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Finding and Following Your Own Path

When my brother succeeded in getting me to join an Alanon group in 1994 or 1995 I had little understanding of the healing for mind and spirit I would find among the gentle, powerful souls that opened the door to healing simply by listening to me and speaking of their own paths in a way that made it clear I could take what I found healing and leave the rest.

What I did know was that I was deeply afraid of others trying to tell me how to think, how to live, or even who to be. What I did not know was that the boundary violations I had experienced when I was young had created some very large trauma that was only increased by living through the slow deaths of both of our parents when my brother and I were teenagers.

Healing and a deep inspiration flowed from a combination of those inspiring spaces for listening and walkabouts in the forests and mountains, first of Orgeon and then of New Mexico. And what I found was an understanding that no one had the answer for me, no one had the right to tell me what I should do, that only by that personal walk with God in those places of quietness and stillness could I hear and see and feel and find my own muse, my own path, my own unique way of creating and connecting.

I have begun to understand the enormous power of words, the extent to which the misuse of words has created large swaths of humanity and society with seriously reduced capacity for sensing reality, sensing the power of the words and images that are thrown around so carelessly.

So much of what we say to each other is either powerless, without inspiration or filled with power to damage and limit those who accept the words. This comes either as a result of ignorance (the most common case) or intentional malevolence. I have been guilty of using words in ways that were not respectful of the need for others to find their own way. Phrases like “you should do …” are rarely helpful or useful and are often damaging. I would now argue that they never belong in print because, when they are appropriate, it is always very situation dependent. When they do appear with well intentioned people, I believe it is most often due to enthusiasm for discovered insights that have worked well for them.

We discover something that works for us and we immediately evangelize others, certain we know the way, that we have the answer for them as well. This is most pronounced in those that have an undeveloped gift for teaching, but it seems to effect everyone who has made discoveries they think others might need. So often we speak these words and add force of our own, lest those listening (or who are forced to listen) not get the importance of what we are saying.

Yet this betrays a misunderstanding of the power of truth and inspiration. It shows we are not sufficiently aware of how others find their muse, their path of creativity and connection.

Balanced, wholistic truth contains in itself all the power needed for it to take root and grow. In growing, it adapts to the soil it finds, encouraging the uniqueness it finds, illuminating the creativity that results. The creativity that results in turn illuminates new and original facets of that truth. A simple telling of a narrative containing that truth, without force, transmits that truth in a way that is most likely to be accepted, though perhaps laying, like seeds in the ground,  awaiting just the right conditions for to take hold and grow.

The encouragement to the listeners to find, explore, hear the stillness themselves, to become adventurers and participants in that deepest conversation with their Teacher — this becomes the most powerful thing we can do for others.

In their seeing what we have learned, what we have found, what is part of our story, they are inspired to begin their own journey, to find their own muse.


It is arrogance, blind as it always is, that leads us to think we can find the path for others. Sometimes that arrogance is a subtle, cultural type of arrogance. Other times it is overt and obnoxious.

When we begin to see clearly and deeply, the humility that must accompany this leads us to get out of the way of others in their quest to discover who they are, where they can go and what they are privileged to create.

We discover that the path of the creative teacher and mentor, collaborating alongside those involved in the joy of finding and following their own paths, is an experience full of living energy and fresh discovery.

 

Connection vs Attention

At our fingertips, in the present, in the place we find quietness, we may find boundless inspiration for a rich, creative life. When this is focused and refined under the influence of our own uniqueness, our own particular genius, we find illumination and a deeply satisfying flow.

Far too often we surrender who we are in an effort to gather attention, when what we are seeking is connection with others, connection with a richly creative life. Human society has almost completely abandoned the cultivation of truly individual genius for the pursuit of attention. As a result we are infinitely poorer.

Yet this choice is completely under our control — we may refuse this lopsided bargain. We may instead choose an abundance that more than makes up for whatever loss of fame or fortune our choice entails. Those that turn away from that obsession, towards quietness and life, find a healing, restoring force, gently coaxing them back to playfulness, to a place of freedom, to originality and creativity.

Immersion in nature, connection to the life that surrounds us, communion with quietness that speaks and engages us with Infinity — here we find sustenance for a life that never loses freshness or originality.

Boldly choosing connection rather than attention, such a life does not sacrifice its own brilliant originality to the temptations of fame or fortune, nor does it hide from the face of fear. Instead, that life enriches everyone and everything it touches, and in so doing finds connection.


In a present quietness cultivated, we find inspiration for a rich, creative life.

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Using Photography

I am building a website for the Analysis + Data Group that I am helping establish at WSU. I am trying something new, in order to communicate to potential student recruits much more than a usual mathematics website communicates. I want students who visit the website to begin to get a feel for how we think, who we are, even what it is like to think with us and learn with us. To do this I am partly using non-standard (for mathematics) photography: no mugshots allowed!

(A little about the group: there are five principal members — myself, Bala Krishnamoorthy, Haijun Li, Charles Moore, and Alex Panchenko — and about 12 Graduate Fellows in it — that number will firm up this fall. We will focus both on pure analysis and applications of insights from analysis to data problems.)

Here are a few of the photos I have already taken (or my son Levi has taken of me), that I will be using in the new website.


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Alex Panchenko, who combines insights from nonlinear analysis and statistical physics in his work in analysis/applied analysis.


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Chuck Moore, who works on problems in PDE and Harmonic Analysis.


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KRV, about to explain 4.2.25 to Levi (and Obi).


This project has revived my interest in photography. As a result, I have also been doing some macro work, on my walks with Obi.

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The last picture, of the aphid farm being tended by the ants, pushes the limits of the Samsung S-4 phone I have been using to get these pictures. So it has prompted me to get some new equipment. In that process I discovered Mathieu and Heather’s wonderful blog on  mirrorless cameras and photography MiirrorLessons. They introduced me to the electronic photography magazine Inspired Eye  which I also recommend without reservation. The two founding editors of the magazine — Olivier Duong and Don Springer — have precisely the right attitude/philosophy. That philosophy results in an environment that is rich and generous, a fact that is made abundantly clear once you read and  experience the resulting publication. They get art, in a fundamental way. That might seem like a funny statement since the magazine is about photography, and mostly street photography at that. But I stand by what I said — they get art in a way that very few do.

And life is about art, be it creative work in mathematics, or the way one makes food, or the way we (can) relate to others, or how we think and write. While it doesn’t upset me any more, I still protest when people express the idea that mathematics is somehow a non-creative non-art. Those kinds of statements are my cue for very gentle, non-forceful illumination.


I will post a link to the new group website when it is released in a few weeks.

First Post

As indicated in the “About” page for this blog, I am using this blog as a place to put things I have written.  As also noted there, though I have comments turned off, I welcome email conversations with anybody interested in respectful conversations. For that purpose, you can email me at vixie@speakeasy.net