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.


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.






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.




“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.


Consciousness, Free Will And Values

Consciousness, Free Will and Values



“One of the great unresolved paradoxes of science

involves consciousness, free will and values, three

long-standing thorns in the hide of science. Materialist

science couldn’t cope with any of them, even in

principle. It’s not just that they’re difficult. They’re in

direct conflict with basic models. Science has had

to renounce them—to deny their existence or to say

that they are beyond the domain of science. For most

of us, of course, they are among the most important

things in life.”                                       Roger Sperry


To the extent that we are conscious

We become the largest and most distant

And the smallest and most intimate non-stuff there is.

In other words,

To be aware, to be conscious

Is perhaps to liken ourselves with the farthest and the nearest.

With the earliest—and we must assume the last.


There are two directions of astonishment.  Above arches the immensity of the heavens; and if the thickness of a sheet of paper were to equal the 93 million miles between the earth and the sun then the distance to the edge of the known universe would be a stack of papers 31 million miles high.

And within there breathes the intricacy of the human body.  That in each of 100 trillion cells there are roughly 100,000 genes coiled on a molecule of DNA, which if uncoiled and unwound would stretch back and forth between the sun and earth 400 times.


In the biology of a cell

The boundary between life and non-life blurs.

Less “things” are just things than they used to be.

And at the bottom of it all

There will probably be

“Things” more like energy than matter.

More like time than space.

Just as matter becomes energy,

And just as space becomes time.

Light is formed.

Myriads of tiny photons of whirring light.

Light which is but a metaphor of human awareness.

Awareness, which is but another name

For the ultimate evolutionary expression of man.

At last reunited with his creator.

In the primordial and messianic light of consciousness.


Lawrence Kushner


Turtles, Teens, And Sasha The Potter: A cautioonary Tale

Turtles Teens and Sasha The Potter: A Cautionary Tale


“Opening clay is like opening up to others; you never know what you are going to find, either in you or them.” Sasha.


As the clay turned obediently in Sasha’s firm and knowing grip, his mind was spinning tales involving prose, poems and metaphors of the biological world.  This is one of the stories that emerged along with one of his beautiful clay creations.


When interstate 95 was completed in Florida it greatly improved the efficiency of north and southbound traffic.  It also became a Poster Board example of man’s potentially deadly impact on Nature.  It involves the critically calibrated instinctive response of sea turtles.  I don’t know if research has shown whether females, laying eggs in the sand, have any control of the time of hatching or not.  It is true, however, that hatchlings that hatch in daylight hours face a much greater natural risk from predatory birds than those that hatch in the dark.  That was “before” man intervened and involves a form of bioluminescence known as phosphorescence.

Ocean phosphorescence, commonly seen at night, occurs when sea water is disturbed by waves, ships or animals.  It is largely due to dinoflagellates that occur ubiquitously in the ocean in the form of plankton..  They respond to mechanical stimulation, when the water is disturbed, by emitting brief bright light. Light emission may be seen in the wake of a large ship for some 20 miles.  About 20% of marine species are bioluminescent and many are photosynthetic.

Turtles that hatch during the daylight have little difficulty heading for the surf and freedom from aerial predators.  Those that hatch at night, however, can not see.  They have been instinctively equipped with the ability to hold their heads up and rotate their bodies 360 degrees.  They are looking for the faint, thin phosphorescent-blue line that naturally, and safely, guides them to the water.  In certain areas along I-95, however, the bright lights of passing cars and trucks outshines the weaker phosphorescent light and attract hatchlings by the thousands to their death on the freeway.

Although this is a horrible story about man’s disruptive power over the turtles, it is also a cautionary metaphor of what is happening to many teenagers in the U.S. and around the world.  They are “growing up” at a younger and younger age and not genetically or behaviorally equipped to resist the blinding lights that society has created for them.

I wept quietly as Sasha told this story.  My mind raced to John Muir and I hoped that he was correct when he suggested that kids growing up in Nature’s workshops would grow up strong and healthy.

After all, Christie and I were not only involved with hundreds of Biodesigners, we had four kids of our own who we hoped would grow up strong and healthy.  We now have 9 grandchildren who will eventually have to run the gauntlet through the teen years on their way to becoming healthy, happy adults.


Flower Power

Flower Power


The weight of a petal has changed the face of the world and made it ours.  Loren Eiseley.


The “Hippies” or “Flower Children” had legitimate concerns about the spiritually corrupting influence of material worship.  “Wheels,” for them, were often a cheap form of transportation.  They could also be, however, a sarcastic visual counter-culture protest against what they perceived as the ludicrous practice of equating a man’s worth with the price of the car he owned.   They were heavily into Carnival, not so much into Work or Prayer.  They exulted in the aphorism; “Free drugs—Free sex and Free rock and roll”.  Many experienced the horror of their parent’s divorce and vowed to avoid the trap by not getting married.

Unfortunately, as Auden pointed out, the over-emphasis of Carnival, at the expense of Work and Prayer, proved to be disastrous.

The motto of the age was; If I do my thing and you do thing everything will be cool.”  Poet Walter Tubbs wrote a rejoinder


If I just do my thing and you do yours
We stand in danger of losing each other and ourselves.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations;
but I am in this world to confirm you
as a unique human being,
And to be confirmed by you.

We are fully ourselves only in relation to each other;
The “I” detached from a “Thou” disintegrates.
I do not find you by Chance;
I find you by an active life of reaching out.

Rather than passively letting things happen to me,
I can act intentionally to make them happen.

I must begin with myself, true;
but I must not end with myself;
the truth begins with two.

St. Helena High School had about 500 students which meant that most of them knew each other.  With all the rumors, misinformation, even distortions, it was a wonder that anyone signed up for the Biodesign Class.  I had many labels; “Father Young,” “frustrated preacher,” pseudo-philosopher, nut-case, Guru, happy hugger and some unmentionables.  The problem was understandable.  Although the kids belonged to a class, the Biodesign experience was ultimately a personal journey with no two experiences the same. It was always a mystery as to what students would “reach out” and grab what I hoped would be a shiny brass ring on the carousel of life.

Sadly, I have met with dozens of ex-Biodesigners who searched (unsuccessfully) for a college or university class that would have extended their wilderness education.

Even worse, I have met with students (now adults) who have lamented that they know that they are “missing something,” but have no clue as to where to “find it.”  I doubt the efficacy of advice in the self-discovery process regarding the art (or science) of personhood, however, I can confidently assert that using Auden’s triad of, Work, Prayer and Carnival, as an educational model, transformed lives.  I know this because I experienced it, often on a daily basis.

Prayer, Work & Carnival





Prayer, Work & Carnival



Readers of BOFAW learned that I probably would not have included “Wayne,” were it not for a story about very mysterious “dancing frogs,” that appeared in Loern Eiseley’s, “The Star Thrower.”  The thoughtful, although challenging, introduction was written by poet laureate, W.H. Auden.

“A satisfactory human life, individually or collectively, is possible only if proper respect is paid to the worlds of Prayer, Work and Carnival.

Without Prayer and Work the Carnival laughter turns ugly, the comic obscenities grubby and pornographic.  Without Laughter and Work, Prayer turns Gnostic, cranky, Pharisaic. While those who try to live by work alone, without Laughter or Prayer, turn into insane lovers of power, tyrants who would attempt to enslave  Nature to their immediate desires—an attempt which can only end in utter catastrophe, shipwreck on the Isle of Sirens.”

Excerpt: BOFAW. Looking up at the mighty dome and recognizing that this was usually

a once-in-a-lifetime moment was a sobering experience. Someone

asked if we could pray. I responded that they were free to pray,

but because we were a public school we would not likely find a onesize-

fits-all prayer that pleased all and offended none.

Instead, I referred them to Shakespeare who wrote, “A prayer is

an idea that starts in the heart and passes through the mind on its way

to Heaven.” I didn’t expect that anyone would object to that kind of



The “Prayer,” angle of Auden’s triad, although noted, was not always discussed.  When it was, we acknowledged the U.S. Constitution and the laws separating Church and State.  I usually noted that prayer was truly one of the great human mysteries, especially since it appears that man is the only animal on the planet that prays.


The “Work” angle got a lot more attention.  Early each year I mentioned that the class would involve a lot of physical, mental, and perhaps “spiritual” work.  The hikes up Half Dome and out of Grand Canyon were difficult.  Some of the reading material was rated at college level.  Preparing for each trip, camping with others, preparing food and cleaning up, all required work.  But, perhaps the hardest work of all was the mental discipline necessary to engage in difficult discussions that have caused wars and millions of people to die.  This often required personal growth which could be exhausting.


However, by far the most fun (and essential) aspect of the class involved Carnival.

Excerpt: BOFAW.

Many of the most sacred moments in Biodesign occurred through

laughter. Their laughter was of the highest order, showing no sign of

being grubby, pornographic, cruel, or mean-spirited. They laughed

easily and often, especially at the many intimately embarrassing moments

incurred while studying, traveling, and camping together. Their

laughter was contagious and healing.


Although each student may have experienced dreadful, painful, terrifying or embarrassing moments, the Carnival spirit often relieved tension, anxiety and potentially circle-destroying stress.  Every class had a clown and he/she did his/her best to diffuse difficult situations.  Classroom discussions were often riddled with laughter as students discovered new and exciting aspects of their personal “biology.”  On the trips, it was often like traveling with a tribe of monkeys.

The reflective papers that they presented to the class, often included riotous anecdotes.  The slide-shows that they created, balanced deep pathos with comedy that often left parents holding their sides with laughter.  The original skits that drama groups created at Grand Canyon left all of us rocking with belly-laughter.  The book could have survived without several of the less dynamic chapters, however, it would have been a tragically incomplete without chapter 26, “Soul Medicine.” In a huge irony, the first BOFAW manuscript was rejected by about 50 literary agents.  Although discouraged, I continued to rework some chapters and miraculously discovered, “Chip’s” story and “Soul Medicine.”  Both of them are among my very favorites.  After I retired, I went into a post-teaching funk and one of my greatest losses was the Carnival spirit that the students added to my life.



Biology Is A Mater of Life And Death


Aaron and Reiko both broached a subject that came up every year in the Biodesign Class.  No study of biology can go far without considering the “complementary yet opposite” dilemma of life and death.  Yosemite commonly raised student hopes, dreams and visions to a higher elevation.  Grand Canyon often evoked feelings of such immensity of time and change as to render one’s life miniscule, even insignificant. As Aaron mentioned, it forced him to deal with his own immortality.

Like all subjects, we approached the discussion of death openly, boldly, and as a part of the great circle of life.  John Muir implored: “Let the children walk with nature and they will see that death has no sting…all is divine harmony.”  We reviewed Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ “5 stages” of approaching and accepting the reality of dying.  However, the most haunting, and problematic possibility of dying involved suicide.  The causes varied widely, and were unique to each individual, however there seemed to be a common bottom line.  I tried to gather as much information as I could on all topics, and was profoundly impressed by a newspaper article about a Christian organization called, “Campus Crusade for Christ.  I did not personally identify with some of their ideas, however, I was “blown away” by their dedication to saving lives.  The suicide rate is much higher in urban areas and they organized and manned, “Suicide Hot Lines 24/7.”  They advertised on radio, T.V., the yellow pages and on college campuses throughout the Country.  College and high school counselors became aware of and offered phone numbers to troubled teens and young adults.  But what impressed me most was the “triad” that they discovered.  Simply put, the risk of suicide was extreme when people found themselves in a position of: 1) No one to love (feeling that they were unlovable). 2) Nothing to hope for. 3) Nothing constructive to do.

There were critics who openly suggested that some of the Biodesign topics of discussion were dangerous and should be avoided.  One woman screamed on the phone at me for 45 minutes, claming that I destroyed her son’s faith. He was “scheduled” to be confirmed in the Catholic Church and he wanted more time to consider just what he was “confirming.” Another woman snarled at me for causing her son to pursue the ministry.  She had hopes that he would become a lawyer or engineer.  A local minister angrily attacked me as being, “unqualified” to be a spiritual leader of young people. I quickly agreed with him and said I had no intention of being a “spiritual leader.”  However, I asked him how many teens he had in his congregation.  He angrily snapped, “One! But that is none of your business.” Still, I wondered if I had given them too much freedom and whether some topics should be avoided.  Over the years, I consulted with school counselors and even local psychologists and “friendly” clerics.  They reminded me that the class was optional and students were free to drop if they felt the topics were too treacherous or unsettling.  Over and over, I returned to my main mentor.  If John Muir was correct, and one day in the wilderness was worth cartloads of books, was Mother Nature also not capable of healing and inspiring students?  Not only that, the students themselves seemed to intuitively be able to heal each other of many of the scars and bruises that life had dealt them.  Campus Crusade provided me with a great gift.  The Half Dome hike often created bonds of friendship, camaraderie (even love).  All three trips often provided a deep sense of inspiration and thus hope.  And finally, the whole experience provided the students with something, not only constructive to do, but perhaps helped them form a foundation to build their lives on.  Many of them have chosen to go into education, social work, medicine, the ministry, outdoor recreation and careers involving serving people.  The class was not Nirvana.  I am aware of several suicide attempts by Biodesigners, two of which were tragically successful.  I can only hope that the other 750 (or so) discovered a deeper meaning of the biological world and the importance of their place in it.