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  Friday, July 24th, 2015

The End of Solitude

I grew up in the 60s and 70s, the age of television. I was trained to be bored; boredom was cultivated within me like a precious crop. (It has been said that consumer society wants to condition us to feel bored, since boredom creates a market for stimulation.) It took me years to discover—and my nervous system will never fully adjust to this idea; I still have to fight against boredom, am permanently damaged in this respect—that having nothing to do doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The alternative to boredom is what Whitman called idleness: a passive receptivity to the world.

So it is with the current generation’s experience of being alone. That is precisely the recognition implicit in the idea of solitude, which is to loneliness what idleness is to boredom. Loneliness is not the absence of company, it is grief over that absence. The lost sheep is lonely; the shepherd is not lonely. But the Internet is as powerful a machine for the production of loneliness as television is for the manufacture of boredom. If six hours of television a day creates the aptitude for boredom, the inability to sit still, a hundred text messages a day creates the aptitude for loneliness, the inability to be by yourself. Some degree of boredom and loneliness is to be expected, especially among young people, given the way our human environment has been attenuated. But technology amplifies those tendencies. You could call your schoolmates when I was a teenager, but you couldn’t call them 100 times a day. You could get together with your friends when I was in college, but you couldn’t always get together with them when you wanted to, for the simple reason that you couldn’t always find them. If boredom is the great emotion of the TV generation, loneliness is the great emotion of the Web generation. We lost the ability to be still, our capacity for idleness. They have lost the ability to be alone, their capacity for solitude.

—William Deresiewicz


  Friday, July 24th, 2015

There is a Way

I’ve read all of these postings and I know exactly how each of you feel. It’s so disheartening to spend all but the last couple of hours of each day exercising and eating perfectly only to give in to those late-evening cravings that seem to have nothing to do with physical hunger. I’ve struggled with this for the past several years. However, about a year ago I found the solution that worked for me. It wasn’t easy. In fact it was extremely difficult. First, a little history: I’m a 36 year old man. I’ve been a fitness enthusiast all of my adult life. In my late 20’s I found it difficult to maintain the body fat levels that I enjoyed in my younger years. One year ago, after taking about a 3 month break from doing anything healthy, I decided to train for my first marathon. It was a way to get back on the fitness track. I allowed myself 6 months to prepare. I wanted to be 30 lbs lighter at the starting line. I knew exactly how to eat so I planned my meals—seven small meals every day. During the first month I found that there was one bad habit that I could not break. I would be physically satisfied every evening but for some bizarre reason I could not prevent myself from eating junk just before bedtime—and a lot of it. It was so very discouraging. I tried everything from planning my late night snacks with healthy, low calorie foods to eating my last full healthy meal of the day just before bed, to drinking half a gallon of water, to changing my activities in the evening, not watching TV but reading a book before bed, etc…nothing worked. Each failed attempt just destroyed my confidence. I knew the effects of consuming a lot of calories late in the day—no chance of burning body fat during sleep. At one point I finally recognized that it was a psychological barrier and that nothing that I did physically was going to stop it. I had to make a choice. I could recall what it felt like to be fit and lean from my earlier years. I also knew how good it felt to satisfy those late night cravings with all of the wonderfully unhealthy foods that are available. But at the end of the day, there was no food that tasted as good as being lean and healthy felt. At that point something just clicked. I made the decision to stop eating anything after 6 pm. Nothing other than water and multivitamins. That’s it. I just decided to stop. It wasn’t a half-hearted decision either. I knew exactly where I wanted to be and I knew exactly how to get there. I finally just told myself that I was going to do it. Regardless of how unpleasant the withdrawal, it was to become part of my life and nothing was going to stop me. I knew it would be painful at first and I accepted that. I realized that what I eat and when is one of the very few things in my life that I had absolute control over. Success in all other areas of my life was influenced by others, regardless of my own effort. But this one thing I could control. If I could be nothing else, I could be fit and I could be lean. I began weighing myself every morning at the same time—as soon as I got out of bed (with an empty bladder) on a digital scale accurate to 0.2 lbs. Other than water retention following those days that I had a bit more sodium, I lost weight every day. Really, everyday for 6 months. I charted my progress and felt so motivated every morning when I saw the consistent results that it actually became much easier to avoid the snacks that evening knowing that if I didn’t I’d be depriving myself the pleasure of seeing the scale reflect my progress the following morning. I knew that avoiding those late evening snacks would allow my body to burn fat through the night. I began at 198 lbs and had a marathon goal weight of 168 lbs. I ended up at 162 lbs at marathon time. The key for me was to focus on that one thing that was holding me back. That one action that was preventing me from reaching my goal. Painful as it was, I would not allow myself to eat after 6 pm. I did this consistently for 6 months. After the first week it got pretty easy. Sometimes the cravings were there, but when they came I just imagined myself as I wanted to be and the power of that vision was enough. After a couple weeks I was on autopilot. Not eating after 6pm had become my new habit. When I look back on it I realize that despite everything I tried, there was only one thing that worked. I made the decision to change that one habit as if my life depended on it.


  Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

—William Wordsworth

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  Saturday, July 18th, 2015

To God be the Glory

Morning glories are members of the tribe Ipomoeeae, which includes about 700 species of flowering plants in the family Convolvulaceae.

Morning glory was first known in China for its medicinal uses. It was introduced to the Japanese in the 9th century, and they were the first to cultivate it as an ornamental flower. During the Edo period, it became very popular. The Japanese have led the world in developing varieties. Hundreds have evolved, such as a brownish coloured variant known as Dajuro, and varieties with such evocative names as ‘Brocade of Dawn,’ ‘Moon in the Dusk’ and ‘Wisteria Girl.’ It has come to symbolize summer in Japanese horticulture and art.

The genus Ipomoea also contains the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas).


  Friday, July 17th, 2015

Einstein on Being

The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man. To know that what is impenetrable for us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties—this knowledge, this feeling…that is the core of the true religious sentiment. In this sense, and in this sense alone, I rank myself among profoundly religious men.

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

There are moments when one feels free from one’s own identification with human limitations and inadequacies. At such moments, one imagines that one stands on some spot of a small planet, gazing in amazement at the cold yet profoundly moving beauty of the eternal, the unfathomable: life and death flow into one, and there is neither evolution nor destiny; only being.

—Albert Einstein


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  Friday, July 17th, 2015

The Main Thing

Micco Jesus Church in Monaville, West Virginia.


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  Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

Tilapia

One of the three main types of fish caught in Biblical times from the Sea of Galilee, tilapia were called musht, or commonly even now “St. Peter’s fish.” The name comes from the story in the Gospel of Matthew about the apostle Peter catching a fish that carried a coin in its mouth, though the passage does not name the fish. While the name also applies to Zeus faber, a marine fish not found in the area, a few tilapia species (Sarotherodon galilaeus galilaeus and others) are found in the Sea of Galilee. These species have been the target of small-scale artisanal fisheries in the area for thousands of years.


  Sunday, July 12th, 2015

If—

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

—Rudyard Kipling

  Sunday, July 12th, 2015

Lectio Divina

In the twelfth century the Carthusian Prior Guigo II describes Lectio Divina as follows in The Monastic Ladder or Treatise on a Method of Prayer (Section X): “Reading, you should seek; meditating, you will find; praying, you shall call; and contemplating, the door will be opened to you.” And, then, there is the contemparory description of Lectio Divina by a Southern rural minister who, when asked how he prayed, replied: “I reads myself full; I thinks myself clear; I prays myself hot; I lets myself cool.”

—Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey

  Sunday, July 12th, 2015

Augustinian Prayer

Since the wisdom of God is eternal and applicable to all ages and all situations, the NF transposition of the message of the Bible to the needs of the present generation has been a way of praying down through the ages. Such openness to the Holy Spirit involves a certain amount of risk and experimentation which should always be suject to continued discernment. Therefore, a spiritual journal, where thoughts and inspirations are recorded, is a great help to the NF not only in making the transposition of meaning to today’s situation but also for reviewing the progress and validity of one’s insights or inspirations. Usually good with words, both in speaking and writing, the NFs find journal keeping not a chore but a joy. They use the journal to discover the deeper meanings of life and to experience new spiritual growth. NFs agree with Cardinal Newman, who once said that he could pray best at the point of a pen.

—Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey

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  Friday, July 10th, 2015

Orange Blossom Water

Orange flower water, or orange blossom water, is the clear, perfumed by-product of the distillation of fresh bitter-orange blossoms for their essential oil.

This essential water has traditionally been used as aromatizer in many Mediterranean traditional dessert dishes, such as in France for the gibassier and pompe à l’huile or in Spain for the Roscón de Reyes (King cake), but has more recently found its way into Western cuisine. For example, orange flower water is used in Europe to flavor madeleines, in Mexico to flavor little wedding cakes and Pan de muerto, and in the United States to make orange blossom scones and marshmallows. Orange flower water is also used as an ingredient in some cocktails, such as the Ramos Gin Fizz.

It has been a traditional ingredient used often in North African as well as in Middle Eastern cooking. In Arab variants of baklava, orange blossom water is often mixed with the sweet syrup for flavor. Orange blossoms are believed to be used in this manner because they are seen as the traditional bridal flower and, therefore, symbolize purity (white, small and delicate).

In Morocco orange blossom water is called Ilma Zhar, in contrast to Ilma Ward, which is rose blossom water. Orange blossom water serves two purposes in Morocco. One usage is a perfume or freshener, usually given to guests to wash their hands upon entering the host house or before drinking tea, in a special silver or metal container; recognizable in the Moroccan tea set. but this old custom is fading away in the present day. The main usage of orange blossom water, however, is in Moroccan cuisine, especially as an ingredient for traditional sweets.


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  Friday, July 10th, 2015

Forelle Pears

Forelle pears are one of the oldest European varieties, and are believed to have originated in the 1600s in northern Saxony, Germany. They are grown in the Pacific Northwest. Forelle pears are picked when they are mature but not fully ripened. The name Forelle means “trout” in German, and was likely given to the pear because it has similar coloring to a Rainbow trout, with yellow skin that is dotted with crimson red freckles (known as lenticles) signaling the pears’ maturity. German immigrants brought Forelle pears to the U.S. in the 1800s.

Forelle pears are a specialty variety and only available for a short time each year.


  Saturday, June 27th, 2015

Would You Think it Odd?

Would you think it odd if Hafiz said,

“I am in love with every church
And mosque
And temple
And any kind of shrine

Because I know it is there
That people say the different names
Of the One God.”

Would you tell your friends
I was a bit strange if I admitted

I am indeed in love with every mind
And heart and body.

O I am sincerely
Plumb crazy
About your every thought and yearning
And limb

Because, my dear,
I know
That it is through these

That you search for Him.


  Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Panentheism

Panentheism (meaning “all-in-God”, from the Ancient Greek πᾶν pân (“all”), ἐν en (“in”) and Θεός Theós (“God”)) is a belief system which posits that the divine—whether as a single God, number of gods, or other form of “cosmic animating force”—interpenetrates every part of the universe and extends, timelessly (and, presumably, spacelessly) beyond it. Unlike pantheism, which holds that the divine and the universe are identical, panentheism maintains a distinction between the divine and non-divine and the significance of both.

In pantheism, the universe in the first formulation is practically the whole itself, while in panentheism, the universe and the divine are not ontologically equivalent. God is viewed as the eternal animating force maintaining the universe. Some versions suggest that the universe is nothing more than the manifest part of God. In some forms of panentheism, the cosmos exists within God, who in turn “transcends,” “pervades” or is “in” the cosmos. While pantheism asserts that ‘All is God’, panentheism goes further to claim that God is greater than the universe. In addition, some forms indicate that the universe is contained within God, like in the concept of Tzimtzum. Much Hindu thought is highly characterized by panentheism and pantheism. Hasidic Judaism merges the elite ideal of nullification to paradoxical transcendent Divine Panentheism, through intellectual articulation of inner dimensions of Kabbalah, with the populist emphasis on the panentheistic Divine immanence in everything and deeds of kindness.


  Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

The Lillies of the Field

Thomas Fairchild was a pioneering plant breeder who lived in Shoreditch, in the East End of London. When he died in 1729, he left a legacy for a “Vegetable Sermon” to be preached each year in Shoreditch Parish Church in the week following Pentecost on “the wonderful works of God in creation.” This sermon, on May 15, 2015, by Rupert Sheldrake, was on flowers.