29 December 2010

Harmonics, Hippie Shit, and the End of Darkness

Blended Panorama - A little Christmas Day Skiing at Copper Mountain, CO - December 25, 2010
You may have observed the total lunar eclipse this winter solstice. What a spectacular and mysterious event! The moon slipped into the earth's umbra, where only the diffracted, fiery glow of thousands of simultaneous earth sunsets could reach; there, it reflected to the night side of the earth a subtle, eerie, alien orange light. As the shadow crept over the lunar surface, the darkest day of the year--the longest night, in the northern hemisphere--got darker.

What does it mean? It depends on how superstitious, or scientific, or spiritual you want to get. Actually, if you're superstitious, I'm sure you already know what the eclipse means.

Some Numbers. The last time that a total lunar eclipse coincided with the winter solstice was in 1638 (372 years ago). Prior to that, the same coincidence occurred before the year 0 (over 2000 years ago). However, the next time that it will occur is only 19 years from now in 2029, which is an effect of the Metonic cycle. It is rather awesome that we get to observe such events in this lifetime. For example, do you recall Mars' perihelic opposition back on August 27, 2003? Or Shoemaker-Levy colliding with Jupiter in July 1994? I suppose it's also possible that astronomical events don't make you as giddy as me.

Etymology. Regardless of your giddiness level, the eclipse is rife with spiritual symbolism, which I'll get into a bit farther down. Let me be clear that the word "spiritual" has long occupied a strange limbo place in my mind. That is, for many years, I have connotated it as something akin to "religious," in that you might have heard me say something such as, "I'm not a religious person, but I am spiritual," without knowing exactly what I meant by that. Even though the word is clearly derived from "spirit," it seemed to hold a significance beyond this that I could not fully grasp.

Until recently.

Wormwood (Artemesia Absinthium)
Image obtained
A Story. In early January 2010, I finished applying to grad school and shored up my plans to leave Boulder, CO (which finally occurred in September 2010). Upon submission of the final grad application, my good friend Casey and I brewed the second homebrew in our experimental "-unk" series. Among other common beer ingredients, this brew contained banana peel, licorice root, and a full ounce of dried wormwood (the active herb in Absinthe). We named it "Van Gogh's Junk" after the well-known, absinthe-using, ear-removing artist, but we should have done some research first: wormwood is the second most bitter herb on the planet, and is hence effective in generating appreciable flavor in quantities on the order of 1 Tablespoon per Gallon. We used probably 10 times too much, and it permeated the ale with the unpleasant flavor of dish soap. I drank ONLY enough of the stuff to discover its horrid flavor. Wormwood is also a psychoactive substance, which, with prolonged or intense use, leads to insomnia, stupor, and increased stomach acid (keep it away from pregnant women). I discovered these effects firsthand, and it sucked. (I imagine this is why Van Gogh cut off his ear.) It was only in retrospect, a few weeks later, when the fog and insomnia and anxiety had cleared, that I could process this. I can only guess that somehow, during the vigorous first week of fermentation, fumes from the roiling liquid affected me quite strongly. Any ideas?

Slightly more complex than the vivid
sparks I see. Image obtained 
Residuals. Since then, I have intermittently experienced visual aberrations (colored sparks, clouds, etc.) that look similar to what I have been told LSD flashbacks are like. Interestingly, these visuals are always affiliated with people, and some people more than others, though I am uncertain exactly how at this point. Is it an aura? Is it a thought energy? A divine spark? Another being? The conclusion that I have come to is that I somehow altered my spirit with an intense dose of wormwood because these visuals drastically increase in number and frequency in the presence of other people. I also seem to be able to control their frequency through my willingness to see them. I see the world ever-so-slightly differently now. In fact, I might say that I see it more deeply now. At first it was very unnerving, and I still have trouble letting these visuals happen, but I have come to at least accept that this is part of me. I'm still trying to figure out exactly where these colors that I see exist. I was recently intrigued by the fact that the visible spectrum is almost exactly an octave of color, approximately 810-405 THz, or 370-740 nm by c = λf (violet to red, respectively). This means, for example, that red is a harmonic of violet at half violet's frequency, and there are countless more harmonics generated by repeatedly halving the frequency. Much the same way that a certain note plucked on a guitar will elicit a sympathetic resonance in other strings if they are tuned correctly, it seems reasonable to me that there might be harmonic colors beyond the visible spectrum (likely in the infrared?) that excite these visuals in real color for me. If you had asked me about such things a year ago, I would have called it "hippie shit," but it sure is hard to dismiss these direct experiences as fake. At the very least, these have suggested a tangibility to the spiritual world. I'm curious if there are events and energies swirling around us that we have forgotten how to see. So now, when I say I am "spiritual," I mean that I feel intertwined with the earth, and other people, and their intentions and spirits, and other possible entities beyond my control, and I am trying to let that entanglement develop. 

So what spiritual significance might the eclipse have? As much as we live on top of the earth--in buildings, in cars, and on roads--rather than with the earth--in a forest, on the soil, perhaps barefoot--and as much as we attempt view ourselves as separate from the workings of nature (a socially popular missive?), humans are inexorably coupled to the cycles of the earth, the moon, the solar system, the galaxy, and the cosmos. Some cycles are imperceptible on human timescales, such as the rotation of the galaxy. Some cycles are easy to see, such as the orbit of the moon or the rotation of the earth. Perhaps the more perceptible a cycle is to us, the more it affects us. (For instance, as evidence, observe how our sleep-wake cycle coincides with the earth's rotation.) By this reasoning, the eclipse is a special point in a cycle to have observed; it is likely full of meaning to the human spirit. This solstice was the darkest day of 2010, but it was darker still from the eclipse, making it one of the darkest days in recorded history. In one sense, this means it can only get lighter from now on, which is an interesting metaphor. Knowledge previously shrouded may come to light in times to come; personal epiphanies may increase; positivity may reign. You may discover a calling in life, or make a big change, or find a new love. This is the end of darkness. Let me know what happens.

01 December 2010

A Few Modest Tricks

Blended Panorama - Looking East from Gaviota Peak towards Goleta (UCSB) and the Channel Islands - Sept 2010

Now that I have moved to California, I have assimilated a few modest lifestyle tricks that have really paid dividends, and I think they're worth sharing. These are not epiphanies, or serious changes, but simple steps you can take to make life more interesting, keep your mind sharp, and live healthier--all while cutting out absurd activities that detract from these obvious positive benefits.

Stay interested: Have a great conversation while driving.
While I'm driving, I like having a companion in the car with me for some good conversation, especially on longer road trips, because it really makes time fly. Recently, however, I realized that I was not getting as much out of those conversations as I could. The problem? No eye contact, and reduced hand gestures. Really, think about it. The best conversations happen when you make eye contact and, for instance, demonstrate what the hissing mountain lion was doing before it ran into the trees (you just cannot explain that without the hand gestures). It's hard to make eye contact while driving because you have to take your eyes off the road, and you cannot gesticulate as often with your hand on the wheel, but it is worth practicing both. Some people argue that taking your eyes off of the road to make eye contact, and that taking your hands off of the wheel to show, for example, how the runner was flailing her arms so awkwardly, increase the risk of accidents while driving, but that is absurd! The car basically drives itself. We're just pushing the gas and brake and turning the wheel sometimes. Plus, any additional risk is mitigated by the benefit of the really good conversation. I used to be too focused on driving to have a really good conversation, but now I can manage to drive to Ventura and back watching the road probably 50 percent of the time and using both hands to have a great conversation!

Keep your mind sharp: A few small mind games, and you'll be ready for anything!
Ever feel groggy when you wake up in the morning? Get tired in the middle of the afternoon? Want a way to wake up alert and stay alert all day? Well here's what I do: modest emotional jolts throughout the day. To wake up in the morning, I set a small number of distinct alarm devices (maybe three to five) around my room. Often, I'll even put one near the door of my roommate's room, which is just down the hall. Then, when they go off in the morning, I have to scurry out of bed, and turn them all off. The big rush comes from the uncertainty of waking my roommate up. I'm either anxious I'll wake him, or I'm guilty and he's pissed off, or any number of things might happen. Any way it goes down, I'm awake and raring to go! It's a great start to the day, and there is never that absurd waste of time waking up in the morning. Eventually, though, that jolt wears off, and I hit the mid-afternoon slump. That is, I would hit the slump if I hadn't learned how to prime myself with anticipation. Any given day, I might park my car in the boss' spot, or maybe take a handicap spot, or take the bus to lunch without paying, or any number of things. The uncertainty of maybe the boss getting mad or getting a ticket is so exciting! This is where the fun can happen, so use your imagination, and avoid that absurd mid-day slump! "So, what about the rest of the time?" you might ask. Basically, this emotional jolt motif can translate to any activity in your life, no matter who you are, or what your daily routine might be. The options are myriad! For example, when I do the dishes at home, I like to put the sharp knives pointing up in the drying rack because I know it will keep me on my toes. I really have to pay attention to avoid cutting myself, but if I accidentally do, there's nothing like a sliced cuticle to get the adrenaline going! I'm sure my roommates like it, too. The more little ways you can trick yourself like that, the more energized you will stay throughout the day.

Live Healthier: Boost your immunity in the kitchen.
I've only been out in California for a few months, so this is the last of the tricks I have discovered. Everyone knows that eating a balanced diet is essential to good health, and cooking your own meals is a great way to have tangible satisfaction in eating healthy. I fear, though, that we are doing an injustice to our health in the very kitchen we cook in. Most of the time, when we cook, we thoroughly clean the kitchen counter afterwards. This looks nice, but it reduces the immunity boosting effects of remnant food materials. I stopped thoroughly cleaning the kitchen counters three months ago, and I have in fact begun to spread the remnants around a little bit (envision wiping the counter down with the same rag you use to sop up the mess). This way, the little buggers that get us sick (bacteria, etc), have time to reproduce, so next time we come to the kitchen and prepare food, we cannot help but ingest a few. A small dose of this kind develops immunity, and I have noticed distinct improvements in my general health! I still don't get sick, but my digestive system seems to work better (I can tell by all the grumbling and churning inside), and I don't have to breath those nasty cleaning chemicals, which I'm sure are toxic. Everybody is afraid of working with raw meat or eggs on the counter top and not spraying it down with Lysol afterward, but I say spread the chicken goo and egg yolks around a little bit. Ads on television make us think that this is what gets you sick, but that's totally absurd! I feel healthier than ever, and I never get out the disinfectant spray, so I know the opposite is true. Next time you cook a big meal, think about how you can eat well and boost your immunity.

Share: What are your tricks?
Let me know what modest tricks you come up with. And check out the original Modest Proposal, by Johnathan Swift, in all of its satirical glory.