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Poetry for churchgoers

I don’t do poetry. I find it impossible to write, to create. There are too many mysterious sentences, too many words out of place for me to make any sense out of it. When I hear a poem, I think of my days in church.

A child like many others, sitting on a wooden pew, uncomfortable and hot, bothered. Looking at the saints and thinking why the artist didn’t want them to have any wrinkles…  Checking the altar for the evidence of the blood and flesh of Christ.  A quick survey of the vaults (in search of any incongruence on the frescos depicting fat angels) pretending to be lost in a febrile prayer. Repeat the same route with my eyes over and over again.

The priest would speak. No. The priest would make unintelligible sounds, lulling me to a shallow comatose state, followed by a roar that would make my heart shoot into my throat. In between, padre would read. I loved the stories.

And why was this so much like poetry to me? Because of the strange sequences of words, sentences that would wiggle, wiggle, wiggle and then stop at a dead end, without a single warning, just to twirl into another absurd spin of events. The sentences, I’ve learned, have meanings hidden inside other meanings. Just like poetry sounds to me. Interpretation, that’s what that is.

“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness”, informed me Robert Frost in one of my desperate chase for answers.

 

It all makes sense when you’re in love. When you are heartbroken it makes sense too. When you are sad or happy… feeling lonely or completely motivated… aggravated. It doesn’t make much sense or, at least, you don’t draw much out of it if you are just plain comfortable. Poetry doesn’t churn your insides if you are comfortable.

Just to show you that I don’t do poetry, I’ve wrote a poem so you could judge for yourselves:

 

In these arms, life came and went

Passing from one tower to the next.

Tightening without reason, loosening without purpose

Arms made of fire, engulfing and releasing.

Languid and then strong.

 

What did I tell you?

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Posted by on April 2, 2011 in Life, Love

 

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The past

“The past slips from our grasp. It leaves us only scattered things. The bond that united them eludes us. Our imagination usually fills in the void by making use of preconceived theories… Archaeology, then, does not supply us with certitudes, but rather vague hypotheses. And in the shade of these hypotheses some artists are content to dream, considering them less as scientific facts than as sources of inspiration.” Igor Stravinsky, composer

There’s this place on the Sefton Coast, in England, that made me cry. But then again I often cry: a lonely old

woman doing her shopping lost between aisles of cereal boxes; a grown man drunk in the middle of the day holding the hand of a child with hard eyes; a stray dog trying to appraise the situation, in search of the real intentions of the human that offers a half-eaten sandwich. You see? Plenty of crying in one day.
This place on the Sefton Coast made me cry for a completely different reason: I didn’t see loneliness that engulfs you and kills you bit by bit, I didn’t experience disenchantment through the eyes of a child and I didn’t feel the fear of uncertainty. I only saw a row of silent footprints, a track of quiet purpose.
If you ever go there you will see footprints of men, women and children left behind many, many years ago. Dating from the late-Mesolithic to mid-Neolithic, a path of footprints of people going about their business thousands of years ago, unaware… Just hunting, picking up shellfish maybe… the children would help or just play on the beach and watch the waves battering the coast and wonder what they would encounter on the other side. I don’t really know. It just made me sad looking at the ghosts of people that are no longer, these scattered clues of past lifes, echoes of actions and routines forever engraved on the cold rock.
As odd as this might seem – and just for my own sake, I think- I feel the need to immediately create a narrative that would make the story of these ghost people meaningful. I use as many details as it is possible from my abridged knowledge of late- Mesolithic and mid-Neolithic civilizations and give them a happy ending. I imagine their life, their relationships and their struggles. I wonder if they laughed. I decide ‘yes, they did’. I don’t know if they had names or a simple “you there!” would have sufficed.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2011 in Life, psychology, Uncategorized

 

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Love is

'Romeo and Juliet', Frank Dicksee

I lean forward and whisper in his ear. The music sounds so distant now: “I miss you…” We look at each other and there’s a little tumble in my stomach… the butterflies are dancing again in my heart. I wish I could smile. The dizziness makes me out of balance, so the kiss happens before I am aware of it. We’re in love.

Many years from now, I know I will look back and remember this moment. The world was forgotten. Bodies were stripped of consciousness, time stopped and the clichés ensued all at once. There is only you and I, my love.

There are no promises, this is no young love. We are both frightened, although we won’t say it… words can be daggers sometimes… I look down and you are holding my hand and it feels right. This is our forever and ever, my sweet.

 

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

my heart) i am never without it (anywhere

i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing, my darling)

 

i fear

 

no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) I want

no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

 

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

 

i carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)

E. E. Cummings

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2011 in Life, Love

 

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Being Human

“Everybody’s an expert on consciousness”, Dan Dennett

I’ve looked in the books, talked to the scholars, fought god and even watched the stars for clues. I am human. I know I am. But what makes me so? Like that guy in the story, I open a door and I’m not sure I should have done that. Can’t help to peek inside though.

Rama (short for Dr. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran) has his back to me, when he tells me – as he carried on writing on a blackboard – that the human brain is a mass of jelly, 3 pounds in weight, and that I can hold it with just one of my hands. I imagine it… I look into my hand and I even squeeze it a little and by doing so – in my mind’s eye – it makes me human. “The human brain can contemplate the vastness of inter-stellar space, the meaning of infinity and it can contemplate itself contemplating the meaning of infinity”, tells me Rama and I nod. He is a neuroscientist so he should know about these things. “The human brain has this peculiar quality that we call self-awareness which is the holy grail of neuroscience. Hopefully, someday we will understand how it happens.” No help here then… But I think is trying to tell me that consciousness is what makes me human.

Dan Dennett is an acclaimed philosopher. Although he looks like someone’s benevolent grandpa, he’s very intransigent when he says that we don’t know anything about human consciousness and that is because for most of the time our own brain is fooling us. Sitting at his feet like a well-behaved girl, while he takes a large sip of tea, he informs me in all seriousness: “What we are (you, I and all of us) is approximately 100 trillion little cellular robots.” Hum?! “That’s what we are made of… We are just made of cells and not one single one of those is conscious, not a single one knows who you are or care.” I’m starting to get a bit upset now. It’s time to move… Well before I made it to the next door I could hear him carry on: “Somehow we have to explain how we get from teams, armies, battalions of little robotic unconscious cells, not so different from a bacterium, to something like what goes on in the human brain: memories, colors, ideas. How is that possible? Many people think it isn’t, there can’t be a natural explanation for that.” Something that we can’t explain would explain that! That makes perfect sense.

God isn’t happy. Since I didn’t turn to him for an answer in the first place… So he just stares. But I already know that I was made in his own image (and I never could see him clearly, anyway), so I stare back… I bow and I’m ready to take my leave through another passage, when I suddenly realize that I’ve seen that face before. Sitting on God’s right side: “A human being is part of the whole called by us “universe,” limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons close to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from our prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all humanity and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Funny to see you here Mr. Einstein. “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I think he even winked with that one.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2011 in Life, psychology

 

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The Pursuit of Happiness

MY MOM
I came to realize that one becomes old or at least a grown-up when one decides to write about one’s parents. In this case my mother. This urge sprang on one of my browsing moments through the internet. I came across the words of the American President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) on happiness: “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” This made me think about my childhood. My mom is the happiest person I know and when I was growing up it use to infuriate me to no end. How could she be that happy? She certainly didn’t get any solace from her family: orphan since she was a child, she married a man with no romantic flare, her four children (me included) weren’t special in any manner, she wasn’t rich, and she didn’t live in a big shinny house full of sparkly fancy things… Nevertheless, she was always smiling, always finding solutions for everything, quick to forget and to forgive. As a teenager I just wanted her to stop being, as I thought then, so god damn stupid and open her eyes and SEE…
Couldn’t she see how ugly things can be? How ungrateful people are? How hopeless the future is? How wrong I was. Today, I wished I never had such thoughts or even, on occasion, said them aloud. I’m the stupid one. Like the man said “about as happy as they make their minds to be.” I didn’t allow myself to be happy – always commiserating in my own dark points of view – until after my teenage years. Since then I’ve met more people like my mom, but the vast majority are the complete opposite. There’s always something not quite right, which stops people from rejoicing. When they reach their goal, they realize that ‘it’ didn’t make them as happy as they thought it would …
As the years went by, I find myself more and more like my mom. She was right, you know. There is something there that needs to be celebrated, no matter what surrounds you. And when you’re feeling down, when you least expect it that thing hits you like the fresh breeze from the sea and you feel invigorated once again. ‘It’ makes you get back on your feet, put your act together, and try once again or simply just smile and walk away. In the words of the comedian Bob Newhart: “All I can say about life is, Oh God, enjoy it!”

HAPPINESS AND THE OTHERS
“A happy life consists in tranquility of mind.” Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC)
I always wondered what is that elusive thing called happiness. You ask 10 different people and you get 10 different answers. Writer and life coach Srikumar Rao believes that we have spent our entire lifes learning to be unhappy and the way “we learn to be unhappy is by buying into a particular mental model. (…) The problem isn’t that we have mental models, the problem is we don’t know we have them, we think that’s the way the world works.” So we buy in to this thing that we need to go through these steps and at the end of that journey we are going to be happy, but – surprise! – you got there and you don’t feel anymore happy than when you started. After all (and by means of a cliché), is not the amount of things you amass that will bring you happiness, but how much fulfillment you retrieve from them.
Just think back 10 years ago (older people can add another decade!, #grin#). You manage to achieve most (or even all) of the things you thought back then it would make you happy. Are you? The problem with mental models is that they are flawed. For a start, your actions are within your control, but the outcome never is. Secondly, being happy is not a destination: you don’t get there, you just are. And how do you get to gather a bit of bliss? In my experience (for what is worth it) you should first accept the universe as it is, don’t focus your might in material things (since those same things that make you momentarily happy can quickly make you unhappy when lost) and, if you have to have a goal, don’t merely invest everything on the outcome, but also enjoy the process to get there.

POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY
Didn’t you always hate people that would tell you “Think positive”? Like you have some kind of on/off switch… Well, do we? Happiness has always been a murky ground for science, always so difficult to define, describe, and quantify. But now, there’s this new thing called Positive Psychology, whose founder Dr. Martin Seligman describes it as the study of positive emotion, positive character, and positive institutions. The former APA’s President (American Psychological Association) in partnership with a group of other ‘positive’ psychologists reach some interesting conclusions in the studies conducted. Some of the theories were highlighted in the book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (CSV; Peterson & Seligman, 2004). The observations gathered there rely on six overarching virtues, sanctioned by almost every culture across the planet: Wisdom, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance and Transcendence. According to this newest branch of psychology, under each virtue were also identified particular strengths that met the following criteria:
● Ubiquity—is widely recognized across cultures.
● Fulfilling— contributes to individual fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness broadly construed.
● Morally valued—is valued in its own right and not as a means to an end.
● Does not diminish others—elevates others who witness it, producing admiration, not jealousy.
● Non-felicitous opposite—has obvious antonyms that are “negative”.
● Trait like—is an individual difference with demonstrable generality and stability.
● Measurable—has been successfully measured by researchers as an individual difference.
● Distinctiveness—is not redundant (conceptually or empirically) with other character strengths.
● Paragons—is strikingly embodied in some individuals.
● Prodigies—is precociously shown by some children or youths.
● Selective absence—is missing altogether in some individuals.
● Institutions—is the deliberate target of societal practices and rituals that try to cultivate it.

The researchers concluded that the most commonly endorsed strengths in 40 different countries are: kindness, fairness, authenticity, gratitude and open-mindedness. The less common: prudence, modesty and self-regulation.

Classification of 6 Virtues and 24 Character Strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004)
1- Wisdom and knowledge – Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge.
• Creativity (thinking of novel and productive ways to do things)
• Curiosity (taking an interest in all of ongoing experience)
• Open-mindedness (thinking things through and examining them from all sides)
• Love of Learning (mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge)
• Perspective (being able to provide wise counsel to others)
2- Courage – emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal.
• Authenticity (speaking the truth and presenting oneself in a genuine way)
• Bravery (not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain)
• Persistence (finishing what one starts)
• Zest (approaching life with excitement and energy)
3- Humanity – Interpersonal strengths that involve ‘tending and befriending’ others.
• Kindness (doing favors and good deeds for others)
• Love (valuing close relations with others)
• Social intelligence (being aware of the motives and feelings of self and others)
4- Justice – Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life.
• Fairness (treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice)
• Leadership (organizing group activities and seeing that they happen)
• Teamwork (working well as member of a group or team)
5- Temperance – Strengths that protect against excess.
• Forgiveness (forgiving those who have done wrong)
• Modesty (letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves)
• Prudence (being careful about one’s choices; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted)
• Self-regulation (regulating what one feels and does)
6- Transcendence – Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning.
• Appreciation of beauty and excellence (noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life)
• Gratitude (being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen)
• Hope (expecting the best and working to achieve it
• Humor (liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people
• Religiousness (having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of life)

Apparently, psychologists have been using this and other data to make people happy or at least increase people’s levels of happiness. They work under the assumption that happiness is a scientifically unmanageable term that must be divided into three different avenues (Seligman, 2002): (a) positive emotion and pleasure (the pleasant life); (b) engagement (the engaged life); and (c) meaning (meaningful life). According to the studies there’s more to happiness than just the feel good factor: happy people are healthier, more successful and more socially engaged. There you are: science straying into the field of feelings.

If we want to be philosophical about the whole theme of happiness, none other than Carl Jung encapsulated what is for me the meaning of a happy life. He said “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” And that is all we can aspire.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2011 in Life, psychology

 

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Hello world!

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2011 in Uncategorized