice.

If there is bad news, it is that this choice must be made over and over, constantly, moment by moment. The other good news is this: If any person makes a personal commitment to a master, that master facilitates all the subsequent choices.

For those of you who have seen me (or really looked at a picture) recently, have you ever wondered why I wear two different colored earrings? Biblical slaves who chose to stay with their masters after being set free branded themselves with earrings to identify the masters they chose to serve.

No, I do not have two masters. The left is my reminder of the source of power for my choices. The right is my reminder of how to use that power in service to others.

Who is your master?

God’s Art: Choice Freedom

For years, every test I gave to 9th grade science students had this question: True or False—The meaning of life is choice. Now, before you get excited, let me tell you two things about my tests. First, students were always invited to explain their answers on the test papers. Second, I gave them credit for any reasonable explanation. If a student chose false, I marked it wrong. If s/he gave a reason, such as, “I believe the meaning of life is Jesus Christ,” I changed the mark to correct. It was one of my ways of helping students from three different 8th grade schools to adjust to the realities of high school, the responsibility of
consequences of our choices.

In preparation for this post, I did a little “content” research on the topic of free will and quickly concluded I wanted no part of it. Western philosophy seems to dwell on hypothetical conjecture like postulating that if God is omniscient, then He knows what I will choose, and therefore, I really only imagine a choice. I choose to not pursue a Western philosophical content, today—at least it felt like a choice. Maybe it is a form of relativity.

Hartley Peavey believes he made a choice, or a series of choices. He chose to become a rock star with a guitar. When evidence convinced him that it would never happen, he made another choice, the one to stay involved in music by doing something he had already learned to do. He built amplifiers. Serendipity brought a salesman to his door who sold them. When retail sales were restricted by guitar manufacturers’ policies, he chose to build guitars as well. His choices resulted in the international multi-million dollar Peavey Electronics Corporation.

This “God’s Art” blog section is predicated on my choice to look for evidence of the nature of the universe, particularly the nature of the mystery, design, or principles, by looking at the physical evidence in Nature. Man is part of Nature. Man’s behavior, even as studied by psychology, is a part of Nature. In my mind, the ways we humans think, cognition, is a medium of God’s Art. We make choices. Therefore, God made us with the ability and propensity for choice.

True, not everything I am results from choice. I did not choose (as I recall) to be a WASP, but I was born into a poor, white Anglo-Saxon protestant farm family. I did not choose to be male or straight. I did not choose to be a reflective introvert, either. I don’t even believe I chose to be a liberal thinker. The combination of my personal nature and my experiences, many of them shaped by my early choices, causes me to evolve in a certain way, and here I am. Am I responsible for the way I am?

Yes. And, no. I can choose to accept me as I am, deny that I am this way, or work to grow into something different. I will never be a rock star. I will never be President of the United States. I will probably never be a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize winner. My beautiful yellow Labrador Retriever, Serenity, will never be a guard dog—she loves and trusts people too much.

Some people ponder and argue about whether or not humans have free will. Not me. I was once called a pragmatist, in a derogatory way, by a fellow graduate student in science. I guess I am. That’s why I look for God in Her art of Nature.

I look now at Serenity, curled comfortably on the carpet, and know that I have a choice to make because she is not at all comfortable. She is confused and in pain. Even if she recovers from this episode, her age, alone, is proof that a choice is imminent because our ethics do not permit us to watch our pets suffer the way I watched my mother suffer. The day will come, probably very soon, when Nancy and I will choose.

Not choosing is, itself, a choice. We have no choice about whether or not we choose.

I had wanted this blog to be fun and funny, especially after the last few downers, but life happens. I chose to share it with you. Choices about stuff in space and time define life.

Mind Wind: My Stuff

Because of this blog, I’ve been doing a little inventory of my stuff. Yes, I have both kinds of stuff, matter and energy. Granted, energy may be a little harder to hold onto, but I work at it—pun intended.

Here in my beautiful North Woods, I have literally tons of stuff. I have sand and soil, including rocks of various types. Some rocks are high in quartz and suitable for knapping, making them into sharp tools such as knives, spear points, and arrowheads. Others are coarse and useful for sharpening wood and bone into tools. Many would make excellent construction material. Some are simply lovely, and a few have found there way into Nancy’s little rock garden. One is chocking my trailer tire right now.

I have what seems like a million trees. Aspen, of course, are good for making paper. Balsam firs provide color and aroma. Basswood is an excellent carving medium and the inner bark produces very strong string/rope cordage. Pine and spruce make excellent lumber. The black ash is particularly tough for poles, spears, and clubs. I expect it would be very strong for primitive shelters. The birches offer bark for shingling shelters or making baskets and other forms of functional art. They are also high in combustible oil that helps to start fires in wet conditions even when rotten (a fungus grows upon it and stores the oils). The wood makes fine, quick fires—speaking of which, the cedars are awesome for this. Not only is their wood full of heat, but it does not absorb a lot of moisture, and dry twigs are abundant under spreading branches of live trees.

There are many other plants useful for tools, construction, medicine, and food—even clothing. No, I don’t have any figs, but cedar’s inner bark, grasses, and other plants can be braided and woven into garments. Berrybushes provide berries and their leaves are wonderful green or dried for nutritious teas. Speaking of food, I have many growing sugar maple trees, which also make fine, hot coals for cooking when a limb falls. I don’t cut live maples (or, many other trees if I can avoid it). The point is that I do have a lot of wonderful stuff here provided by Nature. One would think I spent most of my time shopping my free forest for good stuff and making it into better stuff. Nope.

I spend way too much of my time, especially in the fall—it is fall here—as I prepare to move back to AZ, getting rid of other stuff that once seemed really important but, now, not so much. I bought some more important stuff, yesterday, a shed to keep my good stuff—or my other stuff I can’t seem to let go just yet. I blame it on growing up poor. I just never know when I might need another box, a worn out mower and chain saw, a wild game cart, old tackle boxes….

So, this morning I woke up early and went out to start my little generator, the true sine wave Honda that safely powers my computer. It burns gasoline, a kind of matter that stores a lot of energy. That energy made my coffee, stored in a plastic container sent to me from some faraway place using some more gasoline and probably a lot of Diesel fuel. I could have made a fire to brew some pine needle tea, but I have become accustomed to coffee. Note to self: roasted dandelion and chicory roots make an excellent coffee alternative. Okay, duly noted.

But, I NEED my computer, so the generator runs. If I had thought ahead (and spent the big bucks), I could be using a true sine wave inverter and my energy stored in my batteries from the sun. But, alas, my inverter will not safely run my computer, so I burn gasoline. Of course, I have limited storage in those batteries and the days are getting shorter. It’s almost 8 a.m. and I am generating only 0.5 amps with two large panels. It’s one of the drawbacks of having so many tall trees.

Soon, I will take my shower with water pumped from my well by the same generator and heated by LP gas, more stuff full of energy. Then I will get in my little SUV and drive 20 miles (about 1 gallon of gasoline) toMichigan to buy some more stuff I think I need. Of course, it will be another gallon of gas to get back home. I wonder, “How much matter and energy was required to mine the coal and iron to make my car?”

How did this happen? How did I become so dependent upon material things, matter and energy? I wasn’t born with it, and I don’t need to die with it. Why do I think I need so much of it to live? I know I didn’t have a binky, but I wonder if I ever had a blankie. Somehow, I came to believe that I needed a whole lot of stuff to stay alive.

I know I don’t. Maybe there can be a blessing to poverty. I hope so, because it is approaching, but that is a subject for a future blog.

Reflection: Celebrating Life

Today I pause for reflection on the intersection of time and space we call life before proceeding next week to physical stuff. I pause while my mother passes.

Life as existence is the occupation of space for some time. The space we claim and share affects many other entities for the duration of our mutual existence and beyond. Our tracks endure.

My life consists of nearly 24,000 days and counting. My ego asks, “What will I leave behind?” Then, I see the blessings of my life: my wife and daughters, grandchildren, students, family, and friends whose lives have touched mine. I leave tracks, some that endure briefly, and some quickly obscured by the sands and snows of busy lives. Regrettably, some tracks are scars of my mistakes. I hope we learn from them.

Each of our lives is shaped by others as well as one’s self. Self—an interesting concept. I consider myself a product of three natural forces: Genetics and Environment of course, but also Spirit. The Nature/nurture argument is silly without regard for the piece of God that became my Soul. Perhaps I digress. Perhaps, not.

Because my father lived and loved, six children were born, eighteen grandchildren, thirty four great grandchildren, and twenty three great-great grandchildren. We occupy space on this continent because brave ancestral souls crossed the Atlantic, at least one on the Mayflower, and because at least one Native American joined the family.

My father passed inYuma, AZ, in 1988 in the same hospital where Nancy now works. I grieved two years, complicated by the loss of a sister in the same year. My grief ended in the desert near Florence, AZ, on Fathers’ Day of 1990. That was a good, spiritual day with verbal prayers of gratitude.

There is a lonely finality to death. No more can I ask advice, listen to a story, or watch interactions between the deceased elders and our children. Oh, but I can, because I am blessed with memory. So, today, I watch my mother slip away and I clutch the gratitude of memory, but my little boy inside does not want to say his goodbye.

I will grieve, but I am not sad. I am blessed. She lived 96 years, 9 months, and 3 days, passing on Sunday, August 28th, 2011. Mom leaves many tracks that endure and most of them compel us to smile. Please, smile with me.

Sense of Space

Existence is change happening in the medium of time and space. Without change, could we notice any existence? Perception is a change. No change, no perception, no cognition, no volition, no existence. What, then, is space but the absence of existence?

How much space is there? Does it have a shape? A size? A definition?

I ask such questions because it amuses me. I sit with my feet at the dancing embers of a retiring campfire, look up to the Milky Way above the trees, and wonder. It is a wonderful world.

I sit in the woods of Northern Wisconsin in my own space, my land, my domain. “Lonesome Pines” is my place. My sense of space includes a concept of geographical place and distance from other people. This month I invite you to explore the concept of space as it includes place.

Sacred Space

Sacred Space