Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Working in silence.

Yet another aircraft buzzes overhead unseen in the fog but, busily at work on my woodpile, I chop steadily through the intrusion. Soon there is no sound but the thump of the splitting maul and the cracking of the big rounds from the tree I felled a few weeks ago as they turn into firewood. I pause to ease my back and listen to silence. Then I hear the rhythmical beat of wings through the misty treetops and the passing croaks of a raven. From a distant foggy tree another answers back. I am tempted to add my own comment in raven talk but then think better of it. My chopping, my chainsawing is the equivalent of the passing aircraft - human generated noise. Silence, the inner thought of the real world, is precious.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

creator or Creator? Hafiz sets us straight.

                 What you conceive as imagination
Does not exist for me.

Whatever you can do in a dream
Or on your mind canvas

My hands can pull - alive - from my coat pocket.

From 'Imagination Does Not Exist' by Hafiz

When we use our imagination to dream up a new concept or a new art work we are acting as if we think like God ( or our version of that). The creator, little me, feels close to the Creator, big. And there is a lot of truth to that because so often the imagery that comes through our hands and onto the page seems guided by something outside of our conscious, personal mind. The 'Muse' we say and by giving it a name we can assign a human category to the mysterious.

We might even theorize about the act of creation or make a set of lessons around a creative set of ideas (Ten steps to being an artist), but in the end creation just seems to flow from our finger tips and slide shyly through some back door of the mind.

Hafiz sets things straight when he points out the difference. We can imagine, but the Creator does not rely on human ideas, religious or otherwise. Reality, this living world, is what is created, what is Creation, not a set of concepts and images.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Valentines Day. Aurora leads another Pacific sunrise and we experience yet another 'significant moment' over a cup of tea at the changing of the watch.

Dawn arrival at the Marquesas islands. 

While hiking up Mount Maxwell on Saltspring Island the other day I was asked by a fellow climber for a story about 'a significant moment' associated with our sailing across the Pacific Ocean. I answered with the tried and true of many sailors; that of the tremendous uplift of dawn arrivals, of sighting the peaks of the Marquesas islands after a month at sea. But then, I was asked, what else?

This time I described our watchkeeping routine, where I woke at dawn and made tea and then relieved my wife Heather from her four hour stint. As we sat in the cockpit we would discuss the wind, the course, the number of squalls during the night and then sit quietly and watch Aurora ( the dawn) spread her grey veils across the sea's face, the mists coalesce into clouds and finally the sun himself bring colour to the masts and sails and paint the grey sea surface a deep mid-ocean blue. We did this every morning at sea and it was a valued moment in our relationship.

Yes, yes, OK,”said my hiking companion, “but what about those deeply significant ones”?

I just gave you one”, I replied, and then had to somehow explain that this dawn moment, the shared 'cuppa' and simple talk was the stuff of life and much more meaningful and long lasting than any adventurous 'sailor/ storm' moments could ever be.

Did you talk about the big stuff? Life! Death! Clinging on by your finger nails in thunderstorms?”, he said, still looking for the blood and guts of the adventure.

Nope! Just the usual everyday stuff that two long-married folks share while on the adventure of their lives, looking out for each other and their daughter Anne still snoozing down below in her berth, recognizing figures in the clouds, planning the day ahead and discussing the next landfall.”

Our relationship that we were tending every dawn was the basic unit that we then came to recognize in the whole ocean, the planet and the universe. The world did not simply come to us in exciting moments of significance, it was there all the time and was best understood in the form of relationship. If I had anything to pass on to my fellow hiker it was that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Stream: learning about it is complicated enough, but recognizing our biases, how we think, is just as important as the information we collect.

As I walked past our little stream that rattles and splashes down the hillside at this time of year I was thinking about music (It was music to my ears). If I concentrated on sound rather that seeing ( my dominant way of perceiving the world) I could hear a complex blend of notes: high trills, lower rushing noises, and so on, and if I took the time to walk along the stream these all changed in type and intensity. Not only was what I was observing a complicated visual pattern but the sounds produced were equally interesting. A sound-scape and landscape. One could imagine that this was music, or that music had some of the qualities contained in this natural phenomenon of time and space
What I questioned however, was how I was receiving and processing the information coming from the stream. How much was my mind's habits of filtering and categorizing influencing what I was defining and describing? Because we all have the experience of stereotyping. We get through a complex world of events and situations, not by deeply questioning but by a set of shorthand ideas. In our families, relationships, work and in the natural world that we inhabit we are often on autopilot. We carry a pack of ideas around and apply them appropriately as the situation seems to suggest. So much for the independent, thinking individual. More likely, even the 'individualist' simply selects a variant of acceptable differences, a cultural subgroup, and tags along. Humans are great imitators.

And yet, surely scientists are trained to think outside the box? Very rarely I suspect. They are conforming to a special set of ideas too, use a certain tool set, and very few will make the leap to a new set of relationships, something truly original.

But back to the water flow which was producing a stream of information for me to process. Most of the time I will simply not notice the stream, visually or audibly and step over it, my mind on other things, but if in this case I began by thinking about it in terms of music, then I would still be selecting certain aspects of sound that fitted into that category and ignoring the rest.

But obviously there are also a large number of other ways I could be thinking about this stream: as a flow with all sorts of eddies and falls, as a place for certain bugs to live, as simply a narrow ditch carrying off the extra winter run-off from the hill and road surfaces on the slopes above, to name but a few.

I could also think of the stream creatively as a metaphor for the passage of my own life, or to be really fanciful, imagine what it would be like if I were only a couple of inches high and being swept down through the rapids. I could actually use the sounds, falls and eddies to make music or paint a picture that used the dominant forms and colours and captured the movement.

All these ways of observing and recording, of thinking sideways, of making new structures suggested by the stream use different approaches, different sets of imagery, sounds and words. Mostly we specialize in only a very few ways of relating to the enormous flow of information that surrounds us on a simple walk beside a stream. Perhaps we think in practical terms, or scientifically or creatively, but not all at once or in a coordinated sort of way.

All this is to say that understanding the world is not only complicated by its sheer complexity, but by the tools we use to understand it by. Knowing about the words we use and the ideas that stand behind them is equally important. We know but darkly. Reality is elusive.

Annie Dillard's 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek' might be worth checking out. I wrote about my experience of reading it in Dragongate a couple of years ago (June 14th, 2014).