Saturday, March 28, 2015

Home


 "A modern astronomical view says that everything in the universe is moving uniformly away from everything else in all directions into space, so there is no center point in the cosmos at all. We live with no fixed reference point. From one perspective, this understanding produces the desolate feeling that there is no home. But from another perspective, this realization shows us directly that every point is home. We are free; we do not need to fix on a single center for refuge, for safety. This is love, this is happiness, where our refuge is unbounded, and we are always at home."
 Sharon Salzberg (From her book "Loving-kindness")

Saturday, March 14, 2015

I'm getting ready for a trip


My suitcase is ready. I’m about to take off.
Last year I wrote a story that takes place in the year 2095. The editors of a magazine are excited about this story. Therefore, I will be traveling back to the year 2095 to revisit the characters’ souls and their ambiance.
 The literary world can explore the past, reveal the present and speculate about the future.
 Do you ever read stories about the future?
Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell are examples of writers who wrote  insightful stories about the future. Writers who dare to imagine the future transcend the boundaries of reality while they observe the present and remember the past.
  Human nature does not change, but everything else does.
  It is not only technology that changes.  Science, the environment, behaviors, society, views also change. 
Even religions can change. It was a mere coincidence that one or two days before I published my post on Italian Art a Catholic nun delivered a healthy baby in Italy. One hundred years ago  the birth of this baby would have been considered a scandal. In the year 2015 the announcement was welcomed with cheer and delight. (Thankfully, things have changed.)
 It is time to depart.
 If I don’t get to post anything next Saturday you will know the reason: I will be in the year 2095.




Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Avocado Republic


If you are considering a visit to Chile or to any other country in Latin America, The Avocado Republic will catch your interest.  Perhaps you are only attracted to the idea of taking a virtual trip inside your mind, or, like Walker Rowe, you may have been tempted to move to Latin America.

 Walker Rowe left the United States of America in 2011 to settle down in Chile. In a humorous conversational style he narrates many life anecdotes and experiences in his forthcoming book The Avocado Republic. (The reason why he called it The Avocado Republic is that the place is not warm enough to grow bananas.)
I was surprised to learn that Chile has Latin America’s tallest skyscraper, some of the world’s safest banks and a government that subsidizes houses for the poor and the lower middle classes. I do not know if I should believe the statement about the banks, but it was also startling to learn that the Chilean territory is shaken by earthquakes of 4 and 5 point strength on the Richter scale every week.
   While sharing his personal experiences Mr. Rowe navigates Chile’s history, international relations, educational system, conflicts, culture and food. 
  
 Not only did Mr. Rowe fall in love with Chile, but he also fell for a Chilean woman whom he married. After living and working in Santiago for four years, he moved to the countryside. He lives in a charming place called Curacavi, where he writes full-time and works on his garden. In his book he makes some interesting comparisons between his life as a farmer in Virginia and his current gardening activities.
  I find his sense of humor amusing, but I must confess that the black humor in the chapter on love and romance in Chile did not appeal to me. In fact, I did not like the chapter on love and romance altogether because it seems to imply that love is about snatching a woman’s body. Then he mentions brothels. And what do brothels have to do with love?
 Mr. Rowe’s book was entertaining and informative, and it will probably kindle your interest to learn more about Chile and other Latin American countries. You may even be inclined to explore Gabriela Mistral or Pablo Neruda’s writing after reading The Avocado Republic.  Even though Mr. Rowe is not fond of Isabel Allende’s novels, I highly recommend her fascinating memoir “My Invented Country”. It delves into Chile’s culture and history and it is also an insightful narrative on what it means to migrate to another country.

 I was given a preliminary copy by the publisher.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Loving-kindness



“Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings”

The Buddha’s words on loving-kindness

I love this quote by Buddha and I want to add that both a mother and a father love their child, and their love can be projected on to all living beings.
My hubby has cultivated a special interest in meditation and mindfulness. Six weeks ago he encouraged me to join a meditation retreat. I’m glad I followed his advice. Since I attended this retreat I’ve been practicing meditation every day.
I’m not going to discuss the benefits of meditation on this post. There is research on the psychological and medical effects of meditation, but I will focus on another dimension that is often overlooked. Yet it has the potential to permeate all aspects of our lives.
  After I expressed my interest in loving-kindness meditation, the kind lady who led the retreat gave me this book by Sharon Salzberg entitled “Loving-kindness”.

 You don’t need to practice meditation or to be a Buddhist to appreciate the power of this book.  It inspires you to build a fortress of loving-kindness, regardless of what you encounter.
 The wisdom on these pages is a harbor of peace, a beacon of hope.
 How do we find peace amid the chaos of the world?
 It is through metta that we take the power of love beyond the sphere of our thoughts.
 Metta is the sense of loving-kindness that is not bound to desire, that does not have to pretend that things are other than they way they are. It overcomes the illusion of separateness, of not being part of a whole.
 Metta is the ability to embrace all parts of ourselves as well as all parts of the world. We can open to everything with the healing force of loving-kindness. When we feel love, our mind is expansive and open enough to include the entirety of life in full awareness, both its pleasures and its pains.
  
 The other root meaning for metta is “friend”. A good friend is someone who is constant in our times of happiness and also in our times of adversity or unhappiness. A friend will not forsake us when we are in trouble nor rejoice in our misfortune. The Buddha described a true friend as being a helper, someone who will protect us when we are unable to take care of ourselves, who will be refuge to us when we are afraid.
 The practice of metta is also about befriending ourselves and uncovering the force of love that is stronger than fear, anger and guilt.  It has nothing to do with sentimentality and desire.
 Desire says, “I will love you, I will take care of you, I will offer you this or that as long as you meet my expectations and satisfy my needs.” This kind of “love” is a bargain based on attachment and desire.
 "True happiness cannot be found in something or some person, because as everything changes, that level of happiness is bound to be temporary."
                  Sharon Salzberg
  
 Many human beings tend to live under the delusion of separation, and yet we are all interconnected. Those who cause suffering do so out of ignorance. Those who slander, gossip, kill, hate, rape, torture, do so without knowing that they are hurting themselves. But hate only perpetuates hate.
 Consider anger, for example. We don't have to deny it. Anger is something we have to acknowledge and accept. The energy of it can be turned into wisdom. It can encourage us to do something to change or improve a certain situation. 
 We have to remember, however, that anger is like the clouds over a mountain. It is temporary. The mountain symbolizes the strength of love: it is the solid foundation that does not disappear, even when the clouds are dense and seem to conceal the mountain.
  All dark emotions can be overpowered by love. 
 I picked the image of an ocean at the beginning of this post to symbolize our inner worlds. Our inner world is boundless. By meditating we tap into it and meet that spaciousness. The vastness of our interior worlds is a part of the outer world as a whole. We are all connected to a boundless universe. 
 When we sit to meditate we do so without expectations. We are not attached to the outcome of the practice.
 "Loving-kindness" tells us life anecdotes and delves into many subjects: kindness,  compassion, morality, suffering, judgments, envy, jealousy, forgiveness and many others.
  Sharon Salzberg explains the concept of mudita.  I sense that many people I've encountered have trouble understanding the concept of mudita. Interestingly,  I can't find a word in English for mudita. Mudita is the joy and happiness that we feel at other people's happiness. It is the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people's well-being. When I was writing this post I reflected on the concept of mudita. 
  Why do people find it so difficult to believe in mudita? Why do they treat it with distrust? Are their minds clouded by competition and judgments?

I will share some quotes from this book:

“We can give in so many ways. We give materially, in terms of goods and money. We give time, service, caring. Even to allow someone to be just the way they are is a kind of giving. We have endless opportunities every day to give.”

“As mudita grows, we see that the happiness of others is our happiness; sympathetic joy allows us to open further and further with loving-kindness, so more and more we really do want other people to be happy.”

"Contemplating the goodness within ourselves is a classical meditation, done to bring light, joy and rapture to the mind. In contemporary times this practice might be considered rather embarrassing, because so often the emphasis is on all the unfortunate things we have done, all the disturbing mistakes we have made. Yet this commitment fills us with joy and love, and a great deal of self-respect."

“There is always blame in this world. If you say too much, some people will blame you. If you say a little bit, some people will blame you. If you say nothing at all, some people will blame you. This is the very nature of life. No one in this world experiences only pleasure and no pain, and no one experiences only gain and no loss. When we open to this truth, we discover that there is no need to hold on or push away.”

“Despite the hatred and monstrous egoism evident in some human actions, remembering the fortitude, courage and love people are capable of can awaken our appreciation. When we feel happy for others we feel happy and connected ourselves.”

"I have met beggars on the streets of India whose spirits were enormous. I have seen a beggar in Calcutta, with no arms or legs because of leprosy, crawling along the streets with a bucket in her mouth into which people dropped money. Despite her suffering, she wanted to live. "
"Love exists in itself, not relying on owning or being owned. Love is not a matter of currency or exchange. Everyone has enough to cultivate it. Metta reunites us with what it means to be alive and unbound."

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Grass Is Singing


 Due to her courageous outspokenness Doris Lessing was declared a prohibited alien in both Southern Rhodesia and South Africa in the year 1956. In her novel The Grass is Singing she wrote about racial inequality, social injustice and the conflicts between the individual and society.
Lessing was born to British parents in Persia in 1919 and moved with her family to Southern Rhodesia when she was five years old.  
 The Grass is Singing is set in South Africa, under white rule. The first chapter starts with the end of the story: the announcement in the local paper of Mary Turner's murder.   The reason why the servant had killed Mary was an enigma.
        The first chapter is charged with intrigue and a myriad of peremptory judgments and racist statements that provide an idea of the society’s mentality:
“The more one thinks about it, the more extraordinary the case becomes. Not the murder itself but the way people felt about it, the way they pitied Dick Turner with a fierce indignation against Mary, as if she were something unpleasant and unclean, and it served her right to get murdered. But they did not ask questions.”

 Their attachment to their cultural codes was brutal to the victim whom they seemed to consider a threat to their “morals”:
“Whom should it concern if not the white farmers, that a silly woman got herself murdered by a native for reasons people might think about, but never, never mentioned. It was their livelihood, their wives and families, their way of living at stake.”
 This chapter also introduces us to the structure of the South African society. The natives were the black people and the whites were classified into Afrikaners and Britishers. 
 “The ‘poor whites’ were Afrikaners, and the Britishers ignored them.”
  Lessing shows racism and social injustice through forthright statements that make us cringe:
    “He had once killed a native in a fit of temper. He was fined thirty pounds. Since then he had kept his temper.”

   Mary Turner and her husband were British but they were considered “poor whites” and the people made scornful comments about them. Their gossip stemmed from the fact that they did not follow conventional patterns of behavior:
 “The Turners were disliked, though few of their neighbors had ever met them, or even seen them in the distance. Yet what was there to dislike? They simply ‘kept themselves to themselves’; that was all. They were never seen at district dances, or fetes, or gyn-khanas. They must have had something to be ashamed of; that was the feeling. It was not right to seclude themselves like that; it was a slap in the face of everyone else.”

  Then the story progresses by narrating Mary Turner’s life: her unhappy childhood and her dysfunctional relationship with her parents. Mary, however, grew into an intelligent, efficient woman. She worked as a typist and had an active social life. One day she overheard a conversation that disturbed her, and this event became a turning point that would change the course of her fate. Her friends were discussing her private life and criticizing her for being single into her thirties.
“She was stunned and outraged; but most of all deeply wounded that her friends could discuss her thus.”
“And she was even more disturbed and unhappy because they seemed just as usual, treating her with their ordinary friendliness. She began to suspect double meanings where none were intended, to find maliciousness in the glance of a person who felt nothing but affection for her.”
 Mary met Dick and they got married. They eked out a living on a farm in South Africa. Doris Lessing offers us a vivid account of their setting and their isolated lifestyle, and this is one of the aspects that I enjoyed the most. She makes you feel that you are right there with the characters.  
The reader can feel the heat of the place crushing one’s spirit.

 The place became oppressive from Mary’s perspective. Dick, on the other hand, was in love with the farm and the seasons; they were ingrained in his life and became the fuel of his enthusiasm to seek new alternatives to improve their prospects, even though everything he tried failed because he was not persistent enough and did not make wise decisions.
  At the beginning Mary kept herself active. She set high standards whenever she embarked on activities around the house or on the farm, but over the years the environment sapped her vitality and jarred her motivation . The way she ill-treated the servants perturbed me. She was exacting and cruel to the servants whereas her husband was kinder and more attuned to their needs. 
  It took me a while to comprehend that her harsh behavior had something to do with standard expectations on how a woman had to keep control over the servants. Being kind to them would have meant losing her power.
    The stark outcome of their financial situation and the lack of enticing activities pushed Mary into a state of immobility. She lapsed into a deadlock. It was like returning to the sorrow of her childhood. Amid her meaningless existence a new servant (Moses) entered the scene and a strange relationship developed between them.

If you want to learn more about Doris Lessing, check this  fascinating interview in The Paris Review.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Thank you

"Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength."~ Sigmund Freud

 I want to thank all the people who took the time to read and comment on my previous post. It takes energy and wisdom to face the facts. I also appreciated your feedback. I replied to all your comments today.
  From now on I will be publishing a post every Saturday; my plan is to keep a regular schedule for this blog. (I may add a post on a weekday occasionally, but this is not going to happen very often.)
  This is the poem I selected this month. It was written by Karen Little. I also want to thank all the poets who submit to Southern Pacific Review.
 It is an honor to read your poetry.
    Till next Saturday.




Saturday, February 14, 2015

The effects of prejudice in America


“Facts don’t cease to exist because they are ignored.”~ Aldous Huxley.

A prejudice is a silent evil demon; its voice is reality.
A study published by Corinne Moss-Racusin and colleagues at Yale University provides some important facts that we should not ignore.
 In this study half the scientists were given the job application with a male name attached, and half were given the exact same application with a female name attached. Results found that the female applicants were rated significantly lower than the males in competence, how likely they were to be hired, and whether the scientist would be willing to mentor the student.
 The scientists also offered lower starting salaries to the “female” applicants: $26,507.94 compared to $ 30,238.10
  I also want to make clear that both male and female scientists were equally guilty of committing gender bias. (In other words, the gender bias has nothing to do with all the lies that we hear on a regular basis to justify the difference in salaries.)

 Four in ten American households with children under 18 include a mother who is the sole or primary earner for her family according to a Pew Research Center Analysis of Census and polling data. It has quadrupled since 1960.  Yet women in the US make an average of 0.77 cents to men’s $1.00 doing the same job.
  Women constitute over half of the United States population, but a woman has never been able to become president or vice-president. 
In 2013 women represented only 10% of all governors and held 18% of all US congressional seats.  
 Only 12 of the 100 largest cities have female mayors.
 Twenty-three states have never had a woman as a governor (California and New York are in this list).
 Do you think these figures reflect “equality”?

There is evidence of gender discrimination against female candidates. In 2008 an experiment was done where two congressional candidate credentials were presented to a sample of respondents: Republicans were more likely to say they would vote for a father with young children rather than a mother with young children. They were also more likely to vote for women without small children than with small children.  

   Not only do voters discriminate on the bias of gender, political parties do as well. When a sample of female state legislators was asked whether or not they believed that their political party encouraged women more, less or equally encouraged women and men, 44% of the sample responded that the party was more encouraging to men. Only 3% responded that the party encouraged women more than men.
  When I was preparing this post I came across the comment of a woman who had worked as an engineer in three countries: the United States of America, the UK and Norway. She said that she had endured sexism in the workplace in both US and UK, but not in Norway. She also shared this interesting article. As far as I know many women in Norway work part-time and the economy did not collapse.
 In Norway gender equality is taken so seriously that they recently passed a bill to make military service compulsory for women.This is not something I would recommend in the United States of America because  sexism is routine in American Military Academies according to the Pentagon
  A sexist culture is deeply ingrained there. Not surprisingly, Defense officials said that students at the academies see sexual assault and crude behaviors as an almost accepted part of their academy experience. Victims feel peer pressure not to report incidents.

  Sexism does not always happen on an unconscious level. It comes to the surface and speaks to us clearly when we hear remarks like the one made last year by Erick Erickson when he said that situations in which women are the breadwinners are “unnatural”. He also stated that the male is the one that has to dominate. 
   Sexism still exists, so why do so many people get mad when we talk about it? Why do they believe that we should ignore the matter and pretend that it does not exist?
 The US Constitution embraces equality and liberty, but reality has not caught up with it yet.