Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wheels And Essence

Thirty Spokes share one hub.  Adapt the space therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the cart.  Knead clay in order to make a vessel.  Adapt the space therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the vessel.  Cut open doors and windows in order to make a room.  Adapt the space therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the room.  Thus what we gain is Something, yet it is by virtue of Nothing that this can be put to use.     

Chapter 11, Tao Te Ching, translated by D.C. Lau.  

Have you ever looked around and seen that everything moves around its own central hub, or point and axis of origin?  We could call this point the center of gravity for an object.  This point and axis of origin is composed of space, otherwise looked upon and defined as Nothing.  We can not define space, yet it contains everything and is singular.  Space can be divided up by objects into inner space and outer space.  Still there is only one space, undefined, omniscient, and connecting all objects.  Space is the mother of all objects and cradles them in a warm and compassionate embrace.

The interconnection of space and movement is called emptiness and forms all objects and thoughts contained therein.  Objects and perceptions do not have intrinsic, unchanging existence.  Since the objects and their perceptions exist only by virtue of their emptiness, they are illusory, like the image formed by a whirling firebrand or a reflection in a mirror.  Cause and effect arise from interconnections.  The problem of existence is not the connections.  The problem is the clinging to the connections.  Gently watch the turning of objects around their space and you will see their joy at play.  This joy is an unbounded expression of the limitless freedom for life.

Posted by michael

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Black Swan Events And Paradigm Shifts

The negative black swan events have come to roost and humans are not very happy about it.  They manifest as economic market crashes, human tragedy emanating from Sumatra and Japan earthquakes and tsunamis, climate change in an ever-shifting planetary swirl of the moisture-heat-cloud-rain engine.  Floods of great magnitude rearrange the land, ocean, and sky and carve new river beds and marshes.  We did not notice at first, until more people became involved and compassion swelled in our hearts for those trapped by events of great consequence.  
Black swan events are surprising, rare, and unexpected events of large magnitude and consequence, with dominant roles in history events that occur on the tail ends of evidence probability curves.  They can be positive or negative, depending on our interpretation of the consequences that result from them and they can change the course of civilization.  As such, black swan events cannot be predicted and will not be accounted for in the mechanistic conceptualization of rational scientific thinking.  Science depends on the repeatable and predictable patterns of sequential events that have frequent occurrence.  For rare events of great magnitude, we say they are black swan events, and then feel smug to have identified the unidentifiable, without seeing or understanding that we live in a world punctuated by rare major events with undefinable risk or benefit.   
Paradigms are conceptual frameworks that encapsulate the current assumptions about how systems work.  As we work out the details of a system to improve understanding and predictability, we maintain our initial assumptions until evidence shows that they are incorrect.  Then we replace these assumptions with ones that more correctly reflect our evidence.  With this assumption replacement, the paradigm shifts and we have a new conceptual view of the system.  Sometimes the shifts are so large that the system becomes unrecognized; Newtonian mechanics to quantum physics, magic to modern medicine, alchemy to chemistry. 
Black swan events can produce paradigm shifts when we are overwhelmed by our inability to explain the events and consequences of surprising, rare events.  If our world view (model and assumptions) is flexible and we are not attached to outcomes of events, then our thinking and perceptions can shift and we can adapt to the new arrangement of evidence, through systems of food, clothing, shelter, work, play, sleep, families, economies, and science.  
Expect the unexpected in the open space of free thinking.  When assumptions are dissolved and our experience becomes assumption-free, then we can begin to live in the actual world, rather than in a world of assumption and probability.  Black swan events can remind us that our world is risky and composed of changes, beyond the predictability of science and rational thought.  How to think without thought?  Experience, without interpretation.  It takes great patience and courage to be free.  Can we suspend our disbelief?  In wildness is the strength of life. 
Posted by michael 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chainsaw Mirror

Occasionally some trees are cut, because they died their natural death, they are shading too much, or they threaten to fall on something else. During a windstorm they are going to fall in the driveway or onto a garden.  Or they are shading the solar electric panels and the sunscape needs to be cleared.  So then the chainsaw comes out of the shed and begins its work in my hands.

The chainsaw has been with me since I began clearing the land in 1986.  So we have grown older together.  Younger, we used to cut all day when clearing the driveway and the lower garden.  Over the years we have slowed down; not needing to cut trees and feeling relaxed about clearing, no longer keeping many paths open.  Now the chainsaw likes to cut for the duration of a tank of gas and then it wants to stop.  Seems like it doesn't like to run when its hot.  Neither do I when I am hot.  So we stop and cool off.  If I take a walk for ten minutes after filling the gas and chain oil tanks, we both start up after cooling off and run for another tank.

A mirror, in the chainsaw is an image of me; getting older and taking more breaks, relaxing more.  I used to just power through work and not pay attention to overheating or getting tired.  Now the chainsaw reminds me to take breaks and walk around.  Feel the fragrant breeze weaving through the trees and over the ferns.  I could take the saw to the mechanic or me to the doctor.  We would find that aging is a simply complex process and gracefully reminds us to give attention to the seasons of machines and people.  This is not disease, only natural timing.  

I don't want to replace the chainsaw with a newer model that will run all day.  Neither do I want to replace my body with a newer model that will run all day.  We can both age gracefully and be thankful for these mirrors.  The chainsaw showed me its true nature the other day.  In it I saw timelessness.  We will make more firewood together, and keep the driveway and sunscape clear while we last.  After that, the sky is boundless for both of us.

Posted by michael

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tsunami Waves On Pacific Pond

This animation from NOAA shows the propagation of tsunami waves generated from the Honshu earthquake, March 11, 2011. Here at Beaver Creek we look out over the beach and think of the many people experiencing the shock of earth and water movement. What was too big to move becomes the toy of planetary motion. Some day we will have a big one here in Oregon and the mirror image will be produced.

This NOAA picture shows the predicted wave heights and propagation times for the 3/11/2011 tsunami.

Posted by michael

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Plum Blossom, Rhubarb

Plum blossoms swell in the late winter rain showers.  This is not the Asian plum species so revered in Chinese, Korean, Japanese poetry for its resistance to winter and symbolism of strength through adversity and patience. 

This plum blossom is without poetry tradition.  It unfolds without history of poetics, timeless.  It is simply a late winter blossom filled with the promise of longer days and fruit in summer.  So easily expresses the poetry of wild space; without words, concepts, and meaning.   

Near to plum is rhubarb; a quintessential spring tonic.  Powerful medicine for waking up the system and aligning with Spring.  These leaves are small, young, and compressed; like green lightning.  Everything begins in the small; easily changing what needs to change and leading to bigger events of season.

Posted by michael

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Herbal Remedies In A Coastal Garden

An inventory of plant remedies in our coastal gardens at Beaver Creek shows over 90 species.  It is clear that we have a variety of plants with a wide range of medicinal properties.  When we began making gardens on our land, we decided to save indigenous and naturalized plant remedies, as well as cultivate other species that we have used for medicine when living in other places.  We set out to make gardens in which we could learn and show others about these special plants.  Plant remedies in the Niemi-Davis gardens include red Alder, Angelica, Bee-balm, Cleavers, paper Birch, wild Blackberry, evergreen Blackberry, himalayan Blackberry, Black-eyed susan, Bleeding-heart, Borage, Calendula, German Camomile, Cascara, broad-leafed Cattail, western red Cedar, Chive, red Clover, Comfrey, English Daisy, Ox-eye Daisy, Dandelion, Dill, red Elderberry, Elecampane, Evening primrose, False lily-of-the-valley, False solomon’s seal, bracken Fern, deer Fern, licorice Fern, maidenhair Fern, sword Fern, Feverfew, douglas Fir, Fireweed, Foxglove, Hawthorn, Hedge nettle, western Hemlock, Hops, Horehound, Horseradish, blue Huckleberry, evergreen Huckleberry, red Huckleberry, Juniper, Kinnikinnick, Lavender, Lemon balm, Miner’s lettuce, Peppermint, Spearmint, Monkshood, Mullein, stinging Nettle, Nasturtium, Ninebark, Oceanspray, Oregano, Oregon grape, Pacific wax myrtle, Johnny-jump-up, Pearly everlasting, shore Pine, broad leaf Plantain, narrow leaf Plantain, Queen Anne’s lace, Quince, red Raspberry, Rhubarb, wild Rose, Rosemary, Sage, Salal, Salmonberry, Self-heal, Sheep sorrel, Skunk cabbage, sitka Spruce, St. John’s wort, coast Strawberry, Thimbleberry, Thyme, Twinberry, Usnea, Valerian, Wintergreen, Witch hazel, Willow, Yarrow.
Why so many herbal plants?  To treat patients effectively, an herbalist really only needs a dozen species or so, with a range of properties for the diseases encountered.  Our interests go beyond remedies, as we enjoy the presence and company of medicinal herbs in their natural habitats, prior to harvesting, and have great respect for their contributions to health throughout human history.  We are concerned that species diversity of plant remedies is conserved and this is our small effort toward that conservation.  We carefully note what plant remedies will grow in coastal gardens and what conditions they prefer.  Studying these herbal remedies in the wild brings us knowledge of their properties and interactions with humans and other animals and plants.  
Sometimes there is confusion in the marketplace of ideas about when to use plant remedies for health.  The herbalist Michael Moore writes a summary to this question, in Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West.  Consult his books and website for additional information about plant remedies and their history and uses. 
“The proper use of herbs in most cases is for the subclinical stage of a disease, for a person in normal health, and they are not going to be of value if the imbalance progresses to a full overt disease response.  Conversely, most existing drugs, with toxicity at therapeutic levels, work poorly for subclinical problems that have not “ripened” yet; the side effects are greater than the benefits.  If you figure on getting better, use herbs to help; if you think you are really getting sick, it doesn’t help to take a lot more of the same herbs until they make you sick as well.  The therapeutic window for herbs will always be below their adverse effects.  Excessive quantities of an herb sufficient to cause a toxic reaction simply compromise basic health without supplying the synthetic defenses offered by proper drug therapies.
Put it this way: most herbs are used to strengthen the innate defenses, and attempt to stimulate natural healing; if they make you sick, this weakens you, and it is harder to get well on your own.  If you get really sick, and can no longer be expected to recover unaided, or without organ damage, drugs can intervene and turn the decline around.  They may sicken you, but you are not relying on your defenses at that point; your sickness is draining you, and the drug shield is far more positive than its side effects are negative.  When you turn the corner, then you will heal by yourself.”
Using herbal remedies is not simply a matter of going into the store and buying a bottle of pills off the shelf.  To use herbal remedies, you must know the plants, their properties, their preparations, how they work in your body, and what the purities of commercial sources are.  You can study these topics to gain confidence or go to a competent herbalist for information.  Stop to consider that herbal remedies sold in stores are often not what they claim to be.  Wholesale harvesting of plant remedies, either from wild or cultivated sources, should document the ability to conserve these plant species and their habitats.  Loss of species diversity in the future will probably impair our ability to discover new medicines and their actions on human health.  We have depended on plants for medicine since the beginning of human history.  Gardens can contribute towards conservation and help to demonstrate relationships between plant remedies and humans.  Given the increased interest in plant remedies, it is important to understand their role in subclinical medicine and their interface with clinical medical practices.  
Posted by michael