… essays on the Starr trek

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Planning or Serendipity?


The concept of ‘ikigai’ is changing my life now as much as ‘kaizen‘ did in the eighties.

I have spent the past two weeks of my leave doing some de-cluttering and ‘make & mend’ on my possessions.  I have far too much stuff and it creates a blockage which prevents any sense of spiritual self from taking its place in my life (an old Cherokee belief is that Spirit makes a fragile connection and will only stay if made welcome in our lives–from Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain).

I saw the word ikigai in a listing of TED talks and when I heard the meaning, I knew immediately that it was what has been missing in my life, causing depression, ennui, and a general hopelessness as I approach an age which my parent’s generation believed was a time of retirement.

So, I now commence a period of planning and serendipitous trust.  My mind desires organisation and order; my spirit is somewhat open to that which arrives unexpectedly.

During the Warriors’ Wisdom seminars run by Stuart Wilde in the eighties, we were given the opportunity to walk on fire.  Like many people, I needed to be convinced that I would come through unscathed, or at least with minimal pain.  As Stuart was an exponent of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP, a form of hypnosis), he gave our left brains something to work with whilst our spiritual selves plucked up the courage to take the first step onto red-hot coals.  His process included the following steps:

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Know where you are.
  3. Plan your walk.
  4. Walk your plan.

We practiced in groups on the floor of the large meeting room at Campaspe Downs in Central Victoria.  We were given a run-down of various groups who used fire-walking as spiritual practice.  We shared our fears in the groups (called arbans, from the name for a group of Mongol warriors) that we had formed several days earlier in a conference room in Melbourne.  We underwent a series of chants and exercises that had us sweating.  We practiced again and again until we were somewhat bored and wanted to walk that frigging plan.

We wrote down our fears on a piece of paper and queued up for our walk across the various fire pits.  Some people decided that they would play it cool and not walk; there was no judgement from Stuart, they were just asked to encourage the others.

I stepped up, wanting to go first, probably because I wasn’t sure how long my courage would last.  As instructed, I threw my piece of paper onto the coals and watched as it became a wisp of ash in the intense heat.  Taking the first step was hard–and I guess we all get the metaphor.  Having practiced so much, I was able to focus and keep going.  Of course, my feet were not burning up.  Much later, I became aware of the Leidenfrost Effect (think of droplets of water jumping on a hot stove top).  By walking over wet grass from the evening dew, and by continually walking across the the coals, we were protected by a small amount of vapour that formed on the soles of our feet.  To avoid still-burning coals sticking to our feet, we stepped into a bowl of water at the other end.

Learning of the effect did not diminish the power of ‘the plan’ that Stuart had implanted in my memory during a period of fear, or stasis, where I would not normally move forward.  This is where I learned the difference between real and imagined danger, something that enabled me to work in the adventure training industry a few years later.

When I hit the age of sixty, I foolishly felt that most learning in life was over and I had entered a time of ‘coasting’ towards retirement and inaction.  Wrong-wrong-wrong.  The past five years have been a time of my greatest learning and spiritual growth, marked by the need to survive in a new country, and to accept the fruits of solitude.  My formerly extrovert self has recognised and adopted the benefits and occasional sorrows of introversion.  This has been a difficult, yet not unhappy, time.

For now, I am researching and investigating the role of ikigai in my life.  I am inspired by what the Japanese are doing, in particular the Silver Human Resources Centre which operates there.  This is something that I am keen to see established in Australasia.  Although I can plan and research, I sense that the next step will have more to do with the Three Princes of Serendip.


Can’t Explain

What creates an attraction in the mind when explainable phenomena – such as pheromones – are absent?

Some attractions that intrigue me are:
*Maori culture, wars, customs (except the eating of body parts of foes);
*Tengriism – I originally thought it was a Native American religion, and now understand how is comes from Turkmen peoples and co-exists with Buddhism in Kyrgystan;
*Younger, plumpish dark-haired women (is this just my Anima?);
*The game of Civilization (now in it’s fifth iteration) – do I just want conquer the world?
*Blaise Pasqual? & The Three Musketeers? (are these a seventeenth-century Francophillia?) – including Richelieu and Mazarin;
*some aspects of Catholiscism – Jesuits, St. Francis of Assissi, the Council of Nicea
*the possible population of Earth from Mars, as postulated in Genisis: the first book of Revelations by David Wood;


Back To Basics

I began my new job this week and – whilst I have to maintain a high level of confidentiality – I want to explore what it has meant to me. The title says most of it, and the metaphor of ‘basics’ extends to my writing as well.

The image is of one of my old staples, the Mind Map, which bolstered my learning and writing when I returned to study at the age of 48. It’s basic, using pen and paper and pencil, yet it helps to clarify my thinking in a way that various PC applications are unable to do.

So, BASICS. I guess I have always been afraid of excreta, my own and especially others’. Now, I bless modern technology for diapers, a supply of disposable rubber gloves, and antiseptic wipes. There is this endless cycle of input, throughput and output that keeps humans going. Each stage requires a degree of care, and sometimes intervention, to keep things moving. And baby, motion is the desired, yet unpalatable outcome.

Did you get all that – if you didn’t, man, do you need to handle some shit! I’m getting there. I live in a world of technological stimulation and can sometimes forget that other people lead simple lives outside of geekdom. Those are the folks that I am learning to care for at the moment. They have little or no verbal communication, some have to be fed, most have to be dressed and much of their lifestyle managed by someone else – therein lies the learning for me. In doing such a service, I get back enormous insight into my own blessings, and the opportunity to reflect upon ways to improve my own existence. (Yep, fellow solipsists – it was only about moi – although one cannot care for others and retain a belief that the Universe is centered solely in one’s own mind). I do need time to reflect upon my experience and to plan for the future, but these indulgences are tempered by a renewed desire to serve humanity whilst catering to my need for creative, rather than mindless, stimulation.

We serve one another by stroking. We send out waves via touch or mental impulses or the exchange of words. Words support or inform or convey meaning just by their tone. I found myself stroking others more this week, not sure if it fits any clinical model, but certain that it communicates caring. Shoulders, backs, arms, wrists seem OK. I am a Mother, and also a Father, to people who rely upon me. In this space I feel no desire, merely an urge to communicate empathy. I hope that I do not become immune to this feeling and thus adopt complacent disassociation as a coping mechanism. I want to discuss this with my wife, my own confidant on the journey, the one who strokes me and gives me strength.

I gain renewed vigour to read and research and to write. In doing so, I go way beyond basics and into the world of the futurist – what are we to become? TIME magazine throws up a possibility with its fifth most popular story of the year: 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal by Lev Grossman. He outlines a cybernetic phenomenon that futurists term ‘Singularity’ (taken from the astrophysics idea of a “point in space-time … at which the rules of ordinary physics do not apply”). If the title’s prediction is true, by the time I reach ninety-five, I will be sharing the planet with “super-intelligent immortal cyborgs.” Are computers meek? Will they inherit the Earth? How can we insure that Artificial Intelligence is friendly? If you can’t afford an iPad, will you miss out on eternal life? At ninety-five I may be wishing that some enlightened carer is looking after my basics.

After ruminating upon this, I am reminded of an article that enthralled me in the early naughties – Anatol Lievin, writing in 2001 in Prospect Magazine, postulated that immortality will be denied to those unable to afford it. There would be a ‘Second Fall’ as some wealthier parts of humanity left the planet (initially to enter orbit in order to escape the resentment of the ‘have-nots’). Among many interesting predictions is that less than five-percent of us would have the financial wherewithal to make the transition, via alterations to our physical bodies and technological implants, from human to ‘Ubermensch’ (apologies to Nieztsche).

Unless and until we have universal global healthcare which will update us all to Homo Sapiens 2.0, then the only option that makes sense at the moment is to get back to basics and learn the strokes necessary to paddle us across the sea of life. Noah kidding.

Human Lessons – Bloody No.5!

Ten Rules for Being Human from If Life Is A Game, These Are The Rules, Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott (1998)

1.      You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it’s yours to keep for the entire period.

2.      You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called, “life.”

3.      There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial, error, and experimentation.  The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiments that ultimately “work.”

4.      Lessons are repeated until they are learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can go on to the next lesson.

5.      Learning lessons does not end. There’s no part of life that doesn’t contain its lessons. If you’re alive, that means there are still lessons to be learned.

6.      “There” is no better place than “here.” When your “there” has become a “here”, you will simply obtain another “there” that will again look better than “here.”

7.      Other people are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects to you something you love or hate about yourself.

8.      What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.

9.     Your answers lie within you. The answers to life’s questions lie within you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.

10.    You will tend to forget all this.

I discovered this back in the eighties, it was circulating among us Human Potential Movement types that were caught up in the various Large Group Awareness trainings that seemed to be hypnotising us then (think ‘Money and You’, ‘est’, ‘Mind Powers’ etc. – just Google ‘LGAT’ and/or ‘mind control’ if this interests you).  However, I have to wind back my scepticism somewhat as I reflect upon the power of Dr. Cherie’s ‘Rules’, particularly number five, above.  It doesn’t seem to matter how old you get, if you have chosen to follow the Socratic Maxim (‘the unexamined life is not worth living’) then those bloody lessons keep biting away until Rule Four kicks in.

My abiding question is why?  Why is life like this, or is it just a way of looking at life?  If it were simply a viewpoint, why do these rules ring so true, so poignantly, and so viscerally?

Another answer may be suggested by the original wording of Rule One when I first saw it: “… but it’s yours to keep for the entire period this time round.”  Is that why we have to learn lessons?, so that we can keep coming back to the schoolroom – and playground – of Planet Earth?  Is that why some people, ‘just don’t get it’ when it comes to solving problems with violence, or taking advantage of others, or even why we need to protect the planet for future generations (or for ourselves to return to school)? 

I’ve seen past lives under hypnosis, I’ve read all the Edgar Cayce stuff and dabbled in Theosophy (Madame Blavatsky) and Anthroposophy (Rudolph Steiner) and even Scientology (yeah, you know who), but I still don’t know.  I still keep learning those lessons, but.

Inspirations – Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)

I have always found it difficult to convey my more complex thoughts to others. In 1998, after five years of writing training manuals and conducting numerous training sessions, the word ‘essay’ kept buzzing around my head space. I wanted to write essays and maybe even novels, and felt that a university education would provide the requisite discipline and technical skills. At forty-eight years of age, I found myself enrolled in an Arts degree, wearing berets and brightly-coloured scarves.

In the early days of a new-found love of learning, I blossomed in the company of similar minds, many of them mature-aged students like myself. One, we’ll call her Karen, was more interesting because she was erudite, wrote fabulously and poetically and seemed exotic and aloof. She knew a lot more about the history of writing and the technique of writing, so we became friends.

One day, as we scoured a local bookshop for cheap source material to feed the incessant quotes that first-year Arts students love to sprinkle through their assignments, she showed me a worn copy of the essays of Michel de Montaigne. She told me that, if I wanted to write essays, Montaigne was the guy. I bought the book and occasionally made reference to it in the pretentious style that I adopted to get my A and B grades. I never really read it, but I became fascinated with the stories around Montaigne: his growing up in Gascony, learning Latin and Greek; his training as a lawyer and ascent to the highest nobility in France; and his subsequent self-confinement, in order to explore his own consciousness through the medium of writing – his Essais (or ‘attempts’).

His own influences seem to have come from his rich father, his Sephardic Jewish mother, his German tutor, and classical writers such as the Greek/Roman philosopher Plutarch. His father dictated an upbringing that was far from cosseted. The young Michel was surrounded by people who only spoke to him in Latin, making that his first language. He had music, deliberately and continuously, played wherever he went. He was encouraged to read widely, to romp, to play games, to be with all and sundry – not just his own class. He probably read Plutarch’s 78 essays – Moralia – in the original Greek. Montaigne thus became well-equipped to influence those around him during the time he allotted to the external world. His decision to become a recluse is best explained by a sign near his desk:

‘In the year of Christ 1571, at the age of thirty-eight, on the last day of February, his birthday, Michael de Montaigne, long weary of the servitude of the court and of public employments, while still entire, retired to the bosom of the learned virgins, where in calm and freedom from all cares he will spend what little remains of his life, now more than half run out. If the fates permit, he will complete this abode, this sweet ancestral retreat; and he has consecrated it to his freedom, tranquility, and leisure.’

For most of the next ten years, he devoted himself to researching – his personal library contained over 1,000 books – and writing. Towards the end of this time, a kidney disease caused him to travel in search of relief from pain. Travel was cut short when, in 1581, he found that he had been elected mayor of Bordeaux. His four years in that office involved much mediation between Catholics and Protestants as this was the time of the French Wars of Religion. The latter years of his life involved the revision and publication of his Essais – several volumes – and he died at the age of fifty-nine.

Whilst perhaps the lowliest, I am not the first or last writer to be inspired by Montaigne. It is said that Shakespeare read his work and was influenced. Here’s a section from Montaigne’s Wikipedia entry:

… Montaigne’s influence is especially noticeable in “Hamlet” and “King Lear“, both in language and in the skepticism present in both plays. For an example, compare Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Rosencrantz, at Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, about line 240, with an earlier quote of Montaigne:1. “… for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.” 2. “Whether the events in our life are good or bad greatly depends on the way we perceive them.”

Of course, the wisdom of my favourite quote from Hamlet may just be a case of great minds thinking alike. I prefer to think that William Shakespeare and I were both inspired by the life and legends associated with Michel de Montaigne, and that many more will continue to ‘attempt’ to share their thoughts, whilst pondering Montaigne’s great maxim: Que sais-je? (What do I know). Now, I must get around to reading his works.

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