Archive for December, 2007

New Year’s Day – the First of Several

Posted on December 31, 2007. Filed under: Culture, Musings, Spirituality |

Most of us in the world today use, as our primary calendar, that known as the “Gregorian”. The Gregorian calendar came into popular usage between 1542, when it was decreed by Pope Gregory, and as late as 1926, by which time it was adopted by Russia and China. It’s amazing to think that there are people alive today who used other systems and calendars in their childhood.

In MY childhood, although the common calendar was always used, my multi-cultural extended family also celebrated two other New Year’s Days. These New Year celebrations have long traditions, going back thousands of years.

Chinese New Year is celebrated for 15 days, beginning on the 1st of the 4076th year (in 2008). It comes fairly soon in the Gregorian year, and will be celebrated next on February 8. This date will begin the Year of the Rat. Chinese years are named for one of 12 animals, and are thought to embody certain qualities these animals posses. This was an important holiday in San Francisco where I grew up. I remember well the huge parade, headed by a Dragon, and the red Lai-see envelopes with money inside given to children. If you’d like to know the animal qualities for the year you were born, go here. I’ll be back in February to wish you “Gung Hay Fat Choy“.

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The first month of the Hebrew calendar is actually Nissan (starts April 6, 2008), however, the celebration known as Jewish New Year comes in the autumn. In 2008 it begins with Rosh Hashanah, on September 30 & October 1, and is followed ten days later with Yom Kippur on October 9, both in the Hebrew month of Tishrei. These holidays are among the most important and sacred of the Jewish year. (The #1 most important remains the Sabbath, celebrated every Saturday), and are times of reflection and atonement.

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Other New Year dates I acknowledge, but did not observe in my youth are Islamic New Year (the next, for year 1429, is approx. January 10, 2008, depending upon the full moon sighting), and Japanese New Year, which begins on January 1st, as does the Gregorian, but lasts for three days. This time is seen as a “fresh start” for commerce and activities.

So, I’ll wish you a very good New Year–several times!

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EOY Appreciation Post

Posted on December 29, 2007. Filed under: Culture, Musings |

2007 marked my first year of blogging! (Actually I’ve only been at it for six months, but it FEELS like a year’s experience). This was all very new to me. I had never had a blog, website or social network membership. I didn’t IM, text, or livechat. I’d sent emails and browsed for years, but that’s it. I wanted a place where I could muse upon my interests in my own odd way.

I wasn’t primarily looking for comments, but I found them interesting, and surprise! I began to care about the people I met here! The absolutely most wonderful thing to me has been meeting people from many countries in addition to my own. I am grateful that even if your country’s primary language is not English, many of you do speak English. I am hopeless at most other languages.

If you are on this list, it’s because you have provoked me and pleased me. You have helped me expand my consciousness in unexpected ways. I have learned from you, been challenged by you, and most of all, I appreciate you. You enhanced my life in 2007, and I’m looking forward to 2008.

abbydonkrafts
Brightfeather
cjwriter
ColourfulVision
David
Deirdra
dovelove
Felipe
Kate
mrgnome
Poetman
Richard
Rikard
RubyShooZ
Sanjida
Steven
Stonehead
sulz
Tony
yogini
Will
* * * * * * * * * *
Happy New Year, everyone!

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The Benefits of Procrastination

Posted on December 28, 2007. Filed under: Musings, Spirituality |

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If you were intrigued by this title, I’ll bet you thought this was going to be a humorous post, right? While I hope it will not be without its elements of whimsy, I’m quite serious about the subject. Just for fun, and anticipating the results, I “googled” the term “Procrastination”. The results, overwhelmingly, also included the word “Overcome”, as in, “How to Overcome Procrastination“, or “Let Go of Guilt, and Overcome Procrastination“, or this: “Perfectionism doesn’t Pay–Let Go of the Procrastination”.

Now, I’m all for letting go of habits which do not serve one, but is Procrastination really a habit, or just an opinion? “Every time you put off something you dislike, you strengthen the habit of not doing; practice avoidance instead of participation.” I’m struck by how the practice is treated as a bad character flaw. Why is it so bad?–Because it “stops” us from accomplishing what we “need” to get done. But, does it?

If we look closer at WHY we procrastinate….. Wait!, I must stop that last sentence before it goes any further. I, in fact, question whether or not we do actually procrastinate. What does the word really mean, after all?

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= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Procrastination: \proh-cras-tuh-NAY-shuhn\, noun:
1. To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness.

transitive verb:
1. To postpone or delay needlessly.

Procrastination is from the Latin procrastinatio, formed from the verb procrastinare “to put off for tomorrow,” from pro-, “forward” + crastinus, “of tomorrow,” from cras, “tomorrow.”

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

This is the popular definition, of course, but I have some “issues” with it. If I “procrastinate” according to this, I am lazy and/or careless. If this is true, then that’s quite a social stigma, and, naturally, I would not deliberately engage in this behavior. However I do. So what does that say about me? Some articles I read actually see “chronic procrastination” as a serious mental disorder, involving anomalies in the brain’s pre-frontal cortex. I would re-define the word as “choosing not to do that which does not seem fun in this moment”. With that definition, procrastination is quite sensible.

You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” — Louise L. Hay

Some of you will tell me that there are times we have to do things we don’t enjoy in order to accomplish a higher purpose, but, to be honest, I just don’t believe that. If I procrastinate a lot, I feel it’s time to take a serious look at the activity I’m putting off.

Why don’t I just do it? It doesn’t look, feel, or seem pleasurable.

Why not do it anyway, if it furthers my goals? Because it doesn’t look, feel, or seem pleasurable.

That’s it. Bottom line: It’s not fun. Sometimes we can convince ourselves, or train ourselves, or discipline ourselves to do a series of tasks which, on their own are not fun, but lead to accomplishments. Accomplishments, in many cultures, are often considered the measure of “success” (another term for another post!)

We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, [people] are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have — for their usefulness.” — Thomas Merton

In thinking of all this, I realize I have achieved some accomplishments in my life. I have some pieces of paper or parchment to prove this, along with some trophies and awards. I’m as proud of these as most would be, but it leaves me wondering if it was worth all the times I didn’t procrastinate, but did what I had to in order to gain the achievement. Had I procrastinated more, I might have discovered some things I wanted to do more; that were more fulfilling, and, ultimately contributed in a greater way to my fellow humans.

My favorite quote on the subject is this: “What is the definition of procrastination? It means: I can feel within my energy sensor that this action is not in perfect alignment at this time.” – Abraham

So, maybe it WILL be in perfect alignment tomorrow. Maybe never. This is a reminder to trust my joy-seeking apparatus, which knows what is right if I allow it to.

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I never knew London could look like this

Posted on December 23, 2007. Filed under: Culture, Music, Spirituality |

This sparkly scene is a short one and one-half minutes in Regents Street, London, filmed and accompanied on guitar by Nic Askew of Monday9am.  As it’s Monday, and the holiday season is here, it seems a lovely greeting to share.  I wish everyone stopping by today a beautiful and peaceful time.

Joy to the World

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In the meantime, we’ll have to BE Star Trek

Posted on December 21, 2007. Filed under: Games, Science |

It’s going to be a whole year until the new Star Trek movie comes out!  In the meantime, there IS a quiz….It comes from a “make your own quiz” site.  These can be great, but I wonder about the scoring methods and, in couple of cases, language usage by the author.  Given all that, I got the result I expected.  I would have been very surprised (and would not have posted it) if I were of any other space race.

Here are my results:  What species are you?

“You scored as a Vulcan. You prefer to be alone and learn. You rarely show people what you are feeling. You understand that things take time. Safety is something that usually passes your mind, but you don’t always follow [procedures].”

Vulcan=  =  =80%, Federation=  =  =75%, Dominion=  =  =55%

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Winter Animal Friends

Posted on December 21, 2007. Filed under: Culture, Musings |

You may have seen these, but, I just thought I’d pop them into a post today, as they make me feel good.  Enjoy, and happy seasonal weather.

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*****

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*****

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Someone else’s Garden

Posted on December 18, 2007. Filed under: Musings, Science |

I was weeding in my front garden today. (Yes, weeding in December.  That’s the desert for you, even in the northern hemisphere).  I found myself trimming the Desert Spoon yet again.  This thing shouldn’t need trimming at all.  In open desert it grows big and round to about 4 feet in diameter, then just sort of stays there, putting up a fast-growing spike every couple of years to propagate itself.  I think plants like these should be left alone, for the most part, but someone years ago (not ME!) planted the ‘spoon right in front of my kitchen window.  If I didn’t trim it’s spiky leaves back, periodically, it would poke visitors in the leg–or maybe even more uncomfortable spots–as they came up the walk to my door.  I may not be the most hospitable person in the world, but I really don’t want someone grabbed at and punctured on their way to have a cup of tea.

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When I first moved here, as part of my “welcome new resident” package, I was given a list of plants “allowed” to fill the small spaces between the concrete and the door.  Fair enough.  The HOA (“Home Owner’s Association”, although I like to pronounce just the acronym) has in mind sustaining the natural desert environment and promoting the use of low water plants.  I have no quarrel with having a list of plants (less decisions), although I will say after seeing garden after garden with the same plants arranged slightly differently, it gets a bit old.

My issues are that the builder (probably) or the original owner (less likely) picked out the landscaping when the place was built some 16 years ago, long before I lived here.  Someone had the idea to put a cute little Desert Spoon in front of the window, surrounded by the inevitable “river rock”.  Now, it is well known around here how big these plants get.  It’s also known that they grow fairly quickly.  So, why, one asks, would they plant one of these monstrosities (if in my garden) or nice desert bushy-things (if out in the desert) in such a small space?

I believe it’s because they are readily available, inexpensive, and fill space without too much thought.  They look neat and tidy when first planted, and probably add to the building’s “curb appeal”.  When I first moved in, I had a professional landscaper evaluate the garden, and asked about having the Desert Spoon removed.  ‘No!’, she shrieked.  (All right, she didn’t actually shriek, but did say “No” in a louder-than-normal voice).  “It’s a nice desert plant”, she said.  She actually refused to remove it.  I pointed out that a) It is MY garden, and b) I don’t like the plant, but she remained unmoved.  As did the plant.

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Some of the cactus varieties in my area are actually protected, like that symbol of the American Southwest, the Saguaro. (pronounced Saw-hwah-roh).  One must get permission to move one of those, as they are endangered.  But, trust me, Desert Spoons are a dime a dozen.  They are also notoriously difficult to remove, once they have a strong root hold.

I do not engage the services of that particular landscaper anymore, and I have asked myself the question “Why, if it’s my garden, in front of my home, do I have things in it which I don’t like?”  I believe these things affect our mental states in sometimes subtle ways.  I have pledged to remove “that which I do not want” from my life in 2008, and, believe me, this plant is on my list.  If any of you are wanting a nice Desert Spoon plant to add to your (large) sunny landscape, let me know.  Mine’s free to a good home.  You just need to bring your own backhoe.

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Holy Days

Posted on December 16, 2007. Filed under: Culture, Musings, Spirituality |

When I was a child, my elementary school’s philosophy was to celebrate all the holidays its students did. Most of us in the United States think of “THE HOLIDAYS” as starting at the end of November with Thanksgiving, and stretching to New Year’s Day on January 1st. We, of course, celebrate many other holidays besides “THE HOLIDAYS“, (in Capital Letters), but this five-week period is an intense time of celebration and reflection for many of us.

I must admit that Thanksgiving is my favorite uniquely American holiday, because it is one we created ourselves, and has become all-inclusive, in spite of all the pilgrim’s feast mythology. Anyone, from any culture, is invited to celebrate Thanksgiving. Even if we do not recognize a particular deity or deities to give thanks TO, we can acknowledge a sense of gratitude for the life we have and the people who share it with us.

The question becomes-What happens between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day? At my school, we celebrated at least five festivals during those weeks, and that experience has colored my perspective on “THE HOLIDAYS” ever since. As an adult, I discovered even more spiritual or cultural events taking place in December, and over the past few years I have made it my practice to celebrate, or at least recognize, as many as possible.

I’ll admit that when I first started doing this my motives sprang from annoyance that my USA culture tended to emphasize one particular religious observation much, much more than any other. The reason this annoyed me is that I felt that a country that championed the separation of church and state was being hypocritical in declaring a particular holiday from a particular religious tradition a legal holiday here.

While this may be a valid point of view, it is also an emotionally charged one, and, in an early New Year’s resolution, this year I am more interested in celebrating what unites us, than in picking on what divides us!

In that spirit, I’d like to discuss several cultural holidays going on in this month of December, and explore the common elements they share:

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Dec. 4-12–Hanukkah (Hebrew word for dedication) is a relatively minor holiday beginning on the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. It has taken on more importance than it warrants in post-World War II western cultures because of its proximity to Christmas. It lasts for eight days beginning at sunset the previous day. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah celebrates the victory (165 BCE) of the Maccabees over the Syrian tyrant Antiochus IV and the subsequent reclamation of Jerusalem. If you missed Hanukkah, there’s still time to celebrate Asara B’Tevet on December 19 (10th of Tevet in the Hebrew calendar). In the State of Israel, Kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the deceased) is recited on this day for people whose date or place of death is unknown. Consequently, many rabbis have designated it as a day of remembrance.

December 6–Saint Nicholas Day is a festival for children in much of Europe related to surviving legends of the saint, and particularly his reputation as a bringer of gifts. The American and British Santa Claus derives from this festival, the name ‘Santa Claus’ being a degeneration of the Dutch word Sinterklaas.

December 8–Bodhi Day celebrates the Buddha’s enlightenment in 596 BCE.

Dec. 13–Santa Lucia Day (Queen of Lights) Throughout Sweden and Norway the feast day of Lucia, or Lucy, is celebrated as a festival of lights. In the early hours of the morning of December 13 a young woman, dressed in a white gown, would go from one farm to the next carrying a torch to light her way, bringing baked goods, stopping to visit at each house and returning home by break of day. Lucia symbolizes light and growth for human and beast as she emerges out of the darkness.

Dec. 16-25–Las Posadas (Spanish for “the lodgings”) is a traditional Mexican festival which re-enacts Joseph’s search for room at the inn.

Dec. 18-23–Hajj Muslims have several late-year celebrations. Eid Al-Fitr, or the Celebration of Breaking the Fast, marks the end of Ramadan. Ramadan is the month of fasting. Eid Al-Fitr is all about celebrating the good things that we have received, God’s (Allah’s) bounty and our family and friends. Hajj is the sacred pilgrimage to Mecca. During Hajj, Eid al-Adha is a religious festival celebrated by Muslims worldwide as a commemoration of Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice. This year, many will celebrate on December 20 or 21. The date can vary in different communities.

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December 22, 06:08 UT–Winter Solstice, also known as the Southern Solstice, Dongzhi (in Asia), or the first day of winter, occurs on or around December 22. This is the shortest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere, and is a major festival in pagan religion worldwide. It is an important feast day for many Native Americans. Many of the symbols and motifs associated with the modern holiday of Christmas are derived from traditional pagan northern European Yule celebrations.

Dec. 25–Christmas The birth of Jesus of Nazareth has been celebrated by Christians for more than 1600 years. Christmas (from Old English Cristes maesse or “Mass of Christ”) is observed annually on December 25 although the exact date of Christ’s birth is not known. Christmas is also a popular secular holiday, which focuses upon the many interpretations of St. Nicholas and some pagan traditions such as Christmas Trees, Christmas carols, mistletoe, Christmas cards, and gift giving. Many people celebrate Christmas with elements of both the religious observances and the secular rituals. Regardless of whether the celebration is religious or secular, the spirit of the season remains one of peace and goodwill.

Dec. 26-Jan. 1–Kwanzaa is an African-American cultural festival that was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga. Dr. Karenga’s goal was to establish a holiday that would facilitate African-American goals of building a strong family, learning about African-American history, and developing unity.

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These are very brief descriptions of just a few of the holidays celebrated in December around the world. I feel fortunate to live in a culture whose citizens contribute their rich traditions to our understanding. Most of these holidays have in common light, gladness, joy, gratitude, and acknowledging the importance of family and friends. This year, when we greet each other with “Happy Holidays”, “Merry Christmas”, or “Shub Diwali” (Hindu Festival of Lights) we can truly celebrate our unity and our diversity.

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My childhood was full of beans.

Posted on December 14, 2007. Filed under: Musings |

When I was seven years old I found some white navy beans on the street–probably dribbled by a torn shopping bag belonging to one of my neighbors.  I wouldn’t do this now, but then I picked them up!–right off the “dirty” street.  I put them in my pocket and I took them home.  Later that afternoon, I decided to put them on a plate, wrapped in a wet paper towel.  Why did I do this?  I knew nothing about sprouting seeds or planting beans.  It just seemed like the right thing to do.  I kept the paper towel very wet over the next couple of days, and I noticed the outer skin of the beans start to swell and change shape.  The beans became wrinkled, like my skin when I had been in the bathtub too long.

    Soon, I saw little tiny green points sticking out of some of the beans.  My goodness, they were growing!  I thought they were just dead beans, I didn’t know supermarket beans could be seeds!  (But, again, why did I keep them wet for a few days?  I swear I didn’t know, and to this day don’t know, why I did this).

    Then, the little points got longer and longer, and, after another few days, a tiny “ear” appeared on one.  This was a leaf or a sprout or something–I didn’t know what.  But at that point, it didn’t seem like a good idea to keep the beans in a wet paper towel for much longer.

    I found an old plastic pot under the sink.  I think it had contained a flowering plant that had been given to my mother–a plant that had long since withered away.  I took the pot into the back yard, and–this is interesting–I filled it half full of crumbled leaves.  For some reason, I did not use garden soil, although there was an abundance of it available.  I gathered dead leaves from the apple and peach trees, and the rhododendron bush, and crushed them into the pot.  I then carefully put in the bean sprouts, keeping them as far apart from each other as possible, and put another layer of leaves on top.

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    I took it back inside and plunked the pot on the same plate I had been using with the paper towels, and thoroughly watered it.

    I had to wait several days this time, but I always kept the leaves, now rapidly turning into mulch, moist, and soon, the little “ears” began to emerge from the soil!  I was elated.  By the way, I had not told anyone I was doing this.  Not my parents, not anyone.  I had my own room, and I’d put the pot on my nightstand which was near a window, and just made sure to keep the mulch moist, but not soggy.

    I finally showed my pot of strong green bean plants to my mother, and she was amazed I’d grown these from seed all by myself.  I took my pot to school for “show and tell”, and all were duly impressed.  Soon the bean plants were tall and strong, and needed to be replanted.  They lived in the sunny school window for a long time.

So, why am I telling you this story?  The memory came up for me recently when I was discussing childhood with a friend.  A teacher I respect believes the best thing to do is leave children alone, most of the time.  By that, I don’t mean to ignore them, but to let them explore and learn as they will.  When the situation warrants, give them a new book or learning aid, or help them design and complete a project–but only if they are experiencing fun and joy.  “Don’t ‘try to get them to do stuff’” my teacher says.  We do that in the home, and particularly in the schools, way too much.  “Experts” design curricula, which are then foisted upon the unsuspecting child.  Is it any wonder so many children dislike school?  There are learning theories which allow education to be self-directed by the child, almost from day one.  Critics of these often say that such experiences will result in a child not choosing to learn a particular skill, like science, or math, or pre-Victorian architecture.  Critics of those critics say “So what!”  The items which are considered essential in a child’s education are determined by “authorities” based on what they imagine is “well-rounded” or “useful” to society.  I think this approach stifles creativity.

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I did a little research to find theories that support mine.  While there are plenty of papers, most give instructions on “how to encourage curiosity in your child” — or some such thing.  To me, this is still trying to get the child to do something.  Children are naturally curious; all they need is an environment rich with things to be curious about!  This article is pretty good.  I also turn to a book I read a long time ago.  It’s quite dated, now, but Summerhill is a fascinating saga of an alternative school where the students, along with the teachers, determine the curriculum.  Summerhill School still exists today in the UK.

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com

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Spirituality is a Funny Business

Posted on December 12, 2007. Filed under: Culture, Spirituality |

I had the privilege of seeing Swami Beyondananda at the Institute of Noetic Sciences conference this summer.  In addition to being a side-splittingly funny spiritual and political commentator, he’s also very serious about the “shift happening” on the planet in these times.  I’ve seen Swami many times over the years at spiritual and environmental events, but I hadn’t known until I attended his workshop at the conference that he was partnering with one of my favorite researchers, biologist Bruce Lipton, to offer tips on how we as conscious beings can change global structures through the holographic field which, apparently, connects everything.  We did a few consciousness experiments in the workshop, and I was amazed at how being willing to receive the wisdom of the mass mind turns itself into easy solutions for apparent problems.  I believe we will hear more about these kinds of opportunities in the years to come, and that it will soon be common practice to have consciousness conferences, rather than councils of war.  Please see this post for more on the “conscious bytes” IONS is offering for free in December. 

But, on a lighter note:  Experience a taste of the “animated” Swami here.  (Thanks to IONS for creating this one-minute-shift, The Upwising Begins).  The “flesh and blood” Swami is just as funny.  He is a master of the spiritual/political pun:  “If you’re concerned about Electile dysfunction, Mad Cowboy disease, and Irony deficiency,  join the ‘Right-to Laugh’ party“.

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SWAMI FOR PRECEDENT!

Swami’s kicked off his new Swami for Precedent campaign: “We need a new precedent,” the Swami says, “because if we only do things the way we’ve always done them, we will only get what we’ve always gotten. Choose a new precedent, and a new President will follow.”

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