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Archive for the ‘The Importance of Decay’ Category

(Satan Sowing Tares–Félicien Joseph Victor Rops 1833-1898)

Sometimes I look at other people and think, it must be easier for them than it is for me, they’re always so happy. I’m really picky. I only like certain things, at certain times, in certain colors, and they have to smell good. When things go off and get a different color, or maybe they were softer yesterday, or maybe they weren’t smart enough to dazzle me, or they biffed whatever fine point of perfection I was looking for at that moment, I get disappointed. Then I act like a fool. I throw little fits that are blanketed in clouds of judgement and disappointment and blame. Because as long as it is somebody else’s fault, I don’t have to change.

I recently attended a life changing conference with Marianne Williamson, called Enchanted Love. I got really clear on what I need to do to change my life with my partner. Take 100% responsibility for my experiences and my perceptions, stop pointing fingers, stop being a crackpot. Then I came home from the conference and I was great for about 48 hours…and then I threw a doozy of a blame fest. I won’t get into the details, but it wasn’t pretty…”poor little me,” mixed up with “you’re so mean,” mixed up with “why do I bother?” I took a late night drive and relaxed for a few hours on the couch, letting how much un-fun I was having settle in.

We have repeatedly emphasized that the barrier of grievances is easily passed, and cannot stand between you and your salvation. The reason is very simple. Do you really want to be in hell? Do you really want to weep and suffer and die? (A Course in Miracles–lesson 73)

Being mean is not fun. Being angry and defensive isn’t either. I give up all three, starting yesterday. Satan, Get Thee Behind Me. Thank you God.

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(Inago no Tukudani: Locust with sweet soy sauce savor)

Aside from in the United States, Canada and Europe, most cultures eat insects for their taste, nutritional value and availability. (from HowStuffWorks.com)

It’s called entomophagy, literal translation from Greek entomos, insect and phagein, to eat…and it happens all the time.

All you picky Canadians, Europeans and United Statesians who think you’re too evolved for such tomfoolery as bug eating, consider this report from the Food and Drug Administration. It is a handbook that guides compliant food processors and packagers on how much mold, rodent filth, mammalian excrement and…yes…bugs are allowable per unit of weight or count before action must be taken. An interesting read. Did you know that canned citrus juicers are allowed five Drosophila (fly) eggs or one maggot per 250 ml (one cup)? Peanut butter makers are allowed 30 insect fragments per 100 g (8 tablespoons). Golden raisin driers get to leave 30 Drosophila eggs and 10 whole or equivalent insects per 8 oz. (one cup). That, friends, is a lot of entomophagy, even if you didn’t know you did it.

But, before you get all grossed out scurry off to brush your teeth, let me inform you a bit about why other cultures find bugs to be an acceptable choice for dining. Here it is in one sentence: Bugs are cheap, plentiful and nutritious.

In ancient times Algerians collected locusts and boiled them in salt water. The Aborigines ate moth bodies, honey pot ants and witchety grubs (moth larvae that supposedly taste like almonds). John the Baptist himself survived the grueling desert by eating locusts. (found this info here)

Nowadays entomophagy is still abuzz with energy. Here’s a little quote from an entomology blog from University of Kentucky:

As a potential food source, though, insects have a lot to offer. They breed/grow quickly. And as long as they don’t have dangerous spines, stingers, or chemicals, they can be nutritious. In fact, edible insects have the potential to be a food-source in hunger-stricken regions of the world. Unfortunately, there has not been much scientific research on the subject of entomophagy.

Currently, a group of international scientists are working together to learn more about entomophagy and its possible role in the fight against world hunger. This month, there is a conference on the subject in Lineville, Alabama. In addition to several talks, there will be a bugfood tasting!  And at the upcoming 2010 ESA (Entomological Society of America) National Meeting, a symposia on entomophagy is being organized.

(By the way, Blake Newton, author of the above blog article, said that eating a cockroach can be dangerous because their chitinous exoskeletons are rather sharp if not chewed properly. Ouch!)

So what kind of bugs are people from other places eating on purpose? Here’s a short list found at this lovely site by Sophie Rousmaniere (take a look at her great pictures too):

Crickets and beetles are on snack bars and ants and ant larvae are used in soups and salads in Thailand, Bamboo worms (roasted or deep fried), silk worm pupae (roasted or steamed), red ant eggs (“nice on warm toast”), mole crickets (high in iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus), regular crickets (grilled with chili sauce), water beetles (“a bit salty, and high in vitamins… higher levels of protein, vitamin B2 and niacin than most other bugs”), and to top it off, fried scorpions (actually an arachnid, not an insect, but I think it still counts).

The HowStuffWorks article (mentioned above) on entomophagy takes a moment to address the Western bug-ick factor:

The fact that most Americans and Europeans might find eating arthropods gross is due to cultural bias and history. Once farming and raising animals for consumption became the norm, insects became the enemy. After all these years of trying to get rid of insects, it’s hard to turn around and consider them food. There’s also a bit of hypocrisy going on here. Lobsters and crabs are both arachnids, but they’re prized as expensive seafood instead of an odd delicacy like their spider cousins. Most insects are much cleaner than lobsters and crabs too. Their diet of clean grass sets them apart from these oceanic vacuum cleaners that eat whatever refuse they can scavenge from the ocean’s floor.

I hope I’ve given you enough positive information that you might begin to break down your own cultural taboos against entomophagy (if you have these taboos that is). I know that before doing this research, I wouldn’t have eaten a bug. But now that I know I secretly eat them all the time AND that other people overtly eat them all the time AND that perhaps bug eating might answer the age old problem of world hunger, somehow it’s better now.

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(Jean-Baptiste Lamarck)

In the last month I have witnessed a lot of death in nature. There was the green snake killed by the scrub jay (an experience on which I wrote a blog entry). Then two weeks ago I saw a little brown bird being pecked to death by a crow. Over the weekend I saw a tiny squirrel baby separated from it’s mom, and very near death. Today I saw a badly injured jay being killed by another jay. That is a lot of nature kill in a very short period of time.

I remember reading the book Animal Wise by Ted Andrews. Andrews says that the world of nature “mirrors the magnificence of our souls.” When animals show up in our lives, they are there as messengers of the divine, to direct us on our spiritual path.

What’s my message after seeing all this killing and death in nature around me? Smite the weak? Root out the timorous and peck it to death? If I were to take Andrews literally at his word, I might  think my spiritual path had taken a decidedly Darwinian turn. That is, if I hadn’t recently read this:

Unfortunately, we conveniently “forgot” about the cooperation necessary for evolution when Charles Darwin emphasized a radically different theory about the emergence of life. He concluded 150 years ago that living organisms are perpetually embroiled in a “struggle for existence.” For Darwin, struggle and violence are not only a part of animal (human) behavior, but the principle “forces” behind evolutionary advancement. Darwin wrote of an inevitable “struggle for life” and that evolution was driven by “the war of nature, from famine and death.” Couple that with Darwin’s notion that evolution is random and you have a world [of] a series of meaningless, bloody battles for survival. (from The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton)

Darwin gave us “survival of the fittest.” He told us that if you want to win, you have to beat everybody else. But, as Lipton points out, Darwin may have gotten the scoop on this story, but he wasn’t the first scientist to have a theory on the topic. A French biologist, Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck wrote a book on evolution fifty years prior to Darwin.

Not only did Lamarck present his theory fifty years before Darwin, he offered a much less harsh theory of the mechanisms of evolution. Lamarck’s theory suggested that evolution was based on an “instructive” cooperative interaction among organisms and their environment that enables life forms to survive and evolve in a dynamic world. (Biology of Belief)

Lamarck’s theory was shot down by scientists of the day and by the church, both of which adhered strongly to creationism. However, modern scientists are beginning to come back around to this theory, noting the many instances of symbiotic relationships in nature.

We need to move beyond Darwinian theory, which stresses the importance of individuals, to one that stresses the importance of the community. British scientist Timothy Lenton provides evidence that evolution is more dependent on the interaction among species than it is on the interaction of individuals within a species. Evolution becomes a matter of the survival of the fittest groups rather than the survival of the fittest individuals. (Biology of Belief)

Darwin’s theory gave rise to the ideals of modern capitalism. Get rich. It doesn’t matter who or what you destroy on the way, because they are weaker than you if they can’t beat you. Only the strong can survive and the weak don’t matter.  The oil spill isn’t really Darwin’s fault, but the way that he presented the world, as a war of individuals, certainly encourages the ideology that created it. But Lamarck knew that that which appears to be weak is a part of the strong, and by destroying it, the whole is compromised.

The green snake, the brown bird, the baby squirrel, and the jay are a part of me. The message is (right now anyway) that things (ideas, experiences, thought patterns) can be broken down and taken apart and let to leave my present existence, but through my good intents and practices, their gifts will not be forgotten or capitalized upon inappropriately. I didn’t cause the pain, but I am witness to it, and I honor the power behind it. As in nature, balance is key.

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(photo courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

In the book Dreaming the Future, Clifford Pickover describes a few themes recorded during several future life progressions (as opposed to past life regressions):

21st Century-World peace is attained and lasts three thousand years. Hunger, greed and prejudice are reduced. 22nd Century-Solar power is part of daily life. The average life span is ninety years. 23rd Century-Transportation is noiseless and efficient. Nuclear power is used extensively. Average life span is 110 years. 24th Century-Humankind reexperiences earlier mistakes. International political problems recur. A small scale-nuclear war reduces human population. 25th Century-Humans control the weather. Androids perform all menial tasks. A major nuclear war occurs that decimates most of humanity.

When I first read this, I was surprised that nuclear power was a major source of energy. I had always thought the nuclear power was bad, bad, baaaaddd. So I looked it up on Wikipedia. Here’s the skinny:

Nuclear power is cheap (around the same cost as coal), it doesn’t produce smoke or carbon dioxide pollutants, it requires very little fuel to create a LOT of energy, and there is only just a small amount of waste produced in nuclear power production. HOWEVER, that small amount of waste is highly toxic (can cause genetic mutation, cancer, and death) and takes 10,000 to 1,000,000 years to break down.

Sheesh.

So as I’m reading this on Wikipedia, I run across a curious word: transmutation. Transmutation is an alchemical term. Yes, alchemy. The scientific study of the ancients (Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Indians, Persians, Greco-Romans, medieval Islamics as well as the ancient Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans). Alchemy is the art of refinement. The alchemist’s goal is to separate the ingredients of different chemicals and refine them using various means (extraction, fire, distillation, etc.) to their purest form. The most popular goal of alchemy is turning lead into gold, however, alchemy is first and foremost a spiritual discipline. Transmuting base metals into gold is a metaphor for purifying the human body, with the highest goal being no less than immortality (enlightenment).

What can this have to do with nuclear waste? Well, here it is: scientists have discovered ways to transmute the elements (not fire, water, air and earth…I’m talking about the actual elements on the periodic table). In 1901 Fredrick Soddy noticed that thorium can convert into radium. In 1919 Ernest Rutherford converted nitrogen into oxygen. And in 1957 scientists recorded their discoveries that elements are transmuted in the fires of the stars. Now, scientists are using this nuclear transmutation, a hearkening back to the theories of the ancients, to de-toxify radioactive waste.

Transmutation was banned in the US in April 1977 by President Carter due to the danger of plutonium proliferation, but President Reagan rescinded the ban in 1981. Due to the economic losses and risks, construction of reprocessing plants during this time did not resume. Due to high energy demand, work on the method has continued in the EU. This has resulted in a practical nuclear research reactor called Myrrha in which transmutation is possible. Additionally, a new research program called ACTINET has been started in the EU to make transmutation possible on a large, industrial scale. According to President Bush’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) of 2007, the US is now actively promoting research on transmutation technologies needed to markedly reduce the problem of nuclear waste treatment. (from Wikipedia)

Wow. Maybe there’s hope yet. (At least until the 25th Century that is…)

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Once recently, a friend mentioned offhandedly that she was trying to stop talking about people behind their backs. I thought to myself, wow! that’s neat! I wonder how she’ll do? It didn’t really occur to me until about an hour later, when I noticed myself talking about somebody behind his back, that perhaps I should work on this too. Thus began my yo-yo attempt at being nice behind people’s backs.

I just finished a book called Ghostwalk (written by Rebecca Stott) which is about alchemy, Isaac Newton, and a few killins’ (I won’t say by whom, in case you want to read it). In the book there is a lot revealed about Isaac Newton, including a list of sins that he’d committed (written in code, of course). Here are a few interesting ones:

1. Using the word (God) openly. 2. Eating an apple at Thy house. 3. Making a feather (quill?) on Thy day. 4. Denying that I made it. 5. Making a mousetrap on Thy day. 6. Contriving of the chimes on Thy day. 10. Putting a pin in Iohn Keys  hat on Thy day to pick him. 13. Threatening my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them. 17. Stealing cherry cobs from Eduard Storer. 26. Calling Derothy Rose a jade. 43. Missing chapel. 44. Beating Arthur Storer.

There are lots of strange (and mildly amusing) things in this list (even more in the expanded version) which is perhaps why it was written in code (putting a pin in somebody’s hat to prick them? sheesh). Of course, I’d be mortified to find that in the year 2500 someone decoded and read my secret-list-of-sins journal.

But Isaac Newton was an alchemist. He knew that a person grows more and more spiritual with every bad habit he (or she) releases into the wild. He, like spirit seeking folks before and after him, felt the burn of guilt that follows doing something that you feel is wrong, something you have challenged yourself to overcome.

I talk a little shit about people from time to time (pardon my Old English). Sometimes I don’t for a while. It confuses me, because sometimes somebody does something that really bothers me or hurts my feelings, and talking about it, telling about how mean that person was or how thoughtless, makes me feel better. Until I begin to feel guilty about talking so mean about them, anyway.

Like Newton, I want to be better. I want to burn that part of me away, let it go.

Step 1: admit to millions of people that I talk smack about others. (ok, my readership is slightly lower than that, but we’re talkin’ potential here!)

Step 2: read a self-help book.

Step 3: begin again.

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Yesterday I went and spoke with an engaging woman who is finishing up her schooling in embalming. The woman, despite the fact that she is learning how to embalm/preserve bodies in the “traditional” method, is a proponent of a newly re-emerging burial method called the natural burial.

Human beings have been burying their dead for 100,000 years. It has only been in the last 100 years that the funeral industry has taken over the ritual of caring for the bodies of the dead. In the past, if her child died, a mother’s job would be to carefully wash his body, comb his hair, close his eyes and set his features for viewing before his last transition.

The idea now is nearly blasphemous. Who would ever want to do such a thing? Who would want to be that close to the empty frame of a once lively loved one?

My new friend, the soon to be embalmer, feels like we have lost an important ritual. She said that the subconscious mind needs to say goodbye, to understand that something is forever gone, to grieve. Solve et coagula. Rip it open, clean it out, let it heal.

Now what we likely see when a loved one dies is a painted up and waxed over body, filled full of formaldehyde, put into a beautiful wooden box and placed in a concrete and steel tomb underground. The ritual resides in the broccoli casserole and the scalloped potatoes, but no longer in the preparation of the body. We are now told that it is better to leave that job to the experts, who know better than us what is best. It’s a job that is too painful and difficult for the untrained.

When the ancients buried a body, the flesh was likely broken down in less than six months (depending on the soil conditions and temperature). When an embalmed body is interred it can take decades to decompose.

When I die, I would like to allow the organic process of decay to take place. I’d like the elements stored up in my body to be returned to the earth in a timely fashion. I don’t want pink #4 in my veins. I’d understand if nobody wants to wash me up, but that’d be nice too. I’ll put in a good word for you on the other side…

http://www.beatree.com

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As a part of my religious studies major in college, I took a class called death and dying. I didn’t want to take it, I had to to complete the coursework. The best thing I remember about that class was when I ran into the class professor at a PRIDE parade and he was wearing nothing but lederhosen and combat boots.

What’s my point? Summed up in a quick quills quote from Cemetery Stories by Katherine Ramsland:

These days, funeral directors take great pains to protect the public from seeing how disturbing the various stages of death can be. They take a corpse behind closed doors to make it presentable for viewing and burial.

I did not want to take a class to learn about death and dying. Who wants to learn about that? Weirdos, that’s who.

For many of us, death represents pain and decrepitness. We spend billions of dollars a year (or something like that) on pain killers (including prescriptions, television and video games) and mood menders (including prescriptions, french fries and Krispy Kremes ©) (I’ve been wanting to use that symbol a lot. I’m not sure it’s appropriate there, but it shore looks good), in order to avoid feeling pain. However, in some cultures and historical periods, death is/was a normal part of life, viewed every day.

In the Middle Ages, cities became overpopulated and burial grounds quickly reached capacity, and then some. Then epidemics swept through Europe, which only make things worse. Some people were buried in the church floors, but others were tossed onto trash heaps or stacked against a church building. At that time cremation was banned, so there was nothing to be done but let these bodies lie around and rot. (from Cemetary Tales by Katherine Ramsland)

My first thought, of course, is about all the bacteria and deadly viral creepies crawling about ye olde Catholic Church Yarde. Ever since that crazy Antony van Leeuwenhoek discovered those “animicules” with his homemade microscope, the world has become increasingly hyper-alert to germs. Antibiotic pills, antimicrobial squirty things, death wipes. (I bought a canister of cleaning wipes the other month and read the small print: do not use around small pets. Seriously.)

I believe the desire to dominate creepy crawlies is a symptom of a desire to dominate death. Other symptoms include: fear of dancing, not taking the good chair when given the choice, uttering the words “I don’t care. What do you want to do?,” automatically blaming other people when bad things happen, and not changing the empty toilet paper roll out for a fresh one.

I also believe that when we were children, we believed that we might actually die if we didn’t do it right. We believed that we could somehow control the outcome of a situation by doing something right. We could make our mom not sad if we could fix the burned dinner. We could make our dad not angry if we mowed the lawn. That sort of thing. And now that we are grown up, we still unconsciously feel like we are going to die if we aren’t perfect because, as my wise old counselor used to say, “It takes our brains a long time to reboot.”

My hope is that reading about dead people, seeing a few dead people, talking to some people who see dead people a lot, and watching some interesting youtube videos will begin to cure me of my fear of death.

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