Here’s sharing this article “For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II” on how a family in Russia (then Soviet Union) somehow miraculously survived for 40 years after the parents took their children with them to escape from the communist persecution in their village to the taiga in Siberia. It must have been challenging for them to live in the wilderness as they not only had to adapt to the physical environment and find their own food through growing crops and later hunting or trapping wild animals, they also had to cope with the isolation living in this remote area that is devoid of any other human presence except for themselves.
Somehow their story reminds me of how indigenous people live in isolation from modern civilisations, such as the Yanomami Indians in Amazon rainforest, but at least these people had already learnt to adapt to the environment having lived there for generations, and they would have no problems finding food and making shelters for themselves. But in this case, the taiga was not the family’s original habitat, as they grew up in a village, so having to adapt to the wild environment for 40 years must have been really tough. I suppose by then, the family felt that they had grown accustomed to living off the land and the attractions of modern devices and conveniences didn’t really appeal to them, except for a few things such as the television, as mentioned in the article.
In a way, it could be a blessing for the Russian family not to be exposed to the modern ills of living in a town or city, and be free from outside influences or propaganda of politics, such as not knowing about World War Two and so on. On the other hand, it is not their natural habitat too, unlike in the case of indigenous people, so they had to cope with the hardship of facing occasional rough weather and famine, and eventually a few family members died before reaching old age due to poor health, and in the case of one, he contracted pneumonia, which he probably had no immunity against.
This phenomenon is common among indigenous people who were exposed to the intruding people from modern societies for the first time, such as miners who ventured into their territory, as there were cases in which some of the people contracted diseases from them, having not developed immunity against these viruses in their own community in the past. The indigenous people would thrive on their own as long as the modern civilisation leave them alone in their natural habitats and not invade their lands or try to make them migrate to modern cities since they would have a hard time adjusting to urban life in terms of health, culture and so on. Hence, it is perhaps understandable that the last survivor of the family would prefer to stay on her own instead of going back to the village where her relatives are, having grown accustomed to living in the taiga. Perhaps it also testifies to how God has provided for the family, as she said “the Lord would provide and she would stay” at the end of the article.
I find that I am often drawn to clouds. I like to watch clouds drifting in the sky. I feel that I am also like a cloud drifting aimlessly. One of my favourite poems by William Wordsworth began with the verse “I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills,”
Clouds captivate me maybe because I can relate to its wandering nature. They also have a mystical nature, and do not have concrete forms. They are ever evolving, changing every moment. There was a time in the mid 90s when I felt intensely lonely and life appeared meaningless. I was studying in university after serving 2 years of National Service, during which I felt most days passed by without any sense of real direction. I decided to write a poem called “Drifting” to express the emptiness and depression I felt, which was inspired by a new age music/song called “Drifting” by Suzanne Ciani. You can listen to it here.
A few years ago, I decided to share my poem online here. Today, I still find myself captivated by clouds in the sky, as I feel a close affinity to them and can relate to their nature. I have come to accept my destiny (and reality) that I am forever drifting like a cloud, and I am also learning to see that my destination is in my journey, philosophically speaking. This perspective has helped made my journey in life more bearable (and meaningful) in a way.
The imagery in William Wordsworth also inspired me to take photos of clouds, such as the ones at the beginning and end of this post.
The explanation on post-modernism in the above video sits well with me as I have come to see this as a response to deconstruct well-established norms and ideologies that have been formulated in the so-called modern era of the 19th and 20th centuries due to advancements made in science, technology, architecture as well as developments in art, music and literature. So I suppose by the 20th century many textbooks have been written to impart these theories to students in schools, colleges and universities. While this may serve the purpose to pass down valuable knowledge, the downside of such institutionalisation and formalisation of theories and concepts is that a number of people began to accept them as the norms or objective truths when actually these originated only as opinions that were widely accepted as valid.
So I think that is where post-modernism comes into the picture around late 20th century onwards, to reflect and critique well-established ideologies so that people can continue to think for themselves and question popular theories in order to see things from diverse viewpoints. It is relevant and important today because certain norms may have resulted inadvertently in stereotyping and discrimination, such as gender boundaries, social classes, power structures, and so on, as pointed out in the video. I think post-modernism keeps the evolution of human consciousness alive, and encourages people to think for themselves and find new and better ways to look at things and solve problems of inequality, discrimination and so on in the world.
I have listened to the first part of the video on the French philosopher Jacques Derrida so far, whose worldviews I found to be intriguing and thoughtful. The English subtitles in the video helped me to understand and digest his system of thoughts better too, fortunately and thankfully. I noted from Wikipedia that he “developed a form of semiotic analysis known as deconstruction. His work was labeled as post-structuralism and associated with postmodern philosophy.”
This reminds me of the post-graduate studies on “post-structural thought” that Peter Rollins shared about in his interview regarding his new book “The idolatory of God”. My understanding of “post-structuralism” is that it is meant to deconstruct the structures that have been put in place by earlier philosophers, linguists and so on, so as to understand the abstractness and the mysteries (or mysticism, if I may describe it) of reality better.
“Post-structuralism is a response to structuralism. Structuralism is an intellectual movement developed in Europe from the early to mid-20th century. It argued that human culture may be understood by means of a structure—modeled on language (i.e., structural linguistics)—that differs from concrete reality and from abstract ideas—a “third order” that mediates between the two. Post-structuralist authors all present different critiques of structuralism, but common themes include the rejection of the self-sufficiency of the structures that structuralism posits and an interrogation of the binary oppositions that constitute those structures.”
In the video documentary, Derrida said “one of the gestures of deconstruction is not to naturalise what is not natural – to not assume that which is conditioned by history, institutions, or society is natural.”
Yes, perhaps all structural thoughts are subject to personal opinions – they only take shape over time and become widely accepted among those who study and assimilate the ideas into their own frame of thought about the world. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are always true or natural, so to speak. For example, I was reflecting that when it comes to energy healing, people have developed and formulated theories and techniques over the centuries, such as reiki, pranic healing, and so on. These forms of healing have their own structures and systems of thought, but in reality, they are just subjective opinions and experiences of those who experimented with different kinds of theories and techniques of healing, and came up with their own schools of thoughts or belief systems to explain how healing works. But essentially, they all originate from the same source, which is simply energy (or life force or ruah or prana or qi or some other names depending on the cultures).
The same pattern can be observed in other aspects of life, such as academic subjects (physics, chemistry, biology, geography and so on) and religions (in which theories/theologies about God, universe, etc, become widely accepted by certain groups of people and are institutionalised and formalised with their own creeds and doctrines/dogmas) – ultimately, all these fields of study and schools of thought are all subjective and relative (instead of objective and absolute) – they are constantly evolving with each generation of humankind (and with each new age/era of consciousness), in order to stay relevant to the cultures and experiences of people, individually and collectively.
In this particular segment of the video, Derrida said:
“Let me think. To go back to what we were saying earlier about seeing and touching, about seeing and speaking.. instead of getting enmeshed in a profound meditation on sight which I’ve written about and discussed at length elsewhere.
What interests me about the eyes is that they are part of the body that doesn’t age. In other words, if one looks for one’s childhood across all the signs of aging in the body, the deterioration of musculature, the whitening of the hair, changes in height and weight, one can find one’s childhood in the look of the eyes. And what’s striking about this is that a man of my age keeps exact same eyes that he had as a child.”
I noticed he has a twinkling of the eyes that remain youthful and energetic. I can relate to what he shared about finding a person’s childhood in the look of the eyes becayse I was reminded of a colleague who is about 50 years old, who works in the design and production team. I remember he has that youthful look – not only he looks slightly younger than his age, as if he was in his early 40s, he likes to crack jokes when conversing with people – his sense of wacky humour kept him young at heart. One time I noticed his eyes were twinkling like a child’s when he was conversing with me and another colleague during lunchtime. So yes, there is something about our eyes that retain the youthfulness and energy of our eternal, ageless spirit.
“Hegel says that the eyes are the outer manifestation of the soul. Through the eyes, the inner soul presents itself to the outside.
But I translate this thought as follows: that one’s act of looking has no age. One’s eyes are the same all of one’s life.”
I learnt from Wikipedia that Hegel is a German philosopher who lived in the 1700-1800s and his “historicist and idealist account of relaity revolutionzed European philosophy”. If I remember correctly, Peter Rollins may have mentioned him in his blog comments during some discussions online with the commenters. Anyway, it is interesting to see the eyes as the outer manifestation of the soul. I remember coming across a similar quote that says our eyes are windows to our soul.
I find the following quotes from this website interesting too, such as the French version “The eyes are the mirror of the soul”.
“A person’s thoughts can be ascertained by looking in his or her eyes. The proverb has been traced back in English to ‘Regiment of Life’ (1545). But the proverb was known much earlier. Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is quoted as saying, ‘Ut imago est animi voltus sic indices oculi’ (The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter). The L*tin proverbs, ‘Vultus est index animi’ or ‘Oculus animi index,’ are usually translated as ‘The face is the index of the mind.’ The French say, ‘Les yeux sont le miroir de l’dme (The eyes are the mirror of the soul). ‘The eyes are the window of the soul’ is a variant form of the proverb…” From “Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings” by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).
The pineal gland is a tiny organ in the center of the brain that played an important role in Descartes’ philosophy. He regarded it as the principal seat of the soul and the place in which all our thoughts are formed.
Yes, in a symbolic way, it could be said that our physical eyes are the extended organs of the pineal gland (our intuitve eye). We can see each other’s soul through looking into our physical eyes and understand each other’s heart through perceiving with our intuitive eye.
“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
I agree love involves being authentic and vulnerable as only then will people love and accept themselves for who they really are, and others will also have the opportunity to love and appreciate them for their honesty and authenticity. This form of self love and acceptance takes courage, because it seeks to continue learning new things and discovering new ways of looking at self and the universe. As Aristotle’s quote goes, knowing ourselves is the beginning of wisdom. I think we are wise when we know and embrace both the light and dark sides of ourselves, which are seen from a dualistic perspective.
In this sense, love can be said to be a state of being or a state of grace. We cannot but be love because love is our true essence and we do not need to do anything to become or to have acceptance. We can rest in our state of being love. In love, there is no darkness. Light and dark only exists in the dualistic mind. In the mind of oneness, everything in and around us is agape love.
As the quote put it, this continual act of discovering and knowing our true essence of love involves quest and daring and growth. I dare say we grow best and bear fruit when we rest or abide in the Vine, knowing we are already beloved, complete and blameless. We will relish and revel in the knowledge that we are magnificent and within us are infinite possibilities to shine and bless the world with our innate goodness and love.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
~ Thomas Alva Edison
“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”
~ Sir Winston Churchill
These quotes carry much weight because these two persons have put into perspective that their success does not come by chance alone but rather by a series of failures or mistakes that guide them to where they were in their eventual success. In Edison’s case, it was his notable inventions of the light bulb, microphone and other devices, and in Churchill’s case, it was his leadership of Britain to pull through World War Two. Indeed, failure does not define us; rather failure teaches success.
I also like this similar quote by Michael Jordan.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
“The only cure for loneliness is solitude. This is my companion. I go to the hills and hide myself there. The trees shelter me. I am contained within a wilderness, and the wilderness in my heart grows to match it. My heart is as spacious as the wild around me. Yes I’m alone. But I am good. I am very good.”
~ David Hayward
Here’s sharing this contemplative artwork and the accompanying quote above. It is intriguing to read that “the only cure for loneliness is solitude”. I realise there is a difference between the two – loneliness is a heart condition of feeling insignificant and neglected by the surrounding people because one has momentarily lost sight of one’s own significance and inherent value and preciousness, whereas solitude is a deliberate decision to retreat from the surrounding people in order to recover one’s sense of self-identity and purpose in life. Jesus, for example, would withdraw from the crowds regularly to spend time alone in Nature to pray, presumably so that he could get back in tune with his own spirit and experience oneness with the universe all over again.
I like what David Hayward wrote here: “The trees shelter me. I am contained within a wilderness, and the wilderness in my heart grows to match it. My heart is as spacious as the wild around me”. Yes, in Nature, we reconnect ourselves to the endless expanse of our soul as reflected in the wild around us – the heights of the hills, the shelter of the trees, the stillness of the lake and the vastness of the sky all remind us of the magnificence and creativity and greatness that is inherent in us, and rekindle our hopes and dreams, and reinvigorate us to live life again with zest. I find this to be true when doing my own things, such as going to the library or going up to the rooftop of the office building and gaze at the clouds in the sky. There is a time for fellowship and interacting with people, and a time for solitude and contemplation for our own soul nourishment and refreshment.
All human beings are alone. No other person will completely feel like we do, think like we do, act like we do. Each of us is unique, and our aloneness is the other side of our uniqueness. The question is whether we let our aloneness become loneliness or whether we allow it to lead us into solitude. Loneliness is painful; solitude is peaceful. Loneliness makes us cling to others in desperation; solitude allows us to respect others in their uniqueness and create community.
Letting our aloneness grow into solitude and not into loneliness is a lifelong struggle. It requires conscious choices about whom to be with, what to study, how to pray, and when to ask for counsel. But wise choices will help us to find the solitude where our hearts can grow in love.
For example, I am breathing in, and I know that I am breathing in.
That is right mindfulness of the breath.
When we take a step and we know that we are taking the step, that is right mindfulness of the step.
When we drink a cup of coconut juice, in that moment
we have mindfulness of drinking.
We bring the mind back to the body so that it’s present as we are sitting, standing, lying down, putting on our robe, taking off our robe, brushing our teeth.
Our mind is always present.
That is the secret of Zen.
~Thich Nhat Hanh
It is always a pleasure to read peaceful nuggets of wisdom by Thich Nhat Hanh. His wisdom is a heavenly wisdom because wisdom from above is always peaceable and gentle (according to James 3). I am coming to realise right mindfulness or practising awareness to live in the present moment is akin to learning to be fully alive or to be fully conscious we are God. “Be still and know I am” is testimony to this truth. So the secret of Zen is also the secret of knowing we are God. To rediscover the simplicity of living – whether breathing or eating or walking or smiling or putting on clothes or taking off clothes or resting – is also to reawaken to our true self in being, doing and thinking. The art of Buddhist meditation is the science of Christian gospel – both are one, and ultimately labels cease to exist because both share the same energy of love and acceptance as well as awareness of self and others in the perfect unity of humanity and divinity.
I was reflecting that in rehab, hospitals, healing sanctuaries, etc where people convalesce from illnesses and go through physiotherapy, they often relearn how to walk, eat and talk slowly all over again, especially if they woke up from a coma (the book I read recently came to mind – about Brian Boyle who recovered from a near fatal accident). So physiotherapy is actually similar to practising mindfulness – to slowly and deliberately become aware of every little step we take when walking, every little bite we take when eating, every little move we make and so on. In the process, we appreciate all over again our aliveness and our beingness. We feel like God all over again, so to speak, in our keen awareness of who we are and what we are doing. Simplicity of a child resurfaces and we live life in wonder and joy of being alive.
When you walk reverently and solidly on this earth and I do the same, we send out waves of compassion and peace.
It is this compassion that will heal ourselves, each other, and this beautiful green earth.
~Thich Nhat Hanh
It reminds me that walking can be a form of meditation. Perhaps walking is ideal for meditation as it is usually slow and unhurried, and it can give us a sense of walking in a stately and dignified manner (since our true identity is royal children of God). I need to remind myself of this often as I tend to walk briskly from one place to another to get tasks done, such as collecting items from neighbours or buying groceries from supermarkets. I need to slow down at times and practise mindfulness. (I do find slow jogging exercise as a good way to meditate and clear/refresh my mind.)
I just learnt from this video on the benefits of walking meditation, such as calming the mind and healing the body. I believe the peaceful and healing energy will also radiate from us to heal the world.
I came across this video on “eating meditation” and I was listening to the message while eating a persimmon. Many a times I would eat my food in a rather mindless/unconscious way, not really focusing on or appreciating the food. As I was listening to this video while eating the persimmon, I found myself learning to appreciate and behold the smell, colour, texture and taste of the fruit, as I slowly chew and savour the fruit.
I also like this related video on guided meditation on eating food with ecstasy. Eating my food more mindfully and deliberately somehow transformed my eating experience a little bit, as I learnt not to take the simple pleasures of life for granted.
Perhaps all of life is meditation. All life is consciousness since we are all consciousness. As the verse goes “Be still and know I Am (God/Goddess/Divine)”, perhaps the way to be in touch with our true Self is to live each moment – whether walking, eating, or any other “mundane/repetitive/normal” activities – in awareness of our consciousness. To be self-aware is to be God, or to live as God. Maybe that is what Jesus meant by “living by the unforced rhythm of grace” – to be yoked together with our true Self in all that we do, effortlessly and mindfully.
Last but not least, I find this article useful in summarising suggested ways to practise eating meditation, as well as the benefits of eating meditation, such as cultivating the awareness of all things are connected, and I can be grateful for the food I eat that comes from Nature and for the people (truck drivers, food sellers, farmers, etc) who all have had a part to play in bringing the food to me.
Like what Wayne Dyer said, when a cat goes merrily on its own way in life, its tail (symbolising happiness) follows it wherever it goes. It reminds me of the saying that “happiness is an inside job”. I agree that no one can rob us of happiness or our sense of self-worth without our consent, and happiness is found whenever we love and approve of ourselves.
I have read the article “Women And Objectification: Brain Sees Men As Whole, Women In Parts (STUDY)“, and I noted that research findings suggest that the human brain (of both genders) appears to be wired to process images of women in parts rather than in whole, and the mass media has capitalised on this neuro-biological phenomenon to exploit images of women for profits at their expense, which is unfortunate.
As the article noted:
There could be evolutionary reasons that men and women process female bodies differently, Gervais said, but because both genders do it, “the media is probably a prime suspect.”
This exploitation of images of women in the mass media may perpetuate or accentuate the objectification of women in modern societies. Hence, unless men are taught to respect women for who they are intrinsically instead of discriminating them or objectifying them based on their appearance, they will continue to be sexist towards women.
I also think that in some traditional societies where both men and women wear few or no clothes, there are few or no crimes of rape or molest because the culture of respect and dignity is ingrained in the indigenous people since young over the generations. I think men in modern societies can also learn from these ancient cultures and be respectful towards women, and recognising their intrinsic value and worth as fellow human beings and fellow children of God/Universe/Great Spirit.
Women traditionally played a central role within the Aboriginal family, within Aboriginal government and in spiritual ceremonies. Men and women enjoyed considerable personal autonomy and both performed functions vital to the survival of Aboriginal communities. The men were responsible for providing food, shelter and clothing. Women were responsible for the domestic sphere and were viewed as both life-givers and the caretakers of life. As a result, women were responsible for the early socialization of children.
Traditional Aboriginal society experienced very little family breakdown. Husbands and wives were expected to respect and honour one another, and to care for one another with honesty and kindness. In matriarchal societies, such as of the Mohawk, women were honoured for their wisdom and vision. Aboriginal men also respected women for the sacred gifts which they believed the Creator had given to them.1
In Aboriginal teachings, passed on through the oral histories of the Aboriginal people of this province from generation to generation, Aboriginal men and women were equal in power and each had autonomy within their personal lives.