Hawai’i Fire Goddess

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Tutu Pele came from Tahiti

From the land of Borabora

From the red rainbow of Kane

From the blazing clouds in the sky

From the clouds of Tahiti

Tutu Pele is most active in Hawai’i

Tutu (with dashes over the u’s) in Hawaiian is a term of respect for a woman. It is commonly used by locals in place of “Grandma.” Tutu Pele is the volcano goddess of Hawai’i. She is the most important of the lesser gods. The Hawaiians themselves apparently came from Tahiti to Hawai’i in the 5th C. The navigational skills of the Polynesian sailors were far superior to those of the Spanish explorers who hugged the coastline when they explored the Pacific in the 16th C. The Polynesian Voyaging Society has proven and demonstrated how Poynesians were able to find all their island needles in the  vast Pacific haystack using an encyclopedic knowledge of natural things instead of European instruments. Continue reading “Hawai’i Fire Goddess”

South America Trip.6 – “Lost” in Rio

Sugarloaf and Rio from Corcovado
Sugarloaf and Rio from Corcovado – August 1967

Rio – Oh wow!

George, Ian and I traveled from Salvador, Bahia to Rio in a Greyhound Bus. The trip took 28 hours. We left Thursday, July 27 at 10 AM and arrived in Rio on Friday, July 28 at about 2 PM after a fascinating (at first) and later grueling trip in which I sat, innards churning, over the rear wheel. We passed some sugar cane, later cactus, isolated farms and even adobe homes shaped like igloos. Passing through Minas Gerais at night we were offered very cheaply priced precious stones by street vendors. Sheepskins dyed and pure were priced at about $4 each.

The following upbeat letter and another one to Anita was written lying on Copacabana Beach on Saturday facing Sugarloaf Mountain while George and Ian chatted with some attractive, bikini clad, women during which time George got his pants stolen and had to go back to our hotel in his bathing trunks, a no-no on public transport in Rio in those days. Wonder, given the fleshy excesses of Rio’s mardi gras, if these ancient strictures still apply… We laughed at ol’ George in his comic predicament, despite our great concern and sympathy. Guys do that.

Same Pot, Different Glazing

Jug found at Madinat Al Zahra, near Córdova, capital of Andalusía during the Golden Age
Jug found at Madinat Al Zahra, near Córdova, capital of Andalusía during the Golden Age

My professor of chemistry at Loyola College in Montreal pegged me as a late bloomer back in 1965. Yep. He got that right. I am rather slow to catch on to some things. For instance, the following question avoided my awareness for years:

How can a religion whose most dedicated souls strap 8-year-olds for not doing their homework be taken seriously as a sign of God’s grace?
Gotta be a few screws loose somewhere. I was lucky. All that happened to me was that I got whacked hard across the backside by my Grade One teacher for innocently sitting on my heels while practising kneeling at the communion rail, strapped by the Christian Brothers beginning in Grade Three, lifted off my feet and smashed against the lockers outside my Grade Nine classroom, and propositioned cleverly, but unsuccessfully, by the religious principal in my senior year. There were other offences, but these stand out. So how was I lucky? Continue reading “Same Pot, Different Glazing”

An Important Book Review by Wade Davis

Crazy Horse Memorial

I have just modified my September post, As Geopolitical Luck Would Have It, after reading Wade Davis’ Guardian review of Jared Diamond’s latest book, The World Until Yesterday. Mr. Davis’ review adds a new perspective to Jared Diamond’s work. Davis believes that Diamond still suffers from First World naiveté when he thinks that all our approach to sustainability needs is some tweaking based on an appreciation of how the indigenous understand a respect for the environment. Davis believes that we need to come to respect this perspective for what it truly is: a worldview that is just as valid and developed as our own – perhaps more valid if we really want to survive as a species.

The review is very much worth reading. Thanks to Brian K. Murphy for forwarding it to me.

Another thoughtful and very frank review of The World Until Yesterday from http://www.thedailybeast.com… This from January 30.

Tonglen, Illusion and Injustice – A “Theory of Everything”

This worm, my brother, symbolizes vulnerability for me
This worm symbolizes vulnerability for me

I really like combining some tonglen breathing with my dumbbell exercises and a set of tai chi. I usually come away with a feeling of calmness and purpose.

I precede the above with 30 minutes uphill walking on a treadmill, during which I listen to a CBC podcast from one of my four favorite reflective CBC programs: Ideas, Tapestry, Writers and Company and The Sunday Edition. These free podcasts come automatically into my iTunes account.

I don’t do the exercises every day, and, for me, that’s OK. Often I walk outside instead in “Our Woods” with my wife. Our walks have been getting longer as we will be walking a lot on our next trip and, at 68, that can be challenging.

This morning when I began my routine I was thinking about a thoughtful blog I had read a couple of days ago by Traveling Thane Furrows. N.B. Thane’s blog is no longer available.  Pity. His post featured one of my living heroes, Noam Chomsky. Thane presented several of Mr. Chomsky’s points in an October lecture given at the American University in Cairo. Thane commented in the above post that Chomsky “nonchalantly condemns US Imperialism and gives lucid explanations for the current political events sweeping our world.” I remember thinking that the last adjective I would use to describe anything Chomsky does is “nonchalant.” He has spent much of his very long life meticulously and passionately documenting political abuses of the third world by the powerful nations and trans-national corporations. The US is his principal, but by no means sole, target and he gives copious endnotes to support all his sources.

But Thane made me think twice when he respectfully suggested that there is typically too much negativity among critics of the status quo. I had to think about my recent posts that have been severely critical, contemptuous even, of Canada’s small “c” conservative government under Stephen Harper.

Thane refers wisely to Buddhist  and Kabbalist beliefs and tonglen as tools that can be used to soften one’s heart and learn to look primarily for the good. I think Thane feels that Chomsky and I are too unrelentingly harsh in our criticism of the right wing. He quotes the Kabbalist,  Rabbi Moshe Cordevero:

Your ears should always be tuned to hear the good, while rumors and gossip should never be let in, according to the secret of sublime listening. There, no harsh shouting enters, no tongue of evil leaves a blemish. So listen only to positive, useful things, not to things that promote anger.

This quote initially took me aback. It seemed that Thane was implying by this passage that Chomsky should have been more circumspect and positive in his lecture. I suspect now that Thane was quite sympathetic to the “facts” as Chomsky presented them, but was troubled that this information darkened his perspective and made Thane himself somewhat prone to negative feelings that he personally wants to overcome.

Here I invite Thane to comment on this post, because I am not certain of his perspective and do not want to misrepresent it. I thank him for stimulating me to think more carefully about my writing style.

My opinion on this is that there are different, valid roles for all of us if we “H. sapienses” are to find our way intact into the next century. People like Noam Chomsky, though overwhelmingly critical, are important communicators of the serious issues that need to be addressed if justice, peace and sustainability are important. In Canada, for example, there are four times as many right wing daily newspapers as liberal ones. Voices like those of Chomsky and Naomi Klein are a necessary, if tiny, attempt to bring the public, poorly informed due to materialistic distractions and the bias of the  corporate-dominated media, up to speed on the reasons and powers behind what is happening to the indigenous in Central America, Canada and, soon, to them. This is what the recent Idle No More Movement is about. People are becoming aware of threats to Canada’s First Nations and to themselves if our land, water and air continues to be polluted to serve the god of GDP and the corporate growth paradigm.

There is also place for spiritual leaders of good faith, past and present. There is also place for agnostics and atheists. There is an important place for indigenous spirituality, which is closer to Mother Earth than any other form.

But back to the ideas spawned by Thane’s blog – and my stream of consciousness:

I am aware that much of what we perceive is illusion. Buddhism, Hinduism and even quantum physics support this. It seems the Hindus  intuitively “got” the String Theory of quantum physics centuries before plodding, Western atomistic scientists came to get a peek into its intricacies. Sort of reminds me of the Polynesians (through magnificent, intuitive, advanced navigational virtuosity) having populated the tiny islands of the vast  South Pacific five centuries before the Spaniards came along hugging the coast and generally screwing things up. Fast forward to the present World Order… but I digress.

Being aware of the illusory nature of existence helps one to cope with suffering. This is one of the real benefits of tonglen breathing.

Breathe in suffering, breathe out healing.

Simple, deep, effective. It helps, but it does not change the injustice that leads to widespread suffering around the world, much of which has been spawned since European colonialism began in the 15th century. I still cling to the idea that injustice must be fought. To me it is not a complete illusion that a girl going to school can be disfigured by acid thrown in her face. (The Taliban, by the way, has arisen because fundamentalism was aided and abetted by the US to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan. It achieved that goal, but turned out to be a Faustian bargain, but I digress yet again.)

This sort of injustice makes me angry. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. Not so angry that my blood boils and my blood vessels constrict – thanks to tonglen and, to a greater extent than previously, tuning out. My Internet activity and bodily presence at peaceful protests, critical and side-taking though it is, also helps me feel that I am doing something to fight injustice.

In the very long run, for an athiest who understands the Second Law of Thermodynamics, all momentary struggle is indeed absurd. In the end a state of formless uniformity will be everywhere in the universe. Free energy, necessary to build complex structures like a human fetus out of atoms, will be all used up.

Even in the relatively short run, our sustainer, the Sun, having indifferently helped life to evolve on Earth over the past 5 billion years, will start to lose its primary and secondary fuels, hydrogen and helium. Before it peters out to a dwarf during the next 5 billion it will cool and expand into a red giant, whose fiery mass will envelop our Planet. Sayonara, baby.

Some might say that to struggle to keep Homo sapiens and a few other vertebrates in existence on Earth for a few more millennia is itself an absurd quest, given the ultimate existence endgame. For me, and this is my own personal, though deeply held, sentiment,  it is the only thing worth doing. I consider those who aid the new colonists in their rape of my Planet the Enemy who must be turned into an ally or relentlessly opposed. I cannot do otherwise.

I will give the last word to the author of Don Quixote, the incomparable Miguel Cervantes:

Too much sanity may be madness, and the maddest of all to see life as it is and not as it should be.

Idle No More = Hope Some More

I have been ignorant of so much about our native peoples for so long – like my whole life, for example. The author Wade Davis years ago made me appreciate the value of seeing Mother Earth from a worldwide indigenous perspective which recognizes the oneness of every single thing on this Planet, a point made superbly by Winona LaDuke in this wonderful talk.

The recent Idle No More movement highlights for me these points:

1. We continue to colonize our native peoples through, among other things, ruining their unceded lands and waters by making them hostile, barren and toxic via the unbridled extraction of minerals, oil and trees.

2. Our First Nations are experiencing huge rates of disease due to these activities. The pollution is also affecting us, though less obviously. Ninety-nine per cent of scientists and a large, growing number of lay people realize that continued economic growth that depends on pollution is unsustainable.

3. Many of us “white folk” are coming to realize that multinational corporations, many with foreign profit centres like Brazil, China and Holland, with absolutely no connection to the land, are being given the right to exploit it. While First Nations are the canary in the coal mine, we all are being quickly colonized, and, ultimately, impoverished and poisoned by the world economic system.

4. The Movement is a valuable, attention-grabbing focal point whose many contentious, non-unanimous issues, some of which are highlighted in Michael Enright’s CBC Sunday Edition interview with Cindy Blackstock, can be unified, I believe, by the unanimous chant that “Enough Is Enough.”

I see this phenomenon as a reason to hope again. For a glass-half-empty person, that is some accomplishment.

Our First Nations Peoples – Failed Attempts To Be Us?

If the current Environmental Assessment Act is sufficient to protect all lakes and rivers, why did the government deem it necessary to include a small list of both key and posh waterways in the new Navigation Protection Act for special attention?

Even the Oldman River’s process and final ruling was ignored by the Alberta government, who pushed through the building of the dam in 1992 under the watches of Don Getty, Ralph Klein and Brian Mulroney – big “C” Conservatives all. I do not blame the Conservatives alone, federally, though they have to carry the can for Alberta, having been in power there for soooo long. The fact sadly remains that, no matter what Punch and Judy show we have going on in Ottawa for the amusement and seduction of Joe Couch Potato, the environmental legislation we have now has not succeeded broadly enough in protecting the environment against powerful domestic and, increasingly, foreign interests.

If the Athabaska River flowed south to Calgary instead of north, it would have been protected because of, frankly, the non-native electors who live there. Continue reading “Our First Nations Peoples – Failed Attempts To Be Us?”

Wade Davis on Sacred Geography

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We accept it as normal that people who have never been on the land, who have no history or connection to the country, may legally secure the right to come in and (…) leave in their wake a cultural and physical landscape utterly transformed and desecrated

Wade Davis, The Wayfinders, page 118

I’ve posted before about Wade Davis:

As Geopolitical Luck Would Have It

Endangered Human Faculties

Wade Davis has a unique perspective on the issues brought to the fore in the challenge put to Stephen Harper’s blatantly aggressive attack on Canada’s sacred wilderness and the First Nations way of life.

I recommend this TED talk by way of introduction to his genius and passion.

As Geopolitical Luck Would Have It

Note 1: This blog is republished under a new title from my old site. It is from April, 2010 but bears repeating. The opinions remain mine and the authors’ truths are timeless.

Note 2: Here is a link to a January 9th, 2013 Guardian review of Jared Diamond’s latest book, The World Until Yesterday by none other than Wade Davis. It is quite enlightening. Wade Davis makes the important criticism that there is still a sense in Diamond’s eloquently humane, but anthropologically naive, work that the fundamental paradigm of the superiority of the European worldview is alive and well. Diamond  simply believes that the West can benefit from tweaking derived from insight contributed by an appreciation of the way in which indigenous cultures relate to the unity of all living things on the Earth. Davis, on the other hand, recognizes that the apparently primitive indigenous approaches to understanding and to life are equally valid ways of living and that European  peoples need to recognize this if we are to survive. Only a new appreciation of the complete validity and worth of indigenous worldviews will take us where we hope to go: alive into the next century.

OK. Back to the original post:

I don’t know exactly when I bought the paperback version of Jared Diamond’s great book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, published in 1997 or 1999 (those Copyright notes are confusing), but it was possibly as early as 2004. I soon got distracted (saw something shiny, maybe) and put it down, probably somewhere around page 100. I finally finished it yesterday, all the way to the end of the 2003 afterward – page 440, after several other shiny objects interfered. My friend, Bill, called me a while back and mentioned being impressed by it, which reminded me that I owned it. I was impressed with the fact that Bill seems to have plowed through it at what seems to me like Mach 2, but why should anything he does surprise me? He seems to be able to do so many things energetically (and well), often with brilliantly funny self-effacement. Anyway, after working my way to page 200, I became obsessively determined to finish it and must have raced through the second half in less than two months!

You might have gathered that it’s not an easy read. The Da Vinci Code it is not! But Diamond is one of three authors concerned with the people and other living things on this Planet that are worth taking out your highlighter (if your memory is as short as mine) and plowing through. Continue reading “As Geopolitical Luck Would Have It”

Endangered Human Faculties

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The famous 12-cornered stone in Cuzco

Photo credit: David Stanley

The slide I personally took, in 1967, of this brilliant, iconic piece of masonry disappeared in 1972 when my wife, Anita, and I  moved from England to Canada, where I was born. Eighty choice slides from my two month South America trip somehow didn’t come with us or in our separately-shipped trunks. But that’s another story.

My topic is not about lost slides; it’s about lost ways of thinking, speaking, listening and doing. There is as much, likely more, human creativity, intelligence and “spirituality” in this one stone from the wall of Inca Roca than  in the bloated speeches of today’s politicians and works of some popular writers.

Manual dexterity is, today, disrespected. Those artisans who work with their hands in our first world are losing their jobs to robots, offshore workers and offshore workers running offshore robots.

Continue reading “Endangered Human Faculties”