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    Your family stories may hide a ‘folk knowing’ that helps you make sense of the world. Here’s why

    April 19th, 2019

    For as long as I can remember, my family has told stories of itself. They are stories passed from generation to generation that sound entirely like amusements, but that are actually deeper lessons.

    Like my dad’s grandfather, who grew the best roses in the district. His secret? Swearing at them. He proclaimed that his roses grew so beautifully because they wanted to impress him; he would swear at them every single day, so the story goes, and they would grow their best to try and out-do him.

    My mother’s grandparents were also extremely talented gardeners and artists, in both music and visual art. From my own grandmother, I learned how to tell the forthcoming weather from the clouds and the moon; and how to predict earthquakes from the sea.

    Rhymes from my own parents include weather-predicting rhymes, like:

    Wind from the east
    Means rain for a week

    And while you can grow up with things like this, if you ignore them, then you are literally ignoring the folk knowledge of your culture.

    It’s common for people in towns and cities to laugh at old folks’ claims about how the weather affects plants and animals and the ocean. Their laughter shows their disconnection from their environment more than anything else.

    Many people proclaim the benefits of talking to (with) plants. Or playing music with plants. In the ’70s, a horticulturalist talked about the impact of talking to plants and playing music to them. Dr George Washington Carver, a renowned American herbalist, proclaimed that any plant will give up its secrets to you if you love it enough. An American botanist known as ‘the wizard of horticulture’, Luther Burbank, would talk to his plants and create a safe, loving space for them, resulting in astonishing things, like cacti dropping their thorns.

    Modern researchers, like Dr Monica Gagliano, also see plants as sentient, having repeatedly demonstrated that they hear, think, learn, and communicate.

    The studies are fascinating, undeniably. They lend some credence to what our mothers and fathers over generations have been telling us. In our 21st century, science-dominant, spiritually absent framework, you can more easily dismiss your family’s stories until you have the science to ‘prove’ them correct.

    This is why people scoff at my predicting earthquakes. Until they see that I’m right, every single time. Or who just won’t accept that certain moon positions or cloud patterns are harbingers of wind, or rain, or drought.

    I’m a structured enough person that I find the science of things to be a sexy, shining validation. But I don’t let it stop me from my own knowing. Yes, I meditate with plants; yes, I’ll give them reiki; yes, I’ll communicate with them. I’ll accept what I learn from them. Then, if a study somewhere down the line validates it, then yippee. If not, who cares?

    Much of your knowledge of the world and its beings comes to you through your family’s stories. It’s important that you listen to them, and at least try to understand them. You can assume that the “talking to plants thing” is a “carbon dioxide exchange” thing. You can assume that by talking to your plants you are simply spending enough time with them up-close to see when they are stressed or infected. And both of those things may be true. But your assumption may cause you to ignore another truth, which is that your plants listen to you and appreciate your attention, time, and engagement; that they are your friends and family as much as the people around you. That you can learn from them, if you know how to be still and to listen.

    Folk stories have always been poo-pooed by ‘intelligent’ society. Yet the more I read, the older I get, the more I remember who I am, the more important these folk stories become.

    What I’d like you to consider is what stories in your family have been told, that are amusing, but which may also hide hidden truths. I bet there is more than one.

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    On the Nature of Now

    April 16th, 2019

    The material and non-material existence, the having and the yearning, they’re all the same thing. The suffering that they yield is the same: The suffering of not having the things you want and yearning for them, and being powerless because of things; or having things, and being trapped and wanting freedom but being powerless because of things.

    The having and the not-having is the same in terms of how you exist. They simply have different types of energy.

    When you are right in the Now, the flow occurs in you, around you, and for you.

    Now is all there is. Now and now and now and now and now.

    The reason why Now is so important is because what humans conceive as the ‘Flow’ is continuous.

    Imagine it this way.

    You’re standing in a stream. Your body is translucent, because it is the same material and energy-that-creates-worlds that is also the stream in which you’re standing.

    If you stand in the one spot, then this imaginary flow comes from behind you, moves through you, moves past you. You are not the same person afterwards, just as a river is never the same river from moment to moment. It’s staying in the one spot and allowing the flow to move through you, changing you, in every second, split-second, conscious moment.

    When you project yourself into times forward or backwards – future or past, you are moving against the flow of that energy, that stream. You begin fighting it by trying to direct the un-direct-able. Trying to shape the flow is impossible; all you can shape is where you are in relation to that flow.

    When you view Now-ness as a transformational strea, then you can’t imagine yourself too far into the material nature of Human. When you accept the idea of an eternal Now, you accept your responsibility, which is to witness what is, but not be involved in what is. When you’re involved in what is, then you aren’t allowing the moments to flow naturally. When you are a witness, you experience what is and realise that it’s not what you’d like to experience it, so you change it. And, having changed it, resume your position in relation to the flow.

    Your change occurs in the moments, decisions, and thoughts that you think. If you take action, then you and your ‘flow’ have both changed. And then the next moments, decisions, and thoughts that you think are different.

    This is really how you influence your future. This is really what manifesting is. It isn’t a muscling of an improbable future; it’s witnessing, understanding, being inspired to take action, taking action, in a perpetual cycle.

    Your power is in taking action on the things that feel right and not wrong to you; because the feeling that ‘this is right’ is harmony; and harmony is your natural state of being.

    One of the things of which you must be aware is that when you’re a witness, you are not involved. When you are involved, you form an opinion that is fixed. When you have opinions that are fixed, they become beliefs. Beliefs allow you to be shaped by people and things around you on a physical plane, from news to social mores. When you’re a witness, you have the luxury of interrogation: Is this right, does this resonate, is this where I feel I am meant to be, how does this feel (etc).

    If it’s not right, you shift yourself in relation to it, and, having shifted, resume your place in the stream of now.

    You shift, and grow, and keep allowing the flow to pass through you.

    In the passing, it changes you.

    Then you are a different you.

    Which, ultimately, means that the things around you that you are witnessing right now are completely and utterly malleable.

    And you are not the same person right now that you were before you read this screed.

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    Syntopic reading: What it is and how to do it

    April 13th, 2019

    You may think you know how to read, but most people don’t.

    ‘Wait on!’ you’re grumbling. ‘I’m reading this!’

    True! Congratulations, you can do the most basic level of reading.

    The levels of reading

    There are actually 4 levels of reading. The one that you’re taught in school, is Level 1. That’s when you can read a page and make sense of it. I call it ‘basic’ reading; others call it ‘elementary’ reading. It doesn’t matter whether you completed high school or not, the schooling system doesn’t get you beyond basic reading.

    Level 2 is Inspectional Reading. If you’re lucky, you went to a high school that taught you how to ask questions of any kind of text, and how to make a book your own. Inspectional reading is a style of reading where you ‘inspect it: You look at all the parts, read the headings and the first sentences, and generally familiarise yourself with the work. If you do do this type of reading, it’s much more likely that you ‘found it’, rather than were ‘taught’ it. In my case, I stumbled upon the technique while coming to grips with an obscene number of texts while in my earliest days at university.

    Level 3 is when you become a Demanding Reader. As a demanding reader, you exert effort. You only use this level of reading from texts from which you want to profit (generally speaking). It requires that you ask particular questions of a text, take notes in a particular way, and make the book your own.

    Level 4 is the highest and most demanding type of reading of all: Syntopic Reading. When you’re reading at the Syntopic level, you’re working to synthesise material across a discipline (most of the time). Syntopic reading itself has five levels, requires a different approach to inspection, and is the point at which you make the authors work for you rather than you interpreting them.

    If you’re interested in this stuff, go and buy (so you can write in) How to read a book by Mortimer J. Adler.

    Syntopical Reading: How to do it

    If you’re not interested in reading Adler’s book but you want to know how to conduct syntopical reading, then let me have a moment on the moral high-ground: Shame on you. Go and do your homework.

    Ah, that’s better.

    Now, let’s get cracking.

    Syntopical reading has two phases

    Phase 1 is Preparation; Phase 2 is Reading.

    Preparation phase

    During the preparation phase, you compile a bibliography. It requires a deep survey of the field, and you listing them all for yourself in some fashion. Then, you need to understand which books from that list are not just going to be relevant to you, but are both pertinent and fitting.

    Reading phase

    You can “just read” them. But what’s the point? You’re just doing basic reading if you just read them.

    No, no. Syntopical reading is much deeper than this. Here’s how it works:

    1. Inspect them to find the most relevant passages
    2. Construct a neutral terminology that you will use. Don’t just pick up the terms that the authors use. This forces the authors to come to terms with you and your goals.
    3. Create a set of neutral propositions, which is a list of questions that the authors need to answer.
    4. Spend time defining the issues in the works, by listing all major and minor issues that you identify, on both sides of the subject. You have to interpret the authors, not just copy out what they say. The point is to analyse the work yourself and understand the author’s key positioning, and sometimes that’s not explicit.
    5. Conduct an analysis of the issue by ordering the questions in such a way as to throw the most light onto the subject as possible.

    One of the critical problems, of course, is knowing where to start. If you have access to a syntopicon, like Great Books of the Western World, great! However, even if you do have something like that, there’s a good chance that the world has moved on since it was published.

    Nevertheless, if you do have access to a syntopicon, that’s an excellent gateway.

    The point of syntopic reading is to come to terms with an entire field, issue, argument, or discipline, for whatever purpose you are chasing. It’s important to keep direct quotes from the authors as evidence for your issues identification, and from the questions that they answer, so that you can demonstrate enough distance; this is what Adler terms ‘dialectical detachment’.

    In Summary

    Syntopical reading is the most demanding level of all four levels of reading. It enables you to force authors to come to terms with your subject, question, argument, or issue. Its benefits are not just academic; once you know how to deploy syntopical reading, you will know how to assess any issue, in any text (not just in books), and to be able to construct a narrative out of a field with relatively little effort. In so doing, you grow not just your general knowledge, but also your mind.

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