img-bliss

Follow your bliss. That was the advice a few friends gave me the past months because I am “between opportunities” ( the term I was told is better than “between jobs” or “unemployed”).

Sounds good. Except I don’t know what bliss I am supposed to follow.

Where did this phrase come from?

It seems that we can credit Joseph Campbell (1904 – 1987) who was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer. His field was comparative mythology and religion.

In 1956, he made trips to India and Japan and returned feeling he had a mission to let Americans know about the world’s myths and cultures. He started writing his multi-volume The Masks of God. The book brought him much attention and he enhanced that by frequently speaking at colleges, churches, lecture halls, and appearing on radio and television.

He wasn’t the first person to come upon these topics. He drew upon the work of others who had influenced him like James Frazer (The Golden Bough: A Study of Magic and Religion), Adolf Bastian, and Otto Rank (The Myth of The Birth of The Hero: A Psychological Interpretation of Mythology).

In explaining his ideas on universal symbols and stories and their impact on people, he used the work of Sigmund Freud and even more so, Carl Jung.

I first encountered him through his book The Power of Myth which led me to other books like The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Strange things were contained in those books.

In my college literature classes, his monomyth, or hero’s journey, was taught as a basic pattern found in many narratives from around the world, and I was assigned The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

He took the term monomyth from Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake – which was a book that no one I knew had actually read but everyone talked about. It’s admirable that he wrote A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake: Unlocking James Joyce’s Masterwork but it didn’t unlock the book for me.

I liked how the book showed the similarities between Eastern and Western religions, rather than pointing at the differences.

But certainly the phrase most identified with him and most often quoted (including on t-shirts, cups etc.) is “Follow your bliss.” It may also be the most misunderstood of his sayings.

He derived this idea from the Upanishads. The Upanishads are a collection of about 200 philosophical texts which form the theoretical basis for the Hindu religion. Orthodox Hindus believe they contain revealed truths about the nature of ultimate reality (brahman) and that they describe the character and form of human salvation.

Campbell said in  Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation  that he came to his understanding of bliss because in Sanskrit, the language of the Upanishads, he discovered three terms that are key to reaching the point of departure to transcendence. The three terms are Sat-Chit-Ananda. “Sat” means being, and “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture.

In his own honest self-evaluation, Campbell felt that though he wasn’t sure that his consciousness or being was transcendent, he did know where his bliss was. He saw following that bliss as the path to finding his consciousness and being.

People picked up on the phrase as a kind of mantra or life path. They felt that Campbell was suggesting it as a way to guide each of us on our own hero journey.

But the simple phrase unwraps a more complicated riddle of how to follow your bliss. You will read that your bliss is a kind of path that has been waiting for you all along. The life that you should be living is the one you are living.

When Campbell began talking about this on campuses in the 1970s, it caught the mood of the times.

Shortly after Campbell’s death, The Power of Myth was aired in multiple installments on public television (1988) which brought about a revival of his writings.

Campbell was not happy that the phrase devolved into meaning a kind of do-what-you-will hedonism.

One pop culture figure who readily admitted being under Campbell’s influence is George Lucas who credits Campbell’s writing for much of the “mythology” of the Star Wars universe.

His did interviews with Campbell and has discussed his influence and says that  The Hero with a Thousand Faces and other works were a guide for the story of Luke Skywalker. (See the Campbell biography, A Fire in the Mind)

Lucas met Campbell after the completion of the original Star Wars trilogy. The Power of Myth documentary was filmed at Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch with interviews by Bill Moyers.

Campbell was very complimentary about the films saying that the trilogy (Episodes IV, V, and VI) were a reinvention of the mythology and hero journey for contemporary viewers.

Subsequent filmmakers have also acknowledged the influence of Campbell in films such series as The Matrix, Batman and some of the Indiana Jones films.

Which brings me in my journey in trying to find my bliss. I also had two friends who separately told me that they didn’t think I would find the next part of my journey but that it (work, rapture, bliss, vocation, passion?) would find me.

Maybe it’s more 1970s hedonism, but I’m coming to believe that.  And I am thinking that my life’s challenges, fears, dragons and battles, have brought me to a place where I am just about ready to return home as a changed person.

More information at Joseph Campbell Foundation

Our Moon has been much studied and has also inspired a large body of lore about it.

Her are some things from the study:

moon-spaceTwo full Moons in a month increase the chances of floods.

In China, the dark shadows forming a face is seen as “the toad in the moon,” not the “man in the moon.”

The footprints left by the Apollo astronauts will not erode as they would on Earth since there is no wind or water on the Moon and should last at least 10 million years.

There’s some evidence that shows people gain and lose weight in accordance with the cycles of the moon.

The temperature on the Moon ranges from daytime highs of about 265F to nighttime lows of about -170F.

When the Apollo 12 astronauts landed on the moon, the impact caused the Moon’s surface to vibrate for 55 minutes.

The diameter of the moon’s largest crater is 144 miles across.

If you weigh 140 pounds on earth, you would weigh 23.240 lbs on the moon.

The moon is 225,745 miles from earth.

 

And here are some of the nuggets of lore that we associate with our Moon:

moon lore 1It is lucky to hold a moonstone in your mouth at the Full Moon and it is said that doing so will reveal the future to you.

It is unlucky to sleep in the moonlight.

It is unlucky to be born in the moonlight.

To see the crescent moon over your right shoulder is considered lucky, but to see it over your left shoulder is unlucky.

If you move to a new home during a waning moon, you will never go hungry.

Some say that a the eyes of a cat will be open wider during a full moon than at any other time.

The term “moon struck” originally meant a person was chosen by the Goddess and the person was said to be blessed.

crocuses

Spring has arrived – even if there is still snow on the ground in Paradelle.

I have been writing about the changing of the seasons for a few years now and there is only so much you can say about the spring equinox, autumn equinox and the solstices of summer and winter. I try to find a new path into them and for this season I am thinking about spring in music and in the sky.

As a quick review, “equinox” is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because the night and day are approximately equal in length on that day.  We experience an equinox in spring and fall when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun which is vertically above a point on the Equator.  An equinox actually occurs at a specific moment in time (for 2015, today, March 20 at 6:45 pm EDT), but commonly people refer to the entire day as the equinox or first day of the season.

It is very “northern” of me to say it is the Spring Equinox, because in the Southern Hemisphere this celestial observation means the start of autumn. Being that autumn is my favorite season, I have often thought that I should travel between the two hemispheres to get two autumns each year. Unfortunately, the Sun doesn’t allow me to live in a three-season world and avoid winter.


(Soundtrack to this post)

The Four Seasons (Italian: Le quattro stagioni) is a set of four violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi (1720) and his best-known work. My knowledge of classical music is shallow, but I was reading about this piece and discovered a few interesting nuggets.

I like that Vivaldi provided some additional instructions with the music, such as “The barking dog” in the second movement of “Spring.”

It seems that there is some debate as to whether or not the concertos were written to accompany four poems (sonnets) or if the sonnets were written to accompany the music. It doesn’t seem to be known who wrote these sonnets,and some say that Vivaldi wrote them himself. Either by plan or coincidence, each sonnet is broken down into three sections, nicely corresponding to a movement in the concerto.

The Four Seasons is sometimes classified as “program music,” instrumental music that intends to evoke something extra-musical. For me, the four pieces, especially “Spring,” does evoke the season.

If you listen to the music tonight, I suggest that you turn your eyes to the sky and look for Arcturus. It is one of the brightest stars. Due to its northerly location on the sky’s dome, it is visible for much of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and its appearance in the evening sky heralds the coming of the spring equinox.

Like other stars, Arcturus rises four minutes earlier every day and now Arcturus will appear at dusk (instead of nightfall or early evening) which is its signal of spring in our hemisphere.

Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation Boötes the Herdsman. It is not one of the best-known constellations. The name comes from the Greek Βοώτης, meaning herdsman or plowman (literally an ox-driver; from boos, related to the Latin bovis, “cow”). It is one of the 48 constellations described by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, but it was first used by Homer in his Odyssey as a celestial reference point for navigation.

Homer described it as “late-setting” or “slow to set.” It is not clear exactly whom Boötes is supposed to represent in Greek mythology is not clear. The story I will go with is that he was a son of Demeter, twin brother of Plutus, a ploughman who drove the oxen in the constellation Ursa Major. The ancient Greeks saw what we call the “Big Dipper” as a cart with oxen.

It seems a nice match with the spring that one myth associated with Boötes is that he invented the plow which certainly is associated with spring and planting. If you think of him as a “herdsman,” that works too, as those who watch over a herd of cows, sheep or other animals leads a nomadic life very much guided by the seasons. Spring is the time to move to those areas that were snow-covered and the tain and melting turns the land green again.

If staring up at the big sky makes you feel small and timeless – a good feeling, I believe – then also consider this: even the equinoxes are constantly changing. They are not fixed points but move westward along the ecliptic, passing through all the constellations of the zodiac in a period of 26,000 years. This motion is called the precession of the equinoxes. And we think that the 5000 year Mayan calendar was looking at a long period of time…

This is about two Sirius topics. Not so serious and not very well connected, except for the name.

Sirius is the brightest star in the nighttime sky tonight and most of the winter. (Venus and Jupiter outshine Sirius this month but I’m not considering planets.) And Sirius is easy to find in that sky full of stars.  Almost everyone can find Orion’s belt of three stars (if that is no longer true, please don’t tell me. It would depress me immensely.), and if you follow the imaginary line of that belt of medium-bright stars in Orion’s Belt, you will arrive at this bright white Sirius.

sirius black

That other Sirius is Sirius Black,  a pure-blood wizard in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. He is the older son of Orion (Aha! A star connection!) and Walburga Black (from Saint Walpurga and that Walpurgis Night of witches?) , and the brother of Regulus (also named for a bright star).

Sirius parted ways with the Black family and their belief in blood purity. He was sorted into Gryffindor instead of Slytherin at Hogwarts.  According to the harrypotter.wikia.com, he attended that school from 1971 to 1978, which coincides with my own college years.

I like Sirius. My favorite line of his is probably when he tells Harry “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”  I agree and I would certainly have joined the Order of the Phoenix with him, Harry’s father, James, and Lupin. (I would have had my doubts about letting Pettigrew join.) I would have been happy to be a Marauder against Voldemort.

Sirius is Harry’s godfather – a title some might find odd for families of wizards.

sirius whiteThere are brighter stars than Sirius in absolute magnitude, but they are much farther away. Sirius is in the constellation Canis Major (the Greater Dog) and appears very bright because it is only 8.6 light-years away. Right in that constellation, Aludra and Omicron 2 are probably brighter but are also about 3,000 light-years away.

Sirius Black is an Animagus – a wizard who has learned to morph into an animal at will. Sirius becomes a massive black dog, like his brother star in Canis (dog) Major.

BTTF2

I’m giving you 7 months to prepare for October 21, 2015. No, it is not another Maya prediction. On that day, we will finally be at the point in time to which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels in Back to the Future Part II. The future of that Robert Zemeckis‘ 1989 sequel is the now of 2015.

2015 also marks the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future. I don’t expect  the time-space continuum to collapse in October and find Marty, Doc, and Jennifer visiting us, but I would not be surprised to see them together on TV in some reunion fashion.

Watch the trailer for that film and refresh your memory. I have already seen and heard a few news reports on what the film got right and wrong about this future that is our present, and I’m sure more will be written about it as the date approaches.

It doesn’t seem to be too important that Marty’s self-tying shoes have a Nike real-life experimental version. And the filmmakers did miss on the Internet and mobile phones, but so did most futurists. We have been anxiously waiting flying cars for about a hundred years and people keep trying to make Marty’s hoverboard.

But they did guess/predict things like computerized fueling stations (though not robotic yet) and non-military drones. One of those is used by USA Today in the film to take a photo.

It’s tough doing this future-predicting. In many cases things predicted in sci-fi came true, but it took a lot longer than expected.

In Marty’s Hill Valley hometown, the theaters are showing in October 2015  Jaws 19, in 3D, directed by Max Spielberg. Thankfully, the Jaws franchise was killed by the actual 3D third film. Max Spielberg (Steven’s real-life son, born in 1985) has worked on a few films, but no directing. That gag seems a lot more like an insider director joke than a prediction. (After all, Steven Spielberg produced the film.) They are right – Hollywood is in love with sequels and franchises in 2015.

It’s probably okay with most of us that we don’t have remote-control litter bins, dog walkers and waiters, but all of those are in development.

We are actually scanning eyes and fingerprints for identification as they do in the film. It’s on your iPhone but not ubiquitous in our homes. I still have a boring doorknob instead of the McFly family’s scanner.

We have advanced more away from paper than the film shows. The USA Today is quite a thick stack of paper and the film likes using fax machine devices which probably are only used by government agencies these days. McFly gets terminated from his job in a video call that is confirmed by a printout that looks like it was done on a dot-matrix printer using Print Shop.

Some observers have pointed to Google Glass and Microsoft Hololens as versions of the different high-tech eye-wear  in the film with cameras, magnification, information and some bluetoothy way of connecting.

I don’t remember noticing in my initial viewing of the film that Marty’s father, George, was not reprised in the sequel by actor Crispin Glover (some kind of salary disagreement). Another actor with some very heavy-duty prosthetics made to look like Glover spends his short screen time in an inverter device because of a bad back.

The film’s 2015 is having a bit of a nostalgia love affair with the 1980s. That allows the set decorators to use their contemporary props, like a Macintosh computer and a dustbuster vacuum, as collectible items of the future. Marty visit a Cafe 80s where my circa 1970s jeans, NY Yankees t-shirt and Chuck Taylor sneakers would not have been an oddity in 1989 or 2015. Future fashions in films always seem to be metallic, unisex and either very odd or more like uniforms – but those fashions never seem to emerge.

I think you’re safer predicting that the future will look more like today than going over to the other extreme.  The filmmakers were wise to have Marty able to still use cash to buy things in 2015. Even with all our credits cards and merchants experimenting with alternate ways of paying, a $20 bill still works just fine.

Doc Brown says that he had some life-extension procedures – a full blood transfusion, hair repair and a new spleen and colon – and I have always suspected that rich people were doing those things already. Those procedures help Doc (Christopher Lloyd) look a bit younger in the 1990 Back to the Future Part III, which was already in the works when they shot Part II. For III, they took an easier path and went back in time again where we know what to expect. (Not that filmmakers don’t often get the past wrong too.)

The movie missed our 2015 penchant for watching video on small screens. It does provide plenty of big flat-screens on walls with multiple channels displayed, and as advertising and even on window blinds.

No Internet in the film but the McFly family does use a big screen AT&T-connected device for video calls that looks like our Facetime/Skype/Hangouts kind of video conversation. The screen also carries data about the caller (names of children, hobbies, food preferences) which have been part of the database facial recognition being built into devices these days.

 

 

In the original 1985 film, Back to the Future, they only had to portray 1985 and the past. That’s easy stuff for filmmakers.

When George Orwell wrote 1984, he flipped his own 1948 and probably wasn’t too worried about when his predictions would come true because he was hoping his cautionary tale might help prevent it from ever coming to be.

When Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey and the sequels 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey 3 and 3001: Odyssey Four, I think he was trying to be scientifically accurate in his predictions.  Later, director Stanley Kubrick would have to update 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s technology and interpret the visuals.

Since none of us will be around to post online about how well Clarke was at predicting 3001, he was free from criticism. 1000 years after Frank Poole was sent out into frozen space by the supercomputer HAL in 2001, he is brought back to life. That future is full of  human minds that are connected to computers, space elevators and genetically-engineered dinosaur-like servants. Good old David Bowman and HAL are now one consciousness and those damn monoliths are still causing problems.

When the first film version of Orwell’s novel was released in 1956, that horrible future probably still seemed quite possible. Thankfully, when the 1984 film version of 1984  was made, the Cold War had passed, but many of Orwell’s predictions seem to have come true (NSA, privacy etc.).

I think Clarke sets a good model for writers of the future: set the plot in a time after your own death, so no one can call you out for your predictions to your face.


Filmmaker Jason Aron made the trailer above for “Back in Time: A Back to the Future Documentary.” He has interviews with Michael J. Fox, Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, and many other actors, crew members, and fans of the trilogy. He is seeking funding via a second Kickstarter to complete the film which has expanded far beyond the original vision. Kick in a few bucks and be part of the project.

As a teacher, applying what you learn is one of my top goals for my students. It’s also a goal that I have in my non-academic life. I have written here about several of my attempts at a daily practice. The most successful one may be the poetry practice I was able to do 365 times in 2014.

But, if you say “daily practice” I think many people think of something religious or spiritual. Hopefully, they don’t think of daily habits – such as getting a coffee at the local shop on the way to work.

When I was more serious about my meditation practice, it became important to me that the practice moved into some actions in my life. The idea of meditating peacefully on some hilltop or is some tranquil Zen monastery is very appealing. But it also seems very self-indulgent.

Buddhism is generally not taught in America as a religion. Buddhist teachings are offered in a very practical, nonreligious way, and students of any – or no – religious background can benefit from learning them and putting them into practice.

When i stumbled upon the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Germany, that’s what I was thinking about.  EIAB has a mission to not only offer training but also “methods for using Buddha’s teachings to relieve suffering and promote happiness and peace in ourselves, our families, our communities and in the world. ”

The institute operates under Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, the world-renowned meditation teacher, scholar and writer, and Dharma teachers in the Plum Village tradition.

Of course, many people apply Buddhist teachings as a way to release tensions of the body, reduce stress and pain. Moving that into the lives of others makes the practice more powerful. Students in a monastic community profit from the collective energy of mindfulness and concentration and being surrounded by a harmonious community who wish to apply mindfulness into their daily lives. But can that community be made even wider.

I tried yoga twice, but it didn’t work for me. It does work for many others as a practice.

In a post about Yoga from the Heart by Seane Corn, she talks about a concept of “body prayer” where she applies her yoga practice to her humanitarian efforts. (Here’s a video excerpt of her demonstrating the movement of “body prayer”)

Meditation and yoga classes are offered in corporate centers, churches, hospitals, schools and storefront and formal fitness centers. It may seem new and hip but it is a 5,000-year-old spiritual practice even if it is being blended with technology,  modern medical science and with other religious and philosophical perspectives.

I did send my daily poems out into the world. The idea that there was some audience for them was important motivation for continuing. I had responses to the poems via comments, emails and some live conversations with friends and a few people I met through the poems. That was small compared to the way some practices change lives. Something for all of us to consider.

Don’t be frightened off by the title here. Quantum entanglement. I’m not going to get too deep into the science, which is beyond me. And don’t come here looking for the answers to your physics homework either.

I saw a few lines in an article that just mentioned that the “EPR paradox” came from a thought experiment that revealed a dichotomy that physical reality as described by quantum mechanics is incomplete. That sounds like big news.  This was in 1935 and it was an early and influential critique against quantum mechanics.

Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen (known collectively as EPR) were not early fans of this new view of the universe. They designed a thought experiment – a term I have always liked – which revealed that the accepted formulation of quantum mechanics had a consequence which had not previously been noticed, but which looked unreasonable at the time.

That phenomenon is now known as quantum entanglement. That is when two particles act together in an entangled system where they behave like one object even though they are physically apart.

This suggests that space is just the construct that gives the illusion that there are separate objects. Kind of shocking to consider.

Scientists have repeatedly conducted experiments using particles like electrons or photons that interact physically together as one, but then when separated, they behave as if they are still together.

Does it mean the universe is an entangled system and everything in it is interconnected?

big bangBack in the 1930s, Einstein and the guys had an explanation provided by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. That is one of those few bits of physics (like E = mc2) that almost everyone knows, even if it is just from watching The Big Bang Theory. Heisenberg explained this as a disturbance caused by measurement.

Like Einstein, Schrödinger  – the one who is also famous in a pop way because of his cat – was dissatisfied with the concept of entanglement, because it seemed to violate the speed limit on the transmission of information implicit in the theory of relativity.

Einstein later said that this entanglement was “spukhafte Fernwirkung” which translates into another phrase that I like: “spooky action at a distance.”

This all explains things like your coffee cooling and things breaking and stars fizzling out eventually. Things in our universe are destined to degrade into that boring state of thermal equilibrium.

Back in 1927, astronomer-philosopher Sir Arthur Eddington theorized that the gradual dispersal of energy in the universe was evidence of – another phrase I like to think about – an irreversible “arrow of time.”

But physicists are not happy that the arrow of time does not seem to follow from the underlying laws of physics. Those laws work the same going forward in time as in reverse and following those laws you would be able to reverse the paths of all the particles in the universe. What then? That cold cup of coffee would spontaneously heat up. Broken things would reassemble. Sunlight would head back into the sun.

schrodingerscatPhysics was my favorite science class even though I didn’t have the math brain to do well in it. It often seemed (and still does) to be at least partially philosophy and poetry.

Scientists in these areas can wonder about why we can remember the past but not the future. That goes against time’s arrow too. I see you for the first time and my brain becomes correlated with you through the photons that reach my eyes. Now I can remember you.

In 1935, EPR published the article “Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?” and poor Dr. Einstein struggled to the end of his life looking for a theory that could better comply with his idea of causality.

That original EPR paradox challenges the prediction of quantum mechanics that it is impossible to know both the position and the momentum of a quantum particle.

Perhaps it is just impossible to know it all.

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