Web Camel Transport 23

Aperture:  The Space through which Happiness Passes

Friday March 25, 2016 (for Wednesday, February 25, 2016)

It is gray and cold outside, technically below freezing. I woke up and turned up the heat. I had a good sleep with somewhat disturbing dreams, like a slight clotting of cream in a delicious cup of coffee. The American International School pictures have stirred up both happy and sad and scary memories and these provoked in me some regrets that I was not more attuned to, and involved in my siblings’ lives. I was fifteen to seventeen then, and scarcely aware of the importance of awareness and memory as pillars of the development of my Good Self. That I do not remember more, about each person—acquaintance or friend–with whom I shared some time and space and location, bothers me. Like any parent to a younger child or one’s own younger self-in-recollection, I feel the frustration of not being able to perambulate backward in time to impart the wisdom that only comes streaming into the hourglass in grains of sand. The aperture of now, and the aperture of then differ so widely.

But I feel grateful this morning for the quiet and solitude of my house and the land around me. There is goodness in that. Those persons on the planet whom I love, for whom I want to express my love, recede for a moment. I can gather my energy, refresh myself. Quiet does that. The presence of others in the house occupies my mind and heart, as if, at any moment someone might want or need something. I would like to provide for them their wishes, should my help be appropriate. Laundry, food or a drink, directions, the borrowing of an item, the finding of one. . . I stay tuned to those radio-like frequencies of others and do not filter them out. I listen, lean, anticipate, and attend. So when I sit here alone, and there is no one else in the house who might need or want anything, I luxuriate in the spaciousness of that.

Yet there is no static place of solitude or company that results in happiness. Happiness resides in the dance of cloud and sun, of heat and breezy relief from heat. Inner weather, from the sunny core of me to the ozone layer and the thinner stratospheres beyond, varies continuously. Like balancing–a vibration, a shifting, a seamless (if one is lucky enough to do this well) series of delicate adjustments. Like breathing—inspiration and expiration and the long golden thread of emptying and filling in between.

I miss my brother and have missed him every other day or so this March. He died in March 35 years ago. But there are places in my body that hold his absence gently, where once, a long time ago, I railed at his utter gone-ness at such a young age–27. And all those young people, particularly young men, who are dying now, in every town across the country due to opiate overdoses, has brought this back to me. The hypnotic spell of opiates, like a ghastly Stepford conversion, this Pied Piper of death, leads too many too soon to their graves. And yet, even the taking of drugs serves an initial, and so human purpose—relief. Relief from emotional pain, from self-loathing, from anger, from disappointment, from fatigue, from stress, from depression, from loneliness, from a sense of failure, from physical pain, from an inability to envision a better future, from all kinds of unsatiated hungers; from running, running, running away.

Rain is coming down. My phone says it is thirty degrees this morning. I imagine the birds, the squirrels, and the deer as cold and uncomfortable, focused on sheltering and trying to feed themselves and this makes me remember that I dreamed about squirrels flying last night. That I thought they were birds, but someone pointed out to me that a “flock” of squirrels had traversed a great distance of sky into a harbor of trees whose canopy quickly concealed them. It must have been because I walked with Lili yesterday in the new baby backpack. We saw some birds along the wooded path to the pond, as well as some squirrels. She felt heavy in the backpack but I loved her weight and the pressure it put on my sedentary thighs. The weight, the gravity, the air-born—perhaps all of that melded into the dream imagery.

The wind blew strongly and even with the two pairs of socks I put on Lili’s feet, I worried that her toes would get too cold so sometimes I put my hands behind my back and held her feet. Even though her cheeks reddened and her nose ran she still fell asleep before we reached home. So soundly that I unpacked her, removed the extra sweater, mittens and socks without her waking. I placed her on a bed with a quilt, carefully below her face in these days where babies are supposed to sleep without any blanketing. I watched her breathe, face relaxed, and took a nap next to her.

Exercise. Rest. Waking to the sweetness of baked yam and tiny pieces of ripe banana. A slow slip into the afternoon. Goodness of a day with Lili. Goodness now this day by myself.

Materiality—sand sifting through the aperture of the hourglass in grain upon grain; the sweet, thousand-kissed nearly pore-less skin of Lili’s cheek—holds hands with any thoughts in wisdom, in happiness.

Guest saddle: Through what opening does light flow into your life? When you are walking by the ocean, a lake, on a mountain? When you wake up, or revel in a conversation with a friend? How does your inner weather change? Dramatically or subtley? What is wild and precious to you? (words taken from Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day—“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”)

Web Camel Transport 22

The ‘Hamlet’ of Happiness

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


I spoke with my mother a couple of days ago. She recently turned 88 and had just gotten home from her lifelong learning class at Brandeis University where all the teachers are volunteer peers. This course, she said, was the best ever, a true Shakespearian scholar and retired professor at its helm. She is taking his class on Hamlet, a play she has read, and studied many times over the years from college onward through continuing education classes. Yet she sounded incredibly enthusiastic to have her nose in this play yet again; to feel equally or more enchanted than ever by the synergy of familiarity with the work, on one hand, and the novelty of what this particular professor and class brought to it, on the other.

To read a prized work with the intimacy of the scholar and the curiosity of the explorer excited her, and hearing about it excited me. To see and hear with new eyes and ears, even what feels familiar, represents a hallmark of enjoyment. Things only get old when our modes of experience get stale, when we have used up our line of inquiry, and when we have turned jaded and cynical.

To read a work of literature is to co-create its meaning. Whatever the author intends, or writes unintentionally (subconsciously), takes on meaning within us as we bring to bear our own intelligence and experiences as lenses. Through our reading the words on the page take flight in the skies of our imaginations. Reading is like having a dialogue with the material, and if we are lucky this conversation sparks a love affair or an inspirational, even transformative encounter.

There is so much that seems difficult about aging. Naively, I once thought that along with our acquired wisdom over the years—should we be lucky enough to live a long time—that we would also grow to accept our declines in memory, in muscle tone, in agility and flexibility, in speed; that somehow the slow dulling of vision, hearing, smell and taste would somehow feel compensated for by a growing appreciation for the small things.

What I have learned is that we tend to have a sense of ourselves that persists.(And neurons with which we are born that are still with us–yeah, baby neurons!) If we are lucky enough to house a decent memory, there is some through-line, some arc of chapters in our lives that make sense as part of our story. And it is difficult to reconcile the creaky joints, perhaps the increased pain, the dulling capabilities, with who we “really” are.

Although older age can produce greater happiness in some ways, and some alacrity and quickness with a huge data base in our chosen fields, it does not often happen without feelings of loss—the losses of those family members and friends who have left this plane, of course, but also the losses of our major identifiers—professional identities, community participations, etc. Many elders feel almost invisible, as if they have grayed into the atmosphere. And certainly we live in an impatient culture of elbows, with little interest in making room for those moving at a slower pace.

To love something—one’s garden with its flowers petaling open anew under the morning sky; a favorite piece of literature; a symphony, etc.—and to love it again and again, with fresh ears and eyes, well, that is savoring. The happiness of savoring, of ‘Hamlet.’

Guest saddle: What do you love, over and over? The smile of your baby or grandbaby? The smell of the lilacs wafting through the summer-open windows? A piece of music that reminds you of happy times? Are you giving yourself enough opportunities to revel in such happiness?

Web Camel Transport 21

The Aspect Ratio of Happiness

Monday, February 22, 2016

Within the context of any whole—an interpersonal relationship, an image, a business, a work of art, a form in nature, the human body, the human brain—exist parts which relate to one another in complex ways. Proportionality constitutes one kind of relationship that exists between parts of a whole. Simply put, a proportion means: So much of X to so much of Y.

In the world of film making the aspect ratio tells us the dimension of width and length of the image we see. A typical aspect ratio is 4:3 or 1.33: 1. This aspect ratio creates, though subtly, an influence on how we experience the images we see. Some filmmakers have changed the aspect ratio, sometimes several times within the same movie, to create differences in emotional intensity and perception in the viewer, the technology of both film and television evolving to produce ever wider screens and, therefore, scenes.

Throughout history, mathematical proportions have provided lenses through which to understand the balances of forms in nature, art, and human behavior—in social, political and business contexts.

In Greek philosophy the Golden Mean described the balance, relationship or proportion between two extremes. If, for example, you take the notion of courage (example from Wikipedia), to be courageous in some contexts would result in “recklessness,” while not being courageous in other circumstances would be too weak and “cowardly.” We also hear the expression, “All things in moderation.” Eating is great, but too much makes you fat and too little makes you anorexic. Too much alcohol causes dependence and dysfunctionality, but tea-totaling (and this may be necessary if one is in a 12 step program for compulsive drinking) removes one from the occasional glass of the bubbly to celebrate at a wedding, etc. Even if you are a determined person who never quits anything, at one extreme you might hit your head on the proverbial stone wall. But quitting before you’ve done your best will leave you feeling unsuccessful and less optimistic about future pursuits. In Eastern religion and philosophy the notion of The Middle Way, is similar.

The Golden Ratio= Phi (1.618. . .) In math and beauty and nature this ratio appears. And Sacred Geometry incorporates mathematical principles at work in both nature’s forms, and also art and architecture. As an example, the nautilus shell “grows at constant rate and so its shell forms a logarithmic spiral to accommodate that growth without changing shape. Also, honeybees construct hexagonal cells to hold their honey.” (Wikipedia)

From Classical Greece to Leonardo Davinci, the “ideal” proportion of head length to height for human beings is roughly 1/8. Most human beings have ratios between 1/7 head-to-body length to 1/8, whereas babies have a 1/4 proportion.

The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, is something observed in the success of businesses. 20% of your time produces 80% of your business. And 20% of your customers produce 80% of your income. The Italian, who developed this idea first observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the populace. In general the rule states that 80% of effects come from 20% causes.

I have also seen this rule used to describe that if 4/5 of the time you keep to a schedule—be it exercise or a nutrition plan—then that will cover the 1/5 that you go off course. So doing something positive most of the time will offset a less stringent regimen for brief periods.

John Gottman, a psychologist who studied couples extensively, watching hours of videotape of them discussing different issues, came to the conclusion that he could predict with over 90% accuracy, which were in relationships/marriages that would last and which would fail. He concluded that a couple needed to have a 5/1 ratio of positive to negative interactions to survive. The quality of life would go down dramatically, and the relationship would teeter on the brink of disaster as that ratio went down. The couple could be talking about anything, whether superficial or profound, but what mattered was whether the interaction was experienced as positive or negative. It is possible, though it requires some art, to disagree positively. Conflicts of interest, themselves, do not necessarily have to devolve into negative interactions.

In psychological researcher, Barbara Frederickson’s book, Positivity, she talks about the all-important ratio of 3/1 positivity to negativity for flourishing, whether in speaking about individuals, couples, or groups, including businesses. Positive emotions allow for flexible thinking, resilience, openness to new ideas. Negative emotions tend to narrow options and opportunities. For severely depressed individuals, tunnel vision often applies. People forget they had good times and fail to feel hopeful for the future.

Frederickson says negative emotions function in the moment, evolutionarily, to promote action such as fighting or fleeing when we feel afraid, whereas positive emotions “broaden-and-build” for the future. I believe the evolutionary thrust for positive emotions may be even more basic: Just like sex feels good which promotes procreation, and food tastes good so we will nourish ourselves, positive emotions give us a reason to live. If we were only “protected” by negative emotions to survive, we would cease to want to survive. Positivity is inherently filled with purpose because it connects us to what comes into our senses, to the earth upon which we walk, and to the people with whom we relate. Positive emotions draw us to others, and into nature, and even to develop a more loving relationship to ourselves.

Guest Saddle: What do you guess is your ratio of positive to negative outlooks on yourself and your opportunities, on others? How often do you find yourself truly enjoying a walk, a meal, a conversation, an activity? Do you feel prone to that Puritan guilt when you enjoy yourself or bring enjoyment to others? Or do you relish and savor those opportunities?

Web Camel Transport 20

Attracting Happiness:  The Art of Constellating

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Law of Attraction reminds us that what we think, and what thrives in the locus of our attention holds the power we have poured into it. Our thoughts, like magnets, invite other objects of thought or circumstances “outside” ourselves to resonate in our lives. And in a sense we co-create that which we think will happen. At the same time, when we remain open to unanticipated surprises or delights, then the open door of our imaginations welcomes the nascent and as-yet-unarticulated.

We do not live in worlds of certainty. Walking around with an anxious load of uncertainty makes us feel terrible, unstable, and insecure. But to welcome some unexpected, spontaneous and interesting happenings, allows us to receive those “lucky,” or felicitous gifts when they occur. We do not always know when opportunity will knock, but if we do not find ourselves eager enough to open the door, then we will chalk up many missed opportunities. After all, our own attracting forces live in a world of many other attracting forces. A happy coalescence of optimistic or inquisitive (attractive) forces can change history.

Many people speak of the Law of Attraction, or magnetism, as if “like attracts like” is always an apt analog. With magnets, themselves, the North and South poles attract each other—they are opposites—but the like poles repel each other. And yet, if you think nice people will like you at the party where you only know one other person, then you will find people to like you. So thinking about making friends attracts the actual making of friends. On the surface we can say “like attracts like.” But perhaps thoughts do not exactly replicate themselves, like a harmonic, or an overtone, in life, but rather function as organizing or constellating principles. And principals.

For example, when I go to an event with the thought that no one will like me, that thought constellates my body posture and facial expression, my emotions, and my (all-important) behavior. I may keep my head down, avoid making eye contact, refuse to initiate conversation, and interpret other people talking together as deliberately excluding me, thereby fitting what I experience as evidence to support my negative narrative. So, in this way, my beliefs organize my body, my attitude, my emotional pallet, my behavior and therefore my possibilities. I attract, as per the Law of Attraction, a negative social outcome.

In order to constellate differently, to align myself with what I really want, then I need to intervene with myself to change the thoughts that issue from my mind. Changing any element of a constellation has some capacity to realign all aspects of it. For instance, I can practice affirmative thinking. To make it more specific than simply a generic positive thought, I customize it to myself: What is it that I prefer to think when going to a social engagement? Maybe I want to think, “I will enjoy people at the party and they will enjoy me.” Changing our thoughts directly, through reiteration, might work better for some people than for others.

One can also determine to shift physical alignment and posture as well as facial expression. Going to the party one might walk with a nice, relaxed but upright posture, make eye contact with people and smile. And that leads to another dimension—behavior. I might determine to talk to a few people, to behave as though I have more confidence and a more positive attitude (I have likely experienced moments in the past where I did have an upbeat attitude and felt confident). With these thoughts, postures, facial expressions and new behaviors, I will constellate differently and my experiences will be different—most often better. At the very least I always benefit from “putting my best foot forward.” I would much rather fail—to win friends or garner opportunities—due to forces outside myself than due to my own lack of courage or creativity.

My own constellation demonstrates a kind of “gravitational force” between personal elements, but the totality of my constellation fills the interpersonal space around myself in a particular way, and that influences how others perceive and respond to me. If I reach out with curiosity and warmth to learn more about others surrounding me, I may not “attract” them to learn more about me, but perhaps I attract their openness and trust as they respond to my genuine interest and positive regard. Attraction can pull for homogeneity sometimes—that common denominator with another person that makes them feel familiar to us; or it can pull for complementarity, for a “fit,” as in the example above: I am curious about someone and they respond by wanting to express themselves. In either case, we can attract happiness, whether familiar or unfamiliar.

Guest saddle:  What do you tend to attract to yourself?  Are you aware of your constellation of elements that influences what comes into your gravitational field?  Is it easier to change your thoughts, your bodily expression or your behavior?

Web Camel Transport 19

A+ Attitude= Higher Happiness Altitude

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Our attitudes live through both our minds and bodies. We take positions, orient ourselves a certain way, buy into certain perspectives, occupy stances with regard to various people, situations, events, relationships, jobs, etc. Our attitudes typically precede our involvement in something on a particular day. Often we bring forward a calcified set of attitudes from prior experiences that, like a pair of sunglasses, color the present situation. That means we cannot see the present situation with fresh eyes, but only through the lenses of our internalized attitudes.

In any case, we can generally categorize attitudes as positive or negative with regard to our experiences and our forthcoming experiences.

Attitudes are often intimately connected to our living narratives—the scripts we have and live out, about ourselves and others. For example, if the narrative, “I always lose,” possesses me, then I will likely have a poor attitude about trying hard, whether it involves taking a math test, running a road race, or aiming for a promotion. Why try hard if I always lose. If I think, “Nothing ever can cheer me up,” then my attitude will not aim toward lightheartedness in my forthcoming experiences.

A negative attitude can event distort our perception of physical reality. A client of mine who is by all accounts a handsome adult, said that he had been teased when he was a child about his tall gawky presence and prominent features. Even though he had since grown into his features, he still, when having a bad day, looked in the mirror and saw the “ugly” kid who had been teased. And upon that vision, decided that no attractive woman would go out with him.

With a negative attitude you work at cross purposes with yourself. Your sub-parts don’t harmonize. If you have to do something, then thinking that it serves no purpose, or thinking that you are not up to it or don’t want to do it, takes energy away from the project and is draining to you. One part of you agrees you must accomplish the thing, and other parts argue in dispute. How exhausting! It fogs your cognitive faculties and dulls your emotional vitality.

I remember, as a child, having to take piano lessons and practice for half an hour every day while many of my friends played in the neighborhood. I would fiddle around on the keyboard half-heartedly. One day my mother said, “You are going to sit on that bench for half an hour, whether you fiddle faddle or practice sincerely. How do you want to spend your time on the piano bench?” Although I still had my days of half-hearted practicing and was distracted by my impatience to run outside, the message was not lost on me and it changed and refined my attitude about dealing with commitments and responsibilities. My mandatory half hour at the piano, and all mandatory periods of time, could bracket a sincere and energized effort on my part, an all-in attitude, or constitute a draining purgatory of waiting for it to be over, or what some people call, “killing time.” Our precious time on this planet is killed soon enough.

When we take a relatively positive attitude toward others, toward upcoming situations, and present circumstances it buoys our moods, like floating over choppy waters rather than thrashing around getting worn out and sinking. Imagine even this: You fall overboard from a large boat. Someone throws you a flotation device attached to a string. Would you rather hear encouragement, like, “Just grab this and we will be sure to pull you to safety?” or, “Don’t bother to grab on, you’ll probably drown anyway I just threw you a line to say I did?” It seems clear we do not feel good when others present us with a negative attitude, so it moves us toward our own happier place when we present a positive attitude toward others, toward our responsibilities, as well as our possibilities. While no single attitude may apply equally well to every situation, most of the time an attitude of openness to many possibilities serves us well.

Guest Saddle:  In what situations do you find yourself entering with a negative attitude?  Do you have typical narratives that are negative?  (No one will like me; I’m not smart enough to be here;  they all came from money and me from poverty, etc.)

What is one positive narrative you wish to practice?