The Goldfinch

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1:01 PM

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, is the fictional novel I am mesmerized with right now.  It has proven to be one of those books that every lover of fiction hopes for; a story so well written that the characters can't help but endear themselves to you in a very profound way. 

    Then today, I discovered a new poet.  Her name is Jane Hirshfield.  Here are two of her poems that are incredibly touching:

The Weighing

The heart's reasons
seen clearly
even the hardest
will carry
its whip-marks and sadness
and must be forgiven.

As the drought-starved
antelope forgives
the drought-starved lion
who finally takes her, 
she enters willingly then
the life she cannot refuse,
and is lion, is fed,
and does not remember the other.

So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.

The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.


Standing Deer

As the house of a person
in age sometimes grows cluttered
with what is 
too loved or too heavy to part with,
the heart may grow cluttered.
And still the house will be emptied,
and still the heart.

As the thoughts of a person
in age sometimes grow sparer,
like a great cleanness come into a room,
the soul may grow sparer;
one sparrow song carves it completely.
And still the room is full,
and still the heart.

Empty and filled,
like the curling half-light of morning,
in which everything is still possible and so why not.

Filled and empty,
like the curling half-light of evening,
in which everything now is finished and so why not.

Beloved, what can be, what was,
will be taken from us.
I have disappointed.
I am sorry.  I knew no better.

A root seeks water.
Tenderness only breaks open the earth.
This morning, out the window,
the deer stood like a blessing, then vanished.


Google Search did not allow me to read enough of Jane Hirshfield.  So I had to move on to other poems by other poets; and so I discovered this. It is by William Stafford.

Traveling Through The Dark

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By the glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason---
her side was warm;
her fawn lay there waiting, alive,
still, never to be born.
Beside the mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all--my only swerving--,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.


The truth is that, "no eye is on the sparrow".

And that leads me back to The Goldfinch again and thinking about Theo, who said, "Because I don't care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it: no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat.  Because, here's the truth:
life is a catastrophe.   The basic fact of existence - of walking around trying to feed ourselves and find friends and whatever else we do - is a catastrophe.  Forget all this ridiculous OUR TOWN nonsense everyone talks: the miracle of a newborn babe, the joy of one simple blossom, Life You are Too Wonderful to Grasp, &c. For me - and I'll keep repeating it doggedly till I die, till I fall over on my ungrateful nihilistic face and am too weak to say it: better never born, than born into this cesspool.  Sinkhole of hospital beds, coffins, and broken hearts.  No release, no appeal, no "do overs" no way forward but age and loss, and no way out but death".

Too much introspection for today I suppose, which I blame on my recent readings, all of which oddly enough (and not by my choosing) carry adult themes of death and loss.  I have come to the conclusion that nature will not change one wit to address a desire, no matter how terribly we long for it and no matter what living plant or animal we happen to be. 

Brain Tricks

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9:30 PM

What can we possibly learn from this monster machine that we call  "religious extremism"? 

 How sensational and inexplicable, that so many of our species believe that to behead someone or burn one of their own kind in a cage, is the way to obtain paradise in the next world?

 These events, once unheard of and now becoming quite common place, might compel us as a society to look at spiritual feelings objectively. We are able to commit atrocities with the righteous confidence that we are doing good.    How can two different people believe completely contrasting and regimental sets of ideas but both be willing to voluntarily  give up their lives for those beliefs?

The answer lies in a strange and unexpected place.   It lies in our grey matter.   It lies in the organ of the body we call the brain.  The fundamental problem lies in how the brain perceives and understands reality. It is an unfortunate fact of nature, that our feelings are located in a different area of our brain than our intellect, and these areas seemingly do not connect.

How can we distinguish illusion from what is real?   Info Link

      Our brain has quite a ways to go before it is in perfect rational order.  Depression and other mental illnesses are common.   Irrational fears can plague us.   We confuse sexual attraction, lust and love.  Sensory perception can be felt in the absence of outside stimulus.  

   The relatively new sciences of ethology (the study of animal behavior), cultural anthropology and neuroscience are shedding new light on the roots of spirituality. Research indicates that spirituality stems from basic emotional needs that are met by and encourage strong social connections. These strong social connections enabled us to band together in family and tribal units that facilitated survival in a challenging and dangerous world.  These ancient inborn emotional needs leave us vulnerable to the lure of supernatural belief systems.  The near universal embrace of theology and sacred texts is an outgrowth of how human beings are wired for social survival. 

By Enrique Lescure
George Vaillant, a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Med School writes, "For the last million years, survival by our ancestors in the African savanna would have been impossible without the natural selection for prosocial emotions.  On those sparsely wooded plains evolved our hairless ancestors. They lived in a land richly endowed with carnivores. Our ancestors could not run like the gazelle, burrow like the rabbit, climb trees like the gibbon, fly away like the flamingo, or fight back like the elephant. If they did not band together, they perished. They did not have fur for their young to cling to; instead, the mother had to cling to her young. In order to survive humans had to subordinate both hunger and sex for the development of an inborn altruistic social organization. From such social bonding came lasting attachment and the survival of their young."

Goosebumps Explained by Jennifer Viegas
Goosebumps Explained 

That many human beings on our planet are able to feel a strong emotion when they kneel and pray, can also be explained scientifically, kind of like goosebumps.    Such positive emotions that define spirituality such as awe, love, gratitude, joy, hope, trust, forgiveness, and love,  can be looked at objectively. 
Can we admit that believing a wafer can turn into flesh or that Lot's wife in the Bible actually turned to salt, is not rational thinking?  Genital mutilation only exists because of religious superstition.  The belief that no matter how you behave in this life, you will be "saved" if you just believe, is a classic example of this magical thinking that we are susceptible to. 

20 best Hitchen quotes
To accept that our brains, as primates,  are so defined and framed that religious atrocities occur not because we seek evil, but because the human species is biologically, only partly rational, is a first step to addressing religious extremism.  As nuclear proliferation combines with countries where religious extremism and  government are so inextricably connected, the future of our planet depends on us choosing rationality, over faith.