Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Loern Eiseley

Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Loren Eiseley

“I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” Isaac Newton.

 

Darwin discovered a “prettier shell” of an idea that rocked the world.

However, in a truly quintessential irony, he was a superbly gifted scientist without a clue as to where his gift originated. Being a “pure” scientist, the worlds of symbolism and imagery were probably unknown. He willingly conceded that spiritual matters were beyond his comprehension. The story of Adam and Eve must have been mythological, unbelievable or irrelevant. This is not a bad thing. We need left-brain dominant scientists. To some modern cultural anthropologists, however, the story has extremely real, if not metaphorical, importance. It quite possibly marks the time in human evolution when a man stood proudly upright, squared his shoulders and confronted his God with the question; “If I have free will, who has the overriding controlling power, me or you?”

This theme of controlling power permeates and holds the universe together. In the 1980’s, Carl Sagan’s, explanation for the first cell was that the incompatibility of oil-soluble and water soluble molecules “drove them together” to form the first lipoproteins necessary for the first cell membrane. This involved organizing thousands of molecules (some containing hundreds of atoms) w/o DNA or any other guide or template. There was no controlling force. Even more problematic, the lipids, proteins and carbohydrates, necessary for cell structure and function, are all organic which could not have existed before there were living prokaryotes. It is truly an example of the cart before the horse. Ironically, Wallace used the opposite reasoning when he pointed out that the human brain had tripled in size, in a very brief span, with no known controlling force.

We would not likely be having this discussion w/o “pure” scientists, however, many of them readily concede that there are “great oceans of truth” lying outside their realms of expertise that should be explored. One example can be found in a wonderful book titled, “The Tao of Pooh.” Benjamin Hoff writes, “Instinct is just another word for something that we don’t understand.” Or, how many dimensions of reality and variations of “The Dancing Frogs” are we ignorant of?  In another irony, we are far more detached from the spirit world of our Native American brothers whom we still often refer to as “primitive.”They lived in balance with nature for over 10,000 years and fell victim to the law of “survival of the fittest.” However, we are approaching our 400th birthday, any bets that we will make it to 1000?

Pure scientists understandably can not assign the cause of any mysteries, marvels and wonders to a supreme being who can not be proven.  They are, therefore, duty-bound to allow that there is no controlling force behind them. On the other hand, people who have had spirit awakenings can not support the idea that the miraculous nature of the universe, and life on Earth, are the result of a random, chaotic, soulless process.

Einstein regarded Galileo and Newton as two of the world’s greatest scientists. Both men were deeply spiritual and credited their discoveries to a supreme being. Loren Eiseley not only authored 11 books on anthropology, he received world-wide acclaim and was awarded over 30 distinctive honors. One of those honors was the Pierre Lecomte du Noüy

award which is granted to scholars who have described overlying principles that unify science and religion.

Secular humanists often ridicule believers and consider them as weak and in need of a “crutch.” I wonder, however who is weaker, someone who believes in a powerless “nothing” or someone with the courage to stand on a mountain top, raise his/her arms to the heavens and ask, “If I have free will, who has the overriding controlling power, me or you?”

Newton and Eiseley made their choice known; Darwin, not so much.

 

It’s a great day to be alive!

Darwin, Lincoln, LBJ and Dr. King

Darwin, Lincoln, LBJ and Dr. King

 

 

Since Darwin published his, “Origin of Species,” we have undergone some astounding socio-cultural evolution.  We have grown because of Abraham Lincoln’s bold “Emancipation Proclamation.”  We have grown because of LBJ’s “Civil Rights Act” of 1964.  And on April 4, 1968 we witnessed the horror of Dr. Martin Luther King laying down his life attempting to promote our mental and spiritual evolution. If we accept his message, he is indeed “free at last” and his legacy and spirit live on. It seems that, for better and worse, science and religion have both improved and retarded our collective evolution; better guns and better roses; ministering to the less fortunate and pedophilic priests.  I am neither a scientific nor religious zealot and wonder who could disagree with the line from Ray Steven’s “Everything Is Beautiful;”  “red and yellow, black and white they are precious in His sight…Had Dr. King lived it may well have been his theme song.”

An animal behavioral study showed that tying a red ribbon around a seagull’s leg was tantamount to sentencing the bird to death. The other birds in the flock viciously attacked the “abnormal” bird. Remnants of that behavior can still be seen in humans. What Biodesign evolved into could (for me) be exhilarating or terrifying. The primary cause of this extreme ambivalence was the fact that the class was “different.” In the beginning I was naively unaware that I would be treated like the beribboned seagull. There was a small, perennial, group of critics, some of whom regarded the class (and me) as evil and wanted it canceled and me fired. Many times I had to pray for strength to get through the day and could not imagine how Dr. King could speak at rallies, or lead parades, knowing that his head may well have been centered in the crosshairs of the scope of a moronic assassin’s rifle.

Geoff Martin ’92 applied his editorial skills and corrected the typos made by Outskirts Press.  He was also concerned about the hypersensitivity of the race issue and suggested revising the bit about MLK. The typo corrections and revised tribute to King were the basis for the second edition. Thanks Geoff.

Excerpt: BOFAW, “The Land of Pygmies and Giants.”

As a biology teacher, I welcomed the chance to acknowledge Dr.Martin Luther King’s birthday. It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the courage, wisdom, and color that he added to our society. The word “color” was used purposefully in a biological, literal, figurative and respectful context. Is it not our highest calling to go beyond Dr. King’s, “I Have a Dream,” speech, and see children and adults, walking hand-in-hand, not color blind, but rejoicing in their race, color, creed, ethnic and religious diversity? It would be biologically, if not, politically correct. When I shared this with students, they agreed.

Happy birthday Dr. King.

 

 

The Hegelian Dialectic Actually Works

The Hegelian Dialectic actually works.  I have been troubled by not being able to understand how Stephen Hawking could arrive at the universe making itself out of nothing, and so I had to refer to, “The Grand Design.”  I have to confess, I found much of the book fascinating.  I also have no interest in his religious belief.  I have concluded that believing in God is kinda like catching poison oak, some people do and some people don’t and religious arguments are usually a waste of time.

 

He credits “The Great Design,” (not the book) to luck, chance, and serendipity, all of which lack a “personality” (for the lack of a better term),or spiritual dimension.  He is actually proposing a “soul-less universe” which is downright frightening.  But Hawking’s greatest logical error is stated in the acknowledgements. “The universe has a design, and so does a book. But unlike the universe, a book does not appear spontaneously. A book requires a creator…”

It is not a new dilemma.  For over 200 years (?) students have been (and still are) taught that, “matter can neither be created nor destroyed.”  Apparently, Hubble’s discovery changed all of that, but we are still stuck with a universal event without a known cause.  Hawking had to either propose a cause, allow that the universe was formed by a being, power or process that defies human comprehension or claim that it made itself out of nothing.  But here’s the funny part.  Paul Tillich, and all (?) theologians, are proposing the same thing, but with one added step.  They maintain that God created himself/herself out of nothing, and then proceeded to create the universe.  Essentially, Tillich and Hawking agree with the mystery part, just not whether there is a captain on the ship or not.

This correlates to biology because we have an event (the creation of life) without a known cause.  When lightning strikes it releases a huge burst of electro-thermal energy.  Generally, it destroys all life it contacts.  Leaving God out of this, how any rational person could believe that a lightning bolt could organize ammonia molecules into the first DNA molecule is as problematic as claiming that the universe formed itself out of nothing.  Modern biologists tacitly agree with Hawking by inferring that life formed itself spontaneously.  Moreover, we have “been there and done that” and have replaced the theory of spontaneous generation with the theory of biogenesis.  Evidently we still believe in one act of spontaneous generation that led to this conversation.

Little wonder Socrates said, “The more I know, the more I don’t know.”

A Re-gifted Christmas Miracle

A Re-gifted Christmas Miracle

 

I suspect that more often than not, a person’s belief system is not a result of his own thought process.  Various isms (including atheism and agnosticism) are often deeply imbedded in personalities and handed down from parents or ethnicity or community ethos.  Many of these have lasted thousands of years, often without individuals questioning their symbolism or meaning.  What a person thinks, however, is entirely his sole prerogative, and according to James Allen( As A Man Thinketh), Buddha, Jesus, Confucius, Lao Tzu and most religious scholars, will impact the quality of the believer’s (or nonbeliever’s) life.  This thought sequence was conjured up by a simple quote that my son sent me on Christmas day.  It was from Albert Einstein and I had never read it:

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”

I was deeply moved by the simplicity, sincerity and wisdom of his thought.  The next evening, when we sat down for dinner with the one remaining family, Einstein was still on my mind.  On a total whim, instead of offering our traditional dinner grace, I asked my 8-year-old granddaughter if she knew what a miracle was.  She looked a bit frightened, but furrowed her brow to conjure up an answer.  Finally, she blushed and in a whisper said, “It’s something very special and mysterious that happens.”  It was a perfect answer.  “You know,” I said, “You only get to come here two or three times a year.  I think that it is a little miracle that you are sitting here next to me.”  Her eyes widened and she radiated pure joy as she said, “I think so too grandpa.”

After dinner the rain had stopped and I wandered outside and looked up at the heavens.  The air was clean, crisp and invited contemplation.  Our sun is approx. 1 million miles in diameter and approx. 100 million miles away.  The Milky Way galaxy contains between 200-400 billion stars and is 120,000 light years in diameter.  A very rough guess is that the universe contains over 500 billion galaxies, which would mean a several-hundred-billion-star-galaxy for every star in the Milky Way.  That is, if the universe has a limit, otherwise there would be an infinite number of galaxies.  As usual, when I do this I don’t know which billion miracles I should begin to count.  The mind-numbing bottom line was; so what are the odds that I would be alive, in this place, and blessed with the privilege of sharing a precious moment with a little angel who reminded me that miracles are very special, mysterious events that can still happen?

 

I may not have seen a Christmas Star, but I saw a million others; I was properly overwhelmed, and reminded of Walt Whitman:

“To me, every hour of the day and night

is an unspeakably perfect miracle.”

We wish you a Happy New Year filled with many “little miracle” discoveries.

A Cautionary Cosmic Tale

A Cautionary Cosmic Tale

 

Is it mankind’s destiny to evolve into a godless society?

An astronomer climbed Mt. Improbable on a crisp, moonless night.  He used a telescopic computer to count the celestial bodies in his 360-degree hemisphere.  Meanwhile, one trillion other scientists, droids, or unknowable energy manifestations, also tabulated their respective numbers, many without equipment.  When completed, they sent their data to a cosmo-central terminal.  The cumulative number was not significant enough to register on the universal curve of knowledge.  Meanwhile, scientific Scrooges like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking have proclaimed that Jesus is a hoax and they, not God, are the most intelligent beings in the universe.  88% of the world’s population disagrees with them.  95% of the US population believes in a “Higher Power.”  Approx. 2.5 billion Christians will celebrate Christmas by attending church, reading the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke, reading (or watching) Dickens’s “Christmas Carol,” Schultz’s, “Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” or simply enjoying quality holiday time with family and or friends. Religious leaders of the world have made (and continue to make) egregious errors, however, the Christmas message of, “peace on earth, goodwill toward men,” remains as a socio-cultural compass for those who try to comply.

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

 

 

 

Poets and Kings And Sawdust Rings

Poets and Kings and Sawdust Rings

 

George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright who received a Nobel Price in Literature. Today he is regarded as one of the most important and influential playwrights in history.  He was also the founder of the Fabian Society.  In his typical satirical manner, he once quipped, “Christianity would be a good idea if anyone ever tried it.”  I couldn’t agree with him more.  Indeed, loving the unlovable; turning the other cheek, returning good for evil are sometimes impossible to accomplish.

After class one day, a student asked me about Jesus.  Not being a Biblical scholar, I quoted CS Lewis: “Either Jesus is who he says he is or else he is a fool, a madman or a clown.”  He looked at me and asked, “No door number three?”

Charles Schultz is considered by many as the world’s singular greatest cartoonist.  For over 50 years he provided spirituality, warmth, humor, love, compassion, wisdom, joy, sorrow, enthusiasm and much, much more, to millions of people.  I saw him interviewed in his home and he was asked what his greatest challenge was.  His response was quick.  “That’s easy!  After breakfast, I have to walk down the hallway to my studio and make the world laugh.”

Many agree that he also brought laughter and levity to the Gospels.  In essence, he became a clown of God.

All three men were great men and I have no doubt that all are enjoying each other in some kind of eternal life.

 

Christmas At Model Bakery

 

Christmas at Model Bakery

 

For better or worse, the tradition of exchanging gifts at Christmas time, is rooted in the Biblical account of the Magi presenting gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child.  However, from a purely secular (or scientific) perspective, the story is a myth, parable or misguided fabrication that has no value in the modern intellect.  Therefore, without a spiritual component, the “social” value of gifts is measured by their monetary cost.  However, even many Christians, who know the story well, fail to grasp that the gold, frankincense and myrrh were merely earthly symbols acknowledging an event that the Magi regarded as supernatural.  The true gifts were the time, energy, stress, discomfort and danger that each of the “wise men” endured over the 2000-mile, round trip journey that each underwent.  There is a pre-Christian, African saying that captures this essence; “The walk is more important than the gift.”  Imagine walking from St. Helena Ca. to Salt Lake City, Ut. (and back) to present a gift to someone whom you have never met.

On a cold, rainy, December morning, I took my last morning cup of coffee upstairs to my computer to check for e-mail messages.  I was shocked to see a single, bold-face line: Maria: “I’ll be in St. Helena on Sat. Dec. 8.  Can we get together for coffee at Model Bakery? My spirit soared.

Saturday arrived and with a feeling of excited anticipation.  The reunion was that of two dear friends separated by 15 years of time and space.  The coffee for me and latte for her, along with scones, nearly became irrelevant between the bursts of laughter and a flurry of “catching up.”  She kept shaking her head and bubbled over with the joy of the mystery of the synchronicity that had reunited us.

Once settled, I began:  “Maria, you may recall that in June of ’97, I mentioned that I was not interested in your final exam.  Instead, I suggested that you come back in 15 or 20 years and tell me how your life has worked out.”  Her beautiful Latina eyes widened, her cheeks blushed rose, and she looked as if she were about to explode; which she did in an avalanche of words.

“I have done really, really well, but it has been really, really hard.  I went to UC Davis and majored in cellular/molecular biology which is one of the most difficult majors.  Many of my classes had 300 students [classes at SHHS rarely topped 25] and they were filled with pre-med, pre-dent, or pre DVM students.  The level of competition was extreme.  When I became lonely, or overwhelmed, I called home for support.  My parents thought they were doing the loving thing by saying, ‘Hija, quit, come home where you belong.’  They did not understand that it made matters worse and so I called less often.  Amazingly, I became the first member in my family to graduate from a university.  Even more amazingly, I was hired at Genentech in San Francisco.  As I sat in the orientation meeting, I could nod believe what was happening.  Maria, the little [100 lbs] Mexican girl from little St. Helena was sitting in a room with some of the greatest biological scientists of the world.  I soon became a biochemical engineer and was paid lots and lots of money.  I was single, living in a fantastic city, making lots of money but I became less and less happy.  I found the streets hectic, noisy and filled with people who were rushing around getting into one line after another.  I decided that there must be more to life than making lots of money.  So, I quit my job.”

As she spoke, a lump formed in my throat as I marveled at the courage and wisdom of this little power house that was sharing with me.  She continued, “I returned to UC Davis, took a huge pay cut and got a job doing research designed to help protect endangered animal species. I love my work!  Also, I got married three years a go and still feel like I am on my honeymoon.”

As she was speaking I sensed a mysterious aura surrounding her that reminded me of the body-halo that artists use to create religious icons.

Suddenly, I recalled that Mary, the mother of Jesus, played a “supernatural” role, without which the Christmas story could not have happened.  I guessed that she must be proud of her diminutive namesake.

As she concluded her story she extended her right hand.  As we shook hands, she looked at me as if she could look into my very soul and said, “Thank you.”

In a flash, the latent joy that we shared on top of Half Dome, the bottom of Grand Canyon and around the campfires at Mendocino, washed over me like a wonderful baptism.

The good-bye hug was precious with assurances that we should remain in touch.

I don’t know what she thought, but I do know that she was too humble to even think that she presented me with gifts that were more precious than gold, frankincense and myrrh; they were priceless.  How could I have guessed that a casual meeting at Model Bakery, with former student, would rekindle a spiritual fire and renew my sense of faith, hope and love, associated with the Christmas Season?

Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea

 

Throughout the process of writing BOFAW (and Facebook entries) I tried to shine my magical flashlight on the people (especially students) and events that created what became known as Biodesign.  It was not a poorly veiled form of self-deprecation, but an honest attempt to show that the millions of variables and puzzle pieces that had to miraculously fall into place were utterly beyond my comprehension, let alone ability to organize or direct.  The Class, and thus the book, resulted from Lettie’s simple, yet profound, question, “Is this really important?”  Over 24 years 750 more students would ask their questions that molded and shaped the Class.  If “no two people have ever met and departed unchanged,” then every student (even those who dropped the class) left his/her mark.  They were joined by over 400 chaperones, and hundreds of scientists, sages, sinners, and poets who collaborated in the creative/evolutionary process.  Just as, “there is no such thing as biological equality,” no two classes were the same.

Therefore, after much reflection and analysis, I have concluded that a mysterious supernatural being, power or process created and guided the Biodesign experience, expressly for my education.  It is probably not likely but, I hope that every ex-Biodesigner feels the same way.  After all, was the Earth not created expressly for the purpose of our education?

As this Fb page (and “blog”) began to wind down, I began searching for the perfect metaphor that would communicate the profound sense of gratefulness I felt for the privilege of spiritual sharing with all of you.  After much soul searching, the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony came to mind.  The purpose of chado, the ritual of tea, is contemplation (to make a temple with).  The four basic principles of chado are harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.  The ceremony typically involves one, two or three cups of tea.

The first cup of “face book tea” was offered by a group of fans, friends and “likers,” and included the implicit invitation into the private (if not sacred) regions of their being.

As we sipped our tea we sauntered with Henry Thoreau seeking Holy Land and tried to live deliberately.  We hiked up Half Dome with John Muir, and into the depths of Grand Canyon with John Wesley Powell and Loren Eiseley.  We were lulled to sleep in Mendocino by the gentle rhythm of the Pacific Ocean.

We heard Brother David encourage us to actively practice the art of gratefulness, and Kabir shouted at us to: “Wake up! Wake up! You have been asleep for millions of years.  We squirmed a little when Thoreau pondered, “Oh, to get to the end of my life and realize that I have not fully lived!”  All the way, Phroncie, Jane, Jeane, Sabrina, Barbie and others, cheered me on from the sidelines.  Sharka and Mark joined us from somewhere in cyberspace and became spirit-brother and spirit-sister.  Their spectacular photos, married to inspirational thoughts (even slide-shows) took us all back to the time of wonderful slide-shows that students used to prepare.  Their presence (and presents) had a synchronistic feel with no logical reason for occurring.  How could we not love them?

I worried a little about the lack of comments, but our fb numbers indicated a lot of “passive viewers.”  Then I remembered Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now) where he described many people as “Silent watchers.”  We hope the silent watchers have gained something worthwhile.

Even so, in spite of Sharka and Mark’s wonderful contributions, I was nearly out of photos and ideas and was prepared to gracefully leave the Tea Ceremony after one cup of tea.  Little could I have known that Lori Evensen, another member of the class of ’79, would arrive with the “second cup of tea.”  She is traveling around the US on a “vision-quest.”  I didn’t really know what a “blog” was before she invited me to follow her travels by reading: http://meanderest.com/ I was suddenly inspired to take a shot at blogging.

The blogs were intended to be reflections, illuminations and introspective glimpses into the soul of Biodesign. Whether or not the blogs spoke for themselves, they shifted the conversation to a monologue.  The single, most important secret of any success in Biodesign was the circle, and not lectures or monologues.  If, during the Tea Ceremony, the conversation lags or the guest stays too long, a third cup of tea is offered.  This is a face-saving device that leaves no hurt feelings.  BOFAW Fb viewers were too kind to offer the “third cup of tea,” still; my spirit guide was telling me it was time to take another trail.

The final Biodesign trip each year was to the Mendocino coast of California.  On the final evening we celebrated our own version of a Japanese Tea Ceremony.  We thought it would be appropriate to share part of this ceremony.

“The class was sitting in a circle in the wonderfully rustic building that smelled of thousand-year-old incense cedar. The room was dark except for 30 brightly shining votive candles, each adding its unique color to the twinkling rainbow. This was their moment. They had traveled thousands of miles together; they had walked over 100 miles together. They sang, slept, and broke bread together. They had seen some of Earth’s most beautiful scenery, matched with some of man’s greatest thoughts. They had been encouraged to write their own bible. The time had arrived for them to gather the tools they had selected, pick up their candles, and head out into the darkness, alone.

Sean Gagnier, a local folk singer, stood by, poised, ready to offer his musical benediction. The six strings on his guitar were perfectly tuned and came softly to life. His eyes sparkled like Sasha’s, the Mountain Man’s, and the Mule Skinner’s, only they reflected the brilliance of 30 twinkling lights.

He began with a chorus that they all knew by heart. A chorus that echoed from the beginning of time; off the granite peaks of Yosemite; into the depths of Grand Canyon, and thundered on the waves of Mendocino beaches—ancient echoes of time and the rhythm of the universe; a chorus that united over 700 students, 400 chaperones; hundreds of scientists, saints, naturalists and poets into one glorious circle:

May the circle be unbroken.

Christie joins me in expressing our profound gratefulness for the opportunity you have given us to share our spirits with you.  We have been greatly privileged to experience something totally beyond our ability to conceive. Love from both of us.

 

Full Circle: Lettie and the Final Synchronicity

Full Circle: Lettie and the Final Synchronicity.

 

 

Throughout the thousands of pages of Loren Eiseley’s 13 books, his greatest single line is, “It’s a great day to be alive!”  He was camping on a scientific field trip, got up early on a crisp morning and was overwhelmed by the beauty of nature and the joy of being alive.  John Muir described a similar elated state when he was in the Yosemite high country, sustained by a pillow case of bread balls, pocket full of tea bags and a single wool blanket.  Walt Whitman wrote:

To me, every hour of the day and night

is an unspeakably perfect miracle.”

Henry Thoreau went to the woods to live simply.

Brother David Steindl-Rast describes his life as a monk as leading him to a nearly continuous state of gratefulness.

I admire all of these men but, it recently dawned on me that what they all have in common is that they spent great periods of time alone.  Leading 30 “rowdy” high school students out into Mother Nature, in search of truth, beauty, and goodness was hardly a solitary walk in the woods.  There were times that were painful, dreadful, horrifying and nearly impossible to cope with, however, the rewards were so great that it seemed like I had little choice.  The closest metaphor I can invoke is that each class was similar to having a baby.  If that is so, then it should not be surprising that some of the students became as close to me as my own children.

As this Fb page and blog wind down I find myself identifying with Ingrid.  Looking back over the 24 years, I can’t believe we did it.  It all started with a simple, yet profound, question from Lettie, and evolved into something otherworldly.  It was politically, scientifically, religiously, economically and educationally incorrect, yet the results were very, very correct.

Brother David regards every experience of gratefulness that is not shared is an opportunity lost.  Remembering this, I decided to send a complimentary copy of BOFAW to the four universities that provided the biological A-B-Cs that were necessary in order for me to become a teacher; San Francisco State U., Sonoma State U., Washington State U., and U.C. Berkeley.  I received a kind thankful note from WSU, and an e-mail note from Joe @ San Francisco.  He was interested in the book and wanted to talk with me about it.  When I saw where the note was from I burst out laughing.  When I attended “State” it was a liberal bastion and students whispering the words God or spirituality, did so at their own risk.  The professors were mostly “secular progressives” and in many cases overtly regarded any spiritual references as antiquated, if not regressive thinking.  I was OK with that, after all, I was in the “science” department and science was going to solve ALL mysteries, including debunking the “myth” of God.

I suspected that “S.F.State” is far more “liberal” now and could not imagine what interest they would have in the book.  Even so, Joe and I agreed to a phone conversation.  He had scanned the book and was pressing for a “sound bite” definition.  I laughed, knowing that when students were asked the same question, they would stammer and struggle before saying, “It can not be defined.”  Feeling the same frustration, I blurted out, “I guess you could call it “Spiritual Ecology!”  I had never heard or used the term before so I decided to Google it.  What I found was both surprising and cathartic.  Several colleges and universities, in the US and abroad, offer classes, majors, Masters Degrees, and Northwestern University offers a PhD program in “spiritual ecology.”  Suddenly I didn’t feel so isolated and that Muir, Emerson, Thoreau, and all of our protagonists, were visionaries, 100 years ahead of their time.  I also discovered Dr. Leslie Sponsel (Anthropology Professor emeritus: Univ. of Hawaii) who released “Spiritual Ecology: The quiet revolution,” one year after the release of BOFAW.

Suddenly Lettie’s question came full circle: “Is this really important?”  According to Sponsel, we are rapidly approaching the point in human history, whereby, if a world-wide renaissance of spiritual ecology is not embraced, there will be a major loss of humanity.

It is hauntingly ironic that many readers of BOFAW have contacted me and said that the book “gives them hope.”  I feel that the book is an honest narrative of kids at their finest, and that gives me hope too.  Sadly, on the other hand, adults do not offer me the same solace.

Meanwhile, Muir stated that books are merely piles of stone set out to show future travelers where other minds have been.  That being so, we are proud to offer our “pile of stone” to the universe as record of 750 kids who were courageous enough to go on a walk and discover realities that very few humans know exist.

I have no delusions of grandeur and fully realize that BOFAW has only provided a scintilla, at best, of many mysteries, miracles and revelations.  If the students only did it for me, then I am the most privileged teacher on the planet.

In the later years of the Biodesign Class, I imagined a group of Juniors gathering each spring out on the Quad and asking, “Has he got “it” figured out yet?”  “No,” someone would reply, “Well then,” someone said, “I guess we better sign up for one more class and hope he gets it.  He’s getting pretty old and Half Dome isn’t getting any smaller.”

Kahlil Gibran suggests that the depth of our sorrow is a measure of the joy we previously knew.  I have found this to be true and still experience deep pangs of sorrow reminding me of the intense joy we once we shared.

The Road Not taken

The Road Not Taken

 

Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” has probably been used at more high school and college graduation ceremonies than any other reference.  And, while I like the poem, what is more significant is that its message became a touchstone for the Biodesign Class.  As it evolved and progressed it became a class that may have been the only one of its kind, especially in a public school.  This process was greatly facilitated by two books: “Religions, Values and Peak Experiences,” by Abraham Maslow, and “The Road Less Traveled,” by Dr. Scott Peck.

Maslow’s book knocked my socks off, not because of “religion” or “values” or “peak experiences.”  Yosemite and Mendocino (later Grand Canyon) provided mountains, canyons and oceans of peak experiences, but the powerful little book offered a huge surprise.  For those of you who have read Biodesign Out For A Walk, you may recall chap 3, “Firestorm.”  I was facing a major outer and inner battle of how to reconcile topics that seemed to overlap, “science,” religion and spirituality.  Maslow suggested that his studies showed that religion and spirituality were not necessarily interchangeable.   He established that from a psychological perspective, there were many examples of spirituality that did not require a supreme being as the source, and therefore can and should be considered in a public school environment.  Interestingly, if we are, as the Bible contends, “made in the image of God,” then why should we not be capable of generating and communicating spiritual experiences without crediting them to a supreme being?  These were exciting, albeit challenging threads to sort out.

The Road less Traveled,” ironically released in 1978, would also have been extremely helpful.  I can only assume that we had to go through the crucible to be ready for the two newly discovered books.

The first two chapters in The Road…pretty much sum up the essence of the book; Chap. 1, The Problem of Pain, and closely related Chap 2,-Delaying Gratification.

All of the authors that we referred to were interconnected, and so when Peck described the greatest threat to American culture was the inability to delay gratification, it resonated well with Erich Fromm’s contention that the greatest threat was our inability to master the art of loving.  It appears that they are related.  Their common bond may be that they both require heaps of self-discipline.