Maine is known as a so-called natural-resource state. Think trees. Lumber. Paper. Wood pellets. Firewood. Peat moss. Lobsters. The once-famous fish in the Gulf of Maine. Sand and Gravel. Granite. Seaweed. Scenery. Wildlife. There are a lot of jobs dependent on those resources. A huge chunk of the Maine economy.

Resources, by definition, are supposedly renewable. That’s what re-source means. It’s a source again and again. Which requires careful management, including setting quotas that can safely be “harvested.”

When the price of elvers—tiny eels migrating back to their home habitat areas in Maine rivers—rose to a thousand dollars a pound, you can bet the eel catchers did everything they could to capture as many as possible in their nets. That collective effort put tremendous pressure on the homeward-bound elvers, which Asian nations raise to mature eels to feed their burgeoning populations.

Industrial giants make billions from their many natural-resource extractions. We mine the Earth, trawl the seas, cut the tops off mountains, spew our spent space apparatus as a belt of scrap metal circling the Earth—because that’s how we engage natural resources as our personal cornucopia. Enterprise we call it. Big business. Making a living.

How ironic is it that we plunder the Earth in order to live?

What others have, we want for ourselves. That’s called jealousy. Jealousy, it seems, runs the world. We are envious of others for what they take from the Earth. What they possess. What they engage with. We envy their circles of engagement with life itself, and treat them as celebrities.

We want to attain such a level of engagement for ourselves. To own such possessions. To have them available for our personal use.

Having and owning are the basis of our possessiveness, our shopping sprees, our powerful concept of personal ownership of a planet that clearly supports us all. Private ownership is the dark side of human engagement. Of consciousness gone haywire.

What if I claimed, these are my horseshoe crabs, my eelgrass meadows, my fish in the bay? If life has a mystery, personal ownership is it. How working for a living turns into an engagement that degrades the Earth. How our engagements come to master us as if we had no control over them. And once we initiated them, they had to run to their inevitable conclusion.

Ownership and control are such fundamental parts of our nature, of our natural heritage, we devote a huge amount of our cultural law to protecting the rights of individuals to engage as they please. This we call freedom, life’s blood of the capitalist system of consumption.

We interpret ownership as a right to engage whatever we want, however we will. Even unto destroying that which we love and desire.

But as the word “resource” implies, we own something, not by buying it or extracting it, but by caring for it and keeping it safe so we can enjoy it again and again. Not to exhaust it, but to ensure it will be available forever.

Engagement is a fundamental property of mind. It comes with coupling perception to action by way of meaning and judgment. In that sense, all property is intellectual property, property that reflects the workings of our minds. You’d think that if we all want the same thing, then we would be sure to keep that thing safe for everyone’s use.

But that’s not how our engagements work. Property is an attitude, a state of mind, a combined outlook and inlook. When we engage, we know exactly what we’re doing. Or should, if we keep our eyes open. If we do damage, we can see it for ourselves. And modify our behavior accordingly.

Engagement is strong stuff. Powerful in getting at the heart of our life as conscious beings. Of our having and holding a particular way of life we can count on, now and forever. Don’t come between me and my significant other—what- or whoever it might be. I will get very angry because you are threatening my way of life. My perceiving, judging, acting, and engaging. If you break my accustomed loop, I will take it very personally.

That loop is me as I know myself from the inside. It is who I am on this Earth. I am an ongoing process. I live to engage as I am with whom or what I choose at the time. I am beholden to those people or things I am responsible to in asking them to be responsible to me. That is all I want. Mutual engagement, commitment, and responsibility. Ownership and freedom as I say. The right, within limits, to live my life according to natural law.

That is the state of mind I am trying to get at in this post. The conflicted inner life we lead by leaving a sacked Earth in our wake. We engage our home planet as if it were the peel of a banana we lower the car window to toss into the road. Do you feel the power of that image? The true horror? If I didn’t believe it was the culminating truth of our existence, I wouldn’t be writing these words.

The course of our everyday mental functioning creates the worlds we live in as individuals who are living the lives we have made for ourselves. The lives we live out every day by maintaining the engagements we do with all that we care about. In our respective black boxes, unsupervised, we are at the center of those worlds, creating them day-after-day as the foundation of the life we hold as a commonwealth for one another.

The upshot of this line of thinking is that nature and its resources are not for sale and cannot be put on the market as the basis of our gross domestic product. That would be an absurdity. A for-sale sign on either the richest or poorest piece of land is an oxymoron, a contradiction unto itself. Nature is that which cannot be bought or sold. As Earthlings, we are born of the Earth; it is not possible to own our own mother. We survive as members of Earth’s family.

The point of our mutual engagements is to celebrate our common family together. Nature cannot be for sale, and cannot be bought, no matter what you hear in the market. Nature is a gut-level attraction we recognize when we go to open places and pay attention to the ambient energy falling on our sensory receptors.

We have to open our personal expectancy to such experience. No matter how many safaris we go on, and trophy heads collect, money won’t get it for us. To enjoy a truly natural experience, we must hold hands together, take the deepest possible breath, and breathe out a sigh of thanks for all that has come our way as a gift without our even having to ask.

The moral of this post:  We are stewards of our every engagement.

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Our actions are driven by feelings and approved by judgments we make on the flow of sensory energy as felt in the moment. They come not so much from our muscles themselves as from the forces that spur our muscles to flex or relax. Our deliberate actions flow from the situation—the particular set of mental dimensions that make up the living space of the intelligence at the core of our minds.

When we speak, our actions take the form of words arranged in sentences because that is how the culture we are born to understands and expresses its felt situations. Our birth culture calibrates our minds in the words and numbers we will employ ever after.

That culture includes a vocabulary suited to the variety of situations its members are likely to face in leading the many aspects of their lives. The makeup (syntax) of that speech is meant to convey the structure or meaning of the inner situation as experienced by the speaker.

We speakers are both subjective agents who put energy into intentional acts, and objective recipients acted-upon by energies taken in by our sensory receptors. Which is why we as individuals reflect ourselves in speech as playing both complementary subjective and objective roles: we do things, and things are done unto us.

Our speech is always purposeful. We have reasons for saying what we do. The burden of checking on our motives falls to our listeners. Who have a list of questions they can ask in getting the clarification they need to figure out where we are coming from so they can make a suitable response. Questions reflect curiosity, uncertainty, doubt, interest, and suspicion, among other states of mind.

Conversations unfold according to the interests of those who take part. Casual conversations bounce from topic to topic, driven by connections that participants make with something that comes up. Such connections serve as some sort of reminder that stirs a particular memory or line of thought.

One mentions a trip to “Cincinnati,” say, and someone tells a story about her uncle in that city, and someone else tells of going to school there, then someone else again tells of traveling by train through the city at night in the winter, and so on. Not much gets said, but everyone present has their personal say on the topic of Cincinnati.

Inclusion in the circle is the name of that game, putting your oar in the water, being a player. Little gets accomplished, but everyone goes away feeling good because connected, even though she remained snug in her personal black box the whole time.

Other conversations draw people out of their black boxes, a riskier kind of engagement, requiring trust of those involved. Some find confessional gatherings unseemly, others thrive on the tidbits they glean. Still others are genuinely interested in getting to know their friends and neighbors, so systematically inquire about backgrounds, schooling, jobs held, hobbies, cities lived in, families, and aspirations, often modeling the behavior they seek by taking the lead in sharing such information about themselves.

Conversations among professionals tend to stick to business, some aspect of a topic of interest to all who are present. There are as many uses of speech as there are speakers, so I am only giving a smattering of the social possibilities. I will repeat that everyone has a purpose in saying what she does, and sooner or later, everything that can be said will be said by someone.

After all, words (among other gestures and activities) are the glue that binds us together as friends, families, communities, and cultures. There is no way to underestimate their importance when we link our respective situations together. Or their misuse in various forms of skulduggery by which we take advantage of one-another.

 

 

403. Number People

January 12, 2015

Some of us are music people or food people. Others are visual arts people, TV people, sports people, booze people, film people, word people. This is not simply a matter of choice but more a matter of experience. We get good at what we do most often and with greatest concentration.

Number people use numbers a lot because they find them meaningful. They understand numbers, and use them to express themselves on important subjects. Scientists, statisticians, financiers, mathematicians, sportscasters, astrologers, and many others build worlds around themselves by relying on numbers in everyday life.

Numbers, that is, are one of the ways people engage with the world around them. We are born to cultures having a heritage of numbers, and we have the option of immersing ourselves in that or some other heritage as our primary means of expression and understanding.

In that sense, numbers are one of the ways we use to fit into and anchor ourselves to a world of our personal choosing. Our aptitude with numbers affects our making such a choice. So does our exposure to numbers, our education, our job, our early childhood experience with numbers, and so on. As we count on our fingers, so do we become—finger counters, who grow professionally into some of the fields I have mentioned above.

Numbers are an aspect of the language we are born to. They allow us to make meaningful sounds and gestures in situations where we want to tally a set of separate items or perform some mathematical feat such as measuring, adding, subtracting, and so on.

The genius of numbers is that each one has a unique but memorable name as part of a system we carry with us wherever we go. A system that serves as a kind of lens we use in viewing the world. We can speak or write those names in referring to the purely quantitative aspect of whatever we are directing our attention to in a given situation.

The sounds and symbols of numbers differ from language to language, but their numerical value remains in the same sequence in each language. As long as the sequence is unbroken, the concept of numbers is limited only by the the practical needs of its users. No number is too large or too small to imagine as long as it keeps its place in the number series embodied in our everyday usage.

Infinity seems to be a number, but being beyond the farthest reach of the number series, it is a concept that violates the concept of numbers as forming an unbroken series. Infinity is a supposition, not an actual number. In being beyond reach, it is a contradiction in terms, not an actual number that has a particular place in a sequence.

Zero, too, seems to be a number, but we use it as an imaginary threshold between nothing and something, or the dimensionless divide between positive and negative somethings as a kind of placeholder to remind us of the break or discontinuity we are inserting into our conventional system. The letter n stands for any real number that might occur beyond zero in the direction of or toward, but not including, infinity.

Numbers originate in the human mind as immersed in one culture or another. That mind is based on activated and inhibited pathways for conducting neural impulses, which allow for sequence, addition, multiplication, integration, subtraction, division, differentiation, and other numerical operations.

Too, the mind is based on comparison between signals in different parts of the neural network. Numbers, that is, are not so much in the world as they are in the mind as products of the same neural capabilities for engagement as allow for the production of gestures and speech.

Numbers are abstractions from primary experiences having their characterizing qualities deleted—qualities such as redness, coldness, roughness, motion, size, direction, and so on—leaving a residuum of purified quantity devoid of particular qualities.

Numbers play a prominent role in our many engagements with aspects of our natural environment. Our poise during those engagements depends on the feedback we get in comparing our sensory impressions with past impressions or with our intentions in acting as we do. Did we hit the target or are we low and to the left? By how much? How much thrust do we need to launch a million-ton rocket toward Mars? What is the Earth’s population of ants?

In the practical use of mathematics, we must consider the instrument that employs numbers in a particular situation. Invariably, that instrument is the human mind (not the so-called mind of God or of the universe) which depends largely on memory and the flow of sensory energy from perception to judgment and on to action as key portions of our engagements with the world.

The power of numbers is not in the order of the universe we discover in using them as a tool of our minds; that power is in the educated, dedicated, and systematic workings of our own minds. The laws of physical motion are laws of our perceiving, not of discovery. Of description, not causation. Saying that the universe is inherently based on mathematical principles is like saying the Creator must speak English because his work is so aptly described by our English poets.

More wonderfully, we should applaud ourselves for learning how to use both numbers and our minds to advance our personal grasp of the world around us. When our species dies off, that grasp will go with us, leaving an undescribed universe behind on its own.

 

 

 

 

On a daily basis, our engagements proceed by circular routes with many way-stations, both in our minds and in the world.

I have frequently mentioned several of the dimensions of our situated intelligence in this blog. Our actions are equally complex in progressing through the world in serial fashion from such locations as bedrooms, closets, vanity tables, bathrooms, kitchens, driveways, and cars on our forays and engagements, where we interact with our families, communities, cultures, and nature.

From which we return more-or-less in reverse order to our home base, the place where we dream and restore our powers during sleep in preparation for our next round of excursions and engagement.

Our role as wayfarer is balanced by our role as homebody, the two aspects of our nature complementing each other in different ratios at different stages of our journey. Living with our parents and caretakers while we are young children sets up patterns of expectation, yearning, and engagement that last a lifetime as the result of our minds being shaped when we are very young.

Developing more and more confidence as we grow up, we become increasingly bold in ranging from our home base, until we set up new bases for partnering and rearing children of our own. We make the transition from child to adult only gradually, punctuated by a rapid spurt during adolescence, which equips us with adult bodies steered by unseasoned minds, so that we rush to maturity through a program of trial and error in hope that our volatile interiors will eventually catch up with our bodily facades.

Wayfarers and homebodies in black boxes, that’s what we are to one another, each on an independent course of action guided by perception, perception stirred by previous action.

We speak lightly of getting into bed with one another on intimate terms, but to really get to know someone would require us to get inside the black box shielding his or her mind, and vice versa. Can there be such a thing as a double black box, a black box for two in which we can meet each other pure mind to pure mind?

No, the integrity of our bodies precludes such a possibility. If we take off our clothes, we can snuggle our outer membranes together, but our minds keep their distance.

The best we can do is engage one another on a trusting and intimate course of action by mutual consent. Walking side-by-side holding hands, jointly venturing forth in common endeavor, is about as close as we can come to synchronizing the relative integrities protected by our respective black boxes.

Shared regard and consent—not possession, not dropping all barriers, not going through the motions, not hooking-up—is the essence of love. As wayfarers in black boxes, a consentient and durable commitment to engage side-by-side is the best we can do when it comes to fulfilling the dream of union with another.

Joint engagements run by mutual trust, consent, and coordination are definitely possible; a merging of souls is beyond mortal reach.

 

So, to continue my journey in this brand-new year along the loops of engagement cycling through my mind: after perception and judgment by my situated self comes the realm of planning and action, leading to my playing my role as wayfarer making my way through the serial adventures of my life.

Once all options have been compared and judgments cast, the issue then is to make and effect a plan of action. Goals are set, decisions made how to proceed, projects designed and implemented, teams and relationships formed, tools selected, skills developed and practiced—all leading to decisive moments when I act in keeping with the judgment cast so many milliseconds, hours, days, or years ago.

By the black box image, where perception treats the energy input to my mind from my surroundings, my deeds and actions direct my life’s energy output into those same surroundings as shaped in spacetime by my mind.

The transformation of that flow of sensory energy by my experience and intelligence is situated in a set of active dimensions assembled on that particular occasion in my mind. Those dimensions might include a varied mix of memories, values, emotions, impressions, meanings, motivations, understandings, imaginings, thoughts, beliefs, and so on, all as aroused on that psychic occasion within the confines of my personal black box.

As reshaped by my situated intelligence, that transformed flow of energy is directed across the gap or discrepancy between incoming perception as realized and outgoing action as intended to meet and respond to that flow in an appropriate manner.

As the link between perception and action, my conscious mind is the seat of that discrepancy, and of the judgment intended to adjust or correct it.

Our actions and doings are the most familiar stage of our loops of engagement because they are the culmination of our native intelligence doing its thing to find meaning in, and give direction to, the stream of consciousness that makes up what we can know of the parade of events in our surroundings.

Those actions and doings are the means of our wayfaring. Whether for pay or not, they are how we make our living, such as it is, as an expression of our response to the flow of energy passing through our minds.

Whether we receive pay or not tells whether we are acting primarily for ourselves or for our employers, furthering our own journeys or helping them along on theirs—or doing both at the same time. The art of living is to find a balance between the two that is mutually agreeable to both.

Other people have no direct way of reading our minds and intentions. They have only our deeds to go by in engaging us from a distance and forming a response. To an experienced observer, however, our mental processes may be partially told by what we do.

What we “do” includes speech acts, facial expressions, gestures, bodily postures, dress, grooming, poise, vocal rhythm, presence, style, and all the other signs we give off when we act. Which are the same signs we interpret when forming impressions of those we engage.

Our actions flow in several channels at once, many being largely unconscious, yet all originate in our mental processes nonetheless. In that sense, all human activity is to some degree expressive of the inner states within our personal black boxes, whether we send such messages deliberately or not.

 

 

Along with the core psychic dimensions of memory, sensory impressions, understanding, comparison, values, and emotions, another dimension of our personal intelligence situated between perception and action is awareness of extension and duration provided by the sense of spacetime as the medium of experience.

Perception from a stable point of view—such as from a seat in a theater or stadium with the gaze fixed on one spot, or while listening to music with eyes closed—such fixed attention results in awareness of changes over time that are not the result of personal action. These changes in the world exist in the medium we call time.

Action resulting in bodily motions—as walking through woods while brushing branches aside, or slaloming down a steep slope while swinging one’s center of gravity side-to-side—such changes resulting from bodily movements alter the perspective from which we view the world, so those changes are generated by an agent moving through the medium we refer to as space.

Most awareness of change exists in the combined medium of active engagement in which both self and world are changing simultaneously in the combined medium of spacetime when we are both subject and object, actor and perceiver at the same instant in the same place.

Our actions take our minds into the world; our senses invite the world into our minds. When we act and perceive simultaneously, we engage some small part of the world so that we make a difference to it just as it makes a difference to us. In that sense, we participate in the ongoing life of the world while the world affects our innermost selves, creating what I call a loop of engagement in which we are most truly alive.

When our engagements are successful from our point of view, we are flooded with happiness. Think of Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire. When they fail, we feel like we just lost the World Series or presidential election. Gloom and doom descend until we manage to right ourselves and get back on our feet.

Sitting fixed in our seats before a monitor, TV, or film screen, we observe car chases, explosions, and world-changing events without benefit of lifting even a finger, so we walk away without a scratch as if nothing had happened, and we are none the wiser for the time we have spent sitting comfortably in our seats because we have invested so little energy in staying put.

On a treadmill or stationary bike, we can go for miles putting in the effort without a change of scene, ending where we started, putting in our time by the clock, exhausting ourselves, but gleaning not one iota of experience. Treadmills were invented to do work (raise water from ditch to field, grind grain, power bicycles), but exercise machines are made to accomplish nothing at considerable expenditure of energy. We live in a world of phony engagements that take place in no real place and no real time, other than the illusions we create for ourselves while striding manfully ahead or being “entertained.”

Are we any happier for making the effort? If we generate endorphins that lessen our pain or even create a state of euphoria, perhaps we are. But is the world any happier at being left out of our one-sided exercise? Is Ginger any happier when Fred dances alone or with someone else?

There is an art to our engagements and that is in sharing our good times and great places with others so that we are happy together and grow closer as a result. We don’t just exist in time and space, but use them to good advantage in creating a more joyful world around us. We extend ourselves and endure to the benefit of not only ourselves but those with whom we share our one Earth, which benefits the Earth as a whole.

Such efforts seat us firmly at the heart of nature, culture, community, and family, so, yes, they are positive and generate happiness as a result. Looking around today’s world, however, we see people in all corners wreaking havoc and destruction by imposing their views on others by force. Such actions do not promote personal engagements but render them impossible, creating enemies of people unknown to one another.

Wise use of the time and place we are born to is the very essence of our lives. According to that scenario, many find happiness, yet billions of people just barely scrape by. Are we here to create the greatest amount of misery we can with what resources we’ve got for the brief span we are allowed under the conditions that prevail? Many act as if that were their creed.

The point of our lives is to prove that can’t be so. We do this through the daily engagements we create in the limited time and space we have available to us. We start by getting out of bed in the morning and being fully ourselves.

Impairments to the intelligent use of time and space include hearing-, vision, and memory-loss; addictions of all sorts; inattention, distraction, set habits, isolation, sensory deprivation, over-stimulation, preoccupation; affective disorders; the full autism spectrum; schizophrenia; disaffection; post-traumatic stress disorder; bipolar disorder; violence; and warfare.

 

374. Brain Talk

December 4, 2014

Brain talk is full of words like data, information, computation, processing, knowledge, and other terms of that noble family of academic abstractions. But seldom do we live up to the expectations of the scientists and engineers who treat the brain as if they had designed it themselves by rational means, which they didn’t and never could.

Such terms are descriptors of what neuroscientists want to find, not necessarily of what’s there in the brain to discover. That is, neuroscience is salted with metaphors meaningful to those who study the brain, but many of those same terms are wide of the mark set by instinctual users of particular brains as tools for conducting life as a work-in-progress at every stage.

Most of the mass of the brain is made up of axons (connectors) that lead from one nerve cell nucleus to its terminus, not the nuclei, cortical columns, and synapses that actually perform so much of our mental work. It is the chemical flow between nerve cells that brings minds to life, as facilitated by the travel of ionic potentials from cell bodies to their extremities.

The flow of neurotransmitters across synaptic gaps between nerve cells at myriad points of connection enables those chemicals to get to the right place at the right time to activate or inhibit a comparison in synchrony with other signals so that simultaneous connections are sustained between different regions of the brain, furthering the coherent neural traffic we experience as mind, awareness, or consciousness.

Mind is not confined to the brain but reaches through skilled action to the outer limits of the body and, beyond that, via traffic through nature, culture, community, and family, to the cascade of energy impinging on our sensory organs.

Our minds acquire language and numbers because they are born to language and numbers as two of the cultural media in which they are immersed. They acquire a genome and genetic heritage by being born to particular parents who, at conception, consist of one man and one woman who inhabit a particular niche (nest) in the physical world.

Mind is a collaborative function of brain, body, nature, culture, community, and family. It is the seat of our organic intelligence together with  the many situations and active engagements that make up our lives. I think that to call it a computer or data processor is to miss the point of what the mind actually does and how it operates.

356. Believing Is Seeing

November 12, 2014

When my family moved to Seattle in late August of 1947, I was eager to see the Rocky Mountains for the first time. As we drove west through flatlands in eastern Colorado, I expectantly peered from the back seat through the windshield, but saw only low clouds blocking my view of any mountains. The clouds grew taller as we approached, and for half-an-hour I grew more desperate to view the Rockies. At last, when I began seeing trees and valleys among the clouds, I realized that I had seen the Rockies all along, but their being snow-covered in late August prevented me from recognizing what I was looking at. Had it been winter, I would have seen them sooner. My summer expectations got in the way of my seeing.

It’s not so much that seeing is believing as just the reverse: believing is seeing (or hearing). “It’s true if you think so,” says Italian dramatist Luigi Pirandello. We see “what our prejudices presume to be there,” says Thoreau. Travelers on Cape Cod once reported a black man holding a white man at knifepoint by the side of the road, a scene that turned out to be a reporter from a local radio station holding a microphone to the lips of a man he was interviewing. In going through old National Geographics from the nineteen-teens and twenties, I have come across photographs of bare-breasted African women nursing babies under the title, “Black Madonna,” suggesting a verbal veil of social acceptability to make the image suitable for a prudish and mostly White middle-class readership.

Reflection 326: Dreamland

October 1, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.

When we dream, we can neither act in the world nor receive sensory impressions from that world, so have no ability to engage beyond what we store in memory—lingering feelings, salient experience from the past, a general sense of frustration in being shut out from the world, together with an ability to construct recognizable situations associated with subtle movements of the muscles steering our eyes. And yet to recover our sense of engagement upon waking, all we need is a sufficient jolt of arousal to release our pent-up drive to action and hunger for sensory stimulation. We are the same situated dreamers, now up on two legs and looking about, ready to engage.

Our dreaming and waking self is much the same basic personality under different conditions of arousal. As I wrote in Consciousness: The Book, “To create consciousness, equip our dreamselves with loops of engagement so we become capable of acting and sensing—voila, we recognize our everyday selves” (page 207).

What does not change when we slip into dreamland is our ability to recognize a limited range of familiar situations such as frustration and sexual arousal. In the last paragraph of my book, I make a suggestion stemming from that fact:

I think it important to pay particular attention to your mental state every day upon first awakening, and to the remnants of receding dreams. This will expand your appreciation for the hidden depths of your mind, which are just as much yours as your open-eyed awareness (pages 270-271).

So it is no surprise that I took notice of an opposite view expressed in a short piece by Michael Chabon in the September 27 issue of The New York Review of Books: 

I hate dreams. . . . I hate them for their absurdities and deferrals, their endlessly broken promise to amount to something, by and by. I hate them for the way they ransack memory, jumbling treasure and trash. I hate them for their tedium, how they drag on, peter out, wander off (“Head or Tale,” page 54).

There, I thought, is a man who is uncomfortable with his own nature, his own hidden depths. I tried to imagine what it would be like to live with so strong a source of built-in discontent. It is not only his own dreams that bother him, but the recounting by  others of their dreams—including members of his own family:

At the breakfast table, in my house, an inflexible law compels all recounting of dreams to be compressed into a sentence or, better still, half a sentence, like the paraphrasings of epic films listed in TV Guide: “Rogue Samurai saves peasant village” (ibid.).

That attitude strikes me as so familiar because people generally hate in others what they cannot deal with in their own lives. Which leads religious and political leaders to take often extreme efforts to clamp down on the freedom of all people to be themselves. How does the refrain run? “If I hate abortions, you can’t have one under any circumstances. If I feel overtaxed, you can’t even mention taxation in my presence. If I am uneasy in the presence of foreigners, they should stay in their homelands and not hound me. Spare me your dreams, I’ll spare you mine.”

These are warped ways of engagement, imposing one’s own sensibilities on everyone else—claiming that one’s personal style should be made universal. The harder a man believes in his personal style of engagement, the more intolerant and unbearable he becomes, the more controlling and authoritarian, the more insistent on orthodoxy based on his egocentric life preferences. His engagements with unique others become geared like a bicycle chain entraining them to his will. The universe is not centered on Earth or the sun, it is centered on me, me, me, me! That is the cry of those who have a private fountain of youth in their depths that assures they stay infantile forever. What a sad story. Sad for all of humanity in thinking one can be conscious for everyone else.

“If art were more like dreams,” Chabon writes, “I might ban it from my breakfast table, too.” On that note, he ends his short piece. Is he trying to be funny or ironic? I am not familiar with his work, and don’t find any figurative clues in this short essay, so take him at face value.  [Wikipedia’s entry on Michael Chabon includes the sentence: His work is characterized by complex language, the frequent use of metaphor along with recurring themes, including nostalgia, divorce, abandonment, fatherhood, and most notably issues of Jewish identity.]  We cannot tolerate what we don’t understand because we have not lived it in childhood when our styles of engagement were set spinning. Not just a sad story, a tragic story, with consequences for us all. Such as the mayhem—the cacophony of cries shouted out and enacted on the world stage, human weakness and fallibility masquerading as world truth and god’s will.

How it hurts to write such words. To see the human world implode upon itself because of a set refusal on the part of those who seek power to grow into mature adults. What sane adult would want to have a position of such authority? The general level of maturity is inversely proportional to the square of the human population because more and more children are neglected every day, and so society lacks the depth it requires to teach everyone how to engage with those who are unlike themselves, and so make a shambles of life itself. Truly, it takes a village to raise a child so parents have back-ups when they’re too sick or tired to engage with their own children.

What does it take to want to be president or serve on the judiciary of the United States, Egypt, Serbia, Syria, Iran, North Korea, or anywhere else? It takes a lust for power based on deep felt personal need to control the world because it is such a scary place. To feel that in your bones is to plead the normalcy of your personal fears, needs, desires, and ideal engagements. What I want, every normally intelligent person should want. What’s good for me is good for you, by definition. My definition. Which is the point. Me substituting my will for yours, and calling it a virtue. Putting you in my place—my situation as I see it—and calling that reality.

As we engage, so do we play out our situations in the (supposedly) real world. Shopping, working, making things, fixing dinner, talking, joking, fighting, keeping abreast of the times—all are engagements centered on the situations we are in at the time. Which are very similar to the key situations we find (place) ourselves in in our dreams. Situations, remember, encapsulate the self, his or her outlook or perspective, and the scene or event revealed from that personal point-of-view all in one take on so-called reality. Situations one after another form the loop of engagement along which our daily lives are strung like so much laundry. Life is thus made up of our adventures as seen from the inside. Inside our waking hours; inside our dreams.

I woke up the other day still engaged in my dream, and went about my daily routine as if the dream were continuing, looking upon my intimate world as fantastic, fabulous, bizarre, and strangely wonderful. I had made soup the evening before, and piled bowls, pots, pans, and utensils in the drying rack next to my sink in a mad heap like the dump of discarded parts at a military airbase. I took it all in and accepted responsibility for creating that heap. In the bathroom, I hung my towel—not on the bar where a wet shirt was supposedly drying, but half on an overturned laundry basket, half on a chair while avoiding the pair of pants draped over the back, desperately fitting my need to what little space was available, seeing myself adapt to the chaos and ruin I had wrought by simply living my life the day before. I was partly awake, but my dream state seamlessly continued so that I could appreciate my own engagement as my doing fabricated from whatever situation I found myself in.

Which is where we “come from” all the time, from situations in which we picture ourselves in the act of striving to be glamorous, accomplished, famous, worthy, witty, eloquent, funny, powerful, strong, successful—whatever. We make ourselves happen to fit the situations we create for ourselves. Poor me. Lucky me. Happy me. Neurotic me. Sick me. Sad me. Saintly me. Devilish me. As go our dreams, so goes our day, scene by scene, act after act, one engagement following another. The land of our waking turns out to be an extension of the land of our dreaming, or vice versa. The two are similar because we—our fundamental selves—are one and the same. It’s just that in one state we can engage with the world around us to some degree, in the other we have only our innermost selves to fall back on, our own company to keep in insular privacy.

Landscape as dreamscape, that’s what I’m talking about because that’s what I find by reflection on my own life. Asleep or awake, I’m the same me in two different realms, one where I can engage a shifting world, the other where I have only salient features of my earlier experience, so in a sense am trapped into being who I truly am. If I hate my dreams, as many do—Michael Chabon is but their spokesman—I am in deep trouble, and apt to make it all right by imposing my trouble on those who are not me—which is what writers of “fiction” do for a living.

One afterthought: Horoscopes “work” because they are based on the assumption that the conditions of our beginnings determine our actions ever-after. Which, translated to the influence of the heavens, is a figurative depiction of what really happens. Only, it isn’t the heavens that are all powerful, but our earliest caregivers—parents, not planets, earthly surrogates for those looking down from above.

Enough, already. I’m still y’r brother and friend, enjoying myself immensely, –Steve from Planet Earth.

Reflection 324: My Day, again

September 26, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.      [Including two photos.]

What am I talking about when I mention loops of engagement? Basically, it’s how I direct my attention in everyday life—how I make myself happen. Let me count the ways. Take yesterday, for instance. Here’s a summary of my engagements that I can remember:

  • lay in bed thinking about what I was going to do
  • showered and got dressed
  • edited two posts to my blog before breakfast
  • made and ate breakfast, washed dishes
  • answered email, printed handouts for upcoming housing commission meeting
  • worked on two Powerpoint presentations for October 6
  • scanned and Photoshopped three photos
  • read article in Newsweek
  • got mail at PO
  • deposited check at bank
  • bought cheese, bananas, rice cakes, sugar, at grocery
  • made soup for lunch, washed dishes
  • drove 18 miles to Ellsworth
  • checked with surveyor about headings shown on a chart from 1983
  • consulted builder about patching roof
  • planned reroofing job with son Ken
  • hailed Sophie, asked about her father
  • bought yogurt to get me through meeting
  • attended 2.5-hour listening session with John Bullard, new head of National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
  • drove back to Bar Harbor
  • made supper
  • went to sleep listening to Romney at GOP convention

I made two points at the listening session:

  1. Times are changing in estuaries up and down the coast. As shallow, sheltered, sunny bays, estuaries are particularly productive, but being warmer than most coastal waters, they are showing the impact of global warming before more open waters. Mussels are spawning earlier, lobsters are molting earlier, horseshoe crabs are breeding earlier. These changes will drive changes to fisheries in federal waters farther out in the Gulf of Maine.
  2. My sense of the meeting is that the arrow of time heads in one direction and never makes a U-turn. In my lifetime the human population has risen from 2 to 7 billion people. You can’t go home again, or follow traditions set by your father and grandfather. Those fisheries won’t “come back” as many in the audience hoped they would. Fishermen have to innovate as Steve Jobs did at Apple by focusing on the world of today, not sit around longing for yesterday to repeat itself.

This was the most civil meeting between fishermen and a fisheries manager I have ever attended. Bullard did an excellent job stressing that he was there to listen, not lecture. As usual, my engagements included taking pictures. Here are a couple of examples from the NMFS listening session. The first is of John Bullard responding to a question from a fisherman, the second shows a portion of the 25 people having fisheries-related interests that he came to meet with in Ellsworth.

P1030256_John-Bullard_NMFS_8-30-2012P1030235x_NMFS-mtg_8-30-2012 In retrospect, it all sounds so routine. But that’s how engagements often run. We do many of the same or similar things day-after-day. We get up, wash, make breakfast, run off to school or to work, take breaks, eat, read or watch videos/TV, answer email, go to bed. We are verbs on the run from one engagement to the next.

Which is exactly my point. We make it all happen from the inside, not because we are on some kind of treadmill. It is our personal attention that is engaged, our personal sensory impressions, our personal situations, our personal actions—all directed toward making ourselves happen as is our custom so we remain familiar to ourselves and know who we are.

Think of the culture we have built around ourselves as an extension of our personal urge and ability to engage:

  • going to school to learn new skills
  • getting a job to bring in a paycheck
  • learning to talk, read, write, swim, drive, cook, garden
  • forming relationships, going on dates, getting engaged
  • having children, a career, a car, a house, an exercise bike
  • fighting, serving in the military, taking tours of duty
  • walking, running, flying, sailing, rowing, kayaking
  • painting, dancing, singing, sculpting, making music
  • cutting wood, digging ditches, panning gold, sewing
  • investing, saving, gambling, squandering, consuming
  • these, and a thousand other activities we perform

Our culture illustrates myriad possibilities for engagement, which we use as foils in defining ourselves in particular ways to reflects the influences and choices we have personally experienced in our families, social groups, schools, neighbor-hoods, and communities. Out of the possibilities all swirling around us, we choose activities that make sense to us because of examples so familiar that we unwittingly or deliberately pattern our interactions upon them (or against them) and become who we are.

Engagements are the core upon which our psyches—our minds and inner identities—are built. They are more what we are as individuals than what we do in society. We all engage our worlds and surroundings in particular ways as farmers, artists, musicians, athletes, teachers, soldiers, lovers, entrepreneurs, adventurers, parents, and all the other roles we learn to play in one life.

I offer the streaming round of personal engagement as a kind of everyday psychology based on life as we make it happen rather than on any sense of “normal” or “deviant” behavior, trauma, neurosis, or pathology. I am not a medical man out to cure humanity of its ills. I think on the whole we do better by accepting one another as we present ourselves, and develop relationships (or not) from there. We grow into a kind of dignity by growing up as we do, and I believe each of us is entitled to a certain amount of respect for having survived as well as we have under difficult circumstances we have faced on our own.

The point, I think, is once we become aware of the personal uniqueness of our styles of engagement, we have the option in each case to strive toward making our engagements as effective and productive as we can to avoid abusing others inadvertently by inflicting ourselves on a world without regard for the consequences. We are all one-of-a-kind specimens of humanity, and look on the world from perspectives uniquely our own. As such, we have no right to inflict harm on others who look back at us through eyes of their own because of how their rearing and life experiences have shaped them.

Rather, by striving to be gifts one to another in our engagements, we first must become gifts to ourselves by dealing with the circumstances of our own development, recognizing our strengths, weaknesses, and failings, and accepting responsibility for improving on the ways others have shown us how to be ourselves up till now through personal example. We do that by paying particular attention to how we conduct our own engagements, deliberately avoiding doing harm. That is my translation of the golden rule.

Focusing on engagements in terms of work, Christian Science Monitor Editor John Yemma writes in his editorial for the issue of September 3, 2012:

Work is the difference we make over a lifetime. Each of us accumulates a body of work that is more than bullet points on our resume. Our work includes what we contribute in the home, in the development of our talents, in the refinement of intellect and growth of character. Work is about improving ourselves and helping make the world a little better as a partner, parent, friend, or citizen (page 5).

More inclusively, every one of our engagements makes such a difference because it is an example of how we make ourselves happen in the world. As we engage, so goes the world—that is, the world we entertain from our perspective on the situation we are in at the time, the only world we can know.

That’s what it means to be responsibly conscious—of yourself and your view of the world at the same time—to rise to the occasion as navigator of your personal destiny.

As always, –Steve from Planet Earth