How many more will it take?

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(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) via https://abc7news.com/politics/gunsafe-student-signs-and-slogans-from-school-walkouts/3215255/ 

I live in the heart of Denver, Colorado. For a long time, Denver was an average mid-sized city in the western United States. During the past decade, however, it has grown exponentially into a respected larger city, desirable to startups, tech firms, the marijuana industry, restaurateurs and hotel corporations, as well as real estate developers. As with many American cities during the past few decades, money and development have changed this city almost beyond recognition.

The greater Denver area is also famous for a more somber reason, as it was the site of one of the earliest school shooting tragedies in America, the Columbine School massacre in 1999. Columbine High School is located in a suburb south of Denver called Highlands Ranch, a middle-class, mostly white, average American suburb. The anniversary of that tragedy was April 20th. Police shut down the entire Denver metro area schools that day, due to a threat by a young woman from out of state who travelled to our area, bought a gun, and ended up killing herself in the mountains near Denver.

Today (May 7, 2019), two young men entered the STEM school in Highlands Ranch and opened fire on students in the upper grades. When the police were called, they arrived in a couple of minutes, found and arrested the shooters. But it was already too late—eight students were shot and wounded, and one has since died.

During the past twenty years since the first school shooting in Highlands Ranch, there have been so many shootings by insane people inside public schools in America that most of us have lost count. Doing a quick Google search revealed that in the twenty years since Columbine, there have been 230 school shootings in this country, not including shootings at colleges or universities. https://www.necn.com/news/national-international/School-Shootings-Since-Columbine-508503771.html

According to the Washington Post, “at least 143 children, educators and other people have been killed in assaults, and another 302 have been injured.”  They also reported the total number of children exposed to gun violence in schools stands at “more than 228,000 children at 234 schools.” They noted that the United States government does NOT track gun violence in schools, therefore they decided to investigate the statistics for the public. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/school-shootings-database

These numbers and every story that the numbers represent, are horrifying. As the statistics show, The United States, due to an obscene corruption of the Second Amendment, has become one of the most violent and dangerous places in the industrialized West for people, including school children, to live. According to Google, “The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Such language has created considerable debate regarding the Amendment’s intended scope.” https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment. Surely, were the Founding Fathers of the US Constitution here today they would be completely outraged at how misconstrued their amendment has been, toward the rapacious greed of global arms dealers.

It is only Tuesday, and yet within the last 48 hours we have been given dire news of the state of nature on Earth, and now just one more report of school students being shot at during their classes. Last week we read of other students who were tragically shot, with two killed, at the University of North Carolina-Charleston as they sat in a classroom with their professor. Bad news upon more bad news, and it’s all related. Private corporations continue to bully and buy off whomever might stand in their way from reaping profits from the loss of life on our planet—whether human, animal, plant or mineral, it amounts to rape and pillage for the benefit of a very few, at the expense of everyone and everything else.

Tens of thousands have been asking for the past decades: when will this insanity end? When will our government enact gun control laws that are strong, meaningful and will finally end this sacrificing of innocents enabled by the National Rifle Association’s heartless lobbyists, with the help of the most senior officials in Washington DC? The big picture is so insidious and dark that it takes the courage of the strongest warriors we can imagine, just to face it without breaking down. The battle for the Light rages on, more strongly than ever.

Dear Readers, I am well aware that the subjects of my current blog posts are dark, scary and super depressing, and I am truly sorry for it. I am not a person who likes or wants to dwell on all that is wrong with the world, but it feels extraordinarily important to keep bringing light and attention to these events, because they simply will not change unless we do. As an aside, I know a man in the college where I currently work, who is the nicest person you’d ever want to meet—friendly, kind, always smiling and gentle. Yet each time I have brought up anything remotely serious regarding the current news cycle, he laughs dryly, and tells me that he just can’t think about “all that bad news.” As nice as he is, he is cowardly when it comes to facing what is actually happening to us and because of us in the world. There are so many people like him—kind, well-meaning, friendly, harmless—yet they are in denial or simply unwilling to look squarely at the situation we humans have created, or work to find solutions.

There are plenty of bloggers and writers on the internet who are only too willing to report the Upside, put a positive spin on whatever narrative they are selling, and yes, most of it is a sales pitch. But that’s a topic for another blog post. Tonight, I simply send my love and empathy to the students and their families who were hurt today (and condolences to the family of the one who was killed) at the STEM school in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. May they find the comfort and healing they need in the days and months to come.

 

 

We Are Star Stuff

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via https://www.passiton.com/inspirational-quotes/6104-the-molecules-of-your-body-are-the-same

“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” said Shep Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and director of the effort to capture the image, during a Wednesday news conference in Washington, D.C. The image, of a lopsided ring of light surrounding a dark circle deep in the heart of a galaxy known as Messier 87, some 55 million light-years away from Earth, resembled the Eye of Sauron, a reminder yet again of the implacable power of nature. It is a smoke ring framing a one-way portal to eternity.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/science/black-hole-picture.html

The New York Times reported on the first image ever revealed of a massive black hole at the far reaches of the galaxy Messier 87 this week.  Titled Darkness Visible, Finally: Astronomers Capture First Ever Image of a Black Hole, the article, by Dennis Overbye, was written with language that at times approached poetry and science fiction, with overtones of awe and wonder. Overbye used descriptors like monster, phrases such as portal into eternity, and described the image as the place where “according to Einstein’s theory, matter, space and time come to an end and vanish like a dream.”

The results of years of work by astronomers working in collaboration on several continents, Wednesday’s news was announced at six locations on Earth simultaneously. Overbye wrote, “When the image was put up on the screen in Washington, cheers and gasps, followed by applause, broke out in the room and throughout a universe of astrofans following the live-streamed event.”

It has taken a century of scientific investigation to prove that Einstein’s theory of relativity, from which his theory of black holes arose, is indeed true and no longer simply a theory. In the NYTimes article, Overbye quotes Priyamvada Natarajan, an astrophysicist at Yale, who said “Einstein must be delighted. His theory has just been stress-tested under conditions of extreme gravity, and looks to have held up.”  And astrophysicist Kip Thorne wrote in an email, “It is wonderful to see the nearly circular shadow of the black hole. There can be no doubt this really is a black hole at the center of M87, with no signs of deviations from general relativity.”

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https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/science/black-hole-picture.html

It’s fascinating to read how the team of roughly 200 astronomers put together the data, collected from eight radio observatories on six mountains and four continents. The data was taken during a period of ten days in April of 2017, and took the next two years to compile it into the stunning images revealed to the world this week. Here is a link to that article: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/04/10/science/event-horizon-black-hole-images.html

It is not easy to describe in words the elation that many of us feel at reading this week’s news, and seeing the black hole images for the first time in history. But a feeling of vindication is part of the larger and more complex web of feelings surrounding the evidence. In a world fraught with opinions passing as truth, outright lies and human egotism run amok, it is such a breath of fresh air to see, with human eyes, an image of a cosmic reality so vast that it is impossible to comprehend. The black hole that lies in the heart of galaxy Messier 87 is nearly seven billion times the mass of our own sun. This is a moment when even scientists will turn to poetry and prophetic words from long ago, as we attempt to grasp the incomprehensible as it is presented to us. In so many ways, for human beings, seeing is believing. This week, we are finally able to see a black hole, a cosmic force incomprehensibly huge.

I looked up quotes by Dr. Carl Sagan, who was a master of writing about science and humanity with eloquence and clarity. Here are some of his thoughts on the relationship between humans and the cosmos, taken from his seminal book, Cosmos, first published in 1980. With gratitude to Dr. Sagan, I offer them to you, dear readers.

“The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”

“The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends on how well we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.”

“The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore, we’ve learned most of what we know. Recently, we’ve waded a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return, and we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos, via https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3237312-cosmos

The battle between the head, heart and hands   

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 We live in an age where dominant value is placed on the intellect (or head) aspect of human beings. Most would agree that society values most those who are cleverest, have studied longest (such as doctors and attorneys) and those who have used their intellectual prowess to gain the most monetary reward (think Gates, Zuckerberg and Bezos). Conversely, society places the least value on those who do “necessary” jobs involving physicality: farmers, construction workers, domestic workers, sanitation workers, and those who primarily rely on their hands to make their living. In between are the ones who focus on the heart: teachers, health care workers, caregivers, social workers, social and environmental activists, artists and creative people. Clearly, there are millions of combinations, and the luckiest of all people are those who find ways to live in the world with all three aspects balanced. The optimum condition for health and happiness, it seems, is to strike the perfect combination of intellect, feeling and physicality in one’s daily life.

Many authors and experts have already written tens of thousands of volumes on this topic. So why do I dare to explore it in my blog tonight? Mostly because I’ve been pondering my options for what to do with my life a lot lately, and this idea of balance between the head, heart and hands has reemerged for me. The phrase brings me all the way back to when I first heard about Waldorf education, 27 years ago. The Waldorf movement uses the expression “head, heart and hands” as its motto. It captured my imagination strongly at that time, which ultimately led to a several-year journey down the Waldorf teacher path. That path was full of discoveries and knowledge of the child, the human being, and our unshakeable connection with the spiritual side of our nature, via the teachings of Rudolf Steiner about a hundred years ago. Let me be clear that I love and respect Rudolf Steiner and the essential esoteric teachings he brought forward to humanity during his era of history (For a taste of Steiner’s wisdom and philosophy, click here). However, times change and so should theories of education. As I became further involved in Waldorf education and its proponents, I found a level of rigidity and dogmatism within its ranks that I simply couldn’t abide—eventually, I had to leave it and move on.

Like any polarizing philosophy, anthroposophy (the underlying philosophy beneath Waldorf pedagogy) has a core following of believers who carry its tenants with fundamentalist fervor. There are many wonderful aspects to Waldorf education, including a reverence and respect for Nature, an acknowledgment of the human’s role as bridge between earth and heaven, an emphasis on health, play, spending time outside in natural surroundings, building trust and love between all members of the class (who stay together with their class teacher from first through eighth grade). It’s known to be a holistic form of learning, an artistic education that fosters creativity, teamwork, cooperation, and honoring of each person’s humanity. In many respects, there is a lot to love about Waldorf schools. In fact, I fell in love the first time I experienced a Waldorf kindergarten, when my youngest child and I had an exploratory visit to see if there might be a spot for her chubby, adorable three-year-old self. I remember sitting in one of the toddler-sized wooden chairs, watching the kind, pretty, young women teachers who were gently guiding the children, readying them for the freshly prepared, whole grain, organic lunch they were about to sit down to eat together. The atmosphere was so calm, so relaxing, with a beeswax candle burning brightly in the middle of the polished wooden table, bowls of hot porridge set for each young child. When everyone was seated, the lead teacher asked everyone to hold hands around the table and she sang a lovely song of thanks for the food, the sun, and for each other. Then the hungry children happily ate the wholesome meal, in between smiles and laughter all around. I sat quietly, amazed at the scene I was witnessing, wishing I could simply stay in that pink-draped, rainbow infused world forever.

But, as all too often happens in the world, the idealism and harmony I experienced that day, and throughout my subsequent teacher training program which lasted three years, did not hold up. Eventually I saw another, shadow side to the pedagogy and met teachers who were unwilling (or perhaps unable) to change, adapt, and embrace new ideas and concepts, shedding what was no longer appropriate for 21st century children. This divide, between traditional, strictly dictated ways of teaching and learning with new methods, ideologies and educational theories, is a prime example of the battle currently raging between humanity’s collective head, heart and hands. Plenty of people espouse the extreme benefits of technology in our world, extoling artificial intelligence and robotics, predicting that technological advances will surely save us from an otherwise hellish future. On the other end of the spectrum are the people who eschew the evils of technology, screens and virtual realities. Those folks preach that only by returning to a kinder, gentler time, long before modern technology was invented, will humanity be able to restore its former compassionate, natural way of living close to Mama Gaia, and eventually get back to a state of paradise and equilibrium on Earth once more.

As for my own position, I am awkwardly standing in between the two polarities. Technology is advancing exponentially, and most of us living in industrialized societies have become hyper dependent upon it (how close is your hand to your cell phone at any moment in your 24/7?). On the other side, the natural world is now at the tipping point of being irretrievably damaged, as the climate has become extraordinarily unstable and extreme weather produces ongoing catastrophic situations at any moment on the planet. We are living through precarious times, attempting to balance on a raft as it’s moving through increasingly whitewater with no end in sight.

We can’t go back to a gentler age, and we don’t want to move forward into a futuristic dystopian nightmare world. It’s obvious to anyone who takes a critical look that humanity must find the fulcrum, the place of balance on which we can stand and continually readjust as we ride out the tsunami waves of this century. We need to protect our planet, period. We must stop valuing and monetizing intellect over all else while devaluing physical labor and emotionality. We are a species at war with ourselves; it is imperative that we learn to love and respect ALL the parts of us, from our heads to hearts to hands, feet and everything in between. If one aspect of the human above all else should lead, then it must be the heart. Only though living with love as the driver will we make wise, compassionate choices that will lead to a future world we want to live in.

For a worthwhile long read on this subject from another angle, see this article on Medium. It’s written by a woman who decided to leave the master’s degree program she had enrolled in at Schumacher College in England, and why she made that difficult choice. She writes, “A core tenet of Schumacher’s approach to education is ‘learning with the head, heart and hands’.”   https://medium.com/@rhithink/leaving-schumacher-college-bcda7ee800c1