Wonder Wednesday

Oh wow, there’s something I really like about this piece of concept art!  If it looks like a monument, it is of a fashion: it’s from the early days of what would eventually become Disney’s California Adventure.  This sculptural spire would have been the centerpiece of what was then still being developed as “Westcot”, a west coast version of EPCOT. Interestingly, it’s the second version of the park’s centerpiece, the original being a large globe similar to EPCOT, albeit one planned to be enveloped in a second lattice work globe twice as big and embedded with a gazillion lights.  That received some push back from the local community, and thus this spire was born, something to still maintain an impressive monumentality from within the park while reducing its visual impact from without.

There are other sketches that show the spire at the front of a landscape-like building, but while they’re neat I prefer this one above.  It feels both more approachable and more impressive on its own, with the fountains and walkways and the stonehenge-like segmented slabs that surround it.

In the end, of course, it was never built, and the saga that leads us up to the park that is there today is a whole fascinating story of its own.

 

Philosophy Tuesday

I hosted a small mindfulness seminar a couple of weeks ago, and on the mind of many there were questions about dealing with these unusual times we find ourselves living in.  Questions about the toll of the disruption of the norm, about not being able to go out and do things, or, even more strongly, about not being able to meet with friends or family or mostly anyone in person.  What answers can mindfulness and philosophy provide here?

First is to not beat ourselves up about it.  Despite the common narrative, no one is squeezed out of the womb knowing exactly how to handle every single situation that comes at us.  Resiliency is a practice, fostered and bolstered through mindfulness and philosophy.  And even then it is no guarantee – I very much admit to having days feeling quite table flippy.*  It’d be easy to relate to that as a loss or failure, but at the same time, thanks to my mindfulness practice for all these years, no table did I actually flip.  It’s a bit like driving:  when we start out, we have to pay attention to everything and it’s really taxing, but soon it becomes so second nature that we can even arrive at our destination with no memory of how we got there.**  But when the unexpected happens, or we reach a bad road, or whatever, it, once again, takes all our attention and is taxing and difficult.  Our prior experience and practice helps, but it’s still not automatic or easy.  And so it is like that during these unusual times.  It’s a new road.  We have to work at it.  The best part is that, just like driving, after this experience our new practice will make for smoother driving whenever something like it comes our way again.

Which dovetails a bit into the second point, which is to consider this:  that we’ve been relying, inadvertently, on some crutches.  Again, not in a pejorative way – nothing productive comes from beating ourselves up – but simply to look at where we may have been reliant on externalities to supply distraction, or meaning, or normalcy, or interest, or excitement, or joy, or etc.  To the point where, in a way, we’ve become addicted to it, and with all of those gone we’re now suffering from a double whammy of both withdrawal and emptiness/lack of stimuli.  It’s similar-ish to the ideas of dopamine detox I’ve seen floating about (learning to wean ourselves from the immediate/always/already available distraction of our phones/media/etc).  Because of the ease of distraction and etc through happenings and friends, it is often a matter that we never having learned how to generate for ourselves and/or, more profoundly, how to just be with ourselves.  And this pandemic forced the immediate removal of our/those usual crutches.  Like before, this leaves us with an opportunity, the opportunity to practice and build up our internal sense of self and begin to generate on our own, which is great in its own right and even better is that when we get back to our activities, friends, and more, we will enter them more fully and they will be even fuller and more powerful experiences for us.  The double bonus part here is also that, even while we begin to practice, the very act of knowing and naming this unease and strain and feeling of loss, and recognizing it’s just a result of our crutches no longer being there, can do wonders to keep ourselves from sliding things into the realm of suffering.

Which, again, dovetails a bit into the last point, which is to recognize the role that agency plays.  As I’ve written about in previous posts, agency is one of our prime desires.  And nothing kaiboshes our feeling of agency more than when not one, not two, not three, but multitudes of our ‘normals’ get cut off… further compounded with many unknowns, especially including how little we knew about COVID itself when this was just starting.  Having a lack of agency can drive us completely batty and have us do some very unproductive (and harmful) things to try to get it back.  Here, again, just knowing that’s what’s at play can be a great salve.  If we find ourselves going spare, we can check in and talk to our calculating selves to say, “I know my agency feels thwarted.  I understand.”

By being mindful of all of the above we can center ourselves and let our turbulent waters become still.  And from that place of stillness we can create, striving forward with possibility and peace of mind.

 

* Less, I think, from the disruptions and more so from the inequities, discrimination, and power plays that this pandemic put into stark relief…

** Which, to be clear, is maybe not the best state to fully slip in to.  Being present while operating several tons of metal is recommended!

Architecture Monday

Oh my.  This was off the path from where we visited during my Nordic trip, but what a beaut, a visitor’s center whose angular concrete planes marry well with the mountains in which it nestles.

Look, no lie, you create a pool of water in a luscious landscape like this, and the ensuing bathes of steam is going to lend your project an ethereal elegance no matter what.  And when you’re in the mountains and can add low lying clouds to the mix… magical.  But even without those enhancements this elemental design of two alternating wedges does great things on its own, contrasting its pure form against the natural ruggedness while also mirroring the peaks of the surrounding mountains.  The raw concrete also marries well with the surrounding rock and even more so in winter with the snow, and the glass interrupts little of the view.  Follow those sculptural wedges and climb atop the green roof to observe far, or follow the paths to hover over the water as it melts, collects, then leaps down into the verdant gorge.

I’m smitten.  With a light touch on the outside and a dynamic interplay on the inside, it’s an expertly rendered little folly that enhances the grand valley in which it sits.  Great work, definitively on my list for next time.

The Trollstigen Visitor’s Centre by Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter

Gaming Thursday

A very cool little bit of RPG history explored here, with the delving into the idea of Fate/Fortune/Fame/Luck/Inspiration mechanics: http://playingattheworld.blogspot.com/2021/01/a-history-of-hero-points-fame-fortune.html

Extra cool in that the first RPG I ever played – Top Secret – is the first RPG to include such a thing, with its Fame and Fortune points.  Which is interesting, as I hadn’t really thought of it before, that this concept of a narrative meta-currency has always been a part of my RPG experience and even my conception of RPGs and how they operate.

And the twist that Top Secret had in it was cool too:  While Fame and Fortune points did the same thing, you gained a Fame point at the end of every mission and thus knew how many you had.  But Fortune was rolled in secret by the Administrator (GM) when you created the character, so you never really knew exactly when your luck might run out…

 

Wonder Wednesday

Check this out… a Toronto artist who creates these amazing rock (and sometimes ice) balancing sculptures.  Not just along the shoreline (though that’s his main canvas) but all over the place.  All works of delicateness, always knowing that they will soon be bowled over by the waves, wind, rain, snow, and more.

Absolutely beautiful all around, and I find the ones that pair water, stone, and fire especially striking.

This is but a small smattering of their amazing work, for many more check out their gallery at their website that bears a wonderfully appropriately name!

Philosophy Tuesday

Building upon last week’s post…

As there often is, there is another angle from which we can view our persistent unproductive behaviors.  While looking for the payoff is great for finding the hidden addiction or attachment that keeps us clinging to the unproductiveness, and therefore great to open a path for us to unhook ourselves from it, sometimes we need just a bit more nudge to actually do it.  After all, it may be unproductive, but we’re used to it and we’ve survived this long (or so says our calculating self), so it’s just easier to go along, right?

In those moments, we can get present to the cost.

And not just the cost in the unproductive results that we may already see and know, but the deeper costs that, like the payoff, is often hidden from our view.  The costs that cut deep to the core of what we truly want, costs that sap us and our experience of life:  our vitality, our enjoyment of life, our connection and rapport with others, our well-being, our peace of mind, our health, our satisfaction, our self-expression, our fulfilment, or a myriad of other things we become numb to.

Once we open our mindfulness and let ourselves become present to these costs, the balance shifts.  The calculating self begins to see that some of these are threats even to itself, and, even more so, our central and authentic selves gain succor and the strength to assert itself and say, “We are done with that now.”

And lo, we regain our agency and step forward to re-write our history going forward.  The already automatic ways of being and behaving begins to be interrupted, open to our creation towards that which is productive and that fills us with delight and peace and love.

Best of all, as we continue to put that into motion, soon that becomes our already, always, automatic, replacing our shackled downward spirals with ones that we can change anytime and that aligns us towards prosperity for ourselves and those around us.

Architecture Monday

Jean-Michel Jarre is no stranger to incorporating architecture into his concerts.  Whether the office towers in Houston, or at La Defence in Paris, or the great pyramids of Giza, his epic outdoor concerts (sometimes with audiences in the millions) the buildings all become part of the show, both as more obvious backdrops for projections and lights and fireworks and as also acting as giant prosceniums, creating the very container for the concert itself.

So, even beyond my love of his music, it was with great excitement that I learned that he’d been invited to host a New Year’s Eve concert inside none other than the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris… well, sort of.  The concert was held inside a virtual version of the famed cathedral, which allowed both for way more people to inhabit the space (plus, the cathedral is of course still under repair) and it allowed for his signature visuals to push beyond the boundaries of reality and physics to create effects that interacted with the building in amazing and novel ways.

And boy did they ever!  The best effects were definitively the ones that played with the building, either interacting with the architecture or inhabiting it in a way that changed the experience of the space:  boxes of light that enveloped the columns of the nave, long ribbons of light that hugged the form and changed the emphasis from the vertical to the horizontal, glowing orbs and objects that hovered high above amongst the stained-glass windows.  All along with the usual bevvy of effects including projection mapping, shafts of light, and the video blocks that surrounded the virtual Jean-Michel on his stage at the central crossing of nave and transept.

Unfortunately… the official replay of the concert by Unesco and the City of Paris, both of whom were the generators of the concert, which I myself watched, is no longer available for viewing on Youtube.  Not sure why they made it such a limited run engagement to view it, but they did.  Fortunately, some who attended ‘in person’ (in VR) captured their experience and have made their recordings available:

An amazing concert, well worth watching.  For me this was an extra amazing experience on several levels, for almost exactly 23 years earlier I’d visited Notre Dame de Paris on Christmas eve, getting to experience the architecture, the organ, and the choir all acting in glorious unison in the run up to Midnight Mass.  To “be in” the cathedral again for a concert that was integrally tied and inseparable from the architecture was just fantastic.  A celebration on so many levels.

Wonder Wednesday

I always loved the back of the Canadian 5 dollar bill from the “Birds of Canada” series of bills.  Something about the light blue colour and the stillness of the scene really did it for me.  A restaurant I used to visit in Ottawa even had a giant version reproduced on the wall.

But… somehow… I never knew of the practice of Spocking the bills!  A few choice scribbles turns Sir Wilfred Laurier into the famous Vulcan:

Which continued in the next version of the bill:

I knew even less that some slightly different scribbles could turn him into Snape:

Who knew that Laurier was so versatile in his acting roles?

(Apparently, alas, his rendition on the latest series of bills is such that he isn’t so easily disguised anymore…)

Check out more on the Canadian bank notes at this link here.

Philosophy Tuesday

Often, when there’s something in our lives that isn’t working, or isn’t working as well as we like it to – including our own behaviour and patterns – we try to dig deep and look for the why.  We look for what is it that has it be this way, or has me be this way?

And that can be valuable!  Especially if we’ve gotten some lessons or coaching or experience into the deep workings of who we are (hint: until we’ve done this work, it’s rarely at all what we think it is).  But often figuring out the what or the why doesn’t produce the results we want it to.  We have an explanation, but it doesn’t help us in the moment to cease or alter it.  It’s like that thing about how knowing how to lose weight and actually losing weight are two very different things.

But a more fruitful path is often to forgo the why and instead look at what is keeping it in place?  What are we getting from it being this way such that we, surreptitiously, derail ourselves?  What are we actually committed to, no matter what we may profess?

Put another way, what’s the payoff?

Given we keep doing what we are doing even when we say we don’t want to or don’t like the result, there’s gotta be something we’re getting out of it, something we’ve become, in a way, addicted to.  Almost always there’s a lot of juice there.  One of the most prime payoffs is simply that we get to be right.  Oh do we ever get such a rush from being right!*  And that same kind of rush follows into many other things that often are our payoffs:  validating ourselves, dominating others or controlling the situation, gain some sort of position or perceived advantage, or just plain old we get to, in our minds, win.

And so even if what we are doing is unproductive in 98% of all other areas, we get stuck.  Because, just like the rats who will cross electric fields and ignore food to get that pellet of cocaine, we so want that payoff.

When we get present to the payoff we get to see the groove that has been keeping us hemmed in and, even if we’ve been saying we’re trying to turn the wheel, guiding us down those unproductive paths.  And now that we see it, we gain access to making a choice.  For as charged as the payoff may be, it’s usually cheap, shallow, and unfulfilling, gone in a flash and leaving us with our mess.

We can give up that shoddy payoff to gain freedom, possibility, and results that our authentic self truly desires.

 

* Which makes sense in many ways.  To our survival-based calculating self, Being right = not being eaten by a tiger.  So we get a neurological reward for being right.