The Myth of Species

Bridging the Worlds

David Greybeard -- Photo byIn the English department in the college where I taught, we had  ESL classes – English as a Second Language.  They were for people who’s mamas spoke Spanish or Urdu or Farsi.   But what about the native speakers of English in our regular English classes?The language a child learns from his mother’s lips is his second languageHis first language is the language of the grass growing and the language of the cells – and of rocks, too,  all the bits and pieces coming together and circling back on one idea, one universe, one intelligence, one language, out of which spin all the infinite varieties.


 Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

When an English speaker looks at English, her understanding is incomplete til she sees the deep grammar it grew from.


Deep Grammar

Nicely cataloged,
dogs speaking only to dogs,
grouse only to grouse.
God only knows about
oak to palm –  if at all
(and there’s a lot of doubt
that plants talk), yet

Violins, trumpets, kettle drums and
contraltos seem to get along quite well
in concert
along with
 practically the whole human-being
(give or take a rationalist or two),  and

how about that air show
up there –
a hundred starlings never crashing
into each other, not even
discussing it, and no conductor,
that I can see? so then

is it any wonder, really,
that the border collie and the herder
and the sheep move in concert, too?

Or that some young Englishwoman
sitting by a stream in Tanganyika looks
into a wild chimpanzee’s eyes
and hears the music of the

                                         PARTING OF THE SOUL by Roberto Lauro

PARTING OF THE SOUL by Roberto Lauro

Reframing the Neighborhood: The Tao Way


Bay winds have been blowing wild-grass seeds

into the  ice-plant beds in front of

some of my neighbors’ bay-front homes

and setting up residence there,

so that now there are wild grasses

just outside their back fences,

and my neighbors would like the gardeners

to do something about that.


I walked over an had a look.   There’s a bike trail along there and a sandy walking path and then the native grasses on the edge of the bay and the City across the water.  I thought of New England and Block Island and the shore and the dunes and the grasses.  And Ansel Adams and Walt Whitman and Reframing.

The Tao

           The Neighborhood Where We Live


 Seeing Is a Choice We Make.

Reframing (Bandler and Grinder, 1982) is a book about changing the way you see things, trying out various frames till you find one that fits just right.  

From their back patios my neighbors can see across the water a natural area along the south shore of the main Alameda Island, where there’s a walking trail.  Many of us think it’s a treat to walk along there, wild grass on either side of the path mingled with whatever  succulents share the neighborhood.  There are some homes there too a bit farther up the slope.

South Shore Path

                                            The Tao

The Ansel-Adams connection I thought of was a photo of his of a development along a hillside in South San Francisco that I wanted to include in  book I was doing (Image, Macmillan, 1973). They reminded me of “Little Boxes,”  the 1962 song by Malvina Reynolds that Pete Seeger made popular, all those little boxes made out of “ticky tacky” that all looked “just the same.”

Little Boxes Pic

                    Photo by Ansel Adams

My View of How Things Are

Adams wrote back, “Oh, that necklace of houses on that hillside in South San Francisco.”  So I had another look and enlarged my view of how things are:


Ticky Tacky Little Houses?  A Necklace of Houses?

Ticky Tacky Little Houses

Ticky Tacky Little Houses?  A Necklace of Houses?

A Necklace of Houses on a Hillside





Little Boxes Pic

                                               The Tao

Note:  Adams, of course, was not a satirist.  So, if I had been more awake, I’d have realized that though these houses from one point of view could be seen as ticky tacky, that would not have been what Adams was up to.  He used his lens to tease nature into revealing herself as she is, without the overlay of the viewer’s intention.  No matter what I decide to think about the scene before me, it will not affect what’s there one jot.


 Whatever Object We Look Upon

The Whitman Album

THERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,    . . .
. . . or by the mire of the pond-side,

And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there—and the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads—all became part of him.

. . . and the commonest weeds by the road . . .

Kid in Park

                                     The tao


Fire-Walking the Realms of Gold

Splitting the Atom – Lessons in Walking


Parting of the Soul


Parting of the Soul — Roberto Lauro



Slow-Walking the Shore Trail,

Soft breeze on your face, the magic City across the Bay, you may not notice you’ve been fire-walking the sea of intelligence.  Reality, after all, is a compelling illusion. But if you would like a glimpse of the fire beneath your feet and the furnace within the atoms of your body, here’s how fire-walkers do it:

You have to spend the day preparing the fire and tending the coals.  You have to sit around chatting, eating, raking the ash off, watching twilight fall.  After a while you quiet down.  Your concept of fire releases its grip and you relax.  Thinking back, you  realize the intensity of the fire is in you, not the coals. That’s  your idea.  That is how a fire-walker  friend described his experience to me, but it’s the story all artists tell ‒ aerialists (like Philippe Petit who in 1974  illegally strung a wire between the tops of the World Trade towers and strolled across.), sculptors, physicists, philosophers, plumbers, and roshis.

Things quiet down,

opinion loses it’s grip,

then you can do back flips,

look into the atom. 

Then you see.



Maybe you’ll see a hawk with the intensity that  Sidney Field did one afternoon in  the Hollywood hills (described in my post of   January 29, 2013) or the way Gerard Manly Hopkins saw a windhover (kestrel, falcon) on an illuminated morning in 1918 and thought of the fire that breaks from Christ, “a billion times told lovelier.”


The Windhover

To Christ our Lord

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-    
  dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding    
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding    
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing    
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,            
  As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding    
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding    
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!    
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here    
  Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion           
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!    
  No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion    
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,    
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Memory: What Schools Really Test

Remembering, Recalling — And Good Grades

Get Your A Book
I will describe in later  posts ways to retrieve information that are natural and effective.  But first here are some things to think about.

Do you believe intelligence, talent, hard work, and honesty are what get you good grades? Your experience tells you otherwise.  Some schools may value thinking and learning, but

What’s tested is how good you are at remembering things.

It takes time and involvement and care to find out how well students are truly coming along, but those ways take time and involvement and care. It’s lots easier just to test for a bunch of data.  (If a teacher really wanted to know how a student was doing in chemistry, he could ask her.)

Most teachers test for facts.

And of course if you want to recall raw facts, you will need some memory strategies. When was the last time anyone bothered to show you how to get good at that?

How the Game Is Rigged

What’s tested and graded is skill in dredging up information –  remembering, recalling.

If schools actually did emphasize understanding, the facts would fall naturally into meaning networks and would be easy to recall.  That’s how you learned all the stuff you have stored in your nervous system – no sweat.  But most teachers expect you to remember facts – the vocabulary of the subject mostly – and never bother to show you how.  Of course, if all students were good at the memory game, it would spoil the ranking system; everyone would get high scores.

Dutiful students spend most of their time trying to remember and usually doing a rotten job of it.  That’s because, although ordinary brains are expert at learning and remembering, storing raw data is unnatural.  It can be done and easily, but it requires conscious awareness of how memory works.  Most students have had little or no education on memorizing – even though it’s more vital to school success than anything else.  Yet,

Even a little attention to memory processes gives you a powerful advantage.

Here’s one rotten technique you can toss out right away: Passive repetition.

Saying something over and over again numbs the mind.  The results are disappointing and depressing .  Relaxing over late-night TV would prepare you better for a test than two hours of passive repetition.

All You Really Need to Know About Memorizing

You have an excellent memory, and you use it effectively most of the time.
If you have trouble with a school subject, you are most likely trying to master it in a way that’s unnatural to you.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Natural memory works well only in a warm and friendly environment.  Fear or pride or force will shut down the process.

Remind yourself of what really works for you, use it when working on school subjects, and you will have the same success that enables you to function so well out of school.  The more conscious you are of how you actually do learn and the more you trust yourself to do the right thing, the more fun you will have with school subjects and the easier it will be to master them.

Your methods are uniquely your own, but they are a variation of the Mess-Around method that I will describe in my next post.


Realms of Gold: Your Piece of the Pie

Any GPA You Want

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHomecoming         Get Your A Book
The poem of creation
 surging  in the brain’s
 electric circuitry,
 engulfing the soul
  in music.   



Here’s a preposterous statement you will agree with once you think about it.

If you are reading this sentence,

You are perfectly capable of achieving any GPA you want

and of doing whatever you need to do or want to do in your life.

People can do anything they need to do, lift the car off their child pinned beneath it, walk a tightrope, climb El Capitan, hook up the DVD player, sing at Carnegie Hall.  If there is such a thing as higher intelligence – and the definition of intelligence is up for grabs – it doesn’t seem to have much to do with getting things done.

Will and need and circumstance are much more powerful than intelligence.

Each human being has his or her piece of the intelligence pie. 

 So do lilies, spiders, cells and quartz crystals.  Each of us processes information in our own way, from our own unique aspect of the continuum.

Individuals with down syndrome – as well as everyone in  the entire range of human physical and mind configuration – have a special window on the world.  Each of us.  Together, with the rest of the intelligent universe, we complete the pie.


Our job is to be who we are.

When we use our natural traits, we can do amazing things.

 winging the heavens on a updraft,
            scratching fleas.
            spinning verbal webs,
            and webs of silk.

Lighting Up the Realms of Gold: Charles Demuth and William Carlos Williams

What’s  There

500px-Demuth_Charles_I_Saw_the_Figure_5_in_Gold_1928It’s the time you spend on your rose.

–  The Little Prince

Generally, by the time you are real
most of your hair has been loved off.
– The Velveteen Rabbit




Surface-Features Opportunity

Here’s a chance to sharpen up your vision of the facts.

  • Take a good look at this painting. Give yourself at least twenty minutes.  Just pay attention to any detail actually there on the surface, shapes, sizes, colors, words – any detail no matter how small.
  • Try not to give meaning to the painting while you’re taking this surface-features excursion.  Also,  do as little evaluation, judging, critiquing, as yo can.
  • Keep doing this till you run out of details.  You won’t!  But you will get the hang of it in twenty minutes.
  • Now, step back and look at the whole painting again.  Did you brighten it up?  Did you love off some of its hair?

My Commentary follows.

However –

You will spoil your fun if you read my commentary without doing the surface-features game first. 


When my students and I used to do this together, we’d go around and ask each person to point out something in the painting that hadn’t already been noted.  We kept on for several rounds.

What happened was that each time a detail was pointed out it was as if that bit of the painting had a spot light on it.


The painting got more and more vivid as we went along.


By the time we stepped back and looked at the painting whole, it was a new painting, brilliantly visible.

The same painting, but seen intensely.

And no one even felt like criticizing it. We had entered the realms of gold.

William Carlos Williams and the Figure 5

After reading a poem by his friend William Carlos Williams, Charles Demuth did this painting, I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, in 1928 — it hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Here’s the poem:


The Great Figure

Among the rain

and lights

I saw the figure 5

in gold

on a red





to gong clangs

siren howls

and wheels rumbling

through the dark city.

Art Lesson

Notice how the words can illuminate the painting


how the painting can illuminate the words.

Workplace Realms of Gold: Illuminating the Moment

How Your Spirit fills the Space

Sunlight on Flowers


The other day, I picked a couple of blossoms and some leaves along the lagoon where I walk sometimes, and when I got home we put them in a slate bud vase on our dining room table.  The sunlight and shadows reminded me of Boehme’s sunlight on a pewter bowl and of something a student had written long after our classes together.

I used to tell my students I hoped they would never have to ‘work’. Some of my colleagues considered such talk irresponsible.  But my students understood that I hoped they would find their bliss and follow it and that it was not so much what you did everyday but how your spirit filled that space.  Carol had done the brave thing and come back to college, not so much to get ready for a good job as to see if there might not be more to the moment than sweat.  I was glad to see some ten years later how things were going with her:

Liquid Amber —  By Carol Stout

I brought red, purple, orange and green fall leaves to someone longer than ten years ago.  I walked into his office as he got to his feet, smiling.  Did he have something I could put it in?

Earlier that morning, I hadn’t been able to resist picking them from the trees in my back yard, magnificent from my kitchen window, their deep and fiery hues.  I’d made a bouquet for the kitchen, but had captured more wonder than could be contained in one vase.  OK, give someone else a close-up look at a bit of the everyday magic.  I’ll take them to the college and give them to my English teacher.  I knew he would be the right person.
He liked making ordinary things  ‘extra-ordinary;’ and many of us would make up excuses to drop by.  We always left feeling better.  I read years later that someone had said that of T. S. Eliot.  I knew what that writer meant. Lots of us became addicted to his capacity to illuminate ordinary moments.   We were  learning how to do that for ourselves, how to see every day as an adventure, to watch for the surprises that would unfold this day.
He reached into a bottom desk drawer and pulled out an old Ball glass canning jar. New leaves, old jar. A small moment?

In this present time, where I work, we like to take turns bringing goodies for celebrations  ‒  or for no special reason at all  ‒  we just like being accomplices in the criminal activity of wonder.  So, it’s  October and the trees are just now changing in the Bay Area.  I am on my break walking along a path near our office slow enough to soak up my surroundings.   At that pace noticing the blaze of leaves can’t be ignored.  A many-hued branch of liquid amber reaches out, beckoning me closer.  It is just the shape and size for a vase.
“Well, let’s bring a little something from the outside in,” I think.  I’ll gather a few stems of the Toyon bush to go with the branch of liquid amber.  The toyon is loaded with berries just beginning to turn red.  They go well together, I decide, holding my work of art at the end of my outstretched arm in it’s vase of a hand.

In the lunchroom, I search for a suitable container.  My creation needs  properly framed.  And there, where it had been for weeks, without so much as a tiny jog to my memory, sits a Ball canning jar, complete with snap-on lid.  It fairly screams, “Use me, use me!”  Time and space evaporate as the rush of images and feelings of that other present, those other leaves, and that other jar transport me.

And I remember, too, how long ago, I noticed days later that the water was all gone in that other Ball jar.  The leaves were still colorful, and they had the added charm of being slightly curly, as if hooking a finger the viewer’s way, “Look at me, look at me!  I’m older and more wrinkly now, but I have a different beauty.”  But that day I said to my friend, “Oh, the leaves are dried out!”  I reached to take them off his desk, but he stopped me, putting into words the very thoughts I had just had.

“Well, yes, they have dried out, but   I like seeing them when I come in in the morning.”  Once again I left his office feeling good.

Years ago I brought red, purple, orange, green fall leaves to someone. I was an adult student returning to college, nervous about being back taking classes.  As I reflect on it , such  moments give us back the  world, the world of wonder at our finger tips. And  what I’m thinking now, this present moment, is that small moments enrich our lives, not just for that time and place but for moments yet to come, perhaps in some lunch room many years removed, yet richly connected to that ordinary moment.

Toward the Realms of Gold

Stopping Time

It doesn’t matter what train
we catch –







religion, science, mathematics,
poetry, music, painting,
baking, grape stomping —

 or walking along a mountain

We look, we look,
and suddenly
we see.

Everything stops;
we come to rest
in eternity,
a timeless

Then we can resume
watching people on the street,
eating chocolate eclairs –
often in wonder.

“One has a vision;
one wants another.”

Slow-Walking the Neighborhood: Found Object into Objet d’Art

found object

Here’s an idea for your weekend:

Give the slow-walk I recommended in my January 15th post another go.

This time while walking bring back something you probably would not notice if you were actually going somewhere instead of just  . . .    walk    . . .    ing, preferably something least likely.

(Of course, this won’t work with little kids.  To them, everything is wonderful.)

Now figure out some way somehow or other  to present that object so that it can’t help but be paid attention.

Ordinary Reality Illuminated

One of my students brought back that little piece of bark in the picture above, fashioned into a pendant.  I’ve kept it around for decades, but the students were so good at it we took over some walls in the campus science museum put on an exhibition.

Objects found —  objects of art.

I think you will agree that all it takes to convert the ordinary into a rain-glazed red wheelbarrow is your beam of attention.


Let my know what you think.

If you are walking around

the planet

and see

what you are looking at

you will have discovered

a poem.


The Poetry of the 38 MUNI Bus

Emily:“Does anyone ever realize life every, every minute?”
Stage Manager: “No.  The saints and poets maybe.  They do some.”
                                  – Our Town


Rolling Down Geary

The first thing I need to do
when I wake up
 is make sure
the music’s sweetly humming
on the nerve endings.

Now I’m ready for the 38 MUNI
and half an hour for catching glimpses
of the poem of creation.
With all the seats filled
and holograms standing,
it’s easy.

There we are
rolling along.
I fiddle with these baubles.


first stop, the ordinary,

then, second stop,  and intense vision
of the facts,

then, with rare good luck,
the supra-ordinary, the realms
of gold.

Then, I’m home again.