Bearhug – Part 2

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by DCH Park

Bear Hug by terren in Virginia https://www.flickr.com/photos/8136496@N05/2257963106/

Bear Hug by terren in Virginia https://www.flickr.com/photos/8136496@N05/2257963106/

He looked around. He was at work. He remembered this job. It was from several years ago. He was wearing a suit and tie and talking with a friend from school. They were in grad school together. They were both working as part time consultants in one of the prestigious firms downtown. They both had the same title but he had been in the job longer and had more responsibility.

Keith, his friend, had just told him his hourly rate. It was almost double his own rate. He hadn’t asked for the information. Keith had just volunteered it.

At a loss for words, he thought back to the interview process. He had submitted his resume and gone through several interviews – all standard for graduate students looking for part time work. The company had made an offer which was a little better than the going rate. He’d accepted, thinking that he was doing well. Now Keith had told him that he had been offered almost twice as much to do the same job. It didn’t seem right.

“That much? Really?”

“Yeah. Their idea of ‘fair compensation’ is really whacked. I thought you should know.”

“Thanks,” his head was still reeling. He had heard of this sort of thing but he hadn’t knowingly encountered it before. Here it was in “white collar America.” The only thing that he could put his finger on to “account” for the difference was race. That didn’t seem germane but the difference was something to consider. He wondered what else they were hiding from him. Then a thought occurred to him. How well did he know Keith? Maybe Keith was lying to him so that he would say something and get into trouble.

On the other hand, if Keith hadn’t been lying, he didn’t want to say anything that might hurt his friend. He wondered if secrecy benefited anyone in the end. Wasn’t transparency better?

Keith asked, “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” he responded.

The sense of injustice and indignity still burned in him. He remembered the incident clearly, feeling immersed in it all over again. At the same time, he watched it unfold as if it was happening to someone else. He was in it at the same time he was outside of it, watching the tableau unfold. Did his attachment to his emotions keep his memory alive somehow?

He wondered if there was anything else to remember. He opened himself to whatever else there might be. Suddenly the scene changed.

He found himself in a corridor on a bright day wearing different clothes. Instead of a suit, he wore jeans, a loose, cotton shirt open at the collar, and sneakers. He could also see straps and feel them digging into his shoulders. He was in high school. It was the end of the day and buses were lined up waiting for kids. There was shouting and energetic bustling and rushing about.

In contrast to the noise made by the kids, the buses stood in a silent row. He left the corridor and walked out to his bus. The books in his pack dug into his back, threatening to pull him over. The image of him bending backwards under the weight of his pack kept playing through his mind…

The books were dense and bulky and heavy – too heavy and bulky to carry them all under his arm but he needed them all for his homework. That was why he needed the backpack. Nevertheless there were kids who didn’t seem to have many books at all. How did they do it, he wondered.

He found his bus, climbed into it, went to a seat about three-quarters of the way back from which he could watch most of the activity, and sat down. He thought about putting his pack on the seat next to him but thought better of it and put it on the floor, between his feet, instead.

He surreptitiously looked at the floor before he lowered his pack the last inch. He always wondered if the floor was clean and what had been thrown on it. This one looked clean. The school bus always did. Nevertheless, he speculated on what might have been spilled or thrown on the floor and what might be in the grit that he always expected to find there and never did.

Thoughts about the floor left him almost as soon as he felt the nylon fabric of the backpack come to rest. He knew that although the bus would fill up to capacity before it left, many kids lived within a mile of the school and would be getting off soon. There would be plenty of free seats shortly.

He watched the other kids climbing onto the bus with a sense of uninvolved interest, the way an anthropologist might people-watch. He noted the fashions they wore and how what they wore and how much energy they put into their appearance seemed to be dictated by what they considered important. He idly mused about using those differences to bring people closer together rather than to define and vilify an out-group. This led him to feel into the nature of vilification. How does one vilify? What does it mean to vilify? Does it change things? Is there a difference between what someone else does to you and what you do to yourself?

Soon enough, the bus was filled, the doors were closed, and it rolled off with all the others. It kept its place in line to the edge of the school property and then turned left at the corner while the one behind it went in a different direction. The bus went down the main street for a short distance and then turned right to go to its first stop.

About halfway up the hill, it stopped on a quiet street to let several kids off. The leaves of trees from opposite sides of the street mingled overhead as their branches merged, making a dappled tunnel that the bus rolled down. It made several more stops as it wended its way through the neighborhood emerging on the other side of the hill. It turned right onto a major road and traveled a short distance before turning left into another neighborhood.

The bus was less than half full when it made the turn, making it easy to see everyone left. There was a girl sitting a few seats ahead of him and across the aisle. Her jet black hair bobbed and bounced with the bus and her head movements. He couldn’t see her face but he was sure it was her. She was sharing her seat with another girl. The two of them sat on a lone island in a sea of empty seats. She was chatting away with her friend, apparently oblivious to the bus and hadn’t noticed him or maybe she had and thought it wasn’t worth acknowledging him.

He gazed at her and imagined touching her hair. He remembered trying to begin a conversation with her many times. He had tried to be sincere and show her that he thought about things deeply and strove for original thoughts. He indicated that he appreciated originality and creativity and asked her what she thought but she didn’t appreciate that. It only seemed to make her laugh more.

Once he had worked up the courage to slip a poem of his into her locker between classes. Later he found her reading the poem aloud to her friends. She saw him and pointed him out, laughing. He melted back into the rushing hallway, feeling confused.

He stopped himself and felt into his memory again. It wasn’t shame, anger, fear, or numbness that he felt. It was confusion. This surprised him. Perhaps his emotion had changed, perhaps he felt something different in retrospect than what he did at the time, but this was the feeling he’d brought back. He decided to accept his feelings for what they were and continue his exploration of what came up.

He felt into why he was confused. He sought to feel the whole thing, not just the most poignant parts of what he felt. He realized that he couldn’t feel the whole thing as long as he was focused on part of the whole so he opened himself to all of the confusion. He watched himself feel one thing after another. It was curious to witness himself feeling it and feel it at the same time. But he was vast, even if he only thought about himself that way in jest.

His goal was to get beyond the emotion so he could see what else it brought up and the quickest, maybe the only, way to the other side was to go through it. Without getting beyond the emotion, he knew, anything that came up would probably be incomplete or misleading. Interestingly, witnessing himself feel was enough. It allowed him to feel the whole thing.

Once he got past the image of the dark-haired girl and what it brought up, he found himself walking through a mall with a different former girlfriend. It was long after grad school and they had been living together for several years. They had met in a different city and she had followed him when he moved. That had been several years earlier. Now, she was in the midst of breaking up with him.

“So on a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate him?”

She protested, “I’m not very good with numbers!”

“I understand,” he pushed. “What would you say? What’s the first number that comes to mind when you think of him?”

“Eleven!” She smiled when she said it and a glowing warmth vibrated in her eyes and her voice.

Bearhug saw all this and felt the change in her energy. “What would you say I am?”

“I’m not good at numbers!”

“Just say it.”

“Six.”

He was expecting an eight, considering her obvious infatuation. Maybe she would rate him a seven, he thought, but rating him a six seemed cruel. He didn’t even think it was true. He guessed that she would have rated him higher when they first met or when she left her friends and home to be with him. They walked in silence for a while.

He remembered when they had first met. They were both tutors in their graduate programs, he in math, she in English and writing. She had seemed so poised and exotic, with her helmet of straight black hair and chocolate skin, that he had literally found it hard to breathe. He wooed her with flowers, books, and poetry. At one point, he left her a single red rose with a card that said, “For you, an American Beauty.”

Now she was characterizing him to be half as attractive as someone whom she had met in the remedial reading class she taught at the local college. His brain had been damaged chemically when he was a fetus and as an adult he was mildly retarded. This was the person whom she swooned over.

He let the tide of anger and rejection wash over him. Would he always be rejected and betrayed by the ones he loved? Was he missing something? Was there some clue or combination of hints that indicated that someone was trustworthy?

He took a deep breath as that emotion receded like the waves he used to dive under. He floated in the calm between waves. It was like the pause between breaths.

He suddenly recalled a scene in the middle of winter. There was a trace of snow on the ground and patches of ice were on the roadway. He was standing at the corner, waiting for his bus. He was in the first year of high school. There were several other kids at the bus stop, including the dark-haired girl, though he hadn’t spoken to her yet in this memory.

Most of the kids were known for smoking, drinking, having sex, and other forms of rebellion. Their clothing was either too revealing or tended toward the black leather and blue jean motorcycle-hood-look in spite of the relatively well-off suburban neighborhood they lived in. Each of the kids stood in the cold alone, apart from the others. They didn’t talk. They stuffed their hands into their pockets and instinctively tried to present as small an area as possible to the cold. The smokers puffed on their cigarettes to warm their faces. Each one suffered separately, waiting for the bus and its heat to arrive.

Bearhug looked at this scene and thought that it was silly and unnecessary. He gathered a small pile of wood chips and sticks from the occasional detritus that lined the road and chose his spot on the curving curb so that the slight wind blew through it but not too much. He leaned some of the smaller sticks against the curb. Ignoring the scoffing and laughter from the other kids, he produced a lighter from his pocket, turned the flame setting on high, and held the flame beneath the little lean-to.

As the smaller sticks caught and he fed gradually larger pieces to the fire, it gave off warmth in a cheery little circle. The scoffing ceased immediately and the other kids crowded around the fire, extending their hands to warm them. Several kids stood around the little fire while one crouched down to feed it. The fire cracked and danced, as fires do, warming them all against the winter’s cold reach.

When the bus finally came, the other kids vanished into its crowded warmth without any acknowledgment or word of thanks, leaving Bearhug alone with the fire. The bus driver waited silently and watched him through the open door. Bearhug stamped the fire out, trusting that any remaining embers would die on the cold asphalt, turned, and climbed up into the bus. The driver pulled a silver handle and the doors swung closed behind him, sealing him in with the dim shadows of the bus.

Bearhug found himself floating in darkness. The next image came almost immediately. It felt different. He was inside the house. He knew without looking that it was nighttime and it was cold outside. He was a young child of 6 or 7. He could smell the pine in the air. They had a huge Christmas tree and all sorts of decorations about the front of the house. The tree itself had lines of lights, bulbs, tinsel icicles, candy canes, and strings of popcorn on it. A big blanket was spread on the floor under the tree, though it was empty.

Food was plentiful, which wasn’t out of the ordinary, but the types of food were different. They had a bucket full of nuts which had a center stalk with holes for a nutcracker and several nut picks to stand up in. When the bucket came out over the holidays, it never seemed to empty no matter how many nuts he ate. Candies appeared in abundance. There were hard candies of various types and flavors, chocolate, and sesame candies made of honey and sesame seeds. He remembered sucking a candy cane down to a sharp point once. He poked himself on the tongue with that sharp point.

Generally it was a happy time but several times each year his mother roasted chestnuts in the oven. He remembered how the smell of them would permeate the whole house and linger. It was horrible. He remembered the sensation of being cut by the smell. It would lay him open, starting at his nose and cutting through flesh and bone relentlessly until he was a raw, twitching nerve. It cut over and over like a thin paper razor that didn’t cut deeply but didn’t stop cutting so that cut after cut penetrated deeper and deeper. It kept going until the constant annoyance was all that he could think of and then it would cut some more.

“Mom, I hate chestnuts!”

He couldn’t remember his mother ever saying anything in response but he could picture her smiling. She continued to roast chestnuts several times each holiday season and she ate them with relish. She didn’t care that he suffered. Perhaps she didn’t believe him. Perhaps she thought that he was lying to control her actions. At any rate, she didn’t change her behavior to eliminate the smell. It almost seemed like she did the opposite.

Eventually, he gave up saying anything or trying to let her know how much the smell of roasting chestnuts bothered him. It had always been a part of the holidays for him. He couldn’t remember a childhood holiday when he didn’t feel physically ill from the smell of chestnuts.

Eating them seemed like a minor pleasure for his mother while he felt as if the smell sliced through his head and drove nails through his brain. He accepted that his mother didn’t care how he felt or didn’t hear him of believe him and that he had to suffer. His protests had no effect on her. He couldn’t remember a time before his mother tortured him with the chestnut smell. There was no single memory but he had a constant feeling of frustration and not being loved or trusted or taken care of. There was a constant sense that he had been let down – not in every part of his life, but in some part of his life, perhaps a hidden part. It had become part of the background of his life. It was the chorus that framed everything else.

When he realized that, the feeling he experienced became himself. He was witnessing himself feel and what he felt was himself. His mother had undeniably done things but what they meant and what he accepted into his view of the world and of himself were up to him.

He had blamed her for victimizing him but maybe she was a victim, too. Based on various things that he had learned about her life after she’d died, he suspected that was true. She’d been deeply scarred by the war and events that preceded it. She’d been torn away from her own parents by the war. Perhaps the torture was her way of making him strong. Perhaps it was an act of love…

In seeing her as another wounded being rather than as a heartless victimizer, his view of her shifted. He saw the divine love in her and that inspired the divine in himself. He saw and responded to the divine person, not to her actions or his own expectations.

He brought the strength, courage, and understanding from his adult self into the pain and frustration perpetuated by his younger self. By honestly noting and acknowledging the pain and frustration, he accepted them. And by accepting them, by hearing them, they were transformed into what they were – wounds that cried out for acceptance and love. And he had that acceptance and love in abundance. That was the gift of his divine self. In this way, the pain and frustration were transcended but the energy and exuberance of youth were retained.

He returned to the clearing and saw that he was alone. He didn’t see his friend anywhere. He felt at peace. He sat in the clearing and enjoyed the forest and the feeling within him. The sense of frustration was gone. More importantly, the thing that had been hanging over his head didn’t seem to be there any longer. He hadn’t even noticed it was there until it was gone. He felt more complete than he had in a long time and knew that over time he would grow to feel even more complete. He stretched and yawned. He stood up and staggered a step or two noting with some surprise that he felt no tingling or tiredness. On the contrary, he felt energized. He felt lighter and more at ease.

He looked around and saw a path right in front of him that hadn’t been there before – at least he hadn’t seen it. He remembered his original intention to go into town. It looked like the new path was going in the right direction so he followed it. He walked with his eyes open. The fairy city was still present – he could see it whenever he closed his eyes – but it receded into the background. He didn’t know how long he had been in the forest and he wanted to get to the public library before it closed. He must have walked most of the way into town because he only had a little more to go. The weather turned cold again and he stopped to retrieve his warm outer clothing. He came out of the woods suddenly on a quiet side street he had never been down before but the familiar bustle of the town was visible a few blocks over. The sky had cleared and the sun shone brightly overhead.

He headed into town, thinking about his adventure as he walked, hands in his pockets. It was like a hall of mirrors. He remembered stepping between two mirrors once and becoming part of the infinite regress between them. There had been a slight bend to the line of reflections, as if they were sitting on a curve. He let that memory evaporate as he walked on and then recalled playing in the water at the beach as a child. He had swirled and tumbled with the rolling waves. He would let his body go limp and relaxed in the water as waves pushed him into shore.

Remarkably, by relaxing his muscles and letting go of his will, he always flowed with the water back to shore, though it probably looked pretty bad and he always got water and sand in his ears. He smiled remembering. Sometimes his neck or back would make a loud cracking noise like something was breaking as the water bent him into various shapes but he would always be unhurt and his muscles felt looser afterward. He never hit bottom, at least not hard enough to do any damage.

He knew that he wasn’t done. But he sensed that whatever emotions were next were still too tightly wound up – like tangles in a ball of string – but with time, patience, and witnessing awareness, he knew they would relax like a new flower opens in the spring or a seed softens in water.

#

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Bearhug – Part 2″ by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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The Circle of Existence: Chapter 11 – Words, Concepts, Expectations

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bypeople-talking-441462_1280 DCH Park

“Miracles happen every day, change your perception of what a miracle is and you’ll see them all around you.”
– Jon Bon Jovi

“Studies have shown that 90% of error in thinking is due to error in perception.”

“Most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies of perception rather than mistakes of logic.”
– Edward de Bono

There is a literary and dramatic trope called a perception filter. With a perception filter in place, you tend not to see whatever it is hiding. You avoid it. You don’t see it, either the thing being hidden or the filter itself. You don’t notice them. You just avoid them. The filter doesn’t confer true invisibility but you tend to not notice things that are hidden by it.

The fact is that such perception filters are in place all around us. Real perception filters do not require a technological implementation. All they require is an assumption, an expectation, on the part of the viewer and that viewer will assume that he has seen something that is not there or ignore something that is – all in accordance with his expectations. In other words, the viewer will tend to see what he expects to see, regardless of whether or not what he expects is part of the reality around him.

It sounds crazy but expectations control perception. That means that you can control perception. You just have to control expectations. This seems very powerful but also very silly, even unbelievable. Isn’t it obvious that you see whatever is there to be seen, regardless of expectations?

Actually, you don’t. One very dramatic example is in the notion that the world is flat. Another is in the attitude with which telescopic observations consistent with the Copernican theory of the Universe were greeted. More recent examples include the attitudes that protected small pox (the piercing of which led to development of the first small pox vaccine), the attitude that protected disease in general (the piercing of which led to stopping a plague and the practice of epidemiology), the so-called Ultraviolet Catastrophe (which led to the creation of quantum theory), and the characterization of the chemical nature of DNA.

In the last cited example, people the world over, including leading scientists, assumed that the chemical structure of DNA had to be protein based because up to that time, protein was the only type of molecule that was known to form complex structures. Every complex structure in nature seemed to be based on protein so it seemed reasonable that DNA, which conveys complex information from one generation to the next, would be based on protein.

However every chemical analysis of DNA failed to detect any protein. The chemical nature of DNA remained a mystery until Watson and Crick famously threw out the assumption that DNA had to be protein based. Once they did that, they were free to look at the data with open eyes. They were free of their expectations and consequently, free to receive and follow their observations and able to perceive the right conclusion.

If anything, assumptions and expectations are even more common in everyday life. Lest you assume that such filtering of perception might have been true in the past but is no longer true, please see the Attention Experiment (its website is called “the invisible gorilla”). The Attention Experiment demonstrates that this phenomenon is still active today. (Chabris, Christopher and Simons, Daniel, “the invisible gorilla”, www.theinvisiblegorilla.com/gorilla_experiment.html, accessed 17 JUL 14.

Please note that the mere fact that this is going on today does not necessarily mean that we must be this way. It does not imply a boundary or limitation. It illustrates what is going on so that we can be more aware. By being more aware of what is going on (one hopes) we can notice when we slip into unthinking default behavior and perceptions and instead, do something about it.)

Perceptions determine the shape of society. If we’re not careful, those assumptions and expectations can control everything. They can shape how we interact with each other. They can shape how we see and understand ourselves. They can determine whole economies. Arguably, they already do.

How can you free yourself of such control? How can you notice such assumptions and expectations so that you can deal with them and free yourself to determine your own fate? Creative scientists, artists, philosophers, and clerics have wrestled with this question down the ages. Economists and politicians have been motivated by the idea of understanding the people and forces at work to better inspire folks and provide for their needs, hopefully creating a happier society.

To be sure, this is not true of everyone. There are some who seem to be focused on making money and amassing power over others. Their attitude seems to be that things are the way they are and they can’t be changed. They therefore try to fit in to the system as they find it. They are concerned with playing the game better rather than trying to define a better game.

Whether they realize it or not, by acceding to the status quo, they are supporting the status quo. The extant system reflects the choices of everyone who is alive now. If enough of those choices fall in line with the status quo, it should be no surprise that the status quo does not change.

Such change begins with you. I have found that precision and clarity in the things that I say is an important first step toward changing what I say. I cannot heal what I do not see. By the same token, I cannot change what I do not notice. My aim is to become more aware of what I say. Toward this end, I have found that scientific thinking, observation, and honesty are useful, although these things are by no means unique to science. Indeed, I find that they are common to all human pursuits.

What filter or expectations do you have? What do you take for granted or see as “just the way things are?” How do those assumptions shape your experience of things?

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More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”The Circle of Existence: Chapter 11 – Words, Concepts, Expectations” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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The Circle of Existence: Chapter 10 – Awareness Over Discipline

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by DCH Park

Kids Giving you problems? Hire an Elephant by peasap, https://www.flickr.com/photos/peasap/4684467836/

Kids Giving you problems? Hire an Elephant by peasap, https://www.flickr.com/photos/peasap/4684467836/

“Awareness is empowering.”
– Rita Wilson

“Buddha means awareness, the awareness of body and mind that prevents evil from arising in either.”
– Bodhidharma

“There is no such thing as cold, only absence of heat. There is no such thing as dark, only absence of light. There is no such thing as evil, only absence of connection.”
– anonymous

In my control class in college, we studied various ways to design and analyze dynamic control systems of various types, ranging from purely mechanical ones to electrical ones (which had no transistors) to electronic ones (which did). Analytically, all of these systems could be modeled and understood using the same principles. Mathematically they were identical in spite of the fact that completely different physical components and forces were in operation in different systems.

There are primarily two different philosophies or approaches to designing control circuits. One is called feedback and the other is called feed-forward. Most of the control systems in use in the world today are feedback systems.

In a feedback control circuit, a portion of the output of the system is fed back into the control circuit inputs. The control circuit combines this feedback with the operator control inputs (the other external inputs) to automatically adjust the system. For example, if you adjust the speaker volume in your car radio to a certain level, the volume setting is the “operator” or external control setting. As the volume setting is increased, the control circuit sends a signal to the speaker drivers telling them to work harder.

Since it’s a feedback control circuit, a portion of this speaker driver signal is also sent back to the control circuit and combined with the manual volume setting. Typically, the feedback signal is inverted so that as the volume goes up, the feedback causes the control signal to decrease and if the volume goes down, the feedback control signal increases. This type of negative feedback control tends to be very stable because it tends to push the output toward a stable center – down if the output gets too high and up if it gets too low. This is why it is used so widely.

In positive feedback control, the feedback is not inverted. Thus, it tends to further amplify the system’s outputs. If the output goes up, positive feedback makes it go higher faster. This is what happens when a microphone is placed too closely to the speaker it drives. The speaker output is picked up by the mic and amplified through the speaker, leading to an unstable feedback loop that usually results in screeching.

In a feed-forward control circuit, there is no return input that takes the output back into the system. Certain assumptions are made about the ways in which the external world behaves and the way in which the system should act. The (external) control inputs take these assumptions into account and are simply fed in. As long as the assumptions are accurate, the system behaves as expected, but if the assumptions are off, even just by a small amount, the system might become unstable. Outputs may become unpredictable or even destroy the system altogether.

This is what happens when a car suddenly loses traction on a patch of ice. The car’s behavior suddenly changes so that the driver’s assumptions about how the car will react are suddenly wrong. Control inputs that are normally safe – holding the wheel straight and pressing on the brakes – are no longer safe. Instead of producing normal results – straightening out the car’s trajectory and slowing down – they do something else – promoting a spin with locked wheels. One solution to this problem is to “close the loop” automatically and combine the external outputs of the system with the inputs. In other words, make the feed-forward system into a feedback system by adding a sensor that loops back to the inputs. This is what anti-lock braking systems do.

In exactly the same way, enhancing the feedback control in your body and life can enhance your stability and equanimity. The key is to develop your facility with awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the seminal influences in bringing mindfulness and meditation into the medical establishment mainstream, points out that awareness, like thinking, is an inherent human ability. However, in this culture, unlike thinking, awareness is an ability that is not widely prized or even recognized, much less one that many people are trained in using.

Control via thinking alone is a form of feed-forward control. In the body, feed-forward control is essentially experienced as a kind of numbness that cuts you off from the external world. Without feedback, there is a tendency to slip into a perception that the external world is on the other side of an invisible and inviolable barrier – an impossibly fine and absolutely impregnable curtain that separates you from the external world.

In the body, Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy, is an extreme example of what can happen when feedback is lost and only feed-forward control remains. Hansen’s disease victims lose sensation in their extremities. Loss of sensation starts in the fingertips and toes and progresses inward. Motor function control is unimpaired. However, because all sensation is lost, including pain, victims lose the ability to sense when they have damaged themselves. As a result, they inflict repeated trauma to affected tissues and the body begins to erode. Eventually fingers, toes, noses, and more can be lost to physical trauma.

Hansen’s disease is an extreme example, but the same mechanism is at work in less extreme situations every day. When you feel a headache due to stress or over-work and take an analgesic instead of a break, you are choosing to numb the pain and dampen your natural feedback in favor of a feed-forward control signal to keep working or work harder. You are choosing to ignore the feedback signal to take a break or that something is wrong.

Feed-forward control is experienced as numbness and expressed as discipline. In the absence of sensory connection and immediacy of feeling, exertion of will remains as the only means to gain control. It is like being on one side of a wall and trying to control what happens on the other side by pulling and pushing rods that go through the wall without being able to see, hear, or feel what is happening. Instead, you metaphorically rely on graphical progress reports that are projected on a screen, not knowing if those reports are accurate and timely and having no way to verify them since you blocked the feedback.

Cultivating your awareness is key to addressing this shortcoming. By becoming more fully aware of the many sensory cues (as opposed to cultural, traditional, and other “cues”) that are available to you, you strengthen your feedback loop. Your experience of your surroundings and even of yourself shifts. You pierce the barrier that separates you from your external world and feel the world more richly and subtly.

For example, when I wanted to lose weight, I noticed that it was a struggle as long as I approached it as a discipline. To make matters worse, I was keenly aware of flavor and the sensations of eating, swallowing, and feeling full, which became positive feedback signals that tended to amplify the unhealthy behavior and desire for unhealthy foods. However, once I began to notice other sensations, like the listlessness I felt after a food binge or unhealthy meal and the feeling of tightness and deflation I felt after just one bite of unhealthy food, my relationship with food and weight control began to change significantly. I no longer had to struggle to control something that I could grasp intellectually but not feel. I could cultivate awareness of what was going on in my body and how I felt. Healthy choices dropped out of that awareness effortlessly.

Losing weight and eating more healthily were no longer hard. They became the easiest things to do. Making unhealthy choices became hard because in order to make those choices I would have to ignore what I so clearly felt.

If you don’t have sensation, you might hit your thumb with a hammer and not even know it. Without strict discipline and rigid attention to specific details, you might keep hammering and actually break your thumb or worse. On the other hand, with your awareness and sensation intact, if you hit your thumb with a hammer, you stop pounding because your thumb hurts. Taking care of your thumb becomes the easiest thing to do.

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More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”The Circle of Existence: Chapter 10 – Awareness Over Discipline” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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The Circle of Existence: Chapter 9 – The Forge

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by DCH Park

Rick Sharloch, Yuma, sunrise in the Sonoran desert

Rick Sharloch,
Yuma, sunrise in the Sonoran desert

“26 April: I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”
– James Joyce

“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.”
– James Anthony Froude

“Nothing splendid was ever created in cold blood. Heat is required to forge anything. Every great accomplishment is the story of a flaming heart.”
– Arnold H. Glasgow

I was watching some random television the other day when one character said something to another about a stretch of desert called “The Forge” and how crossing it would prove fatal. It suddenly connected for me how life is in many ways a forge in which we temper our spirits.

There are many teachers and authors who espouse the value and virtues of success, wealth, and joy. No doubt, these are worthwhile things. The ability to open to joy in our lives directly determines how much joy we can have in our lives. Likewise, financial success will at best be difficult to achieve and maintain for someone who believes that rich people are somehow dishonest or less honorable than poor people.

Nonetheless, I have found that it is dealing with the challenges – the difficult things – in life that have led to the most potent lessons and often to the greatest joys. It has been said that what we look at disappears and that by noticing and holding silent presence with those parts of ourselves that are in pain, anger, or discomfort, we allow them to open like a seed softens in water, and lead us to the heart of our pain.

(Although doing so is a whole practice unto itself. Being able to be aware of something without creating or echoing any blame, recrimination, or judgment is a skill that is not taught, much less widely practiced, in this society. Hence it is easy to get lost in the first step – noticing what is there, how you feel. When you get lost and enlarge the emotion, you can never experience all of it. You make it larger all the time, so you can never find the edges or the center.

When you take the opposite approach and notice yourself feeling whatever is there, you are both inside the emotion, feeling it, and outside the emotion, noticing yourself feel. You are bigger than the emotion and you experience that you are bigger. The emotion is thus limited and you can experience it completely. Then you can follow the trail it’s a part of all the way back to the wound it springs from and heal it.)

It has also been said that in order to lessen the influence of undesired or “negative” thoughts and expectations our best course is to redirect our focus toward things that we would prefer. The intention is to allow the undesired experience to dissipate as we gain momentum with our preferred experience. This is an alternative view that, although popular, runs counter to the idea of turning into the pain.

To be fair, it does seem to lead to financial and/or romantic success for many people as they define it. However even when it does work, it is relatively slow (often taking 20 years or more) and it fails to consider the question of whether the game we find is the game we “should” be playing. In other words, it fails to recognize the existence of defining beliefs, much less ask the questions of what existential beliefs we have, how those beliefs shape society, and what beliefs we would prefer.

Consider the image of the forge. Sword makers in ancient Japan were able to produce steel blades of remarkable quality using techniques and materials that were very primitive by today’s standards. They successfully married two disparate qualities of steel (characteristic of different types of steel) into single blades. Thus, their blades were flexible (a quality of ductile, low-carbon steel) while also being hard and able to hold edges (a characteristic of brittle, high-carbon steel).

At no point does the steel resist the process. It accepts the intense heat and the plunging cold as silently and gracefully as it accepts the pounding hammer. Each blow of the hammer and each calorie of heat energy is felt and shared by the entire billet. As they are accepted, they induce a change in the steel itself. These changes are shared throughout the depth of the steel and accumulate to transform a jagged piece of ore into a shining blade. This transformation is as critically dependent on removing impurities as it is on strengthening and interconnecting parts. Too many impurities and the blade is fatally flawed, just as not enough of the right steel or a weak inter-layer bond ruins the blade.

Do not resist, analyze, or otherwise try to contain, control, direct, or buffer your experience. Doing so will only prolong the process and possibly weaken or damage the final result. Be humble. Be accepting. Be the blade. Allow the heat and the hammer to do their jobs. Bring your whole self to the moment. Be honest with yourself and with your experience. As impurities burn off, let the smoke go. Let new connections form, recognizing that each new link changes the potential and dynamic of your whole web of connections, allowing you to bend or cut as needed.

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More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Driving

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by DCH Park

cockpit-220116_1280The sun shone brightly as Henry drove down the highway alone. Four lanes of busy traffic stretched to the distance before and behind him and four more lanes were on the other side. The median strip was wide and grassy. It dipped in the middle and guard rails ran on either side. Looking up, he saw that the whole “big sky” was a light blue dome that stretched from one horizon to the other.

The wind rushed past Henry’s car as it raced with others on the road. He watched as the patterns made by the speeding cars changed and danced. They were never static. They always changed, like a living thing. The whole time, some cars would enter and others would leave, no doubt to go to their various destinations, but the patterns on the highway remained. Henry pictured an ameboid blob flowing through different shapes, pulsing rhythmically as it traveled down the road.

Nearby cars zoomed along while faraway things seemed much slower. The distant mountains seemed to barely move at all. The car before him was a late model Audi – a low-slung sports sedan – that had been with him for the last several exits. He absently noted that the Audi’s tail lights were shining at him but it was bright out and they were on the highway with traffic moving well. There was no reason the Audi should have its tail lights on.

The driver looked like a young person, so it seemed unlikely that forgetfulness was a factor. He looked around at the other cars. None of them had their lights on. He double-checked his own display panel to be safe. His lights were off, too.

Then he remembered the sun. He mentally conked himself on the forehead with the heel of his hand. No doubt, the sun was shining into the Audi’s tail lights and that’s what he was seeing, he thought. He pictured the sun hovering somewhere behind the Audi and causing its tail lights to glow.

He filed that little mystery in the “solved” column and proceeded to re-submerge himself into the flow of traffic, feeling warmed by the glow of his own cleverness. Just as he was about to forget the Audi, it went under an overpass. Something about it stuck out. It didn’t seem right somehow but he couldn’t put his finger on what was bothering him.

Luckily, they were passing through one of the many small towns along the way so he didn’t have long to wait for the next overpass. This time, he was watching the Audi’s behavior closely.

He watched as its shadow disappeared into the much larger shadow of the overpass. Then, as the tail-end of the Audi went into the shadow, too, he saw it! The tail lights of the Audi continued to shine even after the car had gone into shadow. The rest of the car was dark so the glow couldn’t be from the sun shining on it!

The tail lights continued to glow for a few car lengths and didn’t go out until the Audi was almost halfway through the shadow. This behavior, as small and quiet as it seemed to be, had incredible significance. This thing had not behaved as he had expected it to. Something totally new or unexpected (or both) was going on!

He felt like a great scientist discovering a fundamental property of existence. He had studied how those scientists had noticed and developed their creative insights. He had emulated their habits, hoping to perceive a breakthrough himself, someday. He had practiced being open to what was there and observing things so that he would be ready to catch a clue from the Universe, whatever that clue might be. Even something small and easily overlooked could lead to an important insight.

He reminded himself that he could never know ahead of time when something might come up or what it might be. He continued to follow the Audi and watched as it passed into the shadow of another overpass. He confirmed that the tail lights continued to glow even after the rest of the car was shrouded in shadow. He spent a moment appreciating how pretty the bright glow of the tail lights were in the dimness of the overpass.

What was going on, he wondered. He went over everything he remembered in his mind. He knew there were certain things that were outside of his conscious awareness. Nevertheless, some things stood out. He noticed some things more readily than others. They seemed more significant. He’d noticed in the past that such hunches generally paid off so he had trained himself to pay attention to them. He had trained himself to notice patterns. It wasn’t a matter of cataloging huge numbers of separate facts. Things fit together into patterns. Those patterns defined the movements of things and how they related to one another. They could be used to predict what would happen next. It wasn’t about noticing individual facts. It was about noticing the patterns. After a while, noticing them became second nature, like walking across a room.

The patterns also made it easier to notice when something didn’t fit. When something behaved in a way that was surprising or unexpected, when it didn’t fit the pattern, it was certain that something was up. The exciting thing was that this observation about the glowing tail lights was real and consistent. The Audi’s tail lights continued to shine in the shadow so it couldn’t be from the sun shining on the car. That meant that either the theory that led to the expectation was wrong or something was misunderstood, or both. Something didn’t follow the pattern or the pattern was misunderstood somehow. Either way, something interesting was going on.

For a moment, anything was possible. Henry imagined that everything he thought he knew about shadows and sunlight was trashed in favor of a whole new pattern of thought. The highway and car disappeared and Henry found himself traveling through a stream of possibility, a river of inchoate potential, not yet formed by choice or observation.

Then the vision was gone. The two cars were just about to come out of the shadow of an overpass. Henry noted that the Audi passed out of the shadow and back into the sunlight but its tail lights didn’t shine. That lasted for a beat or two then suddenly they did shine.

This puzzled him as they continued down the road and then the Audi went under another overpass. He watched the tail lights continue to glow and then go out and then noticed that he had entered the shadow, too. A strange possibility percolated in his mind as he watched the Audi emerge from the shadow, its tail lights dark, only to glow again as he emerged back into the sunlight.

He puzzled over this for a moment then hit upon a geometry that was different from what he was expecting and easily twice as complicated but the new geometry did explain the shining tail lights and the behavior of the shadows.

He followed the examples of the great scientists whom he had studied and made a prediction to test his new understanding. He predicted from the new geometry, which angle the sun would be at. Sure enough, it was where he predicted it would be.

The sun was in front of the car. There was no way that it could have shined into the tail lights of the Audi. The sun must have shined into his own headlights, bounced forward into the Audi’s tail lights, and then back to him.

He basked for a while in his changed intuition, felt humbled by the grandness and complexity of everyday experience, and marveled that as small as he was, he was complex enough to understand and wonder at the wide Universe, all while he continued on to his destination. The Audi stayed with him until he exited the highway to get his son.

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© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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The Circle of Existence: Chapter 8 – Turning Into the Pain

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by DCH Park

Fort Collins Back Pain by Ryan Weisgerber, https://www.flickr.com/photos/fortcollinschiropractor/6169824610/

Fort Collins Back Pain by Ryan Weisgerber, https://www.flickr.com/photos/fortcollinschiropractor/6169824610/

“My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”
– Michael Jordan

“Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.”
– Niccolo Machiavelli

“But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.”
– Alan Watts

The other day I was coming up some stairs and overheard someone talking on the phone. What I heard was remarkable. The person was apparently celebrating something bad. I gathered that the other party had just shared something that had happened to him or her, probably expecting sympathy, blame, or some other standard means to enlarge the pain.

To her credit, the person whom I overheard did none of those things. Instead, she celebrated it. I doubt that she was trying to encourage more painful experiences with her celebration. Rather, she was remembering that there are no bad things. What she said about it confirmed that this was her attitude.

Rather than ask why a benevolent God (or Universe or whatever) could “let” “bad” things happen to “good” people, consider that there are no bad things. There are painful things (You can substitute any emotion you want in that sentence to replace the word “painful.”) but there are no bad things. The pain serves a purpose. It leads you directly to the wound.

Consider a splinter. You might not notice it at first but as time goes on, the damaged area becomes painful as infection sets in. As more time goes on, it becomes more painful. You can bandage the splintered area and try to cushion it. You can take analgesics to numb the pain (and all sensation along with it). That way you can continue to ignore it. However, the pain is doing you a service. It is showing you exactly where the splinter is. Whereas it might have been too small to notice at first, the pain shows you exactly where it is. As soon as the splinter is removed, healing begins and the wound feels better.

On flights they always say, “Please affix your own oxygen mask before attending to small children who may be traveling with you.” It is a reminder to take care of yourself first. The message conjures images of a small child who has collapsed for lack of oxygen. The well-meaning parent is slumped over for the same reason. The parent has collapsed in trying to get the child’s oxygen mask on first and failed to do so. Even if successful, I wonder, would the child be physically able to attach the parent’s mask? Would the child even be able to reach the dangling mask?

Another common example is found in the advice we give to drivers who are learning to deal with a skid. When the car is spinning out of control, we are told, the thing to do is to turn into the skid. The same advice is given to pilots. Similarly, seamen are taught to drop anchor (and if they have sails to trim them) if they are caught in a storm. They are taught to turn their bow into the storm and “ride it out.”

Individuals who have gone through military training will recognize the advice to run toward the explosion if your unit is targeted by artillery. The “natural” tendency is to run away from the explosion but artillery marksmen find their range by “bracketing.” They deliberately fire down range of their target and then deliberately fire up range of it. That way, they establish their range and they know that their intended target lies somewhere between these two. Then they fire succeeding shots within that range, first down range of the target, then up range of it, each time coming a little closer to the middle. When they hit their target, they “fire for effect.” They let loose with everything they have on the target.

Thus, while on the battlefield, you are actually safer if you run toward the first explosion. That will ideally get you outside of the field of effect. If you run the other way, away from the explosion, you might be running directly into the next blast. It is almost guaranteed that you will run into a blast if you continuously run away from the last explosion. This is counter to popular wisdom but it is in keeping with the advice given to drivers, pilots, sailors, and those seeking oxygen masks on a plane.

The advice that runs through all of these examples is that we heal, we (re)gain control, when we turn into the thing that brings pain, fear, etc. Indeed, it is never as bad as we expect it to be and the storm, spin, explosion, or whatever, is always worst before we go into it. It is never as bad as we imagine it will be. The shortest way to the other side is straight through.

The case of the oxygen masks may seem obscured compared to the other examples, but it is an excellent metaphor. There are people who put the happiness and fulfillment of others before their own. Such people often even define their own happiness in terms of others’. They often see themselves deriving their own happiness (satisfaction, etc.) from that of others. This means that they see themselves as having to make other people happy before they can be happy themselves. Similarly, there are whole industries devoted to creating and selling pain killers of various strengths. The benefit that such pain killers promise is a resumption or intensification of the same activity that caused the pain in the first place, usually in order to continue working! In both cases, the advice is to turn away from or ignore the pain or whatever is coming up within yourself and focus on something outside of yourself.

Thus, we are in an interesting situation. In cases in which lives are not seen to be in immediate danger, we are advised in one way. In situations that are seen as immediately life threatening, we are advised differently. The advice in the two situations is directly opposite. It is also fairly uniform within them. It does not seem to be affected by culture or other factors. Which one do you feel serves you and supports your further growth? Which one would you accept as being true?

I have found that in turning into the pain (fear, etc.) I was not only able to find the center of the wound, I was able to hear it and thus to heal it. In other words, the wound itself tells me what it needs, what it is crying out for. Filling the hole, providing what is missing, constitutes healing the wound. Once it is healed, it goes away like a vanishing fog but you need to listen to it to find out what it needs. In order to listen to it, it helps to be aware of it. That’s what turning into the pain, fear, etc. does.

For whatever reason or reasons, much of society is structured to encourage us to turn away from our pain unless a life threatening condition exists. Consider over-the-counter pain relief. This assumption – that pain, fear, etc. should be taken away without your conscious participation or even understanding – is common on many (perhaps all) levels of “mainstream” society as long as a life threatening situation does not exist. Why are there two conflicting messages?

I have learned over and over in science that if there are two messages about something, either there is something(s) that is(are) not well understood or one is a lie. In the first case, what generally happens is that one situation or both are eventually discovered to be special cases. What appeared to be two situations (or messages) are seen to be one simple one. The unions of quantum physics, Newtonian physics, and relativity are good examples. Newtonian physics is seen as the special case of quantum physics where things are very large. In the same way, Newtonian physics is seen as a special case of relativistic physics wherein things are extremely slow.

Is the advice to turn away from pain a special case in which lives are not threatened? In special cases, the rules are not changed – only the values they operate over change. This can be seen in the cases of Newtonian, quantum, and relativistic physics. It can also be seen in the case of squares, which are special cases of rectangles, and mammals, which are special cases of animals. However, in the different messages about how to deal with pain, rules do seem to change. In one case the suggested rule is to turn into the pain. In the other, the suggested rule is to turn away from the pain. This would seem to imply that one of them is a lie.

(Please note that it is a lie in that it is a delaying action. The Universe is good. There is no “bad” or “evil” as they are commonly understood. There is nothing to resist. The lie does nothing more than encourage a perception of separation between you and your divinity. It slows down your personal growth or even brings it to a standstill. Typically, other forces are accepted or inserted into that separation to be supported or profited. A clever lie even furthers evolution or ties itself to a fundamental truth, the way some gristle might be interwoven into the meat. But sooner or later, the lie will be revealed and further evolution will be stymied.

If, by that point, the unwanted delaying lie has been incorporated into the fabric of what you accept as the fundamental nature of things, you may not even see it.)

By turning into the pain, you can find the metaphorical splinter that causes the infection, remove it, and begin to heal. On the other hand, if you turn away from the pain, no matter where else in the Universe you turn, you will not find the splinter, the cause of your wound. By moving into your discomfort, you move closer to the cause of your wound. You move closer to healing it. By moving away from your discomfort, you move farther away from your healing.

Furthermore, removing a splinter is hardly a life threatening condition in most cases. It would seem that the advice to turn into the pain can lead you to the center of the wound in more situations than life threatening ones. On the other hand, turning away from the pain definitely does not apply in life threatening situations. Perhaps it doesn’t work at all. Perhaps it simply delays the consequences of the wound, allowing it to become even more exacerbated and (as in the case of over-the-counter analgesics) creating an opportunity for even more profit. (“Who is gathering that profit?” is a good question.)

Nature is so marvelously constructed that pain, fear, etc. is not only acutely felt (so it is hard to ignore), it tells you exactly where to look. “As below, so above.” The truth is the truth. Understanding it in one realm leads directly to understanding in other realms. If the realms look unconnected, it’s because one or the other or both are not well enough understood (yet). In other words, their commonality is not yet understood. Their connection to each other or to the truth is not yet understood or not understood well enough.

The only thing that blocks the discovery and articulation of truth is willing blindness to what is there. That’s what pain and other emotions do for us. They indicate our blind spots. What we do, whether we numb ourselves or turn into the pain, is up to us.

When we numb ourselves, we practice being blind. Such blindness or unwillingness is often a function of belief. Wherever such belief might come from, however, it encourages us to get things backward. Rather than being open to what is there and using that experience to lead to truth and further opening, such belief defines or declares what is “true” and shapes observations to fit that expectation. In other words, such blindness leads to less openness, less truth, which is only possible because you’ve numbed yourself.

How open are you to possibilities outside of the things you expect and assume? How do you find your blind spots? Do you turn into the pain or do you turn away from it?

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More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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The Circle of Existence: Chapter 7 – The Background Trend

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by DCH Park

monarchy-153404_1280“Reality is not a function of the event as event, but of the relationship of that event to past, and future, events.”
– Robert Penn Warren

“The frame, the definition, is a type of context. And context, as we said before, determines the meaning of things. There is no such thing as the view from nowhere, or from everywhere for that matter. Our point of view biases our observation, consciously and unconsciously. You cannot understand the view without the point of view.”
– Noam Shpancer

I read Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There when I was in eighth or ninth grade. I remember taking it with me when my class went on a field trip into the city to see a play. I have no memory of the play but I have an image of the lot of us standing outside the theater. I took the book with me to pass the time when we were waiting on line. I remember because some of my classmates saw it and teased me for reading what they knew as a children’s story. I smiled at their teasing and returned to my reading. I had picked it up because I read somewhere that Lewis Carroll’s stories were an excellent exercise in logic.

In it, the Red Queen is initially cordial to Alice, explaining the rules of chess. The narrative at one point says, “Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” (Carroll, Lewis, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, Chapter 2, http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=CarGlas.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=2&division=div1, retrieved 15 JUL 14.)

The Red Queen’s Race, as it has come to be called, has been used to illustrate competitive adaptation in evolutionary biology, the “Treadmill of Production” in environmental sociology, and other concepts. In engineering and physics it can be likened to a DC offset, though the Red Queen’s Race, which is run as fast as you can, is probably overstating the matter a bit.

A DC offset is a background level that affects everything the same way so that relative differences between one point and another are unaffected because both the beginning and end points are affected by the same amounts and in the same direction. It is expressed mathematically by adding a constant to both inputs and outputs. The offset can even change over time. If it does, of course, the offset becomes a more complex function than adding a simple constant, but relative differences will be unaffected as long as both end points are affected the same way.

I have always been puzzled by Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll’s “real” name) inclusion of the Red Queen’s Race in his novella. For one thing, it would seem that you only have to “run at least twice as fast” to make progress if you’re going in the same direction as the offset. If your goal is in the other direction, the offset brings you closer to it. If the offset is increasing over time, even if the increase is imperceptibly small over the course of a day or a week, then you may not have to run at all. You may be able to reach your goal by simply standing still. The background trend will bring you and your goal together.

Nevertheless, the race itself is an intriguing concept with vast implications but it doesn’t seem to impact the rest of the book or characters at all. The characters all walk about normally and the landscape stays put afterward. Is it possible that Dodgson was alluding to a background trend in the real world and not a fictional trend at all? Arguably, all of the fantastical things that Alice encounters in Wonderland are rooted in real world experiences. Their outrageous appearances serve to distract and disarm you but those outrageous elements begin in truth. The next question then would seem to be, “What is the truth? What, if anything, is true about the Red Queen’s Race?”

It surely isn’t literally true. We would probably notice if the landscape moved relative to our places in it. We would probably end up saying something very much like what the Red Queen says. Instead, we think it strange.

Is there a background trend that we don’t notice but that very powerfully affects us? Even something intangible can nevertheless be real. A moment’s reflection finds that even non-physical things can be felt through their effects. (This is not to say that everything that is intangible is real. Rather, those things that exert real effects are real, even if we can’t see them directly. We can ignore them but we do so at the risk of also ignoring their effects. Those effects may be small, but taken over a whole lifetime or several generations, their cumulative effect can be decisive.)

We can measure and feel their effects even when we can’t perceive them directly. This has been demonstrated even with physical things, for example, with things that are very small, like a bacterium or virus and things that are very big, like in plate tectonics. Perhaps the effect is very small. Perhaps the effect is only readily apparent over generations. Perhaps we are taught to simply take it for granted or not to notice it. Perhaps something else is going on or a combination of things is happening.

Certainly if the effect was very slow, it could be taken for background noise. It might not even be noticed but its cumulative impact could be very powerful. For example, a tree grows so slowly that its growth is imperceptible. It appears to be immobile, like a stone. However, over decades and even centuries the impact of a tree can be enormous.

How much more potent might a social bias be? Such a bias might be small and only noticeable over many generations but its cumulative impact on history might be huge. Even if there were a bias, one can imagine that it would still be possible for notable individuals to do remarkable things. They could “run … twice as fast” and achieve something remarkable. However, in a situation in which there were a background bias, the tendency would be for individuals and institutions in general to conform with the bias, especially over time. For example, once the founder died, you’d expect the institution(s) left behind would tend to fall more and more in line with the background trend.

Regardless of why the offset hasn’t been widely noticed, the question remains, is there one? Is there a general tendency in one direction? For example, are there corporations which are widely vilified and hated today, that have a long history of being consistently hated and vilified, that were nevertheless loved and embraced in their communities in their early years? Corporations that had a founder who was charitable and devoted to good works in the community but that changed after the founder died?

Alternatively, are there corporations that went the other way? Companies that had founders who were hated and vilified but whose influence was limited to the early years of the corporation? Companies that became widely loved and lauded after the influence of the founder waned?

If there is a background tendency, what is it? Is the tendency consistent or universal? How does the tendency affect your life and the decisions you make? Such a tendency would be like swimming across a river. Your aim may be to reach the other side and you may picture some point directly opposite your starting point. The relative motion between you and the water might put you on that heading. However the motion of the water itself means that you actually end up much farther downstream. The motion of the water is like a background trend. In order to reach the point that you envisioned, it may be necessary to swim much farther and harder and to swim at a different angle than the one you originally had in mind.

What is your experience? Is there a background trend? If so, which direction is the bias in? Where is the current going?

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More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Remembrance of Times Past

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by DCH Park

yorkshire-terrier-171701_1280Charlie Girl was Fitzwilly’s pack mate. Along with their three humans, they formed a pack. It was small, but it was good. Fitzwilly was also known (at least to himself) as Doggie Chi. Those who knew him as Fitzwilly didn’t necessarily recognize him as Doggie Chi. It wasn’t impossible to know him as both but he didn’t push his Doggie Chi identity. It wasn’t that he was trying to separate them. It was just that most people saw Fitzwilly as being very different from Doggie Chi. They saw them as two separate beings, even though they weren’t.

That was often the way of assumptions, he knew, especially hidden ones or ones that aren’t seen or looked for. Things became obvious (or hidden) in support of those assumptions. Trying wasn’t necessary. Things just happened, although practice might be needed at first. Nevertheless, Fitzwilly didn’t see himself as two separate beings. A busy day of playing fetch, eating grass, and sniffing butts seemed to be in perfect alignment with the transcendence and wisdom of Doggie Chi but people tended not to see it that way.

“People are weird,” he thought to himself, not for the first time.

He laid on his cushion in the sun and watched the youngster, Charlie Girl, sniff around the fence for the hundredth time today. Sometimes she would pounce on the ball and chase after it – that he could understand – but sniffing the fence around their enclosure was beyond him.

Maybe it was because he was so much older – he was almost five and she was only two. Maybe his advanced age accounted for his different attitude. After all, he wasn’t a puppy anymore, but he had never sniffed around a fence, either. Fitzwilly suspected that more than sniffing was going on. He suspected the differences between them. They were both in the same pack but they had differences that sometimes seemed to outweigh the similarities.

For one thing, Charlie Girl was much bigger than Fitzwilly was. He didn’t weigh more than ten pounds. She had to be about thirty-five pounds or more. He was a pure bred Yorky from a breeder. She was a mutt from the animal shelter, probably a Whippet-Pit Bull mix – what one of their humans sometimes called a “Bull Whippet.”

She was definitely pretty, with the sleek lines, long legs, and deep chest of the Whippet line and the bigger head, broader face, and soulful eyes of her Pit Bull heritage. She was fast, too. She’d only met one other dog who could even keep up with her and that had been a full blood Grey Hound.

Her favorite game seemed to be to goad other dogs into chasing her around the dog run and then to take off, easily out distancing them with her speed. She really loved running. She bounced along with a goofy smile on her face and wind of her own making blowing through her ears and short hair. Sometimes she ran when no one else was around, just for the joy of running.

In his mind, Fitzwilly thought of Charley Girl as “The Puppy Wonder.” It was a bit wordy, but it captured her true essence. She wasn’t a puppy anymore but her enthusiasm was very puppy-like. It was undiminished. When something got her excited, she had the uncanny ability to share her excitement so that others got excited just by watching her.

She wasn’t jaded, either. Many of the things that had excited her as a puppy excited her as an adult. Her love of running was an example. That she was part Whippet might be part of it, but she never seemed happier than when she was running free at the park or running circuits around the house.

She was beautiful at such times. She wasn’t ugly at other times by a long stretch, but watching her enjoy the simple act of running was freeing. Just by watching her people felt like they could run, too. They felt like they could fly.

She was like that. Not for the first time, he noticed that her infectious enthusiasm was winning. People and other dogs wanted to help her because of it. They behaved as if the more they helped her, the happier they would be themselves, as if their happiness and hers were linked somehow.

Fitzwilly snapped back to the present moment. Charlie Girl wasn’t sniffing around the fence anymore. Instead, she was creeping up on the ball as if it was some unsuspecting prey. She pounced on it, trapping it between her forepaws, butt in the air, tail wagging. That tail literally whipped through the air. It was a dangerous weapon and although Charlie Girl didn’t see it as such, Fitzwilly had learned to avoid that tail the hard way.

Fitzwilly lounged in the heat of the sun, his head between his paws, ears erect. He turned them forward and back, like a wolf’s ears, to follow different sounds. His ears and his eyes showed the only movement. He appeared to be dozing but he was actually alert. He thought again about the name he’d given Charlie Girl – “The Puppy Wonder.” It seemed to fit. She was definitely a puppy. At least she was compared to him. He looked at her again. She was contentedly chewing on the ball. He remembered her energy and liveliness. She took joy in the smallest things. Everything was a wonder for her. Of course it was, he reminded himself. She still had the exuberance of a puppy. A thought came to him – was that the source of her power? Was she powerful because of her exuberance?

He thought about it. It seemed natural and right somehow. It was also ironic because most folks got the idea that in order to “grow up” it is necessary to become serious and boring but not Charley Girl. She was just as joyful as she was when she was younger. Her joy was irrepressible and it made folks smile. Was she a joy because everything she experienced was a joy? Everything was a wonder? Did pure joy lead to power?

If so, that implied that power didn’t result in happiness, rather, happiness led to power. He realized that the age-old question of whether love or fear was better, was merely another way to ask the same question. The use of fear supposed that there was no connection. If there were truly no connection, it would make sense to try to get even a tiny bit more joy out of a situation even if it meant that another suffered mightily. If things were truly separate, it would only make sense to increase personal happiness at anyone else’s expense. No one else’s suffering would matter.

But life and reality indicate otherwise. They indicate that everyone is connected. In order to inspire others, it is necessary to recognize and honor connections. It as simple as that. That’s what sharing joy can do. In fact, joy wants to be shared. It’s paradoxically made bigger when it’s given away. The Puppy Wonder makes people happy and that inspires them to help her. Helping her makes them happier.

He mulled it over. He thought about true joy. He felt into the quiet unfolding of self and how it forms a conduit through which the unknown passes into the familiar. He felt into that process of passing into the familiar. He noticed how it acts and what it touches and changes and how it is changed itself. He remembered the power of joy. He had seen it change lives. It had affected his own life and he was richer for it.

When he first met Charley Girl he had been miserable and depressed most of the time. He had been brought all the way across the country to a strange house full of strange smells and a puppy with a tail. He laid about back then, almost never ate, and projected an air of general sadness. He managed to be miserable on the trip cross country and felt isolated in this strange, new house. But all the new things made it hard to be depressed and the puppy was irrepressible.

She was easily three times his size and could squash him if he wasn’t careful. He soon learned that she certainly wasn’t careful so he had to be. She sat anywhere. And that tail! The ghost of a smile flitted across his face and then it was gone.

The Puppy Wonder felt genuine joy in everything. She was happy upon seeing another, making a new friend, or the erratic flight of a butterfly. She didn’t judge anyone. She felt joy in them. And she shared that joy, too. It wasn’t just that she was happy. Her happiness was infectious. And as it spread, it naturally increased. That was how she inspired people to help her.

One day, he noticed that she always got more praise than he did, in spite of the fact that he was smaller and cuter. Passersby would begin by cooing over them both. Sometimes they would make louder noises over him initially. This was especially true of the women and girls for some reason. But Charley Girl got praise, too. As soon as he started barking to draw more attention to himself, he was forced to the ground or his mouth was held shut.

Maybe the humans didn’t want to hear it explained to them. Maybe they objected to all the barking. But for whatever reason they reacted badly when he chastised them for praising Charley Girl. Nevertheless he didn’t stop barking. He was compelled to redress this injustice somehow. He couldn’t let it go so he kept barking but his angry protests didn’t seem to matter. They kept praising Charley Girl.

One person they walked by most mornings wore a uniform and had dog treats in her pocket. Whenever she was there, they would stop on the corner and greet her. Charlie Girl would sit quietly, watch her with those big eyes, tail wagging, and get a treat, which she would crunch and gobble down immediately. He would stand his ground and bark and bark and bark until his human forced his head down and he would never get a treat.

It seemed to go on this way forever. Each day they would stop to say, “Hi.” Charley Girl would sit quietly with her tail wagging and get a treat. He would bark at her, calling attention to himself, and get nothing.

Then, one day, he decided to try something different. He was tired of watching Charley Girl get all the praise and the treat. He sat and quietly wagged his stubby tail just like Charley Girl. It worked! He got a treat, too!

That was interesting. It didn’t change his attitude with everyone. He still barked at them, especially when he felt insecure and wanted to assert himself. But this one person with the treats didn’t react well to the barking. Instead, she seemed to respond to a silent greeting.

He decided that this person with the treats was OK but that didn’t change how he treated others. He used his excellent memory to recall that she was special whenever he saw her and treated her differently. He remembered that she was OK, a friend. The others continued to be treated as if they were threatening strangers instead of friends.

Granted, he wasn’t always castigating them for their own good. It was a big city, full of strange people, and he was a little dog. The humans towered over him. He could be forgiven for barking at them occasionally, he thought. He was just telling them to back off and respect his space. Did it matter that he was barking out of fear? Did it matter that he barked much more often than “occasionally”?

A bird flew into their yard and landed for a moment on a branch. He was bright and chipper and very formal looking. His little bird head wagged from side to side in rapid movements as he surveyed the yard. Then he flew off again. Fitzwilly didn’t bother moving from his spot. Charlie Girl never even noticed.

One time, they were walking with one of their humans along some trails in the park. No one was around, so the human took them off of their leashes. They came across a dead bird on one of the little wooden bridges that the trail went over. Charlie Girl sniffed at it and ran off. Fitzwilly took more time with the bird.

It was squashed flat and mostly dry but surely there would be some muddy moisture in it to make smells, he thought. Being a rat dog by lineage wasn’t easy. It gave him a natural tendency to fight nasty rats. That tendency didn’t go away just because there were no rats to fight. Anyone or anything strange would do. That’s why he would often bark at people – at least, that was his excuse.

That was also why he grew his hair long. Without it, he looked like a tiny Chihuahua. With it he looked bigger and fiercer. It provided good protection from imagined teeth and claws.

That aura of fierceness was also created by the way he smelled. Completely separate from the fact that rats, his ancestral enemy, often smelled pretty bad, so the way he smelled could provide camouflage, he liked smelling bad. When he smelled like soap and flowers, he didn’t smell like himself, at least not the self he wanted to be. He didn’t smell fierce. When he did smell bad, he fancied that he smelled fierce.

So he had literally jumped in excitement when he came across the dead bird. He ran up to it and rubbed his face in it, thoroughly mashing the smell into his fur. His human predictably ran up, hands waving in the air, and yelled to get him to move away from the carcass. He ran off before the human could touch him, but not before he had rubbed in a good smell.

He trotted off happily while his human grumbled something about having to wash him.

After a while, he noticed that Charley Girl was following a pattern. She would stop – sometimes it was at a tree or some other plant, sometimes at a big rock or a pile of dirt – and sniff it curiously. She would keep sniffing until their human caught up with her or something else had captured her attention. Then she would normally run off, tail wagging.

What did Charlie Girl enjoy so much, Fitzwilly wondered. He went up to a plant that she had smelled and tried it. He watched her to see what she was doing. She was at another plant, smelling it before taking off again. He sniffed at his plant. He marveled at what he smelled. It was like the whole world opened up to him. He smelled earth and leaves and the rain from a day ago or so. He could smell how long ago it had rained. He smelled the moisture. He smelled something else, too. He smelled the plant. He could smell if it piqued his curiosity or not. He could smell if he wanted to eat it or not.

He had had no idea! He marveled at how powerful and sensitive his nose was. He smelled some more. He moved his nose around the plant to get different angles. There was something else. What was it? He sniffed at it, trying to figure out what he smelled.

Then he suddenly got it. Urine! He smelled urine! Other dogs had passed this way and they had left their urine behind. They had left their whole life stories behind in their urine! He could sniff their urine and tell. He could smell what they’d eaten and how old they were and how healthy they were. He could smell if they were tired or not or if their feet hurt. He could smell if they were big or small. He could smell their attitudes – if they felt friendly or afraid or isolated. He could tell so much by the smell.

The wooded path suddenly took on a different dimension. It was as if it was suddenly deeper. It seemed to glow and sparkle with various colors, many of which he’d never seen or even imagined existed before. The path opened up before him in a wholly different way. He had so many options available to him. All he had to do was choose something and sniff.

Part of him cried for those who could never smell things this way. Part of him lamented that he’d spent so long not smelling things, that he’d spent his whole life up until then in a flat, grey, two-dimensional world, devoid of smell. But mostly he was overwhelmed by the sense of possibility. He vibrated with it.

He laid on his cushion in the sun and remembered with fondness his first discovery and early forays into the wider doggie world. He didn’t move from his cushion. The sun shining down was too warm and delicious. He remembered the simple power of taking joy in life and what it had brought him in his life and he smiled.

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© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Remembrance of Times Past” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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The 5 Kingdoms

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by DCH Park

The 5 KingdomsThere were once 5 Kingdoms who traded with each other. They grew prosperous from the trade and all was well.

The people of the first kingdom were great foresters and farmers. They cared for the land and all the plants and animals that grew upon it. The farmers grew things in great variety but always allowed the land to lie fallow for one year out of four. The foresters cared for different plants and animals from the farmers and did it in a different way but produced delicacies that no one else could. The changes of the seasons and the rhythms of the land and the reverence they felt for the land were all in the food they produced.

The people of the second kingdom were hardy fishermen and women. They harvested all manner of wealth from the sea. They knew that their lives were intricately bound up in the sea. They even timed their comings and goings to coincide with the tides. They had parties and celebrations on the beach and gladly took any excuse for a clam bake or a crab bake or a lobster bake or just a dance party with no bake at all. High tide under a full moon was a particularly special time for them.

The people of the third kingdom were excellent miners, which was fortunate because mineral deposits in their their land were rich and varied. They had an intimate knowledge of the land and were constantly probing and imaging it to find new deposits or a new cave. They loved nothing more than to explore a new cave or digging through the earth, searching out the hidden roots of things.

The people of the fourth kingdom were masters of the fiber arts. They could weave a basket or take hemp or linen fibers and make a fine suit of clothes or delicate paper out of them. The things they made were the finest imaginable. They could make rope of any thickness or colored thread, yarn, or paper and make all sorts of things from these materials. Their costumes and decorations were beautiful and surprising. Their festivals were always bright and colorful. It was said that you hadn’t lived until you’d attended a festival in the fourth kingdom.

The people of the fifth kingdom were smiths of all types. They worked with wood and stone as well as with metals. They could make a fine needle or a complex machine. Their people also included marvelous chemists. They were able to fashion fuels and other raw materials out of things they bought or found. They refined metals from some stones and cut others into jewelry and statues. They made porcelain tableware and figurines out of earth, glass implements out of sand, and caved wood into a variety of objects both useful and decorative.

The 5 Kingdoms were very different but they shared a sense of respect and reverence for the land. It sustained them. It gave them their lives and also their livelihoods. There was no reason it couldn’t continue to do so forever as long as it was taken care of. So each generation took care of the land so they could pass it on to future generations. They knew they didn’t own the land. They knew that they were merely part of a long succession – a chain of generations – who managed the land together. They formed a symbiotic relationship with the land. They benefited from the land and the land benefited from them.

Still, the people of The 5 Kingdoms knew that the land would be nothing without the people. People were the true source of wealth. Prosperity flowed from the efforts and genius of the people. Everyone in The 5 Kingdoms owed the creation of his or her personal wealth to everyone else. They all rose and sank together and they knew it.

Thus the various peoples traded with each other and were able to get everything they couldn’t make for themselves from each other. They had everything they needed for life. In fact, they became so wealthy and life was so fulfilling together that the life expectancy of the peoples of The 5 Kingdoms increased to a phenomenal degree.

Rarely did anyone mention one of the kingdoms as a separate entity even in passing. They were legally separate kingdoms but their trade agreements had lasted for so long and their cultures and traditions had merged so much that they seemed more like regional variations of a single, vast country than separate kingdoms and although there was certainly no law against trading with anyone else, there was little incentive to do so.

Strangers were welcome in any of the kingdoms. Many times such strangers were destitute in the beginning but had come to make valuable contributions. Many of them had risen to become highly regarded and influential. Who knew if the next stranger wouldn’t create the next great thing?

So all was well in The 5 Kingdoms for many generations. Then one day a money counter appeared in the first kingdom. He was obviously poor and had traveled a great distance. No doubt, thought the people of the first kingdom, he sought the prosperity of The 5 Kingdoms. However all the money counter could see was the vast wealth in the forests and the farms of the first kingdom. He imagined they were all his or controlled by him and everyone in the kingdom worked for him but he kept his imaginings secret. He said nothing to the people of the first kingdom.

As was their custom, the people of the first kingdom put him up in one of the apartments they had set aside for indigents. He was provided food and means to wash and press his meager clothes. He was left alone to tend to his needs and get his bearings.

Soon he was hard at work in his trade, keeping track of the coming and going of money. He had a practiced way of looking at money and his suggestions invariably increased profits. The businesses of those he worked for grew even richer. He started his own company and hired employees to satisfy demand.

The people of the first kingdom didn’t know why he had failed where he came from. He was certainly wise in the ways of business. Nor did they understand why he had shown up in their kingdom alone, with no family or tokens or anything reminiscent of any ties. But they were glad that he had come. They assumed that he would talk when he was ready. At any rate, they were certain that a person’s actions would be consistent with his thinking, whether voiced or unvoiced, so they didn’t press.

In the meanwhile, they were focused on making more money. The promise of riches often produces a kind of mania. That mania was taking hold of the people of the first kingdom. It was so slow and they were so distracted by their mounting frenzy that they failed to notice what was happening to them. Instead, they set their sights on the money they imagined before them. Soon that was all that they could see.

The money counter was in high demand as excitement spread. He became very rich but that didn’t satisfy him. There were others who had more money than he had. He had to be the best. He had no family or friends to share his money with and he didn’t trust new people. He was sure they wanted nothing more than to separate him from his money so it was hard for him to make new friends.

Rather than feeling out the hard things to understand them so he could heal them and make them easy, the money counter followed his training and avoided the hard things. In a way, the money counter was a victim. He was trying to be true to his training but that didn’t remove his personal responsibility for what he did or towards other people.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t help him make friends. In fact, avoidance made it harder to make friends. However, he was unaware of all of this. Without awareness of what he was doing, he pursued the only thing left to him. He pursued money with a single-mindedness that was inhuman.

In a short time, he became the most successful money counter in the whole kingdom yet that wasn’t enough. One day, he announced to his employees that he was going on a trip. He would go to the second kingdom to begin operations there. Surely the people of the second kingdom would appreciate him and his keen insight and counting abilities just as the people of the first kingdom had.

So he set off for the second kingdom. But this time he did not travel on foot wearing threadbare clothes. This time he rode in a fabulous carriage and wore expensive, new clothes. He made arrangements for his living space and counting house ahead of time, so they were waiting for him when he arrived.

His reputation preceded him. As soon as he opened for business, he had as much business as he wanted. Soon everyone in the whole kingdom employed him. He did the same with each of the other kingdoms.

After he became well known throughout all of The 5 Kingdoms, he settled back and looked at the figures from his business. He wasn’t the richest person yet but he was gaining. His growth was faster than anyone else’s. Still he wasn’t satisfied. He didn’t feel secure.

There were people in The 5 Kingdoms, thought the money counter to himself, who were so powerful that they could have him arrested and exiled. He remembered what had happened in the country of his birth. He was determined to not let that happen to him again. He imagined that the powerful people could have him thrown into a deep, dark dungeon to rot, cut off and forgotten. Never mind that such places didn’t exist in The 5 Kingdoms. His imagination was ruled by fear.

Fear demanded that he act. Fear demanded that in addition to being the richest person in all the land, he should be the most powerful person in all the land so he wouldn’t be thrown into the dungeon of his imagination. He would have to act cunningly and slowly at first, but after events gained their own momentum, he would be able sit back and relax and watch things unfold.

He waited patiently and continued to pretend to be everyone’s faithful friend while secretly working to undermine them. He used his position as money counter to all the businesses in The 5 Kingdoms to casually say things or whisper things to certain individuals in each of the kingdoms. He made suggestions that sounded wise but always caused business owners to question the motives of anyone from any of the other kingdoms. He raised questions about their reasons for doing things.

Later, when he was somewhat bolder, he suggested that they needed to protect themselves. Who knew, he would whisper, what hidden plans there might be to steal someone’s wealth? He planted seeds of doubt and suspicion all over The 5 Kingdoms. Slowly doubt and suspicion became normal. Contracts became long and laboriously exacting. Safeguards were built into every transaction. If someone began with an attitude of trust, that person was considered a fool and people tried to take advantage of him by presenting one face while secretly honoring another.

By the time that the first price increase was charged for exporting something to another kingdom, the pressure between kingdoms was nearly unbearable. That first increase led to a firestorm of reprisals as increase followed increase. No one trusted anyone else, especially those from another kingdom. Generations of successful trading were forgotten in the frenzy of suspicion and distrust.

The only thing that anyone seemed to be aware of was his own money. Each would-be trader imagined his own little treasure increasing beyond measure and a horde of jackals waiting to steal it from him. The money counter had successfully changed people’s expectations without revealing the truth so the norm was defined by suspicion. This created an opening for the money counter.

The only person whom everyone would accept was the money counter. His company was already present in all the kingdoms and he wasn’t from any of the kingdoms. He had originally come from a foreign land, they reasoned, so they sought him out. They begged him to oversee their deals and to make sure they were fair.

Putting on a big show, he feigned reluctance but he secretly celebrated. He agreed but he said that his staff was already overburdened. He would have to hire more staff, which would require more funds. He would also need to expand his staff further as the number of trades increased. So in addition to the startup funds, he required a portion of every trade that passed between the kingdoms. The former trading partners were desperate and didn’t know what else to do. The money counter’s demands seemed reasonable, if somewhat stiff, so they gave him what he asked for.

The money counter set up his main headquarters near the location of his first company in the first kingdom but he had offices in every kingdom to oversee transactions. His various offices were lavish and extravagant but that was only fitting, so the people told themselves, for someone overseeing every transaction between any of the 5 Kingdoms.

Fewer saw his personal apartments. These were more lavish even than his offices. They rivaled even those of the various Kings of The 5 Kingdoms. Yet still, the money counter was not satisfied.

He looked about him and saw that he was the richest man in The 5 Kingdoms. No one had more money than he had. He was also extremely powerful, perhaps more powerful than the Kings themselves, since he controlled the trade between kingdoms.

Best of all, certainly most ironic, he had done it through their respect and love for him! He had managed to get them to hate and fear each other while their love for him grew! It was as if they had traded one for the other and made him rich and famous while impoverishing themselves at the same time! He licked his lips and smiled. The pretty picture he presented to the world hinted at none of the thoughts he carried within. He would use their distrust of one another to even further separate the kingdoms and boost their love of him.

He took a moment to ponder the age-old philosophical question. Was it better to be loved or feared? Which was safer, he asked himself.

He couldn’t see that he had already chosen fear. He could only see his actions. He failed to notice his own thoughts or expectations or how his choices shaped them. He failed to see that the actions he took were in turn shaped by his expectations so his actions were ultimately shaped by his choices.

He was acting in accordance with fear but he didn’t see that those actions only seemed reasonable from within a context of separation – a context that he had chosen to begin with. He was already driving people apart and thus honoring the illusion of separation. Thus it should be no surprise that the money counter decided it was better to be feared but only after he thought himself safe.

In this way, he was no different from anyone who chooses fear and separation in any form. He was basically a coward. He “reasoned” that once he had isolated everyone to the point that they had no choice but to live within the system that he created, he would be absolute ruler, imperiously doling out things that no one else could even question because he had crushed all opposition with his strength.

Once they were all in his system and had given up hope of living any other way, then he could let drop his mask and reveal his true face. He could let go of all pretenses to love and acceptance and let fear show itself.

He would be the most feared person in The 5 Kingdoms. He would be terrible and wrathful most of the time and kind and merciful when it pleased him. He would be unpredictable and that would just make people fear him more. He would be free, he told himself. It would be wonderful.

He sat there, imagining his power and freedom for a few minutes and then pulled himself out of his reverie. Perhaps, he told himself, it would be wonderful but he wasn’t there yet.

He continued to sow seeds of distrust and suspicion throughout the kingdoms while continuing to pretend to be everyone’s friend. He continued to oversee the trades that passed between kingdoms while collecting a growing percentage of each transaction. He watched while relations between the kingdoms continued to fray and tensions continued to mount.

When the fifth kingdom erected a fence all around its border and checkpoints on highways to neighboring kingdoms, the money counter was surprised and delighted. Soon all of the borders were patrolled and fortified. The money counter knew that increased threats of violence gave him a built-in excuse to charge even higher fees and he did.

As misunderstandings grew into conflicts and conflicts became fights, the checkpoints and their surroundings grew more and more desolate. The money counter quietly supported installing higher and stronger walls. He quietly encouraged each kingdom to separate itself more and more from the other kingdoms.

The people of the kingdoms were suffering. The things that they needed, which had once been plentiful and easy to find had become scarce and expensive. As trade became more restricted, fewer and fewer goods were sold. At first, people banded together and distributed the reduction in income across everyone. They all shared the burden. But instead of passing, as such troubles had always done in the past, the reductions kept mounting. Eventually, they became so severe that many people lost their livelihoods altogether.

Many necessities were beyond the means that most people had remaining. They grew desperate. They began to organize, agitate, or steal – anything to stay alive. Marshal law was imposed in the various kingdoms. Conscription followed after that and border patrols and fences came soon after that.

Conscription into the armed forces was a welcome change for most because it meant that they could at least eat and send their wages home but the royal stocks, on which most people now depended, were limited. They were vast but they would run out eventually.

In addition, royal treasuries were tapped to pay wages to the vastly increased army and to subsidize the high fees that were charged for the trades that still went through to keep things running. The 5 Kings didn’t realize it, perhaps the money counter himself didn’t realize it, but the vast stores of food and treasure were being used to enrich the money counter. The money counter was benefiting and everyone else, including the Kings, were being hurt.

But the Kings realized none of this at the time. All they were aware of was their alarmingly rapidly dwindling stores, their swollen armies (swollen with people who would soon become desperate again once their conscription ended), and the apparent inevitable war. None of them wanted to go to war but none of them could think of any alternative plan. It seemed that the walls between the kingdoms were higher and the trades that passed between them were fewer every day. The people grew more and more desperate. War seemed unavoidable.

Then, just as he was about to proclaim war, the King of the fifth kingdom heard of a little market that had just sprung up in one of his towns. Intrigued by what he heard, he went to see it.

He traveled for a day and a night and finally came to a little village on the edge of his realm. It sat near the border his kingdom shared with the first kingdom. Being honest folk, the people of the village told the King the truth about their market even though they were afraid. They were technically breaching the border between kingdoms although they hadn’t directly broken any laws. The fence and then the wall had been erected to protect the people of the fifth kingdom from the people of the first kingdom. It wasn’t thought that any laws were needed.

But people from the villages on either side of the border had interacted and traded freely with each other for generations. Many had family members who had crossed over from or gone to the other side, before the fence had been built. Apparently they had found a way to continue trade under the notice of the money counter and the border patrol.

They had constructed a trebuchet and with it, they could shoot things high over the border to the other side. The King looked at the trebuchet and admired its craftsmanship. After they’d launched the plans for the trebuchet to the other side and established that it was possible to have two-way communication and material transfer, all that remained was negotiation on what to send, how much to send, and its price. Of course since no money changed hands, prices were based on exchange. But since each side needed what the other had in abundance, exchange was easy.

Furthermore, since no money was involved, there was no need for a money counter. People on both sides benefited and this benefited their neighbors and their respective Kings. Both kingdoms benefited. The people didn’t even notice the lack of a money counter.

The King went back to his castle in a daze. It seemed that even in a situation in which all trade is strictly limited and controlled to enrich one person or a small group at the whole community’s expense, a way to trade freely will be found. Being wise and well-schooled, the King saw that this implied that love and connection are more powerful than separation and control – that openness and honesty are more powerful than secrecy and lies. Of course, the King realized, they would be. Why else would secrets be held? Why else would something pretend to be something else? He pondered this all the way back to the capital.

Once he returned, he immediately called for a conference with the other Kings. While he waited he noticed that news of that first market had spread like wildfire all across his entire kingdom. Soon, similar markets had appeared in towns along every border that his kingdom shared with another kingdom.

When the Kings were all together, he recounted his experience and what he’d learned. He wasn’t too surprised to learn that the markets had spread across all five kingdoms. They now connected The 5 Kingdoms together. There were now two exchanges. One was an official exchange, overseen by the money counter, and the other had been invented by and was managed by the people.

The significance of the markets was not lost on the Kings. They agreed to immediately open the checkpoints between their lands to allow for free trade among the people, in accordance with their original agreements. They also tasked their armies to dismantle and destroy the border fences and walls before the conscriptees were released back to their families.

Finally, they issued a joint decree, calling for the money counter to cease all operations and for him to be arrested and all of his records seized and all of his assets frozen.

It took many years for all of the money counter’s records to be found, organized, and read. It also took many years to find the money counter, himself. This was because once he realized the soldiers were coming to arrest him, he fled. Having kept his plans secret and working to separate individuals from each other just to increase profit or to feel more powerful, when he realized that he had been discovered, he fled. This does not mean that fleeing proves guilt but in the money counter’s case, since he couldn’t hide his secret any longer, he tried to hide himself.

Over the years, he tried to remain hidden while moving to escape The 5 Kingdoms and take his hidden stash of gold with him. This is what undid him in the end. Someone saw him and reported it. He was arrested and brought before a special panel of judges from each of the kingdoms and a jury composed of citizens from each of the five kingdoms.

He was found guilty and stripped of all of his money, which he coveted so highly. He was removed from The 5 Kingdoms and exiled. He was sentenced to remove himself from that place for three times as long as he had been there. At the end of his exile, he could return if he wished, provided that his activities from that moment onward were motivated out of genuine concern for the betterment of everyone and not just himself as measured against other people.

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© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”The 5 Kingdoms” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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The Big Storm

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by DCH Park

monsoon-390944_1280Kiran woke to the sounds of rain and wind. He was still a little guy – much smaller than he would be as a full grown human – but it was obvious that the storm was a bad one. It had been raining for seven days and who could tell when it would end? Through his window he could see that the sky was dark and grey. Thick clouds hung very low and an unbroken pall hid the sun. There was rain and mud everywhere. It even obscured the roadway as water flowed over the roads. He guessed it emptied into the river. They said on the radio that the reservoir was completely filled. He eyed the hills above the town nervously.

He ate a hearty meal of crackers and peanut butter which represented the last of his food. “At least,” he thought to himself ruefully, “there’s plenty of water!” He quenched his thirst with a long, deep drink of cold water, relishing the feeling of refreshment and aliveness that sparked through him. Then he busied himself packing some clothes and rain gear, still tasting the water in his mouth and relishing the sensation of wetness.

“How ironic,” he thought.

He would have to seek out shelter at the nearby school. It was on a hill so it probably wouldn’t be flooded. The various animals and humans from the town all knew to go there in an emergency and this was shaping up to be one. He remembered how strange the sky had looked just before the storm. It had been green and clouds had slowly filled the sky, blotting out the sun. Then the rain started.

He brought himself back to the present moment and finished packing his pack. The school promised plenty of food, blankets, and cots. Surely the different creatures from the town wouldn’t eat each other. There wouldn’t be a need to hunt because there would be plenty of food. Besides, they needed each other. The storm made that abundantly clear. He doubted they would fight but he wasn’t sure. He would have to go to the school to see.

It was just as well. He had been getting a little anxious waiting for the storm to end. There had been nothing to do about the house. This way, he could get out and maybe help others. He finished with his bundle, made sure all the lights were off (even though the electricity had gone out the first day of the storm), blew out the candles, and strapping the pack on his back, headed into the storm.

It was wet and blustery but not as bad as it had been a few hours ago. Then the wind had raged and rain blew sideways. Now it was still windy but it wasn’t as windy as it had been. He could negotiate the walk to the school.

Crossing the road was another matter. The water wasn’t as swift as some rivers that he had seen but it was fast and muddy and the road beneath it was slick. He had to walk carefully so that his feet stayed under him. When he finally reached the other side, he sighed with relief and was glad that he didn’t have to cross more streets on the way up the hill. After crossing, he was on the same side of the street as the school and an unbroken sidewalk led up to the school property. The raised sidewalk was relatively clear since rain spilled into the street.

When Kiran got to the school, he was checked in and someone showed him to the cot that was assigned to him. He dropped his dripping pack and headed out to the communication center to see if he could help anyone. He quickly found a group that was headed out and attached himself to it. Apparently Lion had gone out by himself some time ago to rescue a stalled bus.

The bus had been headed for the school when it had gotten lost a few hours ago. Apparently it had gotten swamped or stuck in the mud. Lion had gone out to rescue the bus passengers, which apparently included some children, but no one had heard from him for a couple of hours. The rescue group that he joined was composed of Wolf and a few of his pack-mates and Frog. Being amphibious and a keen observer, Frog naturally led. Wolf and his pack-mates were content to follow Frog. Kiran was, too.

Frog had noticed the direction Lion had headed off in, so he knew which way to start in but moved slower and slower the farther they moved into the storm. It wasn’t that the storm itself was fighting them. In fact, it was gentler than it had been when Lion had gone out. What slowed him down was that following a trail through the storm was hard. It would have been impossible to make any progress at all if they didn’t know the general area that the bus was going through.

None of the others complained. Nevertheless, after a particularly long stop, Frog turned to the others and admitted that he didn’t know which way to proceed. Wolf said, “Don’t worry. We’ll take it from here. With all this rain, smells are pretty faint, that is, the ones that haven’t been washed away completely, and you have to get your snout really close to anything to pick up a scent but we have eyes and there are a few of us. We’ll find him and the passengers, including the little ones.”

With that the wolves spread out, being careful to keep each other in sight while they searched for any clue. There weren’t many wolves in the group but they separated to increase their search area as much as possible. Without a further word they swept first left and then swung right, covering the entire field.

Finally they all came back to the porch they were using to get out of the worst of the falling rain (though it did nothing for the wind or splashes) and Wolf said, “We don’t know where he is. We’ve looked everywhere.”

Kiran said, “We can’t give up on him! He wouldn’t give up on us!”

Frog replied, “No one is suggesting that we should but what else can we do?”

Kiran said, “I don’t know.”

They all sat, cold, wet, and miserable, staring at the rain in silence. After a while Kiran said, “Let’s spread out and listen.”

Wolf said, “We listened, too, of course. We heard nothing. Besides, the roar of the rain and the wind and the thunder makes it hard to hear anything.”

Kiran said, “Is there anything else you can think of? Anything else to do?”

“I can’t think of anything.”

So they formed a circle around the porch and spread out. As each one sat down in the rain, he closed his eyes and concentrated on the sounds that came to him.

They sat that way for a long time, listening to the sounds and rhythms of the rain and the wind. They got soaked through and Kiran gave up all hope of keeping even his underwear dry. They accepted this in stoic silence. They sat and listened some more.

When they were shivering and so chilled that hypothermia was looming, one of Wolf’s pack-mates raised his paw to beckon them over. They silently gathered around him and he said, “Do you hear that? It’s faint but I can just make it out.”

Kiran listened. He could hear nothing but the other wolves could. Wolf said, “Good job, brother!” He loped off in the direction of the hills. The others followed, happy to be moving because of the measure of warmth it promised.

As they followed the sound, it grew louder. Eventually even Kiran could hear it. It was definitely Lion roaring to be heard.

They eventually found a deep ravine but could see no bus. The roaring was definitely coming from the ravine. Kiran looked at it. He could see signs of a recent mudslide, which wasn’t too surprising given all the rain. He said, “It looks like the bus fell or was washed into the ravine and then was buried in mud.”

Frog said, “How do we get to them?”

Wolf said, “We dig them out!”

So they started calling for Lion. Once he had indicated the best place for them to climb out, they started to dig through the mud. Luckily it was relatively soft and a lot of the water had drained out of it so out was fairly solid.

Still, it was hard and dirty work. When they reached the window and had pulled the youngsters and other passengers and Lion to relative safety, they felt like celebrating. They did a quick headcount and after verifying that everyone was present, they headed back to the school. When they got there, everyone was dried off, given a blanket, and hot soup to eat. They could feel the warmth spreading through then as they ate.

Soon they felt much warmer and the children felt gratitude for the efforts of their rescuers and the rescuers felt grateful that they could help everyone feel more secure. It was the best time ever even though the children couldn’t hear a thing. They were nearly deaf from all the roaring.

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© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

Creative Commons License
”The Big Storm” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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