Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

We talk a lot about free speech, but hear little about free listening. Yet listening to others is the secret to productive cooperation and engagement. Much talk is about projecting personal opinions onto others. How productive is that? It’s a loser’s game, a cheap substitute for the hard work of developing respect and open mindedness, both of which take listening to what others have learned from their personal experience—and that is bound to be different from what we have learned on our own.

Listening solely to yourself means listening to one person out of seven billion unique individuals. Opening yourself to all those others expands the pool of potential learning, insight, and understanding to an almost infinite degree. Imagine having a staff of advisors so large and so wise. But no, instead of learning what we can, we keep spouting the same stale beliefs handed down through the generations as if they were universal truth itself, suggesting that we have known the answers all along and have no need to listen to those who differ from us.

The wise man on his mountain pinnacle has made every mistake in the book of life, and yet always has one more angle he hasn’t tried, which he is glad to share with us lowlanders as if it were the distillation of universal truth—which it isn’t because it’s the one mistake he hasn’t made up till now. Where are modesty and humility when we need them most?, those priceless attributes of true wisdom. We tell children to keep their mouths shut and ears open, but that’s good advice for grownups as well—to stop talking so we can cock our ears and start listening.

Listening entails opening the inner world in which we live to others. Which doesn’t happen automatically by simply being in their presence. It requires inviting them in. Opening our selves to them. Which may prove dangerous if we let them get too close. But all new learning is dangerous because it forces us to grow—as the birch must rip its own bark in becoming larger.

If we keep to our inner bastions to stay safe, where’s the adventure in that? Where’s the opportunity for discovery, excitement, or friendship? For growing into greater understanding? Fear of what we might expose ourselves to leads us to keep to ourselves in order to preserve who we are without thinking who we might become if we let down our guard.

Listening is the secret to effective engagements with others. It lets them be themselves while we are ourselves. Putting those two together is the adventure of a lifetime. We never know what will happen—except that we will be larger as a result. As I grew larger last night while listening to thunder roll through the hills of Bar Harbor, thunder that spoke to me in emphatic phrases of deep, rumbling complexity. I’d never heard sounds like that before, or never let myself hear them. But there they were, asking me to rise to their level of expression and understanding. I can’t tell you what I learned because it was wholly nonverbal. But those earth sounds were profound, I could tell. Earth was trying to tell me something about how insignificant I am among its wonders, how ignorant I am in claiming to know what I think I know but am surely wrong. Yes, it’s risky listening to such voices. But, I would add, also necessary. Why else are we here?

My personal school of engagement assigns me to listen to thunder as closely as I listen to song sparrows and eagles, to loons and hermit thrushes. To quaking aspen, lapping waves, and sleeping babies. Ears are given us to actively engage our surroundings by forming sensory impressions. Which we recognize as instances of one conceptual category or another, and then fit into an appropriate compartment within our grand field of universal understanding, our personal version of the way of the world as taught through personal experience.

I wish I could say I have treasured my ears as gateways to my smattering of world understanding, but in fact I have carelessly abused them from time to time by listening to the likes of gunshots and internal combustion engines, so, since age forty, my ears have been clanging (more than ringing) ceaselessly for some thirty-nine years—just about half my life. Every voice must compete with that distraction if I am to add it to my repertory of sounds heard. For this I can blame no one but myself. I take full responsibility for this impairment, and the regrets that go with it.

My eyes, too, are not what they were. Since I was a child, I have immensely enjoyed the gift of eyesight, and celebrated it through photography, which allows me to focus carefully on a great many visual wonders. But like my camera itself, which broke down last week and no longer works, my eyesight is perturbed by glare from above, and astigmatism presents me with twin images of even Jupiter’s sparkling moons. My computer hard drives are filled to the last digit with images, serving as a kind of visual autobiography of things I have witnessed during my life—a rough opus composed of gifts received through my eyes.

My listening more aptly applies to sounds people have made in my presence. I have been calibrated by the culture I grew up in to find meaningful those sounds expressed in English, so it is those I pay particular attention to and find great joy in hearing and comprehending as I manage to do. Including my own utterances in response to the sounds others make as I strive to get the most meaning into fewest words for clarity’s sake. Or try to do even though I rarely succeed, more often spouting the usual garble of my authentic inner voice.

Indeed, I truly believe that listening to others is founded on the fine art of listening to oneself. Or can be a fine art if we take care to make sure that what we actually say represents our core feelings and values at the moment. That is, if we use speech to be who we are rather than as a means of charming others into believing what we want them to believe about us.

Personally, I aspire to sing with the simple eloquence of a hermit thrush by actively paying attention to how such birds run the rills that they do. Or to deliver myself like thunder when the situation demands such a voice by studying over and again the richness and tonality of that sound in the original. That is, I learn to talk by listening to the range of sounds I am exposed to, and then choosing from among them the voice I find most apt to the occasion I find myself in.

Last evening I spoke at a hearing on the future management of resources in Taunton Bay, employing the diction I had learned by listening to the bay itself for much of my life. Today at noon I will present a Peace Award to a senior about to graduate from my local high school, relying on the voice of nonviolent engagement I have acquired through long commitment to the Quaker persuasion. As we listen, so do we consider, and then speak. That’s where words come from—the care with which we listen to the voices of every sort around us throughout or lives.

Listening is a primary form of engagement that bestows gifts on us by opening us to the options we have in being ourselves on specific occasions so that when our turn comes to speak, the words we need to say are available in the repertory of sounds we have found personally arousing and meaningful.

Do you hear me? Or is the ringing in your ears too loud so all that you can hear is yourself? In that case, take up not bird-watching but bird-listening. Explore what is possible and you will find a voice that will carry what it is you want to say.

That’s it for today. As always, I remain y’r friend. –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

The thrust of consciousness is action in keeping with our personal memories, feelings, values, and concerns.        –

Consciousness is given us to achieve actions in the world that are appropriate to the situation we are in at the time, which we then adjust to the time after that, and the one after that, . . . after that. Which is far more complicated than simultaneous hand-eye coordination in being sequential for the duration of our individual lives. Consciousness evolves from one stage to the next, which points to the key role that memory plays as the platform on which each successive moment of consciousness is based—producing our respective streams of consciousness.

Without having a ready reference to each preceding moment, we could not enjoy the benefits of building a future for ourselves because we would forget where we were in the process and where we were heading. Resulting in the end of consciousness as we know it.

Yesterday I spent time on an island on the coast of Maine where I engaged with loons (which I both saw and heard), hermit thrushes and song sparrows (which I heard only), and an immature bald eagle (which I saw only). I say I engaged with these birds because my separate moments of attention built instant-by-instant across spans of up to thirty minutes. Without memory, I would never have achieved such enduring levels of engaged consciousness.

These engagements included not only the sensory impressions I formed one after another as the loons—there were five of them—called and moved about, but my interpretations of those sensory images as well, along with my understanding of loon behavior, the feelings aroused by that behavior, and my actions in raising, lowering, focusing, and sharing my binoculars with my companion.

I watched two loons circling each other, then diving, while a third loon farther off hooted, then ran across the water (I could hear the pat-pat-pat) leaving a wake of white splashes behind it for several hundred feet. A fourth loon called in the distance, and somewhat later a fifth loon surfaced after a long dive. All on an incoming tide bringing herring and other delectables into the bay. I’d say a good time was had by the parties engaged, including me. Which applies equally to the separate incidents with song sparrow, hermit thrush, and eagle.

Consciousness results from the application of personal attention to these kinds of events over time. Each incident flows from a commitment of attention for the duration of a particular engage-ment. This happens, then this, and then this. So consciousness emerges as a succession of memorable moments. Or, put differently, without memory we would dwell in a fog of disjointed events vanishing into emptiness inhabited only by simultaneous yearning and profound sense of loss, though we’ll never recall what it was that we lost.

All of which leads up to the dream I woke up from this morning. The imagery was not of birds but of some kind of performance I was involved in. A group of us was to deliver a recitation before a dignified audience in what seemed to be a structure such as a church or library. The issue being that I hadn’t memorized my part, and wasn’t sure if I could find it written out somewhere, though I suspected the best place to look for it would be in my room. Which I thought was in a large brick building, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I wasn’t dressed for the presentation, so was wandering along city streets, trying to get a glimpse of where I lived. I wanted to tell the man in charge of the performance that I was not prepared because I couldn’t find my script or my clothes, but I couldn’t find him. In the dream I was in that stupor resulting from not being engaged with anything. All I had were yearnings I could not direct or fulfill.

Lying in bed, I thought this is what H.M. must have felt like because his anterograde amnesia deprived him of the ability to form new memories after a brain operation to lessen the effect of severe epileptic fits. He was much researched and written-up in the second half of the twentieth century, and you couldn’t study psychology without coming across the story of H.M. He retained memories from before the operation, but was unable to form new memories after that event. He’d go out for a walk, and couldn’t remember where he was going, or where “back” was where he’d started out from.

That was my situation in my dream. I’d lost the ability to form new memories, so wafted about in a fog of uncertain yearnings, feeling terrible the whole time because I knew I was supposed to be doing something but wasn’t sure what it was or how to do it. If being crazy means losing your mind, I was dream crazy in having no way to find the mind and sense of engagement I once possessed but had no way to retrieve. Leaving me wandering around feeling awful among others who seemed filled with purpose.

That’s what my unconscious mind does with my preoccupation with loops of engagement as the source of conscious meaning in my life. The dream was apparently based on my participation in two evenings of PetchaKutcha at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. That’s the connection I made when I woke up. PetchaKutcha (meaning “blink of an eye” in Japanese) consist of twenty slides, each on the screen for twenty seconds, amounting to a presentation lasting six minutes and forty seconds. End of show; on to the next.

On the island surrounded by loons, I’d tried to download a video of my performance in Waterville a year ago onto my iPad, but could only get the twenty slides I showed without the track of what I’d said. That disjointed engagement fed into my growing understanding of how loops of engagement give birth to consciousness, providing a classic illustration of the chaos resulting from not being able to remember, forestalling the possibility of engagement.

The loons, download attempt, PetchaKucha, and concern with conscious engagements all blended into a nightmare in which I lived the agony of being in a coma incapable of sustaining consciousness, along with a pinch of dread at the fear of dying before I finish my work. That is the space in which I live these days, the space into which loons and PetchaKutcha emerge as milestones marking the winding-down of a life devoted to understanding consciousness through self-reflection.

Does it matter? It does to me. I believe that loops of conscious engagement offer a way of understanding why our relationships get so garbled as they often do, leading to conflict and often violent reactions.

America’s disastrous military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, stem from our then leaders’ loops of engagement with what they dubbed “terrorists”—as if a roving band of disgruntled youths sprang up from nowhere like so many mice from old rags with the aim of bringing our civilization down without cause. Indeed, there was cause, but we could not entertain it because we exhibited no curiosity in resorting to blaming that band and their leaders as the original cause of our troubles without seeking out the underlying cause that motivated them. Which in fact extends back to the conduct of American military and industrial personnel in Saudi Arabia, personnel lacking the sensitivity and imagination to anticipate the effect of their carefree dress and behavior on people of another civilization centered on modesty and mutual respect.

The error on both sides was in resorting to violence, which we should know by now is never a solution. Leaving us living in our dreams, disgruntled, frustrated, looking for ways to destroy the other for their presumptions. So it goes, loops of hurt and fury instead of understanding and engagement. Instead of learning from our experience, we perpetrate further damage on our enemies as if they were always wrong and we always right instead of taking responsibility for engaging as equals out of mutual respect.

That, in short, is what I’m up to—trying to promote effective engagements appropriate to our true situation on a planet with low tolerance for chaos, aggression, and unexamined awareness.

The way out of this endless cycle? Checking on our engagements through careful scrutiny of our personal motivations and behaviors. It’s up to each of us individually lest our leaders betray us on their own authority and botch the engagements we carefully build up over a lifetime.

That’s where I’m at; where are you? Y’r friend, –Steve


Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

If everybody recognizes and takes upon himself the duty to which he is called, genuine life will result. The civilization of an entire nation cannot be based on anything else. –Kathe Kollwitz, Diary

Heeding that call is the essence of individual life for it is nothing but the call heard only by those qualified to engage a particularly challenging situation. Those who don’t hear it need not apply.

The quote above comes from Samuel Putnam’s introduction to The Portable Cervantes. It begins:

I am not only allowed to finish my work, I am bidden to finish it. This, it seems to me, is the meaning of all the talk about civilization. It can exist only where each individual fills his own personal sphere of duty.

In so engaging our affairs, we complement one another because no two of us receive the same call. You do your part and I will do mine; all together we add up to a cooperative culture of unique individuals. Each of us doing our part—if it is to work at all, that is how the world must work.

It is no accident that that idea introduces The Ingenious Gentleman, Don Quixote De La Mancha, a work contrasting the as if world of elegant imagination with the world of purported reality, a conflict which artists endure every day of their lives. To be ourselves, we must engage as we are in the raw, not as others would polish our manners to make us palatable to their tastes.

There’s a lot of that kind of polishing going around, which I call pseudo engagement, fake engagement, false engagement—or out-and-out deception of self among others. The real prize is to hear the call from inside, not outside. The call not to please but to be. Since we have but the one life to live, whose life will it be? Who is to be the master of our engagements? Since we are the ones to die, if we are not master of our own vessel, whose life are we leading?

I put it that way because after thirty years of self-reflection, I can say that the only life worth living is the one directed from the inside in response to that call from the depths when it comes. If our engagements result from our working for a living to make enough money to live a comfortable life, we are engaging as others would have us, not as we must do out of personal necessity. What then do we stand for but willing enslavement to those more powerful and aggressive than ourselves? Imagine discovering on our deathbed that we have sold our individuality for a pittance to those who have no idea who we are. Willingly, we have ceased to exist.

That is why I place so much emphasis on loops of engagement to see if you can’t recognize your own before you inadvertently give it away, as is requested of each of us every day of our lives.

One effective way of making sure that you don’t give your personal authority and adventure away is to go to college to find out who you are rather than to pick up a discipline for making a living, or to find a mate, or to learn how to party or even manage sizeable credit card debt. The proper course of study in college is yourself since, whatever else you do, that’s who you will have to live with for the rest of your life.

The way to study yourself is through study of other selves, like Captain Ahab in his engagement with the great white whale; like Don Quixote in his engagement with his squire, Sancho Panza, and his noble lady, Dulcinea; like Socrates in his many engagements with his peers; like Raskolnikov in his engagement with an elderly woman and a police inspector following up on that affair; like leading characters in Shakespeare’s many plays; and so on. We learn to see our own engagements as reflected in the engagements of others, whether real, performed, or imagined.

That is, we learn about ourselves through comparison with others whose engagements are laid out clearly before us for examination and discussion. And closer to home, we begin to study ourselves in figuring out why we said this to such a one or did that to another. Through self-reflection we begin to grasp how we feel, what we value, how we see and understand, and to couple all that with what we decide to do about such matters. If we can take the role of our own most intimate teacher, we are set for a life of nonstop wonder and learning without limit.

Of course we can accomplish all that by taking a job sweeping floors, sorting mail, or washing dishes—while getting paid to learn from such a program. It all depends on what we are out for, what we hope to achieve by hopping from one stepping stone to another and the next beyond that. We get good at what we do in this life, what we pay attention to, and are determined to do better. That is, to learn about our loops of engagement by engaging with one thing after another. That, basically, is what education has to teach us in proportion to the attention and skill we put into each lesson. We learn what we reach for, not what others force down our throats.

My fee for delivering that homily is ten dollars. Don’t worry about it, I’ll put it on your tab with all the others. If you can’t pay in this life, I’ll collect in the next one. Your credit is good. As ever, I remain, y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Everywhere I look, I find loops of engagement whirring in other minds, striving to make sense of the world so that the owners of those minds can act appropriately in it. Or I find disengaged minds angry at the world for not cooperating with their covert desires.

Do loops of engagement exist as the basis of consciousness in individual minds—or is it just me projecting my fantasies onto all of humanity?

My life experience has led me to believe that conscious engagements are sparked in two ways. Either our sensory impressions convince us that our engagements with the world are even more effective in bringing about hoped-for states of affairs than we dared imagine, or those engagements fall far short of our hopes and expectations, leaving us in the lurch.

Whether we win or lose, are happy or sad, we are conscious of the situation we are in. Either way, we are engaged and have a clear grasp of what to work toward in the future. It is the middling, so-so state of neither winning or losing but being an also-ran that dulls consciousness into a “what else did you expect” state, when we resort to habitual performances requiring no special effort or attention. We can achieve that mental state of “business as usual” by coasting along without conscious exertion.

As I see it, good times and bad times both get us moving ahead by igniting consciousness and our loops of engagement. It is the in-between, blah times that dull our senses and actions, putting us to sleep on our feet, or into the coma that passes for everyday life.

Novelty wakes us up, as does calamity, joy, laughter, or sorrow. Therein lies the ignition of consciousness, with the goal of adopting a program of action in the world to sustain or remedy our situation in the world. So do we engage our surrounding situations with deliberate behavior, and invite those situations to engage our senses to apprise us of how we are doing. I see such looping engagements around me every day, and within me as I awaken to every moment of life.

My brain, as I see it, is the master comparator that holds my sensory impressions up against the intentions that led me to act, the resulting agreement or disparity telling me how I’m doing, and suggesting the direction I must take to do better. If my brain can invent depth perception from lateral displacement of images in two eyes, it surely can engender and maintain a dynamic interaction with my world situation. That is the origin of what I call the loop of engagement.

Everywhere I look, I see others engaging their worlds by venturing similar loops. Socratic dialogues are such loops written down in crude language. The exploits of Don Quixote reveal a man driven by a singular passion and sense of identity. As are Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, and Lear. As is every statesman and politician, celebrity, author, artist, musician, and dancer. All driven to engage, to review, to engage again.

I see exactly the same comparison in myself, the same drive and passion, the same adjustment, the same propulsion of awareness around and around in engagements with horseshoe crabs, eelgrass, eagles, producing books, writing blogs—being myself again and again, ever the same, but always in new ways. So do I seize my little world and fit myself to it through continuous adjustment. I do not think I’m crazy. Indeed, I am everyman and everywoman, doing my best to survive under difficult conditions.

Lately, I invariably come to the same conclusion. I am not crazy, just doing my thing because it’s the only way I know. My father wrote at his Underwood typewriter behind closed doors seventy-five years ago. Today, I write behind closed doors, as do my elder and younger brothers, turning out pages, thinking, reflecting, tearing up pages, starting anew. Growing weary, but always reviving to play out the game.

What could be simpler? Yet traditional psychology is baroque in comparison, needlessly complicated in conforming to the elaborate understandings of those who invented it. Engagements, yes, without archetypes, egos, ids, superegos and all the parts once thought necessary to consciousness but in the end explained nothing. Consciousness is energetic and kinetic, the result of interacting forces, not eternal qualities or capacities. At every stage, each instant of my life has resolved conflicting desires and inputs in the spur of the moment. I have made up my life as I have gone along, always striving, never finding the anchor I was looking for.

No, I haven’t amounted to much in this world, but I have been myself every inch of the way. My life has been my life because I made it happen as it did. It has always been my engagement and no one else’s. If I have internalized the ways of my father, that is my doing because that’s how I have learned to be myself, the one in charge of my singular engagement. When I die, that engagement will come to a halt. But for now I’m still at it.

How’s your engagement going? I hope you reflect on it daily and don’t think you are crazy. In my case, it’s just me; in yours, just you. Here we are living through these times side-by-side, doing our best to make sense of it all while being true to our innermost selves. What else can we do but occupy ourselves as we do? Y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

On May 19th, I saw the northernmost population of horseshoe crabs on Earth at it again. Every spring I go looking for them on their breeding shores, and every spring I catch them in the act. Only, now it’s in May, not June, because the water is warmer than it used to be.

Their ritual has become my ritual. Spring wouldn’t come if I didn’t join in their celebration of water temperatures rising to 13 degrees Celsius. When it reaches that point, they come ashore to dig nests in what sand they can find, fertilize the eggs, and bury them safe from predators such as striped killifish, which lie in wait for the protein in those eggs.

I, too, lie in wait, not for protein but to take my annual photographs of this fertility rite that has been continuing unbroken for some 400-million years. I am not that old, but I celebrate their presence in the bay as a reminder of not only their longevity, but of their finding a niche in the universe that has worked for them all that time. My ongoing loop of engagement with horseshoe crabs is a sign of my respect for their evolutionary success. They still look the same as they did before Pangaea split up, well before the great reptiles became extinct. We have much to learn from the horseshoe crab.

Here are three photos from May 19th. The first shows one pair  of the 34 crabs I saw on that day. They are swimming along in their breeding position, female in front (toward the top), male grasping the trailing edge of her shell, a position from which he will fertilize the eggs she lays in her succession of perhaps six nests.

19112150-96The second photo shows a pair emerging from the plume of mud she stirred up in testing the bottom to see if it was suitable for digging a nest.


The third photo shows how protectively camouflaged two pairs swimming along the bottom appear among the cobbles and small boulders of their chosen habitat. The males appears light because of the coat of mud they picked up burrowing into the soft bottom.

19114446-96This is one of my spring engagements, along with teaching Consciousness: The Seminar; giving a talk on An Anatomy of Consciousness; connecting the dots for to mark the site of shoreland erosion and sea-level rise in Acadia National Park; promoting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to counter the impact of the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision; supporting Occupy Mount Desert Island; and so on.

Horseshoe crabs model the secret of a long and happy life—Stay Engaged!

I hope you are doing the same. As ever, y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

For those who do not reflect on their own thoughts, life becomes a projective personality test, often conducted at others’ expense. By claiming our own fears and desires, our judgments of allure and repulsion, we free ourselves to discover the world without prejudgment rather than mold it to fit our personal preferences and prejudices.

The world does not simply flow into our heads as it is. We shape and distort that world according to our basic proclivities in order to view it as clearly as possible from our point of view. If we are unaware of our biased approach to experience, we cannot separate our contribution from what is actually there in front of us. Which is apt to have dangerous consequences for both the world and ourselves, as in the gunning down of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmermann in Florida.

Our biases reflect the attitudes we developed in childhood in reaction to our formative experience. Growing up, we discover ourselves to be Republicans or Democrats, Catholics or Protestants, talkers or listeners, laborers or managers, not because of tendencies built into our genes but because of the subtle atmosphere in our homes and communities that we inhale with each breath. If we grew up in different families, we might well find ourselves on the opposite side of the fence.

A rigorous course of self-administered introspection is the best way I know of getting a handle on who we are and how we came to end up this way. I am not talking about neuroses, pathology, or severe mental trauma. My aim is to get a hold on how we live out our everyday lives. That is, how we think in forming sensory impressions, interpreting those impressions, feeling about those impressions, and then act in response to such factors. 

The mistakes we make in acting inappropriately in the world are given us to learn from. By reflecting on incidents when we make mistakes, we come to understand where we went wrong and how we can avoid doing the same thing over and over again. The capacity for self-correction is built into us by means of self-reflection, should we choose to make use of that gift. We can catch ourselves in the act of doing something foolish, review alternative ways of acting, and strike off on a new heading. Such insights burst upon us suddenly—often in revelations lasting mere fractions of a second. If inertia drives us to suppress them, so be it—another lost opportunity for increased self-understanding. But doubt has been raised, and perhaps we will get another chance.

If, however, we live under such extreme or chaotic circumstances that we don’t have time to examine our own mental processes because we are so driven by events in the world, then we have to get help from others so we can call a time-out to get a fresh perspective on how our thinking (or not thinking) leads us to act.

Think about it: as individuals, only we ourselves have access to our personal feelings, our values, our memories, our dreams and nightmares, our sensory impressions, our interpretation of those impressions, our understanding of those interpretations. That is, most of what it feels like to live the lives that we do is known only to us. The reasons we act as we do are strictly our business because out of all people in the world, we are unique. We don’t act as the world would have us act. No, we act as we choose to act because of the internal forces that drive us, forces we alone are aware of.

Introspection is our primary means of self-help for improving any situation. Yes, if we trust a few others, perhaps they can help, too. But the heavy lifting falls to us because we are the only ones who know what it feels like to exist, think, feel, and act as we do. If we don’t help ourselves, who else can we look to? Who can we trust?

Every life is an experiment to see what happens when a person of such-and-such genetic makeup is placed in a difficult situation. At first, with only an instinct to eat and to cry out in pain, we are wholly dependent on those around us. We cannot make it on our own. But over time, we learn to fend for ourselves by making ourselves happen in various ways to discover what sorts of responses we can get. We learn to avoid harsh responses and seek more of the nourishing ones.

But where behaviorist thinking placed emphasis on others being in control of our actions, I now say that we learn in our formative years to be in control of ourselves so to thrive under the conditions in which we grow and learn. It is our life we live—colored by our impressions, fears, desires, dreams, values, understandings, and decisions to act as we do. We, not the world, are in charge. Or if we lack the physical power to follow our own course, we can pursue every chance we get to develop that power.

As I say, every life is a test. Without an instruction manual. We are on our own in doing the best we can with what we’ve got in the time allowed and the help available to us. I have found that self-reflection gives me immeasurable help in figuring my own course as I go. Life is a process that can be improved upon day-by-day. If we’re still the same person today we were yesterday, have we really made use of the time available to us? I just put that thought out there as a reminder that our experience is largely our own doing, and making it better is our responsibility, not the world’s.

Enough said. Hope you have the strength to face into the challenge. As ever, y’r friend, –Steve


Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

The dialogues of Plato provide one contiguous illustration of a loop of engagement in action. One theme, one personality at a time, Plato presents detailed arguments in support of the need to doubt and examine one’s own beliefs in order to attempt a worthy life based on truth, not misjudgment or error.

This blog illustrates my own quest to meet the same challenge.

My book on consciousness is another example of the same effort to answer the eternal question, How do I know that I know what I think I know? Living a life of harmony and integrity depends on making a personal commitment to self-doubt and self-reflection in order to achieve a transparent view of oneself.

Socrates was put to death for asking fellow citizens to self-administer the same test to avoid living hollow lives in imitation of false standards of excellence. But self-assurance and self-doubt are hard to maintain in one mind, so Socrates paid the full price for even raising the issue. As did Jesus many years later.

Calling attention to the difference between living an original in contrast to an imitative life is risky in any era. Orthodox or right-answer people have no room for doubt in their minds. Self-doubt is anathema to the image of personified wisdom and authority they strive to present. So they build systems around themselves in which being rich or powerful passes for being wise. With pretenders in charge, is it a surprise to discover we live in the modern world, such as it is?

We live in an age that reveres sham and deceit where appearance is all, accomplishment counts for little, and the solution to every problem is to apply money in great wads.

Do I sound the least bit jaded? If so, my answer to such a situation is to do all I can to know myself as I am, so to avoid falling in with the crowd. I keep on blogging and writing and self-examining to protect myself against the current plague of self-deception.

I can’t have much effect on other minds, but at least I can face into myself through a weekly round of self-reflection as I am here conducting out in the open before your eyes. The more we personally take on that task, the more powerful we become through self-understanding.

The moral of my tale is we are the ones we have been waiting for. Since we’re already here, if we have complaints, we might as well start looking for solutions within, not without, ourselves. Don’t look to authority to draw you out of the mire, but do it yourself step-by-step. A few days ago I was wallowing in the muck of Muddy Cove; today I stand on dry ground. I call that progress because I am a larger man for making the effort. I maintain this blog as a means of keeping my book up-to-date. Keep on, keep on as long as you can. To the future, then.

How are you doing in this big world of ours? Y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

I have mud on my boots. On my pants. On my jacket. On my hands. Today, I know about mud because yesterday I put in a new mooring for my rowboat in Muddy Cove. The chain on the old mooring was worn, so I had to replace it, along with all the shackles that hold it together, and the buoy I attach my outhaul system to. Now that the job is done, I can stand on the shore and pull on a rope and have my boat out on the water dutifully respond to my will.

Here’s a photo of my boat at high tide.


And here’s Muddy Cove at low tide yesterday, with my bootprints in the mud.


The white buoy is the new one; the muddy one farther out is the old one I couldn’t undo the shackle on.

Trying to undo rusty shackles left in the mud for five years is hard because I couldn’t see what I was trying to do. The pins had been wired so they wouldn’t loosen up on their own. Using the braille method, I tried to cut the wire, and finally twisted it off, but then couldn’t turn the pin which was rusted fast. So I left the old buoy for another day when I have a hacksaw in hand.

It’s not only that I couldn’t see what I was working on, but moving around in the mud was so hard that I really had to exert myself to do the simplest thing. Shifting one foot took both concentration and strength because in lifting my boot, I was really lifting a huge clot of mud stuck to it by the vacuum hermetically binding me to the medium I was walking in. At each step I had to twist my heel sideways to unscrew myself from the gunk underfoot.

Being both functionally blind and barely able to move, I found it a tough job. But it had to be done, so I applied my full awareness to the task and eventually got it done to the best of my abilities under the circumstances. Such is consciousness. When the going gets tough, the tough grow determined and deliberate in paying particular attention to their engagements.

The point I want to make is metaphorical, so I won’t labor over the image any more than I already have. Consciousness is achieved through great personal effort. We have to put ourselves out in order to perform meaningful actions in the world—which often prove muddier than we imagined they could be. Expressing ourselves through appropriate engagements with our surroundings takes our best effort.

Yes, there are two kinds of people, those with open minds willing to do the work, and those with closed minds who know the right answer beforehand and go through the motions of applying rote solutions to complex situations.

We achieve alignment (or syzygy) between our sensory impressions, our understanding of a situation, and the actions through which we apply ourselves in solving life’s problems—we reach that desirable state only through sustained application of our mental capacities to work toward creative solutions using every skill we possess.

The alternative is to lay rote or ideological “solutions” onto novel situations so we can take credit for trying, at least, if not succeeding in settling one issue or another. The various peoples of the book do this all the time like so many missionaries citing chapter and verse as if every problem had been solved once and for all in days long before any of us were born, or the situations we face came to the fore. But memorized answers are often wide of the mark when applied to the modern circumstances of our lives.

“Go forth and multiply” is no solution to problems raised by there being too many of us living too high on the hog for too long a time at too great a rate of consumption. Mouthing the old words leaves us where we were in the old days, when what we need is solutions to the problems of today.

Old ways of doing things tend to muddy the waters when we are faced with novel situations. Only through application of creative consciousness taking modern circumstances into account can we see clearly toward a viable future. Habitual or outdated solutions to problems in business, finance, politics, religion, education, and other fields of endeavor are often no match for problems we fail to anticipate because our attention has been diverted in the meantime.

The Arab Spring and Occupy movement of 2011 were conducted by citizens rising to full consciousness and seeing the world in a new light. Seeing problems where others saw only business as usual, things as they should be.

Supple exercise of full consciousness is the only way to keep abreast of the times as they evolve into a slew of altogether new situations. If unable to walk on water, we must develop skills, attitudes, and strengths for braving the mud when we need to.

Ironically, schools teach only solutions to old problems, those that teachers can understand because they have lived through them. Formal education teaches to the past. It is in the experiential grasp of the students themselves that new learning should be sought.

I advocate for introspection and self-reflection as guides to the future. That’s why I am writing this blog. Which is much like walking through mud, but I see no other way because firmer ground lies on the far side of our current understanding of ourselves. If we don’t face into our own minds and experience, who indeed has the credentials for leading us into the future? Who else will place the buoys we need to moor ourselves to?

Striving, always striving ahead—that’s what it takes. Nothing less than our full, conscious attention. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. I say, let’s do it. As ever, y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Slowly, I have come to realize what I learned by writing Consciousness: The Book. There are two kinds of people walking around in the world, and I have been each of them at different times in my life. I call them knowers and searchers, or members of the right-answer tribe and those of the problem-solving tribe.

Right-answer people know the answer to every question before it is asked because they have studiously memorized all they need to know for the rest of their lives. They carry their book of answers around in their heads, and when they meet an obstacle, they consult the index and go straight to the section that prescribes what to do about it.

This is made possible by studious application of their minds during childhood to whatever book is taken to be the ultimate authority on all issues of importance. They don’t usually have to seek out such a book; it is handed to their innocent selves and they dutifully memorize the great teachings within, calibrating themselves according to the ways and beliefs of the familial culture they are born to.

As adults, they become respected as authorities within their clans, communities, and professions because they can be relied upon to provide a spontaneous solution to every conflict or predicament. As masters of received wisdom, they thrive on the praise and gratitude they receive from those who look up to them.

As a teenager, I was such a person. I knew all there was to know about mathematics, art, science, history, politics, religion, war, to mention but a few of my many conceits. That is, what I knew—no matter how little it might seem—defined all that was true and worth knowing. Ask me any question and I could give a ready answer straight from my heart, for I earnestly believed every word that I said. I was my own greatest fan and admirer for I was convinced I knew everything worth knowing. If I didn’t have a ready answer, the question was trivial and not worth bothering about.

Ah, I fondly recall those heady days when I doubted the world was ready to receive me in the full glory of my understanding.

It has taken me sixty years to descend from what I then thought of as the pinnacle of my career.

Only gradually did I discern that I myself was the problem, my task becoming reframed as having to unlearn everything I was so sure that I knew, and start learning what I could through personal experience. Now in old age I think I have made some progress in those sixty years, and can hold my own for a limited time on a small selection of topics I have grappled with through intimate application of my caring and attention.

If I dare classify myself as a problem solver, it is only in those areas of experience I have grappled with most earnestly for the longest time. In most areas I remain a bumbling novice. I can usually bring back a photographic image of what moves me, and arrange my photos into a PowerPoint that gets my theme across to a small and select audience. What I have become is a seeker of what I call adventures, one who throws himself into the world to feel alive, and usually stumbles upon experiences he has never had or imagined before. My innocence and ignorance are boundless, so no matter what happens, I judge myself fortunate to be alive.

Today, for instance, I finished a presentation on erosion and sea-level rise in Acadia National Park. Not the whole park, just the shoreline of a small picnic area on Thompson Island near the park entrance. I have been following the fate of seven fire rings—barbecue grills for cooking hamburgers over wood-burning fires in the great outdoor. Tracking those rings through the seasons for six years, I have followed them through storms of rain, snow, and ice, through summer heat and winter chill, as the landscape around them is overtaken by waves, overcome, and claimed by the sea, leaving them as much as five feet closer to the shoreline at high tide, now only three of the rings capable of containing a fire if the tide isn’t too high.

That’s the level I operate on now. I know whereof I speak because I have lived my personal adventure every inch of the way. I have felt it with my fingers, smelled it, tasted it on my tongue, heard the roaring of the waves, and seen the lashing of waves against the shore where the fire rings were once though to be snug.

The big adventure, of course, flows from my fascination with the workings of my own mind, which I have largely devoted myself to for the past thirty years. Before I died, I wanted to acquaint one human mind on intimate terms, so I pursued the one mind within reach, which happened to be my own. My goal was to learn how to separate out my own contribution to situations I found myself in so I could see beyond my own shadow to the great world beyond. In my youth, back in the days when I knew everything, I thought my shadow was the world itself, so I was often balked and confused by my my own unique brand of ignorance.

Now I know better, and feel grateful for whatever sunlight illuminates the scene before my eyes so I can reach out to it as myself and not some mythical and pretentious being. Humility is the lesson of living a life, which leads on to familiarity with little things, not the grand dreams of my youth.

Two sorts of people, two stages in a life. I doubt there is any way to leapfrog the prideful stage to get straight to the simpler stage of humility. I think we have to earn our humility in order to begin our true education. I feel fortunate in having survived long enough to see the glimmer of true understanding reflected from the damp and rusty curves of a select group of fire rings before they and I succumb to the waves rising higher and higher upon us.

How have you fared since last I blogged? Y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

The morning of March 20th began as I had hoped. The sun rose brilliantly from low clouds out over the ocean. I was with a group of friends conducting our annual vigil on the equinox to mark the divide between the winter and spring of our souls.

20054403a-96But from that high point, I have never gotten my act together as coherently as the signs that day seemed to indicate I would. The American spring of 2012 has turned out to be far busier and more complicated than I imagined. So much to do; so little time. In late March, my son Ken and I built a new ramp for the boathouse so I could get my boat in the water and row to the island where I knew stillness awaited me so I could work on this blog. But April has come and gone without that happening.

Last evening, I and two others spoke briefly before the Bar Harbor Town Council to prepare the way for delivery of a petition asking that body to stand with communities across America in defending democracy from the corrupting influence of corporate wealth on the electoral process. I pointed out that corporate “personhood” and money as “free speech” are metaphors, and in taking them literally, the Supreme Court has based its decisions on wishful thinking or out-and-out deception. I compared the effect of the Citizens United decision to toxic emissions wafted into the air by Midwestern industries, which Maine residents inhale at every breath, poisoning the climate in which we vote.

I find myself torn between taking action against the ills abroad in the land and tending my little blog as I would a plant in my garden. Which makes the best use of my limited energy: healing the world or healing myself?

April went by like a shot. Two hearing tests, four senior college sessions on consciousness, figuring my taxes, four Occupy general assemblies, eight meetings, a watershed conference at which I gave a presentation, PetchaKutcha Night in Waterville (another presentation), several talks, and so it went. Not that it was a lot of work, but it was different kinds of work so I kept shifting gears to keep up with myself. As the month went on, I found it harder and harder to concentrate on yet another new thing. For a week now I haven’t updated my blog. Or gotten used to the refurbished iPad I plan to use on the island to post to my blog—that is, if I can get away. I am new to iPad technology, so have yet to figure out how to use a machine that comes with minimal instructions.

Which is boring because it’s largely a matter of technical details, not substance. These days, our technology changes so radically and readily, it’s hard to keep ahead of the learning curve to maintain productivity, much less increase it. The technology of pencils and paper hasn’t changed since Thoreau took up the pencil-making trade over a century-and-a-half ago. Electronic gadgets morph into new versions every few months. For myself, I think in trying to keep up, I simply sidestep into a maze of diminishing returns. 

I am torn, trying to keep up as before, but never reaching the goals I am aiming for. Take a break, I tell myself, get away from the melee so I can rely on skills I already have without having to get stuck on square one yet again, stifling even the possibility of engagement with anything that matters.

So here I sit; how about you? Are you able to keep engaged and feel you’re moving ahead? If so, how do you do it? That’s it for today. As ever, I remain, y’r friend, –Steve