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There are more pictures than grains of sand – but some of them stand out from the crowd for some reason or another. Here are 10 pictures that stuck with me; and maybe one or the other will fall on fertile ground elsewhere ...
I start with «The Looking at the Ocean Club.» Unfortunately I’m far away from any ocean, and the last time I’ve seen a beach is six years ago. But this invitation from «The Looking at the Ocean Club» is more about time, space, attention and consciousness in general. «The measurable side of the world is not the world,» so philosopher Martin Seel, «it’s the measurable side of the world.» Somewhere deep inside we know that …
Maybe philosopher & spiritual teacher Alan Watts put it best: «Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present. For the perfect accomplishment of any art, you must get this feeling of the eternal present into your bones – for it is the secret of proper timing. No rush. No dawdle. Just the sense of flowing with the course of events in the same way that you dance to music, neither trying to outpace it nor lagging behind. Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present.»
And Alan Watts goes on: «Just exactly what is the good to which we aspire through doing and eating things that are supposed to be good for us? This question is strictly taboo, for if it were seriously investigated the whole economy and social order would fall apart and have to be reorganized. It would be like the donkey finding out that the carrot dangled before him, to make him run, is hitched by a stick to his own collar. For the good to which we aspire exists only and always in the future. Because we cannot relate to the sensuous and material present we are most happy when good things are expected to happen, not when they are happening. We get such a kick out of looking forward to pleasures and rushing ahead to meet them that we can’t slow down enough to enjoy them when they come. We are therefore a civilization which suffers from chronic disappointment – a formidable swarm of spoiled children smashing their toys.»
This is a pretty scary illustration of a human life in weeks. And for most of us it’s not even that much as the average human life span is around 78 years in America and a little bit higher in other countries – but 90 years only in insurance ads or bold forecasts for future generations.
An important reminder that with every breath, we are one step closer to the grave. Do we use our life – or do we waste it? How profound is our experience of life? Do we make our life pleasant, lovely, intense, profound, full-fledged, worth living? Unfortunately most people’s lives are mortgaged to the various mental, emotional and social realities within and around them.
The secret of life is to see things with a non-serious eye and a little joy in our hearts. And to play the «game of life» with total involvement, full power, like a sport. Without being too entangled with everybody & everything around. The beauty & magnificence of life is known only to those who are truly involved with all there is. Life is not so much about thoughts, feelings, activities or possessions. It’s more about experiences, profoundness and impact. We are life – the rest is encore. The world needs people who have come alive! In sports, no one has to tell us about presence or mindfulness – as it’s being preached everywhere nowadays. If we hit a ball, for example, we simply have to be present & attentive, otherwise it won't be a good game. If we increase the intensity (of whatever we do), we automatically become more attentive – in all areas of life! If our attention is profound, our experience of life is profound.
This picture is the perfect illustration of «Some days you're a pigeon, some days you're a statue.» People who live in an esoteric «rainbow-butterfly-unicorn-picture-perfect-world» and think only good things should happen to them, are unfit for life. No matter how «positive» they think, feel or visualize. If we don’t know how to go through harsh situations in a reasonably undamaged manner, we will avoid great possibilities which usually come along with difficulties & mischief. Whether we have to struggle with certain situations is not a choice. We have to – especially in trying times like ours. Life certainly doesn't always show up the way we would prefer. But it’s our choice how we respond.
We should stop with this esoteric «Happy Pressure». That's terror – self-made terror. Sometimes we feel good. Sometimes we don't. That's life, that's ok. No need to fight against our own feelings, against ourselves actually. Suppression makes things worse in the long run. Some 100 years ago my fellow countryman C.G. Jung put it that way: «What you resist, persists, grows in size, takes longer.» Just don’t stay in the pits. Let the weather pass, let the dark clouds pass, the wind, the storm. The sun will rise again; it will. Move on when it’s time to move on – joyfully! There are so many goodies out there to discover!
«We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall.» as Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön puts it. «When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story or the beginning of a great adventure. (…) Whatever you are exposed to, pick up the best from every situation. Let not life’s experience go waste. Life is about moving through, moving on, growing up and growing through each and every experience. (…) We see how beautiful and wonderful and amazing things are, and we see how caught up we are. It isn’t that one is the bad part and one is the good part, but that it’s a kind of interesting, smelly, rich, fertile mess of stuff. When it’s all mixed up together, it’s us: humanness. This is what we are here to see for ourselves. Both the brilliance and the suffering are here all the time; they interpenetrate each other.»
And in the eternal words of Alan Watts: «The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity. And it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad. Because we never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune. Or, we never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.»
The story goes on and on and on. Orson Welles: «If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.»
«I’d like to f*ck up as much as Columbus and have a day named after me.» We all know days or weeks when it’s hard to get up, lack of motivation, lack of energy, things are not working our way, too much friction everywhere. Somebody please clean up my life and give me some energy and ease. But chances are nobody will do that. It’s up to us to pick ourselves up. We don't drown by falling in the water, we drown by staying there.
Human experience is happening within us – all experience is created from within. We are making up our experience every moment of our life. But we‘re mostly making it in a compulsive way, so it looks like it’s happening to us. With more consciousness, we can make it more the way we want. As human beings become more empowered (not just technically), we need to become more conscious & responsible, rather than reactive & compulsive. The more conscious, the more consciously we act & respond, the less conflict within ourselves and in the world around. Basically what Eastern traditions have been teaching us for ages.
The compulsive mental «rumination» that accompanies so many people is a huge obstacle in life. Stories over (rotten) stories. We could discuss this endlessly – but I'll keep it short at this point. Let me remind you of two old American sayings which help a great deal:
«Give up the hope that the past could have been any different.»
«Give up the need to know what happens tomorrow.»
Just walk from where you are and give your best.
This is an illustration called «Personal Settings» by Jessi Arrington. Jessi is a color-loving designer; she makes a hobby of wearing nothing new. Her «Personal Settings» are colorful, energetic, and uplifting – sometimes we just need a little visual push!
As Isaac Newton told us centuries ago, things reflect light and therefore have color in our perception. We only see the color of the reflected light – not the color of the substance. Things are not red or blue – they just appear that way. Color is not what it is – but what it gives away! That seems to be the nature of life itself, not just the nature of color. What we reflect will be our colors. So don’t hold back!
Painter David Hockney would agree: «I prefer living in color.» And legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt adds: «Life begets life. / Energy creates energy. / It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.»
I love this picture! Obviously, we see an automobile from an early era. We are in the summer of 1932, driving an American Austin Bantam on cables 120 feet across the Pudding River near Barlow, Oregon.
But look at those girls! They could be our daughters, our neighbors, or just any girls enjoying a warm sunny afternoon in 2021 after the Covid lockdown! They look like modern girls photoshopped into a very old picture. The postures, the smile, the clothes, the hair … ok, they don’t carry smartphones.
When you & me and everybody we know are ashes or dust in the wind, these girls will still be waving timelessly from a very distant past.
Let me take you by the hand and lead you back to 1941 to some «carrots on a stick.» Food shortages during World War II required citizens and governments to get «creative». Many ingredients (British) people were accustomed to were unavailable. But there were still carrots. So the British government tried to sell the carrots to the English public. It linked carrot consumption to patriotism, disseminated recipes, made bold claims about the carrot’s ability to improve the eyesight.
I’m not much into carrots myself, I’m afraid. And carrots are not exactly children’s favorites either. But when the stomach is calling, even carrots look tempting.
This picture is further away from «Generation Amazon» than the moon. But it’s a great reminder that gratitude is a very good state to begin with. Gratitude helps connect with other people, it strengthens relationships. Research shows that expressing thanks can lead to healthier, happier and less stressful lives. And to even more reasons to be grateful for!
This looks like the dad we never had and the childhood we could only dream of. Nevertheless it’s possible to provide kids with solid roots and shiny wings at the same time – somewhere between grocery aisles and the next great adventure, as it looks like.
It’s never too late to jump into the adventure of life! «Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage», Anais Nin recognized. It really does. In retrospect, one is usually more annoyed about not having tried something. Because many things seem sort of impossible until we have done them. Anyway, just keep in mind: «Fall down. Stand up. Straighten your crown. Carry on.» Do you really want to look back on your life and see how wonderful it could have been had you not been afraid to live it? Fortune favors the bold, they say. There is a reason why «Don't be afraid» is the most common sentence in the New Testament.
Maya Angelou: «Be courageous, but not foolhardy. Walk proud as you are. (…) Be a rainbow in somebody else's cloud.»
You probably heard that «dogs are God's way of apologizing for your relatives»! Many of us can relate to that. Dogs are wonderful companions; they know everything about unconditional love. Love is a natural quality – it comes from within. Love is not so much what we do. Love is more what we are, a way of being. We can take lessons from our dogs! The moment there are conditions, love becomes sort of a transaction, a (mutual) benefit scheme.
And in a world obsessed with productivity, dogs might be among our greatest gateways to presence. Our Good Boy here on the picture makes sure to get a front row seat to watch the geese & ducks every time he goes to the park. Dogs smell & hear very well, but their color spectrum is limited. They can see colors like blue, brown, gray, white or green – but no bright colors like red or yellow.
An English farmer once told writer W.G. Sebald: «I have always kept ducks, even as a child, and the colors of their plumage, in particular the dark green and snow white, seemed to me the only possible answer to the questions that are on my mind.» Poet Mary Ruefle later found among the multiple definitions of the word «speculum» «a medieval compendium of all knowledge» and «a patch of color on the secondary wings of most ducks and some other birds.» Does this Good Boy perceive somehow that a compendium of all knowledge and the ducks’ plumage are one and the same?
«The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself,» Henry Miller wrote. Since the universe has no center, it can’t be our own belly button! The universe is not human-centric. Every life form has a role to play in this «web of life» – that’s the beauty of it. Take a break from time to time and enjoy the beauty of creation. Try to «fall into presence»! Words & work tend to fill the mind, nature tends to clear it. «To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders,» so Lao Tzu.
There are comic & children's books that echo through life. They remain a source of wisdom & comfort for children of all ages across the globe. Like Snoopy & the «Peanuts Gang». We never really knew whether «Snoopy» was a human, a dog or a furry Superman – but we always knew he was a wonderful friend! In good times and in bad times, and in all the times in between.
The recent past was loaded with virus, isolation, anger, struggle, death, you name it – so we all need some warmth & creaminess in our life! This «Latte Snoopolino» is the picture I shared most in my life. The «Peanuts» are a good source to go back to when we need a little emotional blanket:
«Snoopy Wisdom For Life!»
Maybe you finally want to declutter your home & life – but without the vicious circle of «discarding mania», «donation mania» and «re-buying mania»:
«Decluttering without Sparking Joy Mania!»
We don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to decluttering. The English all-rounder William Morris left us an immortal «golden rule» ages ago:
HAVE NOTHING IN YOUR HOUSE
THAT YOU DO NOT KNOW TO BE USEFUL
OR BELIEVE TO BE BEAUTIFUL
William Morris was a pioneer in sustainable production, in focusing on beauty, usefulness and longevity of things, in meaningful work in times of industrialization. «Nothing should be made by man's labour which is not worth making, or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers.» He wanted a life as good as possible, in as many areas as possible, for as many people as possible. He was ahead of his time in the 19th century – and probably still would be.
Stay safe & healthy!
Or in the words of Mary Oliver:
It is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.
PS: Some more inspiration:
«Sun Deck Avenue»