photo by KM colleague and poet-photographer Judith Meskill
David Foster Wallace’s Astonishing Commencement Speech 2005: A year before recurring depression would seize him again, leading to his suicide last year, the celebrated writer told graduating students nothing less than how to be human, through the “unimaginably hard” work of constantly paying attention and being aware. Thanks to my rediscovered friend Locrian Rhapsody for the link. Excerpt:
Thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.
The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way…
Most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Howl at the Moon: From Liz Strauss, a haunting and poetic elegy for a friend who has just lost a friend, and now, two years later, for the loss of that friend too. “We only get a few who understand us and love us the way that we come, packed and broken, with tears at the seams.”
Unphotographable: Michael David Murphy writes stunning prose describing events, from his own life and from the news, in photographic detail, including the raw emotions that these portraits, these stories, would reveal, if we could just capture them on film. Thanks to Jodene for the link.
The Wisdom to Know Nothing: An old wise post from Nick Smith: “This little willingness to know ‘What Is’ is enough… It knows it’s own way into our conscious awareness and asks only that we give it welcome… We don’t need to learn or practice anything or change at all, just come with empty hands and see. It is totally trustworthy. It answers our every question, speaks the Truth through us when invited, gives us strength to deal with whatever situation we find ourselves in, gives us the vision to see beyond appearances and is an endless source of Inspiration. We are perfect exactly as we are.”
Krishnamurti’s Irreverent Take on Meditation: “Meditation is to be aware of every thought and of every feeling, never to say it is right or wrong but just to watch it and move with it.” Thanks to Locrian Rhapsody for the link. Excerpt:
[The word meditation has] been used both in the East and the West in a most unfortunate way. There are different schools of meditation, different methods and systems. There are systems which say “Watch the movement of your big toe, watch it, watch it, watch it”; there are other systems which advocate sitting in a certain posture, breathing regularly or practising awareness. All this is utterly mechanical. Another method gives you a certain word and tells you that if you go on repeating it you will have some extraordinary transcendental experience. This is sheer nonsense. It is a form of self-hypnosis. By repeating Amen or Om or Coca-Cola indefinitely you will obviously have a certain experience because by repetition the mind becomes quiet. It is a well known phenomenon which has been practised for thousands of years in India —Mantra Yoga it is called. By repetition you can induce the mind to be gentle and soft but it is still a petty, shoddy, little mind. You might as well put a piece of stick you have picked up in the garden on the mantelpiece and give it a flower every day. In a month you will be worshipping it and not to put a flower in front of it will become a sin. Meditation is not following any system; it is not constant repetition and imitation. Meditation is not concentration. It is one of the favourite gambits of some teachers of meditation to insist on their pupils learning concentration —that is, fixing the mind on one thought and driving out all other thoughts. This is a most stupid, ugly thing. It means that all the time you are having a battle between the insistence that you must concentrate on the one hand and your mind on the other which wanders away to all sorts of other things, whereas you should be attentive to every movement of the mind wherever it wanders. When your mind wanders off it means you are interested in something else.
Dave Snowden Hates PKM: The idea of Personal Knowledge Management (focusing an organization’s productivity improvement efforts on helping individuals improve their personal connectivity/networking and content management abilities) gets a tough ride from my friend Dave Snowden. Basically his argument is that classic American socially atomistic approaches to organizational improvement are not the answer; communitarian ones are. He also doesn’t trust top-down networking efforts, even those ostensibly designed to help individuals find the content and contacts useful to them individually. Alas, you have to download another annoying Microsoft plug-in to view the video.
We’re Givin’ It All We’ve Got, Captain!: A documentary filmmaker reviews the newest Star Trek movie and sees in it a reassertion of all the unchallenged beliefs and values that are plunging us into the sixth great extinction. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link.
Is DNA Telepathic?: Something’s going on at the micro level the scientists can’t figure out. Thanks to Sheri Herndon for the link.
Natural Building With Cob: Fascinating video (bear with the hokey intro) about how you can learn to build your own house from natural, local materials with just a few days‘ instruction. Thanks to Avi Solomon for the link.
The Case for Working With Your Hands: Perhaps, if you’re finding you’re having a hard time getting outside your head and relating to the real world, it’s because the work you do is done entirely with your head. Thanks to Tree for the link.
The End of the World as We Know It: Three articles not for those prone to depression:
Can We Govern Ourselves Collectively?: Several people have sent me links to the one-hour movie Us Now by Banyak Films, on current and potential uses of social media for everything from self-management and self-government. Send it to people who don’t get social media.
The Next Big Thing on the Web?: Google Wave: An integration of e-mail, IM/twitter, blogs and other ‘threads’ into conversations. Coming this fall.
Just For Fun — the Artist Edition:
Homeless Signs. Done by an artist, not by the city of Toronto. Too bad. Thanks to several people for pointing me to this.
Worst business website ever. A nomination from websitesthatsuck.com — don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Thoughts for the Week:
From a friend of Dave Smith: “Lo único que se hace desde arriba son los pozos.” (“The only things that you can make from the top down are holes.”)
From Kirkpatrick Sale’s Dwellers in the Land (thanks to Dave Smith for this quote too):
The issue is not one of morality but of scale. There is no very successful way to teach, or force, the moral view, or to insure correct ethical responses to anything at all. The only way people will apply “right behavior” and behave in a responsible way is if they have been persuaded to see the problem concretely and to understand their own connections to it directly—and this can be done only at a limited scale.
It can be done where the forces of government and society are still recognizable and comprehensible, where relations with other people are still intimate, and where the effects of individual actions are visible; where abstractions and intangibles give way to the here and now, the seen and felt, the real and known.
Then people will do the environmentally “correct” thing not because it is thought to be the moral, but rather the practical, thing to do. That cannot be done on a global scale, nor a continental, nor even a national one, because the human animal, being small and limited, has only a small view of the world and a limited comprehension of how to act within it.
From Einstein: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
From Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”