Recently, I went for a walk–wandering around the neighborhood–and when I came back, I took a look around the house and was struck by a few particular moments of the extraordinary, waiting to be discovered in the ordinary. Every year around this time, all of nature usually comes alive simultaneously, and it is always a relief to once again observe the greenery coming back to life, but this year, nature seems to be bursting out all over the yard, and it almost seems to be trying to swallow the house whole. The image above was taken in a field near the house which I snapped while walking, and it felt relatively safe and ordinary as I paused to capture the scene.
Once I came along the sidewalk in front of the house, I was taken by surprise by what seemed like a jungle creeping up on the house, with our cat, Mittens apparently oblivious to the impending attack. On the right hand side, next to the yellow rose bush, what I had earlier dismissed as simply a small new tree, has suddenly taken root and shot up like a beanstalk. The ivy in the center of the image, which had always seemed like a nice decoration around the light pole at the end of the walkway, now appears to have engulphed the whole thing. Yes, there is a light post under all those leaves.
It won’t be long before the mailman will have to bring a machete with him to get to the mailbox!
The ivy is starting to take over the whole front of the house.
It’s even creeping up to grab anyone coming out the door.
It’s getting a bit ridiculous now.
But lo and behold! Sitting out on the back porch I notice that a maple seedling from the backyard tree has taken root in the space between the boards. In the most unexpected places, and against tremendous odds, nature has found a way to flourish! Even though it’s clearly doomed in the long run, I couldn’t help but stare in amazement at how persistent and unflinchingly the plants and trees and everything alive is growing all around me.
The natural world, of which we are an integral part, shows us even in these humble discoveries on an ordinary day, how it is that we can approach life as something extraordinary, which needs to be appreciated and which should provoke us with wonder and inspire awe. Imperceptibly, but relentlessly, every plant and tree persists under the most daunting circumstances. We cut it out, and it grows back. We rip it out by the roots, and the seedlings drop and the process begins again. Every year, with lethal intent, I decimate the ivy and chop it to bits, and no matter what I do, life finds a way.
Apparently unfazed by it all, our cat, Princess, seems blissfully unaware of the tumultuous orchestration of Mother Nature all around her, and found a quiet spot on an old carpet remnant to curl up for an afternoon nap. As the mammal with the big brain and a penetrating cognitive awareness, I find myself curiously undone by all of these ordinary wonders, and equally cognizant of the extraordinary aspects which serve as the foundation for all life and existence in our little corner of the world. Time to dig a little deeper…..
Paulo Coelho’s quote brings us to contemplate the very essence of what it means to be alive and what significance our lives may hold in the big picture. We cannot simply move through life oblivious to the deeper meaning that surely must exist at the foundation of our existence in the physical universe. The importance of our efforts in striving to discover what meaning there might be in our individual lives is really just a momentary “parenthesis in eternity,” but when we arrive at a place and time where we may actually begin to see how this meaning becomes real for us as individuals, it points to a much broader meaning which applies to all life and all existence.
Recent travels have inspired some serious contemplation of Coelho’s thoughts and while the natural landscape of Virginia is available to anyone with the means and the will to travel there, for me as an individual, this image holds a deeper meaning and has sparked many ideas that point to a broader meaning. I am hopeful in the months to come that I will be able to share more completely how this came about, as I am preparing to retire in a few weeks. So much has been quietly and patiently been waiting for me to arrive in a place and time where this will become real for me, and I am looking forward to dedicating much more time to this pursuit of discovery and sharing with all my readers here.
There is a deeper meaning to life that has been apparent to me for some time now, in spite of all the obstacles to spending time discovering it and sharing it with the world. As a father to six wonderful children, I have had a front row seat for life’s ups and downs, and have relished every moment of sharing this life with them, but when your own children start having children, the discoveries are increased exponentially. Holding two of my seven grandchildren in this image reveals a small window into how it is that being with any of them always fills my heart with a sense of a deeper meaning that is totally real. It’s not just biology and it’s not just because my granddaughters are wonderful. This is a precious moment.
All of the efforts over the past seven years to speak to the subjective experience of human consciousness have given my life a degree of meaning, and the paths I have pursued in the search for discoveries that hold meaning for me all point to the truth contained in the quote from Stan Grof, a psychiatrist who spent many years researching non-ordinary states of consciousness. With so much yet to be discovered, it is my hope that our continued dialog and sharing of ideas will bear fruit that helps others see this deeper meaning.
Hope to share much more in the days and weeks to come…..John H.
View from Blue Ridge Parkway in southwestern Virginia
There are few experiences for frequent highway travelers that can compare with the exceptional countryside road views available along the highways within the Blue Ridge Mountain range, which stretches from northern Georgia all the way up to Pennsylvania.
Recent camping trips have resulted in several wonderful opportunities for both sustained hours of contemplation, and for producing some remarkable images along the variety of roads and some lovely trails leading through the scenic areas surrounding the campgrounds in Virginia. As a consequence of being able to enjoy these opportunities, a number of avenues of exploration have opened for me, and in the coming weeks I hope to share postings which will include the fruits of those opportunities, both in the visual sense through photo essays, as well as in a spiritual and philosophical sense through the expression of my contemplative efforts and recorded thoughts from the numerous visits to the various natural landscapes in these areas.
Traversing the countryside in a motor vehicle is one of the best ways to get a broad appreciation of the scope of natural beauty and wide expanses available to visit, and frequently you can encounter alternative and unfamiliar points of interest which you can either stop and explore immediately, or perhaps make a note to schedule a visit at a later time. Sometimes, while on the way to a planned stop, pausing to take in a scenic overlook can provide a wonderful opportunity to be inspired and to appreciate the advantage of serendipity for sharing in nature’s bounty.
By far, some of the most beneficial and inspiring scenes are more often attainable by stepping out of the vehicle, and hiking along the trails and visiting the many visitor centers which can provide helpful information about the most interesting sites contained within the state and national park system. Trails can vary from leisurely and easy walks through tried and true paths for the casual visitor, all the way to some of the more challenging hikes through rugged terrain.
One of my more recent trips into nature’s gardens provided an especially fruitful time in contemplation, and included the chance to review a volume of philosophical writings by Descartes received as a gift from my brother at Christmas. Safely nestled in the bosom of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I encountered a passage that seemed to be describing the very path of my life:
“As soon as I was old enough to emerge from the control of my teachers, I entirely abandoned the study of letters. Resolving to seek no knowledge other than that which could be found in myself or else in the great book of the world, I spent the rest of my youth travelling, visiting courts and armies, mixing with people of diverse temperaments and ranks, gathering various experiences, testing myself in the situations which fortune offered me, and at all times reflecting upon whatever came my way so as to derive some profit from it…”
“…For it seemed to me that much more truth could be found in the reasonings which a man makes concerning matters that concern him than in those which some scholar makes in his study about speculative matters. For the consequences of the former will soon punish the man if he judges wrongly, whereas the latter have no practical consequences and no importance for the scholar except that perhaps the further they are from common sense the more pride he will take in them, since he will have had to use so much more skill and ingenuity in trying to render them plausible. And it is always my most earnest desire to learn to distinguish the true from the false in order to see clearly into my own actions and proceed with confidence in this life.”
–from “Discourse On The Method,” by Rene Descartes, published in 1644
In the weeks to come, I will be enlarging and expanding on the clear association between communing with nature apart from most all familiar modern amenities, (with the exception of the devices for photography and recording my thoughts for posterity) with the emergence of important life lessons, philosophical writings, and a greater well-being as an individual struggling with the meaning and purpose of his remaining years on this earth.
In a recent communication with a dear friend, I reported a brief defense of this association in this way:
“You can almost hear your heart beating in the stillness of early morning in the forest. There is a reflection of life across the still lake waters at dawn. It is humbling and life-affirming to look out at beautiful mountain vistas. All of nature reflects all of life…”
“And don’t forget to unplug your earbuds or headphones and to walk without any sound except what nature provides, and look within. There is more wisdom available in one hour of stillness in Nature’s gardens, than you could ever hope to find…(elsewhere)”
…more to come…
As 2017 winds down and 2018 approaches, I would like to extend my personal, heartfelt “Season’s Greetings” to all of my readers and visitors here at John’s Consciousness, and to express my gratitude for the many thoughtful comments and communications from visitors all across the globe. It has been a turbulent and challenging year for many people in all parts of the world, and in spite of what must seem like a particularly daunting year for many of us in the United States and elsewhere, I still feel strongly that with the right emphasis, we can move forward into the future with hope for all of humanity.
Recognizing that there are still many areas in the world where the conditions and circumstances of everyday people are more challenging than my own, as someone who has persistently pursued the topic of the nature of subjective experience, I set myself to the task recently of composing a theatrical scene that would address questions surrounding the sometimes challenging circumstances for individuals, and at the same time, speak to the important matter of the spiritual component that I feel certain belongs in any discussion of human consciousness.
As we gathered this year at our annual family Christmas celebration, preparations were made to perform this scene for what is always the rousing and chaotic audience who is my extended family. As a former student of the theater in my youth, I trained as an actor at Temple University in Philadelphia, and had a fair amount of success in those endeavors. While I ultimately chose to concentrate on English literature in my subsequent studies, I never lost interest in all things theatrical.
I had the great good fortune to be joined in this effort by my beautiful and talented niece, Laura, who graciously agreed to perform the scene with me on very short notice. A recent graduate of the University for the Performing Arts in New York, I felt sure she would enjoy the challenge of performing before such a familiar audience. I sent her the material I had prepared with notes on how we might improvise during the impromptu interactions, along with a basic foundational script to support the performance. I was additionally blessed by the assistance of several family members in arranging for lighting and sound support, and in acquiring props that enhanced the production.
Throughout the preparation phase, I was astonished to find that I began to have many of the same emotions and anxieties as those which always overtook me when performing years ago. It was as though the neural pathways which contained those memories were suddenly lit up…well…like a Christmas tree! Last minute instructions to our hosts for the evening yielded yet another level of cooperation and help that proved invaluable as the lights dimmed and the performance began.
The scene opens with my character, Grandpa, sitting in a wheelchair, talking to himself as he awaits the arrival of his granddaughter. The theme throughout emphasizes how the human spirit can provide a true basis for hope, but also how that same spirit can move us to continue in the face of adversity. It takes place some fifteen years in the future, where my character is in his eighties and partially disabled. He’s doing alright but is becoming increasingly frail, and dependent on his family for his regular care. As the scene unfolds, he secretly contemplates his own mortality, but with the spirit of a hopeful soul. The thoughts that run through his mind are not carefree, but clearly tempered by longevity and a lifetime of loving.
Here is an excerpt from the opening monologue:
“There are so many reasons for me to have hope for the future, however long it might be for me. In spite of the sometimes unceremonious departures from this life of others in the same neighborhood of age as mine, I have seen the brightness of spirit that filled many of the moments of their lives, and I am heartened beyond measure to have shared such a range of wonders with these bright spirits, that it begs the question for me, “What contribution have I made?” and “What might I still contribute in the days that remain?”
“My granddaughter will be here shortly for her annual Christmas visit and I want so much to share with her my appreciation for the joy she brings me throughout the year, but especially at this time in my life, when every morning is a gift, and every effort requires the presence of hope.”
The arrival of his granddaughter for her annual Christmas visit clearly improves his mood, and her bubbling and vivacious demeanor is a most welcome development anytime. Laura’s professional and heartfelt performance gave the scene a certain power and heft that inspired my own performance, and she surprised me several times with her improvised responses.
Laura responded well to my brief story about the sadness I felt being estranged from my only son, and encouraged me well to continue to hope, in spite of his years of total absence from my life.
At one point, caught up in the emotion of the moment, her acceptance of the invitation to perform together with her aging Uncle became a gift in itself, and it felt like it always did when I performed on a public stage.
Here is an excerpt from the closing monologue:
“I don’t know how much time I have left, but I do know who I am on the inside. I know what I feel. I know there are like spirits that surround me. And when I say they surround me, I know they may not be in close proximity. They may be far away or years removed from me, but the spirit knows no boundaries. No matter where they reside, they are still with me…or within me.
When I’m alone, looking back over the years, I can still hear the beautiful song of hope that played in my head as a child. It was like a siren song, but I still believed in it. I believed in it because I could sense that it was not a song that would lead to destruction, but one that was calling me to my task. That beautiful voice gave me hope.
Now that I look back on it, I know that it was not just one voice. I know that each time I heard it, I recognized the spirit who dwelled within it. Perhaps, it may have been the voice of my as yet unborn grandchild, or maybe a voice from the future or from an ancient past. But when I heard that voice, I knew that essence.
In unguarded moments, in the silence between words, in moments of quiet contemplation, I know that it is a part of me, telling me to move forward with hope.”
Just as it appears that another Christmas will pass with no word from my son, the knock at the door, which I expected would be from my caretaker daughter, turns out to be from my son, who enters with a familiar greeting that ends the scene, as I gasp, “…My son!”
The whole experience was extraordinary from start to finish, and the rewards were almost entirely spiritual, although the curtain call at the end was also quite wonderful!
May the New Year bring all of humanity an improvement in their circumstances, and to each and every one of my readers and visitors here, many new reasons to look with hope to the future.
Warmest regards…..John H.
November has flown by with a swiftness of a fleeting blink of an eye. The autumn this year was reluctant to begin, with summer-like temperatures holding fairly steady well into October in the Northeast corridor, and the delay in arriving at more seasonal weather seemed to mute the changing colors when they finally began to change in earnest. As I came slowly to consciousness this past Saturday morning, I awoke to the sound of a robust and formidable wind stirring the trees outside my bedroom window. Since I had no urgent events scheduled for the day, I was able to awaken slowly and reflect for a bit before rising.
I sat up for a moment or two once I had gathered my wits and took a few photos as the day began, and then settled back down again to contemplate the day’s beginning and the events of late that accompanied the strangeness of the reluctant autumn taking place all around me. I generally try to capture some seasonal images as the earth alters its course around the sun each year, but this time around, it seems that mother nature had other ideas, and stubbornly withheld the expected changes until just last week.
In the yard next door, my usual view out the window on that side would have displayed this scene a month ago, but only last week came into full blossom with many of the leaves already missing. In just the last few days, most all of the foliage in the trees lining the street was gone. The wind had wreaked havoc on whatever plumage remained and the tree now appears almost totally bare. This experience goes against the traditional one I generally expect at this time of year, and as I lay in bed pondering these changes, I looked back over several extraordinary life events that led up to the strangeness of my early morning awakening.
Beginning in late August, as I traveled to the first of three family gatherings as autumn approached, the sky above me looked so strange and peculiar as I rode astonished at the sight, that I had to capture the event, as though it were an omen of some sort. I couldn’t decide if this sky was ominous or simply extraordinary.
Gliding down the highway in silence, almost mesmerized by the sight of it, it gave me shivers as I held my eye up to viewfinder. What an amazing sight!
Last month brought me once again into the emotional rollercoaster ride as Father of the Bride. As we gathered for the marriage of my youngest daughter in the spectacular landscape of rural Virginia, the anticipated autumnal awesomeness was only barely underway as we prepared for the outdoor ceremony in the afternoon of Saturday, the 21st of October. Driving through the beauty of the sun kissed scenery, my heart already primed for the flood of feelings and memories, I was struck by the contrast with the previous driving experience, and could barely contain myself as I soaked in the spectacle before me.
On the first morning in Virginia before the wedding, I awoke at sunrise in the mountains, and was able to observe the first light while chatting with my daughter who called me on the phone. It was a compelling moment of many that would occur during the trip, but all the more poignant as I was able to share some fatherly advice with a nervous bride.
The view off the deck of the rental house above was taken on October 23rd and offered only a hint of Autumn’s colors, and while the temperatures were mild during the day, it was still chilly in the morning and that helped to remind me that we were indeed experiencing the autumnal transition. The thoughts passing through my mind on that morning turned to one of the most poignant moments that occurred over the weekend, when I first saw my youngest daughter in her wedding dress. I nearly fainted!
With one day available to me after the wedding to relax and look around, I decided to travel to nearby Charlottesville, Virginia to satisfy a lifelong desire to visit Monticello–the home of Thomas Jefferson. Ever since I was a small boy learning American History in school, I had wanted to visit this historical home, and it was another monumental and emotional experience on a weekend full of them. I will be writing a separate blog post about that visit soon, but I wanted to include an image from that day. The visit and tour of the estate will remain as one of the most significant of the many I acquired in any autumn season.
There have been so many moments throughout the season before winter this year that seemed to overwhelm my ability to process them well, and I couldn’t help but wonder about the confluence of each of these events and what the meaning might be for me personally. The perspective of years of memories of past autumns has run the gamut from the most stunningly beautiful to the personally devastating, and all along the way, every variation in between has contributed to the auguries of autumn for me.
It is sometimes said that a person in their sixth decade of life is approaching the “autumn of their years,” but I wonder now just how close the winter might be, and what wonders await me.
As many of my regular readers may recall, back in 2012, my family and I suffered the personal loss of our dear brother, Michael, and at that time, our personal experiences surrounding that loss, and having to endure the profound sadness that accompanied those events, presented us with an unprecedented challenge of finding a path forward that did not include his presence among us. It seemed, in many ways, like an impossible task, and although each of us still struggles to some degree with the memories of the last days of his life, in the intervening five years since then, we have continued to support and love one another, and to honor his memory by celebrating as a family whenever possible.
Over the past few days, as the five year mark has approached, I have spent some time considering the broader view of the significance of life, including lessons from the past, as well as those of our own time, and I hope a brief look at the value of this moment from a different perspective, will be of some small comfort and solace to those who may presently be enduring a similar challenge in their own lives.
Beyond the potent personal memory of the loss which occurred on this day in 2012, this commemoration also provides an opportunity to share what are, perhaps, the even more important aspects of our contemplation, which are, to remember our dear brother with love, and to celebrate the abundant love we all still share, as we constantly seek a new beginning; a way to look ahead to the future with hope.
In preparing to write this blog post, I came across a bible passage from Ecclesiastes, which speaks to the heart of the matter. It’s taken from Chapter one, verses four through eleven:
“One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever. The sun rises and the sun goes down…All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full…There is no remembrance of the men of old; nor of those to come will there be any remembrance among those who come after them.” Ecclesiastes 1:4-11
The world in which these words were written was a very different world than the one we now know. When it was written, which scholars believe was probably about three centuries before Christ, Alexander the Great was moving through Asia and into Europe, and he eventually conquered most of the known world, before succumbing to a fever, at age 32.
By Charles Le Brun – , Public Domain, Alexander’s Arrival in Babylon
While we rightly mourned the loss of our beloved brother at the age of 61, who was known primarily to his extended family, friends, and coworkers, I couldn’t help but ponder, in contrast to the effect of our loss, how much impact the loss of Alexander must have had on the world at large, when one of the most famous human conquerors and world leaders of all human history passed away having barely entered his thirties.
What is now apparent to our modern sensibilities, with the benefit of an historical perspective, is that the precise world that Alexander knew, the empire he established and which endured over many centuries, has now also passed into history. Generations of human beings have been born, have perished, and have been followed by succeeding generations, and yet, the earth remains.
From age to age, the human race has continued, but each one of us, exists only briefly on this earth, like a shadow, quickly skimming across the surface of the planet, with the changing light of day.
Considering the lives of all the previous generations of our family, the world that WE all know, is a reflection of their tireless efforts to promote and preserve the values that we now possess as the inheritors of that legacy. Our family history is replete with examples of steadfast love and support, across all the generations that preceded ours. It has been an unshakable love, which created a robust tradition of faith and family values, all too often absent in the world these days.
But neither the earth, nor the world in which we exist upon it, remain unchanged. Each new generation builds upon the one before, and although we create our individual worlds as we grow, we introduce changes which are sometimes profound, and perhaps sometimes unnoticed, but undeniably, these differences contribute either to the destruction of what came before, or to the construction of the world that is yet to come.
It should give us pause to consider, especially now, as we contemplate the passing of the most recent previous generation of our family, that we must find a reason to be grateful, and to be encouraged, and perhaps, to be a bit more hopeful regarding the prospects that life holds for us, as we make our way into the future. In Ecclesiastes, we are reminded that humans often don’t remember long the people and the lessons of the past, but no matter how many generations come and go, our legacy of love will endure if we nurture it.
Our science tells us that even the earth will eventually succumb to the death of the sun at the center of our solar system, which nourishes our planet currently, but what it is that has been created here on earth, and indeed, throughout the entire universe itself, is the manifestation of the divine source of all things, and that, like the love we now inherit from previous generations, truly does abide forever.
I found myself traveling today along the rural back roads near my home, on my way back from visiting with my children, and I had the rare opportunity to enjoy a pleasant drive through brilliant sunshine and vibrant blue skies, surrounded by farmland and the exquisite greens of a late summer afternoon. My heart has been burdened lately with a host of concerns that have made settling down to write here on my blog a bit problematical, and today it finally seemed like the sun was poking through within me, just enough to gather a few words to share with all of you.
As I traversed the beautiful byways between where I was and where I was going, I decided to insert the soundtrack to the film, “Amadeus,” into the CD player, (yes…some of us still do that…) and the music brought me to a place that nearly always is provocative and contemplative simultaneously–the musical landscape created by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The traffic was light today, so driving down the road alone, taking in such spectacular visual delights as I listened, allowed my mind to wander a bit, and also to connect with the creative human spirit which was Mozart, opening my heart and mind to both the nature and the nurture possible in such circumstances.
The visit with my son included an opportunity to enjoy the play of light and the elements that make up the environment where he lives. Lounging in the old fashioned kitchen was the perfect prelude to the journey through the rural landscape, and before I headed out on the highway, I took a few minutes to capture several images of the magic light which always seems to illuminate the kitchens in our family.
As I turned out of the driveway, I slipped in the Mozart CD and was surprised by the power of the music to fill in the gaps of the silence within me; it seemed to accompany the passing sights perfectly, particularly two choral renditions, one from his opera, “Don Giovanni,” and the Requiem, K626. The performances were nearly hypnotic in their effect, and I thought it a bit synchronous for the music which was created so many years ago, (Mozart lived from 1756 to 1791) to be able to match perfectly this 21st century road trip.
My inner landscape also seemed to match the outer one as the excursion progressed, and I briefly felt completely one with all the elements of my experience, placing those concerns and delights into a temporary state of equilibrium. A recent conversation with a dear friend who encouraged me to continue with my work here, gave me just the push I needed to find a moment to bring it all together and share it with all of you.
The challenges are great for me at present, but I have been journaling and recording ideas for expanding my mission and my vision, even though none of it, so far, has made an appearance here. As I contemplated what I might write about this particular day, it occurred to me that having to endure situations like mine is one of the reasons God sent us Mozart. He was like a brilliant shooting star across the skies of life in the 1700’s, but his music and his genius have endured across the centuries to fill in the gaps of our inner silence, even today…
…more to come…