Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Cosmic Ecology

“Insects and plants can look alike.  Science calls this ‘camouflage’ and ‘mimicry,’ constructing a paranoid fantasy of bug behavior.  The camouflage theory says moths, beetles, mantises, and so on are so steadily menaced and so wily that they must disguise themselves as twigs, sticks, leaves, buds, pods, blossoms.

Perhaps they did learn or selectively breed to adapt; perhaps, however, they like to dress this way, or perhaps the plants have put on the insects’ clothing; or perhaps the bug and the plant share a common habitat and climate, and so both present themselves in a manner fitting to it.  Suppose the bug doesn’t know that it’s not a plant, doesn’t follow our classifications into ‘animal’ and ‘vegetable,’ never read Linnaeus or took Biology 101.  Suppose its dress, its mask, its body habits were so vegetative that mimicry is not only of the one kingdom by the other, or of each other, but of a third factor that requires them to accommodate with one another in a sympathy with all things, a cosmic ecology.  Perhaps it is love that attracts these life forms to each other and inclines them to look alike.”

James Hillman, Dream Animals, 1997;  Chronicle Books, San Francisco

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A More Mindful World

My father was a rocket scientist who, quite literally, worked on—among other things—the earliest missions to the moon. My boyhood was richly steeped in a culture of astronomy and cosmology. Even today I find the cosmos fascinating.

I have just started reading a recently published book about cosmology, The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene who is one of today’s leading interpreters of this branch of science. It’s an exhilarating and mind-expanding ride.

Let me share with you a tiny morsel of this exciting adventure. Greene opens the second chapter of this book with these two paragraphs:

“If you were to head out into the cosmos, traveling ever farther, would you find that space goes on indefinitely, or that it abruptly ends? Or, perhaps, would you ultimately circle back to your starting point, like Sir Francis Drake when he circumnavigated the earth? Both possibilities—a cosmos that stretches infinitely far, and one that is huge but finite—are compatible with all our observations, and over the past few decades leading researches have vigorously studied each. But for all that detailed scrutiny, if the universe is infinite there’s a breathtaking conclusion that has received relatively scant attention.

In the far reaches of an infinite cosmos, there’s a galaxy that looks just like the Milky Way, with a solar system that’s the spitting image of ours, with a planet that’s a dead ringer for earth, with a house that’s indistinguishable from yours, inhabited by someone who looks just like you, who is right now reading this very book and imagining you, in a distant galaxy, just reaching the end of this sentence. And there’s not just one such copy. In an infinite universe, there are infinitely many. In some, you doppelgänger is now reading this sentence, along with you. In others, he or she has skipped ahead, or feels in need of a snack and has put to book down. In others still he or she has, well, a less than felicitous disposition and is someone you’d rather not meet in a dark alley.

—Brian Greene, The Hidden Reality

Think about implications of this: there are an infinite number of copies of you out there. Each copy veers off to into a different reality whenever he or she makes a choice that differs from your choices.

In a very real sense, every single decision you make aligns you to a new universe of possibilities. You will have the company of the other infinite other versions of “you” who choose as you do. (But you’ll never get to meet them. That’s okay. You already know what they’d be like. They’d be just like you.)

Assuming the universe is infinite, this conclusion is inescapable. Knowing that awakens in me a new desire to align my choices more carefully with my values.

I want to live in one of the more mindful worlds, one that is kinder and more lovely for the attention it receives from the likes of me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hijacking Happiness

I know I’m not the only one to notice that when unhappy things come along, they arrive with unexpected joy.
The other day someone hijacked my email and tried to get my friends to wire away money. This fraud has resulted in some hassle for me. I had to open a new email account. I changed all my passwords. I spent many minutes on the phone, waiting to talk to a person employed by Yahoo! I’m sure you know—or can imagine—the drill.
Ultimately, what happened to me was only inconvenience. Still, I had to remind myself to stay calm and NOT believe my stories about the perpetrators.
The results of this fraud were not all bad. I ended up talking to friends who were genuinely concerned about my welfare. I hadn’t talked with some of them for months.  

I was free, wait, let me say that again, with emphasis, FREE!!!! of email for about 36 hours. I had forgotten how nice life without email is.

My inconvenience was nothing compared to the Japanese who are dealing with earthquakes, tsunamis, and nuclear radiation. Nothing. 
Not all the news from Japan is depressing. Read this post by Anne Thomas who is living in Japan where the earth shook. It may lift your spirits. It lifted mine.  A Letter from Sendai.
And thanks to my friend and neighbor at Temporary Reality where I learned of Ms. Thomas.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Times Are Gettin' Hard

Not long ago, I posted a video of Taimane Gardner  showing an exotic and mysterious side of the ukulele.

Here is another side of the ukulele showing a more subdued mood. It features my pal, Todd,  who posted this on YouTube a month or so ago. He sings an old folk song called "Times Are Gettin' Hard." Its mood and message fit these times we find ourselves in right now....

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I'm Okay!

I'm okay!

If you get an email from my account describing some overseas distress, please ignore it.

 Someone hacked into my email account and is posting false information about me.

In reality, I'm fine and at work.

Take care,


Monday, March 21, 2011

Nouvelle 55: Downsized

 With a tip of the hat to Ruth at Synch-ro-ni-zing, here's a Nouvelle 55.

The painting is a very recent one by my brother, artist James Gurney.

Mike lost his firefighting job when his department downsized.

The bank foreclosed two years later. He loaded his TV and his tools into his pickup and covered the load with a black tarp.

He muttered to Jane, “At least the truck’s paid off—sure wish the tank was full,” and they drove south to Tennessee.

Link to my brother's blog, Gurney Journey is in the column to the right under "Blogs I Read."

Friday, March 18, 2011

I'll Bet You Like This

Readers of Mindful Heart are well aware of my increasing fondness for the ukulele. I know the ukulele to be a simple and humble instrument perfect to put into the hands of young children who want to make their first music. That's what I'm doing every day at work.

It's also a great instrument for groups of amateurs to play together. I spend most Thursday evenings playing with friends. That's what I did last night. We get high just singing.

But the ukulele can be even more than that.

She has a wild, exotic side as well.

Grab a pair of headphones. Set aside six minutes.

You won't want to be interrupted:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Saturn Fly By

I find this VIDEO made from actual photos of the Cassini spacecraft comforting and uplifting.

The universe is big and beautiful. Our human problems, (even nuclear power plant meltdowns, however complicated) can be seen from a larger perspective.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Love is Something

Here's the reading taken from A Year With Rumi by Coleman Barks for March 15.

Before death takes away what you are given, give away what there is to give.

No dead person grieves for his death. He mourns only what he didn’t do. Why did I wait? Why did I not...? Why did I neglect to?

I cannot think of better advice to send. I hope you like it. May you stay in your infinity.



Rumi’s message is one I try to remember and pass along.

I am grateful to teach kindergarten where I am expected to promote generosity and sharing. I teach these by my example and in many other ways including singing songs, none better than this little gem by Malvina Reynolds, “Love is Something.”

She sings her song with the panache of someone who knows homespun music beats manufactured music every time:

I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing and singing along with Malvina Reynolds when I was a student at UC Berkeley many years ago. The song has worn well.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hurt, Shaken, Numb

I’ve been knocked off center since viewing  Internet video of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

I have felt a special affinity for Japan ever since my teenage years in the sixties.

My first Zen teacher, Kobun Chino Otagawa, was Japanese. I drink organic Japanese sencha green tea almost every day.  I live in a small Northern California town that has long included a small, but vital Japanese community. Sebastopol has a fine Japanese Buddhist Temple.

Japan is the only Asian country I have visited. Sebastopol has a sister city, Yamauchi-Machi, on Kyushu, the southwestern island. We’ve hosted exchange students from Japan and we sent both of our children there. While I was in Japan I made many Japanese friends. I made sure to visit the atom bomb museum in Nagasaki. Visiting this site was a pilgrimage for me, an American peace activist and history major with at least some conscience about what my parent's generation did.

When I drive my Japanese-made car out to the coast and look west across the Pacific Ocean, my imagination stretches across the water to Japan.

News of this catastrophe has been difficult for me to absorb. I haven’t slept as well as I usually do. Images of the destruction appear in my mind between dreams (though the dreams themselves, oddly, are quite happy). Thinking about the implications of the earthquake in terms of energy, ecology, economy, doesn’t put me quickly back to sleep.

I’m walking (well not right now, plus here comes the rain!), singing and strumming my ukulele, doing yoga, and sitting through turbulent meditation periods. I catch myself numbing out—thinking about getting a video to watch, and I know I'm hurting.

I am trying to settle down, to make room for some happiness to beam through, but it will take time.

Even Mother Earth wobbled with this one.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


With a nod to Bonnie and Ruth for bringing it up:

when i was seventeen
i was bewildered

i had lost faith in christianity
forlorn, empty—
like a forgotten garbage can

i knew that i was
—without faith in jesus—
not worthless or empty

i found a teacher and sat
for decades—

sitting practice:
me chasing after
ease, equanimity, enlightenment

these three had been here
all along
waiting for me to notice them

breath followed breath
sitting revealed faith
just sitting revealed what is

searching in shadows
feeling sun warm
shoulders, back, heart

a haiku:

like whales in the sea
we breathe, writhe, make love, pray and
sing in sure, blind faith

May I read it to you?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Love Your Enemies

As a kindergarten teacher it took me a few years to figure out (the hard way) that the quickest path to having a great year is to help the kids with the most difficulties. The happier the least happy kid is, the happier we’ll all be—including me. Especially me, I'll admit it.

Sunday School lessons I was given about Jesus teaching "Love your enemies" had something to do with it. I am so grateful for that teacher.

“If all your enemies are well, happy and peaceful, they would not be your enemies. If they are free from problems, pain, suffering, affliction, neurosis, psychosis, paranoia, fear, tension, anxiety, etc., they would not be your enemies. Your practical solution toward your enemies is to help them to overcome their problems, so you can live in peace and happiness. In fact, if you can, you should fill the minds of all your enemies with loving kindness and make all of them realize the true meaning of peace so you can live in peace and happiness. The more they are in neurosis, psychosis, fear, tension anxiety, etc, the more trouble, pain and suffering they can bring to the world. If you could convert a vicious and wicked person into a holy and saintly individual, you would perform a miracle. Let us cultivate adequate wisdom and loving kindness within ourselves to convert evil minds into saintly minds.”

—Henepola Gunaratana Mindfulness in Plain English

What if this idea were applied to the enormous kindergarten of world politics?

What if nation states decided to invest as much money in health care, environmental restoration, and the arts as they now spend on the Armies, Navies, and Air Forces?

What if my country, the US, shrank its military spending so as not to exceed the budget it now has for the Peace Corps?

Would we find ourselves living in a far safer and happier world for everyone, even the bugs?