Walking the Labyrinth That Isn’t There

“If we wish to outline an architecture which conforms to the structure of our soul […], it would have to be conceived in the image of the Labyrinth.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Dawn (1881)

Grace Cathedral interior with labyrinth
Grace Cathedral (San Francisco) interior with labyrinth similar to the one in Chartres Cathedral
I found a mention online of William H. Matthews’ Mazes and Labyrinths. It was published in London in 1922 and is still available.

I never encountered a real labyrinth until I was in college. I had read about famous ones and I found them alluring. I read about the Minotaur of Crete in one, and ones in the great cathedrals of Medieval France, and inside and outside stately homes and spiritual centers of Europe.

What could Herodotus have thought to stand before the Great Labyrinth of Egypt with its 3,000 rooms?

maze

There are labyrinths that are made of rooms and columns, ones like caverns, mazes built to protect tombs and treasures. You can find labyrinthine patterns used to design gardens and used on coins and as decoration. They are given to children as puzzles or brainteasers.

My interest now is more with very simple labyrinths. Though some of these mazes have religious purposes, using one is probably more often spiritual or meditative.

I have written about walking a labyrinth before and mentioned them in other contexts.

Rather than trying to find the treasure or feeling trapped, in the ones that I have walked I didn’t where the path would take me, though I could see the center. I don’t try to guess or figure out the turns ahead. If I follow the path, there is one way in and one way out.

Once, I saw someone walking with me who was so frustrated at being “lost” and not finding the right path that she just walked right across the 2D maze to the outside. I felt bad for her.

I prefer to walk alone, but when you meet others along the path, you usually step aside to let them pass. Sometimes others are more in a hurry and will pass me.  I don’t like to pass others.

When I reach the center, sometimes I stop. There is nothing special there. No message or revelation. You haven’t reached the end. You still need to find your way out, which is also the way in.

A new maze is interesting because you don’t know the path. I have never walked one so many times that I have it memorized.  I wonder how that would change the experience?

If you were to ask me what I get from walking the labyrinth, I’m not I could give you a satisfactory explanation.

Psychologist and philosopher William James described four characteristics of mystical experience in his book The Varieties of Religious Experience.  I would describe walking the labyrinth in his terms as being transient – the experience is temporary and the individual soon returns to a “normal” frame of mind. The experience feels outside the normal perception of space and time. The experience is also ineffable in that it cannot be adequately put into words.

The ineffable makes the third characteristic impossible for me to describe, That is, it is noetic. You feel that you have learned something valuable from the experience – knowledge that is normally hidden from human understanding.

In the best experiences, this is passive. It happens to the individual, largely without conscious control. That makes walking the labyrinth or meditating or taking a drug the wrong approach. It is not something that can be turned on and off at will.

I wish to walk a labyrinth some day that is not there and that I did not enter and will not have to leave.

Two Hours in Nature

Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.
Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild

We are bombarded online with advice on how to be healthier and happier. I just read recently that coffee is not bad for me. In fact, it can reduce my risk of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s, heart disease, increase my short-term focus and endurance and increase your life span. Talk about a wonder drug.

Of course, research next year may say the opposite about coffee.

But a new research study about spending time in nature is one that I will accept no matter what the next study finds.

It comes from the University of Exeter and was published in the journal Scientific Reports. It uses data from 20,000 people, so this is no little study in a lab with 20 people.

This survey asked participants how much time they spent in “open spaces in and around towns and cities, including parks, canals and nature areas; the coast and beaches; and the countryside including farmland, woodland, hills, and rivers” in the past week. They also asked about their health and wellbeing.

This study found that people who had spent two hours or more in nature the previous week displayed “consistently higher levels of both health and well-being than those who reported no exposure.”

Two hours.

The participants who had spent little or no time in parks, beaches or woods in the past seven days, close to half reported low levels of life satisfaction and one in four said they were in poor health.

What about spending more than two hours out in nature? Oddly, there were diminishing returns.

Some interpretations have considered that the health benefits might be a byproduct of physical activity, exposure to sunlight and not contact with nature.

I was surprised, as were the researchers, that it did not matter whether the two hours in nature were taken in one session or in a series of shorter visits. It also didn’t seem to matter whether people went to an urban park, woodlands or the beach.

I have written here about nature deficit disorder  and forest bathing and the benefits of just being in nature in all its forms.

Two hours a week in nature doesn’t sound like a difficult thing to achieve in order to be healthier in mind and body. But isn’t an attainable target for everyone.

Articles online point out that it would be difficult for people with disabilities. In the most urban of areas, there may not even be a nearby woods, a patch of green space or park. And even if some nature is available, some people don’t seem to be able to find the time – though I find that a flimsy excuse if you only need to accomplish a total of two hours per week.  That’s only a bit more than 15 minutes a day. Coffee or lunch break?

The idea of spending time in nature for your health is not at all new, and I find examples of some interesting nature prescriptions regularly. In the Shetland Islands (UK), they are prescribed to visit seabird colonies, build woodland dens or simply appreciate the shapes of clouds.

Eco-therapy in New Zealand produced improvements after six months in two-thirds of patients given green prescriptions.  By gardening or working on conservation projects they were happier, lost weight and even seemed to be helped with mild to moderate depression.

Still, the takeaway from that new study is that if you can just get two hours in some kind of natural place per week, you’re going to benefit.

How About a Dallowday Party This Weekend?

In 1925, Virginia Woolf’ published her novel, Mrs Dalloway. It is about a woman, Clarissa Dalloway, who is hosting a June party in London. It doesn’t sound like much of a plot, but the novel was partially an experiment. She set the novel on a single day and used stream-of-consciousness storytelling.

Virginia Woolf was a big fan of James Joyce’s Ulysses which had been published earlier (1922). Ulysses is also set on a single day in June and is a early and powerful example of stream-of-consciousness storytelling techniques.

Mrs Dalloway marks a break from Woolf’s more traditional earlier writing. Clarissa’s thoughts and her impressions on that day are mixed with interior monologues of others.  Some her day parallels the life of Septimus Warren Smith who fall into a madness ending in suicide.

Woolf’s novel is not clear about the day we follow Clarissa. Using a 1923 calendar, some people have suggested that June 13 is the most likely date.

As far as I could find, the date of her party is only described a Wednesday “in the middle of June, ” so this year the 12th or 19th would have been appropriate.

Joyce set his novel on June 16, and that day has become knowns as Bloomsday. Fans of the novel have made that day a way to celebrate the book by trying to reenact the actions of Leopold Bloom in the plot. There are Bloomsday celebrations around the world and some that sound quite outrageous in the Dublin of the novel.

But people aren’t celebrating what might be called “Dallowday.” But why not? Why can’t at least London celebrate the day?

It is a great excuse for readings, exhibitions, maybe some performances and, of course, a party.

If London doesn’t want a party, I think it is up to you to get things started. This weekend is just fine.

Film version starring Vanessa Redgrave.

If you need some ideas and don’t want to read the novel (Honestly, I didn’t like the novel), there is a film version of Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway, starring Vanessa Redgrave.

There is also a film version that uses Woolf’s working title for her novel as its title – The Hours. That film is the story of how Woolf’s novel affects three generations of women. What they share is that they have all had to deal with suicide in their lives, and their lives connect to Mrs. Dalloway’s lfe and that June day.

The Hours is a novel by Michael Cunningham. He takes Virginia Woolf’s life and particularly her last days before her suicide and uses it. Her story particularly connects with the character Samuel, a famous poet in the shadow of his talented and troubled mother. He has a lifelong friend, Clarissa.

All of them and all of that can be at your party. Sure, someone gets to dress up as Clarissa.

             

National Moment of Remembrance

NMR logo

A short reminder post that the National Moment of Remembrance, established by Congress, asks Americans, wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, to pause in an act of national unity for a duration of one minute.

Congress officially established the National Moment of Remembrance to put “memorial” back into the holiday and reclaim the day for the purpose in which it was intended.

In Paradelle, that time is in 30 minutes from this posting. The time 3 p.m. was chosen because it is the time when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms on this national holiday.

The Moment was not meant to replace traditional Memorial Day events; rather, it is an act of national unity in which all Americans, alone or with family and friends, honor those who died in service to the United States.

As laid out in Public Law 106-579, the National Moment of Remembrance is to be practiced by all Americans throughout the nation at 3pm local time. At the same time, a number of organizations throughout the country also observe the Moment. For example,  all Major League Baseball games halt and Amtrak train whistles sound.

Reading the Tea Leaves

tea readers

This morning, I brewed a little pot of tea in the old way and so I ended up with some tea leaves in my cup. And I did a bit of reading the tea leaves.

You’ve probably heard about that and I’m not claiming that tasseography (or tasseomancy or tassology) works, of course. But divination by interpreting patterns in tea leaves is quite an old practice.

Tasseography comes from the French word tasse for “cup” (which comes from Arabic tassa) and the Greek suffixes -graph (writing), -logy (study of), and -mancy (divination). You get a bit of history by looking at the word and see who practiced this art. It is also done with coffee grounds and wine sediments, but tea leaves are the most common method.

I know there is no scientific evidence that the future can be determined through any method, so you can view this as just a party game – but I do have an affinity for things that are interpretations of synchronistic events.

The methodology is simple: pour a cup of brewed tea made without a tea strainer into a white cup and drink the tea. (I don’t think you should just pour it out.) Some things I have read say to shake the cup but that seems like some deliberate changes to the leaves, so I leave them be unless they are all in a lump. I did give a final swirl before I finished the last sip. There aren’t that many rules about what to see and much of the interpretation is in the eyes and mind of the reader.

Look for a pattern: a letter, a shape, a face. There are books that give clues, much in the way that dream interpretation books suggest meanings and symbols. But the meanings are supposed to be so personal that you need your own system to interpret your future.

Guides will say that a heart means your love life, a snake is falsehood, a spade is good fortune, a road or mountain is a journey, though the mountain might be an obstacle along the way. Pretty standard interpretation stuff and far too generic to have much personal meaning. Maybe, for you, a heart indicates actual heart health. Maybe snakes are pets to you, or perhaps you just saw one in your garden this morning. Meanings are personal. You could certainly anger some people by saying that a cat represents “a deceitful friend or relative” while a dog is “a loyal friend or relative” as I read online.

I was taught (by a girlfriend in college) that you read a cup starting at the rim by the handle as the present, and down to the bottom as the future. If you’re able to do it, some readers can see not only images in the dark tea leaves, but also the reverse images in the white negative spaces (the dark leaves are then the background).

tea leaves

What did I see of my future in my cup of plum tea?

I think near the handle I do see a mountain.
Those two blobs to the left? Clouds?
On the bottom, I see an alligator with its mouth open at the left. Not sure what is below it.
So, am I facing a mountain that I must climb soon? One obscured by clouds or something?
To the future, that alligator doesn’t bode well. Unless, it’s a lucky dragon.

I think I’ll stick to my casting of the runes.

Brain Waves and Biohacking

Neural oscillations are more popularly known as brain waves. These rhythmic or repetitive patterns of neural activity in the central nervous system occur in several types. I first learned about this in a high school science class, though I had certainly encountered a version of them on TV and in movies before that.

My teacher said that our body contains electricity and it can be measured. In the brain, an electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test used to measure electrical activity of the brain. Small metal discs with electrodes are placed on the scalp to send signals to a computer to record the results.

Certain actions cause the neurons in our brains to communicate with each other in an electrical or chemical way. There are five types of frequencies or brainwaves.

Beta waves occur with day-to-day activities when we are alert and when we are learning.

Alpha waves are present when we are relaxing, waking up or winding down from our learning and working activities.

In the non-dreaming portions of deep sleep, the restorative healing sleep, slow Delta waves are present.

Dreaming is a special part of sleep. Theta waves appear when we are dreaming or in flow states or in meditation. Those sound like pretty serious times of concentration, but theta waves also occur when you doing something like taking a shower and arrive at solution to a problem at work. It’s not because you were focused on that problem, but you were completely in the moment.

Gamma waves were essentially unknown before the development of digital EEG recorders because the older analog machines could not measure brain waves at that high frequency.

Gamma brain waves are associated with the “feeling of blessings” which are reported by experienced meditators. You have probably heard about the studies done with monks in meditation and nuns in prayer. Neuroscientists believe that gamma waves are able to link information from all parts of the brain. They are associated with peak performance, mentally and physically.

People with high gamma activity have exceptionally vivid and rapid memory recall. They have increased sensory perception, and increased focus. In a gamma state the brain is able to process incredible amounts of information very quickly, remember it, and retrieve that memory later.

There are benefits to entering a gamma state. And all this leads to the idea of brain wave training. What if we could be trained to produce certain waves?

If you could make more theta waves, it could be very beneficial. It could help produce a state of relaxation. It might help those with sleep problems quiet their brain to sleep. It could help the stress and anxiety of those with phobias, OCD, eating disorders and other issues. It might be able to replace tranquilizers.

The term biohacking is used to describe this brain wave training.

How might you try to generate theta waves?  It’s not easy. I have read about some interesting methods. You could try listening to specially prepared “music.” called binaural beats which are two slightly different ranges of hertz that are played in each ear. You can find some of these sounds online by searching YouTube or Spotify for something like “theta binaural beats.”

But you can try meditation practices such as focusing on your breathing which will enable you to be in the present moment. Regular meditation increases alpha activity and decreases beta in waking states.

If you want more serious, data-driven, training you could work with a neurofeedback coach using tools like EEG in the way that people use biofeedback training to control heart rate, skin temperature, and blood pressure.