Friday, July 24, 2015

Island







"In framing an ideal we may assume what we wish, but should avoid impossibilities."~Aristotle
    I will be forever grateful to the person who recommended this book to me: Island by Aldous Huxley. It is one of the best books I've read. If I were deported to a distant island and asked to choose only one book to take with me out of all the ones I’ve read in my life I'd pick “Island”.
   "Island" is an antidote to Brave New World. It is about an ideal society that has flourished for 120 years in Pala, an imaginary island in the Pacific Ocean.
Aldous Huxley wrote “Island” in 1961, thirty years after “Brave New World”. It was the last story he wrote before his death in 1963.
      "Island" is not just a philosophical novel. It is possible that it will be rediscovered by the world for what it is: a fountain of original ideas and thoughts and a potential resource for scientists, educators, psychologists, priests, nuns, social workers and, hopefully, politicians with good intentions. I will not be able to transmit what this book encompasses. This post is only the tip of the iceberg.
      Many themes are interwoven into it to create a unique masterpiece.
      I will not focus on the predictions that became a reality nor shall I reveal the most original complex ideas here.
      This novel starts with the scene in which William Farnaby is shipwrecked on the island of Pala. William is grappling with emotional and ethical dilemmas. Landing on this island will become a blessing in disguise. It will be the beginning of an enlightening journey. During his stay in Pala William will have conversations with different people and he will learn how this ideal society has evolved.
     Pala is a federation of self-governing units where there is plenty of scope for small-scale initiative and democratic leaders, but dictators do not have a chance there because people are educated to think for themselves. Potential dictators and bullies are spotted early on and anger and frustration are channeled into healthy behaviors. Love and compassion are the driving forces of this society --not hate and revenge.
    In Brave NewWorld people are blissfully ignorant to respond to the demands of the system. They are conditioned to hate nature (check page 23 for details on this). In Pala, on the other hand, education makes children aware of their unity with nature and this is what the Principal of a school told William:
  “Never give children a chance of imagining that anything exists in isolation. Make it plain from the very beginning that all living is relationship. Show them relationships in the woods, in the fields, in the ponds and streams, in the village and the country around it.
   “And let me add that we always teach the science of relationship in conjunction with the ethics of relationship. Balance, give and take, no excesses—it’s the rule in nature and, translated out of fact into morality, it ought to be the rule among people.”
There are simple reminders that would make a difference in today’s societies. Bear in mind that he wrote this in 1961; yet these are timeless truths:

   “Treat Nature well and Nature will treat you well. Hurt or destroy Nature and Nature will soon destroy you.
   “Conservation morality gives nobody an excuse for feeling superior, or claiming special privileges. ‘Do as you would be done by’ applies to our dealings with all kinds of life in every part of the world. We shall be permitted to live on this planet only for as long as we treat all nature with compassion and intelligence.”

 There are many insightful ideas that could be considered by educators today. For example, the ones that he described as being part of   the Practical Elementary Psychology lessons. He also introduced the concept of creative body movements as a sort of dance that helps to deal with emotions.

  Pala is neither communist nor capitalist. There is a conspiracy to take over Pala because it attracts the envy and enmity of the surrounding world. Pala is unpopular because it is not compatible with the greed of other countries. Besides, Pala possesses oil, which increases the risk of being invaded. Yet they don’t succumb to a state of futile paranoia. They choose the path of wisdom:
“Pala unfortunately, is in nobody’s books. We don’t want the communists; but neither do we want the capitalists. Least of all do we want the wholesale industrialization that both parties are so anxious to impose on us—for different reasons, of course. The West wants it because our labor costs are low and investors’ dividends will be correspondingly high. And the East wants it because industrialization will create a proletariat, open fresh fields for Communist agitation and may lead in the long run to the setting up of yet another People’s Democracy. We say no to both of you, so we’re unpopular everywhere.”

  Pala is able to do what the rest of the world does not: it adapts their economy and technology to human beings—not their human beings to somebody else’s economy and technology. Their wish to be happy and their ambition to be fully human are the beacons and goals of their economy.

 It was hilarious to read what the Palanese thought about Western intellectuals.
 “Western intellectuals are all sitting-addicts. That’s why most of you are so repulsively unwholesome. In the past even a Duke had to do a lot of walking, even a moneylender. And when they weren’t using their legs, they were jogging about on horses.” In Pala even professors and government officials take to digging and delving, not as a form of therapy but to make therapy unnecessary. It is considered preventative.

  A group of American physicians traveled to Pala because they wanted to find out why they have such a low rate of neurosis and cardiovascular trouble. The Palanese have a more integrative approach to medicine and a completely different lifestyle altogether.
 Aldous Huxley also incorporates mindfulness into medicine and education. He was far ahead of his time if you consider that now psychologists and physicians in America are learning how mindfulness can improve relationships and mental health.

  A nurse in Pala mentioned that in America the concept of a normal human being is that of one who is adjusted to society. Then she ventured to ask these questions:
“What about the society you’re supposed to be adjusted to? Is it a mad society or a sane one? And even if it’s pretty sane, is it right that anybody should be completely adjusted to it?”

When William asked a person from Pala how they solved their economic problems successfully, this was the answer:
“To begin with we never allowed ourselves to produce more children than we could feed, clothe, house, and educate into something like full humanity. Not being overpopulated, we have plenty. But, although we have plenty, we’ve managed to resist the temptation that the West has now succumbed to—the temptation to overconsume. We don’t give ourselves coronaries by guzzling six times as much saturated fat as we need. We don’t hypnotize ourselves into believing that two television sets will make us twice as happy as one television set. And finally we don’t spend a quarter of the gross national product for World War III or even World War’s baby brother, Local War MMMCCCCXXXIII. Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence—those are three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste and moneylenders were abolished you’d collapse.”

   In addition to pondering over the innovative ideas and reflections on medicine, education and society that he presented, I celebrated the spiritual nature of this book.

 William Farnaby, the man who would not take yes for an answer, was transformed.
  This is a book that made me think, ask questions, dream and understand life from new perspectives. For example, we can ask: is human health dissociated from Nature? No, it is not. Only ignorance considers them as separate entities.

 I will share a few quotes but don’t take them seriously. Read this book yourself and make your own choices. The quotes I selected here are not even close to the succession of ecstatic experiences I had while reading “Island”.  I did not want to finish it; I longed to stay in Pala, a place where honesty, free love and peace prevail.

“Life flowing silently and irresistibly into ever fuller life, into a living peace all the more profound, all the richer and stronger and more complete because it knows all your pain and unhappiness, knows them and takes them into itself and makes them one with its own substance. And it’s into that peace that you’re floating now, floating on this smooth silent river that sleeps and is yet irresistible, and is irresistible precisely because it’s sleeping. And I’m floating with it, effortlessly floating. Not having to do anything at all. Just letting go, just allowing myself to be carried along, just asking this irresistible sleeping river of life to take me where it’s going—and knowing all the time that where it’s going is where I want to go: into more life, into more living peace, along the sleeping river, into the wholeness of reconciliation.”

“Landscapes are the most genuinely religious pictures because they lend reality. Distance reminds us that there is a lot more to the universe than just people. It reminds us that there are mental spaces inside our skulls as enormous as the spaces out there. The experience of distance, of inner distance and outer distance, of distance in time and distance in space—it’s the first and fundamental religious experience.”
“And yet in spite of the entirely justified refusal to take yes for an answer, the fact remained and would remain always, remain everywhere—the fact that there was this capacity even in a paranoiac for intelligence, even in a devil worshiper for love; the fact that the ground of all being could be totally manifest in a flowering shrub, a human face; the fact that there was a light and that this light was also compassion.”
“Karuna, attention…”




A note for the regular readers of this blog: I’m taking another blog break to complete other writing projects, spend time with my family, read and work on our garden.
I will be back in a few weeks with more blog posts on books, literature, art, writing and everything in-between.
Thank you for joining the literary blog ride.

Till next time.

                                                 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Can you see it too?


Did you know that frogs help to curb the population of mosquitoes?
My daughter and I love frogs, so when I heard about a two-week summer camp that focuses on frogs I signed her up for it. The kids go on field trips, do crafts and learn about frogs.
  I was disappointed to see that they keep frogs in bowls. My daughter talked to the teacher about setting them free and she was told that those frogs belong to them. Then I explained to my daughter that those frogs do not belong to human beings; they belong to nature.
 We don’t need to be smart to understand that those frogs are suffering.  
  Is this the way they teach about compassion to kids?
 Are they imparting the message that their suffering is okay as long as we ignore it?
 Being more powerful than the frogs does not mean that it is acceptable to imprison them.
 I promised my daughter that I will write a letter to her teacher.
 Later that day we came across this lovely picture book at the local library: Growing Frogs by Vivian French; it was illustrated by Alison Bartlett.
 On the first page we read the following words:
 Frogs are in danger. Please help!
Rules for frog-lovers:
Don’t take frog spawn from a pond in the wild
You should only take frog spawn from a man-made pond and only take a little.
Always take your frogs back to the pond they came from.

 We live in a neighborhood of educated people. Yet they seem to ignore that the chemicals they use to kill weeds are harming frogs. How about teaching kids about compassion by respecting nature?
 Ignorance has its own consequences. Human beings are also part of nature and, whether we acknowledge it or not, pesticides end up in the water we drink.



Sunday, July 12, 2015

Living in a tree



The title of this post is not about a metaphor. It refers to "Luna and Me",  the true story of a woman called Julia Butterfly Hill who saved the life of a one thousand -year -old Redwood tree by living in it for two years.
 Julia volunteered to sit in Luna for 3-4 weeks in December 1997 with the support of her ground team, but she ended up staying for two years. During this time she endured personal fears, intimidation from loggers, fierce storms, frostbite and many more challenges.



 
Julia became a powerful voice for sustainable forestry and the integrity of the planet.
 The illustrations of this book are delightful and as inspiring as the story itself.
 This book was printed on paper from responsible, FSC-certified sources.
 Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw is the author and illustrator of "Luna and Me" and this is what she said about the story:
 "This is a story of strength, endurance, teamwork, commitment and love. Luna still stands today as a beacon of hope for the ancient forests."

 I find these trees intriguing. They date back to the time of dinosaurs and are the largest living organisms on earth.
 Their roots hug the roots of other Redwood trees to stand strong.


Here's an interesting video...

 You can learn more about these forests by visiting sanctuaryforest.org.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Let's switch off the labels


 I signed up my daughter to the summer reading program at the library.  Every week we are given a sheet with activities that kids are encouraged to do:
1)    Read for 20 minutes in the comfiest spot you can find
2)    Dance around the house
3)    Check out books at the library
4)    Read a non-fiction book
5)    Donate food
6)    If you were a superhero who would your villain be?
  I ignore  the activities about superheroes against villains. There are a lot of them. Why do we have to turn our kids into "superheroes" that seek "villains"? 
 Psychologists say that people with borderline personality disorder see people as either “good” or “bad”. Do our societies have a borderline personality disorder?
 Literature is not about a narrow-minded cartoon. Why do they associate books with fights between "superheroes" and "villains"? They must have got stuck in their television mindset. Please, switch off the labels.
     Dictators like Adolf Hitler loved labels, and so did their followers.
     As I write this post I remember a quote from from Cat's Cradle, a social satire by Kurt Vonnegut.
“It was the belief of Bokonon that good societies could be built only by pitting good against evil, and by keeping the tension between the two high at all times.”

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Brave New World


 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is a satire about a society in which people are labeled and classified into groups or castes. They are conditioned to behave a certain way since they are born. Anybody who dares to think original thoughts or to crave solitude is considered dangerous and weird. These people are treated like misfits and are deported to a distant island.
  In Brave New World everybody is supposed to be happy, but this happiness is not true happiness. It is loveless and synthetic. It is based on the consumption of goods. Human beings are deprived of love and compassion, and those who dare to do something differently are treated with contempt and sent away.
  People are  encouraged to consume a drug called “Soma” to feel good and “happy” all the time.  In this male dominated society sexual promiscuity is the norm. Yet the sexual act is meaningless.
   Aldous Huxley’s Brave New Word is the description of a conformist society in which art and science are considered threats to their stability and their so-called “freedom”. They have to be muzzled to satisfy the interests of the status quo. Literature, for example, is of no interest to people because they fear that it will make them feel sad, so they shy away from it just as they reject anything that is thought-provoking. Literature carries the risk of awakening the possibility of dealing with original thoughts.
 Even though the individuals in Brave New World believe they are free they are all expected to behave in predictable ways.  Anything that is considered unconventional or that strays from standard patterns of behavior is treated with distrust, and so the root of the irony is that this world is neither brave nor new.
 Interestingly, George Orwell expressed his concerns about banned books in his popular novel 1984.  Aldous Huxley, on the other hand, portrayed a society in which there was no need to censor books anymore because people did not care about literature altogether: since a very early age they were conditioned to believe that literature  was boring, depressing or a threat to their stability.
 Soon after the publication of 1984, Huxley wrote a letter to George Orwell. I will share a fragment of this letter:
“My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and those ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World.
“The lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude or by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World.  The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency.”


Friday, June 26, 2015

Grazia Deledda


"The world is suddenly fuller, the reader's own capacity for astonishment miraculously replenished. A writer of the emotional power of Grazia Deledda is overdue for literary resurrection. It is hard not to feel, when reading her, that... her readers are getting close to some pure ore of human emotion."~ Todd Gitlin, Chicago Tribune

 Even though Grazia Deledda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926, the critics underestimated her works and labeled her as a “provincial housewife”.
   She published her first short story  when she was fifteen years old. Her brother advised her to quit writing because he feared that it would  tarnish her reputation. Her mother  was embarrassed.
   Later in life Grazia Deledda’s stories dealt with themes that people believed a woman should not write about. For this reason, they doubted her morality. Grazia Deledda took criticism in stride; the social discouragement did not quench her impassioned creative spirit. She continued writing seven days a week for one or two hours throughout her life. She was also a sedulous reader and protected her reading and writing routine with determination.
    Grazia Deledda was born and raised in Sardinia. Her native language was Sardinian, but she wrote in Italian. I recently read two of her books: “Reeds in the Wind” and “Cosima”. 
 I believe a good fiction writer understands the human soul deeply. Grazia Deledda had the power to do this well. In “Reeds in the Wind” she explored inner struggles and emotional journeys while narrating an engaging story. Her main characters either succumbed to a temptation or they were forced to transgress due to circumstances that were out of their control.  Grazia Deledda’s compassion for them shines through her insights and through the ways she dives into their intimate thoughts and emotions. She places her characters in grueling moral snares and enables them to find resilience.
 Grazia Deledda reveals that those who are judged the most have the most sensitive souls. She wrote about love, jealousy, forgiveness, hope, social ostracism, social conventions, prejudices and human resilience.  
 She also showed how prejudices and superstitions shaped people’s views and beliefs. We learn about the religious festivals held in mountain encampments and the lore of "the dark beings who populate the Sardinian night, the fairies who live in rocks and caves and the sprites with seven red caps who bother sleep."
 Her descriptions of Sardinia are vivid. Reading her two books was like taking a trip to this idyllic island.
   
   Cosima is an autobiography and was published posthumously. It was interesting to perceive that the themes of Cosima and “Reeds in the Wind” are related. I hope that more of her works will be translated into the English Language.
 I will share some extracts from Cosima:
“Her notebooks attracted her more than toys, and the classroom blackboard with those white marks made by the teacher had for her the charm of a window open onto the dark blue of a starry night.”
“Life follows its inexorable course like a river: there are calm times and turbid times, and there is no protection from it. In vain one tries to dam it, even to lay oneself across the current to keep others from being swept away by it. Mysterious, fateful forces propel one toward good and evil; nature itself, which seems perfect, is controlled by the violence of inevitable fate.”
 “And it came to her for no other reason than that she saw the evening star shine above the mountains no less and no more marvelous than the ladybug and the wild grasses that perfumed her walk. She decided to expect nothing that might come from outside herself, from the world agitated by men—but to expect everything from herself, from the mystery of her inner life.”
“Since she had begun writing poems and short stories everyone began to look at her with a certain suspicious amazement, if not to openly make fun of her and predict a dire future for her.”




Friday, June 12, 2015

Anything but Superior Medicine


 My short story "Anything but Superior Medicine" has been published in the Spring 2015 edition of  the Medical Literary Messenger. You can read it here.
  The Medical Literary Messenger aims to promote humanism and the healing arts through prose, poetry and photography. This journal is associated with Virginia Commonwealth University.
   


"Health is based on happiness from hugging and clowning around to finding joy in family and friends, satisfaction in work and ecstasy in nature and the arts."~ Patch Adams