Monday, June 25, 2007

Emily Dickinson, the Brain, and God

The Brain — is wider than the Sky —
For — put them side by side —
The one the other will contain
With ease — and you — beside —

The Brain is deeper than the sea —
For — hold them —Blue to Blue —
The one the other will absorb —
As Sponges — Buckets — do —

The Brain is just the weight of God —
For — Heft them — Pound for Pound —
And they will differ — if they do —
As Syllable from Sound —

This poem by Emily Dickinson comes with some interesting commentary by Steven Pinker in his book, The Blank Slate: "In its staggering complexity, its explosive combinatorial computation, and its limitless ability to imagine real and hypothetical worlds, the brain, truly, is wider than the sky. The poem itself proves it. Simply to understand the comparison in each verse, the brain of the reader must contain the sky and absorb the sea and visualize each one at the same scale as the brain itself. The enigmatic final verse with its startling image of God and the brain being hefted like cabbages, has puzzled readers since the poem was published. Some read it as creationism (God made the brain), others as atheism (the brain thought up God). The simile with phonology — sound is a seamless continuum, a syllable is a demarcated unit of it — suggests a kind of pantheism: God is everywhere and nowhere, and every brain incarnates a finite measure of infinity. The loophole "if they do" suggests mysticism — the brain and God may somehow be the same thing — and of course, agnosticism. The ambiguity is surely intentional, and I doubt that anyone could defend a single interpretation as the correct one."

Monday, June 18, 2007

10 Ways to Feel Spirit in Your Life — #3

1. Make a list of why you love each of the special people in your family and your family of friends. Also include those who fall into the category of "worthy opponent." If it feels appropriate, give the list to the person.

2. When you wake up, remember why you are glad to be alive. Feel the Presence of Spirit — you can imagine it as the attention of Jesus or Buddha, your guardian angels, or the wisdom and light in the atoms of your body, of the air, of the trees, of the buildings. Everything is NEW!

3. Make more time in your life for music, dancing, children, art, laughter.

4. Do something you're afraid of. Stretch the boundaries of your comfort zone.

5. Learn to use your active imagination for creative visualization.

6. Keep a dream journal and learn to interpret your dreams.

7. Do some kind of conscious movement practice: walking slowly and deliberately, tai chi, yoga, free-form dance — any movement with full attention will do to help merge the mind and body into one kind of knowing.

8. Give a gift anonymously.

9. Concentrate entirely on one small, mundane task; brushing your teeth, washing dishes, changing the oil in your car. Be super-aware of each part of the task.

10. Clean out your closets, bookshelves, garage, attic and give away what you honestly don't relate to or use anymore. Notice what comes along next to occupy the open space.

See March 19 for part 1, April 30 for part 2

Monday, June 11, 2007

OK! So I've Got Words on the Brain!
Immersed as I am in the art of words these days, I have been unusually sensitive to the English I've been hearing on television, radio, and from people around me in the world. Probably no one else cares, but I must speak!! What has happened to grammar and the beauty of our language? Is it going the way of all good things as our culture glorifies consumerism, reality TV, text-message-speak, and the lowest standards as the coolest? If you don't know any better, it seems normal now for people to say: "Me and my buddy went to the store." "Me and him are getting some new shoes." I hear radio and TV announcers, as well as actors, who have to write their own copy and have it approved by somebody who should know better, or who follow scripts written by writers, saying "Listen to Tom and I on Friday afternoons at 3." As a writer, I cringe.

Lately I've noticed how people are using adjectives as adverbs. "You did fantastic!" "That went smooth." "Everybody did amazing!" Has no one heard of the lowly "LY"? I'm just wondering what is being taught in school. Where are the English teachers, the writing teachers, who instilled a love of language and the sound of beautiful sentences and phrases in me and my friends?

It got hip to talk like a rapper or street person. Grungy and disrespectful was in. I think there is a movement toward people validating their egos and right to be ME! Me over everyone else, me first. Political incorrectness, people suing over ridiculous things they should have been responsible for themselves, hair-trigger reactiveness over tiny slights. . .maybe that's why everybody is starting their sentences with ME. It used to be more respectful, more humble: "Sarah and I went to have coffee together." I put my friend first. People weren't in such a hurry to make things short and ugly.

I remember hearing Jon Stewart interviewed before Bush was elected, and someone asked him what he thought about the idea that people liked Bush because he was the kind of guy they felt they could have a beer with and hang out with. He replied first, "I don't drink with alcoholics," then he said something like, "Why do people want to vote for a President who's as smart as they are? Wouldn't you want someone quite a bit superior to you?" And talk about murdering the English language! We couldn't have elected someone to lower the standards any better than our illustrious leader has!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Enlivening Each Day
"We learn and grow and are transformed not so much by what we do but by why and how we do it." — Sharon Salzberg

Writing a dictionary, as I said before, is an interesting challenge. There is a sameness to the format, with tiny variations within each word. To stay entertained I must pay attention to nuances and penetrate, penetrate, penetrate. Otherwise the writing process is numbing. Add to that the fact that the publisher just told me that what I thought was complete really is too short and I need to define over 200 more words! Then there are the strings of days, piled atop one another, with the goal each day to finish x number of words, to meet deadlines. . . the extra challenge is to not have my life itself turn into a blur. Some days it does. I notice lately I'm not exactly sure what day of the week it is. I have forgotten to call people back who left messages 2 days before. I have forgotten to take a walk, or get up and stretch. My flowers need water.

Part of my mind says, "Just keep at it, push through. Get it done, it won't be much longer." That will-driven, goal-oriented, hard-working, high-producing mode is deeply familiar to me. But what of the quality of life? This IS my time on earth, to experience things to the fullest and life does seem short as you get older. Who will facilitate enjoyment and beauty, if not me? Who will keep this body healthy, if not me? There are circles within circles: a tiny focus on a single word, a larger focus on all the words under one letter heading, all the words in the dictionary, the whole book, my other communications, my other interests that aren't word and people-related, my dreamworld, my experience of presence in all things where nothing has to be done at all. These things really do interpenetrate if I feel a large enough circle and sense them all at once.

So, today, an experiment: I ask to be shown by my deeper self how to flow my awareness among many interests, entertain myself, and also produce a significant volume of work. I start NOW!

Nothing is more effective than a deep, slow inhale and release for surrendering what you can’t control and focusing again on what is right in front of you.” —Oprah Winfrey