Winter Celebrating

Winter Celebration_breaker

blue nutcrackerDuring this time of year, the holidays or Christmas and New Years, have always been a jolly, entertaining time of year of expectancy, of buckle your seat-belts and brace for anything. Sixteen days or so of all things good, sparkle and wonderment, uplifting or mysterious it all was/is possible. Taking time for the less fortunate in a plethora of ways. Reuniting with family around meals, in the kitchen or living room for games, maybe telling stories past or present with traditional beverages and libations for cheer. Most things are fluid, undefined precisely, other things traditional, conventional, predictable, and new. The exception? Young children. Then holiday gatherings are certainly fluid, very undefined, traditionally loud, unconventional, unpredictable, and newly broken. Messy. Pass the broom and dustpan.

red nutcrackerThere is also a never-ending amount of wishing. Wishing everything was neat and tidy. We wish you this, we wish you that, we wished you’d come, we wished you’d leave! Lots of wishing everywhere, wishing some things were different. Wishing other things and people were all the same, maybe equal. Identical? Wish you were like me, like him or her or it. Or a very popular wish of the last couple of millenia: wishing things were meticulously, undeniably true.

Not the case.

green nutcrackerNo matter what time of year it is I find things are wonderfully messy. People of all ages are messy. Life is messy, past and present, and near certainly will be in the future. That’s what it means to be human among 7.7 billion other humans. We are all alike, but equally different, from just as many different places and backgrounds. Normality and paradox somehow coexist. Going against this truth will eventually drive you mad. Life plays and swims in paradox while the kill-joys go mad and the libertines live.” A quote from yours truly on my Favorite Quotes page. But enough with my rambling!

red-captain nutcrackerWhy do we celebrate this time of year? When and where did this celebration begin? Who should I ask? Or should I not ask and go find out for myself? Ahh, more messy answers from previous messiness. One is never served so well as by oneself as Charles-Guillaume Étienne coined. The common version is If you want something done right, do it yourself. There is some truthiness to either one, I think. Some will exhort the Golden Chalice exists and certainly can be found! Others will posit no such thing exists. Still others will have no answers of any import. Perhaps it’s wise to saddle both, or maybe all three? HAH! A ménage à trois beaucoup! Oui?

Apologies. Now I’ve slipped into delicious hédonisme and débauche as the French would say with a sly grin.

court nutcrackerThere are many wrong answers to those questions, mostly wrong… most likely. Yet, if one puts on their forensic hat and goggles, with some persistence, equitable examination without rash simplification and disassociation, 😉 the messy truth can and will be found. It’s not so scary. Much of this messiness is well-known, checked and rechecked. Nevertheless, here are a few starter-fireworks, kindling if you will, sure to light-up and excite your holiday bonfire, conversation, and show:

  • Christmas is a multicultural Pagan festival dating back to at least the late Neolithic and Bronze Ages, i.e. 5000 BCE to 600 BCE, as winter solstice festivals.
  • The year and precise date of “Christ’s birth” is unknown, but the time of year is estimated by scholars to be in Autumn, not any later than September.
  • Earliest Christians from Yeshua’s (Jesus’) The Way Movement never celebrated his birth; it wasn’t until the 16th or 17th centuries CE that Western churches in Europe incorporated popular Pagan winter festivals in December into their Catholic Christ’s Mass or Mass for Christ.
  • Several Protestant denominations throughout the world banned Christmas celebrations completely, English and American Puritans, for example. Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Church of Christ are three more examples.
  • Our familiar gift-giving charity originated in the Victorian Era (1800’s) and the traditional Christmas tree is Germanic-Teutonic in origin where greenery from outside is brought inside to cheer up the dormant, colorless, glumness of winter.
  • Christians of the mid-1st century to 2nd century CE celebrated Christmas in April to May; this greatly bothered the Church Leaders because Jesus’ place of birth, or death, or burial were completely uncertain, speculation and conjecture. Therefore…
  • Pope Julius I in 350 CE declared Dec. 25th as the official imperial birth-date of Jesus; it was the same time of Rome’s very popular Pagan Saturnalia festival.
  • Nativity stories, plays, and decor are taken from several Pagan celebrations and imagery, like the ideas of shepherds, wise men (Magi), and an illuminating star were all secular in origin.
  • In the modern era Christmas has taken on more diverse forms, various rituals, and commercially energized out Rudolph’s cold, red ass; I mean, nose!
  • Saint Nicholas was an obscure 4th-century philanthropist and turned into a chimney-diving Santa Claus with elves and flying reindeer, a mingling and mixing of the ancient German king of the gods Odin and his Yule celebration.
  • The story A Christmas Carol was a quick-buck publication by Charles Dickens in 1843 turning traditional Christmas scenes into heavy sentimental, heart-grabbing sharing and giving.
  • The Advent Calendar of the holidays was once just an unromantic invention by a weary 19th-century Munich, Germany housewife to silence her pestering children who would not stop asking Momma, how many days until Christmas!?
  • Yes, now is the time for some good song! Hit play (below), give hugs, find mistletoe, and be of good cheer because it is the most wonderful time of the year!

As it turns out, if truth be told historically, the Christmas holidays actually have nothing to do with the birth of the anti-Semitic Greek Jesus Christ, but instead is a winter celebration and festival of diverse, all-inclusive, ancient cultural Coming Together. A gathering of family, friends, and strangers from many messy traditions and perceptions to form a messier, melting pot of holiday mess! I vote to call the winter celebration Good-mess. Goodmess Eve, Goodmess Day, and have a cheerful Goodmess New Year. Yes? Say Ho ho ho if you agree.

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Christmas_Lights

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Visiting Our Cusp, Limits, Fearlessly

Sometimes during unsettled times when so many around us are disconnected, cold, detached, uncaring, and avoiding simple social kindness to one another, or hyper-charged looking for drama and some type of controversy—perhaps because they’ve been living too long in begrudging routine mediocrity or luxury—we lose sight of what really matters in life as simple human beings. We forget that there is very little difference between all of us. In fact, genetically less than 0.1%. If we would embrace this commonality, this intimate reality, our very fragility and vulnerability with each other in this daunting, life-giving Universe… then we are never alone. Never unwanted or not needed. Never without friend or family. This primal, very basic organic condition we all share will never, EVER change; at least not in the next 100,000 years or more.

Be that as it may, we do sometimes need reminding, refreshers in how very minuscule each of us are in this vast, never-ending, beautifully inhumane Cosmos that completely dictates our quality of life and death. Our time here is but a flash in the bucket in the biggest picture, BUT remarkably impactful for the ‘millisecond’ of life and memories with other loved ones. With so many things uncertain yet ready to experience, its marrow ready to be sucked down to the last molecule of our 80, 70, 50, 20, or 10-years of life, whatever it is to be, makes it… pure gold! Every second, every ounce! How will you spend it? How will others experience you and remember you?

I posted this years ago from Oriah Mountain Dreamer. I want to post it again, as a reminder… that we usually have only one chance to make the most of this short, mortal, beautifully remarkable gift called life really count the most. Oriah knows exactly how to best live and die in it:

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon…
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

For the rest of Oriah’s powerful, to the bone and straight to the heart realism, go here.

 

If we do not test ourselves when life is good, plush for ourselves, and push our abilities our kind empathy, understanding, and what we can manage and gladly give, then how can we ever truthfully know how much our proactive help matters? How much does our charitable action count? How much does our voice count to help make other’s lives easier, happier in a purely humane way? It takes so much more to join the disadvantaged… raw in person and heart than simply saying words or writing a check. Joining all of humanity, the worst, the most unfortunate is where the most profound, deepest fulfillment of live is discovered. The alternative is a planet of unfeeling, insensitive, self-absorbed, non-humanity, as the song aptly describes…

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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21st-Century Humans More Peaceful

With utter fascination last Wednesday night Nov. 20th, I watched one of my favorite PBS shows, NOVA. The title of the show was The Violence Paradox. The one hour show investigated how over the last 200,000 years Homo sapiens as a whole are living and dying less violently. In other words, comparatively speaking in the 21st century by the compiled numbers most human beings are living and dying more peacefully than in our past.

stevenpinkerIn his two published books The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011) and its sequel Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018), cognitive psychologist, linguist, and Harvard Professor Steven A. Pinker states on the show:

We’ve done something right. Let’s figure out what it is and keep doing it. The reality is that we may be living in one of the most peaceful eras in human existence. Violence has been in decline, but that just doesn’t count as news. You just never see a journalist saying, “I’m reporting live, from a country that’s at peace,” or “a school that hasn’t been shot up.” Once I stumbled upon this graph, I mentioned it in a blog post, and then I received correspondence from scholars in a variety of fields, telling me that I could’ve made an even stronger case. I saw data-set after data-set, all of which showed declines in violence, in different parts of the world, with different kinds of violence. And I realized there was a story that needed to be told.

Enlightenment Now_PinkerHowever, Pinker wants to be clear about the explicit and implicit meaning of his findings so as not to be painted as a deluded optimist.

To point out that things were worse in the past is not to say we should relax, our problems are all solved, quite the contrary. It’s by understanding how our predecessors were able to drive down rates of violence that we can be emboldened to try to drive them down even further.

And this is where I was personally intrigued! How. How has this downward trend of violence, on the global scale, been achieved? What various factors and events have contributed to humanity’s gradual increase to more peaceful existences with each other?

I found the entire 1-hour 53-minute documentary to be powerful and yes, hopeful with tangible solutions and methods offered and that are in fact tried and tested for success, offering more reasons to keep this peaceful trend rising. What I found especially intriguing from the scientific and statistical findings was of the many factors scientists have connected to violence or peace, seven modern societal conditions and their related sub-conditions which guided humans either toward, hate, prejudice, and violence, or on a path of peace, collaboration, and prosperity. They were:

  • Government or State — the rule of law kept better peace
  • The Civilizing Process — economic order went hand in hand with social norms and manners, etiquette, self-control, etc.
  • Equality — learning about others with the same experiences (with empathy below)
  • Literacy — not just reading, but how much could be read about from a diverse continent or around our diverse world (e.g. Uncle Tom’s Cabin)
  • Empathy — feeling deeply about someone else’s plight and/or prosperity (linked with equality)
  • Biggest World Powers — the top major powers/armies are not fighting, at the moment
  • Testosterone Levels — today violence is no longer an effective tool to get something done or achieve conquest as it was before. Non-violent movements are 2-3 times as successful as violent movements

However, without these seven conditions above or just two to four of them or one or more in fragile existence, the whole of a civilization could collapse, returning it/us right back to Medieval societal hardships when one ruler or small group of “Lords” could easily become sadistic tyrants willing, forcing their subordinates into heinous acts or genocide. From the show:

NARRATOR: At SWPS University, in Poland, Tomasz Grzyb and Dariusz Doliński are revisiting a famous experiment first conducted in the 1960s by the American psychologist Stanley Milgram. In the aftermath of the holocaust, Milgram wanted to understand how seemingly good people could follow terrible orders.

Just as Milgram did, the experiment starts by setting up a fake study.

TOMASZ GRZYB (SWPS University): There are two participants, and there is a guy who presents himself as a professor of psychology, and he says that, “Well, you are a participant in an experiment which is devoted to find out how memory’s working.”

NARRATOR: Grzyb is masquerading as a participant, the so-called “learner.” The other participant is the “teacher.” Grzyb pretends to memorize sets of letters, but his responses are scripted. The teacher is told that the student is hooked up to the machine, and they must administer a shock, if he answers incorrectly.

Because the experiment is highly stressful for the real subject, the so-called teacher, it’s controversial. So, it will be stopped at 150 volts, the 10th switch on the panel, which, if real, would be an extremely painful shock.

Will anyone go so high?

PBS NOVAThis experiment showed that with a powerful authority figure or figures ordering the “teacher” to commit this violence—by fear, coercion, or perhaps blackmail—of the 220 participants, about 90% of them obeyed the orders. Many of us think we would never commit such heinous crimes on another, a baby, child, or adult, but this test and others like it suggest otherwise. Similar to the soldiers of Genghis Khan or the Nazi SS of World War II, all of us have the capacity to commit heinous acts given our personal circumstances and surroundings. Peace and non-violence are not a forgone conclusion.

There were two other fascinating facts the show presented:  1) the Availability Heuristic, and 2) strong Gun Regulations, particularly on assault weapons, cut in half or more, crimes of homicide and mass killings.

Availability heuristic says that a diet of news stories will fool us into thinking that violence is much more prevalent than it really is. This is very much the case with social-media bombardments of a specific (viral?) topic. On the contrary, this very narrow propaganda or sensationalism (for revenues) does not factually represent the overall global or continental trends.

Gun regulations that are widespread and strong, e.g. in 1996 Australia, contribute to significant reductions in suicide, homicide, and mass-killing rates according to these studies, click here.

Cure Violence logoFinally, an international program called Cure Violence, ranked #9 in top 500 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) in the world, stops the spread of violence by using the methods associated with disease control. And cities around the world have turned to Cure Violence to prevent violence—from the United States to Latin America to the Middle East. One method utilized in Iraq (based upon Contact Theory) is through a football/soccer league where teams must have players of various ethnicities, religious beliefs, and/or social classes, even if historically opposed, in order to enroll and play the season. In football/soccer their are no national, ethnic or religious boundaries. Players and their families are also encouraged to socialize off the soccer pitch in restaurants and home-gatherings. The soccer league and additional off-field activities have been a huge success! How about that Ark! 😉

If you ever have the chance to watch this outstanding documentary, The Violence Paradox by PBS NOVA, I highly recommend you do it! It is well worth 2-hours of your time and undivided attention. Most of all, it shows us clearly how to understand our lesser nature for violence, but more importantly it gives us proven solutions and methods of stopping the spread of the violence disease and it becoming a repetitive epidemic.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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