Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Blue bird, beggars and beliefs.

Photo: The blue starling which keeps banging on our window - trying to connect with what it believes is another bird but which is really itself.

Synchronicities abound in life and more so when we become aware of them. There is a little bird, gloriously, shimmeringly blue, which bangs on our lounge-room window at various times of the day.

Peeking through another window we can see it fly from a bush and bang into the window. There is a shade film on the window and so it has a mirror effect and clearly the bird believes that there is another bird, a mate perhaps, when there is only a reflection. The bird is of course in 'love' with itself, or 'attracted' to itself, and does not know it!

That may be more common than we know. It is said that we are attracted to people who look 'similar' to us and that the marriages between couples who look 'alike' are more likely to be successful. I have no fixed opinion on it but in general, have observed, that there is some truth to this although it is not an absolute given.

So what did the little bird, banging into the window and possibly hurting itself, because it was fooled into thinking the image it saw was of another, possibly mean? It has been a time of pondering relationships with others and with Self and also a time when illusion, or perception, from others, has created 'false images' and deceptions.

The bird was not hurt and it has been doing this for some weeks and will no doubt continue to do it for some time more, so perhaps it symbolises no more than the fact that we can find 'mirroring' in the strangest of places and it can lead us astray more than we know. Is the bird, a symbol of spirit and spirituality, 'banging its head against something of a brick wall,' or is it simply responding to an inner rhythm and need, which, while it appears foolish to those human beings looking on, serves a valuable purpose we do not and cannot know?

Perhaps all that mattered was the fact that it gave us the opportunity, to observe, up close, a truly beautiful little bird in ways which would not normally be possible. It is a reminder of how often we fail to 'see' that which is around us; we fail to truly observe, skimming in essence, through and on our world. Like Slow Food there is a place for and a practice in Slow Life which is less easy to find in the busy rush of the modern world.

And in Malawi, things tend to be slower than elsewhere because the general lack of efficiency means things happen slowly, if they happen at all. Power cuts slow things down. Incompetence slows things down. Inefficiency and disinterest slow things down. It is a wonder sometimes that anything much happens at all. But it does, and perhaps like the bird, banging away at the window, it happens as it should, in its own time, for reasons that we do not know. I like to think so anyway.

There is a saying that 'beggars can't be choosing' and I suspect that applies to life in metaphorical as well as literal sense. There are a few more beggars on the streets of Malawi these days although not as many as there might be. The maize harvest has been good and there are signs of improvement, which, if they continue, will make Malawi better than it has been for a long time.

While some things have improved in Malawi, there are ominous signs that not as much has changed as one might have hoped. The power cuts have begun again and are worse. Every day, pretty much, for from four to eight hours which is an increase on the old way of being of probably four hours each time. Sigh. Still, diesel, for the moment is not in short supply and that is good because our batteries are nearly dead and must be replaced and the inverter cannot function for much more than an hour when we lose power and so we have to turn on the generator to keep things operating.

Perhaps we knew that things might get worse because we bought a barbecue a few weeks ago and it is a godsend. We also found small gas cans for our portable camping gas hob so between the barbecue which uses briquettes and the hob, we can at least cook if we are low on diesel. The camping hob came up with our goods from Perth and I honestly cannot remember why we bought it in the first place but it is invaluable here. As we so often say:'we have everything we need, somewhere.' Luckily in this case the 'somewhere' is where we are.

It is the dry season at present although we have had grey skies and the occasional rainfull which is unusual. Then again, they had light snow in Johannesburg today which is even more unusual. Well, unusual when assessed in light of the brevity of human history. It may not be the least bit unusual in terms of earth history.

We are Out of Africa in about a week and needing it as one does. Life muddles along pleasantly enough and you only realise you need to get out when some small thing happens and you want to scream, smash something, kick the door in reactions far beyond anything the incident could trigger. It's cumulative. The small frustrations, disappointments, tediums, annoyances, inefficiencies and trials of living in the Third World.

I wonder why it is this way. I feel okay - I am happy with my life - I find it fascinating, interesting, stimulating and yet clearly at subliminal levels it is still frustrating. Perhaps it is more frustrating because one knows there are other ways; other options and that the world does not have to be a place of injustice, incompetence, fear, cruelty and greed. You can get along with it and get by with it, but knowing that there are other places in the world which are not like this, must, by necessity create greater frustration if not anger with the way things work here.

'Cabin fever' is part and parcel for the course living in Africa! And the 'need' to get out only seems to manifest when you know that you are. I used to say that people visiting India had a ticket in their pocket which meant they would never react or relate to it in the way that those who lived there did. Africa is the same. Visiting is not living! It's the difference between dipping a toe into a pool as opposed to diving in and swimming a few lengths. A taste, not a meal. A sip, not a gulp. A tinkering, not a 'taking it apart' to really find out how it works.

But then life brings us what we need and clearly the Third World meal is something I need more than others. I have no doubt it nourishes and supports and serves purpose in ways I do not perhaps know. Just as the blue bird banging its head against the window seems without purpose, if not 'painful,' so too can my experience here, except on both counts it does serve purpose and the task is not necessarily to know what that purpose is, but simply to appreciate that it exists and to appreciate the experience for itself.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Paradox or hypocrisy?

The ability of the human mind to hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time is simply an excuse for hypocrisy.

The ability of the human mind to hold two conflicting beliefs at one and the same time is well known. This becomes more of a problem when it comes to the basic principles which form the foundation of a civilized world.

If we believe in a principle which opposes occupation and colonisation then that principle must be applied to everyone. Clearly nations which claim to be democracies who indulge in this will be condemned more powerfully than those who make no such claim. But the universal principle needs to be applied.

If we believe in human rights and rule of law then we should apply that principle everywhere and at all times. If apartheid is wrong on one count, it is wrong on all counts. If holding people under occupation and denying them freedom is wrong on one count, it is wrong on all counts. That is the point and power of principle.

Where we selectively apply principles because of personal prejudice sourced in race, religion, nationality, gender, age or any separative criteria, then we betray the principle itself and its place as part of the foundation of our modern, civilized and enlightened world.

Everyone hates to be discriminated against and that is what apartheid did in South Africa in the past and does in Israel today. Everyone hates to be occupied by another and that is the case in many places around the world today, including Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Tibet, Kashmir, East Papua, Chechnya and others. Most people take the view that if they were imprisoned in an apartheid State or held under occupation, that they would fight against it. And yet many of those who see it this way, also hold the conflicting belief that some do not have the same right.

Most people oppose invasion and occupation and yet too many supported America's invasion and occupation of Iraq in which nearly one and a half million have died. They supported the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and they support the continued occupation and colonisation of many countries. And yet, in principle, they oppose both occupation and colonisation and no intelligent, reasonably educated person could ever support apartheid. But they do!

South African Jews were in the forefront of the fight against apartheid in their country, although many also supported it; and yet most appear to support apartheid in Israel, not because it is just, decent or necessary; but because of religious prejudice. Israelis support it because of racial prejudice, just as white South Africans did.

Who would countenance occupation without resistance? Very few. The same people who glorified the British and Europeans as they fought against German occupation, are just as likely to demonise the Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghans for fighting against their occupiers. Double standards? Certainly. Irrational? Absolutely.

Americans defend their occupations as examples of fighting for freedom; so did the Germans as anyone studying the history of the Second World War could see. But one is wrong and the other is right? When it comes to principle that is not possible. Either there is a principle that invasion and occupation of other countries is wrong - particularly when they make no threat and are no threat - or it is not. In this day and age we say that it is,  so why the selectivity? Do people really not see the egregious hypocrisy of their position.

And apartheid in Israel. South Africans do seem to be fighting against this but ironically, Jewish South Africans are not. In fact quite the opposite. And yet most of them would say they support absolutely the principle of ending apartheid in South Africa. But not in Israel which occupies all of Palestine. Is there cognitive dissonance at work when people take such irrational and hypocritical positions? Probably. Because trying to point out the ludicrous paradox of their position in regard to a basis principle does not seem to get anything but a heated and even more irrational response.

In the modern age we no long believe that dispossession and colonisation is just or legal. But the world has supported Israel in doing just that for decades. If China invaded and sought to colonise Japan would we support that? Absolutely not. But somehow the principle is not applied to the Palestinians - nor in any truth to the Tibetans.

So how important is it to fight for and defend principles when they are so easily betrayed and ignored? Very important. As important as it always has been because there are some things which if not 'set right' will corrupt, corrode and debase.

Some things as a matter of principle are simply wrong. Followers of Judaism would argue that they have certain rights because of past suffering and that is why it is okay for them to commit war crimes and human rights abuses in a bid to maintain their occupation, colonisation and apartheid State. But even if one accepted this premise, that is like saying, the person who murders can be set free because he or she had a 'bad childhood.'

As a matter of principle and freedom, rule of law, human rights and justice are matters of principle, we betray at our peril. Just as it was a matter of principle that we have universal suffrage; female suffrage; gender equality; universal education; an end to slavery - there are times when the principle must be applied for its own sake and for ours, no matter how upset people may get, how much they may oppose it, and how extreme they may become in defending their betrayal of principle.

When it comes to principle it is like 'white lies.' There are no 'white lies' there are just lies. You can tell yourself it is a small lie or a small betrayal of principle but it is not; it is a lie first and last and it is a betrayal of principle which weakens the foundation on which that principle stands.

From the moment that we become selective about basic principles of a civilized world, we squander the rights for which our ancestors fought and died and we betray our descendants who will inherit the world we have created. Either that is a world of principle to protect them and their descendants; or it is not. The choice is ours.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Feeding the wolves

At one level I relate to this and at another I don't. There is a message here which appears spiritual and healthy but which is actually neither wise, nor sensible and is potentially destructive.

The trouble with black and white, good and evil, is that it splits us up and splits the world. All is polarity and as Khalil Gibran says so wisely about Joy and Sorrow:

Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

So too anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, lies, inferiority and ego are  part of opposites and will always be 'asleep in the bed' even as joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy are awake.

It is in being human that we experience all of these feelings and emotions and learn all that we may be. It is only when we divide things up as good or evil that we create a 'wolf' which must win while the other loses.

Anger does not have to be bad or destructive; jealousy can be something which reveals how much we care and wisely used will teach us that; greed can reveal our neediness, which, if ignored will  push us to excess;  resentment can reveal our woundedness and desire to succeed; lies our capacity for honesty; inferiority our capacity for superiority of body, mind or spirit and what has been damaged in us and ego at its best is our companion, guide, teacher and sometimes saviour in this material world.

Just as night and day are not better than each other; just as summer and winter are opposites but not good or evil; so too is everything we experience part of a continuum and a polarity which, when honoured and embraced, create wholeness.

There is only one 'wolf' and if we do not 'feed' - honour, respect and love - all that it is, it will feed on us. We live in a world of polarity but we have a choice not to divide it into good and bad but to seek the heiros gamos - the sacred marriage - to unite all of the opposites in Love, and to respect that they can live their own polarities.

We will never and can never be only those things which we define as good for if we seek to be, we will simply send the other 'wolves' into the shadow which will feed itself and spring forth to feed on us and others when it chooses. That which we call Evil lives in that which we call Good and vice-versa; in every gift there is a curse and in every curse there is a gift.

That which we would 'starve to death' does not die, it simply takes shelter and finds other ways to 'feed' itself of which we will remain unconscious. Surely if we care for and nourish (for that is feeding) for all that we are, we create one healthy, balanced being; one healthy, loved, accepted 'Wolf.'

We do not and cannot offer literal 'food' to a child, adult, animal, organism or plant on the condition that only those 'parts' of which we approve can receive nourishment and likewise, we cannot offer emotional, psychological or spiritual 'food' or nourishment only to those parts of Self of which we approve. If we are to be whole then everything must be offered nourishment and love.

Monday, 23 July 2012

God's true work

 Watercolour, Earth and Sky, Roslyn Ross, 2012.

Through coloured folds of earth and sky,
the world unrolls through time,
and drapes itself across our minds,
in ways that dreams inspire.
Through visioned life becoming,
the tableau is unfurled,
embracing all creation;
revealing God's true work.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

A conversation on the difference between Fear and fear.

I capitalise Fear to indicate that it is in a sense an entity and that it has become in our world Fear, not simply fear. Obviously there are exceptions  and some people live their lives with what could be called normal fears but many, perhaps even most, have a lot of Fear/s in their lives.

I see Fear as the opposite of Love and that is why I capitalise both.  I see Love as the more powerful energy or entity or force. But, in this world, because of what we believe, and our belief will make anything less powerful or more powerful, Fear is the force which is most often, most powerfully at work.

 I am struck by the connectedness of this world, as described by physics, science and spirituality and it seems to me that Love, in its purest spiritual essence is absolute connectedness. And this is why Fear is its opposite because Fear disconnects or separates us from ourselves and from others and from experiences - and from this life.

Love and hate are two ends of a continuum. We live in a world of opposites. On this basis love and hate or even Love and Fear are opposite expressions of the same thing. I have long thought that one cannot hate unless one also loves. Those who hate their ex-partners, or even parents, can only do so because there is also deep love. Where there is Love there is no Fear, and I suppose, one could use the word God instead of Love, except for the fact that the word has so many connotations which distort meaning. But if the source of this world is conscious connectedness; intelligence at work, then that is the ultimate in expression of connectedness and what we desire and seek to make manifest in this material world; and what we call love.

The concept of love and hate as being two opposites of the same thing fits with an ancient Hermetic teaching regarding The cosmic Law of Polarity - everything is one of a pair of opposites. This is well described in The Kybalion, by William Walker Atkinson, first published in the first half of last century. The teaching has been written about and published many times but Atkinson's is one of the most lucid and concise. As he writes:

'The Law of Polarity is expressed in the axiom that 'Polarity is that condition of a body by virtue of which it exhibits contrasted powers or properties in opposite directions.' Love and hate, life and death, health and disease are part of the same thing.  This system of pairs of opposites is a part of nature's demand for balance. 'Opposites' are identical or 'the pairs of opposites may be reconciled; ' extremes meet;' ' everything is not at the same time;' and, there are 'two sides to everything.'

Hegel, the renowned philosopher said: ' the opposite of a thing must be known before the thing itself could be fully known. So you cannot know love without knowing hate.

And I would use lower case for love and hate as opposed to Love and Fear. And that is because there are varying forms of what we call love, and various expressions perhaps of what we call Love and the love we know gets mixed up with the Love which I perceive as the most powerful force in this world. It is all in essence, about connectedness and a matter of degree.

Love, as connectedness, as the source of all stands, as a power which is in all and Fear is something which we experience in this material world, in order to teach us about Love. In essence it equates with the most ancient spiritual/religious belief of all; that of the division been darkness and light, or what religions came to call Good and Evil. And in that magical way of words, in Good we have God and Evil is Live backwards, or the opposite of Life.

Love is absolute connectedness; love is partial connectedness; hate is partial connectedness at the other end of the spectrum,  and Fear is absolute disconnectedness. At least that is how I see it. Love and Fear are the same things in the way that love and hate are. Love has no fear and connects to all; Fear has no love and separates from all. What we call love is more passion and desire, and often demand, which believes it has connectedness but often does not. What we call hate is another way of remaining connected, as so many who divorce discover, and it too is about passion and desire.

Fear is only opposite to connectedness and certainly, when we feel connected with ourselves or with others or with our world then we do feel more sure, we do have more confidence and in that state we are without fear or Fear.

Fear isn't just akin to excitement it is the same physiological reaction. We have no way of knowing if a baby, or small child reacts with 'fear' or 'excitement' to threat. There is little doubt that we teach children to fear certain things and we divide the two for them despite the fact that physiologically they are the same. The hunter facing the tiger has the same response as the climber facing the mountain except that the hunter has probably been taught to call what he or she feels is fear and the climber that what he or she feels is excitement. The body can provide the adrenalin and hormonal experiences we need without us ever being afraid of anything.

So if Love in the cosmic sense is the opposite polarity to Fear in the sense of connectedness or disconnectedness, then perhaps in our world of Fear and fears, what we call love should have another name, and in fact there are many already, and its polarity is hate. In understanding hate we can reach a better understanding of love. In understanding Fear we can reach a better understanding of Love.

I am not sure, as some believe, that we do fear love per se: because there are many definitions of Love. I can believe that some of us fear connectedness in any absolute sense because that involves a relinquishing of power; a surrendering of Self and control whether it be to one's Self, to another, or to what we would call God. Many if not most of us live with the illusion that we are in control of our world when the reality is that we are not and we only have some control over what we do with what happens to us, depending on our nature and the skills with which we have been born.

Why do we not revel, enjoy, embrace in Love?  I think because the first thing we must do, before we can do that, is love ourselves and that is the hardest thing of all and requires enormous courage, time and persistence to work through the layers of Self; to come to know the Me and the I, and to face the nastiest, darkest and most terrifying corners of psyche. Some have no choice and as an ancient maxim says: 'those who will the Fates guide; those who won't the Fates drag.'

But I do believe that some are called to be dragged and others are not. And the more we come to know ourselves the better we will be at knowing what our Path is meant to be. Some people are highly intuitive and know anyway. Some people have forgotten that they are highly intuitive. And some people seek ways which will guide them to this knowledge. But the truly crucial thing, to my mind, is accepting that none of us walk the same Path or walk in the same way.

 If we are fortunate we find others who are heading in the same direction and taking the same route but we all see in our own way, hear in our own way, feel in our own way and can only offer and receive companionship. Someone to laugh with along the way. Someone who understands why you are on the journey. But as often or not it is a solitary journey and that makes the moments of connection, moments so precious because in truth, they are so rare.

Fear has pushed me to learn, to change, to know as much as I can about myself, others and the world in which we live. It has both driven and dragged me in fine Saturnian style. But that is my spiritual inheritance as my astrological chart so clearly shows and as my life has consistently demonstrated. I remember when I went to my second reading in Adelaide, with a woman who is one of the world's top astrologers and she now teaches and practises in Bath, UK, Bernadette Brady, and I asked her if my life would get 'easier' as time went on - if the challenges would diminish - and she laughed and said, No. And she showed me why. It was up to me how much I learned from what I was destined to experience. But she also said that my learning would involve a healing and releasing not just for me but at karmic levels for my family - both past and future. I liked that idea and I still do. Everything is easier if we can find a sense of meaning or purpose in what we experience.

We must stare into the maw of Fear and fears in order to  change what we are or what we have. Sometimes we need the pain in order to change and to grow, not that I would ever want to see it inflicted on purpose - but by it's nature, pain is a part of things whether we like it or not. It is not that we wish pain for ourselves or for others but when pain comes, it is important to remember that it can serve good purpose. It is also a reminder that as much as we focus on our own pain, we need to remember that we are not alone and if the source of the pain is seen as another, then that other will also find in us, consciously or unconsciously, the source of pain.

Marriage is one place where such pain seems almost inevitable.  And instinctively we want to take sides, our own, and want others to do the same, and put the blame out there, on the other. We quickly demand a victim and a villain. During my most painful time I was cast in the role of victim not villain although in the seven years it took me to work through it I learned that there are no such things - there are two people in every relationship and while one may 'act out' the role of villain, both are, in that way of the continuum, both victim and both villain.

 In coming to understand the part I played in what happened and recognising and accepting that 'blame' belonged also to me, I found a place of freedom I had never known quite so clearly. I found the freedom of taking full responsibility for everything which happened to me and not putting the blame on others.  I was barely in my thirties at the time and those years were some of the deepest, blackest and most terrible I have known - and yet, as you say, out of it came the greatest treasures.

And those treasures remain with us permanently. They are gifts on the path of life and we may choose to carry them with us, or leave them behind.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Power and the prison of poverty

The more things change, the more they stay the same…..well, here we are another month on and while some things have improved somewhat in Malawi, there are indications that things may not have changed as much as one might have hoped.

Wishful thinking must have been invented in such places for desires often do not get far beyond wishes. There is word that some $8million dollars will be spent on re-furbishing the five palaces in the country and while those palaces may well be in need of a ‘little work’ it seems a strange allocation of funds in a country which remains one of the poorest, if not the poorest in Africa.

I find it hard to get my head around such decisions and can only conclude that I do not understand how people think in this part of the world. Does such expenditure on such issues of ‘image’ and ‘face’ mean things here which they do not in the West? Do the people agree that it is a priority for their President to be housed as magnificently and comfortably as possible, no matter what they lack or suffer? 
Perhaps they do! Perhaps in the same way that people in Africa ‘tug their forelocks’ still at their version of ‘royalty,’ the chiefs and those in power, so too did the masses in the Western world centuries ago. It is hard to see it is much different to India where despite massive poverty and illiteracy and injustice the people appear to support billions of dollars spent on military hardware and nuclear weapons programmes, and, even more ridiculously, on a space programme!

When I have asked about such things I am told: ‘But this makes the people proud and pride is good for those who have little.’

But surely when one can choose between offering people a dose of pride or a roof over their heads and education for their children there are few who would choose ‘pride.’ What those in power really mean is they can sell the ‘pride’ factor to the people because they were never going to get what they deserved anyway so they may as well settle for pride. It’s a ‘warm fuzzy,’ no matter how ephemeral, in a world ‘ of countless ‘cold pricklies.’

But there is one difference! India is in fact a massively wealthy country and always has been. The reality of its poverty is a matter of choice, sourced in what is considered to be priority. Even Ghandhi said that if India wanted flushing toilets for all of its citizens it could have them, but clearly it was not a priority.

I am sure the Hindu religion also plays a major part in keeping people in their place and while Islam is a sizeable minority it remains a minority and those who fear for their future will always ‘toe the line’ more readily. But why does it work in Africa where religion does not teach that one is born into one’s ‘place’ in this world and if that place involves poverty and suffering then that is what you deserve?

Why do people stare into the gaping maw of poverty  which they know is worse than it needs to be because of the actions of those in power …and smile? Metaphorically speaking anyway.  Are they used to poverty? Do they no longer remember that things were better in the past, albeit under colonial rule? Is it better to be free and independent and poor where mistakes are made by your own kind than ruled by others and better off? Probably. Although it really is a ridiculous question because there is no choice.

This is not a rich country by any stretch of the imagination and while it was in better shape under British colonial rule, as were all African nations of that era, it has not been economically sound for most of its history. This is not an argument for a return to colonial rule. Such days have passed and rightly so, but just as in India one still hears people talk about how much better things worked when the British ran the country, so too, there is a memory of how Malawi was and how Malawi might be again, if sound and just government can be maintained.

But something always seems to get in the way of justice and the needs and rights of the people. What is that something which sees ‘self-serving’ rise to the top of the list of even the most intelligent, educated and decent people? I wish I knew but it seems always to be the way of Africa that those who gain power, very quickly, turn that power to their own ends and their own gains.

To add insult to injury this is a seriously religious country – either Muslim or Christian but each preaching the need to help others! But they are empty words and it is more of: ‘Do as I say, not do as I do?’

And I don’t believe it is a legacy of colonisation. If that were the case then any ex-colony would be the same and they most clearly are not. It has to be cultural and it has to be a mentality that one finds more often in places like Africa and India – these being the two where I have personal experience. Indian and African cultures are quite different except for the fact that they seem to accept injustice from those in power more easily. In India one could argue it is the caste system at work and a religious belief in the superiority of others and in Africa one can point the finger at the tribal system – a variation on the theme of caste – where those in power, for whatever reason, are believed to be deserving of honour. Except it isn’t honour; it is acceptance of their actions, however honourable or dishonourable they may be simply because they hold a position.

If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely then never more so than in such places. Demanding accountability from one’s government or leaders is an absolute if there is ever to be anything approximating justice for all. But people don’t! They complain, they condemn, they criticise and often in the most venal of ways, but they don’t actually seem to do much. Occasionally they riot and sometimes they organise protests but given that nothing ever seems to change it hardly counts as effective.

It took the peasants of what we now call the West centuries to learn how to demand their rights and some nations are better at it than others. But things seem to happen so slowly here that the learning progresses, if at all, at snail’s pace. At some level it is depressing. One can believe, as I do, that all works ultimately to the good and serves a purpose but to see things change and yet not change is disheartening. It is right and just to wish better for people; to want for them the freedoms and justice which exist in the ‘best’ of worlds, not a continuation of the same lack of freedoms and injustice which have dogged them for decades if not centuries.

Is it fear which fuels corruption? A belief that if you do not look after yourself then no-one else will? After all, things have been better and then gotten worse and there are no guarantees. But surely if someone is intelligent, well travelled, educated and responsible they will know that self-serving leads to corruption and leads to slow if not fast social decay? Surely? But they seem not to.

I remember being told in India that if you were in a position of power, any power at all, and you did not make use of it for your family then you were shamed. Perhaps that is also at work here where ‘face’ is all and in many ways, as demonstrated, would put the Asians to shame. So much is about ‘face’ and the demonstration of power from the way one bows before or kneels to a chief and the lavish nature of lifestyle for those at the top of the ladder, not to mention the displays of sometimes epic proportions, shades of Cecil B. DeMille, for official functions and presidential appearances.

To be fair, the British still do the same thing with their Royalty and the Americans do it with their President, but in the main, such displays of pomp, power and presence are less rare in this day and age and have even less place when carried out at the stinking feet of poverty.
But it is what it is and in truth, at the end of the day, whatever I might wish, it is not my problem. I can do my small part and help a few to have a better life and that is it. The rest is up to them. There is a long way to go but people must want to go there and must be prepared to take the first step on that journey no matter the risk.

When you see how people live you cannot imagine them not wanting other but perhaps they do not. Driving down to Mangochie on Lake Malawi the other week, some three hours from Lilongwe, we passed through dozens of small villages. Mud huts with thatched roofs; herds of stupid goats wandering across the road; dry-dust compounds and snaking paths through tall grass and the endless lines of people walking, and sometimes riding bikes, on the sides of the road – this is life in poor Africa. The largest buildings are religious – a mosque here, a Catholic or Evangelical Church there; a Christian school or a Muslim school.

The other reality is that it is not just those in power who spend money on their own ends but the do-gooders, the religious ‘helpers’ of all persuasions, who pour more money into demonstrations of their ‘might’ with their churches and mosques, than they do into villages where the quality of life is basic, if not subsistence.

Perhaps poverty breeds a sense of powerlessness and for those who have dragged themselves from the very depths of it, also a sense of fear that what has been gained might be lost. It takes enormous courage to fight for justice and risk all when one acts as an individual, but perhaps it takes too much courage and far more than courage to fight for justice when you risk the welfare of your children. It is one thing to risk all your own and your life for a cause – but quite another to risk that of those who depend on you.
There is no denying that it takes remarkable people of courage and determination to bring about change but there is also no denying that it is easier to demand accountability and justice when one lives in a nation which can trust both the society, that means others beyond the immediate family, and those in power, as well as the political system which both provides power and protects us.

The stark reality is that when we take to the streets demanding change in the modern world, the Western world, we do not in the main, risk our lives or our security. Most developed nations provide a welfare safety net which will catch us if we fall and a political system which can be held accountable without  risk to our lives or our livelihoods. Sadly that is not how things work in what we call the Third World in general and Africa in particular.

Poverty is its own prison and perhaps those in power know that all too well. And the best way out of poverty is education. Africa would be better served if there was more focus on education and less on spreading religion. But self-serving is a human trait and is not particular to Africa!

Saturday, 30 June 2012

The trouble with science

The biggest problem I have with science is that it is sourced in an arrogant assumption that it’s ‘way’ is the best way and the only way and if science can explain something to itself then it deems that explanation to be final, regardless of the common sense, wisdom and experience which may reside or exist in other systems.
It is this arrogance which has laid the foundation for the worst disasters in the past, present and future. As Newton’s great law so clearly states: ‘to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, the account balances perfectly.’ In other words, to every cause there is an effect!
Because science rejects the innate wisdom of Nature, even while accepting this law, the scientific system is cavalier in the way that it presents and pushes its ‘discoveries’ onto the greater world. If science were wise and had any respect for the greater and more powerful Laws of Nature, it would be more cautious in encouraging the world to move in certain directions.
A classic example of the cost of this cavalier action is pharmaceuticals. No-one denies that they have done and can do, great good, but only in moderation. When science offers no warnings about their use, they become a marketing system which now sees our world, and our bodies, polluted, if not poisoned by the billions of drugs which go into bodies and which are then released as waste into the food chain. 
An understanding of and respect for the wisdom and laws of nature would have had the scientific system caution limited and moderate use of such medications until enough time had passed – at least two generations – to assess their impact on human beings and the environment. But of course the scientific system is in the pocket of vested interests and most if not all scientific research is funded by one or another of those vested interests. So much for the objectivity of science when the system in which it operates is clearly partisan.
Another area guaranteed to produce unforeseen compensatory costs as Nature's Law of balance sourced in cause, comes into effect,  is in the field of genetic modification. There is some brilliant scientific work which has gone on here but with little or no respect for Nature, such experimentation has been imposed on an unsuspecting world to far, far greater degrees than is wise, both for humans and for their environment.
As the saying goes: 'There is no such thing as a free lunch' and never more so than when it comes to tinkering with, if not flaunting the laws of nature. 
Yet another potential mine-field for the future is IVF where we now have some 5million  created in this way. Admittedly, when you look at a world population around seven billion that does not seem much but we do not yet know what the balancing impact will be, or what effect will result from a cause which is so removed from nature and which in the main runs counter to her basic law that conception occurs only when a sperm and egg are strong enough to ensure that it does. 
Logic suggests that given the understanding science and medicine have of the impact of chemicals and overdosing, in this case hormones fed to women to make them over-produce eggs, it seems somewhat bizarre that both science and medicine should take the position that there will be little or no impact on either the women producing the eggs for creating life in the laboratory, or the resulting human being. But that is what they do.
Science and medicine also both know that the impact of drugs, chemicals, radiation etc., - Chernobyl and the Atomic Bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki being clear and demonstrable examples - can take generations to appear, and yet they discount this possibility in the case of IVF.  How can life begin in a chemical pool in a petri dish not be on the receiving end of a 'cause' which simply does not exist in the natural world? And how can the ultimate 'effect' of that cause be guessed by science when it has never existed  before and according to the Laws of Nature, would never exist? They cannot guess but that is no reason to deny.

So a relatively healthy baby appears at the end of all of this? Well, physically anyway for the moment. Who knows what physiological, emotional, psychological effects will later be seen? In truth science and medicine both know that IVF babies and children do have higher percentages of certain problems than children conceived naturally so even at this early stage of the game they are in absolutely no doubt that IVF does not equate with natural conception by any stretch of the imagination. Surely, one would think, that integrity and common sense would have doctors and scientists cautioning minimal use of the procedure at least for two generations? But of course not.

If those children as adults have problems, or their children or grand-children have problems, whether minor or major, it is seen as 'too far into the future' for science to worry about. Science like so much today puts the focus on immediate results and instant gain. Of course every human being born has a Soul and is here for a reason and I believe, chose the life they are living, and the birth, as part of a greater plan. But science as a system does not believe that and in fact would deny there is any spiritual factor in life or any sort of plan. So, one presumes, if in a few decades we have millions of people who live shorter, less healthy or more suffering lives, the scientists can congratulate themselves that at least they 'made people happy' in the short-term. I would only argue if the 'effect' of their 'cause' is terribly painful they should have made a minimum of people 'happy' not a maximum.

But the point of it all is that even if the ultimate effects are small and they may even be a generation or two down the track, but they will be there waiting. It is impossible not to have an effect as the result of a cause for that is the way of this world. And scientists believe the same thing.
Wise and respectful science would have cautioned for minimum use of the procedure only in cases of great need. Instead, what do we see with little or no words of caution from science and medicine, but a massive industry pushing out babies created in chemical solutions in laboratories when the world cannot look after the people it has and there are hundreds of millions of orphan babies languishing around the world. 
Even while understanding the desire people might have to produce a child of their own the reality is that many of these babies, perhaps most, are not the result of sperm and egg from those whom they will call parents but are the creation of a pool of ingredients gathered, sometimes, from across the world. If they are lucky they will  have a biological connection to one parent.If they are not lucky they might have an Australian egg and Indian sperm and Indian womb. Or Australian sperm and American womb and Canadian egg.

One thing which science does not yet completely believe but holds as possibility is cellular memory. There is interesting research coming out of organ transplants which supports the view that every cell in our bodies is conscious and feeling and one can take this further and theorise that just as we receive a DNA inheritance so too we receive cellular memories. What impact will it have on a human being who has been created with three different cultural influences - for the foetus in the womb also draws information and knowledge from the 'mother' - and yet who will never be able to access or contact the original sources of that information?

Given the clear evidence of the suffering caused to adoptees in the past where they were denied contact with biological parents one can only believe that not only does science/medicine not care, they do not want to know! That would spoil the fun of all this experimentation and limit their ability to succeed academically, professionally and often, financially. One could also argue that the parents do not want to know either - all of them, whether providing ingredients or taking the end product off to raise, but at the end of the day they can only do what they are doing because science/medicine both allows and encourages them to do it.
And when you look at the potentially disasterous dance of donated sperm, egg and womb and the psychological impact, let alone biological, that will have on these babies when grown to adulthood, you can only think that science is not just cavalier, but arrogant and irresponsible. For the majority of parents, whether male and female or same sex, there would be absolutely no difference in adoption for they have no biological connection to the laboratory created child – except perhaps the ‘fun’ of pretending they are part of the process of conception and pregnancy. As a sign of how much hubris underpins the IVF industry one only has to remember the Octuplets born to the young, single mother, who already had seven children through IVF and who gave birth to eight more! What a triumph for science and medicine. What a tragedy for 15 children!
Any system which is not held to account or which cannot hold itself to account becomes rogue. The trouble with science is that we have become the labrats and so is this precious Earth of ours. This is not to say there are not scientists, many of them, who do have integrity and awareness but they are trapped by a system which has become increasingly rigid, arrogant and fearful of losing its status and power, over the centuries. Systems drive behaviour! That is a maxim and within any system there is just as much cause and effect as there is anywhere else.

Science became destructive and rogue when it morphed into an entrenched system puffed up with arrogance and a belief in its own absolute rightness. Science, otherwise known as scientism, is just a modern form of religion as it now manifests. That does science no good service, for just as religion at core is an admirable system so too is science – the problem comes when one develops an innate belief in one’s ‘way’ and the rightness of one’s way. That is when mistakes begin to be made and when distortions abound. It is only in humility and acceptance that the way is simply one of a number and it has its own strengths and weaknesses and there is no one way which will ever provide all of the answers all of the time to human beings.
Science, as religion did, has begun to fly too close to the ‘sun’ of ego and the effect which follows that cause is death. And that may not be a bad thing for it will be death of the egoic form of science which is prone to causing problems far beyond any solution the cause is meant to resolve. We just have to hope that destructive effects are not too destructive for, unlike religion, science does have the ability to destroy us and threaten the survival of life as we know it on this planet.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Once upon a time.... a never-ending story which we tell ourselves....

Dark Sky/Bright Earth, Oil on Canvas, Roslyn Ross, 2012.

Our experience of life involves a succession of stories. Often they are 'stories' programmed into our brain from childhood or past experiences and often they are 'stories' accepted as given from family, society, religion or peers. But there will be a story!

Stories, or what we tell ourselves about an experience are how we make sense of life. We are hard-wired to make sense of life and to find 'meaning' in all that we see, feel, hear and sense around us.

Just as astrological influences can be for us, against us or neutral, so too can the stories we tell ourselves. And just as astrology teaches that we have free will to choose how we work with the energies, so too do we have free will to choose the story we will tell ourselves. Those stories make our lives. Those stories in fact create our lives. Words, thoughts, stories are powerful things and we will 'tell stories' unconsciously or subconsciously if we do not choose to tell them consciously. 

And if we do not take conscious charge of our stories we are more likely to default into 'once upon a time' stories which our parents 'told us' consciously or unconsciously; verbally or emotionally; physically or psychologically - and which their parents had told them and so on back through time, the never-ending stories of your family, your tribe, your religion, your race, your nation or your gender.

Just as a story written as book, play, poem, film or image 'sets the scene' for what is to come, so too do the stories we select to 'play' set the scene for who we are, who we might become, and what our life will be. The ancients believed in the power of the Word - in fact one can find this belief even in religious teaching - in the beginning was the Word - and it is the Word and the Words which create our experience of Now which in turn seeds the creation of our Future. Not only that, Words are so powerful, magical even, that they can create our experience of the Past and enable us, not only to change our Present and our Future, but our Past as well.

Choose a story! Any story from the past and then re-tell it in a different way. It has just as much chance of being true as the one you told yourself before and what matters, more than the experience of the past, is how the story you tell yourself about it now makes you feel.

Just as an example: you grew up with abusive, dysfunctional parents. You can tell yourself you are a victim and have been so wounded by this experience, perhaps even damaged, that it continues to sabotage you and your life even now. Or you can tell yourself that you are a warrior and you have been strengthened by this experience and that has made you more resilient, wiser and more adaptable. Either story can be true. In fact both stories can be true but the one you tell yourself most often will be the one with greatest power.

It's really about taking the 'glass half full or glass half empty' scenario seriously. In ever cloud there is a silver lining and in every story lie the seeds of another story, a different story. You can tell yourself you are unworthy because your parents did not love you enough. Or you can tell yourself that your worth was demonstrated by the fact that you survived parents who did not (or more accurately, could not) love you enough.

Someone will tell the story of your life - make sure it is you!

Friday, 1 June 2012

I tell myself

I tell myself
when I have reached
a place I call
or good, or safe,
or better,
then all will be
And yet there is
no place like this,
no perfect goal
to reach,
just moments
on the path,
as life evolves
as me.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Within myself

Distant Seas, Oil on Canvas, 2010, Roslyn Ross.

Within myself the gathering
is always to be  seen,
of who I am and who you know,
and who I want to be.
And then there is the mother,
the wife and daughter too,
the sister and the lover,
the writer and the friend.
And yet within the crowding,
there is eternal I,
who gathers me unto itself;
creates eternal Soul.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Time flies when you are busy

It will be just over a month before I get back to my blogs. I am in Sydney helping out son and his family with a new baby. Lots to do and all good but not much writing gets done. However, what does get done is the most important thing in any life, spiritual or otherwise.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Why commercializing things like Easter and Christmas is good for us, or....In every curse there is a gift and vice-versa....

Photo: Christmas in India is increasingly popular regardless of religion.

I do understand why Christians bemoan the commercialisation of Easter and Christmas but on the basis that in every 'curse' there is a gift (and vice-versa)  it's a good idea to look for the benefits.

One can make the case that good can come out of anything, even extreme capitalism which has Christmas sales beginning shortly after Easter ends - just kidding - and Hot Cross Buns in supermarkets just after Christmas - not so much of a joke!

But what the commercialisation and secularization of Christian festivals has done is bring these rituals and ceremonies and celebrations to a broader community and one which is both beyond and across religion. There is no doubt that Christmas is a popular celebration in Hindu India,  and Moslem Pakistan, and also little doubt that the fun, fantasy and fulfillment of religious celebrations can be had by anyone - regardless of creed or race.

The irony of course is that ALL religious festivals and rituals can be sourced to the ancient Goddess religion which supported humanity for millenia before the patriarchal age which ushered in the 'big daddy' religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam!

The Hindus, and variants, claim that their religion is the oldest and goes back beyond millenia any of us could count and maybe that is true, but even here one can find the warp and weft of those religious beliefs, rituals and ceremonies which have been called pagan for probably 5,000 years or more, but which form the rich tapestry of religious and spiritual belief which has been with us since the beginning.

Photo: Christmas in Moslem Pakistan.

So, in a world where more people than ever before have little or no religious or spiritual belief, the marking and maintaining of highly symbolic and richly soulful ritual and ceremony is a plus. We may not remember at a conscious level why we do what we do but we know at a Soul level what it says, what it offers and what it gives.

And that says, instead of bemoaning the capitalistic motivation of secularised celebrations we should be grateful that forces are at work to keep ritual alive in our all too often soul-less world. And we should also be grateful that Christians, Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus ... and countless others, can participate in something like Christmas and Easter. There is no reason why Christian festivals should take precedence but they do because Christianity has always taken a more embracing view of others and because the modern world, the capitalist machine if you like, is largely sourced in the Christian world.

Just as Chinese New Year has become a national celebration in those nations, like my own, Australia, which has large communities of Chinese immigrants, so too might we in the future, embrace things like the Hindu festival of colour, Holi, or Diwali; the Moslem Eid; the Jewish Passover - festivals which are rich in ritual and celebration and which link us to our Soul nature and which go back beyond the age of religion as we know it with all its divisions and its patriarchal limitations.

Photo: Easter Eggs for sale in Kuwait.

And where there are some things which don't 'fit' well, they can be changed, just as religions and their rituals have been changed, tweaked, re-worked throughout millenia. What matters is that we fill our lives with anything and everything which celebrates the complex nature of human life and this magical world. We all came from the same place and we all return to the same place and all of these celebrations and ceremonies belong to all of us - we need only to reach out and embrace them.

The most successful individuals and societies are those which take what is useful wherever they find it and in the doing, change, grow and develop. Just as words enter the lexicon because they are useful, so too do habits, tastes and systems - celebrations are no different. The world is awash with the language of Soul - Symbol and like Love, it is endless, eternal, and never runs out.

Carl Jung, the famed psychiatrist said Symbol is the lost language of the Soul. But it isn't really lost, just misplaced, overlooked and in the Western world it has been overshadowed by materialist mindsets and the surge of science.

The point of all this is quite simply that next time I find myself muttering at 'greedy capitalism' when I see Christmas decorations in the shops in September, I shall remind myself to say thank-you as well because it is the commercialization of celebration which is returning ritual and symbol to us and enabling them to be shared with others in ways of which we would never have dreamed.

I am not attributing altruistic cause to the commercialization of things like Christmas and Easter, but merely saying that good can come out of something which may be deemed 'evil' and of course, the opposite is equally true. Nothing is ever all bad and in fact some of the 'worst' things may bring the best results. I happen to think that the secularization of religion is something which will draw us all together and return to our Souls, the language of symbol.

I like to think that the Great Goddess has a wonderful sense of humour and given that the ancient Goddess religion believed and taught that everything was sacred, no exceptions, that means our capitalists and commercialists are also sacred and all is part of the Great Work!

Friday, 23 March 2012

We need to remember that the universe is on our side and laughter is the antidote to everything!


I tend to take a lot of things seriously, and I know I take too many things too seriously too much of the time but the angels, helpers, guides who hover around me often lead me where I need to be.

Today it was to a book of which I had not heard but do plan to read, called Pronoia is the antidote for Paranoia and it had me laughing heartily.

Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia, Revised and Expanded: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings [Paperback]

Rob Brezsny (Author)

PRONOIA (or Pronoea) was an Okeanid nymph of Mount Parnassos in Phokis (central Greece). She was the wife of the Titan Prometheus and, as her name suggests, the goddess of foresight. Prometheus' wife was also named Hesione and Asia.

Pronoia was closely identified with the goddess Athena who, according to several ancient writers, was worshipped as Athena Pronoia at Delphoi. As an Okeanid she also resembles Athena's mother Metis.

Athena has always been a favourite of mine, sitting as she does, by the side of my Virgo Sun, with Saturn on the other side - how perfect paranoia and pronoia - why did I not know that?

There is so much misery in the world, there really is and we do need an antidote to it. laughter is the best antidote of all and yet within the humour there is such truth in Brezsny's book - spiritual truth which we forget even in the instant that we remember.

And in that synchronicitous way of things it followed upon a long conversation with someone who is convinced there is a plot to control the world; something I have studied and read about for some years and something which, given the nature of human beings and the nature of this material world and our spiritual reality, I simply do not and cannot believe.

But there are many people who are convinced the world is 'going to hell in a basket,' ignoring, or perhaps remaining ignorant of the facts of history which clearly show that at this point in time more people live with greater freedom and a better quality of life than have ever done before! That is a fact. But misery and fear and foreboding remain a constant.

How hard it is for us to hold to the best of things and the beauty of this world and this life; even in the depths of the darkest parts of it.

I have printed out some excerpts which I intend to read daily to counter the constant instants of forgetting which sucks the joy from life and I doubt that Brezsny would mind me sharing them - I have bought his book after all.

And it is with laughter and a lightheartedness that I share - responding to his cause celebre, that we need to remember that life is a wonderful adventure, created for us and created by us.

DEFINITION: Pronoia is the antidote for paranoia. It's the understanding that the universe is fundamentally friendly. It's a mode of training your senses and intellect so you're able to perceive the fact that life always gives you exactly what you need, exactly when you need it.

OBJECTIVE OF PRONOIA: To explore the secrets of becoming a wildly disciplined, fiercely tender, ironically sincere, scrupulously curious, aggressively sensitive, blasphemously reverent, lyrically logical, lustfully compassionate Master of Rowdy Bliss.

HYPOTHESES: Evil is boring. Cynicism is idiotic. Fear is a bad habit. Despair is lazy. Joy is fascinating. Love is an act of heroic genius. Pleasure is your birthright. Receptivity is a superpower.

PROCEDURE: Act as if the universe is a prodigious miracle created for your amusement and illumination. Assume that secret helpers are working behind the scenes to assist you in turning into the gorgeous masterpiece you were born to be. Join the conspiracy to shower all of creation with blessings.

GUIDING QUESTION: "The secret of life," said sculptor Henry Moore to poet Donald Hall, "is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is -- it must be something you cannot possibly do." What is that task for you?

UNDIGNIFIED MEDITATIONS TO KEEP YOU HONEST: Brag about what you can't do and don't have. Confess profound secrets to people who aren't particularly interested. Pray for the success of your enemies while you're making love. Change your name every day for a thousand days.

MYTHIC ROLE MODELS: Prometheus and Pronoia. In Greek mythology, Pronoia was the consort of Prometheus, the divine rebel who pilfered a glowing coal from his fellow gods so that he could slip the gift of fire to humans.

TOP-SECRET ALLIES: Sacred janitors, benevolent pranksters, apathy debunkers, lyrical logicians, ethical outlaws, aspiring masters of curiosity, homeless millionaires, humble megalomaniacs, hedonistic midwives, lunatic saints, sly optimists, mystical scientists, dissident bodhisattvas, macho feminists, and socialist libertarians who possess inside information about the big bang.

DAILY PRACTICE: Push hard to get better, become smarter, grow your devotion to the truth, fuel your commitment to beauty, refine your emotional intelligence, hone your dreams, negotiate with your shadow, cure your ignorance, shed your pettiness, heighten your drive to look for the best in people, and soften your heart -- even as you always accept yourself for exactly who you are with all of your so-called imperfections.

POSSIBLE REWARDS: You will be able to claim the rewards promised you at the beginning of time -- not just any old beauty, wisdom, goodness, love, freedom, and justice, but rather: exhilarating beauty that incites you to be true to yourself; crazy wisdom that immunizes you against the temptation to believe your ideals are ultimate truths; outrageous goodness that inspires you to experiment with irrepressible empathy; generous freedom that keeps you alert for opportunities to share your wealth; insurrectionary love that endlessly transforms you; and a lust for justice that's leavened with a knack for comedy, keeping you honest as you work humbly to liberate everyone in the world from ignorance and suffering.

USAGE NOTE: We employ the adjectival form "pronoiac" rather than "pronoid." That way, it rhymes with "aphrodisiac" and resonates with "paradisiacal" instead of being conditioned by "paranoid."

DISCLAIMER: Material in this book may be too intense and controversial for some readers. It contains graphic scenes of peace, love, joy, passion, reverence, splendor, and understanding. You will not find any references to harsh, buzzing fluorescent lights in a cheap hotel room where a heroin dealer plots to get revenge against the authorities at his old high school by releasing sarin gas into the teachers' lounge. There are no reports of Nazi skinheads obsessed with re-creating the 14th-century Tartars' war strategy of catapulting plague-ridden corpses into an enemy's citadel.

Completely absent from these pages are any stories about a psychotic CEO of a Fortune 500 company who has intentionally disfigured his face to help him elude the CIA, which wants to arrest him for the treasonous sale of his company's nanotech weapons technology to the Chinese. You should therefore proceed with caution if you are a jaded hipster who is suspicious of feeling healthy and happy. Ask yourself: "Am I ready to stop equating cynicism with insight? Do I dare take the risk that exposing myself to uplifting entertainment might dull my intelligence?" If you doubt your ability to handle relaxing breakthroughs, you should stop reading now.

Mirabilia Report
(Mirabilia n. events that inspire wonder, marvelous phenomena, small miracles, beguiling ephemera, inexplicable joys, changes that inspire quiet awe, eccentric enchantments, unplanned jubilations, sudden deliverance from boring evils; from the Latin mirabilia, "marvels.")

* The National Center for Atmospheric Research reports that the average cloud is the same weight as 100 elephants.

* The seeds of some trees are so tightly compacted within their protective covering that only the intense heat of a forest fire can free them, allowing them to sprout.

* Thirty-eight percent of North America is wilderness.

* Anthropologists say that in every culture in history, children have played the game hide and seek.

* With every dawn, when first light penetrates the sea, many seahorse colonies perform a dance to the sun.

* A seven-year-old Minnesota boy received patent number 6,368,227 for a new method of swinging on a swing.

* As it thrusts itself into our Milky Way Galaxy, the dwarf galaxy Sagittarius is unraveling, releasing a thick stream of dark matter that is flowing right through the Earth.

* A chemist in Australia finally succeeded in mixing oil and water.

* Except among birds and land mammals, the females of most species are bigger than the males.

* The South African version of TV's Sesame Street has an AIDS-positive Muppet named Kami.

* The sky not only isn't falling--it's rising. The top of the troposphere, the atmosphere's lowest layer, is slowly ascending.

* To make a pound of honey, bees have to gather nectar from about two million flowers. To produce a single pound of the spice saffron, humans have to handpick and process 80,000 flowers. In delivering the single survivor necessary to fertilize an ovum, a man releases 500 million sperm.

* Some Christians really do love their enemies, as Jesus recommended.

* Kind people are more likely than mean people to yawn when someone near them does.

* There are always so many fragments of spider legs floating in the air that you are constantly inhaling them wherever you go.

* "The average river requires a million years to move a grain of sand 100 miles," says science writer James Trefil.

* Because half of the world's vanilla crop is grown in Madagascar, the whole island smells like vanilla ice cream.

* Your body contains so much iron that you could make a spike out of it, and that spike would be strong enough to hold you up.

* In his book *The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead,* physicist Frank J. Tipler offers what he says is scientific proof that every human being who has ever lived will be resurrected from the dead at the end of time.

* In the Ukraine you can buy Fat in Chocolate, a food with a layer of dark chocolate covering a chunk of pork fat.

* Robust singing skill is correlated with a strong immune system in songbirds. Male birds with the most extensive repertoire of tunes also have the largest spleens, a key measure of immune system health.

* Bali has 80,000 temples.

* Romanian physicists created gaseous globes of plasma that grew, reproduced, and communicated with each other, thereby fulfilling the definition for life.

* In an apparent attempt to raise their volume above the prevailing human din, some nightingales in big cities have learned to unleash 95-decibel songs, matching the loudness of a chainsaw.

* There is a statistically significant probability of world-class athletes and military leaders being born when Mars is rising in the sky.

* Some piranhas are vegetarians.

* In the pueblos of New Mexico, bricks still measure 33 by 15 by 10 centimeters, proportions that almost exactly match those of the bricks used to build Egypt's Temple of Hatshepsut 3,500 years ago.

* Childbirth is often joyful even though it's painful.

* In hopes of calming flustered lawbreakers, Japanese cops have substituted the sound of church bells for sirens on police cars.

* Scientists believe they'll be able to figure out why cancer cells are virtually immortal, and then apply the secret to keeping normal cells alive much longer, thereby dramatically expanding the human life span.

* Clown fish can alter their gender as their social status rises.

* When she is born, a baby girl has all the ova she will ever have.

* Bluebirds cannot see the color blue.

* Gregorian chants can cure dyslexia.

* Bob Hope donated half a million jokes to the Library of Congress.

* Bees perform a valuable service for the flowers from which they steal.
* "Leafing through Forbes or Fortune [magazine]s is like reading the operating manual of a strangely sanctimonious pirate ship," wrote Adam Gopnik in *The New Yorker.*

* Revlon makes 177 different shades of lipstick.

* Your tongue is the strongest muscle in your body.

* The most frequently shoplifted book in America is the Bible.