Energy

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I was completing an assignment yesterday on metabolism, as one does

If there was one thing I took from that assignment (ok, ok, it was quite interesting, so maybe not just one thing!) was that life requires energy. In the absence of energy there is no life. Maybe life is energy… I don’t know, not going there at the moment.

But we need it and each drop of it is parsimoniously eked out to make it last and drive as much activity as possible. The body even uses the waste product (heat) to maintain energy production and storage. The body is also more efficient at utilizing energy than anything we’ve been able to come up with.

So far so obvious. Now we come to the nitty-gritty: how in the world do we mobilize all this energy to serve our purposes? Oh wait, do we have a purpose? Quick, get back to the drawing board and get thee one

But other than being cheeky, it’s not just the purpose that we need energy for – I use enormous amounts of energy for waiting!. The body uses most of the energy just to stay alive (you know, allowing our big brains to control breathing, heart pumping, digestion); in contrast, we use most of our energy for the little things in life, for the non-essentials. Or rather, we have set up our world so that we need to perform lots of non-essential activities in order to maintain said world. Let’s see, we need to use a lot of energy (dig some ore to make into components of a car and the roads, work at a particular job) that will allow us to drive to the supermarket to buy something like food which we then need to store, prepare and cook in order to eat. The last bit is the only one truly essential. The rest is inefficient at the best of times. We have less leisure than the animals we don’t want to compare ourselves with. We ruin our health by specializing more and more when I believe we were meant to be generalists. We also think this is normal and pity the ones who don’t have the “conveniences” we do.

And yet we dream of the simple life. Which wasn’t that simple, as it was brought home to me by reading to the little one about prehistoric life.

Because I am not really complaining as such… my rant is more around the wastage of energy. So maybe what I am looking for is a simpler life. Yeah, I want to have my cake and eat it, too! I want to spend less time (oh, the links between energy and time need another blog article for sure!) for the basic needs ; that means having shelter, water and food close to home, being knowledgeable about health care, paying taxes for the systems I use. Basically I want to arrange my life so that I have most of the conveniences but not so much of the consumption.

So that I can concentrate more on being human…

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Shield

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For once, this word is not derived from Latin. I know, amazing, right? 🙂

But oh, the meaning! Ah, the meaning! Yes, protection, but actually it means to divide, to separate. So result aside (protection), the intent is to keep the distance. It may seem I am making too much of it, but my infamous defence walls have always been a bit of a struggle for me. Don’t get me wrong, I need them, but the idealist in me rues that need. In my struggle for connection, how could I not regret (note, regret, not resent) the very thing that protects me? The mask, the quick quip, the attack, the logical analysis… so many ways of saying “I do not trust you to take care with my soul” therefore “you stay away, there where I can see you and watch your every move” because the alternative is to get my soul damaged by the same carelessness with which I raise these walls… wait, what?

Hmm, yes, I guess that makes sense, that we all have walls. It comes I think from the loss of innocence which then translates into a certain cynicism regarding people in general, although we do try to define the breadth of that mistrust.

From the Platonic halves to the Babel tower, we have struggled with the separation, with the difference, with the mistrust. We have found ways around the worst of it, too, in enlightment, in agape, in religion. Using them as shields. Unable to overcome the separation, we have built bridges and crossed them when at all possible. We have learnt to accept the separation and, in the course of a normal life, many of us don’t even struggle anymore. After all, what can be the point, when this is how it is, when there is no point to fight, when this is what we are fated for?

We have built our societies around it. We praise the separation and teach our children to respect it. Because, I assume, of death. Which we have demonized as the final separation (although even then we have attempted to build bridges).

Is this, then, the best that we can do? Love, learn, pray, then succumb to death? Build walls so that the words of our loved ones don’t harm too much? Struggle to keep our selves (bodies, but spirits, too) intact because we cannot even contemplate the alternative?

Hey, wait a minute!

Hey, wait a lifetime, you mean! For we are not born with those walls, yet few go out of childhood not having them. Those we call simple, naïve or angels. That innocence, again. I struggle with it.

And yet I am no stranger to the one thing that makes those bridges possible, that looks at separation and, if we but let it, has us trying again and again to cross.

I am talking, of course, of hope.

It is one of those things (like life, and freedom, and learning) that would look mighty strange were it extinguished.

Unreasonable

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I want to find that one person who understands me at each and any moment in my life. Never mind that I sometimes need years to understand myself. Never mind that I have so many people who understand a part of me, because, after all, we are not living each moment to its fullest and when we need to talk we usually limit ourselves to one part of who we are. Nevertheless, yes, unreasonable of me, I want to find that person.

I want to listen to your words and know who you are. Never mind that I see your actions and they speak true. Never mind that I have enough understanding to know that your words can be a lot harsher than your thoughts ever are and as far away from your actions as it’s humanly possible. I know, unreasonable of me!

I want to see your beauty in all its difficult glory. Never mind that you think yourself ugly, silly, dumb and difficult. Never mind that you travel to exquisite places and the beauty doesn’t lift you because you feel it is so far beyond your reach. I will get impatient and tell you off for hiding under conventional standards because yes, unreasonable of me, I want to see your beauty!

I want to feel everything. Never mind that I am out of practice, never mind that there are some things I cannot feel for various reasons. I am made to feel, I am made to experience the retreat of reality under the weight of feelings. Never mind that in the routine of life feeling like this is dangerous for peace of mind and for peace in general! Despite all this, unreasonable of me, I want to feel everything!

I want to reach out and take what I need without apologizing, without even asking for permission. Never mind that life isn’t like that. Never mind that, even if life was like that, the world we live in isn’t like that. Never mind that, even if the world we live in was like that, asking for permission is always a good idea! No, I don’t want to come back to reality! Unreasonable of me, I want to take!

I want to share with you. Never mind that there are no words for the first buds on the tree opening up. Never mind that there are no breaths deep enough for the sky disappearing into shades of clouds above the mountains. Never mind that there is no heart rhythm enough for that book, that movie, that concert. All this notwithstanding, unreasonable of me, I want to share with you.

It should come as no surprise that the only constants are you and me…. and my unreasonable entitlement!

Timing

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It will come as no surprise to anybody who knows me that control is very dear to me. Control of one’s passions, control of one’s words, and actions, and really, pretty much everything else that can be controlled. As an aside, I find it beyond bewildering being upset at things not under our control. I don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, take a detached view of the world, I fight and fight hard for the things I believe can be influenced, I just don’t see much point in fighting the weather, so to speak (now, influencing said weather is another matter entirely and I am not opposed to doing so).

The thing with control though is that much of it depends on time, and even more of it depends on timing, so that’s what I will focus on today. Time is necessary to learn control, to learn what can be controlled, to practice gaining and keeping and relinquishing control when one needs to. Serenity prayer, anyone? 🙂

Timing is more difficult. Most of us, certain in our own mortality, still manage to plan (i.e. to assume that we will have enough time to get where we want to). And when it comes to ourselves, in most cases, in this part of the world called the first, we have that time. We buy it with medicine, and education, and relationships.

But timing does not depend only on us. It is not only ourselves that need to be taken into account, nor just our wishes, nor indeed our actions alone. Timing includes someone else’s time, and sometimes the time of the age we live in. It’s what we mean when we say “life (or s**t) happens”.

A financial crisis, a war, an illness… many things can crumble plans, and the control these plans imply. We are often too isolated, we believe ourselves too small to influence these big things. But they are not the weather. We should fight, and fight hard, to influence them, human or not as they are. And we do, with medicine, and education, and relationships.

We are not all teachers. We are not all doctors or scientists or in charge of financial institutions. But we can all have relationships. And if timing can come into its own, it is on the relationships that we need to focus our individual efforts. And by timing I mean making choices. Simple ones, like not saying the bad words we want to say. More difficult ones, like standing our ground when we could just go with the flow. And difficult ones, like acting on the values we hold dear rather than the things we believe in.

I have discussed my view of control in another article on this blog. See, control is not just reining in, a force that is restrictive of freedom.Control can be passive and neutral, negative, or positive in that it allows action. Sometimes going through life (or the s**t described above) is control enough for powering a small country. Sometimes life seems out of control, depending on which tooth of the tiger sinks into which sensitive piece of our flesh. Our abused children, our bullied youth, our neglected elders, the sick and the maimed, have enough on their hands just to make it through to another sunrise.

But if we are well, and whole, and reasonably functional… what is then our excuse?

Pleasure

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Latin again? 🙂 Well, yes, although English just mangled a French version of it. But oh, just the research of it was indeed its name. I have read about Hedonism, Schopenhauer, Buddhism and I have just scratched the surface of a word expressing something that is so intuitively normal that one has to wonder at the amount of paperwork that exists in order to analyze, explain, opine or otherwise debate the subject. Basic or elevated, frowned upon or exalted, pleasure has baffled many and upset even more 🙂

And isn’t it ironic that what I heard about people like Schopenhauer, while remaining true or at least truthful, comes nowhere near the begrudging agreement with some of the ideas of the man himself 🙂 Out of my comfort zone? Well, yes, I am an agnostic, compassionate, cynical humanist, of course some of those ideas take me out of my comfort zones. It is easy to call him a mysoginist when I was born so deep in my century that I have no idea about his world. Anyhoo, back to pleasure…

Besides being normal (not only in the absence of pain) pleasure is of course individual. De gustibus… and all that. And I have always enjoyed hearing about but have never practiced the list making of pleasurable things, to be taken out and explored when the road ahead of us is rough. I never practiced it because I seem to just do it. Like the baby of the zodiac that I am, I do not have to learn to be in the moment, because that is where I am 🙂

If you have been in pleasurable contact with babies and animals, then you know all about the luxurious stretching, the trusting floppiness that signals impending sleep, the silly expressions and strange positions that seem to give them an inordinate amount of pleasure. But even for me (self described as happy) it is easy to differentiate between happiness and pleasure. Different ends of the spectrum, different stage of being, different intensity and emotional involvement… really, more differences than similarities!

Bone tired and snuggling into a warm bed is so pleasant I wriggle about trying to feel it with all my body. But learning a new thing or having old things rearranged into a new scenery raises that pleasure into happiness.

A song heard for the first time and immediately liked can keep me humming for hours, even days. But a piece of music that reminds me of a friend, of times of joy, of love requited, albeit lost… ah, that is treasure indeed, and so much more than pleasure.

The little things that children do, making something with my own hands (jam, a scarf, a puzzle), a plant that was almost dead but in the spring pulls through, “these are a few of my favourite things” 🙂

But seeing the little one grow, writing a poem or cooking my own produce… these I put on the same level as those dreams I have of travelling and absorbing art and walking with a friend through rain and wind while discussing the state of the world as we know it…

I guess what I am trying to say is that pleasure can make life bearable. But for true living, it is not enough, not even nearly…

Luck

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The fun part is how new this word is 🙂 Just the word though, the concept and controversy regarding luck is millennia old.

And now for the analysis, otherwise I wouldn’t have brought it up 🙂

I am lucky. Very, outrageously lucky! It always appears to me that I do not control this luck, that it is somehow outside of me despite it happening to me. There is a good measure of self-fulfilling prophecy in there. I am by nature an optimist and my natural state of mind is happy. So it stands to reason (and to rationalists 😛 ) that I should feel lucky and thus influence my actual life in that direction. That’s fine, I don’t actually have a problem with this kind of self-fulfilling prophecies. And I recognize them when my intentional actions are actually part of whatever is happening in my life. Like choosing a pathway, listening to my intuition, stumbling over the right approach with a person based on many years of experience.

Where I actually talk about luck is where my actions, while intentional in the context I made them, have far-reaching consequences that no amount of intuition would have been able to predict. Like when I took my husband’s car one day and had an accident. My husband’s car escaped unscathed, but the accident would have seriously damaged my car… which said husband was taking to the mechanic, who lifted it and discovered two bald tyres.. I don’t want to know what would have happened had those tyres exploded on the big drive we had planned for the weekend… yes, it had been my suggestion to take my car to the mechanic in preparation for the big drive, but I couldn’t have predicted the accident, now could I?

So I am lucky. I have been lucky all my life. It really doesn’t mean that I win the lottery (small prizes, yes, when I can be bothered to play – rarely. That is chance, not luck as I describe it. It also doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen to me. They do, and the effects are no more and certainly no less than for anyone to whom bad things happen – that would be everyone. Some of my personality traits (optimism, happiness, also an ability to see the good in situations) make it easier for me to deal with the bad stuff. But I don’t think that has much to do with the fact that I have become accustomed to hearing at least once a week from various people about how lucky I am. I have to pay attention. That is another factor, I notice how lucky I am, I feel it and I therefore act in possibly a more confident way which in turn opens more doors and makes me aware of more opportunities. But I am no more likely than others to get that job I have been looking for. Again, that has nothing to do with the luck I am describing.

Another thing is that feeling that luck comes from outside of my control, actually from outside of me. Like a gift. So I do no subscribe to the “don’t say you’re lucky or your luck will disappear” theory. On the contrary, I often acknowledge my luck. There is maybe a bit of superstitition in there, a reversal of that theory I described above: if I don’t acknowledge my luck it will disappear. I like to think that I am courteous though, so I acknowledge gifts 🙂

Fun analysis remains so if it’s brief. I am not complaining or try to understand my luck – no interest or benefit for me. I am intersted in the limitations (ah, that lotto ticket!) and grateful for the gift. I am also aware that I need to share it with others. Perhaps one gloomy day when things go wrong from the beginning, when you get discouraged and upset at “meaningful coincidences” (Jung’s definition of “luck”) that don’t coincide, I could come and tell you that things are going to get a heck of a lot better… and, knowing me, I will be right!

PS. Little bad things, when they do happen, always come in threes… I could have a bit of fun with that analysis, eh? 🙂

Democracy

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I was thinking about power and responsibility the other day – as you do 🙂

It’s a bit of a theme with me, that I see many human things around me in terms of those two terms. I believe (helped of course by reading science-fiction 😛 ) that having power without responsibility makes you bad, having responsibility without power makes you sad and having them unbalanced makes you mad. Or maybe it’s viceversa 🙂

Anyhoo, I reckon that only by having a balance of power and responsibility can we act well.

I will examine those two words in other articles. For now though, I want to focus on human systems. I was reading an article a couple of months ago, and for the life of me I can’t find it. What I understood it to say is that roughly 50% of the people surveyed don’t believe democracy is the best ruling system. Now I have to confess I am biased and stand with Winston Churchill “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”. I shall explain.

Going back to power and responsibility, I guess the point I am taking from the life I have lived until now is that only people can take responsibility for themselves. And if they are to take responsibility, they might as well take the power to help them carry it. The alternative, for me, does not bear contemplating. Now I don’t mean each man for himself, That’s why I have used the plural, because I believe that only by standing together we escaped extinction, only by standing together we hunted the mammoth and only by standing together we have any chance of making it past the troubles that are all around us. I am, after all, a humanist.

And yet, people have an abysmal record when it comes to turning against their own. How to reconcile these without going bad, mad or sad? I guess I could analyze the options, at least those that have already been applied: oligarchy, aristocracy, autocracy, anarchy, theocracy. Each of them have been taken to extremes by people with the usual gruesome consequences. Each of them has its own proponents and protesters. But in all of them, the responsibility remains with the people themselves (yes, even in a theocracy, it is still people) yet the power stands (with the exception of anarchy) with people that are kept apart by an ideology that accepts collateral damage in its own name. I have issues with that.

Isn’t it enough that democracy itself is too generalizing because there are too many of us for it to be flexible? Do we have to loosen the reins on an already damaging idealism and make a joke out of caring for one another?

I have spoken before about my views on communism and capitalism (please please please do not confuse them or put them on the same level as the subject we are already discussing!). I have already expressed a wish for a particular type of revolution. But what worries me is not the fact that many people wish for something else than democracy. It’s the fact that history seems to have been forgotten… or not learnt. Except for Antarctica, where we don’t seem to want to live, each of the continents has seen different ruling systems put in place at one time or another. Countless people have died, are dying or wish they were dead because of them. All of the systems are thought up and executed by people, no matter what else they might say. A few people, I might add. It seems to me that, chancy as it were, standing and ruling together is the best hope to actually live.

People ruling… safety in numbers… democracy. Now, if only we could get it right!