Photo: The crescent moon, one beautiful night 🙂
Photo: The crescent moon, one beautiful night 🙂
Safety can be Stifling.
Sometimes we need to take risks, to be exposed to the elements, and to leave our comfort zones in order to learn and grow . . .
I was hiking up into a beautiful canyon. The transition from chaparral to tree line with over 4000 feet of elevation contrasts three completely different worlds. From scrub oak and mesquite, to cottonwood, sycamore and willow, to ponderosa pine and alligator juniper. All at finely demarcated lines of altitude or water course. The canyon’s green armies of pines climbing beyond the highest point I would reach today.
It was hot and there was a dry breeze channeling through the mountain passes. I stopped at an overlook, a cliff perched midway into the canyon. I was taking in all that surrounded me. It’s a mystical sort of beauty. It draws you in. Captures all of your senses. Takes you on another journey. An infinite landscape.
And then I “heard” something. Maybe “sensed” is a better word, because I just knew I needed to turn around for a moment. Turn my back to the captivating view because something else was happening. Or was about to happen.
The feelings of curiosity, excitement, and fear all hit simultaneously when I saw it. Bounding down the trail behind me and coming right towards me was a Black Bear!
I quickly stood on the rocks, and waved my arms to try to make myself look bigger and more menacing than I am – not easy to do. And we exchanged growls. Fortunately, the bear was just as startled as I was and it turned and ran off into the woods. I continued to yell out and heard it scrambling further away.
This had all happened in the blink of an eye, so I replayed what I saw in my mind. Over and over again. It was a bear all right. It seemed to me that it was in an almost playful stride. Happy to be facing another day in this peaceful forest. Its forest. Until it saw me jump up.
This was the first time I had a close encounter with a bear. Fortunately, it was a black bear and not so aggressive.
As you may know from my prior writings, I don’t believe in coincidence. Everything happens for a reason. Nature is constantly giving us messages, if we take the time to read them. So what meaning could I derive from this encounter? Regardless of how brief it was.
The bear’s symbolism is rich. While awake it has been portrayed as having strength, courage and male energy. It is also said to be a teacher of boundaries, for itself and others. But it seems it greatest powers lie in its ability to sleep through the winter.
The bear doesn’t go into a true hibernation, rather its metabolism slows way down and it enters a state called “torpor.” It can still wake easily, and the females can even give birth in this semi-conscious state. The bear draws upon its fat reserves for nourishment during this time of prolonged rest.
While in torpor, the bear is said to be in a receptive state. This energy of introspection is said to be female in nature.
The ability to go deep within to find resources necessary for survival mirrors a state of deep meditation. Go deep within your soul’s den, draw upon your inner stores of energy and essence. A time to awaken your personal power during this solitude to bring it out in the Spring. Spring itself symbolizes birth and renewal. Resurrection.
The bear is considered to be a messenger of the forest spirits. It demonstrates more than just strength, but a supernatural power. Fortitude. The whirlwind. The will.
It’s been immortalized in the constellation Ursa Major, the Greater She-Bear, more commonly known as the Big Dipper. According to Iroquois legend, the quadrangle of the dipper forms the bear that is being pursued by seven hunters. The three hunters who are closest form the handle of the dipper. The four farthest hunters drop below the horizon in autumn and abandon the hunt. At the same time, the bear rises to stand on its hind legs and one of the hunters wounds the bear with an arrow. The bear sprays blood back on the hunter and blood falls on the forest to turn the trees red. The bear is eaten but its skeleton remains, traveling on its back during the winter. But in the spring, a new bear leaves the den and the hunt begins anew.
In Chi Gong, the bear is one of the five frolicking animals. The exercise practiced mimicking the bear is believed to aid the stomach and spleen. And these are considered the energy centers for applied thinking, for generating ideas, and for aiding memorization and concentration. The digestion of knowledge.
To the Seneca tribe, the bear is a symbol associated with the West Shield. Again, it relates to the pathways of attaining knowledge. Entering torpor represents entering sacred space to be receptive of information. This information is digested and integrated to discern truth. And once we tap into our personal truth, we can seek out our desired goals.
So, what message can I derive from this brief meeting in the woods?
While many would think this encounter had little meaning, other than being glad the bear didn’t maul or eat them, examining the symbolism carries a major life lesson. Recurring themes of introspection, digestion of knowledge, and attainment of truth span multiple cultures. Once attaining truth and direction, one then should seek out their goals with strength and fortitude.
Recent times have been a period of solitude for me. Other than contacts on social media, I have been pretty much resting in a somewhat semi-conscious state. Waiting to be awakened.
In torpor, I examine myself, my life, my successes, my failures, my goals. I must integrate this knowledge into action.
The appearance of the Bear marks a metaphysical inquiry. Is your judgment or the judgment of those surrounding you in error? Do you fail to see the beneficial things happening in your life? Are you being too critical, or not discerning enough?
Time to venture inward and awaken potential. And then emerge from the den. Personal power must be brought out in the open to taste the fruits of such labor.
Whether you believe these messengers are sent by the Source, or that this is just mystical thinking, lessons can still be drawn. Introspection is always good. An examined life. The integration of truth. Acceptance of what has been. Strength to face what will be.
To hibernate, or cut oneself off, to simply achieve safety is ultimately a sacrifice of living. But hitting the pause button to gain knowledge, insight, and truth for a later emergence can lead to powerful growth.
Be the whirlwind. Hit the trails. Face the bear.
Photo: I found this photo on the Internet in the public domain. The link tracked back to a web publication called Cool Green Science. The article was titled: “When is a Black Bear Actually a Blue Bear?” Black bears exhibit a whole range of coloration from black, brown, blonde, and even cinnamon. I found a pic that closely resembles the one I saw.
Published ! Thrilled and honored that my story was published by The Urban Howl on August 20, 2018, under the title “Bear Wisdom — Venture, Awaken & Emerge From The Den.”
Building on a theme I have going on brain development, I wanted to explore rule 3 of the book “Brain Rules” written by John Medina. You might recall my previous two posts on this, Move Your Body, Move Your Mind, and Writing to Survive. Well today, we’re looking at “wiring.” While we might think generally that men and women are wired differently, for example, fact is, all of us are wired differently.
To understand how we’re all wired differently, we first have to look at the cells that compose our bodies. Billions of cells, that are all acting independently from our thought processes. Thank goodness. Our minds are jumbled enough without us having to consciously think and direct the activities of all of the complex and differentiated cells in our bodies. Can you imagine having to think about absolutely every body function at the microscopic cellular level. Not to mention the macro-level of organ function. Come on, breathe body breathe, beat you silly heart . . .
And each of our cells become specialized when the 6 feet of DNA in each cell is folded in a particular way to fit in the microns-sized nucleus. For perspective, this has been compared to taking 30 miles of fishing line and cramming it inside an object the size of a blueberry.
While we could talk for days about all of the differentiated cells in our bodies and all of their unique functions, since we are looking at our brains, let’s talk neurons. These are, of course, the tiny structures firing off electrical charges like lightning bolts at 250 miles per hour and causing chemical neurotransmitters to be released that bridge the gaps between neurons called synapses and carry that signal forward somewhere into our gray matter where we interpret it. We are basically electro-chemical machines.
That always makes me wonder how all of the electronic pollution we are dumping into the airways affects us. Maybe that’s how we end up with mass shooters, who knows?
Turns out that as we learn, the neurons are shifting and solidifying pathways for communication to each other. We can relearn things too and reshape our neural wiring. That’s called neuroplasticity. What we do and experience actually physically changes our brains. And the more activity we make our brains perform, the larger and more complex they can become.
The author identifies three types of brain wiring:
Experience Independent wiring = controlling breathing, heart rate, proprioceptive sensations, etc.;
Experience Expectant wiring = things like visual acuity and language acquisition; and
Experience-Dependent wiring = hard-wired not be hard-wired = flexible, sensitive to external inputs and thus cultural programing.
The latter two forms of wiring explain how we are acculturated or assimilated into any particular culture or social structure. We must beware of our programming. Especially that programming that starts in early childhood. We should continually question everything and rewire our brains as needed 😊
No two brains are alike, not even identical twins, because every brain experiences the same phenomena differently creating different memories and the resulting changes in the physical structure to the brain. This is why neurosurgeons have to do brain mapping on each and every one of their patients before slicing and dicing. They can’t know ahead of time which precise areas of the brain are tied to which functions because each person is unique.
It also turns out that the brains of wild animals are 15 to 30 percent larger than their tame domestic counterparts. So, it would seem that living in the wild requires constant learning and adapting. A different intelligence, perhaps, is required for survival.
That might make one wonder if we become less intelligent the more we become domesticated and sedentary??? Or perhaps we’re just more specialized. This makes the concept of intelligence a bit more nuanced, which leads researchers to hypothesize about different types of intelligence – verbal, musical, logical, spatial, bodily, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Such brain differences can be detected when comparing brains of say musicians to athletes.
Since all of our brains develop at different rates and develop completely differently because we all experience things differently, wiring can predict performance. And education systems, with one set of standards fits all, end up mismatching performance expectations to linear age.
The implications are that smaller class size and individual attention results in, not only improved learning but, more equalized learning. Teachers with smaller numbers of students can make use of the Theory of Mind I brought up in my last posting on the brain. They can assess their individual students and gear instruction to improve individual performance. I guess we have an argument to support home schooling here.
Where does all of this brain talk lead to today? Well, if we are all wired differently, and if no one experiences any singular event in the same way, then are the images any of us try to convey with words the ones the reader or hearer receives? Or do each of us have a completely different experience filled with visions, tastes, touches, smells that the storyteller never imagined?
I’ve always said communication is difficult even on a good day.
Intriguing, isn’t it? Keep on firing neurons !
Photo: Not only are lightning bolts demonstrative of the way neurons work, they are actually similar in structure. I imagine a giant electrical storm going on in our minds constantly 🙂
Many millions of years ago a volcano erupted with hundreds of times the force of Mount St. Helens. Later the earth would push the remains upward leaving the volcanic rock exposed to all of the forces of erosion. But the erosion was differential. Softer materials washing away first. Leaving columns of stone. Statues in precision alignment. Sort of like the Moai on Easter Island. Only here, they face inward to the center of the collapsed caldera. Covered in desert scrub, it is difficult to imagine the explosive forces that once coalesced here.
The monoliths can also have disproportional heads where the boulders appear to balance mysteriously on much tinier pedestals. All standing shoulder to shoulder like soldiers lining up on the parade grounds.
Before I enter these mountains, I sign in with the park ranger. They need to keep track if people go missing. Know whose body they may find days later if you don’t return.
They warn me that there is a high chance of rain, and the trails across the ridgetop I’ve chosen to hike will have me exposed to lightening. But I don’t believe the Thunder-beings have any interest in hurting me. They can be great messengers of the Earth and the source of replenishing energy.
I’m prepared for the 8-mile trek. As much as I can be. And as I wind my way through the monoliths I follow an undulating path. Up and down, back and forth, snaking my way along switchbacks. That image of the snake’s path accented by the mineral serpentine, mixed with green, blue and gold lichens, reddish rhyolites, and specks of glistening mica. A colorful cacophony. Discordant reflections of muted color that shift continually as the sun makes its daily journey across the sky.
After a couple of hours, I reach the ridgetop. Black char on skeletal trees, evidence of a fire from a decade ago, mixes with the light and dark greens of new pines and oaks.
All of the washes and creeks are alive with a torrent of water. Small waterfalls offer the perfect intonations for meditation. Worn trails fragment as you hit flat rock. And segments of it vanish completely.
There was a flash flood the night before and if there had been foot prints or trail markers they’ve all been washed away. Erased as if no person had set foot here for eons. And no one is here today other than myself.
Often, I find myself in the wilderness where there are no other people. But I’m never alone. A troupe of Painted Redstarts moves through. Lizards scurry away. Butterflies seek out precious nectar from the red and yellow columbine that burst forth sporadically.
I come upon a pine totally splintered from a bolt of lightning, probably from the day before because its needles are still deep green. No sign of this timber having dried. Totally debarked with pieces strewn in a thousand directions. I pick up a small piece of this now energy laden bark and place in my shirt pocket above my heart. You can feel the energy throbbing.
I hit another point on the ridge where the trail has cloaked itself. There are at least ten directions I could go. Four seem more likely. I climb up on a boulder to get a better vantage point and to my surprise a solitary white-tailed deer is right below me. The doe doesn’t seem to know I’m there. The wind coming towards me carries my scent the opposite direction.
I watch her quietly graze on low-lying tree branches. Then she raises her head and sees me. Stares right into my eyes. But I’m surprised by her actions. I expect her to panic. To run away as most deer would. She’s unconcerned. Apparently feeling no threat. And instead offers to help.
She alters her path and circles back toward me and loops to my left. We lock gazes, and I follow her. Her gentleness lures me to the right path. And then she’s gone. In an instant. A blink. As if she wasn’t there at all. Her spirit saves me the time I would have spent trying to find the right route. Time is life out here.
Descending from the ridgetop, I make it to the center of the monoliths. How long have these statues stood? Holding this ground. Carved by forces that no human sculptor could match. They’ll be here long after my physical body has departed. Silently keeping watch.
I hear an Owl in the distance. Its affirmation tells me I am safe. I can take a break here. Take the load off my back. Hydrate and take in some calories to replace those consumed. Breathe in the surroundings.
Native Americans used to inhabit this place. It’s sacred Earth. I offer thanks for being allowed safe passage. I’m not the top predator here, after all. Black beer and mountain lions call this their home.
An injury here can mean death. Can’t let your guard down even as you grow weary. Pay attention.
I hear a noise, and a Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard perches himself on a rock next to the path. He does pushups and flares his neck in a display of dominance. I stop to observe. When I start to take my next step, I notice a large stone in the center of the path. I had not seen it before and if I continued unaware I would have tripped over this stone and have possibly been injured.
Falling to right would have landed me on the switchback 20 feet below. Falling to the left, into the rock wall there, could have meant a fractured skull. Falling forward, a twisted or broken ankle. I thank the lizard for his warning.
Such is nature. Be attentive. If your soul is open, nature’s spirits will speak to you. Warn you. Protect you. Give you energy. Keep you on the right path.
The hike complete, it is time to center and reflect. There are always forces around us at work. This day was my mother’s birthday. She passed away last year. And I can’t help but think that maybe she is watching over me too on this day. Protecting me from all the dangers that surrounded this solitary hike into the wilderness.
As I drive home, Hawks, Ravens, and Turkey Vultures line the telephone lines. All facing inward. Like the monoliths, soldiers. These are the protectors, the shape-shifters, the visionaries. And they guard my route. Almost like a salute to a journey well completed. So many of them. Their numbers far exceeding and mingling with their prescribed territories. An oddity?
Thank you, mom. Love you and miss you.
Photos: I took them all with a cell phone camera as I hiked 🙂
Published ! Thrilled and honored that my story was published by The Urban Howl on August 29, 2018, under the title “If Your Soul Is Open, Nature’s Spirits Will Speak To You.”
We live in a spiritual world. Every part and parcel of it is imbued with particles of awareness from the spiritual source. So why not tune in and receive unfiltered spiritual guidance . . .
You may have noticed in some of my other posts, especially in the spirituality section of my blog, that I talk about communing with nature. About being in the natural world and learning to perceive the messages that come to us through native signs and symbols. And I refer to the natural world as being the “real world.” Not an artificial or illusory construct by humans. Not temporary physical structures that will revert to dust. Mother Earth remains eternal.
People have changed the ways that they experience their worlds. They have a tendency to think that they have “tamed” the natural world, when in fact, they have simply walled themselves off from it. I think it’s better to open up and see what’s really out there. Experience it firsthand.
I realize that many people do not believe in such things. How can a coyote deliver a message about how to live, or awaken you to an inner calling? I get it, and no one has to agree with the things I’ve come to believe. That’s ok.
It may even seem counterintuitive that I would entertain such beliefs given that my educational background has largely been in either the sciences or in analytical reasoning. But I also believe there are many things beyond what science can explain, at least for the moment. And why write off such things and discount them simply because there is no logical explanation for them?
You can define your own reality in any terms you wish, but I encourage you not to deny what your senses perceive, especially your sense of intuition.
If it helps, a scientific way to look at this is that we are electro-chemical machines and we emit energy fields. So does everything else. And if our fields encounter one another there will be a communication of some type. A relaying of signals that may not require a spoken language or physical touch. Now you have to figure out what the signals you are receiving mean.
So, since this is becoming a recurring theme in my posts, I thought I would take a moment to elaborate a little more on just what animal “totems” or “familiars” are. They have also been referred to as “Spirit” or “Power” animals.
Spirit beings have been a part of every major religion and culture. Whether it be the serpent, said to be the devil, in the story of Adam and Eve, or the Greeks speaking to their gods through oracles, or aboriginal tribes taking on the forms of animals through symbolic dress and engaging in ritual dance to connect with the spirit realm. The symbolism of ties between the natural world and spirit world are universal, and many of the “messengers” of “God” are depicted as being surrounded by various animals. Why so, except for the symbolism they convey?
A totem can be defined as any natural object or animal or being where you connect with its associated energy or life force. A totem has also been described as a spirit being, or a sacred or power object, or a symbol associated with a clan or an individual. Once such a connection is recognized and accepted, the spirit within it can serve as a guide throughout one’s life. More commonly than not, the spiritual totem takes the form of an animal.
One definition I found on the Net equates animal totems with “archetypes that work with the subconscious mind, tapping into the energy that is present in all things” . . . that “can be seen as channels or frequencies on a radio with many levels of understanding.”
And just what is an “archetype?” An archetype is said to be a typical example of a certain person or thing. Although I never look at things as being “typical,” nor do I like that word. I find things living and inanimate, to be magical and unique, not typical. In Jungian psychology, an archetype is a primitive mental image inherited from our human ancestors that is supposed to reside in the collective unconscious.
However you wish to parse the words, I think we can derive that a totem, or symbolic representation of a spiritual entity or guide, can be said to have certain characteristics. A Bear strength. An Owl Wisdom. A Deer gentleness. A Fox invisibility. I’m using one-word descriptions for this example, but the symbolism for each is far more intricate.
As a guide, an animal totem can convey many different messages. An affirmation or a warning. Or you may be able to tap into that spirit’s energy at a time of need. A totem is said to be a life-long spiritual partner and it will appear in both your physical world and your spiritual world.
Another term you may have heard is that of an “animal familiar.” In its basic origins, this referred to a non-physical being, a thought-form or spiritual entity. But over time, the term has been applied to living animals. Familiars can be physical or non-physical, you can have more than one at any given time, and they can change over time.
How do we learn if we have a Spirit Animal?
Well, you don’t learn it from a “How Stuff Works” Internet quiz. One commonality across cultures that applies to totems and familiars is that they choose you. Not the other way around. And the way such a totem enters your life can vary. You might be visited in a dream. Or have a vision while you are awake. Or it may continually appear to you in the physical form, over and over again. If you do have such a totem, once you’ve identified it, you can start being observant for any messages it may send you.
In my case, it appeared to me in a vision when I was 15, announced its presence, and told me it would be with me. I then discovered its presence everywhere in various forms and I learned to interpret what its presence in certain situations meant.
Encountering an animal doesn’t necessarily mean it is one of your guides. Or if it is you guide, its presence doesn’t always mean something metaphysical is in the works. As Freud said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” There are no meanings to unravel. No symbolism being communicated.
So how do you tune into to your spiritual allies? See connections and messages beyond the ordinary?
Well, I recently read an article by Lissa Rankin titled: “How Can You Tell If You’re Being Spiritually Guided?” where Rankin lays out what she terms as being “15 Discernment Tools.” She provides a list of 15 questions you can ask yourself to attempt to answer this question honestly.
1–Does it feel like shackles on or shackles off?
2–Is it kind?
3–Is there Aliveness here?
4–Does it exhaust me or fill me with dread?
5–Does it nourish or deplete me?
6–Does it feel natural, efficient, easeful, peaceful and graceful?
7–Does it make sense?
8–Will it hurt anyone?
9–Would love do this?
10–How does this feel in my body?
11–Am I rushing?
12–Is it coercive or controlling?
13–Is it ethical and aligned with my core values?
14–Will this cultivate the stillness in me?
15–What’s true and not true about this situation?
I don’t think these questions are all required for every given instance in which you feel pulled or directed to take some course of action. I also think you need to begin with the symbolism of the totem. If you do feel you are being given some guidance, you have to know what that guidance is in relation to. And I don’t believe you can accurately assess what the guidance is unless you know what the totem represents.
You’ll also have to learn to trust your inner voice because you’ll have to interpret the message and how it applies to you at that given moment in time.
I know I’ll have future posts on this topic that may help illustrate specific nuances. I’m working a piece right now where I encountered a bear in the wild. Close up for the first time. It certainly got my attention, but did it carry any specific meanings other than “HOLY SHIT!?” We’ll see 😊
Photo: A Western Screech Owl, a father on guard. It is intensely watching a rattle snake that is too close to his chicks. Nothing could break this Owl’s gaze. This could have turned into an epic physical battle, but this father won a spiritual fight. Energy fields collided. And while this snake may have been too large for this small predator, its intense energy sent the snake on its way.
A while back I wrote a piece about how movement, physical movement, was necessary for our creative minds. In fact, this was a trait we learned and passed on by the forces of evolution. To eat, we moved. As we moved, we learned to think. We had to be creative problem solvers on the move, and we survived.
That article was called, “Move Your Body, Move Your Mind.” And there, I explored the first “rule” in the book, “Brain Rules,” by John Medina. This guy, Medina, is a smart guy. He is a developmental molecular biologist.
This technique works for me, by-the-way. I get some of my best story ideas when I’m out hiking on the trail and I allow my mind to drift. Evolutionary vestiges repurposed. I hunt for words as my food is all neatly packaged at the grocery store now.
Well, the second “brain rule” is our ability to engage in IMAGINATION! More specifically, our ability to substitute objects in our minds so that one object can represent another, or maybe a whole bunch of different objects. This has been called “Dual Representation Theory.” More basically, SYMBOLISM.
It seems our fossil history shows that our ancestors evolved a lot physically since humankind’s estimated beginnings somewhere around 7 to 10 million years ago, but there wasn’t a lot of mental evolution going on until about 40,000 years ago. And then. Bam! We went from stone axes to painting, sculpture, fine art and jewelry. Soon, there would be mathematics and science. And, of course, more advanced communication. What caused this big change?
Apparently, it was the weather.
The changes weren’t fast, but they forced adaptation. Brought us out of the trees and into the savannah when food sources shifted. To become more streamlined and save energy we became bipedal.
In order to master survival in all of the biomes on the planet, our brains enlarged. This brings in another concept – Variability Selection Theory. Two powerful aspects of the brain developed. A database and the ability to improvise using that growing database.
And since survival not only meant staying warm and eating, it meant not being eaten too, community concepts evolved. There was safety and better hunting in numbers. And this meant learning to negotiate.
This raises the “Theory of Mind” or the ability to make inferences. To peer inside another person’s mental life and make predictions, to understand their motivations. All necessary skills to develop allies, cooperative behavior, and group species survival.
This ability to draw upon our databases and make inferences reminds me of the “predictive processing framework,” described in my piece,“My Intuition Tells Me . . ..”
With basic survival skills being mastered, humans could focus on more advanced pursuits. Those beyond only the four F’s – fighting, feeding, fleeing and fucking. And thus, in addition to art, music, mathematics, and science, us modern-day bloggers have electronic storytelling.
I think most of us still like the fucking, we just have more time for more things beyond the big four now. 😊
Storytelling is an ancient art, and we wordsmiths spend a lot of time in the world of symbolic thinking. We don’t use this creative process for basic survival like our ancestors did. Or do we ??? Maybe writing and creating worlds is survival for some of us. And I suppose some us actually do feed ourselves by writing, a lean diet that is . . .
But basically, every word we use is a symbol, either a subject or an action or a feeling. Every word has to represent something tangible in the physical world or summon an image or feeling into the mind.
In fact, symbols can convey meanings or reveal details of reality beyond just a physical image. Symbols can carry strong emotions. They can summon memories of sounds and smells and touches. Of happiness and laughter.
And as writers, we employ that Theory of Mind in multiple ways. We try to look into our reader’s heads, make predictions, understand what drives them. Figure out how to lead them through the story.
There are times when we want our words to evoke a particular image and have that image be universal for all readers. But there are other times when we deliberately want those words to convey multiple meanings, to give the reader a choice. Or to show contradictions between choices. Maybe they’ll choose a meaning that even we never saw as a possibility.
If we are writing fiction, we have to develop the mental lives of the characters we create. We add predictability and motivations for their actions, even providing historic context. Their fictional life traumas that have helped develop their passions, their fears, their hatreds, their loves, their essence. So the reader understands the next move on the chess board.
So, this survival skill of making inferences has evolved into us examining the minds of non-existent entities and developing believable characters based upon what we anticipate would be their universal actions. Wouldn’t we do the same thing in the same situation? And we do this for entertainment, not for negotiating the next mammoth hunt.
Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, the art of writing is stacking symbols in some sequence to complete a portrait. And we want to draw the reader in so they feel like they are a part of the story. A bystander. A witness. Or maybe even an active participant.
Symbols may relate to objects, but they don’t equate to objects. They reveal essence. Symbols are inclusive and expansive and evolve over time acquiring even more meaning from multiple sources.
Meanings may differ depending on peoples’ cultures. The Owl, for example, to the Pawnee symbolized protection, while to the Ojibwa it symbolized evil and death. To the ancient Greeks, the Owl represented wisdom.
According to Joseph Campbell: “Symbols are only the vehicles of communication; they must not be mistaken for the final term, the tenor, of their reference.” This implies that no two people would experience the object of the symbol in the same way. Maybe so, especially with cultural variations, but it seems the essence of the experience can be shared more universally with a symbol than with bare words.
With context, it seems to me that symbols are the supersonic highway of communication. The brain is able to process a symbol as an all-encompassing experience in a nanosecond. Faster than the blink of an eye, a complex story unfolds in images and associated feelings.
Symbolic thinking is said to be a uniquely human skill, and it allows us the ability to understand each other and coordinate within groups. And with that, I’ll leave you with a few symbols to make of them what you will. 😊
What do these images inspire in your minds?
Note: If you want to read more, there are some quotes on symbolism below.
Photos: An angel inside an old Spanish mission. The great Horned Owl. A sculpture in an art gallery court yard. Street sculptures in an eclectic small town. A vulture crosses it’s folded wings to make a heart.
A sort of Rorschach test 🙂
“Symbolism is no mere idle fancy or corrupt egerneration: it is inherent in the very texture of human life.”
― Alfred Whitehead
“Things do not have meaning. We assign meaning to everything.”
― Anthony Robbins
“Symbols can be so beautiful, sometimes.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
“If you have to ask what it symbolizes, it didn’t.”
― Roger Ebert
“In many college English courses the words “myth” and “symbol” are given a tremendous charge of significance. You just ain’t no good unless you can see a symbol hiding, like a scared gerbil, under every page. And in many creative writing course the little beasts multiply, the place swarms with them. What does this Mean? What does that Symbolize? What is the Underlying Mythos? Kids come lurching out of such courses with a brain full of gerbils. And they sit down and write a lot of empty pomposity, under the impression that that’s how Melville did it.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction
“A religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods in men [and women] by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”
― Clifford Geertz
“The same principles that make a spiral galaxy also create the structure of a seashell and unfurling of a fern. This is why ancient spiritual people used natural symbols to convey universal concepts.”
― Belsebuub, Return to Source: How Enlightenment is the Process of Creation in the Universe in Reverse
“[A] symbol, like everything else, shows a double aspect. We must distinguish, therefore between the ‘sense’ and the ‘meaning’ of the symbol. It seems to me perfectly clear that all the great and little symbolical systems of the past functioned simultaneously on three levels: the corporeal of waking consciousness, the spiritual of dream, and the ineffable of the absolutely unknowable. The term ‘meaning’ can refer only to the first two but these, today, are in the charge of science – which is the province as we have said, not of symbols but of signs. The ineffable, the absolutely unknowable, can be only sensed. It is the province of art which is not ‘expression’ merely, or even primarily, but a quest for, and formulation of, experience evoking, energy-waking images: yielding what Sir Herbert Read has aptly termed a ‘sensuous apprehension of being’.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Symbol Without Meaning
The Moon shines no light of its own. It merely reflects the light from another source, our sun. It makes no conscious choice on what it reveals to us . . .
For the moment I sit and seem to be without words. So, I’m trying an exercise where I just write something, anything, just to see what shakes loose. It’s strange, that the internal dialog in our minds never wants to shut up, but my writer’s voice goes away every once in a while.
At the same time I’m having trouble writing in this blogging format, I’ve been restraining myself from lashing back on other social media platforms. Reining in those words. Humm, injustice inspires me to want to speak up against it. But that doesn’t always bring out the best in my writing. Better to stay calm and deliberate and write positively.
But deliberating about which words to use, or writing about how to write, is not the same as telling a story. Or delivering a message. Deliberating can turn into avoidance. I watched many a doctor do this back when I worked in the hospital. I called it WWDD – Watch, Wait, Debate, Do Nothing. Ultimately, the patient dies.
Excuses right. Always have a rationalization. Don’t want to get too close to that edge. The sun got in my eyes. I tripped over a rock. I was adjusting my medications. Humm, most probably the later . . .
But I do have to say, the tone of the conversations permeating cyberspace in recent weeks, at least in my neck of the words, has been a bit disheartening. It sort of left me speechless and maybe even a touch morose. I never thought I see a time when so much anger and hatred would spread.
A sort of virus had taken over, and evil one. It seems like people have stopped really communicating and are just sort of screaming at one another. Whomever yells the loudest wins. Wins what? I’m not sure.
And one of my goals in blogging this time around has been to try to find ways to bring people into the conversation. To keep the discussion going. To have people actually consider other viewpoints. But one wrong word choice can shut the whole thing down or explode it.
So how does one write positively when addressing evil?
I was reminded about some workplace research I had recently read about. Contagious Evil. Of course, the authors didn’t call it that. They used terms like “corruption,” “spill-over effect,” “misconduct,” and “bad apple.”
The Harvard Business Review’s study determined that Contagious Evil (we’re going with my terminology) has a social multiplier of 1.59, meaning each time an incident of misconduct occurs, another event of misconduct will be triggered 59% of the time by peer effects. The study focused on financial advisors, who it turns out are 37% more likely to commit misconduct if they collide with a co-worker with a history of misconduct. And the effect can be stronger if the two doing the colliding are in the same ethnic group.
Interesting, if a colleague in your workplace lies, cheats or steals, and you are aware of this, you have a greater than 50% chance of joining in the violation or embarking upon your own dance of misconduct. It’s as though the original evil one handed you a get-away-with-evil-free card. A license to do bad, because, well, someone else got away with it. Your chance to settle some imaginary score? Get back at all those little injustices being perpetuated against you? Perhaps.
This “spill-over” phenomenon has been witnessed in other contexts, like how one mass shooting or a suicide seems to trigger others. A whole bunch of theories have been propounded to try to explain this contagious communal thinking.
Like the moon, an individual may not engage in any conscious determination of their actions, but merely reflect the thoughts, actions and beliefs of others.
One theory is simply called the “Contagion Theory,” where collective behavior is like a crowd induced hypnosis – irrational and emotional. Another is “Convergence Theory.” The crowd behavior reflects the beliefs of the individuals before they joined the crowd, so what pulled that crowd of like-thinking automatons together? Maybe it was the media platform.
On the other spectrum, we have “Emergent Norm Theory.” People, who are uncertain in how to act collectively, actually discuss how their behavior should be governed and allow order and rationality to guide them. I haven’t seen much of that lately.
There is also the “Werther Effect,” so labeled from Goethe’s novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” Unrequited love ends with suicide and this was the inspiration for copycats. The license theory – if it’s ok for someone else, they have granted me their approval and it’s ok for me too.
I don’t know if any of these equations can be applied to evil writing. Collective thought and behavior put into words where the crowd only gathers figuratively. Words of evil that for some reason seem to latch on to some imaginations. Captivate and propagate more collagenous bile. Will one person’s hateful rhetoric escalate, license and embolden? Rising in a crescendo of a million voices, either echoing or repelling? And can all of this hostility spill into the streets? That seems to be what I’m seeing right now.
But then I think, just what is evil? Evil is defined as profound immorality and wickedness and it takes on Biblical proportions when it has the qualities of a supernatural force. But then we have the terms “immorality” and “wickedness” and who gets to define those terms? We may all have different definitions, especially on morality.
We tend to look at things in the world with an eye of relativism not absolutism. My crime was so minor when compared to murder, so I’m not a criminal. Right?
And then there is the “Tonal” of times. Morality changes over time. Whatever the majority of the bee hive is thinking at this particular moment or era of time. And that “Hive Think” can take over, be contagious. Whether it is right or wrong.
We seem to be living in a time of rising intolerance, division, and social disintegration. When I find myself speechless in the face of extreme ignorance though, I become concerned. Are the differences so great now, the division so complete, that people think corrupting our democracy is worth the tradeoff of the loss of liberty? The “my way or the highway mentality” feeding into authoritarianism. Or instead of social consensus, is this merely reflecting a collective fear of deciding, of having to be responsible for one’s choices, so let’s have someone else decide, it will be their fault if it fails . . .
What do you think? Is evil contagious? Can the power of words be used to enhance the social multiplier, escalate collisions with “bad apples?” Or provide a stamp of approval for behavior that is particularly wicked?
I don’t know if there is an off switch for what’s going on right now, but I do hope people will become more civil, will recognize truth, will compromise. And hope they will start shining their own light, thinking and reasoning for themselves instead of being hypnotized with polarizing buzz words. Be the reflection of themselves instead of becoming the reflection of other minds . . .
** So there, I managed to meander through my mind for a bit and put something reasonably coherent into kBs. And hopefully I’ve done so having not offended anyone.
*** The “quoted text” is all my own. I just wanted to set those lines off for rhythm 🙂
Photo: The moon doesn’t shine its own light. It reflects.
The warm desert wind swept up from the chaparral. Wrapping around my face before continuing its journey into the canyon, the place where I was heading. Another gust comes from the opposite direction, the canyon itself. A see-sawing of wind. A vibratory force. Alternating current. An invisible infinity symbol. The Mobius. Lightly whistling at times. Ever-bearing weight at others.
I was tracking up a wash. A magical place that appears bone dry but it’s surrounded by vegetation. What feeds it? At different elevations, the hidden aquafer emerges. Clear, cool, running water, disappearing beneath the rocks a hundred feet above and a hundred feet below. Feeding Mohave Lupine, Sky Pilot, Scarlet Gilia, the Mexican Silene. Manzanita, with its dark, reddish-brown bark. Bordered by purple Fairy Dusters. A scattered box of crayons, melting into the brown, dusty earth.
As lush and diverse as the growth is here, one might wonder whether this should be called a desert at all. But there are different types of deserts. And this is not a desert like the ones I’ve encountered in the furthest southern points. So harsh that the ability to adapt can be short lived, as will you be if you’re stranded there.
Those deserts are bone dry and barren. Every plant a spiky throwback to the distant past. Where evolution stopped. They tear at your ankles as you walk. Shred your pants. Gouge your skin. Like a pack of hungry wolves, they go for your Achilles tendons. To bring you down. Cripple you for the kill. The earth soaks up your blood with a never-ending thirst. The dryness, suffocating.
But where I’m at there are multiple biomes. Sky Islands, so called because of the diversity that lives in each mountain range. Volcanic uprisings now differentially worn by wind and rains. Rhyolite columns stand like ancient warriors in the altitudes above the lowlands, guarding the pine forests and their inhabitants.
And at the base of, or threading through the canyons, Sycamore, Willow, and Cottonwood paint ribbons of green along creaks, streams or rivers.
At mid-altitude, there are Pinon, Juniper, and Mesquite trees, as well as Emory and Silverleaf Oaks. And in between these islands can be grasslands. Vast stretches. Tan waves of vegetation below blue skies and billowing clouds. The land undulates, alive.
In other outstretching plains below the floating islands lie infinite reaches of scoured desert floors. Fictitious trails through Saguaro cacti, like standing in a perpetual hall of mirrors. Where do they all lead?
Here, the sun bearing down causes an evolutionary reversion to the reptilian form. Just basking in that sun raises your heart rate. Exhaling water vapor that’s evaporated before you can see it. Your skin desiccates and takes on the shape of scales. It becomes armor you will need in this battle.
To tread here you must do continual 360-degree spotting, take snapshots in your mind, tracing landmarks for the path of your return. At some point, your memory banks are full and the terrain all starts looking the same, and you must decide whether to turn around or march into oblivion. Blood and brain broiling. Unforgiving beauty.
Rising from that depth, the air cools again. The humidity rises. Plants flourish. Bare rocks become canvases, covered with Petroglyphs from those who knew how to survive here, how to build a community here, how to chart the stars here. The songs of their storytelling still echo through the canyons.
For now, I’ll tread through the scrub land, rising into the pines and I’ll sit with my friends. The deer, the javelina, the coyote, the falcon, the hawks, and my brothers the Owls. And we’ll share the tales of our ancestors, for just a while longer.
Photos: I decided to include a few photos to go with my words. Sometimes words aren’t enough to carry you there, to reveal the contrasts, the infinite beauty.
Photo: The Western Screech Owl. Taken during my southwest travels 🙂
I’m hoping for love 🙂
Photo: How about that. Never know what a cell phone camera can do when looking through a 20 inch telescope 🙂
I hike into the canyon and I am marveled by what surrounds me. It’s Fall. Greens, golds, reds, oranges, pinks, a rainbow of leaves held tightly by the trees while others, released from that grip, float softly through the air to blanket the ground. Painting abstract portraits. Pastel pathways.
There are majestic mountains, and underground streams. Dry stream beds until the elevation is ripe for the water’s emergence. It trickles, then flows, then forms small falls over rock out-croppings. A Damselfly lands on a Horsetail Reed. Metallic green, it’s wings shine in the sunlight.
This land I walk, used to be on the bottom of the ocean. Fossil remnants confirm its history. Bivalves and crinoids and coral. Once a shell inhabited by an animal, or symbiotic pairings of algae and invertebrates forming exoskeleton metropoles. All forms of calcium carbonate taking on infinite designs. All now limestone. And eventually dust, from which something new will rise.
The silence is broken by the cry of a Hawk. Its flight interrupted by a Raven that dive bombs it. A battle ensues in mid-air. And the Hawk acrobatically rolls onto its back. Inverted in flight it claws back at its interceptor. I’ve never seen a Hawk fly upside down. Never. I’m amazed at its agility. What a true gift this vision is.
I am surrounded by life. I hear it, feel it, taste it, smell it, touch it. I perceive it. Enter it intuitively. And yet I walk alone. Connected, yet separated.
Night time comes and I’ve returned to shelter. And I think, how much better the day would have been could I have shared the experience. To have gazed through more than my own eyes. To share laughter and surprise. A warm smile, shining eyes looking back at me.
Being alone is not the same as feeling lonely. Tonight, I feel alone.
How nice it would be to hold someone in my arms. Just hold them and feel their touch. Infinitely. Hear their breath. Their heartbeat drum. Feel their warmth. Their fire. Their love.
We all want answers to the big questions. They usually start with the word “why?” Why am I walking alone? But then “where?” Where do I find the answer?
My inner voice silent. I look outside into the darkness. The Coyotes synchronize their howls. The Crickets, high-pitched chirping. An Owl joins the chorus. Life surrounds me in my solitude. Why?
We all have places or entities to where we direct these questions. Consult the ancient texts? Cast stones or charms? Read cards? Deep meditation? Extrapolate from dreams. We find affirmations from the world around us. Intuition is valid. These sources nourish it.
Tonight, I pull a book. Sacred Path Cards by Jamie Sams. I draw an accompanying card for a daily reading. “Coral.” Some people might call this mysticism, paganism, or even heretical. But isn’t it strange how these ceremonies end up being spot-on.
Coral speaks to the absurdity of my question. It tells me to cut the “I am the only one” refrain. We are never alone. As the Seneca would say (Ms. Sams’ tribe), we are continually surrounded by “All Our Relations.” It’s time to reconnect with All.
To paraphrase Ms. Sams:
Coral symbolizes the blood of Mother Earth. It acknowledges that all “two-legged” have the need to be nurtured from their own kind. But it reminds us who our true “Mother” is. Red blood runs through every creature. Water, the oceans, symbolize the blood of Mother Earth. And Red Coral, arising from those waters carry that representation. The “Water Nursery of Creation” gave birth to all life and Red Coral, and its connection to the sea water of its own origin, symbolizes our birth and the connection to the “Mother Of All Things.” Every life form, “All Our Relations,” is sustained by Mother Earth. Using Coral can allow us to reconnect to our own blood and the waters of Mother Earth.
Once we reconnect, we can “develop a communication with our physical form that is not based upon addiction, compulsion, fear, gluttony, or selfishness.” We can recognize that our physical body is our vehicle for connecting with our spirit and our needs. We, therefore, must learn to respect and care for our bodies. All nurturing is dependent on our ability to recognize our feelings and needs. And if we don’t know what we need, how would we identify the needs of others to give comfort. “To feel is to heal.”
It is time for self-nourishment. For reunion with the Planetary Family. To listen to All Our Relations and acknowledge we are never alone.
While I ponder the message, I think back to today’s hike. I fumble through my backpack and produce a stone I found. I wipe it with vegetable oil and it comes to life. Patterns emerge. Skeletal patterns, flower-like shapes, concentric circles. It’s fossilized coral. Coincidence? I quit believing in coincidences a long time ago. Why did I pick up that particular stone for the later discovery?
While I was on top of the ridge, and while I was down in the bottom of the canyon, I was standing on the ancient ocean floor. The sea, the blood of Mother Earth, once flowed here. The many connections I made today with my “Relations,” why did I try to separate myself from them? They all visited for a reason.
The Damselfly with the power of light. The Hawk with its visionary power, the guardian. The Raven, the magic shapeshifter. The Coyote, the balance of wisdom and folly. The Cricket, the bearer of luck and success. The Owl, it’s silent wisdom, the visionary of the night. And even the ocean creatures frozen in time.
While it’s true, I seek connection with another “two-legged,” I have that connection as I share my story of the struggle. Like the hawk and the raven, we internally battle. Visions versus fleeting images. Mirages and echoes. Our self-deception. The denial of our eternal connections.
Others can experience what I have, see it through my eyes, brush my hand with theirs, share the joy. I wasn’t alone, and I can be nourished by nourishing others with my words.
We are never alone.
Photo: I found this photo on the Internet in the public domain. The link accompanying it tracked back to a New York Post article titled: “Forcing Coral to Have Sex Could Save the Great Barrier Reef.” As with all web-links, this link is subject to “link rot,” and I can only say it is valid at the time I posted this article.
Attribution to The Urban Howl: On June 18, 2018, this article was published by The Urban Howl under the title of “The Unmistakable Message Of Red Coral: To Feel Is To Heal.” I am honored to be a part of this wonderful publication.
I’ve been “retired” now for almost 2 years. Wow! I can’t believe that much time has gone by, and it appears a window in time for me is getting ready to close.
Because my “retirement” didn’t go as planned, I found myself trying to figure out the next step. No new jobs were coming my way because of age discrimination and other factors I won’t get into for the moment. So, I set my sights on finding a new home and a new location, and I gave myself 2 years to do it. Fresh start. New life.
But there are only so many ways to stretch a state pension, especially when the state plans on imploding it. Time bomb’s a ticking.
Shock wave number 2, the price tag on housing has skyrocketed since the time I built the dream home with my second wife. And the crash of 2008 didn’t really help much because housing costs were so inflated by that time that they haven’t returned to any level close to being reasonable.
I searched all over the country. Systematically zeroing in on specific localities where I thought I’d like to live while comparing the available services, the climate, if the areas were reasonably progressive, and what the tax burden would be. Yes, believe it or not, you can really get screwed by double taxation if you’re receiving a state pension and you move out of the state providing that pension. Both states will tax you on the same income unless you find a tax-friendly state, and from what I could see there are only about 5 of those, three of which I don’t intend to set foot in.
And with the politicians looking at slashing and burning Social Security and Medicare, those of us with employee-earned pensions can’t count on much of a boost in income when the time comes to collect from the funds we’ve paid into for some 45+ years. The politicians have stolen most of our investment in the SS Trust Fund for other pork-barrel endeavors, and they keep shrinking Medicare payments leaving us to pick up the lion’s share of ballooning medical costs. Oh well . . .
Yes, the most affordable housing is in places where people generally don’t want to live and where services don’t exist. And if you find that undiscovered oasis, look out! It won’t be long before rich people discover it, take over, drive the home prices up along with property taxes, and the original home owners will become refugees, forced to vacate their home towns. Better move quickly.
So, what happened in the twenty-plus years that had snuck by since I built the dream home that ex number 2 took along with all the cash? One major thing was that wages have totally stagnated while the cost of living has been relentlessly climbing. (See my post Balance) And since pensions only provide a fraction of what wages are, the numbers don’t crunch so well.
But this trend is not just affecting people in my age group or who are living with similar circumstances. Nationwide, people are losing the ability to afford housing. The solution, being forced by sheer economics, is a return to tribal living.
There has to be multiple wage earners under one roof now, or there has be a form of piggy-backed housing on a single property where the multiple workers can reside. I see this happening more and more, and it’s taking on a variety of forms.
For starters, we are starting to see a return to multiple generations living under one roof. Grown kids are taking in aging parents who can no longer maintain a home on their own or who are ill. Additionally, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, 33% of young adults between the ages of 25 through 29 are living with their parents or grandparents. This is a three-fold increase since 1970 and is the highest in 75 years. These numbers span all education levels, race, gender and religion. It’s all about the all-mighty dollar. Who has it and who doesn’t. And these youngsters can’t afford to move out.
Another form of tribal living I’ve seen is simply renting out the spare bedroom, and not just the Airbnb way for short vacation stays. A dear friend of mine referred to this as taking in “strays.” If you know someone you can trust who can’t afford to rent an apartment, or much more buy a house, rent them a room. It all equals more incomes under the same roof. A variety of communal living. Sharing meal and entertainment space and time.
Increasing in popularity is the “ancillary dwelling unit.” These come with a variety of names including “tiny houses” and “granny flats,” and they can be framed units or a trailer, or an RV, or a modified shipping container. ADUs can be subject to various zoning regulations, and they may “stand alone” in the sense that the occupier could have separate utility hookups and waste removal. The common denominator here is the ADU dweller couldn’t afford a larger home on her or his own property, and the property owner sharing space receives some benefit in return. Expenses have to be spread out somehow.
ADUs can also be rented out as guest houses for temporary stays, and this can be an appealing situation for a home owner that’s not quite making the bill payments on time. I’m renting a place now where the retired landowners maintain 2 guest houses to supplement their income.
I can also foresee the restructuring of the traditional concepts of marriage and child rearing. Will we see a return of polygamy? I don’t know, but I can easily see 2 or 3 wage-earners living under one roof while an auxiliary spouse, partner, or whomever, stays home to take care of the children. Child care expenses won’t be outsourced anymore. Who can afford those? And, we may see more homeschooling accompanying this sort of lifestyle.
Regardless of the form it takes, I envision more forms of communal living as time and economic pressures continue. This may not be a bad thing in terms of increased socialization, but that’s hard to gauge too. Will it result in a bringing together of more people or the formations of small clicks walling themselves off from the rest of the community – compounds instead of homes? Who knows, but until the economy improves for the average wage-earner, I think we’ll see more forms of alternative housing and the growth of interesting social arrangements.
As for me, I’m now trying to decide between setting down roots or becoming a nomad. Or just maybe I’ll find a tribe to join. Time will tell.
Photo: This photo was shot by my one of my Great Uncles in 1928 when he was in the Army Air Corps. He was stationed in the Philippines at the time and he flew out into the jungle in a pontoon-style airplane, and landed to visit the native homes of the Tagalog. Over time, he rose to the rank of Major General and he played major roles in WWII and the Korean War.
Links: For further reading see:
Update November 30, 2018: I came across an interesting post today on LinkedIn about how AirBnB is going to start designing homes. It seems the business world has coined a new buzzword – “Coliving” – to describe the growing trend of multiple income earners having to share the cost of housing. I really don’t see anything new in the concept except that single home ownership is becoming more out of reach for the average wage-earner and this is, perhaps, driving the trend, as I pondered about above, even faster. If you would like to read further, check out these articles:
Link Rot: As with all links to the Net, I can’t guarantee how long they will be active, so apologies if the articles have disappeared into the void of cyberspace 🙂
Recently, I was tested for heavy metal poisoning and the tests showed abnormally high levels of 4 different metals, and not-so-good levels of another three. One of the metals that was abnormally high was Antimony. Now I remember this metal, barely, from college chemistry courses, but how on earth did it end up in me, and in an elevated amount?
It seems Antimony is used in fireproofing textiles and plastics. It can be found in battery electrodes, ceramics, pigments, and gun powder. It can also be found in soft plastic bottles used for water and the water can become contaminated depending on storage conditions.
Blankets, mattress covers, and even clothing have been treated with this chemical. And much like the spraying of insecticides and fungicides (biocides) on clothing, manufacturers do this to extend the life of their products and theoretically increase public safety. The big problem is that the toxic effects of all of these chemicals are being discovered later. This stuff can be absorbed right through the skin, our largest organ.
No, not all things in life can be improved through chemistry. In fact, some of this chemistry may prolong the life of our clothing and fabrics, but it may also be killing us and our babies. It turns out, our clothing may remain long after our bodies return to dust.
You see, some New Zealand researchers proposed a hypothesis, gathered evidence, and then other experts set out to disprove their hypothesis and research.
Boiling this all down, the theory is like this:
Mattresses and mattress covers contain the fire retardant chemicals Antimony, Phosphorus, and Arsenic;
These chemicals can be broken down by molds to form the toxic gases of Stibine, Phosphine and Arsine;
In particular, Antimony can be broken down by the mold Scopulariopsis brevicaulis to give off the gas Stibine;
This mold is present in mattresses and mattress covers, especially once they become damp with a baby’s bodily fluids;
Stibine is a very powerful neuro-toxic gas that is heavier than air and in the breathing zone of infants;
A small amount of Stibine, when inhaled, can produce respiratory paralysis;
Infants dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (“SIDS”) have been confirmed to have elevated levels of Antimony in their bodies;
Although the “UK Expert Group on Cot Death Theories” could not substantiate and is said to have discredited this theory, in New Zealand, where parents followed a protocol of sealing up these mattresses and covers, no further crib deaths have occurred.
There are theories questioning the motivations and financing of the UK Expert Group.
Reading all of this information, I can’t say one way or the other if these types of fire retardants cause SIDS. I can, however, say with reasonable certainly, that I am only one of many who are now contaminated with this chemical that does not belong in our bodies. And because of multiple chemical exposures, my and other people’s bodies’ natural detoxification processes have become overwhelmed producing all sorts of disabling effects.
Another thing I can say is that I’ve never met a corporate entity that hasn’t put profits over people. One just needs to look at the tobacco industry to guess how this will play out.
For years there will be denial that the product is unsafe. Research will be stymied because of big money and influence brought to bear on regulating agencies. Deaths will continue. Maybe someday a plaintiff will prevail in a lawsuit. In the meantime, fearing litigation, some producers may change their lethal chemical mix to another lethal chemical mix in order to keep moving the ball making it harder to make the connection between chemical exposures and illness.
Delay in correcting the problem equals more money for the companies and their shareholders, while increasingly turning the planet into a toxic waste dump.
If you’re interested in reading more, I have included some links.
It seems Antimony was also used by the Egyptians in the form of Stibnite as a black eye makeup.
Postscript: How these chemical exposures will ultimately affect us is a big question, but it can’t be good when toxins keep turning up in our bodies. The CDC’s most recent report indicates that some 212 chemicals tested for, which are not supposed to be in our bodies, were in most people’s blood or urine.
Images: These images were found in the Internet in the public domain and no other attribution could be found. The feature image was linked to a webpage called Live Science.