Metamorphosis and Adolescence

Metamorphosis and Adolescence

 

Every beautiful (and not so beautiful) butterfly must go through the torturous process of metamorphosis. Likewise, every adult human had to navigate the often traumatic, troublesome, sometimes terrifying labyrinth of teenagedom. Lori Evans, Bio.’79, recently invested six weeks of her time, talent and treasure in a group teens, introducing them to the dramatic world of William Shakespeare. Her mentor, Kevin Coleman, wrote one of the most concise expository essays on adolescence that I have read. In three brief paragraphs he encapsulates many of the aims, goals, objectives, hopes and dreams of Biodesign students who “only went out for a walk and discovered that going out was really going in.”

Kevin Coleman:

“Adolescence itself is often a time of CRISIS. As such, it is a time of both danger and opportunity. Adolescence is a time that can be extremely confusing, emotionally intense, terrifying, dangerous and desperate; numbing, rife with poor judgment and mistakes, fraught with hopelessness, resignation and despair. It can be a time of ecstasy, of ‘true love’, deep friendship, passionate expression and harrowing betrayal. Whatever can be said, adolescence is all that and more; it burns hotter and freezes colder. And it can all happen in the course of 1 day.

 

Adolescence is itself a kind of RENAISSANCE. It is a time of unparalleled potential to develop intellectually, emotionally, physically, sexually, spiritually, socially, psychologically, and existentially. When adventures that are personally meaningful are absent or overlooked or un-attempted, or when the ability to attempt to create them is not developed or supported, these potentials can atrophy (diminish, become dreary, fearful or hopeless, retreat into resignation, rot). Conversely, these potentials can go postal, ‘act out’, or seek expression in unfulfilling, inappropriate-even extremely destructive ways.

 

Adolescence needs RITES OF PASSAGE. It needs those intensely experienced, dangerous moments when we transition from child to adult: those peak moments that are: 1) personally meaningful, 2) esteemed by the surrounding culture and 3) risk real or imagined death. Adolescence is a time of needing-to-be-tested in new ways, more extreme ways. When cultural, social, familial or interpersonal testing opportunities are not personally meaningful, or rightly esteemed by others, or intense enough, adolescents will often seek out or create others that are, however reckless, irresponsible or dangerous. Rights of passage are why and how we grow up.”

 

Coleman’s terse, yet powerful, essay conjured up two immediate reflections. First, I am amazed that I survived adolescence. Two of my high school buddies were killed in a horrifying car crash. That could have been me several times. But there were countless other times when I could have ended up in jail, nothing felonious, but definitely worthy of a “time out” in the “the cooler.”

 

The other is much more current. John Muir deeply admired RW Emerson. However, when he came to visit Muir at Yosemite, he refused to sleep outside for even one night. Emerson was 72 years and his entourage felt he would risk catching a cold or pneumonia. As Emerson left Yosemite, Muir was deeply saddened and wondered how someone could write so profoundly about nature from his office in Concord Massachusetts. I had the same question about Coleman. I spent 24 years of learning about adolescents by interacting with them in the wilderness so how could he learn so much about them by “playing” around with them in dramatic presentations. It was a delightfully humbling revelation.

 

 

 

The Sound of Silence

The Sound of Silence

 

Inspired by a photo from Jane berg.

 

Excerpt: BOFAW, Simple Gifts.

 

A boot that I had not heard squeak suddenly sounded like a loud stair squeak. A

squeaky clevis pin on my backpack sounded like a rusty gate opening.

The blood rushing through my ears became audible and a little

spooky. This happened when no air moved, no insect buzzed, no

bird chirped; it was the silence of death. Ironically, as in many close

encounters with death, life often takes on a deeper, richer meaning.

 

Grand Canyon has so many amazing gifts that it is impossible begin to identify or comprehend them. I suspect, however, that 99% of the visitors are missing out on one of the greatest, the gift of silence. In this case, you truly have to go there to know there. There is something mysterious, ephemeral, and maybe a little spooky about dropping below The Canyon Rim and leaving all the noise and clutter of society above. Each year, several million tourists drive to The South Rim, look over the edge, buy a hamburger, ‘T” shirt or coffee mug and head for Las Vegas. Out of over 4 million visitors, only a few thousand people hike down into The Canyon and fewer make it to Phantom Ranch. Taking the mule ride down can be exciting, hiking with a partner or friends can be a great experience, however, only by hiking alone can you experience moments of a vacuum-like silence. The experience is unique to each person but can be cathartic, scary, thrilling or include a spiritual epiphany.

In Barbara Moritsch’s, “The Soul Of Yosemite,” she properly documents the problems of “loving Yosemite to death.” Grand Canyon NP has had its own struggles, but has made some wonderful improvements. People began to flock to The Canyon in the 1950s and ‘60s. All of the typical concessions of hotels, restaurants, gift shops etc. expanded with the increasing tourist dollars. However, Grand Canyon incurred a problem that was nearly unknown in all the other Parks “AIR PLANES!” Big planes, small planes, fixed wing and helicopters assaulted the Park like huge roaring locusts. Commercial airlines planned flight lanes over The Canyon as an advertising ploy. Dozens of daily sight-seeing flights, originating from Phoenix, Flagstaff and Las Vegas began landing at the small Grand Canyon Airport. Many of them flew over, or even down into, sections of The Canyon. Perhaps, because of their aerobatic ability, the most insidious planes were the squadrons of helicopters that took thrill seeking tourists down into the Canyon, close to the steep walls, sometimes mere feet above the Colorado River. Over a period of several years, the great gift of silence was shattered. Hikers who enjoyed solitude and sacredness of peace and quiet were insulted with dozens of daily intrusions. After years of being “deaf” to both noise and hiker complaints, the NPS began an aggressive program of noise abatement. Commercial air carriers were required to avoid the air space over The Canyon. Tourist flights from Phoenix, Flagstaff and Las Vegas were routed away from The Canyon and required to fly directly to Grand Canyon Airport, seven miles from the rim. Even the NPS took a proactive role and reduced “casual” helicopter flights from Headquarters to Phantom Ranch. Currently, Park Service flights are restricted to emergency use or cases where the use of mules is deemed unsafe or grossly impractical. The result has been a huge reduction of airplane-generated noise. The photo that Jane Berg provided offers a snapshot of part of the Park Service commitment to noise reduction. It would be much easier, and more efficient to supply Phantom Ranch with helicopter service; it would also destroy one of the greatest experiences of hiking in Grand Canyon. The last five or six Biodesign Classes experienced the return of silence to The Canyon. Typically, I let the students hike out ahead of me while I enjoyed the quiet mysteries and solitude. If Christie was along, there were great spaces between our words. Typically, there was also a rude foreboding of our return to “civilization.” Somewhere, at or nearby, Indian Gardens, we would hear the distant, muted wail of the Grand Canyon R-R steam engine approaching the station. Some students later described the wail as nostalgic. As for us, it was a sad warning that we were about to leave one of the most amazing places on Earth and return to the noise, clatter, fumes of tour buses and what confused minds regard as reality.

From the Cathedral of Yosemite to the St. Helena Catholic church

From the Cathedral of Yosemite to the St. Helena Catholic church

From the Cathedral of Yosemite to the St. Helena Catholic Church

 

Shakespeare described a prayer as a thought that starts in the heart and passes through the mind on its way to heaven. I suspect that most storytellers are familiar with steps number one and two, however, after each story is recorded, it typically takes on a life of its own.

When I recently completed, “An Evening at the Ahwahnee,” I had no idea of its destiny. It did, however, occur to me that Christine’s mother might appreciate a “love story” about her long-deceased husband and their only daughter. I mailed a copy to her Mom, only to find out that she was suffering the final stage of pancreatic cancer. The news devastated Christie and me, not only because of our love for Christine, but we frequently saw her Mom riding her vintage bicycle on the road where we take our daily walk. The next few days we were sorry that we would no longer see her. The country road is a favorite for walkers, joggers and bicyclists, because it is tree-lined, quiet and, due to its dead end, has little traffic. Because it is so quiet, it was not surprising to hear joggers pat-patting the pavement behind us as they prepared to pass. However, about a week after I sent “Christine’s Story” to her Mom, the jogger who passed us was nothing but extraordinary. As she passed, she glanced over her shoulder to exchange a smile and hello. Then suddenly, she froze in mid-stride, her eyes widened and she blurted out, “Oh, my, gosh! My mom died yesterday and when I started my run I thought it would be wonderful if I were to meet you two! The three of us were in a momentary fog of disbelief. There was too information to process. Finally, we hugged, wept and she announced that her Mom’s funeral would be the coming Saturday and she hoped that we would attend.

The funeral was a traditional Catholic Mass, with liturgy and music that resonated deeply within our souls. After Communion, the final speaker was scheduled to deliver the eulogy. Christine approached the podium to do the honors. She paused briefly, took a deep breath, and my mind flashed back to the evening at the Ahwahnee Hotel. However, before I had time to panic, she began with a sense of confidence, even serenity. By weaving a beautiful tapestry of her Mom’s life, she was able to channel her deep love and compassion and touch every person in the church. When she was done, Christie and I sat in tears as the angel, who played the piano in the Ahwahnee, once again unveiled a persona that is not common on Earth.

After the burial, we gathered at her Mom’s home for a “celebration of passing.” Christine approached Christie and me and was laughing and crying at the same time. Her eyes were teary, but sparkling, as she exclaimed, “Did you notice? I nearly had another “Ahwahnee moment?” but I was able to dig deep and deliver the tribute to Mom. Just like on the country road, we hugged and wept.

Christine’s older brother Bill was also understandably at the celebration. As I approached him, I was wearing a straw hat and sun glasses. I was tickled that he did not recognize me. After the funny recognition, we embraced in a traditional Biodesign hug. I mentioned that his class (’79) was the class that taught me how to love students and thereby build a foundation for 18 more years of exciting collaborative learning. He was shocked, and seemed to doubt my words, until I gave him a few highlights. Having felt what I was saying, his eyes misted and he said, “That’s an amazing story. 34 years after I graduated, the circle of love has come back to me.”

Earlier, after the church service, Christine directed her “BFF” (best friend for life) over to Christie and me. We were glad to reconnect with Nanette and regaled in a few memories.

In a follow-up e-mail, she mentioned that, although she was not a “straight A” student, she learned much from the class. I reminded her that her Yosemite paper began with the simple, cryptic words, “The Dome! The Dome! The Dome!” The class erupted with laughter, followed with a few tears. After what they had been through together, the words conjured up visions and memories that would last a lifetime. She continued with a paper that would have made John Muir proud. She also proved his aphorism, “One day in the wilderness is worth cartloads of books.”

Both Bill’s class and Christine and Nan’s class got to sleep on top of Half Dome. If Muir was correct, they have a library of memories that contributed to their lives. It was no small miracle that I was allowed the privilege of laughing, loving and learning with all three of them.

An Evening at the Ahwahnee

An Evening at the Ahwahnee

 

 

 

For the first 10 years of Biodesign, on the last night of the Yosemite trip, we walked the short distance from the group camp area over to the Ahwahnee Hotel. I thought it was a good idea to provide the students with as complete experience as possible which included a visit to the Hotel. I have to confess that I assumed a bit of “Murian” attitude as we clomped through the magnificent building in our trail-worn clothes and hiking boots. Typically, the staff was not impressed with our presence, but we were never treated unkindly. The girls especially were usually impressed while peeking into the dining room to see 200 guests luxuriating with fine silver, table linen and fine food.

On the ’83 tour through the Ahwahnee, one of the girls suggested that it would have been fun if we had our last dinner there. Most of her classmates (and me) scoffed at her idea. However, after we returned home, I mentioned the idea to Christie, and she agreed with the student. I warmed to the idea and mentioned it during the planning stage the following fall. The students had discovered the concept of “carnival,” and I suggested that it could be a more formal ending for our trip. It meant that we would have to include “nice” clothes, and the guys needed to bring slacks and a sport jacket, but they generally agreed.

The trip progressed with its typical ups and downs, stress, pain and hopefully growth, and most of the students welcomed the chance to take a hot shower and put on clean clothes. The dining room was magical. A piano player played an eclectic blend of pop, show-tunes and classical music which added to the ambience. The waiters filled water glasses, after two or three sips, striking a sharp contrast to guarding every drop of water sipped on dusty rails.

After dinner, we adjourned to the Great Room to relax and enjoy the moment. There was an 11ft. concert-grand piano that was used for evening entertainment, piano concerts and special musical events. Many of the Biodesign students were also enrolled in the SHHS jazz choir made up of highly talented singers and musicians. I wasn’t clear yet on the concept of “synchronicity,” but we were about to experience an event that defied earthly understanding. One of the students approached me and mentioned that Christine Heinemann, the jazz-choir pianist, knew many pieces by heart, and he thought it would be nice if she could play the piano. I thought it was a great idea and immediately went to the concierge and naively asked if we could get someone to unlock the piano cover. She looked a bit disgusted and said, “I am afraid that will not be possible. All musicians have to audition with the “concert master” and their musical selections must be approved in advance.” When I asked if the concert master was in the building she seemed more irked, but directed me to his office. Amazingly, he was there, but was incredulous about the apparent boorishness of my request. I returned to the class and delivered the bad news. Sometimes students can be unrelenting with their demands and this was no exception. One of them reminded me that the choir had been on tour, won state honors, and therefore, qualified to perform. Reluctantly, I agreed to plead their case again. The concert master seemed more irritated than previously but, suddenly and mysteriously, he acquiesced. “This is highly unusual,” he said, “and I may be reprimanded but I will allow the student to play one selection.”

As we returned to the room, the students eagerly gathered around the piano. The concert-master unlocked the cover, raised the lid and politely retreated to the background.

As Christine approached the piano her face blushed with a combination of nervousness and embarrassment. We all sat quietly with joyful anticipation. She sat down, adjusted the bench, took a deep breath and placed her hands in the ready position. The expected momentary pause escalated into a collective anxiety until she finally said, “I can’t play, I’ve drawn a total blank and don’t know where to start.” I was afraid to look behind me at the concert master, but instead focused on her. I calmly (I think) whispered, “It’s OK if you don’t play, but why not take a deep cleansing breath and try it once more from the top, if nothing happens, it’s no big deal.”

She took a deep breath, slowly exhaled, and the notes began to resonate out of the piano’s raised lid. She seemed as if she were in a state of detached consciousness as her fingers flew over the keys. As the music soared, so did the spirits of everyone in the Great Hall. The tears that trickled down her cheeks triggered tears from nearly everyone listening. She finished with a dazzling flourish and the final chord echoed throughout the hall. She slumped, exhausted on the bench, while we all sat in stunned silence.

She gathered herself and said, “You all know that my dad died recently. What you do not know was that he requested that I memorize this piece before he died. This is the first time I have played it since then”

The concert master approached slowly and graciously offered Christine his hand in sympathy and congratulations. He looked at me with watery eyes and said, “extraordinary, simply extraordinary.” As he discretely recovered the piano, one of the guys whispered in my ear that the choir knew two a cappella numbers, would it be OK if they sang them. I was on a roll and said, “go for it.” Only about half of the choir was present, but they did an amazing job on a jazz number and (I think) The National Anthem. When they finished, the entire class, as well as the 30-40 hotel guests, applauded enthusiastically. As we left, an elderly lady with a huge smile and a southern drawl, grabbed my jacket sleeve and asked, “Who are these children and where are they from? I declare that sweet thing that played the piana (sic)is an angel from heaven.” I winked and smiled and said that it wasn’t within me to disagree with her.

 

 

Wilderness In A Feather

Wilderness in a Feather

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
Emily Dickinson

 

In the 1960’s, Marin County, California became a Mecca of a specialized hybrid blend of pop-psychology and the spiritual exercise of mantric meditation made popular by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The blend was named Transcendental Meditation or “TM” for short. Many psychologists eagerly embraced the new trend and added their own creativity. Clients were welcomed into candle-lit rooms that featured “New Age” mood music. Some therapists included body massage and used a variety of aromatic esters or oils, e.g., eucalyptus, camphor, lavender, and wintergreen. The degree of how much clothing clients elected to retain was privileged information, however, there was a common legend that the ultimate curative procedure involved the practitioner gently passing a peacock feather over the client’s body. Whether the experience became restorative, scintillating, titillating or erotic was, or should have been, strictly confidential. I was in my 20’s and figured that if it made people feel better about themselves, so be it.

Greg Marvin, a former art teacher/colleague, mentioned that artists see everything in Nature as either beautiful or interesting. Loren Eiseley agrees and adds that trips into the wilderness usually include seeing visions, marvels, wonders, even miracles, which “are always worth thinking about and discussing. Something funny recently happened on the BOFAW Fb page. I mentioned that I was enjoying Thor Hanson’s book, Feathers. I assumed that I was citing the title; I was not. For some unknown reason, Jane Berg also referenced the book but, included the whole title. I was surprised. She properly stated the title as, Feathers: The Evolution of a Miracle. I grabbed my copy and discovered that the last five words were not on the front cover but, nearly camouflaged on the cover spine.

I wondered if Hanson’s cover designer cryptically responded to one of the book’s themes in a Freudian manner. The book is a wonderful collection of interesting information, however, perhaps equally important, Hanson not only acknowledges that the origin of birds, feathers and flight is still not fully understood, but that feathers qualify as a legitimate miracle. We live in a society that is becoming increasingly secularized and it is possible that publishing a “scientific” book with the word “miracle” boldly printed on the cover may not meet the publisher’s plans for promoting the book.

As Roger Sperry and Loren Eiseley, etal. have pointed out, when secular scientists can not explain natural events they typically ignore them, deny them, create their own mythologies, or even distort or lie about them. Hanson wrote something both humbling and touching. He urges his readers to put his book down and take time to appreciate the miraculous nature of feathers. He did not use the word “contemplate,” however, that is the feeling he conveyed to me. Contemplate is one of those simple, yet powerful, words.

“Contemplate” derives from; con=with, temple or to make a temple with; to consider carefully and at length; meditate on or ponder. Hanson invited us to make a temple with a single feather and perhaps allow its sacred origin to permeate every one of our 150 trillion cells. He may be inferring that failure to do this may result in a sin of omission that is frequently committed by scientists and theologians alike.  Scientists who deny miracles will not experience the ecstasy of feathers. Theologians who are prone to glibly assign feathers, and other miracles, to the hackneyed, overused three-letter-concept, G-O-D, also miss out on the rapture of creation.

Timothy O’Leary and Carlos Castaneda may have recommended “dropping Acid” or smoking peyote to “groove” on feathers, Hanson recommends the safer, saner, classical method of contemplation to appreciate the ecstasy of a feather.

After all these years I am wondering if maybe the peacock feather actually has restorative properties.

 

We are spiritual beings having a human experience. de Chardin

Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Excerpt: BOFAW, Chap. 4, “A Class is Born.”

1. The class was not a philosophy class.

2. The class was not a religion class.

3. The class was not a spirituality class.

 

Any discoveries that may relate to these topics would be a byproduct of biological studies and not a direct focus. Typically, if I asked students how many of them had a soul, every hand shot up. It may represent foolish optimism or self-delusion, however, it may also, as Carl Jung suggested, represent a deeply imbedded intuition of man’s spiritual nature. For thousands of years indigenous people have believed in an afterlife. They may be foolish, however, they may be correct.

Tuesday, 3-26 was the Jewish Passover celebration and this Sunday will be Easter Sunday. However, these are the latest chapters of a very big book. Spirituality dimly appeared in humans 100 thousand years ago and has been evolving ever since. Alaskan tribes have been living relatively peacefully with each other (and nature) for at least 10,000 years. Their spiritual beliefs were emerging 7,000 years before Moses envisioned the Book of Genesis, and 8,000 years before the birth of Jesus. Throughout the world people were slowly becoming aware of a possible reality that exceeded the limits of human understanding. Many of these beliefs were inextricably connected to living close to Nature. I am intrigued that Lao Tse, Confucius, and Buddha were all born in Asia within 100 years of each other, circa 500 years before Christ. It was a remarkable period of spiritual stirring. None of these men claimed to be God but, offered ideas to improve human harmony and well-being. Many of these ideas proclaim the importance of being deeply rooted in Nature. Lao Tse is credited with the concept of the “Tao” which can be translated into; Nature, Natural Order, “The Way” or “The Path.”

One of the goals of Biodesign was being dedicated to, “the illimitable freedom of the human mind.” This included a holistic approach to human biology (physical, mental and spiritual) and searching for truth, beauty and goodness.

When students dangled their feet off the edge of Half Dome, or stood on the edge of Grand Canyon, or pondered the vast Pacific Ocean from the bluffs of Mendocino, the word “religion” probably never entered their minds. Spirituality was not a focus of the class, but contemplating the human brain that was capable of thinking in spiritual terms was of great interest. Those who were in tune with their ancient spiritual heritage were more likely to see in macroscopic terms that encompass all of humanity.

According to Muir, Whitman, Emerson, Thoreau (and most authors referenced in Biodesign) every day is a Holy day, whether we choose to recognize it or not.

 

 

 

An Easter Celebration with Loren Eiseley and George Fredric Handel

An Easter Celebration With Loren Eiseley and George Fredric Handel

 

 

“As a modern man, I have sat in concert halls and watched huge audiences floating dazed on the voice of a great singer. Alone in the dark box I have heard far off as if ascending out of some black stairwell the guttural whispering and bestial coughings out of which that voice arose.”

The Immense Journey, Loren Eiseley.

 

In the US, Easter is one of the holidays that spans the gamut of profound to profane.  Some celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ; some celebrate the Easter Bunny; some spend quality time with family/friends while some party featuring drugs, sex and alcohol.

 

 

Throughout human history people have strived to improve the quality of their lives and perhaps the lives of others. Anthropologists have dated the first artifacts that indicate the dawning of human spirituality circa 100,000 years ago. Eiseley does a fast-forward from guttural groans to opera diva. Any guesses as to where we are headed?

 

Emerson encouraged us to create our own Bibles and I have my own list of saints. Loren Eiseley and George F.Handel are both on that list. It has been said that great people carry torches to show others the way through darkness but, saints themselves, are living torches that guide others. Handel and Eiseley have soared higher than most could ever hope. Eiseley blended his physical, mental and spiritual writing so seamlessly, so passionately, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Handel composed notes, to complement lyrics, infused with his spirit to create a masterpiece that moves millions of people each Easter.  In an almost frenetic pique of genius, he wrote “The Messiah” in 24 days.

Eiseley, on the other hand, took 6 years to write The Immense Journey.

Both works are brilliant beacons that will shine as long as there are people on the planet who appreciate inspirational music and holistic biological essays. Both men were dedicated to a search for truth, meaning, and a cause that far exceeded the boundaries of their solitary existence.

I did not share Handel’s piece in the Biodesign Class because of its specific religious message, but I did use non-religious arias from Beverly Sills, Alma Gluck, Anna Moffo, and the Spanish singers Plácido Domingo and José Carreras and the late Italian singer Luciano Pavarotti.

Shakespeare wrote, “Assume the virtue though you have it not,” and James Allen’s book, “As A Man Thinketh,” both claim that there is a direct correlation between the quality of a man’s thought process and his destiny. The hundreds of quotes used in Biodesign were selected in hopes that they would stretch young minds to higher levels of meaning and understanding.

 

 

Another Bird Of Paradise

Another Kind Of Bird Of Paradise

“Everything you need to know is contained within a flower.” Buddha.

 

It is often very frustrating for scientists to not be able to solve mysteries. Einstein originally found the idea of the universe with a beginning quite irritating. Carl Sagan exhibited anger by not being able to explain the origin of life. And Darwin exhibited anger and frustration from not being able to explain the emergence of the human brain or the emergence, and rapid spreading,  of the flowering plants. I suspect that he did not fully understand that the two were inextricably related. Poets, sages, philosophers and theologians often operate beyond the confines of scientific reasoning and so it is intriguing that, 2600 years ago, Buddha could have appreciated the correlation of the human brain and flowers, perhaps more completely than Darwin.

Excerpt: The Immense Journey, Loren Eiseley.

“Somewhere, just a short time before the close of the Age of Reptiles (100 million years ago) there occurred a soundless, violent explosion. It lasted millions of years, but it was an explosion, nevertheless. It marked the emergence of the angiosperms—the flowering plants. Even the great evolutionist, Charles Darwin, called them “an abominable mystery,” because they appeared so suddenly and spread so fast.”

In describing the emergence and spreading of the angiosperms, Eiseley wrote one of his most beautiful soliloquies:

“A plant, a fixed, rooted thing, immobilized in a single spot, had devised a way of propelling its offspring across open space. Immediately there passed before my eyes the million airy troopers of the milkweed pod and the clutching hooks of the sandburs. Seeds on the coyote’s tail, seeds on the hunter’s coat, thistledown mounting on the wind—all were somehow triumphing over life’s limitations. Yet the ability to do this had not been with them in the beginning. It was the product of endless effort and experiment.”

He ends his chapter with a stunning reminder of the miracle of our existence.

“Without the gift of flowers and the infinite diversity of their fruits, man and bird, if they had continued to exist at all, would be today unrecognizable. Archaeopteryx, the lizard-bird, might still be snapping at beetles on a sequoia limb; man might be still be a nocturnal insectivore gnawing a roach in the night. The weight of the petal has changed the face of the world and made it ours.”

 

 

Synchronicity

Synchronicity

Excerpt: BOFAW, Chap. 28, “Amazing faith.”Although I am intrigued with the courage it takes for men in foxholes and on pitching decks to pray to a god who mayor may not exist, I am even more intrigued with the courage it takes for men and women to make the scary leap of faith, without the threat of impending doom.

 

The Biodesign program had been growing for several years before I discovered Carl Jung’s term synchronicity; “simultaneously occurring events with no known cause.” Using his definition, the universe is one grand synchronicity; an event with no known cause. I had experienced many, probably several on each trip, but blew them off with, “so what were the odds of that happening?”

I later discovered Jung’s opinion, “we must not assume or presume that the human experience can be explained in only material terms. Jung’s ideas of psychology included the importance of the role of spirituality in harmoniously developed humans.  Sigmund Freud, on the other hand, spent most of his life warning his readers about the perils of religiously induced neurosis. Referring to the above excerpt (but not gloating) close to Freud’s death, he began to recognize the poetry and promise in religion.  This is a profound mystery and led me to believe that believing in God is like catching poison oak; some people do and some don’t. Although Freud offered important insights into the emerging science of psychology, I found many of his ideas dour, gloomy and in conflict with ideas from Erich Fromm and Carl Jung.  I am grateful for Jung’s contribution that encouraged me to look for and celebrate thousands of synchronicities. They were always mysterious and usually added fun, humor, variety, spice and untold joy.

For the sake of brevity, I did not detail the evolution of the name of the class. After Lettie’s class indicated that there may be more important “fish to fry” than memorizing all the parts of a fetal pig, the wheels of synchronicity began to turn. The new class was experimental and so we named it Bio-X. We were not sure it would last more than one year. One of our first decisions was to adopt National Geographic and Smithsonian Magazines as curriculum guides. They were not subject to the laws of separation of church and state and could include articles on all aspects of life including spirituality. During that year students were asked to help with a name other than Advanced Biology, which suggested more memorization of minutiae. After the first Yosemite trip, one of the students described Yosemite as a huge biological kaleidoscope with an infinite array of changing shapes and colors. I had read a poem that described Nature as having an infinite array of designs. One of the students blurted out, “Why not call the class “Biological Design?”  “Or,” someone added, “shorten it to “Biodesign.”  The name stuck and although the students quickly understood our aims and goals, the class was never easy to explain to others.

This year marks the 40th anniversary since the class was named and when we received the latest issue of Smithsonian Magazine, I was delighted to see one of the feature articles titled, “The Biodesign Movement: The Radical Synthesis of Art and Science.”Carl Jung would have loved the synchronicity.

Laurie and St. Valentine

Laurie and St. Valentine

 

In the fall of ’79, on the second or third day of Biodedsign, Laurie came up to me after class and whispered, “When is it OK to hug?” I gave her a puzzled look and asked what she meant.  “Well,” she said, “Last year I saw Biodesigners hugging frequently and I just wanted to k now when it was OK.” I laughed, gave her a hug and said, “Guess now is as good time as any.”  She was just a bit precocious.  The following day I read an excerpt from Ashley Montague’s book titled, “Touching;”

“The greatest sense in our body is our touch sense. It is probably the chief sense in the process of sleeping and waking; it gives us knowledge of depth or thickness and form; we feel, we love and hate, are touchy and are touched, through thetouch corpuscles of our skin.     Lionel Taylor, The Stages of Human Life.

I continued by reading a “Reader’s Digest” article titled, “Skin Hunger.”  The article noted, that like most apes, people are in need of a great deal of reassuring touching and skin contact. They cited an alarming trend that showed that for many reasons, children were not having their, “skin hunger,” satisfied.  It cited a disturbing study that showed that little boys were especially in need hugs and reassurance and that if their needs were not met they would intentionally act out, knowing that they would at least be spanked. This was a desperate and twisted method of getting the skin attention that they needed.

The article recommended lots of hugs for both kids and adults.  In order to encourage more huggers, the author identified and illustrated several non-hugs and hugs.

 

1. The 180-half-hug.  When someone is offered a hug the would-be recipient turns 180 degrees and invites a mutual arm-over-the-shoulder, semi-hug which avoids potentially embarrassing body contact.

2. A Frame Hug: When two people lean forward, touching their upper body (and maybe cheeks) but avoid embarrassing full body contact.

3 The, “burp-baby-burp hug.” Where two people hug tentatively and either or both nervously pat each other on the back.

4. The Real Deal. This is a full-body, hug where both participants welcome each other into their sacred space for mutual reassurance and validation.

5. The bear hug.  This hug is recommended only for close friends and family members and includes an enthusiastic, at times body-rocking embrace that may include lifting the hugee off the floor.

 

Typically, I would ask for volunteers and have them demonstrate the variations. It was usually quite hilarious with kids getting into the spirit. I also mentioned that hugs should be spontaneous and that they would probably feel more inclined to hug as they got to know each other better. They were reminded that hugs like these were strictly platonic and carried no sexual overtones with them.  They were also reminded to be sensitive to the fact that some people do not appreciate being hugged under any circumstances.

If hugs were sparse before the Yosemite trip, they were usually abundant after.  The challenge of getting the whole class to the top of Half Dome usually required stress, pain, sweat and sacrifice from every member.  Those who succeeded were usually rewarded with some kind of epiphany experience which commonly resulted in a massive group hug followed by many subsequent two-person hugs.

Like many of our traditions, St. Valentine’s day is a mélange of many contributing factors. One thread dates back to the February 15, pre-Roman pagan celebration of “Lupercalia,” which was suppose to rid cities of evil and guarantee fertility.  Little is known about St. Valentine except that he was a 3rd century priest serving under the Roman Emperor Claudius II. He was apparently dragged before a court and ordered to recant his Christian faith. When he refused, he was brutally beaten and subsequently beheaded. Why he became the patron saint of lovers is unclear. What is clear, however, is that he remained a rather obscure figure until the US declared its independence from England.  One of the many ideas of Benjamin Franklin was for the new government to provide postal delivery to every US citizen. An immediate golden opportunity was provided for the mass of men who were too scared or shy to tell a girl that she had attracted their interest. American ingenuity kicked in and commercial “Valentine Cards” began to be printed. This year, it is estimated that Americans will spend $14 billion on Valentine activities.

I have many wonderful memories about Laurie and the Class of ’80.  Her class got to sleep on top of Half Dome even though her boots were too small and she lost all of her toenails(ouch).  She also became one of the best huggers, a skill that she has never forgotten.