Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Seeds in my mind

 Spring and summer are the seasons of growing. I plant flowers and sometimes herbs and vegetables. I try to pull out most of the weeds so there is space for what I want to grow.

I have been also paying attention to what I plant in my mind, or what others try to plant in my mind. Here are some of the seeds currently growing in my consciousness (and perhaps also in my un-consciousness.)

Why is it that the world of people often feels noisy, very noisy, but also lonely? So many opinions, so many emotions, so many experiences and things to say about them. But every so often, there's a person whose words resonate. I think it has to do with humility and honesty and being willing to share that vulnerability of being human and open to learning. What does that tell me about how I should be?

Water always flows downhill. So imagine a rainstorm, a babbling brook, a river, a violent storm, a sewer, a flood, a leaky faucet....all that water, all making its way to the ocean. It's going to the same place. That's how it feels to me when I start to see a pattern in my life.

Someone said this: "being like water is a metaphor for the principle of wu wei, which is sometimes described as "doing by doing nothing". Just as water flows downhill effortlessly, moved by the forces of nature rather than its own effort and volition, and simply goes around obstacles rather than trying to tear them down, one is advised to move through life in the most natural way that is harmonious with one's environment - the path of least resistance - allowing the universe to move you where it will." 

How many "solutions" do we accept that involve control and violence? Is it possible to have control without violence? (I am thinking about this and I can't think of an example. Other than maybe self-control). Why do we accept violence and control as normal? Is there another way?

Everything is temporary. Every material item, every thought, every feeling, every skill and piece of knowledge. Every relationship. Some last longer than others, but change always comes. How do I want to live my life with this knowledge of change and ultimately loss? Who am I going to be in 10, 20, 30 years (if so fortunate). What's going to matter to me at the end of my life, when I have lost or let go of everything I currently consider important and am about to say goodbye to anything that remains? (Which could be sooner than I think....nobody actually knows). 

Most people would not describe me as a quarrelsome or aggressive person. Probably quite the opposite. But, a conversation recently made me aware that I actually do quarrel with people often....in my mind. Just thinking of certain people or situations can cause a physical defensive reaction. It is interesting to become consciously aware of this. The person I was describing this to wrote (after expressing understanding and admitting to the same behaviour): "I try to reframe it from wasteful internal conflict to useful scripts to begin practicing enough that they become natural to say out loud." That is something to think about.

How often do I curse and why? I don't go around screaming epithets at people (not so far). I tell my children that it's not helpful or kind to call things "stupid." "All you are doing is telling someone you don't respect them or you don't respect the thing they have created. How is that good for you or anyone else?" But I do curse. I curse jokingly with my friends and colleagues (I use black humour a lot). I curse at aggressive or clueless drivers. In frustration, I curse situations I find myself in. Just hearing or seeing certain people's names is enough to cause an internal cringe and/or curse. What is this behaviour actually doing in me and in the world? What is the alternative?

The colours of summer are really, really beautiful right now. Greens, blues, golds, highlights of white. It is such a gift. 

Saturday, 4 June 2022

Hunger and Never-Ending Experiments

I followed a trail of comments today to find a link to an article written by Fr. Stephen Freeman last year. I don’t remember reading this article then, though I certainly was an active reader at the time. Maybe I missed it or maybe it didn’t have the same impact. Now, having been through a few cycles of Covid-related impositions, their sort-of withdrawal, the war in Ukraine (ongoing), and another year of trying to hold together my little communities: work, home and dance, these words have a profound impact, a sense of articulating thoughts and intuitions powerfully. What do I do with this knowledge and insight?

A quote:

The difficulty with engineered religions, or causes that serve as substitutes, is that they fail to transcend. Regardless of how great many moments or ideas might be, they easily die a thousand deaths as their many non-transcendent failures come to mind. In the late 1960’s, the singer Peggy Lee registered a hit single, “Is that all there is?” It is a song with the lilt of a French chanson, à la Edith Piaf. It moves through the great moments of life, including love and even death itself, but offers its sad refrain:

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

This is our context, the world of modernity. It is also our sickness, an empty lassitude whose hunger invites never-ending experiments of conferring meaning on our world. The “better world” that modernity pursues shifts relentlessly and changes as though it were directed by Paris fashionistas. At the same time, it is met with increasing anger and frustration, a predictable response to what are essentially imposed religious views.

Monday, 23 May 2022

Logos: two conversations

On our recent trip to the mountains, my husband and I spent a lot of time in conversation. We hiked and talked, and did our best to listen and actively engage what the other was saying / perceiving.

He is a psychologist, with a great deal of curiosity and (arguably) somewhat more patience than me. Recently he has been reading about the history of logic and trying to find the scientific justification (if any) of psychology and some of its trendy ideas. He wants to best understand how to help people honestly. What are the true reasons therapy works (or doesn’t).

I am on a sort of spiritual quest, I suppose, one that engages my intellect but also a lot more than that. I am  looking for answers, but I am not interested in convincing other people I’m right, or even accumulating knowledge in and of itself. What I want to find is the right way to live. Dialogue works for me in the sense that it clarifies.

The first conversation:

In our meanderings, we landed on the topic of how people interpret their experiences. Mr Turtle made the argument that if a person has 9 positive experiences, and one negative one, they will tend to focus on the negative one and not pay attention to the positive one. Say they are treated fairly 9 times, and unfairly 1 time. The one unfair time will shape how they perceive they are treated. This is especially true if they have been taught to focus on the negative. But naturally, our brains will focus on threats because they are, well, threats. They have the potential for harm.

I think this is true, at least in the short term. But at the same time I can’t fully accept it. If I switch to a “long lens,” at least as long as my own life, the picture is very different. I have known people who were kind and fair to me and people who weren’t. If I look at the trajectory of my life and ask, Who had the most influence? the answer is unequivocally the kind and fair people. And there is not even a comparison. If we were to reduce it to numbers, it’s not like the kind people had an influence of 9/10 and the unfair people had an influence of 6/10. It’s more like the unkind people had an influence of 3 and the kind people had an influence of 9 to the power of 9. Actually, I would need some kind of mathematical formula that has their influence increasing exponentially over time.

So Mr Turtle asked: Why is that? And I tried to answer.

I don’t have a pat answer to this question. I created understanding in the moment. I improvised. I reached for the truest words I could find. What I said was something like: the good deeds people did for me have a shine to them. They have a light that beckons. An unfair or unkind deed was like a rock that tripped me up, that might hurt me quite a bit in the moment. But the kind deeds were like stairs that took me to a higher place. Looking down from the higher place, the rock I had tripped on was not a big deal anymore. And it’s not like all the kinds deeds were huge. It wasn’t like people just handed me tons of money or everything I asked for or told me I was special or amazing. Sometimes all it was was a couple of modestly encouraging words. But all those gestures, whatever their relative “cost”, have the same glow. They are recognizable on the same level.

The second conversation:

This is a dialog recorded by the Lord of Spirits podcast called  But we have the mind of Christ

There is a lot of great dialogue in there, but the piece that resonated with my earlier conversation was when they came to the idea of the logos. The logos is the quality of creation that leads us back to God, through Jesus. This excerpt from the dialogue gets at the idea….maybe haha.

Fr. Stephen: Right, you see this in both Romans 1. In Romans 1, where St. Paul is talking to the Gentiles about how they had knowledge of God before the Gospel came to them, when he talks about the “invisible attributes” (it’s usually translated in English) of God were made plain in the created order, in the creation; that they could have looked with wisdom and discerned those patterns and come to understand who God was. And then also in Romans 10, where he’s talking about, again, how they could have known the Gospel before the Gospel came to them, by saying that, as we talked about back in our Christmas astrology episode, that that was written in the stars of the heavens, that these patterns were there for wisdom to discern.
And in those passages in Proverbs and elsewhere in the Wisdom literature in the Old Testament where Christ is identified as Wisdom, it’s always in tandem with his involvement in creation, so that the second Person of Yahweh the God of Israel is involved in creation and is serving this function of wisdom, and this then gets developed through St. John’s use of “Logos” in the prologue of his gospel into what we see later in patristic theology, St. Maximus the Confessor being Exhibit A of the idea of Christ as Logos, and then the logiaof creation: the sort of structures, the patterns, the order in creation that leads back to the Logos.
Fr. Andrew: Yeah, and I’ve read some of those passages from St. Maximus, and I see people talk about them a lot on the internet. A lot of it’s kind of bewildering. I’ve seen a lot of weird things that are said about them. I don’t know, could you give a brief summary of what he’s— I mean, really, just—
Fr. Stephen: [Laughter] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Fr. Andrew: Just to lay this out, because it’s one of the things that gets talked about all the time, or at least in the stuff that I read, but could be—I don’t know, can seem very esoteric, like “each thing has a logos in it.” What is that? Is that some kind of mystical diamond that everyone’s carrying around?
Fr. Stephen: Yeah, it’s not the essence. So you start with Christ. Christ is the Logos Theou: he’s the Logos of God. He’s the Logos of God. So that’s setting up a paradigm of the relationship. So he is how God reveals himself to creation. We don’t come to know God the Father directly. We come to know Christ; we come to know the Logos, and through him we come to know the Father.
So the logoi or the logia in all created things are that capacity in which… It’s coming at… I was using the phenomenological language of the way objects in the world present themselves to us. This is coming at it the other way. This is the element of the objects in the world that is accessible to our knowledge. So it’s coming at the same kind of idea from the other direction.
Fr. Andrew: I see. So this is what we can sort of perceive of them.
Fr. Stephen: Right, the order, the structure, what makes them them. So it’s closely related to nature. It’s not the particular essence, because we don’t come to know God in his essence. We don’t come to know Christ in his essence. We come to know his Person as the Logos of God. It’s not the individual essence, but it is the pattern, the form, the structure, and that is what is accessible to us as subject when we perceive and come to know object.
Fr. Andrew: Gotcha. Well, that makes sense. [Laughter]
Fr. Stephen: And that’s how they can lead us back, because if we start to understand these structures and these patterns, and we understand them through wisdom, at a larger and larger level, they lead us back to the Logos Theou, the Logos proper, which then leads us to come to know God.

As I was listening (and actually taking some notes, especially the meaning of terms I was not familiar with), I wondered: is logos what I was trying to express earlier, the shine of things, the ability to lead us upward, to a higher perspective?

It seems to make sense, somehow. 

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Inhabiting a persona

So, there is a lot going on these days, both family-related (moving my mom to assisted living), work (the usual challenges, plus a close co-worker leaving). Plus illness, lots of illness this month. And a higher than average anxiety level because of all the things I am dealing with. I am currently sick enough that I’m not doing much besides sitting around at home, which is unusual for me: I almost always find something to do besides being sick. Not this time. Just reading and thinking and writing to pass the time and distract myself. 

Against this backdrop my brain entertained me last night with a pretty cinematic dream. It’s hard to recall all the details, but it was one of those dreams where I inhabit a different persona. So I experience the dream story first-person but I’m not *me*, per se. This is always a bit of an unsettling experience. Am I temporarily possessed or am I possessing somebody else? And what does it mean? Probably nothing, but my curiosity is still aroused by the experience.

My character was female, but younger than I am now, probably about mid-20s. My sense of my appearance was that it was average, with long dark hair. I did not feel that anything about me in particular stood out, and I didn’t want to stand out.

I was in a busy urban centre, full of commercial and/or government buildings. I don’t recall any green space. This city was outwardly peaceful, but there was a tension there too, a sense of violence lurking beneath the surface, waiting for the opportunity to emerge.

I was a person with secrets, someone who was not what she seemed. And it was my goal to cause some kind of disruption. But it wasn’t calculated, exactly, it was an intention inside me that had a kind of inevitability about it.

Now that I think about it, I do recognize this aspect of the dream persona. When people are trying to understand surprising events, I notice they try to rationalize them, most often. They come up with reasons why this or that thing might have happened. Or they assume there are unknown reasons, that if uncovered, would make a coherent narrative. Something we could stand outside of, say “Oh, that is why and how that happened.” Where we could identify specific agents (usually people not ourselves, especially if they are doing something bad) and say “It is because of them” or more specifically “It is their fault.” 

I do this too, of course. But I have noticed I tend to be more aware that I’m doing this act of rationalizing than the average person I interact with. And I am aware of when I’m doing it to fulfill a social convention, but I’m not really that into it. I am not sure why I am like this, but I think it’s because I have an awareness of my own internal chaos. In other words, I know my rational, socially acceptable persona is mostly an act. It’s an act I’m dedicated to, and pretty good at, but it’s not even close to being all I am. I’m a seething, intuitive chaos. Therefore, chaos in the world tends not to surprise me too much. It may follow a pattern, but does it always have to have a cause and effect explanation? Does there always have to be a specific person or people behind an event that instigates it? I don’t think so. Sometimes the only explanation is….people being people. And that means all of us.

So perhaps in my dream I got to inhabit this personified chaos for a while. Now, my character had a  sense of being isolated, secretive and fearful, but she was not entirely alone. There was at least one other friendly person she was interacting with, and this friend was like a guide. There was a sense of being led around the centre of the city. Even a feeling of fun, playfulness. But it was disrupted. My character did something violent, something that permanently altered the environment of the city. It would no longer be the same place after this event. I knew this and made no attempt to flee, even though I knew I would be found and there would be some sort of vengeance. Again, it all felt inevitable, nothing that could be avoided.

Now the most vivid and surprising part of the dream. At the end of it, I wasn’t alone. My friend, the guide was still there. But so were a lot of other people. Not doing anything in particular. Just surrounding me. There to witness something?

I don’t remember anything else. It was like watching a strange old movie, made by a slightly crazy person. But the main feeling was this sense of moving from an (almost) unseen, unrecognized agent, to one who was seen and acknowledged.

Friday, 29 April 2022

More recent history

Many years ago, when I was living abroad, I put up some online albums of photos. They are still out there, and it gives me an odd, but mostly pleasant feeling to look at them.

I have left them up as I don’t see any harm in them. And sometimes I click through them. They bring back memories of a very pivotal time in my life.

Something I should do one day is pick a few of the photos and try to write what was in my head at the time, and what I was experiencing.

But lately, my first thought is “How frighteningly young I look!” I’m not super old now….but there is change, for sure.

Monday, 18 April 2022

Family histories: The Russian Civil War and Greece

One of the interesting things about being in a family with multiple children - in my case, I have two older brothers - is seeing how your family background impacts each person differently. My brothers and I do not reflect the influence of our parents' lives, and those of their parents before them, in the same way. And yet, I think we all do coherently, each in his or her unique way.

For example, I was deeply influenced by my dad's love of the arts. He spoke many times about how the opera and classical music in particular were a sanity saver when he was a young man in the politically and culturally turbulent environment of Greece. I have always prioritized dance and music and cultural involvement generally in my life.

Something my eldest brother is good at however, and that I am not so good at, is recalling the details of family histories and how they intertwine with historical events. I recall broad themes, but unless I have the details written down, they slip through my memory. I find this troubling (and a bit embarrassing) because as the only one of us with children, I do feel like I have some responsibility to make sure that the stories are passed on. Left to my own devices, however, my children will only get vague outlines, with a good many mistakes included. I will have to encourage a lot of discussion about family history on the occasions that we are all visiting together, in the hopes that AJ and Dani's memories are more reliable than mine. 

Recently I wrote about mine, and my children's, experiences with the Ukrainian community in Canada, in light of the war beginning in February 2022. But, my older brother recently reminded me that our family, on my dad's side, has been involved in Russian/Ukrainian wars before. Surprise!

Andreas, my paternal grandfather, was born in 1893 in Greece. He entered the Greek Army in 1910 or 1912 and left in 1922.  He started as an infantry soldier then became a communications specialist (field telephones) and later became an instructor.  World War 1 and the Russian Civil War were just two of the many wars he fought in.  After his military service ended, he endured World War II as a civilian, and was imprisoned for his activities in Greek Civil War in the 1950s. 

He received the award War Cross (Polemikos Stavros, Kingdom of Greece) while fighting in the Ukraine during the Russian Civil War (1918-20). He fought on the exact same ground that is being fought over in the Ukraine in spring 2022 (and previously).

The decoration was awarded on the recommendation of a French officer for action that took place in the Ukraine.  The Greeks were part of an international coalition of armies fighting against the Russian Red Army. The story that was told to me: The Greek army was supposed to retreat from Kherson, but all the telephone wires were down, so there was no way to communicate the message. So Andreas and a fellow soldier crawled several miles through fields in the rain to deliver the message in person. Later, they had to navigate freezing cold rivers with the remains of the army as the bridges had been destroyed.

The wars destroyed him physically and psychologically and he spent most of the remainder of his life as an invalid.

I grew up with the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall on the news, and the doctrine of multiculturalism in school (Canada). So half-consciously I absorbed the belief that I lived at the "end of history" (Francis Fukuyama wrote a book about that, which I never actually read.) In school, we studied different historical periods and ideologies and ended with "Globalism" like that was the final thing one needed to know about. (The curriculum is much the same now as when I was in school, because these things take forever to update and it is super controversial to do so, whoever is trying to do it.)

Of course I also grew up with stories from my family's history, so it's not like I never had an alternate perspective. Nevertheless, as you are becoming a young adult, it seems natural to look beyond one's family experience for knowledge and socialization. Without necessarily intending to do so, I paid more attention to the broader culture around me as I grew up, instead of the micro-culture I grew up in.  Myself and my peers were all well-off enough to lead a more or less self-absorbed life where our career and personal choices were the central concern of our existence, not somebody else's wars and struggles. At best we felt a vague sense of gratitude to our forebearers who endured a bunch of uncomfortable stuff so we didn't have to.

9/11 was the first shock that disrupted this world view for me (other friends also identified the Columbine shootings). It wasn't like I immediately transformed, but as the years have gone by I've gradually come to view the decades following World War II as a short historical moment, part of a much larger context, rather than the culmination of All History so that me and my generation could live out our fortunate existence. I've come to realize that I am not indeed entitled to a life free of trouble and political, culture and religious upheaval.   I don't see my contemporaries quite the same way, either. I think it is very important to not assume the worst of people, but at the same time I see enough disturbing behaviours (individual and group) that the crimes and misapprehensions of the past are actually quite comprehendible. I will not see world peace in my lifetime or my children's (I used to believe I would.) At the same time, I am reading authors and observers of history and psychology who actually have discussed and to some degree understood what people are like. So I am not alone in trying to understand what is going on and how I should orient my life.

I'm also, slowly, coming to the realization that we can't, entirely, help who we are. Another way to say this is we don't completely choose who we are. I have a fractured cultural background because both my parents wished to leave key aspects of their birth cultures behind. So, they (sort of) were fully on board with the individualist focus of Canadian society. They didn't want to raise us to be a specific identity. So that made it kind of OK to not pay a lot of attention to our cultural backgrounds, to embrace "multiculturalism" (which I interpreted as "you can identify as what you want!) and to "assimilate". None of this however, turned out to be simple, and I think my parents far underestimated how complex it is. You don't just leave your family home and teach yourself to be a certain culture.

For myself, while I am grateful for all the opportunities that an open, peaceful country provided me, I have also come to the conclusion (if conclusions are possible) that I need to understand and in some sense "heal" my own background. I can't just brush it under the rug. It does matter where I come from. I am not the same as all the people who I went to university with, or that I work with, or who make roughly the same amount of money as me, or who have a similar family structure. At the same time I don't want to ghettoize myself or other people. Of course I have things in common with my contemporaries, of course we can be friends and colleagues and share goals. If anything I want to pay more attention to the people around me: I want to have tighter connections, more shared intention, more goals to accomplish. So it's complex, but I feel more and more the relevance to step back and look at the puzzle pieces that are my history, including the ones with jagged edges. I see in them a microcosm of the pieces of the world that divide, grind each other into sharp edges and sometimes draw blood.

Friday, 11 March 2022

A Tale of Two Blogs

I've had three longer-running blogs in my adulthood, of which this one is the most recent. Last year it made sense to me to have two active blogs: my older one, torthuiljourney.blogspot.com, which mainly focuses on family, and this one. I was trying to redefine myself and my online life, and the way it made sense to me was that torthuiljourney would be like a diary, and torthuilexplores would be a place to explore ideas, which specifically might take me in a different direction than the older blog, and outside the expectations of whatever audience I had built. Or put a different way, one blog would be about exploring ideas, and the other would be how I implement them in my life.

Lately it feels a bit redundant to have two blogs, as what I want to talk about could fit easily on either, and I find myself not worrying much at all for being judged for exploring ideas (Why should I stress over that? this is about me doing the best for myself and my family.) So more so than previously I've found myself duplicating, or almost duplicating posts. I think this is a good sign, as it shows that I am living out the ideas I am considering. There isn't my 'real life' and my 'life of the mind,' or not as much. There is.....Life!

I will keep the two blogs for now. There is still a lot of unique content on each. But they are not strictly divided in my mind, and I don't see the reason for anyone to read one and definitely not the other.

With that in mind, here is a link to my (developing) thoughts on a very special recent experience.

I shared this one on torthuiljourney as it is about my family, but it easily fits here too because I try to process my thoughts on belonging to a cultural community and to the the war in Ukraine.