Save the Dolphins

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We consider the dolphin’s serene, benign, and undistinguished (by our standards) sojourn in the deeps and wonder what that big brain is for.

Over the last week or so, I have received many emails urging me to sign a petition protesting the Navy’s plans to test high-frequency underwater sound that will kill an estimated 1,800 whales and dolphins over the next five years and deafen about 16,000 more. As I read the material, I wondered irritably why human beings are such a menace. And then I remembered an explanation. Read Full Post »

More on Money

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The self-indulgence that high incomes enable actually diminishes happiness.

I must be prescient. The day after I posted the suggestion that the super-wealthy go shopping for the less fortunate, a newspaper article announced that this would actually make them happy. Who knew?

The opinion was written by the authors of a forthcoming book called Happy Money: The Science of Spending. Elizabeth Dunn is associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, and Michael Norton is associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.

Their research was focused on people in general, not just the super-wealthy; and a number of the findings were very reassuring. The most important was that what we do with money has a lot more to do with happiness than how much we have. Read Full Post »

Thoughts about Money

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Is it possible that the czars of finance are out of touch?

Money is a funny thing, and my feelings about it are getting increasingly complicated.

My feelings are largely shaped by The New York Times, which I study every morning along with my local newspaper. I make allowances for the fact that it has a liberal cant, but the range of subjects it covers is unmatched and so is the quality of writing and research. Plus it has many photographs—wonderful photographs­­­­ that venture into the field of art.

My subscription is expensive, so I need money for that. Printed newspapers are struggling, and I feel a little anxious about this one going out of business, as though its disappearance or relegation to the computer screen would result in a major drain of the country’s intellectual lifeblood. Truth to tell, I kind of wish the Times were required reading. Maybe we could institute that and call the subscription a tax. There is real potential in this new concept.

Anyway, my ambivalence about money often comes up on seeing the evidence of the means by which the Times stays in business. I refer to enormously expensive ads that address the very wealthy. Read Full Post »

Jungians on Fundamentalism

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     “It’s butterfly or die!”

A perspective on fundamentalism according to analysts trained in the doctrines of psychiatrist Carl Jung is very helpful these days.

There was a disturbing account in the newspaper this morning about the resurgence of radical Islamists in Egypt, and it reminded me of a talk I heard early this year on fundamentalism by a diplomate Jungian analyst, Eberhard Riedel, Ph.D. His insights through working with fundamentalist patients were very illuminating.

He led his audience away from the concept of “the other” by reminding us how the radical acts of foreign fundamentalists have incited radical responses in us. The point went home. Fundamentalism is associated with rigidity and paranoia, and it feels as though both qualities are continually escalating in this country. It is becoming increasingly difficult to have a civil conversation when dissenting opinions are in play.

Riedel spoke of fundamentalism as a collective wound that must be healed by finding a new paradigm for relating to the self, the other, and the divine. Nevertheless, he was very frank about how difficult it is to relate to a fundamentalist, whether Christian or Muslim. Read Full Post »

The Storytellers

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 “. . .the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives . . .”

In the process of writing about my storytelling parents a few days ago, I discovered a quotation by the late southern writer Reynolds Price that gave me pause. It appeared in an essay on narrative in A Palpable God, which I have just ordered. A trail has appeared.

Price wrote that “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens–second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives . . .”

As I wrote earlier, I come from a family of storytellers, and this quote made me think more deeply about the value of not only hearing but also reading stories. I think stories are essential to civilization as well as to survival. In entering the lives and minds of fictional characters, we learn about history, other cultures, and the intimate experiences of people very unlike ourselves. Fiction can reveal how complex humanity is, and it can create empathy and the ability to get along with one another. Read Full Post »

Family Dinner Update

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Maybe the family dinner isn’t overrated after all.

The new word is that the family dinner has been freighted with too much significance. Research was recently published in the Journal of Marriage and Family that challenges the benefit to children of sharing this meal. The new findings will allow busy and anxious parents to relax a little.

Earlier research had seemed to prove that regular dinners played an important role in reducing the likelihood of three things among young people: depressive symptoms, drug and alcohol use, and delinquency. The work of sociologists Ann Meier of the University of Minnesota and Kelly Musick of Cornell University suggests that only teen depression seems to be significantly forestalled by family dinners. They conclude that parents can find other ways to compensate for the rarity of this shared time.

Of course I grew up in a time when eating together except during the school year was what everybody did most of the time. It’s odd to think of it having become so unusual. And in reading this article, I was reminded of a benefit that the researchers didn’t address. It may have been unique to my family, but maybe it’s worth general consideration. Read Full Post »

The Nature of Sanctuary

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Millions of pilgrims, now about 300,000 a year, have visited the Sanctuary since its founding.

We keep hearing that the pace of change is accelerating, and the reference point is innovation in technology. A few days ago, however, I had a disorienting experience relative to an historic landmark—the Sanctuary of Chimayó.

As I descended into a new parking lot at the site about 25 miles north of Santa Fe, I realized that something really big had happened since my last visit. The old entrance had provided a frontal view of the rustic little church. Now the approach was from the side and behind via landscaping and construction designed to promote tourism. My friend and I were immediately unsettled by the new look.

The Sanctuary was founded in about 1816. Located in a green valley blessed by beautiful trees and water, it reportedly stands over what was a hot spring that dried up leaving healing earth. Today a sample of that earth, which can be rubbed on the body as well as ingested, is available in a little “posito” in the floor in a room to the left of the nave.

The Sanctuary has a mysterious connection with a church in Esquipulas, Guatemala. In fact, it was officially named The Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas. The earth in Esquipulas was also said to be healing, and its church cross is is “alive” with sprouting leaves to symbolize the healing ministry of Christ. The figure on the crucifix is famously black, possibly because it was carved in ebony or stained by the soot of countless candles.

The story goes that a gentleman named Bernardo Abeyta found an Esquipulas-like crucifix on his land and recognized it. According to local legend, he took it home but the crucifix repeatedly returned to the place where he had found it. At that point, Abeyta petitioned to build a chapel on the chosen site, and construction became a community project. Read Full Post »

The Python Is Blessed

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A bunch of tuned-up and toned-up baby boomers could be a force to contend with.

The baby boomers—everyone born between 1946 and 1964—has been likened to a pig moving through a python. The marketplace has long been profitably riveted by their evolving wants and needs. However, when the leading edge of this cohort turned 65 last year, panic began to set in. Retired people want less and need more. Uh oh. Time for the ice floe.

I refer to the myth that the Eskimos abandoned their elderly on chunks of ice. The cost of Medicare and Social Security will burgeon over the coming 18 years as the 76 million or so baby boomers inexorably move into retirement, but there is no escape for the python. It will just have to digest.

On the bright side, the boomers have in general been better educated, healthier, and better off economically (before the recession) than previous generations; and they have become accustomed to dominance.  It was assumed that they would transform old age to their liking, and they may yet do so in very positive ways. This demographic is moving into the time of life when the “wisdom” centers of the brain begin fully to develop, and we are at a juncture in history when that could be extremely valuable. Perhaps the nation will be blessed by the aging baby boomers. Read Full Post »

A Fall into Grace

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It was like being rescued by a pair of Amazons.

Sometimes a seeming disaster can turn into a blessing. I’m thinking of the fall I took on New Year’s Day that fractured my ankle.

Just a few hours before the accident, I had bid my holiday guests goodbye. After fluffing up the house, I changed into Santa Fe party casual and headed out for an open house. I had never before visited the home of one of the hostesses, and within a few feet of the front door, I lost my balance on a shallow step, raking my hand on the rough wall as I sprawled on the floor.

The bemused guests continued to sip wine as I rubbed my ankle and contended with shock and embarrassment. I felt awkward and old and alone. The end had begun. Read Full Post »

Susan’s Stump

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Perhaps the consciousness manifest in the fruiting tree is worthy of a name.

The great mythologist Joseph Campbell often spoke of the consciousness of plants, and a friend recently shared wonderful evidence of such.

The way growing things respond to the sun was Campbell’s favorite example of plant consciousness. We’re very familiar with the sight of the seeking sprout, and I saw a time-lapse video once of the way an entire field of sunflowers tracked the sun’s passage.  My friend’s example, however, is a much more complex display. Read Full Post »