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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Understanding a trip to Maine and "generational amnesia"

I imagine most people have had at least one experience in their lives where they have been in complete awe of nature. I have had my share and hope to continue to pursue many more during my life, but my most recent - this past August in Maine, specifically Acadia national park – was particularly special for me. In a word… wow. The place is simply breathtaking.

We camped, car camped that is, for one entire week. I’d say it was pretty rugged for a couple quasi-urbanites, but the best part of these rustic accommodations was that it forced us to be at surrounded by the natural beauty of the place for nearly every minute we spent there.

I didn’t begin to fully appreciate the effect this vacation had on me until driving home when we happened to hear some quote on the radio (the exactness of which escapes me now). It was something like “the more people replace natural beauty with things virtual, they start to forget.” Hearing this and comprehending its meaning made my heart ache for all the natural beauty which has been lost over the years and for folks who just can’t/haven’t had the chance to experience such things.

I assure you that this is not some left wing plea for saving this and that, just a bit of reflection on something I find important to my life.

The next 11 hours of the drive provided ample opportunity for these thoughts to really sink in, and thus when I got home, I tried to do a bit of reading on the issue. The most original information I found was a thoughtful study by psychology researchers at the University of Washington who investigated specifically the effect of modern technology and its increasing encroachment on to human connection with the natural world…

Specifics of the study:

- Subjects under stress had much better quality recovery by actually personally viewing a scene of nature (outside) versus seeing the same scene in real-time high-definition television.

- Children were found to develop deeper and more social relationships with real-life pets versus robotic pets – however, they did actually develop one way superficial relationships with the robotic animals

At first thought, these may seem like trivial findings, yet if thoughtfully considered, it can be understood that over time, an increasing number technological nature experiences will do two things to our psyche as humans.

First, there will be a large void in our ability to find solace and healing in nature b/c we will be deprived of such experiences – perhaps w/out even knowing what is missing.

Secondly, and I find more interesting, the baseline of what people perceive as the full human experience of nature will shift - the researchers actually referred to this as “generational amnesia.” The reason for this is that people naturally believe the environment they encounter during childhood is the norm – thus measuring all environmental degradation later in their life versus their ‘norm.’ It can then be assumed with each generation the degradation baseline moves further and we become oblivious to changes of previous generations.

Take poor air quality and asthma as an example. There wasn’t always such rampant asthma in cities, but it is considered today to be a normal part of the human condition. Those coming up today will thus not see pervasive asthma as an environmental issue to contend with. More simply, what about the creek/stream you knew from when you were a kid, chances it’s close to being dried up today. Those coming up today won’t even see the difference by that dried up creek-bed.

That is an uncomfortable picture for me. I guess the point of this reflection is best summed up by a quote from one of the researchers: “We are a technological species, but we also need a deep connection with nature in our lives.”

Thanks for reading. A.M.D.G.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Anniversary Thoughts

This past summer my wife and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary.

What a special thing for me to write. And with the coming and going of that day, I guess it is easy to ask myself 1) what is the significance of that first year and 2) did I learn anything?

Well the easy answer is 1) tons and 2) you’re darn right I did. I felt it would be beneficial for me to think and write about it, so here are some of my thoughts.

First, perhaps I have started to develop an understanding of one of the points of my friend’s homily during our ceremony. This point was that he believed we were ready to enter marriage because we had reached a point in our respective lives of love for ourselves, an understanding of who we are as individuals – our own hopes and dreams and faults and failures altogether. Though at the time, I admit I didn’t really understand this, I do now. Without that love and understanding of self, this past year would have been much more difficult.

For example, as I sit and think about the times we have disagreed as a couple; it has usually been the times when I have felt out of sync with myself. A continued understanding of this will help us grow together. It is interesting then for me as I take that reflection one step further. I feel most in sync with myself when I feel in sync with God - when I am devoting time to prayer and service. I find this synchrony directly translates to excitement about my foreseeable path in life, and makes me even more excited because that foreseeable path involves spending it with my wife. Awesome.

And then I have considered the meaning of the often said phrase “marriage involves sacrifice.” …which ‘defining’ things of my first 29 years did I give up in order to make this marriage work? I guess it may seem odd, but honestly I feel basically like not much. Sure, I have not done a few things here and there which I may have done otherwise, but it seems that the result of that decision each time to do something or spend time with her has always resulted in more harmony and understanding of who we are as a couple. Since I voluntarily made a commitment to her to make her needs and our growth as a couple a priority (and I am a man of my word J), I don’t find it overly difficult to do such things. Really, it seems that sacrificing things of self enable me to better understand my love for her, and this feels great.

And then there is also the old adage that “marriage is hard work.” Yeah, I guess that is true. However, of the more recent years of my life which I can remember very clearly, I don’t think any year has been as easy or as fun as this past one. Challenges are easy with her to depend on. Fun things are more fun with her involved in them.

During our ceremony I recall that we were given a blessing that we were to live our life as one spirit. When I realize that I have accepted that blessing fully, I find something proven of what I already felt to be true – that God’s love is life giving. If I take the example of JC – the humble servant himself, I find that doing things for her energizes me again and again to get up and do it again the next day. This then has many implications of how I can interact with the world as a whole – I can use the love and energy I get from her as a springboard to spread that same love to others… Man, this marriage thing is getting better and better the more I think about it.

My dad once spoke to me many years ago about marriage – he said that marriage is not a union of convenience, a temporary set up, or even a way to beat loneliness… to succeed in marriage we have to commit to our love and to each other each day. At that time I must have thought, “wow, that sounds terrible and really hard.” However, after a year of it I feel like as long as we continue to love ourselves, keep our spiritual connection a priority, and continue to understand the concept of self-sacrifice, this whole marriage thing is not nearly as difficult as it sounds.

Thanks for reading and special thank you to my super awesome wife for being well, super awesome I guess.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Counting Crows and their honesty

People are attracted to honesty… freely offered honesty, the kind that offers a window into who we are.

My wife and I recently went to the Counting Crows concert. We had the uncommon opportunity to stand at the very front of the stage. During the show, I turned around and looked out into the audience – taking in the scene of thousands of fans singing along and dancing – and then I turned to Adam Duritz. As he sang and the band played The Rain King, I took a quick moment to consider something which I guess I had not considered previously or at least recently... at the core of this band’s music (and many other musicians) is deeply personal reflections on life and love.

It was then even more interesting to me to think about how we seem to experience the opposite of what was happening here… people in general are usually turned off or uncomfortable by such openness? Yet these people were not uncomfortable, they were enthralled.

Is there something about Duritz’s honesty that makes it special? Background guitar and drums, is it the fame?

Perhaps… but I think it is simply people are captivated by the ability of this person to stand in front of millions and just speak from w/in. Very few of us have really unique experiences, and even fewer have unique emotions related to those experiences. Most people can and will relate to you, even if it doesn’t seem like it on the surface. My guess, after a brief 29 years of life, would be that everyone not only can relate each other, but for the most part, wants to feel personally connected with each other -- what better way than to use honesty?

Consequently, that is why the Counting Crows are loved so much, people feel like they have a personal connection with the lead singer and his honesty.

I’m sure someone once said this so I can’t quote myself, but the biggest obstacle to honesty is fear, fear of what others will think or how they will react to what we are truly feeling. I guess I should take a tip from Mr. Duritz, especially if I could include a catchy song with it.