Making Friends With the Fog

We woke up this morning deep in a fog bank. It was surreal. Tendrils of mist crept into the room when I opened the balcony door and quested into corners seeking out whatever it is that fog searches for. So we made cups of hot chocolate and coffee, donned sweatshirts and sat out on the balcony, making friends with the fog instead of shutting it out. Letting our eyes adapt to the swirling,, changing patterns and listening to the deafening dawn chorus of birds and the gentle, underlying shushing of the sea.

There are times when, as a nation, as a society, our vision is clouded. We see the billowing clouds of anger and the fogs of discontent rolling towards us and our first thought is to protect ourselves, to shut them out, to focus inward and ignore what is happening around us, to turn on the TV and binge watch something that takes your mind off things. We close the doors and flip on the electric lights and crank up the heat until it all goes away and we are comfortable once more.

But maybe, just maybe, the sooner we open the balcony door of our minds and allow ourselves to truly SEE what we have become, what is generating the storms, to invite the fog in so that we can come to understand what it searches for and what we can do to help it in it’s quest, the sooner the storms will pass and the fogs will dissipate and allow us all to bask in the healing rays of the sun.

-JustSteph, 6/6/20

The Vanilla Man

I don’t know about you, but I’m a chocolate kind of girl.   From the time I was little I would bypass the pretty pink ice creams (strawberry mostly) that other girls my age seemed so fond of (I honestly think it had something to do with the popularity of Strawberry Shortcake at the time) and went straight for the Double Dutch Chocolate or Swiss Chocolate Almond.

In shops that had multiplicities of flavors I’d ignore the pistachio and lemon balm and caramel crunch; preferring to zero in on the Fudge Stripe and Mayan Chocolate, with an occasional nod to Oreo Cookie Crunch or Chocolate Chip.  When people would ask me why I didn’t try and mix it up a bit I would shrug and say I didn’t know, but what it was, was that I didn’t know how to explain it.

You see, I didn’t understand why I should muck around with the more fruity or bland flavors, even if they were unusual.  What I wanted – what I craved – was the full-bodied experience of chocolate; the way that it completely overwhelmed my senses and bombarded me with an intoxicating richness that went straight to my head.

Strangely enough, this was a theme that would follow me for my entire life; always having to go straight for the people and places, the situations and experiences that would provide me with the most stimulation; the most intensity; the most flavor and it amazed me that there were people who actually went out of their way to avoid these kinds of stimulation.  For the longest time I thought that there had to be something wrong with them.  Indeed, many of them seemed rather ashamed of the fact that they didn’t try more or do more, as if they felt they had let themselves down somehow by choosing safety and security over adventure and really wild things.  But it was my encounter with the Vanilla Man that would forever change the way I viewed my life and the way those around me had chosen to live.

The Vanilla Man was something entirely new to my experience; a person who not only avoided excess stimulation of any kind (shunning those experiences and situations and experiences that I found so attractive) but who took pride in being predictable and I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would prefer this kind of a life.  It was an intriguing concept, and one I had never encountered before.

Even then, those many years ago, the Vanilla Man was predictable.  Even as a young man you could set your clock by his routine.  At any time of the day or night you knew where he would be and what he would be doing.  And in spite of my own personal preferences and inclinations, I found him anything but boring.  He had an awesome sense of humor and we could converse on a wide variety of topics even seeing things from different perspectives as we did.  In fact, I found his predictability and complete confidence in himself to be entirely refreshing; a way of looking at the world around him that I had never considered before to be valid.   He found my spontaneity and unfiltered view of the world just as intriguing, and it made for a rather tempestuous relationship.

Like night and day, however, we eventually went our separate ways, unable to reconcile our opposite views and lifestyles (though we remain fast friends) and there are times when I have to wonder what would have happened if we had given that mixing of vanilla and chocolate a go.  Would it have resulted in a block of striped ice cream with neither budging to give the other space?  Would we have been like a hot fudge sundae with one of us overpowering or smothering the other? Or would we have mixed ourselves so thoroughly that we would have each become something less (and more) than we had been on our own; giving up our own chocolate and vanilla personalities and preferences to become something like chocolate mouse or vanilla swirl?

Many years have gone by since then, but I have never forgotten what the Vanilla Man had to teach me; that just because there are those who don’t see the world in quite the same way that you do does not mean that their perspective is invalid, and that not everyone has to approach life in the same way that you do in order to be truly and fully alive.

In truth, the world needs vanilla.  Without vanilla men (and women) the chocolates and coconut cherry chunks and rocky roads would run rampant and there would never be any continuity; nothing would get done.  The world would dissolve into complete and total chaos and anarchy.  Besides being soothing and creamy, vanilla tones down the bitterness of more aggressive flavors and makes the sickly sweet tolerable and goes well with almost everything, and while there are those who would downplay its importance or who would say that it dilutes the more exotic flavors, the truth is that without vanilla, we would run into some serious problems.

Even today, every now and then I’ll find myself opting for a dish of vanilla ice cream as opposed to chocolate; a reminder of what could have been, yes, but also to what is, and the incredible variety that makes up humanity; that makes up life and how each and every one of us, regardless of our preferences has a place and a purpose in that great big ice cream parlor that makes up our universe.

You Are Here

YOU ARE HERE.

How many times have we seen those words – usually on maps – and almost always accompanied by a large red X (with or without an arrow pointing to it) so that you know that THIS X, not some other random X, is the one you need to be paying attention to?

But be honest here, how much attention do you actually ever pay to the X?

I know exactly what happens because I’ve done it myself.

You pull into the rest area and run up to the map.  “Okay, we’re here” you say, pointing to the X “and this is where we need to go,” you add, pointing to a place that is where the X is not. “So if we turn left…” and off you go, determined to get to your location to “do” whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing or to get to where it is that you think you should be going.

The poor X never stands a chance.

But do you want to hear the really sad thing? Once you get to your destination, most people don’t pay any attention to it either – even though it’s a completely different X!  Once they get to where it is they think they should be going, they are so busy doing what they think they should be doing; or planning out another leg of the journey, that they never stop to look around them and see just where it is that they ARE.

I still remember the first time I actually paid attention to the X.

We’d stopped at a roadside rest area (the kind with the lean-to of snack and soda machines and the big area map standing alone with its own small roof and helpful spotlights so that you can’t miss it – and a BIG RED X – with an arrow pointing to it.

In bold black words written beside it, this one said: YOU ARE HERE

and underneath, scribbled in messy black marker was one additional word: WHY?

It made me chuckle, but it also made me think.

You ARE here. Now. For good or bad, for better or worse. THIS is where you are at this present moment in time.  I don’t care if the place where you currently are is a good place and everything seems to be going swimmingly, or a bad place where one more day is going to send you over the edge, or a place that is non-descript and really rather boring.  The point is, YOU ARE HERE, and I bet you haven’t even taken the time to really look around you and appreciate the view much less to see if there is anything interesting going on.

Why?

Perhaps it IS just a stopping point, a rest area; a red X on the map of your soul journey, but it is still a part of your journey, and if you’re going make the trip, you might as well enjoy the scenery, because who knows, maybe there IS no destination.

For all we know, experiencing each moment of now; each moment in which we find ourselves; may be all the purpose there is.  If so, we’re messing it up big time.

So the next time you find yourself looking at that big map comparing how far you’ve come and how far there is yet to go, take a moment to stop and look around you.  Are there other people at your rest area?  What are they doing?  How’s the view?  Is that maharachi music coming from the other side of the kiosk?

Yes, I know, you don’t want to linger too long.  After all, you have a journey to undertake and you want to get there as soon as possible, but take a few moments to appreciate where you are; the HERE that you are currently standing at, and the churros at that little stand on the other side of the map.
So….are we there yet?

Of Pins and Angels

Did you know that the term “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” was actually a derogatory phrase? It was used to discredit scholastic philosophy at a time when it still played a significant role in university education.

Well, that’s what some people believe.

There are others that teach that this question is unfairly attributed and originally comes from medieval epistemology: that the question was not how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, but instead was used to determine whether the nature of the human mind precluded the ability to know how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

But of course a serious discussion of the phrase “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin” would assume a belief in angels…and dancing…and pins.

Maybe I don’t believe in pins!

Pins are sharp, they draw blood, and while some argue that pins are useful, that they help hold things together and can give structure to otherwise random and unrelated objects, I would have to argue that the same applies to Velcro, and superglue, and ticky tack. And neither Velcro or superglue or even ticky tack have the annoying habit of coming loose from what it is they’re supposed to be holding together at inopportune times and poking unwary victims with its pointy end.

That isn’t to say that Velcro and superglue and ticky tack don’t have their problems as well, after all, Velcro not only sticks to anything fuzzy including fuzzy things you would really rather it didn’t stick to, and superglue can stick TOO well -and not always to those things you had in mind. As to ticky tack, as incredibly useful as it is, it has a limit for the amount weight that it will hold. But still, so do pins.

So I say PACK UP THE PINS! Send them to those philosophers that are still debating the question of how many angels can dance on the head of one.

Of course it helps to remember that when the expression was coined, pins had flat heads. Today they make pins with rounded little multi-colored spherical heads, does the concept still apply? I mean, can ANYTHING dance on a sphere?

(…pauses for a facepalm…)

Yes, I know, we do. We dance on a sphere. At least those of us that dance, dance on a sphere, and a sphere that is simultaneously whirling around the sun and rocketing through space at unbelievably fast speeds.
If you take it a step further, all of life is a dance; a dance that is taking place on the head of this spherical, blue and green pin that glitters all by itself out here in the vastness of space.
Life dance on this sphere; we dance on it. We laugh on it. We live. We love, and we contemplate the metaphysical properties of angels…and the sticking power and properties of pins.

So does the fact that we dance on it make the world the head of a pin?
Better yet, does that make us angels?

Firewalls of the Mind

There are a lot of complaints about firewalls – especially in the corporate and government spheres and in fact the term “firewall” has become a byword for restricted access to outside websites.

But firewalls DO serve a purpose. A firewall is dedicated software running on a computer that inspects network traffic passing through it and allows or denies passage of said traffic based on a set of pre-programmed rules. They are necessary to prevent unauthorized Internet users from accessing private networks which are connected to the Internet.  They are also used to keep unauthorized information from leaving the protected system thus protecting the company’s assets.

While firewalls may be a necessary part of the internet world – necessary in that they allow corporate entities and government agencies do their work without undue worry as to their information being compromised, there is another aspect of the concept of a ‘firewall’ that most people don’t consider, and that is how the idea of a “firewall” carries over to the mind.

Humans are complex creatures with dozens of interconnecting systems that keep us working and functioning properly, but perhaps the most complex of our systems is that of our brains.  Consider this; the average human is bombarded with over 10 million bits of information a second through the eyes alone!

Not all of the information that our senses pick up makes it into our consciousness.  Our brains filter out an incredible amount of information every second, enabling us to function on this physical reality without being overwhelmed by physical stimuli. But we’re not content to leave it at that. As humans we also put up mental and psychological firewalls to further inhibit the flow of information, but in addition to the mental and psychological firewalls we put up ourselves, we also have to deal with those that have been put up for us, many times without our knowledge or conscious consent.

From a very very young age we are programmed by our families, religions, schools, governments and societies that certain things are “okay” and other things “aren’t” that certain behaviors are appropriate, and others aren’t. This programming becomes our own personal firewalls even though we may not have consciously chosen them, and they are ingrained so deeply in our psyche that 10, 20, 30 years later we’ll still automatically “screen out” anything that conflicts with them – sometimes without even wondering WHY.

And if, by some chance, we do actually manage to consider an idea “outside” of our programming, we get the mental equivalent of a security pop up window…”An Unauthorized Program is requesting access – do you want to allow it?”

Now it may be logical to install security software on a computer system – or even on a child’s mental system so that they are not overwhelmed by extemporaneous input from outside or from untrustworthy sources, but when is it time to stop using the “recommended security settings” and begin using the “custom security settings” where we decided for ourselves which sites or information is safe to peruse?

Those same people and institutions that installed the firewalls to begin with always recommend against using the custom security settings, especially if they go against their own interpretation of the system’s operating parameters.  Why?  Well, have you ever heard of a system administrator?

A system administrator has the authority to change things in the computer.  They are employed to maintain and operate the computer system or network and it is up to them to make sure that the network of computers they maintain continue to run smoothly and continue to operate according to the parameters set down by the SOP of the company or organization.

Well, just as many individuals work computers are tied to one system administrator (who has the authority to decide what is allowed into the system or not) so too do many institutions (such as societies, religions and the like) act as system administrators for those who subscribe to them.

Granted it is simpler to allow a system administrator to control your computer for you; that way you do not have to worry about what information is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but simply follow the guidelines set down by that system, but does that make your mind yours, or is it the organization’s?

So here is the question that you need to ask yourself; Are you more comfortable allowing someone or something else to decide the parameters of your operating system, or are you going to choose to use the custom settings and decide your system’s operating parameters for yourself?

If you choose to work with custom settings it is not as easy as just flipping a switch, for at every turn you are going to be confronted with the old firewalls and security settings that were set up for you or that you allowed to be installed.  This can be time consuming and sometimes disturbing as it goes against everything that you’ve been programmed to believe, but only once you have disassembled those firewalls will you understand the true scope and power of your system.

 

©Stephanie S. Henry 2012