Archive for category Life

Let Children Play

Debra Harrell became a social media celebrity when she was arrested for letting her nine year old play in a park without supervision

Debra Harrell became a social media celebrity when she was arrested for letting her nine year old play in a park without supervision

In a surreal story that made its way on Facebook, a South Carolina woman was arrested for child abandonment for allowing her little girl, age 9, play in a park all day while she worked at McDonalds to provide for the family.

Still, yeah, I get it.  Nine may be too young for that.  Though I’m pretty sure the odds of something bad happening to the girl would be greater if she rode in the car to her mom’s job and spent the day at McDonalds.   But the initial result – the woman was arrested, her daughter taken away and she lost her job  – was absurd overkill.

Luckily the backlash has gotten her reunited with her daughter and she’s back working as a shift manager at McDonalds.  She still has a court date ahead though – and if it wasn’t for social media spreading her story, who knows what would have happened!

It still says something about our society.   Everything is so controlled and regulated that parents have to worry that any misjudgment might get reported by some nosy adult.   An 11 year old didn’t want to go into the store so her mom ran in leaving the girl in the car just a few minutes.   An adult saw the child, called the cops, and the mom was arrested.   Huh?  The girl was happy, there was no abuse, but the police swooped in.

They said it was 85 degrees outside, the windows were closed and the car wasn’t running.   But the girl wasn’t hot, and hey – she’s ELEVEN!  I’ve known 11 year olds who babysit!  She can open the door and join her mom in the store if she wants.   It’s not like she’s a dog unable to operate the door handles.

When my kids went to day care I had to send food for lunch.   Both were somewhat picky eaters, so I made sure that I sent food they’d like.  It wasn’t always government approved healthy.  Luckily I don’t live in Manitoba where I could be fined for such a thing.  The unhealthy lunch in question?  Left over roast beef, potatoes, carrots, an orange and milk.   How could they feed their child such rubbish!  Luckily the day care gave her Ritz crackers to make it healthy.  I mean, HUH?

What this does, of course, is push parents away from allowing kids unsupervised creative play.  If I let my kids, aged 11 and 8, go on a bike ride around town, will someone think it’s unsafe and that they should be supervised?   If they go across the street to the playground, do I have to be there with them the whole time?

Of course not, kids need freedom to explore.  If every activity is supervised and controlled, they’ll not learn how to improvise and make do with whatever life gives them.  They’ll want some kind of formula or activity – or else be bored.

Since nature is so dangerous, parents rely on the safety of videogames.  It keeps kids inside and safe.

Since nature is so dangerous, parents rely on the safety of videogames. It keeps kids inside and away from all those dangers out in the world.

Parents respond to the societal push towards rigidity and control by allowing kids the freedom to do one thing nobody will get in trouble for: play video games.  You can shop, drive, or do anything with your kids heads focused on screens and nobody will bother you.  That is far more accepted than a little creative unsupervised free time.

The culprit here isn’t just the state, but all those businesses and companies that make money off of kids.  Nobody makes money when kids run out to explore the local stream or trails.  Yet if my 11 year old falls off his bike two miles from home, someone will certainly wonder why I would let him ride so far unsupervised.

Then there is fear.  Parents imagine what could happen, no matter how unlikely, and think it will if they don’t protect their kids.  People get so obsessed with safety that they lose a rational capacity to calculate probability.   Many activities that people think are dangerous are far more safe than a car ride across town.

When I was 11 I explored Sioux Falls on my bike from one end to the other, and I’d zoom down hills reaching 40 MPH (I had a speedometer), having to be really careful no cars were coming down the cross streets.  I’d spend hours away from home, stopping by friends, exploring or just being a kid.   Yes, I’d read, watch too much TV and sometimes have to be pushed out the door.  But no one was going to arrest my mom when my sister and I would walk to the park when I was nine (and she was seven).

finland

Schools play into this by demanding more work, tests, and seat time, leaving kids only a few hours a day for real play – and much of that gets taken up by lessons, activities or clubs.   Recess ceases in sixth grade, and parents complain about early release days.   I don’t mean this as criticism of the schools or teachers – I was President of the PTA last year at my younger son’s school and really admire the work they do.

And in rural Maine I think we have a bit more common sense.  When my youngest was in first grade he was playing with a nerf gun in the car – and proceeded to walk into school with it.  My eldest told me that he took the gun in so I headed back to the school.  The staff thought it was funny – and apparently my son turned it in voluntarily, realizing he shouldn’t have it there.  But geez, in some suburban areas I’d probably have been arrested!   Sending a kid to school with a toy gun!  And, of course, many would think I was a horrible parent, worthy of jail, for letting my first grade son have toy weapons!

So I don’t worry that the parent police will get on my case here, and there are local streams, trails, and play areas for the kids to explore.  Yes, unlike me they have to wear bike helmets when they ride, but at least they can ride.  Let kids play.  They’ll have enough serious time when they have to pay the bills and work.  This time should be magical.  They need to be in nature, not just learn about the environment.  And give parents leeway to decide what their kid can handle.

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Something from Nothing

something

The world is mostly nothing.  And it came from nothing.  If you consider the amount of “empty” space between the stars and galaxies, well over 99.999999999% of the universe has nothing.   But if you also consider the stuff of every day — like this table my computer is resting upon — about 99.999999999% of it is empty space.   It feels solid to us, but the reality is that the distance between the subatomic particles is immense, and thus the reality we see as solid and real is actually mostly empty.

Of course, this could mean that our perceptions are illusions.   Consider: computer programs can create the illusion of vast worlds, all located on a tiny hard drive in the computer, used by an even smaller memory unit.   It still is only two (or perhaps three) dimensional on a screen, but the ‘feel’ of being in a vast world exists.   It’s not too much of a stretch to expand the metaphor to think of our reality.

That’s absurd, right?   Space and time exist.   But space and time are the same thing – it’s space/time.   And it seems to be a unified entity, meaning all space/time exists together “simultaneously.”   In other words, just as you can travel about in space, theoretically one could travel about in time; indeed to travel through space one must travel through time, they are unified.  Yet for some reason we don’t comprehend, we’re temporally uni-directional.   And it appears that while we can “speed up” our passage through time (if we traveled at near the speed of light we’d age much, much less quickly than those left on earth), we can’t go in reverse.

A quote from Einstein after the death of his friend Michele Besso

A quote from Einstein after the death of his friend Michele Besso

This is all very odd – and I’m not even going to delve into quantum and particle physics, except to note that they indicate that matter, or “stuff,” isn’t really a particle but a ripple in a field that has no precise location until it is measured or perceived.    That means that we’ll always see the world as having a real discernible form because we’re perceiving it.   If we ceased to perceive it, it would lose that form.

That makes no sense, and with all due to respect to Erwin Schroedinger, cats and other animals – and perhaps any form of life, including plants – perceive in some way.    Which ones magically solidify reality into one form?  Well, that’s anybody’s guess.

British clergyman Bishop Berkeley – who has both a university and a Star Trek character (spelled Barclay, the actual phonetic pronunciation of the Bishop’s name) named after him – thought material reality was simply a persuasive illusion.   All we have is perception and experience, but we can never truly judge the reality of those perceptions.  Dim witted people responded to Berkeley with things like “if reality is an illusion, why don’t you just jump off a cliff.”  Of course, the perception of and experience of pain or even death would still be real.  Whatever reality is.

Berkeley thought it was in essence God’s dream – we were products of God’s mind.   And if we keep the metaphor of a dream going, it’s apt.  Consider our dreams, especially dreams in which one knows he or she is dreaming.   Those dreams have space, color, sensation, but yet we’re silently (or perhaps not so silently) snoozing in bed, creating those worlds in our minds.  Perhaps waking reality is more like the dream world, but with different rules and laws.  Why would such a view make any less sense than the idea something exploded from nothing and we inhabit a world where we drift quietly with no discernible purpose?  Given our utter lack of knowledge about why there is something and not nothing, both possibilities are equally plausible.

Of course, a universe coming from “nothing” can also be seen as non-sensical.  Before the big bang time and space presumably did not exist.  The term “nothing” is a space-time term.   The beginning of the universe is a space-time concept.  Before space-time existed, time did not exist.  Neither did space.  Can you imagine a reality that is not defined by space or time?

We cannot conceptualize the reasons for our existence because they are completely outside our frame of reference.  We think in space-time terms, but space-time is a creation.    I’m not saying it was created by a God — and if one believes that, it just pushes back the core question to “where did God come from.”  Moreover by definition God becomes non-material, with attributes not defined by space-time.   Such a God would be utterly incomprehensible to humans, suggesting that our God-myths are just that – myths.    Perhaps they came about because people were trying to put into words some kind of deep intuitive spiritual knowledge but then again, perhaps not.

We cannot imagine what is not space-time, so we are constrained by the limitations of our perceptual capacities.   We think everything has a beginning and an end because we are unable to conceive of reality absent time.   We think everything has a location because we cannot imagine reality without space.

universe

But that says less about reality than our ability to understand it.  So it seems we inhabit a world that given our understanding of the laws of physics, should not exist – because it requires getting something from nothing.  Clearly our laws of physics themselves are not universal, at least not outside our space-time universe.   That means we can be reasonably sure of a few things:

1.   The belief we are in a meaningless universe of mechanical practices that follow the laws of physics without regard to anything immaterial (spirit, a god-concept or something like that) is unlikely to be correct.  It relies on an assumption that this is “all that is,” but that requires a contradiction: our world came from nothing, but you can’t get something from nothing.

2.  The idea that life is an illusion, a “dream of God” or some other fundamentally different nature is as realistic a belief as a belief that we experience an external world “out there” that we as discrete, separate individuals come in contact with.   In fact, the odds are greater that Berkeley was on to something, given how bizarre quantum physics operates.

3.  Science is defined by measurable material phenomena, and generalizes laws about the physical world – our space-time world.  Therefore science cannot answer questions about a deeper fundamental nature of reality, or where this world came from.  Thus science is pragmatic in the sense it tries to explain how the world works – or how we experience the world working.   While it can inform philosophical and spiritual speculations, it cannot give definitive answers.

4.  Neither philosophy nor spiritual/religious experience yields definitive answers to these questions either; to me that means one has to be playful, non-dogmatic and open minded.

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What’s Love Got to do with it?

Throughout time the idea of love has confounded psychologists, philosophers, romantics and skeptics.   What is love?  Is it, like Tina Turner claims, “a second hand emotion?”    Is love, pure as Paul claims in Corinthians:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

We live in a society where the divorce rate is over 50%, where the idea of love is brandished around in greeting cards and songs, but little understood.  I’m thinking about this after a three month process of breaking up with someone after 16 years, going through a divorce, moving to a much smaller apartment, and making decisions involving kids and the future.

Lest anyone feel sorry for me, the process was amicable, the right course of action, mutually agreed upon, and we remain friends.  That adds poignancy to the question, however.  At some point in our discussions we had to deal with the question that maybe being able to not hate the other person and just co-exist was as good as it gets.   “There are lots of miserable people staying together,” one of us said.   Perhaps the idea of love is deceptive.

We still decided to separate – the lack of a deep relationship had yielded stagnation and wasn’t good for the kids.  We realized that mutual annoyances and distance/disagreements were casting a pall over the household that was bad for everyone.   Yet once we did think we loved each other.   Did we?  Was it an illusion?

Romantic love is often separated from other forms of love.   I have a love of life, a love of humanity, a deep love for my children.   Parental love is unconditional, romantic love tends not to be.   Love of others, life and humanity is almost always filled with conditions – I love my fellow human until the bastard cuts me off in traffic.  We’ll profess love for others and the sanctity of life until there’s  a war and then people even rejoice over dead civilians.

Romantic love is said to have stages.   For about four months we enjoy the “halo effect,” a sense that the other is the best thing that ever came into our lives, not noticing the faults and channeling our desire for love and connection into a belief it’s there.   What we don’t know about the other, we fill in with our imagination of what an ideal should be.   And with each side trying to impress the other, both play the part of the other’s ideal, reinforcing the halo.

Then reality bites.   People spend more time together, they let their true selves show.    Soon disappointment sets in, resentment over differences, and walls are built.  Love becomes conditional, the other needs to change how they behave, or if they don’t, their habits irritate.   At that point love can go two directions.   It can fade due to the building of walls and hidden resentments, or the couple can try make it work.  The important question: how do you make it work?   How do you know if love is fading due to choices made in the relationship, or some kind of deep incompatibility?

I think the answer is to let go of fear and embrace acceptance.   That doesn’t mean it will work, but one will learn more quickly if there is real incompatibility and be able to avoid falling into a delusion.

Fear prevents us from showing our true selves to others.  Early on, we’re afraid perhaps of losing the other.   So we hide things, don’t admit true feelings, push aside annoyances, hide bad habits, and aren’t fully honest.   We’re afraid the other will judge us for our past, and thus we might rationalize not opening up by saying the past doesn’t matter, rather than discussing ones’ full self and experiences.   Fear causes us to create an image for our lover or mate, and not be true to ourselves.

The mirror image of fear is not accepting the other for who he or she is.   That lack of acceptance, of course, creates incentive for the other to hide part of themselves.    Love requires accepting the other person as they are.   If love is there both people will change in some ways and in fact grow together over time.  That can’t happen without acceptance.   Without acceptance walls form and people will grow apart rather than together.

To be sure, this kind of ‘unconditional love’ isn’t possible for all couples.   But if they are open, honest, and accepting, they can find out early that it just isn’t right for them to be together and they won’t fall into the trap of fooling themselves by thinking it’s good and then wondering what went wrong.   They can recognize early the reality of their incompatibility and not let it destroy their ability to be just friends.    And if they find out that they really do fit and “get” each other, they can build a path to a long term loving relationship.

Or that’s my theory.   Obviously, I haven’t made it a reality.    I’m trying to learn from my mistakes and not let go of the belief that true long term love is possible.

My blog posts may reflect more on my personal situation rather than politics in coming weeks because with all this going on politics has seemed rather boring.   I’m really doing fine – it’s emotional at times, and I stopped blogging for awhile just to handle all the change.   But life is about change, and our quality of life reflects how we respond to change.

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Blog vacation

Since the new semester has started things both professional and personal have left me no time to blog.  I plan to be blogging again soon – but as days pass with nothing new, I expect it could be March before I get back to the usual pace.

For now suffice it to say that my life is undergoing a kind of transformation, and overall it is a very good thing.   But it is cutting into my blogging time, probably for the next three weeks.

So I’ll end with two thoughts:

1.  I really loved President Obama’s State of the Union speech last night; and

2.  My new favorite quote, a great way to approach life, from Anthony Hopkins:   “My philosophy is: It’s none of my business what people say of me and think of me. I am what I am and I do what I do. I expect nothing and accept everything. And it makes life so much easier.”    

It does!  I’ll post when inspiration strikes, but it may not be until into March!

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The Voice Within

The idea that a new year represents rebirth, renewal and change is on its face silly.  Every day is a new day, the year is just a human construct, making days numbers and delineating them in an arbitrary fashion.  The idea that this is a time for resolutions and transformation is irrational – it’s just a new day, like every day.

Yet perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss that ideal of a new beginning.   Yes, every day is potentially a chance for rebirth and renewal, but usually we squander those opportunities, living hypnotized, following the same routines.  Instead of asking what would make life truly joyful, we check off our “to do” lists and take care of the mundane tasks at hand.

And that’s OK – life is a series of moments and we need to shop, cook, clean, work, and take of things that just need to be done.   Yet we can do those things thinking the mundane is life – that life is about making money, paying bills, achieving success and consuming products.  Or we can work through the mundane with a higher ideal in mind – happiness, love of both nature and others, and a sense of magic.  The world unfolds for us, we just have to trust it.

So my resolution for 2013 is simply to live awake.

To try every day to look out the window and see nature as magical and beautiful.  Not to get used to it or take it for granted. To feel blessed to live in foothills of western Maine, a place of pure beauty.   To be sure, the wide open plains of South Dakota, where I was last month visiting family, has its own magic and beauty as well.   Wherever one is, one key to living awake is not to take nature for granted.

To be true to myself.   We humans are our own worst enemies, we repress who we are, we say what we think others want to hear, we distrust our ability to simultaneously be true and be accepted.   We conform.   We decide that our dreams are silly or unobtainable.   We settle for a life less than we could have.

It’s not that we humans are stupid.   We settle because it’s comfortable.   It’s easy to conform, to go with what others want, to push aside youthful ambitions and dreams of happiness.   We replace those with stuff – or perhaps with societal approval of us as successful.   Prestige replaces joy.   To be normal is safe, to conform is to be comfortable.

And then we slowly stagnate.

Please read this “comic”.   It is a powerful comparison of two good women who choose different paths.    One was true to herself, one conformed.   The price of conformity isn’t always so high – and there is nothing wrong with being like others if one is at the same time true to oneself.

But too often we drown our inner voice and make choices out of fear of not fitting in or somehow missing out.  We fear lacking income, making others mad, or ending up alone.    Fear can’t guide life, to be truly happy one must be true to oneself.    We need to trust our conscience and inner voice, even when it goes against what most people seem to be thinking and doing.    And that is my resolution for 2013.   To live awake, to listen to the voice within, to live true to myself.

 

 

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Reflections

Off from the backyard

Off from the backyard

The snow is beautiful here in rural Maine.  The trees seem magical with a white icing, deer tracks visible on the ground, the dull brown colors of early winter given way to a crystal beauty.

Of course, I have to get the snow blower out and the roads are a bit slick.   Cancellations alter the routine and force schedule changes.   Some people complain about the snow and its inconveniences.  Better to live in Florida or California, away from all this!

Life is like that.  Seen from one perspective it’s magical, full of synchronicity, opportunities and beauty.    We reach out and we find friends.   We cry and are comforted.   From another perspective life is a burden.   Children are gunned down in schools, corporations run roughshod over common folk, people break hearts, lie and hurt.

I try to focus on the magical, but the mundane drags me down.

I wonder if I’ve lived my life up until now fooling myself.  I see the beauty, I understand how perspective shapes our reality, I have a grasp of the underlying spiritual truth of existence.  Yet I haven’t lived it.  I’ve lived a bit afraid, too addicted to comfort, comfortable even with boredom.

The wide comfortable path

The wide comfortable path

I’ve not lived a life as full as I could because it was easy not to.   The path of least resistance is enticing.  It may be boring, unsatisfying on many levels, but full of distractions and easy to travel.    Moreover, since so many of us enjoy that path, it’s socially acceptable.    Take the path of least resistance and others nod and approve.  It validates their choice of that same path, we’re all in this together.

There is another path, through the woods, unshoveled and unmarked.   The soul tries to lure us to this path, it contains richness that the path of least resistance does not.   It leads to a life of meaning, but it is risky.   The thorny weeds are all around, the snow is deep.   There is uncertainty.

A path into the woods...

A path into the woods…

We question our soul.   Is this really the path to take?   The other is cleared and easy.   This one requires risk.   The soul says in clear uncertain terms that to achieve true happiness you have to run from safety and be completely true to yourself.   The path of least resistance is the path of conformity.  It is living small, but living comfortably.

The snow falls, the ice piles up on my jacket.  The wind hits my face, a raw wind.   The wind is harsher on the path my soul wants me to take, there are shelters on the path of least resistance.

“It’s worth it,” my soul whispers.  “You don’t know where it leads, or what’s beyond the next bend, but if you are true to yourself life has more value than it ever could if you simply go with the flow.”

“Come on,” friends yell from the path of least resistance.    They’re heading towards a shelter, warm and comfortable.   They seem bored, but there are distractions – games, contests, and comfort.   Who needs meaning, who needs risk, who needs to listen to the soul?   Just go with the flow, relax, unwind, watch the tube, get old and die.   Meaning?   Who needs it?

Yet the soul beckons.   What is life if you live it just to find some comfort and then die?   Why exist if it’s just to distract oneself from boredom and be part of the crowd?    Death awaits in any event.   What’s the point?   What if I want more, what if I want to follow my soul, even if it means risk and uncertainty?

Those on the path of least resistance laugh.  “There is no meaning,” they insist.  “You live, you die.   Avoid pain and discomfort, don’t take any risks.   If you’re lucky enough to be able to glide through, you’ve won!   Why take risks, that would be foolish.”

I stand and look, and realize that I am a fool.    And that is good.   I turn towards the risky path, wave to my friends and say, “I’ll see you around, but I’ve got to go explore.”

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Dreams

The Studentenheim in Bonn

The Studentenheim in Bonn

I have just posted a spiritual fantasy called “Dreams.”     The heroine Jenny finds herself in a different reality, able among other things to enter into the dreams of others – past, present and future.   Go read it if you’re into that kind of thing!   I wrote it about 20 years ago and have given up on ever having it published.  However, more than anything I’ve ever written it outlines my core beliefs about life, including speculation about the nature of reality.  Read that and you know me, even 20 years after the fact.

The story had an odd genesis.   While I was studying in Germany I had the pleasure to spend a chunk of time in a Studentenheim (dorm) in Bonn on the Endernicher Allee.  When everyone left for Christmas I stayed in my room.    I could have gone to visit friends elsewhere in Germany, but I wanted a little bit of time alone — I had been traveling all through November as I shifted from staying in Berlin to Bonn, and wanted some time by myself.

On December 25th I took a magical train ride through the snowy Moselle valley (I had a German rail pass I was using up), eating my Christmas dinner at the Frankfurt train station.   On the 26th I took another train ride, finishing my rail pass.  That evening the Letsch family – caretakers for the Studentenheim – invited me for Raclette.  I drank at least two liters of beer and enjoyed a wonderful evening.

The next morning – December 27th – I awoke at about 4:00 AM.   I had been listening to a CD from the former Supertramp member Roger Hodgson Eye of the Storm quite a bit that week.   It has strong spiritual undertones, and the time alone had me in an introspective mood.   I woke up with a story in my head.  I grabbed my Zeos 280 laptop and started typing.

It was like that for the next two and a half days.   All day on the 27th and 28th I was in my dorm room, typing out this story.  I’d run out of ideas, take a break and lay down…and then get up as new ideas popped in my head.   I finished it on the 29th, a sunny bright day.   “Wow,” I said to myself, “where did that come from!?”

I then went for a run through downtown Bonn and along the Rhein river, finally getting outside after spending nearly three days consumed by this story.     I thought I had something really good – I printed it out, made copies, gave it to friends, many of whom reacted positively to the ideas.    A couple said it was remarkable and inspiring.   I looked into publishing it a few times, but with no luck.  I would share it with people I thought might enjoy it and for awhile fantasized about getting it published and maybe even becoming a full time author.   But that was a pipe dream – I write too much like an academic!

This morning I started a blog post in which I mentioned how I used to keep a journal of my dreams, including lucid dreams.    I had interesting encounters with vicious dogs in those dreams, and some of that had worked its way into my story.    I put that post aside and decided to post my story for anyone who might be interested in a story I still feel really close to.

So I’d be honored if any of you take the time to read my story Dreams.

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