The Power of the Circle

The Power Of The Circle

 

 

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in

a circle, and that is because the Power of the World

always works in circles, and everything tries to be

round … Everything the Power of the World does is

in a circle.”   Black Elk

Christie thought that the opening line for BOFAW should have been, “Form a Circle.”  It might also have been a good title.  It was probably the single most important logistical and operational factor of the class.  There was often something profoundly simple by standing or sitting in a circle which often raised physical, mental and spiritual visions to a higher level of awareness.  Especially when we discussed difficult topics, they could easily read the joy, sorrow, pain, anger, frustration or countless expressions on their classmates faces.  But it wasn’t just the circle that was powerful.  The students had agreed to make an effort to enhance sensitivity by approaching each topic without criticizing, condemning or complaining.  We were not perfect, but often able to tackle difficult concepts with a minimum amount of collateral emotional damage.

Black Elk believed that “the white man” would die of a great loneliness of spirit because he lived in rectangular houses that lacked the energy of a round tepee.  He had attended white man’s council meetings and noted that they lacked energy because they were not sitting in a circle.  I don’t know if he attended any white church services, but he most certainly would have found them to be spiritless because people were sitting on benches, all facing one man (or woman). “Surely,” he must have thought, “one man or one woman could not have the wisdom to think for the whole tribe.”  Not only that, it was customary for a chief or elder to frame all discussions and decisions based on the simple caveat, “Will our actions benefit the ‘seventh generation?’”

On Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the Americas he encountered Caribbean peoples who held tribal council meetings in a circle, with both men and women having equal voting rights.

Although I may have been the leader, students hopefully discovered that anyone could be “the leader.” There were many times when they generally agreed with me, but there were also times when they vigorously disagreed with me.  Some of those disagreements proved to be ungrounded, but some proved to be greatly important.  They taught me many things that I could not have discovered on my own.

Typically, discussions would dart around the circle like a pinball ricocheting off the bumpers of a pinball machine.  The classic example of this was Matthew blurting out, “Wait a minute! What the Hell do we believe anyway?” That simple question radically changed all following Biodesign Classes.  Amazingly, millions of people go through their entire life without questioning what they believe and why.  I know this personally because I was of that mindset before the Biodeisgn kids started my real education.  BOFAW readers know that I once thought that memorizing all the parts of a fetal pig was more important than “creative thinking” and exploring Yosemite, Grand Canyon and the Mendocino Coast of California.

The circle rule applied especially on the trips, where we sat at Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Mendocino in magical circles. The classic example here was Heather’s candle light service on top of Half Dome.  The campfire circles often proved to be the most dynamic.  There was something, almost palpable, that often lifted conversations to a higher level.  Many students have contacted me with sad stories that they have searched in vain at colleges or universities for another “Circle Experience.”  They are not alone.  Despite all that we know about the power of a circle, we ignore it as quaint or obsolete.  I am guessing that less than 1% of the U.S. population will ever have a circle experience.

How tragically ironic it will be if Black Elk was correct and we do die of a loneliness of spirit because we lost the power of the circle.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Visits Biodesign

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Visits Biodesign

 

 

“How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!                       Jonathan Livingston Sea Gull,      by Richard Bach

One of the greatest synchronicities involving Biodesign occurred before I knew what the word meant.  I don’t know if Lettie had read, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” or not, before she asked her question that led to the birth of the class.  In the early ‘70s, Richard Bach’s little book became a huge hit, especially with young-adult readers.  To fully appreciate the book one must appreciate the context of bird evolution.

Birds have been flying for over 60 million years, and according to scientists, they fly for strictly practical reasons; gathering food, escaping predators, moving to and from nests, migrating etc.  They live in a “bird-brained” world, heavily controlled by instinct, generally lacking values, and involves very little “self-awareness.”  Having said all of that, Bach was able to figuratively help Jonathan break his genetic chains and shackles and discover that striving for perfect flight was nothing short of striving for character perfection.

The book became an instant favorite for the early Biodesign Classes who saw it as metaphor for striving for the perfection of love.  In nearly every class at least one member quoted St. John, “Perfect love casts out all fear.”  They generally thought that living without fear would be cool.  They would all discover that it was difficult and required much discipline.  I was often reminded of a friend who claimed that “all human actions are motivated by either love or fear.”  Originally, I thought it was a trite oversimplification, but have not found any exceptions yet.

Wile striving for perfect love sounds romantic; the similarities between the Biodesign class and Jonathan’s struggles could be terrifyingly similar.  He described trying to fly higher and higher and faster and faster, often resulting in crashes that could be excruciatingly painful.  On several occasions he crashed into the ocean so hard that he wished that he could sink to the bottom and die.  Countless times, after I “crashed,” in the class room or on the trips, I wished I could die rather than face the pain I caused or was experiencing.  I was not alone.  At any time the class could get embroiled in thorny issues.  Some were serious, some were silly.  One class got into a huge debate as to whether dogs could smile or not.  Amazingly, however, after each one of these crashes, we were able to fly to a higher level and experience a greater feeling of euphoria, joy and sense of accomplishment.

However, just as Bach described the group behavior of the “Breakfast Flock,” our “breakfast flock” of administrators, colleagues, some parents, school board members and local clergy, reacted with doubt, fear, even anger.  Like Jonathan, I was considered, by some, as an outcast from mainstream science education.

There was no refuge in the scientific world either.  The word “science,” derives from the Greek, “scientia” to know, and scientists continue to assume that if they name something, they know it (or even own it).  The more names you know (memorize) the greater the scientist you are.  In college I had to memorize thousands of terms and I never felt any wiser.  “Structure-function correlation” was, and remains, the order of the day; the logic being that if you know what a structure is you will understand its function and vice-versa.  This was a purely mental process involving physical structures with no room or reason for spirituality.  Additionally, a social movement known as “secular humanism” was growing and found widespread support from “secular scientists.”  They all agreed that there was no evidence of God and therefore the letters G-O-D should be avoided, expunged from laws and records, and banished from schools and other institutions.  This was the primary reason for the “train wreck” described in BOFAW chap 3, “Firestorm.”  In June of ’78, I felt like the Biodesign dream had become a terrible nightmare, and like Jonathan, it would be better to let the idea sink into oblivion.  However, just as in JLS, a miraculous “breakthrough” occurred in the form of the class of ’79.  Mysteriously, they were able to fly higher, faster and farther than any previous class.  They were open-minded, caring and eager to be challenged to strive for a higher level of existence.  In doing so, they created a foundation that would support nearly 20 more years of Biodesign.

 

Therefore, can any one out there fully comprehend the immensity of the 60-million-year time period that the birds lived without human company?  Doesn’t even comprehending 1 million years suggest that it is an unspeakably perfect miracle that we are ALIVE, at this very moment in the universe?  Does this not fill you with ecstasy and make you want to run naked in the rain, or do the dance of joy?

Or, have we all been blinded, like the sea turtles, by the very machines and monitors that we are using?

Even worse, are we all not in danger of failing to heed Albert Einstein’s warning:

 

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

 

 

Wayne: Danger-Drama-Dilemma

Wayne: Danger- Drama and Dilemma

 

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

Albert Einstein

Many students called my office, “The Shrine,” because of the plethora of rainbows, geodes, driftwood art and “precious moment” photos of Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Mendocino.  I also had a small “dream catcher” that some consider a symbol of unity among the various Indian Nations, and a general symbol of identification with Native American or First Nations cultures.

Wayne arrived in the Biodesign Class with a rich Choctaw heritage, a keen curiosity, a big heart, and an open mind.  For 35 years I have wondered if we met because of the dream catcher; stranger things have happened.

He discovered a recently published little book, “Jonathan Livingston Sea Gull, which, along with The Class, started him on a spiritual quest that continues to this day.

During the 24 years of Biodesign trips, I only had one student climb a tree, flap his arms like a bird and croak like a raven.  It was also the only event that can only be described as a uniquely astonishing mystery.  For those who have read BOFAW, it should be clear why “Wayne’s Story,” (chap 29) presented some difficult challenges.  Including it would likely mean that the book would be excluded from many reading lists and most public schools and universities.  The post-renaissance decline of spirituality has been accelerated by increased materialism and secular humanism.  Events like his do not “belong in a science class” because they can not be “proven, predicted or replicated.”  It was, nevertheless, provocative, exciting, and scary.

Galileo regarded the story of Adam and Eve as an allegory representing the time in man’s history when he became aware of the difference between good and evil.  It is clear to me, that along with that knowledge, Adam incorrectly assumed that whatever “he” believed must be the truth.  I am guessing that, simply because I suffer from the same affliction.  What reasonable person would go around intentionally believing the “wrong” stuff?  We may know Einstein’s adage by memory, and yet, when we encounter mysterious events like Wayne’s, that may conflict with what we believe or that can not be explained, we often respond with fear, anger, doubt even derision.

In Margaret Wise Brown’s classic children’s story, “The Golden Egg,” the bunny struggles with the frustration of dealing with “the unknown” in a playful manner.  Unfortunately, the history of man is much bleaker.  People have been, and still are persecuted, even slaughtered, for what they believe.

Especially in the early years of Biodesign, I was so excited about what the students were thinking and asking that I naively assumed that we had risen to a level of humanity that “free thinking” would not only be allowed, but encouraged.  Over and over I was surprised to discover that a few students, parents, colleagues and administrators, who claimed to be “liberated thinkers”, were only liberal with their own, often narrow-minded, beliefs.  Many of the great men and women, who we studied, were marginalized as quaint or obsolete and not relevant to “progressive education.”

I struggled for months wondering whether to include Wayne’s story or not.  I knew it was scary when I shared it with one Biodesign Class, around a Mendocino campfire, and I suspected that it would be challenging, even scary for some BOFAW readers.  It has been.  I will never know how many readers have been frightened, angered, confused, or “offended,” but I do know that some have been.  Many have responded about favorite chapters up to chap. 29, and then dropped off the radar screen.  Self-described Christians, perhaps understandably, have responded in a highly positive manner, which has only added to my dilemma.  For over 20 years I reminded critics and supporters that I was a teacher and not an evangelist or recruiter for any brand of religion.  I encouraged students to think on their own, and try to filter out bias or prejudice (including mine).  This is exactly what Socrates, Descartes and Maslow had recommended.  However, I anticipated that a certain segment of readers would incorrectly infer that Wayne’s Story was just another poorly veiled attempt to recruit Christians.  It was not.  It was included because it actually happened, and it represents precisely the element of “mystery” that Einstein was referring to.  I don’t fault them.  I also found the story to be scary, provocative and inexplicably mysterious.  In a huge irony, when Wayne began exploring his own spirituality, he deduced that “God was not logical.”  Reading his story leads me to agree with his original assumption.

When the final draft of the manuscript was complete, I sought advice from several trusted friends, from a wide variety of beliefs.  I asked whether the chapter should be included or not. The response was emphatic, and unanimous; all agreed that it should be.

Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined ever writing a book.  Even more remotely would be the possibility that I would follow Loren Eiseley so closely that I would experience similar prejudice and rejection.  He received “harsh letters of castigation” from scientists, denouncing him for being too religious.  He received equally harsh letters from religious folks, who denounced him for being too scientific.

He wrote:

 

“Most people, it seems, distrust all images but their own.”

 

“We search and bicker and disagree; the eternal form eludes us.”

 

Wayne’s story has been released into the Cosmos.  If it causes the book to be burned or banned, it certainly won’t be the first time for this to happen.  Although it has caused me some frustration and despair, it has also provided great excitement.  I join with Einstein in celebrating the pure mystery of it.  As for my scientific critics?—unlike the bunny in The Golden Egg, they will eternally refuse to accept the fact that there are things, “Out There” that will never be explained scientifically.  This is something that their super-inflated egos will simply not allow.

 

 

Bristlecone Pines, Jesus and BOFAW

Bristlecone Pines, Jesus and BOFAW

 

Small children often lack the ability to conceptualize time.  Adults are not that much better off.  Who can comprehend a Bristlecone Pine seed germinating and growing for over 5,000 years?  Some began living 3,000 years before Christ was born and if they look more dead than alive it is because they have endured 1,825,000 days.  What lessons on life doe they have for us?

One of the earliest (and dearest) fans of BOFAW opined that the book was “obviously written from a Christian perspective.”  I didn’t ask whether it was a criticism or a compliment, but my emotions took over and my spirits (and ego) soared.  After all, setting aside the mentally baffling Christian Trinity, most scholars and world religious leaders regard Jesus as one of the world’s greatest teachers and prophets.  Imagining that our little book could have followed his footprints, even slightly, was a heady experience.

Thankfully, however, I returned to reality.  If BOFAW were supposed to be an accurate reflection of the Biodesign Class, then it was not written form a Christian perspective.  In fact, there were numerous quotes and ideas taken from all major world religions regarding how they perceived and described Mother Nature.  Furthermore, based on my experience detailed in chap. 3, “The Fire Storm,” I decided that believing in God was not unlike catching poison oak; some people get it and some people don’t and no amount of word-making will likely change that.  The choice to believe or not (if it is a choice) is a deeply personal one and involves a man and his Creator (or not).

What was obvious, however, was that the class could not have survived if it were not based on five of the “Ten Commandments” ascribed to Moses.  If we discussed them formally we would have agreed that commandments 1-2-4-5 & 10 were beyond the bounds of the Class.  Even though Erich Fromm described the importance of the concept of; “The love of God,” it was not something that we considered.  We did, however, acknowledge that commandments 3-6-7-8-&9 were critically important.  We avoided profanity (usually) and generally agreed that murder, stealing, lying and having sex, in class or on the field trips, were not permissible.

I have read that there are 613 laws or commandments in the Jewish Faith.  That seems like a staggering number to keep track of, perhaps because I am not Jewish.  From my very limited Biblical knowledge, however, apparently Jesus had the audacity to reduce the list to two: “Love God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  As Loren Eiseley pointed out “the idea was radical and shook the world like a storm.”  Again, the first rule was not within the scope of the Biodesign Class, however, the second rule was truly the glue that held the class together, or without proper discipline, tore The Class apart.

The students were, by nature, “loveable,” however a few occasionally acted in ways that were not loveable.  I had a student look me in the eye and lie about smoking pot on a Grand Canyon trip, after he had promised he would not.  He selfishly ignored the fact that if the school board heard of the abuse, the class would likely have been cancelled.  It was devastating.  However, they were not alone.  When I was rested I could usually handle the demands of leadership in a loving, supportive manner.  However, on many trips, intense stress, fatigue and fear conspired to overwhelm me and reduced me to the “Cathy’s Dogs” syndrome detailed in BOFAW, chap. 25, “Lessons From The Ark.”  Whenever any love-lapse occurred, the only path to reconciliation was hopefully a quick apology and a request to be forgiven.  These were always embarrassing, at times, humiliating.

The reason that it was important for me to iterate, over and over, that the Biodesign Class was not a religion class and not a veiled form of Christian evangelism was precisely because it was neither.  I imagined The Class as a grand smorgasbord of ideas and students were free to adopt any ideas they deemed valuable.  The concept of “loving your neighbor as yourself” is a universal concept that belongs to all mankind.  I am utterly convinced that any group of young adults, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality or gender, exposed to the Biodesign curriculum, would have responded in a similar, loving manner.

I would also like to think that the stories and events, recorded in BOFAW, belong to all mankind, which is the purpose of the book.  The search for truth beauty and goodness has no boundaries or exclusions.

Love, peace, namaste, shalom, LY

The Biology Of Love–Part III

The Biology Of Love  Part III

Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have   discovered fire.         Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

One of the highlights of the Mendocino trip was a “blind walk” down part of the Fern Canyon Trail.  The rules were simple:  Line up, roses and thorns, either roses or thorns put a blind fold on, join hands and observe the rule of total silence; no whispering, giggling, tittering etc.  At the half-way mark, maintaining the silence, slowly remove the blindfold and install one on your partner.  The results for the classes that followed the rules were stunning.  When our eyes are open they gobble up 75% of the available sensory energy, leaving 25% to be divided between the other four senses.  When the eyes are closed, the non-visual senses become more active and acute.  This is why, in no small part, people often choose to close their eyes during prayer, contemplation or meditation.  At the end of the walk, the blindfolds were removed and the silence was broken with a burst of chatter.  Most of them had “visualized,” or felt and heard things that were totally new to them.  When they crawled through an old redwood tree trunk, under a limb or over a small bridge, they felt utterly blind and helpless.  Truly they had put their trust in their partner’s hand.  During the debriefing it was common for the girls to describe feeling confidence and trust; not so much for the guys.  Hopefully, I refrained from injecting any analysis or possible symbolism, but let their inner voices be their guide.

There were, of course, many possible lessons, either physical, mental or spiritual.  I have often been confused by a passage, somewhere in the Bible that states, “Let those who have eyes see and those who have ears listen.”  Well lah tee dah.  In spiritual terms are we not all blind, so what good is that?  It’s as bad as the corny quip, “I see, said the blind man to his deaf wife.”  But then I am reminded about the first time Biodesigners led me out to Plateau Point deep within in Grand Canyon.  We could “feel” the silence before we could look down into the inner gorge.  It also reminded me that we desperately need Nature and other people to help guide and direct our spiritual growth.  Robert Burns wrote: “To see ourselves as others see us, would from many a blunder free us.”  John Muir once quipped, “People depend on a small glass dial, with a magnetic needle inside, to guide them out of the wilderness and ignore the fact that their Creator can be a spiritual guide.”

Like many ideas like this, I felt it was important to encourage students to question, probe and explore possible options, but not my job to suggest or recommend possible pathways.  At some point each year I cited, “The Teachings of Don Juan,” by Carlos Castaneda: “Does this path have a heart?  If it does, the path is good and you should stay on it.  If it does not, you should leave it.”

Like many of the field trip activities, the blind walk was mostly experiential with no right or wrong answer or experience.  My hope for them was that they would gather new insights, information, perhaps a bit of wisdom on their personal journey of finding the fire within.

The Biology Of LOve Part II

The Biology Of Love part II

 

After nearly 50 years of marriage and nearly 40 years of collaborative learning with young people, I am convinced that females have a deeply embedded sense of spirituality that males lack.  I know very little about The Bible, but I suspect that there is profound real and or symbolic meaning about Christ’s relationship with Mary and Martha.  Typically, the girls led the way with the guys acting more like willing spectators  We began each class session with “news and notes,” and students were encouraged to bring and share quotes and thoughts relative to our studies.  A trendy quote at the time was; “Girls will offer sex to feel loved and guys will offer love to get sex.”  It was, of course, a gross oversimplification, but properly identified the fact that females and males necessarily approach the concept of having sex differently.  Diane Ackerman pointed out in, “The Natural History Of Love,” males are predisposed to “expand” their gene poll as far as they can, which means having sex with as many females as they can.  Human females, on the other hand, have to be extremely selective in hopes of finding mates who will care for and protect them through the extended period of pregnancy, birthing, and child rearing.  In human terms, this can take as long as 18 years and is getting longer.  Adding the triad of “values, consciousness and free will,” students agreed that the phenomenon of having sex needed ethical, moral and hygienic guidelines.  Some of them usually noted that all of the world religions offered similar guidelines, adopted to ensure the health and welfare of followers.  Early on, someone shared a quote from Jesus who suggested, “The greatest love a man can have is to lay down his life for another man.”  Most of the students quickly responded that their mom would die for them in a heartbeat, but some had doubts about their dad (ouch).

Muir, Emerson, Whitman and Thoreau had all described deep passion (love) for Mother Nature and the kids were interested in exploring the “naturalist ethic.  My “love” file eventually included many student ideas or contributions.  We discovered that the Greeks decided that there were three kinds of love.  Eros, defined as carnal love, philos defined as platonic or brotherly love, and agape, the spiritual or the purest kind of love.  Someone brought in an article that showed that the Hebrew language has over a dozen words for love, each with its own specific application.

That brought St. Paul to mind and what many think is the quintessential commentary on love.  Not that the commentary is easy; it may be the most difficult social contract that any two people can undertake.  It is so daunting that some consider it “humanly impossible” and therefore counter-productive to attempt.  It can also be risky to quote.  Only a fool would try to teach what he could not practice.  It also brought to mind Abraham Maslow who championed the idea that many wonderful “spiritual” concepts need not be ascribed to a supernatural deity and, therefore, can be properly considered in a public school.  In this case, for example, Paul’s passage originates in The Bible, but the words are not exclusive to The Bible.  In fact, they align well with Buddha’s “Eight-Fold-Path” which can be a secular meditative tool for relieving stress and anxiety.  Many of the words are likely to come up in couples around the world, regardless of ethnicity or religion, who understand what John Woolman was referring to when he wrote:

There is a principle placed in the human mind
which is pure and proceeds from God.
It is deep and inward,
confined to no religion
nor excluded from any
where the heart stands in perfect sincerity.

The subject here is principle, not God; and the prose works well without a supreme deity.  Tweaking it just a bit may render it less threatening:

There is a principle placed in the human mind,
the origin of which is pure mystery.
It is deep and inward,
confined to no religion
nor excluded from any
where the heart stands in perfect sincerity.

The operative phrase here is, perfect sincerity.  After all, how can people grow in love if they can not communicate in a spirit of perfect sincerity?

As for St. Paul’s words:

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

 

The passage has been used in millions of marriage ceremonies and, although practicing it to perfection may indeed be “inhuman,” that will not deter countless millions from attempting it.

It ended up being a circuitous path, but I ended up back to Aaron.  I don’t know if the passage was helpful to him or not, I do know that rediscovering St. Paul’s words felt like renewing my own wedding vow.  It also reminded me that I still have far to go

Note:  Even though “Aaron” is an alias, I sent him a copy of, “The Biology of Love,” and asked if he had any reservations about me posting it.

His response was quick, and to the point:

“I love it!”

It made my heart sing.

 

 

The Biology of Love Part I

The Biology Of Love  part I

 

“Love, the Answer to the Problem of Human Existence.”  Erich Fromm

 

Aaron ( blog #1) recently contacted me asking for a good quote that would be appropriate for a “second-chance” marriage.  His girlfriend had just “said yes” and he wanted something special to share with her.  My heart went out to him but my head was at a loss.  A Hallmark greeting card writer, I was not.  Then, I remembered Erich Fromm’s remarkable thesis.  I was suddenly reminded of the first Biodesign classes that decided that discussing the “biology of love” was important.  They were not talking about “making love,” but a broader, perhaps deeper concept of the origin and meaning of love.

Interestingly, I had saved a copy of Eric Fromm’s, “The Art of Loving,” from college days.  It was a bit clinical but had a lot of good information.  In addition to his thesis statement, he outlined Brotherly Love, Motherly Love, Erotic Love, Self-Love and Love of God.  His underlying premise was that they all required much discipline.

Fromm was born in Germany in 1900 to Orthodox Jewish parents.  I don’t know if he attended a yeshiva and learned the common Sunday School proverb; “We should love people and use things,” but he was keenly aware that materialism was antithetic to spiritual growth.

Fromm wrote, “The Art Of Loving,” in 1956.  He had already lost all hope that Western Civilization would survive because of its failure to understand and practice the art of loving.  He could not have known about the metaphor of the baby sea turtles, but he predicted that societies would be blinded by the glare of materialism.  Tragically, his prediction seems to have merit.  Our society obfuscates or ignores spiritual values by equating a person’s value with the car he drives or the opulence of his home.  Our youth idolize music/video stars, movie stars and athletic stars, even though many lead lives of decadence and degradation.  We are living in unprecedented wealth yet the divorce rate hovers around 50%.  Substance abuse is rampant and beginning in some elementary schools.  Our prisons are overwhelmed.

In the late ‘70s Christie discovered a book simply titled, “Love,” by Dr. Leo Buscaglia.  Buscaglia was an educational psychology professor at the University of Southern California.  He worked with student teachers who mostly seemed to agree that teaching, above all, was really a matter of lovingly encouraging students.  They were more interested in practical strategies and less interested in theory.  He responded by developing a syllabus for a “Love Class” and presented it to the University Curriculum Advisory Board for approval.  Mostly, they scoffed at him and reportedly, one member asked an insidious question, “Are you going to have lab. demonstrations on various positions?”  He would not be denied.  He returned later with the offer to teach a non-credit course, free of charge, if the University would include it on its course offering list, and make a classroom available.  Again, the committee questioned the value, but because he was a respected professor, they acquiesced.  Each semester the class was booked to overflowing as college students were eager to discover how to be more loving humans.  Later Buscaglia wrote, “Personhood,” which is a wonderful collection of examples of how to strive to become a more “fully-functioning” person.

Meanwhile, Gibran’s “Prophet” had become almost a daily reference and offered a cornucopia of wisdom of the spiritual nature of man, which included his capacity for love.

Much later, Christie discovered Diane Ackerman’s book, “The Natural History of Love.”

It included amazing stories and information, however, much of her information corroborated what we had already been discovering.  All of our references agreed that true love was not a transitory feeling, but an action, that often involved self-denial, sacrifice or delaying gratification for the benefit of the one loved.

Continued.

Enthusiasm Was Contagious

Enthusiasm was contagious.

 

Typically, each Biodesign class session began with a lesson plan. However, students were encouraged to bring in photos, articles, quotes, or questions, all of which could send us off on a merry chase looking for truth, beauty and goodness. Here is an example. I wrote the piece on enthusiasm several weeks ago, but lacked the photo to complement it.  Evidently I was waiting for Ilani Ellermeier to provide the “perfect pic.” Thanks Ilani, for sharing your “Goddess within.”

The English language is a complex mélange consisting of probably over 500,000 words, including slang, scientific, technical and adopted foreign words and phrases.  My all-time favorite word is of Greek origin and hopefully represents the essence of The Biodesign Class.  I can only imagine that the Greek (or Greeks) that coined it must have experienced an epiphany or overwhelming sense of joy and blurted out, “entheos,” literally translated, “God is within.”  The English version is enthusiasm.  The Christian perspective could be described as being, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” but, as a state of being, the word transcends all religions.  Students who were not self-identified Christians were equally capable of experiencing “enthusiasm.”  A quick look at a thesaurus reveals why.

Enthusiasm: noun Definition: keen interest, excitement.

Synonyms: activity, ardency, ardor, avidity, conviction, craze, dash, devotion, eagerness, earnestness, ecstasy, emotion, energy, exhilaration, fad, fanaticism, feeling, fervor, fever, fieriness, fire, flame, flare, frenzy, fury, gaiety, glow, go*, heat, hilarity, hobby, impetuosity, intensity, interest, joy, joyfulness, keenness, life, mania, mirth, nerve, oomph, orgasm, passion, pep, rapture, red heat, relish, snap, spirit, transport, vehemence, verve, vim, vivacity, warmth, zeal, zealousness, zest, élan.

Opinions of the Biodesign class vary widely, depending on the personal experience of student or chaperone.  There were times of fear, doubt, anger or frustration, but I don’t recall hearing (or feeling) the words dull or boring.

The antonyms of enthusiasm can be revealing as well.  The small number of students who dropped the class probably did so because of one or more of the following:

Aloofness, apathy, coldness, coolness, doubt, indifference, lethargy, pessimism, weariness.

There were many times when I felt like a “cheater teacher.”  There were teachers, in all areas of high school curriculum, who are capable of generating great enthusiasm, in choral and instrumental music, the class room, gym, computer lab, industrial arts and athletic field.  Taking students to Yosemite, Grand Canyon and the Mendocino Coast was usually all that was necessary to generate mountains, canyons and oceans of enthusiasm.

The Sky People

The Sky People

 

“The story of The Garden of Eden is a greater allegory than man has ever guessed…Time and darkness, knowledge of good and evil have walked with him ever since.

Loren Eiseley.

 

 

Eisely is not necessarily (if even) referring to a religious construct.  He is suggesting that if we are not genetically controlled automatons, our “personal biology” will be strongly influenced by the ethical and moral decisions that we make.  This is both a wonderful and terrifying predicament.  The awareness of this can be found in some cultures that predate Christianity (and other organized religions) sometimes by a thousand years.

 

The Sky People

 

A southwest Indian tribe eked out a simple life living by hunting, fishing, farming and herding sheep and or goats.  One day the milkmaids reported to the chief that there was a sudden 50% drop in the goat milk production.  The chief investigated the problem and found no cause.  He decided that he would have to observe the herd until the problem was corrected.  That night, he wrapped himself in a wool blanket and hid behind a bush near the herd.  Shortly after midnight, three cowled milkmaids, descended on the beams of a full moon and began to milk the goats.  The chief approached from behind one of them and asked her why she was stealing the milk.  Without facing him, the maiden responded that the Sky Children were hungry and needed milk.  The chief responded that in that case he was willing to share.  She stood up and as she turned to thank him he was presented with the most beautiful face he had ever seen.  He was bewildered, but haltingly told her that he wanted her to become his wife and bear his children.  The request did not seem to surprise her and she agreed, however she had two pre-nuptial requirements that he must agree to.  Firstly, she had to return to the Sky People and obtain permission from her father; then when she returned she would bring only one possession, a small woven basket with a matching lid.  He must agree to never look into the vessel.  He quickly assented to both requests.

 

The next evening the chief anxiously waited for the moon to rise.  As she descended the moonbeams, she looked absolutely beautiful and as promised, was carrying a small woven basket.

 

They were soon married and settled in to a loving relationship that produced two beautiful children.  Seven years later, the chief’s sister-in-law, who lived in a distant village, sent word that she was due to deliver a baby and would the chief send his wife to help in the birthing.  The chief and his wife quickly agreed and she left immediately for a two-week visit.

The first week of her absence was filled with all the tasks the chief was expected to do.  The second week, however, he began to look at the basket with a bit of curiosity.  Each day the curiosity grew and grew until there was a raging battle going on within his mind.  One voice claimed that, surely after seven years of marriage, his wife would approve a peek.  The other voice protested that a promise is a promise and should never be broken.  The battle intensified until the last night before his wife’s return.

The following day his wife arrived home.  After a warm hug was exchanged, she looked deeply into his eyes and said, “It grieves me deeply that you looked into the basket.  When the moon rises tonight, I will gather our children and return to the Sky People.

 

 

Windows–Walls–Bridges

Windows—Walls—Bridges

 

Whether BOFAW-Fb viewers have noticed or not, we have been engaged in a delightful game of “spiritual ping-pong” with NatureIsUs.  We serve up our best photo, poem or quotation to pique or excite their love of Nature and they respond with a dazzling photo worth 10,000 words.  It is a heavenly game because everyone wins, hopefully our viewers included.  Here is an example.

The following piece was inspired by the beautiful NIU photo (and quote) of a Yosemite bridge.

 

For the spiritually complacent, Yosemite National Park is no less fantastic than the Wonderland that Alice explored.  It graciously offers over 800 miles of trails that contain an infinite array of physical, mental and spiritual, “windows,” “walls” and “bridges.” Integrating these is like keeping “9” bowling pins in the air. :o)  Windows into the soul of man, 4000 ft. high granite walls that make man’s greatest cathedrals look Lilliputian, and bridges that carry man’s body, mind and spirit to soaring heights.  Any trail will do, but three offer jaw-dropping views.  Hiking along Yosemite Falls Trail, the 4-mile Trail, or Panorama Trail is like looking through a “3 D” View Master with and endless number of micro and macro-views of Nature.

 

As a biology teacher I was deeply concerned by the sharp increase of drug and alcohol abuse among the students I was working with.  Early in my career I attended a “substance abuse” seminar in hopes of finding ways to thoughtfully approach the problem.  I was given a syllabus that included the following brief essay.  It was developed by young substance abusers in hopes of helping other abusers regain sobriety.

 

Windows—Walls—Bridges

 

“Once you see, you understand.  And once you understand, you open up and reach out.  Or try to, anyway; that’s what windows are for, that’s why we tear down walls.

But to get from here to there, to make contact, you need a bridge.  To be connected to someone, to be tied into someone else’s life and joys and frustrations, to be a part of what the other person is, takes a bridge.

A relationship is a bridge connecting two people.  It’s built on trust, openness, understanding, respect, care, approval, judgment, maybe love.  It is probably the strongest bridge we have ever known—it can support and sustain life.  Crossing over it means being able to do things, feel things that you just can’t do if you stay on your side, alone.”

 

This brief, yet powerful, message resonated deeply with most Biodesigners as well as many other students.  It has been an awesome privilege for NatureIsUs to reach out and welcome us across their bridge.  We have entered their “Wonderland,” that the Greeks call, Agape; love that transcends bodies, and minds, and is purely spiritual.  Although it is not physical, or mental, thinking about it gives me goose bumps.  Could this mean that the triad of physical, mental and spiritual is the quintessential example of three separate, yet complementary, facets of being human?

Nature focused Face book pages and websites seem to be interested in sharing the beauty and wonder of the natural world.  Perhaps, they are subliminally involved with creating mental and spirit bridges.