Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Going Back

“There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed.
Some forever, not for better;
Some have gone but some remain.”
~ ‘In My Life’ by The Beatles

During this time of staying “Safer At Home”, I have begun a photo project converting snapshots in my family albums to digital files so that I can share them online with my loved ones, most of whom live on the West Coast while I live in Wisconsin. Scanning these precious images, I keep returning to a very special vacation spot that has been in the family for four generations.

We call it simply The Cottage. It’s a beach house built on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan some time in the 1940s by my father’s parents. My father first brought my mother there when they were courting as college students at Harvard/Radcliffe in the mid 1950s. I spent long weekends and extended weeks there in the summers while I was growing up. Here are some images from the party we had for my third birthday.

I last visited The Cottage with my mother, my sister and brother, my husband, and my four children in 2007, following my oldest daughter’s college graduation. 

To me, The Cottage will always be about the feeling of summer freedom. Walking right out the front door onto the beach at any time, free to explore the sand, the water, the endless horizon, the numerous bits of driftwood and stone, I felt that my life was my own to create. We built sand castles, buried each other up to our chins in sand, jumped waves, collected “glassies”, scared seagulls, threw balls and Frisbees, and lit campfires. I wanted my children to have that same freedom.

We also challenged ourselves to bigger adventures, like canoeing down the White River and riding over the huge dunes, and treated ourselves to local summer pleasures, like root beer and ice cream. 

Freedom and fun are the summer hopes of many children. In the present climate, these are threatened. But these are not frivolous dreams, these are the experiences that demand and build real growth. The ability to make choices and the motivation to make choices for joy must be modeled for the next generations. Limiting choices to staying insular, to keeping things as they are out of fear, is a dangerous example to give our children.

I fervently wish for this global pandemic to teach us the moral lessons we need to learn about continuing exploration and adaptation while treating all living things with compassion and wisdom. May each of you be safe and healthy while you look forward to freedom and fun.

Thank you, John, for hosting this week’s challenge and inviting us to go back into our travels, to remember fondly and to learn.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Chaos

Perhaps presciently, Ann-Christine chose the theme of CHAOS for this week’s Photo Challenge even before the pandemic was declared.  

What an interesting word – indeed, an interesting concept. I suspect that only human beings, with their big brains and their social biology, even experience chaos. I imagine chaos to be attributed to a situation that evokes a kind of fear, but on a more complex level than a fear for one’s basic survival. 

Social chaos, for example.

Probably most of us have experienced the confusing disorder of emotions and associations that might be described as social chaos. Where do I fit in? How do I connect? Do my feelings mesh with anyone else’s? These thoughts can be quite unsettling to me, but I don’t imagine spiders or starfish or blue jays dealing with that kind of survival anxiety.

Some humans believe that we have a superior gift for bringing order out of chaos. I look at homeowners blowing those untidy leaves off of their driveway in the fall, and I wonder if they imagine they are making the world more orderly while forgetting that our suburban consumption creates chaotic waste in much greater proportions.  

 

If chaos provokes a kind of fear or discomfort, then each of us probably has a different threshold of tolerance for it. And each of us can probably reset that threshold with a bit of work. How comfortable can you become with disorder, ambiguity, or uncertainty? I have to admit that I found parenting to be a great exercise in adaptation to chaos. There were plenty of times that I wasn’t in control of the situation, but I survived, and I certainly learned a lot…and I actually enjoyed it. 

There is plenty to learn in the present climate of global chaos in the human family. There are certainly many questions with unknown answers. There is confusion and ambiguity and anxiety about how we fit together, how we feel, and how we ought to act. And this is going on at a very high level of cognitive function. It is a situation that is created in our big brains. 

At the same time, in the world outside our big brains, Nature is functioning as usual. Organisms emerge, populations respond, life and death dance together in fascinating rhythm. I find this incredibly peaceful, a perfect antidote to chaos. Breathing in the assurance of Nature’s presence, I am strengthened for the work of being a human. It’s not easy work. We have a lot of responsibility. But the first responsibility is being aware of who we are as a species. May we be humble. May we be kind to every being on the Tree of Life. 

Mindful in a New Administration

I have been struggling, like so many others, with the changes in the Administration of this country. I have listened and read and watched and felt and thought until the tears stream down my face. Finally, yesterday, I decided to write a response. Here’s what came out: 

Angry rich man impoverishing my country,
Diminishing the things I value,
Raping the planet, denying the change,
Stripping the endowed,
Demeaning the love you cannot attract,
Twisted in hate and fear and rage,
Puckered and discolored,
Bitter and sour as a kumquat,
Greedy as a black hole,
Blaming, shaming,
Raving, enslaving,
Cursing and worsening –
Can compassion arise in my soul
for you?
Or will I begin to identify with my own anger, my own fear,
seek my own protection,
build a wall around my heart
and regress to reptilian reflexes?
You are a bell of mindfulness.
I might thank you one day.

My partner, Steve, suggested that I take this exercise in identifying the emotions I feel when I read the news and form a gatha. I had to look that up; I discovered that it is a kind of prayer or vow that can bring a simple task, like brushing your teeth, into mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hahn provides this example: “Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth, I vow to speak purely and lovingly. When my mouth is fragrant with right speech, a flower blooms in the garden of my heart.” Steve then remembered reading The Fifth Precept which talks about consumption in the context of the Eightfold Path of right views, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.  I found this statement of it:

“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.”

The gatha I developed for myself to say when I turn on my computer goes like this: “I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing mindful consumption of media and news.” I don’t have a television, but if I did, I’d turn to this reminder before I used it.

The point is that the news and social media can play a major role in our cultural awareness.  I want to keep that role in a reasonable perspective as much as I can, and I want to keep this Administration in a reasonable perspective. I’m not sure exactly what that is. It’s too early to tell how much it will affect my decisions and actions in a concrete way. What it has done is connect me with the emotions and choices of people I care about; whether or not I share those feelings and decisions, I am hearing a lot about them. This Administration does give us the opportunity to examine our values and explore how to take action in response. I want to engage in mature and positive activities as much as possible such as dialogue, education, and community-building. I see blogging as one way to do this, although it is “virtual” and not “actual”. One thing I am doing in the “actual” world is starting rehearsal with a “communiversity” chorus in my new home town. I start tomorrow night, after a meeting at the Town Hall.
Thank you for being my online community. I appreciate your visits!
Namaste, and Peace!
– scillagrace

A humble smile

Practicing Freedom of Choice

This article is featured in the January edition of The Be Zine, which you can read HERE.

TO The States, or any one of them, or any city of The States, Resist much, obey little;
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved;

Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, of this earth, ever afterward resumes its liberty. – Walt Whitman

James Hepworth and Gregory McNamee chose these italicized words from Whitman’s writing for the title of a book they put together on writer and radical environmental activist Ed Abbey. I think of Ed in the desert wilderness of Utah’s Canyonlands. He is choosing to explore without roads, without a vehicle, without expensive equipment. He is on foot. He has matches, a knife, and boots. He drinks from the river. He walks in the cool of the night. He gathers sticks and makes a fire. He cooks a fish from the river. He is free. He is central to his existence, no other. I met some of his friends at the Wilderness 50 Conference in Albuquerque in 2014. They were a spirited bunch and passionate about the value of wild places, places without systems, where humans are visitors only and do not dominate the landscape. These wilderness advocates represent a resistance movement that truly inspires me.

the myth of nothing

The freedom to choose how you will act is basic autonomy. To relinquish that choice is enslavement. However, exercising that choice need not be violent or ego-driven. I believe it is possible to act freely while maintaining a posture of love and openness. I admire the practice of Thich Nhat Hahn, a Buddhist monk who engages in political activism in a peaceful and mindful manner. The first step to acting in freedom is awareness. Being aware of the present moment includes being aware of the suffering inherent in a situation, of the emotions that all parties bring to bear. It also includes being aware of the values you wish to embody. The Eight-Fold Path describes values to consider: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.  Determining to walk this path while resisting temptation and influence in other directions is indeed a form of activism.  

I am wary of the pressures that systems in this country employ to urge compliance.  I don’t want to see my freedom of choice reduced to “paper or plastic?”, as George Carlin suggests.  At the same time, I recognize that freedom requires responsibility. If I make my choices, I must abide by the consequences. Again, I think of Ed in the wilderness, happily accepting the dangers along with the adventure, feeling completely alive. There is risk involved in living in freedom and an opportunity to respond in community to the outcomes of those risks. That I will be wise enough to respond with compassion and not restriction is my hope. I cannot say that I practiced that as a parent raising four children, though!  I do know the urge to stifle the free exploration of a youngster. I am not convinced that it is the best practice for the spirit of either parent or child.

May we all have the courage to resist enslavement, the compassion to encourage freedom, the awareness to recognize the choices before us, and the will to act in love.  

Small World

“There is just one moon…

mystery

…and one golden sun…

skyscape

…and a smile means friendship to everyone…

…though the oceans are wide…

edge 3

…and the mountains divide…

2002

it’s a small world after all.”

My thought is that since it’s a small world, we ought to stop competing over it and start respecting it and each other.  Stop playing Tug of War; join hands, stick together, and play nicely. Children figure this out. Why can’t adults?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Time is Change

There’s no such thing as Time.  It’s not a thing; it is a concept.  It tries to explain why we see change, which is a thing. 

This looks different!  time tree

This difference is a change. Why did it change? Because the tree fell.  When did it fall?  Ah, now we need a concept for that moment and for the changes since that moment.

Leave a messageThis looks different.  This is a change.  Is it about the time?  47 years doesn’t mean much.  The changes mean a lot.  There was a man, a husband, a father, a singer.  Now, there is no man, no husband, no father, no song. 

What about this change?

time OWWIt might look like a change from what you’re used to, but some people see this every day.  No change; no time.

In order to feel a sense of time at all, we need to be able to imagine what something was like before and how it’s changed.

scale 2And then we try to measure the rate of change.  How long did it take for this to become something different?

time caveWe humans get to think about change and time because we have such big, big brains. Other species don’t. That gives us a huge amount of responsibility.  We should be taking that seriously, noticing changes and imagining what the future might be like. 

victory 2In time, we’ll see what changes.  And we’ll know how we’ve participated in that change as well. 

Time

Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory

“Victory” is a word that makes me rather uncomfortable.  It brings to mind a dualism that causes suffering.  In other words, if there’s a victor, there must be a loser.  I feel sad when someone is put in that role.  I do not like competition.  I do not like war.  I do not like capitalism.  And I do not like losing or feeling “less than”.  So often, winners are unkind, insensitive and arrogant.  I was the fourth daughter in my family of origin, and I probably felt like “the loser” in lots of ways as a child: redundant, younger, dumber, less skilled.  It doesn’t feel good to be on that side of the scale.  I prefer to imagine a way that everyone can win, that we can all share and get what we need regardless of how much or how little we are able to contribute.  I used to tell my own 4 children, “Fair doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing.  Fair means everyone gets what they need.”  May all beings be happy.  May we all feel that we can get what we need.  I am hoping for a kinder Victory for my country, for my children, for myself.

victory 2 victory
Victory

A Palette of Change

What color is humility?  What color is Pope Francis?  What color is poverty?  What color is racial injustice?  What color is responsibility?  What color is Noam Chomsky? What color is Bernie Sanders? What color is exploitation? What color is extinction? What color is cowardice?  What color is love?  What color is peace?  What color is Thich Nhat Hahn?  What color is health?  What color is despair? What color is the sky?  What color is Earth?  What color am I?

How shall I paint?contemplating colors

100 Thousand Poets for Change event link HERE.

Weekly Photo Challenge: My Muse

Brie Anne Demkiw’s challenge invites us to share our personal ‘muse’, the subject that we return to for new inspiration and in-depth study.  She has a favorite pier (coincidentally Scripps pier in La Jolla — I went to Scripps College in Claremont), which reminds me of my own pier post, A Jury of My Piers.  My muse is always Nature, and mostly Wisconsin, and you can visit my gallery page of Wisconsin nature shots by clicking here or on Wisconsin Outdoors in the heading. 

But today is an historic day, and I want to celebrate another muse, my youngest daughter Emily.  Emily recently announced her engagement to Nora, and today the U. S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage in all of the United States.  This is a break-through for the entire nation, but it’s a personal triumph for my family as well.  Emily is a ‘guiding genius’ (one of the definitions of the noun form of ‘muse’); she is a poet and singer and artist and recently became employed by a science surplus store….so she has all the Greek goddess talents going on.  In addition to that, she is an inspiration to me about social awareness, about being aware of yourself, your own psychology, and that of the people around you.  She is extremely intelligent and articulate, so that makes it easy for her to assess and communicate about what she notices and what she thinks.  She has called me out on my hypocrisy and my delusions (lovingly, of course) and challenged me to become more broad-minded.  She is a subject that I find particularly appropriate today….and she’s very photogenic.  So here’s her gallery:

So here’s to Emily and Nora: a bright, fabulous future to you!  May you continue to be an inspiration in the lives you lead and the love you generate.

Muse

Elect Eco Leaders!

As you head to the polls, I want to encourage you to Look UP! 

Battleship Rock

Battleship Rock, Jemez Mountains, New Mexico

Look up from your life, past your own career, beyond your own neighborhood.  Look to the wider world when you vote.  What kind of leadership are you electing for the future?  What kind of vision are you supporting?  Are you helping to put in place legislatures that will protect natural resources or exploit them?  Are you voting for human development or for the environment that hosts all life?  These are challenging times, and much hangs in the balance. 

How will you stand on the Earth? 

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved