Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dimming the Sun and Seasonal Affective Disorder

I just wonder if there might be a relationship between the dimming of the sun (see previous post of 11.25.06) and mood state. My wife and I have both noticed that we are more effected by the shortened days of winter and by several consecutive days of rain. Also over the past several years I have heard more people talking about also feeling similarly. I am not saying that everyone is feeling this but for those who are vulnerable to it, it may be a factor.

I have also noticed that it is not simply a question of winter. I remember commenting several times that during the winters when there is a lot of snow that stays on the ground, even if it turns to "freezer frost," that my mood is not influenced by "the winter." This was never a problem for me in my first 60 years - I'm working on my second 60 years now - and when I heard about the "dimming of the sun" phenomenon it occurred to me that there may just be a correlation between the two given the fact that it is a new phenomenon.

You may be wondering why having snow on the ground for longer periods of time may have an impact on mood. Well, it's really simple; the snow will reflect more light and thus will act like a natural antidote to the impact of less light.

I have also noticed that I am less vulnerable to the winter blues if I "sun" myself. This is one of the exercises recommended nearly 100 years ago by Dr. William Bates. His book: Perfect Eyesight Without Glasses has been of interest to a number of people over the years although it is clearly not part of mainstream thinking. My only reason for mentioning it is because he recommended that people close their eyes and look towards the sun as they gently swing to the left and then to the right with their upper torso and head. It is a very pleasing and relaxing exercise. It also has the effect of letting a considerable amount of sunlight impact on the retina without hurting the eyes - BE SURE TO KEEP YOUR EYELIDS CLOSED. On a bright day my retina is bathed in bright red. It is a very pleasant exercise and I have never felt any discomfort doing this. Remember also that there is no rushing when practising it. Try it, you may find it helpful.

One other thing we have done is to a buy balanced spectrum reading light for our home. It is wonderful to read by and, yes, it reflects more light off the page we are reading.

Another observation I have made is that I have never heard of a person who went on vacation to the Carribean during the winter who came back to New England and complained of feeling depressed while there. Maybe when they returned, giggle, but maybe that is not just related to going back to work but also related to less light again.

Just wondering. I would be curious to hear if others have noticed a similar process.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Dimming the Sun and Climate Change

I watched a movie called "Dimming the Sun." It was produced by NOVA and was on a national public television station.

The long and the short of it was that in certain parts of the world the sun is not as bright as it used to be. I'll briefly describe the interlocking themes. As they say it will just be the top level of what was presented and discussed. Don't hold me to getting it exactly right but what I will describe is the gist of it.

Theme #1: About 30 years ago a scientist was asked to look at the ground temperature and the amount of light hitting the ground in Israel. He painstakingly kept records from multiple sensors over a period of time. This data revealed about what they had expected but now they had actual scientific data to support their hunches. It was important because they were going to use his findings to make informed decisions on how much water was going to be needed for national irrigations projects.

Several years ago and for some reason or other the same scientist went back to take the measurements again, I presume to see if there was any interval difference, or whatever. He was stunned to discover that the amount of light impacting on the ground had decreased. He was amazed. (ok, ok, I know the details that you want aren't here, but you can rent the movie and see it in its entirety and then add your comments to this entry.)

Naturally he wrote up his findings and published it in a scientific journal. He was surprised to find out that it drew virtually no response or interest. In the movie or on the basis of my own interpretation, I think that happened because it flew against the grain of the growing body of data on global warming. In science that's not surprising for two essential reasons. First because when ideas become popular, even with scientists, there is a ground swell which eventually becomes somewhat established dogma and this can lead people to disregard information which doesn't fit that pattern. Secondly, if you do enough research it appears that you will find some information which is different just from a statistical probability point of view. There I go again, and I was trying to keep it simple.

Theme #2: Then there was a climatologist in Germany who did a similar study in Germany or that part of Europe. She had no knowledge of the first bit of research above. She was similarly greatly surprised to find similar trends and she also published it. Once again there was little interest

Theme #3: Then there were two climatologists in Australia who were interested in studying rates of water evaporation on the surface of the earth in their area. I think they also had interval data which showed that the amount of "pan evaporation" had gone down since the time of their first measurements years previously. (They called it "the pan" because they filled a pan with a measured amount of water and then later measured how much water had to be added to the pan to bring it up the original level.)

I don't recall this part but I think they were saying that they were perplexed by the "apparent anomaly" because the temperature at the surface had increased and therefore they would expect that the pan rate would be greater also. They went to publish their paper describing this and quite "by chance" they came across the publications from Themes 1 and 2. They then ran some more experiments and found that the "pan rate" was determined by temperature, wind and the light intensity of the sun on the ground. They expected that the wind and temperature would be more important but they discovered that the light intensity was in fact the most important factor influencing the "pan rate."

Theme #4: The above themes plus a few others were then combined with some studies which looked at the influence of the amount of pollution / debris in the atmosphere on global warming in different parts of the globe. This multiyear study took place off the coast of India in a sprawling area of small islands collectively called the Maldeves. This area was chosen because on one end of the Maldeves the cloud cover was heavily influenced by the pollution coming out of China and India. On the other end of the island chain there was relatively little pollution in the cloud cover.

When the data was finally collected and analyzed it was found that the amount of light under the "polluted" clouds was less than the other area. This also had the effect of lowering the temperature in the areas of higher contamination. The explanation offered was that the particulates combine with water droplets in the atmosphere (clouds) and then the droplet-particles act as tiny mirrors which reflect the light back out towards the sun / space, with the net effect of "dimming the sun." (Please don't ask me why the particles don't reflect light off each other and then to my lay persons interpretation they would have a net effect of zero, i.e., an equal amount would be bounced or reflected equally in every direction.)

There was one other experiment which looked at the above theme in context of the influence of particulates and water vapor coming from the contrails of aircraft on light levels and surface temperatures. That was equally fascinating and was able to be conducted sadly because of the events of 9/11 where all air traffic was prohibited for a few days till things got sorted out. I'll leave that story for you to hear when you watch the movie.

The implications of this are important on a number of levels. What I understood was that the movie and the scientists were saying that pollution lowers the amount of sunlight impacting on the earth and by virtue of that lowers the temperature greatest in areas of greatest pollution. So does this mean that global warming is not happening? No, it means that the effect of dimming the sun is to lower the temperature in those areas of greatest pollution. Now here's the catch 22: pollution has to be lowered because of the significant impact on the health of those people who live in the areas of greater pollution. But in doing that the further effect will be that temperature will increase even more rapidly in those areas. Ironic isn't it that as the United States does a good job of decreasing the overall pollution of the atmosphere over the continental states, that the downside of that will (may) be a disproportionate increase in temperature. There were also other discussions in the movie of the impact of decreased evaporation at the surface of the earth on climate. How all this will impact on farming is of importance and perhaps some can comment on this.

This is a long post but I think it further points out how the climate of the globe is an integrated whole; what influences one part influences other parts. One moral of the story is that any one little piece of pollution may not have all that much impact, but the sum total is enormous. These researchers deserve a gold star for their tenacity.

In my next entry I will give you some of my thoughts about "dimming the sun" and Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Struggling vs. developing my voice in these blog entries

When I look at my last post I know what I am saying but it also seems too complicated. When I'm talking with someone directly I am more to the point. I'm ok dealing with complex issues, in fact, I really enjoy them but only if I can find a simple design contained within the complexity. But when complexity becomes complicated, well, yuck!

Writing for my blog is a new process for me. It's like I'm still finding my "voice" and my primary drum beats. It's ok that I don't have it all together already in the sense that this is just the way it is. Trying to get it right - right away - misses the reality that this process develops over time. Grappling with something is fine and actually fun for me. Struggling, a habit I know too well, is self defeating. Struggling ultimately reinforces the trying, not the learning. Struggling puts more energy into the struggle and it is all an energy game.

The strategy which makes sense to me is to catch myself as soon as I can in the struggle, and then acknowledge the struggle, watch it for a few moments, then "release it." " How to release," you ask? By letting go, by bringing your attention to your next exhale. Do that for a few moments / minutes / decades and then place your energy on something which draws your attention and which is appealing. That way I / you are not putting more energy into a process which has already stopped being a lively experience. It takes practise but it is a way out of the struggle.

In that way then, the struggle becomes a cue to watch and experience differently. It becomes an opportunity to lighten up and then the struggle is accepted for what it is, a short circuit which blocks further and easy development. A struggle is then just part of the process, like a punctuation point which gives a hint that there is rushing going on, a trying to make it go faster. Better to ease off the throttle and shift gears before getting back on track. Better yet to refresh the compass direction before setting out again.

I feel better now.

And the gift from this is an awareness that the original intent is still there:

  • To talk about shifting consciousness from rushing and hurrying to a pace dictated only by the reality of the current situation and not impaled on the demands of the external system, which for sure seldom has my / your best interest at the forefront of their agenda.
  • To hear from others about how they came to a shifting point and how they followed through with it.
  • To recognize and share information about the perilous times we are in from the point of view of impending changes which will occur to our society as climate change continues and the peak oil process progressively plays out the reality of how utterly dependent we have become on that substance.
  • To recognize how we have been ultra conditioned to over-consume and to hand our lives over to specialists and how we give away our life-time to make money to pay for all that.
  • To reconnect and rediscover basic skills necessary for self and group sustainability.
  • To explore how people form new circles of common interest around the sustainable process.
  • To integrate complex issues and to say it in plain english.
  • To cultivate our inner sense.
  • To clarify our values.
  • To live the good life and to be in harmony with our surroundings

I suspect that should keep me busy for a while.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

An unexpected dividend - no pressure in a pressure situation

Here's the scene: I'm checking out at a self serve checkout aisle at B.J.'s. It's my second time through one of these "time-saving" alternatives to the regular checkout process. Every checkout line was long except for mine. I lucked out!

It all looked fairly easy and I'm sure it is after you have done it several times. My turn came and since I had only one item it seemed a cinch that I'd be through lickety-split. Yeah, right!

Off to a good start, the machine recognized my B.J.'s card. Then the system seemed to break down for me. I think it was because I put my debit card in first instead of scanning the item, or the reverse of that. Not to worry, the machine assured me that a sales person was coming to assist me. Not so. I noticed people shifting to my left and made the mistake of looking over. What had been the shortest line was now, you guessed it, as long or longer than the others. We need to insert in here an audio sound for pressure building up but I don't yet know how to do that.

I go through the process again. Same outcome. Then several scenarios raced through my mind. 1. Just walk away from the checkout line. 2. Take the item - a package of flashlights and throw it against the wall. This had a feeling of an impending volcanic eruption. 3. You'll love this one: Take your time, there IS no rush, and figure it out.

Drum roll please; 3 was it. (1 was still a contender and 2 was tempting) It wasn't like standing my ground. I wasn't sighing or doing things to make nice-nice to the waiting hordes. I just took my time. I figured it out and after I got my receipt I turned to those in the line and said: "I think a round of applause would be appropriate." No clapping (sigh, it would have been a perfect ending) but I did get a "that happened to me last week."

As the title said, this was a delightful dividend from continuing with the "I will rush no more" mantra.

P.S. The flashlight was one of those windup models which don't require batteries. This particular model had a mode where the white light flashes and there are two side panels which have red lights which also flash as a hazard light for the car. Neat.

P.P.S. As I was leaving the next person in line was having as much trouble as i had. If I had cards made up I could hand them out - and then make a quick exit in case they are considering option 2.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Walden Pond - Walkabout

It's been thirty years since I last visited Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. About all I remember of that visit was that there was a small hut and a pond, and that it had something to do with a writer called Thoreau. Looking back it is like I was going through the motions of "seeing something" mostly for the purpose of checking it off on the list. I thought then that I was seeing everything with such clarity. Now I am amazed at how naive I was, and how the invisible blinders blocked the deep sense of appreciation which the location warranted.

Since the day was in my mind an officially designated "Walkabout Day," I walked from the train station to Walden Pond, altogether about 2 miles. It was a near perfect Fall day which made it easy to be in no rush.

First stop was in the Shop at Walden Pond. The T-shirts caught my attention the most. Loved seeing Thoreau's sayings printed on different colors: "Simplify, Simplify;" "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them;" "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes." I took one other to heart for the moment: "Do not trouble yourself much to get new things," and managed to get out of the shop with all my money still in my pocket.

The replica of Thoreau's single-room hut was a short distance away. Outside was a bronze sculpture of the man - it looked to me as if his clothes were made of tree bark. Perhaps the artist was trying to convey the strength of the natural man. I loved the simplicity of the hut, 12 feet by 15 feet with a window on each side, one door in the front, and a stone fireplace for the back wall, with a wood box to the right of the fireplace. There was a single cot, a desk and chair, and a round table with another chair. The wood burning stove had pots for cooking on the top. I could see a reflective person walk into the house and easily live there - Thoreau did for 2 years. Some books, perhaps a radio, definitely no television. It is a dwelling to come back to and to live around. Perfect for "the woods."

The pond, longer than wide and with several small coves, is beautiful. The water is very clear. An easy 1.7 mile walk circumnavigates the entire pond. It took me 2 hours to finish the walk, what with carrying on conversations along the way and meditating at Ice Fort Cove.

Perhaps the most enjoyable conversation was with a pilgrim from Virginia who had driven up that morning, starting his pilgrimage at 2 in the morning. We spoke of cultural differences, the pace of life in America, the epidemics of diabetes, hypertension and consumerism. I asked if he wanted to walk along with me but he gently deferred preferring to walk alone. Of course: it was his pilgrimage; mine also, but I also learn through these conversations.

The surprise came when I saw a sign pointing to the original Thoreau House Site. It was a quiet "shrine" surrounded on three sides with low hills. Out the front door and slightly to the right was a view of the pond. I didn't have a compass with me but I was curious if the door fronted due east.

There was a plaque there which said it all: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Walden

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Off to Boston Walkabout #2 tomorrow, with a twist.

The twist is that after I get to Boston, I am then going to Concord, Massachusetts and then from the commuter train station, I am going to walk to Walden Pond and "take in" where Thoreau built his cabin and hung out for a year. I'll walk around the pond and find a suitable time to "grok" it all out. I'll do my meditation there tomorrow instead of at the pond. I'll let you know how it turns out.

And to whet your appetite and mine, drink of the following from Master Thoreau himself:

Walking - ("Walking" began as a lecture, first delivered at the Concord Lyceum on April 23, 1851, and many other times, until it evolved into the essay published in the Atlantic Monthly, after his death in 1862.)

"The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house, he did not write at all." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I WISH TO SPEAK a word for nature, for absolute Freedom and Wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and Culture merely civil,—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make a emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization; the minister, and the school-committee, and every one of you will take care of that.

[2] I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre"—to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a sainte-terrer", a saunterer—a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all, but the Saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which indeed is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit (1) in us, to go forth and reconquer this holy land from the hands of the Infidels.

[3] It is true, we are but faint hearted crusaders, even the walkers, now-a-days, who undertake no persevering never ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours and come round again at evening to the old hearth side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts (2) only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends,(3) and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.

[4] To come down to my own experience, my companion and I, for I sometimes have a companion, take pleasure in fancying ourselves knights of a new, or rather an old, order—not Equestrians or Chevaliers, not Ritters or Riders,(4) but Walkers, a still more ancient and honorable class, I trust. The chivalric and heroic spirit which once belonged to the rider seems now to reside in—or perchance to have subsided into the Walker—not the Knight but Walker Errant. He is a sort of fourth estate—outside to Church and State and People.

[5] We have felt that we almost alone hereabouts practiced this noble art; though, to tell the truth, at least, if their own assertions are to be received, most of my townsmen would fain walk sometimes, as I do, but they cannot. No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence, which are the capital in this profession. It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family of the Walkers. Ambulator nascitur, non fit. Some of my townsmen, it is true, can remember, and have described to me some walks which they took ten years ago, in which they were so blessed as to lose themselves for half an hour in the woods, but I know very well that they have confined themselves to the highway ever since, whatever pretensions they may make to belong to this select class. No doubt, they were elevated for a moment as by the reminiscence of a previous state of existence, when even they were foresters and outlaws.

for the complete essay:

Monday, November 06, 2006

Perilous Times and Choices

About a year ago I started a conversation with a new friend, Ted. We meet once a week and have coffee and talk about life, the world, values, choices, propaganda, and the good life. It sounds like heady stuff but the ongoing conversation is thrilling and we both look forward to it each week.

He and his wife are committed to growing some of their own food organically and living a simple life which moves in the direction of being self-sustaining. Neither of us are much into consumerism these days. Our conversations revolve around those topics and whatever else is on our minds. The conversations are intriguing and interesting to the both of us. Ted sometimes comments that his head is buzzing for hours after I leave, although, at times, I wonder if it's also because of the very strong mud / coffee he prepares for us. For me, it's like these conversations have become compost for my own movement towards a less hurried and more centered, value expressive life style.

Early on he introduced me to the idea of peak oil and we discussed its implications for the individual, the cities, suburbanites, and the world. James Kunstler's book, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, became the focal point for our conversations for several weeks.

Kunstler's message is simple: peak oil (the point at which half of all the oil reserves in the ground will be gone) is a fact. It's not exactly clear when it will happen but if it hasn't already, it will in the relatively near future, and when that happens, gradually at first, but with building momentum it will have nothing short of profound implications for our society. That is because we are inextricably wed to abundant and inexpensive oil. Our whole economy over the years was premised on oil being an inexpensive commodity. There was so much of it that we hardly ever gave it a second thought and with that it became more and more ingrained in our whole lifestyle. It was a positive development but we have inadvertently become more dependent on it in ways which we hardly notice. Some have speculated that if the typical office building suddenly hit a magical delete button which removed all the products which are based on petroleum or petroleum products that the building would suddenly become Lilliputian in size. Whatever the consequences for us, they will be even more significant for our children and their children. For myself I have adopted a belief that it will be a whole new ballgame in the not too distant future.

Some will say that this is too alarmist. I would say that it's risky business to keep certain blinders on. That's a good way to get mugged by reality. There is no doubt that we in the United States live in the lap of luxury. The basic needs generally are there - food, shelter and clothing. But let's take a peep behind the veil of abundance. The food on your table: you probably think that it comes from the supermarket a mile or so from your home. I dare say the younger children would say that is where food comes from. Obviously it doesn't. It was transported from other parts of this country and/or from other parts of the world. I've heard that the average piece of food on the shelves in the supermarkets travel, on average, 1500 miles to get there, and then we transport them the final few.

Or take a look at the labels on your clothes. Similar story there, too. My guess is that if I looked at the labels on all of my clothes, I would find that there is not one item that comes from within an hours drive of my home. That covers two parts of the basic trilogy; food, clothing and shelter.

I am not saying that all of this will change in a twinkling, or a moment. But if the premise is correct, and I think it, at the very least, deserves attentive consideration, that the present material abundance is premised and made possible because of accessible and inexpensive oil and petroleum products, then the implications of a reversal over time of that commodity will be, well, profound.

Back to the second part of the title of this little piece: ...and choices. Somehow or other, as individuals we have to become more self sufficient in many different ways. Kunstler's suggestion is to consider forming self sustaining communities. No one person has to do it all themselves and that simply wouldn't work for the overwhelming majority. But the self sustaining community part makes superb sense to me.

In a forum discussion on the website there was a question as to how much land (acreage) was needed for an individual or family to be self sustaining. One person told a story of how when she was a child her family had a large garden and farmyard and they grew much or most of their own food. In that sense, they had some of their own basic needs met, but it gets better. When a neighbor passed by, e.g., coming back from fishing, he would be invited into the garden and encouraged to bring home part of his supper to share with his family. But it gets even better, because after that person left they would find a freshly caught fish for their supper. That's an example of how self sustaining is not just about one family, but of several families, or a community all contributing in non-intrusive ways according to their talents and skills. Sounds good to me. But it also reminds me of how far we have moved from that sense of basic independence and community.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Disentangling from the habitual pull

It's one thing to think about making a change, it's another thing to do it. But the real development comes when we expand on the initial movement, and then continue on that path without getting lost in all the distractions.

For example, I have been thinking about creating and stepping into a less hurried and a more simple way of living my life. The thinking started a while ago and periodically I come back to it in my thoughts. There was then a progression where I started talking about it with others who have made the transition. Then came the critical part: how to continue on the journey in a more systematic way.

Here was the question: Do I make radical changes essentially all at once or do I make one change, watch for it's effects and then build on that. I opted clearly for the latter but left open the possibility that after following through with the "smaller" parts that at some point a "sea-change" event or moment may spontaneously present itself.

I look at it like the landings on D-day but without all the aggression. There were multiple landings at different locations and each one could help to boost the success factor, but if any one didn't materialize, the others could still move forward. In my mind there is a sense of purpose and a sense of mission with this process; but I've dropped the aggression. Compass readings to explore, yes. Force, no.

Here's the reality, however, no matter how appealing the new process may be, there is the force of habit which wants to pull you back into the old style. Everyone who has ever gone on a diet knows this. If it wasn't food, it was cigarettes, or alcohol, or buying. No matter what the dependency / addiction, the pull back towards the old pattern is always there. Maybe the D-day analogy is helpful here also. The bigger the initial wave, the bigger the undertow. The more forcefully something is pushed forward, the more forcefully do the counter forces attack back. From the outside, the pushback is from others who don't like or support the change. From the inside it the ease of unconsciously performing all the old patterns which slip beneath the radar which then deposit us back in the old patterns all over again. That's why the stealth approach holds more promise when it comes to following through.

Initially I chose the behavior captured in the mantra at the top of this blog. Then I decided to not buy a cup of coffee on my way to work in the morning. Then I started to think about how much pocket money I tend to walk around with, and I decided to carry instead only a few dollars. I noticed that with each of these decisions and actions there came a sense of freedom. In my mind the skirmishes were quite small. The victories were also equally small. But with the changes came an unexpected sense of freedom.

It reminds me of a quote I saved a while back, by Thoreau: "...for a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let down."