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


Game-Changer Checklist for High Test Scores


I wonder what exciting is going to happen today.


•   Get the feel of it:    Relax and mess around.

 The more fun you have the higher your score – guaranteed.

Browse.     Browse.     Browse

•   Do easiest questions first.

Rack up easy points: Build confidence.

Don’t make the test tough.

Use your own natural intelligence. Make common-sense guesses.

•  Use the way the test is put together to find answer clues and patterns:

Grammatical tip-offs, longest or shortest answers, and so on.

•  Watch out for absolute, definite answers; they are commonly false.

•   Answer all questions — even if instructed otherwise.  Your score will be higher.

•   When all else fails, choose the third answer.

   Tests are academic crossword puzzles.

Look for clues in other questions and even in multiple-choice answers.

•    Ask for clarification of ambiguous or flawed questions.

If necessary, explain your answer in the margin.

•    Think like your opponent. Psych out the test maker.

•    Don’t sweat questions you can afford to miss.

Mess around.    Mess around.    Mess around.

Tests into Puzzles III

Crossword 2LOOK . . . THEN LEAP.

Always look over a test — any test — before you start.


You’re  trying to get the feel of it.  What sort of a test is it?  Do the questions look easy?  Hard?  Do you see any item you can answer right off the bat?

Take a look at this test.  You’ll probably notice a trick question or two, the sort you’ve probably seen before.  OK, so it’s a trick test.  I’m tipping my hand here, but you could figure that out yourself if you browse it first.  Right?

So go ahead an see how many points you can rack up.  I’ll provide the answers the test-maker wants (not necessarily the most intelligent or thoughtful answers) and comment later on what I think the test really measures.



Test Your What?

Allow yourself a maximum of eight minutes. Then check your answers.

1. Allow yourself five minutes to rearrange the letters 0-W-D—
E-N-A-R-W to spell a new word—but not a proper name, nor anything foreign or “unnatural.” Write it out.


2. Quickly now: How many animals of each species did Adam take
aboard the Ark with him? (Note that the question is not how many pairs , but how many animals.)


3. What unusual characteristics do these six words have in common?
DEFT SIGHING CALMNESS CANOPY FIRST STUN (Please complete your answer within five minutes.)

4. Figure out this problem in diplomatic relations: If an international
airliner crashed exactly on the U. S.-Canadian border, where would they be required by international law to bury the survivors? (If you can’t decide within one minute what your answer will be, please go on to the next item.)

5. What is the minimum number of active baseball players on the
playing field during any part of an inning?

6. Figure out this problem within one minute: If one face of a cube
measures 2″ x 4″, what is the area of each of the faces, and what is the total area of all eight faces? (Jot down your answer in the margin.)

7. A farmer had 17 sheep. All but nine died. How many did he have left?

8. An archeologist reported finding two gold coins dated 46 B. C.
Later, at a dinner in his honor, he was thoroughly and openly discredited by a disgruntled fellow archeologist. Why?

9, A man living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, may not be
buried in a state west of the Mississippi River—nor in Hawaii or Alaska— even in the event of Presidential intervention. Why is this?

10. If you went to bed at 8 o’clock last night, and set your alarm clock
to get up at 9 o’clock this morning, why on earth—after 13 hours’ rest, especially!—are you so sleepy today?

11. If you had only one match, and entered a room to start up a
kerosene lamp, an oil heater, and a wood-burning stove, which would you light first—and why?

12. Quickly, now: Divide 30 by 1/2, and add 10. What is the answer?

13. If your doctor gave you three pills, and told you to take one every
half hour, how long would it require for you to take all of them?

14. Two men played checkers. They played five games, and each man
won three. How do you explain this?

15. Look at these phrases, for a moment, to get them firmly in mind:

Triangle  Words
Now look away and write down these exact phrases.


Answers and Comments


This is a test-taking test.

As always, you’ll rack up the most points if you’re relaxed and playful.  So you begin by messing around.

Browse     Browse     Browse

Yes, it’s a trick test, and  logical reasoning is actually a hindrance.  There are some old chestnuts here, and you’re likely to see the wanted answers to some of them right off. Once you know the game, you know how to play.

1.  If you try to work this out logically, you’ll use up your 8 minutes.  So if you don’t see the trick, for heaven’s sake, skip it! and do the easy questions first.  The wanted answer is  a new word.  The test-maker tries to make it seem hard by distracting you and uses your reading strengths against you: “Allow five minutes . . .” And so on.  Once you catch on, it’s a breeze.  He uses the same tricks over and over.

2.  OK, so it was Noah, not Adam.  All the surrounding stuff is there to keep you from noticing the word Adam.  Once you catch on, you can go back and check your answers.

3.  Most of the questions on this test call for the same kind of thinking and the same level of thinking, but this one is different.  So if you don’t see a solution right away, you should set it aside.  If you have time at the end, you can come back to it.  Answer: They all have alphabetical sequences of letters in them:   DEF, GHI, LMN, NOP, RST, and STU. [Unless the test-maker defines what he means by “unusual” there could be all sorts of “correct”answers .]

4.  The test-maker camouflages the phrase bury the survivors with underlinings, italics and helpful hints – all intended to take your eye off the obvious: You don’t bury survivors.  Shady salesmen write up contracts this way, too.  But you already knew that.

In any test, find out what’s really being asked.


Nervous test-takers tend to  skim questions or misread them.  Treat the test like hopscotch.  Rack up points.

5.  Oh, well, he wants the batter included.  Answer: Ten   If you wanted to get pushy about it, you could question what the test-maker means by “active.”  Usually everybody’s standing still till the pitcher lets fly.  And so on!  This is a poorly worded question.  You should annotate your answer in the margin – but nicely, of course.

6.  If you’re a math whiz, you could easily hurry with the calculation and screw up. You know perfectly well that all sides of a cube are equal, so a face can’t be 2 by 4.   This question is set up the way Number 4 is, isn’t it –  lots of diverting instructions.

7.  All BUT nine died.  Get it?    Same trick as the Noah / Adam question.

On any test helpful clues are scattered all over.

8.  Well, you should know this far into the “test” that the answer in right there on the surface.  The test doesn’t require knowledge of archaeology – or anything else!  If you don’t catch on right away, come back later.  B. C. might pop right out at you.

9.  A man LIVING should not be buried – no matter where he lives. There have already been a couple of questions like this –  2, 4, ans 7, for example.

10.  By now you know there’s bound to be something tricky in the wording.  The 13 hours phrase is a tip-off, but you can visualize setting the clock for 9 and hitting the sack at 8.  You can see what would happen.  The test-maker probably doesn’t have a twenty-four-hour clock.

If you take this question seriously, you can waste a lot of time.  This test does not require imaginative thinking, only familiarity with parlor games.

Keep your responses within the test-maker’s level of thought.

These questions are suitable for seventh or eighth graders, wouldn’t you say?

11.  A good reader thinks the word which refers only to lamp, heater, and stove.  The test-maker is counting on it.  But you know this isn’t a very sophisticated test.

On any test, you can actually build your skill with it as you go along. 

12.  Divide 30 by ½ .  “Quickly” throws you off.

If a question looks too easy, read it more slowly and more carefully.

How may halves are there in 30?  Now, that’s more like it.  Then you’re to add 10.  The wanted answer is 70.  But add 10 halves? Or 10 wholes —  which would be 20 halves?  Not that simple after all, but think at the level the test and put down 70.

13.  Visualize.

One, say, at 7, next at 7:30, next at 8.  Bingo: One hour.


Slow down when a question looks easy.

Rule: Relax if it’s hard.  Sweat if it’s easy.

14.  The test-maker leaves out information you need.  But this is a trick test, so you’re on to him and you see, aha!, they didn’t play each other.  This omission is deliberate, but teachers sometimes  inadvertently leave out needed information, too.

On school tests, if needed information is missing, ask for it.

15.  This question counts on you’re being a good reader.  Good readers read for ideas.  A copyeditor or proofreader  would see the wanted response right away, the duplications of THE, THE; A, A; THE, THE; and  AT, AT.

If you followed the lead of Question 1, though, you might have answered, “these exact phrases.”  But the test-maker isn’t all that swift, so you’d better go with the other answer.



Tests Into Crossword Puzzles II


Crossword 2








Want to get good at playing the piano?  Practice.

Want to get higher scores on tests?  Practice.

Here’s a “test” my colleague Karl Staubach made up to show how you can pull out answers from a test without knowing much at all.  This skeleton test has hardly any content, so you have to use test-taking experience to guess the answers.  In this “test” the game itself is clearly the subject, not history or calculus.

 How to Take a Test Without Knowing Anything
(Time Limit 15 Minutes)

Quantitative Reasoning

1.  What is the diameter of the circle in Figure (a)?

Circumference 1 Pic(a)

2.  Develop an equation for apparent loss of elevation due to curvature of the Earth: express unknowns in terms of feet and miles; show your work.

Critical Analysis

3.  How long does it take an inchworm to go a foot?

4.  This statement is false.     True/False

5.   Unscramble the following words, one point for each answer.

a.  TUTIWHO                b. GRAINDE            c.  PANETRAP
d.  MORNWICH            e.  RILACTIC

Reading Comprehension

6.  Blah ba blah blah because . . . ?

a.  blah ba blah blah.   b. blah blah ba blah  c.  blah ba blah ba blah,
blah, blah blah. d.  blah ba blah ba blah.

7.  Blah ba blah no blah . . . ?

a.  blah not blah ba blah.     b.  no blah ba blah blah.
c.  blah ba blah ba blah       d.  ba blah isn’t ba blah

8.  Blah ba never blah ba blah. . . . ?     True/False

9.  Blah ba blah ba blah . . . ?

a.  blah ba blah.         b.  blah blah ba.
c. blah: ½ blah.          d.  ba blah blah.

10.  Unknowns in equations for the Earth’s curvature are usually expressed in

a.  millimeters.    b.  feet and inches.
c.  miles and feet.   d. hundredths of inches.







Most people find out a little about hopscotch or poker before getting into the game.  So

Mess around  until you understand the game.  Then

Rack up all the points you can.  Then

Do the leftovers. 

       Use the test to answer the test.

10. You can get 14 points on this test, and if you browsed it, you’d have nailed Number 10 — because the answer is given away in Number 2.  Score: 1 point

2. Also, for me, actually figuring out  Number 2 looks like it would take a while, and I don’t think I know enough, so I’ll save it for last.  I’m after points.

1.  You could probably figure out Number 1, but if it makes you nervous, skip it for now.  (If you don’t know what a diameter is, ask the person giving the test.)  If you know what a diameter is,  use the line that’s 6 long as your ruler  to measure the diameter.


 4. No one can answer Number 4.   Test questions are often poorly written.  Karl put this in as an example of that.   If you have time left over, you could toss a coin and put a note in the margin, pointing out that it’s ambiguous.

 3. In Number 3, the test-maker left out the inchworm’s rate of speed — how fast he’s going — so you’d have to raise your hand on that one, or put a note in the margin — or put in a silly answer, and put a note in the margin.

Answer all questions.  You don’t get points for blanks.

 5. The answers to all five scrambled words in Number 5 are on the test itself. For example, MORNWICH unscrambles as INCHWORM, which is in Number 3. This question is worth five points, so use the test to answer the test.

6. Often clues to the wanted answer are in the wording.  In Number 6, there’s no content, so see if there’s a give-away in the answers.  Um, hum, answer c is longer than a, b, and d, so go with the most different-looking answer.  Also, when all else fails, choose third answer.  It’s not fool-proof, but the third answer does come up as “correct” more often.  Remember, this is a point game.

7.  Again, only one answer in Number 7 stands out as different-looking, c.  Answers a, b, and d all have negatives in them and c doesn’t.  If you choose any of the others, you’d end up with two negatives and a messy sentence, maybe even a frowned-on double negative.

8.  As you probably have noticed, teachers are not fond of making absolute statements.  So in questions like  Number 8, the answer is False.  If a definite statement is the wanted answer, it will have been pounded in so much you will know that and will mark it TRUE anyway.

9.  The gibberish in three of the four answers in Number 9 looks pretty much the same, but Answer c, blah:  ½  blah, is different.  Choose it.

Your Score

Here’s the deal.  If you don’t know anything but if you do know something about how tests are set up, you could pass this test with 11 out of 14.  Not bad!  Unless I’m into math,  I’d miss Number 2, but I don’t care.  I’m in this for points.  Numbers 3 and 4 are hopeless, but they’re poorly written.  I’d still put those notes in the margin; I might get something. Don’t be snotty, though; teachers have thin skins.

Like crossword puzzles, tests are full of information you can use to figure out answers.   Think of tests as puzzles, do enough of them, and  they can be more fun than crossword puzzles.

Turning Tests into Crossword Puzzles

Test Pics for Post

Children’s Games

  I have resented to this day
When any but myself presumed to say
That there was anything I could not be.
                                    – Robert Frost

The Testing Mania

There is so much wrong with giving each other tests I hardly know where to begin.  Your own sweet Self has no interest in the hoops other people think up for you to jump through.   You may be interested, though, in what’s going on in the back room where tests are invented.

Here’s a little inventory you can start with to get you tuned in to my  comments on this BIG MYTH that bankrolls the huge nation-wide test-making industry and keeps teachers up late at night dreaming up “questions.”


Mark only the ideas you agree with.  Then read the commentary.

□   1.  Tests measure how much you have learned.

□    2.  Tests are objective.

□    3.   Tests are fair.

□    4.   Tests help teachers see how effective their teaching is.

□    5.   Tests help you learn.

□    6.   Essay tests measure your understanding better than short-answer tests do.

□    7.   If it’s taught, it must be tested.

□    8.   To  get a high score, thoroughly understand the subject.

□    9.   Tests can predict how well you’ll do when you get a job.

□   10.   SATs identify the best students for college.


Commentary: What Tests Really Measure

Most people think the statements above are true, but research shows they’re not. It’s a sucker’s game.   Reflect on it a little; you’ll see very quickly that tests  interfere with what really matters – your journey through the realms of gold  – that is, your drive to live a full, rich life, the life your own biology insists on, not the straitjacket other people think you should wear. Once you see tests as crossword puzzles, though, you can actually have fun figuring them out, and when your Self is running the show, it’s always fun.IMG_1234

As you know, learning involves change, growth, and understanding, but tests don’t measure those things.  All tests really do is  measure skill in taking tests.  Do 150 bits and pieces of data reflect complex changes in you?  Do those bits an pieces come even close to all the stuff you body and mind have picked up?  Of course not.

I’ll get into some of the myths  in later posts.  Right now, though, I want to tell you about a test my students used to love.

A Test My Students Used to Love

I quit giving tests altogether a few years into teaching. I would have quit sooner, but I’m a slow learner. I thought I had to, even after I realized how destructive they are. I didn’t have to; my students  got along just fine for the next thirty years without them. But I always gave a name-game “test.” I would tell the students they have to know everyone’s name, one of the few specific trivia requirements of the course. There will be a test, I would tell them, in a couple of weeks. They knew very well I wasn’t really going to give them a test, but they acted like it anyway, doing all the stuff I used to hate about test games. “Do we have to spell them all correctly?” “How much time will we have?” “Can we just give first names?” “Can we have more time to get ready?” I pretended it was all very serious, too. I did want them to know each other’s names, but I certainly wasn’t going to grade them on it.

So one sunny day the students arrive, and it’s TEST day. As they file in, each student gets a number to wear and a roster. There is music playing, and the teaching assistants and I have set up a table with things to eat and drink. The “test” is to match the person’s number with a name on the roster. They have to get 100 percent or they fail.

Of course, it doesn’t take a minute for people to start cheating. They start going up to each other and asking their names. (Big surprise: Lots of them haven’t studied much.) The first thing you know the whole class is milling about, talking with each other. It turns into a jolly good time. Everyone is thoroughly enjoying the “test.” More than once I found a couple of guys erasing numbers from their rosters. That way, they had an excuse to talk with someone they were attracted to. Pretty smart, eh?


The one-and-only test day turns out to be one of the best days of the semester, and everyone knows everyone else much better by the end of the hour, wonderful enthusiasm, lots of positive energy. What’s amusing is that people actually turn in their “test paper” at the end. They really know how to play the school game.

As always, students think about the event in their reflections. (See my menu item Reflective Writing.) Often we talk about whether that really was a test. Then we get a chance to explore what a test is, what it is said to be for and what it actually is for. Is the name-game test a good test? If tests are learning tools, did everyone know more by the end of the test? Sure. Should you be allowed to cheat on a test? Depends on how you define cheat. Should the atmosphere be formal or informal? Which elicits your best performance? Should it be fun to take a test? Should it be on how much you know or how little? Is it really necessary to scare the pants off everyone in order to advance understanding of the periodic chart or whatever? Do you get to cheat in real life? And so on. Students are subjected to tests from the time they set foot in kindergarten onward. For many, reflecting on the name-game test is the first time they ever take a good look at what is going on.

So the name game and its test accomplish exactly what any traditional teacher would want and a whole lot more. It is only one example of what a multifaceted “lesson” can be. All classes can learn that way. Everyone, including teachers, would actually enjoy coming to class and experiencing what Goethe described as “a rich, manifold life, brought close to the eyes.”



What if your class got to list all the tidbits of your experience together?

In my classes we used to finish up a semester by going around the room and everyone would contribute something he or she remembered from what we had shared together.  Anything counted, no matter how insignificant.  We had a couple of students putting each item on the chalk board as we went around.  It felt wonderful.  It was as if each item had a spotlight shown on it.  Each bit was like a capsule that burst open and all sorts of memories flooded out. And the connections got better and brighter as we went along. There was so much. We filled up the board. We weren’t noticing how little we had experienced but how much.  We all felt great.  That is Self affirming!  Wouldn’t you think schools ought to be nurturing that?



Guess What I’m Thinking

Tests are games in which large numbers of players guess what the test-maker wants.  Like any other game, tests have rules: time and space limits, playing fields, equipment, arbitrary scoring procedures, number of players, winners, losers, referees. Playing the game is an end in itself. Getting ready for it is very different from getting good at French or engineering.  What you accomplish in literature, mathematics or welding is one thing; tests are something else again.  That’s all.

Figure out how tests work, get good at it, and you’re in business.

A Problem of Making Connections


Line Drawing of a Box.  Which of the two views on the right is correct?  See commentary in next post.

Line Drawing of a Box. Which of the two views  is correct?










One had a lovely face,
And two or three had charm,
But charm and face were in vain
Because the mountain grass
Cannot but keep the form
Where the mountain hare has lain.


Here’s my problem:

I included Yeats’s “Memory” in a recent post because I saw it connected to several things that had come up in other postings, things as separate as the question of time and timelessness and a poem by William Carlos Williams.  I see the Yeats poem connected with how things fit together in the universe, connected to  the zero-point field that physicists spend a lot of their time reflecting on.  In the Yeats poem, the grass retains the impression where the hare has lain.  That remains.   The impression is what endures. So I wrote that up rather quickly and cleverly I thought, and then Ruth, my wife,  didn’t get it at all, and she gets upset because she wants to be supportive.   I’m thinking, What the hell?  Why isn’t this perfectly obvious?

Physics and the Ground of Being

Then as I was writing this reflection a connection popped up from a couple of autumns ago when  I went up to Pinecrest in the Sierras with my son-in-law.  Dave and I were up there and we’re sitting around the campfire, and I’m starting to tell him about my philosophy, and then I get into this particle-physics, eternal time, aspect of it.  He says, “Well, that’s physics.”  I said, “Yes, Dave, that’s physics, but that’s where it’s at.  It’s not something out there with some scientist.  It’s the basic ground of being we’re talking about.  That’s physics. ”

A Box Is Not Only a Box

So the issue for  people who haven’t  thought about it very much is that what they see is what they get.  A box is a box.  They don’t realize that that very box they’ve just looked at  is an impression they took of that bit of the universe.  It’s no longer “out there,” but what their sensorium has allowed their bodies to carry away from “out there,” a residual impression gleaned from the nerve endings that has permanently modified their world picture.  If they don’t reflect on it, though, they probably don’t “get” it.  I’ve given myself the job of constructing this site so that they do get it.

Both Worlds Simultaneously

In the classes, it was easy.  We’d do something together, maybe look at a Bruegel painting  or a Zen koan and we’d play with them.

Bruegel, Children's Games

Bruegel, Children’s Games

What happens is that your mind goes back and forth.  Over here is the physical world, and then here’s what it really is.  If you’re alert, you go back and forth.  What Frost toyed with is, Can I get both of those simultaneously?  Can I be in eternal time as well as in sequential time?

In my classes, it was easy to draw on the chalkboard a  box that you can see in more than one way. One way, its base is here, but blink again, it’s over there.  Then, we might read “Memory” and I might say, “Oh, this is just like that box up there. The poem is all about the box.”  We’d mess around making connections and pretty soon it would start to click.  That’s fun, but what’s really great is when someone would say,  “Oh, yeah, that’s like what Salinger’s Teddy said:  ‘My little sister was drinking milk, and I saw she was pouring God into God.’” So  then you have the illusion, which we call reality, and the non-conscious that  it’s a manifestation of.  And so on, all these connections lying around all over the place and all you have to do is pick them up.

So, any ideas of how I can set up this website so that you’ll be making all sorts of connections?  That’s really what this website is all about. How do I get you to apply any of these ideas to your daily life?  After all, sure, you have your morning cereal but how to get you to have the experience of having it, a change of awareness of what you’re doing while you’re doing it?

One sure way it do is to write out your reflections.  And as I described in earlier posts, you can hold steady to your cereal by noticing surface features.  Write what you notice, notice what you’re noticing, notice what that reminds you of.  You don’t really need more guidance than that.  Your Self will take over, and it will feel like you’re taking dictation.  When that happens you will feel like your time has been well spent.

For me reflective writing  illuminates things so rapidly you can’t believe it.  It’s a wonderful tool.  If you try it out, it will  work for you, too.  In the classes I could make reflective writing a recommendation, a suggestion – not a requirement, because it really is their choice to do this.  If they had to do it, it would be just another composition exercise.  But sometimes some would start out acting like they had to and then would find themselves doing it productively and liking the process.

You might recall a connection, for example, with the idea that you are the place where creation works on itself. That was from a poem by Tomas Tranströmer   I quoted in an earlier post.  It means we are all working out, in our own way, a picture of our Self that we would like to match up with what’s going on within.  We’re trying to get it right.

A World Too Full to Think About

Chalk in Hands

Sidewalk Artist

One way to say it is that through our reflections, through reflective writing, we get in tune with the clock with no hands. I’ve tried to set up posts to be like experiences that require you to tune in.  In my classes, we used to mess around with some activity or other, maybe chalk drawings on the walkway outside our classroom, and we’d be on our knees absorbed in our drawings and we’d fall into that realm of timelessness.   Enough of such experiences, and they begin to catch on, like riding a bike. Reflective writing gets you into that mode quite quickly.  You know when it happens; some inner voice begins to speak, uncensored, free to say whatever it damned well feels like.   I’d like to be able to pull that off with you here.  Maybe  some genius reader will give me some tips!

Rites of Passage — Reflective Writing

Anyway, if you see some little girl drinking her milk and you realize she is pouring God into God, you’ll know you’ve tuned into the eternal world.  Lots of societies have rites of passage to trigger that awareness.  If you’re up for it, reflective writing could do it for you, too.  At the very least, it’s refreshing.


Pouring God into God, a la Salinger’s Teddy




One afternoon I picked a spear-shaped bud along the lagoon path.  Look what happened overnight.





will you

think up


The Method of Places – The Most Powerful Memory Tool


toilet paperlettuce


Find a familiar place to store each thing you want to recall, look in that place, and there it is.



If you want to recall nine or ten grocery items, say

lettuce            toilet paper            butter          cereal          hamburger

                 milk                sugar          potatoes           tea

put them in rooms in your home.

“In the first place” put the lettuce in the entrance hall and picture it there, in the middle of the floor where you’ll step on it.  Get a good visual impression.

“In the second place ”  – whatever’s the next room, the kitchen maybe – put the toilet paper, maybe in the refrigerator with the door open.

“In the third place – maybe in the living room across the hall –  put the butter, unwrapped on the seat of your expensive upholstered chair.

Let’s see how this is going.  Shut your eyes.  What did you put in your entrance hall?  Can you see it there?  What’s in the kitchen?  What’s in the living room?

You get the point.  You’re connecting — also called linking —  each new item with a place already  firmly placed in your memory bank (in this case the rooms of your home).  You make a good bond between them.  You exaggerate.  You visualize.  You associate.  And any other memory device you already know about.  I’ll bet the potatoes end up in the toilet.

That’s it, in a nutshell.


All the  techniques you already use or know about  are likely to be involved in  of the method of places – which goes back at least as far as ancient Greek orators who didn’t have teleprompters and pictured  each main  point of their speeches,  odes or whatever, sequentially in the rooms of their houses and then retrieved them, safe and sound, as they went along.  It was a fine art by the 1600s when Matteo Ricci developed a memory palace of more than a thousand places — and was part of the education of the young Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal Rising.


Variations of the Method of Places

      The Grid method

GRIDUse a nine-square grid instead of your home.

It’s neater and portable.  You can make links between the items, too, as you go along, if you feel like it. Always start in the same square.  I suggest the upper left square, then snake to the right, then down one and to the left, then down again and to the right.  If you have more items, use a second grid.

I’ll post a couple of more variations of the Method of Places next time


More Zen Days in the Realms of Gold

The Way It Goes

There’s a story of a concert master who is fed up with the orchestra and becomes an itinerant musician. In his travels he comes upon an old man sitting in the sun outside his hut and asks if he can rest there a while. After he has rested and drunk from the old man’s well, he feels like playing his violin.  When he finishes, the old man sits quietly and then says, “That is true.”  That’s the way it goes.

That’s the Way it goes
            You are minding your own business
            and along come two tramps at mud time
            or you catch a little silver trout
            and it leads you to Rapunzel
            or up the Amazon to Grovers Corners –
            where you were in the first place.

Get it? Just another way of describing what it’s like to take a slow walk – when you’re not going anywhere and don’t give a damn whether there’s a there there or not. One step   And two   And three – like that. Definitely no Depak Chopra involved.





That’s your Self
strolling along,
at it again,
late for school —
as usual.