​Long ago, a girlfriend who was deeply into astrology while I was into astronomy, told me that the planets move through the sky and the 12 astrological signs, at varying speeds.

I pay a lot of attention to the Moon and learned that it changes signs once or twice a day. On the other extreme, Saturn spends about 3 years in each sign. Helen told me that the planets take on traits of the sign they are in at that time. Any astronomer will tell you that the signs (constellations) have no effect on the planets, but my girlfriend would have said that it causes a planet to act differently from its normal impact.

Helen did my natal chart (the placement of each planet at time of my birth) because she didn’t believe at all in the general horoscopes for signs that we frequently see online, in newspapers and magazines. You need to look at your very specific chart.

Ganesha

There is a New Moon tonight, January 16. An astrologer might remind me that can be transformative.  Vedic astrology puts this New Moon in the Uttara Ashadha which is symbolized by an elephant’s tusk, and connected to the Hindu elephant god, Ganesha. Ganesha is the “Remover of Obstacles.”

This New Moon is conjoined with Venus which we associate with romantic relationships and friendships and even non-romantic alliances. Combine this with a transit of Mars into Scorpio and we get the ability to transform in positive ways.

What does this mean for my life for the next few days, weeks, and months?  I don’t know.

I read that in India, the new moon is celebrated as Mauni Amavasya. It is a good time to take a vow of silence and do some silent reflection. I’ll stop here.

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Last spring, I wrote about the Law of Attraction and the LOA came up in a conversation this past week. A friend asked me if I had ever heard of it. I said I had. He asked me if I ever tried using it to my advantage. I said I had not.  Why not, he asked. And I didn’t have an immediate answer. We discussed it.

This “law” has a pretty big community online and plenty of pages talk about it, including Wikipedia. Of course, there are books about it too.

It is not a new idea. It has been around since the late 1800s.

It has been covered several times in Psychology Today which looked at what they see as “the truth” about it. An article titled “Throw Away Your Vision Board” got a lot of hits online (many of them negative about the topic even being covered by the magazine) and a follow-up to the first article.”

If you have not heard of it before, this law, or technique, might sound a lot like a scam. The idea is that you can use it to manifest the things you want. If someone told you that by using the LOA you would be able to attract into your life whatever you are focusing on – a person, a new car, or a job – you might be interested. The belief is that LOA has the power, using just your mind, to translate whatever is in your thoughts and materialize them into reality.

That friend that I had a conversation with recently said it was described to him as “think it and it will become true.” I don’t think believers would describe it as being that easy. Hey, we have all wished for things and not gotten them. In broader terms, LOA is saying that if you focus on negative thoughts, negative things will be attracted to you. A focus on positive thoughts will attract positive things and lead to you achieving your goals.

Become what you want to attract. It sounds much too easy.  But will the Universe respond to your positive vibrations?

If you dig a little deeper into LOA, you will find tactics like using vision boards or mantras. You will find most of these techniques used in other self-help book that are not about LOA. But I have read that the law of attraction is not so much things you do, as how you live.

My friend decided after our conversation that it sounded similar to him to weight loss programs. Someone is always coming up with a new diet plan, but essentially what needs to happen in order to lose weight and keep it off is for you to change the way you live.

I can accept that negativity attracts negativity. Being positive probably will improve your life. But I don’t know that positivity alone can get you things.

Read some sites about the law of attraction and you will find a lot of generalizations for how-to: follow your inner truth,  listen to the universe, and pay attention to the messages and signs it presents to you.

The writer of those articles in Psychology Today ended up digging deeper into LOA and writing a book about it – Throw Away Your Vision Board: The Truth About the Law of Attraction. Spoiler alert: His conclusion is that there is no Law of Attraction. But he also has his own “Key to Achieve Principles” and The Action Board goal-achieving system. Self-help attracts self-help. Help yourself.

A chapbook worth of years ago, I was taking instruction at a Zen Monastery. I had already tried Zen on my own and with some local groups. I was pretty well versed with the basics and thought it was time to get more serious with a residency.

On my first weekend retreat, we would wake up before dawn, eat a very quiet and basic breakfast before about 8 hours of zazen, chanting services, formal silent dinner in the zendo (oryoki) and some silent work practice.

When I the opportunity to talk 1:1 with the abbot, he asked me how my zazen was progressing. Za means “sitting.” Zen comes from the Sanskrit and means meditation. My early zazen was all about concentration and focusinf on following or counting my breath. But I thought I was ready to move to zazen as self-inquiry. That wasn’t going very well, I told him.

I explained that I could not seem to empty my mind  and though I could dismiss thoughts, another one soon replaced it.

“You have monkey mind,” he told me. “Like a monkey hopping from branch to branch in the tree.”

It wasn’t an original observation. Monkey mind is a real thing. It is a phenomenon that is especially noticeable when you are trying hard to be still.

Being mindful and still is a good thing sometimes, but the monkey isn’t into it.

You need the monkey.  That brain lets you move from task to task and think fast. Pretty important in this fast-paced world. But you need to be able to turn off the monkey brain. Just like you need to turn off the TV news and music and conversations and life’s noise sometimes.

How do you do that? I have tried lots of “techniques” with limited success. One general approach is to give in to the monkey mind. That’s what I did at the monastery. I don’t mean that I stopped meditating. I gave the monkey some space.

When I’m writing, especially poetry,  I let the monkey take me other places.

When I want him to hop off the tree, I sometimes chant a little mantra. I sometimes meditate and focus on a point somewhere in the room. I especially like doing some walking meditation. That is kinhin which is often practiced between long periods of the sitting zazen meditation. I can walk and focus on something while the monkey follows me at a distance hopping from tree to tree beside and behind me.

 

Some people advise that you should tame the monkey. I’ve made peace with the monkey.

Yes, the Earth is closest to sun on January 2/3 for this entire year, but don’t expect to feel it.

It certainly will not feel any warmer where I am (actually it’s colder than yesterday and tomorrow is even colder). This perihelion will happen at night (10:35 p.m. EST) for me and it will be quite cold then. (It happens on the morning of January 3 5:35 UTC in Europe and Africa.) Perihelion, from the Greek roots peri (near) and helios (sun), will bring us within 91,401,983 miles (147,097,233 km) of the Sun. Though we won’t feel any hotter, Earth is about 3 million miles (5 million km) closer to the sun in early January than it is in early July. This happens every year in early January. And we will be farthest away (aphelion) from the sun in early July. Seems counterintuitive to us in the Northern Hemisphere.

The difference in distance between perihelion and aphelion isn’t that much because Earth’s orbit is very nearly circular. That is why the tilt of our world’s axis is what creates winter and summer on Earth. My Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun now, so it is winter.  The day of maximum tilt toward or away from the sun is the December or June solstice, but even that won’t make for the hottest or coldest days of the year. This tilting may make seasons, but atmospheric conditions make our weather change. I blame those Arctic blasts for my car’s dead battery this morning.

A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan has two subtitle versions: “The Education of an Amateur Builder,” and the one I used for a previous post in 2010, “The Architecture of Daydreams.”  That this book has sat on my bedside book stack for all these years is not an indication of the quality of the book or my enjoyment of it. I bought it 7 years ago, started it, put it aside, and then started back into it again last spring and have dipped into it on and off and between other readings. I finally finished it on New Year’s Eve because I didn’t want it to remain unfinished into the new year. A small, doable, New Year’s resolution. It works reading it in parts as a story and as instruction. Think of the chapter as courses in a very long meal, or as occasional visits to Michael’s little place for another lesson. His place wasn’t built quickly, so why read it all in a weekend.

I was attracted to it because, like Pollan, I have long wanted of a room of my own. Okay, not a “room” but a separate building, albeit a small one. For me, it has been a small log cabin that has been in my head and sketched on many sheets of paper ever since I read Walden and a host of other books where people escaped and wrote in some cabin isolation. You should not need a cabin to be a writer, but it still seems Romantic (capital R) to me.

cover

In the snow…

He wanted a “shelter for daydreams” and I identify not only with that, but also with his lack of skills needed to build such a place. Pollan writes that “Apart from eating, gardening, short-haul driving, and sex, I generally prefer to delegate my commerce with the physical world to specialists.”

So,  I read the book for both of its subtitles, as instruction manual about how to actually build such a structure, and as an armchair-dreaming builder. As instruction manual, it had its limitations. I’m not in a place where I can hire a real architect and custom builders to make my cabin. Plus, my plan has always been to do it myself. I also don’t have the land to build on, so it is astill “armchair building” for now.

But as an armchair building adventure tale, the book is kind of a Moby-Dick reading experience to me. I learned about building a little place and how to place it on a piece of land, and also about the history and meaning of all human building. It is about finding your place in your environment in the same way that you need to place your cabin to take advantage of views, sunlight, and to deal with drainage and winds and weather. In Melville’s book, you learn about whaling, whale and the sea, and about your own place in and away from this world.

In the spring

Will I start building this spring? Well, I still don’t have that piece of land or all the skills to build a place on my own or a set of blueprints that I would use yet. But over the years, I have learned some of the building skills by repairing my home, building a rock wall and a garden shed. I have collected plans for cabins and one-room sanctuaries, though none feel like “the one” that is floating somewhere in my brain.

Perhaps 2018 will be the year the daydream gets built.

Image via Oliver Jeffers

On this New Year’s Eve, I will look up to the night sky to the brightest star there. That is Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major. You can see it in the evening every year at this time from almost all parts of Earth. Tonight is not only the calendar end of year but, in one of those nice celestial coincidences, it is the midnight culmination of Sirius. That is when it is highest in the sky at midnight, which occurs only once every year.

I need to point out that this midnight is mid-night and not the drop-the-ball midnight we will celebrate tonight. What I will call mid-night is the actual middle of the night, which is midway between sunset and sunrise. For my little piece of Paradelle, that will be at 9:18 pm ET.

If you go to http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/mrst.php you can get a quick calculation done for your little place on Earth for the times of the rise, set, and transit for the Sun and all major solar system bodies and selected bright stars.

From the Northern Hemisphere, we will look toward the south to see Sirius shining brightly on a clear night. (From the Southern Hemisphere, look overhead or high in the north.)

Sirius, the Dog Star, gets its name from a romanization of the Greek Seirios, meaning “glowing” or “scorching.” It appears almost twice as bright as the next brightest star (Canopus). Sirius appears bright because of its “intrinsic luminosity” and also because of its proximity to Earth.  It is 2.6 parsecs away. I know that sounds like Star Trek talk, but the Sirius system is one of Earth’s near neighbours. Sirius is gradually moving closer to the Solar System, so it will slightly increase in brightness over the next 60,000 years. After that time, its distance will begin to increase and it will become fainter. But Sirius doesn’t have to worry about losing its brightest star ranking for 210,000 years.

What we see is a bit of an illusion because “Sirius” is a binary star system, consisting of a white main-sequence star, called Sirius A, and a faint white dwarf companion of called Sirius B. Sirius A is about twice as massive as the Sun and 25 times more luminous than the Sun. Sirius B was actually bigger but consumed its resources and became a red giant. Then, it shed its outer layers and collapsed into its current state as a white dwarf. That happened around 120 million years ago.

All this makes me feel both very tiny, and also part of something so large that I cannot really comprehend it all. So, I will simply go out tonight on this very cold night and look up at Sirius with great wonder.

 

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed. The insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.”
― Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions

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