It’s Chinese New Years time. This Spring Festival (Lunar New Years) is going to be more subdued than usual because of the Covid – again. This is the year 4719 in the ancient Chinese calendar. I enjoyed some great holiday celebrations during the twelve years I lived in China. We would travel, along with literally a billion others. It was truly the largest party in the world. The photo is from my wife’s family home. I got to place the door guardians on the front door.
My wife and I first met face-to-face on New Years. Because of the long holiday we could have time together. Her family went back to the hometown and we had the family apartment to ourselves. To say our time together was magical would be an understatement. My wife (then future wife) called her family and for the first time I spoke to them her brothers and sister wished me Happy New Years. In my wife’s family, her mom was the boss. So if mom liked you, you were in. I will never forget her mom’s happy laugh when I told her Gong Hei Fat Choi – Cantonese for wishing you great happiness and prosperity. My wife’s family are Cantonese. Cantonese are wonderful to celebrate holidays with.
The photo is a blessing my mother-in-law gave us. I have reverently placed it on the back of the door in every place we have lived.
Like me, my wife’s mom and dad passed away so the holidays are a little less festive. My mother-in-law always made sure to have the candy we both liked. Her favorite New Years food was kou rou – taro with braised pork belly. Each year, I was honored when she would pluck a hunk of fatty pork from the dish and place it in my bowl with a nod of the head, saying “Lao Zhuang” (My family nickname).
Celestial Lion in my Wife’s Home Village. Although the ambiance isn’t so great, the food is tasty in this little restaurant. It is next to the village’s sacred tree. Every Chinese village has an ancient tree spirit which brings prosperity to everyone who offers respect.
Check out the wildest celebration you will ever see!
Lantern Day is the last day of the Chinese New Years When I was the managing editor of a monthly magazine, I went to a food festival with my wife and my friend and fellow magazine editor Candice. It was a crazy time.
He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. – Nietzsche
My earliest memory is lying on my back in my baby crib, with no separation between my self and the world. Attracted by the three primary colors of red, yellow and blue, I wordlessly watched the gently swaying bird mobile above me. Although I could not stand, part of me rose upwards towards the colorful birds dancing on the early morning sunbeams drifting through the window at my feet. That primal scene forged my everlasting soul magnet. My soul magnet has three poles: Nature, Art, and Spirit. These have, inspired, comforted and guided me through many worlds. My soul steers by balancing these three, irresistible forces. Nowhere is that truer than when I wander along the edge of the continent immersed in the elemental dynamism of land (nature/body), sea (art/mind), and air (spirit/divine). From these, my soul magnet unites with the Oneness of it all.
The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature. –Joseph Campbell
Some of my earliest memories center around playing outside in our yard. I was fascinated by ants, and still am. They were always busily scrambling to and fro and went back home as darkness approached, just as I did. For me the world of our fenced in yard was built around the five natural elements of – wood, earth, water, fire and metal. Years later I learned about the Chinese concept of wuxing – the same five elemental cosmic agents for change. If I wasn’t climbing the sassafras tree I would be playing in the dirt or our sandbox. Nature was always welcoming. Nature provided raw materials and a source of inspiration. To this day, my heartbeat matches the cosmic beats of nature. Art flows from this natural synergy.
Art is not what you see, but what you make others see. – Edgar Degas
My artistic passion was born from many sources. My beloved grandfather – Buddy, was always whittling. I treasure the little carving he gave me. As a mechanic my Pop rebuilt and fixed things. His collection of dozens of tools in the garage was a source of great curiosity for me. But before World War Two transformed him, he was a sensitive artist at heart. Years later, he began expressing that side of his spirit again. My mother more than anyone inspired my art. Her praise was all I needed to keep improving. I gave her my very first large acrylic painting. She made me sign it, saying, “An artist always signs his work.” I discover art everywhere from crimson sunsets to gleaming machine parts. Art animates my soul with wonder.
Humans are amphibians…half spirit and half animal…as spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time… – C.S. Lewis
I used to love pinball as a kid. I learned to play on an old machine at the quarter mile dirt racetrack near my home. My Pop and Uncle Sam used to race motorcycles there. My uncle held the track speed record for years. My Aunt Alice worked the concession stand for decades. There was a potent allure to the dingy world around that hard-packed-dirt oval. The smell of stale cigarettes, beer and orange Nehi, infused with acrid gasoline and pungent nitro floated on the dusty air like an amber, narcotic haze. Pop would give me four quarters to keep me busy while he and his old motorcycle buddies smoked the Camel and Lucky Strike cigarettes rolled up in the sleeves of their t-shirts. While they relived the war and past glories, I played pinball. One game – five balls – was a nickel. The score only went up to 9,999, and certain combinations were rewarded with free games. I sucked at first, feeling the pressure of the occasional lurker and passerby watching over my shoulder. I would always save a quarter for a frozen Zero candy bar as a reward. But with practice, I learned to play the game artfully and could play for an hour on a single quarter. There were times when in the zone, I felt an unseen hand seemingly moving the ball in the direction I needed it to go. The “TWACK” of a free game racking up was like a shout of Hallelujah. There, beneath the rusty bleachers, next to the ramshackle concession stand, I felt my soul magnet inexplicably connect to a far greater world.
The worlds around us abound with innate, imaginative spirits. With maturity, my soul magnet attracts more positive spirits now and repels negativity for the most part. When I feel my spirit is depleted, I take a walk in nature. Peacefully wandering, as if through an infinitely changing art gallery, shades and shadows, seafoam and seaweed, gnarled driftwood and smooth beachstones push and pull my imagination in a thousand directions. All the while, the rhythm of waves, whoosh of wings, whisper of winds quieten my spirit and summon the muse. My soul magnet urges me towards home. I return – renewed in body, mind and spirit.
Back in the 1990s, I was an alpha tester for an online education project being developed at NCSA (The National Center for Supercomputing Applications. The previous sentence was my payment – the right to say I had briefly worked with NCSA at UIUC. Because of that connection, I also got to visit an early CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environments) projection based technology room. As an educator and webmaster, over the years, I worked with various forms of interactive virtual reality interfaces. I could go on stating my nerd/geek credentials, but as they say “references available upon request”.
Here in the third decade of the 21st Century, there is tremendous hype around the metaverse. The metaverse is the newest iteration of simulated reality. Googling “metaverse” returns nearly two billion references. There are actually numerous metaverses being created – so in a sense parallel metaverses. A metaverse is an interactive computer-generated virtual environment. But the metaverse is simply billions of lines of code without human interaction. The reality in virtual reality is created by the human brain. Once you cross into these virtual dimensions, in a very real sense, you are the free meat in the metaverse environment. And so, we have to ask why would people be willing to step through the digital looking glass into a corporate alternate reality?
Let’s start with a little background. The concept of simulated reality is thousands of years old. Plato (428 BC – 348 BC) wrote about the Allegory of the Cave. The allegory describes a group of prisoners who are chained to a wall. They watch and name shadows projected on the wall from a fire behind them This shadow reality is not true reality, but it is simply small bits of actual perceived reality. In the updated version, the digital constructs of the metaverse are the shadows on the cave wall.
The metaverses’ dreamlike transformative promise was first written about by the great sage Zhuangzi (369 BC – 286 BC). Here is my translation of Zhuangzi’s Butterfly Dream:
Once upon a time Zhuangzi dreamed he was a joyful butterfly fluttering about. When he awoke Zhuangzi did not know if he had been a man dreaming he was a butterfly or was he now a butterfly dreaming he was a man. The essential distinction between the two states is called the transformation of material things.
Over the centuries, billions of imaginations have been inspired by countless stories about virtual and alternative realities. In the modern era, many writers have woven fantastic narratives around simulated realities. Some examples from science fiction would be: They by Robert Heinlein, 1941; The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke, 1956; numerous Phillip K. Dick stories, such as the Cosmic Puppets, Eye in the Sky, etc.; Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., 1973; and so many more.
The word metaverse is originally from Neal Stephenson’s great novel, published thirty years ago, Snow Crash.
“So Hiro’s not actually here at all. He’s in a computer-generated universe that his computer is drawing onto his goggles and pumping into his earphones. In the lingo, this imaginary place is known as the Metaverse. Hiro spends a lot of time in the Metaverse”.
The most recent media hype about the metaverse has focused on metaverse avatars. In Hinduism an avatar is the manifestation or incarnation of a deity in human form sent to Earth to help others. Digital avatars are computer-generated representations of users/characters/personas in virtual worlds. In the future, one would interact with the metaverse via a sophisticated avatar connected through something called a haptic device.
A keyboard, mouse, smartphone are simple haptic interfaces. Today’s VR glasses/helmets and glasses are more sophisticated haptic devices. Ultimately the goal of metaverse-based corporations would be to install wetware interfaces into users’ bodies. Wetware links the brain to the artificial system. Sound too much like The Matrix? Check out Elon Musk’s Neuralink which states it is creating an “ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interface to connect humans and computers”. However sophisticated the biomechanical interface may become, the virtual stimulation of an avatar-based sense will always remain a simulated sensation.
As you can see from the above, interfacing with your living flesh is the ultimate goal of the metaverse. And once this is done, reality itself is then open to manipulation on a frightening scale. Users will believe what the interface says is real.
Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. – George Orwell,1984.
How to protect your mind-meat. People in restaurant kitchens are supposed to wear a chain mail glove when using a meat slicer. The whirring blade spins so fast it is difficult to see the edge. In the future, when you do enter the metaverse, in whatever form, wear your cyber chain mail. Protect yourself from the myriad of hidden meanings embedded in the lengthy End User License Agreements (EULA) you must agree to before crossing over the threshold from the tangible world into virtual worlds. Remember the adage, If you aren’t paying for it, you are the product. Collecting and profiting from your attention and your data are the reasons so many Mega-corporations are investing in the construction of the Metaverse.
Recently I was reminded of the scale of personal data collection by corporations and governments while watching the hit Netflix movie Don’t Look Up. In the movie, the eccentric billionaire Peter Isherwell tells the scientist Dr. Mindy, “This is evolution of the human species…You know that BASH has over forty million data points on you, on every decision you have made since 1994, Doctor?… You run towards pleasure and away from pain…” In the real world, that number of data points collected over decades would probably be a low estimate.
Watching that scene I thought, why 1994? In 1993 NCSA released Mosaic the first web browser. In 1994 the World Wide Web became widely available. And relevant to this discussion, so-called internet cookies were invented in 1994. Cookies are small blocks of unique identifying data placed on each user’s device by a visited website. The Netscape engineer who invented the tracking cookies did so in order to prevent third-parties from tracking users. Lo and behold, less than two years later, advertisers had hacked the tracking system and began tracking people and have been doing so for decades. A much more dynamic and robust detailed targeting is an indivisible element of metaverse DNA.
During the twelve years I lectured in China, the years after the huge growth of smartphone apps were the most challenging. I tried to guide my students towards healthier pursuits, but the allure of the attention grabbing algorithms grew more and more irresistible. Every week, I would remind students that the apps and website companies were getting rich from the time they interfaced with them. I tried to offered inspirational words such as these from the great poet Carl Sandburg: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. And when you spend it, spend it wisely so that you get the most for your expenditure.” Expend your time wisely in the metaverse or maybe just take a walk in ultra-super-duper high-definition fully immersive reality.
The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience. – Frank Herbert
We are natural beings. Although human existence is enhanced by technological artifice, our essence is affixed to the natural world. There are far too many artificial means to escape rather than embrace reality. Disconnect and unravel the illusions. Reconnect with nature. Experience a natural high. Embrace the three N‘s – Nature; Nothing; Nirvana.
The first step to a natural high is – get out into nature. Nature in all its glory and wonder is available to us all. Go outside. With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, nature has never been more essential to our wellbeing. Although a truly natural area, such as a beach or forest, would be ideal, any touch of nature will do. Whether through houseplant or forest, rock or mountain, rediscover the undefined connection to primal human nature. Begin your journey by freeing yourself from electronic tethers.
Relax the body. Clear the mind. Thoughts will arise, but do not focus on them. Observe and release images and feelings as they drift away. Unfasten the bindings of time. Flow into nothingness. Nothingness is a silenced mind. Nothingness is absence of ego. In nothingness, the inner voice is quiet. The spirit stirs. Experience but do not describe. Understand – the independent self-nature is just a persistent illusion. You are a heavenly particle within the All.
This doesn’t refer to the release from the karmic cycle of reincarnation. But instead nirvana is a state of transcendent happiness. One with nature, wordlessly without ego, the individual rejoins the Universe. Soaring wing and rhythmic breath; sparkling water and coursing blood; rough bark and smooth flesh – sublime nature unifies the spirit with the Divine. If experienced for but a timeless moment, the ensuing natural high rejuvenates the soul.
Do not look for imitations or quickies. The lives of millions of people are ruined by various addictions. Addictions are not limited to substances but also include virtual escapes into various forms of media. It takes courage to break away from self-delusion. But the benefits of becoming one with nature go far beyond the natural high. Find yourself in nature. Take a trip today.
I received a tsunami Alert this morning as I opened my Gmail. I didn’t know it could that, so thanks Google for that.
I checked the expected arrival times for the waves here on the Pacific Northwest Coast and the expected wave size. I walk this stretch of beach regularly and know the area well. The police had blocked the road and were getting cars off the beach when I arrived. Here is a video I posted to my YouTube channel. I left the audio, so you could hear the roar.
This is the first time I have ever seen a tsunami, so I made sure to stay safe. The dunes are 15-20 feet above the shoreline. The initial waves arrived between 8:45 – 9:00AM PST.
The tsunami waves were choppier as if they were riding atop the normal waves. Although the phrase is overused, it was truly awe-inspiring to witness such massive raw energy echoing across the vast Pacific Ocean. I wrote the haiku above in my head while watching the tsunami waves arrive on my beach.
The animated clip at the beginning of this video comes from
Standing on the bare ground,–my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space,–all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nature holds a myriad of paths towards the divine. And, out there, our living reality intermingles with tantalizing thousands of transcendent realms. Return to the ancestral halls of nature. Release the ego. Revitalize your earthly spirits with a metaphysical awareness.
By becoming, as Emerson says, a transparent eyeball, our sight absorbs rather than reflects the unbounded beauty which awaits us in the natural world. Let the wonders stir your soul. Silence the inner chatter clattering round your gray matter. Breathe out the unreality. Breathe in the actuality. Walk in tranquility.
Our actions, words are a projection of our inner world. We reveal our inner “workings” through interactions with the physical world. In order to increase self-awareness, as you begin to wander through nature consider behaviors you want to change. Each time, ask yourself a basic question about your past actions. Such as: Do you take more than you give? Consider the question for a time before releasing it like a bird into the fresh air. Stop and feel the answer fluttering nearby. Breathe in. Breath out. Stop the inner monologue. Be there in the moment.
Who would then deny that when I am sipping tea in my tearoom I am swallowing the whole universe with it and that this very moment of my lifting the bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space? – D.T. Suzuki
We are so much more than the sum of our experiences. Everyone’s life would read like an encyclopedic novel. But each day should be lived as – Poetry. In the Arts, the will-o-the-wisp of inspiration is mused about endlessly. Inspiration is everywhere. One need only to go with the natural flow of things to be inspired. Forcing drives away inspiration. Stop pretending. Start living.
A truly good person does nothing, Yet nothing is left undone. A foolish person is always doing, Yet much remains to be done.
Lao Tzu (LaoZi)
Reduce stress and increase inspiration at home or work. Bring the natural into your working/living space. The straight-edged artificial environment negates nature’s raw tenderness. Arrange a few plants, stones, wood around your living environment. If you cannot place natural objects at work, carry a bit of nature with you in a pocket or purse. Concentrate on the colors textures. Focus on your breath. Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power. Remember – Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams. Peace.
If you wish to know the divine, feel the wind on your face and the warm sun on your hand. – Buddha
We are seekers – you and I. From birth to death, we wander this life seeking the divine in all its myriad guises. But it is the inner journey that leads us home. For decades I meandered along, catching glimpses of the eternal – while painting, gazing at my newborn children’s faces, marveling at a breathtaking sunset and countless other revelations. The inspiring impressions sustained my nomadic soul on its quest for meaning. Eventually it became clear – the natural world was the source for the inner journey. Two words summed up a lifelong search for understanding – Be Natural.
Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. – Rachel Carson
I have early preverbal memories stored deep within my mind. Some scientists say a person can’t have memories without language, but that is untrue. Maybe because I am an artist, I remember sensations of childhood such as: awakening in my crib and looking at the bird mobile above me; baby pins pressing against my stomach as they held up my diaper; my mother rocking me and gently stroking my hair – the feeling still relaxes me today. My innermost memories are of elation – the sheer ecstasy of existence. Wonder has accompanied me wherever I have roamed.
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.– Shakespeare
My mom taught me words by carrying me around the yard. I would point at something and she would calmly say the word several times – flower, tree, green… She would set me down and let me explore around our fenced in yard. On my own I discovered textures such as rough from the grass and bark and soft from the flowers and leaves. Sassafras twigs tasted of root beer and the leaves like lemons. Nature became my teacher. The fossils in the limestone taught me history and science; and I learned engineering from luxurious muddy ditches. As a child, the vibrant palette of flowers and clouds ignited my artist soul. The embers of those primeval flames have lit untold paths ever since. All the while I have been accompanied by the soothing mantra – Be Natural.
Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. – John Muir
Nature’s temple has offered a lifetime of wise counsel and solace in many times of need, The overflowing abundance of energy invigorates my spirit and inspires me. Nature’s divine capacity clarifies life. Out in the wind and sun, it becomes clear that the inward and outward journeys are one in the same. There are portals through the walls separating us from the Real. Nature grants us an entry into the transcendental experiences we seek. The journey into the sublime begins with emptying the mind of worries and woes. Embrace the landscape – as if returning home.
Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain. – Jack Kerouac
When one leg of a journey ends, there is always another waiting just up ahead. From infant to toddler, youth to adult – our life journey begins in mystery and ends in the greatest mystery of all. Along the way, regret must be set aside. The sands of time are ever flowing and few should be wasted on bitter disappointment. Where you were meant to be is where you are. There are always choices to be made and chances to take. Make amends for any suffering you may have caused. Reconcile past mistakes by being your true self. Let nature extinguish the pain. The journey can continue far beyond this tangible world around us if we learn to – Be Natural.
And Gandalf said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”. – J.R.R. Tolkien
For Christmas I had wanted to give my three wonderful children a gift that only I could give them – my memories of their childhood. For years, I have safeguarded two videotapes of my kids. One was from my youngest daughter’s first month, her sister was two years old and her brother was four years old. And on the second VHS tape they were about two, four and six years old. That tape also had my dear departed mother on it. She died around a year and a half later. I can still feel our last hug. And, sadly, I became a single father a few months afterwards.
The beginning is always today. – Mary Shelley
I haven’t had a working VCR for many years, and so I found a service that could convert the VHS tapes to digital. At the beginning of December I sent the tapes and was updated regularly about the process. My anticipation and happiness grew with each update. I began to hum happy songs and tried to remember what images and scenes were on those tapes. I dreamed of the golden times when my children were little, and their world was small and manageable.
Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are. – Jim Henson
As a single Dad, I tried to be a gatekeeper of sorts between them and the rough shadows of life. The painful series of extinction events leading to my divorce happened around Christmas and New Year’s. But instead of nursing those wounds over the years, I did my best to keep the seasons bright. We made our own fun. I am teary eyed writing this as I recall bedtime stories snuggled together in my daughter’s top bunk (I wrote about that previously).
One scene I am certain is on those tapes is of my barely two year old daughter reading “Goodnight Moon” to her newborn baby sister. My memory of that moment is permanently etched on my soul. But oh the bliss to hear her and see her read her favorite bedtime story to her sister “Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere…” Just typing those words sets me on a soulful journey.
When I was notified the tapes, and digital copies were on their way I was over the moon with joy. I could finally share their sweet tender voices and their beautiful faces with my adult children once again.
Be willing to be a beginner every single morning. – Meister Eckhart
As we grow up and older, many memories coalesce into a sort of general cloud of feelings, flashes of images, and poignant or painful moments. To survive the brier patch of becoming an adult, subconscious survival instincts heal wounds and archive experiences. As for the videotapes, I wanted to be able to turn my heart’s mirror around and show my darling kids what I still see when I look in their eyes. I wanted to let the joyous uplifting feelings of their childhood recharge their spirits during the difficult times. But all that was not meant to be – just yet.
The end is in the beginning and lies far ahead.– Ralph Ellison
I was elated when the package arrived just a couple days before Christmas. I had not felt such happiness at opening a box in many years. But to my horror, there were no digital copies. The tapes had not been converted at all. There was only a label on each tape offering a series of reasons why the tapes could not be digitized – a petrifying hammer-blow to the heart. A shroud of gray descended around me. The company’s system had let me down. If only the first person to inspected the tapes weeks earlier had simply returned them. But once my videotapes were in the process, they rolled on through to the bittersweet end.
The impact of that gut-punch lasted more than a day. But as in all struggles, I reconsidered my options and changed direction. The memories I wanted to give back to my kids would have to patiently wait a while longer. The bittersweet inevitability of time’s passing can trigger great anxiety. We each have unique sets of metrics by which we measure our lives. There are things we regret doing or not doing. But do not regret the things you can still change. Do not let this new year pass without making those changes that could increase your well-being and the happiness of those you care about.
Happy New Year!!! On this first day of the new year let’s all agree to make this year better than last year.
Powerful winds were blowing this morning here on the Pacific Northwest coast. As I walked onto the beach I glanced up to see this majestic eagle gliding gracefully above me. I think of my departed World War Two veteran Dad whenever I see an eagle on the beach.
The day he died, I went to the beach because I could not travel due to the pandemic. An eagle watched over me that day, just as my father had when I was a kid. In his memory, I used his favorite song – the National Anthem. He always sang the anthem loudly and proudly.
When my Dad and I went to St. Louis Cardinal baseball games together. He would proudly throw out his chest, put his rough hands on his chest and wholeheartedly sing the National Anthem. To this day, I think of him whenever I hear the Star Spangled Banner.
Here’s to you Pop and all those wonderful souls we lost this year. Peace.