Our Connection with the Universe

I read something recently that really made me think. If you lived on the sunshine side of a tidal locked planet (one in which one side of its sphere always faces the body it orbits around), over the generations you might completely lose sight of the fact that there’s a universe out there, because you’d never see the stars.

How tragic that would be. For centuries, Man has been looking skyward and wondering what is out there. We imagine constellations of stars as being part of a group even though they are nowhere near each other. We give them names. We wonder if we are alone.

Personally, I find it extremely comforting that there’s something so much larger than myself that it practically renders me insignificant. It makes me feel that any concerns I may be having are insignificant, too.

There is so much beauty in the night sky. It calms me. It embraces me. I’d hate to lose that sense of awe.

Our moon is tidally locked to us, which is why we always see the same face. But we are not tidally locked to it, nor is it tidally locked to the sun, which is why we see different phases of it as it continues to face us. If you lived on the far side of the moon, you wouldn’t know earth existed. That’s a profound view of reality, because the earth is comparatively huge, and would be rather hard to ignore in other circumstances.

Tidal locking would mean you’d only get to see one version of reality. And over time that reality would be reinforced to such a degree that it would be hard to leave room for any other beliefs. (In fact, one’s very concept of the passage of time would probably be so different that it might render one incapable of imagination.)

It just goes to show that your reality has a great deal to do with where you are looking. That’s why I love to travel so much. I think it’s important to experience other points of view. And by that I don’t just mean the opinions of others. I mean the points from which I get to view the world and the heavens.

I hope you take time to look about you, dear reader. There are many things to see. And those sights will enhance your connection to the universe.

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Parallel Universes

When I was younger and much more earnest, I read the book One, by Richard Bach. I’m sure I wouldn’t be quite as influenced by it now, but it was impactful then. It made my fertile imagination run wild.

The book is about quantum physics and parallel universes. It talks about how each choice you make causes your existence to split off like the branches of a tree. If you decide to get a divorce, in another universe you remain happily married. In yet another, you remain married, but are miserable. Believe it or not, I take a lot of comfort from this.

For example: Applying for a job? Nervous? Not to worry. There will always be at least one universe in which you get that job. Fingers crossed that you happen to be in the right universe this time around.

I must admit I apply this principle to romance more than anything else. My love life may be nonexistent, but if I lock eyes with someone, I can tell myself that in at least one universe, that guy will have seen me for the amazing person that I am, and he, too, will be amazing, and we’ll live happily ever after. So I’m sort of having many, MANY successful relationships right now. Just… not in this universe.

So, three cheers for quantum physics! Or no cheers at all. In this context, it hardly matters, does it? Somewhere, I’m cheering.

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Thank You, More Please

I was killing time over the weekend on the deadliest of time-killers: Youtube. I came across a light romantic comedy called Happythankyoumoreplease. The title alone got me curious. Plus, Josh Radnor is in it, and he’s pure sweet candy to my eyes, so why not?

It’s a cute movie. It doesn’t surprise me that it didn’t win any Oscars. It’s not that kind of vehicle. But it was a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half.

One of the things I love most about life is that you never know where or when you’re going to be pelted with a pearl of wisdom. In one scene, Malin Akerman, the actress who plays Annie, was telling a story about a time she was in this cab and the driver told her that she had a lot to give, but her problem was that she didn’t express enough appreciation. When she asked him how she should do that, he told her to simply say thank you, and always add “more, please,” because with gratitude the universe is eternally abundant.

When I heard that, I almost felt a mental click. It just makes so much sense to me. Even if you don’t believe in the laws of attraction, or a higher power or anything even remotely new age or spiritual or crunchy-granola, it just seems right to remind yourself that not only should you feel grateful, but that you deserve good things.

I have always liked to take a moment and look up at the sky and thank the universe, even for simple things like the feeling of wind on my face. Now, I plan to add “more, please” to that thank you. At the very least it will influence my attitude. That’s a bigger payoff than the average lottery ticket, right?

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When Things Go Wrong

When your job requires that you open and close a drawbridge and something happens that causes it to malfunction, that’s a bad day. That’s a stressful, paperwork-generating, workmen-crawling-all-over-your-territory type of day. I don’t like those days. I’m having one of those days.

But really, since I didn’t do anything to break one of the most expensive pieces of equipment owned by the City of Seattle, I shouldn’t let it get to me. Nothing has “gone wrong”. Things are just not going according to my plan. It would be arrogant of me to think that my plan was the way things ought to be. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, who am I? If the universe sees fit to drop a bomb in the middle of my flimsy little itinerary, what gives me the right to complain?

Perhaps when I’m feeling as though things have gone wrong, I should try to look at it slightly differently. It’s change. Change happens. I need to focus on better ways to identify and adapt to change, rather than panic or grouse or be bothered by things I cannot control.

When you think about it, being rattled by change is about as silly as shouting at the waves for crashing up on the beach. They’re going to wash up no matter how big a tantrum I might choose to throw, so perhaps it’s time to stop making an existential fool of myself.

While I am capable of making choices in my life (and believe me, I’ve made some doozies), I am not the driver of destiny’s car. Getting too full of myself and thinking I’m steering this thing is what causes me to feel disappointment, frustration, and irritation. All of those feelings are generated by a sense of how things are “supposed” to turn out, when in fact, I haven’t a freakin’ clue what will happen next, so harboring a set of expectations is absurd.

So I guess I’ll let the workmen fix the bridge and accept the fact that one way or another, the universe will take care of itself. Whether I like it or not.

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[Image credit: quietwanderings.com]

“We Accept the Love We Think We Deserve”

That is one of the main messages in the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and it really hits home for me.

My whole life, I’ve had a problem with boundaries, or, actually, a lack of boundaries. In essence, I’ve allowed people to step all over me because I was obsessed with being a nice person. Even if someone was unspeakably rude to me, I was never rude back, and I certainly didn’t call them on their behavior. I’ve allowed myself to be ripped off, stepped on, and emotionally abused. As a child in school, when I was bullied or beaten up, I never fought back. I’ve always found it amazingly difficult to say, “No,” “Go away,” “Leave me alone,” or “F*** off.” In short, I’ve taken massive amounts of crap in my lifetime because if people see an opportunity to take advantage, they will do so, and I practically had “WELCOME” tattooed on my forehead.

This lack of boundaries goes hand in glove with accepting the love we think we deserve, because when your borders are kind of fuzzy, you begin to think you deserve the intrusions you suffer as a result.

Ah, but the universe is a wonderful teacher, is it not? It often seems as though the very type of person who needs to be put in your path so that you might learn and grow will be dropped there like an obstructive boulder, and you will be forced to go over, under, around or through that person to get to the other side.

I have to say that being in a relationship with someone with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be brutal and devastating, but it can also be an opportunity for growth like no other. When someone in your life knows how to push your buttons and doesn’t hesitate to do so, you learn exactly what your buttons are, and that gives you the opportunity to explore the reason behind those buttons. That can be quite useful.

When you are essentially living with a big old bully, you either learn to stick up for yourself or you cave in under the pressure. I decided to stick up for myself. And now, I must say, I don’t take crap from anyone. I am a woman of steel.

At first I was a little militant about it, a little rigid. I can see how it would have been easy to become a bully myself. But with time I learned to tone it down, and now I don’t push, but neither do I allow intrusions on my boundaries. I’m not afraid to establish my very reasonable rules, and if someone doesn’t like those rules, well, there are plenty of other people out there to play the game with.

The other day one of my coworkers said that she needed me to go through all our grocery bags that we use for trash bags and throw out the ones that had holes. Five years ago I might have done it. I’d have resented it, but I’d probably have done it. On this day, though, I just looked her square in the eye and said, “Uh…no. If you have a problem with bags with holes in them, simply throw them out when you come across one.” And that was that. It was a little thing, but for me it was a triumph, and a hard-won triumph at that.

But all this boundary drawing has had a delightful effect. Many of the people I love are actually behaving much more courteously, and it actually seems like it’s a relief not only to me, but to them as well. People actually like to know where the limits are. It makes it that much easier to travel through life without bumping into stuff. And having boundaries of your own teaches you to respect those of others as well.

So the trick is to determine the kind of love you want, and better yet, the love you don’t want, and then apply the restrictions accordingly, and you’ll be amazed how well your personal frontiers will be respected.

Peace in the kingdom. Maybe it’s not that hard after all.

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My Prayer

I am grateful this day for the rain that sustains me

    for the sun that nurtures me, for the wind that buffets me.

 I wish to give back more than I take from this world,

value more than that which is has been given me

and shore up that which has always endured me.

May I always gaze at the stars and feel joy

for my minuscule part in the limitless universe.

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(Image credit: apod.nasa.gov)

Happy Earth Day!

It’s Earth Day, and that has me thinking about the intimate encounters I’ve had with nature in my lifetime.

  • I have swum with manatee, dolphins and stingrays.
  • I briefly dated a guy who could imitate a barn owl so accurately that every owl in the region would respond to his call. He also taught me how to walk through the woods at 2 am without a flashlight. (Lift your toes to avoid tripping, and hold a stick ahead of you to thwart spider webs, and you’ll be amazed how quickly your eyes adjust to the lack of light.)
  • Working graveyard shift for 10 years, I’ve probably seen about 2000 sunrises, enough to know each one is as unique as a snowflake.
  • Many times I have watched that moment when the moon expands and turns orange just before it sinks below the horizon.
  • I’ve hiked beyond the overlooks at Yellowstone Park, and was told by a ranger that less than 5 percent of the parks visitors bother to do so. I find this astounding, and a bit disheartening.
  • I’ve rescued wild birds with my bare hands.
  • I’ve pulled my car over to remove lizards from my windshield.
  • I have reclined in a mountain meadow and watched bats fly overhead.
  • I’ve ridden horses through national parks.
  • I’ve seen solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, shooting stars and comets.
  • I have snorkeled above a coral reef.
  • I have danced in the rain.

But perhaps most importantly I have looked skyward and thanked the universe for allowing me to live on this planet and feel the wind upon my face. I hope everyone will take a moment today and do the same.

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Image credit: mauiearthday.org

Cosmic Pinball

I am always amazed at how the most random encounters can change the trajectory of one’s life. It’s as if we are all pinballs in a great machine, bouncing off this or that obstacle, and being propelled to greater and more dizzying heights. You never know when you wake up in the morning if your life is going to change for good or ill by the people you meet. In a strange way, I love this about the universe.

Here’s an example. I used to be very active in the art community in the virtual world called Second Life. This gave me the confidence to become a fractal artist. You can see my work here. Because of this, I met a young man who lives on the other side of the world in Viet Nam. I helped him get his first art show in Second Life, and we became good friends. I am very impressed by this young man’s talent. Not only does he do drawings and photography and 3D virtual sculptures, but he also writes quite well. you can see his work at his deviantart page.

He’s 19, and wants to study abroad. One night while we were chatting on facebook, I mentioned the Savannah College of Art and Design, because I had always wanted to go there. He looked into it, and is now applying. So there you have it. A random and improbable encounter between a 48 year old in America and a 19 year old in Viet Nam has sent him in the direction of Savannah, Georgia, a place he had never heard of before this. I hope it works out, because my young friend has an amazing talent and a bright future.

So, without further ado, here is some of the amazing art of my dear friend Cong Le Nguyen. I’m proud to know him, and I’m glad our paths intersected. Enjoy!

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The Pope and Higgs Boson: Too Much God to Digest all at Once?

So, we have a new Pope. That’s a load off. Not that I’m Catholic, mind you, but I think it’s never a good thing to have a vacancy for the position of God’s representative on earth, do you? He’s from Argentina, he’s chosen the name Francis, and he’s a Jesuit. All of these things are firsts, and for the Catholic Church, firsts are usually avoided, so this impresses me. And the fact that he was never a Hitler Youth is a big fat plus in my book. He’s also the first Pope in 600 years to have to deal with a Pope Emeritus, which can’t be easy, but so far he seems to be handling it with aplomb (a word I don’t get the opportunity to use very often).

During the great outpouring of admiration that we’ve all witnessed, you learn that he is a man of the people. He’s humble. He cares about the poor. He has held mass for the homeless and the prostitutes of Buenos Aires. He wants to be a populist Pope. Again, all wonderful things.

But I’m having a bit of trouble reconciling all of the above with what the Christian News Service says about him:

“In 2010, when Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, Cardinal Bergoglio encouraged clergy across the country to tell Catholics to protest against the legislation because, if enacted, it could ‘seriously injure the family,’ he said.

He also said adoption by same-sex couples would result in ‘depriving [children] of the human growth that God wanted them given by a father and a mother.’”

CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips says that until now, Pope Francis’ conservative views on birth control, homosexuality and women’s roles in the Church have not made him popular with his relatively progressive Jesuit brothers. That, to me, is a bad sign. If you are a steadfast conservative within a progressive group, what does this say about your ability to be a Pope who listens to Catholics in the modern world, particularly ones with diverging viewpoints?

How can you be a Pope of the people and shun homosexuals? These are our brothers, our sisters, our nieces, our nephews. Are you saying that pedophilia is more acceptable? It certainly seems to be in many areas of the church. And how can you view women as subordinate in the 21st century? Our mothers, our sisters, our daughters. And most important of all, how can you preach to prostitutes and yet believe that birth control is a sin? Isn’t that tantamount to a death sentence for them?

It will be interesting to see what message he brings to those countries in Africa where entire populations are on the verge of extinction due to AIDS. When it has been proven, time and time again, even by your own priests, that abstinence is not going to work, it’s time to wake up and move into the present. But that is probably way too much to ask of a man who is 76 years old, and a religion that is at least 1900 years old.

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In other news, the very next day in CERN, they announced that they’re confident they’ve discovered the God particle, also known as the Higgs Boson. According to Hayley Dixon of the Telegraph, “Finding the Higgs plugs a gaping hole in the Standard Model of physics, the theory that describes all the particles, forces and interactions that make up the universe.” That, my friends, is HUGE. In my opinion, Higgs Boson is where God and science intersect. And I firmly believe that they can intersect, if you have an open mind.

According to CBS News, it is “the subatomic particle predicted nearly a half-century ago, which will go a long way toward explaining what gives electrons and all matter in the universe size and shape.”

WHY ISN’T EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT THIS? I’m stumped. I guess the building blocks of the universe got overwhelmed in the news cycle that is Pope Francis. And that’s a shame, because if you have any faith whatsoever, both of these events will have a sweeping impact upon you, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Or maybe it’s just that we mere mortals can only digest so much God in one sitting. Either way, hold on to your hats. This is going to be a bumpy, albeit fascinating, ride.

Mother Nature Trumps the River Goddess Every Time

It can be a heady experience being a bridgetender. After all, you are operating a piece of equipment that can weigh several million pounds if you work on one of the larger bridges. You also control the flow of marine, vehicular and pedestrian traffic. You can make people very late for work. If a boater is rude to you, you can make him paddle in circles for a while before opening the bridge for him. (Not that I’d ever do this, of course, but one hears stories. Cough.) Because of this power, a friend of mine jokingly refers to me as the “River Goddess.”

Last year, the five drawbridges in Northeast Florida that are managed by the Florida Department of Transportation opened 18,000 times. That’s a lot of people depending upon us to get where they’re going. And despite the fact that a lot of people assume we do nothing but sleep on the job (which infuriates me, because while I cannot speak for others, I have honestly NEVER slept on the job myself), the vast majority of us take bridgetending very seriously. Someone’s life could be at stake if we didn’t. Just Google “Drawbridge Death” some time, and you’ll see what I mean.

But just when you start to get a massive ego, the universe has a way of putting you in your place. For example, check out these photos that a coworker of mine took while on the job on June 26th, 2009.

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He was minding his own business when he saw this huge water spout going up the St. Johns River. There are actually several really good Youtube videos of this same water spout here, here, and here. This was a very bad day to be a bridgetender.

Fortunately this water spout, when it did hit land and turn into a tornado, somehow missed all the bridges and actually caused no injuries or fatalities to anyone in Jacksonville. But it really goes to show that Mother Nature can very easily slap you down if she wants to. If this River Goddess had been on duty that day and that water spout had decided to hang a sharp left, she would have been one very unfortunate statistic indeed.