Pond Reflections

Now that the peak leaf colors and our election in the United States have passed, there is a softer, not so urgent feeling. The burnished colors have their own appeal as does not knowing yet what will happen. Come with me on my walk. Everything can change with just one small foot step.

It is hushed and quiet by the pond at this early hour. You can hear the ducks’ small sounds. And perhaps notice that reflecting on reflections is nothing new.

Signs of Our Times

Signs are sprouting up everywhere in my neighborhood near Boston. The presidential election is coming up soon and that would certainly inspire signs. However many serious issues concern us these days. I have never seen so many signs on my morning walks.

This noble and often charming clamoring includes statements of appreciation. It reminds me to never take for granted our precious right to speak what is on our minds.

Dappled Light

Now we are keeping to our homes, animals are coming closer. During solitary dawn walks to listen to the bird chorus, I come across rabbits just sitting there in the middle of the road. A neighborhood fox ran across adjoining backyards. Our generation has access to so much recorded history and information, and to so many things. Yet nature has her own inescapable ways and her own time table.

My most recent post was about what happened after I removed a fence I had allowed to decay naturally. The table in the photos below will likely be around much longer. Lichens will shun it. If we are indeed living in twilight times, I cannot help hoping that dappled light will still find the shiny objects humans leave behind.

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What Removing the Sleeve Fence Revealed

I did not use preservative on the bamboo sleeve fence, preferring to let it weather naturally. In 2010, it was still holding up, drawing the eye to the glacial scraped granite outcrop at the center of the backyard. In winter, the slats captured snow.

By 2017, the fence had begun to disintegrate while the lace leaf maple behind it was making a more substantial statement of its own. In 2019, I decided to give the fence one more year.

In May 2020, it was time. With the cool weather, the oaks had not fully leafed out and light streamed from behind the tea hut. Perhaps light always filters through like that in the spring. With the fence in place, I might not have noticed. Paying attention to what inspires wonder seems particularly important in these dire times.

I wanted the fence to separate the sunken area behind the hut – to keep it special. Now a magical light radiated from that corner as if the spirit of the place had grown so strong it could no longer be contained.

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Hidden Gifts of Aging

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Buddhist teachings tell a story that the Buddha encountered “divine messengers” that changed his destiny. At 29, he left protected life in the palace and encountered old age, illness and death for the first time. Like young Prince Siddhattha, we may be out of touch with these realities, preferring to imagine we will live forever. But these messengers can shock us into seeing a path beyond the superficial and beyond our heedless reactivity to the 10,000 sorrows and 10,000 joys of life.

We face many of the same challenges that humans have always faced although history and culture have shaped how we think about aging in modern times.

In these times of existential threats, we can define anyone different from us as dangerous. Those who remind us of our own death can certainly pose a threat. Even older adults can define themselves as “not old,” and take extreme measures to act and appear young. And many older adults complain of feeling invisible – not seeing them is another way to deny old age, illness and death.

I recently heard a moving story about a dying woman who said that she gets to choose love over fear in every moment. That “choosing” resounds beyond conventional time making an eternity of each moment. We are all aging if not actively dying and if this dying woman found she had a choice, perhaps we do too.

I invite you to consider that there are hidden gifts that can come with the terrible blessing of aging. Elders experience so much suffering, so much reason to anticipate suffering and they see it in their older friends, yet they can report experiencing greater happiness than when they were younger. What is going on here?

I began to sense that aging can bring real gifts during six-week tea and dialogue workshops I offered older adults during my internship in Lesley University’s Mindfulness Studies program. These elders were so open and direct, so supportive, so eager to really listen, and quite creative. They were also so appreciative of each other and what they had to offer each other that it turned out to be one of the sweetest experiences of my life.

Farmer and Farmer note that conversational skills may actually improve with age – older adults tell narratives that others judge to be more interesting than those told by younger people. Pipher found that older adults tend to value honesty. In his TED talk on “The Neuroscience of Social Intelligence” Bill von Hippel mentions that older adults may not censor themselves about what might be considered socially inappropriate topics. While this might be considered a liability in some situations, speaking the vulnerable truth provides access to our fundamental interconnection. According to the Committee on Future Directions for Cognitive Research on Aging, elders appear to be particularly sensitive to emotional aspects of situations, including interpersonal ramifications of problems (Stern & Cartensen, 2000, p. 31).

In Older and Wiser: Classical Buddhist Teachings on Aging, Sickness and Death, Soeng, Ambrosia, & Olendzki provide commentary on several Buddhist teachings related to equanimity noting that older adults may live more in the moment and may have learned the futility of wasting time and energy in overreacting. Aronson cites evidence that contrary to what younger adults might believe and fear, elders can actually experience reduced anxiety and increased life satisfaction. She notes older adults may no longer care what others think about them, bringing a new and most welcome sense of freedom.

With age can come enhanced wisdom and compassion – less judgment, less denial of reality, more appreciation for every precious moment and more choosing love over fear. Sharing tea with a sensitive, caring and wise elder (who may very well be an excellent story teller) even online if maintaining physical distance is necessary seems like a very good idea in these challenging times.

Beware False Refuges

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While we can find and create true refuges for ourselves, we need to be very careful about clinging to what is NOT ACTUALLY TRUE. Our minds not only are subject to negativity bias that has us paying attention to what stands out as potentially threatening (whether it is or not), but we also seek out those who confirm our biases, in a phenomenon known as confirmation bias. When times are difficult, the desire for the truth to be other than it is can have us preferring our wishful thinking and finding in it a false refuge.

This can have us out of touch with reality in distorting cubes that reflect back our false assumptions. These may feel like refuges. But being in such a false refuge is dangerous as reality has a way of finding us anyway, and we may spread false assumptions causing further harm. Not only that, but clinging to false refuges can keep us from true refuges that can provide badly needed genuine support. Compassion requires we be careful for our own sake and for the sake of others’ wellbeing.

Mindful bloggers can speak up for the truth and work at questioning and checking out what they think is true. Curiosity matters. Testing assumptions matters. Science matters. We need to keep questioning whether what we are being fed is the truth. The worst case is no longer caring and that way lies manipulation by evil doers and chaos. Mindfulness matters. Even if we can never know the absolute truth, we can take steps to avoid getting lost and trapped in fantasy that is actually a form of hopelessness.

This radio episode, talks about how mindless bloggers can contribute to a very dangerous trend to spread misinformation:

“The misinformation virus

Discovery
In this online age, the internet is a global megaphone, billions of messages amplified and shared, even when they’re false. Fake science spreads faster than the truth ever could, unhindered by national boundaries. Mainstream scientists are struggling to respond. The science journalist and writer, Angela Saini, is fascinated by how bad ideas spread and in this programme she investigates the very real impact of online scientific misinformation. From the dangerous anti-vaccination campaigns to those who deny the reality of climate change, she assesses the scale and extent of the threat we face. And she discovers the sinister world of deliberate disinformation where an army of bots and trolls work to sow dissent and confusion in the online space.
Producer: Fiona Hill”

Insight Dialogue

09 Sept ME

Most of us have experienced relaxed conversations that just seem to flow, perhaps in a setting where nature is on view like the one in the photo or around the kitchen table. Peace descends and we feel whole and seen.

Often, however, we lose track of that potential. Avoiding getting stuck cycling on issues that concern us can be difficult enough when we are on our own. Maintaining calm awareness while interacting with others can be particularly challenging.

Insight Dialogue provides support to bring tranquil awareness to the interpersonal domain. First one person speaks on a designated topic while the other listens silently without commenting and then the roles are reversed. There may be an additional timed period with no separate speaker and no separate listener. Pausing allows time to discern what would be beneficial to say as well as time to take in and gain new understanding from what is said.

The Insight Dialogue’s guidelines create the safety needed for evolving trust and authentic sharing from the heart: Pause, Relax, Open, Attune to Emergence, Listen Deeply and Speak the Truth. It becomes clear we are all vulnerable and that we also have great power to support each other just by how we listen.

This video of Phyllis Hicks facilitating an Insight Dialogue practice shows this supportive energy. You can see the openness, authenticity and caring connection in the responsive body language of the participants. More of Jeff Klein’s sensitive videography can be seen at his website.

Gregory Kramer developed Insight Dialogue. his website, InsightDialogue.org, includes information on each of the Insight Dialogue guidelines as well as opportunities to experience it yourself.

The Insight Dialogue guidelines honor dignity; attentive listening meets disclosure for all participants. That makes it easier to truly show up and pay attention to what is said including by oneself. Participants are better able to perceive the preciousness of our sensitivity to each other and learn how to bring greater compassion to all interaction.

Because of the vulnerable investigation of experience, difficult emotions may arise at times. David Treleaven provides guidance for recognizing and addressing adverse reactions that can arise with any form of mindfulness practice.

In my experience, most of those who try Insight Dialogue appreciate the careful attending that goes well beyond the rushed and distracted quality of much everyday interaction. With practice, I found I could bring that same supportive energy to any conversation, and that brought a whole new ease to my life.

Blueberry Memories

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When I asked what she might like to contribute for a gathering to share tea and dialogue in my tea hut, Anita suggested blueberries. Blueberries are tough plants. They like the acidic gravelly soil with lots of sun exposure that is found on tops of mountains in New England and other places where they grow wild. They thrive when they are burned or eaten back by animals as this stimulates new growth underground.

Knowing they are good for you does not take anything away from their wonderful color and sweet-acid taste after a hike up a mountain.

Anita told me she has different memories of blueberries. In New England where she now lives, she buys them at farm stands. But in Central America, where she is from, they did not know about the fruit.

She has special memories of her American grandfather who loved pies made from blueberries. He had the fruit sent all the way from North America to Honduras by boat. Here she tells that story for a video made by Jeff Klein.

Water Basin Reflections

There is a theory that all humans prefer a particular type of open landscape with a vista of trees and water. These days, we are bombarded with devastating images of too little or too much water, but I hope we do not settle for mere survival as we work to compensate for this widespread and highly destructive disruption.

Landscapes with water can do more than that and it may not take as much water as you think.

It is true that I love taking photos of large bodies of water in nature…

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and the sea has meaning for me as a metaphor.

10 Oct ME

But surprisingly, the small amount of water in my granite water basin has proven to be enough for me to feel a deep connection to nature’s flow. It captures light. Breezes move its surface as do rain drops. Creatures drink from it. On a hot day, a raccoon jumped right in. Leaves it reflects change shape and color, then fall in. After I clear them out, ice mounds up until it melts in spring. Then the caressing moss emerges once again.

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12 Dec MA

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Tiny Rainbows

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My brother, who gave me this facetted rabbit asked me to take a photo of it creating rainbows. Though tiny, you can see them there on the bottle behind it.

I was surprised by the interest in this photo. Perhaps I should not have been. Rainbows capture our attention. Whether arching out in nature or resulting from light dispersing through objects, we are delighted by their ephemeral beauty.

Our ability to perceive rainbows can also be thought provoking. Color vision is a mysterious part of our highly sensitive but limited apparatus to sense what is out there. Other animals’ vision can be quite different.

At a fundamental level the colors we can see are a function of how our human eyes and brains work. In most humans, three types of cone cells are triggered by different wave lengths of light and the results are combined by our brains so we can distinguish at least a million colors.

Color blindness results from having two normal and one mutant cone cell. The daughters of color-blind men may be born with a fourth type of cone cell and in theory, these tetrachromat daughters can perceive many millions of additional colors. However, it may take practice for them to activate this ability, and the natural world may not provide many opportunities for such practice.

The study of color vision involves many disciplines and the elusive nature of personal subjective experience adds to the challenge. Associations matter, and color preferences can differ by culture. That, however, takes nothing away from the wonder we feel when seeing a spectrum array of colors, however we perceive them, laid before us in a rainbow.