The Tao is like an empty container: it can never be emptied and can never be filled. Infinitely deep, it is the source of all things. It dulls the sharp, unties the knotted, shades the lighted, and unites all of creation with dust.
It is hidden but always present. I don’t know who gave birth to it . It is older than the concept of God.
Conservatives have long invoked the specter of the 1857 Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott vs. Sandford in their fight against abortion rights, likening embryos and fetuses to slaves with no due process. Progressives now, too, are drawing parallels between the stripping of rights from people who may get pregnant and the infamous majority opinion penned by then-Chief Justice Roger Taney, who wrote, "a Black man has no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
Missing from this historic analogy, however, are the experiences of Black women, whose enslavement and forced reproduction was fundamental to America's rise. We speak with Dr. Deborah Gray White, Distinguished Professor of History and Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, about this not-so-distant history and the possibilities it holds for all American women.
My take away: In the wake of Roe vs Wade being overturned by the Supreme Court, Deborah Gray White was watching the dystopian story the Handmaid’s Tale with her daughter who said, “Oh my God, we’re becoming this!” Deborah replied, “We already are this. America has used black and brown women as reproductive commodities since its founding. What’s changing is now white women are getting closer to becoming commodities again.”
Alok Vaid-Menonis a gender non-conforming writer and performer who grew up in Texas to Indian immigrant parents. They use their creativity and platform to explore themes of gender, race, trauma and belonging, advocating and bringing visibility to the trans community. We speak with Alok about their work and advocacy, and what they learned from their aunt, Urvashi Vaid, the beloved LGBTQ rights activist who spent more than a decade working for equality at the National LGBTQ Task Force.
My take away from this amazing interview: The gender non-conforming community is showing the world how to love during a time of great division, growing hate, tremendous suffering, and huge oceans of human anxiety.
We talk about changing the Constitution and what comes next after the reversal of Roe.
This conversation is part of our Remaking America collaboration with six public radio stations around the country. Remaking America is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
My take away: I loved listening to Olatunde Johnson, professor at Columbia University School of Law | The United States Constitution was made by a bunch of slave owning, patriarchal, misogynistic pale males. It is ludicrous to think we cannot update or change it as our society changes and grows. This is what overturning Roe vs Wade is about. This is what Jan. 6, 2021 is about. It is about a bunch of people who want to live 18th Century lives in the 21st Century.
On June 11, 2022, the Washington, DC 2022 Capital Pride Parade began with full regalia and ceremony followed by rowdydow fun and celebration. This is the first of four videos from this day.
For the video, I wrote this:
Today was like walking into a rainbow. After more than 2 years due to COVID, the WDC Pride Parade of 2022 took place in an embrace of joy and celebration. It was one big mass of human exuberant celebration. Such a different energy than the Trump rallies that twisted and deformed into the raging, dangerous mob of Jan. 6, 2021.
I filmed one of the earlier Trump rallies, and I filmed one of the Black Lives Matter marches after the murder of George Floyd. The paranoia and double-standard of the Trump years faded to a distant unpleasant memory in the embrace of so many people celebrating differences, diversity, and inclusiveness.
What kind of world do we want?
Do we want one that is angry, overly righteous, mostly white men who want to control women's bodies and turn America into a desolate land of mediocrity and conformity?
Or do we want one that celebrates diversity, lifts up inclusivity, and makes space for everyone to shine their truth and colors as they feel them?
I choose the rainbow hands down over The Divine Republic of Gilead as depicted in Canadian author Margaret Atwood futuristic dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale that feels more and more possible each passing day, especially since the Trump years that made hate great again in America.
Hate is not what makes us a great nation: Love is what makes us great and moments like this Parade are more important than ever, especially with the plotters of Jan. 6 still scheming how to turn America into a totalitarian state like Russia...
I suppose so we could exterminate the world in a mutual annihilation of scapegoats because that is what cheap, cowardly, hate filled people do...blame everyone else for their problems and who they really are inside.
This is the inspiration for this blog: the idea of diversity and the mutual arising of opposite things in the world because on this same day, 31 members from the group Patriot Front were arrested in Idaho.
Pride Parade in Idaho
Thirty-one men, faces covered with masks and carrying baseball bats stood packed in the back of a U-Haul like illegal immigrants sneaking into the state. The truck was heading to the Pride Parade in the city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Their purpose was to start a riot.
Police said the men came from at least 10 states. They are members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front, previously known as the white nationalist hate group Vanguard America. It rebranded itself after a neo-fascist was photographed holding their shield just before he ran his car into a crowd of people, killing Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, VA.
Interview with Mother of One of the Men Arrested
Earlier this week, a mother of one of the men arrested gave an interview with Sara Sidner.
From the video above: When "a little army" of men with shields and other riot gear was spotted near a Pride parade in Idaho on Saturday, authorities soon linked the men to a relatively new White nationalist group and charged them with conspiracy to riot. Most of the men arrested had logos on their hats "consistent with the Patriot Front group," and some had other clothing associated with the White supremacist group, Coeur d'Alene Police Chief Lee White said. CNN’s Sara Sidner reports
This Same Hate Perpetuates Racism & Wars
This is the same hate that fuels racism and perpetuates continuing inequalities and brutality against black and brown people in the United States. Slavery is barbaric, and so too is racism. Americans went to war and died over ending slavery in America. This war began on April 12, 1861 and lasted until April 9, 1865. In the end, more than 620,000 men were dead, roughly 2% of the U.S .population.
However, this is far less dead than the number of men, women, and children who died being transported from Africa to America, who died as slaves from violence and mistreatment, and who have died since emancipation due to the continuing violent beliefs and hate embraced by white supremacy.
Black Live Matter March
Photos From Gettysburg National Military Park
Emancipation Proclamation & Juneteeth
Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. It was the most ambitious push of General Robert E. Lee into the North. Each side fought fiercely. This battle turned out to be the turning point of the war. It is also the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address.
Word of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans finally reached Texas on June 19, 1865 where people were still being held as slaves. More than 150 years later, Juneteenth has finally been made a federal holiday commemorating and remembering the legacy of slavery and the emancipation of slaves in America.
Yet, this horrible battle still rages in the hearts and minds of far too many white Americans still to this very day. Hate still has a home in America.
Photos From Gettysburg National Military Park
One of Trump’s Rallies After Losing the 2020 Election
A Call To All Humans Who Value Freedom and Democracy
This Arises… That Becomes
I finally came to understand the idea of This Arises… That Becomes… from a lecture Alan Watts gave.
It is the basic principle of dependent origination as described by Buddha. In Buddhist doctrines, it is called Pratītyasamutpāda.
Pratītyasamutpāda consists of two terms:
Pratītya: "having depended." The term appears in the Vedas and Upanishads[note 2] in the sense of "confirmation, dependence, acknowledge origin". The Sanskrit root of the word is prati* whose forms appear more extensively in the Vedic literature, and it means "to go towards, go back, come back, to approach" with the connotation of "observe, learn, convince oneself of the truth of anything, be certain of, believe, give credence, recognize". In other contexts, a related term pratiti* means "going towards, approaching, insight into anything".Samutpāda: "arising", "rise, production, origin" In Vedic literature, it means "spring up together, arise, come to pass, occur, effect, form, produce, originate".Pratītyasamutpāda has been translated into English as dependent origination, dependent arising, interdependent co-arising, conditioned arising, and conditioned genesis.[note 3]
Jeffrey Hopkins notes that terms synonymous to pratītyasamutpāda are apekṣhasamutpāda and prāpyasamutpāda.
The term may also refer to the twelve nidānas, Pali: dvādasanidānāni, Sanskrit: dvādaśanidānāni, from dvāvaśa ("twelve") + nidānāni (plural of "nidāna", "cause, motivation, link").[quote 2]Generally speaking, in the Mahayana tradition, pratityasamutpada (Sanskrit) is used to refer to the general principle of interdependent causation, whereas in the Theravada tradition, paticcasamuppāda (Pali) is used to refer to the twelve nidānas.
Dependent origination is a philosophically complex concept, subject to a large variety of explanations and interpretations. As the interpretations often involve specific aspects of dependent origination, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive to each other.
One interpretation (which I feel is closest to what Alan Watts refers to in his talk) regards this doctrine…
...as describing the arising of mental processes and the resultant notion of "I" and "mine" that leads to grasping and suffering. Several modern western scholars argue that there are inconsistencies in the list of twelve links, and regard it to be a later synthesis of several older lists and elements, some of which can be traced to the Vedas.
Rocks of Ignorance & Rainbow Flags
In other words, we only know inclusivity and love in comparison to callousness and hate. Like a river diverted by a rock–some water flows to the right, some flows to the left. The rock in the river is an idea, a symbol of reality, but it is not reality. Indeed, all words, all thoughts, all ideas are poor substitutes to what is really going on in life.
What should be noted is that both streams flowing around the rock are of the same river of being. They are only being briefly divided and diverted by a rock of thought that got lodged in the river of being.
Maybe, One Day
Another way of looking at this idea is that inclusivity and love are the polar opposites of callousness and hate. Although opposites, both qualities and ways of being in the world go together just as a magnet has a North and South pole. If you chop a magnet in half, there is still a North Pole and a South Pole because a magnet is one cohesive whole thing.
Since I choose to support rainbows and Pride Parades, I stand on this side of our polarized America. It is a conscious choice to flow in the stream of being that includes rainbows and diversity. And it means I am making a conscious choice to embrace all sorts of people and their differences as well as recognize how similar we are because deep, deep down I believe what Alan Watts says that we are the fabric of existence itself.
Maybe one day, we can let go of our rocks of ignorance that we cling to for security and comfort. By letting go, we can grow as a species. And if we grow, we might be able to really feel one day our oneness with each other and all life on this planet. When rocks of thought due appear in our river of being, we can better navigate the currents of division driving us apart and pushing the entire world to a tipping point that we may not recover from due to a mutual massacre of scape goats.
Maybe one day we will know we are all part of the stream of humanity no matter our skin color, sexual preference, our religious beliefs. It has always been this way. It is only when we cling to our rocks of thoughts and rocks of ignorance, which if we are constantly anxious, nervous, angry, and afraid–we are clinging to an idea, which is one of these rocks dividing us and causing so much suffering and pain in the world.
The intersection of gay rights, racism, and white supremacy continue intersecting through time. Will we ever grow up as a species to embrace and hold all of who we are as human beings? Or will we simply continue to label, divide, and conquer each other with hate and despair? See Hate Arises… Rainbows Become… to explore more on these ideas.
We stopped at Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania on our way up for our daughter’s graduation from Middlebury College in Vermont. It was late in the day, cloudy with a little drizzle–perfect weather to walk the roughly 6000 acres of historical pasture and woodlands where Union and Confederate soldiers met in General Robert E. Lee’s second and most ambitious invasion of the North.
It was the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion”, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, and the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal “Gettysburg Address”.
My husband found a monument dedicated to the 13th and 16th Vermont regiments. From their forward position, the nearly 1,500 men of these regiments poured devastating point-blank fire into the enemy ranks. They inflicted terrible casualties and ravaged the Confederate flank. The battle that was going in favor of the Confederate side began to slip. The Vermonters helped turn the tide of the battle and because of this win, turn the tide of the war itself. It would turn out that we were staying in a valley from where one of these regiments came from in Vermont.
Today, in 2022, it seems like the battle that took place on July 1, 1863, occurred so long ago and that the wounds inflicted from a country being torn apart by different ideas and ideals of how to live a good and just life would be long healed. The pictures of the wildflowers and wildlife are a testament to time and nature’s ability to regenerate.
However, the human heart and soul seems to still be torn and hurt. There are people alive today ready to do damage and tear apart America’s delicate democracy. There are people willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get more than they deserve or inflict their own will on the will of the people. Democracy isn’t easy. It requires compromise, and word that seems to have disappeared from American political and culture vocabulary. It does not require every share the exact same beliefs or values, but it does require tolerance and willingness to learn about the beliefs and values of people who are different from oneself. It requires curiosity and a basic agreement of facts and shared reality.
Will America be able to keep this fragile flower of self-governance in the face of a Republican Party that prefers to stick to loyal tests rather than truth, in the aftermath of Jan. 6, in the ongoing disenfranchisement and brutality to African Americans and any people with a darker skin tone, in the double standard that it is OK to regulate a woman’s body, but it is not alright to regulate guns?
“Every day, on average, 316 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention.” — Team ENOUGH
“Guns have become the leading cause of death for American kids. early two-thirds of the 4,368 U.S. children up to age 19 who were killed by guns in 2020 were homicide victims, per the CDC. Motor vehicle crashes, formerly the leading cause of death for kids one and older, killed nearly 4,000 children.” — Axios
If you are upset by these statistics, by politics, by anything that gets you shouting at your TV or computer screen. It is time to get outside. If you find yourself getting enraged by a rainbow flag celebrating Pride Month or want to join the next raiding party of the Capitol, why not try going to a place like Gettysburg? Walk the park rather than drive. Let yourself sink into the blood-soaked earth where flowers now grow and birds once again sing. Talk to the park rangers, read about what happened, feel yourself being transported back to that time when the sound of gun fire and exploding canon balls rang continuously like a speeding train.
War is bloody. Conflict kills. There are other ways to solve conflict arising from diversity. We have one of those ways. It is called Democracy.
The people of Ukraine are fighting fiercely for this way of organizing society. They are showing us what it means and takes to defend freedom, liberty, and justice for all against a brutal, totalitarian regime; a regime that lies to its people, that exterminates anyone who becomes a threat to it, that concentrates wealth and power among a very few.
In America today, it seems we are choosing whether to stay a democracy, which means making room for tolerance and compromise again. Or will we choose to become a dictatorial regime (like Russia) where lies and distortions are used to whip up dissent and division so that truth, justice, and liberty for all becomes a distant dream.
Stay Human! Go outside today and hug another living being!
The Tao Te Ching was written around 400 BCE by Laozi (also written as Lao Tzu). He is the founder of Taoism, which is one of the philosophies flourishing during the time in China known as the time of The Hundred Schools of Thought, which thrived from the 6th century BCE to 221 BCE.
According to Mozi, another of China’s great philosophers born c. 470 BCE and died to c. 391 BCE, the achievement of social goals necessitates the unity of thought and action by the people and their rulers. His political philosophy bears a resemblance to divine-rule monarchy: the population ought always to obey its leaders, as its leaders ought always follow the will of heaven.
He is the first major intellectual to rival Confucius, founding the school of Mohism during this period of The Hundred Schools of Thought. His teaching have been summed up into 10 theses that have since been extensively argued. His most famous these is that of:
Jian’ai: This is the injunction that one ought to be concerned for the welfare of people in a spirit of “impartial concern” (jian’ai) that does not make distinctions between self and other, associates and strangers, a doctrine often described more simplistically as “universal love.” -- Encyclopedia of Philosophy
It would not be long before how well the leaders of the people would (or could) follow the will of heaven would be tested.
The Rise of Strongmen and Ruthless Rulers
Qin Shi Huang is the second of the Ruthless Rulers I highlight in my book Sapience: The Moment is Now (not yet published, but soon).
He is the first of the feudal kings of China to conquer all of the Warring States in 221 BCE, which included six dynasties, to create the Qin Dynasty. These territories include most of what we consider modern China today. Upon doing this, he declared himself the first emperor of China and assumed a title implying he possessed divine powers. He begins his rule by persecuting monks and philosophers, which cumulates in the burning of the books and termination of the Hundred Schools of Thought.
"Beginning in 213 BCE, all classic works of the Hundred Schools of Thought — except those from Li Ssu's own school of philosophy known as legalism — were subject to book burning. "Qin Shi Huang burned the other histories out of fear that they undermined his legitimacy, and wrote his own history books. -- History of Information
It is a pattern that has repeated itself over and over and over again since the first Ruthless Ruler walked the Earth. The inability of the people to tolerate diverse groups of thoughts seems to lie at the heart of how and why Ruthless Rulers rise to power.
And yet walking alongside Ruthless Rulers are men and women of rich intellectual mastery and wisdom such as Mozi and Confucius, Plato and Aristotle, Laozi and Zhuangzi who are only a few of individuals who have delved deeply into the human psyche and wrestled with the unknowable.
More than any time in our collective history, we need so many more people to take the plunge and do the same. To wrestled with the monsters that live inside all of us. We need groups of people in greater numbers than ever before to contemplate, debate, mutter and muster greater understanding for the tremendous diversity of thoughts, ideas, and philosophies we are capable of conceiving and creating into reality using nothing more than our minds to imagine something different than nature would have previously allowed to exist. We must work and stretch our minds far beyond the simple ploys Strongmen use to generate arguments and embed slogans into minds meant to bend the into little boxes that are easy to control and use like disposable commodities.
This is what Strongmen do, as they endlessly dream of becoming the next great Ruthless Ruler.
We see it playing out again, right here, right now, in our own countries wherever they are as the tide of intolerance, bigotry, racism, nationalism, patriotism, partisanism sweep strongmen into powerful positions–Jair Bolsonaro, Viktor Orbán, Marine Le Pen, Rodrigo Duterte, Narendra Modi, Xi Jinping, Putin, and formerly Trump.
They use righteous ideas and righteous talk like jack hammers that steadily chip away at the unity of thought and action Mozi talked about centuries ago as essential for collective good of all. When their speech doesn’t flame the right pit of emotion and opposition arises, they use violence (if they canget away with it) to silence those who don’t agree with them.
Will we let ourselves be torn to pieces by ideas and thoughts flung about by Strongmen and Ruthless Ruler? It always ends the same way. They reign with terror tearing down and destroying anything good and wholesome a country or group of people has managed to achieve, turning on those who turn against them, annihilating anyone or anything who dares to question them. They tell their followers they have been sent here on a divine mission, they have been sent by God, or indeed, they are God and everyone must bend down before them.
It is for this reason I will highlight parts of Laozi’s book written so many centuries earlier. A man who was believed by the people to be a god and worshipped, though I suspect Laozi would have tolerated this as a bit foolish…he knew he was a man with faults and foibles…that is what his teachings are about navigating the stream we call ourselves full of faults and foibles, wisdom and knowledge, danger and destruction. He advocated the middle way. His system of thinking would serve modern men and women well right now in the dangerous tides we ourselves have created and now must swim.
Here is his first chapter of his masterpiece of thinking animated with modern images and music from our time now.
Chapter 1 — Tao Te Ching
First Archetypal Animation & Stanza
The tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be spoken is not the eternal Name.
Second Archetypal Animation & Stanza
The nameless is the boundary of Heaven and Earth. The named is the mother of creation.
Third Archetypal Animation & Stanza
Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery. By having desire, you can only see what is visibly real.
Scott Simon talks with Hernan Diaz about his novel, “Trust.” It tells the story of a New York tycoon who takes advantage of the 1929 crash, and his attempts to rewrite and control his own story. In this interview, Diaz tells Scott that power is the ability to bend reality and shape what others perceive as real. Power imposes someone else’s reality onto others. Wealth and money (and the desire to get more money) does this to people. They burn with the desire to have more of that kind of power over others. Great fortunes create a reality in and of themselves that others are eager to have a part or piece of.
From workplaces to schools to national governments, leaders everywhere are being called on to solve complex problems with humility and bravery. This hour, we consider what it takes to be a leader. Guests include executive coach Patrice Gordon, organizational psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, and educator Shabana Basij-Rasikh.
I found the first interview particularly compelling as the speaker relates our ancient programming to have strong men leading a tribe or clan. These were times when groups were small and all members knew the integrity of every other member and whether they could be trusted or not. However, as our small bands and groups of people surviving together against vast and overwhelming odds have grown into vast civilizations, the qualities of a good ruler have shifted tremendously.
A good ruler today does not act on gut instinct, as would have been the right thing to do 10,000 years ago. A good ruler today actually must go against gut instinct to grasp the greater complexities of our modern realities and make more calculated, incremental moves that benefits all members of the collective, even those who are against the leader. But as people electing who to rule us, we are still vastly informed by our own gut instincts and emotions choosing ruler who we feel we could have beer with rather than rulers who could stare down the missile silo of a narcissist idiot threatening to use nuclear weapons on the world.
“The World Economic Forum annual meeting at Davos, Switzerland, 2019 – an exclusive event where the world’s richest and most powerful people get together to solve the world’s problems. I was there when David Attenborough, you know, was showing his new film. The Garden of Eden is no more. Beautiful – you know, absolutely beautiful, stunning footage of how we’re wrecking the planet. And people were literally crying while they were seeing it. And I was thinking, but, guys, you arrived here in your private jets.”
Why does Russia's massive and powerful military force continue to struggle against a smaller, less well-equipped opponent? Journalist David Volodzko wrote about this in a recent piece in The Daily Beast titled "The Embarrassing Truth Behind Putin's War Failures." He says the Russians appear not to have internalized the lessons they could have learned during other conflicts, particularly the civil war in Syria, where Russia backed the government of dictator Bashar al-Assad. -- MICHEL MARTIN, HOST
The problem is, in April 2021, I believe, the company that makes the Azart and its owner, Leonid Reiman, who's the former minister of communications, came under investigation for fraud. They had evidently been using cheap Chinese parts. This led to a bunch of problems, including the batteries didn't really work that well. So they've had to switch instead, and they're largely using mobile phones and things of that nature. And this is just one example of how corruption has left Putin and his army out in the open, in a sense, and exposed. -- DAVID VOLODZKO
I think that we all have overestimated Russia's military capabilities. And, I would add, I think that Putin did, too. One point that I make in the piece is that Moscow recently purged 150 Federal Security Service agents, and they sent the head of the FSB's fifth service, which handles counterinsurgency ops in Ukraine, to Lefortovo Prison. Now, there's a couple different theories as to why, and I'm inclined to go with the official explanation on this one, which is that Beseda lied to the state and stole funds. -- DAVID VOLODZKO
So again, as with the radio communications issue, we see corruption coming back to bite Russia. And as a consequence of that, Putin may have gone in on bad intel, thinking that the Ukrainians were going to be waiting with flowers instead of Bandera smoothies - which is, you know, Ukraine's version of a Molotov cocktail - and going in with bad gear, thinking that he had the best and the latest. And so as much as we fell for this idea of Russia being much more powerful than they are, much more capable than they are, Putin fell for that himself. -- DAVID VOLODZKO
Ridley Road | Masterpiece Theater
`Ridley Road' is the story of the 62 Group, a collection of anti-fascists who stood up against the rising neo-Nazi movement in Britain after World War Two, based on Jo Bloom's book of the same name, released in 2014. In the summer of 1962, twenty-year-old Vivien Epstein, a Jewish hairdresser from Manchester, arrives in London following the death of her father. Alone in the world, she is looking for Jack Fox, a man she had a brief but intense love affair with some months before. Her search leads her into the fight against resurgent fascism in East London, where members of the Jewish community are taking to the streets, in and around Ridley Road. -- Google Knowledge PanelNote:This is 1962 this movies is about; just 17 years after Nazi Germany almost successfully invaded England.
What would you do if this was your last day on Earth today?
Perhaps write a poem?
It is our perception of reality that determines so much of what we allow ourselves to accept or not accept, what we allow ourselves to believe or not believe, how much we allow ourselves to love or not to love.
Poems are wonderful transformers of perception.
Here are some poems about nature, Earth, and life that have been written at very different periods in time, and yet, there is something universal, something incredibly current, something worth paying attention to in each and every one of them, especially today.
When all thoughts Are exhausted I slip into the woods And gather A pile of shepherd’s purse.
From Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan, translated by John Stevens. Published by Shambala in Boston, 1996.
Nothing in the cry of cicadas suggests they are about to die.
The bee emerging from deep within the peony departs reluctantly.
Summer grasses: all that remains of great soldiers’ imperial dreams.
From The Essential Basho, Translated by Sam Hamill. Published by Shambala in Boston, 1999.
The world before my eyes is wan and wasted, just like me. The earth is decrepit, the sky stormy, all the grass withered. No spring breeze even at this late date, Just winter clouds swallowing up my tiny reed hut.
From Wild Ways: Zen Poems of Ikkyu, translated by John Stevens. Published by Shambala in Boston, 1995.
These Zen poems come from A Sampler of Zen Poetry. The author of this sampler says, “These are a few of my favorite poems by three of Japan’s greatest Zen monk-poets, Ikkyu (1394-1481), Basho (1644-1694), and Ryokan (1758-1831).”
They are indeed very beautiful and holy.
Today is Earth Day!
Go ahead, write a poem! Transcend space and time and perceptions of reality using nothing but your mind.
We never know when our last day on Earth will be.
Seize the moment, see more, feel your rightness in this moment, know you belong and you matter, right here, right now. You are it!
Satan’s sister slithers through fields of drying, souring souls…
Seeking sinners to pluck and pulverized into a poison…
Santa’s Spiked Glögg
That she uses to spike Santa’s holiday Glögg.
Archetypal Image Analysis
First Archetypal Image:
Is Satan’s sister good or bad?
Your answer is unique and utterly up to you based on your attitudes, beliefs, upbringing, and current circumstances. At first, as I searched for images of what Satan’s sister might look like, I had no idea of what I might be looking for.
I wondered whether she should look ugly like a wicked witch, gender neutral, or bewitchingly beautiful.
I stumbled upon Félicien Rops (a Belgian artists who lived between 1833 – 1898) finding his uncanny image of Satan. I found it on a poetry website and immediately thought–sure this could be what Satan’s sister looks like–sinister, sterile, and scary.
I felt I was definitely on the right track, but sought a clearer image. As I searched for one, I stumbled upon Pyramid Girl. I knew at once this was a better rendering of Satan’s sister. She is beguilingly beautiful and utterly alien at the same time–a spine-chilling duality exists about her.
Then, I found another Pyramid Head Woman in a field. This was the next line of my poem, which sealed the deal this was the image I was searching for.
I have never encountered Pyramid Woman before, but obviously she is well-known by others and depicted as a victim and an invincible warrior. I felt this duality was another key aspect to be embodied by Satan’s sister. I found two more images embodying these qualities created by an artist at the Stan Winston School of Character Art. Here I learned her apron is made of human skin, very creepy indeed and a perfect outfit for Satan’s sister.
The last image used in the archetypal animation just grabbed me. I suppose it is all the gold and skeletons. Satan’s sister would certainly be involved in collecting the dead. She would also be a devilish seductress–beautiful and scary at once.
So this is the process for how the first archetypal animation was created.
What does it mean?
That is something for you to fill in.
During his life, Carl Jung came to understand all human beings share common archetypal patterns of behavior and belief as demonstrated through customs, rituals, and myths. Certain recognizable psychological patterns and images appear over and over again between cultures and times. They live deep inside the psyche of all human beings and contain collective memories that pop into action when of specific circumstances and situations are encountered. They act much like instincts do, but archetypal patterns are more like instincts altered by consciousness.
Jung described archetypes as empty templates ready to be filled by the psychic forces triggered into action by external events. These invisible templates provide imprints of all the possibilities and consequences of choices and actions triggered by the situation.
The music for this archetypal image provides vital context and background like a fantastic fabric for space-time beings to experience things. This music is fabulous, providing texture, vibrance, and life to the image. It is Moon Runner by Dance With the Dead.
Second Archetypal Image:
Does she sunder souls for pleasure?
Again, the answer is up to you.
In creating this image, my search took me into the realm of mythic goddesses. It did not take long to understand many of the goddesses associated with death carry the blade of time with them. Death is inevitable as a mortal being and the goddesses associated with death embody this reality.
The Goddess Kali is the Divine Mother in Hinduism and known to be fierce and cause destruction of all evils, including ignorance. She is considered to be the master of death, time and change. When I found this image of Morrighan, my search focused in on the Celtic and Nordic goddesses of death.
“Morrighan is also known as Phantom queen or Morrigu. In Irish mythology, she is known as the Goddess of Death, who is associated with mainly war, battle, and death. She is also famous because of her foretelling death in the battle. Because of her association with war and battles, she is also known as a great warrior who determines which warriors walk off the battlefield.” — 21 Gods & Goddesses of Destruction, Death & Underworld
Hel is another goddess of death rising from the myths of the Nordic peoples.
“She is the ruler of the underworld and death. She is the daughter of Loki and Angrboda. Her appearance is pretty hard to explain, but it is half blue and half flesh-colored with some gloomy texture downside. She has a hall called Eljudnir, and it is a strong belief in Norse Mythology that it is the hall where mortals go who do not die in battle but of natural causes or sickness.” — 21 Gods & Goddesses of Destruction, Death & Underworld
This is another compelling rendering of Hel drawn by LeneMa7991.
And this is another depiction of Morrigan that I found on the website of The Druid Way.
Another goddess of death I found was Delire. She is not the goddess of Death in general, but instead the goddess of the Fallen, much like the valkyries of Norse mythology.
Back to the Eastern Mind
The last element of the archetypal animation is the music, which circles us back to the eastern mind and the wisdom of the upanishads that are treatises on Brahman-knowledge, which is knowledge of Ultimate Hidden Reality. I chose the song Al Bid-Aya by Jedi Mind Tricks from their album The Bridge and the Abyss. It is haunting and beautiful and utterly perfect for this topic if you listen to their official video of this song.
Third Archetypal Image:
Why is Santa’s Glögg spiked?
For the third archetypal image, I baffled myself with its own imagery. Why is Santa popping into this otherwise dark and haunting poem? And why is Satan’s sister spiking his holiday Glögg with the broken up bits of sinners?
Perhaps Santa is serving somewhat like a cosmic hero of goodness and good cheer. He has so much of it, he is able to consume dangerous amounts of collective sin down to the dregs on behalf of all of us to ease our misery and allow for a time of good cheer. This though made me think of Dumbledore who drank the poisoned water so Harry could destroy a ‘horcrux’–a thing of great evil that if not destroyed would led to the downfall of everyone they know and love.
This last archetypal animation is the most elusive to take accounting of for it veers straight into the Christmas season–a time when many people make a considerable effort to show a spirit of good cheer and collective good will. Why? Because it is a time when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus; however, as an excellent Washington Post article points out, ‘Dec. 25 is not the date mentioned in the Bible as the day of Jesus’s birth; the Bible is actually silent on the day or the time of year when Mary was said to have given birth to him in Bethlehem. The earliest Christians did not celebrate his birth.‘
This article further states the first celebration of Jesus’ birth took place ‘around 200 A.D. — to have taken place on Jan. 6. Why? Nobody knows, but it may have been the result of “a calculation based on an assumed date of crucifixion of April 6 coupled with the ancient belief that prophets died on the same day as their conception,” according to religionfacts.com.’
It was moved to December 25 to piggy back on pagan celebrations (such as “The Golden Bough”) that occurred during this time. Especially as practiced by the fierce and wild tribes of northern Europe–the Celtics, the Norses, and many other germanic tribes who celebrated the shortest day of the year, which signaled the return of light to their barren and frigid northern lands.
Good Olde St. Nick
Christmas underwent a further transformation with the elevation of St. Nicholas as a patron saint of Christmas. He was a real man, a Bishop, who lived in the fourth century in a place called Myra in Asia Minor (now called Turkey). He was known for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it.
Christmas took another dramatic turn with the popularization of Santa Claus as the legendary man who encircles the world in one night flying in his sleigh to give good boys and girls around the world presents and delights. Holiday specials such as Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, which showed the transformation of the real man St. Nicholas into the superhero Christmas giver of cheer and goodwill worldwide.
Santa Claus Is Coming!
It is a delightful Christmas story. One I watched every year as a child for Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Frosty, Rudolph, and Santa Claus!
So what is up with this spiking Santa’s tea with the broken up bits of sinners, obviously people who were not on Santa’s Good List to get toys and presents at Christmas time.
Santa and Dumbledore
Is this image referring to the self-sacrificing ability of some individuals who are capable of far more good deeds than the rest of us to ease our burden for a time?
This idea reminded me of Dumbledore drinking the poison water so Harry could destroy another ‘horcrux’. Perhaps Santa and Dumbledore represent a certain type of individual, or better yet, these characters are archetypes of a powerful curative force that lives inside of us and allows a human being to endure pain and suffering, even unto death, for the good of others.
This seemed to be on the right trail and so the images I found included these.
This definitely could be Santa enjoying a holiday Glögg left out for him. Then, images of Dumbledore to establish the connection between the two.
The Purpose of the Poison
And of course Dumbledore drinking the poison, which turns out to be the most important image and article of everything explored here.
Clark is getting at the division raging inside of ourselves. Jung also spoke of this inner divide saying:
“The greatest sin is to be unconscious.”
— C.G. Jung quotes from Quotefancy.com
Our world is very complicated and most of us are taught to operate in it like very small, spoiled children. We are taught to not question the system but to go to work at nine, come home at 6, squeeze all the housework, time with children, spouse or friends into 4 or 5 hours, go to sleep, wake up and do it again. Why? So we can be good consumers for the system that we must depend upon to sustain us or else we can’t go on.
But should we really want to go on? Is our current system of a modern life really so great? Is it so glorious and so out-of-this-world that we are willing to commit to most of our adult life to being good and obedient consumers? Is that what we really want?
Alan Watts often posed this question, what do you really want? Do we really want to play the social games of who is the boss, who can have more and who should have less, going to work at places that are mind numbing and super boring only to get laid off when we get too old or its not convenient (Nomadland captures this reality brilliantly).
What Do We Really Want?
For most of us living in modern Western societies, we wake up one day (at the far end of 50 something) and realize–my life has been a great big drag.
If we ever wake up, we may realize we’ve been consuming and entertaining ourselves to death. Thus, the passed out Santa Clause by the fire place.
The final element of this archetypal animation, a musical piece with a diabolical edge –the Evil Christmas Carols.
Nevertheless — Please Have A Very Happy Holidays However You Celebrate
“One fine day you realize to your astonishment [that] there is no way at all of having your mind anywhere else but in the present moment because even when you think about the past or future, you’re doing it now, aren’t you?!“
Alan Watts — The Taoist Way
Alan Watts lectured often about the concept of being present in the Now. Being in the now is a practice of Buddhism and Zen, which is a way to stay on the path of the inner Sage. The ultimate goal of the Buddhist path is release from the round of phenomenal existence with its inherent suffering. To achieve this goal is to attain nirvana, an enlightened state in which the fires of greed, hatred, and ignorance have been quenched.
In Carol Anthony’s book The Philosophy of the I Ching, she writes:
“Freeing out mind (what we focus on and listen to within) of the dominance of the ego and our inferiors [Note: the I Ching refers to our worst impulses and instincts as inferiors. It is plural because there are many troublesome instincts, attitudes, and rigid beliefs to contend with inside of ourselves.] is part of the work by which we re-attain our natural state of innocence. Through self-discipline, we keep our mind’s eye open, and our inner space free of the thoughts that our inferiors would introduce if we fail to resist them. In the time of youth we are automatically open-minded; it is unnecessary to make a conscious effort to be so. After we learn structured ways of dealing with the world, and listen to the urgings of our fears, our inner view becomes blocked and our inner space filled. We are no longer able to see or her within, but are attuned only to the external world and how we think we need to be to deal with it. Through self-development we de-structure our patterned ways of thinking: by conscious effort we keep our inner view and inner space empty. In this manner we reconstruct our original innocence. The only difference is that our new innocence is consciously maintained; it is not the unconscious innocence of childhood.”
Carol Anthony — The Philosophy of the I Ching
Indeed, if what Carol Anthony has come to understand through her own life and practice using the I Ching is right, then she is showing us how to heal our inner selves and how to bring forth our inner unconsciousness in gentle, constructive, non-violent ways. Without this conscious effort, we are bound to fall prey to our own karma and act in the world in ways that are harmful to others and that will bring great pain and sorrow onto ourselves as we try to make our way through and navigate our inner flow of consciousness, which is time.
Time is the great equalizer.
And, it is always happening Now.
Alan Watts continues saying:
"Even when you think about the past or the future you're doing it now, aren't you? And that results in a very curious transformation of consciousness you feel that you that the present moment is flowing along and carrying you with it all the time just like the flow of the Tao. The flow of the Tao is what we would call the flow of the present. Zhong Yong in his book The Unwobbling Pivot says the Tao is that from which one cannot deviate that from which one can deviate is not the Tao.
To put it into the form of a zen story, the Master Joshua said to Nansen what is the Tao? Nansen replied your everyday mind is the Tao. Joshua asked how do you get into accord with it? Nansen replied when you try to get into accord, you deviate."
Watts says there is no recipe for learning how to be in the present and in the flow of the Tao, which is the eternal Now. Every person must learn to feel it for themselves.
Alan Watts tells how Christian missionaries translate the Tao as logos.
"They took as their point of departure the opening passage of Saint John's gospel in the beginning was the word. Now if you look up a Chinese translation of the bible, it says in the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with god and the Tao was god. (...) So they've substituted the Tao with God. Now, that make a very funny effect on a Chinese philosopher because the idea of things being made by the Tao is absurd. The Tao is not a manufacturer and it's not a governor. It doesn't rule as it were in the position of a king. The Tao flows everywhere...both to the left and to the right. It loves and nourishes all things but does not lord it over them. And when good things are accomplished, it lays no claim to them. In other words, the Tao does not stand up and say: I have made all of you I have filled this Earth with its beauty and glory... now fall down before me and worship me."
Alan Watts goes on to discuss the idea of mutually arising. It is a very important Taoist expression that all things arise mutually together. Watts loved to says, “although the bees and flowers look different from each other, they are inseparable.” He talks about how bees and flowers coexist in the same way as high and low exist together, or back and front go together, or long and short define each other. He further explains how all of the opposites and things that look completely different from other things interdepend on each other for existence, this is the Tao. Mutual arising is one of the most important concepts to grasp in understanding the Tao, the eternal Now.
All of us living in the Western world have been taught that everything is separated. This is a very Newtonian philosophy of the world, as if it’s a huge amalgamation of billiard balls that don’t move unless they are struck by another ball or a queue (Watts describes). After explaining this, Watts loves to say, “But of course from the standpoint of 20th century science, we know perfectly well now that that’s not the way it works. We know enough about relationships to see that the mechanical model which Newton devised was all right for certain purposes but it breaks down now because we understand relativity and see how things go together in a kind of connected net.” [Note: See Indra’s Net.]
“Now figure a world in which everything happens by itself it doesn’t have to be controlled it’s allowed.”
Alan Watts — The Taoist Way
Watts says here, “This does not mean that everything is in chaos. It means that the more liberty you give the more love you give the more you allow things in yourself and in your surroundings to take place the more order you will have.”
This sounds very hard to allow in 2021 when the whole world seems to be besieged by polarized opposites. In the U.S., for example, you have the extreme Right and the extreme Left bombarding each other with word bombs that are blowing up into real life consequences such as the January 6 insurrection of the Capitol that left people dead and maimed and traumatized. Or the mistrust that has grown like a cancer in our country of one side or another side (or mistrust of doctors, scientists, anyone seen as other) that is contributing to hesitancy of the COVID-19 vaccine, a deadly virus that has killed more Americans in a year and a half than died in both WWI and WWII. Right here and now, COVID-19 (the Delta variant) is surging this summer. NPR reported recently that COVID-19 cases are particularly surging in areas of low vaccination. More than 97% of people entering hospitals right now are unvaccinated. This mistrust, this rampant partisanship is destroying the gentle, fragile fabric of democracy.
This is what Alan Watts was trying to warn us about more than 50 years ago. We know what to do, but we don’t do it. Why?
Watts goes on in this lecture to talk about karmic debt, which I find utterly fascinating, but that’s not what I have chosen to focus on here. I am pondering the point in this lecture when Watts comes to T.S. Elliot’s idea that the person who has settle down in the train to read the newspaper is not the sam person who stepped onto the train from the platform. Watts says to his audience, “Therefore also you who sit here are not the same people who came in at the door. These states are separate. Each in its own place. There was the coming in at the door person, but there is actually only the here and now sitting person, and the person sitting here and now is not the person who will die.”
Jerry Seinfeld talks about this idea too. He talks about Night Guy who likes to eat cookies at night and he is the guy who also likes to stay up late at night. He wants to live for the moment. But, then there’s Morning Guy who has to get up and go to work and has to deal with 5 hours of sleep and too many cookies. He feels awful! HiddenBrain did a spectacular episode on this too, the different phases of self in You, But Better.
So, just what is Alan Watts getting at? Surely we are not a bunch of separated unconnected selves sleep walking through life. It is all a grand illusion of being? Or maybe we are?!
Watts tells us. He says, “We are all a constant flux and the continuity of the person from past through present to future is as illusory in its own way as the upward movement of the red lines on a revolving barber pole. You know it goes round and round and round and the whole thing seems to be going up or going down whichever the case may be but actually nothing is going up or down.”
"So when you throw a pebble into the pond and you make a concentric rings of waves there is an illusion that the water is flowing outwards and no water is flowing outwards at all water is only going up and down what appears to move outward is the wave not the water. So this kind of philosophical argument says that our seeming to go along in a course of time doesn't really happen. The buddhists say: suffering exists but no one who suffers, deeds exist but no doers are found, a path there is but no one who follows it, and nirvana is but no one who attains it."
This is a confusing concept. When a person rushes to understand something that has happened to them or a new concept, the person is bound not to understand the thing at all. Watts explains that it is a matter of getting to a position where you no longer feel the symbol the thought the idea the word as a block to life, no longer feel it and something you are using as a means of escape. He says: “liberation of the mind from identifying itself with symbols is the same process exactly as breaking up the links between the successive moments the illusion of a self continuing self that travels from moment to moment and picks them all up corresponding to the illusion of the moving water in the wave.”
We are more like a melody being played, Watts describes. We must select the notes in relationship to the places we exist–that means in relationship to everything around us and rising inside of us. If we are not discerning and select everything, the music becomes a jumble and does not make sense. So it is as human beings that we have the capacity to focus in on certain things, to see the symbol of these things in our minds, and select how to arrange these symbols in our mind and how it flows in our never-ending stream of consciousness (i.e., our inner story about what has happened to us during our journey through time and space). When we become more attached to the symbol in our mind rather than to how we are in relationship to each other, with our inner Sage and inferior, and with the whole of nature (indeed the universe), then this is where and when we get into the trouble of bad karma and the cycle of suffering.
Consciousness is a rare and precious gift. It does create problems such as present self and future self and the natural conflict between them.
Yesterday, Jeff Bezos blasted off with his brother and Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen. You’ve already seen the headlines:Lefty Democrats hit Jeff Bezos over space trip, want him to pay ‘fair share’ of taxes. The dividing and the othering and the criticism goes on and on. If it’s not Bezos, it’s Dr. Fauci or a scientists working on climate change or a researcher working on viruses. It seems recently that this is all human beings are really good at doing, othering and dividing things up so they don’t go together any more.
But we can put the pieces back together again because we did this all inside our minds. We got attached to the symbols we created to explain to ourselves what is happening to us. When we get attached to symbols created inside our minds, we divide things… cut them up into little pieces and stand on sides lobbing bombs at the other side opposite our points of view. But, don’t you see… it all goes together?
I really like something Bezos said in an interview with Anderson Cooper when he was asked about this criticism he was getting about this all being a race to space by billionaires. Anderson asked, “Don’t you think it is better to spend you money here, now to take care of all the problems we are facing on Earth?” Bezos replied, after a moment of consideration, “We have to do both. We have to work on the Here and Now. And we have to work on the future. That is what humanity has always done.”
He is right. Because we can see the Present Self (the Here and Now), but also the Future Self (a brighter, better future on the horizon). Men and women throughout human history have taken care of their needs in the here and now and ventured boldly into the unknown. That is what Homo sapiens does. We are a species who originated in Africa, and then we boldly voyaged far and wide until we filled every niche of our beloved planet. We used to live caves or congregated grass huts, but we used our abilities to take care of our needs in the here and now as well as envision a bigger, brighter future and build it. Often such envisioning is seen only by a few individuals of any particular time. Those who cultivate their minds to see distant inner horizons of being. Not all future possibilities are possible, but all visioning of such future possibilities cause conflict for a tribe or group of people of any time because such seeing into the future means change. But it is precisely these abilities that have allowed Homo sapiens, sapiens to build great cities with towers made of glass and to fly around the world in a day inside airplanes. We are able to see ourselves in the Here and Now (like Jerry Seinfeld’s Nighttime Guy), and we can see our future self. Using nothing more than our minds, we can play out inside our minds what the future consequences of the choices we make in the Now (or do not make), which then inform the actions we take in the Now (or do not take).
Bezos told Anderson Cooper his vision is to create the infrastructure so that future humans can move toxic and polluting industries off Earth, so we can protect our beautiful and fragile planet. This is a beautiful vision, and he is right to hold it and to start something small that will grow into something big. And he can also take care of the here and now and did with $100 million gift each to Van Jones and chef Jose Andres. Sure he could pay more in taxes and probably should. But we do this together, moment by moment… we all create reality.
What will you do with your plot of consciousness today? How will you step into the flow of the Now without a train of burdensome thought cars following you into it?
I absolutely loved a recently aired episode of RadioLab titled: Man Against Horse. It originally aired December 28, 2019, but I heard it May 23, 2021. I had been working on my story trying to getting straight in my head man’s long line of evolutionary changes that ultimately lead to us, the living beings who stare at screens and do everything to extremes.
Man & His Ancestors
There was Australopithecus afarensis who emerged 3.67 to 2 million years ago in the Middle Pliocene to Early Pleistocene of South Africa, an extinct species of australopithecine. Spread:Southern Africa (Lucy’s species). I love them. Look at those eyes!
There was Homo habiliswho emerged 2.4 to 1.5 mya inhabiting parts of sub-Saharan Africa from roughly 2.4 to 1.5 million years ago (mya). In 1959 and 1960 the first fossils were discovered at Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania – roamed Eastern edge of Africa, moving from the Horn of Africa to the tip.Spread:Western to Southern African
There was Homo ergasterwho emerged (“working man”) is an extinct hominid species (or subspecies, according to some authorities) which lived throughout eastern and southern Africa between 1.9 to 1.4 million years ago with the advent of the lower Pleistocene and the cooling of the global climate: 1.9 to 1.4 mya (although some classifications include additional individuals that extends their range to between about 700,000 and 2 million years ago). Spread: Africa: 1.9 to 1.4 million years ago. Considered an early, exclusively African form of Homo erectus. Started making stone tools 1.6 million years ago.
And of course, there was Homo erectus who emerged 2 mya, evolving from either a late form of australopith or one of the more primitive forms of Homo, and went on to spread into many parts of Asia. Spread:Western African,Europe, Arabian Peninsula, Southern Asia, Indonesia, Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, Eastern coast of Asia to Bering Strait
There are many more early hominoid species that evolved, lived for thousands (and some more than a million) years, and then died out and disappeared. This is where I was getting lost, and this is when I took a break and tuned into RadioLab and heard this episode that straighten everything out in my mind. It all came down to the nuchal ligament and the human butt.
It’s All About the Butt
I was skeptical at first because this episode started out with Matt who began saying:
Okay, so this story comes to us from Heather, who is a fantastic writer who brought us this story that, if I were to boil it down, is about a horse, a lone man running through the desert, and what it fundamentally means to be a human being. And weirdly, butts. I didn't see this coming, but it's about butts. Just butts. Your butt. It's about your butt.
Heather is writing a book about the cultural history of the female butt. She said:
I thought I'd save that one for on tape. It started as an essay that I was just working on because I have a big butt, and I grew up in, you know, the suburbs of mid-Michigan. That was -- it was pretty white. And in high school in the '90s, it was very much like, not good to have a big butt. Like, I got made fun of, et cetera, et cetera. But then sometime in the mid-aughts, all of a sudden this body that had sort of been bringing me all this shame became attractive in sort of a mainstream way.
As Heather started taking apart and looking into issues such as race, appropriation, beauty, her essay about the butt ended up becoming a book about the butt. She asked herself: what does the butt mean? Like, what does it symbolize and why does it symbolize that? Then, she realized she had to answer a more fundamental question: Why do we even have a butt at all?
Gluteus Maximus & Evolution of Man
Daniel Lieberman is an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University who is interested in the evolution of the human body and the effects of physical activity for a long time. He wanted to understand how and why the human body evolved the way it did. Back around 1992, he was a post-doc doing research on pigs…miniature pigs running on treadmills!
Lieberman was looking at how different parts of the skeleton respond to the effect of the loads caused by exercise. Lieberman says, “Sounds like an exciting thing, but believe me it eventually gets kind of — kind of dull.” This is until the day a fellow called Dennis Bramble, a professor at the University of Utah, came to Harvard to do his own research next door to Lieberman.
Dennis Bramble recalls turning to his co-researher saying, “What the hell’s that sound? Is somebody doing something there?” And they said, “Yeah, and this guy Dan Lieberman is running pigs over there.” I said, “Oh, I gotta — I’ve gotta see this!”
Lieberman recounts Bramble popped his head in and watched the pig, then cocked his head to the side and said, ““You know Dan, that pig can’t hold its head still when it’s running.” Lieberman said, “It’s funny I’d spent hours watching pigs run on treadmills, but I never really thought about it.“
Bramble said: “You know Dan, I bet that pig’s head is flopping all around because it doesn’t have this thing called thenuchal ligament.” This ligament provides support for the head and neck. It is like a rubber band attached to the back of the animal’s skull and runs down the spine to keep the head straight as it runs. Bramble pointed out that all mammals that have specialized as runners have this nuchal ligament–everything from cheetahs to leopards to antelopes to horses, to jackrabbits and dogs. Animals who are bad runners don’t have this ligament–like pigs.
This is where my attention perked up: humans have anuchal ligament.
But, our closest hominoid cousins do not have a nuchal ligament. This includes apes, chimps, gorillas.
Humans Evolved to Run
Way back, our closest hominoid relatives split off into the genus Pan, while humans split off into the genus Homo. The first hominoid in the genus Homo to have this ligament was Homo erectus. Paleontologist can tell this by a sharp ridge on the back of the skull that this ligament leaves behind as a trace.
Daniel Lieberman says, “It doesn’t have a snout, it has smaller teeth. It’s — it’s the first species that’s really very much like you and me from the neck down.“
Around the time that Homo erectus emerged, spectacular changes were occurring with its foot (e.g., toes were shortening, arch was forming, Achilles tendon), hips (i.e., taller, narrower, twisty that helps us stay stable on two feet), arms (shorter), legs (longer), inner ears (semicirucular canals got larger to balance), joints (got bigger to bear the load of running), and butts!
Butts evolved for running. Lieberman explains that when humans run, the gluteus maximus muscles fires twice with every stride to prevent the trunk from pitching forward and falling face first.
"Running is a controlled fall. Very different from walking. And so your gluteus maximus fires just before your body's about to -- your trunk is about to pitch forward and make you hit your nose on the ground, and it helps pull your trunk backward. And the other time the gluteus maximus fires is when your leg is swinging forward when you're in the air, and it helps decelerate the leg so that you bring your leg down onto the ground. So the gluteus maximus plays a very important role when you're -- when you're running, and turns out to barely be active when you're walking. And, you know, you don't need the fancy equipment in my lab to figure this out. You can just do this yourself at home. Just walk around the room and hold your butt and, you know, clench your kind of butt. And -- and when you're walking your butt will just stay kind of normal, right? It'll stay kind of, you know ..."
But Why Did Homo Erectus Evolve Bigger Butts?
Climate change! That’s what happened about two million years ago. The tree filled jungles were disappearing and being replaced by open grasslands. This was triggered by an ice age that was drying out Africa. These vast open spaces were quickly filling up large grass-eating animals such as the kudu and antelope. Carnivores were rapidly evolving to catch and eat these big food sources such as lions, tigers, and cheetahs.
Compared to these apex predators, Homo erectus was puny and not a good runner. But, Homo erectus could do something they could not do. Homo erectus could sweat! This meant Homo erectus could chase his prey over long distances. He didn’t have to be fast; he simply had to have endurance, pay attention to tracks, and be patience.
Daniel Lieberman explains:
"The trick is you find that animal before it's cooled down, because of course the animal would have run away, and when it runs away it gets hot. Like, when you -- running generates a lot of heat. And these animals aren't very good at dumping heat."
There is a lively, fascinating argument on this episode of RadioLab as to whether Homo erectus tracked and followed its prey to exhaustion or if he simply looked for vultures and other scavengers that an apex predator killed and banded together to scare them away. We don’t know. Probably a little of both. But, the extra protein, fat, and nutrients he got this way helped his brain grow bigger and other evolutionary changes to occur. So, the evolution of a bigger butt and nuchal ligament were pretty important to get to modern human beings.
Man vs Horse
The last half of this episode you just have to listen to… really, you should listen to all of it… I skipped a lot of good stuff. But it is all about a crazy race that takes place in Prescott, AZ every year. It is a high desert long distance race (50 miles) between a group of human runners and a group of horses with riders.
The story goes like this:
HEATHER: So in 1983, a city councilman in Prescott comes into this bar in Whiskey Row, like super-old west America.
MATT: And he gets there, he sits down, and he has a beer. And down at the end of the bar …
HEATHER: There’s a couple of cowboys. The city councilman’s just run a marathon.
MATT: And at some point …
HEATHER: The city council guy says, “I just ran this crazy race.”
MATT: And one of the cowboys says …
HEATHER: “My horse could run that far easily.”
MATT: “You’re not that fast.”
HEATHER: “My horse could do that in an afternoon. Wouldn’t even break a sweat.” And then the city councilman’s like, “You know, I’m not sure he can.”
MATT: “Actually, in fact, I bet I can outrun your horse.”
HEATHER: And for 30-plus years, they have been sort of seeing who’s right.
Matt and Heather follow the racers and it is fantastic, fun story. Who do you think wins? Listen and see!
The timing was uncanny. Indeed, it was synchronistic. So, I paid attention. And, I took notes. I will share some of the take aways I gleamed for this important show. If you have been struggling with anxiety and depression, especially this year, this show is well worth a listen.
Between the uncertainties of getting a COVID-19 vaccine, going back to the office and staying connected with one another, it’s no wonder anxiety is on the rise.
As the pandemic recently reached its one-year anniversary, about a third of U.S. adults say they have experienced sleeplessness or anxiety in the last week, according to the Pew Research Center.
We’re talking with Dr. Judson Brewer, a neuroscientist and associate professor at Brown University about the science behind our anxious feelings and explains why common fixes, like simply willing yourself to be okay, don’t work. His new book is Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind.
What’s causing us to feel anxious these days? And how can we treat it?
Dr. Judson Brewer discusses how worry and curiosity are binary functions in the brain. When the brain engages in worry, it cannot engage in curiosity. Worrying makes us feel smaller and contracted while curiosity makes us feel bigger and expansive. Both have evolutionary origins and functions. The problem is how complicated our modern lives have become tricking our brains and causing destructive habits and patterns to develop and become entrenched in the brain.
Dr. Brewer talked about the part of the brain that gets engaged when a person worries. It is an older part of the brain known as the cingulate cortex. This is a critical part of the limbic system and involves a group of interconnected brain structures involved in emotions along with processing emotional destress of pain. It helps us survive.
The Cingulate Cortex
I found this image of the part of the brain that gets engage when we worry while I listened.
Dr. Brewer discusses how the Cingulate Cortex is a much older structure of the brain, making it very powerful in establishing behaviors and patterns in our life. The parts of our brain that get engaged when we become curious are more complex and they also activate and engage the Prefrontal Cortex, which is the newest part of our brains and the weakest.
The Prefrontal Cortex & the Role of Curiosityto Our Wellbeing and Mental Health
Why is the sky blue? Staring up at the big, wide space above their heads, children often ask a variation of this question to an adult. Although the answers may seem clear enough, we’re not always satisfied with what we get. Why we know, or why we care to know about the world around or inside of us is due to a distinct desire: curiosity.
Curiosity motivates us to understand the world, our communities, our bodies, and our brains. Click on the targets in the image to explore how curiosity inspires us to investigate the mechanisms of our daily life.
Dr. Brewer explained how we can strengthen this part of our brain and ability through mindfulness training. Meditation is one part of a bigger circle of learning how to be more mindful in our bodies, especially when we begin to feel to collapsing feeling of worry and anxiety.
Everyone learns habits that get encoded in the brain through the Cingulate Cortex and other lower brain structures. Everyone also has the ability to bring awareness to their situation, both internal (e.g., are you worrying, feeling anxious, feeling fearful) and external (e.g., what triggered this inner feeling [the present], where did this feeling originate from [the past], how valid is this feeling now and moving forward in your life [the future]).
The 3 Gears of Changing Your Brain
Once you bring awareness to your situation, you can begin to remap your responses to them. You can rewire your brain! Dr. Brewer outlined 3 gears to work through that include:
Gear 1: Mapping Habit Loops
Ask yourself what the behavior you are engaging in (e.g., going on social media, over eating, compulsively cleaning, compulsively shopping, binging Netflix, taking mind altering drugs) attempting to help you do. Often these repetitive behaviors are attempting to help you overpower intense, uncomfortable feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear that have become ingrained in patterned repetitive behavior that does not do a good job of calming these feelings. The trigger is less important than the behavior you slip into to calm the rising anxiety and worry. Bringing your awareness to map you habit loops is the first step, the first gear to get yourself out of it.
Gear 2: Mindfulness
This is where you use your ability of awareness to get curious about your behavior: “Hmmm… what am I getting from worrying?” So you realize by becoming curious about your behavior of planning a trip to the airport 20 times isn’t doing anything to keep yourself and your family safe. This insight give you a space to do something different. You can also use mindfulness to practice retrospective reflection as well because sometimes the compulsive behavior is so powerful it is impossible to avert it until you strengthen this other part of your brain: curiosity, mindfulness, and awareness.
Gear 3: The Bigger, Better Offer
This is where you offer your brain a better offer to deal with a situation that triggers anxiety, worry, or fear. Dr. Brewer talks about how we become habituated to compulsive attempts to reduce our anxiety (e.g., ‘Oh, I feel anxious, I am going to look at puppies on the Internet’, soon the brain becomes habituated to puppies and needs a stronger stimulus, so now you need to find puppies and kitten together; then the brain become habituated to puppies and kittens, so now you need to find puppies, kittens, and baby chicks… and so it goes on and on… a compulsive addictive behavior has been established). What the brain does not become habituated to is curiosity! This is the key to get out of the loop.
They were running out of time at this point in the program, so go to Dr. Jud Brewer’s website to learn more:
Have a Great Day! And remember, you are the master of your Ship of Self — go forth and explore new inner territory inside your mind and by doing so, repattern your brain.