Sci-fi action adventure lynx!
— art by AlsaresLynx
Sci-fi action adventure lynx!
— art by AlsaresLynx
I’ve mentioned before in passing the notion of inherited contexts, that is, views (which, to remind, never occur to us as a view but as reality and The Way Things Are™) that we pick up and take on simply because that’s the ideological waters we’re swimming in as we grow up and move through the world.
And it’s very hard to push back against something that we don’t realize is an ideological force. When we grow up or exist in a culture* that tells us X, and we end up doing or behaving or believing a certain way that falls in line with X, rarely do we realize we’re making a choice about it. That we’re consuming an ideology. We just do what we think people do… and there’s plenty of evidence that it’s “normal” and “right” because, indeed, we see many people around us doing that very thing. Plus, because it is the dominant ideology, we’re often surrounded by media and messages that further tell us that this is what is so.
So we follow it… even if it doesn’t pan out the way we think it should, or it doesn’t produce the freedom, satisfaction, fulfilment, or peace of mind we want it to. But what can we do? This IS the way it is, that is REALITY, so the fault must lie with us, right? Clearly if it didn’t work, we need a bigger hammer…
Except. Except! The key here might well be in those unexamined and inherited contexts. The assumptions of who we are, who others are, and how the world is and operates that we’ve been consuming unconsciously. Is there something to break out of there?
Chances are, yes, yes there is. And when we shine the light of our mindfulness there, we gain freedom. We can choose to keep, modify, or discard the inherited context and create a new, greater, more accurate and empowering context, and begin not only to live into it, but to share it as well.
(Pair this post with a (re)reading this previous post on how “Some of the thoughts you have inside your head aren’t even yours…”)
* And that culture includes the culture of our family, our community, our school, our circles of relations, our city, locality, country, and so on.
Also excited that, especially as a lover of trains (and, of course, train stations), I got a chance to check out the new Moynihan Train Hall! The destruction and demolition of Pennsylvania Station in NYC is, by this point, the stuff of legends.* And what remained of Penn Station was… not great.**
But sitting across the street is the James A Farley building, a post office designed by McKim, Mead & White, the same architects and in a similar Beaux-Arts style to the original station. It too languished over time, with a central atrium that was later filled in. Fortunately, as luck (and a lot of hard work) would have it come to pass, the atrium was once again opened up and the building brought into use as a new hall for Penn Station.
It’s a great work of adaptive reuse. The main trusses that grace the hall have a very expressionist feel of early steel structures, with rivets and small cross-members galore. But the vaults of glass that span them are decidedly modern, bulbous and leaping away from the trusses to open the sky above.
It’s an open and very inviting space, with all the grandeur that a grand station deserves. And whether it could ever match the original or not (and to that I have no inkling nor idea), it is still mighty fine.
The Moynihan Train Hall by SOM in a building originally by McKim, Mead & White.
* The short of it is that Pennsylvania Station was an amazing and, from nearly all accounts, beautiful structure, all reduced to rubble to build Madison Square Gardens. It was an event that catalyzed the development of the historical preservation movement in North America.
** For decades afterwards, the still-active train tracks were nothing more than an 8’ high ceilinged bunker underground. “One [had] entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat,” was the description given by historian Vincent Scully.
Got to see the documentary about the foundation and creation of Sesame Street, and it was excellent. So much care and intention put into the project by so many dedicated people who were driven to create something wonderful (out of the medium of television, no less!) for our communities. Very moving.
It’s on some streaming services and well worth checking out if you have a heart in your body.
Let’s talk about spirals!
The one we’re most likely familiar with is the concept of the “downward spiral.” There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on there, especially the notion that it isn’t so much that an event, or thought, or emotion, or anything happening in a given moment that takes us out, but rather that it’s when we (vertently or, more commonly, inadvertently) set ourselves off and get trapped in a pattern. And once in that pattern, we’re kind of hosed. We make further mistakes, which upset us further. We take poor actions, which exacerbates things. We lead ourselves down thought rabbit holes, creating stories and scenarios that lead us and our experience into the gutter. It builds, and we drive ourselves continually downward to where we really don’t want to go.
Another aspect I like to fold into the downward spiral is that it’s rarely just one thing that knocks us akilter, but rather two, three, or simply many things that overlap all at once. They may even be small things, but taken together they add up, bumping against each other until we’re set off. Which then, alas, creates more things that piles up to create and accelerate the spiral.
It’s always easier to avoid the downward spiral in the first place, of course, but the great news is that we’re never totally hosed. The moment our mindfulness catches it we can do the work to interrupt it. We can label it – “Aw man, I’m caught in a spiral!” – and we can even chuckle at ourselves – “… again! How fascinating. Alright, here I am, what’s next? What do I need to do to get off this crazy train?”*
And then comes the beauty of the second, much less talked about spiral, which is that of the “expanding spiral of radiant delight.” A much fancier name, but really it’s mostly just the downward spiral in reverse. For as we create new possibilities, and overcome barriers, and expand our mindfulness, empathy, generosity, and love, it radiates outward, opening up new pathways and more possibilities. Things get ‘easier’, and our experience soars. Both for ourselves and for those around us, which, in turn, creates greater freedom and possibilities, onward and onward and onward.
When we’re not aware of this second type of spiral, it seems like the only real vectors are either downward, or, at best, to tread water. But it very much is bidirectional, and the more beauty we create into the world, the more it spirals outward to create a pattern that leads to where we very much do want to go.
* Not to disparage trains in any way… I very much love trains! A gloriously civilized way to travel.
I just got a chance to visit the revitalized TWA Terminal (now a Hotel) at JFK airport…in all its sensual, sinuous, and soaring glory!
Unfortunately as I was under some time pressure heading off to catch a flight in a different terminal building, I didn’t get a chance to really admire it from the outside (so the linked photos that remain from my previous post on the building will have to suffice), but what I saw and experienced inside more than made up for it. In a word, it’s stunning.
It’s decidedly classic retro-futurism (or perhaps still neo-futurist) now, but the ‘nostalgic’ feel isn’t what really got me. It’s the space, the glorious space, with it’s outstretched wings soaring overhead and how it, and its structure, and just about every other single object in the space seems to be connected, seamlessly merging and swooping and emerging from the other until it becomes a single object. And the sunbeams! They add a strong element I hadn’t considered before.
With the addition of the new jetway (and the hotel wings as well) behind the original terminal building, the huge expanse of glass no longer looks out onto the tarmac as it once would have, cutting it off a bit. But placing an old prop painted in TWA livery (which itself is now a cocktail bar) helps keep some of that old feel alive.
Ok, natch, the retro-furniture does evoke some fantastical and nostalgic feels!
The subtle tile work on the underside of all the swoops.
And I’m never going to get tired of the swooping forms lifting off into flight to become cantilevered seats, bars, counters, and more…
My photos aren’t the best here, as with the time pressure I wanted to spend more time being present and experiencing the space rather than into the camera. And glad I did, I could have spent hours more there to experience every bit of it. A true delight and masterpiece.
The TWA Flight Center by Eero Saarinen and Warren Platner.
This is some amazing little model/diorama making going on here… and the fact it’s about trains makes it even better!
“[Since your team didn’t win the playoffs, was this past season a failure?]
Michael Jordan played for 15 years and won 6 championships. The other 9 years were a failure? That’s what you’re telling me.
There’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days, some days you are able to be successful, some days you’re not, some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. That’s what sport’s about. You don’t always win, some other people are gonna win. And this year, someone else is gonna win. Simple as that.”
– Giannis Antetokounmpo
I don’t follow sports all that much. But this quote has been in the news and quite rightfully so, I say. It’s an astute observation of the hidden context and mindsets that (I’d assert) pervades our times, of how quickly we are willing to label things so binarily as winning or failure. And, perhaps even more so, how much importance and single-minded-focus is put on winning, until the notion becomes that winning is the only point. And all to the point where we’re judged by and deemed worthy, or not, based on whether we win.*
But that ignores the ideas of what competition is all about.
It very much misconstrues the ideas of what a game is.
It definitively unnecessarily makes things into zero-sum affairs, very much a false dichotomy.
And we tend to use that concept and language a lot in our own lives in places where it really ought not to. Whether a game or a goal or an idea or a hobby or a practice or a relationship or an interaction or excursion or venture or whatever… it’s success and perfection and a WIN or else… well, yeah, or else, in that kind of dangling threat way. It doesn’t turn out perfect? Then failure is you, and you should feel disappointed and sad and scornful and meek and be in the dumps.
That’s not what life is about! (And, I’d say, not really how life works either…) We can create games, play them, and get some result… and then can either play again, stop playing, or play a different game. And, as Giannis went on to add, everything is a step forward. We learn and grow and can use that in whatever games we play next.
Plus, that’s not even the thing either, really. It isn’t just about the result, or what we can use in the future. It’s about the experience and about being present. It’s the moment-by-moment aspects of it. There’s so much about what we’re experiencing while we’re playing the game, and what we may experience with the result and beyond. (And in the next games we play.)
Nicely said, and a great reminder to check in and, if we’re caught up in that zeitgeist, free ourselves from this prisonous thinking around what victory has to be.
* This is a complete aside, but I also read an article recently on how players are receiving more and more vitriol and death threats from supposed fans because…. Of online sports betting. The ‘fan’ didn’t win their bet? It’s your fault, and you should be punished for it (because you only are here to serve me, the fan, not even to entertain me, but only to make some money). “I’m at a loss for words about how upsetting that is. It so demeans the value of sport — that sport is only for people to be making money out of bets.” — Professor Bruce Kidd
I will readily admit that I do very much enjoy a good dose of theatricality in buildings. And this one has it in spaces!
Starting on the outside…
… with its bamboo laced walls allowing for dramatic shadow play both day and night…
… to the glowing entryway and it’s geometrically delightful reflecting pool and garden…
… to the reflecting pool that, once inside, becomes an actual pool for swimming…
… to the delightfully dramatic rock garden centerpiece, with walkways made of stone slabs that tantalizingly hover…
… to more hovering elements in the more domestic areas…
… to the soaring living area…
… and culminating in the oppositely introverted and quiet (yet still so elegant) tea room.
The thing about hidden biases is that they’re, well, hidden.
They don’t even occur to us. And we don’t realize that we have them, because we all tend to walk around thinking that we don’t have these blind spots, and that we’re observing the world fully and then acting rationally.
Except that our observations are not complete. They’re filtered by what we “know” (in other words, by our contexts and biases and expectations) before they hit our consciousness. It’s already created and presented a particular reality, a limited story about who I or they or the world could be and is.
Therefore, our rationale is, at best, tainted by this incomplete view.
As the expression goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” And our biases go on being hidden.
It takes something to break out of that very efficient and quick engine to pause and get present and ask, “what bias is going on right now?” (Note, not if a bias , but what bias – if we have a brain, we have biases!)
And once we begin to see it/them, once we get present to them, they cease to be hidden. We get into a position of power. In the moment, we can choose to take an action that defies the automatic bias. In the long run, we gain the opportunity to examine them, shape them, and to reduce them. (Note, not eliminate them – again, if we have a brain, we have biases!)
With that we gain both freedom to be as well as agency to align ourselves with our most authentic selves.