Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What a Noisy Lot We Are

The video description is a bit incorrect; this isn't sound "captured with a special tool"--this is electromagnetic and polar radiation CONVERTED to sound.

 What's interesting is that all of the other planets have a very calm signature, while the Earth is noisy. You hear pulses, whooshes, and I swear planes go by every now and then, ha.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thought for the Day

If it weren't for the early philosophers, we wouldn't have the studies of logic, mathematics, psychology, psychoanalysis, and the list of specializations goes on.

If it weren't for the alchemists, we wouldn't have modern-day chemistry, physics, or medicine.

If it weren't for religious dogma, most wars, crusades, excommunication, and the burning of heretics and "witches" would never have happened.

The human search for meaning, our place in the universe, indeed our understanding of the Universe, has brought out the best in us--and the worst in us.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Break at Bellagio

We're back from Las Vegas! We spent two nights at Bellagio, just hanging out and having a good time. I recorded the above from our table at Jasmine, where we had dinner last night. Monday evening, we had dinner at Prime, which was absolutely fantastic.

And we also had a run of good luck yesterday and this morning, so we came home with cash in our pockets (which is always a plus). We upgraded to First Class on the flight home, which was almost a necessity since I somehow managed to pull a muscle behind my left knee. Walking or even sitting in the same position for long is quite uncomfortable, and at least you have room to wiggle around outside of Coach.

The Bellagio was fabulous as always, all decked out in winter splendor. Here are some shots from the Conservatory.

And a cute polar bear:

And some cute little penguins:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

"The Primacy of Consciousness": A Lecture by Peter Russell

I watched this last night. He's humorous and never once did I get bored. Here's his basic thesis (he's a physicist, by the way): Consciousness is inherent in all things, is more fundamental than matter; indeed, even matter is conscious. I don't want to give away too much, but I'll conclude by saying that the spiritual implications are enormous.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Carpenters: "Merry Christmas, Darling"

It's easy to make fun of the Carpenters, but this really is a very sweet song for the season.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Seven Wonders of the World

A group of students was asked to list what they thought were the present "Seven Wonders of the World."

Though there were some disagreements, the following received the most votes:

1. Egypt's Great Pyramid
2. Taj Mahal
3. Grand Canyon
4. Panama Canal
5. Empire State Building
6. St. Peter's Basilica
7. China's Great Wall

While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one student had not finished her paper yet.

So she asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list.

The girl replied, "Yes, a little. I couldn't quite make up my mind because there were so many."

The teacher said, "Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help."

The girl hesitated, then read: "I think the 'Seven Wonders of the World' are:
1. To be able to see
2. To be able to hear
3. To be able to touch
4. To be able to taste
5. To be able to feel
6. To be able to laugh
7. And to be able to love."

The room was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.

The things we overlook as simple and ordinary and that we take for granted are truly wondrous. So, a gentle reminder: The most precious things in life cannot be built by hand, or purchased.

Mannheim Steamroller: "Stille Nacht"

This has been, for some years, my favorite arrangement of "Silent Night." The video is a so-so live recording of them playing it live, but the music itself comes through loud and clear. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Putting the HA HA HA back in Hanukkah

Everybody on Facebook, it seems, has hopped on the "put the Christ back in Christmas" bandwagon, which amuses me to no end. They criticize the "politically correct" "Happy Holidays." Well, I don't know about you, but it makes ZERO sense to me to wish, say, a Jewish friend "Merry Christmas" (even if Christmas is what I celebrate), or to wish an atheist, Muslim, or pagan friend the same. I know I would think it was awfully weird if, on December 5th, a Muslim wished me a "Merry Day of Ashura."

Sorry, but Christians don't OWN the month of December. See?

Dec 5: Ashura * ** - Islam

Dec 8: Bodhi Day (Rohatsu) ** - Buddhism

Dec 21-28: Hanukkah * - Jewish

Dec 22: Solstice/Yule * - Wicca/Pagan Northern Hemisphere

Dec 22: Solstice/Litha * - Wicca/Pagan Southern Hemisphere

Dec 26: Zarathosht Diso (Death of Prophet Zarathushtra) ** - Zoroastrian

Besides all that, Dec. 25th is just a random date chosen in early Christianity for celebrating the birth of Jesus: nobody knows when Jesus' birthday actually is. Christians can't even agree on the YEAR of his birth. Some think it was the year 0, others the year 3 BCE, and Biblical scholars argue for 4 BCE. The 25th of December was landed on most likely because so many pagans already celebrated on that date. It's easier to bring someone into the fold if you adapt their rituals to yours. A good history of how Dec 25th was chosen is right here.

And Christmas was not always celebrated right here in the good ole US of A. Nope. The early Puritans didn't like the Roman influence on the holiday, nor the Catholic influence in celebrating a "Mass" of Christ. Some Christians think celebrating Christmas is actually sinful. Read about that here.

So, instead of taking potshots at people who say "Happy Holidays" because they rightfully don't care to assume everybody they know is a Christian, stop and remember: being polite and not judging others are Christian values. If you want to personally put the "Christ" back in Christmas, the best way to do so is to act like a Christian, not like an intolerant jerk.

ps: I'm not Jewish, but I do so get a kick out of this song by Adam Sandler.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Follow Me or Worship Me?

Maybe it's the season, or maybe it's because I've been dipping lately into hermetic texts, but these past few days I've been revisiting the Gnostic Gospels and seeing them with fresh eyes.

There were some fragments of them in existence before the big trove of them was discovered at Nag Hammadi, and Biblical scholars knew of them because other early Church writings had referred to them, but it's always much better to be able to look at the earliest texts yourself and draw your own conclusions rather than simply being told what they say.

Like anything in this world, Church doctrines and decrees are largely political in nature and decisions need to be viewed through the context in which they were made. The early Christian Church had tons of factions, and the Church was not unified. Constantine, who'd recently converted, found all the conflicting Gospels, Acts, Apocalypses, and Letters confusing and challenged the Church to unify the teachings. This would, frankly, draw in more converts.

I'm oversimplifying, but there was kind of a split between those who supported the idea of Jesus as Savior who was resurrected and gave his life as a sacrifice to save humankind and then the Gnostics (some of whom refuted the idea that Jesus had even been crucified), who were much more interested in the actual teachings of Jesus and what they revealed about the Kingdom of Heaven; the idea of "being saved" solely because you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior seemed absurd to them. The Gnostics believed that the divine is within and that, for lack of a better way to put it, you "save" yourself by seeking the divine knowledge within, thus emulating the teachings of Jesus. In other words, what came to be the Church believed God was above us, Jesus was his literal Son, and then the Church Fathers reveal to everyone else what Jesus did and meant. Anything that wasn't approved Church Doctrine was heresy. The Gnostics believed it is up to every individual to interpret Jesus' teachings and to experience the Divine for themselves.

So, we wound up with a Pope who was God's representative on Earth and spoke for God. The Gnostics were deemed heretical and their writings not included in the Bible. Of some--what? Thirty?--or more Gospels, for instance, only four appear in the Bible. The original argument given was that they were the earliest (Mark the first, followed by Matthew and Luke, the latter two using Mark as a basic text--thus the three are termed the Synoptic Gospels--and then the later John, which incorporated the logos). Nowadays some Biblical scholars are refuting the Gospel of Mark as the first gospel and are saying it was Thomas (which isn't really a story like the others as much as it is simply a list of Jesus's sayings).

Now, look here. If someone like Rodrigo Borgia could eventually become Pope, do you really think the Pope speaks for God? It's hard to fathom. In fact, over the centuries, the Church became so corrupt that in swooped Martin Luther, setting off the Protestant Reformation, and then in England, Henry XIII hopped on the Protestant bandwagon because it was a convenient way to rid himself of an unwanted wife. He then elevated himself to head of the Church of England. So it is abundantly clear that Church Doctrine is, and has been since the days of the early Church, political in nature.

As for me, I accept all the writings about Jesus as potentially true and all useful to know and study. I also do not accept any version of the Apostles' Creed as literally true, which decidedly makes me a non-Christian in the eyes of today's church, be it Catholic or Protestant. I believe Jesus existed (he is an historical figure recorded in records not related to the Church). I believe Jesus was a man who became (like) a god, as opposed to a God who became a man. You could say he found Enlightenment, or he found the Divine within, and in my mind, this is what he was trying to convey to his followers ("Follow me," as in "follow my example," not "follow me" as in "See me as God.") I think he was trying to say the Kingdom of God is within each of us, and to know yourself is to know God. We are ALL God. We are ALL part of God. Creation is God revealing itself in its many dualities and varieties of form. That is the Good Word. The Kingdom of God is already here, always has and always will be. Open your eyes and you will see--if you have eyes to see.

All of which is decidedly hermetic in nature.

And all of which, I might add, is decidedly mystical in nature. One interesting thing to me is that, regardless of one's "basic background religion," once one gets into mysticism, the religions are virtually all the same. Kabbalistic, Gnostic, Buddhist, Hindu, Sufi, Hermetic, and Christian mystics all sound very much alike in their experience of "God." Meditation is a big part of the practice. Once you go within to look for God, god reveals itself in the same ways, no matter what your outside rational religious practice may be.

For me, it is a message of joy, hope, deliverance. So mote it be, and Peace Profound.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

You're A Mean One, Newt Gingrich

This is just too priceless to not put on my blog, regardless of your political persuasion.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Happy Sober Holidays

The holidays can be a particularly tough time for recovering alcoholics because temptations abound. People unknowingly may give you a fine bottle of wine as a gift, or you're invited to half a dozen parties (including office parties) where the booze will be flowing. Your "devil addict" will be perched on your shoulder, hissing into your ear: "Oh, you can handle it. It's Christmas! You can quit drinking again with the New Year" and things like that to rationalize your drinking.

So, how do you cope?

One strategy is to head things off at the pass. Make yourself the designated driver. The responsibility of that may ward off the temptation to imbibe. Take somebody with you to the party who is also in recovery, or who at least respects your recovery, and make a plan ahead of time with them about how to assist you if you get tempted. Be prepared to walk outside and call your sponsor if you need to.

It's also hard to enjoy drinking if you've got a belly full of AA, so go to extra meetings during the holidays. This reaffirms your commitment to a lifetime of recovery.

Make sure your spiritual program is in good standing. If you're Christian or Jewish, focus on the meaning of the season instead of the gifts and the parties and the commercialization of the religious holidays. Same thing for pagan religions; you're celebrating Yule or the Solstice. It's hard to be fully committed to your spiritual program if you're besotted with substances. It's hard to connect with your Higher Power when you're falling down drunk. Indeed, you are NEVER your best self or in touch with your Higher Self or Cosmic Consciousness if your brain is scrambled.

Another problem with the holidays that can make drowning yourself in your sorrows tempting to do is just that: depression. The holidays can be a time when you're grieving losses again, when you miss someone you held dearly, or when you find yourself taking stock of your life and suddenly realize you really don't have that many friends. Perhaps you're not close to your family, or you're far away from them in a new city where you don't know anyone yet.

You need to be proactive and shake yourself out of the brooding: or at least, make an earnest effort to. AA always schedules alcohol-free parties and pot-lucks. Find a meeting and ask, or just look online. If you're a total introvert and hate parties, read that book you've been meaning to read. Rent some movies. Better yet, invite someone you know over to watch them with you. Pop popcorn; make some holiday cookies together.

Or volunteer. Do something that will help you feel good about yourself. Go buy a toy, wrap it, and drop it off to a charity. Put together a bag of nonperishable food and donate it to your local food bank. It's been argued that there really isn't such a thing as altruism because the giver does get something back in return: a good feeling, a feeling of "I've just made a difference in someone's life in some small way."

When you're feeling good about yourself, when you are committed to your recovery, and when your spiritual program is working for you, it's not so hard to overcome any cravings you may have. The bottom line is, keep these three aspects in order and close to your heart. And bear in mind: alcohol is the biggest liar you know. It never makes us feel better. It only makes us feel worse.

May you have a wondrous, sober holiday season!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thank a Teacher

Ah, the last week of the semester. Then comes the deluge of final essays and exams. Thank goodness I finally entered the 21st century and started using Gradekeeper, so calculating final grades should be a cinch.

I had some stray problems with accidental plagiarism this semester, so perhaps over break I'll teach myself how to use Turn It In. On the other hand, my freshman comp. textbook has a new edition, so I may need to use the break to update assignments, change readings, and adjust to the new book.

People say teachers have it easy: we have Christmas Break, Spring Break, Summer Break... but let me tell you, it's during these breaks that we catch up or keep up, doing the kind of prep work that we don't have time to do during the actual semester. If you intend to stay effective in the classroom, then you continually need to educate yourself in new technology and new theories in your field, along with adjusting teaching strategies to more effectively teach a changing student population. Today's student is drastically different from the student of several decades ago: these kids have grown up computer literate, rely on the Internet, and have short attention spans because they're used to a rapid influx of information and what's in front of them constantly changing. They don't read a lot just for pleasure and find the idea of slowing down, focusing, savoring, and thinking something through an alien concept. You have to find a way to get through to a brain that's used to listening to a conversation, texting in another conversation, and playing a computer game all at the same time.

Some of them are good at juggling it all and in honing in on hearing or seeing what's significant; but others treat all the clutter as equal bits of information and have no idea what's important and what's trivial. It's challenging to teach kids how to sort information. Many are intellectually lazy and just want you to tell them what to think and don't want to go to the trouble of analyzing and interpreting the information you give them. So you have to convince them of the value in being able to do this.

The only way to do this is to somehow apply the value of this to their own teenage lives, which means a good teacher also has to stay current with pop culture and know how to relate to people who are decades younger.

Sometimes these kids initially can't handle an adult to who expects to engage them in discussions and who expects them to think for themselves. Many have never had meaningful discussions with adults (parents, pay attention!) and their worldview is totally dependent on what their peers and the television set have taught them.

Teachers don't have the "cushiest job," and it's certainly not true that those who can, do; and those who can't, teach. Teachers walk the walk, all right, and put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Sometimes we get discouraged, thinking we have no impact at all; but the truth is, we do change some lives for the better.

If you happen to read this today, thank a teacher.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ruminations on Egypt

I couldn't tell you why, but I've always been interested in Ancient Egypt. And let me tell you, there are a lot of wacky theories out there about that civilization. For one thing, it's so old (dating back at least to 3000-5000 BCE, and maybe even further than that), and there were so many dynasties and periods that the civilization went through numerous transformations. So most people choose favorite periods, such as the Middle Kingdom when the pyramids of Giza went up, or the very end when Cleopatra and the Ptolemies were reigning. Or, they'll be fascinated by particular individuals, like Tut or Rameses the Great or Hatshepsut or the beautifully mysterious Nefertiti. Or, perhaps, it's the various gods and goddesses that will appeal, like Isis or Osiris, Thoth, Bastet, Ma'at, or Ra.

There's a lot to know, and I don't pretend to be anything close to an expert, but the most interesting hypothesis I've read lately involves the Sphinx. Now, it's always been assumed that the Sphinx was constructed about the same time as the pyramids of Giza. (The silliest theory about the pyramids is that they were built by ancient aliens.) But there's a problem with that dating. The problem is that there is clear evidence of water erosion on the Sphinx, the kind that comes after decades of steady rainfall. And, when the pyramids went up, that area was (and still is) a desert.

So, the Sphinx has to be considerably older--and I've seen it surmised that it could be as old as 10,000BCE, that the water damage occurred after the last Ice Age was ending. This brings us to theories about the fabled Great Flood or whatever cataclysm it was that appears in Gilgamesh and the Bible (Noah) and that, possibly, also sank Atlantis (stories about which Plato gathered from his grandfather, who'd visited Egypt, where he was told by priests of the mystery schools that they held ancient wisdom handed down from the Atlanteans). And the speculation goes on.

I love all this stuff, and, lately since I've become a student of Rosicrucianism, I've turned my attention to the "heretic king," Akhenaten (who was married to Nefertiti). The Rosicrucians trace their earliest wisdom back to this pharoah, who was the world's first monotheist. He simply tossed out all the traditional Egyptian gods and worshiped only one: the Aten, or the Sun God. Why, no one can say--and there are some speculations about this too, such as he was rejected by his family early on because he was deformed, so did not take part in the usual religious celebrations growing up (so he grew up thinking the pantheon of gods and goddesses was all stuff and nonsense)--or, perhaps, he was just more "concrete minded" and could only believe in a god that he could see and was a part of nature and the world's natural laws. Art in Egypt changed under his reign and at first was highly stylized, but later on became much more realistic compared to most Egyptian art. For instance, there's a painting of Nefertiti in later life, standing stooped, with a belly and sagging breasts. Akhenaten himself was depicted as an odd-looking fellow with characteristics reminiscent of Marfan's Syndrome. And much of the art breaks with tradition in showing the pharoah at home with his wife and children in domestic scenes--nothing at all like the portrayals of, say, Rameses the Great, who was always depicted slaying enemies.

But after Akhenaton died, his son (King Tut, the boy king)--probably influenced by the old high priests and former powers-that-were--restored the capitol city to Thebes and returned the land to the old polytheistic religion.

Thus, I was pleased when visiting the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum today (in San Jose) that an entire room was devoted to Akhenaton. Here he is:

That's the Aten sun disk behind him, with its rays beaming down. Akhenaton composed a Great Hymn to the Aten, which I'll close with exerpts from (and with a sly suggestion to compare it to Psalm 104 of the Bible).

How manifold it is, what thou hast made!
They are hidden from the face (of man).
O sole god, like whom there is no other!
Thou didst create the world according to thy desire,
Whilst thou wert alone: All men, cattle, and wild beasts,
Whatever is on earth, going upon (its) feet,
And what is on high, flying with its wings.

The countries of Syria and Nubia, the land of Egypt,
Thou settest every man in his place,
Thou suppliest their necessities:
Everyone has his food, and his time of life is reckoned.
Their tongues are separate in speech,
And their natures as well;
Their skins are distinguished,
As thou distinguishest the foreign peoples.
Thou makest a Nile in the underworld,
Thou bringest forth as thou desirest
To maintain the people (of Egypt)
According as thou madest them for thyself,
The lord of all of them, wearying (himself) with them,
The lord of every land, rising for them,
The Aton of the day, great of majesty.

The whole hymn, along with other information, can be found here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Today's Wisdom

Nothing like snark on a Thursday morning!

But seriously, the more I learn about human nature, the more I realize that people treat us only in the way we allow them to. If someone mistreats you or uses you, you must demand respect. If they won't give it, you must walk away.

Easier said than done, sometimes, I know, especially if we're still clinging to the hope that the other person will grow up or change. Let that go. If they ever do, they may one day return to you wanting to make amends.

But don't count on it.

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." --Eleanor Roosevelt