Sunday, May 28, 2017

Let's Play

Another book I read last year was Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, & the Secret of Games by Ian Bogost. Bogost is a professor of interactive computing and a founding partner of Persuasive Games and his book is really refreshing.
playground equipment, spirituality definition
It got my attention for two reasons:
  1. The word play. Although I have an ambivalent relationship with astrology, its mythical archetypes are rich sources for exploring depth psychology (pant! pant! something I love) while the cheesy cookie-cutter personality analyses and forecasts make me cringe (or is it whinge, lol!) And … yet … I do know my North Node is in Leo which at the most basic level suggests that for me, learning to play could be a helpful thing … hehe.
  2. The word limits. In my twenties I studied the I Ching. My introduction to Carol Anthony’s Guide to the I Ching was a huge, door-opening into the cosmos experience for me, probably the seed which planted the spiritual arc upon which I’ve journeyed for the past three decades. Why? Amidst all its intricacies, its bedrock was the concept of our internal world and the power of spending time there. Now when I went to the most reputable English translation of the I Ching or Book of Changes by Wilhem/Baynes, I found a mix of concepts which left me quite ambivalent and eventually led me to discard the book. Overlayed—shellacked—with Confucianism (which I don’t like because it promotes misogyny and rigidly hierarchical social structures which are antithetical to the whole concept of diversity, multiplicity, and variety inherent in life) there are liberal sprinklings of Taoism in its birth (which I love) and much poetry in: The Judgements, Images, and Lines, of the hexagrams. (If you’re unfamiliar with the I Ching it’s a collection of 64 hexagrams, images of 6 broken and unbroken lines to which text has been appended; the hexagrams purportedly represent the varying pathways (sequences) of change upon which Life is apt to meander.) Hexagram 61 is: Limitation, its Judgement: Limitation. Success. Galling Limitation must not be persevered in. Those 7 words capture the treachery of both indulgence and tyranny. In his book, Bogost makes a playful and much more wordy pitch for how limits are a key ingredient to success. 
But the overall theme of Play Anything is really about: Engaging with the FINITE, i.e. the material world as we see it and experience it. A theme very much appreciated by me as one who’s sick of our species attempts to discount and/or minimize the miracle around us as an “illusion” or our commitment to focus on its worst aspects and soothe our perspective with a future “afterlife”.
If the FINITE IS the DIVINE’S CREATION … why are we always so committed to an exit? WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR US TO BE HERE … on this planet, in this moment, alive, attending, cherishing … playing …
characteristics of a spiritual person, how would you define spirituality
If attitude/perspective is everything …

Then Bogost’s first chapter, Everywhere, Playgrounds, is a great start in upending the apple cart …

He begins by telling a story of rushing through the mall with his daughter. He describes a game she played along the way with the lines created by the floor tiling. Her win: “She made the most of a mundane situation. She turned misery into fun.”

“…children are constantly compromising, constantly adjusting to an environment that is clearly not theirs, not yet. That’s wisdom, not innocence … we are fools to think we can control the universe. Children are right to allow the humility of their smallness to rule the day.”

“… misery gives way to fun when you take an object, event, situation, or scenario that wasn’t designed for you, that isn’t invested in you, that isn’t concerned in the slightest for your experience of it, and then treat it as if it were … this is what play means. Play isn’t doing what we want, but doing what we can with the materials we find along the way. And fun isn’t the experience of pleasure, but the outcome of tinkering with a small part of the world in a surprising way.”

“… play invites and even requires greater attention, generosity, respect, and investment than its supposedly more serious alternatives do.”

Then Bogost pounds on The Boredom … of daily life, of routine, of all the things we’ve done and seen before. Refreshingly, he transforms boredom to the pointer where we can play … be more attentive, more involved, and more surprised by novelty: novel insights, novel experiences, novel emotions. .. “Joy and pleasure live beyond boredom. Under it, not before nor atop it … once the familiarity of something ordinary is finally, totally, utterly spent, then the novelty of facing it anew can finally start.”
spirituality vs religion, what is spirituality
Next he takes interesting and thoughtful swipes at the currently trendy Mindfulness:

“Mindfulness is the practice of accepting our own thought and feelings, but what good is it if we accept only ourselves? We need a means to accept other things. A worldfulness to complement—or even replace—the trend of mindfulness.”

“Instead of taking things in stride, instead of transforming them from insufferable to agreeable, our default approach tends toward frustration, overwhelm, anger, and disgust. Rather than accepting the invitation to play, we reject the call as insufficiently compatible with our predetermined needs and wishes.”

Then he confronts the idea set forth by the writer David Foster Wallace that a way to cope with boredom, routine, tedium of adult life is to project “worst-case-scenarios” on all those you encounter to help you shift from a mental self-centeredness to “an equally soul-destroying, utterly boundless hypothetical empathy” … thus retreating “further into the self” because after all, we’re still bound up in our narrative, and what we tell ourselves. “Wallace’s standard—assuming everyone has ‘harder, more tedious or painful lives’—goes … beyond … inventing meaning, our burdened skulls apparently must invoke the most drastic situation in order to subordinate our private feelings to the circumstances we encounter. A rat-race of worst-case scenarios.

It’s insane to think we’d have to make up fake stories when the world is so replete with real stuff waiting for us to notice it—stuff like rectilinear shopping-mall floor tiles, Gibson Les Paul studio guitars, the knobby stem-necks of tangelos, cans of Pringles machine-formed potato chips, the formal constraints of a tweet or a sonnet … To treat things with respect and intrigue, we don’t need to understand the motivations and inner lives—whatever know the inner life of a tangelo or floor tile would mean. We just need to pay enough attention to discover what they do and how they work—to discover what they obviously and truly are—and then to make use of them in gratifyingly novel ways …

The great tragedy of Wallace’s life—a lifelong sufferer of depression, he committed suicide at age forty-six—isn’t only that he killed himself: it was also that he was unable to invent tolerable, lasting mode of living during the years he eked out of the universe, a mode of living that truly allowed the selfish mind to live amidst the great outdoors.”

Interesting, yeah?

Bogost’s attacks on irony are equally fruitful.

“Irony keeps reality at a distance. It has become our primary method for combating the external world’s incompatibility with our own desires. Today’s irony uses increasingly desperate efforts to hold everything in between welcome embrace and sneering mockery. Irony is the great affliction of our age, worthy of it’s own disorder.”

“Irony is the risk management strategy that accompanies selfishness, whether in commercial form as materialism or in spiritual form as mindfulness. By holding everything at a distance, we trap ourselves in our imperfect minds. … To pretend that the world only exists in one’s head is a madness condemned to reproduce itself forever. The error mistakes the big, weird, world outside our heads for a world built to be housed inside that head, inside our comparatively tiny minds … the mania of selfish irony: the world can never fully satisfy me, so I will hold it at arm’s length forever. Wouldn’t it be easier and more productive to work with the objects, people, and situations we encounter? To use, understand, and appreciate them for what they are rather than how they make us feel about ourselves?”

“Irony is the opposite of playground. Rather than embracing, creating, or otherwise accepting the ultimate existential preposterousness of the world and working with it nevertheless, irony takes the first step—drawing the boundary, encircling the materials with which one might then produce novel experience—and then it stops … with a chuckle and a sneer.”

How to play:
nature and spirituality, finding spirituality in nature
“First, pay close, foolish, even absurd attention to things. Then allow their structure, form, and nature to set the limits for the experiences you derive from them. By refusing to ask what could be different, and instead allowing what is present to guide us, we create a new space. A magic circle, a circumscribed, imaginary playground in which the limitation of the things we encounter—of anything we encounter—can produce meaningful experiences.”

Our world is jam-packed full of splendor and mystery, most of which we never notice as we ply the demands and dissatisfactions of our selfish lives. And even when we find mechanisms for relief—Buddhist mindfulness or libertarian objectivism, sermonic asceticism or unbridled consumerism—they turn our attention inward rather than outward. They tell us stories about the bodies and minds we wish we occupied rather than offering us tactics to live amidst the world as it really is. Playgrounds aren’t things we create so much as structures we discover. They are particular configurations of materials that otherwise go unnoticed, unseen, unloved, and unappreciated. They’re scattered everywhere, stacked, overlapping, exerting their machinations without us, but available for our address and manipulation, if we draw a magic circle around their parts and render them real.”

Wow. Contemplate that!

In closing, I’ll leave you with a few more choice quotes from Play Anything:

“What if we have so little fun not because the world is so unpleasurable, but because we’ve gotten fun so wrong?”

What if “… real fun isn’t in you; it’s in the world. Or better: it’s in the confluence of you-and-the-world that a playground helps you create and see.”
spirituality and psychology, spirituality and healing, spirituality and wellness
Can/Could “… you accept that meaning can come from outside of you rather than from within. Perhaps even that it must.”

Consider “Physical therapy means better connecting to the world outside ourselves …” and that, perhaps, the ability to “incorporate external things into internal experience” is the key to evolution and consciousness.

Personally, I believe we’re here to change. If “The things to which we attend and the way we do so change us”, what does that say about the things we choose?

In conclusion, what if “Fun isn’t a distraction or an escape from the world, but an ever deeper and more committed engagement with it.”

All quotes are from Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, & the Secret of Games by Ian Bogost.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Wildflower Garden: Video Update #1

This video is about the wildflower Garden I'm creating as part of the celebration of the November 2017 release of War & Grace. War & Grace is the final installment in my epic fantasy trilogy, Daughter of Light. Daughter of Light was inspired by my beloved Grandma who was a gardener.



More about Grandma: Over a decade ago, when I was a singer/songwriter I produced a quirky CD. Here is an excerpt from that CD where I talk and sing about the time we spend with the ones we love and ... Broken Dolls ...



Broken Dolls Lyrics (Copyright 1998 Heather Baker)

Something borrowed blue
Why not sacrifice the truth
I spent all my time with you
All my time with you ...
Being someone that I’m not
Being something that I’m not
Someone … something …
Being someone that I’m not

I hide all secrets
I hide all my pain
I hide all my secrets
I will never ever fall in love again

I watch a crippled man
I watch him with his cane
I see his crooked body
Inside I’m just the same
Inside I’m just the same
Inside …
Inside I’m just the same

I hide all my secrets
I hide all my pain
I hide all my secrets
I will never ever fall in love again

Broken dolls are only loved
By those who knew them when
I was broken very young
So very young …
You didn’t know me then
You didn’t know me then
I know don’t me now …
You didn’t know me then

I hide all my secrets
I hide all my pain
I hide all my secrets
I will never ever fall in love again

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Is the Divine Within You?

I read God’s Ecstasy by Beatrice Bruteau last year (I think!) It’s a short book (172 pp.) but I read it very slowly because there is simply so much packed into each paragraph.
spiritual reads, good spiritual reads, books about spirituality
The book was written in 1997, but 20 years later it’s still a fascinating read. Dr. Bruteau had degrees in mathematics and philosophy, and she was a contemplative Christian. The book represents her effort to bridge the new insights quantum mechanics has provided about our Cosmos and her religion. I don't think her bridge fully crosses the gorge, but it’s a thought-provoking work.

She relies on three essential Christian religious symbols as the foundation for her thesis: the Incarnation, the Theokotos, and the Trinity. The Incarnation and the Theokotos work well for me as symbolical representations of potent spiritual/metaphysical reality but I confess, whenever she dove into the Trinity, everything became convoluted for me.

The book’s first three chapters discuss her broad views of the universe as “the creation of a self-creating world.”

“the Godmade universe is made as a self-making universe” and “to share in the divine life I must accept the vocation of consciously living in the self-creating universe”

“Joining in the creative work is really central to the whole contemplative enterprise”

“What Earth and the other heavenly bodies are manifesting is the glory, the overflowing creativity activity, that necessarily expresses and thus images the Creator.”

“When we are conscious and knowing the universe is conscious and knowing.”

The final quote is an idea I myself have been pondering for over two decades, that through each of us, through the experience of our lives, the universe and the Infinite become more knowing which would mean that each and every one of the moments of our existence is recorded—felt? received?—by this massive consciousness …

If that’s the case, nothing is meaningless … or static … because everything is constantly in flux as more becomes known.
evolution of man, all about evolution
In Chapters 4 through 7, Bruteau traces the evolution of the universe and some of the potential spiritual implications of that history. In her march through time, Bruteau discuses:

The Big Bang, the Inflation Scenario, Phase Transitions (“it may be that the idea of phase transition is an excellent way to see the whole picture: the universe evolves and ‘self-creates’ by passing through a period of phase transitions."), the stars, astrophysicists, quantum mechanics, the earth’s molten beginnings, symbiotic chemistry and bond formation, molecules of life: sugars, nucleic acids, and proteins, enzymes, catalysts, DNA, RNA, autocatalytic circles, hypercycles, emergents, the first cells, bacteria rule the world (“Bacteria are the ultimate in promiscuity. They engage in gene-swapping all the time.”), oxygen and the eukaryotic cell, diploid nuclei and meiosis, gametes, selection and adaptation, gene wars, and junk DNA, consciousness, language, and memes.


Whew. Makes your head spin! Here are some of her conclusions:

“The interactions are complicated. Organisms have to struggle with the environment, yet the environment is what sustains them. They often fight with members of their own kind, yet they also care for own kind, in some circumstance’s at the individual’s considerable expense. They may be in a predatory/prey relationship with other species, or again they may be in a symbiotic relationship of mutualism, in which each helps the other. The struggles against each other usually lead to discovering better ways to succeed in the struggle, first by one side, then the other. Even better ways to find better ways are developed, better ways to evolve are evolved.

It is one long fascinating story of the creation of novelty.
novelty and the brain, reasons for valuing diversity
“[Nature] is constantly renewing itself and constantly giving rise to forms that never existed before. And the most exciting thing about this novelty is that it is unpredictable. A theology that imagines that the whole history of the world from start to finish is already known is no longer a source of meaningfulness for us. It is not true to our experience.”

“Everywhere there is multiplicity organized into unity, the unity being strongly dependent on the multiplicity and even the diversity … And this is exactly what we see in the world on every level or scale of organization. Galaxies, molecules, organisms, societies—they are all examples of unity supporting and implying multiplicity, and multiplicity sustaining and implying unity.”

“Akin to the conjunction of diversity and unity is the balance of variation and stability…under the conditions of finitude … Randomness and determinism provide for novelty [variety] and stability.”

What’s going on here? Novelty, unpredictability, multiplicity unity, variation … all these words are exciting, inspiring, motivating … and then there is stability. Life needs that too. If we were born and our beings dissolved, i.e. there was no stability, continuity, or constancy of self, how much meaning would be lost? To ourselves? To the universe?

Along with this idea of the need for stability, not a stability that precludes evolution, but a stability of existence, she brings in another interesting concept: Severance.

In a discussion of parenting as the gifting of life as a mirror of the Divine gifting of life, she states:

“One gives being but does not control how it is expressed, one does not know what form it will take, what will happen next, how it will turn out. To pass on the gift of life is to pass on the ability to give the gift of life, and what happens past that point is out of one’s hands. This is that truly makes it a gift of love.”

Ahem. In this particular post I'm not going to discuss those parents—or those children!—who refuse to let go ... we're talking about ideals here!

“Severance is where development starts … and that inevitability involves hurt and failure, but overall, despite, and more often by means of hurts and failure, the whole process becomes more … The closed boundary … is the beginning of selfhood in the finite order … the figure is ‘discrete’, set off, separated … This is the universe’s general tendency to … be discrete and then clump, that’s the basic way of making a universe … when you have … several (from ‘severed)’ discrete bodies, you can have various clumping patterns, and your on your way to variety and creativity … If the universe were just an evenly distributed homogenous continuum of energy there would be no structure: no differences, and hence no creative unions … The great marvel, the great beauty, the great delight of the creative unions to come are dependent on those strange requirements of severance.

Again, this amazing Cosmos we live in, partake in, is a vast flow of paradoxical elements, we change, grow and evolve in the context of stability, we unite and combine in the context of separation.

And on where we are going …

“Edward Fredkin, an early computer genius, has said that the universe looks to him like a great computer with a program running it. [He also said] the program is so complex that there is no way to shorten it and jump to the final answer. The only way to find out the answer is to let the program run in real time.

So does any of this matter to us, to our daily lives, to our personal relationships? Does it have any impact on our goals and dreams whether they be for world peace or to create a family?
global peace, global peace mission
Consider Bruteau’s thoughts on Divine Intervention ….

“… The Infinite does not ‘intervene’ in the finite. The infinite as a whole is ‘exegeted’ in the whole of the finite, but the Infinite cannot be a participant in any interactions between the finite beings because that would finitize it. Only finite beings can be agents in finite interactions. The infinite can be ‘present’ in and even as the whole finite world, but it cannot be some particular part of the finite world or control some particular interaction in the finite world. All finite interactions are defined from particular points of view, and the Infinite cannot take one point of view rather than another. While this may be disappointing, it also relieves us of otherwise intractable problems, especially questions about why the Infinite doesn’t intervene in ways we (from our point of view) would like it to do.”

This strikes me as true. And so does this …

“The new things build on the old things. And as the better working ones crowd out the poorer ones, the population as a whole comes to be characterized by innovations. Those innovations then become part of the foundation on which the next round of innovations is built … But all this comes out of the dynamics, the process, the functions of the spontaneously assembling natural bodies. Nothing is imposed from the outside. There is no guiding hand. Each stage of organization leads naturally to the next on the basis of the way things are already happening. We are modeling a universe that makes itself, from the inside out, as an act of ecstasy, not one that is made from the outside by imposition.

Then there comes the procession of evil from the biological imperative to survive onward to a what might be considered a higher consciousness.

The protectionism, aggression, deception of the “selfish-gene” advances to alliances for mutual benefit then advances to a reciprocal altruism based on memory, i.e. I will likely have future interactions with you and that advances to the recognition of the “rights of others’” by way of acknowledging the Absolute/Infinite as a mutual Ground of Being. So that “the real basis for sin (I know, a word replete with a millennia of baggage; I would use a word more akin to suffering myself ) … is the failure to find the Absolute in oneself.”

Okay.

So the Theokotos, a Greek word meaning ‘God-bearer’ used traditionally for the Virgin Mary, makes me think of all our mothers as physical vessels giving birth to the infinite in finite form.
We all have the potential to “incarnate” divinity.

How do we do this? Well, folks have been trying to do this for aeons by praying, fasting, meditating, taking pilgrimages, studying sacred texts … Does any of it work? Seems like to a degree. Is it a worthy cause? Effort? Probably only if you believe it to be so. I just don’t think it’s a pursuit that one can be forced or shamed or otherwise coerced into. I also think the process of living itself evolves us, so how much focused effort is actually required?

I don’t know. Regardless, I emphatically do believe that:

“Divinity is within you: it is growing toward emergence.”

So here on this planet, there likely never will be any direct Divine Intervention … there is and will only ever be us and our thoughts and actions. The question is, by cultivating our inner connection to the Divine/Infinite how might our outer/finite world be transformed?

Will there ever come a day when everyone on the planet lives according to this state of being inwardly connected to the Divine? Is this where we're ultimately headed?

Honestly, I hope so.

In War & Grace, I call it Eryai;)

All quotes for this post are from: God's Ecstasy by Beatrice Bruteau

Thursday, May 18, 2017

On Writing War & Grace: Video Update

Enjoy this video update on War & Grace, the final release in my epic fantasy trilogy Daughter of Light. Notice the slip at 0:41 when I suggested my husband was an objective beta reader; I meant to say he might be subjective! 

Half Faerie is on sale for $0.99 until May 31st!



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Silence Listens to Us

I promised closure to my thoughts on the book Silence by Shusaku Ends a while back.

And the Big Theme: In the face of horrific persecution, why does God remain silent? And how does that silence affect the faith and actions of Christians and/or followers of other organized religions?

That was um …. almost 7 weeks ago. So you can see I have taken some time with my response. In the book, silence is most often depicted as something horrifying, a devastating betrayal to the orthodox religious; if you to whom I pray to bow to seek approval from do not ANSWER me, SPEAK to me, INTERVENE on behalf: Then what is THE TRUTH—REALITY—PURPOSE—of it all?
prayers for divine intervention, prayers for peace, praying for divine intervention
Great questions.

My experience of silence—counterpoint to what I understand the experience of the characters in the story to be—is more like this:

Silence.
The Void.
The Quietest Thing Here.

God. Infinitude. Source. The Cosmos.

Does not speak in words.
Nor in intervention.
It converses in arcs. Nature. Time.
purpose of life, why do we need time
Our communication with the Divine is more like surfing, riding a wave. Clumsy and awkward, becoming absorbed with both success and defeat we lose our balance and flail into the depths.


It can be exhilarating devastating electric and engulfing all at the same time.

Wipe out. Or ride the pipeline. Swear off or never give up.

Static our journey through life is not.


Neither is it predictable, predetermined, or controllable.

How to perfect the art of the dance, achieve the nimble footsteps, sustain attunement to the thing that created us, but unlike us, does not communicate verbally.
align with meaning, the rhythm of life, live in harmony, live in harmony with nature, balanced life, balanced lifestyle
One can deny God, but no one can deny Life.

More powerful. More subtle. More profound. More intelligent than anything any one of us can conjure or dream up.

And yet we crave to create. Improve. Manifest. Self-determine. Keep on breathing.
breath of life meaning, deep breathing benefits, inspiration, inspiration breathing
Children of life yearning to harness the invisible force that animates their selves, that is beyond their selves, that sustain their selves.

We find in the Silence:


Despair.

Inspiration.
Truth.

Answers.
Fulfillment.
Devastation.
Solace.
Comfort.
Regeneration.

Not the words, but the experience.

And the Silence listens to our pulse, our neurons, our bodies, our breath.

Overwhelmed by the massive void of quiet, we drown ourselves in a tumult of noise, oblivious to the sacred exchange, missing it all, because we falsely assume, believe that what is subtle, gentle, not forced upon us, not grasping for our attention with branding, violent indoctrination, a tsunami of words is useless, insubstantial, unworthy of our oh-so-precious time.

Silence is the wellspring.

The trailhead.

Some of us begin the journey.

Because Silence, the Void, the Quietest Thing Here, God, Infinitude, Source, the Cosmos, doesn’t demand allegiance, command obedience, or deliver judgment. It only ever offers.

And for those of us who endeavor to receive, another dimension opens, a different landscape emerges.

The mystery the wonder the awe threads itself into our reality and we are never the same.

I think Endo left his missionaries at the trailhead.
journey meaning, journey inspiration, spiritual journey