Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

I think of haiku as the ultimate distillations of consciousness. Grappling with the instant in which we become aware of something, haiku capture what it is about a scene that attracts our attention and draws us out of our everyday selves, heightening our sense of engagement with life. Our sensory impressions, everyday conceptions, understandings, feelings, and personal values are all involved in reading and writing haiku. They address the exact moment we become alive to ourselves in rousing from our habitual stupor to discover we are participating in a situation of particular note. It is a haiku’s challenge to capture that situation in the most precise language possible as a gesture acknowledging how moved we are at the onset of one specific engagement.

In my last post I dealt with six haiku by Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, the man who used his pithy jottings to preserve and recapture the high points of his travels about Japan in the second half of the seventeenth century. Here I will consider six more.

Again, I am indebted to Harold G. Henderson’s An Introduction to Haiku (Doubleday Anchor, 1958). I present four versions of each poem: a) a Roman-alphabet version of the haiku in Japanese, b) Henderson’s word-for-word literal translation into English, c) Henderson’s polished English rendition, and d) my rendition as drawn from the literal translation (side-stepping Henderson’s urge to rhyme his translations, and add titles).

7. A haiku written in 1684.

a) Michinobe-no | mukuge | wa | uma | ni | kuware-keri

b) Roadside | mallow | as-for| horse | by | was-eaten-keri

c) Near the road it flowered, / the mallow—and by my horse / has been devoured!

d) roadside flower / fated to be eaten / by my horse

The wild flower by the side of the road attracted both Basho and his horse’s attention, leading to, first, the horse eating the flower, and then Basho capturing the incident in this haiku. The attractiveness of the flower was a set-up for its demise, producing the surprise and irony that made the incident stand out in Basho’s mind. This is precisely the kind of moment that wakes us up because of the disparity between appreciating one of nature’s beauties and then witnessing its inglorious fate. Compressed into a single episode of consciousness, we immediately grasp the familiarity of the grand plot by which we all bloom and succumb.

8. Here’s one from 1686 about wild boars.

a) Inoshishi | mo | tomo-ni | fukaruru | nowake | kana

b) Wild-boars | even | together-with | get-blown | autumn-storm | kana 

c) Wild boars and all / are blown along with it— / storm-wind of fall!

d) even wild boars / get blown about / autumn storm

As is traditional, this haiku is anchored by the seasonal reference in the last line, which confirms the force of a particular incident. Since Basho’s day, Japanese poets have witnessed events in the world as they are situated according to the natural order the seasons represent. Wild boars in autumn face different challenges than wild boars in winter, spring, summer. And if boars cannot find refuge, what about the poet who summons them? I picture Basho as blasted and drenched, using wild animals to speak to his plight, which is almost beyond words. For me, the key word here is “even.” The storm was even that bad. If the poet’s experience was truly ineffable, he manages to convey his helplessness and mental confusion through sympathy with wild boars.

9. Here’s one in which one sensory impression opens way to another.

a) Hototogisu | kie-yuka | kata | ya | shima | hitotsu

b) Cuckoo | vanish-go | direction | : | island | one

c) Where the cuckoo flies / till it is lost to sight—out there / a lone island lies.

d) where the cuckoo disappears / an island rises / from the sea

Here the cuckoo flying into the distance leads the poet’s eye to an island he had not noticed before—which must be where the bird was headed in the first place. We talk about what William James called the stream of consciousness—as if awareness flowed by itself. But in truth, we are responsible for the sequence in which we become aware of events because that sequence depends on how we direct our attention from one salient event to the next. Events don’t flow; we flow. Consciousness streams within us as we are moved to track the changes we notice. We are made to discover motion in our surroundings—such as the fly we spot out of the corner of our eye. Such as birds winging into the distance, and islands emerging from the sea in that direction. Replacing a bird with an island in our attention is no mean trick, yet we perform similar feats a thousand times a day. One thing points to another, and that to yet another. Think of movies, television, videos, aurora borealis. We are hooked on motion and tracking change, which we interpret as plots and narratives—and sometimes haiku.

10. And now what a particular island leads Basho to behold.

a) Ara | umi | ya | Sado-ni | yokotau | Ama-no | -gawa

b) Rough | sea | : | Sado [above] | stretch-across | Heaven’s | -river

c) So wild a sea—/ and, stretching over Sado Isle, / the Galaxy…

d) night surf / over Sado Island / the Milky Way

Here Sado, off the northwest coast of Japan, provides an earthly reference point for Basho’s otherworldly apparition. It is night. Wind is blowing. Seas are heaving, crashing. Over Sado, stars are gleaming in a swath across the sky. A night to remember. So Basho jots down a few words to spark his memory later on when he feels moved to recount his adventures. His life is one momentous journey made up of experiences such as this. Imagine what it was like in those days long before the advent of radio, film, TV, and computer games—the endless stream of distractions via new media meant to capture our attention for the benefit of those who profit from how we spend our time and money. Basho represents a world different from our world of today. But his jottings are still with us, and we can recover some of the world he experienced directly through his bodily senses if we will apply ourselves to that task.

11. Basho noticed many flowers on his travels, always in the context of his innermost sensibility. Here’s a haiku about hollyhocks.

a) Hi-no | michi | ya | aoi | katabuku | satsuki-ame

b) Sun’s | road | : | hollyhocks | lean-toward | fifth-month-rain

c) The sun’s way: / hollyhocks turn toward it / through all the rain of May.

d) where the sun should be / hollyhocks follow / showers in May

Basho here draws attention to the sun’s location in the sky and the direction hollyhocks face in tracking it—even though it may not be evident to those who do not depend on photosynthesis to make their own food. In this case, rainclouds hide the sun, but the hollyhocks spy it out and turn toward it nonetheless. As hollyhocks turn to face the sun, Basho turns toward the hollyhocks. We all have our tropisms, deliberately turning to face that which appeals to us. Our loops of engagement echo that natural force, ensuring we seek out those attractions which sustain us—food, air, water, companions, shelter, children, health, safety, and other drives and values that direct us toward what we need to survive. Hollyhocks need sunlight, Basho needs hollyhocks, we all seek engagement with what keeps us going.

12. One last haiku, based on auditory stimulation—or rather its lack.

a) Kane | tsukanu | mura | wa | nani | wo | ka | haru-no-kure

b) Bell | ring-not | village | as-for | what | [acc.] | ? | spring-evening

c) A village where they ring / no bells!—Oh, what do they do / at dusk in spring?

d) without bells / what do villagers do / on spring evenings?

Japanese syntax allows “bell | ring-not | village,” which I find more pungent than Henderson’s prosaic “a village where they ring no bells.” I long for the biting directness Japanese would allow me—if I spoke that language. Our own Anglo-Saxon heritage has been much softened and diluted by the Latin touch we inherited through Norman French. The native tongue of haiku is nearly untranslatable into modern English. We have much to learn from the study of haiku—about language and its relation to consciousness. I have tried to show in these examples that behind a particular haiku lies one human mind steeped in its own workings, its language reflecting that mind and its engagements better than our own language lets us speak our own minds as what they are rather than to make a certain impression on others.

That’s it for this round of haiku. As ever, y’rs, –Steve 

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at haiku as tokens of human consciousness, so I thought I’d revisit them now that I’ve finished my book. The idea being that I can’t imagine a more succinct expression of what’s going on in someone’s mind on a particular occasion than what they jot down in those few syllables. I don’t mean the formulaic, 5-7-5 kind we teach kids in grade school to make them into little poets. I mean haiku as even grownups put their hearts and souls into them as a worthy means of capturing particular insights in a medium that lasts about as long as the insight itself.

As Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) wrote them in Japan, haiku were a forerunner of tweets in being a means of capturing impressions while away from home, getting just enough down on paper to kindle memories that could later be shared with others. It’s tricky translating haiku from the Japanese, not only because the syntax differs from English (with verbs coming at the end of a sentence), but as Harold G. Henderson points out, there aren’t any articles (a, an, the), pronouns (he, she, they), distinctions between singular and plural, or marks of punctuation. Which often get added in translation to make them acceptable to ears used to hearing English. Instead of punctuation marks, Japanese haiku include kireji, words that serve as a kind of stage direction regarding emphasis and rhythm to be read aloud without adding meaning to the text.

In his An Introduction to Haiku (Doubleday Anchor, 1958), Henderson sometimes adds rhymes to the haiku he translates, but he bases his versions on literal word-for-word renderings from Japanese into English, so it is easy to get back to a crude semblance of the author’s mind at work.

1. For instance, here is one haiku in a) Japanese, b) literal English translation, c) Henderson’s, and d) my rendition.

a) Shizu-no | ko | ine-suri-kakete | tsuki | wo | miru

b) Poverty’s child | rice-grind-starting | moon | at | looks

c) Poverty’s child— / he starts to grind the rice, / and gazes at the moon.

d) farmer’s child / grinding rice / looks to the moon

As a depiction of basho’s conscious experience, this is a highly compressed and economical presentation of a scene the poet saw on his travels in which a sensory impression of a boy in a field was categorized (interpreted or conceptualized) as “poverty’s child.” The situation drawn to our attention is that the boy does not look at what he is doing, but at the moon, a contrast that rouses the poet to take notice because it conveys the boy’s feeling of reluctance or isolation while performing this particular task. That feeling is not stated in so many words, but is conveyed by the two-fold action at the heart of the poem—the grinding while looking at the moon.

2. Here’s another example (all of these are by Basho).

a) Kare-eda | ni | karasu-no | tomari-keri | aki-no-kure

b) Withered-branch | on | crow’s | settling-keri | autumn- nightfall

c) On a withered branch / a crow has settled— / autumn nightfall.

d) lone crow / on a withered branch / autumn nightfall

In Japanese and Henderson’s English, the branch comes first, then the crow, that combination setting us up for consummation with the mood affirmed by “autumn nightfall.” The image is all of a piece, the coming of night paralleling and affirming the crow on its branch. In this example there is an affinity between branch and crow that draws our attention, not a contrast as in the first poem. Our feelings can be bivalent, either attracting or distracting our conscious attention. In this example it is the coherence of the entire image that moves and confirms our experience. In d) I switched the order in which crow and branch appear in this scene to avoid the awkward (to my ears) Japanese construction placing the verb after the subject after the direct object, wrecking in the process Basho’s comparison between crow and night as both descending. The poetry lies in the sound and rhythm of the original Japanese, which is lost in translation.

3. Here’s Basho’s most famous haiku, considered a breakthrough in 1686:

a) Furu-ike | ya | kawazu | tobi-komu | mizu-no-oto

b) Old-pond | : | frog | jump-in | water-sound

c) Old pond— / and a frog-jump in / water-sound

d) old pond / frog leaps / “blip”

According to Henderson, the story is that Basho was sitting with friends in his garden when, during the stillness, they all heard the sound of a frog diving into water. Basho quickly gave out the last two parts of a tripartite haiku; the challenge was to find a suitable first part, which Basho after some discussion, settled on. The pond would not have been uppermost in the group’s consciousness, nor the visual frog. It was the sound the frog made hitting the water that caught their attention, as novelty often does. The issue became, what would be an appropriate setting for the resulting sound? To make sense of that sound, Basho placed it in the context of an ancient body of water, setting the quality of long endurance against the brief and abrupt appearance of the frog (which was imagined but not seen). The pond was a body of water in the understanding; the frog was a conceptual diver-into-water; only the sound was a concrete, sensory impression. It was the surprising nature of that damp “blip” in the universe amid a conversation about other matters that created the occasion for poetry in the minds of those present. The actual writing of the haiku became part of the occasion, so the entire scene has come down to us as an integral part of the Basho legend.

4. Here’s another haiku centered on the role of rice in Japanese culture.

a) Furyu-no | hajime | ya | oku-no | ta-ue-uta

b) Refinement’s | beginning | : | “interior’s” | rice-planting-song

c) The beginning of all art: / a song when planting a rice field / in the country’s inmost part.

d) art begins here / rice-planting song / in rural Japan

The song Basho heard in the northern province of oku on one of his journeys is at the heart of this haiku. He composed the verse on the spot when asked to share a poem he had written in the northern interior. He heard in the local work song the deep beginnings of the more sophisticated art of the city. The first part of the poem stemmed from his understanding of the customary transition from rural folk art to a more intricate urban treatment. He contrasted the two—song and art, country and city—and that contrast creates the tension between the two parts of the poem that gets our attention. The first part is conceptual—art had to have begun somewhere. The second is based on personal experience on his journey. The result is a larger understanding of the spatial and temporal relationship between rural and citified Japan. I ignore Henderson’s rhyme of part with art as extraneous to the haiku.

5. Here’s one based on Basho’s appreciation for the cultural history of Japan.

a) Natsu-gusa | ya | tsuwamono-demo-ga | yume-no | ato

b) Summer-grasses | : | strong-ones’ [plural] | dreams’ | afterward

c) Summer grass: / of stalwart warriors splendid dreams / the aftermath

d) summer weeds / fallen warriors’ / relict dreams

On one of his journeys, Basho came to the site of a famous medieval battle at a former castle, in his day gone to wasteland. He wept at the thought of lost glories and wrote this poem on the spot. Vegetation was all that was left of the famous story, providing the basis of the concrete sensory impression that contrasted with details his imaginative understanding provided from memory. Descended from warriors himself, Basho identified with the warriors, and felt their defeat personally. That contrast stirred his consciousness, and he compressed the disparity between then and now into this poem. Imagine compressing that history into five words! Such is the art of haiku.

6) This poem written in 1694 is one of Basho’s last.

a) Tabi | ni | yamite | yume | wa | kare-no | wo | kake-meguru

b) Journey | on | taken-ill | dreams | as-for | dried-up-fields | on | run-about

c) On a journey, ill, / and over fields all withered, dreams / go wandering still.

d) ill on a journey / delirium wanders / the withered land

At 50, still out exploring the Japanese landscape, Basho got sick and could not continue. Friends and pupils gathered to him and asked that he write a traditional “death poem” to sum up his life and beliefs. He told them that all his works since the Old Pond haiku was to be his legacy. But waking the next day after a dream, he summoned friends and followers to his bedside and he gave them this poem. Somewhat similar to the preceding poem about warrior’s dreams, Basho, understanding his nearness to death, relates his condition to his surroundings, and leaves his dreams (poems and pupils) to carry on in his stead. Dreams are a vital dimension of consciousness, and take us to realms we cannot reach by conventional means. Unspoken here, we are left to imagine the images Basho entertained on one of his last nights.

I have more Basho haiku to share with you, but I’ll get to them in a following post. My point here is that the world we truly live in is inside us in the felt-depths of our consciousness. When we die, all trace of that lived consciousness disappears, leaving our families, friends, and descendants to continue our journeys in their own way. It is highly unlikely that anyone would be able to recreate our unique awareness from the works, notes, and scraps we leave behind, for no collection of physical objects can capture the essence of a living being. But if we read between the lines that a singular consciousness has left us, we can attempt to construe what it was like to live a particular life. I am personally drawn to Matsuo Basho as an example of what can be captured through supreme skill, effort and economy. I see his legacy as a gift to those who choose to accept it. 

Basho made a point of engaging the land of his day through his travels and teaching. His loop of engagement was extremely active and discerning to the end. He used horseback technology, language, and little else in leaving us a portrait of one man’s sensibility and loop of engagement in his day.

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

This just in from 75 years ago: I am climbing the back stairs from the kitchen in the dark and, as I go, my father hails me as “Steffan, Stepanovich, Steffanovsky,” which I take as a term of endearment, though I wouldn’t have known at the time what a term of endearment was. I have no idea where it arose in my father’s experience. What I felt then, and know now, was that he was applying those exotic names to me. This from a man not given to voicing his affections, so I have clung to those vocal rhythms all these years.

Just as defeats and interruptions kindle consciousness, so do intimacies, endearments, and tender tokens of positive regard at the opposite pole of experience. What affirms us or upsets us—we remember because we are moved one way or the other. Moved in the sense of synapses being built up, forging our identities and places in the world.

The phrase, “for once, then, something,” springs to mind from Robert Frost’s poem of that name. He was describing the experience of peering into a deep well, and sensing something white gleaming beneath the surface of the water. But then a drop fell from a fern and rippled the surface, blotting out what had drawn his attention. “What was that whiteness? / Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.”

Just as that shining at the bottom of a well became part of Frost’s lifelong heritage of experience, so did “Steffan, Stepanovich, Steffanovsky” become a formative part of mine. Each of us is assembled synapse by synapse, item by item, moment by moment, experience by experience, to become the person we are today walking around in our separate worlds, interrelating, forming a world of humanity on a particular planet in space.

What if my genome had been assembled in, say, Russia? I would now speak Russian, have Russian experiences and memories, sing Russian songs, eat Russian food, and be wholly different from my historically American self. What if my genome had been assembled in Afghanistan? Tanzania? North Korea? Djibouti? My shimmering experiences would have been different, and my unique self would be other than I find myself today. My world view would be different. As each of us is different from every other person on Earth.

I here offer “for once, then, something” as a key to how we become who we are. We do not open our eyes and ears onto the world so much as into the world as we seize it and codify it in the confines of our personal histories of experience. We are assemblies of gleaming bits of hurt and wonder that stick with us because they shape our brains, sensitizing us to be on the lookout for more of the same. We make our worlds as we go, adding increasing amounts of detail to this experience and to that.

At some point, many of us stop adding to our stores of experience and become set in our outlooks and ways, products of the lives we have lived. A few others keep adding to their collections of formative experiences, their understanding expanding with age—always from the perspective of one privileged or condemned to live just such a life.

The upshot being that each of us lives in a country of his or her own making, a world apart from all others, and to reach across the spaces between us requires more skill and effort than we commonly assume. What we are able to make of our individual histories determines our fitness for survival in our unique territories and situations.

How we engage one another is up to us, how we reach out to and receive one another—with openness and anticipation in gratefulness we are both present to this moment, or fearful suspicion and hostility, perhaps leading us to shoot one another down in the street. 

The point of all this is that until we truly know ourselves, we cannot know anyone else because our hidden self gets in the way of every engagement, and we project our unique understanding of the world onto the world itself, convinced we know the world as it is, while, in truth, we only know the world as we would have it be in light of our formative experience.

That is why I have put so much of my life’s energy into writing CONSCIOUSNESS, The BOOK. I intend it as the book of you and me as we render ourselves in light of our respective experiences. If we each take responsibility for our actions as reflections of our personal histories, then we have a chance of enjoying a picnic together on the bank of the stream of experience where we meet. By claiming our sundry nuances, our “for once, then, something” moments, we appreciate the shimmering apparitions we present one to another. Which takes careful attention over an extended period of time.

The question then becomes, are we willing to take the time to get to know one another, or do we pass in the mists of everyday awareness? I invite you to check out my Website,, to explore a few of the issues I think are involved in meeting face-to-face, eye-to-eye.

Thanks for reading this far. I remain, y’rs, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

I am informed that Facebook filters are responsible for feeding me the impression that the Facebook public is becoming more socially concerned. I am the beneficiary/victim of an algorithm that feeds me what I want to hear. Mea culpa. I live in my own little world. Which is much like the audience of Fox news getting riled up the way it likes to get riled, while the Masterpiece Theater audience thrives in its own tender dream.

In the end, we become victims of our personal loops of engagement which, driven by past experience, deliver an endless stream of more of the same. If we collect teddy bears, our friends see to it we get more bears for Christmas and birthdays. Once we establish a personal identity, we are trapped in the world we have made for ourselves. What excites us is more of what we already have. Which is why the 1% dedicate themselves to growing richer and richer, and the poor stay where they are because that’s what they know. Think of George W. Bush delivering all those speeches to preselected audiences that wouldn’t laugh him off the stage.

How break out of this insidious cycle? If, that is, we are still capable of original thought. Of being a person, not merely a consumer. Of facing the truth, not what we want to have happen.

Curiosity, skepticism, and doubt are given us so we can check out our sources and discover the man behind the curtain pulling on his levers, amplifying his voice into a stern command. There are only two kinds of people: the gullible and the curious. When I find myself in the gullible camp, I get mad because I have ceased to be my unique self watching over my own fate. I catch myself being fooled, duped, bilked, rolled, used, abused.

What to do? Check the facts for myself. Look past hearsay to the truth beyond. Pore through Wikileaks to find out what really was said. Ask who benefits from things being this way? Who will benefit from locking the Bradley Mannings of the world away for life? Who profits from my swallowing the party line? Who controls what I believe? If anyone but myself, then the likelihood is I am not my own man.

Sad little story. But increasingly, the story of us all. Surrendering  supervision of our own engagements, we become enemies of our personal interests. If we do not persist in being our unique selves, we have sold out to the powers who surround and dominate us. Powers such as the Catholic Church, a remnant of the Roman Empire still with us today. The Republican Party that has sold its soul to gain power over this land. The Supreme Court that auctions the nation’s laws to the highest bidder. A tone-deaf Congress that sets its agenda ideologically before discussing the merits of an issue. A so-called Financial Services Industry that bilks the 99% out of house and home for the benefit of the1%. And a news industry spinning what it wants us to know for the benefit of those who make a profit from what we believe.

The few riding on the backs of the many. There is no other story. Fascists in our midst controlling our lives.

The issue is defending our uniqueness and individuality as the true basis of a nation once dedicated to democracy. Not that we know the truth, but if we dedicate our lives to finding out what it is, we can live by the light of that truth, and leave a nation we’d be proud to have our children inherit.

Be humble, not arrogant. Stay curious. Get mad. Y’rs, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Yesterday, driving to Ellsworth, I realized I was driving with two kinds of vision. One focal where I could read bumper stickers and license plates; the other panoramic that had trees and tree shadows in the road whizzing by without me really noticing. In the first kind of vision I wasn’t really moving; in the second, I was racing through space. I saw both ways at the same time, but didn’t pay attention to the big picture until something unusual happened, like a car pulling in front of me, or someone going unusually fast or slow.

What I pay attention to is either something that pleases or displeases me. I ignore things in-between as unremarkable or just blah, like shadows of passing trees. That middle zone is the “so what else is new” range of routine, everyday experience. What I notice—what rouses me to an alert state of consciousness—is the novel, surprising, salient, and unexpected event that requires special attention so I deem it important. Not rationally so much as intuitively.

Some of us arrange our lives to be so predictable that we sleepwalk through the day, hardly noticing anything. TV, for instance, as a steady diet so we laugh and cry on cue, is so predictable as to be unworthy of notice. Spot news, however, keeps us posted on traffic deaths, celebrity faux pas, brutality, abuse, overt hostility, earthquakes, etc., not so much for our benefit as to draw an audience that hangs on its every word in order to get money out of advertisers who profit from unsettled or fearful customers.

I notice a sea change in postings to Facebook from the cuteness of puppies, kitties, and babies to real social issues that require our best thinking in order to repair them. I see now that the public is paying attention—not to the blah muddle of a secure life—but to the outrage of one sector of the population deriving a profit from other people going into debt to afford a new house, car, washing machine, education, or smattering of dignity.

The so-called American dream is dead in its tracks. The people have caught on to the hidden truth behind “business as usual.” Occupy Wall Street has drawn attention to the prideful collusion between banks, investment firms, insurance companies, rating agencies, government deregulators, political election campaigns, judges who are merely human, and lobbyists funded by corporations with supreme wealth. The scales have fallen from our eyes. Suddenly, we see the truth we have been lulled into avoiding all these years since the end of World War II.

Prosperity and security turn out to be myths. If you don’t battle for your personal survival, you take things for granted and actually believe you deserve an easy life at others’ expense.

Two ways of seeing: barely noticing and being fully awake and alert to what’s going on. America is losing its innocence—as it periodically does—once again. Consciousness comes upon us in waves, much as tsunamis get people’s attention. I see this coming election season as an occasion for America’s Spring to flower from the seeds planted by Occupy Wall Street last year.

Stay tuned for future bulletins. As ever, yours, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

So far in my reflections, “I have met with no sure signs of an ego, superego, or libido such as Freud made the cornerstones of his self-analysis” (CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK, p. 172f.). What I do find is consciousness as a process in the form of an on-rushing loop of engagement that conducts my stream of consciousness from moment to moment as driven by my subjective feelings, values, and memories.

Feelings come in two polarities: positive and negative, pro and con, attractive and repellant. Positive feelings drive the loop forward, negative feelings hold it back. Our engagements are steered by the polarity of our feelings toward what we love, like, or yearn for, and away from what we hate, dislike, or find unappealing. Insofar as our engagements are expressions of the biological values underlying our motivated behavior, they aid our survival in the various situations we get ourselves into. Situations in which we receive sensory stimulation and with which we interact as appropriately as we can.

Positive engagements reflect  the many layers of our identity, including feelings, values, habits, autobiographical memories, decisions, judgments, and choices we make in acting as we do. They are how we make ourselves happen in the world and become who we are. Negative engagements tell who we are not in reflecting the dark or hidden side of our depths—the self we wish to avoid. Our loops of engagement are more all-encompassing than our little self (Latin ego, meaning I).

Our looping engagements are fast-moving and full of adventure, while old ego is staid as an assumed property of our minds. I believe ego is an outdated concept, that it is time to acknowledge the dynamics of our personality, and that in different situations we behave differently and become different people. In fact we are as much a product of our engagements as we are their directors. Each day is given to us so we can discover who we are in the situations that arise on that particular day. The self of yesterday is not necessarily the self of today. We can change, we can adapt, we can try new behaviors. We can grow into new selves in light of our daily adventures. Self-reference stays the same day to day, but the self referred to can grow as our experience grows larger and larger.

I would say that if we stay the same from day-to-day, we aren’t really living up to our potential. We are meant to grow larger as our experience accrues, to transcend who we were yesterday in order to become the larger self we are today. Our loops of engagement are active and kinetic, not staid and ever the same. As experience accrues, understanding accrues, wisdom accrues. We grow into larger selves as we progress through our days hour-by-hour, day-by-day, year-by-year. If we don’t give ourselves to our coursing experience, we actually grow smaller as life passes us by. We are stuck in the past, diminished, pretending to be alive, depending on the good old days to tell us who we are. Not keeping up with our streaming experience, we slip into existence as our version of the walking dead.

Superego, too, seems an outdated concept. Our cultures—not just our parents—influence everything we do, including who we are. And every day we wake to a new culture because the people around us are doing new things. If we don’t keep abreast of what’s going on, our frame of reference slips back, back, and back, leaving us living as who we once were, not the larger selves we might have become.

Yes, libido, the sensuous or affective self, still applies to our looping engagements as the range of bivalent feelings that steers us from one sexual or aesthetic or habitual encounter to the next, engagement after engagement. If passion is not involved in what we do, we are missing the point of life as an expression of who we are as individual specimens of vibrant human possibility. But our engagements are far more diverse than Freud’s emphasis on sexual liaisons would imply. Not all passions are implicitly or explicitly sexual. Our experience is nuanced in every case, with soft shadings, subtle hues, and quiet gradations merging from one to the next, carrying us through the full range of sensory possibilities. To be truly alive is to be alive to the whole palette of human experience, to the bold and the delicate alike.

In my mind, ego, superego, and libido are supplanted by the dynamic flow of my successive, felt engagements with the myriad situations that make up my life’s experience. Experiences centered on food grade into those centered on sex, on drink, on scents, visual impressions, aural sensations, tactile encounters, intellectual appreciations, scientific realizations, and so on and on. The only certainty is that this instant of awareness will merge with the next, and the one after that. Until, that is, my loop is done and I leave the world to those who accompany and come after me.

Gotta move on to the next episode. Catch up with you later. Y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Every morning when I wake up, I have to reinvent myself in conformity with whom I thought I was when I went to bed last night. I use a variety of tricks to help me gain a sense of continuity in my life.

This morning, for instance, I awoke from a particularly intense dream in which I was lost and couldn’t find my way back. In my wanderings along gusty city streets I came across men working on a flimsy scaffold suspended from the roof of a building. I watched as the wind seized the scaffolding and floated it free of the building, hurling it into the street blocks away, where the workers’ blood splattered the pavement.

There was much more to the dream, which I vividly remembered, so I lay in bed replaying what I could recall of my adventures. Then I got up and gradually shifted from my nighttime to my daytime self, which I found to be hard work because I was still in my dream. Ah, I discovered my socks and shoes more-or-less where they should be; that was a good sign. And my boots. The pruning shears I had gotten ready last fall and hadn’t used in five months. On my table I discovered several notes to myself about what I wanted to work on today. I didn’t remember writing them, but there they were so I could set my sights by them in picking up where I’d left off when I went to bed.

Out of habit, I bent down to inspect the kitchen floor for ants, which I’ve been feeding all winter. My strainer was in the drying rack next to the sink where I’d rinsed it after scrubbing five pounds of potatoes. The scene in the kitchen looked vaguely familiar, and I reaffirmed the connection I’d had with that room yesterday. Slowly, I began to make breakfast, filling the kettle, heating water, taking a mug off the shelf.

Gradually, I headed into the day—clinging to dream fragments all the while. The crib notes I’d left on the table scrawled on the back of an envelope reminded me that this was the day I was to attend a joint meeting of the Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island Occupy groups for training in group process and consensus building. I was to redo my senior college schedule, call the local newspaper, proofread a draft watershed handbook, make an appointment with an audiologist, and so on. Slowly, slowly I began to feel like myself as traces of the dream receded.

This illustrates what it takes every morning to crank up my loop of engagement so I achieve a sense of continuity in my life and coherence in mapping out my day in more-or-less orderly fashion. Every day I am faced with the challenge of reinventing myself so I appear familiar to myself and know who I am. If a tsunami had struck in the night and the world I woke to was topsy-turvy, I would be an entirely different person without shoes, boots, notes or relevant thoughts. I would be distressed because I wouldn’t have a sense where I was or what to do.

I still remember the day my three-year-old son pulled the handle of a pan on the stove, tipping a stream of boiling water down the length of his left arm. My fingers just wouldn’t dial the phone as if they’d never done it before. I shook all over, and had to force my fingers into the little dial holes until I got the numbers in the right sequence. Once in Eastern Washington State when I was heading off into the bush to urinate, a rattlesnake slid across my path—abruptly the urgency left me and I didn’t have to go any more but turned on my heels and got out of there.

If getting married, building a house, finding a new job, getting into a new school, all require a strong and enduring engagement with what is relevant to such matters, think of the havoc that getting divorced wreaks on that commitment, or moving out of a house, being fired, or having a baby in tenth grade, or kicked out of school. In such instances we have to invent ourselves anew, taking on entirely new identities because our drives and values have been proven no match for the lives we actually lead.

When a loved one dies, we are left behind to suffer the loss, not just for a day or a week, but forever—the rest of our days. When a woman I know was in her eighties, she had a blood clot that moved from her hand to her heart, her lungs, and her kidneys. Her children wouldn’t let her go because they had lived with her for their entire lives and couldn’t imagine life without their mother. So the woman had quadruple-bypass surgery, was on dialysis and oxygen for a year, and lay in bed building up debts she lacked the money to pay until her body called it quits on its own because her children couldn’t let go of an engagement that was fundamental to their most basic identities.

Whether dreams or major events in the course of our lives, our engagements in life are not frills; they are fundamental to our sense of identity and well-being. They define us and make us familiar to ourselves so, as long as they continue, we know who we are. The tools and accessories we employ in maintaining those loops—breast implants, good looks, hair color, muscle strength, cars, homes, clothing, vocabularies, professions, medications and all the rest—become valued possessions in enabling us to be who we dream of being, and we defend such possessions because our personhood depends on them.

Until the tsunami rolls in, the earthquake or mudslide takes our home, the tornado strips us of every possession—and we are left to fend for ourselves with only two bare hands to use in clawing for our survival.

All that was clear to me this morning when I groggily reinvented myself in the wake of nothing but a dream. Imagine what Syrian rebels are going through these long days, the people of Greece, Mexican immigrants without passports in Arizona, people whose homes are being foreclosed in every state, pre-tsunami residents of northeastern Japan, Palestinian refugees from so-called Israel, and quake victims still without housing in Haiti. My car almost died when its timing belt frayed last year. Think what you face when your fundamental engagements in life shred to a full stop and your perceptions and actions become wholly disjointed and nonfunctional.

What can we do but be grateful for what we have? And not crave more than we need to get by with grace?

That’s my thought for today. More later. Y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK now has its very own Website at For an introduction to what you need to know about your own mind to survive in the 21st century, this site is for you.

There are many routes to self-knowledge:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Psychology
  • Neuroscientific investigation
  • Reading Shakespeare, Dante, Montaigne, et al.
  • Leading an active, reflective, and experiential life

However we go about it, self-awareness is the key—developing the ability to see ourselves in different situations so that we recognize what is our contribution and what comes from outside. We cannot relate effectively to others until we connect with ourselves. Which is what the book is about.

My method in writing it was to seize upon incidents in my life that were salient or attractive (in drawing my attention), memorable in being unforgettable, and yet mysterious in that I could not readily understand or explain them. I regarded each incident from the standpoint of its sensory qualities, how I conceived of and understood those qualities, the feelings they aroused in me, the survival values they involved—and then how those incidents led me to act in the world in terms of projects and relationships.

This self-study led me to map out my inner experience in terms of a loop of engagement  with the outside world. The loop receives patterns of energy through my senses in light of my expectations at the moment, arouses me, leading me to conceptualize what is going on, understand it, feel it, value it, relate it to similar events in my past, and then look ahead to what I am going to do about it by way of making some kind of appropriate response.

Put that way it sounds cumbersome, but the loop just keeps endlessly flowing along—with the result being my stream of consciousness and the life I find myself leading. Which is largely driven by me, not the world.

I also find that a great many others are trying to control my personal loop of engagement so that I act to please them, not myself. That, I think, is the danger we all face now and in the coming century—people using us for their purposes, not ours. As tyrants use the people they forcibly control. As Wall Street has used homeowners and investors in the current economic crisis. As the US used Iraq as a foil to its selfish intentions in draining off national energy in the aftermath of 9-11-2001. And so on.

I now believe that I cannot relate effectively with any other person (child, spouse, colleague, friend) unless I am fully acquainted with my personal loop of engagement as I have developed it through prior experience, and now practice it today as if I were engaging the real world—while I am actually engaging a world I have built up for myself through the years.

I dedicate the book: To Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent because I believe the only way ahead requires all of us to come to grips with our styles of engagement to avoid falling into the trap of learning from our elders how to conduct our social engagements, ensuring we continue the very blind and selfish patterns of behavior we gather to protest against.

The issue comes down to the choice: do we proceed on the basis of what we already know (as if that were true), or do we stretch our minds to learn new ways of living in the world?

That, ultimately, is what CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK  is about. Check it out at

As ever, I remain your friend, –Steve

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Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

What do these men all have in common?

  • Slobodan Milosevic
  • Muammar Gaddafi
  • Osama bin Laden
  • Saddam Hussein
  • Mao Zedong
  • Kim Jung Il
  • Augusto Pinochet
  • Pol Pot

Yes, all tyrannical personalities. And all dead.  In the annals of life on Earth, each of us—including those men I have listed—stands as a distinct human personality unlike any other. Our childhood rearing is unique, our education is unique, our job histories, our aspirations, accomplishments, memories, feelings, values, sex lives—all unique. Because our loops of engagement are singular in each case.

What we share is our individuality. Some have been applauded in their time, others feared, condemned, or despised. Many have died violent deaths or been judged harshly by those they abused. But my point here is that none of them is inherently good or evil. Each is the product of the life that he lived, the outcome of a unique loop of engagement that made him turn out as he did. If any other genetically different person had experienced such a life, he would likely have turned out much the same.

Goodness or badness is a judgment by others, not an inherent attribute or personality trait. In putting such people to death for whatever reason, we are killing them for being what their life experiences have made them—as our own unique experiences have made us.

Taking the life of anyone for being who they are at a time of weakness is a form of absolute tyranny in itself, often stemming from personal animosity or hatred toward someone whose actions are shaped by his or her lifelong experience in particular places with particular people in particular eras. Taking violent action against people we don’t agree with is a crude form of asserting our supposed superiority over others, when in truth our diversity is founded in each case on our living under conditions specific to ourselves.

No one is conceived or born under the influence of evil stars such as Shakespeare may have drawn Caliban, Richard III, or Iago. We may become evil by living under evil circumstances—by being abused as children, for instance, or by being denied basic needs in our formative years, or serving a battle-stressed life in the military. In the list above, no one is inherently evil without having lived a life of cruelty, need, or abuse. We know that suffering post-traumatic-stress disorder does not make a veteran evil, though he may commit acts perceived and judged as such. Yet when it comes to tyrants, we make them pay for their crimes rather than lead them through a bout of truth and reconciliation as we saw in South Africa at the end of apartheid.

Instead of doing violence to such persons, we would do better to help them in viewing the results of their actions as others see them. Which is far easier to say than to do. We do not readily take responsibility for our engagements because each of us believes that he or she knows what life is about, and lives it as it is meant to be lived. It is difficult to imagine that we make ourselves happen as we do because of a loop of engagement set in motion by our being who we are, where we are. Or that we are so accustomed to living such a loop that we do not see that we ourselves are the figure behind the curtain pulling the levers that control us.

But in fact we make ourselves happen every second of our lives according to lessons learned through earlier experience. We mindlessly cling to ways that are familiar, believing we have no alternative available to us. It’s back to the future in every case, our fate being a foregone conclusion over which we assume we have little control. 

Rather than condemn tyrannical personalities to death or solitary confinement, I think it would be better to have them confront their atrocities so that they may ultimately come to transcend them. Rage has never brought about a good end. I offer both the felling of the Twin Towers and the American invasion of Iraq in retaliation as classic examples. Suicide by jihadis precludes truth and reconciliation, so their earthly salvation is moot.

Rather than punish those who offend us, we do better to help them see that their loops of engagement will lead to a bad end. By taking responsibility for what they have done, they can distance themselves from the habit of violence they picked up when young and go beyond it in seeking a life of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Sorry to sermonize, but I see so much needless violence in the world, I wanted to say something because violence breeds only violence, and we never break out of the loop. Y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

What are we but primate mammals with a gift for remembering, recognizing, and recreating (or imitating) situations and sensory patterns we have met before? We call ourselves wise, but wisdom resides first in the ways and beliefs of our families, groups, and cultures, not ourselves. We do our best to learn how to act in everyday situations, and those actions—however skilled—tell who we are.

When aroused from its habitual stupor by surprise, novelty, or concern, consciousness translates our motivated awareness into planning and making a fitting response.  We once thought we were little more than stimulus-response chains on legs, but now we accept it as given that aside from our routine or habitual actions, consciousness can intervene in that chain, allowing us to tailor our actions to our situations as we construe or interpret them. This allows us to moderate our actions in light of our personal experience under the particular circumstances that prevail at any given moment.

As vessels of experience, each of us is unique in the universe. Our genetic makeup is unlike any other. Our childhood learning is our own, as is our subsequent education, our job history, our values and emotional life, the details of our autobiographical memory, and so on. Like our immune systems, our minds are crafted by the lives we actually lead, so are each one of a kind.

When we come to act, it appears we are acting for ourselves alone as motivated by self-interest and and a lust for self-preservation. But if that is the case, we haven’t learned very much from our situated presence among seven-billion brothers and sisters. In truth, when we act, each of us acts for our entire human family. And beyond that, for all species, for Earth our homeland in space, and for the universe that has delivered us to this particular era and location.

If we haven’t learned that by now, for all practical purposes our conscious understanding is foolish if not worthless. Yes, we are individual molecules in the darkness of space, looking to one source of energy or another, ever jockeying for life and position. But if we take life to live life, we are acting on our own without considering our absolute dependence on those around us to give us a place among themselves. We are in this life together, and always have been, back to our original parent in the big bang, the ultimate source of our existential being.

If an Israeli takes water from a Palestinian who then dies of thirst, the surviving Israeli lives at the expense of his regional, planetary, and universal brothers and sisters. Unwittingly, such thievery happens all the time. But to commit such a crime according to a deliberate plan is no better than the U.S. killing and displacing millions of Iraqis for the sake of the oil beneath their feet, or a band of offended Muslim jihadis destroying Buddha statues in the Banyan Valley or capitalist enclaves in lower Manhattan.

When I act, I act for you; when you act, you act for me. When I am conscious, I cannot afford to think only for myself, anymore than you can for yourself. Consciousness is our joint responsibility. By myself as a wanderer in the desert I do not exist. We live our lives collectively, in pairs, families, communities, regions, nations, and our respective planetary populations. Consciousness is a gift to us all—the ability to modulate our actions in light of our understanding of the whole.

If our education treats strangers with different ways of doing and being as lesser creatures than ourselves, it is dangerous to the degree it is incomplete in giving us a a distorted awareness and understanding of the whole.

The charade of the Republican primaries in the 2012 election cycle reveals how dangerous self-centered politics has become in each candidate believing he has the answer for everyone else, and if we would only be conscious in his particular way, we would be collectively better-off. Such arrogant posturing would impose the hopelessly limited and impaired consciousness of one individual on our nation and its world.

The only viable political system must respect and speak to our diversity, not make clones of us all. Policies must be all-encompassing, as good for you as for me. Which is why I advocate the study of personal consciousness before our understanding ossifies as a one-size-fits-all program of mind control.

For myself, I give no one the right or the power to dictate how I am to employ my mind and actions to their liking. That way lies the police state, trickle-down economics, a penal system in which deviant minds are put away in solitary confinement to engage solely with six surfaces made of concrete.

How about you? That’s it for today. –Steve